Buffy slammed the stake in with precision, shattering ribs and spattering cold blood everywhere. Vampire and blood and stake dissolved into a scream and were gone, revealing Giles with his sword raised against mere dust. Buffy grinned at him.
"And the throw goes from Watcher to Slayer for the put-out at first."
Giles stared at her in bewilderment for a moment, then his eyes went wide "Behind you!"
Buffy went down on her hand and kicked out behind herself at where he'd been looking. She connected with undead flesh with a satisfying crack. Coil to a crouch, spring up, catch the stake Giles tossed to her, and spin again. There it was: vamp, fangy, with the vacant yellow eyes of the new-fledged and confused. Confused, but strong and hungry and driven. And tragically, dust.
"Weak grounder to short, out number two!" she said. "Not that I'm implying I'm short or anything like that."
She turned to enjoy the baffled expression that one had to have given Giles, but found he was otherwise occupied. There was a third vamp, and this one wasn't so vacant. Giles had it at bay at the point of his broadsword but wasn't making any progress on killing it. It had a lit torch in hand, which Giles was treating warily. It was the sire of the first one, Buffy guessed, had probably been waiting at the graves for its new progeny to rise. Two brand new little minions for a would-be master vampire. Too bad.
The vampire lunged at Giles with the torch. Giles parried but the vamp swung again, brutally fast, and his sword went flying. Giles stumbled backwards, giving ground desperately, but he tripped over a tombstone.
Buffy was there before the vamp could flambé her Watcher. She yanked on its shoulder and spun it around. "Hey! I'm tastier."
The vampire tilted its head at her. "I do believe you are." It showed her a mouthful of fangs in what passed for a smile in the undead community. And then it lunged at her.
Buffy went to stake it and found her hands empty. Whoops. No stake. She'd carelessly lost that one, too. The torch swept at her and she dodged back. Again, low, and she jumped. "Giles," she said. "Got any more stakes?"
"Bugger!" Which she translated as "no". She could see where his sword had landed, not so far from her, but if she went for it she'd catch a face-full of torch. But then Giles was there, tapping the vampire on the shoulder. He held his empty hands out and shook them.
"I'm far tastier than she is," he said.
And then it was chasing Giles again, because vampires were completely stupid as well as vicious. Buffy moved fast. A Slayer-powered leap, a roll, and when she came to her feet again the sword was in her hand. The blade flashed in the torchlight and she hacked through the vampire's neck. The torch fell to the grass amid a shower of dust.
"And the side is retired," she said. "Perfect game intact."
Giles was bent over, hands on knees, breathing hard. He straightened as she approached. "Sorry," he said. "Made a right mess of that."
"No big. It died."
Buffy laid the sword across her arm and proffered it to him. He took it and saluted her with the blade. She scooped up the torch and thrust the business end into the damp earth of the ruptured grave. It sputtered out. Only Buffy could prevent forest fires. Cemetery fires. Whatever.
Giles hadn't sheathed the sword. He held it in a guard position that Buffy should be able to name but couldn't, and was scanning around them.
"No more vamps. Trust me. Post unification thingy, I couldn't stop the honing even if I wanted to."
Giles nodded and sheathed his sword in his baldric. The hilt jutted up over his right shoulder. It was a reassuring sight, a simple timeless weapon, guaranteed effective against almost any demon. Low tech. The kind of tech Buffy liked. After the Initiative's fall, she had a thing against electronic gizmos and anything that glowed blue and went zap. She had some more grudges against soldiers in uniforms, chains of command, and medical labs. All she needed in the cemetery with her were sharp stakes, sharp swords, and the reassuring sharp brain of her Watcher.
Who was standing with his hands on his hips, looking annoyed. "I have a bone to pick with you," he said.
"I think your evil sensors are not as finely-tuned as you claim." He pointed with his chin at something behind her, but made no move to draw his sword. Buffy made a face at him and turned.
