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Giles understood more about Buffy than Buffy herself may have even known. Perhaps he should have let her read his Watcher’s diaries for personal insight. It was too late for that now, Giles knew.

Buffy treated sex as a part of love. That’s why she had never been cavalier about giving or using it, as Faith had encouraged. That’s why her first experience was with someone she loved deeply, Angel. While she had real feelings for Parker, he abused her emotions and used her. And then came Riley. Steady Riley. Until he wasn’t. On the whole, he was a good man, someone Buffy tried very hard to love.

Giles had watched Buffy and Riley’s relationship. He couldn’t help but compare himself to the irritating bloke. Riley simply did not understand Buffy the way her other friends did, or how Giles did. Then, no one understood Buffy as Giles did. She was the sun to his moon, his counterpart, truly, his equal. To him, Buffy was not a child, especially not his child, as had often been implied. If Giles had been raising anyone, it was Dawn, as he recently seemed to be saddled with her responsibility. Even before Buffy’s death, Giles had shouldered a great deal of Dawn’s welfare, for Buffy’s sake, as well as Dawn’s. He was Buffy’s partner, mentor, and friend. He could not leave Buffy, even when it seemed what he should do. The closest he came to abandoning her was when Buffy seemed so settled and happy. That summer she had the world--she had her family, her steadfast boyfriend, and all her friends together. Giles was of little use then, especially unnecessary during a time when supernatural activity was little to none. He could not bear to become irrelevant and simply fade out of Buffy’s life, so he decided to be proactive and leave. That summer Riley had seemed very committed as well, so maybe it would be for the best, as long as Buffy was happy. The sunlight did her good. She was always so happy in the summer.

But Giles could not leave. Not after she came to him, needing him--after all this time. She still needed him! He could refuse her nothing, especially with such a door opening to let him back in her life, but what a cruel doorway it was. Bringing him closer to Buffy, closer to what could have been something so wonderful and beautiful...only to snatch all dreams and hopes completely away. Buffy’s death was the hardest thing Giles had ever had to deal with. He was fine during the paperwork--settling accounts, and taking care of funeral arrangements, most of which had to be under the legal radar in order to keep the Buffybot patrolling. This kept him occupied and never allowed time for grief, for the release of emotion he never dared show.

When she was brought back, Giles thought he had been given a second chance at life. He was more overjoyed than he ever had been in his whole life, and he was fully prepared to not only help Buffy recover, but to help her find peace and happiness in her life again...hopefully with him. He practiced exactly what he’d say, exactly how he’d stand, where he would tell her, and what he would give her, when he professed his true love. It was all he could think about...until she sang. She sang so clear; Giles felt it penetrate all those hopes and dreams, killing them on the spot. He should have known. Should have been there for her, for her to feel like she could talk to him. If she didn’t want him for this, there was little reason she’d need or want him for any other aspect of her life. While she may have taken pity on him and given him what he so dearly dreamed of, it would be utterly one-sided. The mere thought of her using him for a physical or emotional release that was not mutual chilled him. After Buffy stole outside to be with Spike that night, Giles knew his door of opportunity had slammed shut and was permanently locked. So he bought the ticket.

******

Whether Buffy was ready to admit it or not, she loved Giles. More than she could explain to herself. When she had been brought back, she wanted to see Giles. She wanted him there, wanted him to be there for her. It felt like he would always be there for her. He had given her that generous check to help her get back into the swing of things, they had been training like old times, and then...the song. Oh, she had heard every word of Giles’ song, and he had heard every word of hers. She knew why he was leaving, and he knew her big secret. She had been in heaven, and now more than any other time, she needed him--his guidance, his help, his assurance, and his love. Not his exit.

Giles had not only left his slayer in need, but Buffy. She loved him, but wasn’t ready to admit it to herself, let alone to Giles. She couldn’t act fast enough. Giles was on a plane and Buffy was in the Bronze. Alone. Drinking. She could sense a vampire presence behind her, but knew she didn’t need to turn quickly and whip out her stake. It was just Spike.

Then it struck her. Not literally, luckily, since the drink was starting to sink in on her. Buffy turned to Spike and saw an outlet. No more Giles, but she could still find the comfort she so desperately needed. As he sang to her, she had a willing slave, right? So she’d take advantage. She’d already done it once, after they all sang. That kiss had been out of pure need to simply feel like she wasn’t still dead, but kissing a dead man doesn’t do much for getting one’s reality aligned. Then, and during every memory replay since, Buffy wished it had been Giles holding her and making her feel again, but had it been him, it would have been worse. She couldn’t use Giles; it would crush him and mar her. If she hadn’t been just brought back from the dead, maybe she’d have had more of a problem with this. Instead, Buffy had been sinking back into her grave more and more, especially now with everyone knowing her secret and Giles just leaving. She needed this, and no one could stop her. So she made out with Spike, wishing it was Giles.

And this is how life went on for several weeks following.

