Redefining a Partnership by Djinn
Giles took a deep breath as he walked to his car, and was immediately sorry that he wasn't still enjoying the clean, marine air of Sorrento. Bustling Rome, with its exhaust and people and even some nonviolent demons blending in with the more normal pedestrians, was no longer welcoming. It was the Immortal's town; no place was out of the Immortal's reach. Although that might just be Giles' guilty conscience making him feel that way. He'd lost no time in going after the Immortal's woman--even if he hadn't been consciously aware he was doing any such thing.
"Hey, Giles," Willow said, coming up behind him.
"Willow. I thought you and Kennedy were leaving?"
"Nope. Andrews's got it covered as our main man on the road. Besides, we never get to just stay in our apartment. So, we decided to hang around for a while."
"No new slayers reported, I take it?"
"Well, there's that, too." She smiled, breathing deeply. "It's nice to be back. So, how was Sorrento?"
"It was good."
Willow frowned a little. "It was?"
"I mean it was good that I went. To support Buffy."
"Oh. Right." Willow took his arm, leading him to his car. "I need your opinion. The Ravenstrum ritual--what do you know about it?"
"I know it's not something you want to mess around with." He saw Buffy hurrying down the path to join them. "Hello."
She smiled softly. "Hey."
Willow opened the back door. "There you are, Buffy. You look good."
She almost blushed. "Yeah, that sea air's a miracle worker." Her smile grew a little sly. "Isn't it, Giles?"
"Oh, yes. Quite." He hoped he wasn't blushing. His mind had gone immediately to kissing her on the beach. The first time, and the second. And then a few more times as they'd walked. Buffy wanted to take things slowly, and he respected that. But he'd reached for her and she hadn't told him not to. And kissing her...
They'd walked and talked the whole night. And other than the fact that he'd had his arm around her, their discussions hadn't been that different than any other day. They'd talked about the new girls, which ones were doing well, which weren't, and how they might be helped. They hadn't been sharing deep, ugly truths or even little secrets. They'd just been themselves--except that every single sentence had seemed profound because he'd been holding her. And she'd let him kiss her. And she'd kissed him some of the time, too.
He was sure he was blushing.
And he should probably be doing more than blushing. He should be running like hell for England. It bothered him in a fundamental way that he wanted Buffy the way he did. He'd been her watcher, her authority figure. Her father figure, for God's sake. Now he wanted to be her lover? Was he mad? Or just very perverted?
"Earth to Giles?" Buffy was staring at him over the roof of the car.
"Some wool." Her smile was half his old Buffy and half his new one.
Climbing into the car, he settled into his seat, buckling up--his hand accidentally brushing hers as she did the same in the passenger seat.
"Sorry," he murmured.
"No worries." She reached over, drew her fingers across his hand in one long, slow, very deliberate move.
He glanced at her, but she was staring out the window, trying to force back her smile.
"Anytime, Jeeves," she said, her voice the teasing one he'd heard for years. It was so odd. She hadn't changed--she'd just grown up. All the things he'd loved about her, and those that had exasperated him, were still there. He just loved them in a different way now--and would no doubt be annoyed by them in a slightly changed manner, as well.
"Right, miss." He laughed as he started the car, heard her soft chuckle in answer.
"So, why is the Ravenstrum bad?" Willow didn't seem to be noticing that things were different between Buffy and him.
"Well, I wouldn't call it bad, exactly. But dangerous. The ritual needs to be performed precisely, and the translations have become increasingly mangled over the years. No one is sure that it is complete in any one volume." He glanced at her in the rearview. "Why are you interested in that particular working?"
She met his eyes; her own were a little bleak. "We might need it."
He sighed. He hated thinking that they could find themselves in a war again. But the First wasn't gone, just nursing its wounds. And Wolfram and Hart might decide to go after the Slayers now that they'd gotten Angel out of the way. Or some new evil could set its sights on them.
"Don't you think we might?" Willow sounded more hesitant than she had of late.
"Willow, don't do anything risky." Buffy turned to look at her. "If we need it, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. We can stay bridge-free for now, okay?"
"I know, Buffy, but I'm worried. Now that we aren't under the Immortal's protection..."
"He broke up with me, Will. He didn't declare war on us." Buffy leaned back. "We'll be okay."
Giles could tell she was looking at him. He glanced at her, was met with large, glamorous sunglasses covering her eyes. They reminded him of Sophia Loren's in an old movie. He found them unbearably sexy.
"You tell her," Buffy said softly.
He didn't have to ask her what about. Knew she was thinking about their new location--would have known that even if he hadn't held her in his arms. After so long together--long for a slayer-watcher team, at any rate--he could follow her mental meanderings with ease. "We're moving, Willow. To a place near Sorrento."
"We are? Cool. I guess."
"We're going to have our own compound," Buffy said, more enthusiastic than she'd been for months. "And we'll build lots of little houses so we can all have our own place."
Giles wondered if she would move in with him someday. Of course, that was assuming he didn't bore her before that eventuality. Or disappoint her--was he really thinking of bedding a slayer? Did he think he could keep up with her? He looked over at her, and she smiled a sweet, calm smile, so he forced his nerves down. They were taking it slow. It was very likely that he would not have to think about this for quite some time. She might figure out he was an enormous fuddy-duddy before bed even got close to looming.
"That'll be great," Willow said. "And a slayer dorm?"
"Sure. With lights out, and microwave popcorn, and everything. We'll be the hall monitors. Well, Giles won't because that would just be wrong."
"Him being of the male persuasion and all." Willow was laughing.
"Yes. Him being male." Buffy laughed too, the sound easy and innocent.
"Don't let my presence deter you from your mockery." But he was grinning, as well.
"Who'd have thought we'd all end up here?" Willow sighed as she leaned forward, holding onto their seats. "I mean from Sunnydale to Italy. This isn't how I envisioned my life going."
"I don't think it's how any of us envisioned it." Buffy patted her hand. "I'm on my third life, though, so I can't complain. Wherever it takes me, I'm good with it."
Giles thought he heard a message for him in that, but then decided not to start reading something into every little thing she said. That way lay madness--or just great potential embarrassment.
Slowing the car, he pulled into the Immortal's complex and was waved through immediately by the guard on duty.
"I wonder if they know," Buffy whispered.
He wondered if the Immortal would protect them with the same level of obsessiveness he'd shown when Buffy was his lover, not just a guest who would soon be vacating the place.
"The Immortal's not going to let anything happen to you, Buff. He loves you--even if he did let you go." Willow's voice ran down at the end, as she must have realized her words of comfort lacked much in the way of actual comfort.
Pulling into his normal space in front of the stables, Giles turned off the car and got out. Willow hurried on ahead, but Buffy hung back, waiting for him to catch up.
"Weird, huh?" She smiled at him in a tentative way.
"Us?" At her nod, he smiled gently. "Yes. A bit." Of course, he'd had months to fantasize about this. He doubted Buffy had ever fantasized about him.
"It's not that I'm hiding this..."
"Buffy, I'm fine. This is fine. Stop worrying and go tend to the girls."
She bumped up against him, her body solid despite how small she was. "Thank you, Giles."
"For not making this hard." Then she touched his hand, the light brush again setting his nerves on fire. "And for making it nice."
Before he could answer, she hurried off.
"She is well?" he heard from the open door to the stables.
Turning, he saw the Immortal standing in the shadows. He was staring out where Buffy had disappeared down the path. "How is our Buffy?" He'd never referred to her that way before.
"Buffy is fine."
"Not mourning the loss of my love? I'm a little bit hurt." The Immortal seemed to think about that. "No, I'm very hurt." He took a step out into the sunshine. His black hair shone, thick and healthy like a boy's. His golden skin was barely lined. Just enough for character, nothing to make him look older than the late twenties. Perpetual godhood.
"She mourned you."
"Not like she mourned Angelus."
"It wasn't Angelus. It was Angel."
"If you wish." The Immortal moved closer. "I could never replace him in her heart. It was most...disconcerting."
"And that was your goal, wasn't it? To beat him?" Giles had always wondered at the easy way the Immortal had opened his house and his life to Buffy. He'd always thought that maybe it had less to do with Buffy, more to do with beating Angel--or taking away what the vampire loved. Andrew had said that both Spike and Angel had seemed to know the Immortal in more than just a passing way--and they hadn't liked him.
"Oh, I grew fond of Buffy on her own. Who wouldn't?"
Giles chose not to answer.
"But her heart is spoken for. It is closed. It is the only reason I'm going to let you live."
"I have spies everywhere. People who wish to curry favor. Even in Sorrento."
"Are you warning me off her?"
"On the contrary. Get as close as you wish." The Immortal leaned forward, his voice low and harsh. "It will never be as close as you want." He patted Giles on the hand. "Enough of this. I have heard you are leaving?"
"But not, I imagine, for some time."
"Once the dormitory and instruction facility are constructed, we'll be gone."
"Your little witch could use her magic." The Immortal laughed at Giles' expression. "Or you can do it the hard way." He turned, walked back into the stables. "Stay here as long as you like. My protection remains, even if I've retrieved my heart from Buffy's hands." He turned, face again in shadows. "You are quite old to be taking such a risk with yours." Then he was gone, moving into the interior of the stable, the horses nickering some kind of equine welcome to their master.
Giles stood a moment, staring after him before heading down to join Buffy.
Buffy took a deep breath, holding it as she watched the slayers sparring. Ingrid was dropping her shoulder again, telegraphing every move to the girl who was fighting her--the girl who brought her down with a substantial thump.
"That had to hurt," Giles said softly, coming up so quietly she'd almost missed his approach.
"She's no good at this." The girl was nineteen, nearly too old to be called. But for the spell, she might never have been called. Might never have faced this. Just like Kennedy--only Kennedy lived for the fight. Ingrid, not so much.
"I know, she is quite ineffective. And the training isn't helping." He joined her at the fence, hands over the top rail as they watched Ingrid get up and limp back to her opponent.
"Giles, she won't last five minutes as a slayer."
"No, she won't." He looked over at her, his eyes dark. "In the past, her watcher would have known that."
"And would have sent her out anyway." She shook her head. "Nice profession you've got there, Giles."
"It is one reason I quit."
"You were fired."
"Well..." He met her stern look with a small grin. A small, very sweet grin.
"Giles, this is our brave new world, right?"
He looked confused, as if he was unsure if she was still talking about the slayers, or about them.
"I mean...do they all have to be slayer-slayers. Can't they serve in some other way?"
"What other way?"
"Ingrid's a killer cook. We're going to need that. At our sanctuary." She sighed, unwilling to send one more girl to her death. She'd seen too many fall in the battle with the First.
He nodded. "It would be good to have someone in the know, as it were."
"Keep it in the family?" She grinned. "Then it's settled? She can stop training?"
"Well, even cooks might need to defend themselves if they work for us."
She could feel her smile fading. "Good point. But maybe it'll make training more fun if she knew it was for her own good, not getting her ready for death?"
Buffy turned around, her back to the girls, letting the sun warm her face. "I hate what we're doing to them."
"You're preparing them, Buffy. Would you rather they went out to meet evil untrained?"
"They shouldn't have to meet evil at all." They'd had this discussion a hundred times since Willow had done her spell--at Buffy's behest. The last time she and Giles had argued about this had been on the beach in Sorrento, with his arm around her. It had seemed...natural to be talking with him that intently while he held her so close. It probably should give her the wiggins that he was even interested in her, but it didn't.
Although she had a feeling it was going to freak their friends beyond belief. And Dawn. Fortunately, Dawn was in Spain, visiting their father, who had actually surfaced long enough when he'd heard about Sunnydale vanishing into a giant sinkhole to make contact with her aunt. An aunt Buffy had left a forwarding number with before they'd headed to Rome. She hadn't done it for herself, wasn't sure she ever wanted to see her father again. But Dawn had wanted him in her life, and for her sister, Buffy would lay down breadcrumbs.
"You need to make a choice, Buffy."
"About...?" Normally she could follow Giles' train of thought, but she wasn't sure where he was going.
"About which slayers to send to Cleveland. Faith needs an army more than you do these days."
"Nothing like living on a hellmouth. I think probably Marta and Karolina."
"Both good choices. I'd like to send her four. Safety in numbers. Rosha and Belinda have done quite well."
Buffy smiled. The two girls were close--very, very close. "Don't want to break up the lovebirds?"
"Not really, no." He smiled, not looking at her. "They're rather sweet together, don't you think?"
Nodding, she thought of the two slayers. They were rather sweet. Reminded her of Willow and Tara back when they'd first started. Full of innocence and gentle possibility. Willow didn't have that anymore. She and Kennedy had a relationship with a harder edge, but it seemed to be enduring. And even though Buffy didn't feel anything close to warm and fuzzy for Kennedy, she was happy for Willow.
"Faith and Robin seem to prosper." Giles sounded like he was surprised. He also had almost said Principal Wood's first name with something approaching ease. Maybe he was mellowing in his old age.
Old age. Giles was older. Much older.
"You're thinking something very dire, aren't you?" He sounded worried.
"Ah. Yes, I wondered when you'd get to that. As I remember you screaming at me on a certain beach, you do prefer your men older." His grin wasn't very strong, as if he was doing it only to save face. Or maybe as a diversion before he cut and ran.
"It's there. We can't just ignore it."
She just laughed. "You didn't kiss me like you were ancient."
"Yes, well, you do seem to make me feel a bit more spry." His grin turned up a notch, gaining a little more certainty.
"And they say there's no fountain of youth." She watched him as he smiled, then he seemed to glance up at the stables. She followed his gaze, saw that the Immortal was just riding out on his favorite horse. White--a stallion, of course. Always going for the big impact. "He knows about us, doesn't he?"
Giles smile faded completely. "Knows? Well, no, I don't think--"
"--Giles, don't lie. You hung back, it's obvious he was in the stables, and I know he's obsessive enough to have had people following me--even in Sorrento and even though he was the one to let me go. So come on. Truth?"
"Is he going to challenge you to a duel or something? Because I will slay him if I have to."
Giles shook his head. He was smiling, but his smile was off again. "Oh, no. He wished me a hearty good time."
"I think he doubts that I'll get very far with you. Or with your heart."
"Hmmm." She stared up at him, studying him and feeling a need to run her finger down the lines in his forehead--lines that had been there since she'd known him, lines that had grown deeper the longer she'd known him.
"You don't agree with that assessment?"
"I don't know. And talk about conceit. He couldn't own me completely, so no one else every will, either?"
"He thinks Angel owns you. That no one else can ever break in."
She smiled, moving closer till they were almost touching. Looking up at him, she did touch his forehead, forefinger tracing the line. He closed his eyes, as if even that little bit of contact felt good--and bad.
"The difference between the two of you, Giles, is that you won't try to break in. How did you put it: Angel owns a lot of territory in my heart, but there's still room?"
"That is what I said."
"The Immortal wanted to conquer old worlds. You, if you're smart, will want to colonize new ones."
"That's quite profound, Buffy."
She could tell he was both touched and trying not to laugh. "Watch the mocking, Rupert."
"That sounds so very wrong coming from you."
"I know. Giles it is, then. We'll be like Mulder and Scully. Only without the Scully part, because I know you're not going to call me Summers." She turned, leaning into him for a moment, her back against his chest. She felt his hands come up to grip her arms.
"You're not the Immortal, Giles. And that's a good thing. Just remember that, okay?"
"All right." His hands tightened, then he let her go.
