Passage
By WorstWitch

TITLE: Passage
AUTHOR: WorstWitch
EMAIL: wwitch66@hotmail.com
URL: http://members.aol.com/wwitchweb/index.html
CONTENT: Explicit sexual content. Buffy/Giles. Underage. First time.
SPOILERS: Season 1, "Prophecy Girl", BtVS movie.
SUMMARY: Buffy is drawn into a trap, and Giles is the only one who can set her free.


She opened her eyes and almost screamed, but stopped herself just in time. The alarm clock buzzed annoyingly to her left, and Buffy swatted it with a quivering hand, rendering her bedroom silent once more. The last echoes of the dream tickled her thoughts with a guilty, enjoyable shiver. Her shallow, nervous breathing returned slowly to normal and the perspiration cooled her skin. The nightmare had left her with nothing solid, nothing which she could call evidence of her growing gut feeling. She only knew that there was going to be trouble, closer to home than ever before, and that she couldn't stop it.

*****

"I have the feeling that your heart isn't in this," Giles said, as Buffy once again failed to even shake him with her assault. Her gloved fist impacted again with his protective vest, and Buffy released a cry of frustration before falling back. Slowly, looking at his feet, she pulled off her combat gloves and dropped them onto the garden table. "Don't you feel well?"

"Couldn't sleep," Buffy explained, wearing a terrible frown as she poured herself a glass of lemonade. She gulped it, and then, sighing and shaking her fair head, poured one for her overheated Watcher too. "This is a waste of time. I'm sorry."

Curious, concerned, Giles took the chilled glass from her and watched Buffy seat herself on the edge of an overgrown raised flower bed. It was about time he got around to putting some flowers in there, Giles supposed. But somehow, he couldn't think of Sunnydale as home, no matter how many days stretched into months here. The house, the garden, they didn't seem like home either. Probably because he knew exactly what lurked under the streets of the town; evil, malignant, deadly creatures. Albeit slightly depleted in their numbers since Buffy arrived.

"Don't apologise," he said, joining her on the low wall, stooping over his glass. "Something's bothering you."

Buffy let her head fall back, sighing to the sky, rubbing the back of her neck with one hand.

"I've been having the dreams," she said, sounding as if she was confessing a guilty secret. "The nightmares."

"For how long?" Giles wondered, instantly worried. "Are there other signs?"

Buffy looked at him sideways, blushing a little.

"Yeah."

"You should have told me sooner," Giles said, feeling cross with her as he stripped off the fight padding and tossed it over to lie with her discarded gloves. "Buffy these signs are meant to give us time to prepare for trouble. We can't afford to become complacent simply because you defeated the Master."

"I know. I'm sorry." Two apologies in one conversation; Giles was taken aback for a moment. Something had definitely knocked the stuffing out of the girl since he last spoke with her, since they last trained. Normally he was digging out the painkillers after a session with Buffy, not sipping lemonade with her in the sunshine.

"Is there something else?" he wondered, as casually as he could. Buffy was at a sensitive age. It seemed that she had been even more sensitive since her recent victory over the forces of darkness. As if she'd shaken herself, was second guessing herself. Was it possible that she was even ... afraid of herself?

Giles longed to help her. It was his duty to help her. She might, however, resent what she saw as intrusive questioning. "Something you want to talk about?"

She shook her head, releasing her long hair from the band which had kept it back while she trained. At once she looked younger, and Giles was reminded forcibly of his own responsibility to the girl - not only as the Slayer, but as a child struggling to become a woman. It wasn't an easy time for any girl, let alone this one; this remarkable girl who, at only sixteen, had already done away with two of the most powerful vampires on the planet.

"I'd better go," Buffy said, not even finishing her lemonade before she got to her feet.

"They say that misery needs company," Giles offered, touching the girl's shoulder. As she turned back to him, he felt acutely aware that she was questioning him with that look, all expectant. "I ... don't often have visitors," he offered, gesturing to the house.

Buffy tilted her head to one side, curiosity replacing her frown of introspection.

"You want me to stay? I haven't depressed you enough already for one day?"

Giles couldn't help smiling at her dry wit. "If you'd like to. We've barely had a moment spare to get to know each other ..."

"And seeing as we're stuck with each other until one of us falls off the cosmic perch ..."

"Yes," Giles agreed, as appalled as ever by her abuse of the English language. "Perhaps if we knew each other better, you would feel able to come to me the next time you have a ... um ... premonition."

The California sunshine was beginning to get unbearable. Giles tugged at his collar, envying the Slayer her ability to wear next to nothing without being arrested. Even for training today, she had chosen shorts that encompassed the true meaning of the word short, and a tight cropped vest which left little to the imagination. He tried to recall if girls back home in England had dressed that way, but could only picture grey rush-hour commuter suits and umbrellas. It would be true to say that his experience with the 'teen scene' had been sorely limited before his arrival in Sunnydale.

"It wasn't like I couldn't talk to you," Buffy offered, carrying the lemonade while he brought the training gear inside. The Watcher's house was musty, disused, smelling of old books and old leather. All the things that Giles must have brought with him from England, most of them still in packing crates. "I just feel a little anal about having the school librarian monitoring my cycle. Wouldn't you?"

"I can't answer that," Giles said indulgently. "As your Watcher, I may very well know more about female biology than you do. It's the best litmus test you have for danger, along with the nightmares."

"I know already," Buffy groaned, half enjoying his clucking. He might have been annoyed with her for not training properly, and instead he was clucking. It was an improvement. He'd been pushing her hard lately. "Watcher lectures Slayer. This is not headline news."

"I'm sorry," Giles said, sincerely. "What I meant was, a whole lot of fascinating things can happen to your body to warn you of impending confrontations: signs that are individual to you. It's my job to recognise them, and I can't do that unless you're ... well ... frank with me."

"You mean I have to tell you every time I get a new zit?" Buffy asked. She didn't mean to sound sarcastic, but it did seem kind of pathetic. "Does indigestion count?"

"No. I was thinking more of headaches. Dizziness. Rashes in the pattern of ..."

"Okay ..." Buffy said, holding up her hands. "This I do not want to hear, thank you."

"Very well." Giles, to her surprise, was making a pot of tea. It was ninety in the shade outside - people were keeling over out there - and the English guy was making a hot drink. She wondered if he was homesick for England and cold, wet weather. "We need to work on your intuition. Can we discuss that?"

Buffy folded her arms across her chest, wincing slightly. Giles had a gift for touching on sore subjects.

"This is gonna be about Angel, isn't it?"

"No. Should it be?" Giles asked innocently. She hated it when he did that; pulled the superiority-comes-with-age thing on her. Especially when he did it during conversations about Angel. "Tea?"

"Thanks."

"There's no denying your progress in the art of combat, or that you've learned a great deal about the particular problems of living on the Hellmouth ..." they exchanged a wry look, and Buffy relaxed a little. He did understand; their secrets a little easier to live with because they were able to share.

"But what about the less tangible of your powers?"

"I don't want that mystic crap in my head. It creeps me out. End of story." Buffy caught herself folding her arms beneath her bosom, defensive. Deliberately, she unfolded them again, and took a deep breath. Giles was never swayed by petulance, and body language was meant to say more than words. Buffy attempted to look nonchalant, but Giles was busy stirring tea and didn't notice.

