Shall We Dance
By Gail Christison

Title: Shall We Dance
Author: Gail Christison
Pairing: Buffy/Giles
Timeline: Summer vacation is almost over. Giles has his new car and Riley didn't come back from Iowa in this fic. NOTE: Not commentary on Riley, just a concession to Giles' integrity, so please don't flame me
Summary: the gang is bored and Anya wants Xander to take ballroom dancing lessons. Willow decides the gang needs to bond after the year they've had. Except Buffy, Willow and Tara don't have dance partners...
Disclaimer: I own only my imagination. The rest belongs to the mighty Joss.
Feedback: please. chriscln@iinet.net.au
Distribution: Once More With Feeling http://www.wickedsky.com/oncemore; Gabi if she wants it
Author's note: Many thanks to Karen for the last minute help.

Dedication: For Liz


"No."

"Yes."

"No way."

"But I want to, Xander. You have to take me."

"I'm not going to look like some geek so you can get your jollies watching other guys in tuxedoes make geeks of themselves."

"I don't want to look at other geeks. I want to look at you. And I want to learn how to really dance. Not just that shuffling we did at the Prom. If you don't take me you'll be spending the rest of the week being orgasm friends with your hand again," Anya snorted.

Xander rolled his eyes. He'd been doomed from the start, but he'd made a good fight, until now.

"Fine," he muttered. "But whoever said ballroom dancing was real dancing anyway?"

*******

Willow sipped her mocha again and scowled. "We never do anything together any more. Except have weird dreams about psycho Slayers and cheese," she grumbled.

"We're together now," Buffy offered.

The redhead looked up and regarded her friends. Xander and Anya sat opposite, she and Tara together, and Buffy had arrived last after patrol and shoved in alongside Xander. There were a lot of empty coffee mugs on the table.

"And bored to death," she snorted, "not to mention totally wired on caffeine. You'd think we have nothing in common any more."

"Slayage," Buffy offered.

"Coffee," Tara said meekly.

"Sex," Anya added without blinking.

"And that brings us back to slayage again," Xander growled pointedly, scowling at his tactless girlfriend.

Buffy shook her head. "Bzzzt," she said dryly. "No fun for Buffy. GI gone, remember? Never for to come back..."

They all looked a little sheepish, then Willow spoke quickly.

"All the more reason we should be doing things together...looking after each other. It's been a horrible year."

"I'll drink to that," Buffy agreed, lifting her coffee mug.

"Xander is taking me dancing," Anya announced, apropos of nothing really.

"Oh, where? The Bronze?" Tara asked, hoping to move away from more depressing topics.

"Madam Vernaud's school of dance," the ex-demon announced, happy to suddenly be the centre of attention for once. "We're going to learn to do it properly."

Buffy giggled. "According to you, you guys already know how to do it good and properly."

"Very funny," Xander hissed. "She's blackmailing me. You have to wear a tux. This old lady is out of the ark. Guys have to wear a tux, girls have to have a dancing dress."

Willow's eyes lit up. "It sounds like fun. The Prom was so cool...why can't we all do it?"

Buffy put her hand up immediately. "Big problem. You, me, Tara...dates," she pointed out. "If Madame Vernaud is out of the ark, I don't think she's going to let you guys take turns leading."

Tara giggled. "Buffy's right. I can ask Stewart."

"Tara's been tutoring Stewart forever. He studies with us sometimes. He's cool," Willow agreed. "And I can ask...oh...I forgot, we aren't talking to the Initiative any more, are we?"

They all looked up as someone stopped at their table.

"Slayer, there's a problem."

"A little louder, Spike, I don't think Giles heard you over the guitar tuning," Buffy drawled.

The vampire looked around the crowded coffee house. "Shove it, Summers. Move over, Red." Willow slid across grudgingly and the vampire slid into the booth. "Something's wrong. I went to buy smokes tonight and the place was shut up tight."

"You don't need 'em," Xander drawled. "Those things'll kill you deader than...oh. I see a redundancy in that argument. Never mind." He grinned smugly.

Spike looked down his nose for a moment then went back to his train of thought. "As I was saying, something weird is going on. A demon runs the store I get my smokes from. He's never closed. And I went to Willy's bar and there was nobody there."

"The place was empty?" Willow asked.

"No, there were plenty of live bodies. Just no dead ones."

"Weird," Buffy repeated.

"Spike?" Willow said suddenly.

"What?"

She looked at him and gulped. "Do you dance?"

He regarded his favourite witch with a look halfway between a grin and incredulity. "Not in this lifetime, luv. Who wants to know?"

"Xander's taking me dancing," Anya offered. "And we're all going together because Rosenberg thinks everyone needs to bond or something."

Spike laughed. "She's got a point, you know. You lot were a pushover to split up, if you care to remember. Major disappointment you were...not as big as when mutant-boy tried to have my head torn off, but still..."

"Yeah, well, we're a little short of partners," Willow finally piped up again. "You're never doing anything, and you're a guy, sorta-"

"Hey!"

"Okay, yeah, you're a guy, and you kinda owe us. Who else would dig tracers out of you, take you in when the authorities are chasing you, feed you...?"

"Oh shut up, Red. All right, you've got me, on the proviso the Slayer finds out what the hell's going on and somebody finds me some bloody smokes."

Willow grinned. "That was easy. You're going to look great in a tux, Spike."

Spike's eyes bugged out. "Nobody said anything about being done up like a ponce. I'll sport for a few turns around the room, since it's a bloody sight cheaper than what Rupert over there'll charge me, but I'm not gettin' into any bleedin' monkey suit for anyone."

"I don't know, Spike," Buffy drawled. "You've got the body for it." Then she frowned. "Just exactly where are these clothes coming from...? Don't I remember mucho renting of tuxedos for the Prom by the male population at large? I mean, even Giles had to get-"

"That's right," Willow added, not noticing the sudden, strange look on her friend's face. "Xander, where are you getting yours from?"

"Stealing it?" he offered.

"No he's not stealing it," Anya retorted. "The nice lady said she keeps a whole bunch of ex-competition costumes at the studio. It's all taken care of."

"Buffy...wh-who are you going to ask?" Tara ventured, still not quite comfortable with the girl whose face Faith had worn so cruelly.

Buffy looked up from wherever her thoughts had taken her and blinked. "Sorry, Tara?"

"I asked who you were g-going to ask," the other girl repeated softly.

"Oh, well, there's bound to be somebody...I mean, not that...don't worry. I'll find someone."

"There's Jonathan..." Willow offered.

Buffy's eyes widened. "I don't think so," she squeaked.

"Or Jack Henderson from senior year...remember him? I know he's not busy since the pizza place closed...and he loves to party," Xander offered, amused.

"No, look, guys, really...I'll find someone. If I go."

"You promised!"

Buffy sighed. "Okay, Will, don't have a cow. I'll come, but you know the rules...major slayage takes precedence even over seeing Spike in a tuxedo."

"Cool," Willow grinned.

A hush swept over the room and they all turned to see Giles making himself more comfortable on his stool.

Buffy watched him play, listened to the group's reactions, from Spike's barbs to Willow's sighs, Xander's perpetual jealousy and Anya's commentary about how good Giles was looking in an open-necked, black shirt, black jeans, leather boots and a matching antique mottled black and dark grey waist length leather jacket. Anya seemed to particularly appreciate the leather...

