The new-made Slayers were celebrating. Giles was inclined to let them. They were young; they had survived when some of their fellows had not; they had no particular place to be tomorrow. And besides, the motel in the mountains above Sunnydale had been entirely abandoned some time in the last weeks. The territory for fifty miles around Sunnydale was empty of human life other than theirs. The Slayers could make all the noise they wanted, run shrieking around the parking lot, climb the trees leaning over the roofs of the motel buildings, swim in the lighted pool all night long.
The place was small, and rustic in a style that had been in fashion fifty years ago, but there were rooms for all of them. The electricity and gas worked. Giles and Xander picked the cabin on the end, furthest away from the Slayer party, in what Xander dubbed House Testosterone. When Giles asked where Andrew was, Xander merely smirked. Giles shook his head, and deposited his battered and now dusty leather carry-all on the bed nearest the door. He’d been living out of it for months. Xander had a knapsack and nothing more, as far as Giles could see. They’d need to find civilization and supplies soon. But not tonight.
Giles collapsed across his bed, on his back with his booted feet on the floor. “Bugger all,” he said.
Xander grunted. “Apocalypse is a bitch. We lived again, Giles.”
“Most of us.”
“No. I’m deeply sorry, Xander.”
Xander said nothing immediately. Giles listened to him rummaging around, opened and closing drawers. Then the bed tilted; Xander had alighted on the corner.
“Hey. Giles. Drink with me? I have something to say to Anya’s memory, and I’d rather not do it alone.”
Giles sat up and looked at him. He held a square black bottle in one hand. Giles nodded, solemnly. “What d’you have, then?”
“Jack. Found it in the motel office. Unopened.”
Anya would have wanted something expensive, something extravagant and memorable. Giles would take the time for what he considered a fitting memorial later, when he had the resources. But Xander was right to want to do something now. “I’ll join you.”
Giles went into the bathroom and came back with two water glasses. Xander ripped the casing from the top of the bottle and broke the seal on the screw cap. He sloshed both glasses full.
“To Anya. May she be improving the accounting procedures in heaven right this very moment.” Xander knocked his glass back.
Giles smiled, and raised his skyward. “To Anya.”
He sipped more cautiously than Xander had. Rough on his lips and tongue, harsh. It left a trail of warmth down to his stomach. Xander had already re-filled his own glass.
“No half measures for her.” His voice was slurred already. Xander was not a drinker in his daily life. “Here’s to Anya, cutest of the Scoobies. Do they have sex in heaven? Hope they do. Anya will gripe if they don’t. Only the best sex. Different position every night, the padded handcuffs on Friday nights for a treat. And somebody to be her bridge partner. I was a terrible bridge player, you know that?”
Xander had another gulp of Jack. Giles sought words for Xander, something to comfort him. A tale of Anya teasing him mercilessly in the shop, taunting him until he’d snapped and given it right back, and been rewarded with her brilliant smile. But he couldn’t find the words. It felt too mundane.
He said, haltingly, “Were you two, er, patching it up?”
“I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. She called me a pirate, said she’d always liked that costume. Dug it for the role-play, you know? Shipwrecked pirate, now. Least she’s safe at last. Godspeed, Anya!”
Another long swallow, and this time Giles took the glass away from him. Xander didn’t seem to mind. He flung himself back onto his little bed and sang something Giles couldn’t follow, about cheeses. He smiled and sighed, and slurred out, “Buffy’s okay. That’s somethin’.”
Injured, but Giles had bandaged her up during the long bus ride up into the mountains, and he knew she’d be fine. He wondered where she was now. With Wood? No, Faith had had a proprietary gleam in her eye. With the Slayers? Perhaps. Wherever she was, she was alive, and so Giles could reconcile himself to their other losses. As coping mechanisms went, it had an obvious flaw, but Giles had long since given up attempting to make himself feel something different.
Giles raised his own glass high. “Buffy’s with us, and may I say this every year until I live to be a hundred and twenty and die in my sleep a happy man.”
