Not Even The Rain
By Denorios

TITLE: Not Even The Rain
AUTHOR: Denorios
E-MAIL: Denorios77@hotmail.com
DISTRIBUTION: Anywhere, anytime...just let me know.
CLASSIFICATION: A nice healthy bout of B/G. Good for the soul, doncha know?
RATING: Little bit of gratuitous nudity, nothing heavy...but I'll give it an NC-17 just to ensure the safety of those delicate young minds.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own any of these characters; those lovely people at Warner Brothers do. I'm just borrowing them for a day or two--I'll give them back in mint condition, I promise.
SPOILERS: Plenty, mostly slight through, a few blink-and-you'll-miss-it ones: When She Was Bad, Surprise, Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered, Passion, I Only Have Eyes For You, Band Candy, Helpless, Gingerbread, Bad Girls, Enemies, Earshot,

NOTES: The poem Buffy refers to is called 'I Would Like To' by Margaret Atwood. That's my idea of love too. And if you haven't read 'Wuthering Heights' then why the hell not? I think there's a helluva lot of Heathcliff in Ripper, don't you?

~~~~~~~~~~~~
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only that something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands
~~~~~~~~~~~~


The day started out like any other. No reason why it shouldn't, I suppose. The world continues to turn regardless of what its inhabitants chose to do with their lives. The sun still rises; time still passes; in England it still rains. Such things one can rely on. Such things are the true foundations of life. Only one always reads about such occasions as being momentous occurrences that rock those foundations, tidal waves of emotions one might say. The word 'tempest' is invariably found somewhere in the text.

But no...it was nothing like that. I woke, alone, in my cold apartment, with no inkling of how the day would change my life forever. I washed, I dressed, I ate, I left. All perfunctory actions that required not thought. I wish I could say that I drank coffee whilst reading a newspaper, or watched the morning news in my dressing gown. I wish I could say I waved at the neighbours as I passed and called good morning. Such things would mean I lived in a home, a place where one loves and is loved in return. A home is not merely a place one lives--it is where one's heart resides. And my heart has never lived here.

Home is not green fields, thatched cottages, quiet rivers, rolling hills, grazing sheep either, as one might expect of an Englishman. Home is not quiet, reserved people with a desire for politeness and an unparalleled love of irony. Home is not the eccentricities and joys of England. I have always suspected that, although it is only since arriving in Sunnydale that I have come to see and accept it as my truth. I do long for the day when I can return to the land of my birth and heritage, and perhaps take Buffy with me, but not because of any great desire to return 'home'. I want to show Buffy the place that shaped and moulded me, the country that shares so many of the characteristics that Buffy and her friends see as 'quaint' and 'old-fashioned' in myself. I want to show her that there is a world outside of the Hellmouth, and it is a wonderful and beautiful place. She should at least see what it is she is fighting for.

I never once thought that my world would come to revolve around a girl nearly thirty years my junior, that my every waking thought would concern her. I was ingrained from birth with the duties and responsibilities of a Watcher, but the first thing I was ever taught was to not become emotionally attached to the Slayer. It seemed so easy in principle, back in London. But once faced with the reality of this beautiful girl, so dear now to my heart, all blue eyes and smiles that contain the light of all the candles in the world...how could I not love her?

Home is where Buffy is. She is my raison d'être. She is my Pole Star, the light by which I lead my life. Without her to guide me I would be lost, stumbling blindly in the darkness. She is more necessary to me than food or sleep--both things I have quite gladly gone without in order to be there when she needs me--and almost as essential to me as air. It quite frightens me to be so utterly dependent on one so young. It may sound excessive and overly-romantic, but it is the absolute truth. As a Watcher my life has one sole focus: the Slayer. And as Rupert Giles, school librarian and friend to an extraordinary group of young men and women, my life is devoted to the girl I love, the girl whose bravery and resilience never ceases to amaze me, the girl who brings the sunshine into my world every morning: to my Buffy.

Yet I could never tell her how I felt, and that ate away inside of me every day of my life. It hurt when I awoke and it hurt when I slept. It haunted my dreams, and dogged each and every one of my steps. My love for Buffy made me unfit for my job--not in my own eyes, but in the eyes of those I had to report to. My love was inappropriate, it was wrong, it was not proper, yet I cannot find it in myself anywhere to regret it. The love I feel for Buffy exists in me stronger than anything I have ever felt, stronger than any anger, any pain, any fear.

It was my secret, and mine alone--far, far more secret, really, than Travers ever guessed. He said I had a father's love for her, but that was the biggest lie of them all. Oh, how frightened I was when he said that in front of Buffy, that she would know, that she would see how wrong and yet how right the man was.

It started with a school assignment, of all things. An English report. It makes me laugh now, to think of it. After all the long months of posturing, of taking one step forward and three steps back, of shadow-dancing, of hiding, of pretending, all it took was a throw-away assignment from Mrs. Barker to set events in motion. I doubt she even remembers the project she set, but I feel I will remember it for the rest of my life. An dramatic irony teetering on the narrow edge of predestination.

Perhaps I should have suspected something by the sheer normalcy of the week. There had been few vampires on the streets, no demons, no evil creatures bent on world domination/destruction. Nobody had died in over three days, which I rather suspect is a Sunnydale record. Usually a state of affairs such a that means either something evil is brewing or something is very wrong with the world. Or perhaps I should say right. The relative peace was a gift from the Powers That Be I felt, and not one to taken lightly. Buffy needed the rest. She had begun to look tired and withdrawn, the many late nights taking their toll. I cannot count the number of times I had offered to patrol for her, for her to take the night off. She always politely refused, thrilling Wesley to pieces, no doubt. Perhaps I too should have been pleased, that she was so dedicated to her duty. However I believe my actions during the Cruciamentum proved once and for all that Buffy's welfare is more important to me than anything else in the world.

The Scooby Gang, as they delight in calling themselves, were as always gathered in the library, books open in front of them. It gave me no end of pleasure to see for once no Blood Rites and Sacrifices, no Black Chronicles, no Tiberius Manifesto, nothing of a remotely Hellmouth-nature. However it was they were reading that worried me no end. The sheer spectacle of seeing Xander with his nose in a book of Elizabeth Barrett Browning nearly overwhelmed me. I had to sit down.

After stuttering and stammering in astonishment at their choice of reading material for almost a minute, my dear Buffy took pity on me and passed me a sheet of loose-leaf paper. "English assignment," she explained, with a pained smile. I know how she loves her English assignments. Willow or I usually end up doing most of them for her. Anything to save my dear girl from getting expelled. Again. "Due tomorrow. 'What is the nature of love?' Care to take a stab?"

"I do hope you don't mean literally," I said, and was gratified to see a smile cross her face. There went the candles again.

"I'll take you any day of the week, Watcher-man," she grinned, and then as Xander coughed discreetly, added quickly, "Not 'take' in the sense of take...oh, never mind." Her cheeks flushed a delightful shade of red and she hid in her book. Letters To A Young Poet, I noted: Rainer Maria Rilke. It somehow didn't surprise me that Buffy would choose his work. She has a general dislike for ostentation and pretentiousness, which unfortunately fits the profile of a great many poets, and Rilke's work has a clean and understated style that is quite appealing.

It was no surprise to see Willow was making the most headway on the project out of the three of them. I am so very fond of that intelligent young girl. She has incredible reserves of strength and bravery, perhaps more so than even Buffy. The latter has the advantages of her Slayer strength and intuition, but what does poor Willow have? Or Xander, for that matter? These children do not need to be in the thick of things, fighting for their lives, yet they chose to stand at Buffy's side. Their loyalty astounds me constantly.

I stood at Willow's shoulder, reading what she had written. She had chosen a quotation from e. e. cummings to start off her essay: quite an apt quote, I must admit. It got me thinking: 'Love is the voice under all the silences; the hope which has no opposite in despair; the strength so strong mere force is feebleness; the truth more first than sun, more last than star'. A noble ideal perhaps, if a tad unrealistic. Call me a pessimist, but I do not feel love is like that at all. Perhaps I have seen too many terrible things to believe in a perfect world, but I do not believe that to be the case. The darkness of my life has been offset by the tremendous light that shines from the love that is Buffy.

