Joan
By Queen Boadicea

Title: Joan
Author: Queen Boadicea
Email: queenboadiceaoftheiceni@yahoo.com
Disclaimer: This belongs to the great and powerful Joss and the usual gang of idi…uh, geniuses
Pairing: B/G
Distribution: http://www.fanfiction.net
Feedback: Do your worst—it can’t compare to my worst ;)
Notes: General spoilers for BtVS, season six, episode "Tabula Rasa" from which a lot of dialogue is liberally extracted
Dedication: This is to Wordsmith who gave me the idea with his fiction "Remember Me?"

[thoughts]


Willow knew Tara would disapprove of the step she was taking. Heck, they’d all get the major wiggins if they found out. She’d promised a week without magic, but no one could hate her for this one teensy weensy little spell. After all, she was only trying to make her love and one of her closest friends forget their pain. What could be wrong about that?

She laid down the bag of magic herbs in front of the fireplace. She started a small flame, touched the crystal to it and began to chant.

 

Dawn practically hummed with anticipation as she looked at Giles. "So what have we got? What kind of oogly-booglies? Lizardy types, zombies or vampires or what?" Giles sighed in well-bred patience. "There are no oogly-booglies, Dawn." He looked around at the assembled faces. Willow had come into the Magic Box with Xander. She was wearing his coat as there was a brisk chill in the California air. [Almost like England] The stray thought drifted across his mind and strengthened his resolve.

He tried not to look too hard at Buffy where she sat on the bookshelf ladder. The decision he’d given her earlier had precipitated a much-expected show of anger. But now she had settled into a grim torpor. She hadn’t said a word to him since then; he could almost feel the anguish and rage radiating from her body. He turned and spoke to the assembled gathering. "I have something I really have to tell you all. Um, it feels like we’ve been through this before—"

"Why don’t you just jump to the chase?" Buffy cut in harshly. "Tell them that you’re—" At that moment, Spike burst into the shop and Giles felt the familiar sense of exasperation at the sight of him, a feeling that was only partially lessened at the fact that blonde vampire was inexplicably dressed in a tweed suit and a furry hunter’s cap. After Spike had rambled on about needing asylum from a loan shark (A literal shark, it appeared. Only on the Hellmouth), Giles broke the bad news to them: He was heading back to England and he planned to stay there indefinitely.

It hit them like a bombshell. Xander was dismayed; he didn’t know how Giles could leave when Buffy so obviously needed him. Anya predictably hoped that this time the move was permanent since she wanted to be able to run the store on her own without his interference. But Buffy broke out in a fury.

She knew she sounded needy, whiny and selfish. But she couldn’t help it. Since she’d been resurrected, nothing in the world had felt right to her. The others simply didn’t know how she felt, how painfully she dragged herself through the days. They didn’t know about the increasing feeling of numbness that attended her nightly battles.

"I know that you guys are just trying to help. But it’s—it’s too much and I can’t take it anymore. If you guys—you guys understood how it felt, how it feels. It’s like I’m dying—"

Giles felt his heart twist inside him at the despair in her voice. He’d warned Willow how arrogant she’d been in wielding this kind of magic. He had feared that the resurrection would have terrible consequences for Buffy. But the damage had been done and now he was witnessing the result. He stepped towards the young woman, halting when she shifted just out of his reach. "Buffy, please, we’ve been through this. Leaving is the best thing that I can do."

"Why does everybody always say that? Why do they believe that the best way out of tough situations is to leave? First my father, Angel, Riley and now you. And this is way harsher than any of them, because you’re not supposed to leave. Isn’t that part of the Slayer/Watcher dealie? The Slayer slays, the Watcher watches, not the Slayer slays, the Watcher toddles off to merry olde England. I tried running away from my responsibilities too, Giles, remember? But that didn’t work. There were demons in L.A. and I realized the Slayer doesn’t get the luxury of chucking her workload. She’s got to soldier on—whether she likes it or not." This last shot was flung at Willow whose face crumpled under the vicious blow.

Giles stood only a slight distance from his charge. He wanted more than anything to put his arms around her and comfort her, remove some of her obvious distress, just as he’d longed to do with every hurt she’d ever suffered under her role as a Slayer. But the time for doing such things was past as was his time in America. He had to turn his back on this young woman who right now looked so brittle she might just fly apart like fragile glass struck by a hammer.

Back in the Summers’ home, the bundle of herbs ignited, burned all the way through and the crystal in Willow’s tiny beltpurse turned completely black. Immediately everybody collapsed where he sat or stood. Slayer and Watcher fell to the floor in a heap together.

 

The blonde woman in the leather coat stirred first. She opened her eyes to see an older man sprawled on the floor beside her. For a moment, blank confusion gripped her and she could only gaze at him helplessly. He looked tired. Not the good tired that would make someone lie down for a quick little nap but the kind that spoke of a lifetime of sorrow and loss. Without knowing why, she reached out a hand as if to smooth away the worry lines on his face.

The man’s eyes fluttered open behind his glasses and she snatched her hand back hurriedly. Startled blue eyes looked into curious hazel ones and they both said, "Who are you?" The woman smiled nervously and said, "I asked you first." The man’s mouth opened and shut and then his forehead wrinkled even more as he replied, "I haven’t the foggiest." He sat up and stared around in bewilderment. Only then did she look about her. Near them were several other people lying in various attitudes of unconsciousness. As the two gazed at them, they all began to stir and wake up from their unnatural sleep.

"Who are you freaks?" "What’s going on?" "Who are you people?" A chorus of uncomprehending voices came from everywhere as the others stared in various stages of panic. There was an oddly dressed man with dyed hair lying on the countertop. When he stretched and began to move, he lost his balance and fell off with an abrupt shriek.

A teenage girl with long hair shrank into a corner. "Please don’t hurt me," she whimpered when the leather-clad blonde came closer. "It’s okay. I don’t know anyone here either." The blue-eyed man scratched his head. "Does anyone remember anything?" He was met with blank looks; apparently no one could remember who they were or how they all wound up in the same room. He ventured a guess as to their situation. "Maybe we all got terribly drunk and this is some sort of blackout." The teenager murmured, "I don’t think I drink." Another blonde woman seated at the table looked around critically. "I don’t see any booze. I don’t feel any head bumps."

A brunette man in his twenties was glaring about in wide-eyed fright. "Okay, I’m not panicking. I’m not. I’m not. Stop looking at me like I’m panicking!" A cute redhead perused the books and articles. "Look at the stuff on these shelves. Weird jars of weird stuff. Weird books with weird covers." She pulled a book from a shelf. "Magic For Beginners," she read.

"This is a magic shop, a real magic shop," another blonde woman exclaimed. Up until then, she hadn’t spoken much, seeming the shyest of the group next to the teenager. "Maybe that’s it. Maybe something magic happened." The blue-eyed man scoffed, "Magic? Magic’s all balderdash and chicanery. I’m afraid we don’t know a bloody thing. Except that I seem to be British, don’t I. And a man with glasses. Well, that narrows it down considerably." The dyed blonde in tweed started sneering, "Oh, listen to Mary Poppins. He’s got his crust all stiff and upper with that nancyboy accent. You Englishmen are always so—" He stopped abruptly, realizing that he was sporting an accent of his own. "Oh god—I’m English." The other Englishman dryly replied, "Welcome to the nancy tribe."

The dyed Brit eyed the older Englishman speculatively. "You don’t suppose you and I—we’re not related, are we?" "There is a ruggedly handsome resemblance," said the critical blonde woman. The blue-eyed man grinned, pleased at the description, and then peered at the man behind the counter. "And you do inspire a particular feeling of familiarity and disappointment. Older brother?" The peroxide in the tweed snorted, "Father. This is great. God, I must hate you. An aged father and his tarty girlfriend," gesturing at the hazel-eyed blonde woman. She protested, "Hey! Who are you calling tarty?" The dyed Englishman replied, "I saw the two of you—sleeping together." "Resting together," the older man corrected. "And I’ll have you know I’m not ‘aged.’ I’m young enough to still get carded."

"Carded! Driver’s licenses!" exclaimed the redhead. She pulled out her wallet while the others searched for similar pieces of identification. In short order, introductions of sorts were made. The redhead was Willow Rosenburg, the shy blonde Tara and the panicky brunette Alexander Harris. Willow discovered she was wearing Alexander’s jacket. Since they’d woken up next to each other, it was taken as proof that they were a couple or at least dating. Tara and Willow were going to the same college. The teenager was too young to carry a wallet or any ID but her necklace read "Dawn." The tall Englishman learned his name was Rupert Giles, a fact that proved vastly amusing to his son. His amusement was short-lived when he peered inside his tweed suit and found an inscription "Made with care for Randy." " ‘Randy Giles?’ Why not just call me ‘Horny Giles’ or ‘Desperate-for-a-Shag Giles?’ I knew there was a reason I hated you."

The blonde in the leather coat smiled at the teenager. "Dawn. I think that’s a pretty name." The teenager gave a small smile of her own. "Thanks. What’s yours?" The woman began sifting through her pockets and frowned in increasing desperation. There was some lint, a rubberband and a small nail file but no identification whatsoever. "I don’t—I mean, there’s nothing here." She tried to stem back a rising wave of alarm. Rupert Giles walked over to her and placed a cautious hand on her shoulder. He didn’t know who this woman was or what role he played in her life but, as with the vexatious young man behind the counter, he felt a definite connection to her. Having nothing else to go on but his instincts, he attempted to reassure her.

"It’s—it’ll be all right. Some of us seemed connected in some way to the others. So if you’re here with us, then at least one of us must know you. We’ll go to our homes and see if we can find any indication of who you are. A photo, a birth certificate—there’s bound to be some clue." She looked up at him and attempted a wan smile. The look in his eyes was so concerned and considerate; she found herself automatically warming to him. Suddenly she wondered at her relation to Mr. Giles. Randy had called her his girlfriend. Was she? She’d sensed—something when she awoke next to him. There was a deep feeling of affection, comfort and a hint of unhappiness. She blinked at this last emotion and tried to chase it down but it disappeared like mist from her mind. She sighed in frustration.

"What about me?" whined the critical blonde. "I don’t seem to have any identification either. All I have is this key around my neck—and an engagement ring. Nice rock, too. It must have been expensive." She smiled at it in appreciation and then looked around uncertainly at the others. "So who’s the lucky guy?" Speaking to Willow and Alexander, "You two are together. Mr. Giles is too old." When he stiffened in indignation, she glanced at the only other male in the shop and quickly dismissed him. "And you’re obviously gay."