Buffy moved to the fence, wincing as she saw her inept slayer-cook go down again. "Ingrid, yo!"
The girl pushed herself wearily to her feet and ran over. "Yes, Buffy?" Her lilting accent charmed Buffy as it always did.
"I have an assignment for you."
"But, I'm not ready."
"Oh, yes you are." She saw Ingrid's expression beginning to close down, and smiled. "How would you feel about taking on the sacred duty of being the chosen head cook?"
"Head cook for whom?"
"For us. When we move out of here and don't have the Immortal's lackeys at our beck and call. Would you be willing to cook for a dorm full of hungry slayers?"
"And some hungry watchers and hangers-on, too?" Giles moved up to join her.
"Really." At the girl's joyful smile, Buffy held up a hand. "But you still have to train. I can't have any untrained people around that need protecting."
"Of course not. I will train very hard."
"Perhaps you can train with the Immortal's chef, too? Find out his secrets?" Giles smiled at Ingrid's enthusiasm as she nodded happily and bounded away, running lightly up to the kitchen. "I didn't actually mean right this minute."
"Never too early to start." Sighing in relief, Buffy motioned to the girl Ingrid had been fighting. A girl so new to their ranks that Buffy couldn't remember her name.
"Danielle," Giles said softly.
"Thanks." She waited for the young slayer to get to them, then said, "Ingrid isn't going to be a traditional slayer, Danielle. I've just taken her out of the ranks."
She'd expected Danielle to be upset. Instead, the girl closed her eyes and seemed to let out her breath.
"You don't mind?"
"I've been watching out for her. We all have. But in a fight, we wouldn't have been able to."
Buffy looked down, touched by the concern this girl who was so new to their ranks was showing. And to one who wouldn't have to face the same terrors she would. Who wouldn't have to face death the same way. "You're right. You wouldn't have been able to."
"There are others, you know? Who aren't doing very well."
"I know. And I'll take care of them, if I can. You, on the other hand, have quite the native talent. So go find a new partner and get back to sparring."
"Yes, ma'am." With a smile, Danielle ran out, joining a group of three and pairing off with one of them.
"Feel better?" Giles asked, his voice very gentle and full of approval.
"Yes, I do." The sanctuary would need more staff. And that staff would be made up of slayers, if they were willing. She couldn't save all the girls, but she could save some of them.
Willow felt Kennedy's strong arms wrap around her, her warm lips touching down on her neck. "Hey."
"You left early."
"I wanted to talk to Giles about the Ravenstrum ritual."
"Did he talk you out of it, Red?"
"Mostly." Willow turned, smiling as Kennedy pushed into her, lips even warmer as they touched down on hers. "We're supposed to be setting an example for the girls."
"We are. A very loving, caring example." Kennedy grinned and kissed her again. Then she turned and watched the slayers sparring. "Where's Ingrid?"
"Buffy sent her to the kitchens." Ingrid had told Willow the news on her way into the house, and Willow had felt a great deal of relief that the girl wouldn't have to slay anything scarier than their food. Even Andrew could have beaten her in a fight.
"Is that the Sunnydale version of sending her to the showers to cool off?" Kennedy frowned. "Not that I've ever seen Ingrid upset--except at herself."
"She's going to be our cook at our new sanctuary. I found out today that we're moving. To Sorrento. That's sort of south and west of here."
"I know where Sorrento is, Willow. My family summered there sometimes."
Kennedy's past came out at the strangest times. For a moment, she'd almost sounded like Cordelia back in high school. But then Kennedy herself would be the first one to admit she could be a brat.
Willow ignored the Cordy 'tude. "Anyway, Giles and Buffy said we're going as soon as we get enough buildings up to sleep us all."
"Wouldn't want to get in the way of Ma and Pa Kettle's plans." Kennedy stretched and bent to touch her toes.
"I know you don't like them but--"
"--I don't like her, Willow. I like him fine."
Willow felt that terrible tearing feeling inside her, the way she had when she and Xander had been cheating on Oz and Cordelia. Buffy was her dearest friend. Kennedy was her love. It would be so much easier if they could just get along. For a moment, she was tempted to make them get along.
"Willow..." It was Tara's voice. Never far from her since she'd done the spell for Buffy to call all the slayers to action. She hadn't noticed it at first, but gradually, after that night, she'd heard Tara talking to her, being her conscience. Generally, when she was thinking of being lazy or going too far with the magic.
Kennedy didn't know about Tara being inside Willow, which was probably the way Willow should keep it.
"Red? Where'd you go?"
"Me? Oh, nowhere. I'm here." She smiled, looking desperately for a diversion. And found one--Buffy and Giles. Standing close. Very close. Really, really close.
Kennedy followed her gaze. "What are they doing?"
"I'm not sure."
"Do they normally stand that close?" Kennedy moved a little away from Willow, then pulled her over. "Does he have his hand on her back?"
From this vantage point, it did, indeed, look like Giles had his hand on Buffy's back. He seemed to rub her back gently for a moment, then let it drop.
"Watcher-Slayer affection," Willow murmured.
"Is that what that is?" Kennedy turned and frowned at her. "I don't remember them being all touchy-feely before."
"That wasn't touchy-feely. That was just support. From a longstanding relationship filled with respect and, uh, authority." Willow looked down at them, they hadn't moved away from each other, were talking quietly. "I think."
"Boy is Xander going to be pissed."
"Why is Xander going to be upset? How did Xander get into this?" Despite it all, she still felt territorial about Xander, even if she was long over him.
"Well, now that Buffy's running Immortal free, he might think he has a chance with her."
Buffy suddenly leaned in, her arm on Giles' arm. He laughed--an open, very boyish laugh that carried even to where they were standing. And Buffy looked different--almost...coy.
"Xander has no chance with her," Willow murmured as she turned around. "I think we need to go inside now."
Kennedy followed her into the mansion, saying hello to the servants they passed. "What's wrong? I mean I think he could have done better, but it's not the end of the world." She forced Willow to stop, made her look at her. "You're freaked out by this?"
"Well, a little. But maybe it's nothing."
"Or maybe it's something. But who cares?"
Willow turned, talking low so the maids dusting the room wouldn't overhear. "He's her watcher. He's been like a father to her. She'd never..." But wouldn't she? Buffy was older, and Giles wasn't the authority figure, anymore. Or not the sole one, anyway. They shared that role. They ran the slayers' training together. Partners, not teacher and student.
Sighing, she tried to smile, knew it came out weak, but forged on. "You know what? This is so not our business."
"No, it's not." Kennedy looked up as one of the Immortal's errand boys--there were more servants than jobs in this place--brought in a package. "Is that my crossbow?"
"Si, signorina." He smiled, handing her the package carefully. "Please to not shoot it indoors."
"As if." But Kennedy looked a little chastened, like she'd been planning to do just that. "Come on, Red. Let's go play with my new toy."
"You know, you learned way too much from Faith while she was in charge."
"A bit. Never liked her."
"But you like me." Kennedy leaned in, biting Willow softly on the lip.
"Then come on. You know shooting makes me all hor--"
"--Kennedy." She blushed, then laughed as her lover pulled her outside to a partially shielded alcove.
Willow put a little spell on it, making it totally shielded.
Tara didn't chide her at all.
Buffy stretched on the mat, enjoying having the workout room to herself for once. The girls were at dinner--out enjoying an impromptu night on the town. Saying goodbye to good old Roma--some of them had barely gotten to know it before it was time to go. Or it would be time to go before very long. As soon as Xander had gotten back from his latest slayer quest, he'd lost no time in getting construction started. Like Giles, he wanted to get them out of the Immortal's control. It was a sign of how strange her life had become that for once, Xander and Giles had exactly the same reason for not liking her ex-boyfriend, and for wanting to get her out of town.
Xander had only been in Rome for a few days before hightailing it to Sorrento to start building. She'd never had a chance to tell him about her and Giles. And, there wasn't that much to tell yet. Giles was respecting her wishes, letting her set the pace--the very slow pace.
But it was kind of fun. Taking it that slow. She was finding it entertaining to tease him. His eyes could get very dark when he'd had enough. A little dangerous. It was...exciting.
And that was so wrong. That she liked her men a little dark. That Giles was a little dark. Or a lot dark--she still felt twinges occasionally from where Ethan had tattooed her to attract Giles' demon. Safe and boring watcher? Yeah, right.
She heard footsteps. Slow, measured. The soft scuff of fine Italian loafers. It could only be one person.
"So, you are really leaving?" The Immortal's voice was like velvet--he had to practice that.
"With your slayers in tow. What a caravan that will be. All the men of Rome will line up to weep at your leaving."
"Somehow, I doubt that." She smiled up at him as she stretched, laying her head on her thigh, gripping her ankle with her outstretched hand. "Did you want something?"
"So cold, cara? When we were once everything to each other?"
"You broke up with me, remember?"
"And you lost no time in running to your watcher. How is that going?"
"I'm sure you know exactly how it's going."
And that was another reason she was taking it slow. She couldn't bear the thought of him spying on her--on them. Although there were times, when she got fed up with the Immortal's little games, that the rebellious part of her wanted to jump Giles in front of all his cameras just to spite him.
Which would be so unfair to Giles.
"Not the great love of your life this Rupert Giles."
"You don't think so?"
"If he were, you would not be able to keep your hands off him." He smiled, and she wanted to punch the smug look off his face. She'd never noticed how much he looked like Angelus when he smiled that way.
"And you know so much about me." She laughed, letting the sound be as scornful as possible.
"I know enough." He let his eyes grow dark--the sexy look she used to think was just for her, until she realized he probably rehearsed it in the mirror.
"Get over yourself."
He turned but not fast enough to hide the flash of irritation.
"Was this ever about me, lover?" she asked. "Or was it always about Angel?"
Andrew had told her how wigged Angel and Spike had been to find out she was with the Immortal. She'd sent him on a research trip, and amazingly Andrew had come through. He'd found out there'd been a longstanding power play between Angel and the Immortal. She'd laughed it off, at first. But now...now she wondered. Had she ever meant anything more than besting Angel?
"Angel is nothing." The Immortal's shoulders were very tight, and she could tell he was gripping the handles to the French doors hard enough to break them.
"Nothing, huh?" Shaking her head, she forced herself to concentrate on her workout. This was a discussion not worth having.
"I'll leave you in peace."
"That would be refreshing." She smiled as he left, knowing he hated the sarcastic disinterest. He wanted adoration--worship, even. He'd already moved on, she'd seen him with a young, very tall, very voluptuous Italian woman at his pool. Slathering suntan lotion on her back as if it had been a massage contest.
She took several deep breaths. What he did didn't matter. Who he saw was nothing to her.
"Everything all right?" Giles asked, moving into the room quietly.
She smiled at the hint of territoriality in Giles' voice. His words were no different than they'd ever been, but his tone...
"Nothing I can't handle."
"I'd hoped your handling of him was done." He grinned when she laughed. "Look at me. Jealous."
"Fancy that." She sat up, watching him.
He walked over, stopping close enough to touch her if he stretched, but not so close that he was looming.
"You're very good at this." She held her hand up for a lift.
"Good at what?" he asked as he pulled her up. He'd done it so many times as her watcher. Did it again, strong grip lifting her easily. He didn't pull too hard, didn't cause her to careen into him so he'd have to steady her. Giles didn't play those games. But his eyes, as he pulled her to her feet, were very intense.
She looked up at him. "You're very good at not pushing."
"I stand to gain nothing by pushing." His smile turned a bit cockeyed. "Then again, I conceivably stand to gain nothing by waiting."
"Fortunately, you're big with ambiguity."
She moved closer, put her hands on his forearms. "Doesn't this freak you, Giles? Even a little?"
"It 'freaks me' quite a lot, if you must know. I feel very...guilty that I want you so."
"Guilty." She let go of his arms, saw disappointment flash in his eyes before his British reserve forced it to sit down and behave. "Don't feel guilty."
"No?" He let her pull him down to her, his arms coming around her, holding her tightly as she hugged him.
"I love you, Giles. I'm not sure what that means for us. But I know I don't want you to go away again."
"That doesn't mean you have to take me as your lover." His voice was hushed, muffled a bit by her hair.
"I know." She pulled away just enough that she could look at him. "It feels good when you hold me."
"Yes, and it no doubt felt good when the Immortal held you. It might feel just as good if Xander held you." He took a deep breath. "Are you sure you need me...?"
"As opposed to just any random guy? Nice question, Giles." She slugged him in the arm, was immediately sorry when he groaned. "Oh, I didn't mean to hit you that hard."
"I'll take it as a good sign that you did hit me that hard. Now, could you get me to a hospital?" He tried to smile.
"You're not serious, are you?" She touched his arm gently, running her hand over the spot she'd hit.
"No. I'm not." His eyes were very soft. "I love you, too, Buffy. And I'm not entirely sure what that means. I just know I don't want to leave you."
She shook her head, her hair falling back. "Well, then, we're in perfect agreement. Neither of us wants you to leave me." She stared up at him, giving him his chance to kiss her if he wanted to take it.
He always wanted to take it. And she wasn't sorry. He was a very, very good kisser.
Willow followed Giles around the construction site. "So this is very pretty. Nice view. Good defensible positions." She grinned at his look. "It's what Buffy would say."
"After she finished bemoaning the lack of shopping opportunities," Xander said, holding up a shovel. "Digging opportunities, however, we have aplenty."
"Buffy doesn't dig, remember? Menfolk dig--"
"--And you two raise the babies. Riii-iight." He grinned at her. Her old friend, who was probably thinking of babies he could raise with Buffy. Buffy, who hadn't told either of them that she and Giles were...close.
Close. Giles and Buffy. It bothered Willow in a fundamental way. Not that she hadn't always had a little crush on Giles herself. But that was different. That was not something that led to kissing and...
She took a deep breath. This was none of her business. Except that she'd have to spend hours listening to Xander go on about it once he found out. And she really wasn't looking forward to that. And Kennedy would have no patience with it, but then Kennedy had always been a little jealous of Xander and how close he and Willow were.
"Willow, why the deep thought?" Xander grinned at her and she felt like a traitor when she shook her head and said, "No reason."
"Whatever you say, Will." He hurried up to where some of the workmen were framing out the dorm. "Guys, I know my depth perception is off these days, but even I can see these uprights aren't straight."
He could joke about what had happened with Caleb, but Willow knew he was still getting used to having only one eye. He hated having people come up on his blind side, had taken to walking close to walls, so that no one could squeeze in where he couldn't see. Willow wished she could heal him, thought there was a way if she just called the right magics.
"Willow..." Tara's voice wasn't very accusing. As if she believed Willow knew better, that Willow would be a good girl.
Willow missed Tara so much. Hearing her like this only reinforced that. She loved Kennedy, but it wasn't the same. But then it wasn't supposed to be. They were two different people, and Willow loved them in two different ways.
Just as Buffy had loved Angel one way--maybe the biggest way she ever would. The others who had come after--they'd never been able to reach her the same way. But maybe Giles would. He was already in Buffy's heart, after all. She loved him dearly.
Only, not in that way. This was so confusing. To make the leap from what they were to what they would be once they started having sex. If they started having sex. Willow really didn't want to think about them having sex.
"It won't be too long now," Giles said in her ear, causing her to jump.
"Till what?" Then she realized he was looking at the dorm, too. "Oh, right. Until that."
"Are you feeling all right, Willow?"
"Sure. Never better. You?"
