DISTRIBUTION: BG Shippers
SPOILERS: Harsh Light of Day
FEEDBACK: Yes please
SUMMARY: My idea of what happened after Becomings.
DISCLAIMER: The characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Sandollar Productions, Kuzui Enterprises, 20th Century Fox Television and the WB.
NOTE: As inspired by Gabi Schulz's story "Time of My Life". Some of the dialogue is the same. Thanks to Ms. Schulz for her agreement to my blatant plagiarism where it occurs.
NOTE 2: I've never written anything like this before, but when I was reading Ms. Schulz's excellent fic, I had the urge to alter it so that it would end in the way I've always wanted a fic to end. I hope I haven't offended anyone.
The doorbell rang again. For the fourth time.
"Yes, yes. I'm *coming*!"
Giles ran to his front door, and with a flourish, opened it to reveal his costume to the four people he knew were waiting on the other side. He had put a lot of effort into his attire this evening, and he was inordinately proud of the white sheet he had draped over his body. He had sewn a gold border around the edges of the linen and tied braided gold threads around his waist in an attempt to capture the opulence that embodied ancient Rome. He had even pillaged a plastic Christmas wreath that he had found in a thrift store to create the faux laurel wreath that adorned his head. Of course, the laurels were actually prickly holly leaves, but one had to make do when one was, ahem, between engagements. This was his first Halloween as a 'civilian', and he was going to make the most of it. That sentiment, however, was quickly re-evaluated when he came face to face with Buffy, who was dressed in a costume that approximated his own. Words he had said months before came unbidden to his mind, "synchroncity, bordering upon predestination...."
Buffy, on the other hand, just stared at him in wide-mouthed amazement. What was he wearing? Or, more accurately, NOT wearing? < That's SKIN!!! I can see actual Giles-skin. This is just so wrong, and on so many levels. >
Willow stared first at Giles, then at Buffy, and then frowned.
"Why didn't you tell me that you were doing matching costumes? We could have gone as the five... dwarves or something. Like, maybe we decided to leave Dopey and Doc at home-"
Buffy rudely interrupted Willow's free association. "Giles, what are you doing?"
"It would appear, to the untrained eye, that I am answering my front door."
"No, Caesar 'Makus Funnus', what are you wearing?"
"A costume, Buffy. Really, is this some sort of new gameshow, 'State the Obvious', hosted by Buffy Summers?"
Buffy looked exasperated. "**Why** are you wearing... <far, *far* too little>... whatever that is that you're wearing?"
< Oh Lord, it's neverending. > Giles took a calming breath before he spoke again. "It's Halloween. Isn't it American custom to clad oneself in fancy dress every year on October 31?"
"Yeah, I know that, but we're talking about *you*. You never celebrate Halloween - you wouldn't be caught dead partaking in anything that even resembles fun. So what's the what with the sheet?"
"Why not? It seems the exceedingly popular choice. Have you neglected to observe your own attire? It would appear that you are wearing a *sheet* yourself," he said, the corners of his mouth turning up in a curt half-smile. He was more than a little peeved that Buffy had denigrated the marvelous toga he had created by referring to it as common *linen*, but he was adamant that he remain in a cheerful mood.
Xander finally sauntered up to Giles' front door after devouring the handful of rockets and bite-size Tootsie Rolls he had stolen from the Halloween candy bowl at Willow's house.
"Trick or ... oh, hey, G-Man, I didn't know you and the Buffster were going to, um, match," he said, sucking the last bit of sticky brown goo from between his molars.
Buffy whirled to face Xander. "Okay, this was *totally* by accident. I didn't know Giles would wear a costume. I didn't even know that we were meeting Giles. It's so not my fault that he stole my idea!" She paused, and then turned to look at Giles. "Hey, you never answered my question. *Why* are you wearing a costume?" Suspicion crept into her voice. "Shouldn't you be avoiding them because the Halloween havoc caused by *your* old frat-brother-of-evil, Ethan Rayne?"
