By Gail Christison
Author: Gail Christison
Rating: M15+ For romantic sexual situation
Summary: Buffy's lonely Valentine's Day suddenly isn't quite so lonely anymore.
Timeline: After Checkpoint. Somewhere there. Crush didn't happen :-)
Disclaimer: All the goodies belong to Joss as we all know, but the romance is ours :-)
Distribution: My site, Gabi if she wants it :-) Dword if she wants it.
Feedback: Always inspirational. firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's Note: This fic is unashamedly sentimental and romantic, like Valentine's Day
Dedication: This fic is dedication is for my friend, Liz. Happy birthday, THANKYOU and Happy Valentine's, girl! :-)))
To everyone else A Valentine's Wish from me: May you all have a great one! -Gail
Buffy flung open the door of the magic shop and looked around. Empty, except…
She strode across to the counter. It was redolent with the scent of flowers…two baskets of them…one a formal arrangement of huge red and white carnations interspersed with Baby's Breath and soft greenery. Since the store seemed deserted she peeked at the card.
"To Anya, I can't find enough ways to tell you! I will always love you—Xander."
She swallowed. They were really beautiful.
The other basket was smaller, a cascade of wildflowers, in a riot of colours, shapes and sizes. The card was from Willow to Tara. She put it back quickly when she heard a noise.
Anya emerged carrying a box of stock and blinked.
"Buffy…I thought you were out slaying…things?"
"In the middle of the afternoon?" Buffy reminded her dryly. "I just finished classes for the day and I wanted to do some training…preferably with my trusty watcher guy."
"Oh, he's not here. He should be back any moment though."
"Oh?" Where would Giles be on a Thursday afternoon…especially a Thursday afternoon during which they had a goodly part of their weekly training schedule?
"Yes," Anya confirmed, taking her box to a shelf with some empty space on it and beginning to unpack the cheap wizard, unicorn and dragon ornaments from it. "He…um…he had to see a friend."
"Oh," Buffy said flatly, visions of Olivia back in town for Valentine's Day unaccountably depressing her all of a sudden.
At which point the bell on the door shrilled, making her jump.
"Buffy! You've come to train, yes?"
"Giles!" she exclaimed happily, turned and felt her mouth fall open of its own volition and stay that way as he came into the room.
No glasses. He was dressed in tight black cord jeans, dark leather boots under them, an obviously expensive, dark blue shirt, the first two buttons undone, under a new waist-length mottled black and charcoal leather jacket; he was wearing an earring…and his hair was different.
"So…we're not training today?" she asked, feeling even more unaccountably depressed as her eyes roved up and down this stunning new version of her Watcher.
Giles, who had been grinning, sobered. "News to me," he replied quietly. "Is something amiss?"
Buffy shook her head.
At that point Giles focused on the flowers behind her.
"I say," he said. "Magnificent blooms. May one ask who the lucky suitor, or suitors are?"
Anya grinned widely and touched the carnations. "Xander gave me these. I will give him his gift tonight," she told them, her meaning obvious.
"And those are mine," a voice said from the direction of the storeroom. Tara emerged with an armful of cleaning gear. "Willow wanted to surprise me. I love wildflowers," she grinned.
Giles smiled at them. "Good show," he said, only to have the smile wiped away again when he saw Buffy's downcast face.
She was trying to look detached, unaffected, but he knew instinctively, as he always did, and had since Riley left, that she was hurting.
"Good show," he repeated, more soberly, and slid something in his hand back into his jeans pocket.
"Buffy, I think its time you and I made a start on some weapons practise. We've been concentrating far too much on hand to hand of late."
The blonde head flew up, surprised. "But…your clothes…your date," she said before she could stop herself.
For a moment real surprise flickered across Giles' face, then he smiled gently. "I'm free until this evening," he told her. "And I rather think these clothes are going to be more comfortable to train in than either of my suits, don't you?"
They trained with both competition sabres and Giles' heaviest antique blades, matched as closely as possible to the weight and type carried by the Knights of Byzantium. As the sparring progressed, Giles noticed Buffy getting more an more aggressive and harder and harder to keep up with.
In a few more minutes their almost choreographed clashing had become the equivalent of a fight to the death. He allowed it to continue for as long as he thought she would benefit from the exercise, but when she knocked him off his feet and came at him in what could only be described as a death rush with her sword, he finally called a halt.
She stopped, almost on top of him. "What?" she cried angrily, and Giles realised for the first time how flushed her face was and that her eyes were strangely detached.
"Buffy?" he said softly.
The familiar gentleness penetrated where yelling had failed. "Oh…sorry," she muttered and extended a hand, which he took, and allowed her to help him easily to his feet.
Buffy looked down when he didn't release her fingers.
"Are you all right?" he asked softly.
"Why wouldn't I be all right?" she asked, still a trace of impatience in her voice. "I made it to my twentieth birthday, Dawn is safe for the time being, college is fine and I survived Quentin Travers…again. Everything is just ginger peachy."
Giles tilted his head to one side. "How long have we known each other?"
It wasn't what Buffy was expecting, and took the wind out of her ill-tempered sails. She frowned.
"A long time," she said softly, and turned to put her blade away.
He followed, reached past her to put his own away, but didn't back away when she turned.
"What's wrong?" he asked again.
"Nothing really," she said dismissively. "You know I don't do celebrations well…or they don't do me, or…something. I really don't care, anyway. At least I didn't get a bouquet from my dad with another 'sorry, you're scheduled somewhere below returning my library book' note. That's gotta be a plus. How did I do today?"
Giles paused, lost for a second. "Oh, the swordplay. You were a little distracted, but you made up for it with an elegant sufficiency of aggression and violence," he reported dryly.
"A little distracted," she repeated. "Yeah. That's me. Maybe I should go home and see how many secret admirers Mom and Dawn have?" she mused. "Is that all?"
He frowned. "That's probably a good idea. I rather think that if we continue, one of us is going to get hurt. Buffy…" he called as she started to turn, and watched her turn back. "Don't forget where I am if you want someone to talk to."
She smiled then, the irritation momentarily gone from her eyes, the heaviness from her expression.
"I won't," she said with an affection whose strength surprised even her. "Bye."
Giles watched her go and sighed heavily. He was growing very tired of life's tendency to smack his Slayer in the face at every turn, no matter how much of herself she gave to her Destiny, to the security of the entire world, in fact. He was growing tired of watching her get hurt, period. With another sigh he drew the small object from his pocket and turned it with the fingertips of the same hand, before opening it with the other. A moment later he snapped it closed again, a look of determination on his face.
Buffy watched Dawn showing her mother the handful of Valentine cards she'd been given at school, and the tiny box of chocolates from a secret admirer, probably the boy's entire allowance for the week…and ooh-ed and ah-ed appropriately, before congratulating her mother on the box of yellow roses, Joyce's favourites, and the sweet note that came with it. Joyce knew who her admirer was, in fact had a long-standing friendship with the jovial Gordon O'Neill, but she would never love him back.
Once Buffy had shared in their pleasure at their gifts, she took herself to the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator and drank juice from the carton, before starting a sandwich. By the time it was done she didn't want it anymore.
When Joyce found her, a long time later, she was sitting on the back step, deep in her own thoughts.
"You missing Riley?" she asked.
Buffy closed her eyes. Since her operation, Joyce found little time for beating around the bush.
"I miss…being like everyone else," she whispered. "Mom…I don't even know who Riley was. I mean, right from the beginning I had to tell myself he was going to be good for me. Then he didn't even know it wasn't me…when Faith…and then it was like…" She stopped, unsure whether it was because she thought she was being unfair to Riley, because it hurt, or simply because she was afraid of where she was going with it.
"It was like he was there, and he was comforting, but there didn't seem to be anything more, except the knowledge that you could always count on him being there," Joyce said softly.
Buffy looked at her, then smiled weakly. "Something like that. I don't think I was very fair to him…"
Joyce frowned. "That may be, but Buffy, let me tell you from experience, if Riley had been as strong as…well, as strong as young Xander, even, he wouldn't have done the things he did, or been as hurt as he was simply because you were too distracted by trivialities like, oh, slaying, and your mother's illness, to concentrate on him."