******

“You should just call him. Who cares if it’s like four in the morning or whatever?” Dawn’s reasoning made sense to her alone. Buffy shook her head and sighed, irritated.

“It’s not that easy, Dawn. He just left, why should I have to be the one to pick up the phone?” Buffy winced inwardly at how petulant she sounded, but refused to give in to her emotions. “Anyway, what would I tell him?”

Over the past few weeks, as her make out sessions with Spike began to progress into hook up sessions, she found herself keeping her eyes closed as Spike panted over her, and she pretended he was Giles. She kept her senses shut down as she imagined the warmth of Giles’ skin, the sweet and sultry things he’d whisper in her ear (not to mention the groans and British curses she would work out of him when she switched on top), and his heady old-book and spicy sandalwood smell.

Make-believe was working out fine for her, until a few days ago. She had been so involved in her fantasy that, while she was straddling Spike she called out Giles’ name as she found her release.

“What the bloody hell was that?” Spike stood up so fast Buffy practically tumbled off his lap, fairly oblivious to his anger.

“I had a happy ending, but I guess you didn’t?” Buffy didn’t much care, and she certainly wasn’t going to apologize. Stretching, she rose and began collecting her various articles of clothing. “Have you seen my--thanks,” Buffy caught the bra Spike balled up and pelted at her.

“GILES??!!” He turned, still nude, to face Buffy.

“You didn’t know?” She was genuinely surprised.

“I should have known.” Spike rubbed a hand through his hair and shook his head. “I always wondered...”

Buffy shrugged. “Yeah, well, he left, so, so much for that.”

“You never shagged before he left?”

Buffy coughed back a harsh laugh at the question. The idea that Giles felt the same way about Buffy - or felt anything beyond obligation, irritation, or betrayal was laughable. Spike raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Well, whatever. Sod off, would you?” He scooped up his black jeans and reached for a cigarette.

Hardly annoyed, Buffy shrugged and left the crypt. The only thing she cared about now was the fantasy. Now how would she keep Giles in her mind? When Dawn mentioned calling Giles, Buffy was surprised. What would she say? Could she yell? Only on some days did she feel angry enough to actually yell. The rest of the days were too much to deal with on her own that all Buffy felt like doing was crawling back into her grave.

Giles had called the house occasionally, but Buffy was either conveniently out of the house or simply let the machine pick up. It was like a blast of cold water, refreshing but startling, to hear his voice on the machine, and she’d never deleted a message. Dawn wouldn’t either, and Buffy knew she replayed the brief messages almost as often as Buffy herself.

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to call. She could always just leave a message. Maybe one that he’d replay.

******

Giles had settled back into his London flat in a matter of days. He certainly hadn’t acquired much while in the States, and had not brought much over in the first place. Most of the weapons and books he even left with Buffy and Willow, respectively. This was the same flat he’d had since his early days at the Council, before he’d been called to be Buffy’s watcher. The flat held memories, but none of which he cared to revisit. These were the post-Ripper days in which he was detoxing from magicks and attempting to become more like his father - for better or worse.

Shortly after his return, Giles was called to come into the Council. He knew he’d have to face the questions. Of course they knew that Giles was leaving before he even informed them - they probably even knew what Buffy was doing right then. Pangs of regret and jealously struck him whenever he thought about Buffy.

“Why have you left your position?” One member of the Council Watcher Review Committee question, pen poised and ready to take notes on Giles’ response.

Before he responded, Giles took a deep breath. He felt ridiculed, and didn’t want to answer these questions. They felt so personal, but the Council never cared. “Buffy no longer needs a Watcher,” he replied. The easy answer.

The CWRC waited. “There’s more,” a deep, familiar voice spoke up.

Giles looked to the side, and for the first time, noticed Quentin Travers. He smirked, and made a slight nod in the man’s direction. For as bothersome as he had often been in his and Buffy’s life, he had followed through on his promises to restore Giles’ position and salary after his last visit.

And he was right. There was so much more. More than any of these Council members even knew, or deserved to know. Here they were, up in their castle - literally - watching the world from afar, moving people like pawns to their will.

“Our Slayer is struggling,” Travers spoke again.

Giles’ head whipped up. First, he noted the use of “our”, which he found grossly out of place. Buffy was his, not theirs. Secondly, his gut clenched over the suggestion that Buffy was in trouble.

“How so?” Giles asked cautiously.

“She’s having difficulty with her return.”

Giles hung his head again. He had left because he wanted Buffy to realize her strength and stand on her own. He had hoped she’d come back into the world...and maybe by then she’d find a place for him again. One that made him more than...whatever he had been when he left. Giles wasn’t even sure what that was.

“Buffy was...” Giles hesitated, not sure if he should betray her biggest secret. Then, the Council probably already knew, the pillocks. “She was in a heaven dimension.”

Several Council members made notes and Travers locked eyes with Giles. He nodded, a trace of sympathy touching his eyes. “We know,” he said gently.

