Summary: Giles receives a visitor who won't take no for an answer.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: R, for themes, language, and sexual content.

Time Frame: Post fifth season BTVS and second season Angel. Approximately one month after the events in my story "Inspiration" and somewhat over two years after the events in my story "Excess Baggage," with appropriate deviations from canon.

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@hotmail.com) and let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.

Dedication: To Kate Bolin, who has let me know she adores good Cordelia and good Giles in no uncertain terms-I hope this story provides both.

SOLACE

Giles opened the liquor cabinet and cursed mildly: the Scotch was all but gone, and he had no desire to risk the hazards of Sunnydale at night to make a pilgrimage to the liquor store-a ten minute drive to the bad part of town. He caught a glimpse of another bottle and smiled: it had been a long time since Oxford, where a lovely Russian émigré had introduced him to the wonders of vodka-and of shagging on a fire escape at four in the morning. He had no desire to repeat the latter-it had been cold that night and he shivered at the thought of exposing his body to some of the contortions involved in the exercise, but the bottle of expensive 100 proof vodka beckoned to him and he accepted the silent invitation, grasping the bottle firmly by the neck and carrying it into the kitchen. He checked his refrigerator and found an unopened liter of orange juice. He carried both bottles back into the living room, where he filled a water glass about a third of the way with the orange juice, then topped the glass almost to overflowing with the vodka.

* Perfect * He raised the glass and swallowed deeply. The drink burned as it went down-there was just enough orange juice to be noticeable, and he contemplated the taste as he felt the alcohol hit his system with a sudden flush. He blinked and turned to his right-for an instant he had experienced a feeling of being watched, and his memories of the last five years had automatically created a mental image of a pair of hazel eyes staring at him with unnerving intensity and disapproval. He snarled--in equal parts at the imaginary disapproval and at the fact that the person from whom he would have accepted it without anger was not there-and took another gulp from the drink. The warmth was reaching his legs when he heard footsteps outside, then a knock at the door.

He glared at the door and ignored the knock. He had finally lost patience and installed a heavy oak door, bound in steel-it would take a powerful demon or a Slayer to get through it without considerable effort, and even then it would give him enough time to go for weapons. The windows were barred. Anya had complained loudly the first time she had been unable to gain the immediate entry she was used to having to Giles' apartment-the memory was deeply pleasant to him. . .at least it had been until two months before. What once seemed a fortress was now a prison for him-but he still had the keys: no one would enter without his allowing it. If there was an emergency, Willow and the others would page him-they knew not to come unannounced.

The knock came again, accompanied this time with a quiet voice: "Giles, open the door. I need to talk to you."

Giles frowned: the thick door muffled the voice, but it did not sound like Willow, Xander, or any of the others. It seemed familiar-perhaps one of his neighbors had become concerned. The knocking became more insistent, and the calls got louder, but Giles had decided to wait the visitor out. He lifted the glass, and was about to drain it when a loud voice startled him into almost dropping the drink on his lap:

"OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR, GILES!!"

Giles raised an eyebrow: he knew that voice, and its owner had never considered addressing him in that tone and with that type of language before, though he had overheard her directing certain choice language at Xander a few times over the years. He reevaluated his chances of out- waiting her, sighed, and walked carefully to the door after putting his glass down. He disengaged the locks and pulled open the door without further hesitation, revealing Cordelia. She raised an eyebrow at him and asked: "Well?"

Giles bowed slightly, inclining his head to indicate that she was welcome to enter. She did so, brushing past him without a word as she walked into his living room. Giles closed the door and locked it again before turning to his visitor and commenting in a voice only slightly slurred by the vodka: "Cordelia, while the arrival of a beautiful young woman at my front door is still novel enough an experience to attract my notice, I'm fairly certain my neighbors do not appreciate the thunderous cursing that has accompanied the event. To what do I owe this pleasure?"

Giles studied her carefully as she reacted to his question. He certainly hadn't been lying in his description of her: the last two years had breathed new life into her features, tempering the raw beauty of her teenage years with an aura of added maturity, along with the disappearance of the last traces of baby fat. She wore a simple white sweater and blue jeans-and a scowl that rivaled any thundercloud that had ever blown through Sunnydale. Cordelia locked eyes with Giles and took a deep breath before replying calmly: "Giles, it's Friday night, and everyone you care about in this town is over at the Summers house, a place you will always be welcome. You're here, locked in a dark apartment with enough booze to incapacitate the Kennedy family-alone. Why in the hell do you * think * I'm here?"

