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Ars Draconis

Chapter Text

"Did you dream last night?"

"Yes."

"What about?"

Buffy and Giles were in All Saint's cemetery at night. The church was just in sight, behind a stand of maples. The treefrogs were awake and making a racket. What passed for a rainy season in southern California had ended, leaving Sunnydale as green as it ever was. The air smelled of jasmine and the Pacific.

It was lovely, for a night in a cemetery. Nearly all of Buffy's nights were spent in cemeteries. Except for the ones spent in sewers. And she'd spent one night on a beach, which had been romantic except for the nest of fire demons she'd had to clear out before she could let herself even look around. And by the time she'd finished that, she'd been sore and covered in demon blood and in no mood to enjoy moonlit surf. Now she was working up to feel sorry for herself, which was no good. It was a lovely spring night, and she'd staked one vampire already, and she was with her much-loved mentor.

Buffy was perched on a marble sarcophagus, knees under her chin. The marble had warmed up under her butt, so she was reluctant to move. Giles, who'd said he had long since given up getting her to respect the monuments to the dead, leaned against the opposite corner.

"The two of them. In Spain, I think, in the south. They stayed there for a while, among the Moors, while Anaoc researched theories about the earth's circumference. I feel a bit of a voyeur, now that I'm remembering these dreams."

"You mean you're dreaming about..."

"Yes, the two of them. Um. Together."

"Yow."

"Rather. And about swordfighting, but mostly about the two of them. They, ah, cared for each other." He coughed slightly.

Buffy was surprised Giles was talking about it at all. This was exactly the topic he was most likely to clam up about. He'd always listened to her, when she'd complained about boyfriends, and offered quiet advice when she asked it, but he'd never said anything about himself, or his own feelings on the matter. Buffy's theory, now, was that this was connected to his unrequited love and the heartsickness, which might or might not be about Miss Calendar. Whose death was Buffy's fault, no matter how often Giles said he thought it wasn't. Buffy's fault, for not killing Angelus, her own impossible love.

Who, she realized, mattered less to her every passing year. She'd never forget him. It was not a forgettable experience, losing your virginity to a vampire who turned savagely and sadistically evil because of it. It had taken her a while to get near sex again. Good old straightforward enthusiastic Riley had cured her of that, at least. Now she was left with the memory of a brooding demon who, in retrospect, probably wasn't very smart. And who, despite the brooding, had all the self-insight of a turnip. His experience hadn't changed him.

Perhaps only the living had the privilege of change.

Buffy cranked around on the marble block and considered Giles' leather-clad back, gently rising and falling with his breath. The hilt of the sword jutted above his left shoulder, strapped in place by the baldric. He'd tested the draw earlier, over and over, until he was satisfied. Now there was a man who'd changed, considerably, in the time she'd known him. Giles, in this very cemetery, in geeky glasses and tweed, gripping a clipboard, had lectured her about efficiency. Contrast with Giles now, in a battered brown leather duster, sweater, cords, and heavy boots. The geek was still there, the stammer as well, but there was more to him than that. Some of it was because he'd suffered. And some of it because he had shed his protective coating and chosen to let himself be known by Buffy and her friends. At least a little. And perhaps now a little more. He was still wound too tight, though.

"I think the sword is a bit of a romantic," Giles said, thoughtfully. "Choosing to show me those scenes, and not battles."

"You think it chooses."

"There's a definite sense of personality. Not awareness. Just a flavor."

"Or maybe it's showing you what you're interested in."

"What?" Giles swiveled around.

"You're the romantic, maybe. Just sayin'. It's a theory. Testable, even." Buffy remembered what little of college she'd gotten to enjoy.

"Ah. I could request, somehow, to see how the sword is activated. If it's responding to conscious impulses, which I doubt. Because I haven't been consciously requesting what it has shown me."

"Don't worry, stuffy guy. I hadn't thought you'd turned into a porn fan overnight." Giles glared, but there was no heat in it. "Give it a shot, though."

"I will. Tonight."

Buffy flicked her gaze past Giles' shoulder. They'd been focused on the conversation and each other, and not on their environs. So of course, a vampire. A teenaged one. "Behind you and to your left," she said, very softly. Then louder, "Not so much into watching two guys do it, huh? Sounds hot to me."

"Buffy!" Now that was a glare.

"C'mon, Giles, tell me what they got up to." Lower, "Three, two, one, now!"

Buffy rolled backward off the marble block. Giles drew his sword and spun in one smooth motion. The vampire lost an arm. Giles' stroke was barely interrupted. Giles stepped forward and took its head. The demon screamed out its death and the dust fell.

"Hardly a challenge."

"Newbie," said Buffy. "Did you steal any skills?"

"No." Giles relaxed his stance.

"So either that demon was totally useless..."

"Or the sword does not steal from the undead. Or it needs to be triggered, or any of a number of possibilities. It might need blood." He resheathed the sword.

"Blood. Why is it always about blood? Why can't it be about something less goopy? Like hair." Buffy sighed. She led the way to the back side of the cemetery, where the newbie had come from. Sometimes there was more than one. It depressed the hell out of her: every newbie was a resident of Sunnydale she'd failed to save. And that one had looked high-school age.

Sure enough, another pair that her Slayer-sense told her included at least one vampire was standing near the gateway onto El Camino Real, heads together. She motioned Giles to a stop and listened.

"Fun part starts around ten," the smaller one said. "There'll be girls."

"No shit?"

"Yeah, from St Mary's. Like, most of the senior class, I'm telling you."

"I know a guy who can get us a lid."

