Sunday, April 29th, 2001 ~ Sunnydale General Hospital ~ Sunnydale, California

Giles staggered to his feet and shuffled a few, halting backwards steps away from the corpse. He thumbed off the flashlight and thrust his key ring back into his pocket then leaned against the brick wall of the hospital and took a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm his racing heartbeat.

The adrenaline that had been pumped into his system at the sight of the dead man had temporarily overwhelmed the symptoms of what Giles suspected was another concussion but only heightened his confused state of mind.

Had he and Ben been the victims of the same assailant or had he killed Ben? He hadn't seen or heard any evidence of another person in the vicinity since he regained consciousness and he knew he was capable of breaking a man's neck with his bare hands but why would he do so? Had he come to the hospital to have his head injury tended or was it the result of an altercation after he arrived here? If Ben had attacked him then he had killed in self-defense but, try as he might, Giles couldn't remember anything of the recent past. The last he could recall it had been late afternoon and his internal clock and the lack of activity around the hospital suggested it was very late at night or early morning.

No answers seemed to be forthcoming and to tarry here would be foolhardy. The police were as affected by the same selective blindness that afflicted most of the residents of Sunnydale but they weren't idiots. If someone found him here he would be arrested on the spot. He hesitated for a moment, wondering what he might have touched near the corpse, but realized that his lack of memory meant he would have to either wipe down every surface in the immediate area or pray that he hadn't left his fingerprints. Praying was all he had time for so he sent his heartfelt plea heavenward as he stumbled toward the visitor's parking lot; hoping that he had driven here - head injury or no.

Giles found his car parked halfway across the nearly empty lot. He scrambled into the driver's seat and mumbled a thank you to whatever Power had assisted him in escaping the scene unobserved as he pulled out of the driveway and onto the street.

The clock in the dashboard confirmed his earlier suspicion; it was a few minutes after three in the morning. As he stopped at the first traffic light, Giles realized he had no idea where he was going; he had only thought to get away from the hospital as quickly as possible. His inclination was to go home, but he couldn't ignore the possibility that, since he had been in a dangerous situation, Buffy and the others might have encountered trouble as well. The light turned green and Giles accelerated slowly across the intersection, deciding that a trip to Buffy's house would either enlighten him if there was activity there or put his mind at rest if all was quiet. If no one was stirring in the house he would leave a note for Buffy to call him when she awoke.

His level of concern jumped slightly as he rounded the corner onto Revello Drive and saw lights shining from all the downstairs windows of the Summers residence. He pulled into the driveway and shut off the engine. Giles had barely managed to exit his car when the front door to the house crashed open and his Slayer darted straight towards him.

Buffy flung her arms around his waist and hugged him tight. Her voice was muffled due to the fact that her face was pressed firmly into his chest. "Giles, thank God! Where did you go?" she demanded, breathlessly. "I was so worried when I realized you weren't in the house."

Giles had raised his arms reflexively as Buffy had come into contact with his body and he stood, flabbergasted at the uncharacteristic liberties Buffy was taking, with his arms twitching as he fought between dual impulses - one telling him to extricate himself from her touch immediately and the other insisting that he return her embrace. He took a steadying breath and gently placed his hands on her shoulders, which he squeezed lightly before easing her upper body away from his torso.

The streetlight illuminated her face sufficiently for Giles to see the remnants of tension in the set of her mouth. They each took a step backwards and Giles slid his hands off her shoulders and let them hang at his sides.

"Where did you go, Giles?" Buffy repeated, more insistently.

"I... I was... How did you know I was anywhere but home?" Giles stammered, even more unsettled now than when an unexplained dead body and the possibility that Buffy, Dawn and the Scoobies might be in danger had been the only things on his mind.

Buffy tilted her head, confusion wrinkling her brow. "Home? Why would you..." she broke off and shook her head. She reached out, took his hand and gave it a tug. "Let's go inside. We're standing out here in the dark and I don't even have a stake on me."

Giles, faced with the choice of wrenching his hand from her firm grip or acceding to her request, followed her docilely into the house.

Buffy shut the door behind them and turned to confront him. "Still waiting for an answer, Giles," she reminded him. "Where did you...?" her frown deepened as she scrutinized his face. "You're hurt," she announced.

Giles lifted a hand to the side of his head, where a persistent throbbing had reasserted itself. "I'm afraid so," he admitted. "But not too badly, I think."

Buffy's expression suggested she wasn't convinced. She took his arm and led him into the dining room. "Sit down so I can take a look at that."

Giles complied with her order and winced only slightly as Buffy gently fingered his hair aside to inspect the wound. Finally, she removed her hands from his head and leaned forward to look him in the eyes.

"You've got a big ol' bump, some fairly impressive bruising and a nasty abrasion there, Watcher-mine," she informed him with a sigh. "Your head is one of your best features. Why do you keep damaging it?"

