Siren Voices Floating Round Thee by Djinn

The glare of sunshine on the beach nearly blinded Buffy as she walked, sunglasses in her hands rather than on her eyes. She knew that her eyes were bloodshot and puffy. A combination of crying and drinking were to blame for that. More drinking, actually, than crying. Well, and not caring about how she might look in the morning--she should have used tea bags. Tea bags and Preparation-H to shrink the swelling. Only...not together, Cordelia used to tell her that. First the tea, then the ointment. Cordelia--who was dead. Poor, dead Cordelia.

Buffy kicked at the sand as she walked, little rocks coming up with the fine grains. The beaches here weren't like the California ones. The water here was calmer, warmer. You could swim here and never get cold. Never had to come flying out of the water, into waiting arms that held out a towel that was pink but turned white in the moonlight. Strong arms that held you, the terry cloth between you. Strong arms of a strong man who was dead now, too. Angel was dead, had been dead for some time, but not as long as Cordy.

Buffy had mourned Angel. She'd wept and wept and then finally she'd stopped crying one day and had picked up the pieces of her life and moved on. But during the time of endless crying, the Immortal had grown weary of her grief. Not that she'd cared. She'd cried as long and as hard as she'd had to.

"Cara. Cara, come out," the Immortal had said one night, pounding on the heavy wood of her apartment door.

She'd gone to it, leaning up against it, her hand on the knob but unable to open it to him. This was her time to mourn. Her time to grieve.

"Go away," she'd whispered and heard the words echoed by a deeper voice.

"You don't tell me what to do," her lover had said.

And she'd heard the tones of Ripper. Heard the Giles that only came out when things became very, very dark. "I do today. Leave her alone. Let her be."

The Immortal must have seen something that scared him. It was hard to imagine. Something that scared the Immortal--something that had been Giles.


Sighing, she turned, saw her watcher stomping after her, wearing the wrong kind of shoes for walking in the sand. He had a determined look on his face.

"Giles, I'm in Sorrento. Crying over lost love. You are supposed to be in Rome taking care of the slayers."

Rome--where the Immortal was. He'd never told her his real name. He'd let her call him any number of sweet nothings, but he'd never trusted her with his name.

She should have known they were headed for splitsville, right then.

Turning away from her watcher, she put on some speed, calling over her shoulder. "Go back to the Eternal City."

But she could tell he was still following her, so she slowed, letting him catch up with her.

"You look ridiculous, Giles." He was in tweed, too much of it for how warm it was. And he wore dark, sensible shoes that were probably filled with sand.

"I just came from a meeting with Ernest."

Ernest. The successor to Quentin. The new head of the newly reconstituted Watcher's Council. A man who liked Giles and her even less than Quentin had.

"Lucky you. How is Mister Stuffy?"

"Stuffier than usual. But don't change the subject."

"Did we have a subject?" She tried to give him the smile of Sunnydale Buffy. Of a Buffy from that time when high school was a place that hadn't blown up yet. A place that she and Giles hadn't blown up yet. She failed with the smile, could tell from his expression that she wasn't fooling him.

"Buffy, Willow told me what happened with the Immortal."

"Yeah. He broke up with me. Told me my heart was already given, and he wasn't going to wait around. What? Like he was getting any older?"

Giles laughed softly.

"I can't help that I still love Angel. I can't help that I mourned longer than my new guy liked." She looked up at Giles. "Why do they always want to own all of me, Giles? Why can't they take what I can give?"

"I don't know. Perhaps, it's that they feel they'll never come first?"

"I guess. But they would, if they'd stop picking at my feelings and what they mean and how strong they are." She sighed, kicking a little at the sand again. "Is it me? Is there something wrong with me?"

Giles gave her a sympathetic glance. "You love fiercely. And part of you will always love, long after you've moved on. And there's nothing wrong with that. You have a big heart, Buffy. And despite the real estate Angel--and maybe even Spike--owned, there is still plenty to go around."

