Send in the Clowns
By Dusty

TITLE: Send in the Clowns
SPOILERS: Mild Freshman
RATING: PG I guess
FEEDBACK: My first fanfic. So flames–albeit mild–are welcome. (Fire keeps me warm, but I don’t want to burn down the damn house!)
DISTRIBUTION: U want it? Go for it. Just let me know so I can have conjugal visits.
DISCLAIMER: In my world, I own Joss–and so by default all his characters—but my Doctor says that is "Unhealthy!" So . . .Not Mine . . . (Dammit!!)
SUMMARY: Funky dreams—Cozy chat—happiness ensues.

NOTE: Ok—I really tried to keep this a lot shorter—but it was the voices! The damnable voices I tell you! My God! Can’t you hear them? Yes Doctor—I’m coming . . .

Ever since she had walked into his condo and met Olivia, Buffy felt uncomfortable here. But she needed to talk to someone about her dreams and Willow had gone with Oz to Ventura for the weekend. Giles, sensing that all was not right with his slayer had been adamant about her stopping by after patrol.

So, she tentatively knocked on his door, and was greeted with one of his warm smiles.

"Buffy. I was just fixing some tea. Please come in."

She walked in and stood by his desk, looking fixedly at the floor. Giles tried to think of a witty Xander-ism to break the tension, but found none. Opting instead to fall back on his own traditional awkwardness.

"W-Why don’t you have a seat Buffy, and I’ll be right back with some tea. Uh–and some, er–cookies?" He added with a smile.

When he returned, he sat in his chair and placed the tray on the end table. Buffy squirmed nervously about his couch, not even touching the tea. She took one small bite of a cookie, while he sat quietly—patiently—waiting for her to begin. The moments dragged on and Buffy just continued to stare at the floor and fidget. Giles finally decided he should start, or they could spend the next several hours in this uneasy silence.

"Buffy. I . . . I cannot apologize enough for the way I treated you the other day. I–It was callous and I’m truly sorry. But, please don’t ever feel unwelcome in my home. Or uncomfortable talking to me. A–About anything."

She sat staring at her cup of tea and twirled the cookie about with her fingers, not daring to look up at him. "I don’t. And I’m not." She knew it was a lie, but she didn’t want to make him feel any worse. "It’s just . . . well . . . it seems kinda stupid now. I mean . . ." She sighed and leaned back into the couch. "I’ve just been having this same weird dream, and I guess it’s got me a little wigged is all."

He nodded his head and took a sip of tea, leaning forward just a bit. "Why don’t you tell me about it then? Perhaps just talking about it will help."

"Yeah, maybe." She replied with no great enthusiasm.

"D–Do you think it was prophetic?"

The seriousness of his tone and a quick image from the dream almost made her smile at the question. "God I hope not. Because Cordy really doesn’t look good covered in tatoos."

When she looked up at him, she couldn’t help but smile now. He looked just as perplexed as she had imagined he would.

"Sorry. But, see Giles? It’s just stupid. Besides, you would probably just laugh."

"Never." He said in all seriousness. "Just tell me Buffy. Start from the beginning and I promise not to laugh."

She could see that little smile that only Giles could give and the truth of his words were so clear in his eyes. No, he wouldn’t laugh. Not at her.

"Well," she began, "it always starts off with me and my parents–my parents and I–going to the circus. The one they took me to when I was ten. We walk into the tent and then boom! All of a sudden I’m part of the circus, and my parents are gone. I’m like backstage er somethin’ with all of the other circus people getting ready. And the other performers are the Slayeretts . . . and you."

"Me?" He smiled inwardly at the mere thought of being involved in one of Buffy’s dreams, but cleared his mind and urged her to go on.

"Yeah . . . so . . . anyway, Cordelia is the tattooed lady and that is really not a good look for her, let me tell ya. Wesley is there too . . . see, he’s the midget–er, ah . . . vertically challenged individual . . ." she smiled at that one–political correctness could be fun! "And he’s wearing this bright red T-shirt that reads in big letters ‘I’m a Watcher . . . ask me how.’ And he keeps running up to everyone else in the room flashing that stupid Council hand salute thingy he loves so much, and he’s drooling all over Cordy and . . . and . . . and I’m sorta getting off the whole subject now aren’t I? Okay . . . so Willow is the gypsy fortune teller and keeps making these joke about playing with Oz’s crystal balls. Xander is a ventriloquist and I’m not even going to get in to how disturbing I find that. We all know my love for dummies . . ."

