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Uncertain Ground

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Uncertain Ground - Chapter 1

 

Giles shook his head as he stared at his phone. He dreaded having to make this call. If he believed in astrology, he would’ve said the stars had aligned just perfectly to bring misery into his already hectic life. Pulling his glasses from his face, he dropped them and the phone down on the table before him before running his hands through his hair in sheer frustration.

He’d made repeated attempts to reach Dawn on her mobile and had spent the last three and a half hours talking to ticketing agents and airline representatives to see if she had boarded the plane, been bumped, or been rescheduled for a later flight. And now, for the last two and half hours, he was set up in the ready room at Gatwick Airport on a conference call with airport officials, various members of his team at Council Headquarters, and the airport police at Dublin Airport trying to establish a perimeter for a missing persons report.

Picking up his mobile again and bringing up his Slayer’s number in the directory, Giles hesitated. He knew he should just place the call and let her know her sister had gone missing. The longer he kept the information from her, the worse her reaction would be.

His relationship with Buffy was strictly professional these days. There existed only a cold vestige of civility left between them, and they saved it to provide a unified front with the Council brass regarding field operations and Watcher/Slayer policy. Those were the only points upon which they could agree, their personal relationship now a minefield of harsh words, blame, past misdeeds, and pain in which neither braved to venture further. To say that he still bore emotional scars and resentment from their falling out was an understatement.

And yet, in order for him to provide the Slayer with a plan of action, he needed to have all the facts at hand, and at the moment, he didn’t have much to go on. So far their investigation had only revealed that the friends Dawn had been staying with had seen her to the security checkpoint before saying their goodbyes. After that, she’d disappeared. His team was scouring CCTV footage at Dublin for any clues, but had so far come up empty.

He blew out a breath and steeled himself for the impending conversation, knowing that the wrath he would face from the other end of the line could quite possibly test every last ounce of patience he had left, which, after the day he’d had, wasn’t much to begin with.

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If she believed in astrology, Buffy would’ve said the stars and planets had aligned perfectly. She was finally footloose and fancy free - at least for the next week. Free from her jobs, free from responsibility, and free from her little sister, who, albeit wasn’t so little anymore and could take care of herself, but the girls still lived together and Dawn took up much of her time. Not that she begrudged Dawn for that. Her sister had grown into quite the independent young woman and would be heading off to NYU after completing her summer semester. Buffy knew she would miss her tremendously, but it had been a long time since she had had any time to herself, and lying out on the beach in the warmth of the sun on the Italian Riviera surrounded by attentive, handsome Italian men without a care in the world was definitely a plus. Of course, the fact that she had accepted a date for that evening with a gorgeous, international football star didn’t suck either. If all went well, maybe she’d have a companion for the rest of her stay.

It had been a long time since she’d seriously dated anyone. Not since Riley, as she couldn’t really count what she was doing with Spike as dating. She went out casually and never accepted any invitations for a third date, but perhaps she could make an exception on her vacation. The footballer was simply beautiful, poetry in motion. She’d caught his eye on the dance floor at a club in Genoa the evening before and he’d invited her over for champagne in his private booth where they’d spent time getting to know one another before hitting the dance floor. When the club closed, he’d asked for her number and she’d given it to him, not expecting the wake up call she’d received asking her out for dinner later.

Buffy looked out over the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean contemplating how perfect things were when her cell phone rang. She reached into her beach bag, pulled it out, and scowled when she saw the number on the screen. Giles. The only obvious explanation was that her sister’s phone must’ve run out of charge and Dawn was using Giles’ mobile to call her.

“Hey, brat, this better be good,” Buffy answered. “You’re lucky I picked up. You know ‘tall, British, and tweedy’ and I don’t talk.”

“What a lovely greeting. Please do go on. It’s lovely to hear you nattering away on the other end of the line,” Giles huffed in irritation as he pinched the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses. “Enjoying your holiday?”

“Up until now,” she griped, slightly embarrassed at the way she’d answered the phone. “What’s the what?”

“Charming,” he answered, his tone sarcastic. “You know I wouldn’t be phoning if it weren’t a matter of urgency.”

“This better be good, Giles, I’m on vacation.”

Giles bit back an acerbic reply and softened his tone to deliver the news. “Buffy, Dawn’s gone missing.”

“What?” Buffy yelled into the phone, pulling herself up into a sitting position and listening with impatience as Giles gave her the precise rundown of how he had lost her little sister.

“You let her go to Ireland? On her own?”

Giles pulled the phone from his ear. The shrillness in Buffy’s voice grated on his already frayed nerves. Dawn had become a very savvy, capable, young woman over the last two years and he had seen no reason not to let her go visit friends of hers and Buffy’s across the Irish Sea.

“She’s eighteen, Buffy, not eight! Yes, of course I let her go. She was visiting the Frasiers for the weekend.”

“So she could be in Ireland still or on a plane to... to god knows where!”

“I’ve got Andrew and his team scanning the airport security tapes and checking the passenger logs for all the jets that took off,” he informed her quietly. “We have a couple local Watchers working alongside the local police, assisting in the investigation. They have special access to all restricted areas.”

“No Slayers?”

“Not at the moment.”

“Where are you?” she asked, her voice dead calm now.

“In London, but I’ll be on my way to Dublin in a few hours.”

“No, you stay in London. Have Andrew book me the next flight out to Dublin.”

“Buffy, I’m not staying here.”

“Why not?” she challenged. “Don’t let your guilt get in the way of the million and one other things you have to do.”

“That’s enough!” Giles snapped. “This isn’t helping Dawn.”

“No, it’s not. Just... don’t get in my way,” she relented in exasperation.

Giles ignored her. They’d work better as a team and they both knew it. “Where are you coming from?”

“Genoa.”

“There’s no direct connection.”

“Damn it!”

“I’ll have Andrew phone you with the details.” He was quiet for a moment and then very calmly he said, “We’ll find her, Buffy.”

She ended the call abruptly in a fit of anger. How dare he try to console her? Tears pricked her eyes as she thought of her sister. Dawn was all the family she had left. A couple years ago her father had become involved in shady business dealings while in Spain and had paid with his life in a high speed car chase through the mountains of Andorra. Trying to outrun his “creditors”, Hank Summers skidded off the road and rolled his car into a ravine. He hadn’t been wearing a seat belt and had no identification on him at the time of the accident. Buffy had only found out about the accident after Andrew had hacked into the Interpol databases for her on another matter about six months ago and came across the information. A Spanish woman had been listed as his next of kin and no one had bothered to notify her of his death.

Picking up her stuff, she headed back to the hotel. She needed to pack her things and check out before the Council car arrived to pick her up and take her to the airport. Andrew was extremely efficient with his time tables, which was fine with her because the sooner she was on her way to Dublin, the better off she’d be.

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“Mr Giles, there’s no need to worry about Buffy. She is due to arrive at Gatwick in about forty minutes where she will be met outside of customs by Mr Ellison and escorted to the private jet per your request. Your bags have been loaded into the car, and your itinerary and passport are in your attaché case. The car is waiting below to take you back to the airport,” Andrew briefed earnestly.

The Watcher rolled his eyes. His Director of Technical Operations loved pomp and ceremony and he’d given up on the younger man ever addressing him casually. “Thank you, Andrew.”

Andrew nodded and handed Giles his phone. “Your mobile is fully charged and I’ve issued you a spare. Both are satellite phones, of course, so you don’t have to rely on cellular networks for service. Your new laptop is configured with all your files and software loaded in, and everything is encrypted. All you or Buffy need to do is place your thumb on the touchpad and it will scan and match your print to decrypt the data. Oh, and should you find yourself in trouble-”

“My briefcase doubles as a survival kit with rations and water purifying tablets to last fourteen days,” Giles interrupted in a mocking tone. Andrew watched way too many Bond films.

The younger man winced, and with a huff in his voice explained, “No. I was going to say I included topographical maps and programmed various local and emergency contact numbers into your phones. Oh, I also wanted to remind you that your number is untraceable to all but my team of course. And-”

Giles reeled back, knowing the sarcasm had hit home a little harder than he would’ve liked. Andrew was providing him with everything he needed to make this mission successful and he was taking his frustrations out on him.

“I’m sorry, Andrew, I am a little on edge.”

Andrew ignored him and continued on, “There are a dozen protein bars and thirty days of water purifying tablets in your briefcase.” The two men looked at each other in a standoff before a slow smile crept over Giles’ face. The younger man relaxed and smiled back. “Fourteen wouldn’t cut it, because, you know, you’ll have Buffy with you... and Dawn.”

Giles nodded, picked up his case, and patted Andrew on the back on his way out the door.

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Buffy raced down the terminal towards the gate where the Council’s private jet was waiting for her, chased after by the young Watcher-in-training who was sent to greet her as she came through customs. His inexperience and need to please were too much for her to deal with at that moment, and she studiously ignored him as he trailed after her like an excitable puppy, dragging her suitcase and trying to engage her in conversation.

Her insides were a tumbling mess. She was angry, on edge, and worried about her sister. On top of that, she had just been cooped up in a plane with a hoard of raucous, drunken Italian football fans headed for a Champions League qualifying match against some London team she couldn’t be bothered to care about. Even sitting in first class couldn’t drown out the obnoxious singing and loud arguments about various footballers coming from economy class. Now she was about to meet up with her Watcher, who, even on a good day, added yet another level of stress into her already complicated life. She resolved to hand him his permanent walking papers immediately following the safe rescue of her sister and either resign from her Council post or insist on working with someone else. She was done with Rupert Giles and so extremely tired of his decisions having a negative impact on her life.

Needing a moment to compose herself, Buffy stopped at one of the airport kiosks for a cup of coffee and a fashion magazine. Her young minder stood guard in a conspicuous manner, reminding her of her replacement Watcher Wesley Wyndam-Pryce so long ago, and she sighed heavily as she passed him and continued her journey towards her gate.

She neared her destination and spotted her Watcher pacing the floor before the door to the gangway that lead to their plane. Why he’d waited for her and not flown on ahead, she didn’t know, but it wasn’t a very efficient use of their time and she found herself getting even more irritated by the moment. Unfortunately, she was unable to stave off the unwanted emotions as tears formed in her eyes.

There was no escape and she could see the look of worry on Giles face as she approached him.

“Buffy-” he greeted, his voice thick with concern.

“Don’t!” she said, lifting her hand to stop him and, evading his eyes, she passed by him in a huff, heading towards the door.

Giles then looked back at the young Watcher who handed over Buffy’s luggage. “Thank you, Ellison,” he said softly.

The boy smiled sympathetically. “Good luck, sir.”

The senior Watcher nodded in rueful acknowledgement before turning to follow his Slayer to the plane.

After stowing their suitcases in one of the lockers, he sat down in the seat opposite her. Buffy flipped through her magazine, her coffee now resting on the table before her, half empty with the lid off, and ignored him.

“You know, you really should vet your flunkies better, Giles,” she snipped after a few moments, not bothering to look up from the periodical. “He’s got the stealth of a bull elephant and will probably get his Slayer killed their first time out.”

Giles crossed his legs and leaned back into his seat. “He’s just a first year, Buffy, do go easy on the lad. He was doing a favor for me.”

“Am I some sort of boondoggle for first years now?” she challenged, raising her eyes from her magazine.

“No,” he replied, calmly meeting her gaze. “I wanted some discretion and I can trust him. He is my cousin’s son.”

“I see,” she retorted testily, still unimpressed. “When are we taking off? The sooner we get off the ground, the faster we can wrap this up.”

“About fifteen minutes, miss,” a voice answered from behind. Buffy turned in her seat to find that a man in his mid fifties had come out of the cockpit. “I’m Alan Fielding, your captain. Estimated flight time is three hours,” he said, checking on his VIPs.

Buffy shifted in agitation. “It should only take an hour to get to Dublin.”

“Excuse me, captain, I haven’t had a moment to brief my colleague on the latest developments in our case.”

“Of course, sir,” he answered politely, leaving them to begin the preflight checks and get the plane ready for takeoff.

The Slayer folded one arm over the other and looked at Giles expectantly. He cleared his throat, uncrossed his legs, and sat forward.

“There were some developments while you were en route,” he explained.

“Go on.”

“We found that there were four chartered planes due to leave Dublin in the span of an hour and a half around the time your sister past through security. Seeing as no new paperwork was issued for Dawn on any of the commercial flights, we looked into those chartered flights. Our investigation yielded a bit of cardboard that was found on the ground near where one of the planes taxied from.”

“And?”

“And there was a message written on it that leads us to believe that Dawn is on that flight.”

“What did it say? Where is it headed?”

“The plane was heading to Reykjavik, Iceland. The message was ‘Be Seeing You.’”

There was a great pause while Buffy tried to get herself under control before giving up the attempt entirely. “Ethan?” she shouted, throwing her hands up in the air in disgust. “So now your Ethan is using my sister to exact his particularly nasty brand of revenge on you? What the hell did you do to him anyway? Why the hell can’t he just leave us alone?”

Giles looked affronted before the anger bubbled up from within. “It was your boyfriend and his band of merry misfits that carted him away.”

“He always comes back for you,” she argued and Giles couldn’t deny that fact. Several quiet moments passed between them before Buffy asked, “Iceland?” and he nodded, his attention focused out the window. “I’ll need to buy some appropriate clothes, all I have is what I brought with me on vacation for Italy in June.”

Continuing to look out the window, he informed her, “I, uh, had Andrew procure some cold weather gear for you. They are in one of the bags I brought with me, along with a pair of hiking boots that should fit.”

“Giles...” She shifted in her seat and sighed, conceding, “I know you’re worried about Dawn, too. Can we just... put things aside for now and focus on her? Truce?”

A sad smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Truce.”

Chapter Text

 

Uncertain Ground - Chapter 2

 

“I am surprised to have Council representatives here, Rupert,” the head of security at Keflavik International Airport stated while leading the Watcher and Slayer down to his office.

“Iceland usually is a haven amidst the insanity in the world, Benedikt,” Giles agreed. “For the moment the case is a police matter - at least on the surface - but we are heavily invested in the investigation as a rogue sorcerer may be involved. My man in London should have provided you with the details.”

“Yes, we were contacted by a Mr Andrew Wells. I am sorry to hear of the missing girl and hope you find her soon. A jet did arrive from Dublin according to the logs, however only two men came through customs.”

“Could you provide us with their information?” Buffy inquired as they entered the official’s office. It was tastefully decorated in a simplistic decor, sort of like IKEA, but with a more rustic feel.

“Of course, just a moment. Please, have a seat.”

Buffy would have preferred to stand and pace, needing to work off some of her nervous energy, but she followed Giles’ example and sat down, taking a moment to study their host. Benedikt Einarsson was a tall, well built man in his forties with sandy blonde hair, a square jaw, and steel grey eyes. He might have been intimidating but he had an easy way about him that had set her immediately at ease when he met them at their plane and addressed them on a first name basis. 

“Ah, here we are, the two men had American passports,” he reported after looking through the file on his desk, “Finn Gates and Henry Page.”

“Any physical details? CC footage we can wade through?”

“No, as you know customs checks for private charter are done quickly and at the plane. The two men had a car waiting for them near the hanger, so we have nothing more to go on,” Benedikt replied apologetically. “It was being refueled and serviced by the grounds crew before the pilot took off again and no one reported seeing anything out of the ordinary. Both the customs officials who processed their passports went off shift a few hours ago, but will be back in the morning. I will go and make the arrangements for you to speak with them.” The official then stood up, picked up a file, and left his office, leaving Buffy and Giles alone.

Giles could feel the disappointment and frustration radiating from his Slayer, and sat up a little straighter in his chair. Her patience was wearing thin and she wanted to stake something, anything, and as tired as he was from the day’s events, he knew she had to be running on adrenaline by now as well. It was close to midnight and the sun was only just starting to set, confusing his natural body rhythm.

“This is looking like one huge dead end, Giles,” Buffy hissed, getting up from her chair, finally free to pace. “Where ever Dawn and Ethan are, they have a half a day’s jump on us now and that lead is growing by the minute.” She folded her arms around her waist and looked out the window over the runway. “God, I am so tired I can’t think straight.”

“We’ll investigate the hanger area and then go to the hotel to get some sleep. In the morning we’ll interview the customs officials and if nothing turns up, we’ll fly back to London and continue searching for clues with the rest of the team. We followed the lead we had, Buffy,” he sighed and ran his left hand through his hair. “Ethan’s note may have been a ruse. I don’t know.”

“The men are American. Ethan is profoundly not American. Everything about him screams ‘sociopath from the land of tea and scones.’ Pip-pip and cheerio.”

Giles glared at her, desperately trying not to lose his patience. “The men presented American passports, however, it doesn’t mean they are American.” A motion outside the door caught his attention. “Ah, here is our escort now,” he said as Benedikt returned with a female security officer.

The investigation at the hanger turned up no new information and all the workers who’d been involved in preparing the plane for its next flight had gone off shift hours before. Tired and with no new lead to follow, Buffy and Giles checked into their rooms at the hotel and collapsed under the physical and emotional weight of the day.

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After a few hours of sleep, Giles and Buffy met up for breakfast in the dining room. Neither seemed particularly well rested and immediately reached for their coffee cups. 

“According to Andrew there has been no trace of Ethan in the public records since his incarceration in Nevada four years ago,” Giles informed his Slayer as the waiter served the pair their breakfast.

“Sounds like he’ll definitely want to even the score if he’s been locked up for that long. I guess I am the target this time. I beat the shit out of him and I let Riley and his guys lock him up,” Buffy said, taking a sip of coffee.

“I dare say he probably figures he has a bone to pick with both of us. Ethan holds grudges for a very long time.”

“Ya think?” Buffy’s tone was sharper than she intended, but she had no intention of apologizing for it. She felt so utterly useless sitting around waiting for things to happen while god knows what was happening to her sister.

“I was also informed that Willow had tried performing a locator spell on Dawn, but was unsuccessful. He’s probably cloaking her.”

“If he hurts her, Giles, I swear I will beat him to a pulp and leave him for dead in the wilderness.”

The Watcher winced, remembering her threat to kill him if he harmed Dawn during their fight with Glory. His Slayer was mother bear when it came to her sister. “Yes, well, save a few kicks and punches for me and I’ll drive the getaway car.”

Their eyes met for a moment before Buffy looked away and asked, “Did Andrew and his team follow up on the other chartered flights out of Dublin?”

“Yes, no sign of Ethan or Dawn. We are lucky to have Watchers on the ground in the cities the other planes flew to. They confirmed the passengers were who they claimed to be.”

“So that means they are either here, back in Ireland, or are on their way to somewhere else right now, having thrown us on a wild goose chase with the charter planes.”

“The latter doesn’t bear thinking about,” Giles shuddered as he finished up his coffee. “Andrew’s running a trace on the names of our two suspects, but without photos, we’re running blind. The car was hired by Finn Gates, but searches for both names at hotels around Iceland returned nothing.”

Buffy finished her coffee and set the mug down. “Could be we’re just dealing with a couple of nature freaks. Only one way to find out. Let’s go,” she urged, grabbing the uneaten pastries on their plates and wrapping them up in a napkin for later.

----------

“I’ve instructed all those who might be possibly involved in this case to cooperate with your investigation,” Benedikt stated as he handed the Watcher and Slayer a pair of security badges with their pictures on them. He led them to the office of the agents who had processed the customs paperwork for the two men. “Jana will come and get you in half an hour and take you to meet the technicians who worked on the plane. Should you have need of me, just ring me on my mobile.” He then knocked on the door before entering and introduced Buffy and Giles to the customs agents. Once everyone was settled, Benedikt left to address other matters.

Their investigation confirmed that two men named Finn Gates and Henry Page had arrived from Dublin and entered the country around 4:00pm the previous day. Finn Gates was tall, muscular, had blue eyes, light brown hair, and a scar running diagonally down his cheek. Henry Page was shorter with a thin build, his hair dark but with streaks of grey, had brown eyes and a goatee. Neither of them had anything to declare, and brought outdoor camping equipment with them.

“Explains why they didn’t check into a hotel last night,” Buffy muttered once they were on their way to the hanger.