She laughed, the sound mostly a soft exhalation. "Where were you when I was explaining this to Mister 'I've Lived Forever but I'm Still a Dumb Twit'?"

"Sadly away." He took a deep breath, gazing out at the sea.

"Sadly? You never liked him."

He walked next to her in silence.

"Never, ever liked him," she said, prodding him a little with her elbow until she saw him smile.

"No, I never did."

Wrapping her arms around herself, she moved closer, letting some measure of Giles' presence warm her. He walked awkwardly, stumbling a little in the sand.

"Giles, at least take your shoes off." Sitting, she pulled him down with her, watching as he unlaced his shoes, pulling them off. "Let me," she said, taking one of his shoes from him and dumping the sand out. "It's illegal to make off with antiquities. And this sand is very old, you know."

"Like me." He grinned at her, and she realized his smile was a bit sad. Had it always been? Had she just never noticed?

"You're not so old," she said.

"Perhaps because you're older."

"Oh, yeah. And so much more mature. Witness me crying over a man who liked to play name games. What did I think I was going to be? Signora Immortale?"

He laughed.

She took the other shoe he offered, dumping the sand with great ceremony. "I return thee to Italia."

He smiled, gazing again to the sea. "Do you like it here, Buffy?"

"You mean Sorrento?"


"I do. It reminds me of Sunnydale, somehow."

He shot her a look.

"Okay, 'reminds' may be a little strong. But compared to Rome, it's quieter. Older." She shot him a glance. "It's not on a hellmouth is it?"

Laughing, he said, "No."

"Good." She nodded at his feet. "Socks, too, Englishman."

He pulled his socks off, shoving them inside his shoes. Then he buried his toes in the sand, smiling as he closed his eyes. "Have you ever noticed how cool it is underneath?"

She buried her feet, too. It had been a long time since she'd just sat like this. "Feels good."

"You've been crying."

"Yes, because that's what you do when you break up with someone." She glanced at him, immediately sorry she'd said it that way. It had been awhile since Giles had been in a position to break up with anyone.

"Don't look at me with such pity, Buffy."

"You used to date people."

"Yes, and they used to die or become terrified of my life and run off. This is easier."

"What is? Taking care of us?"

He nodded, not meeting her eyes.

"Aren't you lonely?"

"I have you. I have my duty."

"Duty doesn't keep you warm at night. I know this." She got up, pulling him with her. "There's a cafe I like. Just up ahead."

He nodded, following her.

"Do you swim, Giles?"

"I know how."

She laughed, trying to remember if she'd ever seen him in the water. "But I've never seen you swim."

"Buffy, there are many things you've never seen me do. And that's probably for the best."

"Maybe." She waved to the owner of the cafe as she led Giles to a table that was just off the beach.

"Signorina. Cara mia." The host kissed her hand, making much of her. He was as warm and open as Sorrento. She loved it here.

"Carlo, this is Giles. I mean Rupert." The name sounded all wrong coming out of her mouth.

"Any friend of the signorina is a friend of mine." Carlo winked at her. "Grappa?"

"Of course. How else does one get over the end of amore?"

"Ah, amore. My Giuliana broke my heart, and it was grappa that saved me."

Giuliana stuck her head out, yelling at Carlo in Italian. Buffy laughed. "Fortunately, the two of you made up."

"Fortunately indeed, as she is a very good cook and I am not. I will bring you some treats--she has been experimenting."


As Carlo left them, Buffy realized Giles was watching her with a fond look. "What?"

"Nothing changes. You charm everyone."

"Not everyone. Remember Snyder?"

"He didn't count. He was a strange little mole of a man."

"He was not one with our mission, that's for sure." She set her sunglasses on the table, pushed them around the blue-checked tablecloth for a moment. "Why did you ask me if I like it here?"

