"How are things going with the Council?" Jo asked as a waiter set a bowl of soup in front of her. "Have you heard from Percy lately?" She smiled up at the waiter.
Giles waited until his soup had been set in front of him and the server had left them. "Things are busy and yes, Percy is in daily contact. We have had some issues with some of the new Slayers that are of some concern. In fact, it appears as though I may have to return to England for a few days." He picked up his spoon, filled it, and lifted it to his mouth.
Across the table, Jo set her spoon down with a soft thump, her face set in a mask of disappointment. "England?" she asked. "Why didn't you tell me about this earlier?"
Giles looked up in surprise at her tone. "I only just found out," he confessed. "It will only be for a week or so. I told you that I would have to make occasional trips overseas on Council business."
"Can't you handle it from here?" She picked up her spoon and began to eat her cooling soup. "We don't get to spend much time together as it is."
"Unfortunately, it has to be taken care of in England."
"I think Percy's driving you too hard. He's got to give you time to settle in here." Jo's voice was earnest. "For example, you've only been teaching for a month or so now. They won't be happy with you taking time off, will they?"
"I'm used to juggling my duties with my, well, other duties, Jo. And there are certain duties that take priority."
Jo sighed and silence fell over the table as they continued the meal.
"Watch your left. I'm slipping past your defenses." Carrie sent the puck ricocheting off the side walls of the air hockey table.
"Thanks coach." Xander managed a block and returned. "Geez... you sound just like Giles with Buffy."
"Really?" she said, cocking a brow.
Xander raced to come up with a believable explanation. "Um... yeah. He... um... well, he kinda teaches self defense."
Carries struck back. "At the college?"
"No. It's more of a... um, a personal interest. In this day and age it's a good idea to know how to defend yourself."
"Oh, I agree totally. I just didn't peg him for the defensive type. I mean in a violence way." With a quick snap of her wrist, she sent the puck shooting into his trap. "Woo-hoo kicked your keester!" she teased defiantly, doing a little impish victory dance.
"You cheated!" Xander threw up his hands in defeat.
"Maybe I've got your number!" Carrie teased as she twirled the grip to the air hockey paddle.
Let's say for the sake of my ego, you cheated." With a flick of the wrist, he sent his paddle racing to her end of the table. She sent it gliding back with a swift reactive block.
"Don't tell me you're a sore loser, Harris."
Xander reeled as if struck. It was an innocent phrase. Something he'd never guessed would affect him so. But Carrie calling him in such a familiar way, in such an Anya way, it stung. He ignored the floating paddle and backed away from the table.
"I'm a bit thirsty. Think I need a drink," he mumbled.
Carrie caught on to the sudden mood swing. "I've got a better idea." She walked around the table and loosely gripped his hand in hers. "Ever played skeet ball?"
"You're a really good dancer."
Dawn smiled as they awkwardly shuffled from side to side slightly out of time with the music. "Thanks, Mark. So are you."
He gave her a deer-caught-in-the-headlights stare. "I've stepped on your feet three times already."
"You're still a lot better than my friend Xander." Dawn hurriedly moved her right foot to keep it from being stomped. "He does this weird sort of jumping thing that reminds me of a kangaroo trying to polka."
"My sister says I dance like a walrus and smell like one too," Mark offered, then blushed furiously. "I probably shouldn't have said that. Definitely not cool."
Dawn grinned. "You dance a lot better than most marine mammals and," she sniffed, "totally non-smelly."
"You smell really good all the time," Mark blurted out. Another red tide rushed across his face. "I don't know why I said that. I'll just go stick my head in the punch bowl and drown myself now."
Dawn eased her left foot out from under Mark's shoe. "Thanks. And the drowning thing … totally unnecessary."
"Not that I go around smelling you or anything," he stammered. "I sit behind you in math and .."
"I sort of came to the party tonight because I knew you were going to be here."
"Really?" Dawn tried out her own version of Buffy's 1000-watt smile. Apparently her attempt had the same effect on the male of the species as her sister's. Mark looked like someone had hit him in the head with a mallet. "Let's take a break and get something to eat."