"Listening to your sixth sense, to your dreams, could save you an awful lot of trouble.

"And it could get me into a whole lot more," Buffy countered immediately. "Giles, you don't know what it's like for me." She bowed her head, wavy hair falling across her cheek to hide her eyes. "You don't know what I dream about sometimes." God, if he knew ... would he be mad if she told him the content of her nightmares of late? Would he laugh in her face? Or would he nod and flash her that sweet understanding smile of his, and guide her the way he always had?

"No," Giles sighed. "I don't. This conversation appears to have come full circle. Lemon?"

"What?"

"In your tea - would you like lemon or milk?"

"Oh." Buffy snapped out of it, and blinked rapidly at him. "Lemon. Thanks. I'm not making a whole lot of sense, am I?" she asked, apologetic. Giles' lack of an answer was enough of one. His green eyes twinkled at her from behind his conservative spectacles; amused, indulgent, sympathetic all at the same time. "If it's any comfort, I don't understand me either." That line had worked on her mother, but it didn't seem to make Giles back off one bit. He continued to look at her, as if he could will her to open up to him.

Hesitant, knowing that she had to get an answer even if asking the question made her squirm, Buffy cleared her throat. "How do I know ... if ... when I have one of my dreams ... it's just a dream, or something more?"

Giles paused, following, frowning, translating.

"Your sixth sense," he said, with a slight shrug. "Intuition. All the more reason to work on it, don't you think?" he asked, pressing his advantage, taking a sip of the tea that he took with milk and sugar.

Buffy rolled her eyes. Damn! Why did Giles always have to be so right about everything?

*****

He made her some lunch and then coaxed her into his car. A drive to the coast, he said, would help to clear her mind, and a little open-air training wouldn't do any harm either. It was just getting too warm to move in suburban Sunnydale. Buffy suggested that he try getting some summer clothes, and offered to accompany him to the mall instead and pick a new wardrobe for him. Giles just looked at her, and pulled two big swords out of an old wooden chest.

Buffy hung her elbow out of the car window, wishing that Giles would sell one of his treasured books and by a convertible, or something that at least didn't moan when he made it change gear. Something that she could persuade him to let her drive while she was getting her licence. He was a good teacher. And he wouldn't mind much as much as her mother would if she scraped the paintwork.

"Hey! The beach is that way," Buffy protested, hiking her thumb back at the last road sign as Giles took the wrong fork. He was wearing his glasses so he could undoubtedly see, and there was no other excuse for not being able to find the beach in California.

"The cliffs are this way," Giles answered her. "I said the coast, not the beach. Or do you want to train with a sword on a crowded beach full of surfers, sunbathers and lifeguards?"

Sarcastic or not, he had a point. Buffy blew up her fringe, uncomfortably hot in his stuffy little car. It was good to get out of Sunnydale, at least. The atmosphere had been getting claustrophobic lately, and she had felt restless. Buffy turned her head to gaze at Giles, wondering if he had read her mind, anticipated her need for escape, for space, as easily as he had interpreted her frustration while they trained this morning. Buffy hoped so. It was kind of reassuring, knowing that he was there to watch her back.

*****

With a deal of shouted praise and encouragement, Buffy began to make progress with the sword, adding some skill to her natural strength and beginning to win the mock fight.

Giles wondered at himself, bringing the girl out here to this secluded spot; the place he came to in order to escape, just for a while, his duties as her Watcher. Having shared his secret place with her, Giles supposed that he would now have to find another if he was to have any more moments of peace with his books. America was rumoured to be full of wide open spaces. Giles was sure that he could find another one. They did need the space for weapons training, after all, and his neighbours were certain to comment if he and Buffy regularly sparred with deadly weapons in his garden.

"Giles ... do you like ... own a T-shirt?" Buffy panted, sticking the end of the priceless sword into the crumbling, parched turf at her feet. Giles winced, noting again that it was time he had the girl caring for these weapons rather than doing the chores himself. She would soon learn respect for her tools after a night spent polishing, oiling and sharpening the contents of his weapons locker. "It ... makes me hot just ... looking at you!"

Giles frowned, supposing that it would be prudent to invest in some summer clothing; to swallow his pride, perhaps, and take Buffy up on her offer of showing him the best clothiers in Los Angeles. Needless to say, the girl had an ulterior motive for offering her services as a tour guide. Giles smiled to himself, wondering how anybody could get so much pleasure from giving their money away as Buffy seemed to.

He had thrown down his jacket after the first fifteen minutes, in spite of the shade afforded by the high cliffs behind them. His shirt was soaked with sweat, and the symptoms of dehydration were beginning to make themselves known.

"Let's take a break," Giles panted, and carefully laid his own sword down on the ground at his feet. "Where did you put the picnic basket?"

Buffy made a pretence of scratching her head.

"Now let me see ... where in that massive automobile of yours could I possibly have lost a hamper?"

Rolling his eyes, surreptitiously loosening his collar by another button, Giles made his way back to the car and dug the basket out from under the seat.

Buffy took a long drink from the cola bottle, while Giles poured tea from his flask and sipped appreciatively. He watched her, head thrown back and eyes closed while she downed a quarter of the bottle without rising for air, and then came up smiling, blushing prettily. The sun had caught the end of her nose, and Giles wondered if he too had turned a burning shade of lobster.

"It's nice here," she said, wandering idly while he sat with his back against the rocks, trying to cool down. "Peaceful."

"Yes," Giles agreed, wondering if Buffy was trying to tell him something. Her life just lately had been anything but peaceful. Slaying vampires seldom had a therapeutic effect, even on the most dedicated of Slayers, and Buffy seemed to have experienced more than her fair share.

"How'd you find this place?" Buffy asked. The road had turned into a dirt track a mile or so back, and it was a steep climb up to the flat headland where Giles had parked the car. There was a soothing breeze from the sea, and shelter from the sun because of the higher cliff behind them. It was lovely.

"I was looking for somewhere that reminded me of home," Giles said, looking a little self conscious. Lowering his odd green eyes to avoid her. "This was the best I could do."

Buffy smiled. She'd been right; he did miss England. For some reason she found that endearing.

"I could stay here all summer," she declared, stretching out her arms and enjoying the sensation of sunlight and a cool breeze on her bare skin. Giles smiled indulgently, and then closed his eyes with a peaceful sigh.

Cooler now, and calm, Buffy perched behind her Watcher on one of the large clay rocks, and gazed out to sea. Presently, she realised that Giles had nodded off, his chin dropping to his chest, the plastic teacup tipping dangerously in his hand. So much for their training session. First she had been too distracted, and now her Watcher had flaked out from heat exhaustion.

Buffy eyed the rocks a little way above her, and wondered if the gaps led to caves - to cool underground air, moist and echoing and sweet. Empty and quiet.

"Sweet dreams Giles," she giggled, easing the tilting cup from his hand and putting it at a safe distance. Then, flicking off her shoes, Buffy looked for a first foothold in the rocks.

*****

Startled awake by the shriek of seabirds, Giles fought for a moment to remember why he was sleeping against a rock in the middle of nowhere. A cool evening breeze was playing around him, relief from the dreadful heat of the day. A beautiful sunset was beginning in the sky, and Giles sighed, watching the colours change from pink, to red, to glowing orange and fire colours that defied description. It was lovely.