Giles chuckled involuntarily and reached for the glass, taking another deep swallow and watching her reaction. Her eyes remained on him, but her expression didn't change. He shook his head and commented, "Is this the approach you used on Xander to break his depression-showed up at his front door and harangued him?"

Cordelia smiled coldly. "I drove him down to L.A. and made him get on stage in front of twenty demons to sing 'When I See You Smile.' You up for that?"

Giles shuddered. "No, I most certainly am not. If I want to humiliate myself publicly, there are closer venues to explore." He looked up at Cordelia and steeled himself against a negative reaction as he added, "Cordelia, I appreciate your concern for me, but I have no intention of leaving this apartment tonight, and I don't want to see the others."

Cordelia pursed her lips, nodded once, and walked over to Giles. Her eyes fell on the bottle, and she reached for it. Giles, fearing that she was going to confiscate it, grabbed at the bottle, but the liquor had slowed his reflexes and he missed badly. He glared at Cordelia as she examined the bottle minutely. "I remember this brand: Bobby Davidson swiped a bottle from his dad's liquor cabinet the night of Homecoming, a couple of months before Buffy came to town and doomed my social standing." She looked at Giles again, then raised the bottle to her lips and took a deep swallow. Giles stared, waiting for her to start choking, but Cordelia only blinked once, then commented, "Yep, just like I remember it." She put the bottle back down next to Giles and added, "All right, Giles: you're not leaving, and neither am I."

Giles stared at Cordelia, then at the bottle. Cordelia snickered. "Giles, I was dating jocks from the day I entered Sunnydale High, and they all knew where to find booze. I wouldn't have lasted long if I couldn't take a few belts without passing out."

Giles smirked and reminded her, "If I recall correctly, that approach nearly got you and Buffy eaten by a snake demon."

Cordelia shrugged, not taking offense. "We all have off nights, Giles." She pulled up a chair next to Giles, and poured her own Screwdriver from the bottles before leaning back in her seat and adding, "I can't stop you from getting drunk, but I'm not going to let you do it alone."

Giles shook his head in defeat, and asked in exasperation: "Cordelia, don't you have friends in Los Angeles who need you right now? They've been affected by recent events too-they could probably use your support."

Cordelia frowned, her eyes glowing slightly in the dim light of the room as she cradled the glass in her hands. "Angel's gone off to some Tibetan monastery: he's left orders not to disturb him unless the apocalypse is here. Wesley and Gunn are fine-they're worried about Angel, but there's nothing they can do about it, and they've been keeping busy with work. Lorne is back running Caritas. As for our new arrival, she's locked herself upstairs most of the time-she's still terrified of her own shadow, which is not an ideal emotional state when you're living with a bunch of demon hunters. She still doesn't really trust anyone but Angel, so that's kind of a bust until he comes back. I've got a cell phone-the guys can reach me whenever they need to, and if the Powers decide I need a searing headache to save the world, I'll call Wesley with the details." She smiled slightly and concluded, "In other words, getting blasted with an old friend on a Friday night is a pretty good offer these days."

Giles chuckled. At this point, the inevitable didn't seem so terrible. He looked over at Cordelia at conceded, "Very well-but I don't want to hear any lecturing from you. If you want to stay here and talk about whatever comes to mind, I have no objections." He took another swallow from his drink and prompted: "So. . .what has Wesley managed to get himself into?"

* * * * *

They had managed to put a substantial dent in the bottle of vodka by the time the orange juice ran out. Giles had let Cordelia speak with only occasional interruptions: her stories were certainly interesting, and-in stark contrast to some of the times he remembered from their time together at Sunnydale High-listening to her was an enjoyable experience. She was thorough in her descriptions, yet managed to cut to the heart of a matter without excessive digressions into the irrelevant. In only two hours, she had managed to sum up the activities of Angel and his allies for the past two years, including some rather convoluted incidents that certainly would have been of interest to-- * No, I don't want to think about that * The vodka had made his thoughts a bit hazy, but he noticed that Cordelia had been mostly avoiding mention of her own role in the incidents. He waited for her to pause before commenting, "Cordelia-you are a gifted narrator, but I know for a fact that you have played a more substantial role in many of these incidents than you have acknowledged. Why haven't you mentioned that?"

