CHAPTER ONE

The wizard was an ancient and powerful foe, and running true to form in the town of Sunnydale, Hellmouth Capital of the World, he was evil to the very core of his soul. He had an astonishing command of the darker arts, his skills surpassing any of the original estimations, and that was a factor that nearly proved their undoing. As typical of so many others before him, the mage’s ambitions included total global domination through an insidiously malefic scheme. The plan involved stealing the superior strength and youth that were the inherent essence of what made the Slayer the Chosen One. With these pilfered preternatural powers the sorcerer intended to gain control of the omnipotent stream from which the most primal magics flowed, an energy that touched and existed within everything the world itself encompassed. It was a power that would grant the magician invincibility, and for all practical purposes, make him nearly immortal. But the dark destruction of such realized supremacy was guaranteed to corrupt even the most righteous of men, taxing their very sanity as it consumed all that kept them human. As this particular mystic was already leaning well into the realm of mental instability, the world could be assured that his diminished sagacity would only continue to plummet to newer psychotic depths as he forsook all sense of morality and judgement, neither caring nor considering who or what was destroyed in his never ending quest for prepotency.


The resulting battle had been difficult and exhaustive for everyone, with the ever escalating exchange of violent blows and spell casting culminating in an electrifying display of lightning bolts, fiery sparks and tempestuous winds. In the thickest of the action there had been people coming from all directions at once, some with weapons of steel or the power of their fist, others relying on the more intangible strength of charms and invocations. At the end there had been a tremendous, blinding explosion that had rocked the very walls of their make-shift arena within the Magic Box store, and when, at last, the ground had stilled, and the smoke and magical fireworks had fizzled and died away, Buffy found herself the only one left standing amid a chaotic rubble, once more the victor, if only by default, in the fight against evil.


For what felt an eternity, Buffy waited, poised to meet the next attack, but none was forthcoming. Where moments before there had been thunderous explosions, deafening quiet now reigned. A vaporous mist swirled lazily about the room, its ethereal fingers slowly dissipating on an invisible draft. Confused anarchy was the current theme of décor for the shop. Furniture lay upended and rearranged with haphazard design from wall to wall, the layout bearing no obvious rhyme or reasoning, the pieces apparently having been placed at the whim of some fickle tornado. Display tables and shelving had been stripped clean of their inventory, which lay scatter across the floor like so much trash in mountainous and untidy heaps. There was broken statuary, smashed bottles, pottery shards, and a veritable rainbow of glittery gems and paraffin candles. Crushed boxes of incense released a cacophony of scents to sting the senses. Pickled rats’ eyes mingled with lizard tongues and bird feathers, while gallons of holy water saturated a plentiful harvest of herbs to create a magical stew, the resulting odor of which was enough to unsettle even the most cast iron willed of stomachs, and Buffy quickly found herself taking on a new enemy from within as she swallowed and fought to keep down the fermenting remnants of the dinner she had eaten earlier that night.


“Aw, man ” came a voice from behind the cash register counter across the room. “It smells like something died in here ”


Buffy turned to see a dark head of hair rear up into view. Xander straightened slowly, leaning on the counter before him for support as he fired off a sporadic round of coughing, his hand waving frantically at the air to disperse the acrid fumes he was breathing.


“Whatever raised the big stink, I’m glad to see it wasn’t an ex-you,” Buffy remarked, firing off a relieved grin at her friend.

“My sentiment exactly,” the boy smirked back. His smile quickly faded, however, as he took in the carnage that surrounded him. “Whoa Well, I know where my works coming from for next year or two. Who says you can’t become a millionaire doing construction?”


A loud crash startled them both. Spinning around, Buffy found herself staring at a bight shock of red hair peeking out from under one of the few tables that had remained on its feet. Willow flashed her friend a shaky grin as she crawled out from her hiding place and stood up. She was followed by a second figure emerging from beneath an overturned chair, a tawny blonde with long, straight hair and shy, limpid eyes. Helping Tara to her feet, Willow brushed away the sparkly mantle of magic dust that clung to the other girl’s clothing, then taking her hand, led her across the room toward Buffy.


Xander frowned, surveying the destruction. “Ahn?” he called out. “Anya?”


“Over here ” came a perturbed reply from off in a corner.