He drank to his own prayer, a long burning gulp of fervent and sincere invocation of whatever gods there may be. When he lowered the glass again, Xander was out. Mouth open, eye closed, chest rising and falling slowly. Giles checked his breathing, and gently tipped him onto his side just in case. Probably about four shots of whiskey, not all that much. Exhaustion had likely done most of it. Giles sighed, and picked up his glass. He held it up to the light and considered the whiskey. He wasn’t sure he wanted to drink the rest of it. He’d never done well drinking on his own.
Someone knocked on his door. Giles opened it without hesitation, without bothering to look through the peephole first. There were only friends nearby.
For it was she, looking fresher than when he’d seen her last. She hesitated on the threshold, rising on tiptoe to peek over his shoulder.
“Giles. Hey. Um. I kinda wanted to talk, but if you’re busy–”
“Not so busy. I was just thinking of you.”
“Oh? Good thoughts, I hope.”
“Mm.” Giles was reluctant to say more. He stepped aside from the door, and Buffy slipped in past him. She looked at Xander, snoring on the far bed, and raised an eyebrow at him. Giles shrugged.
“We were toasting the memory of our friends, but he, er, overdid it a bit.”
Buffy twitched a smile at him. “I can smell it. How much did he drink?”
“Enough that he’ll wake up miserable. We won’t disturb him. Let’s talk.”
Buffy bent over Xander for a moment, to check for herself, then rummaged for his glass. She sniffed the Jack and wrinkled her nose. “Good idea. Drinking to the people we lost. I have a toast of my own.”
Giles found himself digging in his pockets for a handkerchief. He knew who Buffy would be toasting, and found himself ashamed. He’d tried to help Wood kill Spike, and then Spike had died anyway. Died at the heart of an explosion of light and energy that had obliterated the Hellmouth. The Hellmouth, the town, the bodies of people he’d known, many demons, no doubt more than a few living humans as well. Spike, the hero of the day.
He looked up from his compulsive glasses-polishing to find Buffy standing unnervingly near him, gazing at him steadily.
“I know what you’re thinking, Giles. It was a mistake, but not listening to you was a mistake too. Not telling you why, why I trusted him. Not talking.”
Giles shook his head. “More my mistake than yours. I allowed… other issues to cloud my judgement.”
“You loved him,” he said. Before tonight it would have been an accusation, but now Giles said it because it was comfort.
“No. He told me, right at the end, that I didn’t.”
Giles thought that over. “He was trying to make it easier on you. He knew, didn’t he, what would happen.”
She was sniffling. He handed her the handkerchief and stared at his feet.
“He died well, Buffy. That was redemption,” he said, quietly. At the end. It was earlier that Giles had a difficult time forgiving. She wiped her nose and reached for Xander’s glass again.
Buffy tossed her drink off. Giles did not hesitate.
“To Spike,” he said, and drained his glass.
He closed his eyes and allowed himself to invoke deity again, this time in a wish for Spike to be granted a merciful reward. When he opened his eyes again he felt the liquor, the swim in his head. It loosened his tongue, but he felt no urge to tell Buffy tales about Spike to comfort her, though he suspected she wanted it. She turned away from him and wandered over to Xander’s bed again. Xander was still on his side where Giles had left him, mouth slightly open, eye closed. The strap holding the eyepatch in place was dark across his forehead. Buffy stroked it.
“Another one of my mistakes,” she murmured.
“He’d tell the story differently. Allow him his heroism, Buffy.”
She fetched the bottle from the floor and poured them each another splash. “Hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“It’s because you’re a hero as well. You take it all on yourself. Relax tonight, Buffy. Let it go. Be with me now.”
She heaved a sigh, but turned to him with her glass outstretched. He touched his to hers and they drank again, this time to Xander stretched out asleep before them. Giles set bottle and glasses aside. They’d had enough.
Buffy rubbed her arms. “Cold out. For May.”
“It’s the altitude. Let’s get warmer.” Giles pulled the blanket out from its moorings under the mattress and held it up. Buffy hesitated only a moment, then climbed under. He sat at the edge of the bed long enough to kick off his boots, then slid in next to her. He switched off the overhead light, leaving only the little lamp between the beds.
“How drunk are you?” said Buffy.
“Not very. I can feel my lips.”
