It would be the summer holiday, if he were still a school librarian, which he was not. Sunny, hot, dry. The hills had scorched to yellow and brown. Giles also turned brown, more gently. The bright days stretched to the infinite horizon of the Pacific under a cloudless sky. The nights were desert-cool, and quiet.
It would be a lull between prophecies, if he were still a Watcher, which he was not. He no longer wrote his official journal or the monthly reports for the shadowy men in London. What his Slayer did, how many vampires she killed, how she recovered from injury: when he wrote about these things, he wrote for his own eyes. Wesley had vanished, back to England or possibly to LA; he wasn’t sure, and the Council seemed to have lost interest.
Giles had lost two jobs in the last six months, and found that for the moment he didn’t mind. Eventually he’d have to sort out what to do with himself during the days. There was no rush. He had a bit put away, more than enough for a couple of years of his current frugal living.
Giles intended to enjoy his summer, a summer with Buffy, for the first time. She seemed to find his presence on patrols comfortable. She’d fretted about Angel a little, but as the days passed she stopped mentioning the vampire at all. He was in love with her, as Watchers always were with their Slayers. He’d finally admitted it to himself. She’d break his heart one day. Until then he’d guard her, ensure she knew what ordinary life could be.
The others seemed content as well. Willow had found a job at a local bookstore, earning pocket change for her magical experiments. This occupied her during Oz’s sporadic band tours. Xander kept promising to take off and tour the country, but also kept muttering about car trouble. They met several times a week, sometimes at Giles’ flat, sometimes at Oz’s, sometimes at Buffy’s if her mother was away. All this would change in the fall, but that was too far away to think about just now.
It was the summer lull. Giles accepted each day as it came.
Tonight was a late patrol, just Buffy and Giles. It was a tranquil one. Most patrols had been tranquil in the short weeks since the Ascension. The battle at the school had taken out the best part of the local vampire population, and the long hours of summer sun suppressed any serious resurgence. Still, it took just one vampire to breed more, so Buffy insisted on scanning the fresh graves every night. On some nights it was hard to find even one new vamp to stake. Tonight, nothing. Giles was beginning to think of suggesting they turn in after this sweep of Restview.
Buffy stopped him with a hand on his arm. She pointed ahead. Giles could barely make it out. Two figures. Judging by Buffy’s reaction, demons. He drew his sword, and waited for her signal.
The fight was short and sweet. Giles dispatched his with a clean stroke of his sword, a neat decapitation that, wonder of wonders, sprayed all the blood away from him. He then stood back and watched Buffy play with her quarry, as much at ease as if she were sparring with him. When he judged she’d had enough of a workout, he coughed. She grinned at him, then tossed the demon his way. He swung the sword, felt it catch on a vertebra, jerked the blade through, and once again attempted to dodge the blood. He avoided the worst of it. His boots and jeans were splattered from the knees down. At least it wasn’t the corrosive kind.
“What are they, Giles?”
He looked over the corpse. “Mostly humanoid, bluish skin, purplish blood, claws. I’d say Karrakhan. They’ll dissolve with the sunlight.”
“And I am so happy to hear that. I’m sick of digging shallow graves for icky things.”
“I’ll do a little reading later to see if they might have been here for any particular reason. I suspect not, however. These look like younger, er, specimens.”
“Teenagers out for a night egging cars in other dimensions?”
“Something of the sort.”
Buffy found a handy monument and popped onto it, swinging her legs. Giles perched on a corner near her, positioning himself so he could scan the section of the graveyard out of her view. He pulled a rag from his jacket pocket and methodically cleaned demon blood from his sword. They sat in comfortable silence.
“Why haven’t you gone back to England?”
Giles folded the rag ichor-side in and tucked it back into his pocket. He rummaged for the whetstone he’d put in there somewhere.
“I mean, the high school doesn’t need a librarian any more because, hello, no library.”
“I’d likely have resigned the post anyway.”
“Huh. And the Council fired you. Not that it matters, because I’m not working for them either. But you’re not a Watcher any more.”
“I’m certainly not on the insurance plan any more,” he said.
“Would you really have quit being a librarian?”
“I’m not a librarian,” he said. “It’s a worthy profession, but it’s not mine. It was just a cover, a way to be near you.”
Buffy made a thoughtful sound. “I knew that,” she said. “Librarians don’t speak five languages like a native and read dozens more and oh by the way slice things up with the honkin’ big swords they keep in the cabinet.”
“Not usually,” said Giles. “But Watchers do.”
“Seriously. I’m happy to have all the Gilesy support in my life. I have no clue how I’d survive without you showing me which end of the pike is pointy. I’m just trying to work out what’s in it for you.”
