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The Meaning of Heroes
Book One: Chapter Twenty-Four (10,023 words) 
2nd-Aug-2006 11:11 pm
wes/fred/giles OT3!, heroes

The house was almost chaos. Dawn was running around decorating the living room, which was now empty of its normal furniture, all of which had been moved downstairs for the day. Several folding chairs had been set up instead, all facing the fireplace. Trish and Geoff were in the kitchen, getting things into the oven for the dinner they would have afterwards while Tara and Buffy were upstairs helping Fred get ready.

Willow felt a bit out of place, watching everyone rush around. After everything that had happened yesterday, she knew that it would be awhile before everyone would feel comfortable being around her again, but maybe this trip to stay with the coven in England would help. It had to help.

Needing some air, she headed out onto the porch. As she closed the door behind her, she looked over and saw Giles, sitting there, looking for all the world like he would rather have been anywhere else. And it was her fault.

“Hey,” she said softly. “How...how are you feeling?”

“I’m okay.” Giles smiled faintly at seeing his favorite redhead standing there. He patted the seat next to him, inviting her to sit down. “I’m glad you could make it today.”

She walked over the bench that it appeared everyone else had banished him to in order to keep him from trying to help while he was recovering and sat down. It was still amazing to her that Giles was treating her the way he was after what she had done. “I almost didn’t come with everything that happenened because I wasn’t sure the others would want be here, and honestly I wouldn’t blame them because what I did, really not that bright. Funny how you don’t realize that until after you screw up big time. But Tara said you wanted me to be here and that since I’m leaving tomorrow night, I should be here. So...here I am.”

“That’s usually when it hits the hardest.” He sympathized with her self recrimination and was thankful that no one had to die for her to see the dangerous path she was on. “Tara was right – I want you here and at the commitment ceremony. We want our family with us. Love doesn’t stop just because we make mistakes,” he reminded her, placing a reassuring hand on her leg.

She gave him a wan smile, tears coming to her eyes. “I know. If it did, I seriously doubt any of us would be here right now. It’s just...I really thought I didn’t have a problem. I thought I was doing the right things, and I thought I had control. When I saw what I did to you...” She sighed and shook her head. “Thank you for giving me a second chance.”

Giles sighed when he saw the green eyes tear up. Gently, he drew her into his side, hugging the girl who had become his daughter in every way but blood. “I hope you know, I wasn’t trying to pick on you. When I—it took a very nice young man dying for me to see that I had a very serious problem. I never wanted that kind of pain and guilt for you. I’m glad it didn’t come to that.”

“I know you weren’t... At least, I know that now,” she said, leaning against him but being careful not to pull on him since she didn’t want to hurt him anymore. “I’m just—I almost ruined the wedding and the commitment ceremony with what I did. I’m glad that everything is still going as planned.”

“I am too.” Smiling, he rested his cheek on her head. “It just wouldn’t be the same without you here. And I will miss you terribly while you’re gone, but the coven will help you. They’ll give you the control you need, just like they gave me the control I needed all those years ago.”

Willow looked up at him. “You...you went to the coven for help?” She remembered what they had found out about Giles’ past when Ethan had showed up a few years before, but he had never said. “It got that bad?”

“A man died, Willow, because I was far too arrogant to handle own abilities. Randall—he was kind and good. He looked up to me, and I led him to his death. It’s a mark that I will never be able to repay in this life time. The head of this Coven, she was a new member when I came to them. They showed me how to respect the magic. You can do great things with magic, but for those amazing things, there’s a disasterous cost. You resurrected someone. I have no idea what will be required because of that, which is why I think your time with them can only be a good thing. The more you respect your abilities, the more you learn to control them. I’m hoping that will take the sting out of whatever is required.”

“Whatever it is, I’ll pay it,” she whispered. She had hurt two of the people she loved most in the world – had pulled Buffy out of heaven and had sent Giles to the hospital. She wasn’t stupid either. She knew quite well she possibly could have killed him. Thankfully, though, she hadn’t. But Giles at least understood. It made dealing with this, facing what she had done, a bit easier. Not totally – she knew she didn’t deserve that – but a bit.

“Whatever it is, I’ll be there standing with you. And your first penance can be to keep me company since I’ve been banished to the porch,” he half-teased, not wanting her to feel as if she owed him anything. But it would give them more time to talk about his bad experiences in his youth. While he didn’t relish his “kids” learning about some of the things he did, perhaps Willow knowing about them would give her a chance to avoid his mistakes.

*****

Since Tara was helping Fred with her hair, Buffy had started to feel a bit silly just standing around, so she had decided to go downstairs. She found Tony in the dining room, finishing setting the table in there. “So Fred’s mom drafted you, huh?”

“She’s a difficult woman to say no to,” he chuckled. “I think we all got a brief taste of how much trouble Mister Giles and Wesley are in.”

Buffy snorted, knowing how true his comment really was. “Especially now that she’s pregnant.” She looked into the living room, which was decorated and waiting, surprised when she didn’t see Giles in there. “Speaking of Giles, where is he? I thought he would have been parked in the living room since he’s not allowed to help out.”

“Lorne caught him trying to ‘help’ with straightening the flowers and banished him to the front porch, where he wouldn’t be tempted to disobey instructions.” Tony smirked, nodding toward the front door. The image of the green demon laying down the law with the seasoned Watcher was one that would cause him to smile for quite some time.

“Oh, do I wish I could have seen that,” she said, grinning madly. Someone had actually managed to make Giles – King of “It’s just a flesh wound; I’m fine” – obey instructions and rest. They would definitely have to keep Lorne. He was pretty handy to have around. Could probably make sure Dawn did her homework. “I should probably go see how he’s doing.”

She headed for the door and was about to open it when she saw one of the streamers coming off the wall like someone had grabbed it. “Dennis, Dawn’s not going to like you messing with her work,” she warned before stepping outside. She found Willow and Giles sitting on the bench, talking. “Hey...just wanted to see how things were going.”

