The Slayer and the Watcher sit on a dusty couch in a dilapidated hotel room in downtown Los Angeles. They are granted the definite article out of respect for their seniority in their roles. Twelve other girls with Slayer powers are in the Hyperion with them, and at least three other people who might lay claim to the title of Watcher. But they are, to themselves and to their friends, the Slayer and the Watcher. They sit on the couch, the Slayer in the Watcher’s lap, kissing each other much as they did in their first intimate encounter, three years before. That is to say, tenderly, tentatively, as if they are each afraid they might frighten the other away. The Watcher ends the caress, and lays his hand over the place where his Slayer has been injured. She hid it from her other friends, but she cannot hide it from him.
There was no chance that Buffy would be hunting Turok Han that night. Not after she stripped off her shirt for Giles and showed him what was making her wince. He gasped, and pushed her down onto her bed. She blushed, mistaking his reaction— it was the first time she’d been naked in front him in more than two years. But his gaze was on her side, and he bent over her without seeming to see anything but the wound. He pulled the soaked bandage away. Buffy recoiled at the sight of blood; she hadn’t realized it was oozing. He touched her side gently. Something deep inside throbbed.
Giles made a grumpy sound. “You ought to have come to me sooner. On the bus. What’s wrong with your healing?” That last he muttered almost to himself.
What was wrong with her Slayer healing, anyway? Buffy let awareness of the pain slip past her barriers. Ouch. It wasn’t getting better. If anything, it was worse than it had been that morning, when she’d been sun-soaking. What was up? Buffy concentrated. Honed. Tried to feel her way in. There was something funky going on. Breathe, the way he’d taught her so long ago, and find her center. Move in, and down. Down to where her Watcher’s fingers were on her side, touching her somewhere in the spirit realm as well as in physical reality. Where her wound was. Where there was a splinter of evil, deep inside.
Buffy opened her eyes and surfaced. She prodded at her side, now heedless of the pain.
Giles straightened up. “Hospital. I’ll arrange transport.”
“No! No. It’s not— There’s something evil in there. Seriously. I need you or Willow. Mystical stuff, Giles.”
Giles shook his head, and pulled his phone from his pocket. Giles with a cellphone: Buffy’s world was indeed changing.
“Xander? Giles here. Do we have a first aid kit? A serious kit, none of those— Good. Can you have her bring it up to Buffy’s room? Now, if not sooner. Ta.”
Giles snapped his phone closed. He cocked an eyebrow at her. “I’ll try to patch this up, but— Are you sure you won’t go to hospital?”
“Certain. There’s bad mojo they can’t fix. Something’s messing with me.”
Buffy tried to stand up, but Giles put a hand on her shoulder and pushed her flat on the bed. He glared at her, and Buffy gave up. He was in full Watcher mode, and to be honest she was glad he was. There were things she could delegate now, and one of them was getting this fixed. He could handle the mojo situation.
Somebody knocked at the door. Giles went over to answer it. Buffy heard Xander’s voice, in quiet conversation with Giles. She pushed herself up enough to meet his eye and wave at him. Then the door was closing again, and Xander was off. Another fix-it errand accomplished. She wondered how much progress he’d made on the swimming pool.
“Where Xander got this, I don’t know, but it’s military issue.”
Giles arranged a towel under her on the bed, and got the kit open. He went into the bathroom, and came out with wet hands. He rubbed them with something from the kit. Buffy smelled alcohol, something astringent and medical. The smell of the patch-up after a late-night patrol. It almost made her feel nostalgic. Then he was putting on a pair of latex gloves, and taking something metal out of its packaging. He looked grim.
“Buffy, I don’t have any anesthetic. Are you certain you want me to do this?”
“Stop asking. Just do it.”
Giles laid his hands on her side and did something. Buffy looked away and concentrated on not making any noise. It was wussy to make noise, unless you were exaggerating it to make the people around you laugh.
“Healing at the edges,” Giles said. “As if it’s closing around something.”
“Can you see it?”
“Holy water. And go deep.”
“Ah. Brilliant.” The bed shifted, and he was off digging through his leather satchel. He came back with a little bottle and a stake. He handed her the stake and pointed to his mouth. Buffy made a little noise, a pointless protesting whimper, but put the stake in her mouth crosswise.
Giles unscrewed the cap from the bottle of holy water. “I’ll be as quick as I can.”