"Bring it, man. Bring him. Old school, gym. Be there."

They parted, smacking each other on the back like MTV gangsters. The one Buffy wasn't sure about walked out of the cemetery, towards downtown. The other came toward them. Buffy, on a hunch, pulled Giles back behind a mausoleum and let it pass. Definitely high-school age, in a green letter jacket and cargo pants. She let it get a good lead on them, enough that an unwary vampire wouldn't sense them, and followed. Giles seemed content to let her make the decisions, as always.

Buffy led them through shadows, threading their way through the graves off the roadway. Her Slayer sense ensured that she wouldn't lose track of the vamp.

It had stopped. Buffy circled around to where she could see. It was talking with some other vampires, about the party plans. Buffy moved in for a closer look.

"Oh, no! They're all teenagers!" Seeing kids get turned bothered Buffy more than anything else.

The vampires turned toward them. Four of them. And Buffy had just alarmed them. She made Mr Pointy the Fifteenth appear in her favorite prestidigitation trick, and braced herself. But Giles was stepping in front of her, sword spinning in his hands in the sort of showy display he'd always discouraged in her. One, two steps, and he had the head of the first demon. Anti-climactic, almost.

Buffy deliberately stepped aside to watch. She kept Mr Pointy out, just in case somebody decided to appear from behind Giles' back, but this wasn't her show.

The three remaining vampires circled Giles, fists up, game faces on. Giles seemed perfectly calm, standing in the Fool's guard position, inviting attack. Buffy drew five breaths, waiting, and then the largest of the three leapt at superhuman speed. Buffy instinctively moved to rescue Giles, but saw it wasn't necessary. He'd lifted the blade to intercept.

Buffy had cut up vampires with swords before, swords maintained by the fastidious Giles. He had a thing about edges. She had Slayer strength behind her blows, too. But she didn't think she'd ever dismembered a vampire with such ease. This magic sword thing was cool. Buffy wondered what it would take to get one of her own, if there were any others in the world as powerful as this one.

Giles left the maimed vampire screaming and writhing on the ground, and turned to the other two. He was a sight: coat swirling, black blade and pommel gems flashing in the lamplight, perfect form. The cheerleader exploded. Letter-jacket vamp screamed its second and final death a moment later. Then Giles returned to give the coup to the demon writhing at Buffy's feet.

He stood poised, sword centered vom Tag, circling slowly. Buffy's senses told her that nothing evil was near, but he preferred his own scan, apparently. His face was alive, one corner of his mouth lifted in a snarl. He twitched his hands and the sword slid smoothly down into the sheath on his back. He stood frozen a moment, then blew out a breath. He laughed nervously and wiped his palms on his trousers. Buffy came up to him and brushed the dust from his shoulders and arms. He was trembling a little under her hands.

"I only seem to feel nerves afterward," he said to her.

"Yeah, me too. Hey. Are you sure you're not triggering the skill-stealing?"

"Hmm? Why do you ask?"

"Your swordfighting is kinda different. Your style. More aggressive and showy than the usual Giles thing."

"You must be mistaken. Or perhaps confusing the two-handed style with--"

"Naw, Giles, I know what I just saw. Everything I know about swords I learned from you, and I've never seen you do that spinny thing before."

Giles pulled off his glasses and cleaned them. "Juvenile, really. We used to do that until the Council swordmaster caught us at it."

"You always lecture me about--"

Giles cleared his throat and pushed his glasses back onto his nose. "Well. He had a point. Um. Did I hear that right? Are they planning something at the high school site?"

Buffy sighed. "Yeah, you heard right. Gotta check it. Let's go get all sentimental over the rubble, I guess."

They walked, heading south to the flatter part of town, where the high school used to be. From time to time a car passed them, headlights flashing bright in their eyes, but the town was mostly quiet.

"That was a lot of high school kids turned. Five. And probably more." Buffy skipped a little to keep up with Giles, who moved fast with long-legged strides. "You know, I don't even know what's happening with them since we blew up the school. Are they going somewhere else?"

"Most of them are being bused south to Ventura. They made the junior high a three-year school. Construction on a new building on the old site is supposed to begin later this year." Giles shrugged. "They send me the Sunnydale faculty newsletter."

"Building on the Hellmouth again?"

Giles breathed out a silent laugh. "They're drawn to it, the darker ones among them. And they already own the site."

It was only eight short blocks or so, from this church to the school site, through a housing development, the kind with identical single-story houses on concrete slabs. Blue tv-flicker shone from living room picture windows. Toys lay on lawns, waiting to collect dew at sunrise. Why people brought kids to Sunnydale, Buffy couldn't figure. The high school mortality rate had been scary. High school had been scary, a lot of the time. And yet they came and lived here, with their SUVs parked in the driveways, their basketball hoops hung over garage doors, their neat little flower gardens edging the sidewalk.

And here it was, the cluster of buildings she'd spent so much time in, wrapped in a ragged loop of chain-link fence. Shattered red roof tiles, smoke- and water-stained white walls. Buffy was surprised to find herself so unsentimental about it. The things she'd loved best about it had moved on along with her. One of them stood next to her now, hands in his duster pockets, quietly gazing down on what had been his library.

"Good times," said Buffy to Giles.

"Hmm? Oh. In some ways." Buffy studied him a moment. His jaw was set oddly.

"What you thinking about?"

"Which window was hers. Her classroom. Third from the doorway."

Buffy let her shoulder come to rest against his arm, but said nothing.

"This bloody legend. It's had me thinking about her. It'll never leave me, in some ways. Roses, I can't... But time passes. It fades. A part of me will always love her, a little bit, but it's--" He swallowed.