He raised his eyebrows, then broke into an amused smile. He did that a lot more now--smile. It was his Buffy smile, Willow decided. Buffy made him smile in that special way that Oz had made her smile back when they'd first been new, and every little thing they did was fresh and exciting.
Sometimes she missed Oz. Missed him so much it hurt.
Giles was still watching her, and his look turned serious. "I want to ask you something, and you must answer honestly, all right?"
She nodded, hoping to all her goddesses he wasn't going to ask her about Buffy.
"Do you think you can ward this place all on your own?"
It wasn't what she'd expected him to ask. "You mean...what do you mean?"
"I mean alone. Without the help of the Immortal's mages?"
She looked around, taking in the spread of the place, the sheer amount of territory he wanted her to safeguard. Back at the Immortal's compound, there was a staff of mages constantly reinforcing the magical defenses. Giles wanted her to do this alone?
"I don't know."
"I'd help you, of course. And Andrew does know some magic."
"It would be a lot easier with the Immortal's help." And he'd offered the loan of his mages to get their wards set up. Then again, once they'd helped set them up, the Immortal would have the keys to the kingdom. And she could see why Buffy might not want that. And why Giles might not, either.
"I know it would be easier with his minions helping us, Willow." Giles voice seemed sharp enough to cut glass, as if he was disappointed in her, and she felt a sting. He didn't look away from her. "But I'm loathe to involve him in this."
"Gee, could that be because you're boffing his ex?" She had not just said that out loud, had she? By his look she knew she had. "Oh, that didn't come out right."
"I think it came out exactly right. And I'm not boff--doing that."
"No?" She dialed down her curiosity. "And if you were, it would be totally none of my business."
"How long have you known?"
She glanced up the hill, making sure Xander was very, very far away. "A while now. Since you came back from Sorrento."
He closed his eyes. "I see."
"If it's something you're embarrassed by, maybe it's something you shouldn't be doing." She closed her own eyes. Who the hell was in charge of her mouth?
"You're quite right, Willow. I'm not embarrassed by this. I'm just...protecting Buffy."
"Protecting her from what?"
"From me?" He gave her the quintessential "Giles at a loss" look. Dealing with his own emotions had never seemed easy for him.
"She doesn't need protecting from you, Giles. She trusts you more than anyone." Which was probably as good an argument against them being involved as for it. "I mean...if you don't want to tell that's okay--is it because sneaking around is more fun?" She and Tara had enjoyed that phase--when only they knew what was going on. When it had been just for them.
"We're not sneaking around, Willow. It's complicated. And--" He stopped talking and turned away, his hands laced behind the back of his head. "I care deeply for her. And I don't know what precisely is happening between us. And it may take a long time for us to figure that out." He dropped his hands as if in frustration.
"Okay." She touched his elbow. "I'm sorry. It's not that I disapprove. I'm just not used to it."
"Frankly, neither am I."
"But you like it?"
"I do." His voice was so soft that she had to strain to hear it.
"If you make her happy, Giles. And if she makes you happy. Then that's all that matters." She waited till he turned to look at her before she said, "I'm not one to throw stones at people's choices."
"Thank you, Willow." He looked up at where Xander was working with his men. "Can we not tell Xander for a while?"
"Just don't let him find out by catching you kissing her. I can tell you from experience that it hurts." Then again, so did hearing it said straight out, the way she'd had to learn that Xander had been with Faith.
"I'll try not to." Giles looked down. "He loves her. In many ways, he would be better for her."
"Well, that may be, but I don't see her cozying up to him. And she's not one to let anyone make her choices for her."
He smiled. "No, she's not." Touching her hair, he said gently, "Now, the spells to protect us. Can you do them by yourself?"
She gave him a little attitude. "I almost destroyed the world. Took you down, watcher boy."
"Oh, yes. How could I forget?" Winking at her, he said, "Then it's settled. You tell me what you need, and I'll make sure that someone who is not the Immortal or his lackeys gets it."
"Not taking any chances, huh?"
"No." And it was Ripper who answered her, who glared stonily northeast as if he could see all the way to Rome.
She felt a little thrill at seeing the dark side of Giles. Knew that Buffy probably did, too. Giles seemed to call that part of himself up with so little effort--and so little knowledge that he was doing it. It was kind of sexy.
In a really disturbing way.
"I'll make that list, now," she said, forcing her mind onto herbs and other things she'd need, and off what kind of trouble Ripper and a slayer with a penchant for darkness in her men might get into.
Giles watched Buffy throwing stones into the water. She seemed to be trying to see how far she could throw them. "Restless?"
She turned and smiled sheepishly. "I wanted some time off, but now I'm dying to slay something."
"We can take a field trip, if you like? I've heard that Milan is crawling with vampires."
"Figures. All those pretty models." Buffy frowned. "Maybe some of the models are vampires?"
"Perhaps. You could slay them on the--what is it called?"
Her eyebrows went up. "The runway? Oh yeah, that would go over big. Psycho American slays Russian supermodel." She smiled when he laughed. "But I would like to go slay something. We could take some of the kiddies, too?"
"It would probably be a very good thing. The Immortal keeps Rome too tidy. His 'no vampires allowed' policy is quite trying."
"If it were anyone else, you'd be praising his 'no vamp policy.'"
"True." He smiled, knew that it was not entirely a friendly look. He had a hard time not diving straight down into Ripper territory when it came to her. It probably wasn't healthy. But she seemed to like him being territorial.
"Jealous Giles. Who'd a thunk it?" She smiled, settling in next to him on the sand. "It's nice here."
They were on a lonely strip of beach that was part of the sanctuary property. They'd had to hike down to it and seemed to be quite alone.
"Yes." He glanced over at her, trying to gauge her mood.
"We could do anything we wanted..."
He started to laugh. "Don't tease, Buffy. It's quite cruel."
She leaned her head against his shoulder. "I like to tease you way too much. It's sort of how I used to tease you about being British and stuffy, only now I tease you about sex."
"It's nothing like that, Buffy." He tried to give her a stern look, which was difficult since she was pressing into him, making it tough for him to catch her gaze. "Oh, fine, then. Play coy."
"I don't want to." She touched his chest, started to unbutton his shirt.
He suddenly found it hard to breathe. "Willow knows."
She stopped, her eyebrows going way up. "Way to kill the mood, Giles." Sighing, she let go of his shirt. "And how did you surmise this?"
"She told me."
"Oh." Buffy seemed to go very still. "And is she a fan of us?"
"I'm not sure. She seemed relatively certain that Xander won't be. I concur, if you're curious as to my take."
"Giles, we all know Xander's going to wig. What did Willow say?"
"She said it was none of her business what we did. But I think she was a little hurt that you haven't talked to her about this."
"I know. I should have."
"Maybe you didn't because you don't think this is right?"
"Is that why you just stopped me? Because you don't think this is right?" When he didn't answer, she pulled away, the lack of her arm pressing against his leaving him cold. "Giles, you were the one who started this."
"I was rather drunk." He pulled her back down as she started to get up. "Aren't we past that, Buffy?"
"Well, I thought so until you turned into Blurto-man."
"I'm sorry. I just...got nervous. I'm very, very old, you know." That always seemed to make her smile and this time was no exception.
"Yes. You're ancient."
"Actually...I'm afraid, Buffy."
"Afraid of what?" Her voice was that of the gentle, questioning Buffy he'd loved so much before. The one who offered comfort, who found the weak spot inside him and built it back up, made him feel needed.
"I'm afraid of a number of things. That we'll do this, and it will ruin what we have." He took a deep breath. "I'm afraid I'll disappoint you. That I'll have to watch you hedge and back out gracefully after you discover how frightfully ordinary I am. I can't bear the thought of seeing that in your eyes. The need to get away. The need to stop this."
"Did you and Miss Calendar have sex?"
"Buffy, that is none of--"
"--I'm not asking for details, Giles. Yes or no?"
"Yes." Jenny had been so long ago. So many losses ago. But he'd never forgotten her. Never forgotten what it had been like to love her, even if it had been for such a short time.
"Okay. She was sort of a hip chick. Nice clothes, cute hair, zippy repartee."
He began to smile. "Is that compared to me or in general?"
"Yes, I'd say she was quite cool."
Buffy rolled her eyes as he'd known she would. "Yeah, she was neat-o. My point is, she didn't run screaming, did she?"
He shook his head. Jenny had been quite happy to linger in his bed that first time--and return to it again.
"And there was Olivia. She seemed into you."
He sighed. Olivia had run from him eventually the same way Jenny had. Only she'd never come back the way Jenny eventually did. Jenny would have been wise to have stayed away.
"I didn't mean to stir up bad memories." Buffy moved, pushing herself to her knees and watching him. Then, very slowly, she crawled onto his lap, facing him. "We can take this slow. If it doesn't feel right, we stop."
He'd said that so many times to her about a training maneuver, or a stretching position. If it didn't feel right, she could stop.
"How's it feel?" she said as she put her arms around him.
It felt right and wrong, all at the same time. "I'm not sure."
She smiled. "Has it occurred to you that I might be a little nervous?"
"My record with the living is not so good, Giles. They all leave me. Riley, Parker, Scott, Mister Immortal..."
He hadn't considered that. "So I might end up leaving you?"
"You've already done that. Don't joke." Her face got very serious, the stone dead look she'd given him when he'd left her to fend for herself.
"Buffy, if this is about keeping me with you, you don't have to do this. I'll stay by your--"
She kissed him, which was the most efficient way of shutting him up. He'd used it occasionally to shut her up, too. Although he normally did it just because he needed to touch her, to remind himself this was real--and very scary.
He put his arms around her, pulling her closer. She melted into him, and they stayed that way for a long time, kissing like he hadn't kissed anyone since he was a teen. Having her on top of him this way was definitely having an effect, but he didn't feel the need to take this farther yet. This was new, and they were getting used to it. Seeing if it felt right.
She finally pulled away from him. "And again I ask: How does it feel?"
"It feels wonderful."
Her smile was slow but full of relief, and he realized that she was, indeed, nervous.
"And for you?" he asked.
"I'm five by five." She grinned, using Faith's favorite saying.
"I'm very glad to hear that." He stared up at her, moving her hair away from her face, smiling as she closed her eyes at his touch.
Her expression was very tender as she opened her eyes, playing with his hair and tracing all the lines on his face.
"You'll get very tired doing that," he said, as she started on another run through the wrinkles.
"I'll never get tired of doing this." She touched the one on his forehead, the one that was deep and had gotten deeper through his years with her. "This one is mine, Giles. Being with me made it grow."
"Worrying about you."
"Burying me." She kissed his cheek suddenly, her lips so soft on his skin that he froze, his hands on her back stilled, letting her do whatever she wanted with no interference.
"You had nothing to do with calling me back."
"You wouldn't have done it. No matter how much you wanted me back."
"No, I wouldn't have. But I must say, Buffy, as angry as I was with Willow for doing it, I can't be sorry she resurrected you. I can't be sorry you're here now."
"I know." Sighing, she rested against him, her cheek to his, her hands clutching his hair. "I still feel like an outsider sometimes. Like life isn't the same."
"Well, I imagine life isn't the same." Pulling away so they could look at each other, he gave her an encouraging smile. "And you have so many responsibilities."
"All the slayers."
"But you help me with them." Her smile was terribly sweet.
"And I always shall, Buffy." He pulled her to him. "Would you mind terribly if we kissed some more?"
"No," she murmured, just before her lips met his.
It felt very right to be like this. They didn't take it any farther, and he was content to let this be enough for the night, knew that she was, too. But they didn't stop kissing for a very long time. And even once they had, she stayed on his lap, curled into him, sighing as he rubbed her back.
Finally, she pulled away. "Are your legs asleep?"
"But getting close, huh?" Giving him her knowing slayer look, she crawled off him. "Can we sleep out here tonight?"
"If you like." He was far too old to be sleeping next to her on the ground, even if it was a warm night and the nice sand gave way as a mattress never would. She turned, looking at him, then cuddled against him, as he wrapped his arm around her.
She looked so very young when she slept.
He watched her for quite a while before he finally fell asleep, too.
Buffy woke suddenly, felt an arm tighten around her and remembered where she was. "Mmm," she said, snuggling into Giles.
He mumbled in his sleep, and she laughed softly. He let up on her, his breathing changing as he came awake.
She could feel her hips complaining as she stretched. "This was not the most comfortable bed."
"No, it wasn't." He pulled away, then froze.
"This is exactly the way it wasn't supposed to happen," he murmured.
She turned slowly, knowing what she'd see--who she'd see--even before she completed the roll.
Xander stood where the trees ended and the beach started; he was watching them with an almost dazed look on his face.
His name seemed to wake him up. "I was worried. Willow wasn't sure where you'd gone, but Ingrid had seen you two head this way last night. I know how you like the beach, Buff, so I thought I'd chance it..." He took a deep breath, staring at them, his look growing stonier until he finally looked away. "But then I'm an idiot, aren't I?"
"Xander..." She sat up, thanking all the gods that she and Giles had been content to make out with their clothes on.
"Save it. There's no good way for us to finish this." He looked over at Giles, his face changing as Giles sat up.
"There's nothing to finish, Xander." Giles voice was calm. He moved slowly, putting his hand on her shoulder very gently, but very clearly saying he was not hiding anything. "This is what it is."
"And what is that, Giles?"
Buffy thought she saw disgust. "Xander, you don't have the right to judge us."
"Oh, of course not. This is just one more case of you being with a guy you should be ashamed of yourself for wanting."
"That's enough," Giles voice was no longer calm. It was dipping into Ripper territory.
"Did you want her the whole time we hung in your library, Giles? Did you dream about her then?"
"No, Xander, he left that to you." Buffy could feel her face turning red as Xander's lips tightened. "For God's sake. We're two consenting adults."
"There was a time when only one of you was, Buffy. And that's what makes this so very gross."
"You judged me for Spike. You hated Angel. You don't get to rip this apart, too." She made her voice as cold as she could, pushed herself to her feet, wanting to stand, to let him know he'd pushed all the wrong buttons.
"Fine. You two just do whatever you want. Don't mind the rest of us who are retching."
She realized Giles was being very quiet and turned to look at him. He met her eyes, his own were stormy, but his lips were pressed together, as if he would not let whatever he wanted to say out. Taking several steps back, she stood next to him.
"This is what it is, Xander. I'm dating my watcher. I'm dating my friend. I'm--"
"--You're dating your goddamn father." Xander's face had gone white. "Don't you think that's a little perverted, maybe?"
"I'm not her father, Xander. I may have been a sort of surrogate, but Buffy and I have grown past that."
"How convenient." He shook his head. "What are you going to tell Dawn? She'll be back at the end of the summer, Buff. You think she'll take this well?"
"Dawn is my concern, not yours."
"Not much of an answer." Xander took a step toward them. "My god, you two just don't get it."
"Oh, we get it, Xander." Giles voice was dangerously low and deep. He took a step forward, too, as if to show Xander he wasn't intimidated. "We understand your position. You're on the outside looking in--again. As Buffy makes another choice you don't agree with." Giles smiled slightly, the expression mean. "Another choice that isn't you."
Buffy hurt inside for Xander, but she knew they had to do this. Had to fight back or he'd never let up. They had to get to the heart of the matter--that she hadn't picked him.
"Xander, you're one of my best friends. You'll always be that." She tried to speak softly and gently. She wanted him to know she cared. But not the way he wanted her to. "I will always love you--as a friend. But I can't give you more than that."
They stood silently, the air between them thick with unsaid, hurtful things. She saw Xander look down, thought she saw a tear in his eye.
