Pairings: Giles/Olivia, Giles/Buffy (eventually, but not here)
Summary: When a Council representative makes assumptions about his relationship with his Slayer, Giles must come clean to Buffy about the true natures of Watchers and of Slayers.
Warnings: Coercive Council magic. Body piercing with questionable consent issues. Violence. Sex and lots of it. Dom/sub kink, piercing kink, bondage kink. Tattoos. And more. And if that isn’t enough, the odd four-letter word. Starts mild, however.
Spoilers: Early season 4 through “Harsh light of day”; retells S4 in an AU from there.
Word Count: 27.4K
Notes: My tribute to the works of A. Manley Haight. Thanks to twilightofmagic, katekat1010, kivrin, and secondalto, who read early drafts. emmessann provided several crucial insights and beta-read; this story would not be what it is without her help.
Oblique Strategy: Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify them
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership and am making no money.
Soft grinding. Slow strokes down the blade. Giles leaned over the steel broadsword clamped to his desk, easing the whetstone along in one last pass. He paused to finish the tea cooling in the cup at his elbow. He switched to the sandpaper block for the final edge. Nearly finished now. Someone had put this blade back in the weapons chest after only a hasty wipe-down, still spotted with demon blood, edge gone. Giles had been resharpening for some time. “Someone.” Willow never touched physical weapons; Xander had been put to work cleaning them often enough to take the task seriously. Only Buffy would be so careless with a blade.
Giles had been working through his armory steadily in the last few weeks, through the end of August. He’d brought a number of swords to perfect edges, then oiled them for storage: the daggers, the better of his two steel broadswords, the rapier, the leaf-shaped bronze blade he’d cast himself in a workshop. The few he thought likely to see use in his own hands in the coming months merited inspection and careful maintenance. Buffy might have lost her fascination with his weapons, but he still wished to keep them ready and reliable. The flat reeked of cloves from the oil, and he’d gone through a good deal of sandpaper. It kept him busy, at least. For minutes at a time he could get his mind off Olivia’s casual farewell after her last visit, and Buffy’s equally casual indifference to his apology, delivered less than an hour after the door had closed behind Olivia. Both of them seemed to have forgotten his phone number.
Giles second-guessed his decision to stay every day. Every night when he sat unwanted for patrol. He and Xander had taken to organizing patrols on their own. The only consolation he had was that two months ago, in June, the Council had, for reasons they hadn’t bothered explaining, restored him to the payroll. With the hazard pay bonus, and the full insurance plan. Better than what he’d enjoyed before the Cruciamentum. He had no need to find employment. Other than a general need to fill his days once he’d sharpened every metal object in the flat, that was.
The door knocker went. Giles stripped off his gloves and went to answer it. Standing in the circle of his entryway lamp was a young man he’d never seen before. Scrubbed, hair slicked down with some foul substance but still managing to stick up in the back. In the tweed uniform, with handkerchief poking out of the waistcoat pocket. Oh, no doubt about this lad.
“John Stamford, Mr Giles. On assignment from the Council.” The grip behind his handshake confirmed it: calluses, muscles, physical confidence that no man wearing trousers creased that sharply should have. Giles himself was wearing paint-stained jeans.
“Oh, right. Travers sent me a letter about you a while back.” Giles stood aside from the door. Stamford bounced in. The uniform was Wesley, but the body language was all Xander. “Remind me what this is all about?”
“The Slayer, of course! I’m working on my doctoral thesis, you know. On Slayer psychology. Dr Sloane felt I should meet a real Slayer and Watcher.”
“Dear old Sloane. So practical,” murmured Giles. Head of the Council psych department. He’d read Sloane’s little monograph on Slayers and tool use, with parallels to demon tool use. It was one of the few papers written by that group that he’d been allowed to read. They kept a lot away from field Watchers, and what they did show them was often pure bunkum. That monograph, for instance.
“Is the Slayer here? I should like to meet her.”
“No.” Giles drifted to the kitchen to put on the kettle. Of course the boy would want tea.
“It’s a thrill to meet you, Mr Giles. You’re a legend, you know. So unorthodox, yet so successful. The bad boy in all ways.” Stamford’s voice dropped for that last bit. “Still making waves, of course.”
“Oh, yes, the total silence in the last months. No monthly reports. You used to be so regular and thorough.”
“You’ve read my reports?”
“Oh, yes! And the facsimiles of your diary that Mr Wyndam-Pryce made. And your Council training files. I do believe I’ve read it all.”
“And no doubt my prep school records.”
“No, I haven’t read those. Though if you think they’re relevant—”
“No,” said Giles. “Why would you expect monthly reports from me?”
“Well, we expected you’d return to your previous habits after the Slayer’s choice. Poor Mr Wyndam-Pryce. He was talking to one of our counselors every day when he got back. Was touch and go there, they said.”
Giles finally stemmed the flow of words with a upraised hand. “Touch and go? Wesley was suicidal?”
“Oh, my, yes. Rejected by the Slayer, you know. We were braced to send a team out for you if the Slayer had chosen Mr Wyndam-Pryce instead. But she claimed you. Congratulations!”