"Obviously gay? Where the hell’d you get that idea?" While the others smothered laughter at his palpable spleen, she pointed out the apparent signs. "Well, you have this cheap, blond dye in your hair, your fingernails are painted and you’re in a very prissy suit. You also seem to have this misogynistic hostility towards your father’s girlfriend. And it would explain his feeling of disappointment in you. He probably gave up hope a long time ago of your ever being able to give him grandchildren. Not to mention that girly squeal you gave when you fell off the counter."

"None of that means that I’m gay, you know-it-all bint! It could mean a lot of things." The critic held up her hands in a placating manner. "Take it easy. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with your sexual orientation. I’m just saying that it rules you out as being a viable choice for my fiancé."

"Oh, like I’d want to marry you anyway," he muttered. The blonde in the leather sighed, "In the meantime, I need a name." "You want me to name you?" the teenager asked. The woman shook her head; somehow she didn’t want a name chosen by a kid. She cast a mute appeal at Mr. Giles. He cleared his throat as a name seemed to swim up from the depths of his unconscious. "Well, how about Joy—"

"Anya!" the critic exclaimed. Everybody stared at her. She looked up from behind the cash register with an air of excitement and triumph. "This key fits this lock. And the forms next to the cash register say that Rupert and Anya own a shop together. This is our store!" She beamed at Mr. Giles. "Hey, maybe this is more than just a business partnership. You must be my fiancé."

Mr. Giles felt a sense of shock and sharp dismay lance through him. He was engaged to this mercenary, tactless woman? His face must have registered his consternation because Randy chuckled at his discomfort. "Uh oh, looks like dear old dad isn’t too pleased with that bit o’ news. He was probably hoping to get cozy with the cheap trollop in the leather gear."

The ‘cheap trollop’ became incensed. "Listen, you, you, Randy! You look a hell of a lot cheaper than I do, what with those gross black fingernails and that phony hair color. I mean, my god, you look as if you emptied the entire bottle of household bleach on your head!" "At least I’m not dating a man old enough to be my father!" he retorted.

"That we know of." The quiet comment came from Tara. The others goggled at her and then began laughing while Randy scowled. The unknown blonde giggled again and then sobered instantly. "I still need a name." She paused a moment to consider. "I’ll name me ‘Joan.’ " Dawn wrinkled her nose. "Ugh." The newly named Joan glared at her. "Did you just ‘ugh’ my name?"

"No, I just—I mean it’s so blah. Joan," she shrugged. "I think it’s a fine name," Rupert stated quietly. "You look like a Joan." It hadn’t been the name he was thinking of but it seemed to suit the diminutive woman. She appeared frail yet he sensed she had the inner strength to fight armies if need be. He frowned slightly, wondering what had prompted that odd thought. She smiled at his praise and he felt his heart flutter in his chest. She really did have the most attractive smile. He wouldn’t mind seeing more of it.

Joan straightened her shoulders. Assuming an identity had given her an unexpected feeling of confidence. "We need to figure out what’s going on. We need to get help." "Looks like Joan fancies herself the boss," Randy observed. Joan pointed out, "We have no idea what’s wrong with us. I think the hospital’s our best bet. Any suggestions on how we’re gonna get there?" As they all got up to leave, Randy slung his arm about his father in a false show of friendliness. "Dad can drive. He’s bound to have some classic midlife crisis transport. Something red, shiny, shaped like a penis." Rupert raised an eyebrow. "Shaped like a penis? Perhaps I should let you drive."

Any reply Randy would have made was lost as they opened the door. The bunch was met with a pair of men with demonically twisted faces. The two creatures growled and lunged forward.

The eight people inside the store screamed as one and slammed the door. "Vampires!" Randy yelled. "Those were vampires!" He paused as if he couldn’t believe what he’d just said. "Vampires are real? Did we know this?" As they feverishly debated the situation, the monsters outside banged on the locked door and made intermittent yells of "slay her!" and "spike." Rupert said with some puzzlement, "They seem to want spikes." Randy thought for a second, ran to some part of the store and came back with a lot of pointy, wooden objects. Joan picked up one tentatively. "What do they want to do with these?"

Before anyone could answer the question, the door was violently broken down as the two demons outside charged into the store. As the others cowered, one of the vampires grabbed Randy and threw him up against a wall. "You owe us, Spike!" Randy pulled out a number of the wooden things from inside his jacket and threw them on the floor. "Fine! Take your damn spikes!" The monster pushed him back with casual force and sneered, "Don’t be stupid. You’ve got the boss’s kittens." Randy goggled at him in a complete lack of comprehension. "Kittens?"

The other vampire had grabbed Joan, picking her effortlessly off the floor. She struggled to escape his grip, kicking furiously and swearing behind his hand. Rupert hesitated, torn between aiding her and helping his son. Thinking quickly, he picked up a heavy bronze statue and began belaboring the head of the vampire holding Joan. The demon grunted in annoyance and dropped his captive. He clutched Giles around the throat with one hand and began slowly choking the life out of him.

Joan felt an awful fear overtaking her as she saw Rupert being strangled. She snatched up one of the wooden things Randy had dropped. "Hey, stay away from Rupert!" she yelled as she plunged the spike into the creature’s heart. He gave a roar of agony and disintegrated into a pile of dust. The other vampire cringed in terror and ran out yelling, "The boss ain’t gonna like this. I’ll be back and I won’t be alone!" He stormed out and, belatedly, Anya lowered the steel anti-theft gate.

There was a moment of silence after the creature fled while the others gaped in shock at Joan and the dust lying at her feet. "What did you just do?" whispered Tara. "That was, that was—what was that?" Anya said. "I don’t know," a confused Joan replied. She stared at the object in her hand and then grinned. "It was cool, though, huh?" Then a light appeared to dawn. "I think I know why Joan’s the boss. I’m like a superhero or something."

Rupert picked himself up as he coughed and gasped for breath. Joan ran to him, wrapping her arm about his waist. "Rupert! Are you okay? Did that vampire hurt you too badly?" He shook his head not trusting his vocal cords to speak. Randy threw up his hands. "Oi, what about me? That other guy was using me as a punching bag." Joan barely glanced at him. "What about you? You look fine to me."

Anya glanced worriedly out the window. "The other vamp said he’d be back—with company. We have to figure out what to do before they get here." Willow said, "Maybe we can find another way out of here and make a run for it."

The others began searching the store. Rupert called from the back. "Look here! I found some kind of gymnasium." They all ran to the back where they found Mr. Giles holding up what looked like a medieval sword. "Holy moly!" Alexander exclaimed. "What’s with all the props? Is there a Lord of the Rings convention in town?" When he fiddled with a loaded crossbow, the thing abruptly discharged itself into the wall near Randy’s head. "Hey, watch it with that bloody thing, you nearly took my head off, you tosser!" "I don’t know what ‘tosser’ means, pal, but I’m not it! Anyway, it was an accident. I didn’t know this thing was a working model."

Joan fingered one of the throwing knives. "I don’t think these things are models. I think these are, like, real weapons." Anya scrutinized the various dangerous objects. She was as puzzled as everyone else was but her practical mind could find only one question. "Amazing…actual swords, knives and daggers. What are they doing here? Why aren’t they in the front of the shop with the rest of the items?"

Rupert sheathed the sword in its scabbard and slung it about his waist. "We don’t have time to figure this out. Those things are going to come charging through the door any minute. We should be prepared to fight them." Joan gestured at the sword. "Do you know how to use that thing?" He glanced down at it with a surprised look. "I’m not entirely sure. But wearing it seems natural somehow. Perhaps you should pick a weapon of your own." Joan hefted the spike she was still carrying in her hand. "Nah. I’m good. Me and Mr. Pointy here can definitely handle ourselves in a crisis." Randy sniggered. "Mr. Pointy? Is that the brilliant name you’ve come up with? You are the imaginative sort, aren’ you, Joan?" "I’m naming a piece of wood not a child, Randy." Joan was getting pretty fed up with this guy’s attitude. Honestly, she didn’t see how a man as well spoken, sophisticated and kind as Mr. Giles could have spawned such a mean-spirited jerk of a son.

Willow came rushing back into the room. "Guys, I don’t want to be Miss Worrywart, but we’ve got trouble. Those guys are back and they’ve brought what looks like a shark in a business suit." "A loan shark?" exclaimed Rupert. Then he glared at his son. "Is that what this is all about? Are these innocent people in trouble because you got caught up in some shady affair with criminals?" Annoyed at being picked on, Randy shot back, "Hey, don’t look at me, Dad, I’m as in the dark about this as the rest of you lot. Besides, that vamp didn’t ask for money, he was just burbling on about spikes and kittens, so don’t—"

Willow interjected, waving her hands, "No, you don’t get it. I mean a real shark, like the one in Jaws." The others stared and then ran to the front of the building. Sure enough, Willow was right. It was a little difficult to see in the dim light from the street, but there certainly appeared to be someone or something with a shark’s fin and flippers standing in the street. Alexander muttered, "Wow, it’s like that land shark character that Chevy Chase used to play in the old Saturday Night Live skits." The others gazed at him blankly. "Who’s Chevy Chase?" asked the teenager.

Tara had made a short reconnaisance and came back with news. "I found a trapdoor in the basement. I think it leads to the sewers." Joan snapped to attention. "Okay, I’ve got a plan. They seem to want Randy and I seem to be pretty strong—wicked strong—so you guys go through the sewers to get to the hospital and Randy and I’ll give the monsters a run for their money." Randy appeared skeptical. "That’s your plan?" She looked at him in irritation. "Yes." "Right then. I’m in."

As Randy and Joan strode to the door, Rupert followed. "I-I should go with you. I may be able to help." Randy smirked, "Oh, what, you strap on a sword and you think you’re Blade the vampire killer?" "I didn’t see you doing anything heroic when that vampire was banging you up against the wall, sonny. Anyway, I want to guard you and assist Joan, if she’ll have me." Joan gave him another of her radiant smiles. "The more, the merrier. All right, you can come along and watch our backs."

"Hang on!" Anya protested. "We shouldn’t leave the shop. It’s our property and we need to protect it." Rupert stared at her incredulously. "I don’t think these creatures are interested in the store’s contents. They are after my son, as Joan pointed out, and when he leaves, they will undoubtedly follow. I intend to stand by him for as long as I’m able. If you think there’s real danger, then I strongly advise you to escape with the others."

