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Higher than sould can hope

by Te and Branwyn

Higher than soul can hope
Branwyn and Te
July 2003

Disclaimers: Not ours, but we make them happier. Sometimes.

Spoilers: Halloween, The Dark Age, Faith, Hope, and Trick.

Ratings Note: R.

Summary: Watchers and Slayers.

Authors' Note: Branwyn's idea entirely. Te resisted for four whole seconds before deciding to play. An AU that starts to get skewed after the movie. Title stolen from e. e. cummings.

Feedback: Adored. cuppachaos@hotmail.com and teland@teland.com

*

California suited him better than Boston. The air smelled the way America should: alien. Dryness and heat, a magic reminiscent of Eastern deserts but with a desperation entirely its own. He inhaled deeply, and waited for the rush. They were breathing the same air again, and he believed it was sweeter for having passed through the body of a Slayer.

Two Slayers, he reminded himself. And although he had labored for years to silence the echoes of the useless parts of his training, he knew he would never shake the feeling that she was a bit obscene--the frail blonde child who called, then outlived, her replacement.

The grudge was a faint one, however, and if one imagined that she suggested obscenity, one must remember her Watcher.

A Slayer, born into the camouflage of her human skin, might be forgiven for her beauty, for appearing delicate. The Watcher, on the other hand, had no business with delicacy, and could not be forgiven for an unblemished hide, for glowing over the Slayer's shoulder like a great white sign-post of vulnerability. Refinement, three piece suits, handbooks: these had no place in a Watcher's life.

Giles could not even forgive the man for his youthfulness.

Dear Wesley had learned a lesson or two by now, one hoped. Whatever the lad's deficiencies, he could not have stood cheek-and-jowl with death and hell for two years and remained the too, too public school chap whom Giles shagged bloody the night Merrick died, the night he understood that twenty years of penance, of righteousness, had not been enough to redeem his destiny from the Council.

The night when the Council had made him understand.

Giles had flown Amanda Russell's remains from Boston to Wyndham-Pryce in California. The size of the coffin that held her--being normally designed for infants--was message enough that Giles had not bothered to send a note.

Had Giles not come, the Council would have left her in Boston. Had the Council known Giles was coming, they would have ordered him to leave her in Boston. That, too, was a message.

But if there was one thing Giles had learned in the years away from everything, in the years spent trying so hard to get back inside... unheard messages were useless.

Meaningless.

He smiled to himself and squinted against the relentless California sunlight. Right now, somewhere in this dim and gormless little town, Faith was settling in.

Rather, Faith was trying to settle in. No Watcher, no real ability to relax that he had seen, and so much power.... There was nothing more beautiful.

But... he had other things to attend to just now.

There was a card on his pocket. It was nothing special in and of itself, not spelled in any way, not even printed on an especially fine grade of paper.

Ethan's Costume Shop, it said. Sunnydale, California. An address, a phone number, a fax number, and even a website address Giles knew would lead someplace banal and commercial. Nothing on it was important beyond the name and address.

It had arrived in a clean, simple envelope in one of his many post office boxes back in Boston, addressed to Rupert Giles in a hand only stark if one didn't know to look for the flourishes.

Ethan.

So many years, and so many... encounters. None of them casual, all of them memorable for one thing or another. Once upon a time they were lovers. Briefly, at the point of his final decision to leave the Council, they had had the simplicity of friendship.

Over the years they had been business partners, enemies when Giles was trying extra hard, and lovers again. Always lovers.

Usually, it was Ethan who found him for one thing or another. A chance to make a bit of money doing what they did best, a chance to make a night of it away from everything resembling responsibility or betrayal.

He couldn't imagine Ethan not being in his life, and when it had been Eyghon to track them down...

Well.

After it had all been over, after they had trapped the demon in the body of another and sent them both to what was either an alternate universe or a metaphysical garbage dump, Ethan had smiled at him.

Stood up and dusted off what clothes could be saved, peeled away what couldn't, baring sleek skin and countless scars.