Claimed… oh bugger. They thought Buffy had claimed him. His hands shook for a moment. The kettle was on the boil. He switched off the gas and busied them making the tea. Wonderful. Buffy didn’t even know that the claim magic existed. And wouldn’t if he could help it. Not that she was curious. She’d never shown any bloody interest in anything to do with being the Slayer if it didn’t involve penetrating vampires with stakes. Or being penetrated by them. Giles ground his teeth. Well, that explained the sudden return to the payroll.
“We were hoping to coax you into writing up the details of your claiming ritual. For the files, you know. Though I would also like to interview the Slayer.” Oh fuck.
“Buffy is touchy about it,” Giles said. “Please allow me to discuss it with her first before you mention it. I’ll, er, pave the way for you.”
“Oh, that’s so thoughtful of you, Mr Giles.”
Thoughtful. Yes. Giles was certainly thinking about it a great deal at the moment. What would he say to Buffy? Would he explain the magic? Would he tell her that it was Council nonsense, and she should just put Stamford off? Or should he just come clean and say it was all a dreadful mistake? That… that would be humiliating. He wasn’t supposed to be here without it. He was supposed to have done as Wesley did, and crawled back. He looked at the young man uneasily. Wriggling, likely to drool on the carpet, impossible to dislike, yet Giles wished to roll a newspaper.
He carried the tray over to his couch, where Stamford was gazing around at the flat as if stunned. Giles supposed it was a bit cluttered. He and Xander had made a start at organizing the books, but not much of one. Right, Xander.
“The others are likely to be arriving soon,” Giles said. “For patrol.”
“Ah, yes, the ‘Scoobies’,” Stamford said. Giles could hear the quote marks. He wouldn’t have put it past the man to have solemnly watched selected examples of the cartoon. His own initiation had been inflicted by Xander, while he’d been laid up recovering from his night with Angelus. “Here,” the boy had said, “this will cheer you up. And you’ll finally get it when I call you Fred.” Giles had explained the nicknames in a subsequent diary entry. What a punctilious swot he’d been.
The gang indeed burst in around nine. No Buffy. Willow made an apologetic little face at him when he stood in the doorway peering past them, hoping to see her. He made introductions, then stepped back while Xander strutted for Stamford. Though he thought that perhaps there was method to Stamford’s awestruck mooning; Xander was answering questions rather too freely.
“Shall we get started?” Giles said, abruptly. Xander dug his favorite crossbow from the weapons chest. Giles took his workaday steel sword and a second crossbow. Willow already had holy water and a pouch full of crystals she wanted to test. “Stamford? Bring your own weaponry?”
“No, thank you, Mr Giles. I will be observing only tonight. Watching, don’t you know.” He held a clipboard. Giles hadn’t brought a clipboard on patrol since the first month he’d been with Buffy, and the memory made him flush. How had Buffy refrained from strangling him? How would he refrain from swatting Stamford?
They’d reached the street before the penny dropped and Stamford asked. “Where’s the Slayer?”
“We’ll meet her there,” said Giles, hoping it was true. She knew their plans, the usual schedule. If she wanted to meet them, she would. Buffy had been distracted the last couple of days, Willow’d said. There was some boy. And she’d been sulking about something. Olivia’s visit still, he thought, and his clumsy attempt to disengage himself from her, to assert his independence. Which was exactly what the Council had decided he didn’t have.
Stamford offered to drive, and Giles accepted for the sake of the Citroen’s groaning engine. The Council had stumped up for an SUV rental for the boy. Giles contemplated it sourly, contrasting its likely weekly bill with the reaction his expense reports had received over the years. “Aren’t you using rather a lot of antiseptic, Mr Giles?” They had paid up anyway. He had to give them that. And his current salary was princely. To match what was, according to Stamford, his current high status, as one of the Watcher elite. A status he held under false pretenses, if accidental ones. Now what the hell was he going to do about that?
Stamford followed them through the cemetery meekly enough once he’d been reassured the Slayer would be with them shortly. He’d gone silent when they’d moved past the glow of the streetlights and into the depths of tree-shadows, picking their way through the monument maze. The three residents knew this cemetery well. Familiar territory. Just here, for instance, was where he’d sat with Buffy to work on her SAT vocabulary. It was almost restful.
Xander pointed. A fresh grave, troubled earth, an empty hole. That meant vampire, hungry vampire, around them right now. Giles snapped his crossbow up and began a slow spin to scan. He spotted motion, stopped, continued his patient wheel, then spun back. That had been it. It detected them, and began moving in fast.
Giles steadied himself, aimed, leading a little, and let fly. Perfect shot. Lucky shot. The vampire exploded. He paused to reload the crossbow, and incidentally let the adrenaline fade.
Stamford finished scribbling something. “A vampire already,” he said. “Lucky! And a pity the Slayer wasn’t here to help.”
“Yeah, I guess finding only one is lucky,” said Xander. He pushed open a mausoleum door and peeked inside. “Something’s been breeding them in the last couple months.”
Stamford choked. Giles spun. The boy thrashed in the grip of a second vamp. Giles dropped the crossbow; no chance of a clear shot. Sword would be useless, same reason. He pulled a stake from his pocket and closed on Stamford.
The vampire released Stamford suddenly, and turned. Something kicked it, hard, sending it flying. It got up and charged toward the newcomer. Buffy, of course. The two traded blows. Giles held up a hand to keep the others away. Let Buffy give the Council boy an eyeful. And, apparently, an earful.
