"Mr Giles. I'm James Mont."
Giles's new solicitor was a dark-haired man with a solid jaw, compact and inconspicuous in a jacket with a pinstripe of such subtlety that Giles looked twice. Mont extended a hand to him and Giles met it with the socially prescribed amount of pressure. The man was real. Not the First. Giles felt something inside him relax the tiniest bit.
Mont ushered him to a chair and crossed round to the other side of his desk, a sweep of bare rosewood. Giles sat and crossed his knees.
"My condolences, Mr Giles."
"Thank you," Giles said, automatically. Mont said something further, about his Uncle Charles, but Giles had already tuned him out.
The room was restful. It was modern but somehow had the air of timelessness, as if it hadn't changed in essentials since the twenties. Or before. Reassuring, he supposed: want your money to last a hundred years? Longer? Put it in the hands of these fellows. It might feel more reassuring if an even older institution had not been shown to be fragile enough to be destroyed in mere seconds. One moment, the Council buildings had stood gray, solid, and reliable. The next, they were smoke and rubble. It had taken seconds to wipe out everyone he knew, everything he knew.
And now what was left? Mont was detailing to him the legacies. Uncle Charles's house, and what was apparently pots of money.
Mont had fallen silent and was watching him with raised eyebrow. Giles raised a hand and rubbed his face, striving to call himself back to the duty at hand. He hadn't slept a single night through for more than a week, since he'd first tripped over evidence of a plot.
"I do beg your pardon. It's been rather a trying week," he said.
"I can imagine," said Mont, though Giles rather doubted he could.
"What was it you were saying?"
"Your uncle left a letter for you to read."
Mont slid it across the desk toward him: an envelope with his name written on it, containing a single sheet of heavy cream paper. Giles recognized his uncle's handwriting, which bore an undefinable similarity to his own and to his father's. He felt a pang, a twinge in his chest: his uncle was dead. The attack that had taken out the Council building had been real.
Giles unfolded the sheet of paper.
My dearest Rupert, If you're reading this, I presume I have departed this mortal sphere. I can only hope that I have done so in proper style without any nuisance or undue fuss. You'll find my affairs in order. Now they're your affairs, and my last wish is that you enjoy them. You were looking too grim last I saw you, before you went rushing back to the States again. No more of that. I want to see you driving fast cars and chasing pretty girls. Enjoy my house, drink my wine, ride my horses, have a bit of fun for yourself. No excuses, my boy, and don't waste time mourning me. I've enjoyed life and I don't mind moving along. Now it's your turn. Your affectionate uncle, Charles
Giles folded the paper and slid it back into the envelope, tucked the flap under and handed the packet back across the desk to Mont. He slid his feelings away with it.
Mont tucked the letter into a file folder, then squared the folder to the edge of the desk. "There is similar language in the will itself," he said.
"It may be difficult for me to follow his instructions just at the moment," Giles said, carefully. "There are other issues that will, ah, require a great deal of travel from me in the near future."
"It doesn't have the full force of a legal condition upon the request, though the testator was most clear in his wishes. We should prefer to see at least an attempt to fulfill the requirements. To, er, sample some of the pleasures suggested."
"Fast cars and pretty girls."
The corner of Mont's mouth twitched up. "Within the bounds of law, yes."
Cautious bastard. Though Giles supposed that was what he was paid to be. His professional skill.
"I'll try, but I may be in and out of the country frequently in the next few months. My, er, line of work requires it."
Mont raised his index finger and touched it to his lips. "Ah," he said. "About that."
"Allow me to show you something."
The solicitor rose from his chair. He went to a cabinet in the back of his chambers and searched for a moment. He returned with a file in his hand.
"When I inherited the firm from my father, as he from his, we were given to read a letter from one of the founders. It made some curious statements, which your Uncle Charles assured me were entirely factual. Though he had to supply more evidence before I truly believed him. You might find it of interest."
Mont laid a few sheets of yellowed foolscap on the desk before him. Giles leaned forward with attention, his historian's curiosity awakened. Dated 1887 below the signature, and no reason to doubt the date from the appearance of the paper and the handwriting. A neat hand, upright and a trifle cramped, expressing itself in economical prose. In it, a man named Soames Forsyte addressed his posterity on the topic of vampires, their reality, and the task his heirs at the firm had of handling the affairs of the institution formed to combat them.
Giles scanned through the rest of the letter, then slid it back across the desk. "A more solemn legacy than mine," Giles said.
"My great-great grandparent, or something like. His name's still with the firm. A Victorian legal boffin. He and the original Murbles between them set up the trust that funds the Council. Did rather a neat job of it. When they came to nationalize it along with everything else they found they couldn't touch it."
Giles raised an eyebrow. His Tory soul approved; a nationalized vampire-hunting service would have been rather more dangerous to his country than nationalized rail had been.
"They might have done so by special act, but that would have focused rather too much attention on, ah--"
Mont spread his hands. "And so."
"And so you know my true vocation," Giles said.
"Yes. In fact, I may have information that you don't. As yet."
Giles shifted uneasily in his seat; something in Mont's shuttered face made him uneasy. "To what do you refer?"
"Your uncle was the liaison between the Council and Her Majesty's government. MI13."
"It exists, then." And Uncle Charles had been as discreet about that as he not been about the affair with that actress, and the dancer before her.
"Yes. It's a tiny group, a mere handful of people, but critical for the continued unfettered operation of the Watchers here and worldwide. I am acting in the role. I need, however, a counterpart among the Watchers."
Paperwork, passports, protection from meddling, the license that permitted him to carry the gun hidden under his jacket. Information. If there were trouble in faraway places, the government would get that information to the Council. Or what remained of it. That post would want filling now, along with many others. And Mont could only mean--
"No. I can't possibly. Find somebody else."
Mont's eyes flickered down to the papers on the desk before him and shrugged. "Your uncle Charles recommended you with some rather unambiguous praise. Even had he not done so, there are few qualified candidates remaining."
"Martin Robson's still alive. There are a few others. Retired Watchers."
"None of them heir to the Giles trusts. Beyond mere tradition, there are advantages to members of the older Watcher families in the post."
Giles sagged in his chair. Another legacy, this one rather weightier than the others. Mont shrugged, as if in sympathy. There was no getting around it, he supposed. He spared a moment to wonder what poor man or woman was next in line, if he should make a hash of his next encounter with the Bringers. He sighed.
"Very well. I'll meet with them next time I'm in the country." He raised a hand to forestall Mont's objection. "No. I have a higher duty than any the Crown might lay upon me. I can't think about this business, any of this business, at all until--" Giles broke off. Saying until apocalypse was averted felt melodramatic. "Until the current difficulties are resolved."
"Can't you deputize?"
Giles laughed. "The Council was blown to bits last week. Anybody who might have been able to help is dead. The Slayer needs me. Now."
"You need say no more." Mont tapped his lips with a finger, thinking. Then he shifted in his seat. "I believe this will suffice. I'll pass along your news to my section contact."
"Mr Mont." Mont looked up, and Giles saw in his face that he was paying attention. "Be very sure of anyone with whom you share this information. Our position is tenuous to begin with. And watch out for yourself. You will likely attract unwanted attention because of this meeting with me."
"Sir, I take all the precautions a man can against vampires. I--"
"Vampires are the least of it. The beings that wiped out the Council are a league beyond them."
Mont's lips compressed, and that formidable chin was thrust forward. "What do I do?"
"Don't conduct business with strangers after dark. And don't trust anyone who doesn't let you touch him. Shake hands, clap his shoulder, do whatever you must to touch everyone. Anyone. A person you can't touch is not real."
"Good Lord, man."
Mont rubbed a hand over his face, composure at last shaken. Giles said nothing, but crossed his arms and let his fingers rest on the gun under his arm. Reassuringly solid. Wouldn't do a damn bit of good against the First's figments, but would kill Bringers the way it would kill any human. As he'd already proven.
A scant hour later, Giles walked out of the neat building that held his lawyer's chambers, unlikely survivor of the destruction of the square mile in the Blitz. He stood in the chilly wind on the curb, watching taxis roll past. Chancery Lane. He was in chancery himself. Though perhaps not. The sun shone, and his Slayer lived, and he had an address in his pocket telling him where a Potential and her Watcher had holed up. He shoved his hands into his pockets against the cold and and turned his steps toward the Tube. Time to get it done.
Rain, rain on the windows of Giles's house, miles out in what Buffy had learned to call the Wiltshire countryside, rain that cooped her up inside, and she was restless. Giles had vanished into his study after dinner, as he had every night during the week Buffy'd been staying with him. This time Buffy decided to chase him there. Beard the lion in his den, though what beards had to do with it Buffy had no idea.
Buffy tapped on the door and heard his muffled voice answering. There he was, in his armchair, with a pistol in his hand. Buffy froze in the doorway, ready to snap into fight mode. Then she saw the rag he was using to rub at the barrel. A little can of oil sat on the table at his elbow, next to a glass and a carafe full of something tawny. Buffy's heart rate slowed, and she leaned against the door casually.
"Oh, hullo, Buffy," Giles said, calmly, though she knew well enough he'd seen her go into alert mode and out.