There was apology in his voice, but he didn’t hesitate. When the holy water touched her, it fizzed. Buffy bit down on the stake and concentrated on not making any noise. She did a visualization thing Giles had taught her once: she walked through her childhood home, counting doorknobs. Screen door, front door proper, hallway closet door, bedroom door—
“Found it. Breathe for me, Buffy. Breathe in, and let it out slowly. Again. One more time, deep as you can.”
The moment she let breath escape, he did something to her side. The stake creaked in her mouth. Buffy tried not to bite so hard, but this was as bad as it ever got. Then it stopped. Giles held up a tiny sliver of metal, dark with her blood. He set it on a wad of red-stained gauze on the nightstand. He then swabbed at her side with something wet, but it already felt better. The pain had begun to ebb the second he got the metal out. She opened her mouth and let the wet stake fall out, then spit out a few splinters of wood. Yuck.
Giles made a soothing noise, and continued whatever he was doing to her side. He murmured to her as he worked. “Cleaning it up. A little antibiotic. Just enough to keep things clear for the Slayer power to do its work. Nearly done. Butterflies now. Should give you stitches, but we’ll skate by this time. There.”
He taped gauze over it, then wadded up a bunch of red-stained stuff to throw away. Buffy could recall a time when the sight of her own blood had made her queasy. A million years ago, before she’d learned skills like how to staple herself back together. How to pop her own joints back into their sockets. How to sit still while Giles stitched her up without anesthetic. Her hands were shaking, though, probably from the aftereffects of the pain. She could taste it in her mouth, and her face was wet with sweat.
Giles picked up the metal fragment again and wiped the gore from it. He turned it over in his bare fingers, studying it. “This is cursed?”
“Big time. Can’t you feel it?”
“You’ve always been more sensitive than I. Let’s see.”
Giles wet his fingers in the holy water and made the sign of the cross on the sword fragment. He chanted something in Latin. Buffy recognized the words of a counter-curse she’d heard before. Energy flowed, the fragment flared white, and just like that it was a hunk of metal, no power left in it to hurt her.
“They must have cursed their swords to do extra damage to Slayers. The Turok Han out there now will have something like this—”
Buffy sat up, but Giles once again put a hand on her shoulder. To the surprise of both of them, he was able to push her flat again. Buffy sighed, and surrendered to the inevitable.
“You’ll tell 'em?”
“I will. Rest.” It was a command, though a soft one. He followed it by layering blankets over her. Buffy vaguely remembered something about shock. The adrenaline was fading now, and she felt strange in the pit of her stomach.
Giles got off the bed. Buffy watched him close up the first aid kit and dispose of the old bandages. He went into the bathroom and ran water. Buffy zoned. Her body had changed modes, to deep healing mode. For a while there she’d almost been able to make it shift on cue, and defer the healing if she had to fight for a while. She couldn’t stave this off, though. She blinked herself awake again, with difficulty. Hibernation mode, healing mode was calling her. The needs of her body agreed with the command from her Watcher, something the Slayer inside knew was a good idea.
The sound of the door opening startled Buffy up from her doze. Giles was sliding his messenger bag over his shoulder. Buffy pushed herself up onto an elbow, awake now and freaked.
“Don’t leave! We’re not finished. Giles. I’m sorry. Whatever I did. I mean—”
“Buffy. Buffy. Please. I’m not going anywhere. I merely need to… inform Wesley of my change of plans.”
But he closed the door and set his messenger bag down next to the couch. Buffy slouched back, but kept watching him uneasily. He pulled out his phone. He dialed and talked for some time with someone, quietly enough that Buffy couldn’t hear what he said. She could hear from his voice, the way it rose and fell, the little laugh, that he was okay. She’d fixed things between them enough for now. Emergency repairs complete.
She woke again from a half-sleep when the bed tipped under his weight. He was readjusting the blanket at her neck. He rested a hand on her forehead for a moment.
“Sorry I panicked,” Buffy said to him, muzzily.
“No, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to alarm you.”
“Giles? Were you leaving? When I called you here, I mean.”
He looked away from her, then at the floor. “I had… I’d intended to take the next available flight to England.”
“What’s your plan now?”
Buffy was braced to hear he still wanted to leave. But he shrugged. “I have no plan. I’ve canceled my flight. I’ll stay with you. Follow you wherever you want to go. Do whatever it is you’d like to do.”
“Mmm. Good plan. Always listen to Buffy.”
Giles laughed softly, so that she felt it more than heard it. He stroked her forehead again. “Just tell me what you want done.”
“Simple. I need a grand vizier.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Need a grand vizier. Want the job?”
