quaggy: Giles hugging Buffy in Season 6 (Tight)
[personal profile] quaggy
Title: Buffy and the Slayer
Show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Category: Season 5 Canon Alteration for "The Replacement"
Rating: PG
Pairings: Buffy/Riley with all its flaws, background Xander/Anya, and very slightly Giles/Buffy because that's just how I roll
Notes: This takes "The Replacement" (the one with the two Xanders) and asks what would have happened if Toth's plan had actually worked. It helps if you have recently watched the episode, or at least read the recap on Wikipedia, since I don't explain the details that stayed the same as in canon (stuff about the spell, general exposition, etc).





“Look out!” Buffy yelled, pushing Xander out of the way, only to be hit with Toth’s blast herself. It sent her flying into a pile of garbage.

“Buffy!!” yelled Riley as he rushed to her side. He and Giles helped her to her stand.

“I’m okay,” Buffy mumbled, but she seemed strangely unsteady on her feet. She was normally up and ready for more, even after being thrown like that. Riley quickly put his arm around her.

“Are you quite sure you’re alright?” Giles asked.

“Yeah, just give me a second,” Buffy replied, sounding slightly more herself.

“Best head back all the same,” Giles said, his concern not alleviated. But, though he scanned the area, Willow did seem to be right. Toth had disappeared without a trace. With Riley still supporting Buffy, they slowly began the trek back to where they had parked their car, but they hadn’t even made it halfway when Buffy stopped them.

“Something’s wrong. We have to go back,” she demanded, sounding almost fearful.

“Buffy, everything is fine,” Riley replied, pulling her closer to him.

“Yeah, Toth’s long gone,” Willow agreed, but Buffy was not consoled. She turned to her Watcher.

“Giles, please! We have to go back!”

“Of course, Buffy,” Giles replied, her concern causing his own to grow. He held out an arm, which Buffy took. They turned back the way they had come, with the others trailing bewildered behind them.

They returned to the clearing just in time to witness the tail end of a battle between Toth . . . and a Buffy who looked nearly identical to the one beside them.

“Giles, the axe. Give her your axe,” said the Buffy beside him

“What. . ? Oh, of course,” Giles replied, glancing down to the all but forgotten weapon in his hand.

“Buffy!” she yelled to her double. “Catch!”

The other Buffy did not seem even the slightest bit startled. She caught the axe that Giles tossed her way and finished dispatching the demon in record time. She then turned to face the rest of them, entirely unperturbed. Now that she was standing still, it was even more apparent that the two Slayers were completely indistinguishable.

“But which one’s the real Buffy?” asked Willow.

“She is,” said the Buffy who was still standing over the demon she had killed.

“Well, that was easy,” said Xander, taken aback. Didn’t doubles usually both proclaim that they were the true one?

“Not exactly,” said the Buffy standing next to Giles. “She’s the Slayer. I’m whatever is left. We’re both Buffy.”

~<*>~~<*>~~<*>~~<*>~~<*>~

“How did you know?” asked Willow once they were all back at Giles apartment. They were gathered together to help with the research, even Anya and Tara. Though at the moment, Giles seemed more concerned with making sure that the weaker, more Buffy-like of the two Buffys didn’t have a concussion. She had originally suggested that everyone call her “Anne” to avoid confusion, but they kept forgetting and calling her “Buffy” anyway. Eventually, they settled on “Buffy Anne” as a compromise. In contrast, everyone took quite easily to calling her counterpart “the Slayer”.

“I didn’t. I just knew my slayer side was gone. Like it never existed. And I think I just naturally went back to the last place I had her, like she was a pair lost sunglasses or something,” Buffy Anne replied, as Giles checked her pupils for the second time. “Giles, will you quit fussing?! I’m fine!”

“He’s a Watcher. That’s what they do,” said her counterpart. Unlike Buffy Anne, the Slayer had braided her long hair and had kept her jacket on. She prowled around Giles’s apartment unable to keep still.

“Are you certain you are the same person?” Anya finally asked. Everyone turned to stare at her. “I mean one of you could be from a different dimension. Maybe Toth was trying to banish you to a different world, but called that world’s Buffy here by mistake.”

It was actually a very good question. Everyone turned to look at the two Buffys, but the Slayer just shrugged and pointed to Buffy Anne, who was already shaking her head.

“She would know better than I would,” said the Slayer.