Buffy. Where was Buffy? Giles had assumed that she had wandered off and would be back any minute, but there was no sign of his charge as the sun sank behind the horizon, and the minutes began to stretch on towards an hour.

He stretched, amazed at how stiff he was after dozing in that awkward position. Or perhaps it had more to do with the way Buffy tended to pound him into the ground during training. In either case, it was an effort to rise, and took him a moment of careful stretching to ease out the kinks. Buffy's canvas shoes were sitting at the bottom off the cliff-face. Giles frowned, his eyes drawn upwards. Had she climbed?

"Buffy!" he called, trying not to be unduly worried about her. She might have strolled too far in the evening cool and lost track of the time, or she could have climbed the cliff for the view or to the caves above - she was more than capable of managing such a free-climb. There was no need to worry, he told himself nervously. None at all. But where there was no answer to his repeated calls, Giles did worry.

*****

It was almost dark. Buffy wasn't afraid of the dark - usually - nor of the demons that dwelled there. She could, when all was said and done, kick most of their sorry asses from sunset to kingdom-come. But as the last rays of daylight faded, she hugged her goose-fleshed arms, and chewed her lip nervously. She was beginning to feel less numb at last. The numbness had been better than the pain ... but neither was better still.

Buffy stared around her while she still could, trying to memorise the contours of her prison, and to ignore the twisted, skeletal features of her very dead companion. Her throat was tight with fear as it became impossible to see anymore. That other victim of the same trap looked as if she had died in abject terror.

*****

Dammit! Giles dragged torch and first aid kit out of his car, shrugged into his jacket and pushed the items into a canvas backpack with his flask. Thus prepared, Giles trudged back and added Buffy's shoes to his load. If he climbed this steep wall of rock only to see Buffy waving at him from the bottom, he knew of one Slayer whose life would cease to be worth living. He'd have her polishing those weapons for the rest of the summer.

Climbing. He hadn't done it for years, and never in the dark. Giles cursed himself for waiting this long; it would have been so much easier to have made this dangerous trip in what remained of the evening light. But the knowledge that Buffy might very well be in trouble up in one of those caves spurred him on and, slowly and shakily, Giles began to climb.

It was only a short distance, and an easy climb with the appropriate safety gear. But Giles was extremely conscious of the fact that he had only his physical strength and agility to get him through this safely, and nerves made his palms sweat. Well, he thought as he paused for breath after four metres of climbing, one had to look on the bright side. It would be infinitely more dangerous if he was climbing down.

*****

Water was dripping somewhere. Buffy closed her eyes and sat with her back to the jagged cave wall, listening. Her own heartbeat, urgent and ready for fight or flight, seemed to drown out some of the silence. Buffy tried once more to remind her heart that flight was not an option; they'd tried that, and wound up in a lot of pain as something invisible slammed her across the cave and into the back wall. Consciousness had been slow to return, and her body had been gripped by a terrible, unnatural pain.

Maybe when there was some light filtering in once again, she would make another attempt at passing through that invisible barrier. Or maybe Giles would find her and she could stop being so frightened and actually work out a solution ...

*****

High enough that a fall would probably break his neck, Giles reached painfully for the next handhold and wondered, not for the first time, why it was that the human body turned to jelly when confronted with mortal danger. Giles had his pride, but he didn't mind admitting, to himself at least, that he was now frightened beyond the capacity for rational decision making. Another foot, another grip, more crumbling rock slipping away beneath his toes ...

Giles pressed himself to the rockface and closed his eyes while he attempted to breathe normally and deny the tiredness in his arms. Suddenly, it occurred to him that he had no plan. If he found Buffy injured, what then? He couldn't possibly carry her to safety - in fact he would probably struggle to get back down this assault course of a rock alone. Still, there was no point in dwelling on things that he was unable to change. He kept going.

The relative safety of a cave mouth offered him the chance to haul himself up onto a flat surface, and Giles lay there for a few moments, panting for breath. Then he looked over the edge, and wished that he hadn't when he discovered that the sea-reflected moonlight illuminated his only route back and made it look vivid, harsh. Very much more of a sheer drop than it had appeared to be from the bottom.

Putting that out of his mind, Giles sought out his torch and shone the beam through the gap in the rocks, into the body of the cave. It sloped downwards, disappearing off into the depths of the rockface. It was the only cave that Buffy could have reached with any ease, but that didn't mean to say that the girl hadn't opted for the harder route to one of the others. Shrugging the canvas bag onto his back, Giles slid cautiously into the cave entrance.

"Buffy!"

His shout echoed all around, threatening to drown out any reply from the girl. Reminding him of how deep, wet and empty these caves probably were. Giles swallowed hard, listened harder. As he inched across the gravel strewn rock floor, Giles became aware of something else; a tingling feeling not unlike static electricity. An itch of primal fear inside his mind. His sixth sense might not be as accurate as Buffy's, but Giles knew magic when it sent a shiver down his spine. Supernatural energy was at work here. Of what kind, he could only guess.

It merited investigation, however. Giles lifted the beam of his torch from the cave floor, and shone it across the walls. The strange marks he saw there failed to surprise him, just as they failed to enlighten him as to their nature and purpose.

"Oh good," Giles said, nervously, to the darkness which lay ahead. "A mystery." The sound of his own voice was oddly comforting.

A narrow crack offered access to deeper caverns and passages; the space beyond it looked very dark and unwelcoming. Just the sort of place that Buffy would go looking for trouble, Giles thought as he squeezed through. The walls opened out after just a few feet, into a cross-roads of tunnels that looked, to Giles' mind, suspiciously man-made. Or something made.

"Buffy?!" He called, louder this time, not relishing the idea of relying on a trail of bread crumbs to navigate and explore the dark passages. "Buffy?!"

The echoes had fallen silent, and Giles' heart had sunk into his shoes, when he heard her answering call, from far away, from his left.

"Giles? Giles don't come any closer!"

*****

Her Watcher was good at walking into traps. Buffy felt her way carefully to the invisible boundary of her prison, both relieved and troubled at the sound of Giles' voice so near. The last thing they needed was for both of them to be trapped here, but it felt so good to not be alone any more.

"Giles - it's a trap!" she shouted, no longer scared as action gave her mind something else to focus on. Buffy felt the tingling energy begin to buzz the end of her nose, and knew that she could not afford to get any closer to that wall of nothing. "Stay back!"

"Where are you?" Giles answered, closer now; Buffy swore quietly at herself for answering him. 'Don't come any closer'. It was like 'don't look behind you', guaranteed to make the person in question do just that. Especially if that person was her curiosity-killed-the-cat' Watcher, Rupert Giles.

"Giles I'm trapped. Be careful! I don't need you getting stuck in here too!"

"Trapped? Has there been a rockfall?" Giles asked, much more quietly, for fear of making a disaster worse. "Are you hurt?"

"No - shout as loud as you want just stay away!"

"Don't be absurd," Giles commented, and Buffy saw the glint of a powerful flashlight beam breaking the darkness ahead of her. "If you're trapped then you need my help."

"Who's going to come help you when we're both trapped?" she asked through clenched teeth. Had she been able to pass through that barrier - not that the situation would even have arisen if she'd been able to do that - Buffy would have grabbed the librarian and shaken him.