“What kind of difficulty?” Giles pressed for information.

“She’s been seeking solace, we presume. It’s rather unhealthy, however. For her track record, it seems par for the course, but we still don’t approve--”

“‘Her track record’?” Giles interrupted the other CWRC member.

“Well, uh, her history, with...well, Mr. Giles, you certainly know...” the man struggled and glanced at the other committee members.

“You mean...Angelus?” Giles could hardly speak the words aloud, fearing the worse not only for Buffy but the entire world.

“Oh, no!” The Councilman had the audacity to look amused, which grated Giles’ nerves even more. “She has been seeking the company of William the Bloody.”

“Spike,” Giles growled beneath his breath. Travers cleared his throat.

“Yes, well. This is not a healthy arrangement on either part. At least Angelus had a soul when he was, er, helping out.” Now Travers stood and Giles automatically drifted towards his seat. He knew he’d be leaving soon, and Travers would give him details, whether he wanted to hear them or not. “We’ll continue this later, gentlemen.” And with that the CWRC was adjourned.

******

Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring.

Buffy wasn’t sure how many rings she had listened to, and yet a voice mail never picked up. Giles had been back to England for nearly a month, wouldn’t he have set up his voice mail system by now? It seemed strange, but not necessarily ominous. Shrugging, Buffy hung up the phone. She turned right into Dawn.

Buffy started. “What are you doing?”

Dawn didn’t flinch. Her arms were crossed and she wore an expression that Buffy recognized from her mother - one that usually meant she was about to be grounded. “You didn’t leave a message.”

“I couldn’t! No voice mail! I tried, okay? If you’ve been standing here, then you’d know that I’ve been obviously trying.”

Dawn had only just gotten downstairs, but decided to push the issue. Maybe she could get Buffy to crack, to admit she loved Giles, and then she’d stop sneaking out to see Spike as if Dawn had no clue. Buffy never gave her any credit.

“What, you let it ring twice then you hung up? Great effort, Buffy,” Dawn taunted.

“Dawn! I just stood here for like--you know what? Whatever,” Buffy put her hands up and turned away. “I don’t know why I bothered,” she muttered under her breath. Grabbing her coat, Buffy was out the door before Dawn had time to realize she had underestimated her sister’s lack of resolve.

Buffy started walking towards Spike’s crypt before she caught herself. She couldn’t go back there. Not that she really wanted to see Spike, she just wanted the distraction he provided. So where else could she go? Without consciously deciding, Buffy ended up at the Bronze. It was open mic night, and some girl was singing an old folksy tune with a banjo. It made Buffy smile, the first real, genuine smile she’d had in a long time, so she decided to stay a while.

“Hey beautiful, you here alone?” A lecherous voice cut through the first good mood Buffy had had since Giles left. She turned to face a swaying, sweating face of a man who was older than the usual crowd at the Bronze. Buffy crinkled her nose, becoming slightly nauseous at the combined scent of Jack Daniels and body odor.

“No, thanks,” Buffy responded, hoping he’d take the hint. He didn’t.

“What’s the matter?” His speech slurred and he moved to the other side of Buffy, trying to get in her direct line of vision. “I’m a god in the sack, baby,” he sneered, only when he said “god” it sounded a lot more like “slog.” Buffy figured slog was probably much more accurate. Anyway, she’d had enough of gods lately, slog-y ones, or otherwise.

“Look,” Buffy began, gently pushing her admirer away, “I’m just not inter--”

She was quickly cut off as a swipe and a thud marked the removal of the drunkard. It was almost too quick to realize what was happening, but Buffy knew that she had to have her stake ready. Too bad she forgot one when she left.

“Thought we’d help you out, Slayer,” her rescuer cracked his knuckles and held out his hand.

“I had it under control, thanks.”

“Well, he was getting in the way, anyway. Let’s go.”

Buffy raised an eyebrow. “Really? You seriously think I’ll just go like--”

Her hero switched quickly into his game face, stepping forward so his teeth were barely an inch away from her neck. “I’ve got someone who wants to see you, got it?” He licked the hollow of her neck and pulled back as Buffy jerked.

“Who’s that?” She tried to breathe normally, but her voice still came out a little shaky.

“Name’s Rejer. He’s dying to meet you.” Somehow Buffy doubted that.

******

“Rupert, there’s nothing else I can tell you!”

“You mean you won’t tell me, you bast--”

“No, I mean, that is all we know,” Travers dropped the files he held onto his desk, sighing. Giles had trapped him again, as he had nearly every day since he had been called in for review. The CWRC had only the information that Buffy had been with Spike, but recently she had dropped off their radar. That surprised Giles, and worried him, because the Council’s radar was more thorough than most country’s security networks. “This may have something to do with that Rejer vampire we’ve been getting reports about. He was chased out of Mendocino after he tried to remove bark from a Redwood tree. We don’t know what he needed it for, but if he’s headed to Sunnydale, it likely could have to do with the Slayer or Hellmouth.”

