CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX



Buffy had just entered one of the oldest sections in Restfield cemetery. The spacious, precisely spaced aisles of substantial and inspiring monuments, each with their sharply chiseled inscription, had given way to smaller, plainer looking headstones that spoke of more reserved times past. These vintage markers bore the telltale wear of decades of exposure to the elements: their weathered surfaces were etched and pocked with growing lichen and the writing on their faces had faded to a shallow scratching that was all but illegible in the soft light of the moon.


Squatting down beside one of the headstones, Buffy pushed aside a growth of brittle weeds that obscured the front of the rough granite slab. She squinted at the name, her fingers tracing lightly over the carved letters. Elijah Hopkins. Well, she was in the right place.


With a heavy sigh, the slayer rose to her feet. She glanced around her, making a careful survey of the surrounding area. It was obvious that the people buried around her got very few visitors. She could see no evidence of flowers or funeral wreaths that sometimes graced the graves in other parts of the cemetery. The only sign of recent respect she could detect was a lone flag at one plot, most likely a leftover from the last Memorial Day ceremonies, and even that was looking pretty tattered and faded.


A light breeze ruffled Buffy’s loose hair. Shivering, she turned her collar up before slowly resuming her search. She was still wallowing in shock and barely beyond the stage of denial. That she loved Giles was a frightening revelation. What exactly did that mean?


Once, Quentin Travers had said Giles had a father’s love for her. She’d never quite believed him. True, she had sometimes come to depend on her Watcher to guide her like a parent, but what she felt for Giles bore little resemblance to the attachment she had toward her biological father. Giles was in no way a “substitute Dad”. Admittedly, there had been times when she wished her own father could have been more like the Brit. Giles could be inordinately patient and understanding, and while he did sometimes show disapproval for what she did, he always tempered his criticism with constructive reinforcement, making sure to give plenty of positive direction to help her out.


So, if he wasn’t her father, then what exactly was the role Giles played in her life? Okay, he was her friend. That much she knew. But friend was only just one part of their complex relationship. She had lots of friends. There was Willow and Xander. Tara. And Anya, sort of. None of them ever gave her weird tickly feelings when she was with them. No, there was definitely something about Giles, though what that “thing” was had yet to make itself clear.


It would have been so much easier to deal with all these strange feelings if Giles wasn’t so much older. Not that there was anything wrong with him being the age he was. After all, it was part of what made him Giles. Which was okay. Still, at times the difference between their generations could be infuriating. For both of them. On more than one occasion Giles had mentioned how frustrating and inscrutable she could be. Still, there was no denying that with his age came a certain sophistication, one that had been sorely lacking in any of the boys she had ever dated. Giles was suave, in a gentle bumbling Hugh Grant kind of way, and the respectable civility with which he treated her made her feel special in a way that no one else could.


A delicate wisp of a smile played at Buffy’s lips. For the first time since her resurrection, she was actually feeling something. Sure, mostly it was just confusion, but at least she cared, actually cared where her life was going. More remarkably, she found herself wanting that life. She wanted to do more than just go through the motions, and though it still hurt knowing all that had been taken from her in death, she felt no need to assess blame on anyone. It didn’t matter to her why the fates had chosen to thrust her back into this harsh moral existence. She was here. And she was determined to make the best of the situation possible.


Naturally, that meant looking out after Dawn. She would help her sister by guiding her through the challenging years of womanhood ahead, and show her that the world could be a good place, filled not only with evil, but with love and wonder. She would also interact with her friends, share in the ups and downs of their lives, and allow their simple presence to enrich the texture of her own as well. But her sister and friends were going to all have to wait. First she had to find Giles. A bank of low cloud cover drifted lazily across the face of the moon, plunging the night into a world of menacing and ghostly forms that loomed out of the dark. Buffy slowed her pace to a cautious tread. Her feet shuffled through the long grass as she advanced across the graveyard, weaving in and out between the old, dilapidated headstones, her eyes searching the hidden shadows for any small clue that might alert her to her Watcher’s whereabouts.


