Turning her collar up against the chill in the air, Buffy let her gaze wander skyward toward the darkness overhead. The temperature had begun to drop quickly with the appearance of the stars, and the tiny lights twinkled brightly in the black night, aiding the moon’s softer glow to illuminate her path with an uncanny clarity.
The adventurous trio had made good time in their cross-town trek. Giles had been forced to step lively with his shorter legs to keep up. Buffy had hoped the exercise would burn off some of the boisterous energy the young librarian had picked up during his recent metamorphosis, but somehow the Brit maintained an exuberant and boring monologue during their entire walk. His busy chatter scarcely slowed as they entered the park gates and made their way toward the pond at the far southern boundary.
As Giles launched into yet another of his countless digressing topics, rattling on with an unflagging enthusiasm, Buffy found herself longing for her Watcher’s return to adulthood. Giles as a grown-up might have been stodgy and long-winded at times, but this juvenile version was working her nerves into a frazzle. Not only wouldn’t he shut up, but also he was constantly putting himself on the verge of some near personal disaster. His small feet found every wet slime puddle that they came across on their walk, and he tripped over every tree root and invisible crack in the woodland path. Giles diminutive size was beginning to present him with unexpected challenges, too. It was as if he couldn’t grasp the concept that his limbs weren’t as long as they had been only the day before. He was continuously misjudging his step, and twice had nearly fallen into the pond itself as he recklessly traversed its slippery edge. With wanton abandon he would leap over obstacles in his way that as an adult he would have easily overcome with a mere adjustment in stride. By the time they drew near the far end of the pond where the drowning had occurred, the Brit’s jeans were thoroughly spattered with muck and soaking wet below each knee, and his sneakers were coated in multiple layers of slimy pond scum.
“Hey, Speedy Gonzales! Wait up a minute.”
Buffy hurried to catch up to the small Watcher who had struck out a few yards ahead on his own. With exaggerated care she picked her way across a stretch of marshy shoreline, her boots leaving deeply defined impressions in the soft earth. Lagging a few steps further behind Xander stalked boldly through the same patch of mud and weeds, unconcerned for his own footwear as he quickened his pace to catch up with his classmate and the small librarian.
Giles paused for a brief moment, waiting for the teens, but as soon as they drew abreast of him the librarian was off again in a flash, scrambling over a fallen log and climbing a huge rock to scale its precarious lip like miniature tightrope walker. Coming to the end of the natural ledge, Giles vaulted off the stone monument, landing in an unsteady crouch at the slayer’s feet.
Shooting out a hand, Buffy steadied the tottering Brit and shook her head. “Aren’t you even a little tired?” she queried incredulously.
“Actually, I feel quite exhilarated,” Giles replied, tossing a boyish grin her way. Reclaiming his balance he continued to bounce along at the slayer’s side. “I haven’t felt this good in years! It must be the unboundless energy of youth.”
“Right. And this has nothing to do with all those candy bars you ate today” she returned with sarcastic tartness. “Don’t they teach you Brits anything about the four food groups? Contrary to popular belief, one cannot survive on chocolate alone.”
“I was hungry,” Giles defended, his mouth set in a petulant challenge. “There is nothing wrong with indulging in a bit of something sweet now and then.”
“You wiped out the entire school’s Snickers’ supply,” the blonde griped back. “That much of anything isn’t good. You’re lucky you aren’t sick.” She frowned as she ran an eye over his sparse, angular frame. “Though I guess it wouldn’t hurt for you to put on a few pounds. You sure are a skinny little runt.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, you’re-“ Giles stopped in mid-sentence, realizing how close he had come to uttering some childish retaliatory comment. What could he have been thinking? One simply did not go about insulting the Chosen One. He told himself that she had not meant any harm. Nonetheless, the remark had stung him. It didn’t help that she was right. He was small. And he had forgotten how infuriating it was to be so short. And young. With a sigh Giles dug his hand deep into his pockets. This situation was proving more difficult to deal with than he had first anticipated.