When he'd done both his numbers, Spike immediately announced his departure. "See you find out what's going on, Slayer, or Red gets to dance with blondie, there. I'll check in with Giles tomorrow after sunset for those smokes."

Anya, looking very flushed in the face, whispered in Xander's ear and he immediately flushed just as red.

"Uh, we have to go now," he grinned sheepishly. "We'll see you guys at Giles' place tomorrow after sunset."

The three girls blinked at each other as the other couple hastily departed. "You wanna bail?" Buffy asked. "It looks like a bailing kinda evening."

Willow sighed. "So much for group bonding."

"I dunno, I thought we were doing kinda great, didn't you?" Buffy asked Tara. "I mean there were no wars. Spike even behaved...more or less...and we are going dancing...I mean how the hell did that happen?"

Tara started to giggle, followed by Buffy, and a few moments after that Willow forsook her scowl and started to giggle too.

"Spike in white tails and top hat," Buffy said suddenly.

"Xander in a flamenco outfit," Willow added.

"Stewart in something other than a t-shirt and jeans," Tara added.

The giggle fit had reached hysterical proportions by the time Giles arrived at their table.

"You lot quite all right?" he inquired gruffly, smiling in spite of himself.

"Not...not really, Mister Giles," Tara managed. "We've gotten ourselves into something we have no idea how to get out of."

"Sounds like you lot," he agreed, and slid in alongside Buffy. "Don't suppose anyone ordered my tea?"

Willow raised a hand. "I told Franco when we ordered, to bring it when he saw you sit down after your set."

"Thank you, Willow. Nice to see that total chaos hasn't yet reached ascendance here."

Buffy snorted and stopped giggling. "And you know what the scariest part is?" she asked Tara, who shook her head curiously. "We understand every word he says."

And another round of giggles started up. They were still giggling when Franco brought the tea tray.

The two men looked at each other, then at the girls, and both shook their heads simultaneously.

Franco grinned. "On the house, Rupert. You're gonna need it tonight."

Giles grinned. "Thank you, Franco. Very decent of you, considering you can escape and I'm rather stuck with them."

Buffy hit his arm as the other man left, chuckling.

"Ow. What was that for? You might try to remember your own strength when you do that," he objected, sliding his arm out of his jacket and rubbing his bicep.

Immediately contrite, Buffy started to rub it for him. "I didn't think...I'm sorry," she began, then realised what she was doing, not to mention how warm and solid his arm was, and how nice his new cologne was. They looked at each other and she let go abruptly.

"Does it hurt much?" she managed.

"N-not too much any more," he said a little distractedly, the other girls watching with great interest. Then he seemed to realize he had an audience, dragged his eyes away and suddenly became very interested in pouring his tea.

Buffy watched him for a long moment, unaware of her glowing colour or the confusion in her eyes.

"We need more Mochas," Willow said suddenly and hustled Tara out of the booth.

"Subtle," Buffy muttered, playing with a teaspoon.

"Very," Giles agreed, stirring his tea.

"Still, you have to give them points for trying."

"Indeed."

They fell silent for several uncomfortable moments.

"Giles...?"

He froze for a fraction of a moment, then put down the teaspoon and raised the cup to his lips.

"Yes?"

"Do...do you dance?"

The slow turn of his head was almost comical, almost as comical as the look on his face.

"I beg your pardon?"

Buffy's nose wrinkled up. "You heard me. I asked you if you dance. I didn't see you dance with anyone at the Prom and I know you didn't ask me..."

He blinked, trying not to think about how close he'd come to doing exactly that, would have, had it not been for...

"Yes, well, I was there to chaperone, wasn't I? Not my place to be gallivanting on the dance floor, as though I could really leave Wyndham-Pryce to keep an eye on things."

Buffy sighed inwardly. She had hoped he might be provoked into telling her why he hadn't danced with her that night. She'd never said a word, but it had hurt a little. Even just one would have been nice, to celebrate the end of a long road...

It really would have been nice.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "The only thing he was keeping his eye on, was Cordelia."

Giles grunted agreement. "Why do you want to know?"

"Well, see, there's..." She stopped and sighed. No point in beating around the bush with Giles. "Anya wants Xander to have dancing lessons. Willow thinks we all need to bond...especially after the last few months and everything. Ergo...we're all going to have dancing lessons and-"

"And you need a partner?" he asked dryly, "Presumably because young Riley is absent?"

Her eyes widened a little. For a moment she'd completely forgotten that Riley had ever existed.

"He's gone. I'm over it. No big," she shrugged, trying a little too hard for nonchalance. "And anyway...I mean...I don't have a partner and Willow's going to kill me if I don't come and...bonding...there's the bonding. You should be there...with us, anyway...bonding, I mean," she babbled until Giles shook his head and started to laugh.

"You lot bonding is going to be like trying to glue a broken pot back together with flour and water paste."

"With what?"

"Never mind," he muttered.

For the extraordinarily long moment he took to reply, Buffy held her breath, waiting for the 'no.'

"All right. But I'm not doing anything ridiculous. If you limbo, you limbo alone," he growled unexpectedly and went back to his tea.

Buffy exhaled and realized for the first time that she'd been holding her breath. Then she grinned. He'd said yes.

"We'll have fun, you'll see. I already know how great you look in a tux."

Giles looked up, startled, but Buffy could literally see the vivid colour rising from his collar to the roots of his hair. He half smiled then shook his head. "You didn't even see me," he said softly, chidingly. "All you could think about was him."

Buffy absorbed that for a moment. Most of their talks revolved around slaying and associated problems. Maggie Walsh was the closest they'd gotten to truly personal, but-not-tearing-each-other's-guts-out conversation, since Jenny Calendar's death.

"Of course I saw you," she told him quietly. "When I came in I was looking for one person, and one person only." She smiled a smile filled with affection and tenderness. "I found him right in front of me. And God, he looked good."

He half laughed, half coughed, then shook his head again. "Anyone would think you want the night off," he stammered.

Her smiled widened. "I'm that far ahead?" she teased.

He relaxed a little and picked up on her game. "You're so far ahead on points now you can probably name your nights off for the rest of the year," he confirmed and picked up the teapot again just as Willow and Tara arrived with a tray of mochas.

"It's crazy here tonight," Willow announced, sliding the tray onto the table next to Giles' tea.

"Crazy is about the right word for it," Giles muttered as he poured a fresh cup.

Willow looked up from handing out the coffee. "Sorry?"

"He said he's looking forward to the dancing," Buffy said mischievously.

Two sets of eyes went very round then Willow grinned widely. "Giles, you're coming too? That's so cool. Save one for me?"

He looked up then and smiled fondly at her. "Most certainly. Our Miss Summers here can baby-sit your date for a least one or two rounds."

"Spike?" Buffy squeaked. "No way."

"Spike?" Giles echoed loudly.

Willow gulped. "Well, yeah. I um...needed a partner. He was here...tonight."

"But...how?" he asked helplessly.

"Blackmail," Buffy supplied, and smiled before sipping her coffee, ignoring the daggered looks her friend was giving her.

Willow turned back to Giles. "We have to get cigarettes, and oh, hey, Buffy, we almost forgot. Giles, Spike says something weird is going on in town. No demons or vamps around."

Buffy shrugged. "There haven't been more than a handful in the whole time since Adam went down. What's new?"

