CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT



The dreams were disturbing to say the least.


Images beyond his ability to understand flashed through Giles’ head. Most were pleasant, which proved a welcomed change from what had become the norm of late for him. There were the usual assortment of monsters and the like, of course, but in this dream he was able to handily defeat all the baddies, and rescue his Buffy from the peril she was in. Not that she needed his rescuing. Part of him acknowledged that she was well equipped to fight any of the enemies he’d dredged forth from his imagination, and was perhaps even more suited to so than himself. But she had graciously allowed him the honors, cheering him on from the sidelines, and he had thrashed every vile villain and demon that had dared to threaten his precious slayer.


Between rousing battles, he and Buffy had gone horseback riding in the moors, walked a forest trail in the Cotswolds, and taken a long, seemingly endless motorcycle ride across London that included several unusual detours into the underground tubes. He distinctly remembered the clock at Paddington Station. There they had met his grandmother. She had been in the company of a small and friendly bear with a voracious appetite for marmalade, and the little fellow had made Buffy laugh with his charming antics.


But now, he was sitting on the bank of a lazy, pastoral stream. The day was gloriously bright and sunny, and the sky about was the clearest blue he had ever seen. Not a cloud drifted by to mar the azure expanse, which perfectly matched the downy-soft blanket spread out beneath him over a growth of lush, green cushioning grass.


“Huh! Now, there’s something I never thought I’d see.”


He turned to face the voice that had spoken. It was Buffy, looking as perfect and radiant as ever in a diaphanous summer gown of white with a design of red poppies. It was an off the shoulder costume that clung in all the right places, and had an interesting angled hemline that billowed on an invisible breeze, allowing him an occasional peek at the shapely legs beneath.


She approached him across the blanket, settling down beside him to arrange herself like the goddess she was. He noticed that she wasn’t wearing any shoes, and her ten tiny toes were painted in a manicure of pale pink that matched her equally exquisite fingers.


Buffy smiled at him, and again Giles was struck by the absolute wonder of his dream. No detail had been missed. In her hand, Buffy held an unusual wildflower, an orchid that was as rare and delicate as her beauty. He watched as she tucked the creation into the loose flowing mane of her blonde tresses before turning to smile at him again.


“You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you?” Buffy said. Her voice sounded like it had come from somewhere far away, and Giles frowned, trying to concentrate. “Whoa, baby! Are those real diamonds?”


Giles scowled. The diamond reference made no sense at all. But then, a lot of this dream hadn’t followed any logic he could discern, which became a kind of sense of its own after a while.


“Holy crap! Is that...? I knew it! I knew it! I thought I’d seen a tattoo!”


Buffy’s expression didn’t fit her words. She’d sounded surprised, and yet, her face was completely serene, her smile sweet and innocent. “Wait a minute. Wasn’t this on your other...Oh! My! God! What the heck did you do, Giles? There’s a whole friggin’ gallery back here! And here. And...sheesh! How far down does this thing go?”


He could feel the world beginning to dissolve around him. Strange noises intruded into his dream. A ticking clock. Rustling sheets. And then there were the smells. He’d never dreamed scents before. Harsh, medicinal antiseptics stung his nostrils. Something herbal, a little less unpleasant tickled his nose. He detected Rosemary. And, was that Thyme? And under it all, the delectable fragrance of his sweet Buffy. Her perfume surrounded him. Made him hungry for the honey taste of her moist lips.


Sitting forward, Giles bent to kiss his slayer. But it seemed that no matter how far he leaned, she remained unattainable, and just beyond his reach. Suddenly, the sun faded, and the sky became grey, like an old underexposed photo. Trees disappeared, the grass melted away, and when he looked back, his Buffy was gone.


Giles panicked. His heart raced, pounding in his chest. Something was beating at his back, attacking him. He tried to turn, to defend himself, but he was frozen, unable to move, and the thing continued to bash at him again and again....


With a gasping cry, Giles bolted upright in bed. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the artificial light in the room around him. A groan escaped his tightly gritted teeth, and a hand automatically flew to his side, pressing against the rib that painfully reminded him he had neglected to take enough of the proper precautions to protect it earlier.


“Giles? What’s wrong?”