"What are you up to?"
"Cleaning my pistols."
He reached for his glass and drank right-handed, pistol still in his left. Of course he knew that was no answer. Buffy advanced into the room and perched on the arm of his chair. She took the glass out of his hand. She sniffed: Scotch, one of his single malts, and redolent of something she'd learned was peat. She had a taste, and made a thoughtful face.
"That gun is tiny."
"Perceptive as always."
"Never mock a Slayer."
"I shall remember that advice. Here. It's not loaded."
He held it out to her flat on his palm. Buffy traded the glass of Scotch for the pistol.
Tiny, yes. It weighed almost nothing.
She didn't take Giles's word, but checked for herself that it was unloaded. Never point a gun at a human being, even an unloaded one. Not unless you were going to shoot. Always look for a round in the chamber. Always clean your weapons after using them. That one went for swords and knives as well as guns.
Buffy took it in both hands, in the Giles-approved grip, and sighted across the room at an ugly dark painting of a guy with a bunch of dogs. She'd fired handguns before-- Giles had ensured that her weapons training had been complete, even to the point of letting her turn her shoulder into a mass of bruises to make a point about shotguns and mules. A shotgun this was not. It felt better in her hand than the Ruger pistol had. It fit.
Snap, snap, snap, one pull for each dog in the painting. The one on the right looked demonic and deserved it.
"Are you sure this gun is manly enough?" she said.
Giles smiled at her over the rim of the glass. "Any gun manly enough for James Bond is a gun manly enough for me."
"That is a Walther PPK. His favored weapon, in the books and the Connery movies."
"Pierce Brosnan always carried something bigger."
"Brosnan was a poseur."
Giles just had another sip of his Scotch.
"What's the ammo?"
"Thirty-two caliber. Not a lot of stopping power. One needs to aim well. But it's easily-concealed. When I carry a concealed weapon, this is the one I carry."
Buffy almost dropped the little gun. "You pack a gun? Often? Like back in Sunnydale?"
The corner of Giles's mouth turned up. "More often than you might think. Baggy sweaters have their uses."
He waved a hand at the little side table next to his chair, where the carafe stood. Next to it was a leather holster on complicated-looking straps. A shoulder harness. Buffy'd seen them in movies, but never in real life. She obviously hadn't been paying enough attention to Giles. If she'd ever grappled with him in training, she'd have noticed that. He must have been careful to take it off first. That made sense.
Next to the holster was a cartridge and some bullets, strangely shiny.
Giles handed her one, silently. Crosses etched into them, yes, silver, and Buffy could feel that they'd been blessed. Expensive ammo, but worth it. She handed gun and bullet back to him. He pressed the bullet into the cartridge, then inserted cartridge into the gun, checked the action, and thumbed the safety off then on again. Then he snapped the gun into the little holster.
"I thought it was like impossible to have guns in England. Banned, or something."
"One must prove the need and obtain the licenses. Watchers are among the few with the need. The Council is useful for some things, licenses and paperwork being chief among them. And now, of course--" Giles gestured palms-up. Head of Council, that was Giles now. An official government position, and one with some serious cred. That was one of the surprising things she'd learned on this visit.
It was surprising in more ways than one, in fact. The sight of Giles in one of his suits, all dressed up for a meeting, had made her stop and stare. Though she'd been pretty sure she'd made Giles do a double-take himself, when they'd met for dinner in London on her first night here. Though maybe that was just the Italian fashion; Buffy was well-dressed herself these days. But Giles had changed in the year she'd been away in Rome, in some way she could sense without understanding the details. He was a powerful man now, but relaxed with it. Relaxed in his own skin. That was it, that was the key. Giles, relaxed, smiling up at her faintly as he sprawled in his armchair, his arm brushing her leg where she perched.
She made herself comfortable on the arm of his leather chair. Giles poured another splash of Scotch from the carafe into his glass. His hair was flecked with gray now. Buffy'd never bothered to find out exactly how old he was. Until recently she'd mentally classed him as "old" and not bothered to think about it further. She'd learned to be embarrassed about that dismissal. Late forties, she thought, and in amazing shape.
Unnerving, sitting so close to him, so cozy, in his little study, with her nose filled with the masculine scents of whisky, gun oil, and leather. And something underneath it all that she'd always associated with Giles, the scent of his soap. Of his sweat, clean and fresh, faint but inescapable to the Slayer's senses. It had always done something for her, that Giles-scent, and Buffy had reached her peace with that knowledge some time in her year away from him. Rome had taught her a great deal. The glossy attentions of the Immortal, the shiny handsome men who had flickered around her, the night life and the clothes: none of them mattered to her the way her Sunnydale friends did. The way her Watcher did.
And that was why she'd abandoned Rome for England. Buffy crossed her knees and leaned a little closer to Giles.
Buffy's perfume was driving Giles mad, simply mad, tantalizing him with whiffs of musk and spice. Whatever it was she wore, he could catch only when she leaned close to him. And it was marvelous, whatever it was. It worked perfectly with her body's own scent, with the texture of her skin. She'd learned restraint at some point during her time in Rome, restraint with makeup and with scent. She'd learned restraint with her clothing as well. Gone were the short-short skirts of the girl. A flash of leg beneath her dress as she crossed her knees and a neckline that hinted instead of revealed-- Giles let himself enjoy that glimpse of muscled, graceful calf under cover of her absorbed study of his PPK. What man would not enjoy being tantalized by this woman?
Buffy had been a woman for years, and somehow he hadn't noticed it until this week. When he'd first met her at Simpson's, he hadn't recognized the woman turning so gracefully to allow the headwaiter to take her coat. And when he had recognized her, his reaction had been a flash of jealousy that another man had been the one to touch her. It had taken him aback. Why had he not seen it? Self-protection, perhaps. She wouldn't have welcomed his appreciation, and perhaps would not welcome it now. Unless she--
Giles drank more whisky and contemplated the possibility. He would not say he knew women-- no man could say that-- but he could say he knew the woman sitting on the arm of his chair. He knew Buffy. And yes, he could not deny it, she was flirting with him. Next question. Would it be welcome to him? Yes, oh yes, since that moment in the restaurant, he'd been desiring her. He flattered himself that he'd made no sign, given her no word or gesture unsuited to the role she'd wanted for him until now. If she wanted him in another role now, he'd play it. To the hilt.
The image that came to him with that thought made him want to hide his face behind a hand, lest Buffy see the satyr in him. He resorted to his glass of whisky, but there was no need. She was fortunately occupied with his PPK, examining the mechanism. She dry-fired the gun at some target across the room, three rapid pulls of the trigger. Giles had no doubt that she'd have found her targets had the gun been loaded. Buffy preferred the intimacy of hand-to-hand, but she was a marvelous shot when she chose to attempt it. And he was in her sights tonight.
She turned to him with some teasing about the masculinity of the little PPK. Giles let himself take the bait and flirt in response, show off a trifle. Flaunt his status. Buffy had always liked power in her men. Power took many forms. Giles relaxed into himself and let himself be who he was, reveal what had been concealed. He surprised her, even, with his shoulder holster. The expression on her face when she realized he'd been armed so often make him smile again behind cover of the raised glass.
He gave himself another splash of whisky, tasted it, enjoyed another whiff of spice to go with it. Buffy's breast was against his arm and it simply had to be deliberate. An offer, if he chose to take it. Giles shifted his weight in the chair and eased himself closer to her. He felt the first thrill of arousal. Awakening.
He held up his glass for her, brought it to her lips. She drank. He watched her lips curve in a smile, and he knew for sure that any overture he made would be welcomed. He set the glass aside and slid her off the arm of the chair into his lap. He caught her in his arms. Buffy laughed, and kicked off her shoes and wriggled into a more comfortable position. Her backside was in his lap, pleasantly warm, just enough friction against his rising erection. He took the glass up again and fed her another sip of whisky. Had a healthy draft himself, to ensure he stayed daring. She plucked the glass from his hands, drank it down, and set it aside.
Buffy kissed him first. She ran her fingers through his hair and pulled his head down to hers and kissed him. He opened his mouth for her. They pulled apart and Giles saw she was smiling. He bent to kiss her again, slow and searching. Giles licked her lips and tasted his whisky on them. They parted for him and he lost himself in kissing her for long minutes. Kissing his Slayer. Oh, my, how his predecessors would have wrung their hands. Wrung his neck. The thought gave her tongue in his mouth even more spice than it had on its own. He let his hand slide down her back and cup her sweet backside and imagined Quentin Travers sputtering.
Buffy pulled back from him.
"You're laughing," she said, all amused accusation.
"You're marvelous," he said.
"Good. I like that attitude. More kissing, please."
Buffy did not wait for him to agree, but took what she wanted herself. Giles was deliriously happy to oblige. She slipped two fingers between the buttons of his shirt and caressed his chest. Had he ever been so aroused in his life? And he stayed that aroused through long minutes of kissing her, of exploring and tasting her throat, her shoulders, the fine hairs on the back of her neck. Then back to her sweet and eager mouth.