I am not an idealist. I never have been. To these poets the only terrors in the night were the terrors that lay in one's soul. I know however know the truth of the creatures of the night, and it has coloured my perception of the world. Hurt is not made better by a loving kiss. The sight of a red rose in a thunderstorm cannot bring hope to my bruised heart. I have buried too many people to believe in a poet's perfect world. To love is to be supremely vulnerable. It is to open one's heart to the possibility and probability of destruction. I do not feel love is a beautiful, wondrous thing that can heal all hurts. I believe it is something dark and passionate. Love is something one cannot live without; it is an addiction, a sickness. It is something the rational mind shuns, but the heart yearns for. I am a rational man and I have spent years attempting to deny my heart.

And then Buffy came along. She has not changed my view of love. She has only heightened it. Love is a sickness, and it can still hurt, regardless of how happy one may feel. The pain and the sorrow one feels are not a result of love, but a part of it. They are the things that make the struggle worthwhile. Love is not meant to be easy. Nothing in life is. If there was no pain in life, if everything was simply there to be had for the taking...nothing would hold any meaning.

When did I first realise I loved Buffy, not as a father or a friend, but simply as a man who loved her? The summer after she had died--that night in the abandoned factory, when she had once again thwarted evil's plans and stopped the Master's acolytes from summoning him from the grave. When, after grounding his skeletal bones to dust with a sledgehammer, she fell sobbing into Angel's arms. I remember watching her from above and wishing with all of my heart that that was me, that I was the one holding her. At that moment I wanted more than anything to slam a stake into Angel's fashionably-clad black chest and watch him dissolve into dust. I loathed him with an intensity made all the more fierce by my jealousy.

I don't like being a jealous man, but I am afraid it is something I cannot help. I value Buffy so highly that I resent anybody encroaching upon our relationship, even Xander and Willow. If I ever lost her I would die. Not a melodramatic, emotionally-charged statement there, but the truth. I would die. I cannot lose her. I had to spend too long watching her with Angel, too many years with my heart aching in my chest. I will not let her go again. Only now I don't have to, because she clings to me as much as I ever clung to her.

"Here's a good quote," Xander crowed in triumph. "I don't know what it means, but it sounds good. 'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.' Willow, what does that mean?" At first I thought he was joking. The lines were perfectly self-explanatory, but then this was Xander. The boy certainly does not have poetry in his soul. He has many other admirable things instead.

It was Buffy's sharply indrawn breath that drew my attention, not Willow's patient explanation to Xander of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's most famous sonnet. The others didn't notice Buffy's distress, but perhaps she forgot that there was one man in this room who could never take his eyes off her. I moved around the table quietly, not willing to draw their attention. If something was upsetting Buffy it ought to be a private thing. But I couldn't bear to see her in any pain. I have seen her cry too many times.

She had closed the book in her lap, although her head was still bent over it. Her eyes were closed, and her knuckles were white from clutching the book so hard. I rested my hand gently on her shoulder and she looked up at me, with the most curious expression on her face. "Buffy, what is it?" I asked softly. Her face was pale and drawn, and for the first time I saw the terrible dark rings under her eyes. I slipped my hand underneath her elbow and drew her to her feet. "Come into the office."

She followed me unprotesting, which in itself was unusual. I had noticed her uncharacteristic silence lately, but I had simply chalked it down to the stress of the past few weeks. What with Faith's treachery, Buffy's telepathic experience and the Deputy Mayor's murder, she had had a turbulent time. And the Cruciamentum, of course. I hadn't dared talk to her--I didn't feel I had the right. I ought to have spoken to her though. To allow such things to fester is unhealthy; it inevitably breeds resentment and animosity. But the remembrance of the look in Buffy's eyes that terrible night was always enough to put me off broaching the topic. I couldn't bear to find out whether she still felt such hurt and anger towards me, if she was only disguising the animosity with friendship and affection. I didn't know if she had forgiven me. I preferred to continue with the status quo. I was a coward.

Buffy sat quietly on the low couch in the office, her feet tucked underneath her. She looked up at me with those big blue eyes and said bluntly, "Angel gave me a book of that poetry on my eighteenth birthday. It reminded me of...of-"

"The Cruciamentum."

"Yes."

Will either of us ever forget than terrible event? I doubt it. Not for the first time before or since I felt a surge of hatred directed at the Council and the pompous men and women who believe they know what is best for the Slayer. How can they know? None of them, save Travers, Wesley and myself, have ever even met Buffy! How can they know what is best for her? The Council was created to serve and aid the Slayer, not the other way around. We are meant to stand with her, every one of us--not behind her, to watch her fall and stab her in the back when she falters. My God, Xander and Willow play a greater part in the battle against evil than the Council! We have let children take up the roles we were born to play.

It wasn't always like this. I can remember my grandmother telling me tales of the great battles she had taken part in, of the Slayers she had been privileged to know. I cannot have been more than ten when she died, but as long as I live I will recall the tears on her cheeks as she spoke of the tremendous courage and youth of the warrior-children she had known, the tremble in her voice as she painted the images of their deaths. I learned from her that the death of a Slayer is not an occupational hazard as the Council would have us believe, that it does not matter than another face will replace that of the one lost. A Slayer's death should be mourned the world over; it is the greatest loss this planet will ever know. That a beautiful, innocent child should die fighting to protect a world that does not even realise the danger that surrounds it, is, to me, the greatest tragedy in life.

I wish Buffy was not born the Slayer. I wish it with all that I am. When I was in England preparing for my duty as Watcher, I did not know her name, I did not know her face. She had not yet been called. I knew there was the strongest possibility that she might die before she had even fully matured, and somehow that knowledge did not affect me as it does know. I had no face to attach to the possibility, and it did not seem real. I like to think I have always loved Buffy, but in truth there was one a time when the name 'Buffy Summers' would have meant absolutely nothing to me.

But now? Her name, ridiculous as it may be for one so exquisite and so strong, conjures up a thousand beautiful, terrible images in my mind. I see her smiling at me in the corridors; I see her desperate, frightened eyes. I see the misery and pain on her face; and I see the wondrous beauty that shines out of her like a searchlight. I see the infuriating selfishness and short-sightedness of an immature child; and I see the world-weary look of a child who has to grow up too fast. I see a girl who bears the illusion of fragility, when she is quite strong enough to break me. The numerous bruises I have worn at various times can attest to that. She is a mass of contradictions, and I would not have it any other way.

I can only thank whatever fates watch over us that I did not come to this realisation too late. Council be damned, I finally saw that my duty to Buffy far outweighed any duty I may have had towards the Slayer. I was glad I had at least a chance, however small, to win back Buffy's trust. Even now from time to time I look at her and wonder if she still bears any resentment towards me, if sometimes she doubt my devotion to her. I betrayed her once, there is every possibility I could do it again. I would rather die than have that happen, but to her there must always be a prospect.

"Buffy," I began, unsure even as to what I could say to her. What words could possibly ford the ocean of confusion and pain that lay between us? We had left it too long. I am no poet, and I do not know how to summon the eloquent images contained in a single line of poetry. It is true poetry is the language of love--even the children could see that. But my love knows no poetry.

"Buffy, I don't know how to tell you how sorry I am. If I could turn back the clock, change what happened..." My voice trails away, and I look at her. She does not appear to be angry, only tired and resigned. A worse state of affairs, I felt.

"Giles," she said softly, casting a quick look out of the office door to where her friends still sat. Xander was bemoaning the tendency of poets to be 'so damn poetic'. Who would have ever guessed? Willow was ignoring him. Neither noticed anything amiss. Which was good. "I can't count the number of times you've apologised to me already. Stop it already. Please."

