Guardian IV by JBG

Timeline: Warning - here there be spoilers for seasons five and six! Fourth installment. Don't blame me, blame insistent feedbackers!
Premise: The end of one journey... and the beginning of another.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but my imagination (and the characters I made up.) Joss Whedon, WB, Mutant Enemy and/or a bunch of other people own everything else in the Buffyverse.
Author's Notes: Warning: Lots of Scooby banter here!

Buffy/Giles - rated PG-13

********

The first thing he noticed was the temperature.

Giles' mind zipped back through time to 1997, to his first encounter with the California climate. In full tweed, carrying a raincoat and a brolly in accepted Watcher fashion, he'd nearly collapsed of heat exhaustion before he reached his hotel room. It had been late January, and the temperature had been a summery eighty degrees.

He took a deep breath and forced his mind back to the present. The air was redolent with jet exhaust, and it was cloyingly humid despite the acres of concrete that reflected the sun's weakened winter rays so effectively. He took a moment to shed his coat and drape it over his arm. His carry-on bag on his shoulder, he stepped away from the milling crowd that all but blocked the entrance of the airway tunnel. He leaned against the wall, waiting.

Five minutes later, he heard the sound of familiar footsteps. He turned his neck, still resting against the cool surface, and smiled as his very grumpy companion made her way towards him.

"Remind me never to open my purse at the end of a transatlantic flight," she snarled.

"I offered to help..."

"Yeah, right, like your big, tall, manly bod was gonna fit underneath those seats." She sat beside him in the nearest molded plastic chair, blowing her hair out of her eyes. She huffed at his slightly pleased expression, irritated that he'd focused on the veiled compliment and ignored her distress. "I've flown exactly twice in my lifetime, and both times I hated it."

He moved around her and sat patiently, still smiling slightly at her scowling face. "Next time, book first class. It's an entirely different experience."

"I already blew off the next six months' utility bills, Giles. First class was not an option." She looked up at him, her eyes searching his face for signs of homesickness despite his constant reassurances. "Did the Council send you first class the first time?"

He chuckled at that. "Heavens, no. I upgraded at my own expense. I was, after all, the Watcher for the Slayer. Second class just wouldn't do."

She snorted softly. "Well, Watcher-man, you could have been in first class this trip, if you'd wanted to. Just because I was stuck in coach with my cheap-o round trip tickets..."

"I would rather be with you," he stated calmly. "No matter what the accommodations."

That earned him a smile. "Sweet talker." It disappeared quickly. "Darn. I lost my favorite lipstick. It fell in one of those little vent things and I couldn't get it out."

"Lipstick can be replaced."

"Not this one. Discontinued color."

"Oh. Sorry."

He sat for a few minutes, getting his bearings and watching Buffy's amazingly expressive face. She sorted through her topsy-turvy belongings, trying to put everything back into its place. He never tired of watching her, no matter the setting.

It finally seemed that she had gotten everything re-organized, and she looked up at him with a sheepish chuckle. "Okay, Mister Patience, I think the lipstick's the only casualty. Let's go home." She started to stand, but was halted by a hand on her arm.

"Buffy... you don't... it isn't necessary..." He wanted to tell her that despite their new relationship, he didn't wish to impose on her for accommodations. The words failed him, as they often did when he was looking into her beloved face.

She smiled at him, addressing his unspoken question. "We're going home, Rupert Giles," she said gently. "You and me, to that little house on Ravello Drive. We're gonna unpack, shower, eat, and rest. Then we'll get to all the major issues."

"All right," he said after a bit. "I suppose we should go, then."

She stood again, still frowning. "Yeah. Except that I don't have a car. Xander drove me."

"We'll hire one. I would imagine my BMW has been sold by now."

"We can swing by the car lot and see if it's still there... if you want."

"We'll see." He stood when she tugged on his arm, surprised at how weary he was. He stifled a yawn, causing her to grin.

"Are you too tired to remember which side of the road to drive on?"

"Certainly not."

"If you want, you can sleep while I drive."