He slipped a hand inside her skirt and let it rest on her knee, which was so much more fraught than a hand on her backside had been. Buffy's hand fell to his waist, to his trouser buttons. He groaned and shifted, seeking to press himself up into her grasp, but she shifted away from him. Giles dared more, urged on by her nipping at his throat, and let his hand move inside, up, along her sweet warm thigh. Further yet. She bent a knee for him, and the tips of his fingers grazed her sex through her knickers. Wrong word for something so erotic. Barely there, just a scrap of material. Slippery. Satin? He stroked her through it. She made a pleased sound and her thighs parted further for him. Giles pressed his advantage and dared a more intimate touch, thumb on her clitoris, middle finger pressing where he would take her later. He stroked harder. Buffy bit her lip and cried out sharply, her pleasure and her demand clear. Giles pressed further, eager and relentless, and was gratified when she shuddered in his arms. She drew in breath unsteadily and met his gaze. Her eyes were dark, all pupil. He raised an eyebrow.
"Only just begun, I'm afraid," he murmured, and slid his hand up her hip to find the waistband, slide hand and satin down together. She lifted her hips and he admired again her magnificent body, the power she cloaked under high fashion. One leg lifted, then the other, and the scrap of satin was free in his hand, a trophy to be tucked away in his trouser pocket. And she was free in his lap, naked under her skirt, open to his exploration, to his questing fingers. Giles fulfilled the promise he'd made to himself earlier and penetrated her. She let her head fall back on his arm and arched her back. Un-self-conscious, wanton, beautiful, and his, his, now.
He brought her to climax again easily, so responsive was she to his touch. He cradled her against his chest afterward. Her head was on his shoulder. Giles thought he'd like it never to leave. Save that he wanted to give her more. And perhaps, if she were in the mood, to taste a little bit of pleasure himself. He kissed the top of her head.
Buffy sat up and touched her nose to his.
"Undo me, would you?"
He found the zip in the back and pulled it all the way down. Her bare back was cool under his hand. Nothing underneath the dress, apparently, wicked woman.
Buffy slipped out of his lap and turned her back to him. Giles was on fire, but he clutched the arms of the chair and stayed still, watching. She let the dress fall from her shoulders, down, caught it with one hand and stepped out of it. Slim, so slim, but the muscles of the Slayer were there, in arms and shoulders, in her taut buttocks, in the sweep of her back. Giles bit his lip. She turned back to him, with her hands covering her breasts. He opened his mouth to ask if she were all right, if they'd gone too fast, but was struck dumb when he saw that she was caressing her own nipples, pinching herself gently. Small breasts, pink nipples, stiffening even as he watched, entranced.
Giles sprang out of the armchair and seized her, bore her across the room to his desk. He laid her back upon it, right across the paperwork he'd taken home for the weekend. He gave one breast, then the other, a proper salute with lips and tongue and just the gentlest bite. Enough to earn that moan from her again, his doing this time, his feat to boast over. Her spicy scent was strong now. She must have scented herself between her breasts. Giles groaned and stilled his hips, lest he spill himself before he was able to take her as he wanted. He slowed down and kissed her throat more gently, allowed himself to cool and regain some of his self-command. He kissed her mouth again, tasted his whisky on her tongue, held her tight and pressed his hips against hers, let her feel him, let her know how much he wanted her now.
"Your clothes are in the way," Buffy murmured.
Giles disengaged from her and stood. He pushed his braces off his shoulders, undid his trousers, shoved them down his thighs just enough to free himself. Her gaze was on his penis, standing proud before him. He took it in hand and stroked it for her. Showing off again, he knew, exactly as she had for him earlier. And who would blame him? He'd display himself like a parading peacock if he thought it would please her. His own gaze was on her wide-spread thighs, her open and ready sex. No false modesty for his Buffy. He and she had but one need. Union, body and yes, soul, mock him for a sentimentalist; Giles didn't care.
He stepped forward and pressed himself into her, bare. Warm, soft, wet, deliciously snug around him. Heaven. She wrapped her legs around his waist and pulled him in deeper. Now he was where he'd dreamed of being since that moment of shock in the restaurant, since she first leaned close to him in the armchair.
She was his, he was hers, and he pursued their shared goal with single-minded intensity, moving inside her, her arms clasping him tight to her breast.
How glorious was a woman's face when she was in the throes? How glorious was Buffy's now, as her body arched against his and her thighs closed around him? Exquisite control from the Slayer, shivering in orgasm around his flesh, yet enough in command of herself that Giles, mere human that he was, still breathed. How magnificent would it be to allow Buffy to lose that control? Giles let himself imagine that, let himself imagine her completely wild, wrists caught in his grip. That image carried him over to his orgasm, sweet, intense, deeply moving. He said something to her while caught in it, he had no idea what. Her name, repeated? Some wholly inadequate expression of his devotion and desire? God, he'd say anything to her.
He let himself collapse over her on the table. His erection was slow in fading, as it sometimes was when he was intensely excited. He moved inside her slowly while they both came down from it.
"Mmmmm," she said.
He kissed the end of her nose. "Have I left you inarticulate?"
"Guilty as charged."
"But that was nice. Surprising and nice."
Giles nuzzled her ear. She'd used the scent there as well as between her breasts. Musk and spice and honey, in her hair. His pillows would smell of it in the morning. And every morning from hereafter. And he'd respond to it every time he smelled it, no doubt.
Giles at last withdrew from her body reluctantly. Buffy felt as he did and whimpered in protest. He tucked himself away and did up his trousers, so he'd not feel a prat walking about the house with his prick out.
Buffy sat up, delightfully nude and unashamed. Women never looked ridiculous, not like men. Giles watched her and let his pleasure show. She stretched and bent a knee up and rested her chin on it. She smiled at him. Giles kissed her foot, her shin, her mouth, lingered, kissed her again, more deeply. Her lips were full and red now, from his kisses. He'd left his mark on her throat as well, entirely inadvertently. She was so desirable that Giles shivered. Buffy kissed her way back to his throat and suckled on an earlobe. Giles swore he'd never let it be without an earring again, for her to tug on. He shivered again. His body would be awake again soon, ready for her once more.
"I think it should be slower next time," Buffy said, murmuring in his ear. "And you should be more naked."
"I should be delighted."
"Stay here? On your rug?"
Giles tilted his head, considering it. "I think not. It wants a bed. A great wide bed, satin sheets, feather pillows, tall candles burning, a bottle of Tokay."
Buffy raised her arms to him and twined them around his neck. Giles lifted her and cradled her in the approved fashion. She weighed nothing. He kissed her yet again, because he hadn't done so enough.
"Most assuredly not. I want a sweet wine for this." Something rough and honey-sweet to pour upon her breasts and lick from her nipples while she laughed and ran her fingers through his hair. Oh, Lord, how far he had tumbled and how quickly. And how happy it made him. He strode easily to the open door of his study, a condemned romantic.
"And you have some here in this ridiculous house?"
"Mmm, yes." Uncle Charles hadn't been one to stint himself, and he'd left Giles many tantalizing legacies, in the wine cellar and elsewhere. But Giles was tempted by only one thing in this house. He carried Buffy upstairs, not toward the wine cellar but toward his bed. He was impatient already.
Buffy woke to the smell of coffee and, behind it, buttered toast. She blinked. Watery morning light filtered through opened shutters. Rain spattered on the windows. Unfamiliar windows: Giles's windows. Giles's bedroom, Giles's bed. And that was Giles sitting on the edge of the bed stroking her messy hair away from her face.
"Good morning," he said, as if they woke up this way every morning.
Buffy sat up, clutching the sheets to her body. "Mmm. What time is it?"
Giles laughed, and leaned toward her with a coffee cup and saucer in his hand. Buffy let an undignified whimper escape her lips, and reached out more greedily than was compatible with Slayer dignity. They'd been up late, late even for a Slayer. So late it probably counted as early.
The coffee was good, and that was real cream in it. The right amount of sugar, too. Giles had been getting her coffee right for years, though he groused about the sugar, and she had been getting his tea right. Some things didn't change, even though they were in a ridiculous house in the Wiltshire countryside instead of in a school library in southern California. She wondered if Giles still favored the Darjeeling, if he still abused a dart board to practice with his throwing knives, if he sharpened the knives on the nights when he didn't clean his guns. She'd wager her best boot knife he did.
Buffy drank the coffee Giles had made her, and reflected with no little satisfaction that she'd be sharpening blades with Giles again soon. And probably getting to use them. Rome had been lovely, but it had no vampires. The only demons were the safe civilized urbane kind, well-dressed and tame in bed and eventually boring. Though she'd miss the clothes. The leather pants she'd had made just before she'd flown here were the most amazing things. For the first time in her life, she got the fitting like a glove thing. Giles hadn't seen her in those pants yet.
Buffy smiled from behind the shelter of her coffee cup, and drank the sugary dregs.
"Coffee to your liking, then?"
She stuck her empty cup out of the way on the nightstand. She knelt up in bed and stretched, taking care to arch her back, in proper sex-kitten style. One hand ran through her hair, and the other kept the bedsheet in place over her breasts. Giles's eyes were on her, and he set his own coffee cup down on its saucer without looking away. Buffy let herself smile again and turned to the toast Giles had made. Lots of butter, a little marmalade.