I nodded silently, removing my glasses slowly. The world retreated to a blur of colours and murkiness. The only thing I could see with any clarity was the bright shine of Buffy's head. I often used my glasses as a defence barrier of sorts. If I couldn't see the world around me I could pretend it wasn't there. A very childish tactic and not always a very successful one either. The world has a tendency to blindside one at the precise moment one is not paying attention.

"I think both of us are blowing this whole thing out of proportion." I couldn't see her smile but I could hear it in her voice. She was proud of herself for using such a big word. She was so damn charming at times I wondered how she managed it. "How's that for a Giles-word, huh?"

"Uh...very good, Buffy," I managed to stammer out.

"When the whole thing happened, Giles, I was scared. I was confused. I didn't know what to do. I was so used to being strong, to be able to deal with the monsters...that when I couldn't do it anymore, it just threw me completely. And I took it out on you, because you did it to me."

Hearing Buffy talk like that, so adult and mature in her tone, was quite unnerving. I was so used to treating Buffy as the child I felt she was that suddenly seeing her as an adult disarmed me completely. She was no longer than juvenile girl who had bounded into my library on that first day, happy and excited. I can still remember the look of shock and disgust on her face as I slammed that thick, heavy book on the desk before her. I hated the fact that I was the one to put it there. At that moment in my office, as I replaced my glasses and looked through them with new eyes, I saw Buffy in a new light.

She was an adult. She had grown and matured in a variety of marvellous ways, and I felt privileged to have been there through all of them. She had seen things no child should ever have to see, and come through, if not unscathed then stronger for the experience. And I felt no small amount of pride swell through me, as any parent would, no doubt. Pride for all that she had accomplished, pride that I had been part of her life, pride that I could call her friend.

"A really smart man once told me that to forgive someone was like a great act of compassion. That it was done not because someone deserve it, but because they needed it." She smiled at me gently, and said, "I listened to him. Figured I should...he usually knows what he's talking about."

I couldn't believe she actually remembered my exact words. Buffy usually gives off the impression of not listening to the slightest thing I am saying. To find out that she genuinely does listen and she genuinely does take heed was...well, it was wonderful. It made me feel like I did have some value in her life, something I had been questioning of late.

"Buffy, I don't know what to say," I said slowly. She had proven in that moment that I truly did not deserve her forgiveness. I do not think I could have been so generous had I been in her place. "I...I...thank you."

She smiled beautifully at me, a great beaming smile that spoke of the relief she must have felt at finally expressing her thoughts. Buffy has the most beautiful smile in all the world, but I fear I am repeating myself. One's mind has a tendency to focus on the most insignificant things, to the exclusion of those things that deserve more attention. But Buffy's smile...

"Giles, you didn't really have a lot of choice. I know that. I mean...God, you got fired just for saving my life! That was way harsh. You're acting like I'm supposed to forget all the times you've been there for me, all the times you've saved my life, everything we've been through together. That's what counts, not one little mistake. Hey, you forgave me when I ran away and abandoned my duty, and God knows I didn't deserve that, so...how can I not forgive you?"

"Thank you," I told her, meaning it with all my heart. She is so generous, so forgiving. She has such a big heart I am so afraid it will be hurt again. I would rather die than see that happen. She is right, of course. I didn't have a lot of choice. I didn't know which way to turn during the Cruciamentum. I had never agreed with that archaic ritual: neither did my father nor my grandmother. But if I disagreed with Travers from the outset, refused to participate in it, I would have been fired, as I was. I felt that I could be more use to Buffy as her Watcher, than merely Rupert Giles, high school librarian. What use was I to her without my role of Watcher to back her up? And yet playing my role in the ritual meant that I would be betraying the trust of the woman I loved, risking her life and as it turned out the life of her mother. In the end it came down to a choice: save her life or lose her trust. Nothing in this world is more important to me than Buffy's life. I could live with losing her friendship just so long as she didn't lose her life. I had to stand by idly once whilst Buffy died: I wasn't going to do it again.

Whilst I was terrified that she might be killed, I had faith in her. Even without her strength, Buffy is the most resourceful and resilient individuals I have ever known. She defeated Kralik in style, and impressed both Travers and myself no end. I am not vain enough to believe I had anything to do with that. Buffy is who she is because of her own personality, not because of anything I have done.

As I sat there quietly, baffled and overwhelmed by the strength of spirit encased in the small girl siting before me, Buffy reached out and gripped my hand with such affection and strength that it quite startled me. I could feel the pulse of her heart through her soft skin, and it entranced me. I felt as though my own heart were beating in tandem with hers. I turned my hand up until we were palm to palm, holding hands as though it were something we did every day. Not for the first time I felt a terrible jealousy towards Angel. I hated him for taking her away from me, for seeing her as I never could, for having the right to touch her and hold her whenever he felt like it.

"Would you patrol with me tonight?" Buffy asked softly, her fingers twitching under my own. I made a move to release her hand, but she showed no signs of being willing to be released. Inwardly I smiled. Buffy rarely asks me to patrol with her: she usually prefers the company of her friends or the solitude of her own thoughts. I find it an honour to be asked.

"I would love to," I told her. Good God, what kind of person loves patrolling? Staking vampires? Risking their life? I think I need my head checking. But a chance to spend some time with Buffy, just the two of us...

"Good. We can talk. And...maybe go for coffee or something?" Her tone was hesitant and unsure, and I smiled reassuringly at her and nodded. To be perfectly honest there was nothing I would have preferred. I so rarely had the chance to simply talk to Buffy, just the two of us. There always seemed to be some kind of crisis looming over our heads, and even when there wasn't she naturally preferred the company of Xander and Willow. I didn't hold that against her--how could I? She was a normal eighteen-year-old, acting as any girl her age would. I could hardly expect her to give up her social life to hang around with her forty-six year-old Watcher.

"Great!" It constantly amazes me at how quickly Buffy can bounce back from anything. She seems to take everything in her stride, barely missing a step. I know I could learn a lot about life from her, despite her relative inexperience. She rose to her feet, smiling down at me from her position above me. It was a rather novel experience for me to be looking up at Buffy, and I found I quite liked it. She looked beautiful. Having said that, Buffy always looks beautiful to me. Even covered head to toe in mud and blood, bruises and scrapes marring her perfect skin, hair bedraggled and damp, fury blazing in her eyes...she still looks beautiful to me. She always will. That's love for you.

She rested her hand on my shoulder for one long moment, and I could feel the heat of her hand burning my skin, through the numerous layers of tweed. It felt as though there was some sort of electrical connection between us, a current running from her body to mine. "Giles," she whispered, and I placed my hand over hers. "Thank you."

In a quick sudden movement that was over before I knew what was happening, Buffy leaned down and kissed me on the cheek. Her lips lingered a second or two longer than may have been appropriate, and then she was gone, back to her friends and her studies.

**********************************************************

It was one of those rare situations where you don't even realise what's going on until something suddenly snaps your head around and opens your eyes and makes you see. Perhaps seeing isn't a strong enough word--it's like one moment you're merely an observer, watching events from outside, completely detached and aloof; and the next moment you're right there in the thick of things, and all of a sudden you understand. You think, 'Oh, this is what they meant.' A moment of absolutely clarity. Giles told me they were very rare. Well, I had one.

I mean, I didn't even realise I loved Giles until that day in the library. I still don't get how that is possible. How can you suddenly discover love for someone? Surely it's there all along. And if I loved Giles all the time how could I have hurt him so much, expected him to forgive Angel as I did? How could I have loved Angel at all? It's so confusing. I don't understand love. I like it, but I really don't understand it. Maybe we're not meant to. Maybe if we could analyse love, break it down into its individual part, it might be diminished. It might not be as powerful. I don't need a word for what I feel now. There is no adequate word.

I remember saying to Xander, when I was under his botched love-spell, that you could spend years seeing a person but never really seeing them. It's exactly like that, as though I woke up one morning and suddenly saw Giles for the first time. Saw him in all of his gentleness and honour and nobility. I saw Giles.

