The Visitor
By Gail Christison

TITLE: The Visitor
AUTHOR: Gail Christison
Rating: NC-17 for eventual romantic sexual scenes
Summary: Giles has a visitor at his Bath flat. Angst, revelation, transition...
Timeline: Anytime soon :-)
Disclaimer: All belongs to Mutant Enemy...well the bath is mine, though my tiles are Italian bronze not faux marble <g>
Distribution: OMWF http://www.wickedsky.com/oncemore ; Everyone who already has my permission, anyone else would like it, please ask first. :-)
Feedback: chriscln@iinet.net.au Always love to hear what you think
Author's notes: This story began as a writing exercise to get some inspiration back because the season had become so depressing and GilesLESS...and grew into a real live ficcy <g> Big hugs to Liz and Gileswench for their support and encouragement and to Melissa for taking time out from her wonderful epic to take a peek :-) I also want to wave to Dawn M and Kirstin and to just say *thank you* and another hug for Gylzgirl for her inspiration which lead to the tub and the damp PJs <g>

Dedication: To the Giles we love and miss so very much


Giles rose from his leather recliner and put down the book he'd been trying to read since dinner, the aroma of which still hung heavily in the air. He supposed that it didn't help that he'd opted for an old university days' standby: bangers, mash and boiled cabbage…

The knock at his door was the first since one of the elderly neighbours had called with a pot of Minestrone soup about a week earlier. One thing that he hadn't had to adjust to in the historical but smart Bath flat, or townhouse, was visitors.

He reached the door still stretching his back. Exchanging jogging for tramping had seemed like a good idea, and a little romantic with it, and it had been…there had been a certain cleansing associated with his forays across the countryside, into the old, old places, but the legacy was the reminder that one wasn't twenty-one any more, and the damp British winter wasn't kind to more mature, and oft-damaged bones.

The still mostly-tawny brown head stooped a little to look through the keyhole, and froze. The long fingers of one hand splayed convulsively on the wood of the door and those on the other clenched slowly into a tight fist. It took him several seconds to find his centre, calm his racing heart, nerves, and the chaos of his thoughts.

When he thought he was ready, he unlocked the door.

"You locked it," she said softly, looking up at him with tired, old eyes.

He looked away. His door had always been unlocked…for one reason, and one reason only.

"Come in," he said hoarsely, and stood aside to allow her to come in out of the cold air.

"Nice," she said softly. "Nicer than the hotel even."

"Can I get you…?"

"S-some tea," she filled in, emotion gripping her entire frame for a moment, then the smile flickering at her lips vanished again. "Tea would be great. Hot tea, the hotter the better. This is some cold country you've got here, bud."

"H-have you been here long?" Giles asked with difficulty.

"Long enough to find this place, drive down here and find you."

"Drive?" he demanded, startled. "You don't…!"

"No I don't," she agreed. "Unmixy things, remember?"

"Then how…?"

"I borrowed a driver. The Council and I understand each other real well these days. We had a nice talk and afterwards they were happy to buy me a plane ticket and let me have a driver and a car."

Giles closed his eyes for a moment. "You coerced the council into providing transport simply so that you could visit me?"

"There's no 'simply', here," she replied sombrely and sat in his chair.

Still not sure what was going on, he finally forced himself to look her in the face. "I-Is everyone all right? Has something happened? Dawn…?"

Buffy's eyes closed, a furrow forming between her brows as she shook her head. "They're fine. Everyone is fine, a mess, but fine. That's not what…I don't…" She stopped and then restarted. "You said tea."

"Oh. Oh yes, tea. You always preferred Orange spice. Do you still…?"

A flicker of something that could only be described as pain, lanced through her eyes. "Whatever," she said flatly. "I haven't had tea since…not for a very long time. Anything will be fine."

Giles frowned but headed for the small kitchen. It was beautifully appointed and crafted but he'd have given every copper pot and pan, every oak panel, to be back in the pokey little Sunnydale apartment with her at that moment, preferably long before Buffy had died, long before Dawn's arrival and long before his world had become such a relentlessly unhappy place…

When he returned with the tea she was dozing in the big leather chair, and didn't stir when he slid the tray onto the coffee table. He sat on the sofa end nearest her with his mug and watched her for a long time, aware that jet lag had probably caught up with her.

She had changed, and not for the better. Also, surprisingly, her hair was shorter, and drawn back into a mature chignon. She wore a high-necked brown sweater, dark green trews and a long, even darker brown suede coat, gloves and boots.

She hadn't been as conservative with her appearance since their trip to the desert. Not only that, but it was obvious that she was neither relaxed nor at peace. In fact she soon grew restless, and showed signs of subconscious distress.

Giles reached out and touched her arm. He still wasn't used to that. He had never felt comfortable with allowing himself even the least of intimacies with her. He wasn't sure why, when he was more than comfortable about the occasional casual contact with Xander or Willow. With them it was easier, familial, but with Buffy it had always been…

Except for that one moment. As the memory of it flooded back he watched her face. She'd stopped fretting but hadn't woken.

It had been the most wondrous and incredible thing…Buffy back from the dead. His heart had almost burst with the joy of seeing her again, looking up at him, almost exactly the same. Almost. Without realising he was doing it, his fingers moved to brush her cheek.

But she hadn't been the same…there had been no joy, no spark, no life in those eyes, only pain. He closed his own for a moment, lost in the memory of that crashing feeling when his joy had been usurped by the realisation that she was not the same girl he lo…remembered. The furrow in his brow deepened and his jaw twitched.

In the midst of the rising hurt, warm fingers closed around his but he was too self-conscious to open his eyes.

"I missed you," her voice said, a world of emotion in the slightest tremble of each word.

"And I you," he whispered hoarsely. "When you…died…I thought I would never know joy again." Her fingers tightened their grip. "And when you came back…"

"I came back wrong," she said sadly. "At least I thought I did. It hurt…so much…and I felt so dead inside."

He drew a jagged breath and forced himself to look at her. "I'm sorry. If I had known…"

"I know," she told him, affection making her eyes bright as they looked into his. "I heard you…with Willow."

"You…?" Giles voice trailed off and he swallowed, remembering what had been said. "I never meant you to hear any of that, but I meant what I said, Buffy. I would not have allowed…"

"I know," she repeated, with even more affection. "I wish you'd been there to stop them. It doesn't matter now, though. If I've learned anything since you left, it's that I really don't want to die again. I've kinda learned some other stuff too. Like, I don't like me very much, right now. It's like every time something bad happens in my life, which is kind of a lot, I become this evil, horrible Buffy."

He tried to smile, but it was little more than an emotional lift of the corners of his mouth. "I'm sure it can't have been that bad. At least not as bad as your rather trying Initiative period," he teased, light finally reaching his eyes.

Her blue-grey ones rolled up to his. "Thank you for reminding me that I have been the bitca route before," she retorted dryly, but without malice. "And yes it could. It could be worse. A lot worse."

His own gaze dropped. "I'm sorry I wasn't there."

"Be glad you weren't," she countered, almost amused. "You really didn't want to be there for all that. But it might have been…better…if you were. I wish you had been. Even being stuffy and disapproving of everything I was doing, it would have been so much better to have you there, instead of stumbling around on my own proving just how stupid I really am."

"Why are you here?" he whispered, without looking up.

"I like it," she teased. "Direct, to the point, no stammering, no ums."

He did half smile, half chuckle then, but only fleetingly. "Yes, well…"

The smile faded from her face. "I missed you. I-I knew you wouldn't come, so…"

His head shot up and he stared at her. "Buffy…I would do anything for you…except allow you to be less than you are, or could be."

Buffy held his gaze. "I-I know. But you wouldn't have come," she reiterated.

"Dawn seems to be worried about you," he offered, not knowing what else he could say to that.

She shrugged. "There's worry. About me, about her…all of us."

"Y-yes, you mentioned a…mess?"

"God, where do I start?" she said, more to herself. "And what has Dawn told you?"

"Not a great deal," he said in an oddly neutral voice. "She's very obviously been unhappy, though I believe she thinks it doesn't show in her correspondence. She's vocalised concern about you on a number of counts, talks about Tara frequently, Xander and Anya occasionally, and conspicuously does not mention Willow."

Buffy, a shade paler and her expression a little hunted, swallowed. "What…um…what did she say about me?"

Giles made a dismissive gesture. "It's what she doesn't say that bothers me more. For a long while she has given the impression that she is very much alone, unsupervised and that you are preoccupied with issues which don't include her."

"Well, yeah," Buffy admitted reluctantly. "It's no secret I suck as a parent, and then Will and Tara broke up and everything, and I…well, I suck majorly in the Dawn raising department."

"Willow and Tara are no longer together?"

"Well, they weren't, for a long time. Willow kind of let the magic get control of her, y'know, like she didn't mean to do bad things…they just kinda happened."

Giles drew in an unhappy breath. "Things will, if you let magic, or anything else, control your life." He didn't see the look of misery that momentarily twisted Buffy's features.

"It must be my turn to make the tea, huh?" she offered, suddenly needing to put some distance between them.

His eyes widened a little in bemused surprise. "If you like. You know how I have mine."

For a moment Buffy didn't move, then she nodded and headed for the kitchen, hiding her suddenly overbright gaze from view. Within minutes she was back, collected and ready to face him again.

They sipped in silence for a few moments before Giles spoke. "Buffy, is there something you want to tell me?"

She froze, her expression changing several times from surprise, to terror, to denial, to resignation.

"Yeah, but I'm not really ready yet," she admitted.

"Fair enough," he replied, and resumed sipping his tea.

"I hate when you do that," she muttered into hers.

"Do what?"

"That," she said stubbornly. "I'm really not ready, okay?"

"Fine," he said evenly and picked up one of the shortbreads she'd brought with the tea.

Buffy banged her cup in its saucer and slopped tea over the sides before putting the whole thing down with a clatter and getting up to prowl the room.