Giles opened his mouth, taking in enough breath to indicate the approach of a lengthy and rather angry response, but Xander quickly cut him off. "I thought he'd like to come to the party at the Bronze," Xander rushed. "I invited him to come with." At Buffy's disbelieving stare, Xander decided further clarification was in order. "Us. Together. Tonight. Massive infusion of fun. Ring a bell?"
Buffy scowled, mumbling something about the Hellmouth and her desire for it to open and swallow her whole. How was she supposed to relax and have fun with her Watcher (ex-Watcher, she corrected herself) accompanying her? < He's just so... so... dammit, he's radiant, half-undressed and relaxed-looking, and okay, *more* than half-undressed, practically *naked*, where anyone, *everyone* really, could see his firm biceps, and shoulders, and that damn sexy sprinkling of hair that covered his chest starting from just underneath his well-defined collarbone area, running down to GOD KNOWS where... >
Once Buffy found herself contemplating Giles' "God Knows Where" (*again!*), she mentally shook herself, attempting to school her thoughts to less blush-inducing avenues. < I cannot let him see me staring at his... his ... I cannot let him see me staring at his *everything*, which is in plain view thanks to that stupid gaping toga. Think of worrisome something elses: demons... Snyder's nostrils... that ishy gunk that forms under the tap of the bathroom sink that you have to use a toothbrush to remove fully... I wonder if Mom has accidentally ever used my tootbrush to do that and never told me...? >
Willow's voice broke her reverie. "That's cool. Giles is going to *hang* with us. In a non-demon-killing capacity. That's newness. And newness can be good. Tonight, we're going to be Giles'... um... 'crew', or would you rather have a 'posse'? Anyway, in honour of your presence, we're going to have a METRIC tonne of fun, rather than our usual imperial standard. So we'll actually be having *less* fun, but it'll be in a more European way. And you both look great, so stop bickering," she chirped brightly.
"Yeah, well, whatever. Can we just go now?" Buffy had never mastered the art of graceful compromise.
"Wait. Let's not rush off quite yet." Giles motioned for them to come inside.
"What now?" Buffy huffed. She was eager to put distance between herself and Giles' apartment, particularly because it reminded her of her encounter with Olivia, or as Buffy liked to call her, "the Chick Who Will Soon Find a Chaos Demon Rammed Up Her Butt if She Ever Touches Giles Again". (Hey, she never said that the nicknames she made up for people in her head were catchy.) With that in mind, stepping directly into Giles' 'swinging bachelor pad' was sort of a counterproductive strategy. Actually, it wasn't a strategy at all; it was blatant surrender.
"I'd like to get a snap of all of us. Since this is the first Halloween we've really celebrated together, I thought it would be appropriate."
"Great! What's a 'snap'?" Xander scanned the front hall of the apartment, thinking Giles was about to feed them all some sort of festive British food product. When the hall proved barren of edibles, he asked worriedly, "Its not anything like a 'sire', is it?"
"A photo, as you Americans call it. Could you all assemble at the bottom of the staircase?"
Gingerly, Giles placed the camera on the table behind the sofa, crouching behind it to center the lens on the group of teens. He then set the delayed-action shutter release. He hot-footed it to the group, easing in between Buffy and Xander. Everyone was smiling into the camera, except Xander, who did his patented imitation of a suave manly-man (which suited his Bill Clinton costume perfectly), Oz, who never really made a facial expression that could be clearly classified, Giles, who was too concerned about his Slayer's reactions to smile properly, and Buffy, who was still in sulk-mode. 'Everyone' for the evening was basically Willow, who was grinning from ear to ear, blissfully unaware of the lack of happy faces around her.
Giles leaned towards Buffy, and whispered an apology. "I'm truly sorry, Buffy. I didn't mean to spoil your fun."
She looked at him, trying to appear mad, but she couldn't maintain the false front when faced with his look of penitence. That his face was so near to her own, heating her skin with its proximity, was making her kind of light-headed, which didn't help her pretence at all. She capitulated, and the smile that replaced her frown was one of acceptance and embarrassment, with liberal doses of arousal and dazed wonderment thrown in for good measure. He accepted her unspoken apology and beamed back. When the camera finally took the picture, the two were staring at each other, smiling like idiots.
