Chimes, high and true, rang in his head. When he was small the nearby church bells had greeted every morning like that, although not as sweetly clangorous: "Come on, Giles, wake up."
Muttering a protest, he rolled away from the bell-voice and hid his face against the chair. She was always doing this, he thought through his haze of exhaustion, always ringing at him, not letting him rest. And he was so bloody tired.
"Would you wake up!"
"Just another minute, darling," he mumbled.
A small, competent female hand wrapped itself in his shirt and pulled. Hard. "I said, wake – hey, what did you just call me?"
The combined jostle and yelp finally opened his eyes. Of course it was Anya; even his sleep-numbed self had known that. Her grip had him halfway out of the armchair in the otherwise unpopulated Summers living room, where he must have fallen asleep waiting for Buffy and the newly rescued Spike to return from First Evil reconnaissance.
And he had just called her "darling," as he always did when she appeared in dreams. Oh, fucking hell. He’d never meant – she wasn’t supposed to know – "Anya, what are you doing?"
She released him so quickly that he collapsed back into his chair. "Giles, are you hallucinating due to travel-fatigue?"
"Possibly. Probably." He edged himself upright, then ran his hands over his face. So, so bloody tired, after a two-day trip to pick up a Potential in Ecuador, and after this evening’s return to a house full of responsibilities he struggled to handle and a treasure he couldn’t have. But that wasn’t important at the moment. He said, "Is there something wrong? Or more wrong than usual?"
A herd of Potentials – well, three – clattered through the hall on their way to the kitchen, all squeals and girlish hormones. More noise from the kitchen itself: Xander working on the back door which two Slayers-in-Training had dented, with Dawn and that extremely annoying murderer boy offering commentary and chocolate sprinkles.
Giles checked his watch. It was almost ten-thirty in the evening.
A smoky trail of incense from upstairs, doubtless Willow’s work, curled down into the living room. It was a heavy night scent, almost enough magic to smother the nearness of Anya in the lamplight. But only almost. She was definitely there.
Just another form of Rupert Giles torture, he thought.
Anya slid to her knees in front of him, then placed her hands on the armrests as if to fence him in. Oh, he very much wished she hadn’t done that. Shifting uneasily, he tried to slide the cushion over his lap in a quiet librarian manner, in order to hide the hardening of his cock at her nearness.
Not that such inconvenient erections were unusual around her, of course. One brush of her hand, one scent of her sharp citrus warmth, and his body forgot he was sodding middle-aged and exhausted. Had done for well over a year.
Luckily, as always she paid attention only to her own agenda. "I don’t know how much good you’ll be, since you’re so brain-fogged. But it’s...something you owe me. And there’s profit in it for you too."
"I, er, owe you?" He wished she’d move back before his jeans popped open from the pressure. Clearing his throat, he said, "How exactly would that be?"
"Well, last summer you did run off to England yet again after Willow’s meltdown and simultaneous destruction of our property, which then left me without a job –"
"I had thought you’d decided vengeance was your job again." He had thought – what an understatement. Battered from the Willow-assault, bruised from the Buffy-reminders of how he had failed them all, the night after the averted apocalypse he had sat in his hotel room and methodically listed all the reasons why he couldn’t have even Xander-less Anya and why the Magic Box tie should be severed so that she could move onto the new demon life she’d chosen. Then he’d gotten drunk, very, very drunk. One could almost say, paralytic. The ensuing hangover had made the transatlantic flight with traumatised, grieving Willow even more hellish than it would have been in any case, and the memory of his mini-bar charges still could evoke a twinge of nausea.
In the present, however, reproachful brown eyes made him feel ten times an arse. She said stiffly, "I went back to being a vengeance demon because I was hurt and scared and no one seemed to care. And I guess you didn’t either, huh, if you thought it was that easy for me."
"No, Anya. I didn’t mean that."
"Then what did you mean, Giles?" With her words, her fingers slipped on the armrests, dipping down the sides, her fingertips over his cushion, and he thought frantically, oh no, wait, don’t –
"Oh no, wait," she said.
"What?" Christ, when had she learned to read minds?
"No, uh-huh. We’re not going to argue about this now, even though you’re finally actually talking to me about anything other than investigating demon dimensions and ugly and useless Beljoxa’s Eye nonsense. By the way, I think you should have travel-fatigue more often if it makes you stop being Mr. Repressed-Silent-Englishman." When he blinked at her, she smiled. "The topic of the moment is that I need you to help me with my business."
"Help you with your business?"
"What happened in South America, did you turn into a parrot? My business. My internet trading in objects and potions mystical, magical and demon-related." She made the words sound like an advertising brochure. "I’m one of the top sellers on eBay."
The incense must be stronger than he thought. "You’re still conducting shop business?"
"Yes, I did so all summer, despite the calls of vengeance. I was...." She trailed off, looking at her hands. And other things in the vicinity, it seemed: "Giles, why are you clutching that cushion to your groin?"
His hands moved, but only to make sure it was secure. "Anya. Would you keep your mind on the subject? You said you’ve been doing business, even though there hasn’t been a Magic Box for over six months."
Her eyes glinted in the lamplight. "How else was I supposed to live? I’ve just been trading the basics. You know, a few herbal mixtures for various demon problems, a love-potion here, a de-scaling solution there, plus a full range of candles. Unfortunately, I’m out of laceprig wings for the sleeping aid."
At last there came an upswell of anger to distract him. "Hang on, hang on. Anya, that concoction is my own recipe. How can you be selling what’s not yours?"
"Well, see, if you help me, that’s where the profit comes in. I’ll go halves, and since our mark-up is quite high, it’ll be a good one. "
"But, but that’s not the point! The mixture was my idea! And frankly, why haven’t I been informed of our ongoing business before now?"
"Our business? Where the hell have you been?" Her hair – brown with blonde streaks today, he couldn’t help noticing – bounced when she threw her head back in order to stare him down. She looked very like a vengeance demon still, her sharp chin ready to cut through any foolish man who dared stand against her.
He fixed the cushion a little more firmly against his lap. Her death-glare shouldn’t be arousing, you pillock, he told himself with equal firmness. Besides, she was an infuriating...exasperation. Yes. Even in a world gone mad, with all he had once known now exploded into shards of stone and blood and memory, he could always count on her pissing him off.
The gorgeous, infuriating exasperation leaned forward, all sharp citrus scent and big eyes, and said with bell-like clarity, "Rupert. Giles. You. Owe. Me."
He leaned forward so that their gazes matched. This was a mistake in all sorts of ways, as not only did his jeans cut into him so much as to practically emasculate him, but the scents of incense and citrus swirled together so that he found it difficult to breathe. Gathering himself, he said, "It seems you owe me, Anya."
Her hands covered his, gripped hard. Oh, God, he shouldn’t be touching her. He felt it everywhere, a brush of electricity jolting body and soul; there was a good reason he’d been keeping his hands in his pockets since he’d arrived back, the fear of such a charge and what it might make him do. But she said, "Giles, we can argue about accounting later. I said I need you to help me. Are you going to be difficult about this?"
"Yes. Yes, I am," he said. Without meaning to, because he sodding knew better, he threaded his fingers through hers. Pleasure of skin woven with skin in a lacy pattern on the soft cushion, white against red silk in the lamplight. The strands connecting their energy seemed to run up his arms, around, and down.
He didn’t know if he could cut the thread, even though he’d been trying and trying. Damn her.
She looked down, so close that her hair was falling into his eyes. "Hey, you’re touching me. I thought you’d forgotten how in England." Then, with another toss of her head, another press of her fingers, her breath mingling with his: "Now pay attention, Giles. We can negotiate a new business agreement if you want, but it’s the full moon, and right now there are laceprigs to be harvested –"
It was of course at that moment that the girl-herd returned, the sound of hammering stopped, and Willow said from the staircase, "Giles, I was thinking – um, what’re you doing? Anya?"
Not the most felicitous phrasing, he thought. Attempting and failing to pull his hands away, he said, "Er, yes, Willow...."
"Hey, Anya, do you remember where the replacement crown molding is – hey. Hey." Xander, with his faithful shadows behind him, stood in the door to the kitchen. Three more pairs of eyes fixed accusingly on them both. "So what’s up?"
Rupert Giles, do not indulge your filthy mind, he told himself sternly, before saying, "We’re discussing business. Is there something I can do to help you? Any of you?"