When the woman opened her mouth to protest, the man simply turned his back and marched to front of the store. Joan glanced at him in admiration and then asked, "You two ready?" When they nodded, she shouted, "Now!"

At that word she sprang through the front entrance with Randy and Rupert close behind her. Their abrupt exodus took the assembled group of monsters by surprise. The creatures froze momentarily and then, yelling about spikes, took off after the trio.

 

The descent into the sewers was a piece of cake. It was the trip itself that proved unnerving. The group marched huddled together and peered anxiously into the shadows. Dawn began to sing in a quavering voice, "The ants come marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah…" Her voice trailed away when she realized no one else was joining her.

Tara halted uncertainly as a sudden thought occurred to her. "Wait a minute. How do we check on the others after we get to the hospital? What do we do if we get there before them?" Willow replied, "We can always come back to that magic store and see if they checked back in there. It’s the only place we all seem to have in common." Dawn said worriedly, "Wh-what if they get killed by those vampires? How will we know what happened to them?" Anya shrugged. "Then I guess we check the morgues and ask if anyone matching their description has turned up." She looked around to meet the horrified stares of the others. "What?"

As they resumed their march, Alexander toted his crossbow in his arms. He had four females in his charge and he was as determined to save them as Giles had been. Though one of them was a minor, he felt quite the macho hero.

His courage was soon put to the test when a hungry vamp jumped in front of him. The women screamed and ran back towards the ladder. Alex squealed, stumbled over his feet and landed flat on his back. As the vamp loomed over him, the crossbow discharged again—sending the arrow neatly through the creature’s heart. He watched the demon dissolve and then he scrambled up and cheered. "Woohoo!"

The girls came back cautiously when they heard him yelling. "It’s okay! I got it!" Anya gaped at the heap of dust on the ground. "You did? You did!" She threw herself at him, hugged him hard and then she gave him a big uninhibited kiss. "My hero," she murmured.

"Hey!" Willow yelled. "That’s my boyfriend, remember?" Anya blinked and the two reluctantly released each other as they recalled their circumstances. "Oh, I know that. But somehow it seemed perfectly natural that I should thank him in such a fashion. After all, he did just save our lives; I merely wanted to display my gratitude."

"Yeah, well, display it with someone else," Willow muttered. The teenager burbled, "Can I thank him, too?" Willow and Anya both scowled at her. "Just kidding. Come on, guys, can’t you take a joke? We just escaped a life-and-death sitch. Lighten up a little." Alexander looked above him as if trying to see the street. "Speaking of life and death—I wonder how the others are making out."

 

The others ran a fair distance until one of the vamps tackled Randy, sending him flying. Joan turned back and dusted the vamp before he even scrambled off the ground. Rupert brought up the rear and, as another vampire came closer, he raised his sword menacingly. "You might want to watch how you wave that thing, old man. You could put your eye out." Rupert maintained a casual stance. "Actually, I had something more lethal in mind." Without another word, he began feinting and thrusting with the blade. The vampire leapt back and then advanced more cautiously.

Randy and Joan were dealing with the others rather handily. Randy had kept a spike for himself and managed to dust a few of the bloodsuckers. The vamp facing Rupert thought it saw an opening and charged but Rupert had deceived him. In a lightning move, he decapitated the creature and watched in amazement as it exploded to dust in front of him. He turned to his fellow fighters in triumph. "Did you see that? I just—" His words were cut short when another vamp kicked the sword out of his hand. As the weapon went flying, the demon backhanded the man hard enough to knock him into a tree. Rupert’s head smashed into it and he slid to the ground unconscious.

Randy roared in rage and picked up the sword. "That’s my dad, you fucking ponce!" The vampire gawked at hearing Randy use the word ‘dad’ and the dyed Englishman took advantage of his befuddlement to slice his head off his shoulders. Paying no attention to the creature’s dusty demise, he ran over to where Rupert lay crumpled on the ground. As he gingerly turned him over, his nostrils caught whiff of an intriguing scent. He started when he saw a long trail of blood coming from a shallow wound near Rupert’s temple. The enticing odor was coming from there. As Randy leaned closer, the aroma became so potent, his senses swam from it. He didn’t understand why but it smelled like the most heavenly food under the sun. He sniffed harder and let his tongue trail out to lap at the fluid.

Nearby Joan was fending off the attacks of several more vampires. She was more than a match for them, watching in grim satisfaction as each one fell before the might of Mr. Pointy. But where the hell were Randy and Rupert?

As the last vampire was dispatched, except for the ones who had the sense to beat a hasty retreat, she gazed about her anxiously. When she saw two figures huddled on the ground some distance off, she ran over only to stop in amazement.

Rupert was stretched prone on the ground while Randy appeared to be pressed against his body. As she approached nearer, she was shocked to see that Randy was licking the unconscious man’s face. "Randy? What do you think you’re doing?"

Randy raised his head at the sound of her voice and Joan froze in disbelief as she met the bloodstained visage of a vampire. Randy’s tongue snaked out and lapped at the blood on his lips dreamily. "Joan. What is it?" Before she could think or change her mind, her hand flew up and she buried Mr. Pointy in Randy’s chest. The look of blissful contentment on his face changed to one of shock. "Joan! Why—?" The rest of his words were lost as all of him shattered into powder and settled on the recumbent man beneath him.

Joan stood motionless for a moment as she struggled against conflicting feelings of distress and relief. She was glad that she’d saved Rupert yet again from a vampire’s attack. But how would she explain to him about having to kill his son, even given the circumstances? She didn’t know whether the man had ever known Randy was a vampire. The news would come as a horrific blow to him, whether or not he ever regained his memory.

She was snapped out of her grim line of thought by a moan from Rupert. As she knelt beside him, he opened his eyes and peered dazedly at her. "Oh, it’s you." A pain-filled grimace crossed his face. "We have to stop meeting like this." She managed a shaky smile at his attempt at humor. He looked about and winced when the movement sent a flash of agony through his skull. "Where’s Randy?"

"Oh, he dusted the last of the vampires. He-he went back up to the shop to see if the others are all right. You’ve had a head injury so you have to lie quiet. I need to get to a phone." She got up to leave but he grasped her hand. "I don’t understand. If he saw I was injured, why did he leave? Didn’t he—care?"

The catch in his voice added to her growing remorse. He may not have remembered Randy from before and the jerk hadn’t seemed the nicest of sons but Rupert obviously felt a kinship with the boy. Steeling herself, saying that the truth could come after medical care, she continued to lie. "I told him I’d take care of you. I didn’t want him weighed down by a heavy body if more of those demony things came after him." Rupert seemed to accept her explanation and closed his eyes. "Randy was right. You are the boss."

Joan was glad he didn’t point out how it would have made more sense for Randy to call an ambulance while she stayed behind. The head wound was obviously keeping him from thinking clearly. As she ran down the street with the intention of finding a phone, a couple of vampires that’d witnessed the exchange lurked in the bushes. "Dude, did you see that? The Slayer dusted Spike! Now the boss’ll never get his kittens. What’re we gonna tell him?" The other vampire shrugged indifferently. "We tell him the truth. The boss would’ve had him dusted anyway if he couldn’t deliver the furs. The Slayer just saved us the trouble. C’mon, let’s be the bearer of glad tidings." Silently the two edged away and melted into the shadows.

The ambulance arrived in short order. The medics examined Rupert’s wound in bafflement—it was almost completely healed. They threatened to report the two to the police; to their trained eyes, the man appeared to need no medical assistance and using 911 without cause was considered a crime. Joan pointed out the blood already drying on the man’s collar and in his hair as proof that he had been injured. The paramedics reluctantly conceded that the wound might have closed up on its own. Head wounds often looked far worse than they appeared. They pronounced him unharmed and told him to watch out for signs of concussion such as nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, etc.

Joan blurted out, "Wait! We’ve kinda got another problem. We seem to have lost our memories." One of the two men gave her a puzzled look. " ‘We’? You got hit on the head, too?" "No, it wasn’t a head trauma. This was from before." "Before what?"

She took a deep breath and gave him her carefully prepared story. "Me and Mr. Giles here woke up earlier with total amnesia. We don’t remember who we are, how we got here or even where here is. We were on our way to a phone when Mr. Giles fell and hit his head."

The man’s partner spoke soothingly to her. "Are you sure? What do you remember?" Joan wrinkled her brows in an effort to think. "Well, I know what year this is—2001, right?" The medic nodded and she felt confident enough to continue. "I know math and I seem to have basic English skills, but I can’t remember anything personal. No name, no school, no parents, zilch." Rupert added, "I’m afraid I’m in a similar case. Except that I have identification so I know who I am. This young lady has no such helpful resource. She doesn’t even know her own name."

The paramedics settled them in the rear of the ambulance. "Don’t worry. We’ll get you to the hospital and run some scans. In the meantime, just relax."

The hospital visit proved extremely frustrating. They arrived but couldn’t learn whether the others had been there. Patient information was restricted to family members only. When Rupert pointed out that Randy was family, the hospital clerk at the front desk said that no one of that name had been admitted that evening, something Rupert found extremely worrying. Joan still couldn’t bring herself to admit the truth, not in front of so many strangers.

Rupert couldn’t answer more than basic questions on his admittance forms. His wallet contained a card for medical insurance but he couldn’t tell if he had any allergies, family history of alcoholism, insanity or STDs. Joan’s plight was even worse. Without a real name, they couldn’t check anything about her and were going to refuse her treatment without adequate medical coverage. Incensed, Rupert offered to use his own to take care of her.

Rupert had seen her confusion and dismay as she gazed at the blank admission sheet. The strange attraction to her that he’d felt in the magic store had gotten stronger to the point where he’d found himself holding her hand in the back of the ambulance and then clasping her around the shoulders whenever there was a lull in the doctors’ attentions.

After running a few tests, the doctors announced that the two could leave. Their memory loss didn’t appear life threatening; they would simply have to wait for the test results. It was suggested that they both go home and rest.

Rupert called for a taxi and the drive to his place was made in total silence. Joan’s strength and courage had deserted her in the hospital. In the hands of the doctors, she’d felt completely helpless and the inability to answer the simplest question on her entry form had reinforced her feelings of non-being. Without valid I.D., it was as if she didn’t really exist.

