coffee

FIC: Tradition & Protocol, 1. Initiation, 2/4

Title: Tradition and Protocol 1: Initiation 2/4
Author: Antennapedia
Pairings: Giles/Olivia, Giles/Buffy (eventually)
Rating: FRAO
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.
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership and am making no money.

Continued from part 1.

The next afternoon Giles worked on another steel sword, an inferior and rather battered item he’d had Buffy use early in her training. He hadn’t minded so much when she smashed it on headstones in sloppy fights. There was likely nothing he could do to put a fine edge on it, but he could at least bring it up to usefulness. It would do in a pinch. He locked it into the vise on his desk and began work with the whetstone.

Somebody knocked on his door and opened it. Giles looked up, expecting Xander or Willow. It was Buffy, though, an hour early.

“Is apocalypse threatening?”

“Huh? Uh, no. I stopped by to tell you that I’m gonna be a little late. Got a thing at two-thirty, and I don’t think I can make it back here in time.”

“Could you use a lift? This can keep.” He gestured toward the sword.

Buffy laughed. “Thanks, sure. This’ll be an eye-opener for you. I have an appointment to get another thing in my ear.” She pointed to her left ear.

“Oh! I hadn’t realized one needed appointments for such things. Will you be up for training afterward?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Slayer healing, Giles.” Right.

She had him drive them to a building on Sunnydale’s main road, a short way out of downtown. Just another little pop-up box sitting in a strip of shops. Neatly painted, attractive sign. Bodymagick, it read. Piercing, tattooing. “Plus they do branding and other stuff,” Buffy told him. He hadn’t needed to hear that.

He got out of the car and walked in with her. The shop was bright and cheery, so Californian. He had expected something darker. A dank dungeon populated by sullen people in leather. This was anything but. A pair of college students, clinging to each other and browsing the book rack. Clean glass counters, showing off bright jewelry. Racks with condoms and other sexual supplies. A corner with some fashionable fetish gear. Photographs of smiling people with tattoos. Framed certificates and licenses. Private curtained alcoves in the back.

“Buffy!” This from a compact, muscled young man, coming from the back of the shop. Buffy ran forward and hugged him. His shaggy hair was bleached as blond as hers.

“Coyote, I want you to meet Giles. He’s gonna watch me get the new hole.”

Giles shook his hand, covertly scanning the metal in the man’s face: eyebrows, nose, lip. It suited him, oddly. Made him look handsome. He otherwise looked like a surfer. Giles saw a talisman around his neck, a flat stone with a carving granting skill to its wearer. A magic-aware surfer. Only in Sunnydale.

Coyote seemed to be ready for them. He ushered Buffy back to sit in a chair in a cubicle. Buffy took Giles’ hand and tugged him along with her.

Giles could imagine Faith sitting here, waiting to have a ring put in her ear. Faith had had tattoos. She’d showed them to him one night, early, long before she’d become alienated from the group. When Giles had still been able to talk to her. How she’d gotten them at the age of seventeen, he hadn’t asked. She’d been proud of them and had plans for many more. When she could afford them, she’d said. He hadn’t often considered Buffy as being like Faith any way, but in this she was. They were both Slayers, and Slayers were obsessed with marks upon the body. No doubt it was the topic of some of those monographs from Stamford’s group, the ones Watchers weren’t allowed to read. But it was obvious from the Watcher diaries anyway. Why, he could only speculate. Perhaps it was because their battle scars vanished so quickly. No trace of their hard lives remained. Perhaps they wanted something to show, the skin to match the heart.

What the Council had been about not assigning Faith her own Watcher, Giles couldn’t guess. Maybe they’d been hoping he’d attach himself to Faith and not to Buffy. Little hope of that. Buffy had owned him almost from the start. Faith had gotten second-best from him. How much had that contributed to her defection?

The shaggy surfer had finished his preparation, and was leaning over Buffy with a needle. Giles heard a pop, a soft crunch. He felt faint, even though it had nothing to do with him. Buffy made a sound. Her eyes were hooded, and her face serene. Endorphin rush, likely. Runner’s high. Coyote did something with her ear, then stepped back and made a satisfied sound.

“There!” He handed Buffy a mirror. Buffy looked at her ear and grinned.

“Awesome!”

“You know the drill, but here’s a pamphlet anyway. You heal so fast…”

Back at his flat with her, Giles cleared aside the coffee table and the Turkey carpet. Barely enough space for sparring, but most likely he could get across the techniques he wished to. He hadn’t worked with Buffy on hand-to-hand since… dear Lord, the last time had been in the library. The last time they trained. It had been six months. How had he allowed this to come to pass? Perhaps because it was no longer up to him, and Buffy had no incentive.

They started with stretching. He guided her through what had been their usual warmups. He made conversation. “How is your ear?”

“Oh, fine. It’ll hurt like a mother— uh, a lot, uh, for a few hours. Cartilage.”

“What was the name the fellow used for it?”

“Conch.”

“Oh. May I ask, er, why?”

Buffy gave him a careful look over the arm she held crosswise under her chin. “Are you going to make gross noises?”

“No,” he said, honestly. “I’d like to know. It’s unusual, and I hadn’t known you to be interested in it before.”

“I wasn’t eighteen before,” she said. “Mom always refused. She had a fit when I talked the mall place into doing a second set of regular holes. Now I can.”

“You like the way it looks?”

Buffy nodded, then gracefully bent to place her hands flat on the floor. “And the way it feels when I get them. Kind of addicting. Good pain.”

