Warnings: A few four-letter words, some non-graphic sex, an unusual fate for a core character.
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership and am making no money.
Continued from part 1
At the end of their first week in Bath, they’d seen the Roman baths, and they’d seen the places Jane Austen had been, and Buffy had begun to read Emma, and Dawn Persuasion. About halfway through, Buffy had yelped in outrage and announced that this was exactly the plot of Clueless and what had that director tried to pull on her? Giles had laughed, and Dawn had rolled her eyes. She kept reading, even though she’d figured out who Emma was going to end up with. Getting there seemed like it was going to be fun.
For their first weekend in England, Giles suggested they visit his sister on her land near Avebury. Her husband was off on Council business in eastern Europe, but she was there and eager to meet them. And so was Giles’ nephew, home on the long vacation from the Watcher school. There were horses. Dawn got that look on her face at that word, the look of a girl who’d read King of the Wind and Misty of Chincoteague and never yet actually ridden a horse. So of course they were going to go.
They drove there Saturday morning at high speed in Giles’ car. What a speed freak like him had been doing driving a Citroen, Buffy couldn’t guess. He drove well, utterly competent and controlled. He’d taken a class, he told her. More than one. And he had a charm against the Gatsos. Buffy could zone out and not worry, he said.
Buffy glared at him once she’d gotten him to explain Gatsos, the automatic cameras and the speed limit enforcement. “Is that a responsible use of magic?”
“If you’re a Watcher, yes,” he said, his eyes on the road, his face grim for a moment. Buffy conceded the point.
Giles’s sister’s place was all the way out in the country. It was actually her husband’s place, Giles explained; his grandfather had made pots of money in advertising. It was a stone building, bigger than any house Buffy had ever lived in, with a collection of other buildings not so far away. A few horses grazed in fenced fields nearby. The whole place was greener than anything Buffy had ever seen in her life. Even in wintertime, California wasn’t that green. At least not LA.
Giles’ sister was a bit younger than he was, tall, fit, with the same wide grin and blondish hair. Buffy was surprised to see she didn’t color it, but let the gray show. She was dressed casually, in dark colors that made her look awesome. She had an eye, unlike Mr Sloppy Brown Sweater. Then Buffy remembered that she’d made her brother over, and was responsible for his new hipper look.
Buffy gave Maeve a hug when Giles introduced them, out of gratitude for taking care of Giles. Dawn, on her best manners, shook hands.
Buffy saw, from the corner of her eye, Giles’ sister hold up one finger, then two, then cock her head at Giles. He smiled and held up one finger. Her face flashed at him, just a flicker of pleasure that Buffy saw must have been a Giles family thing. Mother or father? She’d like to see photographs. But Maeve was leading the way down the hall, a bright hall, with hardwood and white plaster hung with watercolors and daffodils in vases on little tables. It smelled like the daffodils and like fresh air. Growing grass.
Giles’ sister also seemed to have a thing for plants, because they were in all the windows of the bedroom she led them to. Then she led Dawn further down the hall. “We’re all up on the first floor,” she was saying, as they vanished into the next room.
Buffy went to the wall, where another of those watercolors hung. Same artist as the ones in Giles’ flat. “Who did these?” she asked.
Giles put their bag on the bed, then joined her. “Oh, that’s Maeve. She’s quite good. The talented one in the family. Come on, then. Let’s go meet Michael and the horses.”
They reunited in the hallway, and Maeve showed them the way to the kitchen. The kitchen was obviously the heart of this house: huge, comfortable, with a giant table and many chairs, more herbs in pots in the greenhouse window. It smelled like freshly baked bread. If there was a polar opposite to Spike’s crypt in Sunnydale, this was it.
“Michael’s a little older than you are, Dawn. He’s just down from school, and will love getting you started riding. Michael? Come in here and meet Buffy and Dawn.”
A gangling teenaged boy popped in through the half-door open to the kitchen garden, carrying lilies in a red clay pot. He put the pot on the counter, and turned toward them. Michael must have looked like his father. He had a thinner face than the angular Giles siblings did, with much darker hair flopping over his eyes. He hadn’t grown into his hands and elbows. He was cute, nonetheless. Buffy watched Dawn reach this conclusion, then hide herself behind Giles. Michael had eyes only for Buffy, however.
“You’re the Slayer.” He stared, then wiped his hand on his jeans and stuck it out.
Buffy shook his hand. “Yeah, that’s me. Pleased to meet you.”
“Honored to meet you. I’m going to be a Watcher.”
“Good for you, I think.” Buffy cast a glance at Giles, who nodded. “Listen to your uncle. He’s the best that’s ever been.”
“He says you’re the best Slayer ever.”
“The two go together. If the Watcher’s good, the Slayer gets better.”