"You and me? Together?"
"You do eat, don't you?" She smiled.
Mark's face lit up. "Sure. Chewing. Swallowing. Not too much spillage. I can handle the basics."
"Dawn!" Shannon pushed her way through the crowd and whispered urgently. "I just saw Brian. He's over by the door to the den and he's alone. Get moving, girl!"
Dawn glanced over at Mark who was staring down at the floor. "Maybe later. I've been here all night and if Brian has something to say he knows where to find me." She smiled at Mark again. "Right now, Mark and I are going to get some snacks. Dancing always makes me hungry."
"Are you out of your mind?" Shannon squeaked.
Dawn tossed her hair over her shoulder and flashed Mark another multi-wattage smile. "Nope. I've just decided that Brian isn't the only walrus in the ocean."
"Lookey what we have here boys..."
"We got us a perty one, ain't we, Bart?" Junior chuckled eagerly.
"Frilly hair but she smells kinda funky..." Randy crinkled his nose, revealing his fangs. "Let's go back to playground. Get s'more lovey doveys."
"Had my fill of those types. No more sweets, need me some meats." Bart's blazing yellow eyes strayed the length of her, obviously liking what he saw.
"Not much to her. Too bad she's all lonely like. What's wrong, girly... got dumped on Valentine's Day?" Junior mocked her.
"Oh, not tonight!" Buffy demanded with a stern finger. "I so don't need this now!"
Junior moved closer. "Aw, shucks darlin', seems like the night's gotcha down. Maybe we can put you outta your misery..."
"She might have a nutty, chewy center... just like those heart-shaped boxes of chocolates," Randy offered optimistically.
Bart stepped forward and gave a subtle shrug. "What'd ya say... wanna dance, Barbie?"
"That's it!" Buffy yelled and charged forward. "This day officially SUCKS!"
"So what made you start thinking about Buffy's former boyfriends?" Jo asked as the waiter cleared their soup bowls.
Giles seemed taken aback by the question. "Hmm? What?" He thought for a moment. "Oh. It was something Xander said. We were comparing Brad to someone she was interested in before." He shrugged lightly. "Brad is such a nice, normal young man. I can't imagine him ever being able to deal with who Buffy is."
A look of puzzlement crossed Jo's face. "Why would you believe that?" she asked. "I think he would handle it just fine."
"Really?" He sighed and shook his head. "Not everyone can deal with knowing the truth about the world we live in. Some are better off believing that the bumps in the night are simply the next door neighbor's cat knocking over a trash can."
They looked up as their server presented their meals. "Can I get you anything else?" he asked the couple politely. Both gave a negative shake of their heads. The young man smiled and gave a slight bow. "Please don't hesitate to let me know if there's anything else I can do," he said before moving away. Giles gave him a small smile of thanks as he left.
"So, back to Brad," Jo prompted as soon as the waiter was out of earshot.
Confused, Giles looked at her blankly for a moment. Then realization struck. "Oh," he said. He shook his head. "Well, I like Brad, but I'm just not sure he's the best choice for Buffy." Picking up his fork, he speared a carrot. "She needs someone stronger, someone who will accept her for who she is, Slayer duty and all. She needs someone who will let her be both Buffy and The Slayer when she needs to be." They both heard the capitalization in the title.
Jo set her hands in her lap and took a deep breath. "In other words, she needs someone like you."
Giles sputtered, choking on his food. "Jo, what…"
Jo leaned forward. "I've been trying to understand what it is between you two. I swear, sometimes the two of you act like an old married couple. But then the next minute, she acts like your student, and then things change again and she's your boss somehow. And you listen to her when you don't listen to anyone else and you do what she asks no matter what. She's always first."
"I trust you're not asking me to choose between you and her…" Giles voice was low.
Jo shook her head. "No, it's not that, Rupert. I'm not talking about you putting her over me. I'm talking about her always being first. Over everything. Over yourself even. Your own life is secondary to hers on every level I can see." Jo swallowed hard. "For months, I've been trying to convince myself that your feelings for her are paternal. But you two switch roles so fast sometimes it makes my head spin."