Ah. Giles had suspected that when he’d seen her face earlier. Also common with Slayers. Not that the Council warned them of this, or favored him with monographs about it. As with so many things, it was left for him to deduce from the Watcher diaries.

They finished stretching.

“Right, then. Let’s do the Taikyoku katas. Review basic form.” They faced each other and began moving together. Giles sighed, and sank into the pleasure of working with her. She took cues from him. They could do this without speaking, if they wished. Giles felt an urge to take advantage of her good mood, however. To draw her out.

“How was patrol?”

“Okay. Nothing special, few newbies. Stamford didn’t shut up the whole time.”

Giles stepped behind Buffy and adjusted her arm position slightly. She repeated the strike they’d been practicing, in extreme slow motion.

“What was he on about?”

“A million questions. He wanted to know why I didn’t live with you.” Buffy wrinkled her nose. “What the design on your back was. Why you hadn’t sent any reports. He said we were ‘unusual’. I told him to can the criticism until he’d staked something all on his own.”

Giles made a thoughtful noise. He stepped back and watched her moving. Decent form. By no means excellent. She’d been better, before the spring.

“Has he asked you for details about the claim ritual?”

“Not really.”

“Hmm. They like to catalog them, I think, though they don’t let us read about them. If he does, you can put him off. Tell him he’ll get the details when he reads my Watcher’s diary. It’s your right to keep it private if you wish.”

“Yeah, okay. Anything else I should do to fool him?”

“Just… get along with me. Be affectionate. Act as if I know what’s going on with you. And by the way, it would help my act if I knew.”

“Nothing much to know. Uh, my first two weeks of classes were horrible. My psych prof is a bitch but I kinda like her. The psych TA is cute. I am liking my lit class. Oh, and there’s this guy.”

“Sandan. Yoi.” Buffy gracefully shifted to a ready stance. “Begin. A boy?”

“Yeah. Parker. Really cute. I think he’s interested in me. Willow says he’s gotta be. I’m supposed to see him tonight at a party. He kinda asked me.”

“That’s wonderful.” Giles couldn’t bring himself to enthuse any further. It was good she’d moved on from Angel, he supposed. No telling yet whether this Parker was another in the string of pretty but weak boys Buffy would date for a short time and then be abandoned by, or whether he was strong enough to stick with her. Giles had an idea of what Buffy needed in a lover, which seemed to be quite different from what she wanted. Some day she would find a fellow warrior, and then he’d crawl home for a long session with the Council therapists. In the meantime…

“Shoulder!” he said.

“Crap,” said Buffy.

They began again.

Giles fed her an early dinner. She didn’t eat much, and didn’t loiter afterwards. She needed to shower and change for the party, she told him. For this young man she was meeting there. Buffy had a gleam in her eye. He’d seen that gleam before, when he himself was at university, and had always been happy to recognize it on the faces of his girlfriends. He hoped the young man would be properly appreciative.

Giles watched her off, strangely gloomy after what had been by all measures a wonderful afternoon. What was it that he wanted from her? He had everything he could possibly hope for. He needed to let go longing for the bond. It troubled him, though. He spent his evening reading through Watcher diaries, searching for some sign that other Watchers had felt as he did now, so worried and torn. He became distracted by a tale of derring-do against demons unleashed in Nazi Germany, and fell asleep on his couch.

Willow and Oz, and a little later, Xander, came by for dinner and magic the next evening. Giles had spent the day in research. Stamford had been there from the mid-afternoon on, alternately hovering over Giles’ shoulder and seemingly fascinated by Giles’ library. Since most of it was still in boxes, Giles felt the man could not properly appreciate it. Not that he would be impressed anyway, since presumably he spent most of his days at Council headquarters, near their spectacular collection. Willow’s arrival took some pressure off Giles to entertain Stamford, as the young man switched all his attentions to her. Giles took advantage of the furlough to cook. Xander hovered in the kitchen with him, alternating between helping him and getting underfoot.

“Had another job interview today,” he told Giles.

“What for?”

“Night cook at a donut shop. Graveyard shift. On the plus side, won’t interfere with patrol. Aaaaand of course, a never-ending supply of jelly donuts.”

“How, uh, how did you do?”

“I was warm, breathing, and in possession of more than two neurons, which put me one up over the other candidates I saw. I don’t think the manager liked it when I joked about cops, though.”

“Could you chop this? Bite-sized chunks, please. When will you hear?”

“Tomorrow, I guess.”

Giles sighed, and looked at the gangly young man awkwardly slicing red peppers at his counter. Buffy was the only person he knew whom he would count as braver. Xander went out every night with no supernatural abilities, no magical skills, little training. Just himself. The boy deserved a better career than a series of minimum-wage jobs. A better life. Giles had no idea how to help. Perhaps he should start thinking about it seriously.

He measured out rice while Xander chopped, mulling it over. It kept his mind off the missing Buffy, at least.

Later, while they ate his vegetable stirfry, Giles explained his plans for the demon to the group. He’d found a spell designed to shear through shields. It could be used to enchant objects, such as weapons, that could then be used to unknit the threads of defensive magic. He suggested they try it on his steel broadsword.

“And the Slayer?” said Stamford.

“What about Buffy?”

“Will she not take part in this?”

“Buffy is not so interested in the magicks,” said Willow.

“Or in the research,” said Oz, rolling his eyes.

“I see,” said Stamford.

“But she does like to be around for the killin’,” said Xander.