"I'm not that tired," he declared vehemently.

She giggled and placed a noisy kiss on his cheek. "You're cute when you're grumpy."

"So are you," he shot back with a straight face.

Her laughter enveloped them as they headed for the baggage claim area.

********

"Do you think he'll stay?"

Willow shifted slightly, adjusting her arm around Dawn so the teenager could rest her head more comfortably. "Yeah, I think he will, this time."

"What makes you so sure?" Dawn's face was drawn, her voice fearful.

"Because..." She stopped, considering her answer carefully.

"Because...?"

"Because this time they're coming back together." Willow didn't know just how much of Buffy's new relationship to reveal to Dawn. Buffy's call had been cryptic, but her voice had been full of happiness. Willow had put two and two together, and the result of that equation made her giddily happy for her best friend.

"I hope he comes back because he wants to, not just because she made him. She made him do a lot of stuff he didn't want to, before."

"I think he wanted to. They should be here any minute, and you can see for yourself."

"It's not that I don't believe you." Dawn sat up and fixed her worried eyes on Willow's face. "It's just, well... Buffy tries, but she doesn't always know what to do. And things have been so screwed up for so long it's hard to believe they're actually gonna get better."

Willow nodded, her eyes full of sadness. "I know, honey. I know. But you have to believe they will. We have to hang together, 'cause we're family. You have to keep fighting for better."

"I guess. Sometimes I wish..." She shook her head stubbornly. "No, I don't wanna go there again." She grimaced, remembering how her 'wish' on Buffy's birthday had been answered by the 'justice demon' Halfrek. Being unable to leave the house was bad enough, but being stuck in there with a vicious demon that wanted to kill everyone was worse. "I don't want everyone to never leave, like I did before. I just wish everyone would just be happy, that's all."

"I think that's a safe wish."

"Yeah." Suddenly, she sat up. "I think I hear a car!" She bolted for the front hall just a few steps ahead of Willow. She threw open the door just as Buffy was reaching for the knob. Giles was behind her, looking relieved to be at journey's end.

"You're home! Both of you! You're home!" The teen threw her arms around her sister and lifted her off the ground in a bear hug.

"Maybe I should go to England more often," Buffy teased as she returned the hug.

"No way!" Dawn released Buffy and looked up at the tall man standing beside them. "Giles..." She hugged him with equal intensity, her face showing her relief at his familiar presence.

"Hello, Dawn. I've missed you," he said softly, stroking her long dark hair.

As she pulled back, she wiped her eyes self-consciously and looked up at him. "Are you gonna stay this time?"

He nodded solemnly, his eyes locking with Buffy's for a moment before he answered. "Yes."

"A straightforward answer, with no stuttering," Willow commented, hiding a smirk.

"Willow..." He held out an arm, smiling, and she buried herself against his side with a whimper. Dawn hadn't relinquished her hold on him, so he was sandwiched between two weeping females for several minutes. As tired as he was, he simply held them until they were able to pull themselves away. Buffy watched, tears welling up in her eyes, until she couldn't stand it anymore. She turned away and began to search for a box of tissues.

"You're staying in Mom's room," Dawn commanded, giving Willow a meaningful look. "We've already discussed it. Willow's in the guest room for now, since it's just her."

"Oh, no, Willow, I couldn't possibly put you out..."

Willow held up a hand, her 'resolve face' firmly in place. "Already decided and done with, Giles. You get the biggest room, since you're the biggest person, size-wise. Besides, I can't see you sleeping in Buffy's room. There's no place else for you to sleep..."

Willow was surprised to see both Buffy and Giles flushing with sudden embarrassment as their imaginations headed for the same suggestive scenario. Her eyebrows went up as she realized what was going on. Her best-friend-gossip-queen radar started pinging off the scale. "...unless you want to make other arrangements...?"

Buffy shook her head, giving Dawn a quick look. Willow got the message... no further comments until I've talked with Dawn. Willow decided she could live with that, despite the wheels of imagination turning frantically in her head, and grinned as Giles fought off another huge yawn.

