Healing
By LeoClaire

TITLE: Healing
AUTHOR: LeoClaire
RATING: PG, I think.
SPOILERS: Season Three.  Up to, and including, "Amends".
CONTENT: Buffy/Giles.
SUMMARY: Repressed emotion surfaces.
DISTRIBUTION:  Wow!  I'm flattered!  :)  Just let me know. FEEDBACK:  How did it rate?  Would you like to read more?
DISCLAIMER: Everything 'Buffy' belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Sandollar Productions, Warner Brothers, and 20th Century Fox.  Basically what I'm saying is: Not me.  Darn. But thank you for inviting me over to play.  :)  
THANKS TO:  All of my wonderful email pals who have offered support and encouragement.  It means a great deal to me.
   
DEDICATION: This tale is written for the incredible Karen Jephson.  Here it is. Your patience is astounding.  <g> Also, to my tweedtwin, as always. 


Buffy fidgeted on the stoop of her Watcher's apartment and wondered again why she was here.  It had been a routine patrol, nothing seriously wiggy, but lately she found herself more tired than usual. Her shoulders slouched when she walked, and her eyes had lost their energetic sparkle.  Buffy sighed and shifted to the other foot.  As expected, her downtrodden demeanor had not gone unnoticed by Willow, who finally cornered her in the girls' room one afternoon to ask about it.  Buffy had quickly smiled and given an excuse about a failed math test, but Willow was too perceptive to accept that reasoning for long.  Besides, who cares about math?  Buffy thought, rolling her eyes skyward.
 
Xander had not been as forthright as his bookish pal, but Buffy recognized his increase in excruciatingly lame jokes as his way of eliciting a response from her.  He was worried too.  Even Cordelia had eased up on her sarcastic comments recently, which, once Buffy had recovered from the shock, was certainly welcomed.  And Giles...
  
Buffy slowly traced the wood paneling of his front door with a polished fingernail.  Well, Giles was still Giles, she conceded. Seeker of Spells, Researcher Extraordinaire, Lover of Tweed.  She chuckled inwardly, vowing to never admit in public that the suits fitted him - flattered him, actually.  She liked the new glasses too...
  
Grinning in amusement at her train of thought, Buffy reminded herself of the reason she was standing outside his building.  The hint of mirth vanished, only to be replaced with a cloud of pain.  How could she tell him that he was her problem?  That he was the reason she couldn't sleep tonight?
  
No, *I'm* the problem, she corrected in exasperation.  I'm the one who's always screwing things up.  Transforming my boyfriend into a demon, she muttered, kicking the welcome mat angrily. Running away from home.  Kick.  Leaving my mom.  Kick.  My friends.  Kick, kick. Never telling my watcher how much I appreciate him.  Kick, kick, kick, kick, kick.
  
Buffy turned away abruptly and sat on the lawn to collect herself. Best not wake him until she was ready. Breathing deeply, she closed her eyes and inhaled the warm California air.  Hard to believe it was snowing only a short time ago.  Snowing.  In Sunnydale.  She shook her head incredulously, her mind immediately filled with images of Angel.
 
They had walked hand-in-hand that morning, as flurries swirled around them, dusting their hair and clothes powder white until they resembled two ambulatory snowmen.  "Quite a change from a vampire," Angel had remarked with a wink.  She danced around, catching flakes on her tongue, and then had flopped in a snowbank, pulling him down beside her.  "Make a snow angel," she had urged with her arms outstretched.  He mimicked her actions while she giggled.  "How apt," she teased, her eyes shining in the lamplight.  He retaliated by packing a snowball and tossing it, hitting her in the chest.  Glaring in mock indignation, she stuffed snow down his shirt until he raised his hands in surrender.  "Being the Slayer gives you an unfair advantage," he protested as they tumbled to the ground again.
  
They were like youngsters on Christmas morning, Buffy recalled fondly.  Running through the streets of Sunnydale, whooping and hollering with glee as the rest of the town woke.  Spinning around in circles until they were too dizzy to walk straight.  There would be no brooding for Angel today.  He clutched her to him and they headed for home, content in knowing that they had each received the best possible gift.
  
And who do I have to thank for that?  Giles, of course.  Buffy absentmindedly ripped up blades of grass and sorted them into a pile, berating herself for being so stupid and selfish.  Giles had always been there for her -  through everything.  Even when she had to admit that she and Angel had...she blushed, her embarrassment fresh.  Even when she had to admit that she and Angel had _been intimate_, Giles hadn't reprimanded her.  Only offered her his support and respect. And with Giles, that's like, for keeps.  Nobody had ever given her the assurance of those things before.  For keeps, that is.  Well, except her mom and dad.  But parents are supposed to love their kids, so it didn't count.
  
A thought struck her, as the pile of grass grew higher.  Did Giles love her?  Like a child?  Buffy frowned, unsettled.  She'd certainly acted like a child lately.  Hmmm.  Moreover, what did she think of Giles?  She pondered this question, a little surprised that the answer didn't come easily.  If someone asked her that, her response would be automatic: He's Giles.  But what exactly did that encompass?
  
She glanced at her watch, amazed that an hour had come and gone while she methodically tore his lawn into patches.  Not exactly the way to show my gratitude, Buffy grimaced.  A sudden light appeared in Giles' livingroom window.  He's awake, she realized, startled.  Of course he's awake.  With his devotion to research, the man lived on three, maybe four, hours of sleep per night.  Even Buffy needed more than that, and she's a Slayer.  Except, she acknowledged, both her math and biology classes were excellent cures for sleep deprivation.  Maybe she *should* take Willow up on her offer of a study session...
  
Impatiently dismissing her scholastic endeavors, she looked again at the window.  Right now there were more important matters to tend to.  The light was still on, and she thought she detected a faint shadow through the curtain.  This was it.  Go for it, she coaxed.  Jumping to her feet, she headed for his door - only to freeze before her hand reached the knocker.  What would she say?  What if he yelled?  I can't face him!  Panicked, she ran back to her spot of security, and plucked another blade of grass from the soil.  She hated her fear.

****

Giles flipped haphazardly through a volume he wasn't really reading, his eyes instead peering inquisitively at the blond teen making a mess of his lawn.  He had risen from his light sleep at the sound of scuffling in his doorway.  Cautiously taking a cross from his nightstand, he had crept down the stairs and stealthily approached the entrance.  Peeking through the draperies, he was astonished at the sight of Buffy wreaking havoc on his welcome mat.  Ah well, he sighed in resignation.  I don't have many visitors.  Now, at least the mat looks used.  Smiling wryly, he looked closely at his Slayer, and the smile instantly disappeared from his lips.  She was obviously angry.  At him?  As he wracked his memories for a moment that may have brought Buffy fury, a voice echoed in his head, taunting him.
 
This is just like you, the voice heckled.  Buffy doesn't care for you; constantly disregards your needs; and has never shown the least bit of appreciation for all you do.  And yet, you sit here and worry whether she's mad at *you*?  Incredible.
  
He had quelled this side of him many times, but lately it had become a stubborn nuisance, never leaving him in peace.  You're being harsh, Giles spoke vehemently.  After all she's been through, it's understandable.
 