"Wow, mom," Buffy said softly.
Joyce grinned. "Yeah, well, I was your age once. And don't forget there was your father, too."
"Right," Buffy smiled back wryly. "Let's not forget the major learning curve that was dad." Then she frowned. "Xander, mom?"
Joyce nodded. "For his age, that young man is remarkably loyal and strong. How many other boys would remain friends with a young girl who turned them down romantically, let alone stand by them in the face of the kind of things you confront every day?"
Buffy nodded. "You're right. I never thought of him that way. But you're right."
"And Mister Giles," Joyce added thoughtfully, lapsing back into the forced appellation she'd used for Giles for so long after the 'incident.'
"Well, yeah, he's strong," Buffy agreed.
"That's what I mean," Joyce went on. "Compare him to Riley, and you begin to see why it didn't work out between you." She paused there, watching, with surprise, the transparent thought processes suddenly at work in her daughter's mobile features.
"You know what? He's still here," Buffy said finally. "Riley walked, but through all my stupid mistakes, all the times I hurt him, Giles stayed. He could have gone at least a half a dozen times, and with way better reason than Riley, but he stayed…"
In the moment of silence that followed, Joyce's eyes widened at the intensity of the light that came into the blue-grey ones. It wasn't what she was expecting to see, or something that she had ever even suspected was possible. Thankfully, she was almost certain Buffy, even now, didn't recognise what was reflected in that glow.
"Anyway, it's just us three girls tonight," she said, changing the subject. "Dawn's beau won't get any more pocket money for another week and mine is on his way to Chicago for a meeting with the curator of a small gallery there."
Buffy stirred. "Oh, yeah, sure. I have to patrol, but I'll make it a small one. Who cares about some mouldy Irish saint anyway?"
Joyce chuckled, but her eyes were wary as Buffy rose and dusted of the hands she used to push herself up as she went back into the house.
The patrol was dead boring until Buffy happened on a pair of vampires stalking a couple making out in one of the parks. She had disposed of the small female and large male vamps before the lovers had even broken their torrid kiss, and moved on. After one more battle, with a skanky purple demon emerging from an otherwise empty crypt, Buffy headed for the store. It was still fairly early, but she wanted to give Giles the antique blade she'd taken from the demon. It was a fairly spectacular piece, old, jewel encrusted, Latin writing on the hilt, sharp…she added, nicking herself on the razor sharp edge.
The door of the Magic Box wasn't locked. In between the surprise and the irritation at Giles' continued problem with organizing his own security, she mused on the fact that he was actually still there, even thought it was after closing, on Valentine's Day. Where was Olivia…?
Inside there were, once again, flowers on the counter. She sighed. Anya, or Willow and Tara, must have stayed back. It didn't mean Giles was here at all. After a couple of moments, during which she almost about faced and went home, she moved across to the riot of purple, pink and white daisies, forget-me-nots and tiny, perfect miniature pink rosebuds…her favourites…
The rose perfume was glorious…and they were all exactly what she would have wanted. She opened her mouth to call out and ask who was there, then halted. What if they were for Olivia? She wouldn't want to disturb Giles if he was on his way to see her. In a twisted sort of way it became her rationale for peeking at the card.
Except that the card contained only the words: 'With All My Love…Always,' written in beautiful, careful longhand.
She swallowed and put it back in its envelope before slipping it back among the blooms.
"Giles?" she called a couple of moments later, her wits returning as she headed for the training room. She heard footsteps on the stairs and turned.
"Oh," she said, aware that the word was getting a major work out today.
Giles was sliding a new shirt over his head, his otherwise bare torso and abs still glistening with sweat from some kind of exertion, flexed as his raised arms pushed through the arms holes, above his shoulders.
"Buffy!" he exclaimed as he came to a halt and finished donning the shirt, something dangling from his left hand. "I thought I heard someone down here."
Buffy looked up. "Wh-who's up there?" she asked, suddenly aware of a terrible pain in about the proximity of her heart.
"Where? Oh," he said looking up. "Nobody. I was…well, I've been doing some additional training of my own, if you must know…weights and such," he admitted in a rush. "I was in the middle of changing to go home when I heard the bell, but since I have no desire to fight demons in gym shorts and sneakers, I was trying to get dressed first.
Buffy's cheeks went crimson. "You train in gym shorts? You don't train with me in gym shorts."
"I'm old and unfit," he said ruefully. "I overheat quickly and I have rather limited flexibility these days. Nowhere else on this planet will you ever get me into short pants again. He lifted his left hand then stuck it behind his back, but not before Buffy had seen the small, black, synthetic shorts with the white slash of the maker's motif on one leg.
"Cute," she smiled, still glowing red. "You wanna train some more?"
He stared at her for a moment, as if only just noticing her high colour, then shook his head. "An hour is enough for tonight. I do actually have plans," he said gruffly, colouring brightly himself, and pushing the shorts even further behind his back. 'W-was there something in particular that you wanted?" he asked, an edge to his voice.
"N-nothing serious," she managed, surprised by the question, and moved back to the flowers to pick up the dagger she'd left there. "I took this off an extremely sleazy looking purple demon in a white three piece disco outfit and platforms. Totally weirded me out…him speaking heavy Latin-y stuff, and trying to look like John Travolta at the same time." She shuddered eloquently.
"It's…it's quite beautiful…a museum piece, actually," he told her in hushed tones, peering at the inscription with all the pleasure and excitement of the true scholar and enthusiast.
Buffy smiled as he read the words.
"Honour, Courage, Service…There's a family crest," he added, "but I would have to have time to identify it. Austrian, I think."
"It's yours," she told him. "Happy Valentine's day, Giles."
He looked up then, almost startled. Then he smiled self-consciously.
Buffy smiled back uncomfortably. "I know it's a crock, since I was giving it to you anyway, but I love when you get excited like that. You never show anyone the other side of yourself."
"Other…side?" he asked in a slightly hoarse voice.
"The one who isn't just a stuffy British Watcher or the emotional marathon man," Buffy told him dryly.
"I wasn't aware that I had quite so many sides," Giles began then seemed to remember at that point that his shirt was still hanging out, over his jeans.
He started to tuck it in, stopping automatically to undo the button of his pants and push the zipper down enough to do it properly, before suddenly remembering where he was.
He looked down at the open fly and his hands, which were still inside the band of his jeans, pushing the shirt down. He swallowed then looked up, glowing brightly.
"No problem," Buffy told him, amused, and not a little surprised that it actually didn't bother her in the slightest.
When he was done, he straightened, and Buffy decided she liked the new grey knit pullover shirt with its fine ribbing and round neck, and buttons open at the throat, best of all, especially with those new, tight jeans.
And that made her think of Olivia again. Giles wasn't the type to buy tight jeans for himself.
"New clothes?" she croaked.
"These? No, not really. I just haven't worn them before. Olivia gave them to me last year…birthday present…late, early. Never really matters with Olivia. She gave me my Christmas present during that first visit…the one which coincided with your first day at college."
"In July?" Buffy exclaimed, surprised.
He chuckled. "We've been friends a long time, and she never knows where she's going to be next."
Buffy was looking at his clothes again. She made a twirling gesture with her fingers. He made a grumpy face back and she did it again. With a sigh he turned slowly through three hundred and sixty degrees.
By the time he was facing her again, more than just Buffy's cheeks were really overheated. Who knew Giles had a butt…a real butt…or that his shoulders were actually that wide…?
She cleared her throat. "The woman has good taste," she managed. "Very…very…uh, when do you pick her up?" she asked, proud both at what she thought was a smooth change of subject, and her deceptively steady voice.
"When do I…?" Giles repeated, then his eyes flashed, unseen by Buffy, again. "Ah. My reservation is for nine-thirty at Chloe's."
Buffy's lip stuck out a little. "The new French place…?" she said softly. "She'll love it."
"I fully intend that she should adore it," he said softly, and walked behind the counter to pull out from under it, and set gently next to the flowers, a silver-coloured box.
