Rupert Giles sat at his end of the conference table, arms folded, with a polite expression pasted on his face. This was not Rome. Far from it. It was instead the dreariest conference room in the new Council building. No windows, no views of anything. Even the sodden skies and tedious architecture of the new financial building next door would have been an improvement over that print of-- What was it a print of? Giles squinted and attempted to recall whatever he knew of mid-twentieth-century abstract expressionism. Fortunately, perhaps, he knew little.
The human resources representative repeated the same thing he’d said five minutes ago about the lack of modern precedent for Watchers marrying Slayers, and how the lack of clear policy meant he could only counsel that they delay. Giles found himself disinclined to repeat his earlier response to the fellow, and unwilling to speak aloud the response that occurred to him now. He noted that the fellow continually referred to Buffy as “Slayer Prime”, which puzzled him.
His mobile burbled discreetly from its hiding place in a breast pocket. He took it out rather more obviously than he might do normally and slid it open. A text message, a most gratifying one.
Giles stood. “Excuse me,” he said, “but apparently there’s a demon on the loose in Somerset. It’s torn up some footballer’s hobby farm. Duty calls. Oh, er, Mr Smith. I will be marrying her in September. Cope.”
He left the conference room and smiled only once the door was closed behind him. It was not a particularly happy smile. He made his way to his office in a funk. Stopping in London before heading to Rome had been a dreadful mistake. At least he’d managed to find a ring. It rested safely in his pocket in a little box. Giles slipped his hand in and brushed fingertips over the velvet. It had taken him some doing, in fact, but he was satisfied he’d found something that suited Buffy’s current taste: a diamond in a clean, practical, rugged setting. He himself was partial to emeralds, but what few gems Buffy had in her jewelry, that he’d been able to see, were diamonds. Nothing ridiculous or flashy, thank goodness. She seemed to have abandoned her costume jewelry just as she had abandoned her thrift shop fashions. Rome and society and a bit of money had done well by her. She hadn’t let it go to her head at all.
His smile turned genuine. He’d take the ring as a victory and ignore the rest of the nonsense.
The briefing in his office, sadly, would need to be binned as nonsense as well. The week’s situation coordinator had the usual Ordinance survey map of the area and a photo of the demon faxed in by the team on the ground, and nothing else. The on-site team leader was on the phone with them, but he had nothing to add. A collection of farm buildings on a nice bit of land, some cows, the footballer’s recently-remodeled house a short distance away, the demon on the rampage in the barn, doing something purposefully. They didn’t know what. The team had yet to get a clear sighting. Why, Giles could not understand.
Giles eyed the photo of the alleged demon. The Watcher on the scene, a fellow with the improbable name of Fanthorpe, claimed it was a Polgara. The photo had been taken by a camera in a mobile held by a frightened person. The lens had shaken to a degree that made identification difficult. It might be a Polgara. It might have been a chaos demon. One thing was certain: that was an overturned Rover next to it. It had to be stopped before he got a mild note wondering what he was up to from his compatriot on the government side. That would never do.
“We’ve got a Slayer in London right now with Polgara experience,” he said, addressing both his personal assistant and the situation coordinator.
“Who?” said the coordinator. Slater, a no-nonsense woman he rather liked.
“Slayer Prime? She’s here?” said Fanthorpe, over the speaker phone.
Giles’s eyebrows rose. “Yes. I think I can persuade her to join you there.”
“Isn’t necessary. We have it well in hand.”
Giles breathed in and out once before answering. “We’ll be there within three hours. You are not to engage the demon without a Slayer present.” He stabbed the cutoff button before Fanthorpe got quite going with his response. He didn’t care if the fellow managed to get it handled before they arrived. The important thing was that they’d be out of London and back somewhere in the vicinity of his home. Vaguely.
He straightened and looked at his team. “Right. I’ll take care of contacting Slayer, er, Prime. Assemble transportation for us, would you? We’ll be moving as soon as she’s arrived.”
Styles stuck her pencil behind her ear and nodded. She was out of his office instantly, his assistant trailing behind. Giles reached for the phone again, this time with the speaker off. He rang Buffy’s mobile.
