Higher than soul can hope
Branwyn and Te
July 2003

Disclaimers: Not ours, but we make them happier.

Spoilers: Halloween, The Dark Age, Faith, Hope, and

Ratings Note: R.

Summary: Watchers and Slayers.

Authors' Note: Branwyn's idea entirely. Te resisted
for four whole seconds before deciding to play. An
AU that starts to get skewed after the movie. Title
stolen from e. e. cummings.

Feedback: Adored. cuppachaos@hotmail.com and


California suited him better than Boston. The air smelled
the way America should: alien. Dryness and heat, a
magic reminiscent of Eastern deserts but with a
desperation entirely its own. He inhaled deeply, and
waited for the rush. They were breathing the same air
again, and he believed it was sweeter for having
passed through the body of a Slayer.

Two Slayers, he reminded himself. And although he
had labored for years to silence the echoes of the
useless parts of his training, he knew he would never
shake the feeling that she was a bit obscene--the frail
blonde child who called, then outlived, her replacement.

The grudge was a faint one, however, and if one
imagined that *she* suggested obscenity, one must
remember her Watcher.

A Slayer, born into the camouflage of her human skin,
might be forgiven for her beauty, for appearing delicate.
The Watcher, on the other hand, had no business with
delicacy, and could not be forgiven for an unblemished
hide, for glowing over the Slayer's shoulder like a great
white sign-post of vulnerability. Refinement, three piece
suits, handbooks: these had no place in a Watcher's life.

Giles could not even forgive the man for his

Dear Wesley had learned a lesson or two by now, one
hoped. Whatever the lad's deficiencies, he could not have
stood cheek-and-jowl with death and hell for two years
and remained the too, too public school chap whom Giles
shagged bloody the night Merrick died, the night he
understood that twenty years of penance, of righteousness,
had not been enough to redeem his destiny from the

The night when the Council had *made* him understand.

Giles had flown Amanda Russell's remains from Boston
to Wyndham-Pryce in California. The size of the coffin
that held her--being normally designed for infants--was
message enough that Giles had not bothered to send a

Had Giles not come, the Council would have left her in
Boston. Had the Council known Giles was coming, they
would have ordered him to leave her in Boston. That, too,
was a message.

But if there was one thing Giles had learned in the years
away from everything, in the years spent trying so hard
to get back *inside*... unheard messages were useless.


He smiled to himself and squinted against the relentless
California sunlight. Right now, somewhere in this dim
and gormless little town, Faith was settling in.

Rather, Faith was *trying* to settle in. No Watcher, no
real ability to relax that he had seen, and so much
*power*.... There was nothing more beautiful.

But... he had other things to attend to just now.

There was a card on his pocket. It was nothing special
in and of itself, not spelled in any way, not even printed
on an especially fine grade of paper.

Ethan's Costume Shop, it said. Sunnydale, California. An
address, a phone number, a fax number, and even a
website address Giles knew would lead someplace
banal and commercial. Nothing on it was important
beyond the name and address.

It had arrived in a clean, simple envelope in one of his
many post office boxes back in Boston, addressed to
Rupert Giles in a hand only stark if one didn't know to
look for the flourishes.


So many years, and so many... encounters. None of
them casual, all of them memorable for one thing or
another. Once upon a time they were lovers. Briefly, at
the point of his final decision to leave the Council, they
had had the simplicity of friendship.

Over the years they had been business partners, enemies
when Giles was trying *extra* hard, and lovers again.
Always lovers.

Usually, it was Ethan who found him for one thing or
another. A chance to make a bit of money doing what
they did best, a chance to make a night of it away from
everything resembling responsibility or betrayal.

He couldn't imagine Ethan not being in his life, and when
it had been *Eyghon* to track them down...


After it had all been over, after they had trapped the
demon in the body of another and sent them both to
what was either an alternate universe or a metaphysical
garbage dump, Ethan had smiled at him.

Stood up and dusted off what clothes could be saved,
peeled away what couldn't, baring sleek skin and
countless scars.

Caressed his cheek with one hand still tingling and
stinking from magic and leaned in close enough for a
kiss. Whispered, "I didn't know you cared, old man..."