“Trust me. We’re the same person. I know what it feels like to ignore my slayer side—”

“—which was the first time you went by Anne,” the Slayer interjected. Buffy Anne rolled her eyes but continued on as if she hadn’t been interrupted.

“More importantly, I know what it’s like when my slayer side is there, but I can’t access it. It’s not a feeling that you can forget. Good thing, huh?” Buffy Anne said, with a cheeky grin for Giles. The Watcher could only give her a rueful half-smile in return. Even, Buffy (or parts of her) could find something positive in his betrayal of her during her Cruciamentum, he would never be able to forgive himself.

“And this feels different?” Tara asked.

“Yeah. My slayer side simply isn’t there. Because she’s there,” Buffy Anne said, pointing at the Slayer. The Slayer gave a snort of laughter and actually smiled slightly.

“Two sides. Like two halves of a whole. . . .” Giles mused, his voice trailing off as he became lost in thought.

“Ooooh! Watcher is on the job!” Buffy Anne said, excitedly. The Slayer nodded with an actual grin, as Giles moved over to the nearest cabinet. In a matter of minutes he had found the answer to what Toth’s stick actually was.

“But I still don’t get the original plan,” said Riley, after Giles explained things to the rest of them. “He goes through all the trouble of splitting Buffy into two and then he attacked the slayer side. Why wouldn’t he attacked the weaker half?

“But he did attack the weaker half,” Giles replied. “The ferula-gemina calls for the stronger half to rise first, leaving the weaker, more vulnerable half behind.”

 “Wait, are you telling me that Buffy’s slayer-capabilities are a weakness?” Xander asked, incredulously. “Because, I got to tell you, I think you might want to check your dictionary.”

“When we refer to Buffy Anne as weaker than the Slayer, we mean in terms of physical capabilities. Power and speed,” the Watcher explained. “I imagine that Toth defined strength the same way. But a ferula-gemina defines strengths and weaknesses in terms of personality traits.”

“But to think that the Buffy’s slayer-ness is a weakness. . . .” Willow trailed off, shaking her head.

“Of course, it’s a weakness,” the Slayer snapped. “It’s not the prize that you all seem to think it is. No matter how talented and skilled, most slayers die within their first year.”

“And without the benefit of having friends who know CPR,” Buffy Anne added with a smile for Xander.

“Those that do manage to survive will not live longer than a decade. A healthy fifteen-year old girl will be dead before she is twenty-five. This isn’t some biological advantage. It’s a terminal diagnosis,” the Slayer finished, savagely.

Silence reigned. Giles, very quietly, set down his book and approached his Slayer. Reaching out, he gripped her shoulder and smiled in that reassuring and sympathetic way of his.

“A good slayer is caustic, combative, and fairly aloof because that’s what allows her to survive,” he said, gently. “And since you’ve beaten all other expectations set upon you, I wouldn’t be surprised if you will beat this ‘diagnosis’ as well. I would say you have nothing to be ashamed of.” The Slayer ducked her head and looked like she was trying not to get emotional.

“Don’t call me ungrateful, either,” Buffy Anne added. “Those so-called weaknesses keep us alive.”

“You keep us alive,” the Slayer said. “I’m just the tool you use to do so.”

“Hard to say. It all works better when we aren’t a two-piece set. Giles, does that book say how to put us back together again? I mean, Mom already complains about her ‘two teenage daughters’ headaches. You really want to tell her that she’s been upgraded to three?”

“No, it does not mention how to break the spell specifically, just that it is possible. But it shouldn’t be hard to find the proper spell now that we know what we are looking for.”

“I need to patrol,” the Slayer announced, abruptly.

“Yeah,” sighed Buffy Anne. “I’m actually surprised you lasted this long.”

“For an hour or so, perhaps? We might reconvene at the Magic Box when you have finished, rather than here. We should be ready by then,” Giles suggested. The Slayer nodded and set about equipping herself as Buffy Anne turned to Riley.

“Riley, can you go with the Slayer? She’s going to need you,” she requested, quietly. Riley looked surprised and not a little confused, but he nodded his agreement. Satisfied, Buffy Anne turned to her counterpart.

“Look, I know you don’t care if you live or die, but I do! And when we are together again you know that you're gonna as well. So take it easy out there,” she instructed. The Slayer grimaced but did not object. “Besides,” Buffy Anne continued. “You’re not alone. You have Riley with you, right?”