So what if I'm harsh? the voice was vicious.   I'm not ready to forgive yet. 
 
He gazed once more at Buffy, analyzing.  Yes, she was angry.  But her face was etched with other emotion, something he couldn't read.  Sadness?  Disappointment?  Guilt?  She looked so vulnerable.  He desperately wished he could ease whatever was troubling her.
 
What about you?  What about your pain?  The voice reappeared with a slight whine.  He wished the voice would shut up.
 
Buffy had moved now, to his lawn.  She was facing his apartment, yet too far to notice him loitering about his own home like a fool. Still, Giles kept to the shadows and thought.  She was so close.  He could pretend to go outside to get - he didn't know - *something*, and he could notice her and invite her inside.  Cordially, of course, and not because he really wanted to.  He admitted that, like it or not, he indeed was hurting and Buffy was a source of his hurt.
  
But once she was here, he envisioned, they could sit and talk. *Really* talk, not the type of superficial chatter they'd both been engaging in this past while.  In fact, they barely spoke at all, dodging as if the other were a caged animal.  He hated it.  But every time he opened his mouth to speak, he would remember that Buffy hid Angel's return.  After these years of collaboration and confidence, Buffy still did not trust him.  The fact sliced like a dagger, and he always had to shut himself down before his heart bled at her feet.
  
But maybe I can get past that, Giles lied to himself.  Liar, the selfish voice confirmed.
  
Giles wasn't listening.  He was too enthralled in his imaginary make-up scenario with Buffy.    He'd invite her inside and they would sit on the couch.  Perhaps he'd make tea.  They would talk and get this sorted out.  And maybe - just maybe - he could hold her in his arms, simultaneously soothing her suffering and his.  Treating himself to the contact he so desperately needed.  Yes, that is what he would do. His fingers closed around the doorknob.
  
Remember Jenny.
 
Damn you! Giles cried, withdrawing his hand instantly.  He flicked the lightswitch, walked over to the coffee table and picked up a text.  He perched on the couch and rifled through the pages determinedly.  Although the piercing grief of losing Jenny had lessened a great deal since the summer, he was left with a spot in his heart which ached when he thought of her - and which burned with rage when he thought of the circumstances of her death.
  
The voice cackled victoriously, Told you so.
 
Jenny's death is not Buffy's fault, Giles protested. I don't blame her. 
 
No, but you blame her demon boyfriend. And he wouldn't have transformed, if she hadn't-
 
Giles hurriedly cut the voice off, I *don't* blame Buffy!  She's just a child.
  
The voice chortled,  Apparently Angel didn't think so.
 
Giles shuddered.  The thought of Buffy intimately involved with Angel incensed him further.  He didn't want to examine exactly why. He had sworn to lock those feelings away when they first met.  He was an educated man.  He'd read _Lolita_. 
 
And what is this 'just a child' nonsense?  The voice continued, quite enjoying itself.  You've always treated each other as equals. Always.  It's her who is not fulfilling her end of the deal.  It's her who has disappointed you, not the other way around.  I say, let her wallow.
 
You don't say? Giles spat.  Listen, if you'd-- he broke off abruptly, glimpsing Buffy's figure through the window.  She was headed in his direction.  "See?"  Giles spoke aloud, trying to hide the relief he felt.  He made his way to the entrance, ready to greet her.
 
But, wait.  She had stopped.  Only the door separated them.  If he concentrated hard, he imagined he could hear her tense breathing on the other side of the wood.  He quickly peeked through the curtain again.  Buffy was standing motionless, as if someone had clicked the pause button on one of those baffling VCR contraptions.
 
Knock, he willed her.  Please knock, Buffy.  I can't bring myself to make the first move...   
 
Suddenly, she backed away and sprinted to the lawn.  She attacked the grass with renewed ferocity.
  
Giles leaned up against the wall and slowly exhaled.  Fine.  This was fine.  Opening his eyes, he steeled himself  and walked over to retrieve his spot on the couch.  If Buffy wanted to wait, then so would he. 
 
He saw the words of the book, but they didn't register. All of his energy was focused on the young woman who now lay with her head in her hands.
  
Good for you!  You won that round!  Way to go!  Giles was being congratulated by what he believed to be his 'evil' voice.  Like those cartoons of a man with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. He was in no mood to be congratulated.
  
Put a sock in it, he grumbled.  He hated his pride.

****

Buffy hugged her knees to her chest, contemplating for the hundredth time, the soft glow emanating through the gauzy curtain.  Yes, Giles was awake, that much was certain.  The shining lamplight a testimony to his endless nights of research; his commitment to the daunting task of fighting evil; his dedication to setting things right as best he could.  The gang had always mocked his attachment to books, teasing that his refined tweed was never without an accompanying scent of dust and mothballs.  But Buffy silently recognized that the crackling yellowed pages of the texts held precious material - information she could not begin to understand without Giles. 
 
Buffy toyed with the end of a ragged shoelace.  She relied on her Watcher a great deal more than she should -- she knew that.  Yeah, okay, she's the Slayer.  She kills vampires and saves the world from being sucked into Hell.  No small feat, to be sure.  But her efforts wouldn't be half as effective if it weren't for Giles.  Huddled in his office, several empty teacups by his side, skimming archaic languages for any hint of future boogeymen.  Anticipating problems before they arose.  While I'm dancing at the Bronze or going out on a date, Buffy thought, disgusted.  How selfish can I be?
 
The unspoken question hung in the sky like a garish neon sign.  Buffy cringed.  She _really_ didn't want to answer that.  It was too shameful.  Accepting his knowledge and advice without so much as a thankyou.  Instead, believing that his intelligence only meant less investigation for her -- giving her added time to focus on more important matters, such as gossiping about boys to Willow; or sharing the last package of Twinkies with Xander.  Never once considering that Giles' devotion to the task at hand may underline a similar devotion to her.
 
Whoa.  Wait a second.  Where did that idea come from?  Buffy paused in surprise, then shrugged.  I just meant devotion as in a sense of responsibility, she assured herself.  Obligation. Not devotion as in, um... Flushing slightly, she urged her train of thought to get another conductor.
  
She looked again at her watch, then at the window.  Buffy was growing impatient.   She had to do _something_ -- something that would let her Watcher know just how much he was appreciated.  Besides, her foot was falling asleep.
 
"He's going to be furious with me."  The quiet statement swallowed her with its severity, and she was engulfed in a new wave of fear.
 
Can you blame him?  Her heart spoke up, matter-of-fact.
 
No, she admitted, miserable.  How can I face him?  How can I look in his eyes, knowing that I'm the one who caused the pain I see?  Stretching out her legs, Buffy lay on her side, the grass rough against her cheek.  It would be so easy to get up and leave.  She could walk away, pretend that she had never come to see him this night.  It was simple really.
 
She could be satisfied with the Watcher role, couldn't she?  Have Giles as her Watcher and nothing more.  The training, the research, the battles.  That was all the two had been discussing lately anyway.  The laughter, understanding, and encouragement were not necessary.  The vampires would be staked regardless.  Who needed the hassle of emotion?
 
I do!  Buffy declared fiercely.  Not only do I need it, b-b-but I _want_ it.  Oh Giles, how can I make things better?
 