[Just like Randy] Thinking of the blond vampire she’d been forced to kill earlier that evening, she darted a guilty look at the man in the backseat with her. She had no idea how she was going to tell him this awful news but it had to be soon. Delaying would only make things harder. But how was she going to break it to him?

 

The others had already checked into the hospital ahead of Rupert and Joan. Of all of them, Alexander Harris had proven to have the most thorough medical history. Punching his name and social security number into the front desk computer had pulled up his current residence as well as his description as a construction worker. It also revealed a disturbing series of injuries dating all the way back to early childhood. Anya had felt alarmed and faintly ill when he’d started reading off the list of supposed "accidents" that had befallen him. She had smelled a rat and wanted to comfort him when she saw his distressed, bewildered expression.

But Willow had hugged him instead, favoring him with a sympathetic look, and he’d accepted her gesture gratefully. Anya felt a stab of unreasonable jealousy. Ever since she’d kissed him, she had been experiencing a growing impression of attachment to the handsome young brunette. Anya tried to ignore the feelings. Why should she care if a man she’d known for only a little over two hours was intimate with his girlfriend? After all, she was engaged to a prominent, highly successful entrepreneur who ran a thriving business. A mere construction worker couldn’t compare to that. He certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford the lovely, costly ring she was wearing. Rupert Giles was by far the better choice.

So why did seeing him leave with Willow make her feel like shit?

 

Alexander and Willow were settling into his apartment. It had been agreed that she should stay with him while the other ladies stayed in Tara’s dorm room. It would be crowded but at least they could pal up until something better could be found.

Willow was looking about the place while Alexander watched her anxiously. "Does anything ring any bells?" She shook her head and twisted her mouth up into an unhappy pout. "Nope. Not even a tinkle. You?" He walked over to some handsomely made shelves and picked up a picture. "Nada. Coming up a complete blank." Glancing at the picture, he did a swift double take. "Uh, Willow, could you come here a sec?"

"What is it?" Looking over his shoulder, she saw what he’d seen. He was holding a picture of himself with Anya and it was clear from their postures that they were more than a little friendly with each other. As they examined the other pictures on the shelves, both saw the same image repeated everywhere: almost every framed photo showed Alexander and Anya together. A few pictures had Alexander with Willow, Dawn, Joan and Tara in some combination but it was obvious in those shots that he was posing with friends.

"Ho boy. I think I made a big mistake. It looks like I’m supposed to be with Anya." Willow’s eyes widened in dismay. "Are you sure? She seemed pretty locked onto that Giles guy."

Alexander wandered to the coffee table and picked up a bundle of small cards. "Look, these are wedding invitations." He read, " ‘You are cordially invited to the nuptials of Alexander Harris and Anya.’ " He gaped at the writing. "Oh my gosh! I’m getting married?!?? That’s crazy, I mean, I’m like way too young!"

"Bu-but I don’t understand. Why was I wearing your jacket and why’d we wake up together all snuggly-wuggly?" He shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "Maybe whatever happened to us just knocked us down in the same spot. And I’m afraid pictures and wedding invites are way more official than jackets with my name on the pockets."

Willow plopped heavily onto the sofa. "I guess that means I should be going then." Alexander shook himself out of his momentary bout of panic. "Heck no! It’s almost 2 a.m. That’s too late to be going anywhere especially since your I.D. just lists that school you and Tara attend."

Willow made an effort to appear lighthearted. "Hey, I can just shack up with her and Dawn. And your fiancée. Who’ll probably want to come back here. You’re right, it’s too late to be shuffling around like that. Why don’t I just crash here on the sofa tonight and then I can leave in the morning?"

"Hey, that is so unnecessary. As the man of the house, I insist on being a gentleman. I’ll sleep on the sofa and you can sleep in the bed." Willow gave him a grateful smile. "Thanks, Alex. You’re a swell guy. I can see why Anya’s marrying you."

Alexander affected a lazy Midwestern drawl. "Aw, shucks, ma’am, t’weren’t nothing. I’ll just get a blanket for myself and you can go wash up." A yawn abruptly split her jaws, catching Willow by surprise. She was suddenly rather tired out, what with the monster attacks and the hospital tests. "Nah, I think I’ll just go straight to bed."

She went into the bedroom and looked around curiously. She considered if it would be appropriate to sleep in some of Anya’s things. Nope, Anya probably wouldn’t appreciate it, but Willow was leery of sleeping nude with another woman’s husband-to-be so nearby. But she didn’t want to keep on the clothes she was wearing, not after her little sewer crawl. Finally she settled on a compromise. She pulled down a red robe hanging on the back of a closet door. She threw her clothes onto a chair then slipped into the robe and slid between the covers. After shuffling around to make herself comfortable, she gradually fell asleep.

Unnoticed, a small blackened crystal fell out of the pile of clothes and landed on the floor.

 

Rupert and Joan slowly walked up the path to his house. Since Joan had no identification, it seemed as good a place as any to put her. Rupert switched on the lights and Joan looked around her. There was lots of nice furniture though some of it was under covers. She also saw a few boxes neatly piled near the door. "Whoah. Were you moving in or moving out?" Rupert opened one of the unsealed boxes. Lifting out a book whose title was in some foreign language, he replied, "I’m sure I don’t know. Though if I am engaged to that abrasive young woman, perhaps I was planning to abscond in the middle of the night."

She grinned at him and then instantly sobered. She still had to let him know about Randy’s demise. She heard Rupert puttering around in the kitchen and approached timidly. "Is there anything I can do to help?" "No, I believe I can muddle through all right. I’ll just fix us both some tea, if that’s all right with you. I have no idea if you even take tea or not. Perhaps there’s some coffee…" "Tea’ll be fine, thanks," she replied softly.

The two sat at his table in silence. Now that they were alone, Rupert felt quite shy around the woman. She also appeared to be laboring under some burden. Several times she’d given him an almost frightened look as if she had some important question weighing on her mind and didn’t know how to ask it. He decided to make things easier by speaking first.

"Well. This-this has been an exciting night, hasn’t it?" He halted, unable to believe he’d said something so inane. He cleared his throat and tried again. "I wake up with a bunch of strangers and discover I have a fiancée, a gay son and am proprietor of a magic shop in a town that appears populated by vampires. Quite an evening, I’d say."

"Yeah. All we need now is a wicked witch in shiny red shoes with a team of winged monkeys and the wackiness would be complete," Joan returned. She hesitated and added, "Rupert, about Randy—" "Good Lord, I’d nearly forgotten about him. I never told him where I lived and he certainly doesn’t remember. However, my personal address is bound to be on those papers Anya was going on about so he could always get the information from there, I suppose."

Joan took another swallow of her tea and wished for something stronger in it. This was going to be difficult. But she’d just slain a horde of vampires; she couldn’t shy away from this task and live with herself. "Rupert, Randy isn’t…he isn’t coming. He, that is, I mean, I had to, well, he was leaning over you and—" She gave Rupert an almost pleading look. "Rupert, Randy was a vampire."

Rupert blinked at her bizarre statement. Randy was—what was she going on about? "What? What did you just say?" Joan took a deep breath and started again. "He was a vampire. After I finished up the vamps I was fighting, I went to find you. You were passed out on the ground and he was leaning over your body. He-he was licking at your head. That’s probably why the medics found so little blood in your wound."

Rupert found himself making an automatic gesture of negation. "No, that can’t be right. Those other creatures were after him, they wanted to hurt him, they attacked us—" Joan interrupted. "Those vamps didn’t attack us, they were after Randy. They said he owed them. That doesn’t sound as if they wanted him dead, deader, whatever. They just wanted whatever he was keeping from them." Now that she’d begun, she was determined to make him understand.

"That doesn’t make him a vampire. And what you said about his licking me—well, you must have been mistaken. The night was dark, he may merely have been trying to staunch the flow of blood."

"Rupert, I saw his face. It was changed like the other vamps. His forehead was all bumpy, he had fangs and he was licking your blood off his chops like a hungry dog. He was a vampire."

Rupert didn’t know when he’d stood up but now he collapsed abruptly into his seat. He felt the room spinning around him and in a distant part of his mind wondered if he were experiencing the dizziness the medics had warned him about earlier. Then something from Joan’s story caught his attention. "Joan, why do you keep talking about Randy in the past tense? You said he wasn’t coming. What did you mean?"

Joan stared into the dregs at the bottom of her teacup as if she could find answers in there. Finally she lifted her head slowly to meet Rupert’s frozen gaze. "My god. You killed him."

She inwardly flinched at the harsh words but couldn’t help defending herself. "Rupert, I didn’t want to, really, I didn’t, but when I saw him there licking your blood off his mouth like you were some, some treat, as if he’d completely forgotten you were his father, I knew there was nothing else I could do. I’m sorry, but I just had—"

"Sorry? You’re sorry?! You murder my son and you’re sorry? You evil creature, how can you sit there and—?" A low sob broke in on his rant. The woman’s head was bent low over her teacup and she was clutching it almost hard enough to crack the china. She jumped up and stumbled out the door. Clearly she intended to leave the house; in her current frame of mind, there was no telling what she might do or what danger she might be running blindly into. His flare of rage immediately evaporated as he rushed after her and grabbed one of her arms.

"Joan, wait, please. Forgive me, I-I didn’t mean it." She blinked, unable to look at him, fighting back tears. "Why do you want forgiveness? I’m the murderer here." He pulled her close and tentatively wrapped his arms around her. "Joan, listen. I had no right to speak to you like I did. He may have been my son or not. I don’t know. All I know is that I was acquainted with him for little over an hour and now he’s dead, apparently because he was a dangerous monster. If I spoke roughly to you just now, it’s because I let my feelings run away from me and failed to consider the entire circumstances. You didn’t know him either and couldn’t have held any kind of grudge against him. You fought to protect us all and you saved my life twice tonight from bloodsucking fiends. As far as I’m concerned, your behavior has been above reproach. If I’m angry about anything, it’s that the poor boy died without ever learning who he really was or how I felt about him. Do say you’ll excuse what I said in the heat of anger."

He paused for a moment, holding his breath. The woman’s body had gradually lost its tension as he spoke; now she stood unmoving in his embrace. While he waited anxiously for her answer, he became aware of the soft form he held. A delicate scent of vanilla was rising from her hair. Indeed, it seemed as if her whole body was imbued with the aroma. Unconsciously he leaned closer to inhale her fragrance.

