Starting Over by Djinn

Giles watched as the door to Buffy's room closed firmly in his face, a very angry Buffy on the other side of it. Angry, but restrained. He'd tried to kill Spike; she could have thrown him through a wall and not surprised him. Except she had more control than that.

He'd failed her. By trying to save her, he'd failed her.

"That didn't work out the way you thought it would, eh, Rupie?" Spike's taunting voice. Spike's taunting laugh. He was no doubt wearing a taunting grin.

Giles should have killed Spike himself, not left him to Robin. "I have nothing to say to you."

"Is that so? No, 'Sorry I tried to off you, Spike'?"

Giles turned to him, putting on his best watcher face, even as he took in the damage Robin had inflicted--he wondered how much damage Spike had paid back to Robin. "No, actually. No apologies. Not to you. Not from me. Ever."

"You reckon she's listening? Hearing us have a go out here?" Spike smiled. A predator's smile. "I'm all fixed now. I owe you for that. You and the principal." He started to hum the little song that was his trigger.

That had been his trigger. It obviously did nothing to him now.

"Well, good. The girls will be relieved." Giles moved past Spike, toward the stairs, willing himself not to flinch as he brushed past the leather coat that had been Nikki Wood's. This...man had destroyed her.

"I've changed. Why can't you see that?" Spike sounded petulant. Like a child. "You gave Angel a chance. Why not me?"

He turned, his hand on the banister. "Because you're not Angel."

Spike's eyes went dead. For a moment, Giles thought he might push him down the stairs. But then he just laughed. "And how glad am I for that?" Striding to Buffy's door, he murmured, "Let me in, love."

Giles felt something tighten inside him, then it locked up even more when his slayer opened the door for Spike.

"Nighty-night," Spike said with another of his taunting grins.

Giles turned and walked down the stairs. Andrew looked up as he walked into the dining room.

"Something wrong?" Andrew asked as he ate a snack cake. "Buffy looked pi-issed when she came in."

Giles ignored him, going to the most out-of-the-way cabinet in the kitchen and reaching high and in the back. There--his bottle of Scotch.

"Ooh, I'm telling."

He let Andrew get a taste of Ripper. One good glare and then he shut him back away.

"Or not." Andrew gulped.

Taking the bottle, Giles headed outside. He'd get very drunk until he could pretend that he hadn't just ruined everything. For nothing.

--------------

Giles paced, waiting for Buffy to come back from the Vineyard. He still felt that this new player was setting a trap for his slayer.

Only she wasn't his slayer, anymore. She'd made that abundantly clear, in front of all the girls.

"They'll be okay, Giles." Willow gave him her sweet little smile. The one that meant she was as worried as he was but was trying to be brave.

"Of course, Willow."

She moved closer. "Buffy told me what happened. With Spike."

"Am I going to get a lecture from you?" He supposed she had to come out on Buffy's side. She was her best friend.

"Giles, I don't begin to understand Buffy's relationship with Spike. But Spike's helped us. Helped you. Even before he had a soul. To just kill him..."

"He was a pawn of The First."

"Yeah. Was. Big past tense."

"Only because of my brilliant plan." He sighed. "Willow, he pulls her down."

"Maybe. But you don't get to decide that. None of us do. It's...her choice." She smiled sadly. "I remember when Tara and I first met, how it felt going down a road I never knew I'd be taking--or even would have considered a few years earlier. It's a lot easier to make that kind of journey if you're friends aren't ganging up on you."

The phone saved him from having to admit she was right. She hurried to get it. "Hello? Buffy what--"

He heaved a gentle sigh of relief. Buffy was alive.

Willow's look changed; she met his eyes, shook her head as she listened to Buffy. "We'll be right there."

"What is it?"

"We have to go." Power crackled around her, and for a moment Giles thought she might open a portal to take them there. Then she seemed to gain control. "It's Xander."

She started to cry, then stopped the tears as if by force alone. "And we lost Molly and Dianne." She sniffed but shook her head. "Let's go. A lot more are hurt."

"How bad is--"

"It's bad, Giles. It's more than bad." She rushed past him, out to his car.

He followed more slowly, wondering if perhaps Spike had been among the wounded, then hating himself for being so petty.

--------------------

Giles stood and watched his slayer leave her own house, kicked out by the girls she'd tried so hard to lead, to mold. He felt a sickness fill him. What in God's name was he doing? They needed Buffy. They needed her strength and her resolve.

