Commentary on "Thusia", continued from part 1.
Act 2: confrontation, now begins with a change of scene. Our antagonistical force (the prophecy that must be thwarted) has been laid out for us and now our hero takes his first direct steps to oppose it.
In the morning, he packed stakes and holy water, the Codex and his journal, and a couple of paperbacks to keep himself entertained in his motel. The daily weaponry was hidden in the boot of his car, as always: knives and stakes and holy water. He prepared a second bag with more serious weaponry: his new crossbow and a bundle of bolts, a pair of wickedly sharp combat knives. And his finest fighting sword, the steel xiphos his father had given him on his election to the Hundred, the day he became a Watcher.
Band of Thebes again. Sort of. It was about time for me to do a little more work on world-building for the AU.
He stood considering the contents of his closet, wondering what to pack. He took out a tweed jacket, and laid it across his bed. He hadn't worn a suit coat since the day Buffy had left for Los Angeles. It would be nearly ninety degrees there today. He pictured himself red-faced and sweating in front of her, clumsy and fumbling. No. She needed to be able to lean on him. Trust him in ways she had not yet learned to trust him.
Giles rehung the jacket. He found a pair of jeans and pulled them on. Then a light long-sleeved henley. He never wore short-sleeved shirts, no matter the weather. To do so would be to expose his shame, the place where he'd allowed himself to be marked as the possession of something evil.
A little detail about Eyghon, dropped to start setting up the differences between the canonical Eyghon story and this one.
At the last moment, he took an earring from his jewelry box and looped it through his ear. He'd worn it every day until the day she'd appeared in his library. He'd taken it out and hidden it away in fear; it didn't fit with the role he'd chosen with her, the role she'd seemed to need: the safe and respectable geeky textbook with arms. The buttoned-up man.
Hmm, I'm not sure how well this works. I want him to look more wild than he is in canon, but I'm not sure I needed that detail. As I'm re-reading this I find the last three grafs sort of clunky.
Merrick's diaries had been clear about her allergic reactions to the wilder aspects of Slayer lore, to magic and the presence of the gods. She'd been raised Christian, of all things. And he'd seen himself how she responded to prophecy. He'd wanted to spare her knowledge of the frightening reality of the world, where gods and demons walked and sometimes meddled with the lives of mortals. Buffy needed him to be another man, now, a different sort of Watcher. She needed knowledge from him. Knowledge unfiltered by her own fears, if she were to live.
That last sentence is painfully on the nose, but I like the rest of this paragraph.
He carefully did not think about the implications as he ran his morning errands and left a note for Xander and Willow.
The connotations of the word "know" are pointed to. They'll be pointed to again later.
He found his prescription sunglasses and wore them on that drive south and east in blinding sunshine, through hills scorched yellow and brown by the relentless summer, down into the glittering grid of haze that was Los Angeles. South through the freeway maze, choked slow even in early afternoon, to Redondo Beach and Buffy's father's home. Avenues all lined with palms, wide streets in straight lines, four lanes of streaming cars, in eternal sunshine. Giles had memorized Buffy's directions and followed them carefully south, to the more expensive part of town in the hills, with its identical houses on twisty little streets in a great maze.
Images of sunshine and dryness, connected with Buffy. Note also our first allusions to the Theseus myth: Giles traverses a maze guided by Buffy, to reach her.
He parked the Citroen on the street and diffidently rang her bell. He heard nothing from inside. He stood waiting, attache under his arm. Not a single human being was in sight. Rigidly maintained landscaping; shuttered windows, red terracotta tiles on the roof. The house gave away as little as the street did.
The door opened. Buffy glowed out from the dimness within. "Hey. Wow, it's the anti-Giles."
Once again Buffy is connected with light.
She stood in the doorway considering him, then stepped aside to let him in. Her tan was magnificent, displayed under a white tank top. Her hair was a lighter blonde than it had been two weeks ago, straw-pale and straw-dry. She was wearing long dangling earrings in silver and turquoise. She was thinner than she'd been. Her bare arms showed muscle, biceps and the line of the pectorals disappearing under the cotton. The twinned scars where the Master had drunk from her were white against her neck. Even with Slayer healing, she'd likely bear a scar. Vampire bites did not heal easily.
The bulldancers of Minoan Crete had been forced to leap the bull's horns in ritual dance. Over and over. Until they were gored or trampled. No matter how graceful they were, no matter how skilled, the bull was the one that left the palace on its feet. The Master had gored her, but she was alive yet. How many more leaps would she survive?
Now I go explicit with the Theseus stuff, though I haven't directly connected Giles with him. Giles thinks of Buffy as one of the people trapped, not himself.