She tugged the blanket up higher. “Wait. Aren’t viziers evil? No, I got it. Only if they have goatees. You planning on growing a beard?”
Giles opened his mouth, shut it again, then just stared at her. “I think I’m safe on that score. Go to sleep, Buffy.”
“Not without you.”
He shrugged, and bent to unlace his shoes. Off came his jeans, then his shirt. Then he rearranged the bed somewhat, and stole half of her pillows. When he was finally settled in, she said, “But do you want the job?”
“Yes, I’ll take the job. I suspect I know what you’re angling for. Hush. I’m right here. I’m holding you.”
He snugged himself up beside her and made his words true. This was new. She hadn’t let herself sleep with him before, in the conking out sense of the word. They’d only been in a bed a couple of times, and both times she’d waited until he’d started snoring then taken off. This time she was too tired even to think about it. Too sore. It felt too good to feel his arms around her. Stupid to distrust him. Stupid to distrust Xander. Her own sister. The First had played her. Buffy didn’t like being played. She drifted off, feeling safe for the first time in two years.
Buffy dreams. They are a Slayer’s dreams: vampires and demons, running and fighting, blood and dust, equal parts terror and thrill. She dreams this way every night, and has since the night the Powers touched her to make her Theirs. She sighs in her sleep, safe and content, and allows herself to move into deeper sleep. The dreamless sleep of healing. When she surfaces to REM sleep once more, the dreams shift, become more real. Scent and sound and sight: she is in a cold pine forest, far away, watching men with hammers chain a wolf to the ground. Their breath billows white in the night air. Their hammers are loud on the chain links. Buffy knows she is dreaming true. The Powers are sending her a message. She wishes They’d use Western Union like everyone else.
Buffy woke to the mattress shifting as somebody climbed in next to her. Giles. The sound of water running in the bathroom told her where he’d been. The room was dark, and so was the sky outside the window. Slayer time-sense said it was past midnight.
“Hey,” she said.
Giles slid close beside her. “You slept well.”
“Did you nap?”
He grunted. “A little.”
“What did you do?”
He shrugged against her. “Thought. Held you. You dreamed, I think?”
Buffy snuggled herself against Giles’s side. “Yeah. Prophetic, even. A wolf. Big honking wolf, with green eyes that glowed. She let herself be chained up by a bunch of men, but she kept breaking out of them.”
“Fenris,” Giles said. His breath was warm against her cheek. “Norse mythology. He allowed himself to be chained, but will eventually break free. He will, according to prophecy, devour Odin at Ragnarök.”
“Hello, apocalypse. Except that my wolf was a girl.”
“Interesting. That would seem to eliminate Fenris, who was most definitely male in the myth. Father to the sun-chaser Skoll. Roman myth, perhaps?”
“Fits otherwise. Really huge, like moon-eating huge. And breaks free. I kinda think she did eat the moon. Not sure.”
Giles made an uncertain noise. “Has this been recurring?”
“First time just now. I didn’t get a big creepy thing from it. No urgent danger.”
“You’ll tell me if it recurs.”
Buffy stretched. Her side tweaked her a little, but not seriously. She touched the bandage; it was dry on the outside. Slayer healing had done a big chunk of the work already. The sheets were cool against her feet. She was wearing her panties, and nothing else. Giles was in t-shirt and boxers. His legs were warm against hers, a little fuzzy. She turned to face him, laid her hands on his chest. His heart beat under her hands. She could hear it, if she let herself listen. His chest rose and fell with breath. He was nice. Comfy. Human. And dangerous and complicated and problematic. They had unfinished business, and he had to know it just as much as she did.
“Giles, what did the First say to you?”
Giles went very still next to her. His pulse hammered faster under her hands. “A great deal,” he said, at last.
“I am thinking it was probably pretty bad. It was bad for me, too, you know? I fell for it. There were a lot of times when I wanted to go talk to you, clear things up, maybe even do this again. But it always showed up and said stuff.”
Giles twitched at that, but said nothing. Buffy let it sit between them. She wasn’t sure she was ready for this conversation yet. This conversation was going to have to cover Spike, before it went very far, and that was going to be painful. It was the kind of conversation that maybe you could only have in the dark, where you couldn’t really see the other person. Then Giles started talking, almost muttering under his breath.
“Tara knew. That we had— I’m not sure how she knew, but she did. She said something to me once, before I left Sunnydale. And so the First… Well. It supplied explanations for why you didn’t, ah, resume the relationship. After you came back.” Giles trailed off. He cleared his throat. “Apparently I was a fool. Again. Easily played. I’ve always had difficulty with thinking you don’t need me. Insecurity, I suppose.”
