Buffy was in a fairly good mood by that evening. She felt she’d done well on her English Lit test, and none of the other teachers had popped a surprise quiz. Add to that the cute boy that had given her new outfit an appreciative eye, a school lunch that was actually edible for a change, and some lost money she discovered at the bottom of her locker, and it had been a fairly decent day all around. But best of all, there was no homework for the weekend. She was free to do as she pleased, and that was to spend an evening with her very best buds at the Bronze.
Dinner at home was its usual mesh of her mother griping about work at the art gallery and Buffy relaying the latest school gossip. There was an awkward moment when the subject of Giles came up. Buffy wasn’t sure if she should mention the librarian’s current dilemma. Deciding it would only be something else for her mother to worry about, she kept the news to herself. Maybe later, when things were back to normal, whatever that was, she would tell her mother. The two of them would probably share a good laugh over it. Until then, Wesley had stressed the fewer people involved in the matter, the better off they would be, and Giles had been quick to agree.
A short while later Buffy was in her bedroom selecting the outfit she would wear that evening to the Bronze. She wanted to look nice. Her eye lingered on a favorite dress. It was slinky and short, and she knew it showed off her young figure to its best advantage. Pulling the garment out of her closet she held it up to her, inspecting the effect in her mirror. It was so perfect. But then she remembered her promise to go out on patrol later. That type of outing required an entirely different slant on her choice of attire. With a sigh she put the dress back as she wondered if Cosmopolitan or Women’s Wear Daily would ever feature a designer line of Slayer fashions. It would definitely have to be stylish and trendy, yet practical enough to go from play to slay at a moment’s notice. Slayer chic could become the hottest thing in clothing fashion.
After careful deliberation, Buffy finally settled on a compromise outfit of a sleek pair of dark slacks, a cute thin-strapped top in a sparkling red material, and a black leather jacket to go over it all to keep her warm. New boots recently purchased at the local mall completed the look. She finished by arranging her blonde hair in a loose ponytail and applying a few little extra touches of makeup to her face until the image in her mirror met her critical approval at last. Now she could move easily from dance floor to demon dueling with stylish aplomb and only a slight change in accessories.
The Bronze was already crowded when she arrived. Willow was there and had picked a table with a good view of the band. The cheerful red-haired teen was nodding along with the music, oblivious to the crowded room around her, her eyes gazing proudly at her boyfriend on the stage. She and Oz would smile at each other and exchange special glances, two young people very obviously in love. Buffy observed their flirting from across the room, sighing as her own feelings of mild jealously briefly surfaced. But she told herself Willow and Oz had every right to be happy. Putting aside her negative thoughts, she got a sugary snack and a drink to assuage her sorrows before joining the other girl at her table. She greeted Willow with genuine enthusiasm and soon they were happily chatting away like normal teenaged girls who were the best of friends. They were in full gab mode by the time Xander showed. The boy settled in with them and the three spent the next few hours laughing and enjoying their evening together at the Bronze.
“The band sounds pretty decent tonight,” Buffy yelled to her friend over the loud music.
“Oz says they’ve been practicing,” Willow said, accepting the compliment on her boyfriend’s performance. She liked that Oz was thought of as cool. It increased her coolness factor, too. Willow had lived too many of her younger years being thought of as the weird brainy girl that everyone else made fun of. It felt good for a change to be part of the in crowd, even if only among her small group of friends.
Xander was drumming on the tabletop along with the rhythm of the music. “Sounds like they’re all actually playing the same song, too.” he added, continuing his own percussion accompaniment.
They listened to the band a while longer, exchanging the latest rumors about school and what each of them had done that day. A commotion at the club’s entry caught Xander’s attention and he nudged Buffy gently with his elbow, interrupting some complaint she was making to Willow about her test that day. Gesturing across the room, he pointed out what he had seen.
“The Incredible Shrinking Librarian is here,” he told the blonde girl with a grin. “And it doesn’t look like he knows the secret password to get in.”
Buffy craned her neck to see over the crowd. There he was, just as Xander had said. The Brit looked as hopelessly out of place as ever among the Bronze’s usual clientele. But instead of being old and standing out from the crowd in his natty tweed suit, Giles was for once the youngest person in the club. That is, he would have been if it weren’t for the large man blocking his path and preventing him from entering. The librarian was debating fiercely over some issue with the club’s doorman, his arms gesticulating wildly, his entire body language aggressive. It didn’t seem a wise position for Giles to take, considering his slight and smaller build when compared to the muscle-bound hulk of the much larger man who served as the club’s bouncer.
“He could get hurt if he isn’t careful,” Willow said with some concern, noting the man’s grim countenance. Buffy realized her friend’s assessment of the escalating situation was probably correct. If she didn’t step in soon, Giles was going to be in big trouble.
“Guess we should go rescue him,” she sighed. Sliding down from her comfortable perch, Buffy struck out across the room, the others joining her as she made her way through the mass of writhing humanity on the dance floor and approached the confrontational pair. Giles seemed relieved as soon as he saw her, welcoming her presence at his side.
“Is there a problem?” Buffy asked, regarding the two mismatched combatants.
“It’s like I told this kid,” the bouncer responded in a stern tone. “We got an age limit in this place, and he don’t look no sixteen to me.” He gave the librarian a suspicious eye. “Come up with some I.D. that says otherwise, and you can join your friends here. But until then…” He jerked a thumb toward the door in a wordless eviction.