Still, it was good to see him. Giles' face was just visible now thanks to the flashlight, and his sensible shoes scrunched on the gravel floor.

"There's a force field," Buffy warned before he was too near. To her relief, he stopped walking. Buffy's heartbeat sank back to normal.

"A what?" Giles asked with an incredulous chuckle.

"You know, like Star Trek or something. It's invisible but I felt it when I walked through. It let me in but it won't let me out."

"I knew I felt something odd here," Giles muttered, bringing the flashlight to play on her chest, illuminating her face without blinding her. "Are you alright?"

"If you don't count my pride," Buffy answered, trying to forget that she'd been terrified until she heard his voice. "There's a dead person in here."

"Oh," Giles said, the flashlight beam faltering to the ground. "Is there anything else?"

"There's markings on the walls. It's like pre-historic Playboy in here." Buffy shivered, wishing that he'd shine the flashlight on his face again so that she could see him.

"Excuse me?" Giles asked innocently.

Buffy rolled her eyes.

"Phallic pictures, all over the walls. Kinda like some of the stuff Mom gets at her gallery sometimes. Tribal art. Real kinky. I was almost glad when it got dark," she lied.

"Can you describe the pictures to me?"

"Sick!" Buffy complained, glad that he couldn't see the way she blushed at the idea. "Go get a magazine."

Very patiently, Giles answered her. "The markings on the wall might tell a story," he said. "Cave paintings usually do. That story might tell us who, or what, engineered this trap."

"Oh." Buffy nodded. He was right, there had to be more to the pictures than she had first assumed. "Well ... pass me the flashlight."

Very warily, Giles extended the flashlight towards her, and Buffy kept her hand just within the limit of her prison.

"There's nothing here," Giles protested, caution gone, waving his hand through the non-existent wall. "I don't feel anything."

"Nothing?" Buffy asked. Giles frowned, and Buffy realised that she was shining the light in his face. "Sorry."

"Pass it back," Giles said.

"But ..."

"Pass something to me," he elaborated, becoming impatient when she shook her head and opened her mouth to explain once again about the force field. "Try, Buffy."

Buffy gave her skeletal companion an apologetic look, before removing her crumbling skull and offering it to Giles.

"Is there nothing else?" he asked, with distaste. Buffy scowled, but he couldn't see her so it lacked effect.

"Giles it's a three metre square hole in the ground, not a department store."

To her surprise, the skull dropped neatly into the palm of Giles' outstretched hand, and was withdrawn safely. Buffy planted her hands on her hips, her mind working overtime and still failing to put the pieces together.

"How very odd," Giles said unnecessarily. "Give me your hand."

Buffy shook her head, taking a nervous step back. She was no coward, but neither did she want to be knocked unconscious again and leave Giles unattended.

"Come on Buffy," he urged, moving a little closer. "Come on." His voice, so gentle and reasonable, compelled her to obey. Reluctantly, Buffy pushed her hand towards him, ignoring the tingling, then the burning. Giles grabbed hold of her hand and she his, so that when Buffy was once more tossed back into the cave she pulled her startled Watcher along for the ride. Sprawled against the far wall, at least conscious this time and with only her hand hurting, Buffy groped for the fallen flashlight.

"Way to go Giles," she wheezed. "I have gotta stop listening to you."

"And how is it my fault you went rock climbing alone?" Giles demanded, a little groggily. Buffy pointed the flashlight in the general direction of her Watcher's voice, and found him struggling into a sitting position, not too badly off given the impromptu flight he'd just taken. "Are you alright?"

"I guess," Buffy said, flexing her fingers. "And it is your fault. Sort of." She supposed that they had plenty of time for storytelling now. "I was following my sixth sense, just like you told me."

"Your sixth sense told you to climb a rock?" Giles enquired, directing some healthy sarcasm her way while he rubbed at his bruised elbow.

"No. That was just me," Buffy admitted, humbly. "But something drew me in here. I felt it and I followed it. I hate having this stuff in my head," she told him again, and experienced a long, unpleasant shiver.

"You were drawn to this chamber?" Giles asked absently, taking the flashlight from her hand and angling it at the walls. Buffy wrinkled her nose at the pictures he illuminated, and looked at the floor.

"Yeah. Like a lamb to the slaughter."

"Then you need to learn to interpret your sensations better," he said, as if it were that easy, totally engrossed in the rock paintings. "I'm still right."

Buffy pouted deliberately, unable to argue with him.

"Yeah, and you're still stuck, just like me." It wasn't much of a come-back, but it was better than none at all.

*****

"I thought so," Giles said, rising to get a better look at a particular section of paintings. Buffy looked, reluctantly, and was relieved to find that there was nothing pornographic depicted where her Watcher was staring. The images were crude, stick figures mingled with weird signs that Buffy had taken to be writing. "Take this," he said, thrusting the flashlight back at her. "And stand back ... just in case I've misread this ..." he muttered, talking more to himself than to Buffy.

Before she could stop him, or even make a sound of protest, Giles walked straight towards the invisible wall of pain.

And through it.

Buffy stared, and then started to follow.

"No!" Giles called back, holding up his hand urgently, and Buffy looked indignantly at him, not meaning to spend a second longer in this nasty hole in the ground.

"But you ...!"

"Stay there!" Giles returned to bar her way, holding her by the arms. "You can't pass. I am not affected by this ... spell ..." he said, his face falling as what he had learned from the walls began to sink in. "But you are." He grasped her shoulders, and looked down into her eyes, troubled. Buffy swallowed hard.

"I'm stuck here?" she asked, unhappily. "A Slayer trap?"

"No ..." Giles released her, and pushed his hands into the pockets of his jacket, frowning in deep and worried thought. That was not a good expression, Buffy knew. It meant trouble, of the nasty kind. He looked at her, an ironic, sympathetic smile twitching at his mouth. "It's a virgin trap."

Buffy shut her open mouth with a snap, half a dozen implications springing to mind; thoughts of Xander and a virgin-eating monster, of Greek Sirens and her mother's talks about self-respect. But for a ridiculous, horrible moment, towering above all those other considerations was her embarrassment at learning that Rupert Giles, the tea-drinking, T-shirtless Watcher who had no life, must have had sex.

Buffy cringed.

*****

If the lurid wall markings were anything to go by, then Buffy was not in immediate danger of being devoured by the creature which owned this trap. The pictures spoke of a sea creature; genderless, powerful, with a craving for virgin flesh in more ways than one. Giles neglected to tell Buffy the more distasteful aspects of the legend he gleaned from the walls. She was quite nervous enough without hearing the gruesome details of what had befallen her predecessors.

"So I'm not gonna have to spend eternity here then," Buffy said, chirpily. "I'm gonna get devoured by the surf monster. Wonderful."

"Well ..." Giles joined her, sitting on his flattened jacket, and extinguished the torch to conserve the battery. "Theoretically you're safe enough. Our companion here looks as if she died of fright - probably hallucinations brought on by starvation and dehydration." Buffy had insisted that he removed the skeletal figure to the outer passage, but it was an eerie feeling nonetheless, knowing there was a dead person so close by, unseen. His description did nothing for her jumpy mood.

"I hope she's not haunting the joint. How come I'm safe?" Buffy's hand caught his arm, and gripped tightly as she leaned against him. The darkness didn't bother Giles, but he didn't mind allowing Buffy to reassure herself by staying close.