“Then Buffy could be--” Giles couldn’t bring himself to say or think any more about what might be happening, or already happened to Buffy. If something was really wrong, wouldn’t he have been told? Surely Dawn would have called or Xander at least--

Giles’ thoughts stopped immediately. The voice messaging! He never did set it up! He had meant to, but then he spent most of his hours at the Council, lurking and trying to find anything out that he totally forgot he hadn’t set it up. What if Buffy or any of the others had tried to reach him, but couldn’t get a message to him? Giles’ gut twisted with guilt. He wasn’t going to take any chances now. No, he’d just make a visit back. It would be more reassuring to him, anyway. Whether Buffy now liked it or not, he’d be there.

******

The first thing that Buffy registered was a very, very bright light. And it was green? Why was light green? Where was light green? And who knew green could be so GREEN?

She tried to open her eyes wider, then realized that the light wasn’t green, but the blindfold over her eyes was. That was a relief. This wasn’t some green-lighted-hell dimension, at least.

Her confidence was shaken again when Buffy couldn’t move her arms to remove the blindfold. Her arms were tied, very securely, behind her back. Buffy did a quick inventory of her situation. Legs were bound at the knees and above the ankles. She was positioned on her knees, so the lower halves of her legs were thoroughly asleep. Her feet were bent in a position that would cause some stiffness later, possibly swollen ankles. Arms were bound at the elbows and wrists, tied behind her. They were held next to something, but it wasn’t a pole, since she wasn’t leaning against it. The angle was awkward, though, because her left shoulder was dislocated from the positioning. Her head felt the heaviest, as if she was balancing an anvil. She was blindfolded, facing a very bright light, so she couldn’t make out any other details of her surroundings.

What was going on? Buffy couldn’t remember anything after she followed the vampire out of the Bronze. She figured he’d be a quick and easy slay--exactly what she needed then. Instead, she was greeted by a group of vampires who ambushed her. She dusted three of them with makeshift weapons from the recycling bin before she was hit on the back of the head, hard. Then, nothing.

I guess this is how Giles usually feels, Buffy thought as her head began to throb from the hit and light. She pulled at her bonds again, unsure why she couldn’t just burst from them, even with a dislocated shoulder, twisted ankles, and a bump on the head.

“They’re protected, so don’t bother,” a voice called from the right. Buffy’s head jerked towards it, a move she regretted as her head throbbed from a deep pain.

“What is going on?” Buffy asked, sounding less annoyed and more tired.

“Need you, Slayer,” the same voice responded, closer this time. “Well, your blood. I think a bone or two, also.”

It was always blood. Buffy almost laughed. “Why my blood? Why am I always so fucking lucky?” Her bitterness cut through the words. “I thought I caught a break, being dead and all.”

This time she got no response.

“So what’s the ritual?” She attempted to sound uninterested and resigned to her position, while she was really trying to figure out a way to stop whatever was about to happen. Even as she asked, Buffy realized how futile this was. Even if the vampire told her what they were up to, she would have no way of actually knowing what it meant or what it was, at least not without Giles. And his books. But really, without Giles.

Buffy realized that as she had been pining, the vampire had actually been talking. “And Rejer thinks that Koloach will grant him every power he wants after he gets to eat you. It should be pretty sweet.”

“Wait, what?” Buffy tuned in at the mention of her being dinner.

The vampire laughed. “What’s wrong, princess? Worried it won’t be good for you?” The green light darkened, and Buffy knew her captor was in front of her. This was an unfortunate position to be in, especially as she was still stuck on her knees. “How about we try a test run?” Buffy heard a ripping sound, and registered it was actually a zipping sound. Oh god. The back of her throat filled with bile as she realized how awful her next few moments would be - but at least she still had her teeth, and there was no way those could be bound.

“That’s enough.” A cool, lightly European-accented voice filtered through the shadows and registered to Buffy as a reprieve, but definitely not a rescue. “Do not violate my offering.”

Some shuffling and thankfully, another zipping sound reached Buffy’s ears and she once again could only see green. Her would-be attacker had stepped away. Although she couldn’t see him, she knew Rejer was now nearby.

“Buffy,” he said softly. His voice was like a caress, just above a whisper, a reverential offering. “The finest slayer there was, I hear.”

“Is,” Buffy corrected. “I’m back, in case you didn’t notice.”

“Ah...but not really, hm?”

Buffy stiffened. Rejer was stroking her hair, not cruelly or even disgustingly, but as if one would stroke a skittish cat. “No, I’m--I’m here now, alive. Got a heart beat and everything.”

“Luckily for me.”

“Why do you want me?” Buffy’s voice came out weak, and it sounded nearly pleading. She hated herself for the tone, but she found she could muster little else.

