An hour later, the remaining members of the gang finally returned from their research gathering mission. The four intrepid Scoobies quickly unloaded Xander’s car, and trooping in through the front door, their arms loaded with boxes and books from the Magic Box shop, they each stopped and smiled in turn as they caught a whiff of the house’s warm, chocolatey aroma.
“Hey, you’re back!” Skipping up the center hall, her face still smudged with traces of fudgey goodness, Dawn enthusiastically greeted the returning crew. “Didja find what you needed?”
us started, anyway. We’d have had more, but somebody was too busy inventorying anything that might still be sellable to help the rest of us out.”
The pointed glare she volleyed toward Anya did not go unnoticed.
“And I seem to recall a certain someone who kept reading the books instead of packing them into boxes,” the ex-demon haughtily tossed back in kind.
“Well, how else was I going to decide if we needed a particular volume?” Willow retorted, defending her actions. “It’s not like they have chapters labeled ‘how to turn a demon Watcher into a human again’. Some of these books don’t even have a table of contents, period!”
“Ladies, please ” Xander implored, coming between the two girls. It was obvious from his weary expression that spat had already grown old. “I thought we agreed to let this go. We’ve got work to do, remember?”
“I’m not the one that started it this time,” Anya protested.
“I don’t care from this time, or last time,” Xander countered. “Or any other time. It’s over. Done. Finished. No more. Got it?”
“But she -”
Xander cut her off with a pointing finger. Scowling, Anya sighed.
“Fine,” she grumbled, throwing a dagger-like look toward the gloating red head.
“Anya,” Xander chastised.
“I didn’t say anything ” the ex-demon snapped back bitterly.
“You were looking at her.”
“Well, I can’t help it. I have eyes. They look at things.”
“Yeah, and all we’ve heard about for the last hour is what they’ve been looking at,” Willow complained with a dismayed roll of her eyes. She shook her head, turning toward the teen at her side. “The whole time we’re at the Magic Box it was ‘Did you see Giles’ arms? Weren’t they nicely muscled? Oooo!, and his legs were so well shaped. And wasn’t his butt sexy? And -”
“Again, with the reminder,” Xander exploded, this time directing his finger at the witch. “No more talking about Giles’ butt! ”
“But I wasn’t talking about Giles’ butt,” Willow pouted petulantly. “Anya was. I was just telling Dawn about -”
“Just telling Dawn about what?” Buffy asked, strolling up the hallway. Joining the group gathered in the foyer, she looked around her at the circle of quiet, guilty faces. “All right,” she asked, folding her arms across her front. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Willow mumbled. She cast a contrite look toward Xander.
“Yes, nothing,” Anya agreed, nodding, but she managed a brief, baleful glare for the red head before turning aside to deposit her box on the floor.
“All right, it’s nothing,” Buffy shrugged, dismissing the unshared issue. “I just hope that this ‘nothing’ doesn’t decide to become a ‘something’ that’s going to interfere with our research. I want to get this thing over and done with pronto. Is that understood?”
“Yes,” the two girls replied in humbled tandem. Breathing a relieved sigh, Xander broke into a broad grin. He was hopeful that this time the truce would actually take.
Sensing to the slayer’s subliminal aura of tension, Tara voiced a cautious sympathy. “What’s wrong?” the blonde wiccan asked. “Has something happened to Giles? I mean, you know, something else,” she amended quickly.
“No,” the slayer sighed, taking Tara’s box from her. Adding it to the others collecting on the floor, Buffy spared a sideways warning glance toward her sib. Dawn’s mouth remained respectfully closed, her eyes wandering the room in feigned innocence. “Actually, nothing much at all’s been happening on the Giles’ front,” Buffy continued, frowning. “I sent him to his room and told him to put on some clothes, and we haven’t heard a peep from him since.”
“He’s probably feeling a little embarrassed,” Tara offered. “I’m sure this is as weird for him as it is for us, the whole him being a demon thing.”
“Oh, now, that’s just stupid,” Anya retorted. “There’s no reason he should be ashamed of being a demon, so long as he’s the best demon that he can be.”
“My girlfriend,” Xander quipped. “The supernatural world’s answer to Tony Robbins.”
Anya frowned and continued. “I was only saying that I was a demon for a thousand years, and it didn’t stop me from enjoying a meaningful life.”