“Good evening, sir! I’ll be your Slayer tonight. I’ll tell you about our specials, then I’ll take your drink order. We’ve got a delicious dust plate tonight. It’s spit-roasted vampire drizzled with juniper berry sauce on a bed of arugula. Do you know what arugula is? ‘Cause I don’t.” Punch, block, counter-blow.
“I, I think it’s lettuce,” said the vampire. Buffy was allowing herself to be boxed in among some monuments. Bad tactical thinking. Or perhaps she had some plan Giles couldn’t perceive.
“Cool! Want to order that?”
Giles edged himself into a better position, just in case.
“I’d prefer to discuss the drinks.” The vampire launched a flying kick at Buffy and connected. Buffy staggered back, stumbled over a headstone, and went down. Giles strode in and locked with the vampire from behind. His stake thrust missed. He kept it off-balance for a few dizzying seconds, then the demon’s far-greater strength told, and he was stumbling backwards. At that moment it dissolved into dust. He saw Buffy on its other side, holding his stake and looking miffed.
“Giles, don’t go getting into the fights like that. You could get yourself hurt.” She turned and stomped off, deeper into the cemetery.
Giles took a moment to straighten his clothes and brush the dust out. “Well,” he said. “That was fun.”
“Two vampires in one night. Extraordinary,” said Stamford. He dabbed a hand at his cheek.
“Welcome to the Hellmouth,” said Willow.
The four set off after Buffy. They could hear the tell-tale sounds of blows exchanged ahead. A third. Buffy was engaged in the usual fisticuffs, but not effectively. Her timing was off tonight. Giles wondered if she’d been getting enough sleep. She did stake it eventually. She stomped over to the group.
“Who’s the mini-Giles?” Buffy took a closer look. “Sorry, the mini-Wes.”
“Stamford, allow me to present the Slayer, Buffy Summers. Buffy, this is Council representative John Stamford.”
“What are you doing here?” Buffy could be charming when she wanted, but the Council was never going to inspire her to want.
“He’s writing a paper,” said Giles, so drily that Buffy dropped her sulk for a moment and twitched a private smile at him.
“Wow. Did you bring your microscope? Or are you just gonna take core samples?”
“Mr Giles’ descriptions of your wit were not exaggerated,” said Stamford, with a courtly dip. Giles snapped a look at him; that quip had had much more of an ironic edge than he had expected. Stamford did not give himself away further, if indeed the remark had been a slip and not just a clumsy courtesy.
Buffy marched up to the boy and stood on tiptoes for a moment. “That’s gonna bruise,” she told him. “Stay out of it for the rest of the night.” Then she turned and marched toward the back side of the cemetery, without a further word.
Xander met Giles’ eye and shrugged. Neither one of them knew what was eating Buffy. Willow might know, but she wasn’t saying. They trailed after her, weapons once again at hand. Buffy was moving fast, apparently with some kind of destination in mind. Giles half-ran to try to catch up. The others strung out behind him.
And once again they were blindsided. Buffy was down. Big demon, some kind of antlers, scaled skin, color hard to tell. A club. Spiked. Giles dropped to a knee and let a quarrel loose, not troubling for an over-fine aim. It flew true, hit the demon’s shoulder, and shattered. Giles hadn’t stood still. He was already closing at a run, crossbow discarded and sword drawn. Buffy wasn’t up yet, but she was also not yet pulverized by that club. Why, he couldn’t guess.
Giles screamed with all he had, anything to draw its attention from Buffy. He swung the sword two-handed, right leg planted, hips snapping, arms extending through the swing. Impact, and the sword fell from his nerveless fingers, notched. Magic. A shield of some kind. Or impervious skin? Arcane backlash hit him. He dropped to his hands and knees and vomited, utterly helpless to act as the demon moved away, Buffy in its grip.
Xander was there, wiping his face. The nausea receded, leaving fear-wrack wet along Giles’ spine.
“Buffy! Where is she?” Giles pulled himself to his feet. Stamford had a hand under his elbow.
“The claim bond, Mr Giles! Draw on the bond. Surely you know exactly where she is.”
“Uh, yes, of course, sorry, still disoriented. She’s, uh, in that direction…” He cast a wild glance at Willow, silently begging her to help him. He scooped up the sword, gave the blade a quick glance. Ruined, but it was the best weapon he had to hand.
“Sewer entrance,” said Willow. “That crypt.”
“Right, sewer. Let’s go!” Giles took off at a dead run. The crypt was a good guess on Willow’s part: the door was open, and there was an obvious break in the wall leading to a tunnel down. Willow cast a light spell, and the four of them started down the tunnel. Giles restrained himself from running only through cold repetition of the basics of tunnel hunting. No bursting around corners. No unnecessary noise. No more amateur mistakes. A hell of a patrol for Stamford to join.
Ahead, he could hear grunts, and then a rapid flurry of wet smacks. Buffy’s voice shouted, and then came the sound of smashing rock. Giles ran, then, and rounded a corner willy-nilly, and found Buffy alone in the sewer access, knee-deep in green water, still in fighting stance, staring down a corridor. She had been drenched.
“Giles, let’s get out of here. I can hit that thing, but I can’t hurt it much. No clue why it just ran away.”
