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Collegatio animarum

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"I'm sorry, Willow, Tara, we really can't stay here. I talked to Giles and he says the shitty little beasts behind the cupboards are, in fact, poisonous. He called them something like Blue Maleficents, I don't know. They sting and their poison causes temporal amnesia. We have to call the pest controllers. I mean, the pest controllers of the Hellmouth." The girls had started giggling, Buffy had to focus in order not to lose her temper. She had grown so impatient since her return from the hereafter. "Whatever! I talked to Willy and he knows someone. We'll have to move for like a week because the house will get smoked out. I'm really sorry, but the Watcherman says it's much too dangerous to stay here at all."

Dawn instantly announced she was going to stay with Spike, and, enervated, Buffy had agreed. Anya was out of town, so Willow and Tara both managed to convice Xander to let them stay at his place for the week, bringing their own sleeping bags. Secretly, Xander was very content to have a temporary change of scene. Buffy herself would have rather slept at the cemetary than stayed with Spike too, so she kindly asked Giles, whom she hadn't really spoken with in ages, but who instantly agreed, as always. Then again, he could never really have denied her anything.

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Carrying her bag up into the guestroom, Buffy felt guilty already; not so much for having asked Giles to let her stay for a week, but for not really having cared about him since her return. Of course, she had been overjoyed to see him, as had he to see her alive; but since her resurrection, Buffy had felt so very different from before. Deprived of everything that was good and bright, and suddenly thrown into a dark, bleak world that seemed to consist of nothing but responsibilities. She hadn't thought about what trouble he might be in at all. He had always been the responsible, reasonable adult who'd fixed all their problems and known an answer to every common uncertainty. She had never even considered that Giles wasn't doing too well, not even once since Miss Calendar's murder, in fact. She began to unpack the most important things. The bed was freshly made and smelled deliciously of orange and something she identified as lavender. Exhausted from a long day (she had been on patrol for hours and only packed her things afterwards), she sat on the bed. Life was much harder than it had been before her death. She knew now that she was meant to be alive and that it was a good thing, but compared to what she had had, it seemed ridiculous. She had a really hard time to adjust to everything, and all the changes that had invaded her world while she had been away didn't exactly help the process. Looking around the mostly empty and not-too-cheerful room, Buffy wondered how everyone had coped with her passing...and her resurrection. Especially Giles, and especially since she had confided in him about the qualities of her personal hereafter.

She sighed and went downstairs again to be of polite company to Giles, who was sitting on the couch, sipping on a drink that seemed to constantly refill itself and half-heartedly reading the newspaper.
"Ah. Buffy. Is the guestroom to your satisfaction?"
"Yes, Giles, thanks very much. I know, I'm the Slayer, but any kind of bugs gives me the creeps. Especially since they're really evil." She chuckled, a little nervous. Giles smiled, but didn't look at her. Buffy discovered the newspaper of the day before on the mantelpiece and since Giles didn't really seem to want to engage in a conversation with her, she started to read it, just as half-heartedly as he did, curled up on the carpet next to the fireplace.
An hour passed, and Buffy lost the last bit of interest she'd managed to have in yesterday's news, politely bade Giles good-night, thanking him for the room, and went upstairs.

She fell asleep surprisingly easily. Yes, she had been exhausted, but since she had returned to life, she couldn't remember to have slept more than five hours a night. Some hours later, she didn't check how late it was, she heard Giles go to sleep. Hearing how unsteady he was on his feet, apparently struggling to enforce directions onto them - he had indeed been drinking a lot this evening -, she almost started crying. She heard him close his door with more force than he must have intended, followed by a muffled curse.

Oh, God, how stupid she had been. How careless. She had known, of course, that things had been difficult for him; she just hadn't taken the time to find out exactly how much so, never asked him how he had been doing, how he had felt. His turning to drinking as a means of coping every now and then seemed logical, but not defensible. Her being overtaxed with all the things she was expected to sort out wasn't too good an excuse, she knew that. Goddammit, she was the Slayer, she was supposed to cope, not hide! Buffy shed a few tears of anger. She had always gotten through everything, why not this? Why was it so hard for her to adjust to the current trouble surrounding her and just return to her good old self? Why was she pushing people away, and even worse, hurting the ones she loved? Because she did love Giles; he had been a colleague, a father, a friend, and most of all, her pillar of strength.