“Need you, cherie. Need your blood for my Koloach. Once he drinks you - and mm, am I jealous he will receive such a pleasure - he will then grant me powers that you could only dream about.” His mouth was so close to her ear now, and Buffy thought she heard him sniff her hair. Instinctively, she jerked away from him, but her mystical bonds allowed her little room to move.

“Well when’s this Koala guy getting here? I’m bored.” Buffy jerked her head to the right, but there was no light anymore.

“He’s here now.” Buffy knew he was right since all the lights were suddenly out and the air had turned extremely hot. Buffy was sweating, but knew she wasn’t the one making that sulfuric smell that was quickly overtaking the area.

“Joy.”

*****

Giles rented a car as soon as he arrived in Sunnydale. He didn’t even bother to check himself into a hotel; he was just going to make himself a presence at the Summers household, no matter how unwelcome Buffy made him. He was ready this time. He practiced the speech in his head at least two hundred times on the flight, and he still had the ring tucked in his pocket. He always had it with him, safe in a security box in Sunnydale, in his family vault in London. Now he kept it in his trouser pocket, and he patted it neurotically, as if it would float out and spoil everything.

He pulled up to the Summers’ home on Revello and was hardly out of the car when the front door opened.

“What do you mean she didn’t even grab a stake?” Willow was bounding down the front stairs, pulling on a jacket. “Did she have anything with her? Was she going patrolling?”

“She was probably going to see Spi-i--Giles?!” Dawn’s angry tones quickly turned pleasant as she spotted Giles standing in the driveway.

“Oh my goddess, Giles!!!” Willow reached him first, and nearly knocked him over with a hug. “We have missed you SO much.”

Giles tried to hug Willow back, but she kept his arms trapped at his sides. He chuckled softly at her exuberance, something he had missed. “I have missed you all as well.”

“Giles, what are you doing here?” Dawn practically knocked Willow out of the way for her hug, but they were both smiling so idiotically at each other, it didn’t matter.

“I hear things aren’t, um...” Giles faltered, unsure how much they knew about Buffy’s state.

“Buffy’s screwing Spike. It’s a mess. We think she’s there now, or patrolling. Without weapons. It’s just a mess,” Willow repeated, her smile quickly replaced with a dark expression.

“Right. Let me grab an extra stake, and we’ll be off,” Giles headed into the house and nearly collided with Xander in the foyer.

“Giles! Hey! Giles!”

“Hello, Xander,” he replied, and continued towards the weapons chest.

“You know about...” Xander began.

“Yes, and I’m here to help. I hope,” he said the last part quietly, and Xander did not comment. Giles grabbed a stake and a dagger, then nodded at Xander. “Let’s go.”

*****

“And with the blood of the shemon you may feast. The gift of the feast is my offering to you, Koloach, your mighty holi--”

“Enough! I know what you want, you insignificant half-breed. I want to EAT her!” Koloach roared, his deep, rasping voice causing the entire room to shake. He was not quite corporeal, but a mix between a mist and a slime creature. Buffy’s blindfold was removed, and she was not looking forward to being its sacrifice.

Koloach hovered at least three feet above the ground and flexed itself in size - ranging between a foot to twelve feet across. He - as Buffy could only assume it was male - was a pale blue color that changed to a dark gray when it flexed to full size. It would have been a majestic sight, almost rhythmic, had it not been a demonic creature preparing to kill and consume her.

“Must I continue with the scripture, then?” Rejer asked, flapping the ancient pages in front of him.

“No...I want her. Then, we can discuss terms.”

“Terms? Well, I’d like a guarantee that I will receive powers after you--”

“I said enough!” Koloach’s voice was so powerfully loud it knocked a small table over somewhere behind Buffy. “Eat now, talk later.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. It seemed like there wasn’t much of a way of getting out of this. Especially since this guy wasn’t big into talking. In her better days, Buffy might have punned this guy out of his need to eat her, but now...now, she almost wanted it. Then she wouldn’t have to do anything, it wouldn’t be her fault, she wouldn’t have to feel the pain, the misery, the emptiness...

“Just hurry up, would you?” Buffy’s voice surprised even herself. “Some of us don’t have eternity, it seems.”

*****

The foursome arrived at Spike’s crypt as a force to be reckoned with. They quickly bust into the mausoleum, Xander grabbed Spike’s arms, Willow pointed a crossbow at his chest and Dawn poised a stake as Giles walked in last. Slowly. Deliberately.

“What the--bloody hell, Giles,” Spike smirked as he watched Giles polish his glasses and walk towards him. “Look, she didn’t tell--”

Giles didn’t say a word, but silenced Spike with a quick blow to his right cheek.

“Hey! What’s this, now? What the bloody--” Giles raised his fist again and Spike closed his mouth.

“Better. Where is Buffy?” Giles asked.

“Not here. I sent her out days ago. After she--” Suddenly Spike looked embarrassed and angry, and Giles decided this was acceptable to exploit.

“After she what, Spike?”

When Spike looked reluctant to reply, Giles issued a swift strike to Spike’s gut. “Damn you, Rupert - you have no idea, do you?”