Cordelia shrugged. "Who, me? I get these skull-splitting headaches, see someone getting killed or maimed or just menaced, and I tell the others where to go. If something attacks me, I run or I kill it: what's to tell?" Her voice was clear, with only the slightest hint of the effects of the alcohol.

Giles frowned. "Cordelia, have the symptoms from the visions become worse over the months?" Cordelia went poker-faced, and Giles pressed: "Is the pain getting worse?"

Cordelia was silent for several moments, and Giles was about to ask her again when she replied, "They seem to last longer. . .more information and all that. Unfortunately, the pain stays at the same level for the whole thing. I've been trying lots of different pain meds. . .nothing really seems to do the trick."

Giles got up with some difficulty and walked over to the kitchen, where he retrieved a pad and scribbled on it briefly. He walked back to Cordelia and handed her the pad. "Tell him I sent you, and the problem-you can trust him to keep it quiet. Whatever he gives you, follow his instructions about interactions to the letter-there's no room for error." He sat down, and noticed the grateful smile on her face just before a memory occurred to him and caused him to start giggling uncontrollably.

Cordelia glared at him. "What's so damned funny?"

The Watcher looked up and took a few deep breaths to compose himself before replying, "I was just going to tell you to be careful, Cordelia. If you're not careful, one of these days you're going to wake up in-a-coma." He choked the last syllables out before leaning back in his seat, laughing out loud.

Cordelia watched him for a moment before remembering the incident he was recalling, and she started laughing herself. It was about a minute before both of them recovered. Cordelia scowled and accused: "You're mean."

"No, I'm intoxicated, Cordelia-what was your excuse?" Giles began to laugh again, then saw a trace of what might have been hurt flash across Cordelia's face. He sobered immediately: "Oh, bloody hell, Cordelia: I'm sorry. If it makes you feel any better, it was the incongruity of the memory that made me laugh. . .I can't picture you saying something like that these days." He forced his eyes into focus and looked over at her with solemn regard as he commented, "Cordelia, you've made quite a remarkable life for yourself, under terribly difficult circumstances. I'd say that I was proud of you, except that would imply that I had a significant role in your accomplishments, and I haven't." Cordelia brightened, then looked on in concern as Giles blinked hard and muttered, "Given recent events, you're probably better off for that."

Giles bowed his head, and was startled when Cordelia pulled her chair closer to his and clasped his hands with hers. He looked up to see compassion in the dark eyes as she whispered, "Giles-you did your best for her. You know that she wouldn't blame you for her death."

Giles grimaced and reached for his glass, swallowing deeply before looking back at Cordelia. "I know she wouldn't. How fortunate that I am here to do it for her." He closed his eyes and whispered, "She was so tired, Cordelia. . .so sad. She had fought for so long, and so hard-she had embraced her calling with a vengeance before Glory came along. For the rest of us, inserting Dawn into our memories was a relatively minor thing-a detail here, a change of perspective there. Uncomfortable to realize, but not shattering. Those bastards took apart Buffy's mind and made Dawn the center of her universe-I didn't really understand. How could I?" He shook his head angrily and concluded, "Buffy saw a way out and took it, and I never saw it coming until her body was lying on that heap of rubble in front of us. I * should * have seen it, Cordelia-it was my job."

Cordelia was silent, and Giles bowed his head. "I smothered Ben while the others were otherwise occupied-it had to be done, and Buffy wouldn't. I was anticipating her reaction, and was ready to accept whatever she decided on as just. I wasn't ready for it to be the silence of the grave. I failed her, Cordelia. . .and I just can't stand to fail any more."

"So that's what this is all about--I was wondering why Willow seemed to be running the show these days." Cordelia's tone was matter-of-fact: her hands remained clasped around Giles' as she spoke. "You think you failed Buffy, so now you're old and useless and unwanted? That's a lot of crap- you're not that old, you're certainly not useless, and as for unwanted. . .when I get a call from Tara-who I've exchanged exactly twenty-six words with since I've met her-out of the blue to tell me she's worried about you, I'm inclined to say that there's a whole lot of love over at Casa Summers for you, even if you are acting like a recluse."

