CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

They were waiting for her, sitting around the great library table, five uncomfortable and unmoving human sculptures. At the lone head Dodd’s presence loomed as imposing as ever. Rigid and somber, the white-haired elder dominated the room with his lordly bearing, his ebony cane lying on the table’s surface before him like a monarch’s scepter, the symbol of his powerful dominion over his subjects. The others had succumbed to his arrogant oppression, unable to fight the Englishman’s self-assumed air of superiority, and their deflated postures told Buffy that her compatriots’ surrender had been a painful one for all involved.

At her entrance the balance of control swiftly shifted, however. Her classmates sat up taller, their faces breaking into relieved and grateful smiles. Only Dodd remained unaffected by the influence of the slayer’s reinforcing aura, and he greeted her arrival with a curt nod of his head in her general direction.

“Excellent timing, Miss Summers,” the Brit pronounced with a firm, assured voice. “We had about exhausted the limited exchange of information your friends here could provide. Perhaps now we could settle down to the more important business of eliminating this bothersome Rusalka that is plaguing our town.”

“Our town?” Buffy released an unlady-like snort of contempt. Striding confidently across the floor she stopped beside the empty chair she’d sat in earlier. She settled into the slowly, with flagrantly brazen aplomb, and leaning back in the sturdy cradle of the chair’s wooden embrace, she nonchalantly crossed her legs. “And at what point did you become a citizen of our fair metropolis?”

“One doesn’t require residency within a community to have a concern for its people. I’ve devoted many years of my life to the eradication and dispersing of the forces of evil without regard to where they were found or where I live. You could say my involvement in this matter began long ago, when I first took my oath as a Watcher. As I understand it, Miss Summers, you yourself do not originally hail from Sunnydale. Yet you do not consider this a deterrent in the performance of your sworn duties.”

“That’s different,” the teen grudgingly argued. “Maybe I haven’t lived here my entire life, but it’s where I live now. And it’s where my friends and family all are. Sunnydale is my town, Mr. Dodd.”

“It is mine as well, for the present,” the Englishman returned. “But as all this is inconsequential to the matter at hand, I suggest we return our attention to the business of removing this Rusalka creature from our midst before it takes the life of another of our fellow townspeople. I trust we are all in agreement on that issue. Good. Then let us proceed.”

Resting his elbows on the chair arms beside him, Dodd brought his hands together, fingertips lightly touching. “Mr. Harris has been kind enough to disclose a few additional details concerning your patrol last evening. One point he brought to light was your apparent immunity to the demoness’s song. This brings about the question, what power is it that enables you to resist? Perhaps therein lies a clue to finding a possible weakness.”

“Uh, hello!” Buffy shot the Watcher an ‘isn’t it obvious’ look. “Does the word slayer mean anything to you? I’m the Chosen One. Isn’t the occasional invincibility against demonic forces one of the job perks?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Dodd frowned as he struggled to retranslate the girl’s American teenspeak. “But which part of your slayer composition is it that accomplishes this fortunate safeguard?”

“Maybe being the slayer isn’t the issue here at all,” Willow interjected. Dodd raised a quizzical eyebrow in the red head’s direction, and the girl momentarily recoiled, melting shyly down into her seat. But the heady intoxication of finally having something useful to contribute allowed the teen to recover, and she pushed on, timidly at first, then gradually gaining fortitude. “It might not be slayer power that’s the key here, but girl power. Like in hormones. I mean, think about it. All the news reports, the folktale, they say the victims are male. So, maybe her music only works on guys. Being a girl saved Buffy, not her slayerness.”

There was a new respect for the young teen in Dodd’s cool gaze. “An interesting line of thought,” he complimented. “I will consult the Council’s archives, and cross reference the information with your news account to determine if your hypothesis is indeed a valid one. The facts as I know them do seem to hold true. Traditionally, the Rusalki’s victims are exclusively male.”

“Allow me to shoot you a hole in that theory,” Buffy countered. “Giles may be small, but as far as I can tell he’s still a guy. How come he didn’t go jumping into the lake after Miss Venus on the Halfshell? Sorry, Will.” She smiled apologetically at her friend.

