This Time

This Time

By GylzGirl

Rating: PG
Pairings: Buffy/Giles, Willow/Xander
Summary: On Buffy's 20th Birthday, a series of events is set into motion and nothing will ever be the same again.
Notes: Angst, Character Death Written: 1999-2001

***

"My God," Buffy spoke, barely above a whisper, "they just keep coming." She wiped the blood from the cut in her lip and moved once more to the front of her cadre. When Giles had first told her that the Razor Fang, a Chinese tong that Angelus had chosen to vamp on a whim in the 1850's, were spotted near town, she hadn't wanted anyone to back her up. Giles had tried to make a point that they were too skilled and deadly for her to face alone. She made it perfectly clear that that was exactly why it was too dangerous for anyone but the Slayer to handle. Giles and her friends had acquiesced, or so she thought.

In keeping with her tradition of birthdays planned by Nostradamus, the Razor Fang had chosen to arrive on the very day she was to turn the big two zero. She bowed out of the gang's carefully planned party and made her way to the warehouse where Willy the Snitch had heard they were holed up.

By the time she found it, the sun was already setting. She knew that this menace could not be allowed to roam Sunnydale for even one night. She loaded her crossbow and made sure that every pocket contained as many sharpened stakes as they would hold. Suck timing or no, she had to go in and stop them. That's when Giles appeared from the shadows, reasserting himself as her Watcher, Council be damned. He informed her that it was his place to fight by her side, and die there if need be. He held a saber at his side and his jacket pocket held the tell-tale bulge of stakes. Before she could argue, Willow and Xander walked into the dim moonlight as well. She gripped a baseball bat tightly while Xander held a mace. One final plea from the Slayer had fallen on deaf ears. She had handed the latecomers extra stakes as back up and led them inside.

Now she was only hoping she hadn't led them to a slaughter. There were so many of them, and Giles was right, they were skilled. They were a warrior clan that had inherited all of Angelus' cruelty. As soon as Buffy's group entered the warehouse, they were flanked by what had to have been a group of thirty. Apparently, since the book Giles' read about them in was published, they had been recruiting.

They had come at them one at a time at first, testing. Soon the vampires had determined the strongest and weakest fighters, and concentrated their forces on both of them. Buffy had taken some painful shots to the head and ribs but was able to hold her own. She had only been able to take out one with the crossbow before it was knocked out of her hands. They kept at least five vampires on her at all times, and she was staking them at a slow but steady rate. Willow however, was not fairing as well.

Willow was keeping the vampires from overwhelming and killing her, just barely. Xander and Giles were aware of her situation and struggling to get to her aid. For every step they took however, it seemed another vampire would engage them, delaying her rescue.

Buffy finally cleared the circle around her. She flipped over to Willow's position and staked two quickly before having to engage the last one in hand to hand. Giles staked the vampire attacking him and moved to hold the one on Xander. With his opponent pinned, Xander dusted him and both men moved to Willow's side on the ground. They found her in similar condition to themselves, bruised, scratched, bleeding and breathless, but not seriously hurt.

Buffy finally managed to finish off the vampire she was fighting and joined her friends, crouched on the ground. "Is everyone okay?" Three heads nodded wearily. "How many did we get? I lost count."

"I'm not sure," Giles answered, surveying their surroundings with a suddenly worried eye. A loud scurrying noise soon echoed throughout the empty room.

Buffy rose to her feet, Giles joining her seconds later. "It sounds like rats."

Giles' smile was humorless. "Very large ones."

"There!" They turned briefly to see Willow pointing to a catwalk above. One vampire jumped to the floor before them, followed soon by another, and another.

"My God," Buffy spoke, barely above a whisper, "they just keep coming." She wiped the blood from the cut in her lip and moved once more to the front of her cadre. The vampires were eventually joined by a fourth and then a fifth member. "Xander, watch Willow." The boy took up his weapon once more and stood before the redhead. Buffy moved into the fray and Giles was a half-step behind her. Buffy quickly staked two of their opponents, Giles taking out another. Soon Watcher and Slayer circled the remaining vamps who were back to back and suddenly not looking so smug.

"Heads up," Xander called as he tossed Giles his fallen saber. The Englishman caught it expertly and spun to take the head of the vamp before him. As his companion disintegrated, the remaining vamp took a step back, right into Buffy's strike zone. Before he could blink an eye, he joined his friend as a pile of ash on the floor.

Xander helped Willow to her feet and kept a hold of her hand. The foursome moved closer together, visually inspecting each other to ease their minds. Giles tilted Buffy's chin up till her eyes met his. He smiled proudly and used his finger to wipe away the blood that had formed on her lip once more. "Good job." A smile twitched at the corner of her mouth.

Her hand moved up and traced the bruise on his cheek gently. "You were pretty good yourself there." His smile was shy.

In the stillness of the room, a sound like air itself being ripped apart broke the silence. It was a sound to Buffy as primal as a lion's roar or a baby's cry. "GILES!" She had no more than gotten the word past her lips when she saw the crossbow bolt enter his back and exit his front, roughly in the area of his heart. He crumpled to the ground before Buffy could catch him.

Willow screamed and Xander threw her to the floor, covering her body with his own. Buffy, a look of rage and horror on her face, followed the arrow's path up to the catwalk. One vampire stood there smiling, clutching her forgotten crossbow. As he calmly loaded another bolt, Buffy froze, hot angry tears searing her cheeks. The vampire released the arrow. In a split second, Buffy rolled to the side, jumped to her feet and hurled her last stake. It landed square in the astonished vampire's chest. He turned to dust and her crossbow dropped to the ground with a loud clang.

Buffy ran to Giles' side, dropped to her knees and cradled him gently across her lap, careful not to disturb the arrow.

"Hold on Giles, we-we're gonna get you to a hospital an-and you're gonna be fine!"

He lifted his hand weakly to her face once more. His gaze was full of affection. Buffy tried to wipe away the blood that was trickling out the side of his mouth. He turned his head slightly and placed a feather light kiss on her hand. Then he closed his eyes and his chest rose no longer.

"Giles?! Giles?! Please? Oh God wake up! Please wake up!" She held him to her chest and began to rock him as the tears came unabated. Willow and Xander cried as well, each holding onto the other to keep from falling completely apart. "Please don't leave me. I-I can't do this alone," Buffy's voice was weak and choked with pain. Her entreaty having failed to bring her Watcher to her aid one last time, she did the only thing she could think to do. She clutched him tightly and sobbed like a person who had lost a part of themselves.

******

Chapter Two

Willow walked into the dorm room she and Buffy shared. Well, that wasn't exactly true anymore. Since Giles' death three months before, Buffy hadn't spent one single night here. She had all but moved into Giles' apartment. Xander spent more nights here than anyone else, which wouldn't have been kosher with the University if they found out. Nothing was going on, but he was after all a boy, and a non-student. Willow didn't care. It just felt good not to be alone. She had come more and more to think they lost not only Giles but Buffy too on that horrible night.

Xander lay sprawled and sleeping on Buffy's bed. His backside was hanging over the side and half-blocking the narrow path between the beds. Willow smiled and gave it a light swat. "I'm up! Sorry Buffy I'll get out of your..."

"Relax."

Xander turned to lay on his back and look up at his semi-roomie. He rubbed a hand over his sleep-numbed face, trying to wake up. "Will?"

"Sorry to wake you up but your big ole butt was in my way there." She sat on her own bed and looked at him.

He scoffed and folded his arms behind his head. "Yeah, thought you were Slaygirl there for a second. I really must have been dreaming."

"Xander, don't start."

"Why not?" Willow tensed and leaned back against her headboard, producing a text book from her backpack and trying to block out her friend's impending tirade. She'd heard it all before. "She didn't even come to the funeral Will."

"I know. Some people handle things differently. She was in shock from it Xander. If you ask me, she still is."

"Bullshit. After all Giles did for us, all he did for her, she couldn't even come and say good-bye? Christ. Just think of all the shit she put him through and she wouldn't even..." Xander barely managed to duck the text book thrown hard and accurately at his head.

Willow stood beside her bed and glared down at him. "You want to know what I think?! I've been listening to you bitch for three months about what you think, so I *think* it's my turn! I'm mad at Buffy for shutting us out! I'm mad at her for blaming herself! But I'm scared for her too Xander. Have you seen her recently?"

Xander mutely nodded. "She's wasting away Xand. She must have lost twenty-five pounds that she couldn't afford to lose. Those dark circles under her eyes haven't gone away once since..."

"I know," he nearly whispered.

"And I am mad at you! You won't give her a break. And part of you blames yourself so you are taking that out on her. You're being a goddamn two year old and I'm sick of listening to you!" Xander gulped but made no move to speak. "And I'm mad at the both of you for forcing me to be the strong one. You complain to me about her. She complains to me about you. Neither of you are talking to the other. You're both so damn selfish! You're both allowed to let your emotions run rampant but I can't! I'm the one who has to hold it all together and be sane and logical or it all falls apart! And I can't do it anymore!" She burst into tears and sat back down on her bed.