She had been too cruel, too cold to him. Yes, her teenage actions had been horrible, but not deliberately hurtful. What she had done after her return had been much worse; she had been ignoring him and even intentionally shutting him out, like one might do with an unruly dog. Buffy cried silently, tossing and turning in her bed. How would she ever be able to repair all this? After many more agonizing minutes, she decided to get out of bed and knock carefully on Giles' door. He didn't answer; she was sure that he had fallen asleep, especially with the help of alcohol, but she had still hoped to be able to talk to him and apologize. Very silently, she opened his bedroom door and saw him sprawled over the double bed, fast asleep. She was about to turn around and return to the guestroom, when a terrifying sight almost sent her tumbling. Giles lay in his bed, sleeping, snoring slightly; but Giles, a very pale and slightly transparent Giles, also stood by the window, facing Buffy, and noiselessly weeping, his eyes piercing her. Buffy almost fainted. What on earth was happening here? "Giles?," she whispered; neither of them replied. Her back against the open door, Buffy sank to the floor, her eyes flickering between the standing and the sleeping figure.

She stared at them in horror, the pale figure by the window clearly being some kind of vision, a phenomenon; but Buffy was unable to overcome her fears and walk over to face it. The Giles that she knew to be real was still asleep, quietly but persistently snoring. As she watched, sleeping Giles began to toss and turn in his bed, mumbling in his dreams. The moment he had begun to move, the grey figure by the window had changed its attitude completely. Buffy could only watch in fear as she heard "her" Giles, the Giles of flesh and blood, scream wordlessly in anguish, while the other crouched on the floor. She knew the figure must be in deadly, excruciating pain; it didn't make a sound, but the expression in his face was more painful, more torturing to watch than anything the Slayer had ever seen. She started crying silently. Both figures seemed to experience the same pain, the white one noiselessly feeling the most unbearable pain in the world, and "real" Giles turning and screaming during what had to be the worst nightmare in the history of nightmares. Trying not to sob aloud, Buffy stood up carefully and approached Giles in his bed; she gently touched his forehead, but his state hardly changed. Scared, Buffy backed away, only to approach the pale figure that huddled in the corner. It took her a lot of power to gather the courage to strech out her hand towards it. Still, it made no sound, but Buffy saw it scream and moan in incredibly, unsurpassable pain. Tears still running over her cheeks, she finally tried to touch it, but her fingers sailed through it like through thin air. She couldn't define what she saw, but from the looks of it, Giles, or rather, a copy of Giles was probably dying in agony. Horrified, Buffy returned to her room and didn't even try to sleep. To see Giles in such pain, even if it wasn't "really" him, hurt her to the core. She knew she couldn't ask him, she would never dare, and if he knew, he'd probably never tell her. Willow would be of help. She had to find out what the phenomenon meant and how on earth she would be able to help it, or Giles, or both of them. During her sleepless night, it occurred to her more than once that all was her fault. She would ask Willow in the morning.

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At breakfast, they hardly spoke; only guessing what Giles must have experienced during the night, she remained silent and only answered his small-talk questions very politely. He didn't ask her about the rings under her eyes, and for once, she was grateful for his Englishness. After a cup of tea, she called Willow and left, politely thanking him and promising to be back in the evening. She met the witch at a nearby cafe. Willow immediately sensed that something was wrong, and under the oath of silence, Buffy told her everything she had seen the night before. Willow sighed.
"Oh, poor Giles. Oh." Impatiently, Buffy asked her about the causes for the phenomenon and sounded a harsher than she had intended. Willow, however, genuinely concerned about Giles, ignored her intonation and patiently explained. Apparently, there existed such as thing as transmigratio animarum, a spell that enabled its user to have their soul leave their mortal body and temporarily exist independently from it, taking the shape of its owner. Buffy forgot to close her mouth as Willow continued to elaborate. Many wizards used the spell in order to protect themselves from unendurable amounts of pain. Some even turned the spell into a curse, so that their soul would become detached from their body whenever it was in danger of getting injured in a manner too serious for the affected person to be able to fully maintain sanity.

