Title: Fear Of Falling
Category: Drama
Rated: R, mostly for the graphic violence and the dark subject matter. The sexual situations are no worse than what you've seen on the show and the language is actually very mild. As always there's a reason for everything. And I wanted to try something very different this time.
Spoilers: Takes place right after S5 Into The Woods so anything up to that point is fair game. And no matter what shipper you might be, see this fic to the end because it ain't what it seems and in more ways than one.
Disclaimer: Joss owns everything and I doubt he'd want this.
Special Thanks: To Jacqui, who inspired me to take a left instead of a right into the woods.
Feedback: n. - the transfer of part of the output back to the input.


The door exploded inward, crashing against the wall at an odd angle with one hinge ripped from the wood frame. The young vampire turned and stared at the girl silhouetted in the doorway. It had taken much will power not to vamp out but he would not reveal himself. Not yet. He simply stood there, staring. And waiting. The room was tomblike in its stillness and neither one of them moved.

She took a step into the dark room and he immediately noticed two things. The first was the iron rod she held by her side in her right hand. At least it's not wood, he thought. The other was that she was smiling. He stood stonelike, waiting for her to make the first move.

In three steps she was in front of him, much faster than he had anticipated, swinging the iron rod in a vicious arc at his legs. He jumped up, raising his heels to hop over her attack but the blow caught him in the knee and he fell to the ground. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her drive the rod with two hands at his neck. Turning his head he thrust out his hand in a futile effort to block it. The rod pierced his palm and his left hand was driven into the floor.

The vampire screamed in pain and his face changed to reveal the creature that he was. He tried to tear his hand free but the rod was firmly embedded in the floor. She fell on him, grabbing his other arm and slamming it to the ground, palm down. Before he could react his other arm was pinned down, held in place by a knife driven through his wrist. The Slayer straddled him, a knee on either arm. Spittle and foam flew from his mouth as he thrust his face at her, trying to bite. She grabbed his hair with two hands and smashed his head down on the floor once, twice, three times, each time harder than the last.

Her fingers were covered in blood from the back of his skull. She gripped the sides of his head and glared at him, smiling. For the first time he felt afraid. He lashed out with his feet, trying to wrap his legs around her neck. Just for a moment he held her but she rolled to one side, breaking his hold. Again he tried to pull free his hands but couldn't. The Slayer placed a foot on his knee and grabbed his ankle, yanking upwards. His scream almost drowned out the loud snap of the bone giving way.

She stood there, arms crossed, staring at him. His body trembled uncontrollably. He looked up at her and a chill ran through him as she again smiled at him. He felt her foot on his other knee and she knelt down and grabbed his foot. Closing his eyes, he promised himself that he wouldn't give her the satisfaction of screaming this time. Ever so slowly the Slayer raised his leg. And he didn't scream. At least not until he again heard the bone snap.

He felt her straddle him again and he opened his eyes, not caring that tears ran freely down his cheeks. It didn't matter anymore that he was going to die. In fact, he welcomed it. But he needed to know, needed to understand.

"Why?," he gasped, his voice barely a whisper.

His question was met with laughter. Loud, cold and harsh, her laughter cut through him like the metal knife that burned his torn flesh. He felt the wooden stake press against his heart. She leaned against it, slowly increasing the pressure. He winced as it pierced his skin. The pain spread across his chest as the sharp point was eased into him. The fingers of his right hand dug at the floor, scratching deep lines into the bare wood and tearing the flesh under his nails. Raising his head up, he spit in the Slayer's face. She smiled and blew him a kiss, pressing down just a little harder on the stake. The vampire finally stopped squirming and exploded into ash.

Buffy stood and wiped the spittle from her face with the back of her sleeve. She slid the stake into her back pocket and bent over to pull her knife free from the floor. Her eyes rested for a moment on the bloody lines clawed into the wood. She slipped the knife back into a sheath on her ankle.

She looked around the empty room and walked over to the far wall, her footsteps echoing loudly and making the room seem larger than it was. The curtains were pulled aside on the picture window and a dull moonlight illuminated the room. Buffy stood in front of a closet door and tilted her head slightly.

Buffy's right hand smashed through the closet door. Withdrawing her hand, she held a young girl by the hair and twisted her head so that she faced the Slayer. The girl was probably no more than sixteen or seventeen years old. Her eyes looked back at Buffy in sheer terror. Grabbing her hair with both hands now, Buffy drove down the girl's neck against the splintered wood, pulling downward and twisting. For a moment she held the girl's head in her hands before it burst into ash.

Buffy was tired. And suddenly very hungry. She yawned and decided to call it a night.


The eastern sky was just beginning to pale when Buffy got home. She sat on the roof outside her bedroom window and wondered when she had last done this. Probably back in high school, before her mother knew she was the Slayer. Using the front door was convenient but not as much fun. She gripped the window with both hands and slid it open. But she didn't go in. Buffy stared at her empty bed and thought about Riley, thought about waking up with him while he was still asleep, her arms around him, listening to him breathe...

Buffy shut the window and left.


"Thanks for letting me shower here, Giles. Kind of a messy patrol last night and I didn't want my mom to see...well, you know how she worries," shrugged Buffy, drying her hair left-handed with a towel. She was wearing a pair of light gray sweatpants and matching sweatshirt that she kept here for workouts with Giles.

"Oh, and she won't be worried that you didn't come home last night?," asked Giles.

"Nah, I'm a better schemer than that. I told her I was spending the night with Willow and Tara. Uh, not that I would ever lie to you, of course," added Buffy.

"No, of course not," yawned Giles. "As I wouldn't lie to you."

"So I did wake you up!," accused Buffy.

"Buffy, I already told you, I'm an early riser," replied Giles, his tone only half serious.

"Uh-huh. You just don't get dressed right away. Uh, Giles? You are wearing something under that robe?"

"Care for some tea?," asked Giles, changing the subject.

"Sounds good," answered Buffy, rolling her eyes. She tossed her towel on the back of a chair and picked up a brush from the table but winced as she raised her arm to brush her hair.

"You're hurt," said Giles. It was a statement, not a question.

"No, it's nothing. Really. Got slammed into a wall and my arm's just a little sore, that's all. We should train some more this afternoon. Need to be on top of my game, you know?"

Buffy tried again to raise her arm but gave up with a sigh.

"Maybe I'll just let it dry naturally. You know, go for a new look?," said Buffy, avoiding eye contact with Giles.

"Buffy, sit on the couch," said Giles, taking the brush from her.


"Go on, sit down."

Buffy hesitated but then sat down. Giles sat down next to her and she turned her back to him. He began to brush her hair, careful to pull very gently when the brush caught on a tangle. Buffy smiled to herself. They had spent countless hours training together and never shared such a simple gesture as having him brush her hair. And this wasn't like when Dawn brushed her hair or even Willow, as close as they were. This seemed so much more...intimate. She closed her eyes, enjoying the soothing rhythm of the brush as his hands slipped it through her hair.

"Buffy, you've been pushing yourself very hard lately. Perhaps a little too hard."

"Just doing my job," answered Buffy quickly, annoyed at the distraction.

"No, it's more than that. You haven't been getting much sleep lately, have you?," asked Giles.

"I'm...getting enough. It's just, well...there's been a lot of vamp activity lately. Comes in waves, you know? It'll calm down soon. Always does," said Buffy, glad that Giles couldn't see her face at the moment. She never found it easy to lie to him.

Giles put his hand on her shoulder and felt her body stiffen at his touch. He ignored this and pulled at a stubborn snag with the brush.

"So this has nothing to do with Riley leaving?," asked Giles softly.

"Giles, I already told you..."

"Buffy, pretend for a moment that I'm not your Watcher. Pretend that I'm your friend," sighed Giles, no longer brushing her hair. He withdrew his hand. Buffy looked back over her shoulder and saw, just for an instant, a hint of sadness in his eyes. She turned her shoulders to face him.

"Giles. I don't have to pretend. You...you're so much more than a Watcher to me. You know that. Don't you?"

"I'm sorry," nodded Giles. "I shouldn't...I'm just concerned, is all. If you're tired, or if you're distracted, well, then you're more likely to make a mistake in combat. And, as your Watcher, I need to..."

"I know. And thanks. For being concerned. But I'm dealing, okay? I am. Just need a little time. To get used to the idea of him not being around. And, and it's better this way. It is. I mean, really, what kind of future could we have had? Slayers don't live forever."

"No one does. It doesn't mean you can't be happy," replied Giles quickly.

"I...," began Buffy. But she didn't know what to say. She looked down at her hands to avoid his gaze.

"It's not all Riley, you know. I still feel this need, this urge to hunt. And it's getting stronger. Wish I could understand what that means. I wish...I wish I knew how to control that," said Buffy, looking up at Giles again.

"Does it frighten you?," asked Giles.

"Sometimes," admitted Buffy.

"You've been under a lot of stress lately, with your mother being ill, fighting Glory, Riley leaving, protecting Dawn...Buffy, you need to step back a bit. To rest. To simply do something for yourself," added Giles, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes. He slid them back into place. "Understand?"

Buffy reluctantly nodded.

"You, young lady, are tired," said Giles, standing up. "Lay down, on your stomach."

Buffy knitted her eyebrows together and stared at him.

"Go on, trust me. There are some skills I've picked up along the way that the Council never taught me."

Buffy opened her eyes a little wider but stretched out face down on the couch, resting her head on a pillow. Giles knelt down beside her.

"Close your eyes," said Giles.

Buffy glanced up at him and smiled but didn't say anything. She closed her eyes. And felt his hands on the base of her neck. He began to gently knead her muscles.

"Just as I thought, you're as tense as a piece of wood," said Giles, his fingers moving farther apart across her shoulder blades, working in ever widening circles.

"Oh...wow. Giles, you've been...holding out on me. That...feels...incredible."

Giles smiled and slowly worked down to her lower back. A minute or so later he again placed his hands at the base of her neck, massaging her this time more with the palms of his hands.

"Giles, where on earth...did you learn to do this?," sighed Buffy. "This is great."

"I'm entitled to a secret or two, am I not?," teased Giles.

"Ah, mystery man," said Buffy, opening her eyes and smiling at him. "You know what would be even better? No, I'd better not. Never mind," laughed Buffy.

"No, what is it?," asked Giles, smiling at hearing her laughter.

"Well...turn around."


"Just turn around," repeated Buffy.

"Buffy, are you blushing?"

She frowned at him until he shrugged. Giles turned to face the other way.

"Okay, you can turn around."

Giles turned and raised one eyebrow. Buffy's sweatshirt lie on the ground and she was again lying face down on the couch. He ran one finger across her bare back.

"Is this...I mean, are you..."

"Shh. Close your eyes, Buffy," whispered Giles, placing his hands on her shoulder blades. "Trust me."

"You know I do."

Buffy smiled and slowly closed her eyes. He pushed her hair with the back of his hand off of her neck and over one shoulder, his fingertips brushing along her skin. Her hair was scented with vanilla and even though he had combed her hair before it was as if he had just became aware of this.

"Your tea is getting cold," said Buffy.

"I can make more."

Giles started with her neck, again working out towards her shoulder blades. Once or twice Buffy moaned in approval of his ministrations. He worked his way down her back, all the while admiring the curve of her shoulder or how the small of her back rose ever so slightly to meet his embrace. The tenseness in Buffy's muscles slowly melted away.

