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"We need to figure out what's going on," Xander announced seriously, then grinned, "We should go undercover and infiltrate the meeting, find out which one of them is the demon."

Everyone turned to look at him, and he glanced about hesitantly.

"What? What's with the looks? I was just - wait, are we really doing an undercover mission now?" He grew excited at the prospect. "I've always wanted to be a rich old diplomat,"

"No way," Buffy shook her head immediately, and pointed at Giles. "He actually knows the lingo and could pull off the act, and besides, his suits are way nicer than yours."

Giles perked up at her comment, pleased that she'd noticed. Then, he remembered that Xander's clothing taste wasn't exactly a high bar to beat, and he slumped into his chair again.

"This is a formal event," He reminded her. "There is no way that I could get in regardless the state of my dress - "

"I'll get you an invite!" Willow piped in, immediately rolling her chair over toward the computer and typing away at the keyboard. "Oh..." Her brow furrowed after a minute.

"What is it?" Xander wondered, standing to move behind her and read over her shoulder. "Plus one?" He read aloud. "Oh!" He brightened again, looking toward Giles, but before he could offer his assistance Willow spoke again.

"Well, I'll just add Buffy’s name to the list, too." She figured with a shrug. Buffy gaped at her and Giles felt his spine tingle not-quite-pleasantly.

<What are they getting me into?>

"Wait, I never agreed to this! What kind of shindig is this? I don't have 'fancy diplomat' clothes!" Buffy complained, and Giles reached for his tea, wanting to prepare himself for the argument that he knew would be ensuing.

"Diplomat's wife, clothes," Willow corrected, and Giles sputtered back into the cup before setting it down on the table.

"Excuse me?!" He and Buffy demanded simultaneously, both standing. They glanced at one another only briefly before turning equal incredulous stares at Willow.

"It's perfect!" Xander grinned as he thought it over while Willow continued typing. "Buffy could chat up the other wives and get the low-down! Everyone knows they know all the real secrets, anyway."

Giles squinted his eyes slightly at Xander, who frowned.

"What? I watch a lot of spy movies."

"I can't - are you serious?" Buffy huffed and put her hands on her hips. "Do I really look like I could be his wife?!" Giles narrowed his eyes at her, a bit affronted by her tone.

"Yeah." Willow replied as if it were obvious, giving Buffy a perplexed look. A beat later, they heard the printer whirring. Giles pressed his lips together and avoided looking at Buffy.

"Fancy older guy, gorgeous younger wife, yup," Xander nodded in agreement. "You're right. You two would fit in way better than I would."

"I'm not that old!" Giles protested defensively, reminded uncomfortably about the grey peppering through his hair, the lines deepening on his face.

"It's okay, Buffy's got enough fine lines going on; you guys'll pull it off." Xander said encouragingly, and Buffy growled at him.

"Hey! I do not have wrinkles!"

"I didn't say that!" He protested, fending off the pencil she threw at him. "You can just see the stress around your eyes, that's all,"

"Xander!" Buffy made to jump around the table after him, but Giles grabbed her arm to hold her back, shaking his head a little when she glared up at him as if he'd betrayed her. A friendly spat was not reason enough for his furniture to get ruined by possibly misplaced Slayer strength. Willow elbowed Xander in defense for Buffy, and Buffy eventually relaxed, huffing as she shrugged out of Giles' hold and plopped back into her seat.

"So, um, remind us exactly of what this event entails?" Giles asked weakly, reaching up to clean his glasses as Willow began to read from her computer.

———


"Okay, hubby," Buffy huffed as she entered the apartment, and Giles looked up from his book, startled both by her entrance and by her choice of words. "We've got a week to practice."

"Practice what?" He wondered, snapping the book closed immediately. He stood as she approached him, for some reason getting the feeling that he needed to be on the defensive.

"Being married," She didn't even have to add the 'duh'; it was already there in her tone. "Like, what's our backstory?"

"Do we really need one?" He returned, moving away from her to put the book back in it's place on the shelf, uncomfortable with the conversation, uncomfortable with the situation. "As soon as we figure out which of the diplomats is the demon, we kill it and we leave." <As little time as possible spent having to pretend that she's my... >

"It's a week-long event, Giles." Buffy reminded him. "We need to actually talk with these people, get to know them. We don't know if the demon has influenced any of the humans to join in on it's plan - you know," Her tone became more fed up, "if it were your Queen being threatened by gory demon murder, you'd be much more interested in taking out the whole party of bad guys." She huffed.

"That wouldn't happen, because the Queen has proper protection against demons." Giles returned loftily. Buffy stared at him, momentarily caught off guard in her surprise. "Not to mention any other under-world creature that might unwisely consider attacking her."

"What..." Buffy frowned. "Does the Queen know about Slayers?"

"Of course she does." Giles answered, heading toward the kitchen. "Tea?" He wasn't going to tell her any classified details, of course, but he was more than happy to keep her distracted from that other topic of conversation.

"Does she know about me - wait, never mind about that - we're supposed to be discussing our plan to save the President."

"Your President." Giles sassed a bit, flustered already and they hadn't even gotten to the details.

"Yours temporarily!" Buffy huffed, putting her hands on her hips as she followed him into the kitchen.

"Anyway," Giles continued as if she hadn't spoken, "pretending to be married isn't much of a plan. How's that going to save a man's life?"

"It's just the cover story, Giles." Buffy rolled her eyes. "But it needs to be believable for the others at the event to trust us. We're newcomers and we're gonna have to figure out a lot of information in a short amount of time."

She didn't seem nearly as bothered about the undercover plan as she had been yesterday, and he wondered why that was.

"So." She leaned against the counter in the far corner as she watched him prepare the teapot. "How'd we meet?" He glanced over at her, wryly, and raised his eyebrow.

"I was your teacher?"

Her cheeks tinged red at that, and he realized that his sarcastic comment was probably a little uncouth.

"Blind date." She announced, and he figured he imagined the unsteadiness in her voice.

"Blind date?" He repeated, unsure, and she nodded.

"Your friend was just trying to get you back into the game, and mine thought it might be a funny prank."

"A prank?"

"Not that - " She hurriedly backtracked as she caught his sour expression. "I just mean, she- she, uh, thought you were cute but that it probably wouldn't really go anywhere. Just a nice night out."

"Plenty of women find me dateable." Giles grumbled.

"I'm sure they do," Buffy replied earnestly, and then probably assuming he'd think she was still being sarcastic, added, "I mean, you are!"

He sighed as he set the kettle on the stove to warm up, and turned to face her, folding his arms across his chest. She was blushing, again.

"It does seem that at least one of us will need practice," He drawled. <Honestly, why is it so difficult for her to see me as a man? She doesn't have to find me attractive, but for God's sake, acknowledge that I'm human at least!>

"Oh sure," Buffy snarked, "Because a husband always looks at his wife with such annoyance all the time!"

"You'd be surprised." He returned dryly. She pursed her lips at him, but after a minute, a smirk pulled at the corner, and she giggled. "What?" He frowned.

"Well, we already fight like a married couple," She pointed out, "So we don't have to worry about that part."

He couldn't disagree with her, there, and grinned a little as well, relaxing.

"Alright," He turned to pull down two mugs from the upper cabinet. "So we met on a blind date,"

"Hit it off right away," Buffy followed his encouragement to continue with their planning, nodding to herself as she thought out loud. "You found me surprisingly mature for my age," Giles pulled his lips in and ducked his head to hide his amusement, but she noticed anyway. She shifted close enough to smack his arm, and he gave her an innocent expression. "Anyway," She stressed, "Our age difference didn't really matter. We have a lot in common."

"Oh?" He mused, and she furrowed her brow as she considered.

"Well..." She trailed off. "We both fight vampires really well, and have survived apocalypses, and..."

"We can't tell them that," Giles reminded her with a gentle smile.

"Jelly doughnuts!" She huffed, and his smile widened momentarily.

Thinking about it, though, what did they really have in common? Sure they'd been through hell and back together, but if you took away the slaying and the watching, what was left? Feeling a bit morose about that, he faced the kettle again, although it wasn't quite up to a full boil yet.

"We'll come up with something," He assured her, not feeling very sure himself.

"But the more that's true, the easier the lie will be!" Buffy pointed out, sounding a little stressed about it. "That's what Xander told me, anyway. There's got to be... hey, what about this? We both like evening strolls through the cemetery."

That made him snicker a little.

"Maybe we can use that. It will probably make us sound weird, though." He teased.

"Or, endear us to the demon." Buffy noted with a raised eyebrow. She sighed, and then suddenly said with defiance, "You know what, maybe we don't have much in common. I like that we don't have much in common. We still agree on important stuff, right? Like, women's rights and Nazi's are bad and the best jellies have blackberry jam."

He smiled fondly, and nodded, and wondered if she was still focusing on their cover story.

He was reaching for the whistling kettle when she spoke up thoughtfully again,

"Did I kiss you first, or did you kiss me?"

"Ow!" He hissed, burning his finger when he missed the handle on the kettle.

———


"Willow and I went shopping today!" Buffy announced as she let herself into his apartment. Ironically, perhaps, he was reading the same book he'd been reading the other day when she'd barged in.

"Congratulations?" He tried. He figured few days went by where Buffy didn't go shopping, even if just for small trivial items.

"I spent all day yesterday and this morning walking around the house with books on top of my head - I deserved a reward." Buffy defended herself, and Giles raised his eyebrow at her over his glasses. She shifted her shoulders a little and grinned at him, "Look!"

He couldn't say exactly what it was she did differently, but she strolled across his living room floor in front of him slowly, her chin lifted just a little higher than normal. She stopped near the kitchen doorway, and then scrunched up her hair into a messy bun atop her head.

"Just imagine a fancy updo and shiny dress," She added, and walked across the room again.

He watched her, tilting his head a little, unable to keep the admiration completely from his face.

"Did Xander advise you about that?" He wondered, mildly surprised, and she nodded proudly.

"He said changing the way I walked - like limping a little or widening my gait or something - could be an easy and quick way to get into character! Obviously I wasn't going to limp, but, Willow said I should work on my slouch." She explained. She moved closer to the couch, and eased down into the seat next to him, much smoother than her usual lackadaisical flop. She kept her back straight as she sat on the edge of the cushion. "Right?" She grinned at him, and suddenly reached forward for his abandoned tea cup, lifting it up to her mouth with her pinkie extended. She wiggled her eyebrows over the edge of the cup, and he laughed.

"Very good," He praised, though gingerly took his tea back from her. Having her lips touch the same area that his had was... a little too intimate for him, the time being. "Though most people don't actually drink that way anymore. You may drink however feels comfortable for you." He set his cup back on the coffee table and turned to face her. "Truthfully, Buffy, you don't need to change you who are," He informed her softly. "We only need a backstory."

"I know," She admitted, shifting a little. "But it makes me feel elegant." She straightened her shoulders again, and Giles smiled.

"You are already elegant, Buffy." He promised, and then pushed himself to his feet to freshen up his tea. "Would you like something to drink?" When he met her gaze again, she was staring up at him with an odd expression on her face.

They looked at one another silently, for a moment, and just as he considered asking her what was on her mind, she told him that she would take a water.

He'd just finished pouring the hot water for his tea when he felt her hand against his back, trailing down his shoulder blade. He flinched a bit in surprise, and shifted to look at her questioningly. She had an unhappy frown on her face.

"You can't do that, you know. You've gotta be used to me touching you." Buffy advised, and he blinked, opening his mouth to argue. "We'll have to practice." She shrugged, reaching around him for her glass of water. He stood frozen where he was, and she touched the front of his shoulder this time, trailing her fingertips part of the way down his chest. His breath came shallowly, and she nodded to herself, patting his shirt once before disappearing out of the room as silently as she'd entered.

<Buffy is going to practice touching me? Bloody hell, what have I gotten myself into?>

He groaned quietly and rubbed his hand against his face, before finishing up his tea preparations and rejoining her in the living room. Before he could even decide between the safety of his chair or the logical decision of the seat next to Buffy, the front door opened again to reveal the other half of their gang.

"I was able to reserve the hotel room," Willow announced without preamble, and Buffy almost choked on her water as she spurted half of her mouthful back into her cup.

