"I screwed up the time difference, didn't I?" Buffy did not sound terribly repentant about having woken Giles up at nearly midnight. "Are you awake? I mean, it can wait a day."
"No, no -- just give me a moment." In truth, his disorientation was not so much a factor of being awakened as it was surprise at hearing Buffy on the phone. And happiness at hearing her so free and easy, speaking to him. And dismay at his own reaction to her voice. "I take it this is about the crystal?"
"Yup. No world-ending nasties were using it, which is the good news."
Giles pushed himself up from the mattress, rested his back against the old wooden headboard. "Ah. Unfortunately, that begs the question -- what is the bad news?"
"There is none. There's only even-better news."
"That makes for a welcome change of pace. Tell me, what is it?"
"Can't tell you." Buffy giggled -- a sound he didn't think he'd heard since she was 16. "It's the kind of thing I'm just gonna have to show you."
An innocent comment, one that his middle-aged brain shouldn't have been twisting and turning, hoping for other meanings. Giles, irritated at himself, forced himself to focus. "Right, then. I could arrange for you to fly back to England -- day after tomorrow, perhaps --"
"Actually, you should probably come here. I think the Hellmouth energy kinda helps."
"Helps what?" She just laughed again, and he sighed. "I can see that no straight answers will be forthcoming."
"All will be revealed," Buffy said, in a mock TV-announcer voice. Then, more naturally, "Trust me, Giles. You're gonna love this."
Once again, Giles sternly made himself stick to the subject at hand. "I'll let you know my travel arrangements tomorrow. And perhaps Xander has a sofa I could --"
"Oh, you can stay here. It's not like I don't have room."
For one moment, Giles couldn't answer at all; finally, he stammered out, "I -- but -- yes, but -- I thought you'd sold the house."
"Still selling," Buffy said, and her youthful giddiness was dimmed. "This whole 'points' business takes a lot of negotiation, you know that? I wish you could just put houses on eBay. Can you do that?"
"I have no idea." Giles took one moment, weighing the risks of staying with Buffy versus the risks of refusing to stay with Buffy. In the end, he thought it would be easier to control his own impulses than Buffy's questions. "Very well then. I'll, ah, let you know when to expect. me."
"See you soon," Buffy said, and then the line clicked silent.
Giles carefully set the receiver back in the cradle, then lay back to stare at the ceiling. He'd never even switched on the lamp, so he was surrounded by darkness, awash in his own doubt.
It will be fine, he told himself. Obviously she's chosen to pretend it never happened. Under the circumstances, a wise decision. One you'd do well to imitate.
But if he hadn't been able to make himself do that in the six weeks since she'd left, how would he ever achieve it now? Now, when he knew that he would soon be with her, be near her again --
Giles sighed in exasperation at his own folly. He had done any number of ridiculous things in his life, from live guitar performance to wearing a sombrero to taking up with Ethan Rayne. But even the most serious repercussions of that last did not seem as purely irrational and contrary as what had overtaken him now.
Buffy, he told himself for the ninetieth time. Buffy. She doesn't recall the 1970s. She still had stuffed animals when you met her. You slept with her mother.
None of this held any sway, as Giles was well aware by this point. Sexual infatuation, he thought, was rather a different animal at his stage of life. When you were a teenager, it was your lord and master. As a young adult, it was your boon companion. But now, at fifty, such desire had more the character of an unwelcome guest -- arriving at odd and awkward hours, lingering far too long, resisting all hints to leave.
Perhaps he should have seen it coming, he thought. He ought to have realized, during those dark days after her resurrection, that if he did not allow his love for Buffy to resume its parental form, that it might change shape; love defies being tamed and confined, and when its first path is blocked -- well, he thought, it takes what direction it will.
And his love for Buffy had changed into this -- this new and damnable and yet not-unwelcome need to be near her. To hold her. Yes, even to take her to bed.