Buffy looked from it, to him and swallowed.
"This isn't exactly how I originally planned this evening," he said slowly.
She was suddenly overwhelmed by remorse. If anyone deserved some fun of his own…
"Oh God, Giles, I'm so sorry for spoiling it for you. I'll go now, so you can call her and tell her you're going to be late. My bad. I'm s—"
"Buffy," Giles said, in a tone that silenced her. His voice was neither raised, nor quiet. There was a powerful quality to it, but one that commanded her attention rather than forced itself upon her.
She blinked and looked at him.
"Happy Valentine's day," he said quietly, and pushed the box a little toward her.
Buffy's heart felt like it had just stopped. And then exploded. And then stopped again. She made herself move toward the counter, holding her breath. Her mind raced. It would be something childish, like roller-blades, or…or a raincoat, or…or a new weapon for Slaying. Her own custom-made crossbow…Right…
She reached the counter and looked down at the box. It had a tiny crest right in the centre of it. She swallowed again. She knew that crest. The box had come all the way from Los Angeles…and it was not a crossbow.
Giles watched as she gingerly lifted the lid, aware that she expected to be disappointed, and amused by the look of grim anticipation on her face. He watched her as she parted the tissue paper and smiled slowly to himself as her face suffused with awe, and then pleasure as she reached into the box.
"It's beautiful," she whispered, lifting the evening dress from the box. "I-It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen…but…my size…?"
"Cordelia said she knew someone your size when I arranged this with her. She dragged them along to a number of fittings until she found what she was looking for. She also chose the shoes and the purse in there. Apparently you're the same shoe size."
He nodded. "I wanted it to be perfect…and I'm afraid that choosing dresses is one skill I have never mastered. I was late for our training session because I had to be home when the, um, courier arrived."
Buffy held the deceptively simple sheath, with its tiny strap shoulders and low cut bodice, whose incredibly expensive fabric she knew would cling perfectly to every curve, and move elegantly with every step she took.
"Y-you bought me a dress?"
"To wear out to dinner…and to match your flowers," he said gently, his eyes smiling as hers flew to the arrangement on the counter. However, the sweet, beautiful cottage flowers did not match the fabric of her new dress.
He drew another box from the small bar fridge under the counter, where they kept the perishable spell ingredients, and handed it to her.
Buffy stared at the corsage. Of course he knew she hated large corsages…didn't he? She was certain she'd mentioned something in passing when she was planning her dress for the Prom…but why would he have remembered such a small thing…?
The tiny spray of Michaelmas daisies nestled in the finest miniature ferns was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen…next to the dress. And he was right, their shade of creamy ivory with its blush of palest mauve was only slightly deeper than that of her dress.
"Cordelia again?" she asked, trying and failing to keep her tone light.
He shook his head very slightly.
"Antonio's. I took the dress, and he custom made it for me."
Buffy held both items close to her bosom. "For me? But…Olivia…?" she said dumbly, and died of shame inside when she heard herself.
Giles, however, took it in stride. "There is no Olivia, Buffy. There hasn't been any Olivia since the Gentlemen terrified her, quite possibly out of several years of very lucrative modelling, if her opinion on how much she aged while she was here was anything to go by."
Buffy felt a rush of affection for him even as the bubble of laughter welled up. "Giles, you've been here nearly five years and you still can't make a sentence under three commas long!"
He snorted good-naturedly. "I'll have you know there were only two in that sentence."
She rolled her eyes. "And you would be the only person I know who would know that," she retorted. "And you haven't asked me yet."
"Haven't…what…sorry?" he blinked, unnerved, as she intended him to be.
"To dinner," she teased.
"W-will you do me the honour…of having dinner with me, tonight? I know I'm not much of a prize, and you deserve far better than a battle-scarred old man like me…" he rushed on, only to be silenced by her sudden movement to meet him half way, as he emerged from behind the counter.
Buffy didn't even try to continue the verbal sparring.
"I don't deserve you at all," she said quietly. "Giles, there is nothing in the world I want more than to have dinner with you tonight."
He stared at her for a long moment then smiled very slowly, his face lighting with pleasure.
"I will drop you at home…and collect you in an hour," he announced gruffly.
"Too far the wrong way," she told him. "We'll go to your place and change there…unless you've thrown out my stuff since you opened the store and I moved back home?"
"Of course not. Your 'stuff' still resides where it always has. Why you need all of that…that lot after patrolling all night, I'll never know. It's not as though anyone is going to see you going home in the dark without fixing your make up…" he growled.
Buffy tilted her head to one side. "You see me."
"Yes but…" Giles stopped. She was pulling his leg, he decided. "Come on, then, I'm not sure Michel will hold our table if we're more than fashionably late for our booking."
Buffy carefully put the dress back in its box, closed the lid and set the flowers down on the counter before turning back to him.
"But nothing," she told him pointedly, her eyes bright with emotion, her face serious.
Giles looked down. When she realised that he understood, and was embarrassed again, she collected her gifts and motioned him to bring the basket of flowers.
They made it to the apartment with what Giles considered enough time to spare to dress properly, before rushing off again to make their dinner booking somewhere within civilized limits.
Giles was shaving, once again dressed only in his jeans, when the bathroom door opened.
He jumped in surprise and was lucky not to nick his chin with the safety blade.
Buffy was standing in the doorway, seemingly wearing only one of his shirts.
"If you don't hurry up so I can get back in here we aren't going anywhere," she wailed, then realised his eye was fixed on his shirt.
"Oh. Well, I didn't have a robe…and I can't get dressed until I've finished in the bathroom." She smiled and undid the only button holding it closed then deliberately started to open it, showing the lacy underwear beneath. "I can take it off if you don't want it to get w…"
"NO…no, that will be fine," he said hastily. "As a matter of fact it suits you. Look, there's a mirror in the loft, if that's all you need. Can't you do your makeup or something, while I finish in here?"
At first Buffy didn't answer, and then she realised that she had gone off into a brown study, lost in the amazingly good view of his naked chest and broad shoulders as he stood there trying to look patient but only succeeding in looking decidedly peevish.
"Buffy?" he prompted.
"What? Chest…oh…I mean, yes, makeup, the loft. Gone, bye…"
Giles shook his head as the door closed and then chuckled to himself. A year ago allowing himself to be seen half naked by Buffy would have been painfully humiliating and embarrassing. Now, he realised, she'd seen him twice, the first time without him even thinking until it was too late, and this time, with barely a thought about it from him at all.
No, far more disturbing had been that momentary confirmation that she was indeed now a woman…a very real and beautiful woman. Suddenly flustered, he forced himself to school his thoughts onto safer ground, focusing on considering his best options to suitably compliment the new dress.
In the end he fell back on the advice…no, the criticism…he'd received from Olivia about his personal fashion sense. Apart from the observation that he simply didn't have any, she had given him a verbal seminar and a very succinct lesson in taste and the co-ordination of the few articles of his clothing of which she actually approved.
He sighed. Half of what was now in his wardrobe was purchased by, or the result of Olivia's expert disapproval of his taste in clothes. If memory served only one jacket, one pair of shoes and two shirts, one of which he destroyed while a Fyarl demon, and another which she'd given him, which still hung, unworn, in his closet, met with her approval the first time they had attempted to dress for dinner.
He opened the closet and eyed the shirt. There were many new ones hanging on the rack, most of which were practical business shirts for work and a few polo shirts for casual wear. Once past those, he was left with the two different black shirts he'd purchased to replace the one he'd destroyed, the unworn one, with the grandfather collar and fine black pinstripe over dark, gunmetal grey. It looked more like something some movie star might wear…or a gangster, he thought wryly. He still had the crisp white linen shirt he'd bought for the Prom, and a couple of silk shirts Olivia had insisted on him owning, but his eye kept wandering back to the fashion shirt. It also looked like something Buffy might actually approve of…
In the end he sighed and donned it, and his best dark pants and the tailored black jacket he'd purchased to wear to an after-shoot cocktail party of Olivia's somewhere in the heart of Beverly Hills, the previous summer.