Giles smiled involuntarily: "Tara is a wonderful young woman. Willow was very fortunate to find her."

"Yeah-just my luck that she couldn't have found her a year-and-a-half earlier." Giles blinked at the sardonic comment, and Cordelia laughed. "OK, so I've still got issues." She looked at Giles, squinted, and paled slightly as she asked, "Oh God, Giles-did Angelus give that to you?"

Giles was briefly puzzled at the comment before realizing that he was wearing an open-collared shirt that exposed certain relics of his past. He smiled reassuringly at her before replying, "No-all of those scars are conveniently out of sight. I received this scar in an equally unpleasant- though less tragic-way. Eyeghon raked me with its claws while it was in possession of Jenny." He sighed, then added, "At least that time I didn't get her killed."

"I asked her about you once." Giles blinked, uncertain that he had heard Cordelia correctly. He looked at her, and listened as she continued, "I ran into her in the library one day when you were out running errands, just after Buffy took out that Ted robot and you two were getting smoochy again." Giles winced, remembering another scar and an icy glare from Buffy resulting from having walked in on an amorous moment between Giles and Jenny just after nearly winding up with a mechanized stepfather. Cordelia nodded and added, "She was waiting for you with a sweet little smile on her face, and I was curious about what the attraction was for her."

Giles snorted, a bit nettled, and Cordelia snickered before elaborating: "You're pretty easy on the eyes, Giles, but you were a lot older than she was, and even back then I knew enough to realize that you had a lot of major differences. You know that half the male teachers at school would have given their right arm for her phone number, right? Not to mention a lot of students." "She might have mentioned it once or twice," Giles allowed, remembering a few occasions where she had mentioned a name or two, and teased him until he had lost patience and silenced her with a hard kiss.

"She looked at me and said, 'Sit in here one afternoon, with everyone here doing what they do when the latest nasty thing to blow into town has them in crisis mode, and just watch him. You'll get it then.' You walked in just then and I couldn't ask what she meant-so I did what she suggested-one night when you had found some disturbing passage in the Codex that had us up half the night figuring out how Buffy could stop evil in its tracks, I passed up stealing kisses with Xander in the stacks to watch you."

Giles chuckled. "From what I've heard, I should be rather flattered by that."

Cordelia smiled wistfully. "Damned right you should be." Her expression remained the same as she continued: "Giles, I liked you at that point, and I certainly appreciated the stuff you did, but I never really * looked * at you before that night. You were so quiet most of the time-watching Willow for ten minutes before asking one short question that made her change her approach completely-making a snide comment that distracted Xander from a daydream-saying something that you * knew * would make Buffy mock you for being so damned English. . .it all seemed so normal, but I finally noticed that you were doing it all intentionally-you knew just what to do to get the best out of all of them. Jenny was sitting quietly in a corner, working on whatever you gave her to look at-after two hours, I caught her attention and looked over at you. She grinned at me and nodded, and we went back to work."

Giles felt a sudden tightness in his chest and whispered, "She never told me about that."

"Hey, you can't expect a woman to tell you exactly what she likes about you- it's one of the ways we keep you guessing." Cordelia's tone was amused, but her eyes were sad as she watched Giles. He watched her take a deep breath and mutter, "So I probably shouldn't have told you that story before- " She broke off in mid-sentence and leaned into him. Giles was taken aback by the sudden motion and did not move as he felt Cordelia's warm lips meet his mouth, and her body sliding into his lap as if she had always been meant to be there.

The vodka had Giles in a mild haze, and for a few moments he reacted in the most natural way possible: his arms automatically slipped around her waist, and he returned the kiss with interest, feeling her shiver as the tips of their tongues touched briefly. He was enjoying himself greatly when he heard a voice shouting in the back of his head: "This is WRONG! You can't be doing this!"

* Really? Why not? * Giles thought back, wondering what exactly the problem could be with something so damned pleasant.

"You've known this girl since she was sixteen! She's someone who has looked up to you as a role model! You can't take advantage of her when she's drunk and vulnerable!" The voice was persistent, and Giles found it all too familiar-it had often been his companion in the years after he had given up being Ripper in favor of a respectable Watcher.