Taking a deep breath, Giles opened his eyes. Looking about, he recognized his whereabouts almost instantly, though the reality of what he saw made little more sense than his dream. He was in Buffy’s room. Sitting in Buffy’s bed. And Buffy was kneeling beside him, staring up into his face with what appeared to be genuine concern.


“Buffy?” Giles blinked, still trying to reason what had happened to him. He remembered waking up at Spike’s, then taking off before Buffy arrived. He’d spent his day working off his guilt riddled catharsis, chasing down various demons, picking fights, and killing anything he’d put his hands to. As night fell, he’d wandered into the cemetery, searching for vampires, and had run across Spike again. The undead Brit had a bottle of liquor with him, and together they had shared the liquid spoils. And that was when everything began to go fuzzy.


“Giles, are you okay?”


The Watcher sighed, his head awakening at last to the dizzy after effect of his hangover.


“What? Oh, yes, I-I’m fine, Buffy,” he said, answering his slayer’s query. Her frown, however, told him that she had doubts about his positive assertion.


“Giles, the twenty gallons of blood I’ve spent wiping up over the past hour begs to differ with that diagnosis.”


“Well, I am a bit confused,” Giles sheepishly admitted. He glanced again at his surroundings. “What am I doing here?”


“You don’t remember?” Buffy asked. He hesitantly shook his head, a move he immediately regretted as a horrendous pounding began to drum away inside. “Xander came and got us, drove us home.”


Now that you mention it, I do seem to recall something along that order,” Giles grunted. He rubbed at the pain threatening to drill its way out of his skull, being mindful to avoid dislodging the bandaging he discovered on his forehead. “However, what I was trying to ascertain was how did I get here? In this bed? And, erm...” With a hesitant glance down at his exposed body, Giles frowned. “What has happened to my clothing?”


“Well, like I said, we brought you home, and then Xander and the guys helped me carry you up here. It was kind of a group project.”


Giles moaned. His headache was really throbbing now, but Buffy didn’t seem to notice as she plunged on with her explanation.


“As for why the here, in this bed, I figured no one wanted to hear Dawn whine on about being the only one put out, so that nixed her bed, and kicking Tara and Willow out of their room meant two people being indisposed, which probably would have been too much of an imposition on that British propriety of yours, so that left here. My bed.”


“But...” Giles rubbed his temple, his brain still attempting to catch up with the flood of information he’d been given. “This is where you sleep,” he muttered with a tired sigh.


“Not tonight,” she said with a shake of head. “Tonight Buffy does the big, comfy couch thing. And I don’t want to hear any flack,” she pouted, cutting off any protests before they started. “You’re hurt, Giles. You need to get a good rest in so you can heal, and I think we both know how your back and that sofa have not been getting along.”


With a reluctant sigh, Giles nodded an agreement to his slayer’s assessment. “That still leaves us with the little matter concerning the whereabouts of my wardrobe,” he reminded Buffy.


“You mean these?” she asked, reaching toward the floor and lifting what appeared to be a pile of soiled, ripped rags for him to inspect. At his involuntary cringe of distress, she gave a flick of her arm and sent the material flying toward a wastebasket off to the side of the bed. “I know you’re really attached to the stuff you’ve been wearing, God knows you’ve probably owned it for years,” she muttered with a peevish frown of disapproval. “But it’s time to move on, Giles, and look into getting yourself some new duds. You know, something that actually fits.”


Grumbling at the jibe, Giles shifted in the bed. Immediately, his face twisted in a pained wince. His entire body seemed to protest every breath he now took. His muscles ached, his head swam, and to his dismay, his stomach was doing a nauseating flip-flop, like it wanted to rise up his throat and throw itself inside out.


Buffy frowned. She could sense her Watcher’s uneasiness.


“You sure you’re all right?” she asked. “You look a little green.”


“Florescent lighting has a tendency to do that to my complexion.”


“Giles...” With a worried pout, Buffy quirked an eyebrow upward. “I don’t have florescent lighting in here. Look, maybe we should think about getting you to the bathroom, you know, before you yak all over the bed or something.”


“No, really. There’s no need. I’ll be...fine.” Swallowing, Giles forced down the burning gall that pushed at his epiglottis. With a deep breath and a silent prayer, he fought the unsettling impulse to empty out his stomach, and after a few tense and touch moments, the wave of nausea finally passed, but not before it had made its defeat vocal with a violent and most undignified belch.


