Xander let the fifteenth box of books drop. Just an inch from his hands to the top of the stack, but it drew a sharp look from Giles anyway. “Truck’s almost empty,” Xander said, with no trace of guilt. Books weren’t breakable. Not like the box with Willow’s knicknacks, which she really ought to have wrapped in more tissue paper than that. Xander would be visiting the Sanrio store next time he hit LA. He’d be hitting LA soonest. Say, as soon as he could convince Giles to do a little road trippin’. Which wouldn’t be until after they got him out of his old place and into the new house. Xander shoved himself back in motion. Down the hall, across the porch into the twilight, to the rental truck in the driveway.
Xander pulled himself up and into the back, headed for the last few boxes on this run. Giles leapt up just behind. Giles caught him, pinned him against the truck side, and licked the sweat from his neck. Xander grinned, threaded his fingers into Giles’ hair, let his head thump back against the truck. Giles finished off with a brush of his mouth against Xander’s ear, a happy wordless murmur. Xander’s neck was wetter than it had been when Giles started.
It was still new enough that they were finding excuses to touch like that. Over-enthusiastic reunions after ten-minute separations. Over-scrupulous attention to rumpled collars. Xander hadn’t been in a relationship long enough for that stage to wear off, honestly. There’d be something else tasty to follow it. He was confident.
He grabbed the last of the stuff in this load, a couple of framed prints under glass, and followed Giles back into the house.
The boys trudged past the kitchen doorway again, on their way to the back room they’d already dubbed Giles’ study. The boys. Willow liked calling Giles a boy. He always ducked his head and flicked that smile up when you said nice things to him. Like pretty much anything Willow could think to say. It was her new pastime, trickling sweet nothings over Giles. Buffy, oddly, needed a lighter touch, more careful compliments.
Back to work for now, though, unpacking the stuff they’d need right away, stacking plates on the island counter. Giles was the only one of them who had real kitchen gear. Who had anything more than a few boxes and suitcases to move. Willow’s dorm room hadn’t taken long to pack. She had clothes, mostly, books, magic equipment, and that was it. The little room she’d picked for her office had hardly anything in it.
Willow found a pitcher in a box and held it up to Buffy. “This look good?”
“Perfect!” Buffy grabbed it and piled ice into it without bothering to wash it out. “I cannot believe Giles found a place with a hot tub. I’ve always wanted a hot tub,” she said, dumping in the lemon juice.
“Guess Giles was right when he said,” here Willow’s voice dropped an octave and her accent shifted, “the rental market is favorable at present. Probably always is in the town o’ the Hellmouth.”
Buffy giggled. Ice tinkled in the lemonade pitcher, spinning in the wake of her spoon.
“Hey, Buff. Sugar.”
Willow hopped up onto a stool and stuck her nose close to the pitcher. The sugar diffused into the lemonade in opaque clouds. Little particle storms. Pretty. The TA for Willow’s diffy-q class was working on fluid dynamics for his thesis. The whiteboard in his pokey office had been covered with the curly marks of integral calculus. They’d been like the magic notation in some of Giles’ advanced books, just past the edge of what Willow could understand, familiar signs in patterns that almost cohered. Soon. With Giles’ books at hand, sooner.
Buffy licked her fingers. “Okay, that’s good. Perfect post-Slayage pickmeup.” She stuck the pitcher into the fridge. The huganic fridge, with acres of space. Enough to indulge the tastes of the four roommates. Giles’ bok choy. Buffy’s Gatorade. Xander’s Vitamin-D full-fat milk. Willow’s perishable spell ingredients. Though maybe she ought to get a little fridge, just for her own room, for those. Somewhere not in the way. Wouldn’t want to confuse the salamander eyes with the capers.
Willow watched Buffy head out the door, stake in hand.