* Oh, right. * Giles sighed inwardly, and gathered his strength for a moment before gently lifting Cordelia off his lap and whispering, "I'm sorry, Cordelia. I don't know what came over me."

Giles was taken aback by the amusement in the dark eyes as Cordelia replied, "Well, if you had done much more with your lips and hands, it would have been * me *. Too bad you stopped."

Giles flushed scarlet and stammered, "Cordelia. . .I don't know what I mi-- might have done to make you react in this manner, but I can as-assure you that I have no romantic interest in you." He began to get to his feet, planning to flee to the lavatory to regroup.

Cordelia raised an eyebrow and caused Giles to freeze by commenting: "If you want to stick with that story, Giles, you might not want to stand up right now. On the other hand, you might as well-I was sitting in your lap, Giles. Do you have a-"

"Please don't finish that joke." Giles was mortified, and finished getting to his feet, ignoring the unmistakable evidence that Cordelia was correct. He carefully backed against a wall and counted to ten silently before carefully saying, "Cordelia, I am dreadfully sorry; obviously, the alcohol and my grim mood have contributed to an inexcusable lapse of judgment on my part. I hope you know that I would never take advantage of you in an intoxicated state."

Cordelia raised an eyebrow and stood up. She walked slowly towards Giles, who froze, being at a loss at how to extricate himself from the situation without doing something unforgivable. Cordelia stopped three feet from Giles and frowned before asking: "So you're worried that you're taking advantage of me while I'm drunk, Giles? If we were both sober, and I was making moves on you, you'd react like a guy instead of like a Watcher?"

Giles felt a surge of relief: an avenue of escape-by the time she sobered up she'd be as ready to forget this moment of madness as he was. He forced his eyes to focus on the annoyed woman in front of him and replied, "Cordelia, a man would have to be a fool to reject such a enticing offer if he was in his right mind. Sadly, I am not, and we are merely entertaining hype-hypotheticals." He struggled to get out the last word out, and waited for her to back off.

Cordelia chuckled, and Giles had only a moment to spot the two pearl onions resting in her right hand before she threw them to the ground and shouted "Carpe Diem!"

A flash of light momentarily blinded Giles, and when his vision recovered he saw a puff of smoke and smelled burnt onion. Cordelia looked startled, and he reached out and grabbed her by the shoulders, shouting: "Bloody hell, Cordelia-what do you mean by-" He paused in mid-sentence: his voice sounded normal, and he had moved to grab Cordelia with none of the difficulty caused by his activities of the evening. He looked at Cordelia again, and the smug smile spreading across her face confirmed his dawning suspicions: "Oh, bother-we're not pissed any more, are we?"

"If you mean drunk, no-I feel as sober as I did when I walked in the door. On the other hand, you might be a little pissed-off at me." Cordelia suddenly looked embarrassed, and Giles felt it difficult to stay irritated as she muttered, "So is this where I get thrown out the door?"

"I'm giving that decision all of the consideration justified under the circumstances." Giles' voice was dry, and he took a certain dark pleasure in watching her squirm. "Cordelia, please tell me that you haven't taken up the Art to facilitate seducing middle-aged former librarians."

"No. . .when I talked to Tara, I sort of mentioned what I was planning, and she gave me the onions with the trigger word for the spell-she thought that 'seize the day' was just right, considering my purpose." Cordelia reddened slightly, and saw the impassive expression on Giles' face. She stepped back, and began looking for her purse, muttering: "I'm sorry, Giles. . .I've obviously been out of line. I'll leave you-"

She felt a rush of motion, and then his hands were on her backside, and his lips were at her ear, whispering: "The hell you will."

Cordelia gasped and stepped back, and the look in his eyes caused her to grin and ask quietly, "So I'm not getting kicked to the curb?"

Giles shook his head briefly and replied, "Remind me to send a thank-you note to Tara." He stepped forward, but paused and asked quietly: "Cordelia, why me?"