He was rearguard on the way back to the surface, notched sword in hand. The patrol was over. He sent Stamford away to drop off Willow and Xander, insisting that he and Buffy could walk back to his flat perfectly well. And Stamford didn’t need sewer water on the leather seats. Secretly he wanted an opportunity to lash out at Buffy. Where had her head been? She had been completely unaware of all of the demons they’d encountered, taken by surprise every time. And her fighting had been off balance.
He was forestalled by Buffy herself.
“Giles. Don’t tell me about it. I know you want to. Just don’t. I already know. I sucked tonight.”
“I’m more concerned about why,” he told her.
“God. I’m screwing everything up. Time to stop. Giles, I’m sorry I was a bitch tonight. I’m stressed, and I took it out on you.”
An apology from Buffy. Giles sat on the sarcastic rejoinder that came to mind first, and went with his second reaction. At least she seemed to have snapped out of her sulk. “It’s all right, Buffy.”
Buffy followed him down to his patio. “Gonna borrow your shower, if you don’t mind.”
“Right, then,” said Giles. “Drip sewer all over my flat.” She shed most of her clothing standing on his front step, however, then shot across to his bathroom rapidly. Ruthless practicality. She had bundled up the clothes and avoided dripping on his floor, and had successfully retained her modesty. Buffy seemed to be in hard emotionless mode at the moment, perhaps in reaction to the disaster that patrol had been.
Giles closed his front door, locked it, and flipped off the outside light. The shower was going already. He unlaced his boots and returned them to their spot in his closet. He tended briefly to the crossbows and the sword, and restored them to the weapons chest. Not a lot of point worrying overmuch with that blade.
“Giles?” Buffy, through the bathroom door. “Do I still have a bag of clothes here?”
Giles rummaged in his hall closet. Yes, there was her gym bag. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d laundered its contents. It had been seriously depleted since. He pulled out a sports bra and a pair of yoga pants. He handed them through the door, along with a plastic sack for the wet clothes. “Sorry, that’s it,” he said. “Wait a tick and I’ll get you a shirt.”
Buffy emerged, toweling her hair, in time to take a t-shirt from him. Gray. Had shrunk in the wash. She held it up and tilted her head. “And in a pinch, it’s a tent!” She pulled it on. Giles saw a flash of something in her navel. “What time is it?”
“Nearly midnight,” Giles said.
“Hey, look, can we talk? And then can I crash on your sofa?”
“I was assuming you would.” Giles was already moving in the kitchen, filling the kettle. She came around and leaned against the counter, out of his way, watching him. He had no idea what was on her mind.
He carried the tea tray out to the sofa and put it down. They sat together on the couch. She leaned against him briefly, then sighed and took a cup.
Giles was struck by a wave of affection for her. He reached out and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “You have a new ring in your ear,” he said. “Odd spot for it.” Way up, near the top of her ear, through cartilage. It had to have been painful.
“Yeah, I had a couple of piercings done just before classes started. That one, bellybutton. Slayer healing is nice. Gonna get another done soon.”
“Oh!” he said, intrigued. He hadn’t realized Buffy was interested in such things. Perhaps she had tattoos as well. Just another aspect of her personality he would see only from the periphery. She lifted her shirt a few inches for him, showing off her muscled stomach and the ring that had caught the light earlier. He bent to look at the jeweled bead in it. Jenny had dangled her corkscrew from her navel. Giles had a flash of memory, wistful and erotic at once, of kissing that navel. He reached down and touched the ring with a finger, lifting it from her skin, then realized what he was doing. He snatched his hand back. “Oh, uh, sorry, didn’t mean to presume.”
They sat together for a little while, drinking tea. Giles was content just to be near her.
“So…” she said, drawling. “I guess I should just fess up. Giles, it’s the Slaying. It’s not going right. You saw it tonight. I’ve been seeing it every night. It’s totally screwy. That vampire, Sunday, the other day— she dislocated my wrist. She beat me. I had to run away. She shouldn’t have been able to touch me.”
Giles made a thoughtful noise, and freshened his cup.
“And the other thing. When you sent me away… that was when it was the worst. I was so off balance. I know, Giles, I know, I was a total bitch. I owe you an apology. And Olivia too. I, oh man, I behaved really badly. Sorry.”
“Oh,” he said, softly. His heart melted, all thought of sarcasm gone. “Thank you. Apology accepted. I, well. I appreciate it.”
She flashed a rueful smile at him. “I was just kinda surprised. I was already feeling off balance. Everything around me has changed, you know? Then I found that everything was different here too. I reacted badly. Sorry. Really. I guess I shouldn’t have expected you to be alone all the time, huh.”
“No, you shouldn’t. I, uh… well, you haven’t been paying much attention to me.”
“No, I haven’t. And I’m beginning to think that’s the problem.”
“Yeah. When you sent me away, woah. I stormed off and had the worst possible fight.”
“That’s interesting,” he murmured.
“It’s like I reach inside for something and it isn’t there. And when I think about it, I realize it hasn’t been there for months.”
Giles hemmed again. This was odd. He’d never heard Buffy say anything like it before. She was so physically gifted, even as Slayers went, so used to attempting and succeeding. He shied away from drawing the obvious conclusion.