With an sheepish glance at his companion, Giles mumbled an apology.


“So, is that it, then?” Buffy asked, her mouth lilting in a faint grin. “Or is there more coming?”


“I sincerely hope not,” Giles sighed. He gave his tender rib cage a gingerly pat. “I believe I came close to rupturing a lung at that last bit.”


The slayer’s expression darkened, growing serious. Giles’ complexion was noticeably pale, and he wore a glistening layer of sweat on his forehead.


“Maybe you should lie down,” Buffy suggested with a worried frown. “We don’t want you hurting yourself. I’m not sure I could come up with a convincing explanation for the ER doc when he asks why you’re still wearing a costume after Halloween’s already come and gone.”


Giles grunted a weary quiescence. Cautiously, he lowered his aching body to the sheets and slowly stretched himself out onto his back. It felt a bit awkward knowing that he was in Buffy’s bed. Societal propriety and years of strict parental upbringing nagged at him, telling him that such liberties were simply not permissibly, especially with one’s beautiful and much younger slayer. But he was sore and too tired to argue the point, even with himself, and so he closed his eyes, burying his cheek into the softness of Buffy’s pillow.


The mattress at his side shifted. He could sense the warm presence of the girl at his side, and the desire within him began to stir. With every breath, he drank in the sweet perfume of his slayer, reveling the simple pleasure. He was weak, but not immune to the irrepressible urge that fueled his carnal needs. His resolve swayed, and for a moment, he considered the forbidden, but then his stomach gave a timely lurch and the thoughts died away, forgotten as he fought his internal foe.


“Giles, we need to talk.”


As the throbbing in his temples once again began to recede, quieting down to a dull and tolerable ache, Giles allowed himself to relax. Unfortunately, with the respite calm a painful awareness of the temptation that lay within his reach, and he clenched his hands to his sides, ignoring the lust that told him to reach out and take hold.


Opening an eye, Giles rolled his quizzical gaze toward the face he found hovering over him. Buffy looked troubled, her features pursed in an anxious visage that immediately set off an alarm.


“Buffy, what is it? What’s wrong?”


His slayer flashed a sad, tentative smile.


“I think we got this turned around all backwards,” she returned. “I’m supposed to ask you that question.” The moment of soft joviality quickly faded, however, and her severe mask returned in its place. “You do know, the plan was that you’d be waiting for me at Spike’s crypt when I got there, right?”


Pressing his cheek into the pillow beneath his head, Giles turned away from her unwavering stare. “After my appallingly reprehensible behavior the previous evening, I thought perhaps it would be better for us both if I kept myself scarce for a while.”


“Well, Mr. I’ve Decided That Avoidance Is The Answer, you thought wrong. Giles, what’s going on? This isn’t like you. Running off. Not telling anyone where you’re going. We were all worried sick about you. I mean, what if something bad had happened and we couldn’t find you?”


Stifling a grimace, Giles held his breath. She was touching him. Not purposefully, of course. Her hip had brushed up ever so lightly against his own, and the electrified contact it sparked was almost maddening.


Clearing his throat, he made a valiant attempt to ignore the rising lust that filled his body.

“I was more concerned about the something ‘bad’ that might happen should you find me,” he grudgingly confessed, scooting away to break free of her lingering touch. “I think it would be clear that I’m not someone safe to be around these days.”


Her pout was admonishing and tantalizingly luscious. “Giles, we don’t have time for games of hide and seek. We’ve got to figure out what’s wrong with you.”


“I would think that was obvious. I’m a demon.”


The peevish sigh that she breathed lifted her breasts and presented him with a peek at her shadowed cleavage beneath the neck of her low cut blouse. With a quiet groan, Giles closed his eyes, blocking out the delicious sight of his slayer’s heaving bosom.


“Giles, I realize I’m not the brightest blond in the forest, but even I can put two and two together and come up with better. You’re not telling me something. If the guys and I are going to help you, we need to know everything that’s going on in that head of yours.”


“I’m not sure what it is you want me to say.”