There hadn't been a need to say anything more, and
they had fucked in the wreckage of their own magic,
half-clothed, bruised and bleeding and hungry for each
other, for proof that once again they had made it

That they had *won*.

Victories didn't come easy in the life Giles lived, but
with Ethan...

With Ethan, they were always just on the edge of
possibility. Prizes for the taking.

Ethan who came to him shameless and unbowed, if a
little older and a little more powerful every time.
Ethan who always came bearing gifts: A vial of
virgin's blood, the shrunken head of a failed, if
powerful mage. Information and sex and old, old

And if he was pleased and just a *touch* worried to
find Ethan in Sunnydale before him, then he wasn't
in the least bit surprised. Some things were fated.

He crumpled the card in his fist and tossed it at
absently at a bin. This meeting would certainly be
entertaining, if perhaps not noticeably *useful*.

But then, the attitude that a thing must be useful in
order to be worth anything--that was an attitude
that belonged to the Council, and not one that Giles
had much use for.

What use was it, after all, to *tend* a Slayer--to
nourish and warm her, to make her laugh, to help
her, not only survive, but thrive? What use to do
more than point her in the direction of the nearest
demon and takes notes while she had at it? Plenty
more, after all, where she came from.

Bile rose in his throat, and Giles spat on the baking
pavement, amused to hear a faint hiss following. His
rebellion had sprouted too early, or perhaps his
penance had come too late: either way he had lost
what opportunity he may once have had to learn the
secrets of the Council.

Not the insignificant questions, such as which MP's,
which senators, were bound to their bidding, but
larger questions -- those of blood. Why, for example,
the Giles' were one of the first families, despite the
willfulness in the line, and why no Travers had ever
entered the field, had instead maneuvered cousins
and nephews--the Wyndham-Pryces, the Hobsons--
into the positions they so clearly coveted.

Giles had long suspected that the ache in his veins,
as though for a drug tasted and foregone long ago,
would finally ease when he touched Faith for the first
time. He suspected that no Travers would recognize
the feeling, and that is why they hid in shelters of
marble and oak, handing down edicts as though the
Slayers were an institution and not the heart and soul
of a man's life.

They would never know devotion like his own.

Ethan, on the other hand, seemed to understand Giles'
need as no other, even if he did have the impertinence
to find it a bit amusing. And if Giles permitted himself to
see the situation from Ethan's perspective (always a
bit uncomfortable) he could admit the irony of 30 years'
devotion to a girl he has never met, when 20 of those
years have been spent darting in and out of the
clutches of his male lover.

When he was prepared to be unusually honest with himself,
Giles admitted that Ethan had always been gracious
towards this faceless girl who had haunted the corners of
their relationship from the very beginning. In his beautiful
and intemperate youth Ethan had been merciless -- terrifying --
towards any rivals that Giles had the imprudence to let
him see, yet in this matter he was almost... patient. It was
unsettling to think that at this late date he might have to
allow for unguessed-at depths to Ethan's character. That
in the maelstrom of Ethan's theology, he might have
attained a wisdom that allowed him to be generous.

Most unsettling.

Far better to imagine Ethan gracious in victory, for a Slayer
would surely be far less of an annoyance than the Council

When Giles reached the shop, pushing open the door
and stepping into the air-conditioned interior, he couldn't
help appreciating Ethan's sense of... propriety, if that
unlikely word could have anything to do with the man. He
could *picture* Ethan as a costumier, and the picture
fit. Even if Ethan was no longer sampling his own more
fabulous wares, he looked at home there, behind the
cash register.

The dark-haired girl who perched on the counter in front
of him appeared to be in rather desperate need of what
the store had to offer--namely clothing, which apparently
ran in short supply in the California summer. Although she
had dressed much the same in Boston, with far less

She looked up at him with the chime of the shop door's
bell, and Ethan... gazed at him as though his eyes had
been fixed to this spot all day, simply waiting for him to

And perhaps they had.

"Ripper," he says with a smile, and if Giles was tempted
to chide the man for using the name in front of the
Slayer, then it wasn't an especially powerful temptation.