Buffy showed him the house. She was shockingly out of place: vibrant, alive, almost wild, in this dead place. It was a lovely tomb, however. Tasteful. The hand of a professional decorator was visible in the leather and the wood and the framed prints on the walls. No personality of the residents was visible even in the least. Giles had visited Buffy's home in Sunnydale only twice, but that had been discernibly marked by the taste of Buffy's mother and dusted over with the evidence of busy lives. Either Buffy's father had no personality, or he did not truly live here.
Scene-setting, some character work, not all that important except in that it keeps that fictional dream going as I establish them in this new setting.
Giles stood uncertainly, watching her demonstrate the usefully-complete expensive weight machine her father had in the den. She was friendly, open, happy to see him. They hadn't touched, and that was both as things were between them, and unusual. They'd been separated less than three weeks, but their relationship had shifted since he'd seen her last. He'd spoken with her nearly every night, in the intimacy of his bed, her voice in his ear. It had been easier to be casual with her. Now, without the protection of distance or a jacket to shrug around himself, Giles was uneasy. They were alone here. Alone for the first time, without their usual context of school and library and friends.
Giles folded his arms, unsure of the impulse that had driven him to dress casually that morning.
He's holding himself back still.
"Guess we should talk about this prophecy, huh?"
She led him to the kitchen, which gleamed with hanging copper pans and brushed metal appliances, and sat him at the table. He extracted what he needed from his case and handed it to her. She gave him iced tea in a tall glass. Giles ran his finger through the condensation, tracing Greek characters. θυσία. Sacrifice. Droplets ran down from the endpoints of his strokes, blurring the word. She held in her hands the Codex, opened to his marker in the relevant section. Next to it flat on the table was his leather-bound journal, with his translation and notes. She traced her forefinger under the words, sounding out the Greek letters. He hadn't realized she'd known them. Her face was drawn in concentration.
Our title word, the Greek word for sacrifice. Might write that as "thysia" instead, I dunno. I am operating out of my areas of expertise here. Always dangerous when you have a character who knows a lot more than you do about something. You have to write them plausibly both to expert readers (a minority) and to readers like you who don't know much. How much research do you do? Too much! This is why I'll never write an historical novel: I'm lazy.
One prophecy of sacrifice and death fulfilled, and a month later another one. The end times, according to the Codex, though it didn't specify what was ending. Her life, his life, the Council, the human species, the world.
Buffy spoke, and he jumped. "You're sure about this?"
"My Greek is excellent. I've gone over it again and again--"
She made a thoughtful sound. "Does this 'skopos' mean you?"
"It usually means watchman. Or lookout. Or spy. Likely it's me, given the description."
A litle character work for Buffy, a little setup for the hot tub conversation that will happen later.
She glanced at him and away, but asked nothing further. She paged back in his journal. He twitched, as if to stop her, then checked himself. The journal recorded her exploits, and he shouldn't mind if she learned what he made of them. She paused at his drawing of the bones of the Master, broken on the library study table, in pen and ink and wash. And then his description of their final disposition in sacred ground.
"This is good," she said, tapping the page. He recognized it for a delaying tactic and kept his peace. She would reach her conclusions sooner without his interference.
Eventually, she said, "Why?"
"Why sacrifice people?"
This is such a good question, Buffy! Also, it lets me establish some plausible motives for my antagonistic forces. No moustache-twirling villains here! They have a reason for what they do. Our heroes disapprove of the means they're willing to use, but our villains are not stupid. This is what makes them worthy adversaries for our heroes.
"Desperation. The Aztecs believed the sun would not return if they failed to sacrifice. In this case, the cult probably believes they are preventing earthquakes. They fear the Earthshaker will consume Los Angeles."
Buffy made a face at him. "That's silly."
"I'm afraid it isn't. The earth god has many names, but the bull is one of his manifestations. He is quite real, Buffy. A-and he can cause earthquakes if he wishes."
This is a world littered with immanence, I said in my notes. Here were go! Have some immanence.
"Yeah, okay. I can buy that. A year ago, no way. But now? With everything I've seen? I believe it." She looked down at his journal open on the table in front of her. "Everything they ever taught me was wrong."
Giles busied himself with his glass of tea. With this, he could not argue.
"But... I ask again, why? What good does sacrificing people do?"
"Ah. Blood and soul. Blood is life, and life is power. With blood, you can work strong magic. It is how vampires live. And if you are willing to play with souls, if you are that black, there is great power in the moment a soul is ripped from a body. Demons drink that deeply. And it's like wine to the gods of the underworld. They will step between the worlds to taste it."