"What is it?"

"Fading."

Buffy couldn't tell what he was feeling just from his voice, but his body was stiff next to hers. She rubbed her shoulder against his arm, then gave him some space. After a while he took his hands out of his pockets and turned to her.

"Come on, then," she said. "Let's see if we can find anything."

They searched the ruins for about an hour, quartering over what parts of the rubble were passable. The sections of the school that had been farthest from the blast zone, from Giles' library, were in reasonable shape. Or might have been, if they'd been maintained. As it was, stoners had been partying in what had been the gym. They'd left beer cans in piles, spraypainted tags on the walls, a rusty barbecue. Stained mattresses lay in the corners, used condoms and fast food wrappers drifted around them. Buffy smelled garbage-taint and far below that, stale beer and pot. Nobody there now, however. Not even vampires. They gave up and headed back toward Revello Drive.

"We'll have to crash this party, I guess. Doing anything Saturday night, Giles?"

"My calendar is clear."

"Be my date at this kegger?"

"With, ah, pleasure. I think."

"Pick me up at nine. I know they said ten, but I have a hunch we should be early. Come in for some tea?" Giles had taught her how to brew a great cup. Her mom had never gotten the knack, had always served poor Giles tannic mugs of Lipton, from the box she'd had since before Clinton was elected. But Buffy had a stash of Darjeeling, just for her Watcher.

"Thank you, Buffy, but no. I need to get myself into my own comfortable bed as soon as possible. Fond as I am of your sofa. Sleep well." He bent and kissed her forehead, and was gone from the porch in a swirl of coat. Buffy heard his boots on the sidewalk as he moved off, fast.


Buffy trained with Giles every afternoon for the rest of the week. They stuck with the practice swords after that first insane bout, but they bruised each other anyway, even through the protective padding. Buffy held back, out of respect for Giles' merely human healing, but Giles never did.

Her swordsmanship improved as it had not since she quit training seriously in her senior year of high school. And so did Giles'. It wasn't just his physical fitness. That had always been decent, and a week wasn't enough time for it to improve anyway. His style had shifted, no matter what he said to her about his past experience. He did not have her strength, or stamina, or speed, but he had uncanny balance. And a way of misleading her about his intentions that she couldn't get past. She knew it was happening, knew she had to look out for it, and still she found herself responding to his feints.

They were far past the level either one of them needed for routine demon-fighting. They were training for each other, for the competition. And for the looming threat of Glory.

Buffy watched Dawn sulking over her homework, or picking at her dinner, and tried to imagine a day when the worrying had eased.

Giles watched Dawn as well, from his seat at the end of Buffy's dining room table, and Buffy knew he was thinking what she was. He had to be ready to kill Glory. And he had to be there. There was no sense, he told Buffy, in having the sword and training with it if he weren't there at the critical moment when Glory attacked. So he had begun to be present, all the time, retreating to his apartment only to sleep. He guarded her while Buffy patrolled.

She was in Restview now, hovering over a grave that was giving her those about-to-wake up vibes. Buffy had recently been working on her ability to sense newly-fledged vampires. Or she had been before the curriculum had taken that left turn into Advanced Anti-God Swordsmanship. Giles said she'd mastered it as far as any Slayer had, anyway, even if she felt there was more to learn. But the upshot was, she could walk through a cemetery and feel if there was anything near hatching. This one, infesting the body of John N. Link, dead at age 37, was going to be digging himself out soon. So Buffy settled to wait, and did a few katas empty-handed, just to review. She replayed their practice bout that afternoon, the one that had ended with her disarmed and flipping backwards, and thought about what she should have done instead.

Something behind her back tickled at her Slayer-sense, and she moved smoothly into a circular sweep.

"Shadow-boxing, Slayer?"

Buffy modified the strike so her imaginary sword would have cut cleanly through Spike's neck. "Shadow-fencing. What dragged you out of your crypt?"

"Bored, ain't I? Nothing to do on a weeknight in this hellhole. You seen what's playing at the movies? Shite."

"So you gotta torture me instead of just going to LA to piss off Angel?"

"Only thing I can torture, love." Spike grinned at her.

"That's a total lie, Spike. You can torture this vamp before I stake it. Should be up in about five minutes."

"No Watcher with you tonight?"

"Naw. He's home. Guarding."

"Saw him last night in All Saint's, him and that artifact of his. He was having a little dance with a pair of Polgaras. They weren't as happy at the end of it as they were at the beginning. He was a sight."

"Huh."

"He keeps it up, the demon world is going to fear him more than they fear you. Ah. Order's up, love."

Spike reached down and gave the fledgling vamp a hand up from the grave. It was happy for about ten seconds, until it sensed the Slayer. Then the fun began.

It was a decent patrol. Buffy liked company now and then, and Spike could keep up with her. He was obnoxious, and he smelled like stale blood and ashtrays, but he had his points. For a vampire. A creature that was her natural prey. There was something in her that was forever itching to stake Spike, however amusing he was.


Giles cooked dinner on Thursday, after their training. He sat at the kitchen island afterwards, while she did dishes. The sword was laid across the countertop, on a piece of soft cloth. He had Buffy's whetstone and files out. Buffy dried a plate, and watched him running his fingertips along the blade. It was a beautiful piece of metal, a graceful and deadly sweep of black. Buffy had seen over-ornamented swords, gaudy hunks of metal that forgot what they were in their desperation to distract the eye. The patterns swirling on this blade were brutal, functional: they channeled power. But they were also a counterpoint to the shape of the blade.