Caressed his cheek with one hand still tingling and stinking from magic and leaned in close enough for a kiss. Whispered, "I didn't know you cared, old man..."

There hadn't been a need to say anything more, and they had fucked in the wreckage of their own magic, half-clothed, bruised and bleeding and hungry for each other, for proof that once again they had made it work.

That they had won.

Victories didn't come easy in the life Giles lived, but with Ethan...

With Ethan, they were always just on the edge of possibility. Prizes for the taking.

Ethan who came to him shameless and unbowed, if a little older and a little more powerful every time. Ethan who always came bearing gifts: A vial of virgin's blood, the shrunken head of a failed, if powerful mage. Information and sex and old, old affection.

And if he was pleased and just a touch worried to find Ethan in Sunnydale before him, then he wasn't in the least bit surprised. Some things were fated.

He crumpled the card in his fist and tossed it at absently at a bin. This meeting would certainly be entertaining, if perhaps not noticeably useful.

But then, the attitude that a thing must be useful in order to be worth anything--that was an attitude that belonged to the Council, and not one that Giles had much use for.

What use was it, after all, to tend a Slayer--to nourish and warm her, to make her laugh, to help her, not only survive, but thrive? What use to do more than point her in the direction of the nearest demon and takes notes while she had at it? Plenty more, after all, where she came from.

Bile rose in his throat, and Giles spat on the baking pavement, amused to hear a faint hiss following. His rebellion had sprouted too early, or perhaps his penance had come too late: either way he had lost what opportunity he may once have had to learn the secrets of the Council.

Not the insignificant questions, such as which MP's, which senators, were bound to their bidding, but larger questions -- those of blood. Why, for example, the Giles' were one of the first families, despite the willfulness in the line, and why no Travers had ever entered the field, had instead maneuvered cousins and nephews--the Wyndham-Pryces, the Hobsons-- into the positions they so clearly coveted.

Giles had long suspected that the ache in his veins, as though for a drug tasted and foregone long ago, would finally ease when he touched Faith for the first time. He suspected that no Travers would recognize the feeling, and that is why they hid in shelters of marble and oak, handing down edicts as though the Slayers were an institution and not the heart and soul of a man's life.

They would never know devotion like his own.

Ethan, on the other hand, seemed to understand Giles' need as no other, even if he did have the impertinence to find it a bit amusing. And if Giles permitted himself to see the situation from Ethan's perspective (always a bit uncomfortable) he could admit the irony of 30 years' devotion to a girl he has never met, when 20 of those years have been spent darting in and out of the clutches of his male lover.

When he was prepared to be unusually honest with himself, Giles admitted that Ethan had always been gracious towards this faceless girl who had haunted the corners of their relationship from the very beginning. In his beautiful and intemperate youth Ethan had been merciless -- terrifying -- towards any rivals that Giles had the imprudence to let him see, yet in this matter he was almost... patient. It was unsettling to think that at this late date he might have to allow for unguessed-at depths to Ethan's character. That in the maelstrom of Ethan's theology, he might have attained a wisdom that allowed him to be generous.

Most unsettling.

Far better to imagine Ethan gracious in victory, for a Slayer would surely be far less of an annoyance than the Council itself.

When Giles reached the shop, pushing open the door and stepping into the air-conditioned interior, he couldn't help appreciating Ethan's sense of... propriety, if that unlikely word could have anything to do with the man. He could picture Ethan as a costumier, and the picture fit. Even if Ethan was no longer sampling his own more fabulous wares, he looked at home there, behind the cash register.

The dark-haired girl who perched on the counter in front of him appeared to be in rather desperate need of what the store had to offer--namely clothing, which apparently ran in short supply in the California summer. Although she had dressed much the same in Boston, with far less excuse.

She looked up at him with the chime of the shop door's bell, and Ethan... gazed at him as though his eyes had been fixed to this spot all day, simply waiting for him to arrive.

And perhaps they had.