He looked at himself in the mirror when he'd finished his hair, and felt about a hundred. He removed the glasses he'd donned automatically, as always, and looked at himself again…
A little better…
With a frown he re-did his hairstyle into one that he hadn't tried in a very long time. Not since he'd come to Sunnydale, in fact. Not since…well, anyway, he fancied, as he ran his fingers from his temples to his crown, that he had a little more hair in those days. And perhaps something else…
It looked surprisingly good when he was finished, and he was glad he'd had some of the length taken off the top during his last trim. It really did look much better when it was short enough for the natural curl to do its own thing on top. It wasn't really so much styled as set free, he decided, chuckled to himself and added the final, and, he supposed, crazy touch.
He took another look and shook his head. If he saw any sign in Buffy's face that she hated it…he sighed, remembering the way Olivia used to telegraph her displeasure, he'd revert back to his old self again, quick smart…
By the time he was ready and back downstairs, Buffy had finished in the bathroom. She passed by him at the breakfast bar, seemingly oblivious of the fact that the shirt was again unbuttoned and her pretty underthings were this time openly on display. By the time he'd blinked and regrouped, she'd disappeared into the loft, virtually without even acknowledging his presence.
Not surprisingly, since her hair and make up were already done, she emerged again less than ten minutes later.
This time, however, he caught his breath and stared, only to realise she was doing the same. She looked beyond beautiful in the dress. As he came to the foot of the stairs, he made a mental note to do something spectacular for Cordelia.
From the swept up hairstyle, with the soft fall at the back, to the glorious cut of the gown accentuating every curve, every movement, yet contriving to look perfect no matter if she was moving or standing still, to the low bodice combining with the designer's imagination to glory in the female form and yet maintain its simple elegance…she was every inch a grown, beautiful woman tonight.
Giles started at the stray thought and collected himself. Shaken, but recognising in his heart that it was true, he filed it until a later time, when he could take it out again and attempt to tackle it rationally.
There was, however, absolutely nothing rational about his reaction to the woman coming towards him now…
Halfway down the stairs, with him waiting to meet her at the bottom, she stopped again.
"Wh-who are you?" she asked, when she could talk, and more than half seriously. "You're so…Giles, you're gorgeous!"
He half choked off a guffaw and tilted his head, trying not to show how pleased he was or how shaken he still was by his earlier revelation.
"Am I to infer from that remark that this is far from the case, normally?" he asked mock-seriously and enjoyed the slow rise of deep red from her lovely throat.
"Um…no…I mean…Giles…you look like I should call you Rupert…or-or something. I mean…wow!"
Buffy looked up and down his lean frame, the tie-less suit, the suddenly fashionable, sexy hair, the beaten silver hoop earring. Her Watcher had metamorphosed into the kind of man who would leave any woman breathless, she thought, suddenly remembering to actually breathe…
He smiled again, dazzlingly, and took her hand as she descended the last few steps. "And you, my dear, look as though you could launch a thousand ships, an army of demons and a legion of college boys without turning a hair."
"Is that good?" she asked, making him laugh.
"Magnificent," he said softly. "I will be the envy of Sunnydale tonight."
Buffy cast an eye at the back of his suit and up at his handsome profile as they headed for the door and the car. "You won't be the only one," she murmured happily.
By the time they had parked the car, Giles had lost and regathered his shaken wits several times. Each time Buffy had called his attention to something in the car, now with its hood up to protect her hair, he had found himself looking down not just into the beautiful eyes, but to her glorious female curves, and each time had struggled to bring his thoughts back to somewhere sane and calm.
As he stepped from the car and came around to hand her out, he decided that he was indeed calm and rational again, and that his reactions only meant that he was still a red-blooded male, and not some old pervert who by rights should have called off the evening the moment he realised…
As she emerged from the car, he realised that he didn't want to think about how that sentence should end. Her hand was warm and soft in his…and eminently trusting. That was the bottom line.
It was to be Buffy's evening, therefore it had to be exactly that. He would be guided entirely by her wishes, and therefore could not in any way blame his suddenly irrational and erratic hormones for any part of what might or might not happen.
They walked into the restaurant arm in arm.
Buffy felt like she was in a dream. Only hours ago she felt like the discarded refuse of the universe. Now, in such a short space of time, Giles had made her feel like a queen…more than a queen…
Cinderella and her Prince? She laughed silently at herself and looked up at her escort. Giles was way more than any teenaged Disney prince. Bacall and her Bogie? she mused, remembering all the evenings spent watching late night movies with her mother and pretty much absorbing the classics by osmosis. Nah. Giles was too young and gorgeous…
She looked up at him again as he greeted a tall Frenchman she presumed was Michel, in melt-your-something, near perfect, French. Then it hit her.
To hell with Cinderella! This was all about Buffy and her Giles…her Rupert…
She trembled so noticeably that Giles' arm moved from being linked with hers, to slide automatically around her shoulders, as though instinctively warming her against some imaginary chill. It only made things worse. She never wanted that arm to move again. She could feel the warmth of his body, the strength of him, smell the subtle cologne he was wearing, the very vague hint of mint from his shaving cream…
Her body immediately flushed with heat again as that brought with it memories of his half naked form both in the bathroom, and coming down the stairs at the store.
By the time Michel was showing them to their seats, she was questioning her sanity.
It was obvious from the ease with which he transformed into the man beside her now, that the Giles she thought she knew was no more the real one than the tweed-clothed librarian before him or the violent Ripper who'd frightened them all with his dark, menacing response to Ethan Rayne on their reunion, during Eyghon's brief reappearance in Sunnydale.
When they were seated at the small, intimate table for two in a secluded corner, partially screened by the soft light, she looked at him again and wondered who he really was.
Giles picked up a menu, aware that Buffy's beautiful eyes were studying him intently, and that he dare not look up yet, lest she discover too much in his own.
"I don't know you at all, do I?" she asked softly as he scanned the entrees.
He cleared his throat without looking up. "I'm not sure I understand…"
"You're not Giles. You're not even really Book-guy, or Watcher-guy…or even Ripper. I've never really known you," she repeated.
Giles slowly slid the menu onto the table, and braced himself to look at her, praying that he could conceal the turmoil he was still feeling.
"You know me better than anyone has in over twenty years," he told her, the soft green eyes finding and holding hers intently. "There are parts of me that no one knows, that no one should ever have to know, but I think you know that you've seen my heart, and my soul, many times since I first came to you."
Buffy shivered again. He could have found a less evocative way to put it. Then she might have reacted a little less…physically. She swallowed.
"Have I?" she managed. "You hide all the time, Giles."
"I don't know what makes you, you. I used to think it was tweed and books and the Hugh Grant accent. Then, last year, when I saw you with Olivia…you were a total stranger…"
"I hadn't changed…not really," he said softly.
"Oh? From Tweed and practising lines to impress a date…to Hugh Hefner in one easy lesson? I mean, it wasn't like I didn't think you ever drank at home…or had se…um…a love life, or anything…but that wasn't you, Giles. A week earlier you were your normal Watcherly self, telling me how I had to be big Secret-Girl again at college and nobody was allowed to know who I was…and then all of sudden you were like 'go forth, and be free…do your own thing, just don't bug me…Go away, even." Her hurt eyes grew unfocused. "And you said it all in a majorly non-Watcher type robe, flaunting matching manly goodness…" she added almost to herself, and shivered again.
Giles watched her, bemused, and not a little frustrated. "Buffy, that Giles may not have been a part of your day to day life, but he…damn it, I, have not changed. While it was my first visit from Olivia since our London days, I didn't eat, sleep and drink in bloody tweed, even before that, nor did I actively choose to be celibate for…" He coughed when he realised where that was going. "Well, never mind that. As to that abysmal effort on my part to usher you towards independence and self-awareness, I wish you would forget it ever happened. It was a mistake, built on good intentions, but clumsy and callous in its execution, and that was never my intention."
"Then…then this you…and Hugh Hefner you…." She stopped, frowned. "You have a thing for Hughs, you know that? Anyway, these two versions of you…they're both as much you as the stuffy British guy who talks to me, trains with me, but never lets me see the real him, never lets me in when he's scared, or hurting, or angry?"