“Right. And this meaningful life we’re talking about wouldn’t happen to be the one that involved all the eviscerating and maiming of innocent people, would it?” Xander queried pointedly. “You know, Ahn, it just might be that is what’s bothering Giles. I can’t imagine he’s exactly thrilled about the idea of throwing away a lifetime vocation of Watcherly duties and a big juicy retirement plan to join forces with the other side and start a new career in End of the World Destruction.”
“Not every demon is out to destroy all humanity,” Anya griped in exasperation. “Some species are very tolerant of humans.”
“Yeah, especially those that happen to rely on them as a major food supply,” the dark-haired youth cynically jibed in return.
“Oh, I don’t think Giles is the kind that eats people,” the shop girl responded with emphatic seriousness. “He doesn’t have the right kind of teeth for tearing raw flesh or crunching bone.”
“Well, there’s a comfort,” Willow enjoined. “At least we won’t have to go to bed tonight worry about whether Giles is going to devour us all.”
“Are there any friendly, non-meat eating demons?” Dawn nervously queried the ex-demon. “You know, vegetarian type monsters?”
“Plenty,” Anya assured the teen. The group gradually drifted into the living room area, where various snack materials and dipping choices, and a platter of store bought cookies had been arranged on the coffee table in the center of the room. As the Scoobies settled down around the impromptu feast, Anya snatched up a pretzel to nibble. “I used to know this Pushaat demon named Abner. All he ever ate was tropical fruit. Pineapple, guava, papayas, mangoes, and bananas …”
“You can pick right off a tree,” Xander added in a chorus line sing-song. His girlfriend frowned at him.
“I think he probably bought them in a store. Anyway, that’s only one kind of herbivorous demon. There are the Tarroo-Ushtey, the Shuhan Ti, the Bahvaahni, and, well, dozens of others. Then there are the creatures that eat human souls. Technically, you could say they don’t eat meat, but since most of their victims usually die, it might not be a good idea to have one of them living in the house with you.”
“Anybody else here suddenly worrying about how hungry Giles might be?” Xander asked, informally polling his fellow companions. There was a timid consensus of raised hands among the group.
As if on cue, the Brit in question wandered in from the next room.
“Actually, I’m quite famished,” Giles announced, pausing in the entry archway. “Proust can keep his madeleines. I much prefer the smell of brownies.”
Strolling boldly into the room, the Watcher found himself to be the uncomfortable center of attention. Though not known as having the most outgoing of personalities, Rupert Giles was, for the most part, comfortable conducting himself in public, even among total strangers. His recent tenure in the retail business had vanquished any tendency toward shyness acquired under his former tenure as a high school librarian and museum curator, and though he had in no way reverted to the brazen and disrespectful attitude he’d once shown as a rebellious youth, he found himself feeling very self-conscious.
A room full of critical gazes effectively pierced the veneer of poise he had attempted to present. Giles thought he knew why they were all looking at him so strangely. He had spent the better part of an hour changing from one outfit to another, trying to find something that fit. His transmutation had resulted in a significant shifting of body mass. Within minutes he discovered that none of his clothes fit properly. His trousers all hung obscenely loose at his hips, and the addition of wings made it next to impossible to get a shirt on his back. Despite a valiant attempt to outfit himself, his appearance was far from the groomed standards of neatness he usually presented to the Scoobies. He had managed to brush the tousled unruliness of his new mane into a semblance of order, and while the sweat pants he chose had an adjustable drawstring waist, and compensated acceptably for his slimmer waistline, the sweater he wore to complete the mismatched ensemble was a fashion disaster. The marled tweed was an ungainly fit, stretched by the large and constantly moving wing structures on his back. It was all he could do to contain the two unseemly twitching appendages, which seemed constantly on the verge of escape from either end of the knitted pullover.
It was Buffy who spoke first.
“Geeze, Giles. A whole hour of primping and fussing, and that’s all you could do?”
“I was not primping,” the Brit muttered defensively. He grunted, tugging self-consciously at his misshapen sweater. “I was trying to find something that would fit me. This...” he said, gesturing toward the casual costume on his body. “...is the best that I could come up with.”
“Well, at least it covers the bare essentials,” Buffy pouted critically. “Though you could do with a few extra inches of shirt to hide the rest of your sins.”
Grumbling, Giles yanked at his sweater, pulling it over the expanse of stomach that remained exposed below the hem. As the material spanned the offending gap of flesh, a feathered wing joint popped up through his collar. Its mate began flapping beneath the garment, struggling to get loose as well, and with an impatient grunt, the Brit attempted to rearrange both wayward limbs, stuffing them back into his sweater. His efforts only managed to aggravate matters, however, and as the long feathered appendages poked out at his waistline below, he swore, cursing their uncooperative nature.