He laughed, but there was a nervous edge to it. He reached up and clasped her hand in his and held it tight against his chest.
“Buffy, I am truly sorry. My behavior, I. Lord.”
“Look, don’t. It’s over.”
“I can offer excuses. But I ought to have been on guard.”
“Giles, our lives were insane. Yours especially. Flying all over the world, stressed out of your mind.”
He squeezed her hand. “Jet-lagged beyond belief, living out of a suitcase, either fleeing with a traumatized girl or trying to forget the sight of my latest failure.”
“Vulnerable.” More than she’d been, really. She’d been safe in her house in Sunnydale the whole time.
Giles made a sound, possibly in agreement.
“Grieving? For the uncle you’re going to tell me about?”
Giles let go of her and rolled away to face the ceiling. He rested his arm across his face, so Buffy couldn’t see him. “Yes. No. It’s complicated. There wasn’t time. There was a war on. Pull up one’s socks and get on with it. One’s perspective changes, in wartime. My grandmother tried to tell me about it, once, about what it had been like for them all during the war. No time to mourn. No permission to mourn. The sacrifices are supposed to be necessary. A bubble of unreality. Now I know. Now I understand what she’d been trying to say.”
Buffy turned that one over. She’d been living that one almost every day from the moment she learned Glory was a hellgod. It hadn’t let up. And now the war was over. Two years, more, and over now. Anya dead. Spike— Spike dead, his soul at last released. And Buffy knew where he was, where Anya had to be too. Heroes don’t go to hell.
“You stop to mourn afterwards. That’s what Memorial Day is, I guess.”
“We call it Remembrance Day. And wear a poppy. Flanders field, mud and poppies and the bodies of the dead. So many girls, Buffy. So many dead. Just twelve left. The twelve in this hotel with us. All the rest, gone. And their Watchers.”
He was crying now, at last, softly. It was easier for her, maybe, than for Giles, because she knew where they all were and what it felt like. She’d miss them all, but she’d see them again. She was in no hurry, but it was there, waiting, the reward. Near-impossible to explain this to Giles or anybody. She’d tried once, with Willow, but Willow had wedged it into the frame of her magic and power, had thought she was talking about dimensions and places where the living were.
Giles rolled out of bed and moved to the chair where he’d laid his trousers. Buffy watched him dig in the pocket and extract a handkerchief, the ever-present Giles hankie, and wipe his face. Then he got back into bed. Moment of grief over, at least for now, but the repression filter seemed to be off. Off for good, she hoped, though Giles was never going to be Mister Heart On His Sleeve. It was time, though, to hold him tight. Instinct said it.
Giles had once had a fit when she’d used the word “instinct” to describe her hunches, the things the Slayer deep inside told her, but she had no other word for it. Maybe, if she explained it to Giles, he could tell her what it was. Research it, explain its mysteries. That was a topic for the morning, for the day, for the time of cold rationality. Night was a time for following hunches, and Buffy’s hunch said that she should act now. Make Giles hers again now. The grievances were past, and it was time for sorrows to end.
She slid her hands under his t-shirt, and pushed it up. He obediently rose enough to tug it over his head and toss it aside. He lay back onto the pillows and allowed Buffy to touch him.
He was more battered than he’d been the last time she’d seen him naked. The worst mark was a big round scar on his stomach. The spear, she remembered, wielded by the knights of Byzantium. Bad times, bad times. His face was lined more deeply than it had been, too, both the smile lines around his eyes and the worry lines in his forehead. He had more gray in his hair. But he was still Giles, still the man she’d known for seven years now. He smelled good. He smelled restful, if that was even possible.
He rested a hand over her side, on the bandage. Buffy could feel him there again, a presence in more than just physical space with her. It was eerie and comforting at once. “How are you feeling? Are you up to this?”
“Giles. It’s been hours. I’m not a hundred percent yet, but I will be in the morning.”
“I forget. I’ve lived with the miracle that is you for seven years, and it still astonishes me.”
“But are you sure—”
“Yup, I’m sure. Kiss me.”
Buffy didn’t wait for him to follow orders, since orders were generally not something either one of them bothered following. She kissed him. He slid his hand down and around to her back, and pulled her tight against him.
