If Wishes Were Horses
By Gail Christison

Title: If Wishes Were Horses
Author: Gail Christison
Rating: NC-17 for romantic sexual scenes
Summary: Dawn wants to learn to ride and for Buffy to go with her. Buffy and horses are unmixy things. Giles helps out. Bonding ensues.
Timeline: Post The Gift. Buffy is back. Things are pretty much back to normal in Sunnydale. Giles didn't leave. Very minor possible spoilers regarding where Tara and Willow are living.
Feedback: chriscln@iinet.net.au
Disclaimer: All BTVS characters belong to the Jossman and Co. The plot, the horses and Sarah Callaghan belong to me. :-)
Author's note: This was written for Gileswench's birthday based on her specifications, and the list of things she didn't want to see :-) Basically she wanted Buffy and Giles to stay in canon as closely as possible and to bond over a *normal* activity before major smoochies were to ensue. I've endeavoured to meet all her specifications. This is meant to be a light hearted romance. Angst is minimal.

Note: This has been worked on for some time and finished for a few days but I delayed posting for obvious reasons. Now I'm guessing, and hoping, some people might enjoy the momentary distraction from real life.

Dedication: May your future birthdays be celebrated in peace and happiness, Wench.


"You're not serious?"

"Have you seen these things? They're like, huge and they smell and…"

"Buffy, you are the Slayer. They aren't even aggressive. You're talking about a creature which has been at the right hand of man for thousands of years…"

Buffy wrinkled her nose and got up to punch the bag some more. "I don't care. They're big and they…they…don't stand still and they don't like me."

"And upon what do we base this analysis?"

She shrugged. "I wanted one…when I was seven. I begged and begged until mom took me to a place where I could have an actual lesson. The thing was demonic. It tried to bite me when I petted its nose, trod on my foot on purpose when I was supposed to climb on…"

"Mount," Giles corrected patiently.

"…Mount it."

"But surely you enjoyed the lesson?"

"My foot hurt. I was mad at it."


Giles rolled his eyes. "What did you do?"

"Well, the instructor said squeeze, and that didn't work so…I um…well…cowboys do it."

He sighed. "You kicked it?"

"I did not! A-at least not the way you make it sound. I just sort of…"

"Banged your boot heels into the poor creature's sides and startled it half to death?"

"It ran. I fell off. End of story," she growled and strode off.

Giles suppressed the urge to laugh heartily and followed.

"All your own fault," he said when he caught up with her. "If you truly want to do this for Dawn, you need to realize that a horse is a simple creature with simple needs, the first of which is respect, like most other living things in this world."

"So you want me to humiliate myself? You know she's read about everything there is to know about horses, riding and the whole thing. She'll be sitting there doing it all right and laughing her butt off at me."

"I have confidence in you, Buffy. A little research, a few lessons of your own before you go with Dawn and I'm sure you will more than hold your own."

Buffy moved over on their 'discussion' couch, as she sometimes thought of it and Giles automatically sat down next to her.

"I don't think you're getting the big picture here," she said more quietly. "They scare me, Giles."

His eyes widened for a moment, then his mouth clamped into a straight line to stop from smiling. When he could trust himself to keep a straight face, he cleared his throat.

"We all have irrational fears, Buffy. They can be overcome. The question is do you want to overcome this one, for Dawn's sake, or are you simply angling for me to talk to Dawn for you? It isn't my job to play the 'bad person' for you when you don't want to deal with…"

"It's good guy/bad guy," Buffy corrected, "not 'bad person,' and that occurred to me for about five minutes…blissful minutes," she added honestly and smiled back when he did finally grin at her, "but Dawn's been through a lot and I want to do this for her. It's the first normal, teenage, human thing she's shown an interest in since mom died."

Giles sighed. "Then we have to find a way to break through this fear of yours," he said.

"Great. You keep stating the obvious, and I'll go work it out by myself," she told him snappily, mildly irritated by his lack of tangible support, and not sure why.

He snorted. "Go and do thirty minutes of aerobics to warm down and clear that hostility from your enraged breast and then meet me tomorrow morning, early, at the flat. If you don't have riding clothes, wear jeans, find some riding boots or at the very least elastic sided boots with square heels, *not* spikes."

Buffy pouted. "It's Saturday. I've patrolled late all week and had to get up way early to take Dawn to school and study to catch up all my classes and…."

Giles turned and rolled his eyes toward her so that he was regarding her with a half-glaring, half mock-suffering look.

She took one look, poked out her tongue and got up to go and turn on the music. "I hope your brain starts dribbling out your ears!" she yelled and turned it up to three times the normal volume she worked out at.

Giles rose and crossed the room without a word, took his jacket off the hook he'd left it on while Buffy stepped and made a smug face behind his back, reached the doorway and lazily put out a hand to flick the light switch off before closing it behind him.

"HEY!!!" a voice yelped over the din.

Standing for a moment on the other side of the door, he smirked to himself then headed for home, leaving Buffy to lock up, as he often did, before heading out into the darkness.

 

*******

 

"I think I've changed my mind," Buffy said for the fourth time as the car wound its way up into the foothills outside of Sunnydale. A few more miles and they'd just about be at Breaker's Woods.

"Do stop dithering," Giles muttered, overtaking another eighteen-wheeler. "You'll have plenty of time to decide after you actually see one again. When was the last time you actually came within close range of a live equine, other than our road joust with the Knights of Byzantium?"

"Huh?" she teased.

"Buffy…"

"All right. Um…okay. I can do this. Do Zebras count…? Cause there was that zoo trip…you know with Xander and the Hyena people and like that…"

Giles ignored her.

"Okay, so I've made it a life mission to avoid horsiness. Sue me."

"Fine. At least you're being honest now. Today you find out just exactly how frightened you are or are not of the real thing, not just some phantom from your childhood. Ah, we're here."


Buffy swallowed as Giles turned into a long driveway between two large fields. A long, low, elegant ranch house was nestled on the side of a hill above a number of fields and pastures, each of which contained contented, lazily grazing beasts of various shades and dimensions.

She frowned. "What kind of horses are they?"

Giles looked down at her for a moment, surprised. "Why do you ask?"

"I dunno. I've seen horses like this somewhere. They're not, you know, regular horses…not like…well, John Wayne never rode one of these…"

He guffawed. "You've actually watched a western?"

"Lots," she shot back. "Mom was big with the retro-movies. We used to watch a lot of late night TV, even more after she found out about the slayage and waited up...a lot. Sort of parental-offspring bonding in with a Thelma and Louise motif," she said fondly. "I know way too much about old movies and how weird they can get…even John Wayne. If I was Ben Johnson I'd have wanted a lot more money to stand on those horses and gallop them around like that…and jump over those jumps as well, no matter who ordered me to."

"Buffy, I have no idea what your talking about," Giles pointed out as he parked the car.

"John Wayne…old cavalry movie. One of the troopers stands one foot on each of the bare backs of two horses and gallops them around like an idiot and then actually jumps them over some jumps…still standing up. Nuts," she summarized.

"Indeed," he agreed, dazed, and still incredulous that she could retain such useless information and not remember a damned thing about the last demon they'd researched, not five minutes after she had despatched it. "And for your information these horses are all Andalusian stock. This is not a riding school. It is the home of a friend of mine."

"Friend? You didn't tell me you had friends…"

"And do you want to know when I go to the bathroom, and clip my toenails too?" he growled as they got out of the vehicle in the bright, early morning sunshine.

"Eieww. Don't be gross. I didn't mean to sound…bossy." She flashed him a grin. "How do you know I'm not just jealous?"

He gave her his patented 'do you really want me to answer that, or just ignore you?' look.

Buffy sobered a little. "Sorry," she said softly. "You never talk about yourself. Except… except for fighter pilots and Eyghon, and some delirious raving about Watcher's retreats, you never talk about yourself, your past, England. I've seen you…brilliantly, I gotta say, work Xander from a question about you going to school as a kid, into a conversation about him playing pranks on Willow in kindergarten without him even realising you changed the subject. I heard Willow trying to wheedle your birthday out of you once and you ended up getting her to do like, forty-five minutes on Christmas and Hanukah in the Rosenberg and Harris households. She never did get your birthday, did she?"

His expression softened. "No."

"Why?"

He sighed heavily. "I think you're old enough to understand now that sometimes people want to keep their past in the past," he said softly.

Buffy frowned for a moment. "Oh," she said finally and looked up at him, her blue-grey eyes serious for once. "Please tell me your kid-years weren't all badness. There has to have been some goodness in your life before the Council screwed it up…?"

For a long moment he didn't speak. "There were some very happy moments," he finally told her, "when I was small and thought my world would never change."

His voice was so wistful Buffy longed to know what his distant green eyes were remembering so fondly.

"Did you have a pony?" she tried to guess.

He laughed. "As a matter of fact, yes. But not the kind you're imagining. Other children rambled the lanes on ponies and made their own fun at pony clubs. I, on the other hand, was presented with a show-jumper at the age of six, learned to ride under an instructor until I was twelve, and sent to b…went away," he finished evasively. "It was less childhood fun and more about self-discipline and striving for excellence."

"Sounds about as stuffy as tw…stuffy," Buffy finished feebly, suddenly realising just how long it had been since she'd seen a scrap of tweed on him.

They reached the big outbuilding Giles had been heading towards and stopped as someone emerged from it.

"Sarah!" he said with visible pleasure.

"Rupert!" the other woman grinned. She was tall and willowy, with hair the colour of burnished copper, pulled back into a perfect chignon, periwinkle blue eyes that crinkled at the corners and the kind of clothes that spoke of money in the most understated, casual way. "It's been too long."