"Hey, Tired Guy," she teased. "You look like you could use some sleep."

Buffy held up a hand to ward off his automatic denial. "C'mon, Giles, you're wasted. It's my turn to marvel at what jet lag can do to a person. At least this time that person isn't me." She grabbed a bag in each hand and started for the stairs. "We'll get you settled in, then we can clean up and eat and then we can have all these conversations we're too tired for right now."

He followed her without another word, stooping to gather the rest of the bags before following her. The moment they were out of earshot, Dawn turned on Willow. "Oh, my God! Did you see the way they looked at each other? There's something they're not telling us!"

"I saw. And from what I saw, Dawnie, it's all good." She sighed, caught up in the exhilaration of the moment. "It's actually kinda romantic, if you think about it."

"Eww. How is it romantic? It's Buffy. She's the farthest thing from romantic."

"To you, maybe, but judging by the pole-axed look in Giles eyes, he's totally gone."

"And Giles is, like, old."

"Giles isn't old. He's mature. And he's still sexier than most guys half his age."

Dawn made a face at the thought of Giles being sexy. "I never thought of Giles as a... y'know... guy guy."

"I don't think Buffy did, either, for a long time. But now she does, and she looks really happy about it."

Dawn thought about that, and then sighed. "Yeah, I guess she does." She flopped down on the couch, grabbing a throw pillow to hug. "My sister is soooo weird. She never has normal, cool boyfriends."

"You don't think Giles is cool? I think he's pretty cool."

"Well, yeah, he is, sorta. But not Devon Sawa cool."

"Devon who?"

Dawn rolled her eyes in complete disbelief at Willow's ignorance. "Never mind. I'm getting hungry. Can we start dinner now?"

********

Because of her inability to keep Giles' return to herself any longer, Dawn ended up helping Willow make a quick spaghetti meal for five instead of four. The youngest Summers had called Xander immediately, hoping the news would cheer up her heartbroken friend. He arrived a short time later and shared the meal with them, teasing Giles and calling him 'G-man', but everyone knew his heart wasn't in it. Giles wisely avoided questions about Anya, and kept the conversation light. He knew the shop had been closed for several days, and he gathered from Buffy that the wedding had been canceled. He knew Xander would fill him in when he was ready.

By the time the dishes were done and Xander had gone home, Giles was ready to drop in his tracks. Buffy could see how weary he was, so she made quick excuses to Dawn about jet lag and sent him upstairs to bed.

The fact that he obeyed her without a single sarcastic remark was a testimony to just how tired the man really was. Willow stayed downstairs, on pretense of getting tomorrow's breakfast plans together, and Buffy went to Dawn's room to have a sister-to-sister chat.

"So, whaddaya wanna talk about?" Dawn flopped down on her bed beside her sister. "You look way too serious for it to be anything good."

"It is good. At least, it's good to me, but I don't know what you'll think."

"Think about what?" Dawn bent her head to look up at her sister's face. "I can't have an opinion until I know what's the what."

Buffy smiled and reached out to brush a strand of dark hair from the teen's face. "About Giles. About him coming back."

"I think it's great! Why do you think I wouldn't? I missed Giles. He was here for me when you... when you weren't... here."

"I know. He's amazing, isn't he?"

Dawn gave her an amused look. "Not sure I'd go that far, but he's pretty great."

"I would." Buffy's head was still bowed slightly, a small smile on her face.

"You would, what?"

"Go that far. Say he's amazing."

Dawn's eyes widened. Whoa, Willow was right. Buffy's got the hots for him, she realized. "Okaaaay, Giles is amazing. So why is that such a big deal?" She'd better not hurt him again this time, she thought angrily.

"Because... I'm... I've..." Buffy blew out a frustrated breath. "I'm lousy at explaining things, that's what I am. See, Giles and I, we talked a lot while I was in England. Really talked. We got some things straight between us, and found out some things about each other that..." She stopped again, turning the words over in her mind.

