The stone circle looked like all the others Buffy had seen. Her first thought was that this was going to be another boring assignment: just a jumble of rocks in a remote field that had freaked out a superstitious new landlord. They’d have a nice picnic and then tell the guy not to listen to local tales. The big rock, the one at the eastern side, did sort of loom, she supposed. She went through the exercise of the sense-expanding ritual anyway, her hands linked with Giles’s, already thinking ahead to the picnic lunch waiting in Giles’s knapsack. They finished the invocation and requested permission to enter, just in case anything really was there.
Buffy drew a deep breath and stepped inside the circle.
The quality of the sunlight seemed to change. It went distant, somehow, watery and clear. It felt just as warm on her skin as it had before she crossed the invisible line. But mostly she had a sense of presence, of something brushing against her with just as much curiosity as she had. Well. She’d been wrong, in the best possible way. This presence was stronger than anything she’d ever felt in one of these places.
“Interesting,” Giles said. He’d also crossed the threshold. He didn’t look wigged. He had a hand on the back of his neck and he looked thoughtful.
He moved further into the circle. He stopped when he reached a spot that was probably the exact center of the circle, or had been when unknown beings had laid the stones in place. Giles stretched out his hands, fingers spread wide, and closed his eyes. Sensing, Buffy knew, sensing in the way that worked for him, reaching out with his hands to gather in the threads of the magic at work here.
Buffy looked around the circle again. The easternmost stone was odd. It looked like somebody with giant hands had wadded up a big lump of clay, smoothed it out, then stuck their fingers into it, deep. But it was bedrock, not clay, cool and hard under her hands. She looked from the stone to the strange yew tree standing behind it, just outside the circle. It was one of those two that was the source, she decided, the tree or the blobby stone. The other stones were like gray sheep.
“Interesting,” Giles murmured again, more to himself than to Buffy. He still had his hands spread wide, like antennas catching the mystical rays.
Buffy stretched herself face down in the grass, nose down as close to the stone as she could get it. She kept her own eyes open but breathed in deeply, through her nose. For her the metaphor was more scent than touch. The predator’s sense, she’d called it once, though Giles hadn’t liked the word.
What did she smell? Grass and dirt. Cold, wet dirt. And that was definitely the Slayer sense, not just her regular nose. Okay, what did that mean? Again, eyes closed this time, to turn off the rational mind, the part that had the preconceptions. Yes, cold wet dirt, but not ice. The cool of the underground, where growing things started. The earth of the hill, the tree roots laced through it: heavy, slow, anchored miles deep, change measured in centuries instead of years. A presence, yes, but a very strange one, a slow pulse of life. Buffy scrubbed her nose with a hand and opened her eyes. She stood up. Giles was still in antenna position, but rotating in place.
“Interesting. Yeah, I’ll go with that. This isn’t evil, Giles.”
“No, no, quite the opposite. The spirit here is a guardian of the place, I’d say. Inimical only to anyone who’d harm it. The circle isn’t a prison but a, a, a shrine. Built in its honor.”
Buffy agreed. She’d had a hunch about that from the second they’d stepped into the circle. “So that leaves us with the same question we had when we got here.”
Giles dropped his hands and rubbed them against his trousers. “Why does it so dislike the current owner of the property? I’d say rather it has shifted the locus of the question. What has the owner done to earn dislike?”
“Oh ho. Well, that’s for your brother-in-law to answer, I guess.”
“Hmm.” He walked out of the perimeter of the stone circle and came back to Buffy carrying the knapsack. He fidgeted with the straps and the flap tied down over the top. The thing was ancient; Buffy could imagine young Giles on scouting trips with that bag.
“Would you like to stay here a while?” Giles said, still looking away from her. “I don’t think it’ll mind if we eat our lunch here, in the circle. I think it rather liked us.”
“You got way more out of that than I did.”
“A different set of things, perhaps. Though we can practice honing a bit, if you like. You’re sensing far more than you were, but I think you can go further.”
“Not right now. Right now I’m all buzzy.”
By which she meant, the magic working Giles had done was having the side effect magic sometimes had when they worked it together. She was fizzing over with energy. Good energy, happy energy, but this time it was sexual energy. The first time it had happened it had wigged her, but their counselor at the coven had told her it was common when couples did workings together. Sometimes Buffy and Giles rolled with it; sometimes they ignored it. Whatever the situation called for.
“Buzzy,” Giles repeated, dryly. He set the knapsack down on a springy patch of grass. “Your latest euphemism, I take it.”
