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Three Conversations in Liminal Spaces

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I.

The foyer of his father's house was flagged, like the hall of a manor in a Sherlock Holmes story. As a child Wesley had skinned his knees and once, shamefully, his chin, on the rough stones, but when he returned from L.A. he found a moment to be grateful for them as he vomited up the remains of two scant, greasy meals and half a dozen stiff whiskies.

"Connor," he said, when the rush of memory receded and he could speak.

"The vampire's child?" Father didn't come to help him, of course, but watched from the foot of the stairs, stake in hand. One cannot be too careful. No one was ever invited into this house.

Wesley wiped his mouth with his handkerchief and dropped it over the mess before he stood up. He could see the mystical circle now, the white chalk blending with the grout around the flagstones. "That's what the spell you just broke was meant to suppress. The memory of him." He touched the scar on his neck. "I'm not carrying any other active magics."

"That you know of, possibly. But after that spectacle I'll need more assurance than that. Cates?"

He didn't need to look to know that Cates was exactly like every other secretary Father'd ever had: dour, stocky, just past youth and flawless at something Wesley could never master. He speculated, as Cates tossed powders and mumbled an incantation, that with this one it was probably the pommel horse. It certainly wasn't his spellcraft; the revealing charm was a pitiful one that could hardly break a glamour. "If you're quite finished, I'll step out of the circle now."

"It's not a circle, Wesley, please."

"So I'd be wrong in presuming that if I'd said 'magical irregular polygon' you would have chastised me for flippant literalism and a preoccupation with inessential appearance?" Wesley stepped over the line and held out his arms.

"My god." Father snorted. "Even without the demon barristers you've been in America far too long if you…"

"There's a revolver under each arm, Cates, and a stake strapped to my right leg. You'll have to trust me to remove the device attached to my right forearm." He made the infinitesimal shift necessary to release the blade. "It's rather touchy."

Father watched without comment as Cates disarmed Wesley. "Well," he said at length, when the weapons were ranged along the old sideboard. "My son, the… cowboy. Do you really find much call for these things, over there?"

"Demons adopt different practices in urban areas."

"As do those who purport to fight them. Apparently." Father cast a disapproving eye over Wesley's suede jacket, his trousers, his unbuttoned collar. Though it was after nine on a damp night he himself still wore a perfectly pressed suit and waistcoat, his tie not even loosened. "We hear disturbing things about you, Wesley."

"Do you." He touched his scar again, and Angel's face swam briefly before his eyes, angry, then calm, then angry again. "I've heard little about you. Or the Watcher's Council." He dropped his hand. "What I have heard, albeit on exceedingly poor authority, is that you're recruiting."

Father's steely gaze didn't waver. "Have you indeed," he said, with the faintest flicker of interest.

 

II.

The dim back corridor of the translation division smelled of old books and new paint, and damp woolen coats, and sherry, though the last might have been only him. It was really shocking, Wesley felt, how merlot and sherry, drunk in succession, went to one's head. He didn't even care for sherry, but he'd needed something more fortifying than table wine on which to face the massed remains of the Council, even for the allegedly joyous occasion of a holiday party. A pity he couldn't gird himself in similar fashion for the traditional Boxing Day gathering at his Father's house. It would feature many of the same faces, and some excellent Irish single-malt. But no. Mustn't alarm Mother.

The sherry was deepening the pile of the industrial carpeting under Wesley's feet. He stepped carefully, stumbled anyway, and caught himself with a hand on top of a filing cabinet that made a hollow boom at the impact. When he moved forward, a strangely solid shadow caught him at the ankle, and the cabinet boomed again, from much nearer the ground.

"Lookwhur're going, damn you." a man slurred, the voice coming from a level near Wesley's knees. "Callreself a Watcher when you can't even watch where you're going?"

"Watch where I...? You shouldn't be blocking the corridor." Wesley gave the other man's leg a little kick. "P'Ticularly not in the dark. Sssunsafe."

Cloth slid over carpet and wood as the voice moved up the wall. "Well, 'f it comes to that what're you doing, wandering about in the… oh."

"Oh," Wesley echoed, when a face emerged into the dim green glow of the fire exit sign. "Mr. Giles."

"Thought you'd still be at the party." Giles moved as if about to slide back down, but he only leaned back in order to comfortably raise a flask to his lips. Wesley had seen him only briefly since starting back at the Council, and never to speak to. He'd aged since they parted in Sunnydale, but he was no less handsome.

