Actions

Work Header

I Need A Bad Idea

Chapter Text


Buffy awoke fairly quickly, admittedly well-rested but extremely uncomfortable.

 

Well, being in Giles’ arms was always comfortable, but right now it was like being wrapped up in a thick blanket right next to a furnace.

 

“Giles,” Buffy whined under her breath when her attempts to wriggle away from him didn’t work. She twisted within his grasp to face him, and lightly pushed her palms against his chest. “Let me go. Hot.” She complained, still whispering so she wouldn’t wake Willow over on the recliner.

 

She could actually feel herself perspiring a bit - gross. She needed a shower anyway; she hadn’t taken one the night before after her scuffle at the Initiative.

 

She considered for a moment, and then grinned a little as she shifted her head closer to his until their noses touched and she could whisper even quieter against his lips,

 

“No one else is awake yet. I bet if we’re quick, we can sneak up to the shower together.”

 

“I am not having sex in Xander’s parents’ house.” Giles grumbled without opening his eyes.

 

She knew she’d woken him up!

 

“He had sex in your shop,” She reasoned, slowly nuzzling the tip of her nose against his.

 

“Mmph.” He grumbled again. “Thank you for that reminder. I’ll need to sanitize every surface when I return.”

 

He didn’t say anything else, or even open his eyes yet, and Buffy huffed and relaxed her head back onto her own pillow. She pushed at him again, a little harder than before.

 

“Let me go,” She whined again, a little amused by his sleepy clinginess even though she was still desperate for a shower. He sighed and loosened his arms, and she pressed a quick thankful peck against his cheek before slithering out of the bed. “I’m going upstairs, anyway,” She announced in a haughty whisper, “And if you don’t join me, then I’ll take care of it myself.”

 

He opened his eyes immediately and looked up at her.

 

“Take care of what ‘it’?”

 

Buffy raised her eyebrows innocently at him, and then turned to dig a set of clean clothes out of her duffel bag - making sure to stretch enough that the bottom of his sweater pulled up over her bent waist and gave him a good peek at her underwear.

 

She looked at him over her shoulder again once she straightened, and he was staring up at her with an intent - and knowing - look. She sent him a tiny smirk before grabbing her toiletries bag and then silently tip-toed around Willow’s recliner and up the stairs.

 

By the time she reached Xander’s bathroom, Giles was walking quietly behind her with his own change of clothes in hand, and they both giggled a little as they locked themselves inside. He set his clothes down on the edge of the sink and immediately snuck his hands up under the sweater, caressing her thighs and hips with warm palms.

 

“Giles,” She squirmed away from him and set her clothes down as well before stepping closer to the toilet. “I have to pee,” He just stood there, waiting, and then tilted his head when she didn’t do anything else. “Turn around!”

 

“I’ve seen you naked.” He pointed out in confusion, and she huffed and pointed at the door.

 

“The toilet is different. Turn around!” She huffed, and he looked amused but he did as requested, turning to face the door.

 

After a beat, he bent over as he shucked off his pants, stepping out of them and then peeling his shirt up over his head without turning from the door.

 

“What are you doing?” She wondered as she reached for the toilet paper.

 

“Saving time.” He shrugged. He tucked his thumbs into the waistband of his underwear, but then paused for a moment, before changing his mind and relaxing his hands by his sides.

 

She was mildly disappointed that he didn’t finish undressing, but quickly finished up and flushed, which he took as a sign that it was alright to face her again. As she went for the sink, he shifted closer to her and dipped his head as if to kiss her.

 

“Teeth!” She insisted, pulling her head back from his reach as she darted around him and first washed her hands. He sighed heavily, and dragged his feet toward the toilet, lifting the seat up, clearly pouting.

 

“What are you doing?!” She asked again, glancing over out of the corner of her eye as he fiddled with the front of his boxers.

 

“Peeing.” He replied calmly.

 

Now?” She blurted, feeling embarrassed for some reason.

 

“We are in a bathroom.” He pointed out, looking at her like she was being weird. She hesitantly glanced away as he pulled his length out into the open. “You’ve seen me naked.”

 

“But it’s different.” She frowned, unsure.

 

“It’s a normal bodily function. Everybody pees, one way or another.” He yawned as he began to do just that, and Buffy studiously focused on brushing her teeth. After a moment however, she found herself relaxing, and realized maybe it wasn’t so weird after all.

 

Actually, a part of her felt sort of… touched, that he felt so comfortable with her, so familiar.

 

Still, she refused any smoochies before properly brushing her teeth.

 

She was finished by the time he moved to the sink to wash his hands, so she stepped back to give him room to take her place but then stepped close again, wrapping her arms around his waist. She kissed his back, which was still warm, and nuzzled the dip of his spine. He hummed softly and shivered a little, but continued washing his hands as if he hadn’t reacted, and she smiled as she slowly pressed kisses across the back of his shoulder… against his scar from the arrow… over to the other shoulder…. She could see the hints of muscle around his shoulder blade as he moved, and she slid her tongue along the line.

 

“Buffy?” He questioned her, curious amusement in his voice as he turned the faucet off and dried his hands on the towel hanging beside the sink.

 

“Dunno.” She shrugged against him as she rose up on her toes to kiss his nape. “Just felt like licking you.”

 

Dear lord,” He turned against her suddenly and crushed her close, kissing her deeply and taking her breath away before she could say anything else. She felt the hard tent in his boxers, then, and tried to wriggle out of his embrace enough to tug his sweater off of her.

 

Suddenly they were both desperate to be naked, to be one. He moved his hands to help her out of it, but did not stop kissing her until it was absolutely necessary and then continued on kissing her as soon as the fabric was out of the way.

 

Buffy moaned, and he somehow managed to shush her whilst still kissing her, guiding her with his body backwards toward the tub. He blindly fumbled with the shower nozzle before he remembered they were in a somewhat unfamiliar bathroom, and he pried his lips from hers with an annoyed huff.

 

As he figured out how to turn the water on and set the temperature, Buffy grabbed her toiletry bag from the edge of the sink and fished out the small bottles of shampoo and conditioner as she kicked off her underwear. She grinned at him as she stepped into the shower at the other end of the tub, and he had a foot in after her before she laughed and tucked a finger into his waistband to snap it against his hips.

 

“Forgetting something?”

 

“Oh, hell,” He grumbled, stepping back out and hastily pushing his boxers to the floor. She laughed and waited for him to join her before grabbing onto him and stepping under the spray with him.

 

He brushed his hands against her cheeks, pushing her hair back away from her face as it soaked with water, and then dipped his own head into the spray as he kissed her more softly this time. He traced his tongue along the outline of her lips as he turned them round so he could take the brunt of the water, and she couldn’t resist sliding her hands around his hips and resting her palms over his butt.

 

Their briefly frantic motions had now calmed into something more hungry and tender; he danced his fingers against the small of her back with one hand while the other rested lightly against the side of her neck.

 

“Mmm, I want you,” Her murmur was husky as he shifted his attentions toward the opposite side of her neck, and her ear. He nibbled on the lobe a little, and she dug her nails into his skin as she arched against him.

 

He seemed to melt against her and he half-turned to press her back against the shower wall, his weight pressing her in, his arousal trapped up hard and hot between them. She squirmed a little, wanting to feel him sliding against her, and he tilted his head back for a moment as he inhaled sharply, gently rocking his hips for a bit of counter-pressure.

 

It was incredibly arousing for her, but not relieving, and she shifted her hands higher up his back, squeezing his shoulders a little.

 

“Lift me up,” She requested, needy, but just as he lowered his hands to her thighs to do just that, he hesitated and groaned.

 

“I forgot a bloody condom.” He dropped his head to her shoulder and made a little frustrated whiny sound, and she had to bite her lip to keep from giggling.

 

“Well, it’s not the end of the world,” She teased, lazily caressing the side of his hip. “Check the cabinet - this is Xander’s bathroom, after all.”

 

“Don’t wanna move.” He pouted, nuzzling the curve of her neck, using his slightly slouched position to rub his length between her legs.

 

The burst of arousal that coursed through her had her spine arching and her head thrown back against the wall before she could help it, gasping in surprise.

 

“Mm, I could come just like this,” He admitted in a moan, tilting his head back again as he slid his cock against her wetness, and she latched her mouth onto his collarbone to quiet her own moan as the head of his cock rubbed along her folds and then against her clit, the weight of his balls pressing against her underneath when he pushed his hips fully against hers.

 

“Oh, fuck, yes,” She panted, “Just like that, so could I,” She tucked her arms between them to rest her hands against his chest, putting a little space between them so she could see what they were doing.

 

Watching him, flushed and wet from both arousal and water, stroking against her, was hot as hell.

 

“God, Buffy,” He lowly growled her name before crushing his lips to hers again, giving her a scorching kiss even as the pace he set with his hips was long and slow. He swirled his tongue in her mouth as if imitating what he would have done with his cock, and she could feel her toes and thighs begin to clench already in preparation for orgasm.

 

She really had no idea whether he was just that good, or she was that easy for him, but she didn’t care at all. For this momentary time together there were no demons or suspicious secret military groups or vampires or slayers - there was just Giles, somehow making her feel indescribably beloved even as they quietly fucked against the shower wall.

 

He seemed to be just as breathless and in thrall as she was, anyway, and she decided that even if this did make her ‘easy’, then there was nothing wrong with that at all. She sucked on his tongue for a moment and he shoved one of his hands into her wet hair as he lost his rhythm and rocked his hips hard against hers, prying his mouth away to quietly grunt her name into her ear.