Giles leaned on an elbow and faced her. He reached out and toyed with her hair. It was longer now than it had been. He liked it. “What makes you put it that way?”
“I noticed that the lips go first. You’re drinking a little something, loosening up, and then he’s kissing you but you can’t feel it at all.”
“You sure you can feel them?”
“Pretty sure. Hmm. Better check.”
Their first kiss was a brief thing, a brush of his lips over hers. He nuzzled her cheek, then her neck.
“Good.” Giles kissed her again, and let himself linger. She’d closed her eyes. He’d never have kissed her without the whiskey to light a fire under him. False courage, courage to do what he’d long wanted to. He kissed her again, and was gratified to feel her mouth open under his, her tongue flicker against his lips.
“Mm, that stuff is magic…”
“Whaddya mean? Plenty good for making the kissing start.”
“Alcohol’s no good for sex. Need grass for that.”
“Was that what you and Robin were up to? Before the fight?”
Giles laughed again, and was delighted to see a spark in Buffy’s eyes in response. “Not telling. But it was good stuff.”
Buffy smacked his chest, lightly. Not drunk: drunk Slayers lost control of their strength. Giles had seen Buffy drunk a few times, and each time furniture had shattered. It had allowed him to appreciate the level of control she displayed every day. Exquisite control. Finest Slayer ever, and she was his, and she was in his bed. If someone had told him in the morning that he’d end the day in bed with Buffy, with her knee nudged between his, her hands slid up under the hem of his shirt, his mouth on hers, he’d had laughed himself silly. But here he was. She felt good against him. He could feel her power, and it was intoxicating. Or perhaps that was the whiskey. No matter. Giles kissed her again. In the morning they’d be sober, and perhaps she’d never allow it again. Though he’d never stop wanting to kiss her.
He pressed himself close against her, let himself rub against her knee. A little taste of pleasure. He wasn’t sure she wanted any more than this, but she pressed back against him eagerly, and returned his kisses. Warm and sweet, her kisses in the dim room. He brushed his lips along her neck, up behind her ear. She shivered delicately under him.
“Mmmm, that’s right. Shake for me, Buffy.”
“Wow,” she said. “Um. Wouldn’t have picked you for being sex guy.”
“No?” He did it again, and it took her a moment to respond. He smiled in satisfaction and kissed her again.
“Tweedman, with the books and the charts and graphs and clipboards. Brain, not body.”
“The brain is the most important sexual organ, I’ll have you know.”
“No way. I so don’t believe you.”
“It is. Center of all sexuality. I can bring you to the edge of coming just by talking to you. I know you that well.”
Buffy’s eyes darkened at that, and Giles’s breath caught. Then she said, “Prove it. Tell me my fantasy, Watcher man. Where am I, in my fantasies? What do I like?”
Giles stammered at first. He hadn’t truly expected her to challenge him. But he did think he knew her that well. The whiskey was warm in his stomach and blood, and this night would only happen once, and he might never have another chance. He spun his mind around, searching through the possibilities. What would Buffy want? Where had he seen her at her happiest?
“Sunshine,” he said, finally. “You want to be outdoors, in sunlight. Ah, let me think. Somewhere with running water. You’re lying sprawled out on a sun-warmed rock at the edge of a mountain stream. You’re completely nude, but relaxed and at ease. Like a wood-nymph.”
Buffy laughed. “Oh, really.”
“Yes, a wood-nymph. Your skin is brown from the sun, and your hair’s been bleached pale. There are leaves twined in it.” Giles ran his fingers through her hair, where the vines would be. “Leaves and flowers. They smell sweet. Living things.”
“Are you sure this is my fantasy? Sounds more like yours.”
“Yours. This is your fantasy. It’s so secret you might not have told yourself, silly woman.” Certainly it was something he’d only told himself in his most quiet, private moments.
“Ooookay. Am I alone, or is there somebody with me?”
“Depends,” Giles said, promptly. “Sometimes you’re alone. No voices but birdsong, no touch but your hands on yourself, the water running over your body. And sometimes a lover comes to you.”
“A lover? You mean a boyfriend?”
