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Seventh Time's the Charm

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The one apocalypse that Giles could never have predicted, and that Buffy could never have prevented, was a nuclear holocaust. Not that that knowledge made him feel much better about it.

They'd been in the desert when the bombs had fallen and the clouds had risen. Buffy had insisted they drive towards the Sunnydale mushroom, but Giles had been the one with the driver's license. They'd driven away from the yellow clouds and their fallout until the road suddenly ended in a crater.

"Now what?" Buffy asked. Her crossed arms and smeared eye makeup made her look sullen and rebellious. She'd been catatonic in his passenger seat for so long that Giles welcomed the snark.

"East," he said, making a U-turn.

"Right, because maybe Arizona will be less nuked than San Diego."

The only radio station that wasn't static was playing incongruously cheerful Latin music, so they drove in silence until they reached a petrol station. The electric price sign was still working, but the clerk was nowhere to be found. While Buffy used the toilet, Giles loaded his trunk with bottles of water and stacks of canned goods. He thought about leaving cash on the counter, and instead broke into the register. While he was behind the counter, he grabbed a carton of cigarettes and four bottles of cheap wine. If American money became useless, vice would become currency, and if it didn't, well, he would have wine and cigarettes.

Buffy emerged from the lone toilet, her face scrubbed pink and makeup-free. Giles handed her two more bottles of wine. She unscrewed the lid off one and began drinking straight from the bottle. Giles didn't try to stop her.

She sat in the car, drinking, while Giles filled the tank with fuel. Giles took the bottle away from her when she laughed and said she loved him, but she was still slurring her words while he bribed their way past the Mexican border. He had to carry her to the bed of their dank little motel room. She didn't move from the position he laid her in until Giles found a television station broadcasting in English.

"--what is apparently the most devastating terrorist attack in recorded history. Multiple nuclear bombs were detonated in and around New York, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago, and Los Angeles..."

Buffy's eyes followed the ticker across the bottom of the screen, scanning the names of the towns that had been annihilated. When she saw 'Sunnydale' scroll past, she fell back against the bed and curled into a foetal position.

Giles turned off the television and lay down behind her. Her grief was his grief, and he knew there was nothing he could say to make it any less painful. He sang to her instead, rubbing her back.

After a few minutes, she rolled onto her back and stared at the water-stained ceiling. "Spike might have survived," she said. "You know, if he survived the fiery part of the bomb."

"He probably survived just to spite us," Giles agreed.

Her lips twitched into a tiny smile. "Probably."

He propped himself up on his elbow and watched her stomach rise and fall with each breath. The rhythm was so comforting that it practically hypnotized him. Inhale, exhale-- as long as she was breathing, he resolved to do the same, or at least make every attempt to do so. He rested his hand on her ribs so he could feel the proof of her aliveness.

He felt her sigh more than he heard it. Her eyes were closed, jaw finally relaxed. Her hair was a mess.

"You look exhausted, Buffy," he said. "Shall I cover you with the blanket so you can sleep?"

Her eyes half-opened, and she laid her hand over his. "Not yet," she said. "I'm not sleepy enough yet." Her fingers curled around his index finger, prying his hand up. Rather than moving it off of her body, however, she simply tugged it up to cup her left breast.

"Buffy--"

"Hush." She kicked her shoes off the end of the bed and rubbed her socked foot up his leg. "I need you, Giles. Please. Everything is gone. Everyone is... is..." She took a shuddering breath. "It's just us now."

She was too young and too drunk and too emotionally fragile, but Giles wanted her too badly to stop her. Besides, he'd never been able to keep her from doing what she wanted in the past. There was no point in trying to change that now. He had both of their clothes off before either one of them could change their mind.

"You're so lovely," he murmured. He lay on top of her, combing through her blond tangles with his fingers. "I love you so much."

"You don't have to sweet-talk me, Giles." She put her arms around his neck. "Just fuck me."

He kissed her pink lips, but she pulled her head away and covered his mouth with her hand.

"Don't," she said. "I can't. It's too weird."

But fucking him, apparently, was not. She stroked the back of his head, her eyes closed. Giles nuzzled his face into her neck, savoring the way her skin smelled. He nipped the raised scar on the left side of Buffy's neck and was rewarded by her nails digging into his back.

"More," she breathed into his ear. "Harder, Giles."

It was the first time he'd heard anything but "Rupert" or "Ripper" during sex. It sounded odd, but hearing Buffy call him anything else would have been odder. He bit her earlobe, teasing the three dangling little rings with his tongue. The noises she made were almost enough to make him glad for the apocalypse.

