Ill-Met by Moonlight
"Stupid vampire boss," grumbled Cordelia, revving the engine impatiently. "Can't use a courier like normal people. Oh no, world's gonna end if we don't get that book as soon as humanly possible…god, how many people have bosses who can say that that literally? And since when is there this much traffic at the turn-off for goddamn Sunnydale?"
She sighed, lifting her hands off the wheel and flexing her fingers experimentally. "Wesley doesn't have it," she griped. "Oh no, Wesley the fired watcher doesn't have it at all. Only Giles, the stodgier, wiser and better-supplied watcher has the book we need and I can't go get it because of the middle-of-the-day sunlight and Wesley can't get it because of the middle-of-the-day research, and puppy-dog-eyes I know you'll hate this but please…"
Well, he'd had the foresight to call ahead at least, which was good because Cordelia had no idea what it was that Angel needed. Oh sure, she knew all about the ritual in question. She'd seen the whole nasty mess in her vision, hadn't she? Corax, a trickster demon. Mass havoc. Traipsing through the countryside.
"And Giles can't just read us the incantation over the phone?" she complained. "Oh no, because we need the spellbook to get the potion ready. Why?" She adopted a stuffy British accent. "Because a tearing of paper from the spellbook is part of the potion. Of course. He is a trickster demon after all, did you really think he wouldn't make his vanquishing a tiny bit whimsical? Shut up, Wesley. God, I hate road trips. For this, I'm passing up a night of Star Trek reruns with Phantom Dennis and a pint of Rocky Road?"
If it had been her own car, she might have hesitated before slamming a frustrated fist into the dashboard. But here it was: The Magic Box. What kind of name for a store is that? She wondered. Magic BOX? Magic shop was obviously too pedestrian. But box? Magic hat, she could have understood. Magic show, even better. But box?
Sighing, she locked the car and headed inside. Willow was peering out the window, waiting for her.
"Hey Cordelia, how was your trip? Did you bring the potion with you? Can we do the vanquishing here? Can I help with the vanquishing?"
"Geez Willow, hyper much? God, you're acting like you've never seen a demon before. Even when one is…staring you in the face as we speak. Oh. Hi, Anya. Nice to see you again."
"Likewise," said Anya pleasantly. "And actually, I am an ex-demon now. In the past, a comment like yours might have offended me, but I have evolved as a person and no longer am a slave to petty insecurity." She smiled broadly. "Besides, I have nothing but goodwill towards the girl who was so inadequate for Xander that he left her and fell in love with me!"
Cordelia's smile faded the tiniest bit. "Um, that's…nice. Anyway, Angel says I should call as soon as I get in. Wesley is still tracking the demon, and they might have to meet us part-way. We might need some muscle for this: you gonna assemble the crew?"
Willow nodded enthusiastically. "So we DO get to help! Yay! But you know, I'm not really the muscly type. Better with potions, really."
"Um right. But Will, we have to FIND the demon first…"
"Sure. Right. Ok, I'll call Buffy. Anya, you'll show Cordy the books?"
Anya nodded. "I am always happy to help out the person who brought me to Xander." She halted suspiciously. "Unless you're here to steal him back?"
"Xander? Ewww, no. I am SO past that."
"That's nice to hear. Books are this way. I organized them myself. Giles couldn't handle the store without me. I am very useful."
Cordelia smiled weakly. "That's…great. I love what you've done with the place. So you're still into magic, then? Levitating pencils, conjuring rabbits out of hats, that kind of thing?"
Anya shuddered. "Xander-bashing, I can handle, you being his ex and all and me not feeling threatened. But bunnies? Don't even joke about that!"
Buffy, Xander and Giles appeared about ten minutes later. "Hey guys," greeted Willow. "We're almost ready to head out. Angel's gonna meet us halfway, at the campground just past the Las Ranas turnoff. Cordelia said I could help with the potion," she added.
"Yeah, after we find the guys, then find the demon, then keep it out of mischief long enough that we can spill the potion on it," grumbled Cordelia.
Buffy smiled. "I remember the days when all it took to kill a demon was a serious pounding," she reminisced fondly. "Now it's spells this and potion that…the world just keeps getting more and more complicated, doesn't it?"
Cordelia sighed. "We'll need supplies. Guess we'll have to take two cars then. So, Giles, I guess you and I need to talk potions, you can come with me. Who else?"
"Oh, I can come in your car," said Willow. "I can talk potions."