Two years ago it would have been unthinkable. Now it was undeniable. Giles had arrayed all sorts of arguments against it: It was improper for a slayer and a watcher, their ages were simply too disparate and, teleportation spells aside, they were rather the definition of "long-distance" at present.
However, the only reasoning that kept Giles' feverish wishes in check was the most obvious of all -- Buffy did not, could not, feel as he did. Perhaps, that night -- he had not imagined it, he thought -- that night she might have felt something. But more likely she'd only recognized his desire (recognized it the moment he did himself) and, as he recalled, fled upstairs and then across the Atlantic to get away from him.
If she welcomed him back to America, as a friend, then it was as much as he could hope for. Giles turned on his side, tried to fall back to sleep. If he were to be traveling to California in the next day or so, he would need his rest. And it was certainly not worth thinking about any longer.
Absurd, really. And you, old enough to be her father.
Angel and Spike, of course, had been even older, but they retained the beauty and agility of youth, combined with strength and stamina that went beyond that of the young. The one undeniable sexual advantage of age -- experience -- was something they possessed in measures no human could match. Giles was well aware that he carried all his years on his frame. And to imagine that Buffy -- vibrant and beautiful and only just past girlhood -- would look on him with desire?
Not for the first time, he tried to call up the way he had felt about her before, when he lived in Sunnydale and looked upon her as a child. His child. But as true and real as his paternal emotions had once been, they existed no longer -- because he had destroyed them. To keep his heart safe, he'd thought.
He closed his eyes tightly and hoped for sleep that did not come for a very long time.
The house on Revello Drive was mostly as Giles remembered it, besides the For Sale sign in the front yard. But his observant eyes noted that the lawn was not very neatly cut, that the paint was slightly chipped and cracked. It had been years since anyone had had the money and will to properly maintain the place. Had he been there, he reminded himself, he might have done it for her himself.
He paid the cab driver, took his one bag and went up the walk, trying to think how best to greet Buffy. A hug was out of the question. A handshake? How ridiculously formal. Perhaps it would be best to pretend to struggle with the case --
But even before he reached the steps, the front door flew open; Buffy came bounding out, literally bouncing with energy and enthusiasm. "You made it! You're like, an hour early." She flung her arms around him, embracing him without embarrassment, and Giles could not decide if he was grateful or disappointed that his bag kept him from returning the hug.
"I just had the one carry-on," Giles said. "Saved time at the airport that way. I must say, you look, ah, happy."
That was the blandest word he could have chosen. Buffy was -- radiant, he thought. Aglow. Her hair was loose, streaming down her back; her cheeks were pink, as though she'd just finished a training session. She was wearing a cherry-red top, one of those tight things with skinny straps that was all the rage, and a skirt that showed off her legs to their best advantage. Giles tried not to pay any more attention to her outfit than that.
"Thanks." Buffy took his bag in one hand and gestured for him to come inside with the other. "Are you totally exhausted? You say 'jet,' I think 'lag.' You need some crash time?"
"I slept a few hours on the plane," Giles said, not mentioning that he'd done so because of his sleepless hours the night before. "We can get right to the matter of the crystal."
"Ohh-kay," Buffy said as they went through the door. Her eyes were alight, her lips pursed as if she were trying not to laugh.
"You're going to enjoy this surprise, aren't you?" he said.
"So are you," she promised. "That is -- if you like surprises."
And there went the imagination again. "I have reason to be suspicious of surprises," Giles said. "But I'm terribly fond of answers."
"Answers." Buffy repeated, then smiled at him a little more gently. "I have those too. Hang on -- I'm gonna put this in Mom's room, okay?"
Giles nodded his assent as Buffy went upstairs. He looked around at the house, already half-packed for the impending move; the pictures were off the walls, cardboard boxes stacked all around in uncertain towers. A faint haze of dust, shaken from books and vases and shelves through packing, hung in the air, softening the light. The living room still retained some of its character, but most of the rest of the house no longer looked like a home.
"What's the matter?" Buffy was frowning as she came back down.