Her eyes haunted him. The disbelief in them. None of them had ever questioned her. Not this way.

Would he have let anyone question her this way if she were still his slayer? Had he just paid back her recent coldness with his lack of support?

As the girls dispersed, got ready for bed, he saw Robin watching him.

"She'll be all right, Rupert."

"Will she?"

Giles had done this before. With that dancing demon, sent her off alone. But that had been to wake her up. This--this had been to save her.

He was always doing things to save her. When she no longer wanted anything of the sort.

"She was out of control," Robin said.

"No, she wasn't. She's just being what she was born to be, what she was called to be." Giles closed his eyes. "I'm very tired. I think I need to be alone."

He headed for the basement, empty now with Spike and Andrew gone to the mission up north. Sitting on the stairs, Giles ran his fingers through his hair and tried to will his racing heart to slow. Had he known this was coming? Had Buffy been right, that he'd sent Spike away on purpose?

He heard the creak of a door, then a heavy tread. Xander sat down next to him. "What's the what, G-man?"

"I'm not feeling very jaunty, Xander." He was saying this to a man who'd just lost an eye?

"Yeah, strangely, me neither." Xander sighed. "We did the right thing, didn't we?"

"I have to think so." But his heart wasn't agreeing with his brain.

Xander touched his cheek, under his ruined eye. "I just don't want this to happen to anyone else. And I don't want any more girls to die."

"They probably will die. More of them." Maybe all of them, now that he'd sent away the one person who could probably make a difference in how things turned out.

"You sound like Anya." Xander shook his head. "You think she's all right out there?"

Giles knew he wasn't talking about Anya. "I hope so."

They sat in silence, until finally Xander got up and laid his hand on Giles's shoulder. "It'll be all right."

"No, Xander. I'm very much afraid that it won't ever be all right again."

-----------------------

She was all right. Buffy was all right, had come home carrying a weapon that looked like it belonged in her hands-- a weapon Willow was now trying to figure the origins of. He was supposed to be in there with her, but Buffy's voice had drawn him out of the room.

Buffy glanced over at him without actually making eye contact, a hint of the betrayal she must still feel in her expression, but then she shut it down and became the Slayer, not Buffy. Not the girl--the woman--he'd let down.

"How is Faith?" Giles asked Anya as she walked out of the room he'd put the injured slayer in.

"Doing better." She glanced over at Buffy with a look of grudging respect. "You slayers are hardy things. Hard to blow up. Or drown."

Buffy met Giles's eyes. "Yeah. Go us."

He forced himself not to look away. She was actually making an effort, even if her eyes were very hard and her mouth set in a tight line.

"You survived it," he said softly. "She will, too."

"With a little help from our friends?" She sighed. "Xander for me. A whole lot of slayer wannabes for her."

Anya was frowning in a way that normally did not bode well for those around her. "What do you mean Xander for you?"

"He resuscitated her. When she died fighting the Master. You know that." Didn't she know that? Would Xander have kept that from her?

"Oh, that's what he meant."

Giles would not want to be Xander later. Buffy didn't look like she cared one way or the other. "So, Buffy, this weapon you found..."

"You have something on it?"

"No. But...I was thinking...if it feels right for you to hold it, maybe it would help Faith?"

"Hmmm." Buffy looked ambivalent, then his slayer was gone again and the general he'd been so keen to make her into was back. "I need her in this fight. Let's try it."

She walked into Willow's room and retrieved the scythe, then nodded for him to follow her in to her bedroom.

Faith's color was better than it had been, and Giles relaxed a little. She was crucial to the fight. "She is looking better."

"She's survived a lot." Buffy didn't sound entirely joyful over that, and Giles couldn't blame her. Bending down, Buffy settled the scythe in Faith's arm the way a prom queen would hold her scepter.

Faith sighed and a small smile crossed her face. Her breathing sounded stronger.

"Score one for you." Buffy turned hard eyes on him. "That still leaves you behind, in case you were keeping track."

"I know you're angry at me."

"Angry?" Buffy laughed. The mean, soft laugh she only brought out when she was very, very stressed. "I'm not angry, Giles. I'm hurt. I'm lost. The one person I knew I could count on betrayed me." She moved closer, looked up at him, her eyes boring into his. "But really, what did I expect? Last year you left me. When I needed you, you left."

"You know that I was only doing--"

"What's best for me? Yeah, that's getting old." She turned back to Faith.

