CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

The battle lasted for the better part of an hour, but went surprising well considering the odds they were fighting up against. Spike hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d described the monstrous forces that they would be facing. If anything, the vampire may have understated their numbers. There were thirty, possibly forty of the creatures. To Buffy they looked like gigantic steroid-hyped lawn grubs. Their elongated bodies were a good seven to eight feet in length, and their translucent pasty-colored flesh rippled in hideous waves as they humped forward, crawling across the ground like obscenely overweight inch worms. The bulk of their legs, of which they seemed to need plenty to hold up those massively bloated forms, were sturdy segmented stalks, with each one ending in a pointed spike that the beasts were able to wield with a proficiency as effective as any stake. At their back end each worm demon had a set of long whip-like tails, which they could use to sweep an enemy’s legs out from under them. At the opposite end was a tiny head encased in a hard, armored carapace that defied all efforts to pierce. Luckily, the demons’ fleshy bodies weren’t quite so impervious to their weaponry, though it took some deep slicing and stabbing, not to mention an extraneous amount of flying goo before one could penetrate deep enough to inflict any real damage.


The one weak spot the creature did seem to possess was on its underside. Of course, it wasn’t easy getting the critters to roll over and do more than just play at being dead. Besides all those spiked feet that waved around each time one of the demons reared up to strike, there were two additional sets of legs at the front end to deal with, and those, of course, were naturally both longer and more dangerous. The creatures swung these multiple jointed limbs like serrated tentacles, slashing and cutting whatever came within reach. Or, using the appendages like prehensile arms, the beasts could capture a hapless victim helpless, crushing them slowly with constricting pressure, or simply holding them still until they could snip their prey apart, limb by limb, with their enormous mandibles. Or, at least, that’s what Buffy conjectured. To the Scoobies’ credit, she never got to actually see if the demons were capable of decapitating anyone in one bite, for when the battle was over and all the worm beasties were dead, everyone still had a head attached.


A lot of that had to do with Giles. Not that the others didn’t pull their own weight, but if Buffy had thought that her Watcher’s performance that afternoon had been impressive, his fighting skills could only be described as unbelievable. Giles fought like a demon, which, of course, he was, so it only made sense. She had brought along a favorite sword for her Watcher, a two handed sword that she’d always imagined would have looked perfectly at home in the hands of King Arthur or some other valiant medieval knight type. She thought she remembered Giles saying that the weapon had belonged to some Irish slayer from back in ancient days, but when she’d asked him to tell her about it he had gone off on one of his rambling Watcher history treatises, and she’d quickly lost interest, tuning him out altogether.


But tonight she was completely entranced by the dashing figure cut by her handsome mentor. With his mane of hair whipping, his every muscle working in sinuous harmony, Giles looked simply magnificent. Shortly into the battles start he shed his shirt, giving his arms more freedom, and the rest of them a free show in the bargain. At several points in the battle, Buffy found her attention wandering wistfully in the Watcher’s direction. She could almost picture the Brit in the role of a noble savage warrior. Dressed in a loin cloth, his near-naked torso painted in vibrant colors, his body would be cut and bloodied, but still he would fight, his blade slicing through the forces of evil as he defended his precious tribe, and protected his family to the last drawn breath.


Fortunately, things didn’t have to go that far. Spike did his share of killing, as did, of course, Buffy herself. Still, when the last demon had finally dropped, the slayer was glad that it was all over. She was tired. They all were. Well, everyone except Giles. It was as if he’d been infected with some unnatural supply of endless energy. As the others dragged their weary feet on the trek homeward, the Watcher danced around them, wings flapping, and even bursting into song. It was almost annoying. The only thing that kept Buffy from giving the cheery Brit a clip across the mouth to shut him up was that she was just grateful that things had ended as well as they had. At least this time Giles hadn’t gone all psycho-weirdo on them. He’d managed to stay focused and completely sane, not to mention human. And not one little hint of the primal demon beast within made its appearance afterward. Well, maybe there was a little bit of the demon lurking around. Giles did keep giving her a strange look. And not just her, but Willow and Tara, and Anya too. Still, it was an improvement. One that she was very happy to see.


They returned to the house on Revello Drive. Spike tagged along as well. He seemed strangely curious about Giles, asking the others all sorts of questions about the Watcher’s behavior. As the others collapsed into the nearest convenient chair or sofa, the newly demonified Brit flitted about the house, scavaging whatever edibles he could find from the fridge and raiding the cupboards until there wasn’t one cookie or bag of snack food remaining within the entire house. At that point the Watcher announced he was going to make a trip to the convenience store, and changing into cleaner clothing, he took off alone, whistling a jaunty tune as he jogged off down the street.