"These caves are old. I suspect that their usefulness to any monster of the sea has long passed. These cliffs were once the seabed," he explained, when she was silent. "Now we're a long way above sea-level; it seems unlikely that our monster comes all this way to feed. It probably died millennia ago anyway."

"Or laid a new trap lower down," Buffy pointed out solemnly.

"Yes ..." Giles agreed. "I wonder who made the wall paintings? The creature, or its victims?" He frowned with deep thought. "Perhaps people who worshipped it, and offered virgin sacrifices in homage?"

"Is it a demon?" Buffy asked. Giles heard a tremor in her voice, and turned his head her way, startled. It wasn't like Buffy to be shaken by this sort of situation.

"I don't know. Don't worry."

"I'm too scared to go to sleep," Buffy said, angry with herself, her voice harsh-edged. "I'm the Slayer! Vampires tremble at my name! How come I'm still scared of the dark?!"

Giles smiled, and placed an arm across her shoulders, understanding more than she knew.

"This is true darkness," he said softly, encouraging her to rest against him, comforting the girl with his arm. "Out there, in our modern world, we never encounter it. Light pollution, they're calling it now. Imagine how clearly we would once have been able to see the stars on a cloudless night. How quiet the world must have been." He felt her begin to relax, her hair tickling his chin when she pillowed her head on his shoulder.

"Keep talking," she pleaded, small voiced, her fingers locked around a fold of his shirt like a child with a security blanket. Giles nodded, and talked to her until she dropped off to sleep - aimless, soft words that she hardly heard. Then, cradling the girl in his arms to keep her warm, Giles asked himself what the hell he intended to do to get her out of there come the light of morning.

*****

"It's okay," Buffy said, reassuring herself as well as Giles with a determined nod. Meagre daylight had brought only two possible solutions; remain trapped forever, or cease to qualify for virginity insurance. "It's going to be okay." Buffy nodded again, decisive.

"We'll just ..." he said, weakly, replacing dusty spectacles on his nose.

"And then ..." Their eyes locked, and Buffy saw the stricken look again. Helplessness and frustration, the likes of which she had only seen when Giles feared she was in mortal danger. "We have to," she shrugged. It came down to simple necessity. Her feelings - their feelings - were not the issue. Wasn't he the one who was always banging on about duty? "Let's go."

Her brash confidence fell utterly flat. Giles continued to stare at her, bleakly. "I can't," he protested, stripped to the quick. "Buffy I can't. I can ... get somebody else," he concluded lamely.

"Count the interested parties, Giles. The only guy I wanna get frisky with isn't even human, and he probably likes to get his teeth into the job, if you know what I mean." Buffy shivered. With Angel, it was almost worth the risk to find out how far that amazing self control of his went ...

"I can't," Giles said again, turning his back to her determinedly. Why did she get the feeling he'd spent all night worrying about this? He knew what had to be done, and was too much of a gentleman to do it.

Oh great. So it was down to her to get this show on the road. So much for Giles getting her through this the way she'd hoped. Buffy squatted down, leaning back against the wall, gazing out into the dimly lit passage. Her escape route, if only he would give her the key.

"It's no big deal," she lied, cheerfully. "Had to happen some time, might as well be now. Don't freak over it."

Immobile, Giles closed his eyes. She could see the muscles in his face picked out in contrasting shades of light and dark. His answer was full of anger, not at her, but at the Fates that seemed to enjoy throwing these absurd challenges at them and watching them flounder.

"You deserve better."

"Well you're all I have to work with here," Buffy said, trying to joke him out of it. "Good job I'm not trapped with Willow, huh?"

"Gallows humour?" Giles wondered, sighing. He looked at her at last, still wearing that pained frown. Buffy slid down onto her backside, too tired to do anything else, and circled her knees with her arms.

"Just a realistic observation. Come sit with me." He started towards her, and then stopped, realising what she was doing. "Come on," Buffy pleaded, lifting her hand towards him. Slowly, gingerly, her Watcher took hold of it. He eased himself down beside her on the dirt floor, keeping a modest distance between them. Funny, Buffy noticed distantly, he'd never worried about getting in her personal space before. There was a difficult silence.

"I can ... um ..." Giles flinched, embarrassed as well as reluctant. "I can get it over with quickly I suppose."

"And they say romance is dead," Buffy deadpanned. He blushed sweetly, fidgeting and clearing his throat, and the modesty suited him.

"Well I'm sorry, but I can't imagine that you want ..."

"How do you know?" she interrupted, annoyed that he was making that kind of assumption about her. About himself. "How do you know what I want?"

'Even I don't know what I want', the child in her whimpered desperately. The adult in her told the baby to shut up. She'd been doing a lot of that lately.

"I'm sorry." Giles turned away, cringing. Buffy felt her guts wrench. He hadn't deserved that. Not now. Not when he was trying to find a way to maintain his dignity and hers. Buffy inched closer to him, and lay her cheek against his back. Her hands at his waist. She could hear his heart beating, feel his ribcage moving with every breath. Without a word, Giles turned around and clasped her gently to his chest, stroking her hair. She didn't look up; gave him the time he needed to compose himself. Dignity was important when you were about to get naked with somebody.

"It means a lot to you, doesn't it?" she asked, hearing her voice emerge small and vulnerable. Giles held her a little tighter. "You don't just ... with anybody?"

"No," he agreed hoarsely. "Not just anybody." Carefully, Giles slid his hand through her hair, to settle against the bare flesh of her neck. Buffy shivered through her entire being at the feeling of his warm, dry fingers. They were trembling. Slowly, he lowered his head, brushing aside her hair and bringing his lips to rest against the back of her neck. And kissed.

Buffy felt her lips part, the breath gone out of her. Such a tender kiss, without demand. His breath tickling her skin. She gazed unseeing into the dim passage ahead, no longer keeping track of time, only of that tender caress. She found that she wasn't surprised by Giles' care. Didn't he always care for her, doing what needed to be done and more, because he loved her in his own way?

"Nice ..." she breathed, her voice quivering a little with excitement, nerves. Giles increased the force of his kisses just a fraction, and turned her around so that he could see into her eyes. How often had some form of this guilty fantasy nudged its way into his reluctant brain? The girl's eyes drifted open and she gazed at him, waiting, trusting in him. Giles stroked her brow with a kiss, warming to this strange new duty. She felt nice; her implicit trust such a comfort. His Slayer, this precious girl who had come to mean everything to him. No, he couldn't just take her for the sake of necessity. Such barbarity wasn't in him. But he could make love to her with all the care and devotion that were his to give.

It was Buffy who, shyly, offered her lips for a full kiss. Giles complied, wondering if Buffy was finding this as utterly bewildering as he was. She appeared to have some experience with kissing, at least. Her tongue nudged his own, inviting more intimacy. She tasted sweet and pure, or was that just the work of his imagination?

"Okay .." Buffy breathed, holding onto his lapels and laughing with self deprecation. "Now I'm nervous."

Giles shook his head, not sure what he could say to reassure her.

"I'll look after you," he promised, flushing slightly. "There's nothing to be afraid of," he emphasised, softly, in case she had more practical concerns. "Just a sec." His jacket was where he had left it, marking the boundary of Buffy's cell. 'Thank God', Giles thought, when he found what he was looking for in his wallet.