"Stacked, the way toast should be. Not in those rack things I kept getting in hotels."
"What's wrong with toast racks?"
"They're sadistic. The toast gets cold and the butter gets all congealy. Ick."
"Ah. I shall burn all my toast racks immediately."
Buffy swallowed her mouthful of toast and said, "How many do you have?"
"I'm sure there's one somewhere in the kitchen. If not, I'll buy one just so we can burn it."
"Good. Buffy approves."
Giles caught her hand, buttery fingers and all, and kissed her fingertips. He'd shaved, it seemed, before making her breakfast in bed. And a good thing too, because Buffy's lips and chin were chafed from his stubbly kisses last night. And so were the insides of her thighs. That thought made her blush. She looked over at Giles, covertly, to see if he'd caught her, but he'd turned away and was pouring himself a little more coffee from the carafe.
He was just as handsome this morning in a black robe as he'd been last night in his jacket and tie. Strong jaw, great cheekbones, lovely green eyes. When had he become so yummy? Probably he'd been that yummy all along, and it had taken a year away from him to make her see it. She probably still wasn't finished re-seeing him as he was.
She remembered him last night in his study, on top of her so unexpectedly, heavy and hard and insistent. Though never inconsiderate of her pleasure. Oh, no, never that. It had been memorable. She'd had lots of sex before. Good sex, bad sex, boring sex, twisted sex, sweet sex. But never before had she been up all night having sex like that, feeling as if it would be impossible to get enough of her partner. And he'd felt the same. All night long, until the long east-facing windows over his bed had grown light. Only then had Buffy let herself curl up against him, head on his shoulder, and sleep.
"What are you thinking?"
Caught looking. Buffy improvised. "Are you going into the city today?"
"Ah, no. I have already rung my staff to tell them I'll be taking the rest of the week off."
Buffy raised her eyebrows. That was surprising and gratifying. "So what's on today's work-free agenda?"
Giles made a face over his coffee. "I had been thinking of taking you riding."
"It's raining in buckets."
Buffy pouted. "We'll have to stay inside."
"Yes, I rather think we must."
"Whatever shall we do?"
"I'm sure we'll think of something."
And they shared a look that convinced her that their two hearts beat as one on this topic. Giles had exactly as many regrets as she had about last night. Which was to say, zero. The Geiger regrettage counter was completely failing to click. Though, wait. Where was her dress? She liked that dress. Right, the floor of Giles's study. Her panties? She couldn't remember where those had ended up. She hadn't done a lot of thinking in the minutes after Giles had taken them off her.
"I think," she said, slowly, as if pondering the question deeply, "that you should take off that robe and get back into bed. We can wing it from there."
The corner of Giles's mouth twitched up in a tiny smile, and he set his cup down on the breakfast tray. He stood and shed the robe and dropped it on the bed. Mmm, nude man. Relaxed and ready. Buffy dragged her eyes and mind away from the obvious place to enjoy the rest of the view. Nice chest, not too much hair on it, broad shoulders. Giles was a big guy overall, and there was no hiding it when he was out of those horrible layers of tweed. Middle-aged manly man, that was Giles. Powerful in the ways that mattered. He could throw a punch hard enough to break jaws and shoot a gun to kill when he had to. Sexy.
Buffy folded back the sheets and granted him a rewarding glimpse of nude Slayer. Giles climbed in next to her, and leaned his head on an elbow. He'd been looking at her breasts the whole time.
"Now I have you where I want you," Buffy said.
She sprang out of bed and leapt for the robe. Mmm, plush. On it went. Giles dove for the sash, but Buffy dodged out of his way and knotted it around her waist. She headed for the bathroom, waving goodbye to him over her shoulder. Giles had shaved, after all, which was cheating, so she could brush her teeth and nobody could grudge her that. She hopped into the shower for a quick rinse-off while she was at it. She was sticky in unusual places. Giles had been unexpectedly wild. Had he poured wine onto her breasts last night and licked it off? Yes, he had. It had been the most amazingly weird dark amber wine, too, much sweeter than Buffy had thought wine could be, from a chunky little bottle. They'd drunk it from tiny glasses before Giles had gone into pervy mode with it. Though he'd followed the nipple-licking stunt with some other tongue stunts that Buffy felt he could repeat any time he wanted.
Say right now.
Out of the shower, toweled dry with one of Giles's gigantic towels. Or his uncle's towels; most of the luxuries in this house Giles had inherited, if she understood the story right. His uncle must have been quite a guy. Luxo towels, wine in the cellar, swords, guns, horses, paintings of demonic dogs. Nice bathrobes, though probably this was a Giles thing, given the robes she'd seen him wearing back in California.
Buffy put Giles's plush robe back on and made her way back to the bedroom.
Her man was in bed now, blankets folded neatly at waist level, with a newspaper. The morning crossword? That was hardly romantic, especially because he wasn't bothering to look up at her as she came up to the bed. He was scribbling a solution to one of the clues, in pen, the cocky bastard. He'd always done the Sunnydale Herald crossword in pen, usually with a stopwatch ticking next to the paper.
Buffy leaned her hands on the edge of the bed, casually, just hard enough to make it shift.
He said, not looking up, "I need a four-letter word for 'feel the heat, engaging a battle'."
Buffy blinked once, twice. "I'm wounded that you weren't waiting for me to get back."
Giles capped his pen. "I braced for your usual morning ritual. An hour and my hot water boiler emptied."
"Had an incentive to make it fast this morning."
An eyebrow raised, completely and utterly suggestively. Buffy matched it as best as she could.
Giles set pen and newspaper aside, not breaking her gaze. He reached for the end of the sash and this time she let him get it. He pulled slowly and it came untied. Buffy shimmied and let the robe slide off her shoulders and down to the floor. Oh yes, she had him.
Buffy slipped into bed next to Giles and pulled the blanket up over her shoulders. She trailed her hand down his chest to his navel, down lower. She ran her fingertips through the fuzz on his belly, which, thank God, was not another one of those ridged washboard abs deals, waxed bare weekly. It was plush, like his robe.
She said, "Feel the heat. Huh. Four letters?"
"Never mind. Whoa."
Giles was on her again, seizing her and rolling her underneath his body. And he'd gone right back to where they'd started last night, with kissing. Long deep kisses. He eventually wandered away from her lips, though, to explore other places. Her neck. Her breasts. A little bit of teeth, a lot of tongue, and great care taken to give equal attention to each one. And his knee was thoughtfully placed between hers, so she could get some bonus friction from his muscled thigh. Nice and hard. Riding muscles?
"Mmm? Everything okay?"
"I was thinking--"
Buffy cuffed his shoulder, careful not to hit hard enough to interrupt. "I was thinking of heading back to Rome on Monday." Giles froze. Buffy kissed the top of his anxious little head, which was all she could reach just then. "Just for a couple of days. I have to pack all my clothes and have them shipped here. But then I had a better plan. I'll stay here, and Dawn can pack my stuff."
His shoulders relaxed. Buffy rubbed the back of his neck a little bit to encourage him to start kissing her breasts again. He took the hint and she rewarded him with a happy sigh. Then he said, "That's a dreadful plan. Your year off has obviously dulled your edge."
"Watch it, mister."
"Because obviously the best plan would be for us to go to Rome together and have your clothes shipped by someone else whilst we play tourist."
Making love in the warm Roman mornings, drinking wine in the warm Roman nights, being snuck into secret corners of ancient buildings so her man could smooch her in the hot Roman days: this sounded good to Buffy.
"It's probably not raining there," is all she said to him.
"Mid-week," he said. "A stop in London first. There's a dressmaker I'd like you to visit."
"Why on earth are you interested in my clothes? You only ever snark about them. Cats on my feet, forsooth. No, I haven't forgotten that one. And wait, why not in Rome? I know a place."
Giles shifted his weight away from her and rocked himself up to kiss the end of her nose. "This can't be something outré. Simple, white, properly English, with lace in the usual places."
Lace in the usual-- "What, are you writing our marriage vows already?"
Giles held himself motionless over her. "Marriage vows are not something one writes, you absurd woman. One recites the traditional ones."
"Do I have to promise to obey you? 'Cause it isn't going to happen."
"Ah. Perhaps we shall write our vows after all."
"I'm not changing my name, either." She wrinkled her nose at him. "Would be weird anyway, to call you the same thing that's on my driver's license."
"I do have a perfectly good first name."
"Which we shall never mention again."
Giles's shoulders shook in one of his quick silent laughs. "That's settled then."
He sat back on his heels and threw the blankets back from his shoulders. Buffy shifted herself on the pillows and spread her legs to give him room to kneel. He lifted her hips and set her into place on his thighs.
Buffy pointed a toe at the ceiling in a nice slow stretch, then delicately placed her foot on Giles's shoulder. Taking a Slayer to bed and then asking her to marry you had some payoffs that she wanted to remind him about. She had the flexibility and stamina of a gymnast and she had some uses for them beyond just killing demons. Come to think of it, he had been the one to teach her how to do the gymnastics.
