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Step in Time

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This story is No. 4 in the series "Practically Perfect". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The morning after the Christmas Eve before. Santa's not the only visitor used to climbing down chimneys ... (Buffy/Giles)

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > ClassicspythiaFR1337,6811112,7886 Jan 096 Jan 09Yes

Part One

DISCLAIMER: They belong to Joss and all those other people, not to me.

NOTES:This takes place the day after the events in ‘Winter Gifts’



“Good morning and Merry Christmas!” Buffy’s voice was bright and cheerful as she breezed in through the apartment door. “This is the assistant-to-Santa’s special Christmas Day delivery service – Slayer division.” She grinned as she added the clarification, waltzing past her Watcher at his desk, and carefully placing the grocery bag she was cradling on the ledge of the service hatch. “Bringing you the season’s cheer, a Summers’ care package, an invitation to dinner and … ta-da!“

She’d completed the waltz, whipping something out of the top of the bag as she turned, and fell into a dramatic pose, one arm lifted above her head. Giles, who’d been thoughtfully immersed in the papers he’d been studying, swivelled round in his chair to look up at her in momentary bemusement. Her grin got a little wider and her eyes flicked up, indicating he should look at her hand – and after he’d done so, a small and faintly wicked smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

“I see,” he said, his eyes twinkling with a hint of mischief. “This is a standard part of the service, is it?”

She smirked. “Only for our special customers. Those who have earned a particular Christmas bonus this year.”

“Ah,” he acknowledged sagely. “In which case …”

He rose to his feet in a smooth, fluid motion, reaching on one side to tug the dangling greenery from her hand and with the other enwrap her waist and pull her in towards him. One moment she was standing there, all perk and promise, and the next she found herself dipping backwards into a knee-shaking kiss, the tiny sprig of mistletoe she’d brought blossoming into an extravagant bundle of green and gold as it rose to float above them both.

"Wow,” she breathed as he lifted her upright again, her arms reaching to hug him in and her senses spinning from a heady mix of musky aftershave, morning tea, cinnamon, honey and Giles … “Bottle that and you’d make a fortune..”

He chuckled, returning the hug with one of his own. “You think so? Maybe I should consider it. Anya’s always talking about acquiring new lines for the shop …”

“Don’t you dare,” she muttered, snuggling into his warmth and resting herself comfortably against his chest. She’d been dreaming about doing this since he’d left her standing on a snowy porch step roughly a day and a half ago. “You’d have every woman in Sunnydale chasing after you, and then I’d have to do the Slayer thing to rescue you, and there would be pulled hair and groaning bimbettes everywhere. Not a pretty sight.”

“N-no. Not … pretty at all.” One set of his fingers were playing with her hair; the others were caressing her spine, sending delicious shivers up and down it. “You seem … confident that you’d be victorious in such a conflict.”

“Hey.” She pushed back, tilting her head up so that she could meet his eyes.  "One: Slayer here. Two: my Watcher.  And three? There are some things I just don’t want to lose ..."

The amusement in his eyes softened into a gentle, loving affection that she’d never seen before. Buffy’s heart melted into instant mush. There were a lot of looks she wanted to coax into those eyes – smouldering passion, all focused desire and Ripperish promises sprang to mind – but that look, that good lord, I love you look, was both endearing and reassuring. She knew how she felt – but there was just a teensy part of her insecure enough to wonder if he were merely reflecting, rather than returning those feelings. This was such a weird shift in their relationship, even if a rather wonderful one; for all her teasing confidence, she couldn’t be entirely certain that he wanted this as much as she did.

He dipped forward and planted a soft kiss on her lips – one filled with warm smiles rather than toe-curling promises – and any intimation of doubt vanished like soap bubbles.

Or melting snow …

“You never will,” he promised softly, smiled – and let go, leaving her standing there feeling as if she were floating on air.

She looked round, smiling as she realised that he’d actually decorated for the holiday; there were garlands of holly and twists of red and gold ribbon hanging along the balcony of the loft and down the length of the banister. Similar accents lay along the mantelshelf, and there was even a wreath hanging over the archway leading to the bathroom and kitchen.