“Why, Giles, I am surprised at you!” Buffy clicked her tongue in mock admonishment. “Did you lie to this nice man about how old you are just to get in?” She gave her blonde head a disapproving shake. “What will your parents think when they find out?”
“They’re probably use to that sort of thing by now,” Xander chimed in, taking up the cue. He turned to the bouncer with an expression that mimicked a weary exasperated parent. “Kids today! They have no respect for rules. We’ll see that this young rapscallion is dealt with immediately.”
“Deal with it outside,” the disgruntled man said and pointed toward the door again. Buffy could feel the small librarian bristling beside her, his anger rising. She took in his clenched fists, the cold glare of his eyes and the determined set to his jaw and realized she had to get him out of there and fast! With an apologetic look toward the bounce she pushed Giles through the door, steering him outside into the open asphalt lot before he could start a scene. When they were beyond the doorman’s hearing she stopped, turning the Brit around to confront him face to face.
“Are you crazy?” she hissed. “You don’t want to pick a fight with that guy.”
“I could handle him,” Giles replied, standing as tall as was possible as he gazed menacingly toward the hulk in the doorway.
“Giles, that guy could crush you with his pinky,” Buffy told the boy librarian, moving him further away from temptation.
“He is sort of big,” Willow added, her eyes pleading with the Brit to forget his argument and calm down.
“And you are sort of not,” Xander reminded the smaller boy. Giles reflected momentarily on that comment. He finally nodded in resignation, acknowledging the teens were right, but it was obvious he was upset by the incident.
“Since when did this place begin restricting admittance?” he grumbled morosely in complaint. “I thought they let anyone in here. They let you in,” he frowned at Xander, who made a face back in return.
“The Bronze has always been this way,” Willow explained. “You have to be sixteen to get in. Didn’t you know?”
“I can’t believe you lied to that guy about your age,” Xander chortled at the young Briton as he wagged a scolding finger. “You naughty little boy!”
“I merely said I was older than I appeared,” Giles replied indignantly. The teens reacted in mock horror to his admittance of an attempted deception. “Well, I couldn’t very well say I was over forty and expect him to believe it,” the librarian said in defense of his dubious actions.
“That’s for sure!” Willow giggled.
“Well, it’s no excuse for setting such a poor example for today’s impressionable youth,” Xander quipped. “Meaning, of course, us.”
“You are well beyond such influence already,” Giles griped dryly, regarding Xander with a scathing glare. “I seriously doubt anything could set you to straight again.”
“Now boys!” Buffy interrupted the pair. “Don’t make me have to separate you two. What is wrong with you, Giles?” she demanded of the librarian. “I mean, I can understand Xander behaving this way. He’s Xander. But you!” Buffy shook her head in disapproval. “You’re acting like a…a…”
“An eight year old?” Willow finished sheepishly. Buffy nodded slowly, her eye suddenly re-appraising the youth before her. Giles was being a bit immature. She hadn’t noticed him acting like this before. In fact, he’d seemed pretty together that morning in school. Well, except for when Snyder was berating him. And when he made those comments about Wesley getting on his nerves. Yeah, sure, he looked like a little kid on the outside, but otherwise he’d seemed the same old Giles to her. Maybe there was more to this magic curse than she’d first thought.
As they stood talking, a small group of high school girls approached from across the dimly lit parking lot. Buffy recognized her classmates as they strolled past, staring and exchanging whispers behind their hands. Xander had seen the girls, too. He gave them his usual once over look, then began preening as if hoping to make a favorable impression on the bevy of young beauties. Willow barely glanced at her fellow classmates and Giles didn’t give them a second look as they walked by, but Buffy suddenly felt very self-conscious about being seen with a boy that looked like he belonged in grade school. Turning aside, she hid her face from the girls as they entered the Bronze behind them.
“So, what are you doing here, Giles,” the blonde sighed, anxious to send the librarian on his way again. “I really don’t think you came to listen to the band.”
“Need I remind you of your patrol duties?” the Brit asked in return. “You did promise to have another go at Fuller’s Pond.”
“It’s still early,” Buffy protested. She ignored the pointed hint that she should be somewhere else instead of at the Bronze. “There’s plenty of night left. I’ll get to it later.”
“This thing isn’t going to make an appearance based on a schedule that’s convenient to your busy social calendar, Buffy,” Giles frowned, lightly scolding the teen. “Haven’t you had enough fun for tonight?”
“Geez! Lighten up, Giles,” Buffy complained. “Don’t take life so seriously. Cut loose! Let yourself go! You’re only young once, you know.” She grinned at the young librarian. “Or maybe twice in your case. It wouldn’t kill you to have a little fun, you know.”
“Perhaps not,” Giles replied coolly. “But will we be able to say the same for the next person they find at that pond?” The blonde was quiet, realizing the truth in his statement. Seeing that he had made an impression, Giles continued. “I’ve gone back over the news archives and I suspect this thing, whatever it is, has been responsible for other similar incidents of drowning. There has been an apparent rash of unexplained drowning deaths around the time of the Spring equinox for at least a century. They appear to happen cyclically, every seven years. The number of victims has varied, but the location is always the same. This is too much of a coincidence to ignore. Unless you put an end to things soon, this creature or demon will continue its killing spree until the end of this lunar phase, at which time it will go dormant for another seven years.”
“You mean the next full moon?” Buffy queried. She started to do a mental calculation. “And that would be…”
“On the thirty-first,” Willow answered matter-of-factly. They all turned to look quizzically at the red head, who met them with a shrug. “When your boyfriend’s a werewolf, you keep track of these things,” she explained.