Giles knew it was serious, but he knew his Slayer well enough to know that the less he pushed the more likely it was that she would rise to the bait and volunteer whatever it was that was worrying her. On the other hand, if he insisted in the least, she would, in her contrary way, close up or defy him out of sheer perversity of nature…or possibly as an extreme defence mechanism. He'd never quite worked that one out.

"We can go out on the common if you feel the need of some exercise, or a spot of training," he offered easily.

"No," she said quickly. "No, I'm fine, it's just…I need…" She made a frustrated noise. "Never mind. Giles, why here? Why not London?"

"I have no fond memories of London," he mused. "Actually, I already owned this flat, and my roots are here in the West Country."

"So this is like…coming home, to you?" she asked, surprisingly timidly.

He nodded. "Very much so."

"Are you happy?" It was a rushed question, almost as though she had to get it out before she changed her mind.

That gave him pause. He looked up slowly, then stared at her for several long moments. "At times," he said finally. "But on the whole I must honestly say…no."

"Me neither."

Giles frowned. "You're unhappy? I thought you had come to terms with your return?"

Buffy shrugged. "Kinda. But it didn't help much."

"Do you know why you're still unhappy?"

She stopped prowling again, and nodded unhappily. "That's why I came. For a long time…ever since I came back, I didn't know why I was unhappy, dead inside. And then a little while ago I found out."

"Buffy, why didn't you call, talk to me about this earlier? I wanted you to take responsibility for your life, to learn to be independent. I never intended for you to be miserable or unhappy."

"Me neither," she repeated whimsically. "But that's how it was. And my ideas on how to fix it kind of sucked on a whole 'nother magnitude of suckiness…badness actually. Major badness."

"Which, presumably, is what you're not ready to tell me about yet?" he guessed.

She twisted her fingers together. "Yeah, actually," she admitted then started to prowl again. "The thing is, no matter how I say this you're going to hate me." He started to shake his head. "YES, you will," she insisted in a tone that brooked no argument.

His heart dropped. "Buffy, you didn't kill anyone…?"

"Of course not," she shot back, irritated. "Well, I thought I did for a while, but that wasn't my fault…"

Giles raised an almost dazed eyebrow.

She shook her head. "It's not important." After a moment's silence she explained quietly: "I…um…I was seeing someone."

"Oh? Someone I know?" he asked, barely over the possibility that Buffy had killed someone, and trying too hard to hide the turmoil those last words instantly invoked in him.

Again Buffy looked wretched. "Um, well, yeah. That's sorta the problem."

Possibilities trampled through Giles' thoughts. Angel. Or Riley was back. Or Buffy had poached Xander from Anya and was in peril of a vengeance spell. Or for some unfathomable reason she'd become involved with that Parker creature again. He sighed heavily. None of those choices were healthy and all fraught with the possibility of heartache at a time when she could least deal with the inevitable upheaval…

"Best you tell me and get it over with," he said kindly. "I was there through all of your romantic, um, travails, remember?"

"Not this one," she said darkly, and looked like she might actually flee.

"Buffy?" Giles went from concern to surprise when she burst into silent tears and began to tremble. "Buffy?"

She shook her head. "I can't. You'll hate me. I'm dirty and horrible and you can't like me; you won't even want to look at me when you know what I've done!" she cried, and fled toward the front door.

Giles shot up after her but wasn't quick enough to stop her. He stopped as the door slammed in his face, unwilling to pursue her in her current state, frustrated, but confident that she would come to no harm.

He turned slowly to go back to his chair, firmly repressing a distinct urge to find that single malt he'd unearthed when packing in Sunnydale all those months ago.

By the time Buffy returned, several hours later, he'd been through six cups of tea and enough deductive reasoning to have made an educated, but accurate guess as to who, or what, her latest suitor might be.

She came through the unlocked door wordlessly and sat on his sofa. It was obvious that she'd been running, and, judging by the smudges and the slight breathlessness, possibly leaping and fighting as well, though he'd not heard or seen any vampire or demon activity in the area since his arrival.

"Why?" Giles asked simply, after a long, almost communing silence.

She stared at the floor. "He said I came back wrong. He said I was alone. He said nobody loved me except him…nobody else could love me the way I am. And after…he said they wouldn't want to be my friends if they knew…"

Silence hung heavily for long moments before Buffy spoke again.

"I'll go now," she whispered, and started to rise.

Giles put out a hand to catch her arm, but did not look up.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Why?" he repeated.

Despite her best efforts a sob wrenched out of her. "Because it hurt…because when it comes right down to it, I can deal with digging myself out of a box in the ground. I-I can deal with no mom, monsters and vampires and no money and getting jobs and double-meat burgers and fixing the stupid plumbing," she rambled, her voice getting more and more emotional and histrionic. "I can even deal with my best friend being an addict and almost killing my sister, and Dawn working damned hard at becoming a delinquent. God, I can even deal, badly, but deal, with stupid social workers who want to take her away from me!"

Buffy pulled away from him, walked a few steps and wheeled before speaking in a desolate voice. "What I can't deal with is the emptiness. And he…he filled that, in a horrible, dirty, twisted kind of way." She looked at once wretched and forlorn. "For those times at least, I wasn't…I wasn't alone."

Giles closed his eyes for a long moment then stood up and faced her.

"You weren't alone. You have Xander and Willow, Tara and Dawn…" he said, almost as if trying to convince himself as much as her.

She stared at him silently for a long time then looked away. "No, I don't," she said finally, harshly. "This isn't high school any more, Toto. This is the real world. No mom. No Scooby gang, because, hello, crappy lives of their own…n-no library to go to when it gets too hard or someone tells you: guess what, babe? You're not human. You came back wrong. Nobody wants you. And even before that, when everything was gone except for the one thing that's kept me sane for the last five years?" She looked up accusingly. "Then it up and left me too."

Giles stared back at her. How could things have come to this? How could she have done such a thing to herself? How could he, how could any of them, have let it happen?

Rage warred with grief, disgust, and misery as he stared into her eyes. Eyes that held a hurt so deep, it was as if her soul itself was scarred. His chest tightened.

Perhaps it was…

The staring would have continued perhaps indefinitely, or until the mutual rage, the hurt, burned themselves down to embers.

Instead, Buffy spoke flatly. "Are you going to throw me out, or should I just go?" she asked, expecting nothing more, but relieved that it was done, that he knew, and that they'd had this little time together, at least.

Giles opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. He seemed so still, but there was the slightest tremor as he fought for control.

Buffy's eyes widened in fear. She'd never seen him like that before…like…like he was going to explode, as he had in the library when Xander had provoked him about the death of Jenny Calendar, and with an intensity that would have made that nuke look like a popped balloon. Fear turned to terror. Her fists closed and she started to back away, not because of any fear that he might hurt her…that was someone else's speciality…but simply to escape the pain of his disappointment, his disgust. She was on the verge of fleeing again when she was halted by a word, a tortured whisper.

"Buffy…"

It took an age for her to turn her head and raise her eyes to meet his and yet only a nanosecond for them to come together. And then he was holding her so tightly that if she hadn't been the Slayer she'd have been crushed against him, and she was returning the embrace so desperately and yet with such love that she actually managed not to crush any ribs. The reunion continued in ferocious silence until neither of them could remember how long it had been.

It was Buffy, lifting her head at last from its hot and damp hollow in his shirtfront, who finally chased away the illusion of peace and allowed reality to rush back in.

Giles started to draw his arms away but hesitated when Buffy made a small sound and looked up at him.

"Not yet," she said softly and leaned against him again, finding a dry spot for her cheek as he willingly closed his arms around her again, and minutes later, when she'd shown no sign of letting go, slid an arm beneath her legs and carried her to the sofa.

"Now?" he said whimsically when she finally lifted her head again, surprised when his gentle face and tender expression caused her eyes to fill again.

"Now," she said, and smiled a very watery half smile. "I missed you so much."

Giles touched a damp cheek. "Not nearly as much as I have missed you. Remember that device I told you about? The one you talk into…?"

Buffy failed to stop an equally watery giggle. "I know. But I was so angry with you. I wanted you to call first."

"I did," he said softly.

"Then how come I didn't…?"

"You were never home…or not taking calls. And much as I enjoy a chat with Tara or Willow or a conversation with your sister, it wasn't quite the same thing at all," he told her in a not-quite-rock steady voice. "You told Dawn you didn't want to know, remember?"

Buffy's eyes widened in alarm. "She told you that? But it was right after you left. I was going crazy. I hated you so much for leaving me. I didn't mean it though." She shrugged. "I guess they all took me literally."

"So it would seem," he sighed.

She rested her brow against the base of his throat. "Now that we cleared that up…when exactly did we get all tactile? Not that I h-have a problem with…you know," she stammered, "but I'm not really clear how we got from Giles-enter-my-personal-space-at-your-own-peril to, well, after I came back and…now."

He sighed and kissed the top of the fair head. "You died," he said succinctly.

"I had to die for you to love me?" she squeaked, only realising the breadth of what she'd said, far too late.

After a moment's silence, gentle fingers turned her face to look at him again. "I have always loved you. You have been the centre of my world since the day you faced me in the library and baldly told me what I could do with my Vampyr text."

"I did not," she said shakily.

He chuckled. "Well, all right, but the intent was the same."

"Got that right," she muttered.

"Indeed," he sighed.

Despite her pleased, pleasantly flushed face, she frowned suddenly. "But…if you've always loved me…wouldn't that have been kinda gross…back then?"

Giles coloured a little but laughed anyway. "Oh, no. It wasn't that kind of love. Not…well, anyway, there was Jenny…a-and you were a child. An annoying, infuriating, child…"

"Okay, word picture complete," she complained. "Me…brat. Can we move on? There was Jenny and you're not creepy. Got it."

"I don't know why you thought you came back wrong," he growled, piqued. "You haven't changed a bit."

Somehow, after all the heartache, all the tension, his grumpy, Giles-like observation was far too much.

Buffy started to laugh first, or giggle, more like it, until the giggle became full blown laughter and Giles found himself chuckling with her. The release was almost palpable.