"It's a way of coping, then? You can detach your soul from your body so that it doesn't get damaged too seriously?," Buffy asked. "Yes, Buffy, that's the point... it never saves you from actually experiencing the pain, though, it only helps keep you sane because you experience your pain in an altered form. But it also works the other way round. Some wizards detach their soul from their body in order to prevent themselves from doing something irreversibly stupid or irresponsible, something destructive." Buffy gasped with dismay, finally starting to understand. After hearing out Willow's thorough explanation of the spell, she asked, "But how come I can see Giles' soul when it's detached from him?" Willow replied that in order for anyone to see people's transmigrating souls, they had to have experienced death. Buffy didn't know if or when Giles had been - temporarily, obviously - dead; but trying to remember, she realized that Giles must have started using the spell after Miss Calendar's murder. She realized what Giles must have gone through when Angelus had tortured him. What he must have gone through when finding his Jenny's body. What he must have gone through upon realizing Buffy had sacrificed herself. Upon hearing she had been brought back into life. Upon realizing she didn't need him, didn't want him anymore, rejected him on purpose. Buffy suddenly started crying; a concerned Willow took her hand, trying to comfort her. The Slayer tried to explain, but to her horror, the witch understood far more quickly that Buffy had thought her to, which proved to her how deeply she had hurt Giles, how obvious his pain had been, how much sooner all others had understood his suffering. Determined to attempt to make good, Buffy asked her friend to teach her how to free someone from this spell turned a curse. She learned that in order to relieve a soul's pain, another soul needed to transmigrate and attempt to fully entwine with it. Healing a soul meant reattaching it to the respective person and breaking the curse of repeated protective detachment.

Never had Buffy listened so carefully to an explanation, and never had she been so eager to learn something that seemed to be by far out of her league. But Willow was the best teacher anyone could wish for, and so Buffy mastered basic transmigration by dusk, having practiced the spell with her friend at the park during the whole day. There wasn't much she could let her soul do while detached, nor could she stay split for a long time, but Willow promised it was a matter of practice, concentration and genuine willpower. They had a short laugh about the unintentional pun, and Buffy ran off to Giles' place after gratefully kissing Willow on the cheek.

Skipping patrol, Buffy dashed upstairs into Giles' room, her cheeks flushed a little from running, and announced she was going to cook them both dinner as a favour in return for the stay. Giles seemed very thoughtful, but smiled at the whirlwind that had just chimed at him in such a lovely way. Before he could exit the bedroom, Buffy was already at the stove, preparing one of the few things her mother had taught her to cook: a lavish kind of Italian pasta with a delicious vegetable sauce. Turning around to look at him when Giles came down the last few steps, she noticed he brought a tumbler downstairs, half-filled with an unmistakeable amber liquid. She swallowed, and upon his attempt to refill it at the kitchen counter, said, forcing herself to sound innocently cheerful, "You won't be needing that tonight." He seemed surprised and a little suspicious, but he obeyed.

Buffy's dinner turned out to be delicious indeed; Giles and her engaged in a quite cheerful conversation at the table. She rambled about things she had done with the Scoobies and told Giles about the advantages of living with Dawn, and they reminisced a little about earlier times together. He seemed to enjoy himself, but cautiously; looking at him, Buffy was suddenly able to read all the pain in his eyes and had to force herself to stay obliging and in a good mood. When they did the dishes together after clearing the table, there was a moment when, whirling around the kitchen counter and Giles' cupboards, they happened to be incredibly close, almost bumping into each other. They both stopped abruptly, transfixing each other, stunned. For a split second, Buffy saw Giles' detached soul flashing right behind him, a look of unfulfillable yearning on its face. Shocked, but determined to hide that she was able to see his alter ego, she started to babble about how she always bumped into people in spite of her Slayer senses, and Giles didn't have time to petrify. But the pain in his eyes had gotten a hold of him again and he remained quiet and thoughtful until Buffy bad him good-night and went upstairs.

Just like the night before, Giles stayed downstairs for some more time. Buffy couldn't fall asleep; making use of her sharp Slayer senses, she was able to follow Giles' almost every movement. He was pacing around the living room, sometimes refilling his tumblr and apparently always downing it quickly. She could hear him talk to himself, but couldn't understand his words. To open her door or even creep downstairs to find out, she didn't dare. Pretty sure that he was fighting himself while detached, she considered for a moment to transmigrate herself and have her soul walk downstairs; but since she was convinced that Giles, too, was able to see detached souls, she discarded the thought. Showing him her ability to transmigrate would only make him retreat and possibly ask her to find another place to stay. She knew she was already far in, but also knew that she had done him too much wrong to just leave him like this. Although she felt bad about intruding into his life like this, and without his knowledge, she felt that she had to help him somehow. He didn't deserve to live like this, and much of his situation was solely her fault. She decided not to cry but did anyway when, after a glass shattered on the kitchen floor, she heard him mount the stairs in the same state as he had the day before, passing through the bathroom and finally going to bed, swaying.