"Because Ernest knows someone who has land between here and Naples. Inland a bit, but lovely, apparently. He's willing to let us build on it. A compound of sorts."

"Slayer central?"

"Yes." He met her eyes. "Or we can go back to the States, if that's easier. Or wherever you like."

"You're assuming I don't want to stay in Rome."

"Do you?" He took off his glasses, rubbed them with a handkerchief he pulled out of his pocket.


Glancing over at her, he said, "I do know you, and how you think. I know what you're likely to do."

"And your Buffy radar says I'm gonna run?" She sighed. "Nice image."

"I didn't say you were going to run. I thought you wouldn't want to stay in Rome. I expect you'll walk away, though, not run." Grinning, he put his glasses back on, then shrugged out of his jacket. "Better?"

"You still look like formal English guy."

"What shall I remove next?"

"Tie. And loosen that collar." She studied him as he did it. "Sleeves. Rolled up."

Sighing, as if it was a great effort to indulge her, he did as she said. "Better?"

"Can I get you to roll up your pants?"

"I would do almost anything for you, Buffy. Except that." His look defied her to try to change his mind.

She laughed. "Why did you come here?"

"Because I knew you'd be upset."

"I was upset when Angel and Spike died. You didn't show up then." But he'd been in her hallway that day, warning the Immortal off. Had he been there all the time? Watching her--watching over her?

"Spike and Angel were worth your tears. He's not." There was an odd look in his eyes as he met her gaze, then he looked away. "So what do you think? The Amalfi Coast as a base of operations, then?"

"What do you think?"

"It's not central to much of anything."

"Well, no, but I'm sure there's a hellmouth close by, isn't there"

He nodded. "Several actually. Small ones. Very old. Sealed up so many times they're nearly dormant."

"Nearly dormant. That sounds good."

"I thought you might like that." He leaned forward. "Ernest was quite clear about one thing. Once trained, the slayers won't stay here."

"They go where the Council sends them?"

Giles nodded. "If we want his funding."

"What's he going to do if we say no? Open up a rival slayer's home?" She laughed, imagining how long they'd keep the slayers at Tweed Incorporated.

"The girls do need to fight where they're needed, Buffy. You don't need an army, anymore."

"I know. And I guess they do need to go. But not alone, Giles. Let them go in pairs."

"All right. I'll tell him that's a condition. No one fights alone, anymore."

"Good. Yes." She sighed, hating what she was consigning the girls to, but knowing it had become their fate the minute Willow did her spell making all the potentials into full slayers.

"We'll always have new ones to train. And the older ones can come back here. The injured ones, and those who are burned out. This can be...a sanctuary, of sorts."

"You've thought a lot about this?"

"I want it to be all the things I could never give you." He leaned back as Carlo set down some plates and a bottle of Grappa with two glasses. "Grazie," he said, sounding better than Buffy did. But then he always did.

She poured them both glasses, held hers up and waited for him to match her gesture. "To the Slayer Sanctuary." She threw the grappa back.

His eyebrows went up, but he did the same after saying, "Here-here."

She expected him to cough, or make a face. But he didn't. He just set the glass down, smiling ruefully as she poured more.

"We should go easy," he said, not looking at her.


"Because grappa's powerful."

"So am I." Laughing, she picked up her glass. "You make the toast this time."

He started to say something, but then closed his mouth.

"Spit it out, Giles. No fair holding back."

"Fine." He lifted his glass a little higher. "To seeing the last of the Immortal." His eyes dared her not to drink.

"Yeah. Who needs him?"

They threw the drinks back.

"Why didn't you like him, Giles?"

"I don't know. I just didn't." He took a piece of pastry from the plate, ate it slowly, making happy, tasty-food noises.

She took some, too, eating it and another piece before asking, "He bugged you?"

"Yes, and I'd say it exactly like that." He seemed to be looking around for Carlo. "We should get some water."

"Why? We have grappa."