 

That sent a crackling thread of pleasure all the way down to her toes, and she darted her hand down to press her fingers against the tip of his cock and focus a bit more direct pressure onto her clit, not letting him slide fully against her anymore. He began to shorten his strokes then and she keened approvingly.

 

“Are you close?” He was panting slightly, likely trying to hold himself back until she came. “…Come for me, Slayer-mine,” He encouraged in that rumbly voice that he knew made her squirm even on a bad day, and she whimpered and gripped her other hand tightly around his bicep as everything sort of went white for a moment.

 

She didn’t lose her focus for very long, but he was peppering heavy kisses against her gasping mouth when she came to, interspersing them with words of pleasure and praise as he continued to thrust his hips urgently now, drawing out her orgasm as well as chasing his own.

 

This was when time slowed, for her; while she was basking in the waves of her own pleasure, and watching him seek out his. She trailed her fingers up and down the small of his back, using her nails just hard enough that experience had told her would give him the tinglies.

 

She was certain that one day she’d love to see him touch himself, to get himself off without her intervention. She wondered if he would be interested in that idea. As it was… this was pretty amazing, too.

 

Water dripped down his nose and chin as he lowered his head to watch himself, and his brow furrowed just before his breath caught and his hips jerked suddenly. Come spurted out against her belly and then he groaned out a long breath as his cock throbbed and he came again, darting a hand down to grip his length and firmly stroke himself through it.

 

Yes - ” He gasped shakily as he squeezed his cock between his fingers and pulled his foreskin back, sliding the head through the come on her skin.

 

Giles,” Buffy whispered half with despair, half with hunger as she felt her mouth go dry and her nipples go taut almost painfully. Her mind was still muddled with desire as she reached up to cover them with her warm fingers, gently massaging them until she felt some of the tension leave her. Watching him so confident and knowing about his own pleasure was definitely amazing.

 

“Mmm,” He sighed heavily with pleasure and relaxed his weight against her as he kissed her warmly, and she lifted her arms around his neck to soothe her fingers through his wet hair.

 

“That was…” She hesitated to find the right descriptor, and grinned against his lips. “Very nice,” She eventually went with, swooning a little against him as she pecked another loving kiss against his mouth. He hummed and smiled into her kiss in agreement, kissing her back. “We should actually shower now before the water goes cold,” She suggested, and he nodded as he shifted away to allow her room to move.

 

He guided her under the spray first, so she could rinse off their mess before she scrubbed up, and his hands only lingered on her hips for a few moments before he followed her lead and reached for the soap.

 

... ... ...

 

Once she was sure they were completely dressed and had gathered all their toiletry items from the sink, Buffy opened the door to find Willow leaning against the wall opposite, her arms folded loosely across her chest and a sleepy look on her face.

 

Finally,” She huffed as they both shyly stepped to the side out of the way, “I’ve been waiting for ten minutes.”

 

“We just- um,” Buffy glanced quickly toward Giles before looking back at Willow, “He came in to shave while I was in the- ”

 

“Don’t,” Willow snorted as she held her hand up in the air to stop Buffy. “If you give me an excuse then I’m just gonna think something worse than what I’m already thinking and let’s just leave it at: I won’t tell Xander if you won’t. Kay?”

 

“Deal.” Buffy said gratefully, and Willow sent Giles a smirk as she stepped into the bathroom.

 

“No cranky bear this morning, huh?” She teased, and he pouted slightly in indignation. She laughed quietly and closed the door between them, and Buffy and Giles stood in the hall for a moment.

 

“Let’s go get some doughnuts and coffee.” Buffy decided eventually.

 

“You believe we need to bribe Willow to keep mum?” Giles asked as he followed her back to the basement.

 

“No, but… a little extra supplication wouldn’t hurt. Plus, we can grab a newspaper while we’re out, see if there’s any demon news we might’ve missed yesterday.” She reasoned.

 

“I’d like to give you a little extra supplication,” Giles leaned over to rumble into her ear, and she pretended to jerk away from him, in effort to hide her little quiver of excitement, and laughed as she descended the stairs.

 

“Giles!”

 

She caught his slow, sly grin; he’d noticed her reaction anyway.

 

“Do I wanna know?” A sleepy Xander greeted them from the middle of the basement, and Buffy shook her head as she put her toiletry bag away and their dirties into the hamper set aside for such things.

 

“We’re gonna grab some sustenance and check on a few things while we’re out.” Buffy told him. “Once your eyes are a little more open, wanna start taking a look at that gun for me?”

 

“Sure.” Xander yawned and nodded as he scratched his hand through his hair. Then, he squinted suspiciously at the both of them. “Why do both of you have wet hair?”

 

Giles pointedly ignored him as he turned his back to find his car keys, and Buffy smirked a little before she managed to duck her head as she tugged her shoes on.

 

Xander groaned in dismay, then, and shuffled back to the other side of the curtain.

 

“I don’t wanna know, I don’t wanna know, I don’t wanna know…”

 

Giles shared a secretively amused look with Buffy as he led the way to the door and held it open for her.

 

... ... ...

 

“How are your ribs?” Buffy asked as she slowly stretched on the floor in front of the couch. They’d folded the pull-out back up to give themselves a bit more room to work for the day. Xander, who was busy hesitantly poking the Initiative weapon and staring at it warily, grimaced a little as he tried to stretch to the side a bit.

 

“Pretty sore.” He admitted.

 

“You should join Buffy,” Giles suggested from his position on the corner of the couch, newspaper in hand. “Some gentle stretching will get the blood flowing and help facilitate healing.”

 

“I’m no Slayer,” Xander reminded him, and he rolled his eyes.

 

“Natural healing, Xander. Leave the gun for a moment, I’ll show you.” Giles folded the paper and stood, removing his glasses to set them atop the paper as he gestured to the space beside Buffy. She moved over a little to offer Xander a bit more room, and that was how the three of them ended up doing a bit of Tai Chi for an hour.

 

Willow had insisted upon going to campus for the day, not only because she was reluctant to miss any more classes, but she’d also pointed out that it would be good to have someone there to keep an eye on Initiative activity. Plus, Buffy could take a look at her notes later and at least keep up with what was going on in class.

 

Anya was at the shop, claiming it was a good cover to keep the place open so people didn’t become suspicious, to which Giles pointed out that the Initiative as a whole were unlikely to be watching him or his place of business that closely. However, both he and the ex-vengeance demon were happy to have a continued source of income, so Giles entrusted her with the keys to manage for a full day on her own. (Buffy didn’t think that they were ever busy enough for that to matter, anyway… but then again, considering that, she supposed every little bit helped.)

 

Buffy actually enjoyed having this time with the guys. It wasn’t often she hung out with Xander alone anymore, and although Giles was here as well, his presence wasn’t intrusive to that. Not that Anya’s presence was intrusive, necessarily; they were all just getting more used to her part within the group. Xander-with-his-girlfriend was a bit different than Xander-with-his-friends, and while that wasn’t a bad thing, it was just… refreshing to have this Xander around again for a little while. Plus, Giles tended to temper Xander’s more crude jokes, and - in Buffy’s silent and well-hidden opinion - provided a much better adult male role model for Xander than his father ever did.

 

Buffy could see, in moments like this, just how much he’d grown over the last year. She only hoped that he’d continue in that direction and maybe even perhaps gain a little more of that self-confidence she knew he had in him.

 

Xander was pretty awkward with the Tai Chi, at first, but after Giles showed him how to center himself, his balance started to improve. By the end of it, he even wore a mildly surprised and pleased smile.

 

This non-mission, non-violent bonding time was nice. She and Willow had their time between classes and in their dorm room, but it’d been harder to really keep up with Xander with him as a working man in the real world now. In some ways he was adulting even more than they were. She knew, especially from what had happened during Halloween, that he was feeling a bit left out from the college crowd - but Buffy hoped that he understood now that he wasn’t moving backwards or being left behind. College wasn’t for everybody, and craftsmen were just as necessary in this world as the booksmart people like Willow.

 

Now where that left Buffy, herself, she didn’t quite know yet. She just knew that college was something she’d wanted to experience before she died.

 

“I always thought Tai Chi was for old people in parks - or, you know, gratuitous,” Xander gestured vaguely in Giles’ direction, who frowned in indignation, “but that was actually kind of nice.”

 

Gratuitous?” Giles huffed.

 

Okay, he was still very Xander and needed to turn everything into a dirty joke, but at least it hadn’t been a completely tasteless one. ‘Adulting’ only really went so far when one wasn’t even twenty yet, and still somewhere around sixteen in his mind.

 

“And you feel better too, don’tcha?” Buffy grinned, completely hiding the fact she’d been so introspective during their stretching, and Xander chuckled as he moved back toward his work bench.

 

“Well I don’t get all the extra fuzzy Watcher-y feelings from it, but yeah,” He teased, and then shifted his shoulders, “I’m not nearly as tight as I was. Thanks.”

 

“Watchery-y feelings?” Buffy frowned a little too. “What do you know about those?”

 

“Buffy,” Giles choked a little, his cheeks tinting red, but Xander was too busy fiddling in his toolbox to take advantage of the possibility for innuendo.

 

“You know, the Watcher-Slayer vibes and stuff. I heard you talking about it with Willow once.”

 

“Oh.” Buffy commented, and then looked at Giles, who relaxed significantly and then adopted that little upturn of his lips that she liked to call ‘The Proud Watcher’. He used to make that face often, in the library, when he was trying to hide any excess of emotion from the gang.

 

Or, you know, what amounted to a normal level of human emotion.

 

“I’m gonna do a little recon,” Buffy announced, reaching for her socks and shoes, feeling energized after a good night’s sleep and, yeah, a little training with her Watcher. Said Watcher, however, did not look as excited about the idea.