Giles nodded. “Henry Page fits Ethan’s description, with the exception of the goatee.”

“I can see it.”

“Really?”

“It just sort of adds to his dastardly persona,” Buffy shrugged.

“Dastardly?”

“A girl can read.”

“Indeed.” They followed their guide down to the hanger. “If Henry Page is Ethan, the pseudonym makes sense.”

“Yeah?”

“Philip Henry and Deirdre Page,” Giles said. “They were part of our gang and were killed by Eyghon during your junior year in high school.”

“He’s a creepy bastard. This other guy, though, doesn’t make sense, does it? I mean Ethan is a sell sword, but actively working with someone? Isn’t he a bit too caught up in his own drama to have the patience to collaborate with someone else?”

“Normally, I’d agree, but if he is hiding Dawn magically, he’s using an awful lot of energy and this Gates chap is probably just muscle. Ethan’s not above hiring help when it’s needed.”

----------

Those members of the crew that saw Gates and Page, confirmed the descriptions given to the pair by the customs agents. Some noted that the older man seemed tired and worn while the younger man was impatient to leave. Most commented on Gates’ scar, saying it was a deep, clean slice about five centimeters in length, but not new. And, of course, no one had seen a young woman.

As Giles and Buffy were about to head back to Benedikt’s office to thank him for his help in the matter, a burly young man of about twenty, who clearly looked like he could have stepped off a Viking longship, came up to them.

“Excuse me. I have something for you,” the man said as he approached.

“Go on,” Giles encouraged.

The technician dug into his pocket and pulled out a necklace, placing it in Giles’ hand. “The dark haired man, he looked at me before turning away to follow his friend. He then placed his hand in his pocket, slowly pulled this out, and dropped it on the ground. I thought about returning it to him, but the look on his face before he did it... I don’t know. I just felt like I shouldn’t.”

Giles glanced at the necklace and quickly closed his hand around it. “Thank you.”

“It’s of great value, I thought.”

“It is,” Giles confirmed.

“When you find him, please return it. It was clear he didn’t want to part with it, and I didn’t understand why he’d leave it.”

“Thank you...” Giles realized he didn’t know the name of the other man.

“Gunnar, Gunnar Haraldsson.”

“Thank you, Gunnar, this definitely helps in our investigation.” Giles shoved the necklace into his pocket and extended his hand. The airplane technician shook it with a firm grip.

Buffy watched the exchange with curiosity. She’d only gotten a tiny glimpse of the necklace, the chain was delicate with a heavy round pendant of some sort, but clearly Giles recognized it, which meant that they were on the right track. Her mood improved dramatically on this new information.

Giles turned and followed their route back to the security offices.

“What is it?” Buffy asked him.

“A necklace,” he responded with finality, not wishing to discuss it further.

“Duh, Giles,” she snapped. “It’s Ethan’s isn’t it?” He increased his gate. “Giles?”

He kept walking.

“What’s going on?” She yelled. “Don’t get all moody on me, Watcher! Does it belong to Ethan?”

Giles walked on, refusing to answer. Buffy caught up to him and grabbed his shoulder, spinning him around to face her. The look on his face was one of grave concern, bordering on terror.

“You’re scaring me! Tell me, Giles, Dawn’s in real trouble isn’t she?”

“Yes.”

----------

Giles hadn’t elaborated and no matter how hard Buffy pushed, he refused to tell her any more. He clearly wasn’t going to talk about it at the airport. Once in the car, Giles pulled out his mobile phone and brought up his contact on speed dial.

“Andrew, we need to know everything we can on Finn Gates as soon as-” He stopped short, listening to what the other man had to say on the other line. “Yes, fifteen minutes. Thank you.” As he pulled into the parking space at the hotel, he looked at the Slayer and stated, “My room.”

The moment they entered Giles’ suite, he walked over to his briefcase, pulled out his laptop, and started booting it up.

“Care to share now, Giles?” Buffy asked in a rage as she flopped down on the sofa with her arms crossed.

He looked up from his computer, one eyebrow raised. Walking over to her, he reached into his pocket to retrieve the necklace and gave it to her. She inspected the pendant. It was silver, about the size of nickel, and by the looks of it, ancient. The side facing her displayed a head with two faces.

“Janus,” she stated, as though a prayer had been answered. It was the first definitive breakthrough in their case. Looking at her Watcher, she knew there was more to the story. “So it is Ethan.”

“Ethan’s involved, certainly, but I highly doubt that he orchestrated the kidnapping. You see, that pendant is an ancient Roman coin called a Denarius from 114 BC. His father made his fortune selling classical antiquities and Ethan stole that coin from his father’s collection when he was a young teen shortly after discovering he had magic. It’s been with him ever since. He swore his devotion to the god on that coin and it has since become his talisman.”

“I’m not convinced. What makes you think that Ethan isn’t the mastermind?”

“The young man in the hanger was right. Ethan would never willingly give this up nor would he ever leave it behind. In fact, he charmed it so that he would always find it in case it was lost.”

The Slayer’s mind raced and she dropped the necklace on the table as though it were something obscene. “Wait, so he knows where we are right now! Giles, this isn’t good. We’ll have to leave it here. We can’t track Dawn if he can trace our every move through the coin. Oh! Maybe you can reverse the spell and have it lead us to him? Like a locator spell?”

“Buffy, the spell has been broken for some reason. There is no magick surrounding it anymore,” he informed her, his voice eerily low. “I believe Ethan is also in grave danger. He’s not leading us on a merry adventure to exact revenge. He’s trying to leave clues.” 

She raised her eyes to meet his, dark green meeting light, understanding the gravity of the situation. “So, whoever Finn Gates is, he’s got a powerful chaos mage spooked. Not good.”

“No, say what you will about Ethan, that he’s a selfish bastard and only looks out for himself, but he’s no coward.”

“No, he’s really not,” she agreed. “Let’s just hope he’s got a heart somewhere underneath there and is looking out for Dawn too.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Uncertain Ground - Chapter 3

 

“So what did Andrew have to say?” Buffy asked after Giles returned to his computer to log in.

“He has a lead on this Finn Gates character but wouldn’t provide details. We have a video call in a few minutes,” he said after setting up the webcam and launching the application.

“Finally joined the twenty-first century?”

Giles sent a glare her way. “Occasionally one must yield to progress,” he retorted. “What the devil do you think I do at work?”

“I figured you had staff to help with this stuff.”

Giles rolled his eyes and continued to log into the secure video chat program. “I’m not entirely useless, you know. In fact, I am quite adept at technology. Just because I’ve taught you everything you needed to know years ago, doesn’t mean that I can’t learn new things.”

“Oh here we go.”

“No, let’s not.”

“You brought it up. Let’s clear the air now,” she challenged, holding his eyes, daring him to continue.

Giles flexed his jaw muscles in irritation, only to be saved by Andrew, who popped up on the screen. “Hey, guys, how’s Iceland? I’ve never been, but it looks like a really happening place! Days lasting forever, swanky night clubs, hip music scene-”

“What do you have for us, Andrew?” Buffy interrupted, shooting a particularly nasty look Giles’ way.

“Hi Buffy. Oh right. Umm, hang on while I patch in the rep from the Pentagon. He insisted on speaking to you directly. Go ahead Captain Miller.”

Buffy drew a startled breath as she recognized the officer on screen. “Hi, Graham. What’s going on? Who the hell is this Finn Gates guy?”

“It’s not good news, Buffy, it’s Riley, and he’s really messed up.”

The surprised Slayer shook her head. “What happened?”

“Let’s just say that Maggie Walsh’s little gift keeps on giving.”

“I’m not following, Captain Miller,” Giles stated, folding his arms across his chest.

“The drugs that she had pumped into him have long term hallucinogenic effects. He thinks he is turning into a demon,” Graham explained.

“Where’s Sam?”

“Sam?” Giles asked.

“Riley’s wife,” Buffy clarified.

“Dead. They were on a mission in Belize with their squad chasing down a pack of Warog demons about six months ago. That’s where the first hallucination kicked in. He took out the Warogs and most of his squad, including his wife before a few of his men were able to subdue him.”

“Jesus!” Buffy exclaimed. Giles just shook his head. Five years later, that monster of a woman was still wreaking havoc. “Okay, so fast forward to today, what does he have to do with my sister?”

“And Ethan Rayne,” the angry Watcher added.

“Yeah, well, after that incident, Riley was arrested and put under medical lockdown pending evaluation. He was lucid and absolutely devastated so we had him on suicide watch. A few days later he was flown to the facility in Nevada. He had a few more hallucinogenic episodes, but after several treatments the doctors felt they had them under control. He got more leeway and freedom and could visit with other patients and prisoners. That’s when Riley met up with Rayne. We’re not really sure what transpired over the next few months. The medical reports seem to indicate that he was no longer a threat, but I was skeptical. I mean, you know how he was. After his heart nearly exploded he just... couldn’t handle things. He turned out to be a lot more fragile than we had thought, but then he found Sam and things seemed okay again. This time, though... I wasn’t sure he could bounce back from the loss of his wife and his men so quickly, but what do I know? I’m only a friend, not a doctor, right? Well, turns out I was right.”  Graham spat bitterly.

“What happened?” Buffy questioned, dreading the answer.

Graham hesitated. “He took out the entire medical lab with a homemade bomb, killed the doctors who had been treating him, and left with Rayne.”

Giles stood very still as he took in the information. “How long ago was this?”

“About two weeks ago. From what we could piece together from his records, the hallucinations have him seeing himself in demon form and he believes, or at least he did in Belize, that he needs to rid the world of humanity.”

“Oh my god!” Buffy whispered.

Giles tried to put a hand on her shoulder, but she twisted out from beneath it and paced the room, biting her thumbnail. He let her go and placed his palms down onto the desk, leaning into the webcam.

“What about the rest of the men who were assigned to Professor Walsh? Are you all walking time bombs as well?”

“No, sir, we just got the vitamin cocktail. Riley and Adam were her favorites and were given other drugs, prepping them for her demon program,” the officer answered.

“There’s a relief,” he muttered, stepping away from the desk and running a hand through his hair.

Buffy returned to the conversation, her jaw set, her anger clearly visible on her face. “So why would Riley take Dawn?”

“Because she is the Key,” Graham stated matter-of-factly.

“W-what?” Her voice was incredulous. “He doesn’t know that. How do you know that?”

“Riley found out somehow,” he shrugged. “He kept a lot of contacts in Sunnydale after he left. He was always hungry for news on the Slayer.”

“He had no right to do that. It was over, he made his choice and he left,” she fumed. 

“You made it for him long before that,” Graham countered.

Buffy shrugged, she wasn’t going to get into a discussion about a failed romance from so many years ago. “So he knows my sister is the Key. What does he want with her?”

“Well, my guess is he wants to use her to open a portal, something that would unleash hell on earth.”

Rolling her eyes, Buffy turned to Giles, “What’s with my ex’s and the unleashing?”

Giles fought back a smile. “Why Iceland?” he asked the officer.

“It’s remote, volcanically and geologically active,” Graham suggested.

“No one would notice,” the annoyed Slayer huffed.

“I think they would eventually,” Giles muttered next to her, before turning his attention back to Graham. “Do you have an idea where they are headed?”

Andrew spoke up for the first time, “I have a theory.”

“Go on,” Giles encouraged, yielding the floor.

“The volcano Grimsvötn erupted last year. It’s also the most active volcano in Iceland. I’d say the area around it is going to be pretty deserted. And for anyone doing any magicks, well, you’ve got an amazing power source to draw from.” The group was quiet, causing Andrew to fidget and bite the inside of his cheek nervously. “Or, you know they could have caught a freighter to somewhere else.”

“No, no, that’s excellent thinking, Andrew,” Giles praised. “A very sound theory, actually. If Ethan’s cloaking Dawn, then he’s draining his reserves. I would venture a guess that Riley also has him cloaking their signatures so they can’t be traced magickally.”

“Can we test that with Ethan’s necklace, Giles?” Buffy asked, her mind racing.

“Certainly,” he replied before turning to readdress Graham and Andrew. “Depending on when Riley wants to open the portal and how long he plans to keep them all cloaked, Ethan will need to recharge his power if he is going to do any conjuring.”

Andrew looked at his diary. “Um, Mr Giles, the Summer Solstice is in five days.”

The Watcher raised is head, comprehension dawning in his eyes. “Rebirth. We have our target.”

----------

After confirming that they could not locate Ethan with the necklace, Giles and Buffy went shopping for supplies at an outdoor outfitters store for their trek over the great Vatnajökull ice cap.

“So the volcano sits beneath the glacier?” Buffy asked while they looked at the tents.

“Yes.”

“I bet that gets messy when it erupts.”

“It can, yes, sending tons of meltwater to the ocean. This tent should do.”

“That’s pretty big for one person,” she remarked, looking at the domed tent. Seeing the look on his face, she objected, “Oh no. We are so not sharing a tent. I am not sleeping with you.”

“For Christ’s sake, we’re not sharing a sleeping bag. It’s a tent. A room. Granted, it’s not ideal, but we should be practical.”

“No,” she reiterated with emphasis. “I’m not sharing a hotel suite with you now and I am not going to share a tent that has absolutely no privacy.”

“It’s for both practical and safety reasons, Buffy. Besides the fact that we will be sleeping at elevation and on ice where it will be considerably colder than at sea level and where we will need the shared body warmth, we need to conserve space in our backpacks for other things.”

“No, Giles. I am not getting all snuggly with you in there.”

They were at an impasse and he was growing impatient.

“Believe me, snuggly is not on the agenda. Besides, I like my women to be a little less self-absorbed and hostile.”

Self-absorbed? You’re a Grade A, self-absorbed ass. And good luck finding a woman who won’t be hostile after she finds out what a commitmentphobe you are,” she spat.

“Commitmentphobe?” Giles repeated incredulously as he threw the box with the tent in it into the cart with a little more force than necessary. “Whatever are you talking about? That’s not even a word.”

“Yeah, well, it is now,” Buffy retorted. “Screw you, I’m going to go look at the freeze dried food. Do you have any allergies?”

“Nothing you need to concern yourself with. Not that you ever do.”

“I just did concern myself or I wouldn’t have asked, you big... stupid... Watcher! But you know what? I won’t bother,” Buffy ground out. “Not anymore.” And with that she left him to find the rest of the items on his list.

God, she infuriated him. In all the years he’d trained her, never once had he even looked at her improperly. And that she couldn’t put aside their differences for more than a few hours at a time and work together to find Dawn drove him to distraction. Commitmentphobe? Some things never changed. She still abused the English language with aplomb. Oh, and he was far from being afraid of commitment. If he were anymore committed to her, they’d have to lock him up in a mental institution!

Buffy made her way over to the cooking section of the store, trying to shed the anger she felt towards her Watcher. Was he even her Watcher anymore? He probably didn’t think so, but she still thought of him that way, even though he hadn’t acted like it for years, not since before she died, really. Why couldn’t he compromise? She just wanted her own tent to give them some space because trying to maintain a détente with him while there was still so much bitterness between them was difficult. She was trying her hardest to work with him, but they were both still so angry and so hurt.

Looking at all the cooking equipment, Buffy’s mind shut down. She’d honestly never camped before. Not seriously anyway. Just once or twice with the Brownies when she was little. Giles seemed to know what they needed though. The harnesses, ropes and spikes... no, pitons he had called them... as well as the carabiners and the ice axes took up a lot of room in the cart. Now she looked at the stoves and the pots and pans and wondered how they would carry them, the climbing and hiking gear, and all their clothing in just two, admittedly large, backpacks they were looking to buy. He was right, one tent did make sense. She blew out a cleansing breath and went over to the shelving units with food. They’d be expending an enormous amount of calories on their journey across the glacier and she set about her task of choosing their meals and snacks.

Giles caught up with her about twenty minutes later, the cart practically overflowing with gear. Buffy’s hand basket was filled with protein bars, carbohydrate snacks, sports drink powders, all sorts of dehydrated meals, a bag of coffee grinds, and nestled on the top was a box of Yorkshire tea bags, which he knew was for him since she wasn’t particularly fond of tea.

“Looks like a good haul,” he remarked in a conciliatory tone as he motioned to the basket.

“I think we have everything we need. Look, back there, you were right. One tent is fine. I just felt we needed some... space,” she explained lamely.

Rubbing the back of his neck with his left hand, Giles replied, “As soon as we find your sister this will all be over, and you’ll go home to Paris and I’ll return to London and we’ll have all the space we need between us again. For now, let’s just focus on stopping Riley and rescuing Dawn and Ethan.”

Somehow that statement wasn’t reassuring, but if that was the way he wanted it, then there wasn’t much she could do about it. Besides, hadn’t she been the one considering ending their relationship completely just the previous day? She looked over at him as he inspected the stoves and the cookware. God, he stirred such conflicting feelings in her. It was so much easier to be angry with him.

“Come on, we need to get helmets, glacier glasses, and crampons,” he said, placing the items he just looked at into the cart. “Then I think we are done here.”

Buffy stared at him, an odd look on her face.

Comprehension hit and Giles blushed from his collar to his hairline. “Crampons, for walking on ice, they go over the soles of your boots and have metal spikes that bite into the ice for traction.”

Relieved, she responded, “Oh! I knew that. Lead on.”

----------

Buffy checked out of her hotel suite and moved her stuff into Giles’ while he packed their gear for them. Seeing all the equipment sprawled out across the living room, she asked, “Think we’ll need it all?”

“Hopefully not, but it pays to be prepared,” he answered, inspecting the 2 lengths of 60m rope he bought.

“What can I do?”

He tossed a box of ziplock bags to her. “Go ahead and pack your clothing in those.”

“Okay. You know, I think I was nine the last time I went camping. The best part was sitting around the campfire telling ghost stories and eating s’mores.”

Giles chuckled at the thought. “Did you buy marshmallows?”

She gave him a genuine smile. “No, but there was a s’mores dessert I picked up. Maybe we can toast the marshmallows that are in the pack.”

“I may know of a few ghost stories,” he grinned as he started to put things into his backpack.

“Thirty minutes to lift off, think you’ll be done packing all this stuff?”

Tilting his head, he looked up from his work and said reassuringly, “We’ll make our mark. You just focus on getting your things packed in those bags.”

They planned to leave the hotel at 6pm. It was a four hour drive to the campground at Skaftafell National Park, and with the sun setting around midnight there would be plenty of light to set up camp. They would then set out for the glacier on foot early the next morning. On the conference call, they’d persuaded Graham to let them be the ones to find Riley, Dawn, and Ethan, citing it was more of a Slayer operation than an Army one. With the element of magick involved, Graham had readily agreed, saying he had a team ready at the US Naval Air Station in Keflavik on standby, and would only send them out on either Buffy or Giles’ command once they had Riley subdued. Before the call ended, Andrew had added that he would look at the geological survey maps of area to find the more likely areas Riley would use as a base of operations. Until then, they were flying blind.

As far as plans went, Buffy felt comfortable. Giles had proven himself knowledgeable in all things outdoorsy, and regardless of their rocky personal relationship, she trusted him intrinsically as her Watcher. She just hoped they were on the right track. Iceland had one hundred and thirty active volcanic mountains and Riley could’ve taken her sister and the chaos mage to any one of them.

Chapter Text

 

Uncertain Ground - Chapter 4

Buffy woke to the smell of coffee wafting through the air. The campground had been rather crowded when they’d arrived the previous evening, so she hoped it was coming from her camp rather than someone else’s. As she turned over in her sleeping bag, she noticed she was alone in the tent and her spirits brightened, figuring Giles had gotten up early and started fixing breakfast already.

The trip the night before had been somewhat akin to crossing the threshold into another world. The clouds had rolled in, periodically covering the sun and bathing the light green fields and grey rocky outcrops in an otherworldly light as they traveled along the Ring Road towards Skaftafell National Park. Even the ocean to their right had looked like quicksilver as the escaping rays of sunlight danced off the waves. Giles had told her stories of the Hidden People, the mythical Icelandic elves and fairies that inhabit the island, to distract her from her worries and, looking out the window of the car, she had no trouble believing that there could be invisible beings out there coexisting with the rural population amidst the craggy landscape. Iceland certainly had its own ethereal charm.

