Now that's summer is here I should have time enough to work on two stories, so here it is. The beginning of the new one. The one where I must confess that I'm way too fond of Nicholas Sparks, lol. :P Don't, however, be fooled into thinking this is only straightforward. This is a Buffy fanfic after all. ;) So anyway...well, if you like this beginning and are interested at all, please let me know what you think. Can't wait to hear from ya'll! Thanks so much. :)

What Matters

Chpt 1

January 2000

Buffy Summers really didn't want to go be going where she was going, but she had to get there first to unlock the door for her friends. She was the one with the key, and it was her responsibility to make sure no one was left standing out in the January chill for too long. It would be another long, painful afternoon of sorting and packing and not knowing whether they should talk to each other or stay quiet or if there was something in particular they should be doing, or saying...

Today was her birthday. She was turning nineteen, and she wasn't happy at all. The fact that she officially had a boyfriend now didn't seem to help much. She had to wonder in the fact that Riley still seemed to want to be around her at all. Her life had sometimes seemed like nothing but a black hole of despair since even before he met her. Like the rest of her friends she had tried to go on, live life, be the Buffy she'd always been...but it was hard. Eventually he'd seen through it, and he still cared. He was still there for her.

He wasn't here right now. He had papers to grade that he hadn't finished yesterday, and it was early anyway. But that was all right. She would be fine. She had to be fine, because there really wasn't much choice. She couldn't change anything.

She made it to the apartment and got the key in the lock, but something didn't feel right. Buffy paused, listening, and heard something in the shrubs near the door. She backed away from the it, ready for a fight if she needed to be.

"Get out of there now. I know you're here." Whoever or whatever it was, anyway. There was a bit more rustling. "Now!"

And a sheepish-looking Ethan Rayne stepped out and raised his eyebrow at her. "Well. Slayer. Fancy meeting you here."

She was not in the mood for this. Buffy glared vehemently at him. "What the hell are you doing here, Ethan?"

"Oh, you know me—just doing a bit of snooping around."

"I do know you, and knowing you you're only doing the snooping to lead up to some sort of cracked scheme. I suggest you forget whatever you had planned and get out of my town right now. I will not ask again."

"And what are you going to do?" he retorted. "I'm human; you can't kill me."

She snorted. "No, but my current boyfriend is military. I could always have you arrested." Ethan didn't seem to have a response to that. "Get out of here."

"Well seeing as the element of surprise is ruined..." He glanced back in the direction of one of the apartment's windows. "I must say though, I would love to know the reason for the ridiculous amount of boxes. Is good old Ripper finally leaving the Hellmouth?"

Buffy's jaw clenched, and her answer came out quieter than she'd wanted it to—in front of Ethan, anyway. "He's not going anywhere. He's already gone."

May 1999 (Eight Months Earlier)

It was strange, walking past the burnt-out shell of Sunnydale High School when it had stood proudly only a week and a half ago. Buffy wished she could avoid it, but patrol took her anywhere there might be vampires to slay, and the site of the hellmouth was a mandatory area to check. She made a quick sweep and headed back through downtown Sunnydale to get a refreshing taste of civilization before hitting the cemeteries on the other side of town.

She passed the magic shop, and the hardware store, and the Expresso Pump...and all seemed normal. Calm. The night was young enough that the coffee shop was full, but not overflowing, and nothing much looked to be happening. She saw nothing suspicious that might suggest a vampire, and nothing out of the ordinary.

Except for Giles sitting at one of the open-air tables.

Buffy stopped in the street and blinked, not certain if she was seeing correctly. No, it was Giles, and all casual in one of those sweaters she wasn't quite used to no less. He was doing a lot of staring into space, too. He didn't even have a book, which was almost more unusual for him than where he was. Under normal circumstances he would have relaxed at home or in the library, she supposed, but now the library was gone...


She strolled over to the coffee shop and took the one step up into its domain before crossing to Giles's table. "You know, I always thought patrol was fun. You run into the most interesting people."

Giles started and looked up quickly, and winced, and he would have spilled whatever he was drinking if the cup hadn't had a lid on it. "Buffy! Honestly, must you do that?"

"What, scare the crap out of you?" His mild glare was her answer. She shrugged and dropped into the chair opposite him. "Sorry; it's my job. Besides, shouldn't you be all attuned to your surroundings or whatever? You're the one who's supposed to be training me, remember?"

He frowned a little and stared down at his cup. "Or I was until January, anyhow."

"Come on, Giles. The Council's crap means nothing to me. You know you'll always be my Watcher."

He smiled a bit before taking a sip of his coffee or tea or whatever he had. "Is uhm, there a particular reason you're here?"

"I was in the neighborhood. I'm halfway done with patrol; I was passing through. Now it's my turn to ask what you're doing here."

"I do have free time, Buffy, and what I do with it is my own business." He frowned again. "Though it seems I have much more free time now."

