Hands
By Darcy Galvan

Title: Hands
Author: Darcy Galvan
Rating: PG-13
Summary: A young man's miraculous power gives our dynamic duo's relationship a little jump start.
Spoilers: up to season 4, this is set in their 2nd year of college
Distribution: Go right ahead, just drop me a line.
Disclaimer: Never were mine, they shall always be of the JOss/WB/Mutant persuasion.
Feedback: See Darcy. See Darcy Grovel. Grovel, Darcy, grovel.
Wouldn't you like to send Darcy feedback?
Notes: FINALLY DONE!!!!!!


When he touched her face, it felt like someone had punched him in the stomach, had hit him over the head with a brick and ripped his throat out. He couldn’t breath. Then she sucked in air, a painful, gasping breath. Yelling. He tried to get up, just kind of rolled over, somehow was up, then was back in the apartment. There was a red hand print on his bed and he curled up and slept.

***

She twitched and writhed weakly in his arms, his teeth at the soft vertex of throat and shoulder.

One body.

One second too late.

Sprawled obscenely the way no one should have to. Buffy moved and knelt next to the still, rapidly cooling form. No pulse.

Up. Up to a phone, no need to hurry. She didn’t look too old.

“Oh, Abbey. Abbey, no.” Buffy turned. A young man dropped to the ground. Reached out. Contact.

He rocked back like one thrown by a shock. Buffy yelled and he stumbled to his feet. Into the park, out of sight at a lurching run.

When Buffy saw her, she was standing, a hand, clutching her bone pale throat, a grisly splash of crimson marring her. Eyes wide and shuddering, she rubbed clumsily at her flesh.

She was dead. She was dead. She was supposed to be dead. But she wasn’t. She wasn’t a vampire either.

She wavered. Buffy ran, caught the swiftly folding form before it thudded to the cold concrete. Nearly dropped her frail body.

Pulse.

No wounds.

***

“Perhaps you should be looking for a man in a white sequined suit being chased about by a choir carrying a large neon cross as he shouts, ‘by the power of Jesus, rise up and walk.’” He smiled at her exasperated expression. There was nothing he loved more than knowing he had created that look. < Nothing except the thought that you created that expression of love she gives Riley. > A bit of the obligatory shame flashed at this thought, but it was mostly a wicked grin that tickled the corners of his lips and eyes. < For shame, > he thought, grinning.

Recently he had found it quite a bit harder to repress his feelings for Buffy, but he also found a lot less reason to care. If she was never going to look at him that way or even notice, what had he to fear? Much less, what did he have to fear from his private thoughts? As long as she came into contact with no more telepathic demons, he was relatively safe.

“What are you grinning at?” Not that she honestly minded the grin. < Mind? You love it when he smiles, don’t be such an ass. Make him smile again reach out and... > Buffy shook her head. Since the Ascension, an unwanted thought nagged at her brain; she’d had the unsettling revelation that Giles was a *man*. A caring, devoted, smart, witty, *attractive* man at that and she didn’t care to deal with these thoughts presently. “I’m being serious here, Giles. Look, serious face. This woman was....healed. I don’t know. She told me that a guy bit her neck, she DIED, Giles, I saw her. Then that guy touched her. She was ALIVE. There were fresh scars under all that blood, Giles, not wounds.”

“Honestly, Buffy, I don’t know what you expect me to say. I’m not sure how to handle something of this kind. Did you ever think of asking the girl the name of her companion?”

“Yes, but they won’t let me in. Not family, not going in.”

“Well, Buffy, I really don’t know what to tell you.”

“Come on, Giles, help a Slayer out here!”

“Buffy, you can hardly believe I’ll have the answer to all your questions.” She cocked her head and crossed her arms. He mirrored her actions unconsciously. Suddenly he looked at her arms, then his, sighed and threw up his hands. “Well, I don’t need a stand off. Buffy, you’ll just have to try to talk to the girl again, Abbey, was her name, correct? Besides, don’t you have a class?”

He barely heard her curse, she was out the door so fast.

***

“Hey, Steven, can I talk to you for a sec?” Steven tensed and looked up as Holly came to a stop in front of him. “Abbey was wondering where you were.” She looked at him. “I was kind of wondering that too.” He opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off. “Where the hell were you last night when that guy jumped her?”

“I was unconscious at the time,” he countered softly. “But she’s okay, isn’t she? Her mother told me that she was going to be fine.”

“She’s probably signing herself out as we speak. Are you going to at least go talk to her?”

“Holly, you know I am,” he said softly. “Why wouldn’t I?”

Holly breathed out sharply through her nose, tossing her brown hair out of her eyes. She glared at him and clenched her fist. He grimaced and clutched at his arm, suddenly pained. “Just make sure you do.” He nodded and sidestepped her, heading for world history. He followed the path, eyes on the ground.

