Everyone was waiting at the house when they arrived. After Xander’s departure from the Magic Box, Anya had locked up the shop and then hurried over to Revello Drive, where she joined the others in the night’s vigil. It wasn’t until some time later that Xander’s car finally pulled up into the driveway outside. The engine had barely died when the four excited young women burst out of the front door and swept across the lawn in a thundering stampede to greet their returned comrades.
“Did you find him?” Dawn chirped anxiously. She threw herself at the car, pressing her nose to the back window. “Anya said you found Giles.”
“Found and returned,” Xander confirmed with a hearty grin. Easing himself out of the car, he skillfully separated his girlfriend from the milling herd of females around him and planted a kiss on her cheek. “And, I might add, nearly all in one piece.”
“Pieces?” Willow eeped in a frantic voice. “Giles is in pieces?”
Anya frowned. “You did remember to bring back all the important ones?” she asked.
“You’ll have to ask Buffy that one,” he chuckled, jerking a thumb toward the blonde in question. “She’s our resident expert in Bookman Anatomy.”
From the other side of the car, Buffy’s head popped up into view. “For the last time, Xander, Giles and I were not playing Pervert’s Pig Pile! I was only holding him down to stop him from hurting himself.”
“Riiiiight!” Xander snorted. He shot the indignant slayer an exaggerated wink. “And that wasn’t you that I saw checking out Giles every five minutes on the whole ride over here.”
Buffy felt her face flame red as she turned to the others in exasperation. “Giles had been bleeding. And drinking. Both. A lot,” she said, laying out the facts so that they could see the wisdom of her actions for themselves. “He was weak, and I was afraid he’d roll off the seat or something.”
“Then why didn’t you ride in the back with him?” Xander asked, pointing out the flaw in her logic. Buffy shook her head.
“Giles needed some space,” she declared.
“‘Cause, what? Those wings take up too much room?” Xander teased back.
A volatile flare cut off any further comical retorts, though Xander made sure to mentally file away several good comments for later use. He was sure plenty of opportunities would present themselves over the next few hours, maybe even days, and he wasn’t one to waste a perfectly good comeback.
“What say we get this car unpacked,” he announced with an energetic rub of his hands. Xander pulled open the back door, and four pair of curious eyes peered into the vehicles dimly lit interior. A motionless form lay curled on the back seat, its clothing covered in various splotches of blood and gore.
Dawn shivered and hugged her arms around herself. “Are you sure he’s still alive?” she asked with a worried chew at her lip. As if in reply, the aforementioned figure released a soft, but recognizable sounding snore.
“He’s alive,” Buffy confirmed. Opening the door on the opposite side of the car, Buffy squeezed in and perched next to Giles’ head. “We had a couple of dicey moments when we weren’t so sure he was going to make it.”
“Complications of blood loss?” Tara asked voicing genuine concern for the wounded Brit. Xander shook his head and grinned.
“Bawdy ballads,” he replied, his eyes twinkling with a merry amusement. At the girls’ shocked faces, he chuckled. “Who knew there were that many verses to ‘Barnacle Bill’?”
“Apparently, Giles knew,” Buffy grumbled irritably. “And I think he sang every one of them.”
“Giles was singing?” Willow’s eyes took on a dreamy, far away look.
“He couldn’t have been that close to mortal danger if he was in the mood to sing,” Anya pronounced in sage supposition.
“It’s the booze,” Buffy explained. Sliding her hands under the Watcher’s armpits, she took a firm grip on his upper torso and lifted it off the seat. At the change in position, Giles’ head rolled limply back, falling ungracefully into her lap. A second later, a nasally snark echoed loudly within the car and the surrounding audience erupted into a fit of giggles.
Buffy sighed. Throwing a chastising pout at the assemblage of her supposed friends, she nodded toward the sleeping Watcher.
“Think maybe one of you could help me out here?” she snipped. “We need to get Giles inside.”
A small flurry of volunteers rallied to answer her request. There was a brief argument over positioning. Xander wanted nothing to do with supporting the middle “rear” of Giles’ prone body, citing strong hetero-male predilections. Willow and Tara both claimed similar disavowal, though they gave a differing reason for their “hands-off” policy. Dawn was willing to make the moral sacrifice, but her sister quickly nixed her altruistic efforts, quoting the younger Summers’ under eighteen status and a vocal opinion that such immaturity rendered her inappropriate for the duty. This left “butt detail” to Anya, who became instantly and uncharacteristically eager to lend a hand to the proceedings, much to Xander’s jealous chagrin.