“Don’t go bland on me like that. You’re all buzzy too. I can see it.” His trousers were pushed out of shape and bulgy. Buffy smothered a laugh under her hand.
“What?” He was putting on that grievance, she knew it.
“Guys. Men. I keep thinking that has to hurt.”
Giles looked down at himself then aimed a glare at her that bounced off and turned into a smile on the corner of his mouth. “More distracting than painful.”
“I can help you with that. By, you know, distracting you further. If you think our rock friend here won’t mind.”
“I think it’s the tree,” Giles said, mildly.
They gazed at the two objects for a while. The rock had to be older, didn’t it? Though trees could live a thousand years. Sequoias lasted that long, if Buffy remembered right.
Then Giles said, “It’s the place. Rock, tree, it isn’t tied to either. Anything set here would embody the spirit of this place.”
Buffy nodded, but she still thought it was the rock, at least for now. But just in case, she said, “Hi, guys. Rock. Tree. Thanks for letting us chill here.”
Giles rolled his eyes at the way she put it, but didn’t say anything. He’d long since given up getting her to speak his brand of English. He knelt beside the knapsack and unlaced the top flap. He pulled out the blanket and spread it across the grass near the circle’s center. Buffy sat down on the edge and took off her boots. She’d dressed for a trek across soggy sheep fields, and the first part of the walk had been exactly that. England: rainy and full of slow-moving sheep. She lay on her back and looked up at the sky. Giles was right. The place didn’t mind them being here. Giles stretched out next to her, and Buffy scooted close to lean her head against his chest. The sunlight was definitely strange. She thought it was cooler here than it had been on the walk across the fields. It was nice, actually. Buffy felt comfortable and relaxed. And buzzed. She snuck a hand out to rest on Giles’s thigh.
“Ah.” His chest vibrated under her.
“I’ve understood. He’s fenced it off,” Giles said. “All those trespassers will be prosecuted signs. It’s wrong. This place wants visitors. This-- it wants this sort of thing.”
He sat up, dislodging her without warning. She opened her mouth to protest, but he was shrugging off his shirt. He tossed it onto the bag then sprawled out next to her again. Bare-chested Giles. Buffy couldn’t remember if she’d ever seen him with his shirt off outside. Pale skin bright in the sunlight, darker from the collarbone up. Buffy looked, and found the line on his wrists where his shirt-cuffs ended. They lived at night too much. Then he was kissing her and she closed her eyes and let herself be in the moment.
Hot sweet breath, soft lips, scratchy chin, a hand tugging her shirt from her jeans and coming to rest on her waist. Slow deep kisses that set her melting inside. As always. They could skip the foreplay if they wanted; the magic had done all the work. But why rush? They had all the time they needed: the sun at the zenith, the afternoon stretching before them, the long twilight after that. Slow down, time out, be in this place now, in the sunshine with Giles and a stone that might or might not be aware of them. Buffy sat up and took her own shirt off, revealing to Giles’s avid gaze that she’d worn nothing underneath. He smiled and kissed her belly, nuzzled her while he undid her jeans. He really ought to have shaved this morning.
Buffy rolled away from him to lie naked on the grass beside the blanket, while he had a struggle with the knots on his bootlaces. The grass tickled her skin. Springy, warm and cool at once, a little scratchy. Perfect grass, on a perfect day. Being naked in the sun was exactly the right thing to do. The stone didn’t want crowds of tourists trampling around it. It wanted visitors a few at a time. Couples like them. Lovers. Buffy thought she’d figured it out.
Giles tugged at her hand. He’d managed to get his hiking boots and everything else off. She rejoined him on the blanket. Two naked bodies now, hands wandering, her hand curled around him, his fingers stroking her. They were ready. Buffy knelt up on the blanket next to him. He reached for his discarded trousers, probably to find a condom he’d stashed in the pockets, anticipating this result of the working. Such a boy scout. Buffy stopped him.
“Okay by me if it is for you.”
Giles’s eyes opened wider and he was motionless for a few breaths. He blinked, then he nodded. He rolled onto his back and held himself in place with a hand. Buffy shifted over him and felt him nudge against her. She settled herself down onto him slowly, as her own body opened. She’d been learning to take her time and pay attention to all the signals, all the deep things. It felt good. He felt good inside her. Her body was a joy to her, his body a joy, everything was. The sunshine, the sweet drowsy summer air, being naked out in the middle of a field next to a semi-sentient stone. He reached up and cupped a hand around her breast, then stroked down and let it rest on her hip. Buffy came to rest as well.