Giles looked up to find Buffy staring at him, her eyes shadowed with concern. Brushing aside the disturbingly childish sensation that had momentarily plagued him, he smiled cheerfully at the girl.
“I’m fine,” he replied encouragingly. “Why do you ask?”
“For a moment there you seemed a little, I don’t know, not yourself.” She chuckled as she listened to her own words. “I guess that was a stupid question. Of course you’re not yourself. You’re a kid.”
A breathless voice called out behind them.
“You two think you could slow it down?” Xander complained. His last attempted sprint to close the increasing gap between himself and his companions had left him huffing noisily. “Unlike the rest of you, I am a mere mortal with no super powers or magick spells to push my tired ol’ puppies along.” As the slayer and Watcher held back, allowing him to fall into step beside them, Xander sent a suspicious glare toward the younger Brit. “Where do you get all that energy? You can’t be normal.”
“Obviously you haven’t spent much time with little kids,” Buffy chuckled.
“Only when I was one myself,” Xander admitted sagely. The blonde gave a nod toward their librarian companion.
“This is nothing,” she said. “I remember this one boy I used to babysit. Tommy Brent. Was he ever a handful! He was always bouncing off the walls, tearing up the place. And could he ever run!” She shook her head, tossing her blonde mane in recollected amazement. “I had to chase the kid all over the house just to get him into bed.”
“And the truth comes out at last,” Xander snickered suggestively as he rubbed his hands together in imitation of a villain’s wicked glee. “The confessions of the Sunnydale Slayer’s sordid life finally come to light. So, you like to chase guys to get them into bed. And what other dark little secrets lay hidden deep within your past?”
“Xander!” Buffy’s flaming glare was enough to melt the boy’s smugness. “Tommy Brent was six years old.”
But enough of Xander’s humor remained unscathed, and he attempted another come back.
“Ah, you prefer younger men,” he chortled, sending the librarian a knowing wink. “Looks like there’s hope for you yet, Little Buddy.”
“Good Lord!” Giles spat as he fixed the older boy with a glower of shocked disapproval. “She’s only eighteen!”
“Yeah, well, you’re not exactly Methuselah, pal,” Buffy chided her Watcher good-naturedly. “Not that I’m the kind of girl that couldn’t be attracted to a guy like you. Provided, of course, the guy was older than you. I mean younger. Than you were. Not are. Because, now you are younger, than you were, before. But, you’re too young to-“ Noticing that the two boys were staring at her strangely the blonde rolled her eyes in frustration, dismissing the topic. “Why are we even discussing this? I thought we came out here to hunt us a monster. Well, let’s hunt!”
Walking briskly, Buffy didn’t bother to look back to see if the two boys were following. She forged her way through the marshy sedge grass, trying not to dwell on the source of the slimy rustlings that whispered beneath her feet. As they plodded along in her wake, Xander turned toward his much younger companion.
“Come to think of it, you’re not the kind of guy that could give Buffy a case of the true happies, anyway,” the dark-haired teen remarked, his eyes glinting with a mischievous smirk. “Look at you. You’re way too short for her.”
“Short?” Giles snorted indignantly. “Just what does size have to do with making a woman happy?”
Pleased at having suckered the Brit into an opportune verbal set-up, Xander grinned smugly. “If you gotta ask, then you’re not old enough to know,” he snickered.
Giles resisted the urge to punch the other boy, and increasing the speed of his step, scurried up to Buffy’s side. With a disgusted sigh he threw a withering glare over his shoulder at the merrily chuckling Xander.
“Of all the people in that school that you could have chosen for a friend, how is it you managed to come up with him?” Giles grumbled.
“Just lucky, I guess,” the slayer chuckled as she reflected on the thought. It was true. Xander wasn’t the kind of guy she would have had as a friend at her old school, Hemery High. Not that he wasn’t cute, in his own strange, very special way, but Xander was nothing like the cool, suave hunks she use to date back when she still had an actual life. She like Xander. He was funny, and weird. When things were going bad she could count on him to cheer her up. Sure, sometimes he was a pain. What guy wasn’t? Fate had thrown them together, she and Xander. And Willow, too. There were just some things that were meant to be, and this was one.