"So, you're lousy at explaining that you and Giles are in love. Since when is that new?"

Buffy started, goggling at Dawn for a few seconds. "How did you know that? I didn't even know that for sure when I left!"

"Because... duh... you belong together. You shoulda seen him without you, Buffy, it was awful. He was so sad."

"He was?" she asked hesitantly.

"Big time. And you without him, well, let's just say you weren't exactly dealing with it."

Buffy sighed and nodded. "Wasn't dealing with things while he was here, if I recall correctly."

"No, but that's because you didn't know you were supposed to be together. I figured it all out while you were gone... the whole thing with Spike was to make you forget Giles, but it didn't work."

"I told Spike that, and he made a joke out of it. But you're right, I was trying to pretend. I'm so sorry, I was awful for a while."

"So was I. I wasn't even trying to help, most of the time. So, I guess we're even."

"We're not even close to being even. I was supposed to take care of you."

"And Giles was supposed to take care of you," Dawn added with conviction. "At least, he tried. For a while"
"Yeah, well, I made that impossible for a while. I always screw up the good things." She looked Dawn square in the face and commanded, "Never be like me, okay?"

The girl tossed her hair disdainfully. "Don't worry, I'm not following in your freaky footsteps. I'm not crazy."

"Good. Maybe then you won't alienate everyone who loves you so badly that they run to LA, or Belize... or England."

"Listen, I don't know much about the girl-guy relationship thing... yet..." She wrinkled her nose at Buffy's sisterly glare. "But I do know that people who love each other take care of each other. You were supposed to take care of me, and I was supposed to take care of you. Giles was supposed to take care of you, and you were supposed to take care of him. The taking-care-of each other wasn't happening, so there was badness. But I'm gonna do better now, and so are you, and so is Giles. We can fix everything and there'll be goodness again, right?"

"I think so, Dawnie. Yeah, I really think so."

Dawn reached over for a hug that lasted for a good five minutes. Both of them were sniffling when they pulled away from each other. Dawn patted Buffy's arm gently and nodded at the door. "I guess you better get started with the fixing, huh?"

Buffy smiled, wiping her eyes. "Yeah, I'd better." She stood, almost shaking with relief. "I love you, Dawnie."

"Yeah, I know. I love you, too, even though you're totally weird."

Buffy giggled soggily and tweaked the girl's nose. "Look who's talking." She glided out the door, closing it carefully behind her, and Dawn sat there for a while, smiling to herself.

********

She let herself into Giles room with a perfunctory tap-tap. He was sitting on the bed, shirt unbuttoned, looking as though he was asleep with his eyes open. "Hey, handsome, you need some help with that?" She went over to him and pushed the hair back from his forehead. "All that magic stuff really took a lot out of you, didn't it?"

He smiled wearily. "Yes, I'm afraid it did. Two spells, back to back, without preparation or rest, then several, um, sleepless nights..." He smiled at the memories, making her flush happily. "Add to that a tiresome flight with no leg room to speak of, and a long drive in LA traffic, and you have one tired Watcher."

She pushed his shirt away gently, watching his eyes as they flickered with interest despite his fatigue. "One tired, cute, sexy Watcher. C'mon, let me tuck you in."

"Buffy, perhaps it would be better if..."

She stopped his mouth with her hand. "Too tired, too soon, I know. But we can at least get you comfy and have good night smoochies."

The corners of his mouth twitched upwards. "At the very least."

Buffy's assistance was more of a hindrance than a help, but they finally got him out of his clothes and into his pajama bottoms. She picked up the top for herself and gave him a thorough kiss as she pushed him back onto the bed. When she'd finished with him, he was under the covers and feeling warm and loved. She gave him a final kiss on the forehead and turned out his bedside light.

"Sleep tight, lover mine," she whispered, closing the door. He was asleep before he could reply.

********

Downstairs, Willow was bustling around in the kitchen, stacking plates and generally trying not to wonder what was going on in the rooms above. She was surprised when Buffy reappeared, coming down the back stairs with a sleepy grin on her face.