Giles looked at her thoughtfully. "Still, it's worth keeping an eye on. It's not like Spike to be unsettled by anything, much less a drop in the numbers of beings out there waiting to beat the crap out of him."

"I think mostly it's the cigarette thing. The guy he buys from is a demon. His place was closed tonight," Willow offered.

"Not a normal occurrence, apparently," Buffy added.

The ex-Watcher frowned deeply. "No, it's not. Ivan is open seven days a week from the moment the sun goes down, until it rises again in the morning and a human takes over for the daylight hours. Night is when he does most of his trade. I've met the little stoat..." He paused when they all stared at him. "Getting fa...cigarettes for the pillock in the middle of the night, to shut him up," he qualified gruffly. The point is nothing would stop Ivan opening, short of ..."

They all looked at each other.

"Giles, fun. We're going dancing," Buffy growled. "If you say one word about an apocalypse, a super demon, or the end of the world..."

He blinked in surprise then drew his startled glance away from her face to look at the others. "I was only going to say that nothing short of winning the lotto would keep him away from his one source of revenue."

"Then you'll check it out?" Willow asked hopefully.

"We...will check it out," Giles told her sternly.

She nodded meekly, relieved that he wasn't going to lecture her about Spike. She liked the vampire, when he wasn't being mean or evil. At his best he could be funny, little-boyish and good-looking in a vampiry kind of way.

Giles finished his tea and looked at his watch. "Time I was on my way home. Dinner in the oven," he told them. "Anyone want a lift anywhere?"

Willow and Tara looked at each other.

"We thought we'd go and check out the Bronze for a while," Willow said eventually, looking from one to the other. "You guys wanna come?"

Giles shook his head. "I've had quite enough of crowds for one night." He smiled. "But the offer is appreciated.

Everyone looked at Buffy.

"Me? Slay. Sleep. School," she listed dryly.

"You're going out on patrol now?" Giles demanded as the girls departed.

Buffy turned. "Spike is really worried. When Spike is really worried I get nervous. I'm just going to check things out. No big."

"Not alone," Giles said unexpectedly.

Her eyes widened. "You're going to patrol with me?"

"Why so surprised?"

"Well, it's sorta...been a while."

"And whose fault is that?"

Buffy had the good grace to drop her eyes. "Mostly mine," she admitted and looked up again. "But you started it."

It was his turn to stare. "I started it?"

"Sure you did. 'You're going to have to learn to take care of yourself. I can't always be there for you," she parroted in a bad British accent and added, "not to mention Hugh Hefner and blue cheese," under her breath.

Giles cleared his throat. "Yes, well, that was a mistake. We've had this discussion-" He stopped mid-sentence when Buffy shook her head. "We haven't?"

"Nope," she said. "I had to figure out for myself that you weren't actually tired of me, trying to get rid of me or maybe even ready to go back to England."

"Oh lord. I thought you knew..."

Buffy's eyes searched his. "I knew it hurt. I knew it made me angry. Stupid angry. But even when you finally came, when it was all over, I didn't know why. You just...we stopped talking, Giles...Really talking, I mean. When did that happen?"

It was his turn to stare back, pain, shadows, regret in the green depths. "We haven't been really close since..." He swallowed. "Since that cursed test."

Buffy paled a little. They hadn't mentioned it once since it happened. Neither of them had the first clue how to even begin to deal with such huge emotional issues, so by mutual assent, they simply hadn't...

"Oh," she said feebly.

In spite of himself, Giles had to smile, the amusement momentarily masking his distress. "That's it? 'Oh?'"

She smiled back slowly, colour licking her cheeks. "That's about it," she confirmed, then grew serious again, though her voice was gentle. "It's been too long."

Giles nodded agreement, lost as to what to say, or how to say it.

Buffy's eyes searched his face. She hadn't really looked at him for a very long time. "Are we...are we still good? I mean, not just 'group hugs and everything's better' good?"

For a long moment Giles didn't say anything. He was absorbing the depth of the concern...and fear...in her eyes.

Then he smiled slowly, reassuringly. "You tell me," he said softly.

"I..." Buffy stopped, flustered. She wasn't used to it. Riley had never flustered her like this. "We're good," she said eventually, her cheeks burning, her mind in a whirl of confusion.

Giles nodded, his eyes dancing, his smile tender. "Then perhaps we should get this patrol over and done with...?"

*******

Once they were out in the cool night air, Buffy made a beeline for Willie's bar, Giles extending his stride easily to keep up with the graceful Slayer.

Spike was right. Apart from half a dozen pink-hued, very warm and alive looking humans, and one not very happy looking Willie, the place was deserted.

"So what's the what?" Buffy demanded as she and Giles slid onto barstools.

Willie put down the glass he'd been drying nervously since they walked in. "Who's he?"

Buffy flicked a glance toward her companion. "Giles, Willie. Willie, Giles. Intros over. Give, Willie. What's going on?"

"I-I don't know..."

Buffy scowled and Giles looked dyspeptic.

"Look, I asked around, all right? I mean, it's bad for business...I'm dyin' here, without the clientele. Nobody's talkin'. Even my best source would only say that something's going on down below. Something big."

"And that brings us right back to apocalypse and doom," Buffy muttered.

Willie shook his head. "I don't think so...except maybe amongst themselves."

"Excuse me?" Giles finally spoke, standing and allowing his expression to shift into distinctly Ripperesque lines. "Are you trying to tell us that there's some kind of demonic revolution, or war, going on?"

Willie looked uncomfortable again. "I'm not supposed to say anything to anyone, but since you ain't a demon and you can't get where it's at, I'll tell you, provided you guarantee not to hurt me or my place," he added, looking pointedly at the Slayer.

Buffy rolled her eyes, then nodded.

"It's Rhail'ads'kah."

Giles straightened in surprise. "Good Lord."

"Apocalypse, right?" Buffy asked, resigned.

Giles snorted. "Hardly. Ads'kah is the demon equivalent of a coronation of sorts. Rhail ads'kah is a challenge to the ascension."

"Revolution...of sorts?" Buffy offered, mimicking Giles.

"Yeah, Revolution," Willie grumbled. "Somebody killed the legit' successor to the Rule of the Fifth level. He looked pointedly at Buffy. "Not that we'd have any trouble guessing who that might have been..."

Buffy made a face at him.

"Anyway, the Third level is now challenging the new successor on the grounds that it's not entitled and not powerful enough...which really translates to 'we've got an excuse to make a move on the Fifth level' so..."

"So everyone's gone to join in a demon civil war?"

Willie shrugged. "Nobody wanted to miss the fun."

"Spike's not going to be happy," Buffy pointed out as they walked to the door. "Can't we just tell him its Demon Thanksgiving or something? If he finds out he's missing a kill-fest he'll have a tantrum and probably vanish again, and Will' won't have anyone to take her dancing."

Giles sighed. "We'll get his cigarettes and tell him we're still trying to find out. And after the lesson we'll tell him the truth. If he doesn't want to continue, that's his prerogative, although in his current position he's more likely to be killed, than kill anything, as far as I can see. Regardless, he will have fulfilled his part of the bargain and so will we."

Buffy shrugged. "So let's go get the stupid coffin nails and get this patrol back on the road."

As they drove away from the all-night supermarket, Buffy looked up at the face of the man driving. It was weird how, all of a sudden, things kept reminding her that he was a man. Not just Giles...not just an ex librarian, or just her Watcher, but a male...guy...man.