Giles was such a contradictory partner in bed. He obviously knew what he was doing, and had done far more in his life than Buffy had in hers. He’d had lots of partners, and some of them had been other men. But he was always so shy with her, so cautious. He never made the first move, not ever. He waited for her to make it obvious that she wanted to make love, and only then did he touch her body. He’d been excited from the first touch of her hands on his bare chest, his body hard against hers, but he stayed a perfect gentleman. Though there’d been that one time, the last time. Buffy’d coaxed him into letting that mask slip, and what had come out of his mouth had been startlingly filthy.
Buffy shied away from that memory. Too close to some other memories she resolutely avoided visiting. Bad times, redux. Better memories were of the first time she’d kissed Giles, the first time she’d tasted his mouth, licked tears from his face. He wasn’t crying this time, the big softie, but instead he seemed quietly happy. He made a little sound as he slid in, a soft thing that sounded more like satisfaction than desire.
He took his time, and Buffy let him. He held her close and moved against her slowly. He was quiet, as he usually was, controlled even when she could tell he was in the throes, even when his breath started coming fast, when he started making little gasps. Buffy nudged him over onto his back and sat astride him, so she could see him. He slipped his hand between them and touched her, held his thumb against her. And then she was there, and he followed her.
Giles didn’t move, didn’t make any attempt to let go or clean up or change position. He just said, “Oh, Buffy, don’t leave me this time,” and then closed his eyes. Just like a man, like all of them, to fall asleep afterward.
Buffy watched her Watcher sleep, and started making plans. Dangerous, complicated, contradictory, hers. Giles would be all right. Now for the rest of it. Twelve Slayers. One hotel. One long summer stretching out before them. What to do? Kill the last Turok Han, and then what? She closed her eyes, just for a moment, and this time, if she dreamed, she didn’t remember it.
In the city to the south of them, a vampire hunts. It does not look like a vampire as we have come to know them. It has no friendly human face to present to its victims, no memories of the human soul it has displaced to aid it in luring the unwary into thinking it harmless. Or attractive. It looks like what is it: a predator. It cannot hunt, then, with guile. It has other gifts to use. Speed. Strength. Focus. This vampire will never be weakened by attacks of human emotion, by those memories of its dead host.
It is related to the vampires we know as the Neanderthal is related to us. It is a throwback. The blood of older demons, mingled with the blood of men. It thinks of modern vampires as corrupt. Weak.
The human it is draining of blood at this moment would agree, if he could speak. But he has drawn his last breath, and his soul’s blood has fed the Turok Han.
Buffy woke ravenous. She was always this way when the Slayer powers were under strain. Her mom had used to give her grief about dieting and being too thin, had accidentally on purpose left articles on body image and anorexia lying around the house. But really it had been that sometimes Buffy couldn’t eat enough to keep the Slayer system fueled. And if forced, Buffy would admit she liked how easy it was to stay in the size two jeans.
Giles had used to lecture her about nutrition. He’d always had fruit around, in the library and in the shop, just for her. Another resource she’d blown off, because it had felt like more of a burden to her. Now, she understood the reasoning behind the lectures. Now, she wanted to understand it from the inside out. For herself, for the twelve other Slayers at the Hyperion. Buffy loved Giles, and always had, but she admitted he’d been utterly clueless about how to get things across to a teenager. This was something she knew how to do. Something she was going to have to do.
Just as soon as she ate an entire horse.
She shook Giles awake. “Giles. Breakfast. Now. Hungry Slayer.”
He sat up fast and looked around, then blinked and rubbed his face. He said something unintelligible to her and rolled out of bed. He vanished into the bathroom with his duffle bag in hand. Apparently Giles was a zombie in the mornings: shambling and sans brain. Moments later the water in the shower ran. Buffy smiled up at the ceiling. Giles had no clue what he was in for. No way he was showering without her. Maybe food could wait.
Later, when they were showered and Giles was most definitely fully awakened in all senses of the word, they rode the wobbling elevator down to the deserted Hyperion lobby. The lobby was shrouded and dim and smelled dusty, but the street outside was bright with morning sun.
“Going to go find a newspaper,” Giles said.
He waggled his cellphone at her, then tucked it into his shirt pocket. He was out the lobby door before she could complain that he hadn’t actually given her his number. Buffy shrugged, then made her way back to the private areas of the hotel, the places that had once been the domain of the staff. She followed her nose and found the kitchen right away. It was ten in the morning, and the only other person there was Xander, at the big industrial stove with a griddle and a bowl of batter.
“Morning, Buffy. Pancakes?”
Buffy gave him thumbs up. “Where’s everybody else?”
“It’s kind of a late-night crowd here. Fred told me the place doesn’t get going until noon at best.”
“Vamps and Slayers. In bed by dawn, no earlier.”