In answer, a phrase flashed through her mind.  She squeezed her eyes shut in an effort to ward off the blunt image, but her resistance only made it clearer.
 
*You have no respect for me or the job I perform.*
 
A lone tear dripped off Buffy's nose.  How that sentence haunted her, existing in both her day and night.  His bleak, desolate gaze following her every move.  His fatigue weighing on her shoulders.
 
Those words had echoed in his small office, suffocating her with their truth.  At first, she thought she could rid the lump in her stomach by taking out her aggression on that poor, unsuspecting demon -- but the mechanical rote of her duty only served to heighten her emptiness.  She hated to disappoint him.  Each effort she made to apologize was rebuked -- and what was strange, was that with each apology she gave, Giles only grew more detached.  Finally, she had given up, and the pair had settled into a neutral pattern of train-slay-train-slay.  No banter, no sparkle, no life.  Giles' voice betrayed nothing, but his gaze held a plea so painful that it shook Buffy to the core.  What did he want?  And why didn't he tell her?
 
Why did he matter so much anyway?  Buffy wondered, as she angrily rubbed away the rest of the tears that had followed the first.  Why was his approval so important?  How come she was able to mouth off to her mother with ease, and yet, when Buffy was testy to Giles, she felt horribly guilty afterward?
 
Because he accepted her.  Wholly and completely.  Trusting her with his support and faith even before she arrived in Sunnydale.  Offering compassion, consolation, and inspiration.  Giving of his hope and affection.  Witnessing her mistakes, her misconceptions, her rash decisions -- and accepting her regardless.  Not because he had to, but because...well, because.
 
Did Giles fill a parental role?  Perhaps.  He exhibited many qualities of her parents -- comfort, caring, guidance.  But it didn't matter to him whether she had a messy room, or how many clothes she bought, or if she remembered to take out the garbage.  Plus, try as she might, Buffy couldn't get past her secret heartwrenching belief that parents _had_ to care for their children -- whereas Giles took an active interest in her.  He didn't have to.  He could have been like the other stuffy, pompous Watchers she had heard about.  Focus on the enemy, and only the enemy.  No personal stuff.  

But Giles was actually okay with the personal stuff, encouraging her to talk about her problems.  They'd had some pretty good conversations in the past, and often she found herself confiding things to him that she wouldn't dare mention in front of her own father.  Giles treated her as an equal, not a child.  That made her feel good.  It was a nice change from being labelled a 'troublemaker' by her own family -- when they weren't ignoring her completely. 
 
So, a vote for parent?  Nah, not really.  Additionally, the prospect of Giles as a father figure made her a bit uncomfortable.  She had a feeling that fathers weren't supposed to be as handsome as he was.
 
Smiling a little through her residual sniffles, Buffy sat up and crossed her legs, deep in thought.  What then?  Friend?  Well, yeah.  But still, not the same type of friend as Willow or Xander.  Giles needed to let loose more often.  Have some fun.  With horror, Buffy recalled the band candy incident.  Alright, not _too_ much fun.  But his sense of humour was really lightening up, and she'd even caught him using American slang once or twice.  That's a start.  Although, she chuckled, I can't imagine him ever playing a game of Anywhere But Here!
 
Even so, she admitted, Giles fit where Xander and Willow could not.  She sometimes found herself reading Giles' thoughts - finishing off a sentence, or saying the same thing simultaneously.  Their shared emotions were also intense.  That was a bit spooky, knowing each other so well.  But at the same time, rather comforting.  And again, there was the unspoken reassurance that each could be themselves without repercussions.  (At least, not many.  She still didn't understand his penchant for the Bay City Rollers.)
 
And then there was that other level, the one she refused to think about.  The level at which she would sometimes choose to wear her favourite t-shirt to training, knowing that the light blue highlighted her golden hair.  Where her fingers sometimes itched to wipe away the trickle of sweat that ran in a rivulet down his cheek.  The level at which she would see him looking at her, an unreadable expression reflected on his features.  And his eyes would be so dark, filled with -- well, she didn't know exactly.  But that expression would suddenly send tingles all the way down to the tips of her toes.
 
However, Buffy reminded herself sternly, I'm not even thinking about that.  I'm trying to figure out Giles' place in my life.  He's not just a Watcher.  He's not just a father.  He's not just a friend.  Giles is...special.  Giles is just so special, dammit!  Tears came again, out of desperation, anguish, and the frustration that she could not find the right word to describe the man who was everything to her.
 
"I can't do this!" she cried aloud, not even caring if he heard anymore.  Her mind continued reeling. 
 
I can't face him, I can't have him angry at me -- anyone but him.  I'd rather have him ignore me than yell at me.
 
You don't mean that, her heart argued.  Anger won't last forever.  It's going to hurt for awhile, maybe a long while, but it's not forever.
 
Buffy knew that her heart was right, but it didn't make her feel any better. The tears didn't stop.
 
If you don't talk to him now -- if you walk away -- you are going to regret this moment for the rest of your life.  Giles is special, you said so yourself.  Prove it.  Make the first move.  Do it for him.  You owe him that, don't you agree?
 
Buffy massaged her temples, exhausted.  She was tired of thinking.  She wanted a bed.  Her bed.  With Mr. Gordo.
 
"I don't want him to hate me." She whispered, pitifully.

He won't.
 
"I can't.  I just can't.  I can't, I can't, I can't..."
 
You must.
 
It's strange how two words can cut to the heart of things.  You must.  Like a duty, a destiny.  A duty not to the Slayer/Watcher bond; not to the bond of Student/Teacher; nor that of Daughter/Father.  But rather, a duty simply to the bond of Buffy/Giles.  To the destiny that awaited them.
 
And Buffy listened.  Inhaling shakily, she stood and pressed a sleeve to her heated, tear-stained face.  Putting one foot in front of the other, she strode purposefully across the lawn.  Her steps quickening, finally breaking into a run.  Racing up the short flight of stairs, she once again stood in front of the wooden door.  A brief pause.  Deep breath.  Lift the knocker.  Three short -- tap, tap, tap.
 
Breathe, don't forget to breathe.
 
The door opened.

****

When he heard her knock, Giles took his time approaching so as not to appear too eager.  Methodically placing one foot in front of the other, counting the paces from the living room to the front door. Urgency betrayed him however, for after the third step, he rushed the rest of the way and hastily wrenched the door open. 
 
And there she stood.  Small and blond, with bits of grass in her hair, and dirty sneakers on her feet. She had obviously dressed in a hurry, as her pyjama top was buttoned incorrectly and mismatched with a pair of tattered sweatpants.  She was beautiful.  Meeting her blue eyes, he was momentarily startled at the sorrow evident in their depths.  He wanted nothing more than to comfort her; to erase their uncomfortable silence of the past weeks.  To start over.
 
But something was stopping him -- the insolent inner voice that insisted he not surrender easily.  Buffy gazed at him openly; a mixture of guilt and pain marring her lovely features.  Her skin was red and blotchy from crying.  Giles wondered briefly whether those tears were because of him, and a chill raced down his spine at the subsequent selfish joy he felt.  She was here.  At _his_ doorstep, not Angel's. 
 