He ran the whetstone down one edge of his blade, considering how to answer. Some of the real answer just didn’t bear saying. He hadn’t yet gotten over admitting it to himself, and couldn’t imagine Buffy getting over it at all. He continued working on the blade. The soft grind of stone on metal soothed him. She seemed content to wait. Eventually he spoke.
“I stay to help the one girl in the world who was called to defend humanity against the demons. It’s my calling, too, you know. I swore an oath to you, before I’d ever met you. It has nothing to do with the Council. I swore to aid and defend you until— until—”
“Til death do us part,” she said, a little too lightly.
“Yes, well,” he said. She’d hit closer to home than he liked. He held up the sword and carefully examined its edge. Satisfied, he returned it to the scabbard on his back.
“So you’re saying you’re stuck here. With me.”
“‘Stuck’ implies that I don’t want to be with you.”
“Do you want to be with me?”
“Yes,” he said, softly.
She slipped down from the monument. He looked over his shoulder for a moment. She was fidgeting. Her Slayer energy rarely left her content to sit in one place for long. Even the duration of a high school class was usually too much time spent sitting for Buffy. He turned back for another scan of his quarter of the graveyard. No motion.
“You’ve always told me that being the Slayer shouldn’t be everything in my life. You never let me give up on the rest of life. Like college. I’m guessing it’s not good to let being the Watcher be the only thing you do with your life. So, who are you now when you’re not the Watcher, Giles?”
Giles laughed. “You have a talent for asking terrifying questions, Buffy.”
“You don’t know yet, I guess.”
“No, I don’t.” He hesitated, then continued, “I do know I’d like to be the Giles who is your friend. If that’s not presuming.”
“You are already,” she said. “You should set your sights a little higher.”
Giles couldn’t breathe. Could he possibly? No. He was reading too much into it.
“That’s it for tonight. No vamps. C’mon, friend Giles. Let’s call it a night.” When he stood up, she gave him a hug. He returned it hungrily. Then they walked back to his car.
Tonight was the night he’d promised to show her how to make pasta from scratch. Once at week, at least, he had her over to participate in the construction of a meal from soup to nuts. Not that his California summer meals were anything so comprehensive. The weather called for lighter eating. Tonight’s meal should be good. The blessings of California: fresh local produce, wine from Napa; even the olive oil was pressed in the San Joaquin Valley not far off.
Giles supposed he looked a hopeless fuddy-duddy to her, in a flour-whitened plain apron, showing her how to feed the pasta dough through the rollers. He’d learned to like cooking in the years of feeding himself perforce. She hadn’t yet learned that it was not just a housewife’s chore, but something people did for pleasure.
Giles had many purposes in mind with these meals, many things to teach.
Fine motor control: chopping basil by hand was an exercise for the Slayer in controlled small movements. They laughed together at how much faster she was at it than he. Attention to detail: measuring and counting matter, especially in baking. Relaxation: kneading dough, drizzling oil into egg for mayonnaise, stirring broth slowly into risotto are all slow contemplative tasks. Patience: some tasks can’t be hurried, like waiting for dough to rise. Reward: when it’s done, you get to eat it.
And it was simply teaching her to appreciate fine things. Food that did not come from a paper sack stained with grease. Clear, fresh flavors. Contrasts. How a half glass of wine could enhance a meal.
How close to her grasp the ordinary pleasures of life were.
What he told her was that athletes need fuel. He worried about her nutrition. She snorted, said it was just a ploy to get her to do all his veggie chopping for him. But she kept coming back.
They did the washing up together.
“Where did you learn to cook, Giles?” Buffy handed him a clean plate to dry.
“Taught myself. Years of living as a bachelor. If one wants to eat well, one cooks for one’s self.”
“No honeys cooking for Giles?”
“From, from, uh, time to time, yes. Just not, uh, reliably. Besides, it was often advantageous to cook for them. Impressed them.” Giles opened a cabinet and stacked away dried plates.
“And this technique works for you?”
“Once rather spectacularly.” Giles smiled, remembering. It had taken nearly all this time for him to be able to smile when thinking of Jenny, but he could at last. He doubted that he could mention her to Buffy yet, though.
“Slayer strength is great for scrubbing pans, you know that?” Buffy said to him. “One of the rarely-mentioned perks of the job. The perks are rare in general, come to think of it.”
“Admit it. Sometimes you like being the Slayer. You like being able to thrust a pike through two vampires at once.”
“That was totally an accident.”
“But you enjoyed it, admit it. You were smug.”
“Never! I’ll never confess!” Buffy swung the scoured pan as if to brain him, then handed it to him.
“That’s the lot. Let’s put the kettle on. We’ll do you some tea before patrol.”
“I can’t believe you have me drinking tea. I used to just drink Coke like a normal person.”
“Foul stuff,” Giles said.