"Jo, I'm her Watcher, not her father," Giles said firmly. "She's been my Slayer for nearly eight years. I can't think of a way for anyone, not even Willow or Xander, to fully understand everything we've been through together; what it means to be assigned a destiny together." He paused, staring sightlessly into his wine glass and she could barely hear his harsh whisper. "Jo, she's died twice. Damn it, I've buried her; stood over her grave! Of course our relationship is complicated." He took a deep breath. "I've failed her in the past, and I've been given another chance to make things right. I won't fail her again." He looked her in the eye. "We switch roles, as you say, when the situation demands it. But in every role, I'm still her Watcher."
"Rupert, things have changed. Buffy's not the only Slayer any more. And there's more to life than just being Buffy's Watcher. You have alternatives." She stared at him earnestly from across the table. "It's time to move on and start a life of your own. Put yourself first."
"Being a Watcher is not what I do, it's who I am," Giles said with absolute certainty. "I've tried to make you understand that, but I've obviously failed."
The three vampires lept on Buffy simultaneously, with a rash of hard fists and shin kicks pummeling her from all angles. She was put on the defensive, blocking frantically and pivoting to lessen the potency of each blow. Unfortunately, a hammering crack managed to get through to her chin and she stumbled back for a moment to regain her composure.
They capitalized on her imbalance, crowding her. She struggled to free her wrist from one and threw a weak jab at another. The skin of her arm bruised under the strain of the tight grasp of the tallest vampire as he pulled her to him, knocking her to her knees. He was stronger than she'd anticipated, they all were. Next thing she knew, they had her pinned to the damp grass as pesky blades tickled her ear. The one holding her right arm chuckled with excitement as the others echoed his enthusiasm with nods of approval.
"She's stronger than Uncle Maury's mule...," the one on the left scoffed as he worked to keep her arm pinned beneath his knees.
"Slipperier than an oiled pig...," another snickered.
"Bet she tastes just as good...," the leader stood above her, leering down with drooling fangs as he readied himself for the kill.
Buffy realized she was much too distracted. She needed to focus her energy, focus her anger and frustration and unload all of it on her new targets. The thought of sacrificing yet another outfit to her destiny incensed her, and she jerked her legs up with a sudden burst of raw energy. With some well-placed boots to their heads, she sent the two vampires who had been pinning her down, flailing backwards. She continued to roll through and returned upright, eyes fixed on the third member, the leader of the gang.
"I'm the Chosen One...," she growled, expertly dodging his attack of an uppercut and countering with her elbow, smacking the lumbering vampire on the backside of his head. He tumbled to the grass as one of the others recovered and charged. "It's about time I accepted that title. 'Chosen One'. See second word, 'One' ... as in singular, as in 'by yourself'. Chosen to live alone until I die!" She planted a kick to the attacker's midsection and quickly swiveled on her heel to block another strike from the persistent leader with an unyielding forearm. "I'm destined for aloneness."
"What she gabbin' 'bout?" Junior looked at the others, confused.
"Ain't nothin'. Get her!" Bart ordered. Randy came up from behind and captured her in a powerful bear hug. She felt all the wind being crushed out of her. Instinctively, she sent the sharp edge of her boot heel to his shin and followed it up with solid slam of the back of her head to the whimpering demon's chin. He fell like a rock to the damp ground. The others rushed after her. She dodged a wide swing from the leader which continued through and accidentally clipped his associate on the chin. Angered by her seemingly indifferent expression, he tried to recover his pride with an elbow to her head, only to once again strike his unwitting friend as Buffy quickly used him as a shield. The beaten buddy joined his stunned companion on the ground.
Outraged by his failure, Bart roared as he went for her with claws tearing uselessly at the chilled night air.
"Now on the other hand, my Watcher is dating. He's not a ‘One,' in fact, no, he's a ‘Member' as in ‘one of many.' He's probably going to marry the witch and what do I get...?" Buffy outmaneuvered each impulsive strike, making the vampire even more agitated until she saw her opening. With a block of his roundhouse punch, she caught his arm in one hand, slipped out her stake with the other and buried it within the beast's chest. A billow of dust rained down on her as she focused on the demons standing stunned before her. "I get funky smelling clothes and probably asthma from inhaling your ashes. Thank you very much, destiny!"