"Sarah Callaghan, meet Buffy."

"So this is the infamous Buffy." Her voice was musical and elegant like the rest of her but her smile was gamin and infectious.


Buffy decided she was at least fifty-five, and that she liked the faint Irish lilt.

"Have you guys known each other a long time?"

Sarah raised an eyebrow at the Watcher. "About two years?"

"Near enough," Giles agreed, amused. "I still think you should have let me have that book. I found it first."

Sarah shook her head. "And you put it down when you saw the volume about the Olmec."

Buffy watched them both. They were so relaxed and easy with each other. It was obvious they liked each other a lot, but without any real sparkage. She suddenly realised what it was. They were like siblings. Sarah was treating Giles like a kid brother.

"Yes well, the Olmec cost me a fine volume on Pre-Columbian art and the Moche in particular."

Sarah laughed. "You know you can borrow it anytime you want. I'll leave you to your project. Come up to the house afterward and we'll have tea."

"We're doing a project, now?" Buffy asked as she followed Giles into the big building.

"Yes we are."

"And I thought you were just going to make me ride a horse."

Giles snorted.

"And there's the horse," she deadpanned, stopping, as he reached the single, saddled horse, a vividly red-gold chestnut mare, tethered at the side of the rectangular ring.

"Really?" he drawled, and ran a gentle hand down its shoulder.

A moment later she watched him step into the stirrup and swing fluidly up into the obviously very expensive European saddle.

He was wearing riding pants and a khaki ribbed sweater, and had high black riding boots on, but neither were anything special, in fact they were all even kind of worn, and he looked as though he'd been riding forever as he turned the animal and started it in a kind of slow, stiff march around the ring.

"What are you doing?" she called.

"It's called a collected walk," he said as they approached Buffy again. "All you have to do is watch at this point. Siobhan and I will get re-acquainted for a short time and we'll proceed from there."

Siobhan snorted at the right time and flicked her fiery red tail as they passed. They headed down to the other end of the sandy ring and Giles suggested she move into an equally collected trot without Buffy actually being able to see how he did it.

She liked the way the mare moved, the way the animal held its tail like a banner and arched its head as though it knew it was something special. More than that she liked the way Giles rode, as though he'd been doing it all his life, as though he had merged with the creature and had become an extension of it.

It made her wonder what the hell had happened to create 'tweedy' Giles. This Giles, the one she'd seen intimidating Ethan and the one who'd stood up to the council and later Wesley, so long ago, was not the same man who blushed and stammered and stuttered his way into her life, a relationship with Jenny Calendar and a short career as a school librarian. Nor was he the man who had drifted out of her life for a time not too long ago, directionless, unhappy and telling no one exactly why…

Giles reached a corner and turned the animal to cross the room diagonally, Buffy trying to work out the bit of business he did as he passed by. Moments later he turned on the other diagonal and came back, Buffy watching his hands and legs again as they passed, her proximity to the animal forgotten.

After another circumnavigation of the room he turned in and came to a halt only feet from her, and dismounted with the same elegance as his riding.

"What was that called?"

"Riding," Giles said dryly.

"That thing you did just then," she added, ignoring him.

"Changing legs. An exercise in asking the horse to change the leg with which it leads."

"Is that what I'm supposed to be able to do?"

Giles didn't quite stop the chuckle. "Not really. Eventually, perhaps, if you and Dawn enjoy the exercise long enough to move past the basics. For the time being all you have to worry about is whether or not you are willing to face your aversion to these creatures for your sister's sake, and perhaps your own."

Buffy eyed the mildly blowing horse as though it was the most evil of demons.

"It doesn't smell as bad as I remember," she said.

Giles smiled. "You'll find most things are not as bad as a seven year old's memories."

She took a tentative step towards the creature, and then another. "Okay, so no claws, no fire, no demon drool."

The mare lifted its head when she moved again. "On the other hand," she said, stopping again.

Giles watched, amused, but didn't help.

"Aren't you going to tell me it won't bite?"

His smiled widened. "That would be a fib," he observed. "Although I can tell you Siobhan is a lady and has never once attempted to bite me."

"A lady huh? What kind of saddle is that?"

"It's a German dressage saddle. It's not important. At this point you don't need roping horns, branding irons or silver spurs to introduce yourself."

She shrugged. "John Wayne or Princess Anne, I don't care. I just want Dawn to be happy."

Giles finally relented. "Do you want me to help?"

She looked at him for a long moment and then smiled. "Nah," she said finally. "I've been close enough to a Hellhound to get drooled on. I can do this."

He nodded and watched.

"Nice horsy," Buffy said softly, inching ever closer, until she was perhaps three feet from the animal's flank. She stopped and looked back at Giles. "Okay. I'm good with this."

"Remember, Buffy, respect. You're not seven any more and this is not a sentient creature. It's an animal and it trusts you."

"It does?" she squeaked, then cleared her throat and looked it in the eye. "I mean, okay. Respect. Female solidarity, right Siobhan?"

Siobhan turned her beautiful dish-shaped nose at the emphasized mention of her name and snorted dust from her nostrils.

"Yeah, right," Buffy agreed, and carefully extended her fingers until the velvety muzzle could touch them.

There was a long, silent moment as contact was made and Buffy's face screwed up as the large nostrils sniffed and blew on her fingers and palm several times, before she finally realised it was neither going to hurt nor be gross.

Giles watched with satisfaction as she straightened, half smiled, and stroked a golden cheek, meeting Siobhan's reproachful gaze.

"Why is she looking at me like that?"

"Empty hand," Giles said softly. "She's a little spoiled, like most of Sarah's animals. If you offer a hand she expects a treat."

Buffy looked back at the creature. "Sorry about that. It's his fault. He knew, and he didn't tell me. She moved a little as she was speaking and slowly stroked the glossy neck. "You're a whole lot nicer than a hellhound, you know that? You smell better, your manners are way better and you don't drool…" She paused to look at the corners of the animal's mouth where it was chewing on the bit. "Well, not much anyway."

Giles moved to stand next to her. "Comfortable?" he asked.

Buffy looked up at him, resting her hand on the horse's mane. "Not wigging, if that's what you mean."

"Good," he said gently and pointed to the saddle. "Pommel, cantle, stirrup leather, stirrup iron, girth." He lifted the flap. "Adjust here for length. Run the irons up before unsaddling so you don't startle the animal." He waited.

"Got it," she confirmed, and repeated it back to him.

He continued, pointing out parts of the horse and naming them, answering tolerantly when Buffy questioned him like a five year old about names like 'poll' and 'withers' and 'hocks'.

"So are we ready?" she finally asked.

"Perhaps," Giles said cryptically. "Stand here," he pointed to a spot in front of Siobhan's left shoulder, "and face her. Now run your hand down her leg like this and lift."

Buffy looked at him a little wildly. "I thought I was going to …you know…ride?"

"Not today."

"Not today…great. I actually think I might be able to and he says no." She continued to mutter and complain, not fully aware that she had done as he asked and lifted the leg until he spoke again.

"Now rest the knee on your leg and slide your hands down to hold the hoof for a moment."

Buffy focused and realised what she was doing, looked at the powerful foot and remembered how bruised her own foot had been after the pony had stomped on it all those years ago. She swallowed. "Okay," she said nervously, but held it while Giles pointed out each part and named it and explained the type of horseshoe and why they were used.

"Now you can put it down carefully. "Don't let her do it. Maintain control. Hold it and put it down slowly…well done."

"There is something seriously not right about a horse having a frog in its foot," Buffy observed as she straightened. "You know I'm right. You're seriously not going to let me ride today are you?"

Giles shook his head. "Today was to find out if it was fear or phobia, and how much work we are going to have to do to overcome that hurdle."

"And…?"

"And next time we will begin lessons. How do you feel?"

"My insides are shaking. I'd rather be staking vamps, but otherwise, really great," she told him dryly.

"To be expected," he said reassuringly, "and exactly why there will be no riding today. When you've had time to digest what you've accomplished already and to appreciate the fact that you're still standing within three feet of something you were terrified of yesterday, the next step will seem far less daunting."

Buffy looked from Giles to the horse and back to Giles. "Maybe that has more to do with who I'm with than how smart I am." She made herself rub the white streak between the mare's eyes and play with the long chestnut forelock.

"How did you know I didn't have a phobia?"

"I didn't," he said quietly. "But I remember being five and almost being killed by a bull. I was afraid of anything bovine for years, until someone taught me to milk a cow and I realised I was afraid of the memories, not the beasts themselves."

"You were almost killed by a bull?"

He closed his eyes briefly, smiling in spite of himself. "Yes, a prank by some schoolmates, who sent me into a field to retrieve my schoolbag. They didn't know that the bull was imported and…difficult."

"Difficult?"

"A half-wild Cammargue bull. Black as coal and as mad as hell."

"Did it hurt you?"

"Not physically. I made it to the gate in time for the farmer, who'd come to see what all the carry on by my mates was about, to drag me over it before I was gored and belt the daylights out of me for tormenting his bull. Needless to say my mates were gone before he was done, so there was no one to corroborate my story and by the time I got home I was too frightened to tell anyone, since the farmer had taken the bull's side. At that age you expect all adults to take the same view of things disciplinary."

Buffy pulled a sympathetic gaze away to look at Siobhan's placid face again. "I think I'm liking horses and horsy people better all the time. At least the instructor didn't yell at me for kicking the pony."

"The bloody pony was probably well known for biting and stomping. Hack riding school mounts develop bad habits if they're not checked. If they knew you were hurt they wouldn't dare, lest your mother sue them for damages."