They were still laughing when she lifted her head to look at him, and he looked down at her at almost the same moment, so that they were but millimetres from each other's mouths.

At that point, somehow reality checked out. It was as though the child she had once been suddenly faded to insignificance, a distant, passing recollection, no longer related to the now. Every part of the woman Buffy was suddenly came to life and focused on the man whose breath was caressing her face.

As inconceivable as it had been moments earlier, all she wanted now was for that beautifully sculptured mouth to touch hers.

The moment hung in the air forever, neither of them knowing the tumult of emotions rocking the other. Later they would argue about who moved first, but for that moment: the instant that their lips touched, it was as though they had come home.

Buffy lost herself in the sweet sensuality of it, the way his mouth could be so powerful, yet gentle, the way he could make her feel alive without feeling dirty. She closed her eyes against hurt of those memories as the kiss deepened, her arms closing around his neck as he moved from the tenderness of their first kiss, to a kind of love making as it deepened into something else altogether. She could feel the wellspring of love from which his passion came, and grieved for the chasm between it and what she had been willing to settle for back in Sunnydale. When they eventually surfaced from the kiss, flushed and cautious, to search each other's faces, Buffy couldn't help the light in her eyes.

"Not even an: 'Oh, dear lord'?" she teased, her voice thick with emotion.

"Oh…dear lord," he obliged throatily, barely above a whisper.

She touched his jaw with loving fingers. "You deserve way better than me."

His stunned face creased into an amused smile. "We rarely get what we deserve," he told her whimsically, his voice still breaking up. "But sometimes, just sometimes, we get what we want."

She stopped to contemplate that for a moment and grew tearful again, much to Giles' surprise.

"I'm such an idiot," she told him. His grin and the twinkle in his eyes told her she'd get no argument there. "I feel like there's so much I need to say I'm sorry for…why I didn't I ever 'get' anything? Was I that blonde?"

Giles laughed, not endearing himself to his companion. "Well, you must admit you've had your moments. I don't think I have to tell you where your thoughts were during the majority of your adolescence. Although, on the whole it was probably healthier that you weren't spending a lot of it thinking about me."

Buffy sighed a long, heavy sigh. "See, that's the thing. All I ever wanted was to not be alone. Even when mom and dad were together they were fighting, at least in the years I remember most clearly. Then Sunnydale: Willow and Xander were great …are… great …but at the end of the day, Buffy went home alone. Mom didn't know what I was doing for years; Willow had Oz and Xand' couldn't decide if he wanted Cordy or Willow; you were busy being research and 'how stuffy shall I be today?' guy. I guess I did have Mister Gordo, but you know, much as I love him, Mister Gordo is way overrated in the not being alone stakes."

"So you fell in love with Angel?"

She rolled her eyes. "I did, didn't I? Don't get me wrong; it was real, while it lasted. Too real for a while there, when it got bad. There are times when I still miss him."

It was Giles' turn to sigh heavily. "I'm not sure you've ever really gotten over him, to be honest."

Buffy sat up straight. "You think the…thing…with Spike was a substitute for Angel? Eieww. And no. Giles, I'm not a kid anymore and I don't have vamp issues. The only thing that hasn't changed is the alone part. I didn't love Angel for the pointy teeth and bumps. And I didn't love Spike, period. I didn't love me either, during my time with him. I became something horrible and dirty and powerless while I was with Spike. I can't explain why I didn't stop, or why I let him do all those things to me. It wasn't even like I was there, emotionally."

Giles watched her agitation with the dawning realisation that she meant what she was saying, and with nausea at the revelation of the extent of her intimate relations with that sodding vampire.

"Not…there?" he asked weakly.

Buffy nodded. "It was like…I guess it was kind of like being Faith. She always said the slaying made her feel horny and hungry. She was right. I-I just never…I wouldn't let… anyway, Spike was like my Xander, you know?"

Giles nodded. "Are you saying that just as Faith abused Xander, you abused Spike?"

She shrugged. "Kind of. It's creepy that I can remember how much I w…um…" Buffy reddened violently.

"Go on," he said quietly.

"…How much I wanted him at times…usually at the worst times, when I thought I was dirt and that I was never going to be anything but dirt…Alone dirt. Creepy, because I have no memory of wanting him to love me, or hold me or even really to touch me. Stupid, I know. It's like I just gave in to the First Slayer, to those drives, because they were the only things left that I could feel. And the rage…it was so violent…"

"Oh, Buffy." The despairing words were wrung from him. "I never meant for you to suffer. I left you because I loved you, loved you more than life, and I couldn't bear to see you give up, couldn't bear to see you stay a child for the rest of your life." He looked at her frankly, his whole heart in his eyes. "The truth is I need you to grow up…so very badly."

Moved, she fought for control of her emotions before speaking again. "I thought you gave up on me. I thought you were disappointed in me again, that you didn't want to be with me because I was 'wrong' and horrible. I hated you so much for leaving me."

"I had to go," he whispered. "I couldn't stay any longer and pretend to be your 'mother' or even your rakish uncle. It was unbearable wanting so badly to be with you, now that I had you back, and knowing that if I stayed I never could…"

She frowned for a moment, sorting that out. "Because I'd never see you as anything but the tweedy old guy with the books?"

He snorted. "I was never…" he began indignantly, then realised he didn't really have anywhere to go from there. "Never mind," he said grumpily.

"You had a point," she admitted. "God, Giles, I'm only twenty one years old, but…" She trailed off, then continued: "…which by the way, you didn't even send a card. And don't think you've gotten out of that one, either. Talk. Later." She told him pointedly. "Anyway, I feel like a hundred and three, and I've died so many times now I don't think age counts anymore anyway, but I was just a kid back then. I didn't want to see what was right in front of me. I didn't want to love you. In a way you-the Council-were a part of the badness. How could I want you when I was trying so hard to get away from it? To have a normal life, like every other kid, to be every other kid?"

"Yes, with the adolescent hormone brigade in tow. I remember. And, of course, the obsession with Angel. Whereas I was, and still am, old and tweedy and worn out in your eyes," he observed unhappily as she got to her feet. "This isn't right."

"Oh great," she drawled. "Now he starts developing the galloping conscience."

He glared up at her. "Well is it?" he demanded almost angrily.

She thought about her answer for a long moment. "One," she said finally, "you're not tweedy anymore, nor are you worn out, and old is a relative term. Besides, I way prefer your kind of warm, breathing 'old', to certain other kinds of old. Two, if I even remotely thought it was wrong, I'd have run screaming into the night by now. Have you forgotten already? There was mutual kissage-with you: Mister Sexy Old Guy, remember? Operative word: mutual. And last, but not least…"

She leaned down and caught his sensuous mouth with hers before lifting her head again. "That growing up you were talking about? Mission accomplished."

He blinked. "And you are not…'wigged' by any of this?"

She giggled as she sat next to him. "Oh, seriously wigged. You have no idea. And that word is so out, you can't begin to know how far out." In the next moment, she sobered. "All these years I was so terrified of losing you. I knew I couldn't do it without you, and I made sure to tell you that as often as possible. What I didn't realise was why I couldn't live without you."

She traced his jaw. "I was way too young to get it. I thought that love, that intense need I had for you to be around, was because you were, y'know, you. You were there for me, my friend, my safety net…my Watcherguy. And you were. I'm not supposed to be in love with my Watcher. I'm not supposed to want someone like you…but where did it ever say that the Slayer was supposed to want a vampire? And Riley was a mistake…he thought he was competing with Angel. Poor guy…I don't think it ever occurred to him that Angel was never his real problem." Her gaze found his. "What neither of us knew was that he was competing against someone much more real, and he never really had a chance."

His eyes had been gradually lighting up, but now they were beaming, and glistening.

"I'm dreaming," he said softly. "I haven't woken up yet and I'm dreaming impossible, tormenting, dreams."

Buffy smiled brilliantly and pulled several hairs at the base of his throat. "Yeah, you're asleep," she teased when he inevitably made an 'ouch' noise. "Besides, you're only getting me. I'm not a new model. I'm not even reconditioned properly…even Spike's chip doesn't recognise that I'm me. And I've been used and abused more than most second-hand…twelfth-hand…cars, even. It's no sweet dream."

"It is to me," he said softly. "You're not exactly looking at this year's model, yourself."

Buffy made a disparaging noise and looked into his eyes. "You're sure you want to do this? I wasn't kidding about the wear and tear. Or the fact that you deserve way better than me."

Giles shook his head. "Don't do that to yourself. Someday I will tell you in detail about my youth. Sufficed to say that whatever you think you've done with Spike, I've probably done far worse, thrice over, in my hellion days."

She giggled. "You had hellion days? I mean, besides Eyghon?"

He looked rueful. "In addition to Eyghon," he qualified. "I had a lot of rebelling to do, a lot of rage and defiance for which to find outlets. I was, um, stupid, to frame it in a word," he admitted.

Buffy sighed. "It's scary how alike we are…were…are." She frowned. "Are," she decided.

His amused eyes gave her a dry once over then glanced down at himself. "So terribly alike," he said ruefully. "Peas in a pod."

She snorted. "You know what I mean. This isn't exactly easy for me either, buster. You could cut me a little slack here."

Giles sobered and cupped her right cheek with a large hand. "It's all right," he said reassuringly. "Whatever…we…that is, if you truly want us to be…" He stopped, too self-conscious to finish his thought.

"See," she teased. "Why can't it just be man…woman…I've got a thing, you've got a thing…do you like Mexican?"

He sighed, but there was laughter and affection in his eyes as he remembered the last time they'd bantered those same words.

"I have got a thing," he said seriously. "The question is, whether you have a thing too, and whether Mexican will ever be enough for you? You may decided you want spring lamb, or yearling beef…"

"Mexican is more than enough," she said, cutting him off. "It's all I've wanted for a long time, even when I didn't know I did. Now I want it for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I really, really don't want to leave without it. Do you want another drink?"

"God, yes," he said without thinking then blinked. "Oh…tea? No thanks. I'm going to be up half the night going to the bathroom as it is."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Two great mind pictures. Go the romance, Giles."