***

Buffy looked up just in time to see a wall of blue before she collided with the solid form. She rebounded and caught her balance before toppling to the ground. The young man wasn’t so lucky.

“Wow, sorry,” Buffy reached down and hauled the boy up by the arm. When her hand made contact with his forearm, she started slightly.

< The hell...? > Shaking her head, Buffy picked up her bag which she’d dropped and muttered at the spilled coffee on the ground.

“Are you okay?” the young man asked, readjusting the glasses which had gone askew on his face. “Sorry about that I wasn’t looking where I was going. I should pay more attention.”

“No, that’s okay,” Buffy replied. They began moving again in their own directions.

“Sorry.”

“Yeah.”

Buffy continued towards her class, frowning. He’d given her the oddest feeling. It was somewhat akin to the feeling a supernatural opponent gave her, but not...bad.

She shook her head and muttered. “Weird.”

***

“Wills, that’s the guy.” Willow looked up and around as Buffy tapped lightly on her arm. She caught the direction Buffy was pointing and saw the blonde head, light reflecting of the lenses of his glasses.

“Steven?”

“You know him?”

“He gave you the weird feeling? But he’s out in the sun, he’s not a vamp, I mean, could he be a demon?”

“Like I said, he gave me a feeling that was similar, but it wasn’t bad. It’s like the difference between dropping the toaster in your bath and getting a shock when you rub your feet across the carpet and touch the doorknob. But that’s beside the point, you know him?”

“Yeah, he’s in my Lit class. But, Buff, I mean, he couldn’t be evil, could he? I mean, he’s so nice, and he’s even really religious. You should see.”

“Wills, he’s not necessarily bad.”

“Then why’d he give you that feeling.”

“I don’t know, Willow, I really don’t. But, do you think you could introduce us? Maybe if I get to know him, I can figure out what’s going on. It may just have been a fluke, this’ll help.”

“Um, yeah, sure, come on.” The two young women made their way over to the blonde who’d paused for a moment.

“Hey, Steven,” Willow said, moving to stand in front of him.

“Oh, hi, Willow, how are you?”

“Oh, I’m good, you?”

“Pretty good, kinda down over Abbey.”

“The girl who got attacked? Isn’t she okay?”

“Yes, but I was supposed to be with her last night, I was late....”

“Oh,” Willow paused for a moment, she shot Buffy a look and Buffy nodded swiftly for her to continue. “I ah, I was just going to ask how long that Lit paper had to be, I forgot to write it down and I can’t remember.”

“It was five pages, I believe.”

“Cool, thanks. Hey, by the way, Steven, this is my friend Buffy.”

“Hello, Buffy. Oh, hey, aren’t you that girl...”

“The girl that ran into you this morning, yeah. How ya doin? No residual bruising? Soft tissue damage?”

Steven smirked, “No, I’m doing quite well.”

“Steven, we have to go now, class and all, but thanks for the help, and tell, Abbey was it? that we’re all glad she’s okay.”

< Test time, > Buffy’ thought. She stuck out her hand.

“Nice to meet you Steven.” He took her hand and she fought the urge to pull back or give her shock away in some other manner. The feeling had not been a fluke. “And I guess we’ll watch where we’re going from now on, right?”

“Right. It was nice to meet you too, Buffy.” He smiled and shook her hand, then waved at Willow and went on his way.

“He was nice,” Buffy said, turning again to begin walking to class.

“So?”

“It wasn’t a fluke, Willow, we’ve got something going on here.”

***

“So you believe this boy has something to do with the girl from last night?”

“Maybe, he said he was supposed to have been with her. Maybe he was and he’s covering something up. And he gave me the weird feeling.”

“Buffy, I’m not quite sure what to think. It’s all very vague. A new alert from a seemingly normal, religious young man?”

“Can’t you find anything, Giles? You always find something. I’ve got nothing to go on here.”

“Buffy,” he said, rubbing his eyes and letting out a heavy breath as he shifted the phone on his shoulder. He tapped his pen on the notepad with the words ‘Odd feeling,’ ‘Steven,’ and ‘Slayer senses/bad or good?’ written on it. “As was stated earlier, I’m really not sure what to look for. This isn’t like a demon or a curse or a prophecy which has the specific information on it. Mostly it’s speculation and hearsay and not been proven, especially because it’s merely an unassuming young man. I’ll do what I can, but, I doubt you’ll get anything of use.”

“I’m going to go see if I can find anything else about Steven or this girl or anything. Call me when you find anything.”

Buffy hung up and picked up her book bag, heading from the dorm.