She stirred in his arms and he reluctantly released her. Joan lifted her head and sniffed. "It seems so crazy. I kill your son and you want me to excuse you. You’re a real prince, Rupert." He smiled in relief and resisted the urge to take her back in his arms again.

She frowned slightly and reached up towards his hair. "What is it? Am I bleeding again?" She shook her head in denial as she brushed her fingers lightly against his forehead. "No, it’s fine. In fact, you’d never know that you had a little head bump. It’s like the wound has totally disappeared. I was just thinking about those lines I saw earlier."

He jerked his head back, offended. "What do you mean by lines?" She floundered, trying to explain. "What I meant is, well, when I first woke up beside you, I thought you looked so sad and I hated that for some reason and I wanted to make it better so I reached out and tried to smooth away those, uh, worry lines with my fingers…" Her voice died away. "And instead of doing that, I’ve made you even more unhappy."

Joan paused. She wasn’t explaining herself well at all. She wanted to tell Rupert how the odd pull towards him had been growing until she could feel it in her chest like a physical ache. She needed to tell him that killing Randy had been done out of the same fear for his life she’d experienced when she’d protected him from that other vamp in the magic store. Joan wanted Rupert to know that standing so close to him now and being unable to touch him was driving her out of her mind with longing.

But she didn’t know how to say any of those things. So she just stood there with her hands by her sides and her gaze resting on his forehead.

Rupert found himself staring at her shamelessly. She was so still, so silent, he felt that the slightest movement might startle her, send her running into the night as she’d been prepared to do just moments before. More than anything in the world, he wanted to touch her as much as he wanted her to touch him. So he slowly stretched forth and caught her tiny hand in his. Drawing it ever so carefully upwards, he placed her palm against his cheek.

Joan drew in her breath at the contact. All the feeling in her body was concentrated in that one small spot. She drew her fingers up until they were stroking his forehead. Rupert closed his eyes and sighed. He couldn’t believe how on fire his body felt from that one simple caress. He couldn’t remember ever being so aroused by such casual contact from a woman.

Of course, he couldn’t remember ever having been with another woman at all. With that came the realization that the young woman with him was equally ignorant. To all intents and purposes, he was in the active process of seducing a virgin. The thought caused his eyes to fly open and he blushed to the roots of his hair.

His eyes met Joan’s and he saw that she’d moved closer to him, so close he could feel the heat from her body. He could see desire flickering in her eyes like a banked fire. He shivered at that look. It took all his willpower to push her away gently. "We can’t…that is, we mustn’t. You should go to bed…it’s so very late." She gave him a mischievous grin. "Wow, that’s just what I had in mind."

He protested, throwing up his hands to ward her off. "No, that’s not what I meant. You see, I don’t have any clear recollection of having done, um, well, what I think we were about to attempt and I’m fairly sure you don’t recall it either. So it would probably be a disas—a mistake."

She gazed at him curiously. Then it was her turn to blush. "You haven’t…oh, maybe I haven’t!" She peered down at her body, taking a critical look at herself for the first time since this strange adventure began. She was wearing a long leather coat and what looked like a low-cut white strapped top and tight slacks. The clothes were slightly racy but didn’t feel out of the norm. However, Randy had called her a tart; surely that implied some sexual experience.

She glanced at Rupert again. He was considerably older than she was. He must have had sex even if he didn’t remember it. Then she decided that too much speculation wasn’t of the good. Quickly, before the mood could disappear entirely, she reached up and brought his head down towards hers.

Any protest he would have made was cut off by the sensation of her tender lips. He balked a moment, his passion warring with an innate chivalry. Then he flung out his arms and crushed her body to his own.

She smiled against his mouth. Good, he wasn’t going to back out this time. She parted her mouth and touched her tongue to his lips. She felt him stiffen in surprise and then his mouth opened and his tongue came out to meet hers. Shyly at first and then more boldly, it played with hers, mutually dueling and twining together.

Rupert felt events were rapidly spiraling out of control. He pulled away again and whispered, "Stop." She pouted at him. He shook his head at her implied question. "No, I’d very much like to continue, only someplace more—"

"Where?"

"Upstairs. There’s a staircase."

"Upstairs it is, then."

Making it to his bedroom took a lifetime. They couldn’t keep their hands to themselves and kept trying to get as close as possible—a frustrating task, given all the clothes in the way.

She couldn’t get enough of him. Her hands wound in his hair then traced a path down his neck. As his lips left hers and began planting kisses all over her face, her fingers moved to his collar. She unbuttoned his shirt and yanked at his tie, trying to undo the knot.

Grinning at her impatience, he unknotted the troublesome piece of cloth and flung it heedlessly over his head. Then their hands were all over each other, peeling away jacket, coat and other sundries. The clothes flew around the moonlit room in careless abandon. But when Joan stood before him completely naked, Rupert found himself wavering. He was abruptly aware of her relative youth. He felt—old and remembered with a wrench the words Anya had used to dismiss him in the magic shop.

Joan could tell he was getting second thoughts and she was having none of it. She had to show him how much she wanted him, needed him, right at this moment. She clutched at Rupert, putting all her passion into a fiery kiss. She brushed her hands down his chest, twirling them briefly in his sparse chest hairs and dropping them to cup him through his dark blue boxers. He gasped softly and snatched at her hands. If she continued stroking him like that, this would be over before it even began.

He stepped away and switched on a nightstand lamp, partially because he wanted to pause a little, partially because he wanted them to have a good look at each other. He slipped out of his boxers and turned to face her.

Joan raked him hungrily with her eyes. He was muscular but not overly so. He had broad shoulders and wiry arms. He was lean as if he kept himself in very good shape and she remembered how confidently he’d handled that sword. As her glance drifted downwards and landed on the very obvious sign of his arousal, she wondered whether he was equally talented in bed. The notion made her flush hotly and she hastily drew her eyes back to his face.

He gazed at her—she was truly beautiful. Joan was small, barely coming up to his shoulder, and delicate with high breasts and a trim little waist. He reached towards her again and saw her nipples crinkle up as her breath came faster.

"Joan," he whispered and kissed her again. The tiny break was just what he needed. He knew now that he could lose himself in her and still make this last.

Joan had felt uncertain when he’d moved away; had he decided this was a bad idea after all? But all her doubts vanished the moment he resumed kissing her. This time it was slow, tender and drawn out as if he could spend all night doing nothing but this. His hands cupped her face like she was a precious jewel he had no intention of losing. She could feel his lips pulling at her own and his teeth caught at her lower lip and tugged gently before sucking it into the hot cavern of his mouth.

All of this was driving her crazy. He hadn’t done anything yet except kiss her and she was so wet she could feel the moisture gathering between her thighs, ready to drip down her leg.

[Enough of this] Joan decided it was time to take a more active role in the proceedings. She grabbed Rupert around the waist and, taking advantage of her superior swiftness and strength, tumbled him onto the bed.

Rupert gave a muffled grunt as her weight landed on him. But he quickly recovered. Turning her so that she was underneath him, he hoped to slow her movements somewhat. She was too eager and he wanted to savor every blissful moment with this exquisite woman.

Joan opened her legs slightly to hold one of his thighs between hers. She began undulating her hips so that the flesh of his leg pressed repeatedly against her clit. She was wild to feel any sort of stimulation there; the wait was unendurable. But he refused to hurry. He let his lips trail a languid path over her chin. He paused to suck and nibble at her throat and his tongue dipped into the hollow at the base. He kissed his way down her chest. While one hand swirled itself almost lazily around her left breast, the fingers occasionally tugging the wrinkled nipple, his mouth was circling around the other. She arched up, mad for him to take the nipple, but he wouldn’t, not yet, not until he’d made her pant for it. He moved his mouth away from her skin, laughing silently because this made her whimper. Then she grasped his head and drew it down where she wanted it.

At last he opened his mouth wide over her and sucked the nipple hard. For a moment, it was all heated moisture and then his wicked tongue went to work. It flicked the nub repeatedly until it was hard as a stone. Then he suckled, bit and laved it until the pleasure passed into an acute ache. When he switched to the other, she pumped her hips a little harder. "Rupert," she begged. "Please."

"Please what, Joan?" and all of a sudden she could hear the teasing in his voice. She moaned pitifully; what could she do to speed up this game? She scratched her nails down his back and noted how he shuddered a little. Taking this as a clue, she scratched a little harder and felt his hip grinding between hers. Joan reached down and slipped one finger into the crack of his buttocks. A violent ripple ran through his body; she could feel his already rigid cock stiffen even more. She grinned triumphantly. Oh yeah, she could dish it out as well as take it.

Joan began running her hands all over him, as much as she could reach. She paid attention to his sighs, winces and groans to see what affected him most. She scratched his back again to experience that delightful tremor and then abruptly stopped, making him wait for it as he’d made her wait. She reached between their sweaty, slippery bodies and fingered his erection. He clutched at the sheets and panted hard. The tentative fondling was almost too much and he took deep shuddering breaths to steady himself.

She hid a sly smile at this reaction. She definitely had him on the edge. Joan danced her fingers up and down his shaft as she experimented with different touches. Now she stroked him hard and fast; now she drew feather-light circles around the engorged head. She ceased touching his cock entirely, focusing on cupping and squeezing his testicles in one hand. Feeling daring, she gathered a drop of precum onto one finger and slowly brought it up to her mouth. His eyes followed it unwaveringly, mouth open, his breath coming unevenly from between wet lips. She rubbed the shiny finger around her lips before sinking the entire digit deep into her mouth. Joan let her eyes drift shut and moaned as if this were the best thing she had ever tasted.

Rupert groaned at the sight. He crushed his mouth against hers, all thoughts of being gentle scattering like confetti. Joan spread her legs wide, wrapping them around his back. She pulled away to gasp, "Rupert, hurry. I can’t wait any longer." Rupert still held back, his control hanging by a thread. "Joan, I don’t want…let me know if it hurts."

She spoke in a quavering voice. "It hurts now. Please, I want you." Her young body pressed up against his urgently. Rupert craved her so much, he was almost ready to take her brutally with no further preliminaries. He gritted his teeth and eased the head of his cock into her delicate folds.

Joan’s eyes widened. Not from pain, there was none, even a hint of it. When the next thrust came, she rolled her hips up to meet it. He was taking his time, each effort filling her a little more. Joan was rocking up to him with each downward move, matching her rhythm to his. Raising her legs so that her heels were resting against his ass, she pressed her feet to push him farther into her.