The remaining two vampires scurried back a few paces, suddenly cautious.
"There's more out there now, you know. But they aren't the 'Chosen One'. No... they aren't alone. There's a whole party of 'em. But lucky me... I am alone. No matter what I do or how hard I try..." She spun around with a swift kick as the two vampires shuffled out of range. "I am forever doomed to 'Chosen Oneness'."
They exchanged apprehensive glances and with misguided courage, they attacked together. Buffy chose her mark, evading both adversaries with an agile flip over their heads. She landed flawlessly and ran the largest one through the back with her trusty stake. It was her new favorite, one with ‘carefully measured ridges to supply a better grip, cleverly combined with a super smooth and polished grip that won't chafe your palm' as Xander had proudly declared when he presented it to her. He was a true artist. More stale ash invaded her lungs as she casually turned around to stare down her final opponent.
"When you look up 'alone' in the dictionary, I'm sure you'll see my picture, probably with a misspelled caption like 'Bunny Sumpters: Smuck'... most likely with the worlds worst hair in the history of bad hair days and a big old zit on my nose because fate hates me. I'm fates whipping boy... or girl, in my case."
"W-who are you?" Junior stuttered, bewildered.
"Haven't you been listening?" Buffy said with an irritated shrug. "I'm The Slayer, the Chosen One. " She confidently strolled up to the remaining, trembling vampire. "And I may be alone, but you know what makes it bearable? The only thing that makes me feel better..."
"W-what?" he squeaked, afraid to ask.
"Knowing that right now..." She ended him quickly, he didn't even hear the breeze from her assault, "I'm not as alone as you!"
After a brief examination, she evaluated her outfit as salvageable but stinky. Putting the stake away, she turned towards home. "God, I need a shower!"
She had barely gone three steps when the rains began to pour.
"I've never had a girl walk me home before," Mark said.
Dawn took his hand and swung it back and forth between them. "You live a block from Liz. It's not like I'm climbing the Alps or something. Besides I like walking in the rain."
"Sure." Dawn tilted her head back, and throwing her arms out behind her, let the rain cascade over her face. "It's romantic."
She shivered. "That, too."
"C'mon." Mark tugged on her hand, pulling her toward the front door of his house. "My mom makes great hot chocolate. You can dry off and then I'll walk back."
"I'll just get wet again."
Mark grinned. "There's this great new invention you've got to try. It's called an umbrella."
Jo took a sip of water. "Rupert, you're a wonderful man, but I think you're making things too complicated." She looked thoughtful. "Or perhaps, you're actually trying to make them too simple. This is not just about being Buffy's Watcher. Either you're trying to hide your feelings for Buffy from yourself or you're lying to me about them. Since I think you're too honorable to lie to me that only leaves one alternative."
"I don't know what you're talking about it. I am her Watcher," Giles said, trying not to sound defensive. "Of course beyond that, I hope that Buffy and I are friends."
Jo gave soft laugh. "I've seen the way you smile at her. The way you gravitate toward her when she's around. There's a lot more between you than friendship."
The silence that fell over the table was deafening as they stared at each other.
"Rupert, I think it's time both of us faced the truth. I want you to be honest with yourself. Do you love her?"
"I care a great deal for her."
"That's not what I asked," she said, even more softly. "You're in love with her, aren't you?"
Giles looked up at her and saw her sympathetic eyes shining with tears. "I'm so sorry, Jo. I never wanted to hurt you. You know I care for you, I truly do." She nodded fractionally and waited. "Yes," he finally said, his voice barely a whisper. "I am."
"Is everything all right?" The server arrived at their table, his face wreathed in a smile. He beamed down at them.
"No, it's not," Jo told him, never taking her eyes from Giles' face. "But it will be eventually."
The server looked immediately concerned. Glancing down at the table, he realized that their plates were nearly untouched. "Was there something wrong with the food?" He leaned forward to take the plates. "I can take them back and have the chef make you something else."