"Ripper," he says with a smile, and if Giles was tempted to chide the man for using the name in front of the Slayer, then it wasn't an especially powerful temptation.

The Slayer raised an eyebrow and looked him up and down in frank speculation. "Ripper, hunh?"

"Oh, you have no idea, Faith."

A pang at not being the first to introduce himself to this girl, but he swallowed it and offered his hand. "My name is Rupert Giles."

She looked at the hand, then shrugged and jumped down from the counter and gave him a bruising handshake that was merely a fraction of her power. "Faith. But I'm guessing you know that, since I've seen you around more than once."

An exaggerated moue of surprise from Ethan. "You must be losing your touch."

The girl whipped her head around in rank suspicion before giving him a narrower look. "So what's the deal here? This place reeks of magic, and you've apparently been stalking me. Talk quick, I haven't killed anything in forever."

Giles raised an eyebrow. "You staked several vampires last night, on the outskirts of town."

"Like I said; it's been forever." She gave him a little shove that would have perhaps been gentle from a human girl. "Talk."

And Giles had had a speech prepared for this, one he'd been composing off and on since he'd learned of the girl's existence, but... but. Some things required a certain immediacy. "You need a Watcher. I think I can help."

"Oh, man. I can't believe I didn't figure that out by now. English accents and everything. Well, look, Watcherboy, I don't need anything. Though you might need a doctor soon." She glared over her shoulder at Ethan for a moment. "He a Watcher, too?"

Ethan sputtered and choked.

Giles smiled behind his face. "You really shouldn't insult the man. Or me. I said I can help you. I didn't say I was a Watcher."

This, at last, gave her pause. She moved until they were in a rough triangle -- and until she had enough room to take them both out if the mood struck her -- and watched in an obviously troubled silence.

Giles gave her the time she needed, taking a moment to look at Ethan as he very carefully, very thoroughly looked at neither of them.

"What..." She shook her head and closes her mouth again.

Giles remembered following her to the clubs, and the after hours bars. Remembered watching her dance and fight with the same rawly sensual indiscrimination. Power. Russell hadn't had a chance.

She nods, bouncing a little on the balls of her feet. "Okay. Okay. What is it, exactly, that you think you can help me with?"

"I was a Watcher once, and beyond that both Ethan and I are trained sorcerers with some degree of power and experience. I can make you stronger, faster... better than you already are."

Ethan turned a page of the book he was supposedly reading, licking his thumb before mentioning, casually, "and then there's the matter of Kakistos."

She froze everywhere, face showing naked terror and guilt before she got control of herself again.

He could help her with that, too.

"I don't... you..."

Giles chanced a small, slow step forward. "Russell was no friend of mine, Faith. I'm offering you the chance to be at the top of your game, not a chance to go crawling to the Council."

A troubled look, and Giles could see Ethan savoring it at the corner of his vision. "And... I have a choice?"

Giles lets his smile show this time, and spreads his hands. "You're the most powerful girl in the world, Faith. You, at least, always have a choice."

She nodded and made for the door, looking back only when she was out in the sunshine again. "I'll think about... what you said."

Giles nodded, marveling a little at the way the sun backlit the girl with a sort of careless artistry. "Good."

"And I'll find you."

And then she was gone, leaving Giles to take what felt like the first breath since walking into the store. He picked up his duffel and dropped it on the counter, rubbing at his temple before Ethan brushed his hand away and took over.

"That went rather well, I think."

"Mm. Ethan. What do you think of her?"

"Very powerful. Weirdly fragile. Fills out that tank top with inspiring ease."

"Letch."

Ethan chuckled. "I think you'll have a time of it with her, Ripper. I'm going to enjoy watching."

Giles blinked. That... was new. "I've never known you to be passive in anything, Ethan."

"Watching is an activity Ripper, one that often leads to other, even more entertaining activities... and I'm interested in this girl. She fills me with a certain..." His most delicate smile. "Nostalgia."