"The what? The room?" Buffy repeated. Giles gritted his teeth and sat down on the cushion next to her, suddenly feeling very stiff. And not in the usual, more preferred places.

"Well, yeah," Xander replied as he closed the door and then followed Willow into the room. "You are married, after all. Be weird if you rented out two rooms."

"How's that going, by the way?" Willow smiled, some kind of secretive look on her face, and Giles narrowed his eyes at her.

"What do you mean?" He asked suspiciously.

"The story," She replied innocently. "Buffy told me she was coming over to practice, so,"

"Geez, Willow," Xander interrupted, laughing, "I thought the dirty jokes were my job!"

"I wasn't making a dirty joke." Willow frowned at him, not recognizing her phrasing. Giles sighed, and glanced up at his ceiling for a moment, sending a silent prayer to whoever was listening.

"It's going great!" Buffy announced, too brightly. "We've totally got this." Her hand landed halfway up Giles' thigh, and he jumped, spilling his tea.

———


The following day, the Scoobies spent their time researching and recalling everything they knew about shapeshifting demons. They weren't one hundred percent sure which specific species they were after, but there were certain tells that were shared across the board, so Giles wanted to make sure Buffy had those memorized well.

Buffy also spent the day intermittently trying to give him a heart attack.

She would occasionally lean against him, if they were both sitting on the couch. And she touched him, a lot; just a brush of her hand, over his knuckles and his forearm and his shoulder and sometimes very lightly against his hair. She wanted him to get used to it, and he understood why, but he didn't want to get used to it. He liked it, too much, to get used to it.

Though even after he stopped flinching away from her, and even occasionally began to lean into her touches, she didn't stop. He wondered if she was even aware that she was doing it. They always seemed like distracted gestures, her attention primarily focused elsewhere. Of course, that was the point, he supposed. That these little things were second nature.

He wondered if this would be how affectionate she'd actually be with her real husband, or if it was a part of her 'character' that she'd created. He wondered if, were he and Buffy really together, she would be this affectionate with him.

It was a testament to how much his daydreams had gone away from him, when as the two girls were leaving to go pick up lunch for everyone, Giles referred to Buffy with a pet name without even thinking about it.

"And extra cheese doodles for you and Xan," Buffy teased, halfway out the door.

"Thanks, luv." He smiled gratefully, only belatedly realizing what he'd said. Before he could stammer out some sort of apology for the familiarity, though, Buffy's eyes lit up. She beamed, and gave him another goodbye before turning to catch up with Willow on the sidewalk. He stood in the doorway and watched them walk away, unsure of how to feel about what just happened.

Apparently embarrassment was unnecessary, but what had Buffy's response been about? Was she proud, thinking that Giles was finally getting the hang of the fake relationship? Or did she really like the pet name?

He hadn't exactly meant to use it, it had just slipped out. All her little smiles and looks and touches had him feeling all warm and tingly and... well, affectionate.

"Buffy's getting awfully into this." Xander commented once they'd been alone for a minute, and Giles sighed quietly. "I'm so proud!"

Giles raised his eyebrow up at the young man, seeing nothing more than honest pride on his face. So, he didn't seem to find anything off or inappropriate about the situation. Maybe Giles was just overthinking it. Maybe he should just use his natural reactions to her to their benefit - well, toned down, of course.

No need for Buffy or for anyone else to figure out how real he wished this all was.

———


They arrived to the hotel midday, and Giles was pleased to see that Willow had, at least, booked them a suite that included a separate living room and bedroom. While Buffy settled in, wanting to take a long nap before her patrol tonight, Giles went back downstairs where he'd been notified that some of the early arrivals were meeting up.

This one was unofficial, but he wanted to go ahead and put some faces to names, and introduce himself to the group. They all seemed pleasant enough, held a natural amount of curiosity about him, and he found himself easily talking about 'his work in London', his 'recent trip West to the coast', and his 'wife'. Upon first glances, he couldn't discern which one of these men was in reality a shapeshifting demon, and perhaps it was one of the would-be arrivals. He knew it wasn't going to be that easy, anyway, so he ordered a drink and reminded himself to be patient.

"There you are," Buffy's voice drifted above the dying laughter at the table from a recent joke, and Giles glanced up in surprise just as she sidled behind him and draped her arms around him. She clasped her hands together above his chest, and he automatically reached up with one hand to cover them, tilting his head up to try and get a better look at her.

"Rupert! Is this your mysterious wife?!" The man who'd previously introduced himself as Silas sounded amazed and in disbelief.

"Hullo," Giles greeted her, hoping he didn't look as nervous as he felt that her face was so close to his.

"I'm headed to the gym for a bit. Just wanted to let you know where I was, in case you come up while I'm still gone," She explained, her tone soft and gentle and not at all her usual 'this is how it is, don’t even think about arguing' voice.

"Oh, alright," He squeezed her hand a little, hoping it appeared as a fond gesture, and quickly smiled at her. A silent reminder for her to keep her Slayer abilities low-key, especially within a public exercise room. Remembering the others at the table, and his manners, he shifted his gaze away from her and focused on them again. "Gentlemen, Anne, my wife. Anne, these are a few of the other attendees for the event," He was glad that she'd picked her middle name for the cover. It wasn't as recognizable as 'Buffy', should their mystery demon know the Slayer by name, but it was easy to recall and felt natural enough on his tongue.

"Hello," Buffy greeted them fondly enough, but let herself smile more tiredly than she probably actually felt. "Sorry for the quick drop-by, but the jet-lag is already kicking in and I'd like to get a run in before bed."

"Not a worry, Ma'am." Josiah, one of the diplomats from Italy, replied to her with perhaps a little too much politeness. Giles felt his shoulders tense a little, but he kept his expression nonchalant. "We'll all meet properly tomorrow. In fact, my own wife doesn't arrive until tomorrow afternoon." Giles forced himself to relax. <Stop being unnecessarily territorial, you git.>

Buffy sent the table one more polite nod before looking back down to Giles. He gave her a small smile and short nod, silently acknowledging that she'd handled it just fine, and stroked his thumbs across her knuckles.

"I'm fairly tired, myself." He admitted. "I'll be heading up to the room soon. I'll see you up there." He knew that she was worried about how exactly they should part, now that the others were watching, and he smiled demurely and lifted her hands to his mouth. He kissed her knuckles warmly, keeping his gaze on hers, unable to keep himself from the opportunity to breathe in the scent of her skin for a moment, before letting her go.

Her answering smile trembled a little, noticeably, and she stepped away walking backwards for a few steps, as if she didn't want to break his eye contact yet.

"Newlyweds, you said?" Silas questioned, drawing Giles' attention back to the table, and he quickly reached for his drink to drain the glass.

Who knew that just touching his lips to the back of her hand would fill him with such... emotion.

"Not so new," Giles corrected; neither of them had wanted to have to play up that level of 'can't-keep-our-hands-off-each-other'. He glanced back, noting that Buffy had finally turned and was heading off back into the main part of the hotel, and he inwardly sighed in relaxation.

"You still share that deep compassion," Josiah mused with a nod, clearly a romantic, "That's lovely. You are a lucky man, Rupert."

"Hear, hear," A couple of the others agreed, raising their glasses and giving him varying smirks, and he smiled hesitantly, before catching the eye of the bartender and gesturing his empty glass in request for a refill.

By the time he excused himself from the table, he was bone-deep weary and mostly convinced that none of those men were the demon they were looking for. A part of him wondered if perhaps the demon was posing as one of the wives, and he made a mental note to mention it to Buffy when she got back to the room.

He was admittedly glad for the privacy as he changed into his sleep pants and tee and slipped beneath the bedsheet. He was still feeling a little muddled about the completely chaste kiss he'd given her in the hotel restaurant - he didn't want to even begin navigating the mental fortitude it would take to share the bed with her. By falling asleep before she even returned, he wouldn't have to worry about it.

It was a little childish, putting it on Buffy's shoulders then, but he was tired. Tired, and confused, and with one-drink-too-many swimming through his bloodstream.

"I'll sleep on the couch tomorrow." He promised himself and a Buffy that wasn't there, his eyes drifting closed.

And when he next awoke, the room was still quite dark, and the clock on the opposite side of the bed read that it was very early in the morning.

"Sorry to wake you," Buffy's voice whispered to him through the dark. "Strange town; I had to patrol." He felt her slip under the covers with no hesitation, and he fought to wake up a little further, his brow furrowing. "Don't worry, I was careful," Buffy told him. "There were only a couple vamps, anyway. Seems pretty quiet in this area, at least tonight." She settled against her pillow, and let out a breath in relaxation. "Go back to sleep."

"Did you get hurt?" He mumbled, trying to fight unconsciousness, drifting his hand forward until the backs of his fingers found the curve of her cheek, checking for any cuts or tender skin.

"No," She sounded amused, and he could feel her smile against his worried touch. "I was careful." She said again.

"Good." He sighed, his palm unfurling and resting atop the curve of her neck. A part of him nagged that he should move it, move back to his own side of the bed, but he was comfortable, and he liked being able to feel her pulse.

"Goodnight, Giles." He heard her whisper, before sleep overtook him fully once more.

———


Giles was pleased to find himself with all of his limbs kept to himself upon waking in the morning, and as he performed his morning routine in the bathroom, he figured that perhaps he and Buffy could manage sharing a bed after all. Neither of them had drifted into awkward territory during their sleep, at least not that he could remember, and they hadn't fought for blankets or kicked each other in the middle of the night either.

"Hey." Buffy grumbled blearily, suddenly appearing by his side in front of the mirror. He glanced down at her in surprise as she bumped his hip to the side to make room, and reached for her toothbrush and toothpaste. He imagined she never would be much of a morning person, and he was admittedly surprised to see her awake already. "Tell me about your new buddies," She mumbled around her toothbrush.

For a moment, though, of course he couldn't speak while he was finishing up with his own teeth. Instead, they watched one another through the mirror, both still rumpled from sleep. He couldn't help himself for feeling warmed by the vision they made, standing together, doing something so domestic. He liked the way they looked in that mirror.

He quickly leaned down to spit out his toothpaste and rinse his mouth out, forcing those thoughts to the back of his mind. He needed to focus on the job at hand.

As she finished her own morning rituals in the bathroom, he got dressed in the bedroom and talked to her about the men he'd met the evening before, and what they'd discussed. He mentioned his suggestion that the demon could be one of the wives, and Buffy agreed that it was an option they couldn't leave out.

Tonight would signal the official arrival of everyone on the board, and their plus-ones, so a dinner was planned at a nearby restaurant. He suggested that after breakfast they take a stroll around the area, get a better lay of the land both with the hotel and with the restaurant they would be at this evening. Buffy agreed with that idea, as well, particularly the breakfast part.

"Waffles, Giles." She gave him a wide-eyed, serious stare as she exited the bathroom, her face bright and pink from a freshening up. She was still in her pajamas, but that didn't matter to him.

<She is so lovely.>

"What's wrong?" She furrowed her brow, and he straightened his shoulders, wondering what his face had been doing. "You don't want waffles? I'm sure they've got toast and eggs, too, though no promises on the beans." She made a playful grimace, and approached the dresser to retrieve her outfit for the day. "You weirdo."

"Nothing wrong with beans." He defended under his breath, going toward the table that held the phone and service menu. "And mushy peas, too."

Buffy heard him, of course, and laughed, the musical sound drifting through Giles' veins like warm honey. He couldn't help but smile to himself as he flipped open the black folder, pleased with where their relationship has gone over the recent years. There was a time in the past when his sarcastic humor would only annoy her; when she would respond with pouts and anger and even hostility. He had learned, eventually, to be more careful, to keep his barbs less pointed when speaking with her. She could appreciate his sarcasm now - even dole out some of her own on occasion - but if his snark became too heavy handed, she took it too personally. Just as she had learned not to blurt out her every thought and whim to him with complete disregard to his own personal feelings.

Buffy didn't disregard him, she just... depended on him too much. Trusted their connection with one another, their sworn duty, that he would always be around no matter what happened. He had gone about it the wrong way, perhaps, but he had taught her the reality of that thinking nonetheless. She still depended on him now, of course, but in a much more respectful sort of way. She remembered that he was another human being with his own emotions and thoughts and feelings that were, on occasion, completely different than her own.

