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He's already done more this night than any good man should have to do. But, though his soul remains, he lost the right to any pretence of goodness long ago, in dark cellars with blood-covered circles and blood-covered demons and his blood-covered hands.

So he climbs. Climbs as fast as he can to the tower's top. Climbs to do his second murder tonight and to soak his hands in more innocent blood.

She's there, feet dripping with red life, dress soaked in it.

And she is there. His Slayer, his charge, his friend, his beloved child.

But she's also Dawn's sister, and she'll never let him do this.

They both know it. They begin the fight without a word: she unarmed and he with a makeshift staff, a metal pole salvaged from the building site.

Her blows are desperately strong, but there's little hesitations before each strike; a disruption to the flow of a fight, as if she's having to convince herself to throw each punch and kick. She fights … for her sister? For the part of her she says she feels in the girl? To feel that there's something right she can hold onto when she's confessed she can't tell that any more? To die, to end her life, or to fulfil the prophecy that death shall be her gift? For the sake of all these things? He can't tell, and wishes he could. Once, he thinks, he might have been able to. Not at first, when he thought of her as a renegade, and not recently as they've pulled apart. But there was a time when they knew and trusted each other so well …

And what's happened to him? What pulled him onto this path? There was his oath, sworn to protect the world, and that's what he told her just hours ago. But that's only one of a web which tries to bind him, convictions taken on in times of surety which now seem so distant. Yet the hardest strand to struggle against was made only two years ago. After the Cruciamentum, he swore that he would never pain his child so again, never more enact such a terrible betrayal.

In the end, though, he thinks that he has brushed all the spider-strands away, the past cast aside. He told her the cold logic earlier: that Dawn could die one way or another, and that the second would see all the worlds die with her. It would see her dead in a futile attempt to protect her sister.

And that, perhaps, is the heart of it. No oath, no ideal could turn him against his Slayer but she herself. For her sake he fights, so that she can live.

She's tired. She's gone fist to fist with a hellgod, and had to do it too many times in the last week. Her form is off, and her balance imperfect. He trained her, knows every art she shifts through at desperate speed. He keeps her at a distance as best he can with the staff, compensating for her swiftness by moving as little as possible. Every high kick met by the tiniest shift to deflect the blow just far enough. The cramped space on the shaking bridge slows her, allows him to hold her off when open ground would see him dead in ten seconds.

But, for all that, he knows he can't win. This is human against slayer – a tired, middle-aged man against a hero of legend. He's thrown himself into the fight anyway because he cannot give up on her, but victory was never on the cards.

He puts every bit of his skill into this, runs all the remnants of his magic through his veins to push his muscles beyond their limits. For twenty seconds, thirty seconds, a minute, two, he fights a Slayer.

Then he, as he knew he would, dies. A serpent-swift blow goes unblocked. It hammers into him, crushes the air from his lungs and slams his heart out of rhythm. He falls to his knees, grasping at his chest. And so Giles gasps out his last breath.

But.

So long as the portal is open, the blood flows. No matter the careful shallowness of the cuts, this time and this place demands the energy of the Key. He's fought not to kill Dawn himself, but to let her die. And blood has streamed out and dripped and fallen. Dawn sucuumbs quietly, slipping through shock into unconsciousness and then a deeper, final sleep. And with the last of it, the gate snaps shut.

Two lives sacrificed for the world, they'll say. But, really, it was two lives given for one. They both died for her. For Buffy.