The four young adults turned in unison, and forging a path through the piles of trash, went to their companion’s aid. They found Anya sitting cross-legged on the floor behind what had once been the glass display cabinet housing various porcelain pieces and statuary, but now was nothing more than broken shards. The ex-demon was trying unsuccessfully to fit together two large halves of an urn that didn’t quite match, and her frustration was obvious.


“Look at this!” she whined, holding her project up for Xander to look at. “This was a one of a kind Darzerian urn. Do you have any idea what this thing is worth?”


“I’m guessin’ pretty much nothing now,” her boyfriend replied. Anya scowled, unable to acknowledge his attempted humor. “But, you’re okay,” Xander smiled. Reaching down, he lifted the girl to her feet, wrapping her in the affirming embrace of his arms. “And that’s worth everything to me.”


With a happy giggle, Anya dropped her urn to the floor, all thought of lost profits forgotten as she snuggled closer, moving in for a kiss from her boyfriend. As her lips were about to meet Xander’s, a raucous insult rang out from off to her left.


“Oh, please ” cried a disdainful voice with a street thick British intonation. “You’re bleedin’ two thousand years old, and you fall for a line of crap like that?”


“It’s not a line of crap,” Anya pouted in protest as she threw a glare toward the peroxide blond vampire, Spike. “It just so happens to be the way Xander really feels.” But a small seed of doubt had been planted, and she turned to Xander, her eyes beseeching confirmation. His reply was simple, but effectively convincing. Leaning down, he pressed his mouth to hers in a warm and titillating passionate kiss that left the ex-demon swooning with giddy delirium.


“I can relate to that,” Willow snickered. She winked suggestively at Tara, and slipping an arm around the blonde wiccan’s waist, hugged her.

“Whatever this is,” Buffy chortled as she gave the two couples a jovially skeptical eye. “It’s obviously contagious.”


“Not to mention disgusting,” Spike grumbled acidly.


“I think it’s sweet.”


Buffy smiled, observing her friends with doe-eyed satisfaction, and just the smallest touch of jealousy. How she longed for the days when she had a significant other to snuggle and buss. But Angel was out of the picture, their love one of eternal frustration, undying and never again to be consummated, while Riley was gone, and the scars of his departure nearly healed. There was Spike, of course. He had professed his love as well, but somehow, she couldn’t quite bring herself to that level. One vampire lover had been enough to last her a lifetime, thank you. Plus, there was that whole evil thing she couldn’t overlook. No, while it was flattering to know that Spike cared for her, it was just a little too creepy.


It was Tara who finally remembered that the last member of the Scooby Gang had yet to be seen. Breaking gently away from Willow’s embrace, she surveyed the shop’s destruction with a concerned gaze.


“Has anyone seen Mr. Giles?”


The question prompted a twinge of guilt in the others, with the notable exception of Spike. While they’d been busy thinking of themselves, the Watcher lay somewhere, buried in the rubble around them.


“Last I saw he was over there,” Xander said, gesturing toward the back of the store. “By the...”


Xander’s voiced trailed off, his jaw dropping open. Where once there had stood a table full of research books lay a pile of nothing but flattened wood. A massive bookcase had somehow worked free of its foundation, and toppling from the balcony above, had crushed the table, effectively burying it in a jumbled avalanche of ancient tomes.


“Giles?” Scrambling forward through a voluminous sea of debris, Buffy raced toward the back of the shop, her companions following close behind on her heels. Her keen slayer eyes had spotted something. A hand. It dangled limp, exposed beneath a spread of yellow parchment pages, a thin trickle of blood oozing down across the upturned palm. And on the smallest finger, a familiar gold band with a black stone inset. Giles’ ring. Her Watcher was hurt.


Buffy crawled up over the collapsed library, dislodging books right and left in her haste to climb the mountain. Perching atop its apex, she dropped to her knees, and grasping Giles’ hand, she gave it a tentative squeeze. She didn’t know how long it took for a body to grow cold after death, but the warmth she felt against her fingers was encouraging, and she tenderly patted her mentor’s hand in reassurance.


“Hold on, Giles,” she whispered. “I’m gonna get you out of there.”


