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The Apocalypse Stone

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The apocalypse stone sat on the library table. The red glow inside it was definitely a flame. And it definitely flared up when Buffy touched it. The prophecy was one hundred percent for sure about her.

"Oh boy," Xander said. What Buffy wanted to say wasn't very nice, so she didn't say it. Instead she concentrated on projecting a vibe of nonchalance about the fact that the entire group had just learned that she was a virgin and wouldn't remain one for very long. Couldn't. Or else.

The glowing rock came along with a ritual that was guaranteed to appease Toasty-ferion, or whatever the hell the demon's name was. Whoever he was, he had a habit of bursting out and eating things if he wasn't appeased every thousand years or so, give or take. Some monk had written a book all about it. Angel had come up with the book a couple of days after Buffy had turned up the glowing stone thing. The apocalypse stone. That's what it was.

Giles had the book in his hand. He was refusing to let Willow look over his shoulder and read it. That made the hair on the back of Buffy's neck stand up all by itself. She came around and peeked; Giles held the book down where she could see it too. Slayer privilege. Didn't she just feel special. The translation was one of those hand-written journals kept by a crazy Watcher-type, but this guy was at least neat with the pen and she could read it easily. She got through the first six lines of the prophecy-poem-thing and then started skimming. She sat down again. Embarrassing, yes. But possibly not mega-humiliating.

Everybody except Giles and Angel was staring at her. Giles was staring at the book. Angel had his arms folded and was staring off into the middle distance.

She waved a hand and said, "Standard virgin sacrifice dealio. Angel and I find a romantic getaway for the weekend, light the special candles, burn the special incense, apocalypse averted. No big." She tried not to worry that she hadn't talked it over with Angel. They could angst about it in private later. It at least wouldn't be the first time she'd thought about it with him. It would maybe even be kind of... nice.

Giles cleared his throat.

"What?" she said.

Giles's expression was strangely sympathetic. "I'm afraid he doesn't qualify. The male must be human. Angel is not."

"What do you mean, not human? He's--"

Angel vamped out. Buffy swallowed. Yeah, okay, not so much with the using her head about that one. Once human, now undead. Check.

"I can't be part of this. I'm sorry, Buffy."

Buffy tried to keep her sang-froid chilling, but it was melting fast. She had nothing to say, so she shut her mouth and stared at the table. At the glowing stone.

Willow said, "So who's it going to be? Buffy can't just, just go to bed with any guy! It's her first time."

Cordy said, "Well, she's not a total social reject. I could get her hooked up with one of the older guys. A senior. Maybe not one of the best-looking seniors, not a first string guy, but--"

Giles broke in. "It would have to be someone who was aware of the ritual and its significance. The, er, the male must take specific actions as his part." Major stammerage there. Buffy suddenly wished she'd kept reading down past the word 'copulation'. Or maybe she was glad she hadn't.

Willow said, "Besides, it's not very fair to Buffy to have to do something like that with somebody she doesn't like. Or even know very well. It's hard to, to, you know, even kiss a guy you don't know!"

"Where are we going to find a guy who's aware of the situation, a guy who's already close to the Buffster who can be relied on to avert apocalypse? Maybe--" Xander did a swirly swoopy thing with his forefingers extended that ended up with him pointing at his own chest. "Me."

Silence in the library. Then Angel said, "I can't be here any more."

And like that he was gone, black coat swirling. Buffy felt a flash of irrational anger about it. Okay, sure, he couldn't cope with hearing a discussion of how his girlfriend was going to have to lose her virginity to somebody else. How was she supposed to cope with hearing it? Or hearing Xander blither on about how he was going to man up and avert apocalypse with her? Because that was what he was doing. Cordy's face was not what you would call happy. Xander was going to get his arm punched if he didn't shut up. Come to think of it, Buffy was going to punch him for Cordy. She could punch way harder.

Xander concluded with a cheerful, "So lay it on me. How do I do this ritual thang?"

She cast an almost desperate look at Giles: get me out of this. Giles met her glance and gave her a little nod. To the others he said, "Everyone go home. This, this matter will not be resolved tonight. We have several days before the stone reaches its full potential."

"But--"

"No. Go home."

