CHAPTER SEVEN

By late afternoon Buffy’s mood was in an upswing. Though the questions had seemed tough, she felt she’d done well on her English Lit test. Thankfully, none of her other teachers had popped any surprise quizzes. Add a cute boy giving her an appreciative eye in the hall, a school lunch that was actually edible for a change, some lost money discovered at the bottom of her locker, and it added up to a fairly decent day all around. 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. Deciding the librarian’s situation would only be something else for her mother to worry about, Buffy kept the news to herself. Later, when things were back to normal, whatever that was, she might tell her mother what had happened, and the two of them could share a good laugh. Until then, the fewer people involved in the matter, the better off they all would be.

A short while later Buffy was in her bedroom selecting an outfit to wear that evening. She wanted to look nice. Her eye lingered on a favorite dress. Slinky and short, it showed off her young figure to its best advantage. Pulling the garment out of her closet she held it up against herself, inspecting the effect in her mirror. It looked perfect. But then she remembered her promise to patrol later. That was an outing that required an entirely different slant on her choice of attire. Hanging the dress back in her closet, she wondered if Cosmopolitan or Women’s Wear Daily would ever feature a designer line of Slayer fashions. The clothing would 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 several more minutes of careful deliberation, Buffy finally settled on a compromise outfit. 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 completed the look. She slipped on her ensemble, and arranging her blonde hair in a loose ponytail, applied a few simple touches of makeup to her face, checking her image in a mirror to see that it met her critical approval. It did. She could move easily from dance floor to demon dueling in stylish aplomb, and with only the slight change in accessories.

The Bronze was crowded when she arrived. Willow was there, and had already picked out a table, one with an excellent view of the band. The cheerful red-haired teen was nodding along with the music, oblivious to the crowded room around her, eyes gazing proudly at her boyfriend on the stage. She and Oz would smile, exchanging the special glances of two young people very obviously in love.

Observing their flirting from across the room, Buffy sighed. Feelings of mild jealously briefly surfaced, but she quickly pushed the negativity back down, telling herself Willow and Oz had every right to be happy. To assuage her slightly wounded emotions, she got a sugary snack and a drink before making her way over to join her red headed friend. She rallied her spirits, and greeting Willow with genuine enthusiasm, the two girls were soon engrossed in full gab mode. Xander and Cordelia made their appearance a short time later, and the friendly foursome settled in together to spend the next few hours laughing and enjoying an evening at the Bronze.

“Band sounds pretty decent tonight,” Buffy noted, yelling over the loud music.

“Oz says they’ve been practicing,” Willow said, accepting the compliment on her boyfriend’s performance. She liked the fact that Oz was considered cool. It increased her coolness factor by association. Willow had lived too many of her younger years being known of as the weird brainy girl, that nerd that everyone else made fun of. It felt good to be part of the in crowd, even if only among her small group of friends.

Xander drummed the tabletop in rhythm with the music. “Sounds like they’re all playing the same song, too.” he added, continuing his 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. Nudging Buffy gently with his elbow, he interrupted the commentary she was making to Willow about her test that day, pointing out what he had seen across the room.

“The Incredible Shrinking Librarian is here,” he said with a grin. “And it doesn’t look like he knows the secret password to get in.”

Buffy craned her neck, her eyes scanning the crowded room. There he was, just as Xander had said, and looking hopelessly lost among the Bronze’s clientele. Not that Giles had ever fit in what with being older and dressing as he did in his natty tweed suits. This time the Brit stood out because he was the youngest person in the club. That is, he would have been, if it weren’t for the large man that was effectively blocking his path. The librarian was in the midst of some fierce debate with the club’s doorman, his arms gesticulating wildly, his entire body language screaming frustrated aggression. It didn’t seem a wise position for Giles to take, especially when comparing his slighter and smaller build to the muscle-bound hulk who served as the club’s bouncer.

“He could get hurt if he isn’t careful,” Willow said with some concern. Buffy realized her friend’s assessment of the rapidly escalating situation was correct. If she didn’t step in, Giles was going to be in big trouble, and very soon.

“Guess I should go rescue him.” Sliding down from her comfortable perch, Buffy struck out across the room, making her way across the dance floor. Willow, Xander and Cordelia followed a few steps behind, taking advantage of the path that she had forged through the mass of writhing humanity. Their approach interrupted the ongoing argument between bruiser and boy, and Giles beamed a relieved welcome as the slayer sauntered up to his side.

“Is there a problem?” Buffy asked, regarding the two mismatched combatants.