 

“Buffy, I haven’t even finished with the newspaper yet. I highly doubt,”

 

“I’ll stay away from the campus,” Buffy promised him, knowing he was mostly worried about how the Initiative might act upon seeing her. “I’d be surprised if Adam was anywhere near there, anyway. He’s smarter than that.”

 

“Exactly.” Giles noted. “He likely won’t come out of hiding at all, today.”

 

“Well, then I’ll find some other demon to slay on,” She shrugged, and teased, “One girl in all the world, remember Giles?”

 

“And Faith.” He pointed out, and she huffed.

 

“Faith isn’t in Sunnydale - yet. And I’ve got too much energy to sit here and read.” She tucked a small dagger into the side of her boot, and then two holstered knives in the back waistband of her jeans. “Like you said, Adam will probably be in hiding all day. I’ll be okay on my own for a few hours. You guys stay here, see if you can figure out that lingo he was referring to when he was telling us what he was made of,” She specified that part toward Xander, who nodded. “I’ll avoid any and all green berets,” She promised toward Giles, sliding forward and rising up to brush her lips against his cheek.

 

“I’ll just uh, figure out how to take apart this gun, too… hopefully without cooking myself.” Xander said warily. Buffy gave him an appreciative nod as she walked toward the back door.

 

“Ah!” Xander yelped just as she opened the door, and she paused to look back toward him in concern. He was stepping away from the workbench with a frazzled look on his face. He swallowed and nodded again, waving her away, and she glanced toward Giles once more before heading out. He sent her a nod, too - he’ll keep an eye on the younger man and make sure he won’t accidentally start a fire or something.

 

Buffy knew Willy wouldn't be helpful, especially after the kerfuffle Riley had induced the last time they were there, so she avoided the bar entirely. A part of her, for a moment, wished that Spike were still around - he always seemed to attract trouble. Then again, he also always seemed to be annoyingly involved in every plot against her big and small, so that wish quickly faded away.

 

She was frustrated about Professor Walsh’s unknown status, about why she thought the secret of Adam was worth killing Buffy over, about Riley’s health and how she couldn’t trust the Initiative to have him in their best interests, about the other military guys who were now in town and apparently taking control over the whole thing… whatever that thing was, exactly…

 

There were way too many unknowns right now. It made her antsy.

 

The worst of which being some sociopathic Frankenstein’s-Monster-version of a demon soldier that she currently wasn’t able to even faze.

 

Buffy sighed heavily as she toed at a rock, kicking it off the sidewalk and into the grassy median as she strolled across Main toward Oak Park.

 

Then she realized where she was, and pursed her lips a little to keep from smiling too much. The last thing she needed were other pedestrians thinking she was crazy or something.

 

It wasn’t all that long ago, really, that she strolled this very path alongside Ripper. It was hard to believe that was just barely a year ago; in some ways it felt like eons had passed since high school. She couldn’t resist daydreaming a little bit, about what it might be like patrolling around with Ripper again right now. As frustrating as it had been to have to keep an eye on him during that whole mess, he’d actually been pretty fun, too… mischievous.

 

Mischievous in a way that made her wonder what sort of shenanigans they could’ve gotten up to with a whole day to themselves. She’d be grateful for his energy, today. Sure she wouldn’t want to do anything strictly illegal, but she’d bet money he’d be up for a little fondling behind a tree much more than Giles would.

 

Buffy blushed a little and shook her head at herself. She wasn’t into that sort of excitement that came with the possibility of getting caught in public. Maybe if it was a tree way back in a quiet cemetery… or Miller’s Woods…

 

Thinking of the woods brought her out of her daydreams for a moment, and she made a mental note to patrol there at some point with the gang. Being so close to campus and the Initiative, she knew it wouldn’t be safe to patrol alone, but she also suspected it could be a good place for Adam to hide out, for the same reasons.

 

And then she was thinking of Ripper again, who’d wanted nothing more than to patrol with his Slayer - well, and to eat more of that stupid candy. Ripper who’d gotten a little horny just from them calling each other teasing names. Ripper who’d trapped her against the wall of an elevator and definitely almost… something, even before they’d really told one another how they felt about each other.

 

She wondered what it would be like to patrol with him now, that they were officially together and all that. Would he be as boyishly flirty as he was then, or was a part of that all about the excitement of danger that Ripper had been so keen on?

 

“Buffy!”

 

She jumped in surprise as Giles’ voice startled her, turning around to find him approaching her on the sidewalk.

 

“Good, you haven’t gotten far,” His smile was warm and a bit shy, and she furrowed her brow curiously at him.

 

“What’s up?”

 

“There really isn’t anything in today’s paper, and I wondered… well, I’d like to accompany you.” It wasn’t in a tone of worry for her safety, but one of hope, and she slowly smiled too.

 

Giles still wanted nothing more than to patrol with his Slayer.

 

His hands were tucked into his pockets, so she looped her arm around his elbow and tugged him against her side to walk along with her, the two of them immediately falling into step together.

 

“You’d like to accompany me, huh?” She teased. “Sure, we can 1700’s this thing.” Sometimes he was so… English. She was finding herself less and less often annoyed by that, and more often… fond.

 

He huffed, but when she glanced up at him he was still smiling as he looked down at the ground in front of them.

 

“I surprised you,” He noticed. “What were you thinking about?”

 

“A demon wouldn’t have surprised me,” She assured him, and then said, “I was thinking about you.”

 

“Oh?” He brightened immediately, curious, and she rolled her eyes.

 

“Just about how much of that mischievous sixteen-year-old might still exist in the shop owner we all know today.”

 

“Oh?” Now he sounded a bit nervous, and wary, and she felt the way his muscles tensed slightly.

 

“Ripper.” She added, as if it needed clarifying, which she knew it didn’t.

 

“And what on earth has you thinking about that?” He asked carefully, and she wasn’t sure what he was thinking exactly, but he was definitely giving off vibes of concern.

 

She gestured with her free hand out to the side.

 

“It was somewhere along this very sidewalk that I called you a ‘pillock’, and you got horny.”

 

“Buffy!” He exclaimed, embarrassed, but there was no one within listening distance to their conversation.

 

“It’s true.” She continued blithely. “I dropped a few British slang words and you got a boner.”

 

“I was sixteen,” He grumbled, “just having you breathing next to me gave me a boner.”

 

She raised her eyebrows and grinned in surprise at him, and he groaned and tilted his head away from her for a moment, rolling his eyes.

 

“Are you saying it doesn’t, now?” She couldn’t resist teasing, and he huffed again. He didn’t say anything for a second, but he did eventually speak up before she said anything else.

 

“Having you breathe next to me now…” He considered his words. “Pleases me. On a very deep, I suppose primal level. It is assurance that not only are you alive, as my Slayer, but you’re beside me. Mine.”

 

She shivered a little, she couldn’t help it, even though his tone was soft and sincere and not at all growly or arousing.

 

“Pretty sure I’d have a boner right now, if I had a penis.” She commented, and he snorted out a guffawing laugh before he could rein it in.

 

“I am, of course, still often filled with desire for you.” He murmured after he was able to control his amusement, speaking lowly even though they were still relatively alone. “And you know that.”

 

“Course I do.” She assured him confidently, butting her head against his shoulder with fondness. There was no doubt between them anymore, on their feelings for one another. “I was just thinking about younger you, and how into the idea of patrolling with me you were.” She grinned up at him. “And I see that is a trait that hasn’t diminished with age.”

 

“Buffy,” He smiled a little bit softly at her, as if she’d missed the point, “whatever traits I exhibited whilst under the effects of that blasted candy were traits I already had. I was simply far less concerned in hiding them.”

 

“Hmm, so…” She grinned wider as she pulled her arm free and turned to face him, walking in front of him backwards for a moment. “If I call you a prat again, you gonna get horny?” She teased lowly. His smile grew a bit more coy, as well, and he leaned his head down to bring them a little closer as he said,

 

“I have a bit more control over myself these days.”

 

“Oh?” She twitched her eyebrow upward and gave him a long, lingering look. Then, she decided, “Someday, when we’re not standing on the side of the street, I’m going to test you on that theory.”

 

His expression slowly faded into something more startled, distracted, and his feet drifted to a stop that he was clearly unaware of as he stared after her. She widened her grin again and then winked at him, before twisting back around and walking on normally, biting her lip to keep from laughing aloud when she eventually heard his footsteps scurry up behind her to catch up again.

 

— — —

 

“So, here it is… the latest in state-of-the-art combat technology.” Xander sighed heavily as he looked into the opened wiring chamber of the gun. “I gotta say, it doesn’t look that complicated.”

 

Buffy totally missed his sarcasm there.

 

“So have you repaired it?” She asked with more than a hint of urgency. She wasn’t convinced this blaster would really hurt Adam much, but if it even just paralyzed him for a moment, that was something.

 

“Almost. Just as soon as I get my master’s degree in advanced starship technology.” He tossed his pliers atop the work desk in frustration.

 

“Well… why don’t we experiment?” Willow tried helpfully. “Press some buttons, see what happens.”

 

“I’d like to, uh, veto that.” Giles piped up from behind them, seated on the couch as he folded laundry. He was oddly comfortable folding his boxers right there in front of everyone; perhaps the close quarters and stressful circumstances distracted him from his adherence to privacy.

 

Or, maybe he was finally taking Buffy’s suggestion to heart, and really loosening up around the others. She wasn’t sure if she was fine with everyone seeing their underwear, though, or how… casually Giles folded hers and set it next to his own.

 

Oh God, the image of his long fingers on her panties was too domestic, too arousing, and this was so very not the time for those feelings. Buffy stepped closer toward Xander and Willow, quickly refocusing.