“Of course.” The librarian was momentarily taken aback, but Willow’s response was logical one. “And this particular month will have two full moons. A rather uncommon phenomenon, I might add. And one which may add to our problem if this creature’s appetite is somehow connected with the lunar cycle. All my research so far seems to point in that direction.”
“So you’re saying this thing’s going to hang around awhile and do some major damage,” Buffy said in thoughtful summation.
“Four people have died at that pond in the last five days,” Giles firmly told the teens. “Who can say how many more in the weeks ahead? There were ten recorded deaths in nineteen seventy-eight, nine in fifty-seven, and twelve in twenty-two, with three of those occurring in the expanse of one evening just prior to the full moon. The potential for loss of lives here is very great, Buffy. The slightest delay could mean the difference between life or death for some unsuspecting person.”
“Okay, okay! I get the point already. You can put away the thumbscrews and flogging whips. The guilt thing worked. I’ll go,” Buffy pouted, resigning herself to her fate. She couldn’t very well go back to having fun now, not when there was a monster out there on the loose chowing down on some poor innocent soul. As the Slayer she had to do something about it. Frowning at her librarian companion, Buffy grumbled bitterly in her defeat. “You sure know how to suck all the fun out of a perfectly good evening.”
Giles flashed victorious grin. “Let’s be off then, shall we?” he said excitedly. He eagerly started off across the parking lot, expecting the blonde to follow.
“Whoa there, Little Buckaroo!” Buffy drawled in an exaggeration of a movie cowboy. Giles came to a halt, turning back toward the others, a curious expression on his youthful face. Regarding the overeager Brit with a raised eyebrow, Buffy fixed him with a cool glare. “And just where do you think you’re going in such a hurry?” she challenged.
“I thought I’d have a look at where the last body was discovered,” Giles announced calmly. “There may be something in the area the police overlooked. Any clue might prove helpful in telling us what type of creature we’re searching for.
“Isn’t there a something else you have to do?” Buffy asked hopefully. She didn’t like the idea of Giles tagging along with her. He was getting to be a real pain, like a pesky little brother she couldn’t shake. “Why don’t you go read a book, or research something at the library?”
“Wesley’s at the library,” the librarian replied with a pained grimace. Buffy noticed the disdain with which Giles had mentioned the Englishman’s name. There had obviously been some friction that day between the two Brits. She could only begin to imagine what the day had been like for Giles being cooped up with Wesley in the library. Grinning at her friend she did her best parental voice.
“Have you and Wesley been fighting, too?” she chided sarcastically. “Honestly, Giles! What am I going to do with you?” You’ve got to learn to share your things with the other kids and get along.”
“That’s right,” Xander piped in gleefully. “If you don’t play nice with Wesley, he won’t come back to your place again.”
“Do you think that I could actually count on that?” the young Britisher responded, traces of genuine hope in his childish voice. For a moment the others simply stared, shocked by his remark. Giles cast his eyes downward and hung his head in chastised humility. Shoving his hands deep in his pockets the librarian mumbled a bitter complaint. “You aren’t the ones who had to spend an entire day with him,” he grumbled peevishly. “I refuse to go back as long as he is there.”
Buffy took a hard look at her friend. This was definitely not the Giles she knew. Sure, the Brit could be determined at times, even stubborn. But this little boy was sullen and surly, his face drawn in an angry pout. He seemed ready to throw a tantrum if he didn’t get his way. Well, she wasn’t about to get in the middle of whatever Giles and Wesley had going. She didn’t have time for that nonsense, especially since the librarian didn’t seem too anxious to share his problems. He had become strangely quiet, divorcing himself from their small group as he stepped back a few paces to stand-alone. Buffy took in his pathetically forlorn posture and found her resolve suddenly weakening.
“I didn’t say you couldn’t come along,” she sighed, hoping to appease the small boy. “If you think a field trip’s the way to go, then let’s do it. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be looking for anyway,” she remarked. “Maybe you can figure it out.”
“Well, I do have a few preliminary theories,” Giles said, brightening quickly in anticipation of the chance to share his views. Buffy cringed inwardly seeing his enthusiasm. Just what I need, she thought to herself. Another boring lecture on the life cycle of some obscure supernatural creature. Giles seemed to know them all. Well, she would let him ramble on, pretending to listen and understand what he was saying. Maybe if she were lucky he’d get tired or run out of story before they got to the park.
“Looks like I’ve got a Patrol Pal tonight,” she told her classmates with a heavy sigh. Giles was heading across the dark parking lot, his zealous energy exploding in the boisterous spring of his youthful step. “I hope he’s not going to be like this all night,” she muttered aloud. “There’s only so much a person can take.”
“He does seem a little wired,” Willow observed with a grin. The Brit suddenly broke into a move that looked like he was skipping and she giggled. “He’s just like a little kid!”
“Will,” Buffy said, giving her friend a look. “Maybe you haven’t noticed, but Giles is a kid.”
“Well, yeah, but,” the red head replied. “He looks like a kid and all, but he really isn’t. Is he? I mean, he thinks like a grown up and everything. And he pretty much acts like a grown up.” She glanced toward the librarian who seemed to be somewhere off in his own little world. “Well, most of the time, anyway. Gee, I wonder what’s gotten into him?”