"Are you going to stay with us, Xander?" Giles' voice was very much that of the watcher now. Falling back on procedure. Finding some kind of safe ground for them.
"Do you want me to?" He didn't look at them.
"Yes," she said. "We need you."
He finally looked up, turning to Giles. "What do you say?"
"I say you should do what you have to do. I won't apologize for my relationship with Buffy. But this is certainly not how you should have found out."
"No crap, Giles." Xander sighed. "I have to think. I'm not sure." He turned, heading for the trail back up. "I'll leave you two alone."
Giles watched him until he was out of sight before he turned to her. "Well. That went badly."
She nodded, feeling a little sick inside. But also a little relieved. He knew now. It was done.
"If you want to go after him, I won't stop you." Giles was staring at her as if he was trying to read her heart.
"Do you think I want to?"
"Sometimes a confrontation like that can prod feelings to the surface. Can spark realizations that otherwise might never be discovered."
"I'm angry at him for saying the things he did. I'm hurt that he was so bothered. I'm sad that I hurt my friend. But I don't want to run after him."
He didn't answer, just kept up the staring, as if she was going to change her mind if he locked eyes with her long enough. Finally, he looked away. "All right. We better go up, too." He started to head for the trail.
She stopped him easily. "Do you wish I'd go after him?"
"No." There was no uncertainty in his expression. "It's going to be uncomfortable for a while if he stays on. You do know that?"
"I lived through him finding out about Spike. This can't be any worse than that." She looked down, shook her head. "He's always so quick to judge me."
"He wants you; you don't want him. That hurts."
"So he gets to hurt me back? That's okay?"
Pulling her to him, he stroked her hair. "No, Buffy, it's not all right. But it is a very understandable reaction."
"You're saying you're not mad?"
"On the contrary. I'd like to throttle him. Or perhaps pummel him."
She laughed softly; the sound came out bitter. "Don't, kay?"
"I won't. You know I won't. And he might not let me. He's become much more proficient at fighting."
"True." She relaxed against him, willing to let him take care of this moment, to make it all right--or as all right as it was ever going to be.
Willow watched Xander trudge up the hill. She'd seen Ingrid point to the beach, had known what he'd find. So she'd come down past the half-finished dorm, past the houses that Xander's Italian crew had started to build, and waited for him.
"You knew?" he asked, as soon as he was within earshot.
"You could've warned me, Will." He threw himself onto the ground next to her.
"Like you warned me when I found you with Cordelia?"
"That was different. Or was this payback?"
"I didn't tell you where Buffy had gone, remember? Ingrid did. I don't need to make you hurt to feel better about myself."
He winced. She'd known he would. Could imagine what he might have said to Buffy and Giles when he was hurting.
"Will, this is just wrong."
"Why? Because it's Giles? Or because it's not you?"
He shook his head. "Both?" There was no sarcasm in his voice. Nothing but what sounded like a deep emptiness. "Why does she have such cruddy taste in men?"
"Giles isn't cruddy." It felt odd to be defending him when she still wasn't certain how she felt about him being with Buffy. But this was Giles and he wasn't cruddy. He just wasn't who any of them would have expected Buffy to choose.
"Well, he's the least cruddy of the bunch, perhaps. Although Riley was all right. So of course that couldn't last."
"--No! What is it they have that I don't? Do I have to get all dark and raise demons?"
"You did that. The singing demon?"
"You almost married one."
"Ex-demon. Why does no one remember that?"
"I'm just saying that maybe Anya, Cordelia, and Faith weren't our examples of quality choices, either? But you picked them because, for you, at the time, they felt right."
"Will, don't make this better. It'll only make me feel worse." His gaze was diverted down the hill, and Willow saw Buffy and Giles emerge from the trees. "Oh, great."
"Xander, you feel bad, I get that. I know you love her. And maybe someday you'll get a chance with her. But now is not the time."
He nodded, clearly miserable.
"Maybe you should go away for a while?"
"They need me here."
"Then stay here. But don't spend the time being mean to them. Or snarky." She smiled gently at his look. "Don't give me that innocent, 'who me?' look. You know what I'm talking about. No sarcastic strafing runs, all right? Let them be. You never know; they might not last. But if you keep trying to hurt them over this, she'll never forgive you. And then you really will have lost your chance."
He sighed. "You're a wise woman."
"Don't I know it?" She took his hand, squeezing it for a moment, before letting go. "Hi, guys," she said to Buffy and Giles as soon as they got close enough to hear.
"Hi," Buffy said, while Giles just nodded.
Xander pushed himself up. "I better get back to work. Houses to finish. Do you guys each want one of your own or--"
Willow hit him hard in the leg. "Ixnay on the afing-stray."
He took a deep breath. "I better get back to work." Then he turned and practically fled.
"Well, that wasn't awkward in any way." Buffy took a deep breath, then she turned to Giles. "I need to talk to Willow."
"Of course. I'll go clean up." His look as he left her was barely different than it had ever been. The ease they'd built over the years was probably a big part of whatever attraction they were feeling.
Willow decided to make it easy on Buffy. "So, cat's out of the bag?"
"Cat ripped through the bag. Shredded it. Then threw up on it."
But not too easy. "Hmm."
"I'm sorry, Will. I should have told you."
"Yep. You should have." She turned what Kennedy called her "don't lie to me" look on Buffy. "Why didn't you?"
"Because this is weird."
"Oh, good, you know that. I was afraid I was going to have to tell you." She smiled gently.
"It's weird for him, too."
"It damn well better be."
"I know." Buffy took a deep breath, then sat down next to Willow. "I was really mad at him when he told me. And he was all British and appalled at himself, too."
"But you're not mad now. And he doesn't seem appalled so much as a little chagrined."
"I had a lot of time to think about it. To think about him. And me. And him and me." She laughed softly. "It doesn't suck, Will. Being with him. Not that I've 'been' with him, but what we've done has been...nice."
Willow was very glad to hear they were taking it slow. She somehow thought better of Giles for that. A skanky old man wouldn't wait, wouldn't care--he'd just want the action. "Nice is good." She smiled but could tell it came out half hearted by Buffy's look. "I mean, it is. But there's the weirdness factor."
"Yeah. You think that'll go away soon?"
"Sure. When it goes away for you two, maybe?"
"Oh. That long, huh?" Buffy pulled some grass out of the ground, letting it fly in the warm breeze. "I'm getting more okay with it by the day, actually."
"Then I bet he is, too. That's good. I think." Willow pulled some grass out, too. "So, Xander's hurting."
"I know. I can't help it."
"Oh, I didn't mean you should do anything with that info. Just be aware." Willow looked back at the dorm.
Xander was pounding nails. Very hard. She imagined he was pretending Giles' face was underneath his hammer. Maybe Buffy's, too.
"I love him, but not that way."
They sat in silence, but it was an easy silence, not the kind where someone had to say something stupid just so there'd be some noise.
"I have to tell Dawn," Buffy finally said.
"You are a woman of few words today."
Willow smiled. "Not much that needs saying. You know what to do."
As Buffy started to get up, Willow reached out, touching her arm. "We'll get used to this. We got used to Xander and Cordy and Xander and Anya; we can get used to this."
"Thanks." Buffy's face scrunched up in that funny way it did when she was insulted and touched at the same time.
"You know what I mean."
"I do." Buffy took a deep breath. "I'm going to go call Dawn. See how she's doing. And tell her I've changed my name to Lolita."
Willow shook her head. "It's not that bad. If you want moral support...?"
"I'm good. It's my life and my"--she screwed up her face--"boyfriend? Oh, that's just so beyond wrong calling him that. I mean it's not wrong that he is my boyfriend. But Giles and boyfriend as words do not make beautiful music together. Squeeze, maybe? Or the ever popular significant other?"
"How about just Giles? Your friend. Your lover."
"Lover." Buffy grimaced. "That's so not the word I'm going to use with my baby sister."
"Right. No lover. Good luck with that convo."
"Thanks." Buffy got to her feet with the feral ease of a slayer.
Willow watched her as she walked toward the shelter that Xander and his crew were using as a bunkhouse--the shelter Giles had disappeared into to clean up in the very primitive bathroom.
Xander turned and watched Buffy walk into the shelter. Then he went back to pounding. Even harder.
Life with her two best friends was going to be very uncomfortable for a while. She was sorry Kennedy had stayed in Rome with the slayers. Kennedy, probably wasn't, though. For all Willow knew, Kennedy had seen this coming and had elected to stay clear of the danger zone.
Kennedy was one smart woman.
Buffy watched Giles putter around his room, packing books away for the move to Sorrento. He seemed very into his task, so she stepped out onto the balcony and watched the slayers practicing, dimly aware that his cell phone was ringing.
Was it Dawn? She'd taken the news remarkably well. Then again, Dawn had to live with the fact that she'd only existed as a human for three years and had been a big blob of green energy before that. So maybe for her this was minor? She'd been more interested in whether her Rome clothes would be in fashion in Sorrento than in what Buffy and Giles were doing.
"Dawn, does this bother you at all?" Buffy had asked her.
"Well, you're not dying. You're not refusing to live. You're not boinking the undead--or the Immortal."
"I thought you liked him."
"What was I supposed to say? Buffy, your new boyfriend is a big bore?"
"He bored you?"
"Yeah-huh. But, you know, I wasn't sleeping with him. Maybe he was big fun in the sack?"
"I'm seventeen, Buffy. I'm not a kid, anymore. You were making Angel go all evil at seventeen, remember? Giles isn't going to go all evil, is he? I mean Spike went nuts and Riley went away. So maybe it's you?"
"I'm going to go now, Dawn." She'd laughed at her sister's pleased chuckle--Dawn loved getting in a few good ones. "Seriously, are you okay with this?"
"I like Giles. He'll be nice to you; he'll be nice to me. And I won't have to learn some new guy's bad habits."
Buffy had smiled at the support her little sister was trying to give her. "So you don't wish I'd picked, say...Xander?"
"Uh, no. I may still have plans for him, you know?"
"Oh, Dawn. Please don't tell me that." She'd wrapped up the call before Dawn could say anything more.
And before she could put their dad on. There were some things Buffy was not ready for. Talking to her father for any length of time was one of them. That better not be him on the phone right now. Although maybe it was Dawn, calling to say she'd changed her mind and was seriously freaked out by Buffy's latest choice of boyfriend.
"It's Faith." Giles gave her his phone, his fingers lingering on her hand for a moment before he went back inside.
She put the phone to her ear, could hear loud music in the background. "Faith? How's the hellmouth?"
"Hellmouthy. You know. Same old, same old. Nothing we haven't seen before. Well, actually, we had a dragon. That may have been new."
Buffy remembered seeing a dragon come out of the portal that Dawn's blood had opened between their world and Glory's. "Nope. Been there, done that."
"Crap. I am going to come up with something new one of these days."
"You just keep telling yourself that. What's up?"
"I need two more slayers, B. I lost a couple." Her voice was light.
"Lost? Faith, you can't joke about it like that. This is--"
"--Whoa, overreaction girl. I mean lost as in Rona had to go to Florida to take care of her sister who's sick, and I sent Vi with her 'cause the girl is seriously tired."
"Jeez, B. Did you think I'd be that cold? Don't answer that." Faith sighed, and Buffy could imagine the look on her face. "So, uh, how are things there? Anything new?"
"The new compound's coming along."
"Good. Great. Can't wait to see it. Nothing else?"
"So you're not boinking Giles? Because Xander seemed to think you were boinking him."
"Xander's there?" Xander was supposed to be in New York and Cheyenne, picking up new slayers.
"He decided to see the great U. S. of A. by car rather than plane. His route conveniently took him through Cleveland. Hey, I can't blame the guy, B. He's wicked upset at you. Needed to get some stuff off his chest."
"And needed to tell you of all people?"
"You know I'm the last girl to lecture you on behavior." Faith laughed softly. "But isn't Giles kind of...dull?"
"No, he's not." She realized Giles was staring at his books in his box, absently putting them in order. Maybe he was dull? Then he put one in upside down and she realized he was listening to her conversation--probably had been since she'd mentioned Xander. "Giles is a regular stud muffin." A small grin and a shake of his head told her she was right and he was eavesdropping. "Now, if we could get rid of that nasty drool problem."
Giles was glaring at her.
"Nothing that won't clear up in time. So, was there anything else you needed to ask me, Faith?"
"Nope. That was about it. Just sort of felt bad for Xander, you know?"
"On account of having slept with him?"
"No, on account of him being a real downer when he's normally kind of entertaining. Robin and I were wicked glad when he left."
Buffy didn't want to laugh, but she couldn't stop herself. "Same old Faith."
"Ever and always, B. You and the watcher guy take care."
"I'll tell him you send your love."
"You could show him instead." The old cockiness was back in Faith's voice. The uber-nymph had risen from the ashes.
"Let's just pretend you didn't say that."
"Whatever, B. Send me two slayers just like the last four. They're working out great."
"Will do. Bye." She cut the connection and walked inside, handing the phone to Giles.
"I take it she knows."
"Did she seem appalled?"
"No." At his relief, she said, "Giles, this is Faith. I'm not sure that's a good thing."
"Oh, quite. Good point." He suddenly grabbed her, pulling her in close, then scooped her up and carried her to the bureau.
"Why, Giles. What are you doing?" But she knew he was going to kiss her by the way he pulled her to him, and it was the most natural thing for her to wrap her legs around him, for him to lift her up a little higher.
He kissed her for a long time before easing away. "I didn't know I was going to do that."
"Points for spontaneity."
"It was that drool comment." He smiled, going for her neck, his lips lingering on the bites, the one from Angel and the one from Dracula and the one from the Master. Was Spike the only one who hadn't bit her?
He worked his way back to her lips. "So Xander was there? And unhappy, I take it?"
"Yep, spilling the beans. Did he really think Faith would be Miss Compassionate?"
"Perhaps he thought she might enjoy the news. You have 'fallen' in his eyes, you know."
"I did that before."
She nodded, and he frowned.
"I don't fancy being compared to him."
"I know." She went for his ear, biting softly till he groaned. "I'll try not to do it again."
He pulled her back to him, lips hard on hers, hands roaming up under her shirt, warm skin on hers. He was lifting her again, and she could tell he wanted her. He moaned and she wondered why, then realized she was moving slightly, probably making it much worse--or better, depending on how you looked at it--for him. She moaned, wanting more, clutching him tightly. Then a knock sounded on the door.
"Damn him," Giles said as he let her down.
"I second that." She walked to the door and opened it. As expected, it was a lackey of her ex, there for some bogus reason. The Immortal had to have surveillance--or maybe just psychics on "stop the nookie" watch.
Giles went back to packing. "Go out and train for a while, Buffy. Work off some of that energy."
"Did I hurt you?"
"No," he said, winking at her. "But it's clear we won't be allowed to finish anything."
"Then we'll just have to wait."
His eyes seemed to sparkle. "I believe that was what we were doing, anyway?"
She thought her eyes might be sparkling, too. "I'm getting a little tired of waiting."
"Funny, so am I." His eyes were soft, not teasing anymore. "Go on, Buffy."
With a last smile for him, she turned and walked down to her room to change into something more spar-worthy. When she passed Giles' room, she could hear his shower going.
She imagined the water was very cold.
Willow made a final round of the complex, lighting her last smudge stick as she put the seal on her wards. Now that their slayers were here, she could use their energy to make the wards even stronger. All that power--it was like living on top of a nuclear reactor.