“Buffy? There’s a bit of a demon incident going on. They tell me it’s a Polgara and I wondered-- You would? Lovely. See you here, then. Quick as you can.”
Giles thumbed the lock on his office door and changed into clothing more suitable for field work. That is, for battle. He always kept a few changes hanging in the closet here, for emergencies and for freshening up after all-night sessions. His position didn’t allow him to be rumpled and covered with donut crumbs any more. Did he miss those days? Only sometimes.
On a whim he tucked the ring box into his trouser pockets. One never knew when the right moment would present itself, and perhaps they’d be able to steal a night at the house before returning to the city.
A thought came to him while he laced up his sturdy boots. He held the blurry snapshot of the demon to the light and reconsidered it. Polgara? It seemed altogether too bulky for that. He tucked it into his pocket and strode out of his office. Down the spiral staircase, down into the depths of the building where the books and artifacts were. Where his research staff, such as it was, did their work. One of the few Watchers who’d survived the blast was down here, another of Archie Lassiter’s proteges, a friend from his days in exile down in the vaults.
The door to the demon archives was ajar, but Parker was not visible. A warm pot of tea sat on his desk, which meant he hadn’t gone far. Giles called out.
Parker’s voice came from the back shelves. “Half a mo.” He emerged with a vellum-bound folio under his arm and teacup in hand.
Giles held out the photo. “Take a look at this, would you?”
Parker set book and cup down on his desk, carefully, and took the photo. He held it up to the light and frowned at it.
“On the rampage in Somerset right now. Fanthorpe claims it’s a Polgara.”
“I’d sooner declare Fanthorpe a zebra.”
Giles grimaced. “A team is leaving for the site as soon as transport is ready.”
“Right,” said Parker. He rooted amongst the litter of objects behind his desk and emerged with a camera bag and a pair of electronic binoculars. Military issue, if Giles was right, and he approved whatever midnight requisitioning Parker had done to acquire them.
“Let me know when you’re ready,” Giles said.
Parker wedged an absurd hat onto his head-- a Tilley hat. He was the perfect image of a birder, with checklist in pocket. “Ready now,” Parker replied, mildly, and Giles nodded in approval. Back up to his office, collecting his team along the way, moving faster now, to wait impatiently for Buffy to arrive.
He hadn’t long to wait. She swept in without knocking and pulled him down into a swift kiss without bothering to look to see if anyone else was there. Giles kissed her back avidly and hoped it shocked someone. Alas, Parker was phlegmatic and Styles unshockable so it went unremarked.
Buffy was wearing black leather trousers and black leather boots over them. Her legs went all the way up. All the way up to-- Giles dragged his eyes away from there, because it was unseemly to stare at a woman in public that way, even a woman who was his fiancée. He cleared his throat and set aside boyhood fantasies of Diana Rigg with some effort.
“Is that getup, er, practical?”
“Custom-made for the prepared Slayer. Check it.”
Buffy opened her jacket to show him the lining. Five neat loops inside the jacket held wooden stakes, with the white gleam of freshly-cut points. Practical indeed. He squeezed his right arm against his side just enough to remind himself of his own concealed weapon. It was almost a habitual gesture at this point in his life. Possibly it was a tell he should suppress.
“Plus knives in the boots and look! the jacket even has a special pocket for my ID and a credit card. Since, you know, there isn’t any room in the pants for a pocket.”
There certainly wasn’t. Giles flushed and forced himself to look away again. Damnable woman. The smirk on her face said she knew just what sort of effect she was having upon him.
The team headed down to the car park under the building: Buffy, Parker, a new-minted Watcher named Smith, and himself. Giles commandeered the keys to the van. It was no sports car, but he was nervy and in need of some task to distract himself from Buffy’s legs in that leather. The drive out was uneventful and smooth, thanks to the usual quiet behind-the-scenes easing of the way. Styles was doing her job and doing it well. Giles made a mental note to give her a commendation. Pay raise if possible.
