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Birthday Gift for Giles, A

by SusanMD

Title: A Birthday Gift for Giles
Author: Susan MD (email: smvd@att.net) Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Spoilers: Season 4, up to and including A New Man. Characters: Giles, Buffy
Rating: R
Distribution: Just let me know so I can visit. Disclaimer: I don't claim any rights of ownership to characters, names, etc. Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy and Fox own everything. Feedback: Gratefully accepted
Summary: Giles and Buffy try to mend the chasm created when she began UCSD. The attempts lead to misunderstanding, confrontation and, eventually, a mutually agreeable conclusion. Comments: Thoughts are enclosed in 'single quote' marks. Notes: My thanks to Gail for offering to beta my maiden voyage into fan fiction writing and for providing superb corrections, suggestions and feedback. Thank you to Della for also providing welcomed feedback.

Chapter 1

"Hi Giles!" Buffy practically skipped through the door when he opened it.

When she saw his eyes skim over her she was pleased she had chosen the simple, pale green dress. She thought it flattered her figure. Yes, she had been so looking forward to this day. The sun was shining after two days of rain. Everything was rich in color. Even the grass was a healthy green. It couldn't get much better than this. Sometimes life was really, really good.

Warmth spread through Giles when he saw the sparkle in her eyes. It was good to see her like that, almost joyful.

"Buffy, hello. You look chipper today."

Just as he took note that she was hiding something behind her back she thrust out her arms and offered a small box with a red bow on top.

He reached for it hesitantly. "What's all this?"

"Happy Birthday!!" Her beaming smile was infectious.

He found himself laughing at her glee, while trying to figure out the joke, if there was one. "But it's not my birthday."

"Well, it's not like you'll ever tell anybody when it is, so I decided to make it up. I assigned you a birthday and today it is. "

"Hmmm, I see." He paused a moment as a mild smirk smile crossed his face. "You missed the mark."

"Oh yeah, by how much?" She asked innocently.

"Nice try, Ms Summers."

Shaking the box gently he tried to guess what was inside, a childlike endeavor, but fun.

"Agh, don't do that!" She took the box from him and went into the kitchen. "Open it here," she instructed and turned to retrieve two small plates from the cupboard.

Giles murmured an appreciative 'ahh' as he pulled out two jelly doughnuts and gingerly placed them on the plates, one for each of them.

Buffy leaned on the counter, propping herself up on her elbows, and asked, unabashedly, "So, do you like?"

"Of course. You know I do. Thank you, Buffy. This is a wonderful non-birthday gift." They shared a smile, relishing the blissful moment that held no worries.

"So, what's the deal anyway? Why won't you tell me the date? " She hoped to weasel it out of him once and for all.

Moving to sit on one of the stools at the counter, he replied with a shrug, "I don't like a fuss made."

"Come on, everyone likes a fuss once in a while, Giles. More importantly, I like to make a fuss sometimes."

"Yes, I'm aware of that fact." His eyes sparked as he remembered her obsession with preparing the perfect Thanksgiving meal even amid the demon threat of the day.

She read his eyes. "Okay, I think we're talking about two different kinds of fusses. So let's not go there."

He grinned at her. "Agreed. Let's not go to either place."

"Alright, but be prepared, this day next year will be your birthday again." She sat on the other stool.

He sighed in happy resignation and took a satisfying bite of doughnut, jelly seeping out the edges onto the plate. Lost in the taste of the jelly, he was startled when Buffy groaned. After quickly surmising there was no bodily damage, his concern turned to mirth as she pulled out a small, broken birthday candle from her pocket, holding it up for him to see.

"Forget this," she mumbled.

"Yes, let's," he added wryly.

She laughed, giving it her best overhand toss into the waste can near his desk. "Two points!"

"Tea?"

"Sure." He filled two china cups from the teapot he had prepared for himself before she arrived, then settled back down on the stool next to her.

"You're acquiring a taste for it," he noted.

"Caffeine is caffeine. And if you put enough sugar in, it tastes pretty good."

"Ahem. Well...I think you might enjoy this more if you forgo the sugar today. The unsweetened tea will provide a nice balance to the sweetness of the doughnut."

It sounded like sacrilege to her so she ignored him, adding her usual amount of sugar.

Giles' teeth hurt just watching her.

She saw the slight grimace and, not realizing it was her desecration of a perfectly good cup of tea that brought it on, she followed her own line of thought. "I know it's been a few weeks, but any aftereffects from the demony thing?"

"No, thankfully. I feel quite myself, although the damage to the flat was unpleasant to deal with. Especially so soon after the damage incurred on Thanksgiving."

"Send the bill to Ethan."

Giles gave a gruff laugh. "Now there's a notion."

"And that reminds me," he continued while lowering the teacup from his lips to the saucer, "I was thinking we might consider a session on identifying various types of metal alloys. Not that I'm ungrateful you mistook pewter for silver in this particular instance, but I think, as a general rule, it would prove more useful for you to actually know the difference." After taking another sip of tea he peered at her over the edge of his cup trying to hide the teasing smile that insisted on forming. He hoped she didn't see it.

She did and fired her rejoinder in their playful banter. "Hey, if it wasn't for my ineptness you'd be dead, mister!" She said it lightheartedly, but instantly felt a gripping fear when she realized how true that statement was. She looked up at him with a pained expression.

He regretted making light of it when he saw her face. "I'm fine, Buffy. You did the right thing."

"I almost killed you."

"But you didn't."

She sighed.

"Perhaps this should be another topic to which we won't go."

She crinkled up her nose at his butchery of her slang, until she saw the smile on his lips telling her he did it on purpose.

"Agreed."

She was enjoying this moment with him, but a nagging thought crept in...how was she going to keep track of the topics they were not to bring up again? Since the Fyarl demon incident, they each had been trying to mend the distance created since she began college, but still it was there. She didn't know what to do except for that one specific thing that had been niggling in her brain: 'get Olivia out of the picture. No concrete plan yet, just the goal, but that's half the battle,' she told herself.

"There's more."

"I'm sorry?" Giles was long accustomed to her non-sequiturs, but that didn't make them any less mystifying at times.

"You do know that's not your present, don't you? That's just the sweet stuff to get you in the mood."

"Buffy, I hope you didn't spend any money."

"Happy Birthday, Giles." The sincerity in her voice touched him as she handed him an envelope.

He took it carefully while watching the delight in her eyes.

The seal on the envelope broke easily and he slid out the card. It was handmade, on a heavy ivory stock. He went still when he saw the cover and just stared at it, barely breathing. If he had given in to his emotions he might have had tears in his eyes. Instead he removed his glasses and began to clean them.

"It's from my seventeenth birthday party." She spoke softly, almost reverently, hoping he'd like it. "It's the one picture Willow got to take that night. Got kind of hectic after that; my usual birthday stuff."

"Yes, I remember." He was having trouble speaking so he tried not to.

"It's the only picture I have of the two of us," she commented. He glanced at her and replaced his glasses. Her gaze was unfocused. She seemed lost in thought for a moment then looked intently into his eyes. "I don't know why that is."

He returned to the photo, lost in his own memories of that day two years ago. Willow had captured the two of them looking at each other, smiling. He didn't remember that exact moment, though he wished he could. She looked radiant. He remembered her outfit, the one with the white jacket. He was in his, then, ubiquitous tweed. Her seventeenth birthday had been an ominous day, although none of them realized it then. All they had to contend with was a severed arm in a box, the Judge. It seemed so terribly difficult at the time, but more grief and pain than they ever imagined was to come.

"Giles, there's more inside." Her voice pulled him out of his reverie.

"Yes, of course," he whispered, opening it to find a simple handwritten birthday greeting from Buffy.

He was content; this was all he needed. It was a superb birthday for a man who generally chose to ignore them.

But it was not to be the end of it. A manila envelope had fallen out of the card onto the counter. Buffy's smile engulfed his heart as she handed it to him.

Inside was another photograph. Of just what, he was still trying to decipher, his brows knitted together.

'A tattoo?' He mused to himself. 'On a woman's back.'

It was a nice photo, a nice tattoo, a nice back...a very lovely back, indeed, but the meaning of it all confounded him.

He shot a questioning look at Buffy.

"Giles, it's a tattoo."

"Yes, I can see that."

"Do you like it?" Her tone was filled with anticipation.

Removing his glasses he squinted, taking a closer look for a quick analysis. It was not large, not small, edging out across the lower back. Black ink. There were two distinct images. The outer was a stylized sun with flames shooting outward in gentle curved arcs. Inside the sun he recognized the ancient Egyptian symbol, Udjat, the sacred eye of Horus, falcon god of Egypt. An eye with two curved lines descending; he couldn't recall it's meaning off the top of his head.

Pulling back, he fixed his eyes on her and spoke, his tone giving away mild surprise and confusion. "Actually, it is quite lovely. Simple, elegant. But ...?"

"It's yours!"

He lowered his eyes for another look. "I see." He paused, gathering his thoughts. "You're giving me a photograph of a tattoo for my birthday," he stated blankly, trying to comprehend. There must be a reason that he just hadn't clued into yet.

"No, not the photo. Well, yes, the photo is yours, but the tattoo is yours too."

He gulped inwardly as he grasped her meaning. 'She's giving me a tattoo. Dear Lord.' "Buffy, you can't afford something like this."

When he saw the disappointment on her face he began to hem and haw. "It...it's very thoughtful of you but much too extravagant."

"First of all, it's not as expensive as you might think. Secondly, it's entirely impolite to question the cost of a gift." She harrumphed at him.

"Well, yes of course, you're right, but still..."

"Do you like it or don't you?" she demanded.

"Y...yes...yes, I...I told you I do." Damned stammering didn't help. He needed time to think. A flush rose up in him as he began to panic. He didn't want a tattoo, but how could he tell her? She'd be hurt. He could hedge, but she would expect to see it at some future date, most likely demand to see it, so there was no chance of saying he'd had it done and not. He took a deep breath.

Buffy latched onto his assurance of liking it and leaned toward him to study the picture. "Do you recognize the symbolism in it? I picked it out myself."

"I assumed you chose it." He moved his attention to the photo again, deciding to worry about the actual application later. "As for the symbolism, uh, yes, I see the Udjat symbol, Egyptian..."

"Egyptian, yes! Not Etruscan. I was very specific with the guy at the shop, I told him I did not want anything Etruscan."

Giles smiled at her, enjoying her earnestness and in complete agreement with her. He didn't want another Etruscan symbol adorning his body. One was quite sufficient, more than sufficient really.

"When the guy saw how serious I was, he showed me a book of symbols. A reference book. You would have been so pleased." She grinned teasingly at him. "This was on a page filled with other Egyptian symbols. At first I thought this one fit you best, but I made sure to look at them all and read their meanings." Leaning back on the stool, she scowled. "You know, a lot of them have to do with death." 'What was the deal with that?' she had wondered.

'Ah yes, those pesky ancient Egyptians and their preoccupation with life after death,' he chuckled to himself.

"The guy said that a lot of people like the Ankh symbol because it means eternal life. I kind of liked the sound of that, but then I read more about it and it was about life after death. Definitely not a subject I wanted permanently fixed to my body. I've got enough life after death in my life as it is."

Inwardly he nodded in agreement and smiled at her play on words.

"So I went with my first impulse: the Udjat, for obvious reasons. The eye...you being a Watcher and all." She looked expectantly at him waiting for some indication that he got it.

He grinned at her. "Ah, yes, an obvious choice." She was right. It was an obvious choice, but did he really want to advertise his life's work on his body? Sometimes subtlety was more appropriate.

She continued, "And, it symbolizes healing and protection." She met his eyes, tilting her head slightly. Her demeanor shifted from exuberance to thoughtfulness as she continued. "That fit you perfectly, I thought, because you've been both my protector and my healer."

Surprised by her statement, his eyes snapped up to hers. He held her gaze and felt her presence as he hadn't felt it for a long while, both with him and in him. His heart tightened as he reflected on the thought she'd put into this and the significance to her. He had to resort to stiff upper lip mode again to keep his emotions in check.

"What about the rest of it? What do you see?" she asked.

"Well, the outside object looks like a sun, a stylized design with shooting flames, sunbursts or sun flares." He glanced at her with raised eyebrows silently looking for her response. The warmth of her body as she leaned next to him, along with this rush of insightful sharing, created a heady feeling in him. He did his best to continue.

"Interesting," he murmured.

"What?" she asked, her eyes glancing between him and the picture hoping he could see what she saw.

"Four of the flames extend further than the others. They mimic the points on a compass indicating North, South, East and West."

He didn't see her pleased expression, as he was too busy noticing something else. 'Oh, dear Lord.' The photograph didn't actually show the entire tattoo. The southern point on the sun/compass traveled below the edge of the photo where he could just see the top lace edge of the woman's panties, which were low cut to begin with. 'Just how far south did that southern point extend? If it was the same length as the others, it must very nearly touch the tailbone.' He sat upright and focused on keeping his expression neutral, hoping it didn't betray how disconcerted he was by the mental image he had just created.