Cordelia was already gathering her books. Xander hadn't moved. He was staring at her, wounded. Yes, it was all about him. Just like it was all about Angel. It would be nice if it were all about Xander for a change. See if he liked having to lose his virginity in a creepy sex ritual.

Giles folded his arms and glared. "Now, Xander."

He turned and went into his office without bothering to wait to see if they obeyed him. Such was the power of the Giles-glare that they all did. Willow cast a piteous glace at Buffy and left without a word. When the library door had swung shut behind Xander and the furious Cordelia, Buffy crept into Giles's office and sat on the little battered couch tucked into the corner. Giles was sitting at his desk in his thinking posture, one arm over his chest, the other propping his chin up. Buffy kicked off her shoes and pulled her feet underneath herself. This day couldn't get any worse.

"Can I read it again?" she said. Giles passed her the book without turning around. Buffy read the ritual through slowly, twice. There were parts she didn't understand, the parts that laid out how the magic ritual was supposed to go, but the sex part was in plain English. Old-fashioned words, but clear ones.

Buffy handed the book back to Giles, who took it silently and laid it on his desk. He took off his glasses and turned toward her. He fiddled with them and didn't look at her. He said, "Being the Slayer is sometimes--"

"The uber-suck."

"I'm sorry."

"I know."

A pause, then he said, "Is there no one else you can trust for this?"

"Xander is sort of it for guys I know well enough who aren't technically disqualified because of deadness." Except-- well, that wasn't true, was it? There was another guy. But he maybe didn't want to.

"The ritual must be done properly or it's an utter waste. Xander is a good lad at heart, but I don't trust him to overcome his, his youth and inexperience."

"You mean his hormones."

Giles half-smiled. "As you say."

Buffy decided to find out. "There is one other guy. I know he'd do the ritual right and I'm pretty sure he has his hormones under control."

Giles sat up straighter. "Who?"

"My Watcher."

Giles flinched and the glasses went back on instantly. To Buffy's surprise, Giles didn't flee the office or start sputtering. When he responded at last, he spoke slowly, as if thinking hard about every word. "The, the Watcher is sent to the Slayer for many reasons. He trains her, he prepares her, at many times he provides for her as the only family she has. In other circumstances, he-- he does whatever he must. Whatever they must, to protect humanity."

Sometimes they died on the job, like Merrick had. Sex wasn't as bad as death, no matter what the movies told her. It just felt like it sometimes.

"So why aren't you volunteering? Because of Miss Calendar?"

Giles shook his head, but she didn't miss the sadness on his face. "She isn't speaking to me. And even if she were-- No. It's because of you. I thought you would prefer anyone but."

Well, yeah, that's what she would have said too, if somebody had popped that question to her yesterday. But now? Buffy paused to do some actual deep thinking instead of just twitching around. What would she prefer?

"What I prefer is to make sure the world gets saved. It's apocalypse. Not something like deciding who I go to the prom with. It's about saving the world. That why it's the Slayer and not some other girl. And that's why it's you instead of Xander. Because that's what we do. It's the job title."

Giles nodded. She could see satisfaction in his face, the kind she rarely earned but always felt good about when she did. It meant she'd done something very right, something Giles approved of down to his toes.

"So you'll do this with me?"

"I will do it."

Silence, then. Buffy's stomach felt weird and fluttery. She was going to have sex. First time ever. With a guy who knew what he was doing. A guy who wasn't her boyfriend.

"Angel isn't going to understand this."

"Angel," Giles said, "knows you do what you must. He already understood that when he brought the book of the ritual to me. He would have read it himself."

Buffy sighed. "Okay. When?"

"Tonight, if you are able. We should get it over with." He winced after he said that.

"Tonight's okay. My mom's out of town on a buying trip."

"Should I come to you?"

Buffy tried to imagine it for a minute, Giles in her bedroom, jamming his tall body onto her little bed, ritual candles burning on her white carpet. She shook her head. "Your place."

"Any time after dark," Giles said. "Don't eat anything. The magic--"

"Yeah. Okay." She stood up and wondered for a second if she should say anything else to him, or touch him or something. She had no idea what to say to the guy who was going to ritually deflower her and use the blood of her virginity and his own semen to prevent apocalypse. Hallmark did not have a card for this.

Buffy settled for booking on out of there without saying anything at all.


