Disconnected
By JBG

Disconnected
By JBG

Timeline: Season Six. Takes place after Tabula Rasa.
Premise: Buffy tries to cope with life without her Watcher. On the other side of the ocean, her Watcher is doing the same thing. Little do they know thereís a very good reason for their anguish.
Distribution: Gabiís archive, automatically. Anyone else that asks, thereafter. ;o)
Disclaimer: I own nothing but my imagination (and the characters I made up.) Joss Whedon, WB, Mutant Enemy and/or a bunch of other people own everything else in the Buffyverse...
Buffy/Giles - rated PG-13 Ė some violence and bad temper


The firm knock at the door took Giles by surprise. Other than his old museum buddies and a few locals, no one in England knew that Rupert Giles was in the country. He hadnít even reported his defection to the Council. In a flash, he knew exactly who had come to his door at one oíclock in the morning. It was inevitable.

Knock, knock, knock.

He contemplated ignoring the summons, but the sound persisted, never getting faster or more impatient, always at the same measured cadence. Implacable. Relentless. Very much the Councilís style.

Knock, knock, knock.

If it had been Special Operations come calling, he wouldnít have been contemplating his next move. Heíd have been dodging splinters as they smashed through his door. So it could only be one other.

He made a reluctant decision and moved across the room to the door, throwing it open without glancing at the person on the other side. "Hello, Quentin," he intoned as he turned and headed back to his comfortable chair, deliberately leaving out an invitation to enter. They were both Watchers, after all.

Quentin stepped across the threshold, expecting a sarcastic comment from his unwilling host. When he didnít receive one, he looked nonplussed for a brief moment, but quickly regained his passive expression. He followed his fellow Watcher into the room and watched as Giles collapsed in a nonchalant sprawl into the nearest seat. In front him, on a low wood table, sat an open bottle of scotch and an empty tumbler. Judging by the multiple rings marring the dark wood, it wasnít his first glass of the night.

"Expecting me, Rupert?"

"Not at all. But it could be no one else."

"I see." Travers settled onto the overstuffed armchair, smiling slightly as he realized just how comfortable it really was. He leaned back with a short sigh and observed Giles with a puzzled frown. "Well then, since Iím so terribly predictable, Iím sure youíre already aware that Iím here for an explanation."

"I thought as much." Giles contemplated the small amount of scotch that covered the bottom of his glass, examining the amber liquid with great care.

"I received a rather disturbing call from Anson Hedges in Boston yesterday evening."

"Ah. And how is dear Anson?"

Traversí frown deepened at Gilesí flippant response. "He called your shop to offer you some recently discovered volumes on North American Indian Mythology, and was told, quite matter-of-factly, by your young assistant that you were out of the country, permanently, and had been for quite some time."

"I see. Anya is a very literal person."

"A very literal ex-vengeance demon, you mean to say."

Giles raised his eyebrows slightly and shrugged. "No, I donít believe I meant to say that at all, because that is none of your business."

"Imagine my surprise when I find our current Watcher has abdicated his position and taken up residence in a rather disreputable part of town."

"Nothing disreputable about it, Quentin. Youíre being a snob."

"And youíre being difficult."

"Iím so sorry for inconveniencing you. Have a nice evening."

"Just what were you doing employing a former demon in your establishment, Rupert? Granted, she is lovely..."

"Go to Hell, Quentin."

Travers chuckled evilly. His one encounter with Rupertís lovely young assistant proved just how protective the man was of his friends. And Anya was certainly a close friend, or she would not have been trusted with his money. The fact that she was attractive certainly wasnít lost on Travers, and it was amusing to bait his old nemesis, regardless of the outcome.

Giles gritted his teeth at the derisive sound. He forced himself to relax and continued to swirl the tablespoon of scotch around in his glass, ignoring Traversí knowing smile.

When it became clear that Giles was not going to respond further, Travers leaned forward. "All right, Rupert, enough stalling. You left your post, something that neither being fired nor being threatened could persuade you to do before. You will talk to me, here and now, or you will talk to the Joint Ruling Council in special session within the week. Your choice."

Giles sighed. "Iíve been inundated with choices over the past few months. Iíd rather be left alone, if you donít mind."

"But I do mind, dear fellow. Youíre a stroke of the pen away from being labeled a deserter, and should that occur, nothing I can say or do will save you."

"Deserter?" Giles allowed himself a smile. "The Council has a twenty-year old Slayer that has overcome every master vampire, evil sorcerer, and Hellish apocalypse that has been thrown her way and is still doing the job quietly and efficiently. Sheís saved the world more times than I care to count, and will continue to do so because she believes it is the right thing to do. You have in place the most effective deterrent of evil that has come along in centuries, and I was responsible for her training. She will continue, regardless of whether or not I am standing over her shoulder. How does that make me a deserter?"

"Your Slayer is remarkable," Travers admitted with a grumble in his voice, "But at the moment, she is unsponsored and without direct Council influence. It wasnít acceptable when she defected before, and it is not acceptable now."

Giles had to laugh outright at that. "Acceptable? And what would you deem acceptable, Quentin? A dead Slayer? Sheís been through that twice, now. What on earth does your standards of acceptability matter to someone whoís been dead? How can your pat Council-inspired platitudes touch her?"

Travers noted the edge of desperation in the other manís voice, and realized he was very close to finding out the real reason behind Gilesí retreat. He held himself very still, afraid to break the flow of words that seemed to come from Gilesí very soul. Giles may very well dislike Quentin Travers, but at this moment there was no one else listening.

"What do any of us have to offer to someone whoís been torn from her reward, eh? Solace? Sympathy, my God? Iím sure you read my report with clinical interest, but itís a wonder she can function at all, let alone maintain a level of normalcy. Itís a wonder she can slay at all, and yet she goes out, night after night. Itís a wonder she can face her friends, the ones who effectively sentenced her to yet another life of misery and fear... did I happen to mention in my report that her first words to Dawn, after she returned, were, ĎIs this Hell?í Itís no wonder sheís withdrawn... no wonder sheís distant. Itís no wonder she recoils at the touch of a human hand... those hands robbed her of her reward in the name of love."

Giles could no longer contain himself. He knew he was babbling, but the dam had burst, and there was no stopping his audible anguish. He lurched to his feet and began to pace, one hand shoved deep into his pocket, the other brandishing the glass like a weapon.

"How do you work with someone who canít stand to be touched? How do you train, or interact, or communicate with someone that withdraws physically and mentally whenever you approach? She can pretend that things are the same, but theyíre not. Thereís no connection, no link, anymore. Iíve lost her, and I canít cope, canít pretend, canít be something Iím not to her."

He stopped in front of the mantle and leaned heavily on it. "I canít live her life for her. I canít shield her so that nothing disturbs the artificial fog of normalcy sheís wrapped around herself. I canít be a bloody father to Dawn and make all the bad things go away. Not anymore. Itís not right, and itís not enough. Not for me, anyway."

Travers was becoming uncomfortable with the direction Gilesí rant was headed, so he shifted and cleared his throat. "Rupert, calm yourself."

"Oh, Iím calm. Calm, cool, and collected, as Buffy would say. Quite in possession of all of my faculties, moreís the pity. Canít even get decently drunk anymore. Tolerance is too high."

"You havenít answered my question, Rupert." Travers reminded him in a quiet voice.

"No, I bloody well havenít, have I? How can I, when I donít know the answer myself? I had to leave. Every cell in my body was screaming for it. I didnít belong there, I was in the way, keeping her from regaining her connection to the world..." He ran a desperate hand through his already disheveled hair. "She kept pushing me away. She pushed me away." His voice held a note of wonder. "After everything, after her saying she wanted me to stay, that she couldnít go on without me, it was like a wall of... something... I donít know."

"She asked you to stay?"

"Of course. Several times. But she didnít mean it, at least not deep down. I made her uncomfortable, I think. It was all right as long as I took care of everything, did everything for her, but the moment I needed a response from her..." He looked up suddenly, his eyes confused. "Good Lord, what am I saying... when have I ever asked anything of Buffy? Iím her Watcher..."

"Rupert, something is very wrong," Quentin stated, letting the fear show on his face. "Your loyalty to your Slayer has never been breached, not once in six years. Yet now youíve turned your back on her completely. Youíre either a traitor or a victim." Travers stood and approached Giles carefully, mindful of the manís strength and temper. "Listen to me, Rupert. You must come back to London and let our doctors examine you."

"Referring, of course, to shrinks and mystics, not physicians."

"This isnít an excuse to take you into custody, Rupert, although I would be perfectly within my authority to do so. Your feeling of estrangement from your Slayer is a very serious matter. And, since I doubt Miss Summers would allow us to examine her..."

Giles chuckled mirthlessly. "Quite right."

"...we must start with you. It sounds very much like youíve become... disconnected... from your Slayer."

