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Author's note: As much as I enjoyed the original version of this episode, one question always remained in my mind. Why would Giles perform the test? He has abandoned the handbook, he lets her be with Angel, why does he decide to adhere to this? I could not understand it, given his relationship with Buffy throughout the series until then. Enjoy.

Helpless.

"Close your eyes."

Buffy could not help utter a small, happy laugh, and smiling as her boyfriend's hands came round her face to place themselves over her already closed lids. They were standing in the kitchen of the mansion on Crawford street, two evenings before her eighteenth birthday. She had stopped by after patrol, a habit of hers lately, since their night together two months ago.

More often than not, the evening would lead to her staying over returning to her home shortly after dawn before her mother woke. It seemed she could not get enough of him, and nor he of her, something once doubted by her when his curse contained a clause, but now hardly remembered in the wake of her discovering how powerless she could render him with just one touch or smouldering look.

He was equally capable of returning the favour on her, using the same methods, just as the sensations caused by his fingers upon her eyelids now proved once more. Even though she could not see, she heard the smile in his tone as he spoke to her, the small one which lit up his dark eyes, letting her know how happy he was just being with her, the one he greeted her with every time she woke in his arms, in his bed. Few knew how much feeling that smile conveyed; the true depth of happiness his expression displayed, and how proud she felt as she realised that she was the cause.

It was a state which he was also responsible for causing within her, as when she was with him, she forgot the burdens of being the slayer, the worries she felt regarding Faith, the slight suspicions she had now for the mayor since he used the term slayer during his speech concerning the murdered children. Buffy was not sure whether he had been, like everyone else, enthralled by the demon who used the children to incite vigilante hatred, or if he had an ulterior motive for outing her.

At this moment, just before she was completely swept away into that tangent of worrying thoughts, she was brought back to the present by the sound of his voice; loving and low in her ear, as his hands moved from her eye lids, down her face, about her neck, across her shoulder blades, down her side in a caress, before finishing to take hold of hers.

"I know it's still two days before your birthday, but that I've been meaning to return this to you for some time now," he was saying, his fingers parting hers to slip a circle of cold metal on the third of her left hand. "You can open them now."

Buffy did so and gasped in surprise as she caught sight of the gift which he bestowed upon her. A claddagh ring was staring back at her, the same one which she paid farewell to before his body crushed it during his return from hell. "How?" She asked, looking up at him.

"I may not have been in my right mind when I returned from hell," he continued, "but there was some part of me that realised what brought me back and I clasped hold of it tight. I was afraid if I let go it, that this would all turn out to be a dream."

"That was why your fist was closed," Buffy realised, turning round in his arms, her smile becoming brighter as she wrapped hers around his neck, using their strength to bend his head down for a kiss. "Thank you, Angel," she uttered his name with a reverential tone. "You don't know how happy you've made me."

Their lips touched. Angel threaded his hands through her hair, as the world gradually faded from their notice. Buffy deviated between fiddling with the ends of his dark locks and tracing the intricate carving of her restored ring. She had thought that she had lost it forever. The moment she had laid it upon the ground to bring him back, she had never expected to see it again. But he had the foresight to protect it. And loved her enough still to give it once more, another sign of how much he cared for her, how important she was to him, in spite of all the girls before her, and the demon within him.

Just as the passion behind the kiss began to deepen into ardent desire, they were disturbed from their solitude by a knock at the door. Reluctantly they pulled apart, their danger senses suddenly alert. Who could be calling at this hour?

There was only one way to find out. They left the kitchen and advanced down the hallway through the double height living room to the entrance.

"Giles?" Buffy queried as she opened the door, catching sight of him standing on the step, his concern plain to see upon his face. "What's wrong?"

"There's something I need to talk to you about," he replied, in an anxious tone to match the expression on his face.

Buffy stepped out of the way of the door frame. Like her watcher she never uttered the words 'come in' anymore.

"Would you like an Earl Grey, Giles?" Angel asked, his eighteenth century manners alive and active in the wake of guests, particularly one whom he regarded as his beloved's surrogate father, the best either of them had ever had the privilege to know.

"That would be very welcome, thank you, Angel," Giles, looking up from his clasped hands, his worried expression seeming to lessen briefly.

Buffy watched him as she guided him into the living area and on to one of the comfortable sofas, her anxiousness increasing after Angel had brought the tea in, and Giles had taken a sip from a cup which clattered upon the saucer as his shaking hands returned it there after putting it to his lips.