Giles bent his head down to kiss her toes, then trailed his fingers down her leg, from ankle to thigh, and further. His gaze followed his fingers. Along, around, between, to the secret places. He liked what he was seeing. Uncomplicated appreciation for her body. Giles liked all of her. That was good. Sometimes men had been freaked out by how strong she was, how obvious the muscles were when she took her clothes off. By the idea that she could beat them up if she wanted. She and Giles had moved past that one, because she'd beaten him up at least twice before.
God, they were weird.
He entered her slowly this time, a hand guiding himself in, the other bracing himself, his eyes on her body. Buffy watched his face. He was intent, solemn, completely unaware she was watching him. He rocked his hips to settle himself inside her body and there it was, what she'd been waiting for, that eyes-closed surrender to pleasure thing she'd seen him doing last night. That was the biggest surprise of all.
He seemed content to stay just like that, kneeling between her thighs, joined with her, eyes closed. Buffy ran her hands up his thighs, from his knees to the place where her legs were wrapped around him. Fuzzy legs, nice legs, and a firm butt. He'd look good in a morning coat and those striped trousers, assuming he was thinking mega-traditional. Any excuse to see him dressed up. Not at the moment, though. Naked was good right now. Fancy clothes for weddings, no clothes for sex.
"You going to buy me a ring?"
Giles's eyes snapped open. "'Course I'll buy you a ring. Several. As many as you like. I draw the line at buying you one for your nose, or whatever body part it is that you have most recently pierced."
"Do you see anything pierced? No, you do not."
Giles stroked a hand over her belly and traced his forefinger around her navel. It tickled, and Buffy giggled.
"Oh lord, it's wonderful when you laugh," he said.
Then he shifted back and away from her body, but only long enough to lie down on his side next to her, his arm under her head. Buffy wrapped her leg over his thigh and he slid himself inside her again. She sighed and squeezed him, just a tiny bit. He felt good moving with her like this. Honestly, all sex felt good, even the twisted kind, but sex with Giles was a number of things Buffy could list that were in addition to good. Last night, intense and surprising. At the moment, comfortable. He fit inside her just right, and this position was perfect for kissing. Slow mellow kissing, from a man with his eyes half-shut and a silly-happy look on his face.
Rainy-day sex, cozy. Sunshiney sex might be good too. Honeymooning in Italy would be nice. Maybe somewhere in one of those villas she'd spent a weekend at with the guy whose name she'd already forgotten, the motorcycle racer. He'd been vapid. Never read a book in his life, and she'd been able to tell even when he'd had his mouth shut in bed. But that villa had been gorgeous.
"Rome? Next spring?" she said.
"Too long to wait. Fall. In the church in town here."
"People will say we're rushing into it."
"Rushing? How long have we known each other?"
Buffy counted, and was surprised by the answer. "Eight years."
"We've taken our sweet time."
And they were taking it now. Leisurely morning sex. Had she done this before? Not exactly. She'd always been too impatient, or her partner had, or there'd been some excuse for why it had to be over fast. Giles seemed to be prepared to take all day. Which, okay, would probably be too long, but why not spend the rest of the morning like this? Slow slow simmer. She sighed and ran her fingers through Giles's hair. A nice haircut he had these days. What had he called it? Posh, and he'd shaken his head dismissively. Dawn would squee over it when she saw him, though.
Uh oh. Dawn.
"What am I going to say when Dawn asks me how you proposed to me? I can't just say you did it while we were f--"
Giles kissed her hard, sticking his tongue into her mouth deeply and completely without invitation. He pulled back and kissed her again more gently, and Buffy kissed him back, mollified.
"I'll make giving you the ring memorable," he said.
"Oh, now we're down to just one ring."
Giles glared at her adorably, but continued as if she hadn't spoken. "None of your American flim-flam or public displays of nonsense. But you will want to tell Dawn the story of how I put the ring on your finger. I promise you that."
"Holding you to it."
"Oh, God, I-- Buffy. Truly?"
His face had changed completely, and he looked uncertain of himself for the first time since she'd barged into his study last night. Buffy took a deep breath and put all of herself into her answer.
That was what he'd needed to hear. He clutched her to him almost hard enough to hurt, touched his forehead to hers and just held her like that for a while. Then he abruptly let go of her and pulled away. He knelt straight up in the bed and wiped a hand over his face. Too much emotion too fast; Giles hadn't changed in that department either. He'd need more time to process everything.
Buffy stretched her arms up to him and he lay down with her again. On top of her this time, in the traditional manner, her legs wrapped around his waist. A warm solid weight over her, inside her, around her, kissing her hard now. He was moving with intent, intent to give her pleasure, to take pleasure in her, to bring them both to the edge and over. Buffy met him halfway, lifting her body to meet his, her arms tight around his shoulders.
He shifted and buried his face in her neck. Kissing, licking, kissing again. He found the place where every vampire she'd ever slept with and some she hadn't had bitten her, just there on the side of her neck. And he bit her. That sent Buffy right over the way it always did, her big secret that Giles had apparently taken one night and one morning to discover, and he was biting hard, oh boy oh boy, Mister Hidden Depths was taking her on a ride. And going right on it with her.
"Mine," he said, in her ear, and he was almost growling. Buffy had never heard Giles like this before. "Mine," he said again and followed it by thrusting into her hard and holding himself there and coming.
He stayed there for a long while afterward, breathing with her while they both came down from it, brushing his lips against her neck, nuzzling her ear. Buffy stroked his back. His skin was damp with cooling sweat.
He rolled off her and onto his back, and blew out a long breath. Buffy sat up and retrieved the blankets from the floor where they'd been kicked. She spread them out over Giles, who was rubbing his forehead. He touched her arm.
"Everything all right? I wasn't too, er, Neanderthal?"
"I enjoyed primitive Giles. You can go all bone club smashy on the toast racks."
"I'll be sure to, ah, grunt while I smash." Giles yawned wide enough to show her all his teeth. He covered his mouth with the back of his hand belatedly. Buffy smiled down at him fondly. Yawning Giles. Yawning fiancé.
She said, "We'll kill the bad toast racks later. Nap now."
He lifted an arm to her. Buffy tucked herself under it, head on his shoulder, and snuggled in. Rainy mornings were good.
Giles spared Buffy one glance, then snapped his eyes back on the road spanning toward them. Sweeping left-hander; clear view all the way around it. Cake. "Really? You've never driven faster than the ton?"
"The ton? I'm talking about one-zero-zero, three digits. Speed."
"So am I. The ton. The century. One hundred miles an hour."
"Oh. No. Never had this kind of car."
Giles let himself grin the way he wanted to. "Not many have."
Buffy made an appreciative noise. Her hand was warm on his thigh. Giles ignored it. Straightaway for a bit meant opportunity. He let their speed drift up and hover around ninety for a few seconds, a few seconds more. He let his foot hit the brake, earlier than he had to. Buffy said something that Giles lost in a tricky heel and toe maneuver. Gratuitous, but then, what was not gratuitous about this drive? Besides, he needed the practice. When he came out of the curve again, Buffy was laughing at him.
"You are totally not paying attention to me. I think I need to be jealous."
"It's gorgeous, isn't it."
Buffy snorted. "It's the most uncomfortable car I've ever sat in. I feel the road in my butt."
"The Lotus is pure sportscar. No weight wasted on nonsense like power windows. Steers like a go-cart. Accelerates like a motorcycle."
Not at the moment, however. Giles eased off the accelerator and settled in behind a Volvo estate with three dogs milling about in the back. Sunday driver.
"You and motorcycles. Are you sure this isn't a mid-life crisis?"
Giles laughed. "Quite sure it is. By fiat. It's a legacy from my uncle. He was a bit of a character, bloody eccentric, really. But I was his favorite nephew, and when he died a couple of years ago he left me quite a nice bit of money as well as the house."
"I'm sorry to hear about your uncle."
Giles made a vague noise. Uncle Charles had died in the explosion that took out the Council. He'd yet to tell Buffy that story, because it was going to be ungodly painful when he did. Now was not the time. "Yes. Well. His will had a bit of a condition on it. Or more advice than condition, really. Was too busy for a long time to fulfill it, but I think this year I would have made the old boy proud."
"What was the condition?"
"That I indulge myself with fast cars and pretty girls. Doing rather well for myself, yes?"
Buffy giggled. Roundabout ahead, and his opportunity to get round the bloody Volvo. Down to second, slipping the clutch a little, ham-footed idiot.
"You're going to have to let me drive it some day."
"Not bloody likely, woman."
Giles put the hammer down and passed the Volvo on the inside. He spun through the roundabout and let it fling them out upon the south-bound road, on a heading away from civilization and toward the moors. He stayed in second gear and let the engine wind out. It hit 6000 RPMs and the cam timing shift. The engine howled. Giles felt the seat press against his back. Redline, upshift, let it wind again. Oh, that kick in the arse. Brilliant.
He grinned again and glanced down at the needle. There they were. The ton. And somewhere out there, Uncle Charles was happy.