A little more work on the motivations of our enemy god, the minotaur-thing.
Giles looked at her, sitting luminous and graceful at the kitchen counter. "The force of life is so strong in you, Buffy. In any Slayer. Because of what you were given when you were made a Slayer. Many beings crave your blood. Vampires. Other demons. And these men, these cultists."
Buffy == life.
Though men sacrificing humans to gods did not always awaken what they imagined they would. Sometimes they invoked a god to find they'd summoned a demon. A demon whom they'd unwittingly granted power over themselves. Giles ground his teeth. He'd been that foolish once, and lived with the memory of it every day.
Eyghon again. In this AU, his experience with Eyghon was far more traumatic than it was in canon. His guilt and regret are more raw. I don't go into details in this story, but I have notes for another story where I might describe it more. Or not.
Buffy turned and studied his face carefully. He schooled his expression back into calmness. "So they want to sacrifice a Slayer."
"According to the prophecy."
"When is this living sacrifice thing supposed to happen?"
"Solstice," Giles said, putting down his drink.
"That's the twenty first?"
"At a bit past eight in the morning. So we have until the evening of the twentieth."
Buffy handed him back the Codex and his journal. He tucked them away in his leather attache.
"I should go find myself a motel--"
"My dad's in Taos all week. He left last night." Buffy rolled her eyes. "My mom would so have a conniption if she knew. I'm not supposed to have unstructured time until I demonstrate I'm responsible." Giles met her glance; a more responsible teen it would be difficult to imagine.
I think this detail came from a suggestion from my beta reader.
She continued. "But anyway, you can sleep here. Till Friday."
Giles nodded uncertainly. He went out to his car to fetch his bag from the boot. The infernal glare, on tarmac and car roofs, on glass. So much hotter here than it was in Sunnydale, on its sheltered south-facing coast. Buffy's father's house was a relief, with its air conditioning and slat-shaded windows. He carried his bag in and closed the door on the glare.
"In my room."
He followed her voice down the hall to a room in the eastern corner of the house. It contained a double bed, a sofa, a dresser, and his Slayer. The decorator hadn't touched this room; the furniture was an assortment of leftovers. The windows were open onto the yard, to sunlight and the smell of eucalyptus. It felt almost livable. His Slayer was brushing her hair, gravely inspecting herself in the mirror over the dresser. He opened his his bag and took out a dozen stakes, from the stock he'd made for her.
Buffy == life again.
"Stakes," he said, and cleared his throat.
She took them from him and hefted one, gripped it, made a few test plunges. "Why are your stakes always better? Xander whittles 'em for me, but they don't feel right."
"Because I'm your Watcher." He tucked himself down onto the sofa and watched her dance with her stake. Not karate, empty-hand, meant for show. Her hands were meant to hold weapons. Swords and stakes. The martial art of the Slayers. Meant to kill.
"How does that make your stakes better?"
Sometimes Giles forgot that Buffy was feral. The display of grace before him now, so deadly, so pure, so much better than any he'd seen from another Slayer. He could forget everything when he watched her fight. But how was he to explain this so she understood?
"I was dedicated to your service. When we learned you needed a new Watcher. I have a connection with you, an affinity. There are certain things only I can do for you. And other things I will always do better than others. There's a, a, a prayer, an incantation, that I say, as I carve. It, ah, makes them yours."
Watcher lore. This is world-building fun.
She came to a smooth halt with the stake at her eye level, poised for an overhand thrust. She held the position for a second, then relaxed. "Dedicated. Creepy mystical stuff, huh?"
"Fasting, ritual purification, and creepy religious stuff, yes." Creepy was a better word for it than she knew. It still made the hair on the back of his neck to stand on end, to recall the experience of being accepted and taught by the god himself, deep in the Watcher shrine. Of emerging to sensation and shock among his peers, that he had been chosen to serve, the tainted man beloved of Apollo after all.
The story of that is the Giles/Apollo crackfic thing. Giles's memory of that experience has been hazed over by Apollo, though some of it comes back in a few places in this story. This is what we call a convenience for the writer, who wants to keep her characters a little ignorant.
"That's all it takes to make a Watcher?"
Giles smiled faintly. "That, and the twenty years of study."
Buffy was silent. She sat on the sofa, in the corner opposite him, and curled her bare feet under herself. She examined the stake he'd carved for her, ran her fingers along the bare wood of the pointed end. "It belongs to me. It won't slip out of my hand. It won't break. It will almost come when I call it. And all because you chanted when you made it?"