The banter kept up through tea and biscuits. Eventually Buffy looked at the clock and stood. “Just a quick one tonight,” she said.
“Call me when you get home? I’ll be awake.” Always, always under everything, the worry, carefully disguised.
“I will,” she said. “You are a god, Giles, you know that? Color me impressed.” she said. Then she pushed herself up, pulled him down, and kissed his cheek. And was gone, bouncing up the steps. He flushed and stood in the doorway looking after her.
Today was a day at the beach. Giles didn’t usually go on these jaunts, mindful of sunburn, and not entirely comfortable with the level of undress involved. He’d allowed Buffy to talk him into going today. He offered only token resistance. She knew all she had to do was pout at him and he’d surrender. By now he was well-trained enough that at the first sign of quivering lip, he’d bowed to the inevitable.
They packed up Oz’s van with coolers, towels, backpacks. They brought a stunning amount of food. Xander could get through quite a lot. Giles had cautiously provided himself with a duffel containing everything he needed to survive the day on his own: sunblock, bottled water, packet of bacon sarnies, towel, Le Carre novel, prescription sunglasses. He would never admit he’d bought swim trunks just for these beach trips. This was his third summer in California, but his first visits to the vaunted beaches.
He rather liked them. The Pacific was too cold to spend much time swimming. The undertow was often too vicious. But the state parks along the coast north and west of Sunnydale were gorgeous, well worth the travel. He could do without the California of freeways and strip malls and Hellmouth. He liked the California one saw if one just followed a twisty road directly away from the freeway. This beach, a state park a half-hour drive from town, was lovely. He could sit on it all day and just watch the surf.
Giles read his spy novel. Or tried to. His attention was caught by the sight of Buffy and Willow burying Xander under the sand. Xander was pretending to protest. Willow had become a young woman and he hadn’t realized it. She was graceful and unselfconsciously beautiful. And Buffy, well. Buffy. Always so luminous. She belonged in the sunlight like this. Golden and tanned, unweighted by any worry—
“Gorgeous, aren’t they?” said Oz.
Giles snatched his gaze away. “I-I, er, I’m afraid, I, uh, don’t think of them that way at all.”
“Liar.” Oz stretched himself face-down on the towel next to Giles and seemed to be interested in the state of his nail polish.
“I know your secret, Giles.”
“Secret? I don’t…”
“I can smell it. Whenever you’re near her.”
“Dear lord,” said Giles. He couldn’t meet Oz’s gaze.
“Aren’t you going to ask me?”
“Ask you what?”
“What I smell from her.”
“No,” said Giles. “It wouldn’t be appropriate. I can’t possibly… She wouldn’t… she doesn’t think of me that way.”
“I’m the wolf. I have the nose. You’re the Watcher. You have the eyes. Use them. I think you’ll see what I smell. You deserve to be happy, Giles.” Oz flashed that tiny smile, then got up to go to Willow.
Giles remained motionless and distressed. Eventually he opened the book again, hoping to lose himself and stop thinking about Buffy’s scent. The back of his traitorous mind told him that it was entirely possible, that it happened rather more often than not, in their circumstances. Watcher and Slayer. It wasn’t what he wanted for her. He wanted her to find somebody nice her own age. Preferably somebody with a pulse next time. That ordinary life. He stared at the page moodily.
Unfortunately for him, Buffy was the next one to thump down on the sand at his elbow. He kept his nose in the book, hoping she would go away. Of course she didn’t. She was chattering at him. “You look good out of the Watcher uniform,” she was saying. “The t-shirt is nice. Shows off those pecs and biceps. The tweed and the sweater vests hid all these yummy muscles.”
“That was rather the point,” he said, admitting defeat and lowering the book. “I didn’t want to draw attention.”
“You did anyway, you know. Half the faculty room was drooling over you. And not just the female half.”
“I did not need to hear that.” Well, actually, he did like hearing that. And judging from the grin Buffy sported, he wasn’t fooling her a bit. “Go on, then. Tell me about the rest of my wardrobe.”
“The canvas pants are of the good, though way too baggy. Toes, definitely cute. I like the buttony shirt thing you have on over the t-shirt. That color green is definitely good on you. Trendy shades, yum. Though I think contacts would be a win. C’mere, Will! We’re making over Giles.”
“We are not.”
“Oh, don’t think he needs a makeover, Buff.”
“Thank you,” Giles said to Willow.
“He’s adorable just the way he is. He’s wearing way too many clothes, mind you. This is a beach!”
Giles growled, and kicked sand at Willow’s feet. He heard the telltale rattle of the cooler behind him, but it was too late. Buffy dumped ice down the back of his shirt. He yelped, leapt, and chased her across the sand.
