Buffy was still in shock. That much was obvious. Somehow she'd survived. Giles wasn't sure whether he should take her into his arms in relief or cower. He was responsible for her current state after all. They might have been able to take her strength away from her, but they could not remove her cunning or instinct. Nor could they remove the desire she had to protect those she cared about. Giles wasn't sure there wasn't anything Buffy would do to save Joyce. Quentin Travers had not counted on that aspect of Giles' slayer.

Quentin didn't know what he was talking about when he spoke of Giles' affections for Buffy being paternal. There was nothing paternal about it. Buffy was not his child and he did not view her as such. She was troublesome at times and worried him, but it was because he'd grown very fond of his slayer during his tenure as her watcher. He found his heart was a little lighter when she smiled. And when she wept his world didn't seem quite as bright.

He had to live with the knowledge he had been the cause of the bruises, cuts, and sore muscles she had. They would remain for a few days at least until her slayer powers were restored to full strength. Constant reminders of his betrayal. He still couldn't believe he'd allowed himself to get caught up in the archaic tradition.

She whimpered softly as he ran an antiseptic glazed fingertip over one of her gashes.

"I'm sorry, Buffy, really."

"It's okay, Giles," she shrugged. "Where's Mom?"

"She's fine. She's upstairs. I, uh, gave her a sedative."

"You have those?"

"I'm afraid so, for emergencies."

"This is one of those times."

"I'd say so, yes. She'll sleep better. And you'll have time to heal as well without worrying about her. I'll stay the night in case either of you need anything."

"You don't have to do that."

"It's the least I can do given the circumstances, Buffy."

She shifted on the counter. She winced, which he noticed despite her efforts to try and hide it. There wasn't much she could hide from him. He knew her too well. He'd studied her. Some might construe his interest as obsession, but he found Buffy Summers quite fascinating.

She took hold of his wrist, preventing him from dabbing more of the antiseptic onto her cut. "And you?"

"What about me?"

"How are you?"

"I'm all right."

Hazel eyes met his. She was looking at him, really seeing him. He could apologize until he was blue in the face. Those were just words. He knew his eyes would tell her much more than anything he ever could. She didn't put much stock in words anyway. To Buffy, actions spoke much louder. And her actions spoke volumes. They always did.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, positive. A little shaken. I could have lost you tonight."

"I wouldn't have let that happen."

"You say that, Buffy, but you didn't know."

She shrugged. There was a sheen to her eyes. Moisture. She was fighting back tears. He had caused those tears.

"I don't know what I would do if I lost you, Giles."

"Me?"

"Yes, you."

"Well, I," he pushed his glasses up along the bridge of his nose. She still had a good hold on his wrist, which prevented him from doing much of anything.

"Do you know what day it is?"

"Day?"

"Yes."

Day? He was supposed to remember what day it was? He'd come perilously close to losing her and she expected him to be coherent. And then it dawned on him.

"Ah, yes, of course."

"You had to think about it, though." She released her hold on his wrist then and glanced at her hands, now resting together in her lap. He had seen the look of hurt in her eyes, though. She was too late in looking away from him if she was attempting to hide her feelings.

He placed a finger under her chin, gently, mindful of the fact she was battered and bruise in a number of places. Tilting her face up so he could look into her eyes. He needed to see those eyes. They reflected so much, told him so much. He wondered if she even realized how much she conveyed without even opening her mouth.

"I had to think about it only because I was concerned for your well being. I apologize. Of course, I remembered it was your birthday. Your eighteenth, in fact. It gives you the legal right to vote."

She arched a brow.

"Okay, I suppose that doesn't mean that much to you. The point is, I remembered. I just had to clear my mind from being concerned you might die to every day events."

"But my birthday doesn't come every day!"

"I understand."

"And my dad bailed on me! Ice skating. It's our thing. I used to ice skate you know."

"Yes, I do know. I mean, I'm aware. You were quite good."

"He knows how much I love it. It's not the ice skating. I mean those shows are kind of lame. But it was time with my dad."

"Buffy."

"I don't think I want any more birthdays."

"What? You're much too young to feel that way."

"Bad things happen. Last year, Angel. This year," she shrugged.

"This won't be happening again. I assure you, Buffy, I will never choose the Council over you again."

Not knowing what else to do, he took her into his arms. No amount of words or attempts at assuring her was going to suffice. Not about this. Her father had been repeatedly letting her down since she'd moved from LA. This was just the culmination of a series of events. Two rather horrific birthdays back-to-back didn't much help either he imagined. Giles wished he could protect her, shield her. But, unfortunately, watchers had no such power.

She wrapped her arms around him and the tears fell. He felt her lithe body shake against his as she let the emotions coursing through her come out, allowing her body to cleanse itself. He smoothed her hair down, whispering words of assurance and encouragement in her ear.

She drew away after a number of minutes.

"I could have lost you. You risked your job for me."

"Well, not completely."

"You did. You aren't one to just randomly buck the system, Giles."

"Well, I can't tell you how guilty I felt, Buffy. Really. It made me sick, physically ill."

She slid her hand to his cheek, cupping it. Her hand was smooth, warm. Her touch was gentle. He took a deep breath.

"You're not my father."

"No."

"I don't want another one."

"Of course not. The one you have, while negligent at the moment is sufficient in most areas."

She smiled at that. "He's being a jerk right now. Mom's the only one I can count on. And you."

"I'll always be here for you, Buffy."

"Always?"

"Yes."

"You'd risk getting fired?"

While she was still speaking to him, her eyes were focused in the vicinity of his mouth. This caused his heart to race. Her voice was growing husky, flirtatious. He wondered if she even realized it.

"Yes."

"I guess if they did that I'd have to marry you to be sure you stayed."

He coughed. "What?"

"They can't deport you if you're married."

"Yes, but Buffy, I don't want you to marry me for that reason."

"You'd want me to marry you for other reasons?"

"Well, now, you're boxing me into a corner, Buffy. How did we get on the subject of marriage anyhow?"

She slid her hand into his, taking the tube of antiseptic from his grasp. She set it down on the counter beside her and took a deep breath.

"You have no more need of that then?"

"Well, I was thinking more along the lines of some more one on one doctoring."

"Oh?"

"Yes, of the kiss it and make it better variety. Moms do it all the time."

"Shall I get yours then?"

"You sedated her, remember?"

He smiled slightly at that. "Indeed I did. How careless of me."

"That leaves you then."

"You've a good number of bruises and cuts. Where shall I start?"

"There's one right here," she said, lifting a finger to her lip. "It hurts something awful."

"It does, does it?"

"Yes. I'm sure tomorrow there will be a big scab there if it's not treated properly."

"We can't have that."

"I thought you might agree with me."

He kissed her then. It was better than he'd hoped it would be. Soft, supple lips parting expectantly for him. He groaned softly at the thought of her wanting him, needing him for more than his books and mind. He should have known once he'd started he could never settle for just a taste, a sampling of the nectar that was Buffy. Luckily, he had already committed himself to looking out for her until she was fully healed and had regained her slayer abilities completely.

Indeed, much doctoring could be done in that amount of time.

The End