"Yes, and we'll also have hangovers. First rule of drinking, Buffy. Lots of water with your poison. Keeps you hydrated."

"Funny how you never taught me these lessons earlier." She frowned. "When I was underage--never mind." Then she leaned forward. "Maybe I wouldn't have gone all cave girl on that bespelled beer if I'd known the water trick?"

"Well, you'd have transformed much more slowly, at least." His grin wasn't sad this time; it was a little bit wicked.

"Drink up, Giles. I may get those pant legs rolled up yet."

"Not a chance." He looked up as Carlo came over. "Aqua. Con gasso."

"Si, signore." Carlo hurried off.

"Remember how I thought it meant gaseous water when we first got here?"

He smiled. "You've changed since we've been here."

She reached over, touching his hand. "The weight of the world is a lot less when you share it with every other possible slayer."

He pulled his hand out from under hers, not meeting her eyes as he said, "Yes, I imagine it is."

"You have an aversion to touch?" She leaned back, crossing her arms over her chest.

"No. It's just...we don't. As a rule."

"We don't touch?"

"No." He poured himself more grappa, then just stared at the glass.

Carlo brought their water, setting the bottle and two big glasses down on the table before leaving them quickly.

She poured more grappa into her own glass. "Drinkey, drinkey."

He sighed, but then he threw it back and set the glass back down hard on the table. She set hers down with less force.

"What's wrong?" she asked.


"Look me in the eyes when you say that. Is this about Ernest? Does he want something else?"

Giles met her eyes. His were unreadable, and she was almost sorry she'd asked him to look at her.

Finally he looked away. "He did have some additional suggestions."

"Can't wait for this."

"More watchers. Here, I mean. Working with the slayers."

She rolled her eyes. "I hate to admit it, but it probably wouldn't be a bad idea. You can't do it all."

"Being so old and feeble, you mean?"

"Giles, please. This is my pity party, remember? What else did he suggest?"

"He suggested I come home."

"Well, you told him to go to Hell, right? Only in some really English way?"

He looked away.

"Giles?" When he still wouldn't answer her, she said, "Did you come here to say goodbye?"

She remembered him leaving her the first time. When she'd come back to life and needed him and didn't know how to live anymore. And he'd left her, to make her stand on her own two feet. He'd left her and thrown her right into Spike's arms.

"I haven't decided if I'm going to go."

"I need you. You can't go." She pushed the glasses out of the way, grabbed his hand, noticing that he flinched at her grip. But she was barely holding him. She hadn't hurt him. What was wrong with him? Letting go of him, she asked, "What did Ernest say?"

He reached for the water bottle, and she realized she was very thirsty, too. The grappa was doing nothing to quench a thirst made more intense by the salty pastry, but it was making her a little dizzy. When Giles poured her some water, she sucked half of it down before putting the glass back on the table.

"Giles, what did Ernest say?"

"He said I'm too close to you."

"We've been through this with Quentin. So what if you think of me as your daughter?"

"That's not how I think of you, anymore. I mean..."

"You mean that's not how Ernest thinks you think of me?"

"Right." He drank his water almost desperately. "Well, I believe I've had enough sun."

"Giles. You've barely been out here." She grabbed him as he started to rise.

"I've had enough, Buffy. Now let go." His eyes were Ripper eyes. His voice low and dangerous.

Then his expression changed. Became less filled with anger, more one of...desire?

She didn't let him go, felt a little sick. "How long?"

"Buffy, for the love of God..."

"How long have you had these feelings?"

"Not long. Not when you were a child, I swear that. I know this is wrong. I know that I can't be around you, anymore."

"You can't?"

"Buffy. I hated the Immortal because he was with you. For no other reason. And that's wrong. We're very different, ages and tastes and what we've been through." He tried to smile; the expression was more like a grimace. "And how would you say it? I'm old and icky."

"Sit down, Giles."

"I really think it best that I leave." But he quit trying to get up.

"Is that why you came to Sorrento? To leave?"