Everything from the subtle scent of his cologne, the soapy male smell of his skin, so close to hers in the tiny car, its roof now up, to the way the side of his hand had brushed her leg when he shifted to reverse, screamed maleness in a way she would never have considered before.

After the third deserted cemetery and the second peaceful beach, they decided to call it a night.

When the little car stopped in the student parking lot, Buffy felt a curious reluctance to end the evening. They had laughed, teased and muttered their way through the patrol, recalling old times and remarking on changes since then to the places they used to frequent together.

They had...fun, real fun, and she suddenly didn't want it to end.

"Buffy?"

"What? Oh...I was just thinking about how much fun we had tonight. Best patrol I can remember since that time we killed three vampires and you got that fire-demon with your favourite sword."

Giles smiled. "Yes...you tried to initiate me into the art of the high-five...and then settled for ice-cream to celebrate." He chuckled. "I'm not sure who had the biggest stomach upset afterward."

Buffy giggled. "It was a tie. We shared that too." She sobered. "God, that was so long ago. What happened to us, Giles?"

He frowned. "Us?" he asked very softly.

She was silent for a long time. "I guess it was me," she finally said, her voice not quite as steady as it should have been. "I...I'm sorry." She raised her eyes to look him bravely in the face. "Is...is it too late...can we...can we start over?"

Giles' hands silently tightened on the wheel they'd been resting on and colour rushed to his cheeks. "Start over?"

She nodded. "I want to go back to the way it was...the way we were."

"We can't go back, Buffy," Giles said gently, and was surprised to see moisture glisten in her eyes a moment later. "You're not a child any more. I'm not your teacher...or even your legitimate Watcher, any more..."

Buffy swallowed, her heart rate slowing its sudden bolt, and the tightening around her heart easing, as the rest of his words sank in. He wasn't saying no...yet. She sighed with relief, surprised when a stray tear flicked out of a lash and slid down her cheek.

Automatically, Giles extended a large hand and caught it with the backs of gentle fingers, the touch electrifying her skin, her breath catching as their eyes met and she saw the mirrored shock in his.

Instead of snatching them away, however, he held them frozen for a moment against her cheek, then trailed them down the curve of it.

Around them, the silence was almost deafening.

Then Buffy remembered to breathe. "So I'll see you tomorrow, probably...maybe," she babbled breathlessly. "Thanks for the ride."

Giles watched her go, ignoring the trembling of his other hand when he released his vice like grip on the steering wheel. Not until she was inside did he finally start the car and head for home...

*******

"Willow, do stop panicking."

"Yeah, Red, she'll be here. And if she's not, who cares?" The vampire nodded toward Giles. "He'd probably rather sit and watch anyway."

Giles snorted. "Spike is right...in part. Buffy will be here, Willow. Why don't you organize the others while I wait here in the lobby?"

Willow moved one step back from panic, while Anya rolled her eyes and heaved an exaggerated sigh of relief.

"You heard him, and he's the brains. Let's go. I want to dance with Xander sometime today."

Willow scowled and followed them, with an apologetic look back at Giles, who smiled reassuringly at her before slipping back outside to watch for Buffy.

Truth be told, after the year they'd had, intellectually he wasn't positive she would show, in fact almost the opposite. And it would have been a certainty if young Finn had still been in the picture. This time, however, something deep inside of him, something stronger than instinct, told him she would come. Minutes passed and with them went Giles' optimism, and his heart. It was just a silly bit of business mucking about with the others, but he felt irrationally disappointed that she hadn't come, or hadn't at least called to cancel. He was about to go back in and tell Willow he was going home, when he saw her.

The equally irrational surge of pleasure, and the idiotic beating of his heart against his chest surprised the hell out of him, but he couldn't stop the silly grin as she came to a breathless halt just inches from him.

"We were wondering if you were going to grace us with your presence," he said in his best Watcher voice, but the censorious intent was lost in the grin.

Buffy glowered and put her hands on her very grubby knees, still breathing heavily. "Vamps, four, in Centennial Park. S-Sorry."

"Four? What the bloody hell were they doing in Centennial Park?" he demanded, slipping instantaneously back into real Watcher mode.

"Would you believe they were listening to a free concert? Or maybe checking out the smorgas-board..."

"Since when do they have smorg-" It clicked. "Oh," Giles chuckled. "Yes, I suppose that much sweaty youth in one place at night, in the open, would make an irresistible target."

Buffy nodded, her breath almost caught up, and straightened.

Giles' own breath caught at how lovely she looked, despite the dirt and the bits of tree caught in her hair. Her face fairly glowed in the spotlights in front of the small dance studio, and her eyes were still glittering with the after effects of the hunt.

"So, are we too late?"

"It's only been a few minutes, if you're still keen," he said easily. "Or if you'd prefer I can run you home..."

Buffy shook her head and slid her small backpack off. "I want to dance. Unless...what about you? Have you changed your mind?"

God, no...

"Not at all," he heard himself saying in his old, reliable, stuffy Giles voice. "But you look all in..."

Buffy shook her head again. "Give me another ten minutes and you won't recognise me."

It was more like twenty-five.

Giles looked around him as the men waited for their escorts to emerge from the change rooms. Everyone had brushed up surprisingly well. Even Spike looked startling in a red shirt, black sequinned vest and tight black pants, despite the bored look on his face and the cigarette hanging from his lip.

Shifting uncomfortably, but looking uncharacteristically elegant, Xander had opted for the least ostentatious thing there that would fit him...a plain black tie and tails outfit, with snowy linen shirt, in complete contrast to his usual outrageous taste in clothes. Tara's friend was looking rather outlandish in a silver lame jacket, red bowtie and white pants, the only items available that fitted his rather tall, but very slender frame. He seemed, however, to be singularly unfazed by proceedings.

Giles looked back toward the door from which they expected the women to emerge, as Xander came to his side.

"You look fine, Giles. Don't sweat it," he said easily.

Giles, however, jumped in surprise, and turned irritably toward the younger man. "I am not 'sweating' anything Xander. I simply fail to see why women always have to take three times longer than men to do simple things like changing their clothes," he said brusquely.

He knew he looked fine. He'd checked in the mirror in the change room a dozen times, when he thought the others weren't looking. He'd chosen very carefully. The black silk shirt fit perfectly, as did the beautifully cut, dark pinstripe jacket and pants, so beautifully cut they seemed as though they were tailored specifically for him.

When they'd first emerged from the change room, Madame Vernaud had effused over the performance of the student who had performed the tango in the elegant costume and how many competitions that particular couple had won over time. Should have won prizes for tying this infernal tie, Giles had mused as she'd waffled on. He and Xander had taken several long minutes to get it right.

At that moment the door opened. Anya emerged looking lovely, if a trifle ostentatious in a floor length, full skirted red ball-gown. Willow inched out after her, uncertain of her pretty, calf-length green dress. A confection of chiffon and silk, it highlighted her eyes beautifully and added vividness to her red hair.

"You look lovely, Willow," he said reassuringly as she sidled up to him.

She grinned. "Do I? I feel weird. They all said this was the one...but, well...is it really me?"

Giles nodded, eyes twinkling with affection. "Definitely, you, my dear. Quite stunning," he added, and meant it.

Willow smiled happily again and moved to talk to Xander and Spike, who'd hastily stubbed out his cigarette before his 'date' could start lecturing him about it.

