Every shadow is Glory or one of her goons and every vamp on the streets is dust without breaking a nail, and honestly, Buffy hurts. It's gone past itching at this point, the way she'll get when town is quiet for a day or so; this is when the mosquito bites are huge freaking welts that cover half your limbs and you're wearing mittens. Not even scratchy mittens, silicon oven mitts. Also maybe your hands are cuffed behind your back so you can't even try rubbing with those if you get desperate enough.
Giles tells her that it's not true, what she thinks about her propensity for totally ruining everything ever. He tells her that over and over, the same as he always has. She pretends not to hear it when she's training, like maybe the words got lost in the big echoing space of the back room, like the many bobby pins she's lost in the cracks between the flagstones even in the few weeks they've been here.
When she's in his apartment, sitting on his couch or his counter or his table -- "do you have some objection to my chairs, Buffy?" he asked one time; she just grinned and lifted her legs so that she was completely stretched across the counter, wiggling her toes (freshly polished, this cute pink with little gold shimmers in it) at him cheerfully -- and he's right nearby it's harder for her to ignore, although they both know she can if she wants to. So she gives him a tight smile and then goes back to whatever she was working on with even extra energy, because it's sweet, it's so sweet of him to say it, and they both get tired of her saying what they both know, namely that he must be wearing asbestos underwear because his pants are constantly on fire these days, with how often he tells her that.
She's okay with him lying to her sometimes, but not about this, not when she didn't ask him to.
After they've managed to find their way up to his bed one night, her leading him up the stairs and kissing him all the while -- when he's naked already and she's down to her jeans -- he asks her if she'll do something for him. Buffy looks at the thin rod he presses into her hand, and then at him, and asks him if it was a memento of his school days, because she's pretty sure there's a law somewhere that when an English guy hands you a cane you have to make that joke.
"Do you need a safeword?" she asks, grinning. Her heart is fluttering and her fingernails are itching and she really hopes he can't tell how much she actually means this.
"Never," he says, and kisses the skin stretched out over her shoulder blade, not far from where his hand is resting, curved around her shoulder like it was made for the spot. Before she can follow that up, he adds, "I trust you, Buffy." His voice is so quiet you couldn't even hear it if you didn't have Slayer senses, which is probably the point; it's just his lips on her skin.
"Probably not a wise choice," she says, and before he can keep twisting the knife, because he doesn't even know he's doing it by saying it to her, that's the worst thing, she spins around and strikes with it, the blow landing on his thigh. It's just a little whisper, just a hint, just to try it out, just for fun, but Giles flinches and hisses anyway because she took him by surprise. Then he opens his eyes and looks at her. Strictly speaking, the look he gives her is the same one as when she gets into his lap and clenches his hair in her fist and just waits until he stops trying to kiss her and lets her kiss him instead, but it takes her a second to realize that; at first she just knows this is actually maybe a good idea after all.
"I hurt you," she says.
"Yes, Buffy," he says, patiently, but after all these years she can hear that he's working way too hard to keep his voice quiet and flat and gentle. "That's sort of the point."
It's thin, like something he stripped off of a sapling, like it might've been something young and living not that long ago. She hefts it, gives it a few more experimental swings, and he explains to her while she does, while she finishes taking off her jeans and lets the hot pink lace of her underwear follow them, how you have to be careful, how general wisdom holds that you must be careful of bones, of organs, so that the full knowledge of just how much you can lose in your kinky fun starts pressing down on top of her.
"Why are you telling me this?" she asks, because her hands are itching but he's locked something tight around her chest and the thin little piece of plastic or whatever it is might as well be a friggin' battle-ax in her hands.
She turns away from the dresser and he's hanging onto the railing of the loft, looking down over his living room. "Because you need to know what you're capable of."
"You mean hurting you?" she asks.
He looks up, looks over his shoulder at her, and smiles, just a little. "Precisely."
He's put a weapon in her hands and he's turned his back to her and he's done it in his bedroom. It's a small space, the kind she can't ignore him in, and all there is, right now, is gratitude that he's not going to try lying to her today, that they're not going to have to pretend he's telling the truth when he says she's good for something besides hurting. Her hands are itching and she thinks maybe you're supposed to say something? Maybe there should be a little more to this? But she and Riley tried spanking once and mostly she just fell over giggling and if she thinks too hard she's going to give herself performance anxiety.