But before she had finished the 's' in Giles, he'd swept her back against him again and was kissing her hard. There was a great deal more give and take, demanding and submitting involved in their lovemaking this time. It might have only been another kiss, but when Giles finally let her go, Buffy felt as though she'd been making love for hours.

"Romance enough for you?" he asked roughly as she drew herself up straight.

"Um," she said shakily, aware that her lips still resonated with the impression of his. "That would h-have to be a yes. Where did you learn to do that?"

He stared for a moment, until he got it. "Oh, um…well…"

"Don't tell me…you're a natural?" she drawled, relaxing again.

Giles went red, his gaze focused on his empty teacup.

It was her turn to stare. She had seen him a thousand times, and yet she'd never noticed before…how cute he was when he blushed, how handsome the bent head was. She'd never thought of Giles as handsome, but with his hair less formal, no glasses and that gold band in his left ear, he was indeed rakish and incredibly good looking for his age.

She said so and made him snort.

"So I'm lucky that I look presentable, at my age?" he asked. "If were less…aesthetically pleasing…would you have still kissed me?"

She looked him in the eye. "Probably not," she admitted. His eyes widened in alarm. "Easy, big guy," she admonished when she saw the shock. "I was just being honest. It's new for me, okay? As long as you were still you, I'd love you no matter what you look like, but kissing a seriously aesthetically challenged, older-guy type moosh is not big on the Buffy to-do list. What are you being so paranoid about? Have I uttered even one tiny 'eiww' since I've been here?"

"Not this time," he said darkly, annoyed that they'd managed to stray so far from one of the most important issues in both their lives. "But many, many times before. You have been a singularly unsympathetic ally at times, these past few years," he pointed out.

Once again Buffy, being Buffy, stopped to sort through that. "I never meant to be. There was just…not enough of me…to cope with everything, the badness, the slaying, and deal with the regular stuff too. Of all of them, I thought you'd still be there even if I gave all my time to the other disasters that were my life. The taking for granted thing…I guess it really sucked, huh?"

Giles looked away, unable to joke about that part. "More than you can possibly know," he said quietly.

She blinked away a sheen of moisture, shaken by the depth of hurt in those words. To try to make amends with more words seemed shallow and trite. Instead she rose and took his hand.

"Come on, show me the rest of your wonderful abode?" she cajoled.

Dazed, Giles allowed her to lead him to the stairs. They climbed together. This time there was no loft. The stairs led to a small hallway, and the doors to the two bedrooms in the flat. The rich, very dark red of the carpet was complimented by the rich dark sheen of the small mahogany hall table against one wall. One of Giles' lamps from the Sunnydale apartment graced it.

The smaller room was decorated in light, feminine colours and was full of crates still waiting to be unpacked. Giles closed the door again quickly.

The other didn't disappoint. Buffy took in the entire room, from the very old, classically patterned carpet in very male shades of brown, to the equally old, dark furniture she knew was as much a part of the place as the ancient beech trees out the front. A door on the other side of the room was open, showing old-fashioned white bathroom tiles, immaculately clean.

"Wow, Giles, Merchant Ivory, much?"

"Funny, I feel distinctly not Anthony Hopkins," he drawled back with an edge of annoyance in his voice.

"S'okay because I don't feel very Emma Thompson either," she returned, amused, and then looked at the room again, at the huge patchwork quilt that was obviously an heirloom she'd never seen before. "It's kind of gorgeous. Your apartment in Sunnydale never felt as…as…"

"Real?" he filled in.

Buffy shook her head. "As lived in, as much of a home as this one. It's like you belong here, Giles. Which could be a little scary, if I didn't know you so well. All this dark furniture…must be homey, just like the library."

"Very funny," he said softly, and went over to pick up a handkerchief that had fallen on the floor by the bed.

Buffy found herself watching him bend over, and blinked inwardly at her own thoughts. She was actually looking to see what his butt was like. She swallowed. Well, it followed, didn't it? Lips, hands, and of course, butt. When the jeans pulled tight across his kidneys and over his rear Buffy drew a swift, but soft breath. There was nothing 'old guy' about that derriere.

A moment later and he was straightening to find Buffy staring with fixed interest at his green lampshade, her face flushed and her look almost…guilty.

"Buffy? Are you sickening for a cold?"

"N-not a cold," she muttered, then gathered herself and turned to face him. It hurt almost physically to see the concern in the gentle face she'd missed so much.

"No? Pain? Flu?"

She almost smiled. "You sound like a commercial for cough syrup."

Giles put a large hand on her brow, surprising her. It was warm and solid and remained long enough for him to gauge that there was definitely no fever. When he lifted it she almost missed its presence. To drag her thoughts from the desire to fling herself into his arms and kiss him again, she moved to study the quilt, to touch the squares.

"It's beautiful," she said. "So much work. Someone must have really liked sewing."

"She did," Giles said softly, in a voice that was at once amused, tender, and melancholy.

Buffy turned and raised a questioning brow.

"My mother," he confided. "It was a passion of hers. She just wanted to do it once."

"It must have taken a long time," Buffy mused, running a finger along a seam.

"Forever," he agreed, smiling to himself, his eyes somewhere very distant. "She danced in the herb garden when it was done. She never wanted to see another square, another thread, ever again. She took up painting after that."

Buffy watched him chuckle to himself, despite the growing sadness in his eyes and wondered if he realised how big a window to his soul he'd opened for that one moment. "You miss her a lot?"

He didn't look at her. "I did. Terribly. For a long time. Now I simply wish I could spend some time with her." The smile widened. "She was the most marvellous listener and she had the most blinding ability to know exactly what to say to help…" He stopped, as though he'd suddenly realised that he'd slipped into another accent, another time, another place.

Silently, as though she knew, Buffy moved to him and slid her arms around his waist. It was an action she knew was inconceivable even just hours ago, and yet now it felt like the most natural thing in the world. She felt his move around her as she rested her cheek against his shirt.

"If I hadn't lost her…" he said, almost inaudibly.

Buffy could feel the slightest shake of his head above hers. She tightened her arms around him and felt his reciprocating squeeze. This was one area where she had just as much experience as he did.

"H-how old were you?"

He made a noise in his throat. Buffy didn't know if he was clearing it, or shifting a knot of tears. "Seventeen," he managed.

"Ripper?" she said automatically to his shirt button.

"God, no. You couldn't have gotten a more boring, more studious public school child than I at that age."

"But you…the candy…"

"Forget that rubbish. It was a malicious spell, not a historical re-enactment of my youth."

"Then when?" she asked.

"After she died. After I lost her, nothing was ever the same. Nothing."

Buffy wondered if he would regret opening up to her like this, but the chance to know him, to understand him better, drew her magnetically. "You rebelled," she guessed.

"Not exactly," he said after a short silence. "I persevered, as angrily as possible it must be said, with the destiny that was chosen for me until I was firmly entrenched at Oxford."

His voice was growing more reluctant, his tone less patient. Buffy knew that the window was closing.

"You told me about Oxford…a-at least the part before you ran away. Was Ethan there too?"

Giles barked a laugh. "Lord, no. Ethan found me in a squat after I ran away. He needed money and I was an easy mark…green as grass." He frowned, straightened and let her go.

"I didn't ask you what you did with your driver," he said unexpectedly.

It took Buffy a moment to collect her woolly thoughts, and to realize that he'd effectively slammed that window shut. "Oh…her. She went back to London. They said to call them when I was ready to leave."

"What will you do?" he asked, moving toward the doorway.

Buffy followed, missing his arms around her already and wondering why he felt the need to get out of there.

"Probably stay here tonight."

He half turned. "But you don't have any um…things…"

"Yeah, I do, in my hotel room…at this really classy old place not too far from here called 'Ravenscroft'. Cool name, huh? It's nice there, even if the Council did choose it, but there is also where you aren't. If you've got a spare toothbrush, a hairbrush, a towel and an old shirt I can borrow, I'll be fine right here," she said in her perkiest Buffy voice as she followed him back down stairs. "See, nice couch. No problem."

"Stay here?" He seemed shocked by the notion. "I…Here?"

"Here," she confirmed. "I didn't come all the way to England to discover the delights of Bath…" She paused, and her eyes danced a little. "Well, maybe a bath, and at this point maybe even with you if you play your cards right, but you know what I mean."

He cleared his throat. "Y-yes, well, I do have a…um…a-a tub, a rather large one actually, but I've not bothered…" He cleared his throat again. "I mean, you're welcome to stay, of course, it's just that you've never…we've just…"

Buffy made an effort not to smile any more at his discomfort and found herself sobering as the thought of leaving returned to appal her even more. "Giles, it's been so long…I don't want to be away from you right now. That's all. I-is that okay?" she asked him quietly.

He seemed to get very still then, the tension receding and the discomfiture falling away like a mask.

"Of course it's all right," he said softly. "More than all right. I only wish I had a decent bed to offer you-" At the look on her face he turned bright red again which only made her love him more.

"Not an issue," she reassured him, "I don't think either of us are going to be sleeping any time soon," and turned even redder than he was, when she realised what she'd said. "Um, I mean, we've got a lot of discussing to do…talking…you know, my badness, you telling me how bad I am…like that…awake stuff…not…not of the sleeping kind."

His mouth had been trying to pull into a smile the whole time she stammered, and when she came to a grinding halt, it finally did.

"Don't worry," he said softly, "despite my reputation I am not about to interpret everything you say as an invitation to bed you out of hand."

Buffy was so shocked her mouth opened slightly while she was staring at him.

It was plain that he'd enjoyed shocking her both about his old reputation and his bedding her out of hand, and just as plain that he was surprised to see a flicker of disappointment in her eyes after he'd spoken.

"You're not really Giles…are you?" she stammered. "I mean…the hair, the earring, and s-stuff…not Gilesy things. A-and the kisses…Giles-my Giles-would have a cow. Who are you?"

Giles tilted his head to one side. "Does it surprise you so comprehensively that I am willing to treat you like a woman, when you finally start to act even a little like one?"