He knew they’d reached the site before Parker could confirm it on the sat nav. A dark plume of smoke rose from beyond a line of trees. And Buffy had grown restless and edgy in seat next to him. He turned the van into the long drive into the estate proper and the devastation became clear as they approached. The demon had partially demolished the barn and lit fires with the wood it had wrested free. Giles could smell smoke. Was that meat charring? Too foul for that.
He pulled the van alongside a battered 4x4 parked by a thick hedge that screened it neatly from the barn. The only person there was a spotty-faced youth whom Giles vaguely remembered as a recent recruit. Fanthorpe’s trainee, along to observe and take notes and learn from the experts. He wouldn’t be doing much observation from where he was, which was on his arse with his back against the rear tire of the 4x4.
Giles loomed over him.
“Mr Giles! You’re here already,” the Watcher-in-training said. He failed to stand up.
“Where is Fanthorpe?”
The boy squeaked. “He’s, uh, inside the house. The owner came home and got stroppy at us.”
“Where is the rest of the team?”
Giles sighed. No sense berating the boy for being here without backup. He wasn’t the one in charge. “Well, you’ve got a team now.”
“Is that, is that Slayer Prime?”
Giles looked at Buffy, who shrugged at him. She said, “Yup, the one and no longer only.”
“Honor to meet you,” the boy said, from his position on the ground. His arms were wrapped around his knees and he showed no signs of being willing to stand up any time soon.
“Why are you sitting here instead of in a useful observation post?” Giles asked.
“It throws things,” the boy said, as if that were enough of an explanation.
Giles gritted his teeth. Patience, patience with the trainees. If Pryce had developed into a solid demon-hunter, this lad could too. His annoyance would be better directed at Fanthorpe. Smith came by and issued him a hand-held radio. Xander’s idea, the short-range radios, and a good one. Every situation team used them now. Giles tucked his away in his pocket. Buffy stared at hers, opened her jacket and fumbled, and then gave up. She handed it to the boy on the ground. Giles covered his mouth with his hand; it would not do to mock that outfit, because she might decline to wear it again and then where would he be? He turned his back on the trainee and went to see for himself what the demon was about.
Parker was settled at the end of the hedge with his binoculars plastered to his face. He tweaked a knob. Buffy moved beside Parker and held up a hand to keep the drizzle from her face. Giles looked where they were looking and saw the thing in motion for an instant. Then it was behind what remained of the building. A barn, perhaps, now half rubble. Scattered across the grass between the hedge and the buildings were a large number of half-destroyed hay bales, the small rectangular sort, along with wrecked bits of machinery. Beside the barn was what had until recently been a Land Rover. Now it was overturned and half-burned. That was the source of the worst of the stench, Giles thought.
“That is not a Polgara,” Buffy said.
“What is it?” said Giles.
Parker snorted. “It’s a species of ettin. I didn’t get a good look at the markings. Gone behind the barn wall again.”
Ettin. Not intelligent, as demons went. It made and used rudimentary tools and had a society with a language of sorts, but that was as far as it went. It was a menace because of its size and its monomanias, not because of any particular malice. Giles wondered how this one had arrived in Somerset. It was unfortunate all around, for they would have to kill it.
Buffy, of course, had already arrived at that conclusion. She said, “Giles, we got any swords?”
“Weapon rack in the back of the van.”
Buffy came bouncing back with a sword nearly as long as she was tall. She took a few experimental cuts with it in a fashion he remembered as pure Buffy: no style, no technique, just pure strength from this tiny slip of a woman. He’d long since conceded that it worked for her. There she was, a vision in black leather, with a blade in her hands, just as desirable as she’d been in his study in a dress and heels. Just as much Buffy. Was she truly going to be his wife? She was. The grin on his face had to be entirely fatuous, he knew, but he was unable to contain it.
She rested the tip of the sword on the grass and grinned right back him. “So, plan guy. What’s my line of attack?”
Giles shook himself back to the problem at hand. “Hack, slash. It’ll be slow to die unless you hit a vital organ. They’re more or less where you’d find them in humans.”
“The eyes are most vulnerable,” Parker said.
“Right, go for the face. Anything else?”