Giles stared at her. "I have only ever tried to protect you, and that includes protecting you from anything that could distract you at a crucial moment, or impair your judgement while you're on patrol, or fighting."
"And knowing you as a real, whole person would have distracted me?" she persisted quietly.
He half laughed. "Trust me, you don't want to know the whole, real me," he said roughly then suddenly changed the subject. "You might want to choose an appetizer, or perhaps an entrée. I think the waiter is headed this way."
Buffy opened the menu for a moment while Giles spoke quietly to the young man, who was in fact inquiring about drinks, not their menu selections. She wrinkled her nose immediately. Trust Giles to pick a place where even the menu was in a foreign language…and yet it was the kind place she'd always dreamed someone, preferably the love of her life, would sweep her off to, wine and dine her, take her home and make mad passiona…
She looked up at the man opposite her, flushed violently red at the sudden vision that accompanied those thoughts, and ignored the heat that spread out from her core and ran up her spine, even as it concentrated itself in regions she refused to even contemplate.
It was beyond comprehension, yet it was happening. She was contemplating Giles and sex in the same sentence…in the same thought…in the same nanosecond space of the same thought! In her thoughts! her mind shrieked hysterically.
The desire to utter a loud 'eieww' formed and dissolved almost in the same moment. There wasn't one left in her. She looked up at him as he laughed with the waiter, showing no sign that the lack of glasses was in any way impairing his ability to read the wine list, and looking somehow boyish and sexy, and yet dangerously male at the same time…
…And wondered when it could possibly have happened.
When had she stopped thinking of him as just…Giles…and started thinking of him as a man…?
The answer to that was stunning. And it explained a great deal. Most especially it explained how she survived losing Angel, even outgrew him. It explained how she spent her first year at college in a kind of emotional pinball game while systematically blocking Giles out of most of it, never even really realising what she was doing. It also explained why, despite her need for him, Riley never really meant a damn to her…
All of it came down to that single moment…when she had walked onto the dance floor at the Prom. That moment, when she had walked in there and found him waiting, watching for her.
…And then he'd smiled. She closed her eyes, remembering, her lips curved with pleasure…
And then, of course, Angel had come, and Giles, whom she was certain was going to ask her to dance, had simply turned her around and given her, with grace, to the man she'd once loved.
Such was the pain of being with Angel, she had barely noticed Giles' gesture. Now her heart constricted at the thought of that lost moment…that she could have had memories of dancing with Giles to treasure, instead of half forgotten ones of pretending she was still with Angel…
She looked up, and straight into inquiring, beautiful, green eyes. The waiter had vanished.
"Yes?" she said innocently.
"You were miles away," he chided gently. "Have you decided?"
Buffy rolled her eyes and handed him the menu, hoping her face wasn't as hot as it felt.
"It's been a big long while since I took schoolgirl French. I don't run to more than one syllable these days."
Giles opened the menu and contrived to look apologetic.
"I'm sorry, Buffy. I'm afraid I forgot about the menus." He ran swiftly through the half dozen choices in each section, and Buffy, who was getting more than a little hungry after spending most of the day not thinking about food at all, seized on the Crabe Diable as an entrée. And because it sounded decadent, Homard au Champagne as a main course, settling on her choices just as a young woman approached.
In deference to Buffy, Giles kept their conversation in English, except when ordering the food. Meanwhile Buffy wondered what her mother was going to say when she told her that her Valentine's day included Devilled Crab and Lobster at an exclusive French restaurant, with the most devastatingly gorgeous man in Sunnydale…or anywhere for that matter…
When he was done ordering, the waitress moved away, though not, Buffy noticed irritably, without a second look at the handsome profile and a vivacious smile when he looked up and caught her. His own wide smile was devastatingly gorgeous.
The surge of jealousy surprised her, though not as much as it might have even a few hours earlier…
"If you're still hungry after, we'll ask for the dessert menu," Giles told her when he turned back.
Buffy, still seething, stared back into his amused eyes…and felt it all ooze away in the reflection of those green pools. She decided then and there that she would have dessert even if she was stuffed at the end of the meal. She didn't want this evening to be over…ever.
They both enjoyed the food, and the bottle of Veuve Cliquot Giles ordered, in a leisurely fashion, finding themselves often slipping into discussions about everything from Buffy's childhood, to Giles' new car, to the seasons in England. To Buffy's surprise, she was even able to draw him out a little about his childhood, and what his home had been like…though he still contrived not to mention exactly where it was, or what had happened to his family since…
"Do you still want dessert?" Giles asked when she finally pushed away the remnants of her lobster, in its rich cream sauce.
Buffy smiled contentedly, feeling sleepy and relaxed both from the beautiful food and the champagne, and nodded. She hadn't eaten all day, and her Slayer's metabolism would make small work of the seafood…and the rich sauce. Aside from which, she was suddenly craving something sweet, something to tell Willow and Tara about to make them crazy jealous of her evening. Or better yet, Dawn, who seemed to have some kind of almost spiritual bond with sugar…
Giles raised his eyes at the confection when it came with his cheeseboard and coffee.
It seemed to involve large amounts of forest berries, shaved chocolate, chocolate sauce, cream, and if his nose wasn't playing him tricks, even a touch of something extra…
When he enquired, Buffy paused in the mouthful she was devouring to consider then swallowed.
"Something," she agreed. "Kind of sweet. Chocolate flavoured alcohol…?" she proposed, holding a spoonful under his nose.
After a very pregnant pause Giles slowly covered the combination of raspberries, blackberries, cream, chocolate and a stray strawberry slice, with his sensual mouth, and slid it even more slowly off the spoon, before savouring it obligingly and swallowing.
"Crème de Cacao," he told her, then realised she was staring, the spoon still hung in mid air. "Buffy?" he prompted gently.
"Oh…um…whatever," she muttered absently, wondering if spontaneous combustion ever happened in French restaurants...
"Chocolate liqueur," he explained. "You are enjoying yourself?"
Buffy snapped out of it and put the spoon down self-consciously before focusing on him again, despite her rebellious loins.
"In ways that I haven't since I was a very little girl," she said softly, then frowned. "That doesn't sound right…I mean, it has nothing to do with…"
Giles nodded and smiled. "I know what you meant: the kind of simple pleasure a child takes in all things…without qualification, without measuring them by some unseen yardstick…"
"Something like that," she agreed, smiling at him in a way that took his breath and made him swear his heart had skipped several beats.
The only thing that kept him firmly rooted to his chair was the suspicion that she might well be completely unaware of what was burning openly in her eyes.
They passed on more coffee and emerged into the night air a short time later, Buffy looking not one hair less beautiful than she had when they went in to the restaurant. It was something of a walk back to where the car was parked and Giles was surprised, but pleased, when Buffy slid her arm through his. They were in sight of the car when a group of three boys close to, or just past her own age, emerged from the shadows.
At first Buffy tensed, expecting to be robbed, but they seemed more intent on jeering than stealing.
"Don't you have better things to do with your evening?" Giles asked them quietly.
"Like to do some of them with her," one of them leered, and the others laughed.
"C'mon beautiful. We'll take you to a party, right…we can all get it on with the really good shit. How about us showing you how to really rage? Him or us?"
"I don't think so," Buffy told them, trying to keep things cool.
One of the boys made a disbelieving face. "What the fuck kind of fun is Alfred there gonna be? Tell him to go polish the bat mobile and let us take care of the good times."
Buffy wanted to wipe the sneers off their faces, but she could feel the controlled violence in Giles' body and knew that it wasn't the answer, for either of them.
"You want to know what my boyfriend can do?" she drawled and turned to face him, to slide her arms around his neck. "Show them, Rupert."
After a moment of looking at her in stunned shock, he realised she was deadly serious. His eyes danced, and he bent his head.
His lips were warm and soft, yet strong and demanding. She melted into them, allowing them to devour her tender mouth for a time, before kissing him back with equal fervour, until they were both lost in their own world, unaware of anything but each other…
After a time the catcalls and retching sounds turned to murmurs and even one lewd cheer, and then, finally, there was silence. What started as an act of defiance and not a little thumbing of noses by the two of them had turned into something else, entirely.
