Transformations - Chapter 22

Maria Del Ciello strolled into Willie's place an hour or so before sunrise and waited, foot tapping, for the weaselly little guy to stop hiding under the bar and show himself. "Stop me if you've heard this one," she said. "A vampire walks into a bar, and says to the bartender--" She listened to the frantic tap of the little rodent man's heart, the slosh-whoosh of blood through his veins. Willie smelled salty, and not too good for you, like the kind of snack you'd pick up at 7-11.

"You might as well come out, you know," Maria said, sliding up onto one of the barstools. "I can hear you."

She glanced around the disgusting dive--no one else in the place and, God, what a pit. Anywhere but Sunnydale, the Department of Health would have shut Willie's down faster than you could say giant mutant cockroaches. Maria picked up a peanut from the dish on the bar. Dusty. What kind of place served dusty peanuts? It offended her on a personal level.

"When I said 'come out,'" she told him, "Were you under the impression that I didn't mean now?"

Willie popped up like a jack-in-the-box. "Hey!" he said. "How's it going? Can I get you something? We have some excellent dog blood tonight. Fresh. Border Collie--very nice."

"You," she told him, "Are a disgusting man. Diet Coke. Bottle or can, I don't care which. Just not opened by you."

"This--" the bartender sniffed, "From someone who drinks blood." But he brought her the icy-cold can quick as lightning.

"Blood tastes like olives," Maria told him. "It's different than you'd think, afterward. Everything's different."

"Heard you--uh--had a little trouble."

Maria shrugged. "That's what grandiose plans will get you. Vampire queens. My God."

"But your partner--"

"My partner was staked by Wesley Wyndham-Price. Believe me, there's no greater mark of being a loser." Maria tried winging dusty peanuts at the bottles behind the bar; every last one hit its mark with a satisfying "ping." She hadn't lost it. She still had her arm.

"You're going to show me another place," she told the bartender, staring Willie down until he wrung his hands and cringed. Interesting, that--she'd never actually seen anyone wring his hands before; she'd thought it was the kind of thing that only happened in old novels.

"Here's what I'm looking for," Maria said. "Nice and dark, conveniently located. And then, when I've settled in..." She leaned forward, smiling into Willie's face, showing just the tiniest bit of fang. "Well, we'll just have to see what happens."

Despite Wesley's words, and their own answer, the Scooby Gang didn't seem quite ready to pick their bodies up off the ground and follow.

"Let's not all come along at once," Wesley said, with detectable sarcasm, and left the four of them to pull it together, while he and a still shaky-looking Moira went head-to-head over by the van.

"Let's see," Xander began, touching the dark bruise over his eye. "Bombs, giant snakes and a vampire army last week. Weird magic, evil vamp Watchers and Slayers and a vampire army this week. What do you crazy kids want to do for fun next week?"

"I vote for something different," Willow said. She'd finally realized what had happened to her hair, and was pulling on handfuls of it, as if that would somehow straighten out the frizz. Like Xander's, her face was bruised, and her eyes so red they looked like something from a horror movie.

"Me too," Buffy put in. "Those vampire armies are getting so passe´."

"Ooh, a Cordelia word! Speaking of which, you guys up for a little trip to L.A.? I think I can get Uncle Rory to loan me the cruisemobile."

Xander's idea sounded like fun, normal kid fun which--sitting there on the edge of the scary forest--was almost hard for Buffy to believe in. She could imagine zooming down the freeway in Xander's Uncle Rory's turquoise convertible, the top down and the wind whipping through her hair. A little shopping, a little club-hopping, a good time had by all. She glanced over at Giles.

"Oh, the G-man will let you go--won't you, Giles?" Xander said. "C'mon, we've gotta have wiped out all the evil for miles around. For a day or two at least. Remember, a cranky Slayer is a sloppy Slayer."

"Great," Buffy told him. "So now I'm cranky and sloppy?" But a lot of the post-escape, after-battle rush had left her, and she held tighter to Giles's hand, looking up into his face. He didn't seem to have heard any of the previous conversation, and even Xander noticed. Giles's eyes looked even redder than Willow's, if such a thing was possible--a bad contrast to the tired grayness of his skin.

"Is he...?" Xander asked.

"He's gonna be okay," Buffy answered, putting her other hand on his back protectively. "He's just... We need..."

"Uh...maybe later on the trip, then?" Xander said.

"Maybe we should take him to the hospital?" Willow asked, in a gentle, concerned voice. She scooted back to her position on Giles's other side, touching his arm.

"What could they do?" Buffy said, way more angrily than she intended. She climbed to her feet. "Let's just go. I hate this place."