"How on earth did you come across her?" Giles hoped fervently that there was only the barest modicum of jealousy in the question, and that if there was any more, Ethan would overlook it.

"We met in the local night club. I bought her a drink. Several drinks, actually. I don't know whether she allowed me to do so because she was penniless or because she's so deliciously under-age, but she was... appreciative, in her own way."

"She -- you didn't --" A moment to be more than a bit horrified, among other emotions he didn't care to examine.

Ethan spread his hand in gesture of innocence. "I've left her utterly unspoilt for you, darling."

Giles snorted. "I doubt the privilege of deflowering her will fall to either of us."

"'Deflowering?' We are feeling our upbringing a bit, aren't we?"

Giles pulled away and took one of Ethan's hands in his own for a moment. Squeezed harder than he wanted to. "She's a Slayer, Ethan. All my life, before I met you..." He sighed. "You know all this already."

Ethan squeezed back. "Yes, I do, Ripper. And it's all rather touching to watch." Innocence at his skepticism. "No, really. She makes you look young."

Giles laughed despite himself. "I think we need stronger magic for that."

Ethan grinned. "I just so happen to be working on a certain potion..."

Giles rolled his eyes. "I think you miss my hair more than I do."

Ethan tossed him a wig from behind the counter. It was blonde, curled to excess, and still smelled like the perfume of whoever wore it last. "Hair, we can work around."

Giles snorted. "And just what would happen to me if I put this dreadful confection on...?"

"That would be telling."

He nodded. "Business here, or...?"

"Pleasure. Or... call it a bit of that old time religion. There's nothing quite like a Hellmouth to make an old mystic feel reverent."

Once upon a time, this would've been important. Something for him to fight, to thwart in the name of the Council and all that was good and right and holy.

There was something to be said for a life without constraints.

He shook his head and tossed the wig back. "I don't want to know. Do try to avoid waking up any particularly nasty demonic energy."

"Scout's honor. Now, isn't it time for you to put yourself someplace your so-pretty new Slayer can easily track you down?"

His Slayer. His. He couldn't think of a thing to say.

Ethan gave him a soft push. "Go on, then. You know where to find me when you're done."

Giles nodded, swallowed against the lump of feeling in his throat, and walked out, leaving his bag on the counter.

There would be time for this later.

*

For such a domestic slice of Americana, Sunnydale was notably lacking in innocence. One noticed it in the small things: the liquor store, for example, closed at sunset -- and said as much on the door, rather than "6 pm", so there would be no confusion when the days shortened with the seasons. There was also a surprising dearth of bars, and a less surprising profusion of churches, predominantly Catholic, probably having less to do with the town's Spanish heritage than with the comforting largesse of Catholic pageantry.

Not to mention the simple need for lots and lots of crucifixes. It must have comforted the early residents to feel that their religion was as practical as it was sacred.

Giles, to whom practicality was a religion, could relate.

And for a few moments he tried to work out a flattering difference between his practicality and the Council's utilitarianism, but after a while he decided that the distinction did not lie in method, but in goal.

His goal, the Watcher's goal, was the life of the Slayer.

The Council's goal was the preservation of the comfort in which they had wallowed for a dozen centuries. There were other names for it, of course -- tradition, stability, lies so old that the liars could not remember their origin

The better to pass them on to newer generations who would take them for God's truth.

Giles was almost eager to find the whelp, his, God help him but it rankled, predecessor in the field. He had been a charming child, more abashed by the streaks of old power in his blood than a closeted queer. The wreck of his innocence was Sunnydale's one and only truly beautiful promise. Well, besides that of Faith.

He would have to make certain to introduce him to Ethan.

And while the images that thought produced were more than a little entertaining... Giles laughed to himself and passed easily between a pair of high school students. Younger than a Slayer could ever be.

No, the images were entertaining, the fallout would undoubtedly be educational, but Giles prided himself on a certain degree of honesty with himself.

Because even though he'd be willing to wager that he wouldn't know this new and tempered version of Wyndham-Pryce as well as he thought he would, he did know Ethan.

