CHAPTER NINETEEN

They researched into the wee hours of the morning, but found nothing in any of Giles' books about any demons that looked like him.


Around midnight, Buffy sent Dawn to bed. The teen had fallen asleep on the floor where she had been pouring over a large, heavy volume filled with mug shots of various demonic creatures. She didn’t raise much in the way of protest when her sister dragged her to the stairs and sent her up to her bedroom. She was tired, and even though there wasn’t any school the next day, she was happy to leave the boring research to the rest of the Scoobies and call it a night.


A few hours later Xander and Anya decided they’d had enough and took off. Soon after, Willow yawned an apology, promising that after some much needed rest she would tackle the research afresh in the morning. Saying good night, the red head trooped up the stairs, leaving Buffy and Tara sitting alone in the livingroom, surrounded by several piles of still unread books.


Stifling a tired yawn of her own, Tara continued paging through the book in her lap.


“You know, you don’t have to stay up with me,” Buffy said.


Looking up, Tara graced the slayer with a warm smile. “It’s okay. That last cup of coffee left me pretty wired. I’m not sure I could fall asleep.”


Buffy shrugged, deciding not to argue with the wiccan. With a long sigh, she glanced toward the front door, then for what seemed the hundredth time that night, she checked the time on the mantel clock.


Tara’s smile slowly faded, a look of sympathetic concern settling across her gentle features. “I’m sure he’s all right,” she offered.


“What?” Startled out of her reverie, Buffy stared at the blonde witch. “Sorry. Kind of phased out there for a second. What were you saying?”


“You’re worried about Giles,” Tara observantly noted. “He hasn’t come back, and you’re afraid something’s happened to him.”


“Maybe,” the slayer shrugged. “A little. Okay. Definitely. A lot.” With an exasperated sigh, Buffy tossed the book she had been reading onto the coffee table with the others. “He’s been gone for almost six hours, Tara. How long can it take to find a candy bar?”


“I think we both know by now that Giles probably went out looking for something more than just a snack.”


Buffy groaned, and slumped dejectedly down in her seat.


“Yeah, I kind of figured as much when he didn’t come back right away. Oh, God, Tara, what is wrong with him? Why is he doing this?”


“You mean, why is he doing this to you?” the wiccan astutely corrected. She caught a brief glimpse of Buffy’s tortured eyes before the slayer cast them downward. “Oh, Buffy!” Tara murmured sympathetically as she moved over to sit closer to her friend. “I hope you don’t think he’s trying to hurt you on purpose. Giles would never do that. He loves you. It’s...he’s going through something difficult right now. I’m sure he’s just probably feeling a bit confused.”


“I-I know that. I really do,” the slayer sighed. Flopping back against the sofa, she stuck out her lip in a sullen pout. “It’s just...why did it have to be Giles? And why now, when I really need him?”


“It’s now because this is the time that it happened,” Tara sagely explained. “You know we don’t always get to pick and to choose the times we face the obstacles in our lives. They come when they come, and we just have to hope we’re ready for them. As for why Giles? I guess he was just in the right place at the wrong time.”


“So, what you’re saying is that if I weren’t alive now then Giles wouldn’t have had to leave England and come back here. He’d have been safe and sound, somewhere far away from Sunnydale and evil wizard guys and various sundry of Hellmouth disasters and none of this would have ever happened to him.”


“No! That’s not what I meant at all,” Tara fretted anxiously. “What happened to Giles wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Fate simply dealt Giles the tricky hand this time around. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s out of the game. Giles understands the rules. He made his choice a long time ago to play this thing out. And he’s plenty smart enough that he just might come out of this as the big winner.”


A faint smile teased at the corners of Buffy’s mouth as she sniffed, and wiped away a tear that had been threatening to fall.


“Something tells me I should probably think twice before I challenge you to a game of cards,” the slayer chuckled.


Tara’s eyes twinkled, her face lit with a saucy glint of amusement. “You’ve been forewarned. I’m a serious and ruthless card shark. Especially when playing strip poker. I always win. Just ask Willow.”