Michael nodded sagely. “You’ve been five years on the Hellmouth?”
“Six, actually. Minus some time dead.”
“Uncle Ru was off his nut when he came back that first time, when you were dead. What was it like?”
“Enough, Michael,” said his mother.
“Naw, it’s okay. I don’t mind telling Slayer stories to somebody who’s gonna be a Watcher. Dawn knows a bunch too. She’s an old hand slaying vamps. Say hi, Dawn.” Buffy pulled Dawn out from behind Giles.
Michael poked his hand out again, then seemed to see Dawn for the first time. He ducked his head in a way that reminded Buffy very much of Giles stutter-stepping around Miss Calendar. He recovered, however, and when Dawn asked about the horses, was casually savvy. He led Dawn away toward the stables, the adults trailing behind more slowly.
“Am I gonna have to threaten to break his arm?” Buffy said.
“He’s a good lad,” said Giles.
“He’d better be,” said Maeve. “With the Slayer hovering over him. Will you be riding, Ru, with that ankle?”
Giles sighed, and shook his head. “It’s the ribs that have done me in. Got no mobility just now. Need a few weeks.”
Giles and his sister showed Buffy around the stables, pointing out features. Buffy nodded politely at everything. It smelled like hay and horses and horse manure, which was less offensive than Buffy might have guessed it would be. It looked clean and neat, as if everything had been cataloged and filed away Giles-style. Even the horses had labels over their stalls.
They came around to a fenced-in area, and found Michael and Dawn and a small brown horse with white legs. Michael was apparently showing Dawn how to tighten the straps on the saddle. They both had those black hats on, with elastics under their chins.
Buffy plucked at Giles’ sweater sleeve. “Are you sure he knows how to teach people things? Is he responsible? He’s kinda young.”
Giles cast her a glance. “He’s training to be a Watcher. And early reports say he’s likely to be a good one. Our kind of good, not the Council’s.”
“And he’s got her on Daisy, who’s a calm one,” said Maeve. She seemed totally mellow as well.
“Oh. Right.” Buffy relaxed and watched Michael teach her sister how to mount, and then then how to adjust her stirrups. He seemed to be doing okay, aside from his nervous glances over at the adults. Dawn dismounted, awkwardly, then mounted again. And again, better that time.
“Would you like to have a go, Buffy? If Ru’s ribs aren’t up to it, I could show you.”
Buffy squeaked. “I think I’d like to wait for Giles, if you don’t mind.”
“Don’t be nervous. You’re the Slayer. You’ll be riding steeplechases before the day is out.”
Giles interposed himself mildly. “I thought I’d take Buffy and a picnic lunch over to the West Kennet barrow. Or the hill, if I can get into the site.”
Maeve was agreeable, and provided them with too much food in a basket. They went for another of those breathless short drives in Giles’ car. Then they were walking on a hillside dotted with rocks, not far away from the site of a neolithic tomb that Giles seemed to know tons about. The hair on the back of Buffy’s neck stood on end as they approached the tomb. Giles said, “You feel it, then, the power,” and told her about the stone circles in the area. They weren’t far from Stonehenge itself, but Avebury was far more impressive. At least to people sensitive to real magic. Buffy made them walk away from the stones until she stopped feeling wigged, before she would let Giles spread out the blanket.
But now they were settled, and they’d eaten their sandwiches and drunk their lemonade. Buffy’s head was in Giles’ lap. She watched the clouds moving. The sky looked different from the sky she knew in California. No coastal fog in the mornings, no brassy haze in the afternoons. There were ants, and the occasional bee zapping past. The air smelled like grass and distant rain. The sun was warm but not scorching. Buffy could lie there forever, with Giles’ hand playing with her hair.
“Off your nut means crazy, right?”
“Were you happy to come back here to England? Or off your nut?” Buffy asked him.
“That’s a difficult question. Happy to be home, yes, but the circumstances… I’m much happier to be here right now.”
“That it is.” He leaned over her and smiled down.
“What was it like for you, in the coven? What did you do?”
Giles sighed. “For the first weeks, nothing. Absolutely nothing. My counselor did everything for me— cooked for me, cleaned the little room we shared, washed my clothes. He wouldn’t let me do anything. He said I had carried too much for too long. It was the hardest thing, Buffy. Having no responsibilities. I’d just left you, just left Sunnydale again, and it was all I could think about some days. How I needed to be there caring for you all.”
“Where I needed to do the opposite. I needed to learn to take care of myself. And Dawn.”
“Yes and no. I believe I made a mistake. I believe I put too much of the burden on you at once. But, Buffy… if I’d stayed…”
“You’d have gone pop.”
“Yes. I needed to be selfish for a while. Eventually I understood that, and we could make some progress.”