In the meantime, she was elated with his comment about the compass. "I knew you'd get it. That's exactly what it is. A sun and a compass. They had the flaming sun thing already but I asked if they could stretch out four points like a compass." She paused for a second. "Now, do you know what it all means?" The delight in her eyes thrilled him. The whole tattoo concept was still puzzling, but it was wonderful to see her so happy and engaged.

"Tell me." Came his quiet response. He could have easily expounded on the meanings of sun and directional iconography in various cultures, but he knew whatever it meant to her would be very personal and distinctly 'Buffy.' After her thoughts on the Udjat, he was eager to hear more.

She resituated herself on the stool, and her voice took on a studious, serious tone. "The sun is the source of all life on earth. Without the sun nothing would exist, no plants, no animals, no humans. So in a big way the sun represents life in general. But it also represents something more personal to you and me."

He was intrigued as she looked at him, assuming he'd figured it out by now. He had an idea of what she might be thinking but didn't want to spoil it by guessing wrongly, or correctly for that matter. It would be sinful to take away the pleasure she was enjoying in revealing all to him. Not to mention the pleasure it gave him, too.

"The sunlight is the positive part of our days, sort of like a healing time. Sunlight kills vampires, so the sun represents the absence of vampires and the part of the day where we can replenish ourselves for the coming night when we focus on our fight against evil." She flashed a quick grin at him. "Wishful thinking about the restful day part, I know, but a girl's gotta dream."

He had guessed correctly but never could have stated it as she did, nor would he have wanted to miss the glow she exuded, as bright and healing as the sun she spoke of.

"And the compass represents direction...like a guiding force. The points are different directions that can be taken in life, choices." She looked at him again. "The compass is you. You give me guidance, direction, and help me to see options that I might not have otherwise looked for. So really, the whole tattoo is you: the eye, the sun and the compass...healing, protection, warmth, guidance and direction." She smiled. "That's my Watcher."

Giles tried to swallow the lump in his throat. He looked down, ostensibly at the photo, but really his eyes weren't focused on anything. He let the emotion wash over him. Her interpretation was more than he would have imagined. The tenderness he felt for her was overwhelming, bordering on painful since he wouldn't allow himself to show it.

Buffy sat quietly, waiting for him to respond. She saw him trying to get control and wanted to tell him not to, but she let him deal at his own pace.

He moved his hand up to touch the edge of the photo. "It's perfect, Buffy," he whispered.

She smiled a small smile, pleased that he felt it too.

A minute later, feeling more composed, he spoke. "So, where shall I put it? Any suggestions? And only reasonable ones, please," he asked wryly, trying to lighten the mood.

"Anyplace you like. You could frame it and put it on your desk or dresser or hang it."

The bewilderment showed on his face.

"You know, so you could have it out to look at whenever you like. You can keep it upstairs if it's too personal, and you don't want to have to explain it to everyone." 'Although I'd like to be here when you explain it to Olivia,' she thought guardedly.

"Well, yes, I suppose I could." He figured she was talking about the photo now, but still....

Just as he was about to pursue it further, a different thought occurred to him, one that was as intriguing as any aspect of this day so far.

"Buffy, you said you put these designs together yourself and asked for specific changes to the sun image, correct?

"Yep, it's a one-of-a kind Buffy original." She spoke proudly.

"I see...so how did this woman get it before me?"

She looked at him like he had grown an extra head.

"That is yours," she stated, pointing at the photo.

"Yes, I understand that, but how did she get it?"

"Who?"

"The woman in this photo."

"What do you mean?"

"How?" His voice began to echoed his exasperation.

"The same way anybody gets a tattoo. The tattoo guy inked it with his incredibly painful needle."

"But this is supposedly unique, so why did she get it?"

"Giles, what's wrong with you?"

This was going to give him a headache, he could tell. He removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"You're being obtuse, that's what's wrong with me."

"I am not obtuse. You're being dense." If she hadn't been suddenly so frustrated with him she would have been concerned. 'How had their beautiful moment disintegrated so quickly?'

"Buffy..." Giles finally sighed. "Shall I leave the room and come back in so we can start again?"

She looked at him and enunciated each word slowly. "What don't you get?"

He held the picture up for both to plainly see. "This photo I'm holding in my hand is of a tattoo you say you have given to me as a gift for my birthday...which, for the record, is not today." He muttered the last part.

"Yessss." She dragged out the word, allowing her to hiss at him.

"And, presumably, I am going to have this uniquely designed tattoo applied to my body somewhere. But, clearly this woman has it already. So, in effect, this is not one-of-a-kind, as you intended."

"Giles!" Now she understood his confusion, but she couldn't believe he didn't get it. "The tattoo is yours but you aren't going to have it on your body. My God, look at it! The symbols are all about you! You would never display something so...so...well, you just aren't that narcissistic."

He sat looking at her blankly.

Misinterpreting his silence, she shot a glare at him. "I'm not a complete idiot. I learned a few things in college. It's a good word, and I know I used it correctly."

"Um, yes, it's a useful word," he commented, still confused.

'Oh, God.' She suddenly had a thought.

Her voice softened. "Giles, do you want another tattoo?" She couldn't imagine it, but maybe he liked the idea.

He moved his hand quickly when he saw her eyes resting where his fingers had been, on his left upper arm: Eyghon.

"No, not really." He was relieved in a way.

"I didn't think so."

"Buffy, this is very perplexing. If not me, then who is getting a tattoo?"

"I am!"

A moment passed while he thought it through. Understanding hit him with a flash and he didn't like it one bit. Giles leaned back on the stool, crossed his arms over his chest and peered down at Buffy, knowingly and with a highly superior look on his face.

"Buffy, this suddenly feels just like your decision that Thanksgiving dinner would be at my flat because I was the patriarch, as you put it, when in reality it was to leave me with the mess."

"Giles, what are you talking about?" She wore a puzzled frown. "And anyway, Willow and I helped clean up."

"Yes, some," he muttered. "But I still had to fill in all the holes left by the arrows when we were attacked. Not to mention the ongoing Spike mess."

"Well, it serves you right for not telling me Angel was lurking around. Get over it. Anyway, next year we'll have it at my house." They exchanged suspicious looks before she added, "And can we please get back to the point."

"The point is you wanted to get a tattoo. And, you've wrapped it up as a pseudo gift to me. Very clever and devious and not terribly flattering to me, I might add." He rose from his seat and turned away in a dismissive manner, picking up the tea things and plates and began washing up at the sink.

"What?!" She looked at him, first in utter disbelief and then the hurt settled over her. How could he think that when she tried to make it so special for him? She couldn't believe he didn't get it. It was for him, for them. A connection. She was trying to find some way to bring them back in synch. This was like a concrete demonstration of her commitment. She sighed. And, besides, if she carried this mark on her body, his mark in effect, it was as if she possessed him, and no one else could have him, not Olivia, not anyone. Okay, maybe it was a little selfish, but she was desperate. He tried to push her away at the beginning of the school year, and she didn't know how to get him back without resorting to old childish ploys like whining, pouting or feigning helplessness. She was certain those wouldn't work on him anymore (well, the helpless routine never did work, he knew better). Anyway, she was sick of whining and pouting. And, after all, wasn't that his whole point in telling her she had to be more self reliant, figure things out for herself? That's what she did with this tattoo. 'Now, how to make him understand...?'

Giles put the last plate in the draining rack and dried his hands, still having said nothing further. The disappointment he felt was unmistakable and weighed heavily on him. He couldn't believe she'd gone to such lengths. Christ, it was so bloody juvenile. First she ignored him for months and couldn't be bothered to keep him informed on crucial things like the Initiative, and now this...this sham in the guise of a gift. It was the proverbial straw and he was the camel. He felt something give inside him, something break. He didn't know exactly what it was, but it hurt.

With a deep breath, he turned back to the counter and picked up the photo. "When are you going to have it done?"

"I did already." Her response was tentative, suddenly unsure of anything and everything. She wanted to say more, to explain, but she didn't know how or where to start. The abrupt tension in the room was hindering her. She knew she'd say the wrong thing; she usually did. "You haven't figured it out yet, but that's me in the picture."

His eyes widened and he stiffened as he realized he had been admiring her bare back, openly admiring it. He gently laid the photo on the counter and slowly pushed it away from him, using one finger only and turned his eyes away from it. He was angry with himself for not figuring it out.

"When did you have it done?" he asked quietly.

"Last week." They were both speaking in near whispers now, as if afraid. They were back to square one, where they had been a few weeks ago. Each was at a loss, unaware of the other's suffering and confusion.

"I see." Then he turned toward her abruptly and asked with a whisper and an accusing look, "Who took the photo?" He had a particularly maddening idea the boy soldier might be involved.

"A woman who worked in the tattoo parlor."

"Oh." He mouthed the word rather than actually speaking it and looked away again.

He wanted to ask her if anyone had seen it yet, but was afraid of her answer. The last thing he needed was to hear Riley's name. He wasn't sure how far along in the relationship they were, but he was certain he didn't want to know the details. He just wished...

"Did Willow like it?" It seemed a safe assumption Buffy had shown Willow.

"She doesn't know about it. Nobody does, except you and me...and the tattoo people. I wanted it to be a surprise just for you. I guess it wasn't quite what I had hoped, or what you had hoped for."

"Buffy, I didn't have any hopes. Today was just another day until you assigned a birthday to it."

She looked at him, trying to read him. His expression was blank. 'Well, not quite. Maybe it was sad or resigned. Shit, what do I do now?' she thought.

"Did...did it hurt?"

"At first, but after a while nothing."

"I'm surprised you wanted it done. After your last tattoo experience I'd have thought you would have had enough."

"Ethan." She gave a gruff laugh, almost a grunt. "He keeps popping up in our lives."

Giles smiled ruefully, looking off into the distance, anyplace but at her or the photograph.

"Do you think we'll ever see him again?" she asked, not sure why, all of a sudden, she was talking about the usual shared unhappy moments of their lives. The day had begun so well.

"I think you can count on it."

"I'll have to kill him one of these days."

He looked at her again, concerned, and responded with quiet resolve. "No. If it needs to be done, I'll be the one, Buffy, not you."

They both jumped when the phone rang.


Chapter 2

"Hello?"

Giles' face fell, but he quickly readjusted his expression so she wouldn't see. He hadn't thought it was possible to feel worse than he already did.

"Um, yes, hello, she's right here." He placed the receiver on his desk and walked toward the hallway. "Riley," was all he said, believing it was sufficient.

Buffy wasn't any more pleased that Giles, but she didn't show it either. She looked at Giles, who had his eyes fixed on a point down the hall, and mumbled, "Oh...I told him I'd be here and to call when he was free, so we could do something."

"Hello?" she said with a tentative tone that didn't fit since she knew who it was and what he wanted.

Giles continued walking down the hallway toward the bathroom, anyplace to get out of hearing range. He didn't want to listen to her talk to the current man in her life.

"Oh...sure. I suppose so. I'm kind of in the middle of something though...No, everything's okay, just talking to Giles."

As much as Giles didn't want to, he could hear.

Buffy listened for another moment and said, "Okay, I'll see you then," and hung up.

Giles turned and retraced his steps until he was again in the living room.

"You don't have to stay, Buffy. Clearly you have plans. Go, have fun with your friends. I suspect you and I have probably hit our own limit of fun for the day, anyway."

"But Giles, I want to..."

"Riley's waiting, isn't he?"

She gave him a look that indicated she was unsure of what to do next. He decided to help her and walked to the front door, opened it and waited.

She got the message, although her mind was racing trying to find some reason to stay.

She exited the door saying she'd talk to him later. He just nodded.

He waited a few minutes to be sure she was out of hearing range before he let loose a curse that had been building inside. Then, for good measure, he kicked his desk chair sending it flying into the stools by the counter.

Feeling frustrated and defeated, he pulled the bottle of Scotch down from the bookshelves and found his way into the kitchen for a glass, but he thought better of it before he poured out his solace. "No, not this again." He put it away and began searching for another outlet.

After a quick search through his record collection he stopped at his favorite Traffic LP, put it on the turntable and turned it up, loud.

Waiting for the music to soothe him, he paced, stopping at every window on the ground floor where he would stand a moment, looking out at nothing, lost in thought.

'What does she see in him? Christ, she has the worst tastes in men. First Angel and now this toy soldier. Doesn't she see he's just overcompensation for Angel and a dull one at that? One of Maggie Walsh's drones. How did Anya describe him once?' '...A corn fed Iowa farm boy.' He laughed out loud but it faded quickly as he remembered the rest of her comment 'He may not be particularly exciting but he sure is built.'

Leaning against the wall, head tilted back with his eyes toward heaven, he tried to let go of his anger, but his mind wouldn't budge. He thought back on their years together. The many trials, successes, mistakes, close calls, missed chances, and the pain. He loved her as he had loved no other. He found it ironic that a Watcher should come to love his Slayer like this. He wished in some ways that he did love her as a daughter, but it had never been like that. He couldn't pinpoint when it happened but he knew it was real. She didn't have to love him the same way; he never expected that. As long as they could continue their work, he'd be content, but this year things had changed. He felt bloody useless. No job and now his Slayer didn't need him. He'd been banished to the back of the closet, brought out only in times of dire trouble and, even then, rarely. Olivia had been a diversion, a mistake. He'd watched himself become sullen and sulky. Sarcasm was his major means of communication and he drank too much. Getting pissed in a bar with Ethan was blatant evidence of that. He didn't know how much longer he could live with these circumstances. It might be better for both of them if he left. She could manage with Willow and Xander assisting her, as they always had, and now she also had Riley and the Initiative. It was time to take control of his life again.