That evening, Giles stood under a cool shower, washing away sand, salt, sweat, and sun lotion. He felt almost queasy. He thought that maybe Oz wasn’t wrong. He still had no idea how to act. Was he to rehearse the lines to a gravestone while waiting for Buffy to join him for patrol? “Let’s maybe have a thing?” He had no parties to invite her to, little desire to take her to a movie. Wasn’t that the sort of thing she’d expect? Ah, he had it. Coffee. He’d meet her for coffee somewhere decent, some place where one didn’t drink through a straw. That should be safe. Wouldn’t commit him or reveal his heart.
Giles screwed up his face, and bent his head under the spray.
This was the afternoon they were to meet for coffee. Giles had directed Buffy to Cafe Paradiso. This was in a house not far from the UC campus, on a short block littered with shops catering to the university crowd.
“Why here and not the Pump?” Buffy said.
“I prefer drinking my coffee from a glass,” he said. “And it’s more comfortable. I can sit here and read. And they have an open mic night I rather enjoy.” He collected their drinks and led her out onto the deck. They found a table and sat.
“Huh,” said Buffy. “The coffee’s better.”
“Yes,” said Giles. “Though I wonder you can taste it through all that chocolate and sugar.”
“The chocolate is the point, Giles. And the chocolate tastes better here, too.”
“Of course it does,” he said. He looked at her, sitting across the little table. She had some kind of sundress on, a pale color that showed off her tan. She wasn’t wearing Angel’s cross. He noted that the marks on her neck where Angel had savaged her were nearly gone, just some faintly paler skin left to remind him. She hadn’t mentioned Angel herself in, hmm, weeks. Giles couldn’t recall when they’d last discussed him. He reflected on this with some satisfaction.
“What cha looking at?”
“You,” said Giles. “You, you’re very pretty today. I, uh.” He held her gaze for a moment, then blushed and looked down. He turned his attention to his glass. He hadn’t mixed it yet. The coffee was cascading down from its layer at the top, leaving dark contrails in the foamy milk. He glanced up, and found Buffy gazing at him. She smiled.
Buffy dabbed some whipped cream from her mocha onto an index finger and tasted it absently. “What have you been up to today?”
“Oh, I, uh, nothing much. I did a little translation work, a contract I took recently, something in the most appalling church Latin.”
“Brainy guy. Was it fun?”
“Actually, yes. Refreshing to do it not under hideous time pressure and with almost no sleep. Though that practice certainly does make this feel easy.”
“Yeah, like loosening up with the donuts on the bat then taking them off before you step in the box.”
“I, I have no idea what you just said.”
“Never mind,” said Buffy, mischievously.
“And you? What have you been, ah, up to?”
“Earning some bucks working for my mom in the gallery. Lots of summer traffic, tourists, so she needs extra help. I have to read up on the artists and the work, and be ready to answer questions. Some of the people, wow. The most amazing idiots, with money smoking in their pockets. LA people, I guess.”
“Are you enjoying it?”
“Yeah,” she said, thoughtfully. “My mom has good taste, I think. Though I don’t always like everything she likes. It’s neat to figure out what I like and why. And I’m pretty good at talking to the customers.”
“I’m not surprised,” said Giles. Their eyes met again, and once again he blushed and ducked his head. “Are you, are you having a good summer?” Dear lord, what had happened to his powers of conversation?
“Oh yeah. And I think it just got a lot better.”
“Oh? Um. Good.”
To hell with the stammering, Rupert, he told himself. Buffy’d seen him drunk, in extremis. He’d seen her the same. They’d held each other sobbing, laughing. They’d bandaged each other after combat, knocked each other over on the training room floor. Why should he be shy with her? He knew the answer immediately. He hadn’t been aware of her like this through all that, hadn’t been on the edge of arousal with every touch. Hadn’t seen her reacting to him. And God, yes, that was what he couldn’t avoid after this meeting. He now knew she was responding to him.
He stared at the corner of the table between them. Varnish chipped off, bare wood worn smooth. He picked at it with his thumb. She brushed her fingers against his, briefly. He stroked her in return, just a ghosting of a touch, then left his hand there, his fingers resting against hers. He met her eyes again, and kept his gaze up as he began to tell her about the recipe he thought they might cook together next. They talked cooking for a while, still touching, then moved on to other topics. The conversation went more easily now.
Finally she took his left wrist and bent toward it, checking his watch. “Darn, I have to go now, Giles. Mom’s expecting me for dinner. Scheduled bonding time. I have to hear all about how her last date went. Not well, I’m thinking.”
He walked with her to the street. His car was parked not far away. “May I drop you at home?”
“No, thanks, Giles. I need the walk. I haven’t gone running at all this week, and I’m feeling antsy.”
He held her hand for a moment. “Call me after you patrol tonight,” he said.