<Well, except when she's decidedly ignoring my humanity.> His pleasant musings soured briefly, reminded of the various times over the years where she'd been decidedly uncomfortable about the reality of his humanity. The fact that she didn't seem so discomforted by it now only confused him. <She's just playing a part, you fool. She's gotten better at lying as she's gotten older.>

"Hey," He startled back into focus when he realized that Buffy had sat down next to him on the edge of the mattress, poking his arm. "You're a thousand miles away. What about those waffles? You wanna keep me fed, right? Happy wife, happy life, as they say!" She grinned as if she'd just shared an inside joke with him, and hopped back to her feet, returning to the bathroom with her day clothes in hand.

Giles stared after her, furrowing his brow at the closed door between them. <She says that word so easily. Wife. Husband. Like giving me that title is natural on her lips.>

He sighed, a bit longingly, and reached for the phone.

———


The first thing he noticed was how well the navy blue material complimented her skin, and her blonde hair. The dress was certainly very elegant, accentuating her curves without being revealing. The skirt went all the way to the floor, even gathered a bit, and he assumed that once she put her heels on that wouldn't be a problem.

"What do you think?" She mused, crossing from the bedroom door to the middle of the living room, doing that same walk for him that she'd done back in his own living room.

She looked absolutely gorgeous, yes, but his thoughts were all logistics as he considered the way the dress moved, it's give, how well she would be able to fight in it if necessary. Then she did a turn in front of him, revealing the loose, low scoop of the back, and his breath was embarrassingly audible.

He wasn't really thinking logistics anymore.

"You are stunning, Buffy." He told her honestly, hoping his voice did not sound as warm as he felt. He forced his eyes back to her face as she finished her turn, beaming a pleased smile down at him.

"Yeah?" She looked down, gathering the material up in one hand so that the bottom hem just barely touched the ground as she swished her hips side to side a bit. "It's surprisingly comfy," She admitted, and he was surprised to find that she seemed rather shy. "Willow said I'd be a knock-out," She breezed suddenly, letting the material fall from her hand as she turned back toward the bedroom.

"Hmm." He absolutely agreed with Willow, his eyes once more drawn to the line of her back, the curve of her shoulder blade. <How anyone could believe that a guy like me married a woman like that, is beyond me.>

"What about my hair? Is it alright?" Buffy worried as she shifted about the bedroom, presumably putting her shoes on.

Admittedly, he hadn't noticed her hair. Not directly, anyhow.

"You'll do fine." He soothed, knowing that she was merely nervous about playing her part. When she stepped back into the doorway, leaning against the frame as she half-bent to tug the other strap over her heel, he took the moment to actually pay closer attention to her hair. The bun was simple but appropriate, pinned up with a fancy clip (silver, and real - just in case) and allowing loose tendrils to frame her face.

He smiled a little and gestured her over to the couch when she seemed to be struggling with her shoe. She sighed in quiet frustration, and tugged the shoe off of her toes and carried it over to him, her gait a bit odd with only one heel on. He stood, and then knelt when she got closer, and she visibly hesitated.

"Well, I can't reach from there," He raised his eyebrow, holding his palm out for her shoe. Her expression looked confused, and unsure, but she slowly handed him her shoe and stepped closer to him. "Put your hand on my shoulder," He suggested, drawing the hem of her dress to the side so that he could slip his hand beneath it and grasp her ankle.

The dress felt satiny soft against his touch, and he imagined it was quite comfortable against her skin, but he quickly silenced those thoughts and focused on raising her foot where he could slip her shoe on for her. Her hand gripped his shoulder tightly, perhaps a little too tightly, but he didn't really notice.

Her foot seemed so small, in his hands. He's seen her knock men and beasts twice his size across the room with this foot.

Tugging the strap over the back of her heel, he brushed his thumb across the top of her foot for a moment, admiringly. <Every part of her arouses me. God, I'm doomed.>

"Are you sure you can fight in those?" Giles murmured as he set her foot back onto the ground and pulled his hands away from the smooth slide of her dress. He could far too easily picture himself moving in the opposite direction, his hands searching their way up along those toned legs, the dress easily draping itself against the back of his head as he kissed the inside of her thigh, skin surely even softer than the fabric...

"If it comes to it," Buffy's sarcastic tone forced him roughly back into focus and he quickly straightened back to his feet, taking a half-step out of her space. "But I'm more likely to just lose the shoes, if I've gotta run." She shifted her weight slightly, and smiled. "Thanks for the help!" She appeared to be mildly flushed, but he was far too chagrined by the state of his own mind to worry about hers.

"Hopefully it won't come to that." He replied agreeably, knowing that they were both using the topic of conversation as a safety net to cover the rather sudden intimacy of the moment they'd just shared.

"This is new, too, right?" Buffy wondered, her hand suddenly touching the lapel of his suit. He held his breath a little, and hoped to God that his arousal was not noticeable, should she look down. "A suit that isn't tweed..." She sounded impressed, and he felt his ears grow warm with pleasure, but then she quipped, "Who bought it for you?"

"I bought it," He insisted with a huff, tugging at the hem of the jacket as if it required straightening.

The deep navy color was even darker than her dress, bordering on black, and the cut was more fitted than he was used to. It hadn't been a cheap purchase, but then again, Willow had promised him that it would surely come in handy to keep at least one nice suit in his closet, 'for emergencies'. Whatever that meant.

And alright, so he'd gone to Willow for her opinion. But he had bought the thing himself, first.

"Ready to go?" He sighed softly, forcing himself to relax, and Buffy suddenly looked concerned again as she drew away from him.

"Wait, which one is the salad fork, again?" She half-panicked, and he resisted the urge to roll his eyes as he turned and picked up the room key from the end table.

"This dinner isn't that fancy, Buffy. Relax. You'll do fine." He slipped the keycard into his pocket as he led the way toward the door. Pausing at the door, he tapped above the inner chest pocket of his jacket to check for the reassuring weight of the small stake tucked away there.

"Wow," Buffy murmured behind him, and he glanced at her over his shoulder, raising his eyebrow. Her eyes darted up from -

<Was she just looking at my butt?>

"Are you armed?" He forced himself to ask as straight as possible. <No, of course she wasn't looking at my butt. Get your head out of your - well, she's just fussy about the charade, that's all.>

"Of course I am." Buffy replied defensively, narrowing her eyes at him. He opened the door and gestured she exit first, raising his eyebrows in a defensive gesture of his own. "This is supposed to be subterfuge and espionage, Giles, not a battle of arms."

"I'm just checking," He returned, making sure the door latched properly behind them. He was feeling testy because of his own lack of control, she was feeling testy because of her discomfort with their act, and as usual, they were riling each other up. <And not in the way that I'd like, either. -Damn it, man!> He scowled at himself. "Don't see how, no bag on your arm." He grumbled.

"Purses are clunky and take too long to retrieve if things get squicky - " She narrowed her eyes at him as they walked side-by-side toward the elevators. "You're the one that advised me about that, years ago. And anyway, my thigh holster has suited me well in lots of situations prior to this one. I'm armed, okay?"

His stomach felt as if it were curling on itself, and he sucked in his cheek, biting down hard on it. <Stop, stop, stop thinking of her thigh holster.>

As they stood next to one another in the elevator in tense silence, she sighed and tucked her arm around his. He forced himself to relax, and lifted his other hand to pat hers fondly, resting it there for a moment. An apology, of sorts.

"You owe me ice-cream, after this, mister." She murmured very seriously, just as the lift settled and the doors drew open. Giles nodded in acceptance, and they stepped out into the lobby together.

———


Buffy chuckled lowly, a throaty sound that drew Giles’ attention back toward her face in some surprise.

After all the years he’s known her, that particular sound was... new.

Her eyes danced with delight and her lips were curled in a wry, amused, smirk. He wondered what it was that Josiah's wife, sitting next to her, had said. They were drifting apart from one another with equal expressions on their faces, clearly having whispered something together that was not for mixed audiences. Buffy's new acquaintance drifted her eyes across the table until they landed on her husband, who was deep within his own conversation, but she didn't seem to mind the one-sided attention.

Giles looked back at Buffy, starting to get an idea of what the general topic had been, at least, and wondered what Buffy had replied with. She still held that smirk on her face, her gaze as unwavering on him as the other woman's was on her own husband. That gaze only shifted once Buffy reached for her wine.

He continued to stare as she lifted her wine glass and took a tiny sip of the drink. He stared as her throat bobbed with her swallow. He stared as the tip of her tongue darted out to catch the drop of wine still on her lips. She slowly lifted her eyes to meet his, her amusement shifting into something else, something warmer. She set the glass back on the table, her fingers lingering against the stem. He knew she wouldn’t finish the drink; the sipping gesture was only out of politeness for their surrounding company.

Giles blinked as they held one another’s gaze. Her close-lipped smile widened a little further, and she winked gently at him. He felt his mouth part slightly, his heart beating a little bit faster than before.

<Did I imagine that? Did she just wink at me? Is she trying to send me some sort of signal?> He studiously ignored the signals his own body was trying to send him.

A male chortle to his right jarred him from his distraction, and he closed his mouth, silently clearing his throat.

“I think we’ve kept Rupert and his lovely lady captive for long enough,” Silas announced with amusement. “It’s late. Let’s table this discussion for tomorrow.” His tone was more than a little suggestive, and Giles felt himself flush.

Buffy let out a ringing laugh that was soft and tinged with embarrassment, drawing Giles’ attention again. She dabbed her napkin against her lips and then folded it before tucking it beneath the edge of her empty plate.

“I’m sorry,” She smiled a little, playing up the demure and embarrassed card to perfection, “I promised not to be a distraction but,” She gave him the kind of soft smile that took his breath away, “He’s been away on business for so long.” Her tone edged on just that of longing. He sat enraptured in her stare, amazed and more than a little turned on.

<Is this the same Buffy that had to be plied with promises of sweets to behave during this dinner???> When they had discussed her role at the dinner prior to this meeting, Giles hadn’t expected a performance anything of this sort. She was amazing.

Quite a few of the men and women at the table chuckled knowingly, and Giles was brought back into the moment again.

“If you d-don’t mind,” He murmured apologetically to his seat-mates, those of which who sat nearest him both patted him companionably on his shoulders.

“Go on,” George, sitting on his left, spoke with a fond smile. “If only I had thought to bring my wife along - I would’ve found an excuse to leave you all hours ago!” As he drew laughter about the table, Giles shifted his chair back and tossed his napkin atop his plate.

“It has been a pleasure, gentlemen, ladies,” He said politely to the table.

“I’ll send up a call tomorrow afternoon once the papers have been finalized for signing.” George promised. “Congratulations on your part in making history, Rupert,”

“Now go celebrate it!” Josiah called out, garnering more chuckles.

Giles knew that he was blushing again, but smiled and ducked his head as he stepped around the table to give Buffy a hand from her seat. She’d hated this part of the facade, earlier; having to play the reserved wife, waiting on chivalrous social cues that he knew for a fact some of which she thought were outdated. But she placed her hand lightly atop his and followed his guidance away from the table, and even leaned into him a little when he slid his hand to her elbow, then across her back.

His fingers tingled as he brushed warm bare skin near the low scoop of the back of her dress. Perhaps he’d had too much of the wine. She was making him dizzy. He could not seem to keep his traitorous fingers from brushing against that warmth again, small strokes that marveled in her softness.

<Am I still dreaming, or did she just press even closer against my side?> He had known and seen Buffy in all manners over the years, but this - this level of composed elegance was something else. Something that had him embarrassingly swollen within his trousers, not because it was a type that he was particularly attracted to, but because it was Buffy. Buffy, surprising him yet again. Buffy, giving him almost-hidden flirty looks and touches and winking and - he yelped softly when he felt her palm brush over the curve of his butt. She laughed that throaty sound again that made his cock twitch but he was relieved when her hand returned up to the small of his back.

“Just playing the part,” She eased innocently, and he could feel the perspiration at the back of his neck.

Standing just outside the entrance on the sidewalk, Giles knew that they were still in view of most of the table in the restaurant behind them. Telling himself that he was just following her lead, he allowed his hand to linger a little lower, tantalizing close to the swell of her own curves. She casually ducked her hand beneath his jacket, her palm hot against the back of his shirt, as she tilted her mouth close to his ear. He closed his eyes as he felt her breath brush against the lobe, and mentally rejoiced the way her heels made it so easy for her to reach this sensitive part of his body.