Giles, who had always been there for me, when Willow and Xander and even my own mother had turned away from me. Giles, who forgave me for anything instantaneously. Giles, whose eyes and smile comforted me when propriety insisted he not touch me. Who stayed with me after being fired because he chose to. Who was willing to die for me. Who sacrificed any possible hope for a normal life to chase vampires with a self-involved high school student who barely noticed he was alive. Giles, who loved me.

The thing I remember most about that afternoon in the library is his eyes. I could feel them watching me from all the way across the room. We were supposed to doing some English assignment about love--an fitting topic--and I couldn't concentrate. I had the book in my lap and I was pretending to read it. But all the time I could feel Giles watching me, like a not-quite-uncomfortable prickly feeling travelling across my skin. I still don't know whether it was just my imagination, or some kind of Slayer-Watcher bond. I know there are such things--Giles has shown me loads of examples.

But I could feel his eyes on me. I was wondering what he was thinking, what I looked like to him, how he saw me. It was just a couple of weeks after the whole Cruciamentum-test thing and we were still a bit uneasy around each other. It wasn't that I hadn't forgiven him, because I had. To be perfectly honest I never blamed him to begin with. Sure, I was angry and stressed, and I said some things to him that I shouldn't have...but I never blamed him. I just didn't know how to tell him that. I didn't know if I should.

Giles and I were never very good with the communication aspect of our relationship. We only talked when lives depended on it. I don't know why. Maybe it was a result of the attraction between us. I didn't know I loved him, but I know I was strangely attracted to him. I had chalked it down to us having that Watcher-Slayer bond, but now I see that it was something else, right from the beginning. We were both edgy around one another, nervous and ill-at-ease. I've seen The X-Files: I know what sexual tension looks like. I'm just surprised I didn't see it sooner.

Anyway, back to the eyes. I kept glancing up at him, and catch him watching me. His eyes were a peculiar shade I'd never seen before. See, Giles always has this way of surprising me. I should keep a chart of what his different eye colours mean. They change with his mood. I never noticed that on anyone before. Perhaps it's my perception that changes, not his eyes, but I prefer to think it's his eyes. When he's happy or content they go this amazing shade of sea-green. When he's upset, angry or worried they're a kind of dull blue, almost grey. On that day they were bright green. He'd blush delightfully and look away, mumbling something to himself. Once or twice he held my gaze for a minute or two and smile. He has a lovely smile, when he shows it. He's not very big on public displays of affection, but he's learning. With a little help from me. Because I like public displays of affection!

To be completely honest, the whole assignment had thrown me completely. When we were given it, I thought to myself that I probably knew more about love than anyone else in the classroom. What I had with Angel was something most of the kids in that room would never find, I thought.

Well, hell, I'm damn glad for them! I wouldn't want anyone to go through what I did. Love isn't supposed to be that way. Love is supposed to be happiness and laughter and sharing, not evil and fear. Love is supposed to be facing the prospect of spending the rest of your life with one person. Love is a home and a family, and friends who love you. What kind of future would Angel and I have had? My life expectancy isn't exactly very long as it is, and the idea of me slowly but steadily growing older whilst Angel remained exactly the same wasn't particularly tempting. When I was growing up I used to imagine falling in love with someone and living with them my whole life, watching them change and mature and loving them just as much as always. Would Angel still love me when I was old and bent and wrinkled? He always said he would, but I doubt it.

And when I died, what then? Would he mourn me for the rest of his life? Again, he claimed he would, but I don't think Angel realises just how long a time that is. Barring any accidents Angel could live forever. For ever. Would he really grieve for me for that long? Nobody could. Sure, maybe he'd be in anguish for a couple of years, and then maybe gravitate to leaving a rose on my grave one a week for maybe the next decade or so. After twenty, thirty years...it would still hurt. But what about fifty years? Or a hundred? Not a chance. The human heart is forgetful, and Angel still has a human heart, even though it stopped beating a couple of hundred years ago.

That all sounds so selfish, just me, me, me. Maybe I am being selfish, but don't I have a right? None of the previous Slayers have ever lived past twenty-six. That's the record...twenty-six. My life is so short--I have to live it for all I'm worth. What does Angel know of a life expectancy so brief? I don't want to waste my few years on someone who can't--simply can't--love me like I need to be loved. And it wouldn't be fair on Angel. What kind of life would we have? Me desperately trying to balance a real life by day and vampire-slaying by night, Angel only going out at night: would we ever even see each other? What the mayor said to us was right. I laughed it off at the time, but he was right. What kind of life could Angel offer me? In his own words, a life of skulking in the shadows, hiding from the sun. I don't want that. For Angel to expect me to do that for him is selfish.

Oh, I hate myself that I can say these things. I don't hate Angel. I never could, even if I tried. I love him. I always will, in some small part of me. He never asked for any of this to happen to him. He was just a normal Irish lad a few centuries ago, destined for a life of farming and drinking, and then Darla turns his life upside down. He's evil for two hundred years or so, doing the most unspeakable things to people, until he gets his soul back. For the next two hundred years he broods over the horrible things he did as Angelus, living in absolute gut-wrenching misery and sorrow. He meets me, falls in love. Great, you'd think. A chance for happiness. Oh no, not for our hero. He has to deal with the irony that his one true love is a vampire-slayer. He loses his soul the moment he feels a shred of happiness, does some more unspeakable things, and gets cured just in time for said one true love to send him to hell for another few centuries. Nice. He returns for no apparent reason, and understandably tries to kill himself in despair, only to have one true love stop him. One true love then abandons him for another man.

What a life. You've got to feel sorry for him.

And I do. But pity isn't enough for a successful relationship. Angel and I just had to deal with the fact that we were star-crossed lovers. We just weren't meant to be together. I was meant to be right where I am now...in Giles' arms.

I want to be with someone I can see morning, noon and night. I want to be able to make love to someone without being afraid he'll lose his soul and start murdering my friends. I want to see grey hairs appearing, new wrinkles in interesting places--any sign that the man I love is ageing right along with me. I want to feel a heart beat beneath my cheek. I want to see flushed cheeks and happy smiles. Any time Angel smiled it meant he was happy, and that was a big no-no. I want children. I want warm arms around me, warm skin against my own, not cold slickness. I want a person, not a demon with a soul. I want Giles. And thank God, thank God, I have him.

With the realisation of how much I loved my Watcher came the knowledge of just how badly I had hurt him. Over and over, time after time, I stabbed him to the heart. I never meant to. But somehow I knew instinctively what would hurt Giles, and I did it. I blamed him for so many things. I teased him about sensitive matters. I insulted him about his age and looks. I ran away when I shouldn't have. I, the person he loved more than anyone else in the world, was in love with the person he hated more than anyone else. I took all his protection and affection and support and threw it back in his face. I never gave anything in return. He saved my life time and again, and I simply took it as a matter of course. I saved his life, and I expected him to be grateful. I resented him when he attempted to get a life outside of Sunnydale High School and the library, despite my repeated taunts for him to 'get a life'. I was a monster of cruelty.

And through all that he was still there. That, I believe, is the one mystery in life I will never solve: why Giles remained at my side despite all I did to him. Why he still loved me, cared for me, and supported me. It only proves what I've always suspected: the man's a saint, pure and simple. He is the most wonderful man on the planet, and I thoroughly don't deserve him.

See, I got back to Giles eventually. Giles and the library and that day. I realised all of that in the time it took Xander to read the line from that sonnet. I told you it was a head-snapper. Impressive, huh?

It was so bizarre. I was sitting there, pretending to read, convinced I was in love with Angel and only Angel, and then...bam! Switch flicking time. The light bulb comes on above Buffy's head, and she sees straight for the first time in her whole damn life. Giles of course, being Giles, notices immediately. I think maybe if he hadn't come over in that instant nothing would have ever happened. I would have repressed majorly, and nothing would have come of it. Thank God he came over.

So we had our little heart-to-heart and I told him I forgave him. The poor guy had probably been blaming himself constantly ever since the night of the Cruciamentum. He does that a lot. Everything is always Giles' fault, in his mind, and I do mean everything. He probably blames himself for the Vietnam War, and the AIDS crisis, and the Hellmouth. The whole world is Giles' fault. He has this martyr complex which is quite annoying. It was a talk that had been way overdue, anyway.

