Summary: Giles realizes that Buffy is more affected by the events of "Ted" than she lets on. Hurt/Comfort, Watcher/Slayer bonding.

Giles knew something was wrong. He knew he could be oblivious to many human cues, especially when it came to females, and some days he thought he would never understand teenage girls.

But he was sure something was wrong. Buffy had not been tight-lipped about the incident with the robot, but he knew he hadn't been told the entire story. And he was okay with that.

At least until the flinch.

Giles had already forgotten what he had been lecturing her about. Because when he had had a sudden thought and quickly reached out and grabbed an old text by Buffy's chair, she had flinched.

He slowly put down the book, its contents already forgotten. He pulled a chair out from the table and faced it directly to Buffy. They were at eye level, but Buffy's eyes were frozen to the ground. "Buffy, I know there's something wrong. Will you tell me what it is?"

There was no response. Giles tried a different approach. "I am always here to listen when you want or need to tell me something."

There was silence once more, but he resolved to stay at least a few minutes before giving up for the moment.

And finally, Buffy spoke. "He hit me."

"He - you mean your mother's boyfriend?"

Her voice was monotone and she didn't take her eyes off her hands folded neatly in her lap. "He just threatened me at first. Said he was going to 'slap my smart-ass mouth.' I told Mom, and she didn't believe me, didn't do anything. And then when I came home from patrolling a few nights later and I climbed in through my window like I always do, he was there, sitting in the dark, just waiting for me. He had gone through my things, taken out all my Slayer stuff, left it lying around like he had nothing to hide. Like he had the perfect right to do that. He said everything I do is his business, like I belonged to him. And then he said if I didn't do everything he said he'd show my diary to my mom and they'd both lock me up in a mental institution. I grabbed his arm when he tried to leave, told him to to give it back. He told me to take my hands off him and I said no. That's when he hit me. I hit back, and then he hit me again, so hard that I fell on the floor. But then I got up, and I just kept hitting and kicking him down the hall until he fell down the stairs and died. At least until he charged himself up again, or whatever."

She finally looked up at him. "He'd said, 'Sweetheart, you should get used to me because I'm not going anywhere.' I'd never felt so powerless in all my life. I wanted to tear the world apart but I couldn't even raise my voice. I wanted to run away and never come back but I can never do that. Can't leave this Hellmouth even when it turns into my own personal hell.

"And I just can't help thinking, what if he hadn't been a robot? I mean, I'm so glad he was because then I would have killed a man and that would have felt so much worse, but if that had never happened and he'd gone on to marry my mother…"

"Buffy, you mustn't let yourself dwell on 'what ifs'. You and your mother are safe from him, and he will never hurt you or anyone else again."

"What if it happens again? What do I do?" She lifted her tear-filled gaze to him. "I don't want to live like that. I can't live like that." The tears spilled over, staining her cheeks with black mascara which spread to Giles' fingers as he smoothly wiped them away.

"Buffy… I didn't want to tell you this before because I didn't want to make you think that I am in any way a threat to your relationship with you mother. But it is not uncommon for Watchers to be the legal guardians of their potential slayers, and for that relationship to continue if their slayer is called. Like Kendra, remember? She said that she was raised by her Watcher."

"Buffy… look at me, Buffy. Please," he added when her eyes stayed out of focus as if looking at something far away. She shook it off and turned to meet his concerned look, and he laid a firm but gentle hand on her shoulder, gripping reassuringly. "Buffy, I wouldn't have thought this would ever require saying, but I'm going to say it anyway. I will never hit you. Never. Not if I'm sad or angry, or if you've done the most awful thing. I will never hit you. That's a promise."

Her eyes filled up again, and he gently drew her in with his arms. It was an awkward arrangement, with them both sitting in chairs facing each other, but Buffy clung to him with a soft cry, leaning more forward than him so he could concentrate on just holding her as tight as he could while she wept into his coat.

Giles went on, "And I'm so sorry I wasn't there for you… the day you thought you killed him. I was selfish. I went out to patrol, convinced myself that my taking over your duties was enough. But I was neglecting my own duties to you. I can imagine what you were feeling that day, because I know what it's like to kill a man. And I didn't do enough to reach out to you, to remind you that I was there. But I'm telling you that now, from this moment on, I'm here for you. For whatever you need. Or want."

Her sobs had slowly abated, but she didn't move from where she was, cheek to tweed and lapels fisted in clenched hands. Giles lifted a hand to gently stroke her hair and continued, "I know despite the occasional bump in the road, you love your mother and want to stay with her. But if anything like this ever happens again, you come straight to me. My home is your home, for as long as you want it. A safe place. Not school, not a graveyard, not somewhere you have to lie about your life."

Buffy squeezed him tighter in thanks, not yet trusting her voice. Giles continued to hold her in silence, sensing she would speak when she was ready.

Finally, she murmured, "We - me and the gang - saw you kissing Miss Calendar this morning."

Giles froze, his hand tangled in her hair. "What?"

Buffy craned her neck to look up at him and smiled mischievously before laying her head back on his shoulder. "I like you and her together."

Giles smiled, and resumed combing through her hair. "I'm glad," he replied, his voice low too, not wanting to break the mood.

"But I'm still your favorite girl, right?" she mumbled into his jacket.

Giles chuckled and clutched her tighter. "Yes. Yes you are."

The next morning when Buffy checked in at the library before classes, Giles wasn't in his office. But on his desk was an envelope with just her name on it. Curiously, she slid a fingernail under the seal to find a brand new shiny key, and a sticky note with an address on it and the words, "A home for my favorite girl."

Buffy smiled, tucked it carefully in her pocket, and her steps had slightly more spring to them as she headed to first period.