Deepening evening under a waning moon was a good time for patrol. Dark enough for the vampies to come out to play, not so late that the donors were all in bed. Just a quick patrol. A corner of the campus, the cemetery nearest their new place. Buffy’d seen anticipation in Xander’s face, and in the sweat-darkened trails down his chest, under his arms, at the small of his back. The thought was distracting. Had to have been, because the vamp turned out to have a knife and she didn’t notice it until it laid her arm open from elbow to wrist. And then the ankle wrenched as she went down under the vamp.
Her training held. A wriggle, a little application of leverage, and she was up and it was down.
Buffy slammed the stake home and staggered back a few steps. How bad? Blood all over the damn place yeah, pain yeah yeah tell me another, but how bad? She ripped her sleeve open the rest of the way and swabbed off the blood with it. No pumping, just oozing. Shallow. Surface wound. Slayer healing already in action.
Another goddamned gash in the arm. A day from now there’d be a pale rope striping where the knife had gone. A week from now, a pink line tracing the skin. A month, nothing, all her history vanished. Like those maps of Sunnydale Giles had, spanning a hundred years of growth, only in reverse: interstates fading to paved roads to dirt tracks to cow paths to nothing on Buffy’s skin. She bound it with the remains of the sleeve.
Buffy limped home, right arm cradled in her left. By the time she hit their new neighborhood, the bleeding had stopped. By their street, she wasn’t limping. By their front door, the only thing left over was the bloodstains on the laundry. Which never came out no matter how much soaking in cold water with extra-strength crap Buffy did. Buffy understood why Jet Li wore black.
Had she remembered her new key? No. But the front door was unlocked.
“Buffy.” Giles’ voice, warm and pleased, as always. His broad shoulders, framed in the kitchen doorway. His hand on a glass of lemonade. “How was—” Then he was on her, pulling her into the kitchen, pushing her onto a chair, straightening her arm, biting out questions, demanding that Willow fetch the first-aid kit now dammit. She finished his lemonade while he fussed and scrubbed and bandaged and asked her four times if she wouldn’t rather have stitches. He released her with a hard kiss. Passion disguised relief.
“I’ve got vamp dust all over,” Buffy said. “That hot tub soakable?”
Giles nodded. “Xander has towels out there already.”
The reaction set in after the crisis was dealt with. As always. Adrenaline carried one through the sticky bits, receding to leave one’s hands shaking and knees weak. The amount of blood on Buffy’s shirt had been horrific. Buffy herself hadn’t seem alarmed, but Giles struggled.
He followed her out to the deck slowly, reluctant to let her out of his sight. She was already in the water, injured arm braced along the concrete edging. They had no furniture for their deck, yet. Giles sat himself on the bare boards to watch Xander and Buffy soaking. Willow appeared a few moments later, with a sweatshirt for him. He pulled it on gratefully. Willow settled between his knees. The lights in the tub, refracted up through the water, shifted blue patterns over his hands rubbing her arms. He drifted his hand up to the top button of her sweater. “Would you like, er?”
“Nah, not tonight,” said Willow. Giles contented himself with holding her against his chest, snuggled close while they watched the other two celebrate survival. Giles had been given a surfeit of pleasure in the last two weeks. It was enough for tonight to sit back and enjoy the tingle of arousal. A little voyeurism. Watching Xander and Buffy discover first-hand why sex underwater was not always successful. Not nearly as bad as sex on the beach, as far as explosions of romantic notions went. Xander did seem to be managing anyway. Clever lad.
He met Giles’ eyes for a moment and flashed his teeth. “Need to christen the tub with all three of you.” Possessive as always.
It occurred to Giles that had the knife gone a little deeper, they’d be christening plastic hospital chairs right now. The morgue. Though they’d christened that already. His shoulders began to shake. Willow grabbed his hands where they were clasped against her, and squeezed. That was how it always happened. No grand fight against apocalypse, no magnificent sacrifice. Just a routine patrol and a lucky moment for the vampire. And another one called.
Xander pulled Buffy out of the tub. They finished on the wooden deck across the pile of towels, at Giles’ and Willow’s feet. Their bodies steamed in the dry cool night air. By the time they’d reached their crisis, Giles’ had passed. But he still insisted on holding Buffy close all through the night.