Buffy frowned again. "I guess she didn't know she could. She was pretty angry after I fell off. There was a lot of shouting and we left pretty fast. I don't think she paid. Not much except my foot was hurt. It was black and blue for a week."

"Not an experience that would make a small child want to rush back to horse riding as a pastime again."

"Until now," Buffy said softly, trying to picture Giles as a five-year old boy. "Were you small for your age?"

"Pardon?"

"When you were five. What did you look like?"

He chuckled and thought for a moment. "Small. Knobbly knees. Thin. Fair hair—the kind that turns brown," he revealed.

"Thanks," she said softly and looked up at him, staring into the green eyes.

They searched hers before he smiled back. "I daresay you were as attractive as a small girl as you are now," he teased.

"Me?" she half laughed. "Nah. Would have been nice, but I was little, with the puppy fat and kinda mousy."

"Buffy, you were never fat. Too bloody thin most of the time. All of you young women are these days."

"Hey, I never said I was fat," she retorted smartly. "I just wasn't ever going to be the ballerina type. You saw me when I came to Sunnydale: not exactly Swan Lake."

"I saw you," he said quietly. "And you were as perfect as you are now."

She flicked a surprised look back up at those eyes. They were smiling at her again, tenderness, warmth, affection in them, their corners crinkled and his mouthed curved up in an amused grin.

"Flattery will get you everywhere," she replied, aware she was flirting, but not sure why.

His grin flickered, and something changed between them, but he laughed. "It never has before," he retorted. "Come on, Sarah has afternoon tea waiting for us." He untied Siobhan and led her out.

"The horse is coming to dinner?"

Giles ignored her as he changed the bridle for a halter, tied her to a rail outside and ran the stirrup irons up before unbuckling the girth and removing the saddle.

Buffy watched him work until he'd rubbed her down and checked all of her feet again.

"You're good with them," she observed.

"They're easy to be with," he replied as he turned. "No complications, no lies. Just trust and loyalty."

It was Buffy's turn to subside a little.

They walked up to the homestead in pensive silence.

Afternoon tea turned into a noisy affair. Sarah was as good at teasing Giles as Buffy herself was, and infectious. By the end of the cakes, biscuits, tea and espresso coffee made especially for Buffy, they both had Giles red to the ear tips and stuttering behind his tea cup with their shared anecdotes.

"You're as bad as each other," Giles muttered as he started the car. "And I was not the one who short-circuited the school's electrical system, if you remember correctly. You are the one who boiled my kettle with no water in it and destroyed the element."

"Details," Buffy dismissed airily. "When are you going to tell her about…things?" she asked suddenly.

"I'm not," he said swiftly. "She doesn't need to know, and I don't need that part of my life to intrude h—" He stopped suddenly, swallowed and looked away.

"Too late," Buffy said hoarsely. "Sorry. I seem to ruin everything for you, don't I? It's okay. I can do the rest now. And I promise I won't tell her anything."

"I'm sorry, Buffy. I didn't mean…" He stopped and made himself turn back to her. "I'm glad you came up here with me. I have enjoyed today immensely. It's…it's just that this place…it's not…"

"It's not for Slaying and Watchers and vampires and demons," Buffy finished. "It's for a little piece of normal. I envy you," she sighed.

"It can be that for you too, if you'd like," he said quietly, almost shyly.

She looked at him again. "But I'm the other stuff. You bring me here, you can't get away from it," she said wistfully, looking around the property. "I can't do that to you, much as I already love this place."

"I rather thought we were both away from it for a little while."

"Well, yeah," she agreed, not sure where the conversation was going. "I guess we were. I never thought of it that way. It was kinda nice actually spending time where we weren't training or researching or debriefing or fighting something. Why didn't we ever do that before?"

Giles dropped his eyes and didn't answer.

After a beat Buffy realised why. "Oh," she said quietly, then realised that there wasn't anything more to be said. In all their time together she'd never once contemplated spending time with him 'just because'. There was always some reason why she had to go see him. The nearest she'd ever come was wanting her mother to invite him for Christmas one year, and that birthday, when she would have taken any offer to go with someone to the stupid Ice Show rather than let her father ruin everything again...

"Why wouldn't you take me?" she asked suddenly.

"Take you?"

"To the Ice Show."

He looked up at her then, surprised. "You still think about that?"

"Sometimes."

"I couldn't be who you wanted me to be then."

"Because of the stupid test?"

He shook his head. "Because Travers had no idea what he was talking about."

Buffy's eyes narrowed, her spirits taking a startling nose-dive, despite not being entirely sure what he meant by that. "That's why you didn't answer him…why you just stood there? That's why you changed?"

"Changed?" he asked, surprised again.

"Olivia, Halloween, coming to the Bronze, Olivia again, singing at the 'Pump, lost weekending with Ethan Rayne," she listed, "and later…"

"Yes, all right, I get the picture," he said irritably. "And no…I mean…I didn't change. Things were simply…difficult…during that period."

"Difficult?"

"I think I'd like to just leave it at that," he replied, put the vehicle in gear and headed down the driveway.

"You can't," Buffy said eventually, struggling, needing to understand, as they turned out of the gate. "You can't just leave it at that. I know we both changed last year, but I thought..."

Giles flicked a glance at her. "You grew up. You found your own way. It was inevitable. I should have realised then."

Her eyes widened. "Did I miss something?" she asked warily.

"That things change," he said simply.

"But we don't," Buffy insisted, a little frightened now.

He looked at her again for a moment then turned his gaze back to the road.

"Buffy…"

She sighed. "Okay. All right, I changed in college. I let everything get to me after Angel left. So did you, somehow, right from that summer when Olivia came. But us…who we are together…I thought…it was like, for always?"

There was a note of vulnerability, rare in Buffy's voice, in the last few words.

Giles smiled a little to himself, surprised and touched. Explaining, however, was harder than he thought. "It is true that I will always be there for you, Buffy. But I…I…"

She exhaled as though relieved, but didn't look at him again when he didn't finish, instead remaining as silent and brooding as he, for the rest of the journey.

When Buffy knocked on Giles' door the next morning, she was still trying to figure things out.

A voice rumbled: "Come," from somewhere within.

She frowned and pushed the door open. "When are you going to start locking this door?" she demanded as he emerged from the bathroom pulling a knitted shirt over his head.

Buffy blinked at the naked chest disappearing under the black fabric, then zoned back into the room, not willing to be distracted, but mentally filing the unexpected vision for later.

"When I remember," he muttered.

"Giles, I'm serious. What's your deal with not locking doors? It scares me how much you don't seem to care about your own safety."

Giles turned for the kitchen without answering. "Do you want coffee before we go?"

She sighed and followed him. "Answer me, Giles. You've been avoiding this question for years. Why?"

"I prefer not to."

"So you still think I'm a kid."

He spun then and looked her square in the eye. "On the contrary," he said in a strange tone. "It's simply not important."

"It is to me," she said vehemently. "Giles, I don't want to lose you…ever."

"Then I will buy a deadlock for the door," he said simply.

"Giles!"

He banged down the kettle he'd just filled and turned back to her again. "I don't lock the bloody door because I need to know that if you need me you can get in…at any time of the day or night. Happy now?"

She blinked. Of all the possibilities, that was one she hadn't considered, and yet the one most like him.

"No," she said softly. "And I'm not putting you in danger any more. Either you give me a key or I'll break the door down in an emergency, but you will lock it from now on."

"Oh, I will, will I?" he drawled.

"Please?" she whispered.

He relented then, and walked to the breakfast counter, picked up his keys and removed one before turning and putting it in her hand.

"No smashing the door. The tradesmen are starting to snicker."

Their eyes met and they both grinned before chuckling softly. "No smashing the door," she agreed. "Thanks," she added softly.

He nodded. "The way we're going we'll want lunch before we leave," he muttered and turned back to the kettle, turned it on.

Buffy smiled fondly at his broad back and giggled softly to herself.

 

*******

Giles waited patiently as Buffy reintroduced herself to Siobhan and gradually relaxed enough to stroke the mare's neck quietly.

When she was ready he moved closer and took her through the basics of mounting before she moved into position to try it herself. With her fitness, suppleness and slayer strength she swung up smoothly and cleanly into the saddle, unlike most beginners.

Giles smiled. She was going to be fine, even if she did look like she'd just mounted a hell-beast and wasn't sure what was coming next.

"Okay," she smiled tentatively. "What now?"

Giles' large hands adjusted the length of the reins and showed her how to hold them, moving her fingers and adjusting her grip until it was correct.

Buffy held her breath. The reaction to his touch was unexpected, but they had touched each other so little in the time they'd known each other, there really wasn't any way to know her body would react like this. She took a deep breath and tried to concentrate on what he was saying about her legs as he adjusted the stirrup irons for length, taking her left foot and letting it rest next to the leather.

When he took hold of it after adjusting the leather and gently slipped her toe back into the stirrup iron, she felt it again. Then he was going around and doing the other one.

"How does that feel?" he asked when he was done, oblivious to the chaos of her thoughts.

Buffy frowned. "Weird. Like one is higher than the other."

He checked. "They're fine. It's normal for it to feel like that at first. You'll get used to it."

"This saddle is different."

"Yes," he said, amused. "This is a general purpose saddle. You're not quite up to dressage yet."

"I'm not sure I'm quite up to walking yet," she said doubtfully.

He laughed. "You're doing wonderfully, Buffy." He spoke quietly for the next few minutes, making the basics as clear to her as any training session in the library in the old days, or their gym.

He stepped away when she nodded in response to his query as to whether she'd understood everything, and watched as she moved her weight appropriately and the pair started down the left side of the ring. Buffy was sitting a little too stiffly, probably from sheer fear, but her back was straight and her seat was correct.