She concentrated on using her muscles to squeeze him inside and out. He’d almost forgotten her strength; now it was brought home to him how powerful she was. He was being grasped and wrapped around by clutching heat with every motion. She grabbed at him and drew him in with every grip of her thighs as if she meant never to let him go.

She hadn’t been as tight as he had half feared. So he wasn’t the first. He hadn’t expected to be—still the thought pained him a little.

Then he realized. To her, he was the first. In her mind, there were no others, just as there were no others for him. They came to each other with undeniable knowledge but with the wonder of having this thrilling experience for the very first time. The thought filled him with overwhelming masculine pride and fierce joy.

He reached down and gripped one slender buttock. The time for holding back was past. He started pounding into her in earnest, knowing she could take all that he had to give. It felt so good to have the warmth of her body surrounding him everywhere as he stroked his hard length ever faster within her.

Joan couldn’t believe how right this felt, how perfect. She felt as if there had been a terrible void inside her and now it was being filled in a way she’d never dreamed possible. This man, this beautiful man with the haunted blue eyes, knowing hands and furrowed brow, was sinking deeper into her with every passing moment. He was calling her as if he’d just discovered speech and her name was the sweetest thing in it. He was telling her—

"I love you, Joan."

What? She couldn’t have heard that. But she did. It was rising out of him with every motion as if it were as inevitable as breathing. "I love you, sweet Joan, dearest Joan, enchanting Joan. So beautiful. I love you." And other things, far less coherent. At his next push, he cried out his call of love again. This time, she caught it and hurled it back joyfully.

"I love you, Joan."

"I love you, Rupert."

At the whispered avowal, his eyes flew open and met her steady gaze. His body almost stilled but she moved against him again, recapturing their rhythm. She said it again as if to convince him. "I love you, Rupert."

Rupert buried his head into her shoulder and blinked hard as if to hold back tears. This wonderful woman loved him. She was giving herself to him body and soul. She pulled his head up and kissed him tenderly. For some reason, this was what served to push him over the edge. A guttural groan surged from his chest and with one final thrust he came deep inside her.

Rupert paused a moment, trying to rally himself. His heart was hammering as if he’d just run a marathon. His older body simply lacked her stamina; Rupert was frankly surprised he’d lasted this long. But he could sense that she wasn’t yet satisfied. He wound his arms around her and rolled so that she was on top. He gripped her waist and began moving her along his shaft. The motion caused him to stiffen again somewhat. Joan felt this and flexed her muscles to revive him. He relaxed his hold, content to let her set her own pace. In this position, he could lie back and catch his breath a little.

He was also afforded a spectacular view of her quivering stomach, swanlike neck flung back as she rode him, breasts bouncing with each motion. He reached up and squeezed them together with one hand. He rubbed one calloused thumb over both nipples and then tweaked them. "Harder," she gasped. He glanced at her, startled. "Are you sure?" She wrapped her hand around his and clenched tightly so there was no mistake. "Yes!"

He rolled and pinched the nipples almost cruelly as he reached between her legs. He found her clitoris and rubbed it teasingly in time with her movements. Joan’s body ground against his wildly as a scream ripped its way out of her.

"RUUUUUPPPERRRRT!!!" He was stunned beyond belief as a flood of wetness drenched his lower hand. She had cum and he could feel it. The sensation was so erotic that, incredibly, he came again as well.

[Goodness. Twice in one night. I wonder when’s the last time that happened.] It was the only rational thought he was capable of as her body slowly sagged against his. Joan pressed dreamy moist kisses all along his cheeks, forehead, lips and jaw before settling against his chest. She sighed deeply. "I love you, Rupert."

He kissed the top of her head, the vanilla scent now mixed with the heady tang of her female musk. She shifted on top of him and he was reminded that he was still buried inside her. But when he tried to move away, she clutched him against her. "No, don’t move."

"We’ll be stuck together in the morning," he warned. She smiled; he could feel it against his skin. "Perfect," she murmured. He chuckled softly and wound his arms about her small frame.

"Rupert?" Her voice was like a ghostly sigh, it was so quiet. "Hmmmm?" "Don’t leave me. Promise you won’t leave me." There was something mournful in that plea as if a fearful thought had swum up through the depths of her mind. It was enough to stop him from the slumber that was tugging at him so insistently. He held her tighter. How could he even dream of letting her go?

"Never, Joan. I love you. I’m staying with you. Always." This appeared to satisfy her. He listened to her breathing slow into the even rhythm of sleep. He quietly reached over and shut off the light. Then he closed his eyes and drifted off as silence descended on the room.

 

Alexander Harris stirred and stretched himself. He was still sleepy but oddly uncomfortable. He began turning over—and promptly fell onto the floor. He jerked up and peered blearily around the room. What the hell was going on? Why was he sleeping on the sofa and not in his bed?

Then he remembered. Waking up in the Magic Box. Mysterious amnesia. Pretty redheaded girlfriend who really wasn’t. Vampires. Blonde fiancée.

That last thought caused him to scramble up in a panic. He looked around almost as if he expected to see the woman lurking behind a curtain. For some reason, that was more horrifying than demonic creatures that might be lying in wait.

He sat down slowly on the sofa and took a few deep breaths. After a moment, he regained some measure of calm. He was alive, in one piece and there was no evidence of a scary fiancée on the premises—that he could see. All of a sudden he recalled the woman in the next room. Willow Rosenburg, the one he’d considered his girlfriend before all the photographic visions of Anya-and-Xander had appeared to torment him. He glanced at the shelves and shuddered.

He decided it would be good if he got away from them for a minute or two. After putting on his shoes, he padded as quietly as he could to the bedroom. Then he paused before the door.

[I’m just taking a peek to see if she’s alright. Not looking to see if she’s nude or nothing, no sir, ‘cause that would be just plain of the wrongness, what with me about to be married and all.] He lifted one hand and rapped tentatively at the door.

"Willow? Hey, you awake? Because if you are, I was about to go to the kitchen and make scrambled eggs." He thought for a second. Did he even know how to make scrambled eggs? He shrugged, dismissing the problem as unimportant. "Or maybe you could make the eggs and I could watch, you know, in a supervisory capacity."

No answer. Either she was a heavy sleeper or she’d already gotten dressed and left. The very notion caused a little surge of alarm. He opened the door and peered at the bed.

There was a little mound under the covers that he hesitated to disturb. But, even as he looked, she stirred and rolled over, poking her head up from the blanket. She peered out at him from under heavy, sleep-filled eyelids. "G’morning." Then her eyes widened. "Where am—oh, wait, I remember now. Amnesialand."

He waved at her feebly. "That’s right. Just let the fog settle so that you can see clearly to the murkiness behind it." She grinned at him, sat up and stretched her arms above her head. The robe she was wearing had come undone while she slept and Alexander found himself confronted by the sight of a creamy-skinned firm female breast. When Willow looked up and caught him staring, she frowned in confusion. His face was red and his mouth was hanging open like a fish.

"Alexander? What’s wrong, you look—weird." Jerking his head up, he started babbling. "Um, do you like scrambled eggs? Because I just love ‘em. I mean, I think I do, seeing as I can’t quite remember. I’m heading to the kitchen and tossing together breakfast. Do you want anything? Eggs, juice, cereal, toast, sausages, waffles, I can get you something, anything you like." When she swung her bare legs out of bed, he lost it completely. He swung around and felt something hard crunch under his foot.

He looked down to see what he’d stepped on and saw the powdered remains of the crystal. Then he froze as his memories came flooding back to him. He and the others had lost their memories—and now his were back. He looked down at the powdery mess on the floor and then up at Willow. The guilty expression on her face told him everything he needed to know.

He stumbled backwards, shame at the lustful thoughts he’d been harboring about his best friend warring with a very real dismay. "Willow, geez, how could—what were you thinking?"

Her eyes swam. "Xander, I didn’t mean any harm, I was only trying to make Buffy forget…" "Heaven," he finished flatly. "Nice going. I thought we’d talked about this. You weren’t going to try anything like this. Gosh, Willow, we nearly became sharkbait last night because Buffy couldn’t remember who she was." Without another word, afraid of what he might say next, he turned and walked stiffly from the room.

Standing in the living room, he gazed at the shelves. Oh god, he had to get to Anya. No, if her memories had returned to her at the same time, she was probably on her way back to the apartment. He heard Willow enter the room behind him.

"Xander, please, I was just trying to help." His shoulders sagged. He could never stay angry with Willow, not for long anyway. And he’d been guilty of casting a spell or two himself. "Will, just go. You don’t want to be here when Anya arrives."

He could almost hear her gulp. He didn’t move or turn around as he heard the front door softly open and close behind her.

 

Joan felt wakefulness dragging her upwards through layers of sleep and found herself resisting the pull. She felt blissfully happy and safe and never wanted this feeling to end. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt this way.

But there was a strange thumping sound near her ear. It was odd and unfamiliar but soothing at the same time. At last giving in to the temptation, she opened her eyes.

She was in someone else’s bed, in someone’s arms. Someone who was even now stirring beneath her. The older man in bed with her rolled his head upwards and blue eyes opened to meet her own hazel ones. Even before he opened his mouth, she knew what he was going to say.

"We have to stop meeting like this." She giggled and began kissing her way up his chest. "Why? I kinda like meetings like this." Rupert gave a rumbling laugh and drew her face up to his for a deep kiss. He didn’t know what he’d done to deserve such a special woman in his life but he was going to see to it that she stayed, with or without her memories.

Then he went rigid with horror as the dissipating spell ripped away from them like the tattered ends of a dream. He was in bed. With Buffy. After they had been making—oh Good Lord.

"Giles," she whispered. She rolled off his body and he winced as he felt painful tugging on delicate tissues. He’d been right; they had stuck together.

"Buffy. Oh my god, what have I—I’m so sorry." She gazed back at him. Her expression wasn’t one of anger or shock or disgust or any of the things he might have expected. That terrible blankness was back and it hurt him to see it.

"You’re going," she said in a listless tone. There was no recrimination or question in the comment—only a dull statement of the facts. He didn’t bother to answer. He just sat up heavily and began looking around the room for the scattered articles of his clothing.

"Rupert, wait." He halted in wonder at hearing her use his given name. Even though his back was to her, he could feel how near she was. "Don’t—don’t leave me. You promised."

"Jo—Buffy, that was, you can’t take any of what happened last night seriously. We were under the influence of a spell. Neither of us were responsible for our actions." Buffy stayed still. "Rupert, look at me. Look at me, please." Giles couldn’t help it. He knew that any drawn-out confrontation now would make things infinitely more difficult but he couldn’t resist the entreaty in that yearning voice.

