"Glittering?! Really, Giles? Glittering?"
The watcher looked embarrassed. "Well, er—" He took off his glasses and started polishing them. "Yes, you could say that."
Buffy crossed her arms and looked less than amused. A lot less. "I know I could. I just did. Because you did. And really, I wouldn't be likely to make something like that up."
Giles looked down at his glasses, clearly annoyed at their spotlessness. "No—I—I suppose not." He stifled a chuckle.
Buffy peered into Giles' face. "Did you make it up, Giles?" she asked, suddenly hopeful.
He shook his head.
"Feeling at loose ends? Midlife crisis number 17 leading you astray to drugs and alcohol? Hallucinating?"
"Spell? It's witchcraft, isn't it. I knew it. Wiccans. Always with the sparklies. Stupid witches."
"No, but I'll tell Willow you said that if you don't buckle down and get to work on this, Buffy. I know you're—displeased, but this is actually very important."
Giles frowned, accentuating the importance he sought to convey. The frown made Buffy want to throw things but she didn't want to face the repair costs—on her apartment or on any out of work librarian that got in the way of the various medieval weapons and coffee cups that happened to be the objects closest at hand.
One thing was certain, since they'd moved their base to Italy after the hellmouth had swallowed Sunnydale, the coffee in Buffy's life had gotten a lot better.
Not so, apparently, the watchers. Focus, Buffy.
"Gi-yels!" Instead of braining him, she settled for wailing his name out into two syllables, because she knew that really bothered him. "You mean to tell me, you seriously mean to tell me, that there is an entire species of—Liberace vampires that you somehow neglected to tell me about in the last, I don't know, decade or so?"
"Well, you know, it didn't come up, they're not all—how would you say? Hellmouthy."
Buffy started pacing, arms still crossed. "Don't you start trying to make this ok by disarmingly talking like me. It didn't come up, Giles? For seven years, I'm the chosen one, she who is born to stake the vampires, one in all the world, blah, blah, blah, and you were my watcher, with—with books, and volumes, and texts full of vampires that we all read for years, and it didn't come up that there was an entire other species of vampire that can't be killed by staking? What if I'd run into one on patrol?"
"Impossible." Giles found himself wondering if he couldn't come by a concussion in the next thirty seconds or so. It had been some time since he'd been hit over the head with a blunt instrument, and while he was hardly craving the experience, he was sure he'd prefer to be unconscious for the rest of this conversation. His head remained intact, however, and Buffy's stare remarkably unflinching. He settled for muttering something about a treaty and suggesting they move to address the matter at hand.
"Matter at hand? What, you mean, like, a stake? Like what we've been training these bazillion slayerettes to use to—kill, um, who was it? Oh yeah, vampires, who you're now telling me can't be killed by them?"
"Buffy. Don't be so testy. I'm sure it adversely affects your concentration—and it destroys your syntax. Now. To be perfectly clear, I didn't say they couldn't be killed. I'm quite sure you could—handle that, very, er, adequately. Just, not with a stake."
"Weapon forged by man?"
"Well, no, but—"
"Ok, Giles. Just how does one go about killing one of these secret glittery vampires you've never seen fit to tell the one who it is your sacred duty to—oh, whatever, how do I kill them?"
"It's simple, actually, you—rend them limb from limb, and then, you burn the pieces so they can't regenerate. A child could do it, really," he muttered, looking for some lint to remove from his sleeve.
"Great," smiled Buffy, brightly, "since children are what I seem to have an army of. When do we start?"
Giles got up and started pacing, running his fingers through his hair. "But you see, that's just it. 'We'—that is, you—must act alone—at least for now. And we hope there won't be any killing, nor any cause to escalate matters further. There are reasons—sacred duties, if you will—why these creatures were never mentioned to you, and for the most part were not mentioned in the lore. There are, in fact, treaties, global territories apportioned out between the species since time immemorial."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Which all the vampires in the world totally respect because they are such a law-abiding bunch?"