Though the despair in her countenance made him ache, Giles was acutely aware of when his face had worn the same grief.  When Buffy's demon lover had killed his darling Jenny.  Tortured him. When Buffy herself had fled without a word of explanation.  Leaving Giles, as he floundered in futility and flogged himself for yet another failure. 
 
After an excruciating three months Buffy had shown up on his doorstep -- much as she was doing now, he mused -- and her tremulous smile had renewed hopes for their collaboration as partners and friends.  Her inner fire had burned so brightly that he was instantly reminded of the darkness which existed without her.  He was ready to forgive her anything in order to keep that light shining, and he admitted that his own intentions were less than honorable, as all he wished to do was bathe himself in the glow that emanated from her. 
 
He swallowed convulsively, and told himself that none of that mattered now.  It was obvious that Buffy held little to no regard for the bond they shared. That much was apparent, as indicated by her intentional secrecy when Angel returned from hell.  Giles' heart stung at her lack of trust in him.  It was a matter of safety that he, as her Watcher, should have been warned of Angel's reappearance.  But it was a matter of their understanding, their mutual respect, that he, as her friend, should have been told.  Buffy's actions undermined his existence in her life, and Giles was embarrassed at imagining he meant anything to her.  And he was hurt.  And disappointed.  And angry.  What did it take for her to give back just a little?  He wasn't a picky man -- something, anything, to assure himself of his value in her life.  For her to see something other than the old, stodgy fellow dressed in tweed.  God, what would it take to have her _look_ at him?
 
But Buffy _was_ looking now, her gaze imploring as she shifted from foot to foot.  He hardened himself against her earnest expression.  Yes indeed, he remembered anguish all too well, and though much of it was not her fault, his spirit had endured many battle scars from the likes of Buffy Summers.  For a moment or two, he allowed his obstinacy to triumph over his affection.  Forgiveness could wait.  Narrowing his eyes, Giles cleared his throat.
 
"Buffy."
 
The word echoed in the night air, neither an invite nor a dismissal. Just her name.  His voice devoid of all emotion, one would only understand his silent turmoil if they noticed his white knuckles clenched around the doorjamb.  It required all of his conscious effort not to throw his arms around her and never let go.
 
After a pause, realizing he was saying nothing more, she responded with false cheer, "Yep.  Little ol' me.  Scared away the vamps early tonight, so I thought I'd drop by as I finished my route."  Her airy manner was deceived by a nervous hiccup.
 
He arched an eyebrow, "And the dress for patrolling is now bedclothes?   My, my, I must keep up with the current trends."  Giles commented dryly.
 
Glancing down at her disheveled wardrobe, Buffy flushed and hiccuped again.  She was a fashion disaster, wearing an outfit she was sure even the Salvation Army would reject.  Earlier that night, she had hopped out of bed in a panic, grabbing the articles of clothing nearest to her and rushing out of the house.  She touched her drooping ponytail regretfully, wishing she had brought a brush.  Maybe some makeup too.  Buffy shook her head impatiently.  This wasn't important! Here she was, at Giles' apartment, ready and willing to apologize, and all he could note were her _clothes_?  Her brow furrowed, as she pushed past him and marched into the foyer.
 
"Okay, okay.  So I didn't come here from patrol.  And I know that I don't look like a supermodel, but what woman does at,"  she checked her watch, "3:00AM in the morning?  Giles, that's ridiculous!"  His mouth twitched in what she thought was a smirk, as he listened to her protests.  Buffy closed her eyes and inhaled slowly, her mind racing back on topic.  Giles.  Me.  Fixing Giles and me.  My appearance is not the issue.  Get a grip, girl. 
 
"What would you like Buffy?"  Giles asked, with a hint of intolerance. His mind addressed the queries his voice could not.  Are you here to ask something of me?  To demand more than I have already given?  To squeeze the last of my life from me, as I again sacrifice myself to put your needs first?  "I was sleeping." he added pointedly.  His gaze pierced into her, as the barrage of soundless questions continued.  Or dare I hope that you have appeared tonight not as a messenger of your pain, but rather, with the means to heal mine?  So that we might be able to heal each other?         
 
Her tone was skeptical.   "You were sleeping in a pair of blue jeans? Since when does someone wear those to bed, may I ask?"  Her eyes suddenly widened.  "Moreover, when did you start wearing jeans in the first place?  I mean, Giles, jeans are actually _cool_."  Her conservative Watcher had only ever shown up to school in layers.  Layers which were hiding a _lot_, she now observed appreciatively as her eyes traveled over his cotton shirt and faded pants.  She gulped as heat suffused her already pink cheeks, and it was a strain to tear her gaze back to Giles' face.
 
A face which was now glaring at her.  "I know this may be a shock to your rating of what's cool," he exaggerated the adjective sarcastically, "but for your information, I dislike tweed just as much as you do.  Regardless, however unfortunate, denim is not approved for Sunnydale High's dress code.  And no," he continued, biting off Buffy's reply, "of course I don't sleep in jeans.  I was researching upstairs and unwittingly nodded off."  He scrutinized her for a long moment.  "Anything else?", he inquired stonily.
 
"Chill, Giles.  I've just never seen you dressed casually before.  You look...nice," she faltered.  The voice in her head was screaming *gorgeous*, but she shushed that voice and ordered it to behave.  "The clothes suit you.  In a good way." she stated honestly.  "And as for why I'm here, well..."  Buffy trailed off uncertainly, her apprehension returning in force.  Her breathing was shaky as she confessed, "I thought we could talk.  Is that okay?  That is, if I'm not interrupting anything?"  The question was punctuated by three hiccups in a row.   
 
Giles looked at her steadily, and Buffy squirmed under his stare. Without a word, he turned and strode into the kitchen.  "Giles?"  She squeaked.  "Didn't you hear me?"  At the answering stillness, her heart sank.  This was _so_ not how she pictured it.  She smacked her forehead, annoyed at her own ineptness.
 
He returned, a tumbler of water in his hand.  "Here."  Buffy grasped the container gratefully, and inhaling deeply, began to drink.  He acknowledged, "The only other way to get rid of them would be to scare you -- and after all we've been through, I don't think I'd have much luck in that area."  Amusement tinged his words.  The liquid drained in two mouthfuls, the pair waited a moment. No more hiccups.
 
"Better?"  Giles asked quietly.       

Buffy gave him a small smile, "Much.  Thanks." 
 
"Good."  His concern which was apparent only a second ago, had vanished.  Giles sat on the couch, his face impassive.  Blinking in surprise, Buffy tentatively took a spot next to him, pretending not to notice when he edged away slightly. 
 
She pressed, "I think it's time for us to talk, don't you?"
 
He nodded, "I'm very glad you're here, Buffy."
 
"Really?"  Her voice climbed an octave, a mixture of bewilderment and relief.  Maybe this wouldn't be so difficult after all.  She beamed at him, her expression lit in pleasure.
 
He briefly basked in the warmth of her gleaming smile.  His Slayer was happy; and knowing that her happiness was because of him, almost broke his resolve.  Almost. 
 
Rising abruptly, he brought over the tome he had been skimming earlier.  In truth, he had no idea what was contained in the text -- but Buffy didn't have to know that.  He opened to a random page and assumed lecture mode.  "Yes.  There has been abnormal demonic activity of late--"
 
Buffy rolled her eyes, "There is _always_ abnormal demonic activity."
 