"The food was fine," Giles told him.
Confused, the server looked back and forth at his customers.
"Oh, well. I'll just leave you then," he said, realizing that he was interrupting something. "Just signal if you need anything." He started to move away, but Jo reached out to stop him.
"I think we'd like the check now," she said, her hand on his arm. The waiter twisted around to look at Giles, who was staring down at the table.
"Yes, ma'am," he told her before scurrying away.
They sat in silence for a moment then Jo gave a short laugh. "You were right about one thing. This is a Valentine's Day I will remember."
The place had emptied out quicker than Willow had thought possible. She didn't mind because it left her in the very good company of her new friends.
"So, you're into magic?" Becka asked as she cleaned up the espresso machine. Jack listened in as he lifted up the chairs and set them upside-down on the tables.
"You could say that," Willow smiled modestly. "Though not as much as I used too. Having a bit of writers block lately, only with magic instead of writing. Magic block."
"I fooled around with an ouiji board once. Scared the piss outta me." Jack offered. "Then my friends told me later that they'd spiked my Sprite. Made for a fun evening though."
"I'll bet." Willow giggled. "So what do you two do for fun... besides coffee?" Willow asked as she helped place the chairs up.
"Let's see..." Becka scratched her head with exaggerated contemplation, "...there's pinochle."
"Midnight bowling!" Jack snickered with a thumbs-up motion.
"Bingo at the church hall..."
"I think I'm sensing sarcasm, now." Willow smiled. "It can't be all that bad here?"
"Whispering Pines was named that way for a reason. Nothing ever happens here... never!" Becka gestured with her hands to punctuate the point.
"I heard about the town Berry Festival. That sounds like fun," Willow tried to sound enthusiastic.
"If you're as into berries as much as Jack's into foam... yeah." Becka snickered, receiving a stern glare from Jack. "I'd love a little excitement. Something a bit dangerous... to get the heart pumping."
"Take it from me, excitement isn't all it's cracked up to be. I'd much rather a dull moment of peace than heart stopping action."
"You prefer a quiet evening by a roaring fire with a good book?" Jack suggested. "For two?" He amended with a sly smile.
"Depends on the book." Willow teased.
"How about a game of poker...?" Becka suggested. "Of the strip variety?"
"I don't know. I have the worst luck."
"Maybe we can change that?" Jack winked over at Becka, and Willow suddenly felt an electric charge in the air.
"I think I'd like to master foam first." Willow smiled shyly. "But I'll keep my options open. And guys, really, thanks for tonight. This wasn't the perfect, box-o-chocolates, dozen roses, greeting card romantic Valentine's Day that Hallmark makes us hope for. It was better. I had a lot of fun."
"Well, come back again, Witchy Woman," Becka grinned. "The fun just keeps on getting' funner!"
The alarm went off, but Ethan didn't need it. He was in position and ready to Call her. He patted the skull. "It's time."
He took out a little of the perfume that he had saved and poured it on the skull and then rubbed it on his chest.
"It is the midnight hour and now I call
Come to me, you're in my thrall:
Give yourself up to me
Your life will set mine free."
Thunder roared and lightening flashed. He grinned as he waited for the connection to be established.
"And then there was Rob, or His Royal Majesty Rob, as he'd preferred to be called." Carrie handed Xander another ball, watching as he rolled it up the ramp, perfectly sending it into the center most ring. "You are a natural. Skeet ball pro material, definitely."
"It's all in the wrist. Overdeveloped muscles from years of intense hammering," he grinned. "So you ditched Emperor Bob..."
"Rob...," she corrected and dutifully handed him another ball.
"Rob the Snob... doesn't matter. He's yesterday's news, right?" Xander grinned and sent the ball on the same path of its previous associate.
"Most certainly!" She nodded and held the glass of soda up so the bendy straw was in reach of Xander's mouth.
He chuckled and gratefully took a sip. "Thank you, kind lady."
"Think nothing of it, kind sir," she took a sip from the straw, nibbling on it playfully as Xander tried to draw his attention back to the current topic at hand.