Buffy blinked, unable to believe that the shy wiccan could have made such a bold, suggestive statement. With a shake of her head, the slayer suddenly broke out into a spasm of giggles.


A warm grin spread it’s way across Tara’s soft features. It had been a long time since she’d seen the blonde slayer express herself with such open, spontaneous emotion. And though the moment was brief, the sincerity of her laughter was definitely refreshing to hear, and Tara beamed with self-pride, knowing she was the one who had prompted it from her, even if only by chance accident.


The fleeting snickers soon died away, and with a small sigh, Buffy turned her gaze once again to the mantel to check out the time on clock.


“He’s not coming back tonight, is he?” Buffy asked, her mouth curled downward in a melancholy pout.


“I don’t know,” Tara shrugged. “Probably not.”


“Oh, God, why did it have to be this!” the slayer lamented, throwing herself back against the couch in despair. “The demon thing, that I can deal with. I mean, he still looks like Giles, kinda. The hair thing might take a little getting used to, but, hey, that’s why they have stylists, right? A little snip here, some shaping there...no one will know he’s not normal. And the wings? Not so bad. The super strength’s a good thing. We can always use some extra fighting muscle on the side of team Scooby. Can’t say the fast healing’s a bad thing, either. His choice in food groups is a little over the top, though. We could go seriously broke keeping him supplied in Hershey bars and Kit Kats. Well, at least it’s real human food, and not humans he’s eating as food. Right? I mean, so what if the budget gets a little over strained? We’ll just have to all tighten our belts and cut back on some of the frivolous necessities.


“And I’m okay with that. Totally down with all the goodness here. It’s just that...” Buffy sighed, a weary sound that seemed to pour out from the aching depths of her soul. “Why, why, why of all things, does it have to be sex? Why, Tara? Please, tell me! Anything else I could handle, but...Giles? Doin’ the nasty? It goes against everything that’s decent and normal in this natural universe. A huge ‘no way is this right’. Giles isn’t supposed to know about sex, and he certainly shouldn’t be having it! It’s...it’s wrong! That’s what it is. Very wrong. And...evil!”


Tara smiled, sympathizing with her slayer friend. “I know it seems a little strange to us,” the wiccan shyly admitted. “Giles has always been so polite and proper. So...really British. It’s hard to believe he could just let go like that and be so, well, uninhibited.”


“Giles hasn’t always been like that,” Buffy mumbled contritely. “He was different when he was younger.”


“Different?” Tara echoed. “You mean, he did crazy kid stuff? Well, that’s kind of to be expected. Isn’t it? Buffy, everybody does something stupid now and then, especially when they’re growing up. It makes sense Giles would have gone through a few phases in his life, maybe rebelled some, or acted out while he was trying to find himself.” She leaned forward toward the slayer, her tone lowering conspiratorially. “I bet he raised a little Hell when he was a teenager.”


“And if that were all he’d raised, I wouldn’t be half so worried,” Buffy muttered aloud as she chewed at her lip. Tara frowned, her puzzled expression prompting the slayer to continue. “Without going into the gory details, let’s just say when Giles went looking for himself, he ran into a couple snags. Big, bad ones.


“Anyway, he’s always been kinda shy about talking about it. Guess he thinks we wouldn’t listen to him anymore if we knew the kind of crap he pulled. What I do know isn’t exactly good. He was pretty wild back then, in an extreme dangerous sort of way. Short of it is, Giles is capable of some pretty ugly stuff.”


“And you’re afraid now that he’s a demon, he’s reverting back to that kind of behavior?”


Buffy nodded. “They used to call him Ripper, you know. Nobody knows how he got the nickname, but I doubt it was from his being thrifty and tearing coupons out of the paper.”


“Still,” Tara consoled, patting her friend’s hand to comfort her. “It says a lot about Giles’ character if he managed to rise above all that and become the person he is today. Buffy, I know you’re worried about Giles. We all are. But, I don’t think he’s dangerous.”


Rolling her eyes, Buffy grumbled something under her breath. Tara couldn’t quite hear everything that she’d said, but the words “Giles” and “sex” figured predominantly amid the obviously disgruntled rumblings.