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Realizing that she wouldn't be able to sleep anyway, Buffy practiced transmigratio animarum during the whole night, determined to alleviate Giles' agony. She heard him leave in the morning and found a few short hours of sleep until noon. She felt strangely guilty for not checking up on him while he was asleep and knew that while the situation would most probably have been the same as the night before, she had only been too much of a coward to sneak up on sleeping Giles again. Having seen him, body and soul separated, suffering through the night, felt like a horrible violation of intimacy, but she also knew that if she didn't help him, nobody would. She owed him, for one - but she also loved him, more than a friend, and in some sense, more than family, even if she couldn't define for herself what that meant exactly.

In the afternoon, she met with Willow again to show her the progress she had made during the night; she was able to let her soul wander for a longer time and made it materialize in a less transparent way than the day before. Buffy was proud of herself but tried to keep in mind that she was still a beginner, and that practicing the spell wasn't a game, but in fact an attempt at solving a serious problem, at redeeming past blundering and blindness - at, well, repairing a person, putting it more simply than would have suited the situation. Willow praised her efforts and reminded her that trying to make up to Giles didn't only mean using the right magic, but also making up to him personally, on a human level. Buffy agreed reluctantly but was entirely aware that what Willow said was true. It was just that the mere process of being alive already posed an indescribably huge obstacle for her and she felt oh so insecure about everything she did.

On this day, she returned to Giles' place earlier, finding him bent over a few cryptic-looking books at his desk. He looked exhausted, and was unshaven; next to him, Buffy spotted an empty tumbler. She could see that he wasn't drunk; still, the fact that he always seemed to have a drink around unsettled her massively. Right now, he seemed to read what looked like a handwritten book with greatest concentration, brow furrowed, one hand clenched to a fist. "Hullo," Buffy said shyly.
"Buffy! Hello," Giles said, looking up, with a puzzled expression on his face. When she smiled warily, he took of his glasses to clean them and gently smiled back. For a moment, Buffy was sure she had seen his old self again, wishing she could just go back and forever stay in a time before she had to die, before Giles had to leave, before her mother had to pass - in a time where genuine smiles hadn't become a rare commodity yet. Sensing that if she didn't keep his attention now, she would lose him to whatever important book he was reading, she spoke, "Care for a game of chess?"
Again, the puzzled look. "I-I thought you didn't play chess, Buffy."
"Well, I don't, but I figured it's never too late to learn ... to make up something." He didn't know if he should be smiling, but Buffy cut off his dilemma and made him. "Please teach me, Giles."

Giles revelled in explaining the ancient game to her, and Buffy really tried her best to keep up and play accordingly. His shadow copy of himself wasn't around, and Buffy was glad to have distracted him. Whenever he took to explaining a move, his eyes were glistening, and Buffy tried to tell herself that maybe his soul was smiling at her from the inside.
They ordered some Chinese takeaway to eat while playing, and while they both knew that Buffy wasn't going to beat Giles at the game anytime in the near future, they both enjoyed playing very much. Buffy regretted not having asked him about the game earlier, or even, engaged in an activity with him that was entirely unrelated to slaying. They played until late at night; she had asked Willow to go patrolling with Xander. Giles was completely taken up in teaching her, and she couldn't help smiling. When yawning gained the upper hand and they decided to clear away the board, Buffy put his hand on his for a moment and thanked him, looking into his eyes and smiling. Again, they glistened; as she pulled away her hand, she saw Giles' shadow behind him again, only lingering there for a moment, but full of longing, one hand resting on its owner's shoulder. Like the last time, Buffy tried not to react visibly and hoped to have succeeded.