Releasing the Brit’s hand, she evaluated the heavy bookcase that lay horizontally across the tomb of books. Carefully, she braced a shoulder against the massive piece of furniture, and with a determined grimace, threw her weight against the shelving. She felt her feet shifting, scuttling momentarily on the unstable pile of books, but she quickly found more reliable footing, and giving the bookcase another push, raised it high enough to get her hands underneath for a better grip. At that point she could shove the case down the other side of the heap, where, allowing gravity to take over once again, it dropped to the floor, landing with an ominous clap.


Their leader having cleared the way for them, the other Scoobies fell upon the exposed heap of tomes like a pack of rabid prairie dogs. Even Spike joined in, making it an even dozen hands excavating through the mound of manuscripts. Books flew in every direction, pages fluttering noisily as they worked to reveal the Watcher’s body lying amid the printed sheets. Buffy thought her heart was going to burst with joy when she finally saw the vigorous rise and fall of the Brit’s shirt front, and tackling the daunting disinterment with renewed determination, she quickly stripped away the last of the books to reveal Giles’ unconscious form.


Staring down at the Englishman, Anya was the first to speak.


“What is that stuff?” she asked.


No one answered. They were all as puzzled by what they saw. Giles’ body was almost entirely sheathed from head to foot in a tar-like goo. The dark, opaque substance was brown in hue, and it glimmered with a faint, florescent sheen, like sprinkles of glitter in deep, bitter chocolate. He was completely smothered in the mess. His formerly white shirt was plastered to his flesh beneath, while his saturated trousers encased his legs in a chrysalis-like wrap. Even the Brit’s hair was permeated with the substance, which dribbled in sheets across his brow and temples, and was advancing like a torpid glacier, glazing his glasses beneath its foul-smelling wake.


Crawling forward, Willow gingerly tilted Giles’ face to one side and examined what appeared to be a swollen bump on his forehead.


“It looks like he bumped his head,” she pronounced to the group.


“Now there’s a big surprise,” Xander snorted. “Giles unconscious with evidence of head trauma. What are the odds of that happening?” He chuckled under his breath, finding humor in even this situation’s gravity. “The guy’s like the only person on this planet who’s got more concussion time wracked up on his medical charts than Steve Young.”


“Should we call an ambulance?” Tara inquired. Her timorous pout exhibited concern as Willow continued her evaluation of the Brit’s condition.


“Well, he’s not bleeding,” Willow observed, turning Giles' head slowly side to side. It was obvious from her grimacing expression that she found the tactile sensation of touching the strange goo unpleasant. “It’s kind of hard to tell if he’s suffered any serious damage, what with all this...stuff on him. I mean, his skull seems intact, but…” Wiping her hands off on her skirt, Willow frowned thoughtfully, and sat back on her heels. “If he doesn’t wake up soon, I’d start thinking about dialing nine one one.”


As if on cue, there was a low, rumbling groan from the sprawled figure before her. Stirring slowly, Giles sighed, and sturggled to pry open the sticky seal of his eyelids. At first, all he could see was a bright haze. A blurred face swam above him, and he squinted, trying to bring it into focus. The unmistakable halo of reddish hair told him that it was Willow, and as he winced, gathering his strength to sit up, he could hear the young witch scramble cautiously backward, her quiet whispers joining others in some inaudible discussion.


It took a concerted effort, but Giles finally managed to raise his torso into what passed as an upright position. As he slowly settled his muscles back, he did a superficial mental inventory of the physical damage his body had undergone. Every inch of him felt bruised and sore. His head throbbed, pounding with all the vicious retribution of the worst hangover he could remember. A dizzy wave of nausea swept over him, doing little to dispel the feeling that he was suffering from an overindulgence in alcohol, and as he bit back another piteous moan, Giles blinked, and peered over the slime-smeared lenses of his glasses to find himself surrounded by a sea of anxious young countenances.


“Bloody hell!” Bracing himself against the perceived sway of the ground beneath him, the Brit regarded his audience with trepidation. “Judging by the looks on your faces, I must be dead.”


A collective sigh of relief went up from the gathered Scoobies. Stepping forward, Buffy smiled at her Watcher.


“You’re not quite ready to push up the daisies yet,” she replied, her eyes twinkling mischievously. “But you sure smell like you could fertilize a field or two.”