“It’s like I told the kid,” the bouncer responded, droning in tired tone. “We got an age limit in this place, and he don’t look no sixteen to me.” The overdeveloped muscleman gave the young librarian a suspicious glower. “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?” She gave her blonde head a disapproving shake. “Whatever will your parents think?”

“They’re probably use to that sort of thing,” Xander chimed in, taking his cue from the slayer. 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.”

“Yeah? Well, you can 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. Taking in his clenched fists, the cold glare of his eyes, the determined set to his jaw, she realized she had to get him out of there fast! With an apologetic look toward the bouncer she pushed Giles through the door, hustling him out 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.

“Right,” Cordelia snipped contemptuously. “That guy could crush you with just the weight of his one eyebrow.”

“He is sort of big,” Willow added, her eyes pleading with the Brit to forget his argument.

“And you are sort of not,” Xander reminded the smaller boy. Reflecting on the boy’s comment, Giles nodded, resolutely acknowledging the teens advice. But it was obvious the incident had him upset.

“And when did this place begin restricting admittance?” he grumbled, tucking his hands in his pockets. “I thought they let anyone in there. They let you in,” he frowned, looking at Xander. The teen made a face back in return.

“It’s always been this way,” Willow explained. “You have to be sixteen to get into The Bronze. 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 didn’t lie!” Giles replied indignantly. “I told him that I was older than I appeared.” The teens reacted in mock horror to his admittance of attempted deception. “Well, I couldn’t very well expect him to believe I was over forty,” the librarian shot back in defense of his dubious actions.

“That’s for sure!” Willow giggled.

“That’s no excuse for setting a poor example for today’s impressionable youth,” Xander quipped. “Meaning, of course, us.”

“You are well beyond such influence,” Giles griped dryly, regarding Xander with his 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.” She gave the small Brit a disapproving stare. “What is wrong with you, Giles? I mean, I can understand Xander behaving this way. He’s Xander. But you!” She shook her head. “You’re acting like a…a…”

“An eight year old?” Cordelia finished bluntly. “Well, duh! What do you expect? Look at him.”

Buffy found herself suddenly re-appraising the youth before her. Giles was being very immature. She thought back to that morning. He’d seemed pretty together then. Well, except for when Snyder was berating him. Otherwise he’d been the same old Giles. Still, maybe there was more to this magick curse than she’d first thought. Something was definitely not right here.

As they stood talking, a small group of high school girls approached 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 acknowledged her fellow classmates. Suddenly, Buffy found herself feeling 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.

“What are you doing here, Giles,” she demanded, exasperated. She was 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 challenged in return.

“It’s still early,” Buffy protested. She ignored her Watcher’s pointed hint she should be elsewhere instead of at the Bronze. “There’s plenty of night left. I’ll get to it later.”

“Buffy, this thing isn’t going to make an appearance based on a schedule that’s convenient to your busy social calendar,” Giles frowned. “Surely, you’ve had enough fun for tonight?”

“Geez! Lighten up, Giles,” the teen complained. “Why do you always have to take life so seriously? Try cutting loose for a change. Let yourself go! You’re only young once, you know.” A sly grin crept across her lips as she regarded the small librarian. “Make that twice, in your case. Anyway, it wouldn’t kill you to have a little fun.”

“Perhaps not,” Giles replied, assessing her coolly with a level look. “But will we be able to say the same for the next person they find at that pond?” Forced to capitulate to the truth in his statement Buffy demurely lowered her defiant gaze. Giles cocked and eyebrow smugly, seeing that he had indeed made an impression, and continued.

“I’ve gone back over the news archives. This thing, whatever it is, has been responsible for other similar incidents of drowning. There has been an apparent rash of unexplained drowning deaths at that pond for at least a century. They appear to happen cyclically, every seven years, around the time of the spring equinox. The number of victims varies, but the circumstances of the deaths are the same. This is too much of a coincidence to ignore. And unless you put an end to things soon, this creature 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 this thing’s active until the next full moon?” Buffy queried. She started to do a mental calculation. “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 had been a logical one. “This particular month has the dubious distinction of not one, but two full moons. A rather uncommon phenomenon. And one which may add to our problem if this creature’s appetite is somehow connected with the lunar cycle. A direction in which my research so far seems to be pointing.”

“So you’re saying this thing’s going to hang around awhile and do some major damage,” Buffy paraphrased in summation.

“Four people have died at that pond in the last five days. 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 a single 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! Enough with the gloom and doom lecture already. You can put away the thumbscrews and flogging whips. The guilt thing worked. I’ll go.” Buffy pouted, resigned 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, she grumbled bitterly in her defeat. “You sure know how to suck all the life out of a perfectly good evening.”