He saw her sitting up on the bed, her naked body unashamedly exposed to him. His breath caught at the sight of her. Even now, her hair tusselled around her shoulders, she was achingly lovely. With that thought came the inevitable embarrassment at being equally bared to her eyes. But she caught his hand and tugged him back when he tried to pull away.

"Ru—Giles," she amended. She could see he was uncomfortable when she used his first name. Sticking to the familiar might keep him here until she finished what she had to say.

"I’m not sorry about last night. Any of it. Just hear me out," she demanded when it seemed he would interrupt. "I said that the Slayer doesn’t get to take vacations. And I was right. Even with my memories gone, I was still the Slayer. That part of me doesn’t seem to disappear, no matter what." She tried to form the next few sentences in her mind. She had to satisfy him completely about this next part.

"When I fought those vampires, I did it out of instinct and I didn’t hesitate or hold back. That’s why I was able to kill Spike when I saw his face. All I knew was that he was evil and had to be destroyed. But there were other forces at work, too. Other—instincts that I’d either been hiding from or weren’t even aware of. And that may have been the reason why the thought of losing you hurt so much."

She scanned his face. It was partially turned from hers either out of self-consciousness or politeness, she wasn’t sure. But at least he was listening.

"Without the pain of losing heaven sucking me into a black pit, I could feel other things. My need to protect others—and my love for you."

His head swung around to stare sharply at her. "Buffy, you can’t mean that. You—we were complete strangers to each other." "Were we, Giles?" she asked insistently. "Ever since I woke up beside you on the Magic Box floor, I felt this weird connection to you. I was drawn to your kindness, your tenderness and a whole bunch of other things that I couldn’t quite name. And it wasn’t a fatherly feeling or uncly feeling or even a big brotherly feeling like what I sometimes feel for Xander. This was all-out love with trumpets and shooting stars and great big glowing smoochies like Willow and Tara get with their spells. And you know how I know?

"Because I’m pretty sure you felt it too."

Buffy paused and gazed at him fearfully. She was going out on a limb with that last statement. But she remembered everything about last night, including the pledges of love they’d made to each other. She could still feel that love inside even after the spell had lost its hold on her. The question was, did he feel the same?

He sat there so long in utter stillness that she became nearly frantic with worry. "Giles? Please—say something. Don’t leave me—hanging," she finished feebly. Giles heaved a deep sigh as if coming to a great decision. "Yes, Buffy, I love you and have for a very long time."

She let out a breath she hadn’t been aware of holding and cupped his face in her hands, much as he had done to her last night. "You did? Why didn’t you ever say anything?"

"Buffy, I’m your Watcher. As such, I’m supposed to remain detached. Admittedly, detachment hasn’t been something I’ve been too successful at where you’re concerned but I’ve always done my level best to keep my personal feelings from interfering with your life. I’ve seen how badly love has devastated you in the last few years: your love for your sister, your mother, the-the different men in your life. It’s true your love for them, indeed, your love for the whole world, is part of what makes you so strong. It makes you an exceptional Slayer—and an extraordinary woman. But I’ve also seen how time and again that selfsame emotion rips your heart to shreds when it’s withdrawn. I didn’t want to add the burden of my unrequited feelings to what was already an overflowing well of suffering."

"Unrequited? You mean, as in unreturned? Maybe if you’d asked me, you would have seen it wasn’t so unrequited. You might have found out that it was very requited." He gave her a wry look. "Are you certain about that, Buffy? I’m sure up until last night, you shared Anya’s and Spike’s opinion about my being ‘aged.’ "

Buffy blushed and had the grace to appear abashed. Once again, she felt at a loss for words; she’d entirely run out of arguments.

Screw it. There came a time when words just got in the way. She leaned forward and caught his lips in hers. He returned the kiss automatically and then tried to retreat. She followed his movement, refusing to lose the connection and pressed her chest against his, rubbing her nipples teasingly against his bare flesh.

Giles’ hands came up to clasp her shoulders. She twined her arms around him and pulled him down into the bed with her. She planted wet little pecks along his jaw until she reached his ear. "I love you, Rupert," she sighed.

Floating on a breath of air so hushed she almost didn’t hear it, he whispered, "I love you, Buffy."

"Joan." He raised his head to stare at her. "What?" She had a tremulous smile on her face. "Call me Joan." He wondered at her strange request and then decided not to question it. He kissed her forehead. "Joan." He placed another kiss on her cheek. "Joan."

Buffy arched her neck and closed her eyes as the trail of kisses continued ever downwards, each one punctuated by the name she’d chosen for herself. She longed for the mystery, the enchantment—yes, that was the right word—of last night. She wanted to linger, however briefly, in the illusion of joy that had been hers. Giles hadn’t said he would stay. He loved her; he’d admitted that much. And if the stirring column of flesh against her thigh was any indication he wanted her as much as she wanted him. But if love and desire were enough to hold anyone, Angel and Riley would never have left her. She would put off the inevitable parting for as long as possible.

A loud banging on the front door startled them both back into a consciousness of the outside world. Buffy clutched at his shoulders. "Don’t answer it. Please. Maybe they’ll go away." She knew that it was too much to hope for. If the spell had worn off for them, that meant the others had regained their memories too. It could only be one of them causing a disturbance at this hour and Giles would feel obligated to attend to them. Sure enough, he lifted his head from her with a sigh of regret. "Buffy."

In spite of the sorrow threatening to overtake her, Buffy struggled to appear calm. She knew her duty better than anyone did. "All right. Let’s go down there and face the music." Giles started up in alarm and grabbed her arm. "Buffy, wait! They don’t need to know that you’re—goodness, you don’t want whoever it is to know you spent the night here? With me?"

She kissed him ardently before speaking. "Why not? Rupert, I love you. I hid it from myself for such a long time that I feel like a bit of an idiot. I don’t care if they know. In fact, I want them to." She glanced at his face and then turned away with an unhappy expression. "Of course, if you’re the one who’s ashamed, then I won’t say anything. I’ll just stay up here and I’ll be as quiet as the proverbial mouse until whoever’s down there leaves." She drew in a shaky breath. "In fact, I-I won’t say anything about it even after you go if that’s what you want. It’ll be our secret."

Giles hesitated. Her back was to him as she dressed and he knew it wasn’t out of unease at her nudity. She was deeply miserable and didn’t want him to see it. "Buffy, I—" The banging at the door continued, cutting him off. "Come downstairs with me. The others are probably worried about you and we can simply say that you slept up here and I slept on the couch. There’s no need for you to hide." He sighed again and turned from her. They both got dressed in silence.

After he slowly made his way downstairs, Giles opened the door and was confronted by the sight of Willow. As soon as he saw her reddened eyes, he knew. "G-Giles? I wanted to see—I thought Buffy might be with you. I called the house and there was no answer. Is she here?"

He moved aside in silence. Buffy was standing just behind him and stared at her in curiosity. "Willow?" Willow said, "Buffy, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I just saw how hard and awful everything was for you and I thought if I could just make you forget a-about Heaven, then maybe…" her voice trailed off at Buffy’s thoughtful expression.

Giles felt a wave of anger sweep through him. Of course, it made perfect sense. Willow had cast an amnesia spell, only it had backfired and all of them had suffered from it. It was a miracle all of Sunnydale hadn’t been affected.

Buffy said quietly, "You did this—for me?" Her first reaction was exasperation. That’s how she would have felt yesterday. [There goes Willow using magic to fix the world.] Then she moved into the living room and reconsidered. Because of the spell, she’d learned something she hadn’t realized before. She knew that Giles loved her—and that she loved him. She wasn’t certain how she should respond to Willow. She was so engrossed in thought she nearly missed Giles’ harsh response.

"Willow, how could you do this? After everything I said to you? Weren’t you listening at all?" "Giles, I know it was stupid and thoughtless and crazy, but the others were talking about getting together a bookclub, for gosh sakes, and I thought, ‘That is so not going to work,’ so—" "So you decided to alter our minds with a spell. That’s just capital. You nearly got us all killed last night." He stopped suddenly as he recalled Spike’s passing. He wasn’t certain if he should let Willow know. Well, she was bound to learn the truth sooner or later.

Just as he made up his mind to tell her, there was another knock on the door. Buffy said wearily, "I’ll get it." This time, it was Xander, Anya and Dawn. "Hey, Buffy, glad to see you’re still in one piece. After you tore out of the Magic Box last night, we didn’t know what had happened to you." Buffy shrugged. "I’m fine, Xander. Is everybody else all right?" "Tara’s fine, though she’s not going to be talking to Willow anytime soon. Have you seen Willow? She took off from my place this morning and—oh." They all caught sight of Willow sitting in the living room with Giles.

"Well, look who’s here. Did you come to apologize?" Anya said with pursed lips. She was decidedly upset about Willow spending the night with Xander and seeing the redhead looking contrite did nothing to ease her ill temper.

Willow lifted her chin in an attempt to be brave. "I came to talk to Buffy. I’m sorry, I can’t tell you all how sorry I am about last night. But I never meant for anything like this to happen."

Anya retorted, "Sorry doesn’t fix it, Willow. You use too much magic. Everybody thinks it even if nobody says so. You can’t seem to control it and you certainly can’t predict the consequences. Why don’t you just leave well enough alone before you turn us all into toads?"

Willow glanced around the room. "Do you all think that?" They didn’t answer but their silence was enough. Her mouth got a set look. "Okay, fine then. The next time you need magical help, don’t come running to me."

Xander protested. "Willow, that’s not—look, nobody wants you to quit using magic. You just need to taper off a little. Maybe you could take a break or something." Anya sniffed, "That’s what she was supposed to do. She was supposed to do without magic for a week and she couldn’t even manage one day. Talk about a lack of willpower. No pun intended."

Willow narrowed her eyes. "How do you know about that?" Anya rambled on heedless of Xander’s tense expression. "Xander and I overheard you and Tara talking. You were supposed to go off magic cold turkey for a week but you didn’t. When Tara realized it, she went over and got her stuff this morning and moved out. She’s really pissed off at you and it’s not as if you can really blame her.

Willow sat there absolutely stunned. Of course she’d known this would happen. Tara had warned her. Still, to hear it, and from Anya of all the people, made it chillingly final. She swallowed hard, willing herself not to fall apart in front of them.