She had begun to think Giles had left the area, or that Spike had lied to her yet again, when she heard the noise. It was a faint snuffling sort of sound, nearly lost amid the background chirp of raucous crickets and the rustling of branches teased by a passing breeze. Buffy paused and listened, her ears straining to determine the source of the continued snuffling. It seemed to be coming from somewhere off to her right.


Her every sense was on alert as Buffy made her way toward the noise. The clouds cleared and the moonlight showed her an area that had been fenced off from the rest of the graveyard. Surrounded by a waist-high rusty iron gate, the isolated plot was about ten feet or so square in size, and contained several granite headstones. It wasn’t bright enough to make out the names on the stones, but it was obvious to even her jaded eye that they were old and had been there for a while. Earthquakes and Mother Nature had taken their toll on each of the short slabs. Some were cracked with small chunks suspiciously missing from their silhouette, while others tilted drunkenly, leaning off in incongruously angled directions.


Only one monument had remained relatively untouched. Rising up from the center of the plot was a life-sized statue. The artful composition ostentatiously dominated over the small, almost piteous grave site, the pale marble figures glowing richly within the moon’s silver beamed spotlight. Buffy found herself fascinated by the artful grouping. Its intersection of complex forms and the intricate play of light and shadow upon its surface seemed convincingly real.


Vaulting lightly over the fenced barrier, she approached closer, her eyes studying the stone mass and examining its many life-like details. The main figure was that of a woman. Draped in yards of voluminous cloth, she was kneeling, a large book spread open before her. She was gazing down at something inscribed into the pages, and whatever knowledge that was contained there seemed to sadden her greatly. Her gentle face was graced with a single tear carved in relief, her lips pursed in a melancholy smile as she wept for those words that she read.


But she was not alone in her grief. Another figure stood poised behind the beautiful mourner. A murky shadow blotted a good portion of this second shape, and Buffy could just make out a bowed head, and a pair of androgynous arms placed protectively around the woman’s shoulders. An imposing spread of wings at the back balanced out the tender grouping, and the slayer smiled, her heart touched by the image of what was obviously meant to be a guardian angel. In some ways the figure was so much like Giles. Of course, his wings were much larger, his arms more muscular, and definitely male. Also, if had been her Watcher with his hands on the lady in question, they wouldn’t have been clutching at her shoulders, but more likely groping the area of the generous bosom below. An indistinct moaning awakened Buffy from her contemplative reverie, and she suddenly remembered why she was there. It had sounded like the noise had come from the other side of the statue. As she circled around the monument, Buffy could feel her heart rate begin to pick up, her body preparing to fight whatever it was she might meet. Her hand automatically reached for her stake, but then a low, familiar tingle started up in her belly. She paused, relief flooding from her muscles, and racing around the corner, she almost tripped over a form huddled on the ground before her.


“Oh, my God, Giles! Are you all right?”


Dropping to her knees, she threw herself at her Watcher’s side. Giles body was curled into a limp ball, his back pressed up against the base of the statue, his large wings surrounding his prone form in a feathered cocoon. A scratched and bloodied forearm extended from under the avian blanket, its fingers curled loosely toward the neck of a whiskey bottle lying just beyond their reach. His face bore several more cuts and multiple bruised patches of blue and green as well. A trail of dried blood ran from his lip to his chin, then continued downward to follow the exposed curve of his throat. There it disappeared, staining the collar of his shirt beneath in a dark, menacing puddle of crimson.


“Giles?” Kneeling at the Brit’s head, Buffy tentatively brushed back a stray lock of hair that had fallen across his cheek. The soft curl seemed to have an unusual texture, kind of like the soft, downy eider that occasionally escaped from her pillow.


Her touch jolted a whimper from her Watcher’s twitching lips. As Buffy watched, Giles’ eyelids began to slowly flutter. A moment later she was staring down into the sorrowful green pools of the Englishman’s eyes, but there was little recognition within the dim, clouded points as Giles blinked back and gazed emptily upward into the vast sky beyond her head.