“Shouldn’t we be asking that question since we’re the ones outside the action?” Giles pouted, still not liking the fact that he hadn’t been able to lift a finger to help his lovers on their wedding day. It was immensely frustrating. “Everyone almost ready?”

Buffy nodded. “Lorne’s helping Wes, and Tara’s almost done with Fred’s hair. I think Trish and Geoff have everything cooking. All we need is Xander and Anya to get back here with Father Hall. And Father McKay.” They had invited the priest since he had been so understanding about what had happened at Xander and Anya’s wedding. They figured giving the man a nice dinner was the least they could do.

“Does this mean Lorne is letting me back in the house?” he asked with a smirk. He motioned down the street as he saw Xander’s new truck driving toward them. It looked like they would be starting soon.

“It’s my house, so I’m saying you can come back in,” she told him, giving him a wink. “Why don’t we get you into place before things get more chaotic in there.

“Here, let me help you,” Willow said, standing and offering him his arm.

When Giles planted his cane on the ground and gripped Willow’s arm, he felt the pain shoot through his lung but kept his face neutral, so as not to make the redhead feel any worse. Standing, he leaned forward on the cane, moving slowly toward the door.

Willow held him up as best she could while Buffy opened the door for them. It was a bit difficult, but she knew that was nothing compared to what Giles was going through. Once they stepped into the house, however, Giles wasn’t leaning on her as heavily anymore. “Dennis?” She felt a hand pat her shoulder in response. “Thanks.”

They got him over to a chair at the front near the fireplace by where Wesley would be standing. Willow held the chair steady while Dennis helped him to sit down.

“You all right?” she asked once he was settled.

He took a moment to push the pain in his lung to the back of his mind before smiling up at her. “I’m fine,” he replied. “Thank you for your assistance, Dennis.” Wes and Fred had been right – Dennis really was indespensible at times.

Lorne, who had just come in from the kitchen with a vase of flowers, rolled his eyes when he heard Giles say he was fine. “Where have I heard that before,” he said, sharing a knowing look with Buffy.

As he placed the vase on the mantle of the fireplace, the front door opened again, and Xander and Anya entered with Father Hall and Father McKay in tow. Buffy smiled and extended her hand to Hall. “Thanks for agreeing to perform the wedding for us,” she said.

“Of course, child. I take it I should stand in front of the fireplace?” he asked, looking at how everything was set up.

She nodded, and while Father Hall went to situate himself, she turned to Father McKay. “We’re glad you could come too. I know the last wedding wasn’t exactly a good time. We swear, though – no surprises here.”

“Yeah,” Xander chuckled. “Buffy has promised Wes, Fred and Giles that anything tries to interrupt and she’s going to beat it to a bloody smear.”

“A promise that is very much appreciated.” Wesley smiled as he walked in from the kitchen. He had wanted to check on the food, wanting everything to be perfect for Fred, and was quickly thrown out of the kitchen. He moved to stand in front of Giles when the older man called him over and bent down upong being ordered to do so. When Giles reached up to straighten his tie, he felt a warmth spread through him at the endearing gesture.

“Awwwww,” Xander teased, trying to get Wes to blush.

“Xander,” Giles growled.

“Shutting up now.”

*****

Fred bit her lip as she looked in the mirror once Tara finished her hair, smoothing her ankle-length ivory dress over her stomach. She knew she shouldn’t feel nervous – this was Wesley she was marrying, and she loved him so much, but she still could feel butterflies in her stomach. Maybe because even though Buffy and the others had promised they would make sure nothing would happen, she was still a bit worried. She wanted today and tomorrow to go well, and they had already had a bit of a misstep with Willow. She knew that she hadn’t meant it, and she would be getting help now, but it was still a bit unsettling.

It would be fine, though. She kept telling herself that – it would all go fine. Today she was marrying Wesley, and tomorrow, she and he and Rupert would be pledging themselves to each other. She was gaining two husbands, and no matter how strange that sounded to the rest of society, it sounded just right to her.

“I think I’m ready,” she told Tara, giving her a smile and leaning over to give her a hug. “Thank you for helping me.”

“You think?” Tara asked with a smile. She knew the woman standing in front of her loved both Wesley and Giles deeply. They didn’t realize it, but the three of them needed each other, their auras completing the others in every way. “And you’re welcome. You deserve tonight...and tomorrow. The three of you have endured so much, you deserve to be happy. You’ll find it in each other.”

“I know. Wesley and Rupert...they’re the most amazing men I’ve ever met.” She rested her hand over her abdomen – the baby had given her a reprieve that morning from the sickness until Rupert and Wesley had left the room. She was hoping that he or she was settling now. “Can you get my father for me? Everyone should be here by now, I’m sure.”

“Sure.” With a nod, Tara slipped from the room. It didn’t take her long to find Roger Burkle – he was the tallest person in the house after all. Tapping him on the shoulder, she let him know Fred was ready.

Making his way up to the room upstairs, he knocked on the door lightly. “Fred, it’s me, darling. Tara said you’re ready?”

Opening the door for him, she nodded. “Yeah, I am,” she told him as she stepped out into the hallway. “Is everyone here?”

“Xander and Anya got back with the priests about ten minutes ago,” he explained. “The boys are downstairs waiting on you.” He was teasing – he knew both Wes and Rupert would wait until doomsday, so long as at the end of the night, his daughter’s heart belonged to them.

She laughed softly, looking down at herself once last time, then straightened up and took her father’s arm. “I guess we shouldn’t keep them waiting then, should we?”

Lorne stuck his head around the edge of the staircase. “Everyone’s in position! Is the bride ready to come down?”

“Yes, Lorne. I’m ready,” she called back as together she and her father walked down the stairs.