 

“Seconded.” Xander agreed with Giles, giving Willow a look. “It’s called a blaster, Will. A word that tends to discourage experimentation. Now, if it were called the orgasminator, I’d be the first to try your basic button-press approach.”

 

Willow smirked a little at his joke, but Buffy didn’t.

 

“Just tell me, can you repair it or not?” She didn’t have much patience left, not after three fruitless nights - and days - of patrolling.

 

“I’m working on it, I’m working on it.” Xander promised. “If I blow a hole in my mom’s azalea patch, the neighbors will not be pleased.” He muttered as he picked up a screwdriver.

 

Buffy paced back toward the couch and curled herself onto the corner cushion, resting her head in her hand, using her palm to block the light from her eyes. The stress of the last week was beginning to give her a bit of a headache.

 

“You alright?” Giles worried, shifting his position from the other end of the couch to sit by her side. He put his hand on her knee for a moment. “You’ve been patrolling around the clock for three days straight, perhaps you could use some -”

 

“What, some rest?” Buffy guessed wryly. “There’s a demonoid killing machine out there, Giles. It doesn’t really work the night shift.”

 

“I was going to say perhaps you could allow me to call Wesley and Faith now, for assistance, but, um, now you mention it… gathering your strength might not be a bad idea.” He gave her a look, his chiding-Watcher look, and Buffy sighed as she looked toward Xander’s back.

 

“Just get the blaster working. That’s all the strength I need.”

 

Giles squeezed her knee for a moment, comforting or maybe understanding, and then pulled his hand away.

 

“Are you sure?” Willow asked gently, turning toward her as Xander continued to fiddle with the gun on the table.

 

“Why, because ray guns aren’t in the Slayer handbook?” Buffy sassed, and then said seriously, “Will, you haven’t seen this Adam thing. He’s the Terminator without the bashful charm. He’s deadly, and the last time we met, he kicked my ass.”

 

“Oh no, blast away, by all means.” She assured. “I only meant… well, if he is so deadly, why not blast him and get some extra Slayer mojo on him? We could at least get Faith up to speed with the situation…” She reasoned lightly. Buffy sighed heavily, and folded her arms across her chest as she slouched back against the couch.

 

Willow had a very good point, but it wasn’t entirely easy for her to explain. On one hand, she thought the whole idea of ‘one girl in all the world to fight against the forces of darkness’ was a terrible strategy, even with that one girl having superpowers. On the other hand, however, every other Slayer before her has worked alone… other than their Watcher, they didn’t even have their own Scooby Gang to help. Buffy felt almost a bit defensive about that; that maybe she should be better at being a Slayer on her own. Maybe she wasn’t really all that good at the job, if she continually needed the other Slayer’s help.

 

And Faith was definitely the type of person to let everyone know that. Plus, she was Faith. They worked much better cities apart than they did side-by-side. Anyway, Buffy was the older and more experienced Slayer, if not by much - she should be better inherently. She felt a primal desire to prove that.

 

She didn’t want to call Faith and Wesley until it was absolutely necessary.

 

“Not yet.” Buffy finally said, firmly. “Not until we know more about what these new guys from Washington really want. Not until I hear news about Walsh’s condition.”

 

She could feel Giles bristle beside her, just at the mention of the professor, and she glanced toward him to find him glaring down at the socks he was folding up together.

 

“You remember how interested she and the other scientists were in finding out what I could do?” Buffy pointed out. “What do you think is gonna happen when they find out there’s two Slayers in town? Right now the Initiative is more focused on Adam. That could change.”

 

Giles made a face that said she’d made her point, but he still looked sour. There was certainly no love lost in him for Maggie Walsh.

 

“Graham just keeps telling me that Riley’s ‘fine’,” Willow offered carefully as a mild diversion in subject, and Buffy sighed again, but this time more weary, and relaxed her arms.

 

“Maybe. What even is the Initiative’s version of fine?” Buffy noted, and Willow grimaced in agreement. “They could be forcing him back onto that medication, whatever it was, brainwashing him, torturing him for all I know.”

 

“From what we’ve seen, I doubt they’ll be trying to hurt him.” Giles comforted her carefully, but his brow was still furrowed, for other reasons now.

 

“The only thing I know for certain is that my friend is locked away, and I haven’t been helping. He might not be an official member of the Scooby Gang, but we were letting him in on stuff.” Giles was still fiddling with the same pair of socks, and Buffy gently reached to take the bundle from his hands, trailing her fingers across his knuckles before tossing the socks into the basket with the rest of the folded laundry. “I really don’t think he’d easily give away our secrets - not like we’ve told him anything really serious yet - but if they try to force it out of him…”

 

“Maybe Giles has a point.” Willow reasoned lightly, watching their interaction. “Riley is their ‘Top Gun’ guy. It doesn’t make sense that they’d hurt him. Even for information on a bunch of ‘civilian teenagers’.” She half-shrugged and smiled, attempting to ease the mood in the room a bit.

 

Just then a sharp sound from the work table drew their attention, and Xander jumped as the blaster released a small electrical explosion and spat angrily. He twitched oddly for a moment, his hair standing almost on end, and hesitantly looked toward the group. They all stared back at him, silently wondering if he was alright, and he blinked and swallowed as he shook his shoulders.

 

“The I- Initiative has all those- ” Xander’s head ticced to the side and he swallowed again. “Those brainwashy, b-b-behavior mod guys.” He pointed out shakily.

 

“So?” Willow questioned.

 

“So what- what happens when they start not liking his behavior?” Xander finished, his body seeming to slowly relax after the electrical jolt. Willow turned back to face Buffy and Giles, worry furrowing her brow.

 

Xander gestured hesitantly to the gun, and slowly returned his focus toward it when he realized the others weren’t paying attention to him any longer.

 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Forrest doesn’t trust him at the moment.” Buffy mused. “He definitely doesn’t trust me anymore - I honestly don’t know if he ever really did.”

 

“They all always seemed so nice in our study groups.” Willow lamented in disappointment.

 

“Erm, speaking of study groups,” Giles spoke up, carefully poignant. “Whatever happens, this coming Monday, Buffy, you should return to your classes.” When she gave him a look, he narrowed his eyes slightly and pointed out, “This isn’t just about your grades. You don’t want to draw any undue attention to yourself.”

 

Buffy inhaled deeply, and sighed loudly, as she slouched against the back cushion again. He did have a point.

 

... ... ...

 

That night, the gang patrolled Old Sunnydale, Anya meeting up with them after locking up the Magic Box for the night.

 

“Isn’t this great? Nothing like a good old fashioned vampire hunt to get the mind right.” Xander quipped with a grin, shining his flashlight beneath his own chin for a moment to make a face. Anya looked at him warily.

 

Willow and Giles also each held flashlights, but Buffy led the way without one. She had better eyesight in the dark and, besides that, Giles did a good job of using his beam to light the way for both of them.

 

“If there are any vampires.” Buffy grumbled. She wasn’t sensing anything nearby, and she hadn’t much the last few nights either. It seemed the word was out that there was a crazy, unstoppable half-demon on the loose, and while generally vampires weren’t known for their intelligence, they did have their survival instincts.

 

“Feeling restless, Buff?” Willow sympathized.

 

“Whenever I’m feeling restless, I get Xander to have sex with me.” Anya commented helpfully, and Xander groaned and covered his blushing face with his hands, his flashlight beam going haywire for a moment.

 

“For heaven’s sake.” Giles grumbled, studiously moving forward without looking at any of them, but Buffy had frozen, catching something in the movement of Xander’s flashlight, and she held her arms out to halt the rest of the gang.

 

She reached for Xander’s wrist, and dragged it away from his face to point his light back toward the suspicious pair of trees in question.

 

The odd sort of hissing noise she hadn’t been sure she was really hearing now made sense.

 

Strung up between the trees like some kind of grotesque butterfly pinned to a board, was a demon she’d never seen before. It’s outer skin was red, but it was also still smoking and sizzling, so she couldn’t be sure whether it was a natural tint, or because it had been burned… among other things.

 

Its chest was flayed open wide, giving them a clear view of its rib cage and spine. All of its organs were missing.

 

Buffy and Willow both gaped up silently, too shocked and horrified to make a noise, but Anya let out a startled sort of squeak as she latched onto Xander’s arm. He was gaping silently too, his flashlight beam shaking unsteadily over the profile of the dead demon.

 

“What’s that?” Giles wondered, realizing he’d walked some distance from the others, and uncertain whether or not one of them spoke.

 

“I… don’t know.” Xander swallowed heavily, and Giles followed all of their stares upward to the trees.

 

“Bloody hell.” He whispered in dismay, slowly pulling his glasses from his face as he stared.

 

... ... ...

 

“I’ve never seen anything like that.” Buffy muttered, finding it a bit hard to focus as she slowly paced across the floor.

 

“And I can go a long, healthy stretch without seeing anything like that again.” Xander commented, his tone just as out of it.

 

They were all unsettled, even Giles who had seen some things in his day (and done some things, too, from what Buffy knew - though torturing and flaying a demon to later string it up like a party favor was not exactly one of them).

 

Willow was curled up in a ball on the center of the couch, her knees tucked up beneath her chin and her arms wrapped around them. Anya sat slouched beside her, her continued silence telling enough that she was just as uncomfortable as the rest of them. Perhaps even more so, considering she’d once been a demon.

 

This had been more than just a slaying. It had been brutal.

 

“It had to be Adam who killed it, but why?” Willow wondered, sounding as if she weren’t sure she really wanted to know.

 

“He’s studying biology.” Buffy recognized the display from the way dissections were pictured in her textbook. Plus, from the way he had talked about murdering that poor little boy… “Human, demon… whatever he can get his hands on and tear apart.”

