Gratitude
By
JBG

Timeline: Probably sometime in Season 4 - no real spoilers here.
Premise: Answer to Drial4's challenge on "The Good Couple" site, which is also mentioned on the "BG Writer's Zone." I took the rating recommendation from there.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but my imagination. Joss Whedon, WB, Mutant Enemy and/or a bunch of other people own everything else in the Buffyverse...
Author's Note: Cap's Challenge: Giles saves Buffy's life, Buffy shows her gratitude. Short, mushy, and PG-13 or under. As requested!
Buffy/Giles - rated PG-13


"GILES!!!"


He wielded the sword in desperation, his Slayer's scream sending cold chills down his spine. He fought desperately, dodging claws, teeth and flying feet as he side-stepped gravestones and urns full of wilted flowers. As he fought, doubts tormented him, as dark as the night around him.


What if he was too late? What if he couldn't get to her in time? Could he do what would have to do, then? Or, would he fail, ultimately, in that effort, as well?


He forced his anger to the surface and used it as a weapon. As he slashed at the demonic visages around him, harsh, guttural words spilled from between his clenched teeth. "You cannot have her! Not her! Not here! Not now! Not so long as I breathe!" He punctuated each phrase with a fierce slice, the blade ringing with each impact. One by one, his enemies burst into dust as he separated their heads from their bodies. He became a dervish, mad with rage, but instead of incapacitating him, it allowed him to tap into a well of unexpected strength and skill.


He was fighting for his life. She *was* his life.


When they were first ambushed, he'd counted fifteen vampires surrounding them. He'd soon lost track of how many they had eliminated. The instant the path was clear to his Slayer, he advanced, ignoring the creatures behind him. He had to get to her side... nothing else mattered.


Horror gripped him as he saw her on her knees between two yellow-eyed monsters. He was so far gone in his rage that he didn't hesitate. He roared, "DOWN!!!" and swung his weapon, two-handed, with all the strength left in him. She dropped instantly in response, face-down, just as the blade whistled by, ruffling her hair as it took out her two attackers with surgical precision. He followed through with the arc and brought the sword into position again.


His nerves were tingling, anticipating more fighting. Neither of them paused to exchange looks. She was on her feet in an instant, and they stood back-to-back, ready for the next assault. It never came.


They were alone in the cemetery. Giles froze, listening, but all he could hear was his own labored breathing.


After several tense minutes, Buffy moaned. "Giles..." He felt her lean against him, and turned just in time to catch her as she fell. He lowered her to the ground, gasping her name in fear. Blood was oozing from a dozen wounds and her forehead sported a livid blue bruise, but after a frantic examination, he determined that none of the injuries would be fatal. Sheathing his sword in its scabbard, he gently scooped her up in his arms and started for his car. As he exited the cemetery, he kept a wary eye out for stragglers. Vampires were opportunistic hunters.


He maneuvered her into the Citroen's back seat and stripped off his leather jacket. Tenderly, he placed it under her head. The ride home seemed to take forever, but he finally eased into a parking space at the apartment and raced inside with his precious, bleeding bundle in his arms.


********


Consciousness returned to Buffy slowly. It was a good thing, because her head ached something awful. She groaned and tried to stir, but firm hands held her in place. The memory of the desperate fight surfaced, and she began to struggle. She was just about to strike out and free herself when she heard a dear, familiar voice say, "Easy, Buffy,love, don't try to move. You' re safe. Shh, easy..."


"Giles?" She blinked until she could bring his face into focus. "Wh-where..."


"We're at my place. It was closer. You need to rest a bit and heal."


"Wh-what happened to the vampires?"


"The ones who didn't run have 'returned to the earth from whence they came.'
"


"Uh, and that means, in normal words..."


"They're dust."


"Oh. Great." She tried to figure out where in Giles' apartment she was. The room didn't look familiar--it wasn't his living room, not enough books. She frowned and forced her eyes to focus as she scanned around her for clues.

