A genuine tingle set Anya’s heart to beating with excitement as the cash register popped open and a melodious jangle rang throughout the Magic Box. She happily fingered the small handful of bills in her fist, then slipped them into their respective slots in the drawer and counted out several shiny pennies and some silver change. She handed the coins over to the customer standing on the opposite side of the counter and passed along the collection of assorted merchandise she had bagged. A carefully composed smile arced across her pleasant features, an expression of perfect capitalistic gratitude that Anya had spent many a long hour practicing before the mirror so that she could affect just the right amount of spontaneity and sincerity. With perky enthusiasm, the ex-demon and presently human sales girl delivered the latest variation on her customary “end of sale” patter.
“Thank you for your generous purchase today. The Magic Box appreciates your continued patronage of this establishment, and hopes that you will return again soon to further contribute to our burgeoning business profits.”
The woman across the counter ventured a slightly confused smile as she accepted the bag Anya proffered to her. Mumbling a hesitant “thank you” in return, she gripped her purchases to her chest and glanced warily over her shoulder, heading toward the exit and scurrying out the door to the resounding accompaniment of the overhead bell’s loud clang.
Anya sighed contentedly and slammed the cash register shut with a finalized thump. Instantly, her mind refocused its train of thought, switching from selling to Xander mode in a fraction of an eye blink.
“I don’t understand why you’re against me having a party,” she grumbled at the young, dark-haired man leaning casually against the counter top beside her. “It’s human tradition for the bride’s friends and or associates to celebrate the impending marriage bonding with a ritual showering of gifts, food, and inane recreational festivities.”
Xander grimaced wearily. Once again he found himself explaining to his fiancé the differing nuances between her interpretations of the event and the actual pre-wedding girlie get together as it was practiced by most other humans.
“It’s not that I’m against you having this party,” Xander patiently pointed out to the frowning blonde. “It’s that it’s not considered kosher for the guest of honor to do all the organizing for said function.”
“Xander’s right,” seconded a voice from the back of the shop.
Anya rolled her eyes toward the research table where Willow and Tara sat tightly entrenched among several tall piles of magic texts and ancient encyclopedias of demon lore. The red haired witch had taken a moment to raise her nose from the dusty page she had been reading to respond to the ongoing debate between the to-be-weds.
“The bridesmaids are supposed to throw the shower,” Willow said. “It’s kind of like our job.”
“But you’re lesbians,” Anya commented obliquely, her eyes taking in the two girls with a slight scowl.
Willow shot her table companion an unsure look before confronting her accuser with a miffed glare.
“Not seeing what that has to do with anything,” the red head pouted.
“I want a strikingly handsome man with bulging pectorals and firm yet pertly shaped buttocks,” the ex-vengeance demon responded cryptically in turn. The statement only caused Willow’s creased brow to deepen in further puzzlement.
“Uh, that’s nice,” Willow replied. “But shouldn’t you have thought about that before you said you’d marry Xander?”
“Hey!” The aforementioned indignant male voiced a protest against the slight to his character.
“Sorry,” Willow sheepishly apologized. “I know you’re a guy, and you’re guy-like in all the ways that a guy ought to be, but let’s face it, Xand,” she said, unable to stop the giggle on her lips from finding its way out. “There’s stretching the truth, and then there’s distorting the facts so far out of shape they’re barely recognizable.”
“All right, so my pecs don’t exactly bulge,” Xander contritely admitted. “And maybe my buttocks aren’t pert, whatever that means, and suddenly I’m wondering why we’re even having this conversation about my backside,” he said, glaring at his girlfriend.