Tara emerged next, having difficulty with a high heel. Giles' first thought was that the girl had been hiding herself under a bushel. With her hair swept back and clasped with a brilliant studded clasp and made up in a way that brought out all of her features...almost certainly Buffy's doing... she looked lovely in the ankle-length, russet coloured gown. And when she smiled at Willow, she positively glowed.

"So where's the Slayer?" Spike piped up as Tara joined them, earning a punch in the arm from his 'date.'

At that moment Buffy emerged, trying to work out exactly where she could hide her stake.

She was wearing a pale pink dress with a crossover bodice. A soft, lilac gown in simple, sheathed lines, leaving precious few places to conceal a stake, while it's low-cut bodice and elegant lines accentuated her small, but true woman's figure.

Giles had considered it a great pity when Buffy had bowed to fashion and slimmed down so much from her once hour-glassed shape and womanly curves, during the previous year, but even at what he considered to be a featherweight, she couldn't completely conceal them, nor their welcome return of late, especially not in that dress... He stepped towards her, smiling and tilting his head a little as he put out his hand for the stake.

Buffy looked up and visibly lost her breath. Giles wasn't wearing his glasses and his green eyes were dancing with amusement...and burning with something else. More than that, he looked...simply stunning. After a beat she managed to swallow.

"Wow," she said softly, absently putting the stake into his open palm. "Nice suit... but..." Then, as if there were none but the two of them present, she carefully undid his tie and slid it off, straightened the collar of the dark shirt. "There...wow again, Giles," she said breathlessly. "That's more like you."

Giles grinned self-consciously and touched his throat where her fingers had grazed it. "Yes, well, it does feel a lot more like me."

They both chuckled at the irony of that. All of them knew that Mister 'Tweed-and-Tie' had long been replaced by Giles, master of the casual...not to mention the downright scruffy...

"I like it better like that too," Tara spoke up, emboldened by the relaxed atmosphere and the closeness of the group. She liked Mister Giles...she liked them all.

"Much better," Willow grinned, hanging on the arm of her reluctant partner.

"Oh, fine," Xander mugged as Anya danced impatiently. "It took me ten minutes to tie it for him and no one cares."

Willow and Tara both giggled, Buffy rolled her eyes and smiled and Giles crooked his arm.

"Shall we?"

Surprised, but unaccountably pleased, Buffy grinned and slid her slender hand through, before they followed the others to the studio designated for their lesson.

As they walked, Buffy found herself considering her partner yet again. She knew that her body was doing outrageous and ridiculous things now that she was in such close proximity to him, and what was even more outrageous, she liked it. A wave of warmth travelled the length of her body, overstimulating every nerve ending in its wake.

Madame Vernaud was waiting for them as they filed into the simply appointed dance studio. Once again she effused about the memories associated with their various costumes and made a adjustments to almost everyone's clothes, tutting about Giles' missing tie and Spike's cigarette, snatched away from him by an annoyed Willow and disposed of swiftly.

After another ten minutes waxing lyrical about the virtues and joys of ballroom dancing, she finally moved them into position to begin the lesson. Much to the chagrin of all of them, most of it was taken up with the grand dame correcting and demonstrating the way to hold a lady, the way for a lady to hold herself and her dress, if necessary, all the while lecturing on the art of effortlessness. The rest consisted of staccato instructions and an impromptu demonstration of the mechanics of the step they were learning.

When the music finally started, she surprised them all by asking Giles if he knew how to dance, and more particularly, the one they were learning that night, a waltz.

"Um, yes, as a matter of fact," he managed, surprised. "I was required to learn as a youth...one might say almost compulsorily," he added wryly, "but it's been a very long time, I'm afraid."

Madame Vernaud said something very like 'pshaw' and extended a hand.

The group watched in amazement as the Watcher moved off with a stunningly graceful Madame in his arms, executing a seemingly perfect waltz for several revolutions of the small room before coming to an equally effortless halt.

"There, you see." Madame turned to the others and pressed her hands together. "Elegant, effortless...one thought, one movement...together. Thank you Mister Giles. You were taught well."

Giles grinned self-consciously. "Thank you, Madame," he said softly.

"Don't thank me, yet," she warned. "Now you must demonstrate how well you can execute the same style with a neophyte in your arms...someone who cannot yet disguise what was missing."

A tiny frown of confusion appeared on Giles' brow, to clear a moment later. He met the dancing Gallic eyes and grinned back at her, comprehension in his.

Buffy looked up in anticipation. More than anything she suddenly wanted to know what it was like to dance in Rupert Giles' arms...and then her world crashed down. Madame Vernaud was drawing Willow from the group and pushing her toward Giles.

Buffy saw his face drop at the same moment, but so subtlely that if she hadn't been straining to see his reaction, even she would have missed it. Then he was smiling with genuine affection, and turning Willow onto the floor as the music started again.

The redhead picked up the tempo and the rhythm quickly, but it was obvious that they weren't in sync, and that Giles was leading heavily at times, making it look smooth and seamless without ever achieving the floating effortlessness of his turn with the older woman.

When they returned to the others, Madame Vernaud nodded. "Exactly," she said cryptically. "Now, everyone practise what you've learned, and try to understand what you have seen."

Willow looked up at Giles, confusion and a little hurt in her eyes.

"You did fine for your first time," he said very gently and smiled at her. "You have natural grace, Willow. Allow yourself to relax and embrace it."

She finally grinned again, her cheeks crimson. "Really?"

Giles nodded, and smiled again. "Really. Now go and show that vampire of yours how it's done."

"Ay, nobody has to show me, mate," Spike retorted. "I was dancing up a storm before any of you were born." With that he took Willow's hand and twirled her onto the polished wooden floor, followed closely by Tara and her date, and an out-of-patience Anya all but dragging Xander after them.

Willow and Spike looked good together, and it was obvious that she was thinking about what Giles had said. After a full rotation, the two of them were moving as one, their slender bodies in complete sync, so that it didn't matter that Willow was still coming to terms with the new steps, or that Spike wasn't quite as polished as he liked to think he was, after so long away from the dance floor.

Tara and her companion were unobtrusively feeling their way through the dance and finding a rhythm to accommodate the difference in their sizes. Within a couple of turns they had mastered the basics, and Tara was smiling happily, though her eyes were only for Willow.

Buffy looked up at Giles as Xander and Anya went by, the antithesis of grace and harmony for the time being, and was surprised to find him looking down at her, that look in his eyes again.

"So..." she said softly.

"So," he replied, his lips moving into a rakish grin. "May I have this dance, Mademoiselle?"

"Enchanté, Monsieur," she replied in kind, the electricity between them almost tangible.

Madam Vernaud watched the two of them move onto the dance floor among the others. She watched as the man took the young woman in his arms, the way their bodies moved together without hesitation, the way both their faces flushed with colour as they smiled at each other, and nodded to herself again...before tutting and slipping across to help a squabbling Xander and Anya.

Buffy struggled to stay calm as more waves of heat spread out from the arm that Giles slid firmly around her and the hand that fitted so naturally in the hollow of her side. Even a week ago she wouldn't have believed that his touch could make her feel this way. How many times in training had they grappled? Overbalanced and fallen to the floor together while sparring? Or helped each other up? Never once had she felt like this. Her eyes widened. For all the time she was in love with Angel...her whole adolescence, almost, she had thought about Giles only as a comforting adjunct to her life as a Slayer, as the one person who stood between her and the fear and despair of what her life, her future, held.