Neither of them voluntarily relinquished the other's lips. When they finally parted, neither knew who had pulled away first. They were both flushed and breathing heavily.
"Think we convinced them?" Buffy managed shakily.
Giles scanned the area. "I believe so," he said even more hoarsely.
She saw the flicker of doubt in his eyes, and knew he was worried about her reaction.
"Do you think we could find someone else around here to convince?" she asked wistfully, mischief in her eyes, and smiled when the green eyes widened.
Before either of them could think about it too much, Giles bent his head again, and when Buffy's arms closed around his neck this time, lifted her off the ground and held her as they lost themselves in each other for another endless time.
"I-I should take you home," Giles breathed after he put her down. "It's getting late and you probably have classes tomorrow…"
"Giles, it's Saturday tomorrow," she reminded him, not entirely steady herself. "And I don't want to go home…at least not to mine."
He struggled to focus. "This…the champagne, the stress of almost being mugged… it's…it's not real," he forced himself to say, mortified, but unable to take it back.
Buffy's face drained of colour and the joy washed from her expression.
"It's not?" she whispered, uninvited tears from the sudden shock crowding her lashes. "But…" She sighed. "I'm sorry," she breathed and turned away.
For a moment Giles was too stunned by her response, to be aware of the breadth of his mistake. Then he became aware of her tense back, the even tenser atmosphere between them.
"M-maybe you should take me home after all," she managed, barely. "I thought…I really thought…"
He turned her back towards him, furious at his stupidity, and calling himself all kinds of a fool.
"And I really thought that we might only be playing a game for those young idiots. I'm not one of your young men. I didn't dare believe…didn't dare hope that you might truly see me…" It was his turn to look away in embarrassment.
Buffy's eyes grew very large, and then very bright. "Then you did feel it too?"
He looked back at her, his eyes giving her their answer.
In moments she was back in his arms again, drawing his head down as they tightened around her, neither of them allowing themselves to think, only to feel.
It was a very long time before they reached the car, hand in hand, in silence. Somehow, it seemed almost too frightening to contemplate breaking it. To utter a word might be to risk the dream vanishing into the maw of a colder reality, perhaps forever…
Once in the car, however, they finally looked at each other.
"Anybody would think we were kids on a first date," Buffy finally said, exasperated by their awkwardness.
"In-in a way we are," Giles replied. "Buffy, I never, ever expected you to feel as I do…to want…" he stopped chagrined, but wordless.
"To want you?" she asked lovingly. "I've never wanted anything more in my entire life. I think I started wanting you the moment I saw you coming down the stairs at the store, and I haven't stopped since," she told him, honestly. "It just took me a little while to realise there was no point in fighting it. I'm kinda challenged that way."
He chuckled, and raised the wary green eyes to hers. A moment later his fingers trailed down a soft cheek.
"I was going to say 'to want to be with me,' but I think I definitely prefer your version."
Buffy chuckled and grinned at him.
Giles' expression grew serious. "God help me, I love you, Buffy. I have for a long time now…too long, really. It was wrong, but I made certain no one would ever know…least of all you."
"The Prom," she guessed wonderingly, her imagination and her heart still captured by those four unbelievable words, and watched the expression on his face.
"How did you…? You can't know that!"
She rested her head against the point of his shoulder. "I don't…didn't. Not until it came to me just now…and, me too…the Prom, I mean," she admitted, "even if I didn't know it at the time," and sighed. "Except we didn't get to dance together, even once."
"No, we didn't," Giles agreed, dazed by the constantly amazing turn of events, bent and kissed the top of her golden head before starting the car.
When they slid to a halt, Buffy roused from a light doze against his warm arm and blinked. They weren't home. They were parked about a block from the Bronze. She wondered if he'd forgotten something in town, or perhaps needed something from one of the few stores still open this late…like his favourite donut shop…but he didn't.
Giles handed her silently out of the car and locked it. When they started to walk, he took her hand possessively and drew her close to his side.
The Bronze was busy, extra busy, on a Friday night. Once they were inside Buffy leaned in even closer and asked him who he was looking for.
"No one," he told her as he glared at a young man sitting alone at one of the few tables in the place, until he moved on. He seated a bemused Buffy at it. "Wait here. I won't be long."
When he returned, the band had finished their number and slipped into some bridging music. He took her fingers in his, drawing her off the chair and onto the dance floor. The moment they stepped into the light, however, the music changed again.
Buffy looked up, startled, her heart hammering in her chest.
He was nodding tenderly. It was his doing.
"Will you give me the honour of this dance, Miss Summers?"
Tears ran down Buffy's cheeks. She couldn't help it. Hearing that song again only amplified the memories of that night, the feelings that now tried to hammer out of her breast, the sudden agonising comprehension of so many of his actions last year…and exactly how blind she'd been.
"It would be my honour, Mister Giles," she replied solemnly, then stepped straight into his arms, hers closing around him as she rested her damp cheek in the hollow of his shoulder and lost herself, as he did, in the music, and the magic of their evening.
So engrossed in each other were they, that neither of them noticed the two figures sitting on a couch on the periphery, taking time out to quench thirsts and rest dance-weary feet.
"Um-m…I'm not exactly sure, but isn't that Buffy with someone?" Tara asked, squinting into the dappled light of the dance floor.
Willow followed her gaze. "Yup," she smiled, and then it widened suddenly. "She actually got a d…"
When the unexpected silence stretched, Tara looked at her friend, then followed her shocked gaze back to Buffy as she and her companion slow danced toward their side of the floor, turning so that she could see the tall figure's face properly for the first time.
"Oh," she said. "Oh!" Then she grinned. "They look so good together."
Willow looked at her dazedly, and then back to the floor. "Yeah, they kinda do, don't they? I think I need to sit down now."
"You are sitting down," Tara told her matter-of-factly, without taking her eyes off the enraptured couple. "It's so romantic. I wondered if she'd ever notice."
"Notice?" Willow said feebly.
"How he looks at her, smiles at her."
"Yeah?" Willow turned to face her lover. "And how would that be?"
"Pretty much the same way you look at me…smile at me," Tara told her lovingly.
Willow's thousand-watt grin lit up her face. "Yeah?"
Tara returned it. "Yeah," she confirmed and slipped her hand into Willow's, and they both went back to watching the pair on the floor. A moment later, Tara chuckled at Willow's sharp intake of breath and romantic sigh as Giles' head lowered and Buffy's face lifted so that their mouths met for a kiss that never seemed to end.
Willow sighed another long, wistful sigh. "Oz was never that romantic," she complained, then drew Tara's hand to her breast. "But we were. Remember when we danced at your party?"
Tara's smiled widened again after faltering for a moment. "I remember," she confirmed. "It was pretty incredible until Giles brought us down. I still don't know how he did that without making us fall."
"Giles knows a lot more about the magicks than he lets on," Willow told her. "He probably did something to prevent the spell being completely broken when we were distracted, because he knew we'd fall otherwise."
Tara frowned. "You mean like he took over the spell for us?"
Willow nodded. "He could. And he has even more powerful spell books than that one. I don't know what exactly it is, but something is stopping him from even thinking about doing magick again, himself." She frowned again. "He'll do it for Buffy in a heartbeat, but that's all. He would die for her…tried more than once," she mused unhappily then smiled. "Fortunately for us, we got to keep him."
Tara looked from the floor to Willow and back to the couple on it again. "Do you mind?" she asked, sensing something.
Willow was silent for a long moment. "I kind of mind not knowing…and finding out this way kinda sucks, because I love them both…but I can't mind the rest. It's Buffy, a-and Giles. These are the people for whom 'happy' is a bad word. Bad things happen when they get happy with other people. For as long as I can remember he's loved her, lived for her and she's loved him, but the big stupids never got it, not even a little bit. Everything was Angel and darkness and fear for so long. Like dead goldfish was so exciting," she muttered, drawing a puzzled, bemused look from her lover. "I guess that was because she was too young, then. She couldn't see, and he was too honourable to do anything about it. Then, when he totally had a chance last year, Riley comes along. You should have seen him after Buffy's birthday party. He was so mad Xander and I thought he was going to explode."