Cordelia blinked, and a hint of tears appeared in her eyes as she stepped forward and put her arms around his neck and whispered, "Because I've been doing a lot of the same stuff you have the last two years, Giles. I've been the one who was there for everyone, sticking my neck out when I was needed, but basically sending them out to fight and bleed and hurt. I'm feeling sad and tired and old. . .and I knew that if there was one human being on Earth who could understand what I was feeling, it would be you. I just left a man behind in Pylea who I could have loved, because it was best for everyone. I'm tired of being alone-I want to have at least one night with someone I would trust with my life, someone I can be with without screwing up the whole situation back in L.A. Giles, I need solace, and there's no one on this Earth right now who I'd rather go to for it. . .if you'll have me."

Giles was silent for a moment before moving forward and whispering in her ear: "Since I am now in my right mind, I am not about to prove myself a fool by declining; however, I do have one request, Cordelia."

"Yes, Giles?" Cordelia waited, wondering what else he could want.

Giles leaned in, and there was a moment of absolute silence before he whispered, "My name is Rupert, Cordelia," and bent his head to her collarbone.

Cordelia gasped, then pushed his head back as she stepped away from him, pulling her sweater over her head. Giles raised an eyebrow as he noted that she was wearing only a sports bra under it, and quickly unbuttoned his own shirt, tossing it into a corner.

Cordelia looked over at Giles and looked in wonder at the abundant scars on his chest and torso, several of them partially hidden by chest hair. She walked over to him and kissed a prominent one on his right arm, moistening the puckered flesh slightly. She was surprised to feel his hands moving over her belly and tracing the vivid scar there-the souvenir of the night she had discovered Willow and Xander together in the ruins of the old factory. She heard him murmur: "I would have expected that you would have had this removed, Cordelia-it can't be pleasant for you to remember how you got it."

She looked up at Giles and saw concern in his eyes: she smiled reassuringly and replied, "My dad's finances were in the toilet before it healed enough to take care of it, so I was stuck with it for at least a while. After the whole thing with my visions driving me into a coma, Angel offered to pay for the removal-I think he wanted to cheer me up. I decided that money could go to better uses. . .there are more important things going on in the world than a little scar on my stomach. Besides, I think I still look pretty damned good in a bikini, scar be damned."

Giles chuckled. "Really? Let's see." He moved his hands to her jeans, and she shivered as Giles carefully removed them, exposing a brief black pair of panties. He looked at her, and the expression was one of open appreciation. Cordelia blushed slightly, and reached for Giles' belt before stepping back again and grinning wickedly. "You do it."

Giles nodded solemnly and carefully undid his belt before lowering his slacks to the ground and kicking his shoes and socks off. He looked up and noticed an irritated expression on Cordelia's face: he frowned and asked, "What's wrong?"

Cordelia blinked, and her expression returned to normal as she replied, "Sorry. . .I just realized that I lost a twenty dollar bet I made with Willow three years ago." Giles looked baffled, and Cordelia pointed to Giles' waist and elucidated on the most laconic way available: "I said briefs."

Giles looked down at his boxers, and frowned again at Cordelia for a moment before stepping forward and embracing her. Cordelia heard his voice in her ear again: "I guess I'll have to make it worth your money." Then his lips were on hers again, and she felt a sudden, violent motion as he swept her into his arms and carried her up the stairs to his room. She felt a moment for sadness for him as she remembered that he had been denied this moment with Jenny, but the sadness was quickly replaced by a wave of lust as he set her on her feet and--with a quick flick of a finger behind her back-- sent her bra slipping to the floor and revealing her breasts.

Cordelia felt a sudden impulse to cover up, but she had been expecting it and forcefully held her arms at her sides as she looked up at Giles to see his reaction. She saw a hint of the same hunger she was feeling, and a stunned look of admiration that caused her eyes to moisten and her nipples to harden. She also noticed that he seemed to be hesitating, and moving ever so subliminally backward. * Uh-uh. Not a chance * "Hold it, Watcher." Giles froze, and Cordelia moved to him, carefully pressing her chest into his and brushing the abundant growth of chest hair with her nipples. Giles inhaled abruptly, and Cordelia smiled. * I'm good * She had just finished that thought when she felt his hands on her hips, the thumbs catching on her panties and sliding them to the floor. Cordelia looked down, seeing that Giles was on his knees, and watched as he planted soft kisses on her belly-she shivered as he moved to the area where the scar was and paid special attention to it. She was caught up in that sensation when she felt a shock of pleasure from her nether regions and looked down to see that Giles had been moving his hands upwards while he had been distracting her elsewhere. She gasped and pulled Giles to his feet, yanking his boxers off with a sudden burst of energy.