<Does she have any idea what she’s doing to me?> She nuzzled the tip of her nose along the curve of his ear, then brushed against the soft skin beneath it, just behind his jaw.

“You smell good,” She hummed, and his lips parted again as hot arousal coursed down his spine.

<Why did she say that? We're too far from the others to hear anything; she only needs to look like she’s whispering sweet nothings... Oh, God,> He couldn’t stop the soft rumble of approval in his throat when she nuzzled the outside of his ear again, her breasts pushing against his arm.

A taxi pulled up in front of them, and he thanked the powers that be for it’s promptness as he opened the door and urgently guided her inside. He wanted to get them out of here, away from watching eyes, to stop her, to stop this before it went too far.

Instead, immediately after following her into the backseat he found himself pulled against her, Buffy’s hand gripping the knot of his tie as she guided him, the door closing a little harder than he intended as she pressed herself against his front. He froze, his mouth open and eyes unblinking as he stared at her. She froze as well, still holding on to him, still leaning, but suddenly her gaze seemed clear and alert. His hand was still gripping the handle of the door behind him, as if holding on for dear life.

“Think we sold it?” She asked, breathless, her nose just barely brushing his. He blinked, the moment shattering into reality, and he swallowed. He was hard as a rock, and the way her other hand was pressed atop his thigh she might notice soon enough.

He flushed deeply, and turned his head to avert his eyes from hers, glancing toward the cab driver. He nodded, and then cleared his throat awkwardly, giving the driver the name for their hotel. When his voice cracked, the man simply chuckled and shook his head, and then focused on getting them safely into the traffic lane.

"I'm sorry," Buffy said, and he looked back to her, his brow furrowing in confusion.

"What for?" He wondered, just as she tugged loose his tie, her other hand moving up to rather deftly pop open the button of his collar. "Buffy?" He wondered again, his tone exactly the same, and she pulled his tie completely from his collar at the same time as she tucked her nose against his neck. His mouth fell open again, but he had no idea what to say.

"I think I got too into the part," She softly complained, stuffing his tie into the pocket of his jacket. Quick as a flash her fingers returned to the buttons of his shirt, popping open another one to reveal the top of his chest.

Overwhelmed, struggling to keep up, he squirmed in his seat, his hands reaching for her elbows. Her nose slid against his skin and she kissed his neck. His fingers immediately tightened their grip though his gaze drifted up toward the roof of the car.

<What is happening? What is happening? Am I drunk? Oh my God, we're in the back of a taxi.>

Her mouth dipped lower, kissing the hollow of his throat and then his collarbone. The tips of her fingers danced against his skin, touching the bit of chest hair she'd begun to reveal, and that noise blurted out of his mouth again before he could stop it.

He started to question her again, to protest, perhaps, but then she shifted her other hand to rub briefly against his groin, and her name fell from his lips more like a moan than anything else. He immediately flushed, and closed his eyes.

He wasn't sure whether he was more embarrassed about having the cabby hear his obvious lack of control, or that Buffy herself was discovering it.

His hands found themselves on her waist, somehow, holding on to her as she slowly kissed every bit of the skin she'd revealed beneath his collar. He trembled a bit, wishing they were somewhere else instead of this awkward half-seated position, wishing he could pull her flush against his body like he wanted to. Falling into the heat of the moment, he desperately wanted to touch her in return, but he still wasn't sure what exactly was going on, what was allowed.

Hesitantly, he slid one of his hands back a little, down around the curve of her hip that was twisted slightly off the seat cushion, his fingers tightening against the material of her dress. The soft fabric felt wonderful against his callused palm, warmed from her body heat, tantalizing him with visions of it sliding down her legs.

Buffy nuzzled the jut of his collarbone and, taking that as encouragement, he continued his path of curiosity, running his palm along the outer curve of her butt. She pressed herself more firmly against him, hip-to-knee, her far foot crossing over to rub against the front of his leg.

The warm softness of her chest pressing against his, the weight of her hand growing more confident against his groin, her quiet sound of relief as she moved her lips over his pulse - in mere seconds he forgot entirely about why they were here, why they'd even begun the facade in the first place.

"Giles," She sighed longingly, the tone of her voice taking whatever reserve he had left and vanishing it.

All the years he's known her, and he never knew she could say his name like that.

He dipped his head down in search of her mouth, his cheek and nose brushing hers before he hesitated, the intimacy startling him. She tilted her chin, inviting him, her breath panting against his lips.

<Buffy. This is Buffy. Buffy's mouth, I'm about to kiss. Buffy's fingers, with that maddening rhythm around my crotch.>

"What are we doing?" He murmured, dazed. She stopped that sensuous dance against him, for which he was both relieved and disappointed. He couldn't say which emotion was stronger.

She tilted her head back slightly, her eyes finally meeting his directly, and she looked at him like she was searching for something.

The cab driver cleared his throat, amusedly announcing their arrival to the hotel, making Giles’ spine stiffen as the car came to a full stop. Buffy felt his reaction, and let go of him, sitting back in her seat properly and smoothing her dress against her thighs. Somehow she still looked gorgeously perfect, while he felt rather debauched.

"Let's go," She murmured encouragingly, giving his knee a little squeeze when he didn't move from his position half twisted toward the middle of the backseat. She gave him a gentle smile, and he reached out to take her hand slowly, once more entirely unsure of the situation.

<What just happened? What's going to happen now? What's going to happen tomorrow? Would she just write this off as a circumstance of the job? A one-time occurence? Something casual?>

With his other hand he awkwardly shifted for his wallet, and passed over the fare plus a large tip with an embarrassed smile. He apologized softly to the driver, who only shook his head again, and gestured them goodbye with a nice enough smile.

"I've had worse. At least you two kept your clothes on."

Giles got out of the car and stood by the opened door, mortified, as Buffy lithely stepped out as if she'd been wearing dresses like that her whole life.

They walked side by side through the lobby and to the lift, the silence between them heavy and uncomfortable and still fairly charged. Once in the elevator, Buffy slipped her hand into his again. He jumped, for the first time again in almost a week, and glanced at her. She was looking resolutely ahead at the closed doors, but didn't let go of his hand. Even with his emotions and thoughts in a jumble, he still had enough mind to curl his fingers around her palm in return, albeit loosely.

She continued to hold his hand until he unlocked the door and led the way into their suite. Then, she gave it a firm squeeze, and told him that she was going to take a quick shower before bed. She gave him that same, gentle smile again, before disappearing into the back bedroom area. He heard the bathroom door close a minute later.

He stood there for a long moment, letting the exhaustion of the day's work guide his body to relax, and rubbed his hand over his face.

When he heard the water turn on, he decided to give her further privacy and stayed out in the living room area, making a call back home. He updated Willow and Xander on the situation as far as the work part went, and studiously ignored their teasing about "how married life was treating him". He might not have any idea about what was happening between he and Buffy, but he did know that it was a private matter. No one else needed to know about it until they themselves figured it out.

If they ever would figure it out.

After hanging up, he changed into his sleepwear, spending a moment fingering the tie he'd retrieved from his jacket pocket. He closed his eyes, remembering how wonderful her mouth felt against his skin. Goosebumps flared up his spine. He'd been so close to kissing her. Why had he stopped? He could almost taste the curve of her lips against his tongue... she was so beautiful, tonight. She was so beautiful all the time - he was usually much better about ignoring it.

"Hey," Her voice greeted him and he opened his eyes to find her standing outside the bathroom door. "Bathroom's all yours. I even tried to leave you some hot water," She quipped. She'd replaced the gown with sleep pants and a t-shirt, the attire similar to his though patterned differently. The elegant make-up she'd applied for dinner was gone, revealing flushed clean skin, and tired eyes. He wanted to brush his thumbs against her cheeks, and linger in her softness. He wanted to nuzzle his nose against hers, touch his lips to her jaw.

"How kind of you." He replied dryly to her teasing, tossing his tie into his sock drawer and closing it. She brushed by him as she walked around the edge of the bed to her side of the mattress, and his eyes drifted closed again for a brief moment as he breathed in her clean soapy smell. He shoved his hands into his pockets.

Shutting himself in the bathroom, he turned the sink faucet on but merely leaned his hands against the edge for a minute, hanging his head down as he tried to get his thoughts in order.

While the first night had been expectantly awkward, they'd quickly gotten used to sharing a bed for the rest of the week. He wasn't sure how he was going to manage it tonight, though. Craving her touch was not new to him, but now he'd experienced hints of her sensuality, been on the receiving end of her lingering touch, her hot and wet mouth.

Her hands; strong, curious, unhesitant. Learning the shape of him, feeling the evidence of his arousal as it hardened, stroking his length hidden beneath layers of clothing that did nothing to really negate the power her touch had over him.

He lifted his head and scowled at himself in the mirror, cupping his hands beneath the faucet and splashing cool water over his face. They had a job to do. He wasn't about to ruin it or his finally-repaired relationship with Buffy just because of his libido. She'd said it herself - she'd gone too far into the lie. And he knew her, anyway. She was a sexually vibrant young woman, strong and fearless and independent and in the prime of her life - it wasn't personal.

"It's just business." He muttered at himself to the mirror. He dried the water from his face with a hand towel before brushing his teeth and using the toilet one last time before bed.

By the time he'd finished his ablutions and entered the bedroom once more, Buffy's bedside lamp was turned off and she was nestled beneath the covers. She was curled away from him, and he watched her breathing for a few moments, fondness filling him. When it came down to it, nothing else really mattered - he would always love her, would always be grateful for her, would always be thankful for every breath that she took.

He switched off his own table lamp, bathing the room in darkness, and then grabbed one of his pillows and padded silently to the living room, closing the bedroom door softly behind him.

He had been taking notes whenever they returned to the room, on what their new acquaintances said, how they acted, jotting down anything that might be labelled as a 'tell'. He and Buffy were here for a reason, after all - and he was determined to finish it as soon as he could. He set his pillow to one side of the couch and settled back, stretching out as much as he could as he opened up his journal to read.

———


Giles awoke with a start, the morning sunlight streaming through the partially-parted curtains warming his face. His journal was draped open atop his chest, one arm and one leg hanging off the side of the couch with his other knee bent against the back cushion. He blearily turned his head and recognized the shape of his glasses on the coffee table next to him.

Pulling them on, he slowly stood up and stretched, groaning as the tightness in his knee protested. Setting his journal on the table, he realized there was a mug and an unopened tea packet awaiting him, alongside a thermos that, after touching the side, he noted was filled with still-hot water. He smiled to himself as he prepared the tea, but as it was steeping, he realized that the suite was quieter than usual.

"Buffy?"

His skin prickled with the knowledge that he was alone, but he glanced through the bedroom and bathroom, anyway. There was a note resting against his toothbrush, written on one of the little sheets from the pad that resided by the phone.

Gone to meet Rebekah for breakfast at a nearby bakery. Don't worry. I'll bring something back for you.

X

Giles stared at it for a moment, noticing that she hadn't exactly signed it. Who had written this? Buffy, or 'Anne'? The 'x' glared out at him blazingly.

After washing his face and brushing his teeth, Giles returned to the living room and remembered his tea. It was a little stronger than he liked, now, but he drank it anyway, opening up his journal once more and rereading the most recent entries.

Rebekah was Josiah's wife, the woman Buffy had seemed to make an immediate kinship with. After his reading last night, he'd been considering more and more the possibility that George was the shapeshifter - he was the only one who'd arrived alone and was still without a plus-one, he seemed to be the most excited for the petition to be signed. With everyone's agreement and signatures, it would provide him the opportunity to then schedule a meeting with the President himself, and present the petition to him directly.

But what if the demon wasn't George? What if the demon was Josiah - and Rebekah, being his wife, perhaps knew? Perhaps she had been threatened, pressured to keep the secret, and felt that she could trust Buffy with something that was eating her up. Perhaps that was why she wanted to meet with Buffy this morning.

Or, in line with their earlier proposition, she could be the demon herself. Forcing Josiah to gather the signatures she needed to move her plan forward. When the time came, would she then shape-shift into him, meet with the President herself?