Grunting, Giles carefully removed his glasses and inspected the sticky lenses. “I feel like I’ve been hit by a lorry,” he complained, his hand fumbling for the pocket of his trousers where he always kept a clean handkerchief. He paused in his search, frowning as his fingers encountered a strange, foreign substance on his clothing. In a startled flash of insight, he realized that the same distasteful slime covered the rest of him as well. “Apparently it was a lorry carrying a load of molasses,” he mumbled wryly as he scowled at the unidentifiable brownish goo. “Or am I to be the unwitting guest of honor at a tar and feathering?”


“Ooiii You can count me in for that one,” Spike quipped acerbically. Snatching up a bag from the shambles at his feet, he held it up for everyone to see. “Got my feathers right here, and a lighter, too,” he added, patting his shirtfront. “So bring on that weenie roast. I’m ready.”


Scratching at the back of one hand, Giles lobbed a dark, baleful glare toward the blonde vampire. “Why, I wouldn’t dream of starting the festivities without you, Spike,” he snarled, not bothering to disguise his contempt for his undead countryman. “I’ll see you get the best seat in the house. How about here?” he smirked, patting the pile of wreckage beside him. “Should be plenty warm enough for the likes of you.”


Spike was momentarily taken aback by the cruel insinuation in the ex-librarian’s suggestion. “Yeah, well, come to think on it,” he hemmed, and tossed the bag of feathers over his shoulder. “Never really was one for campfire sing-alongs. If it’s all the same to you, mate, I’ll pass.”


In the silence that followed, the Scoobies exchanged worried glances. Granted, Giles and Spike had never been the best of friends. Either one could be counted on to toss out the odd insult or two, but while Spike was known for his venomously biting sarcasm, Giles’ scathing remarks seldom contained such heart-felt fury as they had just witnessed. But then, after what he had just been through, they certainly couldn’t expect the Watcher to be at his best.


Rubbing at a tender spot on his head, Giles sighed. His back and shoulders ached, and the uncomfortable hammering in his head had only slightly abated in its intensity. Feeling his stomach begin to twist on itself, he swallowed, fighting back the urge to release the bile churning so bitterly inside him. The last thing he wanted was to be sick in front of the others, especially Buffy.


After her mother’s death, Buffy had come to depend on him. It was a role Giles accepted without complaint, and with at least some degree of pride and enjoyment. Years had passed since he felt truly part of a family, his own questionable relationship with his parents not without its moments of difficulty, and even if the Scoobies were a ragtag makeshift clan at best, they were the best thing he had going for him by far. But then Buffy had died, and he began to realize that his presence in Sunnydale was no longer justified. He was a Watcher without a slayer, and in spite of Buffy’s worries to the contrary, the others seemed to get along fine without him.


And so he had left, gone back to England, only to learn that just after his departure, an impossible miracle had occurred. Buffy lived once again. He had barely settled into his new flat when Willow’s phone call beckoned him back, and with anxious trepidation and a pounding heart he had returned to a life he had thought over.


Seeing Buffy that first time had been difficult for him in spite of the profound joy he had felt. How could he not delight in her very presence after so many months of grieving? But she wasn’t the same, and he saw that almost immediately. Though she had her moments, she no longer bubbled over with that endearingly infectious sparkle he had come to both appreciate and adore. It was as if something vital had been taken from her, and she had lost her desire to go on. There were no obvious warning signs he could recognize indicating she harbored self-destructive or suicidal thoughts, and he took encouragement in her intense interest to raise and protect Dawn, her younger sister. Still, he lacked confidence that the depression she worked so hard to hide from everyone was improving, and it tortured him to think there was nothing he could do to relieve her suffering.


“You feelin’ okay there, Giles?”


The Englishman looked up to find the object of his distracted musings staring at him with mild concern.


“I’m fine,” he answered, lying with a smooth assurance. It was obvious from her dubious pout that he’d failed to convince the slayer as to the soundness of his condition. “Well, perhaps ‘fine’ is a slight bit of an overstatement,” he sheepishly amended, forcing a brave smile for her. “But I’m sure it’s nothing a few dozen aspirin and a stiff shot of scotch won’t soon put to rights again.”


Buffy grinned, accepting the readjustment in his self-diagnosis. “If I were you I’d throw a hot shower into that mix,” she teased with a wrinkle of her nose.


