To say that Buffy was confused would be an understatement of super-size proportions. One minute she was on patrol with Xander, the next she found herself in the arms of Giles—Rupert Giles—secret British stud-muffin with a license to kiss. And he was putting that license to good use.

Although she knew she should be fighting it, going all 'eww, ick!', she instead discovered that nothing had ever felt more right. But the greater miracle was that she could feel anything at all! Ever since she'd been torn out of Heaven, she'd felt somehow separated from her emotions, like a part of her was still dead, despite the walking and the talking. But right now she felt more alive than she had in years.

She pulled Giles closer, as if she would climb right inside his clothes if she could, and squeezed him in a tight hug that made him grunt.

"Buffy! You've got your strength back," he said.

Buffy smiled a toothy white grin at him. "All the better to hug you with," she said, and put an end to their conversation with a kiss that bordered on the x-rated.

Al heard the knock at his office door and quickly piled some paperwork in front of him to make it look like he'd been working. Dr. Beeks entered discreetly, with a soft clearing of her throat.

"Are you busy, Admiral?" she asked.

"I'm never too busy to see you, Beena," said Al smoothly. "What can I do for you?"

"That's what I was about to ask you," she said, her chocolate brown eyes piercing right through him to his very core. "It's been a week since Sam leapt out of Buffy Summers, and you've been holed up in your office ever since."

"Lots to do, Doc. You know how it is—the Project is up for review at the end of the month, and that means I'll be burning the midnight oil for a while."

"So that's why you haven't been…'visiting'…Tina lately?" she asked. At Al's look of shock, she added; "It's all right, Admiral, I don't think anyone else knows. I'm just more observant than most. But still, you seem to be more reclusive than usual. Anything I should be concerned about? Anything you want to talk to me about?"

"I know what you're getting at, Beena, but I promise you I'm doing fine. It's over—forgotten. Sam's moved on, and so have I," Al said with a confident smile.

Dr. Beeks studied him for a moment, waiting for a chink to develop in Al's armour, but in the end she seemed convinced. "If you're sure…"

"One hundred percent," he said.

"You'll let me know if you change your mind? My door's always open, Al."

"Thanks, Doc. I'll keep that in mind," said Al and he smiled warmly at her as she stepped gracefully out the door.

Once she was gone, Al slumped over his desk. It had taken everything he had to hold up to her inspection, but he'd done it. Casting a quick glance towards the door, he slowly moved the paperwork to the side and resumed what he'd been doing before he'd been interrupted.

Al stared down at a small snapshot taken of him and Sam at the Project's first Christmas party. It was a candid shot; neither of them had realized the picture was being taken. Al studied Sam's face, so young and vibrant, his eyes shining with the promise of a bright future, laughing at something Al had just said to him. Then he turned his attention to his own image—that haunted look on his face as he basked in his friend's radiance. Only now did he understand what he'd been feeling all those years ago.

So many years wasted, living in denial and fear. But that was about to change. Thanks to recent events, the haunted young man in the photograph no longer existed. Al had finally made a choice, and that choice was Sam.