“It’ll have the advantage of reach on you. And it’ll be fast.”
Buffy grimaced. “I remember.”
Just then there was a ruckus from the direction of the house. Buffy noticed first and spun gracefully to defend against any attack. However, it was merely a red-faced man in disheveled clothing, waving his arms and marching away from the front door, down the gravel drive toward them. He was shouting something that Giles couldn’t catch. Trailing after him was a man in tweed whom Giles recognized as Fanthorpe, waving his arms just as wildly and shouting right back. Negotiations, it appeared, had broken down. Giles met Buffy’s gaze and they rolled their eyes at each other.
Giles walked forward to meet them. The fellow had to be the famous footballer who owned the property. He had a haircut so famous it had been mentioned in The Times, which meant even Giles had heard of it, and surely no two men had that haircut. His breath reeked of alcohol. Vodka, Giles thought, flavored vodka. He had a pellet gun in his hand, the kind powered by compressed air.
The situation was looking volatile. Time to be suppressive and stuffy.
Giles cleared his throat. “Sorry, sir, but I must ask you to remain behind the hedge. For your safety.”
“My safety!” he said.
“Well?” Giles said, to Fanthorpe.
Fanthorpe glared at him. “Couldn’t be helped. Hands tied. Under orders to wait. I’d have shot the beast two hours ago if it had been up to me.”
“Shot it? With what?”
The footballer interrupted. “Who the hell are you? Same outfit as this galloping berk?”
“Wildlife Management,” Giles said, smoothly. “Do stand back and let us clear the debris for you. We have it well in hand.”
Giles put every single bit of sniffing Oxbridge authority in his voice that he could. For a moment it even seemed as if were going to work: the fellow swiped a hand through his ridiculous hair and looked mollified. But just then a hay bale came arching over what remained of the barn wall, closely followed by a cow head. The head landed in the middle of the field and rolled slowly toward them. It landed facing them, eyes open. Poor thing, Giles thought, but before he’d got past the moment of pity the footballer yelped and swore. He marched toward the barn, waving his pellet gun. Giles watched him go, stunned into immobility by the pure idiocy of it. He kept going right up to the pile of rubble that was all that was left of the barn wall on this side. At any moment he would lose his courage and turn back, surely?
No such luck. He vanished behind the wall of the barn.
“Oh boy,” Buffy said, and she was off at a run, sword in hand. Without thought, Giles was in motion and pelting after her.
The fellow came to a sudden stop in the middle of what remained of his barn. Giles stood beside him. The ettin had the hindquarters of a cow in one huge hand. It held it over a pile of burning wood, roasting it as one might roast a marshmallow. Well. That explained a great deal.
The footballer uttered a single oath, then was silent again. Giles quite understood the feeling.
“It’s eating the cows,” said the footballer. “My wife’s cows.”
“Yes, it is.”
He said, “Let’s move to the country, she said. Let’s buy some cows. They’ll look darling. We can pay somebody to mind them for us.”
Giles touched the man on the shoulder. “Come on, old boy. Let’s find a safer spot, shall we?”
He didn’t budge. “And now a troll is eating them. A troll. She’ll have my head.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Buffy said. She spun the sword casually.
“You? You? And that toy sword?”
He shook his head and without ceremony charged the ettin. Giles wondered, in a moment of shock, if football had been the right sport for him. Rugby would have been more his style.
The ettin put down the cow hindquarters. The fellow stopped and aimed the pellet gun. Giles heard it pop off a few times. Bright splotches of paint bloomed on the wall behind the ettin, and one right in the middle of its broad chest. It roared and was in motion. Giles wanted to close his eyes, because it was going to be awful, but he was a professional so he kept them open. A good thing, too, because that blur was Buffy in motion from the side. She cannonballed into the footballer and knocked him out of the ettin’s way.
Giles knew his cue. He leapt forward shouting and waving his arms. The ettin lumbered to a halt, turned, and charged him instead. Giles was braced for it. He flung himself toward a pile of rubble. He landed badly but managed to tuck himself into a roll. He regained his footing and scarpered as fast as he could to rejoin Buffy at the smashed Rover. He’d barked his knuckles and he had a stitch in his side. He’d let his physical conditioning lapse. That would never do. He’d have to take up jogging again. Or training a Slayer; that was shockingly effective. He knew where to find one of those.