The Slayer didn’t respond, but looked shyly at her boyfriend. Buffy Anne smiled at them both and ushered them out the door. Riley was silent, but he did shoot her a perplexed look over his shoulder as he left. Buffy Anne smiled back reassuringly, but her face slipped into concern the moment the door closed.

“She’ll be fine. You know that she won’t take any unnecessary risks to with Riley to protect,” Giles said, gently, placing his hands on Buffy Anne’s shoulders.

“Yeah, I know. That not why. . . . It’s not important,” Buffy Anne sighed. “So, which stack of books is mine?”

“It depends. Did the Latin that I taught Buffy go with you or the Slayer?”

“Only one way to find out!” Buffy Anne replied, cheerfully. Giles smiled and handed her a large volume of ancient spells.

“Xander, if you could. . . . Xander?” Giles stopped, worried that he was interrupting something. Xander was rubbing Anya’s good shoulder and looking concerned. But the young man gave him a quick smile.

“Be right with you, Giles,” he said and then to Anya he motioned with his head in Buffy Anne’s direction. Anya sighed and nodded. Cautiously, she approached Buffy Anne, who had settled herself on Giles’s couch.

“Hey, Anya! What’s up?”

“Can I ask you something?  I mean, it’s important, so maybe I should wait until you’re one person again.”

“No, it’s okay. Ask me now. One of my weaknesses is that I tend to be less than eloquent with the important stuff. And don’t you dare say anything, Giles!” Buffy Anne added, turning a glare on her Watcher.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Giles replied, biting back a grin, his eyes on the book in front of him.

“So what’s up?” Buffy Anne asked.

“How did you do it? Get used to the fact that you are going to die at a very young age?”

Buffy Anne looked a little shocked, but then her eyes fell on Anya’s sling and her eyes softened.

“Here, sit,” Buffy Anne offered, moving over so Anya had space to sit on the couch with her. “I didn’t. For a really long time, I didn’t. And Giles can tell you, even after I accepted it, I still didn’t take it well. It took time. And the realization that there were no guarantees. Who was to say that if I hadn’t been called as a slayer that I would have lived to be a hundred? I could have died before I even turned sixteen, coming home from some party I was able to go to because I didn’t need to be out dusting vamps instead.” Buffy Anne paused, as she could see that Anya was making the connection to her own situation.

“I could still have been killed as a vengeance demon,” she said, slowly. “And there are things out there that are stronger than I ever was. Like Slayers!”

“Yup. Isn’t a good thing we didn’t meet until after you became all human again?” Buffy Anne grinned and Anya nodded empathically. But then Buffy Anne grew serious. “And that’s the other part of it. The most important part of it. Because, in the end, it comes down to the fact that I like my life and I like the people I have in it. I probably never would have met you or Xander or Willow or Riley if I wasn’t the Slayer. And do you honestly think a mallrat from LA would ever even crossed paths with a somewhat stuffy, overly-educated Brit? And when I looked at it that way, I decided that it was worth it. I like who I am now and who I am now is Buffy Anne Summers the Vampire Slayer. Or well, not this me. Whole me.”

Anya was lost in thought for a moment and then she got up and threw her arms around Xander. Smiling at the embracing couple, Buffy Anne could feel Giles’s eyes on her and, when she turned to look, he had that proud and amazed look on his face that he usually reserved for when she stopped an apocalypse. It made her feel bashful, for some reason.

“I think. . . I think I found it,” Tara stammered, unaware she was interrupting the butterflies that were forming in Buffy Anne’s belly. Giles went over to take a look.

“Yes, that looks like the very thing. A simple enough spell, too. Good work, Tara!” he praised and Tara blushed.

“Well, I guess whether my Latin skills are a strength or a weakness will have to remain a mystery,” sighed Buffy Anne in mock disappointment. “Let’s head to the Magic Box and hope my other half didn’t get distracted along the way.

But the Slayer and Riley weren’t long in joining them. Both were in fairly good spirits. In fact, it was the happiest Riley had seemed since Buffy had been split into two.

“Good hunt?” Buffy Anne asked.

“Not bad,” replied the Slayer. “I was hoping we’d run into Spike so I could dust him by accident, but no luck.”

“You’re supposed to be my other half, not my evil twin,” Buffy Anne said, trying not to laugh.

“Well, something good has to come out of this situation,” the Slayer said blandly, but she couldn’t keep the straight face for long.

“Well, she always did crack herself up. I suppose it’s consistent,” observed Xander, making Tara giggle and Giles smile as he finished the chalk markings.