Giles stared at him, his face plainly showing that he didnít recognize the term.

Travers caught Gilesí gaze and held it, showing him that he was being completely honest for once. "There is a spiritual bond between a Slayer and her Watcher, Rupert. A bond, an empathy... call it what you will. The Slayerófor lack of a better wordóconnects with her Watcher, if she accepts him or her, demanding loyalty. Yours was the strongest Iíve ever seen. It was strong enough to cause you to defy the Cruciamentum and to refuse a direct order to leave. Strong enough to carry you both through your encounter with Glorificus. If that connection has been severed... well. The consequences could be... immeasurable."

Giles straightened immediately, his drunken slouch gone. "Is Buffy in danger?"

"Truthfully? I donít know. Very likely."

"Then letís not waste time." Giles grabbed his leather jacket from the hall tree and started for the door. Travers followed him without a word.

********

The bell above the door rang merrily just as Anya was making a very profitable sale. She flashed a smile at the teenager slouching by the door, and nodded towards the tarot table. Nothing short of an impending apocalypse interrupted a sale, in Anyaís book.

Dawn took a seat and dropped her books with a sigh. As soon as Anya was finished with her customer, she crossed the room and gave Dawn an awkward pat on the shoulder. "You look tired, Dawn. Have you been getting enough sleep?"

"Sleep? With Warden Buffy guarding my door and Spike hanging around outside? Sure. Lots of sleep. Thatís all I do is sleep, study, and clean my room. I have no life."

Anya sat down, making sure she could see the front door clearly. "Iím sure sheís just showing concern for your well-being," she soothed, and then the rest of Dawnís statement sunk in. "Did you say Spike is still hanging around? I thought Buffy threw him out."

"She did. Heís just waiting for me to try something so he can tattle on me and get back in her pants again."

Anya was the one person in the Scooby Gang that didnít flinch when Dawn said something naughty. It was one of the things Dawn liked about her. The former demon contemplated Dawnís statement for a moment, nodding. "He still claims to be in love with her, doesnít he?"

"Yeah, itís totally disgusting. The yardís full of cigarette butts every morning. Commandant Buffy makes me pick them up... which is gross."

"Smoking is a disgusting habit that should not be tolerated around impressionable young ladies."

Dawn giggled. "You sound like youíre quoting Xander."

"I was, but itís true anyway. Not that Xander usually says things that arenít truthful. Heís very honest."

"I know."

"Heís very protective of you."

"I know."

"Even more so now, since Willow moved out."

Dawnís face fell, and she looked down at her hands. Sheíd lost three of her most trusted friends within days of each other... first Tara moved out, though she stayed in touch, then Giles went back to England, and finally, Willow left after a huge argument with Buffy. On top of all that, her sister had become a cold, unfriendly stranger. The girl was reeling.

"Iím sorry, I wasnít supposed to talk about Willow. Xander says itís too painful for you right now."

"Itís okay. At least you talk about her. Nobody else will mention her name." Dawn raised her head defiantly. "Itís not like she died, or anything."

"No, sheís very much alive. Iíve seen her several times."

"You have? Is she okay? I hate this, I really do."

"I know you do. Sheís fine. Unhappy, but fine."

"Aww... I really hate this."

Anya decided to change the subject. "Speaking of Giles... have you heard from him lately?"

"Yeah, he called last week. He sounded good. Kinda sad. I told him Buffy was freaking out, but he didnít really want to talk about it."

"Why not? When he calls me he always asks how Buffy is doing, but I donít tell him how bad she really is. Itís not my place, really."

"I guess it scares him to talk about it. It scares me. She scares me."

"Who scares you, Dawn?" Buffy demanded from the training room doorway. Neither of them had heard her unlock the door.

"Um... nobody... itís, uh... Miss Hanson, the new girlís basketball coach. Sheís got a beard."

Buffyís eyes narrowed, as if she didnít buy the story, but she shrugged and came over to the table. She placed a hand on Dawnís shoulder, and it was all the teen could do not to flinch. "Whatís the homework sitch tonight?"

"The usual. Couple chapters here, a paper there. Nothing heavy."

"Good. Weíll get something to eat on the way home, and if you get done in time, we can watch TV."

"TV with my sister. Oh, joy." Dawn rolled her eyes at Anya, who smiled in sympathy.

"Maybe youíd rather just skip the TV and go straight to bed."

Dawnís eyes widened as she looked at her sister. There was no trace of humor on Buffyís face. Dawn began to panic. "No, really, itís fine. I like watching TV. I want to watch TV. I havenít watched TV all week. Iíll have that homework done in no time."

"You bet you will. Iím not facing that principal again."

"No problem." Dawn shifted, looking uncomfortable. "Um... this is probably not a good time to ask, but Iím running out of time, so..."

"Whatever it is, the answer is no."

"But thatís not fair! Itís a school thing! You donít even know what it is!" Dawn protested.

"I donít have to. The way you asked was enough for me."

"But, Buffy," Dawn whined, getting louder.

"Keep your voice down. There are customers in here."

"No thereís not!"

"Dawn, one more word and youíll be grounded from the telephone for a month."

Dawnís head dropped in defeat. Her telephone was the one concession to normal teenhood that Buffy was still allowing. She couldnít afford to do anything to jeopardize that. "Yes, maíam."

Anyaís eyebrows went up. Maíam? Buffy makes Dawn call her maíam now?

"Thatís better. You do what youíre told, and you get rewarded. Unlike some of us. Bye, Anya."

"Bye, Buffy. Bye, Dawn." The trapped look on Dawnís face tore at Anyaís heart. Buffyís bitterness was destroying the close relationship the two sisters had once shared. Actually, her attitude extended to everyone. Sheíd even succeeded in making Xander angry a few times. Anya decided that something had to be done, even if it wasnít really her place.

Dawn waved goodbye, looking as if she were being led to the gallows.

When Anya was sure they were gone, she grabbed the telephone and placed an overseas call... at the storeís expense, of course. She was surprised when she got no answer. Giles was always home, she reasoned to herself. He didnít even have a job.

She tried again a few minutes later, but the phone rang out for a second time. She decided to discuss the matter with Xander when she got home. Something had to be done about Buffy.

********

Old Doctor Price, who seemed to enjoy poking and prodding his poor patient unmercifully, had already given Giles an embarrassingly thorough physical. Now the Watcher was sitting cross-legged on the floor of a large unfurnished office, frowning down at the odd white cylinder protruding from his mouth. He looked up as Travers entered the room, giving his superior an annoyed glare. Dr. M'Bengali's exam had gone on for hours, and Giles was tired of the constant noise and nauseated from the thick cloud of incense that permeated the room. 

Despite the tweed uniform that was the unofficial standard at Council Headquarters, Giles always pictured Dr. MíBengali as bare-chested, bare-footed, and bedecked with a bone necklace. The fact that the witchdoctor conducted the majority of the examination while chanting in Swahili did nothing to help dispel the imagery. At times, he whirled in place to consult his divining board, tapping the surface in time with his chants. Travers watched in silence, as though shaking rattles and waving handfuls of grass were everyday occurrences.

MíBengali squatted down and took the odd thermometer in his fingertips, reading it as if it were a standard mercury-and-glass model. "Yes, yes..." the witchdoctor murmured happily.

"What does the bone tell you, Doctor?" Quentin asked casually.

Giles made a horrified face as he realized what heíd just had in his mouth. "Please tell me it isnít human."

"Oh, no, no, no bwana, human bone has no mburuga, no divining power at all," MíBengali supplied with expansive good cheer. "It must be tohi, or at de very least mbuzi, to have any effect whatsoever." The dark-skinned man grinned widely, showing a perfect set of white teeth.

"Wonderful. Iíve had a mouthful of goat bone." Giles scowled again as Travers cleared his throat. He looked pointedly at MíBengali, who immediately got the message and delivered his report.

"Ah, yes, de examination is complete. Mister Giles has no kipapae, maapizo, or dua upon him. Everytíing is okay."

"Can you sense the connection we spoke of?" Quentin asked intently.

"Ah, yes. The nadhiri... the vow is dere, but weak."

"Excellent." Quentin bowed slightly at MíBengali. "Asante sana, daktari."

MíBengali returned the bow. "Karibu."

Giles was across the room in a few strides, beating Travers into the hallway. He took several long, deep breaths to cleanse his lungs of acrid smoke, coughing slightly until he began to breathe normally again.

"That went well, Rupert. Only one examination to go."

"Yes, the most distasteful ritual yet," Giles growled. Travers suppressed a chuckle and led his fellow Watcher down the long corridor to an elevator. After selecting the floor, he settled back to observe Giles in the privacy of the small space. Giles noticed the level they were rising toward, and snorted. "The thirteenth, of course."

"Of course."

Giles would have gladly jumped out the nearest window if he thought he could survive it. He hated psychiatrists with a passion.