“It was just a thought,” the red head shrugged.

“Oooo!” Jerking upright, Xander began to wave a hand, his brain cranking into gear. “What if she can only work her mojo on one person at a time? Or, maybe, her song looses power if she’s too far away.”

“Could be Giles just doesn’t like the same kind of music you do,” Cordelia enjoined, not wanting to feeling left out of the debate. “He probably only listens to old fogy tunes. You know, stuff from the seventies.”

“There is another possibility,” Oz calmly asserted. He inclined his head toward Willow. “Going back to the hormone theory. What if it takes a certain level of development for the music to jam a guy’s brain waves? In that’s case, Giles would have had immunity, too.”

Buffy frowned uncertainly. “What do you mean by ‘development’?”

“Hormones are linked to growth and age, right?” Oz’s eyes moved from face to face, making sure his audience was following his train of thought. “As we all learned in Health class, as we get older, some hormones trigger changes in our bodies. And our brains. We develop physiologically into our adult selves.” Sitting back, the musician drove home his point. “Right now, Giles and Xander are sitting at opposite ends of the maturity scale, with Giles being on the lower side, physically speaking.”

Cordelia sniffed, dismissing the confusion of information. “We’re all clued in about Giles being a little rugrat already. So, what does that have to do with the price of diamonds at Tiffanys?”

But Dodd understood what the musician was trying to say, and eagerly expanded upon his idea.

“Hormones. Yes!” Eyes twinkling, the elder Watcher excitedly stroked his trim mustache. “The significant difference in their respective hormone levels could account for Rupert being less predisposed to certain stimuli in the Rusalka’s call.”

“Oh, drat! Looks like I left my universal translator in my other coat again,” Buffy deadpanned sardonically. “Would you mind running that by me again, this time in a type of English us normal folk understand?”

“The creature uses her voice to entice her victims in much the same manner some insects use pheromones to attract mates.”

“Oh! Why didn’t you just say that?” the teen responded, sitting up taller. “Pheromones I know about. Had a substitute teacher once that was a giant praying mantis. She tried to kill Xander, too.”

“Ah,” Dodd nodded politely, a befuddled expression crossing his features. He had no clue what the girl was talking about, but he had learned that this strange young girl often said things that seemed to bear little relevance to whatever current subject was under discussion. The Watcher made a mental not to consult Rupert Giles’ journals. Perhaps he could glean a bit more insight on the untimely reference from the other Watchers’ notes.

“Well, if it is the heightened incidence of chemicals such as the male hormone testosterone,” the Watcher continued. “Then it would stand to reason that Mr. Harris’s physical maturity would make him the target of choice for our demoness’s particular tastes. With his pre-pubescent lack of sexual development Rupert would be of little interest to the Rusalka. The same argument might be made for Miss Rosenberg’s theory for the creature’s siren song having no effect on other females.”

“Ugh, major overshare of information,” the slayer grimaced with a shudder. “I so do not need to know that much about Giles. And as for being hormonally challenged, Mr. Little Big Man seemed just as appreciative of our water logged friend’s maidenly charms as the next guy. This babe wasn’t exactly shy about letting all the fellows know what she had to offer them, if you know what I mean.

“Well, it’s getting dark out.” Pronouncing an impromptu end to their debate, Buffy rose from her chair. “That means slaytime for us Chosen types. If you’ve got something useful to say about how I go about killing this Rusalka, I’d like to hear it now. Otherwise, it’s seek and destroy as usual, with maybe an added dose of some violent pummeling thrown in for good measure.”

“I agree with your assessment, Miss Summers. We’ve seemed to have exhausted our available resources here.” Addressing the other teens, Dodd picked up his cane, and used it to give a dismissive rap on the table in front of him. “The rest of you may go as well. Miss Summers can provide me with all the proper contact information should I require anything further from any of you.”

Four uncertain faces turned toward the slayer, waiting to hear what she had to say. “Go on,” Buffy said, reinforcing Dodd’s discharge. “I can handle things. You guys take off.”