"Buffy, we cannot afford to be at odds this way. Not now." Giles reached out for her, grabbing her arm and spinning her. Her hand came up by reflex, and he was sure he was in for it.

But she pulled the blow at the last minute. "We're not at odds, Giles. We're obviously both marching to the same goal. We're just...not together anymore." She looked like she might cry, then she blinked back what she no doubt felt was too much weakness to show. "I think you should go."

"Would you like me to send Spike up?" He winced at how petty he sounded.

"Spike was there for me last night, Giles. When you and everyone else turned your back on me, he was there. And that matters."

He looked down.

"You didn't even offer to come with me." Her voice was soft, hurt. He hadn't heard that voice since she was just eighteen, and he'd put her through the Cruciamentum.

"My place was here. You could survive on your own. They couldn't."

"Whereas Spike's place was with me. I think I prefer his values." Her voice cut him, lancing through the guilt he already felt to make a new hole.

"Then you should be with Spike. If he's such a blasted hero." He turned, knowing his response was visceral. He'd never been like this over Angel. But Angel had a soul and--

Bloody Spike with his bloody soul. The man was still a menace, ensouled or not.

"I'm going to stay with Faith for a while. You go away." There was no emotion in Buffy's voice as she turned from him and sat down on the bed.

"I'll try to find more on the scythe." It was the best he could offer her. And probably the only help she'd be willing to take.

--------------------

Giles saw Spike slink back into the house. "Rough night doing whatever you do?"

The vampire looked up at him, his expression filled with rage for a moment, and Giles had a vision of what the man could do with no chip to contain him. But then the rage crumpled, and he only looked heartbroken.

"Buffy? Is she...?"

"Slayer's fine. Slayer's more than fine. She's with...him."

"Him?" Was she with Robin? Or dear lord, Spike didn't mean Caleb, did he?

"With Angel, you enormous wanker. The great ponce has returned and with trinkets for her and she's kissing him and I hope you're happy."

The words were said in such a rush that Giles practically had to reconstruct them to make sense of it. "Angel's here?" To help them? Their odds went up considerably, if that were the case.

Spike looked over at the table, then strode to it, grabbed a piece of paper and began to draw on it with angry strokes of a black marker. Giles moved closer, saw that it was either a picture of Angel or one of those cartoon characters Xander and Andrew liked so much. Then Spike drew in fangs, and Giles decided it had to be Angel.

"Where's the sodding tape?"

Giles retrieved it from the drawer and handed it to Spike, who yanked it from him and stomped down the stairs. A moment later, Giles could hear the sound of the punching bag being hit rather forcefully. He laughed despite himself, imagining the pounding Spike would be giving the Angel effigy. Thank God, Spike had not a lick of magical talent. That much rage and hurt would normally fuel a sympathetic magic spell quite nicely.

A moment later the front door slammed open and Dawn burst in, yelling "Buffy!" at the top of her lungs.

"Indoor voice, Dawn," Giles murmured.

"Don't even. You were in on this, weren't you?" Dawn strode over and kicked him in the shin.

Giles felt his eyes water but managed not to react otherwise. "Dawn, you must have missed the part where Buffy is very, very angry at me and not telling me anything."

"Oh. Right." She looked down at his abused shin. "Sorry."

Xander inched into the house, staring at Dawn cautiously. "Note to self. Even non-slayery Summers girls are very mean when riled."

Buffy came back a little while later and got the shin treatment from Dawn. Giles was gratified to see that it hurt her, too. Xander was not wrong that Dawn could pack quite a wallop into her pointy boots.

But not as big a wallop as his slayer, who'd apparently dispatched Caleb all by herself. He hid the satisfied smile; she wouldn't appreciate him acting like a proud watcher.

Buffy handed him a packet of paper.

"Where'd you get all this?" he asked, knowing the answer probably had to do with the face on the punching bag.

"Angel."

Dawn smiled. "Angel?"

Giles could only imagine what the dynamics would be once Spike had to work with Angel around. "He's here."

"I sent him back to L.A. To prepare." She met his eyes, then turned to the kitchen--he knew where she was headed. The basement. To Spike.

Had she chosen Spike over Angel?

The world really was coming to an end.

--------------------------

Giles stared at Buffy as she outlined her plan for fighting The First. Her audacious, insane, wonderfully rebellious plan.

He could imagine the Council members spinning in their graves. If blown-up bodies could spin, which he imagined they could given the right impetus. And this would surely be it.