Giles cleared his throat. "Erm, I think not, Willow. This sort of spell is extremely sensitive, and I don't really think someone so…untrained…should be handling it. Besides, I need to go over battle scenarios with Buffy. Buffy, you'll come in Cordelia's car. Willow, you'll go with Xander and Anya and meet us there."
To Cordelia, he confidentially whispered "I'm glad she bought that. It's an hour drive to the campground, and I didn't want to spend it listening to an overly excitable walking wiccan encyclopedia analyzing to death such an elementary little potion."
When Giles realized that Cordelia had barely emerged from the car after the hours-long drive to Sunnydale, he graciously offered to take the wheel. Cordelia and Buffy lounged in the backseat in all their super-hero slumber-party glory, trading gossip.
"You know who I saw the other day?" said Buffy casually. "Devon!"
"Devon, my ex-boyfriend Devon? Wow, talk about people I haven't heard from in awhile…what's he up to these days?"
"College, I think. Oh, and this girl he was with---total skanky-ho-ness. Bleached blond in a not attractive way, name that ends in an I or a y---something cutesy, Cyndi, I think it was. He still plays at the Bronze from time to time, but it's not the same. He has a beer gut now."
Cordelia smiled. "Couldn't keep it together without me around, hmm? Oh, you know who I saw? Jonathan! He was in L.A. visiting his grandmother. He totally tried to hit on me."
"Cordelia, Jonathan tries to hit on everyone. Even the boys."
They collapsed into giggles, and Giles cleared his throat. "Hmmm. I'm gratified the two of you seem to be getting along, but perhaps if you could spare a moment…we ARE hot on the heals of a nefarious demon, and I think we should really…"
"Nefarious?" squeaked Cordelia. "Giles, really, from what Wesley told me, he's a bit less nefarious, a bit more overgrown two-year old. In my vision, I swear I actually saw him egging a house and TP-ing a tree."
"Vision?" asked Buffy quizzically.
"Oh, I didn't tell you about those. I…AGGGGGGGH!"
Buffy sighed. "Speak of the devil…Giles, you'd better pull over. Cordelia's having a fit or something."
"It's NOT too advanced for me," complained Willow. "I don't see what Giles is making such a fuss about. According to these instructions, it's actually a very basic…"
Xander sighed. "Again with the already heard this…"
"And I still can't believe he forgot the books," added Anya. "Good thing you picked them up, Willow. Now you can still be useful even if you screw up the spell."
"And you won't miss anything," added Xander encouragingly. "Because they can't start the spell until we get there with the book."
"You know," remarked Willow. "Most of the ingredients for the potion are pretty common ones. And I always keep a bit of this and that in my backpack…"
"No, and no," said Xander firmly, seeing where this was going.
"It'd serve them right for mocking my magickal prowess. Go faster, Xander. I want to get there way ahead of them. It'd be easy enough to mix up our own potion and we could have the whole thing taken care of before Buffy and the others even…"
"Still with the no. For once, watcher-man is right, Will. Let's leave this to those in the not-so-humanly-fragile supernatural car, 'kay?"
Giles pulled a bottle of water out of the glove compartment and offered it to Cordelia.
"Are you quite all right now?" he asked gently.
"Yeah. So would this be a good time to explain about the mind-numbingly painful visions, inherited from our dead half-demon friend Doyle, that the Powers-That-Be send me of evil for Angel to fight?"
"Yes," said Giles and Buffy in unison. They waited expectantly.
"Um, that was kind of it," Cordelia admitted.
"Oh. Well, visions, that sounds…nice. Very…direct. Purposeful. Gotta admire that. All we have is vague Watcher's Council prophecies that seldom come with useful explanatory visuals," said Buffy.
"Oh, we have those too. They just don't hurt as much."
"Right then," said Giles, patting her shoulder awkwardly. "Shall we move on?"
96 bottles of beer on the wall later, they pulled into the campground.
"Well, let's get a move on," said Giles. He scanned the parking lot. "It looks like the others got here already, and we'd best find them quickly. Have to get that blasted book from Willow…" He noticed them pause. "What?"
Buffy lowered her eyes sheepishly. "We kinda wanted too finish the song first, Giles. I mean, you get all the way down to the final four, you can't just stop…"
"So? You can't finish it along the way?"
"What, and use rowdy singing to prematurely alert not-quite-nefarious but still annoying demon to our presence?"
"Oh. Of course."