With a little jostling and some complicated shifting, the Scoobies managed to get Giles' slumbering body out of the car. A half-dozen pairs of hands lifted the sagging Watcher, and an equal number of feet shuffled and ferried him across the expanse of lawn, up the stairs, and then finally into the house. Instructing the gang to continue on up the stairs, Buffy directed them to her bedroom. There they deposited Giles on the bed, and with a collected sigh of relief, withdrew to await additional orders.
Collapsing into a chair in front of the vanity, Willow shook out a muscle cramp that had gripped her arm. “Funny,” she pouted. “Somehow I thought Giles would be heavier than he was.”
“He used to be,” Xander returned. Curving his spine backward, he twisted at his waist, moving his upper torso first right, and then left, flexing his back. “He’s a lot lighter now then when Oz and I used to haul him around unconscious all the time.”
“Maybe sleeping weight isn’t as heavy as unconscious weight,” Dawn suggested.
Watching her girlfriend’s attempts to work out her kinked muscle, Tara moved to Willow’s side and began to massage her arm for her.
“Do you think maybe his bones are hollow?” Tara wondered aloud. She cowered apologetically under the inquisitive stares her companions sent her way. “I read that birds have a hollow skeletal system,” she explained. “It’s strong, but helps keep their weight light so that they can fly. Maybe Giles has the same thing.”
“Do you really think Giles can fly?” Dawn squealed excitedly. The idea obviously appealed to the teen. “I thought his wings were just for show.”
“Demons don’t usually have extraneous parts,” Anya informed the younger girl. “It might not always be obvious what function the various differences serve, but they usually have some kind of purpose to them, even if it’s only for the sexual attraction of a mate.”
“His wings are kind of sexy,” Tara shyly remarked. Willow met the observation with a mute pout of objection.
“So now I have to grow wings to impress you?” she teased her girlfriend.
“It’s not as hard as you think, honey,” Tara coyly assured her lover. “You give them to me whenever we...” She blushed, suddenly self-conscious that there were others in the room listening. “...uh, kiss,” she finished with a seductive whisper.
As the two witches billed and cooed, sharing an intimate moment, Dawn sighed, and sat herself at the foot of her sister’s bed. Buffy turned and left the room, returning several minutes later with some old towels, a plastic basin of water, some washcloths, and a first aid kit in hand. Kneeling beside the bed, the slayer began to remove her Watcher’s tattered shirt to bare the bruised torso that lay hidden beneath.
“I’m sure glad I never met what did that in a dark alley,” Dawn observed, wincing as her sister revealed several nasty looking scratches across Giles’ rib cage.
“I don’t know where Giles met it,” Buffy quietly returned. “But if he didn’t kill it, it better hope it doesn’t meet me.”
With her Watcher topless, Buffy set about the process of tending to his many wounds as the others stood by and watched. Using the warm water she had brought, the slayer carefully washed away every visible trace of blood and ichor she could find. She took extra care to be gentle when she came close to one of Giles’ wounds, hoping to avoid provoking any further discomfort, but his faint moans told her she wasn’t always successful. She worked methodically, starting first at his forehead, cleansing and then dressing the shallow gash she found just above his right eye. A search of his scalp revealed another bump behind one ear, and Tara was dispatched to retrieve an ice pack from the freezer downstairs for that.
Moving on, Buffy dabbed cautiously with her rag, cleaning each cut and bruise in turn. Those deserving special attention received a protective bandage or some gauze and tape. Not a word passed her lips and she wiped away the layers of dirt and demon goo, and though the Watcher occasionally stirred restlessly in his heavy slumber, he never once opened his eyes.
After a few minutes, Dawn stepped forward, and taking the basin with its red tinged contents, she left the room, coming back with fresh water so that her sister could continue with her care. The others then gathered around, and joining in with the sisters, worked as a well-organized team to tend to their friend. No one had to tell them what to do. Each knew what was required. Bloody towels were taken away, and new ones arrived. Dawn kept the water in the basin clean. Xander helped lift the sleeping Watcher, holding him so that Buffy could get to his back. Willow and Tara snuck off and returned with a magical herbal mix to help soothe Giles’ pain. Buffy added the herbs to her dressings, and the witches retreated to a corner where they quietly chanted additional wiccan prayers for their wounded companion’s health.