But Anya broke his try for the old authority, using the simple expedient of flowing to her feet and then using their interlaced fingers to pull him up too. As he struggled for balance, she said, "Okay, listen. Giles and I are working. It’s business, Willow, to replace what you destroyed. Xander, the crown molding is on the back porch where you left it. Now we’re going to get a sword and some jars, and then we have to run an errand, so bye."
"Anya –" he began, just for her ears..
"You owe me," she whispered again. Her eyes so close in the lamplight, incense and citrus surrounding him, her body warmth reaching him where he was so cold and tired.
It really wasn’t his fault that he said, "Yes, er, sorry, everyone, but Anya and I have a business errand to run. If the First comes while we’re out, please tell it to wait."
Watching Giles pick through the swords in the weapons chest, his large hands competently testing each one for just the right something-something-Watchery-who-really-cared-what, Anya decided that she was a genius.
There she had been, sitting in the Summers dining room, looking over her inventory list and bemoaning the difficulties in accessing primary materials for her salable goods. All around her had been noise and disorder – she’d been tempted to go back to her own apartment, regardless of D’Hoffryn’s goons and a variety of Evils on the loose, just for the peace and quiet. However, that would have left her alone, and while she was working on making herself an independent woman with a strong sense of self, as recommended by all the magazines she’d been researching, she didn’t particularly care to be by herself just at the moment.
Then she’d looked across the length of the house and seen Giles slouched in the armchair, asleep.
The full moon shone through the now unboarded, open-curtained front window, illuminating him in silver beams as well as lamplight gold. He gleamed like money. His legs stretched out over the carpet, his glasses askew, and his arms dangling loosely over the armrests, he looked – manly, she thought. And exhausted.
And alone, just like her.
Actually, he had looked more alone. There had been something chilly about him since he’d returned from England, with those Slayers-in-Training in tow and those new, strangely attractive lines cut into his face. Also, he had the weirdest new habit of not touching anything (even when falling out of another dimension with his lovely former colleague), as if he would shatter if contact was made with his tender yet rugged masculine flesh. What was so odd was that for a repressed and stuffy man, he used to be literally hands-on, a touch-your-shoulder-when-you-were-craving-Watcher-comfort person. Something was wrong here.
He needed attention paid to him. And her inventory list showed she needed laceprig wings for the highly popular Sleep-More concoction, as developed by R. Giles.
Hence, the plan of genius.
"Are you ready, Giles?" she asked, her hand going to his back. It just fit, very comfortably lodged in the hollow between his quite attractive bottom and his spinal column.
It would have been comfortably lodged, that is, except that he jolted upright as if she’d stung him. "Anya, please," he said rather desperately.
"Oh, calm down." She was unclear about what he was asking, though, so she added, "What am I supposed to do please?"
When he swung around to look at her, she felt an odd wave of delight at that familiar Giles scent of bay rum aftershave and the cigarettes he thought she didn’t know he sneaked. It was enjoyable to have his tall, handsome, nice-smelling self glare at her again; it made her feel more like herself too.
And boy, was he glaring. However, he didn’t answer her question. With a sharp, barely controlled move he wrapped his hand around a hilt of one of the swords, hefted it onto his shoulder, then said, "Are we ready?"
"No, we need to get a couple of jars for the laceprig wings. Remember?"
"Oh, right, of course. And a torch or two as well."
"It’s full moon, but if you think you need more light –" she said.
Narrowing his eyes, he looked out the front window. Bathed in silver and gold light again, his profile looked like a statesman’s on a coin. Another odd wave of delight uncurled itself and rolled through her belly. Bending back to the supplies, he said, "I’ll take one just to be on the safe side."
"You’re always on the safe side," she said. When he shot another look at her, she smiled. "I’m on the safe side too. It’s just sound planning."
She was sure that the smile he gave her in return was the first one to cross his face since he’d returned from England. All he said, however, was "Let’s get the jars, then. In the pantry, do you think?"
The kitchen went silent when the two of them walked in. Xander, who had abandoned his crown molding project, and Willow, who had abandoned her incense-and-unnamed-magic project, apparently were in heated conference about something Scooby; their heads were together over the island, while Dawn and Andrew hovered on the periphery. Four people turned at their entrance, and four stares resulted.
Giles nodded to them all. "Pardon us. Just a couple of items, and then you can carry on with your, er, chat." He slipped by them on his way to the appropriate cupboard – and he was still with the not-touching. This needed pondering, which required enhanced blood-sugar levels.
She stole one of Andrew’s fresh cookies and bit into it. Chocolate sprinkles beautifully complemented the peanut butter, she felt, and she said, "Well baked, ambiguously villainous boy."
"Thank you, Anya, you’re very kind when you’re not smacking me around," he said, at which Dawn rolled her eyes. But then she took a cookie of her own.
Xander said, "So what exactly are you two going to be doing?"
Since she no longer harboured the deep need to see her ex-fiance ripped apart by ravening wolves, especially because he’d been quite nice over the whole Slayer vs. Vengeance Demon nightmare, she said pleasantly, "None of your damn business."
While Xander spluttered and Willow fumed, Giles said, "We’re collecting potion materials, Xander. The full moon is the time to harvest this one particular, er, ingredient, and Anya, where the bloody hell did the empty jars go?"
At the snap of his last words, she sighed. Mood swings were terrible things in others. "Right in front of your face, Giles. Here, let me show you."
She walked over to the cabinet, ignoring the stares of the Scoobies and wanna-be, and bent down with him. Her balance wasn’t as sure as it might be, though, because of her new high-heeled boots, which meant that she had to put a hand on his shoulder. His muscles clenched so hard under her touch that she had to say, "Does that hurt? The extreme tension in your back, I mean?"
"Jars, Anya. Where are they?"
"Gosh you’re twitchy. Here," she said, taking his non-sword-carrying hand and guiding it to the glassware. The action reminded her of several occasions in the Magic Box, when the two of them would be doing inventory in the basement, where they’d crouch together and she’d breathe in the scents of bay rum, magic, and masculine irritation. She felt delight rise up in her again.
His hand under hers was shaking a little, however, so she held on tighter. Didn’t want him to drop the jar and hurt him or her, of course. The tremor was familiar somehow, not an old-man tremble but something else she should recognise. She’d have to think about it.
Together they collected two of the pint jars – which should do nicely for at least six months’ supply – and then stood. She offered the supply bag, and he put them inside. He seemed to be paying an inordinate amount of attention to the simple task; he wouldn’t even look at her.
Willow said pointedly, "What potion are you making? Do you need my help?"
Giles began, "Thank you, but I think we should be able to manage –"
And Anya finished, "It’s very nice you want to assist us in the business which you destroyed, but no thanks."
At "Would you stop it" from Willow and "Give it a rest, Anya," from Xander, Giles heaved a sigh that could have been heard on Arashmaharr.
"That’s enough," he said, although she didn’t know who he was addressing. He actually sounded like he was talking to himself. "We’ll be back shortly, so please do not kill any Potentials, each other, or yourselves while I’m gone."
"And good night!" Anya said brightly, and then she hauled him past the others, through the hall, and out the front door before more discussion, argument, or hogging of Giles’s attention could begin.
It was a California winter night, crisp and cold and ozone-tinged. Woodsmoke curled through the moonlight, made her think even more of him somehow. Pulling her coat around her, she kept close on his heels. This was a bit of a challenge, since he was striding away to the east like his trousers were on fire. And also – "Where do you think you’re going?"
He slowed down but didn’t stop. "Merryfield Park, obviously. Where the laceprigs breed."
"Not any more, they don’t."
That made him halt. Standing up straighter than any human should be able to, he said, "We’re not harvesting in the park?"
"That’s correct. The demon-insect infestation required for the initial breeding of the laceprigs was recently wiped out by the City of Sunnydale’s new, aggressive pest-control plan."
"Anya." His voice was deep, resonant, and just as pissed off as it could be. "Where are we going to harvest, then?"
"You know very well! Up in the mountains, by the waterfall and the Kizzyoit habitat, which is why your sword will come in handy. Lace’s Clearing."
"But, but that’s at least an hour away."
"Yep. So we better get a move on." With a gentle shove, she pushed him in the direction of her car. "I’ll drive, though. You might fall asleep at the wheel, since you’re exhausted and not entirely rational."
"You can bloody well say that again," he muttered, but he went where she directed him.