“Blasted…damnable things,” he snarled, fighting to subdue the feathered extensions.
Arching his back, Giles wriggled, his wings undulating and flexing under his shirt as they adjusted their position. For several minutes he grappled with the restless limbs, attempting to tame their behavior like a distraught parent disciplining a pair of ill-mannered youngsters, and all the while, his audience watched in barely concealed amusement.
“Do you have any idea how ridiculous you look?” Anya sighed as the Brit gyrated in yet another improbable position. “Ridiculous, and yet, also very sexy.”
Giles froze. It had been a long time since someone had voiced the opinion that he was sexy, and it had tickled his ego now just as it had all those years ago when Jenny Calendar had teasingly called him a “sexy fuddy duddy”. The memory invoked pleasant feelings from an all too brief, but happier time in his life.
The Brit pulled his arms from behind him, and stared down at the fistfuls of feathers that lay clutched in his hands.
“Well, that was a rather unpleasant experience,” he muttered, frowning. “It appears we can rule out amputation as a way to get rid of these bloody things. The excruciating pain is a definite determent. ”
“Why would you want to cut off your wings?” Willow queried.
“They are the most singularly significant feature that makes me look like a demon,” Giles replied, wrestling with an errant limb as it again fluttered out of control. “Not to mention their being conspicuous..and a damned nuisance!”
Growling under his breath, the Watcher gyrated and began to turn around in endless circles. It took several frustrating efforts, but he finally managed to get all the feathers back into hiding under his shirt.
“I think you look more like an angel than a demon,” Dawn announced as she flopped down on the sofa. “Except, you know, no halo.”
“He may have the look,” Buffy grudgingly countered. “But he sure doesn’t have the mouth. Geeze, Giles! I thought smart people like you didn’t use words like that.”
“One of my majors at university was language,” the Brit quipped as he readjusted his stretched sweater. “I know how to use ‘words like that’ in five different tongues.” A strange glint suddenly sparked in the Watcher’s eye, and he flashed a suggestive grin at his slayer. “If you like, I could teach you some very interesting and colorful Latin phrases.”
“No thanks,” the slayer jovially reproached the smiling Englishman. “But I’ll be sure to keep the offer in mind, in case I ever have the urge to date an ancient Roman.”
“Very well,” Giles sighed with over-dramatic disappointment. “But you’re missing out on an excellent opportunity to broaden your educational horizons. I was a very sought after as a private tutor back in my halcyon days of youth. As I recall, I had several female students who exhibited a particularly zealous appreciation for my cunning linguistics.”
Buffy rolled her eyes in horrified revulsion. It was obvious that the Brit was delivering a double message in his words, a message fairly dripped with sexual innuendo.
“He didn’t actually just say what I think he did, did he?” she asked her shocked peers.
“Not only did he say it, but I think he meant there to be a lot more to what he said than what he was actually saying,” Willow replied, confirming the slayer’s fears with a an flustered gulp.
“No...” Shaking her head vehemently, Buffy reflexively threw up a wall of firm denial. “No, no, no, no, no! This-this is wrong. Utterly, and completely wrong. You...” She confronted her lasciviously leering Watcher, chastising him with indignantly pointing finger. “Y-you’re not allowed to say that kind of stuff. You’re not even supposed to know about that kind of stuff.”
“Why not?” Giles petulantly frowned at his outraged slayer. “You obviously seem to know about it.”
“Well, yeah,” Buffy huffed, taken aback by the returned accusation. “But that’s different. I’m not you. You’re you.”
“And just what is that supposed to mean?” Giles grumbled, his eyebrow tweaking with annoyance at the blonde’s cryptic explanation.
“It means you’re breaking the rules,” Buffy pouted. “You’re not allowed to act all depraved and immoral. You’re supposed to be stuffy, and boring, and-and all painfully proper British-like about sex.”
“I’m sorry if my understanding of the facts of life is an offense to your delicate psyche,” Giles grumbled dryly.
“Could someone else jump in here with a new topic?” Buffy whined, turning to her friends for sympathy. “All this sex talk is starting to give me the wiggins.”
“I have a question,” Willow said, jumping in obligingly. “Going back to the wing issue we were discussing earlier. You said it was the only thing that made you look demony. I take it that means the rest of you is still a human. No scales, or tentacles? No bumpy horns hidden in all that hair?”
Giles shook his head. “Only the wings.”