"Then why wouldn't she simply arrive here as Josiah to begin with?" Giles muttered to himself. He didn't really think she was the culprit.

But now he was considering that it was Josiah. He tucked Buffy's note between the pages to mark his place and flipped backward through his journal, focusing more directly on his notes about the Italian man.

———


"What he thinks is a good press op is gonna be the death of him," Buffy grumbled about her President, shoving a stake in the inner lining of her leather jacket.

Giles wasn't sure he was capable of saying anything at all, watching as she propped her booted foot up on the edge of the coffee table and pulled the edge of her skirt up higher than it'd already risen, her holster in her other hand...

<I should turn around. Right now.>

Her legs were not unfamiliar to him, of course. The shorts she wore during training sometimes barely constituted as underwear, and besides that, he's seen her in her actual underwear during times he's had to patch her up after a rough fight.

Those circumstances were far, far different from watching her strap that holster around her thigh, high enough that it would still be well-hidden beneath her skirt. She slid another stake into the holster before dropping her foot back to the floor and smoothing the skirt down.

"The question is," She continued on, not noticing his silence. Or more likely, used to it and not registering the cause for it. "How do we take out Josiah-demon without making the rest of the group scream bloody murder?"

Giles swallowed, finally managing to drag his eyes away from her just before she turned to look at him. He tucked a few stakes about his person as well, along with a knife that was almost the size of his forearm. He definitely did not want to know where she'd found that, as they’d managed to smuggle stakes on the flight into town but knives and swords were out of the question.

"Giles." Her tone sounded half-alarmed, half-scolding, and he whipped his head back up to look at her with confusion. She had her hands propped on her waist, her posture expressing annoyance, though her face was flushed. "We can explore your interest with my thigh holster later - we've got monsters to slay."

He immediately looked down at his crotch, and turned away from her, turning red as well. <Damn traitor. Damn jeans; I knew they were too tight - but nooo, Willow insisted they were the style these days. 'They'll present you much better than the raggedy old loose ones'. Presents me better, that's for sure. Impossible to hide a damn boner in these things.>

"I-I'll," He cleared his throat, and tried to get his focus onto the larger issue at hand. <Larger, at hand, hah- Christ, man. You're not sixteen anymore. Get a grip on yourself.> He closed his eyes and groaned as his immediate next thought was about who he'd RATHER have a grip on him. "Bait." He gritted out between his teeth, opening his eyes and turning sharply on his heel, forcing himself to face her squarely. <She's already seen it - hell, she's touched it - no point in hiding it now anyway. It'll go away.>

"Bait?" Buffy furrowed her brow, her eyes briefly flitting down his body again, and he clenched his jaw as he did his best to ignore that. "What?" She narrowed her eyes, not liking where he was going with his, and the expression helped him to relax some. Buffy angry with him, he could handle. Buffy checking him out, less so.

"They have to have a place nearby, an empty shop building or warehouse or parking garage or the like - the hotel can't be their main hideout." Giles explained, buttoning his jacket. "The demon would need to feed - while the human form it's representing requires the expected sustenance, the demon itself would need it's own... food."

"Which is...." Buffy trailed off. "Please tell me it's not babies, again."

"No," Giles appeased, "But I'm not sure if you've noticed, that both the bellboy and the usual female attendant in the lobby have not checked in for work... and they are the second and third employees to disappear suddenly this week." He'd heard one of the assistant managers discussing it with the new desk attendant, who'd been wondering why she'd been called in on such late notice.

"Maybe they ran off together." Buffy reasoned. "Got married in secret."

"She's married to someone else, and he's gay." Giles returned dryly, and she raised her eyebrows at him.

"How do you know this stuff about random strangers?" She wondered incredulously, and he huffed, knowing he sounded a little pompous, and not caring about it,

"I pay attention to my surroundings."

"Yeah, maybe a little too much attention," She grumbled under her breath, and he pursed his lips, frustrated with her, frustrated with himself.

"I'm not the only one who's been looking a little to closely," He retorted, and she immediately blushed again, deeper than before, averting her eyes toward a neutral spot on the ground.

"Okay, okay, so we've both been a little too..." She trailed off, perhaps not knowing what word she wanted to use. He slowly relaxed, and when she glanced back up toward his eyes, his own apologetic expression was met with hers. Blowing out a breath of air, she then said more calmly, "So... the bait thing?" She asked again, raising her eyebrow. She wasn't an idiot - she had at least an idea of his plan.

"Once I reveal that I know what Josiah really is," Giles began, speaking quicker as she began to shake her head immediately, "He'll want me separated from the rest of the group. Odds are he'll take me to his hideout, where he'll either interrogate me, or..."

"Or he'll eat you." Buffy said pointedly, folding her arms across her chest. "No way I'm letting Giles be on the menu tonight," She insisted, and then muttered, "Not unless it's my menu."

"Buffy," He chided, resisting the urge to close his eyes again against the imagery that comment provided his overactive mind.

“Fine.” She grumbled, annoyed but knowing that Giles’ plan was a decent one. So long as she didn’t get herself kidnapped as well, and could keep sight of them once he allowed himself to be kidnapped. “We never got ice-cream the other night. You owe me double after this.” She warned him, pointing her finger threateningly.

“And who’s fault was that?!”

“Yours,” She growled, and he looked at her incredulously. She took a sharp step toward him, and his eyes widened, holding his breath half in fear for her next action. Then she stopped, frowned, and shook her head. “Let’s go.” She turned on her heel and headed for the door.

Giles released his breath, shakily, and quickly readjusted the front of his jeans before following after her.

———


"I wasn't sure until now that it was you," Josiah-demon grinned a little maniacally as they slowly circled one another in the middle of the warehouse floor. "But I assumed that the Slayer would come after me, eventually. I was ready for it." He held his palm up suddenly, revealing the syringe tucked there, the plunger between two of his fingers.

Buffy glanced back down toward her thigh, realizing that the needle had punctured her skin. He'd been so quick with it, even she hadn't caught on, distracted by their fist-fight. Giles had seen the hit, but in his state he could barely even distinguish it between a punch or a slap.

She'd been distracted by him, honestly. He saw her look back toward his prone form, still lying a few feet away. Of course he gets himself knocked half unconscious. Her distraction had been only a second but Josiah-demon had clearly been hoping for it, and had used the moment to inject her with... whatever it was.

With the real Josiah locked up in an icebox, if he wasn't dead yet, he probably would be very soon. She didn't have time to theorize over Josiah-demon's tactics. As if she were thinking along the same wavelength as Giles - and he wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if she were - with a growl she leapt at the demon again, who dropped the used syringe and pounced to meet her, their grapple beginning anew.

Giles' focus continued to drift in and out as they traded kicks and punches for a few minutes; Josiah-demon was wily and quick on his feet. Even when she knocked him to the ground, he'd quickly roll out of her reach and be back up and attacking her again.

Buffy finally managed to pin him to the ground, huffing out a breath as he fought against her hold. She was strong enough that he wouldn't break it, but that also meant she couldn't get to her remaining stake. As soon as she let go of him, he'd maneuver free and they'd have to do all of this all over again.

And honestly, she was sounding a little winded. Giles furrowed his brow slowly, concerned, and tried to push himself up. Were his arms even moving?

"What did you stab me with?" Buffy accused Josiah-demon angrily, glaring down at him. He only hissed back up at her, the sound inhuman, the feral look in his eyes even more so.

Giles' shuffling behind her right shoulder, and his soft groan, alerted her that her Watcher was coming to.

"Giles!" Buffy yelled urgently. "Wake the hell up! Kinda need a hand, here!"

"Working on it," He grumbled, managing to get to his hands and knees. Nausea roiled through him and he gagged, though managed not to throw up. <Great. Concussion. Again.>

"My stake, Giles, grab it! I'm... my vision is - I think I'm gonna black out, soon." Buffy continued to speak urgently, and though her words were slow to register through his brain, once they did he urged himself into action, stumbling to his feet.

"Where," He looked around, and clumsily straightened his glasses that were still miraculously hanging from an ear, "I don't see,"

"The other one, Giles," She hissed, and he nodded.

"Right." He said with surprising detachment. Perhaps the concussion was good for him, after all. He dropped back down to his knees, still not functional enough to stand properly or kneel with any sort of balance, and shifted closer to the struggling duo. "Got him?" He asked, his palm curling around her calf. His own vision was still fairly wobbly and cross-eyed, and he took a deep breath. Brain mush or not, he knew better than to just shove his hand blindly up her skirt. No matter how much the idea interested him.

"For now," Buffy grimaced, one shoe slipping on the concrete briefly before she affirmed her hold.

"That's a nice jiu-jitsu move," Giles noted of her form, sliding his hand up her leg. "Did I teach you that one?" Her tense muscles from exertion of the fight felt wonderful beneath his touch, but he kept himself focused on his task.

"No," She grunted shortly. His hand was just above the back of her knee, now, and he realized with a sudden thought that she'd probably learned it from the Initiative. From Riley.

He frowned, picturing them rolling around together as they practiced this move.

"I could teach you far better moves than he ever could," Giles grumbled, his searching fingers slowing down as they disappeared beneath her skirt. Finding a strap of the holster, he followed it's path carefully until he could feel the stake that it held in place against the inside of her leg.

"Who?" Buffy sounded confused, and far more breathless than she'd been before. "My sensei? Come on, Giles - you've taught me almost everything I know, but even you don't know everything."

Giles popped the button releases free, suddenly feeling quite happy about things, completely ignoring the snarling demon beneath her.

"I bet I know things you don't even know I know," He drawled as he shifted his upper body forward, speaking into her ear. Purposefully now, still a little dazed but the warmth of her skin surprisingly filling him with some clarity he brushed his fingers against the hot inside of her thigh, before then drawing the stake free.

Even better than his imagination, she was the softest thing he's ever felt. Her short little gasp was especially nice. <Did she just press her bum up against me?>

In a quick movement, his decades of training overriding even his concussion-laden drowsiness, he maneuvered the stake out into the open and stretched above Buffy to bring it straight down onto Josiah-demon's face, spearing him directly through his left eye. Josiah-demon's mouth gaped in surprise, but then his body went completely slack, before then dissolving into a puddle of greenish-brown gunk.

"Oh, God," Buffy moaned in despair, unable to keep herself from collapsing front-first into the mess, what with her own impending unconsciousness coupled with Giles' unsupported weight atop her.

"Sorry," He mumbled, his cheek resting against the back of her head for a moment, his hands flat on the ground either side of her. He wasn't holding himself up at all, though. "Did I get him?" He mumbled cheekily, giggling deliriously.

"Oh, God, don't laugh," Buffy snorted out a laugh as well, but then made another despairing sound. "As great as this feels right now, my front-end ain't so happy." She managed to point out. "And you need to get the real Josiah, and check on Rebekah, I..." She trailed off even as he was apologizing and rolling off of her.

She had felt very nice, pressed beneath him though.

She rolled over onto her back in the opposite direction he had, moving off of the demon remains with a profound grimace on her face.

"I think it's nap time." She mused, her voice slurring much more heavily than before. Giles pressed a hand to his head and grimaced, trying to get himself to focus at least a little more, and then pushed himself back up onto his knees, stumbling over to her.

"Buffy, Buffy," He gripped her shoulder, shaking it a little to get her eyes to open again. "Do you- do you know what it was? Do you recognize...?" She shook her head blearily, her smile a little loopy as she looked up at him.

"You," She told him, her hand drifting up in a gesture that was probably supposed to be a poke against his chest, "are dangerous." She giggled again. "Hubby."

Giles slid back over toward the discarded syringe, lifting it close to his eyes to see if he could distinguish anything about any possible remaining liquid inside. He sniffed the end of it, frowning. The pain in his head was making it difficult for him to think. He was pretty sure he recognized it; pretty sure it was a simple tranquilizer.

<Is pretty sure enough, though?> He glanced back toward Buffy, who's eyes were closed now, her hands relaxed by her sides. The terror that the familiarity of that pose shot through him with enough clarity that he managed to get to his feet and shuffle toward the box refrigerator in the corner of the room.