The look in his eyes when I said I forgave him was incredible. I had never seen Giles smile like that. I was so used to his little half-smile, like he wasn't quite sure smiling was appropriate. His eyes smiled at me all the time--he'd get that little crinkle at the corners that was so cute--but a full-on grin with teeth and everything? Very rare in our librarian. This smile was incredibly sexy, and for the first time I could see that Mr. Rupert Giles had probably been quite a honey in his youth. He still is sexy--in a British, tweedy kind of way--but I wish I'd known him when he was young. I imagine he could probably have rivalled any of the heartthrobs I drooled over when I was younger.

I asked him to patrol with me that night, and I could read his surprise and pleasure in his eyes. That was strange in itself. I'd always seen Giles as a master of inscrutability and mystery. I could never tell what he was thinking--he was like a blank page waiting to be written on. But that wasn't true at all, not one little bit. Giles' eyes gave him away entirely, and I'd never seen it before. I didn't understand how I could have missed something so totally obvious and...well, there. Right in front of me all the time. When he was upset, angry, frightened and worried he had the best poker face going, but his eyes always told anyone who was interested exactly what he was thinking and feeling.

The irony of the fact that I'd asked Giles out for coffee did not escape me at all. Coffee had been mine and Angel's first 'date', despite Willow's assurances that coffee was not a date but a caffeinated beverage. Quite true, Willow, I thought. I am not going on a date with Giles. We are going to go kill some vampires and then we are going to have coffee. Not date-y at all.

Giles' hand was warm. I remember that so vividly. It was the first time I had ever held his hand for something other than rescuing him from something. It was warm and soft, so unlike Angel's. I could feel his heartbeat through his palm. It was nice, like something I hadn't even realised I'd missed until that moment. The hand-holding thing had definitely done something to me, inside, because I hadn't even planned kissing Giles. That had definitely not been on the agenda, but there I was, planting a smacker on his cheek. He looked as shocked and secretly pleased as I felt.

Willow and Xander said nothing when I got back to the table, which surprised me. That Xander hadn't noticed anything was nothing unusual, but Willow was usually damn perceptive. But she just gave me a small smile and returned to her essay. I've always believed that Willow probably knew what was going on long before Giles or I ever did. I think she was just waiting for us to figure it out ourselves. She's like that, is Will--so sharp, so keen, so caring. She knows me better than almost anyone, better than my mom. She sees all the parts of me. My mom only knows me as her daughter; but Willow? Everything that I am she's seen. She knows how I'll react in any situation, regardless of the circumstances. It's a little frightening to be known that well. Giles knows me in and out, and there are times when I think I have him to a 'T'. Then he does something, like maybe beat up my erstwhile lover with a flaming baseball bat, and I realise I barely know him at all. I guess that good, in a way. It means we're constantly finding out new things about each other; it means we won't become stagnant and stationary.

Somehow I found that English assignment the easiest one I've ever written. It all just seem to flow out of my pen. I wrote about what I felt when I was around Giles. I'm sure Mrs. Barker would have had a heart-attack if she'd known I was writing about her forty-five year-old English librarian colleague. Actually, she'd probably have agreed. I had it on good authority that a fair number of the female members of the faculty--and one or two of the men--found our Mr. Giles quite attractive. Slayer hearing is a decided plus.

Giles met me in the Shady Hill cemetery just past ten o'clock. He was sitting on a headstone, humming softly to himself, head tilted back, gazing at the stars. It's something I do myself a fair bit: look at the stars and realise just how small and insignificant I am, and yet how very important. In the greater scheme of things I'm nothing, and yet very often I am the only thing standing between this world and destruction. It's sad sometimes to realise that very few people on this planet will ever recognise the sacrifices I have had to make so that they can sleep safe in their beds. I protect the night. It's what I was born to do. But I cannot bear to think how lonely a job it would be without Giles at my side. Perhaps that is why Slayers have Watchers: not to protect or guide them, but to keep them from going crazy from the loneliness.

It was a luxury to be able to watch him for once. He wasn't aware of my presence, and it allowed me to look on his face without being afraid of who might be watching or how it might be misconstrued. See, my vocabulary is improving!

He looked happy--that was the first thing I thought. Despite the late hour, despite the nature of our task...he looked happy. There was that small half-smile on his face and his face looked peaceful. I could actually see his face properly; for some reason he wasn't wearing his glasses. Giles does actually own contact lenses, he just prefers not to wear them. I wish he would though--he looks so much younger without those harsh frames. He wasn't wearing his usual tweed suit--not very practical for vampire-slaying anyway--and had chosen instead a plain pair of blue jeans and a grey T-shirt, with a leather jacket I didn't even know he owned. He looked good enough to eat...no pun intended. Looking good enough to eat is not always a good thing in Sunnydale.

"Hey," I said softly, and he looked over at me at once. The way his expression changed the moment he heard my voice was astounding, and I wondered how I could never have seen it before. It was as though everything harsh or unpleasant in his face simply melted away. Any worry lines or frowns just disappeared. His eyes shone and his mouth stretched in a wide smile of welcome. So this is what it feels like to be the centre of someone's universe, I remembering thinking. I always wondered.

"Buffy," he said in return, his voice as soft and reserved as always. "I'm glad to see you." I wonder if all British people are as quiet as Giles. It quite astonishes me how silent he can be. Sometimes when I'm sitting alone he can just appear at my shoulder without me hearing a thing, even with my advanced Slayer hearing. I've never been to England myself, although I would love to. To see the place that made Giles...it must be a magnificent place. Every time I picture it, all I can see is a land peopled with men and women just like Giles: quiet and understated and so very intelligent, and all dressed in tweed. Or like the Spice Girls.

"Any vamps yet?"

"Just one," he said with a short soundless laugh.

"Did you kill it?" I asked with a wry grin. I tease Giles about being a doormat whenever we fight, but the truth is he's damn good. I make a big show of not being tested at all when we train, but in actuality he really pushes me. There are times when I think Giles is gonna have me flat on my back on the floor, instead of the other way around. Most of the time it's only my brute strength that lets me win. Giles can kick vampire ass with the best of them. That would be me.

"No, Buffy," Giles said with a sarcastic tone in his voice. "I gave the poor starving wretch my coat and a couple of thousand dollars, and told him to take a vacation."

"What have I told you about abusing sarcasm?" I warned him. I loved arguing with Giles. Of course he always got the best of me most of the time, but I could always confuse him with pop-culture references or some other relic of the generation gap. The look on his face when Xander and I talked about the Goo Goo Dolls or Celebrity Deathmatch was priceless.

That night was one of the best of my life. Honestly. Other than the one vamp that Giles staked we didn't hear a peep out of the undead. Sunnydale was so quiet, so peaceful and still, that I could almost believe it was just like any other little American town. Giles and I walked the streets almost until dawn, talking, laughing, generally enjoying the pleasure of each other's company. And he is good company. Despite the age gap between us we seem to have so much in common, although taste in music is not one of those things.

Somewhere along the evening we found ourselves holding hands. It was one of those situations where you don't even realise you're doing something until you notice it suddenly. It's a horrible place to be in. You think to yourself, do I let go of his hand? If I do will he think I don't like him? If I keep holding his hand will he get the wrong idea? Is everything moving too fast? What do I do? You've got to remember that my relationship with Angel was so totally different to anything I have with Giles. There was no friendship with Angel: Spike was right, Angel and I would never be friends. All I ever had there was intensity and passion and pain. But with Giles there is friendship and affection and tenderness. Passion has its place, and Giles will always be my best friend.

I was panicking quietly to myself until Giles looked down at me with a gentle smile and squeezed my hand. His face was so beautiful to me in that moment, bathed in the soft moonlight, his eyes smiling into mine. I never loved him more. "Are you alright, Buffy?" he asked me, and I nodded.