"I seek juice," Buffy said with a tired stretch. "I'm low on vitamin C at the moment."

"One OJ, coming up." Willow deftly snatched a glass from the stack she was putting up and filled it to the brim. She placed it in front of her tired friend and sat beside her, her head propped up on her hands. "And now, I seek juicy details. What's it like, y'know, with Giles?"

Buffy ignored her, gulping the fruit juice deliberately for several seconds. At last, she came up for air. "Ahhh, that hits the spot. Thanks, Will. Would you believe they didn't have orange juice on the plane? They must not be used to people drinking it with dinner."

"Stop stalling."

"Okay, Okay, ask me again, but I'm not promising to answer. Some things are still considered private, y'know."

"We've been best friends for six years, Buff. Nothing has been considered private since you saved me from that vamp back in Junior High. Now spill. What's he like? Are you making with the smoochies? Does he have a hunky body under all that tweed?"

"Willow!"

"Well, does he? I bet he does."

Buffy's face relaxed into a saucy smile. "There's definitely a bod. Not big, bulgy muscle... just... nice. Toned. Just right."

"I always wondered when we were in school. I mean, he trained with you every day. There had to be a bod. Okay, smoochie report. C'mon, give."

"You're terrible. I thought you weren't interested in gory hetero details anymore."

"Hey, this is you and Giles! Girlfriend stuff! I have to know. I'll make the sacrifice."

Buffy sighed with a smile. Willow was so excited... it reminded her of her first year of college. "We've progressed way beyond the smoochies, Will. And he's... amazing. The way he makes me feel... Well, that's all I can say."

Willow squealed happily and gave Buffy a quick hug. "Oh, that's so... it's... well, there may be a word for it, but I can't think of it. I'm so happy for you!"

Another hug followed. Buffy started to giggle.

"What?" Willow asked quickly, holding her best friend at arms' length.

"I feel like we're sixteen and talking about cute boys at a slumber party."

"I always thought Giles was cute."

"Not me. I was visually challenged for years. I just thought he was Giles; My occasional pain-in-the-butt Watcher who was too smart for my own good. Tea, scones, stuffiness, tweed, and prophecies. But one thing about the growing up, your vision improves drastically."

"Yeah. So... any wedding bells in the future? Maybe you can inspire Anya to forgive Xander and give it another try."

"I'm not going anywhere near that yet, Willow. I mean, it's only been, like, two weeks since I reinvaded his nice, quiet British life. We haven't discussed anything beyond coming back to Sunnydale."

"But, he's gonna live here, right? Isn't that gonna look a little funny to the Child Protective Services people if you don't get married?"

Buffy frowned. She hadn't thought of that. "We're gonna talk tomorrow. I'll mention it." Her face shifted into a crafty smile. "Do you think he'll wig if I asked him first?"

"Are you kidding? He'll probably do a handstand."

Buffy started giggling again. "Nah, I bet he'll go all British and stutter."

"And start polishing his glasses."

Both girls were giggling now. Buffy quickly drank the last swallow of orange juice before she started laughing again. "I'll just have to take his glasses off first, then."

"You better make sure his hands are busy, too..."

"Willow!!!"

They chuckled for a few more minutes, then Willow slowly quieted, her face turning serious. "Buffy? Are you sure about Giles? Really sure? Not about how he feels, but about how you feel? I don't think he could take it if you changed your mind."

Buffy felt her heart plummet into her shoes. Even her best friend was having trouble believing that she could be true to Giles. It made her angry for a split second, but she began to do some serious soul-searching. She knew her track record was lousy, but she couldn't do anything about that now.

"I'm sorry, Buff. I didn't mean..."

"No, you're right. My batting average with guys is pretty low. I can't deny that. But this... it's just different. I don't know how to describe it, but it is. We're... connected."

"If you're sure, then I'm sure."

"Thanks. And thanks for being his friend, too. You care about him. He needs that."

"Everybody needs that. Even mature British guys with I.Q.s over 150."