The apocalypse stone sat in the center of Giles's desk. Its center pulsed red in time with Buffy's heartbeat. If they completed the ritual, it would die down to black and sit that way for another thousand years or so. If they didn't, then they wouldn't live long enough to find out what happened after it went all the way red.

Behind her, Giles was locking his door. And after he did that, he cast wards on door and each window, one at a time.

"We shan't be disturbed," he said.

"You do magic a lot more than you admit, don't you."

"When I must."

This was going to be big-time magic. Giles had pushed aside all the furniture in his little apartment to make space for the pentagram he'd done on his wood floor in black chalk.

There had been a diagram in the book showing the pentagram, with the points marked by squiggly astrological symbols. Apparently Giles knew how to translate that. He had some huge pillar candles as well, at least two feet high. There were four of them, different colors. Giles set them out at the points of the pentagram. At the fifth point he set the apocalypse stone. In the center he laid a heavy quilt, folded in half, and a couple of throw pillows. Beside that, a battered brass bowl, a container of incense cones, and a box of kitchen matches. And besides that, a square of white cloth. To catch their mingled fluids, as the ritual specified. So that they could be burned to appease the whatever it was.

Buffy stared at all this and swallowed.

Giles stood next to her. He wasn't wearing a jacket. No vest, either. No tie. And no shoes. His shirt had only one button undone, but he already looked half-naked to her. Giles was always buttoned all the way up.

Buffy knelt down and unlaced her sneakers. She'd gone home to take a shower because, well, you needed to be fresh and wearing nice panties to have sex for the first time. It was a rule. And if she'd dressed for slayage instead of dateage after showering, it completely because she had stressed out after the panties and bra selection step. She'd dug out the jeans instead of the party dress. She'd died while all dressed up. For sex she was going casual.

She stuck her socks into her sneakers and stood there staring at them on the floor. Should she just strip off now?

Giles said, "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, sure."

"We should talk first."

Giles, represso man, talking. It was apocalypse all right. He drew her away from the pentagram and the candles, over to where he'd shoved his little couch against the wall. They sat on the floor, backs against the couch. Buffy looked at his bare feet. No sensible brown oxfords. No socks. Bare Giles toes. Her feet were bare now too, but she took off her shoes a lot around Giles. He never took anything off around her. He trained with her wearing his jacket more often than not. Though he must get naked sometimes. Every morning, in the shower. In another few minutes he'd be naked right here.

To get her mind off that image, Buffy said, "What did you want to talk about?

"What's about to happen between us."

Buffy shrugged. "Sex. We get naked, we do the thing they told me all about in health class."

Giles cleared his throat. "I meant the specifics."

"I read the ritual. It's the full monty."

"Yes. Virginity sacrificed in a complete coupling. How much experience have you had?" He hesitated on the word 'experience'.

Buffy flushed. "Well, I am a virgin."

"I meant--"

"Oh. Um. Makeout sessions. Some, you know, cuddling. With a couple of guys I was dating before. Not Angel. He's been sort of standoffish."

"Have you ever, ever taken it to completion?"

Buffy looked at her toes, at the patterns on the rug, anywhere but at him. "Not with somebody else."

She looked up, having said it and not been swallowed up by the earth. Giles's ears had turned red. It was good to know that he was embarrassed too.

"You know that I must."

"Yeah. I don't have to. It's cool."

"Both of us will be satisfied, if for no other reason than that I am a decent man and I will not let you go without while I am selfish."

He was surprisingly vehement about it.

"Okay," she said, not understanding what was going on with him.

"There is another thing. The coupling-- you read the ritual. My semen must mix with your blood." Buffy nodded. "That means I cannot use protection. There is a chance-- you might--"

Buffy's mouth was now dry. "Can Slayers even get pregnant?"

"Yes."

"Oh."

Silence between them for a little time, while Buffy wondered what sad stories had played out with Slayers and their babies. Then Giles said, "Whatever happens, whatever you choose to do, I will stand by you."

Buffy just nodded. It was almost too much to think about. One thing at a time. Get through what was in front of her right now. Then a thought came to her.

"Do Watchers and Slayers ever, you know? The ones who aren't old."