 

Giles, studiously managing the electric teakettle in the corner, made a noise of distaste. She glanced toward him to see him remove his glasses from his face and rub the bridge of his nose.

 

“Learning what makes things work.” Willow followed.

 

“I really don’t want to be around for the final exam.” Xander commented.

 

“It’s not coming to that.” Buffy promised them. “The Initiative created this thing and they can’t stop it - but we will.”

 

Xander looked thoughtful for a moment before he spoke again,

 

“Adam only bruised me, and maybe I’d gotten lucky, but he didn’t incapacitate you either.” He pointed out to Buffy. She paused, considering what he was saying. “He could’ve killed us just as easily as he’d killed Angleman, but he didn’t. He was testing you… learning you.”

 

“At least he didn’t gore me to do it.” Buffy grumbled, feeling a bit pale at the implications.

 

“Question.” Xander piped up more lightly. “Will hiding in a cabin with stockpiled chocolate goods be any part of this plan?”

 

“No.” Buffy was too tired to bounce off of his attempts at humor, and any thoughts of stockpiled chocolate still made her pretty uncomfortable, anyway.

 

Xander pouted as he collapsed onto the couch between his girlfriend and his best friend.

 

“Told you.” He muttered to Willow.

 

“What’s first?” Anya asked, her eyes understanding as she watched Buffy continue to pace. She’d learned to recognize Buffy’s serious, ‘Slayer-in-the-zone’ face.

 

“You need to be careful, Buffy, if Adam has indeed been testing you.” Giles was speaking in the most Watchery voice she’d heard in some time, as he rounded the couch with a makeshift tray of tea. She started to give him a bit of a look at his tone, but she caught the expression on his face and realized that he was just trying to hide the fact that he was extremely worried. “I know patrols have been quiet the last couple of days, but if he’s been out hunting demons to- to study, then he could have been using his time to follow you and study you, as well.”

 

“I would have sensed him following me.” Buffy protested, her tone going a little sharp mostly against the fear that if he had been following her, she’d had absolutely no idea.

 

“He’s partly human, and - er, technoid?” He glanced toward Willow at his phrasing, and she shrugged a little as she reached for a mug. He looked back to Buffy, his expression grave. “He might be able to hide his demon essence from discovery.”

 

“Great.” Buffy commented dryly.

 

She thought about how to answer Anya’s question, as everyone took up a comforting cup of tea and prepared it to their own liking. She didn’t even realize that Giles had also quietly prepared her a cup as well, until he’d rounded her to sit on the edge of the recliner behind her, and touched her hip lightly with his free hand to offer her a mug.

 

“Oh. Thanks.” She gave him a small smile as she cradled it in her hands, and he reached for his own cup, taking a careful sip. Buffy followed suit, and then sighed after swallowing, resigned. “Riley.” She decided, and noticed how the others shifted slightly on the couch and shared quick glances to one another. She looked over her shoulder at Giles, and he was focused pointedly on his tea.

 

She didn’t call attention to it, exactly, but she did touch her hand to his shoulder, a warning for him before she perched herself on his knee. He immediately looped his free arm around her waist, and his grasp was comfortable and relaxed. He might be worried about her safety, but he wasn’t worried about her intentions, and she appreciated that.

 

“I’m not leaving him down there with the people that created this thing. He’s been a puppet in this whole mess and he doesn’t deserve that… he’s a good guy, who’s tried to help us. We need to help him, too.” The others nodded in slow agreement (Willow more readily than the others), and Buffy took a drink of her tea to settle her plan, before putting the cup onto the table in front of her. Going after Adam right now might be near impossible, but saving Riley - that was something they could do. “Okay. Will, I need you to hack into the security mainframe and buy me a ten-minute shutdown of operation systems.”

 

“That could be…” Willow winced.

 

“Tricky,” Buffy agreed, but encouraged her with complete belief in her abilities,  “not impossible. If you can’t do it on-line, then use magic.” Willow glanced at Giles, and then relaxed a little, so Buffy figured he’d given her non-verbal encouragement. “Xander, any gear you’ve been saving for a rainy day, I want you to give to me.”

 

“You want stealthy stuff?” He asked, and she shook her head.

 

“No, we tried sneaking in. This time I’m going to use force. I can’t be hunting down Adam while I’m also hiding out from the Initiative - I figure if I make a point in breaking Riley out of there, I’ll be killing two birds with one stone.”

 

“Show them you mean business.” Anya followed along, and Buffy nodded.

 

“I’ll go in through the elevator shaft and use the cables as tow lines, then blast open the facility doors and find the infirmary,” Buffy explained, and while Giles had been silent during all this, he stroked his thumb against her side approvingly.

 

“Am I really worth all that?” Riley’s voice wondered from behind them, and Buffy and Giles both startled, having not heard his arrival.

 

“Riley!” Buffy stood to her feet in surprise, facing him. “How did you get out?!”

 

“I walked,” He replied almost glibly, and Willow leaned forward on the couch.

 

“They didn’t try to stop you?” She asked incredulously.

 

“Oh, they did. Repeatedly.” He smiled happily as he approached the group a bit closer, and as he came further into the light Buffy was again surprised to see how relatively healthy he looked. Considering he’d been skewered, anyway. “But uh, then I told them they couldn’t keep me without a major ass-kicking, one way or another. And here I am.” He smiled warmly at Buffy, which she returned hesitantly.

 

“That’s great, Riley…” Xander commented, slapping his hands together as he hopped to his feet. “And, you know there’s no polite way to ask you this, but, uh… did they put a chip in your brain?” Xander stood almost nose-to-nose with the guy as he peered suspiciously at his forehead.

 

“Beg your pardon?” Riley frowned.

 

“Forget it,” Willow tossed a sugar cube at the back of Xander’s head, and gave him a quick look, making him slink back to his spot on the couch. “We’re happy to have you back,” She continued to Riley, “We were pretty worried about you there for a while, mister.”

 

“You were?” He looked honestly pleased to hear that. “Me too.” He glanced around to each other of them, somber, before landing his gaze on Giles.

 

Buffy noticed that her lover’s face was studiously blank, and she inwardly sighed. Maybe he was still a little bothered about Riley.

 

“Look, I know my behavior was… pretty out there. I apologize.” Riley spoke mostly toward Giles, who blinked up at him, quietly gauging his sincerity - or maybe doing some silent manly threatening thing that Buffy didn’t know about. But after a minute he gave Riley a small nod, and lowered his eyes to take a drink of his tea.

 

Riley significantly relaxed at that, so maybe it was a guy thing. Buffy’s lip twitched in annoyance, and she opened her mouth to make a comment on the needless excess bit of testosterone, but then Riley was talking again,

 

“I- I really appreciate what you guys have tried to do for me - what you were planning to do for me,” He glanced between the group on the couch and Buffy. “But I’m here now, and you guys are the ones in trouble, and I want to help. Barring a few… blips,” He glanced hesitantly toward Giles, again, “you guys have had my back, when the Initiative didn’t. I see that, now. You easily could have chosen not to trust me, leave me behind, but you didn’t. You tried to help me - my head is clear now. And even if I’m confused about the Initiative, I do know you’re the good guys.” He then turned toward Buffy specifically, and gestured his hand toward Willow and Xander, “And the way you inspire the others? It inspires me. You inspire me.”

 

Giles cleared his throat warningly, and Riley blushed and ducked his head.

 

“Okay, there’s a bit of hero worship maybe,” He admitted with embarrassment. “But just as a friend.” He lifted his head to meet Buffy’s eyes, earnest. “I swear.”

 

Giles raised his eyebrow, perhaps a bit dubious, but he didn’t say anything. He just pursed his lips and took another drink of tea. Buffy blinked, not really sure how she was supposed to reply to that.

 

“Look, I,” Riley hesitated for a moment, awkwardly now. “Taking down Adam’s going to be tough. There’s no way to predict what he’ll throw at us. Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”

 

“It doesn’t… quite work like that here, Riley,” Buffy admitted hesitantly. Granted, the timing of his arrival had made it seem like she was going all Major General on the group. “We work together on plans. I just… I mean when it comes down to a specific mission maybe, yeah, I guess I help make sure everybody’s working their strengths,”

 

“You do, Buffy.” Giles stated firmly, calmly, giving her a look that said clearly that she should speak more confidently about herself. “You’re the Slayer. Even I will defer to your instincts… to a degree.” He added that last bit in a drawl, and she felt herself blushing slightly. “And you have excellent instincts. Have you forgotten leading your entire high school class against an apocalyptic demon and a small army of vampires?”

 

“You did that?” Riley stared at her in amazement, and Buffy folded her arms across her chest and gave Giles a wry look.

 

“Really not helping with the hero worship thing here, Giles.”

 

He pressed his lips together like he was hiding a smile, and averted his eyes from her.

 

“I don’t… really know how to be a part of a team like that.” Riley admitted with disappointment. “Where there isn’t a clear leader at all times. I don’t know how not to follow orders - all my life, that’s what I’ve been groomed to do. They say jump, I ask how high, I get the job done. …And it’s become obvious to me that the Initiative is not the right job anymore.”

 

He looked like a lost puppy, and when Buffy caught Willow’s expression, she could see that she was thinking the exact same thing.

 

Okay. Bringing in Riley was a set deal, then.

 

“When I quit the Council…” Buffy began slowly, and Giles looked up at her in surprise, clearly wondering where she was going with this. “The group of Watchers I mentioned to you before,” She clarified to Riley, who had looked confused for a moment but now nodded in understanding. “When they fired Giles, it was scary. And he won’t ever admit it,” She met Giles’ eyes compassionately as she spoke, “but we were both scared. But, it’s okay now.” Giles kept quiet, though he gave her a soft look with his eyes.