"His I.Q. is over 150?" Buffy said with awe.

Willow leveled her with a 'you should know this' look. "Well, yeah. He wouldn't tell us the exact number. Xander and I tried to guess, but he just gave us that "Giles" look. You know the one."

"But that's, like, genius level!" She seemed overwhelmed for a moment.

"Buffy, he's the smartest person any of us has ever met. Why is it a surprise that his I.Q. would show it?"

"I don't know, it's just one more thing that I never thought to ask about him. It didn't even come up when he was helping me with my SATs. And we talked about test scores for hours. We have a lot of things to talk about, don't we?"

"Yep. Just think, there's enough conversation to keep you going for the rest of your life."

"However long that is."

"No morbid stuff. You've beaten death twice. There's gotta be a reason."

Buffy stared at her, wanting to say, The second time wasn't my choice.

Willow seemed to read her mind, and she shook her head. "I'm sorry, but you have to believe me... that spell was way beyond my ability. I know that now. I was cocky enough to think I could pull it off myself, but the truth is... there was a... a power that wanted you back. Those spells usually go wrong, and by that I mean they don't work at all, or they end up bringing back zombies, or stuff like that. You came back whole, and there's gotta be a reason."

"Maybe Giles was the reason," Buffy said softly.

Willow thought about the sad, broken man that had bravely tried to keep going after his Slayer was gone. "Maybe he was. And you're the reason he's still alive, too."

********

It was pitch black when Giles woke suddenly. Disoriented and groggy, he sat up slightly and tried to figure out where he was. It came to him quickly... Joyce's old bedroom in Buffy's house... and he relaxed, letting his held breath out with a whoosh.

"Sorry," Buffy said softly from the side of the bed. She was sitting next to him, wearing his pajama top. "I just wanted to check on you."

"I'm all right. With the magic, and the travel... and the time change, I'm bound to be groggy for a day or two." He ran a hand through his hair, yawning.

"I just thought you might like some company." She brushed an unruly lock away from his forehead with a gentle hand.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't, but what about Dawn?"

She continued her gentle stroking. "She knows about us. I told her tonight, so why pretend? You're going to be living here. I don't intend to keep my hands off you in my own house."

He laughed shortly at that, flattered but still concerned. "Are you sure? This could look rather, um, damaging if a social worker should decide to come by."

"I don't think we'll get too many social workers at midnight. We can hash it all out tomorrow. Tonight, we both need sleep. I think I'd get a lot more of it with you than without you right now. Besides," She traced his neck and shoulders with a fingertip. "I've gotten used to hearing you snore."

"I do not snore."

She giggled quietly. "Move over."

He complied, not that he would have been able to refuse her. She settled against him with a sigh of relief and threw an arm around his waist.

"Much better," she declared sleepily.

He found himself agreeing, then shortly thereafter, he found himself asleep.

********

Breakfast, despite Willow's careful planning, was the usual madhouse that Buffy had become accustomed to since her Mother's death. Dawn didn't want to go to school, but Buffy insisted, and there was a fierce (and loud) battle of wills before Dawn finally gave in to her sister's demands. Willow tried to get ready for her classes and cook pancakes for everyone at the same time. She ended up burning one out of every three batches because she was too busy dashing back and forth from her room and trying to mediate between the two warring sisters. Giles offered several times to help, but Willow insisted on doing everything herself, so at last he simply sat down in the dining room and listened, his expression relaxed and amused.

When the fracas had died down a bit, Buffy finally brought him a plate and a cup of tea. She plopped down at the table beside him, breathing a sigh of relief. "Kids. I don't know what gets into their heads these days."

He snorted and began eating his pancakes. "You should. It wasn't long ago you were acting just like Dawn."

"Hey! When I skipped school, Mister, it was because I was saving the world! She just wants to hang out downtown, which is a totally skanky place and I would never be seen there."

"These are quite good, Willow," Giles said to the third person to join them at the table.

"Oh, thanks, Giles. I'm getting pretty good at the breakfast thing. Haven't had a grease fire in months." She giggled at his worried expression. "Kidding."