Willow grinned. "Jealous rotten, only he still wasn't putting it all together."
"So…the believing Spike and the drinking?"
"We believed Spike," Willow muttered. "Poor Giles. I guess Spike somehow made him believe there was less than no hope. He never did explain what happened, you know."
Tara shrugged. "I guess if someone made me hurt you because I thought you didn't love me any more, and never ever would again, I wouldn't want to talk about it, either."
Willow sighed again, glad that it was seemingly all of the past…finally.
It was shaping to be one of the best Valentine's Days ever. Earlier they'd seen Xander and Anya at their apartment, finding the pair contented and happy to stay in with their own special dinner and champagne, followed by a night of unadulterated lust…planned, of course, to the last detail by Anya, and lovingly, and lusting-ly, approved by a doting Xander.
Not only that, but the two girls had so far shared an almost a picture-perfect evening of their own, making love in the shower while getting ready to go out, then having a wonderful time at the Peking Garden, sharing all their dishes and indulging all their favourites, before making their way to the Bronze on foot to work off their dinner, not only through the walking, but through as many dances as they could manage without collapsing from good-time overload.
"Uh-oh. I think Mister Giles has seen us," Tara broke into Willow's reverie.
Tara raised a hand in acknowledgement. "I think so."
They saw Giles lift one of his from Buffy's back and hold it up in momentary response, before returning to the pair's own world of two.
When the song ended the band segued immediately into another slow tune, and then another, so that when it finally ended and the Bronze returned to its usual frenetic din, Buffy felt blissfully welded to Giles' warm body, and disinclined to move. She felt his soft lips brush her temple.
"We have to move off the floor, love. I'm not going to jig around on here like a demented jumping bean for love or money," he told her in a quietly amused voice.
Buffy made a grumpy noise. "Can't we just stay like this forever? We wouldn't have to tell the others, or think about the future, or…"
"I'm afraid it's too late for that," he said, as people moved past them.
She could almost hear trouble in his voice, and pulled back enough to look up for confirmation of her suspicion. She couldn't tell if she was right or not.
"It is? Do not tell me the world is going to end again," she ordered, kissing his chin. "Because, right now, I so don't care."
"Not to my knowledge," he said ruefully and brushed her lips with his. "But Willow and Tara have been watching us since we took the floor."
Buffy tensed and her eyes widened. "Willow? Here? Why didn't you say something?"
Giles took her face in gentle palms. "What would I have said? That we have to hide? Pretend? That your Valentine's Day treat must be spoiled, because our friends might see us together?"
She relaxed, and rested her palms on his chest, frowning at the now outrageous volume of the band's heavy metal riff.
"You did this for me?" she asked, knowing how much he'd always hated any kind of demonstration of affection or physical contact in the past, especially around people he knew.
He shook his head, and made a concerted effort to slide an arm around her shoulders and shepherd her off the dance floor before their heads imploded.
Giles turned to her when they were far enough away to hear themselves think, again.
"I did it for both of us. I didn't risk everything to hide behind closed doors, or to spend all our time pretending."
"I don't want to pretend, either," Buffy agreed. "What I feel now…what I felt tonight…I don't ever want it to stop. I meant it when I said I couldn't lose you. I…I love you, too, Giles. I always have."
She saw his eyes close for a moment, and the movement of his Adam's apple when he swallowed hard, then he was taking her face in his hands again and kissing her very gently.
"And I you, my beautiful love," he said in a voice that shook with emotion, and perhaps equally with passion. "I thought I would never have you, that I would never be able to tell you…"
Buffy stepped into his arms and hugged him tightly. "It doesn't matter any more," she said vehemently as he returned the embrace. "Nothing matters, except us."
Willow looked up from her Pina Colada. "Hi guys," she said a little too brightly as they arrived at the table.
Giles smiled back indulgently. "Hello, Willow. Tara. I take it you are both astute enough to have worked most of it out yourselves, by now?"
Willow's cheeks glowed. "Well yeah," she agreed. "The burning question is what took you guys so darned long?" She watched them both relax visibly, and knew she'd done the right thing.
Buffy finally smiled. "Then…then we're okay?"
Willow looked from one to the other, then looked Buffy right in the eye. "Is there a reason why it shouldn't be okay?"
The two women exchanged a long, knowing look. "None," Buffy said finally, her smile widening and her eyes glowing with love for her friend. "None whatsoever."
"Indeed," Giles agreed quietly. "Thank you, both. You've given us a great gift, tonight."
Tara grinned. "No more than you guys gave me," she turned to Willow, "gave us," she corrected, "not so long ago. The thing we learned is the only thing that's important is that you're happy."
"You think Xand' will buy that?" Buffy asked Willow doubtfully.
"Yeah, right, and I'm Elle McPherson," the redhead snickered. "You're on your own with that one, Slayer-girl."
"Great," Buffy sighed and felt Giles' arm tighten around her. "Happy Valentine's Day, guys. I think we're outta here," she added and looked up for confirmation.
Giles was nodding. "Before my brain dribbles out my ears," he said ruefully as the live band grew even more enthusiastic…and ear splitting.
The girls watched the pair go, Willow nodding to herself as Buffy's small form leaned hard into his larger one, and the big arm closed even more protectively around her as they pushed through the throng on the dance floor again to get to the exit.
It had been a very long time since Buffy had anyone to lean on, and maybe even longer since Giles truly had someone to hold on to…
The apartment seemed almost like an old friend when they opened the door. Buffy looked around. Mostly it was still the same, but there were some subtle changes.
"I can't believe how long it is already, since I was last here," she said softly as he closed the door and took off his coat.
"I've missed you coming here, terribly," he told her, coming to stand beside her. "The place seems so empty without you lot traipsing through it every five minutes, though honesty bids me admit to enjoying the occasional moment of peace."
"You always seem to be at the store these days. I love that we have somewhere to train again, and that you have somewhere to work, but it's not…"
"The same?" he asked, stroking the back of her neck comfortingly.
"…Home," she finished.
His fingers rested on her nape for a moment. "Home?" he repeated.
She turned into his arms. "This place…it's like you. It's where I belong."
Giles ran his fingers through the windblown locks. Buffy had asked for the top to be put down for their trip home and had let down her hair for the journey.
"I love you so terribly…and yet…" he began tenderly, only to have her catch his fingers and caress them with her lips.
Buffy felt the tremor that went through him. "And yet…?" she whispered.
He cleared his throat, to force himself to concentrate. "…And yet I look at you and a part of me wishes I had never told you. You see, love, I know I'm too old for you, that you should be free to be with people your own age…but I can't seem to stop…L-loving you, that is…"
Buffy reached up and covered his lips with her own fingers. "I love you," she told him. "Nothing else matters a damn, except that you love me too."
The tension in his handsome features relaxed a little, and the laughter lines reappeared at the corners of his eyes as he smiled tenderly at her.
"With all my heart," he vowed.
"And…" He stopped, and his eyes sought and found hers, caught and held her gaze until the silence grew deafening.
Still staring into his eyes, Buffy reached back and drew the zipper of her dress down. It slid in almost liquid fashion to the floor while he watched, mesmerised at the sight of her beautiful body, frozen, until she started to unbutton his shirt.
"Giles…" she retorted in a voice made hoarse by her feelings. "I love you. You love me. You happen to be a damned sexy guy, and I want you to make love to me. Where exactly is there a problem in this?
He cleared his throat. "It's too fast. Haste—"
"Is what my life is about," Buffy finished, reaching his belt, undoing it and pulling his tabs out so that she could finish unbuttoning the shirt. "I don't have the luxury of thinking about things forever before I make a decision." She looked up at him again. "I love you…more than I've ever loved anyone, ever. And I mean anyone," she added meaningfully, and caressed his jaw. "I don't have to consider anything. I already know."
Giles stared down at her.