"Oh, I wasn't looking at the bloody camera for that. Can we have another?"
"Giiiiiiiiles..." Buffy whined.
At the pleading look in his eyes she stopped. < What's one more picture? > she asked herself. He reset the camera and ran to rejoin the group...
***Half an Hour Later, Outside the Bronze***
"Giles, enough with the celebrating the moments of our lives." Buffy was mortified as Giles continued to take photos of her and the Slayerettes much in the style of Austin Powers. Okay, there was no "Yeah, baby, yeah!" eminating from his mouth, but the thirty minutes of constant picture-taking was forcing more and more dynamic poses on the part of the models. Willow, in her Glenda the Good Witch costume, was starting to breathe harder from the exertion, and Xander's 'Sears' poses were steadily becoming more disturbing. Oz, however, seemed nonplussed, and merely alternated between looking at the camera and looking at Willow. Buffy hadn't uncrossed her arms for the last two rolls of film out of sheer embarrassment. Well, that, and she needed to curb her urge to wrench the camera from Giles' grasp. Thoughts that the wrenching would also cause the touching of warm British librarian skin ran through her mind, making her hug her arms even closer to her body. <No touching. Well, maybe just a little... No, that's wrong. Evil. Bad. Giles is strictly a 'No Touching Zone'.> "Put the camera away, Giles. There are other people around, and they're starting to *stare*."
"Hey, let him take pictures if he wants to! It's fun to have memories that don't involve terror, or the anticipation thereof, " Xander quipped.
"How would you know? Anyway, he's already taken about a *million* pictures. How much thoughtless posing can one person actually stand without having supermodel overload?"
Xander said firmly, "If Giles wants to immortalize my ruggedly handsome face on film, I think stopping him would come down firmly on the side of the bad. The anti-Xander kind of the bad that is running amuck in this evil-besotted town. I seem to recall that it is your sacred duty as the Buffinator to battle evil in all its forms. So, stand down, Miss Thang, and let Giles continue."
"Okay, but this roll is the absolute last one. I don't want him taking photos of us when we're inside. It's bad enough he's coming with us." Buffy muttered the last few words while looking firmly at her golden high-heeled sandals. < Why do these gems of tact keep dropping from my mouth? Do I have Turette's or something? I just... I can't have him around me looking like THAT. A very *sexy* 'that'. A 'that' I'd like to pin down and unwrap just before I suck on every inch of him until he screams for mercy - ohmigod, did I just think what I think I thought?!? He is going to be seriously yucked if he ever gets telepathic powers.. >
Shocked at her callous words, Willow and Xander glared at her in unison. Oz was more concerned with Giles' reaction to the situation, and took a step towards the older man. Giles, of course, hid his hurt feelings valiantly, and made the only concession that he thought was possible.
"Well, uhh, perhaps I should return home, and let you lot continue on, unchaperoned, as it were," he said deceptively evenly.
Xander and Willow each grasped him firmly by an arm and pulled him unerringly towards the entrance to the club.
Willow's voice took on a note of pleading. "Come on. It'll be fun. For *all* of us." With that, she looked threateningly at Buffy, pulled open the door to the Bronze, and guided a now somewhat hesitant Giles into the fray.
***One Hour Later***
"That's it!" Buffy grabbed the wandering hands of a particularly clingy, fur-Speedo wearing Tarzan <or was he George of the Jungle? Whatever!!>, and gave him a hard shove, nearly launching him into the pool table in her haste to get away. She stomped off the dance floor back to the table where Willow and Oz were maintaining the obligatory 'menacing presence' needed to ward off the constant danger of Table Pirates.