“Been thinking pretty hard about this, trying to figure it out. I think I finally did, tonight, during that last fight. I know you told me that I didn’t need a Watcher any more. Giles, I think you were wrong. I think I do need a Watcher.”
Giles arrested his teacup in motion to his mouth, then resumed it. He reminded himself that she had no idea what she was asking for, and that therefore he could find a way to give it to her that did not involve that. Because he couldn’t. He couldn’t. He wanted to, but it made him— Giles wrenched himself away from thinking about it.
“Whaddya say? Be my Watcher?”
Giles made no immediate answer, waiting until he was sure he could keep his voice casual. “When’s the last time you trained seriously?”
Buffy’s mouth twitched. “Last time Wes made me. Before the whole Mayor thing.”
“Four months ago? Five months, maybe? That’s a long time to go with your skills slowly degrading.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“We’ll, we’ll train again. Hmm?”
Buffy looked doubtful. “Yeah, sure. But I don’t think it’s just that. It feels like something else.” She smacked a fist on the couch. “Ugh! I’m not finding the right words for this, Giles! This doesn’t feel right! You’re not… you’re not feeling right.”
“You, you don’t want me?” He controlled a flinch.
“I definitely want you as my Watcher.” Giles relaxed again. “Just that there’s something missing from this exchange.” She hit the couch again, this time hard enough to raise dust.
“I, I, I think you’ll find rehearsing the fundamentals will soon set you to rights. N-now, let’s get some sleep. You’ve got your morning classes, yes?”
Buffy allowed him to end the conversation and hand her a pile of blankets for the couch.
Giles didn’t sleep. What would happen if he told her? He ought to have told her. Ought to have confessed. What if she wanted to exercise her right as Slayer? What would he do? What she was missing was a Watcher. Her instincts were on target. But not a casual Watcher, not a Watcher who was a mere personal trainer cum translator. The Slayer was searching for a Watcher to claim. Would she settle for him? She didn’t know any better; if nobody told her she might. He watched his loft ceiling until the morning light touched it, listening for her as she moved in her sleep.
Giles fed Buffy as much breakfast as she would eat, which wasn’t much. She had a busy day planned, classes and a study group, but promised she’d be by shortly after dinner. They’d patrol together, and he’d evaluate her. Find the areas she most needed to work on.
He spent his afternoon scanning through A Field Guide to Demons and some of the terser surveys, looking for species with scaled skin and antlers. He found several candidates. He thought it wasn’t a Chaos Demon; he’d seen no slime. But it might be a Vargos, or a Cornutos, or even a Red-eyed Rockhopper. None of these species had innate resistance to blade weapons, which confirmed his suspicion that the effect that had destroyed his sword last night had been magical.
He did a quick pencil sketch of the demon from memory. At an earlier time, he would have labored over the sketch and rendered it fully in inks in his Watcher’s diary. But Giles wasn’t keeping a Watcher’s diary any more. He’d stopped the day after Buffy’s Cruciamentum. He hadn’t wanted to give the Council bastards a moment more of his labor than he was obligated to. Everything he’d done for Buffy since, he’d done out of his love for her, and not because the Watcher was bound to the Slayer.
He wondered how long his freedom would last. If Stamford found out that he was in fact free, and not bound, they’d act to replace him. Immediately. His violation of protocol at Cruciamentum was nothing compared to his violation in recent months. Would Buffy demand that he stay, or claim his replacement? It was all up to her. As everything was, in the end. Up to the whims of an eighteen-year-old woman who alternated between terrifying dedication to her calling and desperate avoidance. Who at the moment was in a dedication phase. Giles had no idea where that would lead, or how long it would last this time.
She wasn’t a child any more. He had to remember that. She had been an adult from the moment she’d passed Cruciamentum. She might yet turn out to be steady.
How could he tell her, though, now? After his dissembling last night? And yet he had to tell her something. Stamford would have to be put off, though Giles had no idea how. He had trapped himself. Good show, Rupert.
At six, Giles set aside his sketchbook and his notes on the shield. He searched out the leftovers from last night’s stew and heated them on his stove. While the pan bubbled he dug in his cabinet for a bottle of the Bonny Doon syrah Liv had deposited there on her visit. The first bottle had been delicious when they’d drunk it in bed. The second would go well enough with the stew, and might calm his nerves. He ate a quick dinner sitting at his counter, reading the ALA journal. With the Council’s paychecks arriving once more, his job search had been shelved. Couldn’t hurt to keep up, though.
Buffy was early, for once, unerringly choosing an occasion when he did not wish her to be. She was dressed for patrol, in dark clothes and harness boots. The professional Slayer. She moved into his flat as if she were its owner, not he, and settled herself on his couch. She pulled off the boots and tucked her feet up. She watched him, holding him on the spot without a single word. He stood in front of his hearth, hands in pockets, completely at a loss. Tea. He could make tea. And finish off the work on the sword that Stamford interrupted yesterday.
“Giles, we need to talk.”
Oh, to hell with tea and pretense. He refilled his wineglass, poured another, and joined Buffy on his couch. “Well, then. Talk.”
Buffy looked a little disconcerted to be given alcohol by the ever-cautious Giles. He saw her twitch in a tiny shrug, then drink a little. “Huh. Not bad. But you’re not distracting me, Giles. Willow told me something very interesting about last night.”
Damn, damn, damn. He maintained a blank exterior as far as he could manage. “Yes? About the demon?”