“An excellent idea,” Giles chuckled agreeably. Combing a hand over his goo encrusted head, he dug his fingers through the sticky cap of tar and began to scratch at his scalp. “I would certainly welcome an opportunity to clean off this bothersome mess, preferably before it becomes a permanent feature.”


The mysterious substance coating his body was starting to dry. It was tightening mercilessly on his flesh, creating an incessant itch that grew more impossible to ignore with each passing minute. Getting rid of the irritation would definitely be a step in the right direction, Giles decided, and a hot shower sounded like the ideal end to what had been an truly exhausting day.


Hoisting his protesting body to its feet, Giles tottered unsteadily, fighting to keep his footing on the precarious slope of books that shifted beneath him. He stumbled forward with an ungainly lurch, but Buffy moved in quickly to catch him, preventing an embarrassing, and possibly disastrous fall. Steadying his course with her shoulder, she guided his steps down the incline of rubble to the floor. There, back on somewhat solid ground, she gingerly withdrew, allowing him to stand on his own.


“That was one big bookcase you had dropped on your head,” Buffy noted, directing her Watcher’s attention toward the avalanche behind them. “I’m beginning to think the phrase ‘cheating death’ doesn’t mean anything to you.”


“Giles would never cheat,” Willow pronounced as she appeared on the Englishman’s other side.


“At least not so as anyone would notice,” the Brit glibly volleyed back, his green eyes flashing with droll merriment. “However, I have been know to…dear Lord ”


Giles gasped, taking in the scene of total destruction that lay before him. His neatly appointed store had been converted into a scandalous disaster zone of incomprehensible proportion. Merchandise was strewn everywhere. Broken furniture lay belly up in shattered ruin. The walls were charred by blackened streaks, the paint peeled away in long, bubbled blisters. Absolute disorder had flattened everything in sight. Even the lights were festooned with destruction, swaying precariously on their frayed wiring, and giving out with an occasional shower of sparks.


Breathing a weary sigh, Giles turned toward the ex-demon that had been his business partner. “Best put out the closed sign, Anya,” he ruefully informed her. “We won’t be serving any more customers today.”


With a curt nod, the young woman scurried obediently off to do his bidding.


An uncomfortable silence fell over the shop. As Giles picked distractedly at the troubling material that coated his clothing, the remaining Scoobies exchanged nervous looks. Though he didn’t exactly show it, they could see that Giles was disheartened by having to close the Magic Box, even if it was only a temporary move.


“So ” Xander clapped his hands, signaling a change to a new subject. “What do you think happened to Mr. Wizard?” he asked the Brit.


Giles frowned thoughtfully, glad as the others for the opportunity to put the unpleasant business of the shop’s condition behind him.


“That’s difficult to say,” he said. “I would suspect he met with some unfortunate demise. He was attempting to harness some very dangerous magics, and energy like that seldom comes without a price.” His glance turned momentarily to the two young witches at his side. “It’s a lesson you ladies would do well to learn from,” he gently admonished.


“I think we got that message. Loud and clear,” Willow assured him. Tara vehemently seconded her girlfriend’s statement with an emphatic nod.


Quietly grunting his approval, Giles reached a hand around his shoulder and attacked a patch on his back that had become particularly irksome with some vigorous scratching. Manipulating his skin through his shirt, he dug his fingernails into his flesh, scraping at the burning sensation that plagued him with such intense misery. His efforts failed to bring any measure of relief, however. Changing his approach to the problem, he slipped his hand under his collar, and tearing at his bare flesh directly, growled irritably as he renewed his attempt to find some portion of relief.


“Looks like you forgot to give your old man his flea bath,” Spike chuckled, observing his fellow Brit’s discomfort. Giles muttered something inaudible under his breath. “What’s that?” Spike challenged, his scarred eyebrow arching upward in feigned shock. “You want me to do what?”


“I said you can take your buggerin’ bath and shove it up your...”


“GILES!”


At the slayer’s shocked caution, Giles’ reluctantly backed down. Spike, however, wasn’t as willing to let the unfinished matter drop.


“Sorry to disappoint, mate,” the vampire chuckled wickedly. “But I’m afraid you’re barkin’ up the wrong idea there. This boy doesn’t lean that way.”