Chapter 3

Riley was waiting when Buffy reached her dorm room.

"Hey." He let loose a huge smile when he saw her and bent down to kiss her. She kissed him but with little emotion, her preoccupation was evident.

"Hi," she replied.

"Is something wrong?" Riley asked.

"Uh...no. Everything's hunky dory." She tried for enthusiasm but failed.

"Buffy, I can see that's not true. Can I do something?"

His concern was genuine, Buffy could tell, but she knew he'd never understand. He was already confused by her relationship with Giles. He had asked a lot of questions after the Fyarl demon thing, having only just met Giles the day before at her birthday party. She talked about the library being the Scooby hangout but she never quite got around to the Watcher word. It seemed too personal. She wasn't ready to share that much with Riley. Giles was more than she could explain to him, or to herself, it seemed.

"Riley, I know we planned to do something today but would you mind if we didn't?" She looked up tentatively.

"That's okay, if you don't feel like it. We can do something another time...are you feeling sick?"

"Uh, no. I just feel the need to see my mother." 'How lame is that?' she thought, except it was completely true.


"Mom! I'm home!" Buffy bellowed as she entered her house. While wandering in she inhaled deeply. It smelled safe, like home.

"Buffy. I wasn't expecting you...was I?" Joyce wondered if she'd forgotten something they had planned.

"Nope, I just thought I'd be a goodly daughter and drop by."

Buffy noticed her Mother didn't react.

"Why...do you have something better to do? Gallery stuff...a man?" Buffy's eyes grew wide.

Joyce chuckled. "The man just hightailed it out the back door, so I'm all yours, daughter dearest. Just consider me a pleasantly surprised Mom. Shall I make hot chocolate?"

"Mmm, yeah...and you are just kidding about the man, aren't you?" Buffy had been leery of her Mother's choice in men since the Ted experience, and the candy incident. She shuddered thinking about it.

Joyce gave her patented 'mom' look and headed for the kitchen with Buffy tight on her heels.

"Speaking of men..." She trailed off, trying to find words.

Joyce's heart gave a slight lurch at the mention. Buffy rarely talked to her about the boys in her life.

"Yes, dear, what about men?" She continued making the hot chocolate as nonchalantly as she could.

"Uh...well...you know, are they...?" she sighed before continuing, "I mean...do you understand 'em? Cause I sure don't anymore." She looked as defeated as she felt, leaning against the counter.

"Oh. Did you ever?" Joyce asked with a smile.

"I thought I did, but right at this moment I don't."

"Problems with Riley?"

Buffy looked shocked at her mother. "How do you know about Riley?"

"I overheard you and Willow talking about him the other day." She was quick to add, "I wasn't eavesdropping. You were right there, I couldn't help it."

"It's okay, Mom. No big. I guess I shoulda mentioned him to you." She looked sheepish. "It's not him. Another guy."

"Just how many boys are you dating, Buffy Summers?"

"Only Riley." Upon seeing her Mother's skeptical look she added, "Really!"

"So what's the problem?"

"There's this other guy, a friend. I've known him a long time, since we moved here. But he's kind of mad at me right now, and I don't understand why. I mean, I did something nice for him today and he took it all wrong, like it wasn't nice but something else. Now he's being all moody and stuff and I don't know how to get him to change his mind about being mad."

"Hmm. Well, you know, Buffy, as much as I hate to admit this, guys aren't really very different from you or me. They get hurt feelings but they don't like to admit it. They can also be very inscrutable, much as women are often accused of being. You just have to talk to him."

"I wanted to talk but he wouldn't. He told me to get lost, in so many words. And he has no reason to be mad at me!"

"Apparently he thinks so. Maybe what you thought was a nice gesture didn't come across that way to him. Guys can be like that. You have to be careful of their egos. They don't like to be told what to do." Joyce had a second thought on that comment and added, "Unless, of course, they want to be told what to do. Just like they don't like to be helped, except when they want to be helped. And they don't like to be..."

Okay, okay, I get it, already, Mom!"

"That description sounds a lot like you, doesn't it?" Joyce flashed Buffy a knowing grin.

"If that's the case, then I should be able to figure him out in a second...or maybe not. I guess I'm not exactly miss self-knowledge, am I?"

"When you pay attention you are. And you can do the same thing with others. It just takes some listening skills and patience."

"But what if he won't talk!"

"Then you have to make him talk. Don't give up. Be gently persistent."

Buffy threw her head back and groaned, "Oh Mom, why can't life ever be easy?"

Joyce chuckled. "Here, drink your chocolate."

"He's changed, that's the problem." Buffy interjected emphatically, after taking a sip of her hot chocolate. "I used to have him totally figured out. But now, since graduation, nothing's the same."

"How so?" Worry washed over Joyce as she remembered Buffy talking about Angel changing.

"I dunno...lots of stuff. He dresses different for one! Better actually, but still. And all of a sudden he's dating. Well, more than dating, really. Never did that much before." Buffy glanced at her mother remembering she had been one of those dates, sort of. "I don't see him as much as I used to. And earlier this year he practically ignored me...told me to go figure out my problems by myself. He used to always listen to me and help. In fact, he wanted to hear my problems. And, well...there's more, I just can't think of it now." Buffy's frustration level hadn't diminished.

"He sounds like a good friend," Joyce mused. "It's not easy to find people to listen to you whenever you want and spend a lot of time with you, especially as you get older. Maybe he's expanding his horizons since school's let out. Just as you are, with college and all...and I wonder, Buffy, am I hearing just a hint of jealousy from you, with the dating women thing?" She added.

Buffy looked away and scuffed her feet while thinking what to say. "Maybe. I don't know...It's just that he's always been mine and now..."

"I see, now you don't like having to share him." Joyce saw the light. "Maybe you should re-examine your feelings for him."

"What?!"

"Don't look so shocked. Relationships change...evolve over time. It's completely natural."

"It is?"

"Honey, of course. Do you think things stay the same forever?"

"Well, no I guess not, but...?" Buffy looked at her mother. "I have been sort of wondering about him lately. Something happened a few weeks ago that made me see him differently, and I've been going over it in my mind. But, I mean, I'm dating Riley. How can I suddenly be interested in another guy?"

"It happens. Especially if Riley is a nice, safe boy who might be more of a transitional relationship...after Angel." Joyce looked hesitantly at her daughter.

Buffy grimaced. "Maybe," she said quietly.

"Besides, you're young, much too young to feel you have to find the 'right' guy. You have loads of time. Explore. Experiment. Date...safely, of course," Joyce admonished at the last minute and then continued. "Have fun with your friends. Don't let yourself get tied to Riley. The right guy can turn up where you least expect it and he can be who you least expect. It could even be someone who's been a friend for a long time."

"So Mom, what you're telling me is: stop whining, never assume, and never give up?"

"Precisely." Joyce laughed and gave Buffy a hug. "You always were a perceptive child."

Buffy hugged her Mom in return. "Thanks, Mom."

Joyce pulled back and looked questioningly at her daughter. "Uh, just out of curiosity, Buffy, are we, by any chance, talking about Xander?"

Buffy chuckled and grinned at her mother. "No, Mom. It's not Xander."

After a leisurely dinner with her Mother, she headed back to the dorm feeling much better. Energized and ready to make Giles talk...tomorrow. Right now she had to study and then patrol, and it occurred to her that a good night's sleep might put him in a better mood, or so she hoped.


Chapter 4

As Buffy approached Giles' front door her courage wavered. What would she say to him? What if he was still mad? 'Oh great,' she thought as a wave of panic swept over her, 'a pissed off Watcher. Been there, done that.'

Standing on the step she took a quick once over of her outfit: dusty blue spaghetti strap top, royal blue skirt, short, and her current favorite sandals. She replaced a stray stand of hair and took a deep breath.

Raising her arm to knock she was jolted by loud noises emanating from inside. Sounds of things hitting the wall or floor...and Giles cursing.

It sounded as if Giles was fighting someone or something. Intending to save him, she burst through the door and froze, frantically sweeping the room with her eyes, looking for Giles and danger. There was no sign of either, and the room was ominously quiet. Until she heard an 'umphf', and Giles' head suddenly appeared over the kitchen counter, looking rumpled, dirty and a tad wet.

She screamed and jumped while gulping for air. "Giles! Give me a heart attack, why dontcha."

His gaze was intense. Missing were the tolerance and warmth she had hoped for. "What are you talking about? You're the one who burst into my house."

"I heard loud noises, swearing and things bouncing off the walls. I thought...but I guess not. That was just you...by yourself?" She craned her neck to see why he was apparently kneeling on the kitchen floor.

Without even bothering to answer her, Giles disappeared again and more noise ensued.

She wandered warily into the kitchen to see what he was up to. A smile stole across her face when she saw his lower half sticking out from the cabinet under the sink. He was on his back and, based on the noises he was making, including the odd curse, working on something under there.

"Uh...plumbing problems?"

When he didn't answer, she peeked her head under to see for herself.

"Giles?"

"Christ!" He jumped and banged his head. "I thought you'd gone."

"I just got here, why would I leave?"

"I don't know. Places to go, people to see?" The sarcasm in his voice reverberated under the cabinet.

Buffy tripped over a pipe on the floor as she stood up and took note of the scattered tools, the faucet laying on the counter, and the general disarray.

"Why don't you just call a plumber?"

"Because they charge exorbitant prices, and I'm quite capable of doing this myself."

"Oh...can I help?" Her voice lacked any confidence that she could actually help, but she was willing to try.

There was a pause before he responded.

"If you like," he said, with a glibness that contrasted his earlier tone. "Hand me the spanner on the counter."

Buffy shifted her feet until she was squarely facing the counter, taking inventory of the various tools and sundries in view, hoping that she would recognize a spanner once she saw it. It wasn't working.

Giles lay under the counter grinning to himself. It was cruel, he knew, but he couldn't help himself. After taking a minute to enjoy the mental image of her trying to figure out what a spanner was, he started to crawl out to help her but stopped cold at his first glance toward the open space.

Her bare legs.

She was standing right there. Shapely, toned, and tanned, on display in front of him. Wearing a very short skirt too. He moved his head to get a better look at her foot attire. Open toed sandals, pink polish on her toenails. He fought an almost overwhelming urge to reach out and touch her leg with his hand. Instead, he, oh so innocently, moved his leg slightly to one side until it rested against hers and waited to see how she would respond or if she'd even notice.

Up above, Buffy was suddenly hyperaware that Giles' leg was touching hers. That, combined with the spanner search, had her completely at a loss.

He waited for a moment, and, when she didn't react, his impatience with her took over, and he stuck his hand out from the cabinet motioning for the tool he requested earlier. "Come on, you said you wanted to help. Spanner!"

"Uh...can you maybe give me a clue?" She asked meekly, embarrassed by her ineptness.

Sounds of exasperation rose up from under the sink as he quickly appeared, grabbed the tool from the counter and disappeared again without a word or a look to her.

"A wrench?!" she shouted. "Why didn't you just say so?"

"Spanner." He insisted flatly from below.

"Well, maybe in some foreign country, but in America it's a wrench," she mumbled.

After a few additional, appropriately industrious sounds, Giles reemerged from his cave-like habitat under the sink. As he went through the process of turning on the faucet, admiring the free flow of water and ducking under the sink checking for leaks (none were found), Buffy took note of his appearance. The faded blue jeans, well worn. A dark blue T-shirt, hugging his body where it was damp in spots. She wasn't sure if the damp was from sweat or water leaks, possibly both, she concluded. His hair was tousled and there was a red scrape on his left hand, which looked like it must hurt. Both his clothes and hands were patched with dirt and some goo she didn't recognize.

Observing all this, it didn't seem fair to her that he looked good in such a state. He even had a smear of grease on his face. Just as she resisted an instinct to reach up and wipe it off, he surprised her with a typically guy move. He grabbed the bottom of his shirt and pulled it up to wipe his face, baring his chest for a moment. She gulped at the sight and felt her pulse quicken. He had hair on his chest. She had suspected as much because she thought she'd seen bits peeking over the top of his shirt once or twice, but the full picture was mesmerizing. She tried not to stare at his chest once the shirt was back in place.

For his part, Giles continued ignoring her.

She could tell he was grumpy, but hoped, maybe, it was because of the plumbing problems and not yesterday. 'Okay,' she thought, 'I'll try charm first.'

"Nice work, Giles. I'll know who to call if I ever have plumbing problems," she said cheerfully.

He shot her a caustic look and began gathering up the tools.

She backed out into the hallway to give him leeway. Apparently he could resist her charm. Buffy had sworn not to give up, but this cold shoulder treatment wasn't the resistance she expected. "Uh, so if you're done, I thought maybe we could-"

"Buffy, I'm in no mood." She shrank a little at the cold tone of his voice, but regrouped quickly. She could see he was unrepentant. Yesterday was not forgotten.