Giles tried to shake off his gloom. "I suppose it just caught me off-guard. Seeing your house like this."
"Don't be sad," Buffy said. "I'm not. I just keep telling myself that the next place is going to be great. Probably fit me better, too -- it hasn't been any fun, knocking around all these empty rooms by myself."
"I should imagine not. But it is always difficult, leaving a place where you have so many memories."
He was talking about himself, he knew. But if Buffy recognized this, she gave no sign. "Not all of those memories are so great," she said with a wry little smile. "Next place -- all good memories, all the time. That's the goal."
Hearing Buffy so optimistic was so welcome and so surprising that Giles found himself laughing -- at his own selfish gloom, at his own surprise. Why should he assume that she would share his melancholy? When she looked at him strangely, he shook his head. "Nothing. Right, then. The crystal. When did you discover its purpose? A few days ago?"
"Umm, about a month ago, actually."
"Why didn't you tell me then?" Giles said. "I realize it must not be very important after all, but still --"
"I wanted to really figure it out on my own," Buffy said. "Angel told me what it was. But it was up to me to learn how to use it."
She'd spoken to Angel -- well, that would be a story for later, no doubt. Giles watched as Buffy lifted the crystal from the mantel, held it out toward him. Now fully attuned to Buffy, the crystal instantly began to glow with a deep, amber-gold light. It glittered in her eyes, burnished her shining hair, and Giles felt his breath catch. She smiled at him crookedly. "I need you to put your hands on the crystal, too."
"All right," Giles said, moving toward her. "What will that do?"
"I'm not 100% sure on that one yet," Buffy said. "Maybe nothing. But -- if it works for you like it works for me --"
"Buffy -- you've been traveling with this thing." Giles' hand hovered just above the crystal, almost touching, not quite.
"Uh-huh," she said. The crystal's glow lit her like firelight, warm and brilliant. "And I think you'll be able to come with me."
"Don't you mean, I'll see?"
"No," Buffy said. "Giles, are you coming or aren't you?"
She held the crystal out before her like a talisman. The golden light streamed out through her fingers, silhouetted them both in the afternoon shadows of the room. Transfixed by her, Giles slowly lowered his hands onto the crystal.
Light flared. A galvanic shock slashed its way up his arms, through his heart, not painful but paralyzing all the same. The world seemed to spin and whirl around them, losing its form in a colorful blur --
-- and they were on a mountain, a mountain of rock as dark and shining as hematite, under a lilac sky. They were on the highest peak of many that surrounded them, jabbing darkly from clouds that concealed the earth below. Giles tried to breathe in, felt the air thin and sharp in his lungs. "What -- where is this?"
Buffy shrugged; she was shivering already, her skimpy little top and skirt doing nothing to shield her from the cold. "It's beautiful. This is about the most beautiful one yet."
"This is the dimension the demon was traveling from?" Giles squinted down at the clouds, as though getting a glimpse of the ground would tell him more.
"Probably not," Buffy said. "Okay, this is postcard-worthy, but I'm cold. Hang on."
Giles grasped the crystal more tightly, assuming that they would now go home for explanations, but instead the black mountains and violet sky exploded into another kaleidoscope of color and motion --
-- a sea of tar boiled. Sulfur stung his eyes. Something scary and dark whirled around to glare at them, its massive wings rustling as it prepared for flight. Or, Giles thought uneasily, to pounce. He threw one hand out to protect Buffy, as though he could, but she firmly set it back on the crystal.
"NOT a keeper," Buffy said calmly, gripping the crystal again, casting them back into the sound and noise --
-- and they were in what looked like a very normal meadow, watching a very normal sunrise, if three suns coming up counted as "normal."
"Great," Buffy said with a grin. "We can hang here for a while."
"I -- I suppose --" Giles watched Buffy let go of the crystal and sit in the grass, legs overlapping at the ankle, as free and easy as she'd ever been on the grounds of Sunnydale High. He trusted her judgment, at least more often than not, but he couldn't bring himself to set the crystal down and sit beside her. "Where are we, precisely?"