"That would be a yes," she managed, just.

"It shouldn't," he told her. "And just because I let myself be dragged into the illusion you three had of me in Sunnydale and found myself growing old before my time, doesn't mean I am…old, I mean. I'm forty bloody seven. Not sixty. This is who I am. This is how my friends, how Olivia, even Ethan, know me. The Council might have required that I wore tweed back then, but only Sunnydale…and you, could have turned me into an old fool before my time."

Buffy leaned forward a little, her hurt at his previous words subsiding as her curiosity got the better of her. "That's why you've had your left ear pierced for as long as I can remember? I know I first noticed it when you saved me from Amy's mom but so much happened, I forgot about it. That's also why you're so different with Ethan? The record collection, the singing…that was all really you, but the librarian, the tweedy guy, that wasn't really you, was it?"

"You're starting to get it," he told her. "But they were both me, Buffy. I had to make myself fit in at the high school, had to be what you needed me to be, but it was so mind-bogglingly alien, that I found it difficult to do anything else but act the part, and rather badly, if I might say so. The harder I tried to really be purely a school teacher and a scholar and to repress the rest of me, the more mistakes I made…"

"The more you stammered and ran out of words and went to make tea," she guessed fondly.

"Essentially, yes."

"And the cuteness of not knowing how to ask Miss Calendar out?"

His face glowed. "Jenny was a rather…forceful individual, and an American…and here was I with-"

"With only a tweed suit and musty books to impress her with," Buffy filled in. "Being terminally old fashioned to her modern computer gal technomag-i-ness wouldn't have helped much, but still…I mean, you couldn't ask her out on a simple date when you can kiss like that?"

"Yes, well, it's one thing to know how the other person feels and another all together to not know, and be terrified of being turned down because, despite the man you really are inside, you also know that at the time you're presenting to the world at large, and her in particular, as an utter prat."

Buffy's smile faded. "Hey, you were never a prat. You're the guy who reached God status within just a couple of weeks of being my Watcher, when you saved me from 'Catherine The Great' Madison," she shuddered. "And then you were going to die for me to stop that prophecy. Prat-like-ness never came into it. Stuffy definitely. But definitely no prats. What the heck is a prat, anyway?"

"A fool," he said softly. "An utter fool."

"Then your prat is the wrong gender," she pointed out, "because there was only one real fool and you weren't it. Trust me on this. My whole life since Merrick appeared has been one long rush either toward death…or monumental stupidity. The spirit guide was right about that part. I don't know anything else except death, and there's the monumental stupidity. Giles, I don't remember one day of being truly happy. It's so stupid. Most people have a day…a special day…"

"The Prom," Giles prompted, pleased that she didn't remember him as the twit he was sure they all saw him as during so much of those early high school years.

Buffy's eyes lit up both with amusement and regret. "Nope. All pain," she dismissed.

"But…the class remembered you, and you danced with…"

"Those were nice things all right, but all I remember was pain…and you asking me if I wanted ice cream…and hellhounds having stinky breath. Most of all I remember your face when I finally made it to the dance. Was the dance, or Wes, so bad, that anything else was an improvement?" she teased. "You looked like you won the lottery."

"And you looked…breathtaking," he remembered, "the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. And more importantly, alive."

Buffy was enchanted, but her tone was dry. "I was breathtaking and you still didn't dance with me?"

He looked distant and a little bleak. "I planned to, even sidetracked Wyndham-Pryce for the purpose, but the moment was lost."

Buffy frowned for a moment then looked at him with genuine sorrow. "Angel. Crap. You and vampires, Giles…Seems like they're just there to mess things up for you every time...and usually because of me."

"I rather thought they 'messed things up' on somewhat of a regular basis for you too," he pointed out, touched that after all this time she would finally understand what it cost him that day to hand her to that particular vampire for that particular last dance.

"Were we still at the 'you're so a child' stage by then, or had things already changed?" she asked perceptively.

He took a moment to answer. "It should never have been, but the moment you walked into that room, I knew. It was as though I had been waiting for you to grow up…waiting for you all my life. I'd loved you fiercely for such a long time, but somehow, despite your early penchant for training in attire more appropriate to street-walkers than high school students or Slayers, I wouldn't let myself see you, or any of the others, as anything but children. Not until that moment."

"Wow. You're some guy, Rupert."

His eyes flashed and a smile did peek through at the use of his given name.

"It's true. You're something else. I never once remember you copping a feel, even accidentally, in training, or catching you peeking for too long. You were always Mister stuffy, shy, stammer guy, remember?"

"Yes," he said dryly, not sure if he was being complimented or not. "And now we both know one of the reasons why, though of course not the only one. There was the small matter of Council enforced career and character changes contributing to my everlasting discomfiture and the endless amusement of you three."

"You know I actually understood that," she teased. "For a couple of people who've never been able to string together two lines of conversation with each other, we're doing pretty good now. Even though a person would swear one or both of us is stalling, we really are doing a great job…for us."

"S-stalling?"

Buffy walked up to him and slid her hands up his chest to touch his cheeks. "Stalling," she confirmed, and drew his head down gently to give her mouth to his.

The kiss was hungry, seeking and both of them were ravenous, but it was Giles, eventually, who paused, breathing heavily. "We…we need time," he managed.

"For what?" she breathed back. "Don't tell me you've decided Mexican isn't mature enough for you after all?"

"Bugger the food metaphors," he said almost harshly. "Of course I want you, Buffy. I've loved you for so long now, how could I not? But it's too fast. Especially you. Buffy, you were still looking at me as though I was your mother just months ago…"

"No," she objected vehemently, then subsided a little. "No, I said it felt like when mom was there. Safe. Not parental. I didn't want you to read me a story or buy me a kitten. You just made me feel safe, and loved…taken care of, besides I was kind of an emotional vegetable, not to mention pathetically needy back then. And you know me. I never say anything right. I have verbal dyslexia," she decided, trying to lighten things up. "That's what it is. Wait, that is a thing, right?"

"I have no idea," Giles said, dazed, and trying not to think about the persisting discomfort in his nether regions. "So what does 'ewww' mean in your peculiar vocabulary?" he added dryly.

Buffy's shoulders drooped. "It means: if I think about this too much I'll have to face the way I feel about him and then losing him will be so much harder. Much better to think of him as the old guy, parent like, destined to leave me eventually anyway, or vice-versa."

"And did it work?" he asked resignedly, suddenly no longer having the 'cramping' problem.

She shook her head slowly. "When I thought the Fyarl demon had killed you, it was every bit as bad as it could be. I could hardly talk, couldn't think…it was like I was catatonic, almost. I was a total wreck. I mean, think about it…I tried to kill you with a letter opener. I was a moron. Lassie could have figured it out faster than me."

"Then I at least had that," he said softly.

"What?"

"What? Oh. I said: I wish Lassie had been there, then," he improvised, winced at the result and then glared when she rolled her eyes. "At least she wouldn't have listened to Ethan or used the bloody letter opener."

"So I'm dumber than a dog now?"

"I didn't say…you're the one who brought up sodding Lassie. I will simply never understand why you were trying to kill the only lead you had as to where I was. Why on earth would you ever want to listen to Ethan bloody Rayne, for God's sake?"

"You can talk! You got drunk with him," she shot back sullenly. "And I told you why. I thought you were dead. I thought my world had collapsed in on itself."

"Your wha...?" Giles gaped at her. "Your world," he growled. "You didn't even bloody know I was alive. You had the Nancy Ninja boy and Walsh and everything you wanted. How the hell did you even notice I was gone?"

It was Buffy's turn to gape. Yelling, except at Ethan or Travers, was not a Giles thing. Something niggled at the back of her thoughts. Except for…except for when he thought she was going to die and he wanted to give them Dawn instead…

She closed her eyes. He wanted to sacrifice Dawn, because they had to sacrifice someone, but he knew if they saved Dawn, there was only one other…he knew, even then…Of course he knew! God, could she be any more stupid?

She looked up at him. "I hurt you more than I ever have, that year, didn't I?"

The flash died in his eyes and after a beat he looked down and shook his head. "It's done with, past history…"

"No, it's us. And it's now," she insisted tremulously. "I can't make it right, any more than I can make The Prom or Jenny or Angelus, or running away…or any of the bad things right, no matter how much I want to. There's no way. There's so much…"

He raised a hand, then stepped toward her and touched her troubled face. "None of it matters anymore," he said very softly. "Only one thing matters now."

Her eyes lifted to meet his and their gazes held for a long time. "Maybe, but there's so much. Don't you get it? The times I hurt you the most…think about it: I come to you when I'm hurting and there's Olivia, and you in your robe sending me away, telling me to go do it myself, to get lost…that I don't need you any more. And look what happened. Look what I did…look what I did to us-to you-to pay you back for not loving me. Not just then…but when you left me this time…I did it again. Spike, the violence, the not talking to you, not mentioning your name…God, I've been such a jerk, to everyone. And the horrible thing is by tomorrow I'll probably be just as stupid again, but right now I know. I know all the horrible things I've done, and I know why."

Giles' look was unfathomable. It was impossible for her to tell what he was feeling. Then he spoke quietly.

"Are you saying I caused all your flaws? That it's my fault you've been acting the way you have?"

"God, Giles, no. I'm saying that it's me. That only you could hurt me enough for me to be that stupid. I've had a lot of pain, a lot of things to grieve, and a whole universe of things that hurt me: really, really hurt me, but none of them made me as crazy as being hurt by you. Riley and the Initiative and ignoring you were my way of showing you I could do it without you, that if you felt that way then I didn't need you either. As bad as it was, at least that time I was being proactive. This time…this time it was all totally destructive. I was already a mess after being dragged back and all the badness that went with that spell, and I couldn't see any way out. And then you were gone. After everything else that had happened, you just left.

"I shutdown, not just emotionally, but everything. I totally didn't care about anything. The violence…I didn't know why then, but it's obvious now. I was punishing both of us. I was taking out all my rage at you on Spike, and I was letting him use me and abuse me because I hated myself, not just because I was destroying myself. Not just because I thought nobody would want me, or that I wasn't human, but because I thought you didn't want me."