She could see his mind working, and his heart, in his eyes. She had no way of knowing that the truth of her own feelings, her own desire, was burning in hers.
After another beat she was swept off her feet, with barely time to put her arms around his neck before his mouth crushed down on hers and they started moving towards the stairs.
Buffy's body electrified as he plundered her lips, passionately brutal in his declaration, and she even more brutal in return, withholding nothing, no secret, no doubt as they reached the landing. Giles approached the bed and contrived to throw her on it, discard the shirt and resume his plunder in barely the blink of an eye.
Buffy's legs had curled around his hips, her hands sliding from his wide back around to his zipper. It took them very little time to divest each other of clothes, barely pausing between kisses and moans of pleasure.
As he dropped her lacy turquoise knickers on the floor, Giles began raining kisses on Buffy's overstimulated skin, so that she arched to his mouth as it followed the soft contours of her body from the hollow of her throat to the creamy curves of her tender breasts, over her abdomen and both of her thighs, back to the perfection of her breasts again and then, finally, to make her cry out with pleasure, tasting and tormenting her burning centre until she begged him for more.
"Giles, please…Oh God, Rupert!" she cried for the third time, and this time he responded. Her tone had changed from one of wild, passionate demand, to one of longing and need.
He moved over her and kissed her brow. "Buffy," he whispered, waiting for her to open her eyes again.
She looked up into his desire blurred green ones and smiled. "Hello," she whispered.
"Hello," he smiled. "No regrets…?"
Buffy traced his face with loving fingers.
"Never…" she whispered, and made it sound like a caress, a promise and a declaration, all at the same time.
The word went straight to Giles' heart, and from there, to his eyes, lighting up their beautiful green depths in a way that almost brought Buffy to tears.
A moment later their mouths merged again, the tender, romantic kiss swiftly flaring into a surge of passion so strong that each of them moved at the same time.
Neither of them was quite sure how it happened, only that in an instant they were one, and that their need threatened to overwhelm them both.
In the midst of their kisses, their touching, and calling the other's name, they claimed each other, in spirit, in body, in soul, their lovemaking fluid and powerful and ecstatic.
After an eternity, Buffy's voice finally broke the euphoric silence.
"Oh, God, G-i-iles!" The sound, an outpouring of joy, pleasure, ecstasy, echoing around the apartment, followed shortly by another, even more ecstatic sound…
When the maelstrom faded and they were both limp in each other's arms, Giles gathered her close and rolled to her side. No words were need as he folded her to him and kissed her hair, before resting his lips there for a long time.
When Buffy could think again, coherently, warmth flooded through her and she slid her arm about his chest, returning his embrace. Then she lifted her face, letting her head tilt back, until those velvet lips were on hers again.
This time the kiss was soft and tender, loving and playful.
When they finally parted, Buffy looked up. "Is it okay…to love someone so much, so soon?"
"More than okay," he told her and brushed her lips again.
"Rupert," she said experimentally.
"You called?" he teased, genuinely pleased.
"It feels nice: Rupert. I could get used to it…eventually."
Buffy smiled and lifted her face to capture his lips again.
"Does that answer your question?" she asked breathlessly, a few moments later.
"Almost," he growled, then grew serious. "Are we really going to have an 'eventually'?"
For a moment she was alarmed, and then she looked into his eyes, saw the pain in them, and understood. Hers grew very bright. She touched his cheek.
"An 'eventually', a 'someday' and I hope there'll even be a 'happily ever after'" she assured him, not quite steadily. "And not necessarily in that order," she added belatedly.
He chuckled but it was an emotional sound. "Then we shall have to have the 'happily ever after' part first," he said hoarsely, and leaned across to pick up something from alongside the phone.
As though in a dream, Buffy looked at the tiny box when he gave it to her, not quite able to believe…
She opened it. The band was an antique. It was heavy, and the edges bevelled. There was a beautiful old design in the gold and three small, but almost scarily intense diamonds inset at equal intervals in the top half.
Buffy looked up and Giles could only think of a fawn caught in car headlights. His heart constricted.
"It…" he cleared his throat, the paralysis seemingly moving to his larynx. "I-it belonged to my mother. It has been my talisman since I fell in love with you. Each time I grew certain you would never want me, never be mine, I would take it out and look at it. You see…she had slender fingers, too…" he added, as though it made perfect sense. Which of course it did…
Buffy listened to him with wonder, and not a little humility. She didn't deserve it, or him. "Giles, I…it's beautiful, but I'm not sure I—" She began, in a burst of honesty, and was halted by the sudden pain in his eyes. "Giles?"
"I-it's all right. You don't have to say any more. I understand," he said softly.
Buffy's eyes narrowed. So that was it. "Who took it, Giles?"
"Took what?" he asked, startled.
"Your self-esteem? The part of you who should know damned well that my undying love for you aside, no woman could resist your incredibly sexy body, and most of all, that if I'm here, in your bed, I'm already yours, forever!"
His head dropped for a moment, and he swallowed hard.
"I'll tell you…one day…about all of it…my past, my family…Ethan, I promise you," he rasped and looked down at the ring. "Buffy, I love you more than I've ever loved anyone in my life. I want you with me always…and I'm far too selfish to wait until it's seemly or dignified—"
"Yes," she said, before he could continue, and took the ring from its box, slid it onto her finger. "It's a wedding band, isn't it?"
Giles nodded. It fitted perfectly, as he always knew it would. "For whatever reason, the women in my family have never had engagement rings…only this. If the wearer wasn't ready to hand it down, the new brides would wear a plain gold band until they were ready."
"Is it very, very old?"
"I don't know exactly how old, but it has been traced back to a Giles wife in the sixteenth century, of whom there is a portrait in my family's house. It's tiny, like her, but that's because her husband, a merchant, wanted something he could carry when he travelled, so that he wouldn't feel so far away from her."
"And she was wearing the ring?" Buffy whispered, turning it on her finger.
"She was," Giles confirmed. "Would you…would you wear it for me, one day?"
It was Buffy's turn to swallow. There was something to be said for mouldy Irish saints after all…
"Waterworks again?" Giles teased as the tears fell, his voice trembling just a little.
"Not 'one day', or 'sometime' or 'eventually, Giles," she finally managed. "As soon as possible. I've waited so long for you, without even knowing it…and I love you so much…don't make me wait any longer."
Giles caught her as she launched herself into his arms, and held her while she sobbed out her joy, kissing her hair, her brow, her temple, all the while, until she fell silent and finally moved her mouth to his.
They made love again, very slowly, and fell asleep in each other's arms.
Giles woke to the first rays of dawn on his eyelids. He reached out without opening his eyes, and turned off his alarm, at the same moment realising that he was not alone…the bed, the room, the apartment, suddenly seemed full to bursting…as full as his heart.
The yawning emptiness he'd lived with for so long, had been vanquished overnight by a slip of a girl no higher than his heart…a girl he would love until his last breath…
He turned onto his elbow and looked down at the tender face of the woman he loved, and smiled, remembering the words of another…
"And I shall still call her a girl when she's ninety," he said softly, Maggie Walsh's voice fading from his thoughts as quickly as it had been summoned to them.
"Mm?" Buffy murmured.
Giles watched her lashes with fascination as her eyes flickered open and she focused on him, after squinting momentarily at the light.
She smiled, her face lighting up. "Hi, gorgeous…"
"Good morning," he whispered, closing his eyes when her fingers slid lovingly into his hair and caressed its rumpled locks.
"Yes it is," she said softly and moved into his arms.
Giles instinctively gathered her close.
"It wasn't a dream," she whispered, relief and joy in her voice.
"Or perhaps it was...?" he mused, contentment and happiness glowing in his eyes, his voice, in every fibre of his body.
At once surprised, bemused and curious, Buffy pulled back a little and used both of her hands to turn his face so that he was looking down at her.
He nodded and kissed her very gently. When he lifted his head, his joy flowered into another glorious grin, almost breaking Buffy's heart with its intensity and its beauty.
"Oh yes…" he whispered, caressing stray tresses off her brow as her arms curled once again around his neck.
"A dream…my dream…Come true…"