“Because I don’t want someone with large breasts dancing in my lap,” Anya curtly returned. When the others stared at her in obviously uncomprehending silence, she gave an exasperated sigh and explained. “Willow and Tara are lesbians, and therefore couldn’t possibly be expected to determine the attributes of masculinity I desire in a stripper. I had considered allowing Buffy to choose the dancer. She seems to gravitate toward more than adequate males. Of course, she doesn’t know what it takes to keep them once she has them, and they all eventually leave her, but that isn’t an important factor in this particular instance. It’s not like I’m looking for a man to have a permanent relationship with. I already have one of those,” she said, flashing a bright, charming smile at her fiancé as she snuggled under his arm. “Any other man in my life would be strictly for entertainment purposes only. ”
Releasing her embrace, Anya frowned thoughtfully as she regarded her own words. “Come to think of it, maybe Buffy is the right person to go to after all. She definitely has experience using and losing men. And getting her involved in more of the wedding planning activities would help her forget about being in Hell.”
“Or convince her she hadn’t really left yet,” Xander grumbled under his breath. Anya pouted and shot him a scathing glower that he answered with a nervous grin. “Look, Ahn, Buffy’s still feeling kinda gun shy about this new afterlife of hers. Maybe we shouldn’t pile on any extra unnecessary emotional pressure right now.”
“Which leaves me right back where I started...” Anya tersely complained as she gestured toward the two witches. “...with two women who don’t know the first thing about what to look for in a man.”
“Hey!” Willow’s nose wrinkled in a peeved scowl. “Just ‘cause we don’t want to date one doesn’t mean we wouldn’t recognize a prime hunk of beefcake if we saw one. We’re gay. Not blind.”
But Anya was already considering another option open to her.
“I suppose I could ask Halfrek,” the shop girl muttered aloud to herself. Ignoring the others, she reached a hand into the jewelry case to adjust a silver necklace that was less than perfectly displayed. “She is never going to believe it when she hears I’m getting married. She always told me I was too picky, that I’d never find a man out there who could satisfy my impossible standards. But I’d seen too many relationships fail, all because the woman was willing to lower her expectations, and I wasn’t going to let that happen to me. Besides, it wasn’t like I was unreasonable or anything. I mean, I wasn’t actually restricting myself to only those guys who were alive. It’s not like a demon has to have a pulse to know how to show a girl a good time.
“Or,” she continued, straightening excitedly as she was struck with a new epiphany. “I could ask Dawn to help. She’s always whining about not being included, and this would be an excellent opportunity to practice her skills at becoming an adult while allowing her to make a useful contribution to the wedding. She likes boys. And I heard her say once that she thought Viggo Mortensen was hot. I’ll have her pick out my stripper.”
Xander sighed and mentally steeled himself for a lecture concerning the inappropriateness of allowing an under-aged girl to select nude male entertainment. The argument never made its way to his lips, however, as the bell over the door interrupted with a clang and Buffy came into the shop. After a quick survey of the immediate room, the slayer uttered a perturbed grumble and strode up to the counter to address Anya.
“Where is he?” she brusquely prompted the sales girl.
“He’s right here,” she shop girl frowned with a glance toward her fiancé. “Can’t you see him?” Lowering her voice, she whispered a conjectural aside to Xander. “She seems to be suffering from some sort of slayer selective blindness. I think someone’s put a spell on her.”
“What? No! Not Xander,” Buffy breathed a dramatically impatient sigh as she dismissed the ex-demon’s misguided explanation. “I meant the other he. Giles. So, where is he? Training room?”
The slayer had spun around on her heel and started stalking determinedly toward the room out in back without bothering to wait for a reply.
“He’s not back there,” Anya called out after the departing blonde. Immediately, Buffy came to a halt, switching directions in mid-step.
“The basement,” she grumbled, her footsteps stomping firmly across the floor.
“No. Not there.” Anya remarked.
Another quick about face, and Buffy headed toward the ladder that lead up to the storage loft above.
“Not there either,” Anya sighed as she leaned an elbow against the counter.
This time Buffy came to a complete stop. She was obviously running out of options on where to look.
“Buffy, Giles isn’t here.”
It was Tara that finally spoke up when it looked like the slayer was about to start a new quest. Buffy approached the table where the two witches sat with their books, her expression guarded by concern and confusion.