She looked up. The bunch of mistletoe still hung in midair above her, tied with a neat red-and-gold ribbon and decorated with little golden bells. 

Then she looked down.

Her feet were a good six inches off the floor.

"Giles,” she remonstrated, not sure if she should be amused or exasperated at the discovery. He was halfway back into his chair by then; he finished sitting down before turning to identify the reason for her protest.

"Oh - good Lord,” he reacted. “Um … s-sorry. I – um … oh dear.” He closed his eyes for a moment; Buffy floated gently to the floor, then had to hastily reach up and catch the mistletoe as it hurtled earthwards. “Buffy, I – I really am sorry …”

What for?” She stepped round to lean her weight against the desk, toying with the bundled decoration as she studied the intricate way the ribbons had been laced and tied. “Giles … you kiss me and … it’s magic. literally magic. No way am I gonna complain about that.”

He tugged off his glasses and began cleaning them, his _expression warring between embarrassment and contrition. “I-I should be … more responsible than that,” he said. “It’s just that …” He paused, looked up at her, and then looked away again, a hint of colour painting his cheeks. “Y-you make it … difficult f-for me to stay focused …  And,” he went on with a little more certainty, “I am still learning to understand all of this. Nana … warned me that - sometimes – the gift seems to have a mind of its own.”

“Really?” Buffy frowned. A vaguely worrying thought occurred to her. “Giles – you don’t think … you, me, this… Is this just the gift? The night before last was wonderful, but ... am I in love with you? Are you in love with me?”

He dropped his glasses on the desk and reached for her hand instead, laying his fingers over hers where they rested on the polished wood. “No, not in the way you’re thinking, I-I truly hope so and … dear lord, yes," he said, answering each of her questions in turn. “Buffy – the gift is at its most powerful when it is used to aid the cause of true love. Make no mistake. It may create fantasies, but they are very real fantasies. Quests for truth, not deceptions and illusion. It serves to open people’s eyes, lets them look into their hearts – and it cannot make your heart lie, no matter how much another might want it to.  Do you remember? The day I … acquired it? You asked me if I could find you your perfect prince”

She nodded, remembering it all too well; she’d spoken almost without thinking, asking the question only half in jest – and something had happened between them. She hadn’t really thought about what it might have been.

“When you asked,” he sighed, his fingers tightening over hers, “I felt as if … as if you’d stabbed me in the heart. The gift is … good at curses, you see, and for a moment I’d thought …”

A shiver ran through her.  "Angel," she breathed, then bit at her lip, staring at the feelings his name stirred within her. Sorrow. A lingering hurt, overlain with remorse – and a complicated, knotted  emotion that was partly affection, partly desire, and mostly regret. “I do love him,” she admitted slowly, lifting her eyes to find herself reflected in hazel green depths. “But I’m not in love with him. Not anymore.”

“I know,” Giles said, his hand squeezing hers with quiet sympathy. “He could have been your perfect prince, Buffy. A creature to match your strength, your fire, your passion … Everything you ever dreamed of. I could have made that happen. If you’d wanted it.”

She stared at him, silently comparing his years of steadfast, quiet and unselfish devotion to the high drama that had been her and Angel. It had wracked her heart, torn her in two – and left her bruised and damaged, seeking an illusion of normality in preference to exposing her heart to further pain.

“That’s not what I want,” she realised, turning her hand so she could lace her fingers into his. “I don’t need someone who matches me. I need … I need someone who compliments my strengths, not competes with them … Wow,” she considered shakily. “This .. gift of yours. Really does make you look, doesn’t it?”

He smiled, a little sadly. “I think some of that,” he said, “is Buffy Summers. Growing up. Something,” he added with a hint of tease, “that I’ve been waiting for her to do for a while.”

“Oh yeah?” Buffy questioned, her eyes narrowing in a moment of indignation. “Is that why you did the whole ‘push me out of the nest’ thing when I started college?”

“Partly,” he admitted, the word coloured with regret. “And partly to stop me from making a bloody fool of myself over you."