Easing her stride to match Giles’ shorter legs, Buffy skillfully herded the librarian around a mud puddle in their path. A flutter of wings skittered out of the tall marsh weeds off to their left, and a bird-like silhouette taxied across the pond’s surface, taking flight into the night sky. Her curiosity mildly piqued, Buffy pressed her Watcher with an observation.
“I take it then, you didn’t have any friends like Xander when you were growing up,” she asked.
“I would hope for the world’s sake that he was the only one of his kind,” Giles grumpily replied. For a minute Buffy thought that was all the Brit would say, but then he continued. “There was this chap,” he mused, reminiscing into his past, “Lived down the hall my first semester at university. Archie was rather, uhm…different.”
“You had friends?” Xander scoffed, coming up from behind.
“Of course I had friends,” the Brit snipped. “Why is that so difficult to imagine? I assure you that my childhood was perfectly normal in every respect. Well, that is, as normal as could be expected for someone who had a Watcher as a parent,” he corrected contritely. “That part might have been a tad less ordinary.”
Giles stumbled to a stop and began to scan the area around them. Pointing out a strip of plastic yellow crime tape strung like a flimsy corral among several nearby trees he stepped out again, heading directly toward the spot.
“It appears that this is where they found the last body,” he announced. “Let’s have a look around then, shall we?”
Following the librarian’s lead the trio quickly spread out and began to explore the area. Though there was enough moonlight to reveal the ground beneath their feet in all but the darkest shadows, Giles had come prepared. Producing a small pen flashlight from a pocket he diligently searched the grassy plot, poking about in the brush for clues. Visions of a petite Sherlock Holmes Junior sprang to Buffy’s mind as she watched the librarian, and she found herself wondering if her Watcher has always been so resourceful.
A twinge of guilt stung the teen. She’d never given any serious thought to Giles’ childhood before. It wasn’t like the Brit talked much about his past, anyway. She had discovered the few personal details she did know only by chance. She knew that at one time he had played the guitar, that he liked seventies rock and roll music, owned a leather jacket, and had at one time worn an earring, the last evidenced by the single piercing that remained to this day in his left ear lobe. These things were part of the Englishman’s wild years, those days in his pre-Watcher past when he had rebelled against his own destiny, and for a brief while had lived a life much different from that of the man she had come to know.
Then there were the darker places in Giles’ past. The exact particulars of that time were still a mystery to the blonde teen, but she knew the Brit had been involved in dangerous black magicks, and had raised a demon called Eyghon, the Sleepwalker. Her glance strayed toward the tattoo on Giles’ arm. A tangible and damning souvenir of those wayward days, it struck Buffy as creepy that the symbol hadn’t disappeared with the Watcher’s transmutation. It was as if the inherent evil in the marking transcended the power of whatever had caused the magick change in him. The tattoo was a bold contrast to his youth, completely out of character with the Brit’s innocent features, and it sent shivers up her spine to see it there on his smooth flesh, looking as permanent and fresh as the day it was inked.
Shrugging off the shroud of gloom that plagued her, Buffy trailed her younger companion. Again she was struck by a certain nagging curiosity. Gathering her courage, she approached the youthful Brit.
“Giles?” She attempted an innocent casualness as she prodded the Brit for more information. “What was it like?”
“The body?” Giles frowned, his thoughts mired in their investigation. “The preliminary autopsy listed drowning as the cause of death, but the coroner reported 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 around the area of the mouth and tongue. In my initial examination of the photographs I deduced them to be teeth marks, though I know of nothing human that could have made them.”
“You obviously have no idea what goes on out here in these bushes,” Xander chortled with a suggestive leer. He draped an arm over Giles’ slim shoulder, leaning in as if to impart some great and weighty wisdom. “Maybe it’s time we had a little talk about guys and girls, and the wacky stuff they like to do when they get together.”