Flashing a victorious grin, Giles began to do an excited little shuffle. “Let’s be off then, shall we?” Taking off like a bolt the Brit struck off across the parking lot, never looking back to see if the blonde was following him.

“Whoa, whoa whoa! Hold on thar, Bubbalooey!” Buffy drawled in an exaggeration of a movie cowboy. Giles halted, turning back, 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. “It’s possible that there may be something in the area the police have overlooked. Any clue might prove helpful in telling us what type of creature we’re searching for.

“Isn’t there a something else you should be doing?” Buffy asked hopefully. She didn’t like the idea of Giles tagging along. He was starting to be a real pain, like a pesky little brother she couldn’t shake. “Why don’t you let me handle this. You go read a book. Or research something.”

“But, I don’t want to research,” the librarian whined, his expression the paragon of childish petulance. “I want to go to the park. With you.”

“I’m not sure that’s such a great idea, Giles. Maybe it’d be better if you went home. Xander could take you-”

“I said I want to go to the park!”

The loud outburst took them all by surprise, including Giles. For a moment the Watcher blanched sheepishly, a strange expression akin to fear clouding his eyes. Removing his glasses, he went through the busy motions of polishing the lenses as he collected his composure.

“Buffy.” Clearing his throat, the Brit carefully replaced the spectacles on his face, once more in control. “The sooner we get to the park, the quicker we can resolve this matter. And then we can all go home. Agreed?”

“Fine,” the blonde replied, but her voice lacked the firmness of conviction she had attempted to convey. “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 her Watcher’s enthusiasm. Just what I need. Another boring lecture on the life cycle of some obscure supernatural creature. And Giles certainly seemed to know them all. Well, she would let him ramble on, pretending to listen and understand what he was saying. If she was lucky he’d get tired or run out of story before they got to the park.

“Looks like I’ve got me a Patrol Pal tonight,” she told her classmates with a sigh of surrender. Giles was already heading across the dark parking lot once again, his zealous energy exploding in the boisterous spring of his youthful step. “God, 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. As the Brit suddenly broke into a move that looked like he was skipping, she let out a giggle. “He’s just like a little kid!”

“Maybe you haven’t noticed, Will,” Buffy said, giving her friend a cynical look. “But Giles is a kid.”

Willow watched the young librarian as he resumed the kinetic eruption that passed for walking. A few stops later the Brit came to a stop, and bending over, picked up some object from the ground at his feet. Giving his find a serious inspection, Giles tucked the item away into a pocket of his jeans before continuing on his way.

“I know he looks like a kid, but he really isn’t. Is he?” the red head argued peevishly.

“I mean, he still thinks like he’s a grown up. And he pretty much acts like he’s a grown up.” She glanced toward the librarian, who seemed to be somewhere off in his own little world, weaving in and out between the parked cars, hovering in a random holding pattern. “Okay,” she admitted, a sheepish grimace furrowing her brow. Maybe he is a little less adult-ish than usual. All right, a lot more. But it’s not like something is wrong with Giles. Nothing serious, anyway. He’s just…spirited.”

“Will’s right,” Xander agreed sagely as one who was speaking from experience. “There’s probably a perfectly logical explanation for Giles’ weirdness. I bet it’s all that junkfood he was eating today.”

“Junkfood?” Buffy leveled a horrified eye at her friend.

“He was hitting those vending machines pretty hard today,” Xander continued, expounding on his theory. “Wiped out the entire stock of chocolate in under an hour. He must’ve had two…three dozen candy bars. Kind of explains that whole thing about the Untied Kingdom having the highest consumption of chocolate per capita. And you should have seen him snarfing down the Cheesy Chips. Man, Giles has one very serious sugar addiction.”

“No wonder he’s so wired,” Cordelia scoffed. “He’s coming down off the mother of all caloric rushes.”

The teens turned toward the young Watcher. Giles had come up to a sawhorse barrier, and with a reckless abandon usually reserved for only the very young, or those in desperate need of a Ritalin prescription, the librarian vaulted over the structure. Repeating the nimble move several times, jumping from one side to the other, he finally paused in his exercise to beckon the slayer with an impatient wave, urging her to hurry along and join him.

“Maybe I can tie him up and leave him somewhere,” Buffy groaned, her thoughts racing with the possible unpleasant problems lying ahead of her that evening. Giles was going to be a handful in his present condition, and it didn’t look as though he was going to run low on sugar fuel any time soon. She hadn’t counted on having to be a babysitter while on patrol. Turning to her friends, she made a desperate plea. “Anyone else want to come along? You know what they say. The more, the merrier.”