“I did selfish things. New clothes. Fixed my eyesight. That sort of thing. I meditated. I made amends for my sins. I set them aside. And I allowed myself to practice magic again. First time since Randall, really. Aside from small things for you. I… I am quite powerful. But I didn’t let myself touch it, out of fear.”
“The thing with Randall must have been pretty bad, then.”
“Oh, Buffy, you have no idea.”
Giles drew in a deep breath, then told her, there on the hillside in the sunlight. Randall had been Giles’ close friend, he told Buffy, at Oxford, a year ahead of Giles. Giles had gone to him in London when he’d cracked from the stress. Randall had already gotten into the sleazier side of magic, and begun hanging out with an older man named Ethan. Ethan and Giles swiftly discovered that they were together in a league above the others as sorcerers, and egged each other on to more daring stunts, more extreme means of seeking physical pleasure. They read a first-hand account of possession by Eyghon, and tried it at once. It had been every bit as intoxicating as promised. The six friends had woken up the next morning in a heap, naked, sticky, sated.
The night it went to hell, the ritual had gone wrong early: Randall had been too strung out on whatever he’d taken just before the party. He’d always had a weakness, Randall. The rest of them had confined themselves to the lighter drugs, the magic-friendly weed and hallucinogens. Randall had wanted to obliterate himself, not open his mind. He’d been on downers that night, judging from the mess of pills Giles had found in his bedroom afterward. And he hadn’t been able to complete the warding ritual successfully, so he’d lost control. Eyghon had taken him, ripped through his skin and manifested itself entirely. The demon was still bound by the pentagram, but with the other three panicking, and only Giles and Ethan keeping their nerve, it was only a matter of time before it broke out.
Giles had been trained early and well in handling demonic possession. He knew how to perform an exorcism, and he had the requirements at hand. Always he had them nearby. Even so far gone in debauchery that he was summoning a demon, he had the tools of his vocation with him. He got holy water and crosses and his sword from his room, and staggered back out to the living room, where the pentagram was. He’d begun the exorcism with an unsteady voice, then gained confidence as it went.
But it hadn’t worked. Randall had fought it, and had willingly surrendered himself to the demon, seeking a final obliteration. Eyghon had burst through the circle. The others had cowered uselessly in the corners of the room.
Giles had taken its head with a single two-handed blow. When the body hit the floor, Eyghon vanished, leaving Randall behind, dead. Then the summoning circle had collapsed, taking Randall’s corpse with it. Giles had been left with blood on his hands, on his face, on the sword, in a great puddle on the floor. And Ethan had laughed, and said that it had possibly been a bit of an error to give the reds to Randall that afternoon. Giles had thrown himself on Ethan and pounded him, screaming and weeping, until the others dragged him off.
By the time Giles finished the story, they’d reversed positions, and his head was in Buffy’s lap. She stroked his hair, smoothing it back where it curled over his ears. He looked distressed. Probably he always would be distressed to think about that. It was pretty harsh to have to cut off the head of your best friend. But he was able to talk about it, and he hadn’t needed to pound down a bottle of whisky first.
“I stayed away from magic after that, almost entirely. The first time I touched it, after that, was, was…”
“To save me. I remember. You were a god.” Buffy rubbed his temples, gently. “Yeah, I get why that would scare you off magic.”
“Until I finally realized that it’s not power itself that is the trouble. I can trust myself with it now. The man I have become is quite different from the sensation-seeking fool I was.”
Buffy dredged up her most pompous voice, and intoned, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
“Thank you, Xander.” But he smiled a little, which was what Buffy’d been aiming for.
“That’s the thing I knew about the Slaying that Willow didn’t know. And I guess she’s learning it now.”
“What does the coven get out of doing this stuff for people? British magicians. Willow isn’t even British.”
“Willow is the most powerful mage I’ve seen in my lifetime. It would be irresponsible of them not to help her. But as for what they get… My powers are now at their service. When they needed someone to confront Willow, I went.”
“Prepared to die if you had to.”
“If I had to. I’m happy I didn’t.” He tightened the hand he had clasped around hers, then brushed his lips across her knuckles.
“Is somebody doing the same thing they did for you for Willow now?”
“Likely. Though likely not exactly what was done for me. If I were working with Willow, I’d do just the opposite. Have her keep house for her counselor by hand, without magic. I wanted to be the one working with Willow, but they told me I was too close. Likely one of her problems.” He sighed.
“Oh. Yeah. You are one of her problems. And I am. You and me.”
“Oh. Um.” Buffy could feel him thinking that one over. Buffy herself hadn’t realized it until they were on the plane. That smile had cloaked jealousy. Whatever it was Willow had gotten from Giles, it hadn’t been enough. She’d wanted more. Giles would never quite be able to give her what she wanted, because what she wanted was the Slayer’s place in his heart. And Watchers and Slayers were… whatever they were. Closer than friends, closer than fathers and daughters, closer than lovers.