Xander swallowed convulsively to try to clear the lump in his throat. He reached for her, slowly. "Will?"

"And I am so mad at Giles! How could he leave us?! God we need him so much. How do we do this without him? What do we do?"

Xander moved to her bed and put his arms around her. She hit at him at first but when his embrace only tightened, she clutched at him and sobbed against his chest. He kissed the top of her hair. "Shhh Will, please don't cry. You're right, I'm an asshole. I'm sorry. I'll make it up with Buffy. We'll do better. We'll help each other through this."

Xander rubbed at her back until she calmed a little. "Giles wouldn't have left us if he could help it. You know that."

"I do. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I said it."

"If Giles were here, he'd know what to do to fix this. But since he's not, we owe it to his memory to stick together and work through this ourselves. He wouldn't have wanted us to be hurting like this, to be hurting each other like this."

"I know," she whispered and continued to cling to him as he rocked and comforted her.

******

Buffy sat in the middle of Giles' bed, arms encircling her knees, rocking. She stared at the pictures of Giles that she had placed on the weapon's chest at the foot of his bed. She wore torn up jeans, a tank top and one of Giles' dress shirts. Buffy had taken it from his hamper, because it still smelled like him. It pooled around her tiny frame. Only the smallest part of her mind registered that even her own clothes had started to do that.

For three months, although she had no concept that it had been that long, this was how she spent her days. At sunset, she would patrol. At sunrise, she came back here. Aside from nearly inconsequential slivers of sleep here and there, this was her life.

Xander no longer spoke to her. That was fine. She didn't want to see him anymore. When he looked at her, she could see the blame that she felt mirrored in his eyes.

Willow checked in from time to time, told her that she had explained to the University that Buffy had had a devastating death in the family and had arranged for her to resume her schedule at the beginning of the next semester.

Buffy heard the words, but they no longer had any meaning for her. Nothing did. The only reason she kept patrolling was because it's what Giles would have wanted her to do. Also, she knew one night, she wouldn't come back, and that was what she wanted. She wanted this slow-bleeding wound in her heart to go away. She couldn't feel any way but bad, so she wanted to stop feeling. She was tired of fighting; demons, tears, memories. She just wanted everything to stop.

******

Willow sat Indian-style on the floor next to the small oaken table she used for an altar. Xander lay snoring lightly in her bed. She had been looking consistently for any kind of spells that could help the three of them through this. So far, it hadn't been working. She sat her latest grimoire in the center of the altar, lit the two white pillar candles to either end of the table, and began the now-familiar entreaty.

"Oh Great Hecate, hear my plea. Book of Shadows before me. Find for me the spell I seek, to strengthen hearts that grief's made weak." Willow watched the book in silence for a bit, then sighed in disappointment. Just as she was about to extinguish the altar candles' flames, the book began to shake.

Willow sat back and brought her hands over her mouth to stifle a gasp. The front cover of the book opened and the pages began to turn of their own accord, faster and faster. "Yes," she whispered as tears formed in her eyes. "Yes work. Please please work!" Suddenly the pages stopped moving, the book open wide to almost the middle. As Willow leaned forward, the candle flames billowed up almost a foot. She screamed and fell back to keep from being burned. Then the candles went out.

Xander awoke in total darkness to the sound of Willow screaming. His heart was pounding out of his chest. God, he couldn't lose her too. "WILL?!"

"Turn on the light! Turn on the light!"

Xander half-fell out of the bed, lunging for the switch on the wall. When the dim yellow bulb came on, he saw Willow sitting on the floor in front of her altar. "Willow?" His eyes darted around the room, checking for whatever Sunnydale had deemed to set on them tonight.

She moved forward, knocking the candlesticks off of the altar in her haste and seizing the book off of the table, her eyes quickly scanning the page. Xander came to her side and set the candles back on the table's surface. He sat next to her and waited, not wanting to disturb her. After a few minutes, she smiled up at him.

"What is it Will?"

"A blessing." She took his hand and squeezed it, smiling brighter than he had seen in months. "And maybe, a solution to all of this."

******

Chapter Three

It was mid-afternoon when Willow unlocked the door to Giles' apartment. She'd called Giles' place looking for Buffy minutes after she found the spell, only to find that she wasn't there. Figuring the Slayer was on patrol, she planned to come by after classes had finished in the evening. She had hardly slept at all that night and could barely focus on her studies during the morning. Then, at about 11 am, the most horrible feeling came over her. Willow tried to shake it off, but it wouldn't go away. When she finally accepted it, she had practically flown over in her car, hoping she wouldn't be too late.

"Buffy?" As she shut the door behind her, she spotted Giles' desk completely cleaned of content except for a picture of Buffy putting a party hat on Giles for his last birthday and a stack of parchment envelopes. Willow moved closer and saw an envelope for herself, one for Xander, and three stamped ones with LA addresses, her mother's, father's and Cordelia's. "BUFFY!" Willow ran upstairs, tripping and landing hard on her knee on the third step from the top. Paying no mind to the fact that it was now bleeding, she hoisted herself up on the banister and tore up the remaining steps.

Buffy was sitting motionless in the middle of the bed. Willow approached slowly, tentatively reaching her hand out, afraid when she touched her she'd fall over dead. "Buffy?"

The blonde turned to face her friend. Her eyes were red and lined with dark rings. "Hey Wills."

She sat gently on the end of the bed. "Buffy what are you doing?"

The Slayer slowly shrugged. "Just sitting. Thinking."

"Buffy, I saw the envelopes." Her friend didn't answer. Willow exhaled. "Where is it?"

"Where's what?"

Willow searched the surface of the bed, her intense green eyes coming to focus on the pillow sitting just to the right of Buffy's knee. She moved it back and her eyes grew wide, filling with tears. A shiny silver .45 lay hidden beneath it. "Buffy...no."

"It's okay Willow. It's gonna be fine. I'm just...I'm just going to go see Giles is all. It's okay, they'll send a new Slayer soon and Sunnydale will be fine. It's okay. It's okay. It's okay."

"Stop saying that!" Willow grabbed the gun and threw it across the room. "It's not okay! You're quitting!"

"I can't do this without him."

"You're leaving us!"

"He left me! What do you expect me to do?!"

"FIGHT!"

"I'm too tired to fight anymore. I just want it to stop."

Willow stood and made a fist. "I said FIGHT!!" She punched her across the jaw.

Buffy turned with a stunned expression as a trickle of blood ran from her lip. "It's time for you to go Willow. I've kept Giles waiting far too long."

"Buffy he spent his whole life trying to keep you alive!"

"And look what it got him. This is the end. No one else dies for me. You and Xander take care of each other. Get the hell out of Sunnydale while you still can."

Willow wiped her tears with the back of her hand. "If you're going to quit now that I've found away to get Giles back, then the gun's over there on the floor and if you'll excuse me, I'm going to see myself out." Willow took off for the stairs.

"Bring him back? Will? Willow?!" Buffy sprang up off of the bed, ran down the stairs and tackled the redhead to the ground just steps away from the front door. She moved off of her friend and gripped her upper arms. "You can bring him back?!"

"No. Only you can. If you're willing."

"Just...just tell me what I have to do."

She brought her hands to Buffy's cheeks and held her gaze. "You have to live."

******

Buffy sat down silently on Giles' sofa and let go a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "Okay, lay it on me. What do I have to do?"

"The spell itself is pretty simple. Anyone could do it, even a non-witch."

"That'd be me. What's the catch? What does it do exactly?"

"This is the trickier bit. It will take your soul, your mind and all your memories, back ten years in time, and it will inhabit your body from ten years ago."

"Huh?"

Willow sighed, sensing a replay of having had to explain it to Xander the night before. "Okay, pretend we did the spell tonight."

"Yes?"

"Your twenty year old soul would inhabit your ten year old body."

"And what happens to the ten year old?"

"Her soul would come to your twenty year old body. And then if the you in the past changed the timeline enough, she'd probably cease to exist."

"So I can go back tonight and fix everything?"

"Buffy it doesn't work like..."

"No Will, don't you understand? I can go back to when I was ten and, knowing what I know, I-I could run away, before I'm called to be the Slayer. Then I wouldn't have ever disappointed my parents and they wouldn't have broken up."

"Buffy you can't..."

"Or I could go back and keep Merrick from being killed."

"Buffy..."

"I could keep myself from ever sleeping with Angel."

"Buffy..."

"I could go back the night before Giles died and arm myself better, keep Giles and all of you away from the battle if I have to tie you up and gag you and throw you in a damn closet."

"Buffy stop!" The blonde blinked twice and fell silent. "You can't do that. What if you run away when you are ten? You weren't the Slayer yet. You couldn't take care of yourself. And your Mom would never have made it if something had happened to you. You know that."