“No, about Wes Junior.” The lad had to be at least a decade older than Buffy.
“Oh?” Play stupid, just in case.
“Yeah. Willow said he said something about a claim bond thingie, when that demon grabbed me. Something about how you should know where I am.”
“Ah.” Giles finished his glass.
Buffy looked at him. “So Willow looked it up. In the Slayer Handbook.”
“Where did Willow get—”
“She stole it ages ago, from the library. Had this idea she would get me to read it.” Buffy drank some wine, then stared dreamily off into the corner. “I can see why. It has some interesting stuff in it. Like, I dunno, about how I can do this magical bond thing with a Watcher, and have him always know where I am and if I’m safe and stuff. Not that this sounds useful or anything.”
“I sat here last night and told you I was feeling a severe lack of something, and you said nothing. When were you going to tell me about this?” She leaned toward him and jabbed a finger at his chest. Giles flinched.
Here it came. He was not going to be able to escape this conversation any longer. He’d have to tell her, and hope she didn’t get any angrier than she was already. He felt a pit of uncertainty in his stomach. What was his life going to be like after tonight? She would send him away after this. What did they do with rejected Watchers? He recalled a man, a sad man, sitting in a back office in the Council headquarters, who translated a bit of Etruscan for him once. His future, now, a back office.
He gathered himself, and did his duty.
“Did you read the handbook?”
Buffy hesitated. “No. Willow summarized it.”
“Do you understand all the implications? The responsibilities? What it means for the Watcher?”
“No. I guess you’re going to tell me.” A flash of assertive anger in her voice again, there. The Slayer, being what she was.
“No. I’m going to make you read the description in the Watcher’s handbook.” He went to his desk and unlocked the deep side drawer. He pulled out his copy of the handbook. Battered, the leather cover bloodstained from an incident his father had lived through. A Giles family heirloom. He found the page and handed it to Buffy. He took the opportunity to refill her glass and his. He left the wine bottle on the coffee table and sat in his armchair. He watched her carefully as she read. Her expressions ran from intrigued, to excited, back down to cool interest. She turned the page back, re-read something, then let the book fall closed.
“Okay. Listen to college-girl summarize! It’s a great honor for you. You’re not supposed to be acting as my Watcher without it. It makes you aware of all my needs and my physical state, which lets you be mega-effective. It sounds kinda neat, with the tattooing and stuff. It keeps me alive. It’s tradition. You’re big into tradition.”
Giles laughed, a single bitter sound that he choked off. “Yes. This is quite a tradition. Not very civilized, but then you’re not civilized. You’re a Slayer.”
He sprang to his feet and paced to the hearth and back. She had to be made to understand her responsibilities. This would likely be the last service he provided her, this explanation. “Did you understand what you read? That business about binding a Watcher is not just talk. You trigger the magic, and the Watcher becomes your servant. You say jump, he jumps. Without bothering to ask how high, because he’ll just know. Whether you give a damn about him or not. Whether you deserve him or not.” He snarled out those last words, unable to restrain his bitterness.
Buffy heard it, of course, and tilted her head. “I don’t get it. Explain it to me, Giles.”
“Magical binding. The Watcher becomes what you need of him. He’s a, a tool in your hand. He knows your will, and your wishes, and your feelings. It was common, once, centuries ago. Nowadays, civilized people shudder at the idea. Except the Watchers. We do it to our children.”
He laughed again. “Children. They did it to me when I was ten. The moment they shipped me off to the Council prep school. Part of the induction ceremony. They bound us, branded us, and prepped us for slavery. Had no idea what was going on. They took us and broke us to harness. Now all you have to do is say the words, and you claim a willing slave.”
Giles collapsed onto the couch next to her. He picked up his glass and emptied it again. Scared witless, he’d been, though anger had carried him through it. He’d been angry even then at the disruption to his boyish plans, at the bizarre new life he’d been dropped into. Pomp, circumstance, ritual, incense smoking, candles dancing in arcane breezes, and a handful of trembling naked boys and girls bound one by one in the pentagram and anointed with oil and ash and their own blood and chanted over until they were owned by something they had no hope of understanding. And then branded, screaming, with the Watcher’s sigils. Deep triggers, embedded in their minds and souls. Deep magicks that would shape them and mold them and twist them until they were what a Slayer needed, lurking until that lucky day when they would be chosen, and the triggers fired and the trap closed. By all means, they must pass along their traditions, generation to generation.
Giles fingered the place, high on his right arm, where they’d marked him and bound the magic in. He stripped off his sweater, then his henley, and lifted the sleeve of his t-shirt to show her.
“Algiz. Gebo. The Watcher’s runes. Protection and self-sacrifice. There since I was ten. For all of us. Wesley had them. Whoever you choose to claim will have this mark as well.”
Buffy ran her fingers over the blurry scars, and over the knife cut scored across them. Giles shuddered. “I thought you were… speaking metaphorically or something.”
“For years we all thought it was just an induction ritual. Just hazing. When I turned twenty-one, before I took my final oath, they told me the truth. Told me what we’d been groomed for. Most of them didn’t know what it meant. I’d been doing extracurricular reading. I knew I’d seen spells like that before, and I knew what it meant. The next day I was in London, pissed in a bar with the best mate I’d met half an hour before, in the magic shop where I pawned my sword. That worked out well.”