"No clue," Buffy said. "I don't think I've been to this one before. I was hoping maybe you'd have some way of knowing which dimension this is."
"There's not really a road atlas," Giles replied. "Buffy, how can you be traveling through dimensions and not know where you're going?"
She explained. It made some sort of sense, Giles supposed, even if he knew he would have to find a term more palatable to the Council than "surfboard" for the official report. "Joy-riding," he said at last. "This is nothing more than a means of going joy-riding."
"But the dangers of something like that -- the risks -- Buffy, I applaud your initiative in learning how to deal with this device, but you must promise not to do so again."
"Because it's dangerous?" Buffy's lips were quirked in an unwilling smile. "So I should stick to slaying demons on the Hellmouth, where I'm safe?"
"Point taken." Giles finally sat down next to her, his knees cracking slightly as he settled himself into the grass. "But why take on unnecessary risks?"
Buffy smiled at him broadly now. "Because sometimes it's not that black tar place. Sometimes it's like this, with the triple-decker sunrise and these weird little flowers. Did you see these, Giles? They're like orange koosh balls or something."
"Interesting flora is not a reason to risk your life, Buffy."
"No," Buffy said, and her voice was firmer now. The girlish giddiness with which she'd described this venture throughout was gone, replaced by something deeper, quieter. The pink morning light caught the few glints of gold still in her hair, blowing in the gentle breeze. "But discovering new places -- knowing you're not afraid to take whatever you find there -- that's worth some risk, Giles. It is to me, anyway."
Giles tried to think of how to answer her, but was startled by a voice behind them.
"Cows. One of them nice and young." He and Buffy whirled around to see a greenish demon regarding them with a satisfied, proprietary interest. "Now, be good cows and stay still."
Giles stared at Buffy, who sighed. "Crystal."
Their hands latched on, and the crystal glowed gold, and the world began spinning once again --
-- and in the middle of all the color and whirling, Buffy was laughing. She said, "Don't look at me. Look down --"
-- and he did what she said, because he could do nothing else, and he saw all the stars and the planets, the entire cosmos, laid out beneath them like a carpet of light.
"That birdlike creature -- perhaps an Pieru demon. Which would entirely rule out Quartoth --"
"You thought it was birdlike?" Buffy wrinkled her nose. "I mean, it had wings, but the face was not birdy. More like the biggest, angriest pug of all time."
They had leaped from dimension to dimension for an unknowable amount of time. Was there any measuring time when you were away from your own sun and earth? Not that Giles could easily call to mind. All that mattered was that they were back in Buffy's house, sometime after nightfall, with a hundred fascinating observations about all the places they'd been. Giles was attempting to catalog as much of it as he could, partly for the Council's benefit but primarily because, well -- you could take the man out of the Council, but you couldn't take the Council out of the man. Truth be told, he still rather adored cross-referencing. Buffy, instead of teasing him about it or acting bored, was helping him compile their information, sitting close to him on the floor.
A bit too close, really. But Giles was determined not to pay too much attention to that. He would not unnerve her and torture himself by dwelling on his infatuation with her. Far better to see her like this -- free and easy and happy.
"Not birdlike, but winged," Giles mused, flipping through his Interdimensional Grimoire. "Opens up an entire new range of possibilities. I'm still inclined to consider Quartoth unlikely, though."
Buffy leaned forward to look at the same page he was studying, and he tried to ignore the brush of her hair against his shoulder. "Says here it could be a gargoyle. Gargoyles are real?"
"People sometimes give Gothic architects credit for too much imagination. A surprising amount of their work is taken from life. As were the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch, though that doesn't really bear getting into."
The Latin could mean nothing to Buffy, save the one word she'd already identified, and yet she kept leaning close to him. Perhaps she was going to pains to show him she felt at ease with him, and in that case he ought to be grateful, but he couldn't get past the shock of unwilling desire he felt as her knee brushed against his. "Buffy?"