"Thought you'd surely still be there. As acting head of field operations." Wesley found himself leaning forward as Giles lowered the flask, chasing an elusive whisper of odor. A spicy shaving lotion, and something else...

"Yes, because everyone's so bloody overjoyed about that." He puffed out a laugh. "Most of them out there would've been resigned to losing Travers if I'd just gone down in the explosion as well."

Yes, whiskey. "Surely not," he murmured, eyes on Giles' lips.

"Perhaps not. Doesn't mean I want to talk to them." Giles took another swallow that seemed to drain his flask, then tipped his head back. The feeble lights glinted off his glasses.

"Nor I." Wesley giggled suddenly.

"What?"

"Your glasses… the sign… reflection," Wesley explained. "Exit… exit…" He leaned in closer, trying to find an angle from which he could see Giles' eyes.

"Surely you, of all people, absorbed the cautionary tale of Rupert Giles? There's no way out. No… way… Wesley?"

They were scarcely a hand's breadth apart. Wesley closed the gap and kissed him. Giles' mouth was warm and firm, and tasted pleasantly of whiskey. Not an Islay, of course, but still a good, sharp taste that swept away the cloying fruity remnants of the wine. And no whiskey ever rolled over one's tongue like, well, another tongue.

"Wesley!" Giles broke away with a gasp. "What…"

"Need to go back to the party?" Wesley asked. He let one hand find Giles' belt, and hooked a finger into it.

"Don't," Giles growled, and kissed him back.

 

III.

Though Wesley had been promoted from the nursery to a bedroom on the first floor of the house at the time he left school, the change was strictly a formal one. He spent few nights under his father's roof, and even at those times an excess of guests or some other contingency frequently required a renewed exile to his childhood room. It no longer rankled. If anything, since his return to England, he'd welcomed the additional privacy, if not the bitter chill of a space the central heating didn't even pretend to reach. And after a long evening mingling with, or in some cases avoiding, the members of the reformed Council his father found congenial, Wesley welcomed the solitude even more than usual.

He switched on a bar of the electric fire, then set his overnight bag on one of the two narrow beds. He usually chose the left-hand one, but tonight he'd sleep on the right, as he had years ago. Christmas, and all.

The unexpected creak of a hinge had him scrabbling in his bag for his pistol, but when he saw who was in the doorway he stopped.

"Oh. Sorry, I beg your… Wesley?" Rupert Giles paused in the act of backing out the door. "I'm sorry, I must have misunderstood…."

Cursing and laughing seemed equally appropriate responses, but Wesley settled on repeating "Misunderstood?" in the blandest tone he could muster.

"Instructions about where to go. I'm sorry, I'll just…"

"No, wait." Wesley stood up, forcibly collecting himself to consider the guest list and the bedrooms. "Aunt Hortensia, the Strathairns, Fawcett, Lady Breckenridge… if old Brecon is staying, which from his degree of attention to the eggnog I imagine he is, there aren't any available beds on the first floor. This, apparently, is indeed where you're meant to sleep." He nodded towards the other bed. "Didn't think you'd be staying," he added.

"I didn't think I'd be asked." Giles hovered in the doorway. "And once I was, I rather planned to decline."

"Why didn't you?" Wesley loosened his tie. He couldn't really fathom why Father had invited Giles, either, unless the guest list had been generated by listing off all the surviving members of Watcher families currently in the home counties.

Giles looked, if possible, even more uncomfortable. "The notice went to my mother, who replied on behalf of us both."

Wesley snorted a laugh. "Parents. And then she reneged but insisted you go on?"

"In a manner of speaking. Her hip's playing up, and she couldn't go out tonight, and I didn't want her waiting up for me…" He trailed off.

"Stop lurking in the doorway like a vampire." Wesley sat down. "In a houseful of Watchers it's not safe."

"Kind of you to take an interest."

"Not really. If I'm to share the room I'd rather not share it with the draft as well."

Giles shut the door. "If I'd known," he began irritably.

"Of course." Wesley turned his attention to the dusty yellow lino that covered the floor, while Giles dropped an overnight bag on the other bed.

"I'm sorry," Giles said, after a few moments. "It's not fair that you should suffer just because your father has a grudge against me."

"Grudge isn't quite the term I'd use. And it's quite as likely that he's using you as an instrument of my humiliation as vice versa."

"Charming man, your father. Makes me wonder how we ever were fired." Giles took off his glasses and rubbed one eye with the heel of his hand.

Wesley started to retort, then shook his head and pulled a book out from among his night things. "You'll want the extra rugs," he said. "It's cold up here."