Siobhan behaved perfectly, taking Buffy around the ring before the latter made her first executive decision in the same corner from which Giles had started his diagonal the day before, and turned the mare inward to where he was now standing and watching.

When they halted in the middle of the ring, Giles nodded. "How are you feeling?"

"Everest-y," she said whimsically. "All I did was walk in a circle…square …rectangle …whatever…but I feel like I climbed the mountain."

"Conquering fear, whether at sea-level or twenty-five thousand feet, is always satisfying," he told her placidly.

For a time their gazes held and it was as though he was talking about something else entirely. Then Siobhan moved a little and the moment was lost. Buffy spent another twenty minutes practising walking, holding her seat and getting used to where her hands should stay, feeling the horse's mouth, the bit, and understanding the consequences of heavy-handedness or roughness insofar as the reins were concerned.

"You know carousel horses are a lot less complicated," Buffy announced when Giles had told her for the fourth time to keep her hands down.

He smiled. It was almost impossible to imagine Buffy on a carousel horse. She was so full of energy, movement, life, that imagining her sitting on an inert hunk of fibreglass or wood while it moved in endless, mechanical, circles was somehow…wrong.

After an hour of repeating the basics, and talking Giles into one attempt to try something other than endless walking which resulted in a very bumpy lesson in not rushing, Buffy called a halt.

"Why didn't you tell me?" she huffed when Siobhan came to a relieved halt and she slithered down next to him.

"A lesson in patience. Trotting is an awkward gait and you should have realised that, as with a great deal of our own training, I will move you on to the next level when and if I think you are ready, and not before."

She made a face at him and rubbed her rump. "Yeah, well, for someone trying to help a person get over their fear of things horsy you lost the tender touch pretty darn quick."

He raised an eyebrow. "The tender touch?"

She dropped her hands and faced him. "Yeah. It's kinda special, you know, the way you made me forget I was terrified of horses like that."

Again their eyes met and held, and again they seemed to be searching for answers just beyond the reach of either of them.

"Now," Giles said unexpectedly.

"Now?"

"Now," he confirmed. "Now we'll take you through the basics of trotting. When you can do two circuits of the arena lifting smoothly we'll call it a day."

Buffy sighed. "Lead on, MacDuff," she muttered.

Giles mounted the rested horse and explained the basics before demonstrating. Buffy watched him moving in perfect rhythm with the floating movement of the mare, a little disappointed when he finally turned back into the centre of the ring and brought Siobhan to a halt.

Buffy's first two or three attempts to move in rhythm with the abrupt change of gait resulted in bobbing and bumping and muttered epithets from the Slayer, while Giles strove valiantly to keep a straight face.

He encouraged her to keep trying to find the rhythm and eventually she did. Once she knew how it should feel she made no further mistakes, lifting with more and more confidence until she was as fluid as Giles in her unity with the beast beneath her. After three laps Giles raised a hand.

"Excellent," he said, smiling. "But if you don't rest all those new muscles you've just discovered, you'll feel it tomorrow."

"I will?" she asked, dismounting neatly.

Giles waited a moment for her to find her legs on the ground.

"Oh," she said suddenly and flexed. "This isn't good. I feel like Pecos Pete. Are my legs all bowed?"

He laughed aloud. "No, your legs are as perfect as always, but I have no doubt they're going to be sore before the day is out."

Buffy wrinkled her nose. "They're already weird." She stepped forward. "Ow. Sore is already an issue. Slayer healing better kick but fast. I didn't know feeling like a pretzel was part of the deal when I decided to do this."

Giles laughed again. "Sorry," he said when she scowled at him. "It's just that I've seen you withstand the most brutal wounds from battle without a complaint and here you are with a sore ar—bottom and you're carrying on like a cut chook."

Buffy started giggling. "Are you speaking English, or code of some kind?"

Giles began to chuckle with her. "You know what I mean. It will pass. The more you use those muscles, the less they'll complain about it. Look, how about I take you to lunch? Sarah isn't here today. She's gone to Wyoming to look at some new stock."

"Depends whether we're talking burger and fries lunch or 'lunch' lunch," she said playfully.

Giles eyed her speculatively. "As long as you don't fuss about your clothes I have a place in mind where they don't serve anything that doesn't require cutlery."

Buffy was nonplussed for a moment, then grinned. "Restaurant?" she asked, pleased.

"I thought perhaps Spanish," he suggested.

"Mexican would be perfect," she agreed, wondering why it suddenly meant so much, why she felt like something major, something special, was happening.

"Spanish," Giles corrected patiently.

"No fajitas?" she asked.

He looked at her, straight down his commanding nose.

"Knives and forks," she conceded then gave him a gamin grin. "Paella is good, though."

He smiled slowly at the realisation that she'd been playing with him. "Yes it is," he agreed dryly and followed Buffy and the mare out into the yard.

It took them an hour to rub down and pasture Siobhan again before locking up and heading back to town.

Giles put away the tack and they had both walked her down to her pasture, Buffy collapsing into gales of laughter when Siobhan inadvertently took a highly 'aromatic' dump on Giles' shoes as he held the gate open for them.

"You can laugh," he'd muttered. "You realize we have to go back to the flat now. I can't wear these boots into a place that serves food."

Buffy had snorted trying to stop giggling. She'd unclipped the shank from the halter and patted the mare on the rump while Giles had tried to kick the steaming mess off his boots.

"You can stop giggling now," he told her grumpily after closing the gate. "It's not that funny."

Buffy, uncharacteristically relaxed and happy, patted his shoulder. "Sure it is," she said and leaned unselfconsciously against his arm as they walked. "Would you have preferred cow…or bull…poop? I mean…I think I'd rather those green tennis balls to pour-your-own frisbies any time…"

Barely recovered from the surprise of her ease with him, and the warm arm against his, Giles guffawed in spite of himself. "You're quite mad," he told her, and spontaneously moved his arm around her shoulders as they headed for the car.

It was Buffy's turn to be surprised and delighted. It felt wonderful, more wonderful than anything had in a very long time.

Neither of them spoke on the drive back, both deep in thought, yet more relaxed and contented than either could remember in a very long while.

Giles removed his boots outside his door and went into the flat in his socks, Buffy following.

"I'm going to change," she announced as he headed straight up stairs to find some shoes.

"What on earth for?"

"I smell like a horse," she yelled back. "And I just remembered I've got a post-Slayage stash around here, somewhere."

"Blue sport bag, hall closet," he called back.

A few seconds later she called out again: "Where's my shirt? You got something you want to tell me, Giles?"

"Very funny!" he yelled back. "You changed into it the last time we patrolled together because your patrol clothes got covered in A'mkori Demon bile, if you care to remember. And then you promptly spilled chocolate ice cream…which you pinched out of my freezer, mind…all over it. I washed it and it's hanging in the tallboy."

Buffy arrived on the landing after taking a shower, in her old shirt, her red leather pants, and clean shoes from the bag, and stopped dead.

Giles had changed into another shirt after all, his favourite black one, which was buttoned but not tucked in yet. He'd also put his glasses away again and his hair was still mussed from driving. He looked about thirty.

She cleared her throat, crossed to the cupboard and rifled through looking for her shirt, which was tucked between another one of his black shirts and a tweed jacket she hadn't seen him in for over two years. She touched it and sighed.

"Something wrong?" he asked.

"No, nothing," she said quickly, but he saw the fingers on the tweed sleeve before she dropped them swiftly.

He smiled self-consciously. "We can't go back," he said softly. "Much as we'd all like to sometimes."

"I don't want to go back," Buffy said unexpectedly. "I just miss him sometimes."

For a moment Giles stared at her profile. He understood what she was saying but not why she was saying it.

"I haven't gone anywhere," he said very softly.

Buffy looked at the tweed again, then down at the ground.

No…it wasn't his fault that things would never be the way they used to be…

It didn't take long to finish getting ready. They drove to the restaurant in silence. Giles had called ahead and they were shown straight to a table. He seated her formally before seating himself.

Buffy watched him curiously. His glasses were in the pocket of his leather jacket and he was deep in thought.

There was nothing startlingly different about him, except that they weren't sparring, she wasn't waiting for instructions, nor asking for advice, or trying to avoid being told to do something she didn't want to do. Instead they were just…spending time. It made her curious. She studied him as they browsed the menus left on the table for them, deciding that she preferred him without the glasses, when he replaced them to read.

A few moments later he put down his menu and looked at her over them. "Do I have a smut?"

"Huh?" she asked, surprised.

"You've been staring for several minutes. Either I have been transformed into your favourite film star or I have grown horns or a third eye…or I need badly to wipe my nose. Which is it to be?"

"Eiww…though you'd look kinda cute with horns…little ones," she teased.

He removed the glasses and put them back in his pocket before fixing an exasperated eye on her.

She shrugged. "You're different tonight. All we do is train and discuss and brainstorm and…you know. This is nice. Different."

He relaxed a little and half smiled. "Yes it is. Have you decided what you're having?"

Frustrated, without knowing why, Buffy nodded. She chose an entrée of shrimp sautéed in garlic and olive oil, and then grinned as she chose the house paella.

When the waiter arrived shortly afterward, Giles ordered for both of them and deferred dessert until Buffy was ready to choose something.

"You look different without your glasses. Did you ever wear contacts?"

He tilted his head to one side as the waiter departed. "No."

"Is this like the computer thing?"

He looked amused. "It was. Now I just can't be bothered."

"You're a lot cuter without them. You'd get more dates with contacts."

"Why are you so interested in my love life all of a sudden?"