Quentin Travers stood at the edge of the path, watching. Behind him a limo idled quietly, headlamps off. As Buffy and Giles walked over to him, Travers raised his hands and clapped, slowly.
"Miss Summers," he said, and he sounded polite. "It is always an inspiration to see you work."
"What are you doing here?" Buffy said.
"I was in the area. A bit of Council business in Los Angeles. I thought I would drop by to see how you've been getting on. I trust I find you well."
"Yes, thanks. I, er, sorry, but I very much doubt you just dropped by."
"Ah. Rupert. I wasn't talking to you."
"That's a comfort," Giles said, under his breath. Buffy suppressed her urge to snort.
"I am surprised to see you, I must say. I would have thought you would already be off with your new, ah, employers."
"Say what?" Buffy said.
"Sorry?" Giles looked baffled, which made Buffy feel a little better about being entirely clueless.
"Your employment circumstances. Ring a bell?"
"Since you sacked me, that's been none of your business at all."
"Your circumstances, yes. The Slayer's, however, are our entire business."
Travers tugged as his cuffs as he said this. Business. Something about it made Buffy want to push his teeth through the back of his head, but she restrained herself nobly. Giles was always after her to find non-violent solutions to problems.
"Not your business, either, remember?" Buffy said.
Travers turned to her then and half-bowed to her. "Miss Summers, my apologies. It was not my intention to ignore you. Quite the opposite. You are the reason I have come to be here at this hour." He gestured to indicate the cemetery.
Buffy was not mollified; instead her hackles rose and she looked around for signs of impending attack. But there was nothing, no vampires nearby, no humans either. Just the limousine idling at the curb, with headlights off.
Buffy widened her stance ever so slightly. "You're not getting the message. I fired you guys a long time ago."
Travers shook his head. "You need a Watcher, Miss Summers. You know this. Someone to translate the prophecies for you. Someone to do your thinking for you. Rupert won't be doing that for you any more."
"Read my lips. No. Freaking. Way." And then what he'd said hit her, and she saw red. Giles's hand closed around her arm for an instant, just long enough to get her grounded again. She breathed in once, twice.
Travers was watching her closely. She met his gaze and he nodded in satisfaction. "You may expect to meet your new Watcher next week. Please do be here to welcome him. We should take it amiss if you chose to abandon your post in favor of chasing Rupert. Your, ah, devotion to each other is touching, but ill-placed."
Travers made as if to leave, then turned back. "Rupert. A word of advice. The Slayer is ours. We bear you no ill will and wish you luck in your new endeavor. But you cannot take the Slayer with you."
Giles's chin lifted at those words, but he said only, "Good night, Quentin."
"I shall see you in a day or two," Travers said. He retreated to the door of his limo and vanished within. The car rolled off, leaving the street empty and quiet.
Buffy turned to Giles, hands on hips. "So. That was unexpected."
"Going to tell me what it was all about?"
"Not here," he said. "Home." He wasn't looking at her directly, which made her uneasy.
They walked back to Giles's apartment side-by-side, silent. The summer night had gone chilly as the marine layer had drawn in. Buffy zipped her hoody up to her neck. July on the California coastline: not so hot without the sun part. Giles's arm brushed warm against hers every now and then as they walked. It was, aside from the visit from Travers, exactly like almost every night they'd spent since the unification spell had done its strange thing to them. They patrolled together, trained together, meditated together. They had been in each other's pockets since that night.
Buffy hadn't minded a minute of it. More than that, she'd been enjoying it. She was more than a little upset to think about this situation ending for any reason. Even more upset to think about Giles not being her Watcher any more, about going off to do other things.
Giles stood aside to allow her to precede him down the brick steps to his courtyard. She leaned again the wall and watched him open his front door. Unlocked as usual, for who would burgle the Watcher's flat? And besides, the door was warded. Buffy felt the magic tingle across her skin as she stepped over the threshold.