Disengaging from the teen’s embrace, Giles huffed out an exasperated sigh and turned one of his patented disproving glares upon the older boy. The withering look, however, lacked its usual punch. The Brit’s cherubic face couldn’t manage to maintain a sufficient level of haughtiness, and became a comical mockery that had Xander doubled in an uncontrolled seizure of glee.
Ignoring the boys’ baited exchange Buffy redirected the conversation back to her unanswered query.
“I wasn’t talking about the deceased,” she said to the librarian. “I was asking about your childhood. Giles, the Early Years. What were they like? I’m thinkin’ it must’ve been weird, you know, being a Watcher’s kid and all.”
Giles frowned. He had resumed his quest through the undergrowth, shining his flashlight into the shadowy recesses of a scraggy, twisted shrub. Buffy waited patiently for him to acknowledge her question, but as the seconds passed into a minute and then stretched longer, she began to wonder if he had heard her at all, or was simply using that as an excuse to evade her query, finding it too presumptuous or personal. But just as she was ready to give up the librarian straightened, abandoning his methodical investigation to turn toward her.
“My youth?” he shrugged, a hand adjusting the glasses that had slid down his nose. “I suppose it was no different than that of countless other children growing up in the sixties and seventies. I did all the usual things. Normal things.”
“Yeah, right!” Xander dismissed the Brit’s declaration with skeptical disdain. “A typical, normal childhood. Just like us regular people. Like everybody I know grew up with vampires and werewolves and ghouls running around in the streets, and…” His voice trailed off, an expression of chagrined enlightenment reflecting in his eyes. “Alright! So, maybe my life hasn’t been what one could call normal by the standards stretched throughout the rest of the world. But, hey! I was born over a Hellmouth, the mystical convergence of demonic and paranormal activity. I’ll have you know that sort of thing passes for normal around here. What’s your excuse?”
“What Xander said,” Buffy nodded in echoing agreement to her friend’s argument. “It’s kind of hard to believe things weren’t just a little different for you. This Watcher stuff has been with you practically your whole life. Passing the torch of destiny down through the generations and all that. I imagine the Giles’ family album covers a lot more than the just the everyday, typical milestones like Mom and baby arriving home from the hospital, or junior’s first tooth.”
“Yeah, doesn’t Dad look proud next to his budding little Watcher, the two of them burying that demon that they’ve slain. And remember that family reunion back when?” Xander grinned, his imagination running fervent and fast. “The fun that was had playing Hide and Go Shriek, the stake sharpening competitions. And those nifty new spell recipes Mom got from Aunt Hagatha sure were a hit at the big barbecue.”
“You make it sound as if my family were some sort of loopy cult,” Giles protested, peevishly frowning at the older boy. “It’s not like we all gadded about Harry Starkers, sacrificing vestal virgins to the dark gods.”
“That thing with the vestal virgins sounds like it might be interesting,” Xander mused. “You know, if the folks ever decide to consider one of those Big Brother exchange programs, I’m always availa…beyeowww!” The teen howled as a sharp pain was shot thorough several of his toes.
“Oh, dear! Was that your foot?” Giles’ expression was one of aghast innocence. “How clumsy of me. I really must be more careful where I step.”
“You did that on purpose!” the dark-haired boy growled in complaint. Limping, he put a few extra feet of distance between himself and the librarian, his wary gaze never leaving the youthful Brit. Buffy could barely contain her stifled laughter. She had seen the impish glint in Giles’ eyes, and knew it had been no accident Xander’s foot had ended up under his heel.
“All hairy storks aside, there is something to what Xander was saying,” she said, holding back a tangle of brittle vines as she helped Giles continue his search. “Just about everybody believes in the scary monster under the bed when they’re a kid, but eventually they outgrow it. Somewhere along the way to getting older they convince themselves it’s all just shadows on the wall, that the things they saw weren’t there. It wasn’t like that for you. You knew it was all real. Those stories about the ghoulies and beasties, the things that go slurp in the night, it must’ve been pretty tough for you as a little kid.”