********

Spikeís vampiric hearing picked up the sounds of fighting long before he reached the edge of the cemetery. He listened for a few seconds, and then smiled. The Slayer was having fun, it seemed. She was punctuating every blow with a sarcastic remark, taunting the remaining vamps until they met the business end of her stake.

He decided to watch for a while. There were only three demons left. She could defeat them easily.

He rounded a large marble crypt just in time to see a huge, athletic vampire toss Buffy over his shoulder like a rag doll. Spike started forward, but decided to wait a bit before committing himself to the battle. After all, Buffy had told him to shove off in no uncertain terms.

The battle was short, but furious, with Buffy fighting hard and dirty, the way he loved to see her fight. The Watcher had taught her all the moves, even the dirty ones, and sheíd added a few of her own in recent months. She was poetry in motion, savage, unbridled, and deadly. She was toying with the vamps, beating them until they could barely move before staking them with obvious relish.

It made him positively misty, it did.

When there was only one enemy left, Buffy executed a perfect set of gymnastic flips and picked up her crossbow as she tumbled. With the vamp still several yards away, she tilted her wrist and shot from the waist, dusting him with a flourish. She stood for a moment, still trembling with adrenaline.

The sound of clapping made her jump and raise her crossbow. She didnít relax when she saw who her audience was.

"Such artistry. I especially liked the way you gouged that blokeís eye out before dusting Ďim. A nice touch. I give it a nine-point-five for interpretation."

"You donít want to be here, Spike." She slowly lowered her weapon, her eyes glinting in the darkness.

"Sure I do."

"Okay, I donít want you to be here."

"Now where else could I get this kind of entertainment? Youíre a bloody animal."

"Iím not in heat anymore. Get lost."

"Ah, címon, Slaying makes you all hot and bothered and needy... and I can help with that."

"Just go away. Leave me alone."

She took a few steps, but he strode around and blocked her way. "I know you donít want to forget what we did. I can tell. It was too violent, too strong. Nobody else could handle you but me, and you know it. Itís what we are. Itís what you are!"

"Leave... me... alone." She attempted to walk away from him again, but he wasnít ready to give up.

"You need me, and you know it! Iím all you have left, Slayer. Even your Watcher couldnít..." He reached out as he spoke and took her by the arm, intending to spin her around to face him.

She whirled before Spike could react, and buried her stake in his gut.

"I told you to leave me alone," she said in a flat, emotionless voice.

Spike looked down, more in horror than in pain, although the pain was intense. "Bloody hell, Slayer, you staked me!"

Buffy laughed, a chilling sound. "As you so eloquently put it, Spike, Iím not human. I came back wrong, remember? Iím no better than you, isnít that right? Thatís why you can hit me and not get zapped, right?"

"Buffy..."

"Oh, and by the way, thanks for pointing that out to me at every opportunity. Makes it so much easier to take. Hopefully, whatever passes for my soul is still up there somewhere, playing a harp. Meanwhile, this me is stuck in Hell, and thatís the me youíre stuck with, Chip Boy, so get used to it."

He slowly slumped down against the crypt wall, still looking at her in disbelief. "I thought we were..."

"What? Lovers? How gross. Friends? Donít make me laugh. Soldiers in the fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way?" She retrieved her crossbow from the ground and casually fitted a new bolt, cocking the mechanism easily and aiming the weapon at the helpless vampire on the ground. "Youíre nothing but a demon. I kill demons. I might get in a mood and kill you some day. Youíd better run... everyone else does."

"Iíll not run from the likes of you, bitch," he ground out, gritting his teeth against the agony of both body and mind.

"Then youíre stupid. The smart ones always leave." She raised the crossbow smartly, and marched away without looking back.

A broken-hearted vampire struggled to his feet, cursing the Slayer with every gasp, and finally dragged himself to his crypt to rest and heal. He decided right then and there that he needed to call England while he was still in one piece. Forget pride and jealousy... this was a matter of self-preservation, something at which Spike was very adept.

********

Two days without sleep finally caught up with Giles, and the moment he was ushered into an empty dorm-style room on the second floor, he collapsed on the rough cot and slept for almost 14 hours straight. When he finally woke, he splashed cold water on his face, unconcerned for further appearances, and stumbled into Traversí office, rumpled and unshaven.

"All right, Quentin, letís have it," he demanded as he seated himself in front of Traversí highly polished rosewood desk.

Travers was well versed in intimidation, but something in Gilesí posture suggested that the man was beyond simple manipulation. Despite their differences, Travers held a grudging admiration for Giles and his unorthodox methods. Of course, the world must have a Slayer, and that had to take priority.

"Iím assuming youíre referring to the Ďconnectioní I mentioned."

"I wasnít referring to the weather," Giles snapped.

Travers leaned back in his leather chair, getting comfortable. "You must understand that the connection between Watcher and Slayer has never been fully studied and documented. There are vague references to it in Council records, but they are a bit difficult to find. The Council have never officially acknowledged its existence, or even given it a properly descriptive name, so you can see that research on the subject would be... tedious, at best."

Giles nodded and gestured impatiently for him to go on.

"Well. That brings us to the late eighteen-hundreds. Youíve read Dramiusí writings, of course?"

Giles managed to look sheepish. Dramius was a difficult read, and heíd skimmed over quite a bit of it. "Of course."

"He mentions the connection, as does Angus and Indiri. There are a few more obscure references, but these will do for a start."

Giles added the names to his mental list of books to research, and nodded.

"We have been able to determine that the connection is primarily spiritual, although there have been some... ah... physical manifestations... which occur more infrequently. If we use Dramiusí description as our criteria, then upwards of half known Slayers have actively connected with a Watcher at some time in their lives."

Gilesí curiosity got the better of him, and he leaned forward. "What about the others? The ones who werenít connected?"

"They either died in the first year after their calling, or their Watcher died and was replaced by someone of the Councilís choosing. It appears that the odds of connecting with a replacement Watcher is roughly the same as with the originals."

"Lucky for me," Giles commented sarcastically.

Travers ignored him and continued. "There has never been a record of a Slayer dying and coming back to life. The remarkable thing is not that the connection was severed when your Slayer died... itís that you didnít lose it the first time she died at the Masterís hand."

"I see," Giles mused thoughtfully. "Come to think of it, she did mention that she felt stronger afterwards. It worried me at first, but she seemed her normal, teen-aged self, so I let it pass."

"Perhaps it was because of the brevity of her death. The connection could very well have sustained her until she regained full strength after being bitten."

Giles sat back slowly, stunned. It was just now beginning to soak in that he might have contributed, quite literally, to Buffyís remarkable powers of healing and strength. He had always been aware of her resilience, but had attributed it to her Slayer constitution, not to their growing relationship. That she had somehow drawn additional sustenance from him was both thrilling and humbling.

The idea that the conduit of support was no longer available to her frightened him badly. His heart lurched in his chest, the ache of being away from his Slayer reasserting itself with unexpected force. It overshadowed his wounded pride and tugged at him, making him inhale sharply.

"What is it, Rupert?" Travers leaned forward as Giles began to pale, shaking visibly with reaction. Under his desk, he reached for the alarm button, fearing that the man was having a heart attack.

"Dear God, Quentin, Iíve left Buffy," Giles croaked in agony of soul. "How could I have done such a thing?"

Travers shot to his feet, pressing the button as he rose. "Rupert, calm yourself. This is a good sign, according to everything Iíve read. Youíre having a delayed reaction, but it simply means that there is still a faint thread connecting you to your Slayer. It may be uncomfortable, but it isnít harmful unless you continue to ignore it."

Giles was bent over, leaning heavily on the arm of the chair. "How long... do I have... do we have?" he gasped.

Without knocking, Doctor Price bustled in, stethoscope in hand. He took in Gilesí appearance with a practiced eye and began taking his pulse. Both Giles and Travers ignored him.

"When was the original resurrection spell performed?"

"The day I left for England the first time. October second."

"And how long have you been away from her?"

"Two weeks, two days, and..." He consulted his watch carefully. "...seventeen hours, now."

Travers couldnít help smiling at Gilesí precise answer. "November thirteenth, was it? Hmm, we have little time, then. Mystic connections are usually attuned to the lunar calendar. Your presence was probably delaying the most severe symptoms. You must return to Sunnydale before the new moon and perform a ritual joining or the damage could well become permanent."

Dr. Price, satisfied that Giles was in no physical danger, nodded to Travers and left the room without saying a word.  Faced with a clear course of action, Giles sat up straight, his eyes clear and bright despite his discomfort. "Is there a specific ritual, or will any joining ceremony do?"

"Iíll look into it further, but I believe it is the intent, rather than the actual wording, that is important."

Giles was already running through his vast memory of rituals as he asked, "Is there anything else you can tell me, Quentin? I need information, and I need it now, if Iím to make things right again."