When she walked towards the stairs and turned around demonstratively to show him she was waiting on him, he followed. They brushed their teeth next to each other, giggling a little at the sight of synchronized brushing in the mirror. Buffy finished first and hurried to her room to get changed before he was done. When she heard him leave the bathroom, she snuck out to smile at him and ask him to tuck her in. He couldn't help but smile and tucked her in as if he had been trained to do so professionally. "Sleep well, Buffy," he said. "Thank you for the chess game. And t-thank you for your lovely company," he added; she beamed. When he had left the room and entered his own, Buffy listened hard but the only sound she perceived was that of him carefully closing his bedroom door. She smiled, knowing that he wouldn't leave his bed that night to go downstairs anymore.

In the middle of the night, she awoke suddenly, not being able to tell why. She looked around in the guestroom and noticed Giles' shadow standing by her own window, watching her sadly, its look piercing her heart. If she hadn't seen the ghostly figure before, she would have jumped; but already knowing what it was, she gave it a sad smile and crept out of bed, tiptoeing to Giles' door and listening. She heard him toss and turn; looking back to her own door, she noticed that his soul had followed her and was standing right behind her, the same sad expression on its face, the same yearning surrounding it, the same pain that she had read in the "real" Giles' eyes the day before now in the eyes of his alter ego. Her look questioned him, and the figure seemed to nod. Very carefully, her heart pounding in line with her throat, Buffy opened the door and crept inside to sit on the edge of Giles' bed. The shadow moved past her and stood next to the window, where she had first seen it.

Giles was asleep, breathing quietly; Buffy just sat on his bed and observed them both. Soon, he started to turn again, first only muttering words she couldn't understand, the figure by the window cringing; then, as his tossing became more agitated, Giles' pale version was convulsing, pure agony on both their faces. Finally, Giles screamed wordless screams again, making his soul bend and squirm with him, twisting in unbearable pain. Buffy, weeping breathlessly, took her former Watcher's hand in hers, again not being able to calm or awaken him. Knowing that she had to finally gather her courage and perform the spell, she recited the Latin formula quietly, focusing only on her task. With her heart racing, she succeeded in conjuring her detached soul at the first try. With all her energy on the figure that was her equal, she managed to direct it to the window, where she made it touch the shoulder of Giles' shadow, causing both him and his figure to calm down slowly. Buffy's soul didn't loosen the touch, but looked his in the eye and smiled a cautious smile, which was, after a moment of absolute immobility, returned by Giles' phantom. Not reattaching her soul yet, Buffy looked at her sleeping Watcher whose agitation had almost vanished. She let her soul lock her eyes with his figure for a little longer, until she observed that Giles' hand in hers had relaxed. Reuniting with her soul, Buffy bent down to him, and, after a moment of hesitation, kissed him on the forehead, which caused his shadow to look at her lovingly for a split second.

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The next day, the Scoobies came over to Giles' place to cook lunch, play board games (Buffy beat Dawn at chess, which earned her a brilliant smile from Giles) and watch movies in the evening. Buffy felt sure Xander was relieved to have Anya still away for a few more days - the former demon loved to comment on everything, especially works of fiction, which made it a very hard task to watch a complete film with her.
Not being the only one around gave Buffy the opportunity to observe Giles (and his soul, when detached) more closely. She didn't see his shadow too often while the others were present, only once when she hugged him for a moment, thanking him once more, in front of all the others, for lending her the guestroom while they all knew that he actually had always preferred living alone. Wrapping her arms around him spontaneously, she sensed his soul was suddenly standing next to her, the same expression of pain and yearning upon its face. Seeing it only from the corner of her eye, she had to force herself not to turn or else Giles or the Scoobies would have noticed. Apart from that time, she also saw him detach his soul for quite a while during a particularly gruesome and brutal torture scene from the last movie which ended in a murder. The Giles they all knew just sat and stared at the screen, fists clenched, his Adam's apple moving too often; the transparent Giles Buffy had met crouched on the floor, holding itself as if severely wounded, shaking. Buffy swallowed; she knew Willow was able to guess what was going on, even if she couldn't see anything, but she was worried about the others. She was lucky that Willow was very perceptive and a very good friend; after the movie, her friend commanded everyone to go home, and since it had gotten quite late, everybody obliged, politely wishing Giles and Buffy good-night almost in unison.