“Buffys, we’re ready for you,” called Willow. Still giggling, both Buffy Anne and the Slayer moved into position and Willow broke the spell.

“Oh, damn,” said Buffy, as she opened her eyes. “I just realized that I had Dawn out-numbered and I never got a chance to take advantage of the fact.

~<*>~~<*>~~<*>~~<*>~~<*>~

The next morning, Buffy walked into the Magic Box, in a fairly good mood. She waved at Willow and Tara, who were organizing books, though they seemed to be doing more reading than sorting. She exchanged a knowing grin with Giles who headed over to make sure his “helpers” where actually helping. Looking around for Xander, she spotted Anya near the register who, with intense focus, was separating crystals into different piles.

“Hey, Anya! No sling!” Buffy grinned.

“Yes, Xander and I talked last night. I’m feeling much better and will be ready to greet my death when it eventually arrives.”

“Which will hopefully be a very long time from now. So, where is Xander?”

“He’s back there working on something. He says he doesn’t want to tell me until he knows for sure that it will work out.” Anya glanced over her shoulder and then leaned in with a whisper, “I think he might be trying to get that apartment.”

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed,” Buffy whispered back and made her way to the table in the corner where Xander had stationed himself. “Hey, whatcha doing?” she asked. Xander stopped and looked up rather sheepishly.

“Umm, the application form. For the apartment.”

“Oh, good for you!”

“Well, it’s actually because of you, Buffy.”

“Huh? How do you figure that?”

“See, I was thinking about it. You have strengths and weaknesses the same as all of us. But you listen to you strong side more, don’t you?”

“I try,” Buffy replied, doubtfully.

“I think you do a whole lot better than try, Buff. So then I thought about me. About my strengths. I can be pretty convincing when I try, right? I mean, usually it’s a life or death situation, but I can be good at making my case when it’s really important. But when it isn’t an apocalypse, I start doubting myself. But this is important too, even if it’s not of the world-ending kind. It’s important to Anya and it’s important to me. So I’m going to listen to my strong side and ignore my weak side and hope that I can impress that apartment manager. Not sure if it will work. . . .”

“It’ll work,” Buffy grinned.

“Ya think?” Xander asked. Buffy nodded, full of confidence, which made Xander feel a little more certain as it always did. “I figure that I would ask my boss at the construction site if he thought there would be more work coming up. My credit’s okay, but it will help if I have some steady income coming in.”

“Let me pick out what you’re going to wear,” Buffy said. “You can’t go with what you have on.”

“Why?” Xander asked, glancing down at his Snoopy t-shit. “Oh. Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

The two were heading out the door as Riley walked in.

“Hey, Riley,” Buffy greeted her boyfriend. “I’m going to help Xand with something, but I’ll be back in a bit.”

“That’s okay. I can't stay for long. I just wanted to makes sure that we were going to patrol together tonight.”

“Well, actually, no. I was going to make it just as quick one so I could head over to Giles’s when I was done. That’s okay, isn’t it, Giles?” she asked, turning to her Watcher. “I thought I could use some mediation practice and ‘re-finding my center’ thing after the whole being split into two.”

“Of course, Buffy,” Giles replied, surprised.

“Guess I’ll catch you later then,” Riley said.

“Guess so,” Buffy smiled and, if that smile was a little sad, she knew that Giles would be the only one to notice. “Come on, Xander. Let’s go get you all looking like a grown-up.”

“I still think your expectations are way too high,” Xander replied as they walked out, leaving Giles and Riley looking awkwardly at each other.

~<*>~~<*>~~<*>~~<*>~~<*>~

“Excellent timing!” Giles called from the kitchen as Buffy entered his apartment after her patrol. “I’m almost done in here. I’ll be ready for you in just a moment.”

Buffy felt a wave of guilt, wondering if he might be brewing some of that special aromatherapy stuff he would sometimes have her use during a long meditation session. It was excellent stuff, but she had seen him make it before and knew it was pretty labor intensive.

“Umm, Giles? I know I said that I needed a focusing session, but I . . . guess you already know that I don’t,” Buffy finished ruefully as Giles emerged from the kitchen with a mug of hot chocolate and a smirk.

“I did suspect that this had less to do with your reunification and more to do with whatever was troubling Buffy Anne,” Giles explained, as he fetched his own mug of tea and sat down beside her.

“That obvious, huh?”

“Only to me,” Giles assured her.