Somehow it seemed weird for Wesley's blue van to still be there, looking normal if a little battered. The paint on the side nearest the now completely-dead fire had bubbled up a little and turned a smoky, charcoal-gray color. Wes himself, and Moira, stood in its shadow, holding each other in the tightest hug Buffy had ever seen, while Wesley rubbed her back and whispered comforting-sounding stuff into her ear.

If there were two things Buffy would have predicted never happening, one would have been that old Wes would ever do something manly and cool--which he had, staking the vampire Helena the way he did. She had to give him full points for that. The other thing would have been that he and Moira would ever get couple-y. But here they were.

When Wesley realized they'd joined him, he jerked apart from Moira like he'd been given an electric shock. Okay, so he still had a ways to go. As Giles might have said once--one of the many things he said that she didn't quite get--Rome wasn't built in a day.

"You did good, Wes," Buffy told him. "Watch out, we might have to make you an honorary member of the Scooby Gang."

"Yeah," Xander said, "You could be, like, the anti-Shaggy."

Wesley didn't get that any more than Buffy got Giles's stuff, but he took it for what it was worth. " you, Buffy. Let's do go home, shall we?"

"Let's shall!" Buffy answered, at which Wesley shook his head--stiffly. He looked like he was missing his neckbrace.

In the dark of the backseat, Buffy pulled Giles over to her, stroking the back of his neck gently, and his soft hair. He made a sound--maybe not a happy sound, but not unhappy either. She knew he took comfort from her touch. Willow and Xander both turned around a couple times to look at them.

"Go to Buffy's place first, Wesley," Willow said.

"I, ah, had thought...?"

"Go to Buffy's," Willow repeated. "Slayers first."

Everyone stayed quiet for awhile.

"I want to thank you guys," Buffy said at last. "All of you. If I ever do anything that stupid again, Giles is under strictest orders to bop me over the head with a frying pan."

"Why should that dissuade...?" Wesley began.

"It's a figure of speech, love," Moira said quietly. She sat up front with Wes, and had been staring out the window with her cheek pressed to the glass. Her voice sounded sad, and a little ashamed, and it might take some time, but Buffy kind of thought she'd find her way back to okay. She seriously doubted Moira would be spending the rest of the night--or the rest of her stay in Sunnydale--at the Holiday Inn.

"If you feel the need to apologize, Buffy," Moira said, "Then I certainly should as well. Doubly." She twisted in her seat to face them all. "I am so very, very sorry. What I did, the way in which I acted, was horribly wrong, a betrayal of all your trust." For a minute she put her hand to her neck, and the pain flashed in her eyes. "Unforgivable, after your numerous sacrifices."

"Er--oughtn't we to take Mr. Giles--ah--Rupert home first?" Wesley said, changing the subject. "He seems a bit--" He didn't go on.

"Buffy's," Willow said again.

"Ah--yes." Wesley turned around to stare at her, then at Buffy and Giles in the back, like he couldn't help himself.

"Eyes on the road! Eyes on the road!" Willow and Xander yelled simultaneously, until Wesley whipped back around, gasping a little as he hurt his stiff neck.

"Umn. Yes. Just so." Even the back of his head looked shocked, but he drove straight to Buffy's without even needing to ask for directions, which was doing pretty well, since as far as she was aware, he'd only been there once. Knowing Wes, he'd probably memorized every single map of Sunnydale, marking all possible routes to his Slayer's house. He pulled up into the drive to let them out. "You will ring me, won't you, if there's any trouble? If you need help? I...that is we, Moira and I...could research..."

"Thanks," Buffy said, wondering what Moira had told him--about the magic stuff, that was. Maybe she was getting in way over her head, because Wesley didn't seem to think Giles was going to get okay on his own--but then, Wes didn't know Giles that well.

Everyone piled out of the van, and hugged them both goodbye--Moira kissed Giles's cheek, and whispered something, to which he actually responded with a fleeting little smile.

Buffy led him up the steps to the front porch. She turned for a minute to watch the van pull away, then knelt to lift the loose board over the space where her mom hid the spare key. She was glad they'd sent her mother away--both because of the danger, and because this would take some serious explaining, which she didn't want to do, just then. She wanted the two of them to be together, and maybe to actually even sleep--and she hoped, with a slight shiver--that Giles's extreme state of quietness wasn't hiding any weird surprises, that he hadn't come back like some kind of Pet Sematary guy.

Ooh, you so didn't need to think that, she told herself, shivering again.

"Cold?" Giles asked her.

"No, I'm okay." She got the door open and brought him inside, flipping on the light in the entryway.