Every girl who could be a slayer, would be. Every. Single. Girl.

Buffy was amazing. There were times she aggravated him, hurt him, disappointed him. But those times were nothing compared to these. The times she took his breath away.

"Well? What do you think?" Buffy looked at each of them.

Xander finally spoke. "That depends...are you kidding?"

"You don't think it's a good idea?"

Faith, looking as if she was back to full strength thanks to a long session with the scythe, said, "It's pretty radical, B."

Giles took a deep breath. "It's a lot more than that. Buffy, what you're talking about flies in the face of everything we've ever--that every generation has ever done in the fight against evil." He smiled broadly. "I think it's bloody brilliant."

There was something wonderful in her eyes. Like she'd been expecting him to kick her and instead he'd given her a ride on his shoulders. "You mean that?"

"If you want my opinion." He made his expression as gentle as he could, wanted no more bitter recriminations between them. Not now. Not on the eve of something this chancy--this potentially world changing.

"I really do."

Something broke inside him, and he wondered if maybe it did inside her, too. He wanted to reach out, to touch her cheek the way he had when she'd been hurting and he'd been a father figure she wanted.

But there wasn't time for that. There was work to be done.

Slayers to be made.

Evil to be destroyed.

If they were all very lucky, he and Buffy would have a chance to figure out what the future would bring after the fight was over.

-----------------------

Everything was chaos, pandemonium. Giles fought by Wood's side, trying to keep the wounded principal's bad side protected, keep him on his feet. It was a losing battle.

And then it happened. A blast of sunlight so strong Giles could feel it as it flew by. He grabbed Robin, pulled him out of the way, but thought the man still might have gotten a little singed on his arm.

Vampires went up in flames. Even the bringers hit by the beam fell.

"Duck," Giles said, pulling Robin down and half dragging him back to the entrance. He realized some of the girls were coming after them.

Robin saw them, too. "The bus. Get them to the bus."

Robin climbed aboard, wound apparently forgotten, probably in a surge of adrenalin, and Giles hustled the slayers onto the bus. He heard the thing start up, thank God. It was their only way out and judging by the sounds coming from beneath him, they were going to need it.

Something really was going to devour them.

But where was Buffy?

He heard Robin calling, took one last look at the school, one last look for his slayer, then climbed aboard and grabbed for something to hold onto as Robin gunned the engine.

"Should he be driving?" Faith asked Giles, looking at Robin with concern. "He's hurt wicked bad."

"Do you want to tell him to give up the wheel?" He heard an ominous sound behind them, didn't turn around to see what was happening to the town he'd called home for far longer than he'd ever intended. "Do you think we even have time for that?"

"Your call, Giles." She fell into the nearest seat and watched Robin as if she could keep him conscious by will alone.

"Did you see what happened to Buffy?"

Faith seemed to force her gaze away from Robin. "She stayed with Spike." Then she got up, ripping part of her shirt to make a pad to hold against Robin's bleeding side, grabbing on to the pole to stay upright.

Buffy stayed with Spike. To die with Spike? She'd chosen that route before. Death for another. Death with another, this time.

Rona groaned and Giles went to help Vi with her. His slayer was gone, but all of these new ones still needed someone.

He'd deal with his broken heart later. It wasn't like he hadn't lost her before. The third time shouldn't matter.

Shouldn't. What a stupid word.

He took a deep breath and made himself useful. He could see something frightening behind them. The road, the buildings, everything disappearing. Sunnydale was indeed being devoured from beneath.

There was a crash on top of the bus, and he looked up, wondering if it was a bringer, waiting for a sword or axe to come through the roof. Then he saw Dawn grinning like a mad fool, and he began to laugh, a rather desperate laugh that was accompanied by tears that he blinked away quickly.

She was safe. He wouldn't have to mourn her.

Although they might all still die. But at least they'd die together. He wouldn't be stuck living without her again.

But then the ravaging stopped, the road behind them stayed road. And Faith told Robin to ease up. Giles saw Buffy leap off the back of the bus, hurried out but not before Dawn jumped out the back. As the two sisters hugged, he took in the great crater that had once been Sunnydale.

He looked at Buffy. "I don't understand. What did this?"

"Spike." She met his eyes, her eyes hard again and proud. Proud of her champion. Proud of the man Giles had tried to kill.

Giles looked back over the crater, trying to imagine what power Spike had conjured to do this.