“Yup, about the size of it. Hey, you look way better this morning. Giles fix you up?”
“Yeah. He’ll be down here in a minute, so slap on a stack for him, too.”
“So he stayed, huh?”
Buffy nodded. “Yeah. The leopard is always spotty. He’s with me again.”
Xander bobbled a pancake, then recovered. “With you, with you?”
Buffy held up a hand with two fingers stuck together. “In the boy-girl sense. Like this.”
“In about ten minutes I am going to do the world’s most-delayed spit take. Right now I am going to finish cooking breakfast.”
Despite that, Xander’s face under the eye-patch was calm. Xander was going to take it in stride. Angel might be more of a problem. He still liked to pretend that Buffy was waiting for him and a solution to their star-crossing problem, even though Buffy knew for an absolute fact that some vibing was going on with him and Cordelia.
She went around to Xander’s side of the kitchen work surface and dug around for a coffee pot. She’d seen Gunn drinking a cup of something in the machine oil class yesterday, so there had to be beans. There, in the freezer, and there was a grinder and drip machine of the kind that coffee fanatics got into, all brushed metal with Italian names. While she ground and dripped, she made conversation with pancake-flipping-Xander about the pool. He’d fixed the filter, and drained the stagnant water, but the pool needed serious cleaning. A run to the local home and garden store, armed with a credit card lifted from Angel, had produced all the supplies he needed. It just lacked some manpower.
Girlpower, rather. This was a house of Slayers now.
Giles appeared a few minutes later with copies of the major California papers: the LA Times, the SF Chronicle, and some little thing from Sacramento. He nodded a distracted good-morning to Xander and plunked himself down at the table. He unfolded the LA paper and sorted through until he found the crime reports. He always started there, red pen handy to mark the reports he thought Buffy should know about. Buffy stuck a cup of coffee next to him, and poured a few spoonfuls of sugar into hers. She poked at the Chronicle; Sunnydale’s crater still rated front-page treatment.
Giles gulped down some coffee without even looking at it. The newspaper had his attention. “Listen here,” he said to Buffy. "A series of murders in east LA. Bodies found with torn throats. The usual speculation about a serial killer, but— "
He looked up at her. Buffy sighed, and refrained from feeling guilty. She’d been in no condition last night to help. Twelve other Slayers in the house: twelve people to share the responsibility with. Though Buffy knew, even as she formed the thought, that more responsibility would always rest on her. She was the one of them who led. First among equals.
The first stack of pancakes arrived on the table. Giles declined. Buffy snagged it without guilt and glugged on the maple syrup and butter. “What happened last night?” she said, through a mouthful of pancake. “Did we hunt?”
Xander answered. “Faith and Kennedy went out with a couple of the others. I was asleep long before they got back, so I haven’t heard the sitch. They might have got it.”
“They didn’t,” Buffy said. Giles cocked his head her, and she understood his question. “Can feel it.”
“Extraordinary. Is it nearby, then?”
“No, but I can tell it’s out there. LA is crawling with demons. Most of them are sorta masked off. Half-hidden. This thing isn’t hidden at all. It’s blaring its existence at me.” Buffy met Giles’s thoughtful gaze. “I bet it’s driving Faith nuts.”
“Faith only? Not Kennedy or the others?”
Buffy shook her head. “I think it takes a while to figure out what the spidey sense is telling you. The honing thing gives you confusing info for a long time. I mean, Angel was right next to me, and I didn’t know he was a vamp. Now I can feel him two floors away.”
Xander snorted, softly. He carried his plate over to them and sat. He’d made a huge stack of pancakes for himself. Buffy stole one, and he made a half-hearted attempt to stab her with his fork. Then he slid about half his stack over onto her plate. “I’ve seen you in this mode. And Rona, after she got sliced. Eat up.”
Buffy poured more syrup onto her gooey plate. Then she stopped glared at Giles. “Shut up.”
“I said nothing!” Giles said.
“You were thinking it. You were looking at me in that Watchery way.”
Giles groaned. “Very well, then. All that sugar. Dreadful. You need more protein than that. Make sure you eat something solid for lunch. Happy now?”
Buffy grimaced at Giles, and he glared back, but his eyes were crinkled in the way that meant all was well. They held the look for a few seconds, then Giles blushed. He buried his face in his coffee cup.
“So, spit take time.”
“Pardon?” Giles looked at Xander, then at Buffy, eyebrows raised.
“I let the cat out of the bag to Xander.”
