There were tears in her eyes and everything hurt worse knowing he had caused them. She stood, backed into a proverbial corner with this man in front of her whom she adored. His intelligent green eyes flashed with passion as he spoke because, when it came to her, there was nothing he was more passionate about. But the fact of the matter was, he was sending her to die.

"I won't do it!" she protested. "Isn't it enough for you that I've already died once?"

He sighed, rubbing his temples from across the room. His Slayer and there was no other way around it. She had to die, again. What do you tell a young girl who's weak and vulnerable when they're faced with the unknown abyss of death? Still he paused, trying to let her speak, get things out, process whatever was going through her own mind. She continued, her blue eyes likewise filled with passion, defiance, and fear.

"I've saved the world. I've prevented the Apocalypse more times than I can count. I sent my boyfriend to Hell because my duty as the Slayer demanded it. How can you want me to die? Don't you care about me?"

He looked up sharply, overcome by an anger he didn't usually feel. "You stupid girl." She looked at him, wounded, but paying attention as he didn't make these sort of outbursts often. He moved closer, a few steps at a time, advancing on his student.

"How many times have I tried to keep you out of harm's way? How many times have I taken up your cause as my own when I felt the cost was too great for you to bear? Lord knows I don't have the abilities of my Slayer but I'd have died myself if it meant you'd be safe." There was conviction in his tone, the undeniable certainty that every word he said was true. He grabbed her shoulders and gave her a slight shake, looking at her. "I defied the Council for you, the only life I knew and I gave it away without a moment's hesitation because they wanted to put you in danger!"

He released her, stepping back. She stumbled, falling against the wall behind her, silent. She stared at the floor, emotions running high between them, and couldn't say a word. It didn't matter. He continued for her, started on a train of thought and running it until the end. He softened somewhat, watching her.

"Do you remember when Billy had his nightmare. Do you remember what mine was?"

She looked up at him, remembering, a tear slipping down her cheek. "I was a vampire." she responded slowly. It was a hard thing to remember, digging her way out of the ground and feeling that hunger gnaw at her insides without any moral compass to keep it in check.

"I still have that nightmare, every night. I can remember every detail of you clawing your way out of the ground and how it tore at me, telling me I'd failed to protect you."

Her brows furrowed with concern and dismay. "Christ! You're only a child!" The words rang out through the room as he threw his hands in the air, turning away from the girl behind him. This time she felt the anger bubbling up in her heart and pushed herself away from the wall. She felt strong, clear in her defiance this time.

"I am not a little girl, Giles! You send me out to die every night! I fight demons, I fight vampires, I've had so many close calls even I sometimes dream I've died!"

He turned back. "Don't you think I know that? Don't you know how I worry about you when you're not in sight? How I go to bed praying you're safe only to rush here just to see you. I count the minutes, Buffy, waiting for you to come round and show me you're still alive."

"Well, when this is over I won't be, will I?"

He stopped, the shock of her small statement filling him with an all too familiar dread. So many times he thought he was prepared for it, but to hear his fears come to life from her lips...he wasn't sure he could speak. "Buffy, I..."

She shook her head. "You see me as a little girl, Giles, a child like you said just now. But I'm not. I'm young and I don't want to die but I've made sacrifices for humanity before. There will be another to take my place in the end."

"Buffy."

She raised her hand, stopping him. "It's tonight, isn't it? The prophecy happens tonight? Please, just don't say anything so I won't lose my nerve. Be my strength tonight, please." She didn't stop the tears from falling and didn't bother to wipe them away. He stared in horror, his heart bloodied and torn by the idea of losing her, forever. And no one would know but them. They hadn't bothered Willow and Xander. The stakes here were too high and the price demanded was very clear. The life of the Slayer for the lives of Sunnydale, indeed, the world.

His heart hurt! Worse than any pain he could imagine his heart hurt. This remarkable woman, his Slayer, accepting her sacrifice with grace and dignity. The least he could do was honor her request. "Buffy, before you go...there is something you need to know."

She stopped, looking, expectant. "I'm in love with you, Buffy. Simple as that. No matter how I've tried and no matter what reasons I've given myself to prevent it I can't stop. I'm not a poet so I won't be able to give you flowery words and promises of forever but there it is."

The blond breathed in deeply, once, showing no other reaction to his admission. She picked up a sword, something sturdy, and swung it experimentally. He stood by in agony, watching, waiting. All at once she rushed to him and jumped into his arms, kissing him with the youthful vigor she used in every other part of her life. She kissed him deeply for a long time, hungry and honest. When she pulled away there were tears staining his cheeks and a sad smile on her lips.

"Thank you, for everything."

She headed to the door and he stood there, being strong, until the door closed behind her and he knew she was leaving him behind. There was nothing more to be done.

Rupert Giles raged, tearing apart the room until everything she left behind her was broken and shattered, a memory, and even that did nothing to stem the tide of his grief. His Slayer was gone now, never to return but for one fiery moment she'd been his.

Forever...