The footballer was crouched on the ground beside his ruined car. He shook his head. The famous haircut was a complete mess.
“What the hell is that?”
Giles could hear rising hysteria in his voice.
“It’s an ettin,” Buffy said. She laid a hand on his arm but he shrugged her off.
“What the bleeding hell is that when it’s at home?”
“Something you’ll be paying your therapist danger money to forget. Trust me on this. Take off now and let me cope.”
“It’s destroyed my new car! I’m not leaving until I’ve had satisfaction.”
“Sorry, buster, you don’t get a choice about that.”
Buffy grabbed him by the belt and the collar and flung him bodily over the wall and out into the courtyard. Giles peeked around to see him scrambling off toward the group of Watchers.
“Kinda lightweight for a football player. What is this guy, a punter?”
Giles stared at her. Punter? Yes, but-- Oh. “Not American football. Soccer.”
Buffy shrugged. “Explains it. Yeah. So. Let’s kill this thing.”
She vaulted over the Rover and drew her sword in mid-air. Giles swore and followed more modestly, scrambling around the front. Buffy was heading right so he went left.
“Draw it out into the open!” he shouted.
Buffy gave no indication that she’d heard him, but she must have, for she stepped out into the open area where the barn door had been and waved her arms around. The ettin lumbered out at her, with the cow in hand. It didn’t seem particularly angry, more curious. Buffy had no opposition at all as she raised the sword and stabbed at its face.
Nothing happened. The sword rebounded. Giles swore under his breath. The ettin was angered now. Buffy regrouped and got both hands on the grip. She coiled and swung, a mighty roundhouse blow. This time the blade shattered and Buffy went down. The ettin stomped, but she’d rolled away. Giles leapt out and threw a rock at the thing to distract it. It responded by grabbing a hay bale. Giles wasted no time running the hell away as fast as he could.
Buffy was vaulting back over the Rover. She held not a sword but a hilt with a jagged bit of blade jutting out. Giles followed, scrambling on hands and knees to dodge the hay bale thrown after him. It was on fire, he noted, distantly. He crouched down next to Buffy behind the destroyed car. Out of sight was out of mind, apparently, for no further hay bales followed. Giles hunkered down with his back to the rear wheel and resisted the temptation to wrap his arms around his knees.
“This is an ex-sword,” Buffy said. She tossed the hilt aside. Giles could not be so cheerful. He’d seen what happened when she’d swung. The creature’s eyes were protected by a hard carapace. That meant it wasn’t a mountain ettin.
Giles found his radio in his pocket. He thumbed the talk button and said, “Parker?”
The radio crackled and Parker’s voice said, “Here.”
“Did you get a look at that?”
“Yes. Three-eyed ettin.”
“I read you.” He stuck the radio back into his jacket and cursed extensively in Latin.
“Potty mouth,” Buffy said. He hadn’t realized she knew that much Latin. Or perhaps he’d indulged himself that way once too many times.
He sighed. “Fanthorpe is an utter pillock.”
“Duh, not enough field time. But you can whinge about him later. Right now tell me how to kill it.”
Giles pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. He could just see the page of the book in question. Ettins, three-eyed, weak points. “The third eye is vulnerable, but it won’t open unless forced. We need something that can shatter the protection over the two you can see. Something super-hard.”
“Super-hard. Stronger than steel. Something that can cut anything.”
“Something like a diamond.”
“With enough force behind it. The traditional weapon is the diamond-tipped bolt. Which we have in the armory at headquarters. Pillock!”
Buffy snorted in frustration. “I took off all my jewelry and left it in the hotel room. I was trying to be practical. See what that gets me.”
“Ah,” he said again, and this time Buffy turned to look at him. “I, er, might happen to have something.”