She tried for sincerity and honesty this time, but it came out more earnest than she had intended. "I know you're mad at me, but I think we should talk about it."

"Now is not the time. Go home."

"Giles, I can't leave like this."

He dropped the tools into the toolbox and spun around to face her. "For bloody Christ's sake, Buffy, why can't you ever do as I say? Try it, just this once, you might like it."

She felt like a yo-yo. Shrinking every time he spoke, only to gather her courage again and stand up to him.

"Why are you acting like this?"

Giles removed his glasses, placed them on the counter top and massaged the bridge of his nose in an attempt to calm himself before confronting her. When he did look at her, his head was tilted slightly, and he had a condescending look in his eye. "Like what?"

"Well...like this...immature."

He held her gaze and slowly took a few steps toward her, forcing her to back up. "Maybe I don't feel like being mature."

"Come on Giles, you're supposed to be the mature one here. Remember, you're the brains, I'm the brawn."

"I wouldn't push me on that today." His glare was steady and fierce.

"Ok...then, I'll have to be the mature one." The words came hesitantly.

Giles leaned against the kitchen doorframe as he folded his arms across his chest and a sardonic smile slowly spread across his face. "Fine."

"Okay, I'll try, but I didn't get much sleep last night, what with studying, patrolling, and-"

Giles interrupted her before she told him something he felt certain he couldn't handle today. "Buffy, I know this may surprise you, but I don't care."

She narrowed her eyes, studying him. "Have you been drinking?"

Anger flashed through him as he stood upright. "No, damn it. And I resent you're even asking me that."

Buffy held her ground well. "It's not an unreasonable question. You've been drinking a lot this year. It got you in big trouble already. Ethan. Remember?"

His glare became icy.

"Giles, I can't lose you." Buffy's memory of the recent Ethan incident still haunted her.

Exasperation replaced his anger. "Buffy, I don't understand this irrational fear you have of losing something you clearly don't want."

Giles, that's not..."

"I'm here. I've been here. Where have you been? "

"But you told me to handle stuff myself."

"Don't throw that back at me. We talked about it. I apologized, and I thought we came to an understanding. Why do you have to obsess about it?"

"I guess 'cause...it was just such a shock...and there was...Olivia."

"I see." Remaining in the kitchen doorway, he reached his hand up over his head to brace himself against the frame and leaned slightly toward her. "So...you expect to know every last detail of my life?"

She didn't know if he was trying to physically intimidate her, but intentional or not, it was effective. His inherent vitality and virility were evident, and she wondered why she hadn't noticed this about him before. Possibly because she had been afraid to see it, she thought.

"You know every last detail of my life." She fought off a pout.

"Far from it," he scoffed and, after a moment, added, "Olivia's not coming back so you can let go of that one."

"Oh..." She tried to read his face before she continued. "I'm sorry."

He shifted his weight and crossed his arms again. "Don't pretend you're sorry."

"I am." Truthfully, her remorse was more for the pain it likely caused him that the actual absence of Olivia, but she felt it best not to explain that to him just now.

"Buffy, the reality is that you and I are at a crossroads."

Concern registered on her face. "I don't think I want to be at a crossroads," she replied softly.

"Neither do I, to be honest...but we are."

Buffy paused before speaking again. "I'm sorry I freaked that day, but you hadn't given me any warning, and I never expected to find you here with a woman." She saw him tense at that statement. "It's not that I never thought you would be with a woman...it's just that...I...uh..." she tried to find a way out of the hole she'd dug for herself. "I just never thought about it at all. And...and I don't think she was right for you, anyway," she finished softly, speaking the truth that was in her heart.

Giles considered her comments for a moment, then a grim smirk crossed his face as he thought he understood her. "I see. You can have relationships, but I can't. That way I'll always be here when you need me, like a bloody lap dog, whether it's everyday or once a month. My time belongs exclusively to you."

She was speechless and stood, in shock, with her face pulled into an intense frown as she listened to him.

"You on the other hand have no reciprocal obligations." He paused to study her expression before continuing.

"But with Olivia around, you thought you were losing your hold on me so you threw me a bone thinking to keep me happy...the birthday tattoo. " He looked accusingly at her. "That's emotional manipulation and that's why I'm angry."

"Giles, that's ridiculous. That's not what I was trying to do." Her mind was reeling. "I know I forgot to tell you some things this year, but that was just because I've been busy with school and ..." she stopped abruptly, not wanting to bring up the obvious.

"And Riley." He finished for her.

"Yes, but...but there was other stuff, before."

"Uh huh." He moved a step closer to her and spoke quietly, although the accusing tone remained in his voice. "Speaking of which, why didn't I know about Parker?"

Buffy's face flushed with embarrassment. She looked at her feet and sighed. "Because you'd think I was an idiot...which I was. Some guy sweet-talks me for a couple days and I fall for it, hook, line and sinker. He got what he wanted from me and then ignored me, dumped me. When I tried to call him on it, he turned it around and tried to convince me I had a problem, that I was nave or something. I felt horrible and...and stupid. It was humiliating." She finished quietly.

"Not pleasant being used, is it?"

She looked up at him, horrified, everything suddenly falling into place. 'Is that what he thinks I did to him? Used him with no thought for his feelings.'

"Giles," she pleaded "...I ...you...that's not...."

"Not now, Buffy." His jaw was set hard, and his eyes were steel cold as he shook his head. " Just go."

"I'm not leaving, Giles." The words came out, but the confidence was missing from her voice.

Sensing his advantage, he took another step toward her. Towering over her he looked down and ordered her, "Get out."

Buffy held her ground, trembling, her eyes locked on his, not sure what he might do next, but firm in her decision not to leave.

A tense stand off ensued before, finally, Giles took a breath and stepped back. It had lasted only a few seconds but felt much longer to both of them. Buffy closed her eyes and began to breathe again. Giles turned back into the kitchen and began throwing things around in a futile attempt at cleaning up his repair area. He paused for a second and looked at his hands noticing, as if for the first time, the dirt and grease. He looked down at his shirt also. Abruptly he tossed the old faucet into the sink and turned toward Buffy again.

He spoke as he retrieved his glasses from the counter. "Fine. Do as you please, but I don't have anything more to say." After which he turned down the hall. Buffy watched him disappear into the bathroom and flinched as his shoes came flying out, one at a time, bouncing hard off the wall before they hit the floor. The door slammed shut, and another minute later she heard the shower water running.

She walked into the living room, shaking slightly, and moved around the room trying to find a release for her own frustration. Slowly the emotion turned to hurt and even remorse. Maybe he was right, she thought. No, he just misunderstood her intentions. She had to explain, had to make him listen.

She tried to formulate a plan but her mind kept returning to his display of anger. He had only been angry with her once before. Truly angry, that is. But, even then, he held it in check. Any physical displays of anger she had witnessed from him were reserved for someone or something trying to hurt her. She knew how ferociously protective he could be when provoked. It frightened her at times because he would do foolish things, not thinking about the consequences for himself. As she reflected on it, a memory flashed through her mind of her mother explaining to her, as a young girl, the meaning of the phrase 'still waters run deep.' She realized it fit Giles well.

Her thoughts were interrupted when Giles emerged from the bathroom. It was evident he had showered and even shaved. 'Why would he shave twice in one day?' she wondered. He was wearing a bathrobe. Not the one she had seen before. This one was a dark green terry cloth. It looked plush and comfy. She watched him. He ignored her completely, not looking at her or acknowledging her presence as he went up the stairs. Buffy followed with her eyes as far as she could.

She sighed. He was right, she knew. They were at a crossroads. Both were adapting to all the changes in their lives in that last year of high school. The return and eventual departure of Angel, their disassociation from the Council, the treachery of both an errant Watcher and Slayer, the end of high school, both figuratively and literally, his job loss--two jobs, in fact, and her starting college, along with so many other things. Giles tried to adapt with Olivia and Buffy with Riley. Neither solution worked.

Her feelings were intense and mixed up. She wasn't good at articulating them to herself let alone to another person, but she knew she had to try with Giles. There was a gnawing feeling in her gut that if they couldn't fix this, she might lose him for good. She decided to move forward; it seemed there was nothing left to lose.


Chapter 5

Buffy stood at the bottom of the stairs and listened. What was he doing? Getting dressed, presumably. She waited a few minutes, wanting to give him time to finish, then tentatively climbed a few steps. At the first landing she listened again before continuing.

Giles closed his dresser drawer after pulling out a clean T-shirt and paused for a moment as he heard her nearing the top step. Since he had his back to her she was easy to ignore, for now. He was confounded by her persistence, though. Usually she hated being ignored and would storm off. He steeled himself for another confrontation.

As she reached the top of the stairs he turned, pulling the shirt over his head. He hadn't wanted to look at her, tried not to, but their eyes met as he turned. She looked sad, contrite, and even a little scared. Tearing his eyes away he moved to the armchair near the window and sat. He propped his feet up on the stool, picked up a book, put on his glasses and began to read. Or at least that was the plan. In truth, his mind was running through a litany of arguments he might use in response to what she could say. But he was resolved to remain silent.

Buffy watched him settle into the chair, actively ignoring her. Pretending she wasn't even in the room. She grimaced as she wandered to the opposite side of the room. His dresser was there, and she leaned against it, glancing around. On top lay his keys, spare change, a discarded tie...when was the last time she saw him in a tie? she wondered...a horse figurine carved out of wood, books, and a couple of CDs, which prompted her to look around the room until she spied a CD player, surprised to learn he even had one. Turning back to the dresser, she quickly drew in a breath, and her eyes prickled with emotion at what she had not seen before. Tucked into the mirror was the photo she had given him of the two of them. Underneath, obscured but still discernable, was the photo of the tattoo...the culprit, so to speak.

She took a moment to compose herself then turned to Giles, who was lounging, gracefully, in an overstuffed chair with a book in his hands. Just watching him for a few minutes she was struck by a casualness and an intimacy she had never been privy to before. She knew he couldn't really be as relaxed as he seemed, given the circumstances, but he put up a good front. He had on a clean pair of jeans, and a dark green short-sleeved shirt that gave her a view of his tattoo, something he rarely allowed to be seen. And he was barefoot. She smiled at the sight. His feet reminded her of his hands, large and powerful, yet somehow delicate.

She cleared her throat as an announcement that she was about to speak. She saw his slight movement at the sound. At least he could hear her, she thought.

"I know you probably hate this...me being up here, invading your space after you told me to leave." 'Good work, Buffy,' she thought. 'Remind him of how you showed a lack of respect by ignoring his request, again.' She sighed. There was no response from her Watcher.

"Okay, I'll just talk and assume you're listening...even if you're not." She paused as a thought stuck her. "Actually, it might be easier with you not listening. Or at least with me thinking you're not listening. I won't have to worry that I've said something stupid or used bad grammar. The problem is that even if I pretend you're not listening, you are listening, even though you're pretending not to. And I know it."

'Buffy logic at its best,' he thought as he tried not to shift in the chair.

She watched him, motionless except for the turn of a page of a book she hoped he was only pretending to read. She uttered another, more silent, sigh and began. "Last night my Mother told me something that you've told me before. And I figured if the two of you...two people I care about...so much..." she spoke the last two words almost in a whisper before returning to her normal voice, "...and who probably know me the best believe it, then I should too. Mom told me that I could be very perceptive when I take the time to listen. And you've told me I can hear things...feel things around me if I take the time to listen."

She paused, unsettled that he could keep up this pretense of ignoring her. Unexpectedly, she realized that although she felt certain he was listening to her words, he was truly ignoring her, so it wasn't a pretense at all. Then she was just unsettled at how easily he could ignore her.

"Usually I talk way too much when I'm stressed like this...sort of feel the need to fill the silence, and I end up saying dumb, thoughtless things." She studied him for a second, wondering if she was boring him or just annoying him even more. "...and you already know I do that, so I'll move on. I decided I'm going to try to go slow and think before I say the words for this."

She began to pace in front of the dresser, then stopped herself when she realized it was merely a substitute for talking too much.

"This afternoon...what you said...I didn't know that's how you saw it. How you saw what I had done. I really was trying to show you I cared, and I know you're not used to that from me. I guess it's like some sort of unwritten rule between us, not to show it."

She let out a sharp laugh, "It reminds me of ...remember that day when Snyder finally let me back in school? I came to the library and gave you a hard time for not welcoming me back with open arms. You said something like...of course I'm glad, it goes without saying...Well, that's the way I think about you. Of course you know I care, it goes without saying. The thing is, I think everybody finds themselves on both sides of that situation. We want to hear it from other people but don't say it often enough to others, assuming it's understood."