He participated halfheartedly in the relieved bantering that the others engaged in as they stood and stared at their former home. Then Faith said softly, "Okay, so enough. Let's get out of here and find somewhere to get cleaned up."

Buffy hung back with Giles as the others climbed into the bus; she closed the emergency exit in the back, waited for Dawn to lock it before she turned to him.

"He was a champion."

He nodded back toward the crater. "So I see."

"Don't be glib."

"I wasn't--" But he was. "Yes, Buffy. At the end, he was a true champion."

"And...?"

He smiled softly. "And I was utterly wrong to question your decision and to try to kill him."

"Good boy." She took a step away from him.

"Buffy." He stopped her, his hand on her arm just as before. Only this time she didn't react, just stopped, not looking at him. "If you want me to go, then drop me off at the next town."

"I didn't say I wanted you to go."

"You also didn't say you wanted me to stay."

She turned to look at him. "Do I have to say something that obvious?"

"Things haven't been good. And as you indicated, I am in the negative points category as far as you're concerned."

She laughed. "Brand new day, Giles. Or hadn't you noticed?"

He looked down. "I can be of great use to you. Even if I'm not your watcher any longer."

"Yes, you can." She took his hand for a moment, then dropped it. "And I'll start trusting you again--if you stop betraying me."

She staggered suddenly, and he realized she was bleeding. "Good Lord, Buffy. You're hurt."

"Not so much." Then she crumpled.

He picked her up, cradling her in his arms the way he had so many other times. He'd carried her more often than he wanted to remember. His beloved girl, hurt again saving those she loved--and those she didn't even know--from evil.

"This is not going to improve morale, Giles. Put me down."

"You're bleeding quite badly." For a moment, he pulled her closer, cradling her.

For a moment, she let him. Then she said, "A little quality time with the scythe should heal me up right. Or Willow can when she gets her energy back." Buffy smiled sadly. "So no veiny Willow. Yay her."

"Yes. She was ready for this. Even if she didn't think so."

"Giles, put me down."

He eased her down, making sure she was steady before he let go completely, trying to ignore the fact that he didn't want to let go of her. That it had felt different this time to hold her. It had felt...good.

"Okay, here we go." She leaned up against him a little as they walked. "Does anyone have a cell phone? I want to call Angel and let him know I won't need a second front."

"We'll stop and get a disposable if no one has one." He couldn't imagine a cell phone surviving their fight, but they'd survived it, maybe technology had come through, too.

Buffy suddenly stopped. "Don't leave me again."

"As long as you need me, I'll be here."

"You've said that before. Just...mean it this time." She didn't turn to look at him, just strode off, again the confident--and to the girls' eyes probably uninjured--general.

He followed her at a less aggressive pace.

----------------------

Giles stood in the doorway, watching as Buffy sat on the parapet of the fortress the coven had found them in Scotland. She was gazing out over the countryside, running her fingers over the moss-covered stone.

"I know you're there, Giles. Hovering is creepy."

He took a deep breath. "Dana is dead."

"What other reason would you come up here?" Buffy turned to look at him. "And Dawn? Is she going to be okay?"

Giles nodded. Dawn had been exceptionally lucky. She might not be a slayer, but she had reflexes that weren't quite human. Dana had meant to kill her. Dawn's instinctive jerk had meant the knife Dana had stolen from the kitchen went into her arm, not her gut. Still bad, but not life threatening.

"I thought Dana was better, Giles. I thought we were reaching her."

"I did, too." No danger that they hadn't been united on this one. He'd thought Dana was improving--until she'd attacked Dawn. Buffy had really had no choice but to stop her, and Dana had made it impossible to do that with anything other than lethal force.

Although Buffy had tried to hold back. It was why Dana had taken a while to die, not expired instantly.

"I had some talks with her. Real words with real meaning. Not the ranting she came in doing. She told me things." Buffy shot Giles a hard look. "About a blonde vampire. British guy. Does that by any stretch of the imagination sound familiar, Giles?"

"I told you Spike was working with Angel."

"Oh, you so did not." She got up, began to pace. "What were you afraid I'd do?"

"Push me off the side of our castle?" He backed away, toward the wall.

"Get real. I only do that to slayers who are too insane to look up to me." She sighed heavily. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"It hurt you so much to hear that Angel was working for Wolfram and Hart--running the L.A. office, in fact. I didn't want to sully your memory of Spike with the same pain."