Down in the living room, Xander heard her and hit play on the tape recorder. He smiled when Wes looked at him pleasantly surprised. “Hey, since we couldn’t bring you to the organ player, I decided to bring the organ player to you.” He shrugged though he was happy his idea had gone over so well.

Fred smiled broadly at the sound of the music – they had thought of everything. And when she and her father stepped off the steps and turned into the living room, she felt her breath catch in her throat. Everything was decorated, and Wes and Rupert were at the front. She kept looking at them as they walked forward to the fireplace.

“Who gives this woman to be wed?” Father Hall asked.

“I do,” Roger replied, looking at Wesley then the priest. “Me, um...I’m her daddy.” Before he stumbled any further, he handed Fred off to her husband-to-be. Moving over to Giles in his chair, he then helped the other man to stand, to join those he loved in the ceremony.

A small titter of amusement made its way through everyone gathered in the room, Elizabeth sharing a look with Trish, who just smiled. Everyone also knew what seeing Roger help Giles to his feet meant, causing Buffy and Lorne to share a low five in the back of the room.

As Fred took Wesley’s hand, she smiled at him then looked over at Rupert and gave him a smile as well before turning to look at the priest. “Friends and family, we are gathered here together to join this man Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and this woman Winifred Burkle in holy matrimony. Marriage is not an institution to be entered into lightly, but I have been informed by many of the people here present that there is much love between the people before me. So, I probably don’t need to ask this, but I must as part of the ceremony – if anyone here has any just cause as to why Wesley and Winifred should not be wed, speak now or forever hold their peace.”

Xander opened his mouth to make a wise crack about the fact that no one who valued their lives would speak up, but before he could utter a sylable, someone cut him off.

“Be quiet, Xander!” Connor said adamantly, determined that no one mess up this day for his mommy and daddy. He glared around the room, almost daring someone to say something.

Buffy grinned – little guy had made sure that she didn’t have to smash any heads. She looked over at Tony, who was standing by the hall to the kitchen and moved over to stand beside him. “At least this dress has a place where I can secret a stake,” she whispered to him.

Tony smiled, holding his coat open to show he didn’t have anything on him. “Probably a good thing since I’m the one unarmed this time. By the way, I still owe you a can of hairspray,” he reminded her.

Father Hall continued with the ceremony, talking briefly about marriage. Everyone who had been at Anya and Xander’s wedding looked around, almost as though just waiting for someone to interrupt at this point. But everything remained quiet, and they came to the vows.

“Do you, Wesley, take this woman Winifred to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, through sickness and in health, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, as long as you both shall live?”

Wesley looked at the woman that owned him, heart and soul, his blue eyes full of emotion. He never believed this day would come. She was going to be his—well, theirs. He held her gaze, entranced, until he felt the elbow in his back. “What? Oh, yes! I do.” He blushed, embarrassed that he had spaced out at his own wedding.

As another round of soft laughter moved through the room, Fred gave Rupert a grateful glance before turning her eyes back to Wesley. She couldn’t believe this moment had come after everything that had happened.

“Do you, Winifred, take this man Wesley to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, through sickness and in health, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, as long as you both shall live?”

“I do,” she said softly, her voice catching in her throat. “I do.”

Wes smiled, leaning his head down, touching his forehead to hers. Today, he was pledging himself to this woman before their family and before God. Tomorrow, both of them would pledge themselves to Rupert. For the first time in his life, he felt like he was part of something powerful. So powerful that sometimes, he felt as if the emotions would swallow him whole. But he knew, down to the very fiber of his being, that no matter what happened, he had someones who would always catch him.

Fred closed her eyes, lost in the moment, while Father Hall asked for the rings. Connor tugged on his robe and gave them to him – pleased that at least this time, he was able to perform his duty. The priest placed the rings on his bible.

“Wesley, please take the ring you wish to give this woman, place it on her finger and repeat after me – with this ring, I thee wed.”

Wesley took a shaky breath, emotions causing his hand to tremble. Taking the ring with long fingers, he drew Fred’s hand into his own, sliding the ring on her finger. “With this ring, I thee wed...”

She gazed at him, feeling her stomach fluttering and her throat tightening. She could hear her mother crying behind her. When Father Hall asked her to take the ring, she almost dropped it but managed to keep hold of it and place it on his finger. “With—with this ring, I thee w—wed.”

Elizabeth put an arm around Trish as the other woman cried, feeling tears coming to her eyes herself. Her son was getting married. He was getting married, and he was happy. Seeing him like this was the most wonderful gift she could have ever hoped for.

“By the power invested in me by the State of California and God, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Wesley, you may kiss the bride.”

With a smile that he felt down to his soul, he took his wife in his arms. His wife. He would never get tired of hearing that. Lowering his head, he kissed her like the treasure she was.

Fred wrapped her arms tightly around Wesley, not wanting to let go. They were married. They were really married. And nothing had happened to interrupt it.

“Yay, Mommy! Yay, Daddy!” Connor cheered. After several long moments, when they still didn’t break the kiss, Connor looked up at Giles. “Papa, they gonna come up for air?”

Finally, though, they had to part, and they turned to looked at everyone, who burst into applause. Wesley smiled, holding his wife at his side. He looked around the room at the four people who he knew understood his past and would be pleased beyond belief that this day had happened. First, his mother, the other person in the world who had bourne so much of his father’s anger. Then Geoff, the servant, and apparently his mother’s savior, who had constantly intercepted his father’s wrath on their behalf, deflecting the other man’s rage so often. The Lorne, sweet Lorne. He had never uttered a peep about his past, but he knew his anagogic friend had seen everything in his aura when he sang. Bless him, he had never asked any questions or said a word. He was a true friend.

Turning to his side, he then saw the last person they had to be thankful for. Rupert Giles. Reaching out a hand, he gently drew Rupert into an embrace with he and Fred. Without Rupert, this day might have never come. Undoubtedly, he would have been dead by Angelus’ hand and Fred would have been taken by the slocar parasite. He shivered briefly before tamping it down. It didn’t happen; now he was married.