"Willow, I am so Audi 500. This evening has baffled scientists the world over by defying the laws of physics: it has simultaneously sucked AND blown. I'm uncomfortable in this getup - the guys here seem to think that because I'm *wearing* a sheet that I'm also gifted *between* them - and my feet hurt in these dumb sandals. And the music has been so lame. And the lightshow is giving me a headache. Truthfully, I plan to bolt as soon as my lips stop moving and your attention is diverted."
Willow didn't want her friend to leave. She wasn't exactly sure why, but she had an omnious sense about the whole evening. "Oh, no, Buffy," she blurted as she latched on to Buffy forearm. "Don't leave yet! I mean, it hasn't been so bad. It's just been a different *kind* of fun, one that you aren't used to. It's the unfun kind. Of fun. Fun in a really... unfun way." Sensing the breakdown of her reasoning, Willow changed her wheedling tactic. "Hey, the Dingoes are going to play a set soon..."
Buffy kissed her on the cheek, removed her arm from Willow's tremulous grip and looked directly at Oz.
"I've heard all three of your songs. Numerous times. You're good, but not that good. Sorry. I reiterate - Bye."
"No, wait Buffy, you shouldn't go alone." Willow was grasping at straws, but she continued on. "It might be risky, or even perilious. And peril is never a good idea. Come to think of it, living in Sunnydale is never a good idea, but you know what I mean. Someone may have put on a fresh pot of big brewing evil, and you would never even know. That is, until it had brewed. And then it would be too late!" she squeaked. Willow looked distressed, not so much at the notion of undetected evil in town, but at her inability to stop speaking of it. "Oz, why aren't you stopping me?" Her boyfriend, the man of few words that he was, merely cocked his eyebrow and shrugged. The fact that he was dressed as the maimed corpse of a mime merely added to the appropriateness of his response.
Before Willow had a chance to speak again, Buffy replied, "Will, I'll be fine. I'm a big girl. A big girl who, luckily, happens to have superpowers, and is also *extremely* grumpy. I'll kick serious demonic ass if any creature of the night so much as *thinks* about making trouble."
"But... brewing... badness... " Willow was in full fluster.
"I'll walk with Buffy. I'm leaving anyway." The seemingly disembodied voice came from behind Buffy's right shoulder. The English accent, however, was a giveaway as to the voice's owner. He had been getting a drink at the bar, but had heard enough of the conversation to make sense of Willow's ramblings. The occupants of the table turned towards him as if they were a synchronized swim team.
"You don't have to, Giles. I mean, if you're having fun... You don't mind?" Buffy was still somewhat embarrassed about her earlier behaviour, and was unsure as to the wisdom of accepting his offer. Would he use this as an opportunity to lecture her, to make her feel more guilty than she already did? She certainly hoped so, because if he just forgave her quietly without comment, as he usually did, her guilt threatened to go to critical mass inside her brain. More dangerously, she worried that the chilled night air would make his exposed flesh goose-pimply, and his nipples all hard. < Cuz lectures I can handle, but his body, I can't. Literally. I can *not* handle it, or even look at it like I want to, and the thought of it responding to any stimulation is making me the uberbitch. >
"No. Of course I don't mind." Quiet forgiveness reared its ugly head, and Buffy felt herself shrinking at the prospect of prolonged exposure to a martyrdom so fierce that it would have prompted Joan of Arc to set a lit match to her own pyre just to escape it. "Perhaps we could do a quick sweep of the local cemetaries on the way home, hmmm?"
Buffy realized with a grim humour that she had just been suckered into patrolling on her night off. < I deserve it, though. Let's just get through this quickly, and then he can go home and get *dressed*. > She coloured briefly when she realized that he would probably do just the opposite, as he had to go to bed some time before tomorrow. She reluctantly got up, collected her belongings, and turned back to the table. "Later, everyone."
Willow watched them go, frowning. < What the Hecate was that tension?!? Buffy is going to get an interrogation later, the likes of which she had never seen before. Poophead. >
They were walking in silence for a while, when Buffy spoke without looking at him.
"It's all right. You don't need to..."