“No, a lover. Because every now and then it’s a woman who comes to you. A young woman, your age, as strong and bold as you are. Another Slayer.”
Buffy’d gone very still next to him, and her eyes were wide. She wasn’t contradicting him, though. Giles nodded in satisfaction. He did know her.
“Sometimes a woman, sometimes a man, sometimes you’re alone. You like it when you’re alone, loving yourself. It’s peaceful. You lie there by the water, indulging your body, free to feel your pleasure, to cry it where no one hears but the watching sun. No one else there, to burden you. Just you. Do you like that, Buffy?”
“Yes, I-- How you know all this…”
Giles kissed her lips again. “How could I not know it?”
Her hands moved on his chest, under his shirt, caressing him. Absently, he thought, as if Buffy thought he were someone else. He was aroused anyway, but he made no sign. She had to have noticed, and if she wanted something from him she’d ask for it. He knew that about her, too. And he dared hope.
“Tell me about the men,” she said.
Giles smiled. “Ah, the men. Sometimes your past lovers visit you, warriors all, like you, come to worship you and share pleasure with you before they return to battle. The dark one with the grim past is granted his moment of perfect happiness from you, when you wish it, over and over, and he goes away again as happy as such a brooding creature can be.”
Buffy giggled, and pushed his shirt up further. “Who else?”
“Then there’s the young brash one, who struggles with you thinking to best you. Every time he comes to you, he comes with his fists balled and his body hard. Cocky and rampant and ready for you. But he can’t best you. None of them can. You’ve defeated them all.”
“Is it always struggle?”
“For you, yes,” Giles whispered. “It excites you. To test your strength against these men. You need that. Haven’t you noticed? You take fellow warriors to your bed. You defeat them, and then you love them.”
“God,” Buffy said. She shivered against him.
Giles gathered himself and found the words he needed, for the creature he’d hated. Until tonight, when he knew he couldn’t any more. “And then there’s the last one, the one in the dark leather who smells like brimstone. He loves you the most fiercely, fights with you the most viciously, takes his defeat the hardest. You are lovely together, the two of you. A creature of the night taking a creature of the sun as his mate. He’s gone now. Burned away by the fire of his own soul, that one.”
“He’s gone,” Buffy repeated.
Her eyes were wet. She had loved him, then, whatever Spike had said. But she’d get over him, as she’d moved past the other vampire. She’d grieve, and then she would turn to the rest of her life. Giles found he had words of comfort after all.
“He’ll come to you again in dream, and love you again. You’ll feel his body against yours again. In sunlight this time. And he’ll be warm flesh when he comes to you again. Hard and fierce inside you, just as he was in life.”
“But he still left me. They all leave me.”
“It’s bittersweet, your fantasy.” He hadn’t meant it to turn in that direction, but it had. “But let me tell you what happens. Let me tell about how one of them loves you and pleasures you. Would you like that?”
Buffy made a little sound, and her hands stilled on his chest. “Tell me about the one who doesn’t leave me.”
Giles steeled himself to hear which one of them she’d loved the most. Angel, he’d guess. “Which one is he?”
“The gray knight. The scholar. He’s got a funny ring on his finger, and he holds his sword in his left hand.”
Left-handed. She meant him. Giles swallowed, suddenly nervous. “The scholar knight. Ah.”
“Tell me about him. How does he get to this glade I’m in? Does he fight his way in like the rest of them?”
Why not tell her a true story? Giles tightened his arms around her, and found his courage. “No. No, he doesn’t fight you. He-- He’s been sent to you, but he doesn’t know you. He’s left his own life behind, but he doesn’t know what he’ll find. He’s ridden many miles, so many, to reach you, pursued by demons the whole way. He was in a very dark place when they sent him to you.”
“Yes. He’s been living as a hermit, in one of those caves high on a mountainside, in penance. He sinned greatly as a young man, and he is afraid he’ll do so again.”
“I don’t think he will,” Buffy said. Her voice was soft.
“He will. He has, and he will again. But he’ll be your man anyway, as best he knows how.”
“So I let him into my secret world, this rock by the stream. I welcome him in.”