 

“See, that’s where you and I are different.” Riley slowly shook his head. “I just suck at the whole grey area thing.”

 

“It’s a choice.” Buffy told him. “You could go back in there, and maybe make some changes from the inside. But you risk them continuing whatever experiments they had been running on you in the first place. Or, you could quit the Initiative, and fight demons in your own way.”

 

“You make it sound so simple.” Riley sighed, and moved over to slouch in the tiny space between Willow and the arm of the couch. “I don’t even know what ‘my way’ is.” He didn’t seem to notice Xander’s slightly annoyed look at being squished up even tighter between Willow and Anya, but Anya put her hand on Xander’s thigh and looked quite content with herself.

 

The four of them bunched on the couch like that looked a little humorous to Buffy, but she managed to keep her smile hidden. The conversation was a serious one.

 

“Then it’s time to find out.” She informed him, settling gently atop Giles’ knee again, casually reaching for her tea as she leaned against the arm of his chair. “You need to make this simpler, because you don’t have a lot of time left to choose.”

 

“I’m a soldier. Take that away, what’s left?” Riley wondered, pouting at his outstretched legs, and Willow patted his hand comfortingly.

 

“A lot, Riley,” The redhead assured him. “You’re a good guy. You care about your friends. You care about protecting the world. You’re smart, you understand how people work and when you don’t, you strive to figure it out…” She paused, and grimaced as she recalled what Buffy soon realized was the eviscerated demon they’d found on patrol. “In a much healthier and nicer way than Adam.”

 

“There’s a low bar.” Riley snorted dryly, but he did appear less down on himself after that.

 

Giles curled his arm around Buffy again, his hand on her waist a little more firm than it had been previously. She looked down at him over her shoulder, narrowing her eyes a bit, but he avoided her gaze as he drank his tea, as if he weren’t doing anything wrong.

 

She shifted her leg slightly, slow enough so the others wouldn’t notice her movement, but pressed the side of her knee firmly between his legs. He silently sucked in a breath and his fingers gripped her warningly, but she kept on pressing then, just until his expression of confused warning turned into a wince. Then she held that, continuing to stare at him with an almost-glare, until he met her gaze and squeezed her waist again in understanding, and she relaxed. He let out an audible breath, and shifted slightly in the seat beneath her, still wincing.

 

“Are you done?” She asked him, privately, though not so quietly that the others didn’t hear her. It’d have been impossible to have a quiet conversation in here, anyway. She didn’t need to finish the ‘marking your territory’ statement, because he knew. This time his wince was one of apology, and he nodded.

 

“I’m sorry.” He murmured, sincere though not so contrite, and Buffy looped her free arm across his shoulders so she could brush her fingers through his hair. She did understand, after all, the territorial desires. She’d acted the same way around Olivia, after all… though she liked to think she’d been mature about it.

 

“Did we miss something?” Xander wondered, and Buffy ignored him as she carefully held her mug steady atop her leg before bending her head down and kissing Giles softly. While his testosterone-fueled jealousy was a bit annoying, she also found it endearing. He’d mentioned before that he still occasionally struggled with his own insecurities, and she couldn’t fault him for simply being human. Not even when it annoyed her.

 

She kept the kiss short, for the sake of everyone else in the room, and Giles looked appreciative when they parted. It honestly probably wasn’t a bad idea, anyway, to pointedly remind Riley that she was ‘a taken woman’... at least until this hero worship thing died down a little.

 

— — —

 

After two more days of silence on the demon front, the gang decided it was safe enough for them to all return to their own homes - though they did keep on their toes during the day, and met up every evening at Giles’ place.

 

Plus, Buffy had to agree that after the weekend, it wouldn’t be a good idea to miss any more class days. While the problem of Adam did take up most of her thinking space, she was still aware that she needed to keep up her grades and her attendance lest the school drop her out.

 

The last thing she needed was a counselor calling up her mom to check in on things - for all Joyce knew, the worst Buffy dealt with these days was the everyday vampire on the occasional patrol.

 

And she definitely was not about to get into the “How’s the boyfriend?” conversation, because Joyce would be curious, and there was no way Buffy would be able to hide the fact that their relationship had become more intimate.

 

“The puzzle, it seems to me, is why Adam has stayed dormant as long as he has.” Giles mused thoughtfully as he returned to the living room from the kitchen, where he’d set aside the now-empty tea tray.

 

They were nearing the end of their daily gathering at Giles’, all of them uncomfortable with the fact that there hasn’t been a word on Adam in the last number of days.

 

Buffy was leaning against the fireplace mantle, and he sat on the edge of his coffee table near her, within reach of her hand that she rested atop his shoulder without thought. Giles still wasn’t the one for big public displays of affection (unless he forgot they had company, or was under a spell, or she sufficiently distracted him…), but he didn’t seem to mind that Buffy often wanted to touch him or stand near him when they were in a room together.

 

“When he’s not making performance art out of other demons, that is.” Willow pointed out, though none of them needed reminding of that visceral image.

 

“He’s probably working off of an autonomic power source,” Riley figured, likely thinking of all the tech he knew of in the Initiative. “And because he’s straight out of the box, he needs to charge up a while.” He sat forward in the recliner, leaning his elbows on his knees as he distractedly snagged a few pretzels from the bowl on the coffee table.

 

“Okay… what’s he charging up for?” Buffy kept the thought tank going.

 

“Based on the clues, I’ll go with killing spree.” Xander announced from his place on the couch beside Willow.

 

“And that’s a best-case scenario.” Riley added, bringing the slight attempt at light-heartedness to a dark screeching halt. He stood, and paced a bit before he noticed the abandoned blaster Xander had brought with him. “I suppose a little fire-power would be a good idea right now.” Riley reached for the Initiative weapon and fiddled with a familiarity that had Xander gaping after it beeped to life.

 

“Hey! How did you do that?” He demanded, leaping up from the couch and standing next to Riley, staring at the gun which now seemed in working order. “Is there like an on-off button somewhere in here?” He snatched the gun and looked at the frame, and Riley just gave him a tired look.

 

“Blasters are easy. Adam won’t be.” Riley replied.

 

“Since Professor Walsh designed him, any chance she left instructions lying around somewhere?” Willow asked hopefully.

 

“Well, if she did, they’re going to be in the Initiative,” Buffy pointed out.

 

“Which we can’t get into without mounting a major offensive.” Giles finished.

 

“Speak for yourself,” Riley half-grinned, but the others all gave him serious and wary looks, and he shrugged a little, sobering. “I’m just saying.” He’d been continuing to work with his squad-mates since releasing himself from the infirmary, keeping his meetings with the Scoobies a secret.

 

“I must admit, a man truly on the inside would be -”

 

“- a really good idea.” Buffy agreed with Giles before he’d even finished his statement.

 

“Okay, you guys don’t find it creepy when they do that?” Riley checked with the others, gesturing at Buffy and Giles, but Willow and Xander just glanced at one another and then shrugged.

 

“When they do what?” They both asked at the same time, and Riley pursed his lips. Smiling a little in amusement at their antics, Buffy focused the topic again,

 

“Are you sure you wanna be double-agent-guy?” It hadn’t exactly been official, up to this point.

 

“Well, I’m not exactly sure what you’d call me, but… I will share information. It’s the least I can do.” Riley replied, still not one-hundred percent certain about completely turning his back on the Initiative.

 

“Riley’s right, it is the least he can do.” Xander quipped a bit snidely, and Giles gave him a warning look. Before he could remind Xander that they were trusting Riley now, his phone began to ring.

 

He gave it the same perplexed look he always did, as if he couldn’t understand why the device even existed, before he got back to his feet and went to answer it.

 

“Hello? …Yes, she is. Um, it’s for you.” Giles held the cordless toward Buffy, sounding just as confused as she felt.

 

‘Mom?’ She mouthed, wondering who else would call Giles looking for her, but he shook his head. Furrowing her brow, she rounded the couch to take the phone from him, and he hovered nearby, curious.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Is this Buffy Summers?”

 

“Speaking.” Buffy answered, frowning even more deeply as she tried to place the mildly familiar female voice.

 

“Oh great! I thought it was kind of weird they wanted me to call Mr. Giles to find you, but there you are!”

 

“…Harmony?” Buffy realized, and that was confirmed by the girlish squeal of excitement on the other end of the phone. She winced and pulled it away from her ear slightly. Giles raised his eyebrow in surprise, and Buffy slowly shook her head at him.

 

“Right in one! Wow, I really don’t remember you being this smart.” The vampire sounded legitimately perplexed by this, and Buffy closed her eyes and counted to three under her breath, doing her best not to snark.

 

“Why are you calling, Harmony?” She asked slowly. Where was she calling from? Why did this not sound like a threat? Who were the ‘they’ she had mentioned?

 

“Right. Angel. I’ll patch you through. I know how to do that, now!”

 

“Wha- who- you-” Angel? Buffy was flummoxed.

 

“By the way - no hard feelings about Spikey-bear, okay? I miss him, but I have Robert now, and Robert is much nicer to me. Spike was mean, and I deserve better love than that!” She sounded as if she were reading a pamphlet from a therapist’s office, or something.

 

Buffy was still trying to figure out what to say, when she heard the line click and a different sort of air over the phone.

 

“…Buffy?” Angel greeted hesitantly, and she took a deep breath.

 

She hadn’t heard his voice in a while, and she was surprised to find that she’d sort of missed the familiarity. And then, she felt guilty. She looked toward Giles, who was simply watching expectantly as he waited for the mysterious call to finish.