The morning air was cold and she dressed quickly before exiting the tent and heading to use the bathroom facilities. Upon her return, Giles handed her a cup of coffee and a plate of scrambled eggs and sausage.

“Thanks.”

“How did you sleep?”

“It’s kinda tough to get used to this twenty-one hours of daylight thing. I had to scrunch down in the sleeping bag to get it dark enough, but after that I was fine. You?”

“Fine,” he disregarded. “And yes, the sunlight will mess with our internal clocks. We’ll have to watch the time, listen to our bodies, and not use the sun for clues so that we don’t overdo it.”

“Any word from Andrew yet on where the best hiding places might be?”

“Nothing yet. I broke out the map earlier while you were sleeping. It’s a little over 28 miles as the crow flies from here to the caldera.”

“Uphill,” the Slayer added. “On ice. Oh and not flying.”

“Yes, well, it will be a bit longer for us, but we have a few days time before the solstice and we’re both fit.”

“Some fitter than others,” she teased with a smug smile, earning a glare from her Watcher.

“Yes, do remind me how old and decrepit I am compared to a Slayer of twenty-four,” he groused.

“Chill, Giles, I’m ancient in Slayer years, remember?” Buffy reminded him. “On my third life, and I haven’t exactly been training for the Ice Capades either.” She took his empty mug from him after having just finished up her breakfast. “Go pack up the tent and I’ll do the dishes. We should head out soon.”

----------

They started their journey through the heath and up towards the glacier, their path taking them past the basalt hexagonal columns of the waterfall known as Svartifoss and through busloads of tourists coming to ogle one of the main attractions of the national park. The columns and pillars reminded Buffy of the pipes on the organs found in the great Gothic cathedrals throughout Europe and when she shared her observation with Giles, it opened up a whole new topic of conversation for them that helped while away the time as they followed the path Giles had plotted out on his map.

Several hours later, they stopped for lunch in a meadow heavily dotted with a kaleidoscope of colorful wild flowers. Between the pleasant conversation and the beautiful scenery, the Watcher and Slayer enjoyed each other’s company despite the animosity they’d faced over the past two years and, if they let their guard down, they could almost believe that they were on a picnic together instead of tracking down a delusional ex-demon hunter who had kidnapped a human-and-mystical-ball-of-energy hybrid who could apparently still open portals to hell dimensions and a self-absorbed chaos mage who’d been locked up in a military prison for four years.

“Is this the type of stuff you’d do on Watcher’s retreats before coming to California?” Buffy asked him as she stretched out in the high grass and watched him heat the water for their meals.

“Which? Mountain hiking? Camping? Sometimes,” he answered. “More often when I was at the academy. It’s always been more of a private passion, really, but I haven’t been in years.”

“You seem really at ease out here.”

“It’s refreshing to get back to nature,” he agreed.

“Looking around, it’s hard to believe that there are volcanoes out there waiting to blow sometime. Everything is so peaceful.”

Giles passed Buffy a spoon and her lunch in a pouch. “There is a ‘calm before the storm’ feel to it, sitting atop a geologically active area.”

“Probably just foreboding. I mean we’re up against a deadline with a guy we know has a history of medical issues thanks to a crazy Doctor Frankenstein wanna be,” she reflected. “Poor Riley. I figured he’d be retired and living on a farm in Iowa by now, raising pigs and growing corn with his wife, a little kid following him around... probably a little girl he’d call ‘princess’ and another baby on the way.”

Giles tilted his head after taking a bite of his chicken and dumplings, watching the emotions play over her face. Buffy had stopped eating and set her food down next to her, lost in thought.

After a few moments, she continued, “I wanted that for him, you know... after I got over my annoyance at him having found the perfect woman while I was wallowing in my despair, indulging in my death wish with Spike.”

“And what did you want for you?”

Buffy held his eyes a second and then looked away. “I-I don’t remember,” It was a lie and they both knew it, but Buffy clearly didn’t want to talk about it and Giles wasn’t one to push. “You know, we’re assuming Riley is down with the whole solstice timeline. He could just be crazy and do what he thinks he needs to do whenever he’s ready.”

Giles set his food pouch aside and tried to reassure her, “The more intelligent demons follow rituals and the earth cycles-”

“He is not a demon! He’s a soldier!” she snapped, standing up to face him, “methodical and calculating. If the situation changes, he will adapt. It’s what makes him dangerous. It’s what made Adam dangerous.”

“From what Captain Miller has-”

“Can you please just call him Graham?” she interrupted, clearly agitated from her trip down memory lane.

Trying again, the Watcher’s voice was low and calm, “From what Graham has said, Riley believes he is turning into a demon, and as such, he will follow demon customs. Trust me, Buffy. Riley isn’t stupid, he was a graduate student in psychology and he learned about the demons he hunted and captured. Professor Walsh drilled the information into his head in the early days, grooming him for her vile purpose. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re here days from the summer solstice, the symbolism of which is rebirth.”

“You really think he will wait?”

He stood and brushed the dirt and grass from his grey hiking trousers before walking over towards his Slayer. Shoving his hands in his pockets and hunching his shoulders in an effort to put her at ease, Giles presented his case. “Riley spent six months in a military hospital biding his time, convincing doctors he was on the path to recovery. Graham was right to have his doubts. My guess is that Riley used that time to regroup and research his situation, the hallucinations fueling the paranoia of a transformation. That harpy Walsh was his mentor and he had great respect for her until she tried to have you killed and he found out what her plans were. His delusions may have taken him back to a time before that, when he still respected her, idolized her even. With the loss of his wife and his squad, it’s only natural to turn inward, to the memories of when things were good and made sense. A time when things were simple, when all he had to do was follow her orders. She wanted him to be a leader and a demon, so now, after losing so much, he’s decided that’s what he’ll be.”

Buffy had calmed considerably while Giles expounded his theory. It was like being back in the Magic Box, sitting around the research table collaborating and working through the latest mystery to hit Sunnydale - only without the rest of the gang. “So Riley’s had time to plan his ‘rebirth’ and find a way to take his place leading a demon army for Walsh, and the only way he can do that is by using a sorcerer to invoke some ritual using the Key to open a portal to bring his army through.”

“And where rituals are concerned, timing is everything.”

“The solstice,” she agreed as she lifted her eyes to meet his. 

“Yes.”

“You could still be wrong, you know,” she said gravely.

“Do you think so?” Giles asked, challenging her.

“No,” Buffy replied, an encouraging smile spreading out across her lips. “I really don’t.”

He returned her smile with a small one of his own. “It’s the best theory we have at the moment, but I think it’s sound, and it means we still have four days to find Dawn.”

The duo finished up lunch and cleaned up after themselves, leaving their resting spot as pristine as when they had found it. They had several more hours of hiking ahead of them before they could stop for the evening, but their talk had eased the minds of both and made them long for the days when their relationship had been a partnership.

When the footing got a bit more uneven amidst the moraine, Buffy asked, “Why didn’t you ever take me out on hikes like this?”

He stared at her incredulously, but opted for a snarky comeback, “I worried for your ankles with your usual choice of footwear.”

“Ha ha. I get it. You could have forced the issue, you know, Watcher/Slayer bonding time.”

Giles stopped and looked off towards the distance. “Perhaps I should have,” he muttered to himself, regret in his voice. Perhaps if he had, there wouldn’t have been such a chasm between them now. Maybe the time together would have been enough to bridge the gap between them after her resurrection. He looked ahead to where she was, keeping a steady pace and stretching out the distance between them. He sighed. Maybe not. He recognized the metaphor just below the surface: they always managed to find common ground, a peace, but it never lasted long before the chasm would open up even wider the next time they fell out. It was best to be aware of the pattern and brace for the eventual split. Maybe the next one would sever the ties permanently. He steeled his resolve and resumed his progress, following her.

----------

They set up camp for the night in a sparse field next to a stream along the edge of the ice cap. After a full day of hiking up into the mountains and clearing the site to set up their tent, Giles was ready to be off his feet.

“That water is cold!” Buffy declared, returning from the stream after filling their canteens. “How many purifying tablets did Andrew give you?”

“A thirty days supply, but we won’t need them unless we are melting glacial ice. The water in the rivers and streams comes from underground and gets filtered through the basalt rock. It’s amongst the purest water on the planet.”

“We’re still using them. I’m not risking this mission for some sort of weird parasitic infection. Give,” she insisted, holding out her hand.

“As you wish,” Giles replied, walking over to his backpack and digging through an outer pocket for the tablets. Handing her a couple, he said, “Only the water we intend on drinking tomorrow though. The rest of the water can be boiled, killing anything harmful in the process.”

“Thanks, Giles.” When she was done, she assisted him in setting up the tent, driving the stakes into the rocky ground. “Are you hungry or do you just want to chill for a while?”

“I think I want to take off my boots and relax,” he responded, retrieving his sleeping pad so he could sit comfortably on the ground.

Buffy continued to putter around the camp, breaking out the stove to boil water and start preparing their dinner while Giles pulled off his boots and stretched out on his side. Within a few moments he had closed his eyes and rolled over onto his tummy, pillowing his head on his arms, fast asleep. Deciding to let him nap for a while, Buffy put off dinner and unrolled his sleeping bag to drape over him. It was getting cooler and they had worked up a sweat during their trek.

She studied him for a few minutes, not having considered him much over the past few days because of her annoyance and anger with him. He was leaner, his hair a shade lighter from the encroaching grey, and the lines on his face a little deeper, but there was still a boyish charm about him. She wondered if he slept more soundly these days than he did back in Sunnydale because at the moment she felt a volcano could erupt next to him and he’d just sleep through it. Her Watcher was exhausted.

His soft little snuffles were endearing and she couldn’t help but smile, though it was bittersweet. Their truce wouldn’t last long, their peaceful moments never did. It seemed like the other’s presence would lull them into a sense of security until he decided to rip the earth out from underneath them again. Buffy blew out a deep breath. That wasn’t entirely fair. It took two to people to screw up a relationship, but it was Giles who kept walking out the door.

She’d thought they’d resolved everything after Sunnydale. That they had finally mended the rift between them, spending most of their time together reconnecting, training, and talking. They’d both changed so much over the past couple years since her death and the constraints of their previous relationship as mentor and student no longer applied. They had become equals. There had been a part of her that told her to stay guarded, to not trust in their newfound closeness in those few weeks after closing the Hellmouth and she should have listened to it, but her heart would have none of it. She’d missed his presence in her life too much and their newfound intimacy had been addicting.

Wiping the tears that welled in her dark green eyes, Buffy stood up, needing to put some distance between her and her Watcher. She turned off the stove and decided to patrol the perimeter of their encampment. Not that she expected company of any kind, but an evening patrol was a habit she never could manage to break, the routine a comfort even in her quasi-retirement from active slaying.

There wasn’t a whole lot to see on her patrol, they were in a depression with the ice cap to their north and mountain peaks surrounding them on the other sides. She tried not to reflect any more on their personal situation but on the problem at hand concerning Riley and the plight of her sister. The problem was that her mind kept wandering back to Giles. At least they had a truce with no expectations, he’d made that clear earlier when he’d said they’d go their separate ways when it was all over. Maybe that was all she could expect now, but it only made her feel empty inside as the anger she’d felt earlier had been replaced with fonder feelings and memories of happier times.

Making her way back to camp, Buffy sat down on the ground next to Giles. He hadn’t moved, looking peaceful in his slumber, the two days growth of stubble highlighting his high cheekbones.

“Oh, Giles,” she whispered. “What are we going to do?” Reaching out she lightly ran her fingers along his bristly jaw line.

In half a heartbeat his hand caught her wrist. She raised her eyes, meeting his questioning ones, a blush rising over her cheeks and she momentarily looked away. “I-I thought I should wake you. It’s getting late and we should eat and get ready for bed. I mean-”

Giles released her hand and sat up, letting the sleeping bag fall. “You’re quite right. I’m sorry. I really didn’t sleep much last night and we’ve had a full day hiking.”

“I thought you said you’d slept well,” she said, standing up and turning the stove back on to reheat the water. Looking at him now, she realized that he hadn’t slept well in days.

“It wasn’t important,” he dismissed, getting up from his sleeping pad and putting the sleeping bag in the tent.

----------

Something wasn’t right, Giles could feel it as his mind crawled its way back to consciousness. There was a tingling sensation around him and he turned over to check on Buffy. Her sleeping bag was empty and he frowned as he quickly grabbed for his grey trousers and his boots. He dressed in record time and unzipped the tent. Looking about he saw Buffy standing near the stream, her head tilted upwards, scanning the heavens. He raised his eyes skyward and grimaced as he watched the green and purple lights dance across the darkened sky, too dark for that time of year.

“It’s amazing,” she announced when she heard him join her, her voice in awe. “I’ve never seen the Northern Lights before.”

Giles frowned, his voice full of concern, “We shouldn’t be able to see them. It’s the wrong time of year.”

Buffy looked at her Watcher as he spun around watching the light display. “What are you thinking?”

“Ethan’s conjuring,” he answered as he quickly turned to head back to the tent.

“How do you know?” she asked after him.

“This isn’t natural,” he called back, digging through his backpack. He returned with his map, a bag of herbs, and Ethan’s necklace. “If I am right, and it is Ethan, then perhaps he’s lowered the cloaking spell.”

Her eyes went wide with the implications. “What can I do to help?”

Giles knelt on the ground and unfolded the map. “I need a bowl,” he replied and she ran back to the tent to retrieve it. When she returned, she handed him the bowl and a picture of her sister from her wallet.

“I thought this might help,” she suggested as she handed him the photo.

He nodded with a knowing smile. “Ready?”

“When you are.”

Giles lit the herbs in the bowl, clearly chanting in Greek and invoking the god Hermes for the spell as he held the necklace and the photo in his left hand. There was a moment of disappointment when nothing happened, but then a point of light appeared on the map south southeast of the marker indicating the volcano.

Giles pulled a pen out of the sleeve pocket of his coat and marked the spot before the spell wore off. He raised his eyes to his partner. “There must be a cave system there. We’ll need to phone Andrew to confirm.”

Buffy spontaneously leaned over and gave him a hug, happy to be one step closer to finding her sister. “I’ll clean up, you make the call.”

Chapter Text

Uncertain Ground - Chapter 5

 

For the second morning in a row Buffy woke up alone in the tent. As she sat up, she noticed that all of Giles’ things had been removed. A momentary panic swept over her until she heard him talking in a low voice outside their tent and she dressed quickly to join him in the morning chill. He gave her a half smile and indicated to a thermos that was sitting next to the stove as he held his phone to his ear, kneeling before his map.

“Andrew?” she mouthed silently and he nodded.

She poured herself a cup of coffee and foraged through Giles’ backpack for a protein bar and a pouch of scrambled eggs with sausage and cheese. The eggs didn’t appeal, but she knew she needed to increase her caloric intake if they were to continue their journey onto the glacier. She decided to munch on the bar first and settled down to watching her Watcher as he worked with his Director of Operations.

Giles leaned over the map and drew some lines to the area he had marked the previous night. “Now the cave system begins about a half mile west from Ethan’s location, yes?” he waited for confirmation. “Right, and the opening is an ice cave and leads into the mountain itself. We’ll need to take the left tunnel about half way in. Affirmative. Thank you, Andrew. We’ll check in when we make camp tonight.” He rung off and made his apologies to Buffy.

“I take it Andrew came through for us?” she asked, pouring some hot water into the food pouch.

He made his way over and sat down next to her to show her the map. “Yes, and we’ve come up with a more direct route for us to take that saves us some time.”

“Awesome!” she exclaimed with a smile. “You were right about him. I didn’t think he had any redeeming qualities.”

“The boy has definitely lived up to his potential, one part computer genius, the other mad scientist. Give him a room full of computers and gadgets and he’s in his element. His main problem is that he is too eager to please.”

“He still drives you crazy,” she noted with a knowing smile.

“God yes,” Giles laughed, reaching for the thermos and pouring himself another cup of coffee.

“I bought tea for you, you know.”

“But the coffee is ready now,” he countered with a wink, taking a sip.

Buffy gave him a wide smile. “We’ll have a cuppa when we stop for a break later, then.”

He smiled back, finding warmth in her mossy green eyes. Both felt better knowing where Riley’s base of operations was located and at having a more direct route to get there than the one she and Giles had planned out in the middle of the night. Their spirits had been bolstered and they found it easy to fall into a long lost familiarity.

Sitting in companionable silence, Giles finished up his coffee before placing his hand on her shoulder and getting up, leaving her to finish up breakfast. It was time to pack up and strike camp.

----------

Progress on the glacier was slow, hampered by Buffy’s unfamiliarity with the gear and the fierce wind that blew unencumbered over the glacial sheet as they climbed higher and higher. She had never walked with crampons before and found that the spikes in front affected her gate. Giles had insisted on wearing helmets from the outset and when they encountered a narrow but deep crevasse that needed crossing, he insisted on them putting on their harnesses and roping themselves together for safety. Buffy had protested, citing her Slayer skills, but Giles had given her one of his patented glares over his glacier glasses and she’d relented.

Crossing the crevasse had been a relatively simple task and now she was trailing after him like a dog on a leash as he carried the excess rope over his right shoulder and his ice axe in his left hand, exuding confidence as though he had been Edmund Hillary’s disciple. He refused to uncouple himself from her and her mood had soured over the last several hours.

Giles stopped and looked at the sun, the sky was still unfamiliar to him and he checked his watch. They could still continue for an hour or so, but he was running low on energy and it didn’t pay to push things on the ice. Buffy was several yards away and appeared to be just as tired as he was and he decided to call it a day.

Dropping his pack to the ground, he called to her over the noise of the wind, “I think we’ll stop here for the night.”

“Don’t you think we should keep going for a little while longer?” she asked loudly, approaching him with a scowl.

He took off his helmet. “We’ve made good progress today. We should stop now and get settled.”

“I can still go, Giles,” the Slayer insisted with a hiss.

“I am sure you can, Buffy,” he conceded. “And I probably could as well, but the landscape is starting to look the same and I am tired. It’s best if we get some rest and start fresh in the morning. It would do us no good if we deviate from our path because of mental errors.”

“Always the voice of reason,” Buffy grumbled to herself. She dropped her pack and sank down onto the ice. It felt good to sit and she relented, taking off her helmet.

After they set up camp, they prepared their dinner of beef stew for two. “You know, I don’t meant to complain, and for camp food this is good, but I could tear into a porterhouse steak with a loaded baked potato right now,” Buffy mused after swallowing a bite of stew, and Giles agreed wholeheartedly.

To boost their morale, he pulled out the s’mores dessert and they savored the chocolate, marshmallow and graham cracker-y goodness. Toasting the marshmallows over the camp stove didn’t quite provide the same taste or atmosphere that a proper fire provided, but there was no wood to be had up on the glacier.

“I’m afraid any ghost stories I have to tell wouldn’t have the same effect in the daylight,” Giles lamented, checking the doneness of his marshmallow and popping it in his mouth when he was satisfied with it.

“That’s okay,” she yawned. “I seem to be hitting a wall. What time is it?”

“Half nine,” he replied, looking at his watch.

She picked up their trash and added, “Mmm, I’m surprised to have stayed up this long.”

“No, no,” he said gently as he took the refuse from her, his fingers lightly touching hers. “I’ll take care of it. You’re tired. Go get ready for bed and I’ll join you shortly.” She giggled at the domestic implications of his words and he turned a particularly lovely shade of scarlet.

“Shall I go slip into something more comfortable?” she teased.

Flustered, he stuttered, “I, er, t-there was no good way-”

“Chill, Giles, I know what you meant.”

She refused to leave him with all the clean up and made sure their garbage was secured and stored away before heading into the tent, leaving her poor embarrassed Watcher to clean and stow the cooking gear.

----------

“My sister will kill you for this,” Dawn ground out between clenched teeth.

Riley answered his captive, “Nah, you see, Dawnie, she has no idea where you are and once she finds out, well, she’ll have to get through my army and there’s not a chance in hell she’s going to succeed. Not after you open my Hellmouth for me.”

“What makes you so sure I can?” Dawn asked, stalling for time.