And Ethan would take every savage pleasure Giles didn't -- quite -- admit to in torturing the boy. And he'd do it for himself, yes -- Giles had no trouble accepting the depths of the man's sadism -- but he would also do it for Giles.

Payback for all the years of trying to be something he wasn't. For all the years of twisting himself into a man the Council hadn't wanted since he'd rebelled in the first place.

When he'd made everyone he'd known and loved in those brief and terrible and wonderful years in the coven into enemies.

And cut himself off from everyone but Ethan, who wouldn't let go even when Giles was...

Giles sighed to himself and forced himself to pay attention to his surroundings. Soon, he'd be among Sunnydale's seemingly endless cemeteries, and too much maudlin nostalgia would undoubtedly be hazardous to more than just his pride.

But it had to be acknowledged just the same -- he was a bitter man, and a needy man, and his sore spots could easily flare into open wounds if he wasn't conscious enough to stop the process.

In the meantime, there was a Slayer out here tonight. Perhaps even two. It was time to take what was his by right and purpose.

He didn't have long to wait. There was a thud, a strangled feminine shriek, and the rising strain of "My dead mother--" Faith. Whose mother was, in fact, dead, along with her Watcher. Anyone else who may once have mattered to her is either dead as well or so far away as to be irrelevant. The only baggage Faith brought to Sunnydale was emotional--and plenty heavy enough for a girl of sixteen.

Sixteen. Hardly to be believed.

She fought the way she always did, the way she danced, taut muscle and the glide of bare flesh under streetlamps. No question that she was born to this, would still have been born to it had she never been called. She had always been dangerous.

There were, no doubt, times before being called when she suffered for it. Teachers, social workers, her mother's boyfriends -- it was too much to hope that one of them nourished her promise. Faith, clearly, had had to fight for every scrap of dignity she had ever possessed.

And it was clearly an ongoing battle -- internal, now, more than external. Faith would never again have trouble persuading others to give her what she wanted, but deciding what that may be -- well, self-knowledge was notoriously rare among teenagers anyway, and there was old pain in Faith of the kind more likely to blind than to instruct. Dignity stood no chance against it -- Faith herself couldn't control it, though the power it gave her...

"YOU -- CAN'T -- TAKE -- ME!" Every word punctuated by a shattering blow. The vampire beneath her leaked stolen blood. "NOBODY can take me."

Yes, the power was rather breathtaking.

His admiration for her was tinged with a compassion he knew she would not welcome. He knew better than to present himself in the role of a healer. She wouldn't take that any better than he would have, back when 'Ripper' had more to do with the painful day to day than with bittersweet nostalgia.

Better, at least temporarily, to accept what she was more likely to offer him -- this very impressive violence, for example -- and give her what she thought she wanted, before he revealed all that he was willing to do for her.

Devotion was not trust, after all, nor did it necessarily inspire it. Amanda Russell had undoubtedly been devoted in her own way -- and there was no reason to believe that Faith left her to her own devices, exactly --

"That was me fighting for my life, Miss Attention Span!"

Buffy Summers was glaring at the retreating form of Faith's back. Blonde hair stood up in wisps around her face, and her dark coat was littered with grey ashes. Her indignance was -- he must confess it -- rather winning.

It spoke of a life with expectations of normality -- as though she was used to being supported in battle, used to winning battles. Used to giving orders, and being obeyed.

She and Faith were obviously new acquaintances. Certainly she was not what Giles would ever have expected from a charge of Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. No true servant of the Council would have allowed the girl to own such ridiculous shoes, much less wear them while patrolling. It bore thinking about.

He watched Buffy stalk away -- intimidating strides for such a small girl -- and analyzed a sudden stab of regret. Not for her departure, but for the radically different life that might have been his. Had he played the game differently -- had he obediently foregone Ethan's company over the years and everything he believed in...

(oh, that would have been a brilliant success, Ethan sneered from the back of his mind)

Had he been able to accept the Council's discipline with anything like genuine repentance -- then Buffy would have been his Slayer.