"I love you," he said each time he bit her. "I love you so much."

She grabbed a fistful of his hair and pushed his head down, shutting him up. He left teethmarks all over her skin, eliciting the loudest sounds when he drew tiny dots of blood. When she came, she writhed against him until her moans turned to sobs.

Giles should have stopped then, rather than sliding his hands up her arms and fucking her harder. She could have pushed him off if she'd really wanted to, he rationalized. He bit her ear again until the pain made her suck air through her teeth. Hurting her shouldn't excite him so much. The end of the world-- or at least, the end of America-- should have made him gentler with her. He licked the salt from her face and then hurt her until she spilled more.

He didn't bother asking permission before he came inside her, though that would have been the polite thing to do. He collapsed on top of her, breathing heavily. He pressed apologies into her skin with his guilty lips, but she kicked him away after the fourth kiss. While he shook the wrinkles out of his clothing, she curled back into a ball. No amount of coaxing or caressing could convince her to uncurl. Giles finally gave up and left her alone while he pulled food and water inside.

He sat on the edge of the bed for the better part of an hour, his back to Buffy and an unopened bottle of water in his hand. He kept the television just loud enough for him to hear it. As he watched the aerial views of still-smoking craters, he tried to formulate a plan. That was the trouble with being the grownup; everyone always expected you to have a plan.

"I'm cold."

The words were so unexpected in the silence that it took Giles a moment to process them. "Oh," he said finally. "Oh, here, Buffy, let's get you dressed again."

He helped her into her jeans and jumper like she was a child, and then gave her his coat for good measure.

"What are we supposed to do now?" she asked when she was clothed and sitting up.

"Vampires will be leaving the country in droves now that their food supply is limited." Giles twisted the lid off the bottle of water. The seal made a loud crack as it broke. He offered the bottle to Buffy. "Pick a country, and we'll go there to protect people."

"I don't want to pick a country!" Buffy's brow furrowed. She set the untouched water on the nightstand. "I liked this country! Or, or that country, whatever. I was supposed to be protecting the people in Sunnydale!"

And I failed, Giles finished for her. We both failed miserably.

"I know." Giles couldn't think of anything better to say. "I know that, Buffy. But we can't go back to Sunnydale. What do you propose we do if not move on?"

"You could break my neck." She took his hands and rested one on her forehead and the other at the base of her skull. "It would just be one quick jerk, like that water bottle--"

Giles recoiled from her, then grabbed her shoulders and shook her harder than he meant to. "Now listen here, Buffy," he said in his sternest voice. "You think it was chance that we survived this attack? You know better than that! You were kept alive for a purpose. You will fulfill your destiny, if I have to tie you up and drag you to it. Whatever is happening is much larger than either of us. The world won't last a day without you." Giles wouldn't last a day without her, either. The task of ensuring his slayer's survival was the only thing sustaining him. "We must keep going, Buffy."

She glared up at him for most of his monologue, but her expression slipped into a half-smile near the end.

"What?" he asked. "What's funny?"

"Would you really tie me up?" she asked. "God, Giles, I didn't realize you were so kinky. Are you going to spank me, too?"

"I just might, if your attitude continues." He tried to stay stern. "Now lie down under the covers and sleep. Tomorrow will be difficult, and I need you at full mental capacity."

To his surprise, Buffy kicked back the covers and burrowed under them. "Will you hold me while I fall asleep?" she asked. "Please, Giles?"

Giles lay back down behind her, draping an arm over her hip. "I love you, Buffy," he said for the millionth time.

"I know," she said. "Tell me about wherever we're going tomorrow."

"I was thinking we'd go to the flat I keep in Bath." He stroked her arm with his thumb. "We don't have to stay there forever, if you don't like it. It's beautiful, though. The whole town is lovely, and my flat has enough room for you to train, if you're careful. You can walk to the pubs, to the shops, perhaps even to a few museums, if you're wearing good shoes. And it's close to the seaside. Close to Europe, as well, in case you suddenly fancy becoming an art thief."

She didn't reply. Giles lay there, listening to the changes sleep brought to her breathing pattern. Rainy dusk was stealing light from the room, even from the lamp, so Giles turned it off. Buffy didn't stir. He lay next to her and rubbed his hand up and down her arm.

"I'm sorry," he whispered to her hair. "I'm sorry for taking advantage of you like that."

I'm sorry that I want to do it again, he thought. I'm sorry that I will do it again the second you give me another opportunity.

In her sleep, Buffy snuggled closer to him.