“Hey, Giles. What does your sister call you? Ru?”
“Can I call you that? Or do you like Rupert better?”
“You can call me anything except G-man.”
“Now that offer was unwisely made, Watcher-dude. I can do far worse than Xander.”
“Oh? Whose flat are you staying in, may I remind you?”
“Beg your pardon, Mr Giles, sir.”
“Much better,” Giles said, looking up at her with mock pomposity.
Giles asked Buffy, over late coffee the next morning, if she would do him the favor of letting Michael get her going on horseback. He’d never had the chance to work with a real Slayer, to learn directly exactly how physically different Slayers were from normal girls, and from Potentials.
“A little friendly nepotism, huh? Give the nephew an advantage?”
“I like the way you think, Rupert. Sure.”
And so after breakfast, while Dawn did slow circles around a track at a walk, Buffy got near a horse for the first time in her life. She met Otto, a white horse with brown splotches. Otto was larger and feistier than the little horse Dawn was riding. Under Michael’s nervous tutelage, and Giles’ watchful eye, Buffy learned the proper seat, and how to talk to her horse with subtlety and posture, how to post to trot, how to canter. Michael had to show her new things once, maybe twice if they were complicated. Buffy would essay them once, and then get them right. The hardest part had been figuring out that Otto was her partner in all this, an opinionated buddy, not a machine. But now Buffy was having a blast. She had no idea why she’d been scared of this.
Dawn was looking sulky. Michael was looking gobsmacked. Giles was explaining something to both of them, judging by the hand motions. Michael had seemed respectful before, but after that day he was worshipful. And scared. Buffy laughed at him, a little. Giles spent more time talking to him, after they had cleaned tack and horses, while Buffy fed Otto an apple and told him how awesome he was. Giles was telling Michael about Slayers, Buffy was sure, and calming him down. Buffy invested some time with Dawn as well, reassuring her that Michael was not going to be chasing her instead of Dawn.
That night, while they were talking in bed, she told Giles she’d rather not compete with Dawn like that. Show her up. Make it hard for her with the boy she was trying to impress. It wasn’t fair to pit a normal girl against a Slayer.
“I thought you said you would break his arm.”
“Well, only if he, you know, gets frisky. I don’t want to deny Dawn a chance to date normally.” Buffy sighed, and nestled herself closer. “I never did. Well, not after I became the Slayer. It was all too weird. You remember.”
“I think it’s going to be easier dating a coworker.”
“You know, dating my Watcher.”
“More than dating, I hope.”
Giles bent down to her and kissed her, and this time he let it grow into something more than just a feather-touch. Buffy put her arms around his neck and melted against him.
Then he yelped.
“Fuck!” He froze in place, then rolled away from her, wincing in pain. Buffy sat up, puzzled. Had she hurt him?
“Willow… she’s kicking at… trying to break the binding. Holy hell.”
His eyes glowed. It wasn’t scary. They glowed green, not a livid green, but a deep green, like jade. He spoke to the air. “Willow, sweetheart. Is this what you truly want? Do you wish to be forsworn?” He flinched, in response to something happening miles away. “I cannot hold you if you are determined, my dear girl. But I must ask you to remember why you swore this to me. There is a young man dead back in Sunnydale, testimony to the dangers— Willow, that’s not helpful—”
He moaned in pain and stiffened, arching up off the bed. Buffy held his shoulder, but had no idea what to do to help. He clenched a fist and reasserted control. “Very well, Willow. You are forsworn.”
Giles fell back onto the bed. He lay panting and sweating, trembling in aftermath. Buffy wiped his forehead.
“Broke the binding. Lord. It hurt like blazes until I released it. Both of us, and her rather more than me. But she wouldn’t let up.” He sat up, swearing softly again and bracing his chest with a hand. He rummaged in the litter on the sidetable and found his cellphone. A quiet apology to whomever it was he had awakened, a few words explaining his experiences, and then he hung up.
“Buffy, I’m sorry, we’ll need to go to the coven tomorrow.”
“No problem, Rupert. Surprised we’re not heading there tonight.”
“Willow’s counselor is there with her. And she’s fully aware of the mess. Oh, Buffy. This isn’t good.” Giles let out a shuddering sigh. He slid over to her in the bed and rested his head between her breasts. She stroked his sweat-soaked hair until she was sure he was asleep. What to do?
The next morning they left Dawn with Giles’ sister, to everyone’s satisfaction, and Giles drove them to the coven. He did not break the limits this time, as if he were reluctant to arrive. Or as if he had thinking to do and wanted more time to do it in. He didn’t speak much to Buffy during the drive.