"You mustn't lose yourself in your work. That's what your friends are for," said Giles softly.

Giles became aware that her breathing had slowed and was deeper.

"Buffy?," called Giles softly. She didn't respond, confirming to him that she had fallen asleep. For a moment he just sat there, watching her and listening to her breathe.

Giles got up and walked over to the closet. He came back and covered her with a blanket.


Buffy stretched and blinked open her eyes.

"Giles?," she called out.

She turned her head and saw Willow sitting in the chair across from her. Willow had a big grin on her face but her eyes were full of mischief.

"Afternoon, Buffy."

"Afternoon? What time is it?," asked Buffy, wide eyed.

"Well, it's just a few minutes past noon, actually. Interesting to see that you and Xander have something in common," teased Willow.


"You both like getting up at the crack of noon," explained Willow.

"Where's Giles?," asked Buffy, sitting up and realizing that her shirt was on the floor. "Uh, Will, this isn't what it looks like."

"Why Buffy, what possibly could you mean? Just because I met Giles at his front door wearing nothing but a robe and a smile...just because you're lying there half naked, your clothes strewn about the room..."

"Now hold on there, you. There was no strewing going on. I, well, Giles...see, he..."

Willow couldn't help herself and burst out laughing.

"You're enjoying this way too much, girl, you know that?," said Buffy, smiling herself. "It was completely innocent, I tell you. I was afraid my mom would see how bloody my clothes were from last night and freak out so I showered here. And Giles gave me a massage."

"Oh, wow," said Willow, suddenly serious. "What happened?"

"Nothing. I fell asleep," replied Buffy. She let the blanket slide from her shoulders, reached down and pulled her sweatshirt over her head. Buffy noticed that Willow didn't look away while she was getting dressed.

"No, silly. Last night. Did you get hurt?," asked Willow.

"Oh. Nah, my arm's a little sore is all. Killed me four vamps so it was a good night. It was a few steps this side of messy, though. Hence the wash and dry. And by the way, what are you doing here?"

"I called your house. Luckily Dawn answered. You know, if you're going to tell your mom that you're spending the night with me you might want to let me in on the alibi," frowned Willow.

"Oops. Sorry."

"Anyway, I wanted to take you out to lunch, maybe do some shopping. Spend some quality girl time together. Figured you might be here and I told Giles I'd stay so he could go to work."

"Sounds...great. Really. But I did promise to train with Giles today. I should..."

"He gave you the day off. Said you earned it. So unless you'd rather do the much ignored of late homework, you're out of excuses," said Willow firmly.

Buffy smiled. And then she looked down at what she was wearing.

"We'd better swing by my house first so that I can change."

"As if that was ever in doubt. You think I'd be seen in public with you dressed like that?," smiled Willow. Buffy threw a pillow at her but Willow ducked.

"So, a massage is now part of your new and improved training regimen?," asked Willow eagerly.

"I hope so! Willow, there's more to this librarian than we've been led to believe. His fingers were so...I mean, it was incredible. And, and...and you're getting that grin on your face again!"

Willow didn't say anything but smiled even more.

"We should go," said Buffy. Willow nodded. Buffy stood and slowly folded the blanket, holding it against her chest. She absently rested a hand on her shoulder and her thoughts drifted back to Giles and how his fingers felt on her skin. Buffy smiled.


Buffy raised her hand to knock on his door but stopped herself. For a moment she just stood there. Leaning to one side, she peered into the window, setting the shopping bag down on the porch.

The table was set with a single plate, a cloth napkin perfectly folded beside it. Fine silverware had been placed on the table and the light from a single candle flickered off a crystal glass that was half filled with a red wine. Very proper and entirely British, thought Buffy. That he would go to so much trouble to set the table that way when he was dining alone...and it struck her like a fist into her stomach how alone Giles was. Alone because he was her Watcher.

Giles set a glass on the table and filled it with water, pouring it from a pitcher. He thought he heard a noise, maybe someone at the door. Setting the pitcher down he walked to the door and opened it. There was no one there.


The girl tried to crawl but could only move by dragging one leg behind her. The bloody shin bone of her left leg protruded through her pant leg and her left foot was bent at an impossible angle. She grabbed at tombstones to help pull her along, wincing at the effort. And then she heard the blonde girl laugh.

Glancing over her shoulder, she ducked just in time, avoiding being kicked in the face by a bootheel. The blow went over her head and cracked the edge of a stone cross atop a grave, leaving a sharp edge where before the cross had been squared off. She was lifted up roughly by her shoulders and she suddenly realized that the kick she had avoided had never been meant for her. Buffy drove the girl's body down and she screamed out in agony as the top of the cross burst through her shoulder and stuck out through her jacket just above the collarbone.

The Slayer stepped back and smiled as the girl writhed in pain, trying in vain to free herself. Smoke rose from her back as the cross began to burn flesh. Buffy knelt down and picked up a baseball bat from the damp grass. The bat shattered in two as she smashed it into the girl's kneecap. The young vampire broke free of the cross and collapsed onto her back, her body shaking in spasms of agony.

"Thought this might come in handy. Wouldn't want you running away from me, you know? But what can I possibly do with a broken bat that just happens to be made of wood?," asked Buffy, running a finger over the pointy splinters on the end of the bat.

The girl looked up at Buffy, tears running down her face from her yellow eyes. There was an ugly bruise on the side of her face and a deep gash above one eye. With one hand she gripped her blouse and ripped it open, exposing the white flesh above her heart.

"Oh, no," laughed Buffy, "you don't get off that easy."

Buffy dropped the broken handle and knelt down on the chest of the vampire. She reached up weakly with one hand in an effort to grab the Slayer's throat. Buffy simply grabbed her wrist and wrenched her arm backwards, feeling a satisfying pop as her arm tore free from the shoulder socket. The girl shut her eyes and cried even harder.

Buffy let the creature's now useless arm fall to one side and reached into her jacket, withdrawing a glass bottle. She shifted her weight to pin down her other arm with one knee and unscrewed the top of the bottle.

"Tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to make you a deal. You tell me where your boyfriend is and I'll make sure he dies a much less painful death than you're about to experience. You don't tell me, and I'll have him begging me for release hours before I'll stake him. This must be your lucky night. So, what's it going to be?," asked Buffy, letting a drop of the holy water splash down upon the girl's forehead. She heard the flesh sizzle but the girl barely flinched. Buffy wondered if she was beyond the point of feeling any more pain.

"What's wrong? Cat got your tongue?," asked Buffy, smiling. She forced the girl's mouth open and poured some water onto her tongue. The girl moaned loudly and turned her head.

"Hey, here's another question for you. Ever been paid by a human to suck his blood? Answer me! You get off on that kind of thing?," demanded Buffy.

"Please...just kill me...please, I'm begging you," whimpered the girl.

Buffy smiled.

"Nah. I like your spunk, kid. I'm going to give you a fighting chance. The sun'll be up soon. If you can find your way to shelter, I'll let you live. But you better hurry. Not going to cover much ground pulling yourself along with one arm."

Buffy stood up. And drove her heel down onto the girl's hand, snapping the bones in several fingers. The girl screamed out again.

"Notice I said arm, not hand," hissed Buffy. The girl looked up at her and Buffy tossed the remaining holy water into her eyes. The girl screamed even louder.

"Have fun," snickered Buffy.

Buffy walked away and didn't look back. So she never saw Spike watching them from behind a pine tree. He took one last drag on his cigarette and tossed it onto the ground, grinding it out under his heel. Walking over to the girl he knelt down and picked up the broken handle of the bat. She covered her eyes with her disfigured hand and her body quivered in pain.

"Lie still," whispered Spike. "I'm here to help."

The girl didn't seem to hear him. With a shrug Spike drove the splintered bat into her chest. The vampire exploded into ash. Spike stood and looked in the direction Buffy had gone, slowly shaking his head.



Anya handed the girl her change and closed the register drawer.

"Thank you for your patronage. Come back again. And soon," added Anya with a smile as the girl walked away. Anya sighed.

"What?," asked Xander, leaning on the counter.

"It's not right," complained Anya. "I feel...I feel naughty, but in a dirty way."

"Uh, Anya, with you that's usually a good. And since we already...I mean, this morning...okay, what are we talking about here?," sighed Xander.


Xander stared at her, obviously clueless.

"I have to smile at the customers. And I don't even know them! It's just so...phony."

"Ah," smiled Xander, beginning to understand.

"Just like in my demon days," continued Anya.

Xander resumed his clueless staring.

"See, I would smile at the males I was going to curse. Flirt with them, make them relax, make them trust me, just so that I could, well, you know..."

"Ah," repeated Xander. "Anya, it's okay. Really. Capitalism, and retail in particular, is like that. You gotta screw the customer, in the literal sense, mind you, while making him want to come back for more. It's a time honored practice. But...it's nice to see that you feel a little guilty about. Shows me that you're growing as a person," said Xander leaning over for a kiss. Anya stopped pouting and eagerly put her lips on his.

"So then you don't mind if I flirt with the customers?," whispered Anya, keeping her face close to his.

"Uh, maybe I should explain this a little better," said Xander.

"You two want to get a room?," snipped Buffy, suddenly standing behind Xander, startling him.

"Oh, hey Buffy. Morning," smiled Xander.

Buffy rolled her eyes.

"Do you ever give it a rest?," asked Buffy.

"It?," repeated Anya, glancing at Xander's pants.

"The groping and pawing. I mean, come on, you're like two high school kids!," laughed Buffy.

"Excuse me, where are my manners? I haven't introduced you yet. Anya, this is Buffy. Buffy, meet Anya. The girl that I am deeply in love with," said Xander. Anya smiled appreciatively.

"The girl...," began Buffy. She covered her mouth to stop from laughing. "I'm sorry. It's just...oh my God, you're serious, aren't you? So this is more than just a distraction?," asked Buffy, glancing at Anya. Anya stopped smiling.

"Buffy...," said Xander, getting upset.

"Wow. I, uh...I don't know what to say! Where's Giles?," asked Buffy, looking around.

"Excuse me," announced Anya, quickly walking away. Xander turned and glared at Buffy.

"What?," demanded Buffy.

Xander ignored her and went after Anya.

"Fine! I'll find him myself," sighed Buffy. There was only one customer in the store, a man about Giles' age, so she assumed Giles was in back. Just then Willow walked into the store, holding hands with Tara. The man looked up from a book he was reading and saw the girls but quickly turned away. Buffy noticed the look of disgust on his face and she was glad neither Willow nor Tara had seen it.

Willow waved hi to her and Buffy smiled. Buffy turned to go look for Giles and almost bumped into him as he came out of the back room.


"Buffy. You didn't...I mean, I thought you would stop by last night, or at least call. Before patrol, that is," explained Giles.

"Yeah, about that. I, um, I'm sorry, I know I should've at least called, but, see, Willow and I, we took a little longer at the mall than I thought, and..."

"Buffy, you don't have to explain. I was just concerned. How did patrol go?"

"Oh. Same old. A little slow, in fact. I think the word on the street is that the Slayer has stepped things up a notch or two. The vamps are getting scarce and it's getting harder to find something to kill," frowned Buffy.

"Well, perhaps a nice juicy demon will come along for you tonight," smiled Giles.