"What kind of desserts do you get in a Spanish restaurant?" she asked evasively.

"Spanish ones," he deadpanned.

"So do you?"

"What?" he asked, exasperated again.

"Have…anyone?"

The tawny head tilted again. "You've never been interested in my personal life before. Are you sure there isn't anything wrong?"

Buffy frowned. "No. Nothing wrong. I just…well do you?"

He sighed and shook his head slowly. "No one," he admitted. "Happy now?"

Buffy picked up a slender fork and poked her serviette with it. "Has it been a long time?" she asked, without looking up.

"Has what…?" he began, then stopped and closed his mouth. "What has gotten into you?" he asked a moment later.

She shrugged without looking up. "I never thought about it before. It's only been like, a few months, for me. If I'm reading you right you haven't…um…since Olivia broke up with you right after we fought the Gentlemen. Isn't that sorta bad for a guy?"

He laughed in spite of himself. "You're worrying about my health?" he said between chuckles.

Buffy put down the fork. "Giles, I don't know what I'm worrying about. I just…I never thought about it before…what it's like for you…here. You must hate it."

"Not all of it," he said softly, his eyes holding hers for a long time.

The entrees arrived and ended the moment. They both attended their food awkwardly, neither sure how to, or even if they wanted to, return to it again.

The conversation moved on to shop talk, horses and whether or not Xander and Anya would go through with their engagement.

By the time they headed back out into the night and turned towards the BMW, Buffy was acutely aware of the man alongside her, even though he seemed unnaturally preoccupied.

They were only about a foot apart but it seemed like miles.

"Giles," she said softly, just as he was about to turn the ignition.

He paused, without looking at her. "Yes?"

"Are we…are we okay?"

He nodded and turned the key. "I will see you in the morning…that is of course if you want to continue the lessons?"

Buffy made a frustrated noise and put a hand on his arm. "Giles, talk to me. Did I do something wrong?"

Giles looked at the fingers clutching his sleeve and shook his head slowly. "Nothing," he whispered. "Nothing at all." He put the car in gear and pulled away from the kerb.

Somehow, Buffy knew that wasn't meant to reassure at all. She watched the red car pull away after they said an awkward goodnight and she thanked him for the meal, wondering what exactly was going on and what was happening to them.

She was still wondering the next morning when they got out of the car at the ranch. She watched Giles catch two horses instead of one, holding her breath as he approached the second, a powerful black gelding, who was far less impressed than Siobhan with the idea of having his leisure interrupted. Giles, however, was not intimidated and it soon became apparent that the two were acquainted. The standoff was over in the blink of an eye when Giles produced a treat from one of his pockets.

Moments later he brought both horses to the gate, which Buffy duly opened and closed for him.

"You expecting Sarah back?" she asked, breaking a silence that had stretched from her 'good morning', and his responding 'morning,' hours before.

Giles seemed to rouse from faraway thoughts. "What? Oh, no. I understand there are several auctions and a number of private sales, as well as personal visiting. I'm not expecting her back until early next week."

"Going to introduce your friend, then?"

Giles looked at the big horse. "My usual mount when I ride with Sarah. His name is Rajah. Actually he has about seven names on his papers, but Rajah will suffice. He only answers to Raj, anyway."

"So we're riding together today?"

"I thought you would like to do something different, outside, today. It's a lovely day…too lovely to waste inside."

Buffy looked up at the vivid blue sky, the insanely cheerful sun and the happy little puffs of clouds dotting it, all completely unaware that they would burn off within hours. It had been so long since she'd actually spent time doing anything that didn't involve college or work, taking care of Dawn or slaying, that it seemed wrong, somehow, for the day to be so…well…cheerful.

"Okay," she said simply.

When they emerged from the tack room, she saddled Siobhan alone for the first time, while Giles dealt with his much fresher mount, convincing the gelding that being bridled really wasn't that bad, before fussing over his feet, scraping away gross stuff and grass from the field, and checking for stones.

Buffy did the same before swinging the saddle onto the mare's back. She ran her fingers under the cinched girth the way Giles had shown her and pulled the stirrup irons down before rubbing Siobhan's neck and stepping back to watch Rajah's reaction to being saddled. Surprisingly, with a few gentle words from Giles, he stood quietly, apart from periodic foot stomping and some mean tail swishing.

"Is he going to be difficult?"

Giles turned after he'd tightened the girth for the second time. "Lord no," he said. "He's a little fractious from lack of recent work, but he's been schooled and worked and shown for eight years. His manners are impeccable. This is just his personal commentary on the injustice of being required to work on a beautiful day like this."

"Doctor Dolittle," Buffy teased.

Giles swung up into the saddle and waited patiently while his charge pranced and danced and flexed his magnificent neck before snorting and responding to the gentle pressure of his hands and legs.

Buffy watched him in silence. He was wearing the same pants and boots, but this time he was wearing a black pullover shirt under an old, very worn in the elbows, dark leather jacket. She guessed that it might once have been a mottled black-grey colour, but the leather was soft and faded now. He'd put his glasses away again for safety and the light breeze was blowing his hair back as he settled the big animal.

A moment later she shook herself and stopped staring long enough to spring up onto Siobhan's back, gather the reins and bring the mare to the side of the other pair.

"So where are we going?" she managed, aware that her voice cracked rather noticeably.

"I'm going to show you the ranch. There is a bridle path right across the property, which stretches to the outer limits of Breaker's woods, through some old-growth woods of its own."

"Am I ready to do the John Wayne thing?" she asked dubiously.

"There will be no 'John Wayne' anything," he told her tersely. "You will practise what we've already learned until and unless I tell you otherwise, and if you do it well enough there will be an opportunity for you to experience your first canter, and possibly even a gallop, if all goes well."

"Still stuffy," she muttered as they headed off.

They followed what seemed to be a familiar route, a half worn horse-width track through several pastures, taking turns opening and closing gates, Buffy making disparaging comments about Giles' ability to go through a gate without dismounting and how mean he was to make her take turns when she did have to get down each time.

The warmth of the sun, the smell of the air, the bruised grass and the various scents of flowers, pine, leather and horse on the breeze combined to make a lazy, soothing journey and, for a time, the kind of peace Buffy couldn't remember last knowing.

When Giles closed another gate and they turned for the last open expanse before the woods in the distance, Rajah began to prance a little and shake his head.

"Time to shake out some cobwebs," Giles said, amused. He ran through the basics of the canter for Buffy, reminding her about due care of the horse's mouth and to keep her heels down. "Before you try, I'm going to run some of these oats out of my friend here. Hold Siobhan, and wait here."

Buffy watched, holding the mare in, the gelding's tail flying like a banner as they flew across the open ground, hooves barely touching the grass as Giles let the big horse have his head and joined in the joy and exhilaration of the flight until they had almost reached the woods line in the far distance.

When they returned, she watched even more closely. It was a magnificent picture, Giles in full control of a thousand pounds of flying coal-black muscle and pure beauty, flushed, hair blown in the wind, eyes glowing with pleasure as they came to a halt next to her.

"Been a while?"

"Quite. I haven't uum…since before you ah…" He trailed off, both of them well aware of which event he was referring to.

"Can I try?" she asked, not wanting to linger there.

"No galloping," he said a little breathlessly, over the blowing of his mount. "Do as I taught you. Remember what I said, and only for a hundred yards or so, then bring her back."

"Spoil sport," she muttered.

Giles watched her with trepidation, but she followed all of his instructions and Siobhan responded accordingly. He could see that she was enjoying the thrill and the speed, and like all beginners, was distracted enough by the new experience to forget what she was doing with her legs. Accordingly Siohban slowed to a trot and Buffy bumped about until she collected herself and the mare and urged her back into a canter again.

By the time they'd returned Buffy seemed to have a good grasp of what she was doing and was as rosy and exhilarated as he had been.

Again they stared at each other for a long moment before either spoke.

"I could get to really like this horsey stuff," Buffy observed almost self-consciously, despite the attempt at humour.

Giles chuckled equally as self-consciously. "Shall we?" he asked, a little too obvious in his own attempt to evade the growing atmosphere between them.

They rode almost together. Certainly Rajah and Siobhan seemed to enjoy cantering side by side. Several times Giles allowed Rajah to stretch into a gallop to see how Buffy handled Siobhan's attempts to follow. Invariably she allowed the mare to match the gelding's gait, but didn't seem in the least fazed by the acceleration.

They came to a halt at the edge of the woods.

"Wow."

Giles turned Rajah so that he could see her face. "You enjoyed the run?"

"You didn't tell me galloping was that much of a high!"

He found himself smiling widely. He hadn't expected her to take so whole-heartedly to something he loved so much. They shared so few common interests he sometimes despaired that he'd ever share as much of her company as any of the others in her life. At times even Spike seemed to command more of her attention than he did…

"You did well. We'll work on your technique later. Would you like to explore the woods, or revise all your lessons to date out here in the sunshine for a while?"

Buffy looked at the trees and back at the field. "We have to leave the horses to go in there?"

He nodded.

She patted the mare's neck. "I like riding just fine. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to walk far, anyway. It took ages the other day for my legs to stop feeling like they'd been wrapped around a beach ball for hours."

Giles' spirits dropped a little. He'd been looking forward to the idea of just walking and talking for a while. He wasn't sure what they would have talked about or exactly why he'd been looking forward to it so much, but he immediately dismissed his disappointment and smiled again.

"Good show. Practise is just the thing right now."

Buffy looked at him with amusement. "Giles, when did you get all British again? You haven't said something like 'good show' in like, forever."

He looked down at his hands. She was right. He was being a dolt and he had no idea why.