She hurried them both into the car. Down the street she’d spied a bottled-gold Slayer head and a platinum vampire one on their way home. Once Buffy got a hold of Giles, Anya could forget about business and things owed and the solving of male mysteries; surely, however, First Evil matters could wait this one time.
He hadn’t even stowed his sword or buckled his seat belt before she was peeling out of the driveway, heading in the opposite direction from Slayer and her shadow. As he jolted back, he said, "Is the imitation of Michael Schumacher really necessary, Anya?"
"I don’t understand the reference, but if you mean I’m driving too fast, you’ll just have to deal. Besides, I thought you didn’t want to spend any more time with me than you had to." She punched in a CD one-handed, even as she turned the steering wheel hard, squealing the car around a corner. In her journey to discover who she was and what she enjoyed, she had found that soft jazz-type music appealed far more to her than the music of cowboy pain, which Xander favoured. The night seemed to call for her own music.
"I didn’t say that...oh, bugger it." He leaned his head against the seat-back and closed his eyes. Quietly, so she almost couldn’t hear him over the smoky tones coming out of the speakers: "Etta James, isn’t it? Nice choice."
"I think so," she said. "Now, you have time to take a nap if you want. You’re in good hands, Giles."
His lips curved, if perhaps unwillingly, in a smile. Second one of the night, she thought, a personal triumph for her. As he shifted around, trying to find a way to accommodate his long legs in the cramped front seat of her little car, she thought she heard him say under his breath, "Oh dear God, I’m in trouble." But she couldn’t be sure of it.
She headed the car out of suburbia and toward the highway that led to the mountains. And when she cast a quick glance at moonlit Giles, finally stretched out and relaxing back into sleep beside her, she thought again: Anya Christina Emmanuella Jenkins, you are a genius.
There was piano and bells and the rush of wind carrying him further away from what he knew. There was silver-blue night and the smell of citrus, the shudder of an engine underneath him, the soprano voice of his darling mingling with another smokier sound, "'I find you spinning around in my brain, Like the bubbles in a glass of champagne....'" Giles licked his lips, seeking the taste of buck’s fizz that he knew should be there, sweetly tart and rich –
Then his head smacked against the cold glass of the car window, and he startled out of his dream. "Oh, sod it!" he said through his teeth and the pain.
"Sorry. I had to avoid a large and dangerously pointy branch in the road," Anya said. "The swerving to avoid it might have been too pronounced, though."
"Yes. Perhaps a little too much swerve." Putting his hand to his forehead, where he was fairly sure there’d be a knot in the morning, he said, "Er, how long have I been asleep?"
"You were snoring by the time we reached the city limits," she said cheerfully. He looked over to see her smiling into the moonlight, a beacon of sharp edges and warmth. "We’re about to reach the turn-off into the mountains – so, I don’t know, thirty-five, forty minutes?"
"I’m sorry, Anya. That couldn’t have been pleasant."
"Not a problem. You actually make very little noise when sleeping. The term snoring wasn’t meant to be negative."
"Well, good, but I mean...." He trailed off. He didn’t know what he meant, actually. "Sorry, anyway."
"Really, don’t worry. It’s been nice to get away. I’ve just been driving and listening to this music, which I enjoy. And also enjoying the company, even if you weren’t conscious," she said. Her sidelong glance in his direction, her eyelashes brushing her cheek for one teasing instant, had the predictable effect on him, and he tried to find a discreet way of shifting his body away from her.
Unfortunately, her bloody car was too small. No escape was possible. He had to settle for wrapping his arms around himself, to hold in all the madness he knew he was capable of. Hold in all the pain. Then he looked out the window. Although it was getting on for midnight, it was almost as light as day, the moon sending strange shadows over the ground.
"Are you cold, Giles? I could turn on the heater."
The true yet annoyingly melodramatic answer would be that he seemed to be cold all the time now. He contented himself with, "Thank you, Anya, I’m fine." Or at least he would be if she would refrain from using phrases like turn on, he finished in his head.
"Huh." Her monosyllable conveyed the ultimate in skepticism. "Well, okay then."
They drove for a few minutes. Etta James had given way to Dusty Springfield on the stereo, with Anya’s humming as accompaniment. They were climbing now, higher and deeper into the moonlight. The interior of the car seemed to Giles to be shrinking and warming simultaneously, regardless of any human manipulation of the heating system.
Whenever he foolishly took a deep breath, it was as if he was bathed in incense and citrus scent.
Fucking hell. He decided that as soon as he got back to the Summers house, he was throwing away every pair of jeans he owned, which under certain circumstances was clearly the most sodding painful article of clothing known to mankind. It would be nothing except loose trousers from now on, he thought. Like pajamas or some such.
Which was possibly the stupidest idea his exceedingly stupid self had ever had, he further thought, when his mind conjured up a fantasy of silk pajamas for two and the creative use of silk ties, of champagne and licking the latter off Anya’s breasts. Oh God. He was afraid he’d hurt himself, he was so hard.
He coughed away the images and the pleasure-pain, thinking deliberately of un-arousing things like work, like the contact-list of Potentials he had in his briefcase at the Summers house. And he remembered an unfinished task: "I wonder if Buffy and Spike have returned from their reconnaissance at the high school. Perhaps I should call them, see if they’ve discovered anything new in the basement." Even as he spoke, he reached into his coat for his mobile.
The suggestion didn’t seem to please Anya, judging by her tightened lips and strange ability to summon up the illusion of vengeance-veins on that smooth, soft human skin. Sometimes he couldn’t figure her out at all. No, strike that. He almost never could figure her out, and he’d made an unofficial study of her moods and whims.
Strike that too. Get to work, you pillock, he told himself.
After he clicked the phone on, the display flashed at him. You cannot connect. You are out of your service area.
"No signal?" she said. When he nodded, she said wisely, "Ah-hah. It’s a sign."
You cannot connect. You are out of your service area. You cannot connect. Too bloody easy to read that. "Yes, a sign indeed."
"Yep. Clearly you’ve got a crappy cell-phone service; we’re not that far out of town. Do you want me to start researching tomorrow and find you a better one?"
From out of the dark nowhere he felt a smile bubble up, a fizzing of Anya-inspired mirth. Her practicality could be such a delight. He said, grinning, "Thank you, that would be lovely."
Christ, it had been a while since he’d been able to laugh – since the Bloomsbury explosion, actually. Since the world had gone mad.
The memory of shattered stone and blood made the mirth go flat, however, made his smile disappear as fast as it had come. His head began to hurt again. After one last look at the sign for non-connection, he put the mobile away and settled himself back in his seat.
Anya slowed the car. "Is this our road?" she demanded, leaning forward over the steering wheel as if that would tell her the way.
He checked the mile-marker they were passing and silently calculated distance. "You’re quite right. This is it."
"I’m always quite right," she said, as she maneuvered the car around a pair of trees and down a rutted, narrow, dirt lane.
"Is that so?" he said, looking out the window instead of at the sweet curve of her mouth. Moonlight made the shadows from arching pine branches play like fluttering lace over the road. More shadows here, though, dark like his thoughts.
With a punch of a button on the dashboard, she killed the music. Then she said sharply, "What just happened to you?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"What just happened? You were fine, and smiling your third smile of the evening which I worked hard to inspire, and then poof, you went chilly again." As she spoke, she began to wrestle with the wheel.
The ruts made it difficult for her to keep the car on the road, he could tell, and he reached out a hand in support; with his little push on the steering wheel, the car corrected itself. Only then did he say, "What the bloody hell are you talking about?"
"The chilly thing. The arms-wrapped-around-yourself thing. The no smiling and general gloom." She shot him a quick glance, then added, "And thank you for helping with the car, although I could have done it myself."
"I know you could," he said.
"Yes. I’m very capable."
"I know you are."
"So answer my damn question so I can help you!" she snapped. "What’s wrong with you, Giles? And if you dare to say nothing, I’m going to smack you back to Sunnydale."
"Violence doesn’t accomplish anything, Anya. I thought you realised that when you gave up your career in vengeance."
"Since you’re a Watcher who has trained a Slayer in extremely efficient methods of violence, I think you’re being a big fat hypocrite. Furthermore, you’re stalling. Tell me what on earth is wrong with you."