Buffy'd gotten over her initial longing to have it for herself, but she still knew a beautiful weapon when she saw one.

Giles tapped the counter. "Interesting. It doesn't need maintenance. Still perfectly sharp. Despite the, er, action it saw this week."

"Yeah, Spike told me he'd seen you slicing up a couple of Polgaras the other night."

Giles lifted the sword with both hands and sighted along the blade. "I encountered them on my way home."

Buffy turned back to the sink and scrubbed another dish. "All Saint's is a bit out of your way."

"Well. I felt restless. And it turned out to have been a good idea. We, uh, it's good to have practical applications for the training." Giles ran his hand along the flat of the blade, then put it back down on the counter. "Doesn't need oiling."

"Yeah. I've been thinking of patrolling with a sword as well. Just to put all that training to use. I need a duster like yours, though. Or something to hide the sword under. Where'd you get that, anyway?"

"Oh, er, gift. Long ago. It has a number of modifications to make it useful for patrol. Loops for crosses and stakes, and whatnot. As well as being cut to accommodate the sword. We can have one made for you."

Buffy wiped the last saucepan dry and joined her contradictory mentor at the island. "You're glued inside that coat this week, have you noticed? Almost as bad as Spike."

Giles shrugged. "It's practical."

"Like the shirt?"

Tonight, Giles was wearing tight jeans and a rough black silk shirt that hung and clung and did nothing to disguise the muscles he'd earned training with the Slayer. He looked great, for a guy his age, for a guy sliding his usual specs onto his face and peering over at her amiably.

"Practical, well, not this. I like to think I look good in black, though. At least Anya thought so." He ducked his head briefly.

"Yeah, but it's making me worry."

"Worry? Why on earth?"

"It's really... un-Gilesy."

He rubbed a hand over his sleeve. "Buffy... all of the clothes I've been wearing have been in my closet all along. Some since long before I moved to America. It's, it's a side of myself I haven't shown to you before."

"The new peacock-Giles is festive, I'll give you that. And if you'd been looking like this all along, I wouldn't be wigged right now." No, Buffy thought, she'd probably have been wigged all along at this handsome, magnetic man they'd sent as her Watcher. Tweedy geek-Giles had been safe. This Giles wasn't safe.

Giles took her hand and squeezed it. "I appreciate your concern, Buffy. Truly. But I think there's nothing to worry about."

He sighed, and released her hand. He took an apple from the bowl on the island and fiddled with the stem. "I've been thinking about her, about Jenny, more. And thinking that I never truly let myself move on. I had that, that fling, I suppose, with Olivia, but nothing serious."

Buffy watched him closely. He seemed unaware of her gaze. He continued, quietly. "I've been thinking that I need to relax. Unwind. As you keep telling me. Stop hiding. Meet people. And I'm, er, taking some steps. I won't let it take me away from you, if you're worried about that. You're the most important thing in the world to me, Buffy. I'm your Watcher first." He looked at her when he said that, his face entirely open and earnest.

Buffy wasn't worried about that, she thought. Not jealous, not really, the way she'd been about Olivia. She knew now how deep Giles' sense of duty went. Or was she jealous? Giles had put her a little off balance with that suggestion. Buffy sat back on her stool and tried to be honest about her motivations. Was she just wigging at the idea that her Watcher might be angling for some companionship? The changes were only surface things, just the clothes and the earring. He had been Gilesy enough just a few minutes ago, peering at the sword with his glasses sliding down his nose.

"Yeah. I know." She brushed a hand over his elbow briefly. That silk was fantastic, thick and rough and textured. Buffy would admit to being jealous of his wardrobe. He had some nice stuff hidden at the back, if this was what he was pulling out.

He favored her with that brief brilliant smile, and put the apple back into the bowl.

Buffy said, more casually, "Have you dreamed anything useful?"

He shifted on the stool, and lifted a hand to adjust his glasses. "Ah. Yes. I think so. Spoken commands. The sword responds to the voice. In, er, medieval Cornish. The dialect Ryd spoke. I think."

"You think?"

"Not a language I studied. I can't remember the words when I wake up from the dreams. Or rather, I remember them, but in English. And English commands don't appear to work. I'll investigate the university library on Sunday, see if I can find a primer."

"Vague much, Giles?"

"I know. Sorry. You'll know the moment I have something more definite. I've also, er, acquired a useful-looking text on hellgods. Anya found it for me. On this thing called Ebay. I trust she bid on only that item with my credit card, and not the collection of Victorian pornography she was so excited about." Giles looked utterly helpless and consternated, and Buffy nearly fell off the stool laughing.

He guarded the house while she patrolled that night, settling down with Dawn for a homework session. Buffy worked out a few aggressions and got in some decent karate practice. It was a good patrol, over in only three hours. Buffy returned home happy.

Giles had been sitting up in the living room, as usual, with a pile of books, also as usual. He packed them into the attaché case he'd been carrying the entire time she'd known him, and shrugged on the duster. Buffy decided to get used to it; Giles looked good in brown leather, and it was harmless.

Just before he turned to leave, Giles brushed his lips against her forehead, and told her again not to worry. That made twice Giles had kissed her in one week, for a total of twice in five years. Buffy decided to stay wigged.


Friday night. Dinner at the Magic Box after hours, with pizza and salad and books, and Giles hovering and demanding that they wiped their hands before they touched those bindings. They were reviewing everything they knew about Glory, from the new text and the skimpy information the Council had grudgingly handed over. Xander had the Council notes. Willow was working on a color-coded chart of known facts about hellgods. Tara was following one of Giles' hunches and searching for a reference in Bingley's Greater Demon Religions. Dawn was over at the register, sitting on a high stool and doing her homework on the counter. Anya moved about the shop engaged in incomprehensible activities that she had deemed necessary for a shopkeeper's assistant.