She looked over her shoulder at him, heavy-lidded. "Yeah, Giles?"
He seized on the first thing he could think of that might draw her from his side. "I don't suppose you have any whiskey in the house?"
"Oh. A drink. Drinks, right." She seemed distracted herself, come to think of it. "No whiskey, but I, uh, I bought us a bottle of wine. I don't know a whole lot about wine, but the guy at the store said this was good."
"I'm sure it will be fine," Giles said. She smiled, as if encouraged, and then took herself off to the kitchen. He breathed a sigh of relief, then looked around to see if any other place would be more amenable to their work -- and yet allow for some space between him and Buffy. "What happened to the dining-room table?" he called.
"Sold it," Buffy's voice floated from the kitchen. "I'm getting rid of a lot of the furniture. I won't need much in my own place. Dawn wants Mom's bed, so I guess I'll put that in storage for her. I think Xander's gonna take the wardrobe. Beyond that -- I don't know."
That left the two of them here at the coffee table. Giles decided that he could at least brush off whatever burst of mistakenly-youthful enthusiasm that had led him to sit on the floor in the first place, and with a quiet grunt of discomfort, got to his feet and sat on the couch. He opened the book in his lap, balanced his notepad. Had the creature's feet had three claws or four?
His halfhearted attempt at concentration shattered the moment Buffy walked back in. If he didn't know better, he would have sworn she'd done -- something, fluffed her hair or put on lipstick or, God help him, slid one of the straps of that skimpy top perilously close to the edge of her shoulder. The pale-yellow wine swirled in two glasses, one in each hand. "Getting comfortable?" she said with a smile.
Bad thoughts. Very bad thoughts. "Ah. Yes. Trying to think about the shape of the scales on that demon. Should help with the chaetaxy."
As he might have anticipated, Buffy showed no interest whatsoever in what chaetaxy might be. To his dismay, she settled beside him on the couch -- close beside him, almost on the same cushion.
She wasn't. She couldn't. Impossible, and stupid, and evidence only of the increasing senility and febrility of his mind.
But Buffy was smiling at him hesitantly, and holding out her wineglass even as he took his own. "Should we toast?" she said. Almost a whisper.
"I suppose we could," he said slowly. "What to?"
Her eyes were green-gold in the faint light, and she gazed up at him without blinking. "To us?"
To us as friends. To us as slayer and watcher. To us as anything other than what they most definitely were not and could not be. That was what she meant. Had to be. Had to --
He knew his face had fallen and that he was staring at her rather stupidly. As he desperately tried to think of something that would not be painfully awkward to say, he saw her face crumple. "I'm messing this up, aren't I?"
"This! All of it." Buffy slumped against the sofa, discouraged, but she was still smiling a little. "I mean, with Angel, I had to push a little, but it wasn't the same. And all the other guys kinda took the initiative, or at least took it along with me, so I never really had to do this before. I just suck at the whole seduction thing."
The reaction within Giles' brain was not unlike that inside a machine that has been humming along, precision-timed, when suddenly someone tosses a wrench into the works. He could only stare at Buffy, who took in his shocked reaction. "Uhoh," she said. "I used the word 'suck' way too early in the evening, didn't I?"
"Now hold on just a moment," Giles said, quickly getting to his feet. "Let's stop right there."
"Giles?" Girlish and uncertain, Buffy set her wine on the coffee table and tucked her feet up under her on the couch -- a protective little ball. "I'm not wrong, am I? I mean, you do -- you want to, right?"
Giles was very aware that this would be a good time to lie. But as she looked up at him -- heart and hope unguarded in her lovely face -- he knew he could not take the easier means of turning her away. "You aren't wrong," he said quietly. She beamed at him, and he held out a hand, as if physically holding her back. "That doesn't mean that this is a good direction for our relationship to take."
"It's not like I picked this out of a hat," Buffy said quickly. She was rushed and uncertain, but determined. "You know? I just started -- feeling it. And you did too. I'm sorry I freaked in England, Giles. I wasn't turning you down or anything. I just needed some time to get used to the idea."