Still. It would have been better if Buffy had been there, to look the part of his Slayer. Or to participate at all. He pulled Willow aside in the kitchen, over dishwashing, to ask where she was. Willow said something about coursework, but wouldn’t meet his eyes. Giles knew what that meant. She was up to something she didn’t want Giles to know about. Probably that boy. He sighed, and shook his head at Willow. “You’re an even worse liar than she is, you know. Shall I describe how I reached my conclusion?”

“No need, Holmes.” Willow looked over at the kitchen passthrough, toward the other three on his couch. “She, uh, slept with a guy last night. And I think she feels guilty about it so she slept with him again this afternoon. Which is kinda weird, for Buffy. Not that she sleeps with a lot of guys, ‘cause this was only her second, which you probably know already unless you maybe think this is way too much information?”

Giles untangled that, then seized the important thread. “Guilty?”

“One night standy.”

“Times like this I believe in the generation gap. What on earth is university for, anyway?” His mouth said this, but his heart was far more confused.

“Whoaoah,” said Willow. She handed him a dish to dry. “Do I wanna know?”

“Probably not.” Giles gave her a shy smile. They didn’t usually think of each other as sexual beings, he and the other Scoobies. In particular he didn’t like to think of Willow that way at all, though he knew that she and Oz were lovers. He ended up knowing about all of them; he’d known when each of them had lost his or her virginity. With Buffy and Xander, it had been Slayer business, and he’d recorded it. Which meant Stamford knew. Best not to tell them that.

What was worse? The thought of his Slayer wasting herself on yet another callow youth who’d break up with her right before some important dance? Or the thought of his Slayer with that youth instead of here, with him, preparing for battle? Giles got hold of himself. There would always be battle to prepare for. It wasn’t strictly necessary that Buffy be with them just now. Let his Slayer enjoy herself while she could.

The thought of her enjoying herself, last night with the Parker boy. And again this afternoon. And maybe even now— Dammit, this was not what her Watcher should be thinking about. Concentrate on dreary things. On the content of the paper the boy must be writing. The dismal performance of his Slayer on that first outing.

After dinner they moved aside his coffee table and rolled back the Turkey carpet to expose the floor. Giles scraped candle wax from the corner of the hearth from the last working he’d done, then set out the correct pillar candles for this working. Willow loved the rites with the most paraphernalia, candles and incense and chalk circles and bowls of burning herbs and oil to anoint the head. This enchantment was simple, as enchantments went. Two candles, a crystal to focus, and sheer magical power. Power Willow had in abundance. Giles was happy to sit back and guide the proceedings. If they did this right, his sword would be permanently enchanted. Even if this were not effective against this demon, it would be useful. Magic weaponry usually was.

The four sat around the sword with hands joined, chanting in soft polyphony while Willow channeled power into the crystal set on the sword blade. Giles’ skin tingled, and magic coursed through his blood. Such a wonderful feeling when it was going right, a feeling of being in tune with the universe and with the beings around him.

The chant had begun to ring on its own, vibrating through the crystal. Giles concentrated on the channeling the power, on keeping Willow grounded, and his part of the chant cycling around. The crystal began glowing softly in a lovely shade of blue. Then it hummed in some frequency Giles heard not with his ears but with his magic senses, and dissolved with a sound like raindrops on a windowpane. The blade glowed blue for a moment. All was still as the three fell silent and Willow released them. Giles waited for Willow to test the success of her spell. She held her hand over the blade and grinned at him. He touched the metal, gently, and felt the distant thrill of potency. He returned her grin.

Stamford, as usual, hovered just behind them, watching the proceedings but not involving himself in any way. No doubt taking notes on Giles’ technique.

The door banged open. Buffy breezed in. She looked more casual than she had been the last few nights, more the frivolous party girl than the Slayer. She wore pink and pale green and lace and impractical shoes. She had dangling things in her ears instead of the neat steel loops she’d had in before. She burbled at Xander and Oz. Giles turned away from her. This wasn’t his Slayer. This was a girl dressed to please another man, not to please herself. Where the hell had that thought come from? Giles stood aside, glowering at his boots, while Willow plunged into a rapid-fire barely intelligible rave about the casting and showed Buffy the sword.

He caught Stamford tucking his notebook back into his breast pocket. Was jealousy a bad sign? Was he not supposed to feel it? Was a bonded Watcher free of such issues? Giles busied himself with those worries while he sheathed his now-magic sword and bundled crossbow bolts into his jacket pocket.

The patrol went wrong almost immediately, in part because the demon showed up almost immediately. With a companion, and dragging a struggling human behind it. It was there, and it saw them before they saw it, and the battle was joined even as Giles drew breath to shout. The demon had laid Xander out cold before he had time to unsheathe his sword.

“Slayer! You cannot harm me.” it shouted, in Latin. Giles stumbled a moment in sheer surprise.

Buffy was already in motion, already punching her stake with perfect form, feet planted. The stake was aimed true, right at the demon’s chest. Impact! It splintered and shrieked against its plated skin. Buffy grunted and staggered and vomited. Definitely a magical shield, then, with a typical backlash component. She was on her feet, though, recovering more quickly than he had. He had to get the enchanted weapon to her. Giles drew the sword and waited for an opportunity to toss it to her. He caught her eye, tossed it hilt-first, a move they’d practiced a hundred times. And she missed it. Missed it. She had already spun away, to execute a flying kick. The sword went past the place where she had been and tumbled across the grass. Shit shit shit.