Rupert Giles sat at his end of the conference table, arms folded, with a polite expression pasted on his face. This was not Rome. Far from it. It was instead the dreariest conference room in the new Council building. No windows, no views of anything. Even the sodden skies and tedious architecture of the new financial building next door would have been an improvement over that print of-- What was it a print of? Giles squinted and attempted to recall whatever he knew of mid-twentieth-century abstract expressionism. Fortunately, perhaps, he knew little.
The human resources representative repeated the same thing he'd said five minutes ago about the lack of modern precedent for Watchers marrying Slayers, and how the lack of clear policy meant he could only counsel that they delay. Giles found himself disinclined to repeat his earlier response to the fellow, and unwilling to speak aloud the response that occurred to him now. He noted that the fellow continually referred to Buffy as "Slayer Prime", which puzzled him.
His mobile burbled discreetly from its hiding place in a breast pocket. He took it out rather more obviously than he might do normally and slid it open. A text message, a most gratifying one.
Giles stood. "Excuse me," he said, "but apparently there's a demon on the loose in Somerset. It's torn up some footballer's hobby farm. Duty calls. Oh, er, Mr Smith. I will be marrying her in September. Cope."
He left the conference room and smiled only once the door was closed behind him. It was not a particularly happy smile. He made his way to his office in a funk. Stopping in London before heading to Rome had been a dreadful mistake. At least he'd managed to find a ring. It rested safely in his pocket in a little box. Giles slipped his hand in and brushed fingertips over the velvet. It had taken him some doing, in fact, but he was satisfied he'd found something that suited Buffy's current taste: a diamond in a clean, practical, rugged setting. He himself was partial to emeralds, but what few gems Buffy had in her jewelry, that he'd been able to see, were diamonds. Nothing ridiculous or flashy, thank goodness. She seemed to have abandoned her costume jewelry just as she had abandoned her thrift shop fashions. Rome and society and a bit of money had done well by her. She hadn't let it go to her head at all.
His smile turned genuine. He'd take the ring as a victory and ignore the rest of the nonsense.
The briefing in his office, sadly, would need to be binned as nonsense as well. The week's situation coordinator had the usual Ordinance survey map of the area and a photo of the demon faxed in by the team on the ground, and nothing else. The on-site team leader was on the phone with them, but he had nothing to add. A collection of farm buildings on a nice bit of land, some cows, the footballer's recently-remodeled house a short distance away, the demon on the rampage in the barn, doing something purposefully. They didn't know what. The team had yet to get a clear sighting. Why, Giles could not understand.
Giles eyed the photo of the alleged demon. The Watcher on the scene, a fellow with the improbable name of Fanthorpe, claimed it was a Polgara. The photo had been taken by a camera in a mobile held by a frightened person. The lens had shaken to a degree that made identification difficult. It might be a Polgara. It might have been a chaos demon. One thing was certain: that was an overturned Rover next to it. It had to be stopped before he got a mild note wondering what he was up to from his compatriot on the government side. That would never do.
"We've got a Slayer in London right now with Polgara experience," he said, addressing both his personal assistant and the situation coordinator.
"Who?" said the coordinator. Slater, a no-nonsense woman he rather liked.
"Slayer Prime? She's here?" said Fanthorpe, over the speaker phone.
Giles's eyebrows rose. "Yes. I think I can persuade her to join you there."
"Isn't necessary. We have it well in hand."
Giles breathed in and out once before answering. "We'll be there within three hours. You are not to engage the demon without a Slayer present." He stabbed the cutoff button before Fanthorpe got quite going with his response. He didn't care if the fellow managed to get it handled before they arrived. The important thing was that they'd be out of London and back somewhere in the vicinity of his home. Vaguely.
He straightened and looked at his team. "Right. I'll take care of contacting Slayer, er, Prime. Assemble transportation for us, would you? We'll be moving as soon as she's arrived."
Styles stuck her pencil behind her ear and nodded. She was out of his office instantly, his assistant trailing behind. Giles reached for the phone again, this time with the speaker off. He rang Buffy's mobile.
"Buffy? There's a bit of a demon incident going on. They tell me it's a Polgara and I wondered-- You would? Lovely. See you here, then. Quick as you can."
Giles thumbed the lock on his office door and changed into clothing more suitable for field work. That is, for battle. He always kept a few changes hanging in the closet here, for emergencies and for freshening up after all-night sessions. His position didn't allow him to be rumpled and covered with donut crumbs any more. Did he miss those days? Only sometimes.
On a whim he tucked the ring box into his trouser pockets. One never knew when the right moment would present itself, and perhaps they'd be able to steal a night at the house before returning to the city.
A thought came to him while he laced up his sturdy boots. He held the blurry snapshot of the demon to the light and reconsidered it. Polgara? It seemed altogether too bulky for that. He tucked it into his pocket and strode out of his office. Down the spiral staircase, down into the depths of the building where the books and artifacts were. Where his research staff, such as it was, did their work. One of the few Watchers who'd survived the blast was down here, another of Archie Lassiter's proteges, a friend from his days in exile down in the vaults.
The door to the demon archives was ajar, but Parker was not visible. A warm pot of tea sat on his desk, which meant he hadn't gone far. Giles called out.
Parker's voice came from the back shelves. "Half a mo." He emerged with a vellum-bound folio under his arm and teacup in hand.
Giles held out the photo. "Take a look at this, would you?"
Parker set book and cup down on his desk, carefully, and took the photo. He held it up to the light and frowned at it.
"On the rampage in Somerset right now. Fanthorpe claims it's a Polgara."
"I'd sooner declare Fanthorpe a zebra."
Giles grimaced. "A team is leaving for the site as soon as transport is ready."
"Right," said Parker. He rooted amongst the litter of objects behind his desk and emerged with a camera bag and a pair of electronic binoculars. Military issue, if Giles was right, and he approved whatever midnight requisitioning Parker had done to acquire them.
"Let me know when you're ready," Giles said.
Parker wedged an absurd hat onto his head-- a Tilley hat. He was the perfect image of a birder, with checklist in pocket. "Ready now," Parker replied, mildly, and Giles nodded in approval. Back up to his office, collecting his team along the way, moving faster now, to wait impatiently for Buffy to arrive.
He hadn't long to wait. She swept in without knocking and pulled him down into a swift kiss without bothering to look to see if anyone else was there. Giles kissed her back avidly and hoped it shocked someone. Alas, Parker was phlegmatic and Styles unshockable so it went unremarked.
Buffy was wearing black leather trousers and black leather boots over them. Her legs went all the way up. All the way up to-- Giles dragged his eyes away from there, because it was unseemly to stare at a woman in public that way, even a woman who was his fiancée. He cleared his throat and set aside boyhood fantasies of Diana Rigg with some effort.
"Is that getup, er, practical?"
"Custom-made for the prepared Slayer. Check it."
Buffy opened her jacket to show him the lining. Five neat loops inside the jacket held wooden stakes, with the white gleam of freshly-cut points. Practical indeed. He squeezed his right arm against his side just enough to remind himself of his own concealed weapon. It was almost a habitual gesture at this point in his life. Possibly it was a tell he should suppress.
"Plus knives in the boots and look! the jacket even has a special pocket for my ID and a credit card. Since, you know, there isn't any room in the pants for a pocket."
There certainly wasn't. Giles flushed and forced himself to look away again. Damnable woman. The smirk on her face said she knew just what sort of effect she was having upon him.
The team headed down to the car park under the building: Buffy, Parker, a new-minted Watcher named Smith, and himself. Giles commandeered the keys to the van. It was no sports car, but he was nervy and in need of some task to distract himself from Buffy's legs in that leather. The drive out was uneventful and smooth, thanks to the usual quiet behind-the-scenes easing of the way. Styles was doing her job and doing it well. Giles made a mental note to give her a commendation. Pay raise if possible.
He knew they'd reached the site before Parker could confirm it on the sat nav. A dark plume of smoke rose from beyond a line of trees. And Buffy had grown restless and edgy in seat next to him. He turned the van into the long drive into the estate proper and the devastation became clear as they approached. The demon had partially demolished the barn and lit fires with the wood it had wrested free. Giles could smell smoke. Was that meat charring? Too foul for that.
He pulled the van alongside a battered 4x4 parked by a thick hedge that screened it neatly from the barn. The only person there was a spotty-faced youth whom Giles vaguely remembered as a recent recruit. Fanthorpe's trainee, along to observe and take notes and learn from the experts. He wouldn't be doing much observation from where he was, which was on his arse with his back against the rear tire of the 4x4.
Giles loomed over him.
"Mr Giles! You're here already," the Watcher-in-training said. He failed to stand up.
"Where is Fanthorpe?"
The boy squeaked. "He's, uh, inside the house. The owner came home and got stroppy at us."
"Where is the rest of the team?"
Giles sighed. No sense berating the boy for being here without backup. He wasn't the one in charge. "Well, you've got a team now."
"Is that, is that Slayer Prime?"
Giles looked at Buffy, who shrugged at him. She said, "Yup, the one and no longer only."
"Honor to meet you," the boy said, from his position on the ground. His arms were wrapped around his knees and he showed no signs of being willing to stand up any time soon.
"Why are you sitting here instead of in a useful observation post?" Giles asked.
"It throws things," the boy said, as if that were enough of an explanation.