Giles looked around as if he'd never been to her house before, instead of something like a million times. As if he hadn't fought zombies, or argued with her mom, or caught her lying to him right there. "Mine?" he said.

"No, this is my place," Buffy reminded him. "I live here with my mom. You have a condo close to the school--or close to what used to be the school. Xander's staying there tonight, and you're gonna stay here with me." She felt suddenly starving, and hoped there was some sort of food in the house, with her mom being gone, and all.

"I'm hungry," she said. "Would you like something to eat?"

Giles shook his head "no."

"You sure? `Cause you probably haven't eaten in, like, years. I'll make you some tea, at least--you always like tea." She led him through into the kitchen, sitting him down at the bar while she put the kettle on, then went foraging in the fridge. There wasn't much: a few non-fat yogurts and some leftovers in containers that were just a little too leftover. While the water heated, Buffy started dumping them down the dispose-all. Giles yelled at the sudden grinding whine and she shut the thing off at once, going to him--surprised and horrified to find him pale and shaking.

"It's okay, it's okay," she said. "It was only a machine. I'm sorry."

He leaned forward on the bar, resting his head on his crossed arms. Buffy didn't know what to do. She almost wished she'd made Will stay with her--Willow was always way more practical in these situations.

The kettle whistled, and Buffy turned it off, making the tea almost mechanically. Earl Grey for Giles, Bengal Spice for her--the kind that came in the pretty box with the tiger on it. Giles sat up to look at her.

"Nice," he said, taking the cup she'd intended for herself, breathing in the cinnamon-and-clove scented steam. "India."

"You don't like that kind," she told him. "You say it's too sweet."

Giles sipped cautiously, although Buffy would have thought the tea would still be too hot. "No," he said. "Nice."

Buffy dumped the Earl Grey and made a second cup of Bengal Spice for herself. They sipped in silence for a while, until Buffy couldn't stand it. "Have you been to India?" she asked. "It's a country," she added.

"I...know," Giles answered, with an impatient little shake of his head.

"Well, don't get mad. That's about the first thing you've remembered tonight, so you really can't expect me to be sure. I'd also feel a lot happier if you could put more than two words together at a time."

"By the door," Giles said, following that with a pause so long, Buffy had time to finish her tea and start one of the yogurts: strawberry; her favorite. She was still waiting to hear the rest of his thought when she'd polished off that one and fetched another--blackberry, not such a good choice, but still okay.

"All right, so that was three words. 'By the door?'" Buffy prompted, stirring the fruit up from the bottom of her yogurt container.

"You thought--" Giles shook with the effort. "I'd hurt you. I saw."

"Nah, not really." She looked into his eyes--they were getting pale again, and that worried her. "I just didn't know. You're not usually like this."

"Ripper," he said.

"No, you're not acting like Ripper either. I didn't know."

Giles shut his eyes, holding his forehead against the warm cup.

"Hey," Buffy said. Giles set the cup down to look at her, her eyes darkening again, going past the gray-green into charcoal gray.

"I remembered. Remember. Buffy." His good hand opened and closed, clenching with the effort.. "Only you. I you. Buffy."

She saw all the truth of that in his face, and her heart broke. It had been hard, and horribly painful, but he'd hauled himself back for her, and her alone. He didn't expect anything from that; he only wanted her to know.

"You held"

He'd have slipped away otherwise--had been slipping, when Will's spell caught him, and then her own touch kept him alive. All this was still hard. He'd torn half loose from his life, and was having difficulty getting stuck back into it again. She needed to be patient. She needed to trust and love him.

"It's okay," she said, then, without even knowing she'd intended to ask the question, "It is okay, isn't it? You did want to stay?"

She flashed back to Moira, looking so ready to die. As she'd found out with Angel, love could definitely be a two-edged sword. It certainly wasn't easy.

"Yes," Giles told her, touching her hair. "I wanted."

Buffy felt tears flood her eyes. "Let's go upstairs," she said.

Buffy let Giles go first with the shower, while she put his clothes into the washing machine. When he was done she took her own turn, throwing her ruined dress into the wastebasket and scrubbing and scrubbing until her skin felt glowy. The great thing about being a Slayer was that the tree-bark scrapes had nearly healed. The skin there was pink, a little bit tender, and that was all.

Buffy couldn't even believe how grubby she'd gotten, and how good it felt to be clean again. The vamp sisters had fed her, and given her stuff to drink, but they hadn't been all that big on personal hygiene thing. She brushed her teeth for about ten minutes before she felt really good about herself again.

When Buffy got back to her bedroom, Giles was sitting on the end of the bed, his shoulders slumped, a towel wrapped loosely around his waist--she hadn't had any clean clothes to give him; he'd just have to wait until his old, now-ratty ones ran thought the cycle.