Giles smiled slightly at Buffy's comment about law-abiding vampires. It was true, little in her experience had prepared her for the kind of creatures waiting for her in Volterra or Forks, should such a trip become necessary. Unless, of course, the laws in question were laws regulating the velocity of motor vehicles, her sarcasm was little more than a statement of fact as far as the Cullens were concerned. He shifted uncomfortably, unwilling to give away more than was absolutely necessary for the completion of the mission. He had been so conditioned to reveal nothing, it was a very difficult habit to break.
"Well, actually, when it comes to certain sacred treaties and the like, you'd be surprised how careful the most feral vampire can be. These agreements and understandings are so ancient, that for most of the species with whom you've come in contact, abiding by them probably feels like instinct. And, for those who know—in either species—well, let's just say, that the penalty for revealing their existence is—final, extremely painful, and by no means quick."
"So these vampires, they're shiny but shy?"
"If by shy, you mean, extremely secretive, then yes. The secrecy of the species is the only rule by which they live, and there is an entire guardian council, located not far from here, as it happens, in Volterra, whose sole duty is to mete out justice to those who break that rule—or any of the treaties I mentioned." Giles took a deep breath. "Which brings us to . . . er, what brings us here."
Sighing sulkily, Buffy threw herself into a chair. "Well, all right. I guess you'd better spill it if you think it's so important. What is it. Apocalypse?"
"Oh, no, nothing like that."
"No?" Surprised, Buffy stopped to consider. What even rated anymore besides that? "Then what?"
Giles looked down, aware he might be—blushing, even. "Er, a—very bad day?"
He looked up into Buffy's raised eyebrows and immediately looked down again.
"Bad day for who, Giles?"
"Giles, last time I checked, I could still stake you. Now spill."
The poor watcher put his head in his hands. He knew Buffy well enough to know she would not give this up, but he also knew her well enough to know that she would be—displeased with some of the details of what he had to tell her.
"All right, Buffy, what I need you to know is that one of . . .glitterers, has gotten it into his head to do away with himself, and the only way he could think of to do it—it being difficult to rend oneself limb from limb, apparently, much less immolate oneself afterwards—is to go to Volterra and convince the council to do away with him. Failing that, he will reveal his presence to whatever humans happen to be attending a local festival, thereby bringing on himself the harsh penalty I mentioned. And also, making a huge vampiric mess right in the neighborhood where we are attempting to train our own young slayers."
"Oh. Ok, so I get it. You just want me to—do the job another, less messifying way. And am I assuming he'll just go along with this, or do I need to be able to take him, and if so—"
"Well—wait. No, it's—rather simpler even than that. I don't want you to kill him, I want you to—save him."
"Save him? Giles. Slayer. Slay-er. Put 'em together and you have—slayage. Not savage. I mean. Save-age. Whatever. These vampires, they do eat . . . people, right? Or is there more they're not telling me? Do they have souls and sip glittery lattes or something?"
"Not exactly. Well, no definitive word on the souls. But as it happens, the young gentleman—er, creature, in question—is a member of a clan of vampires who have renounced human blood. They hunt wildlife and consider themselves vegetarian."
"Hmph. I'd like to hear them explain that to Little miss Meat Is Murder Rosenberg."
"Yes, well, until they come up with a vegetarian blood, I'd say they're doing the best they can."
"No need to get all huffy." Buffy looked at him quizzically. What was this clan to Giles, anyway?
"I'm not huffy. I just don't understand why you, of all people, is unwilling to accept my proposal that there is a vampire out there worth saving."
Watching his slayer's reaction told him very quickly that had been quite the wrong thing to say. Everything about her stance suddenly proclaimed, stifled fury no longer stifled.
Her voice was tense, escalating to shrillness. "Maybe because you tried to get the vampire I thought was worth saving killed in the middle of the last Apocalypse—and then he died saving the world!"
Giles shook his head. "Well, if you're going to be clinging to old grievances. . . . I mean, after all, he got better."
"Old grievances—" Buffy exploded, not at all ready to consign Spike the ash heap of history.