And tomorrow, they would complete their ceremonies – Rupert would be joined with them.

*****

Dinner after the wedding had turned out to be a great success – everyone loved Trish’s cooking, including Elizabeth who wasn’t quite used to Southern fare but found it very good. They all had their dinner while music played and then spent time laughing and talking afterwards. Dawn and Connor even danced a bit although the little boy was a bit uncertain what to do at first. Soon, he was swinging his arms and jumping around, not caring what he looked like.

With the commitment ceremony the following day, the gathering didn’t last too late. Once everyone who lived or was staying elsewhere had headed home, Lorne took Connor up to tuck him into bed while Dawn went to her room downstairs and Buffy and Tony left to do a patrol, leaving the newly married couple and their lover alone in the living room.

Fred looked over at Wesley with a smile, taking his hand before turning to Rupert. “Come on – we need to get you upstairs and settled.”

Giles smiled faintly at his lovers. The glow he saw around them did his old heart a lot of good. “Why don’t the two of you take the room tonight. It is your wedding night after all,” he suggested, having been thinking about this all day. He didn’t want his injury to put a damper on the joy he clearly saw in their eyes. They deserved this time alone. “I can find other accommodations.”

Fred and Wesley shared a glanced before turning back to him, Fred shaking her head. “Where? Dawn’s in the basement, Lorne’s in the attic, Buffy and Connor have their rooms, and Tony sleeps on the couch. Besides, it wouldn’t be the same without you, especially tonight.”

“Fred, the two of you deserve this night to yourselves. This is your day; you don’t need to be forced to lay in your own bed, coiled so tight you’re afraid to move out of fear of hurting me. Go.” He gave her a smile. “Enjoy your night. I’m sure young Tony wouldn’t be against sacrificing his place on the couch for an old man for the night.”

“But sleeping on the couch won’t be good for you!” she insisted, looking over at Wesley again. “You need to sleep on a bed.”

“But it will be good for you,” Giles replied softly, wincing when he sat up and pulled at his stitches. “Fred, luv, spend the night with your husband.”

Wesley held her gaze, knowing this was important to her though he could also understand the point Rupert was trying to make. He was torn between wanting to give in to the desires of both his lovers. Closing his eyes, he nodded at his wife then took a knee in front of their lover, and smiling, he placed his hand on Rupert’s knee.

“You should come upstairs with us, luv,” he told him gently. “We took vows today for better and for worse. This just happens to be one of the worse. Those vows included you, Rupert Giles. And as much as I love your body, you’re not irresistable. If we have to wait, then we wait.”

Joining him, Fred placed her hand over her husband’s. “I love you for thinking of us, but you once said that any time the three of us spend together is precious. That includes times like this. We’re not going to push you aside and go off without you just because you’re hurt. We love you too much for that.”

“I just don’t think it’s fair to cost you your wedding night just because I’m hurt,” Giles sighed. “If you’re adamant about me sleeping in a bed, I can probably bunk down in Xander’s guest bedroom for the night.”

“Rupert, this isn’t your fault, and you shouldn’t be punished just because you’re hurt. You’re not costing us anything because...” Fred looked over at Wesley then up at him again, feeling her cheeks pinken. “As silly as it sounds, every night with both of you is like a wedding night to me. I have both of you, and I love both of you, and I get to sleep with and make love to both of you. I think I’m the luckiest woman in the whole world to have that.”

He looked at her in awe, touched by the depths of this young woman’s caring. “You have the most amazing capacity to love,” he commented softly, considering himself blessed to be on the recieving end of that love. “I really do think the two of you should have this night to yourselves...but it looks like I’m outnumbered.”

Smiling softly up at him, she nodded. “You are.” She stood and leaned over to kiss him gently, not wanting to do anything more to cause him any pain. “Come on, let’s get you to our room,” she said, and she and Wesley helped him up from the chair, carefully helping him to move up the stairs. As they went, Dennis assisted by keeping a hand on Giles’ back to make sure he didn’t fall.

Giles bit back a groan as they turned to enter their room. It was slow moving, but eventually, they helped him sit on the bed. He pressed a hand to the matress to hold himself up. “There’s...there’s something I want to talk to both of you about,” he began once he was settled. Despite the fact that his lung was throbbing, he smiled. “I thought it might be relevant to bring it up tonight. Consider it a wedding present. Xander’s company has its first official job...working for me. Although it’s more of a conversion project than a construction one.”

Realizing that sitting the way he was on the bed couldn’t be good for him, Fred sat down and wrapped an arm around his back to help hold him up. Her eyebrows raised at what he was talking about as she wondered what he meant. “Conversion project? What kind of conversion project?”

“The upper floor of The Magic Box. Buffy’s not quite ready yet, but when she is, I want everything prepared for us. Xander will be converting the upper floor into a three-bedroom flat, extending it over the top of his shop. We’ll have our room, and since I think until the children are older, they should share a room, that will leave us with a guest bedroom...at least for a bit,” he explained, grateful for the support Fred was giving him. “It’ll be a place for us...for our family.”

“A home...for us?” she repeated, amazed by the magtitude of the gift he was giving them. She looked over at Wesley, a smile on her face at the thought of the three of them and their children having a place of their own. She loved staying with Buffy and her sister, of course, but she knew that at some point, the other woman would probably want the house for herself and her future. “That sounds...I think that sounds wonderful.”

“Yes, a home for us. I’ve discussed this with Buffy – about the fact that eventually, our little family here will need our own place to spread our wings...” He placed one hand on Fred’s abdomen, the other over Wesley’s hand. “I love these children as if they were my own flesh and blood, but I also have to consider us. They understand that.” He was proud of Buffy. He was proud of all of them.