“Oh, you will, you’re the Key, Dawn, or did you forget? So busy at playing a real girl...”

Buffy ran through the tunnel, the chanting echoing in her ears, her heart pounding wildly. She was going to be too late and she knew it, but she couldn’t just give up. She’d never give up on her sister. She didn’t the first time someone wanted to use her to open a hell dimension and she wasn’t going to now. Giles followed behind, his ice axe at the ready, prepared to do battle with whatever came at them. It was hot in the tunnels and the smell of sulfur was overwhelming but they kept their grueling pace to prevent Riley from opening the portal.

As they entered the chamber, they stopped running and took up position to scout out the situation. She saw Riley, dressed in black ops camouflage pants and a black tank top, his face twisted in orgiastic anticipation, chanting a spell and standing before a gaping hole in the ground. Ethan was bound on the floor of the chamber, writhing in pain as his magick flowed out of him in a stream of burgundy glowing light and into Riley. The former commando held Dawn’s shoulders, her back facing him as he pushed her struggling form towards the hole.

Riley’s chanting grew louder and more intense. Buffy looked at Giles and motioned that she was going to tackle Riley from the side. She took off running, but the chanting reached its peak, causing a fire to rise up from the hole in the ground. Riley pushed Dawn in, her scream deafening all around until it was heard no more.

Buffy fell to the ground in despair, crying out for her sister, but Riley was too consumed by the ritual to notice. A green light flashed from the depths of the pit and extinguished as quickly as it came. Ethan’s body lay prone on the ground, his lifeless brown eyes  accusatory in their glare.

“It’s done!” Riley crowed, his arms outstretched in triumph. “I am demon reborn and my army rises.”

----------

Giles woke to his Slayer thrashing and screaming beside him. He quickly sat up and pulled her into his arms, trying to calm her as she came to consciousness. She wrapped her arms around his torso in desperation, burying her face into his chest as tears flowed down her cheeks, her tormented sobs pulling at his heartstrings as he ran a hand through her hair, uttering words of nonsense to console her.

“Buffy, tell me what’s wrong, what did you see?” he entreated when she got her sobbing under control.

“We were too late,” she managed through her tears. “He, he threw her down a hole. He’s going to open a new Hellmouth.”

Giles held her as tightly to him as she held him to her, rocking her in his arms.

“Ethan... He ripped the magick out of Ethan to perform the ritual. Oh god! I can’t lose her, Giles, I can’t lose Dawn. She’s all I have left.”

“I know, Buffy, I know,” he soothed. “We won’t let it happen. We know where Riley is. We know what he’s up to, and we know how he’s going to do it. This gives us the advantage. We’ll save her.”

“God, the dream was so real,” she whimpered, easing her grip on him and pulling herself from his arms to look at him.

He cupped her cheek. “It won’t be, we won’t let it be real.”

Buffy leaned back into him, her breathing still ragged. “Hold me a little longer?”

“I’ll not let go,” he murmured into her hair. Closing his eyes, he took a moment to enjoy the privilege of having her in his arms, feeling at peace for the first time in a long time.

Resting her head against his chest, Buffy listened to his steady heartbeat and felt his solid strength surround her, comfort her as she relaxed into him. She didn’t want to give up the safety of his embrace, but she knew that the moment couldn’t last. This was not how they were. In the past they had drawn strength from each other during times of crisis, but that was ancient history and time had moved on. 

Sniffling and wiping the tears from her face, Buffy pulled away from him. “Thanks, I’m good now.”

“Are you sure?” he asked quietly, ducking his head to meet her eyes.

She held his gaze and drew in a deep breath. “Yeah. I have to remember these dreams are informative and can be changed. They’re just so jarring, though.”

“It’s been a while since you’ve had one,” he guessed, his voice soft and comforting.

“Yeah,” she voiced, moving back over onto her pad and situating herself in her sleeping bag.

Giles laid back down and nestled himself into his bag. Even with the body heat, he was cold. She’d soaked his shirt with her tears and he was starting to chill.

“Giles?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks for getting me through that.”

“If you should need me, I’m right here. Just reach out.”

“Night, Giles.”

“Sleep well, Buffy.”

----------

Giles woke early as he had done every morning on their journey and, not wanting to risk waking his Slayer, he decided to keep watch over her instead of heading out into the elements to start the day. He didn’t expect her to have another nightmare, but he didn’t want to leave her to wake on her own after such a traumatic vision. She had been so frightened and vulnerable after waking from the prophetic dream in the middle of the night that he wanted her to get as much rest as possible.

Lacing his fingers behind his head, Giles stared at the ceiling of the tent and contemplated the details of the dream she shared with him. He felt fairly confident that they could stop Riley in time. The former Initiative agent had no idea they were coming or that they knew what he was up to. Overconfidence and underestimating a Slayer’s abilities were flaws he shared with his mentor Maggie Walsh.

In a way Giles dreaded their journey’s end. He’d reconnected with Buffy and for now things were stable between them, but he didn’t expect it to last and that knowledge caused a tightness in his throat and an ache in his chest that he didn’t want to acknowledge.

Buffy stretched and rolled over into Giles’ side, her eyes still closed as she nuzzled into him, taking in his masculine scent. “Mmm, it’s been a long time since I woke up next to someone. Nice.”

“Until you remember who it is you are waking up next to,” Giles commented dryly, remembering her reaction at finding out they would be sharing a tent.

“Well, you’re definitely not Steffano,” she replied groggily. “Wrong accent.”

He chuckled. “Boyfriend?”

“No boyfriend. The footballer I had a date with the day you called.”

“Ah, so you do remember with whom you are sharing a tent.”

“Mmhmm.”

“I am sorry to pull you away from your holiday. Perhaps you’d be waking up next to Steffano instead,” he apologized, his voice neutral.

She didn’t want reality to close in just yet and casually draped an arm around his middle. “No, too public. Too many paparazzi. Can’t risk letting my secret identity get out, it would irritate my Watcher,” she teased, refusing to open her eyes. “Besides, I’d only just met him and I’m not a jump into bed on the first date kind of girl. Although I guess I probably would’ve dumped him by now. Still. The fantasy was fun. What about you? Any morning cuddles for you recently?”

“Besides you burrowing into my ribcage? Not recently, no.”

“Shouldn’t you be telling me how inappropriate this is?” Buffy asked. She lifted her head and finally opened her eyes to the reality of morning, finding her Watcher’s pale green ones staring at her. She’d know those eyes anywhere, but it seemed like a million years since she’d actually seen them. 

He held her gaze for a moment and grinned cheekily. “Not at the moment, no. Right now I’ve come out ahead to some young buck footballer named Steffano.”

She smiled and it turned into a laugh. Three days ago she’d cursed Giles’ name, regretting having to break things off with the Italian soccer stud, but at that moment there was no place she’d rather be and she laid back down to look up at the ceiling, resisting the urge to rest her head on his shoulder and snuggle into him. The logical part of her screamed at her to get up and leave, to protect herself before their next falling out, but the closeness was something her entire being craved, and she ignored that tiny part of her brain calling for self preservation.

Giles felt a wave of disappointment when she laid back down onto her pad, the moment of intimacy fading with the loss of touch. He sat up, unzipped his sleeping bag, and searched his backpack for clean clothes.

“Well, as pleasant as this has been, we’re running past schedule and we still need to eat, strike camp, and get kitted up for the day,” Giles directed. He’d slept in his long underwear and quickly pulled on a pair of rugged, lined climbing pants.

Not wanting to face the morning chill without getting properly dressed first, he took off his shirt, his back facing Buffy, and applied deodorant. He then quickly dressed himself in layers, starting with a long sleeve t-shirt, followed by a Henley, and then a sweater. It was a highly intimate moment that he clearly had thought nothing of, and he put on his boots without tying the laces before pushing himself to his knees to leave the tent.

He was only gone a few seconds before he climbed back in the tent and rummaged through his pack again, pulling out a clean pair of long johns bottoms when he found them.

“I, um, I need to answer the call of nature, if you would kindly wait until I’ve done so and changed before coming out, I’d appreciate it. In return I promise to start the coffee.”

“Uh, yeah, totally,” Buffy stuttered awkwardly as she sat up. “Take your time. I’ll be a few, because, you know, I gotta get dressed too.”

She watched him crawl out of the tent and bit her lip as the fabric stretched across his rear end, accentuating what a great butt he had. After he zipped the tent flap back up, she laid back down. He had great shoulder, arm, and back muscles too. Groaning inwardly with irritation, Buffy knew she was in trouble. They old adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” rang so true and she knew that she preferred the reality of Giles over the fantasy of someone like Steffano, but with the track record she had with her Watcher, it was only a matter of time before things would degenerate and she wondered why things were so difficult between them.

Escaping into the cold morning air, Giles headed off towards a couple of large boulders for some privacy. He shivered in the wind and pulled his collar up higher over his neck as he thought back on Buffy’s behavior in the tent. He was confused by it. Perhaps she was just affectionate in the mornings, it certainly beat waking up to someone who needed their caffeine fix to start the day. But was she flirting with him as well? She’d rested her arm across his waist, but only lightly. She didn’t hug him or curl her fingers around him, or even caress him, but the intimacy they had shared in that safe space between dream and reality seemed perfectly natural to the both of them.

The bemused Watcher hadn’t wanted the moment to end, but he knew it was for the best if he bid a hasty retreat. Between enjoying holding her in his arms the night before and having her happily wake up next to him, he risked letting his defenses down. They’d declared a tentative truce and there was no sign of a peace treaty on the horizon. Once Dawn was returned safely to her sister’s arms, the two young women would beat a hasty retreat back to Paris and the skirmishes between him and his Slayer would inevitably begin anew. It had become their way and he had no idea how to fix it.

Chapter Text

Uncertain Ground - Chapter 6

 

Buffy and Giles had mostly played ‘follow the leader’ the two previous days as they had hiked up into the mountains and onto the Vatnajökull glacier, but as they started out on the last leg of their journey towards Riley’s lair, the two walked side by side in amiable companionship. The cloudless blue sky served to bolster their mood, however the sun reflected intensely off the snow and ice, making it difficult to see at times even with the glacier glasses. For safety, they wore their harnesses and helmets and had roped themselves together.

Being tethered to Giles the day before had grated on Buffy’s last nerve. She’d thought he only considered her as a novice on the ice and snow, and though she was, she could rely on her Slayer gifts to take care of herself. What she had learned since was that Giles still cared for her and that made being tethered to him tolerable. She’d felt it in his arms when he’d consoled her after her dream, also when he’d stayed in the tent and continued to watch over of her until she awoke, and again when he hadn’t pushed her away when she’d snuggled into him. Their relationship was volatile, she knew, but the affection was still there, and in her case, she grimaced, the stirrings of something more.

“So what did you and Dawn do last week?” Buffy asked conversationally.

“We toured the southern part of the country stopping at all the lesser known Celtic and Roman sites we could find. She catalogued our trip with drawings of various artifacts and architectural elements that interested her. She’s quite talented.”

“Yeah. She spends most of her free time drawing various objects at the medieval museum. It’s her favorite place in Paris. You should have seen her in Rome, though. I’ve never seen such joy on her face. She dragged me to the Colosseum, the Forum, Pallantine Hill, the Pantheon, and we spent an entire day at the Vatican. It was nice though, she got to do her thing and I got to be all glamorous and touristy. Very Audrey Hepburn.”

A little smile graced Giles lips, he had no difficulty imagining Buffy as a more modern Audrey Hepburn character, although maybe more Regina Lampert from Charade than Princess Ann from Roman Holiday. Her sense of fashion always harkened back to a more glamorous style and he figured it had to do with her love for old movies.

“The architectural drawings she made when we were there are incredible,” Buffy continued, pulling Giles from his musings as he imagined his Slayer wearing big sunglasses, a scarf, and a classy, sleek, black mini dress.

“Uh, yes, they are,” he agreed, clearing his throat. “She’s shown them to me. I think it’s fitting she’s going to study both art history and archaeology. I can get her an internship at the British Museum over the summer holidays if she likes. I still have influence there.”

“I am sure she’d jump at the chance.” They walked on in silence for a few minutes before Buffy gave voice to her thoughts. “You know, it’s funny, Dawn was created from my blood, but she’s so much like you: a brainiac, interested in history and archaeology. Makes you wonder about the whole nature versus nurture argument.” she mused.

“I don’t know, I think Dawn is very much like you. She’s strong and independent, knows her own mind, is capable and caring, and willing to sacrifice for others. Obviously she’s very intelligent, as are you. Your interests just weren’t necessarily academic, although you showed an interest in psychology and counseling, which is what makes you the great leader you’ve become,” he countered. “B-but she does... remind me of you.”

Giles ducked his head and walked a little faster, not sure why he’d said all he had. It was all true, of course, and when he was with Dawn, he missed Buffy even more, but the hurt and the anger had trumped the ache of their separation, fueling the divide between them.

Buffy smiled inwardly. He’d given her a compliment. Other than the occasional rush to her defense or supporting her position when they worked with the Council elite, he never said anything complimentary to or about her and she positively radiated with the knowledge that she still had his approval. 

As they approached another crevasse, having encountered several of them throughout the day, Giles surveyed the feature. “About the same as the others. I’ll hold the line tight, are you ready to jump?”

Walking over to inspect the size of the crevasse, Buffy looked down and across. “I’ve got this. Should be a piece of cake for you too.” She took a few steps back and said, “On three.” Buffy sailed across the crevasse and made it to the other side, sliding down the snowy embankment for a few feet before getting up and motioning to Giles that she was well.

“Are you ready for me?” he called across the divide.

“I am now,” she confirmed, her voice echoing off the various peaks surrounding them. “The line’s tight.”

Giles gave the count and ran, leaping the eight foot chasm and sliding along the snow, much as his Slayer had. Turning over as he slid, he jammed his ice axe into the snow to stop himself from sliding further, and pushed himself up into a standing position before walking over to her.

“That’s so much fun,” she grinned, sitting down in the snow for a much needed break and pulling off her glasses to wipe the snow and water droplets from them.

Giles smiled back, the adrenaline flowing through his veins. “Indeed.” 

“I think you may have found yourself a climbing and hiking partner.”

“Oh?” He looked surprised and a bit shaken by her statement as he coiled the rope and hoisted it over his head to carry across his body.

Her cheeks were flush and rosy from the cold, and her green eyes sparkled like emeralds in the reflected light. “Sure, why not?” she challenged as she stood back up and put her glasses back on. “Lead on, MacDuff.”

Momentarily speechless, Giles corrected her, “It’s ‘lay on MacDuff’.’”

“Huh?”

“The line from MacBeth, it’s ‘lay on MacDuff’,” he repeated. “Everyone misquotes it.”

Buffy suppressed a giggle, and as she walked past him to restart their progress, she rolled her eyes for effect. “Whatever, MacDuff, we still have a ways to the go to the entrance of the ice cave.”

----------

Their journey became more challenging as they continued up higher in elevation, in some cases climbing the sides of snow and ice covered mountain peaks. After one particularly arduous climb was cleared, Giles took off his pack and fell over onto his back, breathing heavily.

“And here... is where I... run out of... steam,” he panted, staring up into the clear blue sky.

Buffy stood with her hands on her knees, her breathing labored as well, “We’ll take a break. It’s time to get something to eat anyway. We’re both running out of gas.”

After taking off her backpack she took a moment to sip the sports drink from her canteen before handing it to her Watcher. “Get some electrolytes back into you, and I’ll pull out a couple of the protein bars and some trail mix.”

Giles sat back up and accepted the canteen from her, drinking small sips in between his shallow breaths. Sitting down next to him, Buffy handed him a bar and a packet of trail mix before taking off her helmet.

“Thank you,” he said, his breathing slowly returning to normal. “I have to remember I’m not twenty-five anymore and haven’t been for a long time.”

She smiled at him, “I’m almost there and I feel like I’ve been hit by a steamroller. Don’t knock yourself. You’ve been amazing. I couldn’t do this without you.”

Taking another swig of the sports drink to swallow the emotional lump in his throat, Giles looked at the ground between his knees before glancing sideways to give her a sad smile. There was a time they’d tell each other just that. Years ago. And a time when he told her that she could and she had to. It had broken his heart to do so, and when he’d returned, he’d been right. She’d managed well enough and gotten her life back on track, but in the end, it had taken all of them to defeat Willow. He’d also learned a valuable lesson that day: he and his Slayer were stronger together. Always stronger together.

“You know, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, Giles,” she said, taking a bite out a peanut butter and chocolate protein bar. “We keep telling the big wigs that the Slayers need Watchers, not a platoon of Slayers to one Watcher. We need to get back to a one Slayer one Watcher ratio.”

“Yes, we’ve agreed to that,” he answered, taking off his helmet and wondering where her train of thought was headed. “But we don’t have nearly as many Watchers as Slayers and, a-as you so wonderfully pointed out the other day with my cousin’s son, those that we do have aren’t ready. In about seven years time we’ll be at strength to provide something like that, perhaps a little earlier should recruiting and training go well.”

“I know,” she sighed, reaching over and taking his protein bar from him to remove the wrapper. Handing it back, she said, “You need to eat.”

Giles wasn’t really hungry, but Buffy was right, they needed to replenish their energy levels and he made a face after reluctantly biting into the protein bar. He didn’t really care for peanut butter. It was an American staple that he just couldn’t quite get used to, but Andrew and Buffy were both fans and that was the only flavor either of them had packed.

“We keep running into recruiting quotas arbitrarily assigned to us by the Council brass. I mean, they don’t fundamentally understand how important it is that a Slayer and a Watcher bond. We can get there in much less time if they open things up a bit,” she continued.

“So how do you propose we do that? The Council has unlimited funds at its discretion, but where we are lacking is people power. We don’t have the resources to train both the Slayers and the Watchers. I understand their argument.”

“I do too,” she said, blowing out a breath. “But there has to be a better way. We can hire some of the retired Watchers, maybe not full time, and maybe just as consultants to teach the Slayer history and demony stuff. And for the other academic stuff, we can hire college professors part time. The physical training can be outsourced as well. I mean there is no reason to waste a fully qualified Watcher, who could be out there with his or her Slayer, on training recruits.”

“It’s a good idea, but I am not sure it will persuade them to modify the plan.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s because they don’t see how important it is. And I think we’re partly to blame for that.”

“Oh? How do you figure?”

“Well, you’re in London, I’m in Paris. We haven’t really gotten along and they know that,” Buffy explained, facing forward and refusing to look at him. 

“Not getting along is quite an understatement, Buffy.”

“I know,” she managed around the rising emotional tide welling within her.

“Look, I don’t wish to rehash our history, nor do we have time for this. We have to stop Riley and save Dawn and Ethan,” he interrupted as he stood up, pocketing his half eaten protein bar to pick up his backpack. “We should be going, we’ve tarried long enough and I’ve recovered.”

Buffy didn’t trust her voice to not crack under the disappointment she felt. “You’re shutting me down?” she asked softly. Giles put his helmet back on. A fire rose through her as he ignored her and she lashed out. “Fine, go ahead and figuratively walk out the door again. It’s what you do best, you know, leaving me!”

Pulling off his helmet, Giles threw it into the snow at his feet, unable to control the hurt and the anger rising through him, and approached her. “Get your gear,” he ground out. “We’re not discussing this here.”

“Why not? We have time, we haven’t even stopped for lunch yet.” Buffy challenged, standing up and crossing her arms over her chest.

“Why?” Giles yelled, pacing in frustration. “Why do you want to do this now?”

“When are we going to do it, Giles? When Dawn and Ethan are safe again? You’ve said it yourself. We’ll go our separate ways, remaining at a safe distance, communicating through Dawn and working together for the sake of the Council, but we’ll avoid our issues and continue to hate each other. No, we end this now. Either we fix what’s broken or we go our separate ways for good.”

Giles stopped his pacing and shrugged off his backpack. “I can’t do this anymore, Buffy. It’s always extremes with you. Ultimatums.”

“I asked you to stay, but you walked. Who was left without a choice? Again?”

“I didn’t give you an ultimatum,” he said, trying to regain his calm.