Giles nodded. She eyed him speculatively. "There's a lot I don't know yet about what your job is, I'm guessing."
His smile grew to an outright smirk. "The handbook is in my office, if you ever change your mind about reading it."
"Nah. I'll just make you tell me. More efficient. Wanna get some dinner?"
Work on developing their relationship.
They had Mexican for dinner, at a little place Buffy directed him to, near the beach. They sat at benches at long tables covered in deep blue tiles. Painted wooden fish hung from the ceiling. Custom was light. Two tables over, a pair of middle-aged Hispanic men in straw hats drank their way through a bottle of añejo. The slow-setting sun glowed in through the west-facing windows. Giles ate tamales with black beans and green chiles and a ferocious salsa. He could not get a decent curry in this country, but the spice of habanero and jalapeño more than compensated. Sweat dripped from his forehead and he smiled in endorphin-stoned pleasure. Buffy rolled rice and beans and fish into corn tortillas and smiled with him. He drank tequila straight. It was complex and straightforwardly rough on his tongue, sharp and smooth going down.
This was almost the first thing I wrote for this story. Trufax: the thing that got me going with this one was a prompt from tx_cronopio for Giles eating tamales. I wrote this then thought about why Giles might be in LA with Buffy and when and it connected with other nonsense going on in my brain about Mary Renault (which I'd read about a year before this) and there was an idea. The other thing feeding into this story was a wickedfox manip, which I'll point out when we get there.
Buffy watched him closely. He had a second drink, to numb his urge to writhe under the twin points of that stare. And to give himself courage. He knew what he'd have to discuss with her before the evening was over.
I swear to you that "writhing under the twin points" is a allusion to something, a line borrowed from somewhere famous, but I can't freaking remember where to save my life. It's probably some obscure genre thing that nobody else noticed, given how my brain works. I wish I could remember, though.
The first of wickedfox's two manips. She made this for me when I sent her an early draft of the story.
The scene on the beach is one of my favorite bits in the story. It is Giles deciding to act. It's also scene-setting on the LA beaches at sunset.
Afterward they walked west, toward the Pacific, descended steps toward the beach. This, unlike Sunnydale's rocky coastline, was the California of the movies. Palm trees and convertibles and flat stretches of pale sand warm under his bare feet. Giles held his trainers in one hand, socks tucked into them, and followed Buffy down to the water. The tide had turned and was on the way in, successive waves pushing kelp and foam further and further up the sand. The orange sun glowed on the water, but it was sinking fast. The air cooled. The tequila was still hot in his blood.
"Beach is lousy with vamps after sundown," Buffy told him. "Venice is worse, but we get a bunch here too. Feeding on the homeless. Though not so much the last few nights. I think word is out."
They walked south along the beach in gathering dark. Buffy's white shirt was luminous against the deep rippling blue of the ocean.
I can see this even now, as I imagined it when writing.
"So. What makes a chick not a virgin any more?"
Giles answered the question with dust and ink in his voice. "The prophecy is ancient. The sense of the description would have been traditional."
"So fooling around doesn't count."
Buffy is not completely inexperienced.
Buffy turned and walked up the smooth stretch of beach, away from the water surging up and hissing back. Giles tread in her footprints. She chose a spot on the sand about ten feet up from the high water mark, seemingly at random. She sat, facing the ocean. Giles hovered for a moment, then sat next to her. Six carefully-judged inches between them, closer than he would ever have dared sit with anyone else. She'd never seemed to mind, or even to notice.
He leaned back on his elbows and listened to Los Angeles at dusk. Traffic. The shouts of three teenagers on their way past, tossing a frisbee. A runner heading north, at the water's edge, breathing hard. Two surfers, dark dots bobbing in the water, calling to each other. The rush and ebb of the waves, hissing closer up the slope of the beach.
More atmospheric scene-building.
"Giles, what's the deal with these prophecies?"
"What do you mean?"
"What if I'm supposed to subvert it? Go there as a virgin and make it end differently? Having my heart eaten might be metaphorical."
Buffy is using her head and not panicking.
"I thought about that. There isn't much leeway."
"Literal virginity. Literal heart-eating. I'm not so into that."
Giles wasn't either. He'd been with her less than six months, and already he knew he could not sacrifice her. Despite everything they'd ever taught him about how Slayers were sacred, set apart. Not meant for men. Meant to die this way. He found his voice. "My suggestion is th-th-that you make sure it can't apply to you."
Season 1 is about the relationship between Buffy and Giles. His arc through it is the arc that starts with him lecturing her about her duty in WTTH and ends with him trying to take her place in "Prophecy Girl". In some ways this story retreads that territory: this is about Giles deciding it's outrageous to ask this girl to sacrifice her life. But I sort of crank it to 11. And then connect it to this next issue:
"You mean lose my virginity."