The night was very still, and she sighed as she walked. Kennedy trailed after her for protection and company--there, but silent, not interrupting Willow's work.
Finally, she was done, and she imagined tying off the last strings of the net of energy she'd woven. Turning to Kennedy, she reached for her hand.
"Not as much as you'd think. You slayers are good batteries."
Kennedy laughed. "Glad we could help." She put her arm around Willow, holding her tightly as they walked back to their little house.
There were some cicadas chirping, and the sound of the wind in the trees. But otherwise, it was so still. Nothing like the honks and sirens of Rome.
"This place is sort of creepy," Kennedy said softly.
"I know. It's so damned quiet."
"We could play our music really, really loud."
Willow giggled. "And get evicted for being bad neighbors."
"There you go. Even Sorrento would be livelier." Kennedy looked up, a small smile growing. "It is a pretty sky, though. We could come out here and watch for falling stars."
Willow nodded. The sky was pretty. And the air was fresh and clean compared to Rome. But she still missed the city. When they'd left it--one big slayer caravan headed southwest--she'd heard Giles sigh in what she'd supposed was relief as he drove them out of the Immortal's complex for the last time.
"Bye-bye, Rome," she'd whispered, and Kennedy had shot her a sympathetic look.
Willow had really liked it there. So much to do, plenty of stores to get supplies. Sorrento was pretty, but it lacked the vibrancy of Rome.
"We don't have to stay here if we don't like it, do we?" Kennedy seemed subdued, as if she wasn't sure where she stood.
"We totally don't." Pulling Kennedy to her, Willow kissed her slowly and very thoroughly.
"Mmmm, Red. You're so good at that."
Willow felt something tug at the edges of her awareness and pulled away from Kennedy.
"What is it?"
"Car." Scanning the trees, she finally saw headlights emerge on the little road that led to their complex. "Come on."
They hurried back to the main part of the sanctuary, and Willow saw Buffy and Giles coming out of the dining hall, followed by a bunch of slayers.
The car pulled to a stop, and the lights went out as the driver turned off the engine. All the doors opened at once, four people stepping out. Two men and two women, and one of the women had a huge smile on her face.
Giles looked taken aback for a moment, then he was smiling in a very big way, too. "Clara? But I thought you were..."
"Dead?" She pulled him into a tight hug, and Willow saw Buffy frown. "I was laid up the week before the explosion. Tried to take a vampire down, myself, and paid the price of it. But that blasted broken hip saved my life. And don't think I don't feel guilty about that." She let him go, turning to look at the others. "So Ernest said we were to come, and here we are."
"Oh, yes. Of course." Giles turned to Buffy. "You remember, Buffy? I told you they were coming?"
"I remember. So, you're the new tweed brigade, huh?" She moved to stand next to him, a bit closer than she normally did. Her smile seemed a little too posed, her stance a little too tight to be truly welcoming.
But Clara didn't seem to notice. "My goodness. It's Buffy Summers, isn't it? Oh, I'm quite the fan. Couldn't stand Quentin, and you were such a thorn in his side. So much fun to watch him after he had to deal with you." She winked at Buffy.
"And this Ernest. You and he are on better terms?" Buffy sounded a little more like herself.
"He's wound a bit tight, I'll admit. But making nice got me sent here"--she looked at Giles, beaming--"to spend time with a very dear friend."
From the look on Buffy's face, Willow thought Giles might be spending some of their private time explaining just how dear a friend he was to this woman. From the look on Clara's face, Willow wouldn't want to bet the farm they hadn't been involved in some way.
"Too bad Xander isn't here," Kennedy whispered to her. "He'd have loved this."
"Be nice," she tried to glare at Kennedy but couldn't get past the twinkle in her lover's eye. "Kennedy..."
"I'll behave." Kennedy coughed rather dramatically. "Introductions all around would be nice, Giles."
"Oh, yes. How rude of me." He introduced the slayer contingent. "And of course, there are many more of us. But it was a long day, and most of the girls have retired."
"We understand, of course." She turned to the other watchers. "This is Marshall Forest, Glenna Munroe, and Tristan Edgeworth. And I'm the senior member of the team. Clara Davies." She held her hand out to Buffy. "Extremely happy to be here."
Buffy didn't take it. "You do know you're awfully perky for a British person, right?"
"Buffy..." Giles shot her a look.
"It's all right, Rupert. I know Buffy probably doesn't trust us. But we'll earn her trust. And until we do, you can vouch for us, can't you?" She gave him another of her "piss Buffy off in a nanosecond" smiles. It also looked like it pissed off one of the male watchers--Marshall, Willow thought his name was.
"Now," Clara said in a breathless sort of way, "do you think we might steal some time to catch up?"
Giles looked like a man with no good options. Willow expected him to hedge, but he didn't. He turned to Buffy, his hand touching her arm. "Would you mind?"
"Knock yourself out."
Willow had a feeling she meant that literally.
"Good." Giles looked over at Willow. "Could you show Clara and the others to some rooms in the dorm? Buffy and I have to finish our conversation."
Willow could tell Buffy wasn't sure that they did. "Be happy to."
At Clara's look, Giles said, "I'll be by in a bit."
"Righty-oh, then. I'll see you when you're done." Clara turned to Willow. "Lead on."
"Okay." As she waited for the watchers to get their bags, Willow motioned to Kennedy to come with them. But Kennedy, who apparently suddenly needed glasses, acted like she didn't see Willow calling for her and wandered away into the dining hall with the other slayers. Kennedy wasn't big on playing welcome wagonista.
Willow turned back to the group. "Well, this way."
One of the men--Tristan, Willow thought--said, "Are you the one who put up the wards?"
"Nice work. I felt them as we came in. Wouldn't have wanted to be an evil thing trying to break through."
She smiled tightly. "That's the idea."
"Just you? Working all alone? How'd you get enough energy to do it, though?"
"I just used what was around."
"You mean other people's energy, don't you?" he asked.
She could see she'd walked right into his trap. "Just enough to seal the spell."
"And of course you had their permission?"
She waited for Tara to join in. But there was no gentle reproach. "I was asked to make this place safe for these people. I did it by using their energy. It won't hurt them. End of story."
"If you say so." He clearly didn't agree.
Gently, she reached out, feeling to see how strong he was. What talent he had was pretty mild, probably no more than an ability to sense magic. Little actual power.
"It's rude to read him without his permission," the other woman--Glenna--said.
Willow read her, too. No power but heavy on the psychic.
The woman glared at her. "It's rude to read anyone without their permission."
"It may be. But we've seen too much not to do it." Willow could hear her voice going cold. She turned to Clara. "We have a certain way of doing things. I'm sure Giles will tell you that. He and Buffy run this place their way. And we all do our part."
"And your point is...?"
"No point. Just information. You're not in England anymore."
"I'm well aware of that." She met Willow's gaze, didn't look away even when Willow's eyes went a little dark as she let the power seep in so that she could show these watchers that she was not to be messed with.
"You don't need to do that," Clara said. "We're not the enemy."
"You know, watchers have said that before. And they were lying through their teeth. So we're just a little skittish around this much tweed." She opened the door of the dorm. "Here you are. These suites are all made up."
"Very nice." Clara motioned for the others to go in, but she hung back. "I know you've had a bad run with my kind. I don't blame you for being cautious. But don't be so hidebound you can't accept help when you need it." She looked back, toward the car. "Rupert will be here soon. I best go in and unpack."
"I guess I'll see you in the morning."
"Yes, you will. I'm not going anywhere, Willow."
"Yay," Willow mouthed as she turned and left Giles' old friend to unpack in peace.
Kennedy was right. Xander would have loved this.
Buffy followed Giles to the cabin Xander had built for her and Dawn. The part for Dawn was pretty bare, waiting for the girl to come back from Spain and decorate it her own way.
"You're upset?" Giles asked, as soon as she'd closed the door.
"You have such a keen grasp of the 'right in front of your face' stuff, Giles."
"Clara and I are very old, dear friends."
"Yeah, about Ms. Davies." Buffy pushed herself up to the kitchen counter, swinging her legs the way she used to when she'd sat on the library counter.
Only back then, Giles had never moved so close, had never stood between her legs, had never stroked back her hair and smiled at her with a mix of both amusement and slight panic. "She and I are not lovers."
"No, because who would want a curvy Kate Winslet clone in their bed?" Clara had made Buffy feel very small and very angular. A girl to her woman.
And it had pissed her off more than she'd expected. It was normal for Giles to be jealous of the Immortal. It was fun to tease him about it. But Buffy had never been jealous of anyone that Giles had been with.
"We were lovers," Giles said. "A very long time ago."
"Not when you were back in England? After you deserted me?"
"I did not desert you."
"Semantics." She wanted to push him away from her. She wanted to wrap her legs around him and use slayer strength to keep him from ever leaving her again. She did neither. "And it has not escaped my notice that you have not answered my question."
"I was not with her while I was in England."
"Are you lying to me?" She looked down. Her voice had come out so small--she hadn't felt this unsure since Angel, that horrible day after when she'd thought she'd disappointed him in bed, not knowing he'd changed into Angelus. She'd never expected to feel this unsure with Giles. He was known territory. He was...safe. Wasn't he?
"Buffy, I wouldn't lie to you. I don't lie to you." He made a face. "Well, unless I'm trying to get Spike killed."
"And he's already dead, I mean dead-dead, so you must be telling the truth." She sighed. "I can't believe I'm jealous of her."
"I rather like that you are."
She did wrap her legs around him then. Pulling him closer, pulling him in. He didn't resist as she kissed him, but as she began to push off his coat, he pulled away. She could have stopped him--he wasn't a match for her strength. But that wasn't how they were together. He wasn't Spike; they didn't need to beat the crap out of each other to get hot.
"You can see her in the morning, Giles." She smiled at him, the sexy smile that she knew was hard to resist. "Stay with me." Running her hand around his neck, she pulled him gently back to her.
Just before their lips met, he said, "Buffy, you don't have to seduce me to own my heart. In fact, I'd really rather you didn't seduce me right now."
She stared at him, dropping her hand and letting her lower lip jut out, giving him the pout. He'd never been good at resisting it.
"Oh, stop that at once." And he kissed her. Suddenly and deeply, his hands roaming hard over her back, then up under her shirt. She moaned, and pulled him closer and he pushed into her, no distance between them.
Then he stopped kissing her and eased away.
"Seduce me sometime when you aren't trying to keep me safe from old loves."
"She was a love?"
He looked down and sighed. "Yes. Once upon a time, she was."
"You have to trust me." He smiled, tipping her chin up and kissing her lightly. "It's really quite wonderful that you're jealous." His smile grew a little devilish. "Not fair that I should be the only one to feel that particular emotion." Then he put his hands on her legs, pushing them away from him.
"Sure, run away."
"Buffy, of late, I've fantasized more times than you can imagine about your legs being around me in just that way. I'm not running away. I'm merely going to welcome an old friend to the compound." His smile faded. "And I want to set the ground rules for her and the others. Ernest knew of my history with Clara. He sent her for a reason."
He was totally in watcher mode, and Buffy smiled, letting herself slip back into the role of an adult slayer who was not ready to go fight the icky watcher woman to the death over him. "He sent her to get the upper hand with you?"
"I think so. He knows you and I are in lockstep when it comes to the Council. He needs to get me back on his side. It really shouldn't surprise me that he'd be willing to use anything he can to make sure the Council's interests are kept first and foremost."
"Well, you go tell her that." As he turned to go, she reached out, grabbing his sleeve. "Do you want to come back here when you're finished?"
"I do. More than anything. But I don't think this is the night for our first time. Too many other things motivating it."
"Motivating me, you mean?" She let him go. "'Cause I'd never just want to do it with you."
He laughed. "I am very, very--"
"--Old. Yes, I know." She took a deep breath. "Go talk to the English Rose." The woman did have great skin. That annoying peaches and cream look that usually meant someone had never spent any time in the sunshine.
"English Roses are overrated." He touched her lips. "I like California flowers better."
"I'm not really a flower, Giles. Well, a venus fly trap, maybe?"
"Or a pitcher plant?"
She laughed. "Get out of here."
"Get some rest. They'll no doubt have all sorts of issues with our training regimen."
"No doubt." Watching him walk toward the door, she smiled when he turned to look at her. "Good night."
"Good night, Buffy." Then he was gone, the screen door closing softly behind him.
She exhaled loudly, wanting to follow him and knowing that was not the thing to do. She did have to trust him. She kicked her legs, hitting up against the side of the counter and tried to think of all the ways Clara and her minions could make their life miserable. The raised eyebrows, the sarcasm thinly veiled as surprise--"Oh, do you really do it that way? How quaint." Giles was right. This was not going to be fun.
"Hey," Willow said from the screen. "Everything okay?"
"Lady watcher angst?"
"Yes." Buffy realized she was kicking the counter with a little too much force. "Are you prepared to hate her on principle?"
Buffy laughed. "You don't have to."
Willow opened the door and came in. "So...were they, I mean she and Giles, were they...?"
"But I'm sure that's so of the past."
"That's what he says. Not so sure she thinks it is, though." Buffy studied Willow as her friend looked anywhere but at her. "Guess you kind of got that impression too, huh?"
"Kind of." Willow climbed onto one of the stools, grabbing a cookie and then studying it instead of eating it. "It was nicer without them."
"Agreed." Buffy kicked off the counter and walked into the kitchen, pouring Willow some milk to go with her as yet untasted cookie. "I didn't bake that in case you were wondering. Those are from Ingrid."
"Oh. Cool." She bit into it immediately.
"I think I'm insulted," Buffy said as she pushed the glass of milk toward Willow. "Did you think Clara was pretty?"
"No." Again, Willow didn't meet her eyes.
"Big liar." Buffy took one of the cookies and bit into it, enjoying the way it melted in her mouth. "If I ate enough of these, do you think I could grow curves like that?"
"Buffy, you're you, and Giles wants you the way you are, not looking like Clara 'I'm so sweet and eager' Davies. He had that."
"I hope so."
"Buffy. Trust me on this. Giles wants you."
"Wonder if he'll tell her about us?" Buffy took another cookie. "And how much trouble we're going to be in if he does."
"Is there a rule against watchers and slayers, you know, doing that...?"
"If there is, it's probably in that Slayer's Handbook no one ever bothered to give me." Buffy sighed. "Mostly, I bet it didn't come up that often. I'm sort of long in the tooth as slayers go."
She could tell Willow wasn't sure what to say, so she concentrated on eating her cookie and tried not to think about Giles and Clara and their big reunion in the dorm.
"Well, I better go." Willow slid off the stool. "It'll be all right, Buffy. You'll see."
"Thanks, Will." Buffy walked her to the door, following her out onto the nice porch Xander had made her. She watched Willow walk away, then sat down in the swing Xander had also put together.
She could see lights on in the area of the dorm they'd set aside for the watchers. One of them was Clara's room. The room where Giles was now. Buffy closed her eyes, letting the peace of the place sink into her, hopefully covering up the nagging jealousy.
It would be all right. She had to trust him.
"Clara?" Giles knocked on her door, smiling as she turned, some kind of lacey underthing in her hands. She always had fancied silk and satin under the tweed. Although he thought her holding that particular item as he walked in was probably deliberate.
She pushed the garment into a drawer and walked over to hug him. It was a very warm hug. "Rupert. I'm so happy to be here."
"And I'm very pleased to see you."
