Joy

by Snapecharmer (Stephanie Biek)

Rating: PG, nothing more than the regular show.

Spoilers: Set right after Once More With Feeling - goes happily dancing off into the sunset from canon after that.

Summary: In answer to a challenge given by Daien, over a year ago, to make the Scooby gang young so that Buffy and Giles have to play parents to a bunch of toddlers. Better late than never, eh?

Feedback: I would love any and all fb. I have only wrote a couple short fics at the buffygiles website. This has taken me much hard work and patience to stick with it! or

Distribution: Whoever wants it can have it, just let me know where it's going so I can drop by and say hi.

Dedication: To my wonderful husband, who, though not a fan of Buffy (AT ALL) has always been willing to listen to bits of this and help me out of tight spots. He'll always be my personal Giles.....If I can just get him to wear that tweed suit....hehehe

Chapter One: Where Do We Go From Here?

The television flickered in the background, illuminating five blank faces. After a few tense moments, one of the figures moved.

"Should we go out to her?"

"Sure, Xander, and while we're out there we can apologize for ripping her out of heaven. I'm sure she'll understand."

Xander turned hurt eyes on his best friend. "Willow, we all know it's not gonna be easy. But we have to do something."

"I think we've done enough," the redhead mumbled. Her girlfriend rubbed her back consolingly.

"Honey, you didn't know. None of us did," she finished lamely.

"We didn't know because we didn't bother to find out," Anya said bluntly. Xander shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

There was a crash as the youngest girl in the room leapt to her feet, knocking a lamp to the floor from the coffee table beside her. Dawn's face was pale, save for two bright spots of color splotching her cheeks. "You didn't bother to do a lot of things. Like tell the people who loved her the most she was being brought back in the first place!"

"Dawnie - "

"No!" she said, her voice rising shrilly. "I know why you didn't tell me - you were afraid things would turn out wrong, and you didn't want to get my hopes up. But I figured out why you didn't tell Giles: you know that he would have stopped you! You should have asked him! He probably knew where she was the whole time!"

"Dawn."

She whirled around as a hand gently touched her shoulder. Staring up into kind green eyes, the girl broke into tears and allowed herself to be drawn in against his chest. The man holding her glanced up at the watching group solemnly. "It will be alright, Dawn, trust me on this." She quieted as he rubbed her back soothingly. "Your sister has been through a lot, but I've no doubt she'll be able to get past this as well." He pulled back so he could look down into the youngest Summer's eyes. "I know she's been a bit distant lately, but that doesn't mean she doesn't still love you. It's going to take time."

Rubbing her face, Dawn pulled away. "I know, Giles." He tenderly pushed a lock of brown hair behind her ear. "You should go to bed. We've all had a hard day."

She shook her head. "I don't think I could sleep at all right now." She turned and sank into the couch between Anya and Tara, ignoring Willow as the witch followed her with troubled eyes.

Giles stood still for a moment, his eyes drifting to the kitchen. They had been sitting in silence after getting back from the Bronze, each waiting to see Buffy again before leaving. The front door had opened and Buffy had strode through the foyer and past the living room. Without pausing, she had gone out the back door in the kitchen, the door closing with a firm click behind her.

"I should see if she's..." He stopped. Of course she wasn't alright, which was what he was about to say. But he needed to do something. He turned to go after his slayer.

"Giles?" a voice called out, halting him in his tracks. He turned back to Dawn, meeting her eyes. He waited patiently for the question he knew she would ask. "If you were here, would you have brought her back, too?"

Keeping his eyes on hers, he answered, "No, Dawn. I would have stopped them." The answer seemed to satisfy her, and she nodded slowly. Ignoring the others, he returned the smile and then continued into the kitchen. Reaching out for the doorknob, the watcher breathed deeply, centering himself before opening the door.

Buffy was huddled on the top step of the porch. He had thought initially that she might have left the property altogether, but had felt her presence instead hovering on the outskirts of his mind. Arms were wrapped tightly around the tops of her knees, her chin resting against them. She didn't look up as she spoke.

"What do you want, Giles?"

He closed the door behind him. "I rather think I should be asking that of you, Buffy." Careful to keep a couple feet of distance between them, he sat down next to her. Avoiding his eyes, she continued to stare out into the dark yard.