"What're you ... oh." Buffy looked taken aback when he brought out the discreet foil slip, her eyes flashing up to meet his with curiosity, then relief. "Smart," she said, breathlessly, still terribly nervous, hugging herself as if she felt cold. "Glad you have something besides holy water in your pockets."

Hesitant, their brief spell broken by necessities, they came together again, holding each other loosely. Giles stroked her tangled hair, trying to give her reassurance when he was becoming afraid himself. Nothing good could come of this; nothing beyond extricating Buffy from her current predicament, anyway. It was worth it. She had made that decision. But still, what right had he ...?

Buffy spread out his jacket on the dirt floor; something to lie on, to make this experience a little less spartan. She knelt there, her head bowed with shyness while her hand reached up for him. Giles joined her, sitting close beside her and stroking her hair again, allowing his fingers to move to the bare skin of her shoulders. She was softer than his guilty imagination had led him to believe. Lowering his head to hers, he returned to the kisses she had seemed to enjoy before; her throat, her chin, her ear. Buffy held his head, her fingers playing a little with the ends of his unkempt hair. Giles could feel her relaxing, reassured by his gentleness, but it wasn't going to be easy to make this pleasurable for her, or even bearable. The idea of causing her even a moment's pain made him cringe, as did the very notion of taking pleasure at Buffy's expense.

While he rubbed at her back, kissing her jawline and trying to still his mental turmoil, Giles felt her fingers tugging a shirt button open and tensed, not sure that he was ready to allow her to do that. She moved on to the next, her nimble fingers grazing his skin slightly while she worked, making the breath catch in his throat. Halfway down Buffy stopped and slipped her hand beneath the fabric to rest over his heart, palm flattened. The other arm she draped around his neck, nestling close to him, trusting and open to him. Her bravery never ceased to astound him.

Lightly, Giles trailed his fingers down the line of buttons that fastened her tight cropped top, his eyes drawn to her uplifted bosom with longing, but found himself unable to go through with unfastening her. Panic overwhelmed him and he started to draw away; found himself struggling when Buffy, with the bone-crushing grip of a Slayer, held him in place.

"I can't do this!" he pleaded, knowing that he couldn't free himself from her superior strength. He could only appeal to her to release him, allow him to flee her presence before he betrayed her so horribly ...

"Giles," she demanded, arms closing around his neck, more gently, but ready to grab him again if he tried to abandon her. "Please. It has to be you," Buffy whispered, kissing him for the first time, her mouth whispering across his rough chin, her gaze intense. "Nobody else can do this for me. I don't trust anybody else. It has to be you ..."

How much of that plea was fast talking for his benefit, Giles couldn't be sure. The breathy passion she tried to add into her whisper was certainly an act, and her effort made him smile, laugh softly and thankfully into her fragrant hair, and embrace her tight.

Buffy made her point completely by lying back on his jacket, arms inviting Giles down beside her. Her expression held love and trust ,and only the tiniest hint of trepidation. They were evenly matched, then; each able to be confident for the sake of the other when they could not be so for themselves. It was what they had to do.

To Giles' surprise - why did anything about the Slayer surprise him any more? - Buffy moulded herself to him, seeking a close, warm embrace. Rubbing his neck with her cool palm. Tentatively kissing his jaw, and then his throat. Giles caught his lower lip between his teeth; how could she possibly have known that being kissed just there always brought tears of joy to his eyes?

His intake of breath made her pause, and raise her head, afraid that she had offended. He caressed her hair, and let out the breath he had been forced to hold. Buffy smiled sweetly at him, and continued to unbutton his shirt. Giles watched, didn't help, just allowed the girl to become absorbed in her activity.

He smiled knowingly when she faltered at his waistband, and tugged the shirt free, shrugging it back off his shoulders and letting it fall, then leaned over with a kiss to distract her before she could become awkward. Buffy's hands explored his back and arms, carefully at first and then with more enthusiasm when she was certain that he didn't mind. He didn't mind one bit.

This time he didn't look when he moved his hand to her top, to lie over her full, firm breast as they kissed. The buttons, his curious fingers discovered, were mere decoration. Useless. He paused, never having encountered that particular stumbling block before. Buffy let go of him, sat, and impatiently dragged the garment off over her head, leaving her hair floating wildly with static electricity. Giles knelt with her, placing his hands on her shoulders, watching her react when he slowly, lightly, slid his fingertips down the outside of her bare arms and back again. She licked her lips and swallowed, breathing faster than normal now, her pupils melting into large, dark pools in her bright eyes.

While he repeated the action that had so pleased her, Giles used his thumbs to slide down the straps of her practical white bra, and wasn't sure whether it was his choice or hers to move his head to her shoulder and taste that soft, bare skin. Buffy held his head there, trembling with excitement, the nails of her free hand threatening to puncture his skin where she was clasping his back so hard.

Her lips fluttered against his own shoulder, shyly, not certain that she was permitted to be his equal in this. So young, so sweet. So precious to him that the world would be barren without her. Giles squeezed the girl against him, overcome with emotion for a moment, aware that not even making love could express the depth of their unique bond. Buffy returned the hug, pressing herself close to him, slithering out of her bra so that it fell into his lap. Giles closed his eyes, wanting and yet not wanting to see her. How long could he deny his stirring body when his senses were under this kind of assault?

Buffy brought her head level with his, looping her arms around his neck, seeking approval in his eyes. He looked, gazing down at her; perfect breasts, taut skin, tanned and lovely. Erect nipples indicating her enjoyment of his touch. Giles curled his arm around her shoulders and eased her back onto the ground, smiling self-consciously when Buffy plucked the glasses from his face and set them aside. She stroked his cheek with her fingers, waiting for him to lead her the rest of the way to her freedom.

Gods, but she was beautiful, this girl. Giles watched her stretch back on the ground, unable to resist gazing at her loveliness. Buffy waited, dreamlike, her fingers whispering up and down his supporting arm, her eyes almost shut. Loosening the waist of his trousers, Giles joined her once more on the ground, cupping her head in his palm and letting his right hand explore her perfection while they kissed. Without him noticing, Buffy had unbuttoned her shorts so that when his fingers slid that low, they encountered the silk of her underwear instead of the denim that he had anticipated. Giles shuddered, experiencing forbidden thoughts, feelings. Desires. He wanted all of her, more urgently than he could remember wanting anybody in his life. As if what they were doing could somehow prove his love, his loyalty.

What was she feeling? Relaxed, her body shivering with excitement, Buffy was in agreement as he tugged at her shorts; she lifted her hips as he pulled, and another layer came away. Silk briefs, so brief that she need not have bothered, in fact. Giles smiled, fond of her determined impracticality.

He wanted to ask her what she felt, but somehow it seemed inappropriate to break the spell they had created between them. It was a duty, Giles reminded himself. He let Buffy struggle for a moment with his zipper before he helped her, and then he wriggled out of his trousers. Close skin contact brought a wealth of good feelings when they nestled close once again, Buffy allowing his knee between her own, her arms keeping him close.

She made a little noise when he took his kisses away from her mouth to her breast, to taste the tender nipple. Her hand slid into his hair, fingers locking, kneading his scalp rhythmically as if she longed for those kisses elsewhere. Giles felt as though he would drown in her, and controlled his spiralling thoughts frantically. He had to wait for her, to pleasure her as she deserved to be pleasured.