Giles hung his baldric on the coat rack. Buffy kicked off her Chucks and padded barefoot over to the couch. She tucked her feet under herself. On a normal night, what would happen next was they'd debrief from the patrol, then Giles would work on any specific issues he'd spotted during the fights. They'd talk and do the mental side of training until three in the morning, usually, sometimes later. Sometimes until dawn. Night-time studying, on the Slayer's schedule. Then maybe she'd run home to her mother's place, taking advantage of the cool night and the empty streets to run intervals, Slayer-style. Or she'd stay here and sleep on Giles's couch until noon, when they'd both wake up and spar before lunch. She'd spent the last couple of nights away from him, so maybe she'd stay here tonight.
He wouldn't mind. She knew that. The unification spell had done some strange things, starting with that shared dream and not ending there in the least. She'd carried that awakened Slayer spirit within ever since. That unruly Slayer spirit that had been troubling her dreams and driving her out to hunt at night, but Buffy was at peace with that drive now. She was doing it right, sitting here with her Watcher now. The Slayer spirit liked Giles. It liked her being close to him. Her inner Slayer had good taste.
Was he really thinking about finding a job somewhere else? It didn't feel like he was thinking about leaving her, not with how much time they'd been spending together. Not since he'd agreed to be her Watcher again, formally.
Giles sat on the other end of his little couch. Like her, he'd removed his shoes. He set one socked foot onto his coffee table. She watched his toes flex. He had small feet for such a tall man. He was deceptively tall, over six feet, but he hid it slouching around in those baggy sweaters. And those over-sized tweed coats he used to wrap himself in. But even the baggy sweater couldn't disguise those broad shoulders. Or that jaw, which was as rugged as jaws got. Yes, she was was grooving on her Watcher's body and had been ever since the Slayer spirit had smacked her upside the head and told her to look at more than his mind.
She'd have been wigged out about that once upon a time, a time before the unification spell. Now... well. She grooved.
"You know what I regret?" she said, dreamily.
"I didn't tell Travers to bite me." Giles smiled, though it was a bit wan. "What do you suppose Toad was really doing in LA?"
Giles shrugged. "Perhaps exactly what he said. I don't think he's evil, Buffy. Just a trifle, ah, conservative in his methods."
"Neanderthal, I'd say. He seems to think I'm his property or something."
He made a little harrumphing sound in response. They didn't need to discuss what Giles thought of that attitude. Buffy already knew.
"So. Spill already, Giles. What's the deal with you landing a new gig?"
He took his glasses off and tossed them onto the coffee table. "Ah," he said. "He seemed to have the wrong end of the stick."
Which was a stuffy British way of saying Travers was wrong. Buffy let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. But the next question was, what was at the other end of the stick? She opened her mouth to ask Giles. And the phone rang. What was it? One in the morning? Later than that.
It rang again. Giles stared at it without moving through a third ring, then he scooped up his glasses and went to answer. Buffy listened in shamelessly, because phone calls after midnight were generally important, in the sense of requiring Slayage eventually.
"Hullo? This is he. Whiting, good lord, we haven't spoken in donkey's years. What's the occasion?" Giles paused and his brows came together. "Oh. I see."
Whatever Whiting said next made him look even more puzzled. "Thanks, that's very kind of you, but I'm afraid we weren't very close. I-"
Then he was silent again, listening to whatever the man on the other end was saying, and the puzzlement on his face faded. He looked curious, and that was an expression Buffy liked seeing on Giles's face. Though she didn't mind anger, when it was aimed at somebody else. She'd seen him far gone in righteous fury once or twice, and he was awe-inspiring like that. But now, he looked as if he'd been sucked in by a fascinating problem, and his body was tense with excitement.