“But he has to be here,” the blonde slayer frowned. “Where else could he be? He’s not with Spike. He didn’t go home. And it’s still too early for the bars and the liquor stores to be open.” A horrified thought filtered up through her brain. “You don’t think he-he went to visit those triplets again, do you? I mean, after all the stuff Spike said he did last night, he couldn’t possibly...”
With a dismayed moan, Buffy collapsed into the empty chair beside Willow. The red head attempted to comfort her distressed friend, reaching out to sympathetically pat her shoulder.
“I take it this has something to do with what happened during patrol last night,” Willow tentatively prompted. At Buffy’s look, she meekly shrugged. “I heard you come in late. And alone. I was going to ask how things went, but...” She blushed, and gave her girlfriend a coy wink. “Someone woke up, and I sort of got sidetracked.”
“Something happened?” Xander’s voice exhibited a genuine sense of concern. Stepping out from behind the counter, he made his way over to join the others, pulling up a seat at the research table. “Was it Spike? Did he do something? ‘Cause, just say the word, and I’ll break out my trusty whittlin’ knife and start carvin’ up his name in that stake right now.”
“This has nothing to do with Spike,” Buffy wearily replied. She looked up as Anya glided across the shop and took up a stance next to her fiancé. “Hard as it is to believe, for once he’s the good guy here, and it’s Giles who’s the pain in the neck.”
“Spike? Good?” Xander snorted. “There’s two words I thought I’d never hear together.”
“So, what happened?” Willow asked, attempting to get her slayer friend to explain.
“Oh, I was patrolling over in Heaven’s Rest when I ran across Giles doing this skeazy vamp.”
“So, the G-man, er, G-demon was out doing his part and ridding the world of evil creatures of the night,” Xander frowned. “Not seeing the bad in him dusting a vampire.”
“Not dusting,” Buffy snippily corrected. “Doing. As in ‘the nasty with’.” She shook her head as if trying to get rid of some horrible image. “I caught him and this vamp ho bangin’ pelvises down among the headstones.”
“Get out of here!” Xander sputtered incredulously. “Giles is screwing vampires? Man, that’s stooping really low. I mean, boinking the undead? A guy would have to be pretty desperate to get him some to sink to-oowwwww!”
Doubling over, Xander made a grab for his ankle under the table. He yanked it back, moving it well out of range of Willow’s sharp-toed shoe as he attempted to soothe the tender spot that had born the brunt of the red head’s caution to hold his tongue.
Luckily, Buffy was too consumed with her own personal trauma to have noticed what was going on between her friends.
“It was horrible, Will,” Buffy keened piteously. “I wouldn’t have believed he was actually capable of something like that if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes. It was like he wasn’t Giles. He was some kind of crazed animal. You know, like those elephants we saw on Animal Planet the other day, the ones that went all rampagy and mad because they had to have sex.”
“You think Giles is...in rut?” Willow asked in disbelief.
“I don’t know. Maybe? I mean, what other explanation could there be?” the slayer frowned. “He went all psycho sex fiend on me when I coitus-interuptused him and his skanky bimbo. There’s no telling what would he would have done if that newbie hadn’t popped up and distracted him when she did. It’s like I always say, never look a gift vamp in the mouth. While he was busy throwing it down with her, I managed to turn the tables and get the drop on him.”
Her fist unconsciously clenched, pantomiming the punch that it took to knock her Watcher flat.
“Y-you...you hit Mr. Giles?” Tara gasped in shock.
The disapproving faces of her friends gathered around the table suddenly riled the slayer to bristle defensively. “Hey, it’s not like I wanted to do it!” she protested. “Giles didn’t exactly leave me with much of a choice. It was either my fist smacking his face, or his lips were going to smack mine.”
“I see. So, what you’re saying is...” Anya calmly summarized. “That Giles deserved to be hit because he tried to kiss you?”
“Exactly!” the slayer huffed haughtily in return. “I mean, one tonsil extraction by English tongue was more than enough for me. No way was I going to go through that ordeal again. Hey, I barely managed to get away with my back teeth intact the last time.”