He kissed across the twitching flesh of her abdomen, stroking one finger up the inside of her leg, to her thigh, and feeling her legs part willingly in response. He smiled, pleased, and lay himself once more alongside her small body, his mouth returning at last to taste her lips and meet her eager tongue. When she was settled, enjoying the steady kissing, Giles eased his fingers carefully into her briefs and found her. Wet and sensitive. She gasped against his mouth, eyes opening wide and then drifting closed again, moving against the invading hand while her kisses indicated the depth of her approval.

Giles closed his eyes, exploring her secret without rhythm, denying her the release she was so nearly ready for. Buffy squirmed against his hand, longing, pleading, and Giles laughed silently, amazed, burying his face against her throat to catch his breath. 'Wait, little Slayer, wait.'

"Please," Buffy whispered, tearing her mouth away from his kiss. Giles hushed her, thrilled with her response, that she had become so bold. He easily divested her of her briefs, and, remembering, reached for the vital silver slip and removed the last of his own clothing.

Buffy watched, waiting, curious and unafraid at the sight of his aroused nudity, a quirky smile lighting her features. She needed no urging to part her legs, to flex her knees in readiness to accept him; Giles knelt between, caressing her outer thighs, her knees, waiting for her express invitation. Buffy lifted her arms, her expression of anticipation fixing itself in his mind as something never to be forgotten. She welcomed his weight above her with a warm hug, a sweet kiss. Then, watching her eyes, adoring her, Giles shifted her knee a little with his hand, and eased his way home. Buffy froze, every muscle clenching tight, her hand gripping his hair, her breath held ...

He'd done enough, Giles realised in a flood of mixed feelings; wanting, guilt, tenderness and fear. Buffy was no longer a virgin and his duty was done. He stroked her hair, soothing, but as he moved to withdraw, Giles found himself held fast by a Slayer's strength. Buffy's eyes challenged him as the unnatural tension drained away, her moment of primal panic soothed by his gentleness and by her own determination to defeat it. She raised her head up and kissed his forehead, still holding him fast. Forbidding him to leave her. She moved invitingly below him, her hands sliding down his back with the maddening slow pace that he had taught her.

"Don't stop," she whispered, breathless, drawing his head down beside hers, cheek to cheek, her fingers curling around the back of his neck. "It's okay. Don't stop." With a shaking sigh, Giles settled his weight over her, fully in contact with her tiny body, and pushed deeper inside. Her rocked her slowly at first, and then faster, harder, when the girl began to moan and urge him on with whispered pleas, utterly without shame. She felt hot, slick and so incredibly good; the release of his desire to worship her, to give her everything that he was, driving out every last shred of doubt.

Buffy's hips rose to meet each thrust now, doubling the eagerness, magnifying their pleasure a hundred times. Their bodies working hard, muscles tense and straining, Buffy's supernatural strength a delightful, unexpected bonus. Loving the tiny sounds that she made, her whispers and moans, Giles pressed his lips to her neck and allowed a sound of his own at last; her name, slipping from his tongue like a prayer, his voice no longer adequate for conveying his thoughts and feelings.

Her climax was abrupt, unexpected, and apparently wonderful; while her body spasmed beneath his, her legs wrapped longingly around him. Her cries filled his ears like the sweetest music, and Giles closed his eyes and surrendered control of his body at last. To Buffy, to whatever perverse fate had led them here; he threw himself on their mercy and completed it. Her arms held him tight while the world imploded; selfish, physical joy matched by a brief moment of perfect understanding between them, and of harmony within his soul. Then they were panting in each others' arms, weary and damp and rapidly cooling to the point of discomfort. Giles gathered her up, not wanting her to feel cold. Not ready to let go of her yet, to put an end to such good, simple feelings.

Reluctantly, Giles raised his head from her shoulder, knowing that he had to look into her eyes again sooner or later. Hair scattered around her face, her eyes large and glowing with kindness, her lips full and pink; Giles didn't think that he'd ever seen her look more beautiful. He swallowed, finding his throat suddenly too tight for speech, and wondering what she was seeing in his eyes.

"My hero," Buffy mumbled dreamily, and giggled, messing up his hair with her hand. Giles smiled, somehow, knowing that they had to part, to dress, to leave this place. His Slayer seemed to be in no more of a hurry than he was.

Giles stooped and kissed her, lightly, savouring that sweetness just once more. Buffy lingered too, making the kiss last - making him be the one to break away first and shatter their spell of closeness.

"Let's go home," he said, hearing the false confidence in his voice and avoiding her eyes lest she see the irrational pain he felt. He rolled away from her, feeling cold air assault his skin, and sat, drawing Buffy upright with gentle hands.

"Yeah," Buffy nodded, decisive, trying to match his tone, but her strained voice, her pained frown, told of doubts and fears only just recognised.

Nothing would ever be the same between them again.

*****

'Dear diary ...'

Buffy threw down her pen in disgust and snapped her treasured journal shut. There was enough incriminating evidence in that little book already - she couldn't think of a way of noting this. Did she even need to? What, she was going to forget or something? Forget that she lost her virginity to a man old enough to be her father, in a bottomless pit of a cave, under pain of death?

She sighed, restless from the heat, and from other things that she chose not to think about too clearly. Sunnydale hadn't seen a whiff of a breeze in three days now and everybody was grouchy. Especially her mother, who had grounded her for a month of the summer break when she got back. Tears of frustration and self-pity welled up inside her, and Buffy swallowed hard to keep them down. Would her mother have believed her even if she had been able to say where she'd spent the night? It seemed unfair to pay the price for something which, strictly, was beyond her control. A bitter laugh escaped her, followed by two large teardrops rolling down her cheeks.

"Hey, Mom, sorry I didn't come home last night. I was fucking Mister Giles. It was a real life or death situation - you understand don't you?"

She would have been grounded for a year. Wiping her wet cheeks, Buffy leaned out of the window and watched the heat-haze over the road.

Giles hadn't even called to make sure she'd survived her mother's wrath. In her heart, Buffy knew that it wasn't through a lack of concern on his part, but the neglect hurt nevertheless. Hadn't they shared something that merited a little after-care?

Buffy wondered miserably if she would ever see her Watcher again. What if he'd skipped town, too ashamed to stick around? What if he'd done something really dumb under the weight of his overblown conscience? What if he hated her now, and never wanted to see her again as long as he lived?

*****

"Nice weather," Giles muttered to himself, prodding uselessly at the parched soil with a gardening fork. "For Satan and his armies." He rubbed at his forehead with the back of his arm, feeling sweat begin to drip into his eyes again. "This isn't weather," he told nobody in particular. "This is purgatory."

Giles paused. Knowing the Hellmouth as well as he did, it wouldn't be beyond the reach of reason to assume that he had indeed slipped into some alternative dimension, Or died and found himself in this baking, airless netherworld. Giles dismissed the thought. If true, there was very little he could do about it.

His bare arms were burning under the sun, and his glasses were becoming steamed up. Pottering with plants, an activity which was supposed to be soothing and therapeutic, seemed to be having the opposite effect on him. Buffy occupied his thoughts with memories that were by turns sweet and bitter, and with shame at the way he was hiding from the girl. She had looked so lost as she got out of his car, her awkward goodbye wrenching his heart ...