Cordelia was silent for a moment, and Giles chuckled. "Who won the bet for this question?"

Cordelia looked up and grinned at him before replying, "We didn't bet on this one: Buffy caught us right then and declared the whole discussion icky and forbidden." Her face fell as she remembered recent events and she started to apologize: "Giles, I'm so-"

Giles interrupted her with a raised finger and pulled her upright. Cordelia could see the sadness in his eyes as he whispered: "I wish Buffy was still alive. . .but if she were, I would not be relying on her opinions of what is 'icky' regarding my love life, and neither should you, Cordelia." Without further comment, he embraced her again and lifted her onto the bed.

For long minutes, they explored each other, luxuriating in the experience of the new contained within the familiar. Neither spoke: the only sound was of their breathing and the whisper of skin against skin and against the sheets. At length, Cordelia nudged Giles, who obediently rolled over onto his back, and she crouched above him, gasping once before beginning to slowly rock above him, arching her back as she moved. Giles's hands moved up, brushing the hard tips of her breasts and stroking the small folds of skin that appeared as she leaned forward, her skin glistening with perspiration. He watched her with wonder as she began moving faster, and was caught off guard by his own increased excitement, and his own gasps echoed through the apartment. Cordelia cried out, and Giles uttered a low growl as he climaxed just after her. Cordelia fell forward onto Giles' chest, panting loudly, and he held her quietly as he tried to get his own breath back. It was only after a few moments that he noticed that she had started to shake again, and he lifted her head to see that her eyes were full of tears. The sight reminded him why they were there, and what had brought two old friends to this time and place, and he started to sob softly, letting Cordelia's head drop to his chest. After a few moments, exhaustion claimed them, and they fell asleep in each other's arms.

* * * * *

Giles opened his eyes and was confused for a moment: he felt strange. It took him a moment to identify the sensation-he had no hangover. He frowned, and the events of the evening before came back to him. He smiled involuntarily, but frowned as he realized that he was alone in his bed. He inhaled deeply: her scent still filled the room.

The sound of footsteps came from the stairs, and Giles turned to see Cordelia wearing a light cotton robe that Olivia had left behind. She was carrying a tea set, which she placed on a night table. She smiled at Giles as she poured two cups and handed one to him. He smiled back at her and sipped the tea: his eyes widened in mild surprise as he looked up at her and commented, "This is really quite good, Cordelia-did Wesley tell you about brewing tea?"

"I was a rich man's daughter long before I met Wesley, Giles. I've known how to make damned good tea since I was eight." Cordelia's tone was amused, and Giles nodded as she added, "I just never advertised it-it's not exactly considered cool in most circles." She sat on the bed next to him and sipped her tea before asking, "How did you sleep?"

"Better than I have in many months, actually." Giles put down his tea, then reached for Cordelia's and set it aside. Cordelia waited quietly for Giles to gather his thoughts: after a moment, Giles blinked and looked into Cordelia's eyes as he said, "Cordelia, 'thank you' seems like an odd thing to say after last night, considering how. . .intimate things became; however, I can't find a better one. You've allowed me to deal with my grief without intruding on the lives of the others, and for that I will always be grateful to you. I only hope that I have in turn provided the solace you sought."

Cordelia reached out and touched his cheek softly, then pulled back and asked, "Giles. . .you're thinking about going back to England, aren't you?"

Giles was startled by the question, and considered an evasive answer-only to find that he was unable to lie to her. He swallowed hard and nodded. "I've been making preliminary inquiries. I've told the Council that Buffy has rejected me after an argument, and wants nothing more to do with them for the time being-that should provide adequate cover for the deception with the BuffyBot. Anya can run the store with equal efficiency and probably at a greater level of profit with me absent. Spike is actively helping with the demon hunting, and I'm convinced that he's willing to die to prove that Buffy was right to trust him at the end-though admittedly it hasn't made him that much more pleasant to be around. Willow's powers are proving remarkably useful, and Tara is a worthy demon hunter in her own right. I'm slowing down, Cordelia-it's only going to be a matter of time before I'm a serious liability to them." Cordelia opened her mouth to object, but Giles had anticipated her: "Yes, I could stay behind and assume the traditional Watcher's role of observer and researcher, and do it competently. I could send them out night after night and stay behind with Dawn."