"And do I have to remind you that your vampire boyfriend before Spike killed my girlfriend, not to mention torturing me? If you want to go head to head on old grievances or whose track record is better on sparing lovesick vampires. . . ."
Buffy sank down in defeat, pouting. There really wasn't a comeback to what Angelus had done to Giles after injudicious sex with Buffy had robbed Angel of his soul. Old grievances indeed. "Well, if you're gonna pull out the big guns, fine," she grumbled, "but do you mind my asking what's so special about this suicidal vegetarian fiend that makes you so concerned about his welfare?"
Giles was gracious in victory and only slightly smiled, a smile fueled further by the fact that he seemed to have gotten out of telling Buffy the detail most likely to irk her. "I explained that. The mess."
"Giles. Not born yesterday. I don't want to bring up old grievances again, but how well does it work for you when you hold out on me—historically speaking?"
Feeling himself starting to sweat, Giles took out his handkerchief and wiped the signs from his brow. "If it helps, he's rumored to be almost impossibly good-looking. Perfect in every way. Irresistible to all females. Even smells good." He looked at Buffy hopefully.
Nodding, Buffy spoke slowly. "Oh. So I see, you're setting me up on a blind date, because you're thinking—what more does Buffy need than another impossibly goodlooking suicidal vampire boyfriend? Third time's the charm, right? Thank you. So much. You always have my best interests at heart."
"Really not, Buffy. I'm sure he's a little young for you and—I believe there might be some other, er, incompatibilities. . . . from what I've gathered of your, er, tastes." Giles voice trailed off. There were certain levels of embarrassment that were completely impossible to speak through, and anything even approaching a young girl's . . . tastes numbered among them.
Buffy, however, had picked up on a different aspect of Giles' statement. Stung, she heard her voice pitching toward a whine again. "Too young? Giles, I'm not that old."
Giles buried his head in his hands, his thoughts turning wistfully to his overdue concussion once again. "No, no. Of course not. Not at all."
"Well, then, just how old is this too young for still young Buffy?"
"I believe he was turned at approximately seventeen."
"And how long has he been seventeen?"
"Er, a while."
"And by a while, you mean . . ."
"Only about a hundred years."
"Right. So he's barely out of diapers. Nice try. Do you want to keep digging this grave yourself? Or should I get in and help you?"
Swallowing hard, Giles took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "Fine, Buffy. Although I don't see why it should matter to you, as it happens, the young . . . glittery fiend is the adopted son of—of the doctor who cared for my aunt during and after her gall bladder surgery. And did a wonderful job, I might add. So I would simply like to—return a favor to a kind, generous, er, man."
But Buffy wasn't having it. "An er, man adopted a 'young' vampire? "
"Yes, in a manner of speaking."
"In the manner of speaking that uses the word 'man' to refer to 'vampire?'"
To Giles surprise, Buffy started laughing—not, actually, a common occurrence. "Oh, my God, Giles, you really had me going there for a while. I totally surrender. Next thing you'll tell me, gullible's not in the dictionary."
Confused, Giles spouted, "Of course gullible's in the bloody dictionary, what on earth do you—oh. Quite. I see what you mean. No, unfortunately, I have not made this up to test your credulity. In fact, it's quite serious and I'm afraid you need to be on your way soon. We're not certain when Edward—the young, er, man—left South America, but he's almost certainly en route or already in Volterra."
Buffy sighed once more, at last accepting what Giles had told her.. "A vampire doctor."
"Yes—a very good one."
"Who fixed your aunt's gallbladder."
"Yes. And I was very fond of my aunt. So would you mind terribly getting on with it?"
"With what, exactly? How am I supposed to save him, anyway?"
Giles knew he had to tread carefully here if he wanted to keep secret the details he felt sure Buffy, given her history, would not handle . . . well. "Perhaps you won't have to. Members of his family are also rushing to the scene, but since they must travel from North America, it naturally will take them longer. However, it may be they arrive in plenty of time."
"His er, father is coming?"