He frowned at her over the rim of his glasses.  "Well, these creatures are quite different from any you've fought previous.  You see," He held the book toward her, indicating a sketch of a hideous ghoul. Buffy merely accepted the volume, and without a glance, snapped it shut.
 
"Giles, that's not what I meant.  I don't want to discuss the demon du jour.  We need to talk about us.  About what's wrong."  He opened his mouth to object, and she rushed on indignantly, "And don't even _try_ to tell me that nothing's wrong!  This is the first time we've spoken actual sentences in, what?  Two weeks?  Three?  Giles, we're a team!  You and I.  And I can definitely tell when my partner in crime is...well, not my partner in crime anymore.  We need to sit and have an actual conversation."
 
"The Watcher and Slayer prevent crimes Buffy, we don't commit them."
 
She eyed him incredulously, "Were you even listening to what I said?" Slouching, she picked at a cuticle and muttered, "You're being impossible."

"Very well then."  He spoke tersely, steepling his fingers.  "What is it you would like to talk about?"
 
Buffy swallowed, her anxiety overwhelming.  She hadn't expected for him to concede so easily.  Then again, she admitted, when had he ever opposed her wishes?  A fresh wave of shame washed over her.  Giles did everything for her.  Always for her.  And what had she offered in return?  She fiddled with the empty glass; the clinking of the ice cubes synchronized with the rapid beating of her heart.  How should she begin?  Admitting her idiocy and conceit sounded like a plan.  She ripped her hair from its elastic, and twirled the rubber band around her finger.
 
Giles regarded her from the opposite end of the couch.  Emotions flitted over Buffy's features, and her distress was unmistakable.  A pang of sorrow resonated within his body, as his own expression mirrored her pain.  You betrayed me.  You don't trust me.  Can't you understand how hard that is to deal with?  The girl -- no, woman, he absently corrected -- who I have given my life to, has tossed me out with the trash.  How do you expect me to recover from such an event? To initiate the reparation of this rift would be to deny my own torment, to trivialize it.  Please try Buffy, he urged.  Try just a little harder.
 
And so, he sat and waited.

****

Weighing the options, Buffy chose her next words carefully.  After what seemed like an eternity, she faced him and said simply, "Thank you for Angel."  Catching Giles' visible wince, Buffy cringed inwardly. No.  Wrong move.  Angel = Bad.  She wanted to travel back in time; have another take, like in the movies.  She closed her eyes in desperation.  Couldn't she do anything right?  Alarmed, she hastily amended, "Oh Giles, I didn't mean-"
 
Icily, he interrupted, "You and your boyfriend are good, then?"  His remark could have passed for cordial were it not for the fact that his bitterness was palpable.  Giles felt as though he had been socked in the stomach.  This was about Angel?  Again?  He shook his head, amazed at his own foolishness.  Of course it was.  How dare he think otherwise?  As long as Angel remained in Buffy's life, there was no place for him.  His fists clenched, willing the vampire to appear so that Giles could stake him.  Maybe twice. 
 
His rage intensified as he realized that Angel would indeed be dust, if it weren't for Giles' desire to soothe Buffy.  Discovering her lover's deterioration that Christmas, her agony had been intolerable. Her blue eyes had beseeched him, pleading.  And despite himself, he had caved; agreeing to help, to see what could be done.  Anything to erase her bleak expression, to comfort her in whatever way he could. Including the offering of salvation to one that had tortured him; who had murdered his girlfriend; who continually hurt his Slayer, even if she didn't realize it.  The extent of his devotion to Buffy both astounded and appalled him.  Especially now, he observed wryly, when she wouldn't even look at him.
 
Tired of sitting, Buffy had walked over to the front window, deriving an inexplicable sense of safety from the darkness outside.  During her years as Slayer, she had grown to think of the night as a black security blanket; assuring her that despite her educational shortcomings, there was something that she could do better than anyone else in the world.  She, Buffy Anne Summers, had a duty. A _duty_.  The word rumbled heavily through her mind.  That was pretty major.  She peeked at Giles out of the corner of her eye. She knew that a large part of her success was because of him; because of his understanding, his unflappable belief in her.  And she believed in him too.  He had to know that, right?  All the times when they worked together; training, trading gibes, mapping plans of attack.  She trusted no one more than she did Giles.  She trusted him with her life.  She was sure he understood that. Didn't he?  It was because of him that she could so easily battle the evil which lurked in the shadows.
 
She lurched at the all-too-familiar term.  Angel and lurking were synonymous.  And she had promised herself -- no more thoughts of Angel, remember?  All of her efforts, all of her love was for someone else now.  She spoke quietly to the windowpane, "Angel's not my boyfriend.  Really."
 
Giles snorted.
 
"He's not!"  Buffy spun on her heel, her eyes flashing.  She wanted to shake him.  I did this for you! Don't you get it?  You're more important!  I show up at your door in the middle of the night -- in my _pyjamas_, she added disparagingly -- and you behave as if this is some routine house call about research?!  Her head shouted these thoughts, but she remained tight-lipped.  "Angel is not my boyfriend.", she repeated, stoutly.

Giles shrugged carelessly and the pair was quiet once more.  Quiet enough so that Buffy could hear his subsequent, barely audible, "Didn't you love him?" 
 
Wrinkling her forehead, she pressed her face to the cool glass of the window, and stared blankly outside. In her mind, the air was again aflutter with snowflakes, transporting her back to that fateful Christmas morning.  The morning that everything changed... 
 
As their giggling subsided, Angel cocked his head.  "Walk you home?" Buffy nodded, and he gathered her to him, slipping an arm about her waist.  She nuzzled the folds of his jacket and sighed.  Angel was going to be okay, she confirmed. 
 
Still, regardless of this magical turn of events, Buffy was disconcerted.  An image niggled in the back of her mind, and her brow creased in concentration. 
 
Angel glanced down at his silent love.  "For someone who just finished slugging me with a snowball, you're pretty quiet," he noted.
 
"Mmm-hmm." Buffy murmured, distracted.  Her body tingled, every nerve ending alert.  She felt as though she was supposed to be doing something, but wasn't sure what.  She squinted up the empty street. Nothing.  No vampires around.  Except, she conceded, the one walking right next to me.
 
An electric current buzzed under her skin.  She jolted, and glanced quickly at her companion.  Warning lights blinked, illuminating that which she had tried to hide from herself for so long.  Angel was a vampire.  A demon.  He had done evil things.  Sure, that was when he was Angelus, but...Comprehension dawned and a chill raced down her spine.  "Giles," she whispered.
 
The pair was now standing in front of Buffy's house, mindlessly kicking at clumps of snow.  Inside, Faith and Joyce could be seen sitting on the couch, drinking hot chocolate.  Angel looked curiously at Buffy, "What about Giles?  You're planning to visit him later, aren't you?  He doesn't have any family here to celebrate with."
 
Buffy fought against the lump in her throat.  She wanted to throw up. Turning to him with horrified eyes, she whispered, "You hurt Giles."
 
Angel blanched.  "Buffy-"

She continued softly, her words weighted with severity.  "You hurt him.  You _tortured_ him.  And," she choked.  "You *liked* it."
 