“Well, for starters, how about explaining what got into you last night,” she suggested. “Then, maybe we can segue from there into what brought on that embarrassing little lip locking incident last week.”


Giles sighed. Turning his face aside, he opened his eyes and focused on the pale, striped pattern on the wall next to the bed.


“You do remember what I’m talking about, don’t you?” the slayer prompted when it looked like her Watcher wasn’t going to answer her question any time soon. “Or is this some kind of demonic amnesia thing? You’ve got to remember something. I seem to recall you getting all flustery and apologetic when it happened, so obviously you aren’t experiencing total brain drain.”


“Some details are a bit unclear,” Giles admitted, his voice warbling with his remorse. “But I remember enough. Perhaps more than either of us would care for me to,” he added in a shamed mumble. “Really, Buffy, I don’t see how rehashing all this unpleasant business helps anyone. At this point, the best thing would be if put some distance between us. It’s the only way to assure that no one gets hurt.”


“Giles, you haven’t hurt anyone.”


“How can you say that knowing what I’ve done to you?” the Watcher frowned.


“I can say it because it’s true. Okay, you attacked me. But it wasn’t like it was an attack attack. It was more a pressed advantage. And since no individual’s feelings were irrevocably harmed in the pressing, no big bad. Heck, you never would have even got that far if it weren’t for that crazy whammy you put on me. Face it, Giles. The only one in danger here is you. Seriously, if you don’t learn how to positively channel that testosterone of yours, you could wind up dead. And then where would you be?”


“Buffy..”


“No! Don’t you Buffy me, Giles. This insanity has to stop. Okay, I get that you’re a horny, drunken old reprobate of a demon. But, hey! So are a ton of other guys out there, and they don’t have the excuse of getting hit by a dose of voodoo gone kablooey.”


With a weary sigh, Giles turned toward Buffy and reached out a hand, tenderly cupping her chin. He could feel his demon urges pulling at him, telling him to give in to his sexual whims, but he shrugged off the insistent impulse. With a heavy shudder of his wings, he gently traced a finger across the curve of his slayer’s cheek and swept back a loose lock of hair.


“Buffy, these things that I do,” Giles frowned, playing his fingertips lazily through the soft, silken strands. “I can’t control them. Believe me, I’ve tried. Lord, how I’ve tried! But I’m afraid it simply isn’t working. Whatever is inside me is strong. Much stronger than I am. And in spite of certain incriminating appearances to the contrary, I don’t enjoy being this way, and you shouldn’t have to put up me when I am.”


“It’s not all your fault, you know,” she countered sympathetically. “Spike hasn’t exactly been a good influence for you.” Her fingers twisted the sheets, working out the irritation she felt for the blonde vampire. “Somehow he got this stupid idea that if he can make you look bad, he’ll look better, and then I’ll like him.”


“You must think he’s bloody Prince Charming about now,” Giles grumbled with a dry, self-effacing snort.


“What I think,” she replied, “is that he’s a selfish, manipulative bastard who doesn’t know any better than to get between a slayer and her Watcher. Giles, I know that things have been kinda insane lately, what with me being dead and then not. But if it came down to a choice between having a lecherous Watcher or a dead one, the occasional pinch on the bottom would win out hands down.”


The beginnings of a mischievous smile toyed at one corner of Brit’s mouth. “It’s nice to know you wouldn’t mind sacrificing your personal dignity should the cause arise.”


“You do realize that wasn’t an open invitation,” she teased back. “Just because you know you can doesn’t mean I’ll let you.”


“Understood. I shall endeavor to curtail my prurient behavior.”


“Whatever. I’d settle for just keeping your hands to yourself.”


“Same thing.”


“Oh. Well, then, okay.” Buffy relaxed, her shoulders shaking in a relieved chuckle. “For a minute there, I thought it might have had something to do with all that time you’ve been spending in the bathroom. What?” she challenged, noting her Watcher’s shocked expression. “You think I couldn’t figure out what it was you were doing in there?”


“I had rather hoped not,“ Giles scowled acerbically. “And here I’d thought I was being discreet.”


“If by discreet you mean you weren’t humpin’ the furniture out in public where we could all see you, then, yeah, I guess you were. On the other hand, it was kind hard to ignore all that noise.”


“N-Noise?” Giles gulped, his face coloring a deep shade of red. “I-I make noise?”