The Westbury coven was another farm, as far as Buffy could tell, though one with more hills and trees. A big old house was surrounded by smaller buildings and a few cottages. About twenty people lived on the grounds, semi-permanently, Giles said, with a handful more in temporary residence at any time. It was a commune. Everyone had a little work to do. Giles said he’d tended the greenhouse plants when he’d lived there. When his counselor had decided he was ready to work.
He shared these little facts about the place as they walked up the drive hand-in-hand. He seemed distracted as he spoke, so Buffy stopped asking questions. Giles didn’t bother to knock at the door. He opened it and went in. He went immediately to an office at the side, where he spoke with a shaggy-haired young woman briefly. She was distracted by a gadget on a little table in the hallway. It was a clock, she thought. Operated by sand and by magic. She was still puzzling out how it worked when a woman came down the hall. Older than Giles, gray-haired, dressed in warm colors, but somehow not warm herself. Stern, despite the smile lines at the corners of her eyes.
“There you are, Rupert,” she said, as if they’d kept her waiting. Buffy frowned.
“Jane, good morning, yes, we came by straight away. This is my Slayer, Buffy Summers. Buffy, Jane Harkness, one of the coven’s more experienced sorcerers.”
The woman nodded at Buffy, then turned back to Giles. “Not that it’s doing any good.”
Buffy considered Miss Harkness. She was dressed like one of those flakey women in the beads and crystals who shopped for jewelry at the Magic Box, but Buffy could tell from her manner that she was powerful. And whip-smart. And from the set of her lips and jaw, annoyed, though Buffy didn’t know with whom.
She led them down the hall the way she’d came, to a little sitting room. The room had windows that opened onto a walk that vanished into hedges. She turned and sat.
“So you’re Rupert’s Slayer,” she said.
“Yeah,” said Buffy. “Willow’s best friend. At least, we were.”
“You were present, then, for most of her troubles?”
“Present for a bunch of them, and sort of the victim of one of them.”
“That would be the resurrection spell you’re referring to? Yes. Willow has declined to discuss that spell with me.” She exchanged looks with Giles.
“You’re having difficulty with her.”
“I’m not getting anywhere,” Miss Harkness said. Her stern manner collapsed, and Buffy could see the anxiety and the fear. She stopped hating her then, and reminded herself that Willow probably needed that stern approach. No getting away with things, with this woman. No stealing forbidden books then dodging trouble by smiling cutely at an indulgent Rupert. A Rupert who couldn’t imagine Willow behaving selfishly, really, because when he looked at her he saw the brave high school student, his partner in arms, not the out of control maniac she’d become over the last year.
There was a knock at the door, then it opened. Willow came in. She looked so exactly like the Willow Buffy had known for so long, complete with kitty-cat sweatshirt, that Buffy nearly burst into tears. She settled for giving Willow a huge hug. Giles hugged her her too. They sat down, Giles and Buffy on the sofa, Willow on an armchair. Giles took Willow’s hand and held it across the arm of the chair.
“Willow, sweetheart. I was worried about you last night. I’m worried about you still. You broke your oath.”
“I had to, Giles. It was important.”
“Explain it to me, Willow.” He squeezed her hand.
“I had to start casting again, to get some things done. I’m under a lot of pressure right now, you know? And I have a skill, a pretty useful skill. It would help me get done what I need to do. So I felt I was ready to use it again.”
“What was so important that you needed to be forsworn, Willow? Because that was a serious thing to choose. You swore your oath on your friendship with me, before the Powers. Are we no longer friends?”
“Well, Anya’s been after me to repair some of the damage. ‘Cause she says the insurance isn’t covering everything. She’s been pushing on me really hard. It’s so stressful. And I felt guilty about it, because I did break all that stuff and damage all those books and things. Your stuff. So really it was about fixing our friendship.” Willow made a pouty face at this juncture, exactly as if she were confessing to having snuck an extra cookie before dinner.
“Really,” said Giles, quietly.
“Yeah. I kinda had to. Miss Harkness was talking about making amends, and I thought that this was the most direct way to make amends possible, you know? To fix up the shop a little.”
“This required you to break your oath late at night?”
“Afternoon Sunnydale time, Giles.” Willow said this in a lecturing voice. Buffy felt Giles twitch next to her. He released her hand.
“You couldn’t have spoken with me first?”
“Anya was really pushing on me, Giles. You know how she can get.” Now Willow was whining.
“I do. I also know that firm explanations are effective with her.” Giles leaned back on the sofa, then asked casually, “Did she make her appeal in person?”
“How was she putting pressure on you?”
“Oh, you know Anya.”
“Don’t piss me off, Giles.”
“I see,” said Giles. Then, “I’ll take my leave, then. I shouldn’t like to piss you off, as you say.” He stood up and Buffy stood with him.