“What about a tail?” Anya asked, pursuing the train of thought further. She munched thoughtfully on another her pretzel as her gaze strayed toward the Englishman’s back side.
“I don’t have a tail,” the Brit retorted defensively.
“Are you sure?” Anya continued to press. “You could easily miss something like that. Did you actually look to see if you had a tail?”
“Of course I looked ” Giles snapped. His tone escalated curtly as a wing fluttered from confinement, and began to flap out of control, knocking a bowl of full of chips to the floor. Grumbling in disgust, he dropped to the floor, and started scooping up the mess he had caused.
“Hmmmm ” Anya continued to chew, her expression studied and serious.
“Hmmmm, what?” Xander prompted curiously.
“Oh, nothing,” his girlfriend sighed. “I was just wondering. You know, about what kind of demon Giles is. He doesn’t look like a Garuda, and he’s a too humanoid to be a Tengu. He could be a genii. They usually have four wings. Well, Pazuzu did, anyway. His human shape wasn’t nearly as attractive as Giles’ either. He was all scaly, and had these big bulging eyes.” Leaning forward, her voice took on a conspiratorial tone as she nodded at her fellow females. “Now, I never actually saw it myself, but there was this rumor among the lady demons that his penis was shaped like a…”
“Anya ” Xander’s dismayed expression immediately silenced the ex-demon’s juicy tidbit of gossip. Scowling her annoyance, Anya vented a verbal barrage on her boyfriend.
“Now what?” she griped. “I was following your stupid rules. It wasn’t talking about Giles’ penis. And I didn’t say anything about his wings, or his muscles, or his butt,” she grumbled as she ticked off the variously forbidden items on her fingers.
“You’ve instructed her about not discussing my…erm, posterior?” the shocked Brit challenged his younger male companion. “For god’s sake, why?”
“Do you want her talking about it?” the boy carped back in return.
“Well, no,” Giles frowned, a self-conscious blush briefly crossing his face. “But, then, I would think that common sense…has nothing whatever to do with what comes out of her mouth,” he sighed, his thoughts doing an abrupt about face in mid-sentence. “Yes, I understand completely. It’s just…well, frankly, it’s quite disturbing.”
“Hence, the rule,” Xander remarked.
“For which the rest of us are extremely grateful,” Buffy chirped brusquely. “As it will ensure total and undivided concentration on more serious matters, such as research?” She nodded toward the boxes stacked and waiting in the foyer. “Time’s a wastin’ guys, so everybody grab a book and start readin’.”
There was a quiet surge of movement toward the abandoned boxes in the hallway. As the others picked through the volumes rescued from the Magic Box, the insistent buzz of the oven’s timer called Dawn to the kitchen to check on her baking.
Wandering back to their places in the living room, the Scoobies quickly settled down, and got started on their researching. With her brownies out of the oven and cooling, Dawn was free to rejoin her companions. Over the next hour, the group patiently paged through text after text of magic, searching for a spell that would change Giles back into his former human self. The Brit worked diligently along with the rest of them, sitting on the floor before the fireplace, tirelessly leafing through the more arcane tomes. From time to time he would let out some muttered exclamation, or writhe in discomfort as he tugged at the wings beneath his sweater. It was obvious he was frustrated by his new body, and as he voiced increasingly annoyance with the idiosyncrasies of his physical demon form, Buffy found herself worrying about her Watcher. Just how much of a demon was Giles, really?
Without a doubt, the Brit was more irascible, and from what she had seen so far, he suffered from some wicked mood swings. He looked a little different, too. Not so much in his face, though the extra hair and diminished wrinkles certainly were a favorable improvement. And maybe it was just her imagination, but Giles actually looked kinda handsome, especially whenever he smiled. He seemed to be doing that a lot as he discussed his research findings with the various Scoobies. Buffy couldn’t remember ever seeing her Watcher act so animated and alive in a social situation. In the past hour he had tossed out a dozen or so witty comments, several of which managed to make even Xander laugh out loud. He also flirted shamelessly with each of the women in the room, and there were lots of giggles and titters, as well as a few embarrassed blushes to go around.