“I think that it’s the greatest gift you could have ever given us,” she told him. “This whole family – it’s the most amazing, wonderful thing to be a part of. I know that even though we have our own place, we’ll still be together with Buffy and Dawn and everyone else in every other way.”

Taking one of her hands, Giles drew it to his lips, pressing them to the top. “I’m glad you like it. I understand Buffy needs us here for now, but I think we should focus some on our family as well.” It made him feel a little guilty, though. He had lived his whole life for his Slayer for the last five plus years, been there when she needed him – walking into hell for her. Now, he was being selfish, wanting to include his own life, his own loves into his duty.

“Rupert.” Wesley reached over, slowly unbuttoning his lover’s shirt as he spoke. He knew what the look in those green eyes meant. “It’s not a crime to love or be loved. We’re not Jenny, and I think you’ll find it will take a herculean effort to remove either of us from this relationship. I’m not going to lie to you and say we’re immortal, but we are going into this with open eyes, so we know the precautions necessary to take.” Once he unbuttoned the man’s cuffs, he leaned over and kissed him gently as Fred helped him remove his jacket and shirt. He the chuckled, a smirk across his handsome face. “You won’t be rid of us that easy, old man.”

“Definitely not,” Fred agreed, tossing the jacket and shirt to the floor before checking the area around his stitches to make sure that it wasn’t getting red and infected. “You have the right to be happy, so we’re going to make you happy. Just like both of you make me happy, and I would imagine we make Wesley happy. We’re part of your life, wherever it takes us.”

At this, Wes stood, going to the dresser and withdrawing two envelopes. “Since Rupert is in the giving mood, I think I shall join in the festivities,” he announced with a smile. “Rupert, you know that when I was sacked by the Council, my father disowned me, cutting off all access to my inheritance. I was peniless, living from case to case. Which reminds me, there is still a question of that loan you made me. Anyway, Mother has restored my access as well as pointing out that, like you, with our father’s deaths, we inherit their titles as well.”

Taking a knee in front of Giles, he looked up into twin pairs of loving eyes, one green, one brown. He felt as if he were home. Where they resided was irrelevant – home was wherever the three of them were together. “Rupert, you love so selflessly, constantly disregarding your own needs and your own pain to take care of others.” Opening Rupert’s envelope, he withdrew several papers. “I want you to know, your pain will never be forgotten or ignored. You do matter – probably more than you realize – to a great many people, especially us.

“This is the deed to Angel’s mansion.” Opening the paper, he turned it around to where Giles could see it. His heart constricted a bit when he felt his lover wince instinctively, so he quickly opened the second paper, which he passed to him. “And this is the demolition notice, scheduled for tomorrow. The site of your own hell will be no more. I know it doesn’t erase the memory, but I hope it shows you that we see your pain, no matter how invisible you try and make it. This is a new book for us, and sometimes to begin anew, you have to close the old ones. ”

Fred felt tears coming to her eyes as she watched Wesley explaining what he had done. She remembered what Rupert had told her about what Angelus had done to him, how he had tortured him. Her eyes went to his finger, still slightly crooked, then back up to both of them. Reaching over, she took Rupert’s hand, seeing he was a bit overwhelmed by all this. Wesley was giving him the chance to destroy a reminder of those memories – it had to be an unbelievable moment of conflicting emotions.

Wesley smiled faintly when he saw Rupert trailing his fingers over the paper gently. He then turned his attention to Fred, his smile growing. “And now for you, my beautiful bride. Six years ago, you left Texas, your heart full of dreams, to study at a major university and give that brilliant mind of yours an outlet. That dream was cut short by your being sent to Pylea. But, in a true demonstration of your strength, you survived that hell. Now, as your husband, it’s my duty to give you back your dreams.”

He opened the other envelope, taking out the papers inside. “A few days ago, I called the Dean of Sunnydale University, explaining how my wife, who was studying in South America, was kidnapped and held for ransom for several years, cutting short her education. She’s startingly quick minded, most of the time putting me to shame. But I’m still not sure if she’s ready to rejoin the classrooms in a social interaction. The Dean, in turn, talked to the head of the science department...himself a physics professor. The professor wants you to submit a paper on the topic of your choosing to be okayed by him, so that he can decide whether to allow you to join the honors physics program at Sunnydale University. It’s a small class; I think he said it currently has five students. This letter is a reciept for two years tuition, already paid, for whenever you want to start. And if you’re worried about Connor and the baby, Rupert and I will pitch in to get you the extra time. Whatever you need to do this, we’ll give you. All you have to do is say the word.”

He had... Biting her lip, Fred reached out, taking the papers that Wesley was holding out. There it was in black and white. He had gotten her another shot at education, something she had never really thought before a few weeks ago she might have another chance at, especially since she had lost her scholarship when she had disappeared. “Wesley, this is...it’s so...oh God, thank you,” she said, sitting forward and wrapping her arms around him, hugging him tightly before giving him a kiss.

He chuckled, returning her hug. “You never have to thank me. I love you, and seeing that smile on your face is thanks enough.” Passing her the envelope when she pulled back, he continued, “In the envelope is also a temporary student ID for you to use the library at the university for your research.” He sighed happily, a warm glow settling about him. Standing, he began to shed his own clothes, letting his lovers enjoy their gifts in silence for a moment.

Fred looked at the paper in her hands, then over from Rupert to Wesley, feeling like absolutely the luckiest woman in the universe to have these two men love her so much. Then she thought about the gifts she had hidden for them in Connor’s room and took a deep breath, suddenly worried about what she had chosen, given their generosity. “I...I have something for both of you as well...it’s not much, not compared to these, but...wait here a moment...”

Leaving the room for a moment, she snuck into Connor’s room, being careful not to wake him up as she picked up the gifts from the closet and took them back into the bedroom. Since Rupert’s gift was the more obvious of the two, she set his down on the bed next to him first. “Buffy and Dawn mentioned that you play guitar and that it’s something that you do for you, but they’re not sure what happened to the one you used to have, so...I found this one for you,” she told him, opening the guitar case up to show the acoustic guitar inside. “You do so much for us, I wanted to give you something that you enjoyed.”