The Slayer raised an eyebrow and looked him up and
down in frank speculation. "Ripper, hunh?"

"Oh, you have no *idea*, Faith."

A pang at not being the first to introduce himself to this
girl, but he swallowed it and offered his hand. "My name
is Rupert Giles."

She looked at the hand, then shrugged and jumped
down from the counter and gave him a bruising handshake
that was merely a fraction of her power. "Faith. But I'm
guessing you know that, since I've seen you around
more than once."

An exaggerated moue of surprise from Ethan. "You
must be losing your touch."

The girl whipped her head around in rank suspicion
before giving him a narrower look. "So what's the deal
here? This place *reeks* of magic, and you've apparently
been stalking me. Talk quick, I haven't killed anything
in forever."

Giles raised an eyebrow. "You staked several vampires
last night, on the outskirts of town."

"Like I said; it's been forever." She gave him a little
shove that would have perhaps been gentle from a
human girl. "Talk."

And Giles had had a speech prepared for this, one he'd
been composing off and on since he'd learned of the
girl's existence, but... but. Some things required a certain
immediacy. "You need a Watcher. I think I can help."

"Oh, man. I can't *believe* I didn't figure that out by
now. English accents and everything. Well, look,
Watcherboy, I don't *need* anything. Though you
might need a doctor soon." She glared over her shoulder
 at Ethan for a moment. "He a Watcher, too?"

Ethan sputtered and choked.

Giles smiled behind his face. "You really shouldn't insult
the man. Or me. I said I can *help* you. I didn't say I
was a Watcher."

This, at last, gave her pause. She moved until they
were in a rough triangle -- and until she had enough
room to take them both out if the mood struck her --
and watched in an obviously troubled silence.

Giles gave her the time she needed, taking a moment
to look at Ethan as he very carefully, very *thoroughly*
looked at neither of them.

"What..." She shook her head and closes her mouth

Giles remembered following her to the clubs, and the
after hours bars. Remembered watching her dance and
fight with the same rawly sensual indiscrimination.
Power. Russell hadn't had a chance.

She nods, bouncing a little on the balls of her feet.
"Okay. Okay. What is it, *exactly*, that you think you
can help me with?"

"I *was* a Watcher once, and beyond that both Ethan
and I are trained sorcerers with some degree of power
and experience. I can make you stronger, faster...
*better* than you already are."

Ethan turned a page of the book he was supposedly
reading, licking his thumb before mentioning, casually,
"and then there's the matter of Kakistos."

She froze everywhere, face showing naked terror and
guilt before she got control of herself again.

He could help her with *that*, too.

"I don't... you..."

Giles chanced a small, slow step forward. "Russell was no
friend of mine, Faith. I'm offering you the chance to be
at the top of your game, not a chance to go crawling to
the Council."

A troubled look, and Giles could see Ethan savoring it at
the corner of his vision. "And... I have a choice?"

Giles lets his smile show this time, and spreads his hands.
"You're the most powerful girl in the world, Faith. You, at
least, *always* have a choice."

She nodded and made for the door, looking back only
when she was out in the sunshine again. "I'll think about...
what you said."

Giles nodded, marveling a little at the way the sun
backlit the girl with a sort of careless artistry. "Good."

"And I'll find you."

And then she was gone, leaving Giles to take what felt
like the first breath since walking into the store. He
picked up his duffel and dropped it on the counter,
rubbing at his temple before Ethan brushed his hand
away and took over.

"That went rather well, I think."

"Mm. Ethan. What do you think of her?"

"Very powerful. Weirdly fragile. Fills out that tank top
with inspiring ease."


Ethan chuckled. "I think you'll have a time of it with her,
Ripper. I'm going to enjoy watching."

Giles blinked. That... was new. "I've never known you to
be passive in anything, Ethan."

"Watching is an *activity* Ripper, one that often leads
to other, even more entertaining activities... and I'm
interested in this girl. She fills me with a certain..." His
most delicate smile. "Nostalgia."

"How on earth did you come across her?" Giles hoped
fervently that there was only the barest modicum of
jealousy in the question, and that if there was any more,
Ethan would overlook it.