Giles seemed to understand her question, vague as it was. "Some do, yes. You and I were walking down a different path. I-- Damn it!"

Buffy laid her hand on his arm. "What's wrong?"

"I don't want, that is, what's about to happen could hurt you greatly, and I'm, I'm-- The idea of hurting you in any way is intolerable."

He broke off. That was about as much emotion from Giles as she'd seen in a long time. She said, quietly, "It's okay."

His fist tightened on nothing. "No, it's not! I believed I could give you as normal a life as I could in every other way. Boyfriends, cheerleading, whatever it was you wanted to do outside of the Slaying. This puts paid to that delusion. Anything and everything might be taken from you, and I can do sod-all about it. Instead I've got to do the taking."

He slumped and rested his forehead on his arms. Buffy leaned against him, trying to make him feel a little better somehow. She hadn't known he thought about her like that. He'd been the nagging guy so much at first. Then he'd told her he would quit nagging, and he had, hadn't he? They bickered about training all the time, but it was more the happy bickering thing, where they teased each other according to rules that only they understood. And he hadn't complained about dates, on the few times she'd managed to have normal ones. She hadn't realized how important that was to him, though.

"I get it. That would make me angry too, if I were trying to protect somebody and couldn't."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to burden you with it. You don't-- You don't seem-- I'm curious why--"

"Why I'm not throwing books at your head?"

He nodded.

"Kinda been there, done that. I got mad about that first prophecy. Wanted to go to the dance, instead got signed up by fate to die. But I coped. This is-- this is peanuts compared to dying. I got this."

Buffy was hoping that saying it confidently enough would make it completely true. Though it was true in a deep way. She'd get through this. She trusted Giles all the way down. He would get the ritual done, they'd save the world, and afterwards the only one going all weird about it would be her. Giles would repress like a pro and give her the space she needed to un-weird herself. And that was how it was going to go.

There was a little smile on Giles's face, though. "You have put things in perspective, rather," he murmured, and she felt a little better. He sighed. "I need to set it aside. All these things don't matter."

Buffy stood up and gave him a hand up for no good reason other than to remind him and her both that she was the Slayer and she could lever a hundred-eighty pound guy up off the floor with no trouble. And he was a Watcher and he didn't mind that she could do that or throw him around in training. It was the way they did things. They were the ones who did the hard stuff and saved the world. They could do this too.

"Are you ready?" he asked.

"As I'll ever be."

Giles held onto her hand and they stepped into the pentagram together.

"I'm going to start the ritual now. We have all the time we want. It does not end until we complete it. Or interrupt it by leaving the pentagram."

Buffy nodded and released his hand. She sat in the center of the pentagram, on the folded blanket. Giles picked up the box of matches and struck one. He lit the red candle first and chanted something in a strange and ugly language while he did it. Red, white, blue, green. The apocalypse stone was where a black candle would be. Giles went to that point last, still chanting, and blew out the match. He fell silent. The room receded away from them. They were inside a pentagram, watched by things not of the earth. Buffy knew that with senses she couldn't name, Slayer senses, the deep things. Giles existed in that plane too, she knew now, as she did, every day while walking in daylight. They had been touched.

Last, Giles lit several incense cones and set them in the brass bowl. The smoke curled up from the bowl. It was an odd scent, partly bitter, partly sweet. The scent of deep magic.

The mage-man blew out the match and dropped it into the brass bowl. Then he came and sat behind her, with his legs stretched out on either side. He put his arms around her waist. Buffy leaned back against his chest. He kissed the top of her head and they sat like that for a few minutes, not talking. Buffy rested her hands on his where they were clasped against her stomach. Strong hands, not tanned, a little gold-brown hair on the backs on his fingers. He was wearing the ring on his pinky finger that he usually wore, the one with his family name on it. He was nuzzling her a little bit while she did this, rubbing his cheek against her hair, nothing more daring than that. Buffy stroked the back of his hand and thought about what it would feel like when he kissed her. When he touched her.

Giles was doing something with her barrette. Taking it off, apparently. It came free and he lifted her hair away from the back of her neck and kissed her. Buffy held her breath. Warm lips, warm kisses, so strange after Angel's chilly touch. Buffy breathed out, a long sigh. So gentle, Giles was, so patient, melting them both one touch at a time.