Dresser, Chest, night stand, closet, bed posts... oh, my God, I'm in his bedroom. In his bed!


Her headache returned with a vengeance, and she closed her eyes against the pain.


"Do you need a pain killer? I have quite a collection. Left-overs from my many trips to the Emergency Room." Concern filled his voice. Buffy tried to grin at the mention of his frequent-flyer status at Sunnydale Hospital, but the expression became a grimace. Her head was throbbing horribly.


"Aspirin," she whispered. "And about a gallon of water."


"Of course." He disappeared from beside her for only a few minutes, then returned with the requested pills. She took them and tried to sit, but when she cried out in pain, he cradled her head in his hand and held her upright until she could swallow easily. She gulped the cool liquid thirstily, and drained the glass before relaxing into him again. She felt his easy strength as he supported her. She really did feel safe in his arms.


"There, now, give those a chance to work, and then sleep a bit." His voice was soft and his hands were gentle as he eased her back onto the pillow, smoothing her hair away from her face.


"Giles?" Her voice slurred slightly.


"Yes?"


"Stay with me?"


He flushed even though he knew her eyes were closed and she wouldn't see his face. "Uhm, yes, well... all right." He slid onto the other side of the bed and touched her shoulder, intending the gesture to be a comforting one. She surprised him by rolling over against him and pillowing her head on his chest. He had no choice but to pull her against him and make her comfortable. He managed to grab the blanket and pull it over them both.


He didn't expect to be able to sleep, but exhaustion won out, and they both were soon breathing deeply and steadily, their bodies warm from the close contact.


********


Warm. Something warm pressed up against her. It felt... wonderful. Nice and safe. Buffy sighed with contentment and snuggled into the warmth. It took her a little while to remember where she was. She opened her eyes and found herself staring at her ex-Watcher's chest.


She quickly decided she liked staring at his chest. It was... nice. He was wearing her favorite sweater, although he probably didn't know how much she liked it, since she'd never told him. His torso rose and fell with each breath. It was warm. It was Giles. Her gaze moved to his neck. She was close enough to count his pulse as it beat beneath the skin. One, two, three, four...


He was alive. That was a good thing.


His face, relaxed and at peace, held her attention for a long time. She barely resisted the urge to touch it, to trace the laugh lines and the furrows between his eyes, to feel the dimpled hole in his ear that she'd forgotten, to rake her fingertips against the stubble on his cheek. It was a surprisingly appealing face, handsome and familiar. Safe. If his eyes were open, she'd see the clear green irises as they glowed with affection for her.


Memories surfaced with a rush. He'd saved her life last night, just one more act in a steady stream of selfless actions that defined him as her Watcher and friend.


She began to feel guilty. For every time she'd saved the world, he'd been the reason she knew what to do. He'd stood by her when the rest of the Council turned their backs. He'd tolerated her obsession with Angel and her desire to 'fit in' at school. He'd ignored her selfishness and disobedience. He'd given up everything to stay by her side, even taking odd jobs to stay in the country after the school was destroyed.


'I have to do something for Giles, to show my gratitude,' she told herself sternly. 'Something really big.'


********


The next three weeks were both heaven and hell for Giles. Buffy had decided to insinuate herself into his every waking moment. Not that her company wasn 't appreciated--it was--but the increased attention made it even more difficult to ignore his private, and decidedly non-Watcherly interest in her. He had always held that part of him in check, logic and reason willing him into the role of advisor and confidant, instead of the part he really longed to play.


Yes, Buffy had decided to show her gratitude. She brought him breakfast. She cleaned his apartment and put all his books on their shelves... alphabetized correctly, to his delight. She filled the place with fresh flowers. Washed his clothes and his car. Took him to lunch nearly every day. Her friends had decided she was around-the-bend loony, and gave Giles sympathetic looks when she dogged his every step.