“He starts to speak, to ask you who you are and what you’re about. You hold your fingers to his lips, and he nods at you and is silent. He sees everything he needs to know in you, and you see through his armor to his very soul.”
“He looked tired, standing there. His demons, they’re still following him?”
“God, he’s weary, so weary. He can’t lift his sword again, not even to save himself. But he doesn’t need to. You’re there, and it’s a toy in your hands. You there, nude in sunshine, hair flying, bright sword lifted in your hands, my God, the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.”
“Do I slay his demons?”
“For the moment. They always return, but you’ve slain them for now. The sun burns them away, because nothing evil can remain in your glade.”
“That’s right,” Buffy said, softly. She was very close to him under the blanket, hands on his chest, eyes gleaming up at him in the dimness. “Tell me, does he love me?”
“Without needing me to defeat him?”
“There was never any question of that. He’s not the hero of the story. His sword has been offered to your service since before you were born. Your stalwart, standing fast, Lord help me.” Giles blinked back his own tears. Thankfully Buffy didn’t notice.
“What happens next?”
“You disarm him. You remove all his armor. One dented and dusty piece at a time, until it’s all in a heap at his feet. And you can see him as no one has in years.”
“Does he want to make love with me?”
“Oh, God, yes. What do you want, Buffy?”
“Want my knight. And I want him to keep talking.”
Giles flushed. “Let him see you.”
“You first. Take it off. Take off your armor.”
She pushed his shirt up, baring his stomach. Giles sat up and pulled it over his head. Let her see him, graying and battered, with the scar in his side where he’d been pierced through by a lance. She knew him well enough by now, better than anyone else had in his life. She wouldn’t turn away from him because he looked like what he was. She had not turned away, in fact, and was tugging at his belt. Giles lifted his hips to allow her to strip away the last of his protection. He lay on the bed below her, nervous now that her gaze was on him. So intent.
“Now you can see how much he wants you,” he said, unsteadily.
Her hands stroked over his chest again, down his flank, over the spot where the lance had struck. He’d nearly died. He remembered thinking that it was the end, and he needed to say something to Buffy. He remembered the pain, her hand holding his, a fragment of what he’d said. She touched him there now.
“I read those stories once,” Buffy said. “Mallory. The knight has a battle, and he goes back to his tent all battered, and then the lady he’s been fighting for binds his wounds. And gives him much joy, the stories say, which always confused me. Usually it’s the other way around with us, huh? You’re the one bandaging me up, because I’m the one who does all the fighting. I’m not really a wood-nymph.”
“But you can be, when you want to be.”
“Yeah. I’ll be one tonight. And the other thing I want… I want to give you much joy.”
She lifted her shirt over her head, and Giles saw his wood-nymph at last. Thin, too thin, but it meant her muscles were on display. Hard and lithe, small breasts, hips with the slightest swell. Almost boyish, but something about Buffy was deeply feminine and always would be. The contradiction that was her, a warrior and a woman at once.
Giles yielded to her: no combat, never combat with her. He handed her his sword and shield and bent his head to her. So long, so long since he’d been with anyone. So long since he’d had the opportunity or even the inclination to satisfy himself. Months of exhaustion and stress and death and acrimony. She gave him much joy. He took his time about it, in no rush to end his pleasure. And he didn’t wish to stint her a moment of hers. He forgot where he was, forgot the tatty cold motel room stinking of whiskey, the bed creaking under them, the rough blanket scratching them. He showed her everything he knew about making love, gave her joy in every way he knew, slowly. Kneeling behind her, hand on her hip, kissing the back of her neck. Kneeling before her, with her ankles in his hands, deep inside her. On his back, with her astride him while he urged her on with more words, more tales of the wood nymph. And finally in the position he loved best, face to face with her legs wrapped around his waist, her arms around his neck, her body sheltered below his.
Afterward, he lay on his back, shattered. Love-making was hard work, even when one had a Slayer with one, holding one up. Perhaps even more so; he’d exerted himself to show off for her.
“God,” he said, and again. He had no better words for it. “Wonderful. Marvelous. I’d like to do it again as soon as I can breathe. Because that was wonderful. Marvelous. And so are you.”