Giles looked across at the two of them, wondering once more what reaction he would face when he told them about what he had been worrying about for several weeks now. He feared telling them, but nor could he go on withholding the truth any longer, for in two days it would be too late and the matter would taken out of his hands before he had time to make her understand that he would never dream of forcing this rule upon her or any slayer within his charge.

Taking a deep breath, he began. "For as long as there have been Slayers, there has been Watchers. And for as long as there have been Watchers, there has been the ritual of the Cruciamentum."

Angel abruptly paled, leading Giles to suspect that he like many vampires was well aware of the often Victorian and frequently draconian ways of the Council. Buffy meanwhile remained puzzled. "The Cruciamentum?" She echoed.

"It is a ritual which I have always held as the cause of death of as many as a quarter of all the slayers who have survived to reach it," he continued. "And which I had determined never to perform if I was ever granted the charge of a slayer, even though such refusal would most likely cost me my job." He paused to take another sip of his tea, his hand a little steadier than before. "Some days before a slayer reaches her eighteenth, her watcher is instructed by the Council to inject her with a muscle suppressant, forcing her to rely on only her wits and her current knowledge of a vampire's weaknesses. On her birthday he sends her to a deserted building, which is locked once she is inside, and then she faces a vampire captured by the Council specifically for this task. Only by the morning does anyone know who has survived."

When Giles had finished speaking, a horrible moment of silence descended on the room, full of tension. The calm before the storm, waiting for someone to put a stake of noise through. But it was only for a moment, despite how long it seemed to those involved. Within seconds the slayer had rose from her seat, all her primal, instinctive emotion in the fore. She paced before the men, her anger too great to form proper sentences but not problems in her vocal eloquence.

"Of all the arrogant, naive, dangerous, stupid,"

"Buffy," Giles began, in an effort to calm her down, though he had felt precisely the same words, as well as quite a few choice others when he first heard of the Cruciamentum. However, he had long since learned than anger only produced disgust from the council, never change for the better.

His slayer, who he loved like a daughter was not in the least placated by his pleading for calmness tone. "Unethical, immoral,"

"Buffy," Giles tried more forcefully.

But to no avail. "Evil, insane,"

"Angel, can you not," Giles stopped as he caught sight of the expression on the face of the man opposite him. Even when the demon inside him had been unleashed completely from the soul, and had tortured him, Giles had not seen him this angry. The vampire was ready to champion his mate. And the soul was willing to let him.

"Angel?" Giles' tone changed to concern.

The yellow eyes focused on him abruptly, blinked once, then seemed to realise where they were and what was required of them. The dark shades returned. He reached out and grabbed hold of her hand. Their rings clashed together, the sound unnaturally loud in the quiet atmosphere which had just set in.

Buffy stopped pacing. An intense look passed between them. She sat down and glanced at Giles. "How dare they think of such a stupid thing! It's completely idiotic and dangerous. To think they can control us. To hold your job over you, for something that'll do more damage than vampires ever could." She turned to Angel. "What do you know of the Cruciamentum?"

He hesitated. She pressed him further. "We promised. Honesty. No matter what."

"There are some things I don't want you to ever know," Angel finally replied. "But the Cruciamentum is regarded as something of an easy slay amongst the vampires. Some run competitions to be easily caught for the ritual."

"I suspected as much," she commented as Giles acquired a disgusted expression at what he had just heard for the information, while hardly surprising, was new to him. Buffy then suddenly chuckled. "I knew there had to be a reason why my birthdays have all sucked." She stopped then to gaze seriously at her watcher. "What's going to happen now?"

"Quentin Travers, one of the Council members, is coming to see me tomorrow," Giles replied. "I'll tell him then that I haven't initiated the ritual, nor do I intend to and that I've told you about it, making the test invalid. He will fire me, then probably make Pryce your watcher until another can be sent over."

Buffy's frown became one of concern. "You won't leave, will you?"

"Of course not," Giles promised, taking her hands, which had reached out across the table as if to stop him from leaving. "I'm still a librarian. They can't take that away from me. And even if I weren't, I could never leave you." He paused to add softly. "You became so much more to me than a slayer from the moment I met you."