Frowning, Buffy shifted and proceeded to haul him into an upright position. With some effort, she managed to get Giles propped into a sitting posture against the statue. His head lolled to one side, matching the intoxicated tilt of the headstones around them, and he slumped dangerously kiltered off to one side, but he didn’t fall over when she finally dared to release her hold, so she judged him properly seated and moved on to the next task at hand.


Pushing open the protective blanket of his wings, the slayer began to carefully check out the exact extent of her Watcher’s wounds. There was little doubt the Brit had been in a fight. The evidence lay clearly written in all the marks and bruises that disfigured his flesh. Sharp talons had slashed his shirt to shredded tatters and incised the muscled surface beneath with a series of intersecting welts and shallow cuts. There was additional rending down one pant leg, and discolored stains from some foul black ichor, as well as red from Giles’ own blood soaking through in several spots. The worst of it seemed to come from somewhere on his upper abdomen, and with urgent concern, Buffy began to fumble at the Watcher’s waistband, her fingers tugging his shirt from his pants so that she could see what was hidden underneath.


Suddenly, Buffy found herself lying on her back. Before she could even figure out how she had got there, Giles was on top of her, his mouth greedily covering her own.


It took all the emotional strength she had within her not to just toss Giles off and start running. Instead, she wrapped her legs around the Brit’s waist and firmly gripped his shoulders, twisting and rolling to her right, flipping them both over so that he was on his back and she now straddled him from above.


The hoarse caw that erupted from Giles’ throat was nothing short of primal desperation, and it was all Buffy could do to keep the Englishman under her as he bucked his hips upward, driving them against her crotch. Part of her wanted to recoil in terror. This was not Giles. There was no tenderness, no love in the piercing fire of those green eyes that stared up at her. This was a demon, an animal whose acts were driven by pure instinct.


As Giles reached for her breasts, she quickly blocked his brazen hands, grabbing his wrists and pinning them tightly down against the ground to either side of his head. That didn’t stop him from stealing a kiss, however, and the slayer gasped in surprise as her Watcher’s mouth touched her own, his tongue trailing across her lips in a moist, lusty swipe.


Rearing back her head, Buffy removed herself well out of the range of Giles' next kiss. The next few minutes became a frantic wriggling battle of wills as she hung on tight, and rode out the Brit’s agitated flopping. Fortunately, he had spent the better part of his day abusing his body to the point of exhaustion. It wasn’t long before he was panting from more than mere passion, and when at last he did collapse, his muscles twitching weakly beneath her, his piteous sobs continued to proclaim his agony and unsated frustration.


She waited several minutes, holding her Watcher down to make sure that his sudden acquiescence wasn’t just kind of some trick. Time ticked slowly by, and Giles breathing still rasped in ragged gulps of pain and desperation. Gradually, the trembling power within her grip began to die away, and with a final whimpering sigh she felt the Brit give himself up to her persevering slayer strength.


“There, there now. That’s a good Giles.”


Using her voice, she attempted to calm the Englishman further. At first, she was a bit uncomfortable talking to him like he was some kind of stray dog, but he quickly responded to her gentle tone, and thus emboldened by success, she eagerly continued with her comforting praise.


“Easy now, big fella. No one’s gonna hurt you. That’s it. Good Giles.”


Slowly, cautiously, she released her strangled grip on his wrists. Giles didn’t move. Prattling words of reassurance, she eased herself back to sit upright across the Brit’s thighs. She kept her eyes locked steadily upon his own, watching constantly for any sign that Giles might suddenly attack, but nothing sparked within the dull haze of green that stared back at her, and she sighed, relaxing her guard.


“Now, isn’t this better?” she smiled at her Watcher. “Why fight when we can talk? Or, in your case, you listen while I talk. I know. Usually, it’s the other way around. But, hey! Once in a while I ought to get to have my say, too.”