"We met in the local night club. I bought her a drink.
Several drinks, actually. I don't know whether she
allowed me to do so because she was penniless or
because she's so deliciously under-age, but she was...
appreciative, in her own way."

"She -- you didn't --" A moment to be more than a bit
horrified, among other emotions he didn't care to examine.

Ethan spread his hand in gesture of innocence. "I've
left her utterly unspoilt for you, darling."

Giles snorted. "I doubt the privilege of deflowering her
will fall to either of us."

"'Deflowering?' We *are* feeling our upbringing a bit,
aren't we?"

Giles pulled away and took one of Ethan's hands in his
own for a moment. Squeezed harder than he wanted
to. "She's a *Slayer*, Ethan. All my life, before I met
you..." He sighed. "You know all this already."

Ethan squeezed back. "Yes, I do, Ripper. And it's all
rather touching to watch." Innocence at his skepticism.
"No, *really*. She makes you look young."

Giles laughed despite himself. "I think we need stronger
magic for that."

Ethan grinned. "I just so happen to be working on a
certain potion..."

Giles rolled his eyes. "I think you miss my hair more
than *I* do."

Ethan tossed him a wig from behind the counter. It
was blonde, curled to excess, and still smelled like the
perfume of whoever wore it last. "Hair, we can work

Giles snorted. "And just what would happen to me if I
put this dreadful confection on...?"

"That would be telling."

He nodded. "Business here, or...?"

"Pleasure. Or... call it a bit of that old time religion.
There's nothing quite like a Hellmouth to make an old
mystic feel reverent."

Once upon a time, this would've been important.
Something for him to fight, to thwart in the name of
the Council and all that was good and right and holy.

There was something to be said for a life without

He shook his head and tossed the wig back. "I don't
want to know. Do try to avoid waking up any
*particularly* nasty demonic energy."

"Scout's honor. Now, isn't it time for you to put
yourself someplace your so-pretty new Slayer can easily
track you down?"

His Slayer. *His*. He couldn't think of a thing to say.

Ethan gave him a soft push. "Go on, then. You know
where to find me when you're done."

Giles nodded, swallowed against the lump of feeling in
his throat, and walked out, leaving his bag on the counter.

There would be time for this later.


For such a domestic slice of Americana, Sunnydale was
notably lacking in innocence. One noticed it in the small
things: the liquor store, for example, closed at sunset --
and said as much on the door, rather than "6 pm", so
there would be no confusion when the days shortened
with the seasons. There was also a surprising dearth of
bars, and a less surprising profusion of churches,
predominantly Catholic, probably having less to do
with the town's Spanish heritage than with the comforting
largesse of Catholic pageantry.

Not to mention the simple need for lots and lots of
crucifixes. It must have comforted the early residents
to feel that their religion was as practical as it was

Giles, to whom practicality *was* a religion, could relate.

And for a few moments he tried to work out a flattering
difference between his practicality and the Council's
utilitarianism, but after a while he decided that the
distinction did not lie in method, but in goal.

His goal, the *Watcher's* goal, was the life of the

The Council's goal was the preservation of the comfort
in which they had wallowed for a dozen centuries. There
were other names for it, of course -- tradition, stability,
lies so old that the liars could not remember their origin

The better to pass them on to newer generations who
would take them for God's truth.

Giles was almost eager to find the whelp, his, God help
him but it rankled, predecessor in the field. He had been
a charming child, more abashed by the streaks of old
power in his blood than a closeted queer. The wreck of
his innocence was Sunnydale's one and only truly
beautiful promise. Well, besides that of Faith.

He would have to make certain to introduce him to Ethan.

And while the images that thought produced were more
than a little entertaining... Giles laughed to himself and
passed easily between a pair of high school students.
Younger than a Slayer could ever be.

No, the images were entertaining, the fallout would
undoubtedly be educational, but Giles prided himself on
a certain degree of honesty with himself.

Because even though he'd be willing to wager that he
wouldn't know this new and tempered version of
Wyndham-Pryce as well as he *thought* he would, he
*did* know Ethan.