“Aren’t you going to hang out with your best friend, Buff?”
Buffy looked at Giles. He gave her a tiny nod, so she sat back down. “Yeah, Will. Let’s hang.”
Giles left the room, with Miss Harkness.
“Tell me all about England. Since I haven’t been allowed to see it, other than this stinky farm.”
There was nothing to do in response to that but smile and start telling stories about Bath, and Dawn on a horse, and hope that this didn’t make Willow even more resentful that she was here at the coven. Buffy held in reserve the point that if Willow had been treated as she deserved, she’d be in jail now for murder, not living in this comfortable house in lovely countryside. But Willow stayed reasonable, and Buffy told her stories.
“Hey, Will, should we get the Xan-man out here? I think he’d have a great time. He needs a vacation too, I was thinking.”
“No! No! No Xander. I don’t want Xander to see me. Not while I’m under this much stress.”
Buffy watched Willow carefully. Something was up, but she had no idea what.
Just then Miss Harkness came back in. “Willow, dear, it’s time to start lunch. I believe Rupert is in the garden outside, Buffy.”
Willow made a little face. “They have me doing stuff in the kitchen,” she told Buffy. “Cooking. Washing dishes. That kind of stuff. It’ll go faster today, though, now that I have my magic back. See ya!”
And away they went, leaving Buffy alone in the sitting room. “That wasn’t so bad,” she said to the ceiling.
Buffy opened the window door and stepped out. A walkway paved with flat stones wound off into the hedges. She shrugged and decided to see where it would take her. The day was bright, maybe even a bit hot for spring. Buffy ambled along the path happily, getting lost in the hedge maze, stopping to check out the flowers. Early roses, late tulips, more daffodils.
She rounded a corner, and saw Giles. He was sitting on a bench in a nook on the path, with his head close to somebody else’s. A small man’s, with a thatch of gray hair. The other man had an arm around Giles’ shoulders. Buffy reflexively stepped off the path and behind a bush to scope the situation.
Giles wasn’t physically demonstrative with people. He wasn’t demonstrative with Buffy, even, and unless Buffy was crazy, they were in a relationship. But here he was with this little man’s arm around him. His father? No, his father had died a while ago. They were intent on each other, talking. Buffy watched, sure that she would not be observed. Giles looked worried, but then he said something that made the other man laugh, and squeeze his arm tight around Giles’ shoulders. Giles’ face cleared. Buffy finally put it together, and understood who the man must be: Giles’ counselor. She grinned, from her spot behind the bush.
She stepped out and continued her way along the path. Giles looked up and saw her. His face lit up, and he stood. So did the gray-haired man. Giles took her hand when she came up to them.
“Buffy, this is Alex Holder. He’s been my adviser here at the coven. Alex, my Slayer.” There was pride in his voice.
Buffy shook the little man’s hand. Little only in comparison to Giles, she realized: he was still six inches taller than she. Mid-fifties, maybe. Lines around his eyes from smiling. He was wearing the earth-toned colors she’d seen on all the coven members, a loose brown shirt over jeans and Birkenstocks, with a chunk of crystal hanging on a braided leather loop around his neck.
“I have to go meet with some people to discuss Willow. Perhaps you’d walk with Alex? I’d like you to know one another.”
“If you don’t need me at the Willow thing, sure.” Giles looked relieved, so Buffy gave him a reassuring squeeze, then a kiss on the cheek. He loped off down the path and disappeared behind a hedge.
Alex cocked an eyebrow at Buffy. Buffy nervously stuck her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. What was she supposed to say? Hi. Thanks for fixing Rupert? Why not? So she said it.
He smiled at her. “You’re welcome. It was a pleasure. And I’m honored to meet the Slayer, who keeps me safe at night.”
“I have a feeling you’d be safe without me,” said Buffy, quirking up one side of her mouth. The man was like the others, with active power. She was maybe starting to get a feel for it, now that she’d been around several people who fizzed with magic. Tara hadn’t had much; Willow had so much it went off the scales; Giles had kept his buried until recently. Now Buffy had a better sense. They all had different flavors, too. This guy was refreshing, like wind carrying the scent of water ahead of the rainstorm. Giles was more like the storm itself. Miss Harkness had been dry stones.
“You’re probing me. Most interesting. I’ve never felt anything like that before.”
“Oh! Sorry. Didn’t realize it. Slayer sense telling me stuff about your magic.”
“Again, interesting! Do you have a sense of my aura? Is it visual, or something else?”
“My friend Tara could see auras, but I never could. Nah. I sort of smell you. Taste you. Something in the air around you. Can you see auras?”
“Yes, I can. And I am most intrigued to see in your aura the odd colors that have always been mixed in with Rupert’s. And his colors are mixed with yours. Come, let’s walk. Let me show you the grounds. And you’ll tell me about this sense.”