“Always,” she said. “Thank you for the coffee. It was great. Let’s get some dinner or something next time.” She hopped up and kissed his cheek, and then was crossing the street, moving much faster than one would think possible in those shoes. Giles stood looking after her. What was he to do now?
This morning was the beginning of a gloriously unscheduled day. Giles took himself off to his cafe again, intending to drink au lait, eat a croissant, read the paper and perhaps the paperback he’d tucked in his pocket, and maybe walk a bit over the campus afterwards. His second cup saw him settled into his habitual scan of the personal messages.
A chair scraped. “Hey, Giles!” It was Willow, plunking herself down at his table.
“Oh, hullo, Willow.” He smiled warmly. He did love Willow so, in an uncomplicated and unconfusing way. “What brings you here? I thought you frequented the Espresso Pump.”
“Buffy said you come here a lot.”
“It’s true. This has been one of my haunts for a couple of years now. May I get you something to drink? Something decaffeinated?”
“Oh! I ordered a decaf mocha already. What cha doin’?”
“Looking for anything interesting or significant in the local paper. The police log is often suggestive. And the personal messages. Demon activity is often reported as if it were something else.”
“Holmes reading the agony columns,” said Willow.
Willow picked up the front section of the paper and looked at the article he’d circled. City sewer system maintenance was running into trouble: unexplained pipe blockages and a city worker dead of unknown causes. Buffy hated sewer patrols, but he suspected they’d have to run one soon.
“Are you ever off the job? Even on your summer vacation?”
“No, not really,” Giles said. Except that he didn’t actually have a job.
“When did you last have a vacation? A day in which you didn’t think about slaying and vampires and the Hellmouth?”
“The day before I was sent to Sunnydale. One doesn’t have vacations from vocations, Willow.” She thwapped him on the upper arm. “But this summer hasn’t been so bad. Rather relaxing, in fact. Vampires don’t like the long days.”
“I’ve always wondered what Alaskan vampires do in the summer. I mean, the sun not setting and all. Maybe they hibernate, like upside-down bears.”
Giles laughed. Willow’s mocha arrived. She tasted it happily.
“So. What’s this all about?”
“Can’t I just stop by to say hi to my favorite tweedy Watcher?”
Giles looked at Willow over his coffee cup. “You can. And sometimes you even do. But you don’t have, er, ‘hello face’ on.”
“I have friendly visit face on. Or maybe it’s encouraging face. Happy face? Definitely a face from the rah-rah go-Giles family of faces.”
“We think it’s great that you’re finally getting together with Buffy.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Well, you know, first date and all. Buffy said it went really well, even if you haven’t asked her on a second one yet.”
Giles was speechless. He finally managed to stammer something out. “Meeting for coffee is not…”
“Oh, yes it is. A nice, relaxed, low-stress date. Pretty much a three point five on the date intensity scale. Which is, as you know, a logarithmic scale.”
“Oh.” Giles stared at the tan foam remaining at the bottom of his cup. “She, she wants a second?”
“Well, duh. She’s only been dropping hints all summer.”
“We think it’s a good idea.”
“Me, Oz, Xander. Buffy told us all about it. Though mostly it’s just the three of us talking about this stuff. We, well, this is kinda sad to think about, so mostly I don’t think about it, but sometimes when it’s nighttime and quiet this stuff comes to mind. About how maybe Buffy shouldn’t wait to have things. She should enjoy them right now.”
Giles had no idea what to say to that. It was what he had been doing for her this summer: offer her life now, while doing what he could to ensure she also had life later. But he knew, better than Willow, what the odds were. Even for a Slayer as skilled and as well-supported as Buffy.
“You’re here, you’re now, you’re cute, you love her, you’re good for her, you wouldn’t lose your soul and stuff. You look happy about it too, Giles. Happier than we’ve seen you since… well, since a long time.”
He sighed. “I don’t know that I… It’s difficult, Willow. Such a drastic change. My role in her life, in all your lives, is changing. But to change so much… I’m not sure I can.”
“But you want.” He smiled at Willow wistfully. “You want, Buffy wants. Just do it.”
“Maybe,” he said. “It’s never that simple.”
“Anyway. Videos tomorrow night, at Oz’s. You’re invited. Bring something to drink.” He nodded.
Tonight was the video night at Oz’s. When Giles arrived, the others were already there, making a stupendous amount of popcorn. He added his shoes to the pile at the door, then carried the soda in to the gang in the kitchen. Willow and Buffy looked up at him from where they’d been talking nose to nose in a corner.
He greeted Buffy shyly. Willow blushed and moved away to Oz. He was painfully conscious of Buffy. He couldn’t stop looking at her. He dropped his gaze every time she looked back. He finally retreated to the living room just to give himself time to calm down. They followed him there in short order, popcorn and drinks in hand. Xander had rented something he called “spaghetti westerns”, and was crowing about how “his man Clint” would show them all how it was done.