She cut him off mid-sentence. "No, I... there's no excuse for how rude I was to you earlier. I was just a in crappy mood, and then when you opened the door in a carbon copy of my outfit, well, a girl likes to feel special, you know? Anyway, you do look, um, pretty good in your costume, though." She winced internally at the magnitude of her own understatement.
"As do you."
Giles took a deep breath. "I know that I was too keen with the pictures." He paused, unsure if he should continue. "It's simply that I realized a short while ago that I have very few pictures of all of you. A-and after all we have been through, and considering where we reside, procrastinating with this type of activity would not be the most prudent decision." He paused, waiting for her to fill the empty space with happy and culturally-referential chatter on the 'suckiness' of living over the Hellmouth, but she didn't. Surprisingly, she grasped his hand in hers and walked silently beside him, waiting for the rest of his reasoning to emerge.
He stumbled on, the soundless vacuum between them sucking the words out of his mouth. "I... I realized that I have no pictures of *a-anyone* that I c-care for in this damnable place. Not of Willow, not of Xander, not of you, not even of..." he choked back the end of his sentence, unable to finish because of the sudden lump in his throat.
"Jenny," Buffy whispered. "You miss her."
"W-well, yes, yes, I do, but it's more than that." Giles gestured frantically with his free hand, working out his frustration on the unsuspecting night air. "I cannot... I am ashamed to admit that I..." He took a deep breath, and forced himself to smoothly say, "She has been dead for less than two years, yet I am having difficulty picturing her in my mind. I am forgetting her. It's unconscionable." His shoulders slumped foward with the weight of the revelation.
"But you loved her. So what if you forget the exact position of the mole on her neck, or her favourite kind of incense? You made her life better while she was here. You made her happy..."
"I made her *dead*, Buffy." Giles cut her off sharply, his voice echoing through the deserted warehouse district. His head lowered. Buffy had to lean forward to hear what he said next. "And I-I didn't, couldn't, love her properly, like she deserved. For my sub-par attentions, she paid her life. Rather a poor trade, I'd say."
Buffy couldn't believe what she was hearing. She blurted, "What... what do you mean? Of course you loved her."
"Obviously not enough." Buffy cringed at the undisguised remorse and sadness in his voice. "I made a choice, Buffy. And in doing so, Jenny lost. Lost everything, in fact." His thumb stroked her hand with an almost bruising intensity. At that moment, he needed to retain a physical connection with her so terribly he thought he would blink out of existence if she pulled her hand away. She was his lifeline, his grounding to reality.
For the petite Slayer, however, the touch was not reassuring, but painfully sensitizing. The combined effect of the sliding of his skin over hers, and the underlying content of his words made feel as if her lungs had flattened. She fought for breath while her mind raced, < He lost her because of me, not only because of my inability to kill Angel soon enough, but merely because of my presence in his life. His duty to me won out over his love for her. I killed his only chance at happiness. And can I say for sure whether it wasn't on purpose? Oh dear God! >
Giles glanced over at Buffy's silent, contrite form. He could read her expressions more easily than he could any dusty tome of magicks, no matter how socially obtuse and befuddled those around him thought he was. She was blaming herself for Jenny's death. < Oh, Lord, that was not my intention! > Before he could stop himself, he spun around to face her, grabbing her by the arms, speaking forcefully to her downturned golden head. "Buffy, it was MY choice to make. *I* did this. *I* failed her. *I* let Jenny die. *I* let my feelings for you override any feelings I had for her. You have absolutely nothing to be sorry about. I cannot have a life away from you because you ARE my life. My very soul. I live only for you because I must, not because you will it to be so... " he trailed off when he realized that he had transgressed the only boundary he had retained with her, the knowledge of the depth of his love for her. His eyes snapped shut. Releasing Buffy's arms abruptly, as if contact with her skin brought him physical pain, he walked away. Suddenly, he stopped, and turned to face her. "Bloody hell!" was all he could squeeze out in his self-directed rage.
"Giles?" The single word was embued with fear, confusion and love, every emotion that was tearing Buffy apart. Her utterance would have broken his tenuous self-control had all those emotions not been tempered with an overwhelming undercurrent of trust, the same trust he saw shining from her luminous blue eyes.