The Slayer lowered her eyes, but Willow crooked a finger under her chin and forced Buffy's gaze to meet her own. "If you stop Merrick from dying, you never would have even met Giles. Would you really wish him out of your life completely? You probably never would have come here, which means half the town would have been toast by now, me included. Remember little Miss Mistress of Pain from the other side? What if you stop Merrick's death and he gets hit by a car the very next day?"

"But A-Angel..."

"You may not sleep with him, but who says that would keep Miss Calendar alive? Do you see a pattern yet?"

"I-I..."

"What if you go back to the night before Giles was killed and some stray vamp gets lucky on patrol? With no Slayer, it's left up to the Scoobies to try to stop the Tong. We barely made it out with a Slayer there. Without you, we all die."

"So what do I do?"

"If you're going to go back, it should be as close to the minute of Giles being wounded as possible."

"But that means..."

"Exactly. If you're going to go back, you're going to have to be alive ten years from now. I won't do this for you. It's you or it's nobody."

"But Will, is that even possible? Have you ever heard of a thirty year old Slayer?"

"You're going to have to make it possible, if you want this second chance at saving Giles. You're going to have to fight and survive. You were willing to die because of losing him, are you willing to live to bring him back? Can you do that?"

"I-I guess I have to, don't I?"

For the first time in months, Willow saw hope glimmer behind her friend's green eyes. She smiled and held her arms open. Buffy leaned forward and clasped onto her, letting the pain and grief she had kept private for so long out, sobbing into her best friend's shoulder.

******

Chapter Four

Buffy sat down with a heavy sigh. She had been pacing for over an hour, waiting for Willow. She knew she didn't really need her to perform the spell, but she was nervous and wanted the reassurance of her presence. In the past ten years, she had memorized the incantation. It was the first thing that went through her head in the morning, and the last thing that she thought about before falling asleep every night. In fact, she had memorized the whole spellbook cover to cover. She had become a not-too-shabby witch herself in the decade she spent waiting for this night. It had given her something to do. She found herself a removed observer in the life going on around her, watching but not letting herself really participate.

Buffy had been happy when she attained her Masters degree in mythology at UC Sunnydale, but mostly from thinking how proud Giles would have been. She'd been happy for Willow and Xander when they had finally gotten married. Buffy hadn't gone on a single date since before Giles died. When she looked into the future, all she saw was this night. And now it was here and she couldn't help but think that Giles would have scolded her for living in the past and not enjoying the life she had.

Now, sitting alone in the warehouse where she'd lost him, she realized the ten years had proven one thing to her. Giles was indeed an irreplaceable part of her life. One she craved to have back. His loss was a pain neither time nor distance had lessened. He was the missing part of her and she needed him to be whole again. When she looked into her heart, she had found love for him. Complicated love that a schoolgirl, overwhelmed by her first affair with a dark forbidden stranger, had been completely blind to. Angel's return to Sunnydale had proven that as well. He left again in less than a month, finding her beyond uninterested in anything but reclaiming Giles.

She heard Willow's car pull up outside and cast a furtive look at her watch. One hour to go. Buffy smiled down on the picture of Giles she brought with her. "You kept me alive a whole 'nother ten years and you weren't even here. I can't believe I'll be looking into your eyes again in just one hour. I won't let you down this time Giles. I promise. I won't let you die again."

******

"Are you ready?" Willow asked.

Buffy smiled at her friend and pulled her into a hug. "I've been ready for ten years Will."

Buffy pulled away and dropped her robe, stepping naked into the chalk circle on the floor. Once the Slayer had crossed the threshold, Willow closed the last remaining gap in the circle. "Good luck." Willow smiled at Buffy and backed into the shadows, beyond her sight.

Buffy sat between the two white pillar candles within the circle. She struck a match on the ground and lit the candles. When they were both burning brightly, Buffy lit the center candle. She focused herself on the candle's flame. Once she was completely relaxed, she began to recite the incantation.

******

"Heads up," Xander called as he tossed Giles his fallen saber. The Englishman caught it expertly and spun to take the head of the vamp before him. As his companion disintegrated, the remaining vamp took a step back, right into Buffy's strike zone. Before he could blink an eye, he joined his friend as a pile of ash on the floor.

Xander helped Willow to her feet and kept a hold of her hand. The foursome moved closer together, visually inspecting each other to ease their minds. Giles tilted Buffy's chin up till her eyes met his. He smiled proudly and used his finger to wipe away the blood that had formed on her lip once more. "Good job." A smile twitched at the corner of her mouth, then her face went blank and became very pale. Her eyes rolled up and her knees collapsed. "Buffy?" Giles caught her, holding her up. She recovered quickly, standing strong and tall.

Her ears picked up the sound of the crossbow bolt being fired, a sound that had replayed itself in her nightmares for ten years. Buffy took a firm grip of Giles' lapels and shoved him to the ground, she herself landing on top of him, providing as much shield as her petite body could afford him.

Buffy could feel the wind from the arrow cutting through the air as it passed just over her head, ruffling her hair. As soon as the arrow moved beyond their position, Buffy sat, straddling Giles and pulling her last stake from her pocket. She flung it at the vampire on the catwalk with a Slayer's accuracy. As the creature crumbled to dust, her forgotten crossbow dropped to the floor with a loud clang.

Giles sat up, a bit stunned. Buffy turned to him and smiled brightly, tears filling her eyes. "You're alive! Oh God!" She threw her arms around him and embraced him tightly.

His hand came reassuringly to her back, rubbing. "I'm fine, thanks to you." She felt him tilt his head slightly up, then heard his breath catch. "Oh God no."

Buffy pulled back and looked at his face. His eyes were filling with tears. He looked like he was in shock. She followed his gaze. When she looked behind her, she observed Xander, crying, shaking and speechless as he cradled Willow's now still body, an arrow protruding from her chest. "NO! No Will no!!!" Buffy scrambled off of Giles and moved to Willow's side.

Xander curled his arms around her body tighter, protectively. "Don't! Don't touch her! You killed her!" He buried his face in his best friend's red hair and sobbed.

Buffy moved back against the wall, tears falling from her eyes as the truth of Xander's statement sunk in. Soon she felt Giles' hand upon her shoulder, easing her into his embrace. She clutched at his shirtfront. She'd been so focused on saving Giles, she never once had considered that the others might be in danger. She never meant to sacrifice anyone in Giles' place. Giles held her tightly as she fell apart, knowing there was only one way to ease the guilt and pain tearing at her. In ten years she would recast the spell, and this time she would get it right.

Next Time

Buffy watched the chilly January night air make ghosts of her breath as she paced the lawn in front of Giles' apartment building. She had almost forgotten and barged right in, having called it home herself for ten years. She questioned her reasoning for the hundredth time since she'd arrived there.

Willow had been killed mere hours before. 'I should give Giles some time and go back to the dorm room...that I haven't seen in a decade. Where I'll be surrounded by Willow's things.' Buffy sighed, wiping at a tear then putting her nearly frozen hands in her jacket pockets. 'Giles shouldn't have to deal with this tonight too.' She started to walk to the street and then turned and walked to his door. She remembered all too well how waiting to tell Giles something important, no matter how good the reason she felt she had, always led to trouble. More than that, she'd waited ten years to be with him again. The only place in the world she wanted to be was inside that apartment with him. Home.

She knocked lightly at first, then a little louder. As she heard his footsteps approach, her heartbeat sped up. Even grieving for her best friend, she could not suppress her happiness at simply knowing Giles was alive and breathing on the other side of the door.

The door opened and Giles peeked out. He looked haggard, eyes red rimmed from hours of crying. Still, at seeing Buffy, he managed a weak smile. "Is everything all right?"

Buffy bit her bottom lip to stop its trembling and shook her head. Giles pulled the door wider and held his arms open to her. She choked back a sob and rushed into his embrace. He pushed the door shut and brought his arms around her, supporting her as her small frame shuddered under the weight of her tears. He whispered quiet soothing words until her weeping became a silent torrent.

Buffy was overwhelmed by everything she was feeling. Grief and guilt for Willow's loss, intense joy in Giles' resurrection, and utter bafflement at how to explain to Giles the decade long saga that led to this moment, battled for control.

After a few quiet minutes in each other's arms, Buffy cleared her throat and pulled back a little. Giles smiled down on her and offered her his handkerchief. She took it and wiped at her face as she made her way to his sofa. "Giles?"

"Yes?" He came to sit beside her.

Buffy was momentarily distracted by the way his eyes caught the light. They were such kind eyes, so strangely colored and beautiful, so full of his caring for her. She was almost amazed at how much clearer she saw at 30 then she had at 20.

"Giles, I have something...major to tell you. I don't want to keep it from you...I've learned that lesson. But, it's big. Really big, and I don't know that tonight...with everything that happened...I don't know that now is the best time to broach this." Her eyes were wide as she looked up at him. "What do I do?"

His hands came to cover her own. "Perhaps you should tell me. Perhaps it will take our mind off of things...for a little while."