“If you will pardon me for a moment, ladies and gentlemen,” Oz said. He vanished into the hallway for a moment and came back with a little box and a lighter. “I will be partaking. Those of you who wish to join me may do so now.” He extracted a prerolled joint from the box and lit up.
“Dear lord,” Giles said. “Do you lot do this often?”
“Only when you’re not around to disapprove,” said Xander. “Oz is, well, kinda breaking rule one.” He shook his head at Oz, then shrugged.
“He’s not going all disapproval-face yet,” Willow said. “More shocky-face.” And the idea of little law-abiding Willow inhaling as she was just then indeed shocked Giles. He hadn’t known her quite as well as he’d thought. Oz, certainly, even Xander, but Willow?
As for Buffy, well, he could deny her nothing. Better this than beer at fraternity parties. He noticed she hadn’t taken it yet, though.
“They didn’t do this in library school, huh Giles?” Xander said. Giles felt a spark of defiance fly through him. He stiffened.
“I bet Giles smoked out quite a bit in his day,” said Oz.
“I did, rather,” Giles said, just to see the expression on Xander’s face, but of course it was true. Then for a moment things seemed to slide in his head, and reconfigure, and he could see another Rupert Giles sitting there on Oz’s sofa. One who did not hide behind layers of tweed and stammer. Not the librarian. Not the watcher. The man. A man who’d had a life of his own, once. A man who could, possibly, set his sights higher.
“Hand it here,” he said. Oz did so. He inhaled carefully, held his breath, passed the joint to Buffy. The once-familiar taste, green, sticky, living. He slowly let out the smoke. He could feel it already. Strong stuff. He accepted it anyway when it came around again. In for a penny, in for a pound.
Oh, yes. Mmm.
One more job quit, he thought. No more authority figure Giles. Just Rupert now.
Oz stuck “For a fistful of dollars” into the player. They arranged themselves on the carpet and sofa, facing the television. Oz cradled Willow; Xander cradled a giant bowl of popcorn. Giles sat behind Buffy, on the couch. She leaned against his shin and started playing with his stockinged foot. The contact warmed him. The high had calmed his nerves. He felt more relaxed than he’d felt in the years he’d been in Sunnydale. Lord, more relaxed than he’d felt since university. Before his breakdown. Sense-memory flooded him. Giving parties in cramped rooms. Talking earnestly about books. Impressing girls. Making love for the first time. Drinking cheap wine, smoking, and trying to work out that Fripp guitar part.
Buffy had taken off his socks and begun playing with his toes. Giles wasn’t sure if he was an object of convenience or of desire. It didn’t matter. He was the man who could, possibly.
“Make some room,” he said to Buffy, then slipped down onto the floor behind her. He settled himself with his back against the sofa and his legs on either side of her. As Clint counted up coffins, Giles ran his hands gently up her back. He began exploring with his thumbs exactly how much tension she carried in her shoulders.
“God, that feels good,” Buffy said.
“Course it does,” he said. “I am very good at it.” The advantage of the scandalously insubstantial scraps of fabric she wore was that little interfered with his patient touch. She wore nothing under that top. Her skin felt so good, so soft and smooth.
“Why did you never do this before?”
“Librarian Giles did not give massages. Friend Giles does.” Not that Buffy had ever been one for gentle contact. She was either battering him or being bandaged by him.
“Mmm, yes, more of that, right there.”
Willow said, “I am so getting in line for friend Giles time.”
“What am I, chopped liver?” said Oz.
“Pipe down! Some of us people are trying to watch a movie!” Xander, with mock outrage. They giggled far more than the remark deserved. Giles laughed silently.
Buffy seemed to turn her attention to the screen. Giles continued to massage her, working his way up and down her back. Arousal slowly spread through him. Herb had always taken him this way. No matter; the room was dark, and no one need discover him. He gave himself over to sensation, to the dizzy spin in his head, to the faint tang of her sweat, to the tickle of the fuzz on the back of her neck.
The movie droned on. Giles ignored it.
“Intermission,” said Oz. “Time to spark another.” Giles accepted again, as did they all. He watched Buffy’s face as she smoked. Pupils dilated, forehead sweaty, hair mussed. Unbelievably lovely, sweet, desirable. He reached out and ran his thumb over her face, just grazing her lips. He knew what Oz could smell now.
“Look at the G-man go!” said Xander. “Is this really our stuffy English librarian?”
“Ask rather if the stuffy librarian was really Giles,” he said, drily. He stroked the hair curling over Buffy’s ear.
“My mind may be expanded, but it needs a lot more stretching to fit that concept in. Don’t bogart that thing, Buffy.”