“You sure?” Xander queried. “’Cause, if you need back up-”

“Miss Summers and I will be quite fine on our own, thank you,” Dodd informed the boy brusquely. All movement around the table came to a halt as the students stopped to stare at the elderly gentleman. Buffy felt her pulse quicken, unsure that she had heard right.

“We?” she gulped. “As in you…and me?”

“That is correct. I shall be joining you on your patrol round tonight. I would like to observe you in the field as it were. Perhaps offer some helpful instruction, advise you on how to best maximize your strengths.”

As the Englishman rose to his feet he moved his cane with a sweeping gesture, bringing its tip to rest on the floor. The gesture disturbed several loose papers that had been on the table, the pages scattering on a waft of air and resettling among the piles of books. One lone sheet continued to ride the residual current, skittering lightly over to the table’s edge, where it caught for a moment on the precipice before it took flight once again and fluttered slowly to the floor below.

The paper flipped, landing at the elder Brit’s feet. Dodd gracefully folded his tall frame, reaching down to retrieve the sheet. Buffy’s breath caught in a sharp intake. She recognized the work staring up at her, the childish scrawlings, the sea of cockeyed stars that spread across the blue-lined heavens on the page. As Dodd frowned at the piece, she heard a loud thundering in her ears that droned out what he was saying, and it was all she could do to keep focussed as he casually placed the drawing on the table before him.

“You seem surprised by this.” She heard the obvious tone of consternation in the Englishman’s voice. “Surely your Watcher has accompanied you on patrol before.”

“What? Oh! Yeah,” she replied, pulling herself out of her daze. “Giles has gone patroling with me lots of times. But, that’s different. He knows how to handle things.”

“I assure you, Miss Summers, I am just as capable at performing my duties as any Watcher. You needn’t concern yourself for me.”

“Things do have a potential to get kinda physical out there,” the teen pressed. She was trying to be tactful with the guy, to warn him of the dangers involved. Why didn’t he just listen to her? “Plus, you are at somewhat of a disadvantage, being a guy and all. Somehow, I don’t think the Council would be too thrilled if their new replacement Watcher ended up as the Blue Plate Special at Café de Rusalka.”

“I share those sentiments,” the Brit replied. “And that is why I intend to use certain protective precautions. I shall rely on the classics to offer their wisdom and follow the lead of Odysseus.”

The blonde drew a blank. Frowning, she sought Willow for help.

“Greek king. Big man in the Trojan War,” the red head supplied, condensing her information into a simplified Cliff Notes lecture. “We read Homer’s Odyssey in Lit class last year, remember? Long story about a guy who couldn’t find his way home. Lot’s of harrowing adventures?”

“That Odysseus,” Buffy nodded, the facts finally making the proper connections in her brain. “Tied himself to the mast of his ship, right? And his crew shoved wax in their ears so they wouldn’t crash when they heard the sirens blaring.”

“Siren’s song,” Willow corrected, but she smiled proudly, happy that her friend understood the reference. “I knew all those long hours studying would eventually find a way to sink in.”

“And just when I thought I’d finally found a life partner for my post-graduate night time career at the Burger Barn,” Xander sighed in self-effacing disappointment. “You had to go and blow it all by getting a brain.”

“Sorry, Xand,” Buffy apologized with a twinkle.

The boy shrugged good-naturedly. “Probably would have ruined our friendship, anyway, you being my shift boss and all.”

“My vehicle is parked outside, Dodd announced, interrupting what was to him nonsensical banter. “If you would accompany me, we could be on our way, Miss Summers.” He didn’t understand the interaction between these young people, and had no desire to discover what any of this was about. He was convinced that the teens’ peculiar behavior was partially, if not directly, the result of an unstructured American upbringing. These children took nothing seriously. Any subject seemed open to their ridicule, including each other. Yet, none of them seemed to mind being the recipient of the exchanged insults. In fact, the chaotic environment they had created for themselves only strengthened the bond between the teens. It was a situation that he, as an adult, found irritating, but curious.

With a quietly resigned sigh, Buffy said good-by to her classmates, then turning to follow the elder Watcher, she walked out of the library, trudging dejectedly at his heels as he led her though the long hallways and into the growing darkness of the night outside.

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