Dear God, she was the most infuriating woman. Quietly, through his teeth, he said, "Nothing is wrong, Anya." Of course everything was wrong, Slayer instability and a council of dead Watchers and how badly he wanted what he couldn’t have, but he didn’t know where to start, and at any rate they didn’t have time to get into it. After a quick glance out his window, he finished, "Stop the car. We’re here."
"What? Listen, mister, I warned you not to– "
"We’re at Lace’s Clearing. Our destination."
That very pretty boot of hers practically went through the floorboards when she stomped on the brake.
The car slid sideways, dust spinning up around them, until it finally stopped at the edge of the clearing. A ring of pine trees marked a shadowed patch of earth, moon shining in weird patterns around the edges. When she turned off the engine, he could hear the soft sounds of water on rock from not very far away.
Then she exploded, far more clamorous than an entire city of bells, "This is just unacceptable, Giles –"
Later he was never sure why he did it: he leaned over and put his hand over her mouth. Ignoring both the delicious tickle of her lips against his palm and his inevitable reaction to the same, he said, "Anya, be quiet. Now we’re going to collect your laceprig wings so that you can make your potion and sodding profit, and then we’re going back to Sunnydale, and you’re going to stop badgering me. All right? Are we clear?"
Her eyes glinted at him. He raised his eyebrows in silent insistence, until she nodded. Only then did he take his hand away.
He collected his sword and their supplies, then got out of the car without looking at her. The laceprigs should be at the far end of the clearing, he thought, and they’d need to be quiet. No need to wake up the things, demon or animal, that lived in these woods.
And behind him she slammed her car door so hard that two birds flew out of the nearest tree, crying havoc into the night. When he looked over his shoulder, she had her hands fisted on her hips. "Rupert Giles, you stop right there."
He groaned. His palm itched where her lips had touched, his headache was pounding away like the late Keith Moon on drums, and – "Anya, please, for God’s sake."
"Giles. Please stop being twitchy, and talk to me." Whether it was the sudden softness in her tone that got to him, or her lovely blue-lit stillness under the moon, he couldn’t say. Just a little too much swerve, he found himself thinking. She said, "You owe me."
Despite a sudden choke, he said, "I don’t think I do. And now it’s time to work."
Which would have been a calm and highly effective statement, if a couple of bloody Kizzyoit demons hadn’t started snarling just at that moment.
Anya considered the arrival of the snarling Kizzyoits to be not only irritating but also less than helpful when she was trying to get Giles to open up and talk about his private feelings, an activity which she now deduced was equivalent to demon-eye-gouging for him. His eyes being gouged, that is, not him doing the gouging, since she thought he seemed pretty ready to smash something.
Besides, the creatures were ridiculous. Third demon-cousins to pixies, Kizzyoits made up for their size with deep animal growls and aggressive beating of their wings, but the bottom line was that the larger of these two was approximately seven inches tall. Nasty teeth, of course, and a ferocious manner, but unlike certain small hoppy mammals she didn’t care to name, she wouldn’t consider them exactly a threat. "You two, leave us alone and go back to quietly guarding your demon-insects!" she announced.
The growling got louder, and they flew into the heart of the clearing – directly at Giles’s face. Startled, he took a couple of steps back, almost tripping over a rock before re-balancing himself. "That worked quite well, Anya," he said in his most extremely-sarcastic-British-person voice."Do speak sharply to them again."
"Just give me the stuff, okay?" she said over the wing-beats and the sounds of water and night. "Or have you forgotten how –"
The smack of the full supply sack into her outstretched hands – who knew he could throw as accurately as that? – interrupted her. "The torch is in there," he said. "I’ll see what I can do with natural light and the blade alone."
Then he stepped into the centre of the clearing. The moonlight pouring cool silver over him, he flashed his specially selected sword at the Kizzyoits. Light focussed and bounced. When the reflected beam sliced over the demons’ faces, their wings slowed and their snarls quieted to rumbles.
"We might not need the artificial assistance, after all," she said, even as she scrambled for the flashlight. "That was impressive aim, Giles."
"Let’s use the torch anyway, just to be on the safe side. You and I planned for it, after all." She distinctly saw Smile Number Four of the night cross his face. Go compliments and the rejuvenating phallic power of swordplay, even if the latter didn’t actually draw blood, she thought.
The Kizzyoits regrouped, however. Hissing, they spun forward toward his face; he did a fancy wrist-move that sent his slightly enchanted blade in a circle, whipping mirrored light over them and into their eyes. They halted in mid-air, wings slowing again, their tiny mouths opening and closing in fury. Those were really nasty teeth, now that she looked at them.
She needed to be closer to him for this to work. Cursing her attractive yet impractical boots, she wobbled over the uneven ground into the clearing, stopping just a few steps away from him. "Don’t move," she demanded, then trained her beam on the sword he held for her at just the right level.
Once prepared, it was a simple matter of calculating the angles. The reflection bounced off Giles’s blade, silver concentrated at the touch of silver, into the Kizzyoits’s eyes. Hold it steady, hold it, hold it –
And the two demons tumbled onto the ground, temporarily blinded and still. Perfect teamwork, she thought, just like in the shop in days gone by.
"Sack, please?" he said.
She took out the empty jars and handed him the bag, then said, "Here, I’ll hold your sword while you scoop them up."
"Right." He slid the sword-hilt into the hollow of her hand. Their fingers touched as he did, and she could feel that strangely familiar tremor start in his hand. It set off a wave under her own skin, delight and warmth rolling up her arm and down into her chest, and further still.
She needed to be closer to him. More warmth, more reflected light –
Then he took a couple of steps away, breathing more heavily. "Right," he said again. "Two nocturnal guard-demons to be stowed safely until we’re done here."
"Be careful. We don’t want you hurt," she found herself saying.
The night was weirdly loud, what with the water-fall and bird and animal noises, but she thought she heard him mutter, "Too late for that." Otherwise he seemed normal enough, crouching down and gingerly picking up the Kizzyoits by the wing in order to put them away.
Still, she had to ask: "You’re hurt?"
"I’m fine. Bit of a headache from the, er, window, that’s all." The second mini-demon plopped into the bag. With a sharp, violent movement, Giles tied the handles together, so that even if the creatures woke up, which was unlikely since they’d gotten a full dose of light, they couldn’t get in the way.
Anya frowned. He was behaving in a very puzzling way, and the lingering shivers from his touch weren’t helping her think. However, since direct confrontation hadn’t worked so far to get at the truth, she would have to employ methods honed in the retail battlefields. Small questions lead to big sales, she told herself. "Are you ready now?"
"The laceprig wings are over here, I think," he said, heading toward the northeast corner of the clearing.
This once again was not a direct answer, and the evasions were starting to make her mad. "Giles, would you wait!"
He stopped, but didn’t turn around. Moonlight poured silver over him, emphasising the new touches of grey in his hair and sharpening all his edges. When he looked over his broad shoulder, light flashed off his glasses and his profile.
She swallowed hard, her anger forgotten. Oh, boy. He shone like coins warmed in the hollow of her hand, rich and heavy and smooth, and she wanted him. She wanted Giles.
Anya Christina Emmanuella Jenkins, she thought, you are not a genius after all.
If he were any other man, she’d have realised long before what all her stupid sexual tingles were, why it bothered her so much that he seemed so distant, what her need to have him all to herself was. She’d have realised why she could remember the amnesia-kiss in the Magic Box as if it were happening this minute, the way he tasted like heat and mint and salt, the way his arms supported her when dizziness and lust meant she couldn’t stand, and the way his body had moved roughly against hers.
If he were any other man, or almost any male demon since she wasn’t a bigot (unlike some people), she’d now be saying, "Would you like to have sex with me?" Or she’d now be tackling him to the ground. That would probably work better, since in her experience he could be difficult to manage when his brain was engaged. In her post-demon self-analysis she had identified sex as one of her strengths: she liked it, she was good at it, and she knew how to get what she wanted. Which would be Giles.
Since he was Giles, however, he was also confusing, irritating, and occasionally a little scary. He required careful handling. And something was wrong with him, which needed to be fixed right now, immediately, at once. This might even be more important than the sex.
Well, no, but it was as important.
"We’re supposed to be doing this task together, you know," she said, as she walked to his side.
He sighed. "Yes, we are." Reaching out, he took one of the jars from her hands. With just a little effort on her part, she brushed fingers with his, enjoyed the spark. However, she didn’t force the touch, and she let him startle away from her and toward their work.