Reaching for her, Angel swallowed when she shook him off.  "I hate myself for what happened to Giles.  Buffy, that was the demon, not me.  I'm so sorry for what Angelus did."
 
A tear dripped down her cheek.  "I know that.  The rational part of me understands the difference."  She grasped his hand tightly, "But you look the same.  Your face, your voice, your touch.  Everything physical, is part of him too.  Part of the demon that humiliated Giles."  She sniffled, "And I can't pretend that it's all right. Because it isn't."
 
Angel was shaken, desperate.  "But Buffy, I love you."
 
Her face crumpled, "I can't forgive what Angelus did.  I won't.  I'm sorry."  She jogged up to the door, pausing as Angel's question reached her ears.
 
"Why didn't you just leave me to die?" he muttered, morose.
 
She raced over, grabbing him by the shoulders.  "Because, don't you see?"  She forced him to meet her own stricken gaze.  "You're my Christmas present." At his baffled expression, she continued, "I can't be around you...or even look at you, really," She blinked back tears and explained, "Because of what happened to Giles."  Angel assented slowly, miserable.  Buffy gulped and added, "But you -- as Angel -- deserve to be in this world.  I know I couldn't bear it if you left.  This way, I know that wherever I'll be, there is someone on my side.  I'll feel better if I know you're out there...lurking."
 
His lips curved in a half-smile.  "It is what I do best," he admitted. A pause passed between them, to which Angel added stiffly, "Giles is very lucky."
 
Buffy touched his cheek lightly, savoring the cool of his skin for the last time.  In a moment, she was inside the house. She didn't look back.

****

Shaking the memories from her mind, Buffy walked over to the bookcase.  She ran her fingers absentmindedly over the soft leather bindings, stopping when she noticed a picture frame tucked in the corner of the shelf.  Picking it up, she was startled to find the image of Jenny Calendar smiling at her.  The photo was taken outside somewhere, and the remnants of a picnic lunch were strewn under a nearby tree. The sun was shining, and Jenny's happiness was apparent.  Buffy was struck with a pang of loneliness for her Watcher. He deserved joy in his life.  She also tried to squelch her feelings of jealousy, but she wasn't so successful on that account. 
 
Buffy couldn't help wishing that she and Giles could go on a picnic.  Do something fun, away from the stress of responsibility.  She wanted to know him as a friend. Not BookMan. Not WatcherGuy.  A friend.  Possibly _more_ than a friend, she mused devilishly, relishing the image of a denim-clad Giles.
 
Giles, meanwhile, was regarding her expectantly.  She reddened, as she realized he had asked a question.  Absorbed in her own thoughts, as always, she hadn't paid attention.  She racked her brain.  What was it, what was it...oh yeah, Angel.  Downcast, she responded in kind, gesturing toward the photo, "Didn't you love her?"
 
"It was too early to tell."  His voice cracked wearily, as he again was confronted with what might have been.  The bright, vivacious woman who was taken from him.  Taken from life, and propelled straight into the icy grip of death.  Giles shuddered.  Death with fangs.  No one deserved such a fate, least of all Jenny.  A spasm of guilt shook him. If only he had stayed a bit longer at the library that night.
 
Giles' anguish was thinly veiled, and it sliced Buffy to the core. Her eyes watered.  "I'm sorry Angel hurt you."
 
"Are you?"

Buffy reeled, stunned by the emotional slap of his words.  The tears spilled forth, "Of course I am!" She grabbed his hand, agitated, but he swiftly untangled his fingers.  Not to be deterred, she repositioned her hand on his knee.  "Giles, you mean so much to me.  I can't do this by myself.  I-I-I need you."
 
The heat from her palm was searing his thigh.  Giles gulped and tried to concentrate. "As your Watcher, you mean." he asserted.  Inside, his soul sighed ruefully.  Oh Buffy.  Indeed, the loss of Jenny bruised my heart.  But you, my dear, are breaking it. 
 
"Well yeah," Buffy affirmed.  "But no!  I mean, that's part of it. But not the most important part.  Not that fighting vampires isn't important..."  she explained, blushing.  Buffy squeezed her eyes shut in mortification.  Stop rambling.  Tell him.  She regarded him in earnest, "Giles, you're most important."
 
Buffy's hand unintentionally tightened around his leg.  He shivered. Yes, definitely distracting. He carefully extracted himself from her grasp, and hugged his legs to his chest.  He wanted so terribly to believe her.  To drown in her sincerity.  But he wouldn't let himself.
 
Tears sprang to Buffy's eyes once more.  "I'm sorry that I didn't tell you about Angel.  When he came back.  I should have."  She confessed, brokenly.  "I know I should have."
 
"Yes."   
 
She quickly added, "I won't do it again.  I promise."  The last sentence fired from her mouth as her head nodded vehemently.  "Cross my heart and hope to d-- well, I _absolutely_ promise."  When Giles still said nothing, Buffy chewed her bottom lip.  His silence was creeping her out.  "Giles?  Are we okay now?  Please talk to me," she implored.
 
"We're fine."  He spoke gruffly, averting his gaze.
 
Hurt flickered across her face, immediately replaced with growing exasperation.  "Don't give me that," she accused.  "We are _not_ fine. You.  Are.  Not.  Fine."  Each word was accentuated by Buffy's fist pounding on the wall.  Then just as quickly as the fury had arrived, it dissipated.  Deflated, she looked at him.  "Please Giles, what can I do?  Help me make it better."
 
She stood there.  Eyes red, lips trembling.  His Slayer.  His wonderful, kind, delightful Slayer. Her pain was because of him.  That knowledge made him want to toss all of his misgivings out of the window. He could pretend, couldn't he?  Put aside his troubles because of her?  Yes, he could. 

Giles opened his mouth, intending to forgive.  The harsh words that exited shocked both him and her.  "You shouldn't need my help.  You should know."
 
Buffy was taken aback.  She peered intently at him, so obviously in agony.  What was wrong with him? She and Giles talked about everything.  Well, almost everything.  He knew more than her parents did, that's for sure. Was he ill?  She paled.  "Are you -- are you sick?"  The question surfaced a whisper, and she wanted to plug her ears, dreading the answer.
 
Giles' laugh was a bark.  "No, I'm not sick," he shot.  "But thank you _so_ much for your concern Buffy. I assure you that yes, training will continue tomorrow as scheduled.  And yes, you may dance the night away at the Bronze as scheduled.  Heaven forbid that my feelings should interfere with your sacred plans."  His tone was scathing.  It didn't even sound like him.    
 
Buffy's eyes widened.  "It's a spell, then?" she asked, hopefully. "Maybe I should call Wil--"
 
Giles gaped at her, flabbergasted.  Was she really this imperceptive? He softened slightly, "Buffy, just because I am angry at you, it doesn't mean that I've fallen victim to a spell."
 
"But you've never been angry at me."  She pouted, wounded.
 
Giles pinched the bridge of his nose, "Yes, well, I blame myself for that."  He shifted on the couch, and sat up straighter.  His features toughened, and he said nothing more.

****

Buffy wrung her hands, as her Watcher again retreated.  She rubbed her forehead, tired.  She had already apologized. What more did he need?
 