"Nostalgia, I daresay," he said huskily. "Now, let me see you walk Siobhan in a circle…a good sized one, and we'll work on your seat, hands and your transition to the trot…"

They had been working for more than an hour when Giles agreed that Buffy could cool Siobhan out with another easy canter across the field.

The two horses ran side by side again, and both of them were enjoying the rush of air against their sweat soaked clothes, cooling and enjoyable, when a jackrabbit was suddenly flushed from its resting place, bounding across their path and startling both horses.

Giles managed to hold his seat and rein in the gelding but Buffy had no chance of doing the same before Siobhan jibbed sideways violently.

Within seconds Giles was on the ground, running to where Buffy had landed heavily and was now laying with her eyes closed.

Well trained, Siobhan halted only metres away when her reins fell to the ground, the jackrabbit long gone.

"Buffy?" he cried, sliding to her side.

"Ow," she moaned and opened her eyes.

He exhaled and his colour started to return.

"Did I mention 'ow'?" she growled as he helped her to a sitting position. "What happened?"

"Siobhan was startled by a rabbit," he explained hoarsely. "Are you all right?"

"Nothing's busted, if that's what you mean."

He helped her to her feet, bringing them not more than six inches from each other, his gentle hands holding her elbows, her hands steadying her very bruised self against his chest.

"Giles, you're shaking." Buffy was shocked, despite the fact that she was still shaking a little herself.

He swallowed. "It's nothing. You fell heavily and I thought…"

She could hear the emotion in his voice, emotion he rarely, if ever showed.

"Well, that's okay, because so am I," she teased, aware that suddenly, overwhelmingly, all she wanted to do was lean against the strong torso and feel someone's arms around her again. It had been so long…

Before she could change her mind, she slid her arms around him and rested her head against his shirt. It was warm, and solid, and her whole body reacted to his nearness.

Giles felt a tremor go through him. He knew Buffy would feel it but he couldn't stop it. She did, and he felt her arms respond by tightening around him. Silently, he wrapped his around her just as tightly and simply held her.

For a long time neither of them moved. Neither wanted to. Too many years of hurt and pain and restraint had suddenly compressed into that one tiny moment of surrender.

They moved at the same time, Buffy looking up and Giles looking down. Neither realised, but both of them looked like rabbits caught in the glare of car headlights, unable to do anything but stare into each other's eyes, and, they slowly realised, deep into each other's souls.

There had been no time to slam the shutters up, to hide secrets and tender vulnerabilities behind well-worn, predictable behaviour or the casual humour that usually characterised their inability to communicate with each other on any other level.

When the silence started to approach forever, Buffy slowly reached up to touch his cheek with unsteady fingers.

Just as tentatively he covered the hand, the silence stretching as they continued to look at each other.

"Buffy…?" he finally managed, in little more than a whisper.

"What's happening to us?" she whispered back, fear in her voice. "I don't understand …what I feel…this…you…us. I don't know what's happening to me. Tell me."

"I can't," Giles said sadly. "Only you can do that."

"You don't know?"

"I don't know what's in your heart, Buffy. I only know what's in mine," he said very gently.

For a moment she looked dazed, and then she blinked, remembering what she'd seen in his eyes, what she'd felt as she'd fallen into them.

Her blue-grey ones widened in sudden, startled realization.

"H-how…?" she managed, pulling away to think. "I mean…no…this…I can't be…"

Giles arms dropped, defeated, to his sides. He watched her bleakly, resignedly.

Buffy looked up again, looking for answers, and saw the expression on his face.

"No…Giles…it's…it's okay." She came back, leaned her brow against his shirt. "God, I'm so confused."

Some of the tension went out of him and he rested his brow on the top of her head.

"Well, look at it this way," he said softly, a ghost of a smile back in his voice, "at least you're not worrying about falling off the damned horse this time."

She giggled, making him laugh with her. Then they were both chuckling, hers soggy and punctuated by tiny snorts, his nervous and rueful.

Eventually she lifted her head and looked at him again, real desolation in her eyes.

"I can't be in love with you. I lose everyone I love…and I can't lose you." Her voice dropped to a desperate whisper. "I can't lose you, Giles…"

He took her face in his hands. "In five years of every kind of nightmare, have you ever looked like losing me?" he asked, masking the wild surge of hope, hardly daring to believe what he'd just heard.

She nodded. "Do you want a list?" she teased.

"Blast," he said with feeling, making her giggle again. Then he looked at her with great tenderness. "Regardless, love, I'm not going anywhere."

"Giles, I'm scared," she whispered.

"Of me? Why?"

Buffy shook her head, her face moving in his palms. "I could never be scared of you. It's just…everything is different…just like that. I can't love you," she said again.

"Would it be so very terrible?" he asked gently, "Loving me?"

Fear still burned in her eyes. "No, it's not that…it's…I just can't do it. When I love someone badness happens…and I can't do that again…especially not to you."

Giles' face lit up in a smile of great tenderness and his voice was gentle. "What if I told you that there is nothing I want more in the world than for you to love me as much as I love you?"

"But…badness," she said weakly, growing more aware by the second of the warm touch of his hands on her face.

"We have faced just about every kind of 'badness' known to man, and many which were not. Buffy, you and I, together, are stronger than we can ever be apart."

For a long moment she was silent again, then she moved to free herself, but she didn't move away. Instead she reached up to stroke his face gently.

"You know you deserve better," she said unexpectedly.

"Probably," he agreed ruefully and chuckled when she thumped his arm, before locking his soft jade gaze with hers. "But I don't want better, or different, or other. And in the end that is all that matters…I want you. I've waited for you…I would have waited a lifetime if I thought there was any chance…"

"But…Olivia?"

"But…Riley," he countered dryly.

"Riley wasn't…"

"No he wasn't. But for a time, particularly after we fought Adam, I believed he was. I was ready to go home, you know, until you asked me to start training you again."

Buffy looked stunned, and then her expression changed to one of resignation. "I deserved that," she said simply.

Giles blinked. Even just weeks ago she would have reacted badly, even perhaps a little irrationally to such a revelation.

"No you didn't," he said softly. "A great many things happened last year, but I was your Watcher, whether official or not, and I was about to desert you for no other reason than I couldn't bear to watch you being happy with another man, couldn't bear to stand by and see you drift further and further out of my life."

"But you never said…"

He moved away then. "What would you have had me say? 'Buffy, you have to stop seeing young Finn, because your pathetic old has-been Watcher needs you'?"

Buffy looked away. He was right. She wouldn't have understood. She might even have hurt him more. She hadn't understood a lot of things, until her mother died. It took her own death to make everything else clear, to open her eyes to so much about her life, and to understand, finally, who she was and where she truly belonged.

Giles, who had been watching her face in profile, saw the changing expressions of regret and sadness that passed over it and drew his own conclusions. His own expression grew sad and resigned before he exhaled softly and turned to go and collect the horses.

Buffy looked up, surprised at the movement. She saw the slump in his shoulders as he picked up Rajah's reins without even speaking to the beast, led him to where Siobhan was grazing quietly. He came back very slowly and handed her the mare's reins, before turning to the gelding.

At a loss and wondering what had just happened, Buffy followed his lead, mounted, and rode silently with him all the way back to the ranch. They worked swiftly and efficiently to put the horses away before climbing silently in the car and driving back to town.

Just yards before Giles was to take the turning that would take him across town to Revello drive, Buffy finally broke the silence.

"No," she said as he turned the indicator on. "Your place."

Giles turned off the indicator and complied, again surprised, and a little apprehensive.

Once inside the flat, Buffy dropped her bag on the floor, went to his desk and sat on it.

"What happened?" she said simply, ignoring the obvious nervousness in her voice.


He blinked. "I don't understand."

"Giles, when I died again…if I learned anything, it's how much I don't want to leave anything undone, ever again. And we left the mother-load undone back there."

He shook his head and opened his mouth to speak.

"And no, I do not want a cup of tea," she growled, though there was warmth in her eyes.

His mouth curled up in response, but he was too tense to really smile. "I rather thought your reaction said it all," he ventured, certain that whatever he said would be the wrong thing.

"My reaction?" she repeated. "Let's see: I'm scared. I have a scary record of hurting everybody I love and I'm terrified you'll get hurt too…you have a great body…and I really need you to hold me again…and oh, wait a minute…I just realised after five years that I'm so in love with you it's probably the reason I trashed every relationship I started, or considered starting, last year…" she finished dryly. "So…which of these would we be talking about now?"

Giles was staring at her, stunned.

Buffy watched his face shift from shock to amazement to blazing emotion. "Buffy…"

And then she was moving…and, finally, in his arms again.

When they parted it was reluctantly, slowly, almost awkwardly, and only enough to see each other's faces.

As Buffy watched his discomfort, memories of another time and a tweed-clad Giles, just as awkward and unsure, flooded back.

"You look like you could use that tea we were talking about earlier."

His smiled, his head bending sheepishly, just as she lifted hers to tease him more.

They both froze, millimetres from each other's lips, from the feathering caress of each other's breath.

Buffy's body stirred, responding to the combination of the warmth of his body, his scent, his strength. Almost imperceptibly, she moved.

Giles, frozen between desire and restraint, felt the tender lips against his and knew he was lost. A hundred lifetimes of waiting for this moment, of watching her grow into the beautiful woman he knew she would become, and more hours than he wanted to remember despairing that the day would ever come that she might look at him and see more than just…

Buffy felt his mouth respond to hers, and thrilled as he took over the kiss and drew her into his arms. The passion, the power in his lovemaking was surpassed only by the gentleness of his hands, the hunger of his lips. She strained to them, losing herself in the communion of their hearts, their two fleshes, until they both had to stop.