They both stared then, slightly open-mouthed, both shocked by her revelation, and astonished that she should have found such insight after being so blind for so long.

Buffy finally swallowed, not sure what Giles was feeling. He was pale and still staring, and not moving. She was shocked by what she had said, what had come from her heart out of desperation, but she knew it was true, and in a truly shocking insight, she knew at last exactly how incredibly horrible she had been. It was all she could do not to turn and run right then.

Giles was watching her, not able to do more than marvel that after so much time Buffy had finally opened her mind, and her heart. It seemed inconceivable. He thought they'd all lost her…that amazing girl he come to assume Watcher duties for so long ago, who while still little more than a child, had the strength of character to joke and laugh and make friends, all the while terrified for her own mortality and tortured by the loss of freedom, choice and future that being the Slayer represented.

He'd known they were losing her after she returned from Los Angeles that summer. Certainly she was never again the Buffy they all knew, and by the time Angel had moved on and she started college, it was obvious that they were unlikely to ever get that girl back again. She had carefully packed away that generous heart of hers after Angel was done with it, wrapped it up tight and put it far away where it couldn't be broken again. None of them were allowed to see it, and not even Riley, for all her neediness, was privy to the lacerated, broken thing it was, particularly after her mother's death.

What was stunning in her revelations was that, of all of them, it was he who had the most power to hurt her. He'd always assumed the opposite…that she gave not a single whit nor felt a moment's censure over anything he said or did…or felt.

Now he wanted that single malt more than ever. He was such a turmoil of emotions, not sure what he wanted more: to throw her out, to hold her close, to shake the living Christ out of her until her teeth rattled, or to take her in his arms and teach her how to truly love…and then to love her until both of them dropped.

Buffy, watching the subtle changes in his expression, the torment in his eyes, couldn't hurt him any longer. The words were wrenched from her.

"Oh God, I'm sorry!"

And with them, feeling as though her heart had exploded and imbedded itself in tiny, hurtful pieces in the wall of her chest, she fled.

This time, however, she did not count on the speed with which he could move with enough warning. By the time she'd reached the front door he was there, and his powerful hands had seized her. They were hurting her as he turned her and lifted her off the ground. She could have killed him easily, but she did nothing, ready to take whatever he felt the need to do to her.

With just as much force she was dragged against him, his arms wrapping around her and crushing her, and kissed, harshly, demandingly, until her lips were bruised and he threw back his head.

"I didn't say you could go," he growled.

Buffy was almost afraid to look into his eyes. They were blurred with pain, and anger, and desire.

"I'm done with hurting you, Rupert," she said miserably, using his given name deliberately. "I won't. Not any more. I love you too much."

The pain and anger faded away, leaving the green eyes bright with love and blurring once again with desire.

"Then love me instead," he demanded and met her seeking mouth with the same desperation and greed.

Their kiss transformed into a kind of erotic dance, seeking, taking, provoking each other's lips, mouths, tongues in a sensual exploration, questioning, answering, merging into each other's souls.

Somewhere amid the passion, Buffy had wound her legs around his waist, and he had moved his hands to cup her buttocks. The momentum of their desire drove their movement…Giles turning obliviously toward the stairs. She weighed next to nothing, and the combination of his desire, adrenaline and the hypnotic effect they were having on each other, meant that he'd reached his bedroom even before either of them realised what they were doing.

He finally forced himself to relinquish her lips, breathing heavily and desperately wanting to plunge back into them again.

His body language told her he wanted to put her down, but didn't want to let her go. Buffy, electrified and almost exploding now with unresolved desire, didn't make it any easier, deliberately keeping her legs around him as she slid, until her warm centre contacted the hard contour of his jeans.

He groaned loudly, echoing her soft moan. Both of them trembled then grew still for a moment. Then Buffy let go and landed easily on her feet, still feeling the waves of pleasure rolling over her and Giles' warm hands on her arms. One of them moved to her cheek, his thumb stroking the soft skin as he looked down at her.

"I love you so very dearly," he whispered.

For the first time in her life Buffy felt a rush of love, a sense of belonging, so powerful, so strong that it took her breath. She wanted to love him, hold him and take him, all at the same time, forever and ever.

"Then love me," she whispered, her love, her desire, lighting up her face and her eyes with a glow the like of which he had never seen in them before.

It was true. He had never seen Buffy truly happy…until this moment.

This time the kiss was slow and tender and impossibly intense. By the time they parted both of them were finding it difficult to think straight.

Buffy smiled at him a little when he hesitated before reaching out to unbutton her coat with trembling fingers. She stroked his forearms reassuringly as he worked his way through the buttons then helped shrug it off so that it slid to the floor. Then she raised her arms slowly.

Giles drew a rattling breath at the implicit invitation and swallowed hard. As a lover he was without fear or peer. Normally nothing phased or truly challenged him, but at that moment the enormity of what he was doing was almost suffocatingly upon him.

As though she understood, Buffy shifted and began undoing his shirt buttons instead. He did not object, but the rhythm of his breathing changed as her knuckles brushed his skin and her fingers worked their way toward his belt.

If his desire had wavered in that one moment, by the time she reached his belt and began unbuckling it, it had got over itself and was once again straining the limits of the denim of his jeans. When the buckle was unfastened he stopped her from proceeding further.

"I-I want to see you, but it feels…"

"Wrong?" Buffy filled in, pulling the pins from her hair. "I know. But things change. We change." She reached down and slowly pulled the sweater over her head, listening to his guttural exclamation as her bra-less form was revealed. She smiled. "Now that's something I never expected to hear my stuffy Watcher say out loud."

"My God, Buffy," he whispered. "You are beautiful…but so terrifyingly young."

She stepped toward him, took his hand and placed it over a small, full, breast. "No I'm not," she said quietly. "I'm old. Way older than you'll ever be."

Their eyes met again, and Giles could see the truth in hers. Life and death had taken so much from her, as it had from him.

As if to reinforce her point, Buffy's fingers unbuttoned his jeans and slid the zipper down slowly. The tension was growing almost unbearable, but neither one of them wanted to rush.

Slowly, but drawn, like a moth to a flame, Giles bent his knees and his head to caress her right breast with his lips. Her cry of pleasure was audible, as were the small moans that followed while he pleasured her with all of his considerable experience. He found himself trembling as he did so, still stunned at the way fate had turned, and almost overwhelmed both by his own passion and the very act of finally being able to touch her, to love her.

Buffy shuddered as his warm, firm mouth closed around a tender bud and held it while his tongue explored the soft, sweet skin and toyed with the rigid peak. Her whole body was resonating with the intensity of her arousal.

She brought her fingers to his hair, the act of burying them in it as erotic as what he was doing to her. As he continued, her skin became more and more sensitive to his touch, so that when his lips slid across to the other breast she gasped and threw her head back, arching when she felt him unbutton her pants at the same time, and burning with anticipation.

Never before had she been so completely aroused, so connected to her partner. Never before had she been so in love…

His fingers slid inside the open zipper, just enough to make her groan with pleasure.

And then they both stopped at exactly the same moment, each of them flushed and glowing-eyed, and looking longingly at the other.

Each knew why the other hesitated, why this moment was so breathtaking. And neither could bring themselves to make the next move.

Instead, Giles took her in his arms, and when Buffy's had wound around his neck, they kissed each other with all the pent up passion and longing in their bodies until finally he swept a hand beneath her knees and lifted her, carrying her to his bed and sweeping all the covers to the floor as he lay her on it.

Buffy watched his jeans fall and shuddered as he removed her boots and easily slid off her woollen pants. She liked the dark blue designer boxer-briefs he was wearing. They were small and made of a soft, stretch fabric that hugged his legs, his waist, and the very obvious evidence of his desire for her. And it was equally obvious that Giles was entranced by the tiny slip of lace she was wearing.

Nice underwear was Buffy's one continuing fashion vice as the Slayer. Regardless of what she was required to wear or how disgusting the mess got, she could always feel special anyway by wearing pretty underthings. They were not one of her favourites, cut too high and too narrow at the back, giving them a tendency to ride up and pinch, especially in pants, but she'd worn them for luck.

Never in a million years would she have believed Giles would ever see them…yet here they were, and he was running a forefinger under the lace. She shuddered and gasped as it caressed her soft folds, aware of the muffled sounds of desire he was making as his fingertips contacted the tender flesh.

"You are so very lovely," he whispered and bent to kiss the rising curve of the pale blue lace.

Buffy groaned again, and arched to him, but he was moving again, to lie beside her. She turned immediately, wanting to run her fingers across that broad chest and to touch…just to touch all of him.

"So are you," she said whimsically, aroused even more by the feel of the soft golden mat of chest hair and amused by the sprinkling of grey ones. She kissed his chin and mouthed his neck.

"Nice to know," he said, the words coming out in a breathy whisper as he caressed the small, creamy breasts she presented to him once again as she turned.

"Giles," she said as her fingers roamed his torso.

"Mm?"

"I love you."

He paused. "Buffy, are you all right?"

She looked up at his concerned face and nodded. "I-I wanted to say it out loud…I needed you to know. Whatever else I've done. You're the first…the only one I ever truly loved. I just wanted to tell you."

He drew her into his arms and held her close for a few minutes. "Silly girl," he chided gently. "How am I to remain suitably aroused, if you're going to get all sentimental and silly?"

From her blissful snuggling against his chest, Buffy shifted and let her hand slide down to his boxers, allowing her fingers to search out the contour of his erection and to caress and play with it. Within moments he was again stretching the fabric to its limit.

"Problem fixed," she giggled.

In reply he trailed his hand down and slid his long fingers beneath the band of her g-string, letting the tips caress and stroke once more the swollen flesh beneath, until she groaned and whimpered in his arms.

"Turn about is fair play," he pointed out then lapsed into silence, albeit a groaning one, as Buffy slipped her hand back into the opening of his boxers and extended that thought.