The laceprig habitat was small, a lace-curtain of demon threads draped loosely between two pine trees. The moonlight didn’t quite reach into these deep shadows, but of course laceprigs did glow in the dark, so it really didn’t matter much.
The alien creatures – like insects, but not – had been trapped in this dimension some centuries ago by one of those random Hellmouth openings. They had a symbiotic relationship with some other demon-insects, the little wiggly things whose eight-syllable name Anya could never remember (as there was no reason to) but who spun the threads on which the laceprigs shed their skins and who were always guarded by Kizzyoits. Why, it was unclear, since again the Kizzyoits couldn’t guard much of anything.
Of course, until Giles had begun to experiment, no one knew that any commercial use could be made of the laceprig leavings. At the thought, she smiled at him. "You know, Giles, you were very clever to think of the wings as a potion ingredient," she said brightly.
"Stumbling into the Merryfield Park colony on patrol last summer and getting them all over my shirt was hardly clever," he said as he unscrewed the lid on his jar. "Thank you, nevertheless."
"It wasn’t last summer," she corrected. "You weren’t here then. There was the running away to England to take care of Willow."
He dropped his sword on the ground – the thud when it hit the soft pine needles echoed into midnight – and then leaned forward to the curtain. The luminescent shed wings reflected softly on his face and off his glasses. As he put out a hand to collect the first delicate object: "You keep saying that I ran away. I didn’t. I had a responsibility, Anya."
"And how exactly was Willow your job? I thought Buffy was your responsibility, except that she wasn’t, because you left." She pinched herself a laceprig wing and placed it in her own jar.
"I – Willow was hurt, and I’d failed to teach her what I should have done. Couldn’t do it properly, needed to put her in touch with people who could." When he chose another wing, she noticed that his hand was shaking. "And why are we talking about this?"
Small questions lead to big sales, she thought again. "Because it’s a topic associated with the business I’ve been running without you."
"I don’t think it is. Excuse me while I get this beauty – a lovely wing, will crush well." He very carefully did not look at her, even though he was standing so close that she could smell that delicious scent of fading bay rum aftershave, cigarette and Giles, hanging in the dark.
"Okay, okay." She would have to ignore her sudden flare of lust in order to re-direct her questions. After taking a moment to appreciate how useful watching Court TV was turning out, she said. "So have you told Buffy yet that her return from death screwed up the Slayer line?"
He froze. Voice deep, resonant, and pissed off, he said, "You know that’s not right, Anya."
"You haven’t told her what Beljoxa’s Eye said?"
"No, and it’s not that Buffy screwed up the Slayer line – and also no, before you say it again, you and Willow and the others should have had the bloody good sense not to play with death that way, but it doesn’t mean that you’re responsible either." When he reached out for another laceprig wing, somehow he lost control; his fingers ripped through one of the delicate threads, sending a couple of wings tumbling to the ground. He stared at the tiny wreckage for a second, then spun away from her and the shadows.
Putting down her jar, she followed him out into the shifting light. "Giles! You made us go talk to some stupid multi-eyed demon in some stupid dimension, and then you didn’t share the results? What the hell is that?"
"Because it doesn’t mean – because what am I supposed to say, Anya? Repeat cryptic, not even fully prophetic shite that doesn’t make sense?" After putting down his jar, he took off his glasses, pulled out a handkerchief, and began to polish them furiously. So he didn’t have to look at her, she suspected. "You know it’s entirely possible the Slayer line might not be unstable because of last year’s idiocy. It could be the loss of...." His voice cracked before he could fix it. After a cough or two, he tried again more calmly, "The Council’s gone, too, with two Slayers existing at the same time, with unguided Potentials everywhere – there are more forces pulling on the present than we know about. It takes more than one loose thread to destroy the fabric."
He looked back at the slightly tattered curtain of threads behind them, then put his glasses back on. The reversed order of those activities alone would have revealed just how upset he was, had she not been able to see the sheen of despair in his eyes.
"Rupert Giles, you don’t believe a second of that. You think that Buffy’s screwed up!" she said.
"Anya, for God’s sake – " And then followed a furious, eruptive sound of rage. Anyanka had been on a vengeance job in the South Pacific in 1883 when the volcano Krakatoa blew; his sound was kind of like that, only without lava. That explosion had destroyed a lot of villages, as she recalled.
He grabbed her by the shoulders, looming over her so that he blocked the light. With a shake that would have made her fall, had he not been holding on so tightly: "Right. You want to know what’s wrong with me? Fine. It’s that I don’t know what the bloody hell I’m doing. What I’m supposed to do."
"I spent yesterday in Quito talking to the parents of little Marta Aguirre, telling them about her sodding Calling and how important it was for her to come to Sunnydale. Brought the girl here, gave her another sleeping bag and introduced her round to the others. But for what? Come on and die, like all the Watchers did? There are no precedents, isn’t any research to be done, isn’t anybody left to ask. All my colleagues died, and I escaped for no reason, because I don’t know what to do!"
"My Slayer, meanwhile, spends her time saving a souled vampire from the First – of course he’s been killing people, but it’s not his fault. Well, sod that. When we played that scene before, I lost someone I loved, and now I could watch it happen again. I can’t watch it happen again." His fingertips dug hard into her skin on the words, even though she could feel that tremor in his body again.
"Giles, you’re hurting me," she whispered.
"Oh Christ, Anya." His hands releasing her at once, he backed away. "I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I knew I shouldn’t– "
"No, that’s okay. All my research indicates that you need to share –"
But he already had retreated to the edge of the shadows, his arms going around himself in that familiar and unhealthy clasp. No wonder he’d been worried about touching things, if that was what he was holding inside. Quietly, barely audible over the night and the water: "No, I’m truly sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything, despite the provocation." He bowed his head, not looking at her. Very carefully not looking at her. "Let me get the rest of the laceprig wings, and then we can go back to Sunnydale and forget this ever happened."
She remembered that after a volcano erupted, there came the hardening, the way everything once left green and growing in its path would be encased in blackened lava, ash, and pain. She actually could see Giles closing himself off again, wrapping himself in cold.
Only one thing to do in this kind of situation, she thought.
So she tackled him.
Ow. Bugger. And one more ow for good measure.
Lying on his back on the dirt, trying to catch his breath, Giles discovered an interesting phenomenon: his explosion of rage, in not only causing her pain but also articulating feelings he hadn’t even known he had, was more wounding than being tackled to the ground by a one-hundred-and-nothing-pound woman. He couldn’t hold in the ache any more.
Even so, in terms of the physical damage, his head throbbed like tiny Kizzyoit teeth were nibbling on every other available nerve ending, and he was slightly worried about his ribs after their close encounter with the ground. And – "Anya, what the bloody hell are you doing?"
Oh God. Rolling off the ground where she’d fallen after she’d attacked him, she slid up over his body. When she sat down on his belly, her slim, strong thighs fenced in his sides. Outlined in silver moonlight, she looked down at him. He was surrounded by warmth and citrus scent and the sound of water on rock nearby.
At least she wasn’t sitting a few inches further back, where she’d have found that mental anguish, physical pain, exhaustion and age apparently meant sod-all to his cock when she was around. He closed his eyes and breathed in, trying to subdue the stirring in his jeans and in his heart.
Then she leaned forward, interlaced their fingers, and pulled their linked hands to either side of his head. Eyes a few inches from his, she said, "All right, Giles, that’s quite enough of that. Now get talking."
"Anya." He neither wanted to fight with her, nor risk a repeat of hurting her. "No more, please. And why did you just tackle me?
"Because you were getting chilly again," she said, as if such an insane answer were self-evident.
"You were all wrapped up, all inside your head. It’s not good for you, and we need to fix this before we have sex."
"Before we what?"
"Before we have sex." The fall of shadow meant that he couldn’t read her expression until she looked away from him. Silver light smoothing that sharp-angled face, catching that soft mouth – he had to close his eyes again, to shut out the beauty. Trick of the moon had made the ache in her eyes look like a match for his. She said, "Of course you might not want to have sex with me. We haven’t discussed it yet, I don’t know your feelings on–"
"Anya, stop. We’re not talking about sex right now." He cursed his little voice-break on the word sex; it was almost a moan. Involuntarily his fingers tightened on hers. When he pulled her warmth a little closer to him, her breath fluttered against his mouth. Oh God, please, he thought again without knowing what he was asking for. Striving for normalcy: "And if we are, I think I must have hit my head when I fell and thus been unconscious for a crucial part of the conversation."