“It’s probably all those candy bars he ate this afternoon,” Xander remarked sagely as one who knew from experience. “He must have had two or three dozen.” Buffy’s eyes popped wide as the teen explained. “He hit the vending machines pretty hard. Did you see all the trashed wrappers in his office? Giles has one serious problem when it comes to sugar.”
“You mean he’s been eating candy all day?” the blonde said in disbelief. “No wonder he’s wound so tight.”
“Bet he’s got a real good sugar rush going there,” Xander chuckled, watching Giles display some of the exuberance the candy had helped fuel. The Brit nimbly vaulted over a sawhorse barrier with a reckless abandon reserved only for the very young or those in desperate need of Ritalin. With an impatient wave he beckoned to the slayer from across the lot, urging her to hurry along and follow.
“Maybe I can tie him up and leave him somewhere,” Buffy groaned, considering the possible problems ahead that evening. Giles was definitely going to be a handful in his present condition. She hadn’t counted on having to be a babysitter while on patrol. Turning hopefully to her friends, she pleaded with the pair. “You guys wouldn’t want to come along?” she asked.
“You want us to keep the little brat busy while you’re off fighting monsters?” Xander chortled in amusement. “Or would he be the little monster in question?” the teen continued with his light-hearted jest. “Since it’s not like I’ve got anything better to do, you can put me down for a yup on that.”
“Thanks, Xand. I owe you one,” Buffy breathed in relief, then turned to Willow. “How about it, Will? You up for some quality time with Giles?”
“I’m staying,” Willow responded. “Here, that is. With Oz. He’s probably wondering what happened to me, so I’d better go now. But you guys have fun!”
“Fun, yeah,” Buffy grumbled and rolled her eyes. “Come on, Xander. Looks like its gonna be you, me and Stuart Little there.”
Xander and Buffy trotted off across the paved lot, hurrying to catch up with the Brit who was already heading for the street without them. Willow watched as her friends walked off into the dark, the librarian anchored in place between the two taller teens. She waved goodbye then turned and went back into the Bronze. She was lucky enough to find a vacant spot near the stage, where she could be close to the band and her Oz. Ensconced in her comfy seat, she listened as the Dingoes played through their current set of songs, waiting for the next break when she would be able to spend a few minutes chatting with her favorite guy before he had to go back on stage. Such was the life when one was the girlfriend of a cool rock musician.
The park after sunset was a popular place on Friday night, Buffy decided. There were plenty of strolling young couples and joggers in various degrees of fitness that passed her by as she traveled the winding pathways on her night rounds. It was a cool evening and the jacket she wore had come in handy. In a way Buffy was glad for the company she had brought along that night. It made patrol less like work and more like a pleasant walk. With Giles car-less for the duration of his condition the three of them had hiked the distance to the park. They made good time, even though the smallest of them was forced to step lively with his shorter legs to keep up. Buffy secretly hoped the exercise would burn off some of the boisterous energy Giles seemed to have in him. When they finally reached Fuller’s Pond the stars were bright in the sky overhead and the moon was out to light their way through the dark.
They had circled the pond and were on its southern end, slogging along across the soft, mucky shoreline. Buffy was trying to avoid getting her slacks wet, carefully picking her way through the marshy area, her shoes leaving deep impressions in the boggy ground. Xander, unconcerned for his footwear, stalked directly through the mud and weeds without a care, lagging a few steps behind his blonde classmate.
And then there was Giles. He was nimble enough, running out ahead of them, his feet somehow managing to find every wet, filthy slime puddle there was along the path. But the librarian’s diminutive size was proving a challenge at times. He couldn’t seem to grasp the concept that his limbs weren’t as long as they had been only yesterday. Twice he had nearly fallen into the pond while attempting to leap over some obstacle in his way and the jeans he wore had long ago lost any sense of newness, the lower legs spattered with grime and strands of rotting muck. Buffy began to feel she was there not to hunt down some demon, but to rescue the librarian from himself. In spite of herself she managed to keep her mouth shut and not complain, doing her best to ignore the Brit’s youthful exuberance and his reckless predilection for near personal disasters.
“Hold up a moment there, Speedy Gonzales,” Buffy called out as Giles scrambled over a fallen log. He paused long enough for her to catch up, then was off again, balancing precariously atop a ledge of rock as he traversed its edge like a tightrope walker. When he reached the end he jumped down, landing near the blonde who shook her head in an exasperated gesture. “Aren’t you tired?” she queried in wonder.
“Actually, I feel strangely exhilarated,” Giles replied with a boyish grin. “I haven’t had this much energy in years!”
“Xander told me about your forays to the candy machine,” she responded tartly. “Don’t they teach you Brits anything about the four food groups and healthy eating habits? Contrary to popular belief, one cannot live on chocolate bars alone.”
“I was hungry,” the librarian said defensively. “There is nothing wrong with indulging in a bit of sweet now and then.”
“Giles, you wiped out the entire supply of Snickers bars,” the blonde griped with an amused chuckle. “That much of anything can’t be good for you. You’re lucky you didn’t get sick. Although,” she frowned, glancing over his sparse frame with its angular bony joints. “You probably could afford to put on a few pounds. You sure are on skinny little runt.”
“Yeah?” Giles started to reply to the insult. “Well, you’re…” he paused, realizing now close he had just come to uttering a childish retaliatory comment. What was he thinking? One simply did not go around offending the Chosen One because she called you a runt. Buffy hadn’t meant to be cruel. But the remark had stung him nonetheless. And it didn’t help that she was right. He was small. He’d forgotten how infuriating it was to be short. And young. This situation was proving far more difficult for him to accept than he had anticipated.