And there was so much he could have shown her.

"Thought I said I was gonna find you."

He turned slowly, hands in the pockets of his jacket. Faith stood with her arms crossed belligerently across her chest, her legs spread apart and planted firmly on the pavement. Wild hair covered half her face, and her eyes, half-hidden in the tangle, glinted expectantly.

Giles cleared his throat. "It looks like you did."

But this is how things were now. And this was his girl.

She tossed her hair like a horse. "Watchers. More like stalkers." And she turned and walked away, perhaps just a bit determinedly in the opposite direction of Buffy.

Giles fell in beside her, matching her stride and grateful for every extra moment he'd ever spent in the Council's gymnasium. The silence was a comfortable sort of swelling in his chest. This girl has... problems. Nearly a year on her trail and even an official Watcher would notice, he thought.

He had waited long and hard for this moment, his moment, even considering an attempt at seducing her away when Russell was still alive. When she died, though... When Faith ran...

Well, the waiting all made sense, now.

He put his hands in his pockets and smiled to himself.

"I just... I mean, you'd think she'd be fucking happy to see me. Not alone anymore! Two girls in all the world. Instead she's all..." Her face twisted into something both ugly and endlessly endearing.

"Yes?"

"Well, you're the stalker here. You been watching her, too, right? You tell me what her problem is."

"I assure you, Faith. You've been my singular focus for quite some time now."

That earns him a smile, and a gentler head toss. Flirtatious, yes, but more than that... a simple happiness that Giles wanted to indulge at least as much as he wanted to exploit.

"She seems... well. You are, technically, in territory she feels is her own."

A grunt, and Faith jumped over a gravestone in her path while Giles walked around. "She acts like I'm gonna piss on her tires."

If Giles were a different man, he'd ask how she would've felt if Buffy had shown up in Boston with no warning. But Giles was who he was, and he thought he knew.

"And she's so... God, she's got a stick up her ass bigger than her Watcher's, you know? You wouldn't know it to look at her, but she's fucking repressed."

Giles hid another smile behind his hand. "How so?"

"You studied Slayers. You know what we're like after a kill." The smile this time had far more intent.

"There have been a few entries in the journals about that, yes."

"Yeah, well, Little Miss Pastel back there... if she's ever jerked off I'm a fucking blonde."

Giles coughed and stumbled. Wondered just what, exactly, it had taken to make Ethan behave.

She whacked him on the back with simple, bruising force. "You okay there? Don't want you to have a heart attack or anything." Another grin. "Yet."

Giles snorted. "Your concern is heartwarming, I'm sure."

Her hand lingered on his back, and she gave him a searching look. What did he want? What did he expect?

Giles made a silent resolution to be on his best behavior, at least for the time being.

"Yeah, well, that's that. I think her Watcher is calling up his guys at the Council about me. That's gonna go over like a lead balloon."

Giles held her gaze with his own. "You could have another Watcher very quickly, if you wanted one."

She nodded with slow, obvious thoughtfulness. "My choice."

"Yours."

She broke contact and started walking again.

They were leaving the cemetery and entering what certainly seemed to be... another cemetery. Hellmouths were always predictable, in some ways.

Faith remained silent, and Giles forced himself to be quiet. Patient. He had to be careful, because this was... this was what he wanted. Needed. And it may have been terrible egotism, but he thought he was what Faith needed, too.

This was more important than his own desires.

The girl paused before a new-looking grave and fell into a casual squat, plucking a stake from inside her sleeve and bouncing it back and forth between her hands. She didn't look back at Giles.

And aside from the freshness of the grave, there was nothing particularly special about the spot, but... Slayer instincts.

Trusting them felt like diving into dark, deep water on a hot summer day. Terrifying and exhilarating.

It didn't take long before a fledgling practically exploded out of the earth, mud and wood fragments flying everywhere. Faith didn't stake the thing immediately, instead yanking the fledge fully out of the grave and tossing him for some distance.