"It is purely unintentional on my part, I assure you," Giles replied, dryly.

"There isn't a lot I can do for it," she admitted. "Other than clean off the dried blood, disinfect it and put a bandage on. Did you get knocked out? Are you dizzy or nauseous?" she asked. "It looks like it was a pretty hard blow. Maybe we should go to the hospital."

"NO!" Giles barked.

Buffy stepped back, startled.

"I, um, sorry," Giles apologized. Buffy sat down in the chair next to him.

"What's wrong, Giles? What happened?" she inquired softly.

Giles turned sideways on his chair so that he was facing her. "I'm not certain; but there's something important I need to tell you," he said seriously.

Dawn's voice came from the stairway. "Buffy, who's here?"

Buffy rolled her eyes at the interruption. "It's Giles," Buffy called back and then continued in a lower tone as the teenager rounded the corner and stepped into the room. "Did you have another nightmare?"

Dawn crossed her arms and huffed out a frustrated breath. "I told you it wasn't a nightmare! Something woke me up and then I remembered. Why don't you ever believe me?" she whined.

Buffy turned to Giles. "Hold that confession, please," she requested, unaware of the start her choice of words gave Giles. "Dawn woke up screaming a little while ago. After I got her settled down I noticed you hadn't come out of your room to see what was going on. When I found your bed empty and couldn't find you anywhere in the house I was scared that Glory's minions might have made off with you somehow."

That explained one thing Giles had been wondering about; why all the lights had been on and Buffy had been up and dressed at three in the morning - without clarifying why Buffy had expected to find him in her house at that hour. He turned to Dawn. "What was your nightmare about?" he asked, not yet prepared to tackle the other question.

"It-was-not-a-nightmare," Dawn ground out between clenched teeth. "I woke up and I remembered seeing Ben - you know the cute doctor guy? - turn into Glory; that time I ran away to the hospital. I wasn't dreaming and I'm not making it up!"

Giles was certain he felt his heart stop. "What... what did you say?"

"Giles, what's wrong? You just went pale as a ghost. Is it your head?" Buffy asked, reaching out and touching his arm.

"Just a moment, please, Buffy." Giles gently pushed her hand away and turned fully toward Dawn. "What did you say about Ben?"

Dawn, obviously feeling vindicated that an adult was finally listening to her, sent a smug look Buffy's way before replying. "I saw Ben turn into Glory. I was talking to him and he started getting... weird. He got all frantic and told me to run because she was coming. I didn't understand; at least not 'til he morphed into Glory. It happened right while I was looking at him. You guys know the rest of it." Dawn took a few small steps forward. "I'm not lying. It really happened," she added, insistently.

Giles gave her a fleeting smile and a nod. "I believe you, Dawn," he assured her.

"Giles don't encourage her," Buffy complained. "She's just trying to..."

"Dawn," Giles said, raising his voice to cut off Buffy's rant. "Will you bring some warm water, clean hand towels and the first aid kit to your sister so she can tend to my injury, please?"

"Sure. I'll be right back," Dawn agreed happily. She bounced into the kitchen.

"Why did you tell her you believe her, Giles?" Buffy challenged, after the door swung shut behind her younger sister.

"Because less than an hour ago I regained consciousness to find myself lying next to Ben's dead body; his neck was broken and, although I don't remember doing so, it seems I may have killed him," Giles told her.

Buffy stared at him in complete astonishment. "You... you killed him! You murdered a person? A human being?" she finally managed to utter.

Giles sighed deeply. He reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes as he did so to give himself a moment to think and avoid the look of disappointment and incredulity his Slayer was directing at him. "I said I may have done," Giles corrected her. He removed his hand from his face, letting his glasses settle into place before turning his gaze back to Buffy. "And if Dawn is correct, he wasn't just any human being."

The two silently regarded one another. Giles considered whether his belief in Dawn's revelation might be wishful thinking on his part but something deep and indefinable told him that Ben's death had been necessary.

"If we discover proof that Ben and Glory were one in the same, I'll not apologize; even if I did kill him," Giles told her gently but firmly. "I have a duty to you and the world and if that requires me to commit murder to prevent the spread of supernatural evil then that is what I will do. Especially if I can prevent your taking the burden of that stain upon your soul," he added, suppressed emotion straining his tone. "Even if the result is that you feel nothing but contempt..."

"Don't say that, Giles." Buffy's eyes were bright with moisture and her voice shook. "I could never hate you; but sometimes it scares me when I'm faced with the reality of what you're willing to do for me. It's... it's just, I don't know, awesome and horrible all at the same time."