She trailed off as she glanced up and saw Giles nearly in tears as he fought the smile that threatened to creep out.

"You said you wouldn’t laugh Giles," she said with mock anger. She just couldn’t be mad. He looked so cute and silly when he tried not to smile. And even better when he failed. And she just didn’t see him smile often enough.

"N–No, no . . . I-I-I’m not. It’s just . . . um . . . w-well . . . Cordelia . . . ahem, a-and er–ah–Wesley. It just brought to mind a rather interesting mental image. I apologize. So, ah . . . Willow and Xander were there as well?"

"Yeah," she said slowly. "Okay Giles. I can tell you have a comment that is just festering away in there."

He simply looked at her with all the innocence he could muster.

"Say it Giles. Just get it out so we can go on."

"I was just wondering. A-About Oz? Was he there as well?"

"Yes." She tried very hard not to let a smile slip out. She knew where he was going with this. He wouldn’t be disappointed either, she thought.

"And?" He asked, barely able to keep a strait face. "What may I ask was he?"

"The Dog-Faced-Boy," she replied sheepishly. "You happy now?"

They enjoyed a moment of quick laughter at the werewolf’s expense and felt a definite ease in the tension of the room. It was Giles who finally spoke up.

"Well, after all of that, I’m not so sure I want to know what part I played in your dream." But he still held that little smile and she knew he didn’t really mean it.

"You were the Ring Master," she said a bit shyly, waiting for his reaction. She was hoping he would keep the mood light for just a while longer.

"Really?" His smile broadened ever so slightly. "Well, I must say . . . I rather like the sound of that. And I’m sure I looked marvelous in that hideously ridiculous outfit, hmmm?"

"Well, actually you kinda did. It suited you . . . in a really weird sort of ‘Hey I’m British and can make anything look dignified’ way. Besides, if it makes you feel any better, I think the hat was made of tweed."

"Yes, yes, very funny. You haven’t yet told me what part you yourself portrayed."

She took a deep breath. She could do this. Giles would listen . . . and help.

"I was a tight rope walker and when I was standing up there, I was thinking ‘Hey! I can do this! I’m the slayer after all. This will be nothing!’ When I looked out at the audience . . . well . . . they all looked like Angel. Every one of them."

Giles braced himself for the rest. Angel! Would he ever really let go this hold he had on her?

"I looked around and all the Slayeretts were standing at the exit waiting and watching me. You were below, in center ring, urging me to ‘get on with it.’ So, I started out and was doing fine, but the rope kept getting longer and longer. I couldn’t reach the other side. I could see Angel at the other end, waiting for me. I started to run across the rope, trying to finish the act, but it just kept getting longer."

She took another deep breath. When she looked at Giles, she could see no signs of humor. Only compassion and concern as he waited for her to continue.

"It was taking forever, and when I glanced again at the audience, they had all gotten bored and left. Then I turned back to Angel at the other end, and he disappeared. The rope started to wobble and I searched for the Slayeretts. They just shook their heads and started to leave the tent. I heard willow say, ‘She just has no future up there. She’ll never make it walking that rope.’ I couldn’t figure out what the hell she was talking about. I looked down and you were under me waiting to catch me. I felt safer knowing that, but as I started to fall, I saw the Bearded Lady standing at the exit . . . and . . ."

It was at that point that she trailed off, leaving Giles a bit worried and confused. The dream so far, seemed innocent enough, but it was obviously upsetting her for some reason.

"This Bearded Lady . . . Do you know who she was? Did you recognize her?"

She looked away. "Um, no."

"Buffy." His stern voice told her that he knew it was a lie. "Buffy. It could be important."

"It’s not Giles. Trust me. It’s just . . . it’s not okay?"

She knew she should tell him, but she didn’t want to see the look on his face when she told him that it was Olivia. She wasn’t sure how he would take it, but she knew it would not be of the good. So, she just remained silent in hopes that he would let it drop.

"Very well," he said with a reluctant sigh. "We’ll skip it for now. Why don’t you just tell me the rest, hmmm?" God, how could he put so much feeling into ‘hmmm’—it wasn’t even a word. And yet, just the sound it made eased her in ways she could not even begin to explain. And it made it easier for her to continue.

"So . . . okay . . . I saw the Bearded Lady like I said. I was falling really slow and all I wanted to do was reach solid ground. But I couldn’t. I even tried to fall harder—and yes, I know that makes no sense, but still. Anyway, I um . . . I saw you look over to the Bearded Lady and then back at me . . . and then . . . then you . . . well . . ."