Giles' answer was a weary, warbling sigh. As the warmth of his exhaled breath reach her nostrils, Buffy’s nose went into a defensive wrinkle. She had detected a heavy overlying odor of alcohol within the sweeter perfume that had assailed her senses.


Casting her glance toward the discarded whiskey bottle lying in the grass nearby, she gave the offending item a disapproving nudge with her toe. The bottle rolled unsteadily across the ground, moving in a wide, comical arc, its meager tablespoon of liquid contents sloshing hollowly inside the glass walls.


The noise distracted Giles momentarily, and he rolled his eyes, tracking the bottle as it bumped along over the uneven grass. His fingers twitched, as if intending to reach for the escaping object, but Buffy quickly squelched that idea, staying his hand with a firm touch from her own.


“Don’t you think you’ve killed enough brain cells?” she cheerily scolded the Watcher as she turned his face back to focus on her own again. With a disapproving sigh, she brushed back a rogue curl at his temple. “Really, Giles. I don’t understand how you can like drinking that stuff. The only thing worse than the taste of that crap going down is the total foulness of it passing over your tongue again on the way up. As someone with recent and very personal experience, trust me on this one.” Giles frowned, and for a second, she thought he was going to rouse himself for another fight. But the Brit grunted softly and looked her straight in the eye as he sniffed.


“The key is not to allow the second return trip,” he said, lecturing sagely. “And as for taste, it’s something one acquires through many long years of diligent practice. Something I’m afraid you’re not nearly old enough yet to appreciate.”


A hesitant smile began to spread across Buffy’s shocked face. Leaning forward, she peered down into her Watcher’s eyes. They seemed remarkably clear and glinted with a fiery lucidity that hadn’t been there only moments before when she had looked.


“Giles?”


The sheepish grin the Brit flashed at her was a welcomed sight and instantly bolstered the joy of her relief. On impulse, she threw herself down atop Giles and embraced him, squeezing him tightly in a big, slayer hug.


“While I’m loathe to break off this obviously heartfelt show of affection,” Giles groaned. “Your enthusiasm is unfortunately causing me some discomfort.”


“Huh?” Lifting her head from his chest, Buffy gave her companion a puzzled pout.


“Please, Buffy! You’re...hurting...me.”


The uneasy grimace of pain twisting Giles’ face suddenly reminded her that he was still wounded. Reluctantly, she released her hold, and with an apologetic shrug, she sat back, removing her weight from his stomach.


“Sorry ‘bout that, chief,” she meekly offered in contrition.


“That’s quite all right,” Giles grunted, but he looked definitely relieved to be free of at least some of his aches.


“So...” She frowned, her gaze concerned as it gravitated toward the blood-soaked patch over his abdomen. “Is it bad?”


“Not seriously so, no,” the Brit replied, his own eyes drawn to the area in question. “I may have cracked a rib,” he wheezed through pain gritted teeth. “Possibly two. Nothing that won’t mend on its own, given time.”


Trailing a hand toward his belly, Buffy’s fingers gingerly plucked at the hem of her Watcher’s shirt.


“Wha-what are you doing?” Giles gasped.


“I just want to see what you got under there.”


“Buffy, no. It’s not that bad. Really.”


“Gee, Giles! Will you relax?”


“I’m fine. You don’t need to...”


“Sheesh, you’re such a baby!”


He made a valiant to stop her, but in the end she was the slayer, and with that came an inevitable victory. Against his continuing rage of weak protests, she pushed aside Giles' hands and peeled back his shirt to take a look at what he was hiding from her.


There were bruises and several lines of deep scratches running diagonally across the flat of his belly. Whatever had attacked Giles had owned some pretty nasty claws. Four per hand, or so she read in the telltale pattern of the wounds it had left behind. Thankfully, the edge of each cut was sharp and clean. A fair amount of blood had at some time seeped from the slashes, though she surmised her Watcher had at no time been in danger of bleeding to death. Still, it was safe to say he was in a bit of pain. It also wouldn’t hurt to get him cleaned up. There seemed to be some strange debris embedded around his navel.