***

Buffy didn’t find Steven again until that evening, shortly after sunset. She was walking slowly toward the library, ostensibly to pick up a book for her history report. She spotted Steven’s blonde head in the middle of a small crowd. She crept closer, leaning nonchalantly against a nearby wall, turned away so he wouldn’t see her.

“Abbey, I’m so sorry.” Buffy smiled slightly and concentrated, shutting out the other senses, closing her eyes and letting her hearing sharpen, reach to the crowd.

“It’s okay, Steven.”

“No, Ab, I should have been there.” < I *was* there, just in the nick of time. >

“Steven, forget it. You were late, I got hurt, but, I’m okay now. I mean, it’s gotta be a miracle, but, I’m okay.”

“Gotta be a miracle.” There was no more talking, and Buffy turned, beginning to walk. A hand fell on her shoulder.

“Hey, don’t I know you?”

Buffy turned to face Abbey. “Um, no, I don’t--”

“Yes, yes I do. You were there last night when I came around.”

“Buffy? You were there?”

She looked up at Steven. “Uh, yeah. I found her when she stood up” he started and shot a quick glance at her “and then took her to the hospital.”

“Thank you,” Abbey said, giving Buffy a light hug.

“You’re, ah, you’re welcome. I’m just glad you’re okay.” The slim, raven-haired girl backed up and waved shyly before trotting off. The crowd dispersed and Buffy fell into step beside Steven. Don’t rush, Giles always told her. Think about what you’re doing. Buffy didn’t like to listen to other people.

“You were supposed to be there with her?”

He shot her a sidelong glance and if she wasn’t mistaken, there was a flash of fear.

“Yeah, I was walking out the door and I knocked my lamp off the table and I had to clean up the glass. By the time I got there...”

“There wasn’t anyone there when we found her. Well, when I first spotted her, there was a guy there, kneeling over her.” She let the sentence hang there. He shifted. “I yelled and he ran.” She let her gaze fall on him, seemingly innocent.

“Are you implying that I might have been there?” Steven asked. He didn’t want to outright lie, but he couldn’t tell her the truth.

“I was just wondering,” Buffy said. “Sometimes even when someone hasn’t done anything wrong, they run when someone scares them. Do you scare easily?” His stare was intense, edging on anger and fear. There was a weak noise from the side of the path. Buffy stopped and looked over, moving to the edge of the walk where it was bordered by bushes. She parted the leaves and made a sympathetic noise. She reached her hands in and gently lifted out a cat. It’s little body was battered, one of it’s ears torn and bleeding, spots of red dotted it’s shabby gray fur. It’s leg was mangled with what looked like teeth marks. Tears stung her eyes.

“Did a dog get you?” She murmured to the cat. When she gingerly stroked it between the ears it made a vain attempt to purr. Steven knelt down beside her. It looked just like his cat Ginny that used to sleep in his laundry basket and he reached out and stroked it’s side, wishing he could do something and then he was on the ground. He gasped, the familiar feeling rolling through his body. He moaned not from pain, but from the knowledge that it had happened again. A rough tongue scratched his temple and a loud, grating purr filled his ears. Buffy moved over him as he sat up, taking the cat in his arms, holding it a bit too tight. Her eyes were wide, lips parted as she breathed in and out, in and out, staring, trying to understand.

“Buffy...”

“You did. You did that to Abbey. It was you, you healed her.”

‘You,’ rang over and over in his head like an accusation. It wasn’t a secret anymore. Steven struggled to a crouch and roughly tossed the cat away from him. It landed and stumbled, staring at him bewildered, it shuffled a step towards him.

“You should be dead,” he growled, lunging weakly at the animal, which shook and darted off into the darkness. The instant the words grated over his tongue and teeth he knew he didn’t mean it, healing was a gift and he knew he wanted the cat to live, but he didn’t know what else to do.

“You never told anyone?”

“I can’t. What would they do?”

“What would they do? What could *you* do? I mean, you can *heal* people. How?”

“I don’t heal, it’s not me. I-it’s God.”

“Stephen, I didn’t see any glow, any heavenly hosts, that was you.”

“No, it’s working through me.” He watched her blank, unyielding expression and shook his head, mumbling. “What do you expect? People will think I’m crazy. If you mention God, people think you’re a nut case.”

“Call it a miracle, Steven, call it aliens, call it whatever. God, do you know how many people you could help in Sunnydale alone?”

Steven shook his head and stood. “You just don’t understand.”

“You’re right, I don’t; you’re not helping people because you think they’ll get a little upset?”