"Anyway, sounds like you're just as gifted as me when it comes to doomed relationships." He stopped and pivoted to face her, realizing what he'd just admitted. "On second thought, it's probably not the best idea to reveal such details on a first date so can I have that last remark stricken from the record? Or can I simply plead insanity?"
"Lucky for me, I like my guys a bit nutty." She offered him the last ball, careful to let her hand linger cupped in his for a moment before letting it roll off her fingertips into his palm.
"Just call me Mister Peanut." He felt it this time. He was smiling.
"Thanks, Liz, I feel much better now. The walk in the rain was fun, but Mark was right, it was pretty cold." Dawn wrapped her hair up, turban style and flopped down on the bed. "I so love your shower, those jet heads are great."
"So, what is it with you and Mark? Brian was asking about you. If you had just looked at him, I think he would have asked you to dance."
"I had someone to dance with, with no drama, just fun. In fact, I ended up with a guy who really appreciated me, and you know, that's all I wanted tonight." Dawn bounced up and walked to Liz's makeup table. "Come on, let's check out some of your perfumes. I want a new scent now."
"What happens now?" Giles asked as he pulled into the Scobie Manor driveway.
Jo shook her head sadly, giving him a small smile. "We say good-bye," she said, placing her hand on the door latch. "I want you to remember what I said though. It's time that you put yourself first. Talk to her, Rupert."
He reached out for her hand, but she pulled away. "Jo…"
"Rupert," she interrupted, "there's nothing more to discuss." Tears shimmered in her eyes as she turned to look at him. "At least not with me. It's over." Pulling away, she opened the door and slipped out of the SUV. Pushing open his door, Giles slipped out after her.
"Jo!" he called out. She stopped with her hand on the door to her truck, her back tense. "I'm sorry," he said softly.
Without turning, Jo climbed in and drove away, the taillights disappearing down the street.
Shaking his head sadly, he headed into the house and closed the door quietly behind him.
Ethan groaned. He felt Dawn's energies, light and happy, but it was the same connection he had always had with her. It wasn't enough. He didn't need those sweet, lingering tastes, he needed her whole, he needed all of her.
"Dawn..." he cried out but heard no answer. There was no thrall there and in a frenzied panic, he realized she wasn't coming and that he didn't have the strength to reach her.
"It didn't work." He staggered to the window and barely managed to pull back the curtain. The pounding rain echoed against his window.
"You can't deny me what's mine, Dawn!" He yelled, to the emptiness of his room. "I need it. I-I can't..."
A searing blaze in his head sent him collapsing to the floor, crying out in agony.
"Too late..." he choked. "W-waited too long...
"NO!" He roared out, slamming his fist to the floor in defiance. "I will have my prize." He gathered the strength to lift himself up long enough to make it to the bed.
"This was to be our night." He winced as another jolt of pain rattled him, sending him falling to the mattress. "It was going to be perfection. I've given you what you wanted, suffered waiting for you. Now all is wasted. And I have nothing. Nothing but the pain..."
The stabbing pain in his side intensified and he wrapped his arm around his waist to wait out the hurt.
"Stop," he cringed. "Just stop.
"It's nothing." He tired to believe his words but as the ache strengthened and every nerve tensed, he felt his resilience leaving him. Then, in a flash of white hot agony, he saw her in his mind's eye, saw her smile and laugh. And he knew only fury.
"You'll pay for this, bitch!"
"I swear, I'm so over the whole vampire thing," Buffy said, clambering down the stairs. She pulled the hairbrush through her still wet blonde locks. "I'm retired, damn it."
"How inconsiderate of the vampires," Giles told her, peering over his glasses at her. He put down the printout of Percy's email as she flopped on to the couch beside him. "However, I believe you've been over the whole vampire thing, as you call it, since you were 15. Anything unusual or special that I need to know about them?"
"Nah," she said, shaking her head. "The usual. Bad hair, bad clothes, bad accents and bad complexion." She grinned at him. "And their quipping sucked, too." She put the brush on the coffee table and folded her legs under her.
Giles rolled his eyes. "Yes, well, I'm sure it's an important clue. I'll look that up in the Watcher diaries under 'Signs of an Impending Apocalypse.'"