How could he have been anything else...? She closed her eyes as they spun around the room, her movements soon effortlessly blending with, and led by Giles' own. But he was...he always had been. He was always there, comfortable and comforting, ever demanding...and yet never demanding...

For all that Giles expected the world from her when it came to slaying, he asked nothing for himself...less than nothing, she thought sadly, thinking back on those years and realising just how many times she must have let him down, must have hurt him...

Buffy made a small noise without realising she had, or that her face had come to rest against his breast, until she felt his breath against her hair and his cheek momentarily against her temple, as though to take away the hurt. She was powerless to stop her reaction to his unexpected tenderness...or the sob that carried, from deep within her, every moment of regret, every note of sorrow that was now squeezing her heart into a tiny ball of pain.

The arm around her waist tightened and gentle lips pressed against her hair.

Amid the maelstrom of emotions those two sensations brought, and the distant sound of Anya taking exception to something, a part of Buffy's mind couldn't help wondering if Madame Vernaud would look kindly on their variation of her specific instructions about the position for competition waltzing. For that matter, she had been so consumed by her reaction to Giles, she hadn't a clue whether she'd been doing any of it right.

At that moment, however, she didn't care, nestling her face even more into the warmth beneath the dark shirt, as they turned.

Above her, Giles closed his eyes, the music and the movement of the dance providing a kind of insulated cocoon, in which there was just the two of them, together, safe, one. He could feel every centimetre of her against him; feel her breath against his skin where his chest was exposed by the open vee of his shirt. A part of him just wanted to sweep her up and take her home...but they carried on, floating around the room until the music finally stopped.

With the silence came reality. There were sounds. The sound of Willow and Tara giggling, the nasal twang of Tara's friend asking if it was over yet, and Anya's strident tones wailing that she wanted to be able to do it like 'those two,' and not the way Xander was doing it.

It was followed by Madame Vernaud's calm response that Xander was in fact 'doing it rather well,' and that perhaps Anya should be more concerned with trying to dance as well as her partner, instead of watching what the others were doing.

At that Buffy smiled a little to herself and told herself that she really ought to let go of Giles, but since he hadn't let go of her, she had made no move to separate either. She didn't want to.

And neither did he. He was having a devil of a time convincing himself that it was up to him to let go first, since his arm was holding her close to him. When Buffy didn't let go of his hand as it dropped to their sides, or make any effort to draw her soft cheek away from his breast, any easy out had been, happily, foiled.

Until a voice said, "Something wrong with the Slayer then, Rupert?"

Giles swore under his breath as Buffy finally straightened and they both let go and turned to the others. It couldn't have been more than a few seconds, but it was a few seconds too long, obviously, in the presence of the bored vampire.

"Long day," Buffy shrugged. "Waltzes are sleepy making."

"Oh yeah?" Spike drawled. "I'll have to remember that next time I get insomnia...little bit of Strauss to put me right to sleep."

"I liked the way they were dancing," Anya continued to pout...why can't we dance like that?"

"Maybe because no part of waltzing involves shin kicking, or the cha-cha," Xander drawled facetiously, rubbing his right shin.

Anya snorted and turned to the instructor again. "What are we doing next, and will I be able to do it like them?"

"Next, you are returning all of your costumes to the change rooms and going home. Your time has expired. And you," the fiery old lady said, fixing an eye on Anya, "will go home and listen to your young man. You will listen until the two of you find your centre, until you are in harmony with each other.

Anya subsided.

"That's telling the silly cow," Spike muttered, followed by a distinct 'oof' when Willow elbowed him hard in the ribs. "I think you broke something," he whimpered.

"Good," she shot back, then smiled sweetly when the instructor looked across at them inquiringly.

Madame Vernaud allowed her gaze to slide from Willow to Tara and back again before speaking.

You both will make excellent dancers," she said, "but next time be where your heart is."

The two girls looked at each other and beamed, while their escorts looked bored, Stewart even managing to check his watch three times, while Spike had almost lit up twice, before he remembered Willow's treatment of his last precious smoke.

Finally, Madame Vernaud turned to Giles and Buffy, now standing a little self-consciously, side by side, their shoulders almost touching, but otherwise apart. She smiled very slowly.

"You interpretation of the dance is an interesting one," she said in her soft French accent, "but your feet were not always listening to your hearts. We will make corrections at the next lesson, no?"

Neither of them looked at each other, or at the others, both glowing like stoplights, both trying and failing spectacularly, to look inconspicuous.

"As long as there's more dancing and less talk next time," Anya growled, already headed for the change room. "This isn't anything like I thought it was going to be..."

Xander shrugged at everyone and grinned sheepishly, before following with the others.

"Can I take you home?" Giles asked when Buffy finally emerged from the change room.

"Where'd everybody go?"

He shrugged. "Madame Vernaud has another lesson to prepare for. As soon as I informed him of what we found, Spike vanished. Anya was still more than a little...annoyed. Xander offered ice cream sundaes as a peace offering. Willow and Tara invited themselves, along with that lad who danced with Tara."

"They didn't want me...?" she asked, just a little plaintively.

The gleam in his eyes flickered and died. "I'm sorry. I should have realised..."

For a moment Buffy stood poised, staring at him, her mind half with the others, and the hurtful fact that they'd gone off without her, and half struggling with something else, something that was suddenly making her legs feel like wet noodles.

"No," she said finally, shakily. "It's okay. Really. I was...I was just surprised, that's all."

He smiled ruefully. "You were terribly disappointed," he corrected. "I'm s-"

"Don't...say it," Buffy warned. "I'm not disappointed...just surprised."

They stood and regarded each other, neither certain what to say, or do, next.

"Would you like me to take you home?" Giles finally asked.

Her eyes, almost grey now, searched his. "Home?"

He swallowed, suddenly feeling very old.

"Is...is there, perhaps, something you...you'd like to do?" he managed, sounding almost exactly like the Rupert Giles who had waited in Sunnydale High's school library so long ago, for his Slayer to finally appear.

It was Buffy's turn to swallow. "I'd like to dance with you again," she said very softly.

He stared at her for a long beat, then his mouth quirked up into a lopsided grin and his eyes sparkled again.

"I think something could be arranged," he whispered.

*******

The apartment was at once cold, dark and still, and then, when the light flicked on, comforting, inviting...home.

"You know," Buffy said as Giles hung his jacket on the coat rack, "I never really thought about it before, but I really love this place."

"Buffy, you've never liked this place. You hate my taste in furnishings, the décor..."

"I know," she said simply. "That's not what I love about it. She turned and looked up at him. "I love it because it's yours."

The silence grew almost as thick as the walls.

"Y-you never have before," he managed, still struggling to find his balance, as things continued to threaten to spin out of control.

For a moment Buffy looked as though she might answer that, but when she finally spoke, it felt more like an anticlimax.

"So...tea?" she asked. 'Cause I figure no dancing here...right?"

Giles frowned, then turned and went to his music collection. Moments later the unmistakeable melody of the song to which she had danced with Angel at the Prom filled the room. *Why would he...?*

Buffy stood very still. This was also the song to which she'd been so sure Giles was going to ask her to dance. Ever since that night, the second thing she always thought of when she heard it, was dancing with Angel... The first was Giles, and the way he'd appeared at her side, made small talk, and generally tried to be comfort guy in his own, stuffy kind of way. She bit her lip remembering the genuine hurt she'd felt when he didn't ask her to dance...or at least hadn't, before Angel had walked in...