Buffy moved away from him to hand it to Xander. She re-settled herself in the position she’d been in before. Then she scooted back until she was snugged up against his chest and hips. He was caught. But she just craned around and smiled at him. “Somebody’s happy to see me,” she whispered.
“Indeed,” he said, softly. He thought about what had seemed so unspeakable earlier in the evening, and knew he could say it to her without fear. He was the man who could. He slipped an arm down around her stomach to hold her close. She stroked his arm, pushing his sleeve up. The touch of her fingers on his skin took his breath away.
He spoke again, his lips just grazing her ear. “I finally know what I want to be.”
“Yes,” she said.
He slowly rocked his hips against her, teasing. He curled himself down and tasted her neck. Sweat, popcorn, smoke, vanilla, honey. Buffy tilted her head, inviting him. He nibbled his way from her ear down to her shoulder. He slipped a hand under her shirt and explored upward gently. She gasped, and clenched her hands on his arm. He bit her neck at the same moment that his fingers found a nipple.
“Okay! I think it’s time for somebody to find a room.” Xander, through a mouthful of popcorn.
Buffy and Willow both giggled. Giles felt his face flushing hot.
“Bedroom’s first door on the right,” Oz said, quirking the side of mouth just a little. “Look in the top drawer of the dresser.”
“What? Oh, right, ta.” Giles stood, lifting Buffy with him. He led her down the hallway. His heart pounded. Terror, anticipation, intoxication? All three.
Oz’s bedroom smelled of pot and patchouli. It took him right back to that tatty London flat, with Ethan and the others. He looked around a little. The bed was neatly made. He wondered if the sheets were fresh, or if Oz and Willow had been together on them earlier. The thought excited him. The top drawer of the dresser held, as he’d surmised, a box of condoms. He extracted one. Buffy was over by the nightstand, holding an unlit pillar candle and rummaging around looking for something, probably matches. He turned off the overhead light then came up behind her. He lifted his hand and paused, recalling the words, and the wick ignited.
She set the candle down. “You can do a lot more of that than you let on, can’t you.”
Giles made a noncommittal noise. Beer inhibited magic; pot enhanced it; acid did odd things, sometimes wonderful, sometimes horrible. There was a spell Ethan had invented for times like this. He recalled the shape of it, but not quite the words…
“Fire pretty,” she said to him.
“Mmm, yes,” he said, and bent to kiss the back of her neck, then her shoulders. He skimmed his hands down to her waist, then lifted her shirt. His hands found her breasts and made her moan again. The shirt fluttered to the ground. He kissed his way down her bare back until he knelt behind her. He turned her around and found the buttons on her jeans. He undid them slowly, kissing what each revealed. He slid the jeans to the floor, then returned to tasting her, stroking her with fingertips from ankle to hip and back down again. He looked up to find her gazing down at him with wonder and surprise on her face. Had no one ever— ?
He stood and drew her over to the bed. He got rid of his t-shirt and jumper, then kicked off his jeans as quickly as he could. He stretched himself next to her, took her face in his hands, and at last, at last, kissed her mouth. She traced his lips with her tongue, inviting him in.
She was easy to please. Everything he tried seemed to give her pleasure, every touch coaxed from her those little gasps that thrilled him so. She explored him as well, cautiously at first, then with eagerness. Eventually he found himself kneeling between her thighs, his body just nudging hers, the moment of union before him. He thought he might burst.
“All right?” he said.
“Yes, oh yes,” Buffy said.
He slid himself home, then held still. “Good?” She said something incoherent. He began moving over her slowly, taking his time, paying attention to her, encouraging her with soft words. It felt so good, touching her, feeling her warmth around him.
He was close now. He reached down and brushed his thumb against her, stroking with each slow thrust, and was rewarded by more of those little cries. Giles remembered the spell he’d been reaching for earlier, and let it spin from him. The light in the room turned strange. Buffy glowed, lit by sparks drifting over her skin like dandelion fluff. They were beautiful. Their touch on skin was a tingling caress. He fought to keep his eyes open. She was moaning beneath him, her hips rising to meet his, her eyes closed.
“Open your eyes,” he managed to say. “Look. Look at this.” She looked, and the delight on her face undid him. “Oh, Buffy. Come with me. Come with me now.” At the word ‘now’ she cried out and strained upwards under him, shuddering, eyes still open. He went over the edge with her. The magic sang through him as he came. The room fell dark. Afterimages raced across his vision. He collapsed on her and let his head rest on her shoulder. “God, how I love you,” he whispered.
Eventually he withdrew from her. He returned to the bed. She was lying back, unashamedly nude, watching him.
“You all right?” he said, softly.
“I went non-verbal for a while there,” she said. “Just now regained the power of speech.”
“Can’t keep you quiet for long,” Giles said, smiling.
“Next time I’m going to talk to you all the way through.”