“Everything okay, Giles?” The librarian looked up to find the slayer staring at him. Touched by her concern, he smiled to let her know he was fine. Before he could reinforce his reply verbally, Xander came staggering up from behind, panting lightly from exertion.
“You two think you could slow it down?” the boy complained. “Unlike the rest of you, I am a mere mortal with no super powers or magic spells to push these tired puppies along,” he remarked, pointing to his feet. He turned to glare suspiciously at the younger Brit. “Where do you get that energy? It can’t be normal.”
“You obviously haven’t spent much time with kids,” Buffy chuckled at her classmate.
“Only when I was one myself,” Xander frowned in reply.
“This,” she said, nodding toward Giles with his display of youthful vigor. “This is nothing. One time I babysat for this boy, Tommy Brent.” She smiled, recalling the memory of a night several years ago. “Was that kid ever a handful. He spent the entire night bouncing off the walls and tearing up the place. He was totally out of control. And could he ever run!” Buffy shook her head in amazement. “I had to chase him all over the entire house just to get him into bed.”
“Very interesting,” Xander snickered suggestively, rubbing his hands together in wicked glee. “So the truth is out at last. True confessions of the Sunnydale Slayer’s sordid past. You like to chase guys and get them into bed, eh? What other dark little secrets are you harboring from your past?”
“Xander!” Buffy frowned disdainfully at her classmate. “Tommy was eight years old.”
“So, you prefer younger men,” the teen nodded, turning toward the librarian and sharing a knowing wink. “Looks like there’s hope for you yet, Little Buddy,” he chortled.
“Good Lord!” Giles glared at the older boy in shocked disapproval. “She’s only eighteen years old!” he protested, but a pink blush had crept into his cheeks as he glanced toward the girl. Buffy didn’t know whether to be insulted or to laugh at the librarian.
“You’re not exactly Methuselah, pal,” she chided the young Brit good-naturedly. “Not that I’m the kind of girl that couldn’t be attracted to your kind of guy, provided, of course, that your kind of guy was younger. I mean, younger than before, that is. Not now. Because you are younger now, than before, but too young for…” She paused, noticing how the two boys were staring at her as she rambled on. “Why are we even discussing this?” she griped in flustered embarrassment. “I thought we came out to hunt us some monsters. So, let’s hunt!”
She started walking and the two boys fell into step at her heels. Following the edge of the pond, Buffy made her way over marshy ground and through overgrown sedge grasses. As they plodded along side by side behind her, Xander turned to his smaller companion.
“Come to think of it, you’re not the kind of guy that could make Buffy happy anyway,” the teen remarked casually, a mischievous glint in his eye as he goaded the Brit. “You’re way too short.”
“And what does size have to do with making a woman happy?” Giles grumbled as he skidded through a muddy patch.
“If you have to ask, you’re not old enough to know,” Xander grinned smugly in reply. The Briton realized he’d been set up as the teen’s straight man for yet another tasteless attempt at adolescent humor. Feeling an uncontrollable urge to punch the other boy coming upon him, Giles took a deep breath and fought the impulse, increasing the speed of his step to come up beside Buffy. Throwing a withering glance over his shoulder he jerked his head toward the merrily chuckling Xander.
“Of all the people in that school that you could have chosen for a friend,” he said in exasperation to the blonde as they ambled along together. “Why him?”
“Oh, I dunno,” Buffy smiled, fondly reflecting on the thought. Xander wasn’t the kind of guy she would have picked as a friend at her old school, Hemery High. He was cute in his own strange way, but he was far from the cool, suave hunks she used to date, back when she actually had a life. But she liked Xander. He was funny and weird, and she knew she could count on him to cheer her up when things were going bad. So what if sometimes he was a pain. What guy wasn’t? Fate had thrown them together, she and Xander and Willow. There were just some things that were meant to be, and one didn’t question why.
“Didn’t you have any friends like Xander when you were growing up?” Buffy asked the librarian.
Giles frowned, considering her question. “Well, there was this one fellow,” he answered. “He lived nearby. I don’t know as I would have called him a friend. More of an acquaintance, I suppose.” An odd smile spread over the Brit’s face. “Archie was rather, uhm, well…different.”
“You actually had friends when you were a kid?” Xander said from behind them. “You mean, like a normal person and everything?”
“I assure you I had a perfectly normal childhood like anyone else,” Giles responded indignantly with a backward glance. “Well, that is, anyone who had a Watcher as a parent, of course,” he admitted almost sheepishly. “That part might have been a bit less ordinary.” He came to a sudden halt, looking around for a moment. Giles pointed to a strip of plastic yellow crime tape strung among several trees. “Here’s where they found the last body,” he announced.
They began to explore the area, Buffy staying close to the young Brit. There was enough moonlight to illuminate the ground in all but the darkest shadows up by the tree line above them. Aptly prepared for the situation Giles had brought along a small flashlight, which he was using to shine over the ground as he searched for clues among the brush and trees. Visions of a petite Sherlock Holmes Junior immediately sprang to Buffy’s mind as she trailed along after the librarian, and she found herself wondering if he had always been like this, resourceful beyond any reasonable measure.
“Hey, Giles. What was it like?” Buffy asked, suddenly realizing she’d never given serious thought to the librarian’s childhood before. Giles had never been one to talk much about his past. In fact he was downright secretive about it. It was only by chance that she and her friends had uncovered certain details, like Giles at one time played the guitar, like seventies rock and roll, owned a leather jacket and had his ear pierced. These were part of his wilding years, his rebellious pre-Watcher period.