“No, you didn’t, Giles, you’re right, you just didn’t give me any say at all. You told me you were going to work for the Council and there was nothing I could do about it. Even after you said leaving me the first time was a mistake, you just keep doing it.”

“I left for you, Buffy. Right or wrong, I did it for you.”

“Thanks, but I think I can make my own decisions. I’m tired of the men in my life making them for me,” she grumbled bitterly.

You made your decision. When the dust had settled, you told me that your priority was taking care of Dawn and I respected that, but there were thousands of young girls out there stranded, not knowing what had happened to them, in need of leadership, care, and explanations. And we had a tattered, archaic organization, still in its own disarray, willing to step in and impose the same outdated standards of support and well being that it has always shown to the Slayer on these girls. We couldn’t let that happen. The Slayers deserve better. You and Willow unleashed a great power when you activated the Potentials, and at that moment, we had a great responsibility thrust upon us to care for them. The choices we had were either to work with the Council and change the policies from within to gain access to their resources, or start at the very beginning with nothing. In the end there really was no choice.”

“There’s always a choice,” Buffy hissed.

“And I made the one that made sense!” Giles reiterated forcefully. Taking a deep breath he started again, his voice low and gentle. “I’ve never begrudged you for playing mother to your sister, for making her your priority. Never. It’s what you’ve struggled with ever since your mother passed. And it’s wonderful to hear Dawn talk of how happy she is since the Hellmouth closed. To hear of how close the two of you are, and to see her grow these past years into this beautiful, confident young woman. That is your doing. But someone had to look out for the welfare of these new Slayers, and the Council leadership asked me to help. I couldn’t say no, Buffy. You see, I had originally thought we’d do this together, but when you came to me in those early weeks after Sunnydale and told me that you would be focusing on Dawn, I knew it fell to me to support the Slayers. To give them a voice in the Council, to change the focus away from the organization itself, and turn it onto the warriors. I left for you. To give you the space you needed for Dawn.”

“Christ, Giles, can’t you see it? I needed you! I need you! Not to raise Dawn for me, but to raise her with me. You’re the only father she’s ever known. The memories she has of my dad, they aren’t real and she knows they aren’t. He never held her when she cried or chased the nightmares away. He never ate ice cream and watched movies late into the night with her. He never took an interest in her or helped her with her homework, even by phone, or took her on vacation to Disneyland, or introduced her to high Gothic architecture on a trip to various European cities. You did all that... And we could have done all this stuff together. We do do some of it together... just cities apart.”

“I can’t play house with you, Buffy.”

It would’ve hurt less if he’d slapped her. “You’re right, Giles. Never mind. Just indulge in your fantasy and play father from 215 miles away.” She turned from him and looked down towards where they began their climb.

“Is this about us, or my relationship with Dawn? Because for the last two years, my darling Slayer, we’ve had no relationship.” Giles was tense and his tone hinted at barely controlled anger.

Turning back towards him, she lashed out, “And whose fault is that? You left again without talking it through, giving me no say in the matter.”

“You said everything you were going to! You walked out. You told me you were going to keep her in school in California and then three weeks later you packed yourselves up and moved to Paris without saying a word. You could have come to London, but you didn’t.”

“Of course I walked out! What more was I supposed to say? We weren’t talking anymore. You told me we were done.”

“Done running around in circles. Done yelling. Done fighting,” Giles explained, shoving his hands in his pockets. “It hurts too much, Buffy, loving you... you call me a commitmentphobe, though I don’t understand. I’ve done everything, whether it turned out to be the right decision or not, for you. And the times I left? Do you honestly think that was easy for me?” he asked, searching her face. “They were the hardest things I’ve had to do other than watch you jump from that tower and then bury you. But nothing hurts more than knowing you are just over two hours away by train, alive and well, and not be able to share my life with you. Not one single aspect of it. If there is a commitmentphobe on this mountain, Buffy, it is you. You’ve done nothing but run from those who love you since you returned from the dead, barring your recent commitment to your sister, of course.”

“Oh don’t even start. I see Willow and Xander-”

“On occasion, when they are in town,

“I have Dawn-”

“Who is a young woman heading to university in a few months! She can stay home on her own for a long weekend now and again, or you can visit with Xander and Willow when she comes to see me.”

“And the Slayers in training?”

“Use the resources at your disposal, there are countless of young Watchers who can babysit.”

“I thought we were talking about us.”

“Alright then, talk.”

“You know what? This isn’t working. Let’s just get moving again,” Buffy insisted, shoving past him to gather her gear.

“Fine,” he grumbled, now in a black mood. He secured his helmet and threw his pack onto his back. After checking the knot on his harness, he turned to see his fuming Slayer pacing back and forth like an enraged tigress ready to go. “Is your rope secure?” he called to her.

“Just go. It’s fine,” she returned in obvious irritation, tugging on the rope.

Giles started back onto the path with Buffy following behind still tethered to him. As disappointing as it was to lose the comfort they had found, he couldn’t say he didn’t expect a falling out at some point. He just hadn’t expected it so soon. Behind him, Buffy trudged onward, walking in his path as he forged ahead, berating herself for trying to fix their relationship. What the hell had she been thinking? The words that had been spoken at their last parting had wounded both of them deeply, perhaps too deeply for them to come back from, and all she had managed to do was widen the chasm between them. 

They pushed on for another hour before he declared a rest break. His Slayer sat off by herself about fifteen feet away. Looking at his map, Giles determined that they had maybe another three miles before they found the entrance to the ice cave. They also had reached their maximum elevation, and would be heading downhill the rest of the way, for which he was eternally grateful.

Giles pulled out his thermos and poured a cup of tea before trekking over to where Buffy sat, handing her the cup as a peace offering. She took it gratefully, warming her hands first and then drinking down the hot beverage. Passing the cup back, she thanked him politely.

Putting the thermos away, the Watcher wandered back over to where he’d set down his things and readied himself to start back on the path towards the cave. Slinging her pack onto her shoulders, Buffy took several steps to her right when the momentum knocked her off her balance, and as she fought to regain it, the snow gave way beneath her feet.

She screamed as she fell through the crack in the ice, trying to reach something of substance to grab onto. Giles immediately turned towards her when he heard her cry out, watching the rope uncoil quickly as she fell further down the crevasse. Knowing he had to break the fall, he grabbed his axe and threw himself forward into snow and ice, jamming the axe in, hoping it would bite into something solid to save them from plummeting to their deaths.

As soon as the slack in the rope tightened, he was dragged along the ice towards the crack by the weight of his Slayer on the other end. The momentum pulled him about eight feet before his axe bit into something and stopped his progress. He held on, feeling the jar of the rope as Buffy’s fall stopped.

“Buffy!” he yelled. “Buffy?”

“Giles!”

“Grab onto the wall!” he instructed.

“I can’t,” she called back in a panic. “It’s slick ice. Oh my god!”

“Buffy?”

Giles felt a slight tug on the rope and a sickening feeling washed over him when he no longer felt the weight on the rope. He heard her screams as she fell and he quickly shot up and ran over to the ledge, dropping to his knees, desperately searching for her in the void.

“Buffy?” he yelled frantically when the screaming stopped, “Answer me! Oh god! Buffy, can you hear me? Buffy?” No answering call came forward and Giles sank down further into the snow and let out whimper before the tears started. “Oh dear god!” he cried as he pounded the ground with his fist. “No, no, no!”

Chapter Text

Uncertain Ground - Chapter 7

 

 

Resolved, Giles stood up and wiped the tears from his face. There was no way he was going to leave his Slayer down at the bottom of the crevasse, dead or alive, and he threw off his backpack, pulling out all the climbing gear and the extra length of rope. His main concern was that he only had 120 meters of rope at his disposal, and he had no idea how far down it was to the bottom. 

He knew some crevasses on the ice cap could go down a whole kilometer, but at the moment he pushed back that panicked thought and focused on setting the piton at the top of the ledge. The fastest way down was to abseil, though it was one of the riskier moves and he needed to think of a way to get himself down quickly while keeping in mind that they would need to climb back onto the ice after he found her.

Jerking the head torch out from the bottom of his pack and fixing it to his helmet, Giles strapped his backpack back on, knowing he didn’t have enough space in his pockets to carry all he might need to tend to his Slayer at the bottom of the crevasse. He tested his rope and harness and when he was satisfied, he climbed over the ledge and leaned back. Everything felt secure and he started his descent, using the rope to steady his pace while digging in with his crampons as he walked down the ice wall. The crack was fairly narrow and at an incline, and he hoped that Buffy had at least slid down most of the way instead of falling.

About fifteen meters down, he reached the rock face and pulled off his crampons, hanging them from a free loop on his harness before continuing his descent. Coming to the end of his first length of rope, he retrieved another piton, grabbed his axe from another loop and hammered the piton into a crack in the wall. Fixing the second length of rope, he tested the integrity of the hold and continued downwards.

Periodically Giles would call to Buffy, hoping for an answer, but he got none and his heart sank further and further into darkness as he continued downwards. The last words they had shared were in anger and, as trite as it sounded even to him, it made him realize that life was, indeed, too short to allow the anger of past hurts and slights to rule his life. He made a promise to himself and to her that if he found her alive, he would fix the rift between them. Whatever she wanted of him he would do, and he focused on those thoughts because thinking about losing her again was too much to bear.

Nearing the end of the second rope, Giles braced himself and looked down. The torch highlighted the floor, which was maybe another ten meters below his current position. Making a pass with the head torch he saw his Slayer crumpled in a heap on the ground, her backpack still on her back. He closed his eyes, banishing the memories of the last time he’d seen her lying on the ground after a fall, silently begging any deity who might be listening for mercy, to spare him from finding her dead again.

“Buffy!” he called out again, but she didn’t move.

As Giles grabbed hold of the wall to start his free climb down to the ground, the earth roared and rumbled and shook. Ice, snow and rock fell from above and he flattened himself as best he could against the rock face to avoid being hit. Hearing something rush by his ear, he opened his eyes to see one of the ropes fall past him and to the ground.

He held on as tightly as he could, not knowing which of the two ropes gave way. His fingers burned in pain as they strained to hang onto tiny holds jutting out from the rock face before, unable to hold on any longer with the violent tremors testing his physical limits, he fell to the bottom of the crevasse, shoulder first, with a dull thud. With the adrenaline raging through his veins, he rose to his feet, threw off his backpack, and ran over to Buffy, taking care not to touch her and shielding her body with his to protect her from the falling debris.

After what seemed like a lifetime, the shaking had stopped and he moved off his Slayer, checking her pulse, breathing easier when he found one. She had fallen on her side which made it easier for him to assess her injuries, and he gently pulled apart the straps from the frame of her pack to remove it from her back. He then carefully unzipped her coat and very lightly ran his hands over her ribs and along her spine checking for injury, and while he felt none, he dared not move her. She was scratched and bruised, and considering she was unconscious, she’d probably hit her head on the way down, making him thankful she had been wearing her helmet. Examining her hands more closely he found her right wrist swollen and discolored, and if he had to venture a guess, she’d probably fractured it.

Taking a moment, Giles looked around him. The fissure above was completely sealed by rock and ice, blocking out all external light, and he was glad his helmet torch was strong. He knew there could be aftershocks and that she was lying in a dangerous area, but if he moved her, he risked causing more damage to her or worse. He didn’t have much of a choice, and he didn’t like it, but he kept her where she was. He would just have to shield her again if he felt the earth begin to shake.

Rummaging through his pack for the first aid kit, Giles took great care to clean up her superficial wounds and splint her injured wrist. When he was done he tidied up their area and put the kit away before taking off his helmet and covering his Slayer with her sleeping bag. He then laid down next to her and, very gently, so as not to move her, he sidled up next to her to keep her warm as the cold rock floor leeched the heat from her body.

Having nothing else to do, his mind wandered and the gravity of their predicament kicked in. “Oh god, Buffy, I’m sorry! So, very, very sorry!” he whispered to her as tears welled up in his eyes. “Come on, Buffy, wake up, please,” he pleaded quietly as he ran the backs of his fingers along her cheek. Even after days in the field, her skin felt as soft and silky as it looked.

Lying back down and pillowing his head against his arm, Giles closed his eyes, contemplating his feelings surrounding his Slayer. What had seemed so impossibly complicated even just a couple hours ago seemed so simple now. He wanted the endless bickering to stop; a permanent ceasefire to the animosity, the circular arguments, the blame, and most of all the hurt. But most importantly, he wanted to share the quiet moments with her, to wake up together and enjoy the simplicity and intimacy shared in those honest and sleepy moments just before full consciousness kicks in. He’d always loved her, but in just the past couple days he’d fallen in love with her and he let out a soft whimper at his newfound awareness as he reached out and curled his fingers around her good hand, needing her touch.

----------

Buffy woke up in near darkness, which wasn’t right because she couldn’t recall it ever being this dark in Iceland over the past few days. She blinked several times, trying to look around as her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Her body ached and her wrist throbbed and, as she slowly remembered what had happened, a wave of panic rose within her. She was lying against someone and when she quickly attempted to escape his embrace, she felt nauseous and fell back against him, waiting for the immediate feeling to spill her insides to pass.

Giles immediately jolted awake and his eyes focused on his Slayer as she recovered in his arms. He made to move, but felt a thudding pain in his shoulder and winced. Apparently he’d injured himself in his fall, as well. He just hadn’t noticed it through his concern and his fear for Buffy’s wellbeing. Pushing through the pain, he took her hand in his and squeezed lightly.

Slowly turning in her Watcher’s arms, the Slayer pulled him into a tight embrace. “Hey,” she greeted.

He closed his eyes tightly to prevent the tears from forming and responded weakly, “Hello.”

“You okay?” she asked.

He took in a deep breath and laughed, “I should be asking you that.”

“I’m a bit sore and my wrist hurts, but you probably know that already since you splinted it up.”

“I’m fairly certain it’s broken,” he said, moving out of their embrace to look at her. The scratches had almost healed up and the bruising was gone. He touched her cheek with his fingers. “But everything else looks like it’s on the mend.”

“Thank you.” She gave him a grateful smile. “How long have we been down here?”

Looking at his watch Giles answered, “You’ve been down here about three hours. It took me a little longer to climb down.”

“I should be mad at you,” Buffy said gently.

“Why?” he asked, searching her eyes.

“You should have just continued on to find Dawn and contacted Graham to come look for me. Once you called, he’d have the coordinates.”

“I... I couldn’t leave you, Buffy. Not like this, not knowing whether-” he stopped himself and looked past her, saying meekly, “I don’t want to fight anymore.”

“Me neither,” she agreed, leaning in to hug him again and he reflexively tightened his arms around her. “Thank you for coming after me.”

“Always,” Giles replied.

“Any thoughts on how to get out of here?” Buffy asked, pulling out of their embrace and looking upwards towards the crack.

“The way in was blocked by rocks and ice that fell during the earthquake.”

“Earthquake? Geez, I miss all the fun stuff.”

“It wasn’t fun,” he corrected, as they both moved to stand up. “We can’t go up, but we can follow the fissure to the left. It takes us in the proper direction. Hopefully we’ll find a way out.”

“Have you tried calling Andrew? He’s got all the geological survey maps.”

“I can’t get a signal down here. The phone can’t locate the satellites.”

“Looks like we’re out of options,” she sighed in resignation. “If you promise to take it slow until I get my bearings, we can start again.”

“I think we can manage that,” he answered, knowing his body needed the rest too.

After turning on the head torch, Giles walked over to his backpack and tried to sling it up onto his back, but yelped in pain and dropped it on the ground, grabbing his injured shoulder.

Buffy ran over to him, her expression one of grave concern as she sat him down. “What’s wrong?”

“I fell off the wall during the earthquake, and it appears my shoulder took the brunt of the impact,” he grimaced. “I had no idea I was injured, though. It only started hurting when I woke up.”

She reached in and unzipped his coat. “Let’s take a look.” Carefully peeling it off, she frowned. “You would’ve had to put on fifteen layers today and all of them without buttons.”

“Just three, but the lack of buttons does make it problematic,” he agreed, gritting his teeth as he tried to work his good arm through the sleeve.

“Let me help,” Buffy said softly as she leaned in, fingering the hem of his sweater. Peering into his jade colored eyes, she saw a softness in them she’d not been privy to before and it took her by surprise.

Giles held her gaze as they worked out a system to remove his sweater and shirts with minimal discomfort, the air between them thick with a newness neither could describe. As she removed the last shirt, she trailed her gaze over his shoulders and chest, and she bit her lip to repress a pleased smile. He was all strength and lean muscle, though his tummy was a little soft from sitting behind a desk too long, and the soft smattering of hair that had always been hinted at when he wore v-neck collars amused her. She wanted to reach out and run her fingers through it.

A little nervous, Buffy focused on his injured right shoulder. “That’s... that’s quite the bruise you’ve got there,” she stuttered, lightly prodding her fingers along the deep blue bruise on his collarbone. “Uh, it’s a little swollen but nothing feels out of the ordinary. It could be soft tissue damage,” she added quickly. 

Covering her hand with his, he reassured her, “A couple of pain killers and all will be well.” When she didn’t look at him, he moved his hand to gently raise her chin. Searching her eyes, he said huskily, “I promise.”

“But, you’re really hurt,” she countered.

Giles ran his right index finger down her splint to her fingers and caressed them, whispering, “So are you.”

“I’ll be fine,” she dismissed, her gaze dropping to his mouth. His touch ignited a fire within her and the instinct to kiss him overwhelmed her senses. 

“As will I,” he murmured as he followed her gaze downward, caught in her spell. Her breathing had quickened and he waited to see what she would do next.

Buffy moved in slowly, unable to resist the urge any longer. Giles rose up and met her half way, their lips crashing together desperately, each pouring the words they’d longed to say into the kiss. Forgiveness begged and granted again and again as the heat between them rose. Absolution had never tasted so sweet.

Neither wanted to stop, but both knew when to end the intimacy, and instead of pulling away, Buffy rested her forehead against his. “Promise me when we’ve stopped Riley and have Dawn back that we’ll figure all this out. That you’ll still be here,” she asked, her voice shaky.

Giles cupped her cheek and searched her eyes. “Buffy, I-”

“Shhhh,” she whispered as she found his lips again. “When we have Dawn back.”

Taking a deep breath, he answered, “When we have Dawn back.”

----------

They followed the fissure in the general direction towards the ice cave on the map until they came to an entrance to an old lava tube, where they made the decision to carry on into the mountain. Buffy had rigged Giles’ backpack with an elaborate rope system so that he didn’t have to carry it on his injured shoulder while still remaining balanced on his back. The painkillers had done him some good, but he kept his right arm as still as he could to keep from using his shoulder.

Their path wasn’t strenuous, but they set a fairly ambitious pace, the underlying concern being that they had no idea where they were or if they would reach Riley in time after veering so far off course. And though Buffy was worried about making it in time to save her sister, her mind kept drifting back to the kiss they’d shared earlier and she couldn’t keep from stealing backward glances at her Watcher as he followed her, smiling to herself as she caught his intense looks of concentration, confusion, or amusement. Occasionally their eyes would meet and she’d grin at him.

Admittedly, Giles didn’t quite know what to think after having kissed his Slayer. He just knew it had been the most intense and wonderful event in his life thus far, that he wanted to keep doing it, and it seemed that she wanted to as well. He’d promised her they’d talk after they stopped Riley - assuming they did. After they had found themselves down the crevasse with no hope of climbing back onto the ice cap, he wasn’t so confident they would succeed. Wouldn’t it be just his luck for him and Buffy to find each other after everything, only to have it ripped from them by losing Dawn in the process. He shook himself from his thoughts, looking up to catch her looking at him again. She blushed and he couldn’t help but smile as she turned from him in her embarrassment. Ducking his head, he shoved his left hand into his trouser pocket, his fingers knocking against something metal.

Stopping in his tracks, he removed the object to look at it, raising an eyebrow. Ethan’s necklace. He then peered over his glasses at Buffy as she continued onwards. Giles bet that Riley wouldn’t have Ethan cloaking them anymore, and even more, he bet that he could persuade Janus to lead him to the god’s lost son. Closing his fist around the coin and chain, he started after Buffy with a bounce in his step.