"Why's it so hard to say that stuff? Maybe we take people for granted...that they'll always be there. Or maybe it's basic fear of rejection." Her voice softened. "I was afraid I was losing you. Well, losing us. I know you told me to forget what you said that day, but I couldn't. And then with Olivia around, it all seemed to be going away. I felt lost. Then with Riley...he seemed to be a good way to go. A nice, normal guy. He liked me. I liked him. But I know he isn't right for me, really, not like it should be. He's a good person, and maybe he was what I needed for a short while but not forever. But I didn't know...don't know how to move on." Buffy cast another glance at Giles, who was still buried in his book. "I don't understand how I can track and kill vampires without being deathly afraid all the time, but telling someone how I feel puts a knot in my stomach like it's the end of the world. And I, of all people, should know the difference." She paused before continuing. "When I almost killed you...and then I recognized you through your eyes...it was like seeing you a new way. Differently. Everything felt different after that. A good kind of different and I didn't want to lose that."

Buffy realized she was struggling for the right words and was doing badly. Finally it seemed time to tackle the exchange from yesterday. Get it over with. She looked squarely at him and spoke firmly, at first.

"You were right yesterday. The tattoo was for me, not you. The idea came to me over a few days after my birthday, after Ethan and the demon. I played around with it in my mind until it seemed the perfect solution...well, a less than perfect one but still a solution. It seemed like a way for me to have you with me even if you weren't. I was afraid and didn't know what was going to happen to us. I needed you with me. With the tattoo I thought I could feel connected to you again, like having you touching me all the time."

Giles put the book down gently, followed by his glasses and listened to her pour out her heart to him.

"They probably think I'm a nut case at the tattoo parlor, except for this one woman...well, maybe she does too. But she was helpful and listened to my ideas and my ramblings about symbol meanings and how they related to a guy I knew." A small smile flicked across Buffy's face as she glanced up at Giles.

He wasn't looking at her but he was clearly listening.

"She actually seemed interested. Then when I came back after it healed she took the Polaroids. I remember sitting there with her, watching the images appear. I must have had a silly look on my face 'cause she turned to me and said, 'he must be a very special man.' I told her, 'yes, he is.' The thing is, even if I could use all the words you use, Giles, I don't think it would be enough to explain how special." Buffy felt her eyes filling with tears. She lowered her head and closed her eyes trying to stop the flow. When she felt more in control she looked out the window at nothing and laughed morosely at herself. "I'm rambling."

A tender voice spoke quietly from the other side of the room. "No, you're not."

Buffy's eyes shot to Giles, who was now looking at her attentively, with warmth in his eyes.

"Tell me," he said, gently urging her to continue.

A small flicker of embarrassment crossed her face, then disappeared as she continued. "She said something...that it was like a gesture of intimacy. I liked that, because that's how it felt to me, exactly what I wanted it to be. And then she commented on how pleased he's going to be when I tell him." Buffy grimaced as she remembered. "But I told her I wasn't going to tell him. She was sort of shocked. She said, 'but isn't that the whole reason you had it done, so he would know how much he means to you?' She said she had assumed he would know about it and even see it. Then she shut up. I think she was embarrassed for me."

"That was where I got the idea to show it to you, so we could share it. Then it progressed into a gift. I figured I needed a special occasion for that, you being you and all. Since there wasn't one handy I thought the birthday would be a great thing. I've wanted to have a birthday for you, but you'd never tell me, so I made one up. I made the card, put a bow on the box of doughnuts, and knocked on your door. And, well, the rest is history."

She stared at the floor for this last part of her declaration, then she looked up at him hoping to see his green eyes looking back at her, but he was looking absently toward the floor with his hand resting over his mouth. Clearly, lost in thought.

"I'm sorry I hurt you. I never meant that to happen. I don't know how to tell you ...I don't know the words for what you mean to me. I just don't want to ever be without you. That's what this horrible tattoo was supposed to say to you." Buffy felt herself straining, part of her wanted to run from the room, from his house. "Can you forgive me?" Her face reflected the hope she held as she watched him for a response.

He turned his head toward her and met her eyes, which were soft and glistening, unsure yet filled with hopeful anticipation. He leaned forward in the chair and reached his hand out to her, beckoning her to him. She walked toward him eagerly but became timid as she grew nearer, finally stopping a few feet in front of him. Giles reached out further, took her hand and pulled her closer. An overwhelming sense of awe and wonder filled him as he looked up at her, holding her hand in his. Moving slowly and cautiously, he placed his hands on either side of her waist and gently urged her to turn. Her eyes brightened as she realized what he wanted. She turned her body to face away from him.

With her back towards him and his hands on her waist, fingers to the front, thumbs to the back, he inhaled deeply to steady the slight tremble in his hands, and slowly slid them up her sides, raising her top, revealing the tattoo.

Buffy stood perfectly still as she felt his gaze on her back, studying the artwork. Inside she felt relief and joy at knowing he finally understood. She was thrilled and trembling knowing that he wanted to see the real thing, not just a photograph. Her breath caught suddenly as she felt the slightest touch. He grazed his fingertips across the exposed image and her body erupted in goosebumps. She held her breath, reveling in the unexpected sensation of his touch. He slowly swept his fingertips back in the other direction.

Giles was in awe of this moment and of her. He never expected this...to see this tribute in the flesh. He felt her catch her breath when he first touched her and hoped he wasn't frightening her. As gently as he could, he began tracing the outline of the sun with his index finger. As much of it as he could see. Only the upper portion of the tattoo was exposed. The remainder lay below the edge of her skirt. He moved his finger to trace the visible part of the Udjat and felt her begin to relax under his touch.

Time was standing still for Buffy. She was experiencing her own moment of awe followed closely by a delight she never imagined before. Each touch, each move surprised her. Just as she relished his boldness at touching her, he grew even more daring. She felt him tug lightly on the zipper of her skirt. He wanted to see more of the tattoo. She could feel him moving slowly, giving her time to stop him if she chose. She had no desire to stop him and would have told him if she hadn't feared words might break this magic spell they were being drawn into.

After the zipper was lowered, Giles cautiously pulled the edges to the side exposing more of the tattoo. It had a much greater impact in person than in the photograph. He took a moment to relive Buffy's explanation of the icons and what they meant to her. Almost imperceptibly, he slid her skirt down an inch so he could see more. Giles kept his left hand on her hip, holding the skirt in place, wanting to make Buffy feel at ease with his actions. With his right hand he began exploring the larger image area with his fingertips. This time he saw the goosebumps form on her back at his touch and he leaned in slightly, letting his breath warm her back.

She sighed inwardly at the luxurious warmth she felt. The heat went straight to her core and flowed to the rest of her body bringing it to life with a tingling sensation. She had no idea anyone or anything could have this effect on her. She knew he couldn't see the entire tattoo even with this further exploration and a new trust and daring overtook her; she wanted him to see it all. She moved her hand to rest on his left hand. Once there, she slowly pushed his hand down taking the skirt too.

Giles' world suddenly began to move in slow motion. When her hand rested on his it seemed to him as if she was giving her consent and approval of his touch, but any lingering doubts disappeared when she guided his hand and the skirt downward. In the slow motion that had overtaken him, the experience was breathtaking, and he looked up at her in amazement. Her head was tilted back slightly and she was breathing slowly, keeping time with his perceived slow motion.

When her arm was at its full extension and couldn't reach any further, he took the skirt down the rest of the way, skimming it along her leg, rather than letting it fall. He didn't want to leave any action to chance. He would guide everything as much as she would allow him. Her skirt pooled on the floor around her feet. Giles moved from the chair into a kneeling position on the floor directly behind her. His entire body was closer to her now.

While the tattoo still wasn't completely visible, the sight in front of him was exquisite beyond belief. He was at a loss as he gazed at her. The womanly curves that gave shape to the white silk beckoned to him, but he remained motionless, admiring only with his eyes. A faint smile crossed his lips as he recognized the top edging of white lace. Just as it was in the photo.

To Buffy it seemed forever since he had taken his hands from her body. She feared he had reached the end of his exploration. But her breath froze for a moment in relief as she felt him move closer to her. She could still feel his gaze and it was almost enough. She waited impatiently, willing him on. Just as she thought she couldn't wait any longer she felt a light, almost tenuous pressure of the palm of his hand against her back. She made a noise that couldn't clearly be identified as either a groan or a whimper.

Giles was spurred on, as much by her responsiveness as by his own increasing desire.

His large hand moved deliberately and languorously across her lower back to one side and then to the other as he held her hip with his other hand. She didn't know if the steadying hand was for her or him. After a while she felt the fingers of the hand caressing her back apply more pressure as he flexed them in a massage like motion. This stopped all too soon for her liking, until the feel of his hand turning, rotating until his fingers were pointing downward intrigued her. She drew in a breath and reflexively arched as she felt his hand roam downward, delving under the lace edge, until his fingertips reached the lower edge of the tattoo.

Giles' hand encompassed the entire tattoo and the slight trembling of her body matched his own trembling breath. He relished the feel of her under his hand, but he knew he'd have to move soon. The position was awkward, with his arm wrenched in an unnatural position to allow his hand to rest like this. Reluctantly letting go, he leaned his forehead against her back while his hands grasped her hips. A rush of ragged breath escaped and he felt her shudder in response.

Exploring her hips with his hands, he warmed her back with his breath a moment longer. He skimmed his fingers to the front of her hips and slowly down the front of her legs until touching her ankles. Moving his hands to the outside of her leg, he traced a path back up to her hips and repeated the action. The silky feel of her skin was intoxicating. As he reached her ankles the second time he paused and circled his fingers around her left ankle, urging her to lift her foot. When she complied, he removed her sandal and set it to the side and also moved her skirt to the side. Before lowering her foot his fingers leisurely stroked the arch and ran up the inside to her ankle, resting on a pulse point where he felt the rushing that he also felt within himself. He repeated the process with her right foot and followed by sliding his hands up the outside of her legs until they rested on her hips once more.

Buffy was in a trance as her body hummed with electricity. Basking in the sensuousness of this new experience, she allowed him everything and patiently waited for the moment she could embrace him, as she longed to do.

She felt him rise slowly, sliding his hands up her back until they reached her shoulders as he stood behind her. She didn't move, waiting for him to guide her. His hands left her shoulders. She heard a rustling noise and felt a movement of air behind her. Anticipation and desire were burning in her as she waited, not knowing what he was doing. Suddenly she sensed him moving his feet, and she looked down to see him slide his right foot next to hers, nestling up close so their bare feet touched. His left foot took its place on the other side of her. At the same moment she felt him settling himself against her back. Instinctively she leaned her body into him and let out a rush of breath as she felt her shoulders resting against his bare chest. The bare skin of her shoulders touching his bare skin. She felt hot and cold at the same time as she leaned her head back against him, searching for greater contact. She felt his fingers touching her fingers and then quickly glide up her arms causing shivers and small sounds she didn't know she was capable of. His hands lingered at her shoulders, caressing until he glided back down her arms much more slowly.

The silky skin and feather fine hair on her arms felt like velvet to Giles. He touched her like this again and again and again, reveling in both the tactile experience and sounds she was making, marveling that he caused this in her. He felt his own passion for her rising at a pace he didn't want to resist and he answered it by snaking his arm around her waist and pulling her body firmly against his.

Buffy melded her body to his and gasped as she felt a part of him she'd never known before pressing into her lower back, just about where the tattoo was. She moved her arm over his, the one enclosing her waist and lifted her head up, and in, toward him, seeking more of him. Giles lowered his head and brushed his lips against the soft skin of her shoulder.

They were lost to the world. Aware only of each other.

It was understandable neither heard the knocks on the front door followed by the door opening and closing.

It was only on the second calling out of 'Giles' that they were both abruptly pulled from their shared trance. They froze, trying to discern what was going on. Buffy clasped her hand tighter against his, her startled heart racing. Giles pulled her protectively tighter to him and moved his mouth to her ear whispering a barely audible, "shhhhh." They remained like that for a moment, Giles' warm breath caressing her ear as they both listened to the sounds emanating from below. They heard footsteps moving into the living room and his name called again: Willow's voice.

Buffy almost groaned in frustration. Giles whispered a reassuring, "Shhhh. She'll leave." His confidence bolstered her and she began to melt again when she felt his lips and tongue caressing the outer edges of her ear. She shivered and let out a breath.

Each felt a wave of relief along with a renewed anticipation when they heard the door open-until they heard it slam, trailed by Xander's voice.

"Willow, where's the G-man?" Xander asked, followed by a bellow. "Giles!?"

"Damn," Giles hissed, slowly straightening up. He stepped back slightly from her, his hands moving to her shoulders, Buffy whimpering quietly as she slumped in defeat.

Chapter 6

Giles turned his head away from Buffy's ear and toward the stairwell. Speaking loudly to be sure they heard him and called out, "I'll be right down."

He put his mouth against her ear again and whispered, "Get dressed and come downstairs." Then, grabbing his T-shirt from the chair where it had landed, he walked toward the stairs. He had the shirt on before he hit the first step. Acutely aware of the state of his body he stopped at the top step to compose himself, which wasn't easy, particularly because it was the last thing he wanted to do. What he wanted was Willow and Xander to get the hell out of his flat. 'Damn, why did I leave the door unlocked? And what the bloody hell makes them think it's acceptable to just walk right in!' He knew that each of them on their own most likely would have left if he hadn't answered, but as a pair they were unrelenting. If they came here for a reason, which presumably they had, they wouldn't leave without at least some investigation. He could just imagine Willow's thought processes: 'Maybe Giles went out. He left the door unlocked so he must be nearby. We'll wait.' And one of them would come up with the bright idea of checking the bedroom. 'Maybe he's sleeping...or hurt up there! We better check.' The thought of Willow and Xander walking in on him and Buffy half-naked was what finally did the trick. The mood was gone along with any physical evidence that it had existed. Giles cursed them silently and walked down the stairs.