Then there were the other, darker pieces to Giles’ past. The exact particulars were unknown, but the gang had discovered that he’d been involved in a death and the raising of a demon called Eyghon, the Sleepwalker. Buffy’s glance unconsciously strayed toward the librarian’s left arm where his shirtsleeve barely covered an intricate tattoo, a tangible souvenir of a life left behind. It struck Buffy as creepy that the symbol hadn’t disappeared when Giles was changed into a kid, as if the inherent evil in the marking on his flesh somehow transcended the power of whatever magic was responsible for the Brit’s transformation. Plus, the tattoo was so completely out of character with the innocently youthful features of Giles’ present face. It gave her the wiggins to see it there, looking permanent and fresh as the day it had been inked.
“So?” Buffy prompted the Brit again, awaiting the reply to her question. “What was it like?”
“The body?” Giles paused, frowning as he straightened, his own thoughts stuck on their investigation. “Well, the preliminary autopsy listed drowning as the cause of death, but there were only scant traces of water found in the lungs. Certainly not enough to merit such a definitive pronouncement. There was mention of a peculiar series of markings on the mouth area and tongue, rather like bite marks, but I haven’t the faintest idea what would have caused those.”
Xander smirked at the librarian in bemused wonder. “Obviously you don’t know what goes on out here in the bushes,” he informed the boy. Draping an arm over Giles’ shoulder, the older teen leaned in closer, as if about to impart some great and weighty wisdom to one not yet enlightened. “I think that maybe it’s time we had that little talk about guys and girls and the things they like to do with each other.”
Giles disengaged the teen’s hold, meeting his broad grin with a disapproving glower. “Do you mind?”
“I wasn’t talking about the dead guy,” Buffy interjected, trying to turn the subject back to her unanswered question. Giles looked at her, puzzlement spreading across his features. “I meant what was it like for you growing up,” she continued. “You know, being a Watcher’s kid. Any interesting anecdotes you’d like to share?”
“None that I can think of at the moment,” Giles frowned, turning back to his search for clues. “I suppose my youth was fairly much the same as that of any other person. I did all the normal things that one expects to do when growing up.”
“Right,” Xander quipped sardonically. “That’s if the other person you’re talking about happens to live on the mystical convergence of paranormal and demonic activity, which, now that I think about it, sort of describes our happy little corner of the world here in Sunnydale to a Tee.”
“Why do I find the concept of you and anything normal a diametric paradox?” Buffy lightly scoffed. “Okay, sure, the Giles’ family album probably covered the usual happy milestones. Mom and baby coming home from the hospital, that first step, a new tooth…”
“Daddy and son slay first demon together,” Xander added helpfully.
“Exactly,” Buffy nodded in vigorous agreement with her classmate. “It’s like, this Watcher stuff has been your whole life, right? That whole passing the torch through the generations thing. Those Giles family reunions must have been some fun.”
Xander jumped on his friend’s idea. “Instead of trading recipes for Aunt Agatha’s famous pot luck casseroles and running three legged races, they probably had contests to see who could sharpen a stake the fastest.”
“You make it sound as though we were some sort of loopy spiritualistic cult that practiced ritual virgin sacrifices under the light of a full moon while gadding about Harry starkers,” Giles protested, frowning irritably at the grinning teen.
“And if that means what I think it does,” Xander amiably wisecracked. “I’d have made Peter Pan’s theme song my personal mantra, ‘cause I wouldn’t want to grow up either and leave all those fun time behind. Owwww!” Xander howled, a sharp pain shooting through his foot in simultaneous synchrony with the loud stomp of Giles’ foot.
“Oh, dear. Was that your foot?” the librarian remarked in smooth innocence. “My mistake.”
“You did that on purpose!” the teen complained, limping as he continued to follow the others through the brush. Buffy stifled a laugh. She’d seen the unmistakably impish glint in Giles’ eye before he’d turned aside and she knew that it had been no accident when he’d brought his heel down on Xander’s foot.
“All hairy storks aside for the moment,” she smiled, pushing her way through a tangle of brittle vines. “Most people only believe in scary monsters under the bed when they’re kids and sooner or later they outgrow that kind of thing, convince themselves it’s only make believe. Or maybe it’s only a shadow they see in the closet. But not you, Giles. You always knew what was there. You never stopped believing all the stories about ghoulies and beasties, and things that go slurp in the night. That must have been pretty tough for a kid to handle.”
Giles shrugged, avoiding the girl’s gaze as he peered into a nearby clump of brush. “It’s something one learns to accept in life,” he replied with a casual indifference. “Rather like taxes and the unfortunate loss of the American Colonies.”
Grinning at the librarian’s attempted humor, Buffy tried to imagine what life had been like in the Giles household when he was growing up. She pictured a cheery cottage nestled amidst flower gardens with a gate out front and a stone pathway leading up to the front stoop, where a fat cat sat in the sunshine, lazily licking its paws. Inside the kitchen would be cozy and bright, the table covered in a lacey cloth and set with dainty cups of tea and plate of crumpets to eat. She wasn’t really sure what a crumpet looked like, but it sounded very English and she felt sure that Giles had eaten a ton of them as a kid.
“Did your Dad ever talk about what he did?” she asked, eventually breaking out of the mental reverie. “I can see where it would make for insightful and interesting dinner conversations.”