He let her go and shifted himself so they were face-to-face. He took her face in his hands and leaned in to her. His lips touched hers once, nothing more than a brush. And then again, lingering this time. Buffy's lips parted under his.

She would have guessed he'd be tentative, unsure of himself, as stammering with his kisses as he was with his words. But he wasn't. He kissed her as if he meant it and had been holding her like this every day of his life, as if he knew exactly how she liked to be kissed. Which he didn't, not exactly, but what he was doing was good enough. He licked her lips and slipped his tongue into her mouth without even asking and then he'd withdrawn and was sucking on her earlobe instead. Buffy did her best to keep up, to mirror what he was doing, to avoid thinking too much. The one thing she kept thinking was how hot he was, how warm his breath was, how warm his hand splayed out on her back was.

His chin was smooth. He'd shaved just for her. She could smell the cologne, not strong, but present, the familiar scent of Giles that she'd known since the day she'd met him. That scent more than anything else almost sent her leaping from the pentagram in a panic, which was bizarre given everything else that was going on. It was only a moment of doubt, and when she'd mastered herself she pulled him down to her with a taste of Slayer strength.

She needed more.

Buffy scooted in closer. She hooked her legs over Giles's, so they were sitting facing each other. Her hands rested on his chest and his arms were around her. He was a big man, tall, broad-shouldered. So was Angel, but Giles always hid it. He put his hands on her hips and lifted her up onto his lap easily, as if she weighed nothing. His arms were around her and he was kissing her again. She could tell that he had an erection because there it was, right up against her. She was starting to feel warmed up herself.

Giles's hand slipped under her shirt and was against her bare back. Heavy petting she'd have called it, if she were on a date, the kind of thing she'd only done with a couple of guys in her life. That hand was roving around, sliding up to find her bra strap then down to the waistband of her jeans. Then Giles began to lift the shirt.

"May I?" he said, with it halfway up.

She froze up, briefly unable to consider the idea of taking anything off in front of him. He let her shirt drop back into place.

"I'll go first," he said. He lifted her away and knelt up on the blanket. He began unbuttoning his shirt.

Buffy watched his fingers on the buttons, popping open one by one to reveal his chest. A little fuzzy hair there, around his nipples and across. Buffy wasn't used to chest hair. She almost reached out to touch it, then stopped herself. Giles dropped his shirt on the floor, then got to work on his trousers. Soft trousers, not his usual wool armor, and underneath them red jockeys that were strained out of shape by his erection. Buffy looked away from him, under the pretext of kneeling up on the blanket and straightening out her hair.

Giles knelt beside her. She looked everywhere but between his legs and then she admitted she'd have to get it over with. Her Watcher was going to be having sex with her, so she might as well look at what he was going to put inside her. His penis. There it was, below a patch of brown and gray hair. He wasn't circumcised, was the first thing she noticed, then that it was flushed red. And it was larger than she thought penises were, not that she'd seen any before. That would fit inside her?

That. Inside her. Her body throbbed. Woah. Men. Yes. She liked that idea. She liked men. She reached out again and hesitated.

"Touch me if you want," he said.

Buffy wanted. Her fingers touched his chest, drifted down, stroked over his belly, and then she dared to touch his penis. He made a soft sound. She touched him again that way and there that sound was again. Buffy felt herself responding to it, even though he wasn't caressing her at all. Just that sound, coming from her Watcher, was enough. Now she dared more, dared run her fingers around and down. Soft skin, hardness underneath, the sheath of skin pulling back to reveal the red-flushed head, and a little drop of wetness at the tip.

Giles held her shoulders while she explored him. She could feel his hands flexing against her, digging in a little when she found a good spot. His mouth was open and he was breathing oddly. This was what it was like when somebody was excited, she guessed. Then he stopped her with a hand over hers.

"Too much," he said, and his voice was husky. "I'd like to undress you now, if I may."

She nodded. She needed him to touch her the way she'd been touching him. She was going to burst if he didn't. He pulled her shirt over her head. He found the clasp at the front of her bra and opened it without hesitating over it. He kissed between her breasts and Buffy held her breath. Would he think she was too flat-chested? She'd lost weight this year and dropped a bra size and it bothered her sometimes. Giles said nothing at all. He cupped her breasts in his hands. Thumbs on her nipples, briefly, teasing her. Hands moving down, down to her hips, undoing the button of her jeans and sliding the zipper down.