Giles ran after his sword. Couldn’t afford to let… that happen. The second demon had it. Same species, smaller individual, slightly different antler structure. Given the mottling on the head, definitely Cornutos. He noted this mechanically, with the Watcher part of his brain, while he backpedaled. He scanned the situation. Buffy in combat with the big one, spiked club versus unarmed Slayer. Xander on the ground, Willow bending over him, Stamford somewhere. Hiding, he hoped to God. The little demon with the sword closing in. Pear-shaped. Entirely bloody pear-shaped.

Buffy was down. Giles stopped thinking and scrambled toward her, screaming a challenge. He got himself between the demon and Buffy, and flung his arms up reflexively. The handle of the club caught him in the face anyway. He staggered and recovered. Buffy was up. If he could—

The club descended again. Pain exploded in his arm, then he felt a ripping tug as the demon jerked the club free. Giles fell forward, right arm curled against his chest, then pushed himself up and away. Blood under his fingers, welling up from a rip just below the elbow. A sun-bright light shone out at that moment, from somewhere behind Giles. Something fizzed and spat from the same direction. Willow? Yes, Willow, casting Nikola’s Fire. Short duration, but the demons probably wouldn’t know that. They shrieked under the assault of the sun’s borrowed light. The smaller one dropped the sword. They turned and fled. Buffy picked up the sword. The light died. Giles fell to his knees next to Xander. He pressed his hand harder to the hole in his arm.

“Buffy?”

“S’okay, Giles. She’s fine.” Oz, at his side with the emergency first aid kit and a wad of gauze.

“Xan?”

“Buff’s got him. Hold this tight. Keep it elevated. Shoulder level. Good.”

Oz taped a temporary bandage into place. Blood loss stemmed. Toxins, who knew. Let the hospital deal with them. Giles wasn’t feeling it yet, the pain still distant behind the emergency rush. Oz hitched his shoulder under Giles’, and the two of them moved slowly to where Stamford had stopped the SUV. He’d driven right across the cemetery grass, Giles noted. Boy had less respect for protocol than he’d expected. And he drove the SUV with surprising skill and speed, tearing across town to Sunnydale General by the most efficient route.

Giles and Xander joined the long list of mugging victims whose crimes would remain forever unsolved. The police department’s record must look horrible to outsiders. Giles distracted himself from the intern cleaning out the ragged wound in his right forearm by contemplating exactly how bad that record must be. Dammit. The anesthetic was never quite enough. He could still tell what the clumsy bastard was doing to his arm. He must have made a noise, because he felt a rush of cold from the IV, and the painkiller blanket got deeper and warmer. Time rippled. Doctors, now, one wielding a needle in his flesh. Giles watched from a pleasant, uncaring distance. An hour later, with his arm stitched and bandaged, he was coherent again, though they refused to let him out of the wheelchair or take the IV out. Eventually he annoyed them enough that they let him sign release forms and stagger out without spending the rest of the night under observation.

He emerged with his arm in a sling to find Buffy fending off a nurse while Stamford looked on in amusement. She had a black eye to match Giles’, and other facial bruising that looked remarkably bad and probably stung like the devil. Giles, even with the morphine warmth still glowing, felt little sympathy for Buffy and the imprint of demon knuckles in her cheek. Her face would be nearly perfect again by this time tomorrow. Unlike his. He couldn’t feel it at the moment, but he’d have a spectacular shiner by morning.

Giles tumbled into rather than sat down in the chair between Buffy and Stamford. “And another stamp on my Sunnydale General loyalty card,” he said. “Two more injuries and I get a free broken limb.”

Stamford was busy taking notes on his clipboard, and wasn’t paying attention.

“Where’s Xander?” Giles asked, almost cheerfully.

“Still waiting for x-rays to come back,” said Buffy. “They’re worried about concussion. Which he probably doesn’t have. Oz took Willow home. Any prescriptions to fill?”

“The usual,” said Giles, waving the slips. “Painkillers I won’t take, and an antibiotic that I will. They wanted me for the rest of the night for observation. I told them to bugger themselves.” Buffy snatched the scripts and disappeared down the hall to the hospital pharmacy.

“How… how often does this happen?” Stamford asked, peering after her.

“You’ve read my bloody diaries,” Giles said. His head spun. “Fuck. Another cock-up. S’better than this usually. She’s good Slayer. Not just saying that, either.”

Stamford flipped up some papers on the clipboard. “Hmm. You seemed to be unaware of your Slayer’s needs in that fight. And in the first night I observed. Given Mr Wyndam-Pryce’s descriptions of your relationship, I would have expected an intense claim bond between you two. If I may ask, what did the Slayer choose for you? That pattern of scarring on your back, was that it?”

“No, you may bloody well not ask,” Giles said, flaring up and out of his seat. The bastard had spied on his back. “S’my right to keep it private until you get my diaries.” And then he wouldn’t care if they found out they hadn’t done it, because Buffy would be dead and he would likely not give a damn about anything. He collapsed again.

Stamford seemed surprised. “Most Watchers have been quite proud of their marks,” he said, twisting in his seat to face Giles fully. He seemed about to say more, but Xander appeared from his exam room just then, with a bandage on his forehead. He moved toward them stiffly. Giles reached up to lay a hand on Xander’s shoulder.

“You all right, my boy?”

“My head is nearly as hard as yours, Giles. Or so they tell me. All I got is a scrape and a juicy bruise and a very stern warning about being out this late at night. How about you?”

Giles indicated his sling. “No swordfighting any time soon.”

Stamford drove them home, once again fast on the dead streets. He dropped Xander at his parents’ house, then headed to Giles’ flat. He then vanished in his own car with a brief word of goodnight.