The book Giles had bought had been delivered that afternoon. It purported to be a compendium of all that humanity knew about hellgods. Giles had been in a state of high excitement about it all day. He was bent over the book now, fingers tapping against the pages. Buffy watched him, almost as eager as he was for new information to use against their enemy. If anybody thought it was weird that he was wearing the shoulder scabbard indoors, they didn't say anything.

Giles snorted. "Bloody hell."

"Uh oh. Doesn't sound good," said Willow.

"Listen to this. The Hellgod is so-called because it is associated with the hell dimensions. The god itself is often not hellish in any respect, but is instead a being of great beauty and wisdom, dispensing its beneficence to the men fortunate enough to meet it. Pillock."

Buffy groaned. "I'm not going with beneficent, here. I'm going with loony tunes. And self-obsessed. Let's not forget that. Does the book talk about Imelda-level shoe fixation?"

Giles snorted again and turned a few pages. "This is pure fantasy, as far as I can tell. Some fool's dream. We know far more about hellgods than this man did."

"Lucky us," said Xander.

"Though hmm, maybe there are some facts lurking here. Pure accident, no doubt. It describes inhuman strength and near-invulnerability. Hellgods can be damaged, it seems. By, er, huge outpourings of energy."

Xander slapped the table. "Great! I'll just go steal an atom bomb from the nearest military base--"

"And I'll lure Glory to ground zero and set it off!"

"Let's not even joke about that sort of thing, Buffy, please. We've got a weapon that works, and nobody has to, to, well," said Giles. He shut the book and tossed it onto the table, then rubbed his face. "That was a waste of money."

Buffy sighed, and slumped her chin onto the table.

"Hey! What are you doing? That doesn't belong to you!" Anya was shouting at Dawn.

Buffy was out of her chair and over at the counter in two Slayer-steps, ready to defend her sister.

Giles was there, too. "What's going on? Anya, what is it?"

Anya had her hands flat on the counter next to the cash register, holding down Dawn's arm and a necklace. "This artificial child has just attempted to steal from our shop. I caught her sneaking this into her pocket."

"Dawn?"

Dawn opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again. Buffy ostentatiously looked at Anya's hands, then at Dawn. Dawn burst out angrily. "It's no big deal. It's not like I'm taking magic stuff or anything."

Buffy saw red. "It doesn't matter what you're stealing, Dawn. It's wrong. Period."

She heard a scrape, and turned. Giles had his sword drawn, and held one-handed over his head. His face was odd, twisted. Angry in a way she'd never seen on him before, and she'd seen him beating up Ethan Rayne. Dawn had met his eyes. He moved in on her slowly, holding her gaze. Buffy's mouth hung open.

"What--" Dawn said. Giles cut her off.

"You will not steal from my shop. Do you hear me? There is a thing we do to thieves."

He took another step closer to Dawn. Buffy snapped out of it.

"Giles. Drop it. Now!"

Giles dropped the sword. It struck deep into the wooden floor at his feet. It quivered. Buffy could hear it ringing faintly in the utter silence that had descended on the store.

"Well said, Giles," said Anya.

Giles and Dawn were both frozen in place. Buffy couldn't believe it. Couldn't believe anything that had just happened. She grabbed Giles by the collar and hauled him into the training room. He didn't resist, just stumbled after her. She tossed him onto the couch, where he lay limp. She kept a fist twisted in his shirt, holding him down. Not that he was fighting.

"Oh, God, Buffy." He stared up at her. Whatever fury had been in his face before was entirely gone, replaced by shock and dismay.

"What the fuck was that?"

"I don't know!"

"You hurt my sister and I'll kill you, Giles. Watcher or not."

"I wouldn't have. We wouldn't have. She's family. I think I just wanted to frighten her... I'm so sorry. Buffy, I--" He swallowed.

She probed him with Slayer senses, on the alert for anything out of the ordinary. Anything un-Gilesy. Other than the deep red cotton shirt he wore at the moment, yet another attention-getting outfit. She tried to be honest and open to whatever she could sense. But there was only a quietly humming sense of comfort, the feeling she'd always gotten from him and from Merrick before him. The Watcher vibe of safety and refuge. Whatever was going on with Giles, it did not involve demonic influence. Buffy trusted her senses on that one.

Midlife crisis, maybe. Worse than last year's, if so. Get a magic sword, start acting like you're d'Artagnan.

Buffy let go of his shirt and collapsed next to him. "Shit, Giles. Don't do that. Don't... I can't have you losing control like that."

"Agreed, Buffy. I don't know what came over me. I haven't-- haven't been angry like that since... Ethan, really. I shall have to apologize to Dawn."

"Huh. Dunno about that. Can't blame you for getting a least a little mad. I heard Anya bitching just the other day about how much stuff you've lost to shoplifting."

"It does rather strike at my means of making a living." Giles sat up and took off his glasses for a vigorous polish. Buffy could see that his hands were shaking.

"What the hell was Dawn thinking, anyway? Stealing right in front of Anya?"

Giles replaced his glasses and tucked his handkerchief away. He met her gaze for a moment, and flushed. Then his face changed. "Oh. Buffy. Has Dawn confined her theft to the Magic Box? Or has she been, er..."

"Oh, damn."

