Spoilers: Definitely all of season 7 but LMPTM never happened
Disclaimer: Not mine although I wish they were. All I own is an overactive imagination. The ingenious invention of the Buffy-Verse belongs to Joss, Fox, ME and co.
Feedback: As always... DEFINITELY!
Thanks to: JB, my 'Comma Queen' for the terrific beta! Your suggestions and corrections were exactly what the fic needed and your encouragement was exactly what I needed. *hug*. Thanks also to Ness for the initial 'nit-picking'! You were right... but 'THAT' scene would take forever to get over, so I decided that for the purposes of the fic, LMPTM never happened... that way, we're all happy. :-)
"I haven't enjoyed a good fire like this since I was a boy."
The announcement went unanswered as the speaker's companion stared silently at the golden flames dancing vividly before her. Caught up in nostalgia, he didn't seem to notice her lack of responsiveness.
"I remember those days as if they were just yesterday. Father skewering chestnuts for us all to roast on the fire, while mum and I would cuddle up together on the bench, sharing a blanket. As you can imagine, the air back home was particularly nippy in the autumn - mum would always make sure I had several layers on, even though the heat from the fire warmed me from head to toe. The yummy hot chocolate she made always helped, too." He grinned - more to himself than anyone - as he relived the memories. "Such wonderful days. Those were the happiest times of our lives... before everything happened." He paused again, drawing a deep breath as he inhaled the scent of burning wood. "They say smell is relative to memories, and it's certainly true. I love this smoky smell."
At that, the young woman beside him at last broke free of her trance to stare up at him in surprise.
"Really?" Her tone altered from surprise to astonishment.
Grinning, he nodded again as she pulled a face.
"You're weird, you know that?"
He gave a low chuckle at this and wrapped an arm about her, drawing her into a hug.
"I definitely know it. After all, you've been informing me of it for the better part of seven years." He dropped a forgiving kiss onto her crown to let her know he was teasing and smiled into her hair as she relaxed against him. The smile faltered for a split second as he remembered the article she held.
"Buffy? Are you sure that Xander won't object to us doing this?"
Freeing herself slightly from the embrace, she glanced downward momentarily before lifting her eyes to meet his.
"Why would he?"
"Yeah, I know, but..." she leaned into him once more, reassuringly, as she spoke, "Giles, we're moving on, all of us... and that means getting rid of some of the reminders of our former lives."
"But are you absolutely certain -"
"That he doesn't want this back?" They shared a small smile at the familiar way in which she finished his sentence before she answered him. "Yeah, I am. Trust me on this. This is a memory... a reminder of a part of his past that he'd rather forget. Really, honest... he's got no problem at all with us doing this."
"Oh." Satisfied with her answer, he pulled her closer into a proper hug as he enveloped her this time with both arms. For a long moment, they stayed that way, he with his head resting on hers; she with her nose buried in the hollow of his neck. The silence was only broken by the occasional crackle of firewood.
"Well," he eventually breathed into the night, "I suppose the only question that remains is which of us should do this."
He chuckled again and she sighed happily as she felt the soft rumble of it through his sweater.
"You're right though," he managed, once his chuckles had subsided. "It should be I. After all, I wanted to curse the bloody thing when I realised that it had kept us apart for nearly a year. You should have told me, though."
She smiled against the woolly fabric, wishing fleetingly that it was his skin, yet aware of the still fragile nature of their budding relationship. "Yeah, maybe I should have... but what would I have said? 'Giles, if you want to stop reminding me of my grandfather I might be able to love you in a more carnal way?' Or would, 'Giles, take off your clothes' have been better?"
He spluttered slightly at her choice of words, his sounds almost overwhelming the noises being made by the bonfire. When he gathered himself, he replied.
"All you needed to do was to let me know that you felt more than friendship for me - okay, I understand how it could have been... odd... for you given the situation I was in, but I couldn't help what Xander chose to lend me, could I? After all, I had no home to return to, either here or in England and any money I had wasn't worth wasting on frivolities considering that we didn't know what lay ahead. Don't forget, either, I had little clothing other than what I was wearing when I arrived back in Sunnydale. If you recall, the Bringers were everywhere. It wasn't worth the risk returning home to pack up all my belongings in case they were waiting for me there."
"I know," she mumbled into him. "I get all that. It was just... weird... you know? For several months, I'd found myself missing you more and more, then just when I realised what all the warm fuzzies were you turned up out of the blue and then Xander gave you... that. It totally messed my head up, seeing you in it; made you look far older than you are." She pulled back slightly, then, enough to grin up at him. "I'm not putting blame anywhere, mind. I'm just glad that something good came out of 'Sunny-crater-dale'."
"So am I," he mused. "Although it's odd that, considering all the life and death situations we've found ourselves in over the years, this was the one to make us truly honest with each other. Don't you think?"
"Not really. This was different. Look at how easily we can talk to each other now. Look at the things we've forgiven each other and how easy it is to be open. Being given a second chance - no, more than that; being given a chance to have a normal life puts things in a different perspective. I mean, now we have all these other slayers, we can afford a little more vulnerability in our friendship." She blinked then and pulled back further so that she could count silently on her fingers before looking up at him with an expression full of amusement yet with a hint of teasing amazement. "Wow. That was a long word, even for me. Six syllables. Count 'em."
They laughed together, the sound ringing in the cool night air. As their laughter faded, she offered the offending item up to him.
"Well. Shall we do it?"
He took it from her with a gentle smile.
With one single movement he threw the cardigan onto the fire, watching as the flames claimed it before embracing the woman he loved more than life once more.
They stood like that for a long time then, mostly in silence but occasionally talking, sometimes laughing, all the while holding each other as they watched the final remains of the old life die away until they were merely embers.
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