It was all so strange and bewildering, and took more than a little getting used to, just like Giles’ new studly appearance. Stealing an appreciate look toward her Watcher, Buffy sighed. Much as it pained her to admit, demon Giles was quite the delicious muffin of a man. Even outfitted as he was in ill-fitting clothes, his trim figure scored a definite bed worthy rating on the Ol’ Buffy Charm Meter, though she wasn’t sure he would keep his standing much longer. Not with the way he’d been eating. Giles’ appetite was enormous, to say the least. She had watched him devour more food than Xander, who was known for his voraciousness when it came to snacking. Not usually one to eat stuff like Cheetos, or Ding Dongs, the Brit he had eagerly scarfed down quite a few handfuls of each, as well as decimating the better part of a bowl of pretzels, and nearly all of the chips and dip they had put out. It was like the Watcher’s stomach had become a bottomless pit, and he was pushing as much carbohydrate, fat and sugar into it as he could possibly get his hands on.
But the thing Buffy found most disturbing about Giles was the way he looked at her. At first she had thought his furtive glances were a sign of nervousness. After all, he was a demon, and she was the slayer. Her job was to kill things like him. And, maybe, there was some of that. But there was something else, too. Whenever she looked up and caught his lingering gaze studying her a little too hard, the hairs at the back of her neck would begin to itch. At those moments, she was tempted to describe his eyes as dangerous. They were so piercing and intense. It was like they wanted to consume her in some rapturous observation. Not that she was afraid Giles would actually eat her, though there was an undeniable hunger lying within the Svengali-like depths of those big, greenish pools. No, the shivers the Watcher’s expression inspired weren’t because of any fear that he might harm her, but that she would be unable to resist his devilishly rakish charm should he unloose it upon her.
Shaking her head, Buffy sighed and forced herself to concentrate on her book. She could feel Giles staring at her again. It was unnerving. Shifting self-consciously in the corner of the couch she occupied, she glanced up briefly, only to be caught by her Watcher’s brilliant smile. An innocent enough gesture in itself, and yet it struck through to her very core with its strange, disarming power.
“The brownies must be cool by now,” Dawn announced. Her question interjected into the distracted reverie of Buffy’s wandering thoughts, and brought the slayer back to reality.
“Uh, yeah,” Buffy agreed. Turning away from Giles’ gaze, she felt her cheeks flush with warmth. “And right on time, too. Looks like we’re ready for another round of goodies.”
Dawn started to get up, but Buffy stayed her with a hand.
“I’ll take care of it,” she said, leaping to her feet. “You sit tight. Keep the research torch burning.”
The teen gratefully assented without argument to her sister’s proposal. Usurping Buffy’s comfy pillow-piled corner of the couch, Dawn quickly settled in and buried her nose back into her book. The others barely acknowledged Buffy’s exit from the room. Except for Giles. His unwavering gaze followed the slayer as she scurried away, and it wasn’t until she’d reached the empty sanctuary of the kitchen that Buffy finally felt safe enough to let down her guard and relax.
Finding a serving platter in the cupboard, Buffy placed it next to the pan of cooling brownies. She rustled up a sharp knife, and carefully trimming away the slightly dry outer edges from the moister center section, she began to measure out a dozen and a half generously sized squares from the chocolate sheet. Studiously, she transferred the pieces over to the waiting dish, piling them into neat and tidy pyramid. And through it all, she was unable to stop thinking about her Watcher.
Something about Giles was giving her a maxi-sized case of the wiggins. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what was bothering her, but she was getting some pretty definite vibes from the Brit. It’s because he’s a demon, she rationalized reflectively. Those ol’ spidey senses are just working overtime. But she knew there was more to it than that. There was something bigger at work here, something so terrible she didn’t dare think about it.
And therein lay the problem. Because she did keep thinking about it. About him. Giles was so dreamy looking, what with his wild mane and his beautiful wings. And that knock out of a body isn’t so bad either, she thought, her impish grin blossoming as her mind recollected the image of Giles in his skimpy towel wrap. Is that how he’s always looked? If so, someone should have been shot for selling him all those horrible tweed suits he used to wear. A figure like that should be wrapped in leather, if in anything at all. Yeah! Her grin continued to grow to obscene dimensions. Giles in leather. Mmmm Bet that butt of his would look real good in a pair of tight…
Geeze, Summers, you’re doing it again!
Shuddering with revulsion, Buffy tried to shake away the image that had begun to take form in her thoughts.
No! Leather pants and Giles equals badness. Stop thinking about that right now. Sighing, she purged the forbidden image from her head. Whew! Was that ever close. Another minute, and that picture would’ve burned itself into my brain for all eternity.
Putting aside all thoughts of her demon Watcher and his well-muscled body, Buffy ignored the tell tale warmth that had begun to well up deep inside her belly. Instead, she concentrated her attention on the task before her, and wielding her knife with consummate care and deliberation, she continued to fill the platter beside her with row upon row of freshly baked brownies.