“A little upset?” he stood up. “They’ll either think I’m crazy or they’ll be afraid of me.” He rubbed his hand, it itched. The first time he felt that itch a little girl who’d been hit by a car stood up and ran off. A wide-eyed teenager had stared at him: the little towheaded boy who’d made the dead girl walk. She knelt down next to him and grabbed his shoulders, her silver-polished nails digging into his arms through the flannel sleeves of his shirt, leaving marks. Blue eyeliner flaked around wide brown eyes as she shook him. ‘What did you do?’ she whispered. She gave him another jolt. ‘What in the hell did you do? She-she got hit--she fell--she, she ran!’ Her eyes were filled with terror, shock, but the awe and the amazement overran it, the intensity. Steven wrenched free and ran in the other direction. He hadn’t touched a gravely ill person in fourteen years--Until last night.

He stared Buffy down. “You-you can’t expect anything else, people just can’t take it.” He turned and followed where the cat had gone, toward the dorms.

“Steven,” Buffy said, rising. “I thought that you were supposed to love people, to help. I thought that was the point.” He shook his head fiercely, tucking his arms in and sprinting out of sight.

She recognized the run.

***

“It’s Steven.”

“What?”

“He can heal people.”

***

She didn’t understand. She just didn’t understand what people were like. God scared people, miracles scared people. They didn’t fit in a nice little box. He scared people. Weak. He knew it, hated it, loathed this crippling fear, weakness, confusion.

Steven sat on the edge of his bed, the cover new and crisply blue, the old, bloodstained one deep in the dumpster. He stared at his hands, turning them over.

“I wish you’d never given me this,” he slurred. “God, help me. Take it back. Give it to someone who can use it.”

***

Willow stood behind him, said his name lightly. Steven turned and saw her face.

“Buffy,” he said. “She told you.” He stood up.

“Steven, how is it pos--”

“Are you going to tell someone else? Are you going to tell Abbey? How about Professor Johns? Would it make you happy to tell someone else?”

“Steven...”

He turned, leaving Willow behind, sighing her frustration.

***

“Cases such as these are not undocumented, though but a very few believe the reality of these claims.”

“This is no *claim,* Giles, Steven healed the cat, it couldn’t even move. And he was there, with Abbey. I saw her myself. This is...” she shook her head, plopping down next to Giles. “This is probably the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. But he won’t use it. He says people won’t understand.”

“Well, Buffy, this is quite a, er, radical gift that this young man has. People don’t tend to embrace things that challenge what they believe. Some won’t believe him, some would worship him, others persecute him.”

“But what about the people that would believe him?”

“Don’t misunderstand me, Buffy, as I said, this is a gift and some people would accept him, but people attack what they don’t understand; when there’s no logical explanation, and this certainly falls into the extreme of that category. In Biblical records, Jesus performed miracles in the name of God and, well, you know how that turned out. There are those who just wouldn’t...” he let his words trail off.

“Understand,” Buffy finished. Her voice was colorless, she was angry. “Giles, so many people...” She gritted her teeth. “So many people died when he was right here. What about all those people who helped us at the Ascension? Larry and Alena and Jarod....and...” she couldn’t continue. They were all dead when help was so within their reach. “How many people died--!” her words broke off at the feel of Giles hand on her chin. Strong fingers turned her to face him.

“It was his choice, Buffy.” The hand dropped to her shoulder. He wanted to hold her, but that was out of the question.

She twitched her shoulder out from under his soft touch and he flinched. “I *know* that, Giles! But...I work so hard, so DAMNED *HARD* to keep people safe, to save them. And I hate myself every time I don’t have the ability, every time I can’t do enough for one person and *he* could have done that extra bit that I couldn’t.”

“Buffy,” he began. She looked up at his still face, the emotion flicking behind the glasses, behind the green eyes, contradicting his calm manner. Damn him for being so fair and logical and damn him for settling her even with his touch. “I don’t necessarily--”

She couldn’t do it. He just refused. She couldn’t forgive the man who would let people die because some people might not understand his gift. “Damn you,” she ground out. “Damn you for taking his side.” Buffy wrenched out of his grip, her insides giving a twinge at his startled, hurt look and stood. “I gotta go.”

“Buffy, I don’t--” she was gone before he could tell her how he felt such rage at the young man. If he had a gift, it *was* his choice, however, that didn’t matter to Giles. But she hadn’t even let him finish.

***

She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t think of Steven as a kind young man. Couldn’t think of him as anyone who deserved anything but a sound beating or a severe shouting at. The next time she saw him, she didn’t know quite what she’d do. She hoped that she’d be able to talk with him, reason with him. But....all the same, how could he let people die? He was a murderer, pure and simple. < No. > Buffy shook her head as she stalked back towards the dorms.

And Giles taking his side. Giles.

