Buffy squinted at the cover of the dusty tome in her hands and unconsciously rubbed at the ache that throbbed in her temple. She was tired, and it was hard to focus on the faded gilt title tooled into the leather surface. The last thing she wanted to do at that moment was more research. No, wait. That wasn’t really true. The last thing she wanted to do was face Giles, but since it didn’t look like he was going to move from the foyer any time soon, she opted for the less painful of the two alternatives.
Cracking open the musty book, she began to industriously scan through the first few pages. It wasn’t easy to concentrate on the task at hand with Giles staring at her from the foyer. It became even harder when the Englishman sauntered into the living room and sat himself down on the sofa beside her.
Giles knew that Buffy was disappointed and angry with him. It didn’t take the benefit of his multiple diplomas to figure that out, though for the life of him he didn’t understand why. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There was the small matter of his unannounced side trip that evening. He’d become waylaid by a young lady he’d met at the convenience store. She’d been wearing some interesting jewelry, and striking up a conversation he discovered that she owned in a small shop around the corner with a flat above it. He in turn revealed his partnership of the Magic Box, at which point she invited him back to her see her place to discuss a possible business venture. They talked over a few drinks, and from there the evening became an inevitable replay of that afternoon’s sordid dalliance. Before he knew it, several hours had passed them by, and the night was quickly advancing toward the next day. After one last little romp, he had gathered up his clothing, and saying his good byes, had hurried back to Revello Drive, hoping to sneak in without anyone’s notice.
The upstairs was dark when he arrived, but the porch light was on, as were a few lamps in the livingroom and the fixture in the foyer. Since that was where he’d been sleeping during the past week or so, he’d assumed that the lights had been left on for his sake. He certainly hadn’t expected to find anyone waiting up at this hour, and the joy he’d felt upon seeing his slayer quickly faded under the scathing glare with which she had greeted him.
And now, alone with Buffy, he could sense the tension broiling silently within her, seething just below the surface. The young blonde was leafing busily through a thick book, but Giles could tell that she merely going through the motions and wasn’t really seeing the pages before her.
A pang of remorseful guilt assailed Giles, sweeping over him with an almost amazing ferocity. It pained him to know that, if only in part, he was responsible for his slayer’s present doleful funk. Buffy had been through so much and deserved better. He wished desperately to relieve her of her suffering, to lighten the burden of her poorly hidden sorrow, but he wasn’t sure that he knew how. His behavior as of late certainly wasn’t helping, of that much he was sure. It seemed that no matter what he did, he caused his slayer more grief. Although that wasn’t his intention, it still hurt nonetheless to see the once radiant and lively woman Buffy had been now moping in stoic silence, bearing her penance like it was some great secret she was afraid to share.
Working up his courage, Giles cleared his throat, and ventured a cautious opening line to break the uncomfortable quiet.
“What have you got there?” he asked, nodding at the volume in his slayer’s hands.
Buffy sighed, and without looking at him, made a small production out of showing her Watcher the cover.
“Ah! I see. Riggby’s Field Guide to the Greater and Lesser Demons of the Fifth Dimension. An interesting read, but a bit heavy for this time of night, don’t you think?”
Her response was a short, pithy sniff as she continued to flip through the musty pages.
Giles pouted. He felt very much like a child who had just been sternly reprimanded by his parent. Surely his transgression wasn’t that serious? It isn’t as though Buffy had ever cared about his comings and going before. Maybe there was some bit of subtext here that he was missing.
“So, who was she this time?”
The question came out of nowhere, and caught him unprepared.
“I- who was who?” he stammered, his brain fumbling to make sense of the query. Buffy paused, taking a moment to shut the book in her lap. She turned to face him, her features poised, but in her eyes there was a troubled darkness, a piercing shadowed cloud that bore its way deep into his own shameful soul.
“The woman you were with tonight. Who was she?” she asked again. Giles recoiled, glancing away, squirming awkwardly under his slayer’s powerfully accusing glower. “She did have a name, didn’t she? You should at least have gotten that much from her before you...” She hesitated, not daring to say what they both knew had transpired. “Was she even a woman at all?” the blonde resolutely continued. “Or was this one a demon? Or maybe I should say demons,” she said, purposefully emphasizing the plural. “I mean, obviously the concept of banging multiple pieces of tail doesn’t exactly phase you. At least, not any more than your tail actually having a tail does. Well, congratulations, Giles. You made it. You’re now officially in the club.”
“Club?” the Watcher echoed. “Buffy, what on Earth are you talking about? What club?”
“Why, the ‘I Screw Demons’ club, of course,” Buffy shot back haughtily. “It’s a very exclusive group. We don’t take just anybody, you know. Got a secret handshake and a big fancy lapel button, too.”
Giles cringed. Obviously this was more serious than he had suspected. Perhaps this would be a good time to distract his slayer with a gift.
“I brought you a little something,” he beamed, offering the crumpled sack in his hands to the girl.
She pouted, momentarily dissuaded from her tirade by the abrupt change in subject. Accepting the bag, she obligingly looked inside. There, almost buried among several dozen empty candy bar wrappers and a flattened pretzel bag was a round, cardboard quart-sized carton.
“It’s ice cream,” Buffy noted flatly.
“Yes. Mint Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Your favorite flavor, if I’m not mistaken.”
“No, no mistaking,” she replied. “It’s definitely my cream of choice.”
Reaching into the bag, Buffy slipped her fingers around the brightly colored tub. A spit second passed as her brain registered that the package was suspiciously warm for the contents in question, and then suddenly she was yelping in surprise, the sodden package collapsing within her grip as the contents gushed out all over her hand.