“Well, good news is, you’ll live,” she flippantly pronounced.


“And the bad news?” Giles prompted hesitantly.


“Bad news? Hmmm, I guess there really isn’t any.”


She frowned. The moonlight had caught one of the dirt specks on Giles’ belly, and an unexpected twinkle had flashed up at her. She was about to examine it closer, when a horrified voice bellowed out from somewhere behind her.


“Dear, God. Not again! I’ve already seen this. Only it was Spike, not Giles. And you were the Buffybot. Uh, you aren’t the Buffybot, are you?”


The slayer twisted to face her accuser. Xander was standing on the other side of the iron fence, his expression a tortured mix of angst and confusion.


“I’m not Buffybot,” she assured her unsettled companion. “Just me. Regular Buffy.”


“Thank God!” Xander sighed, then frowned, his relief immediately melding into consternation. “I think. Not quite sure yet on whether that’s really better. Nope, definitely inspiring some very disturbing revelations here.”


“Well, before your perverted imagination seizes in overload, why don’t you hop on over and lend me a hand here?”


With slightly less grace and flair than his agile friend had displayed earlier during her entrance, Xander crawled over the rusted gate and trotted across the fenced plot, coming to a halt next to the slayer and her horizontal Watcher.


“Ow!” Xander’s singularly worded assessment of the Brit’s exposed wound was greeted by a reciprocating grunt from the object of his sympathy.


“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Giles meekly offered up.


“Well, that’s nice to know,” the youth replied. “‘Cause, gotta say, from here you don’t exactly look so good, G-man.”


“Must you call me that?” Giles grumbled irritably. An involuntary sigh of relief followed his complaint as Buffy stood up and full circulation once again returned to his legs.


“Sounds like he’s on his way to a full recovery,” Xander noted cheerfully.


“In the meantime, he’s gonna need some help getting to the car,” Buffy returned. “Why don’t you take his feet. I’ll get the other end and we can carry him.”


“Nonsense,” Giles protested. “I’m perfectly capable of walking on my own.”


With a concerted groan, the Brit slowly gathered his legs under him. It wasn’t easy, nor was it comfortable, but he managed to struggle to his feet at last. For a moment, he tottered, a hand clutched stiffly at his aching side. Confident that he had found his balance, he directed a piously triumphant smile toward his dubious slayer, and swayed forward to take his first step. That was when his knees suddenly gave way, and with a startled peep he felt himself sink downward like a stone in still water.


Immediately, Buffy was there at his side. She rushed in, catching him before he could fall. As she slipped in to wedge herself under one arm, Xander scooted around to the Watcher’s other side, lending his shoulder for additional support.


“Thank you, both,” Giles humbly acknowledged his companions, allowing them to assist his next wobbling.


“Hey, what are friends for?” Xander grinned amiably.


A painful spasm wracked Giles’ side, and he grimaced, his fingers firmly clasping Xander’s shoulder as he leaned into his side. Something hard prodded his sensitive ribs, and looking down, the Brit noted the rattling shackled dangling at his friend’s waist.


“Those wouldn’t by any chance be for me?” Giles asked.


“What? These?” Xander snorted, dismissing the Watcher’s concerns. His eyes met with Buffy’s across the Watcher’s chest, and seeing her uneasy expression, he sent her a conspiratorial wink. “Nah, Anya asked me to pick them up. Something about a traditional post engagement celebration. Or maybe it was a party favor for her shower. I forget.”


Buffy rolled her eyes, suppressing an involuntary giggle. Xander’s lie was an obvious attempt to diffuse the awkward situation.


“I see.” Giles winced as his companions helped lift him over the iron fence. They were trying to be gentle with him, but every movement jarred his tender ribs and caused him considerable agony. Finally, after a great deal of effort and some acrobatic fence hopping, they deposited him safely, if not painlessly on the other side of the barrier. Picking up where he had left off, he nodded at the weapon Xander carried strapped over his arm. “And the tranquilizer gun?” he asked. “Is that for her party as well.”