"I should like to know a little more before I go booking-" He fell silent for a moment, then he glanced at Buffy. Then he pulled his desk drawer open and fished inside for a pen. He wrote something on the back of an envelope. He exchanged courtesies with whoever it was he was talking to, then set the phone down. His hands were on his hips and he was staring at the phone, brows together. Glaring at it, almost.
"What was that all about?"
Giles went into the kitchen without answering. Tea break, she guessed, and perched herself on one of his kitchen stools to watch. He set the kettle on the stove and leaned back against his sink. Buffy leaned her chin on her hand and waited. There went the glasses, off, fumbled with, polished with the hem of his shirt.
"One of my cousins has passed away. Not a close friend, but I knew him when we were at school."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."
"Yes, well, it might have struck nearer home if I'd seen him since. There was some family dust-up after he'd gone off to university that ended with my father forbidding us to mention his name again. I was never privy to the details."
"Stranger yet, I was just strongly encouraged to attend his funeral. By a university connection I also have not spoken with in twenty years."
The kettle went, and Giles turned to deal with the tea-making. Buffy watched him pour water and do his little dance with the pot and the tea cozy. He did make great tea, she had to give him that.
"So let me get this straight. First Travers the annoying shows up to tell me I've got a new Watcher coming next week. Then you get invited to the funeral of somebody you barely knew."
Giles said, "And Travers warned you against accompanying me."
The tea-timer in his head went off and he un-cozied the pot to pour two mugs full. No business with the tray and cookies this late. It was just a soothing mug before bedtime. Giles poured milk into one mug then offered it to her. Buffy turned the mug in her hands. The heat soaked through the ceramic and warmed her fingers. She carried it back out to his couch and returned to her favorite corner.
Giles sat next to her, nose deep in his tea.
"So. Toad-boy seemed to think you got a new gig."
Buffy cocked her head at him.
"I need to make a confession to you," he said. He looked contrite. He also didn't look as if he were confessing a big bad to her, as if there were danger he'd been hiding. Buffy bit back the anger and made herself calm down her body language.
Giles drank some more tea. "I sent out some feelers last month, after we- when we started training together again. I felt I wasn't being all the Watcher to you I could be."
Buffy reached out and squeezed Giles's knee. "No way. Don't ever think that."
Giles's eyes crinkled at her over his teacup, but he shook his head. "It's a matter of resources. Better research assistance than what I can provide on my own. I'm quite cut off from the Council's materials. As you heard."
"Has it ever mattered? I mean, they've never actually helped us when we needed it. Like the Ascension. They were sans clue."
"Just because they didn't doesn't mean they couldn't. Or that another group cannot. The Council is not the only group fighting demons."
"So you're looking for a new Council to join? Maybe one that's fifty percent less evil?"
"Something like that."
"I don't like it."
"Your opinion might not enter into it."
Buffy bowled right over this. "Because you're mine. My Watcher. And I need somebody I can trust now that I'm going through all this ur-Slayer weirdness. And-"
"The unification spell affected more people than just you, Buffy."
Buffy snapped her mouth shut and kept it shut. His voice was sharp in a way it hadn't been in a long time. She'd just disappointed him, and she didn't know why yet.
"Just as you have been wrestling with the deeper aspects of your Slayerness, I've been wrestling with what it means to be a Watcher."
"Xander and Willow-"
"No doubt are experiencing something similar, and unique to them."
And that shut her right back up again. When had she last seen either of them? Willow was on vacation somewhere with Tara. Xander was- he'd left town too. Not Giles. She and Giles had spent time together every single day since the unification spell but not an hour with the others. That was interesting. The Unification had sent Xander and Willow away to discover who they were, but it had driven them together. If she read this right. Except that Giles had something else going on.
What did it mean to be a Watcher? Was it her Watcher he was thinking about being, or just a Watcher? Was the job something that needed a Slayer? But even as she formed the question, she knew it was silly. A Watcher needed someone to watch.
Buffy reached out and took his hands in hers and squeezed for a second. To her surprise, Giles squeezed back. "Sorry."