“Not to mention some pretty cool show and tell days at school,” Xander remarked. “I can just see Giles re-enacting Daddy’s latest demon vanquishing while passing around trophy samples to all the kids in class.”
“Probably didn’t have too many friends at your place for sleepovers,” Buffy surmised, reflecting on her own lack of a social life since becoming a slayer. “It can get kind of tricky explaining to other parents about the all weapons lying around the house and the odd poltergeist or two showing up unannounced at midnight.” When Giles didn’t comment she grew more serious. “I’m guessing it must’ve been kind of lonely at times. Is that why you took that little walk on the wild side back in your pre-Watcher period?”
“Hmmm, what? Oh, I suppose,” Giles responded with distracted indifference. Buffy realized he hadn’t really been listening to her. Or was Giles just pretending not to have heard so he wouldn’t have to answer. Either way, it didn’t look like she was going to get a reply.
Buffy sighed and resumed her scan of the ground and brush around them, looking for anything the police might have left behind. She moved along the grassy sloped bank, staying close to Xander and Giles for a few minutes, then eventually they split up, each taking off on their own to search. Their paths occasionally criss-crossed as they combed the area, looking for even the slightest hint of a clue to the circumstances surrounding the drowning victim’s death. At the end of the hour they were not any closer to an answer than when they started. They had disturbed a few ducks and managed to chase a plump raccoon up a tree, but no other evidence had made itself know to them.
“Looks like somebody had a party!” Buffy announced, finding a collection of empty beer cans in the undergrowth outside the police tape’s perimeter. “Maybe more than one. Look at all this trash. Hasn’t anyone heard about recycling?”
Xander walked up to peer over her shoulder as Giles directed his flashlight beam into the bushes. There was a large pile of discarded beer cans tossed by countless drinkers over the years. It was obvious the park facilities and maintenance crews didn’t go too far back into the woods during their cleaning rounds.
“Don’t people know that litter hurts us all?” Xander quoted, frowning at the mess.
“Give a hoot! Don’t pollute!” Buffy added on cue. With a sigh she turned to the librarian. “That’s all there is, Giles. I don’t think we’re going to find anything else.”
“You may be right,” Giles reluctantly admitted. “Still, I’d like to have one last look about before calling it a night.”
“Whatever,” Buffy replied with a shrug of her slim shoulders. She didn’t see any sense in the librarian’s request, but she was willing to go along to keep him happy. Turning to Xander she lowered her voice to a whisper. “If we make it fast, we can get back to the Bronze in time for Oz’s last set. Spread out and cover ground!”
They quickly separated and began to retrace their paths, crawling up and down the bank, inspecting behind each tree and under every bush again. Poking among the stands of cattails they chased a few frogs out of hiding, but found nothing out of the ordinary. Each worked independently and with varying degrees of thoroughness. Giles was slow and meticulous. Buffy stalked her clues like quarry, hunting for anything that stood out in the landscape, jumping down on any tiny movement that caught her eye. Xander strolled back and forth, his search more haphazard, a hit or miss technique that wasn’t any more successful than those of his companions.
After a while Xander grew increasingly bored with his unproductive quest. Making his way down the steep bank to the pond he proceeded to amuse himself collecting flat stones and skipping them across the calm water as he silently lamented his pathetic excuse for a love life. The girls he had seen that night outside the Bronze hadn’t even noticed him. Where had he gone wrong? Was he really that much of a loser? He had to do something to put an end to this dateless disaster he was doomed to call his social life.
Xander had stooped to select another rock from the gravel shoreline when he suddenly noticed a glittering sparkle in the shallow water. Curious, he reached down and plucked the object from the pond’s silt bottom. It was a golden nugget about the size of a robin’s egg. As he lifted it from the mud it washed it clean in the water to reveal its full brilliant metallic gleam. A small glimmer of avarice struck the boy as he admired his treasure. Maybe the night wasn’t a total loss after all. This was a lot more impressive than a bunch of empty beer cans.
Pocketing his find, Xander peered over the raised edge of the bank. The others were still busy with their search. He could see Giles’ flashlight beam bobbing about drunkenly as the librarian crawled under some bush on hands and knees, getting up close and personal with the remote corners of the thick undergrowth. Buffy’s blonde hair was shining in the moonlight as she followed the young Brit, hovering protectively over his back. She was taking her role as the Brit’s guardian very seriously.
Xander was about to call his friends over and show off his prize when a movement caught his eye. Doing a slow about-face he turned to look out over the pond. At first he saw nothing. Then he noticed the faint rippling in the water about fifteen feet from shore. Something was definitely out there. He was sure of it. A pale shadow was gliding just beneath the water’s murky surface. Instantly the teen was on the alert. After all, weren’t they out here hunting for some kind of swamp monster? Maybe this was it.
Xander continued to watch the mysterious movement as he backed away, prepared to flee at the first sign of a demon. He slowly crawled his way up the grassy embankment to his friends, never taking his wary eye off of the shape that swimming back and forth in the dark pond. He approached Buffy, blindly reaching to tap the girl on her shoulder.
“Uh, Buff?” His voice caught in his throat as Xander spoke. Buffy looked up, eyes calmly questioning. As soon as she saw the tense expression on her friend’s face, she knew something was going on.
“What is it?” she asked excitedly. “Did you find something?”
The teen extended an arm in mute reply, pointing at the pond. Buffy squinted, trying to see what was out there. She quickly noticed the billowing wake of a large sized creature moving across the pond. Instinctively she it wasn’t just some of the normal local wildlife indigenous to the area stirring things up out there. This thing was big. Human sized. Possibly even demon sized.