--------

Giles stared at the chain and medallion hanging from his middle finger, contemplating the spell he would need to enlist Janus to lead them to Ethan.

“Everything’s put away,” Buffy commented after cleaning up from dinner, snapping Giles from his musings. He smiled as she approached and sat down next to him on the ground. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m going to charm the coin again. I think Riley feels rather safe at the moment and probably has Ethan recharging his strength for the ritual tomorrow night. You and I both know we’re running out of time and we haven’t come across the ice cave. Nor do we know whether we are even on the right path.”

She leaned her head against his good shoulder and he wrapped his arm around her. “You think it will work?”

“Yes, I think so. Ethan abandoned his talisman. Gods don’t like it when their children go astray. It upsets their balance. Janus will want him back.”

Nodding, Buffy changed the subject, “You never explained why Riley would do the ritual in the evening when the Solstice takes place in the morning.”

Giles couldn’t help himself from kissing the top of her head and she snuggled closer into him. “As you know, most demons don’t like direct sunlight, and though it’s the longest day of the year and Riley will be performing the ritual underground, they will want to emerge as quickly as they can to hunt and feed.”

“Makes sense,” she said with a shudder.

Tightening his grip around her in support, Giles reassured her, “We’ll find them, Buffy. I just need to retrieve a few things.”

After he finished the incantation the coin glowed and Giles felt a psychic tug in the direction they had been heading.

“We are definitely on the right path,” he told his Slayer, “and we’re not too far from Ethan.”

“How can you tell?”

“By the intensity at which the coin is glowing,” he commented. “The question is, do you want to stay here for the night or keep going?”

Renewed with hope, Buffy gave him a smile. She wanted to continue, but she knew that he must be tired from casting and hurting from the events of the day, which had included falling about thirty feet onto the rocky floor. “How are you feeling?” she asked sympathetically.

“I can go on for a bit, but it’s entirely up to you.”

“Do you know how close we are?”

“It’s hard to say, maybe a couple hours, maybe more.”

“Let’s keep going,” she suggested. “We’ll stop soon. It’s been a rough day for both of us, but I’d like to go a little further.”

With the plan decided, Buffy helped Giles with his backpack again and they followed the pull of the coin.

Chapter Text

 

Uncertain Ground - Chapter 8

 

Giles stared at the medallion in his hand. It glowed and pulsed with a frenetic energy indicating that they were very close to their targets. He figured that the lava tube they were in must lead to a larger chamber a few hundred or so meters ahead of them and turning back towards his companion, he raised his finger to his lips and showed her the coin. She nodded and they placed their packs on the ground, huddling together so they could keep their voices to a low murmur.

“They can’t be more than a few minutes’ walk ahead. We should turn back and set up camp,” he suggested.

“I want to do a little recon, see if we’ve really found them. I can hear something from here, but I need to see for myself.”

“Fair enough. But, Buffy,” he said, his voice taking on a very serious tone. “Neither of us is in any shape to do any rescuing. Just go in, gather information, and come out. We can form a plan once we know more.”

She nodded her head in agreement. “Got it, Giles.”

He placed the medallion in her hand and held it. “I’ll wait for you here,” he told her.

Giving her Watcher a reassuring smile, she squeezed his hand and took off down the corridor, Ethan’s coin glowing and humming in her hand.

Her progress was slow. Buffy had turned off the head lamp on her helmet so as not to give herself away, and it took several minutes for her eyes to adjust to the dark. When she finally came to the opening of a great cave, she shuddered. Lit with torches, the huge chamber before her resembled the one in her dream exactly. It took her a moment to tamp down the fear the memories triggered from her dream, but once she recovered her bearings, she noticed that from somewhere across the room, a generator thrummed, echoing noisily off the walls.

Keeping to the shadows, Buffy scouted around, looking for Dawn. Off in the distance she saw two male shadows engaged in conversation, but her attempt at listening in was drowned out by the drone of the generator and she knew she’d have to get closer to hear anything. As she neared Riley and Ethan, she saw her sister lying asleep on a cot, one hand cuffed to it. From that distance Dawn looked no worse for wear and it appeared that she was being treated well. Continuing to approach closer, Buffy started to catch parts of the conversation between the two men.

“You’re stalling, Rayne! I thought you wanted your freedom,” Riley ground out, his anger clearly directed at Ethan.

“Unless you want an unruly, murderous demon horde on your hands, you will need to wait until the sun is lower in the sky,” Ethan counseled, clearly trying to keep his cool. “We’ve talked about this before.”

“They will yield to me. The power is most effective at the time of the solstice. I will have this!”

“Listen, mate,” the sorcerer started in a more congenial tone. “I am the magick user here, and if I tell you that the spell will be effective no matter what time of day it is cast, then it is best if we wait until the sun has reached its lowest point in the sky. They won’t survive in the direct sunlight and you won’t be able to control them down here.”

“Don’t question my orders!” Riley barked, shaking violently with rage. Schooling his emotions, he spoke again, his tone low and dangerous, “The ritual will begin at my command: the exact moment the solstice begins. Now prepare yourself. You’ve got six hours.”

Buffy flattened herself against the wall as Riley left Ethan and Dawn. She briefly contemplated a rescue despite Giles’ request not to, but decided against it. As miserable and as harried as Ethan looked, she still felt she couldn’t trust him. The cagey sorcerer was hard to read and the counsel he had given was wise, and if his plan all along was a double cross, she knew she would be powerless to fight against his magick while Riley distracted her with a physical fight.

Years ago, knowing she had taken out both Riley and Ethan before, she would’ve just damned the torpedoes and gone in, but Riley wasn’t the calm, cool, collected, and predictable soldier he once was and she was riding a wave of exhaustion as her body used its energy for healing. Giles was right, she was in no condition to mount a rescue mission. Common sense trumped all, Riley still held the advantage. Buffy banged her good fist against the wall as she fought back the disappointment and frustration at having to leave Dawn behind. Blowing the hair from her eyes in disgust, she retreated and made a silent promise to her little sister that she would get her out of there soon.

----------

Leaning against the wall, Giles looked up once he heard footsteps drawing near. When she came into view, Buffy gave him a smile and sidled up next to him.

“Successful mission,” she greeted warmly. “I’ll tell ya about it over tea and dinner.”

He smiled at her and pushed himself off the wall. “I found a hidden alcove some distance back and stored our gear there, and there is water already warming on the stove.”

“You are a god!” Buffy declared, taking his arm as they turned to head towards their camp.

When they arrived at the alcove, she looked around approvingly. It provided them with some camouflage and it was large enough that they had some room to move around in.

As they ate from their meal packets, Buffy briefed him on her scouting expedition.

“A running generator plays to our advantage,” Giles stated, finishing up the last of his meal. Placing the pouch down beside him, he scratched at his beard in contemplation. “But I don’t understand why Riley would risk starting the ritual so early, he is a better strategist than that. It doesn’t make sense.”

“He’s thinking like Walsh programmed him to. Rituals hold power, the symbolism of the solstice. Just like you said,” she answered.

His eyebrows knitted together in thought. “But she stressed technology, not the mystical. It’s why she always underestimated you. A-and Riley is a modern soldier, who, until six months ago, relied on technology to hunt down and kill demons.”

“Yeah, but he thinks he’s becoming a demon. That’s a little different.”

Giles pulled off his glasses and his eyes widened with recognition. “Adam was created to be very methodical and precise, devoid of empathy and sympathy. Riley, on the other hand, is succumbing to his emotions and the id whilst being bombarded with the hallucinations of transforming into a demon. His current need is to be accepted and he must do the ritual properly in order for that to happen.”

“Don’t go all Walsh on me,” Buffy teased.

Giles sent her a nasty glare. “Heaven forbid!”

She gently placed her hand over his. “I was wrong, you know, back then. You’ve always been the smartest person I know.”

“It’s easy to become star struck,” he dismissed as he stood to clear away the mess from their dinner. “And you were young and stupid,” he teased.

“Giles!” she protested in mock indignation, but he refused to fall for it and laughed as he cleaned up. Removing the splint, she bent her wrist a few times to test it and winced. “Not quite yet.”

“I’m not surprised,” he said as he packed up the stove. “It was rather swollen and bruised when I wrapped it.”

“How’s your shoulder?”

“Not as bad as it was.”

“Which is Watcher speak for ‘it still hurts like a son of a bitch’?”

“I’m fine, Buffy, honestly. It’s sore, but I’m not incapacitated.”

She stood up and walked over to him, taking his left hand in hers. “I know you’re not, but it’s okay to admit you’re hurting, you know. It’s not fair Watchers don’t get healing powers.”

Giles looked down at their hands and squeezed hers. “It’s not bad, but I certainly don’t want to be carrying any weight on it,” he acquiesced, changing the subject before he gave into the urge to kiss her again. “Now, we need to rest for a few hours. I want to be at the entrance to the cave well before the ritual starts so we can strategize.”

Buffy nodded and reluctantly let go of his hand.  As they set up their sleeping arrangements, neither Buffy nor Giles would look at the other, both keenly aware of the kiss they had shared earlier that day and the proximity of their sleeping bags. 

As he prepared himself for sleep, Giles thought back to earlier that morning. It seemed so long ago now, but he couldn’t help the memories of Buffy cuddling up beside him and the ease at which they’d found themselves despite their years of estrangement. Of course, they’d immediately fought again, but after the scare of her falling down the crevasse, he was determined to put the hostilities behind them.

Buffy rifled through her pack and pulled out a brush. “I’ll be glad when we get back to civilization. Right now I’d kill for a hot shower and a soft bed,” she said wistfully as she brushed her hair. “I totally remember now why I quit the Brownies.”

Scratching at his beard, Giles agreed, “A hot bath is definitely in order and then I think I will sleep for a week in total darkness. I can’t wait to shave this thing off as well.”

Putting the brush back into her bag, Buffy walked over to him and ran her fingers along his jawline. “I don’t know,” she began in an amused tone. “I kinda like it.”

“It’s at the itchy stage and I don’t have the patience to grow a proper beard,” he dismissed lightly as he circled his arms around her waist and drew her to him. “You know, I think you are flirting with me.”

“You think?” Her eyes twinkled with merriment in the low light and she brought her arms up around his neck.

“I do,” he answered, his voice growing husky. “If there is any truth to it, I would very much like to kiss you again.”

“Oh it’s true,” Buffy confided, her tongue peaking out to wet her lips in anticipation.

Giles leaned down and lightly brushed his lips against hers, starting with small sensuous tastes and touches that quickly built in intensity and pressure until, at last, he coerced her mouth open and introduced his tongue to hers.

She let out a soft moan, combing her hand through his hair, their tongues exploring and mating as the heat between them rose. He brought his hands up to her face, cupping her cheeks and taking full possession of the kiss, making love to her with his mouth.

Before things could spiral out of control, Giles ended the kiss and drew in a lung full of air before returning to the light teasing kisses he’d started with. When they finally broke apart, both were left breathless.

Buffy looked up at her Watcher in wonder, the emotions he’d conjured within her rendering her speechless. When she finally could form a coherent thought, she searched his eyes and asked, “I need to know-“

“I’m not going anywhere, Buffy, not without you,” he vowed in a whisper. “Never again.”

She hugged him to her tightly. Somehow, when they were connected, he always knew what she needed. Pulling himself out of her embrace, Giles tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear and stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers.

“If, right now, all this is, is comfort,” he began as she started to protest. He shook his head and gently placed a finger over her lips, a sad smile gracing his, and started again, “Should all this be is comfort, Buffy, I give you my word to sort things between us. Neither of us can go on the way things have been. I can’t fight with you any longer.”

Tears stung her eyes. “Giles, it’s-“

“Shh. After we rescue Dawn,” he reminded her gently. “Now, we need to get some rest.”

Buffy nodded and they both settled into their sleeping bags. When they were situated, Giles turned off the torch on his helmet.

After a few minutes, Buffy groaned and rolled towards him. “I don’t think I am going to be able to sleep,” she said with an audible sigh.

“Come here,” Giles said, rolling onto his side to face her, and she snuggled up against him much as she had earlier that morning. Resting his right arm over her waist, he requested, “Tell me the details of your dream again. Maybe we can find something that will help us stop Riley.”

----------

Buffy blinked her eyes open and immediately went into panic mode, sitting up quickly and shaking her Watcher awake. “Oh my god, Giles, wake up! What time is it?”

Giles groaned as he sat up, his muscles aching after so many nights sleeping on the ground, and though his injured shoulder was better, it still hurt and would until he could rest it to let it heal properly.

“Shit!” he hissed, looking at his watch after turning the torch back on. He quickly unzipped his sleeping bag and started to change. “We have an hour before the ritual starts,” he told her, angry at himself for forgetting to set the alarm on his watch. “I am sorry, Buffy, this is my fault. We’ll leave our things here and come back for it later.”

“We’ve still got time, Giles,” she reassured him, breathing a sigh of relief. She’d slept in the same clothes she was going to battle in. “We’ll leave as soon as you’re ready.”

She grabbed the supplies they needed and watched Giles as he laced up his boots, grumbling to himself. When he was done, she handed him a protein bar and they headed towards Riley’s lair in silence.

Chapter Text

Uncertain Ground – Chapter 9

Dressed all in black with a Bowie knife encased in a serviceable black nylon sheath at his side, Riley stood in front of the makeshift altar he’d set up before the gaping hole in the cave floor. Setting up the ingredients for the spell, he checked his watch. There was still more to do before he could start the ritual and he was running short on time.

The generator had been turned off, Riley no longer having a need for electricity at this point, and the cave was illuminated with fire torches at six foot intervals along the wall, casting long shadows into the room. The former soldier walked over to the far side of the chamber to check his prisoners. Both Ethan and Dawn were bound at their hands and feet and gagged.

“Oh, don’t look like such a kicked puppy, Rayne! You had to know that I knew you had no stomach to sacrifice the Key,” he sneered, squatting beside the chaos mage. “She’s fooled you. In fact, she’s fooled everyone into thinking she’s a real girl. Well, I know what you are, Dawnie,” he taunted as he turned his attention on the frightened young woman huddling beside Ethan. “And you’re going to open the Hellmouth for me.”

Dawn’s eyes widened in fear. She’d always liked Riley. Sure he’d been annoying at times, but he was cute and he’d always been nice to her while he dated her sister. Now she decided that the man who stood before her resembled him in appearance and flat Midwestern accent only. This new Riley was a monster.

The ex-commando turned his attention back to the sorcerer, grabbing his collar and raising him to his feet before dragging him over to the altar.

“I do like you, Rayne, but like you, I need to protect my own interests first, you know how it is. I am sorry that it is going to hurt so much, but I need your power to perform the ritual.”

Buffy and Giles watched the spectacle unfold from their perch in a shadowed area near the entrance to the cave, lamenting the loss of the drone of the generator to mask their noises. The Slayer put her hand on her Watcher’s arm and motioned for him to go rescue Dawn. He nodded and started to go before he turned back, reaching out to touch her cheek with his fingertips.

“Be careful,” he mouthed, his eyes betraying his emotions.

Buffy gave him a confident smile and whispered, “You too.”

Riley glanced at his watch again, a wicked grin spreading across his face. “Showtime!” he declared before he started to chant in an ancient language Buffy couldn’t identify. Ethan dropped to his knees, writhing in pain as the spell started to extract his magick from him.

The Slayer kept an eye on her Watcher while he made his way over to her sister. As the chanting grew louder, Ethan started to scream, diverting her attention to him as he clutched his hand to his chest as a ray of burgundy colored light flowed from him into Riley.

Buffy had seen enough and, defying the nerves in the pit of her stomach, stepped casually out into the light. “Hey, Riley,” she interrupted.

Her ex-boyfriend turned around to face her, his chanting halted and his face twisted in surprised rage.

“You do know that Ethan’s kind of worthless as a sorcerer, don’t you? I mean Chaos… what a stupid deity to worship. Uncontrollable. And he hasn’t practiced magick in what? Four or five years? Honestly, Riley, how do you think that’s going to go for you? Sounds like you are just asking for trouble, if you ask me.”

“I didn’t ask you!” he shouted. “How did you get here?”

“I fell down a crevasse,” Buffy answered matter-of-factly. “Now I need you to stop this plan of yours. You’re not a monster, Riley, you know this is wrong.”

He laughed, though there was no mirth in it. “No, you see, I am... she made me a monster and I fought it for so long. But you can’t deny who you are. You know that. You’re the Slayer. I thought for so long that you could just stop being the Slayer, that you would change for me. Let me be the stronger one. But you couldn’t. In the jungle, I finally realized that I can’t stop being what I am... a monster… a demon.”

“You’re wrong, Riley, you’re a man. One who knows right from wrong, one who learned to see the grey areas, but who also knows there are absolutes out there as well. You’re a good guy who was taken advantage of and who had too many drugs pumped into his system. Those drugs make you believe you are a demon, Riley, but that’s not the truth,” she entreated, trying to appeal to the human side of him.

“It is the truth!” he roared, pulling his knife from its sheath as he lunged for her. His ritual was in jeopardy. After all the careful planning, the months of preparation, he was so close to leading his army to glory, so close to achieving the greatness expected of him by his former mentor. The Slayer wouldn’t foil those plans this time.

----------

Giles waited until Buffy had Riley distracted. He approached Dawn who sat on the ground bound and gagged watching the action intently. He lightly touched her shoulder and she jumped and turned, recognition registering when the tears formed in her eyes. He held a finger to her lips before removing the gag.

“Are you all right?” he whispered, pulling out his utility knife to cut the ropes at her hands and feet.

As soon as she was free, Dawn threw her arms around his neck and he returned her hug fiercely. “Just scared and a little sore,” she answered quietly, showing him her bruised and bloodied wrists.

“I’ll take care of those as soon as we get back to camp,” Giles muttered before leading Dawn around the edge of the cave, trying to get her to safety.

Stopping, he took a moment to check on his Slayer. Whatever she had said to Riley, he’d taken umbrage with, and they were now circling each other near the altar. Ethan was out cold on the floor, too close to where Buffy and Riley were for Giles to think about rescuing him.

The former soldier charged the Slayer. Buffy attempted to kick the weapon out of his hand, but he anticipated her move and spun to the left, slashing her right arm and drawing blood. She felt the pain as the knife sliced through her bicep, blood flowing steadily down her arm.

Riley grinned wickedly. He’d gotten one up on the Slayer. “Can’t remember the last time I drew first blood on you,” he bragged.

“You never did,” Buffy retorted. “Of course, you were never one to take advantage and use a weapon against an unarmed person either.”

“We’re not sparring,” Riley shrugged, lunging towards her again. He was relentless, and much stronger than he had been when they’d first met and he’d been hyped up on Maggie Walsh’s steroidal cocktail.

The Slayer weaved to her right, landing a punch to her former boyfriend’s jaw, sending him sprawling to the ground, causing him to lose the knife on impact. “No, we’re not,” she agreed, walking over to kick the knife down the pit.

Riley growled and pushed himself up before charging her and taking her down. They wrestled on the ground, neither of them able to take the advantage, grappling dangerously close to the pit, knocking the altar over the edge. Incensed, Riley reared up and got the upper hand, pinning Buffy beneath him.

“I’m not the weakling I once was,” he said through gritted teeth.

“You put that all on yourself! Your weakness was never physical strength, Riley,” she countered as she tried to free herself. “And you’re not as strong as you think you are. You need both hands to control me. That gets you nowhere.”

Buffy bucked her hips and rolled, breaking Riley’s hold on her, and she scrambled away from him, regaining her feet in the process. As he rose to his full height, Riley looked over to where he had held Dawn and found her missing. Unable to believe how badly his day was turning out, he scanned the cave and found her running towards the lava tube following Buffy’s Watcher. Shooting a quick look at the Slayer and gaging that he had a several second head start, Riley took off after Dawn. Buffy followed closely behind, but had difficulty catching up since she had put some distance between herself and Riley to regroup after she had broken free from him.

“Giles! Dawn!” she called, alerting them to the danger heading their way. “Look out!”

Giles stopped his progress, putting himself between the young woman and the deranged ex-military officer. “Keep behind me, Dawn,” he called out to her, bracing for a collision. “If he gets through, run!”