“Oh, yes, that’s–” He broke off and closed his eyes. He was quiet in bed, usually, but everything that went on inside him was visible on his face. Maybe it was the only time in his life that was true. Buffy set out to make his face show as much as she could, moving over him steadily. He matched her, quietly but with passion. Buffy thought she hadn’t understood that word until she’d been with Giles. It wasn’t about the noise and the shouting and fist-pounding. It was about the depth.
God, it felt good.
Giles had his eyes open now and was looking at himself where he was inside her. Buffy had seen him do this before, him and other guys. It must be a thing with them, she decided. It was okay by her. She teased him by kneeling all the way up, until he was nearly out, then slowly down again.
His expression was one of those strange ones where you had to know in advance whether the person was having a good time or not to tell if it was happy. He’d reached out a hand, consciously or not, Buffy couldn’t tell, and dug his fingers into the grass by the side of the blanket. And where he touched the grass, it grew green and lush and thick, springing into deeper growth even as she watched. He’d lost a little control of his magic. Buffy smiled. He’d never had perfect control of it, even back when he’d been panicked by the idea of using it, thank goodness. Magic leaking out all over, growing his plants and healing his friends and turning whatever space he made his own into a haven.
A fundamental good. Buffy was sure of that the way she was sure the spirit that occupied this stone circle was a fundamental good. Call that her gift. The gift of Slayers. The gift of telling good from evil. Whatever it was doing to them-- and it was doing something-- it had their best interests at heart. If rocks had hearts. Buffy giggled. She stopped to lean down and kiss Giles. That was the problem with her on top: kissing was harder.
“Yeah. Better than. You?”
“Marvelous. Especially when you move like that.” He made a complicated wriggling motion underneath her that made Buffy want to giggle again. She squeezed him a little and he said a bad word. “Touch yourself. Buffy. Want to see you.”
“When you go, I will,” he said. Then he made the sound Buffy liked hearing from him most, a soft sound, pure pleasure. He’d made it once when she’d surprised him with a cup of tea brewed just so, and she’d laughed. Giles, having orgasms over his tea.
“Touch yourself,” he said again, almost begging.
He reached out to do it himself, but his hand was shaky. Probably he was holding himself off through sheer force of will. Buffy helped him, held his thumb in exactly the right place, and let him have his way, let him bring her to the edge and over. It took way less than she thought it would, just his trembling touch and there she was. Then, when she could see again, just as he’d promised, he was there too, head back, face flushed, eyes shut tight, another one of those sounds of pleasure escaping him. Buffy felt him shudder.
Cooling down now, sweaty and little sticky, side by side, rubbing noses and kissing, saying sweet things that probably wouldn’t make sense if they were written down. The afternoon felt like an afternoon now and not a slide sideways in time. Buffy was aware, still, of the stone, but it was much further away. She sighed. She liked it, whatever it was. She sat up to wink at it, on the theory that it would notice, then she had to tug Giles’s hand until he sat up too.
He’d done more than just coax the grass into growing thick and lush around them: some twining plant now covered the stone, something with a lot of tiny white flowers.
“Oh dear,” he said, and Buffy had to hide another smile. He was blinking rapidly and his hand went to his face to touch non-existent glasses. “Laugh all you like, but this isn’t a native species. Is it jasmine?”
“I don’t think the rock minds. It’ll outlast the flowers anyway, if it wants to.”
Giles looked dubious, but he didn’t try to undo whatever he’d done with the plants. He reached for his boxers and put them on. Buffy sighed and did the same. It would be embarrassing to try to explain sunburn down there. She got dressed then stuck a hand deep into the knapsack to discover what Giles had packed for them in the morning.
Apples and pears, cheese, bottled water, honey in a little jar, marmalade in a larger one, and the last third of a loaf of wheat bread. Giles food. Good stuff, if boring. Buffy handed him the marmalade and the bread and left him to indulge his sweet tooth.
Buffy bit deep into an apple. Juicy. Tart. She licked her fingers and thought about the whim she’d had. Impulse. She hadn’t thought it through. Was it the place influencing her? Giles must have, though, ages before, worked out a little chart of what he’d do for every possible contingency. No guarantees that anything would happen because of this. One time, at least so far. But Buffy knew. With Giles’s magic streaming out everywhere like that, making the grass underneath them grow, she knew what would happen. And she thought the stone did too.