Giles spent about three seconds thinking about that, then he smiled. It was perhaps the sweetest, purest smile Buffy had seen on him since her mom had died. She knew he’d put it together, and understood her message: it was a real thing this time. Out in the open.
“So is this a Watcher-Slayer dealie or what?”
“No,” said Giles, at the same time that Buffy said, “Yes.”
“Totally it is,” she said, bowling right over whatever it was Giles was about to say. “I have spent the last seven years of my life vibing hard whenever this guy is anywhere near me. And denying it like a pro. I am the queen of denial, which is, as you know, a river in Egypt.”
Giles and Xander made near-simultaneous sounds. Giles sounded like he’d choked on a mouthful of coffee, Xander like he was trying not to laugh.
“That’s the other thing about honing. Bet you didn’t know this. You told me to hone, the very first day. So I honed, there in the Bronze standing next to you, and scared myself spitless. Didn’t do anything about it for years. Not until I was desperate and almost drowning in Slayer-ness. It was insisting that I get back on track, complete with Watcher.”
Giles wiped his mouth on his sleeve and shook his head. Xander smacked his hand on the table and made his fork skitter off onto the floor.
“All during high school? Man. Skank city. Lolita-matic!”
“Thank you, Xander. May I point out that I had no idea at the time? And that if I had—”
Buffy met Giles’s consternated look. “You’d have run away as fast as your Watchery legs would carry you? Yeah. Giles, this Slayer stuff needs to learn about the modern world. This all would have been okay a thousand years ago, but now it’s kinda… inconvenient.” Buffy made a face. It was okay now, because she was an adult. At the age of sixteen, not so much.
“Lord,” said Giles. He was scratching at the back of his head. He didn’t look distressed, but instead thoughtful. Buffy’d seen the signs before: that giant brain was clicking into motion, gears spinning up ready to cross-reference. Slayers, desire for Watcher-nookie, historical instances of. Tick tick.
“Anyway. Worth bringing up, 'cause we have twelve girls here who are going to have the same uncanny sense of whose bones they’re supposed to jump in a destiny-fulfilling sort of way. They might not understand what it means, though.”
Now Giles did look alarmed. “Unconscious experience, you mean. Like your sense of the Turok Han. Needs experience or training to refine.”
Buffy held up a finger. “Speaking of super vamps…”
“Right. Let’s clear up here, then start planning for tonight.”
The Watcher, if he were to be caught in a moment of unguarded honesty, would confess he has long known what the Slayer has just told him. Her blood has called to his. He dismissed it until now as romantic fantasy on his part, wishful thinking, perhaps even rationalization. He is relieved, now, to find that when his Slayer reaches out to claim him, she acts as the Powers that made her wish her to act. When she keeps him close, she strengthens herself. It is his nature not to consider his own wishes, but the Powers leaven their cruelty with kindness: they also made him as he is, and he is meant to find his peace with her and with no one else.
Xander led them to Angel’s armory, or the room Angel called the armory. It was in the hotel basement, and had at one time been used as storage for uniforms. There were still a few rolling metal clothes racks pushed up against the far wall, with hangers rattling. Most of the space was cleared away for the tatami in the center. Angel still liked his tai chi, then. Buffy liked it too. Giles tended to sneer, and talk up shinkendo. In practice he’d ignored both and taught her the Council’s own school of sword-fighting. And knife-fighting, which she’d always suspected he’d learned unofficially, the hard way. Some of the dagger techniques were useful with a stake.
Sure enough, Angel had his jian on a rack against the wall, in pride of place. It was sharp and in perfect condition. Xander stood, watching with rapt attention, as Buffy spun through some of her sword katas at high speed. There were times to do them slowly, when she was working on form, or learning something new, but this time she wanted to get the feel of the weapon, understand how it would respond in battle. She came to a halt and shook her head in dissatisfaction.
“Lovely weapon. Too long for you,” Giles said.
“Yeah. Help me find something?” Buffy returned the sword respectfully to its place in the rack.
“Jeez, how could you tell? It looked fine to me.”
“She was off-balance,” Giles said, absently. His attention was on a jumble of weapons in a packing crate. “This is all axes. Not your weapon, I think.”
“Nah. That Slayer axey thing is cool and all, but I like swords better. Hey. Knives over here. Combat knives.”
Buffy frowned at the drawer she’d pulled open. She’d lost hers when one of the girls had borrowed it, gone out patrolling, and not come back. Not alive, anyway. She rummaged and came up with a cool-looking knife with a green camo pattern on the hasp. She unfolded it: same pattern on the blade. Giles leaned over her shoulder.