 


Giles was still thinking over those words as he made his way back to his apartment. When it came down to the real reasons why he was not prepared to perform the Cruciamentum, the fact that he had disagreed with the ethics involved was not the only thing that was stopping him from conducting experiment. The first thing that had made him refuse was Buffy herself. She had become almost like a daughter to him from the moment they had met, when he had seen the pain in her that being a slayer had caused her and how, above all, she wanted to be a normal girl, though, when lives were at stake, she would always do the right thing, no matter what the cost, or the sacrifice. Her relationship with Angel last year proved as much. From then on, he had abandoned the rule book. And what a difference it had made. She was the strongest slayer yet, because of his refusal to follow centuries of tradition. And the Powers That Be smiled on his conduct, by blessing her with the return of her soulmate, and he with return of his.

He opened his front door to find Jenny waiting up for him. "How did she take it?" She asked as he walked with her into the living area.

"Reasonably well," he replied. "She and Angel were as upset as I was when I first learned of the ritual."

Jenny looked at him carefully. "You're still concerned, aren't you?" She asking, already knowing what his answer would be.

"I don't know how long I'll be able to protect her." Giles sighed, sinking into the sofa beside her. "I can handle Pryce, but I don't know who they'll send as her new watcher. Once I tell Travers, and he fires me, I'll lose the ability to protect her. I know a slayer doesn't need protecting, but Buffy's different."

"I know, Rupert," Jenny interrupted tenderly. "And I think slayers do need protecting. All heroes do, because they see a side of the world ordinary people rarely see. And it changes them. It has the power to damage them, more than blows ever could. Slayers witness all the evil of the world, and they rely on watchers to provide them with knowledge of how to eliminate it, or send it a message never to risk their wrath. There must be trust between them, and with that trust comes protection."

"And once the trust is gone," Giles mused, finishing her point, "so is the protection. And I doubt if either is ever even retrieved."


That was something which Buffy was pondering herself as she told the gang the next morning about the Cruciamentum. She had always trusted Giles. If he had chosen to perform the ritual on her, without telling her why beforehand, she doubted she would have been able to trust him ever again. And trust in a watcher was important. They held the key to the sources of knowledge which slayers relied on to survive. If they could no longer trust them, how much longer would they live? Not long was Buffy's opinion.

The Scooby gang's reaction was exactly as she had expected. Xander was disgusted, Willow angry, along with Oz, Cordelia and Doyle. Faith shrugged indifferently, but then her view of the world and the human race was much more bitter and cynical than her own. All were also expecting her to still be angry and were now surprised that she was calm while telling them and continued to be, even in the face of their anger and disgust. She still was, but no longer explosive. At times she could almost see their point, which was disturbing. The whole idea was about making a slayer realise that she had more weapons other than her strength to hand. And, ethics aside, they achieved that. If used right, the Cruciamentum could be a valuable lesson, for to many times did a slayer chose to depend on their physical strength, rather than their mental one.

It continued to prey upon her thoughts for the rest of the day, despite her best efforts to not think about it. She made her way out of the school grounds walking in the direction of home, via a detour to the mansion on Crawford. Angel only had lectures in the morning today, and had told her that he would be home with paperwork if she needed to see him. And she did, though rarely need was an excuse.

Buffy came out of her introspection at this point, as she arrived at Angel's door. A surprise greeted her, causing her to stop outside the front entrance. There was a piece of paper, wrapped around a rose, pushed in the door handle. Smiling she took it out and read the note, puzzling over the directions it gave, but following them nonetheless. The answer did not become clear, until she had stepped inside the darkened front room of her home.

"Surprise!" Came a second later, a cheer chorused by a large entourage, as the lights came back on, revealing all her friends, Angel, Giles, Jenny, Doyle and her Mom waiting for her, and the room covered in banners, streamers, and other traditional decorations.

"Guys, my birthday isn't until tomorrow," Buffy began as she greeted each of them with a hug of gratitude.

"Angel told us that you felt all your birthdays had been unlucky since you were called," her Mom replied, "so we arranged this party for tonight instead."

"Thank you," Buffy said, hugging her.


"This is from me," Xander began, handing her the first gift after they finished the birthday meal an hour later.

Buffy ripped the paper apart to reveal a home made book. "'Slaying for Dummies; A Humorous Guide to Dusting Vampires, And Other Demonic Entities.'" she read out loud from the title. "Did you write this?"

"Yeah," Xander admitted reddening.