"We can only hope," said Buffy excitedly.

"Um, actually that was an example of mild sarcasm," said Giles. "I'm happy that things are quiet for you. You could use a break, rest up some."


"Um, where's Anya? Why isn't she at the register?," asked Giles, looking around the shop.

"I think she's in the ladies' room. Like that little slut is a lady," said Buffy under her breath.

"What's that?"

"Oh, nothing. Giles, I wanted to ask you..."

"Just a moment, Buffy. There's a customer that might need assistance," said Giles.

"Who, that creepy old guy? He should know his way around the shop. I've seen him in here before. Can you say get a life? You know, a few days ago he bumped into me and didn't even apologize. Probably trying to cop a feel," complained Buffy. Giles just stared at her for a moment.

"Buffy, that's Mr. O'Flynn. He's a regular here and by definition a regular spends money here on a regular basis. We like to encourage that. And as far as being old, I believe that I'm a year or two older than he. Excuse me," said Giles, walking over to greet Mr. O'Flynn.

"Oh. Giles, I didn't mean...damn!," sighed Buffy.

"Hey, Buffy. Something wrong?," asked Willow.

"You mean besides putting my foot in my mouth?," asked Buffy, not looking at her but watching Giles.


"Nothing. Hi Tara."

"Hi Buffy," smiled Tara.

"Wearing that new peasant top already, huh?," asked Willow.

"Yeah, I wanted to look nice for...so, what are you two up to?," asked Buffy.

"Just hanging," shrugged Willow. Tara nodded in agreement.

"Where's Anya?," asked Tara. Just then Anya walked out of the back room, followed by Xander.

"Morning...," began Willow. But Anya walked past them without looking at them. She began to straighten up books on a shelf at the other end of the shop.

"Xander, is something wrong? Anya looked like she had been crying," said Willow.

"I'll be in back. I suddenly feel the need for a workout," announced Buffy, quickly walking away. Xander stared at her back as she left.

"Xander?," repeated Willow.

"It's nothing," shrugged Xander. Willow put her hands on her hips and tilted her head slightly. Xander knew that look.

"Okay, okay. Anya was upset. See, I told Buffy that I loved her," said Xander.

"Xander, you know how jealous Anya can get!," exclaimed Willow.

"Will, I told Buffy that I loved Anya. And she laughed at us," sighed Xander.

"Oh! Oh, Xander, that's so sweet! Really? Wow, that's...she did what!?," yelped Willow.

"You heard me. She called Anya a distraction."

"Xander, maybe she's just wigged over Riley leaving. You know, the whole jealous over happy couples thingy," offered Tara.

"Maybe," grunted Xander, still not mollified.

"Still, that's harsh," said Willow. She took a step towards the hall to follow Buffy but Xander grabbed her arm.

"Let her be," he said, shaking his head. Willow reluctantly nodded in agreement.

"Xander, that's great. I'm really happy for you," said Willow, smiling.

"Thanks," replied Xander, returning her smile.

Just then Tara stumbled forward. Mr. O'Flynn had bumped into her and now caught himself from falling by firmly grabbing Willow's wrist. Willow noticed that he had some kind of green snake tattoo on his forearm.

"Oh, excuse me! I'm terribly sorry! So clumsy of me," apologized Mr. O'Flynn. Tara had regained her balance and now grabbed his wrist to help steady him. She instantly let go and stepped away from him, her eyes open wide. Willow gave her a concerned look.

"Again, my apologies. I must have tripped," said Mr. O'Flynn, standing up straight now.

"No problem," said Willow, her eyes darting from him to Tara. Xander knelt down and picked up a book he had dropped, handing it to him.

"Thank you," said Mr. O'Flynn.

"Are you alright?," asked Giles, now standing behind Tara.

"Yes. A little embarrassed is all. I'll pay for this now, Mr. Giles," said Mr. O'Flynn, handing him the book.

"Of course," replied Giles, taking the book and walking behind the counter to the register. Willow tugged at Tara's sleeve and pulled her aside. Xander followed them.

"What?," whispered Willow.

"I don't know. I felt something, like a shock," said Tara softly.

"I didn't, and he touched me," shrugged Willow.

"You know, I've read about things like this. He might be very powerful with magicks," suggested Tara.

"A warlock?," asked Xander, looking over at Mr. O'Flynn.

"Tara, are you okay?," asked Willow.

"Oh, yeah. I'm fine. I just don't think he expected me to touch him."

They all watched Mr. O'Flynn as he walked towards the door. He hesitated and then turned to look at them. Xander suddenly remembered he wanted to ask Anya something and Tara quickly turned away. Only Willow stood there, returning his stare. Mr. O'Flynn smiled, nodded at her and left the shop.


"I really don't like this time of year. It gets dark too early," said Willow, staring out the window. Tara stood behind her with her arms wrapped around Willow's waist and her head resting on her shoulder.

"Yes, but it does give one an excuse to go to bed earlier," smiled Tara.

"So, we need an excuse now?," asked Willow with a grin as she turned to face Tara.

"I hope not," answered Tara.

Willow reached up and ran her face along Tara's cheek, letting her hair slip through her fingers as she pushed it back over her ear. There was a knock at the door. Willow frowned, walked over to the door and opened it. Spike stood there, one arm resting on the doorframe.


"Evening, ladies. Sorry to bother you. Okay, maybe I'm not," shrugged Spike. "But there's something I want to show you. Aren't you going to invite me in?"

"Sorry, it's not up to me," said Willow, turning to face Tara.

"Uh, let me think about it. No," said Tara.

"There you have it," said Willow.

"Fair enough. But we don't have a lot of time. Oh, and you both might want to bring a cross. Just in case things get a bit dicey," said Spike.


"Red, trust me on this one. You want to see this."


The three of them hid behind a large tombstone. Down the hill from them was Buffy, surrounded by three vampires. They slowly circled her, each waiting for a chance to lunge in at her.

"Spike, we got here just in time. She needs our help," whispered Willow. Spike rolled his eyes.

"No, she doesn't. This is one of the smallest groups she's taken on in the past week. Just watch."

"You...you've been following her?," asked Tara.

"Uh, no. No, of course not. Why would I? It's just...word on the street, you know? Not much goes on in this sleepy little burg without old Spike hearin' about it."

Willow gave him a strange look before turning her attention back to the fight. Buffy threw something down at the feet of one of the vampires. She waved her other hand in the same direction and an instant later the vamp burst into flames. So they still fall for the old gasoline and lighter trick, thought Willow. The other two stood their ground as Buffy drew a stake from her jacket. And then she did something that made Willow's jaw drop open in amazement. Buffy tossed the stake onto the ground, out of her reach. She waved her arms towards herself, daring the larger of the two vamps to come at her. And he did.

He flung himself at her, wrapping his arms around the Slayer. Instead of driving her down onto the ground he stood there, lifting her up with her arms pinned to her sides. And he squeezed. Even Spike winced at the sound of several of Buffy's ribs cracking. Her legs flailed uselessly at him. Willow stood to go help her but Spike grabbed her wrist.

Buffy did the only thing she could do. She drove her forehead into his nose. He roared in pain and dropped her. She rolled on the ground and reached her stake just as the vampire dove at her. He landed on top of her and exploded in a cloud of ash.

The lone remaining vampire was suddenly joined by two others. They looked at the Slayer as she staggered to her feet. And they turned and ran. Holding her side, Buffy stumbled after them.

"Willow, what the hell has come over her?," asked Tara.

"Please. This is nothing. You should've seen..."

Spike stopped, frozen by the look Willow gave him.

"You're right, of course. Something's seriously not right with blondie. And I thought her cardboard soldier boy had a death wish!," sighed Spike.

"You knew about this and didn't say anything?," growled Willow.

"Hey, I brought you here tonight, didn't I? What am I now, her best friend?," answered Spike.

"Spike, take Tara home."

"What?," yelled both Spike and Tara at the same time.

"Do it!," snapped Willow, pulling a cross from her back pocket. "I'm going after her."


It didn't take long for Willow to catch up to Buffy. It didn't seem as if the Slayer was able to run very fast. Buffy had turned right past a building and Willow peered around the corner. And saw an empty alley. Then she saw Buffy's jacket lying on the ground beside a manhole cover and figured out where she had gone.

Willow walked over to the sewer cover and listened but heard nothing. She sat down. And waited. She was cold so she pulled Buffy's jacket on. It began to drizzle.


Buffy was barely able to push the manhole cover aside. Her body trembled in protest as she pulled herself up and out of the sewer. She collapsed onto her side, wincing in pain with one hand pressed up against her ribs. It had stopped raining and the cold asphalt was soothing to her face. Her breath hung white in shallow, rapid gasps before her. Buffy opened one eye...and saw a pair of legs not more than an arm's length away from her. She reached for her only remaining stake in her back pocket of her jeans but her hand couldn't firmly grasp the wood and the stake clattered onto the ground.

Buffy looked up. And smiled. She rolled onto her back, took the hand that was offered to her and was pulled to her feet.

"Thanks, Will."

Buffy leaned forward, hands on her knees, catching her breath.

"But...you really shouldn't...be out here...alone," panted Buffy.

"I have a cross," replied Willow. "Uh, Buffy?"

"Yeah?," said Buffy, looking up.

Willow slapped Buffy hard across her right cheek with the back of her hand. Buffy stood up straight, one hand on her cheek and her mouth wide open.

"Do I have your attention now!? Are you listening to me!?," barked Willow. "What the hell do you think you're doing? Alone, outnumbered and fighting in tight quarters...you wouldn't have made that mistake when you were sixteen! Are you trying to get yourself killed? Do you want to die!?," screamed Willow.

Buffy slowly lowered her hand and just stared at her friend.

"And, and...and ow, that hurt!," added Willow, shaking her hand.

"Willow," said Buffy softly. She reached out to touch her but Willow pulled away, glaring at her. And then Willow's lower lip twitched and she seemed on the verge of tears.

"Buffy, what's wrong? This is more than just Riley leaving."

As soon as Willow said his name Buffy turned her head and looked away.

"Buffy, you promised...no more secrets. Remember? Do you? Or was that just a lie?"

"No! No...it wasn't a lie," agreed Buffy, again staring at Willow.

"Okay, well, now I should storm off. You know, big dramatic exit, make you come running after me which I really hope you would do 'cause I'm all creeped out now and I, I kinda want you to walk me home now and why do I keep repeating the word now? And a very tired Slayer is still better in a fight than one angry, premenstrual wiccan who's had one cup too many of coffee. And don't you for a minute blame what I said on caffeine," warned Willow, wagging a finger at Buffy.

Buffy smiled sadly and held out her hand.

"I'm sorry. Walk with me," said Buffy.

Willow exhaled, puffing up her bangs as she did. She took Buffy's hand. Buffy stooped down, picked up her stake and slid it into her back pocket. They walked almost two blocks, neither of them speaking or looking at one another, each other's hand their only bond for the moment. It began to rain again.

"Nice jacket," commented Buffy. "I think I have one just like it."

"Oh, hey, you want it back? You must be cold," said Willow, unzipping the windbreaker.

"No, keep it. I don't need it," said Buffy.

"I'm sorry," whispered Willow. "I shouldn't have hit you."

"Nah, I...I think I deserved it."