"Besides," added Cordelia, "It's more a car song, really…"
"Bloody hell…" muttered Giles. Not for the first time, he wondered which power, in its infinite wisdom, had decided that slayers should all be frivolous girls.
"We should have stayed by the car," whined Xander. "Will, how did I let you talk me into this crazy plan of yours?"
"You do have a plan, right?" Anya chimed in worriedly. "I mean, a plan besides wandering aimlessly through a strange forest looking for…." She broke off with a perilous shriek and leaped into Xander's arms.
"Bunnies!" She broke into a sob. "Xander look, bunnies, one, two…three bunnies!"
"Ha ha ha," intoned Willow dryly. Xander glared at her. "What?" she protested. "Sesame Street? Count Count? He's always counting things…Never mind, I'm trying to talk pop culture with a Xander and an ex-demon, I think the problem's on my end…"
Anya buried her head in Xander's shoulder, sniffling piteously. "There's more and more of them everywhere I look. Xander, save me!"
They heard a noise, like distant rustling of trees, then three figures burst though the clearing.
"Angel!" shouted Willow in greeting. "And Wesley! And…strange other man who I don't know!"
"Gunn," the stranger introduced himself. "Charles Gunn. And what's the what? We heard screaming."
"Bunnies," said Willow. "Anya's afraid of them."
He swallowed his chuckle and was introduced to the caterwauling little blond girl and her boyfriend, Xander.
"You know," commented Wesley. "Something is odd about this situation."
"You mean besides the fact that we were speeding like there's no tomorrow to get to this dump only to find that the big saving is her, from them?" He pointed at Anya, then the bunnies, with equal disgust.
"Bunnies are nothing to joke about," pouted Anya. "Wesley, you do the explaining. I don't like it when that one talks."
Wesley's brow was furrowed thoughtfully. "Well, Bunnies aren't indigenous to this area," he explained. "And they don't generally travel in packs. It seems odd that we would suddenly find so many of them here. And trickster demons love to play off people's fears, especially silly and harmless ones. No offence."
"So you're saying our demon put these bunnies here to wig her out?"
"Figures." Gunn sighed, disappointed. "I was planning on stealing me one, but if it's demon bunnies, they'll probably evaporate as soon as we kill their mother."
"Well, not evaporate, exactly. More like…"
"Forget it," said Gunn. "I don't want to know. Let's just find the others and get this done."
They let Giles wander several feet ahead of them because they knew he enjoyed playing leader. That, and the fact that if he heard what they were talking about, he would have tried to stop them and make them be serious.
Buffy grinned. "Yup. And it wasn't just three hours straight of Backstreet Boys, Cordy. It was three hours straight of MTV Behind the Scenes special on the Backstreet Boys. Music videos. Concert footage. And intimate interviews with their family and friends."
"And Giles sat through the whole thing?"
"Well, Dawn was pretty pissed off that we still felt she needed babysitting. So he told her they could do whatever she wanted. 'Cept magic, of course."
Cordelia giggled. "Of course. Sounds like a lot has happened since I've been away. So enough about everyone else, how about you? Done any great shopping lately? Any new men in your life?"
Buffy's eyes darkened abruptly. "Well, there WAS a man in my life. But he's gone now."
"On the prowl, are ya? Well, how about Giles?"
"Cordelia! What do you mean, how about Giles?"
Cordelia sighed patiently. "Come on, Buff, we've been yacking away for over an hour and in that time you've told me one story about Xander, two about Willow, six about Dawn and about fifteen about Giles, not including his guest appearances in other people's stories. You've mentioned not-anymore-boyfriend once, five seconds ago, when asked, and you haven't said a word about Angel. Isn't it obvious?"
"Again, I say, what? It's not so ridiculous. I mean, you two, known each other for a long time…and you won't have to explain the slayer thing 'cause he already knows that. He's sturdy enough---all those knocks on the head and he hasn't croaked on you yet. Reasonably fit from all that training stuff…handsome, though not in an Angel sort of way. And true, he has neither vampire strength nor devilishly handsome broody leather clothing. Oh, but he sings better than Angel does. Have you heard Angel sing? Did I tell you about the time we…"
Buffy abruptly stopped, face cracking into a wide grin. "Cordelia…you like Angel!" she realized.
"You were absolutely right when you said I've barely mentioned him. But you…" She repeated Cordelia's tally. "Two stories about Wes. Five stories about a demon that sings karaoke…or something. To be honest, I kinda tuned you out a bit there. But Angel…non-stop. Angel took you shopping. Angel took you fighting. Angel took you drinking. Angel is so sweet after those visions, did I know he does accupressure…made all the better by his icy-cool vampire fingers, and…of course, I did know all about those. But I didn't know YOU did!"