"Just pleased?" She pulled him to one of the two arm chairs in the room, pushing him into it. "Now, stay. No running away." Between the chairs stood a table; a pot of tea waiting, with two cups. Smiling, she sat down and reached for the pot. "I suppose you still take it the same way?"
"Yes. The same." He watched her, studying her. Her face was a little flushed, her hair pulled back as if to get it out of her face. She looked fresh and homey as she handed him the teacup. "It's Darjeeling tonight." His favorite, not hers.
"Fine." He set the cup down, not really thirsty. "So. You're the head of Ernest's team?"
"Yes. That's what happens when nearly everyone above you is killed. You find yourself running things." She grimaced, as if she realized her tone was at odds with the words. "Sorry, I know I should be more serious. But it's been a while since the explosion, and it's been horrible, frankly. And if we didn't joke about it, we'd cry."
"I know. I wasn't judging."
"Well, I was. I hate that I'm becoming hard, like Quentin and his cronies." She looked down. "All the knowledge. All the books and everything. Gone. It's just us, now. The young ones. The junior ones."
"I thought the vampire I fought was going to kill me, Rupert. I thought that was the end of me. And I remember thinking it wasn't fair. Because I hadn't finished living, yet."
Giles smiled. "I understand."
"But I didn't die. Marshall found me. Half dead, and crawling through the grass. And he got me to the hospital in time."
"You and Marshall, then?"
"Oh, no. He was just worried." He could tell by her expression that she wasn't lying--but he thought she might be wrong. Marshall had not looked pleased at how warmly she'd been smiling at him. "I remember lying in that hospital thinking that I'd been given another chance. A chance to do things the right way. To make things right that went wrong." Her eyes were very soft as she looked at him. "To make it up to you, Rupert. We didn't end well."
"No, we didn't." That was putting it mildly, actually.
"I'd like to have a chance to make amends on that score." She leaned in, her hair glowing under the soft light. She looked softer than she really was, sweeter than the woman he'd seen at the end of their affair.
"I appreciate the sentiment. Truly. But, I'm afraid I'm involved with someone right now."
Clara laughed, the sound was cutting. "Well, she's not here. How involved can you be?"
"Actually, she is here. You met her. Seemed to be a fan, even." At Clara's look, at the dawning understanding, he said, "You don't approve?"
"I can't approve. You know that's not done."
"Well, no, because slayers don't normally reach the age where it might be all right."
"Might be? Listen to your words, Rupert. She's a child."
"No, she's twenty-three. And beyond that, she stopped being a child when she was called. She's grown up far too quickly and that's our fault."
"We didn't call her. We just work with those whom the Powers bring forth."
"Work with? Work over is more like it. Quentin made me put her through the Cruciamentum."
"I know. I've read her file fully."
"Reading her file is very little like getting to know her. She's a young woman now, but she was a girl then. And we put her through hell."
"Were you involved with her then? With your charge?" She put a noxious spin on the word "charge."
"No. Clara, this is not improper. Our relationship is evolving, but it's a recent thing. It's grown into this."
"So no need to call you Humbert?" Her voice fairly dripped acid.
"Then I shan't call her Lolita, either. Pity. They'd make lovely code names." She busied herself with fixing her tea, two lumps of sugar and much cream. "She's too young for you."
"She likes older men."
"Maybe so, but you're still too old for her."
"Actually," he said with a grin that he knew would only irritate her, "I'm one of the younger ones."
She laughed, a sound halfway between hurt and hurtful. "If you're referring to her propensity for dating men who don't age, it doesn't count. They all look--or looked--much younger than you." She sipped at her tea, her eyes resolutely cast down. Away from him.
"I'm sorry I disgust you so. One of our friends is viewing our relationship with equal distaste."
"Perhaps that's because what you are doing is reprehensible."
"Or perhaps because you all think you have the right to judge this. That's up to me and Buffy. Not you."
"And if she were underage, would that be your argument?"
"She's not underage. And if she were, we would not be having this conversation. She's died twice, Clara. Nearly died again fighting the First. She's battled horrors you can't even imagine, and her soul is older than either of us after all that. Don't act as if she's still a child. Or that I'm taking advantage of her. Because it's not like that."
Clara looked up at him; tears swam in her eyes. He wasn't sure if they were real or feigned. She was capable of either. "You're in love with her? In love with your slayer?" She shook her head, then hurriedly sipped at her tea.
"I am." He swallowed hard. He didn't know if Buffy was in love with him, but he was in love with her. He hadn't been sure. But he could feel the certainty inside him. Knew that what he and Buffy were doing, though not the way he'd foreseen their relationship going, was all right. Even if no one else understood that. He got up. "I'm going to let you get some rest."
"This will be in my first report to Ernest."
"You can tell Ernest anything you damn well like. This is our camp. Buffy's and mine. We make the rules. You don't. And neither does Ernest."
"Are you forgetting whose money financed this? And who secured that money?"
"I'm willing to bet it was someone who believed in slayers, not watchers." By the quick way she looked down, he realized he was right--he'd only been bluffing, speaking out in anger. Although he'd suspected it, from something Ernest had said once in passing about their patron. If he'd known for sure before, he never would have agreed to the watchers coming. "I don't think our mysterious benefactor really cares whether you're involved or not, so long as the slayers prosper."
"You indicated you were leaving, Rupert. Perhaps some follow-through on that?"
"The ice with the sweet. It's what I remember best. And miss least." He could hear Ripper in his voice. Clara had never known Ripper. Buffy had seen more of him than anyone.
He turned and left, letting the door close gently behind him. He wouldn't give Clara the satisfaction of a good slam. He meant to walk to his own little house, but his feet took him back to Buffy's. She was sitting on the swing, eyes closed, head back against the outside of the cabin. She looked young, until she opened her eyes and stared at him.
"So, this reunion, tearful or...?"
"Or. Very much or."
She moved over, making room for him on the swing. Xander had made her the swing--she was the only person on the compound with one like it, although they'd all asked for one once they saw it. Giles imagined that Xander had envisioned himself sitting next to Buffy.
He put his arm around her, sighing heavily.
"Rough day at the office, dear?" She leaned her head against his shoulder and reached up to touch his hand with her own. "Did she come here for the slayers or for you?"
"For me, I think."
"Well, we'll just have to tell her you're spoken for."
"I did that. It wasn't received well." He could tell she was surprised. "I'm not interested in hiding this, Buffy."
"Me neither. And her reaction--that's her problem. Not ours." She turned, cuddling against him.
"Do you want to go inside?"
"What about the 'this is for all the wrong reasons' concept?"
She laughed and raised her face to his. "The concept still holds. You're a wise man, Giles, or you were before your meeting with watcher woman. I don't want you making love to me just because she got you all riled."
"Well, it wouldn't be the only reason..." He pulled her up to kiss him, knew she was right--that he'd been right earlier. This was not the night for their first time. He held her tightly, rubbing her back.
"She's really pretty." Buffy sounded strange, and he looked down. She looked...unsure. Did she really think he found Clara more attractive than her?
"She is pretty. But I'm not interested in her. I have this lovely woman of my own, perhaps you know her?"
"Maybe. Tell me about her?" Her voice was edging toward normal.
"So's Miss England."
He smiled. "And she's lithe, with golden skin. She can kill anything that moves, which I find frightfully comforting since I am, as we both know, very, very old."
She finished the very, very old part with him. Her smile was a real one.
"She's brave and resourceful. And she can lead and inspire. She's terribly sexy, too, if you must know."
"Oh, yes." He kissed her forehead. "Walking away from you earlier took an enormous amount of strength on my part, you know?"
"I like that. That I get to you, but that you can still say no when it's not right for us."
"I would say no altogether if it weren't right. I'd leave and never come back. You know that, yes?"
"I do. So, she said it was wrong for us to be involved?"
"Oh, quite vehemently."
"She can bite me." Buffy laughed at his expression. "I've been through hell, Giles. I can date who I want to date."
"That's essentially what I told her. Only in a much more ponderous way."
"You're not ponderous." She settled her hand on his thigh, moved it to the inside of his leg then held position instead of heading for parts naughty. "Us being together is not a bad thing."
He put his hand over hers, pressing her hand into his leg. "I realize that, Buffy."
"You think they ever will?"
She didn't answer, just gave a little squeeze and then started the swing rocking. They sat, listening to the night all around them, until she started to fall asleep.
"Go inside, Buffy. I'll see you tomorrow."
"She's watching us."
He looked toward the dorm. "Her window is on the other side."
"I don't care. I think she's watching us."
All the windows were dark. She might have been watching them from one of the other watchers' room, or even an empty dorm room. If so, she wasn't seeing much more than two people being tender with each other. Although from here on out, no matter how Buffy and he acted, all Clara would probably see was an abomination.
Buffy watched Clara stride across the training field to where she was standing. The woman nodded tersely to Giles as she passed him, and he began to follow her but stopped when Buffy held up her hand--an age-old sign that meant "Don't."
Clara stopped in front of her, her back to the sun, making Buffy squint a little when she looked up at her. "Impressive, this place."
Buffy slipped on her shades. Designer sunglasses the Immortal had bought her. She knew she looked very cool in them. "We like it."
"I wouldn't have expected such order...from someone so young."
"Young, old, doesn't matter." Buffy was about to launch a counterstrike, but she saw Ingrid fall and sighed. Even knowing she wasn't going to have to put her life on the line hadn't helped the girl get better.
"She won't last long." There was an innate coldness to the comment, as if Clara didn't even think of the meaning behind her words.
It made Buffy very mad. "Which is why she's in our kitchen and not heading out to fight evil. This training is just to make her a little sharper in case evil decides to steal our food."
Clara stared at her, surprise visible. "You're not sending her out to do her duty?"
"That's right. Besides, there are plenty of omelets in need of being slain. She'll be serving 'The Powers That Be' with a whisk and a spatula instead of a stake."
"You can't be serious. She has a sacred destiny."
"And her destiny bites. It'll get her killed. So destiny aversion is in order." Buffy smiled tightly at the look on the other woman's face. "And now we have that option. No more 'one girl in all the world' crap. Get used to it, Ms. Davies. This is our new order. And you don't have a say." Giles had told her that he'd found out their benefactor might not be a watcher fan. It gave them considerable leverage, and Buffy was happy to use it.
The fact that she was getting one up on Giles' old flame had nothing to do with anything.
"I can see Rupert has made you quite the little puppet."
Buffy laughed. "Giles would be the first to tell you I'm string free. This was my idea, he just happens to support it."
"Yes, well we both know why that is, now don't we?"
Buffy ignored her. She was tempted to say something snarky, but she didn't need to justify what they were doing, and she could tell that Clara was trying to maneuver her into a corner.
"Do you think what you're doing with him is right?" So much for maneuvering--Clara was going for the brute force approach.
"I don't have to explain our relationship to you."
"Then you know it needs explaining."
"No, I know you think it does. Big diff." Buffy decided to change the subject. "Guess you didn't think it was a conflict of interest to come down here as team lead when you were still jonesing for Ripper?"
Clara looked confused, and Buffy thought she'd have to explain "jonesing." But instead the woman said, "Ripper?"
"You weren't part of that? And he never told you about it?" Buffy leaned in, as if they were very old friends. "Giles has a dark streak. A wicked large one, in fact." She was channeling Faith, but she liked it. She almost wished Faith was here to put this watcher in her place for her.
"Rupert is a good man. If there's any darkness in him, it came from being around you."
"Guess you've disbanded your chapter of the Buffy Fan Club, huh? Hope you don't plan to return the t-shirt, 'cause we don't give refunds." Buffy patted her on the arm, the way she knew used to piss off Wesley. "It's been scintillating chatting, but I have to book."
"Are you even speaking English?" Clara was off balance, and it was probably more because she'd thought it would be easy getting the upper hand than that she didn't understand Buffyspeak.
Too bad for her. Time to wake up and smell the English Breakfast tea.
"You'll adapt," Buffy said. "Or you'll leave. I know which is my preference."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"Suit yourself." She turned and walked away slowly. "I don't like her, Giles," she said once she was in earshot of him.
"Judging by the way she is glowering, I'd say that feeling's mutual." He smiled as she leaned into him slightly, then pulled away.
It was odd. As much as she liked to cuddle with him when they were alone, neither of them went in for public displays. It would have been--she tried to think of the word he'd used. Decided "indecorous" was probably best, even if she'd be damned if she'd ever use it in a sentence.
"Felicia and Karen are ready for a practicum, I think," he said. "Why don't we take them up to Milan in a week or two?" Giles might not go in for PDA, but he sounded as if he anticipated doing something a great deal more fun than hunting vampires in Milan.
Buffy studied him. "Ready to make your move? Or is that your way of getting us away from your ex?"
"Possibly both? But primarily I want the girls to hunt in a less controlled environment. If they get used to winning when there is no true competition..."
"I hear you." She watched as the two girls whaled on each other. "They are good. Almost as good as me."
"No one is as good as you." The look he gave her was one of pure pride--she had a feeling he'd have given her the same look even if he hadn't wanted into her pants.
Clara, looking very tweedy and resolved, walked over to them. "As one of the watchers, I need to be included in these planning sessions."
Buffy decided not to tell her they were planning when they'd have sex for the first time. "We've got a watcher. We've got Giles."
Clara's lips tightened.
"You don't count me in that group, Clara?" Giles asked.
"You stopped being a watcher some time ago. Quentin told me; I was just having trouble accepting that. I thought it was him you couldn't follow, not our precepts. But I've accepted. He was right." Her voice was full of distaste.
"Wow," Buffy said, "do you have to practice to get a stick that size up your ass or does it just come naturally?" Clara didn't react, and Buffy felt more than a little cheated. "The watchers don't make the rules here, anymore." When Clara still didn't answer, Buffy looked up at Giles. "I think she's having trouble with this concept."
He smiled. A very British, very superior smile. "Yes, well, nobody's perfect."
Clara's cheeks turned dark red--they looked a little splotchy actually. So there was a downside to peaches and cream. "It's not just the training of the slayers we might take issue with. Tristan and Glenna have some qualms about your resident witch."
Giles' eyebrows went up. "Willow? Why worry about her?"
"She pushes. She uses. She read Tristan and Glenna without their permission."
"I see. And...was there something in their heads that might interest her? That you don't want us to find?" Giles was sounding less and less like an old boyfriend of this woman and more and more like an affronted former watcher.
This was all to the good in Buffy's opinion.
Clara didn't answer.
"Willow is who she is," Buffy said. "She's a very, very powerful witch. She's not evil just because she doesn't follow your rules. And besides, who'd want to--if it just leads to getting blown up?" It was low to touch on the explosion that had leveled the Council's headquarters and killed a lot of watchers. But picking on Willow was even lower.
"How dare you?"
"Oh, I dare because you're making me. Let's try to hammer out a detente, shall we?" She nearly grimaced--she'd have to watch how much she was starting to sound like Giles. "You don't pick on me and mine, and I won't throw you out of here."
"You think you could?"
Buffy nodded. "All four of you. All by myself."
"And if she couldn't, then I'd be happy to help her," Giles said.
"Hey, guys. What's going on?" Kennedy was dressed up, as if she was going out to a tea party--Buffy would have bet money there was no way Kennedy owned anything that close to girly.
"Going somewhere, young lady?" Clara asked, her voice thick with watcher protocol.
"Uh, yeah. My parents are in town, and we're having brunch. With Willow if she ever gets ready. God, she's changed like five times."
"She's probably nervous," Buffy said.
"I know. It'd be endearing if it weren't going to make us late."