"It's not just about Riley, is it?," asked Willow, her voice small. She felt Buffy's grip tighten slightly on her hand.

"Honestly? I don't know. But let's start with him. Xander was right, all along. And so was Spike," laughed Buffy.

"Okay, Xander being right, big headline there, hold the presses and all...but Xander and Spike? In agreement?," asked Willow, raising her eyebrows. "This is worse than I feared."

"Remember...remember when Xander was possessed by the spirit of the hyena?"

Willow nodded.

"He said something then that I never forgot. He said..."

Buffy exhaled and shook her head.

"He...they both said that I wanted danger. That I liked my men dangerous. And mean. Like Angel."

"Buffy, Angel wasn't mean," complained Willow.

"No? You saw what was in him," countered Buffy.

"Yes, but that was Angelus, not...it wasn't his fault."

"No, it was mine. There's a lot of truth in what they said. Will, there's something I haven't told you yet."

Buffy ignored Willow's pouting. Willow stopped walking and let go of Buffy's hand.

"See, I am alone. History doesn't lie, we...Slayers...don't live that long. So I don't think about the happily-ever-after stuff. I live for the moment. Can, can you understand that? Really understand?," pleaded Buffy.

Willow thought for a moment and then shrugged.

"I didn't think about it, I just knew, on some level, that I could never give Riley what he wanted, so...so I never committed my heart to him. I never gave myself over to him, completely and without hesitation. I held back. And only now am I beginning to understand what I did. What I lost," added Buffy, beginning to cry. Willow stepped towards her and they hugged.

"Will, he made me feel safe. But that's not what I am. He wanted to know...Riley wanted to know what hold Angel and Dracula had over me. It's that I'm like them, my strength comes from a very dark place. I kill."

Buffy leaned her head back and stared into Willow's eyes.

"And I get off on it," whispered Buffy.

Willow pulled away from her and Buffy saw a fleeting glimpse of fear in her eyes.

"No. You're a Slayer. It's, it's different! It is! Kill or be killed, right? I mean, okay, oversimplified much, but..."

Buffy slowly shook her head.

"I can't make you understand," cried Buffy.

"But what you kill doesn't have a soul!," said Willow.

"That doesn't matter! I'm tired of being alone. And if what I just said doesn't scare you, then maybe this will," said Buffy, stepping close to Willow. Her face was so close to Willow's that she could feel Buffy's breath on her lips.

"I asked Spike how he managed to kill two Slayers. And his answer was so simple that I believe him. They wanted it. Every Slayer has a death wish. See, it never ends. Every day I wake up could be the day that I die. And part of me wants it...to find peace. My friends, my family, they keep me anchored. It's why I've lasted this long. But I am alone."

"You're not alone! We're here! Buffy, I'm here. And Giles, and Xander...remember the enjoining spell? We're part of you now and deep down you know that," said Willow.

"Then why do I feel like this? No, the first Slayer was right. I live in the action of death. The blood cry, the penetrating wound. I am destruction. Absolute. And alone. Oh so alone," sniffed Buffy.


"This is what I am. I'm no different than Spike, or Angelus. In fact, I'm worse. I have a soul. And yet I need to kill. I want to! Hell, I crave it!," screamed Buffy.

Willow just stood there with her eyes wide open.

"Why do I bother? You don't get it and you never will," snapped Buffy, her voice full of contempt. She turned and began to walk away from Willow.

"Buffy, wait!"

Buffy kept walking.

"Hey!," yelled Willow. Buffy stopped but didn't look back at her. Willow ran to catch up with her.

"It's me. Willow. I'm trying, I really am. Just give me a chance, okay? This is all new territory we're covering here. I need a little time, you know? To let it all sink in."

"Time? You're not listening. I. Don't. Have. Time!," yelled Buffy, enunciating each word sharply. Willow recoiled at how harsh her words were. "Just...leave me alone, damn it!"

Buffy stormed away. Willow watched her go, tears streaming down her face. It began to rain again.


Giles thought he had heard a knock on his door. He had been lying in bed, unable to fall asleep, simply staring at the ceiling, listening to the rain. And trying not to think. He threw on his robe and glanced at the clock. It was just past three in the morning. He descended the stairs realizing that if someone had knocked on the door they hadn't done so again. Giles gripped the handle and flung open the door.

"Buffy!," cried Giles, inhaling sharply.

She looked up at him, her lower lip trembling. Her hair was plastered flat against her skin and her clothes were soaked through. She wasn't even wearing a jacket and she wrapped her arms around herself, shivering against the cold. He could see that she was desperately trying not to cry.

"Buffy, what's wrong?," yelled Giles, louder than he meant to.

Buffy took a step towards him and her knees gave out. Giles caught her and pulled her inside, kicking the door shut behind them. He grabbed her firmly by one shoulder and slipped his arm under her knees, lifting her and carrying her to the couch.

"Are you hurt?," asked Giles, gently laying her down on the couch. Buffy nodded and held him against her when he tried to let go.

"No, please...please just hold me. Giles...hold me," begged Buffy, now sobbing. She pressed her face against his chest.

"Buffy, I don't understand. What can I do?"

Buffy couldn't speak so he just held her, letting her cry for a few minutes.

"Buffy, you're chilled to the bone. You have to get out of these wet clothes and under some blankets." Giles voice was calm but full of concern. Buffy pulled her head back and looked up at him, nodding.

"You...you'll have to help me. I think I busted a few ribs. It, it hurts to raise my arms," sniffed Buffy, easing herself into a sitting position.

"Okay," agreed Giles hesitantly. He suddenly seemed unsure of what to do.

"Giles, it's alright. I trust you. I...I always have," whispered Buffy. She took one of his hands and placed it on the hem of her blouse, then, wincing, raised her arms. Giles grabbed the other side of her blouse with his other hand and lifted. He only hesitated once when he realized that she was staring at him right in the eye. She gave him just the slightest smile of encouragement.

He pulled the blouse upwards as gently as he could and yet Buffy still cried out once in a gasp of pain. She wasn't wearing a bra and when Giles noticed this he looked away, tossing the blouse on the floor behind them. He stood to go get her a blanket but felt her grab his wrist firmly.

"Giles, I'm cold. Just hold me. Please?," asked Buffy.

"Buffy, I..."

Giles froze, seeing how intently Buffy was staring at him and how sad her eyes seemed. How incredibly sad. Without realizing what was happening he allowed Buffy to pull him down on the couch next to him. She threw her arms around his waist and pulled him against her, ignoring the pain that flared up along her side. He wrapped his arms around her back and his fingers felt to her like stabs of fire against her cold skin.

"Giles, the others, they don't know, they can't understand..."

"Understand what?," asked Giles.

"How alone I am. Or, or how scared I am. But you know. You can understand, I know you can. And only you. Because...," said Buffy, tilting her head back to look at him, "because I know you're lonely too. I know what you've given up, what you've sacrificed for me. For me," repeated Buffy softly, her voice small.

"Buffy, what happened tonight?"

Buffy ignored his question, reached up and removed his glasses. He didn't stop her. She made no effort to cover her breasts so Giles kept her close with his arms, trying to avoid looking down at her.

"I almost lost myself tonight, Giles. I just gave in to it, I, I just let go. And it was so intense...I became this force, this unstoppable urge. To kill. Dracula was right. About the source of my power, I mean. Wherever it comes from, its roots are dark."

"Has this ever happened before?"

"Once," Buffy nodded. "With Faith, in a fight when we were outnumbered. But that time it felt...it was good, it felt right. And it's how I survived that night. But this..."

Buffy suddenly looked terrified. Her sudden mood swing even frightened Giles.

"Giles, I can't control it. It just overtakes me. And, you see, the thing is...I like it. I crave it now. Giles, I can't become like Faith. People need me," whimpered Buffy.

"Buffy, I won't let anything happen to you. Not if it's in my power to stop it. I promise you," said Giles, holding her just a little tighter.

"I know, Giles. I know," whispered Buffy. "And I need you. I need you to anchor me here, to hold me in this reality. Just...just to hold me," said Buffy, her voice so low it was barely a whisper. She reached up and caressed his cheek with the palm of her hand. Her touch was like ice on his warm skin. There was a moment when they simply looked at one another. And then Buffy thrust her lips onto his, kissing him hard.

At first Giles didn't react. Then he closed his eyes and returned her embrace. Buffy responded, kissing him harder and pushing him back against the couch. He slid his hands down along her sides, stopping at the curve of her breasts.

"Buffy," said Giles softly.

"Giles, I don't want to be alone anymore. I'm scared. And it's alright. Really. I need you. Can you understand that?," pleaded Buffy.

Giles didn't say anything.

"Don't you need me?," asked Buffy, tears beginning to well up in her eyes.

"Yes. Yes, I do," nodded Giles, but almost immediately regretting his words. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for Buffy, but could he give her this? Should he?

Buffy picked up on his hesitation and closed her eyes. And then she felt his lips on hers. Giles slipped a hand behind her head to bring her closer to him. Buffy pushed against him and he fell back on the couch with her on top of him. Her hands opened his robe and she ran them along his chest.

"Giles?," asked Buffy, pulling away with a smile.


"I'm freezing. Help me out of these pants."

It was Giles turn to smile.



Buffy smiled and stretched, her arm reaching out...and her eyes flew open as she realized that she was alone. The sunlight was bright coming through the window but she wasn't sure what time it was. Then she noticed the note lying on his pillow. And Buffy smiled. His words were curved in such elegant style, the letters so precisely formed that she knew this wasn't a rushed note. He had thought about this.

Buffy. I'm so sorry I couldn't be here when you awoke. I know I should have been, but you needed your sleep. It was wonderful to simply hold you and watch you breathe. Words need to be spoken but not here, not now. Soon. I'll be at the shop. Giles.

Buffy closed her eyes, all the nervousness and anxiety about what the morning would bring draining from her. She rolled over onto his pillow, slowly inhaling the scent of his hair. She ran her hand over the sheet where he had slept. And even though she thought she might cry, Buffy smiled.


Anya was counting the start up money in the register drawer, getting ready to start the day. Giles was standing behind her, double checking his inventory sheet. The front bell jingled as the door was opened. Anya looked up and smiled.

"Morning, Willow," said Anya.

"Giles, we need to talk!," barked Willow, quickly walking towards them.

"Um, of course. Just a moment," replied Giles absently, not looking up from his paper.

"In the back. Now!," finished Willow, walking past them without a glance. She now had his full attention.

"Um...yes dear," mumbled Giles.

"Giles, can you see me? Did one of Willow's spells go south again? Am I invisible?," asked Anya, staring at Willow's back.

Giles ignored her, tossed the sheet of paper onto the counter and followed Willow down the hall. Anya's eyes opened wide and she reached for her purse, fumbling through it until she found her compact and mirror. Opening it, she sighed with relief upon seeing her reflection.

"Wait. What if I can see myself but they can't see me?," winced Anya.

Giles entered the training room. Willow was already standing there facing him with her arms crossed and looking upset.

"Shut the door," commanded Willow. Giles hesitated, looked at Willow once, twice...and then shut the door.

"Do you know why I'm here?," asked Willow, very agitated.

"Um, well no, not..."

"I'll tell you why. It's about last night."

"Last night?," repeated Giles suspiciously.