When she fights, it's like the world moves around her, and that's what she lets it do now; the room whirls into place and Giles hasn't moved a muscle but somehow he's slid before her, right in front of her. The cane sings in the air -- she barely has to move to hurt him, she knows it, and after the first few welts appear on his skin she stops and stares, slides a finger along them. She hasn't broken the skin; she knows it inside of her but she checks anyway, she's fascinated by this fact, and his breathing got ragged at first, but now it starts to even out.
"You see," he begins.
"Shut up," she tells him, and hears a little crack to her voice, and brings her arm down hard. Giles cries out at this, and she doesn't even look this time, still knows she hasn't broken skin. A few floating words of the explanation he just gave come to her, "kidneys" and "tailbone" and something about how it's birch because bamboo can slice if it starts to crack. But she makes the cane hum in the air a few more times and the memory of his words is replaced by the gritted-teeth whining noise he makes.
"Am I hurting you?" she asks, and he's still panting, so she brings her arm down again, because the heaviness of it is crushing down on her -- his bathrobe hung up in the corner looks, if she turns her head right, like one of Glory's little minions, and right now she can't take the weight of his usual lie. "Am I hurting you?" she asks again -- another soft wail of the cane, another welt on his legs.
"Yes," he finally manages, and it's a sob more than anything but it's an answer, an honest one, the one truth she's always been certain of. The thing around her chest shatters with it, and the thing in her hand is safer than her hand would be, because it can only channel her strength instead of giving him the full force of it.
She doesn't count the blows, and neither does he; the room fades to contact. The feeling of impact is familiar, but it's never been like this, with pain the only goal instead of just part of the whole killing thing, and Buffy's somewhere far away, taking stock of the distance, and listening. "Tell me," she says, and she finds that she can barely get the words out for the tightness in her throat. "Tell me how much I'm hurting you, Giles. Tell me."
The sound of the cane fades first, and then the feeling of it, even, so that it's just his voice -- he might be talking, and she realizes distantly that she's still talking, too, still asking him over and over to tell her just how much damage she's doing. He's just gasping at this point, openly sobbing, and they both know this could go on forever, that she could slice him open with this stupid little thing if she kept at it, and the world is contracting to his skin and the noises they're both making when he finally says something she understands. "Please, Buffy," he's whispering, over and over again, around the cries. "Please, Buffy..."
She doesn't know what he's asking for, there's only silence and the echo of their cries in her head, but she drops the cane to the floor and grabs his wrist. He's trembling, and there's terror in her, blinding terror, the what-have-I-done awfulness that she hasn't felt since Acathla, but when his breath slows a little and he slowly, slowly straightens, Buffy notices that he's hard as a rock, and she's gone over the edge then, gone completely. She's on the bed and pulled him on top of her and again it's like the room has just moved them, so smoothly has she done it and so little did she notice it. When she grabs hold of him, she makes sure it's his ass, where she can feel the warmth of the welts. He's making these keening noises, but they just quiet everything else in her head further; she buries her face in his skin and digs her nails into his legs. Never mind that it's nighttime in Sunnydale, that the only light were the warm yellow pools of his lamps, nowhere near enough for what this town needs; never mind that he's on top of her, that he's driving into her and practically sobbing with the effort of moving his battered legs, and never mind that at this point the neighbors have probably heard him crying out: finally, finally, just for a moment, there's only her in her head, only her and the light of day.
She's up soon after, pulled him carefully off of her and run for the bathroom, where she mostly just sits on the toilet and stares at the linoleum until she realizes she hears movement in the kitchen, and finally there's a knock at the door. "Buffy, I've made us some tea," he says, "and not to nag, but if you'll look in the cabinet, there's a tube of ointment, it'll -- "
"I hurt you," she says, and the world has shifted around her again; she's standing and the door is open. She sounds dumb even for her when she says it, and it's not what she means, exactly, or it means more than she can figure out how to say, like how the ocean is all these different colors and you just call it blue.
"Yes, you did," Giles answers. He's halfway back to the kitchen, but he pauses now, and starts back to her. Buffy doesn't -- can't -- miss the careful way he's walking, but he makes no noise of complaint, just hands her a warm mug and leans against the doorframe. "And yet, here I am."
In spite of herself, she looks up from her tea and meets his eyes. "Okay," Buffy says. He's put a record on, and as she turns and picks the little thing of ointment up off the sink, the hissing falls away before the music. "Okay," she says again, and sits back down on the toilet, popping the cap open and setting her mug on the sink as she focuses on the task at hand.