Giles decided that it was time to abandon the garden, and get a nice cup of tea. And perhaps go into his study, and face the journal that he had been avoiding so studiously ever since ...

"Mad dogs and Englishmen," Buffy said from behind him, and Giles spun, reflexively raising the gardening tool in front of him ,while his brain caught up with his body and recognised her as something other than a hell-born fiend.

"Buffy!" The girl who had just startled another few hours off his life span was in the process of illegally entering his property.

"Hey, you bought a T-shirt," Buffy said, jumping down from his garden wall and landing silently. She looked a lot more serious than she sounded. There were doubts haunting her eyes that only somebody who knew her would notice. "Way to go."

"Buffy ..." he said again, feebly. "I was just going inside. You startled me. I thought you were a ..."

"Vampire?" Buffy strolled towards him, her head cocked to one side just a little. "Maybe I am. Maybe I went out hunting last night and got bitten, and you wouldn't know because you weren't there." She stopped, her eyes never leaving his, her voice hardening mid-sentence into an accusation. Giles gulped.

"Well ... it's daylight," he said, and turned away from her, to escape that questioning look of hers. "I'll take my chances and invite you inside."

"I got grounded for the rest of my life, thanks for asking," Buffy said as she closed the door.

Giles raised his eyes to the ceiling, not knowing what to say to her, any more than he had known how to record recent events in his journal. The book sat open on his nightstand, untouched since that day. His entire life seemed to have been put on pause.

"I'm sure you're exaggerating," he said placatingly, moving automatically to the kettle, soothing himself with the familiar ritual.

"Well ... a month. So this is how it's gonna be, huh?" Buffy asked, her voice changing. Sad now. Resentful. Giles looked over his shoulder at her, knowing that he owed her more than this. She looked as if she hadn't been sleeping any more than he had these past days. "You brushing me off, me trying to make like it doesn't hurt."

"No ... I ... I'm trying not to do the wrong thing," he said, the frustration telling in his voice. "Trying not to hurt you, or embarrass you ..." Buffy came nearer, leaning against the wall while he poured hot water into the teapot and fumbled with the lid. Her scrutiny made his clumsy fingers worse.

"You know, I came over 'cos I was worried about you," Buffy said, softly. "Thought you might've fallen on your own sword or something."

Giles swallowed hard.

"Should I?"

"Was it that bad?" Buffy asked, her face hidden by her hair. "You were so kind to me," she went on, her voice smaller. "Do you hate me now?" Her voice caught with the threat of tears.

Startled, Giles forgot himself and looked at her. How could she think that?

"Of course not." Carefully, he placed his hands on her shoulders, pushing the veil of hair back out of the way so that he could see her eyes. "You're angry with me."

She nodded dumbly, swallowing on what appeared to be a football sized lump in her throat, and sniffing. Giles drew her against him, trusting his instincts to guide his actions - the way he had been trying to persuade Buffy herself to do. He was relieved when the girl stayed, settled against his chest and let him comfort her. Giles realised with sudden and unpleasant clarity that if she had pulled away, been unable to trust him, there would have been no going back. The Slayer had to be able to trust her Watcher. Grateful that they had avoided disaster, Giles squeezed the girl tight, and pretended not to know that she was crying.

"I'm sure that your mother will relent," he offered, when Buffy was silent and beginning to release her clinging grasp on his T-shirt. "When she's calmer."

"She was scared," Buffy said, turning away from him when she let go, mopping her eyes on her hand. Giles found her a tissue and dangled it over her shoulder. Buffy's hand closed around the offering, and Giles returned to his tea-making with a knowing smile on his lips. "Maybe if you talked to her you could buy me a reprieve?" Buffy asked after a minute or so. Giles looked at her, mildly indignant. "You know, old folk to old folk?"

Buffy smiled, a hopeful, encouraging twitch of her lips, wicked merriment flickering back to life in her eyes. Giles smiled back, shaking his head; the girl was getting to know him too well. She could make him dance like a puppet when she chose to.

"I take it that your mother remains in the dark about all this?" he asked. Buffy nodded, her frown returning. A month must seem like a terribly long time at her age, Giles thought. A secret such as the one they now shared perhaps even a greater burden than the secret of her double life as the Slayer.

"I mean, what was I s'posed to tell her?" Buffy asked, hanging her head. Looking and sounding so very young and vulnerable. "I wanted to, but I couldn't. She was so mad."

"Do you want to tell her?" Giles wondered. The thought of asking her to keep the secret was disturbing, to say the least, but the consequences ...

"No," Buffy explained, with exquisite adolescent logic, her shoulders rising and falling in a casual shrug. "I just wish that I could."

Giles smiled at her, shaking his head in mock despair.

"I'm glad you came," he told her, pouring two mugs of tea. "I'm sorry that I hurt you. That was the last thing I wanted."

Buffy touched his arm, rubbing his bare skin with her palm - fondly, Giles hoped. The prospect of crushing her if it turned out that she was making a less innocent advance was not one he relished.

"We can't pretend it didn't happen," Buffy said, her hand seeking his, and small fingers curling around his own. "I don't want to pretend it didn't." Shy, but she meant what she said and her tone indicated that she didn't want to fight about it. Giles thought about it for a moment. He could, he supposed, live with this curious dual image of her in his mind; one a sweet memory, the other a comforting, cherished reality.

"Perhaps you're right," he admitted, cautiously. "But it doesn't do to dwell on the past." He had to let her know, for his sake as much as for hers, that it was in the past as far as he was concerned. How could Buffy ever be at ease with him unless she knew that for certain?

Buffy nodded her agreement, squeezing his fingers tighter for a moment and then letting go. She took her drink and wandered into his sitting room, looking around her with a new familiarity. Giles supposed that it wasn't a bad thing, to allow her to know him better and to take liberties that he would not allow anybody else. Their respective roles as Watcher and Slayer tended to be lonely. At least they could rely upon each other for a friend.

"Why dwell on the past when I have a whole month of solitary confinement to look forward to?" Buffy sighed, sinking onto his couch and making herself at home. Giles watched, fondly, wondering if he would ever be able to summon the courage or the heart to scold her again. Somehow, he would have to, or their training, her reluctant studies, would grind to a lethargic halt.

"An ideal opportunity to work on your intuition," he offered, lightly, not allowing her to see the smile in his eyes as he reached up to a bookshelf for some weighty reading matter that she could take away. Perhaps in a week or so he might be able to suggest to Buffy's mother that assisting the school librarian in cataloguing earthquake damage was punishment enough. In the mean time, Buffy might as well take advantage of her parent-enforced spare time. He blew dust off the leather bound book, and placed it next to her on the couch.

Buffy groaned, but to Giles' surprise and satisfaction, she didn't argue. She just took the book, settled comfortably at his side, closer than she would have wished or dared a few days ago, and actually listened with sincere interest while he talked.

Yes, things had certainly changed between them. And, as he saw her trust his words and his motives without question for the first time, and look to him for the answer to questions that she feared to ask, Giles wondered optimistically if that change might not have been for the better.

END

Last modified 23 March 2001. Copyright WorstWitch 1997-2001. This story may not be redistributed in any form without the written permission of the author.