"See, the thing is...how do I say this so that you'll understand?," sighed Willow.

"Perhaps expressing yourself...with words...perhaps," said Giles, forcing a smile.

"It's about Buffy," said Willow.

"Oh dear."

"She's been doing things she shouldn't be doing," continued Willow.

"Oh?," said Giles nervously.

"That she has never done before," added Willow.

"Yes, well..."

"I mean, she has, of course. Done them. But she's never taken it to this extreme," said Willow, putting her hands on her hips.

"Is it, is it really that far fetched?," asked Giles. He took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

"Giles, she's going to get hurt. Seriously hurt."

Giles put his glasses back on.

"Honestly, Willow, just because..."

"Giles, I was watching. I saw what happened."

"You...you were watching?," asked Giles, aghast.

"And Buffy knew it, too."

"She...Buffy knew it?," repeated Giles, his eyes opening just a little bit wider.

"Well, not at the time, of course. But when I confronted her about it she didn't deny it," said Willow, nodding her head once to show her conviction.

"Oh. That's...then it's for the best. To have it out in the open," said Giles.

"I think so. But what are we going to do about it?"

"You were watching?," said Giles, more to himself than Willow. He wasn't looking at her at the moment.

"Oh, I know! We'll tell her mom. Maybe that will bring her to her senses."

"Tell...Willow, is that really necessary?"

"Oh, no, you're right. So soon after the operation and all. Why upset her mom? Still, we have to do something! It's just not like Buffy to do this. It's like she's under a spell or something. What she's doing...it's just not natural!"

"Not...now hold on, Willow. I'm standing right here. Let's not talk about this in the third person," frowned Giles.

Willow stared at him.

"Giles, what are you talking about?"

"Um, well, I...what are you talking about?"

""Last night. Buffy. Stay with me here."

Willow began pacing around the room.

"She's taking chances that wouldn't have before. It must have something to do with Riley's leaving. I saw her throw her stake onto the ground, just daring this huge vampire to tackle her. Which he did, I might add. And then, even though she was injured, she chased at least three vampires down a sewer hole! Who knows how many more were down there? Giles, she got away. Barely. Buffy could hardly stand up, let alone walk."

Giles stared at Willow, expressionless. He finally raised one eyebrow and exhaled deeply.


"And...well, Buffy was real mean to me, too. Said some pretty harsh stuff. Maybe, I hope, she's just exhausted from all the stress in her life and her not getting much sleep. I mean, wow, where do we start? There's the lack of Riley and her mom's operation, Glory kicking her butt not once but twice...,"

It took Giles a moment to realize that Willow was crying.

"I'm sorry. I didn't get any sleep. Giles, she always tells me everything. At least, at least I thought she did," sniffed Willow, looking up at Giles. He reached out and held her to him, if only so he didn't have to look into the emptiness he saw in her eyes.

"Giles, what are we going to do?," sobbed Willow.

"Hey. Did I come at a bad time?," asked Buffy softly. They hadn't heard the door open behind them. Willow pulled away from Giles, wiping her eyes with her hands. She wouldn't look at Buffy.

"I, I should go. To class," said Willow, walking past Buffy.

"Willow!," said Buffy. She glanced up at Giles.

"Just...give me a minute with her, okay?," asked Buffy, already chasing after Willow.

Willow hadn't gone far. She was leaning against the wall, still wiping her eyes and looking down at her shoes.

"Huh, look at that. My socks don't match my sweater," sighed Willow. She tried to smile but still didn't look up.

Buffy reached out and held one of her hands in both of hers.

"Willow, I'm so sorry. I...I can't believe what I said to you last night. Please, forgive me. I just freaked. It's, it's everything, it's nothing...I lost it. I'm striking out at things in anger and my best friend got in the way. Please...I'm so sorry," whispered Buffy. This time Willow really did smile.

"I know," nodded Willow. "I know. I just want to help. I, I just want you to talk to me, Buffy. That's all," said Willow. Buffy hugged her and Willow closed her eyes.

"What's wrong?," asked Willow again.

"I don't know. But I do know that I feel better this morning," smiled Buffy.

"Well, that's a start. I...it's just...I mean..."

Willow swallowed hard, again not looking at Buffy. Buffy pushed Willow's hair back with one hand and smiled for her.

"Will, just say what's..."

"I'm scared. Scared that you're fed up with the whole Slayer gig and just want it to stop. You, you said it yourself. Every Slayer has a death wish. Buffy, you said it. Out loud," emphasized Willow.

Buffy exhaled slowly and nodded.

"Yeah, I did. But I don't want to die. I don't. Look, I really need to talk to Giles right now, but why don't we meet for lunch? Okay? Sound Good?," asked Buffy hopefully.

"Yeah. Sounds good. Maybe if you let me know what's going on in your life, get some things off your chest, you'll feel better. And I should go or I'll be late."

"Um, yeah. And Will, did I say I'm sorry?," asked Buffy in jest.

Willow nodded and hugged Buffy before she left. Buffy again exhaled slowly and rolled her eyes. She went back to face Giles. He smiled when she entered the room.

"Willow is very upset," said Giles.

"I got that," agreed Buffy.

They each waited for the other person to speak first. It was very quiet.

"Giles, about last night..."

"Yes, we should talk about it."

Again neither of them spoke.

"Uh, thank you for your note. That was sweet," smiled Buffy.

"You're welcome," answered Giles, shifting his weight from one foot to another.

Again the quiet of the room stood between them.

"This is silly," announced Buffy. She walked over to Giles and put a hand on his sleeve. "You don't have any regrets, do you?"

"No. No, I don't."

"How about reservations?," asked Buffy.

"For a restaurant? Oh. No, of course not. You meant...no, none whatsoever. Um...do you?"

"No. None," said Buffy with an enormous smile. "Thank you. I was so nervous."

"But...," began Giles.

"But?," repeated Buffy, lowering her hand without realizing it.

"Buffy, you had just finished an exhausting fight, you've been under a lot of stress, Willow told me that you two exchanged some harsh words...I, I didn't take of advantage of you, did I?," asked Giles sadly.

"No. No, you didn't. And I'm glad it happened. Giles, more than anyone else, you understand me. And...there's no doubt that this feels right to me. Besides, lonely looks as good on you as it does on me."

"Is, is that why it happened? Because of...I mean, it's so soon, and...what if Riley comes back? What if he walked through that door at this very moment?," asked Giles.

"Riley's gone. That was his choice," said Buffy, sounding more angry than she meant to. "Giles, did I ask too much of you? Are you looking for someone or, or something to blame this on?," asked Buffy nervously.

"No. No, not at all," reassured Giles, putting his hands on Buffy's shoulders. "I'm excited, I'm scared, I don't know what's going to happen next...but for the first time in a very long time, I'm happy," smiled Giles. Buffy smiled and wrapped her arms around his waist.

"Giles, I'm not going to think about this, weigh the pros and cons, or worry about what people are going to say. I'm not looking for someone to catch me when I fall. All I'm doing to reacting to what I feel, simply embracing raw emotion. Am I making any sense?," asked Buffy, tilting her head.

Giles noticed how her hair shifted slightly as she moved, at how intently she stared at him, remembered how her lips had felt on his. And he smiled.

"Perfect sense. Just one question," sighed Giles. Buffy reached up and ran a hand through his hair.

"And that would be?"

"What do we tell the others? Willow, Xander..."

Buffy placed a finger over his lips.

"Nothing. Not yet. Let's just enjoy our little secret for now and worry about that later," whispered Buffy. She stood up on her toes and kissed him. Giles slid her hands down her back and pulled her to him. Buffy responded by kissing him harder and he eagerly responded with a soft moan. Too soon they stopped, each breathing hard as they caught their breath. Giles pressed his forehead to hers and laughed, making Buffy grin. And then, at the same time, they both opened their eyes wide.

Willow was standing in the doorway, her lips parted slightly and her eyes open much wider than either Buffy or Giles. She didn't move, she didn't breathe, she didn't blink. When Willow did finally speak all she could manage at first was a high pitched squeak. Buffy and Giles slowly separated.

"I...I forgot my pocketbook," managed Willow in a flat monotone. She stiffly walked over, knelt down, grabbed her pocketbook and turned to go.

"Willow, wait!"

Willow ignored Buffy and left the room with quick short steps.

"Oh dear."

"Just...give me a minute with her, okay?," sighed Buffy as she followed Willow.


Halfway down the hall Willow froze and then slowly turned around.

"Buffy, you called my name?"

"Will, we have to...no, we need to talk."

"Talk? About what?," asked Willow innocently.

Buffy frowned but it was a friendly frown.

"Oh! You mean...about...that," said Willow, nodding back towards the training room.

"Yes, about that. Uh, see, it's not what you think."

"I knew it! I...uh, okay then, what exactly is it?," asked Willow.

"Um, well...actually it might be exactly what you think," said Buffy.

"I knew it!"

"Wait, you knew...oh, never mind. Will, this is all new. I mean real new, okay? And I really can't explain it, ya know? It, it kinda just happened."

Willow didn't answer and seemed to be not focusing on Buffy.

"Hello?," waved Buffy.

"Oh, sorry. Had George Michael's song Father Figure stuck in my head there for a moment," replied Willow, shaking her head. "Is this where we go over that whole no secret thingy, the tell me what's going on in Buffy's life because I'm her bestest friend..."

"I know. I know. I'm sorry. Of course I was going to tell you. I didn't have time! Did I tell you just how new this is?," asked Buffy.

"So there was something going on besides that massage! No strewing around my ass. Uh, not around my ass, of course, I meant your ass and actually didn't literally mean your ass...help me here," said Willow.

"Nothing happened that morning. That's the truth," smiled Buffy.

Willow only hesitated for a second or two.

"But, but you spent the night with him last night, didn't you?," asked Willow. Buffy only smiled.

"Oh. And wow," added Willow.

"I didn't think this would be so awkward," sighed Buffy.

"Buffy, it's Giles," frowned Willow.

"Yeah, so? Maybe the relationship is a little unconventional. Hey, where have I seen that before? Hmm, let me think...Xander and an ex-demon, Willow and Tara..."

"Gee, never saw that one coming," glared Willow as she rolled her eyes. They didn't say anything for a moment. Then Buffy looked down, exhaling so that her cheeks puffed out. The next thing she knew Willow was holding her.

"I'm sorry," whispered Willow. "Whatever makes you happy, you know I'm going to be there for you. I, I just got thrown, ya know?"

"I know. And thank you. I really want this to work...I really do," said Buffy, hugging her back. "And since this is going to hard enough as it is, can I ask you a favor?," asked Buffy, stepping away from Willow.

"Of course!"

"Let's keep this a secret, just for a little while? Please?," pleaded Buffy.

"Sure, but...can I at least tell Tara? You know how bad I am at keeping a secret. Not that I'm a bad liar. Alright, alright, I'm a terrible liar," said Willow, fear in her eyes.

"Okay, but no Xander. Not yet. I need to at least think up a few come backs for his sure to be there jokes," said Buffy. Willow grinned.

"What?," asked Buffy suspiciously.

"So...how is he as a kisser?," asked Willow, wide eyed and leaning in towards Buffy.


"I had a crush on him first, you know," pouted Willow.

"Finders keepers. Like I said, let's do lunch again, at the cafeteria. We'll talk. Alright?," asked Buffy.