Giles gritted his teeth. Patience, patience with the trainees. If Pryce had developed into a solid demon-hunter, this lad could too. His annoyance would be better directed at Fanthorpe. Smith came by and issued him a hand-held radio. Xander's idea, the short-range radios, and a good one. Every situation team used them now. Giles tucked his away in his pocket. Buffy stared at hers, opened her jacket and fumbled, and then gave up. She handed it to the boy on the ground. Giles covered his mouth with his hand; it would not do to mock that outfit, because she might decline to wear it again and then where would he be? He turned his back on the trainee and went to see for himself what the demon was about.
Parker was settled at the end of the hedge with his binoculars plastered to his face. He tweaked a knob. Buffy moved beside Parker and held up a hand to keep the drizzle from her face. Giles looked where they were looking and saw the thing in motion for an instant. Then it was behind what remained of the building. A barn, perhaps, now half rubble. Scattered across the grass between the hedge and the buildings were a large number of half-destroyed hay bales, the small rectangular sort, along with wrecked bits of machinery. Beside the barn was what had until recently been a Land Rover. Now it was overturned and half-burned. That was the source of the worst of the stench, Giles thought.
"That is not a Polgara," Buffy said.
"What is it?" said Giles.
Parker snorted. "It's a species of ettin. I didn't get a good look at the markings. Gone behind the barn wall again."
Ettin. Not intelligent, as demons went. It made and used rudimentary tools and had a society with a language of sorts, but that was as far as it went. It was a menace because of its size and its monomanias, not because of any particular malice. Giles wondered how this one had arrived in Somerset. It was unfortunate all around, for they would have to kill it.
Buffy, of course, had already arrived at that conclusion. She said, "Giles, we got any swords?"
"Weapon rack in the back of the van."
Buffy came bouncing back with a sword nearly as long as she was tall. She took a few experimental cuts with it in a fashion he remembered as pure Buffy: no style, no technique, just pure strength from this tiny slip of a woman. He'd long since conceded that it worked for her. There she was, a vision in black leather, with a blade in her hands, just as desirable as she'd been in his study in a dress and heels. Just as much Buffy. Was she truly going to be his wife? She was. The grin on his face had to be entirely fatuous, he knew, but he was unable to contain it.
She rested the tip of the sword on the grass and grinned right back him. "So, plan guy. What's my line of attack?"
Giles shook himself back to the problem at hand. "Hack, slash. It'll be slow to die unless you hit a vital organ. They're more or less where you'd find them in humans."
"The eyes are most vulnerable," Parker said.
"Right, go for the face. Anything else?"
"It'll have the advantage of reach on you. And it'll be fast."
Buffy grimaced. "I remember."
Just then there was a ruckus from the direction of the house. Buffy noticed first and spun gracefully to defend against any attack. However, it was merely a red-faced man in disheveled clothing, waving his arms and marching away from the front door, down the gravel drive toward them. He was shouting something that Giles couldn't catch. Trailing after him was a man in tweed whom Giles recognized as Fanthorpe, waving his arms just as wildly and shouting right back. Negotiations, it appeared, had broken down. Giles met Buffy's gaze and they rolled their eyes at each other.
Giles walked forward to meet them. The fellow had to be the famous footballer who owned the property. He had a haircut so famous it had been mentioned in The Times, which meant even Giles had heard of it, and surely no two men had that haircut. His breath reeked of alcohol. Vodka, Giles thought, flavored vodka. He had a pellet gun in his hand, the kind powered by compressed air.
The situation was looking volatile. Time to be suppressive and stuffy.
Giles cleared his throat. "Sorry, sir, but I must ask you to remain behind the hedge. For your safety."
"My safety!" he said.
"Well?" Giles said, to Fanthorpe.
Fanthorpe glared at him. "Couldn't be helped. Hands tied. Under orders to wait. I'd have shot the beast two hours ago if it had been up to me."
"Shot it? With what?"
The footballer interrupted. "Who the hell are you? Same outfit as this galloping berk?"
"Wildlife Management," Giles said, smoothly. "Do stand back and let us clear the debris for you. We have it well in hand."
Giles put every single bit of sniffing Oxbridge authority in his voice that he could. For a moment it even seemed as if were going to work: the fellow swiped a hand through his ridiculous hair and looked mollified. But just then a hay bale came arching over what remained of the barn wall, closely followed by a cow head. The head landed in the middle of the field and rolled slowly toward them. It landed facing them, eyes open. Poor thing, Giles thought, but before he'd got past the moment of pity the footballer yelped and swore. He marched toward the barn, waving his pellet gun. Giles watched him go, stunned into immobility by the pure idiocy of it. He kept going right up to the pile of rubble that was all that was left of the barn wall on this side. At any moment he would lose his courage and turn back, surely?
No such luck. He vanished behind the wall of the barn.
"Oh boy," Buffy said, and she was off at a run, sword in hand. Without thought, Giles was in motion and pelting after her.
The fellow came to a sudden stop in the middle of what remained of his barn. Giles stood beside him. The ettin had the hindquarters of a cow in one huge hand. It held it over a pile of burning wood, roasting it as one might roast a marshmallow. Well. That explained a great deal.
The footballer uttered a single oath, then was silent again. Giles quite understood the feeling.
"It's eating the cows," said the footballer. "My wife's cows."
"Yes, it is."
He said, "Let's move to the country, she said. Let's buy some cows. They'll look darling. We can pay somebody to mind them for us."
Giles touched the man on the shoulder. "Come on, old boy. Let's find a safer spot, shall we?"
He didn't budge. "And now a troll is eating them. A troll. She'll have my head."
"I'll take care of it," Buffy said. She spun the sword casually.
"You? You? And that toy sword?"
He shook his head and without ceremony charged the ettin. Giles wondered, in a moment of shock, if football had been the right sport for him. Rugby would have been more his style.
The ettin put down the cow hindquarters. The fellow stopped and aimed the pellet gun. Giles heard it pop off a few times. Bright splotches of paint bloomed on the wall behind the ettin, and one right in the middle of its broad chest. It roared and was in motion. Giles wanted to close his eyes, because it was going to be awful, but he was a professional so he kept them open. A good thing, too, because that blur was Buffy in motion from the side. She cannonballed into the footballer and knocked him out of the ettin's way.
Giles knew his cue. He leapt forward shouting and waving his arms. The ettin lumbered to a halt, turned, and charged him instead. Giles was braced for it. He flung himself toward a pile of rubble. He landed badly but managed to tuck himself into a roll. He regained his footing and scarpered as fast as he could to rejoin Buffy at the smashed Rover. He'd barked his knuckles and he had a stitch in his side. He'd let his physical conditioning lapse. That would never do. He'd have to take up jogging again. Or training a Slayer; that was shockingly effective. He knew where to find one of those.
The footballer was crouched on the ground beside his ruined car. He shook his head. The famous haircut was a complete mess.
"What the hell is that?"
Giles could hear rising hysteria in his voice.
"It's an ettin," Buffy said. She laid a hand on his arm but he shrugged her off.
"What the bleeding hell is that when it's at home?"
"Something you'll be paying your therapist danger money to forget. Trust me on this. Take off now and let me cope."
"It's destroyed my new car! I'm not leaving until I've had satisfaction."
"Sorry, buster, you don't get a choice about that."
Buffy grabbed him by the belt and the collar and flung him bodily over the wall and out into the courtyard. Giles peeked around to see him scrambling off toward the group of Watchers.
"Kinda lightweight for a football player. What is this guy, a punter?"
Giles stared at her. Punter? Yes, but-- Oh. "Not American football. Soccer."
Buffy shrugged. "Explains it. Yeah. So. Let's kill this thing."
She vaulted over the Rover and drew her sword in mid-air. Giles swore and followed more modestly, scrambling around the front. Buffy was heading right so he went left.
"Draw it out into the open!" he shouted.
Buffy gave no indication that she'd heard him, but she must have, for she stepped out into the open area where the barn door had been and waved her arms around. The ettin lumbered out at her, with the cow in hand. It didn't seem particularly angry, more curious. Buffy had no opposition at all as she raised the sword and stabbed at its face.
Nothing happened. The sword rebounded. Giles swore under his breath. The ettin was angered now. Buffy regrouped and got both hands on the grip. She coiled and swung, a mighty roundhouse blow. This time the blade shattered and Buffy went down. The ettin stomped, but she'd rolled away. Giles leapt out and threw a rock at the thing to distract it. It responded by grabbing a hay bale. Giles wasted no time running the hell away as fast as he could.
Buffy was vaulting back over the Rover. She held not a sword but a hilt with a jagged bit of blade jutting out. Giles followed, scrambling on hands and knees to dodge the hay bale thrown after him. It was on fire, he noted, distantly. He crouched down next to Buffy behind the destroyed car. Out of sight was out of mind, apparently, for no further hay bales followed. Giles hunkered down with his back to the rear wheel and resisted the temptation to wrap his arms around his knees.
"This is an ex-sword," Buffy said. She tossed the hilt aside. Giles could not be so cheerful. He'd seen what happened when she'd swung. The creature's eyes were protected by a hard carapace. That meant it wasn't a mountain ettin.