Buffy got up and headed out. Giles trailed after her. The gang was gathered around the tarot table. Dawn had obviously been crying, about which Buffy was decidedly mixed. Dawn shoved a little pile of jewelry across the table toward Giles. Anya snagged it and started sorting it out.

"There's some more stuff at home. I'll bring it in. I'm really sorry. Please don't chop off my hands like Anya says."

Giles ran his hands through his hair. "I'm not going to chop anything off, Dawn. I do apologize. Truly. While theft is not good behavior, neither is threatening people with swords."

"Except when Buffy does it," said Anya. "She can throw swords at Council people and not get into trouble, but when a simple shopkeeper attempts to defend his property against the depredations of--"

Xander clapped his hand over her mouth. "Hon, there's a time and a place."

Giles opened his arms, and Dawn stepped over for a hug. That, at least, was normal behavior for the two of them. "Dawn, please, if you feel the urge to do that again, come talk to me. This may be, ah, surprising, but I once did the same."

"Maybe," said Dawn, reluctantly.

"It's either that or talk to me," said Buffy. And she was not feeling too generous at the moment. Buffy tried to guess how much Dawn's pile of shoplifted goods was worth. A lot, probably. Giles tended to stock hand-crafted goods, in an appeal to the higher end of the market. At least in jewelry. She didn't know who she was more pissed off at now, Dawn or Giles. Okay, she knew the answer to that. Dawn. Giles was scaring her, not pissing her off.

Giles pulled the sword out of the floor and resheathed it. He laid it across the counter.

"Leave it," Buffy told him. He nodded to her.

Xander knelt down and fingered the slot in the floorboards. "Like somebody used a router on it," he said. "That thing is sharp. Magically sharp. Are we letting Giles touch it again?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"It's dangerous. Ya know what happened to people who got near Elric."

"Who was Elric, Xander?" Buffy needed a laugh. Badly. She followed Giles back to the tarot table, where Dawn was sulking in Tara's arms.

"You people are uncultured louts! Can't believe you."

"My sword is not a bound demon, Xander. It does not have a will of its own. It, it, it will not kill people who get near it just to keep me alive." Giles waved his hands in front of his face.

"Thank you! Somebody knows what I'm talking about. And how do you know it won't?"

"It's just an enchanted piece of metal, Xander. We know its provenance."

"How do you know it hasn't got a dragon's soul stuck inside it? Huh?"

"Because... oh dear." Giles sat down, hard, in the nearest chair. Buffy sank down next to him. Uh oh.

"Giles, tell me what dragons are like. Specifically, the dragon this thing was stuck inside." Buffy folded her arms on the table and rested her chin on them.

"Oh, God," he said.

Willow answered for him. "Learned. Curious. Magical in the extreme. Pretty ancient. This one was a reclusive scholar."

"There ya go," said Xander. "This sword is turning Giles into a learned and curious scholar. Thanks, Will!"

Willow stuck her tongue out at Xander. "The dragon's personality could still be coming through. Have you felt more scholarly than usual?"

They all stared at her. "No, Willow. Not particularly."

"Jeez, more like just the opposite, what with brandishing swords at my sister."

Willow frowned. "But this dragon was supposed to be extra-intelligent. Anaoc sought it out to learn from it. And then the whole mistake about the meeting happened, and..."

"Yeah, yeah. But what was it like? What was it into? What did it do for fun on Friday nights?"

Giles took off his glasses and inspected the lenses. "This one appears to have been quite reclusive. It had a friendly relationship with the nearby Pueblo tribe, but otherwise didn't get out much. It was quite old at the time of the misunderstanding."

"That doesn't sound right. Aren't dragons temperamental? Don't they sit on big mounds of gold, or something? And you're not supposed to laugh at them while they're still alive." Buffy had read The Hobbit once.

"Buffy, Tolkien was writing about one specific dragon, and taking some license about it. Individuals vary, among the more intelligent ones. The way people are different from each other."

"Oh. So they're as different as you and me."

Giles nodded at her. "And as similar."

Tara spoke up. "Mr Giles, do you dream about the dragon?"

Glasses back on, head tilted as he considered the question. "I believe I might have dreamed about fighting the dragon once. About the two of them, Ryd and Anaoc, often."

"Huh," said Willow. "I think we need to do more research on this."

She climbed up to the loft and came down with a book on dragon species. She and Tara began compiling notes. Xander turned back to his Council notes, and Giles to his disappointing book on hellgods. Willow quizzed him, periodically, about his dreams. He looked over his shoulder at the counter, every now and then, but he left the sword where it lay. Buffy watched him uneasily. Something was up. Not necessarily evil, but not necessarily good, either.

Buffy put the sword in a cabinet for storage overnight, at Giles' request. Nobody else could touch it. It still gave Willow shocks. Xander let his hand hover over the hilt, then shook his head. "No way. It's not that it doesn't like me, it's that I'm not good enough. And I have no freakin' clue why I just said that. Shit, Giles, this thing is wiggy."

Giles buried his hands deep in his trouser pockets, as if preventing himself from reaching out to it were difficult. But he turned his back and left the shop without comment.


It was Saturday night, and time to see what was up at the high school.

Buffy met Giles at the Magic Box after closing, carrying cartons of Thai for a Watcher-Slayer dinner. Green curry tofu for Giles, red curry chicken for her. The scent of spicy coconut milk mingled with the usual Magic Box incense and dried herbs. Buffy spooned curry over rice, and ate while Giles summarized the day's research for her, which amounted to a big zilch.