Willow nodded and smiled again, shaking her head.

"Go on, I'm going to be late enough as it is and someone is waiting for you," said Willow.

"Thanks," said Buffy.

Buffy went back into the training room. This time she shut the door behind her. And locked it.


Tara walked over to Willow but she didn't even notice her. She just sat there, absently stabbing her untouched cottage cheese with a fork.

"Hey," said Tara, picking another raisin from the box in her left hand and popping it into her mouth. Willow looked up, startled.

"Hey. Sorry I didn't see you. I'm a little dazed," said Willow.

"I know. You didn't get much sleep last night, did you?," asked Tara.

"No. Did I keep you up? Much?," frowned Willow.

"Nah," replied Tara, taking the seat next to Willow. "So Buffy was a no show?"

"You noticed the lack of Buffy. And I wanted to talk to her, too," pouted Willow.

Tara sighed.

"Close your eyes," whispered Tara into Willow's ear. Willow looked at her out of the corner of her eye.

"Tara, this is a very public place," giggled Willow.

"Don't be silly. Just close your eyes," repeated Tara. Willow smiled and closed her eyes.

"Okay, open them."

Willow opened her eyes. And smiled. Tara had put several raisins onto her cottage cheese in the shape of a smiley face.

"You're something else, you know that?," smiled Willow, leaning her head onto Tara's shoulder.

"So, what's gotten into Buffy?," asked Tara.


Buffy lay on top of Giles with her eyes closed. She leaned forward and moved so that her skin barely brushed against his, letting the sensation of his chest against hers wash over her. One of his hands rested on the small of her back, the other sifted through her hair. Her motion brought her mouth closer to his and he leaned to her, kissing her softly on the lips.


"Mmm?," said Buffy, not opening her eyes.

"You did lock the door this time, didn't you?," asked Giles.

"Oh yeah."


Buffy walked out of the back just as Dawn entered the shop, a camera hanging from her neck. Anya saw Buffy walking towards her and quickly found some books to stack on the other side of the shop.

"Dawn, aren't you out of school early?," asked Buffy.

"Well, I sorta cut last period," admitted Dawn. Buffy glared at her.

"Hey, I'm just following in my big sister's footsteps," protested Dawn. "Why aren't you in class?"

"I don't have afternoon classes today," replied Buffy.

"And how many morning classes did you go to?," demanded Dawn.

"Well, I...Dawn, you're comparing apples and oranges. I'm the Slayer. When you get right down to it, what difference does a college degree make in my life? You have a future ahead of you. I don't."


Dawn was going to press the issue but knew from the look Buffy gave her that it would be useless. Buffy was in one of her moods.

"Fine! That's not why I stopped by anyway," said Dawn.

"Oh? What's up?," asked Buffy.

"You tell me. Buffy, I've been covering for you a lot lately. And I think mom's getting a little suspicious. There's only so many times I can tell her that you spent the night at Willow's, or mess up your bed so it looks like you've slept in it and then tell her that you just missed her, she went to train. I'm running out of excuses," sighed Dawn.

"You're right. And I'm sorry. I appreciate what you've been doing, I really do. There's been a lot of vamps out there lately and I got roughed up a little. I didn't want mom to worry, you know?"

Dawn nodded.

"But...Buffy, there's something else. Maybe I'm the only one who can see it because I'm your sister. I know you. And there's something going on, something that's more than just Riley leaving. What's wrong? You...you're acting...different somehow, you know?"

"Dawn, I'm fine. I promise. And thanks for worrying. It's...neat," smiled Buffy.

"Neat? Buffy, that's as bad as, as Giles saying dude!," winced Dawn.

"Hmm. Actually, I'd kinda like to hear him say that," laughed Buffy. Dawn raised her eyes upward and shook her head. Just then Giles walked out from the back room.

"Giles, let me take your picture! See, I got a new camera for Christmas and I haven't even tried it out yet," said Dawn, holding up the camera in one hand.

"Oh, um, sure. Why not?," agreed Giles.

Dawn raised the camera to her eye.

"Hey, you know what? I don't think you and I have ever had our picture taken together," said Buffy. Buffy stood next to him and slid her arm around his waist. Giles seemed uncomfortable for a moment but then hesitantly but his arm over her shoulder. Dawn lowered the camera and wrinkled her eyebrows at Buffy, then shrugged and again aimed the camera at them.

"Smile," yelled Dawn as she pressed the shutter. The flash went off and Giles quickly lowered his hand from Buffy's shoulder.

"I'd like a couple of copies of that one," said Buffy.

"Sure," said Dawn. "And I should go check on mom. I have about ten minutes to get home at my usual time," announced Dawn.

Giles gave her a confused look.

"Oh, never mind. Mom likes getting back into routine, having things the way the should be," explained Dawn. "You coming home for dinner, Buffy?"

"Um, sure. I'll be there," said Buffy.

"Okay. Bye," said Dawn.

"Bye," answered Buffy.

"Bye Dawn. Buffy, I need to check some inventory for a bit," said Giles.

Buffy smiled and nodded. She watched Dawn leave and noticed Anya look away when she glanced at her. Buffy frowned and walked over to her.


"Oh, hey Buffy. You looking for something? A book, perhaps?" asked Anya nervously.

Buffy just stared at her.

"Or not," said Anya.

"Is that a new bracelet you're wearing?," asked Buffy.

"Oh. Yes, Xander bought it. He's so sweet."

"So, how's this whole human thing working out for you?," asked Buffy, placing her hands on her hips.

"Huh? What do you mean?," asked Anya, confused.

"You ever wish you had your powers back?," asked Buffy, an edge to her voice.

"No. No, not at all! Buffy, I'm happy now and Xander is just so...wonderful," smiled Anya. "I don't deserve him."

"No, you don't."

"Buffy, that's..."

"Ever get a present from one of your Vengeance victims before you did him in? You know, maybe you flirted with him a little, led him on, let him think he could impress you...did you sleep with them before you killed them?," snapped Buffy.

"Buffy! What...why are you...Buffy, I love Xander. I would never hurt him!," said Anya, tears welling up in her eyes.

"Yeah, you're just one big Epicurean delight," smiled Buffy.

Anya stared at Buffy and bit her lower lip.

"Big word. Look it up. And remember, I'm on to you," said Buffy, getting in Anya's face even as Anya took a step back. "I'll be watching you. That's the only warning you'll get," snarled Buffy. She turned and walked over to the counter where the cash register was. Anya found a chair and lowered herself into it, just then realizing she had been holding her breath.

Buffy picked up a pencil and began to absently doodle on a piece of paper as she stared out the window. Xander walked into the shop and immediately picked up on how upset Anya was. He knelt down beside her and they talked. Once or twice he glanced back in Buffy's direction but she didn't seem to notice. Xander kissed Anya on the forehead, stood and approached Buffy.

"Hey," said Xander.

Buffy didn't respond. She kept staring out the window as if she hadn't seen Xander. He noticed that she was nervously tapping her right foot on the floor very fast. Xander saw that she kept drawing the same pattern over and over on the paper. It looked like the letter 'S' with a line through it, almost like the money symbol but with only one line.


"Xander," responded Buffy, finally looking at him.

"Is there something you want to tell me?," asked Xander sternly.

"Yes, in fact there is. You have strange taste in women, did you know that?"

Xander gave Buffy a blank look.

"Yeah. I liked you once," snapped Xander.

"Hello? She's an ex-demon! Or did you forget that?," laughed Buffy.

"So what? So was Angel!"

"But he didn't have a choice in the matter, did he? Did he!?," yelled Buffy. "Anya wanted to be what she became!"

Xander was getting very upset and quickly losing any desire to argue.

"Is that any different than you?," snarled Xander.

"What's that supposed to mean?," demanded Buffy.

"You were once human and now you're a Slayer. At least she's human now," said Xander flatly.

Buffy stopped tapping her foot and the pencil in her hand snapped in half. She glared at Xander and then stormed out of the shop, slamming the door behind her. Anya walked over to Xander with her arms wrapped around herself as if she were cold. Xander picked up the paper Buffy had been drawing on. The same pattern was repeated over and over, covering most of the paper.

"She's got money on her mind?," asked Anya.

"No. I don't know what it is, but maybe Giles does. Or Willow. Bottom line? Something ain't right here," sighed Xander.



The vampires had been getting harder to find. Word of the Slayer's recent rampage was getting around. But the undead still needed to feed. So when Buffy did find them it was usually in groups of five or six. Instinct drove them to seek safety in numbers. Just as instinct drove Buffy to hunt them.

Buffy staggered onto the flat rooftop and pushed the door closed by leaning her back against it. The lock clicked into place. That only meant that the door was locked behind her, giving her one less means of escape. She slid down into a sitting position, her breath coming in short, quick gasps. Her clothes were soaked through with sweat, her jacket torn and ripped in several places.

Blood ran down her cheek from a gash above her left eye but she wasn't worried about such a small cut. Slowly, painfully, she pulled herself free of the now useless jacket, tossing it aside. Buffy shivered in the cool night air and collapsed onto her side, resting her head against her arm. Her face was just inches from a dirty brown puddle of water. She reached out with her free hand and splashed some water onto her face, resisting the urge to drink even as thirsty as she was. Her hand trembled with the effort.

There had been only one of them left and she had managed to injure him so she hoped the vampire wouldn't follow her up onto the roof. Still, she knew she couldn't stay here. Her muscles were beginning to tighten and cramp up as she rested. Buffy forced herself onto her hands and knees. And that's when she heard the door open behind her.

Buffy rolled on her shoulder into the puddle to get some distance between her and the door and jumped up, turning around in one smooth motion. She smiled without realizing it, a defense triggered by knowing she could never show fear or fatigue to her opponent. Her hands came up in front of her and she kept smiling even as she realized that she had made a mistake. There were two of them, not one. The vampire that she hadn't seen before came right at her while his wounded companion made to circle around behind her.

His first punch she blocked easily but her counter punch was slow and he ducked under it. Buffy backpedaled even as the vamp landed a blow to her stomach. Off balance now, the vamp was able to drive his elbow into her forehead. She kicked down onto the side of his shin but with little effect. Buffy was just too tired and her reflexes were slowing. And then she felt the other vampire's arms lock around her chest from behind. The Slayer decided to do the unexpected. Scrunching her neck down to avoid his fangs, Buffy dug her heels in and pushed backwards.

With Buffy still firmly held in his grip, they fell over the side of the building. Three stories down they crashed onto the pavement, luckily for Buffy with the vampire under her. She cried out in pain and rolled off of him but couldn't breathe. The wind had been knocked out of her and even though she opened her eyes she couldn't see. Buffy was passing out. The last thing she heard was the growl of the vampire next to her and the thud of the other one as it jumped to the ground behind her.

The vamp smiled, drooling at the exposed neck of the Slayer. He knelt down. And exploded into ash.

Spike stood up, stake in hand and face in menacing vamp form.

"Well, what of it? You want a piece of me?," he growled.

The other vamp hesitated. He was just a fledgling and was confused by the sight of another vampire defending a Slayer.

"There's enough for both of us!," yelled the young vampire.

Spike took a step towards him and the vamp turned and ran. Spike shook his head and slipped the stake back into his duster. He knelt down beside Buffy and gently brushed the hair from her eyes, smiling ever so slightly.

