"Here! Left! Left, left, right... kick! Higher! Yes, like that!"
The training room floor was cleared of equipment, the only items in use a pair of padded leather mitts over Giles’s hands. Buffy struck out at the targets, barely a fraction behind Giles’s shouted instructions.
"Here! Lower, now, foot, that's right... Hah!" Giles jumped nimbly into the air as Buffy's leg swept low under his feet. About to chastise her for missing, he was knocked off balance as she jumped higher and punched both mitts squarely. Naturally. Buffy never missed.
Giles's hands kept flashing out and Buffy kept moving, hitting every target he presented. Feet, hands, elbows; she flowed freely, her accuracy as overwhelming as her strength. Giles felt his own strength begin to flag as Buffy forced him back across the floor.
There were no words now, as they moved back and forth, breath coming faster with exertion and faces flushing red and shiny with sweat. It became as much a dance as a fight, their movements meshing into a single pattern as their entire world shrank to an imaginary sphere containing the two of them and nothing else.
Buffy froze, one arm above her head blocking a blow, the other drawn back ready for the next strike. Her breathing was rapid but controlled; her eyes shone with elation at her successful work. She was beautiful in a way that no vapid magazine model could ever be, a triumphant warrior-goddess at the height of her powers. Giles found himself torn between pride in her abilities and pride in himself for honing them; but really it had been the two of them all along, Slayer and Watcher, together working to create the girl before him now.
Then her expression changed, softened, and Buffy leant in and kissed him.
Giles was taken totally unawares. For a moment he simply stood paralysed, too surprised to react at all. Then, for one split second, he melted into the kiss.
Her lips were soft and warm as sunlight, and he could smell the clean sweat on her skin. The passion that she had previously devoted to the fight flowed into him instead and suddenly he realised how much he wanted this. He lifted one hand to touch her hair, and then realised he was still wearing the sparring gloves.
Sparring gloves. He was a Watcher. What was he doing?
Giles pulled away without finesse, Buffy stumbled forward slightly at the sudden loss of support. Her lips parted as if to ask a question and her hand twitched, about to reach out for him.
"No. We can't."
She took several seconds to reply, numbness chasing confusion across her face. "Why not?" The pain in her voice cut to his core, but even worse was knowing that he was the cause of that pain when he could just as easily be the cause of so much joy.
Joy for them. But not for the world it was their duty to protect.
Giles had learned long ago not to lie to her. He couldn't say he didn't want her - he was almost dying inside from refusing her. "Because you're a Slayer and I'm your Watcher."
“Well, the Council fired you, so technically you're not my Watcher, and why do you suddenly care about what they think?" Her voice shrunk almost to a whisper. "What about me?"
Giles tried to project reason, to show only a calm facade and not his desires. "The Council has been dealing with this for thousands of years. I've come to realise that many of their rules make sense. We're here to fight evil until we fall, not to make happy endings for ourselves."
"Well, why can't we have both? What's wrong with having a bit of happiness along the way?" Giles almost smiled at her stubbornness, admiring her determination even while feeling shrinking dread at the problem it would create.
"It's too dangerous. It's why Watchers are cautioned against forming any sort of attachment to their Slayers, whether romantic or paternal. We are the last defence against the powers of darkness; could you go through with a plan that called for me to spend my life, if we were lovers as well as partners in this work?"
"Yes I could," she cried, head lifted with determination and fists clenched. She looked as she always did when fighting demons. Did she see this as such a battle? For the first time, she had to lose. They couldn't survive if she won.
"Well I couldn't!" Giles responded, letting the pain show in his voice. "It's hard enough already for me to let you patrol alone, knowing what you face. Do you know how hard it is, training you and telling you to risk your life? Knowing that every time I see you may be the last? I can't let myself get any closer to you, or we risk failing utterly when the time comes."
Buffy blinked once, slowly, stepping back from him. "You're really saying no," she said, dully, tears starting to brim in her eyes. "You really don't want me."
"Listen. I will say this once, and once only. I want you more than anything in my entire life, but the price is simply too high. Not for us, but for the innocents who would actually pay it. For the victims of the vampires we fail to catch. For those slaughtered in the apocalypses we fail to prevent. With the Hellhole under Sunnydale, we risk the world for 'a bit of happiness along the way'. We can have happiness, you and I, but not with each other." Giles smiled sadly. "Effectively, I'm the only man you can't have."
There. He'd said no, and she’d listened. She was utterly downcast and despairing, but she understood. She looked so small, so desolate. He longed to take her in his arms, but knew that such an action would undo all that he had managed to achieve. Yet, he couldn't leave her there with nothing to comfort her. "I can't be your father or your lover; but I will always be your Watcher."
Buffy bit her lip and turned her back to him. Giles thought - just maybe - that he heard a small sound, like a choked sob. It was too much, and he reached out to touch her shoulder.
Buffy burst into tears and flung herself into his arms, holding Giles tightly. When she made no move to push matters any farther, he embraced her in a simple hug, for comfort between friends. "Shhh," he murmured. "Shhh, shhh, it will be all right."
When she loosened her grip, Giles dropped his arms and let her stand alone. She recovered as quickly as she had broken down, scrubbing at her eyes with a kleenex from her pocket and sweeping her hair back from her face. They stood face to face for a moment longer, not speaking aloud of what they felt, but painfully aware of it all the same.
"Gotta go," Buffy said, turning away sharply. "You know, demons to fight, vampires to stake."
"Fight well," Giles replied.
He pitied any demon Buffy happened to encounter on patrol tonight.