Giles avoided the slayer’s inquisitive look, intently poking a sneakered foot at a bit of rotting branch that had fallen to the ground. “One learns to accept these things in life,” he replied philosophically. “Like taxes, and the unfortunate loss of the American Colonies.”
As she chuckled at his dryly-veined humor, Buffy tried to envision what life growing up in the Giles’ household had really been like for her Watcher. In her mind she pictured a cozy cottage nestled amidst quaint flower gardens that overflowed their beads with colorful blossoms. A rustic stone path would lead up to the foot-worn front stoop, where a fat, lazy cat sat in the sunshine, licking its paws. Inside, the kitchen would be bright and tidy, the table covered in an antique lace cloth and set with dainty flowered teacups, a heaping plate of crumpets scenting the air with their wholesome goodness. She wasn’t exactly sure what a crumpet looked like, but it sounded very English and she was sure Giles would have eaten a ton of them as a kid.
The trio resumed their criss-cross hunting pattern, scouring the grassy knoll above the pond’s edge for anything the police might have overlooked. Talk dissolved to a minimum level of acknowledging grunts and nods, and by the hour’s end Buffy was ready to call it quits. Other than the few frogs she chased out of hiding she found nothing among the tall cattail weeds, and the woods above revealed nothing earth shattering in nature. Her only significant discovery was an impressive collection of discarded beer cans scattered among the thick underbrush, the abandoned refuse a testament to the multitude of parties that had taken place beside the pond over the years.
His own quest proving equally fruitless, Xander made his way down the steep, grassy bank, and collecting a handful of small stones from the gravel beach, proceeded to alleviate his boredom by skipping the flat projectiles across the water. As he bent to select another round of ammunition his eye noticed a glittering sparkle lying within the shallow water at his feet. Curious, he reached down, fishing the object from the fine silt of the pond’s bottom. It was a nugget about the size of a robin egg, its surface a conglomeration of small, cubic shapes. His excitement building, he gave the rock a swish through the water to clean away the clinging traces of mud. The brilliant, metallic gleam he revealed brought a leer of avarice to Xander lips, his pulse racing at the sight of his golden-hued treasure. At least the night wouldn’t be a total loss for him.
Straightening, Xander rose to his feet, and shoving his precious find deep into a pocket for safe-keeping, he began to look around for his companions. He could see Giles’ flashlight beam bobbing in the tree line above, and not far beyond, Buffy was hovering protectively near her small Watcher. She was taking her newfound role as guardian very seriously, and kept herself within a scant arm’s reach of the librarian, watching attentively as he scrambled around on hands and knees, hunting though the brush for the clue that would allow him to identify their latest monster of the week.
There was a splash from somewhere behind him. Mindful of the reason for his presence at the pond, Xander spun around to face the noise. He had no desire to become dinner for some unseen assailant. Squinting through the dark he surveyed the waters, but all he could see was the moon’s soft reflection dancing atop the rippling surface. Then a flash of movement caught his eye, and from the obscure depths a pale shadow emerged to glide across the sparkling waves.
Instinctively, Xander retreated up the steeply inclined bank, his eye never leaving the silvery shape as it swam back and forth, parallel to the shore. Scuttling his way over the top of the knoll he ran to the slayer’s side, panting with excitement, and more than a just touch of apprehension.
The blonde jumped. Startled, she whirled to face him, her hands balled into fists and ready to fly out to strike at the figure that had come up behind her. “God, Xander!” Buffy hissed. She had recognized her classmate, halting her attack only a scant inch from his unprotected face. As she slowly lowered her hands back to her sides she snapped defensively at her fellow teen. “Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to sneak up on someone like that?”
“I’m beginning to appreciate the implications involved,” the teen returned uneasily. Swallowing the heart that had suddenly leapt into his throat at the sight of Buffy’s punch closing in on his nose, Xander regained enough of his composure to wave a panicked hand in the direction of the pond. “I saw something,” he said, his voice breathless and thick with edged nervousness. “Out there. In the pond. I think it’s our monster.”