And Ethan would take every savage pleasure Giles
didn't -- quite -- admit to in torturing the boy. And
he'd do it for himself, yes -- Giles had no trouble
accepting the depths of the man's sadism -- but he
would also do it for *Giles*.

Payback for all the years of trying to be something
he wasn't. For all the years of twisting himself into
a man the Council hadn't wanted since he'd rebelled
in the first place.

When he'd made everyone he'd known and loved in
those brief and terrible and wonderful years in the
coven into enemies.

And cut himself off from everyone *but* Ethan, who
wouldn't let go even when Giles was...

Giles sighed to himself and forced himself to pay
attention to his surroundings. Soon, he'd be among
Sunnydale's seemingly endless cemeteries, and too
much maudlin nostalgia would undoubtedly be
hazardous to more than just his pride.

But it had to be acknowledged just the same -- he
was a bitter man, and a needy man, and his sore
spots could easily flare into open wounds if he
wasn't conscious enough to stop the process.

In the meantime, there was a Slayer out here
tonight. Perhaps even two. It was time to take
what was his by right and purpose.

He didn't have long to wait. There was a thud, a strangled
feminine shriek, and the rising strain of "My dead
*mother*--" Faith. Whose mother was, in fact, dead,
along with her Watcher. Anyone else who may once
have mattered to her is either dead as well or so far
away as to be irrelevant. The only baggage Faith
brought to Sunnydale was emotional--and plenty heavy
enough for a girl of sixteen.

Sixteen. Hardly to be believed.

She fought the way she always did, the way she danced,
taut muscle and the glide of bare flesh under
streetlamps. No question that she was born to this,
would still have been born to it had she never been
called. She had always been dangerous.

There were, no doubt, times before being called when
she suffered for it. Teachers, social workers, her
mother's boyfriends -- it was too much to hope that one
of them nourished her promise. Faith, clearly, had had to
fight for every scrap of dignity she had ever possessed.

And it was clearly an ongoing battle -- internal, now,
more than external. Faith would never again have
trouble persuading others to give her what she wanted,
but deciding what that may be -- well, self-knowledge
was notoriously rare among teenagers anyway, and
there was old pain in Faith of the kind more likely to
blind than to instruct. Dignity stood no chance against
it -- Faith herself couldn't control it, though the power
it gave her...

"YOU -- CAN'T -- TAKE -- ME!" Every word punctuated
by a shattering blow. The vampire beneath her leaked
stolen blood. "NOBODY can take me."

Yes, the power was rather breathtaking.

His admiration for her was tinged with a compassion
he knew she would not welcome. He knew better than
to present himself in the role of a healer. She wouldn't
take that any better than he would have, back when 'Ripper'
had more to do with the painful day to day than with
bittersweet nostalgia.

Better, at least temporarily, to accept what she was more
likely to offer him -- this very impressive violence, for
example -- and give her what she thought she wanted,
before he revealed all that he was willing to do for her.

Devotion was not trust, after all, nor did it necessarily
inspire it. Amanda Russell had undoubtedly been devoted
in her own way -- and there was no reason to believe
that Faith left her to her own devices, exactly --

"That was me fighting for my life, Miss Attention Span!"

-- but there was a reason that the Slayers who lived
longest always outlived their first, and usually second

Buffy Summers was glaring at the retreating form of
Faith's back. Blonde hair stood up in wisps around her
face, and her dark coat was littered with grey ashes.
Her indignance was -- he must confess it -- rather

It spoke of a life with expectations of normality -- as
though she was used to being supported in battle, used
to *winning* battles. Used to giving orders, and being

She and Faith were obviously new acquaintances.
Certainly she was not what Giles would ever have
expected from a charge of Wesley Wyndham-Pryce.
No true servant of the Council would have allowed
the girl to *own* such ridiculous shoes, much less
wear them while patrolling. It bore thinking about.

He watched Buffy stalk away -- intimidating strides
for such a small girl -- and analyzed a sudden stab of
regret. Not for her departure, but for the radically
different life that might have been his. Had he played
the game differently -- had he obediently foregone
Ethan's company over the years and everything he
*believed* in...