“Last time?” Xander echoed. His words were strained within a gulp as he goggled in alarm at the blonde. “You mean, there was a last time before this time?”
An uneasy silence filled the Magic Box shop. Too late, Buffy realized that she had inadvertently allowed her embarrassing secret to slip out. She cowered, shrinking back from the speechless stares of her companions, a hot flood of color rushing to her cheeks, flaming her face a bright and mortified shade of pink. The heat of her shame quickly spread throughout the rest of her body as she recalled a comment Xander had made long ago. He was right. The Earth never does open up and swallow you when you want it to. Like a gasping fish out of water, she found her mouth working open and shut as her brain back peddled in a feverish dither, trying to come up with some reason, any reason, any lie that would convincingly explain away the damage of what she had said.
“Look, it-it’s not what you think,” she stammered, glancing self-consciously around the table. “It wasn’t like it was my idea. It was Giles. He was the one who wanted to do it. I mean, there I was, just talking to him, all innocent and regular like, and then...BAM! He puts this demon whammy one me, and suddenly he’s all tongue, a-and hands, and groping....!”
“There was kissing and groping?” Xander’s disbelieving squeak was less than manly in tone as he voiced his shock over this new revelation.
“Well, attempted groping,” Buffy muttered with a self-effacing grimace. “He-he never got that far. Slayer reflexes,” she succinctly explained to her gaping audience. “Bought me enough time to talk some sense into him. I kinda got the impression that he didn’t know what he was doing. I mean, he knew what he’d done. He got all, you know, Britishy and apologetic, and then he scampered his butt the heck out of there like a frightened bunny.”
“Great!” Anya scowled, shivering as she wrapped her arms around herself in a protective hug. “Now I’m going to be stuck with that disturbing image burned into my head all day!”
“When did this all happen?” Willow asked, frowning with concerned bewilderment at her slayer friend. “And why didn’t you tell us about it when it did?”
“Yeah, right!” Buffy scoffed with an unlady-like and cynical snort. “Like any of you would’ve ever let that one go by. ‘Oooo!’” She rolled her eyes, her tone taking on the childish sing-song of a playground taunt. “‘Buffy and Giles, sittin’ in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G!’ Please! It’s bad enough I have to live knowing I got frenched by Giles’ tongue, I so did not need to hear you guys tease me about it for the rest of my life.”
“Awww, come on, Buff,” Xander pouted, his expression one of genuinely contrite offense. “Give us some credit, will you. We’d have been right there with you. Shocked and outraged.” A mischievous glint managed to find its way through Xander’s sympathy, and he chortled, breaking into an easy grin. “We’d have at least waited a week before throwing it back in your face.”
“Ha, ha! Very funny,” the slayer grumbled peevishly as she slumped back into her chair, her arms crossed in dejected defiance over her chest. “With friends like you, who needs arch nemeses?” A brief glance toward Willow verified that the red head apparently sided with Xander in the finding the situation humorous. Tara, however, seemed to be reserving judgement as she pondered the more serious aspects of the discussion.
“Do you know why would Giles do something like that?” the blonde wiccan puzzled. “It does seem out of character for him. Well, maybe not so much now as before. It still doesn’t make sense, though, especially seeing as how you didn’t want him to kiss you.”
“How do I know why he did it?” Buffy shrugged. “He’s a demon. And demons do weird stuff.”
“Tara’s right,” Anya said, firmly seconding her companion’s line of reasoning. “Even demon’s have reasons for doing the things they do. Something probably triggered Giles’ reaction.” Buffy sighed, and shot the shop girl an annoyed look. “Yeah, something like hormones,” she sniffed contemptuously. “In case you haven’t noticed, these days Giles is just one big walking plasma bag of endocrine juices waiting to explode.”