"Hey," she said, swatting playfully at his arm. "Don't mock my pain. I ruined a perfectly good pair of boots slaying those vamps." When she got the barest of smiles from him, she cocked her head to one side, watching him for a moment as he stared down at the email. "You're home awful early, Giles. How was your date?"
"My date?" he repeated, carefully not looking at her. "Lets just say it was much more befitting of an apocalypse."
"Giles, what happened?" Buffy's voice was suddenly serious. "Are you okay?"
He sighed. "Jo and I broke up tonight," he explained, his voice broken and soft.
Buffy opened her mouth, then snapped it shut when nothing came out. "I'm sorry," she said finally. "I know that you liked her a lot. Is there anything I can do?"
"No," Giles told her ruefully. "Truthfully, I believe it was inevitable. Jo is an incredible woman, but she wanted more from me than I was prepared to give her." He hesitated. "I'm afraid it wasn't until this evening that we both realized that I wasn't prepared to change my priorities for her." Taking off his glasses, he polished the lens with his shirt before putting them back on.
She smiled sadly at the familiar gesture. "Still," she said, scooting closer. "I am sorry." She reached out and touched his hand, slowly blanketing his fingers with hers. They remained unmoving at first, and then he shifted, intertwining his fingers gently around hers.
"Thank you, Buffy. I'll be okay." He smiled sadly at her and then looked back down at their hands, "I guess she just wasn't my destiny."
"Destiny?" Buffy looked up sharply. "That's funny, Giles. I was thinking a lot about destiny tonight."
"Really?" He laughed a little bitterly. "Well then I guess your date went much better than mine. Before it was interrupted by vampires, of course."
Buffy gave a loud bark of laughter, much to his surprise. "The vampires were just the icing on my cake. Brad and I broke up, too."
Giles swallowed hard and stared at her. "You broke up with Brad?" he asked in disbelief. "Why? The two of you were getting along so well."
"I guess," she said with a shrug. "He was such a nice guy, you know. And I liked him a lot."
"But?" he asked, when her words trailed off. He smiled at her. "I think the thing to say is that ‘You look like you have 'but' face.'"
She giggled and squeezed his hand. "Yeah, I guess I do. He's a nice guy. But…"
Buffy was silent for a moment as she searched for the right words. "But he'd never fit into my life," she said finally. "He'd never get the whole Slayer thing, and he'd be in danger if I never told him." An air of sadness seemed to settle over her as she turned to stare at their clasped hands. "And even if we found a way to work around all of that, he just wasn't the one."
Turning her head, she stared at Giles' face as he squeezed her hand softly.
"I'm sorry, Buffy." His eyes were filled with sympathy and concern. She felt herself tear up slightly.
"Giles, I'm ok, don't worry about me. You lost so much more tonight than I did." Before she could think about it, Buffy reached up with her other hand and cupped his cheek. He closed his eyes as if shutting out the pain, and pressed against her palm, seeking out the warm comfort it offered.
She frowned in concern and leaned forward, pulling his head towards her. With her fingers cascading along his cheek, she pressed her lips softly to his forehead and closed her eyes. Her mouth glided down, brushing his nose until she rested her forehead against his.
Giles' grip tensed, squeezing her right hand again while caressing his thumb against hers. "Buffy…" he whispered anxiously. "Please… I…." He stopped, uncertain.
"Giles…" Buffy whispered as she pulled back slightly to look at him.
They stared at each for a moment before their bodies moved closer. Buffy turned her head slightly as she leaned up and their lips met. The kiss was soft and tentative for just a moment, and then grew bolder. Buffy's hand slid around his neck and she pulled him down against her, encouraging him.
Their hands broke apart and she reached up to lay her right hand against his chest. His hands went around her back and slipped up into her hair, grabbing wet locks in tight fistfuls.
A groan escaped his throat as her tongue slid along his.
The sound echoed through the room like a gunshot, and they froze. Never breaking their gaze, they slowly parted from each other. Silence filled the room as they sat staring at each other, matching looks of shock on their faces.