"You weren't to know."
"Not everyone is all blurty like me. Especially not you."
"Of course you came to me with your concerns."
"Yeah, but that goes both ways, mister."
"I'm sent to you as your helper. My needs are subordinate to yours."
"We're a team."
Giles shook his head, but did not argue his point further. He didn't need to. She knew what he was getting at. She did the fighting; he provided support. One thing Travers had said had been true: she needed somebody with Watcher skills. She would be in deep trouble without Giles, as she'd learned over the last year. She needed him happy, sober, and fully functional. What was good for him was good for her, in a roundabout way. Though she was suspicious of funky old organizations. If they were evil, she was going to tell him no. She knew he wouldn't go against her wishes, though he might be miserable about it. She'd seen him do it. Not that she wanted a repeat of that. She'd rather see her Watcher happy.
She had a swig of tea.
"So," she said.
"What does it mean to be a Watcher?"
The question pleased him, for his eyes crinkled up again. "Many things. Some of them are the things I've been doing for you all along. The translation. The research. And some of them- some are newer. I'm meant to fight alongside you, I think. It feels- I'm happier doing it than when I'm sitting at home fretting."
"But when you fight with me, you're at risk."
"Yes. The incident tonight isn't the only one we've had and it won't be the last. I need to be an asset to you, not a liability. The Council's answer is to have me stay at home while you fight. I don't find that acceptable."
"I can protect you. Most of the time."
"Slayers die protecting their Watchers more often than the Council likes. It's one rationale for the Cruciamentum, to break whatever bond of, of friendship has begun to develop. Harden her. And him as well."
"No. And I begin to think, shouldn't work. But it still leaves us with the problem. I'm not the sort of man who can stand back from combat. Not any more."
Not ever, Buffy suspected, except when he'd been so uncertain of himself and so bound by Council ways at the start. The more Giles revealed of his true self, the more she saw that he was himself a warrior. Ripper was not a mocking name for a persona; it was a true name for a facet of the whole man. Ripper was the guy who got back onto his feet and distracted the vampire without stopping once to think of the consequences.
Or maybe he'd thought about them on a quiet night sitting like this, on his couch with a cup of tea. She had. She'd spanked the inner moppet and accepted the fact that she'd get hurt a lot on her way to eventual death. Again. The cause was worth it and nobody else was going to do it as well as she could. Giles might have come to the same conclusions.
So. Trust his thinking.
"So you're looking for backup, I take it. These people you sent out feelers to. What kind of groups?"
"Quite a wide variety. There's a coven in Devon. A convocation of sorcerers in Scotland. A number of pure research groups, archivists. I was expecting to hear from one of those, in fact, given my credentials."
"You heard from your college buddy. Who invites you to a funeral, minutes after Travers congratulates you on an offer you haven't even heard about."
"Not a coincidence."
"So that means your college bud was making an offer."
"Of some kind. But I can't imagine what. He was an indifferent scholar, if I recall. Much more interested in the rugby pitch. Though the town- The name is familiar somehow. Where have I heard Wells Cross mentioned?" Giles pinched the bridge of his nose underneath his glasses.
"Seems to me like there's no downside to investigating. We get information and we annoy Travers. Double win."
"Yes. If my hunch is right, that is."
"If not, we get a nice vacation in your motherland. You can show me the sights. Feed me some warm beer."
"Buffy, I'm not sure you should-"
"Hellmouth is quiet. Summertime, remember? Besides, Travers wants us separated. That means I have to stick close to you. Trust your Slayer."
Giles tossed his glasses onto his coffee table and sighed. That was acquiescence, because he'd been saying the same thing to her for the last couple of weeks. Trust the Slayer instincts, trust the reflexes, the senses beyond the human that told her where evil coiled and where good rested. He said, "Very well. I'll book our flight. For tomorrow night if I can manage it. The funeral's in three days."
"I'll go pack."