She opened her mouth to answer that, then shut it again, suddenly understanding what he meant. “Oh,” she said, then: "Oohh.Oh, Giles, I’m sorry. I didn’t know …”

“I didn’t want you to know.” He sounded very matter of fact about it. “Buffy – until that moment in the shop, I had no idea you might think of me as anything but a friend. If you even thought of me at all. All I ever wanted was for you to be happy. That … and to survive being the Slayer for as long as you possibly could.”

“And then I asked my question.”

“Yes.”

“And the gift whacked you upside the head and told you I was nuts about you, even if I hadn’t figured it out yet.”

“Well … yes. More or less.”

“So you took me skating so that I couldfigure it out, and then when I did … okay,” she concluded, letting a smile creep back onto her face. “I think I’m good with that. True love, huh?”

“I’m afraid so.”

The smile got a little wider.

“I’m not. A little wigged, maybe. Worried about what our friends might say. How we’re going to tell my mom. But - I’m not afraid. Not about us.

He was watching her with warm indulgence. “I-I’m hardly your perfect prince, Buffy. And Nana’s gift … is likely to make life – interesting, to say the least.”

“We live on the Hellmouth. ‘Interesting’ is the least of our worries. Besides,” Buffy asked with a grin. “Who needs a perfect prince? When you’ve got a man who’s practically perfect in every way?”

He chuckled at that, giving her hand a squeeze before he let it go. “I’m hardly my grandmother, Buffy.”

"Well, duh,"she laughed. “So whatcha doing, anyway? It’s Christmas. You should be … making eggnog or something, not pawing over dusty papers.”

“The eggnog,” he said dryly, “is already made. As are the mince pies. I’m just … going through a few of Nana’s thing. Letters. Memories. That sort of thing.” 

Buffy shifted a little to get a better look at what lay on the desk. There were little bundles of paper, tied up with various coloured narrow ribbons. There were several battered square tins, and an ornate box, carved with swirling dragons and painted with red lacquer. There were even a couple of leather bound journals, a little like the ones Giles was always writing in – except these were smaller and had delicate little gold clasps holding them shut.

And there was a photograph in a silver frame. One of those faded sepia type prints; it depicted a lanky-limbed figure in a very old-fashioned uniform, complete with peaked cap and a row of medals pinned proudly to his chest. Buffy reached out and picked it up, drawn by the confident, cheerful smile that beamed out of the faded image.

“Who’s this?” she asked, trying to decide exactly what it was about the picture that reminded her of the man it now belonged to. Something in the shape of the face, the hint of rangy build …

“Mmm?” Giles looked up from the letter he was reading and glanced over at the object in her hands. “Oh. Oh, that. That’s my grandfather. Rupert Frederick Arthur Moneypenny. Although everyone just called him Bert.”

“Bert?” Buffy couldn’t help but grin. “Mary Poppins married Bert? The chimney sweep?”

"Chimney sweep, pavement artist, kite seller … yes, Buffy, I’ve seen the movie too.” He reached to take the photo from her, turning it to study the man within the frame. “Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. And sometimes truth is depictedas fiction, because otherwise no-one would believe it. My grandfather was one of nature’s gentlemen; an honest, hardworking soul prepared to do anything and everything to make his way in the world. He didn’t have much of an education, although he had learned to read and write by the time he left school. His father apprenticed him to a sweep when he was twelve years old, and he spent most of his adolescence climbing the inside of chimneys.”

“I’m guessing,” Buffy said slowly, studying the pensive expression on her Watcher’s face, “that it wasn’t all song and dance ‘step in time’ stuff."

“No.” Giles careful placed the picture back on the desk, handling the frame as if it held something very precious to him. “But .. it taught him to be determined, forthright, and very self-assured …” He paused, his lips curling with wry reminiscence. “Cocksure and confident, he used to say.”

“All of that and then some,” the man in the photograph said, turning to flash them both a very cheeky grin. “Cock o’ the walk I was. ‘Til her ladyship walked into my life and knocked all the perk and pertinence outta me.”

He had, Buffy blinked with disconcerted realisation, Ripper's accent. He also had Ripper’s swagger, which was in clear evidence as he clambered out of the picture and leapt from the frame onto the desk.
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