Giles was breathing hard, his heart glowing in his eyes.

"It…it's too fast…too soon," he whispered.

Buffy reached up and touched the beautiful, sensual lips. "No it's not," she said simply and let her fingers trail down to his throat, where she started to unbutton his shirt. When she was done she drew it off slowly, Giles watching her every move, but hardly daring to breathe.

Buffy watched his eyes close as she drew her fingertips through the surprisingly soft golden brown hair on his chest. Then she started to remove her blouse. When she took her hand away, he opened his eyes again and drew a sharp breath as the top fell to the floor.

She was as exquisite as he had dreamed, this love of his, no higher than his heart, and so very new…yet aeons older than he in so many ways…

She stepped forward again to reach for his belt, but he stopped her.

The moment that passed between them asked the question…and both answered it without speaking a word. After a slow, shared smile, Giles swept her into his arms and carried her up to the loft.

Buffy could hear and feel his heart pounding, despite the fact that he wasn't even breathing hard. When they reached his room, he laid her on his quilt and gently removed all vestiges of any barrier between the two of them, before taking her fingertips and drawing her up to him again.

She forgot to breathe. He was…stunning. She had expected age to weigh heavily on his slim physique, but it made little difference to the wide shoulders and broad chest with its covering of hair, or the slim hips and long legs. It wasn't that he looked like a gym rat, as much as it was obvious that his body had been shaped by life, the muscles real and hard earned, not manufactured in a gymnasium, nor were the grim scars scattered here and there, painted there by some seedy, backstreet tattooist.

His kiss was tender at first, their lips beginning a slow dance their bodies longed to emulate. It grew more and more intense, more passionate as they continued.

Then Giles shifted to slide his hands down her silky back and lift her until her body was pressed to his, her legs curling around his waist, his mouth finding and worshipping the soft sweet curves of her breasts.

Buffy gasped and threw her head back, groaning, and pressing her body even harder against his arched one. His expert caresses, combined with her growing desire to know every inch of him, electrified every inch of her body and spread heat from the burning core of her pressing against his waist, to the roots of her hair and the tips of her toes. There was, too, an almost primal feel to the big hands holding her soft buttocks and drawing her ever closer to him that inflamed the sensuality of their union even more.

She could hear the small noises he was making and feel the urgency in his lovemaking as he continued to worship her body. It made her crave the chance to make him groan out loud.

Eventually, she moved enough so that he finally let her slide down his large frame, both of them shuddering as her damp core found his rigid, straining one for a brief moment, before he lay her back on the bed again.

Buffy circled his neck with her arms and they kissed again, tenderly, fiercely, erotically, before he shifted to trail his mouth down between the now super-sensitised breasts. Then he moved very slowly on downwards to discover even more sensitised flesh and to smile to himself as she gasped and shuddered when the combination of lips, tongue and breath drove new nerve endings to distraction. He followed the inside curve of her groin to the even more sensitive flesh of her inner thigh, enjoying her vocal response to the stimulation and the knowledge that the arching of those sweet hips to meet his caresses was a silent, demanding plea.

He continued to make her crazy with his tormenting, straying with feather soft touches of his lips to her now throbbing centre until she let out a strangled: "Oh God!" when he finally let his tongue slip across the tender sweetness being lifted toward him each time his mouth, even his breath, brushed by it.

At that he relented.

Buffy didn't hold back her gasping cries of ecstasy as he expertly explored every inch, every fold, every tender layer of her tormented heat until her sudden writhing and whimpering made him rise swiftly to her.

Even as her legs closed greedily around him and her arms drew his beloved head down to hers, Giles moved to meet her lifting hips.

Buffy could feel him trembling with the intensity of his desire as he pushed into the heat of her throbbing core, both of them gasping and rocking from their body's reactions to the joining of their two fleshes.

He lifted his head from their kiss to look into her eyes when they finally came together, his fingers stroking wild strands of hair from her face and touching her lips as she smiled up at him.

His expression was a mixture of love, desire and awe, tinged with the merest shadow of lingering doubt…until he saw her smile. Spontaneously, his own face lit up with not only his own joy, but what seemed to be an infusion of hers, his grin dazzling, his eyes glowing with passion.

"I love you," she whispered and heard his sudden indrawn breath.

His grin widened and his eyes grew very bright.

"My love," he whispered unsteadily.

After a beat, he bent his head to meet her lips and to kiss her again, very gently, before making love to her, slowly at first, and then, as they both felt desire surge through them again, with more and more power, as Giles strove to fulfil her demands and rise to his own.

For long minutes they revelled in each other, in the act, in the joy of being one and the sheer eroticism of their passion, but both knew their long-untested control was tenuous at best and their need overwhelming.

Matching each other stroke for stroke, they strove to give each other everything, Buffy lifting her hips higher and higher as her body screamed for completion, and Giles shifting forward to meet that demand. He plunged deeper and deeper until she gave a strangled, exultant gasp and began to thrash and writhe and spasm around him, the sounds and sensations of her unbridled pleasure too much for his already charged senses.

He threw his head back as he thrust one last time and felt everything inside him explode, sending waves and waves of pleasure crashing over him, as he joined Buffy in the same maelstrom of ecstasy.

Eventually, finally, they both fell silent, and he looked down into her eyes.

"Hey," she whispered. "Anyone would think we hadn't…you know…for months…or something," she teased.

He chuckled, still breathing a little heavily, and brushed her mouth with his.

"Hey…" he mimicked softly. "All right?"

She touched his face. "Way more than all right," she reassured him. "Trust you, though. What happened to the usual manly, chest-beating: 'was it good for you?'" she teased.

He reddened delightfully. "I think my chest-beating days are rather a long way behind me," he pointed out ruefully then beamed mischievously. "Besides, I rather thought you made the answer to that question quite clear when you decided to let all of my neighbours know exactly what we were doing a few minutes ago."

It was Buffy's turn to redden. "I was that loud?"

He grinned even more widely and nodded before they both started to laugh. While they were still giggling he rolled to one side and drew her into his arms, where she curled up happily against his chest.

"Mrs Porteous will probably never speak to me again," he pointed out.

"Jealous," Buffy purred.

"Heart attack, more likely," he corrected dryly. "Mrs Porteous is seventy-five and of an era where such things are not meant to be shared."

Buffy giggled again and played with the hair over his sternum. "Maybe she's out today. Anyway, she's going to have to get used to us sharing from now on."

He sighed contentedly and drew her closer, felt her kiss his chin before snuggling her silky head in under it again.

"That she is," he agreed, smiling, and closed his eyes, unaware that she had already closed hers. Within moments they had drifted into the most peaceful, dream-free slumber either had known in many years…

 

*******

Giles watched Buffy and Dawn circle the yard on their respective riding school mounts, both of them easily handling the tasks given to them by the instructor. The younger Summers seemed content with her adventure and pleased with her sister's presence, and Buffy seemed content to let Dawn enjoy her day.

When the lessons were over and the mounts handed back, they came to where he was still leaning on the fence of the outdoor ring.

"So how'd I do?" Dawn asked, having been informed in great detail by Buffy about Giles' interest and expertise in things equestrian.

"You did very well for your first time," he told her good-naturedly.

"What about Buffy?"

He flicked a glance at her and the two of them exchanged amused looks. "Well, it isn't quite her first time, however I think she did at least as well as you."

Dawn looked pleased, which was his intent. "Great, then we can come again? I want to get good enough to go to one of those ranches with Melinda…you know…with the quarter horses and cook-outs and lots of cute cowboys and…"

Buffy rolled her eyes skyward. "And where exactly are you getting the money to bankroll this big adventure?" she asked dryly.

Dawn subsided for a moment, her expression clearly reflecting her opinion of older sisters, especially the stick in the mud variety.

"If you do particularly well in your results at school, I'm sure something can be arranged during the summer," Giles said quietly.

Both girls looked at him, Dawn with hero-worship in her eyes and Buffy bemused, but with a distinct look of 'wait until I get you home' in hers.

Giles winked at Dawn and then turned a look of wide-eyed innocence to his love.

"Provided she performs well in her studies, I'm sure we could survive for a week or two without Dawn's stellar presence during the summer vacation," he pointed out, looking like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, except for the amusement and mischief gleaming in his eyes.

It only took a beat for Buffy to catch on, and then have to work very hard not to laugh aloud.

"I'll think about it," she conceded, trying to look stern.

Dawn looked from one to the other. "You guys are up to something."

Giles attempted to look innocent. "No, no. Not up to anything. Just having a difference of opinion."

Dawn's eyes narrowed as the older pair continued to look at each other, both of them sickeningly happy and looking at each other as if…

"Oh God," she said suddenly, her eyes widening as thing started falling alarmingly into place. "Tell me that nothing happened when you two were spending all that extra time together these last few weeks!"

"Okay," Buffy deadpanned. "Nothing happened. Happy?"

Giles turned a guffaw into a cough and Buffy shot daggers at him.

"Okay, spill," Dawn demanded, too astute to be distracted. "I may be a kid, but I've gotten old really fast, lately… remember?" she added in a mock-dramatic voice, while looking down her pert nose.

Giles sighed and took the lead. "Your sister and I are…seeing each other. Get your eiewws and assorted retching noises out of the way now, because I won't tolerate them in the car or any time thereafter."

"And I'm going to do this why?" she asked contrarily. "You may be old, but considering Buffy's previous taste in men you're a relief. Besides, you're perfect."

Giles found himself grinning. "I am?" he asked, so unexpected was her response.