"I what Buffy? What did I do?" She was visibly upset at something he did in this dream. "It’s alright Buffy, just tell me."

"Well . . . you . . . you looked at the floor and shook your head like the others. You looked so incredibly sad and disappointed. I really tried to do well on the rope, but couldn’t . . . and couldn’t understand what I did to make you look like that. Then I heard you whisper ‘Willow is right. She’ll never really let go. Never allow herself to be center stage here. It’s time to move on.’ And then you . . . you walked away with her."

"With the Bearded Lady?"

She nodded her head, not meeting his eyes. "The next thing I knew, I was standing in the ring alone. No audience, no circus people, no . . . no one. And it was time for the clowns! It was really important that they be there because people love clowns and they weren’t there and they should have been. They were supposed to be there. I just stood there waiting for them to come. I kept yelling ‘Where the hell are the clowns? Someone send in the clowns.’ But no one did. I felt . . . I couldn’t . . . I was . . . afraid. Really, really afraid. And I didn’t know why."

"I-I-Is that where the dream ended?" He asked the question knowing perfectly well from the look in her eyes that the answer was . . .

"No," she practically whispered. He had to move closer and strain to hear her next words. "When I looked around the tent again, trying to find the clowns . . . well, that’s when I saw . . . them." She tried to remain calm, but her voice began to get a bit louder and more frightened. "All of a sudden the whole tent was surrounded by vampires in clown makeup. I know it sounds stupid Giles," she said as her voice began to crack. "But it was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. They were really freaky . . . and ugly. And I was so afraid. They were everywhere! And I . . ." Her voice got suddenly soft again. " . . . I knew that I was going to die."

She put her head in her hands and when she spoke again, her calm voice was filled with such sadness and resignation, that it nearly broke his heart in two.

"I was going to die Giles. And I was going to die alone. And somehow it was all my fault. I missed something I was suppose to see. And you would all just pack up the Big Top, and move onto the next place. Without me. And I would just be ‘that girl who just never quite got it.’ And no one would really miss me. All I would leave behind was a memory."

As her body began to shake with the effort it took to hold back her tears, Giles quietly stood and walked to her, taking his place at her side. As he placed his arm around her, she immediately leaned into him, grasping his shirt. He rested his chin on the top of her head and gently stroked her hair. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to calm himself before he spoke.

"It’s alright Buffy. It was just a dream. Shhh . . ." He could think of nothing to say. The thought that he had left her, even in a dream played havoc with his own emotions.

"I don’t want to die alone Giles. Please don’t let me die alone. Help me figure out what I have to do. I don’t want to be alone."

"No," he said, his own voice beginning to crack. "No Buffy, I won’t . . . I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise. We’ll figure this out together. As long as I live Buffy, I swear to you that you’ll not be alone . . . ever. It will be alright. Shhh . . ."

Most people didn’t even think about death. Those that did . . . feared it. Buffy wasn’t afraid of dying. She was afraid of dying alone. Of not leaving anything behind, and his heart broke for her.

As they calmed down a little, he turned his head so that his cheek was resting atop her head. "I’m so sorry Buffy."

She peered up at him, her face red from crying. "For what Giles? It was just a dream right? I mean you didn’t really—"

"I acted like a bloody pillock the other day. I made you feel as though you were alone, and I am sorry for that. I would never—will never leave you Buffy. You mean more to me then anything in this world." He gently wiped a tear from her face and they stared at one another for a moment. Then the sadness in her eyes suddenly left and her face took on a look of intense concentration.

"You . . . you didn’t leave . . ." She whispered. She moved further back and looked at him. "I my dream . . . you didn’t leave Giles. I saw you."

"B–But you said—"

"You left with her . . . but you came back . . . when I was surrounded by the vamps I could see you outside trying to get in. You kept telling me to let you in, but I couldn’t. There were too many of them." She got a distant look in her eyes. "You told me to walk away. To walk to you. I tried, but . . . I . . . someone was holding me. Someone was keeping me from leaving . . ."

She tried to think. That part of the dream she hadn’t remembered until now.

"Buff—" She held up a hand to halt him. Then her face began to take on several emotions. Seemingly all at once. She began to shake and tears once again fell quickly down her face. "Oh God," she whispered.

Giles reached out to grasp her shoulder. To let her know he was still there . . . that she wasn’t alone.