“Well, that was an experience,” Xander sighed as he sank tiredly back into his chair. Extending a lazy arm, he rummaged hopefully around in the bottom of a corn chip bag, looking for some crumb that might have escaped the voracious Watcher’s appetite. Finding a whole chip, he grunted with satisfaction, and popping the salty morsel into his mouth, began to happily crunch away. “Please tell me it’s not going to be like this every time. I don’t know how much more perky Giles I can take.”


“I know what you mean,” Willow smiled, snuggling up to her girlfriend Tara. “Maybe it’s some kind of demon thing.”


“I’m a demon,” Spike said. “And I’m nothin’ like that.”


“It could be more a species thing,” Anya frowned. She had staked out the end of the couch opposite Tara and Willow, and kicking off her shoes, had curled her legs up beneath her and settled in, pillow in lap. “I used to hang out with this Hoortan demon. Every time he got into a fight it was....pbffft! Kablooey!”


“Was he as bad as Giles?” Dawn asked.


“Oh, way worse,” the ex-vengeance demon replied. “The guy didn’t have a shred of self control. The minute his dander was up it was blood and limbs flying everywhere. You have no idea how hard it is to get Hoortan body fluids out of your clothes. At least he used to regenerate real fast. A day or two, and he’d grow back his missing body parts.”


“So, when you say he went kablooey, you were talking like in the actual sense of him exploding?” Willow grimaced.


“Not so much exploding as...detaching,” Anya responded contemplatively. “It’s a thing. When they feel threatened, or in danger, and they want to get away, they separate their limbs from their bodies. Hoortans are strong, but they’re not much with the bravery.”


Xander paused in his chewing to direct a questioning stare at his girlfriend. “And you dated one of these guys?”


“Not dated,” Anya returned. “Just hung out with. We both knew the same friends, and then their friends became our friends...you know how it is. It’s kind of like us,” she said, gesturing to indicate the room of people around her.


“Willow might have a point,” Tara said, refocusing the subject back onto the Watcher’s recent strange behavior once again. “It could be Giles is acting perfectly normal, you know, for the kind of demon he is.”


“Yeah, but what kind of demon is that exactly?” the slayer pouted. She looked to Spike, who replied with a mute shrug. “Well whatever he is, I think it’s safe to say his behavior is anything but normal,” she grumbled petulantly. “Giles has been doing some pretty scaresome stuff in the past twenty-four hours, stuff he never in a million years would have done when he was...Giles.”


“You mean stuff like singing and Cookie Monster binges, and boinking hot hootchie-mama demons?” Dawn commented with a glib offhandedness, confident that, for once at least, she was party to what was going on. Her smugness quickly faded, however, as her sister blushed, suddenly developing an unnatural interest in the chipped paint job on one fingernail. Sitting forward, the teen frowned, worry creasing her young brow. Buffy was holding something back. “There’s more stuff?” she gulped, her voice meekly anxious. “Like...worse stuff?”


“What could be worse than a junk food addiction?” Willow nervously blurted. The tension in the room was becoming uncomfortably strained, and she sensed a need to lighten the mood. Usually, that was Xander’s job, but he hadn’t jumped in, so it was up to her to break the downward spiral of gloom. “You know, personally, I’ve always suspected Giles had a secret problem with sweets. Didja ever notice now he never was without his stash of those little cookies around the house? Yup, definitely a sign of sugar substance abuse.”


“I don’t think Buffy’s talking about his sweet tooth,” Anya bluntly responded. Her eyes narrowed, and she regarded the slayer with a knowing suspicion. “Giles did something, didn’t he? Something evil.”


Buffy squirmed, cringing back into her chair. She wanted to hide, to get away. How could she tell them? Giles had kissed her. They would never believe that. Or, worse yet, what if they did, and they found out that she’d like it? It was all just too much.


“Buffy?”


Reaching out, Dawn gently touched her sister’s hand. Immediately, Buffy withdrew from the contact, pulling away to retreat further back into the chair’s overstuffed cushions. No one else seemed to notice the look of hurt that suddenly darkened the teen’s eyes. They were too busy talking.


“Come on, guys!” Willow was saying, her tone summarily dismissing Anya’s statement as impossible. “This is Giles we’re talking about here. I mean, how evil could he get?”