"Sure," Dawn told him with the perfect reasoning of the young. "You know all of it…everything…you know about all Buffy's stuff: the whole deal. You also happen to be her Watcher and you know about all the crap that goes with being the Slayer…and you still love her…" She rolled her eyes at Giles' startled look. "Oh, come on, don't look at me like that. Everyone's always known you love her, even without the smoochie part, and nobody in their right minds with a brain the size of yours would have hung around this dump after Sunnydale High blew up, unless there was something…or someone they couldn't leave."

Giles' smile faded. Out of the mouths of babes…

He cleared his throat. "Never mind the state of my mind," he growled. "And for your information I am forty bloody six, and nowhere near my grave yet."

Buffy moved close and leaned against him, sliding her arms around his waist. "He's right, you know. Harrison Ford is way older than Rupert."

"Harrison Ford is way old, period," Dawn drawled, unimpressed.

"How about that guy you like in Farscape?"

Dawn looked wary. "What?" she demanded.

"Forty."

"Not!"

Buffy smirked. "George Clooney…thirty-eight."

The teenager rolled her eyes.

"Okay, Brad Pitt," Buffy shot back. "Thirty-EIGHT."

Dawn's eyes widened. "Very funny. You are so full of—"

"Thirt-TEE…eight," Buffy reiterated. "And Michael Jackson…forty-three."

The younger Summers looked even more startled then wrinkled her nose. "How can you tell? I am so not ever having plastic surgery."

"Don't change the subject," Buffy shot back. "Just tell Giles he's not old, and it wouldn't hurt to admit that he's really cute while you're at it."

Giles cleared his throat. "It's all right, Dawn. When Buffy wasn't much more than your age she thought anyone over twenty-five was ancient…" He dodged an elbow and continued mischievously. "Unless of course you're two-hundred and forty years old and dead, which is, apparently, perfectly acceptable when you're sixteen. Oomph…"

Dawn giggled as Giles recovered from the elbow that had finally found its mark.

"Well, Spike is kind of cute for a dead guy and he's like, over a hundred."

Giles looked down his nose, no longer smiling. "Spike is not cute," he said tersely.

The younger girl looked unimpressed. "Now you sound like 'schoolteacher Giles'. You may look younger and cuter in those clothes, and the no glasses and the earring might be sexy, but I still think you're old."

"Dawn!" Buffy growled.

"No, no…on balance I think I actually won that one," Giles observed, amused.

Buffy frowned then rolled her eyes, before fixing her sister with a glare. "Fine," she said. "As long as that's the last time she ever says it out loud."

Dawn shrugged. "Fine," she mimicked. "But I still think Spike is cute. Can I go to Melinda's when we get home?"

"Are you staying over?"

Dawn nodded.

Buffy and Giles looked at each other and then at Dawn again. "Yes," they chorused.

"God," she grimaced. "You guys are disgusting. Glasshouses are less transparent than you two."

Giles and Buffy watched her swagger off to the car then turned to each other again.

"A week…maybe two weeks…of just us? I can deal with that."

He grinned. "I thought it might appeal."

Buffy's eyes were alight. After their first time together they had managed little more than snatched moments between patrols, research, caring for Dawn, and Giles' obligations at the Magic Store.

"Will and Tara can look after the house and I can stay with you. I'll be able to come back to the apartment after patrol…and stay for breakfast," she sighed happily.

Giles nodded. "Pity it's still six weeks away."

Buffy's glow dimmed a little, then she smiled impishly again and moved close enough to slide her hand inside his shirt. "Major downer," she agreed as the fingers withdrew and moved again, to trail down to his thigh and over the newly-tightened curve of his jeans, eliciting an appreciative shudder from him. "We'll just have to find ways to make tonight really count."

"I have a number of ideas," he agreed, drawing her close and bending his head, smiling against her soft mouth as her arms curled around his neck. He slid his around the slender body and lifted her without relinquishing her lips, so that she was hard against him. Their kiss grew even more passionate.

"Hey!"

The two heads separated quickly, Buffy flushed and rosy-cheeked and Giles breathing heavily.

"Do I have to sit in the car all day while you two make with the gross public displays?"

Giles cleared his throat and put Buffy down.

The Slayer scowled at her precocious sister. "Car. Now," she growled.

Dawn wrinkled her nose. "So does that mean you're finished sucking face?"

"Dawn!"

"No, we're not," Giles said reasonably. "But we will desist long enough to get you home before Melinda begins to fret."

Dawn's eyes narrowed, aware that she was being got at, then huffed and marched back to the car again.

*******

"Nice of Melinda to be so keen about Dawn going over there to stay," Giles observed contentedly.

"Yeah," Buffy purred, biting into another chocolate, "and pretty cool that Willow and Tara offered to give us the extra day."

He opened his mouth when she offered the other half of the soft centre and closed his lips on her fingers as she slipped the candy in.

"Mm," she growled low in her throat. "I think I want to go home now."

Giles slid his hands up, underneath the white crossover blouse, sensually caressing her sun-warmed body.

"Are you sure?"

"Oh yeah," she sighed.

His fingers continued to explore, cupping her soft, unfettered breasts and causing her to arch her back, moving them towards him before growling and sliding her arms around his neck.

"The journey would interfere rather with the spontaneity of the moment," he pointed out good-naturedly but with a deliberately and distinctly Ripper-ish undertone, "don't you think?"

Buffy kissed his chin. "What I think is that I'd like to ravage your body right now but… given the choice, I'd rather it was in our bed than under a tree with the bugs." A snort close by made her turn her head briefly and smile. "Besides we don't want to scar Siobhan and Diablo for life."

Giles slipped a hand free and drew her head down to his, capturing her lips and encouraging her most convincingly to rethink the situation. They continued until Buffy's jeans were discarded and she was straddling his lap, enjoying the evidence of his spontaneity.

They came up for breath long enough for him to say, "Well?"

Buffy moved slowly against him. "I think bribery will get you everywhere…"

Moments later Giles' head was thrown back in the grass, his breath rapid and noisy, his hips arching like a teenager as Buffy's surprise attack sent bolts of electricity through his body. It had been an incredibly long time since…even his brief interludes with Olivia hadn't gone on long enough to get to…

His mind went blank as Buffy's soft lips closed around him and slid down his length. For a long time he revelled in the unadulterated pleasure, until, as he had with Buffy, she sensed him tense, discarded her tiny briefs, and moved over him, sliding down until her damp softness found his straining shaft.

"Oh God yes!" he breathed as she shifted and took him, plunging down it's length with an audible moan of appreciation. She smiled as she felt his hands close possessively around her soft globes adding pressure as though guiding her to him, making her movements twice as erotic, though in reality she was completely in control.

Their coupling grew wild and loud, fed by their celebration of being together again, the unfettered sounds of their passion and the carnal nature of their union. Buffy rode him until he was gasping, on the precipice of the same orgasm she'd almost brought him to earlier with lips and tongue and mouth, only this time he could feel it building like no orgasm he could remember beyond his Eyghon years.

"Buffy!" he managed to half-moan, half cry out.

She covered his mouth with hers as her hips increased their worship of his body, her vice-like channel driving him insane as she drove and ground herself against him, her own pleasure spiralling upwards with her excitement.

Moments later Giles heard Buffy begin to whimper demandingly and gasp, felt her speed up even more. It was enough for the chain reaction to unleash itself. He roared, heedless of the snorting and stamping from the startled horses as Buffy cried out, "Ruper-r-r-r-t!" at the top of her lungs in a pleasure-strangled scream of ecstasy.

On and on it went, until they finally collapsed, both trying to catch their breath.

Giles slid his arms around the slender body moulding itself to his, as he lay collapsed on the grass, and kissed the soft-scented hair.

Her contented face turned so that she could catch his lips playfully. "I love you," she sighed.

His arms tightened and Buffy felt him sigh just as contentedly. "And I you," he told her and kissed her back.

They were interrupted by Siobhan, whinnying in response to the distant bugle of another horse, Diablo snorting and stomping unhappily.

Giles chuckled. "It's just Sarah's stud, Gus, checking on his brood."

"Gus?" Buffy murmured. "What kind of name is that for a stallion?"

"Well his name is actually Scottsglade Heatherleigh Galahad's Pride. Gus is a stable name and just a little easier for him to remember…at least he likes it."

"Mm…you know I like 'Rupert' for a real stallion," she teased.

He chuckled and kissed her hair. "Silly girl."

Buffy smiled against his chest and snuggled closer until he jumped violently.

"Ow!"

"What?" she asked, scrambling up. "Giles, are you okay?"

"Ow," he said again, curling upwards and getting to his feet swiftly, rubbing his hip.

Buffy investigated immediately. A large welt had already come up just above his left buttock, where the band of his jeans had been pushed down.

"Something bit you," she told him, trying to keep a straight face as she turned to check out the ground.

By the time she'd found the trail of ants, winding their way through the grass, he had his pants back on and was looking less than pleased.

"Ant bite," she told him and pointed. "See, big ones. Ouchies."

"Yes," he said sulkily, still massaging his hip through his clothes, "I rather got that part."

"Poor baby," she crooned as she dressed again herself. "I think we should go right home. Dawn won't be back for at least another six hours and I can think of lots of ways of taking your mind off your injury…"

He laughed as she wrapped her arms around him again when she was done. "I suppose I should be grateful it was just an ant. Home sounds just about right now. How about we pick up some ice cream along the way? A day like this and," he rubbed his bite again, "a battle scar like this one, deserves ice cream."

"Totally," Buffy agreed as they turned arm in arm for the horses and whispered something quietly to him.

"Buffy!" he snorted, then laughed…

"…Can you really do that with ice cream?"

 

The End.