Her mind began going places she generally tried to keep it out of. Would Giles take his side if it was her Steven had the choice to save? < What if it was Giles? >

She paused, one foot in the air, slowly setting it down. What if Giles were hurt? Dying? < No. NO. > Would Steven save him? What if he didn’t? < Giles. Dead. Dead. > She pulled in a breath. She didn’t think she could do it, slaying, college, any of it, if Giles weren’t there. Even in the first year of UCS, when they’d all drifted so far apart before mending it, she’d been fine, because she always knew Giles was there. Even when she’d hurt him, or ignored him, or they’d not spoken in days, she knew he would always be there for her. Would always love her. If he were gone...

She began walking again, striding purposefully, both to reach the dorm quickly and in a vain attempt to sweep the dark, challenging, frightening thoughts from her mind. She wouldn’t let herself think that way, think about losing Giles. She wouldn’t let herself see him that way. She *couldn’t* let herself love him.

“Damn,” she muttered fiercely. She’d been down this road before, multiple times in the past year, but had always managed to edge carefully around the whole issue. Hadn’t allowed herself to complete the picture. Now, though, anger and fear brought on careless thoughtfulness and feelings for Giles pounded through her. Feelings that were anything but friendship.

She stopped in shock as she felt her hand on the doorknob of her room. “I love him.” Testing, thoughtful. Fearful.

Inside. Sink back onto the bed. She didn’t know if she liked being in love with Giles, it wasn’t supposed to be. Twenty years old, forty-something. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way; certainly not between them. < He’s Giles. You’re don’t fall in love with him. You love him, but don’t fall *in* love. > She chewed her thumbnail tensely. < He’d probably think I’m creep of the year. >

She was in love with Riley anyway, she had been since last year. She was in love with Riley. She was in love....with Giles. < It’s a cruel joke, it is. Okay, heart, whatever I did to you, I’m sorry. Now make it stop. Make it... > She rolled onto her side and his face surfaced, the cheeky grin from earlier in the week gracing his phantom features, rounding them in a wonderful change from the usually perma-serious, skeptical and sarcastic expression. She allowed herself to smile a little.

He didn’t know, didn’t have to. And maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as all that. Maybe, just maybe...

She thought of Steven.

If the dread situation ever arose, she’d *make* Steven help Giles.

***

Giles sighed, settling back against the couch. He wondered when he’d next get the chance to speak to Buffy, attempt to finish his explanation, which had been cut short as she stalked out of the door.

Did she *really* think he didn’t mind the fact that someone had the amazing ability to help innocent people, yet refused? Did she really think him that cold? Certainly he always tried to be fair and logical when dealing with issues, but maybe fair and logical wasn’t the point; perhaps it was the problem. He breathed deeply and removed his glasses, dropping them on the coffee table. Maybe it wasn’t a matter of being fair and logical, but of right, of duty. Did Steven’s choice not matter? Was it not his to make? This gift, for others, was it *their* right. Their right to live, to have a chance; what this gift was meant to be used for, was the gifted merely a vessel, his opinion meaningless against the destiny?

He certainly knew that if it was Buffy....

Buffy. She showed up far to frequently in his thoughts, far more than she really should, and for reasons far beyond what they should be. And he enjoyed it far to much to care.

His face serious, thoughts dark. If it were Buffy that were in pain, dying... dead, he’d do anything to ensure her second chance, ensure her life. He loved her far too deeply to care about ‘fair;’ to care about the boy’s choice. If Steven even doubted, he’d kill him, sure as the sun rises.

< It’s not about fair at all. >

***

Buffy needed ice cream. She was coming out of the shop, double scoop of cookie dough and fudge brownie chunk in hand when she saw the blonde head moving along the opposite side of the street. She stopped, staring, missing the next necessary lick, missing the cold chocolate running down her hand. She didn’t think, just crossed the street and made her way up behind him.

“Steven?” He turned, glanced at her. She saw him set his jaw and steel his gaze, returning his eyes to the pavement in front of him, keeping the rhythm of his feet. < Keep walking. Keep walking. > “Steven, stop, I have to talk to you, please.” She saw his step hitch a little, his shoulders rising, tense, but he kept moving, raising her ire.

“Why are you avoiding me?” He stopped, shoulders high, jerking with every tightly controlled breath.

“Why do you think, Buffy? Do you really need me to answer that?”

“I don’t care what you think, what you imagine, but I know one thing: you’re a coward, a selfish coward.” She hadn’t meant for that to come out. She’d wanted to confront him and speak to him calmly, try and get him to change his position. It hadn’t worked out as she’d planned.

He turned around, and the only thing on his face was tired pleading, tinged with...fear. “Leave me alone, Buffy. Please, just, leave me alone.”

She wanted to feel for him. Not even sympathy. She wished she could even dig up the least modicum of pity. “No! Do you think I’m just going to watch you let people *die?* People you could help? Don’t you care at all? You helped Abbey. Do you think *your* friends are the only ones worth saving?”