As he reached the bottom step he saw Xander had already staked his claim to one end of the couch. Willow was standing near his desk and raised her hand in a gesture of hello, but before Giles could say a word, there was a knock on the door. Willow was closest and opened it to Tara and Riley. Giles' gut seized up. Riley. The frustration and anger he already felt toward Willow and Xander increased tenfold.

"Hello, Mister Giles." Riley spoke first.

"Hello, Riley. Tara." Giles nodded to each in turn, fighting to keep a tone of professional distance in his voice. Even with the anger boiling inside, he was too much of a gentleman to be rude to Tara.

"Hi," Tara replied meekly, as she ducked her head trying not to be noticed.

He turned to Willow and then Xander, who had his feet on the coffee table. Giles shot him an especially withering glare and the feet came down immediately.

"To what do I owe this visit?" He reached up to remove his glasses for a perfunctory cleaning and found he'd left them upstairs.

"Well, we were in the neighborhood and figured we stop in to say hey. Hey." Willow chimed in cheerily.

He got the distinct impression they had all been discussing the need to spend more time with him...his need, not theirs...at least as they saw it. He knew that Willow felt badly about being the one to tell him Riley Finn was a commando. She was most likely the one behind this 'lets visit Giles' mission, though he wasn't sure why Riley and Tara were there. One could only assume they were being assimilated into the group. 'Lucky day,' he thought disdainfully.

"And we're lookin' for Buffy," Xander added. Willow punched his arm. Xander winced.

"She'll be down in a minute." Giles decided not to offer any explanation as to why she was upstairs, which the two Scoobies knew contained only his bedroom. He wasn't going to pretend she wasn't there but he also wasn't going to say anything that might make it uncomfortable for Buffy...or him.

Willow and Xander each glanced toward the stairs, puzzled. A moment later Buffy descended, coming to a dead stop at the bottom. She knew Willow and Xander were there, but hadn't expected Riley. The warm tingling sensations she'd hoped to hang on to immediately vanished. She suddenly felt confused.

'Oh God,' she thought, 'now what do I do?' She consciously avoided looking at Giles and desperately wished everyone would go home, but she knew better.

"Hi guys," she said weakly.

"Hi, Buffy." Riley walked to her and leaned down to kiss her. She turned her head so his kiss landed on her cheek rather than the intended lips.

"Hey, Buff. Whatchya doin' upstairs?" Xander asked. The same question had been on Willow's mind. Neither Tara nor Riley knew what was upstairs so they hadn't given it much thought.

"Oh, well, I... I was looking for something to wear. I came over for some spur of the moment training but forgot my workout clothes. Giles thought he might have something. Then you guys showed up and put the kibosh on it for now. No big. "

Giles was impressed with the realistic explanation she came up with. Willow and Xander seemed to accept it.

Riley spoke up. "I can train with you later if you want, Buffy."

Giles clenched his jaw as he waited for Buffy's response.

But before she could say anything the door opened again and Anya swept into the room. "Xander, there you are!" She joined him on the couch, in his lap almost. Xander smiled, slightly embarrassed.

"Uh...well...maybe...okay, later." Buffy stammered in Riley's direction, still not daring to look at Giles.

"So, any demon parties or other hellmouthy fun going on that we should know about?" Xander asked, as he enjoyed Anya's attentions.

"No, nothing, all's quiet," Giles stated flatly. He was standing ramrod straight, arms crossed, blocking the doorway to the hall and entry to the kitchen, hoping they would all heed the message that he wasn't in the mood for a visit, and leave. Unfortunately, he knew they had never been quick to pick up on the subtleties of body language, especially Xander.

"Well, if there's nothing big and you're not going to train, what about a pizza at the student union? There's a party later at the Delta Gamma house." Willow offered up. As soon as she said it she caught Buffy's glare. Between Giles' grim non-talky routine and Buffy's look, she could tell something was up, but couldn't figure out what. Then she remembered that the whole point was to spend time with Giles. Yikes, she had to back pedal.

"Well...uh...uh," she stammered as she desperately looked at Buffy and tried to recover from her blunder. "We can order pizza in, for here. Sit around and talk. Hey, that would be fun. We haven't done that in a while."

At this point Giles dropped his arms in defeat and turned into the kitchen, ignoring everyone. He kicked a stray pipe out his way and put the kettle on.

"Well, I don't know, Will..." Buffy stammered.

"Xander and I can't. We're going back to his room to..." Anya's revelation was quickly cut off by Xander.

"An, we can stay for a while."

"But Xander, I'm wearing the black silk bra you like and the new panties you bought me." She looked at the group with a self-satisfied smile. "They're edible," she announced.

Giles leaned his forehead against the fridge with a quiet groan, while everyone else tried to ignore Anya's announcement.

Riley finally broke the uncomfortable silence. "Buffy, we talked about doing something together tonight, remember, since we didn't yesterday."

"Hey, we're supposed to do something as a group, like we used to. That's the whole point of tonight, and that includes Giles." Willow displayed her resolve face and was proud of herself for keeping everyone on track.

Buffy moved to Willow's side and whispered to her friend. "Will, what's with all this group stuff? It's the first I've heard."

Willow whispered, "Xander and I talked it over. After Giles' demon thing and you not telling him about Riley being a commando..." Buffy grimaced. "...We thought it would be good to include Giles in more stuff, like it used to be, ya know, before... "

Buffy nodded and sighed. "Yeah, I know." Her voice belied the regret she felt.

"We thought we could liven it up with Tara and Riley, new blood. Anya we couldn't avoid, no matter how hard we tried. Do you think it's a good idea? Giles will like?"

"Yeah, nice idea, Will."

At this point Giles straightened up and spoke. "It's very thoughtful of you all to want to include me in your evening, but I have plans of my own." Then quickly added, "That I can't change."

The room went silent. Buffy gave Giles a questioning look, wondering what he had planned without her. Then it dawned on her that he was making this up just to get rid of everyone so they could be alone, to finish what he had started, or was it what she had started...what they had started.

Her mind flooded with memories of the earlier encounter. The tingling flowed through her body again as she remembered. Just his touch and the warmth of his breath on her back had ignited a fire that she had never experienced before. Not even with Angel. Not Scott, Parker, or Riley. 'Damn. Riley.' She'd have to get him alone to break it off gently. She'd have to get Giles alone to tell him of her plan to break it off with Riley. This was getting complicated. Momentary panic settled in. Maybe Giles wasn't interested in a long term or permanent thing. Maybe it was just one night stand. She began to feel insecure and nervous until she told herself: 'no, that's not Giles.' Her mind drifted back to his touch and she was lost to the world again.

"Buffy?"

"Buffy?"

"Buffy?' Riley's voice didn't make contact.

"Yo, Earth to Buffy?!" Xander's voice finally broke through. "Off in your own little Buffadonia?"

Everyone was looking at her.

Riley spoke. "Buffy, since Mister Giles has plans, maybe we could do something tonight, a party, a movie or anything you like."

Buffy looked at him as if she didn't even know who he was.

"Yes, feel free to be on your way, all of you, any time now," Giles' chimed in from the kitchen. He was anxious to get rid of all of them. Well, not Buffy, but he saw little hope of her staying at this point, not with everyone there, not with Riley there. Recapturing the moment seemed out of the question, for now.

"But Giles..." Willow tried to find an argument to convince him to change his mind.

Suddenly a new voice broke through. "Oh, it's Wednesday night. Your night at the Espresso Pump."

Everyone looked at Tara who had just spoken for the first time since arriving. It was easy to forget she was even there, until now. She spoke with a confidence that she rarely let slip out and she had a lovely smile on her face.

Giles looked at her in horror. Fortunately she didn't see it since she had turned to Willow, who was quietly asking her what she meant.

"What?! What do you do at the Espresso Pump?" Buffy asked in dismay when she realized that his plans might not include her after all, not to mention there was something going on in his life she didn't know about.

"What gives, big guy? You get a job waiting tables?" Xander added which earned him another glare.

Giles paused while considering what to tell them. He felt quite certain they didn't deserve an answer, but knew they would demand it and refuse to leave without some information to feast on. Maybe he should tell them he was waiting tables. He'd probably get less grief than the truth would most certainly elicit.

Before he could respond, Tara added, "Friends took me last week; they had been the week before too. You were wonderful." She offered her comments to Giles with genuine warmth in her eyes, then looked away sheepishly.

She seemed like a sweet girl, and sincere. Giles warmed to her.

"Wednesday night is old fogies' night at the Pump," Anya added matter-of-factly, as if that explained why Giles might want to be there.

'Here it comes,' he thought, closing his eyes.

Tara spoke up again, "Well, it's actually sort of a classics night. At least that's what they call it. The music was beautiful. Some of it I recognized, some was completely new to me. There were older people there but a lot of college students too. A nice mixed crowd."

Buffy returned her gaze to Giles and frowned. "So Giles, what exactly do you do there?"

Giles sighed and looked gently at Tara, a silent plea in his eyes. His expression gave her his implicit permission to tell them all so that he could avoid doing it. He turned to take the kettle off the burner, hoping she understood.

"Oh, he sings," she stated gently, very perceptive young woman that she was.

A stunned silence filled the room.

"Huh?" From Xander.

One could hear the proverbial pin drop in the room as everyone stared at Giles.

"You sing?" Buffy's tone was incredulous. Those were the only words she could manage. She was too overwhelmed with trying to process the information. Her Watcher, middle-aged, tweed clad, glasses wearing, lover of musty books ...'hmmm, lover, oh yeah.' Okay, she could see him doing something other than his usual. After all he had given up the tweed long ago, had taken up running, and had incredible hands...but sing?

"Yes, I sing. I perform at the Espresso Pump on Wednesday nights." He spoke as if confessing to a dire crime. He occupied his hands by drying dishes, which were already quite dry.

"H...How long?" Willow stammered, trying to picture it.

"This will be the fourth week."

Tara nodded at Willow with bright eyes. "He's very good. You should hear him."

Giles almost dropped a dish.

"Hey, we could do that tonight." Willow perked up, thrilled to have found a group activity again.

Giles again closed his eyes in dismay.

"No," he stated authoritatively "Definitely not."

He looked gently at Tara, "Tara, thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed it. "

Then he scanned the rest of the group, specifically Willow, Xander and Buffy, "But the rest of you won't like it at all. Lots of old people. The music is too quiet. Not to your tastes, I'm sure. And there's no dancing."

"Wait a minute. I want to hear you sing." Buffy was feeling peeved.

Willow added, "Yeah, Giles."

"No. You lot will just be in my way. Go do whatever it is you do on Wednesday nights."

Willow was puzzled. He didn't sound like the Giles they knew. He sounded like he was mad...at them.

Buffy's mind started racing. 'Well, if he thinks he can get rid of me that easily he's got another thing coming. I'm not leaving here. So there,' she thought.

Riley chose that moment to move closer to Buffy. He placed his hand on the small of her back and leaned in to talk to her, suggesting they could go to the Bronze or see a movie.

Already in a very ugly mood, Giles saw Riley put his hand on Buffy's back and froze. He perceived it as a possessive act and that boy's hand was on his birthday gift. He fought the urge to go over there and knock the prat down, or better yet draw a sword. He got great satisfaction out of imagining running him through with a saber or lopping off his head with a broadsword.

Instead, he intentionally let go of the mug in his hand. It was his favorite pale green, glass mug. One he'd been using for years, but he didn't give it a second thought. The sound of it hitting the floor and cracking into several pieces drew everyone's attention, as he had hoped it would. His intent was to get Riley's hand off Buffy and it worked. Buffy quickly moved toward Giles, as did Willow, to make sure he was okay and to see what happened.

"Whoa, slippery fingers. Hey wasn't that Spike's mug?" Xander grinned.

Anya smiled up at Xander as if he'd said something remarkable.

Giles wished he had thought fast enough to drop the mug co-opted for Spike's use, but it was a decision made in the heat of battle and sacrifices had to be made.

After a few moments of general commotion passed including Buffy and Willow fussing over him, Giles looked toward Riley waiting to catch his eyes. Riley felt Giles' stare and glanced at him. He had only been around Giles a couple times and never would have believed him capable of such a predatory look. Caught off guard, Riley stiffened and looked away. Giles smugly turned up the corners of his mouth slightly and shifted his attention back to Buffy and Willow, who were trying to sweep up the mess and assess his situation.

"What happened, Giles?" Buffy asked, concerned. She reached out to touch his arm but retreated.

"It slipped." Giles shrugged innocently and stepped around a few stray pieces.

Willow finished sweeping up but not before asking what he'd been doing in the kitchen anyway. It was a mess.

Buffy put her hand on her forehead and shook her head slightly as she recalled her unnerving encounter with Giles in the kitchen earlier that afternoon.