“Jeez,” said Buffy. “I was planning on staying the night to keep an eye on you, but he could at least have asked.” She coaxed Giles upstairs and into bed with minimal fuss. He was still numb, but now exhausted from the hour and the blood loss. And the stress. The fight had frightened him. They had performed poorly, as a fighting unit. Distracted, off-balance, unskilled, out of sync with each other. Was it he or was it she?

“Buffy?”

She paused at the head of his loft stairs. “Yeah?”

“Something wrong?”

“No, absolutely not. Everything is peachy-keen in the land of the Slayer. Hunky dory. Cool. I’m sorry I missed the sword-toss, Giles. Really really should have caught that.”

“Did you sleep with tha’ boy, whasisname?”

Buffy took a couple of steps back to him. “Yeah. Kinda surprised to hear you ask.”

“Did you like it?” He struggled to get the words out without slurring too badly. He’d be asleep in moments.

“It was okay.” Buffy shrugged. “Good in some ways, blah in others. Why are you asking me this stuff? You never talk about sex.”

“Need man who can give you what you want.” Giles yawned, and dropped away.

Giles lay back in his armchair, injured arm elevated across his chest, hand resting on the opposite shoulder. At least it was his right arm. Twelve stitches, five inside, seven out. Another scar to add to the collection. Buffy clattered around in his kitchen. He winced at the sound of a pan hitting the floor. Lord save him from guilty Slayers. She’d forced him to take another pain pill, so he was further forced to sit and listen to her make him lunch. He was high, his arm was numb, and Buffy was in the flat. He could live with that. If she didn’t break anything.

Willow had appeared shortly after Buffy had, trailing Stamford behind her, with a plastic container of cookies. She brought him one. The Vicodin had killed his appetite, but he nibbled to please her. And told her that her quick thinking last night had saved lives. She blushed.

“I think there’s a portable version of that spell,” she said, brows coming together. “Might help in emergencies, until we can figure out how to hurt that thing.”

“Bound into a crystal, I believe,” he said. “Book in the bottom left of that shelf. Ladders, Coils, and Fundamental Frequencies.”

“Tesla? Tesla wrote books on magic?”

“You must have learned the spell from a secondary source, then. Willow, if you borrow that book, please be careful with it. Tesla, um, Tesla enjoyed attempting to knock buildings down.”

Willow stuck her tongue out. “As if,” she said.

He glowered at her for a moment anyway. Carelessness was what did Willow’s spells in, carelessness with small things that were harmless until you got the order of ingredients wrong. Or the quantities. He shifted the topic. “We didn’t get to test the counter-enchantment on the sword last night. It might have worked.”

“Maybe I could do it on another weapon or something.”

Giles made a noncommittal noise. One sword would be enough, if Buffy used it. “How is Xander?”

“Xander is home feeling sorry for himself. And he’s only got a bruised forehead.” Willow made a face. “How are you feeling?”

“Just fine,” said Giles.

“Need your dressing changed or anything?”

“Buffy did it earlier,” Giles said.

“Ice for your eye? That looks ucky.” She brushed it cautiously, then stroked his forehead.

“I’m all right for now, Willow,” he said, smiling at her gently, affectionately. He turned serious. “Would you fetch Bingley’s Greater Demon Religions for me? That case against the far wall, third shelf, maybe. I think we have a species identification, and if I remember aright, it isn’t good news.” Willow came back with the heavy book, and held it for him while he fumbled the pages with his good hand. There it was: the Cornutos. The last time the species was seen, it had been collecting fourteen live humans for what was thought to be a crop fertility ritual. The man they’d rescued last night had no doubt been one of the fourteen. Unclear how many lives had been lost already, and how much longer they had to drive this thing off. It wouldn’t be easy. The large one was likely a high priest of some sort, and thus likely a powerful mage.

Willow read along with him, and made a soft sound of dismay. Giles understood how she felt.

“Would you take over for Buffy, Willow? Send her out here? And rescue whatever it is that she’s burning?”

Buffy perched in the same spot Willow had, on the arm of his chair. He told her the bad news in a few short phrases. Buffy hummed for a moment. “Known weaknesses?”

“Sunlight, and normally, anything that would kill a human. No mention of magic shielding in the description, but it might be a new development. Or unique to this individual. Though maybe you could break its neck— shields don’t generally protect against that sort of damage.”

“Okay. I see a Corn-nuts demon, I break its neck.”

“Be careful, Buffy. Don’t do it without back up. And the sword might yet work against it. We weren’t able to try it last night. What a bloody cock-up that was.”

“Giles, we have to put pressure on it. We can’t just let it keep taking people. I have to go out and fight it soon. The sooner the better.”

He sighed. She was right, of course. “Let’s plan something. Willow can put together one of those crystals for me, so we can handle any emergencies. I’d like to see you using the sword.”

“I’m not sure you’re coming with me, pal. I’d rather take Willow.”

“I’ll be fine, if I hang back. If I’m wrong about this shield, I want to see it. I need information, Buffy.”

Buffy made a face at him, but conceded. “Not tonight. Tonight you’re all staying home, and I’m thinning the vamps. I promise to book if I see this thing.”

“Fair enough.”

Buffy agreed to stop by tomorrow night, with some takeout dinner, and the two of them would try one more shot at the demon. That settled, Giles relaxed. He took her chin in his fingers and tilted her head so he could take a good look.

“It’s unfair,” said Giles. “I’ll have this black eye for a week, and your demon knuckle tattoo is nearly gone already.”

“I didn’t like the design anyway.” She ruffled his hair.