“Relax, Giles. Don’t have a bird. It’s not like you scream out anybody’s name or anything like that. You just, uhm, well, flap. Loud.”


Giles sighed and unconsciously raised his wings to shield himself from his slayer’s accusing glare. “And I suppose that everyone in the house knows about my, er, flapping?” he hesitantly asked.


“Pretty much,” she nodded succinctly. “Though, if it’s any consolation, I’m not sure Dawn’s caught on yet. She thinks you’ve got some kind of demon constipation problem.”


“Ah, yes, because that is infinitely less embarrassing,” Giles grumbled dryly from behind his feathered sanctuary. “Well, at least now I know why she’s been trying to entice me with all those beastly prune concoctions.”


“Hey, the brownies weren’t that bad. Xander liked them. Though, not so sure how much they liked him back the next day,” she giggled.


Giles joined her in the laugh with a gentle chuckle. After a few rumbling snickers, however, he clutched at his side and winced.


“Hurts, huh?” Buffy frowned.


“A bit,” he admitted. “Fortunately, it appears as if I shall survive.”


From downstairs, Buffy became aware of the sound of muffled voices. Her friends were all gathered down there in the living room, talking and laughing and having a good time. It all seemed so normal, and somehow, perfectly right.


“Is there something wrong, Buffy?” Giles cautiously prompted. He grunted, stretching out, the aching in his side flaring for a moment before it died away again.


Frowning, Buffy watched as Giles carefully composed his features into an expression of studied indifference to mask his pain, but with all his stoic bravado, he couldn’t completely hide the shadows that darkened his eyes. He’d taken quite a beating, and even though some of his wounds were already well on their way to healing, Buffy suspected the worst of them, those that were mentally self-inflicted, would take a good deal more TLC before they finally faded.


“No, nothing wrong,” she replied, giving up a brief smile. “It’s just, there’s some stuff I want to talk to you about.” At his expectant look, Buffy patted his hand. “Later, though. When you’re feeling more yourself.”


“Buffy, this may be ‘as myself’ as I’m going to be for some while. If it’s something important...”


“Well,” she hemmed evasively, avoiding her Watcher’s concerned gaze. “It not end of the world important or anything like that. Just, you know, regular Buffy Needs To Get Something Off Her Chest kind of stuff.”


“Ah, then it must be very important,” Giles said, returned her smile with his warm assurance. “Because to me, you are the world, Buffy.”


A tickling warmth began to spread through Buffy’s body, but this time it had nothing to do with any demonic magic. It was all the good Giles kind of magic.


“Wow, Giles, you should have saved that one,” she blushed, her nervous self-consciousness shining through her levity. “It’s probably the best Get In Her Pants line I’ve ever heard.”

“Did it work?”


“No.”


“Then, it would seem that it wasn’t all that good.”


“You know, if you weren’t already lying flat on your back, mister, I’d be seriously considering putting you there for that one.”


A gentle shaking ran through the bed, telegraphing its quiver to the slayer’s seated posterior. It took a moment for Buffy to realize that she was feeling Giles laughing.


“I don’t know,” he teased with a droll grin. “At least this time you didn’t refer to me as ‘old’. That’s certainly an improvement.”


“Well, maybe you’re not that old,” she conceded with a sarcastic titter. “You’ve still got a few years left before you’re all the way over that hill. I mean, it’s not like you’ve reached the point yet where body parts have started sagging, and you don’t take out your dentures at night to soak ‘em in a glass.”


“I assure you, Buffy, every one of my teeth is still firmly attached to my gums,” Giles muttered in mock grumpiness. “Not everyone in England subscribes to the Austin Powers’ School of Dental Hygiene Practices.”


“Hence the crucial designation ‘that’ before the old,” she countered.


Giles sniffed, rearranging the pillow beneath his head. “And I suppose I should be grateful for that concession,” he muttered snippily.


“Look, uhm, Giles...” Buffy hemmed nervously, digging the toe of her shoe into the carpet, avoing her Watcher’s eyes. “All kidding aside for the moment, there’s something I need to tell you.”


She worried at her lip, wondering just how to say it. Why is this so hard? It’s not like the end of the world, Summers. They’re just words. You say them all the time to other people. Yeah, but Giles isn’t other people. He’s...Giles. And you know that’s different. That’s special.