He’d yielded to the tradition, in the end. There was the irony. He’d finally understood it. Finally grasped why the Slayer deserved it. He’d been willing, then had his chance ripped away.
“Ah,” said Buffy. Then, tilting her head, “Did you ever get your sword back?”
He sighed, though he knew it was Buffy’s way of comforting him. “Yes. Eventually. Eventually I went back, as you know. Willing to serve. Sadder but wiser, as the saying goes.”
She touched the scarring on his arm again, exploring it. He held himself as still as he could. He wanted to flinch away. Her fingers were oddly hot against his skin.
“It looks like somebody tried to wipe out the brand. Did you do that, when you ran off?”
“No,” said Giles. Speaking was much harder than he’d thought it would be. “That happened quite… recently.”
He drained his wineglass again.
“So. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You wouldn’t listen. You refused to read the book.”
“No, I meant last night. You knew I was willing last night.”
Giles was at a loss about how to answer. He was sweating. His hands were shaking.
“What the hell is going on?”
“I’ve… enjoyed working with you, Buffy. Things haven’t been right between us, I know, but you’re everything I might have hoped for. You’re the finest Slayer we’ve seen in decades. The Watcher you choose will be a… a lucky man.”
“Wait. We’re going to do this, right? You and me?”
“I can’t.” He looked longingly at the bottle. There wasn’t enough wine in the house to get him through this.
“Okay, Giles. You’re freaked out, and you’re starting to freak me out. Why not?”
Buffy tightened her grip on his arm. She had an intent look of utter incomprehension he’d seen on her before. The clues had been staring in her in the face. She had her hand on them right now, on the knife cuts scored across his arm. She’d never asked him what had happened. Never mentioned it to him. He’d spent days coaxing her version of that night out of her, but she’d never once asked any of the rest of them what it had been like.
Giles decided not to spare her.
“It was your demon lover.”
“My demon… Angel?”
“Yes, Angelus. The scourge of Europe. The vampire who spent a night torturing me for pleasure. The demon you didn’t bother to tell me had returned.”
“Giles, I apologized for that—”
“No, you fucking well never apologized, Buffy!”
“Be quiet. Be quiet and listen. I will only say this once.”
Before he could lose his nerve he turned his back, pulled off his t-shirt, and exposed his shame to her. She made a little sound.
“The ritual is difficult for the Watcher,” he said, quietly, trying to choke down the fury. “It’s meant to be a trial. Something to endure. Well, I bloody well endured it. Angelus knew all the words. He knew what the brand on my arm meant. He knew the drugs they give us to make us vulnerable. The things the Slayer is supposed to say. He did it all. He knew more about it than I did. Told me it was sealed with blood and pain and sex. He cut his mark into me and made me scream. He raped me. He told me he’d ruined me and you’d never get near me. That’s how to break a Watcher.”
He felt her hot hands on his back. They came to rest on his right shoulder blade. “This is his, his, uh—”
“Angelus’ gryphon. Surely you read the history. From the Book of Kells. He drained the artist who did it for him. Flayed him and preserved his skin. Surely you knew the story. No?”
“No,” she said, very quietly. Ignorant. Ignorant and thoughtless. Even after the disaster, she didn’t bother to learn. But whose fault was that? He could have told her. Giles had failed her, far more seriously than a seventeen-year-old had failed him.
But she didn’t lift her hands from his back. They moved, tracing the faint lines he knew ran from his left shoulder to his waist.
“Those were the whip,” he said. “Xander spent a lot of time rubbing vitamin E into them. Paid off. The knife marks, the, the knife marks… those were harder. Too much skin removed.” He’d screamed. And struggled so violently he’d thought the ropes would cut through his wrists. Angelus had giggled in his ear, called him “lover”, and licked the knife before resuming.
“How could you ever forgive me?” He heard her sniffle. Crying. Unsurprising. Giles sighed. He wished for a moment that he hadn’t told her, had let her remain happy and ignorant. But that was the wrong path in the end. The Slayer needed to grow up.
“Because you were a seventeen year old girl. Because in the end you did what you had to, and you sent him to Hell. Because I am your sworn Watcher and I forgive you everything.” Because he was the one who had failed. He’d been broken.
Her hands were moving on his back, running over the lines of his scars, over and over. She’d never really touched him before. The odd hug through layers of clothing. Certainly never skin to skin, like this, her fingers on his bare back. Like molten metal on his flesh, his Slayer’s hands. Giles shuddered.
Her hands rested on his shoulders. “Did he really ruin you or did he say that to screw with your head?”
“I have no idea. It doesn’t matter. I can’t do it. I can’t hear those words again, or be bound again. The very idea makes me…” Giles put his head down between his knees and breathed. Slow and deep. He’d learned a great deal about panic attacks that summer. Xander had taken to carrying a paper bag, just in case Giles hyperventilated again. He sat up again. Buffy was rubbing her nose.
“Giles… God. I want you. You’re the one. We’ve been through all this stuff together. I trust you. You’re my Watcher, not anybody else. If you can’t…”
“You could choose someone else. You could have your pick of any of them. It’s a great honor.” He was utterly unable to control his voice, and the words came out rough and raw.
“You sound… would you be okay with that?”