Even Anya did her part. The ex-demon fussed over Giles’ wings, straightening any rumpled feather that she found and removing those that had come loose so that they didn’t clutter the bed sheets. As Buffy finished taping the worst of the slashes across her Watcher’s midriff, she turned her attentions to the blood-soaked waistband of his trousers to survey the last bit of work that remained.
Her hands were trembling as Buffy stared anxiously at the Brit's half-naked body. It was obvious that Giles’ wounds didn’t just miraculously stop at the top of his pants. Still, she was hesitant, unsure of how to proceed. A few months ago she would never have even considered what she was about to do. And Giles certainly never would have let her do it. Of course, a few months ago she was dead, and her Watcher was just some stodgy old Brit and not a sexy hunk of a man lying in her bed.
A hand on her shoulder brought her around to the tense silence that had fallen over the room. She looked up to find Xander standing over her, a concerned expression pulling thoughtfully at his features.
“You want I should take it from here?” he queried.
Buffy wanted to say yes. It would have been the easy way out. No one would have thought any less of her. Not even Giles. Especially the old Giles. But something made her hesitate and shake her head, smiling at Xander as she rejected his offer.
“I think I can manage,” she replied. “I’m the slayer. I’ve faced monsters and apocalypses. How bad can one Giles be?” She pouted, scanning an eye over the figure before her. “Besides, it doesn’t look like any, er, vital parts are involved, so I don’t have to actually deal with any deeply hidden secrets that should remain so for eternity on pain of death and brain damage. But...” A pale blush pinked her face, and she looked around at her friends. “It would be a lot easier for me to do this if there weren’t so many of us in here. Do you guys mind? I’d like to go solo for this.”
“Uh, sure, Buff,” Xander shrugged, He raised a questioning eyebrow as he turned to the others. “Whatever you want.”
She was glad that Xander hadn’t decided to crack some joke about leaving her alone to ravish her Watcher. None of the others had been inclined to make mention of her sudden change in attitude either. Instead, they all dutifully marched out of the room, pausing in the hallway for one last look back. Buffy gave them a resolved smile, and after making one final request to holler if she needed anything, Xander shut the bedroom door, closing her in alone with Giles.
As soon as the door had clicked shut, Willow turned and confronted the others with her in the hallway.
“Okay. What was that all about?” the confused red head prompted her fellow companions. “Where’s our Buffy, and what exactly went on out at that cemetery tonight?”
The latter comment she had directed at Xander, who gave a befuddled spread of his hands.
“Don’t look at me. Whatever it was happened before I ever got there.”
“You must have seen something,” Anya tersely frowned.
“Nothing I care to remember,” Xander quipped in a grumble.
“Anya said Spike was there when Buffy called you,” Dawn said. “Did he say or do anything?”
“I don’t know. He’d left by the time I’d arrived.”
“Then it was probably him,” Anya remarked. “Or maybe something else.”
“Problem is,” Willow scowled. “There are a lot of something elses out there that could be making Buffy act the way she is. Is it just me, or was anyone else here picking up on the weirdness vibes.”
A unanimous show of hands quickly seconded her astute observation.
“She was being a little...I don’t know,” Dawn hummed thoughtfully. “Is the word I’m looking for here ‘paranoid’? I mean, she wasn’t exactly insane, but she seemed really wigged about Giles. Extra so.”
“She did have kind of a big scare,” Tara reasoned, giving the younger Summers girl a hug before turning to guide her down the hall. The others fell into step with the pair, and together the group slowly began to amble toward the staircase. “I think when she couldn’t find Giles, she might have thought he ran away, or went wild, or something. It probably got her thinking about how important he is to her.”
“But...she already knew that,” Dawn countered. “It’s all she ever harps about. ‘We have to fix Giles. I need Giles. Giles will solve everything.’,” the teen quoted doing an exaggerated facsimile of her sibling’s bossy voice.