“He has been, well, you know, strung out kind of tight ever since becoming a demon,” Willow agreed. “But maybe Anya’s on to something. I mean, Giles probably doesn’t understand half the stuff he does anymore, or why. Or even that he’s doing it. He could be acting out on pure instinct. And it’s not like we know anything about the kind of demon he is. Could be all this is perfectly normal for him. Well, not Giles kind of normal. Demon normal.
So, if that’s the case, and it was something you did or said that set his trigger off, all we have to do is figure that thing out, and then avoid it whenever we’re around Giles. Problem solved. No more kissy-wacko Giles!” Willow smiled triumphantly. “So, what you were talking about when he decided to go all make-out cuckoo?”
“Well, actually,” Buffy hemmed hesitantly, her eyes flitting nervously back and forth between the red head and her blonde girlfriend. “We were talking about you.”
“Me?” Willow’s eyebrows shot up in confusion.
“Not just you you,” Buffy continued. “You and Tara you.” With a resigned sigh, the slayer plunged on, laying out the rest of the story for her companions. “It was that day we caught those demons trashing the lab at Sunny U. Remember how after, in the kitchen, Giles got all weird? While we were making sandwiches, he was busy making eyes. At the two of you. Kissing.”
“Oh!” Willow’s tiny yip conveyed the sudden dawning of realization. Ducking her head, she gave a sheepish glance toward her girlfriend. “I guess we made Giles a little jealous.”
“Looks like we’re going to have to be more careful from now on about how we share our love,” Tara shyly agreed.
“Well, that kind of explains a few things,” Willow said. “We were sort of curious about why you hauled him off like that into the other room. Guess it also explains why you were so wigged out when you came back. That was- that was when he kissed you, huh?”
“It was like...I don’t know, like he was possessed, or was on something,” Buffy sighed as her memory supplied certain details about the experience she’d prefer not to recall. “He looked at me, and his eyes were so...so...” She waved her hands, unable to describe the feeling and sensations that had gone through her when Giles had cast his enchantment. “It was kind of like when Dracula thralled me. Only less evil. And more horny.”
Noticing the four pairs of eyes regarding her with questioning skepticism, Buffy quickly amended her last statement.
“G-giles, Giles was more horny,” she ardently corrected. “Not me. I-I wasn’t feeling horny. Nuh-huh. Definitely not. Helplessly enthralled. That was me. Completely under the power of the whammy.”
“But you weren’t helpless,” Anya frowned, calmly pointing out the contradiction to the slayer. “If you’d been completely enthralled, you wouldn’t have been able to stop Giles. He could have done anything he wanted to you.”
“Yeah, okay, I guess,” Buffy grudgingly muttered. “So technically it wasn’t a complete thrall, just a partial one. Maybe I have some kind of resistance to Giles’ demon powers because I’m the slayer.”
“Or they’re not designed for actual mind control,” Anya returned. “It could be that it’s part of his species’ mating ritual. Something like when birds dance, or penguins give their prospective female partners stones. Maybe it was his way of getting you into the proper mood. You know, with foreplay. Kind of like mental fondling.”
“Eiwwww!” Buffy cringed, her body wracked with a dramatic shudder of revulsion. “Like I really needed to hear that. It’s bad enough I have to live with the knowledge that Giles tongued, kissed, and groped me, but now you’re saying he’s fondled my brain? Gee, maybe I should’ve just let him go all the way. Braniac he is, Giles would probably get his jollies off humping a girl’s cerebral cortex. Not that he’s been all that picky about who or what he’d screw lately,” she added with a snide, disgruntled grumble.
“Don’t you think maybe you’re being just a little harsh on Giles?” Tara asked, speaking up in behalf of the absentee Watcher. “I’m sure this hasn’t been easy for him either, and besides, it was only one kiss, wasn’t it?”
The slayer dismissed her appeal with a disdainful snort. “That’s easy for you to say. It wasn’t your face he was sucking. Look, I’m as willing to forgive and forget as the next attempted rape victim, but Giles is totally out of control with this sex thing.”
Willow frowned, and leaning forward in her chair, challenged the distraught slayer with another point of view.