"Just a little...cold," I told him. He stopped in the middle of the street and released my hand. For an endless moment I wondered just what I had done wrong, and then I saw that he was removing his jacket. Without a word he gently placed it around my shoulders, and rested his hands on my upper arms. The jacket totally dwarfed me. It's only when Giles gives me his jacket to wear, or I steal one of his shirts, that I see just how big a man he is. He gives the impression of being quite lean, but he has a lovely strong chest and broad shoulders.

"Better?" he asked me, and I nodded again. The jacket smelled of him, all Wood Spice and musty books and something indefinably Giles.

That smell must have done something to my senses, because in that one moment in time all I wanted was to be in his arms. Despite my big words to the contrary I'm not generally one for seizing the day. I've learned to be cautious. But in the dark street with Giles nothing had ever seemed more like the right thing to do. Taking care not to dislodge the jacket from about my shoulders, I slid my arms around his waist and rested my cheek against his cheek. "But this is even better," I whispered to him. I could feel him laugh, the vibration travelling through my cheek.

"Ah, my Buffy," he said softly to the night air, "what would I ever do without you?"

"Have a little peace in your life? Avoid quite so many trips to the ER?" Giles' propensity--another big word--for head injuries is getting to be legendary in the Sunnydale ER. He's a regular. I always wondered why the vamps don't break his arms or something--not that I would want them to--but why is it always the head? As Cordy said once, one of these days he's going to wake up in a coma.

"And what a dull life I would lead," Giles told me with another laugh. "I'm right where I'm meant to be, Buffy. This is my destiny as much as it is yours. We were both chosen. Chosen to be together. Don't you see that?"

I sometimes forget that. I always think of myself as the only unwilling party in the whole slaying business. But Giles never wanted to be a Watcher, any more than I wanted to be a Slayer. He was forced by destiny, fate and forces beyond our control into the position he is in, as I was. I know I would never change my life--not one single second of it--and somehow I don't think Giles would either. We have the strangest relationship in all the world. All those trashy romance novels I read talk about fate and destiny, but that's just metaphorical. Me and Giles...we really are fated for one another. We were chosen. And when the chosen chose each other, does the darkness stand a chance?

It felt as though that whole day had been set aside for just the two of us. Everything just fell into place. If I thought the day the snow fell in Sunnydale for Angel and I, then I could believe that the day I saw I loved Giles had been protected by some power greater than ourselves. Everything felt directed by some unseen but gentle hand. Someone wanted Giles and I to be happy. Isn't that beautiful? I so rarely have perfect days that I've found I have to grab at them with all my strength and hold them close to my heart. I'll never forget the day Angel and I made snow-angels together, and I'll never forget the night Giles held me in his arms with all the love in his heart.

I could be a poet, couldn't I? Such lovely imagery.

"Giles," I said hesitantly, not willing to disturb our peace, "does this all seem a little too perfect to you? People aren't supposed to just...find one another like this. There's all that angst and soul-searching like you see on TV."

"Buffy, I can assure there has been plenty of 'angst' on my part," he told me with a song in his voice. His light tone belied the seriousness of his words. There had been too much angst for Giles, and I would give anything to take it all away. The fact that I was the cause of most, if not all, of it didn't help.

"I'm sorry," I told him quietly. It struck me suddenly that I had rarely ever apologised to Giles for anything. I never even seemed to consider the fact that he had feelings that could be hurt as much as my own. He always seemed so indestructible, and I realised that it was only because he chose to shield me from the darker parts of his nature. Bad man. All I ever wanted was to see Giles, to know him. Not my watcher or my librarian or my friend: just Giles. The truth be told ever since I saw that picture of him in his youth, jeans and earring, guitar in hand, I wanted to know who he really was.

And that night I began to realise. I'd seen so many different aspects of the man I couldn't tell which were real and which weren't. Ripper or Rupert; librarian or hell-raiser. I've seen him angry enough to kill without a second thought, and I've seen him with such tenderness and devotion in his eyes that it has the power the bring tears to my eyes at the very memory. He is such a picture of contrasts: terribly bumbling and stuffy in his so-very-English way, and yet exceptionally sensual and sexy when he chooses to be. I reckon he just does it to confuse me. That would be so like him.

Even now I don't think I know him. That's a good, by the way, just like I said. He'll always keep me guessing.

But with all that I don't know about my beloved Giles--I still can't used to calling him Rupert--there are some things I have never doubted. If I fall, he will catch me. If I am lost, he will find me again. If I am hurt, he will take the pain away. If I'm teetering on the edge, he will pull me back.

"Buffy," he said, so quietly I could barely hear him. His voice sounded sad and suddenly terribly weary. "Why are you doing this? Is it because of Angel?"

I pulled back from him abruptly, hurt beyond belief that he of all people could doubt me so. At the time I still don't think I realised the depth of his love for me. That he would still believe I was in love with Angel was almost a given. I had been so obsessed with Angel, so blinded to everyone else. Maybe Giles didn't believe that love could just disappear overnight, that just as the switch could be flicked on it could also be flicked off. He was lucky. He was in love with the right person. But he had to hide his love from me for so long, he had seen me so insensitive and heartless towards him that perhaps he believed that night was too good to be true.

Oh, now that sounds narcissistic. Big word...I learned that one from Giles.

"Angel?" I said, puzzled and hurt. We had stopped opposite the playground where my mother and I would find the dead 'children' not a few weeks later. An omen, perhaps? Whatever. I sat down on one of the swings and looked up at him. "Why would you think this was anything to do with Angel?"

He just gave me one his patented Giles-looks, the one that says all it needs without words. A 'Buffy, don't play stupid with me' look. I relented and shrugged my shoulders. He was standing before me, hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched and bent like he was steeling himself for a blow. I think perhaps he was. "Maybe it does," I admitted, more to myself than to him. "But only slightly. Giles, you have to believe me when I say...the reason I asked you out here wasn't as second-best or as a compromise. I wanted to spend some time with you. You know, just the two of us. We've been through quite a lot the last couple of weeks."

In retrospect I shouldn't have said that. His face took on a pale pinched look, and he took a step back. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt Giles anymore.

"No, Giles, that wasn't what I meant. Giles..." I reached towards him, rising from my seat on the swing, but he just stood there like a block of stone. I took his hand in mine and it was cold. Like Angel's. I tried a different tack to try to get through to him. "You know when you took me home after the Cruciamentum?" He nodded silently. "You sat outside all night, didn't you? I saw you. You protected the night for me so that I could sleep. I woke up so many times, and you were still there. And I wondered how many other time you'd done that. For me. Just so that I'd sleep."

I wasn't going to add that I saw him crying that night. I didn't want to embarrass him, and in all honesty I wanted to keep that all to myself. It had almost broken my heart. That more than anything else had compelled me to forgive him, the sight of his wretched, grief-stricken sobs. I had wanted nothing more than to go down to him sitting alone in his battered old Citroen and hold him as he cried, tell him that I forgave him, that nothing he could ever do would make me hate him. He cried. For me. For what he had done to me. He hated himself and his actions, and yet he found the strength to face me the next morning, knowing that I might very well despise him. When Angel couldn't face what he had done he tried to kill himself. And he didn't even need strength for that, despite his protestations to the contrary. All he needed was the sun to rise. Who is the stronger? Not a toughie.

Giles' face took on a slightly sheepish expression. He hadn't realised I'd seen him. I wish I gone down to him that night, brought him into the house. I wish I'd let him know then that I forgave him, instead of leaving it so late.

"Angel never did that, Giles. Angel is good at the ups and downs, you know? He'll love me fit to bust and he'll save my life over and over, but he won't be there for me when I don't desperately need it. When I'm just quiet and thoughtful, he isn't there. When I want a bit of company, he isn't there. When I want someone to laugh with, he won't be there. He makes big dramatic gestures; Elizabeth Barrett Browning and...severed arms, but he'll never offer ice cream. But you? You will, in a heartbeat, won't you?"

"Rocky road all the way." His voice was still so quiet, but I could hear a slight amused tone there.