Which sounded great, and was even partially true. He also hadn't wanted her running off to see if it was true, if Spike was alive.

She looked up at him. "I don't believe you."

"Buffy, I..."

She frowned. "Things have been different lately."

"Well, yes. Our situation has changed drastically. We truly are creating an army of slayers here. And it's requiring a new approach."

"I meant between us."

"Oh." He knew she wasn't wrong. He'd been a great fool since that ride away from Sunnydale. He'd spent the last few months trying to convince himself that he hadn't been mesmerized by how she felt in his arms. That he wasn't suddenly finding himself dreaming of her--not that he hadn't dreamed about her falling in battle a hundred times over the years. But he'd never had a dream about her--

Except...that dream, after their battle with Adam, when the First Slayer had tried to kill them in their sleep. That strange, disjointed dream.

It had started with Buffy. Just the two of them. Giles hypnotizing her, with a watch this time, not a crystal. Not the Cruciamentum. She'd asked him if it wasn't a little old fashioned, and he'd said it was the way women and men had been behaving since the beginning.

Women and men. Not girls and men.

The dream had shifted then. Buffy had been acting like a child. Olivia had been there, as his wife with an empty baby carriage. Had his mind done that to protect him? From the knowledge that even back then, some part of him may have wanted Buffy?

"Giles?"

"I didn't want Spike here." He flinched, not intending such truth to come out of his mouth.

"Because you hate him?"

"Because you don't." He sighed, resigning himself to the idea that truth was going to spill out no matter what he wanted.

"You're not my watcher anymore."

"No, I'm not." He forced himself to move away from the wall, closer to her, but not too close. Not inappropriately close. "I know that in the past I've been like a father to you."

She hugged her arms around herself, turned back to the view. "I can't talk about this right now."

"Would you like me to go away? There are still plenty of slayers to go collect."

"Leaving me again?" Her voice was mocking.

"I was only asking what you wanted."

"What if I want Spike?"

"You don't. Or you'd be on a plane to Los Angeles right now."

She laughed softly. "You're right about that." She sighed. "I don't know what I want."

He wasn't sure if that indecision included him and a status change or not. He wasn't sure he should even be considering such things.

Only she wasn't a child anymore. And she'd ceased to be any kind of daughter that night he and Robin had betrayed her.

It wasn't right, but it wasn't wrong, either.

He walked away from her, waiting for her to call him back--hoping she would--but she didn't. He took the stairs slowly, trying not to obsess over how things were--and how they weren't.

"G-man." Xander looked up from command central, where he'd happily installed himself as head civilian.

"Xander." He sat down heavily in one of the spare chairs set out of the way.

"Ooh, big thoughts. What's up?"

"She knows Spike is alive."

"Does that mean we can expect the blond bimbo to be joining us anytime soon? 'Cause color me ungrateful, but I'm so not for that concept."

"Nor am I."

"Yeah, no big surprise there." Xander had his slightly mocking grin on.

"I am concerned about her well being."

"Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that, Humbert." Xander winked at him.

"If you are implying that--"

Leaning in, Xander said softly. "Implying nothing, Rupert. You're jonesing for her. And as a former joneser, I can understand that. Although I'm still sorting out the ewww factor from when you were kind of like her dad. But I'm working my way through it, and coming out on the side of 'okay, I guess that's not so surprising.' I mean...she's Buffy, right?"

Giles sighed. "You always see everything, Xander."

"Yep. That's my curse." He patted Giles on the shoulder and went back to work.

-------------------

Giles stood on the balcony of the Roman nightclub with Buffy. She had on a brunette wig and looked lovely with dark hair. He had on Italian clothes and dark glasses and knew he looked surprisingly unwatcherlike.

Down below them, the slayer who was masquerading as Buffy was dancing.

"They think she's me."

"For all intents and purposes, she is you." He'd neglected to tell Buffy of the whole Immortal angle. Thought it would drive her nuts to hear she was involved with another dark, ageless, and potentially evil guy.

Or maybe it just drove him nuts?

"Who's the guy she's dancing with? He's kind of cute."

"Random Roman hottie, as you might say." He grinned at her.

"Speaking of which. Andrew did good with those threads. It's a cinch you'd never pick them out for yourself." She looked over at the front door, Giles's nice new clothes apparently forgotten. "Well. There's something you don't see every day."

Giles followed her gaze. Angel and Spike were standing in the entry, scanning the dance floor. They both zeroed in on Buffy's double. He knew they were fully aware who she was dancing with.