“I’m waiting, Spike.”

“She loves you, you idiot!”

Xander’s grip lessened as the group registered the outburst. Spike took advantage of this moment to free himself, but Dawn still held her stake high and at the ready. “Playing big girl, are we, bit?” Spike gave her a small smile that Dawn forced herself to not return.

“She what?” Willow was the first to speak.

“She’s been seeing you...” Xander tried to process the situation, clueless.

Spike sighed. “Well, yeah, can’t blame her, really. But sadly, she may have given her body to me, but I didn’t get to catch her heart. That, Rupes old boy, that you have.”

Giles’ confusion was replaced with elation. Buffy loved him! She was just using Spike...but she loved Giles! But where was she? Buffy was still in danger - right? Or was it avoided now that Spike sent her out?

Giles shook his head, hoping the thoughts would sort themselves out. “If she’s not here - where is she?”

Spike just shrugged and lit a cigarette. “Don’t know, and frankly, don’t care. If I’m not seeing any action, I don’t keep tabs on the bird.” Giles stepped closer to Spike, a Ripper-glare boring through Spike’s lack-of-soul.

“What do you know about Rejer?”

“Rejer? Ho ho! He back in town? Haven’t seen him since the first time I was run out of this miserable town. Rej and I had some good times, we did.”

“And now?”

“Haven’t seen him.” For good measure, Giles grabbed Spike by the neck and dragged him up against the crypt wall.

“Are you sure?”

“I swear it! Haven’t seen or heard from him in years. He liked the magicks, that’s all I can tell you. But lately, I’ve been a bit busy, you know, with--” Giles clocked Spike again, hard enough to knock him down and out.

“That’s better.” Giles smoothed his coat and headed towards the door.

“Who’s Rejer?” Xander stepped over Spike’s crumpled form, following just behind Giles.

“A vampire who’s here, preparing for something, we just don’t know what. Heard about him from the Council, but no details.”

“Maybe Buffy’s fighting him now,” Willow offered.

“Or she’s stuck in a spell he’s doing,” Dawn commented without thinking. Upon seeing all the worried looks on her friends faces, Dawn backtracked. “She probably just went out.”

“Right. Well, where would she go?” Giles hoped Dawn was right.

Willow and Xander exchanged looks. Together, they replied, “The Bronze.”

*****

“She wants death.”

Koloach’s voice was quieter, but still booming enough to rattle the room. Rejer no longer seemed adoring of Buffy, but irritated at Koloach’s fascination.

“Just eat her already, I want my power!” Rejer threw the ancient text he held on the ground, verging on a childish tantrum.

Koloach drew himself together to a narrow tornado-like appearance, then suddenly burst out, encircling Rejer. The force took Rejer by surprise and knocked him to his knees. Koloach’s misty being pressed in on the vampire until nothing was visible but Koloach and a slight residue of dust. So much for power.

Buffy raised her eyebrows. This certainly changed the dynamics. Maybe Koloach wasn’t so hungry anymore, but she bet the four other vampires she could count were. She was still weapon-less and bound, too. Her brief desire to be free, in a who-cares-I’m-dead-way was gone. She couldn’t allow herself to be some demon’s dinner. At least her death had been meaningful before, but this--this was nothing. This was not what she and Giles had worked so hard for.

Buffy warmed at the thought of Giles. She had to fight. For him. And for Dawn, and her friends, she quickly reminded herself. Especially for Giles, though. She wouldn’t want to face another death without actually getting to say goodbye to Giles, and this time, to tell him how much she loved him. Lost in her thoughts, Buffy almost forgot her window of opportunity. This was her chance to get out and make that call to Giles. She’d make him come back once she professed her love to him.

“Now, my feast...” Koloach’s attentions were not diverted for long. As he spoke the word ‘feast’ Buffy’s bonds were released and she was forced magically onto her feet. The pain was extreme, and she realized that both her ankles were at least sprained. The vampires did a shoddy job of magical binding. Koloach’s more-slimy-than-misty edges were holding her almost two feet above the ground, and she was being drawn slowly towards the demon’s center.

“Can I have the power you were going to give Rejer?” A vampire’s voice cut through Koloach’s thrall. It was exactly what Buffy needed. With Koloach’s attentions diverted, he dropped her. She fell to the cement floor hard, but was up and running quickly.

“What would kill mist and slime?” Buffy tried to think quickly as she assessed her surroundings. A chair. A small table. A pole. A pole!

“Who dares to speak when I am about to feast?” Buffy could hear Koloach boom and drift himself towards the other vampires. He crushed two before settling on the offending, outspoken one. “You DARE to interrupt me?”

Suddenly, the Koloach was less mist and more slime. She heard it utter something in a language she didn’t know, and know it was probably a demonic curse word. “I need to feast now! Then I will deal with you!” Koloach roared, although it no longer shook the room. Now, he was only about seven feet tall and the shape of an average Releyek demon if it mated with a Mortoth demon. Sort of.