"Forgive me, yes."
Buffy flopped back onto the sand. "You know, adults are supposed to say the opposite. Don't let anyone so much as kiss you until you're thirty!"
Giles made no reply. She sat up again and sighed.
"So I have until Friday night to find somebody to do it with."
"Sooner would be better."
"I was, uh, kinda ahead of you on this. Last night I tried to get in touch with this guy I used to know. My boyfriend, I guess, after the Slaying wrecked my life the first time. Pike. He was in Vegas last I heard. Numbers didn't work."
Pike was her boyfriend in the movie and in the canonical comics orgin story. That story was based on Whedon's original movie script and has nothing to do with the later stupidity of the season 8 comics. I draw elements from them when it's convenient for me. I generally do stick with Pike as her Hemery High boyfriend and with the stint in a mental hospital courtesy of her parents. Exactly how angry I am about that determines my attitude toward Joyce...
Buffy pulled a dried piece of seaweed from the sand between them. "We almost did it once. I was ready to. Only he passed out. Pike drinks a lot. Drank. I don't know any more."
Making some character points about Buffy. She's 16, which is an age when many American teenagers are enjoying their first sexual experiences with their peers. She has the interest most of us had.
He pushed his feet into the cool sand. The day's heat was no longer memory. Every word out of her mouth was a step further along the path he'd seen in front of him when he'd first read the prophecy.
Contrast with Buffy's dialog: Giles's inner monologue is driving him to his destiny.
"Here's a thing I don't get. If I dodge this prophecy by making myself not qualify for it, aren't I just dooming some other Slayer? Some other girl is going to get sacrificed because I wasn't?"
"If the prophecy was meant to apply to you, you wouldn't be able to avert it. There'd be some reason why you couldn't, er." He paused, then blurted, "And I don't care. It's my duty to save you. Keep you safe. Not some future Slayer. Just you."
Giles takes a stand. And makes a little mistake about the nature of prophecy, though he's right in another way. You can't avert them. They might not mean what you think, however. The prophecy is getting him to do what it wants him to do, by making him think it means something else.
The surfers swam to shore and carried their boards out of the water. They walked up the beach, wetsuits streaming with water. Giles watched them both take sneaking looks at Buffy on their way past. He sat up and hugged his knees to his chest. The sun had vanished entirely, leaving only red-stained clouds to the west.
Are these the Thera Collective surfers? I'm not sure. The omnious image of stained clouds says they probably are and gets the reader a little nervous about them. But it might just be setting up this:
"We could call Angel," he said to her.
Buffy's mouth twitched, and her expression changed. Giles couldn't make out what she was feeling. "We're kinda moving in that direction, but we're not there yet. This is... this isn't for him." Another sigh. "You know it's going to be you, don't you."
A Buffy/Angel shipper would be writing a virgin sacrifice story that features Angel doing the, um, honors. I am not a Buffy/Angel shipper.
Giles said nothing.
In his duffle, inside the toe of a pair of athletic socks, was a fistful of condoms. A variety pack. Colored, flavored, plain, lubricated and not. He'd gone to the sex shop near the campus and bought them that morning. He'd told himself that Buffy would need them, and she would appreciate not having to buy them herself. There was no telling if the young man she chose would be responsible on his own. Or so he'd told himself. Now he understood that this moment had been inevitable, since he'd first read the prophecy in the Codex.
His oath, the one he'd sworn and sealed with his own soul's blood when he was dedicated to her: that oath had been to her. To her, not the Watchers or the gods. To guide and defend her with all he was. She'd already died once under his care. No more. Tradition and custom and law were set in conflict with that oath. And with his affection for her.
Now he would see where this path before him led. See his end. His stomach dropped away; his head spun. The tequila had faded, leaving only his oath and his fate coursing through him.
More destiny stuff from Giles. This is a big decision for him. He's violating one of the Council's big rules: not only is his Slayer going to have sex, he's going to be the one taking her virginity. And there are other consequences to his decision: he's not going to do the Cruciamentum, either.
Buffy knelt up on the sand and turned to face him. "You're not arguing with me."
"What I said about duty. And dedication. I'll do anything to keep you safe. And I will do this for you." He'd done it. Iacta alea est.
Latin, not Greek, though from what I read Julius Caesar possibly said it in Greek when he crossed the Rubicon with his army. Allegedly educated Romans were into using Greek at moments of great import. Or something.