Giles sighed, as contented as a man who could be who’d had his arm ripped up by a demon the night before. He caught Stamford watching them from across the room. “Play it up a bit,” he murmured. “He’s watching. He was suspicious last night. Be solicitous. That means—”

“I know what that means, Giles.”

Buffy brushed warm lips across his temple. Giles sighed again, and let his eyes close for a moment. “You’re huggable, you know that? Nice shoulders. You’re bigger than you look. I never would have guessed when I first met you. All those layers. Tweedy jackets and sweater vests and ties. You should show yourself off more.”

“Not much to look at, I’m afraid. Just a middle-aged body with a lot of scars.”

“I dunno about that. I can tell you have muscles in there. Gotta have muscles to go up against me hand-to-hand in training.”

“Getting soft. No training in months.” He reached across his chest and touched his forearm, just below the elbow, where the bandages were. No training any time soon, either. Except on the more mystical topics, which she hadn’t allowed him to get near since the Cruciamentum. Not that he blamed her. He felt her fidget on the arm of his chair, brushing up against his shoulder. “What’s your excuse for not working out?”

“Been busy. Class, you know. College. Getting lost on campus takes up a big part of every day for me now.”

“Buffy, it’s the smallest campus in the UC system. It’s the size of a postage stamp.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not good with maps. I get all turned upside down.”

“For heaven’s sake, have you learned nothing from me?”

“The flying kick. I definitely learned the flying kick from you. Oh, and the roundhouse. It’s safe to say that every single kick I know, I learned from you.”

“Good to know I’m useful for something,” he growled.

“Teaching me how to kick, making tea, oh, yeah, and sharpening swords. You’re the man with the blades. I’m gonna call you Blade. He hunts vampires. ‘Course he’s half-vamp.”

He tried to glare at her, but couldn’t keep it up. Willow appeared from the kitchen just then, with lunch rescued. Buffy slipped down and went over to charm Stamford. Giles had no doubt she’d have him eating his lunch out of her hand.

The next night, they lay in wait across from the mausoleum they’d fought near the first night. Buffy wanted to catch the club-demon on its way out of its lair, when it was perhaps unwary. The goal was to use the sword on it, to test Giles’ theory. So Giles and Buffy sat, in a tiny crypt with a door overlooking the mausoleum. Giles had set a little magical alarm on their watchpoint, a simple charm that would tickle both of them if the door moved. They sat in their hiding place on a blanket Giles had brought, with a thermos of tea. The sword was laid out on the crypt they sheltered behind.

Giles’ arm was immobilized in the sling. He’d skipped the painkiller, but he’d be unable to fight effectively with a sword with his arm strapped to his chest. His balance would be off. Buffy had made him promise to hang back and only get involved if necessary. He had his own ideas about what “necessary” meant. He’d test-fired a crossbow in his living room that afternoon, and knew he could use his arm well enough to brace and aim, though it was difficult to grip with his right hand.

He braced the thermos in the crook of his injured arm and twisted off the top. Poured with his left hand into the cup held in his right. Tea, with just a little milk, and more sugar than he liked to admit. His sweet tooth had run him in for a lot of mockery over the years.

Buffy held out her hand, and he passed the thermos across.

“I will never admit this in front of anybody else,” Buffy said. “But you have me drinking tea. I keep a stash in my dorm room.”

“And chocolate digestives?”

“No cookies. I cannot eat cookies and fit into a size four.”

“Nonsense,” Giles said. “Slayers need to feed those metabolisms. You never have enough muscle.”

“Muscle is not what attracts the boys at parties.”

Giles muttered.

“What’s that, Watcher-man?”

“I said, you have been hanging out with the wrong men at parties. Strong women are beautiful. Slayers have muscles. No way ‘round it. So find men who like them.”

“More with the destiny making my life miserable.”

“Nonsense.” She handed the thermos back across, the cap twisted on. He went to open it again, tried again harder, and glared. “Very funny,” he said. “Open it and pour me some tea.”

“Bossy,” she said. She filled the little cup and handed it across. He drank, then tucked the thermos away for the moment.

Buffy scooted across next to him. “Shoulda worn a jacket,” she said.

September nights were cool in the coastal hills. This night was typical. Giles had worn his canvas barn coat, the one with the extra pockets on the inside for crossbow quarrels and stakes. He held it open. Buffy snugged up against him, underneath the jacket and all the weaponry. Giles relaxed. He felt good when he could see Buffy, and better still when she rested against him like this. He had always known this, but for the first years of their acquaintance he’d been unable to touch her outside of training. The school dynamic had interfered. Now he could, and was grateful she seemed to want it. He had no satisfactory theories about why. Perhaps it was that his subconscious only truly believed she was safe when she was near him. Perhaps it was the magic again, the force that molded him into the shape of a Watcher. If it were that, Giles didn’t want to know.

“So, I read some more about this ritual thing. Can I ask you about it?”

Giles went very still. “Why? Are you… are you considering doing it?”

“Not without you wanting it first. Junior said a few things to me yesterday that kinda got me curious. Read a bunch in the Slayer handbook this afternoon, actually. Willow skipped a lot when she gave me the Cliff’s Notes version. It sounded kinda cool. Also not very tweedy. I mean, you gotta be tied up. How kinky is that?”

“Not very,” he said, repressively. “Ritual binding can be purely symbolic, if you want it to be. Or real, if the Slayer wants it.”

“The book didn’t go into detail on what follows, other than the words. A trial, and a mark. What exactly do we do?”