"So," Clara asked, "this slayer is leaving the compound and none of you was advised beforehand?"
"Looks that way," Kennedy said, her eyes narrowing. "Is this what you watchers are going to do the whole time you're here? Just sit around looking way too warm in all that wool and tell us what to do?"
"And if it is?" Clara moved closer.
Kennedy moved closer still, then took another step so she was in the woman's face, even if considerably shorter. "Then I'll have to tell my dad on you."
"I'm quaking in my shoes."
Kennedy started to laugh. It was not a pleasant sound. Giles looked down at Buffy, who gave him the most imperceptible shrug she could. She had no earthly idea what Kennedy was yammering on about, even if it was fun to have her targeting her 'tude on someone else for a change.
"Who do you think owns this land, anyway?" Kennedy asked. "My father knows what I am. And he met my watcher--and didn't like him much. Anyway, he was happy to give me and my fellow slayers a place to call our own. My parents like to summer here, so we can all see each other--worked out great, don't you think?" At Buffy's look of surprise, Kennedy said, "The handwriting was kind of on the wall as far as you and the Immortal went. I could tell we were going to need a new place to live, and I so did not want to go back to sharing a bathroom with a gazillion other girls. So I called my dad and had him get in touch with Ernest."
Buffy grinned. This was getting better and better. Except...that now Kennedy could play the "My dad can kick you out" card on her, too, anytime she wanted.
She must have transmitted that, because Kennedy moved closer, putting her arm around Buffy as if she was her oldest and dearest. "This is my commandant." That was a dig, but Clara didn't know it so Buffy forced herself not to react. "What she says goes. That's how it's been; that's how it's going to be. Right, B?"
Buffy tried not to stiffen. Damn Faith, anyway. "Right, K."
At least, Clara looked considerably less sure of herself. "I'm a watcher, Kennedy. I'm here for your own good."
"Well, fortunately, we have a former watcher and a senior slayer who look out for us. They do a great job, and frankly, I don't think we need to bring in any new authority figures to augment the parentals, here." Another dig at Buffy and Giles' relationship, but again Clara seemed to miss it. "You're basically redundant."
"I'm not ready to leave," Clara said, her voice firm, but something in her eyes told Buffy this was really not going to plan for her.
"Well, get ready. Soon." Kennedy turned as Willow, looking very cute, finally came out of their cabin. She smiled at Willow, then looked back at Buffy. "Can we borrow the car, Mom?" She grinned again, and somehow, this time, it wasn't a dig. She was supporting their relationship, just in her normal hostile way.
"Keys?" Buffy asked Giles, holding out her hand.
He looked at Kennedy as he dug the keys out of his pocket and handed them to Buffy. "Do I have to give you the lecture about--"
"--No. You gave me the lecture every time I borrowed the car in Rome. It's much harder to drive there than here. Besides, I'm from New York. I'm good with confusion on the roads."
Buffy dropped the keys into her hand.
"And I'll have Red with me. She'll keep us on the pavement."
"There's a chance we won't be on the pavement?" Willow looked sick--and the prospect of meeting the parents had probably made her queasy enough.
As the two walked off, Clara turned back to Buffy. "I'm staying. For a few more days, at least. Ernest wants a full report from this place, and I intend to give it to him."
"Fine," Buffy said. "Stay. But you're here to observe, not to order us around, which shouldn't be a problem given that your title is watcher not leader."
As Clara stalked away, Giles shook his head. "She would have been an exceptionally strong ally."
"You can run after her and pledge eternal love?" Buffy knew her face was not supporting that suggestion.
"I think not."
"Well, barring that, I don't think she's going to be giving us much in the way of benefit of the doubt."
"No, she won't. This isn't to her liking, not being in charge."
"Is that what went wrong with you guys? She wanted to be in charge of you?"
"Yes, actually. She wanted to dictate the terms of our relationship--every aspect of it. I do have a rebellious streak. Especially against authority."
"No duh, Ripper." She touched the spot Ethan had tattooed. "I bear the scar of that."
"You don't have any scar there. The doctor who removed the tattoo was quite skillful."
"So you know my scars, huh?"
"I bandaged you up enough times." His look changed, his smile turning wicked. "I just didn't have the urge to kiss those scars back then."
"You really didn't, right? Because that would have made you a total skank."
"I assure you. I didn't want to."
"But now you do?"
"Oh, yes." He said it offhanded, the way she loved. As if he was talking about a shirt he might buy. Only his eyes were dark and they told her that he wasn't kidding, that he wanted her.
"Giles, when we're in Milan, book us one room." She saw surprise in his face, and felt her cheeks flush. "I mean...if you want...you totally don't have to if--"
He touched her hand, the surprise on his face fading, replaced by desire. "One room it is, then."
She gulped, suddenly very nervous.
"We don't have to use it for more than just sleeping, you know?" He took a deep breath, and it came out ragged. As if he was very nervous, too.
"We'll be fine. It's just like kissing. Only naked."
He laughed. "Yes, thank you, Buffy. I was unsure what we were planning to do but now that you've cleared it up for me..."
"Big fuddy-duddy." She mock slugged him, and he laughed.
"I'll go make those reservations," he said. "I think I might put the girls on another floor, if that's all right with you?"
"Probably be all right with them, too, Giles. They can sneak out of their room easier."
He looked torn.
"I'm kidding. I'll put the fear of God--or at least the commandant--into them."
"Well, in that case..." He touched her arm, a fleeting moment of skin on skin that made her smile. Then he walked back to his cabin.
She turned back to the girls and started yelling orders at them. She realized she did sound a little commandantish.
Oh, well. Why fight fate?
Giles saw Xander come out of his house and head to the dining hall, yawning and rubbing his eyes as he went. Hurrying, Giles caught up with him on the way. He wanted them to get back to some semblance of normal. "Trip go well?"
"Just ducky. Two slayers as ordered, just waiting for you to train." Xander glanced over at him. "Faith and Robin send their love."
"I very much doubt they put it that way."
Xander laughed, the sound wasn't on the nice side. "Well, no. But when do they ever?" He opened the door to the dining hall for Giles. "So, anything new? You and Buffy break up, for instance?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Damn. Well, I'll just keep waiting." The look in Xander's eyes wasn't in any way joking.
"Yes. Quite. How was Cleveland, since you diverted there? The hellmouth is quite active?"
"Oh, very. It was like a bad LSD flashback to Sunnydale." He shuddered for effect. "I was happy to get back to the compound. Well, except for the whole lingering nausea over you two."
"Xander..." Giles wasn't sure what to say, and if the amount of food Xander was piling on his plate was any example, he wasn't all that nauseated.
"This is weird, Giles. And I don't like it."
"I'm aware of that."
"But we're all partners and I'll suck it up. For now." His attention was caught by Clara's entrance. "Who's that?"
"Clara Davies. Watcher team member. Leaving quite soon."
"Bummer. She's sort of hot in a buttoned-up kind of way."
Giles decided not to tell him about the silk and lace that was probably underneath her suit. Or that she had been quite ardent in her lovemaking.
"Rupert," she said as she saw him watching her. She poured herself a cup of coffee, then carried it carefully over to where he and Xander were standing. "Who's your friend?"
"Xander Harris," Giles answered.
She smiled winningly at Xander. "And what do you do?"
"I'm the token normal guy here. Buffy's sister is the token normal girl. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it, right?"
"Xander did all the construction," Giles said, wanting to give credit where it was due.
"My crew did most of it. I just walked around and criticized a lot. You should relate, Clara; I hear that's what your team does." Xander must have been talking to Willow and Kennedy--they'd picked him and the two slayers up at the train station.
Clara seemed surprised at the attack. "I'm sorry if we've given that impression."
He wasn't wrong, though. In the week they'd been at the compound, Clara and her team had walked around with perpetual sneers. Checking into everything they could, disapproval of Giles and Buffy's methods clear in their expressions.
Xander shrugged and led them to a table. "Go get some food, Giles. Or coffee. You can't just sit and stare at us."
Giles had the idea Xander was trying to get rid of him for a few minutes. Perhaps he was aware that Clara had been involved with him and thought to make him jealous by showing interest in her? He saw Xander and Clara lean in, as if discussing something frightfully interesting, and was afraid he was right.
But then Clara sat back as if stunned. Xander continued to talk, his fork punctuating his words. He did not look happy. Neither did Clara as she pushed her chair back and picked up her coffee.
Hurrying over as she left, Giles said, "What happened?"
"Your ex is having a harder time than I am with your new relationship, G-man."
Giles decided that now was not the time to remind Xander he was under clear instructions not to call him that. "And...?"
"And I told her it was none of her business what you two did. That you were our leaders and if you wanted to pursue an adult relationship, that was your business. She really didn't like that, ergo the hasty retreat." He took a bite of omelet, chewing with a blissful expression. "Man, that Ingrid can cook."
"So...you're all right with us?"
"Hell, no. But some watcher chick is not going to come in here and start picking apart my family. If there's criticizing to be done, I'll be the one to do it." He wasn't smiling as he looked up at Giles. "And I've done it, and I'll probably do it again. But in my book, outsiders don't get to play emotional dodge ball. I say leave that to the experts--the people who love you."
"You never cease to surprise me, Xander."
Xander shrugged and kept eating. Then he looked up. "So, is she hot? Clara?"
"I think one could safely say that."
Xander shook his head. "Damn sense of honor. Could have been the woman of my dreams, and I chased her away."
Giles tried to imagine Clara and Xander together. Tried and failed. Then again, Xander had fallen in love with Anya.
The kitchen door opened, and Ingrid came out. She was carrying a plate and walked over to their table. "Xander. Welcome back." Her bright blue eyes seemed to sparkle.
"Is that bacon?"
"I thought you might like some."
Giles suspected that she didn't care whether anyone else wanted some.
"Sure." She gave him a very sweet smile and then went back to the kitchen.
"You were saying...the woman of your dreams?"
"What? Never mind Clara. What about Ingrid? A girl who looks like that and can cook like this. I think it might be love." Xander grinned, then he pointed his fork at Giles. "This does not let you off the hook."
"I said some pretty nasty things the other day, and most of them I meant. I'm not happy with you or with Buffy. But we have a larger mission, and that sort of means I have to swallow up my..."
"I was going to go more with horror. But okay, massive discomfort works, too. Swallow that up and keep on keeping on."
"That's very clear headed of you."
"Just hang up a bandanna on a handy tree next time you plan on using the beach as your love nest, okay?"
Giles frowned--a bandanna?
"It's an old college trick. Keeps the roommate away. Oh, never mind." Xander looked out the window. "So, they're leaving now rather than soon, I guess?"
Giles saw Marshall setting his suitcase into the trunk, then the man looked back in the direction of Clara's window. He had a feeling the man was very interested in her, even if Clara had pooh-poohed that idea.
Giles finished his coffee and got up. "I better see to them."
"To her, you mean? Go give her whatever British people say for 'Don't let the door hit your very curvaceous butt on the way out?'"
"I thought I'd just say goodbye."
"Always a classic," Xander said, then went back to his eggs.
Giles felt a bit off balance by their talk. He'd expected Xander to either get over his hurt and stay, or to not get over it and leave. For him to not get over it but choose to stay was a surprise, even if it shouldn't be. Xander had done it before, and Giles should not lose sight of that. Even with only one eye, Xander sometimes had a clearer view of the big picture than any of them.
Giles left the dining hall and walked across the grass, enjoying the call of the birds, the sounds of slayers fitting in an early morning workout. He passed Tristan and Glenna as he walked to the dorm, and they both nodded coldly. He didn't know if that was because they knew they weren't welcome or because Clara had told them about Buffy and him.
He found Clara's door open and peeked inside; she was packing up the last of her things.
"Rupert," she said, closing and locking the suitcase. "Twice in one hour, what great good fortune for me. Come to wish me good riddance?"
"I wasn't sure you'd really leave."
"Ernest called us back."
"Yes, well, we called his bluff. Turns out his hand wasn't as good as we all thought."
"We're not ogres. We're not going to stay where we're not welcome." She straightened up, turning toward him. "But Rupert, you do need us."
"I don't think so."
She smiled, her lips nothing more than a thin bitter slash. "And you certainly don't think you need me."
Giles ignored the comment. "What is Ernest going to do without you here?"
"I don't know. And even if I did, I wouldn't tell you." She took a deep breath. "But I know this. You can't find all the girls. And if we do go into business for ourselves, the ones we find will be trained correctly."
"Ours are trained correctly--we just show some humanity as we're doing it."
"Oh, bollocks, Rupert. You know that we show plenty of humanity. I'm not Quentin, and I never have been."
"You've never had a slayer of your own. You'd feel differently if you had."
"Yes, but you have such a unique way of interpreting 'had,' now don't you?"
He took a deep breath, not willing to let her goad him into one last fight. "Clara, it wouldn't have worked. No matter how glad I am to see you--and I am very glad--we were finished a long time ago."
"And, of course, you've got a nubile twenty-year-old. Why would you need me?"
"I did need you. Very much. But those days are over. This has nothing to with Buffy. You could have seen me when I moved back to England, but you didn't. And frankly it never crossed my mind that you would, because we were over. I'm sorry you were almost killed. But just because you had an emotional about-face after that attack doesn't mean I did. We didn't work the first time, Clara. Why would it be any better this time?"
She sat down on the bed. "Because I've changed."
"No, Clara. I think I'm the one who's changed." He sat down on the bed next to her, took her hand. "Why don't you give Marshall a chance? He seems a decent enough chap."
She pulled her hand away. "Whatever I do, it'll be none of your affair. Now, you've said your piece. Please leave."
He got up, looked down at her with regret. Not that he was sending her away, but that they were again parting with bitterness between them. "Safe trip, then."
"Thank you." Her voice was ice cold. The way it used to be when he'd come home late and she'd asked him where he'd been. "Rupert, you do realize that you'll never be welcome at the Council again, don't you?"
"I'm aware of that."
"We can make your life very difficult. Yours and your slayer's."
He turned, giving her a little Ripper. She seemed to shrink back.
"You won't though, will you, Clara? You'll make sure that doesn't happen." He let his eyes go dead, could feel his jaw tighten. He took one measured step forward.
To her credit, she didn't flinch this time. "You're right, Rupert. You have changed. And not for the better."
But she was wrong in that--Ripper was from his past, but his far past, not his past with Buffy. "Perhaps it's just that you never really knew me, Clara."
Before she could answer, he left her alone and went back to his house to work. He could hear the watcher's car starting up, but he didn't go out to see it leave.
He was done with the watchers. Now and forever.
"So...this is Milan?" Buffy tried to avoid a group of very good looking and well dressed teenagers. "Lotsa pretty people here, Giles."
"Yes, I imagine that's why the vampires like it so." He moved closer to her, steering her away from the curb. "That and the general seediness."
She looked up at him. "The girls seem to be liking it." Felicia and Karen were laughing, staying several yards ahead of Buffy and Giles as if embarrassed to be seen with them.
"Yes, but then we do have a lack of testosterone at the training facility."
She laughed as she took his arm. "And I've got half of it all to myself."
"Only a third if you count Andrew." His face did something funny; she was pretty sure hers did, too. "Perhaps, we shouldn't count him. Which does leave Xander in a rather enviable position. Too bad he's so fixated on you."
She poked his upper arm gently. "I forgot to tell you. I saw Ingrid and him sitting out behind the kitchen yesterday. They were just talking but there was a lot of laughing. And that kind of body language that says, 'I want you, you want me,' you know?"