(oh, that would have been a brilliant success, Ethan
sneered from the back of his mind)

Had he been able to accept the Council's discipline with
anything like *genuine* repentance -- then Buffy would
have been his Slayer.

And there was so much he could have shown her.

"Thought I said I was gonna find *you*."

He turned slowly, hands in the pockets of his jacket.
Faith stood with her arms crossed belligerently across
her chest, her legs spread apart and planted firmly on
the pavement. Wild hair covered half her face, and her
eyes, half-hidden in the tangle, glinted expectantly.

Giles cleared his throat. "It looks like you did."

But this is how things were now. And *this* was his girl.

She tossed her hair like a horse. "Watchers. More like
*stalkers*." And she turned and walked away, perhaps
just a bit determinedly in the opposite direction of Buffy.

Giles fell in beside her, matching her stride and grateful
for every extra moment he'd ever spent in the Council's
gymnasium. The silence was a comfortable sort of swelling
in his chest. This girl has... problems. Nearly a year on her
trail and even an *official* Watcher would notice, he

He had waited long and hard for this moment, *his*
moment, even considering an attempt at seducing her
away when Russell was still alive. When she died,
though... When Faith *ran*...

Well, the waiting all made sense, now.

He put his hands in his pockets and smiled to himself.

"I just... I mean, you'd think she'd be fucking *happy*
to see me. Not alone anymore! Two girls in all the
world. Instead she's all..." Her face twisted into
something both ugly and endlessly endearing.


"Well, you're the stalker here. You been watching her,
too, right? You tell *me* what her problem is."

"I assure you, Faith. You've been my singular focus for
quite some time now."

That earns him a smile, and a gentler head toss.
Flirtatious, yes, but more than that... a simple
happiness that Giles wanted to indulge at least as much
as he wanted to exploit.

"She seems... well. You are, technically, in territory
she feels is her own."

A grunt, and Faith jumped over a gravestone in her
path while Giles walked around. "She acts like I'm
gonna piss on her tires."

If Giles were a different man, he'd ask how she
would've felt if Buffy had shown up in Boston with
no warning. But Giles was who he was, and he
thought he knew.

"And she's so... God, she's got a stick up her ass
bigger than her Watcher's, you know? You wouldn't
know it to look at her, but she's fucking *repressed.*"

Giles hid another smile behind his hand. "How so?"

"You studied Slayers. You know what we're like after
a kill." The smile this time had far more intent.

"There have been a few entries in the journals about
that, yes."

"Yeah, well, Little Miss Pastel back there... if she's
ever jerked off I'm a fucking blonde."

Giles coughed and stumbled. Wondered just what,
exactly, it had taken to make Ethan behave.

She whacked him on the back with simple, bruising
force. "You okay there? Don't want you to have a
heart attack or anything." Another grin. "Yet."

Giles snorted. "Your concern is heartwarming, I'm

Her hand lingered on his back, and she gave him a
searching look. What did he want? What did he

Giles made a silent resolution to be on his best behavior,
at least for the time being.

"Yeah, well, that's that. I think her Watcher is calling
up his guys at the Council about me. That's gonna go
over like a lead balloon."

Giles held her gaze with his own. "You could have
another Watcher very quickly, if you wanted one."

She nodded with slow, obvious thoughtfulness. "My


She broke contact and started walking again.

They were leaving the cemetery and entering what
certainly seemed to be... another cemetery. Hellmouths
were always predictable, in some ways.

Faith remained silent, and Giles forced himself to be
quiet. *Patient*. He had to be careful, because this
was... this was what he wanted. *Needed*. And it
may have been terrible egotism, but he thought he
was what Faith needed, too.

This was more important than his own desires.

The girl paused before a new-looking grave and fell
into a casual squat, plucking a stake from inside her
sleeve and bouncing it back and forth between her
hands. She didn't look back at Giles.

And aside from the freshness of the grave, there
was nothing particularly special about the spot, but...
Slayer instincts.

Trusting them felt like diving into dark, deep water
on a hot summer day. Terrifying and exhilarating.

It didn't take long before a fledgling practically
*exploded* out of the earth, mud and wood fragments
flying everywhere. Faith didn't stake the thing
immediately, instead yanking the fledge fully out
of the grave and tossing him for some distance.