Giles decided to be clinical. Repeat the phrases his instructor had said. Lecture. Give his Slayer the information she required. He didn’t have to think about what Angelus had said to him. “Whatever you choose. The trial and the mark are your privilege to choose, or to omit if you prefer. It’s usually intensely personal for both Slayer and Watcher. I read several accounts in, er, the class that taught us about this magic. Sometimes it’s incomprehensible to outsiders, though the Watchers have struggled to explain. The only requirements are that I— that, that the Watcher be bound, and that the pair repeat the trigger phrases.”

“Oh.”

“The more intense the ritual for the Watcher, the deeper the bond created. Has something to do with the amount of energy poured into the magic potential. A deep bond is… more useful.”

“So, what kinds of marks have other Slayers chosen?” Yes, of course she’d be interested in that. Likely the ritual had been designed to appeal to Slayers.

He flexed the fingers of his left hand, where they rested against Buffy’s shoulder. Blood, pain, and sex, Angelus had said. He wondered if the taint of vampire blood was still in him, and if so what would happen if Buffy and he ever exchanged blood. What would Slayer blood do to him? He would never know. But she was waiting for an answer.

“Any, anything. Everything you can think of. Tattooing. Other… other things. In many cases they simply got married and used the ring as the mark. Or had ritual sex.”

“Sex. Marriage. Tattoos. Wild.” Giles could almost feel Buffy’s head spinning, where it rested against his chest. “Big change from Stuffy Tweed Guy to Ritual Sex Man.”

“Well. The Slayer is in charge after Cruciamentum.” The primitive took precedence over the civilized. The choices were made by the girl-women with the muscled bodies and the training in a hundred ways to kill. The training given them by the men in the tweed and the glasses.

“In charge?”

“Yes. An adult. Presumed to be ready to claim a Watcher and assume command.”

“That test was a pretty big deal, huh.”

“Yes.”

“And it didn’t go normally for me because they fired you, and you stopped cooperating. Huh. Why’d you get fired, anyway?”

“For what that ass Travers said, more or less. Loving you above and beyond what the magic demanded of me.” In matters of tradition and protocol, he’d had no choice. The magic had compelled him. It had only been when the danger to her passed some threshold that he’d been able to violate the magical strictures and tell her about the test. That he’d been able to do so at all had impressed Travers. In a stuffy, disapproving, sack-his-arse sort of way. It had been odd that Travers himself had administered the test. Usually they sent a team from Stamford’s group, plus the two Watchers expected to serve next to manage the vampire. Had Blair and Hobson been Watchers? He thought not. Trainers.

He tried to explain this to Buffy, how he had fought the compulsions of the magic, because the test had been wrong, somehow.

“But I thought it was supposed to make you help me.”

“I don’t know what it does to me. The people who know are the people who inflict it on the children dragged into the Watcher initiation. Those bastards don’t have to go through it. Stamford is one of them. Knows exactly how the magic twists me, writes papers on it, and doesn’t have to suffer it himself.”

Buffy touched a hand to his face. “You hate him.”

Giles let his head thump back. He hadn’t realized it until that moment, but yes, he hated Stamford. Hated that whole department of Council mages and scholars. Hated them for knowing what they refused to tell him, what the magic did to him. He and Buffy made the sacrifices. They took notes on their clipboards.

“Poor Giles,” she said. She hugged him tight for a moment.

“It’s not his fault,” he said, slowly. “I think he was chosen for his role when he was a child, just as I was chosen for mine. We none of us get any choice.”

“No,” Buffy said. “This vampire-killing stuff sucks.”

They were silent for a few minutes.

When Buffy spoke again, it was with a lighter tone, but not on a subject that left Giles any more comfortable. “So what was up with you asking me if I liked sex with Parker? Willow told me what you said about college being for sleeping with people. You wild man.” Giles blushed, unseen in the dark. He’d been loopy with the painkillers. Must have been. “Is that what you really think?”

“You’re young,” he said. “This is when you discover what you like, what you want. When you experiment.”

“Guess I was doing that. Discovered I didn’t want… well, whatever that was. This is gonna sound really weird, but I felt like I was cheating when I slept with Parker.”

“Cheating? On, on Angel?”

“No, not him. Just… being with the wrong guy.” Buffy sounded evasive, and he wondered if she were still clinging to feelings for Angel. “I had a dream that night, right there in Parker’s bed. This weird woman talked to me. She told me to stop wasting my time with ignorant boys and claim my birthright. She was all covered in mud.” Giles could hear the disdain in her voice.

“She, she used the word claim?”

“Yeah. That meaningful? It felt like one of my prophecy dreams. Though I haven’t had it, like, seven times in a row. Which is usually what happens.”

“Probably not, then.” Giles wondered if Watchers could lie to their Slayers after being claimed. Perhaps if that was what the Slayer truly needed?

“Giles, what do people do in bed? Normal people, I mean?”

“Normal people? I don’t… could you be more, uh… what prompts the question?”

“Something Parker said to me, after the second time.”

“Was there something specific he was reacting to?”

“Yeah.”

Giles waited, but Buffy did not seem inclined to elaborate. The whole conversation was making him uncomfortable. And faintly aroused. With the Slayer sense of smell, he wasn’t sure he could keep it secret. Best to just stammer until she relented. “Buffy, uh… anything you want is okay. Anything with another consenting adult. People do, uh, all sorts of things you wouldn’t expect, just from looking at them in their everyday lives.”

“I guess.”