“You too,” Buffy said.
“I’d like to second that,” somebody else said. Giles shoved himself up in a panic, but it was Xander. Xander on the other bed, sitting up, with his hair everywhere and his face flushed. “That was really unbelievably sexy. Or it would have been if I didn’t need to piss so badly. Now I’m trying to figure out if it’s possible to piss with this much hard-on.”
“Oh fuck,” said Giles.
He hid his head under the pillow. Buffy laughed at him. Xander’s bed creaked. Footsteps, lightswitch. Then Xander’s voice, through a not-quite-closed door. “That was a billion times more exciting than porn vids, I have to say. And there was something about it being you two. Erotic fantasy from Giles! Whoo!”
Giles rolled onto his face and wrapped the pillow tighter around his head.
“Xander, I think he’s going to die of embarrassment.”
The toilet flushed, water ran, then the door closed. Xander’s voice was at the bedside again. “I think Anya would have approved. What would she have said? Sex to celebrate survival. Plus she would have approved of watching Giles do it. She liked you, Giles.”
“Bloody fucking hell,” Giles said, to the mattress. It wasn’t that he’d never had public sex before, or sex in a roomful of people similarly occupied. It was that he’d known it. Had been happy to show off, like the strutting tomcat he’d been. But this…
“And you’re gorgeous, Buff. Loveliest wood nymph I ever saw. Mmm.”
“Thanks, Xan. You’re pretty nice with your shirt off, yourself.”
Giles lifted the pillow far enough to cast an alarmed glance at whatever had made Buffy say that. Xander was on his back on his bed, shirtless, struggling to kick off his jeans. He indeed flaunted an absurd bulge in his pants, which might have been erotic had he not been so tangled in his own clothing. Giles sat up and took a closer look.
“For fuck’s sake, Xander, shoes first,” he said.
“Huh? Oh. Yeah. That’ll help. Fuck. Too complicated. Can’t feel my fingers hardly. Gimme a hand, Buff.”
Xander cast a hopeful glance in their direction, but Buffy just giggled at him. “You’re fooling nobody, Xander Harris. You just want to get another look at me.”
“I’ve seen every single thing there is to see for both of you, so you know, there are no more secrets. Look at the bright side! I might remember nothing tomorrow. Oh, my head. I’m so drunk.”
Giles growled. “Not so drunk you couldn’t take a piss. Take your own shoes off.”
“Busted,” said Xander, cheerfully. Then he went serious. “Sorry. I didn’t want to interrupt at first. Cause you were making me cry, and I was all-- And then you started making love and I just couldn’t say anything. But that was, man, that was … I’m happy I saw it. Both of you. Watching your faces, watching you touch each other. God, I want to remember that forever.”
Giles didn’t know what to say. He fumbled for his glasses on the nightstand and put them on. Buffy had wrapped herself in the blanket.
“Sorry,” Xander said again.
“Nothing to be sorry for,” Buffy said.
Giles nodded. His own fault, for entirely forgetting Xander’s existence. And he found, now that he was over the surprise, that he simply didn’t care. He’d been through too much with Xander and Buffy both. He watched Xander, now nude and magnificently hard, burrow himself under his blankets. A flush of something ran through him. Excitement? He turned and found Buffy was watching him, with a strange expression on her face.
“Hey. Giles. Tell Xander a story. Like the one you told me.”
Xander laughed. “The story of the one-eyed pirate marooned on the blue lagoon? Pleasuring himself?”
“Oh, God,” said Giles. But he saw that Buffy had a spark in her eye again, and was looking at him expectantly. Had he ever been able to deny her anything?
“Why not?” she said. “I bet you know Xander nearly as well as you know me.”
And then she winked at him, and slid down to her side on the bed. She let the blanket fall where it will, revealing a flash of that unashamed nymph. Xander said something half-strangled that sounded like approval.
Giles wanted to blame the whiskey, but he knew better. He screwed his eyes shut and opened his mouth, against all his better judgement, and began to tell a new tale, of the lost pirate and the strangely literal Girl Friday. This was a bittersweet story too, but he would make it turn out well. And in the morning, who knew what would happen?