“Buffy, are you sure you’re not just blowing this out of proportion? You have always kinda had issues about the idea that girls might find Giles sexy.”
“This is different,” Buffy argued. “This goes way beyond scary sexy Giles. This is insane sex Giles. You guys didn’t see him last night. He was like this- this thing! There were only two cylinders firing in that demented brain of his. One was set on kill, mash, maim. The other...? Well, let’s just say that the only reason you guys aren’t throwing me another funeral today is that he noticed I was a girl.”
Buffy sighed, and shook her head, her fingers combing roughly through her hair as she slumped back in her seat.
“I don’t know what I would have done if Spike hadn’t said he’d look after him. I mean, I couldn’t bring Giles home like that. It was all I could do to keep his hands off of me. And I’m the slayer! If he’d gotten hold of one of you,” she said, looking at Willow and Tara. “Or Dawn...” The expression of anxiety on her face said that Buffy didn’t want to have to consider those consequences. The full gravity of what she was saying finally hit the other Scoobies. They exchanged uncomfortable looks. None of them wanted to believe that Giles was capable of what Buffy was suggesting, but by the same token, they knew that their friend wouldn’t lie about something so serious.
“Look, Buff, you did the right thing,” Xander assured the agitated slayer. “No one was hurt. That’s the important thing. Right? So, Giles has gone off the deep end. We can deal with that. We just have to take certain measures to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone. Or himself.”
“We have lots of manacles in the basement,” Anya offered helpfully. Her announcement was greeted with uneasy silent stares. After a minute, Willow sat forward, and cleared her throat.
“There’s always Oz’s old cage,” she tentatively suggested. “Xander could check it out, fix up any damage.”
“Yeah, sure,” the young man agreed. “I, uh, I can do that.”
“Of course, we’ll have to find him before we can lock him up,” Anya remarked. “Buffy was looking for him when she came in here. That probably means he got away from Spike.”
The others looked anxiously to the slayer for some affirmation of Anya’s supposition.
“Yeah, he got away,” Buffy sighed. “This morning. A couple hours ago. Spike said he was okay though. A little hungover, but not so much crazed. Sounded like whatever made him so wild last night wore off.”
“Well, that’s a good sign,” Willow said, immediately perking up on that positive note. “So this thing isn’t permanent. It must come and go. We were probably right then when we said it had a trigger.”
“But until we figure out this trigger thing, then we won’t know when Giles is safe,” Xander pointed out. “So we still need to cage him up.”
“At least we won’t have to force him to go in,” Tara said, hoping to comfort the slayer. “Giles wouldn’t want to hurt anyone. I’m sure once we explain the situation to him he’ll go along with what’s best for him.”
“If we can find him,” Buffy pouted glumly.
“We’ll find him,” Xander asserted confidently. “I mean, how many places does Giles know in Sunnydale where a demon can hide?”
“The sewers,” Willow proffered.
“The abandoned factories,” Buffy suggested.
“The caves by the sea,” Anya cheerfully contributed.
“Or the ones at the edge of town, above the woods,” added Tara.
“Okay, okay, so there’s a lot of places,” Xander admitted with a grudging scowl. Pushing back his chair, he rose purposefully to his feet. “I guess that means if we want to find him sooner rather than later, we’d better get out there and start looking for him now.”
There was a discordant chorus of chairs scraping across the floor as the others stood up and began to head toward the exit with Xander.
“Anya, why don’t you stay here,” Buffy told the shop girl. “In case Giles decides to show. I’ve got Dawn watching the house,” she further informed the others. “She said she’d call here if he turns up.”
“Everybody got their cell phones on?” Xander polled the search party. There was a flurry of motion as everyone grabbed for their respective devices and held them up to verify their presence. “Good! Then let’s move this posse on out.”
The shop bell over the door gave a vigorously encouraging jangle as the intrepid Scoobies filed out to the street, and separating into their individual groups, set out in search of the missing Watcher.