When Buffy came back into the living room from locking the door, Giles had already disappeared; she was sure he had gone upstairs. Sad, she took her time preparing herself for bed, trying to relax a little in spite of her thoughts. When she climbed under her covers, she heard noises coming from his room, glass shattering, things breaking, someone - it must be him - occasionally cursing. She was certain he had been drinking again, and a lot, but didn't dare to interrupt him. Shortly after it stopped, she hurried over to his door and almost cried out aloud when opening it. Countless things were scattered on the floor, the whole room a proof of a sweep of unscrupulous destruction. Giles lay on the floor, a little blood trickling from his forearms and temple; he must have passed out. It was a horrible image. When Buffy went to kneel beside him and lightly touched his arm, a convulsion swept through his body, almost making her heart stop. Suddenly, his shadow appeared next to him, crouching on the floor, giving the death rattle. Buffy's heart raced, anguish filling her head to toe. Giles started winding in pain, screaming like he had screamed in his dreams, the agony shaking and arching his body as if under a torture spell. His soul was hugging itself, the contortions of its body shaking her to her core, clearly fighting its last fight.

Grabbing both of Giles' hands, Buffy started to recite frantically, driven by the conviction that Giles - or his soul, or both - was dying in front of her. Somehow, she had to save him. She tried to make her voice sound determined, but it was shaky and her hands trembling. Finally, she succeeded in conjuring her own soul, pushing it over to Giles' shadow, touching it, holding it, hugging it. With each attempt to save him, Buffy grew more and more desperate. Finally, after long minutes of trying different things, she forced her soul to kiss his in a kiss more desperate than anyone had ever received. There was a moment of absolute silence, absolute motionlessness; when, ultimately, his shadow dissolved into thin air, Buffy broke down crying, having seen his soul disappear. Burying her face in her hands, sobbing, she didn't notice Giles sitting up until she felt him hug her carefully.

Looking up, she saw he was sobbing too; her soul reunited with her the moment she saw him. Giles threw his arms around her neck, desperately pulling her to him, both shaking with tears.
"Never do that again," she sobbed. "It needs to stay ... inside you. I need it inside you." With a trembling hand, he pulled her head closer to his chest. "I-I wish I could let it. You must have found out w-why I preferred it this way." He felt her nod. "But Giles, Willow told me. If your soul is detached, you'll never be able to truly love anymore. If it is detached, you will never experience the only thing that can save you from your hell." He shivered. "I know t-that, Buffy. But I-I also know that I will never get a chance to experience true love anyway. It is impossible. The one I love is the o-only one who I know would never offer it to me. I...I can't be saved, Buffy, you see? My soul can't be healed. I-I must renew the curse."

She gently pulled away from him, wiping her tears away. "I thought you were good at research," she tried weakly. He gave a tortured smile, dismissing her joke. Buffy took his hand. "No, Giles. You don't see. You've seen that I learned transmigratio animarum from Willow. I've strived hard to learn it, and why? For the sole purpose of meeting your soul, face to face. I've been dead, remember? I saw your shadow. I know, Giles. This isn't a game. I've watched you suffer, and God knows, I've hurt you more than anyone would deserve to be hurt. I've saved you once, Giles, and I did that for a reason. I need you, and you damn well know I do. I know I've been horrible after Willow brought me back. I still don't know how to live. But there is one thing I know, one thing I've finally learned, and that is how to love. Giles, I.... I love you. I need you. I learned that in order to save a tortured soul, one must entwine their own soul with it. And I did that."

She was starting to despair, but still went on, giving Giles not a single chance to interrupt her. "I did that, and it looks like I saved you, well goddammit, I hope I did, because that's what I've been trying to do all the time. I'm sorry I did all those stupid things, I didn't mean to hurt you. I just, I-I... I didn't know what to do. I'm sorry I was so blind. I didn't see what I had done to you. I never meant to reject you. Well, maybe I meant to. But that's because I love you. It's because I chickened out. It's because I always chicken out when I'm in love with someone, because hey, it could go wrong. It could be a vampire with a soul. Or a vampire without a soul. Or an unscrupulous mercenary. Hey, it's Sunnydale. Something always goes wrong, and I've been a coward."

Her eyes were full of tears. "I always chicken out and now I've really tried not to and you see I'm here and ... and now you don't want me and I'm just ... I'm sorry for being so stupid, I-I-"

He kissed her on the lips, and Buffy was convinced that this was how the kiss that her soul had given his must have felt like.