"I came to make sure you were all right." He pushed his glass away. "I did not come here to drink grappa and spill unpleasant truths."

"How is it some watcher you barely know can see how you feel about me, and I can't?"

"Perhaps I hide it better around you." Giles voice dropped. "Or perhaps you never wanted to see it?"

Closing her eyes, Buffy shook her head. "So, you're just going to leave?"

"I'm going to leave Sorrento. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to leave you."

"Oh." Stung, she stood up, fishing in her pocket for money she'd forgotten to bring with her.

"I've got it." He hurried away from her, to Carlo, handing him some bills. Then he walked back, his eyes downcast, bare feet very white on the slate-covered ground. She didn't think she'd ever seen him walk barefoot before, unless it was to answer the door in the middle of the night, when there had been some crisis and she'd needed him.

He'd always been there when she'd needed him. Except when he'd left her. And now he might leave her again.

She didn't want him to leave. "Walk with me on the beach some more."

"Buffy, no."

But she took his hand, picking up his shoes with her other. "Grab your jacket. Unless you want to leave it here, which would be a tragedy."

He laughed, but it was a nervous laugh. "Buffy, I really think--"

"--Giles, shut up and walk on the beach with me."

He shut up and walked on the beach with her. When she was sure he wasn't going to run away, she let go of his hand.

"So," she asked. "How long?"

"I don't know. It's been since we've been in Rome. I'd blame it on the Italian air if I could."

She didn't say anything, just moved toward the surf, grabbing his arm and pulling him with him. "Your pants are going to get wet."

"I'm not rolling them up."

"Suit yourself." She pushed him. Hard. Too hard.

He nearly went down, had to take several steps to steady himself. Steps into the water. His pants were soaked up to his knees.

"Yes, well," he said, looking down at his legs. "There we are, then."

"You're so damn English." She brushed back a tear. She was crying, and she wasn't sure why.

"And so damn old."

"I like older men. Or haven't you noticed." She yelled the last part at him.

"Buffy, your older men have all looked young. And they've been your equals." He sighed, walking slowly out of the water as if unsure if she'd be throwing him right back in. "Even Riley could keep up with you."

"Tell me you love me." She could feel something uncoiling inside her. Something dark and angry and hurt.

"I have always cared for you, you know that."

"Tell me you're in love with me." She sniffed, knew she probably looked like a little girl. The little girl he'd had charge of. "Tell me."

"I don't know that it's that. I'm just..."

"You're just what? Attracted to me? Lusting after me? Do I figure in your fantasies? Do you lie in bed at night and wonder what it would be like to hold me?"

He took a step back, into the surf. "Yes, if you must know. Yes, I do." His voice went up, volume rising, tone dropping. Then he turned, walking away from her.

She didn't call him back.


She sat in the moonlight, watching as Giles walked up the path from the beach, his shoes still in his hands, his coat back on, but his tie hanging half out of his jacket pocket. He saw her and stopped, then turned to go back the way he came.

"Don't." Her voice was calm. She'd had a long time to think. To wonder. To plan. To un-plan. To plan some more.

And after all that time, she still had no clear idea what she wanted to do. She only knew the anger inside her was gone. Or had boiled down, anyway.

This was Giles. He'd never, ever, done a thing to her that could have been seen as improper. He was no skanky old man; he was her friend, her father figure, but not her father. She had one of those, even if he hadn't been in her life for a very long time. Giles had been her teacher, was more a partner, now.

That was the thing she'd thought about most as she'd waited for him. How they'd teamed up to train the new slayers. The Immortal hadn't been a part of that. He'd tried, but she'd shut him out. And as she'd thought about it, she'd realized Giles had encouraged her in that. He'd wanted that for himself. Wanted her for himself.

Moving very slowly, he walked over to her.


"Buffy, I--"

"--Don't make me make you sit."

He sat. "You see. Right there. That's why this can't work."