"Giles--" Buffy trailed off, and left whatever it was unsaid. She stood, and stuck out a hand to him. He gripped it, and she pulled him up. She went around behind him and smacked sand from the seat of his jeans. Giles allowed the intimacy; it was a taste of what was to come between them. He followed her up the beach and to the parking lot where they'd left the car.
They sat side by side on a bench. Giles brushed sand from his feet and pulled on his socks. The bench faced east, toward the haze-blurred hills. The moon, gibbous and waxing, had crept into view. It shimmered red through the miles of sun-heated air. Watching him. The Slayer's virginity was sacred to its goddess. Would losing it lose Buffy her favor? Would taking it earn Giles her enmity? Would she even notice? The Watchers might, and he knew what they would make of his temerity. His hubris. His life would be forfeit if the Watchers learned what he proposed to do in her defense. And they would, eventually. He shivered.
Making it clear to the reader what the consequences will be for Giles, and getting in one of those famous Greek words.
Buffy looked up from the laces of her sneakers. "It'll be okay, Giles. You're my Watcher. You'll make it all right for me, I know it."
He almost laughed aloud at the irony. "I will. Buffy? May I ask a favor? Could we wait until the morning?" He didn't want the goddess watching them.
"Sunlight. Yeah. Okay." She didn't understand, but that was fine. He would not be able to explain to a Christian what troubled him.
The US is Christian; Giles practices some kind of modern variant of what the Greeks practiced. The history of Western religion is all different here. Yay historical AUs! So much work. So many details to botch!
"Come on," she said, and she led him not to the car, but to the alleyways stinking with rubbish tips, the places where the streetlamps had burnt out, where the chainlink fences had been torn open, behind the back of the city. She hunted, and Giles shadowed her. She was everything he'd dreamed she could be, every fantasy he'd ever had of what his Slayer might be. Canny, graceful, bold. Her form wasn't perfect, and she had much to learn about tactics and planning, but that was his task, and they had time. He could teach her. Giles followed his Slayer, stake in hand, and Watched.
She had an agenda, a list of places to check. Together they canvassed a section of downtown Redondo Beach, and staked four vampires. Buffy brushed the dust of the fourth from her hands, and turned to him with satisfaction in her face. "That's it. Nobody else around. They're staying away from me. I'm gonna get you to drive me to Venice tomorrow night, 'cause I know there are more there."
Giles assented. The Slayer was drawn to the hunt, as always.
They walked back to his car. The sweat from the chase and the exertion of the last fight cooled on his face. Buffy rearranged her hair as she walked. He watched her under his eyelashes, let himself look at her bare arms raised, at her slim body. So tiny. So powerful. Giles opened the passenger door for her. She nimbly slipped under his arm and into the seat. He got in next to her and drove. He stopped at a traffic light, in a line of cars. She was quiet next to him. Her face was still and serious, thinking about something. Giles had no idea what.
He pulled into Buffy's driveway this time, now that he knew her father was away. He turned off the engine and listened to the metal tick. He was starting to feel nervous, now that he knew he'd be going through with it. Even if she weren't the Slayer, and sacred, even if she'd just been an ordinary girl, he'd be sick with nerves. He'd been that way in school, with his first protege.
Moody little sequence there.
She had already climbed out of the car, and was unlocking her front door. He pulled his shoulders back, and followed her in. He found her in the kitchen, listening to a cheerful phone message from a male voice. She poked at the answering machine and told him, "My dad. Telling me he bought me more jewelry in Taos. He gave me all this silver stuff after his trip last week."
She would look better in gold, Giles thought. Gold and green. But he held his tongue.
"There's dust in places I don't want to mention, and I'm sore. Let's do some hot-tubbing. Mellow out for a while. Did you bring your suit?"
"Though hey, doesn't matter! We're gonna get naked together anyway."
She was grinning at him. "But for the sake of the neighbors, get your suit on and let's soak."
Giles changed in the bathroom. He pulled on the ragged long-sleeved t-shirt he'd brought for this purpose, the one with the age-faded Fender logo. He joined her on the back deck, moving timidly. She was in a bikini. He slid his eyes away. Looked at her bare feet, brown on the pale decking. She'd polished her toenails with something that glittered in the light reflected up from the tub.
She stepped up to him and tugged at the hem of his t-shirt. "Giles. What is this? Take it off."
It was silly. Tomorrow he'd be showing her far more of himself. He bent to allow her to pull his shirt over his head. She studied his chest until he crossed his arms nervously. He knew he had nothing to be ashamed of. He had the muscle any Watcher had, sharpened in recent months by the rigors of training with her. The hair on his chest had begun to gray, his belly to soften, but he wasn't ashamed of that, either. He was ashamed of what his hand covered on the inside of his left elbow.