“This wouldn’t by any chance be that important something you thought could wait?”


“Actually, it’s a different important something. We’ve know each other for some time now, and, well, it just occurred to me, I don’t think I’ve ever told you how good a Watcher you are. So, I’m telling you. Now.”


“Thank, you, Buffy. That’s very kind of you. It goes without saying that I believe you to be a most excellent slayer. Of course, you’re much more than that to me.”


“And you’re more than just a Watcher to me, Giles. A lot more. You’re my teacher, and my confidant. You’re my friend. And when I need one, you’re like my father. Or, at least, like I wish my father would be. Only better, ‘cause, well, you’re Giles. And that’s why I need say this. Because I’ve already died twice without ever telling you what I really feel. And I don’t want that to happen again. I want you to know that...”


She took a deep breath, and suddenly the words were there, right where they belonged.


“I love you, Mr. Rupert Giles.”


She looked up, her gaze raising to meet her Watcher’s eyes. For a brief heart beat she saw that strange spark glint faintly within the green pools of his irises, and a panic seized her. Suspecting the worst, she tensed, preparing to defend herself from a possible amorous tussle, but the fire slowly smoldered away and died, revealing instead a charming twinkle that brought a sigh of relief to her lips.


Sitting upright, Giles reached out to his slayer, and gently drew her into his arms.


“Now, you do know that’s love, as in ‘perfectly platonic’?” she offered in an nervous addendum as her Watcher pulled her closer. “So, don’t go holding your breath waiting for me to fulfill any of those torrid fantasies of yours any time soon. But if you’re a good demon, I might, repeat might, be persuaded to bestow a kiss now and then. There will be absolutely no tongue involved, though, and no exchange of bodily fluids of any kind is to take place! Is that clear?”


“Perfectly,” Giles replied.


“And all that sex talk and the naughty innuendo? I expect you to keep that down to a PG-15 rating. We’ve got impressionable young teenaged ears in this house, you know. Oh, and don’t go expecting any ‘ewww’ reprieves, either. I retain the right to verbal abuse and will continue to taunt you mercilessly at every available opportunity. Got that?”


“Mmmm, understood.”


With a spread of his wings, Giles swept the bed sheets aside, and giving her back a nudge, cuddled the petite slayer comfortably against his bare chest. Wrapping his feathered limbs around them both, he sealed them in a sweetly perfumed embrace, his arms firmly encircling Buffy’s smaller figure.


She stared up at him expectantly, and he thought he detected a hint of fear in her eyes. But she held his gaze and didn’t flinch as he leaned down and placed a single chaste kiss upon her upturned forehead.


“I love you too, Miss Buffy Summers,” Giles confessed, his words ringing with heartfelt sincerity. “And you have my solemn promise. I will be a good a demon. Or, at least as good a demon as you wish me to be.”


“I’m not asking for any miracles. Just a little restraint now and then. Uh, and speaking of which,” she added, glancing downward to where their bellies touched. “Now would be a good time to start. Geeze, Giles!” She shot a scandalized look at the Watcher, leaning away from the projecting bulge that tented the sheets gathered around his waist. “You could poke a girl’s eye out with that thing.”


“Sorry,” he apologized. With a modest repositioning of a wing, he covered the offending portion of his anatomy. “I swear to you, it isn’t intentional...”


“Yeah, yeah, completely natural response, can’t control it, yadda, yadda, yadda.” She rolled her eyes in mock disgust, but was unable to hold in the smile that tainted her lips with gleeful amusement. “So, do you need to go flap, or are you just gonna keep that thing under wraps when the guys come in?”


Giles glanced toward the bedroom door. He, too, could hear the distinct sound of multiple footsteps heading up the stairs from below.


“Perhaps some additional covering might prove prudent,” he mumbled sheepishly.


With a chuckle, Buffy reached for the bedspread folded at the foot of the mattress, and pulling it over the sheet that covered her Watcher, carefully tucked it around him to camouflage his “problem”.