"Would you care to dance, Miss Summers?" he asked very quietly when he turned.

In reply she came to him, not bothering with the night's lesson, and simply slid her arms around him and buried her face in his shirt.

With little more than a split second's hesitation, Giles wrapped his arms around her, and held her, closing his eyes when her embrace grew even fiercer. For the longest time they moved slowly around the room to the music, until, finally, the track changed and they stopped.

Instinctively, Buffy lifted her head and found herself staring into those incredible eyes, her breath catching at what she saw in them. She continued to stare up at him, unaware that his were mirroring her own. For another several beats neither spoke, but the tension between them was almost unbearable.

Finally, he moved his left hand so that his fingers touched her face, trembling as they traced the contour of her cheekbone.

"Buffy..." he whispered.

It was enough. She caught the fingers and slowly brought them to her mouth, never taking her eyes from his. She could see his pupils dilate and feel the tremor that went through him as her moistened lips brushed them.

Then his hands were sliding tenderly into her hair and the green eyes were asking her a question.

She smiled at him, her eyes shining

His finally head bent and caught her sweet, soft lips, as though stealing a moment, only to find them kissing him back, telling him everything words couldn't as their passion merged and became one.

When they finally broke, Buffy's arms were around his neck, her fingers in the silky hair on the back of his head. She withdrew them quickly, both of them immediately self-conscious and awkward.

Giles stared down at the glowing face, the passion blurred eyes, and wondered if he was in peril of a heart attack, his heart was racing so hard, so afraid was he of ruining everything.

"I..." Buffy whispered when he didn't speak. "Please...don't hate me."

Giles' eyes widened in amazement at hearing his own thoughts echoed. "Hate you? My God... Buffy, love, don't you know, even now?"

She stared back at him, afraid, unsure. "Know...?"

He took her face in his hands again. "How much I love you...how much I...I need you," he whispered. "I could never tell you before. I never wanted you to hate me, either."

For a long moment she seemed stunned, overwhelmed, her eyes slowly beginning to glitter with moisture. "I could never hate you," she finally told him, reaching up to touch his jaw, to brush his temple with the backs of her fingers. "I love you too much."

For that he kissed her again, Buffy marvelling at the feel of his mouth on hers, demanding, strong, yet tender as velvet as it plundered hers until she surrendered to him, lips parting hungrily and claiming his warm intrusion as eagerly as he claimed her own.

Reality stood still, the two of them outside of time, their entire universe made up of two.

An eternity seemed to pass before they found themselves looking at each other again.

By the time she spoke, Buffy was already missing the feel of his arms around her, her body already aching for his touch again...

Yet, for his own reasons, unlike the other men in her life, Giles' hands had not strayed, for all that his lips had told her how much he wanted her, how much he loved her.

When she lifted her eyes to his, Buffy realised why. She felt a sudden rush of love so strong she made an audible noise in her throat, as it shook her to her core.

She reached up and touched his face again, watched his eyes close as she tenderly traced its outline from his temple to his chin, heard his sharp intake of breath as her fingers continued down his throat to where his dark shirt was open and felt his shudder as she slid them inside it.

"Scared?" she teased, her voice vibrant with emotion and passion.

His eyes flew open. "Terrified," he replied in a voice that was anything but.

A shiver went down her spine. She'd never heard that tone before...a harsh, sensual, sound, offset only by the love that so lit up his eyes.

"I thought so," she finally whispered, took his hand and pressed it to the soft skin over her bare sternum, above the low cut line of her top. "Don't be..." A tremor went through him and Buffy felt it. "...I'm not," she told him softly.

Giles exhaled a breath he didn't realise he was holding and curled the fingers on her skin, ran the backs of them over the curve of her breast, watching her reaction, seeing her flesh respond through the thin fabric of the blouse.

A moment later she was unbuttoning his shirt, pushing it off his shoulders, drawing the tails out of his pants and dropping it on the floor.

"Buffy...are you certain this is what...G-god..." He stopped to groan as her hands travelled over his bare chest.

"Am I certain this is what I want?" She deliberately slid a hand down past his navel and over his belt. "I want this even more than you do," she told him when he groaned again, as her fingers traced the prominent contour in his jeans. "And it looks like that's a whole lot," she teased.

He laughed in spite of himself, and his lack of breath, at that moment. Only Buffy could be facetious in such an incredibly tense moment. He could feel himself relaxing as he grinned back at her.

"I'm not a boy any more, Buffy...I...I'm not Riley..."

For a moment Buffy closed her eyes. "I don't want a boy. I don't want Riley-I haven't, truly, for a very long time," she finally realized, and looked up at him. "What I want...more than I've ever wanted anything...is you."

She squeaked as he suddenly swept her off her feet and started towards the stairs, then curled her arms around his neck.

"God, Giles, I didn't know you could still do stuff like this."

He gave a shout of laughter. "Hussy," he growled good-naturedly. "I've carried you before," he reminded her as she snuggled into his neck.

"I know, but how long ago was that...?"

His arms tightened around her. "Too long," he said roughly as he started climbing the stairs.

"You're not even breathing hard," she realised, surprised, as they reached the loft.

"Well thank you for noticing that I don't have a foot in my grave yet," he teased back.

"I'm serious, Giles. When did you get into such great shape?"

He let her slide down to the floor. "So am I. You know I used to jog...still do, on occasion."

"Yeah...but...without your shirt on...or your glasses...God, Giles, why do you always make yourself look older? Why do you not look like this all the time?"

"Like what?"

Buffy began unbuckling his belt. "Now he's fishing for compliments," she teased again but went on when he scoffed. "I can't believe you don't know exactly how incredible you look right now. Don't ever hide behind your glasses again...your hair...this body you've been smothering in layers of clothes for like, ever..." she finished, sliding his zipper down, only to be stopped when he suddenly gathered her in his arms and crushed her to him in a passionate kiss.

By the time it was over they were both glowing and breathing hard.

Giles took hold of her top, hesitated until she smiled reassuringly and nodded, then drew it gently over her head.

"Giles? Are you okay?" she asked softly when he dropped the blouse and let his hands fall to his sides. "Y-yes, actually," he managed. "It's just...I've...I've never been nervous before, about..."

After a beat, she slowly removed her sport bra, let it fall to the ground, aware of his reaction, the fire in his eyes as she came to him and slid her arms around him, pressed her warm body against him. A small sigh of relief escaped her lips when she heard him groan, felt the shudder that went through him.

"It's my fault," she told him quietly, against the warmth of his chest. "I thought I knew you, but I never really did. I was stupid. I couldn't see what was right in front of me...what was right there in my heart all the time. Love me, Giles, please...you have to," she insisted, lifting her head and looking into his eyes, "because I can't love you this much and not touch you now...not be with you, now."

For a moment he was silent, then it was as if he had metamorphosed...gone was the sweetly tentative Giles. She shivered. The green eyes looking at her now were the eyes of a man in love, a man who had no doubts about the woman he wanted...or about how he was going to love her.

When he lifted her again, little was left between them...a tiny slip of pink silk, a pair of black stretch briefs...as he lay her very slowly on the bed, following her down as she came to rest across it.