She recoiled from her unconscious blasTheta reaction.  Of course he was mad! He had every right to be!  If she had a dime for every time she was selfish and insensitive -- she'd be richer than Cordelia. Okay, let's not blow things out of proportion here, she corrected. Cordelia would still be the richest, but Buffy would definitely attain runner-up status.  She hung her head as she was again reminded of how much sorrow she caused her Watcher.  How was she going to fix this? _Could_ it be fixed?  She gnawed at a thumbnail, refusing access to the tears that threatened to fall. No crying.  Be rational.
 
She took a deep breath.  "Okay then," Buffy stated calmly. "_If_ you are angry at me -- and it's certain that you are, because your glare gives credit to the phrase 'If looks could kill' -- then what would you like from me?  I've apologized, and it obviously isn't enough." Her shoulders slumped, "I'm so very sorry Giles.  What else can I do?"
 
"You should know."   He turned his head against the longing in her eyes.  Stubborn bastard.
 
"But I don't!" she cried.  Tears coursed down her cheeks.  "Giles, I'm not a mind reader!  Give me a break here!"  Her frustrated shouts reverberated in the small room, and she picked up a throw pillow, only to toss it back down in disgust.  Damn her for getting into this mess.  Damn Giles.  Damn her for caring about Giles.
 
Giles grit his teeth, refusing to look at her, knowing full well that he deserved this tirade.  He hated this.  Hated his cowardice. After all, Buffy had come to him of her own will.  She was doing her best.  All he had to do was forgive, and this would all be over.  Things would go back to being the way they were before -- Buffy mistreating him; and he allowing it, because at least she paid attention to him.  For the past three years, it had been like that. He could surely adjust to a lifetime of it.
 
But now, looking at Buffy's rumpled hair and reddened cheeks; noticing the way she fidgeted with the hem of her pyjama top; seeing the unabashed torment on her face, he knew he was judging his Slayer unfairly.  Without any warning, she, a mere teenager, had been thrust into the underworld of ugliness.  Forced to fight for her life night after night.  And most of the time, she did so without complaint.  Putting others before herself, ensuring everyone's safety.  Even though she, now as a young woman, had successfully adapted to her destiny, he had no right to diminish the magnitude of her efforts.  Buffy continued to astound him with her bubbly cheer, so unlike the jaded Slayers written of in earlier diaries.  He knew, in part, that her strength was due to the support and assistance of Willow and Xander.  Possibly, even himself. But he dare not hope.
 
I'm so proud of you, Buffy.  Do you know that?  Despite all that has happened, you have filled my life with more radiance than should be allowed.  I remain forever in debt to you, for all that you have done. Which makes it so hard for me to say this.
 
"Perhaps you should leave."
 
Buffy's head snapped up from where she had been unconsciously examining the floorboards with the toe of her sneaker.  Her eyes were wild, confused.  She marched over to him, and Giles shrank back, remembering all too late his Slayer's volatile temper.  However, instead of lashing out as he had predicted, she squatted mere inches from him.  And she stared.  Her blue eyes fixed on his hazel ones, and she stared.  The silent confrontation became a clashing of wills.  He was assaulted by the exposed emotions in her depths -- pity, sadness, disappointment, irritation, honesty, and...love?  Increasingly uncomfortable with her naked disclosure, he blinked.  And the moment -- whatever it had been -- was lost.
 
Buffy stood up, her feet like lead.  "Yeah, I guess I should." Her throat itched from the formation of fresh sobs.  Hadn't she cried enough today?  Trudging to the entrance, she placed a hand on the smooth brass of the doorknob.
 
Giles was sure there never existed as stupid a man as he. Buffy, don't go!  Please!  His inner voice was fierce.  Rupert Giles, if you let this woman walk out of your life, you will be cursed with years of regret.  But he felt as though he was moving in slow motion. Swimming underwater, with her just out of reach.
 
"Buffy?"  His call was shaky, clumsy.
 
She halted.  Turned slightly.  "Yes, Giles?" Her tone soft, hesitant.
 
"Um, tomorrow's training will start at 4:30pm.  I have a staff meeting until then."
 
Her stomach plummeted.  I guess this was the end of our heart-to-heart talk.  Ha.  A lot of good it did us.  I think I screwed up our relationship even more.  If that's possible, she thought gloomily. She assessed her watch, "Tomorrow is already today, Giles.  I'll see you this afternoon." She gave him a fleeting smile, and slipped out the door.

****

Only to revisit a minute later.  "I hate this!" she yelled. 

Giles jerked, torn from his bout of self-loathing.  His heart swelled at her return, only to be baffled by her abrupt change of mood. "Buffy, what--"
 
She clenched her fists and addressed him, "No!  I refuse to leave. I'll chain myself to the door if I have to, but I'm not giving up. We've fought monsters, and ghouls, and creatures that redefine the meaning of ugly. We can certainly handle _this_." 
 
Giles sat, fascinated, as Buffy stomped around his foyer.  Grumbling to the air, she exclaimed, "We've been avoiding each other and I can't stand it!  It's stupid and immature, and _stupid_.  Okay, sure.  You help me with training.  And maybe that's all Watchers have to do for their Slayers.  But Giles, you're more than my Watcher." 
 
She walked up to him, leaning in close, noses almost touching.  "I can't lose you," she stated bluntly.  "I won't.  Please, tell me what you want."  She withdrew, standing before him.  "Tell me what you need."
 
Giles looked at her, expressionless, his adam's apple bobbing crazily.  As minutes of silence passed, the fire drained from Buffy, leaving her empty and exhausted.  Nothing was working.  Apologizing didn't work.  Getting mad didn't work.  She had practically begged, and to no avail.  He sat there, like a huge slab of concrete.  What would it take to get through to him? 
 
Her selfish side emerged briefly.  Why do you care so much, anyway? it asked, in a nasal tone which grated on Buffy's nerves.  She shoved it aside, impatient.  You _know_ why, she spoke pointedly.  He's Giles. You care about him, and you want him to be happy.  He's the first person who's ever treated you like an equal; like you matter. And you love him for it.  And you want him to know that.  Enough reasons?  Hearing nothing in response, Buffy nodded her head decisively.  Those reasons were more than enough.    
              
Giles still sat motionless, and Buffy was afraid he'd fallen asleep. No, wait -- a vein near his left temple was throbbing.  She exhaled in annoyance.  British people were too polite.  Didn't he know how to argue?  If only he'd speak to her.  Yell or scream or something.  But no.  He just sat there.
 
It was up to her.  And that burden scared her more than anything. 
 
She resumed pacing, deep in thought.  What to do?  Their partnership -- their relationship -- was teetering on the edge of oblivion.  One false move and there would be no salvaging what they once had.  Buffy scrunched her eyes shut, rejecting yet more tears.  Now, more than ever, Buffy wished she were like Willow, who always seemed to know the right, reassuring thing to say.  Or Xander, whose corny wisecracks helped lessen the tension.  Buffy sighed.  She was always so much better, more confident, when action was concerned.  Like with slaying vampires.  No muss, no fuss.  Simple as one, two, three.  No talking necessary.  Well, except for the puns, and nobody need know that she practiced those days ahead of time.  Yes sir, there was no mistaking the action.  That's where her true strength lay.
 
