Transformations - Chapter 11

On her way back to Giles's place with a gym bag of clean clothes and a big paper bag of assorted Chinese food--which Willow assured her was inherently (Will's word) sexy, because of having to open up all the little boxes, and the possibility of feeding one another with chopsticks--Buffy found herself singing. That she didn't have the greatest voice in the world and had a tendency to veer cheerfully off key didn't bother her at all.

It was dark, and had been for a while, but Buffy wasn't too worried. She didn't sense so much as a sniff of trouble. The cornflower-blue dress Will had helped her pick out was tasteful, but not little-girlish, not too short and not too long. Cut to follow her curves, the dress left her arms bare, and the scoop neck showed a hint of cleavage when she leaned the right way. Besides, the color made her eyes look amazing.

She set her bags down beside the plantstand outside Giles's door--someone, for sure not Giles himself--had actually trimmed all the brown, dry, icky stuff off the perpetually dying plant, and for a change it almost looked fluffy and healthy.

Buffy used her key in the lock--she had a spare one, for emergencies--and turned the knob, but found she'd locked the door instead of unlocking it. She'd locked up before she left, hadn't she? Of course she had; she remembered doing it. Maybe Giles had come down to get his evening paper off the stoop, and forgotten to turn the bolt--she'd find him sprawled on the couch, asleep again, with loose pages spread all over him. Buffy smiled at the image, and turned her key, this time with the expected result.

Inside, the air had the wonderful golden smell of beeswax. All the electric lights had been turned off, and candles lit the room. "Hi, honey, I'm home," she called softly. Giles didn't answer. Yeah, definitely asleep again. Buffy carried the Chinese food to the kitchen, debating on whether she should put it in the fridge, or go wake him up.

Wake up, she decided, pretty sure he'd want it that way. Besides, she was starving, and he hadn't eaten all day. Somehow, he'd managed to clean up the mess from that morning's brunch that had never been--Buffy felt guilty about that. She should have done it for him before she left, and she hoped he hadn't hurt his hand.

"Note to self," she said. "Be more thoughtful."

Giles wasn't anywhere downstairs, though he'd left the candles burning. One or two of them had fallen over, she noticed, and luckily gone out. Some of the book-boxes had fallen off the stack, one of them spilling its rare contents onto the floor, and the dartboard Giles never used had dropped off the wall, along with a couple pictures, that now lay face down in a litter of broken glass. One was of some people she didn't know, a group of them in what she thought of as "English clothes" tweed suits and ties on the men, and some of the women too--their colors so drab that at first glance she thought the picture was in black and white. Then she noticed that Giles had his arm around one of the women, and that she had red hair--in fact, she looked a little like a taller, heavier Willow. This woman wore a really pretty sweater that was subdued, but actually in color. Giles's other hand rested on the shoulder of a sweet-looking little old lady. She could see Egyptian stuff in the background, and guessed that maybe these were the people Giles had worked with at the British Museum.

The second broken picture showed a thirtyish Giles, a thirtyish Moira, a fiftyish Mr. Merrick and some other guy she didn't know. Buffy kept forgetting that Mr. Merrick had been Giles's Obi-Wan, and felt bad all over again that she hadn't been able to save the old man. All four of the people in the photo had on long black robes with hoods and some fancy stuff, like gold, or velvet trim, only in different colors. The other guy looked like an outsider, Moira had her hand curled around Mr. Merrick's arm and was saying something into his ear--Mr. Merrick had a strange look on his face, one she kinda recognized. It was a look Giles had gotten sometimes, gazing at her. Giles had a strange expression too: he wasn't wearing his glasses--maybe he hadn't needed to, then--and his eyes showed up as amazingly green. So did Moira's for that matter. Giles's one hand that she could see was bandaged, but the other hand appeared, maybe, to be someplace it shouldn't have been--such as Moira's backside. All three of the younger people looked jazzed--maybe this was like their Watcher graduation.