“Looks like we found our water demon,” Buffy remarked to her companion.
“Either that, or we’re about to make the cover of next month’s Field and Scream,” Xander quipped nervously in return.
Buffy nodded in silent agreement. Together they walked to the edge of the bank’s steep incline and stared out at the thing swimming in the pond. The creature didn’t seem aware of them, and they decided it best to keep it that way for the moment.
“What do you think it is?” Xander whispered in the blonde’s ear.
“I don’t know,” Buffy replied with a shrug of her shoulders. “What do you think it is?”
“What are you looking at?” The two teens jumped at the sound of the voice behind them. Giles had spotted them standing on the bank and come down to join the pair. They quickly shushed the librarian, Xander putting a hand over the Brit’s mouth to silence him. Giles pushed the gag aside, glaring at the older boy in irritation. But he lowered his volume as he repeated his question.
“What is it?” the librarian breathed softly.
“That’s what we were hoping you’d tell us,” Buffy said, gesturing at the pond. Giles looked out over the tranquil water and saw nothing. He directed the beam of his small flashlight in the direction Buffy had pointed and carefully scrutinized the murky lagoon. A lone duck made its way across the illuminated path of his spotlight, paddling through the shallows amongst the weeds.
Giles turned a dubious eye toward the blonde and her classmate.
“It was there!” Buffy said in response to his look. She exchanged a confused glance with Xander. “We both saw it, Giles.”
“That’s right,” Xander nodded in agreement.
“And what exactly was it you saw?” Giles asked, sounding unconvinced by the pair’s story.
“Well, it was…” Xander started making gestures of size with his arms wide as Buffy tried to describe what they had seen.
“It was big,” the girl told the librarian. “Really big! And it was…big!” she repeated, realizing she couldn’t say much more than that. She turned hopefully toward Xander, waiting for him to supply something more in information. The boy grinned uneasily, his dark eyes glancing toward the water before shrugging apologetically. He ran a hand nervously through his dark hair and echoed the slayer’s response.
“It was big,” he said weakly. “And…and it could swim.”
“I see.” Giles sighed wearily, fixing a scowl upon the teens. “By any chance could it have been, oh, let’s say…a fish?” The librarian felt his temper begin to flare. He thought he was used to the slayer’s vague reports of her encounters, but tonight he was not in the mood to deal with such nonsense. With a frustrated grumble he stalked off toward the tree line before coming to a halt and facing the teens. “Just once, couldn’t you be a bit more helpful with the specifics?” he snapped angrily at Buffy. “You don’t make this easy for me. It’s not like I’m going to find anything in my books under ‘big’ and ‘it swims’…unless I happen to be using a copy of Melville’s Moby Dick to do my research!”
Buffy winced at the librarian’s hotheaded outburst. “Gee, Giles!” she pouted in complaint. “You don’t have to bite my head off. The pond’s only so big. It couldn’t have gone very far.”
“That isn’t the point,” the Brit argued, his voice rising in a strange childish whine.
“And that would be?” Xander asked in defense of his blonde schoolmate.
“The point would be that you should learn to be more observant,” the Brit answered tersely. “When you see something unusual, study it. Analyze it. Get details! This…” he said, mimicking their previous hand gestures. “This is not much help to me.” With a growl of disgust, Giles stormed off into the dark woods behind him, leaving the teens staring after him in wide-eyed shock.
“Whoa!” Xander exclaimed. “Sounds like someone missed their naptime today.”
“He was kinda cranky,” Buffy agreed. They could hear the librarian as he stomped through the shadowy brush up the woodland trail alone. “More than usual, I mean,” she continued. “Even for Giles.” She sighed, contemplating what to do. “Maybe I should go talk to him or something. Calm him down.”
“Good idea,” the boy nodded as the blonde trotted off after the young Brit and disappeared into the trees. “You talk to him. I’ll wait here. In the dark. By myself.” Xander glanced nervously over his shoulder at the pond. “All alone, I hope,” he added apprehensively.
Buffy pushed her way though the dry undergrowth, tracking the librarian up the trail to the main path. It didn’t take long to find him. He was walking slowly through a deeply wooded section of the park, shuffling along with his head bent low, hands deep in his pockets. Buffy thought he looked kind of sad and pathetic as he made his way down the path, kicking at stones and stray twigs as he went. She hurried to catch up to the librarian, coming along side and matching her pace to his short-legged steps.
“Giles,” she began. The librarian turned away, making a point of ignoring her presence. His reaction caught Buffy by surprise. Giles was behaving like a spiteful youngster that had just had a fight with his best friend. He was purposely snubbing her in an attempt to inflict some vengeful hurt in return. Well, she wasn’t going to let him get away with this attitude. Grabbing the Brit by his arm, she pulled him around, forcing him to look at her. “Giles, we have to talk.”
“Leave me alone!” The librarian lashed out at her, his features knotted into a bitter grimace of resentment. He ripped his arm away with a jerk as if her very touch was somehow distasteful to him. “Bugger off!”
Stomping off in a tantrum, Giles left the blonde stunned. For a moment Buffy could only stare after the Briton as he walked away from her down the path. That was when she first sensed them. Something told her danger was nearby, an evil darkness lurking within the cover of the trees. Within seconds a shadowy shape broke away from the woods and then another. Her heart quickened, and Buffy watched in horror as they rushed down on the path before her.
Two of them.
And they were heading straight for Giles!