Lowering his center of gravity to take the hit, the Watcher put his good shoulder forward in an old rugby block. As Riley neared, Giles closed his eyes, anticipating the hit, but it never came. Instead, he felt a gust of wind and when he opened his eyes, his assailant had changed course and had been lifted off his feet at a ninety degree angle.

Buffy watched in confusion as Riley soared through the air and hit the wall near the pit. Turning around, she saw Ethan Rayne, hand raised out in front of him, fall to his knees before tumbling into an unconscious heap on the floor. Realizing he’d used his magick to save Giles and Dawn, she ran to him and checked for a pulse, breathing a sigh of relief when she found one.

Riley shook his head, dazed from the collision with the wall. It took him a moment to find his feet and he wobbled as he stumbled forward, drawing himself nearer to the edge of the gaping hole in the ground with each step. Bits of rock fell from above and hit him on the shoulder when the ground started to shake and roll beneath him. He lost his footing and fell, desperately looking for something to hold onto as the earthquake heaved him closer to the pit where he’d planned to open the Hellmouth and unleash his demon hoard.

Buffy threw herself across Ethan to protect him from falling rock, hoping that the cave would remain intact, since there was no way she could drag him towards the safety of the wall as the earth violently shook. Raising her head, she searched for Giles and her sister, but was unable to locate them through the tremors, while off in the distance she heard Riley scream in terror.

When the earth stopped shaking, Buffy called out, “Dawn? Giles? Are you okay?”

Giles had drawn Dawn into his arms and held her beneath the entryway to the lava tube where they and rode out the earthquake together. He looked down at the girl he thought of as a daughter, his eyes silently asking if she was all right. She nodded her head and he called out, “We’re fine.”

“Stay where you are,” she commanded as she stood, casting her eyes around the cave in search of Riley.

She could hear grunts and straining noises coming from the pit and she carefully made her way over to the edge. Leaning over, she saw Riley hanging onto a secondary ledge about two feet below the ground.

She laid herself down on the ground and extended her arm. “Give me your hand, Riley.”

He struggled, trying to find something to perch his feet on. Sweat trickled down his face as he fought to hang on. Looking up into her eyes, his expression softened. “I can’t,” he said. “I don’t have the strength.”

“I do. Hang on. Let me lower myself a little.”

“No!” he yelled, his voice desperate. “Don’t… don’t touch me. Things are… clear right now, but I don’t know how long they will be. I don’t want to take you down with me. Just take your sister and Rayne and get out of here.”

“Riley, don’t do this. Graham and his people can help you. He’s worried about you.”

The former commando let out something that sounded like a laugh. “They will court martial me, find me guilty, and I’ll spend the rest of my life in an institution unless I escape again. There is no helping me, Buffy. I killed my men. I killed my wife! I killed the people who tried to help me, and I was going to kill Ethan and your sister so I could kill more people. Why? Because Professor Walsh tells me to. All. The. Damned. Time! She doesn’t stop.”

“They can find a way to help, Riley, to make her stop.”

“But that’s the problem,” he grunted as he shifted his hands on the ledge. “I don’t want to. And... I can’t. I held it at bay for years. It started when my heart was going to explode and after that, I let the vamps suck blood from me. I wanted the demons to consume me. I wanted my demon, the one that she implanted, to consume me.”

“Riley, listen to me, just reach out and grab my hand. Come on. We’ll get you the help you need, we’ll make her stop. Let us help.”

“The demon knows your sister is the Key, Buffy! He... I won’t stop and Professor Walsh won’t stop commanding it. Go away.”

The veins pulsed in his neck as Riley struggled to hold on. “Tell her… tell Dawn I’m sorry. She’s a good kid.”

“Riley!”

“I can hear her voice again, Buffy, and I can’t… do this anymore.”

“Riley… no!”

Riley let go of the ledge and fell silently to his death. Pushing herself up to her knees, Buffy looked down into the abyss, a lump forming in her throat. She knew something about the ones who didn’t want to be saved. She’d learned that long ago from her friend Ford who felt he could cheat death by joining the ranks of the undead. She hadn’t been able to save him and there was no saving Riley. Standing up, she swallowed hard and turned from the pit, making her way over towards the entrance to the cave.

“Buffy!” Dawn left Giles and ran for the safety of her sister’s arms. and the two girls reunited in a tight embrace as their tears flowed.

“It’s over, Dawn, it’s over,” Buffy soothed. “Are you okay?”

“Better now. You’re here... and Giles. I’d almost given up hope.”

“Hey! You gave up on me?” Buffy teased lightly.

“No! It’s just... Riley...”

“Yeah, he really had this all planned out really well. If it weren’t for Ethan leaving us those clues, we might be chasing our tails in Prague or something.”

“Ethan really helped me out, Buffy. He made things... not so horrible.”

“I’m kinda revising my feelings about him,” Buffy admitted.

“So, why were you so late?” Dawn teased back, trying to lighten the mood.

“Well, we kinda overslept,” Buffy admitted.

Dawn gave her a pointed look. “Are you revising your feelings for Giles too?”

Buffy slapped her sister on the shoulder. “Get your mind out of the gutter.”

“Oh, you so are. Totally!” the younger Summers laughed.

While the sisters were bonding, Giles wandered over to a struggling Ethan and helped him sit up. “How are you feeling, old chap?” he asked congenially.

“Like someone tried to rip my magick from me,” the older man groaned. “But, I will recover. Could you and your Slayer have cut it any closer?”

“We’ll try harder next time.”

Ethan let out a chuckle and clutched his chest. “I’m too old for this shit, Rip,” he complained.

“Nonsense,” Giles dismissed. Handing Ethan his Janus medallion, he said, “It found its way back to you.”

“Thanks to you,” the sorcerer said gratefully, getting to his feet.

Giles extended his hand. “Thank you, Ethan, I mean it.”

“All debts paid?” the sorcerer asked, his brown eyes searching the green ones for forgiveness.

“All debts paid,” the Watcher confirmed, his expression providing Ethan with the absolution he needed.

Securing the medallion around his neck, Ethan muttered, “Go check on your Slayer. She’s bleeding.”

Patting Ethan on the shoulder, Giles left him to return to Buffy and Dawn. On his way, he detected the familiar smell of ozone in the air and knew his old friend had teleported out of the cave. Where ever Ethan turned up, he’d have a hell of a time recovering, performing that spell on such depleted energy reserves.

“Godspeed, Ethan,” Giles murmured.

When he reached the two Summers women, they pulled him into their embrace and he felt relief flow over him. The only thing left was to find their way out and head back down the mountain, but as ready as he was for a warm bed, a hot shower, and a shave - and not necessarily in that order - he realized how tired he really was.

As they withdrew from their group hug and started to head for the alcove where their gear was stored, a Special Forces team drove their way through the entrance to the cave, guns raised. The little party halted immediately and put their hands in the air. Graham followed through the entrance and ordered his men to stand down.

“Buffy,” Graham greeted as he entered. “Good to see you and Mr Giles alive! Andrew contacted me with your last known coordinates after he’d suddenly lost contact with you yesterday.”

The Slayer smiled at him. “Aside from a few bumps and bruises we’re fine.”

“Glad to hear it,” he said, his eyes scanning the chamber for his lost friend. 

Buffy placed a hand on his arm, her eyes full of sympathy. “We lost Riley, Graham. I’m sorry.” 

“What… What happened?” he asked, unable to conceal his shock.

Over the next several minutes, Buffy, Giles, and Dawn briefed the Army captain on what had happened with Riley. 

“And Rayne?” Graham asked.

“He’s gone,” the Watcher said impassively as he shoved his hands into his pockets. “But I want it on record that Ethan was instrumental in our being able to track Riley and stop his plans.”

“Don’t worry, Mr Giles, we won’t pursue him. We’re not sure why he was still being held, he should have been released years ago. I’ll personally open an investigation into it.” Graham stepped back, assessed the three survivors, and called the medic over to look at them. The injuries they had were more significant than the few bumps and bruises the Slayer had mentioned earlier. “As soon as you’re declared fit, we’ll get you back to civilization. From here on out, we’re treating this as a recovery mission for one of our own. Thank you.”

As the medic led the group over to his triage area, Buffy turned to the Army captain and said, “I’m really sorry, Graham.” The Special Forces officer gave her a tight smile and headed off to work with his men to recover their fallen comrade.

----------

The harsh afternoon light reflected off the snow and ice, causing discomfort to the three sets of eyes that had become used to the darkness of the underground cave and tunnel system. Even Buffy and Giles’ glacier glasses did nothing to help curtail the pain as their eyes took time to get used to the daylight. One of the young Special Forces soldiers offered Dawn his sunglasses and she took them gratefully with a shy grin.

Meeting the exhausted and injured trio at the air base, Andrew took control of the situation. He’d secured rooms for Buffy and Dawn at the hotel Giles still had the suite at, made sure they were fed, and ensured that the Council jet was ready to take them back home the next day. Both Dawn and Andrew sensed that something had changed between the Watcher and Slayer, but it wasn’t until the pair said goodbye on the tarmac at Gatwick Airport that their suspicions were confirmed. 

“You promised me we’d talk, that we’d sort all this out,” Buffy said around the lump in her throat, taking his hand in hers. A part of her wanted to be angry with him for not having addressed the issues between them earlier, but she knew that would be unfair and they needed to break the cycle of hurt and blame. There simply had been no time and they’d all practically fallen asleep on their feet.

“I’ve not forgotten,” he replied softly, pale green eyes searching her darker ones. “But you have to get Dawn home and situated so she can start her summer semester the day after next, and I have to answer to the Board as to why I commandeered the corporate jet, took advantage of Council resources, and risked the life of the senior Slayer to save a civilian.”

“And make sure a Hellmouth wasn’t opened,” Buffy added. “If they punish us for this, I will quit… again,” she declared petulantly as she gazed across the runway.

“As will I,” Giles agreed. Buffy turned her attention back to him, her sylvan eyes heavy with unshed tears. Taking a deep breath, he continued, “Buffy, if what we have is something we both want, it will still be there when we see each other next. My feelings on the matter have not changed, nor will they.”

“Of all the goodbyes, this seems like the hardest” she declared. “I miss you already.”

Giles wrapped her in his good arm, the shoulder he’d injured strapped and the arm resting in a sling. “Ring me when you get home? Let me know you both are safe?”

“Okay. Expect more expensive phone bills. I plan on going over my minutes.”

“I’ll authorize the expense reports,” he chuckled. After gently placing a soft kiss on her lips, he whispered, “You’d best board the plane now.”

Nodding, she held onto his hand as long as she could before letting go. When she dropped it, he placed it into his pocket as he watched her climb the stairs to enter the private jet. She turned to say goodbye, but found that words escaped her. Instead she waved and gave him a sad smile. Removing his hand from his pocket, he returned her wave before the pilot closed the door.

Giles felt a profound sense of sadness as he turned and walked to the Council car, joining Andrew for the trip home. He’d found his Slayer again, and he’d learned that she was the one who stirred his soul, the one for whom his heart beat. Why he hadn’t just followed her to Paris, Council be damned, he just didn’t know.

Looking out the small window next to her seat, Buffy watched miserably as Giles entered the company car. Her days and nights would be lonelier without him. She had been amazed at how quickly she’d come to realize that he’d been the one she’d been searching for, the reason that she didn’t seriously date after the destruction of Sunnydale, and at how quickly her heart had accepted him back into her life and in such a different role. She raised her hand to touch the plexiglass, in one last effort to say goodbye, wondering if Giles was looking out the car’s dark tinted window at her. As the plane started to taxi to the runway, tears escaped her lashes and Dawn drew her into her arms, allowing Buffy take comfort from her.

Chapter Text

Uncertain Ground - Chapter 10

 

Giles watched as the French countryside whizzed by. It had been almost two and a half months since he had said goodbye to Buffy on the tarmac at Gatwick Airport and he couldn’t help but think back to the kisses they’d shared during their mission to rescue Dawn and Ethan. There had only been the three, but they had been enough to make him long for more and had fueled his hopes for a future with her. He wondered how she would greet him, if he would sweep her off her feet and kiss her senseless after finding her on the platform waiting for him. It seemed a bit dramatic, but the fantasy was nice.

He stared in disgust at the partially eaten sandwich that sat on its wrapper before him and reached for his soda to help calm his stomach. The nerves were getting to him and his heart pounded in his chest as his palms sweat and his leg bounced in anticipation of seeing Buffy again. Glancing at his watch, he had about half an hour before the train arrived at Gare du Nord in Paris. 

He’d spoken with her almost every day on the phone, but work had interfered in their plans to see each other every time they’d scheduled a weekend to meet. This time when an emergency had come up, though, Giles refused to take lead on it, saying someone else needed to step up and deal with the issues. There was absolutely no way he was going to miss Dawn’s graduation, nor the chance to see Buffy again.

----------

Dawn watched Buffy restlessly paced the platform as they waited for Giles’ train to arrive. Every few minutes the Slayer would pull out her mobile phone and look to see if she’d missed a call, expecting him to cancel his visit at the last moment as both of them had done several times over the last couple of months.

“Relax, Buffy. He’s coming,” Dawn reassured her sister as she took her arm in hers.

Buffy took in a deep breath. “You’re right.”

“And if he doesn’t for some reason, I get to kill him. It’s my graduation after all.”

Buffy smiled her first easy smile in days and hugged her sister. “He’ll be here. He always is for you.”

“So are you,” Dawn returned, hugging Buffy to her tightly. “Thanks for finishing what Mom started.”

The Slayer reached up and dabbed at her eye with her middle finger, not wanting the tear that threatened to fall to ruin her makeup. “Stop, you’re making me cry and there’s going to be plenty of time for that tonight at the ceremony.”

Dawn laughed, “Sorry, I can’t help it when the sappy escapes.”

----------

As the train pulled up to the platform, Giles grabbed his suitcase and his messenger bag and made his way to the door. Peering out over the crowd, he didn’t immediately see either of the two Summers women and, once he was on the platform, he got swept up in the crowd heading for the exit.

“Giles!” Dawn cried, pushing her way through the throng of humanity. “Giles!”

The Watcher turned his head in the direction he heard his name coming from. Within moments, he found himself with an armful of exuberant eighteen-year-old as she threw herself into his arms, the sea of business commuters and tourists parting around them. He laughed and kissed the top of her head as he held her tight.

“I’ve missed you!” Dawn declared.

Looking over the top of her head, searching for the woman who held his heart in the balance, Giles said, “I’ve missed you as well. I am sorry I couldn’t come visit earlier.”

“It’s okay, I mean, I was studying and all. It was a tough term,” Dawn shrugged as she took his hand. “Although you’ll probably have to make it up to Buffy. Come on, she’s waiting for you.”

The horde of people had mostly cleared out when they reached the bench by which Buffy nervously stood. She wore a white patterned sun dress with her hair casually pulled back in a ponytail, wisps of hair framing her face. She stole his breath and he let go of Dawn’s hand, stopping for a moment as his Slayer held him in thrall.

She smiled shyly at him as their eyes met. For all their conversations, they’d avoided the topic of being together as a couple, spending most of their time just talking about what they would do and see the next time they were together. Places Giles wanted to show her and places she wanted to take him just to relax and forget the world for a while - though neither wanted to go hiking or camping anytime soon.

Her heart thudded wildly in her chest as she took in the man she’d waited months to see again. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen him in a suit, much less a tailored one. It was navy pinstripe, worn with an ivory-colored shirt which was perfectly offset by a tie patterned through with royal blue. It seemed weird to see him without his beard even though he’d told her he had shaved it off after he’d gotten home and slept for sixteen hours straight. In a way, she missed it. When she’d kissed him before, his whiskers had tickled and scratched at her, and she wondered what it would be like to kiss him without it.

Giles returned her smile, set down his suitcase, and walked towards her, opening his arms. She rushed into them, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her cheek against his heart. All the nerves they had felt leading up to that moment seemed to vanish in the embrace.

“Okay, you two,” Dawn interrupted. “I’ve got a ceremony to attend in a few of hours and, Giles, you promised lunch at my favorite little bistro in Montmartre. It’s like five minutes from here by cab and I am starving.”

“Right you are, Dawn,” Giles answered the teen, but he only had eyes for the blonde woman in his arms. He loosened his embrace, but was unable to pull his gaze away from her. “You look stunning, Buffy.”

“You clean up pretty nicely yourself,” she answered with a pleased grin as she ran her index finger over his smooth chin. “No more Giles of the North.”

“No, I need to look respectable,” he answered, looking over at Dawn. “I wouldn’t want to embarrass Dawn on such an important day.”

The younger girl rolled her eyes for effect, though she was happy to see them finally getting along. But god, they must be the two most emotionally repressed people she knew, why they didn’t just do the whole running into each other’s arms in slow motion thing, she didn’t know. It was clear to her that they were crazy about each other.

The couple ended their hug and Dawn picked up Giles’ suitcase with one hand and passed the other through his elbow. Smiling at her, he reached for Buffy’s hand and the three of them headed out of the train station together.

----------

Buffy watched as Giles and Dawn deftly ordered lunch in French at the bistro. Her French was passable, but Dawn and Giles had a way with languages that left her behind. Three years of high school French certainly hadn’t prepared her for living in Paris, but she picked up what she could and got by.

They shared a bottle of wine and ate their meal, the conversation flowing freely as Dawn told Giles of her graduation present from her sister - a trip to Spain with two of her friends to lounge out on the beach and enjoy the Spanish nightlife for a week before coming home and packing her things for college.

“I wish you weren’t going so far away,” Buffy asserted.

“It’s just New York,” Dawn said excitedly.

Just New York,” Buffy said with a shudder.

“It beats LA or San Francisco,” Dawn countered.

“What was wrong with the Sorbonne, or Oxford?” Buffy asked in a huff. “At least they are on the right side of the Atlantic.”

Dawn laughed, “Neither offered the full ride, Buffy. Plus, I mean, hello, New York City!”

“Oxford will be waiting for her when she’s graduated from NYU,” Giles noted with a wink, pulling out an envelope and handing it to the graduate. “For you. Congratulations on your achievement.”

Opening the envelope, Dawn looked at the contents in confusion.

“You have three open ended airplane tickets. Use two of them to come home when you need to, and I expect you to use the third one to enjoy Spring Break someplace warm,” he stated. “And the last is a ticket to bring you home for the winter holidays. Can’t have you spending Christmas in New York by yourself.”

“Giles! This is the best present ever!” Dawn bounced out of her seat and gave him a huge hug.

Buffy laughed as she watched her sister’s antics with her Watcher. Giles blushed, his neck and cheeks flaring to a beautiful shade of red, still not used to Dawn’s demonstrative displays of affection, especially in public. If he weren’t pinned down, he’d probably have removed his handkerchief and polished his glasses.

“Yes, well, go finish up your dessert, Dawn, we have to get you to the ceremony soon,” Giles dismissed, clearing his throat as he awkwardly hugged her back.

“Yes, Dad,” she teased, heading back to her seat. “But first back to the apartment where you can drop off your suitcase and I can change into my dress.”

“What’s wrong with what you are wearing?” Giles asked, taking a sip of his coffee.

Dawn looked down at the lilac dress she wore. “Oh, it clashes with the cap and gown,” she dismissed. “School colors are burgundy and grey.”

----------

Giles and Buffy escorted Dawn to the gym where the graduating students were to get ready for the commencement ceremony. As they walked down the hall, Ethan pushed himself off the wall of lockers and greeted them with a smile, “Quite the touching family scene.”

Letting go of his grip on Dawn’s hand, Giles tensed up and stepped into Ethan’s space, “Why are you here? You said all debts were paid. Get out!”

“Don’t worry, mate. I’m only here to give my congratulations to Dawn.”

“Go away, Ethan, before I kick you out.”

“You’re going to draw a crowd, Ripper, and security will escort us out and you will miss Dawn’s valedictory speech.”

Giles stepped back and folded his arms over his chest. “What do you want, Ethan?”

The sorcerer pulled out a rectangular box and attempted to hand it to Dawn, but Giles stepped in front of the teen while Buffy grabbed her sister’s hand, ready for any tricks the chaos mage might play.