 

“Was that Harmony Harmony, I just spoke to?” Buffy asked Angel, and he made a noise against his teeth.

 

“Yeah… long story. Look,” He sighed softly. “I don’t have long, I just wanted to let you know, Faith and Wesley are on their way to Sunnydale.”

 

“What?” Buffy blurted, alarmed. “Why?” They were coming of their own volition? Was there something else going on now, too?

 

“Faith has been having some confusing dreams, apparently. Besides that, we… have a, um, friend, who’s something of a psychic.”

 

“A what?” Buffy blurted out a snort, incredulous. Vague Slayer dreams were one thing, but she’d never heard of an actual psychic, before. Giles made a face, clearly asking what was wrong, and Buffy tucked her free hand into his, shaking her head once. She’d tell him once the call was finished.

 

“Another long story,” Angel sounded like he was glowering. “Be careful Buffy? Please? What our friend saw… it wasn’t good.”

 

“Does this friend’s visions often come true?” Buffy asked, and Angel’s hesitance before answering made her grow a little more serious about the conversation.

 

“More often than we’d like.” He admitted softly.

 

“What did they see?” Buffy asked, and when he paused again, she grew terse. “This is my town, Angel, and if I’m going to protect it then I need to know about what threats I’m facing!”

 

When Giles realized who she was talking to, his hand tightened around hers with a twitch. His expression betrayed nothing, but she rubbed her thumb against his knuckle anyway.

 

“It was hard to piece out, but… military guys?” Angel finally answered. “A lot of guns. You all in a… maybe a science facility. And some kind of creature that no one seemed to be able to stop. Then you all get separated, and… picked off. One by one.”

 

Buffy took a slow, deep breath, and stared into Giles’ eyes.

 

“You said Faith is on her way?” At her words, his gaze sharpened.

 

“With Wesley, yes.” Angel confirmed.

 

“Okay. Thanks for the heads up.”

 

“Buffy, what’s going on? Do you know what this is about?” Angel asked quickly, clearly annoyed that he was so out of the loop.

 

“My town, Angel.” Buffy reminded him. “You have L.A., I have Sunnydale. I appreciate you sparing Faith and Wes - honestly, I was probably going to call for them soon, anyway. We’ve got this handled.”

 

“You’ve got it handled, but you were going to call for Faith’s help?” Angel pointed out dubiously.

 

“Are we finished here?”

 

“I- …We can’t have a conversation?” Angel was speaking softly again. “It’s been a while.”

 

“A conversation about what?” Buffy sighed gently. While she had missed the familiarity of his voice, she and Angel weren’t the type of people who could just be friends now, not after everything. Spike had been right about that.

 

Angel’s silence, once again, was telling.

 

“Goodbye, Angel.” Buffy said, softening her tone as well. “Be well.”

 

“You too.”

 

She ended the call, and then held onto the cordless for a moment as she continued to look at Giles.

 

“Angel? What did he want?” He finally questioned, and she gave his hand a squeeze before she shifted away to return the phone to its cradle.

 

“To warn me. Apparently, Wesley and Faith are already on their way.” Everyone looked surprised, at that, and Buffy turned her gaze from Giles to the others. “They got a… tip. They know something serious is going down here, though they aren’t quite as in the know as we are.”

 

“Extra Slayer mojo might be just the thing we need,” Willow brightened hopefully. “Just like I said. Right? The two of you could totally take down Adam… right?”

 

“That would, of course, be assuming that the two of them actually work together,” Xander piped in knowingly, giving Buffy a look. “I’ve seen you two patrol together. It’s a little less teamwork and a little more competition.”

 

Buffy made a face at him, but Giles was also giving her that knowing look like he agreed with Xander, and she huffed and folded her arms across her chest defensively.

 

“We fought the Mayor together!” She reminded them.

 

“Not… exactly. Not like how this is going to be,” Willow’s tone was gentler than her wordage, but not by much. “She had her role to play and she did it well, but when it came down to battle tactics, she was hiding out for most of the fight so we didn’t show our hand.”

 

“You two will need to learn to truly fight side-by-side, if you want hope to defeat Adam.” Giles admitted seriously.

 

“Our Watchers will need to learn to train us side-by-side, then.” Buffy challenged him with a raised eyebrow. He grimaced for a moment, but then nodded.

 

“You’re right.” He agreed.

 

The previous summer had been a vast improvement to senior year, but it hadn’t been perfect, or very pretty at times. The Slayers had more of a rough sibling rivalry than anything else, and the guys… well, half the time Buffy had no idea what had been going through their minds. They had their own sort of rivalry going on. Wesley had frequently looked vexed, and Giles showed off and snarked a bit too much. While Wesley had agreed that the Council was not all they touted themselves to be, and wanted to remove himself from their influence, he also believed Giles was too far removed and a bit too… ‘chaotic’, in his words, ‘to be a proper Watcher’.

 

Buffy had snapped at him about that, startling all three of them entirely, and Faith had actually been the one to deescalate the situation and deem that day’s training finished.

 

There had been unspoken respect amongst the four of them by the time Faith and Wesley had decided to move to L.A. on a more permanent basis, and a sincere agreement that they worked well together, but best apart. Their brief visits up to this point have been manageable, even… pleasant, in moments, but mounting a full offensive against Adam was going to be a challenge.

 

Buffy noticed the look Willow and Xander gave one another. Amusement, but like they were also gearing up for some drama. Buffy frowned a bit pouty at them, but Riley was the one to speak up,

 

“Who’s Faith?”

 

— — —

 

“They still haven’t released the full profile on Adam, and we’re having zero luck tracking him.” Riley complained, leaning back on his hand, frowning up at the fluffy sky above them. He’d joined Buffy and Willow for a picnic lunch out in the grassy field, along with Graham. Buffy hadn’t seen Forrest since their confrontation in the Initiative after Adam, which she didn’t mind.

 

“I don’t think they’re going to,” Graham suspected carefully, and Riley nodded ruefully.

 

“Not to me, in any case. Sorry, Buffy,” He glanced toward her in apology. “I haven’t exactly made it a secret that I’m still supporting your side of things, and Forrest has got a lot of the guys… well, I wouldn’t say they’re against me, but, they definitely question me more than they used to.”

 

“There shouldn’t be sides at all,” Buffy grumbled, frustrated.

 

“Other than, ‘our side’, and ‘Adam’s side’.” Willow piped up. “Cause, pretty sure he’s on a side I don’t wanna be on.”

 

Buffy nodded in agreement to that, and took a bite of her sandwich.

 

“He thinks you’ve been using Riley from the very beginning to infiltrate our operation,” Graham supplied.

 

“Adam?” Buffy asked, confused. She and Riley didn’t otherwise react to Graham’s statement, though Willow twitched slightly. Luckily, Graham didn’t seem to notice.

 

“No, Forrest. He uh, really doesn’t like you.” Graham chuckled uncomfortably, and Buffy shrugged.

 

“It’s not my job to have people like me. My job is to be the Slayer. And dealing with problems like Adam doesn’t give me time for, for…”

 

“Bureaucracy?” Willow supplied, and Buffy pointed at her.

 

“Exactly.”

 

“Is that why you quit the uh, the Council?” Riley wondered curiously, and Graham furrowed his brow.

 

“What council?” He asked.

 

“Slayer stuff,” Buffy waved it away, and while Graham looked a little miffed that Riley knew something he didn’t, he didn’t push.

 

“Well… I should get going.” Graham sighed as he pushed himself to his feet. “If Forrest catches me out here with you guys, he’ll gripe at me for the rest of the night.”

 

“See you later,” Riley shared a nod with his friend, and once the three of them were alone, he leaned a bit in Buffy’s direction, curiosity all over his face again.

 

“It wasn’t just the bureaucracy,” Buffy told Riley as she opened up her sandwich and picked out the meat and cheese to eat slice by slice. “It’s the Council’s entire way of doing things. They’ve all been sitting behind desks and burying themselves in their books for far too long - they can’t see what’s really going on in the world around them. They’re outdated, they’re -”

 

“Tired of the stakes and broadswords?” Riley joked with a grin.

 

“Well, no, those make sense - you remember what Giles told you? Sometimes that’s the only way to kill demons. I mean, have I told you about the guy I had to blow up with a rocket launcher?” Buffy pointed out, and Willow nodded emphatically as Riley widened his eyes in surprise. “He had this whole thing about ‘no man-made weapon could kill him’. And had the Council been in charge of things, I probably would’ve been left floundering. But we realized those books had been written back when most man-made weapons were made of iron and wood, and we thought out of the box. I guess most weapons do have their time and place - but I still prefer the ol’ dependable stake where it works.”

 

“A rocket launcher? God, you are badass.”

 

“Hey, no swooning allowed, buddy,” Willow teased, elbowing Riley, who leaned back on his hand again and averted his eyes from Buffy, blushing.

 

I haven’t even used a rocket launcher,” He muttered to himself.

 

“Anyway,” Buffy continued brusquely, “we also tend to disagree on the acceptable number of casualties, so that alone is enough for me not to like them.”

 

“What’s your acceptable number?” Riley asked, and by his tone, she just knew that the Initiative had their number as well - and it likely didn’t match hers, either.

 

“Zero.” She replied firmly, and he blinked, but nodded in acceptance. He didn’t have to say anything for both of them to know that he was thinking that was a bit ridiculous, but she didn’t care. When she started thinking that an innocent life lost was okay, well, that would be the time to hang up her Slayer hat.

 

It was one of the biggest disagreements she still had with Faith.

 

“I guess you never forgave ‘em for firing Giles either, huh?” Riley mused with a tiny glint in his eye, and Buffy shifted on the blanket.