"Little too late for people to ask, isn't it?"

"Yes." His affirmation jarred her slightly, and her eyes met his briefly before skittering away. They looked so old, faded from what they had been before. Together, they sat in silence for a few moments, and he allowed her the freedom to say whatever she wanted. After what seemed like an eternity, she breathed deeply.

"The world seems so..." Buffy stopped, her face smoothing out as she felt emotions getting the better of her. Better to push it all down before she could feel them jabbing at her insides. Preferring the numbness, she breathed steadily, concentrating on her heartbeat. In, out, in, out. Ribs expanding. Collapsing. Nothing, it was all nothing.

"The world seems normal? Strange how it keeps revolving when you've had the rug pulled out from under you," he finished. Their eyes met again. "You've been through more than anyone should have to face in three lifetimes. To have this happen to you after everything that you've done to save this world...It makes me question a lot of things I held true over the years." Catching himself, he leaned casually against the railing, waiting to see what, if anything, she would say.

Buffy continued to stare out into the darkness.

"No one even knew," she whispered, her voice breaking. She was fraying, the distant persona she had built up breaking down faster than she had imagined it could. Under the patient gaze of her watcher, she felt stripped of all pretense. Why bother hiding anything past the debacle that was the last twenty-four hours? She continued, willing her voice to steady. "No one even tried to find out where I was, Giles."

"I knew," he said softly.

Caught off-guard, she turned wide eyes on him, aghast. He nodded slowly.

"Buffy, I could barely cope with the thought that you were - " A painful swallow. "- gone. After a while, I needed to see, to make sure."

"You did a spell," she said lowly. He caught her arm as she leapt to her feet.

"You don't understand, Buffy," he explained hastily. "I cast to make sure that you were safe. Not to bring you back - unless it needed to be done. As a watcher, as your - friend. I had to be sure that you weren't suffering."

"You didn't want to bring me back," she repeated hollowly. Her shoulders curved in. She had lost weight since she had been resurrected. Standing behind her, Giles longed to reassure her with touch, but was afraid she would run. Searching desperately for the right thing to say, he began to stumble over his words.

"I-I could see you...you were - everything was beautiful. I could see you were happy. I don't think I've ever believed in heaven as an actual place. But when I saw how radiant you were, how peaceful...I knew that's where you had to be. I would never try to take that from you."

She turned slowly, haunted green eyes meeting his. "Why didn't you tell anyone about it?" It was his turn to look away, his face coloring. She surprised them both by gripping his forearm tightly. "Giles, why didn't you?"

"I didn't do it for them, I did it for myself," he said quietly. "I could barely function without you here. I found a spell that would allow me to locate your essence, your soul, and I performed it. Seeing you happy, when it had been so long since I had seen you smile...It gave me peace, and the strength to let go. It still hurt, but I knew the truth."

He met her eyes, letting her see the depth of the pain he had carried. She stepped back involuntarily, her hand dropping from him. "Giles..."

He smiled tremulously. "I was able to leave here, where your ghost followed me wherever I went. I never thought to tell the others; I should have. And then I got the call. If I had known they would ever attempt anything so foolish, I would have stopped them. I promise you that."

She turned away from him. "I know."

Inside, Willow gathered the ingredients for the spell, making sure that the bathroom was locked securely before she began to cast. The book open before her, she silently prayed that this would make everything right. The witch desperately wanted things to be right between them. The spell would restore the happiness Buffy had before any of this happened, and it seemed to be the best solution to this problem. If Buffy was alright again, they could pretend nothing had ever happened.

The spell was titled Laetabilis, which, translated, meant joyful. It seemed easy enough, and it was for such a good cause. This would fix everything.

It had to.

She began the recitation:

"Polleo Hecate,

Beo Buffy

Adiudico Laetibilis

Praterea abund." She stumbled over a couple of the more unfamiliar Latin as she came across it. As the room brightened in a sharp flash, she felt it rush through her, and in that last second before the change, she knew she had made a grave mistake.

Author's Note: The spell is translated, very roughly, as "Mighty Goddess (of Magic), Bless Buffy, Grant (her) joy, Hereafter abundantly." Forgive all the mistakes, they are completely mine!