“No.” The word came out in a whisper.
He sought refuge in a clinical explanation. “There’s… it’s a competition, among us. More. We’re compelled to seek the binding, Buffy. There was a ritual, just before they sent me to you. Magic and drugs combined, when I swore my oath to you specifically. It make me more vulnerable to it. With you. I’m drawn to you. Compelled to seek your approval. Wesley went through it as well. Whichever one of us you rejected would be devastated. As Wesley is now.”
“Suicide watch. Council therapists. Back in England. Stamford says he’s getting better.”
“My God, Giles. This is… It’s nuts. What the hell is all this stuff?”
“It’s to serve you. As you read. You need a helpmate. You need a bonded servant. We are here for you to claim. It’s what a Watcher is, Buffy. It’s what we’re made into, for the Slayer. For you.”
Buffy’s hands returned to his right shoulder. Giles tried not to tremble. It was his Slayer touching him, not the vampire. “What you are,” she said, to herself.
“When it came to it, Buffy, I couldn’t bring myself to tell you. My shame… God. And then they fired me, and there seemed no point. You wouldn’t be choosing me anyway. Damned if I was going to tell you how to claim that whelp Pryce.”
Buffy’s hands gripped his shoulders. “I want you. If you can’t do it, I’ll go without. None of those others deserve it the way you do.”
“Oh, God, Buffy…” She wanted him. She wanted him. Something flooded through him. The magic, perhaps. Or simple relief. The catch in his throat eased. Why? Why was it so easy for her? One simple phrase from her and it was as if nothing had ever happened, as if she’d never betrayed him with that monster.
She hung onto his shoulders still, holding him up. “Does this Council guy know all this?”
“God, no. None of it. I told no one what Angelus truly did to me. Xander knows about the marks on my back, but he doesn’t know what they mean. Stamford thinks you’ve already claimed me.”
“What would happen if we told him?”
“They’d send you another hopeful tweedy bastard who’s yet to figure out which end of the stake is the pointy one. You’d be expected to claim him.”
Buffy laughed with him, but there was a bitter edge to Giles’ voice. It would break Giles’ heart. As Wesley’s had been broken. She had no idea.
“We’re not telling him.” Buffy, decisively. “We’re going to keep going the way we have. The Council can bite me. I quit because I don’t trust them. Their rules… screw ‘em. I trust you. Okay?”
Giles blew out a breath. “Yes.”
“We train. Like we did before. You kick my ass, throw knives at me, tell me what I need to work on. Keep me focused.Ò
“Yeah. You and me.”
It wasn’t as good as a bonded Watcher would be for her, but it was better than what they’d been doing. And he agreed with Buffy. He couldn’t trust anybody else they sent. This was their pact: Giles and Buffy contra mundi, as always. Perhaps it would work out. He’d worked together with Buffy well enough before Cruciamentum. This on-again off-again closeness with her was painful, but perhaps it would be enough.
She rubbed his arm absently, then pulled him down so his head was in her lap. She continued stroking his back, tracing her fingers along his scars. Giles sighed. The magic stirred inside him, always lurking, telling him that the Slayer’s touch was good. The Slayer’s scent was a drug. The Slayer’s arms were his home. He was agreeable. Whatever she wanted. Just so long as he so was part of it.
The sound of a throat clearing. Buffy jumped, and was in motion, threat response mode. She arrested herself, gracefully, and moved past Stamford, who was standing at Giles’ hearth, looking satisfied about something. The man had been watching them, had seen his bare back. “Pardon me,” he said, “but your door was unlocked. And it was your scheduled time for patrol.”
Giles considered an angry response, but stifled it. Instead he stretched elaborately, schooling his body to display indifference to Stamford’s presence. He pulled the t-shirt back on, and then the henley. Methodically restoring his armor.
“Right, then. Shall we?” He turned to Buffy.
“You’re sitting this one out,” she said, with an apologetic note in her voice. She looked at the nearly-empty bottle of wine, then at him. He considered his intake, then nodded to her.
“Tomorrow afternoon? Three?” Though any time she wanted to show up was fine.
She hugged him before she left, one long Slayer-tight clinch that left him breathless but comforted. He watched her bounce out his door and up the patio steps, Stamford and his clipboard in tow. He picked up the wine bottle and tipped it up. Two good swallows left. Not nearly enough.
Giles fell back onto his couch, bottle still in hand. He’d slept on this couch for months after Angelus had left his little present in the bed upstairs. He’d had to return to sleeping on the bed after his night in the mansion. Face-down. He’d taken the anti-anxiety drugs, the sleeping pills, the painkillers. At the end of a month he’d gone through hell weaning himself off them all again. He’d substituted a drink problem for the pills problem, for a few weeks, until Xander’s worry had moved him to control that as well.
He’d had to throw out his flick knife, because Angelus had used one. Had showed it to him, and slid it all over Giles’ bare chest, repeated the Slayer’s half of the ritual while scratching delicately at Giles’ throat with it. Giles still resented having to get rid of the knife. Easier to be angry about that, sometimes, than it was to think about how angry he should be for the waste of a lifetime of training and preparation. For the waste of that little boy’s ambitions.
At least his Slayer still cared for him. She’d hugged him. Giles fell asleep on the couch, all the lights still on.
Continued in part 2.