Get used to the idea. As though it were a new carpet in the room. "I wasn't approaching you in England, Buffy. At least -- not intentionally -- Buffy. Be reasonable. This cannot possibly work."
She lifted her chin. "Okay, hit me. Age thing? Watcher thing? Transatlantic thing? Because I can totally shoot you down on this. I really should've done debate in high school."
"This is not a matter for debate," Giles said more sternly. "This is not a contest in which the winner gets her way. I'm not willing to act on this. And that is the end of it."
Buffy's face fell, but she didn't lower her eyes. "I love you, Giles."
Giles had braced himself as best he could against his own desire. The one immutable rock he'd shored his will up against was the surety that Buffy could not be laboring under the same irrational longing. But here she was -- not only wanting him, but loving him. He had prepared no defense for this, and her gentle insistence left him off-balance, incapable. "You know that I love you too," he said quietly. "But turning that love into a, a romantic attachment has never been a possibility."
"Not before, maybe." She was gaining a little strength now, something that both heartened and intimidated him. "I mean, back before, you were -- you were --" So much older, he waited to hear. But instead she said, "a TEACHER." Giles laughed despite himself, and she grinned, encouraged. "But that was a long time ago, and we're different people now, and we love each other more than anything, and that's got to be a good start, right?"
She stood slowly, ready to come to him, and in that moment -- her eyes bright, her hair tousled and loose, her lips parted slightly in expectation -- she was more beautiful than he could ever remember seeing her. And at the sight, Giles felt the wall inside him close up, tighter than ever before. "Buffy, we must not. We will not."
"We can't talk about this?"
"There's nothing more to say." He was being dictatorial, severe, hated himself for it. Giles tried to gentle his tone. "All I ask is that you -- please, don't let this come between us. We'll get through this, and someday when this -- madness -- has passed, you'll thank me --"
"What? I'm supposed to thank you for ditching me this time, too?" The sharpness stung him, as it was no doubt meant to. But Buffy was instantly contrite. "Sorry. Rejected-woman routine, opening credits. I'll fast-forward through the rest. I want you, you want me but not enough, end of story."
"Buffy --" Absurd, for her to believe that he didn't want her "enough" -- he had spend the last weeks mad with it. But how could he correct her? How, without making this a thousand times worse? "I'm sorry," he said.
"It's confusing," she said gently. "What say we try the demonology bit tomorrow? I promise, no more crazy women throwing themselves at your head. We'll go by and see Xander, get some breakfast, do serious Slayery-Watchery type stuff all day. All business. Okay?"
She was already all-business -- all but the flush that still lingered in her cheeks. Giles could only nod. "A good idea all 'round, I'd say."
He went upstairs immediately, leaving her to unspecified (and probably imaginary) duties in the kitchen. Giles unpacked his bag with hands that shook, and he could see every crease around the knuckles, every freckle of age.
I love you. I want you.
Those words echoed within the empty chambers of his heart, and he imagined that he could feel Buffy's presence downstairs, actually sense her as a living force pacing uneasily beneath.
Me, he thought. What could a girl like that want with me?
The answers were obvious, of course -- a father figure, one perhaps more distinctly shaded by an Electra complex than had previously been the case. (But she's past thinking of me as her father, she said that, and I believe her.) Someone to take care of her, then. (But she takes care of herself, thanks to me and my bloody stupid cowardice, and she does so quite well.) A connection with her past. (But Xander's gone nowhere, and Dawn's not that far away, and now it even seems as though she can be friendly with Angel .And why would she be moving out of her house if she needed connection with the past?)
Unbidden, a memory floated up, vivid and overpowering -- he and Buffy curled on his sofa, one of his favorite books in her hands. She quoted a phrase that had never caught his attention before -- "For you alone I think and plan" -- and made the story fresh to him again, as though the words were written in ink that was still wet and shining.