“Rupert,” Ethan sighed. “I’m the one who left you the clues. I could’ve left Dawn to Riley’s devices anytime by teleporting myself out, but I didn’t. I even allowed myself to have my magick ripped from me, which was excruciating I might add, to make sure you and your Slayer would find the Key. Why, after all that, would I want to cause her harm?”

“Why do you do anything you do, Ethan? I still haven’t figured it out after all this time,” Giles muttered in exasperation.

Dawn stepped out from behind the Watcher and put her hand on his shoulder. “Giles, he took care of me. Riley would’ve forgotten to feed me, he was so busy with his plans, but Ethan was there, making sure I was okay and keeping me from being too scared.”

Ethan smiled and cautiously handed over the box, his eyes never leaving those of his former friend’s.

“Dawn,” Buffy started.

“No, Buffy, it’s okay. I trust him,” she stated. “It’s like he said, he could’ve left at any time, but he stayed. For me.” After opening the box, Dawn pulled out a delicate gold chain with a silver Denarius coin set in gold hanging from it. “It’s beautiful, Ethan, thank you.”

“What’s your game, Ethan?” Giles growled, his teeth set, recognizing the image of Janus struck on one side of the coin.

“No game,” the sorcerer sighed. “Have you so forgotten your mythology, Ripper? Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions. He looks to the future and the past. Dawn embarks on a new stage in her life today.”

“Why do you even care, Ethan?” Buffy asked, seeking her Watcher’s hand as she felt his anger rise.

“Because, my dear, I am Dawn’s godfather of sorts. You see, and I must say, Rip, I am disappointed in you,” he chided, crossing his arms over his chest. “Janus is also the god of gates, doorways, and portals-”

“And I’m... the Key,” the teen finished, her eyes widening in recognition.

“Yes, your mystic origins belong to the god. After a fashion, you are his daughter and he’s taken great interest in protecting you from evil. He had the Order of Dagon transform you from energy into flesh, made from your sister’s blood, so she and her Watcher would protect you from Glorificus. This time, when your energy was threatened, it fell to me to help you escape Riley, and I enlisted the best help I could find.”

“And this necklace?”

“A token from Janus, as you cross the threshold into adulthood. It is charmed, of course,” Ethan said smugly, yet was quick to explain, “but only so that you can’t lose it. Nothing more, nothing less.” Shifting his attention back to Giles he continued, “I’m not going back on my word, Rupert, all debts were paid in Iceland.”

Giles nodded and squeezed Buffy’s hand in reassurance. Of course, now that he thought about it, Dawn’s origins made sense, and her ties to the god ensured that Ethan would keep his word. They were all safe from his chaotic whims. It still didn’t change his feelings towards his old friend, though, there was too much history between them.

Dawn gave the medallion back to Ethan and turned around, sweeping her long hair out of the way. “Would you please?”

A look of delight spread across the sorcerer’s face. “It would be my honor.” He fastened the chain around her neck and she fingered the pendant.

“Ah, there you are, Miss Summers,” A balding man holding a clipboard in his hands said as he walked down the hallway. “We’re just about ready to start.”

“I gotta go get my cap, gown, and chords, and prep one last time for my speech,” Dawn said grinning, turning to the three adults. “I’ll see you guys after I’m no longer a high schooler, ‘kay? Thanks, Ethan, for this,” she smiled, lifting the pendant before she turned and ran towards the gym.

“Right, well, I’ll be off then,” Ethan stated, turning towards the exit.

“Ethan, wait,” Buffy called to him, squeezing Giles’ hand once more. “Dawn would be disappointed if you didn’t stay to hear her speech.”

Ethan smiled and gestured to the Slayer and Watcher before following them into the auditorium. They joined Andrew, Willow, and Xander in a row of seats in the center of the hall. The two Scoobies’ eyes went up questioningly at the presence of the chaos mage, but Giles just shook his head and took his seat.

Dawn was one of sixteen seniors receiving their diplomas and brought her graduating class and their guests to their feet with her valedictory speech. She had such poise for someone who’d faced hardship so young, and Buffy had never been more proud of her sister than when she watched her move the tassel from one side of her cap to the other before throwing it in the air. And, in the tradition of seniors decorating their mortarboards, Dawn had very cleverly decorated the top of hers with a red apple, an Eifel Tower, and Big Ben, places she now called, or would call, home.

Chapter Text

Uncertain Ground - Chapter 11

 

After the ceremony, Dawn had headed out for a night on the town with her fellow graduates, leaving the Scoobies and Andrew to eat dinner at a restaurant near the Louvre. Buffy had looked around for Ethan to invite him along, but he’d magically disappeared sometime after giving his respects to Dawn.

The group indulged in a five course meal and shared in several bottles of wine before Andrew left to go clubbing. Giles and Buffy couldn’t keep their eyes off of each other, occasionally brushing fingers against the other’s hand, and it soon became clear to Willow and Xander that the Watcher and Slayer wanted nothing more than to be alone. After the meal was paid for, the Scoobies said goodbye at the Pont Neuf, making plans to get together for dinner with Dawn the next day before the teen left for her trip to Spain.

“Just when you think life couldn’t get any weirder,” Buffy said as she strolled next to Giles, crossing the Seine along its oldest bridge on that hot and sultry evening in the City of Light.

“Don’t tempt fate,” he cautioned in good humor as he carried his suit jacket casually over his shoulder, his waistcoat open, his tie loosened, and the top two buttons of his shirt unbuttoned. He’d even rolled up his shirt sleeves.

“I just mean about Dawn being the mystical daughter of an ancient Roman god.”

“I think she’s relieved to finally know something of her origins. So am I, truth be told.”

“Yeah, I am sure you will be researching well into the New Year,” Buffy teased, though she too was reassured to know more about the Key and her sister’s creation.

Giles gave her a soft smile in confirmation. “I’m not sure how I feel about Ethan having a more permanent presence in our lives, though,” he sighed, as he looked across the bank at Notre Dame.

“It’s what Dawn wants. He won’t hurt her - or us - because of their connection to Janus.”

“I know, but... still...” he answered as Buffy slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow and fell into step with him.

“Too much to forgive?”

“He’s just a part of the past I wanted to leave behind,” Giles said softly.

“I get that.”

The Watcher stopped their stroll and turned towards her, placing his jacket down on the ledge, his face very serious. “You felt that way about us.”

Buffy took a deep breath and looked into his eyes. She wasn’t used to this sort of honesty. “Yes, I was going to tell the Council brass to find me someone else to work with or I was done.”

Giles swallowed hard. The thought of having her feel about him the way he felt about Ethan wounded him deeply.

“It was never my intention to hurt you, Buffy.”

“I know, I heard what you said on the mountain. All of it. And I am sorry for not understanding and letting things spiral out of control. But I wasn’t ready to let you go in LA, not when we were finally starting to fix things between us.”

“I’d still make the same decision,” he said, shoving his left hand into his pocket.

Buffy swallowed the rising lump in her throat and looked out over the Seine, the reflected lights from the city dancing off the dark water suddenly of interest. “It was the right decision,” she admitted, keeping her eyes on the river. “You couldn’t abandon the Slayers.”

“No, I couldn’t, but I abandoned the one Slayer I shouldn’t have, the one for whom I was chosen,” he said regretfully as she brought her attention back to him and he opened his arms in an apologetic gesture. “I’m truly sorry.”

Without thought, she threw herself into his arms and felt them wrap around her as he rested his cheek against the top of her head. Fault lay on both sides and they finally had a chance to mend things and move forward.

“You were right about me,” she whispered into his chest. “I’ve been... distant with everyone. I’ve just thrown myself into work and taking care of Dawn, who, admittedly can take care of herself... except when psychos want to use her to open portals to hell...”

“I said many things on the mountain. Many things that were out of line.”

“Does it still hurt too much?”

“Does what still hurt too much?”

“Loving me.”

Giles drew in a deep breath and pulled back enough to look down at the woman in his arms. “Loving you, Buffy, is a frustratingly wonderful thing, though it’s easier now that we are on speaking terms again.”

“And those other feelings?” she asked with a little smile tugging at her lips. “The ones you said weren’t changing at the airport?”

“Ah, yes, those feelings,” Giles responded, lightly stroking her cheek with the tips of his fingers. “They are still constant.”

Her gaze moved to his lips and back up to search his pale green eyes. “So why is it taking you so long to kiss me?”

“I wasn’t sure of your feelings on the matter,” he answered as he leaned in and lightly nuzzled his nose against hers, teasing her.

“I tried to tell you that it was never about comfort, Giles. I fell in love with you on that glacier. I’m not sure when, but I know-”

He didn’t need to hear anymore. Beneath the lights of the most romantic city in Europe, he took her lips fervently with his, his left hand threading through her hair and around to the back of her head, drawing her closer.

Buffy’s heart skipped a beat. She’d waited for so long to feel those velvety lips on hers again, to get swept up in the passion he stirred inside of her. Running her hands up along the sides of his torso and around to his back, she hugged him tightly to her, returning the kiss with a fire she’d not felt before.

When they ended the kiss, Giles gazed down at her, his expression serious. “I knew without a doubt when you woke up in my arms after your fall. Before that, I had suspected my feelings had changed, but the prospect of losing you... again. My god, you fell and I could do nothing to...” He stopped a moment to get his emotions under control, looking up for a quick moment at the sky before returning his attention to her, “When you woke, I knew that even if you didn’t feel the same, I couldn’t live my life without you in it anymore.”

“God, Giles,” Buffy started before reaching up and guiding his face down to hers, culminating in the most sensual kiss they’d shared, the heat between them building as she put forth all her passion behind it.

Submitting to her enthusiasm, Giles let go, finally giving in to the desire that he’d suppressed since the first kiss they’d shared in the cave after she’d tended to his injured shoulder. Words yielded to actions as he nibbled and kissed his way over her jawline before gently biting down on her earlobe.

“Let’s go home,” she whispered as her hands traveled up his torso and over his chest.

“Dawn-” he breathed in frustration, his hands gliding down her sides to rest on her hips, his head coming to rest in the crook of her neck.

“Won’t be home until tomorrow afternoon,” came the breathless reply. “All night graduation party.”

“Buffy.” Her name left his lips in a soft moan, and as she turned and grabbed his hand to lead him to the cross street, he picked up his jacket and followed her.

They hailed a cab back to Buffy’s place, cuddling and kissing in the back much to the amusement of the driver, whose eyes wandered to the rearview mirror more often than was required for the short drive. When they arrived, Giles paid the fare as Buffy opened the door to the building and he followed her in as she took hold of the sides of his waistcoat, pulling him into the lift to take them up to her top floor apartment.

He pushed her up against the rail, his mouth plundering hers as she grabbed his ass and pulled him closer to her, both breathing hard, hands groping and tugging at the other’s clothing. The bell chimed when they reached her floor and the doors opened.

Buffy groaned, her mind stuck between wanting to carry on where they were and getting into her apartment as quickly as possible. “We’re here.”

“I know,” he answered, his mind in a simple state of frenzy as he kissed down her neck to her collarbone.

“Giles... let’s go inside.”

“Right,” he said with a little difficulty, letting her move past him. He took a cleansing breath and ran his left hand through his hair, trying to get some control over himself.

She entered the apartment first, kicking off her shoes, the lights from the city illuminating the living room in a romantic hue. Their eyes met in shy hesitation when she turned to face him, the few moments apart allowing the reality of the situation to intrude. Walking over towards him, Buffy quietly closed the door before resting her palm over his heart.

Giles lifted her chin, bringing her lips to his in a tender salute. Placing both her hands to his chest, she slid them up over his shoulders and down his arms, feeling the strength in his upper body as she removed his waistcoat.

The kiss ended as she began to unknot his tie. Pulling the length of fabric from around his neck, she tossed it onto one of the wingback chairs and looked up at him, a look of apprehension creeping into her eyes.

“It’s, um, it’s been a long time for me,” she confided quietly.

“For me as well,” he returned. “There’s no need to rush. We can stop and take this slowly.”

“No, I just... felt you should know...” she said, maintaining eye contact while starting to unbutton his shirt, the tails of which had already been pulled from his trousers in the elevator.

Giles smiled at her when she was done, unrolling the sleeves before pulling his shirt off. Buffy smiled back, her eyes wandering to his chest. Running her fingers along his right shoulder, she asked, “It healed up all right?”

“A little rest and physio and it’s now back to full strength,” he reassured her.

She explored the contours of his chest, trailing her fingers down through the soft hairs like she’d wanted to back in the cave in Iceland, feeling his muscles quiver at the lightest of her touches.

He watched as she rested her palms against his stomach before pushing her hands up to his pecs, letting out a soft hiss as her fingernails delicately scraped against his hard nipples. Spurred on by his reaction, she kissed from the hollow of his throat down to his navel. Her hands found their way to his belt buckle, and after having made short work of it, Buffy went to unbutton his trousers, but Giles stopped her and picked her up, capturing her mouth with his.

“Which room is yours?” he asked when he broke the kiss.

She pointed to the room to the left and he carried her to it, shutting the door behind them with his foot. Carefully setting her back onto the ground, he reached behind her and slowly unzipped her dress. His fingers found the spaghetti straps and he slowly pushed them over her shoulders, the dress falling in a heap at her feet. She hadn’t worn a bra beneath it and Giles stood still, gazing at her form that was now covered only by a slip of fabric. He’d been in awe of her strength and form when they trained together years ago, but standing before her now as her aspiring lover, he was simply left breathless.

“My god, but you are beautiful,” he finally murmured, pushing back a wisp of hair behind her ear. Drawing her back into his arms, Giles kissed her forehead, moved to her nose and then her mouth before beginning to explore her neck and chest with lips, tongue, and teeth, nipping and nibbling at the swell of her breasts until taking one of her nipples between his teeth and gently biting down, her moans and sighs spurring him on. One hand came up to fondle and squeeze her other breast while his free hand moved towards her backside and pressed her closer to him.

Feeling his arousal against her belly, Buffy moved her hands to unbutton his trousers. He didn’t resist her this time, his mind clearly on other matters as he caressed her breast and sucked at her nipples. After pulling the zipper down, his trousers pooled at his feet and she worked her hands into his boxers, shoving them down over his rear and taking care to pull them away in front as she freed his erection. Circling his thick cock with her hand, Buffy started to tease and touch, and he threw his head back and groaned.

“Jesus, Buffy,” he muttered.

Her other hand snaked around his neck, drawing his head down and kissing him hard, her tongue ravaging his mouth, exploring and plundering. Giles’ hands roamed her body and settled on her hips as he broke the kiss. Directing his attentions southward, he removed her hand from his penis and kissed his way down her torso, dropping to his knees when he found her navel. Distracted, Buffy combed her fingers through his hair as he kissed and teased along her panty line with his tongue, the smell of her driving him wild. Looping his fingers into the waistband, he pulled the soaked piece of fabric down her legs.

“Giles,” she whispered, stepping out of her underwear and moving towards the bed. Sitting down, she pushed herself back onto the pillows, her arms extended out for him to join her. He toed off his shoes and socks and climbed into bed, finding himself cradled between her legs.

They made love slowly as the night wore on, worshipping each other, forgiving past hurts and vowing not to repeat them though the words were left unspoken. While they recovered in the other’s arms, a sheen of sweat covering them both, light kisses and touches exchanged as they couldn’t get enough of each other, Buffy took a deep breath and asked, “I know there was trouble at the office before you left. How long are you able to stay?”

Giles rolled onto his side and traced her cheek with his fingers, his expression serious. “I report back for duty in a week,” he answered.

She sighed forlornly. Long distance relationships sucked. “I could come visit in about three weeks. I need to meet Dawn at the train station when she comes home from Spain and then I’ll be busy helping her pack for her move to New York before traveling with her and getting her settled into her dorm.”

Giles leaned down and kissed her softly before rolling back onto his back. She cradled her head on his shoulder, playing with the hair on his chest. From her bedroom window they had a view of the Eifel Tower, and they both stared out at it in silence, contemplating their situation.

“I don’t know,” he began after a few minutes, “maybe I’ll stay. Paris is growing on me.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” Buffy asked, turning her head to look at him.

He smiled shyly, his heart pounding beneath his chest. “I-I could rent out my townhouse in London and commute to headquarters once a month or so to put in an appearance. I don’t see any compelling reason as to why I can’t base myself here. Unless you have an overwhelming desire to live near the Council.”

“God no!” she declared, a wide grin spreading across her face and she playfully rolled over on top of Giles, kissing him thoroughly. “I think something can be arranged here.”

“I don’t want to intrude-”

“Giles!” she yelled, playfully hitting his shoulder. “I was thinking of ways to kidnap you and keep you here. Chain you to the bed, maybe.”

“Kinky girl,” he laughed as he moved his hands over her hips, up her torso, and over her breasts.

She grabbed his wrists and pinned them over his head. “Maybe just a little,” she agreed, rocking her hips against his. “Oh, is someone up already?” she continued innocently, feeling the evidence of his desire against her backside.

“What are you going to do about it?” Giles challenged.

“I might have a few ideas,” she stated wickedly.

----------

The afternoon sun filled the room and Buffy opened an eye, peeking at the alarm clock by the bed as she lifted her chin from her lover’s chest.

“Good afternoon, love,” Giles greeted as she looked up at him.

Buffy wiped the sleep from her eyes. “I guess we totally missed morning,” she answered as she moved to kiss him.

They shared a relaxed and unhurried kiss. When it ended, Buffy sighed and snuggled into him, her hands lightly caressing his chest as he combed his fingers through her hair.

“Well, we were occupied most of the early hours,” he said with a mischievous grin.

“Mmm, that we were,” she reminisced with a happy sigh. “You know, as much as it sucked having to climb mountains and trek over a glacier to find Dawn and Ethan, my favorite parts were those quiet mornings when we woke up together like this.”

“Not exactly like this,” Giles countered with a teasing tone.

“No, neither of us was entirely blissed out, but you know what I mean.”

“Indeed,” he answered, cupping her cheek. “It was quite the adventure, saving your sister and crossing the fault lines. No regrets?”

“None,” Buffy stated, shifting up onto her elbow to peer down at him. Tracing the outline of his lips with her index finger, she asked, “You?”

“Not a one,” he responded, kissing the pad of her finger.

“You’re really staying?”

“I’ll eventually run out of clothes to wear and will need to return to London to pack my things and move them here.”

“Screw that, we’ll buy you new clothes.”

Giles laughed and pulled her into his arms, kissing her soundly. “We can take care of the move together after we get Dawn sorted in New York,” he said with a smile. “You can even put in an appearance at the Council, letting the board know exactly where this Watcher should be.”

“With his Slayer,” Buffy asserted definitively.

“Precisely. Now, how long do we have before we are meeting everyone for dinner?”

“A couple of hours.”

“Mmm, we might have to show up fashionably late,” he mused as he rolled over on top of her, sucking a pert pink nipple into his mouth, his hands roaming her body.

“Giles!” Buffy admonished, writhing breathlessly beneath him

“Yes, love?” he asked, innocently looking up at her through hooded eyes.

“Maybe just a few minutes late,” she relented.

Grinning wickedly up at the woman he loved, Giles resumed his exploration of her body with his tongue. “I’ll see what I can do to speed things up a bit.”

----------

Yawning, Dawn closed the door behind her. After her night out, she definitely needed a nap before dinner with the gang. As she trudged towards her room, she almost stepped on Giles’ shirt, and her eyes found his tie strewn over the wingback chair and his waistcoat on the floor next to it. A little smile graced her lips when she heard a giggle coming from her sister’s room and she fingered the medallion around her neck.

After her commencement, Ethan had pulled her aside and told her not to be afraid of Chaos. Chaos was life’s catalyst. It was during chaotic and uncertain times that Janus opened a door and it was up to the individual whether they chose to step through or not. She didn’t know exactly what had transpired between her sister and Giles in Iceland, Buffy had held that information close to her chest, but whatever it was, they had finally worked things out between them and were able to move forward, finding solid ground together.

As the giggles turned into moans, Dawn rolled her eyes and headed towards her room, thankful that she was exhausted and sleep would come easily.