“Ssshhhhh!” Pressing a finger to her lips to caution Xander, Buffy lowered her own voice to a whisper as she drew her classmate aside. “Think you can keep it down to a dull roar there, Xand?” She threw a furtive glance toward Giles to see if he’d heard, but Giles was too preoccupied scrounging around in a clump of weeds to have noticed them. Breathing a relieved sign, she ushered Xander over toward the embankment’s sharp edge and away from the young librarian. “Now, what was it you saw?” she demanded.
“That,” he replied, pointing again.
Just beyond the barrier of marsh reeds marking the pond’s shallows the creature was swimming in lazy circles, its pale form barely visible beneath the dark surface. It didn’t take long for Buffy to come to the conclusion that this wasn’t some example of the local indigenous wildlife cruising around in the water out there. The thing was big. Human-sized. And definitely something not of the natural realm.
“Looks like we found us our water demon,” she announced.
“Either that, or we’re about to make the cover of next month’s Field and Scream,” Xander nervously quipped. “What do you think it is?”
“I don’t know,” she answered as she watched the beast moving along in its silent trek without so much as a ripple to show its passing. “What do you think it is?”
“What are we looking at?”
Both she and Xander jumped this time. Giles was standing beside them, staring out over the pond. Grabbing the librarian by his shirt Buffy yanked him close, clamping a hand over his mouth to hush him as she shut off his flashlight and threw it over to Xander. The reciprocating glare that he shot at her, as well as Giles’ muffled protests, went unnoticed as he struggled vainly to remove her rude gag.
“You can relax, Buff,” Xander announced at normal volume. He nodded toward the pond. “It’s gone.”
Sure enough, the demon had disappeared. Releasing her hold on the Watcher, Buffy scowled down at him crossly. “Great! You scared it away,” she scolded.
“What?” Sweeping his wild hair out of his face Giles frowned back. “Sacred what away?”
“The…thing,” she answered irritably. “Xander and I saw it.”
“That’s right,” the older boy affirmed with a vigorous nodding. “We both saw it. The two of us. We. She and me.”
“What did it look like?” Giles asked.
There was a beat of silence as the two teens stared at each other. “Well,” Xander stammered, his hands flailing the air in a vague gesture. “It was…” But he couldn’t come up with a description. Turning to his blonde companion he pleaded silently with her for rescue. “Help me out here, Buff.”
“Like Xander said, it was big,” she announced, her words ringing strongly to start. Then she, too drew a blank. “Well, it was in the water,” she finished with a feeble mewl. “And… it was swimming.”
“I see.” With a weary sigh Giles regarded the two teens with a scornful glower. “Well, that certainly narrows down the search.” Over time he had become tolerant of Buffy’s vaguely worded reports, but tonight Giles was not in the mood to deal with such nonsense. Voicing his frustration with a childish growl he could feel his temper flare. “It would be nice if, just once, you could be a bit more helpful with the specifics. You don’t make this easy for me. It’s not like I’m going to find anything useful in my books under ‘big’ and ‘it swims’…unless I happen to be using a copy of Moby Dick to do my research!”
“Gee, Giles, take a Valium!” Buffy winced in complaint. “The pond’s only so big. Whatever it was couldn’t have gone very far.”
“That isn’t the point,” the Brit argued, his petulant whine raising to a childish pique.
“And what exactly would the point be then?” Xander challenged.
“The point would be,” the Watcher replied tersely. “There are an infinite number of recorded demon species, many of which live in or around water. How can I be expected to properly identify one variety from among the legion of possibilities available without an accurate, detailed description is beyond unreasonable. It’s downright ludicrous! You need to be more observant. When you see something unusual, study it. Analyze it. Gather information. Try being useful for a change! Or, perhaps what I do is simply a joke to you. Is that it? Silly, Giles. Poor old sod, doddering about, searching for that demonic needle in a hayfield. No matter. It’s not like he has anything better to do with his time. Well, contrary to popular opinion, my work isn’t all that happens to define my existence. I have a personal life, too, and it’s one that I’d like the chance to live for a change instead of squandering away what few hours I do have to myself making amends for your gross ineptitude!”