Buffy grimaced. "Yeah. Wow, you don't have a job at all anymore, do you? Officially."

"Thank you for the reminder," he answered tiredly.

"Sorry, I just...I mean, are you gonna be okay?"

"I believe I have sufficient funds to be all right for long enough. You needn't worry."

"Okay...good. 'Cause I care, you know."

She had plenty enough time to worry about everyone else now, anyway. Angel was gone. Off to wherever he thought was far enough away. Now she didn't have their future to imagine, and she didn't really want to think much about him at all. It hurt too much. So she directed her attentions anywhere else to keep herself sane. That was what the last week or so had felt like, anyway.

Watcher and Slayer sat in comfortable silence for a minute or two, and Buffy studied him. There was the being here by himself, and the staring off at nothing he'd been doing until she came over here...and it wasn't that he never just sat and thought, because he did that often enough, but something seemed off tonight. She couldn't put a finger on why, but she wasn't sure he was okay.

"So you wanna keep me company for the rest of patrol tonight?" She decided she couldn't just leave him here.

Giles's eyebrows went up, and his cup paused halfway to his mouth. "Hmm?"

"I said, do you want to come with?"

"Oh. Well..."

He was a little surprised, and she supposed he had a right to be. He'd been out on patrol with her often enough before, but always at his discretion and because it had something or other to do with training or one looming danger or the next. She'd never simply asked him to come.

Well, she'd been alone all week. She was tired of being alone. Angel was gone and Cordelia had already run off to L.A. to seek fame and fortune, Xander was getting ready to head off on his road trip, and since graduation day Willow and Oz had been spending much more time with each other than with anyone else. Though she supposed she understood that.

Buffy waited patiently for an answer, and finally Giles shrugged and stood. "I don't suppose I have much better to do at the moment."

"Great," she smiled, standing with him and following him from the Expresso Pump. "Hey, is your car here?"

"It is. Though I don't suppose your asking me to accompany you has anything at all to do with procuring a faster way of getting around for the night."

"Of course not," she responded in mock horror. "Giles, how could you ever think that of me?" He laughed, and Buffy realized it had been a while she'd seen him do it. Getting fired from the Watchers' Council hadn't been sitting very well with him, and the presence of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce until recently hadn't helped either. Maybe whatever was going on with him now was just residual from all of that, or maybe there was something else on his mind, but with any luck there would be some action before patrol was over and it would do him some good.

They made it to the nearest cemetery and Buffy climbed out first. "All I've got is an extra stake, if you want that..."

Giles pulled something from the back seat before he got out of the car. "No, thank you. That's quite all right." He stood up with a crossbow, and she stared at him.

"You keep a crossbow in the back seat?"

"It's better to be prepared."

She had to remember this was Giles. "Uh huh." She started off without another word, and Giles wasn't far behind. They spent the next hour or so mostly in amiable silence, tracking from cemetery to cemetery, and Buffy didn't dust a single vampire the entire time. The one that showed up was skewered by a bolt from Giles's crossbow before she could get close enough. Part of her was a little annoyed that her fun had been spoiled, but the fact that he'd gotten one seemed to cheer Giles up some, so she couldn't hold a grudge.

"Nice shot."

"Thank you," he smiled triumphantly.

They had two cemeteries to go, two small ones just across the street from each other on the edge of town, and it didn't look like they were really going to find anything here, either.

Buffy sighed. "You know, I would have thought that all the vampires working with the Mayor would be, like, out for our heads by now, since we offed him, but it looks like they all just skipped town instead."

"Not all of them."

She spun at the voice, and saw the vampire stepping from the bushed behind her Watcher. "Giles, down!" He ducked out of the way and she launched herself through the space he'd been in just a moment ago. She almost got the stake in clean, but the vamp moved just soon enough to start a fight rather than be dusted already.

Then there were two more them. Crap...

She heard Giles's crossbow go off, and she heard a vamp dusting. She wondered why he was shooting from the ground, but she didn't have time to glance at him long enough to figure it out. She assumed the ducking had gotten him off balance and he just wasn't up yet. She was locked in a grappling session with the first one and only saw Giles from the corner of her eye. It only took a minute more to stake the vampire she was dealing with, but by the time she twisted to look him things really weren't going so well.

It looked like he'd only just now made it back to his feet, but now the third vampire had him back against a small mausoleum with no room to shoot. She lurched forward toward them, fully intending to stake the vamp through the back and dust him where he stood before he could lay a hand on her Watcher, but rough hands grabbed her arms from behind and she realized there were more than three adversaries.

She hadn't been sure if these vampires had been allied with Trick and the Mayor, but she was sure when the one that had Giles between a rock and a hard place decked him instead of going for the kill. They didn't just want them dead; they wanted to play.


But the hands that had grabbed her flung her around at the same time, and a second later she couldn't see him anymore. She heard him shout—god, more than once—but she had two more vampires to worry about. It took a moment or two to turn them both to dust and then she spun back to the mausoleum and the vampire that was displaying extremely dishonorable battle tactics in kicking her Watcher while he was down.