Quickly, she grabbed the pole and turned around. Koloach was fully corporeal now. So this was how he had to feast. That was helpful. Fighting mist was sort of like swatting a at a mosquito. Slimy solid was much easier to deal with.

Buffy swung the four-foot pole at Koloach’s neck and was rewarded with an angry cry. He grabbed the end of the pole and flicked Buffy away. She slid across the floor, right next to a stack of plastic chairs in a corner. Buffy grabbed one and threw it at the demon. It connected solidly in his side, and Buffy reached for the pole. A few solid kicks to the knees and Buffy had hold of the pole once again.

With a quick upward stab, Buffy lodged the pole directly through the demon’s chest. Roaring, Koloach pulled the rod out. Buffy’s eyes nearly fell out - shouldn’t that have been it? What’s it going to take to kill this guy?

Sweat was pouring down Buffy’s face when she had an idea. This was an old warehouse - she recognized them all now. This particular one was an old shipping house, where meats and produce were shipped. If she remembered right, there was a freezer just to the left of that doorway...

Buffy took off at a run towards the doorway. It had gotten so hot when Koloach arrived, Buffy realized that the demon needed higher temperatures to survive and maintain its slimy composure. If she could get it into the freezer, maybe it would die, or at least, freeze.

She knew Koloach was following her by the squishy thumps behind her. The roaring sound he made now was a mixture of anger and pain. At least she knew she wounded it fairly badly, but not enough to kill it. She just needed to get to that freezer...

Koloach caught up with Buffy and slammed her into the freezer door. Forcing herself upright, she sparred with the demon before she was able to reach behind her and find the handle. Slipping inside, she immediately felt better. The coolness of the freezer was perfect. Not realizing the trap, Koloach followed her in.

“You’re stuck, slayer. Now you’re mine!” Koloach laughed and began to walk menacingly towards Buffy, who inched backwards, waiting for the cool to take effect. He was about halfway in the freezer compartment when he realized.

“It’s so--cold...” Looking around desperately, Koloach tried to find a quick way out. Buffy grabbed a meat hook from the wall and threw it at his head. With one final moan, Koloach fell forward and remained still.

Buffy refused to move for a moment after Koloach fell, just in case. He didn’t seem to be moving, and Buffy knew she had to get out of there soon, it was becoming too cold. Back in the main room of the warehouse, the remaining two vampires had left, leaving everything behind. Shrugging, Buffy scooped up the incantation Rejer had been reading earlier. Safer in her hands.

“Guess I’ll go make that call now,” Buffy sighed and started out for home.

*****

Willow, Xander, Dawn and Giles arrived at the Bronze in a tizzy. They bust into the club, only to be greeted with a low-key atmosphere and a fairly benign crowd. A woman was playing guitar, crooning low into a microphone on stage, and the audience was enthralled by her words. No one even looked backwards when the four of them erupted into the building.

“Do you see Buffy?” Xander asked loudly. Willow craned her neck, but shook her head.

“I don’t think she’s here,” Dawn did a quick run-around through the crowd, not locating Buffy anywhere.

“Well, now what?” Xander threw his arms in the air with frustration.

“She could just be patrolling,” Giles offered.

“No weapons, remember?” Dawn gently reminded him. Giles’ face contorted with worry again. That’s right. Buffy had left quickly, with no weapon. She had always been resourceful, though. But this, this was just careless.

“I could try doing a location spell for Buffy, maybe her Slayer-energy would be enough to register. Or this Rejer’s magicks might show up. Only, I need another person to balance the energy, and some supplies at home, like a boar’s snout, and eight Runes of Toolook, and...” Willow started ticking off items she’d need for the spell, Dawn noting the items they already had. Giles’ mind began to wander as she spoke. They were running out of options to help Buffy.

Giles suddenly had the thought that Buffy purposely left weapons at home, hoping to run into a situation that might take her away - no. He shook his head, forcing that thought out of his mind as quickly as it came. Surely Buffy would find something to live for that she wouldn’t resort to sacrificing herself.

Giles hit his hip with his fist in frustration. “How am I supposed to save her now?”

*****

The gallant foursome decided to head back to the Summers’ home to see if Buffy had returned or contacted them. Willow began gathering supplies for her location spell and Xander began grabbing extra weapons. Dawn rushed to first check the messages and let them all play through.

“So, um, please, call back. Soon. Right.” Giles heard his voice replay over a tinny recorder and grimaced.

“You saved my messages?” Giles’ voice made Dawn jump. She blushed at his words and looked down at the machine. A number ‘twelve’ blinked at her, but there was nothing new from Buffy.

“Well, yeah. I replay them all the time. And I know Buffy does, too, even if she thinks I don’t notice.”

“She does?” Giles’ heart leapt at the news. So she knew he was calling. Then why hadn’t she called back? Oh right - his machine.