Giles found his radio in his pocket. He thumbed the talk button and said, "Parker?"
The radio crackled and Parker's voice said, "Here."
"Did you get a look at that?"
"Yes. Three-eyed ettin."
"I read you." He stuck the radio back into his jacket and cursed extensively in Latin.
"Potty mouth," Buffy said. He hadn't realized she knew that much Latin. Or perhaps he'd indulged himself that way once too many times.
He sighed. "Fanthorpe is an utter pillock."
"Duh, not enough field time. But you can whinge about him later. Right now tell me how to kill it."
Giles pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. He could just see the page of the book in question. Ettins, three-eyed, weak points. "The third eye is vulnerable, but it won't open unless forced. We need something that can shatter the protection over the two you can see. Something super-hard."
"Super-hard. Stronger than steel. Something that can cut anything."
"Something like a diamond."
"With enough force behind it. The traditional weapon is the diamond-tipped bolt. Which we have in the armory at headquarters. Pillock!"
Buffy snorted in frustration. "I took off all my jewelry and left it in the hotel room. I was trying to be practical. See what that gets me."
"Ah," he said again, and this time Buffy turned to look at him. "I, er, might happen to have something."
He stood and dug deep into his trouser pocket. He drew out the little velvet box. His knuckles were still oozing blood, it seemed, and it had dripped and smeared over the velvet. Giles rubbed his hand against his shirt and snapped the box open. He went down onto a knee in the mud. What had he planned to say to her? He had no earthly idea. But he had to say something.
"Miss Summers, er, you have already done me the honor of consenting to become my, my wife. It would please me greatly if you'd wear my ring, as a token of my esteem. And, er, also to punch the demon."
Dammit, he was stammering again. Buffy did not comment. She merely held her right hand out to him. Wrong hand for the ring, correct hand for the power she'd need to generate. Her hand was also grubby with ash and sweat and somebody else's blood. Possibly his. He slid the ring onto her finger. He rocked back onto his heels and watched her consider the ring and tilt her hand to get a better view of it. He found himself deeply moved, despite everything. And perversely aroused. She was damnably sexy in those leather trousers.
Then she removed the ring and shifted it to her middle finger. She made a fist and jabbed it out a few times, then nodded to herself. Giles straightened up.
"Break the protection and I'll shoot the third eye out."
"Solid foundation. Coil and unleash. Use the muscles in your torso and legs to drive the swing."
"Giiiiiiles," she said, and he found himself grinning at her despite himself. "Critique my form after we get out of here, okay? Okay."
Giles edged around the front of the Rover. The ettin had returned to its heap of dead cows. It had the hindquarters in its grasp again. Apparently they were charred enough for its liking, because it was now gnawing on the midsection.
Buffy said, "You ready?"
Giles thumbed the safety off. "Yes."
"My aim is true."
For the third time, Buffy exploded into motion and flung herself at the ettin. It looked haphazard but Giles knew from years of watching her that it was anything but. She did not waste her breath bantering with a creature so stupid but ran around it in circles, dodging its swipes at her.
She leapt into the air and punched. One eye exploded into a gush of black fluid. Buffy dodged a slow, clumsy swing. She danced around, waiting for another opening. Giles advanced with the tiny pistol raised.
Buffy rolled, sprang to her feet, and was in the air again. This time she ran up the ettin's chest. She coiled, unleashed, and punched. The eye went but Buffy was in the ettin's grasp. It gripped her leg and shook her back and forth as if she were a toy. Giles did not let himself react.
Out of the corner of his eye Giles saw Buffy's body flung away from the demon. There it was, the third eye, opening now from pure instinct. Ignore her. Ignore the woman who would be his wife, his beloved Slayer, ignore her scream. Aim and fire. Breathe out. Steady. Fire. Bugger it. It turned toward him and his shot came clear and this time he did not miss. The thing bellowed in agony and thrashed. Giles advanced on it and pumped another round into its head at point blank range. His training-- both the boyhood training and the more recent training at Her Majesty's behest-- held and he did not waver until the clip was emptied and he was certain it was in its death throes. One last scan, and the little revolver was holstered again. He flung himself across the ruined floor to where Buffy lay crumpled. If she were dead he would--
Buffy stirred and lifted her head. Giles closed his eyes and kissed her forehead.
She pushed herself up on her elbows. "Dead?" she said.
"Dead." He opened his mouth to assure her she need never go through this again, but then he saw that she was grinning.
"That was awesome. I missed it so much. But I am so out of practice. Not enough field time this year."
Giles stood and extended a hand to her. She pulled herself to her feet and then leaned back against the wall. Then he noticed she had one foot lifted up. She touched her toe to the ground and winced. "Ow. Ow."
"It kinda smushed my ankle." Giles knelt at her feet and ran his hands over the boot. She whimpered above him and said, "Broken?"
"Possibly. Can't tell until we get the boot off."
He scooped her up. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and then hissed in pain. She said, "Careful. I'm one hundred percent bruise right now."
Though she wouldn't remain so for long, thank goodness. Nonetheless, Giles was beyond careful as he carried her out of the remains of the barn, away from the half-eaten cow, the burning hay bales, and the dead ettin.
It had begun to rain harder. The water beaded on his glasses. Giles ignored it and trudged across the paddock to the waiting group of Watchers. Parker helped him set Buffy down on the van's back bumper, where she was sheltered from the rain. Giles knelt down before her and unzipped her boot. He tugged gently until it came off. He ought to have cut it off, but he remembered how she'd reacted the last time he'd ruined her shoes. He ran his hands over her ankle more carefully.
Buffy pouted. It was without heat, for she knew as well as he that within three days she'd be back at full capacity. The Slayer gifts were wonderful indeed.
Fanthorpe approached with a rifle on his shoulder. An elephant gun, by the looks of the thing. What was he doing with one of those?
"I'll handle it," he said. "I've convinced the homeowner to head to the nearest pub."
"It's dead," Buffy said.
Fanthorpe was still looking at Giles, not at the woman he was kneeling before. "Slayer Prime dispatched it?"
"Well, Slayer Prime plus Watcher Prime, strictly speaking," Buffy said, in a voice dry enough to desiccate the clouds above them. Giles squeezed her uninjured leg for a moment, to show her he'd noticed.
He said, "Yes, Buffy dispatched it, you infernal idiot. Now put that museum piece away and get us the medical tech."
"The medical tech?"
"The one you are required to have on hand at every operation."
Parker spoke up. "I rang for the med team as soon as I saw you come out. Thirty minutes to arrival."
"Is there a single rule of engagement you did not break, Fanthorpe?"
"Simple enough situation. Single demon. We didn't need all this rigamarole before. In my day Slayers did what they were told on their own, without any of this fuss and bother."
Giles looked up toward the cloudy, rainy heavens until he could manage to speak. "Pack your bags, Fanthorpe. You're joining Xander Harris in Tripoli next week."
"Tripoli?" Now Fanthorpe was squeaking.
"Be grateful it isn't the bloody Falklands."
"Miss Summers is right. Six months out of every year in field time for all of us. We'll be setting the example by spending our honeymoon in the field."
"Honeymoon?" Fanthorpe said. He had the same note of semi-hysteria in his voice that the footballer had had.
This was the most gratifying moment of Giles's day, perhaps, almost worth every moment of being rained upon and used by target practice by a hungry ettin. Almost. He showed all his teeth and said, "Yes, honeymoon."
Parker said, "Congratulations to the both of you." He wedged his hat back onto his head. "Think I'll go photograph the corpse. Come along, boy. Let me show you how to tell an ettin from a Polgara."
Parker ambled off in the direction of the barn, the trainee at his heels. Giles watched them go, then sat himself on the bumper next to his Slayer. He would, he suspected, always think of her as that first and fiancée or wife second. She would think of herself that way first, so it did not trouble him.
Buffy nudged him with a shoulder. "Honeymoon in the field?" she said. "Do I get to pick where?"
"Of course, darling. I'll show you the location reports tomorrow and you can pick the one that looks most interesting."
"You are the most thoughtful fiancé ever."
He'd been thinking the Italian countryside for their honeymoon, since Buffy liked it so much, or perhaps France, but this plan was obviously pleasing her better. And that was all that mattered. Well, that and taking those leather trousers off her as slowly as possible. Perhaps after she'd had her ankle strapped up she'd allow him. Or perhaps he could simply fuss over her. Draw her a hot bath, strew it with flower petals, something along those lines.
Buffy held up her right hand and contemplated the ring he'd given her. The stone had cracked and half of it was missing. What remained was grimy and stained with demon blood. She moved the ring over to the proper finger on her left hand, and rubbed at it fruitlessly. Giles found his handkerchief for her.
"I'll replace it, darling," he said, watching her polish the remains.
"It's perfect the way it is."
"Are you sure? I can easily--"
"No way. Any time somebody sees it, they'll ask and I'll get to tell them all about how you went down on your knees in a muddy barn filled with burning cows and a giant three-eyed ettin."
Giles cleared his throat. "A much more suitable story for Dawn than, er--"
"Much. Total wholesome family fare."
He slipped an arm around her-- carefully, mindful of the bruises-- and kissed her.