"See? Angel feels he has to make huge demonstrations to prove his love for me. But that isn't love. That's obsession. He doesn't want what's best for me. He just wants me. I always thought love was...quiet devotion, small gestures too small to even be noticed. I read a poem once--I don't remember who the poet was...hey, I saw that! Yes, I do read poetry occasionally--and she said, 'I would like to be the air you breathe. I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary.' And it's true...that's love." I took a deep breath, and said what I'd wanted to tell him all day. "This is love."

**********************************************************

I swear my heart stopped beating at that moment....I swear it. I felt a sudden chill all over my body, and then it was gone. My heart was pounding hard enough to bruise my chest. I'd heard her saw those words to me a thousand times, in my mind, in my dreams, I couldn't believe it was real. For Buffy Summers, beautiful exquisite Buffy Summers, to be standing before me saying that she loved me it had to be a dream. It couldn't be reality. I wasn't that lucky. Or so I thought.

So I did the worst thing that, in retrospect, I could have done. I laughed.

The look of disappointment and hurt on Buffy's face was real enough. The tears in her eyes as she turned away from me were real. The gut-wrenching agony I felt inside my stomach as I realised what she was saying was real. She was real, and I had just laughed in the face of her declaration of love. And my very real love was walking away from me, quite possibly forever.

I wanted to reach out to her, to pull her into the circle of my arms, to tell her just how very much her feelings were reciprocated...but I couldn't. The words were stuck behind the lump in my throat. My arms and legs were frozen in position. Before that moment I had never truly know what shock felt like; I was utterly paralysed. It is one thing to dream about something occurring, but when it actually does it's a terrifying thing. Being faced with your heart's desire is...in actuality quite frightening. Because one can never believe that it is real. Because one has wished so hard for it to be real, that the truth and the simplicity of its existence is hard to believe.

I had faced the Master and not been afraid. I had fought the Hellmouth twice and stood my ground. I had seen demons and vampires, monsters and poltergeists, evil sorcerers and giant snakes, and not batted an eyelid. But nothing had ever terrified me more than the sight of Buffy walking away from me. For one horrifyingly long moment all I could do was study her retreating back, and, insanely, wonder at how very elegant and graceful was the arch of her neck.

"Buffy!" The word burst out from my throat with so much force that it hurt. She stopped dead in her tracks, but she would not turn around. Her shoulders were shaking, and I knew she was crying. The realisation that I had done this to her, that I was the reason that lovely face was stained with tears was heart-rending. I remember wishing at that moment that Buffy could be telepathic again, that she could simply know what I was so desperately trying to say. I love you, I love you, I love you, only you, only you, Buffy, forever, only you.

Did I say the words out loud without meaning to? Did she hear me anyway, regardless of whether they were spoken? I suppose I will never know. She turned around at that moment, and looked at me. And I was lost. And found again.

It was one of those moments where time seems to distend and elongate. I will never understand how Buffy managed to cross the space between us in the time it took for me to blink. I don't remember even seeing her move. I don't remember what I said or if I even said anything to her. I don't remember feeling her slip into my arms, but there she was. I don't remember watching her face change from sorrow to joy, but all of a sudden the tears were gone.

But I do remember the feel of her lips on mine, and I believe I always will. They were soft, warm, and so very gentle. Buffy has such an immense capacity for gentleness, something that constantly astonishes me given her great strength. She tasted of honey and vanilla and some indefinable essence that I believe is purely Buffy. So very beautiful that it almost made me cry. I know it made Buffy cry, because I could feel the damp warmth on my own cheeks. Maybe there were some of my own tears mixed in there after all.

"Giles," she whispered so lightly I could barely hear her. I could feel the vibration of her words in my mouth. Buffy was standing so close to me, her body pressed full-length against my own. She was trembling. I smiled at her and rested my forehead on hers. "Are we really doing this?" she asked me in a quivering voice, and I chuckled.

"I do believe we are."

"Is this a good?"

"I'd like to think it is." I pulled back for a moment and looked at her. Her eyes were shining, and all I could think was, I put that smile there. I made her eyes shine. I did this. It was the most incredible feeling in the world, to know that I suddenly had this great power. I felt ten feet tall.

For so long I had created in my mind a thousand reasons why Buffy and I could never be together, why it was wrong, why she would never feel for more half of what I felt for her. I had desperately attempted to console my heart with pitiful excuses, and at that moment they all flew out of my mind. The one I had kept coming back was the great disparity in our ages--Buffy was just eighteen and I was well into my forties. But seeing her nestled in my embrace displaced all of that. Buffy was not under the influence of any drugs or spells. She was not being compelled or taken advantage of. She had taken this step herself with all the confidence in her heart, and if our ages did not disturb her then I decided it would not bother me.

Love does not respect age, sex, race or anything else, for that matter. Love is and nothing more. It doesn't ask why or how or when. It comes at the most inappropriate of times, and one can never truly prepare for it. Love is something that will always blindside you. I didn't ask to fall in love with Buffy, but I did, and I wouldn't change that for all the world. I am sure she feels the same. One cannot argue with love. It would be a futile exercise. As Pascal once said, 'Love has its reasons, which reason does not know at all.' Again, very true words. What I felt--what I feel--is not wrong.

"My love," I whispered, and she nuzzled my neck in response. I'm ashamed to admit the sensation went straight to my groin. It had been a long time, after all, and I'm only human. Besides, Buffy would arouse even the most restrained of men. There were times when she was prancing about in the library in the skimpiest of training outfits that I would have longed for a cold shower to suddenly materialise and drench me. No such luck, I'm afraid.

My arousal was no doubt extremely obvious, for Buffy swivelled her hips against my own, and lifted her head to look at me. Her eyes had grown very large and very dark. I could have lost myself in them but for the sudden pressure against my groin. I gasped, and she smiled. "Somebody's feeling happy," she murmured, sliding her hand up and down my back. I fervently hoped no one was watching out of their windows, or they would certainly be in for a show.

"Buffy!" I said a little more sharply that I had intended. I stepped back from her, freeing myself from her maddening caresses. She blinked in surprise at me but said nothing. I caught her hands in my own and kissed her fingertips. "Buffy, I love you," I said to her, surprised at just how easily the words fell from my lips, as easily as breathing. "I'm not going to make love to you for the first time on a street corner, and that's what's going to happen if you keep that up."

"You promise?"

I groaned. She was going to be the death of me. I could envision it quite clearly. Though I suppose dying of exhaustion with Buffy isn't such a bad fate. It has definite advantages over other more likely scenarios.

She was looking up at me with the most extraordinary expression in her eyes. There was so much love and tenderness there that it quite took my breath away. Had it always been there? I wondered. Had she always looked at me that way? "Say that again," she said, smoothing her palm across my cheek and round the nape of my neck. My flesh goose-pimpled wherever she touched me, and I shuddered. Having Buffy's hands on me, touching me, loving was, was the most remarkable feeling I had ever experienced. To be touched by the one I had convinced myself would never love me....it was nothing short of bliss.

"Which part?" I asked her, teasing. "The part about the street corner or-"

"The part where you love me," she said, her countenance suddenly terribly serious. "Say it again. Please."

I cupped her face in my hands, resting my forehead against hers, looking into her eyes. I read there only love, only trust and an deep unfathomable faith that left me momentarily speechless. A sudden memory sprang into my mind: one evening when Buffy had drunk too much of the spiked punch at one of the Bronze's functions. Her mother had been out of town on an art-purchasing trip, and Willow called to ask me to look after Buffy. She unfortunately had her hands full with Xander. In the car on the way to my home Buffy had rested her head on the back of the car seat, tilted to face me, and whispered earnestly, "Make the world stop spinning, Giles. Please make it stop for me." I had laughed off the remark, teased her about checking the punch before she drank, but now the remark held a deeper meaning for me. In her intoxication Buffy had genuinely believed I could stop the world for her. Her faith in my abilities was that strong. She believed I could stop the world, should I choose.

"I love you," I said, imbuing my voice with every shred of love and tenderness I had ever felt. "I love you more than life itself. I loved you since the first day I met you. Everything I do, everything I am, is because I love you. I love you, Buffy," I finished, dipping my head to kiss her gently on her parted lips.