The vindictive grumble that rattled in Giles’ throat was enough to make Buffy step in and act as referee. “What’s with you two guys tonight?” she petulantly snapped at the antagonistic pair. “Whatever bug’s biting your butts, it stops right here and now. Understand?”


“He started it,” Spike defended, and tossed a peevish glare toward his foe. Giles retaliated with another menacing growl and a step forward.


“Oh, I haven’t started anything yet,” the Watcher snarled, his hands bunching tightly into hard fists at his side. “But if it’s finishing you want, I’d be only too glad to -”


“Giles ” Buffy’s sharp disapproval cut off the rest of the Brit’s threat.


As if suddenly awakening from a dream, Giles blinked. Realizing just how close he had come to letting out his violent frustration, his expression melted into one of mild alarm.


“I-I…” Stammering, the Watcher took a step backward, his remorseful gaze drawn down to the clenched fists at his side. “Sorry,” he apologized, meekly avoiding his slayer’s castigating frown. “I-I don’t know what came over me.”

“Well, whatever it was, it seems to be gone now,” Buffy announced with relief. Throwing a look over her shoulder toward Spike, she continued. “I think it might be a good idea if you left,” she advised the vampire. “You know, in case whatever it was decides to return.”


“Fine by me,” Spike grumbled.


Pulling his cigarettes from his pocket, Spike took a moment to tap one loose from its pack. With an insolently glower, he tucked the filtered end between his lips, and slipping the crumpled pack back into his trousers, drew out his lighter.


“If I were you slayer, I’d keep my eye on him,” the vampire frowned, nodding at the Watcher. “Looks like that bump on the noggin shook somethin’ loose.”


Flicking his lighter, Spike touched the flame to his cigarette and inhaled. Though his vampire lungs technically didn’t require it, they could still redistribute air, approximating the functions of respiration. This allowed him, among other things, the pleasure of smoking. It was a habit he knew irked the slayer to no end, and for a brief moment, he paused, reconsidering his actions. But the moment passed, and his concerns for the girl’s approval fled with it. She’d made it clear that he’d never win her heart. As it was, he barely had her respect, and that wasn’t enough to force him to change.


Breathing deeply, Spike ignited the cigarette’s tip. He sneered tauntingly at the blonde slayer, daring her to tell him to put out his smoke, but she merely frowned, annoyed with him, but not angered.


“Right then,” he scowled. Returning the lighter to his pocket, he took another puff on his cigarette, releasing a petulant cloud of smoke. “I’ll just be going.” With a final disgusted snort, he turned, and without so much as a backward glance, stalked out of the Magic Box, slamming the door behind him as he left.


“I swear, sometimes I just don’t understand him,” Buffy muttered. “He was so much easier to deal with when he was evil and wanted to kill me. Well,” she continued, dismissing the vampire with a sigh. “I think maybe it’s time we took Giles home. Preferably, before he flays himself alive.”


The tense moment diffused, Giles had once again resumed his agitated scratching. “Yes, right now that bath would be much appreciated,” the Brit heartily concurred, raking at his scalp roughly. Frantically, he attacked the annoying itch that ate at his flesh, using both hands to reach the various offending parts of his body. “I believe I may be getting a rash.”


“Eyuuuughh I don’t want to know where,” Buffy grimaced as she observed her Watcher do a strange little shake with one leg. As Giles’ hand hovered ominously near the front of his trousers, she quickly grabbed his sleeve, and gave it a tug. “Come on,” she commanded, dragging the Englishman in tow behind her. “Let’s get you out of those clothes.”


She turned, and started wading through the amassed destruction that littered the floor, leading the way toward the Magic Box’s entry. The others quickly fell into line behind her, taking advantage of the path she cleared as they hurried to keep pace.


“Now, when you say ‘let’s get you out of those clothes’,” Xander queried worriedly, forging ahead to snatch the shop door and hold it open. “You aren’t meaning that in the sense of anyone actually having to undress Giles, are you? ‘Cause, me? Not really wanting to volunteer for that job.”