Yanking it open, he let out a breath of half-relief as he spied the real Josiah inside. The man's eyes were closed, though, and his breathing shallow. There was no doubt a case of hypothermia, but Giles couldn't guess as to how far along it was. Grimacing, grunting a bit with the struggle of dragging a grown man out of a box fridge, he finally managed to fall back onto the cement floor, cushioning Josiah's fall with his own body.

He lay there for a minute, seeing stars, before gingerly pushing Josiah off of him and rolling him onto his back. He then crawled over to where Rebekah sat curled up against the wall nearby, wrists shackled together. She could still perform chest compressions, if necessary. Giles wasn't sure that his brain would be able to handle anymore bouncing about inside of his skull.

"You.... keep him warm?" Giles grimaced as the adrenalin from the fight quickly waned from his body, making the pain in his head more pronounced. "I'll call an ambulance..."

He slid back over to Buffy, relieved to see her chest rising and falling with even breaths, and dug his hand into her pocket for her cell phone.

———


Rebekah was kind enough to tell the paramedics that Giles and Buffy were married, even though it was quite likely she knew otherwise at this point, so they'd both been set up within the same ward. Giles recalled her thanking him, softly, as she walked alongside her husband's stretcher as it was led to the van. She promised that she wouldn't reveal who they were, what had really happened, to the cops. Considering that she'd helped him hide the stakes and clean up the demon gunk, he trusted her to her word.

He didn't remember much, after that. Only eventually waking up in a room that included Buffy and three other people, all in various states of low level injury.

Buffy was leaning over him, tugging the blood-pressure cuff off of his arm and removing the oxygen tubing from under his nose.

"Oh, hullo." He smiled up at her, feeling fairly delirious. She looked like an angel.

"C'mon," She chuckled a little as she hoisted him up and draped his arm across her shoulders, easing him from the bed. He wondered if he'd spoken aloud. "You did," She informed him, and he pressed his lips together. "I checked in on Rebekah. Real-Josiah is going to be fine. He might not ever be able to feel with his left hand again, but, at least he didn't actually lose any of the fingers. Has all his toes, too, I think." She put her hands on his arms to steady him on his feet, and then let go to dig through the pile of clothes on the bedside chair. "Lucky you," She grumbled while she worked, "your clothes didn't get covered in nasty. I had to, eh, borrow some clothes from the nurse's lounge." That explained her pink scrubs. She looked good in them. "Thanks," Buffy laughed, and he scowled at himself.

"What did they give me?" He huffed, knowing that with the head injury it wouldn't have been anything incredibly strong. He couldn't use pain medication as an excuse for his lack of filter.

"Here," Buffy politely let the subject drop, and held his jeans open in front of him, low enough for him to step into.

"I can dress myself!" He protested grumpily, and she glared at him sharply.

"Shut UP and get that ass of yours into these pants right now." She ordered. Then after a beat, she added, "Honestly hoped I'd be telling you the opposite, this time of night."

Blushing, Giles balanced himself with a hand on her shoulder and lifted his foot into one pants leg, waiting for her to draw it up out of the way before repeating the process with the other foot. When she hiked the jeans up to his waist, he yelped quietly and grabbed onto her arms.

"What?" She frowned at him, hands frozen at the opening. "I'm being gentle!"

"I know," He hissed, embarrassed, and swatted her hands away. He zipped and buttoned them up himself, answering her smirk with a glare.

"Nothing I haven't felt before," She whispered loftily, and he quietly groaned and closed his eyes for a moment.

"Give an injured man some peace, please." He then opened his eyes, and furrowed his brow at her as he recalled her own injuries. "Are you okay?"

"A little horse tranquilizer can't keep a Slayer down," She shrugged, and he blinked at her. "C'mon, while the going's good." She gestured toward the door, and took a step out of his space. "Can you walk on your own?"

He wanted to retort something sharp, but he was still feeling a bit woozy, so dutifully took a careful step forward. Feeling steady enough, he nodded at her.

"Good," She nodded as well, and then picked up his dress shirt, tossing it at him while she folded his jacket over her arm. "Put that on. If anyone asks, you've been released and I'm just making sure you make it across the parking lot."

"What, don't want to help?" He sassed as she shifted so that she was facing the door, her back to him. She glared at him over her shoulder, hesitating as he peeled off the hospital gown, then faced forward again.

"I don't wanna get distracted." She muttered, and he looked down at himself as he set the gown on the bed. While he wasn't ashamed of his body, he knew that he wasn't a perfect specimen. He certainly wasn't comparable to the unchanging, sharply defined musculature of the vampires she's, er, known, or even someone of Riley's build. He was strong, of course - and Buffy knew that - but strictly in the looks department? His hair was greying, he had a plethora of various scars about him - a certain lance-shaped one that looked nastier than the rest - and his midsection hadn’t been firm in years.

When he looked back up, Buffy was staring at him again. She huffed at his expression, of which he wasn't sure was doing, again, and folded her arms tightly across her chest.

"God, now is not the time to be judging yourself, Giles. Come on." Her fingers gripped her arms firmly, and he got the impression that she was resisting the urge to touch him.

Pleased and more than a little curious about that urge, he shrugged on his dress shirt and buttoned it up as quickly as he could.

They made it through the hospital without incident, and as soon as they were around the block, she removed the shirt of her scrubs and discarded it, making him realize where his undershirt had disappeared to. It hadn't disappeared at all - Buffy was wearing it.

"You know, scrubs are way more comfy than they look." Buffy mused, not noticing his staring. "And with the whole 'built to withstand all manner of bodily fluids' thing, maybe I should invest in some. Official slaying gear. What do you think?" She looked up at Giles, and then her expression suddenly grew concerned, and she looped her elbow around his and drew him to a stop. "What's wrong? Your head? Should we take a break?"

"You're not wearing a bra." He blurted. <Christ. Seriously?>

Buffy stared at him for a long minute.

"I didn't mean to notice," He apologized, "But you're wearing my shirt."

"What is it with men and the women that wear their clothes?" Buffy wondered, a bit incredulous, and eased him to continue walking down the sidewalk, heading for the bus stop.

"We all have our territorial tendencies." He said defensively. "Plus, it's... nice."

"Nice?" Buffy repeated with another raised eyebrow.

"Sexy?"

"It's a tee shirt, Giles."

"Yes, but it's my tee shirt." He reasoned. She sighed, and led him toward the bench.

"Sit down. The next bus should be here within ten minutes. We'll spend another night in the hotel, recover some more, and then head back home in the morning."

<Home.> Her phrase pleased him, but then he remembered that this meant the job was officially over. No more 'hubby', no more little casual touches throughout the day, no more brushing their teeth together in the morning.

Giles sat on the far end of the bench, hunching his shoulder against the glass and frowning deeply at the sidewalk beneath his feet. Buffy let him, no doubt sensing his mood, though he could tell she was confused by it, not understanding why it had soured.

They were silent during their bus ride, silent as they walked through the hotel lobby hoping that they didn't look as conspicuous as they felt, and silent as they rode the elevator up to their floor. When Buffy let them into their room, she urged him toward the bathroom, only then breaking the silence.

"Let me clean that up a little better," She murmured, her eyes focused somewhere north of his. "Docs focus more on fixing injuries than cleaning you off."

As she retrieved the first aid he'd thoughtfully bought their first day in town, he peered at himself in the mirror, grimacing. It was amazing that the few people that had been in the lobby hadn't stopped them, or said anything. His hair was a mess, clumps of it going in random directions, and the fresh stitches on his forehead were surrounded by an already-forming dark bruise and brown flakes of dried blood. He was a little grimy, too, from his own scuffle on the floor with demon-Josiah.

He sat on the closed toilet lid so that Buffy could reach his face easier, feeling a bit... odd. Normally, this would be happening the other way around. Buffy was often too busy saving the world to tend to his injuries - that usually fell to another Scooby, or himself, or a proper doctor once things settled down.

She warmed a washcloth under the sink until she approved of the temperature, and then began to gently rub it against his skin. He grimaced when she touched a particularly tender part of his bruise, and her other hand automatically lifted to cup his opposite cheek, holding him still while she cleaned around his eye.

She handled him with such tenderness, he felt like he could weep.

Instead, he merely watched her, unashamedly staring into her eyes while her own were focused on her task. <She loves me.> He could see it, in the way she looked at him. He could feel it, in her touch. <But what kind of love is it?> That part mattered. It mattered a great deal - but his head was still too sore for him to mull over it too much.

"There we go." She murmured, drawing him back to the present. He had no idea how much time had gone by, but his face felt much more clean and fresh than it had when they'd left the hospital. "Go on," She gestured her head toward the doorway. "Get to bed. I need a shower. I'll be quick, okay?"

"My concussion isn't that bad," He assured her. "I've had worse." He even felt a little more clear-headed already, although his exhaustion was catching up with him again.

"I know." She replied, and rested her hand against the side of his head again, where she could brush her thumb against his uninjured temple. Her gaze looked troubled, and he tilted his head into her palm a little, almost like a nuzzle. She smiled quickly, and lowered her hand.

He missed her touch immediately, but she stepped back to give him room to stand, so he did, and returned to the bedroom to change into his pajamas.

He was still awake, though, when she finished with her shower. They lay in the darkness together for a long number of minutes, the silence oppressive, uncomfortable. Just as Giles decided that he would move to the couch in the living room, to perhaps make her feel more comfortable, he heard Buffy twist around to face him.

"Giles?" She whispered, and he turned onto his opposite side to face her, as well. She glanced at his eyes only briefly before dropping her gaze. Her arm stretched out so that she could touch her fingers against his hand where it rested on the mattress between them.

He watched those small, deceptively strong digits dance across his knuckles, and willed himself to stay quiet and calm.

"I like being married to you." She admitted, still whispering though there was no amount of confusion or question in her voice.

He had no idea what to say. Her statement had filled him with joy, confusion, and terror. If he thought too hard about it he knew that he would start stuttering and quite possibly send himself into a panic attack, so he swallowed deeply and instead shifted his hand to rest it on top of hers.

Her eyes slowly lifted to meet his, and it took every ounce of his willpower to keep his expression blank. He curled his fingers around her palm and held her hand.

———


They both slept in, neither in any hurry to be anywhere. The bad guy had been defeated, the President would live to see another day (probably), and the petition that actually was a good idea (without the abused opportunistic circumstances surrounding it) was successfully moving it's way up the chain of politics. Apparently, the diplomats had enough signatures on the document even without Giles', which suited him just fine, since he didn't want his name floating around in those circles to eventually be discovered as a fraud. He heard from George that Silas would be the one to approach the White House with the petition, since the real Josiah was not in any position of health to do so. The group was made to believe that there'd been a car accident, that he'd ended up in the river, and suffered from hypothermia before the police managed to find him. None of them knew that the Josiah they’d spent the week with had not been the real man.

It was amazing, the stories people let themselves believe.

Buffy shuffled out of the bedroom as Giles was by the little 'kitchenette', preparing his morning tea. She rubbed the heel of her palm against her eye, attempting to brush her sleepiness away. Her hair was a ruffled mess, having slept on it still damp. His tee shirt still adorned her shoulders, the hem stopping at her thighs just barely enough to be appropriate. She wasn’t wearing her pajama pants beneath them. He hadn’t noticed that, last night.

"Morning," She mumbled, her eyes still squinted closed for a moment. "You ordered fresh coffee, right?"

He set his little styrofoam cup down.

"Marry me." He said.

She opened her eyes quickly at that, and dropped her hand back to her side.

"What?"

"Marry me." He repeated.

"We're already married." She pointed out, and he stepped toward the middle of the room. She stood still by the bedroom door.

"Marry me for real." He said a little more directly, and she swallowed as she hesitated with that. He stepped closer as he awaited her response. Her eyes darted at him like he was a feral animal, like she had to watch him carefully.

"I think I took you out of the hospital too early," Buffy suggested, taking a step backward, retreating back into the bedroom. "Are you sure your head is okay? Maybe it's worse than you thought,"

"Buffy Anne Summers," Giles announced seriously, ignoring her mildly panicky tone, "Marry me."

"Why?" She wondered incredulously, the two of them halting in the middle of the bedroom now.

"Because I like being married to you, too." He told her, repeating her words from last night. "Because I have loved you... a-always. And I will love you, always." The surprised, half-fearful look in her eyes drifted into something else, but he couldn't quite name it yet.