How she'd admired his house, talked of it as a home. But had it ever seemed so before the moment she came in the door? He had thought of it as cluttered and dingy, before her visit; since then, the objects had their meaning again, the books their magic. Giles had thought the phenomenon was his alone. But was it even possible that he'd done the same for her?
Giles, not a prideful man by nature, was unwilling to assume. And yet she had seemed so sure.
He heard her footsteps on the stairs. Buffy did not hesitate, but went into her room, shutting the door behind her. He knew he should feel relieved. But instead, Giles felt something unpleasantly like regret.
Don't be a fool, he told himself. More of a fool, anyway. This could be no more than the madness you told her it was, and if that's true -- if you begin this, and it fades -- you'll lose her again --
Will everything you feel for Buffy ever again come back to this? What if you lose her? No way to love someone. No way to live. And yet it's what you've settled for, time and time again. Be grateful she keeps taking you back, on whatever cautious terms you grant her.
Feeling older than he ever had, Giles quietly stepped into the hallway -- careful not to alert Buffy -- and went downstairs in the dark. He flipped on only the one lamp he needed to steer his way around the boxes. As he'd suspected, Buffy had been too agitated to straighten up; his wineglass still sat on the end table, and though the drink was now somewhat tepid, Giles suspected it still offered his best chance at sleep. He took it back upstairs, stepping gingerly over the third, squeaky step.
But as he got to the top of the stairs, all his quietness was for nothing; Buffy was coming out of the bathroom, still patting her face dry with a washcloth. "Oh. Hi," she said.
She was no longer the glamorous creature she'd been before. Instead of something red and clingy, she had on flannel pajama bottoms and an oversized t-shirt. Her hair was pulled back from her face with a faded bandanna, and her face was now scrubbed of all makeup. She was, of course, even more beautiful.
"Went down for my drink," he said.
"I figured," she said. Buffy obviously struggled for something else to say for a moment, then whispered, "Giles, we're okay, right?"
"Of course," he replied automatically. But were they? Could they ever be all right while he kept pushing her away, making her play whatever role he calculated least likely to hurt him?
Buffy, unable to read his thoughts, was reassured by his words and smiled. She went to her door, but just as she was going through, she turned her head and said, "I guess all that matters is that I love you. Maybe it doesn't matter how."
"I love you too." His voice was low now, rougher than it had been. Giles was surprised by the change, saw Buffy's body tense slightly as she registered it. Quickly he said, "But that doesn't mean we're meant to be lovers."
Buffy turned around then. Her body was framed by the open doorway, and behind her, in the dark, he could see the outline of her bed. "How do you know? Until we try, I mean."
"This is -- so recent, Buffy. So very sudden. An impulse that could fade as quickly as it came."
"You don't believe that."
He wanted to believe it. "Be honest. Did you ever dream of such a thing before?"
"Nope. Bet you didn't either."
"Of course not. My point exactly. What we're feeling -- this isn't what we've been to each other, all these years."
"Maybe it's just new." He could see her weighing whether or not to put a hand out, to touch him in some way. "We're never gonna be what we used to be, Giles. That's gone. I'm done being sorry about it; that's just the way it is. But maybe -- maybe we could find out what we're gonna be next."
Giles couldn't meet her eyes for a moment. He looked down at his wineglass; the surface of the wine was rippling slightly, waves created by the pounding of his heart. He set it down on the small table nearby, walked toward her. Buffy gasped slightly in surprise -- in excitement -- and Giles felt a dizzy-crazy rush behind his eyes, in his throat. "This could be a terrible mistake."
"Yeah," she admitted. "But maybe not."
"Maybe not," he repeated. He could see her bedroom better now, as his eyes adjusted to the dark. It wasn't at all the way he remembered it -- different posters, different furniture, even a different bed. How stupid of him, to assume it would always remain the same. "I'm not a young man anymore, Buffy."
"Are you worried about THAT?" Buffy shook her head with the bemused disbelief of a girl so young she'd never had to worry about that. "Giles, you're -- you. You're the one I want."