"Unfortunately not. He's on call. Plus the young –creature—has been holing himself away recently and Carlisle isn't at all sure he'd have the desired effect. His sister and, his sister is coming."
"Yes. And she can see the future, sort of, so she'll be contacting Carlisle if anything changes."
"Why doesn't she just call us?"
Giles rolled his eyes. "Didn't you listen to a bloody word I said about treaties and secrecy?"
"She doesn't know?"
"Not as yet, and if she doesn't have to, so much the better. These creatures have . . . a hard time keeping secrets from each other."
"They're very close?"
"Er, yes, exactly." Giles didn't feel there was any need to go into all their talents at the present moment. He wasn't at all sure they'd be able to read slayer thoughts or futures in any case.
"So, I'm just supposed to keep an eye out, and if the kid looks like he's about to do something drastic, like, walk in front of a bunch of people . . ."
"In the sun—"
"In the sun, then I'm just supposed to . . . physically stop him?"
"Yes, or, you know, you could try talking to him. You've got a track record on talking down suicidal vampires, you know."
Buffy cringed. "Yeah. I'm batting .500. If it were—baseball, I'd be a superstar."
"You could try talking about rounders—er, baseball. Apparently the vegetarians are enthusiasts."
"Fine. Great. That comes so naturally to me. Just one last thing, in case my impressive knowledge of the 69 Mets—"
"Try the Cubs. He was sired in Chicago."
"Well, if my impressive knowledge of the Chicago Cubs fails, or it turns out he's a White Sox fan, and I have to resort to other methods to talk the shy, impossibly handsome, glittering centarian teenage suicide down from his proverbial ledge. Why does he want to kill himself, anyway?"
Giles hoped more than life that he was not blushing in the slightest. "Who knows these things? Angst, one imagines. You've been depressed, you—know how it is. Things get unclear. Perhaps he tried working in the fast food industry, or . . . read too much poetry or something. Or, if he's devoted to the Cubs—from what I understand, that can be very stressful. In any case, you try to talk him down. Or, in the worst case scenario, if the Volturi—the council—agrees to end his life, you'll need to try to . . . intervene. At which point, you will call me for backup and all hell breaks loose. But Carlisle assures me that's highly unlikely."
Buffy nodded, seemingly satisfied, but she began pacing again. This was, naturally, a lot to process. And not like she didn't have all the respect in the world for Giles the suddenly very devoted nephew and his vampiric doctor friend. If Giles said someone was good people, or, good demon, he was usually right. Nonetheless, she couldn't help feel that he was holding out on her in some way—which, considering that she had just found out he'd been holding out on her in the biggest way imaginable for their entire working relationship, was hardly surprising.
Sacred secrets or no, if she had to go and try to talk a sad vampire off a ledge of some kind or maybe even fight off a vampiric council dead set on helping said vampire shuffle off this immortal coil—a vampiric council, by the way, none of whom could be staked—if she had to potentially enter into a battle for which she had zero training or preparation, she really needed all the information she could get.
"Giles, I'd like to say I trust you, but at this moment, that's really hard. I'd like to think you aren't sending me off to confront a potentially dangerous enemy without all the pertinent facts. I'd like to think that you still love me a little bit too much for that." Now, Buffy just looked serious.
Buffy looked serious, and lost, and suddenly, in spite of all her experience and responsibility, vulnerable and hurt.
It was not a look against which Giles had ever had the slightest resistance.
"Alright, Buffy, there is one more thing, but I warn you, I don't know how relevant it will end up being. The young. . . vegetarian is distressed because—oh, you know better than anyone," and he started muttering, with only the odd word like "star-crossed" and "forbidden" vaguely intelligible.
Arms crossed, Buffy was immovable, waiting. Her foot began to tap. "Forbidden what?" she prodded sternly. "Wait—you mentioned before, your track record with lovesick vampires. . . .Oh, Giles. No way."
"Oh, all right, Buffy, yes bloody way. It seems he's gone and fallen in love with—"
Eyes narrowed, Buffy cut him off. "Giles, if you say human, I'll lose my lunch."