Buffy stood quietly apart from them but her eyes were on Giles. He hadn’t said much and appeared to be lost in thought. She wondered what was going through his mind. She could still feel his kisses, his hands caressing her body and had to resist throwing herself into his arms. She started as she realized Dawn was asking her a question.

"Buffy, did you hear me? What happened after you left the Magic Box?" "Huh? Oh, we dealt with all those vamps. We dusted most of them. The rest ran. Giles and I went to the hospital. They couldn’t tell us anything, naturally. So we came back and spent the night here."

"What happened to Spike?" Dawn asked. "Yeah, Buffy. Did he go to the hospital, too? Wait a minute, he couldn’t have, they were certain things they were bound to notice. Like his lack of a pulse, for one thing." Buffy stood silently for a brief moment. "He never made it to the hospital, Xander. I killed him."

The others gaped at her in shock. "You-you killed Spike?" Dawn said. "How? Why?" Buffy sat down on another chair as she explained. "He had his vamp face on and he was licking at a wound on Giles. I thought he was evil and I staked him. I’m sorry, Dawn." Dawn’s face twisted a little. "No, you’re not. You’re not sorry at all."

Buffy was taken aback at the bitterness in her voice. "What? Dawn—" The teenager stood shaking with anger. "None of you are sorry, so don’t pretend." Anya said with perfect calm, "We weren’t pretending. Nobody really liked Spike except you and you only liked him because he indulged you, took care of you because you were Buffy’s sister and taught you to play gin rummy."

Dawn looked around at all of them. After Anya’s characteristically blunt honesty, there really wasn’t anything anyone could add.

Then Buffy thought for a moment. What was she so sorry about? They’d been dragged into that mess at the Magic Box because of Spike’s being late to pay a gambling debt with that shark guy and his gang of vamp debt collectors. He’d come crawling to them to help him out of another mess and placed all their lives in jeopardy. Spike had been a reluctant ally, at best, and sometimes more trouble than he was worth. She wasn’t glad that she’d killed him but she didn’t regret it as deeply as she had last night. Too much had happened since then.

"Dawn’s right," she said quietly. "I’m not sorry for killing Spike. I didn’t know who he was. He was just another dangerous vamp to me and…I thought he was hurting Giles. If I’m sorry for anything, it’s how hurt you feel right now. I know how much you liked him. But last night you didn’t know or care about him any more than the rest of us. So there’s no point in blaming anyone for this."

Dawn fixed Willow with an icy stare. "Yes, there is. This is all your fault."

"Dawn, be quiet!" Giles snapped. He continued somewhat more calmly. "Willow committed a severe error because of that spell, there’s no question about that. But we’ve all foolishly dabbled in magic at some time or another and had it blow up in our faces. Willow’s spell aside, the real reason we were all in danger last night was because those creatures were after Spike. From what Buffy told me, when she first encountered them in the cemetery two nights ago, Spike turned tail and ran. He left her behind to deal with the sordid situation he had created; those demons could have killed her for all he knew. Spike was just as culpable for last night’s perilous situation as Willow. Don’t lay the blame entirely at her door. If Tara has left her because of this, then she’s been punished enough."

Dawn said coldly, "What about all the times Spike’s helped us? Doesn’t any of that matter? And I’m wondering if you’d all be so forgiving if it had been one of us who got killed." Without another word, she spun around and bolted out of the house. The others stood helplessly as the door banged shut behind her. Xander said, "We’d better get after her."

After Xander and Anya left, Willow sagged onto the couch. "I blew it, didn’t I? And now everybody’s angry at me, especially Dawn. I was only trying to make things better for you, Buffy. And since I was the one wh-who forced you out of Heaven, I thought it was up to me to fix it."

"But it wasn’t up to you to make that call, was it? Did it ever occur to you to ask me first?" Willow’s shoulders slumped. "I-I’d promised Tara no more magic for a week and I didn’t want her to know that I was trying this. And now she’s g-gone." Willow blinked and the tears she had held back spilled down her cheeks. Buffy felt a keen pang of sympathy; now Willow felt as lonely and abandoned as she did.

Buffy sat down beside the other woman and hugged her around the shoulders. As much as she wanted to be furious with her, she couldn’t bring herself to do so. Because of Willow’s spell, she’d learned about the love she and Giles had been hiding and she couldn’t regret that completely. She knew now why the news of his return to England had enraged her so much. It didn’t help that he was still leaving but at least now she could face it with a certain amount of composure.

"Willow, you’ve got to stop using magic to solve all of life’s little problems. Especially my problems. You brought me back from the dead. I’d say you’ve done your magical good deed for the year. Just lay off the wicca wackiness, okay?" Willow sniffed and made an effort to smile.

"That’s what Tara said to me before all of this. I guess I should have listened to her, huh?" Remembering Tara caused Willow’s face to cloud over again. Buffy tried to console her friend.

"Tara’s really ticked off now, Wills, and she has every right to be. But if you stay away from the magic, and I mean really lay off it, maybe she’ll see that you can live without it. She might be willing to forgive you in time. You and Tara are in love. That’s not something she can just throw away. Give her time and show her you mean to get off the magic train and maybe she’ll come back."

Willow gazed at Buffy with something like hope in her eyes. "D-do you really think so?" Buffy flashed her a bright smile. "Sure, why not? I’ve got a hell of a lot more reason to be mad at you than she does and if I forgive you, why shouldn’t she?"

"Because I made a promise to her and I broke it." Buffy drew in a sharp breath at that. She was abruptly reminded of Giles’ presence in the room as the specter of broken promises floated through her mind. Nevertheless she spoke lightly. "Well, you know what they say: Promises are made to be broken. You’ve got to show her that actions speak louder than words." Willow wiped her eyes. "Thanks, Buffy."

Giles listened in quiet astonishment. Buffy sounded so composed. She was determined to help Willow without a thought of herself. In spite of what the wicca had done to her, she no longer sounded angry or reproachful. In the space of one night, it was as if she had changed completely.

Willow got up to go and then turned to him. "Giles? I know you think I’m irresponsible but I promise there’ll be no messing with black magicks while you’re gone. If anything mystical comes up or needs doing, I’ll let Tara deal with it. If I can get her to keep helping us—"

"You won’t have to rely entirely on Tara’s help, Willow. I’ll be more than happy to lend my assistance." Willow shook her head. "Giles, I know you’ll be busy getting your life back together over in England. I’ll try not to bother you too much. Oh, and I’ll try to remember the time difference. You’re eight hours ahead, right?"

"Actually, I’ll be right here. I’ve changed my mind again. I’ve decided to stay."

The two women in the room gazed at him with equal amounts of incredulity. Willow said, "Really? You mean it? Are you sure this time, because, honestly, it’s getting hard to tell if you’re coming or going or not going. I mean, yesterday you seemed hell-bent on leaving, you wouldn’t listen to anyone not even Buffy—"

"Perhaps I’ve started listening to her now." Anything else he might have said was lost as the redhead threw her arms around him with a great squeal of joy. "That’s great! But wait, what did Buffy say to change your mind? Was it what she said yesterday?"

"Let’s just say that your spell opened my eyes about a few things." Willow drew back to give him a puzzled look. "Okay, whatever you say. Hey, does Anya know about this?" Giles got a rueful expression on his face. "No, she doesn’t."

Willow raised her eyebrows. "Oh boy, I bet she’s not going to like that." "No, I imagine she won’t," the Englishman replied. "Do you want me to tell her? Because I wouldn’t mind, really," Willow innocently asked.

Giles’ lips twitched a little. He was well aware that, in spite of their apparent friendship, affairs between the wicca and the ex-demon were sometimes a little strained. "No, I think this is something that had best come from me." Willow shrugged her shoulders and turned to leave. "Okay, you’re the boss." She grinned at what she’d just said and almost flounced out the door.

Giles turned back to see Buffy standing motionlessly in the middle of the room. Her stillness was so reminiscent of the previous night, he felt the same hesitation he had then. "Buffy?"

"You’re staying." Her voice was unemotional but wonder, hope and doubt were flashing across her face. He stepped towards her and held her shoulders. "Yes. I’m staying. Believe it."

"You’re staying." This time she said it as if trying to persuade herself. She remained rigid under his hands. He understood what she was thinking; she was afraid the slightest softening would leave her open for a terrible blow. Then a dark shadow seemed to pass over her eyes. "You mean, just for a little while, until I find my feet again or Dawn gets older or you think Willow can be trusted with her magic—"

"No, no, Buffy, I’m staying for good. No going back to England, no leaving you, not ever." Her face didn’t change and he knew she didn’t believe him. She’d been hurt and disappointed too much. He felt frustrated. He didn’t know what to say to persuade her. Then he remembered—actions spoke louder than words.

He bent his head and kissed her gently. At first, her mouth stayed closed and unyielding. Then they parted hesitantly under his own. With a stifled moan, her arms crept around him and clutched at his back.

Rupert held her about the waist and pressed her body close. The passion built between them slowly until they were kissing each other with desperate desire. She drew back first and stared at him breathlessly, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears. "You mean it? You’re not leaving?" He continued to shower her with assurances between kisses. "Never. I love you—Joan."

A look of inexpressible joy spread over her features at the return of her new name. She claimed him again with another desperate kiss as if she were afraid to let him go. She started leading him none-too-subtly towards the couch. No bed this time; she couldn’t wait. Rupert divined her intention and let her push him onto the soft cushions. He could now recall memories of his wild youth on the streets of London and grinned wolfishly against her throat. "Joan" didn’t know what she was in for.

They began stripping the clothes eagerly from their bodies as Buffy found random thoughts chasing each other through her mind.

She thought about Spike’s final end. She couldn’t pretend to grieve over the dyed vampire’s demise. At least he’d died at the hands of a Slayer. Wherever dusted vampires went, she thought he would be pleased at that, anyway.

She wondered what the others would think about the new turn her relationship with Giles—no, Rupert—had taken. They might freak a little but she was determined to make this work. No giving up.

Dawn was angry; she’d have to deal with that. She had to manage without making Rupert step in for her. She would find a way to make peace between her and Willow.

She thought about Willow and Tara. Maybe she could convince Tara that the spell hadn’t been entirely a bad thing. She wanted to bring happiness to her best friend; Willow had tried so hard to do it for her.

And as Rupert’s body began to rock against her own, his husky voice speaking in broken whispers, she thought about losing Heaven.

And finding it.

 

Finis