< Stop this now. You've done enough damage for one night, you old fool, > he chided himself. He tilted his head skyward. Speaking directly to the multitude of stars he found staring back at him, he enunciated carefully, "Best get you home now, Buffy."
"No! You will *not* cut me off." Forgetting about her formidable Slayer strength for a moment, she stamped her foot against the pavement in frustration, breaking off a sizeable chunk of the heel of her sandal in the process. "Not when you..." her speech faltered when she found herself falling backwards. < Obviously that part of my shoe was there for both form *and* function. > she commented to herself just before she cracked the back of her head against the pothole scarred asphalt.
He heard rather than saw her head connecting with the pavement. "Buffy!" Giles cried as he rushed to her aid. He crouched beside her in the street, cradling her head in his hands. "Are you all right? Can you stand? What happened?" His alarm was palpable, and he searched her face for any sign of discomfort or abnormality.
Seeing his earnest expression, Buffy could not help but giggle at the whole situation. She did her best to stifle her mirth, as it would NOT do to laugh when Giles was being so fearfully attentive. He might think she was laughing at him, and that was so horrible a thought she couldn't even bear to consider it. She covered her face with her hand to hide her amused smile, but unfortunately, the resultant tremor the surpressed laughter produced in her body and a sudden intake of air through her fingers created a sound very much like a sob.
"Oh, my God, Buffy. Don't cry, love." Giles was on his knees in a second, taking her into his arms. He gripped her to his chest with his left arm while stroking her hair with long, strong movements of his right. "I didn't mean to cut you off from me... I would never... I could never... you must believe me." He whispered reassurances into her hair, but Buffy could not hear him clearly. Her ears were filled with a dull roaring sound that may have been the blood rushing through her
veins. Dimly, she registered another possible option: < Or it may be a concussion. > Whatever it was, every part of her body was affected, not just her ears. She felt as if she were on fire; her skin screamed at his touch. She was glad that he was holding her so tightly, because she was afraid she might float away at any moment. Paradoxically, she also felt as if she were drowning, causing her to gasp desperately for air. He innundated her senses, yet she craved more. She clawed at his lapels, seeking fingerholds in case he decided to withdraw. When her search proved unsuccessful, her hands travelled upwards to enmesh themselves with the soft strands of his hair, clenching around them painfully, pulling his face down to meet hers.
"Giles..." Now it was she who was searching his face, but this time it was for permission rather than damage assessment. Her eyes were filled with tears from the intensity of the moment. "Please, can I...?" She could not articulate her most heartfelt desire for fear that he would block her with a wall of stuttering and makeshift excuses. Instead, she quickly darted her face upwards, capturing his mouth with hers. A marvellous swimming feeling enveloped her head, and she toppled backwards, dragging him with her.
Giles was stunned, too stunned to do anything but let her kiss him. His conscience railed at him, < Good God, man, do *something*! She's hurt! She's not thinking clearly! Push her away, tell her she doesn't know what she's doing, at least break the bloody kiss! > But he was enthralled to her lips; a helpless junkie to the heroin of her smooth flesh. His arms, still wrapped around her, tightened of their own accord. Had she been anyone but the Slayer, *his* Slayer, he might have hurt her, such was the power of his grip. It fleetingly occurred to him that he was attempting to pull her into himself, wanting to merge with her literally rather than the poor sexual substitute of merely joining at the hip.
It wasn't until she had her legs wrapped around his hips and he was assaying to 'merely join' her despite the several layers of long white cloth that separated their bodies that his self-preservation instinct kicked to life. "Buffy," he murmured, pulling his head away from hers. "Buffy, we are in the middle of the street. Dearheart, we cannot remain..."