Her Watcher was the first to see it, as always.

"What's wrong?" He moved toward her, concerned.

"Oh, nothing. I'm all right." She wanted to walk into his arms, melt in his embrace and wondered why she wouldn't allow herself.

Giles was suddenly in full Watcher mode, brooking no protest. "Buffy, I want you to go home and rest this evening. No patrolling, no going out." Buffy's mouth fell open.

He turned to Willow. "She told me she didn't get much sleep last night. I want you to stay with her and make sure she rests."

Concerned that this was something serious, Willow nodded and immediately moved closer to Buffy, casting quick glances at her.

He turned to Xander but couldn't think of anything useful for him to do in this instance, so he waved them off. "Xander and Anya, you do whatever it is you had planned." Anya was pleased not to be given an assignment.

He looked sternly at each person as he issued his directives. Then it was Riley's turn.

Riley noted that without his glasses, Giles could look very menacing with that glare. "Riley, Buffy needs to stay in tonight and rest. You'll have to postpone your plans." It was not a request, not a suggestion but an order.

Riley was astonished. 'Who the hell did this guy think he was giving him orders and ordering Buffy and her friends around? And they were all feeding right into it. He's just an old, out-of-work librarian.' Riley was more confused than ever about the relationship between Giles and Buffy.

Giles then turned to Tara. His voice softened and he spoke gently to her. "Tara, I'm sorry to ask this of you. I don't know what you had planned for this evening but if you could see your way clear to help Willow look after Buffy I would appreciate it. She can be a handful sometimes."

"Hey!" Buffy sputtered. And why was she suddenly being treated like an invalid?

Tara smiled shyly and nodded, clearly pleased to be included and particularly pleased that he asked her to help Willow, as if he knew nothing would make her happier.

"I told you, I'm fine," Buffy blurted at him.

Giles gave her a pointed look. "Don't argue with me on this, Buffy."

She just frowned.

Giles walked to the door and opened it.

Willow and Tara were the first to get the not-so-subtle hint. "Oh, okay, I guess you need to get ready for tonight. Bye, Giles, and good luck," Willow said as the two slowly walked out.

"Come on, Xander. He wants us to leave now." Anya took Xander's hand and led him to the door. Xander looked questioningly at Buffy, but followed Anya dutifully.

"Buffy, we should probably go, too. Mister Giles has things to do." Riley moved next to Buffy again and began to take her hand, which she held back. He added quickly, as he remembered the orders issued, "And you need to rest."

Giles wasn't looking at them. It was too maddening, but he was pleased to hear that Buffy wouldn't be with Riley tonight.

"Giles?" She began. "Maybe I should...?"

Giles looked at her. His eyes had softened somewhat as the group began to trickle out, but instead of suggesting a reason for her to stay he inclined his head toward the door and gestured toward it. He saw the hurt on Buffy's face. "Go home and rest, Buffy. I'll talk to you later," he said gently.

She perked up a little but was still uncertain. "You will?"

"Of course," he replied softly.

Buffy walked toward the door, Riley following close behind her. She found it difficult to pass Giles without some additional contact-- talking, touching, anything -- but he seemed to want it this way, so she acquiesced, for once.

Giles couldn't resist giving Riley a subtle glare when he walked by.

As they left, he closed the door behind them.


Willow and Xander were waiting in the courtyard for Buffy. She joined them in a huddle while their three companions stayed to the outside of the closed circle.

"Major conference time," Willow said with earnestness.

They all heard the click of the door lock sliding into place and looked in astonishment, first at the door and then each other.

Willow's eyes were big as a frown appeared. "Did you hear that?! He locked the door. Buffy, I'm worried."

"Yeah, he's acting weird," Xander added.

"The only time I've seen him act like this...you know...protective and mad at that same time...is when someone was trying to hurt you," Willow said and, suddenly even more worried, followed quickly with, "Is someone trying to hurt you?"

"No, Will. I think he's just kind of freaked about the Espresso Pump thing. That we all know, ya know?" Buffy replied.

At this point, Riley, who had been listening to the conversation, interjected. "Why would your high-school librarian protect you from someone who's trying to hurt you? Are you talking about Slayer stuff? Does he know?"

Willow and Xander glanced sideways at Riley and then back at Buffy who was wearing a slightly contrite expression.

"I see there are a few things we haven't shared yet," Xander commented quietly. Willow looked up at Buffy feeling her sheepishness.

"I didn't want to hit him with everything at once." Buffy defended herself in a whisper.

"Okay, let's get back to Giles. So are you going tonight?" Willow looked at both Xander and Buffy.

Xander sighed. "I don't know, Will. The whole thing is just too...too...freaky to even think about."

"I'm going. There's no way he can keep me away."

"Wait a minute, you're sick. Giles told you to stay home and I'm supposed to make sure you do." Willow suddenly was stricken with a renewed sense of responsibility.

"Will, I'm not sick. Maybe a little tired. And, anyway, since when do I do everything Giles says?" Buffy added defiantly. "I'm going to the Pump tonight."

"Well, then Tara and I are going too."

"Like I said, not me."

"Yes, you are," Anya's voice chimed in from behind Xander. She was grinning.

"Oh, God," Xander moaned.

The three couples scattered in the directions of their respective dwellings. Riley accompanied Buffy, although she barely noticed.


Chapter 7

Giles entered the Espresso Pump through the side door about 25 minutes before he was to go on. He walked into the back room, unpacked his guitar and began tuning it. Carol, one of the waitresses, saw him come in and brought him a beer. Only his fourth night here and already he had a ritual. Before coming to Pump on that first night, he had a couple shots of whiskey at home in an attempt to settle his nerves. It proved not to be the best idea, and, since then, it was enough just to have a beer once he arrived. Carol knew his schedule and kept an eye out for him, always delivering the draft within minutes of his appearance.

She chatted him up tonight, filling him in on this week's drama in her life. He actually enjoyed hearing about her problems, the puppy refusing to be housebroken, her boyfriend's difficulties in chem' class. Mundane compared to the problems he was used to and, at the same time, more interesting than his life had become. Before she headed back out to the floor she made a song request. Giles smiled and nodded.

He loitered around the back exchanging greetings with the staff and responding to hurried song requests. 'They look busy tonight,' he thought. One waiter, Chad, came over to talk and in minutes had Giles laughing out loud at his vivid descriptions of some outrageous customer interactions earlier in the week. Chad always had a different slant on life. Reminded him of Oz, except that he talked more and had a wider variety of facial expressions.

He enjoyed coming here. It was relaxing and fun and it felt good for a few hours each week to let go of demons and vampires...and Buffy. He sighed. Now she knew about this. She knew several things about him she hadn't known just yesterday. He hoped she had done as he told her, but had a strong feeling otherwise.

Just then Gary, the owner, was at his side shooing Chad back to work. "We've got a full house tonight, Rupert. Standing room only," he stated with satisfaction.

"Good," Giles responded. He liked a full house. That meant Gary made money and he would be asked back so that Gary could make more money, as would he. Of course, that was based on the assumption the crowd came to see him and not simply to partake in the mochas.

"Ready to go on?"

Giles responded with a quick nod.

"Right." Gary strode off to the floor onto center stage where he began his spiel of welcoming the crowd.

As Giles waited to hear his name, Diane came over with a tray of drinks in one hand. A pretty blonde with blue eyes and a warm inviting smile. She paused at his side and leaned in slightly, resting her hand gently on his arm. "Will you sing 'Blue Eyes' for me tonight, Rupert?" she asked, with a hint of the sad look he had grown accustomed to from her.

"Of course." He brushed his fingers across her hand in a comforting response.

As she drifted off to deliver her wares, she held his eyes and mouthed, "thank you." He felt a kinship with her. They shared a sadness and longing. She for her husband who was in his second month of a six month tour of duty on a US Navy ship, he for Buffy. Only it was different now. He had hope. 'There was hope to be had.' He smiled at the thought and his use of a phrase he'd learnt from her. The problem was Riley. She seemed to be struggling with her feelings and needed time to figure things out. He decided that he would to talk to her, alone, then he would be patient. On the other hand he could push her on it. Sometimes Buffy needed a good push, but then other times too much pressure resulted in bad decisions.

Before he could finish his internal debate, he heard his name. Taking a deep breath, he walked out to center stage.

It wasn't really a stage at all, just a section of the floor that had been cleared of tables. He had a straight back chair and a microphone, which he didn't need, but Gary insisted. There was a soft spotlight encircling his space, separating him from the patrons who were just a few feet away. Settling into the chair, he smiled briefly at the crowd. He glanced around the room, nodding to a few people he recognized as regulars.

Then he saw them.

He gulped and began to feel a little lightheaded. 'Why should this small group of young people he knew so well, bother him so?' He couldn't believe they had all come. He had a feeling Buffy wouldn't stay home as he had instructed, but why did she have to come here? And bring him? Giles quickly pulled himself together with an internal pep talk...'To hell with them. They don't have to like it and I can just ignore them. This is my space not theirs. They won't last long, I wager. Too boring.'

He took another deep breath and watched his fingers forming the chords as he began the intro to 'Behind Blue Eyes.' There was a murmur of recognition from the crowd.

Diane delivered drinks to their table just as Giles began the song. She paused, smiled at him and sighed with a far off look on her face. Buffy noticed. She noticed Buffy noticing.

"He's singing that one for me," she told Buffy with a smile.

Buffy stiffened and eyed the woman, jealousy taking hold of her. But the feeling dissipated easily when she turned and listened to her Watcher sing for the first time. He had a beautiful voice. She didn't know what she had expected, but it wasn't this. Earlier that day he astonished her with his touch and now this voice. 'Quite a day of discovery,' she thought.

When the song ended Buffy and Willow turned to each other and gasped in wide-eyed unison, "Wow."

Giles had told himself he wasn't going to look at them or even acknowledge their presence, but he couldn't help casting a surreptitious glance their way to check reactions, against his better judgement. He saw Buffy and Willow, heads together, whispering.

At about the fifth song Buffy began to realize she might not know many of them, if any. What was that wonderful languid romantic number...the second song...something about how she moves? It curled her toes. She asked Willow quickly before the next one started. She told her it was a Beatles song. Buffy started to panic; how was she going to tell Giles her favorites if she didn't know the names? She would sound like an idiot. She'd heard the blue eyes song before but didn't know the name, and another having something to do with not being able to find his way home. Then there was the one about a perfect day, and 'just who is this John Barlycorn guy, and why did he have to die?'

Then her eyes grew wide as he began the next song in French. At this point she decided not to think anymore, feeling would be enough. She and Willow both sighed and seemed to melt into their chairs as Tara smiled and nestled into her chair a little more too. Buffy could feel his distinctive voice sweep her off into her own fantasies and memories of the afternoon...the good part.

Anya turned to Xander and announced, "He's singing in French. That's a French song. They're usually very sad songs and kinda sexy too. This one's about regret."

"How do you know?" Xander whispered to her.

"I speak French." She stated with a tone that implied, 'doesn't everyone?' Then she remembered these were mortals, humans, and Americans. Being that Giles was a foreigner, she wasn't surprised he knew French, at least enough to sing it well.

Buffy kept her gaze fixed on Giles most of the time, luxuriating in the feel of his voice, pretending it was just the two of them, wishing it was. A couple times she and Willow looked at each other, amazed this was their Giles and they hadn't known.

Riley thought the whole thing was pretentious. He was bored but willing to stay if it meant being close to Buffy. He moved his chair behind her, hoping she would lean back into him but when she didn't, he leaned closer to her. He softly caressed her arm, her shoulder, and her hair with his fingers. When Buffy realized he was touching her, she was amazed how different it felt from Giles' touch. It made her feel uncomfortable. Already leaning forward in an unconscious attempt to get closer to Giles, she tried but couldn't move any further from Riley.

She turned to him. "Riley, it's kind of warm in here, could you lean back and give me a little room, for air circulation?"

"Do you want to go outside and get some fresh air? We don't have to stay here," Riley said, hoping he could convince her to leave.

"No, just a little space would be nice." She was definitely going to have a talk with Riley after this but didn't want to miss any of the singing so she swiftly returned her attention to Giles.

A few times, even while listening to his beautiful singing, she struggled with her insecurities. Had he really meant it, all the touching...was it real? Or was he just...after all, he never even kissed her. But then, they had been interrupted. She wondered how far he had been prepared to go. If he hadn't been sincere, what was he doing? But Giles didn't enter into frivolous relationships as far as she knew. Although this troubadour gig clearly lent itself to some dreamy-eyed women, she noticed with a look around the room. He had ample opportunity here if he wanted it. And there was Olivia. But Olivia hadn't been a frivolous relationship; they had known each other for years. Did Giles really want her, Buffy Summers? Why would he? He could have so many other women, smarter, more sophisticated than her. But she wanted him, she was certain.

Meanwhile, Riley grudgingly did as she asked, but he wasn't willing to let go completely. He shifted his chair to the side a bit and placed his hand on her hip then moved it so it rested on her upper thigh slightly to the outside of her leg. Buffy was too engrossed in her Watcher to notice.

Giles was too aware of Buffy not to notice.