Buffy carefully shook out the broken glass and laid the two pictures on Giles's desk, along with her gym bag. Weird, she thought. There must have been a little earthquake, and she hadn't felt it. She was going to have to give Giles the California fire safety lecture.

She climbed the stairs, expecting to find him curled up in bed, fast asleep, but he wasn't there, or in the bathroom, or in the closets, either. His bunch of keys lay in a box on the nightstand, and Buffy had passed the Gilesmobile parked at the curb when she came in. Maybe he'd gotten worse, while she was gone, and had to call 911, and the paramedics had made a mess taking him away.

But he'd been fine. He'd been fine. They'd made love, and Giles had said those wonderful things to her, that made her feel like the most special person in the world. He'd certainly been well enough to clean up the house, and to light the candles, which Buffy knew instinctively had been intended for her, to make something beautiful for her.

He'd seemed okay, she thought in a burst of panic, but she shouldn't have left him. She should never have left him. Maybe bending over, doing all that cleaning, shook something loose in his head, or his hand had started bleeding, and he couldn't control it on his own.

Shaking, Buffy sank onto the edge of the bed, picking up the phone, her own hands almost too unsteady to hold the receiver. She no longer even needed to look up the number for the Sunnydale General Emergency Room. One of the nurses that she knew picked up, and for a minute all Buffy could do was make pitiful strangled sounds.

"If you're having a medical emergency, hang up and dial 911. If you can't speak, just leave the receiver off the hook; they'll find you."

"N--no. I'm not. I mean, Nurse Johnson, this is Buffy Summers."

"Hi, Buffy. I don't think we have any of your friends here tonight. Neither of the red-heads, or the dark-haired boy, or the tall girl. Haven't seen your mom, either."

How weird is it that she knows who I am, and who all my friends are too? Buffy wondered. Of course, the Scooby Gang were pretty much on the frequent users plan, and that wasn't even counting all the times Giles patched them up on his own.

"I--I'm actually looking for Mr. Giles? My librarian?"

"Oh, the nice-looking Englishman. No, haven't seen him either. Not today. He was here a couple nights ago, helping out with the injured kids."

"See, he cut himself and hit his head."


Buffy chose to ignore that. "And I was s'posed to be watching him, only I went out to get us some dinner, and now he isn't here. Do you think you could call if you see him?"

"I don't know, honey, I..."

"Please, I'm worried."

The nurse paused, then answered. "I'll keep an eye open."

"Thank you," Buffy said, and gave her the number.

After she hung up, she sat on the edge of the bed, that was still rumpled from the two of them lying there together. Where could he have gone, without his car or his keys? Had he gotten disoriented and wandered away somewhere? She needed to start looking, but she was afraid to leave, too, in case Giles found his way back, or Nurse Johnson called from the hospital. She needed backup.

Buffy felt, rather than saw, the lights switch on downstairs, and hit the steps running, flinging herself toward the undoubtedly male shape standing just inside the door.

"Wha--? Buff?" Xander said, blinking up at her from the carpet, where she'd knocked him flat.

"Xander? What are you doing here?"

He'd been carrying a gym bag like her own, and another, larger, duffle, plus his sleeping bag. The combined luggage had partially cushioned his fall.

"I could ask you the same thing," he said.

Buffy crawled off her friend, helping him up. Xander had a weird expression: he was really pale, and his mouth, instead of being its usual nice, curvy shape, was pressed into a straight hard line. His eyes were red. He looked like he'd been trying not to cry for hours.

"Xand, what's wrong?" she asked, though she thought she knew.

"Allergies," he answered. " lets me stay here sometimes."

Buffy hadn't known that, though she'd known about the library--but now she thought about it, how many times, when she hadn't been able to sleep, or had a patrol that was particularly wiggy, had she come over here to find Giles apparently settled for the night on his sofa? When they talked, he'd ask her to speak softly so she "wouldn't wake the neighbors." As if you could ever hear anything that went on in the Casa de Quiet. She'd never actually believed that other people occupied the condos in Giles's building.

"You have a lot of stuff with you for a sleepover."

"Yeah," Xander said, and for about ten seconds gave her the most defiant look she'd ever seen from him. Then it all fell apart and her friend started sobbing and sobbing.

Buffy knew it wasn't fair, but it always bothered her when guys cried. Not because she thought it was wimpy--after all she pretty much turned on the waterworks at the drop of a hat, and sometimes she and her mom or Willow rented movies just for their boo-hoo value--she and Will had both pretty much leaked all the way through Titanic.

With most of the guys she knew, though, the things that made them cry were so huge she couldn't even begin to know how to fix them. Like when they'd all thought that Willow had been vamped--she'd wept but Xander and Giles were both perfectly dry-eyed. They were mad as hell, and upset, and grieving, just as much as she was, but they hadn't so much as sniffled. What it took for Giles to lose it was for Jenny to be killed and for Angelus to set up the trail of roses and music and for her body to be left in his bed and that he'd wanted so much to kill Angelus and failed. Granted, Giles scored on the high end of emotional repression, but it was still way easier for Xander to let loose with anger than it was with tears.

She towed Xander over to the couch and made him sit down, saying another quick little prayer to the anti-earthquake gods. All she could think to do was hold her friend tight, but she didn't think it was really helping. He kept saying, "I need Giles. I need Giles," in this horrible choked voice, until he finally got up, and went into the downstairs bathroom, where he was gone a long, long time.

Buffy needed Giles too. She needed to go looking, and call the others to help with the search--but she didn't want to leave Xander alone, the way he was, and she didn't want to bring in a houseful of people until she was sure he could handle that, too.

When Xander came back, he looked a little more together, more like someone with a bad cold. He sat beside her on the couch, squeezing Buffy's hand and staring off into space.

"Was it your dad?" Buffy asked him, finally.

"That would be ex- or former dad. The husband of my ex- or former mom. I'm eighteen. An adult. I'm supposed to be able to make it all on my own. You did it, right, Buff? I should just be more like you."

"I didn't make it very well. I mean, I had a job, and a crummy apartment. But I was scared and lonely, and I cried all the time. Mostly not about Angel, either. I really, really wanted my mom to say it was okay for me to come home, and for Giles to come and get me. I know he tried, even though he never said anything. My mom told me he went to about 900 different places. It must have cost a ton of money."

"I wonder sometimes--if I went away, do you think anybody would miss me? Not Willow, anymore. Not Cordy--she's already hit the road, fame and fortune here she comes. You'd probably just be glad to get rid of that pathetic loser Xander Harris. Why bother looking?"

"Xander, you saved our lives. We'd all be vamp chow if it wasn't for you."

"I'm not stupid, you know. I led the army. I read the books. class...I couldn't concentrate. I was always so tired, and it just never seemed to mean anything. History, and science and literature, none of that made any sense. The only thing that ever seemed real was that the world was full of evil things."

"I never knew you felt that way." Buffy squeezed her friend's hand tighter. It didn't seem like enough to say, but she told him, "We love you, Xander."

"Yeah. Well. I'm just like my ex-dad. One more angry guy." Xander put his hand over his eyes--a gesture that reminded Buffy of Giles.

"Oh, God, Xander, we've got to..."

Xander brought down his hand. "What's that dent in the wall?"

"What dent?"

Xander got up and walked across the room. Now that he mentioned the fact, there was kind of a hollow in the wall, with a dark stain at the bottom, right near where she'd found the fallen pictures. The dent was far above Buffy's line of sight, so she hadn't noticed. Xander reached up, brushing his fingertips across the stain.

"What is it?" Buffy asked him.

Xander hurried over to a lamp, switching it on to look at his fingers beneath the glow. "Red. Sticky."


"Looks like." He returned to the wall, standing with his back to it. "Okay, so imagine I'm like two, three inches taller. Xander rose up as high as he could on his toes. "Ouch. That hurts. Where's my head?"

"Right inside the dent."

"Same size and shape?"

"Pretty much. Your head's a little smaller."

"Well, my head's smaller than Giles's anyway. Plus, the actual blow makes the deepest part of the impact, but it pulls some of the plaster down with it. Giles is a fairly big guy--maybe 170, 180 or more, hard to tell exactly with all the tweed. What would it take to throw a guy that size hard enough against a fairly sturdy wall with enough force to make a dent that big?"

"Vampire strength," Buffy answered, going cold.

"Yeah, vampire strength," Xander agreed.

"But Giles wouldn't let a vampire in, unless..." Buffy couldn't say any more. Unless she knew him. It. Oh, God! Could Angel have come here, looking for her? Had Giles told him, and made Angel so mad...?

"No," she moaned. "No." But she could see it only too clearly. The two men who loved her fighting. Giles saying something completely wrong, the way he sometimes did, and Angel, in a rage, grabbing hold of him. She could see Angel throw Giles against the wall then, overcome both with shame and a sense of self-preservation, take the body away to be hidden. He knew she'd come after him. He must know that this time she couldn't let it go. Her head spun, and she started sinking down toward the floor, but Xander's reflexes, in this, were better than hers: he caught her before she hit the ground.

Buffy came to on the couch with a cold cloth spread across her forehead, Xander sitting on the floor beside her.

"Maybe it wasn't that way," her friend said, obviously thinking the same thoughts she had. "Or maybe he had amnesia and went wandering off. You know Giles--anyone else, gaping head wound, they'd just dial 911 and wait for the aid car. He'd be, like, off on the trail of unspeakable evil."

Buffy noticed something on the coffeetable. "Without his glasses?" She allowed herself to get hopeful. "But maybe he doesn't really need them? He takes them off all the time when he's reading."

"Giles is nearsighted, Buffy. He doesn't need them for reading."

"But not that nearsighted, right? He'd do okay without them."

"Remember when Giles was limping around for about a week, and you went all that time without training? Giles had been facing toward me with his glasses off, I thought looking right at me. He'd asked me to pull this one book, so I told him, 'Giles! Heads!' and chucked it over at him. Only, `cause he wasn't wearing his glasses, it hit him in the face and knocked him right over the rail and onto the study table. He said, 'Please refrain from doing that in the future,' and I said, `You were supposed to catch it.' He gave me a look. 'I was meant to be aware that the pink and black blur beside the brown blur was lobbing a smaller brown blur at my head?' I told him, 'Point taken.' He's worn glasses since he was like seven years old, Buff. Even if he was deranged, I'm not sure he'd leave home without them. I don't think he can see more than four or five feet without everything fuzzing out."

"Xand, you're not making me feel better." Buffy ran upstairs to find Moira's cell phone number and make her call. To her surprise, Wesley answered.

"Moira Bannister-St. Ives's digital telephone, may I help you?"

"Wes, it's Buffy. I need to talk to Moira, stat."

"Stat?" he echoed.

"At once. Immediately. Now."

"She's...Ah, one moment."

Buffy could hear the sound of a shower running, and Wesley's hesitant knock.

"Ah. Your Ladyship. Moira. If you could...oh, my goodness!"

"For God's sake, Wesley, I am wearing a robe." Moira took the phone. "Buffy, what is it? Is Rupert all right?"

"He's missing."

"Missing? Weren't you meant to be minding him?"

"Well, I was, but I ducked out for a little bit while he was sleeping, to get myself some clean clothes, and us something to eat. He was fine, and now he's gone, and--" She started to cry. "There's a big dent with blood in it, head-height on his wall."

"Bloody hell," Moira swore softly.

"I'm thinking vampire. Possibly Angel."

"Yes, it would have to be someone he knew, wouldn't it? Either someone he thought was safe, or someone he assumed was alive, just recently turned." Buffy could hear Moira's nails clicking against the back of the phone as she thought. "Get all of your immediate circle over there. If anyone needs a ride, call me back at this number. We'll join you shortly."

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