"I didn't say I wanted it to work." She turned away, staring out at the sea.

"Oh. No. You didn't, did you?" He set his shoes down. "I've had a lot of time to think."

"Me, too."

"And my head hurts from the grappa."

She smiled, still not looking at him. "Mine, too."

"And I deeply regret that I even told you this."

"Do you?" She turned to him, curling herself up in the chair so she could watch him. "What would your excuse have been for leaving if you hadn't told me?"

"I don't know. I hadn't gotten that far."

"Well, there's the tried and true, 'You need to grow up, Buffy, and you'll never do that while I'm here.' I can tell you from past experience, that one's a gutwrencher."

"Growing up isn't the problem, Buffy. You've done that. Quite well."

"Yay me." She took a deep breath. "I need you."

"Around. You need me around. Or you think you do."

"Don't tell me what I think."

"Why not? You'll no doubt tell me what I think if this goes on long enough. You think you know me, Buffy, but you don't. I believe I proved that this afternoon."

"You sure did." She decided to take another tack. "Are you good in bed?"

"I beg your pardon?" He was blushing. Even in the moonlight, she could make out the dark flush.

"Is that a no?" She laughed, suddenly enjoying seeing him so flustered.

"I can't really say. It's rather a subjective thing, now isn't it?"

She laughed again.

"Stop that. It's quite vexing."

"You're sounding really British, you know?"

"I am really British, you silly bint."

She could feel her jaw drop--he sounded so much like Spike saying that.

"I didn't mean that."

"Yes, you did. It was a really good Spike imitation."

"Oh, yes, that's just what I wanted to hear. That I remind you of him."

"I said you sounded like him. It would take a lot more than turning one of his phrases for you to remind me of him."

"Well, thank goodness for small favors."

He sat scowling, and she watched the moonlight play across his face. When he finally turned to look at her, she smiled at him. It was the smile of partners. The smile she gave him when their new slayers did something particularly good.

"Buffy, I have to admit you've got me very confused right now."

"Only fair. You've got me very confused right now."

"I didn't mean to do that. I'm never drinking grappa again."

"I don't think it was the grappa. I think you wanted me to know."

"Why would I--"

"--Because I'm free. Right now. Here. But I might not be for long. I might find someone new, and then you'd lose your chance." She leaned forward. "I've had a lot of time to think about this while I was waiting for you to finish your sandy constitutional."

"I didn't come to Sorrento to tell you."

"Maybe not consciously. But that pesky subconscious could have spurred you on. I did take psych that short time I was in college, Giles. Maggie Walsh may have been a mad scientist, but she knew her stuff."

"Damn meddling woman."

"Yeah, you called it. I should have listened." She smiled. "Were you jealous of Riley?"

"No." His answer was so immediate she knew he was telling the truth. "I felt sorry for him, though. I could have told him the two of you weren't going to last."

"Why not?"

"I don't know exactly. You didn't have the rapport you had with Angel. Or even with Spike."

"Or with you?"

"Our rapport is quite different." He sighed. "Buffy, I am fully aware of how wrong what I feel is. I was a caregiver. I should never have allowed my feelings to go this way."

"Could you have stopped them?"

He closed his eyes. "I don't know." He got up. "I think the best thing for all concerned would be for me to go work with Ernest. In London."

"I don't like that plan." As she said it, she knew that she couldn't lose him again. "Come on," she said, pushing herself out of her chair and holding out her hand to him.

"Buffy, we're not going to your room."

"You're damn right we're not. In your dreams, maybe, but not in reality." Laughing, she pulled him back out to the beach. The moon shone on the sea, making it look like there were mermaids on the waves where the light rose and fell.

"Do mermaids exist?" she asked, as she took his shoes and dropped them on the sand.

"I'm not sure."

It was an un-Giles answer, and she frowned up at him.

"I'd normally say no, Buffy. But tonight. Here. I can almost believe in them. Fey creatures that lure you to the depths suddenly seem very real, for some reason."