"But..." Her brow furrowed. "We have nothing in common."

"Not true at all." He argued. "And if jelly doughnuts and sword battles aren't enough for you, well, we'll always have our nightly strolls through the cemetery." She smirked a little at that, which was his intention, and he felt a little relieved. Still, she wasn't exactly bursting with a 'yes'. "We still agree on the important bits." He reminded her softly. "Women's rights, Nazi's are bad, the Initiative are a bunch of wankers."

"Hey, I never said that!" Buffy protested, and he lifted his eyebrows in an innocent expression. She relaxed, then, and admitted, "You aren't wrong, though." As he waited hopefully, she frowned again. "We argue, a lot. Pretty bad, sometimes."

"We haven't had a truly horrible fight in a long time," He noted softly. "A lot of that had to do with... miscommunication." It was the easiest single-word explanation he could come up with for the moment, and she nodded slowly as if in agreement. After a beat, he grinned and added, "That just means the make-up sex will be fantastic."

"Giles!" Buffy laughed, surprised by his blatancy, and he smiled. He’d wanted to make her laugh. She was blushing, too, though, which delighted him for other reasons. "You really love me like that? I mean, love me like that?" She wondered, and he raised his eyebrow.

"Did the way I kissed you make you somehow think otherwise?" He pointed out, and she blushed even more deeply than before.

"No," She admitted, though darted her eyes toward his. "Except, we've never actually kissed. It was more I kissed you. And it wasn't even on the mouth." She made that sound like a challenge, somehow, and he squinted a little at her.

"Shall I kiss you," He asked, speaking slowly and seriously, "in a way that is indicative of my love for you?" He could tell that she held her breath before she nodded slowly at him. His heart jumped within his chest. "Are you certain about that?" He checked, lowering his tone a bit, stepping closer her. <If she really wants proof - absolute, undeniable proof - then by God, I’m going to give it to her.>

"Yes, Giles. Kiss me." Buffy was still half-whispering, but her voice was calm and certain now, and her eyes were sharp. He was enthralled to hear those words fall from her lips, but he forced himself to stay focused. This would be too easy for him to throw all abandon to the wind and just lose himself within her, but he wanted to make sure that she understood. That she could feel the true scope of his love for her.

She tensed when he stopped only inches away from her, but she stayed still as he cradled her head between his hands, pushing his fingers partially into her hair, guiding her chin up to face him. He looked down at her for a long moment, stroking his thumbs against her cheeks until he felt her relax. Her eyes drifted closed, a little smile pulling at her lips, as her own fingers lifted to curl loosely around his wrists.

He leaned in to kiss her forehead, first, warm and lingering. He could feel the confusion on her face, but didn't yet pull away. After a moment, he shifted his lips over her brow... then her temple... then the curve of her cheekbone. He felt her eyelashes flutter against his skin, and he gently kissed the corner of her eye as well, before moving to the bridge of her nose. She blurted out a short chuckle when he lightly pecked the tip of her nose, and he smiled, nuzzling her.

He allowed his breath to brush over her mouth, the parting of her lips clawing at his self-control, but he managed to keep his focus elsewhere for now. He covered the other half of her face with slow, gentle kisses, dipping his head to trail a line along her jaw that had her fingers tightening around his wrists. <Yes, yes, yes,> His heart sang.

Her body was leaning a little more heavily against his, and he couldn’t withhold the groan of contentment he felt, beginning in his chest and spreading through him entirely. She attempted to shift her head, no doubt becoming impatient and anxious for his lips to actually touch hers, but he held her still with his hands once more cradling her face. He tut-tutted his tongue, making sure that he was close enough for her to feel his breath again.

“As you’ve pointed out,” He reminded her, “You've already kissed me.” He smiled, nuzzling her again, letting his mouth slide just so against the corner of hers. “This is my turn.”

<Now or never, man. Where is that Ripper gumption?>

He molded his lips over hers softly, pressing in and holding, keeping as still as he could for as long as he dared. Buffy’s grip on his wrists loosened for a moment, before they then tightened even more firmly than before.

He had thought that kissing Buffy would tilt his world on axis. That the relief of it all would send him into a tailspin. It did not do either of those things, and yet when he shifted his focus from her upper lip to lower, when she opened her mouth to him, and that little noise came out of her, everything changed. The sun was still rising, his tea water was still boiling, the room service was still knocking on the suite door - and yet -

“The door!” Buffy pushed him back with a gasp, looking about as disoriented as he felt. She easily removed his hands from her and then let him go, taking a step back from him. “I’ll get the water, you get the door.”

His senses seem to drag as his awareness of the world around him returned. The electric kettle was beeping, and indeed there was intermittent knocking on the door.

“Hello? Room service! I do have a key; I’m coming in after a minute!” The man speaking sounded polite enough, but Giles wondered how long he’d been knocking if he was now warning about self-entry.

His lips felt warm, tender. He hadn’t even kissed her like he’d wanted to, yet. <But God, is she perfect. Truly better than I ever could have imagined,>

“Giles!” Buffy hissed, pushing him toward the living room. “Get the door.”

“Right.” He’d done the kissing, and he was the one with his head completely in the clouds.

He pasted a polite smile on his face and took long strides to reach the door, just as the attendee on the other side could be heard fiddling with his keycard in the lock.

“Hello!” Giles greeted far too exuberantly, wrenching the door open. The man standing there jumped, and stared at him like he was mad.

“Um, good morning sir. I’m sorry, I... I did knock.”

“Of course, of course. My apologies.” Giles took full blame. “I was... er, busy.”

“It happens to the best of us.” The man replied genially enough, his glance averting over Giles’ shoulder only once before he turned to focus on the small cart beside him.

Giles glanced back, realizing that he might’ve been able to see Buffy fiddling with the electric kettle, and he shifted his position in the doorway to block a more direct view from her scantily clad form.

“Would you like me to set up in the room?” The attendee questioned politely, and Giles’ smile was more like a shaky grimace.

“May I just... take that?” He requested of the cart, and the attendee immediately nodded and smiled.

“Of course, sir. Just leave it here in the hall when you’re finished.” He told him, and Giles smiled gratefully. “You have a good morning, sir.”

“Ehm, thank you.” Giles replied, blushing as he quickly shuffled the cart inside the room and closed the door behind him.

“You did order me coffee!” Buffy squealed, and he opened his eyes to find her lifting open the lid and sniffing the contents. He stood at the door watching her for a long moment, as she perused through the covered trays and peeled plastic wrap off of glasses of juice.

“Buffy.” He called her attention to him, and she darted her head back up. He blinked at her, completely ignoring the breakfast cart. “I’m not sure that you understand,” He started, and her eyes immediately widened. She dropped the balled up plastic in her hand and stepped away from the cart.

“You’re the Watcher,” She challenged, watching him as he stepped around the cart. “The man with the knowledge and know-how. Why don’t you enlighten m- ”

He didn’t wait for her to finish her sentence before he grasped her arms and tugged her against him. She landed against his chest with a small ‘oof’, her hand on his shoulder, the other, his hip. Looking down into her eyes one more time for any sign of resistance, he found none, and dipped his head to continue where he’d left off before they’d been interrupted.

There was no pretense left, really. He kissed her with intent, drawing her lip between his teeth and suckling on it until her hand shifted up from his shoulder to grip into his hair.

Giles wrapped his arms around her and tilted his head to kiss her openly, deeply, with all of the love he could muster within him. She hummed happily, and he hugged her more firmly against him as he blindly stepped them toward where he remembered the nearest wall was. She backed against it a little more roughly than he’d intended, but she didn’t seem fazed at all as neither did their kiss break.

He leaned his weight into her, bracing his palms flat on the wall either side of her, and she smiled as she slipped her hands down his sides and around his back. She was setting him on fire, and he rumbled a pleased sound in his throat as she darted her tongue against his lips, licking her way into his mouth.

He had no idea how long they made out like that, against the wall like a couple of teenagers, like they were starving and couldn’t get enough of each other.

“Yeah,” Buffy leaned her head back against the wall and tilted her chin up as she gasped for breath. Wanting to be helpful, of course, he focused his kissing on her neck and shoulder, instead. “This is - oh - way better than having demon guts pasted against the other side of me.”

The collar of his tee hung off of her shoulder, and he paused for breath with his face tucked against the hollow dip there.

“Do you see?” He asked, remembering why he’d started this in the first place. Not only because he wanted to - because he needed to. She needed to understand. “Do you see how I...” He lifted his head to look at her, to let her see in his eyes how distraught he felt about it, “I cannot love you, and then leave you ever again.”

“Hence, uh, straight to marriage,” Buffy said hesitantly, her touch gentling against him, stroking his shirt, soothing.

He lowered his hands from the wall, but didn’t step away from her yet. He looked at her searchingly, doing his best to be patient with her. He sucked in his bottom lip, tasting her there, and Buffy’s eyes dropped toward the movement. She touched her fingers against his chin, sliding up to his lip for him to release it. She lightly stroked it for a moment, curiously, and he stared at her imploringly though he managed to keep still under her ministrations. And he didn’t bite his lip again.

“You love me like no one else has loved me,” Buffy admitted carefully, “And it scares me. It always has. Your... dedication. It isn't something I take for granted, Giles, I promise - it’s something that scares me. There’s... power in that. You know? And I’ve already got enough power stuff going on don’t you think?”

“I trust you, Buffy.” <With my heart, with my life.> It went unsaid.

“Exactly.” She murmured. “You are so precious to me. We’ve only finally figured out how to be together again, Slayer and Watcher. Friends. Partners. How could I risk...?”

“Because that’s what love is. It’s risk. And it’s trust. And it’s dedication, to fix something if it goes wrong.”

“My track record isn’t great, you know.”

“And mine is?” He pointed out. “We are here, you and I. After everything, we always find each other again.”

“You really sure you wanna be chained to this hot mess for the rest of your life?” She raised her eyebrow and gestured to herself. “Cuz as far as the fixing thing goes - yeah, we’re talking about more than just the two of us. And not only Dawn, either - this involves all of the Scoobies. Divorce wouldn’t be an option.” She paused. “Not for me,” She murmured.

“Me, neither.” He answered her seriously. “Buffy, I have loved you for far too long to be blinded by it. I have taken into account any supposed pros and cons. If you’re amenable to it, I want to marry you.”

“Amenable? Seriously? Pretty sure I’ve warned you against that word, Giles.”

“Would obliging be a better choice?” He offered dryly, and she raised her eyebrow.

“Whatever happened to the good old fashioned, ‘check yes or no’?”

“I’ve asked you already!” He huffed, finally straightening only because his back was beginning to ache.

“No, you didn’t,” Buffy returned, sliding out from between him and the wall and pacing to the middle of the room. “You told me to marry you. ‘Marry me’, you said. That’s how you said it. Repeatedly.”

“I was nervous! I just wanted to get the words out before I lost my nerve!” He pushed his hands through his hair, feeling on the edge of panicky now. <Damn well I am not using our fake marriage rings to propose,> But the only other ring he had on him was his Watcher’s ring. <Oh, sod it.> He wrenched the ring from his pinkie and dropped to his knee, waiting there for her by the time her pacing turned her back around to face him.

She stared down at him as if he’d lost his mind.

“We can buy a proper one when we get home,” He promised, “Until then - would you do me the second-greatest honour of my life, and agree to become my wife?”

She blinked owlishly, opened her mouth to answer, and then snapped it closed and frowned. Then she demanded,

Second greatest? What the hell is better than being married to me?”

He grinned, widely.

“Being your Watcher.”

She smiled against her will, nearing him again, and he held his breath.

“Second-greatest, really? With all the perks that come with marriage, and you still think being Watcher is better?” She teased, tilting her head and giving him a look in such a manner that made his skin tingle. It reminded him very intently of their dinner event at the restaurant and all the fleeting looks she’d given him then.

He remembered how that night ended, or rather, almost ended.

“Alright, I’ll amend that list, however being your Watcher is still a very close second.” He decided, and Buffy smiled and laughed softly, shaking her head fondly at him. He swallowed, growing nervous again, and implored, “Buffy?”

“Being your Slayer...” She paused thoughtfully, and carefully lowered to her knees in front of him, shifting close across the carpeted floor. “Is the second-best thing in my life.” He quirked a single eyebrow, silently questioning, and she draped her arms around his neck. “Being your wife is first-best.”