"It's wonderful, thank you," Buffy hugged him.

"Here's mine," Cordelia said, giving her a gift as Buffy sat back down.

Ripping apart the paper, Buffy took out the small box and opened it to discover a necklace with a small silver stake attached. "Its beautiful, thanks, Cordy."

"You better have mine next," Willow directed, handing her it.

Buffy opened another box, this time to discover a pair of earrings with silver stakes dangling down. "Thanks Willow," she uttered hugging her best friend.

Oz's gift came next. Buffy tore the paper to reveal a Pez vampire, along with a new journal. Then came her Mom's which was a dress shirt she had been wanting for a while. Doyle gave her a volume on Irish poetry.

Giles' and Jenny's gift was another necklace. Buffy gasped as she opened the box to reveal a beautiful intricately carved cross. "Thank you," she uttered softly, touched by her watcher's thoughtfulness.

Finally came Angel's. "But you've already given me a gift," Buffy remarked, holding out her hand to show off her restored claddagh.

"That was more of a return," he explained. "Something I wanted to give you back," he added as he handed her the box. "This is what I wanted to give you this year."

Buffy unwrapped the gift. It was leather-bound volume of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning's Sonnet's From The Portuguese. In the front leaf, was a happy birthday note, simply signed 'always,' conveying far more emotion and love in one word than she had ever known could be possible. "Thank you," she uttered, touched by his devotion, titling her face upwards for a kiss.

They reluctantly pulled apart as good natured groans erupted about public displays of affection. Someone switched some music on and the whole gang split into small groups.

"What's wrong?" Angel asked her as soon as they were alone.

"The Cruciamentum," Buffy replied in a low voice. "It's been bothering me all day." She paused to lean into his arms. "I can see why they want to perform it. And it's got me thinking about losing my strength, and what I was like before I was called. A cross between Clueless and the old Cordelia."

"I wouldn't say that," Angel remarked, causing her to turn round and look at him. "What?" She asked, wondering what he meant.

"I fell in love with you before you were the slayer," he answered solemnly.

Buffy looked at him curiously. "But how?"

"I told you that I witnessed when you were called outside your school in L.A." She nodded, and he continued. "Whistler found me living off the streets. He told me that I could make a difference, and that there was something I should see which would help me to realise how. He took me to Hemery. It was a bright afternoon in front of your school. I watched you come down the steps from a dark car. You were chatting with your friends, before they left you to sit on the steps, sucking a lollipop and waiting for a boy. And it was like the whole world had faded away. I saw you and I saw your heart. You carried it upon your sleeve for everyone to see. And I worried that it would be bruised or torn. And more than anything in my life, I wanted to keep it safe, to warm it with my own."

"That's beautiful," Buffy uttered, gently falling into his embrace. "Or taken literally, incredibly gross," she added in afterthought.

Angel laughed, then bent his head to kiss her hair. "I watched you from the rest of that day," he added. "As you sat there, sucking a red lollipop, waiting for a boy you would later stand up. I saw your first watcher come to you, then as you killed your first vampire. Then when you went home, trying not to cry as your parents argued. I wanted to help." He stroked her blond strands lovingly, thinking of all which had passed between them since then. The reality was more dear to him than he could ever have imagined. A life time seemed to have passed since then. "Thank you, for making me realise I could do more than just exist."

"Well thank you," she looked up at him, "for sticking by me, even when I was bad." She clasped his hands, playing with them. "How could the Powers That Be know that we were meant to meet but not realise that we would also fall in love? Whistler told me once that Acathla was meant to be your fight, not mine. But they didn't know that your curse had a clause."

"They don't see everything," Doyle said, surprising them. The couple turned from each other to find him on the sofa opposite. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I wasn't listening, I only caught your last question. Anyway the Powers that Be have this mental map if you will, that gives an idea of how the future's gonna turn out. But the future changes everyday, because slightest thing that we do, has an impact on the outcome. And the possibilities of each outcome take awhile to get back to them."

"Thanks Doyle," Buffy answered. "Its nice to know that they have flaws."

"Everything does," he replied. "That's the vulnerability of the universe."

"I know what you're thinking about doing," Angel uttered to her when they were alone once more.

"Do you?" Buffy returned.

"Yes," he replied. "And I know you realise how dangerous it is, that this is what Giles tired to prevent. But I know how stubborn you are, one of the things I love about you, and that trying to talk you out of it, is pointless. So, all I'm going to do is warn you to be careful."