Giles forced back an almost uncontrollable urge to apologize for being so dedicated to her. How bizarre that would seem after insisting that he wouldn't apologize for committing murder! In a way, it proved her point and Giles remained silent. Even if the irony wasn't lost on Buffy it wouldn't make her feel any better.

Dawn returned laden with the items he had requested she retrieve. The girl hesitated before reaching the table. "Do you guys need a minute or something?" she asked tentatively.

Giles realized the tension in the room must have been even greater than he thought if it prompted Dawn, who was forever complaining that she was left out of everything, to offer them some privacy. He sent her a brief smile. "No, it's fine."

Dawn smiled back and delivered her cargo to Buffy. Giles removed his glasses to give Buffy unfettered access to the side of his head. He reached into his pocket for his handkerchief, an almost automatic action whenever he took off his glasses. As he pulled the square of cloth from his pocket, a folded piece of paper popped out and fell to the floor. Dawn, who was standing behind the chairs occupied by Buffy and Giles, bent down to retrieve it.

"What's this?" she asked, while unfolding the note.

"Dawn!" Buffy objected after glancing over to see what her sister was doing. "What have I told you about snooping?"

"I'm not snooping," Dawn said, defensively. "I'm just... omigod! Buffy, look at this!" she squeaked, eyes wide.

"You're not going to make me an accomplice," Buffy replied, while carefully bathing Giles' wound with warm water laced with antiseptic. "Give it back to Giles."

"No, seriously you have to look at this," Dawn insisted, stepping forward between the two adults and flattening the sheet of notepaper on the table in front of them.

Giles and Buffy looked down. Clearly written in Giles' bold handwriting was a note which read:

'Ben is Glory.

Glory is Ben.

A spell is bound up in their merging that prevents humans from retaining this knowledge if they discover the secret.

Details about Glory and her intentions can be found in a carved wood box kept by a demon named Doc who lives in his shop on Elm St.

Glory must be prevented from achieving her goal. She will not only destroy the Key but countless other lives as well.

Glory is invincible in her own form but Ben is mortal and their life forces are inextricably joined.'

After reading the note through several times, Giles looked up into Buffy's shocked expression.

"How did you know?" Buffy whispered.

"I... I have no idea," Giles replied, aborting a head shake when a flare of pain lanced through his temple.

"But," Buffy said, glancing from Giles' face to the note and back. "You wrote that, didn't you?"

"It is my handwriting," Giles confirmed, lifting the piece of paper to get a closer look. "But I don't remember having any of this information much less writing it down."

"It says Glory's gonna... she's gonna..." Dawn voice was quavering and trailed off into a loud gulp.

Giles folded the note shut. Buffy turned and took Dawn's hand. "Nothing is going to happen to you. I won't let it," Buffy told her firmly. "You know that don't you?"

Dawn nodded slightly. "I know you want to keep me safe but what if..."

Buffy squeezed her hand. "No buts. No what ifs. I won't let anyone hurt you, kiddo. Okay?"

Giles watched the two sisters examine each other's faces until Dawn finally returned Buffy's gentle smile. Buffy let go of Dawn's hand and straightened in her chair.

"Giles and I need to talk for a while. Will you go watch out for Xander and Anya? I don't want them out in the dark any longer than necessary but don't unlock the door until they're on the porch, okay?" Buffy asked Dawn.

"Standard safety rules apply, got it," Dawn acknowledged before leaving the room.

"Xander and Anya are coming over here at this hour?" Giles inquired.

Buffy picked up the damp towel and resumed cleaning Giles' wound. "I needed someone to stay with Dawn while I went looking for you."

"Ah," Giles replied. He lifted the note into his line of sight. "Do you suppose Dawn remembered about Ben changing into Glory after I... when Ben died?"

"I guess that makes sense," Buffy said.

"We need to go and find this Doc creature," Giles stated.

"No," Buffy said resolutely as she set down the towel and began to spread ointment on Giles' abraded skin. "You need to stay here and take it easy while I go demon hunting."

"You shouldn't go alone. We aren't certain of anything, yet," Giles argued.

"Except that I'd bet anything you can name that you have a concussion. You were unconscious and you can't remember stuff. You didn't answer me when I asked you if you've been dizzy or nauseous which is enough to tell me you have." Buffy finished taping a gauze pad in place before turning Giles' face away from the note and toward her. "You're not going back out there tonight."

Before Giles could argue further, Dawn's shout came from the living room. "They're here!" Her bouncing footsteps could be heard approaching and the front door swung open.

As the couple moved forward into the entryway they turned their tired faces toward the movement in the dining room.

"Hey, G-man," Xander greeted Giles. "You don't look like you're missing to me."

Anya raced into the dining room and, to the astonishment of all present, flung her arms around Giles' neck. "Giles! It's you. It's really you! You're back!" she exclaimed, rocking back and forth with Giles' face planted firmly in her bosom.

End Part 16