"But it won't...and I'm afraid you'll hate me. I couldn't bear that. Not after all this ti...not after everything." Her lower lip began to tremble once more.

Giles swallowed around the lump in his throat and moved closer to her. "I will never hate you." She lowered her head but he lifted her chin to force her to look into his eyes. "Never. Talk to me Buffy. Tell me what's wrong."

Buffy took a deep breath and stood. She paced the floor near the couch for several minutes before she looked at him again. She inhaled deeply once more and began. "This is the second time I've lived this night. Ten years ago, it was you that was killed by the crossbow arrow."

"Buffy," he breathed.

"I moved in here after it happened. I wouldn't sleep, eat...all I wanted was to die to be with you. And three months later I was going to kill myself, shoot myself in the head, upstairs." Her eyes drifted up to the loft. "Willow knew somehow. She found me maybe five minutes before I was going to pull the trigger. She..."

Giles leapt up off the sofa and grabbed her by the arms. Tears burned in his eyes as he began to lightly shake her. "Buffy you can't do this. Y-you have to pull it together. Losing Willow...it's almost inconceivable an-and it's hitting you hard I realize, but you couldn't have saved her."

"That's just it, I could have! I will!"

"Buffy stop! We can't lose you too! You have to calm down and you have to listen to me."

"No!" She pushed him away until he landed sitting on the couch once more. "You have to listen to me and you have to believe me."

Giles sighed as he watched her. He felt like he was idly sitting by as her sanity slipped away. It wasn't as if one could take a Slayer to the psychiatrist. They didn't take well to tales of demons and vampires for some reason.

"Willow came to me with a spell. A way to get you back. She said I'd have to survive for ten years so that I could go back to this night and save you. And I did it Giles. I did it all for you. I-I kept myself strong and I fought hard and I made it. I got my degree in Mythology at UC Sunnydale a-and I became a witch. And I never forgot. I lived for this night. For the chance to save you, to get you back. I performed the ritual to transfer my 30 year old soul back into my 20 year old body. So that I could rescue you."

Giles wiped at a tear.

"And I did it. But Willow died." Tears began to fall from her eyes. "You have to believe me. It never entered my mind that anyone but you was in danger. I never wanted Willow to die. I..." She broke down crying. Her body looked as though it were on the verge of collapse.

Giles stood again, his arms coming around her. When he felt her legs buckle, he swept her up and moved to the couch once more. He sat, cradling Buffy on his lap, whispering soft comforting sounds to try to calm her. His own tears came faster now. His fear seemed confirmed. The grief of losing her best friend had cost his Slayer her mind.

"Buffy, it's going to be all right. W-we'll take you down to Sunnydale Psychiatric and they'll keep you safe until I can get you some real help. I can...I can try to contact the Council..."

She moved from his lap and backed away. "Giles for Christ's sake I'm not crazy! Oh God, how do I make you believe me?" She began to pace again. After a moment or two, hope returned to her expression. She knelt at Giles' feet and held his hands in her own.

"Upstairs...i-in your hamper. You have three shirts, a white with blue pinstripes, a blue with white pinstripes and a plain white one. You have two sets of pajamas, one blue, one green."

"Buffy."

"In your closet, above on the shelf in a yellow shoebox, you have pictures of all of us. E-even pictures of you when you were a little boy. Your family home was an estate. It had great big gargoyles in the front of the house at the bottom of the stairs."

Giles' expression changed slightly. Buffy was trying to read it but found she could not tell if he had begun to believe her or if he was becoming more convinced she was insane. Then she saw his eyes glance up toward the loft. She smiled, feeling sure she had started to get through to him.

"Behind the shoebox is a locked metal box. Inside in a velvet burgundy case is your mother's wedding ring and you have a small picture of her." Buffy smiled and tightened her grip on his hands. "She's very beautiful. You look a lot like her, especially your smile, and your eyes."

"That's funny. For some reason, you've always reminded me of her." Giles cleared his throat and allowed her to continue.

"You also have a large sealed envelope marked "Private". Inside of that is a bundle of really bad songs you and Ethan tried to write a long time ago."

Giles smiled. "They weren't that bad."

She rolled her eyes. "You're my sanctuary in a storm of night. Serpents on the move. Baby baby baby? It sounds like something by Spinal Tap."

He laughed. "All right, so it's not The Beatles."

"It wasn't even Bay City Rollers," she smiled briefly and then her expression became serious again. "Go upstairs and check Giles. The envelope is still sealed. Your box is still locked."

Giles stood and ascended the stairs. After a few minutes, he came back down and sat again. "Do you believe me?" Buffy's voice was nervous.

Giles nodded his head slowly and then met her eyes. "I believe you."

Buffy grinned widely and embraced him. "God you don't know how I missed you. How much I regretted not telling things I always should have, things I didn't realize until you were gone."

"Like what?" Giles stroked her hair.

"Like how important you are to me. I was so selfish; so blind. Watcher and Slayer, no matter what that moron Travers said." Her eyes met his. "You're the other half of me. I...I don't know why I didn't realize that; why it took losing you to make that clear to me." Her fingers brushed away the tear that fell from his eye. "This time, things will be different Giles. I promise you that."

He smiled as his thumb stroked her cheek. "So what happens now?"

Her smile turned sad. "In ten years, I have to go back again. I have to go back to save Willow."

He nodded his head solemnly in agreement. "I don't think we should inform Xander. Much as I hate to foster secrets between any of us, especially now."

"No, you're right. Xander's a feeler, not a thinker. Like me...well like I used to be at that age." Giles quirked a smile at the strangeness of hearing that phrase from her. "He wouldn't understand the broader ramifications. He'd just be hurt. Angry at me. And at Willow."

"Yes." He cleared his throat. "We should...call it a night. The next few days are going to be difficult. There's arrangements to be made tomorrow." He shook his head. "Our poor Willow." He stood.

Buffy's eyes followed him. "Giles?" He looked at her. "Please can I stay here tonight? It may not be rational, but I am so terrified of going to sleep and waking up to find myself in that damn warehouse ten years in the future; of finding out the spell didn't work after all and this is some kind of dream."

His smile was gentle. "Of course you may. You can stay here as long as you like. As you said, this was your home. I guess...in a way, it always has been." He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Goodnight Buffy."

Giles climbed the stairs to his loft bedroom. He changed into his pajamas and got into the bed, only relaxing enough to go to sleep when he saw the light from downstairs finally shut off. He shut his eyes and let the gravity of everything that had happened that day pull him into slumber.

When he had just drifted off, he felt a weight depress the mattress behind him. He opened his eyes and rolled over. Buffy's eyes sparkled at him in the near-darkness. She slid her arm over his stomach and gently kissed him on the lips. "Goodnight Giles." With that, she lay her head on his chest and closed her eyes. He smiled and shut his eyes once more.

******

Willow's funeral was two days later. Giles kept his arm around Buffy during the entire ceremony. Xander kept his distance, standing a few feet away. As they began to lower the casket, Buffy couldn't help but think of the friend she was saying goodbye to. She thought of the shy little thing she first met 14 years ago. The girl that turned into the young woman who saved her life when she would have thrown it away out of grief for Giles and who was now lying in the ground because she had given him back to her.

Buffy bit her lip as she thought of Gillian and Jesse, the children Willow and Xander would now never have because she had blown it again. "I'll make it right Willow. I promise. I'll fix it. I'll get you back," she whispered.

Giles squeezed her tighter. "She knows Buffy. She trusts you. She always has."

"Buffy, can I see you for a minute?" The sound of Xander's voice made Buffy pull herself together. They hadn't spoken since that night in the warehouse.

"Sure Xander." She looked to Giles who smiled gently, released her and stepped back a few feet to give them some privacy.

"I'm sorry. About what I said. About it being your fault."

"Thanks. It means a lot to me tha..."

He held up his hand. "Let me finish. I need to get this out. The truth is Willow is a big girl...was." He swallowed around the lump in his throat. "And really I talked her into going because I was. So if this is anyone's fault..."

She put her arm on his. "This is not your fault Xander."

"Buffy, if it had been me that died, I wouldn't have wanted you to blame yourself. I knew the risks when I signed up as a Scooby. Willow wouldn't have wanted that either."

"She wouldn't have wanted that for you either Xander."

His smile was sad. "I know that," he touched his forehead, "up here." He moved his hand over his chest. "It's just in here that it's going to take awhile to sink in."

"I understand."

He pulled her into his arms and hugged her as he started to cry. "I love you Buffy. You're one of...you're my best friend. Just...just give me some time."

At his last word, Buffy broke down crying. She held him tighter, slipping her hands into his hair and kissing his cheek.

Xander looked to Giles who walked over with tears in his eyes. As Buffy and Xander broke their embrace, he pulled Giles into a hug. Buffy's hands covered her mouth, trying to keep the sobs at bay. After a few moments, Xander released him and without another word or look to either of his friends, he walked away.