"I intend to be. And thanks." She kissed him briefly.

"Are you going to talk to Giles about it?" Angel asked.

"Not until after I persuade his boss. He'll just give me all the arguments you just gave, but in detail, and I'd rather counter them when there's nothing he can do to prevent me." She paused, then added in a lower tone, "sooner or later we're going to need that avenue of information open to us, and I'd rather get it from Giles than anyone else."

"You realise that they might not agree to this?"

"I do, but I have to try."

"Well, you have my support, even though I have certain reservations, which are to do with my worry over your safety, rather than my doubt on your ability to handle whatever vampire they throw at you."

"Thank you," Buffy uttered, before falling into silence as she rested in his arms. Angel tightened their embrace around her, wishing he could protect more than she let him, that his arms had the power and the strength to pose as a barrier between her and all the evil harm of the world and it's demons. She was very precious to him, he had no desire to lose her now, after all they had gone through to be together.


"Why did you fail to make our meeting last night?"

Giles looked up from his research at the stern face of his superior, Quentin Travers. "I was at a birthday party," he replied in a calm but deadly voice.

"I hope you are not letting social engagements take priority over your duties as a watcher," Travers admonished, "but we do not have time for that lecture. How is the slayer?"

"Buffy is fine."

"Good. I'll tell the men to expect her at seven, then?"

"Oh, Buffy won't be going," Giles replied in that same calm but deadly tone.

"What?" Travers queried, surprised. "Has something gone wrong with the suppressant?" He asked, concerned.

"I wouldn't know, I haven't given it to her." He paused to let that settle in, then added, "nor do I intend to, either."

Travers shook his head in disappointment. "You know, there were a lot of people that disapproved of you being assigned to the slayer. I was one of the few who supported you."

"A fact that you frequently choose to remind me of," Giles said, in a tone which showed that already he was tired of this lecture.

Travers ignored the tone. "The Cruciamentum is one of the most important rituals for a slayer," he continued. "It teaches them to rely on their wits as well as their innate, physical, supernatural strength."

"Nonsense," Giles returned. "The Cruciamentum is an exercise in control. You seek to control a warrior that will die under such pressure. Watchers are here to guide, not to order. We have no right to attempt to control a fight that we don't take part in. Or to subject a slayer to more danger than what she has to face on a daily basis."

Travers was unmoved by his eloquence. "Is that all you have to say?"

"No," Giles replied. "I also want you to know that I have told Buffy all about the ritual, so you can forget ordering Pryce or anyone else to perform it on her."

Travers was stunned by this piece of news. "You told the slayer about the Cruciamentum?" He stopped, shaking his head in disapproval. "I am very disappointed in you, Rupert. You have developed a father's love for a girl that is in reality just a tool. There have been others before her, and there will be others after her."

"Just as well really, since you choose to treat them so callously," a voice remarked as it entered the proceedings.

Giles tried to make them go away with silent hand and mouth gestures, while Travers turned round to face the arrivals, but to no avail. "Miss Summers, I presume?" He queried, which Buffy acknowledged with a nod. Then he regarded the man behind her. "And you are?" He asked the owner of the voice.

"Buffy, Angel," Giles began, solving the mystery of identities, "this is my battle, you do not need to be here."

"I think I do," Buffy replied, stepping further into the room, Angel close behind. "Are you going to fire him?" She asked Travers bluntly.

The councilman stuck to his contemptuous tone. "This is of no concern to you, Miss Summers. This is between myself and your watcher."

"He's my watcher," Buffy replied. "He is also the closest person to a father I have ever had. And I will not stand by and let you fire him for being in the right about a stupid ritual." She took another step forward until she was right in front of him. "Which is why I want to do the test."

"You want to perform the Cruciamentum?" Travers repeated, shocked.

"To keep Giles as my watcher, yes. I've already lost one watcher. I don't want to lose another."

"I'm afraid it's impossible," Travers replied. "You have been told about it, which invalidates the whole point of the test."

"Does it?" Buffy queried. "I know my strength will be taken, but I don't know who the vampire is that I will face. I have no idea of his or her history, age, strengths or weaknesses. I will still have to rely on my knowledge of the slayer lore and of vampires and demons to survive."