Her touch was an exquisite experience, like fire along his length, the movement of her fingers sending waves and waves of pleasure through his whole body. He felt about eighteen again and just as hard…not to mention in just as much peril of disgracing himself like a nervous virgin.

It was time to take things in hand. He leaned down to kiss her then eased her back, before setting his mind to removing the slender g-string and his own briefs.

When the last barrier was down, he hesitated just slightly before laying down beside her once more.

Buffy had been watching him and smiled at his small discomfiture. "You're beautiful, Giles. And in tip top condition too, circulation wise, judging by the kind of extreme attention your friend is standing at, there." She caressed his almost painfully hard erection, her admiration genuine, as genuine as his shudder of pleasure.

He smiled and coloured slightly, but continued to caress her body as they spoke, letting his fingers roam over every curve, enjoying the small sighs and gasps and occasional groans that he managed to elicit from her.

"And so are you, I see," he replied, trailing fingertips down the inside of a creamy thigh and smiling again when they parted a little more, and she made a small whimpering noise.

She was painfully lovely, if too thin after the long road back from her traumatic resurrection, with her ripe breasts, their pale pink buds also at attention, and those womanly curves all the not eating in the world couldn't hide. Whether she liked it or no, Buffy had baby-bearing hips…woman's hips, and if she would only let herself relax long enough to actually ingest sustenance, she would again know the glory of them…

For a moment he allowed himself to remember the full-figured sixteen-year-old Buffy and how much promise she held of the woman she would become, before fashion took hold and she'd succumbed to the temptation to turn herself into, at times, an almost androgynous coat hanger to the modern trends. Something that made him wish all fashion houses, designers and magazines to hell and a fiery death for the risks they drove their young devotees to endure for the sake of fashion.

"But you're too thin," he told her, letting his fingers play across the heat beneath the small triangle of dark curls.

Buffy gasped, then scowled. "I am not. I'm just right."

"Something we can argue about on cold nights," he said gruffly, "while I feed you buttered toast and bacon to fatten you up."

As though to reassert herself she pushed him back and straddled his hips. "First of all I can think of better things to do than arguing and better things to eat than toast and bacon. Second of all…" she said, settling her damp heat over his hard length and wriggling a little for effect, "I can think of way better things to do right now than worry about how much I weigh."

Almost beyond speech at that point, Giles agreed, but stopped her for a moment and reached down to the side drawer next to his side of the bed. He drew out an open box of condoms and spilled them onto the cupboard.

"It's open. Should I be jealous?"

He made a growling noise. "Bloody thing's been open for a good two years and hasn't had any use since." "A little past their use-by date, then, aren't they?" she observed dryly.

Buffy looked at the small foil packages and then at his annoyed face again, and moved herself with deliberate provocation while she reached for one and ripped it open, stretching it to test its strength and smiling when he shuddered and groaned while still scowling. Despite a recent lack of practise, it didn't take long and she was soon teasing and tormenting him again with her body.

Every nerve ending in his simply wanted to turn her over and take her, right there and then. And then she was kissing him, claiming him almost, moving her hips infuriatingly so that her wet folds were caressing his length but not allowing him egress. She was making small pleasure noises as she moved, and enjoying herself and his discomfiture, just for a few moments, then she put her hands on his shoulders and lifted herself just enough to allow him to find her. As they finally became one and their bodies fused, Giles cried out, using another epithet Buffy had thought would never hear pass his lips.

"Oh Christ, Buffy," he continued to gasp as she slid down his length and began to make love to him.

He was overwhelmed not only by the fact that he was being made love to by the woman he loved and adored for so long, but by the staggeringly tight passage that was holding him fast as she moved, and driving him insane with pleasure. She increased her pace as his groans grew louder and his hands took hold of her waist, her pleasure mounting as she found her own rhythm and depth in her enjoyment of the impossibly hard shaft inside her.

"Oh God," she shuddered as it continued to mount, and shifted suddenly to pull him on top of her. "Giles!"

He rose to her demand, taking over, drawing her hips to his and entering her again, listening to her shout of ecstasy as he sank into her. Then they were both striving to each other, stroking faster and faster as their cries again grew loud and demanding. And then Buffy was curling her hips up and yelling as she pulled him deeper and harder. She was jolting and bucking beneath him in a maelstrom of ecstasy that triggered an explosion that literally took his breath away, convulsing him so that he was barely able to thrust as orgasm after orgasm tore through his body with a ferocity he hadn't known since his troubled youth.

Not until they both came back to earth and Giles slid away to dispose of the prophylactic and retrieve the heavy quilt to cover them against the cold of the evening, before returning to lie at her side while they caught their breaths, were they both able to focus enough to realize how truly incredible it had been.

In that same instant, they both reached for each other, enfolding and entwining arms and legs with the same ferocity as their love-making, holding on to each other as though reconfirming the commitment their hearts had just made, as though there was still a need to reassure themselves it was all real and not just a wonderful dream.

Buffy buried her nose in his warm skin and kissed the soft hair of the chest her head was resting against, happy in the tight circle of her lover's arms. And Giles held her to him with the possessiveness of one given a second chance, and not willing to let anything take it away from him again.

They woke at sunrise, within moments of each other, in almost exactly the same position.

Giles took several moments to grasp the reality of the woman in his arms. Too often…far too often, he'd wakened in the morning only to mourn the parting from his dreams, and the illusion of his slayer in his arms.

That she was truly there, and curled up in his arms, holding him as tightly as he was holding her, was almost beyond comprehension. Slowly, as the room grew brighter and Buffy stirred, the events of the previous day filtered back to him, including the inevitable replays of speeches exchanged, things said in anger and things revealed, leaving him exhilarated and apprehensive at the same time.

"Good morning," he said tenderly when her eyes finally opened.

They filled with moisture. "It's real," she whispered. "You're real. I'm really not in hell any more."

The momentary bleakness of her waking expression, and the joy that replaced it when she realised where she was, and with whom, almost broke his heart. He bent his head and kissed her very tenderly.

"No you're not," he told her gently and smiled reassuringly. "Unless hell is cold and draughty."

Buffy slid her arms around his neck and kissed him back. "Good. I'd rather be where you are any day," she purred and wriggled even closer to his warm body. "Mm," she murmured appreciatively, discovering exactly how pleased he was to see her, and slid her leg over his thigh.

Giles groaned as her velvet soft warmth made contact with his impossible morning hardness. "Buffy…"

She smiled, completely awake now, and started to move as she caught his lips again, enjoying his involuntary groans throughout the kiss.

With little more than a nuance of body language, she invited him and he moved over her and into her, barely able to control his response to the pleasure of entering her again.

Buffy wrapped her legs around his hips and raised hers, allowing even deeper penetration and an even greater sensation of fusion with the man she now loved beyond all reasoning or care.

And then each of them gave themselves to the other, until they both exploded together, then both came down slowly, dreamily, together, and Giles finally moved to her side.

"Ick alert," she giggled as he eased back, and waited while he retrieved a handkerchief from a drawer by the bed. How come you get to be the ick-less sex?" she grumbled. "Especially since it's all your fault, anyway."

Giles chuckled with genuine amusement as she completed her task, threw the offending item away without a care and snuggled down again. "Comes with the territory," he offered.

Buffy groaned. "Note to self: the man slays puns in the morning. I'm so not making you breakfast after that one."

He stopped chuckling and looked at her with something resembling awe.

"What?" she asked, half bemused, half alarmed.

"Yesterday I woke up alone, just as I have for a hundred, five hundred…more… mornings before that, and I lay here thinking of you, and unhappily mapping out my life for the thousandth time on the premise that I would never see you again," he said quietly. "And then I forced myself to get up and begin a new day; one that I expected would inevitably lead to another just like it…"

There was nothing she could say to that, only slip a hand up from the covers to cup his rough cheek for a moment before putting her arms around his neck and sharing a silent, comforting embrace.

"I'm not leaving you again," she told him when they parted. "I died. No matter what they say, the Council has no hold over me anymore. Whatever you want is all that matters now. If I have to bring Dawn to Bath and put her in a snooty Girl's school…which you'd have to pay for, by the way, I will. I mean it. I won't leave you."

He smiled and touched her lovely face, amused by her adorable disarray and moved by the vehemence of her feelings.

"Nor I you," he said quietly. "There's plenty of time to discuss the future, now that we both have one. What we have to discuss right now is who is going to make breakfast, and who is going to have the bathroom first…"

The tension broke and Buffy beamed. She was relieved beyond measure that there was to be no more soul searching for a while and glad he didn't seem to have realised that they didn't use any protection this time, and therefore wasn't having a cow about it...yet. For him she would accept any consequences, if there were to be any, including the not unpleasant thought of bearing his child, though it was highly unlikely given her current cycle.

"Bathroom…bath. Don't I remember you saying you have a big tub?"

"Well, yes, but I didn't mean that particular bathroom…and it's six o'clock in the morning. I don't think…"

She kissed him hard on the mouth. "Don't think. Do. As in breakfast, in the tub," she declared, and started to get out of the bed, until the ice-cold morning hit her warm but naked body. Within nanoseconds she was back under the covers and fastened to his warm chest and hip.

"I take it this is less an invitation and more about shared bodily warmth?" he asked dryly, though not managing to keep the utter contentment from his voice.

She nuzzled into his neck and snuggled even closer, letting her hand trail down under the covers to check and to find him semi-erect once more. "How old did you say you were again?" she drawled.

He chuckled. "Old enough to know better, and young enough to be this foolish in the midst of such temptation, particularly after such a ridiculous period of enforced deprivation. At least you are, at last, in no doubt that I am, in fact, a man."

She kissed the point of his jaw and absently caressed his length. "No doubt whatsoever. Although…I've never been with anyone who…I mean, I thought there were limits…"

Giles cleared his throat. "Of course there are. As I said, these are special circumstances and you are a beautiful woman."

"Come on Giles," she teased. "Admit it. You're good."