Giles paused, and Cordelia prodded him: "But--?"

Giles looked down, and Cordelia had to strain to hear him whisper: "I'm not sure I can stand to send another of them out to die, Cordelia. . .and it's just a matter of time in this place before that happens. Willow's proven she can lead them, and I suspect it may be time for me to let her do just that, for better or worse."

Giles heard her sigh, and felt her lean in to kiss him gently on the cheek before she withdrew and said quietly, "Promise you'll call me when you make your decision-I want time to say goodbye if it happens."

"Of course." Giles was surprised at her response, and he watched in silence as she shed the robe and dressed. When she had pulled on the sweater, and he had put on his own robe, he could resist no longer, and commented quietly: "You don't seem inclined to talk me out of it, Cordelia."

Cordelia looked at him, and he could see the affection in her eyes as she replied, "Giles, if there's anyone on this earth who can understand what you're feeling, it's me. It's why I came to you last night. I can't tell you that what you're feeling is stupid, or selfish, or even that it's wrong, because if I thought I couldn't handle it any more, I'd probably be making retirement plans too, assuming I could get the Powers to remove this little problem of mine in a way that wouldn't doom my closest friends to death from lack of information." Giles felt shame, and Cordelia saw his expression change and sat next to him again, squeezing his hand as she continued, "Giles, whatever you do, talk to someone else about it. If you don't want to bother Willow or the others with it, call your friend Olivia, or an old Watcher friend-or track Ethan down and tie him to a chair and make * him * listen to it. If you do this when you're not absolutely sure, and something bad happens, you're never going to forgive yourself." She smiled softly at him, and concluded, "But I trust you to do the right thing. You're Giles-it's what you do."

Giles was momentarily overcome, but recovered and reached out for her, kissing her gently on the lips for a long moment before disengaging and asking, "You have to go now?"

Cordelia hesitated, and nodded reluctantly, "Yeah, I do. Gunn and Wesley tend to worry if I'm gone too long, and having me go to Sunnydale makes Wesley even more nervous. . .you'd think he didn't know that I grew up here." Giles chuckled, and Cordelia smiled and added, "Besides, there's nothing stopping you from coming by for a visit. I live in a hotel, you know--there's plenty of room."

Giles raised an eyebrow. "And how would you expect Wesley to react to such a visit?" The two Watchers had made their peace, but Giles suspected that Wesley would have rather pronounced territorial instincts about Angel Investigations-not to mention its resident seer.

Cordelia grinned wickedly. "Let him get his own Watcher."

There was no reply available for that, and Giles rose and led her to the front door, unlocking and opening it. The sun shone brightly outside, illuminating Cordelia as she stood in the doorway. * She has made her life in the darkness, but she is still more glorious in the morning light * Giles thought, watching her in silence.

Cordelia saw his expression change, and divined his thoughts: "You know, I've always been a morning person-kind of funny, really." Giles smiled at her, and she leaned up and kissed him softly on the lips before stepping back to the doorstep and saying quietly, "See you soon, Rupert." She turned and walked away without looking back, and Giles stood and watched her until Angel's car pulled away from the curb and disappeared into the distance.

Giles turned and looked back into his apartment; suddenly, living in a prison no longer seemed particularly attractive. He went back inside, showered, and changed into a black T-shirt and shorts, intending to go out on a run while he thought about the future. He was surprised when he opened the front door and found Tara there. He directed a look of mock disapproval at her as Tara stammered, "Ah, Giles. Cor-Cordelia called me and said that you might want me to stop by. I wasn't going to knock, but-"

"It's far too nice a day for you to be sitting outside my apartment-much less for me to be sitting inside it." Giles noted that Tara was wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt, and asked: "Do you feel up for a run? I need to discuss some matters with someone, and since you've seen fit to meddle in my life recently, it might as well be you."

Tara noted that Giles did not seem in the least bit upset at her interference, and that there was energy in his manner that had been long absent. She nodded once, and Giles exited the apartment, locking the door and setting out at a fast jog. Tara smiled and followed him as he ran out onto the street, in the direction opposite from the one that Cordelia had taken.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired.