Transformations - Chapter 15

They'd argued strategies until Giles felt ill, both with exhaustion, and with a sense of utter futility. Physically, it seemed improbable that the five of them could fight their way through the vampire army even to the point of catching sight of its leaders, much less causing them any actual harm.

Xander had suggested seeking the help, once more, of his fellow graduates--but after his hours in the Emergency Room with those brave young people, that was a favour Giles found himself only willing to ask in the furthest extremity. Larry, Xander told him, had required additional surgery, and now hung once more in that twilight place between death and life. Two more of the other children had passed on

Wesley put forward the idea of requesting the Council's aid, which caused both Giles and Moira to give him looks.

"All I'm saying is," Wesley insisted, "That they--we--have the resources, the knowledge, the weapons..."

"Dearheart," Moira told him gently, "There is rather a substantial possibility that my respected fellow Councilors may be in some way to blame for this state of affairs."

"But, ma'am..."

"Wesley, love, this is how they work. They rarely do anything directly. They make arrangements. They put plans in motion. They find someone with an axe to grind."

"Such as Gwendolyn Post," Giles said.

"There was a memo about her, Rupert," Moira told him. "I wrote it. And I suspect the damn thing never left the Compound."

"We could--" Willow touched Giles's shoulder, apology brimming in her expression. " Angel?"

Giles shut his eyes. He couldn't do this, not for one moment longer. "It may come to that," he answered.

The door flew open with sudden violence, causing all of them to jump, and Moira to grab the intruder in a chokehold, a wooden knife held just over the unfortunate woman's heart.

"Your Ladyship," Wesley said mildly.

"Em--" Giles began wearily. "I'd like you to meet Joyce Summers, Buffy's mum."

"Oh." Moira released her hold. "So sorry. Bit on edge." The knife vanished into her clothing.

Joyce gave her a glare that would have entirely withered any woman of lesser mettle, then marched to the side of the bed. "Rupert. Mr. Giles. How could you let this happen? How can you just lie here--" Another version of the glare swept the room like a searchlight. "Chatting, when my daughter's been kidnaped?"

"Ms. Summers--" Willow and Xander tried in chorus.

Joyce's eyes fixed upon him. Yes, definitely withering--as if he wasn't wilted enough. "Mr. Giles, how many times am I going to have to say this? I--" She ground to a halt suddenly. "I--Rupert--oh my God, what happened to you?"

He raised the head of the bed a bit more, but even with its support couldn't manage to sit any longer. Dizziness and darkness came over him in waves. The last thing he felt was Joyce's cool hand pressed to his forehead, and the bed flattening out again.

Giles woke to Wesley's company, which came as a bit of surprise.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, then realized how churlish his words sounded. "I meant, oughtn't you to be resting? Looking after your own injuries?"

The younger man shrugged. "I'm well enough." He touched the neckbrace. "This comes off tomorrow. They're putting me into a soft collar. Does one ever overcome the sensation of nakedness that results from not wearing a tie?"

"I've begun to get over it, Wesley. But then, I'd a great deal of experience in my youth. Perhaps it's like riding a bicycle, one never entirely forgets."

"I've read about your youth," Wesley admitted. "I did as much research as I could about you, and about Miss...ah, Buffy. I wanted to be prepared." He laughed softly, a normal, masculine sound. "People are always so much more real than one expects."

"That's true," Giles agreed, wondering what Wesley intended by all this.

"If we survive, would you...ah...mind very much if I hung about for a bit? Worked together a little longer? Her Ladyship...Moira...said it would be all right to ask."

Giles flashed back to the mansion, the cold, defiant look he'd given this young Watcher, his words, "I've nothing to say at this time." Yet here was Wesley, seeking his approval in the same way that Xander so often did. He'd seen it before, only a few days earlier, when Wesley had wanted so badly to fence with him: the younger man's eagerness, his textbook form, all of which would be no bloody good in a real fight.

And Giles couldn't have been bothered. He'd let himself be ruled by resentment and rivalry, as if he had needed to compete with this hapless young fellow for Buffy's attention. Instead of teaching Wesley, giving the younger Watcher the attention he so obviously craved, he'd read the bloody newspaper--though still managing to fend off Wesley's every attack.

During his time under the Council's rule, had he really become so jaded? He hadn't known the students, hadn't really done his job as a librarian. He'd spent time with his kids--Xander and Willow, Cordelia and Oz--but had he given them even a quarter of what they actually needed? They had virtually no parents. They'd no one to look to of experience, if not wisdom. They constantly sought his encouragement, and he had been, now and then, sharply impatient with them, especially with Xander, who in many ways needed him most of all. Was this the man he wished to be?

To lose even the least of them would have torn out his heart entirely.

Wesley sat speechless, squirming under the weight of Giles's silence. In many ways, he still seemed both younger and older than his thirty-two years--though perhaps he'd lost a few of his more blueberry scone-like qualities.

"You're not going back to England, then?" Giles asked him gently. "Won't you be missed?"

"I despise my family. I've no friends." Wesley tugged off his glasses and put a hand to his eyes.

"You all right?"

Wesley shuddered. "I hated her. Miss Del Ciello. Such a bloody American. Hated her voice. Hated her insufferable attitude. Hated all those dreadful nicknames she called me. Windy was her favourite. Windy Wesley. But this--oh, God, Mr. Giles..."

"You know, Wesley, you can call me 'Giles,' as the others do. Or Rupert. Whichever is your preference."

"We were together the entire three years of our Candidacy, Maria and I. Bickering, and slagging one another--it was like a bad marriage. Or what I imagine a bad marriage would be like. Not, despite my mum's best efforts, that I ever expect to know." The barest hint of a smile flickered across Wesley's prim mouth. "How on earth have you done it, year after year, surrounded by those lovely creatures wearing next to nothing?"

"Lovely...oh, the girls. Well, they were very young at first, and now that they're grown--one learns to think of cricket, or to translate things from Latin. As I told Buffy recently, I discovered that Latin translation worked quite well in dealing with many of her briefer outfits.

"But not Ovid." Wesley laughed a little at his own dry attempt at a joke. "When I was at school, we used to read the naughtier bits of Ovid under the covers with a flashlight."

Giles shook his head. Poor Wyndham-Price. No wonder he'd failed so miserably with Cordelia, the self-proclaimed "Queen of Dating." She'd more experience by the age of sixteen than this unfortunate young man had in twice that time.

"I make you very cross, don't I?" Wesley asked suddenly.

"Wesley," Giles answered with as good humour as he could manage. "'Cross' is what small children make their nannies. Let's do try to find an adult word, shall we?"

"I never made my nanny cross," Wesley said wistfully. "She was the dearest creature. Had you a nanny, Mr...ah, er...Rupert?"

"I'd an extremely bossy older sister. We more or less raised ourselves. Within earshot, we were expected to behave in an adult and restrained manner, out of it, we terrorized the neighborhood."

"Where was this...umn, Rupert?"

"Salisbury," Giles said.

"Ah. Near Stonehenge."

"Yes, our house stood directly atop one of the leylines that ran down from the Henge. One could hear the magical force of it humming all night long, rather like a radio left on and not tuned to any station."

"Could one?" Wesley wondered, frowning, and Giles knew he'd never heard any such thing.

"That's Thomas Hardy country," Wesley said at last. "One expects it to be a bit grim. All those rippling plains, tortured families with dark secrets, and such. I grew up in Yorkshire, near a village called Henton."

"Ah, Bronte country," Giles murmured. "Rather more prickly moors and, again, those tortured families with dark secrets. Of the Northern variety."

"I had three extremely bossy older sisters." Wesley laughed. "And I can't ever remember being quite warm as a child."

"Good preparation for the numbing chill of one's Oxford rooms--it was Oxford, wasn't it, Wesley?"

"Yes, Balliol College. And you?"

"Caius." Giles sank into a brief vision of lost Randall leaning out the opened window of his rooms, catching snowflakes in his hand. Randall's voice came to him, all at once, with uncanny clarity. "I say, Rupert, I believe it shall actually stick this time." He could feel the softness of Randall's cashmere pullover, the fragile bones of his friend's shoulder, under his own strong hand. So tender. So easily hurt.

Randall--not confident and strong like Buffy, and yet...

Giles felt another hand on his own shoulder, summoning him back to awareness. "Rupert," Wesley was saying. "Is there something amiss--?"

"No, no." Giles pressed the fingertips of his good hand to his eyes. "Look, Wesley, do me a great favour, will you? Ask Xander if he won't bring me a change of clothes?"

"Do you think that's wise? The doctors seem to have forbidden--"

"The doctors can't be aware of these particular circumstances."

"Still--" Wesley began.

"Wesley, please. I can't lie here worrying. That's of no use whatsoever."

The younger man studied him, meeting what must, no doubt, have been one of Giles's chilliest looks. "Yes, yes, of course," he said, departing in haste.

When Wesley had gone, Giles slid his legs over the edge of the bed, forcing himself to sit still as his vision blurred, then sharpened, doubled and went single again. The headache seemed to run all the way from the crown of his head to his tailbone, and only the vision of Buffy's face as he'd last seen it kept him upright: the soft light glowing in her golden hair, her sapphire eyes sparkling, her expression humourous, tender, so warm that he knew, should anything happen to her, all the heat and the life would be torn from his world. He could not survive her loss.

"We haven't hurt her, you know," a woman's voice said.

Giles jerked toward the sound, letting out a gasp as the pain made a curious corkscrew twist down his spine, and the light-haloed black spots once again whirled before his eyes.

A cold hand touched the back of his neck. "Just breathe and take it slow. You really don't want to fall on your head again." The voice's owner sat beside him. Her long, denim-clad thigh touched his; her other hand curled round his arm. "It's okay. I've got you--but maybe you should lie back, hmn?"

Giles recovered himself enough to look up into her eyes: they were a lovely caramel brown; she would have been a very pretty young woman indeed, had she not been cold, and dead--and had the slight coppery tang of blood not tainted her breath as she spoke.

"Maria Del Ciello," he said quietly, feeling a terrible need to pull away from her, yet knowing her strength was so much greater than his, he could not possibly achieve his release.

"None other." The vampire smiled. "How's Her Ladyship? Is she okay?"

"A bit surprised to hear that you'd come to California."

"Not half so surprised about me as she was to hear about Helena, I bet. That must have been a shocker."

Giles said nothing.

"See, I brought you something, as proof. You can keep it if you like." The vampire shifted her grip, reaching into the pocket of her crisp white shirt to extract a Polaroid photograph. "She's a cutie, Rupert. I know, as you Brits say, that it's early days, but I can hardly wait to bring her over to our side."

The photo showed Buffy's face tear-streaked, her hair and clothing disheveled, her hands chained with sturdy manacles to an apparently solid wall--yet she did appear otherwise unharmed, just as his visitor said.

Giles knew better than to storm or bluster; such actions were a futile waste of energy. Instead, unable to stop himself, he let something move through him that had barely seen the light of day in a quarter century. His eyes caught Maria's, and the vampire was truly powerless to look away. Her hand fell from his arm, and the last color drained out of her face, until her skin was white as paper. "Let Buffy go," he murmured. "You may not hold her. Let Buffy go, Maria."

"Rup--" Wesley froze in the doorway. The paper cup of tea fell from his hand, splattering a wide brown stain across the white linoleum. "Miss Del Ciello!"

"Rupert's been a bad boy," the vampire said coldly. "He doesn't play fair." Her hand closed on Giles's throat, her thumb pressing on the carotid artery until the dark spots turned to a multicoloured whirl. He could scarcely see her attractive face corrugate into a demon's visage, but he knew it must have done so when he felt the flicker of her tongue against the bulging vessel, then the sharp prick of her fang.

"Maria!" Wesley shouted, but the vampire had gone.

The two of them were fighting, and Buffy tried to figure out how she could work that to her advantage. Maybe they'd do her a favor and kill each other--yeah, and then she could starve to death in her little closet. None of the Potterville vamps even knew where she was, Maria had seen to that. As far as Buffy could guess, she wasn't even at The Factory any more.

Before she'd left, Maria had tossed a picture into her lap, a Polaroid. The picture was of Giles, and in it he was sleeping, or unconscious, his hand bandaged up. It gave her a major wiggins: even ignoring the way Polaroids always made you look all pale anyway, he looked gray, and sick. She knew she couldn't really trust Maria, but she'd really, really wanted to ask the vampire if Giles was okay--he didn't look okay in the picture, and he hadn't looked okay on the floor of The Factory, either, right before Helena had personally knocked her ass-over-head.

Buffy was so mad at herself, she just wanted to spit. Figuratively speaking, that was.

When she gave Buffy the picture, Maria had been mad, too. Really, completely pissed.

"Having a bad day?" Buffy had asked her, in her sweetest voice, and Maria had glared. But Buffy had been on the receiving end of Giles-glares for the past three years, and if there had been an Olympic medal for glaring, Giles would have won one every time. He was also extremely talented in the area of yelling at you without even raising his voice--he could have given her mom lessons, but Buffy was kind of glad he hadn't. One master of that art was enough.

She remembered lying beside him on his bed, watching him sleep, the way he'd kissed her, and the way he'd touched her hair--the way their bodies fitted so perfectly together, and how safe he made her feel. Not safe from things that her Slayer-strength would protect her from, but safe in ways she couldn't even put into words.

She could imagine, perfectly, making love to him: his hands, that were smooth and rough all at the same time, traveling over her body, his warm kisses, the heat of him inside her, stretching her open. She could imagine his quiet voice in her ear, and the clean, salty, masculine smell of his skin.

What? You couldn't call out for Chinese food? Buffy asked herself--but, even then, even if she'd been there, at Giles's place, she wasn't sure she could've taken Helena, not in a fair fight. Maybe not in an unfair one, either.

Buffy pulled and twisted at her chains, but nothing she did made any difference. All she'd managed so far was to rub the skin off her wrists, and now they stung.

She wished Helena and Maria would get done yelling, so at least she could get some sleep.

Giles, she thought, and her eyes stung too--but by that time she was too wrung out to cry.

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