Not that she would have expected anything honorable from a vampire that wasn't Angel.


No! Vampire. Dust the vampire. In a second it was done, and she dropped to her knees at her Watcher's side. He was curled on his side, arms wrapped around his midsection, and...and god, was he having trouble breathing?

"Giles! Giles?" She clamped a hand on his shoulder. "Giles, can you hear me?" He looked at her blearily and she swallowed. "Hey, can you breathe? How bad is it?" He didn't seem able to answer. He was too busy catching his breath—and for some reason that seemed to be hurting him. "Giles!" Finally he calmed down and seemed able to breathe all right, but he still didn't look all right at all. His face was set in a permanent grimace.

"I'm—fine..." he managed after a moment.

Buffy scowled worriedly. "No you're not. God, Giles, what the hell? He hit you once and you went down like a ton of bricks and stayed down. If you weren't feeling so great today or whatever you should have just said something."

"I'll be fine," he reiterated, pushing up on an elbow. The other arm stayed around his stomach, and she didn't doubt there would be some pretty good bruises there in the morning.

She let out a breath. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," he said shortly. He sat up slowly, leaning against the mausoleum wall behind him and still wincing the whole way. It looked like maybe he was trying not to, but he obviously wasn't having much luck.

Buffy looked at him for a moment, and she knew patrol was over. "Well, we were pretty much done anyway," she said aloud. "Come on, let's get you home." He didn't argue that point, which was very anti-Giles. It didn't help the trying-not-to-be-too-worried.

She tried to help him up, and she tried to do it slowly and carefully, but they only got halfway up before Giles barked out a shout of pain and she had no choice but to lower him back to the ground. He eyes clenched shut and he moaned quietly, and she stared at him wide-eyed.

"Giles, come on, I know I'm not the poster child for the normal human being, but I know that is not normal oh-I'll-be-sore-for-a-week-or-two kind of hurt. What's wrong? Do you think maybe he cracked a rib or something?"

"No...or, perhaps," he added quickly.

But she'd known him long enough to know when he was lying. "You don't think so. Why don't you think so? What's wrong then?"


"Yeah. A vampire just kicked the crap out of you and nothing's wrong. Maybe we should just take you to the hospital, just in case."

"No," Giles said immediately. "I do not need a hospital. I'm bloody tired of hospitals..." He started to use the mausoleum wall to pull himself up, and when Buffy tried to help he wouldn't let her.

"Since when have you been in one often enough to care one way or the other?"

He didn't answer that. He was on his feet now but he didn't look very steady, and he still had that arm around his middle. Before she could stop him he took a few steps, but that was as far as he made it before he doubled over and caught himself on a headstone.

She hurried to his side again. "Whoa! Take it easy. Nevermind. Look, I just really think—"

"I'll be fine, Buffy. I promise you that I will go home, and I will rest, and I will be fine."



"But something's wrong with you! What if it's something serious? I-I mean what if that vampire really did break something or rupture something or whatever? That could be very, very bad, and I'd rather you not die or anything." Giles made an odd choking sound and looked away, and she stared at him strangely. "What?" He didn't answer her now, either. "Giles, what?"

"Must we do this now?" He sounded disturbingly shaky...pleading. It wasn't like Giles at all, and it scared her. She wanted to know what was going on, and she wanted to know now.

Buffy swallowed hard when he finally looked at her again, and the same plea that had been in his voice was on his face. Leave it alone. Please drop it. Just drop it...

She hated that she had to ignore it. "Yeah," she said quietly. "I'm sorry...but I think we have to."

She needed to hear that her overactive imagination was only that. She needed to hear that yeah, it was just a cracked rib or something and he was just being too British to admit it, or that sure, maybe he had a stomach ulcer or something from all the stress over the Mayor's ascension and so he was more affected by all the kicking than he would have been otherwise, but hey, was gonna be fine...

She needed to hear it before her imagination kept taking her places she didn't want to go. For example, maybe that vampire had been wearing steel-toed boots or something and everything in there was seriously squished and they only had moments before he started coughing up blood and collapsed—for good. That was one ridiculous thought she was having to shove away.

Being the Slayer had it's downsides. Knowing how fragile human life could be was one of them.

Giles wouldn't look at her, and he was quiet for a long time before he said anything else. "Then...we'll go back to my apartment, and call the others."

"The others? Why?"

He glanced at her now, and the pained look on his face made her freeze, and her breath caught in her throat, and she didn't know why. What...?

"Because I would rather not do this more than once," he answered quietly. He tried to head back for the car, but had hardly moved past the stone before he stopped, reached back and grabbed it again.


He grimaced yet again. "Perhaps I could...use some help..." he admitted.

Buffy nodded slowly. "Yeah...sure..." She took his arm, carefully pulled it over her shoulders, and took her Watcher home.