“That wasn’t what I meant,” Buffy snorted. The Scoobies quickly filed out of the shop, gathering together on the empty sidewalk outside as Anya locked up the shop. Herding her spastic Watcher toward the curb, Buffy lead him over to the curb where his car sat parked in front of Xander’s. “Believe me,” she grimaced, gently directing Giles toward the vehicles. “I’m no more anxious to see Giles naked than you are.”


“I seriously doubt that,” Xander retorted with a pained grimace.


“I’ll undress Giles,” Anya cheerfully volunteered. Xander frowned at his girlfriend, obviously distressed by her uncharacteristic offer to help.


“Not that I want to discourage this somewhat untimely expression of altruistic generosity on your part,” Xander hesitantly ventured. “But I think Giles can handle his own disrobing, thank you. He’s a big boy, you know.”


“Guess we’ll never know how big for sure,” the ex-demon carped grudgingly under her breath. Xander shot a sharp and reproving look her way, to which she responded with a passably convincing innocent smile.


“Oh, bugger that!” the Brit grumbled dryly with a roll of his eyes. Prying himself loose from the Buffy’s grip, he resumed his scratching as he regarded the two teens with a haughty glare. “May we move this discussion along with perhaps a little more alacrity? This…tar stuff is becoming most unpleasant.”


With a bear-like growl, the Englishman turned, and backing up to a nearby street lamp, began to shimmy up and down, rubbing his shoulder blades against the post. His young audience watched in various states of amusement and wonder as he gyrated up and down with extreme vigor for several minutes before finally giving up in obvious frustration.


“I’m not sure it’s safe to let him drive like that,” Willow voiced with some concern.


“Well, don’t look at me,” Buffy exclaimed, folding her arms across her front. “We all remember what happens when Buffy gets behind the wheel.”


“Why don’t we leave Giles’ car here,” Xander suggested. “I can take you home in my car.”


“No, you can’t,” Anya curtly retorted. At her boyfriend’s puzzled look, she frowned. “He has a very bad odor, and I don’t want him getting that horrible goo stuff all over your nice clean seats.”


“I think I might still have that blanket in the back. You know, the one we used for our picnic the other week. We can wrap it around him, protect the seat.”


“That’d solve the one problem,” Buffy interjected. “But it still leaves us with the other. Plus, how are we all gonna fit in your car, especially with Mr. Antsy Pants and his one man revival of the Twist taking up an entire seat?”


They all stared at the Brit, who was twitching almost violently in his unresolved agony. Giles was turning in a tight circle, his fingers clawing at his clothing and body. He was enacting a fair imitation of a rabid animal, and they half expected to see him start foaming at the mouth.


“Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do,” Buffy said, assuming charge of the proceedings. “Xander? Get your blanket. If nothing else, we can at least use it to restrain Cujo over there. We’ll be taking both cars,” she continued, cutting Anya off before she had a chance to protest. “You two guys can follow behind, make sure we make it home with everyone in one piece. Tara? You get to be designated driver. Will can ride shotgun up front. I’ll take the back seat, and keep Giles in line.”


“I don’t know,” Willow chuckled. She inclined her head toward the industriously squirming Brit. “I mean, I know you’re the slayer and everything, but are you sure you can handle that?”


Buffy frowned, and watched as her usually sedate mentor flapped and hopped about on the sidewalk like an spasmodic dervish. “I think I can successfully wrestle one measly Watcher under my thumb. And besides, if he does start to get too rambunctious, I’ve always got you.”


“Me?” Willow gulped anxiously. “What could I do?”


“You could help me sit on him.” She smiled at the red head’s horrified expression. “I know. Not exactly the best plan B, but we’ll just hope it doesn’t have to come to that. So, everybody ready to get this show on the road?”


Acknowledging their instructions, the gang quickly dispersed to carry out their respective duties. Xander retrieved the promised blanket, while the women cornered Giles and collected the keys to his convertible. The Brit stopped scratching long enough to hand them over, though with obvious reluctance. However, even he could see that in his condition it was impossible for him to drive.


With a resolute grumble, Giles allowed himself to be bundled up, and retiring to the back seat of his car, he waited impatiently for the others to pile in. There was a momentary flurried scramble as everyone dashed about to find their spot in the automotive version of non-musical chairs, but once they had all settled down, the two drivers started up their engines, and carefully pulling out from the curb, moved their two-vehicle parade into traffic and set out on their adventurous journey across town.








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