"So I notice." Giles blinked as he pushed his glasses back into place.

"The bathrooms are all on the first floor, so you'll need to wait for the others to finish if you want anything more than a basin and commode."

"Commode in this case meaning…?"

"T-toilet." Wesley pushed past the slight embarrassed tremor in his voice. "There is plumbing."

"I didn't dare assume. Did you actually live up here as a child?" Giles wandered to the window and flicked a finger at the bars, which vibrated dully at the touch. "It's positively medieval."

"My mother kept a room across the landing when I was small." Wesley flushed a bit. "And I, ah, I had a nanny. After I turned five, though…" He swallowed. "Yes. Well. It was a long time ago," he added, when the silence stretched on uncomfortably.

Giles sneezed and muttered something incomprehensible.

"Gesundheit." Wesley looked up in time to see Giles folding his handkerchief back into his pocket. "I'm sorry, did you say something?"

"No."

Silence. Wesley checked his watch, then opened his copy of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. When Giles rattled the window bars, he put the book down. "You didn't seem to object to my company nearly this much at the official Christmas party last week."

"I-I…"

"Or was that just the sherry talking? Or, more accurately, kissing?"

"Wesley, I'm… that was…"

"I don't recall ever inviting you to use my first name."

Giles suddenly found his voice. "One might argue," he said harshly, "that by sticking your hands down my trousers the other night, you made an implicit invitation."

"One might argue that as my superior you were taking advantage."

"One might point out that you kissed me first."

"I was drunk!" Wesley protested.

"Because otherwise you wouldn't have spared a glance for me?" Giles rolled his eyes.

"Because otherwise I would have remembered that particular contemptuous expression of yours and given it up as a bad job."

"I wouldn't have called it a bad…" He turned his head to sneeze again. "Never mind."

"Gesundheit. Are you getting cold?"

Giles shook his head. "Don't think so… oh, g-god…" Another powerful sneeze bent him over at the waist. "Dammit." He blew his nose, then pulled off his glasses to rub his eyes. "If we could defer trading barbs for a moment… you said there's a basin?"

Wesley pointed to the door in the corner. "The light's on the left as you go in," he said, polite and toneless.

"Thank you." Giles turned the knob, then spun back with a shout as a marmalade-colored blur shot out of the washroom, struck him in the chest, swarmed over his shoulder and launched itself at the nearest bed, vanishing beneath it. "What…?"

Wesley, who'd started almost as much at the sight, slowly got up and raised the edge of the coverlet. When he jostled the mattress with a shoulder, he was rewarded with a yowl and a hiss. "It's a cat," he said. "I believe."

"Of course," Giles sighed. He brushed at his suit jacket. "Happy fucking Christmas, indeed. Your childhood pet?"

"What? I never had a cat. Some lizards, once, and an Ersecut hatchling when I was fourteen… but not a cat. And this one seems quite young." Wesley retrieved his pocket torch and flashed it under the bed. "Puss-puss-puss…"

The cat hissed louder and retreated further, to the most inaccessible bit of the under-bed space.

"It's a rather handsome one, though not a pure breed, I don't think."

"Must it stay under the bed?" Giles demanded.

"I doubt it will, though it's difficult to say. I can't imagine what it's doing up here in the first place. Perhaps one of the temporary housemaids is taking it home as a gift. You don't like cats?

Giles sneezed emphatically and glared at him. "It's not that I dislike them," he said. "Just that I prefer breathing unimpeded."

"Right. Okay. Um... right." Wesley cast about helplessly. "Er, ah, well, I'll corner the beast and then we'll shut it in the... gesundheit... the schoolroom, and that..." he trailed off when he saw Giles shaking his head. "No?"

"It's not sniff the cat so much as the sniff fur, which... it... has been shedding industriously for some time, it seems." Giles blew his nose. "And not even so much the fur as the dander, which is even more insidious." He moved to rub his eyes again, but checked himself with a small noise of frustration.

"I'm sorry," Wesley said, more genuinely than before.

"'S all right." Giles let out a sigh. "Adding 'guest who skips out before breakfast' won't do much, relatively speaking, to disendear me to your father. Shoo," he added, very sternly, as the cat put its face and one paw out from under the bed.

With all the dignity and perversity of its species, the cat emerged into the room, took a few steps towards Giles, then leapt up onto his bed.

"Down!" Wesley shouted, clapping his hands. The cat blinked large, limpid eyes, nosed at the zipper of Giles' bag, and began to purr.