Instantly, Buffy felt as though she had been clobbered over the head with a mallet.  Ohmygod, that's it!  I hope.  Dazed, she gnawed again at her thumb, the nail now chewed to the quick.  But what if he doesn't...?  She shrugged, determinedly.  She was running out of options.  She'd tried everything else; she may as well try this.  And besides, she thought, it might be nice.  If he didn't wig out on her.  A glimmer of a smile crossed her face.
 
She crossed over to where Giles sat, polishing his glasses.  Without a word, she took the glasses from his hand, and placed them on the table.  He looked surprised, but didn't stop her.  Immersed in her private thoughts, he had begun to wonder if she had forgotten his presence.
 
She tilted back on her haunches, studying him with caution.  "Hi," she said, sheepishly.
 
"Hello."  
 
Timidly, she lifted her hand until it was resting upon his own. Slowly, ever so slowly, she traced the length of his fingers, pausing reverently over the scraped knuckles.  Giles' gripped her hand roughly, dreading the continuation, and simultaneously, the cease of her touch.
 
She looked at him, silently, carefully.  "Let me...?" she whispered, squeezing his palm.  She waited.  Eventually, his clutch loosened, and her hands danced lightly up his arms, enjoying the fuzzy material of his shirt against her skin.  Delicately, she looped both hands around his shoulders, outlining the muscles there.  Stealing a look at Giles, she noticed his eyes were closed, his breathing rapid.  Dear God, she hoped this was the right thing to do.
 
Buffy leaned forward -- the movement gradual, so as not to startle them both.  Gently, she nestled her head in the crook of his shoulder, and slipped her arms around his middle, getting a better hold.  She paused, allowing him to adjust to her embrace.           
 
He was rigid in her arms, denying himself the release she provided. Denying what she knew he needed. She tenderly rubbed his back.  Her smooth strokes traveling up, down.  Down, up.  Again.  Up, down.  Down, up.  First little circles, then big ones.  She brought her lips to his ear, "Giles, I'm so sorry.  I'm so sorry."  Big circles, then little ones.  "I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry."  She whispered her apologies, her truth, her love, as slowly and as tenderly as her touch.   "I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry."  More circles.  She could smell his aftershave. 
 
Her breath escaped in a whoosh, as his arms came up to encircle her.  Tightly, he clasped her to him, for fear that she would disappear, for fear that this was not real.  Buffy buried her face in his neck, hanging on.  Her blond hair tickled his cheek.  Were those her tears or his?  "Don't cry,"  she murmured.  "Don't cry."
 
"I'm not," Giles protested feebly.  "There's all this dust in the air." She hugged him tighter.  His hands caressed her skin, delighting in its softness.  She fingered his shirt collar, and burrowed deeper into his shoulder. 
 
Moments passed.  Maybe minutes.  Maybe hours.  No longer urgent, the two subsided into a cozy embrace.  Neither wanting to break the connection, he cradled her to him, and she snuggled against his chest.
 
"Giles?"

"Yes, Buffy?"
 
She lifted her eyes, her gaze contrite.  "I really am sorry."
 
He smiled tenderly, "I know."
 
Satisfied, she repositioned herself in his lap.  Although quiet for a time, her mind buzzed, weighing the pros and cons.  Definitely more pros, she decided.  She idly played with his shirt buttons, gathering her nerve.
 
"Giles?"
 
He rested his chin atop her head.  "I know you're sorry, Buffy.  It's alright."
 
"No, it's not that.  It's, um, it's just..."
 
He looked down at her, concerned.  "Yes?"
 
She marveled at the way her small hand fit neatly into his.  Like her hand was _meant_ to be there.  "Um, d-do Watchers and Slayers...do they ever..." she groped for the words, glad her pink face was hidden from view as she jiggled the ring on her index finger.  Her mom had given it to her for her 16th birthday. Buffy was almost 18 now, an adult. Had so much time passed so quickly?   Wow.  Shyly, she voiced, "Are hugs okay?"
 
Giles chuckled, "Hugs are definitely okay.  And rather fun for both parties, if I do say so myself."  The scent of her lilac shampoo was intoxicating.   
 
"Good," Buffy flopped back against his chest, content.  "Because I like hugging you.  I could get used to it.  I was just worried that those wrinkled old guys at the Watcher's Council might think..." She trailed off, a huge yawn preventing any more discussion.
 
Giles stretched on the couch, allowing their positions a bit more comfort.  "I like hugging you, too."  He gathered her, his palm lightly pressed between her shoulder blades.   Drowsy now, her murmured response was unintelligible.  Cocooned in his warmth, Buffy drifted off to sleep.   
 
In the ensuing silence, Giles watched his Slayer, as he always had. He watched her eyelashes flutter, in the beginnings of a dream.  He watched her breathe, in and out, in and out, hypnotized by the rise and fall of her chest; the proof that she was alive, proof that she was in his arms.  
 
He smiled briefly, recalling her qualms about closeness.  From reading previous accounts of Watcher/Slayer relationships, her worries were unfounded.  Giles flushed, recalling the intimate descriptions straightforwardly written in black ink.  He swallowed and willed his mind to other topics.  Buffy was not yet 18!  And even when she was, there was no assuming that she echoed his sentiments.  Dirty old man, he chided.  
 
Buffy stirred suddenly, emitting a low sigh.  Almost unthinking, he watched himself as he extended the soft pad of his thumb, and lightly dusted her cheekbone.  She mewled softly, and leaned into his touch. When Buffy was 18...
 
He shook his head, thoughts of the future dissolving as he watched rays of early morning sunshine grace her golden skin. They would cross that bridge if necessary.  For now...
 
For now, there was his job at the library.
 
And the people in the library: Xander and his wacky antics; Willow's insatiable craving for information; Oz, aloof but astute; and Cordelia, who despite her proclamations that she was in Loserville, managed to put in a daily appearance.
 
And his precious Slayer, Buffy Summers, wrapped in his arms. 

Giles closed his eyes, relaxed, the tension of the past weeks only a bad memory.  It was now time to start making good ones.  Time for a new beginning.

END

****

Epilogue (sort of):

"Winter"
by Sister Hazel
 
Grey ceiling on the earth
Well, it's lasted for awhile
Take my thoughts for what they're worth
I've been acting like a child
In your opinion, but what is that
It's just a different point of view

What else can I do
I said I'm sorry, I'm sorry
I said I'm sorry, but what for
If I hurt you, then I hate myself
I don't want to hate myself
I don't want to hurt you
 
Why do you choose your pain
If you only knew how much I love you

I won't be your winter
And I won't be anyone's excuse to cry
We can be forgiven
And I will be here
 
Picture on the shelf
It's been there for awhile
A frozen image of ourselves
We were acting like a child
Innocent, and in a trance,
A dance that lasted for awhile
 
You read my eyes just like a diary
Oh remember, please remember
Well, I'm not a beggar, but once more
If I hurt you, then I hate myself
I don't want to hate myself
I don't want to hurt you
 
Why do you choose that pain
If you only knew how much I love you
 
I won't be your winter
And I won't be anyone's excuse to cry
We can be forgiven
And I will be here