But he didn't have a mug to drop this time. Glancing at the wall clock he saw that it was coming up on an hour. As he tried to rein in the fierceness that was building inside, he made a quick decision to close this set with a song he'd never performed in public before.

Giles didn't generally talk while performing so when he spoke this time, everyone took notice.

"This next song is for Buffy." He was looking down at the mic' as he said it, then slowly raised his eyes to her.

Several patrons turned to see who it was that he was looking at, but they couldn't tell exactly which of the four women at the table it was. Two of them looked flustered, one was all grins, and the fourth looked puzzled.

Buffy gulped and hugged herself close as she felt a flush rising. Willow 'eeped' and turned to Buffy, patting her friend excitedly on the arm as a huge grin grew on her face. She had a tremendous urge to jump up and point out Buffy to the crowd, but thought better of it. Tara was flustered at having people look toward them but enjoyed Willow's exuberance.

"Why is Giles singing a song to Buffy?" Anya asked, finding humans very perplexing. Xander just shrugged.

Riley was confused and oddly wary. He couldn't see Buffy's face since he had positioned himself behind her, but he looked up at Giles and didn't like what he saw. A wave of possessiveness washed over him.

Giles was looking directly at Buffy. Everything and everyone had fallen out of his view, he only saw her as he began to sing. He didn't care any more. He had nothing left to lose.

               'Every breath you take'
               'Every move you make' 
               'Every bond you break' 
               'Every step you take' 

               'I'll be watching you'

Her mouth fell open slightly. A shiver ran through her as her flesh rose with goosebumps, her fingers digging into her arms, trying to hang onto something. She couldn't tear her eyes away from his; she didn't want to.

After hearing the opening lyrics, Anya leaned to Xander and whispered loudly, "Oh, I get it. It's a Watcher song. That makes sense."

'Quite a possessive Watcher song, to boot,' Xander thought to himself.

Seeing Buffy's fingers digging into her arms, Willow took one of her friend's hands in her own, giving her an anchor. Buffy clung to her for dear life.

               'Every single day' 
               'Every word you say' 
               'Every game you play' 
               'Every night you stay' 

               'I'll be watching you' 

               'Oh can't you see' 
               'You belong to me' 
               'How my poor heart aches with every step you take'

Buffy tried to take a deep breath but it seemed impossible; her lungs refused to work. She felt completely exposed and vulnerable as he took possession of her soul. He was claiming her, right there in front of all these people. Her body was tingling and she had that unnerving hot and cold feeling again.

Riley scowled at Giles, but Giles looked only at Buffy and continued singing.

               'Every move you make' 
               'Every vow you break' 
               'Every smile you fake' 
               'Every claim you stake' 

               'I'll be watching you' 

               'Since you've gone I've been lost without a trace' 
               'I dream at night I can only see your face' 
               'I look around but it's you I can't replace' 
               'I feel so cold and I long for your embrace' 
               'I keep crying baby, baby please' 

She thought she was going to die. 'Please,' she thought, 'anything to end this painful longing inside..'

               'Every move you make' 
               'Every vow you break' 
               'Every smile you fake' 
               'Every claim you stake' 

               'I'll be watching you'

Then it stopped.

'And the rest is silence,' she heard whispered. The words sounded only in her mind but it was his voice. She let out a small gasp and let go of Willow as she finally began breathing again.

Giles stood up and left the performance area as the crowd enthusiastically applauded and cheered.

Anya was heard to say, "Well, that was very pleasant."

Xander gave a tentative smile and looked at Willow.

Willow's hand ached.

Riley dropped his head, grateful Giles had finished.

Buffy followed Giles with her eyes as he walked off. She didn't understand. She'd thought he would come to her or at least look at her, asking her to come to him. But he didn't and it hurt.

Every part of her ached for him as she watched him walk to the bar where the bartender had a beer ready and where several women had quickly gathered. He barely had time for a swallow before they were cozying up to him, complimenting him, wanting to talk to him, get to know him. And he was chatting, smiling, and nodding his thanks. There were several more hovering, waiting for their moment to speak to him.

Buffy realized she wasn't feeling hurt anymore, now she was pissed. Her eyes bore into the women as she imagined throwing each one through a window, especially that brunette who just handed him her card. She wanted to scream at them, 'He's mine! Didn't you just see, didn't you hear!'

An unexpected touch on her shoulder startled her so much she almost went into fight stance. Her head whipped around to stare angrily into Riley's eyes, then she took a quick breath and tried to recover as he looked concerned.

"Buffy, I think he's done. This might be a good time to get that fresh air now. You do look a little flushed and you weren't feeling well earlier this evening. I think I should take you home." He knew he was grasping at straws but it might get her out of here.

Just then Diane appeared to take drink orders. A worried Willow asked her, "Is it over?"

"No, not at all. He's just taking a break. Rupert would prefer to keep going but the owner insists on a break. People spend more when he's not performing. He's got one more set. He'll go back on in a little while."

"Oh good," Anya said emphatically.

Tara agreed with a fervent nod, "Yes."

Understanding their delight, Diane smiled at them as she took orders. Buffy glanced at her. She didn't like the way she referred to Giles as Rupert. It was much too familiar. On an impulse, fed by her anger, she turned to Willow and spoke quietly to her friend. "Will, Riley and I are going outside for a while."

Willow nodded.

Buffy turned back to Finn. "Riley, let's go outside. We need to talk."


Giles watched Buffy and Riley leave. His stare was fixed on the door through which they had disappeared, his mind mired in frustration. He had only half expected her to come to him, but he never expected her to leave. His heart sank. It seemed she had made her choice.

A tug on his arm pulled him out of his thoughts.

"Willow?"

"Giles, you were great! Fantastic. Unbelievable. I didn't know you could do that." She excitedly ran on until she saw his growing discomfort at the extended compliments and stopped herself with a final, "Very nice."

Tara agreed with a simple, "Yes, Mister Giles, you were wonderful."

"Thank you, both." He returned their smiles.

"Um, Giles?" Willow spoke a little hesitantly. "I think maybe I should warn you about something."

He leaned in so he could hear her more clearly above the noise in the room and steeled himself for whatever might come next. He took a gulp of his drink hoping it would steady him.

"Anya told Xander that she wants a copy of your CD. She said it would be good for...well...you know...getting her in the mood." Willow blushed slightly. "Only she didn't use those exact words."

Giles almost choked on his beer as he gave Willow a look that would have made any deer caught in headlights proud.

She continued, "Xander told her that you don't have a CD. But when we left the table she was trying to talk him into asking you to make one. So I just wanted you to be forewarned...not surprised if either of them mention it."

"Ah, I see, well, thank you." He grimaced, fully aware of the conversation topics Anya could bring up, and, at the same time, slightly elated at not hearing the news he expected, that Buffy had gone home with Riley.

"Uh, did Buffy and Riley leave?" he asked, wanting to sound as if he was casually changing the subject.

"No, I don't think so. Buffy just wanted to talk to Riley outside, you know, where it's quieter and more private, I think." She nodded and Tara did too.

"I see." Was his only response.

"Oh, wait, there she is now," Tara said and the other two turned to look. Their gazes followed her as she returned to the table.

"I wonder where Riley is?" Willow asked Tara.

"Men's room, maybe?" Tara replied.

Giles stood tall and looked at Buffy as he tried to figure out what was going on. 'Where was Riley?' In the meantime, Anya had quickly seized Buffy's attention. She glanced in his direction a few times but Anya continued to pull her back. He could imagine what Anya was saying to her

Giles turned to Willow and asked thoughtfully and slowly, "Willow...what do you think of Riley?"

She fidgeted before answering innocuously, "Well, he's nice...polite...he won't bite her or anything and that's good." She looked up at Giles and saw a grim smile.

"What do you think of him?" Tara asked, feeling brave.

Both Willow and Tara waited curiously for his response.

He looked at Buffy and back to them. "Do either of you know what a pillock is?"

The girls shook their heads, but seemed interested in knowing.

Before he could say anything more, Chad walked by, pointed to the clock and inclined his head toward the stage area. Giles shot a startled look at the clock and quickly finished his beer, readying himself to get back to the stage. Just before he walked away he leaned closer to Willow and Tara and said, "It's what I think of Riley."

Each noted an odd smile on his face, almost a smirk.

Back on stage, Giles picked up his guitar and launched into the next set. After a couple numbers he finally looked in Buffy's direction, a bit nervous at what he might see. Their eyes met. Buffy seemed shy at first, as a slow small smile crossed her lips and finally emerged into a full, radiant smile. He basked in her warmth and couldn't hold back his own distinctive half smile before looking away. Over the course of the next hour he looked at her often, thrilled to find her eyes always on him, and Riley nowhere in sight. Giles was happy, almost giddy with relief and joy.


No one noticed as he silently reentered the room. He stood in the back among others who either couldn't find a seat or who chose the back for reasons of a perceived coolness factor. Riley looked over at Buffy and found her eyes glued to Giles. He shifted his gaze to Giles, trying to figure it out. After the talk outside, he knew it might be fruitless, but he wasn't ready to walk away conceding defeat just yet.

Xander was the first to see Riley, catching his eye and motioning to him to come sit down. Riley held up his hand in acknowledgement but shook his head. Xander was baffled but didn't press it and none of the others at the table noticed.

It was a lively set. The audience was having a great time, as was Giles. The regulars and the staff noted that he was looser than ever and enjoying himself. Willow and Tara, Xander and Anya, and Buffy all were immersed in the music. Xander had gotten over the shock of it being Giles. He thought he might ask Giles about that CD after all.

During the bridge of a Stones' song Giles glanced around the perimeter of the room, amazed at the number of people crowded into the place. Abruptly his eyes flicked back to one of faces he had just skimmed past and his heart skipped a beat as he recognized Riley. At the sight of the young man watching him, Giles experienced a gamut of emotions culminating in a pounding heart rate and a desire to stop everything and take up his sword. He wished he carried it with him, or some weapon other than a stake. Although the thought of staking Riley gave him some solace too. Their eyes met and Giles recognized the challenge in Riley's eyes.

Buffy saw the change in Giles and turned her head to see what he was looking at. She froze for a moment when she saw him and then looked back at Giles with her own heart beating harder. At the stern expression on his face, which others might have mistaken for concentration but she recognized as anger, she had a dawning realization. Giles felt threatened by Riley, by her relationship with Riley. She couldn't believe it. After their interlude that afternoon it never occurred to her that Giles would feel any competition with Riley. 'Didn't he know that there was no competition?'

So here she sat, listening to the man she wanted to be with, singing, while the man she just broke up with was standing a few feet away. She sensed a potential testosterone induced confrontation. Riley had that look in his eye. The look that said he wasn't going to give up. And Giles...well, she hoped Giles wouldn't give up. Who she chose was her decision after all, not theirs, and she knew who she was choosing.

Giles wasn't in a great hurry to end the set, concerned what might happen next, but Gary was motioning to him to wrap it, so he finished his last song, stood up and gave a simple thank you to the appreciative crowd.

Buffy gave a quick side-glance toward Riley who seemed to be in motion...toward her. She looked back at Giles, ready to beg with her eyes for him to not leave and instead she drew in a breath as she saw him walking straight toward her. Suddenly, she felt someone's presence at her side. Fearing it was Riley, she refused to look, especially when she heard Willow and Xander greet him. Buffy kept her eyes fixed on Giles, whose eyes were on Riley. She hoped to God Giles wasn't carrying a weapon; she worried that the fierceness he had displayed earlier in the day was still with him. The last thing she wanted to do was break up a fight between these two.

She tensed when someone's hand--Riley's--rested on her shoulder and she heard his voice calling her name. Willow touched her arm from the other side, trying to get her attention also. Buffy's heart was pounding and she felt overwhelmed when, suddenly, thankfully, her world began to move in a slow motion. The room became very quiet and she couldn't see anyone except the man walking toward her-- Giles, who all at once was looking only at her and appeared oblivious to the presence of the younger man vying for her attention. He glided toward her with confidence and a flicker of a smile forming on his face. Slowly he raised his arm until, just as he arrived in front of her, his hand was extended, seeking hers.

Buffy easily and confidently placed her own hand in his. She stood and took a step closer to him, never unlocking her gaze from his luminous green eyes. She smiled at him, feeling right for the first time in a long while, possibly ever. He grasped her hand fully in his, gently pulled her toward him and they disappeared into the crowd.


Everyone at the table watched.

Riley frowned and stood in shocked defeat.

Willow and Tara smiled at one another with understanding. Willow leaned to Tara and said, "I know this guy we can ask about 'pillock.' We'll have to go to the cemetery, but we'll do it in the morning, when it's safe."

Xander was flabbergasted and looked around at the girls before sputtering, "What's going on?"

Anya sighed and responded to her clueless young man. "He's going to sing to her...in person." She wistfully looked out into the crowd where Buffy and Giles had vanished. " She won't need a CD to get in the mood. Lucky girl."

As each couple left, no one noticed Diane standing to one side, a full and glowing smile on her face.

THE END

Every Breath You Take, words and music by Sting.

You can see the tattoo at http://home.att.net/~smvd/stepp/Webpage/Birthday1.html


If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to SusanMD

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