With an angry snort Giles whirled sharply on his heel, and stomped off toward the tree line, leaving behind him two very astonished teens. Staring after the librarian, Buffy and Xander watched their small friend storm into the wood’s depths, his indistinguishable mutterings continuing for several more moments as the duo tried to recover from the aftershock of his unexpected outburst.
“Whoa! I think somebody missed their naptime today,” Xander exclaimed.
“He did seem kinda cranky,” Buffy agreed. She could hear the librarian crashing noisily through the brush as he climbed the dirt-packed trail that eventually dumped out onto the jogging path above them. As the sounds of Giles’ receding tempest became swallowed by the darkness of the surrounding forest, Buffy felt her apprehension return. “Maybe somebody should go after him,” she proposed thoughtfully.
“Good idea.” Xander echoed a hearty concurrence to her suggestion. But Buffy was already trotting off after her Watcher, and before he knew it she had slipped off into the woods, her blonde, bobbing head the last thing he saw as she disappeared into the shadows.
“That’s right,” he continued, rambling on to no one but the creatures of the pond around him. “You go find him. I’ll just wait here, alone. In the dark. All by myself.” Xander glanced nervously around at the surrounding night, his mind suddenly conjuring up images of what might be lurking within the intimidating obscurity. Shivering, he sidled up next to a sturdy tree trunk, and using its bulk, attempted to hide from the unseen forces that might consider him a tempting meal. “There’s nothing’s out there. Nothing at all,” he muttered anxiously, his feeble mantra chant unconvincing to even his own ears. With a thin exhaled breath the teen leaned his head dejectedly against the tree, his balled fist slapping the bark in a gesture of snake-bit futility. “Oh, man, why am I the one who always ends up in these situations?”
Winding her way though the thick undergrowth Buffy stumbled up the narrow dirt track. The moonlight didn’t quite penetrate the canopy of trees overhead, and the ground beneath her feet was rutted and lined with exposed tree roots, making progress along the trail somewhat tricky. The scant minutes it took her to scale the path seemed unusually long, but eventually she reached the top, and pushing out onto the paved jogging road, she paused to get her bearings and let her eyes adjust to the moonlight again.
She spotted Giles right away. He was shuffling slowly along, head bent, hands buried deep in his pockets, and looking for all the world like he had lost his only friend. Sprinting off in pursuit, she hurried to catch up with the small librarian, falling in at his side and slowing her pace again to match his. The Brit made a point of ignoring her presence, turning brusquely away and widening the distance between them. It was the kind of spiteful reaction she would have expected of an aggrieved child, not an adult, and it surprised the slayer. Giles had deliberately snubbed her, and the realization that he had purposefully intended to inflict some emotional vengeance upon her stung the teen deeply. Well, she wasn’t going to play along with his little ‘woe is me’ game. Giles was just going to have to be an adult, and if he didn’t want to act accordingly, she would have to remind him what he really was.
Snatching her Watcher’s arm mid-step Buffy yanked the young Brit around, forcing him to stop and look at her. He immediately snapped at her, his childish features knotted into a bitter mask as he wrenched away from her hold.
“Let…me…go,” he spat, each word a venomous snarl.
Buffy held tight, refusing to release her hold. “Giles, we have to talk.”
With a determined grimace Giles broke away. Dismissing her with a resentful glare the Brit walked away, continuing down the paved pathway, his sneakers stamping out the wrath of his tantrum. For a second Buffy hesitated, unsure whether to follow, or to allow Giles a moment to cool down. And that was when she sensed it, the proximity of something evil, lurking within the cover of the trees that lined the jogging path. An instant later a shadow scurried out of the woods. And then another, following close behind. Her heart quickened, and she watched in horror as the pair of ominous figures rushed toward the path. Vampires. Two of them. And they were heading straight for Giles!