The whole evening held an aura of unreality, as though we two were trapped inside a bubble that threatened to burst any second. Despite the concrete proof of Buffy in my arms, her lips on my own, I found it hard to believe I was not dreaming. Even the pain I felt when Buffy hugged me hard enough to crack ribs convinced me it was real. But if it was a dream, I thought, then let me never wake up. Allow me to continue for all time in this limbo. If I can only stay here, safe in Buffy's arms, I will be happy. This is all I ever wanted from life. Allow me to cling to it, if only for a few moments more.

Of course, I never did wake up. So either this is real, or I'm still dreaming. Either way, I do believe I am the happiest man that ever walked this earth.

**********************************************************

Giles is warm. That was the thought that passed through my mind as I lay in his arms that night. He is warm and he is alive. I could feel his heart beating beneath my palm, the rhythm steady and strong. My heart throbbed in time with it, our hearts connected through the touch of skin on skin. One heart, one soul. My Giles. And he is mine. Somehow I think he always was. Maybe he was just waiting for me to stake my claim. I feel I have never belonged to anyone so totally before. Everything that I am is Giles'.

I remember a passage from 'Wuthering Heights' we had to read in English class once. I liked that book. I'm not really one for reading, but something about the nature of the love that Catherine and Heathcliff shared struck me. At the time I thought it was because it reminded me of Angel, but now I see that wasn't it at all. And the passage in the book even said that. Catherine was in love with two men, Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. What did it say? Something about Catherine and Heathcliff being one person, a part of each other. I remember now. Catherine said that 'If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he was annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.: I should not seem a part of it. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, anymore than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.' See? And Giles says I never pay attention in class. Foul slander.

That's how I feel about Giles. He is more necessary to me than the air I breathe. I can hold my breath for minutes, but I cannot be without Giles. Lying in his arms that night, just watching him sleep, brought it all home with such force. I could never leave this man. If it had been Giles instead of Angel, with Acathla, the world would just have had to be sucked in Hell, because I could not kill Giles. I couldn't have done it. I would have clung to him and watched the world go to Hell. I would have died happy because I would have been with him.

Giles is beautiful when he sleeps. I mean, he's always beautiful to me, but when he's asleep he's even more so. All the frowns and wrinkles in his face smooth out and he looks years younger. And peaceful. He looks peaceful, like he's thinking some really happy thoughts. He makes the most delightful sounds in his sleep too, little snuffling noises one might expect from a five-year-old but not a grown man of forty. I love it though. It makes me feel all tingly and protective. It makes me want to lie down and hold him. I usually do. He reminds me of a child when he's asleep. That first night I woke up, out of habit (I'm not the best sleeper in the world) and just watched him for hours. Every little thing he does charmed me beyond belief.

His mouth twitches in response to whatever he's dreaming. He can sense me, even in his sleep. When I touch him he smiles. When I move my hand the smile fades, but returns just as soon as my touch does. He strokes me all the time, long sweeping strokes up and down my arm. He talks in his sleep too, but not bad talking. Good talking. 'Buffy, I love you' talking. And even in the insensibility (not a bad word, huh?) of his sleep he puts me first. He never ever steals the covers, and he always holds onto me. If I shift position he moves to accommodate me. We usually sleep spooned up together, his thighs tucked under my own, his arms crossed over my front. He nuzzles his face into my neck. Sometimes I'm surprised he can breathe there, but he refuses to budge. It's nice though. The last thing I feel before I fall asleep is his warm breath on my neck. I tell him he treats me like his favourite teddy bear. He just laughs and hugs me.

Making love with Giles is so tremendously different than with Angel. That one time with Angel was probably not enough on which to base a particularly valid opinion, but it was rushed, hurried, intense. It was over before I knew what was happening. It was nice, but...just not enough. I wanted more. And with Giles I get it. Hoo boy, do I get it! That night was the best of my life, without a doubt. We spent hours lying on the bed, just staring into each other's eyes, touching each other lightly, gently, memorising every part. It was beautiful. He is such a selfless lover and very inventive. I couldn't believe it--Giles does stuff I could never even imagine! He is the kind of man every woman dreams of but never really believes exists.

I cried when he entered me. I couldn't think of any words to express just how much I loved him, so I cried. He did too. I'll never forget that: the sight of that lone tear streaming down his cheeks as he moved over me, testament to the depth of his love for me and how long he had waited for me to see what was right in front of me all along. I can't imagine how it must have hurt him to see me with Angel. How would I feel if I saw the man I loved in love with the one I hated most in all the world? It would tear me apart. I wouldn't want to be around them, to see them so happy and involved in one another. I wouldn't want anything to do with them. I would stay as far away as possible, to spare myself the pain. But Giles didn't do that. He stayed, despite all he must have suffered, for me. He helped Angel for me. And when I told him Angel was leaving me, he was genuinely sorry. For me. Despite the relief he must have felt the news, he found it in his heart to feel empathy, for me. I was hurting, so he hurt. There truly cannot be another man like him in all the world. He's the best.

Telling Willow and Xander and the others wasn't a problem. They were all so happy for us. I think that was the closest I ever saw Oz come to making an expression. Will was so funny; she squealed the place down and hugged me about a thousand times. I don't know what I'd do without her. I had thought they'd be a bit wiggy with the whole thing--I mean, Giles has always been so...so Giles-y--but there was nothing like that. They were genuinely happy for us. I wish the same could have been said for Mom.

She was not amused. She said the most horrible, hurtful things about Giles--that he was a pervert, preying on impressionable young girls, and that she'd trusted him and he'd taken advantage of me. When I told her I was the one who'd made the first move she refused to believe me. I thought she would have been happy for me. I thought all any mother would want for their child was to see them happy. And I've never been happier. Let's put this in perceptive, okay? My mother preferred Angel to Giles. Giles is in his forties, a English Watcher, and the most tender-hearted, loving, wonderful man I've ever known. He will devote his life to making me happy. Angel is a 243-year-old Irish vampire, who wasn't averse to drinking my blood to save his own life. He is a demon with a thin layer of soul over the top. Compared to Angel, Giles is every mother's dream! I don't understand any of it, but I suppose it doesn't matter. I'm not going to leave Giles, not for anything or anyone. My mother will just have to get used to that.

She's starting to come around now anyway. How could any woman not love Giles? He's adorable. I guess Mom just doesn't like the fact that her future son-in-law is older than her--probably makes her feel old. Or maybe it's because she slept with him herself; I can understand how that would give her the wiggins. But it was the candy, and I know neither of them would have done it had they been in their right minds. Giles feels terrible about the whole incident, and that's enough for me. He loves me. She could even be jealous! That would be just so Jerry Springer! She did think he was like a stevedore during sex, and now I know what a stevedore is I'd have to agree with her.

Giles loves me. Every time I say that to myself I get a little shiver down my back. It makes me tremble. Giles loves me. He's mine, and I'm his. He wants to spend the rest of his life with me. It's just the most incredible thing that ever happened to me. I've never been happier. I think that up till now I didn't even know what happiness was, not really. Giles has shown me that and so much more, and I'll be grateful until the day I die.

If Angel showed up tomorrow, I'd be happy. I'd give him a hug and ask him how he was doing. I'd spent time with him and I'd ask Giles to tolerate his presence, if only for my sake. Because no matter what Angel's done in the past, he was my first love. You never forget your first love. Part of me will always love Angel--and I think Giles knows that. But he's not who I love now. He's not who I'll love twenty or thirty years on, if I even live that long. That's Giles. If Angel showed up tomorrow, I'd show him the same regard I would show to any old friend. I would smile and laugh and joke, and when he left I would close the door and turn to Giles. I'm not the Buffy Summers who was in love with Angel anymore. I'm a totally different person. I'm the Buffy Summers who is in love with Rupert Giles, and I have to say I like her a whole lot better.

Isn't life great?

**********************************************************

 

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose,
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

- e. e. cummings