"I ought to be more of a lover to you," Giles murmured, tracing around the curve of her face with one fingertip. She trembled slightly, and he felt his heart beat even faster. "I haven't any elegant words for you. Nights out on the town, or flowers or -- "
"We're kinda past the courtship stage. If you need elegant words, you could always try Captain Wentworth's."
The words came back to him, hit him with a force that made them his own. "You pierce my soul."
"See?" she whispered shakily. "That was easy, wasn't it?"
He shook his head. Useless, to try and resist her now. "You always did need higher standards for your men."
"I'm not settling for less," she said, her mouth slipping into a broad, gleeful, possessive smile. "Finally."
Giles felt something that could only be called relief -- his relief at once again being able to be what she wanted him to be, what he wanted to be to her. If it didn't last, at least they would have this -- this connection, this meeting of their minds and their purpose -- one more time.
And there was nothing left to do but to kiss her -- the surprise of her lips, her tongue, her arms winding around his neck. He kissed her back -- whatever else his body might or might not be able to do for her now, he could by God kiss her until she couldn't see straight. They crossed the threshold in halting steps, entangled in each other. He tried to sweep his arm down to her knees; her mouth parted from his long enough to mumble, "What are you doing?"
"I was going to, ah, carry you to --"
"Oh, please." She laughed as she kissed him, laughed into his open mouth, as she stumbled with him toward the bed.
They were awkward with each other at first -- not because of who they had been, but just because they were a man and a woman, unused to each other, still dressed in clothes that didn't lend themselves to graceful removal. He ran his hands through her hair and pulled loose a bandanna that still smelled faintly of her soaps and lotions. She tried to kick off his shoes, but he had to unlace them. And yet they could laugh about it, let it go. The awkwardness didn't matter.
"Is it strange?" she whispered, her lips against his fingers. "Seeing me?"
"Only in the best way," he murmured. Buffy, naked in his arms. Hours before he could not have dreamed of looking at her in this way; now it seemed impossible to ever look away. "I worry more about you seeing me."
"You have to stop worrying." Buffy laughed as she began taking off his shirt. "Or you have to keep me so busy I don't have time to look."
"I think I can manage that."
The Watchers' diaries contained whispers about Slayer sexuality -- nothing improper, nothing explicit, but rumors that they demanded more than ordinary women. But Giles realized during that night that Buffy did not demand anything superhuman -- she was what she was, and her stunning ability to please and be pleased was something that was as much as part of her as her skin. She only wanted him to share in it, to know these other ways in which she was skilled and beautiful and strong. And he accepted her, rejoiced in her obvious delight, and he could not stop to be afraid.
He gasped out, "Is this --"
"Oh." Her voice was almost too faint to be a whisper. Her mouth was wet against his cheek, his neck. "Yes. Like this."
Giles tried to control his body -- his heart and his blood rushing ahead of him like he was a boy, as though her youth were flowing into him every time they moved together. "You only have to tell me -- what you want --" He'd do anything she wanted, be anything she wanted.
She tangled her hands in his hair and murmured only, "Kiss me."
He kissed her until they were both out of breath, loved her body as best he knew how, and as she cried out in relief and pleasure and victory, he knew that -- for now, for them -- it was more than enough.
It had been years since he'd made love to a woman until the sun came up -- but it was sunrise before they finally lay still by each other, her breath slowing and deepening as she approached sleep. Giles looked at the girl curled in his arms -- pink and gold, as if made of morning light. "I love you," he whispered, hoping it would be the last thing she heard before falling asleep.
"Mmmm. Love you too." Buffy turned so that her cheek was nestled against his chest. Then she said something else, muffled against his skin.
"What was that?" he murmured, tucking the blankets closer around them.
Buffy half-smiled. "Where will we go today?"
The light streamed in through the blinds, lit her hair up, and it seemed as though the whole room shone. "Anywhere you want," he said. "Anywhere at all."