“Uh, thanks, but no,” Cordelia quickly returned, her nose wrinkling disdainfully at the suggestion of accompany the pair. “Sadly, there are those of us who don’t consider slogging through a swamp after creepy crawlies a fun time.”

But Xander was more sympathetic to the blonde’s plight. “You can put me down for a big ‘yup’ on that one,” he grinned gamely, tossing out a military fashion salute to his classmate. “I can keep my eye on the little monster while you’re fighting the bigger forces of evil. It’s not like the night’s been that exciting.”

His last comment earned him a caustic glare from the affronted Cordelia. The comely brunette’s deathray glower charged the air with a tangible tension. Folding her arms stiffly across her front, Cordelia’s look clearly said Xander had tread into dangerous territory.

Xander, however, remained blissfully unaware of his proximity to doom. Buffy recognized the warning signs radiating from her fellow female, and knew what was in store for Xander the next time Cordelia got him alone. Making a mental note the blonde promised that she would make it up to her oblivious classmate later.

“Thanks, Xand. I owe you one.” She turned to Willow. “How about it, Will? You up for some quality time with Giles?”

Hesitating, the red head’s expression was apologetic as she faced her friend. “I’d like to. Really, I would. You know I’m right there with you when it comes to that fighting evil thing. But, I kinda promised Oz I’d do the girlfriend groupie bit with him tonight. But you guys have fun!”

“Yay! Fun.” Buffy grumbled and rolled her eyes. She couldn’t hate Willow for wanting to stay. Sweeping back a lock of hair that brushed her chin, she snugged it behind an ear and turned toward Xander. “Come on, Xand. Looks like its gonna be you, me and Stuart Little there.”

As Xander and Buffy trotted off across the paved lot, hurrying to catch up with the Brit, Cordelia gave an icy toss of her head. “Don’t hold you breath expecting me to wait for you,” she sneered, the hard glint in her eye flashing cold. “On second thought, go ahead. Hold your breath. And turn blue, ‘cause I won’t be here!”

The brunette whirled a round, and with her head held high, she stalked toward the club entrance, disappearing into the Bronze without so much as a backward glance for her boyfriend. Realization slowly dawned, and a phobic Xander began to appreciate the dangerous position he had put himself in.

“Did she seem a little upset to you?” he anxiously queried his companions.

“A little,” Buffy replied. Xander grimaced, his shoulders drooping in a martyred shrug.

“I can deal with that. I mean, it’s not like she can stay mad at me forever.”

“No, not forever.”

Xander groaned. “Who am I kidding? Vengeance, thy name is Cordelia. She’s not going to let me file this one away in accounts payable later. This one’s gonna sit there, and when she thinks I’ve forgotten all about it, because I know I will, she’ll drag it out when I least expect it and make me pay through the nose with interest.” He sighed, hands resolutely slipping into his pockets. “Let’s face it. I’m dead.”

“Well, there you go,” Buffy smiled encouragingly. “That’s one way to get out of it. I’m sure if you think hard enough, you’ll find another. Meanwhile,” she said, waving toward the edge of the lot where Giles was walking an imaginary tightrope down a painted parking line. “Time to start your tour of Giles Duty and go watch the Watcher.” Giddy, Buffy couldn’t resist giggling at her own play on words. “Get it? Watch the Watcher? A watched Watcher?” When Xander shook his head instead of praising her wit, Buffy pouted peevishly. “You’re just jealous ‘cause I thought of it first.”

“Yup,” the boy nodded, the faint beginnings of a grin touching his face.

Willow watched her friends corral the wayward librarian, then tethering the smaller boy in place between them, Buffy and Xander walked off down the street with the Watcher’s animated figure bouncing along like a buoy on a wind swept sea.

The red head sighed, and continued to stand there in the parking lot, observing the trio as they made their way down the street and vanished into the night. The familiar strains of a Dingo tune began to pulse from the doorway behind her, and after a few more minutes, she turned and walked back into the Bronze. Carefully, she picked her way back across the dance floor of pressing bodies, searching for Cordelia, but the brunette was nowhere in sight.

In their absence, the table the Scoobies had formerly occupied had been picked up new gang of squatters. Moving closer to the stage, Willow managed to find an unobtrusive corner to wait in until a new spot could open up. Her patience was soon rewarded. As a group of kids got up from their seats to join the wild throng on the dance floor, she quicly swooped in to commandeer the comfy couch they had vacated. Then settling down, she sat back to listen to the band, and patiently waited for their next break so that she could talk to Oz and tell him what what had gone on.

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