"Oh. Well, I might be getting ahead of myself." She cleared her throat, looked back down at him. As her hair fell forward to hide her face, the ends danced across his skin. "You said a great many things very fast and at a very loud volume, and then you went all quiet and weird. We should probably address the great many things more calmly, Giles, and in order."
"I, er, got all quiet and weird because I hurt you. I don’t see that talking further will do any good."
"Yes, but I do. And I’m on top at the moment." When he tried to roll out from under her, an awkward business without calling her attention to his erection or bruising her again, she flattened herself over his chest and pushed down so hard on his hands that he could feel rocks and dirt grind into his skin. "Don’t you even think about it, mister. Okay now. First point: you’re worried that you don’t have the answers for the First Evil."
"Anya, for God’s sake."
That high, clear voice chimed out, regardless of his pleading. "I know that the Scoobies do turn to you for every answer, but it’s all right if you don’t have this one immediately. I mean all right in the sense of 'I’m utterly terrified because I count on you,' just like Buffy and the others do, but let’s be frank, you’ve not known stuff and made tons of mistakes before. I submit as evidence the selling of the Sobekhite stone with matching transmogrifying conduit to Glory, for instance, which I said at the time was stupid. Or –"
"I have to say that you’re really not helping."
She paused. "Is it my use of legal terminology that’s upsetting you?"
God, he was so tired, and he had to express the ache somehow. He found himself saying, as honestly as he could, "No. Everything is upsetting me."
At his quiet words, she lay herself down on his chest, nestling her head next to his – and it was suddenly easy somehow. He was blanketed by her, her intense attention and care; he couldn’t even feel the midnight chill any more. "It’s the Watchers, isn’t it. You didn’t want them to blow up, even though they were horrible to you on numerous occasions." Her breath blew hot and sweet and easy onto his skin when she said, "I guess I should have said I’m sorry for your loss, Giles. You know, earlier."
Pressing hard, he made her let go of one hand, but only so that he could reach around to cradle her head, regardless of the utter stupidity, impropriety, and wrongness of the action. His thumb moving against her neck underneath her hair, he said, "It means a great deal that you say it now."
"Mmm." She seemed to flow against him, bones dissolving so that she could be closer, could sink into his skin just as her whispers did. "I know what it’s like to lose what you thought was your money-back lifetime guarantee. The Council was yours, right? You always knew you could go back to them if you had to."
"Yes." He repressed the urge to kiss her temple; although she seemed so close, he had to remember how far away she really was. "You sound like you understand very well, Anya. What did you lose?" He forced himself to finish the thought. "Xander, yes?"
"Well, that was first. And I was very sad to have Xander break my heart in a million pieces, not to mention ready to feed his entrails with a little Tartar sauce to a hive of Miyyg demons, because I thought he was my best friend as well as my life-partner-to-be. But it was worse because he must have just been my idea of those things, or he wouldn’t have done that. And he didn’t want me."
Poor darling, she had suffered so, Giles thought. His fingers lacing through her hair, he said softly, "He behaved like a fool. So then you went back to vengeance."
"Which wasn’t right either. I knew it almost immediately. I knew it for sure the night Willow destroyed our shop and tried to kill you in the course of annihilating the world. Remember how I said she was feeding on vengeance?"
"Yes, I do remember."
"I knew it wasn’t right to kill and to destroy property like that." She propped herself up on his chest, dark eyes intent on his face. "But there I was, stuck. I was a vengeance demon again, and I didn’t want to do vengeance even after over a millennium and several commendations for service to the cause, and I didn’t know how to get out of the mess I had made. And –" she leaned closer – "you ran away, and weren’t here to help."
There was so much he couldn’t say to her. But at least he could say this, and mean it: "I bitterly regret not being here to help you."
When she smiled, her sharpness seemed to melt into the night. "I was furious with you, even more so when the D’Hoffryn nightmare went down and I had to perform intensely painful self-analysis to get through it all. But to quote you, it means a great deal to hear you say you’re sorry now."
"I’m glad. And I was sorry, am sorry." Then he did reach up and kiss her forehead, because it could count as friendly comfort, and because it would be the only time he’d be this close. She tasted of oranges, he thought, or perhaps it was just his dream of buck’s fizz making itself real on his tongue. He smiled against her skin, but then she shifted position and placed her mouth against his neck.
It was all too sweet, too much like his dreams. Before he did something unutterably stupid like call her "darling" again or roll her over, rip off her clothes and plunge into her, he tried to wriggle away. "Ah, yes. Er, thank you for making me talk, I feel much, um, better now. But perhaps we should–"
"You feel great, and surprisingly muscular," she said, moving with him, her free arm locking around his torso. "Taste nice, too, even with the faint top layer of dirt since we’re on the ground."
"Ah-huh. Well, thank you again." One more attempt to get away, one more time she didn’t let him. "Anya, we still have business to finish, laceprig wings to collect so that we can get back to Sunnydale and your profit."
"There’s no rush. No rush at all, so long as you don’t fall asleep on me." She paused. "Although technically I’m on you."
"You certainly are." He cleared his throat. The emotional upheaval of the past few minutes had left him far too open, too vulnerable to the press of her body against his. He could feel desire coursing throughout his veins, trying to get out, making him shake. "I’m asking you, please –"
But she moved in just the wrong direction. One of her legs drifted down, brushing hard against him and accidentally pressing against the head where he was very sensitive. He couldn’t bite back a moan of pleasure.
She stilled for only a second, then slithered down so that she was cradling him, undulating against him. He hardened even more. "Oh my God," she said, in a tone of awe (which he found, impossibly and horrifyingly enough, even more arousing). "You have an erection. An impressive one. Oh my God, Giles!"
"Oh, I am so not a genius. I should have known before, and I did know – it’s testosterone! You’ve been shaking from an excess of testosterone all night!"
"This is such great news, I can’t tell you. So let’s get back to that conversation about sex we weren’t having, okay?" She did a complicated wave against him, her damp jeans – oh God, he very much wished he hadn’t noticed that – hot against his jeans-covered cock.
It was desperation that allowed him to buck her off, that got him to the other side of the clearing where he couldn’t feel her or breathe in that lovely Anya-richness. He stowed away his glasses so he couldn’t clearly see how wonderful she looked as she scrambled to her feet. And he said as firmly as he could, "No."
"Why ever not? Since you want me, and I definitely want you – oh, maybe I didn’t make that clear. I want you very much, Giles. You’re all silver and sex tonight, and not just tonight either, I’ve just been kind of slow to realise, and I’d like to have sex with you." Even seen with uncorrected vision, her beam was brighter and far warmer than the moon.
He lost his voice for a minute, lost himself in gazing in her direction and indulging a fantasy of a world where he could say yes. When she took a step toward him, however, he backed away into the shadows. "Right. It wouldn’t do me any good to say I didn’t want you, because it’s clear that I do. I do want you, Anya. But –" he swallowed hard – "I can’t have you, and it’s cruel of you to tempt me like this."
She kept walking toward him, albeit a bit unsteady on those ridiculous and sexy high-heeled boots of hers. "You keep avoiding my question. Why can’t you have me?"
He couldn’t think. Still had a bit of headache, but he couldn’t blame his fuzzy mind on that. Perhaps it was the loss of blood to the brain, as it had all drained south. And she just kept walking. He was running out of backing-away room, a tree behind him barring his escape. "Anya, please. It was.... I had a list of reasons. A very long list."
"Problems with the Scoobies. The age difference. My responsibilities. Consideration for Xander’s feelings."
He could feel the branches of the tree against his coat, catching at him, holding him. No place left to go.
"Those reasons are either easily overcome or stupid." When she reached him, she put one hand on his shoulder, caught his other hand in hers and interlaced their fingers. Without meaning to he found himself bending down, so that again her breath fluttered against his mouth. Oh, God. She said, "Do you care more about Xander’s feelings than mine?"
"No. No, of course I don’t." His fingers pressed against hers, and he found himself articulating yet again a feeling he hadn’t known he had: "But I’m worried about my own, Anya. I care for you more than is reasonable. More than...what did you call it once? As simply an orgasm-friend?"