Giles looked at the gift in awe. It was an incredibly beautiful instrument – almost as beautiful as the woman who had given it to him. “You’re wrong when you say it’s not much. It means a great deal to me,” he whispered. “Wesley, will you please hand it to me?” His fingers were practically itching to touch it. When the younger man passed it to him, he cradled it reverently, starting to strum the strings. “You had it tuned.” Choosing a song in his head, he began play something that always reminded him of Wesley.

“No one knows what it’s like/To be the bad man,/To be the sad man/Behind blue eyes./No one knows what it’s like/To be hated,/To be fated/To telling only lies.

“But my dreams,/They aren’t as empty/As my conscience seems to be./I have hours, only lonely./My love is vengeance./That’s never free.

“No one knows what it’s like/To feel these feelings/Like I do,/And I blame you./No one bites back as hard/On their anger./None of my pain and woe/Can show through.

“But my dreams,/They aren’t as empty/As my conscience seems to be./I have hours, only lonely./My love is vengeance./That’s never free.

“When my fist clenches, crack it open/Before I use it and lose my cool./When I smile, tell me some bad news/Before I laugh and act like a fool.

“If I swallow anything evil,/Put your finger down my throat./If I shiver, please give me a blanket./Keep me warm, let me wear your coat.”

“No one knows what it’s like/To be the bad man,/To be the sad man/Behind blue eyes.”


Giles finished the song, looking up into Wesley’s tear-filled eyes. “I always thought of you when I heard that song. Although it doesn’t seem to apply anymore. I don’t think I’ve seen you sad in awhile.”

Fred’s breath had caught in her chest as Rupert sang. His voice was beautiful, and the song...it made her think about what it must have been like for Wesley when he had felt so isolated from them, trying to figure out the scrolls. Rupert was right that wasn’t so much him anymore – things had changed. And that was part of the reason she had gotten him what she had.

“You have a wonderful voice, Rupert. I’m glad it’s a good guitar – I wasn’t sure, so I was asking the salesperson a lot of questions. My poor mom almost went crazy from boredom,” she told him. She then turned to Wesley, picking up the box next to her and opening it before presenting it to him. Inside was a leather-bound journal. “I wanted to get you something that I knew you could use in your work both with the Council and the museum, and when I saw this, I knew it was perfect for you. Also, it basically represents a clean slate we have now, the new life and new chance we’ve been given here.”

Wesley rubbed his hand over the cover, touching the leather cover. “Bugger the Council business, this will get used for my own personal journal,” he commented before realizing he was standing there in his boxers.

After setting the journal in a place of honor on the dresser, he returned to his lovers, taking the guitar from Giles and securing it back in its case before moving it to the side of the bed. Leaning over, he kissed Fred sweetly.

“Thank you, love. I adore the present,” he whispered against her lips. “Now let’s get this one stripped down so that we can get him lying down and resting.”

This one is still in the room,” Giles muttered, pouting but willing to succumb to such a loving fate.

*****

Buffy shook her head, standing up from the grave she had been kneeling next to and brushing dust from her jeans. “You know, ever since Giles blew up the high school at my graduation, I swear the vampires in this town have been getting dumber.” She looked over at Tony. “Can vampires pass dumb genes? Because if Harmony caused this somehow that would explain so much.”

“It’s actually rare for intellegence to make the transition from human to vampire,” he answered with a laugh. “But you actually have to take into consideration that a truly intellegent person is a lot less likely to be turned. Vampires don’t want to have to work for their meals. They want the dimwits they can talk into following them into that dark corner. In cases where individuals like Watchers are turned – which is quite often as vampires tend to target Watchers to get to their Slayers – these individuals can actually make the most dangerous vampires.” He stepped forward as a fledgling began to crawl out of its grave. After waiting for the torso to become exposed, he drove the stake home. “Someone like your Watcher, cunning, brilliant, possessing magical ability...he would be quite a deadly foe.”

“Thanks for that wonderful thought,” she muttered, sticking her tongue out, a slight shudder running through her at the idea. “Giles as a vampire really is the last thing I ever want to have happen ever in a million years. And did I mention ever?” She walked over to Tony as they continued moving through the cemetery. They had covered all the new graves, so it was time to move on down the road to the next one, their last one for the night. “But it makes sense. I guess most smart people would know better than to trust a stranger – especially in this town where you have vampires actually crashing weddings.”

He smiled sadly at her reaction to what he had said. He knew how much her Watcher meant to her. “I know you don’t. That’s what makes all of you so effective...and extremely special. You—you would die for Mister Giles in a heart beat, for any of them, without hesitation – just as they would make that sacrifice for you. But it’s something no one wants to see happen. The Council only sees the destruction of evil, but your family, they also see the value of life.” He then smirked as he walked along with the gorgeous blonde that had him so captivated. “Although if it makes you feel any better, Wesley would make a far more deadly demon.”

Buffy raised her eyebrows at him, the thought of Wesley a vampire just as bad, given everything he and Fred had come to mean to Giles and the rest of them in the last couple of months. “You were doing so well up until right then, Pyro,” she told him, using the nickname that Xander had been calling him since their run-ins with Angelus. “They don’t really teach you reassuring skills at the academy, do they?

Tony blushed, biting back an embarrassed laugh. “No, I don’t suppose they do,” he admitted. “We’re mostly taught to hammer the truth home, no matter how brutal because the Slayer is a tool to be used, emotionless...so the brutal truth won’t matter to her. For the record, I think it’s rubbish.”