Giles sneezed and described the cat, briefly and insultingly, in one of the simpler demonic languages.

"I don't think so; it seems a very healthy creature."

"If," Giles said stuffily, "You would be so good as to encourage it to move away from my things, I'll take them and leave."

"Don't be ridiculous." Wesley checked his watch. "It's after one o'clock, and you won't find a bed this side of…" He trailed off when he saw how Giles' eyelids had begun to swell. "And I somehow doubt you should be driving."

"To state the glaringly obvious, the state of my eyes is not going to be improved by staying here." Giles shoved his glasses into a pocket, rubbed his forehead, then pinched the bridge of his nose. "Damn."

"Have you any… here, let's go into the hall," Wesley said, when Giles sneezed again. The cat gave a puzzled prrrp? when Wesley tugged Giles out the door, but made no move to follow. "Have you any medication?"

"Yes. In my shaving kit." He coughed.

"Which is currently presided over by our furry roommate, yes." Wesley frowned at Giles, who was rubbing his face again. "Your throat's not swelling, is it?" he asked when Giles gave another cough.

"Just the rhinitis."

"Well, thank heavens for that small favor, anyway. Wait here." Wesley slipped down the hall, avoiding the creaking boards through old habit, and checked a door at the far end. It was locked, but he'd learned a trick or two since he was fourteen, and teasing the bolt back took him less than a minute. The stairs beyond were narrower than he remembered, but not as steep, and at the top the air smelled like snow. Satisfied, Wesley retraced his steps.

Giles was leaning against the wall, loosening his tie, his jaw tight with the effort of either not scratching or holding back a sneeze – possibly both. He turned swollen, watery eyes to Wesley but didn't speak.

"I'll take you for some fresh air once I've rescued our things from the den of the fearsome pussycat."

Giles glared and retreated into his handkerchief.

Wesley cautiously reentered the bedroom. The cat had curled up beside Giles' suitcase, but raised its head with an inquisitive mrow when Wesley switched off the electric fire.

"You stay there," Wesley told it. He collected the bags and backed hastily out. "You, don't touch that," he told Giles, who was reaching for his own suitcase as soon as he saw it. "Cat was on it. Shut the door."

"It's not like a damn peanut allergy." Giles did, however, close the door.

"Let's not test that, shall we?" Wesley gave Giles' bag a shake, then set it down, and found the shaving kit inside. The first medicine bottle he picked up held sleeping pills, but the next had a fresher label and Giles reached for it. "Do you need water?"

Giles shook his head, twisting the bottle open. "They're small." He got the bottle open, but another thunderous sneeze doubled him over and sent pills scattering everywhere. "Oh, bloody..."

"I'll get them. Take one, for god's sake." Wesley took the bottle and crouched down to the floor. "Are you quite sure you're not going to go into anaphylactic shock?"

"Not so far as I know." He swallowed two pills, then blew his nose. "Thank you," he added wearily.

Wesley frowned, taking in Giles' blotchy face and pink eyes. "You look terrible." He capped the bottle, tucked it away, then picked up their bags. "Come on, this way."

"How odd, I feel superb," Giles muttered, but he allowed Wesley to herd him up the attic stairs.

"It's colder," Wesley said, before Giles could complain, as the door swung shut behind them. "More drafts. But I think the air circulation will do you good."

Giles blew his nose again. "Yes." He sniffed. "Thank you. Here, let me carry your bag, at least."

Wesley extracted his torch, then handed the bag over. "Thanks." He led the way around boxes and sheet-wrapped furniture to a cleared space that was, he was pleased to find, even a bit larger than he remembered. "Hold this, please." He shoved the torch at Giles, who took it with a minimum of fumbling, then used both hands to push the lid of a footlocker back on rusty hinges. "There ought to be... yes, brilliant." He extracted two tightly-rolled sleeping bags and a few worn blankets. "Not elegant, and rather musty, but approved by the British Army for temperatures down to fifteen Fahrenheit. No, just hold the light, please." He waved Giles off and busied himself laying out the blankets.

"You needn't..." Giles began. He pulled out his glasses, shook them open one-handed and slipped them back on. "I mean, don't sleep up here simply to be hospitable to me."

Wesley paused. "No," he said after a moment's reflection. "Just because the beast doesn't make me sneeze doesn't mean it won't claw my eyes out in my sleep. The attic seems an infinitely safer choice." He realized he hadn't thought for a moment of leaving Giles to rough it alone. Of course, considering the rapidity and severity of his reaction to the cat, it was only safe for him to have someone in calling distance during the night. Wesley shifted the second bedroll so that they would be head to head, not head to toe. "I'm afraid there aren't any pillows," he went on.