“Buffy, I can totally understand that you’re uncomfortable with the idea of Giles having a sex life. Especially one as active as he was having. It’s scary, imagining him having those kinds of feelings. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong though. He’s an adult, and if he wants to, you know, then he should be allowed.”


“And you think doing it with three different women at once wasn’t, oh, say, just a bit too much over-sharing?”


“Okay, maybe it was a little greedy,” Tara conceded. “And it’s not the kind of thing you and I are into, but, you know what they say. To each his own...”


“Yeah, well, I think Giles grabbed somebody else’s while he was at it.”


Tara sighed. “The point is, they didn’t seem to mind, and nobody got hurt. Well, except for you,” she added sympathetically.


“Except me,” the slayer sniffled.


“Buffy...” The wiccan frowned thoughtfully and pushed back a lock of tawny hair that had strayed to brush her cheek. “Have you asked yourself why Giles is doing this?”


“I’d think the answer to that was pretty obvious,” Buffy snorted. “He’s evil.” At the witch's reproachful glance, she pouted and amended her assessment. “All right, he’s not evil. He’s insane.”


“Or, maybe, do you think it might be because he can’t help himself?” Tara gently prompted. “Maybe as a demon he feels differently about certain things, things he might have been too shy to admit to anyone before.”


“You mean things like he’s horny?”


“Well, yes, but...” Tara blushed, nervously studying her feet. “I...th-that’s not exactly...” she stammered, then frowned, raising her eyes to look at the slayer. “You’re really upset about this, aren’t you?” she asked.


“Oh, yeah!” the slayer emphatically nodded. “Sorry, Tara, but I think it’s gonna take a bit more than just this friendly little therapy encounter before I get past this one,” she said, giving the wiccan a half-hearted smile. “But don’t feel bad. This has helped. A little. I really do feel better. I just don’t know how long it’ll be before I can say I’m okay with all of this. Not even sure yet if that’s actually possible. But you got things rolling in the right direction. That’s something.”


“I suppose,” Tara smiled.


The silence that followed was interrupted by an unnaturally loud click of the front door latch. Both girls turned intuitively toward the entry, their eyes watching the door expectantly as it swung slowly inward. A second later, they saw Giles creep in across the threshold. The Watcher looked slightly rumpled, as did the brown paper sack that he clutched in his hands. His long hair was tousled from the touch of fingers other than his own, and his shirt hem was crooked, partially hiked up in the back to reveal his wing tips drooping below the waistband of his sagging trousers. Buffy frowned, noting that Giles’ top was also inside out, as if he had put it on in the dark, a fact that she greeted with disappointment and a heavy heart.


A small hum of disapproval escaped the slayer, and Giles whirled around, obviously surprised to find that he was not alone. Flashing a nervous grin at the two girls, he hugged his grocery sack to his chest, the paper rustling loudly beneath his fingers as he unconsciously tightened his grip.


“Are you still up?” he addressed the girls, his voice edging into a forced cheeriness. “I thought everyone would have turned in by now.”


Tara glanced toward her companion, and a look passed silently between them.


“Actually,” the wiccan said as she rose to her feet. “I was just going to bed now.” She paused, giving the other blonde an encouraging smile. “If you want, we can talk about this some more later. Or, if you’d like, I could ask Willow to-”


“Nah! This has been good.” Buffy assured the young witch. “But, yeah, maybe later. We’ll definitely talk.”


With a small nod, Tara crossed the room, and headed toward the stairs. She spared a brief glance for the Brit as she passed him in the foyer, then climbing up the steps, she tiptoed down the hallway, taking care not to make any noise that might disturb those that were already asleep as she made her way to her bedroom.


An uncomfortable silence filled the room in the wiccan’s void. Not a word passed between Buffy and Giles as they stared at each other. Giles shuffled nervously, his body language laden with guilt, cringing under the unwavering glare that his slayer shot his way. Finally, Buffy sighed and turned away, picking up her book and returning to her research. Her Watcher stood squirming in the foyer and wondered just what it was he could have possibly done that deserved such disapproval.







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