Giles slid an arm around Buffy's waist. She leaned against him, clinging for support. They walked back to the graveside and watched as it was filled in with earth.

******

Buffy sat in her room in Giles' apartment, brushing her waist length hair in her vanity mirror. Her eyes traveled down to the slightly faded picture of Willow. It was taken ten years ago, just days before Willow's death. Giles came up from behind her, his hair still mussed from their earlier activities. He smiled at her in the mirror and kissed her neck. "I'm just going to have a shower Love." She grinned and lightly smacked his bare backside as it retreated from her down the stairs.

The two of them as lovers had been a recent development in their eternally complex relationship. He had continued as friend and mentor as she attended UC Sunnydale one more time. This time, she had majored in archaeology with her previous field of mythology as a minor. At first, that choice was simply to please Giles but she found herself falling in love with the digs and dirty work involved. The highlight of which had been a trip to the Valley of the Kings with Giles the year before.

The latest Slayer in Kendra's line, Miranda, had come to Sunnydale on the advice of her Watcher; one of the few men left on the Council who had been friends with Giles before and so did not vilify him now. He had told her the Hellmouth would be good proving ground. Miranda and Buffy hit it off amazingly, though Buffy would admit on her part it was because Miranda was a shy, sweet redhead that reminded her of the girl in the faint picture on her vanity.

One night when they were patrolling, they talked about the things only another Slayer, or possibly their Watchers could understand. Buffy had mentioned always wanting to go on a real dig and Miranda had insisted she book it right away, before it was too late.

She had never seen Giles so happy as when he stood before the pyramids for the first time. She had never remembered being so happy herself. Watching him be so content day after day made her realize how in love with him she was; how in love with him she'd been for such a long time. The dig lasted three months. On their last night there, in a tent along the banks of the ancient Nile, Buffy and Giles made love for the first time.

The year since they'd come back had been the most perfect in her entire life. Sure there had been the usual close calls and hospital visits that were routine in the Slay biz, but she'd had Giles' strong arms to hold her in the bad times. She'd had solidity, security, constancy and an all encompassing love to hold on to. It was more than she'd ever dreamed of having; more than she had thought she'd deserved.

And now in two more days, she was to perform the spell again, this time to save Willow. She knew by the way Giles held her every minute that he could and barely let her out of his sight, he was unhappy about it. But Buffy was excited. Willow had given her this amazing chance to uncover her soulmate. Willow had sacrificed her life to allow her to experience Giles' love. Now she would be able to give Willow back the future with Xander that had been taken away from her and Buffy would be able to be with Giles from the day she went back.

She smiled, kissed her hand and touched it to the picture, as she had almost every night for ten years. And once more, she made the same promise to her best friend. "I'll fix it Willow. I promise I will." With that, she turned off the light and made her way to the bed to wait for Giles.

******

The next morning found Buffy making her annual pilgrimage to Willow's grave. Buffy could see in the distance that, as usual, Xander had beaten her to it. He busied himself with throwing away the older wilted flowers and pulling the long grass that would have normally obscured the name on the stone. Buffy often came and sat on that stone during her patrols, sometimes spending hours "talking" to Willow, waiting for a new vampire to arise. She knew that Xander visited often as well but it had become a kind of unspoken rule between them that only on this one day a year, they came to visit their fallen friend together. The day chosen by Xander on the first anniversary of her death, telling the Slayer that Willow wouldn't have wanted this sad ritual to interfere with Buffy's actual birthday. So every year after that, on the day before, they would meet first thing in the morning and stay till well after noon.

Buffy greeted Xander with a hug. The two sat beside each other on the grass and lay the flowers they brought all around the stone. This year, Buffy studied him instead of the granite before them. Her sadness not for Willow this time, knowing her plans for the next night, but for Xander.

When he'd had Willow before, he'd eventually joined the police department and been the best dad in the whole world. Without her, he was still so much like he'd been when he'd lost her. Still drifting between menial minimum wage work where he could find it, sabotaging himself whenever a success or real happiness tried to present itself. He'd always called her "his Will" and now that seemed almost prophetic because when she'd died, that seemed to be exactly what he'd lost.

His soulful brown eyes smiled sadly up at Buffy and he put an arm around her shoulders as he began to tell "Willow" of the monsters they'd vanquished in the past year. He'd been happy for Giles and her when he'd found out about them but that was also the time when he started to become scarce. He could still be counted on for any Scooby duty they required of him, but gatherings and occasions left him no where to be found. Buffy was tired of counting the number of times she'd told him Willow would have kicked his butt for withdrawing like that. He'd always agree and shine her on a bit, but nothing ever changed and Buffy resigned herself to respecting his decisions about it. After all, had she done much better when it had been Giles who'd gone?

When they left the cemetery, Xander and Buffy went to the Nickelodeon Diner. It had been many things in the past decade; Rudy's pub, Sunnydale Deli Company and Pizza Corral to name a few but had started out its life in Sunnydale as the Espresso Pump. As was part of the ritual by now, they'd select a back booth and over their meal Xander would regale her with tales of his and Willow's adventures before they'd met Buffy. He never remembered that they were the same stories he told her every single year and she never let on that it was anything other than the first time she'd heard it. Besides, after listening to them so often, she could remember them almost like she was there herself and in a way it felt like he'd given Buffy more time with her two friends. A gift she planned to return to him the very next night.

After the check was paid, Xander hugged her tightly and wished her a happy birthday before kissing her on the cheek and walking away. Had it been any other normal year, it would be a month before she'd hear from him again. But of course, that was not the case. And this time more than any of the others, she wished she could have told him the truth. Stuffing her hands in her pockets, she walked back to the cemetery.

Once again, she sat, this time with her back leaned against the stone that marked her friend's passing from this world. "This year was the hardest of all Will. Not to tell him I mean. I know why I can't. When it's not Giles telling me for real, I can hear your voice in my head telling me the same thing. And you're both right. He just wouldn't understand it. It would only hurt him more. Still, sometimes, I just wish...you know?"

The breeze played across her face and for a moment, Buffy swore she could smell Willow's scent on the wind. "What's really funny is tomorrow, I'm turning 40! Can you believe that? The big 4-0. Me. When I go back this time, Giles is only going to have a few years on me. That oughta really blow his mind when I tell him huh?" She giggled. "Well that and the fact that his 20 year old Slayer is going to throw him down and shag the living daylights out of him!" Her laughter grew louder and she would have sworn she heard it echo except that it sounded more like Willow's than her own. "Can't you just see his face?" She clutched her stomach until the nearly-painfully funny image subsided. "Last time I was so scared the spell wouldn't work. This time, I know it will. And I'm gonna get you back. We're all going to be together again and..." her hand rubbed across the letters of Willow's name. "It's going to be so wonderful."

******

As the sun set on her birthday, Buffy gathered the last of the things she needed for the spell and packed them into what was normally her weapons bag. When she looked up, Giles stood leaning against the front door. He looked horribly sad. Buffy smiled at him gently and walked to him.

"Don't Buffy. Please? I-I know I have no right to ask this..."

She touched his arm. "You have a perfect right to ask, but you have to understand that I still have to go."

"Buffy..."

"Shh. I know that you're afraid for me. But I owe Willow this."

"No, you don't owe Willow this. I do. I owe her my life." He took her hand and pressed a kiss to it. "I owe her for everything we've come to mean to each other. Let me do the spell Buffy."

She slipped her arms around his neck and kissed him, trying to impart all her love for him in this one last gesture. She pulled back to look into his rapidly tearing green eyes. "It has to be me Giles. Have faith in me. I can do this." He nodded half-heartedly and she released him.

Buffy bent and retrieved the bag at her side. She walked passed her lover and touched her hand to the doorknob. Her shoulders tensed in anticipation. "Buffy no!" As he reached his hand to her shoulder to stop her, she spun with the speed of a Slayer and connected her fist with his jaw. She knew him so well.

Giles was unconscious before he hit the ground. Buffy once again set her bag down as she removed her jacket and rolled it into a makeshift pillow. In an action that reminded her of something he'd once done for her not long after they first met, she gently lifted his head and placed the jacket beneath him. She ran her hand through his hair and kissed him for as long as she dared to. "You're my whole life Giles," she told the sleeping man. "Rest now and when I see you again, we'll all have another chance." Forcing herself back onto her feet, she grabbed her bag and left the apartment.

******

"Heads up," Xander called as he tossed Giles his fallen saber. The Englishman caught it expertly and spun to take the head of the vamp before him. As his companion disintegrated, the remaining vamp took a step back, right into Buffy's strike zone. Before he could blink an eye, he joined his friend as a pile of ash on the floor.

Xander helped Willow to her feet and kept a hold of her hand. The foursome moved closer together, visually inspecting each other to ease their minds. Giles tilted Buffy's chin up till her eyes met his. He smiled proudly and used his finger to wipe away the blood that had formed on her lip once more. "Good job." A smile twitched at the corner of her mouth, then her face went blank and became very pale. Her eyes rolled up and her knees collapsed. "Buffy?" Giles caught her, holding her up. She recovered quickly, and remembering the history of this night, grabbed Giles' lapels, shoving him to the ground with her on top.