"They look pissed. Why do they look so pissed?" Buffy moved closer to the railing for a better look. "What? I can't dance? I'm supposed to pine over him...and him...forever?"

"Quite."

"Oh, shut up. You just want me to move on and pick you."

He glanced at her, surprised at the casual way she'd said it.

She wasn't looking at him, was looking down at her two undead lovers. "They look really good. Don't they look good?"

"What? Oh, yes, I suppose." What had happened to him looking good in his new clothes? "Actually, now that I'm seeing them in this light..."

She glanced at him. "What?"

"No, it's silly." And petty. But if she followed up, he was going to do it.

She followed up. "What?"

"They look nice together."

"Together." She shot him a not very happy look. "Together as in together-together?"

"Yes. It would explain some things..." He wasn't sure what it would explain, but by her frown he thought maybe there were things that needed explaining. It made him feel childishly happy but also a bit guilty at being such a berk about this.

He stared down as her double and the Immortal walked out, then Spike and Angel ran out a bit later.

Buffy watched them go, then shifted her gaze to where her double had walked out. Her mouth was set in a hard line. "I'm asking a lot of her."

Giles thought about the young woman they'd chosen to play her, to wear the mask and be Buffy so that the demons didn't wise up to the real location of the Slayer--or that she'd managed to do the impossible and activate all the potentials.

There was another double living underground. He'd thought, and Buffy had agreed, that they couldn't be too careful. Not even when they had an army of slayers at their backs. Or maybe because they had an army of slayers. Baby slayers as Andrew called them--only not to their faces. Young women in need of protection until they figured out all that they were.

The way Buffy had done.

"You don't really think that Angel and Spike are..."

"No. I don't really." He tried to walk away from her, from all the other stupid things he might say if he stayed.

She stopped him. "What is it you want?"

"Nothing." Her finger tightened on his arm, and he sighed. "Everything? Buffy, I don't know. Something in between. This. What we have now. It's fine."

She let go of him. "Good."

He turned to face her. Saw something in her eyes he couldn't read. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to make you uncomfortable."

"We discussed making a second base of operations. In case the Scotland one is compromised."

He felt a pang. "Yes, we did. Would you like me to take some of the more advanced girls and go do that?"

She nodded.

He'd be gone for some time, far from her. "I'll get right to it." He turned, wanting to run, but that would be undignified. Would give her too much, and not enough.

She pulled him to her, wrapped her arms around his neck, and stared at him.

"Buffy, what--" He shut up because she was kissing him.

For a moment, he was too stunned to do anything. Then he pulled her closer, felt her strong, slight body pressed against his. Her lips were doing something to him he could barely comprehend. He felt like melting. He felt a hundred feet tall.

They kissed for a very long time. Then she pulled away.

"I gave Angel this speech about cookie dough. I'm going to spare you it. The gist, however, was that I'm still figuring out who I am. And I can't do that with him around--or with you around."

"I won't--"

Her fingers on his lips stopped him. "I care about you. In so many different ways. And it's confusing. And it's nice. And it's not nice. And that was a great kiss, by the way."

He beamed, trying hard not to look pleased with himself but no doubt failing.

"And I need you to go away for a while. And let me finish baking." She grimaced. "I probably need a new analogy."

"I'm quite fond of cookies." Truth be told, he'd become quite fond of cookie dough as well. But probably best not to tell her that.

He decided to risk something. "One more, then. For the road?" He waited for her to nod, pulled her back to him.

Kissing her was like coming home.

He pulled away first this time. "All right then. Off to create a back-up command central. I think I might take Andrew."

She nodded, a sweet smile on her face. "I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you, too." He held out his arm. "Well, time to go home?" So she could get on with her life--without him.

"This isn't goodbye," she murmured as they walked out into the Roman night. "We still work together. I expect to hear from you regularly."

"Of course. I understand what this is." And what it wasn't. Would kissing her a third time be pushing his luck?

She took his hand, squeezed gently, then when their hotel was in sight, pulled away. "I need some time on my own."

"I know." He leaned in, kissed her on the cheek. For a moment, he thought she was going to turn her face so her lips would meet his. But she didn't.

"I love you, Giles. Call me tomorrow morning at seven. I don't trust the front desk wake up call."

"I will."

He watched her walk off, watched until she turned a corner and disappeared.

Then he went inside and began to work out plans for the new compound. If it was what she wanted, it was what he would do.

END