But Travers was no longer listening. Instead he was staring at Angel, realising suddenly what he was. "You let her be with a vampire?" He cried in shock.

No one bothered to reply with a cutting retort. Angel saved all his defenders a job by simply letting his demon out. Travers paled as encountered the death glare of hard, ridged forehead, fangs and golden eyes of a two hundred and forty-three year old vampire. A sight Giles doubted Travers had ever seen before, and now, was hardly likely to forget.

"Do we have a deal?" Buffy asked.

"I'll see you at nightfall," Travers managed to get out, before walking out of the library with what little was left of his dignity.

"This is exactly what I was trying to prevent from happening!" Giles exploded as soon as he had gone. "Do you have any idea how dangerous this is?"

"Yes." Buffy replied solemnly. "But if it's a choice between the test and having a new watcher, I'll take the test. If this has taught me anything, it's that there are few people whom I can trust. At some point, we might need information or help from them. If it's handed to you, I know I can trust it."

"But Buffy," Giles began, then sighed as he encountered her stubborn look. "Angel, do you agree with this?"

"I think it's dangerous," Angel replied, "but Buffy has a point. I'm concerned, but I love her, so she has my support."

"Then, thank you," Giles replied.

"Don't thank me yet," Buffy returned as she sat down before him and rolled up her sleeve. "Save that for when I've survived this."


Whatever she had imagined it would be like, Buffy found it differed completely from reality. Not only was she losing her strength, she realised that that strength had been with her for as long as she could remember. Every step she took to the place for the Cruciamentum was almost agony. She had forgotten, if indeed she had ever possessed the knowledge in the first place, what it was like to be ordinary. Silently she adjusted the large bag of weapons she was carrying, wondering if the muscle suppressant had suppressed more than her slayer strength. How had she used to cope with this before she was called? Or was the power always within her, unknown and unacknowledged until she had a name to define it by? She wondered how others before her had coped, how they had viewed this test set by their watchers. She remembered Kendra, her obedience in everything she did as the slayer, and wondered how she would have endured the test. She wondered what Faith would do, if she was given it by Wesley, though she probably knew the answer to that already.

When she arrived, the building appeared deserted. A old tavern, one of the oldest buildings in Sunnydale, long since abandoned by human ownership, with boarded windows and doubtless condemned notices. Travers stood outside the door, waiting her arrival. The grim disapproval on his face lightened as he took in her weakened appearance. He acknowledged her with a nod, then opened the door. She walked inside and he closed and locked it behind her.

The interior was lit, but that was not a bonus for the electric's were old and the wiring and bulbs faulty, delivering a flickering illumination. Windows were boarded up, rooms were devoid of all but the most age worn and damaged furniture and the rugs covering the hard wood floors were full of holes. Buffy checked her pockets to make sure they were full of slayer weaponry, just in case she had to ditch the bag, then cautiously advanced further into the abandoned inn.

"Oh slayer!!" A voice growled out, its tone mocking. "Come and find me, if you dare."

Buffy felt the fear rising within her as took another step forward, then suddenly she was lifted off the floor by an arm going around her neck.

"Too easy!" A voice whispered in her ear as she failed about, trying to escape his almost strangling grip. She was thrown back to the floor, landing in a heap by an upturned moth-eaten sofa. "Run slayer. I won't let you go again."

Buffy ran. She had never run from a vampire before, but there was always a first time. She felt the fear creeping into her, an emotion she rarely experienced, not since the time when she had killed her first vampire three years ago. That time she had missed the heart and had to withdrew the stake to try again. She remembered hearing her opponent laugh, mocking her inexperience, but luckily, the vampire had been too weak to fight her second successful and rapid attempt. This time however, she doubted she would have a second chance, for this beast was twice the size and double the strength.

They reached the dining room, where he reached out to knock her off balance. She fell to the floor, the impact causing her hands to sting. But she had no time to focus on the pain, only endure, as she rolled away from his questing hands. They grabbed for her ankles, causing her to frantically scramble away from him, stumbling to her feet. Spying a chair nearby, she lifted it and tossed it blindly in his direction. Luck was on her side, for her aim was true, the chair hitting his side, causing him to double in pain.

But his recovery was quick. He roared and rushed towards her. She waited for him to come, dodging aside at the last possible second, so he hit the wall instead. The old plaster collapsed under his weight and speed, and he groaned as the quicklime stung his eyes. He reached out to grab her before she could run away, and forced her arm behind her, pressing it against her back, until she felt her bones crack. She screamed, making him laugh as he pulled her close. His other arm closed around her neck, forcing it to his mouth. She opened her own and bit his rotting skin.