"Iíve told you all I know," Travers admitted reluctantly. "Iím afraid youíre on your own in this, Rupert."

"As I always have been," he replied with resignation.

"Itís the nature of the calling, Iím afraid."

Giles rose, his posture stiff and straight. "One more thing... what will happen if I fail? If she refuses to participate in the ritual? I very much doubt I can force her to exchange vows against her will."

Travers came around the desk then, and to Gilesí surprise, put his hand on the taller manís shoulder. "If that should happen, then Iím afraid your Slayer will be lost to us. She will have no connection with righteousness, you see. She will be overcome by the dark side, as Faith was."

"But Faith still lives, and is trying to reform."

"Faith has killed a human being, Rupert. She is in prison at this moment for attempted murder, not to mention that she tortured and almost killed her very own Watcher, something that not even the authorities know anything about. Is this your idea of overcoming?"

Giles jaw tightened. "I only meant that there was a chance."

"Rupert..." Travers voice held uncharacteristic compassion. "Faithís connection was severed in the natural course of a Slayerís life, however callous that may seem to you. Your Slayer... your Buffy... died in extraordinary circumstances, and was raised by an untrained witch with dubious motives. There is no point in holding on to false hope."

Giles dropped his head, acknowledging Traversí words. "Youíre right, of course. I just donít think... I mean to say..." He cleared his throat harshly. "If I cannot restore her... I donít think I can do what must follow."

"I understand," Travers said kindly. "I have already called a team to be ready to travel the moment you summon them. No Watcher should ever have to execute his own Slayer."

********

As the Watcher flew over a darkened continent, he reached in his pocket and opened the rolled parchment with both hope and trepidation. After much thought and consultation with Travers and his best researchers, Giles had written a form of Byzantine marriage contract. He was drawn to it primarily because it was something familiar, something Buffy would be able to understand and relate to, and something that would be legally binding without the blessing of a church. It was also extremely practical, primarily dealing with fidelity and the sharing of personal possessions. What it didnít mention was love.

The emotional sterility of the document was fine with him. He didnít want to frighten Buffy off by conjuring up the image of wedding bells. His intent was not to entrap her, but to free her of the awful despair in which she was imbedded. He had made sure the contract was free of cohabitation clauses and mentions of offspring. He stared at the words, printed in his own precise hand, and envisioned how he would tell his Slayer that they had to marry or die.

He arrived in Sunnydale in the wee hours of the morning and drove his rental car directly to her house. He left his bags in the car and approached the front door. The light in the living room gave him courage to knock.

He held himself very still, giving the outward appearance of calm, but inside he was a trembling mass of fear. He forced himself into the relaxed, but alert status that he used just before a fight.

When the door opened, Buffy blinked at him for a full minute before reacting. She gave him no greeting, simply stood aside, waiting expectantly. He gave her a small smile of approval for her caution and stepped in, going directly to the living room. It had always been their headquarters for serious discussion.

Neither of them sat down.

"Why did you come back?" Her voice was almost toneless.

"I had to," he replied simply.

"You wasted your time. Youíre not welcome here anymore."

He bowed his head, fighting the emotional storm that raged just beneath the surface. "We have to talk."

"Itís a little late for that."

He looked up at that. Her expression had not changed, and he suddenly realized how deep the damage had gone. He began to despair of ever again seeing the Buffy he once knew. It seemed easier to speak in short, clipped sentences. He didnít think he could manage a longer one at the moment. "Something is wrong."

"No duh. My Watcher ran out on me, just like every male in my short and hideous life."

"If I hadnít left, I wouldnít have ever discovered what is wrong. With me... with... with you."

She laughed at him. It was all he could do not to cringe at the sound.

He squared his shoulders and continued. "Buffy, when you came back..."

"Not by choice," she interrupted.

He winced. "...when you came back, something was missing. A link, or connection, whatever you might call it, between you and I. Slayer and Watcher. We were no longer connected the way we once were. The link was broken."

She digested the information with a wide-eyed expression. "I came back wrong? Boy, you gotta hand it to the Powers That Be... they sure know how to show a girl a good time."

He snorted softly, agreeing with her. "It wasnít a part of their plan, Iím sure. But the darkness youíve been fighting since your return... it isnít your imagination. Youíre incomplete."

"Really? You think so? Just because I hate everyone and wish they were all dead, including me? Howíd you come to that brilliant conclusion? Mustíve been while you were partying over in England... while I was dusting vamps and getting my brains scrambled... and boffed out... by Spike. Glad you missed that, by the way. Wasnít pretty."

"Iím sorry..." he whispered. "I failed you, and Iím sorry."

"Same song, second verse."

"But I know what to do now."

She tilted her head, but her expression never changed. "Do tell."

"We have to ah... reconnect." At her snort, he stumbled on. "Whatever you want to call it. We have to rebuild our relationship..."

"I wasnít the one who left. Rebuild that."

"Iím trying!" he snapped, finally out of patience. "But you must try, too!"

"Not interested." She gestured towards the front door. "Get out."

"Buffy, please. Listen. These past few weeks... how have you been feeling?"

She laughed again, surprised at the simple words. "What a stupid question."

"Really? Is it stupid? Shall I tell you how youíve been feeling?"

"Sure, Miss Cleo, tell my fortune."

He began pacing, three steps forward, a quick turn, and three steps back. The action was so jarringly familiar to her that she almost sobbed, but she caught herself before she made a sound. He was deep in his own thoughts, and missed it.

"All right. Youíve heard of phantom pain? The phenomenon where a person who has lost a limb experiences pain as though it was still there? Thatís how it felt. When I walked into the Magic Box that night, after Willow called and said you were alive... when we saw each other, and embraced, there was something missing, and that something burned like fire in its absence."

He looked up, and saw he had her attention. "Even when I held your face in my hand, there was something missing. I thought seeing you again would end the pain. I thought helping you deal with the debt, with Dawn... I thought it would help you, might bring you back. But nothing helped. The more I tried to get close to you, the more uncomfortable you became. I wasnít your partner anymore. I was a stranger, a stranger with deep pockets and no willpower when it came to giving you anything you wanted. Someone you could use to hold life at bay, because you hated that life with a passion."

His voice almost broke, and he stopped to clear his throat. When he continued, his voice was low and hoarse, betraying the intensity of his emotions more plainly than any amount of shouting could do. "And now, Iím back, telling you I can make it all better. But I didnít make it better before, did I? I suppose in some ways, my coming back made it worse, brought things to a head, so to speak. But I know whatís wrong, where I didnít before. We can end this, here and now. We can restore the link and the darkness inside will end."

She had dropped her eyes to the floor and was breathing heavily, and he took a cautious step closer. "I canít promise that everything will be perfect, but I will do everything I can to make this up to you. You can trust me, Buffy. I give you my word."

He stared at the back of her head, noticing how the hair parted at her neckline, the mark of the Slayer faintly visible under the fine strands. She still didnít speak. He breathed deeply, summoning the last of his courage, and pulled the contract from his pocket. He kept his voice low and even. "We must make a pact, a contract of sorts, you and I. We have to use crude, mortal methods to try and repair this link between us." He unrolled the document, the parchment crackling softly under his hands. "It must be mutual and binding to us both, or it wonít work. And it must be done soon."

"So. A contract."

"Yes."

She chuckled softly. "What kind of contract?"

"Does it matter?" He winced at the tone of his voice, so full of hope and vulnerability.

"I want to know what Iím getting into."

He handed her the contract without a word. She took the document and took a step away from him, into the aura of light from the floor lamp, and read it from start to finish. When she reached the signature lines, she looked up at him in mild surprise. "This reads like marriage vows."

"S-somewhat. The document it was t-taken from was a civil marriage contract from the f-fifth century. Either the fifth or sixth c-century, I think."

"Youíre stuttering."

He gave a quick half-laugh and nodded his head. "Iím terrified."

"Of what? That Iíll say no, or that Iíll say yes?"

"I d-donít know." He ran his hand through his hair as he spoke, still afraid to let his guard down.

She stared at him for several moments while he tried not to fidget. Finally she tossed the contract back at him, her expression going cold again. "I gotta admit, itís original."

He didnít understand, and his face showed it clearly as he fumbled with the fragile document.

"What is it with you Brits, anyway? You canít get a girl in the normal way, or something? With Spike itís all, ĎIím all youíve got girl, youíre so bad, letís be bad together, isnít violence a turn-on?í And you..." She shook her head in disbelief. "Youíre all sweetness and light, come back to the good side of the Force, actually talking marriage! Different approach, but the same result... big jollies with dumb old Buff. And I gotta tell you, that was the absolute worst proposal Iíve ever seen. You couldíve at least brought me flowers."