"Ah, good. So... are you going to class today, then?"

"Why? You guys planning on being naughty while I'm gone?"

"Will!" Buffy yelped, grinning as Giles' face turned crimson. "It's too early in the morning to start embarrassing Giles." She gave him a sweet smile that slowly turned mischievous. "That's my job, and I'm good at it."

He gave her a fond glare. "Yes, you certainly are. Might I eat my breakfast in peace, now?"

"He's here less than a day and already he's getting grumpy. You're outnumbered, Mister Y Chromosome, and you better get used to it."

"You've been ordering me about since I first laid eyes on you," he stated matter-of-factly around his bite of pancake. "Adding a few more females to the mix shouldn't be such a stretch."

He smiled in satisfaction at the sounds of protest that rose around him, and continued eating.

Willow left as soon as she finished, rushing to get to her first class. As Buffy and Giles were washing dishes after the meal, content to be together, she casually began, "I think you need to talk to Dawn and Xander. Not that I'm trying to push stuff off on you... I've been talking until I'm blue in the face. I just thought a new perspective might help. They've both been having a hard time lately."

"Oh? How so?"

"Well, Dawn's had a lot to deal with. And... she's been shoplifting. We found the stuff in her room a few weeks ago."

He stopped wiping the plate he held and placed it carefully on the counter. He turned and leaned against the cabinet with a heavy sigh. "I see. Has she returned the things she took?"

"Most of them. Some stuff was from places that are closed now. I don't know what to do with them."

His thoughts consumed him for a moment, then he nodded and started drying the plate again. "I agree that she needs discipline, but this is something we should do together."

"Showing a unified front? Mom and Dad used to do that." The memory surprised her, and she started grinning. "So, instead of you being Mom in this scenario, I'm Mom and you're Dad now, huh?"

He chuckled. "I much prefer it that way. I never felt in the least like your dad."

She stepped closer and gave him a happy kiss. "Mmm. I'm soooo glad of that."

He accepted the kiss with a smile before turned serious again. "And Xander? How has he been since he... um... left Anya at the altar?"

"Awful," she answered sadly. "He blames himself, which is right in a way, but it's really his stupid father's fault for being such a jerk. Xander can't imagine himself growing up better than his dad."

"Xander is already many times a better man than his father," Giles said with conviction.

"If anybody can get him to believe that, you can. I've tried the girlie pep talk, but I think this is a guy thing."

Giles smiled at her confidence in him, relieved that the old Buffy was gone. No more foisting the difficult issues off on him. "I shall try."

She handed him the last cup and watched as he dried it carefully and put it away. "We so need to invest in a dishwasher, Rupert."

With his back to her, he acknowledged, "That would be convenient."

When he turned around again, she slid her arms up his chest to his neck. "It would give us more time for smoochies."

He hugged her gently, holding her close. Her hair muffled his voice as he murmured, "I probably should go to the Magic Box and see if I can salvage what's left of my clientele."

"It doesn't usually open until ten, and we have over an hour."

He smiled down at her imploring face. This sense of closeness was too new and precious to ignore. His smile turned cocky, and he suddenly reached down and snatched her off her feet and into his arms. She shrieked in surprise and delight as he whispered, "An hour will only get us started, love."

"So, you'll be late."

"Perhaps I will."

********

The clock read ten minutes to ten. Buffy was sitting on his freshly remade bed, already dressed, watching her man put the finishing touches on his wardrobe. She sighed happily as her eyes raked over his deceptively slender body. He might be slim, but he was incredibly strong. Strong enough for a Slayer.

She suddenly remembered an important discussion that had yet to take place. She cleared her throat and began, "We need to talk."

Giles looked up from tying his tie with a slight frown. "All right."

He smiled at her uncertain expression, giving her courage to continue.

"About what's next."

He finished his job and buttoned his top shirt button, and then turned to sit beside her. "What is it that's worrying you?"