“I know she’s been saying he’s important,” Tara smiled. “But I’m not so sure she really knew it. I think maybe she’s discovered there are some new reasons she needs Giles.”
“New reasons?” Dawn echoed, confused. She had reached the bottom of the stairs and led the rest of the gang into the living room, lazily throwing herself into a corner of the big couch. “What kind of new reasons? You mean, like him giving us that check?”
“That's part of it,” Tara said, taking up a seat next to the teen. She made room for Willow to snuggle in beside her, while Xander and Anya flopped into separate chairs across the room. “It’s not just the money, though,” Tara continued. “It’s more about why Giles gave her the money in the first place.”
“Oh, I know this one! It was to pay her bills,” Anya gleefully responded as she sat up in her seat. “He wanted to remove her from the oppressive burden of debt and the imminent threat of property repossession and hounding bill collectors.”
“Not to mention putting some decent food on the table,” Willow added. “Giles said something to me before about how thin Buffy looked, like she wasn’t eating enough. Maybe he equated a skinny slayer with a ‘She’s Going To Slip Up And Get Herself Killed Again If She’s Not Strong Enough To Fight’ slayer.”
“Sooooo...then what?” Dawn scowled, her fingers twirling a length of hair. “You’re saying Buffy likes Giles because she thinks he’s like our Dad, or something? That’s just...weird.”
“Not half as weird as what I saw going on out at that cemetery,” Xander retorted. "I don’t care what she says she was doing, it looked pretty suspicious to me.”
“I thought you said you didn’t remember anything happening?” Willow accused her friend.
“What I said was, I didn’t want to remember anything that happened," he emphatically corrected. “Believe me, it’s not the same thing at all.”
“What exactly is it you don’t want to remember?”
“Oh, just a little nightmare inducing replay of the Spike Buffybot Sexcapades,” Xander gruffed. “Okay, maybe she was checking out his wounds. But it was still kind of disturbing to see her straddling him like that.”
“You mean Giles and the real Buffy?” Anya queried curiously. “Or are you talking about Spike and the Buffybot?”
“Either way, it wasn’t pretty,” Xander said. Slumping dejectedly down in his chair, he twisted his lips in a pained grimace. “The only thing that could possibly be worse that either of those scenarios would be Spike and the real Buffy getting together.”
“Wouldn’t Spike and the real Buffy look just like Spike and the Buffybot?” Anya asked her fiancé. “I don’t think your eyes would be able to detect any discernable difference between them.”
“Whatever,” Xander sighed.
“Don’t worry, Dawnie,” Tara said, patting her young companion’s knee. “Eventually, Buffy will work this thing out. And we’ll all be there to help her. And you. Just give her a little more time.”
“Yeah, well, I hope it doesn’t take too much longer,” the teen huffed, crossing her arms defensively across her chest. “I don’t know how much more weirdness I can take. First Giles leaves, and then there’s Back From The Grave Buffy, and pipes are bursting, and people are possessed by hitchhikers from Hell dimensions. Now it’s demony Giles and all kinds of not so funny slayer/ Watcher hijinks. All we need to complete this portrait of a perfect looney bin is for Giles and Buffy to decide they want to start dating.”
There was a brief chorus of laughter from the other Scoobies, but the amusement quickly died as the entire group turned to stare at each other in uncomfortable silence. Willow was the first to dare to speak.
“She-she wouldn’t,” the red head stammered, her eyes nervously flitting from one person to the next. “Not Buffy. Not with Giles.”
“Willow’s right. No way would she ever,” Xander affirmed. “Especially not with Giles.”
“And Giles...he certainly wouldn’t,” Tara timidly agreed.
“No, he wouldn’t,” Anya concurred. “Well, except, of course, Buffy did say that he’d tried to kiss her. But that’s not the same thing as wanting to date her.”
“No, it’s not,” Xander said. “Kissing is not the same as dating. And Giles would never. Not with Buffy.”
“Besides,” Dawn giggled anxiously. “She’d never let him.”
Xander nodded, gesturing an emphatic finger at the teen. “Dawn’s got a point.”
“Right. I do.”
The Scoobies looked at each other, faces once again glowing with new found confidence. Content that they indeed had nothing to worry about, they settled back into their chairs, and began to chat amiably as they waited for their slayer leader to reappear.