"Oh Giles . . . It was . . . I . . . I saw him. I didn’t remember that part of the dream before."

Giles just stared at her with concern, and hoped like hell that she would tell him the rest before his heart completely shattered at the look on her face. He was beginning to feel an irrational fear for her.

"It was Angel Giles. He was holding me there. He kept telling me to stay there with them . . . with him. His face morphed into one of those clown vamps . . . and you were screaming my name . . . telling me to let go . . . and I looked down and I . . . I was holding onto Angel. I tried to let go. I told him that I had to leave . . . that you needed me. He said . . . he said that you didn’t love me like he did. That no one would ever love me the way he did. That I would never find anyone who could love me. Why Giles? Why would he say that . . ." she sobbed as her eyes took on new depths of sorrow and pain. "God Giles . . . what if he was right? What if—"

"He was wrong Buffy." His voice was so gentle, so sure. He grabbed her face between his hands and forced her to look at him. "Do you hear me? It was just a dream. And he was wrong. And you will find someone. I’d stake my life on that."

She just looked up at him. By now he was barely holding back his own tears, and looking at her in disbelief. How could she think that no one could ever love her? How could she believe that Angel was the only one that would ever love her? Because, Giles himself had serious doubts about the vampire’s true feelings. Angel seemed to love himself far too much to have ever really loved her.

"I felt so alone Giles. Why? Why would I be alone if Angel was there? And why couldn’t I have it all? Why couldn’t I have you both . . ." As she trailed off, something seemed to hit home with her. Have them both? What the hell did that mean?

He just stared at her. Had she said what he thought she said? It couldn’t be. She couldn’t have meant it the way he hoped she did. ‘Have you both . . .’ Her statement echoed in his mind. If only . . . he thought . . . if only . . .

She thought about the rest of her dream. Angel had abandon her and come back. Giles had left her . . . and come back. Angel held onto her. Giles desperately tried to reach her. Where Angel had changed into one of those freaky clown-vamps, Giles had remained the same. Angel seemed to want to possess her. Giles seemed only to want to help. The look she saw in Angel’s eyes . . . it was hard . . . cold . . . brooding. But, Giles eyes shone. They were warm . . . caring . . . full of love and concern. She looked into those eyes now, and saw what she had seen in the dream.

She realized too, that Angel had always looked at her in the same way he had in her dream. Always wanting to keep her. Always wanting to possess her. ‘You still my girl?’ Those words still rang in her head. ‘. . . Still my girl . . .’ And what had that ever gotten her? She loved Angel, yes. But, the fact remained that loving Angel had always been painful. The Mayor had been right . . . crazy as all hell . . . but right about her and Angel. They could never have a real relationship. And the more she thought about it, the more she realized that it was the whole "star crossed lovers" thing that she had been so in love with . . . not Angel himself. She was in love with the idea of being in love. And being in love with someone she could never have. So, what did that leave her with now? Could she love someone else? Could someone else love her?

Giles wondered what was going on in her mind. Was she finally figuring out that she could move on? That she could be happy without Angel? He knew she could never love him, but if she could only move past Angel and find someone—anyone—he would rejoice in her happiness. He could spend the rest of his life a bachelor if only Buffy were happy. That’s all he had wanted out of life since the day he met her.


She leaned into him once more. Not in the same desperate way she had earlier, but simply to feel the comfort of a friend. Giles gently stroking her hair, decided it best to give her time to collect herself and figure out what she was feeling. So, they just sat like that for several moments. Just enjoying the quiet, and the company of one another. When she spoke again, her voice was calm and matter-of-fact.

"I have to let go don’t I Giles? That’s what my dream was telling me. That I was still holding on to him."

He turned his head so he could see her face. "I think so, yes." He reached out and brushed her hair from her face so he could see her more clearly. "Do you think you can? Are you ready to live without him?"

"I think I have to be. I thought when he left, that I had let him go. Thought that by him being out of Sunnydale, I was living without him. But, I guess I never really let him go in my mind . . . or in my heart. The thing is . . . I’m not even sure that I really loved him this last year. When he came back, I felt I owed it to him to help. Then, it was just so easy to fall back into that same old comfortable routine. I didn’t even realize I was doing it."

She glanced up and noticed that he was no longer looking at her. And the look on his face was pained. That’s when she realized just how much she had hurt him in the last year.