Her hand crept into his, squeezing slightly. "I have to ask you something right now, because of appearances, but it isn't because I don't really want to ask, or because I don't want to wait for you to ask, so it'll be all right, but I don't want you to think it's just because of appearances, okay?"

A grin stole across his face as he listened to her. "Ah, Buffy, I've missed your delightfully convoluted conversation."

She elbowed him with an embarrassed scowl. "Pay attention, Rupert. This is serious."

"I can see that. However, I won't know how serious until you actually get to the point."

She sighed, looking down at their clasped hands for a moment before raising her eyes to his face. She studied his strong features for a few seconds, lost in his loving look. "This is not exactly how I pictured this moment. I envisioned flowers, champagne, and expensive food."

One eyebrow went up at that, and he cleared his throat, suddenly nervous. "Buffy, what is it?"

She stretched her neck up to give him a kiss, and he returned it readily. When she broke away, she took in his besotted expression and sighed happily. "That's better. At least there's a mood now."

"Buffy?"

She leaned into him, and his arm automatically went around her, holding her securely against his side. "I think, because of Dawn and the Child Protection people and neighborhood gossip, that we should get married as soon as possible. I know we should do the dating thing, wait, go slow, and all that, but for Dawn's sake, we need to be a real family. She needs that kind of stability right now, and to be honest, so do I. Besides, I don't think it's possible for two people to know each other any better than we already do..."

She felt him tense slightly, and then relax. Closing her eyes, she breathed in the scent of his aftershave and tried to calm the butterflies that were doing gymnastics in her stomach. The silence went on longer that she thought it should, and she cautiously lifted her head to see his face. What she saw stunned her.

He was crying, silently. Not sobbing, but there were two fat tear tracks running down his face.

"Oh, Rupert, I didn't mean to make you cry. I'm sorry, I was being pushy..."

He shushed her softly, putting a finger to her lips. His voice was soft and raspy as he murmured, "It's all right, love. I am so proud of you."

"Proud of me because... why?"

He touched her face reverently, tracing her cheek with a trembling hand. "Because instead of hiding from the harshness of reality, you are facing it and doing what you have always done... following your heart. My Buffy is truly whole again." He broke off, obviously too overcome to continue.

"Your Buffy was always here, she was just too traumatized to think straight. When you left... God, Giles, it was awful. I felt so alone, but after I thought about it, I was alone because I wouldn't let anyone in. It didn't get better until I did. And when I started getting better, I realized the person that I really wanted to be close to wasn't there. And it was my fault."

"Not entirely your fault. I simply didn't know what to do. I felt your emptiness, and I panicked a bit, I think. If I had stayed..."

It was her turn to quiet him. She placed her hand against his mouth with a gentle smile. "You did the right thing, Rupert. If you had stayed, I wouldn't have come to my senses. Or maybe I would have, but it would've taken a lot longer. When it got to the point that I couldn't stand to live without you, things finally started falling into place."

He hugged her close, resting his head against hers with his eyes blissfully closed. Deep inside, the connection he had mourned for so long hummed, strong and unbreakable. He felt complete.

He held her for so long that she turned in his arms and looked up at him again. "Hey, you never did answer my question."

"Did you ask a question?" he teased with a smile.

"I guess I didn't phrase it as a question, did I? Okay, will you marry me?"

His passionate kiss overwhelmed her senses. When he released her lips, he whispered, "Oh, yes. At the earliest possible moment."

"Good. How does this weekend sound?"

"Marvelous."

"If we can do it that fast. I have to make a few phone calls."

"Wonderful."

"We may have to go to Las Vegas."

"Fantastic."

She began to smile wickedly. "And have an Elvis impersonator do the ceremony."

He gave her a sharp glare. "I'm not that far gone."

She laughed and pulled his head down to hers again. Between giggles and kisses, she murmured, "I love you, Rupert Giles."

"And I love you, Buffy Anne Summers, soon to be Giles."

She hopped up and pulled him along with her. "Now we have to go make some money so you can afford a honeymoon."

He snorted with laughter as he followed her out the door.

The End