“Yeah, as Willow would say, the Council? Old organization but not so bright.” She let out a sigh, though, looking down at the sidewalk for a moment before bringing her head back up to continue checking around them as walked. “There were times, though, when I wondered if it would be better to be emotionless, if it would make it easier to deal with the things I’ve had to do. It’s not like a Slayer like me ever really gets a chance to have a normal life. Even when I tried to, it all ended up bad. Of course, maybe I should blame that on choosing a vampire and then a drug-enhanced super soldier as boyfriends.”

“It’s never better to emotionless. If you lose your emotions, you lose the main thing you fight for. Contrary to what the Council believes, Slayers are humans as well despite your powers. You have a ingrained sense of duty that the Council takes credit for, but I know it’s all you – here.” He touched his hand over his heart. “The reason I believe that you’re so good at what you do is that you fight for those you love. Your sister, Mister Giles, Xander, Willow, Tara, even Anya as tough as she is to swallow at times – if you lost a single one of them, you would be devastated. Just as they were when they lost you. That in itself should tell you that you inspire love in others, Buffy. Your friends are more family to you than any bond that blood could create. And someday, you’ll find a man who isn’t intimidated by what or who you are. Who loves you not because you’re beautiful or a Slayer, but because you’re Buffy. You love with your whole heart, so don’t give that up for a few blind pillocks who never knew what they had.”

Stopping, Buffy looked at him for a moment. For someone who hadn’t been with them long, he seemed to understand the Scoobies – her family – one hundred times better than anyone else. Angel had known how hard it was for her to do what she did, but after what had happened when he had reverted to Angelus, a wall had been erected that even their renewed relationship hadn’t been able to tear down. Riley had never really fit in. But Tony... “Just how much do they make you study about me anyway?”

“Not much actually. Just the high points. The Master, the Judge, Angelus, Darla, William the Bloody, Drusilla...” He began counting on his fingers. “Graduation and Adam are somewhat fuzzy, mainly because Mister Giles had been sacked and no journals were forthcoming. But we garnered enough from Wesley’s Journal for Graduation. And then Glorificus.” He ducked his head, blushing. “I took it upon myself to comb Mister Giles’ journals, page by page. Accomplishments are all fine and well, but I wanted to know you, Buffy Summers, not the Slayer.”

“Just the high points, he says,” she repeated in amazement. She remembered Giles telling her how he had forced himself to write everything down about what had happened with Glory, even though it had been painful. And Tony had read that? More than anything, he had wanted to read about her? “I don’t know whether to be flattered or...” She paused for a second, taking a step closed to him. “So...ummmm...what did you...figure out? Reading the journals, I mean.”

“I’ve figured out that people have taken you for granted, especially the men you’ve dated. Inwardly, I think you hunger for someone to love, someone who isn’t threatened by the fact that you also happen to be a Slayer. Angel, he was obsessed with what you were and with the idea of the demon inspiring love in the thing born to destroy him. You were sixteen; he was handsome, and he wanted you. It’s no great mystery as to why you were just as obsessed with him. The Council had a fit about the relationship, but I remember my father telling me that you would outgrow him and realize it couldn’t work. I know that after he tortured Mister Giles and tried to end the world, there was a part of you that wouldn’t let yourself go that far again. The day I think you realized it was over was when he pretended to be evil to trick Faith. You realized how easy it would be for him to go there again. Riley—I believe Xander’s nickname of Tuetonic Boy Toy was more appropriate than we realize. Too young for skills forced into his body and too insecure to realize the treasure he had in you. The fact that you were stronger, faster, and had more experiece was a reflection on his manhood...how? Why? You deserved to be loved for being Buffy, not treated like you were a criminal for doing what you felt was your duty. It’s his loss.”

When Tony finished his long speech about her with a shrug, Buffy blinked.

Then she blinked again and shook her head in amazement. “You...you got all that, just from...from reading the journals?” she asked softly. It wasn’t just the rest of her family, Tony seemed to understand her better than anyone else she had ever met save Giles. Suddenly, on impulse, she surged forward and wrapped her arms around him, giving him a hug.

He was surprised at being hugged but quickly recovered. Looking at the blonde head on his chest, he smiled, returning her embrace and leaning his cheek down on the top of her head as he sighed happily. “You’re an amazing woman, Buffy Summers.”

Pulling back slightly, she looked up at him with a smile. “You’re pretty good yourself, you know. You’ve managed to keep up with me. You’ve showed that you won’t back down or give up when it comes right to it. And you have the patience of a saint to sleep on our floor and then our couch for weeks on end. Especially when you had to share with the others. I’m still surprised that none of you murdered Anya.”

Holding her gaze, he had the distinct impression of knowing what a mouse felt like in the gaze of a cobra. “I was raised to do what was right,” he said, sort of shrugging off her compliment. “I knew Angelus was here, so I couldn’t let him blindside Wesley and Mister Giles without trying to warn them. I’m not sure, however, if we should be sorry or grateful for not being able to save Wesley’s dad. As for Anya...she is a bit of an aquired taste.”

“Well, my compliments to your father for raising you right,” she told him, “and to you for being able to handle Anya in all her glory. And thank you for everything you’ve...”

Realizing that they were still standing there with their arms around each other, she found herself trailing off and tilted her head up a little bit more, her breath catching in her throat when she locked eyes with his. A moment later, she was rising up slightly on her toes and kissing Tony soundly on the lips.

He felt his breath freeze in his throat when she moved closer and he could feel her breath on his lips. When she pressed her lips to his, he capitulated with a soft moan, wanting to surrender to her, instinctively wrapping his arms around her and drawing her tighter against him.

Though the kiss started off as something spontaneous, it became softer, deeper as the moments went by. It had been a while since she had kissed anyone like this, and it felt so nice. Tony felt so nice and was a really great kisser. It was wonderful to have a first kiss that was so...normal. Finally, they had to break apart for air, but Buffy stayed where she was in his arms. “That was...wow. I take it they didn’t teach you that at the academy, either.”