He took it from her, snapped it shut, and tossed it into the corner. It clattered on the floor, and Buffy reflexively winced for the sake of the blade. Giles sorted through the mess in the drawer. He muttered under his breath, something nasty and not entirely printable about the state of the knives. He’d kept his in a rack, she remembered, sorted by blade length. She’d always known where to go for each kind of tool. Angel wasn’t so neat.
Giles had found a bowie knife in a black sheath. He drew it and inspected the blade carefully. He flicked it delicately against his arm and shaved a tiny patch of skin bare. He held it up, and Buffy shrugged. Whatever he thought was okay by her. He knelt and strapped the knife to her leg.
“Test the draw.”
Buffy drew the knife and feinted with it. She re-sheathed it and tried the draw again. “Not bad.”
“Right. Good. I don’t want to load you down too much with hardware, but I do want you to have weapons easy to hand. You’ve always preferred a more improvisational approach, anyway.”
“Improvisational. Does that mean unprepared?”
“Spontaneous. Creative. Absurd. Bloody lunatic.”
He was smiling again, though, and Buffy knew he approved of her methods. Giles had once snarled at the Council that he’d taught her to win, not to obey. He sought the payoff strategy as single-mindedly as she. Though through different means.
He stood now in the middle of the tatami, hands on hips, glaring at the mess. “The first thing I’ll do is have the new Slayers organize this room.” Then he stopped and looked at her. “Pardon. That was overstepping my bounds.”
“No, I think that’s okay. I’ll make you my official armorer in addition to my official evil grand vizier. And hey. Have Xander help?”
“Good thinking.” Giles and Buffy both watched Xander on the other side of the room, already on the job sorting through chests of junk.
“You’ll teach him your methods.”
“Yes. And talk to him, when he’s ready. About Anya.” Giles sighed, then ran his hand through his hair until it stood on end. “We’ll need a larger space than this for training. And more equipment.”
“I think I’m ready to do some of the training myself. The basics for sure. And it’s better for them to spar with me.”
Giles had been cannier than she for ages, but she’d equalled him there, and now strength told. And she was going to be cannier than the new Slayers for a while. She didn’t bother to specify that she’d be leading the fights, and he’d be staying home unless he had an observation mission. They’d have that argument when it came to it, and not before.
“Oh. Hey. Not too much training? Give them a few weeks to chill. It’s the summer, anyway.”
Giles finished with the sheath on her left leg. “Recovery period. Yes.”
“Each apocalypse has an equal and opposite vacation afterward.”
“Hey, Buff, found the short swords. Angel’s got a stash here. These look okay?”
Xander held up something with a damascened pattern in the blade that made Giles gasp with surprise. He ran over and snatched it from Xander, then apologized hastily. Buffy watched the two men discuss the blade. Giles held it up, and pointed out features to Xander. He had Xander rest it on a finger to find the balance point. The next generation of Watchers was officially in training. At least it was in good hands, with Giles and maybe Wesley— if they could talk him into it— teaching them all. Starting over with new traditions, new rules. Rules invented by her, by Faith, by all of them as they figured out how things worked in the new twelve-Slayer world.
What the hey. Buffy grinned, and stretched, and felt her healed side move and bend without pain. None of that serious stuff needed to happen right now. They’d hunt the Turok Han tonight, when they were tanned, rested, and ready.
“Hey! You two! Quit geeking over the swords. We can do this stuff after dark. Let’s get the Slayerettes and scrub out the pool. I wanna go swimming now.”
Giles rolled his eyes, but he set the short sword down. Xander rubbed his hands against his jeans. The three of them trooped out of the armory together, in search of the Slayers and sunshine.
The Watcher and his one-eyed apprentice stand in the background, nervous seconds to their principals. It is their lot to stand aside while their warriors find battle in the night. She fights demons; he prepares her to fight. He watches her. He is witness to her deeds, and he records them so that future generations might sing her praises.
Though so many traditions have been lost, this one has not. And now they create new ones.
She leads the Slayers; he teaches her to lead. She will never fight alone again. And she will return at dawn, flushed, rumpled, triumphant, linked arm in arm with her sisters, her charges. She does so now. The Watcher and his apprentice count heads, scan for injuries, and nod to each other in satisfaction.
The Watcher is only truly at peace when his Slayer returns from the hunt, triumphant, and is folded in his arms. So many of them have been denied this comfort, or denied their need for it, and have suffered in consequence. Not so these two, whom we shall leave as we found them, embracing each other in joy.