“I think his recent explorations this afternoon into demon sexuality sort of answers that question,” Xander ruefully replied. “I, for one, will never be able to look at the G-man the same way again. I mean, egads! A foursome? I’m not sure I could even fantasize that much sex, let alone be able to actually keep up my part in it.”


“It is an impressive accomplishment,” Anya seconded thoughtfully. “The having sex with three women at once, that is,” she clarified, not wanting the others to misunderstand. “Sex with demons, less impressive. More...normal. After all, they do it all the time.”


“Have sex with humans?” Tara blurted incredulously. The wiccan blushed self-consciously as every eye turned toward her.


“I meant they have sex with each other all the time,” Anya frowned. “How else would they get little demons? For most, it’s simple biology. A need to reproduce and continue the species. Of course, with some species, it can be more than that. They lust and love just like humans do. Some demons even do it with humans. And I’m not talking about creatures like incubi and succubi here. That kind of sex is a method of subsistence, just a means to a meal. There are demons out there, non predatory ones, that actually like having sex with humans, just for the fun of doing it. I know, I know. It sounds really crazy, but, if you think about it, there are dozens of different species with human compatible genitalia. And some of them can even reproduce and have children.”


“Gee, Anya,” Dawn said, flashing the ex-demon an insincere smile. “Thanks for sharing that informative Discovery Channel tidbit. Now I know who to ask if I’m ever assigned a term paper about the demon birds and bees.”


“Yeah, well, speakin’ for myself, this whole demon human love-connection ain’t such a terrible thing,” Spike grinned. His gaze slid pointedly toward the quiet slayer, searching for some sign of interest, but she remained withdrawn, her thoughts turned reflectively within. “Bet there’s plenty others out there on both sides what will say the same, too. Just ask big sis about that one.”


That at least attracted the slayer’s attention. The blonde shot him an annoyed glare. Not quite the reaction he’d hoped for, but at least she didn’t ignore him.


“Maybe we should think about hitting the books again,” Willow suggested. “See if we can find what kind of demon Giles is. Then maybe we’d figure out if what he’s doing is normal, or if he’s just suffering some temporary bout of insanity.”


“Sounds like my cue to take off,” Spike scowled as he rose, and slowly stretched out his legs. “You lot can burn the midnight oil if you want. I’m not wastin’ my time on a bunch of books that’s older than I am. There’s still some fun to be had before sunrise.”


The vampire lingered for a brief second, waiting for the slayer to acknowledge his presence. He figured she owed him a thank you for the work he’d done that night, or, at the very least a polite good bye, but Buffy had retreated back into her shell, her dull eyes staring wistfully at a picture of her mother on the wall.


With a disappointed shrug, Spike sauntered across of the room. After one last look, he let himself out through the front door, slamming it behind him as he went.


Sighing, Xander sank back in his chair, relieved that the vampire had decided to leave. Spike made him nervous. Deep down inside, he knew that with the chip in his head there wasn’t anything the Brit could do to actually hurt him or the others, at least, not physically. But Spike was evil. There was just no getting around that. And no matter how much he tried to help, or how convincing his performance as the reluctant hero, Xander couldn’t quite bring himself to trust the vamp.


That was why Xander found it so hard to accept the way Buffy tolerated Spike. Things had been bad enough before Buffy had died, what with Spike practically stalking the slayer, trying to woo her in his sick, twisted way. Since her return from the dead, it seemed like the two of them were spending too much time together. Patrolling. Talking. If he could only get Buffy to see what the vampire was doing to her, how he was messing with her mind, Xander was sure she’d straighten out fast. In fact, she’d started showing signs of improvement the minute Giles came back from England.


Xander frowned thoughtfully. Obviously Giles was going to play a major part in the slayer’s recovery. It was no secret that the Englishman cared very deeply for Buffy, and she for him. Heck, he like Giles, too. The man was like a father to him. Someone else’s father, of course, not his own. Giles was the understanding paternal figure Xander had always wanted. Patient and kind, someone who had always believed in him, even when he couldn’t believe in himself. The Brit dispensed precious pearls of wisdom, yet didn’t condemn him for every little mistake. And when all he’d needed was a sympathetic ear, Giles listened, actually really listened. It’s no wonder Buffy was making such a fuss over getting her Watcher back to normal. She was right. She needed him. They all needed him.


“So!” Rubbing his hands together gleefully, Xander gave his fellow Scoobies an enthusiastic grin. “Don’t know about anyone else, but this boy’s up for some rousing fun and book learnin’. Somebody book me so we can get this party goin’!”








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