"God Giles . . . I’m so sorry. I never really understood until now how much that must have hurt you. The way I hid him from you . . . and asked you repeatedly to help him. Maybe I didn’t want to see it. It was more convenient for me fi I just didn’t pay attention to anyone else. Oh Giles, I’m so sorry."

"It’s okay Buffy, I—"

"No, it isn’t." He looked back at her. "It’s not okay Giles. Stop making excuses for me. I ran away and hurt you. And yet, you were the only one who really welcomed me home. You never said anything about it. Then I hid Angel . . . and you had to find out from Xander of all people. But, you still stood by me. You believed that I didn’t kill that guy, but that it was Faith . . . even before you saw me. You helped me at Christmas when Angel was losing it because I asked you to. Even though it would have been easier for you to just let him go. You watched over him after Faith shot him because I asked you to . . . stood behind me when I told the Council to blow. You never said anything . . . you were just there for me any time I asked. Never really got mad. Not even when I shot you in the butt with that tranq. dart." She tried to smile a bit. She had thrown that last comment in to try to ease the tension that was once again building.

But he just sat there staring at her with those warm eyes of his. She had hurt him so many times. She could see him flinch at each memory she had brought up. And yet . . . he was still here. Still gazing at her with all the care in the world.

"Why Giles? Why would you let me put you through all that and still stay? Why would you even continue to speak to me after all that? The Council even gave you an out . . . a chance to get away from me and you refused. Why Giles? Why do you put up with me?" Her tone was almost pleading. She truly wanted to understand why anyone would endure such pain.

He just reached out and brushed her cheek, smiling that little Giles smile. "Because I love you Buffy. You are my life . . . my destiny. You are what I hold most dear in this world . . . most sacred. And I would give anything to see you happy. Don’t you know that by now? Don’t you know how special you are?"

She bowed her head, a little embarrassed by such a compliment. And to have it come from Giles . . . the ‘emotional marathon man . . .’

"Buffy," he said, reaching a finger under her chin. "Look at me." As she did, she saw all that love so clearly in his eyes. "You are a beautiful woman. You’re smart and caring. You try so hard to be tough . . . to not let things get to you. But I’ve seen you Buffy . . . I know you. You have so much to offer. What man wouldn’t love you?" As he realized what he had just said, he tried to quickly recover, hoping she wouldn’t pick up on it. "Th–Those college boys will be throwing themselves at you feet just to have a glance at you. They will be lining the hallways in hopes of knowing you, if only for a few moments . . . and dreaming of knowing you a lifetime . . . if only you will let them Buffy. If only you will give them and yourself the chance . . . you could have any man you wanted. Your only worry would be to choose one."

Buffy reached up an took his hand in hers, pulling it away and simply stared at it. He watched her as she seemed to study every inch of his hand . . . lightly running her fingers over the top, then turning it over to caress his palm . . . following the lines with her middle finger ever so softly. Giles couldn’t have moved if a pack of zombies had crashed through his window. He tried to remind himself to breathe. All the while wondering what she was thinking. She intertwined her fingers with his and he could not help but respond in kind.

"What if . . ." Buffy began . . . barely a whisper. She looked up at him and when their eyes finally met, they both seemed to be searching for something. "What if I choose you Giles?"

Hid breath caught, and it took every ounce of strength he still had to respond. But his voice came out so weak, that he was hardly sure she could hear him. "Buffy . . . Buffy you deserve so much more. Don’t settle for me just because I’m here. What I told you about those college—"

"Angel . . . In my dream he said that you didn’t love me like he did. That no one could. Was he right Giles? Is it the love of a father the way Travers said it was?"

Oh God, he couldn’t tell her . . . but he couldn’t lie to her either. He tried desperately to form a complete sentence. To tell her, one way or the other, how he felt. But all he could manage was a soft . . . simple . . . "No."

Neither one of them could take their eyes off the other. They just sat as if in a trance. It was the moment of truth for both of them. One way or another, their relationship was about to head off into a very different direction.

The more she thought about her dream, the more certain she was about her feelings for him. It hadn’t only shown her that she had to let go of Angel, but that she had someone even better in her life just waiting for her. She finally understood what the Willow in her dreams had meant. And she was right. Buffy had been walking a rope . . . teetering between her desire to be with Angel, and the love she had always held for Giles. It was time to join Giles in ‘center stage’ and allow herself to be loved the way she deserved.

She slowly released his hand and brought hers up to his face. Trembling ever so slightly, she touched his cheek. "I . . . I love you Giles."