As her ears picked up the sound of the crossbow bolt being fired, she yelled, "Giles stay down!" while she rolled off of him and into Willow's legs, knocking her down like a bowling pin. The arrow imbedded itself in the wall just to Xander's side. Buffy jumped to her feet, stake in hand, ready to confront the vampire on the catwalk. Instead of her opponent, only her crossbow remained on the high metal walkway.

She had known every inch of this night for twenty years and now she was in unfamiliar terrain. That knowledge simply terrified her. "Everybody out!" she yelled to her companions. As soon as Giles had helped Willow to her feet, she led them in a full run toward the door.

"Buffy look out!" she heard Xander scream from behind her. She turned around in time to see him jump into the air before her and fly back against her hard, taking her to the ground. Willow screamed and Giles pushed her down quickly, diving on top of her and covering her with his body. Buffy rolled from under Xander and blindly threw the stake in her hand toward the direction Xander had been facing. She heard a masculine grunt and looked up to the ladder that lead from the catwalk just in time to see a humanoid formation of ash before it dissipated.

Eyes wide with adrenaline and panic, She turned to her friends. Giles had just started to disengage himself from Willow when Buffy's eyes fell upon Xander's prone form lying still on the ground. His eyes stared blindly up at the ceiling as the shining silver edge of the throwing star that protruded from his throat seemed to sink under the ocean of blood that rose from the fatal wound.

"NOOOOOOOOO!" Buffy screamed wretchedly as she dropped to her knees by his side.

"NOO! XANDER NOOO!" Soon Willow had crawled to his other side. Xander's broken body lay cradled between the two inconsolable women who had meant the most to him in the whole world. Giles, breathing heavily around the constricting emotion in his throat, reached a shaking hand out to shut the boy's eyes. His tears fell in silence as he found himself stroking Xander's hair in a comforting gesture quite lost on the dead.

As Willow's heartbreak vocalized in her sobs, Buffy released a wail of both loss and defeat. She now knew in her heart that fate was determined that one of them was to die this night, it was only impartial as to who. There was only one thing left in her power to do; relive this purgatorial night one more time. And if the same destiny that had condemned her to be a Slayer demanded one of their lives be sacrificed, she decided that she herself would be the one to die.

Last Time

Buffy paced the sidewalk in front of Giles' apartment building. She took a deep breath and laughed humorlessly. "Boy...deja vu just isn't what it used to be," she commented to the disinterested stars above or at least the ones bold enough to peek through the fog-shrouded winter sky.

Ten years before she had envisioned this night. Only in her version, the whole gang went to celebrate their victory at the Bronze. While Willow and Xander wreaked havoc on the dancefloor, she would innocently sit herself beside Giles and shock him and every other patron of the club by jumping into his lap and kissing him until he passed out.

She realized now that it was one vision that would never come to be. This night, and its clone ten years from now, had and would again bear witness to the last stand of the complete original Scooby gang. The next time around Willow and Xander would have each other to get themselves through the grief of losing her. And Giles, well this time was for them.

She pulled her backpack higher up on her shoulder and made her way to the front door. She took a deep breath and knocked. The door opened slowly, revealing a tired and obviously grieving Rupert Giles to her expectant eyes. "Can I come in?" she asked quietly.

He nodded and stepped back. She entered, shutting the door behind her. Before Giles had a chance to speak, she slipped her arms around his waist and clutched to him. After a moment, he finally put his arms around her as well. He rested his chin atop her head. They stayed that way for several minutes until finally Buffy looked up and smiled at him. He returned it.

She took his hand and led him to sit on his couch with her. Once he sat, she reached out and grasped his other hand. Buffy inhaled deeply before looking into his eyes. "Giles...um, I have something I have to tell you..."

***

Hours later, Buffy lay beside a sleeping Giles. She was propped up on her elbow, the palm of her hand flat on his bare stomach, watching it rise and fall with each breath. While she would never have traded either of her best friends' lives for the precious being slumbering next to her, all of the tragedy and hardship that led to this one quiet moment could almost be justified by the sound of his steady breathing in the silence of the room. He snorted a little as he shifted in his sleep; his face turning toward her side of the bed.

She smiled at the sound, trying not to tear up at how ridiculously happy even that silly little noise could make her. Buffy leaned forward and kissed his soft perfect mouth for a moment before turning to the other side of the bed.

She reached down to the floor. Amongst their scattered clothing, she found her backpack and was able to pull it over to the bed. She unzipped it and rummaged around inside for the journal she had begun at her house earlier that evening. Retrieving a pen from the nightstand, she positioned the book into the stream of diffused streetlight coming from the small circular frosted glass window of the loft. She turned the pages past her explanation of how this had all started, past her chronicle of the last twenty years of her life and then she began to write.

{I've been watching you sleep beside me. Just watching you breathe. I had hopes I would find my way to your bed tonight but was fairly sure that you'd go all Watcherly on me and ...well, lets just say that you REALLY enjoyed my telling you about our first time in Egypt. I've never seen you so hot and bothered before. It was...nice to say the least.

I realize laying here that I've been so busy trying to get everything down in this journal that I haven't yet explained why I'm doing it. Giles, I know what I have to do...the next time I mean. And I know how I was when I lost you. I'm trying to leave this chronicle to share the time we've had together. The time I know I'm going to have to cheat you out of in order to save your life...and Will and Xand's too.

I don't want you to be left with crippling what if's. I want you to know just how much I love you. I want you to know that you always told me how much you love me. I'm hoping that if you realize how much time I really had, how happy I was, how full my life really was... I just want your sadness to fade as quickly as possible. I want you to go on. I want you to live...that's why I've gone through all of this. I just want you to live.}

******

Buffy stood next to the gravestone and brushed a thin layer of leaves from the top. "He would have hated this marker," she commented as she settled into her husband's lap at the base of a nearby oak.

"So you've always said."

"Yeah, well, he'd still hate it. I mean, Alexander Lavelle Harris. First off, he hated the Lavelle and secondly Alexander? It just wasn't him. He was just Xander. Just our Xander." Her voice caught with emotion. She quieted and turned against Giles' chest.

It had been a year since Xander died. The funeral was a horrible experience, Mr. Harris' drunken appearance had seen to that. Willow had been nearly inconsolable and left town soon after.

Giles ran his hand through her hair and kissed her forehead. "Now now, none of that." He slid his arms around the emerging bulge in her stomach. "It's not good for her...him...well whichever."

She smiled. "You're dying to know aren't you?"

"Well you did promise to tell me only when you could tell...all of us," he nodded toward the grave.

"Will can't make it. She's got finals at Oxford. She'll be back for her break next week."

"Bloody Hell woman, you're not going to make me wait that long are you?"

"I hadn't planned to."

"Oh good. You didn't tell Willow already did you?"

"Before our son's own father? Nope, she'll have to wait until she gets back to town now."

"All right then, tell me." She grinned at him and he stopped, letting what she had just said fully impact upon him. "A son?"

"That's what the Doc said. It turns out that wasn't a finger on the sonogram after all." He tightened their embrace and kissed her. "What are we going to call him?"

Giles smiled sweetly. "How about Alexander?"

Buffy's eyes teared up. "It's perfect."

******

"Rupert I'm going out. I'll do a patrol while I'm gone so I won't be back until later," Buffy called back toward her husband's den. She was more than a little surprised when he emerged from their bedroom instead.

"I think you forgot this." Her eyes widened as he threw her purple journal into the air. She caught it and hastily shoved it into the backpack that contained her supplies for the rite.

"Yes I did. Thanks."

"I read it."

"You did what?"

"You heard me. I read it."

"Nine and a half years of marriage and you don't trust me?"

"Six months ago you started telling me you were going places that I'd call to talk to you at and you'd never be there. You started putting things in locked boxes and hiding them. You never gave me a reason not to trust you until then. I read that expecting to find out you'd found a younger man...which I could have understood..."

"Rupert, you're the only man I want..."

"I never imagined what I would find. What are you thinking Buffy?"

"I have a commitment."

"Yes you do! Your commitment is to US!"

"Stop shouting. The children..."

"Exactly! You made a promise when you accepted my marriage proposal Buffy. When you made your vows to me. You made it each time you brought a new life into this world."

"Daddy?" A small fair-haired boy peeked out from one of the doors in the hall, holding the hand of a younger girl with light brown hair.

"Alex, take Jocelyn and wait in Summer's nursery."

"Bu..."

"NOW!"

The little boy ran down the hall, dragging his sister in tow.

"Don't yell at him because you're mad at me!"

"What do you care Buffy?! You're about to leave the lot of them Motherless. Do they mean so little to you? Do I? What if we'd timed Summer's conception differently? Would you have gone through with this pregnant?"

"I was careful not to."