Hidden/bared stuff going on here.
She hadn't noticed it, for she did not comment on it. She drew him over to the tub and pulled him into the water after her. The water was hot, frothing from the jets she'd turned on, flickering with blue lights from below. He imitated her, and submerged himself to the chin.
Giles moaned in pleasure. "Gods! This is good."
He let his feet drift off the bottom and leaned back. The muscles in his shoulders and neck were in knots and had been since she'd told him of these dreams. No, he had to be honest. For weeks. Since he'd first learned of the prophecy of the Master and the child. He tipped his head back against the edge of the tub and sighed. England wasn't much of a country for outdoor baths. There were public baths, but Giles avoided them. Had done so since the incident. His hand moved to the inside of his elbow again, but he forced it away.
Buffy moved to the far side of the tub and pushed at a switch. The jets subsided, and the water quieted. Giles straightened on the seat to cool his chest and shoulders. He'd begun to sweat a little.
What follows is an important conversation. Giles is physically bared to her and attempts to reveal more of himself emotionally. Buffy opens impersonally.
Buffy slid down under the water again. "That was a whacky prophecy. Almost like poetry."
"It is poetry in the Greek. Strict form."
"Is translating stuff hard?"
"Depends. I'm fluent in Latin and Greek, but the idioms can be difficult. And connotation is always tricky."
They're tricky even when you're reading your own language! As Buffy says:
"We were studying that in class. Shakespeare. Sometimes words meant slightly different things to him than to us. Or they are supposed to remind you of something different."
"Mm. Yes. Connotations change as the culture changes."
Buffy turned a sharp gaze on him, and Giles shifted uneasily in the water. "And sometimes they stay. Like know. The word know. It said I haven't known men. But the Watcher has. And demons. What does that mean?"
Back to that word again. Buffy was paying attention to that prophecy.
Giles hesitated for a moment, then took a resolution. "What you think it does."
"You had sex with guys. And with demons?"
"A single demon, as far as I know."
"Jeez, that's gross. How could you get near a demon?"
"You've kissed Angel, you said."
"Yeah but that's diff-- Oh. Oh." Buffy worked this one through. "Was it a vampire?"
Giles is pretty mild about her disgust, really, given that she really ought to remember what vampires are.
"No. I'm... not comfortable talking about it. It went badly. It usually does. Human and demons aren't, aren't... meant to be together." Giles had had to kill to deal with the consequences. It had been the first time he'd taken human life, but not the last. Not the last. His hand drifted to the inside of his elbow. He'd tried to scratch off the tattoo, while he'd been captive, and in the days after. It couldn't be marred. He'd paid, oh how he'd paid, for that mistake.
That's a stammering Giles.
"Okay, one demon, who we won't talk about any more. How many guys?"
Giles laughed nearly silently. "I lost count long ago." At her shocked stare, "I had a wild period, after university. I slept with anyone who would have me."
"Yes. Men and women both."
"Woah. Mister wild man."
"When I was younger. I came to believe it wasn't something I should be so casual about. Or perhaps it was that intimacy mattered more than pleasure, and intimacy... shouldn't be casual."
That and the Eyghon incident damaged him emotionally.
He glanced sidelong at Buffy. He didn't expect a girl her age to understand it. Or for a Slayer ever to understand it. Her leap over the bull's horns was a thing of power and grace, but it was brief. He wished for her to taste all the pleasure she wanted, while she was in flight.
Spurious comma alert in that last sentence! I over-comma everything.
He let himself look at her, at the figure so small and so alive across from him in the water. She wasn't beautiful to him. Not yet. She'd begun the transformation from girl to woman that would make her beautiful, to lose the childish roundness of her face and sharpen to her adult form. She would not have long to achieve it; just two more years and then the Watchers would--
I like this detail about how Giles feels about her. He hasn't thought about her this way before! He has to bring himself to a place where he can view her sexually before he can act with her sexually.
And what did his oath to his Slayer say about that tradition? Giles tried to push the thought aside, but he knew. Already he knew.
The Watchers could go hang. They hadn't told him what it would be like, what she would be like, what he would come to feel for her in the very first week. Though he'd been told this moment might come, oddly. The god-- The god had said something. Memory returned, in a spinning crystalline moment of certainty. The god had said he would find no satisfaction with men, had told him he would only truly know his Slayer. Had commanded him to love her, and give her life.
Mortals are always sorry when they get mixed up with gods.