Buffy followed him along the path, heading away from the house through the hedge maze. “I don’t know that I can tell you much. I’m still figuring it out. Giles says I’ve lived so much longer than most Slayers do that I’m in new territory. I’m aware of myself in ways most of them weren’t.”
“Instinctive use of the skills becoming conscious. Again, intriguing.”
“No wonder Giles got along with you.” Alex laughed.
They came to the edge of the hedge maze and emerged onto an open field, dotted with scattered trees. The coven kept sheep, Giles had said, though Buffy couldn’t see any. Alex turned left, and they walked along the line of the hedges, following a muddy path.
“I was happy to see that Rupert had let himself love you.”
“You didn’t know he was going to do that?”
“We never discussed it. I knew how he felt. It would be hard not to know. And now that I’ve seen your aura as well as his… I’m so glad for you both.”
“What about our auras?”
“You’re tangled together. Bound by your shared destinies. You’ll find it easier now that you’ve decided to be together in more ways. Both of you.”
“Whacky. Convenient, even. What’s Willow’s aura like?” Buffy asked. An idea was tickling at the back of her head.
“It’s furled, very tightly. One of the alarming signs.”
“Can all of you read auras? All you magic people, I mean.”
“No. It’s a gift that some have and some don’t. Power takes many different forms. It’s unique to each person. One of my gifts is reading people. Perception and insight. Most of us would have been unaware you were probing, for instance.”
“My gift is death,” said Buffy.
Alex stopped on the track and turned to her. He held the chunk of crystal in his hand for a moment, eyes closed. His face was serious. But when he opened his eyes again, they crinkled at the edges.
“I don’t know that I would trust everything the First Slayer tells you. Some of it was self-serving nonsense. Her gift was death. Your gift is, hmmm, something else. You might ask yourself what you have that other Slayers did not.” The little man smiled, and tucked the crystal back into his shirt.
“And you’re not going to tell me, are you.” This didn’t annoy Buffy nearly as much as it should have. “What’s Rupert’s gift?”
“Ah! You’ll see tomorrow, when his power is returned to him.”
Buffy wasn’t entirely looking forward to that. She had a feeling Willow wasn’t going to like it.
They had dinner with Anya that night. Giles called her on the drive to Bath from the coven house. An hour later, while Buffy was stirring the sauce pan Giles had told her to stir, Anya popped in.
“Always easiest to home in on the Slayer,” Anya said. “Very recognizable resonance signature. Where is Giles?”
“Right here, dear.” Giles came up behind her and hugged her.
Anya beamed up at him. “The insurance company will pay for everything. And I mean everything. That extra-expensive policy you took out that I complained about so often turns out to have been a wise investment. They were unable to point out any loopholes. And taking your suggestion of having the lawyer present and looming was most effective. Good work, Giles!”
“And excellent work from you sticking it out. Good news.”
“So, like, why were you bugging Willow to fix stuff, then?”
Giles pulled out a chair for Anya. “So you haven’t been visiting Willow?”
Buffy exchanged a look with Giles, then turned back to her saucepan. Giles poured a glass of something for Anya, then sat with her at the table. “Willow’s been claiming you have. As an excuse, I think, for casting again. She claims she’s been fixing things at the Magic Box.”
“She hasn’t, that I know of. And if she had, I would have asked her after the insurance investigator made his decision, not before. That was only an hour ago. Morning, my time.”
Giles stood and took over the cooking from Buffy. She sat with Anya at the kitchen table, sipping her wine slowly, and listening to the two of them talk about rebuilding plans. Anya wanted to relocate to Paris, which had a significant and stable magical population she felt was underserved. Giles argued for London, but had no answer when Anya pointed out that the presence of the Council depressed demon activity, which meant a smaller market. Either way, EU regulations would be a pain, which was in turn an argument for New York.
The amiable bickering continued through dinner— lunch for Anya, as she enjoyed pointing out. In the end, Giles yielded and they settled on Paris, as a lovely place for Anya to live, and for Buffy and Giles to visit. Anya popped away again fizzing with triumph and the Pinot Noir, Giles’ signature on the stack of insurance documents in her bag. Buffy was a little fizzy herself, on two glasses of wine and the prospect of getting to know Paris someday. Such a change, for the small-town Slayer who’d given up on snatching even a weekend on the coast.
In bed that night, the soft kisses left her unsatisfied. She climbed on top of Giles and pressed her knee between his thighs.
“Buffy, love, it still hurts to breathe.”
“Soon?” She kissed up his throat, tasting her way to his ear. She took the earring into her mouth and sucked, gently.