He laughed. "That too," he agreed, sliding out of bed and pulling on some dark silk pyjamas and sneakers so that he could give Buffy his heavy robe and slippers. He didn't see Buffy pocket several foil packs with a grin.

The bath was downstairs, far too heavy when full to be borne by the upstairs floorboards. Buffy was impressed. She knew that the small row of townhouses was old, but expensive, but she wasn't expecting anything this modern.

Giles looked up from starting the faucets running. "Yes I know. Odd in a place like this, but someone was obviously fond of these things. This room is a converted sunroom, hence all the mod cons, the opulent tub…"

Buffy liked it, or at least she would have in a modern apartment, but somehow it seemed out of place among the old fashioned things, with its faux marble tiles and glass and big hot tub set in the centre of it.

An hour and a half later they were resting contentedly in the continual wash of the jets of hot water and soap bubbles, empty coffee and tea mugs and plates covered in toast crumbs, bacon grease and dried egg yolk, set on the side of the tub.

"It never occurred to me before to eat breakfast in the bath," he mused when Buffy murmured something about more caffeine.

"You see, you can be spontaneous and enjoy it," she grinned, turning a little in his arms and stretching out in the water like a contented cat. "It might be a tad decadent, but tell me it wasn't gorgeous and you didn't enjoy every minute of it."

"Are you talking about breakfast, or…?" he asked, amused.

"Both," she replied with satisfaction, still glowing from their pre-breakfast tryst in the bubbles. Giles was the first lover she'd even been with who'd come close to satisfying the true breadth of her Slayer appetite and drive. She rolled over and drew herself up to his eye level to kiss his mouth unexpectedly. Seconds later she was sliding down again to beat the chill already biting at her warm soapy body.

"What was that for?" he asked gruffly.

"For being you," she said cryptically, then sighed contentedly. "I think I just want to stay in here forever."

"Lovely thought," he conceded, "though the thought of looking like a shrivelled mummy puts a dampener on the plan."

She giggled. "You big silly." The smile faded. "What are we going to do, Giles? You belong here. I belong in Sunnydale. How do we make the twain do what we want?"

He shifted a little and wrapped his arms around her. "I don't know," he said quietly. "I do know that with Faith in jail, and the succession effectively stalled, there is still only one person standing between humanity and the darkness."

"Oh please," she muttered. "If you dare start that 'one girl in all the world' speech I swear I'll drown you."

Mischief lit his face. "I always liked that speech. 'One Girl in all the world who could…" The sound of gurgling reverberated about the bathroom as Giles found himself pushed under, though only for a few seconds. He surfaced and continued the speech out of devilment in his best librarian voice, between giggles as a laughing Buffy resorted to tickling to shut him up. "Pax!" he cried eventually, when she found the sweet spots at the base of his rib cage, where tickling drove him insane.

Still giggling, she collapsed against his chest, both of them dripping water now, even from their hair.

"I have to go back, don't I?" she asked him when they fell quiet.

Giles stroked her arm. "You don't really need me to answer that, do you?"

Buffy curled up in his arms, burying her face in his wet chest hair. "I won't ask you to leave here. I can't do that to you."

"What happened to never leaving me again?" he teased in pouting voice.

She raised her head and looked into his eyes with miserable ones of her own, and saw the warmth and the twinkle lighting the soft green. After a beat a slow, reluctant smile grew from the thin line of her lips, and moisture suddenly cluttered her view.

"You're going with me?"

He flicked a drop of water from the tip of her nose. "Of course I'm going with you, you silly goose. Did you think I would let the love of my life walk out of it again so easily? Or that I would ever again allow the Council to interfere in my life to that degree?"

She half giggled rather damply. "You're the big silly, but I love you so much."

"Well that's terribly reassuring," he mugged and then added an 'ouch' when she thumped his chest, before catching her as she threw herself into his arms and flung her arms around his wet neck, making plumes of water slop over the side of the tub and the plates as she lunged.

They shared the hug for some time before Buffy shifted back into the water to warm up her chilled back.

"It doesn't seem right. You love it here. It's Giles country. Where will you live in Sunnydale if you go back?"

"Well, the Sunnydale flat belongs to me and has been leased. The lease is due for renewal fairly shortly, so I daresay I shall be able to 'go home' as it were, to the old place. How do you feel about sleeping in a loft?" he added dryly. "And of course I don't have a hot tub. Perhaps somewhere else would-?"

"Giles, reality check. Dawn? Don't get me wrong…I want to be with you, like all the time, but you're the one who forced me to grow up. Three into your old apartment just don't go."

He sighed. "I'm aware of that, love. I'm sure once they're apprised of the situation, Dawn, Willow and Tara will be more than willing to help make things easier for us, but you will, of course, stay with your sister for the time being."

"Or you could move into my place," Buffy suggested, clutching at straws. "Or not," she added when she saw his face.

"I'm sorry, Buffy. I think it would be…inappropriate."

"What? Willow and Tara aren't exactly celibate, and I've had…never mind." She scowled.

"That's not what I meant," he said quietly. "I was thinking more of your mother."

The scowl vanished. "Oh," she whispered, the change in her tone audible.

Giles gave her a reassuring squeeze. "We'll think of something. In the meantime you'll simply have to visit me at the flat.

"Well at least that's not new. Regular post-slayage stop off, remember?"

Giles raised an eyebrow. "Regular?"

"Well, okay, sometimes stop-off, and sometimes before slayage a-and occasionally all night research place," she defended.

"Just so long as you come," he replied. He wasn't laughing anymore.

Painfully aware of that, Buffy answered. "Just try to keep me away! I miss you already," she groaned. "Dawn can have me for dinner and breakfast, her school stuff and the supervision of homework and chores, but other than that, I'm all yours."

"Marvellous," he grumbled. "Fit me in between the PTA meeting and the nest of demons on twelfth and Barton…Tuesday week…possibly."

Buffy made a disparaging noise. "As if. You can start patrolling with me again and we'll go back to your place afterward to work off my post-Slayage tensions. I'll make sure Dawn is cool with me spending nights, in advance."

"Post Slay…?" He cleared his throat. "You've never mentioned any…'tensions' before."

"Yeah, you know, tensions. As in now I can report back from patrol that I'm horny and I'm starving and what are you going to do about it? Instead of how it used to be, pretending I'm fine and calm and everything and going home to…" she stopped, her eyes widening. "Well, never mind."

"I am a grownup, Buffy. I'm well aware of the process. I've been alone now for the greater part of the last six years but I'm not a bloody monk. And it occurs to me that we didn't use a condom when we woke up," he added, concern in his tone. "Why on Earth didn't you say something?"

"At the time, I didn't realize any more than you did. Spontaneity, remember? Neither of us has exactly needed them for a very long time. It'll be okay, Giles. Since I came back I've barely even menstruated. Willow thinks it's stress. Not really conducive to the baby-making though."

"I bloody hope so," he growled. "The last thing I want is to burden you with motherhood at this point in your life."

Buffy looked at him lovingly, but seriously. "I don't care," she said. "If it happens, it will be yours...ours...and that's all that matters. Now where were we? Oh yeah. From now on we take care of each other's...'tensions.' And as soon as Dawn goes to college, I'm moving in with you forever and nothing and no one is going to stop me."

He kissed the top of her damp head. "Forever is a long time, Buffy."

"For some of us," she murmured.

Above her head Giles' eyes grew bleak for a moment, before he closed his eyes and kissed her hair again.

After the bath, Buffy went ahead to the bedroom while Giles tidied the bathroom and dropped the plates in to the kitchen. She was almost dressed when he arrived, the thin silk of his pyjamas stuck to him where he hadn't towelled off properly. She sat on the bed and watched him cross the room, noticing one particular damp outline and repressing an urge to go and explore it. She enjoyed watching him dress too. There was a sense of belonging, of contentment, in being this much a part of him now. She also enjoyed watching him turn, grin lopsidedly and blush, as he always would, when she showed her appreciation of the view as he bent to retrieve clean underwear and socks from his tallboy.

"I don't suppose you want to come back to bed?" she purred when he turned, dressed now in a chunky white cable knit sweater, black jeans and dark tan boots.

He stared at her for a moment then laughed. "You'll be the death of me."

A subdued Buffy slid off the bed and walked into his arms. "Not if I can help it."

Giles wrapped his arms around her, aware that her tone implied something far deeper than ensuring he didn't have a heart attack trying to keep up with her in bed.

"My own personal bodyguard. I'm impressed," he teased gently. "Shall we run up to Ravenscroft and collect your things? I know a nice place to have lunch, very authentic."

"You? Running, leaping…frolicking?" Buffy snickered.

"Very funny. I drive."

"The tramp is here in England? Isn't the steering wheel on the wrong side?"

"Afraid not. Though it fetched a good price from a private sale before I left."

"So what do you drive?"

Giles chuckled. "It's called a Kawasaki Ninja."

Buffy frowned. "That sounds more like a motorcycle…oh…your closet hobby, huh?"

He huffed a little. "Yes, my closet hobby. I believe I've earned the right to a few toys. And I think you'll like this one."

Buffy looked impressed then concerned. "Am I a toy?"

Giles looked down at her, not sure if she was joking or not. "Of course you aren't. You are the joy of my life and the woman I love. You are also one of the most frustrating, infuriating people I've ever met, both of which violate the criteria of being a toy." It amused him watching Buffy try to work out if she'd been complimented or insulted. Finally, he chuckled. "Come on, let's go and get your things. How long did you arrange to be away from Sunnydale for?"

She made a face at him. "They gave me a week, if you wanted to see me, and I told them two days, if you didn't. Willow is watching Dawn. And the others and Spike are sharing the patrols."

At that his smile widened. For the first time he was glad he hadn't had the motivation to go and look up all his contacts to find work yet.

"Then you shall have your week. I'll enjoy showing you something of the West Country while you're here."

"And a lot more of your bed, I hope," she growled.

"Of course," he agreed, grinning, a certain amount of smug satisfaction in his voice.

"And then what?"

He took her in his arms and kissed her.

"And then, my darling, we're going home."

 
THE END