He shook his head. "Thatís n-not what this is about at all. It wouldnít even be a true m-marriage, not like that. All we have to do is... is pledge ourselves to one another as... as friends. Partners. The way we were before. Restoring the connection is all Iím after, Buffy, truly. Without it, we will both wither away inside until thereís nothing left of us but darkness."

"You left me. We canít go back to the way it was before."

"Buffy," he choked. "I didnít understand... it hurt so much to be near you, I couldnít bear it." He gritted his jaw tightly to hold back the tears that were pricking his eyes.

"You think you know pain, Giles?" she whispered softly, but with no warmth. "Try this... get out."

"Buffy..."

She took two steps towards him and grabbed him by his shirtfront. "Get out or Iíll throw you out. No, let me make it simpler than that." She whirled with him, almost pulling him off his feet, and he felt a surge of something far stronger than his earlier apprehension. She could kill him easily.

A hard shove sent him through the door, and he landed on the porch with a grunt. He was on his feet in an instant, but the door slammed shut and he heard the bolt being thrown. Short of breaking a window, he could not reenter.

He stood for a moment in disbelief. She had rejected him completely, even though she seemed to understand the seriousness of what was happening. Perhaps she no longer cared. Perhaps it was too late.

He leaned against the door, sensing her on the other side. "I wonít give up, Buffy," he said intensely. "I canít. Youíre my life. Without you, without our bond, I will die."

"I donít care." Her voice was muffled, but he heard her plainly.

"Perhaps you donít. But if we donít do this, you will die. And that I do care about. I care a great deal about that." He returned to his car, rolling the contract carefully as he went. He would find a room for the night, get some rest if he could, and try again tomorrow.

Time was running out.

********

He wandered the cemeteries for most of the next evening, hoping to catch a glimpse of Buffy and try to reason with her. He still couldnít believe she wouldnít trust him. Sure heíd made mistakes, but after six years of service to her every wish, it seemed she would give him the benefit of the doubt at least once more.

As he patrolled, angry words danced in his head. Ungrateful. Spoiled. Haughty. Disrespectful... he had to stop several times and calm himself. He could feel the effects of the missing element in his life... a void, no, a chasm of despair that pulled at him constantly. If she felt the same way, if her pain was anything like his... no wonder she was unbalanced!

Actually, he theorized to himself, as he threaded through the graves, that her plight would be far worse than his. According to Travers, the Slayer initiates the call, and the Watcher merely answers. If so, the loss of the thread had to be overwhelming.

He was so deep in thought that he almost stumbled over a crouched figure hiding in the shadow of a small crypt. When it lunged to its feet Giles saw the telltale ridges by the streetlight. He ducked as the vampire swung wildly, and caught it with a hard left that sent it to the ground. Giles grinned wickedly and reached in his pocket for a stake. A fight was just what he needed to clear his head.

They traded blows for a while, with Giles clinically evaluating the demonís fighting skills and determining that he could finish things easily when he got ready. He had just staked the monster with a flourish when he heard someone coming from behind. He spun gracefully just in time to see a flash of blonde hair, and he pulled his punch just inches from her head.

She didnít flinch. "Having a good time? Does Slaying make you hungry and horny, too?"

He dropped his hands to his sides. "I was looking for you."

"Obviously, unless you and Spike have more in common than I first thought. He comes out here for fun."

"I came to talk."

"We donít have anything to talk about."

"Yes, we do. If I ever meant anything to you at all, at least let me try and explain. Iíll try to do better than I did last night."

She folded her arms and leaned against a tall headstone. "Give it your best shot."

He did. He recounted everything that had happened since he left. The drinking, the absolute feeling of failure. He could see she was with him, was taking it all in. And then he mentioned Quentin Traversí name, and she exploded.

"How can you trust that old bastard? Heís screwed you in the back more times than I can count, and you just keep cominí back for more! Youíve got to be the densest human being on the planet! This is all crap, and youíre the head shoveler!"

"Buffy, with all my heart, I believe this will work, or I would have never come back."

"You sure know the way to a girlís heart, Rupert," she taunted nastily.

"Buffy, even as demented and angry as you are now, I am still willing to vow my eternal allegiance and loyalty to you, even as I did before we even met. Surely you can see how seriously I am taking this. It is not a joke, or a trap, or a ploy. It is simply the truth."

"The truth is, nothing is true."

"It is true that I love you," he cried desperately, one hand clutching his heart in pain.

"Love, love, love... it sounds strange," she said in singsong fashion, quoting herself just before her desert quest. "The spirit guide told me that death was my gift. I didnít realize she meant I had to keep doing it over and over. Whatís love got to do with it? Me and Tina agree on that."

"Buffy, please try... let me try and make this right."

"Sure, Giles. You said you love me, didnít you?"

He nodded, feeling exposed and bare before her. "With all my heart."

"Tell you what, lover-boy. If you catch me, you can have me."

She ran past him too quickly for him to stop her, and he did the only thing he could think to do. He ran after her.

She let him follow for several blocks, leading him around the neighborhood in a random pattern. She knew she could tire him out, but she kept letting him get closer, stopping at times just enough for him to renew his determination.

Finally, he gave out and stopped, gasping for air. He staggered to a street sign and braced himself so he wouldnít collapse, and concentrated on drawing air into his lungs until his head began to clear. When he could see again, he looked up and saw Buffy standing about ten feet away with her hands on her hips. She wasnít even breathing hard.

"You sure got out of shape fast. I thought youíd last at least another ten minutes."

"Buffy, please..."

"Buffy, please," she mocked. "Trust me, mind me, listen to me, walk like me, talk like me, act like me... and what was my reward? Oh, thatís right, I donít get one. My friends missed me too much, boo hoo. The only reason I didnít punch your lights out when I saw you at my front door was that you didnít have anything to do with Willowís idiotic spell. Now youíve got one of your own you wanna try, and I donít want any part of it.

"Willow," she spat the name in disgust. "Little Miss My-Will-Be-Done. Iíve already sent her packing. Did you know she was doing magic in some power-junkie flop house with Dawn there? The kid couldíve been killed. If that red-headed witch shows her face around here again, Iíll tear it off before she can try one of her little chants."

She sauntered up to him, smirking. He still couldnít stand up straight, so she bent down until her lips were caressing his ear. In a loving voice that was a mockery to him, she murmured, "And as for you... the next time I see you, Watcher-man, Iíll kill you. Howís that for a vow?"

She gave him a shove that sent him sprawling into the street, and by the time he got back on his feet, she was gone.

This time, he couldnít hold it together until he got back to his room. He sat down on the curb and cried like a baby.

********

For the next two nights, Buffy patrolled undisturbed by her Watcher. It wasnít like him to give up so easily, so she didnít let down her guard until the third night. When no Giles made an appearance, she relaxed a bit. She was doing a final sweep through a wooded area when she heard a whistling sound overhead. She froze just in time for a heavy, blanket-like object to engulf her and knock her to the ground. She struggled wildly for a few moments before stopping to evaluate her situation. She fingered the rough rope, knotted into a tight pattern that resisted her strength. She heard someone approach and panicked, entangling herself even further.

"Donít fight it, Buffy. Itís been magically enhanced to hold you."

The familiar voice infuriated her. "Giles!" she growled. "Get this off me, and I might let you live."

"Sorry, no. Iíd much rather stay on this side of the net, my dear. You made it clear what you thought of me a few nights ago."

"So, is this like Revenge of the Watcher? You gonna put me in a cage? Charge admission? I knew you liked to watch, but this is beyond kinky."

He ignored her barbs and took a seat on a tombstone. "I am simply going to wait until youíve exhausted enough of that bitterness inside you that you are willing to listen to me."

"You mean, willing to sleep with you."

"Shut up!" The command was given in Gilesí strongest Watcher voice, and despite her fury, she obeyed it instinctively. It made her even more furious, but she couldnít break it, so she fumed in silence as he began talking, sounding for all the world like the Giles of old, lecturing in the library.

"The Council neglected to mention, in all my years of training, that the position of Watcher is more than a birthright. It is a calling. Oh, I know they used the term, but they didnít understand its meaning. It isnít the Council that calls Watchers. The Slayer, herself, she calls her Watcher. You have to admit, itís rather poetic.

"So, you called a Watcher, unconsciously, and the Council spent the next fifteen years trying to decide where to send him. Somehow, they lost track of you. Finally, they sent Merrick, and he was immediately smitten with you."

Buffy snorted derisively under the net. "He hated my guts."

"He loved your guts, you stupid girl. He died for you."

She didnít have anything to say to that, so he continued. "And then along came Rupert Giles. God, what a piece of work he was! About as unprepared for you as you were for him. Yet, within a few weeks, he was as smitten as Merrick was. Willing to face the Master in your place. When you died, even for that brief moment, something in me twisted like a knife in my heart. Travers believes that the connection kept you grounded for the brief moments you were dead, and gave you strength when Xander revived you. Remember how strong you felt?"