“Uh, this?” Xander shot a nervous glance across to the blonde. “Uhm, no. Buffy said she wanted it.” Xander cringed as his companion immediately retaliated with a silent expression of threatening menace. “Raccoons,” he blurted out in random explanation.


“Raccoons?” Giles echoed. Huffing a strained moan, he gritted his teeth and turned a skeptical eye toward Buffy.


“Uh, yeah, raccoons,” she agreed, her head bobbing emphatically up and down. “Big ones. Rascally critters. Always getting in our garbage.”


“Mm-hmmm. Raccoons,” Giles repeated. It was apparent this information was not enough to convince him. “Well, I’m certainly glad that I’m not a raccoon.”


“Why’s that?” Buffy asked.


They were making slow but steady progress across the cemetery grounds. As they rounded a large outcrop of rocks and flowering shrubbery, she could make out the south exit gate just up ahead. Beyond that was the parking lot and their final destination: Xander’s car.


“Because the charge loaded in that gun was meant to disarm a four hundred pound Lassreu demon. Were it to have hit anything else, it would probably have killed it.”


“Oh!” Buffy and Xander exchanged an alarmed look between them. “Well, then,” Buffy nervously laughed. “Lucky for us, you’re not a raccoon.”


“Indeed,” Giles concurred with a grunt.


“Heyyyy! Will you look at that! It’s Xander’s car.”


By this point they were practically carrying Giles. The Brit sagged wearily between his companions, allowing them to lift him the last few yards over to the parked vehicle. Once there, Xander left Buffy to deal with the logistics of helping the Watcher into the back seat while he hurriedly scrambled to the trunk to stash away the weapon and restraints they hadn’t needed.


Gently easing the Brit’s lean frame through the back door, Buffy started to crawl onto the seat beside him. Frowning, Giles waved her off with a firm gesture.


“Perhaps it’s best you rode up front with Xander,” he told his slayer as he stretched his tired body across the bench.


“Please! Spare me the martyr routine, Giles. I’m riding with you.”


“I really don’t think that would be wise, Buffy.” Adjusting his wings, Giles settled back with a heavy sigh.


“Come on, Giles. You’re hurt, and I want to be here if you need-”


“Buffy, I realize you want to help,” the Watcher interrupted. “But I’m not sure as you should trust me. I-I haven’t made a full...recovery.”


“Duh! That’s the whole point, Giles. Geeze, how fast do you expect to heal? I mean, I’m the slayer, and even I can’t bounce right back from every...oh!”


Her eyes had inadvertently wandered down to his blood stained stomach, and for the first time had noticed the bulge tenting the front of his trousers just below. In all the excitement, she had forgotten about Giles’ own excitement. An embarrassed heat quickly flooded her cheeks, matching the reddened hue of her Watcher’s flushed face. With a sheepish grin, she discreetly averted her eyes and backed out of the car, mumbling an apology.


“Oh, well, yeah! Okay. Right.” She cleared her throat, fighting the impulse to look at Giles’ crotch. “Well, if you need anything, you know where to find me.”


“Hey, Buff!” She jumped as Xander plodded up to her side. “You think Giles would like a blanket...”


She snatched the proffered coverlet out of Xander’s hands, and tossing it blindly into the back seat, she shut the door and scurried around to the other side of the car, leaping into the front seat before he could say another word. With a perplexed shrug, Xander opened his driver’s door, and easing himself down behind the wheel, he proceeded to go through a series of complex gyrations as he attempted to dig his keys out of his pocket.


Eventually he found them, and with a satisfied jingle, Xander cranked the ignition over with a roar of the engine.


“All right, then,” he boisterously announced to his two passengers. “Buckle up, folks. Next stop, Casa del Summers.”


And with a tap of the accelerator, they were off and on their way.







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