“Yeah, but that’s sort of the problem. Not the ‘you knowing me better than anyone else’ thing. The fact that my boyfriend of nearly a year doesn’t even come close. Comes in dead last, actually.”

“Well. . . .”

“You don’t have to make excuses, Giles. You know I’m right. The sad thing is that I’ve known it for a while now. Or at least suspected it. We keep having the same conversation about my life, being the Slayer. And it always ends with him reassuring me that there isn’t a part of me that he doesn’t love. It’s not that I think that he’s lying. . . . But I think, if that was actually true, he wouldn’t have to keep repeating it so much.”

“Quite possibly. Though to be fair, Buffy, I believe that Riley does indeed fully accept the slayer side of you and all that comes with it.”

“I suppose. He was really good with the Slayer during patrol. Knew what she needed and didn’t try to get in her way. But then Riley started fighting monsters fight long before I met him.”

“I am certain that you aren’t a means to the end if that is what worries you.”

“No, I know that. I think part of what attracts him to me is the same thing that attracts me to him: we both appreciate the fight. But somewhere deep inside, I always suspected that he resented the Slayer. It’s obvious even to someone who didn’t take Intro to Psychology that he needs the ones that he loves to need him and I worried that he resented that, by being the Slayer, I didn’t need him to protect me from the things that go bump in the night. But I was wrong. It's Buffy Anne’s strength that was the problem. That she didn’t need him.”

“No,” Giles corrected, gently. “That you didn’t need him the way that he wanted you to need him and couldn’t appreciate the ways that you did depend on him. Do depend on him.”

“But that’s the same way that I depend on all of you. Your love and faith in me, that’s what makes me strong. He wouldn’t think that was special enough.”

“Then he’s a fool. It’s everything,” Giles replied. Buffy smiled, but her eyes were still sad. She was blaming herself for the situation, Giles could tell. He searched for the right words to make her feel a bit better. “Buffy, it’s a rare person who can see the true darkness that exists in the world and still chose to stay and fight. You were not wrong for wanting to pursue a relationship with Riley and for doing you best to now make it work.”

“Is it working?” Buffy scoffed. “I can’t be what he wants me to be.”

“Only you can truly answer whether that is an insurmountable problem or something that you might be able to work through together.”

“So how do I figure it out?”

“By having conversations like this one with the people who know you best. And a fair amount of chocolate, I would assume.”

Buffy laughed and they fell into a comfortable silence. Buffy thought about how much at ease she felt at Giles’s, which then lead her to thoughts about how she stopped coming around as much last year.

“Hey, Giles?” Buffy asked slowly, indicating a topic change.

“Hmmm?”

“Olivia never came back, did she?”

“Not as such, no.”

“I always figured she would. Not to start fighting baddies, necessarily. But because she loved you— and don’t say that she didn’t, Giles. I saw how you were with each other,” she added before Giles could object. “She loved you or was really, really close to it. And I guess I assumed it was going to be like how Anya was with Xander in the beginning. Anya had enough self-preservation to not want any part of the Slay Business, but she couldn’t stay away from him. I mean, Anya does help out now when we need her, but she didn’t have to in order to be with Xander. Nobody would have had a problem if she just wanted to be his girlfriend and stay on the fringes of things. She chooses to get involved.”

“Yes, well, in Olivia’s case. . . .” Giles paused to consider his words. He normally would avoid assigning blame by speaking of a failed romance in general terms. But perhaps, in this instance, when Buffy was struggling with her own relationship problems, a bit more specific details in all their uncomfortable harshness would be more appropriate. “With Olivia, it had far less to do with her fear and everything to do with my unwillingness to leave my world behind for her. Olivia is quite a force of nature. She’s used to having things exactly the way that she wishes. And I didn’t do what she wished. In all honesty, I should have predicted that because my ‘not doing as Olivia wished’ was at the heart of all of our previous break-ups. I don’t know why I thought this time would be different. My best advice from that catastrophe is to find someone who can accept all of you. And to walk away with no regrets from the ones who only like certain parts of you."

"I think we only get one of those ‘accepts all of you’ people per lifetime. I already got mine. He just happened to come in the form of my Watcher." Giles froze as if he wasn’t quite sure he had heard he right. Buffy rolled her eyes. “Giles, you were the only one that treated both sides of me like they were Buffy. There’s your proof.”

“If—if I have been able to provide you with even half of the support and acceptance that you have shown me. . . .” Giles trailed off, at lost for words and running the real risk of being overwhelmed by emotions. He could see that she didn’t quite believe him, so he tried a different track. “Do you remember that job offer in London?”