"I'm not luring you." She bent down and rolled up his pant legs. As he started to protest, she said, "Not one word, Giles."

When she'd finished her masterpiece, she took his hand. It lay limp in hers. "For this to work, you have to try."

"For what to work?"

"Just trust me, Giles." She felt his fingers slowly close around her hand. His hand was bigger, felt solid and warm. Not bad. She looked up at him.

"And now...?"

"We walk." Leading him out into the sand, she sighed as the waves rushed over her legs, then laughed as the sand fell away under her feet, following the waves back out to sea.

"Buffy, what are you doing?"

"When you buy a car, you test drive it. When you buy furniture, you sit on it. When you buy clothes, you try them--"

"--I get the idea. And how far do you plan to carry the analogy?"

She stared up at him. He was watching her, a strange look in his eyes. One part anger. One part helplessness. One part amusement. One part pure lust.

"This far," she said, pulling him down to her, his face to hers, his lips to hers.

He didn't resist, and she had a feeling he was doing this to humor her. And maybe because he thought it would be the only chance he ever had to do it.

He was a good kisser. That surprised her. He didn't push too hard, but he wasn't tentative, either. He didn't try to grope her as he was kissing her. His mouth opened only once hers did. His tongue didn't attack, but caressed hers.

When they pulled away, she smiled. "Get gone with your bad self, Giles. You've been holding out on me."

He looked rather pleased with himself.

"So, was it what you thought it would be?" she asked.

He didn't look away as he said, "It was. And more."

She touched his face, felt a strange conflict, like the old Giles was rushing away from her. "Can we go slow?"

"Of course."

"I mean, possibly glacially slow. I don't want to lose you by rushing into this and finding out it was the wrong thing."

"Yes. I understand that fear."

She felt him touch her hair, his fingers rubbing gently at the nape of her neck, causing shivers all the way down her spine. "That's nice," she said, her voice barely a whisper.

He looked very pleased with himself again. "It is, isn't it? I wasn't sure if you'd like it. Not everyone does, though I can't imagine why not."

She laughed in relief. He sounded exactly like her old Giles--gawky and gentle and very, very British.

"You have to promise me one thing," she said.

"And what, pray tell, is that?"

"That if this doesn't work, you won't leave me."


"Hey, Xander managed to hang despite a major jones."

"Was that even English?"

She punched him playfully. "Yes. And you understood it. You are fluent, by now, in Buffy-ese."

"I am." He let her take his hand and pull him along. "I might point out, however, that Xander was a sixteen-year-old boy. His heart was very resilient. Mine, being much, much older, is far more fragile."

She looked up at him. "Then I'll just have to be careful with it, won't I?"

"Yes, you will."

"Promise me you won't run away if this doesn't work, and I'll promise to be very, very gentle telling you it doesn't work. Deal?"

"Deal." He drew her to him, letting go of her hand and tucking his arm around her.

It felt good. Odd, but good.

She leaned her head back, gazing up at him.

Smiling down at her, he asked, "How slowly, again? Glacially, did you say?"

"Well, maybe not that slow."

He bent down, kissing her gently. But she could sense that he was holding back. That there was some of the Ripper fire under the British respectability. When he finally backed off, they were both smiling.

"So, Giles. Mermaids? Real or not?"

"We've seen too much for me to say they don't exist."

"What about the sirens? Every rock around here is claimed to have been their resting place." She leaned into him, glad that he was holding her, but also glad that he wasn't trying to do anything else.

This would take some time. Time to switch over. Or time to figure out that switching over was a really bad idea.

"Women that lure innocent men to their doom? Again, how could I question that?" His look was different than before, when he'd answered about the mermaids. It was light and teasing and sexy--even if it was a little gross to think that. Giles...kissing her?

It really was odd. a nice way.

"Brave new world," she murmured as they walked on, into the moonlight.