Buffy's eyes closed when those velvety lips moved expertly from her ear to her throat, as her lingerie slid away, to explore every soft curve and tender contour, smiling as she called out his name, groaned and gasped in turn. Her soft, rounded breasts were goose-pimpled, their tender pink peaks straining to him as he caressed them.

Giles shook with the intensity of his love, and his desire for her. It was almost too much to comprehend, even as his lips trailed over her smooth, flat belly, that she could feel even a fraction of what he felt for her.

She let out a long, slow, tortured moan as he brushed his lips across the soft curve of her womanhood, but let his tongue trail only up the inside of a silky white thigh. Buffy breathed hard at the intensity of her reaction to his touch, the fire that burned for him.

When her thighs lifted a little and she moan again, a small, frustrated sound, he caressed her again and felt her arch even higher, her groan breaking, in a pleading noise that made him smile again before beginning a tender exploration of the centre of her frustration, his pulse racing with each gasp and thrust of her hips until neither of them could bear any more.

His briefs dropped on the floor as he moved over her, kissed her mouth hard, so that Buffy could feel the throbbing of her lips from being crushed against her teeth as she kissed him back, even harder. They locked together, his hands sliding down until he took her hips and drew them up to his. The kiss grew wilder as both of them shifted to accommodate their respective sizes and he finally entered her, Buffy suddenly throwing her head back to cry out with pleasure over his groan of ecstasy.

Their passion seemed to catch fire, Giles barely able to control the overwhelming waves of desire caused by every move, every sound she made, and Buffy rising to the expert control, the sensuality and power of him, as he brought her closer and closer.

Caught up in the intensity of their lovemaking, now a spiralling ascent to heights neither of them had ever known before, they forgot about everything except each other.

"Giles! Oh God...Giles!" Buffy finally screamed, moving frantically beneath him, arching and dragging her hands down his back, taking hold of his hips as he shuddered and gasped. A moment later their arms were closed tightly around each other, still jolting and rocking with the intensity of their completion.

When they were finally at rest, though still bathed in the warmth of their connection, Giles slowly kissed Buffy's parted lips, smiling against them when she lazily kissed him back and opened her eyes.

"God," she said softly. "I've never...it's never..." she stammered, then frowned. "Never mind..."

Giles chuckled. "Do I detect a compliment in there somewhere?" he asked, equally softly.

She nodded silently, her grin widening to match his, reached up and kissed his chin. "Big, big compliment," she confirmed.

He kissed her delightfully reddened lips once more and rolled back to lie beside her, starting just a little when she immediately wriggled close and curled up in the crook of his shoulder, before sighing with contentment and drawing his arm contentedly around her.

"You know," she said a few moments later, into the restful silence, "this would be a great way to finish patrols from now on..." She drew herself up suddenly and watched his eyes open slowly. Then something occurred to her. "Hey..." she began, startled.

'Hey what?" he asked drowsily.

"Hey...we didn't use anything...you know..."

Both eyes were suddenly alert as he lifted his head. "Are you trying to tell me that after all this time...Riley...everything...you're not protected...?" he demanded, horrified.

"Hey, I'm responsible," she retorted. "Not that. I meant the other kind of protection, silly."

Giles exhaled and closed his eyes again. "I'm so sorry...about both. I'm old enough to know better, and old enough so that I have been taking precautions for a great many years...There's no danger...but I should have remembered...it was just...you were..."

He turned his head to look at her, his face almost glowing with the strength of the feelings he was suddenly having so much trouble articulating.

Buffy's own cheeks burned. She had forgotten for the same reason. "Me too...to both," she said softly. "So we're fine. Yay us. The good citizens."

He laughed softly and caressed her cheek. "Yes we are," he agreed. "But I should have remembered."

"We," should," she corrected. "We both should have remembered, but I've never forgotten before...I mean...you were so..." she finished lamely.

He grinned lopsidedly. "Another compliment already?"

She kissed his nose. "Sorta happens when you're in love."

His reaction was written all over his face. "Yes, I suppose it 'sorta' does," he grinned tenderly. "And I do love you, so very much."

Adoration transformed Buffy's features. "Not nearly as much as I love you."

She saw the flicker of doubt in his eyes and sighed inwardly. She deserved that. "If I tell you I love you more than anyone, underline anyone, I've ever loved before...if I tell you that I understand now, maybe for the first time, what happened last year...and that I'm so sorry...about everything...would that convince you?"

It was Giles turn to sigh. "Last year was a difficult time for you-" he began.

She laid a finger on his lips, not willing to let him excuse her this time.

"I was a bitca."

His eyes smiled. "You had your moments," he agreed, his lips moving against her fingertip.

"Hey...that was pretty darn quick with the agreeing there, Mister," she pouted.

He tilted his head a little against the pillow and narrowed his eyes.

"I was a bitca," she repeated obediently and sighed again. "I wish I was more like Willow when it comes to being with the people skills, but I've spent way too much time killing things and consorting...in the y'know, non-biblical sense," she amended, "with dead things and trying not to think about my non-existent future, to be sensitive, empathic girl...or is that empath girl? Or maybe empathetic... No, scratch that..."

"Buffy."

She paused. "What?"

Giles smiled. "It's all right. I understand."

Her eyes grew unexpectedly bright. "That's not fair," she said very softly.

"What isn't?" he asked, surprised, and concerned.

"I'm already feeling totally evil and despicable for being so not-caring girl last year and you...you're being noble guy and making me feel a hundred times worse."

He laughed aloud then, a wonderful, deep, real laugh that made her grin despite the flash of misery in her eyes.

"Buffy, love, it's wonderful that you're wracked with guilt, and I love you for it, but I meant what I said. I know what it means to be the Chosen. I know how it must feel to have the responsibility of a whole world on your shoulders, and still want to be who you are, who you need to be, for your own sanity. I know how easily we can run off the rails, and how easily we can turn our backs on others, even those we love, as we become consumed by our destinies..." His expression grew distant, "Or by the effort to deny them..."

"Okay, now that wasn't all about me, was it, even though it kind of was, right?"

He smiled lovingly at her. "No, it wasn't entirely about you."

"It was about you...your Ripper days?"

He nodded. "My rebellion against the inherent unfairness of life. The irony of it was the only people I hurt were the ones I loved most. I neglected my family, used my friends ...lost Randall..." He paused when Buffy's slender hand slid comfortingly into his. "Anyway, you know enough to understand that we're far more alike than unlike, and that whatever you believe to be your flaws, I do understand, and I will always love you." "Me too," she said, emotion in her voice. "I mean...I won't ever stop loving you, just because you're stuffy, old and stubborn."

"Ay!"

She giggled, despite the moisture in her lashes. "Just wanted to see if you were still listening. You know you're the sexiest man I've ever known, bar none, so enough with the false modesty."

Giles snorted, but Buffy could see he was pleased.

She slid her hand down his chest and under the covers, enjoying his reaction before meeting his steady gaze with her loving blue-grey one.

"I love you so much, Rupert Giles."

He made a noise in his throat as her fingers found their destination, and a surprise, and arched against them.

Buffy made an appreciative noise of her own.

"As a matter of fact, I love you so much I think I need to show you all over again," she purred, then squealed when he shifted so that he was above her, holding her in his arms again, her thighs curling instinctively around his.

"Or maybe I could let you help," she amended contentedly, returning his dazzling grin as his head bent and his mouth claimed hers again...

 

The End