“You know, she tried calling you today. I don’t know how hard she really tried, but she said she couldn’t leave a message, so I don’t know how true that is,” Dawn continued.

“She called?” Giles felt like a prize idiot, standing there smiling at the fact that Buffy knew how to use a telephone, but he didn’t care.

Dawn stifled a laugh and nodded. “I know she cares, Giles.” Giles just smiled as a reply and walked towards the couch.

Just as he began polishing his glasses, the front door burst open. No one moved and time seemed suspended, everyone hoping it was Buffy, but not willing to move to face disappointment.

“Dawn? I’m back, I forgot--” Buffy called out, hanging up her jacket and dropping the ancient text on the front table.

“Buffy! Oh thank goodness! We were so worried!” Willow dropped the boar snout and rushed at Buffy, hugging her before she noticed the slime. “Oh my--what on earth? What were you doing?”

Buffy looked down at her ruined clothes and shrugged. “Misty, slimy. Named Koala-something. It’s frozen now, I hope dead, along with its vampire groupies.”

“Sounds like a Mintooran demon, they manipulate fire magicks, and can transfer that power to hosts with a sacrifice.” Of course - that must have been what Rejer wanted. Giles’ stomach clenched, hoping Buffy wasn’t to be the sacrifice. “They become corporeal in this dimension, but need extremely warm temperatures. Can only be killed with cold.” Giles leaned against the doorframe facing the foyer. He was too nervous to get closer to her, and he fiddled with the little box in his pocket as he waited for a reaction. Willow stepped back knowingly so Buffy could get a better look at Giles. So she could register he was actually standing in front of her. “Hello, Buffy.”

Buffy just gaped. Giles was here. Giles - was here. Here. And she was covered in slime. Perfect.

“What are you doing here?” The question came out a lot harsher than Buffy intended, although the bitterness was not unwarranted.

Giles recoiled a little at her tone, but decided to plow on with his plan. Willow knew that he needed to talk with Buffy, and she herded Xander and Dawn out of the foyer into the kitchen. “I need help with the popcorn maker..guys...let’s make popcorn!” Willow grabbed Dawn’s sleeve to get them out of the way.

“I heard you were--” Giles faltered. He heard she was sleeping with Spike, so he’s returned in a jealous rage? A protective protector? A worried friend? “In need of some watching.”

Giles made a face as soon as the words were out of his mouth. Need of some watching? It didn’t make sense, and sounded entirely inappropriate and awkward, but it didn’t matter, because Buffy was smiling. It was a large, radiant smile, much like the ones she used to share all the time before - this past summer.

“I could have used some, I’m sure,” Buffy was laughing now, a relieved laugh that washed away weeks of pain and doubt. Giles joined in and stepped closer to Buffy. Now was his chance.

“Buffy, I am so sorry,” he began. Buffy’s smile immediately left her face. Giles put his hand on her shoulder, and met her gaze steadily. “I should not have left. I should have--”

Buffy put her hand up to stop him. “Stop, Giles.” His heart fell all the way to his feet. Giles knew he could not take a step, because if he moved, he’d leave his heart right in this spot.

“Don’t apologize. I know why you left, and I just couldn’t really do it. Maybe if I didn’t love you so much, it would have been easier for me to step back into my old life again, but I couldn’t do it right away even when I had you here, and then you vanished. And I couldn’t face everything without you, especially when I knew I couldn’t have you, and I just made a lot of bad--”

Giles didn’t hear anything beyond “love you so much,” and he could have cared less what else she was saying. His expression went from grim to calm to elated in seconds, and his heart found its place back in his chest. Forget the speeches, no more talk. All Giles could do was feel, and he wanted Buffy to feel. Not the cold comfort she sought in Spike, but to really feel loved, the warm encompassing love he wanted to give her. Giles took another step, closing the distance between him and Buffy and in one fluid motion, he pulled her gently towards him and he kissed her softly.

Buffy made a small sound in the back of her throat. She had been in the middle of a soul-ripping confession about sleeping with Spike, how it had been because she felt so empty after being raised and without Giles there, and how she always thought about Giles, and how much she had dreamed about him returning when he swept towards her and kissed her. Now, she couldn’t remember her own name, let alone where she was, or if she was back in heaven or not. Giles was kissing her, and everything was finally right again.

A warmth began flowing through Buffy and she reached up to Giles, pulling his neck closer to hear and opening her mouth to let him in. Giles pulled back slowly, reluctantly, but firmly.

“Buffy, let me--”

“But, Giles...” Buffy looked wounded and vulnerable as he pulled away. Giles smiled and cupped her face in his hands.

“I just wanted to say, I love you, Buffy. I am so sorry I left. I am so glad you’re safe.”

Buffy smiled and a tear threatened to spill over from her rapidly-filling eyes. “I know. And you’re not leaving again because I love you too. Now, can you just kiss me again?”

Giles gave her a rakish grin and happily obliged.
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