"You had this planned even then? You knew the whole time you carried her that you'd only be her mother for 6 months?"

"I'm not leaving them Motherless. There will still be a Buffy."

"Yes, a 20 year old Buffy who's never been a mother before and now she'll have to be one to three children. Children who will pick up soon enough that she doesn't know anything about them. A 20 year old who doesn't feel the things for me that you do, yet will find herself trapped in a marriage with me."

"She does feel them! She just doesn't realize it yet!" She wiped tears from her cheeks and took a deep breath.

"Of course, that's if any of us even continue to exist after you change the timeline."

"You don't understand how hard it is for me to walk out this door tonight. Knowing I'll never see my babies again. Knowing how much I'm going to hurt you the next time I see you. Knowing I'm going to die when you've made me fully appreciate what life can be. But I have a duty. You taught me the gravity of that word."

Giles' voice broke and tears flowed down his cheeks. "Don't you dare quote my own words back to me when my whole life is about to walk through that door and commit suicide."

She rushed up to him and threw her arms around him. After a moment's hesitation, he held her so tightly that had she been anyone but the Slayer, she would likely have passed out.

"Once I decided I couldn't live with what happened to you and I interfered with the timeline, I became responsible for every change that occurred after that. I became responsible for Willow's death, Xander's, for Gillian and Jesse never coming into existence. I bought our life with the blood of our friends, intentionally or not. I have to fix that, no matter what the personal consequence. I have to make things right."

"Don't leave me Buffy. Don't leave us. I can't do this alone."

For a moment more, they remained locked in an embrace, crying over the unfairness of what had been and what was about to be. Then Buffy pulled back and looked into her husband's pain-filled eyes. "Don't make me have to knock you out Rupert, somebody has to make the kids their dinner."

"It was your night to do that too," he commented as he wiped his tears on his sleeve.

"I know. I said I timed everything right." She attempted a smile but it came out more of a grimace.

She picked up her bag and turned the doorknob. "Rupert, I love you more than anything." Without looking back, she left and shut the door behind her.

"And I you my Love." As he wiped his eyes on his sleeve again, he felt a tug on his pants. He looked down into Alexander's large blue eyes; his mother's eyes.

"Daddy, did you and Mommy fight?"

He sighed. "A little. It's all right now. I'm sorry I yelled at you and your sister. It wasn't your fault."

"Where's Mommy?"

"She went on patrol. She'll be back later. Get your sisters and we'll have dinner."

The little boy smiled and ran off into the nursery. Giles crossed the room and looked out the front window.

******

"Heads up," Xander called as he tossed Giles his fallen saber. The Englishman caught it expertly and spun to take the head of the vamp before him. As his companion disintegrated, the remaining vamp took a step back, right into Buffy's strike zone. Before he could blink an eye, he joined his friend as a pile of ash on the floor.

Xander helped Willow to her feet and kept a hold of her hand. The foursome moved closer together, visually inspecting each other to ease their minds. Giles tilted Buffy's chin up till her eyes met his. He smiled proudly and used his finger to wipe away the blood that had formed on her lip once more. "Good job." A smile twitched at the corner of her mouth, then her face went blank and became very pale. Her eyes rolled up and her knees collapsed. "Buffy?" Giles caught her, holding her up. She recovered quickly, and remembering the histories of this night, grabbed Giles' lapels, shoving him to the ground with her on top.

As her ears picked up the sound of the crossbow bolt being fired, she yelled, "Giles stay down!" while she rolled off of him and into Willow's legs, knocking her down like a bowling pin. The arrow imbedded itself in the wall just to Xander's side. Buffy jumped to her feet, stake in hand, ready to confront the vampire on the catwalk. Instead of her opponent, only her crossbow remained on the high metal walkway.

Her eyes darted around frantically, trying to get a lock on the one remaining vamp before he could surprise her and take out one of the others again. "Everybody out!" she yelled to her companions. As soon as Giles had helped Willow to her feet, Buffy grabbed Xander's hand. "You lead the way Xand. I have to bring up the rear."

He looked at her strangely but did not argue. At a full run, Xander, Willow, Giles and Buffy made their way to the main door. Buffy kept turning as she ran, waiting for the vampire to appear on the ladder. When they passed the point at which Xander had been injured before, she began to get nervous. She bumped into Giles' backside and before she had a chance to question why they'd stopped, she heard Willow scream.

She clasped hold of Giles' hand and used it to toss him to the ground. She did the same with Willow. As she came up from behind Xander, she saw the flash of the throwing star in the vampire's hand. He was swinging it toward her friend. With more force than was necessary, she pulled hard on Xander's arm and threw him beside her. That left her face to face with the creature that had, one by one, taken all those she loved away from her.

The vampire's blade cut across her shoulder as the Scoobies scrambled to give Buffy room to fight. She unleashed her fury on the creature with each successive blow, but it seemed every punch she threw was countered with a cut of its jagged weapon. It slashed unmercifully at her arm, causing her to drop the stake she held. She was getting weak from blood loss and every opportunity she had to reach to the floor for her stake was thwarted with the need to block the vampire's next slice. She staggered backwards and realized that soon she would be defenseless against him. He would be free to finish off the others. 'No,' she thought, 'not again.'

She kicked at him as hard as she could manage as her shaking and bloody hand reached down and closed a slippery fist on her last stake. At the same time, the vampire sliced his throwing star blade across her carotid artery. Buffy faintly heard the screams of protestation from her friends but they seemed like they were a million miles away. The vampire looked smug as it held the edge of its weapon, still lodged in her throat. It was the last expression it wore as Buffy brought her stake up and plunged it into its chest.

As the vampire disintegrated, Buffy pulled the star from her throat and collapsed. Soon Giles' face appeared before her and she could feel him pull her across his lap. She smiled and raised a bloody hand to his cheek. "I won."

He shook his head. "Yes...yes you did. Just hold on Love. We're going to get you to Hospital. Willow and Xander have gone to call an ambulance." He placed his hand over the wound but the blood seeped between his fingers and there was only so much pressure he could apply against her throat.

Her expression grew serious. "The book," she coughed. "Sent it ahead. Your house. In your bed. Read it."

"Shh." Giles was barely keeping his panic under control. "Don't try to talk."

"NO," blood gushed copiously from her neck wound. "Important. Read it so you'll know..." Her eyes began to close.

"Know what Buffy?"

"I love you." With that, she slipped away. Giles looked stunned for a moment, and then simply pulled her tighter against him as the sounds of sirens grew closer.

One More Time

"Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday dear Buffy. Happy Birthday to you!" Willow and Xander sang in near harmony. Their blonde friend smiled at them fondly.

"And many more," Xander sang alone as he kissed her on the cheek, gave her a quick hug and then slipped a bright pink cone-shaped party hat with a picture of a Barbie doll on it onto her head.

"Thanks," she said as Willow, already wearing her identical hat, gave her a hug as well. Buffy reached up to take hers off.

Xander stopped her hand. "No you don't!"

"Xander! Don't be silly. I'm not going to wear this thing all night."

"Isn't it worth you wearing it to see me wearing one just like it?" He smiled widely as he placed one on his head and pulled the elastic cord under his chin.

"Almost," she grinned, again bringing her hand up to remove the hat.

"Well won't it be worth it to see Giles in one?"

Buffy put her hands down. "Okay, now that is worth it. Where the Hell is Giles anyway?"

Xander shrugged. "Don't know. He was supposed to be here by now. Have you had any other word on that Tong you guys were researching?"

She shook her head. "Put out a few feelers but nothing's come back on it yet."

"Giles was bringing the cake," Willow said. "Maybe it wasn't quite ready yet or there was a problem with it."

"Or maybe they wrote "Happy Birthday Busty" on it like they did last year," Xander smiled.

Buffy blushed almost as pink as her hat. "It better be chocolate cake after you bringing that up."

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door of the girls' streamer-lined dormroom. "That must be Giles now." Buffy walked to the door. "As birthday girl, I get to put Barbie on him!"

She opened the door and was more than a little surprised to find Willy the Snitch standing before her. "Nice hat," he commented nervously.

The smile left her face. She took off the party hat and threw it to her bed. "You have something for me?"

"Yeah, that gang you wanted to know about. Them Chinese vampires that know all that Kung Fu stuff? My sources tell me they're hiding out in a warehouse on the far east edge of town. It's a big red building. It was Kurtman's ...Kaufman's. ..Kettleman's ...something like that. They used to make stuff for hospitals there I think. You know the place?"

"I've passed by there a couple of times. It's not far from the woods right? Has an old phone booth outside with the glass all smashed out. And that's right under a streetlight with a kinda yellow color to it."

Willy nodded his head. "That's the place."

"Right. Thanks. How much do I owe you?" She reached into her pocket but he waved her off.

"The twenty earlier was fine." At her disbelieving look, he nodded toward the large multicolor banner on the wall. "Happy Birthday. Be careful Kid. Word is these guys aren't somethin' to be tangled with." He started off down the hallway.