"Shhh!" she scolded. "Kissing now. Talking later. Maybe never." With that admonishment, she firmly took hold of the back of his head and reattached herself to his lips. A few seconds later, the actual meaning of his words filtered into her conscious mind, and she had to admit that of all the boneheaded places to make out, in the centre of the street in the warehouse district at night in *Sunnydale* was pretty much the piece de resistance of stupid. < I guess smooching in an active volcano during an eruption might be worse, but let's stay on topic now, Buff. > She reluctantly withdrew from Giles, who had rejoined the activity with great gusto, despite his earlier misgivings. She looked at him with arousal-glazed eyes. "Let's continue this somewhere safer. And more comfortable."
"So, are we off to Chechnya, or to the Czech Republic?"
"Ha ha, Watcherman. I didn't know that you got lessons in stand-up from the Council to go with all that book learnin'."
"I'm not standing now, but I suppose if that is a position that interests you, we could try it..." Giles' eyebrows rose suggestively as he moved to a kneeling position between her parted thighs.
"GILES!" Her mortification was obvious from the deep red stain that crept across her cheeks. She took her shoes off, and stood up unsteadily.
He got to his feet as well, covering his eyes with his hand in frustration. "So I can ravish you in the middle of the street, but I
cannot talk about said ravishment. Is that right?"
Buffy initially nodded, but then quickly thought better of it, and shook her head vigourously. She then realized that he wasn't even looking at her, creating the need for an audible response. The words poured out of her mouth in an uncontrolled flood of information. "Oh, Giles, I don't know. All I know is that I love you, and when you look at me like you were looking at me when we were... *there*," she motioned to the spot on the street that up until recently had been protected from the cold by their writhing bodies, "my hips move all by themselves, and I feel like I might explode. In a really good, non-lethal way. Hell, Giles, even when you *don't* look at me that way, I want to lick you all over... ohmigod, did I just say all that out LOUD?!?" She covered her face with her hands. The crimson stain was back, peeking out between her fingers.
His shock at her rushed attempt at an explanation only lasted a moment. "W-well, I'm rather pleased that you did, quite frankly. I... I cannot bear to think that you might have been... motivated by something other than... that is to say..."
"Please, spit it out, Giles," Buffy softly interrupted from behind the hands still covering her face.
"I-I was afraid that you were only responding to my distraught state, rather than to your own, uhh, n-natural inclinations. I was afraid that I was taking advantage of you. In fact, I still may be. T-taking advantage. Damn and blast!" His fists balled up and planted themselves firmly on his hips. The self-recrimination was etched deeply in the lines of his face.
"Hold the phone, Mr. Hypermorality." Buffy removed her hands from her face to place them on her hips, unconsciously mirroring Giles' own stance. "How exactly are you taking advantage of me when I want to do the nasty, and you want to do the nasty, and it so happens we both want to do it with each other? I'm legal now, Giles. I'm also minus one 200-and-change year old boyfriend, so careful inspection of my lower extremities would confirm that, yes, indeed, I am both footloose AND fancy-free." She wiggled her toes for emphasis.
"And shoe-free," added Giles.
"And shoe-free, which means that you'll have to carry me to your house, oh Chivalrous One." Buffy punctuated her statement by leaping into Giles arms, and wrapping her legs around his body.
Giles paused. He gazed into her eyes with such a piercing intensity that her breath caught in her chest. "Buffy, I-I love you more than life itself, make no mistake. It would damage me more than I could endure if, on any level, I forced this upon you."
"Giles, *Rupert*, you are the ONLY one who has *never* manipulated me. Well, never manipulated me *successfully*." Buffy grinned, but then became more somber. "The only one I trust more than I trust myself. And I have been in love with you for so long, I can't even remember a time when I wasn't. Please, don't doubt the purity of this, of what we feel."
"Is gone. I loved him, but while I was with him, I loved you too. I felt it and, to a limited extent, acknowledged it, but I didn't have the motivation or the courage to act upon it. Angel was so, so exciting, forbidden, you know? It was hard to leave that behind. And besides," her voice dropped, "you had someone then, too."
His eyes met those of the beautiful woman in his arms with unwavering passion. "I have no wish to speak ill of the dead, but she... she was never you."