Giles pushed himself up and out of the tub in one frantic surge. Buffy came alert and stared at him. He got control of himself and sat on the edge of the tub and trembled.
Giles lives an eerie life, surrounded by gods.
"Yes, yes. Just a bit overheated."
"Don't lie to me. You're freaked." She laid a hand on his knee and he flinched. "Is it because I'm so much younger?"
Giles shook his head; she'd misunderstood, and he didn't know how to explain. "No, that's not a problem at all." His salvation, in fact, because it allowed him familiar custom as his guide. He breathed himself down. "Where I come from, it's... normal. No. It's because you're the Slayer. It's forbidden. Beyond forbidden. But I mean what I said earlier. I will do this."
For the Watchers those early sexual experiences are carefully structured and important moments in their lives. They happen in a context-- they establish group membership and everyone shares the experience. There are rules about how and when the contact is allowed and what control the younger member has over it. Giles is trying to use that structure to guide him through this encounter.
He considered her, once again relaxed and floating on her back in the water. He tried again to see her as a man might, not as a Watcher did. It was difficult. Grace radiated from her, and power. The sign of the god's favor. It was Buffy that he loved, though, not the Slayer. Buffy who'd charmed him and made him laugh when he least expected to. The god had said she would. Had said a number of things that tickled now at the back of his memory.
That initiation rite story, which at the time I wrote this was nothing more than a set of ideas in my head.
"Did you know that you're special to Apollo?"
"No. Does he even exist?"
Giles laughed. "Yes. Oh, yes. The gods exist, Buffy. This is another place where you were taught lies. Apollo exists, and you are special to him."
"Because I'm a Slayer?"
"Partly. All Slayers are blessed by him, because he's the god of the sun. But you specifically. He told me so. Told me to keep you alive. He spoke to me, when I was chosen as your Watcher."
"I am... so not believing this, really."
I can hear Buffy saying that, with a little hair flip.
"I don't suppose it matters if you do," Giles said, softly. He felt chilly now, in the night air.
Buffy said, "But you believe it. I've learned to believe you. To trust you. I think... I think that's why it has to be you, not Angel. I trust you more than anybody. All the way down. You're like... you're like the stakes. You have to do right by me, don't you."
Very perceptive, Buffy! He is a lot like the stakes.
Giles shivered. "Yes."
"So. It's you. Come on back in the water."
She held out a hand to him. He took it and allowed her to pull him back into the warmth. His shivers stopped. She sat close to him in the water, and the conversation turned to lighter matters. She asked what he'd made of her fighting earlier in the evening, and he told her. They discussed technique for a time, the concepts of using your opponent's momentum to defeat him. Of inertia, and the difficulties of changing direction, and of using centered stances to preserve her flexibility while luring the vampire into committing to an action. She was intent on his words and on his hands gesturing, as she had never before been when he talked about tactics. Perhaps some part of her had disbelieved the whole thing, had been convinced it was all a dream, until the Master had drunk from her. She had changed, Giles was convinced, in some fundamental way.
Buffy has only now learned to value what Giles can offer her.
Buffy eventually sighed and stretched. "Well, I'm cooked. You?"
"A limp noodle."
"Well, let's pour peanut sauce over us and serve us chilled, then." She launched herself out of the tub with a single hand planted on the edge. Giles marveled, as always, to watch her move. They didn't tell them, likely couldn't tell them, what it would be like to be so close to such divinity, to the power of the gods in the flesh of a girl. A girl who treated it casually, as if it were no more wondrous than the fact of the sun's rising in the morning.
One of the manifestations of that immanence in Giles's life is Buffy herself. He never stops thinking of her as a miracle.
Buffy handed him a thick towel, and Giles shook himself out of his daze.
He refused to sleep in her father's bed, though she offered it. Instead he stretched himself along the sofa in her room, modestly clad in sweatpants and a t-shirt. He lay listening to the quiet sounds of deep night. Her breathing, slow and steady in her sleep. The hiss of the ever-present traffic, faint with distance.
Giles is not her father and never will be.
She trusted him. He wouldn't trust himself. He'd wavered and fallen and spent as many years as she'd been alive branded by his error, his selfish pursuit of a moment's sexual thrill. But she was right. For her, he would rise above himself. In the morning, he would make love to her, and on the Solstice, she would not be offered to the bull god. And on her eighteenth birthday, she would not be offered to Artemis. He'd offer himself instead. And if she died, it would be because he had died first, facing her enemies. Thus he would fulfill his oath, sworn to his god Apollo and to her. This decision brought him peace, and Giles let himself sleep.
An important character moment for him. He's come to his decisions and will now work them through.