 

“Honestly, firing Giles was probably the best thing they’ve done yet,” She admitted, and Willow snorted. When he glanced over to give her a curious look, she quickly took a drink of her soda to hide her amusement.

 

“So… uh, are you patrolling tonight? Can I join you?” Riley asked, and Buffy shrugged.

 

“You don’t have any soldier-y duties?”

 

“No…” He glowered a little. “They’ve been totally close-lipped about Professor Walsh, and without her leading the team… well, all I can do is keep the guys’ morale up. The heads from Washington have already taken over leading our patrols, and they’re so out of their league here…”

 

“You’re saying they know even less about dealing with the evil supernatural than you guys do?!” Buffy pretended to be shocked, and Riley gave her a dry look. She gave him a wide, innocent smile, and then a nod. “Sure, you can join me. But no guns, mister. I’m still mostly on recon duty until I can find Adam. We don’t want to draw any more danger to us than what I already attract…”

 

“Buffy Summers? Attract danger? Nooo,” Riley sassed, helping them begin to clear up as their lunch hour came to a close.

 

Willow laughed, and Buffy gave her a betrayed look, which made her cut herself off awkwardly and clear her throat.

 

They were strolling back toward the main building when Riley randomly spoke up again,

 

“Is it the accent?”

 

“Huh?” Buffy glanced toward Willow, lost. The redhead shrugged.

 

“It’s the accent, isn’t it.” Riley sighed, and Willow made a face of realization, and then ducked her head to hide her amused smirk from him. “He does have a particularly nice voice. It’s very soothing. Warm, and rich, like… like smooth Belgian chocolate.”

 

Riley spoke thoughtfully, not noticing when Buffy and Willow both stopped walking and just stared at him.

 

“Are you dating Giles?” Willow drawled with a chuckle, and Riley refocused and then blushed, pausing to wait for them to catch up again.

 

“Why does everybody always think it’s the accent?” Buffy wondered, but then considered. “Smooth chocolate, though, that’s good. I’m gonna use that…” She grinned to herself, and Riley grimaced as he glanced at Willow, holding the door open for both ladies to enter the building before him.

 

“In… what context?” Riley worried hesitantly, and Willow patted his elbow.

 

“It’s better not to ask questions when she gets that look on her face.”

 

... ... ...

 

Buffy called up Giles from Riley’s cell phone, so he was ready for a patrol report by the time they got to his apartment.

 

“Stripes and polka dots, Giles!” Buffy exclaimed, folding her arms across her chest as she stopped pacing and stood beside his desk. His pen paused over his journal, and he looked up at her. “Major clashing!” She clarified. “When’s the last time you saw a demon working with a vampire?”

 

“Ah, yes. Of course.” He murmured dryly.

 

“It was pretty weird. I’ve never seen it before, either.” Riley added, leaning against the back of the couch as he watched Giles curiously. “So, you write down everything that happens on every patrol?”

 

“Erm, yes.” Giles answered distractedly as he wrote. “Particularly if anything of note occurs.”

 

“Even though you don’t work for your old bosses anymore?”

 

“I work for the Slayer,” Giles glanced at Riley over the top of his glasses, almost chiding. “And we never know what may come of use in the future. What might seem trivial now could be of grave importance later on.”

 

“You’re right,” Riley grinned in amusement at Buffy, “He does get more British.” Buffy grinned too, and Giles frowned.

 

“So the vampire went toward this demon’s aid?” He asked a bit shortly.

 

“Yep.” Buffy perched herself on the corner of his desk, ignoring his fussiness.

 

“How extraordinarily odd…” Giles mused, tugging his glasses off to chew on the earpiece thoughtfully. “As a rule, demons have no empathy for any other species other than their own. In fact, most think of vampires as abominations.” He glanced at them both, and at Riley’s clueless blink he added, “Mixing with human blood, and all.”

 

He sat in silent thought for another minute, before Buffy voiced her question,

 

“So what could have brought them together?”

 

“Not what,” Riley suddenly realized, “Who.”

 

“Adam.” Giles realized as well, and Buffy grimaced.

 

“Of course… who better to bring together a bunch of demon types than someone who’s made out of… a bunch of demon types.”

 

“Perhaps, um, over the next several nights you concentrate your patrol in that same area. If there’s any other peculiar pairings or groupings, you’ll let me know?” Giles requested.

 

“The specific demons he chooses might tell us what he’s planning,” Buffy followed his line of thinking, and he nodded.

 

“I can let the squad know as well,” Riley added.

 

They sat in silence for a moment, nothing more to really be said, and Buffy slowly drew her finger along the curve of letters in Giles’ journal. She was fiddling, more than reading the page, and when Giles glanced up at her, she gave him a tiny smile.

 

“Well, I suppose if that’s it,” Riley straightened, not noticing their silent communication. “Want me to walk you back to campus?” He offered politely, and Buffy snorted.

 

“I’m the Slayer, Riley. I don’t need a chaperone.” She reminded him, and he chuckled a bit, embarrassed.

 

“Right.”

 

“Anyway, uh, Giles and I have this… thing.” She gave Giles a pointed look when he appeared confused. “A… Watcher thing.”

 

“Right!” He caught on suddenly, and dropped his glasses to his desk. “That. Quite important. Um, shouldn’t put it off.”

 

“Exactly.” Buffy grinned, resting her palm flat atop his journal as she looked toward Riley again. “You okay walking back on your own?” She asked a little teasingly, and he scoffed.

 

“I can hold my own.” He insisted, all macho soldier as he headed for the door. Buffy knew that he could, that’s why she wasn’t concerned, and already thinking about other… Watcher things. “See you in class, then. Have a good night, Mr. Giles.”

 

“Ah, thank you. You too.” Giles returned, mostly focused on Buffy although he did stand and show Riley out, closing the door behind him and locking it.

 

He leaned his back against the door, tucking his hands into his pockets as he gazed at Buffy for a minute. She quietly gazed right back, slowly closing his journal.

 

“Did he?” Giles seemingly randomly asked. “Hold his own?”

 

Buffy nodded, and crossed her ankles together as she idly swung her legs.

 

“Sure. He got Dusty and I got Horny.” Giles raised his eyebrow and she stilled. “I mean, the demon. I killed the demon, he killed the vampire. Anyway, he did fine. Enough about Riley - why don’t we get to discussing this… Watcher thing that we shouldn’t put off?”

 

Giles grinned as he approached the desk, and rested his fingers against her knees. She danced her fingers up the front of his sweater, over his chest and across his shoulders, uncrossing her ankles so he could step closer between her thighs.

 

“Tell me,” He mused, gently rubbing the pads of his fingers over her leather pants, “What exactly is this… ‘Watcher thing’?”

 

She met the smouldering desire in his eyes, and slowly grinned.

 

... ... ...

 

“So, you came back late last night,” Willow sing-songed as they walked together to Psych. “Or should I say, early this morning? I’m assuming you didn’t spend the entire night patrolling with Riley.” Buffy rolled her eyes, and Willow laughed, and elbowed her companionably as she teased, “At least you gave yourself enough time to change clothes before class today.”

 

“That’s never been a problem anyway, ‘cause I’ve got a change of clothes at Giles’.” Buffy huffed, and Willow raised her eyebrow. “What? I’ve always had clothes at Giles’. You know, for training, or slay-emergencies,”

 

“Should I be looking for a new roommate for next year?” Willow smirked, halfway serious, and Buffy grimaced a little.

 

“Mom would have a cow if I moved in with Giles, you know that.”

 

“True…” Willow grew a bit more serious as she wondered, “Does she even know, you know? That the two of you are, you know? ‘Cause, now that I know there’s something to know, I can’t not know, just because I’m afraid somebody will know I know. You know?”

 

“I -” Buffy blinked, perplexed, and guessed, “No?”

 

“If she asks me, I so won’t be able to lie to her.” Willow worried.

 

“She won’t ask you.” Buffy assured her, finally following the conversation. “She hasn’t asked me; why would she ask somebody else?”

 

“‘Cause she knows I won’t be able to lie to her!”

 

“Willow, it’s okay,” Buffy smiled gently. “It’s not that I don’t want her to find out - it would just be one awkward conversation I’d rather not have. She probably assumes anyway…”

 

“You think so?” Willow mused, and Buffy gave her a look. “Right,” Willow laughed, “You two are the worst at- ”

 

She stopped talking, suddenly, and jerked to a halt in the doorway.

 

“What?” Buffy gave her a concerned look, and she reached up to grip Buffy’s arm tightly as she stared into the classroom. “Ow, Will,” Buffy chided as she turned her gaze to see what Willow was staring wide-eyed at.

 

She held her breath as she froze, as well; like maybe they’d become invisible if they didn’t flinch.

 

“Hurry up and find your seats, class.” Maggie Walsh calmly ordered the room. “We have a lot of catching up to do, as I’m sure your substitutes did not follow my lesson plans to the letter.”

 

One of the students mentioned being glad she was back, and another asked if she was feeling alright, as she’d been out for quite a few days. Willow tightened her grip on Buffy’s arm even further, and quickly dragged her up to their seats, trying to duck behind some of the other students to hide their entrance.

 

“Just a small family emergency, I’m fine.” Professor Walsh brushed the comments aside, and then said with hidden amusement, “And if you think sucking up to me is going to improve your grade, then you’ve forgotten who’s class you’re taking.”

 

Her eyes landed on Buffy’s, for just a second, and they were impossible to read. Then her gaze continued on over the rest of the room as the students all settled, and Buffy swallowed hard, feeling Willow staring at her in concern, but unable to tear her eyes off of Walsh.