“Buffy, keep your voice down.” She whirled at the quiet, yet commanding voice. Giles, arms full of grocery bags stood behind her. “I don’t think that taking his head off will accomplish anything.”

“This from the man who ran a sword through the Mayor,” she replied calmly. He remained stoic, but a slight coloring rose in his face. She pulled in a breath, not sure if an apology was what was required. Giles stuck a hand into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief with some difficulty.

“Your hand,” he said smoothly. She looked down at her cream covered hand and took the proffered item, wiping her hand, licking a little at the ice cream to keep it in line. She broke eye contact and returned to Steven. She couldn’t let Giles distract her.

Steven replied to her last accusation. “No, that was an accident. I hadn’t meant--”

“You hadn’t *meant* to save her?” Buffy breathed, horror and fury clashing in her. The ice cream cone got squeezed a little. Cold wetness began seeping through the bends and cracks in the wafer cone. Hand going numb. “You were going to let your own friend *die* because of this?”

“No, that’s not what...I. You just don’t understand.

“Buffy, Steven,” Giles interjected. He was going to suggest they move this somewhere a little more private. Several people had paused, or stared as they walked by. They were blocking the sidewalk and a few had stopped to watch the spectacle rather than walk around. His words were lost as Buffy plowed over them to speak.

“No, Steven, I think I understand perfectly. I stand by what I said. You’re just a coward, Steven. And yes, selfish. How can you not help? Innocent people. People with friends and families. Husbands and wives and children and grandchildren and lovers and...and you just let all those people suffer because you want to stay quiet little Steven. They don’t deserve that, no one does. It’s not your choice. You don’t choose when their life ends. But you’re doing that, you’re killing them, choosing when they die just as much as the person who hurts them. Do you not *get* that? You’re here for them.” Buffy stopped abruptly, startling Steven with her sudden silence. She was saying just what she’d needed to hear several times over the years. It wasn’t about the one with the ability to save. It was about the one they *had* to save. She spoke more calmly. *I’m* here for them.” Steven’s brow furrowed. < What the hell?... > “God knows I’ve done the same thing as you. But, don’t you see? You, we...” she stopped, working her jaw, working to breath. “You say this is from God? Well, Steven, why do you think He gave it to you?”

Steven’s face was pulled taut, lines of pain and struggle etched clearly where they shouldn’t show up for years to come. “Buffy don’t you think I know? But you just don’t...”

“No.” Buffy shook her head. “*You* don’t.” She backed up a step, shaking her head. Her heel brushed the curb. An engine rumbled louder and louder down the street. Giles frowned, stopped for a moment. She pursed her lips and spoke, taking another step. “You can’t even begin to--” Her eyes widened in shock and she went down faster than either of the two men or any bystanders could react. Her crushed ice cream cone dropping from the startled hand. Down, she tumbled, the truck moving faster than her Slayer reflexes.

Giles’ groceries dropped unnoticed, a jar shattering somewhere inside the brown paper. He didn’t see, his mind too busy wondering how her form, so small and deceptively delicate, could create such a large indentation in the grille of the now halted machine. He was on the ground at her side without knowing he’d moved at all.

A round, balding Hispanic man tumbled from the cab of the truck. He was shaking, wringing his hands, sweat and tears sliding over his skin. “Oh, God. Oh, Jesus, I didn’t see her. She just fell. I’m sorry. I couldn’t stop. Oh, Jesus. God. Oh, God. Is she? Is...”

“Call an ambulance!” Giles roared. The man, redfaced and breathing heavily froze. “Go!!” He did, stumbling over his own feet, falling, pushing up off of the asphalt with his abraded, bleeding palms, scrambling for a pay phone. The crowd gathering. Steven stared, eyes wide, jaw muscle trembling. “Buffy?” Giles murmured. “Buffy? Please,” he touched her face. One eyelid fluttered slowly open, the other following. Her lips worked a little, uncoordinated, spots of blood on her mouth and nose, a slash across her eyebrow trickling blood into her right eye, stinging and blinding her. The ragged, labored breathing stopped. Still. Gone.

Giles stared at her in horror for a moment, unable to believe it. Wrong. All wrong. His head snapped around and his eyes bored into Steven’s. Steven swore he could have heard an animal growl.

“Help her.” Steven remained, frozen. “HELP HER!” Steven shook his head, not as a refusal, but in lost confusion, indecision and fear and disbelief and pain. “She was right. If you don’t save her, it doesn’t just make you a coward,” Giles snarled, his voice lowered, his words slow and deadly, “it makes you a murderer.” He kept his gaze on Steven, so cold the young man backed up a step. Then he bent back over Buffy, running his hands gently across her face, up and down her arms, begging her not to go. “Buffy, please, love, please just stay with me a little bit longer. Please don’t leave, please don’t leave me.” He put a trembling hand to the side of his face, not noticing the streak of rust-red it left on his temple. He looked up to Steven, one more time, all command, all anger gone from his voice, leaving a hollow, helpless sound. “Help her, please, I -- can’t...”