She grinned. "Again, I say, what?"
"How long will this take?" whined Anya petulantly.
"Man, shut your girl up!" said Gunn. "For the last time, yes, as soon as we summon the demon and vanquish it, the bunnies will go away. Now can you please stop whining and carrying on? It's distracting."
"Shouldn't we wait for Buffy?" asked Angel. "She'll be upset if we start without her."
"You think you can't handle this thing alone?" teased Gunn.
"I didn't say that. I just…"
"Ready," said Willow. "I just have to read this incantation…"
Wesley grabbed the book from her hands. "Better let me," he said. "My Latin's better."
"…and did you see how nice he was when we were pulled over? Giving me water and everything?"
"Cordelia, you almost passed out. Of course he'd take care of you."
"Yes, but Giles doesn't really like me. He was doing it to impress you, Buffy. I'm sure of it. And the way he keeps looking back at us?"
"Trying to make sure we don't get lost in the forest."
"Admit it, Buffy. Giles loves you. And you love Giles."
Buffy sighed. "Look, if this is about you not wanting me to love Angel…"
"No! It's about you admitting you love Giles. But…look, while I'm at it, you don't still love Angel, do you?"
"Cordelia, I will always love Angel and he'll always have a special place in my heart. But things are different now. He and I…we're in different places."
"Like how he's in the L.A. place and you're in the loving Giles place?"
Buffy sighed. "Something like that."
They rounded a clearing to find Xander and Anya cowering under a tree like skittish reindeer as Angel and Gunn, steel-enforced rope in hand, tried to wrangle what looked like an over-size teddy bear with green fur and tiny little horns. Wesley skittered at the edge of the flailing, flask in hand, trying to get close enough to spill the potion on the creature.
Xander waved weakly to Buffy, who whispered "Where's Willow?"
He pointed past the demon fight to a small picnic area. There were several tables, a large recycling bin, and a water fountain---which was over-run with frogs. Willow, near-panic, sat in the centre muttering incoherently as she tried to magically zap the frogs into oblivion one by one.
Buffy chuckled in spite of herself. "Frogs? Is that the worst it can do?"
"Oh no," said Anya seriously. "It can do much worse. On the way here, it sent bunnies."
Buffy bit her lip, suppressing a grin. "All right. Cordy, stay with these two. I guess I should join the…"
She broke off as Giles suddenly leapt into view, grabbing the flask from Wesley before the demon saw him. With a mighty Hee-yah! he lunged at the demon and spilled the potion on it, reciting the incantation in barely audible, but flawless Latin. There was a blinding flash of light, then the demon exploded into a million gory pieces. Giles was thrown into a tree, tiny tufts of greenish fur raining down on him like snowflakes.
Buffy raced over to her watcher's side. "Giles? Are you all right?"
He raised a groggy head. "Buffy?"
"Giles, did it hurt you? Are you…"
"Hush," he said. "I'm afraid I'm about to pass out and I'm not sure if it will be permanently or not so this may be my only chance to tell you this, but…"
"I know, I feel the same way. Only not about the passing out part."
"Buffy, I…" he heaved himself upright, passing out forgotten. "How did you…you do?"
"Cordelia and I figured out the whole thing, Giles. You love me. That IS what you were going to tell me, isn't it?"
"I…well, it wasn't what I was going to tell you, but yes, I do."
Her face fell. "It wasn't what you were going to tell me?"
He grinned, emboldened by his injured state. "Well, not now. I was saving that particular revelation for our usual post-slaying ice-cream cone, only with candle-light and a pint of whiskey to shore up my nerve."
"Oh. Well, that would have worked too."
"Well, now that you know…" He pulled her in. "May I?" He waved in Xander's direction. "Everyone else is…"
She melted in his embrace. "Like you had to ask…" His lips almost touched hers before she pulled away suddenly. "Giles…before we get TOO preoccupied, what WAS it that you were going to tell me?"
He grinned, letting her eye follow his. "Only that Angel and Cordelia seem to have a …what's the expression you use…thing…going on…"
Indeed, they did. Hands fumbling this way and that, lips where lips should be and then some…Buffy gave them a critical stare. "You know," she told Giles, snuggling into his arms. "We can do MUCH better than that."