Buffy's hand shot up and gripped him by the throat. Spike's eyes grew wide and even though he gripped her wrist with both hands he couldn't break her hold. Buffy's eyes flew open but she didn't seem to recognize him.

"Buffy...it's...me!," gasped Spike.

Buffy slowly released her grip and Spike sat back onto his butt. His face changed into his human visage.

"Is that how you say thank you!?," yelled Spike, rubbing his throat.

Buffy leaned up onto her elbows, wincing.

"Hey, it's not like you couldn't breathe," complained Buffy. She sat up, holding her head in her hands. "Oh, this is going to hurt tomorrow," she sighed.

Spike stood up and stared down at her, not saying anything. Buffy looked up at him and sighed again.

"I'm sorry. Thank you, Spike. I'm not sure why, but I probably owe you my life."

"Probably? Pfft! You most certainly do!," whined Spike even as he held out his hand to her. Buffy rolled her eyes and grabbed his hand, letting him pull her to her feet. She was unsteady for a moment and he held her arm as she regained her balance.

"Thanks," said Buffy, awkwardly, not looking at him.

"You going to be okay?," asked Spike.

"Sure. No big. I've taken worse," shrugged Buffy, rubbing her shoulder.

"Bloody hell, Slayer, I don't mean...what's with the medieval of late? You fancy that death wish I told you about? I was just takin' the piss, you know? You...you don't have to die," said Spike, suddenly seeming uncomfortable with the subject.

Buffy tilted her head slightly. And smiled.

"Spike. Since when did you become my knight in shining armor?," grinned Buffy.

"What? Oh, spare me. I told you, when your time comes, I'll be there. Have myself a real good day. Be damned if some two week old newbie gets there first just because you're all broke up over missing soldier boy and you're getting sloppy," complained Spike, although he didn't look Buffy in the eye when he said it. "Yes sir, this chip comes out and it's you and me, blondie," he added confidently.

Buffy stood in front of Spike, a leg to either side of his. She placed a finger under his chin a lifted his face to hers. He could feel her breath on his lips.

"Spike, you're already damned. Still, that doesn't mean I can't thank you properly," pouted Buffy, a half smile teasingly on her lips. She leaned closer and brushed her lips across his. Spike closed his eyes and slipped his hands around her waist. Buffy closed her eyes and put one hand behind his head, pulling him down to her. She stood up on her toes and greedily kissed him. Buffy placed her other hand on his back under his open duster and slowly eased it down until it tugged at the waist on his pants.

A deep moan escaped from Spike. He kissed Buffy harder and pulled her to him. She turned her head, breaking the kiss with a giggle.

"What...what could possibly be funny right now?," asked Spike.

Buffy nibbled on his neck and then whispered into his ear.

"Oh, Spike. My poor, poor Spike. Don't you understand? Nothing has changed...nothing," repeated Buffy softly, running her tongue across his neck. She pulled away and smiled at him.

"You're still beneath me. And as much as you want me to be beneath you, well...it just ain't going to happen."

Buffy's smile increased into a grin. She broke out in laughter as she turned her back to him and walked away, shaking her head. Spike stood there, numb. He swallowed once and stared at the ground at his feet.

Across the street, staying to the shadows of the building he now leaned against, stood Xander, his mouth open in shock. He couldn't hear what had been said but he had seen enough to know that he had been right to follow Buffy. And he was now even more worried about her than before.


Buffy let herself in with her key. She shut the door without a sound and squeezed the key in the palm of her hand, marveling at the feel of it. Such a simple gesture and yet so profound. Buffy wondered if Giles realized what his giving of this key to her had meant, how important it seemed to her. As soon as he had handed it to her it was as if an unspoken barrier had been removed between them. Just as any hesitation, any doubt of being able to reach out and touch him had melted away. Buffy slipped the key into her pants pocket and smiled.

It was dark downstairs. Buffy cautiously made her way to the stairs and slowly crept up them. When she reached the top landing she noticed that his bedroom door was open. Leaning in she saw that he was in bed with his back to her. A single candle was lit on the dresser behind him. Buffy could tell by his shallow breathing that Giles was only pretending to be asleep. She looked at his reflection in the mirror on the other side of the room. As if to confirm her suspicions, one of his eyes seemed to be half open.

A mischievous smile slowly spread across Buffy's face. She kicked off her shoes and stepped into the room.

First she unbuttoned one sleeve of her blouse, then the other. Very slowly, resisting the urge to glance at the mirror, she began to unbutton the buttons down the front of the blouse. She let the blouse slip off her shoulders onto the floor. Buffy took another step closer to the bed, hoping the floorboards wouldn't creak.

As Buffy reached behind her back she tilted her head up and shook her hair, letting it fall over her shoulders. She only hesitated for a moment, sneaking a glance at the mirror on the other side of the bed. She fought the urge to smile as she unclasped her bra and let it fall to the floor, knowing that both of his eyes were intently watching her now. Buffy slowly turned her back to Giles, giving him a quick profile view, then leaned forward and stepped out of her pants, only leaving her panties and socks on.

Buffy knelt down beside the bed and eased her left hand under the covers, wrapping her arm around his waist. The heat from his naked body warmed her and invited her in. She knew he was fully awake now. Leaning forward, Buffy first softly kissed his ear, then slowly worked down his neck. Suddenly Giles responded, rolling towards her and pressing his lips to hers. Buffy moved under the covers next to him, never once breaking the contact of their kiss.

Giles started to kiss her harder, forcing her mouth open. Buffy answered by rolling him onto his back, straddling him with a leg to either side of his chest. She grabbed his wrists and thrust his arms onto the pillow above his head, firmly breaking off the kiss. They both caught their breath, her breasts tempting close to his face. Giles struggled a little and she squeezed down harder against his flesh. He tried to spread her arms apart to pull her to him but Buffy's grip became even tighter. Giles winced.

Whatever game Buffy was playing, Giles was no longer interested.


It was as if she didn't hear him. And then he noticed her eyes. They were unfocused, distant. He relaxed his arms but Buffy didn't ease up on her grip. She smiled but still didn't make eye contact with him.

"Buffy," repeated Giles, a little louder this time.

Buffy ignored him and pressed her knees firmly against either side of his chest. Ever so slowly she increased the pressure on his ribs, bearing down with the weight of her body. Giles tried again to pull his hands free but it was useless against her strength. Buffy's hair brushed across his face as he clenched his teeth from the pain.

"Buffy...please! You're hurting me," gasped Giles, his voice a whisper. "I can't breathe!"

Giles wasn't sure if she had heard him. And then, just slightly, Buffy eased the pressure against his ribs. Giles inhaled sharply. Buffy shook her head as if she had just woken up and wasn't sure where she was. He stared at her, tears in his eyes. That far away look was gone, replaced now by one of confusion and fear. She pulled her hands away from Giles, recoiling in disgust at what she had done.

"Giles! Oh my God!," screamed Buffy. "Giles, did I...are you..."

Buffy brought her hands up to her mouth and began to cry. Giles reached for her but she pushed the covers away and jumped from the bed. She turned her back to him but didn't move. Buffy just stood there, hands covering her face, sobbing. Giles sat up, rubbing his wrists, unsure of what to say or do. So he simply stood behind her and gently placed his hands on her shoulders.

Buffy immediately turned to him and buried her face into his chest. Giles embraced her with his arms.

"I'm so sorry...Giles, I'm so sorry. It wasn't me! I don't know what happened, I don't! Giles, I'm so sorry," cried Buffy, her body wracked with sobs as she tried to breathe.

"Shh...Buffy, it's okay...it's okay. I think...maybe you're just exhausted. I'm alright. Really," said Giles, placing a hand under her chin to make her look at him. So many emotions clouded her eyes that he wasn't sure what to say next. It was her tears that haunted him.

"Giles, I would never hurt you. Never. I'm so sorry," said Buffy, her lower lip quivering. Giles brought his hand up and gently cupped Buffy's cheek.

"I know...," began Giles.

Buffy jerked her head away and grabbed his wrist, staring at it. His skin was already turning ugly shades of yellow and purple. Buffy closed her eyes and winced, shaking her head. She tried not to cry but couldn't help herself. Once again Giles pulled her softly to him and held her tightly.

"Buffy, morning is a long way off yet," he whispered. "Come back to bed and hold me. I won't let you go. I promise."

Buffy nodded but didn't look up at him. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Giles understood her gesture and, with one arm under her knees, lifted her and lay down on the bed with her. Buffy never once let go of him. He pulled the covers over them, gritting his teeth against the sharp pain in his ribs and glad that Buffy couldn't see his face just then. For besides the pain he felt, Giles wasn't sure if he could hide the fear that was suddenly enveloping him.

They didn't speak. And eventually, as much as he fought against it, Giles drifted off to sleep. Buffy sniffed once or twice and swallowed hard, comforted by the slow, rhythmic breathing of the man she held in her arms. Her eyes wide open, she stared unblinking at the far wall.


Spike was lying on his back, hands behind his head, just staring at the ceiling of his crypt. The aroma of her vanilla scent reached him even before he saw her standing in the doorway. He sighed and refused to look at her.

"So you came back. What, didn't have enough fun teasing old Spike before? Care to have another go at it so you get your jollies off?," asked Spike sarcastically.

"My jollies don't come off," replied Buffy, not moving from the doorway. "I...I don't know why I came back," she added softly, looking down at the ground.

Spike sat up and eyed her suspiciously.

"Aren't you going to invite me in?," asked Buffy, swallowing as if she were shy about asking.

"Like you need an invite," snapped Spike.

Buffy inhaled slowly.

"I...I'm sorry. I shouldn't be here," said Buffy, turning to go.

"No, wait!," yelled Spike, jumping to his feet.

Buffy stopped but didn't turn around.

"Buffy, there's something bothering you. Won't you come in?," asked Spike politely.

Buffy nodded and came into the crypt. She walked right up to Spike, less than an arm's length away. And she smiled.

"So, why did you come back?," asked Spike, knitting his eyebrows together.

"I don't know. I can't seem to put my finger on it. But I'd like to," added Buffy with another smile. She closed the distance to him and put her hands in his back pockets. Spike simply stood there with his mouth slightly open.

"You've been awfully nice to me lately, Spike, and don't think that I haven't noticed. I just couldn't acknowledge it. Not in front of the others," whispered Buffy, her lips almost touching his. Spike slowly closed his eyes.

"What's wrong, Spikey? Cat got your tongue? Any chance I might get it?," asked Buffy, kissing him hard on the lips. Spike nervously put his hands around her waist and responded to her kiss. Buffy seemed to want him even more. A moan of desire rose from her throat. Spike broke away by turning his head.

"Why...why are you doing this?," asked Spike.

"I told you. I don't know. More importantly, I don't care," grinned Buffy.

"Buffy, don't do this to me. Not unless you're willing to go through with it."

Buffy slid her hands from his pockets and took a step back. She tilted her head to one side and smiled seductively. Her right hand moved to the top of her blouse and she unbuttoned her top two buttons. Spike's eyes opened wide.

"Oh, that's not what we want, is it?," asked Buffy.

Spike nodded his head before he realized he was doing so.

"No, I can think of something even better," laughed Buffy. She threw her hair back over one shoulder and exposed her neck to him.