Giles looked bruised and scraped and cut, the worst spots being where Helena had kicked him in the ribs, and where Buffy herself had squeezed his shoulder. He had a big bruise shaped like her fist in the place where she'd accidentally hit him. She reminded herself to be more careful in general: a human guy wasn't like Angel; he could get hurt. A dark ring of bruising, nearly black, ran around Giles's chest from where she'd held him so tight.

He'd noticeably lost weight since the last time they'd made love, which hadn't been that long before, and that kind of shocked her--though not as badly as she was shocked by the old white scars, some wide as two of her fingers, that ran across his back, tangling and criss-crossing with each other.

Buffy put her hands to her mouth, almost losing the towel she'd wrapped around her own body.

Angel had done that. Well, okay, Angelus, but--Buffy flushed with shame and horror. She'd made Giles help Angel, stay with Angel, in the exact same room where this happened, and the thought hadn't even crossed her little pea brain. How insensitive, how callous could she be? How could he possibly, possibly love her?

She flashed back to Giles's quiet voice, telling her, only a few months before, "Sadly, I must remind you that Angel tortured me, for hours, for pleasure."

Buffy hadn't understood before. She'd felt uncomfortable, but she'd blown it off as Giles being cranky, oversensitive.

"You have no respect for me," he'd told her, and turned his back, staring at the wall because he couldn't stand to look at her face. He'd loved her even then, for reasons Buffy couldn't understand, and it was just another form of torture for him to see how little she'd cared.

Buffy choked on tears. She couldn't look at his face, but her hands moved over his shoulders, feeling hollows and ridges.

"No," Giles told her softly. His good hand moved up beneath the towel to rest lightly on her hip, his thumb stroking the prominence of the bone. "It's all right," he told her, in something exactly like his old voice. "Buffy, it's all right."

"No, it isn't," she sobbed. "Giles, it isn't. I'm just the worst, worst person."

"My Buffy," Giles answered tenderly. "My life." He sounded surprised--not that he felt that way, but that she didn't know.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm just sorry. For everything."

"Buffy," he said again, his hand brushing across her face, drying her tears, gently touching the pink lines of the nearly-healed scrapes. He tugged a little at the towel until it dropped in a damp heap to the floor, leaving Buffy naked, expecting to feel vulnerable--but she felt no shame in showing him her body; the completeness of his love warmed her.

Giles stroked the curve of her waist, down to her hip again, his fingers running lightly over the roundness of her buttocks, slipping into the cleft between her cheeks until Buffy shivered with pleasure. His lips touched softly to the skin over her stomach, then lower, the stubble on his jaw rasping and tickling, though not in a bad way. He kissed lower again, his tongue dipping into the hollow of her navel, which sent different kinds of shivers straight into her core. She swayed forward as his lips moved lower still. His breath stirred her damp blonde curls, his kiss imprinted the sensitive skin just at the place where her hair gave way to smoothness. The feeling went through her like electricity.

Giles had both hands at her hips, though Buffy didn't know how he managed. She was half afraid he'd hurt himself, and then the thought left her as suddenly, unexpectedly, he lifted her upward, his strength enough, at that moment, to make her feel weightless.

"Oh!" she gasped in the moment before she came back to earth again, the heat of him pressed against her as she straddled his thighs.

"Someone's feeling friskier," she said, but Giles stopped her mouth with a kiss, and a whisper of, "Ssh."

Outside the window, the rain had started up again, the way it had earlier that night. Even though she'd been locked indoors, Buffy had been able to tell, on her way home, that they'd had a hard rain from the lingering wetness in the streets. Now drops struck the roof and the window with a scattered rhythm, a sound like random beads dropped onto tile. Somewhere in the distance, Buffy heard the grumble of thunder, followed by an indigo flash of lightning, then the thunder again.

For a moment she felt afraid--not the way she'd been scared when she was little, of the brightness and the unexpected noise. Now she feared that somehow the weather wasn't just weather, but some other horrible thing come to separate her and Giles once more. She held onto Giles's shoulders with desperate tightness, the metal cuffs digging into his skin, but he held her in return with his own gentleness, his reassurance, and murmured to her words she couldn't detect, but that made her all right again. His head pressed against her chest, between her breasts, the hair half-dark and half-silver, always so much softer than she expected. He felt a little damp, and smelled clean, like her soap this time, instead of his own. On him her own scent was different, deeper somehow, and more masculine. All the greenness and the smokiness seemed gone from him, driven away not so much by the shower, but by his need to comfort and care for her.

She reached down between them, stroking her fingers up the length of him: he responded almost at once to her touch. She herself ached for him, the feel of him inside her, and she thought, For the rest of my life, I'll make love to this man. Such a wonderful thought, she almost couldn't stand it: he'd be okay, somehow they'd both be okay, and together. None of the badness mattered really--or it did. Of course it did. Badness was...bad, and it was all around them.

What she meant was that their lives didn't have to be lonely. No more lies, no more hiding. She'd tease him, and he'd fuss at her, and then they'd look at each other with this love and understanding, and everything would come out all right again.

The lightning struck, much closer, lighting up the entire room in purple, then fizzling out again. It took the power with it, leaving the two of them in the dark.

"So much for your clean clothes," Buffy told Giles, laughing. "But I guess you won't be needing them right away."

She thought she saw Giles smile, but he moaned as she slipped away from him.

"Buffy?" he said, sounding concerned.

"I'm lighting candles," she said. "I want to look at you."

She dug her scented votives out of a drawer and set them around the room; they all came alight before she even struck a match.

Surprised, she turned to Giles, to see his eyes shining the most amazing, clear sea-green, warmth and humor in his face and, again, that incredible love. "Giles?" she said, "Was that you? How long have you been able to do that?"

"Always," he said, "But I didn't."

"And you didn't, because...?" She studied his face: in the golden glow of the candleflames she couldn't see any grayness in his skin. He looked awfully tired, but happy.

"Not long now, Buffy," he told her, seriously. "Come to me?"

"Not long until what?" Buffy asked.

"The spell goes." His eyes did darken a little then, and he repeated, "Come to me."

Buffy burrowed through another drawer and found what she was looking for. "You forget something, caution man?" she asked, shaking the little packet.

Giles laughed low in his throat, pulling her astride him again. His fingers traced the length of her spine, while he took first her left nipple into his mouth, and later the right, caressing them with his lips and tongue until their flesh pulled into tight peaks and the pleasure flowed down Buffy's body in uncontrollable waves. His cock pressed between them, so hard now it couldn't possibly get harder. Buffy rocked closer and Giles groaned as her smooth skin slipped against him. She pulled back again to roll on the condom. This time she didn't feel the least bit shy.

"It's green," Giles said, looking down.

"The teacher hands them out in health class," Buffy answered. "They always come in fun colors. At parties, kids blow them up instead of balloons." She watched to see if he'd be shocked or offended, but Giles gave one of his laughs, the ususal kind, without any sound. She couldn't help but tease him. "Green matches your eyes."

Again, he stopped her words with a kiss, one of those deep kisses that warmed her down to her toes, that perfect contact of lips and tongues, exploring softly, then harder, as Buffy rose on her knees and Giles lifted her even higher, another moment of pure weightlessness before she came down again, this time with him inside her.

Again, Buffy gripped his shoulders, driving herself downward, driving him still deeper inside her body. Already she could feel something growing, crackling through her, a pressure building like the storm. A fury of rain drummed on the eaves, and there was almost no pause between the explosions of thunder.

The two of them moved hard and fast together, as in one of their better battles, Giles on his back and Buffy above him, skin touching skin and parting with a frantic rhythm, until in a single moment, timed with yet another flash of purple more violent than any before, they came, hanging in the stillness long after the thunder faded.

Buffy found herself crouched above her lover, thighs clamped around his hips, her face pressed hard against his chest. Giles was breathing fast, his ribs rising and falling rapidly.

"You all right?" she gasped, uncurling slowly, surprised to find herself breathless, her own skin, as his was, slick with sweat.

"I believe I'm..." he started, gazing up at her, his eyes looking wide and innocent, which they still--although that, too, caught Buffy by surprise--sometimes did.

"Yes?" She waited.

Giles reached to brush back her hair, his fingers tracing the curve of her cheek and the line of her jaw. "I'm meant to ask you," he concluded. "If you are."

Buffy lifted herself away to lie down at his side, running her fingers over his bruised ribs, through the hair on his chest, along the taut curves of his shoulder and arm. Sometime in the night, she knew, Moira's spell would fail, and her touch would start to hurt him. Buffy wondered why the spell had lasted as long as it had, then decided not to ask: it was like a gift, a special gift, and not to be questioned.

Giles watched her, the way he always did, his eyes reading her face like a book. "Beautiful in candlelight," he said, touching his thumb to her lips, stroking gently along the curve. Then, a little later. "Buffy, I do so love you."

Six whole words from him; a complete sentence. She was afraid to say anything, to spoil the moment with some thoughtless remark, and so she kissed Giles, and took him into her arms.

They fell asleep together while the thunder rolled, quieter and quieter each time.

The End

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