“I don’t know if I can,” Steven moaned, even as he knelt down next to them. He touched Buffy’s shoulder and sucked in a breath, throwing his head back as his hand burned with a cold, gray emptiness that traveled up his arm, his shoulder. She was gone. He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth and gathered Buffy’s limp and broken frame up into his arms. Pain exploded in his chest, his head a blinding mass of pain, a line of fire running down his right side. Breathing sent shock waves through him, but he held on, rocking back and forth. “Oh God, oh God,” he whispered. “Please help her, I can’t help her. He needs her so much. We all do, please.” He went on rocking her, through the pain, the physical pain wrapped tightly around Buffy and the emotional pain that emanated off of Giles like cold.

The pain was gone and his breath was gone with it.

“Giles?” His head snapped up at the gravelly voice.

“Buffy?” he breathed.

“It hurts.” Steven, eyes wide and distant, released her. Buffy looked at the man who gathered her into his arms so tightly the pain nearly increased. Thank God for Slayer strength.

“I know it hurts, love,” he said, gazing at her. “But you’ll feel better soon.”

“What did you call me?” she asked. He looked confused. “You called me ‘love.’”

“Oh, Buffy, I’m--” he smiled in embarrassment.

“No,” she said, cutting him off. “I like it.” His embarrassed smile changed to one of halting, but pure delight. Buffy managed to return it, searching his eyes that were bright with fear and joy and love. She bit her lip as a thought hit her, and turned her head and saw Steven stand and she turned over, Giles releasing his hold on her somewhat reluctantly. “Steven did you--”

He turned his troubled, distant gaze painfully slowly to Buffy, then collapsed.

“Steven!” Buffy rolled onto her knees and stumbled and crawled over to him, Giles right behind her. She shook him and when he didn’t move, she bent over, checking him. “Giles, he’s not breathing.” Giles, swiftly tilted Steven’s head back and pinched his nose.

“Where’s the damned ambulance,” Giles growled. He leaned over and began breathing for Steven. The ambulance had been too late for Buffy, and if it didn’t come for her rescuer soon, it might be too late for him. Steven coughed and a thin film of blood spattered over his lips. Buffy’s eyes widened in fear and an ambulance pulled up. EMTs rushed out.

“This the auto victim?” they barked as they began checking him.

“Yeah.” A stiff collar was placed around Steven’s neck and soon he was in the back of the ambulance.

“We should go tell Abbey. She can call his parents.” Giles and Buffy watched as the vehicle sped away and they turned to head back to the college when he paused.

“Well son of a...my groceries.” They observed the mess of ruined groceries and brown paper on the sidewalk for a moment, then burst into overly loud laughter. Buffy’s laugh turned into a cough and a groan.

“Okay, so, laughing’s out of the question for a while. Yeesh.” She grimaced and rubbed her side as they began moving toward the college again. . Half way to the campus, Giles felt a small hand brush his, then slip in to grip his, palm to palm, fingers locked together. They didn’t touch much aside from him dropping a reassuring hand on her shoulder, and it sent a little thrill up his arm. He drew in a joyful, satisfied breath and squeezed back.

At the campus, they managed to find Abbey after several dorm room to dorm room phone calls and a little detective work with her schedual. When they told her the news (coloring the facts a little) she dropped, pale faced and silent onto her bed, before jumping up and calling Steven’s parents. .

“Come on,” she said, scooping her car keys into her hand and hurrying out of her room, “we can take my car. Is he okay?” Buffy and Giles exchanged a look.

“Well, we, ah, we don’t know. They just took him away and we came here.” At the hospital, they weren’t allowed into his room because they weren’t family. They sat in a cozy waiting room with carpet and wallpaper in warm colors and soft, comfortable chairs, but they didn’t notice much. In about twenty minutes, a tall man and woman came into the room. Abbey looked up and sighed. They rushed over and hugged her.

“Abbey? How is he?”

“I don’t know, they wouldn’t let me in, but these--” just as she pointed at Buffy and Giles, a short, thick, well aged man stepped into the room.

“Are Steven’s parents--oh, you must be them.” The two newcomers nodded.

“What’s happened to our son? Is he okay? Abbey just called and told us that he was hit by a car and brought here.