"I have a couple jerseys we could roll up. You're welcome to one if you like."

"Thank you."

They faced each other uncomfortably over the beam of the torch.

Giles coughed and rubbed his nose. "Well. Ah, as my clothes are not rated as winter gear by the British Army, I think I'll change and get into..."

"Right, yes. Excellent idea," Wesley interrupted.

After another awkward pause, they fumbled about in the sharp light and shadows cast by the torch, digging out their nightclothes and turning their backs to hurriedly exchange formal trousers for flannel. At last they settled down side by side, sitting up against boxes with their legs down in their sleeping bags.

"Do you mind if I..." Wesley began.

"Do you want..." Giles started.

"Sorry."

"Go ahead."

"No, you."

"I insist, you first."

"Do you mind if I switch off the torch? To save the battery?"

"No, of course not."

"What were you going to say?"

"Offer you some chocolate." Foil gleamed in his hands. "Ritter sport, dark, with hazelnuts. Seeing as we're not cleaning our teeth."

"Yes, please."

"Here, maybe you'll have better luck getting this open, then."

For several minutes they ate in more comfortable silence. Wesley put on the torch, then flicked it off again. "The swelling's going down," he observed.

"It feels better. Thank you," Giles added. He took another square of chocolate when Wesley pushed the paper closer to him. "The pills are very effective."

"Have you always...?"

"No. Well, yes, but not..." He sighed. "I always had some sensitivity, but it's been much worse these last few years." He rubbed absently at his chest. "Apparently, transfusions of mystical energy play merry hell with one's immune responses."

Wesley looked at him, but Giles seemed disinclined to explain further. "Who knew."

"Indeed."

Wesley took more chocolate for himself. "They don't make you sleepy? The pills," he clarified.

"Rather the reverse. It's an aggressively non-drowsy formulation."

"Sensible. One never knows when one might have to operate heavy machinery."

"It's the fine motor coordination I worry about more." Giles tipped his head slightly to one side. "Would you consider a crossbow heavy machinery?"

"I think it depends on the bolts," Wesley answered seriously.

"Someone ought to write a reference for this sort of thing, covering that problematic gray area between adzes and trebuchets."

"The Council's never been very good with gray areas."

"And yet."

"Yet?"

"Here we are." Giles smiled slightly.

"Yes, here we are, banished to the attic, desperate to get away from our colleagues and relations."

"And yet still here, invited, however reluctantly."

Wesley dropped his eyes, thinking of his vomit on the flagstones, the prodigal groveling that still thrummed beneath the surface of every formal exchange with his father.

"Well. Except not invited as such." Giles laughed gently. "Even the fuddiest..."

"I wasn't. Invited. Or asked, or approached, or felt out." Wesley stared just past Giles' head. "I crawled home and begged. Begged to be taken back."

Giles said nothing for a long moment. "Begged?" he asked.

"Yes." Silence. "Well, as it was Father and me, it was all very correct and restrained, but it... was most definitely begging."

"Why?" Giles' voice was very soft, but compelling.

"Because the one thing more difficult than setting up as a rogue demon hunter in a country where you know no one is doing so in a place where you know everyone."

"Ah." Giles appeared to consider this. "Can I ask, why the change to rogue from, ah, cooperative?"

"It had become rather less than cooperative."

"I imagine that joining Wolfram and Hart..."

"We didn't join. We took over." Wesley paused. "That wasn't it. It was..." He let out a breath. "I came to see my father. I found that my memory had been altered. I decided that, under those circumstances, I could not return to Los Angeles. So I begged. To be let back in."

"What makes you think," Giles said, after a long minute, "that I didn't?"

"But you always had..." Wesley cut himself off. "I mean to say, when would that have been?" His voice was still far too sharp, childish, and he pressed his lips closed.

"Strange as it is to contemplate," Giles said dryly. "I did have a life before Buffy."

Wesley flushed hotly, exactly as if he were the child he sounded like. "Sorry."

"You know, don't you, that I ran away from university and raised a demon?"

"I heard, ah, something of the sort." Wesley watched Giles' hands, which were tight around the edge of the sleeping bag.

"After that." Pause. "It took some time before I even dared to beg. I expected..."

"To be killed?"

"It seemed not unlikely."

"What did you do?"

"Cut off the head of an innocent man."