He looked spare and dangerous today. He'd chosen to wear black: black jeans and boots under a loose over-shirt that Buffy had seen before. She'd have commented, but she was wearing black herself. Practical fighting clothes, for the expected evening entertainment. The expected brawl.

After dinner, Giles cleared away the cartons while Buffy got out the weapons. Bottles of holy water. Stakes into pockets. She already had a knife in her right boot, in the sheath Giles had had installed for her. She hesitated for a moment, then got the dragon sword from the cabinet. Buffy was nervous about it, but it was the right weapon to take to what promised to be a nasty vamp-fight. As always, when she touched it, a tickle ran along her spine: something evaluated her, and found her acceptable.

Giles sighed when he took the sword from her.

They were early to the party, but late anyway, judging by the cars parked on nearby streets. Buffy wondered how the police could possibly ignore the noise. Giles parked his own car some distance away, to give them a chance to approach with stealth, not that stealth was particularly difficult. Buffy was just being cautious. They had no idea what sort of numbers they'd be dealing with.

They took the back way in, scrambling through wrecked hallways, exploiting their once-perfect knowledge of the school floorplan. They slipped into the boy's locker room through the side entrance, once the province of football and basketball lettermen. Fallen, twisted lockers blocked the doorway to the gym, but they had a good enough view over the top. The main party was in the gym. At least, the main party for the humans. There was a keg, and people smoking cigarettes and other things, and couples making out in the corners. Music, something hard and fast and electronic, blared from an impressive pair of speakers. Undoubtedly stolen. Buffy identified the music; the Matrix soundtrack. Xander had played that until she'd threatened to get prodigious on his ass. It was the most squalid of the squalid teen parties Buffy had seen, and she'd seen a few in her days at Hemery. At Sunnydale, she'd been too busy being responsible to plumb the depths of her peer group's stupidity. Which, apparently, were deep indeed.

The girl's locker room was where the serious action was. Teenagers went in, but they weren't coming out.

Buffy pointed it out to Giles. He nodded. She tried to count vamps. Reliably picking them out from the press of bodies was difficult. Too many kids dancing. Her senses prickled, urging her into the fight. Buffy held herself in check. Instinct was useful, but here she needed a plan.

She pressed her lips against Giles' ear. "Lots. A dozen, more. And more in the locker room. Gonna be tough. I'm gonna clear out the lockers, see what reacts. Draw them over here. Back to back."

Giles nodded and drew his sword. Buffy felt it next to her, a black spike of potential. Friendly, to her. How she knew that, she had no idea. That bothered her. Not that she didn't trust her senses. She didn't like not knowing why she felt that way.

Double-check pockets. Stakes there. Stakes in each boot. And a stake up her right sleeve. One centering breath. Buffy shifted into combat mode, all senses heightened, all reflexes tightened. She crouched on the balls of her feet, picked up the bank of lockers, and sent it sliding across the gym floor.

Humans shouted, and moved away. Vamps turned, sensed her, and reacted. Vamped out. Screams. And the first vamp was in her face.

Buffy fought. She threw stakes, kicked, spun, punched, improvised. The keg itself was a weapon in her hands, and then a tool for sweeping aside the cluster of still-human kids too stupid to flee. The skin on her knuckles split from punching ridged demon-faces. Dust got in her hair and under her shirt. It made her itch. This annoyed her. She allowed it to motivate a few hard kicks.

Beside her, Giles fought. He was a berserker. Whirling death, pure grace. Buffy caught glimpses of him in action, coat swirling. She counted his death-tally as she heard the demon-screams, with a corner of her mind. Giles was keeping pace with her kill rate. An astonishing feat for a mere human. She started flinging vamps at him, to be disabled or decapitated, whichever he could manage.

At some point, Buffy allowed herself to cartwheel into the sound system. She silenced it forever with a well-placed kick on the CD player.

"I heard that thing too many times," she told the next vampire. "Rammstein is so pretentious. Give me an emo chick singer any day."

She staked it before it could reply.

A pause in the festivities. Giles turned to dispatch the half-dismembered vampire writhing on the floor behind him, then came over to her. He was breathing hard, hair wet with sweat. The Slayer had him there, at least. Buffy's heartrate was already back to normal. He turned slowly, in counterpoint with her, both in guard stance. Buffy looked for collateral damage, for humans caught in the fight. Surely Giles had clipped somebody he ought not, gotten sloppy with targets during that banshee flail session. But no humans had died. Piles of dust everywhere, however. Buffy's estimate of a dozen had been conservative.

They'd been mostly infesting teenaged bodies. That was an awful lot of dead high school students. Dead kids who wouldn't be coming home. Wouldn't be attending their senior proms in another month.

Buffy couldn't let herself think about that right now.

"Vamps nearby. The locker room. I dunno... maybe five. Going to be tight quarters. Maybe a ringleader in there. Brace for a fight."

Giles nodded. The sword came up again, tip at heart level. Buffy let him guard her back and started moving across the gym. Debris everywhere, beer bottles, smashed glass. The human kids had long since fled. Tomorrow they'd get on their cellphones and tell stories about the gang fight. Hadda be the Bloods, they'd say.

Buffy paused at the locker room doorway, listening, her whole being strained to sense into the room ahead of her. Hand signals to Giles: she'd go left, he'd go right. Deep breath. She rolled through the door.

And it was anticlimactic. Five vamps, clumsy and cramped in the confined space of shower stalls and lockers, were no match for the Slayer and her swordsman-Watcher. One of them had been the football coach. That explained the letter jacket boy, at least. Three minutes later Buffy and Giles were standing in the blood-spattered showers, counting human bodies. Six dead kids. Six people she'd failed. Three of them were going to come back from the grave in a few days.