A growl and she was running for it, just barely
missing a tackle and not missing a kick at least. The
fledge hit the ground snarling, and Faith was up
again, throwing herself at it with neither caution nor
especial grace.

They rolled over and over, nearly falling into the
open grave before Faith kneed it in the groin and
rolled them back the other way, landing on top. A
punch, another, several too fast to count and the
fledge was groaning now, moving weakly and with
little usefulness.

Faith grinned down at the thing ground her hips. "
Thought you had a treat, didn't you?"

Flare of yellow eyes. "Dude, who *are* you?"

Giles knew a cue when he heard one, and picked up
the lost stake and tossed it at Faith's back. She
caught it one handed, without so much as a glance.
"I'm the new girl in town."

A riot of dust and Faith picked herself up and grinned
at him.

"Nice timing."

He smiled his thanks, and watched Faith very clearly
deciding whether or not her shirt was a loss. She
pulled the tail up and through the collar and yanked
the thing down.

"Heh. Daisy Duke."

Giles didn't have a clue and didn't bother to pretend
otherwise. After a few moments, the post-kill
happiness faded from her face and she began to
pace. Small, tight movements. The physical
representation of a young girl, deep in thought.


He raised an eyebrow.

"You... you know all this stuff. My technique and
everything. What would you change?" She didn't
quite look at him.

Careful, careful... "If it were me, I would've staked
him as soon as his chest was an available target..."

Faith nodded slowly. Almost, but not quite, shuffled
her feet.

"But then, I haven't taken *quite* that much pleasure
in killing vampires since I was a young man."

She blinked and froze. Looked up at him with
something like wonder in her eyes. A smile twitched on
the edges of her mouth. "Yeah...?"

Giles smiled back. "There's a time and place for all
things, Faith. Even pleasure. Perhaps, especially

"You gonna show me those places, G?"

"If you let me."

They stood facing each other just a second longer, the
smile still dangling from the corner of Faith's impossibly
red lips. When she turned to go, it was neither a
dismissal nor an invitation.

The walk back to the costume shop was shorter than
he remembered it this time, and although he did not for
a moment consider releasing the stake he gripped in
his pocket, he fancied that Sunnydale looked peaceful.

Full of promise.

He could make a life here. Forty years of England, thirty
years of waiting, twenty years of penance for crimes
he *still* didn't, entirely, regret -- they were suddenly
as grey and distant in his memory as Limbo might have
been to a soul newly admitted to paradise. Which was
a sentiment so embarrassingly effusive even in his
*head* that he deliberately relaxed his face before
Ethan could see the grin that stretched jaw muscles he'd
never used before.

Sunnydale began to look more than peaceful to him.

With Ethan near -- with his Slayer, at last -- it was
beginning to look like home.

Which, considering that Sunnydale sat astride a Hellmouth,
was bloody priceless.

"You look like the cat that's hiding the feathers." Ethan
had apparently remained behind the counter, and was
still, apparently, reading a book -- folio volume, bound
with a suspicious-looking leather. One of the tissue-thin
pages rustled in his fingers as he cocked an eyebrow in
Giles' direction. "Had a pleasant chat, did you?"

Giles stood still in the center of a white patch of
moonlight. Did not bother to ward himself against the
magic he was open to -- that Ethan might just work
against him. As a joke. To teach him caution.

"Ethan. I never --" He stopped, suddenly afraid of
saying the wrong thing. Spread his hangs eloquently.

"Your destiny, yes I know." A weary sigh. Ethan closed
the book and looked at him. His smile wasn't nearly
as mocking as he could have made it. As it once
would have been. As Giles had returned, expecting it
to be.

Ethan leapt down from the high perch of his stool
and moved around the counter to stand in front of
him--near enough that Giles could see the lines on
his face, far enough away to indicate that, for once,
Ethan wasn't taking anything for granted.

He extended one thin hand. His smile was, if anything,

"Come to bed."

Giles closed the distance between them and closed
the hand in his own. Their kiss was comfortable and
sweet, like relaxing into fate.