In spite of what should have been an embarrassing moment for both of them, Buffy felt a certain comfortable ease. Things were good. Her Watcher was hurt, but recovering quickly, and she was sure that in a few days he would be up and about again. Barring any major breakthroughs in the research department between now and then, he would still probably be a demon, but that was okay. With a few new rules and some patience, they would both find a way to live with that. Right now, she was just happy to have Giles around and was looking forward to being with her friends. And, for the first time since her resurrection, she was truly glad to be alive.


The footsteps had gathered outside the bedroom door, and were joined by whispering voices. From the haven within his covers, Giles looked up at his slayer’s happily grinning face and smiled.


“Penny for your thoughts,” he offered.


“You’d be seriously underbidding,” Buffy chuckled back, nodding toward the milling herd that was peeking through a crack in the opening door. “Will and I just made ten bucks each.”


“We did?” Willow cheerily enjoined. Throwing the door open, she boldly pranced up to her friend’s side. “How did we do that?”


Filing into the bedroom behind the red head, the other Scoobies came over to stand by the bed where the slayer sat perched on the edge of the mattress at her Watcher’s side.


“Remember that little bet we had with Cordelia back in high school?” Buffy said. “Well, it’s time to call and collect.”


“Bet? What bet?” Xander frowned. Pulling up the chair from the vanity across the room, he eased himself down into the seat, turning a jealous scowl on his two friends. “And why wasn’t I in on this possible influx of wealth.”


“‘Cause, as I recall, you said you wanted no part of it,” Buffy smugly told her disappointed companion. “Something about refusing to waste your time on some stupid girlie game and how you didn’t care what another man wore for skivvies.”


The delighted yelp that erupted from Willow was only outdone by the triumphant gleam in her eye as she remembered the conversation to which Buffy had referred. “Giles wears boxers!”


There was a peeved huff from the bed. Meeting her Watcher’s challenging glower with an innocent smile, Buffy’s smile broadened. “Oh, and Will?”


“Yeah?”


Extending a hand toward the gleeful red head, palm up, the slayer waggled her fingers expectantly.


“Red silk. With flame details. So, pay up.”


Xander’s beleaguered mutterings were heartily drowned within a chorus of giggles from the females in the room. “See!” Anya hissed smugly at her fiancé. “And you told me underwear wouldn’t be a good idea for a Christmas present.”


Xander hung his head in with a hangdog weariness. “What I said was buying your boss underwear for Christmas wasn’t the best idea in the world,” he groaned in retort.


“Well, at least he wears my gift. I haven’t once seen him put on that crappy tie you gave him.”


Tara looked at the ex-demon with an expression of astonishment. “You bought Giles underwear for Christmas?” she tittered from behind a hand.


“You bought Giles flaming underwear for Christmas?” Willow squeaked, echoing her girlfriend’s disbelief.


“I thought it might help improve sales,” Anya responded defensively. “Wearing sexy underwear always makes me feel more confident, and when I feel that way, I sell more. I figured a happy Giles means bigger profits for the store, so I got him a pair for every day of the week.”


Six pairs of eyes turned toward the Watcher, who grinned sheepishly back from under the raised hem of his covers.


“I have so worn the tie,” he offered up lamely. “Just last week, in fact. And I thought it was a very nice tie, Xander.”


“This from the man who still considers tweed an actual fashion statement,” Buffy smirked. Leaning toward Anya, she whispered in an aside. “Meanwhile, you might wanna think about a new Tuesday pair. I’m afraid those shorts he’s got on now have seen their last day.”


This observation seemed to delight the ex-vengeance demon. “I saw the perfect pair at Raymond’s the other day! There were the scrummiest black and had tiny little silver dragons.”


An indignant grunt rose from beneath the sheets. “You should be thankful you didn’t deign to ascertain the outcome of this little wager of yours yesterday,” Giles sniffed at his snickering audience. “Or no one would have won.”


“Wha-what do you mean,” Dawn frowned as she hiccupped between giggles. “Someone has to win. It has to be one or the other, right? Boxers or briefs? I mean, unless you weren’t wearing any underwea-oh!”


The teen clamped a palm tightly across her mouth, holding back her dismayed whine.


“Well, that would explain our impressive sales tally,“ Anya calmly remarked. “Yesterday was our biggest day ever since the Magic Box opened.”


“And...ewwwww! Buffy!”


“GILES!”







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