“Oh, God, yes, soon.” He moaned under her hands. She lifted his t-shirt and explored up his belly to his chest. He grasped her face and kissed her open-mouthed, deep and slow. Buffy could feel his body harden against her thigh, still perfectly controlled, still a gentleman, but perhaps she could coax him. She brushed a hand under his pajama waistband. He shivered and gasped against her mouth. His hips moved. Then he was kissing her hard, rolling them so that he pressed her down into the bed. He slid his hand down, and between, stroking slowly.
She froze, remembering cold hands pulling her open, a cold body inside hers. Giles’ hand went away, and he gently extricated his legs from hers. She shivered. He turned her over and nuzzled up behind her. The blanket was up to her ears, but she was cold. Cold everywhere except the places where he was pressed against her.
“I’m sorry,” he said, murmuring into her hair. “It’s too soon. For both of us.”
“It still hurts to breathe,” Buffy said.
The coven took Willow’s stolen power from her the next morning. They gathered in their big meeting room and simply did it.
They stood around Willow in a circle, about twenty of them. They had confined Willow inside a crystalline sphere. Buffy and a handful of others stood outside, watching. Buffy could feel pressure in the air, something hot. A great deal of power was present in the room, angry power. It was coming from Willow, roiling out. Hot, smoky. Not a good taste. Then the coven people joined hands, and it damped down. The circle was containing it. There was no ceremony, just the joined hands, then a chant in some language Buffy couldn’t recognize at all. Giles led it.
Willow was supposed to be lying on her back, on pillows where she would be comfortable, but she refused to stay down. She paced restlessly inside the circle.
Her head was enveloped in a green glow. “No,” she said. “You can’t. That’s mine now. You can’t take it from me.”
Miss Harkness was angry. “It’s stolen power, Willow Rosenberg. You will return it to its rightful owner.”
“Him? It’s wasted on him. He sits on it. Hides in his little office with his books hugged to his chest. Afraid. Afraid to do anything. It should stay with me. I’ll use it. I’ll do good with it. You’ll see.”
“You will return the power to its rightful owner.”
“I won’t! And you can’t force me! That would be wrong! You’re abusing me! This is—”
“As you abused me when you forced it from me?” Giles said this quietly but Willow closed her mouth with a snap. She shook herself, then bowed her head, very very slowly. Her face contorted.
The green glow rose straight up from Willow in a column. The crystal sphere turned green where it intersected. Then an arc sprang from the sphere to Giles’ chest. He cried out and was held. The power pumped from Willow to sphere to Giles in slow pulses. Maybe a third spilled over to the others in the circle, but most stayed with him. He seemed to get ten feet taller as it flowed into him. He grew. His hair curled. His skin glowed. Light shone out from him.
It went on and on for what felt like forever, ozone crackling and the oppressive heated containment pressing down on Buffy. But when she looked at the sand-clock afterward, she saw had taken less than an hour. At the end of it, when they released the chant, Willow collapsed into a heap in the edge of the sphere, at the point nearest Giles. The coven broke the circle of hands, and the binding sphere vanished with a sound like a million fairy wineglasses breaking.
And Giles took a deep breath, and rolled his shoulders. He closed his eyes, and raised his face to the ceiling. Then he looked down at Willow, crumpled at his feet. He was angry, but bottled up. A storm beating on the windows.
Buffy could feel him and smell his power now. She knew this flavor already. She’d first met it when she walked into the library at Sunnydale High, and the odd shy man in the too-heavy tweed jacket had smiled at her so eagerly. Giles had been using his magic all along, mostly likely unconsciously. His office in the library. His Sunnydale flat. The entire Magic Box. They’d all smelled like this to Buffy. This power was not about binding or striking or breaking. Even the justified anger boiling off him now was in conflict with this power.
This power had turned those places into havens. Filled his flat in Bath with growing things. Made him the person they’d all run to when injured, instinctively.
At home that night, before he came to bed, Giles stood before the bathroom mirror. Buffy was in the doorway, watching. He pulled his shirt off. The burn in the center of his chest, over his heart, was gone. His bruising had nearly vanished. Even the scarring on his side, where the spear had breached him, had faded.
He inhaled deeply once, then held his hand to his left side. “Ribs are better, but not completely healed. And my ankle is good.”
“Handy,” Buffy said.
“Very. Normally one can’t heal oneself. The healing gift is strictly an unselfish one. I wonder. Willow may have… Interesting. She might have been guiding the power on its way back. Such contradictory signals. She fights, then cooperates, then fights again as if she had no memory of her earlier decision. Such conflict she must be feeling.”
Buffy played with her hair, thinking. She ought to have figured this out already.
“So you can heal stuff? That’s your gift?”
“Not exactly. It’s more, ah, nurturing? Assisting natural processes? I can’t kill houseplants if I try.”
Buffy laughed, and they went to bed.
Concluded in part 3