Buffy lay on her back and let him tug her jeans free of her body. Her panties came off with them. Giles tossed them to the side and came back to her. His hand was behind her head. Buffy let herself relax into it and down onto the blanket. He lay next to her and kissed her again, so sweet and slow. His penis was pressed against her leg, trapped between them. His hand rested on her belly, and lower, lower still, until it rested on her mons. Buffy whimpered and he laughed softly, not a mean laugh but a happy one. His fingers found that spot and circled around and Buffy nearly went over right there but she held herself off somehow though she made a sound that made Giles kiss her hard. Then his fingers moved again, further down, where she was wet.

"You're ready," he whispered. "Shall we?"

Buffy nodded.

She parted her legs for him when she saw he meant to kneel between her thighs. He was looking at her body, at what was between her spread thighs and whatever it was he saw made him furrow his brow. Then she saw it wasn't her, it was his attention to the ritual once more. He'd picked up the square of white cloth and was holding it under his penis. The tip brushed against her. He was biting his lip. Then he pressed into her and Buffy cried out in surprise. It hurt a little bit, yes, but it also felt so exciting she thought she might burst. A tease, such a tease, because he was only in partway. He was doing something with the cloth and his face was screwed up in concentration. Then he leaned over her and rested his hands beside her head and he was pushing himself into her deeper but slowly, so slowly.

He chanted something, Buffy had no idea what. The ritual, which he was diligently performing while all she could think about was that fact that she wasn't a virgin any more. Whatever else happened in her life, whatever it was that killed her eventually, at least she'd have had sex once before she went. And it felt good. He felt good inside her. It was something she hadn't known she wanted, this feeling of his penis all way the inside her, the weight of his body on hers, his breath on her neck. She lifted her legs and wrapped them around his waist and pulled him even closer. Giles kissed her neck.

"Okay?" he said.

"Yeah. It's good. I feel good. You?"

"Oh God, Buffy," is all he said in reply, and then he was moving inside her, gently rocking against her, and making that soft sound of pleasure again. She made her own happy sound and he responded by saying "God" and moving more urgently for a few seconds.

He reached down and brushed his thumb against that spot, the one that felt so good. Buffy whimpered and he touched her again. She'd nearly gone over the edge last time he'd touched her and now this time, with his body inside hers she did go over, before she could think about it or try to hold herself back, she was shuddering and biting her lip, trying to keep quiet except she couldn't. Giles didn't take his fingers away, didn't relent, and she stayed there for long seconds of pleasure. And then it was over and he was kissing her gently and brushing the hair away from her face.

She'd done it in front of someone else. Instead of laughing at her or being horrified by her, Giles looked happy. Pleased. His face was red and there was sweat on his forehead. She was sweaty now too, but he didn't seem to mind. He lay down all the way on top of her. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and her legs around his waist again. This was good. The right amount of closeness, so he could kiss her or press his face against her neck and moan as he moved. She was still having aftershocks, or something, little reminders that she'd just had an orgasm and might maybe have another one or something like that.

He was getting closer now, maybe. He was moving faster and more urgently. Then he stopped and pulled her close for a second and said her name, but then he was sitting up. He withdrew from her completely, then thrust himself against her body. And then he was climaxing, Giles, her Watcher, having an orgasm and saying her name in a voice that sounded as if he were wrecked. Buffy felt something hot and wet splash onto her. He was looking down at himself now, watching himself as he came onto her. Then he slumped over and breathed once, twice. He sat back and there was the white cloth again, in his hand, on which was her blood and his semen mingled. He put it into the brass bowl and held a lit match over it. He chanted again in that strange and ugly language and the cloth burst into flame. Buffy lay there on the blanket, Giles kneeling between her legs even yet, and watched it burn. Orange flames, flickering, a strange acrid scent, and dark smoke that vanished into somewhere else, some time else.

When the flames died she saw that the candles had gone out. Giles untangled himself from her and they both crawled to the empty point to see if it had worked.

The apocalypse stone was dark. Buffy blew out a long breath. Giles slumped over it, his forehead almost touching the stone. They had done it.