His breath caught in his throat at her words, and he could almost swear that his entire body was shaking. She hadn’t said that she thought she loved him, but that she did love him. She had stated it with utter certainty and conviction. She was sure of it. For the life of him he couldn’t imagine why or how . . . or even if this was all real. He wasn’t entirely sure that time was moving at all. And like a bloody fool, he just sat there, working his jaw, trying to utter even the simplest of sounds.

"Giles?" She asked softly, wanting to hear the same words from him. Wanting to know if he felt the same way. Or if she had just made a total fool of herself. She wanted to know what it would be like to be loved by him . . . to be close to him . . . to kiss . . . to kiss him . . . ya that was it. She would get some kind of reaction out of him if she just kissed him. She only hoped that it was the reaction her heart ached for.

Never taking her eyes off him, never moving her hand away, she slowly leaned up and brushed her lips against his. At first his head jolted back a bit . . . out of shock most likely. But she paid it now mind. Instead, she took in his bottom lip and lightly nibbled on it. She could feel him trembling beneath her, and slowly his hands came up behind her as he moved into the kiss. It was so much more than the times she had kissed Angel. So wonderfully exhilarating and warm.

He moved one hand to rest at the base of her neck, while the other moved slowly up and down her back, his fingers gently tracing her spine. He didn’t crush her to him. In fact his touches were so light, that if not for the intensity of his presence and his passion, she wasn’t sure she would feel them at all. The kiss seemed to last an eternity. It was so intense in fact, that she thought she would explode at any moment. The heat they were radiating made it seem as though the entire world was ablaze.

Then she felt a tear on her cheek. When she broke the kiss and looked up at him, she realized that the tear hadn’t been hers. He was crying. And although she hadn’t thought it possible to cry any more at that point, she found her own eyes welling up.

"Oh Buffy . . ." He swallowed hard as he raised his hands and moved his trembling fingers . . . and thumbs . . . and eyes over every inch of her beautiful face. His tears cascaded down his cheeks as he tried to put into words everything he was feeling. "Buffy . . . Buffy I . . ."

She placed a finger over his lips and smiled. "Shhh . . . It’s okay . . . I know . . . I know . . ."

He grasped her to his chest and held her as tight as he possibly could. As though, were he to let go, she would be gone and none of this would be real.

After a few minutes of oxygen deprivation however, Buffy interrupted the moment. "Um, Giles . . . slayer strength only lasts so long."

"Hmmm?" Was his only response.

"I can’t breathe baby," she replied with a smile.

He quickly released her. "Oh, I’m sorry Buffy. I . . . did I hurt you?"

She snuggled into him, still wearing a smile and said, "No. And I didn’t say you had to stop holding me. Just with a little less . . . pep."

He smiled and placed his arms around her. He lifted her chin and met her eyes. "I love you Buffy." He got one of his quirky little embarrassed looks on his face and added, "I’m sorry that I was a bit too overwhelmed to say it when I should have. But, I do love you. I wanted you to hear it. And, I want you to know that I will never tire of saying those words to you. I shall never tire of telling you just how much I love you."

She smiled at him. She really didn’t want to repeat all the angsty emotions they had just gotten through. "God Giles! Could you get any more perfect? I mean, do you like watch a lot of movies behind my back and write down every line from every love scene? Or are you really this wonderful? Cuz my nervous system can only take so much at this point."

Giles raised an eyebrow and got a wicked grin. "Oh, I assure you Miss Summers . . . I am really this wonderful. In fact, I am even more wonderful then you can possibly imagine. Perhaps even more than I myself can imagine."

She rolled her eyes and curled up against him. "Geeze! Ya give a guy one kiss and suddenly he’s ‘Mr. Too Cool For His Own Good.’ "

"Well, I was rather hoping to get more than just the one kiss. After all, I am the Ring Master."

"Mmm-hmm." She leaned up and gave him another kiss. "And boy am I glad I’m down here with you, instead of up on that stupid rope," she murmured against his lips.

He broke the kiss and pulled her back into his embrace. "So am I luv . . . So am I." Leaning back and closing his eyes, he just couldn’t resist one last comment. "So, Buffy . . . ‘dearest’ . . . about that Bearded Lady . . ."

That’s how they spent the rest of the evening . . . snuggled close to one another, blissfully sleeping the night away on his couch. Both of them, at long last, standing firmly on the ground, secure in the knowledge that the other would always be there. Happy that they had finally found each other. And looking forward to the next step in their relationship.