She closed her eyes, listening to the soothing sound of his voice, the voice that, at one time in her life, meant everything to her.

"And so it goes. Ever since, the Council has been shouting in my ear, ĎDonít get too close! The Watcher must maintain his distance! Donít get involved!í How very stupid. The very nature of the Watcher/Slayer relationship is involvement. On some deep level, I loved you even then, as unpredictable and uncooperative as you were.

"Then, just when our connection was at its strongest, the Cruciamentum was called for. I resisted simply because it felt so very wrong to do what they asked. That imbecile Travers had the nerve to fire me for obeying my Calling. I still believe the entire thing was politically motivated, but thatís neither here nor there.

"Letís see, that brings us to the present. Glory, Dawn, and your great sacrifice. Or was it? Was it a sacrifice to end it all, to save Dawn and go out in a blaze of, of glory? Sorry, bad pun. You refused to entertain any idea other than your own about that, didnít you? I believe you threatened to kill me then, too. But it doesnít matter.

"Now, thanks to Willowís ill-conceived spell, youíre back, a bit darker than before, a bit more isolated, estranged from your friends and your poor ignorant Watcher, terrorizing your sister in the name of protection, and you want me to leave you be. Perhaps I should.

"But thatís the problem, you see. It wouldnít be just you Iíd be deserting... again. It would be Dawn. And Willow. And Xander and Anya and Tara and anyone who ever cared about you. If I let you self-destruct, youíd take half the town with you. People youíve never met. People youíve saved from death and horror. They are the innocents in this. They donít even know youíre alive, and yet they depend on you. Dawn depends on you, no matter how horrid you are to her.

"So, here ends the lesson. You donít have the right to be left alone. Neither do I. Weíre in this together, whether we like it or not. And this ritual, this contract, will allow us to go on. Ignoring it will kill us both. Perhaps youíre ready to find out if your penchant for defying death is still in force: I am not.

"The spell on the net will wear off in a few hours. Iíll leave you to decide what you want to do."

He rose, dusted his trousers off, and started for the car. Before he had taken two steps, a tiny voice behind him made him freeze.

"Iíve already decided," Buffy said meekly.

He turned, surprised and pleased. "You have?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Tell me." He took another step closer without realizing it.

"Iíve decided..."

She sprang to her feet and ripped the net neatly in two. "...I just donít wanna be tied down!"

He managed to dodge the left fist, but the right connected solidly with the side of his head, spinning him like a top. He dropped into a defensive crouch, narrowing his eyes until he could focus. Buffy snarled at him like an animal as she threw another punch that send him flying into a tree. He barely blocked two more quick blows, knowing it was hopeless. He was only human, and no match for a Slayer. His heart broke when he realized there was nothing of his Buffy left when he looked in her eyes.

A snap kick sent him to his knees, clutching fractured ribs, fiery fingers tightening around his chest until he couldnít breathe properly. He went down on one side, completely at her mercy, tears of regret and pain coursing down his face. It was then and there that he gave up.

"Iím... so sorry... Buffy..." he gasped, waiting for the final blow.

The words stopped her. What was he apologizing for?

"What did you say?" She didnít like fighting something that didnít fight back.

"Iím... sorry... too late. Itís all right... not... your fault..."

She drew back a foot to kick him again, but couldnít do it. "Shut up," she said loudly.

"Not yours... mine... too late. Didnít... know. Itís all right."

"What? Itís all right if I kill you? What kind of stupid philosophy is that?" She was shouting at him now. Her head was pounding, every heartbeat louder than thunder. She wanted to strike out, or run and hide, or maybe both. Why did he insist on annoying her so much?

He tried to gulp more air, but the pain kept him from it. He could only pant out the words a few at a time, but he had to say them. "All right... itís not... really you... the darkness... won. Owns you now. Iím sorry."

"I said, shut up! Nobody owns me!"

She tried to step forward to hit him again, to silence him once and for all, but something slowly began to stir inside her. It was like waking from sleeping late on a rainy morning, a slow returning to awareness of the light. She froze, fists still clenched. She spent her life in the night, but she hated it. Hated the darkness outside. Hated the darkness inside. "No..." She shook her head stubbornly and wiped her face with a bloody knuckle. She belonged to herself.

She needed to think. Instinctively, she used the techniques Giles had taught her a year ago... calming breaths, reaching inward to the well of strength inside, blocking out all distractions.

As she felt herself growing stronger, the man on the ground grew weaker, and she had to bend to hear him. His breathing became more labored with each word, the pressure from his damaged chest slowly squeezing the life right out of him.

"Buffy... I... forgive... you... love...you..."

"You canít love me. Nobody loves me."

"I do."

"You left me!"

"I... came... back," he wheezed, raising a hand towards her face as if to touch her. It was too much, and he collapsed, unconscious.

She looked at him, finally, really looked. He was bleeding, broken, barely alive. Who was this man that had left her, but couldnít stay away? She felt the hatred leaking out of her, and in a moment of revelation she realized what sheíd almost become... a murderer, worse than Faith, for her crime would have been deliberate.

Buffy awoke from the nightmare of darkness, and found herself facing another nightmare just as horrific. Her Watcher, the one that made the painful journey back to her in order to save her, lay dying at her feet.

With a cry of remorse that seemed to come from her wounded soul, she fell to her knees in front of the best friend sheíd ever known, and began to cry hysterically. "No, no, no, I take it back, I donít want you to die, Giles... please, God, please, donít let him die... take me instead... I donít deserve to live! I tried to kill my Watcher..."

She tried to help him to his feet, but the movement made him cough, and his expelled air was full of droplets of blood. She panicked again, and raised her voice to a desperate scream. "Help! Somebody please help! Call 9-1-1!" She cradled him against her, alternately whimpering and screaming.

"Looks like heís a bit beyond helping, luv," Spike commented as he watched the frantic Slayer try to hold her Watcher as he coughed his life onto the withered grass.

She took another calming breath, and said pleadingly, "Spike, you have to help me. I have to get him to the hospital."

"Oh, I do?" He lit a cigarette and blew a perfect smoke ring in her direction. "And just why is that? Youíre the one did the number on him. Humans just canít stand heavy foreplay, didnít you know that? Carry Ďim yourself."

"He can fix me," she said with quiet conviction.

"Eh?"

"He can fix whatís wrong with me. If you donít help me right now, Iíll go on getting worse." Her voice dropped to a chilling whisper. "If I get worse, the next time I stake you, Iíll aim higher."

Spike shrugged and knelt at Gilesí side, taking an arm and ignoring his grunt of pain. "Iím a sucker for a pretty face, I am."

********

They burst into the ER practically dragging Giles between them, Buffy shouting for help, and the nurses took one look at the bleeding man and flew into a frenzy of action. Giles managed to gain consciousness long enough to gasp something about a gang attack, so Buffyís babbling was ignored for the moment as the staff worked at what they were trained to do... keeping a badly injured man alive despite all odds.

It took a while for the ER personnel to notice, but Buffyís repeated statements of guilt caught someoneís attention, and when the police arrived to investigate, they were sent to find her. Two uniformed officers had just entered the waiting room and called her name when the surgeon came in from the operating room with news. Buffy ignored the policemen and ran to the doctor, pleading for information.

"Heís doing well, Miss Summers. We had to treat a massive pneumothorax and repair some internal bleeding. He has three cracked ribs and a concussion, but he woke up in recovery a few moments ago and asked for you."

Buffy wiped her face carelessly and nodded. "I have to talk to the cops first."

The surgeon smiled sympathetically. "Mister Giles told me what happened... how he saved you from being mugged, or worse, by a gang of druggies. Youíre both lucky to be alive."

"But... it wasnít... I did it... I was responsible..."

"Now, Miss Summers, I know you feel responsible, but Mister Giles made me promise to tell you it wasnít your fault at all. The circumstances were completely out of your control."

That made her start crying again, and Spike decided to help her out. He figured American coppers could be easily sidetracked by an unfamiliar accent, so he laid it on as thickly as he could. "Now, pet, letís chin up and get this done with so you can go see Rupert, all right?" He turned to the first officer with a big, fake smile. "Oi, there, constable, I saw the whole thing. Bloody great mob of them, but olí Rupes in there fought them off. I pitched right in, and we put Ďem off good aní proper. They all tucked tail and ran like great cowards."

The officer turned to the weeping blonde and said, "Miss Summers? Is this true?"

Buffy didnít understand why Spike was suddenly on her side, but she was too emotionally drained to care. She just nodded. The sooner this was over, the sooner she could get to Giles.

"How many were there? Did you see any of their faces?"

"I donít know. It was dark."

"Why were you in the cemetery so late at night?" the second officer asked curiously.

"Oh, well, thatís because of me, mate... I live across the way and down the path, and we were gonna meet up and go out for a pint." Both cops stared at him, and he shrugged. "It was a nice night. We decided to leg it. Never had problems with gangs before."