"Buffy, what..."

"Remember your first Slayer, Spike? How she tasted? I remember Angel...his mouth on my neck...his total surrender to his hunger, to his need. Come to me, Spike. I know you want to," added Buffy, licking her lips.

"Buffy, you know I can't bite you, there being this chip in my brain. Or did you forget?," sighed Spike. "That's what this is all about, isn't it? Tease poor old Spike. Poor...salivating...harmless Spike."

"You're wrong. The chip doesn't let you hurt me. But what if I want it? That mean old chip wouldn't kick in then, would it? And what's a little pain when there's so much pleasure?"

Buffy unbuttoned another button on her blouse, revealing bare skin down to her navel. Spike bit his lower lip. She took a step towards him and whispered into his ear. His eyes focused on her neck.

"What if I begged you for it, Spike? How could that chip hurt you then?"

Spike grabbed her by the shoulders and looked her in the eye.

"Why? Why now?," demanded Spike.

"Said it yourself, Spike. I've got a death wish. 'Cept this is more like cheating death. You won't take it all. I know you won't. Because you'll want me again. And because I'd kill you. We both need just enough to catch the rush."

Buffy took his hand and placed it above her left breast. Holding his fingers tightly she cut her skin with a fingernail, drawing blood. She pulled his finger into her mouth and sucked on it, licking the blood from it with a smile. Spike caught the scent of her blood and his face morphed into vampire mode.

"There's no more need for words," whispered Buffy.

Buffy grabbed his hands and placed them around her waist. Once again she tilted her head to him, staring at him as she did. She was no longer smiling and Spike sensed her fear. Before she could change her mind his mouth was on her neck. At first he kissed her and Buffy reacted to the sensation by closing her eyes. Ever so gently his fangs pierced her skin, the first drops of hot blood electrifying his tongue. Buffy winced and Spike moaned. She pulled his body against her as his teeth sunk in deeper...

Buffy's eyes flew open and she brought her hand to her throat. There was no mark, no blood...no Spike. Giles lay next to her in deep sleep, his back to her. Buffy was cold and she pulled the covers over her up to her neck. It didn't matter anymore that she was the Slayer. Buffy was afraid. And she didn't know why.

Buffy rolled onto her side and slipped her arm around Giles' waist, pressing her body against his. He only stirred for a moment but didn't wake up. She held him like that, listening to him breathe, until the sun rose hours later.


Anya was leaning forward with her elbows on the counter, reading a book. Willow entered the shop and held the door open as a girl left.

"Thank you," said the girl.

Willow smiled and nodded, letting the door shut behind her.

"Hey, Anya. Slow day, huh?"

"Too slow," agreed Anya. "No customers means no sales which means no money. That's not a good. Willow, do your bosoms heave?"

"Um...alas, no. Definite lack of heave in that department," sighed Willow, looking down at her chest. "And, uh, why do you ask?"

Ana held up the paperback she was holding. On the cover a very muscular pirate was holding a long haired blonde woman in his arms. Her low cut dress divulged her ample bustline and her head was thrown back, her eyes closed, her mouth slightly open.

"You and Tara are always quoting things from books. I thought I would try to brush up on my literature. You know, so I wouldn't feel so out of the loop," shrugged Anya.

Willow stifled a laugh.

"Speaking of heaving...Anya, that's not literature. That's a romance novel," corrected Willow. "If you'd like I can recommend some books to you."

"Oh, that's okay. This book is giving me some new ideas. You know, for when Xander and I..."

"I get the picture," interrupted Willow.

"You think there might be other books like this one?," asked Anya.

"I'm sure of it," reassured Willow.

"Uh, Willow? Can you do me a favor?"

"Sure. What's up?"

"Don't tell Xander I was reading this. He likes to think I'm creative when it comes to sex. Calls me imaginative. Wouldn't want to disillusion the boy, now would we?," asked Anya with a smile.

"Your secret is safe with me. Although...," began Willow, thinking she might tease Anya just a bit.

"Hey. You keep my secret and I won't tell Tara yours," said Anya.

"Tell Tara...what secret? What are you talking about? I don't have any secrets. Well, at least none she knows about," pouted Willow.

"I saw you checking out that girl when you came into the store," replied Anya, again reading from her book.

"I...what!? I was not checking her out!," protested Willow.

"Willow, it's okay to look. What, you think I don't notice other males? It's harmless fun."

"But, but...I wasn't looking!," said Willow. "I'm not that kinda girl. Well, okay, I am that kind of girl but I'm not that kinda girl, you know?"

"She was cute," admitted Anya.

"Yeah, but she really needed to do something with her hair," added Willow.

"Ah-ha! See, I knew you were checking her out," smiled Anya.

Willow sighed.

"Your secret's safe with me," agreed Willow in defeat. Anya smiled.

"Blackmail. Works most every time. Willow, can you watch the register for a minute? I need to go to the bathroom."


"I bet you flirt, too, you big tease," winked Anya as she left.

"Anya!," snapped Willow. She closed her eyes and shook her head.

Willow waited until Anya had left before she picked up the book. She read a few lines and smiled. And then she opened her eyes in surprise. She nervously glanced around the shop and then went back to reading. The front door opened and she quickly tossed the book aside. Tara entered the shop, carrying a small cardboard box.


"And hey back at ya. Whatcha got in the box?," asked Willow.

Anya came back and joined them.

"Hi Tara."

"Hi," answered Tara.

"Well, I was thinking that Giles might be able to get more people into the store if there were some other things to draw them in. You know, like tea and snacks, or some artsy crafty stuff."

"Oh, so these are those gourds you were painting?," asked Willow.

"Yep. I made them into salt and pepper shakers. See?," asked Tara, holding one up. It was just a little larger than her hand.

"Hmm. It's, uh...well, kinda phallic, isn't it?," asked Anya.

Willow and Tara glanced at her and then looked at the gourd.

"And I don't just mean penis shaped. I mean the whole kit and caboodle," said Anya.

Tara held it up and tilted her head.

"See, there's the caboodle," pointed Anya.

Tara raised her eyebrows and tossed the gourd back into the box.

"Maybe we should try the tea and snacks first," said Tara. Willow nodded in agreement.

"It was a good idea," said Willow, putting her hand on Tara's arm. Tara smiled and blushed as she peered into the box.

The front door opened and Xander walked in. Willow took the box and hid it under the counter.

"Morning, all," said Xander.

"Hey, Xander," greeted Willow.

"Morning," repeated Tara.

Xander leaned over the counter and kissed Anya.

"Well, I think I know why our Buffy has been acting so strange of late," announced Xander.

"Oh?," said Willow.

"Xander followed her last night," said Anya.

"Oh," said Willow apprehensively.

"Still doesn't excuse the way she talked to me," pouted Anya.

Willow ignored Anya for the moment.

"And?," asked Willlow.

"Seems the Buffster has a new love interest," said Xander.

"Oh. I mean, oh?," said Willow.

"Yep. Saw her kissing him. Rather passionately, too, I might add. And by the look in his eye I'd say she was giving as good as she was getting."

"So much for being discreet," sighed Willow.

"Huh?," said Xander.

"I saw them too, Xander. Buffy asked me not to say anything yet. Sorry," shrugged Willow.

"She asked...so this has been going on for how long?," asked Xander.

"Only a couple of days, I think. She said it was new. Real new."

"But how could she? It's, it's...just wrong!," said Xander.

"Well, it will take some getting used to," admitted Willow.

"Getting used to? Even ignoring the age difference, he's just not right for her!"

"I don't know. Opposites attract, you know," said Willow.

"Opposites? We're talking oil and vinegar here. You don't approve of this, do you?," asked Xander.

"Xander, we can't help who we fall in love with. You can't explain these things."

"Falling in love? Are you serious? I was hoping it was just physical, a distraction to amuse her because Riley left...and excuse me while I try to whitewash my mind of that visual. Ew!," grimaced Xander.

"Xander! Buffy could do worse," said Tara.

"Worse? How? Even bad breath is better than no breath. I mean, he's so...cold, to put it in polite terms," said Xander.

"Cold? Xander, he's English, that's all. It's just...his way," shrugged Willow.

"Willow, Giles is English and he isn't cold. Least not to the touch. Not that I touch him. No touching involved. It was just an expression," smiled Xander.

"Wait, you just said he was cold," said Tara, confused.

"And then you said he wasn't cold," added Willow.

"Well, I meant room temperature cold, which of course is colder than...wait, I didn't say Giles was cold. I said Spike was cold," said Xander.

"Oh. Spike. Spike! You saw Spike kissing Buffy!?," yelled Willow.

"Um, yeah. Who did you...wait, you saw Giles kissing Buffy!?," yelled Xander.

"EW!," said all four of them at once.

"Willow, what they hell are you talking about?," asked Xander.


Willow simply shrugged.

"Her and Giles? Ha. Good for him!," smiled Anya.

"What? No, that's...well, not worse, but...Willow, help me out here. Buffy and Giles...they're a couple now?," asked Xander.

Willow smiled and nodded.

"And we have to be supportive of her. She's going through a rough time right now and she needs us. It will take a little getting used to but there's nothing wrong with it," said Willow.

"Right. I mean, it doesn't matter that when he's seventy five Buffy will be fifty because that will never happen. She'll be dead long before that," said Anya.

Everyone stared at Anya but didn't say anything.

"What? She's a Slayer. They just don't live that long so if this is what Buffy needs to be happy then we should be happy for her," said Anya defensively.

"There's that," agreed Tara.

"The idea will grow on you, Xander. Give it time," said Willow.

"Oh, right. Like the idea that Faith was an all talk, no action virgin and I was her first," laughed Xander.

"Ya think?," smiled Willow.

"Xander, you had sex with Faith?," asked Anya.

"Um, honey, that was a long time ago. Before I met you..."

"You have this thing for Slayers, don't you?," accused Anya.

"What? No. Of course not!," protested Xander.

"Sure you do. You had this thing for Buffy. And, and I bet you put the moves on that Kendra girl, didn't you?," asked Anya, getting upset.

"Kendra! No way. She cringed at my touch," said Xander, trying to reassure Anya.

"You touched her?," asked Anya, wide eyed.

"Not in the biblical sense!," complained Xander.

"Right. Like any girl could resist your charms," said Anya, turning her back on Xander and walking away. Willow rolled her eyes and tried not to laugh.

"Anya, wait! That thing with Faith...it was just a one night stand, a fall from grace!," said Xander, walking after Anya.

"Grace? Who's Grace? You never mentioned her either!"

They went into the back room and Willow distinctly heard Xander slapping his forehead.

"Wow, I'm sure glad I didn't mention the time Cordy and Oz caught me and Xander together in the basement of the factory," giggled Willow.

Tara raised her eyebrows.

"You know, this whole Scooby gang is a lot closer than I suspected. Is there some kind of initiation ritual you haven't told me about yet?," asked Tara.

"What? No, of course not!," replied Willow.

"Good. 'Cause if there is, I don't want to know," said Tara as she turned and began to walk away from Willow towards the shelves of books on the other side of the shop.

"Tara, it wasn't like that! We didn't...Tara, wait!"

The front door bells jingled as a customer entered the shop. Mr. O'Flynn thought it odd that no one seemed to be here at the moment. He decided to wait for Mr. Giles and began to look around the shop.