Buffy stood memorizing their faces. Giles came up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. "It's harder to count the ones you save," he said, softly.

"Yeah, I know." And she did know. But this was the part of the job that sucked.

They left the high school without speaking further. It had been cleared. They'd call in a tip to the police department, and by midnight it would be swarming with cops and floodlights, bound tight with new fencing, and guarded. Dealt with. Done.

Buffy turned her attention to the next problem in front of her. She had several choices of problem to attack, but it was now clear what the most urgent one was.

"Giles. The sword. It's affecting you. Starting with your fighting. What you just did..."

"I... perhaps, yes."

"No perhaps, Giles. Trust an outsider's perspective here. Trust your Slayer. If it was just one thing, maybe I'd believe you. But it's a whole bunch." Buffy walked backwards in front of him for a few steps, then danced around alongside him. "Want me to list them?"

"Lord."

They reached his car. Giles popped the trunk. They piled their weapons in. Lastly, and reluctantly, Giles laid the dragon sword across the top. He muttered an apology to it, then shut the trunk. Buffy watched him as he drove across town to Xander's place, where they'd pick up Dawn. Traffic lights reflected in his glasses; streetlights shone blue-pale across his angular face. He looked like the same man as the man who'd driven her to the desert two weeks ago. Same worry-lines in his forehead, same smile-crinkles at the corners of his eyes. Was he the same man, truly?

The clothes he was wearing, that silk shirt, that duster. They'd been in the back of his closet, he said. The same thing with the gold ring in his ear. It had been there, waiting to be worn. But Giles hadn't chosen to wear them until now. He would never have drawn a sword to threaten her sister, whom he had promised to guard, not even to frighten her. And the way he'd fought: Giles was a good swordsman, but he wasn't a legendary one. Or he hadn't been, until tonight. Personality change. Buffy couldn't rationalize it any longer. And from the expression on Giles' face, he'd stopped being able to rationalize it as well.

Giles parked the car in Buffy's driveway and turned it off. He leaned his head against the steering wheel. Buffy listened to the tick of the engine cooling. A car drove past. The headlights shone across his hair, blinding Buffy for a moment. Giles sat up, and slipped his keys into his coat pocket.

"This is the weapon we wanted, Buffy."

"Yeah."

"I still don't know how to activate it."

"But what you can do with it might be enough. The show you put on tonight... Giles, you'd have killed me pretty much right away."

"You're not a hellgod."

"You know what I'm saying."

"I do. But the price, the price, Buffy... This personality shift."

"It's the sword, I know. The sword has... opinions."

"Something like that, yes. I am increasingly, um, aware of it. As a personality itself. Influencing me."

"Who knew dragons liked silk shirts?"

He shook his head impatiently. "I'm fairly certain there isn't a dragon's soul bound in the sword. It's a human. I think it's Ryd. The swordsman himself."

Buffy leaned toward him, excited again. "His swordfighting style. That's what I'm seeing in you."

"Yes. His fighting style. His temper. Dreams of his lover."

"His clothes?"

"His taste, yes." Giles gestured, sweeping a hand over his chest and his black shirt and jeans.

"Wow. This is kinda cool. You--" Buffy stopped herself. Giles didn't look as if he thought it were cool.

"I don't know what's happening to me. When I'm holding the sword, I'm not sure which one of us is in charge any more. I can feel him in my head almost all the time now. I didn't want to admit what was happening. Oh, God, Buffy." Head down on the wheel again.

Buffy sat motionless in the passenger seat, thinking. Giles, changing. That was change, all right. Change so drastic the original man would be gone. Geeky Giles, with clipboard and tweed, submerged inside a dragon. Giles, gone.

"Oh no," she said. "No way. No no. I'm not losing you too. Nobody else. Not you, not Dawn, not anybody. We're getting rid of it. Now."

Giles sat up. "Buffy, it's a bloody apocalypse! Do you know what happens if Glory gets that key? Dimensional breach. Hellbeasts rampaging. We can't let it happen. Who bloody cares if I lose myself? If all seven of us die preventing that, it will have been worth the price."

Buffy swore under her breath. Giles was right. He didn't usually say it in such a painfully blunt way, but he was right. But not them. Not her friends. It was her job to do the sacrificing. She was the one who died so that the rest of the world could sleep tucked up in their beds, toys on their lawns wet with innocent dew. That was how the Slayer gig always ended.

"It's my job. Not yours. Mine."

Giles turned to face her in his seat. "Buffy, do you remember our first apocalypse?"

"I do. I remember I had to sock you in the jaw to stop you from being stupid." Buffy almost smiled.

"And I remember that you died instead. I swore not to let it happen again. I'm willing to pay this price. It's, it's my duty to you. As your Watcher. And it's not death, Buffy. Just... change. Some kind of merging?"

He turned away again. Buffy watched his knuckles whiten as he clenched and unclenched his hands on the steering wheel. Saw the scabs on his right hand, where he'd barked the knuckles earlier, in training. Saw the scars on the fingers of his left hand. For a long time she'd forgotten how he'd gotten those.

Buffy had sworn her own oaths about things she wasn't going to let happen again.

Giles took off his glasses and held them in his scarred fingers. "Buffy. Our loyalty to you... don't doubt it. We know whom we were sent to serve. We're your sworn liegemen. We'll kill this hellgod in your honor."

We. Giles kept saying we. It was probably too late to stop. Whatever it was. Giles put his glasses into his shirt pocket, and opened the car door.