A smile broke out on his face, and he let out his breath in a rush of air. Her answering smile was slow but wide, and as her eyes began to glisten with what he hoped were happy tears, he crushed her to him in a tight hug.

“Giles!” She gasped. “I can’t breathe!”

“Right. Sorry.”

Then they parted only far enough to peer at one another, both grinning equally shy, giddy smiles, and Giles took her left hand in his own. They both watched as that old familiar ring slid onto her finger, his hand framing hers, his thumb stroking her skin as if he couldn’t help it.

And he couldn't, really. Just as he couldn’t help but kiss her again. <My Slayer, my wife.> He was perfectly content to kneel here on the floor with her, kissing her, for the rest of his life.

At least, until she hummed with mild frustration and pawed at his shoulders, half-pushing him apart from her.

“You are incredible, Giles, really - but I fought a demon yesterday and then broke my fake-husband soon-to-be-real-fiancée out of the hospital late last night and I really need my coffee.”

“Coming right up, dear.” He grinned happily, pushing himself to his feet and giving her a hand up, before turning his focus truly toward the breakfast cart for the first time all morning.

———


"Willow!" Buffy was all smiles as she held the phone tucked against her ear with both hands. Giles watched her fondly as he stirred his tea.

"Hi Buffy! How's it going?" Willow could be just barely heard through the earpiece.

"I wanted you to know first - you'll never guess." Buffy was breathless with excitement to share her news, hitting a button to put the call over speaker. Giles beamed proudly, glancing down toward his cup for a moment to gather himself.

"The mission was a success?" Willow guessed.

"Well, yeah, but - Giles and I are getting married!" Buffy spoke so quickly it all sounded like one word, and then she held her breath as she awaited Willow's reaction. Giles realized that he was waiting with bated breath, as well.

"Wow, you two are really taking this undercover thing seriously, huh?" Willow sounded impressed.

"No, Will," Buffy huffed as if Willow were purposefully being obtuse, "I mean actually, legally, married!"

There was a moment of silence, and Giles glanced at Buffy warily. He still wasn't exactly sure how the Scoobies would take it, considering that this would no doubt be very left field for them.

"Yes!" Willow suddenly cheered, startling them both by the noise. "I knew that dress would work!"

Giles frowned in confusion, but Buffy was suddenly focusing very hard on the loose string hanging from the end of her pajama pants.

"Willow, you're on speaker," Buffy grumbled, glancing at him, and he raised his eyebrow.

"Did you... plan on seducing me?" He questioned leaning toward her slowly, setting his cup down in the process.

"Oh, hi Giles!" Willow greeted brightly. "Congratulations! So, who asked who?"

"No," Buffy told him, both of them ignoring the phone for a moment. "Not... not exactly, anyway. I mean, not a lot."

"You planned on seducing me... a little?" He squinted at her, continuing to lean, and she nervously leaned away a bit, tucking her hair behind her ear.

"I just wanted you to, um, see me. You know, as... available."

"Buffy, I always see you," He assured her, brushing his hand over her shoulder. She looked up at him, meeting his eyes with hopeful happiness. She slowly ran her hand up the back of his bracing arm, and this time as she leaned away from him she twisted so that he could slide over her, pressing her against the couch cushions.

"See," Willow crowed smugly, having no idea that the two on the other end of the line had totally forgotten about her now, "I told you - he is your Watcher, after all."

Buffy smiled up at him and shifted her knees so that he settled within the cradle of her hips. She reached her arm out to the side to grab for the phone sitting on the coffee table, but Giles was focused on pushing her tee shirt up off of her chest. She moved her arms to help him remove it and then dropped it to the floor, her smile much more aloof than it was before. He pressed a few long kisses across her ribs before burying his face against her breasts, rising delighted laughter out of her. He smiled against her skin, nuzzling the spot on her side where he knew she was ticklish.

The phone clattered to the ground, but her hands sifted into his hair and encouraged his attentions to stay where they were. He didn't mind that at all, gently kissing and nipping the impossibly soft curves with reserved amazement.

"What was that?" Willow's voice sounded farther away, now. "Are you guys okay?"

He should probably stop making out with his Slayer and continue their conversation with their friend, but he was feeling so relieved. He hadn't realized just how worried he'd been for the reception of their changed status, until he'd heard Willow's happy congratulations. He was almost as elated right now as he'd been the moment Buffy had told him yes.

He mouthed the hard peak of her left breast until her fingers pressed against his scalp with urgency, and she gasped out his name. Then, he moved to the right.

"Giles!" Buffy tugged at his hair, sending sharp, electric want straight down his spine, and he pressed his hips down against the couch cushion, though there was too much give in the furniture for it to be very pleasurable.

"Oh my God, are two smooching right now?! While we're on the phone?!"

Without removing his mouth from Buffy, Giles blindly pawed for the phone on the floor, finally finding the headset and tumbling it back onto the cradle.

"We'll call her back," He rumbled, shifting up to kiss Buffy's awaiting mouth.

———


"Gi-i-iles," Xander's voice called out, preceding him as he headed up the stairs. "Sleeping in?"

The sound of his voice only just managed to pull Giles from his stupor, and by the time the younger man reached the bedroom and poked his head inside, Giles could only stare in mild horror. Xander's amused smile immediately dropped as his gaze drifted over the bed and then met with Giles' wide eyes.

"Not sleeping in." Xander noted, his voice cracking as he stepped back from the doorway.

<Damn it, I should have closed the bedroom door!> Incredibly annoyed with himself, he couldn't find the strength to speak at the moment.

The tell-tale lump between his legs beneath the sheets shifted as the fabric fell away, Buffy barely remembering to grab onto the sheet enough to cover her front as she sat on her knees. She twisted around to face the door, just as surprised as Giles had been, and Xander paled.

"Oh my God - what - Buffy?!" Xander gaped at them both, and Giles grimaced as he snagged a loose bit of the sheet and did his best to tug it around Buffy and cover himself up.

"Why are you in here?" She demanded.

"Why are you naked?!" He returned even more incredulously. "And why is Giles naked?! And why at the same time?!"

"What I do with my husband is my own business!" She returned hotly, and Xander only looked more flabbergasted.

"That marriage was fake!"

"Not this one." She retorted proudly. Her hand, hidden beneath the sheet, sought out Giles' erection, her slow stroke immediately bringing it back to full life. He jumped and gripped the sheet tighter, but managed to grit his teeth and contain his yelp of surprise.

"This one?!" Xander repeated. "How many marriages were there?!"

"Just the one, technically." Giles finally spoke, smugly, watching how the ring on her left finger glinted in the late morning sunlight as she situated the makeshift cover over her chest. Buffy glanced at him, smiling a little, giving him a squeeze. He clenched his jaw, and stared hard at her, his warning hopefully clear.

She tugged at his skin and rubbed her thumb firmly against the bundle of nerves beneath the head of his cock, and he couldn't contain the shudder that went through his entire body, his eyes rolling up a little as he felt like melting into the stack of pillows behind him.

"Xander, go away." Buffy ordered calmly. "Come back tomorrow." Giles forced his eyes open again, but could not tear his gaze away from his wife. What she was doing to him was maddening.

"Tomorrow?" Xander repeated.

"Yes," She smirked, and looked back at Giles. "We're on our honeymoon, technically. And there are still some places in this house we haven't... christened yet."

Giles didn't think it was even possible for the young man to pale any more than he already was, but now he stood - well, reclined - corrected.

"Oh, God. Oh, God," Xander moaned to himself repeatedly, his inflections continuing to vary as he quickly slammed the bedroom door closed and his footsteps stumbled down the stairs.

Buffy smiled warmly at Giles, and didn't hesitate before shifting back and kneeling over him, returning to what she'd been doing before they were interrupted.

"I'm surprised that didn't make you... loose interest." Buffy murmured, drawing her fingernail along the length of vein she could see, making him fist the sheets again and writhe with want.

"I," He hissed out a breath, trying not to say the hell with it and flip them over and bury himself inside of her, "You called me husband."

She paused her perusal, much to his disappointment, and flipped the sheets back so that she could look up at him more clearly.

"That turns you on?" She wondered with surprise.

"Being your husband? Absolutely." He was finding it desperately difficult to focus, again. She smiled suddenly, brightly, and pushed herself up onto her hands and knees to lean forward and kiss him.

He returned her kiss with everything he had, but he was sorely lamenting the loss of her touch on other parts of his body, and he curled his hands around her hips before reaching to grasp her butt and pull her down flush with him.

"Oh- " He growled, "You're- "

"Wait," She gasped as he rubbed his hard length along her center, both of them immensely distracted by the pleasurable sensation. "Mmm, no wait," She moaned half in frustration and leaned back onto her knees again, out of his grasp.

"Buffy," He whined, reaching for her shoulders, thinking only of how wet and hot she felt, of how he wanted to come, of how he wanted to make her come.

"No, we've already done that," She playfully swatted his hands away from her and laughed, sounding half-embarrassed by their simultaneous lack of control. "You promised," She reminded him of their deal, and he groaned loudly, letting his arms flop against the mattress and his head against the pillows.

"Yes," He sighed dejectedly in agreement. Her hands blissfully returned their attentions between his legs, and he squirmed, biting his lip as he tilted his chin to watch her for a moment. She raised her eyebrow at him, and he swallowed, dropping his head back again.

"You don't seem that disappointed about it." She noted, and his breath quickly turned into soft pants as she twisted her fist over him.

"I'm not," He insisted, his back arching off the bed. "Ah, yes,"

"Quid pro quo, right?" Buffy continued, joyful amusement lacing her tone, but Giles was losing what was left of his focus quickly now, his muscles quivering as his orgasm drew closer. "You taste me, I taste you..."

"Oh, God, Buffy," He moaned. "Please, please," <I can't bear hearing her talk about it. I'm not gonna last - I'm so close already.>

"Huh," Her movements slowed and he whined in disappointment. "Do you think you would... could I make you come? Just talking about it?" She wondered, honestly curious, and he gritted his teeth as he forced himself to look at her again.

"Yes, Buffy," He replied tersely, "Yes, I think you could." She grinned at that, pride in her eyes, and he couldn't help but smile back with fondness.

"Well," She said decidedly, "Next time, then."

He had no time at all to prepare himself for her mouth, or her tongue, suckling and pushing as her fist moved down the rest of him, unsheathing him properly so she could reach the most sensitive areas she'd earlier discovered.

He cried out as he came, could see nothing, could hear nothing, could only feel Buffy on him as his orgasm roared through him. He couldn't keep his hips from thrusting upward, but Buffy was strong enough to hold him down, and he trusted her to be able to keep him from choking her. Pure, liquid bliss seemed to flow through him completely, leaving him a boneless heap atop the mattress by the time the room around him came back into focus.

"I love you," He moaned, and Buffy giggled, her head on the pillows next to his.

"That's your orgasm talking," She teased, petting her fingers lightly against his still-heaving chest, "But it's nice to hear nonetheless."

"I love you." He insisted, using what strength he could find to roll over on top of her and kiss her messily. He tasted a hint himself in her mouth, but that only made him kiss her harder.

She laughed against him, rolling until they were on their sides, hooking her leg over his. She carded her hands through his hair and shifted her kisses along his jaw, across his cheek, giving him more time to recover from his breathlessness. He didn’t wait any longer, though, before sliding his hand between them, remembering how wet she’d been.

“You enjoyed that too, I see,” He smiled against her lips, stroking her without being too firm, yet. One of her hands gripped his shoulder and the other flattened against his chest as she sucked in a sharp breath and arched into his touch.

“Damn right,” She replied defensively. “So my husband turns me on? So what?”

“So what?” He repeated, and chuckled, and rubbed his fingers against her sensitive nub. Her grip tightened around his shoulder as her breathing grew deeper, more laborious, and he knew she was far closer to the edge than she’d been making out to be.

“Yes- Giles- ” Suddenly she gasped his name softly and thrust against him, humming her approval as he worked her through it.

They rested on their sides cuddled against one another like that for a number of minutes, as they both came down from their highs.

“So,” Giles mused after his pulse had more or less returned to normal. “Which room is next, Luv?”

Buffy laughed.