“The one that you that you turned down to be my Watcher again?” Buffy asked, somewhat sheepishly. Though he had reassured her multiple times that it had been no sacrifice, Buffy still felt a little guilty that he, once again, was putting his own life on hold for her sake. “Wait! That job wasn’t actually code for Olivia, was it?”

“No, the offer was real enough,” Giles laughed. “But I did know that if I moved back to London, I would likely be able to resume my relationship with Olivia. She was ready to settle down and it appears that I was her best candidate.”

“You mean, you weren’t just passing up the cool job, you were also passing up the chance to get married and have kids.”

“To get married and have children with Olivia. I don’t think it precludes me from ever doing so. And when you asked me to be your Watcher again, I realized that as much as I would like to have a family of my own, the life that Olivia was offering me held nothing comparison to being able to support and work with you. As sad as this is for someone my age to admit, I never had anyone in my life who fully accepted all of me—even the sides of myself that I am not proud of— until I met you,” Giles paused to collect himself and for Buffy, who was blinking back tears, to do the same. When they had more or less sorted themselves out, draining their mugs in the process, Giles added, “And, Buffy, I told you before, that job wasn’t nearly as interesting as you are imagining it to be. It provided –oh– a graceful exit, I suppose.”

“Exit? Why does there have to be exiting at all?”

“Because once a Slayer reaches adulthood, she requires her Watcher less. She has enough experience to stand on her own and the Watchers who don’t then step back become liabilities. If a Slayer trusts her Watcher over her own talents, it can—it has led to her death. You don’t need me, Buffy. Not really—”

“Bullshit.”

“I don’t mean now because—”

“I know. It’s still bullshit.”

“Are you going to let me finish a sent—”

“Nope,” she proclaimed and laughed at Giles’s aggravated glare. “Because, oh bullshit speaker of mine, you are very, very wrong. I am always going to need you. Maybe not as my Watcher, but always as Rupert Giles,” she said sincerely. Giles blushed in response. “But I understand what you mean. It’s a little like how I came running to you the first excuse that I had after my rocky start at college . Except that was real life getting me down. Someday I’m going to feel that lost and hopeless with my slaying. I’ve read the Watcher Diaries. I know what starts happening after years on the job. I think the Slayer side of me might already be there.” Her expression grew pensive, but she quickly shook it off before dark thoughts had a chance to get a hold of her. “Look, promise me something. Stop looking for graceful exits. If the day comes that you feel like I’m depending on you too much, tell me. Tell me that you’re worried and I’ll do whatever it takes on my end to make things better. Please promise me.”

“You have my word, Buffy. No matter what happens, I promise I will tell you. But, Buffy, in return, you must promise that whenever you begin to feel hopeless, that the life of the Slayer is becoming too much for you, you will come and tell me right away.”

“I promise. Though there isn’t much either of us can do about a Slayer’s lot in life. Slayer-Me was right about that. I’m already one of the oldest living Slayers on the books. Death is going to come for me someday.”

“Well, Death can just be bloody patient. You aren’t going anywhere,” he declared with such conviction that Buffy was certain it would be enough to comfort her when times were low.

“Right! So I’m not giving up and you’re not leaving. Well, unless it’s the best thing for you. Like you get offered your dream job or you meet the love of your life and want to move somewhere safe so you can raise a half dozen kids together. Or if there is some apocalypse-level badness somewhere that only you can stop. Actually scratch that last one. If that happens, you are taking me with you. Deal?”

“Deal,” laughed Giles. “To all of it.”

Buffy grinned back, but then froze as she was stricken with the thought that this talking-things-out and emotional give-and-take was exactly what she and Riley would have to do if they were ever going to make their relationship work. Except Riley wasn’t Giles. Not by a long shot. They were never going to be able to bridge the chasm that had opened up in their relationship and it was no use pretending otherwise.

“Giles. . . .” she breathed, but she could tell from his expression that he already knew.

“Oh Buffy, I am sorry,” he said, with complete sympathy.

“Would . . . would you mind very much if I cried on your shoulder for a bit?” she asked, in a wavering voice that indicated that the request was meant quite literally.

“As long as you need, love,” he replied, holding out an arm. “As long as you need.”

Requiring no further invitation, Buffy threw her arms around his neck and Giles held her tight as she sobbed from the heartache from loving someone who was so very close to being the right one, but just not close enough.


                                              

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