Giles tried not to speculate too much about what she had wanted, or tried, that Parker hadn’t been interested in. Slayers could be… well, if Faith’s sexual tastes had been indicative, Buffy might have been more aggressive than the young man had been prepared for. Giles had had an exquisitely embarrassing conversation with Xander, after the young man had been attacked by Faith, about exactly what had happened between them earlier. Xander had needed some reassurance, though of course he’d been unable to ask for it directly. Giles, aware that he had been acting in loco parentis for some time with the boy, had done his awkward best to provide it. Now he was in Xander’s position, confronted with evidence of Slayer predilections. And what he felt was curiosity. And a stab of desire that he suppressed as best he could. Giles forced his mind away from that, to the question of what Buffy would need most to know, just now.

“You’ll meet somebody who likes what you like,” he said, trying to be encouraging. “Persist.”

“Oh, I get it. This is what you were saying before, to Willow. Huh.” She was silent a moment. “How did you meet Olivia?”

Giles laughed silently. “It’s a silly story.”

“Yeah?”

“For an advertising campaign for the museum. Tube ads. They wanted an exotic model and an academic man posing with a series of artifacts. They were going to use a model for the man as well, but then the art director saw me. I popped in with an Anglo-Saxon sword replica for him to use in the first shoot, and he starting making ridiculous noises. Something about the tweed jacket I was wearing.”

“The one with leather patches on the elbows?”

“Yes, that one. Anyway, he ended up shooting me with Olivia instead of the model. Said I was the perfect type. I was harassed by women in pubs for months after that. They were all certain they’d met me somewhere.”

Buffy laughed, vibrating against his chest where she was snugged tight. “Who knew?”

“It was the beginning and the end of my modeling career. Anyway, Olivia and I got on. We hook up every few years. Seems like we’re going through a patch of hooking up.” He shrugged.

“You like the same sorts of things?”

“We overlap enough. She’s a bit of a jetsetter.”

“I mean, in bed.”

“Dear Lord, Buffy… yes, we do. Never talked about it with her, actually.” Their conversation ranged over art and fashion and politics, but never feelings or what happened in the bedroom. Giles flattered himself that he’d never given Olivia any cause to ask for more than what he gave her. They satisfied each other well enough. It might not have been everything he’d hoped for in his life, but it would do. It would have to.

The conversation lapsed. Buffy settled herself more comfortably against his chest. Giles drifted off a little. His arm had begun to ache badly, though he’d never admit that. And itch, under the stitches.

Buffy sat up, suddenly, and pulled away from him. The magical alert chimed softly, and tickled the backs of his hands. Giles came fully alert. He picked up the crystal and said the word that deactivated it.

Buffy was already crouching at the door of their crypt, peering across at their target. “Motion,” she said. “Get ready. You have that get out of jail free crystal, right?”

“Remember, the sword might not work,” Giles said. “And if it doesn’t, you’ll feel backlash.”

“Okay, they’re in sight. Go!” She was in motion as she spoke, sword in hand. Giles followed her out the door. The demon group had already turned away from them and begun moving along the cemetery drive. Three. Two small ones, then the huge one they’d met that first night.

Buffy caught up to the one in the back and decapitated it. No shield, or the spell was effective. Giles stopped, knelt, and fired his crossbow at the second small one. The bolt hit and plunged into its neck. Definitely no shield, and it was thrashing on the grass, bleeding itself out. Good. He reloaded the crossbow, at some cost in pain, and chased after Buffy.

Buffy was dancing around the high priest, sword in motion. She had knocked the club from its hands, but had done no visible damage. It didn’t seem afraid of her; if he were fighting it, he’d say it was biding its time and waiting for an opening. She moved faster than it, but it had an enormous advantage in reach. She cut at its arms, and Giles saw the sword bounce back. The counter-enchantment was a failure.

Buffy staggered and dropped the sword. Giles was ready to step in, but she recovered and vaulted up onto its back. She was attempting to get a purchase on its head, probably to try snapping its neck, but without success. Giles did not want this fight to go on any longer. He pulled Willow’s crystal out of his jacket pocket and spoke the trigger phrase. Nikola’s Fire, again. Plasma, strictly speaking, Willow’d told him. A nice selection of the wavelengths of daylight sunshine, heavy on the ultraviolet. He held it up, fizzing in his hand, and moved closer. The demon shrieked, a horrible pained sound. It held a smoking arm over its eyes. Buffy dropped to the ground, and it ran back to the mausoleum.

She came to his side. “Well, we can’t hurt it, but we know how to make it run away,” she said, breathing hard. “Until it figures out about sunblock. Or the magical equivalent.”

The light faded. Giles put the crystal back in his pocket. Willow had said she could recharge it.

“No shield on either of the smaller ones,” he said, thoughtfully. “It’s definitely not intrinsic to the demon, but is instead something it has to cast on itself. Perhaps it’s time-consuming, or expensive in some other way.”

“Let me guess,” said Buffy. “Research is in order?”

“Yes.”

The adrenaline charge of battle faded. Buffy wiped his sword on the grass, then resheathed it. She picked up a chunk of broken monument and wedged it under the mausoleum door, bracing it shut. “Won’t stand up to a dedicated demon,” she said, “I’ll check on it tomorrow morning, see if they made another try.”

Giles swayed on his feet. He was bitterly tired, now that the rush of the fight was over, and his elbow unbearably painful.

“Not letting you patrol again until your stitches are out. Shouldn’t have let you come with tonight. C’mon. Let’s get you home,” Buffy said to him. He made no objection. Leave the bodies for the cemetery staff to explain away, or not. They wouldn’t be the first they’d seen.


Continued in part 3.