"I probably don't."
"Yes, you do. You display that too. Just because you think you're Mister Calm and Suave." She grinned, then saw that Felicia was talking to a boy. A really pale boy. "We have ignition."
Giles followed her gaze. "Do you think she knows that she's flirting with a vampire?" He gestured for Karen to join Buffy and him. "I assume she wouldn't flirt if she knew what he was? She wasn't in the first group after all who witnessed you and Spike, and thought it was normal behavior to seduce before staking."
"Hey. Spike and I were very restrained. We weren't even lovers anymore."
"No. I thought you knew that?"
"I was never sure. At the end, when you disappeared and he did, too. And that last night."
"We didn't. He just held me. Or I held him, I'm not really sure."
"Ah." He moved them closer to Felicia and the vampire. The thing seemed to be trying to get her to go into an alley with him.
"Is that what I think it is?" Karen said, starting to pull her stake out.
Buffy eased her hand back. "Let's see what she's going to do."
Felicia laughed, touching the vampire's hair. He pulled her close, drawing her into the alley.
"I am going to give her such crap over this if she doesn't know that's a vampire." Karen laughed, the sound very young and innocent. But then she was only fifteen. She was young and innocent.
Felicia, on the other hand, seemed to live on the far side of innocence. She was eighteen and very pretty in a wild sort of way. And she made Faith look mellow when it came to her ability to go through boys. Back in Rome, she'd cut a swath through the Immortal's men until he'd finally forbidden her to date any more of them.
"Let's give her the benefit of the doubt," Giles said softly. "What should she be thinking about, Karen?"
Buffy smiled. She'd been through this lecture, only with Merrick, her first watcher. She tried to imagine ever dating Merrick and had to bite back laughter. He really had been very, very old. In so many ways.
Which was totally mean to say since he'd broken with tradition trying to save her from Lothos. And died for his trouble.
Karen was peeking around the corner, watching as Felicia turned, the move coquettish, but Buffy thought she was giving herself room to fight.
"Position, blind spots," Karen said.
"What else?" Buffy asked.
"How many others there might be?"
They'd tried to drill it into the girls that where there was one vamp, there might be many more.
"And...?" Giles looked a little worried.
"It'd be good if she got out her weapon." Everyone had stakes for this trip. And back-up stakes. And crosses. And more stakes in the bag Buffy carried.
"She may be waiting to see if he's going to attack her."
"Why ever for?" Giles looked particularly British as he gave Buffy his "What is it with teenagers?" look.
She shrugged. "Felicia grilled me on me relationship with Angel and with Spike. It's just possible the girl is looking for her own daylight-challenged prince charming."
"Ewww. Boys are bad enough, but a vampire?" Karen was still such a tomboy. For some puberty came late. "What is she doing, anyway?"
Felicia did seem to be stalling. But Buffy noticed she had her hand hovering over the jacket pocket she'd jammed her stake in.
"Buffy, perhaps, you'd better...?"
She pushed past them and walked into the alley. "My, my. What do we have here?"
Felicia grinned nastily. "Oh, sis. You can't send me to a nunnery. I won't go, not now that I've found this nice young man."
The vampire was looking back and forth, as if trying to decide which of them to start with. He hadn't morphed into bumpy face yet, and Buffy wasn't sure what he was waiting for. She looked at Felicia, who gave a slight shrug.
Then she heard a rustle.
Where there was one...
Buffy began to scan the alley, thought she saw something draw back into the shadows. "You know. This has to be the most disgusting alley I've ever been in." She began to walk toward whatever was hiding, running her finger over the dumpsters as if giving them the white glove test. "I'm really disappointed in you, Fee."
She heard whatever it was getting ready to leap, steadied herself and met the flying hunk of rags with a side kick. It fell, crying out, and didn't get back up.
"Marcella." The vampire left Felicia, running to the thing's side. He lifted her up and Buffy got a look at the most decrepit vampire she'd ever seen. This one made Dru at her weakest look hale and hearty.
The male vampire was cradling her to him. "Marcella, my heart."
"She hurt me, Lorenzo." The vampire's voice was barely audible. Her lips pulled back, as if she could already taste their blood.
"He was going to feed you to her," Buffy said to Felicia. "He just needed to get you close enough."
"And probably wanted me unconscious so I wouldn't hurt her by fighting back." Felicia pulled out her stake and moved in, blocking his exit.
"You want to finish this?" Buffy asked, already knowing what the girl's answer would be.
"Oh, yes, please."
"Watch him. He's fighting for more than just himself." She made a move toward Marcella and the vampire snarled, launching himself at her.
Felicia got in his way, knocking him off balance. He recovered quickly, moving around her, keeping himself between Marcella and them.
"His attachment to her is a strength, but also a weakness. Look how he's keeping her to his back. That limits what he can do unless he's willing to break cover--and then he knows I'll move in while you're keeping him busy. So...he's torn."
"You talk too much," the vampire told Buffy, as he jumped into the air toward Felicia, a fast slicing kick arcing out. It would have taken Felicia down if she'd still been there.
But she'd leapt back, waiting for him to hit the ground. Then she was there, fists moving in rapid succession as she knocked him back--toward Marcella.
"Be careful. The closer you push him toward her, the more you remind him that he can't afford to lose."
"Gotcha." Felicia was kicking hard, meeting his counters easily.
Suddenly, Marcella began to push herself off the ground. "Don't hurt him." There was the sound of a bone breaking, then she fell back down, her leg folded under her in a very unnatural way.
"Marcella?" He turned and it was the opening Felicia needed. She slammed the stake into his chest, even remembered to pull it back out. It had taken Buffy a long time to stop losing a stake per vamp.
"Lorenzo!" Marcella's cry sent shivers down Buffy's spine.
"Oh, let me do her," Karen yelled, running into the alley.
Buffy stopped her. "You'll get your turn. With a real monster."
"But she's a monster. You told us that."
"She is. But sometimes, you just want to make it quick. Even for a monster." Buffy walked over, kneeling down and reaching out with her left hand as if there was someone on the other side of Marcella. The vampire followed her hand, didn't seem to see the other falling impossibly fast, the stake melting into her body as if there were no bones left in her. She collapsed into dust almost instantly.
Felicia kicked at the ashes, and Giles said, "Don't."
"Because it's petty." He looked over at Buffy, who nodded. "Let's move on."
"You did know he was a vampire the whole time, right, Fee?" Karen was practically bouncing up and down as they walked out of the alley.
"Oh, yeah. I just wanted to play along."
Giles took a deep breath. "That was kind of you."
"She was a bag of skin, Giles. There was no glory in dusting her."
"No, I know. But it's been so long since you've slain anything...I thought you might be more aggressive."
She gave him a look. "Maybe I'm saving up that energy."
"Oh, good God, Buffy. Have pity on me." He shot her a crazy look, as if he was in mortal terror of bedding her. Then he smiled. "Are you really? Saving your strength?"
She shrugged. "If we come on a nest or something, I'm game for a fight. But I'd like to give these two as much exposure as we can before we send them..." She stopped, frowning. "Where are we going to send them, Giles? Faith doesn't need them all."
"I've gotten some calls since Clara left us. Other watchers. Tired of being at the Council's beck and call. Interested in working with us, instead."
"People you trust?"
"But wouldn't Clara have been in that category before her visit?"
He laughed. His nearly silent way, with just the puff of air. "No, actually. She wouldn't have been. Exes are tricky, Buffy."
"Tell me about it." She took his arm. "So you think these two are ready to head out?"
"I think so. Danita Worthrop is currently in Sydney. And she says that there appears to be a hellmouth opening up there."
"Great. A baby hellmouth down under."
He smiled slightly. "At any rate, evil things are descending on her. I think Felicia and Karen might enjoy it there, don't you?"
"Felicia with all those poor Aussie men. I pity them." But she'd have fun there. Karen might too. And she didn't have any ties. Her parents back in Omaha were dead; she'd been living with a foster family when she was called. Maybe this Danita could be a sort of surrogate mother to her.
The way Giles had been a surrogate father to her.
Buffy took a deep breath. It still weirded her out a bit. That she'd felt that way about him--that she didn't anymore. He used to be the one she looked to for comfort. The one she knew would take care of her. Somewhere along the line, she'd grown up. Became something other than his charge. Became a partner.
She was going to become another kind of partner very soon.
"Can you two hurry up?" Karen said, walking backwards as she glared at them. "Night's not getting any younger, and I haven't had my turn yet."
"Sorry," Giles said, his grin very silly.
"I know what you're thinking about..." Buffy whispered.
"I'm hoping you are, too?" His grin faltered. "But not too much. Mustn't lose sight of the mission here."
"No. One of them getting injured would be a definite mood killer." She pulled him with her into a less stroll-y pace. "Let's keep our girls safe, Giles."
Karen turned around, but they caught up with her before she could berate them again. "Maybe we'll find a nest. Can't we look for a nest, Buffy? Pleeease?" That voice on any other girl would have been asking her to buy her a new outfit or maybe an ice cream cone. But this was Slayerville, and Buffy understood Karen's eagerness.
"We'll see." She let go of Giles' arm and got between the two slayers. "So Fee. Tell me exactly why you were just standing there letting him talk to you?"
"Well, he was kind of cute. I think we could have worked through that other woman problem, too."
Buffy didn't crack a smile. She kept the stern, disappointed mother look up until Felicia began to talk. Then she let her expression relax.
Glancing back at Giles, she saw that he was watching her, a very intense look in his eyes. When he realized she was looking at him, he met her gaze, didn't look away. They were Ripper eyes, dark and full of longing. It made her shiver inside. It made her smile in anticipation, too.
Then her Giles was there, staring back at her, his normal, kind look in place. But she could tell Ripper wasn't pushed very far back.
She turned back to the girls and forced herself to put him out of her mind, concentrating on being slayer, trainer, and ersatz mom to her charges.
Giles stared at himself in the mirror. Good God, he looked old. Didn't he? Much too old to be thinking of--
The door to the bathroom opened. Buffy came out, still dressed in her street clothes. As was he.
"Is this a little weird?" Buffy asked looking at the bed.
"It is. Awkward."
"Yeah." She walked over and turned him around, pushing him so he was leaning on the bureau under the mirror, which brought him down to her height, so it was easier for her to kiss him. Always the tactician, his Buffy.
"What were you looking at?" she asked.
"I got that part. Why?"
He took a deep breath. "As Clara so helpfully pointed out, I look a good deal older than any of your other beaux, even if I am actually younger than most of them."
"She said that?"
"Wow. That was really bitchy." Buffy did the little hair toss that nearly always preceded her saying something very sexy and winning. "She must have really hated losing you."
"I guess she did." The thought did make him feel a bit better.
She leaned in, kissing him softly. He pulled her closer, knowing that this time, he didn't have to stop. He didn't have to wait. She was warm and, for some unearthly reason, was actually interested in being his. And he wanted her. God, how he wanted her.
She finally pulled away. "That was nice."
"Yes, it was." Pushing her hair away from her face, he ran his fingers over her skin, as if he was blind and trying to learn what she looked like from touch alone.
She closed her eyes, her mouth tilting up into a sweet smile.
"You are so beautiful, Buffy."
Her eyes opened, and her smile grew bigger. "You've never told me that, Giles."
"Haven't I? I'm sure I must have."
"No, you were usually too busy lecturing me on doing my duty."
"Well, back then I didn't notice how you look the same way I do now."
"And that's a good." She touched his face, her small hands softly tracing all his lines.
"If you're trying to make me feel younger, that's not the way."
She reached down. Touching him in a place she'd never touched before. "Parts of you feel very young."
"Yes, well, that's your fault, you know?"
"I know." Her smile grew devilish. "Remember how I told you this was just like kissing, only naked?"
He nodded, finding himself quite unable to speak.
"Maybe we should get to the naked part?"
He was suddenly nervous. As nervous as he'd ever been.
"Giles? You're not going to run, are you?" She gave him a crooked little grin. "Or throw up or anything?"
"Why aren't you nervous? It's not fair." He sounded like a five-year-old.
"Well, one of us has to be not nervous." She got close, her breath in his ear. "If you want, we can trade off?"
"See. This is fun, Giles. Lighten up."
He looked at her, struck by the sheer power of the life inside her. She was his world. He'd follow her to the ends of the Earth to keep her safe. If this affair ended tomorrow, he couldn't imagine leaving her again. Even if seeing her with anyone else would kill him.
"What are you thinking about?"
"You. Me. The future."
"Cryptic." She kissed him, long and deep.
He felt Ripper asking to come out, decided to let him. Scooping her up, he carried her to the bed, easing her down and following her, kissing her lips, her cheeks, then working over to her ear, down her throat.
"We forgot the getting naked part," she said, and he realized she sounded a little nervous now.
"Slowly, Buffy." Pulling away, he studied her. She'd really only been with young men. Even if they'd lived forever, they were still, in so many ways, young men. Young men with vigor and stamina, but conceivably very little technique. Although he would have expected more from the Immortal. He suddenly felt much better. "This doesn't have to be fast." He could hear how his voice was a mix of the librarian and Ripper. Pleasure--both tender and possibly a little cruel. Served up slowly.
He rolled to his back, pulling her with him. "Kiss me." He smiled lazily as she moved, taking over, her lips so strong and firm against his. Her small body was hard on his, moving against him in ways he was not sure she was aware of. Moaning, he pulled her closer, then rolled so she was under him and he could begin to take off her shirt. He took his time, kissing, biting a little, until she was shuddering.
"So beautiful," he said, as he kissed her lips. They seemed softer, more yielding. As if he had just proven something to her.
Had she wondered if he would disappoint her? God knew, he'd wondered it. But this...this was so easy. So natural. He would show her how it could be with a man, not a boy.
Suddenly, he was on his back and she was on top of him, pulling his shirt off just as slowly. She soon had him shuddering.
"Slowly, huh?" Her smile was elemental. Sin and salvation in one lovely package.
"Slowly." He touched her cheek. "Tenderly."
The he flipped her, roughly, and stared down at her. Her pupils dilated; her eyes looked black. He was sure his did, too. "But not...too tenderly."
She arched under him and he got to know her body. Slowly. Surely. With amazement and passion and love. He loved this woman. But he didn't say it. There'd be time for that later. Time when they'd perhaps both be ready. After this initial exploration. After their first time.
When they finally lay still, she was curled up against him, playing with his lips as he lazily tried to catch her fingers with his teeth. She was too fast for him, of course. Even in a sated stupor, she was still the slayer.
"That was really good." She looked like she'd had some very nice drugs. Her eyes were half-closed, her lips slightly apart. She was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.
"It was, wasn't it?"
She nodded lazily.
He moved to adjust and felt muscles all over his body twinge.
"You okay?" There was no hiding anything from a slayer.
"Okay, but still very, very old."
"I'm glad." She moved a bit so he could get comfortable, then settled back in against him. "Giles?"
"Do you snore?"
"You slept with me on the beach. Don't you remember?"
"I slept like a log that night. I never do that." She looked up at him, her face so sweet that he had to kiss her. "Maybe it's being with you. I'm safe."
"As am I. I know you'll keep the monsters away."
She took a deep breath, then nodded. "We both will." Then she settled in, her breathing slowing and deepening until she fell asleep.
He yawned, knowing sleep would come easily. It normally didn't. Like her, he was a restive sleeper.
But with her--with her, he was safe. Safe, and warm, and...home.
He closed his eyes and fell asleep in her arms.