"That’s the best news I’ve heard in forever," she whispered, right before she kissed him. Mouth open, tongue dipping in to play with his, she was all fizz and warmth, bells and citrus sweetness and a waterfall of desire he wanted to plunge into –
Oh, sod it. He wrapped one arm around her and lifted her up to him.
If Giles could kiss like this, then she had no idea what he was really like. It wasn’t anything like the sweet amnesia-fiancé kiss from the Magic Box. No, this was sex, with good lip movement and strategic use of the tongue against hers, all heat and mint and salt, and – oh God, yes. Apparently his shyness dissipated at the first touch of tongue, she thought, or tried to think.
He compensated well for the height differential, one arm a band across her lower back to hold her – and oh there went his other hand, up and under her shirt, skimming across stomach muscles that tightened at just a flash of the Giles good touch, and then cupping her breast. What a big, competent hand, just right.
She moaned into his mouth, "Giles..."
But he moved that mouth a tantalizing inch or two away. "Anya," he said, a rumble deeper than the sound of nearby water on rock, "we are bloody well not going to make love outside."
"We’re not?" she said, her own hands diving under his shirt. "And um, make love?"
"Right on both counts." One more kiss, another tongue-taste that hinted at skills she very much wanted to explore.
Her nails underneath his sweatshirt, tickling against his nipples so that he would jolt back to her – a quite successful plan – she said, "If you suggest waiting until we get back to Sunnydale, Giles, I’m going to call down vengeance on your head. Or lower."
"I wouldn’t dare," he said against her neck. A tiny bite just where she liked best, then he said, "It’s just too cold out here for what I want to do."
"And what do you–"
But they were interrupted by a low, ferocious growling. Also, there were the sounds of sharp little demon teeth chewing energetically at the Traders Joe bag. They sighed in unison, "The Kizzyoits."
"I’d have thought they’d have stayed asleep longer," she finished, while trying to crawl up his body at the same time.
Strong hands clamped around her arms, although more carefully than when he was enraged, and held her away from him. "Not enough light, I suppose. We should gather our supplies and get back to the car before the creatures make it out of the sack. They might be a bit miffed."
"And then we’ll have sex...excuse me, make love in the car? Backseat, maybe?"
"That’s my plan, yes."
"Then let me go so we can get there sooner."
He dragged her back for a fast but deep kiss, then pushed her away. "I’ll get the sword and the torch, you get the jars."
She didn’t think her resultant tottering was due only to high heels on uneven ground. Her hands shook as she bent to collect the first jar, then the second. The light, chilly breeze singing through the trees no longer cooled her. She had been so calm when she was proposing the whole idea of sex, but now she felt her foundations shifting.
If he could kiss like that, she had no idea what he was really like, she thought again.
Looking up, she saw the curtain of laceprig wings on demon threads shimmer in the wind. Even though there was a little tear where he’d ripped through, it still hung together. Still held their profit.
"Anya." His voice made her jump, but he was right there. Caressing her back, he said, "Come on. We’ll collect the laceprig wings later."
"Yes," she said. And then she leapt up and into him, her full hands a little awkward as she slid them around his waist. She felt as if she were falling from a great height, even as she rose.
Although burdened with the long, shiny sword, he managed to steady her. "Boots giving you trouble, darling?" he asked.
"No, you are." He smelled like bay rum aftershave, faint cigarette traces, and sex, she thought, and here they hadn’t even gotten to that part yet.
His mouth descended as she went up on tiptoes, and they met in the middle. One more, she thought, one more, one more – then he said huskily, "Car. Now."
It was a miracle either one of them didn’t break their neck, they hurried so fast across the moonlight. He matched his strides to hers, but didn’t say anything. There was just the growls of the Kizzyoits and mountain sounds to break up her thoughts, which purled over the same few phrases. Sex. Giles. Small questions lead to big sales. Sex. Giles.
A few steps away, he did speak. "Backseat, I think?"
"Absolutely –" she began, before a small sudden fear stopped her. "Oh."
"Oh what?" he said, bending down to kiss behind her ear.
Wicked, warm breath, and more tongue, oh God – but she had to check out the small sudden fear first. "Um. Hold these." Thrusting the jars into his unprepared hands, she dug her hands in her jacket pockets. Then she searched her jeans pockets, even though she already was sure it was hopeless.
Better make this quick, she thought, before announcing in a rush, "I’m very sorry but I’m afraid I locked the keys in the car."
He had continued to nuzzle her, even while she got frantic, but now his mouth stilled against her neck. Muffled, he said, "You locked the keys in the car."
"Yes, I locked the keys in the car."
"You locked the keys in the car." The unmuffled repetition came in his most familiar voice, the one where he was valiantly trying not to explode because stupid people had done something stupid which he, Watcher Rupert Giles, would have to fix. Only thing different was the promise of sex licking underneath, particularly when he added, "Why the bloody hell did you lock the car in the first place? Out here in the middle of sodding nowhere?"
She was interested to find that she adored the combination of his aggravation and arousal. In fact, she considered it entirely possible that she had been unconsciously aiming to elicit it from him for years. To remain on task, however: "Well, you had pissed me off, what with the not-talking and the annoying dominance thing you tried, and when you slammed out of the car, I slammed out of the car, but of course I locked the doors first, and.... you can see the keys on the driver’s seat."
He took a deep breath. "Do you have your cell phone? As we’ve already ascertained that mine doesn’t work up here."
She chewed a little bit on her own lip, because she had a bad feeling he might not be doing any pleasure-chewing for a while. "It’s in my purse. Which is beside my keys in the passenger seat." Then, brightly – "So, sex outside after all?"
"Hold these." The jars came back to her, this time with the sword. "Thank God you have an older car, or we’d be stuck."
"What? And shouldn’t we be discussing my outdoor sex proposal –" But he’d stepped back from her and pulled out his wallet. As he opened it with hands that still seemed to shake a little, she said, "I hope you’re looking for a condom in there, because not even I would consider this a good time to count your money."
"I have one of those too, darling. Thank you for reminding me." He took out a foil packet and stuffed it into his coat, before his fingers dove back into the wallet. It was an awfully big one, she thought, which might be significant. Like shoe size or nose. Or big, competent hands.
Even here in the shadows she could see light wink off a long strip of silver when he fished it out of the depths and straightened it. "And that would be what?"
"The way in," he said. He sent her a sidelong grin, a lust-inducing flash of white that made her simultaneously lose her breath and wonder if multiple physical and metaphysical changes from human to demon and back had damaged her memory, since she couldn’t recall him doing that ever before or to this mind-blowing, lingerie-wetting effect. Then he slid the silver down between the car window and the weatherstripping, and started to manipulate it.
"Giles, you carry a car-lock-picking device in your wallet?"
"Just to be on the safe side," he said over the sounds of jiggling metal. "One never knows when one is going to have to break in somewhere or when a beautiful woman’s going to lock her keys in her – ah, there we go." She could hear the lock pop open.
"You’re just full of surprises," she said, swaying a little, and not because of her high heels.
"Mmm." This was the not-actually-listening-to-Anya noise of a hundred Magic Box afternoons, and she found herself smiling. With a sharp movement of his wrist, he opened the driver’s door, then grabbed the jars and sword out of her hands without asking. After he tossed everything on the driver’s seat and before she could get her bearings, he grabbed her.
Cold metal and glass against her back, his thigh between hers, his hardness pressing against her abdomen, and then he was kissing her again. So good, just right. But she managed to whisper, "Um, I’m confused. Weren’t you all repressed Watcher guy and trying to get away from me not five minutes ago?"
"You were like bells ringing me awake," he said cryptically. "I’m yours now. But you’re no longer in charge."
She hadn’t really noticed one of his arms easing away from her, but before she knew it he reached around and opened the door which was propping her up. When the movement sent her hard into his body, they shivered in time. "Get in the backseat, please," he said.
She almost gouged herself on the sharp edge of the back door in her hurry to obey. Her skin tingled at the simultaneous slam of the front car door.
She owned a compact car for its practicality and gas mileage. However, when he got in the back too, it seemed far, far too compact for his big body, all legs and arms and she just couldn’t get to what she really wanted to be touching and tasting –
He slid around her, already peeling off her jacket. It was a little chilly even in the car; he was wise to decide against the great midwinter outdoors for their first time. Still, the space was cramped. "Anya darling," he said, "Maybe you could pull up the front seats so we have more room."
Another kiss for the way he murmured 'darling.' God he was so good and minty-fresh despite hours away from toothbrush or mouthwash. Swallowing his taste, she said, "You got it. Be right back."