He stood and dug deep into his trouser pocket. He drew out the little velvet box. His knuckles were still oozing blood, it seemed, and it had dripped and smeared over the velvet. Giles rubbed his hand against his shirt and snapped the box open. He went down onto a knee in the mud. What had he planned to say to her? He had no earthly idea. But he had to say something.
“Miss Summers, er, you have already done me the honor of consenting to become my, my wife. It would please me greatly if you’d wear my ring, as a token of my esteem. And, er, also to punch the demon.”
Dammit, he was stammering again. Buffy did not comment. She merely held her right hand out to him. Wrong hand for the ring, correct hand for the power she’d need to generate. Her hand was also grubby with ash and sweat and somebody else’s blood. Possibly his. He slid the ring onto her finger. He rocked back onto his heels and watched her consider the ring and tilt her hand to get a better view of it. He found himself deeply moved, despite everything. And perversely aroused. She was damnably sexy in those leather trousers.
Then she removed the ring and shifted it to her middle finger. She made a fist and jabbed it out a few times, then nodded to herself. Giles straightened up.
“Break the protection and I’ll shoot the third eye out.”
“Solid foundation. Coil and unleash. Use the muscles in your torso and legs to drive the swing.”
“Giiiiiiles,” she said, and he found himself grinning at her despite himself. “Critique my form after we get out of here, okay? Okay.”
Giles edged around the front of the Rover. The ettin had returned to its heap of dead cows. It had the hindquarters in its grasp again. Apparently they were charred enough for its liking, because it was now gnawing on the midsection.
Buffy said, “You ready?”
Giles thumbed the safety off. “Yes.”
“My aim is true.”
For the third time, Buffy exploded into motion and flung herself at the ettin. It looked haphazard but Giles knew from years of watching her that it was anything but. She did not waste her breath bantering with a creature so stupid but ran around it in circles, dodging its swipes at her.
She leapt into the air and punched. One eye exploded into a gush of black fluid. Buffy dodged a slow, clumsy swing. She danced around, waiting for another opening. Giles advanced with the tiny pistol raised.
Buffy rolled, sprang to her feet, and was in the air again. This time she ran up the ettin’s chest. She coiled, unleashed, and punched. The eye went but Buffy was in the ettin’s grasp. It gripped her leg and shook her back and forth as if she were a toy. Giles did not let himself react.
Out of the corner of his eye Giles saw Buffy’s body flung away from the demon. There it was, the third eye, opening now from pure instinct. Ignore her. Ignore the woman who would be his wife, his beloved Slayer, ignore her scream. Aim and fire. Breathe out. Steady. Fire. Bugger it. It turned toward him and his shot came clear and this time he did not miss. The thing bellowed in agony and thrashed. Giles advanced on it and pumped another round into its head at point blank range. His training-- both the boyhood training and the more recent training at Her Majesty’s behest-- held and he did not waver until the clip was emptied and he was certain it was in its death throes. One last scan, and the little revolver was holstered again. He flung himself across the ruined floor to where Buffy lay crumpled. If she were dead he would–
Buffy stirred and lifted her head. Giles closed his eyes and kissed her forehead.
She pushed herself up on her elbows. “Dead?” she said.
“Dead.” He opened his mouth to assure her she need never go through this again, but then he saw that she was grinning.
“That was awesome. I missed it so much. But I am so out of practice. Not enough field time this year.”
Giles stood and extended a hand to her. She pulled herself to her feet and then leaned back against the wall. Then he noticed she had one foot lifted up. She touched her toe to the ground and winced. “Ow. Ow.”
“It kinda smushed my ankle.” Giles knelt at her feet and ran his hands over the boot. She whimpered above him and said, “Broken?”
“Possibly. Can’t tell until we get the boot off.”
He scooped her up. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and then hissed in pain. She said, “Careful. I’m one hundred percent bruise right now.”
Though she wouldn’t remain so for long, thank goodness. Nonetheless, Giles was beyond careful as he carried her out of the remains of the barn, away from the half-eaten cow, the burning hay bales, and the dead ettin.