The policemen asked a few more questions, but got little more information out of the tired girl and her strange British friend. After warning her that there might be further inquiries when Mister Giles was stronger, they left, and Buffy practically ran to Gilesí room and badgered the floor nurse until she was allowed in. His left hand was heavily bandaged, so she took his right one in both of hers and pulled up a chair. When the nurse came in to check on them, she was sound asleep with her cheek resting on the bed, the tips of his fingers just brushing her hair.

********

Buffyís hard veneer continued to crumble over the next few days as she watched the doctors and nurses tend Giles. She refused to leave his side except for absolute necessities, and the minute he was able to talk he began reassuring her that he did not blame her for the attack. She talked to him in the quiet moments, telling him how empty and meaningless her life had been since she was resurrected. How crazy she went without him. He listened to her without condemnation, and she loved him even more for it.

He patiently explained that the absence of their connection was nearly both their undoing, and that what she had been going through was not her fault. He even defended Willow when Buffy grew angry about her careless use of powerful magic, and how it had nearly cost Buffy her sanity and Giles his life. She listened raptly as he retold the story of the mystic connection and the few references Giles had read of its amazing power to heal and restore.

On the fourth day of Gilesí hospital stay, Buffy left and was gone for several hours. Even the nurses asked where his little blonde shadow had gone, but he didnít know. She returned just in time for dinner, ignoring his questions until he had eaten.

When heíd finished and the nurses had taken the tray away, Buffy settled in her new favorite position next to his uninjured side, and he good-naturedly made room for her on the narrow bed. She made herself comfortable, and they sat in silence for a few moments.

"So, where did you go?" he finally asked, curiosity getting the better of him.

"I had to do some deep thinking. Some stuff to work through."

He smiled at that. "And did you work through your... stuff?"

She giggled softly. "Yes. As a matter of fact, thatís my answer. Yes." She twined her fingers through his and waited for him to catch up. He was momentarily puzzled. She tilted her head up to watch his face as he went from confusion to comprehension to amazement to delight, all in the space of a few seconds. That made her giggle again.

"Youíre willing to go through with the ceremony?"

"Yep. You talked me into it. Wish you couldíve done that a little sooner," she added regretfully.

"Shh. Enough of that. You do understand that this is a binding, yes? Like a marriage?"

"I get that. I donít mind being bound to you anymore."

"Thank you... I wish it werenít necessary, but I donít know how long this period of normalcy will last. Iím afraid I wouldnít survive the next relapse."

She whimpered and leaned her head against his shoulder. She found a bruise that hadnít gone away, and he flinched slightly.

"Sorry... I keep saying that, but I am. So... very sorry."

She looked up at him again, and saw that he was lost in thought. He was calculating how much time they had left before the pact would be meaningless. The answer frightened him.

"Buffy, if we are to do this... it must be done before the next new moon. That gives us three days."

"That soon? Weíre gonna have trouble getting you out of here by then." She blew a breath of frustration at the thought. "Sorry, again, and for the millionth time."

He simply smiled, his eyes gentle. "Weíll manage. Iím able to move about and take care of myself. I should be able to go back to the hotel tomorrow. That will be enough time to get things together."

"Youíre not going back to the hotel. Youíre coming home with me."

He looked down at her, surprised, but didnít argue. There wasnít time. This had to be done while she was willing. "All right. Now, the ceremony must be held at midnight, and we need to be very near your... um... grave."

"How are we gonna get a priest to come out to a cemetery and do a wedding at midnight?"

"Ah... well, this particular ceremony Iíve chosen doesnít require a cleric, just reading the vows and signing the contract in front of three credible witnesses. Most marriage contracts of medieval times dealt more with the distribution of material goods and livestock than love and fidelity."

"The love thing really isnít in question." Before he could react to that surprising statement, she continued, "So, how many goats do I get for a dowry?"

"All of them." He answered with a chuckle.

"Sounds fair," she said with a shrug. "We need witnesses?"

"Yes, three."

"Okaaaay... would an ex-demon, a construction worker and a witch constitute credible witnesses?"

He smiled, still overwhelmed that she was willing to go through with this on his word alone. "They do as far as Iím concerned. If theyíre willing. I havenít spoken to Willow since I returned... we may have to find someone else."

"Then Tara will do it. Way to make things simple, Giles. I have to go call everyone."

"Must you go right this minute?" he said softly, looking down at their clasped hands.

She smiled and leaned over to give him a kiss on the cheek. "Donít worry, lover-boy, Iíll be right back."

********

"Just my luck... it decided to turn cold on my wedding... night. That didnít come out the way I wanted it to." Buffy wrapped her arms around herself, holding the thin sweater as close to her as possible.

Xander wrapped an arm around Anya, making an effort to keep her warm. "It wouldnít be you, Buff, if everything was perfect." Buffy made a face at him. "Oh, by the way, whereís the blushing groom? Heís late. I hope he didnít run into anything nasty."

"Hey, no jinxing my sisterís wedding!" Dawn protested. Upon hearing the news, she immediately decreed herself the maid of honor despite Buffy explanation that it really wasnít that kind of ceremony. To Dawn, anything that would provide her a Ďget out of prison freeí card was a good thing in her book. She was the least shocked of all, accepting the ceremonial marriage with good cheer. Sheíd even picked a handful of flowers for the occasion.

Willow watched with sad eyes as the four of them teased each other. She wasnít quite ready to rejoin the Scooby gang. The taste of her failure was too fresh, and the cast on Dawnís arm was a constant reminder. But she had agreed to this for Buffyís sake, to try and mend their tattered relationship. She fervently hoped that the binding would work... it would mean that something good had come of her terrible mistake.

"Sorry Iím late," Giles apologized as he limped up to the group, still favoring his left side. He was carrying a small square folding table, a large candle, and the manuscript. He set up quickly, lighting the candle and placing it so that the wax wouldnít spatter the unrolled document. He pulled a quill pen out of his jacket pocket and added it to the arrangement, then looked around. "I had to set some wards... we canít have newly risen vampires or demons on the prowl interrupting us."

"Good thinking, G-man. Demons love to crash weddings, or so I hear."

"Donít call me that, Xander."

Buffy added, "Besides, with such a romantic setting, who wouldnít wanna crash this party?"

Giles looked pained, and she quickly reassured him. "Iím kidding. Itís okay, I know it has to be here. I it was just a lame joke."

He placed a hand on her shoulder and said quietly, "If it were my choice, it would be the most beautiful place I could find, with all the trimmings."

"I know." Her eyes held nothing but trust as she gazed up at him.

"Okay, letís get this love-fest underway..." Xander quipped, rubbing his chilly hands together. "...before my fingers get too stiff to sign my name."

"All right. Now... gather round, Xander here... Anya..." Giles placed his friends at the three sides of the table, with himself and Buffy together on the remaining side, in front of the manuscript. Dawn stood behind Xander, watching everything with wide eyes.

"Now what?" Xander asked jokingly.

"Now, we read the contract, and you all acknowledge that we read and agreed to it, then we all sign. Myself, then Buffy, then Xander, Anya and Willow."

"Then cut to the honeymoon?"

Willow elbowed her dark-haired friend sharply. He yelped and shut up. "Weíre ready, Giles," she assured her mentor and friend, giving him a warm smile.

Giles looked over at Buffy, his eyes asking an unspoken question. She licked her lips nervously and answered with a nod. He smoothed the parchment carefully, taking a deep breath. This was it. Up until everything was signed and witnessed, Buffy could still revert and refuse to cooperate. He shook his head angrily... this was not the time to think of such things. His entire concentration had to be on Buffy alone.

"I, Rupert Giles, do solemnly swear, before God and these good witnesses, that I will protect, preserve, and hold undiminished for all times my betrothed partner, Buffy Summers, her possessions, holdings, person and station, and to preserve undiminished such additions and augmentations I may naturally make thereto, and this shall I agree to do, from this day forward, and forever.

"This constitutes a pledge of fidelity, support, and respect that cannot be broken by circumstance or intent. It is therefore, from this day forward, a binding contract and loyal bond between myself, Rupert Giles, and Buffy Summers that in and of itself shall stand without dissolution, termination, or suspension, so long as we both shall live."

By the end of the reading Xanderís eyes were wide, and he mouthed, ĎWow,í to Willow, who agreed with a deep breath and a nod. Anya seemed enrapt, being the only one of the group that found talk of possessions sexy.

Buffy hesitantly took the contract from Giles, and began to read her part. "I, Buffy Summers, do solemnly swear..."

She grimaced in sudden pain, but he steadied her with an arm around her waist.

"... do solemnly swear... before G-god and these good.. witnesses..." It was obvious that the pain was growing worse, and Giles was horrified to see the darkness gathering in her eyes once again.