She bought him musty old books that she thought he'd like. Most of them were worthless, but he didn't have the heart to refuse her. She was trying so hard to make up for lost time. He didn't quite know what to think... whether to shake her out of her guilt-induced stupor or to thank his lucky stars and enjoy it. The only fear was that she would somehow discover his secret desire for her, and be so horrified that she wouldn't be able to look him in the eye again.


One rainy Saturday morning his bedroom door opened, rousing him out of a pleasant post-sleep stupor. He rolled over until he was facing the door, and was surprised to see Buffy coming towards him with a heavily laden breakfast tray. Her face wore and angelic, happy expression as she locked eyes with him.


"Wakey, wakey, Giles. Breakfast time."


"Buffy, what on earth are you doing?" He sat up, not yet awake enough to be mortified by her presence.


"Saturday morning breakfast in bed. I wanted to pamper you a little." She placed the tray over his lap and sat carefully on the bed, watching his expression closely.


"You've pampered me far too much already. I'm getting spoiled... and fat." He took a careful bite of the steaming omelet before him, and closed his eyes in appreciation. She'd made his favorite--a spicy western style concoction that warmed him all the way down to his toes. "Mmmm... wonderful. It's going to hurt when you get tired of waiting on me hand and foot, and I have to do my own cooking again."


For some reason, that statement bothered her. She thought about it while she watched him eat. Will I get tired of doing stuff for Giles? After all he's done for me? Nah, I don't think so. But, what if he gets tired of me?


Her voice trembled slightly as she voiced her fear. "Uh, hey, are you getting sick of me hanging around all the time, Giles? 'Cause if you are, I can make myself scarce. I just wanted... I just thought, well, I, uh..." She dipped her head, embarrassed that she couldn't find the right words. "I just wanted to say thank you. For saving my life. Again."


"Oh, Buffy, no, I never meant that..." He put the tray on the other side of the bed and sat up, thankful he'd put on his pajamas before going to bed last night. "I shall never tire of your company. Truly. And, if you want to say thank you," he took her hand gently and pulled her closer, "all you have to do is say the words."


"I know. But words aren't enough. Not for you." She found herself close to tears.


"Why don't you give it a try? I'll let you know if you've succeeded." He smiled at her, kindness and love shining in his eyes. How could she be afraid of someone who looked at her like that?


She smiled shyly. "Okay." She looked into his soft green eyes, and the embers of affection suddenly flared into a fire. She could barely breathe, much less talk. She loved him. Judging from his expression, he felt the same.


He saw the sudden awareness in her face, and his heart fell. She knew. She'd somehow found him out. Would she be disgusted? He couldn't look away, as much as he wanted to do so.


Finally, she was able to take a deep breath.


"Thank you." She put everything into those two words.


She waited for his response. She couldn't tell if he was overwhelmed or unimpressed, so she tried again.


"Thank you, Giles." She leaned forward and gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek.


Color flooded his face, and he dropped his gaze. A pleased smile spread across his face. He started to assure her that her words were enough, but she stopped him with her fingertips against his lips. She shook her head, and said softly, "Thank you." She kissed him again, catching the corner of his mouth. A shudder passed through him, her sweet presence overwhelming his senses.


She tilted his face with both hands until she could see his eyes once more. She was nearly in tears as she whispered the two words again, and this time her lips met his straight on, a caress that brought him to the brink of madness.


Again and again she repeated the words and kissed him, until he reached for her shoulders as if to push her away. The instant he touched her, however, he was totally lost. He began to return her kisses, hesitantly at first, then with a passion that surprised them both. He crushed her to him with a soft cry, and heard her whimper his name in response.


He moaned as they continued to explore, their lips, tongues and hands expressing what mere words could not. Their destinies were intertwined as surely as their bodies, and they belonged together. No more doubts, no secret desires, no pretense was necessary.


By the time the clouds dissipated and the sun rose to its zenith, they were both very grateful, indeed.


The End