It had begun to rain harder. The water beaded on his glasses. Giles ignored it and trudged across the paddock to the waiting group of Watchers. Parker helped him set Buffy down on the van’s back bumper, where she was sheltered from the rain. Giles knelt down before her and unzipped her boot. He tugged gently until it came off. He ought to have cut it off, but he remembered how she’d reacted the last time he’d ruined her shoes. He ran his hands over her ankle more carefully.
Buffy pouted. It was without heat, for she knew as well as he that within three days she’d be back at full capacity. The Slayer gifts were wonderful indeed.
Fanthorpe approached with a rifle on his shoulder. An elephant gun, by the looks of the thing. What was he doing with one of those?
“I’ll handle it,” he said. “I’ve convinced the homeowner to head to the nearest pub.”
“It’s dead,” Buffy said.
Fanthorpe was still looking at Giles, not at the woman he was kneeling before. “Slayer Prime dispatched it?”
“Well, Slayer Prime plus Watcher Prime, strictly speaking,” Buffy said, in a voice dry enough to desiccate the clouds above them. Giles squeezed her uninjured leg for a moment, to show her he’d noticed.
He said, “Yes, Buffy dispatched it, you infernal idiot. Now put that museum piece away and get us the medical tech.”
“The medical tech?”
“The one you are required to have on hand at every operation.”
Parker spoke up. “I rang for the med team as soon as I saw you come out. Thirty minutes to arrival.”
“Is there a single rule of engagement you did not break, Fanthorpe?”
“Simple enough situation. Single demon. We didn’t need all this rigamarole before. In my day Slayers did what they were told on their own, without any of this fuss and bother.”
Giles looked up toward the cloudy, rainy heavens until he could manage to speak. “Pack your bags, Fanthorpe. You’re joining Xander Harris in Tripoli next week.”
“Tripoli?” Now Fanthorpe was squeaking.
“Be grateful it isn’t the bloody Falklands.”
“Miss Summers is right. Six months out of every year in field time for all of us. We’ll be setting the example by spending our honeymoon in the field.”
“Honeymoon?” Fanthorpe said. He had the same note of semi-hysteria in his voice that the footballer had had.
This was the most gratifying moment of Giles’s day, perhaps, almost worth every moment of being rained upon and used by target practice by a hungry ettin. Almost. He showed all his teeth and said, “Yes, honeymoon.”
Parker said, “Congratulations to the both of you.” He wedged his hat back onto his head. “Think I’ll go photograph the corpse. Come along, boy. Let me show you how to tell an ettin from a Polgara.”
Parker ambled off in the direction of the barn, the trainee at his heels. Giles watched them go, then sat himself on the bumper next to his Slayer. He would, he suspected, always think of her as that first and fiancée or wife second. She would think of herself that way first, so it did not trouble him.
Buffy nudged him with a shoulder. “Honeymoon in the field?” she said. “Do I get to pick where?”
“Of course, darling. I’ll show you the location reports tomorrow and you can pick the one that looks most interesting.”
“You are the most thoughtful fiancé ever.”
He’d been thinking the Italian countryside for their honeymoon, since Buffy liked it so much, or perhaps France, but this plan was obviously pleasing her better. And that was all that mattered. Well, that and taking those leather trousers off her as slowly as possible. Perhaps after she’d had her ankle strapped up she’d allow him. Or perhaps he could simply fuss over her. Draw her a hot bath, strew it with flower petals, something along those lines.
Buffy held up her right hand and contemplated the ring he’d given her. The stone had cracked and half of it was missing. What remained was grimy and stained with demon blood. She moved the ring over to the proper finger on her left hand, and rubbed at it fruitlessly. Giles found his handkerchief for her.
“I’ll replace it, darling,” he said, watching her polish the remains.
“It’s perfect the way it is.”
“Are you sure? I can easily–”
“No way. Any time somebody sees it, they’ll ask and I’ll get to tell them all about how you went down on your knees in a muddy barn filled with burning cows and a giant three-eyed ettin.”
Giles cleared his throat. “A much more suitable story for Dawn than, er–”
“Much. Total wholesome family fare.”
He slipped an arm around her-- carefully, mindful of the bruises-- and kissed her.