"Concentrate, love... and please hurry," he murmured as he held her upright... Please, please, donít take her from me now! He begged, looking up into the night sky for help.

She continued to read her part as the wind began to whip the corners of the document in her hands. It increased as she stammered through the first paragraph, but when she got to the second, her voice seemed to strengthen.

Giles gasped in surprise, however, when she slightly altered the text and said, "This constitutes a pledge of fidelity, support, respect... and love..." He stared at her as she finished her vows with a small smile.

It took some doing, but he tore his eyes from hers and looked down to the manuscript again. They recited the final paragraph together, their voices barely heard over the sound of the rising storm. "Before all authorities and powers, above and below, we do declare ourselves bonded together in both earthly and spiritual union. Amen."

Giles signed his name with a trembling hand. He looked at Buffy, fearful of any signs that she would refuse the final act of their vow. She gave him a knowing grin and took the pen from his hand, her looping script appearing directly under his signature as she wrote. She replaced the pen, almost giddy with relief that she hadnít become a monster right in the middle of things.

The three witnesses stood there, not knowing what to do next, so Giles motioned to Xander to lean closer, and pointed to the first witness line. "You need to sign... right here, and the rest of you below him."

The moment the witnesses finished their official duties, there was a huge clap of thunder, and the wind rose to gale force. Buffy held the parchment down with both hands, and Giles squinted up at the roiling black clouds above them. Thunder sounded again, louder than the first, and the ensuing lightning flash blinded them all momentarily. Buffy and Giles were jolted with a surge of power unlike anything theyíd ever felt before. When the others could focus again, they saw Buffy and Giles staring at each other like long-lost lovers. Neither of them seemed to notice that the manuscript in front of them was smoking.

"Uh... Giles... I hate to spoil the moment, but weíre on fire here," Willow said, pointing to the table that was now almost obscured by smoke.

He gave a surprised cry and grabbed for the precious document, blowing the haze away. The stiff parchment was undamaged except for a small burn mark in the lower left corner, just below Buffyís signature.

Willow whistled softly. "Looks like The Powers That Be approve!"

"Woah... cool!" Dawn added, her eyes wide.

Anya clucked sympathetically. "Well, even if it does have burnt patches, itís mostly intact. At least you have enough to file at the courthouse tomorrow."

Giles carefully rolled the contract and put it back in its protective cylinder. He blew out the candle, noting for the first time that the wind had completely died down. He looked up for a moment, then sighed and began to fold the table for carrying. He put the table under one arm, the cylinder under the other, and dropped the pen in his jacket pocket.

"We should go. The wards will only last a few more minutes, and I suddenly feel like I could sleep for a week."

"Giles? What happened to your bad ribs?" Xander said casually as they began to walk to their cars.

Giles stopped. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that youíre hefting that table under your left arm, and last time I checked, those ribs werenít allowing for toting of any kind."

Giles looked down at the folded table, held easily against his side with his left hand. He flexed his fingers under the bandages, noting that the pain was completely gone. He lifted his shoulder experimentally. No fractured ribs.

"This is... astonishing."

"Giles? Youíre healed?" Buffy quickly ran a hand under his jacket, pressing against the bandages below his shirt. He didnít even flinch, but the feeling of her fingers prodding him made him shiver with something very different than pain.

"Apparently I am," he said, his voice filled with wonder.

"And so am I." She smiled up at him, still standing quite close. Unconsciously, her hand caressed his waist. "Because if I wasnít, I wouldnít be wanting to do this." She reached up, pulled his head down to hers and kissed him gently. It didnít take him very long to get over his surprise and respond. The kiss lasted for several minutes, as the rest of them gaped at the display.

"Thatís what was missing from the ceremony!" Anya declared happily. "They were supposed to kiss! Itís traditional!"

"Um... Buffy... guys... we probably should go before we have company..." Dawn pleaded nervously, looking around the cemetery at the dark shadows that surrounded them.

Giles broke the kiss, only moving a few centimeters away from Buffyís warm lips. "Sheís right, love. We need to go."

Buffy looked up at him with complete adoration. "You still have your hotel room?"

His words of surprise caught in his throat, and he began to cough helplessly. When he recovered, he nodded. "I havenít had the chance to cancel it."

"Donít," she said with sultry promise, and turned to Xander. "Can you guys stay with Dawn tonight?"

"Dawnís not a baby," the teen interjected with a pout. "Dawn can stay by herself."

"Iíll stay with her, too," Willow said softly, afraid of Buffyís reaction.

"Yeah, thatíd be cool. We could rent a movie." Dawn turned to her newly-married sister with a hopeful smile. "Wouldnít that be okay? If Xander and Anya were there?"

Buffy looked over at Willow, seeing the contrition and firm commitment in her friendís eyes. She nodded and looked up at Giles. He was smiling fondly at them all.

"Itís fine," Buffy said decisively. "I have to go get some overnight stuff, so we can meet back at the house."

Giles still was in a bit of a daze. He followed Buffy to the car without another word. On the drive home, Dawn was chattering away, ignoring the fact that the two adults in the front seat were incapable of answering her. Buffy managed a few noncommittal sounds, but Giles was totally silent. His mind was speeding away, however, as he tried to grasp the notion that Buffy had not only agreed to the marriage contract, but considered it to be exactly that; a marriage. Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined that things would turn out like this.

When they got to Buffyís, Xander, Anya and Willow were already waiting inside. Buffy chuckled softly to herself as she realized that sheíd hadnít gotten Willowís key back before she threw the red-head out. It didnít matter now. That was all in the past, and Willow was kicking the bad magic habit now, with the help of her friends.

Xander was just coming back from the kitchen with a tray of assorted chips when the newlyweds and Dawn cautiously entered the house. "I feel like I should be throwing rice," he said with a broad smile. He sat the food down on the coffee table, and it was like old times again. Everyone began to talk and laugh like the good friends they were.

After a few comfortable moments, Buffy stood back from the conversation, smiling with complete contentment at the scene. Things were back in their rightful places again. She was whole, Giles was back to stay, and Dawn was happy again. It was a miracle.

Two warm hands rested on her shoulders, and she leaned back onto Gilesí firm chest. He leaned down to brush a kiss onto her hair and rested his face against hers. "A wonderful sight, isnít it?"

"Yes, it is. I thought Iíd never see everyone happy again, including me."

He looked down as she turned in his loose embrace, his eyes searching hers. "Are you happy, my dear? Truly?" He tilted his head slightly, a wry grin appearing on his face. "Iím sure this was not the wedding youíve envisioned since you were a small girl."

She slid her arms around his waist and hugged him close. "Youíre right, it wasnít. In so many ways it was so much better." Her eyes drifted closed as she allowed the warmth of his body to soak into her, warming her to her very soul.

"We should go soon," he reminded gently.

"Canít wait, huh?" She watched with delight as he blushed. "Me neither."

As she dashed upstairs to pack, she heard Anyaís voice as she began one of her embarrassingly detailed stories about Xander and impatience. Buffy packed quickly, her heart beating double-time in anticipation. When had she fallen for her Watcher? There didnít seem to be one single moment, just a series of small steps towards what she felt sure would be the best decision in her short life.

She practically flew down the stairs, snagging Giles by the arm as she passed the living room. She didnít even bother to say goodbye, just ushered him out the door and into the car.

"Drive," she commanded. He complied immediately, still wondering what she had in mind.

"Ah... Buffy?"

"Hmm?" She leaned back against the headrest, enjoying the feeling of being herself again.

"You... that is, I realize what we did, tonight, is considered by some to be a perfectly legal marriage."

"Yep."

"However, I... uh... well, I should make it clear that... the... ah... contract isnít considered legally binding until itís f-filed at the courthouse... you do understand that, yes?"

"Again with the yep."

"So, if it is your intention to... um... treat this as a... um... normal marriage..."

"As normal as a marriage with us in it can be." She was thoroughly enjoying his stammering. It was cute.

"Then, I would be, that is... I would understand completely if you wished to... ah... wait until tomorrow to... ah... well..."

She interrupted with a cheery laugh. "Nothing doing. If God thinks itís legal, then itís okay with me. Besides, he signed it, so I think that overrules everything else."

"God signed...?"

She reached in his pocket, causing his breath to catch as her fingers brushed his chest and pulled the contract out of his inside pocket. She popped the cylinder open and shook the stiff parchment out into her hand. She held it up in the shifting light of passing street lamps and pointed to the scorch mark near the bottom where it was struck by lightning. "See? Thatís Godís signature. Youíre mine. End of discussion."

He began to chuckle. "Godís signature. I see."

She carefully rolled the document and put it back in its container. Dropping it on the floor, she slid over until she was practically sitting on the console between them. With a satisfied look on her face, she leaned against him until her lips were tickling his ear. "Now, drive faster, Mister Giles," she demanded breathily.

"Your wish is my command, Mrs. Giles."

 
The End