As she snaked forward between the bucket seats, his hands went to her feet. With only a muttered "Don’t kick me, sodding hell!" he worked his hands inside the legs of her jeans and toward the zippers of her boots.
"I don’t think I can concentrate when you’re doing that," she said, half upside-down and entirely dizzy. Her hand flopped out toward the lever under the driver’s seat, but she couldn’t reach it. Very, very dizzy indeed.
"Oh yes you can. The faster you do that, the faster I’ll be inside you."
"You are not only an extremely sexy man, you are an excellent motivator," she informed him, and she got her hand onto the lever.
The sound of two boot zippers being pulled down at the same time, and the release of pressure on her legs, was almost enough to have her enjoy her pleasure-moment right then and there. However, she was a goal-oriented woman, and she continued with her task, managing to pull up the front seat without bonking herself on the head with the stick-shift in the process. There was a little "Oh Giles" that trailed off into a moan, however –
Which strengthened when he flipped her over between the seats, caught her, and then undid her jeans button. "No, carry on with what you’re doing, I still need a little more room back here," he instructed, even while his long fingers unzipped her jeans, then yanked down her lingerie and jeans at the same time. He worked to strip her bottom half, wrestling a little with the heavy fabric even as she groped for the lever on the passenger side, even as she pulled and the seat rocketed forward.
"Oh my God," she said as her clothes came completely off in a rush of cool air. "Oh my God," she said, louder, when she felt his hands cup her bottom and his teeth close on one of her inner thighs, nibbling upward. She braced herself sideways with either arm on the bucket seats, spread awkwardly but deliciously open for him.
When he kissed where she wanted him most, tongue dipping in between already wet folds, she murmured, "Oh, yes, that’s talent. We’re going to have to spend a lot of time doing that."
"Mmm." His not-listening noise vibrating against her, she had her first burst of pleasure. Then he lifted away from her and said huskily, "Darling, I don’t think I’m going to last much longer. Could you, er –"
"Right away, honey," she said – she had just decided that he was in fact a honey, surprisingly sweet and rich like the private-label stuff she could get at the gourmet store – and she catapulted herself into the back seat. As he was taking off his coat and hanging it on one of the front seats, so she slid to his side, her hands gliding over him.
It was her turn to help him undress. With a minimum of cursing (his) and a maximum of laughing (theirs), he scooted back against the window, stretching out his long legs so that she could take off his boots while he worked with the buttons of his jeans. She pressed her hands against his very attractive insteps, massaging in time with his harsh breathing, as he lifted himself up and fought his way out of his jeans and underwear.
The back seat was patterned in dark, the moonlight not quite reaching all the way in. But she still could see how ready for her he was, drops thick like honey at the tip. He threw his clothes on the floor, then held out an arm and said, "Anya. Come here."
"Ooh, masterful. I usually don’t like to be bossed around, but in this case – " she said, before throwing herself at him. As she had been doing all night, she thought. It was nice that he was willing to catch her.
When the impact drove him against the backseat, however, he yelped into her ear, "Ow, seatbelt, seatbelt!" and jolted up. She fell forward, her arms going around his neck and her legs falling open around his thighs.
Oh, he was right there, so hard for her. "Giles honey," she whispered, one hand going to him, sliding up and down the quite impressive length. He was warm, fitting like a sword-hilt in her palm.
"Ow. And oh dear God." After pushing himself around so that he was no longer being attacked by safety devices, he reached around her. "Your hands...ah, darling. Wait."
Oh of course. Safety device. She wriggled around so she could fish in his coat pocket herself. Her hands were shaking as much as his, though, so it took a minute to get it out. It did not help at all that he was sucking on her neck, his tongue darting out every now and then to say hello. But she got it, ripped the packet open with her teeth, and then slowly, very slowly rolled it onto him.
He rested his head against her shoulder as she did, murmuring, "Your hands are incredible."
"Thank you," she said, as his own competent hands caught her around the waist and lifted her up, just enough. As he rose to meet her, she descended. They were together.
In her various incarnations Anya had been with many men and male demons (although not nearly as many as some people thought), but there was something deliciously different about him. Not the motions, exactly, although as he thrust upward, ever upward, she found herself melting around him in an unfamiliar, pleasurable way. Not even his knowledge of what she might like, as one of his fingers came around to rub a pattern against her most sensitive spot. Of course, these were nice too, she thought through her moans. It was just – Giles. Sex. Giles. Happy.
And then he simultaneously murmured "darling" as if he were in pain, went further into her than he had before, and with his free hand caught at hers, interlaced their fingers. The pressure in and out and on her heart made her lose it, made her find it. Pulses of joy inside and out, from him too, and they came in time.
When he collapsed back against the seat she collapsed on his chest, feeling the afterwaves and the wetness. She said, "Oh boy."
"Mmm." This time it was an I-can’t-formulate-words-but-go-on sound.
However, "oh boy" was all she could find to say. Well, okay, and "You know, I had no idea what you were really like."
"That good or bad?" he asked, his eyes closing.
"Good. Better than good. Outstanding, even without the usual romantic trappings," she said.
Even as he smiled, though, she remembered the hard part about first times. It was never the actual intercourse or associated act(s), but the afterwards. With a shiver she remembered her most recent partners: Xander’s and Spike’s awkwardness and/or silences, the feeling that her partner considered the sex a horrible mistake. And neither of those had happened in the backseat of a small car during an ostensible business expedition, either.
But Giles was talking, although he wasn’t making any sense: "You sound like bells, did you know?" He yawned hugely, then, settling down further: "Sorry I can’t stay awake, darling. So very tired. But you wake me when it’s time, and I’ll help you –" another giant yawn, and his hand relaxed in hers "– er, help you collect the rest of the laceprigs."
"Don’t leave me, it’s too cold," he muttered, even as he fell into sleep with a half-smile on his face.
She stared at his handsome lines softened in the dark. It suddenly struck her what he had said before, when he was still fighting her – I care for you more than is reasonable....make love. "Me too," she said aloud. "Oh, me too, Giles."
Since she was awake, she should be the one to take care of things: get off him, throw away the condom, pull some of the coats over them both and make them as comfortable as possible. And she would do so, any second now. At the moment, however, she cuddled against him, keeping their fingers laced.
She wanted to consider the quite remarkable profit she’d made tonight, she thought –
Just as his coat began to ring. Huh. Apparently his cell phone worked, after all; it must have just been between communication towers earlier.
The lights of the Summers kitchen were too bright for one am, Buffy thought. She better angled the cell phone so she could finish her text message, saying to the Scoobies and Andrew, "So I’ve just told them to be quiet when they come back in. Those Potentials are cranky when people wake them up."
"Whenever they get back, that is, and from wherever. Giles wasn’t very specific about where they were going," Willow noted. She swiped one of the last cookies from the plate, took a bite, then said, "I really shouldn’t be eating this right before I go to bed."
"I’ll finish it for you then," Xander said, taking it out of her hand. He mumbled around a mouthful of cookie, "Willow’s right, though. They seemed pretty much go-business, but not so much with the details beyond potion hunting-gathering."
"Business, huh," Andrew piped up from where he leaned against the counter. "Is that what you call it? Because from where I was standing, it –" He fell silent, however, when Dawn jammed her elbow into his side.
"Well, business isn’t always clearly defined," Buffy said. Her eyes went to Spike, where he lounged in the shadow of the door to the basement.
He inclined his head but didn’t say anything, his eyes trained on the floor. "Is it time to retire?" he said quietly.
"Yep," Xander said. "And much as I hate to, I’ll accompany you and the hostage –"
"– Andrew down to our narrow beds in the basement," Xander finished. "Good night, ladies, and may your dreams be of... well, if I could think of something...."
"Never mind, sweetie, you crown-molded all night and you’re a little fuzzy," Willow said. "Come on, you guys, bedtime."
As Willow and Dawn went to one door, as Spike, Xander, and Andrew went to the other, the cell phone went off. Buffy leapt for it. A text message: "Still busy. See you latest morning."
"They’re held up, I guess. We don’t need to wait for them," she said. Grabbing the last cookie on her way out, she thought, poor old Giles, suffering on business with Anya all night.
When she turned off the overhead, she looked back. An odd pattern of remnant moonlight fell on the cell phone. It kind of looked like lace.