Buffy reached out to him. He was shaking a little bit and so was she, but it eased as they held each other. They shared a slow kiss, gentle and undemanding. Then Giles stroked her hair and released her. He stood up and went over to the couch. He came back with two bathrobes. He handed one down to her. It was his, and way too large for her. Buffy wrapped the giant robe around herself and shivered a little. Nice and plush, warm. Giles put the other one on and sat down on the blanket next to her again. He wiped his face against the sleeve. On impulse Buffy scooted over and leaned against him.

Giles put his arm around her and squeezed. "Oh, Buffy. I was so afraid. But your bravery carried me through."

She said nothing, just stayed leaned up against his solid shoulder. He'd been afraid? He hadn't seemed that way. He'd been covering it up for her sake, just like she'd been covering her fear for him.

He sighed and let go of her. "We won't be-- that is, we can't."

Buffy sat up. "I know. It's okay. I just wanted to say, just-- I'm glad you're my Watcher."

"As am I." Said softly, but Buffy heard the emotion in his voice. He kissed her one last time, and then they were apart. Time to repress.


The apocalypse stone sat once again on the study table, ostentatiously being dark and not glowing in the least. Buffy folded her arms and sat back. Xander poked at it.

"It went dark," Giles said, again, and the impatience in his voice had to be obvious to everyone in the library, even Xander.

"I don't understand," Willow said. "Didn't we definitely establish yesterday that Buffy was the girl?"

"Apparently. Equally apparently, the stone is now dark."

Buffy had to admire Giles's approach. No lying, but no answers either. Just a stubborn finger pointed at the dark stone. Nobody could argue with that. Especially not when Giles was being snippy about it.

"Oh well," Buffy said. "Apocalypse some other time. Maybe next week. Or never. How's about never?"

"I like never," said Willow, but Buffy could see the doubt in her eyes.

Xander picked up the stone, tossed it into the air, and then peered into it suspiciously. "So, what, that's it? No virgin sacrifice after all? A big fizzle?"

"I would think you would be relieved. Any decent person would be."

Giles took the apocalypse stone away from Xander. He turned his back on them and carried the stone away with him into his office. Buffy tried not to watch him go too closely. Willow knew her too well. So well that even Giles in snippy mode wouldn't keep her off the right track. It was hard not to watch, though. Her view of him had shifted that night and it would never be the same again. They probably wouldn't do that again, but now she knew him in ways she'd never dreamed she would. She had seen what was under the tweed. And he'd seen her, and accepted her. Nothing would be the same. Except that things were the same again.

"How could the stone go dark without the ritual?" Xander said.

"That would be a big mystery to me," Buffy said, entirely truthfully. "I don't understand this stuff. See the vampire, stake the vampire. That's my approach. Sorry, Xan. You don't get to make your big sacrifice."

Cordelia dragged Xander off before he could make any more of an idiot of himself. Buffy wondered what she saw in him. Maybe it was purely in whatever they did when they locked themselves into those supply closets. She had a clue now why that would be a big driver. It wasn't just about heartache and thinking you would die. The other stuff counted too, the kissing and the touching. Things with Angel might change sooner than she'd expected, now that she knew.

Willow was still there, gazing at Buffy over her pile of school books. "I know what happened. Not hard to figure it out."

Buffy made a repressive face. "Just so long as nobody else does."

"Are you going to tell me about it?"

"If you want to know. It was a thing." Complicated shoulder wriggle, to express complicated emotions. Willow echoed it.

"Was it an okay thing or a bad thing?"

"Giles made it okay."

"Where's Angel?"

"No idea. Haven't seen him since yesterday."

"Brooding," Willow said, and the disapproval was all over her. "He should be here with you, making you feel better."

Buffy sighed. "I don't need to be made to feel better. Really. No apocalypse, no big bad, no huge trauma. Just--" She waved her hands around, trying to get it across. "Life."

Willow said nothing. Instead she hugged Buffy. And then it was time to do her French homework because those irregular verbs weren't going to get memorized on their own. Later on Giles would emerge from his lair, probably not being snitty any more, and she'd ask him to help her. And he'd harrumph and get stuffy and then give in and help her however she needed, because that's what he did. And she would know when he smiled at her just how much he loved her.