A growl and she was running for it, just barely missing a tackle and not missing a kick at least. The fledge hit the ground snarling, and Faith was up again, throwing herself at it with neither caution nor especial grace.

They rolled over and over, nearly falling into the open grave before Faith kneed it in the groin and rolled them back the other way, landing on top. A punch, another, several too fast to count and the fledge was groaning now, moving weakly and with little usefulness.

Faith grinned down at the thing ground her hips. " Thought you had a treat, didn't you?"

Flare of yellow eyes. "Dude, who are you?"

Giles knew a cue when he heard one, and picked up the lost stake and tossed it at Faith's back. She caught it one handed, without so much as a glance. "I'm the new girl in town."

A riot of dust and Faith picked herself up and grinned at him.

"Nice timing."

He smiled his thanks, and watched Faith very clearly deciding whether or not her shirt was a loss. She pulled the tail up and through the collar and yanked the thing down.

"Heh. Daisy Duke."

Giles didn't have a clue and didn't bother to pretend otherwise. After a few moments, the post-kill happiness faded from her face and she began to pace. Small, tight movements. The physical representation of a young girl, deep in thought.

"So..."

He raised an eyebrow.

"You... you know all this stuff. My technique and everything. What would you change?" She didn't quite look at him.

Careful, careful... "If it were me, I would've staked him as soon as his chest was an available target..."

Faith nodded slowly. Almost, but not quite, shuffled her feet.

"But then, I haven't taken quite that much pleasure in killing vampires since I was a young man."

She blinked and froze. Looked up at him with something like wonder in her eyes. A smile twitched on the edges of her mouth. "Yeah...?"

Giles smiled back. "There's a time and place for all things, Faith. Even pleasure. Perhaps, especially pleasure."

"You gonna show me those places, G?"

"If you let me."

They stood facing each other just a second longer, the smile still dangling from the corner of Faith's impossibly red lips. When she turned to go, it was neither a dismissal nor an invitation.

The walk back to the costume shop was shorter than he remembered it this time, and although he did not for a moment consider releasing the stake he gripped in his pocket, he fancied that Sunnydale looked peaceful. Vibrant.

Full of promise.

He could make a life here. Forty years of England, thirty years of waiting, twenty years of penance for crimes he still didn't, entirely, regret -- they were suddenly as grey and distant in his memory as Limbo might have been to a soul newly admitted to paradise. Which was a sentiment so embarrassingly effusive even in his head that he deliberately relaxed his face before Ethan could see the grin that stretched jaw muscles he'd never used before.

Sunnydale began to look more than peaceful to him.

With Ethan near -- with his Slayer, at last -- it was beginning to look like home.

Which, considering that Sunnydale sat astride a Hellmouth, was bloody priceless.

"You look like the cat that's hiding the feathers." Ethan had apparently remained behind the counter, and was still, apparently, reading a book -- folio volume, bound with a suspicious-looking leather. One of the tissue-thin pages rustled in his fingers as he cocked an eyebrow in Giles' direction. "Had a pleasant chat, did you?"

Giles stood still in the center of a white patch of moonlight. Did not bother to ward himself against the magic he was open to -- that Ethan might just work against him. As a joke. To teach him caution.

"Ethan. I never --" He stopped, suddenly afraid of saying the wrong thing. Spread his hangs eloquently. "She's..."

"Your destiny, yes I know." A weary sigh. Ethan closed the book and looked at him. His smile wasn't nearly as mocking as he could have made it. As it once would have been. As Giles had returned, expecting it to be.

Ethan leapt down from the high perch of his stool and moved around the counter to stand in front of him--near enough that Giles could see the lines on his face, far enough away to indicate that, for once, Ethan wasn't taking anything for granted.

He extended one thin hand. His smile was, if anything, congratulatory.

"Come to bed."

Giles closed the distance between them and closed the hand in his own. Their kiss was comfortable and sweet, like relaxing into fate.

End.


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