He chuckled at her compliment him, blushing. “No, not academy training. I would say it was the company I’m keeping these days.” He smiled, moving a finger down her cheek. “And I don’t think ‘wow’ does that justice, but I’m feeling far too enchanted to think of a more appropriate word.”

Just then, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up when he sensed the approaching figure. He didn’t need to hear the growl to know it was a vampire. Looking at Buffy, he knew she had sensed him too.

“Hey, I’ll take a taste of that!” the fledgeling remarked, clueless as to who he was threatening.

“Be my guest, but I warn you – she’s a fiesty one.” Smirking, Tony stepped back, knowing just how this would play out.

“Ooooo, I like fiesty.”

Buffy rolled her eyes as she moved forward. “You know, I’m getting really tired of vampires interrupting my moments with guys,” she said. She looked over at Tony for a moment, having to suppress a smile at the expression on his face. “It’s a good thing you’re cute.” When she saw him blush, she was glad that he didn’t feel the need to have prove that he was just as good as she was when it came to stuff like this – that definitely made him different.

Pulling her stake, she launched at the vampire, her hand shooting out and catching him by the throat, pushing him to the ground. When he tried to kick out and send her tumbling to the ground, she jumped up out of the way, twisting around and coming down in a crouch. She reached out again to grab the vamp’s arm, hauling him to her.

“Don’t think you’ll be feasting on fiesty anymore,” she said before bringing the stake down into its heart.

“Feel better?” Tony asked with a laugh and arching an eyebrow in amusement at how quickly she dispatched the vampire.

“Much, thank you very much. Although I seem to be kneeling a lot tonight,” she said, standing up off the ground and crossing back over to him. “Where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?”

“I think here,” Tony replied, draping his arm around her shoulders. He couldn’t get over the fact that she thought he was cute. “Why don’t we head back? We covered them all but one, and we have a huge day tomorrow. It’s not every day your favorite Watcher ties his soul to someone...or someones.” He knew Buffy was pleased for Mister Giles and that after six years of giving her everything in his being, she was glad he now had a chance to be happy.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question about group dynamics?” He proceeded when he saw her nod as they walked, “I know you love your friends...all of them. And would do just about anything for them. But your sister and Mister Giles are different, aren’t they? The love, it burns more intense. Both times you’ve died, it’s been for one of them. Am I incorrect in my observation?”

Swallowing a bit, Buffy responded softly, “Dawn—she’s more than just my sister. She’s a part of me, was made from me for me to take care of. I know we drive each other crazy and tease each other, but you’re right – I love her very, very much. And Giles, he’s been more of a father to me than my own biological father. He’s stood by me through more than anyone else.” She looked up at him, glad to have his arm around her as they walked. “So no, you’re not incorrect. They are different.”

Tony swallowed thickly at her answer, suddenly afraid he had upset her. “Buffy, there’s nothing wrong with that. The others have their favorites as well. Xander and Willow are absolutely devoted to each other with that same intensity.” He smiled faintly when another thought occured to him. “And Anya doesn’t exactly make it a secret as to who her favorite is. Spike, though, I’m still trying to figure out his purpose, other than annoying Mister Giles and Wesley and being your personal punching bag.”

“I think we all know who Anya’s favorite is,” she told him with a snort. They reached the house and walked up the path. “As for Spike...he actually—as much as I hate to say it, he actually helped quite a lot last year with Glory. He can be a good ally when he wants to be. Beyond that, yeah, he’s irritating as anything and drives me up a wall. We just can’t seem to get rid of him, and I don’t think Dawn would ever forgive me if I stake him.”

As they reached the porch, he smiled, taking her hand. “Would the lady permit me to walk her to her room?” Opening the door, he walked with her up the stairs to the doorway of her bedroom, where he turned her gently to face him. “Thank you for allowing me to go out with you tonight. I’m almost sorry to see it end.”

Buffy was so used to guys trying to push for more that she was surprised for a moment when it seemed that he was actually calling an end to the night. Yet something else that set him apart, it seemed. Smiling, she gave him one last kiss. “You’re welcome to go out with me any night,” she told him before pulling away. “Goodnight, Tony. See you in the morning.”

“I shall definately keep that invitation in mind,” he breathed, his lips tingling from the touch of hers.

He wanted to ask her out right then and there, but that would be pushing it, he decided. They had just discovered that the feelings between them might be there tonight. To ask her out now would be too much. Although maybe he could suggest dinner after the commitment ceremony tomorrow. She had been taken for granted by Angel and Riley; he did not want to make that same mistake. She deserved to be courted, like a lady.

“Goodnight, Buffy. Sweet dreams. I’ll have the coffee ready in the morning.” With a chuckle, he turned and headed downstairs to his couch.

*****

Comments 
3rd-Aug-2006 05:49 am (UTC)
Awww. Though I am a Spike fan, I'm enjoying the Buffy/Tony thing you have going, and the Giles/Wes/Fred dynamic continues to enchant.

I'm still sad Cordy and Gunn and Angel were all sacrificed during the course of the story, but at least they rescued Dennis. I always wondered what happened with him on the show, whether anyone brought him the news or made sure he got a new, friendly tenant. And yay for Connor actually getting a healthy childhood and loving parents. I was worried there for awhile that Angelus would let Connor's true parentage slip at an awkward moment and foul everything up!
3rd-Aug-2006 11:26 pm (UTC)
We didn't want to retread the Spike storyline with Buffy, and we also figured that with the changes (i.e. Giles coming back and actually staying and all), Buffy and Spike wouldn't have happened (at least definitely not in the way it did).

As for Cordy, Gunn and Angel, they were all storyline dictates to illustrate certain points, especially what W&H had done to Angel Investigations. I can't remember whether it was before or in the last chapter, but Wesley pretty much says that if Giles hadn't been there to help, they all (him, Fred, Lorne) would be gone now as well. But yeah, we always wondered about Dennis, so we wanted to address that!

Always glad to see comments from you! It means a lot. :)
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