Roaring in pain, he released her, and she rushed from his arms, running to the stairs. But halfway up she discovered that they had fall away to the floor below, and she was forced to return to the dinning room, to find the one remaining room which she could access.

She dashed into the kitchen, her hunter close behind, having recovered from her last attack. She reached the kitchen sink just as he closed on her, her eyes casting about wildly for some kind of weapon. Her hand found a glass resting within the enamel basin, and her brain conquered her fear to present her with a possible solution.

Providence proclaimed itself in her favour. He halted, scrambling for breath, shaking in an almost epileptic fashion. "Pills!" He cried out rummaging through his pockets until he found them. The contents of the bottle rattled as his shaking hands removed the plastic cap. "Water," he croaked out, gesturing for the glass behind her. Buffy handed it to him, wondering why he needed such medication as a vampire, or if perhaps this dependency was a product of the control the Watchers Council used on him. He took a long drink, then tossed the glass away as he realised water was not in it. Not ordinary water anyway, but the kind more commonly used by priests.

He exploded as the acidic burning causing his insides to burn; from eyeballs to entrails. Buffy dodged the remains as they transformed into dust, then stood still for some moments observing what little was left of her attacker, as she tried to comprehend all which had taken place since she began the Cruciamentum. She wondered if this type of vampire was what all of the other slayers before her had faced, and how the Watchers took care of them until it was time. Then her body awoke to the pain the fight had caused, reminding her that it was time she informed Travers that she had passed the test, and sought the comfort, relief and safety of her bed, to sleep off the effects of the suppressant so she was herself again by morning.


"Excellent, Miss Summers," Travers commented when she returned to the library a half hour later and informed him of her victory and the means by which she achieved it.

Buffy merely rested in Angel's arms, sending the watcher death glares. "You better leave before I get my strength back," she threatened.

Travers shivered. Whether it was because of the threat, or the fact that Angel was in full game face, growling at the councilman, and scaring everyone else into the bargain, Buffy did not care. "Do we have our deal?" She asked.

"Yes." Travers replied. "I bid you farewell," he added, before almost running out of the room.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce regarded all of them with mild disapproval as he watched the rapid exit of the councilman. "I hope, Faith, you do not follow Miss Summers' somewhat unorthodox method when you are ready for the Cruciamentum."

"If you think I'm letting you inject me, you've got another think coming," Faith replied before heading out. "I have patrol tonight, B. You get some rest."

"Thanks Faith," Buffy replied, and smiled as Wesley muttered to himself before following in his slayer's wake.

"Er, Angel," Giles began tentatively, watching as the university professor continued to growl at the doors where Travers had just exited out of, his face still transformed by his demon within. "Perhaps you should take Buffy home to rest."

For a moment the watcher doubted that the souled vampire had heard him. But Angel reverted to his angelic face once more and rose out of his chair. Buffy wrapped her arms around his neck and closed her eyes.

She did not open them again until she felt the sheets of Angel's bed coming to rest under her bare back. She looked up to find his concerned face gazing down at her. She heard the rain pounding against the windows and suddenly she knew what she wanted. "Make love to me, Angel," she softly implored.

He obliged. He could not refuse her anything right now. Kissing her tenderly, he began a pilgrimage down her body, peeling away clothes tenderly one by one, kissing her bruises better. Buffy lay back, letting the comfort wash over her. How was it he could make sex at times so energetic, and then at other times so relaxing? He nursed her bruised body into arousal, licking and kissing her clean as a wolf would his mate.

Gently but determinedly he made her lie back and let him take charge of this dance, as he tenderly nipped at her breasts, explored her stomach with his mouth, then her sex, first with his hands, then with his tongue. He stroked the fires of her desire tenderly and slowly into orgasm, causing her to sigh with pleasure as he brought her to the point with his hands, with his mouth, and finally with his manhood. This time when he slid inside her, after trailing kisses up from her sex to her mouth, she sighed blissfully, finally feeling at peace from the turmoil of the day.

They made love again and again while outside the storm raged on. But unlike the year before, no one or nothing would keep them from waking up in each other's arms the next morning.

The End.
To Be Continued In
jhe.