“Well--oh, sit down, please--it’s an odd thing. Steven was brought in as an auto versus pedestrian case, he appeared gravely injured,” Steven’s mother’s throat worked as she struggled to hold back tears. “This is the strange part: we can find nothing physically wrong with Steven. No signs of actual physical trauma internal or external, however, his body is acting for all the world as if he had been terribly injured.”

Everyone stared in confusion. “So-so, is he...okay?” his father asked.

“Well, he hasn’t woken up yet, but, seeing as how there isn’t any *actual* physical trauma, we have high hopes that he should be waking up soon, and, hopefully, will be in relatively good health. He looked at Buffy and a frown creased his pleasant face. “You, however, are you okay?” Buffy looked confused, then tried to look up at her forehead.

“Oh...” she scrubbed at the dried blood, which flaked off to reveal a shiny pink scar arcing across, cutting thinly through her eyebrow. Giles shook his head discreetly and her eyes rounded. “Oh, that must be just some of, ah, Steven’s blood.” Giles brushed a delicate, wondering finger over the scar, causing her to shiver. They made eye contact, and would have sat there longer, but the doctor stood up.

“Would you like to see Steven?” His parents and Abbey stood up. His mother looked inquiringly at Buffy and Giles, who shook their heads. When they’d left, Buffy blew out a breath and slid down in her chair, splaying in a decidedly un-ladylike fashion.

“So, I guess Steven decided to...use his powers?” Buffy said suddenly, breaking the silence.

“Well,” Giles chuckled in amusement, “after the severe, ah, *talking to* you gave him, I think we can safely assume that he, saw the light, shall we say?”

“I guess I was a little...furious, wasn’t I?”

“Oh, only a little,” he said, shaking his head, feigning seriousness. “But not without reason. I can’t say that I blame your reactions. I felt much the same way.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t go all rage-aholic on him, did you?”

“No, no, I admit that I didn’t, but I don’t know that mine was the correct reaction either.”

“What happened to him, Giles? They said there was nothing wrong with him. But, he was bleeding, and he just...fell.”

“Well, you’ve seen him do this before, twice in fact, what happened the other timres?”

Buffy looked thoughtful for a minute. “Well, both times he kinda...fell back, like he’d been hit or something. And it would take him about five seconds to get up, almost like he’d blacked out. And I don’t think he remembered exactly what happened. When he’d healed the cat, he just sat there, then got upset, like it dawned on him what he’d done.”

Giles made a ‘hmmm’ noise and rubbed at the back of his neck for a moment.

“Well, especially from what just occurred, I don’t think it would go amiss to assume that when he heals, that he, well, *takes* that into himself and out of the one he touched and does away with it, I suppose.”

“Boy,” Buffy grunted, “and I just thought that Stephen King made up that whole Green Mile thing.” She didn’t look happy with the explanation though. “But, he always got up before. Both times, he seemed okay in a couple seconds. And Abbey was *dead* Giles, why didn’t he pass out then?”

“Was Abbey injured in any way other than the bit wounds?”

“No.”

“Perhaps it’s not how the person is doing as far as, well, *alive* goes, as much as how much physical damage there is. She only had the bite wounds, and the wounds on a small cat would likely do very little to someone of Steven’s size.” Buffy shrugged. “Well,” he said somewhat testily, “if you can find an expert on how miraculous healings affect the worker of those healings, let me know.”

Buffy laughed and gave him a few pats on the shoulder that, liberally interpreted, were more like slaps. She grew sober and chewed on her lip. “Do you think he’s going to be all right?” she asked softly. “I-I have to talk to him. He helped me, Giles. He *saved* me.”

She glanced up at him and his expression which had suddenly turned serious, his voice quieter now. “And it’s a lucky thing he did.” They paused and he looked down at her, their eyes meeting, holding. Her lips parted and an understanding passed between them. Her cheeks rounded in a small smile which she fought to keep from exploding into a giddy full out grin.

Giles beamed back at her, the expression crinkling his eyes, and reached out a hand.

***

Steven’s parents trailed Abbey slowly down the hall, smiles gracing their faces. Steven had woken up and, aside from being sore, he was prefectly all right. The doctors didn’t know quite what to make of it, but Steven’s parents knew it had to be a miracle. The Lord had saved their little boy. They were on their way to tell the man and young woman whom Abbey had named as Buffy and Giles. They wanted to thank them for being there for their son.

Abbey reached the room first and looked in, opening her mouth to speak. She stopped and spun back out of the room, a shocked smile on her features. She bit her lip and grinned. She held out her hand to Steven’s parents who stopped, confused. Abbey leaned out a little and peeked around the door again to the sight of the back of a man’s head, two small hands roaming freely through the hair and down his back. Two people too wrapped up in each other to notice.

Abbey turned back to Steven’s parents trying to supress a laugh. “Let’s give them just a minute, I think they’re working a few things out.”

 
END