"Thanks." She closed the door and turned to face her two worried friends.

"So what's the drill Buff?"

"The drill is that you guys stay here Xander. And when Giles shows up you tell him to stay here too."

"No way Buffy! You can't take on a whole vampire gang by yourself."

"Especially not when they're all martial arts experts!" Willow added.

"You can't come okay. You just can't. This is going to be hard enough for me and I've been trained. I'm sorry but you guys haven't and you up against them would be suicide."

"Well Giles has been trained and..."

"And Giles isn't here right now. And even if he were, I wouldn't let him come. Losing one of you is not the way to make my birthday wishes come true okay? If I hurry, I can get there before the sun goes down and that evens the playing field out a lot better. Just stay here and ...save me some cake." She grabbed her weapon's bag from the floor of her closet and headed to the door.

"You didn't even open your presents," Willow said sadly.

Buffy smiled. "Don't worry. I'll be back later."

******

A little way down the road from the warehouse, Buffy sat her weapons bag down and loaded stakes down the sides of her boots, in the lining of her jacket, in the waistband of her pants, and up her sleeves. The sun had just set. Her advantage now gone, she was nervous about making it through this battle in one piece. She pulled her crossbow from the bag and began to prepare it when she heard the noise of a twig breaking under someone's foot. Immediately she popped one arrow into the bow and faced the direction the noise had come from.

"Who's there?!"

Willow and Xander shyly stepped out from the shadows and approached. Buffy rolled her eyes.

"What am I going to do with you guys?! I told you to stay back where it was safe!"

"We're coming with you, like it or not," Xander said bravely, then gulped.

"Guys," she said sternly and took a step toward them.

They both flinched and brought up a weapon, a mace in Xander's hands and a baseball bat in Willow's. Despite herself, Buffy smiled. "Guess you guys always bring gifts to the party huh?"

"Buffy, maybe we're not the greatest fighters in the world. But bigger numbers is always better odds. And whatever we can do to help, we will. Even if it's just distract the vamps long enough for you to take them out," Willow said matter-of-factly. She had on her resolve face and even the Slayer knew better than to mess with that.

"We're a team Buffy. I know you're just trying to protect us by leaving us out of the battle. But we're just trying to protect you by coming along. I think if we're all together, we can better protect each other." Xander smiled.

Buffy grinned proudly at her friends. "That's kinda what we've always done isn't it?" The other two nodded. "Then I guess it would be a bad thing to try to change a winning formula now." She bent down to the bag and divvied up the rest of the stakes among them. "Stay close and keep your eyes open. And if I tell you to get out, no arguments, just run. Okay?"

They nodded in agreement. Buffy took a deep breath and they entered the large parking lot of the warehouse.

A few steps in, they noticed the silhouette of a person. It was crouched about halfway between them and the building, partially hidden by a large cement planter where landscaping greenery had no doubt once flourished.

"Who's there?" Buffy demanded, her crossbow half-raised before her.

The figure stood, its face illuminated by the yellow streetlight in the corner of the lot.

"Giles? Not you too." He smiled. "I suppose you're coming in with us?"

"No."

The shock on their faces was obvious. "What do you mean?"

"I mean there's no point in going into that building."

"The vamps aren't there?" Buffy asked.

"Oh they're there all right."

"I don't understand then."

"I'm sorry if I'm being vague. Allow me to explain." He stepped to the side slightly and directed his gaze to the ground. The three followed his glance and saw sitting on the asphalt, where he'd been crouching, a small box with a plunger protruding from the top. "Make a wish Buffy." He raised his foot over the plunger.

Buffy gasped, her eyes going wide. "Everybody get down!" Buffy, Willow and Xander dove behind the planter. Giles brought his foot down on the box before joining them. There was a barely audible creaking noise as the plunger lowered and then an ear shattering explosion as the warehouse was engulfed in rolling waves of fire. The windows shattered outward, spraying glass into the lot and in the distance you could hear the faint wail of car alarms miles away.

The Slayer rose slowly on shaky legs. Willow and Xander merely gazed up at Giles, too stunned to do much of anything.

"Giles?" she whispered. He gently smiled and touched his hand to her face. His eyes were glassy from emotion. He seemed so happy to see her. "Giles?"

Before she knew what was happening, his arms came around her. Holding her against him tightly, he kissed her with more heat than the burning building behind them could have possibly produced. When he broke the kiss and released her, she blinked up at him. He grinned slowly and reached into his jacket. From the inside pocket, he produced a frail looking, faded purple book, tied with leather string. He pressed it to her chest and brought her hand up to rest atop it.

"Happy Birthday Buffy. I'll be at the Bronze if you need to speak to me." With that, he turned and walked away.

Buffy watched him for a few moments, then blinked twice and looked to her friends. Their expressions seemed to indicate that they were hoping she could explain things to them. She shook her head and walked toward the streetlight as she started to untie the strings around the book. She opened it and looked inside, a strange feeling coming over her when she recognized the writing as her own. She turned to the first page and began to read.

{Giles. I am begging you to read this entire book. I know it might be the last thing you feel like doing right now as I'm sure you've probably just witnessed my death but you have to understand why it happened. You have to understand how much I love you. This whole thing started 30 years ago. It was this very same night, my 20th birthday. The night we fought the Tong the first time. The night you died in my arms...}

******

Giles had been sitting in the Bronze for two and a half hours. He was starting to think that perhaps he should just go home when Buffy, Willow and Xander entered the doors. They walked over to his table and stood at the end. Willow and Xander still looked a little shaken. "Are you all feeling all right? I'm sorry to have not given you any warning but..."

"No," Buffy spoke softly at first and then a little louder. "No, we're fine. Um guys, could you give me and Giles some time to ourselves?"

Xander nodded. "Sure." He took Willow by the hand. "Come on Wills, this is a good song. Come dance with me."

"But you hate the Backstreet Boys."

"No, I said they should be strung up by the legs of their mismatched Garanimals outfits and have all their hair shaved off. I never said they couldn't sing." He pulled her onto the dancefloor and put his arms around her. Soon they disappeared into the crowd.

Buffy sat down next to Giles. She could feel his eyes on her but her eyes remained staring at his hand. Slowly she reached for it, entwining it with her own. After a deep breath, she met his gaze. "How did you..."

"You sent the book ahead of you on your last trip. It was waiting for me, lying on my bed, just as you told me it would be when you died in my arms. You dropped enough hints about what kind of spell it was in your writing and I knew from you that it was in one of Willow's books. It didn't take me too long to find it."

"So I ...the other Buffy I mean. She went through all that for nothing?"

"I don't like to think of it that way. I ...I've loved you for a while now Buffy. And I always thought I would die knowing that you could never think of me with the same regard." She opened her mouth to speak. He smiled warmly and put his finger to her lips. "I don't expect anything of you Buffy. I don't expect her feelings to be yours. It's just that, just as you couldn't leave things as they were when I was killed, I had to do something to save you as well. And just as you ...as she had to make sure that I knew how much she loved me, I had to tell you."

She moved his hand from her mouth and smiled. "Are you going to let me talk now?"

He smiled and nodded. "Sorry."

She tightened her hold on his hand. "You know. You and the gang and I have gone out into some pretty heavy combat situations and I've been worried about losing each of you at one time or another. But no matter what happened, even after I've lost others that I knew, I've never ever believed deep down that I'd lose any of you." She took another deep breath.

"I can't picture my world without you in it Giles. And this book forced me to do just that. Just reading about it made me nauseous." She blinked and her blue eyes seemed to sparkle from the tears that began to form. "She described how not having you there made her run things over and over in her head that were always there but she never noticed them until it was too late and you were gone. She said that she realized how much she'd always loved you ... the kind of life you could have had together ...and that it was all her fault that you didn't because she'd been so blind."

"Buffy..."

"Giles let me finish please?" He nodded. "I read her words and looked inside of myself. And everything she said is true. And that scared me more than anything I've ever known in my life."

"Why Love?"

"Because I read on to the times where she had you back. When you were lovers, and then husband and wife, and then parents. And through all of that, you were honestly and truly happy and in love. You belonged together and that was utterly clear on every single page."

"And that scared you?"

Buffy nodded. "Because, I'm sitting here holding your hand, feeling things for you that are both familiar and new at the same time and I know that all I have to do is let myself say yes and things are going to be so wonderful. But just when things go right in my life...that's when it always seems like things go wrong. Maybe I'm not supposed to have wonderful. Maybe that's why someone died every time I went back. Maybe if I say yes, I'm dooming us to..."

"Why don't you just say yes and we'll worry about the rest later?" Giles tucked her hair behind her ear. She smiled gently and moved closer to him. She closed the distance and touched her lips to his own. At first the kiss was soft and sweet, but it soon turned into something very sensual. They pulled back to look into each other's eyes. Giles gently caressed her cheek. "Was that a yes?"

Buffy smiled. "I'm not going to miss out again. This time, I'm going to get everything right."

The End

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