Giles’ heart suddenly felt too large for his chest. He grabbed her and rolled onto his back, holding tight. “Whatever you like, Buffy.”
“I liked this. Stoner magic sex. You did this before?”
“It’s been a long time. Almost forgot how good it feels.”
Buffy crawled up across his chest to rub her nose against his. “Tell me all about it. Who was she? What was she like?” Apparently she had recovered her full chattering powers. He decided to just answer, and see what happened.
“Hmm. Actually the last time, stoned at least, was with Ethan.” And, at the sight of her brow furrowing, “Does that bother you?”
Her face cleared. “No. It’s kinda hot. To think about you with another guy.”
“Good,” he said. He let his hands drift down her back.
“Though I don’t know about your taste. I mean, Ethan?”
Giles grimaced. “He was rather different then. We both… changed… quite a bit after, after—”
“No sad thoughts tonight,” said Buffy. “Only happy Giles.”
“All right,” he said, and smiled at her.
“You look so good when you smile with your whole face like that. So handsome and happy. Smile like that more, Giles.”
“For you, Buffy.”
“There’s my Giles. Lover Giles.” She stroked the corners of his eyes.
It was a bit absurd to hear his last name from her while they lay together naked, wrapped around each other. “Buffy, would you, would you call me Ru?”
“Ru. Ru.” She looked thoughtful. “Did people used to call you that?”
“At one time.”
“Is that the guy you were with Ethan? A ‘Ru’?”
“Not then, no. Earlier. It’s more… who I would like to be for you now. If you want me, that is.”
“I want you. Of course I want you. You are so…” Buffy gazed down at him, serious again. “You felt it too, didn’t you.” He nodded. “That was magic, wasn’t it? The light show and the tinglies. More than just feeling good because of the pot.” He nodded again. “Did you do that?”
“Wow. That felt so good. It was so weird, not freaksome weird. Just unusual weird. I thought at first it was just because, because, well, you’re warm. Breathing. In the heartbeat club.”
“Oh. You’d only been with, ah, him, before?”
“Yeah, only with Angel. This was just my second time.” She looked a little shy.
“Oh,” he said. He supposed he’d known that. He rolled to his side, sliding her off his chest. He pushed his forehead up against hers and kissed her gently. “It was wonderful for me. I hope it was for you, too.”
“It was. So different. Gonna be thinking about it for days. Oh, you smug-man!” She was silent for a few moments.
“What are you thinking?”
“Just that I’ve been waiting my whole life for that. Finally the right thing. Like it was meant to be.”
“It usually is, between Watchers and Slayers.”
“No way! How come you never said that before?”
“Because you’d have thrown a book at my head.” Because she’d been too young. Because there’d been Angel. Because he’d been afraid to presume.
“Yeah, probably. Too wigsome back then, but it’s different now. No books here to throw. Just you and me.”
“You and me,” he said.
“Buffy and Ru. Lover Ru. Yeah, there’s my smile. Hey, mushy guy. No crying.”
He blinked. “Sorry. It’s a bit much. All this— you— you being mine—” He pulled her to him and kissed her for a little while, but didn’t try to take it any further. He needed time to settle into this new feeling. To process, as Buffy might say.
Buffy eventually broke away from him, with a kiss on the end of his nose. “Okay, you. Time to give Oz his bedroom back.” They got off the bed, and Giles fished around on the floor for his jeans.
“Oh, ick,” Buffy said, holding up a scrap of lace. “I’m so not putting these on again.”
“Give them here,” said Giles, snatching them from her. He breathed in their scent deeply, then gave her the dirtiest smile he could muster.
“That’s not kinky. That’s perfectly normal.”
“Sez you. Give ‘em back.” She wedged them into the pocket of her jeans.
She vanished into the bathroom on their way back down the hall. Giles continued to the living room to rejoin the movie-watchers, carrying his jumper. They’d moved on, to “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Giles tucked himself down onto the floor again, back against the couch where Willow’s feet were. Xander and Willow were both asleep. Oz regarded him solemnly. Giles had expected to be more embarrassed than he felt. Maybe if Xander had been awake.
Giles indicated Xander. “Didn’t he like Sergio Leone?”
“I think he was expecting more non-stop action than he got,” said Oz.
Giles gave his quick soundless laugh. He looked at Oz. “Oz. Thank you,” he said, putting all of himself behind those words. Oz nodded, and Giles thought that Oz had understood his message. Such an odd young man. Giles hoped he could know Oz in twenty years, when he’d grown fully into who he was. And Willow. And Xander.
And Buffy, his Buffy. Buffy, who would spend the rest of the night asleep cradled against his chest, while he guarded her. It would be heaven, if he were still hers, which he was. Friend Giles, lover Giles, and always Watcher Giles.