"Christ. I just had to go through an odyssey of interrogation and magical examination."

Giles snorted a surprised laugh, then grew grave again. "No, I mean, that's what had me crawling back... to the Council, to dispose of the body and supernatural detritus, and then to my parents to take me in, and then the Council again, to let me... expiate myself insofar as such a thing is possible." He took off his glasses. "In any case, there was groveling."

Wesley caught his wrist before he could rub his eyes. "Don't," he said softly. "You'll irritate them again."

"Ah. Yes. Thank you." Giles laid the glasses down, but didn't pull his other hand away from Wesley's. Instead he turned, very slowly, and leaned closer, until Wesley could smell not merely his spicy aftershave but the chocolate on his breath. Then his lips touched Wesley's, lightly, then more firmly, and Wesley could taste the chocolate, and taste him. It was better without the whiskey, and much much better without the sherry and merlot. It was...

"What..." Wesley found he had no breath to go on. He drew back a few inches and tried again. "What are we doing?"

Giles pulled away and sighed briefly through his nose. Wesley tensed, waiting for some muttered comment about too long in California making one tiresomely obsessed with feelings and relationships. But when Giles spoke, it was awkwardly, almost shyly.

"I thought perhaps we might have another go. Properly, this time."

"Ah. Sober, you mean."

"No. Well, yes, but I was thinking more about afterwards. That, ah, there might be..."

Wesley looked to Giles' hands for a clue, but they were unhelpfully still, neither moving to unfasten nor closing in self-protection. "Might be...?" he prompted.

"Well, I'm damnably out of practice at this, but I believe these days one's supposed to go for coffee at first. Then possibly dinners, or films, or visits to museums. And eventually, if... if it's mutually agreeable, meeting one another's parents, and mutual attendance at respective family functions, and oh dear god I sound like Anya."

Wesley couldn't place Anya, though something in the rueful way Giles said her name made him think she must be from Sunnydale. He tried to fix the name to one of the very-dimly remembered teachers from the high school, then dropped that line of thought as the words coffee and dinners and meeting one another's parents rose strongly in his consciousness. "I'm sorry, I still don't entirely... 'at first?'"

Giles made an unnecessary adjustment to his glasses. "When two, ah, people, share an... attraction."

"When the two people are eighteen years old and starry-eyed romantics, I expect you're right, but I don't really see where any of that fits in to your life or mine." His own unstarry eyes twinged, and he wondered, in the silence after the harsh words, why he'd condemned Giles along with himself. Rupert Giles, as far as Wesley knew, bedded decent civilian women and lost them to whatever broke up normal relationships - toilet seats left up, perhaps, and mismatched senses of humor, and transatlantic job-related moves that couldn't be refused.

"Well, no," said Giles. He sounded unoffended. He sounded amused. "But while following the procedure in lock-step might be ridiculous for two men of our age and station, for myself I have no objection to any of the steps as such." A pause. "Except possibly meeting your father."

"You don't like me!" Wesley exploded.

"Well, in the past, no. As I recall, you didn't especially like me either."

"Well... no, as it happens, I found you very... obstructive. But I'm not the one talking about... about... having a relationship. Yes, I did start the, er..."

"Snogging," said Giles, helpfully.

"But I... I... we're... I mean, it would be fruitless to deny at this point that I'm attracted to you, but that doesn't necessarily mean long moonlit walks in the rain, gazing into each other's eyes and all sorts..."

"Not without stakes and silver bullets, certainly."

"Right, naturally, but my point... my point..." Wesley quavered to a stop as Giles leaned closer, then relaxed when he realized the other man was only shifting position.

"So, you'd accept a purely sexual liaison, because you find me physically attractive but personally revolting, is that it?"

"N-no. No!" Wesley jerked away. "It wasn't... you're not... that's not what it was with Lilah!"

"Lilah?" Giles looked at him with utter incomprehension. "Who's Lilah?"

Wesley stared back for a long moment. "No," he said. "No, this is absurd. I'm sorry about the kiss, and I'm flattered that you... but you don't know me now and you didn't like me before and I..."

"I don't care."

"What?"

"I said I don't bloody well care what we did or said or felt back in Sunnydale."

"But you don't seem... I mean, aside from the, yes, snogging..."

"Well, you did appear fresh from an irregular association with a demonic law firm. And then at our first personal interaction you kicked me in the shins. But I find I'm more intrigued than annoyed."

"But," Wesley stammered.

"Hello." Giles put out his hand. "I'm Rupert Giles."