The flimsy paper bag gave way quickly under the added weight of the sugar infused fluid, and the whole mess plopped out through the bottom in a thick flood to fall into the slayer’s lap. From there the river spread across her lap and flowed downward, branching off into assorted tributaries that either soaked the couch beneath her or slowly trailed down her leg to collect in a milky puddle on the carpet at her feet.
“Dear Lord, Buffy! I am so terribly sorry.” The abashed Watcher sprang to his feet, his hand fumbling in his pocket for the handkerchief he always carried with him. “This is entirely my fault,” he apologized as he attempted to dab at the mess in her lap. “I-I must’ve forgotten to refrigerate -”
“Don’t worry about it, Giles,” she tried to stop him, fending off his helpful hand. “Just leave it.”
“But, the stain...”
“Giles, it’s okay...”
“If you’ll simply allow me...”
“I could -”
The Brit froze as she gripped his wrist, arresting his hand in mid-air. With a weary sigh, Buffy took the opportunity to snatch the rag from him and gestured to the couch beside her, indicating that he should have a seat.
Giles meekly settled back on the sofa. He watched anxiously as his slayer made an attempt to clean up the sticky ice cream mess that seemed to have spread everywhere, soaking into her jeans, the carpeting, even the couch as well.
“Look, Giles,” she started, daubing distractedly at her lap as she talked. “I know you can’t help that you’re a demon. And I guess, that being the case, you’ve got yourself all kinds of strange demony new feelings now, and probably some special little demon-type agenda going. Which,” she grumbled sardonically, continuing, “doesn’t seem to include phoning to let me where you are so I don’t go all crazy with worry, wondering whether or you’re dead or alive, or just out there somewhere living it up and...what’s that?”
Buffy frowned. She was pointing at his ear. Unconsciously, Giles reached up, his fingers touching the item at which she so intently stared. It was a recent purchase, courtesy of his new found business contact.
“It’s an earring,” he evasively informed her. Giles deliberately avoided any mention of where the jewelry had come from. He sensed the less said about such things, the better off he would be. Unfortunately, his overtly succinct reply failed to appease Buffy’s aroused curiosity.
“Duh! I can see it’s an earring,” she retorted with a surly pout. “Where did it come from? I’m pretty sure you weren’t wearing it when you left here.”
“Uhm, yes, well, it’s a recent purchase,” Giles nervously defended. At the petite blonde’s dissatisfied glare, he frowned, rising to bristle at her wordless challenge. “While I may not be human at the moment,” he snipped haughtily, hoping that he sounded braver than he felt. “I am still an adult, and as it’s my money, I believe I am entitled to spend it on whatever I deem appropriate.”
“But, an earring?” She pouted, expressing her opinion of said choice with a contemptuous snort. “I mean, really, Giles. Isn’t that just a little frivolous?”
Buffy frowned, considering the large crystal-colored stud sparkling so ostentatiously in her Watcher’s ear. The fair-sized stone was anything but “appropriate”. If she wasn’t mistaken, it was a real diamond too, and not one of those pretty cubic zirconia wannabes that just looked the part. The thing was at least a good quarter carat in size, maybe even a third. She imagined it had cost the Englishman well over a hundred dollars. Not exactly the kind of cash one normally blew on impulse. Not Giles, anyway. Of course, it wasn’t like the Brit couldn’t afford it. Still, it bothered her that he’d waste his money on something so utterly useless. After all, it wasn’t like he was young and stupid, or needed to make himself look pretty for someone.
Giles squirmed, shifting uncomfortably under his slayer’s disapproving pout. Looking back, he didn’t know if he could say what had possessed him to buy the earring. It had looked so beautiful, so shiny and seductive lying there against a backdrop of midnight blue velvet in the glass jewelry case. A strange pull of avarice had suddenly claimed him. He simply had to have it. How could he possibly make her understand?
Luckily, Buffy was already moving on, and he was saved having to explain himself any further.
“Giles...” The slayer sighed, sounding weary and exhausted. “I’m trying here, really really trying, but I just don’t understand what it is with you anymore. I can’t follow that twisted brand of logic you’ve got scheming away in that head of yours. You do all these crazy things. You hang out with undesirables, forget to come home, buy stupid stuff, eat junk food. It’s bad, Giles. And you’ve got to stop it. Now. Before you hurt yourself. Or maybe even somebody else.
“I-I can’t do this, Giles,” she sighed, and Giles felt his heart sink as he heard the defeat in his slayer’s voice. “I can’t take care of Dawn, and the house... It’s-it’s all just too much. You're not helping matters much either. I mean, like it’s not bad enough I’ve got an irresponsible teenager to keep track of, but now I’ve got you?
“No. This is wrong, Giles. You’re better than this. Or, at least, you used to be. You were the trusty adult, the one everyone counted on. But how can we trust you now? Hell, I can’t even find you half the time!”
Buffy paused, and slowly drew in a deep breath.
“I’m going to bed now,” she announced, her tone deceptively detached as she rose to her feet. Fixing her Watcher with a sobering stare, her composed features imparted an underlying severity of her message. “I want you to give this ‘problem’ of yours some serious thought. And then tomorrow, we can talk, and you can tell me what you’re going to do about all this.”
She left him there, sitting all alone on the couch with the puddle of melted ice cream slowly spreading around him. She drifted away, shutting down the lights in the foyer as she passed, never giving the Watcher another thought as she trudged off up the stairs and retired at last to the emotional solitude and safety of her tiny bedroom.