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A Side of Beefsteak

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“We’re here! We found him,” Willow gasped as she and Buffy weaved through the backstage of the small ballroom to find Cordelia. Behind them, the tall, British school librarian glanced around nervously as if looking for an escape route.

“It’s about time!” Cordy announced. She quickly ran a critical eye over Giles. “Well, at least you got the tux on. But you look like hell. What have you been doing?”

“C-Cordelia,” he stammered. “I’m- I’m still not sure how it is exactly you think that I a-agreed to do this. I don’t remember you mentioning it.”

“That’s because I asked you when you had your nose buried in one of those musty old books of yours and you said yes just to get me to shut up and go away,” she answered matter-of-factly. “You don’t get to where I am without knowing the weakness of every man.”

Giles glanced around, his eyes still wide. “B-but you have the boys from the school’s sporting teams here, as well as the younger faculty members that I’ve heard you girls whisper about. W-why on Earth would you need me?”

She stepped up to him, placing her clipboard under her arm, and began straightening the front of his shirt and jacket. “Because last year Silvia Plunt raised three thousand dollars for the senior trip and set a school record. I plan to demolish her.” Cordy stepped back to look at him and sighed at the confusion still in his eyes. “See, what most girls my age forget, is that Sunnydale is full of divorced over-thirty-five’s who have more money than they have time to spend it. You sir, are my ace in the hole when it comes to fleecing the oldies.” Giles whimpered and slumped into a chair. “Look, I don’t have time for this,” Cordy huffed at the other girls. “See what you guys can do to make him presentable. I want him looking way double-oh-seven on that stage.”

“Hey!” Buffy yelled as Cordy turned to disappear into the crowd. “And why did we agree to help you with this?”

“Because you want to go someplace better than the neighborhood park this year,” the brunette threw over her shoulder.

“Oh yeah,” Buffy sighed. She looked down at Giles, his face buried in his hands. “What’s the big anyway? It’s just a bachelor auction. It’s not like you’re a prize bull at the fair and they’re bidding for the right to carve you into steaks.” Two sets of green eyes stared at her. “What? I watch PBS!”

“Buffy,” Willow smiled softly. “Why don’t you go get Giles some coffee and I’ll try to calm him down a little.” She glanced pityingly down at the man. “Better make it black.”

“I’ll be back in a jiff.”

Willow pulled up a chair to sit beside Giles, timidly placing a hand on his arm. “What’s wrong?” she murmured. “It’s just a nice dinner and some conversation with one of the ladies in town. I’ve seen you face so many horrible things, I don’t understand how this can frighten you.”

“A lady who gets me bought and paid for,” Giles groaned.

“It’s not like that. The auction is just some fun to raise money for the school, and...” Willow jumped up abruptly. “Oh, Oz, you look so good in the suit.”

“I do,” her boyfriend stated, hugging her.

“Wait, you didn’t tell me Cordy was selling you, too.”

“She’s not. The Dingo’s are the stage band. Although, if she doesn’t make her goal by the end of the night, I wouldn’t be surprised if she started selling us off. Whatever else, Cordelia is very driven.”

While the youngsters continued to whisper in each other’s arms, a man with dirty blond hair wearing another tux sat next to Giles and nudged his arm. “You look like this is your first meat market.”

Giles looked up at him and sighed, “In this particular format, yes.”

“Don’t worry, most of these gals are easy to handle. Very few stalker types in this bunch.” The man chuckled as the color drained from Giles’ face. “Listen, all you gotta do is pick out a hottie. Make eye contact with her, make her think you’ve got a connection. Trust me, she’ll put up everything she has just to get her hands on you.”

“And what if I’m not comfortable with that?”

“So, you pretend. She gets a date with the nice guy for a change, the school gets some cash, everyone’s a winner.” He laughed as Giles groaned again. “Here, you look like you can use some liquid courage.” The man handed over a flask. “Careful, that’s the real stuff.”

Giles looked around and, seeing the coast was clear, took a sip. “Thanks,” he mumbled, handing it back.

“Keep it,” the stranger waved him off and stood. “I always bring a spare for a newbie. Trust me, this is nothing.” He gave the librarian a wink and walked off.

Just as Buffy appeared again, the loud speaker screeched to life causing everyone to jump. Cordelia’s voice echoed through the open space. “Welcome, Ladies, to the seventh annual Sunnydale High School Bachelor Auction! I want you all to sit back and relax while I present you with this year’s banquet of beef-steak and cutie-pie. You’ll find pictures and bios in your brochures so you know just what your money is going for. And do I have something for everyone, from cute little nerds to muscle rippling jocks. And for you older ladies, some of the most eligible bachelors in town. Even something exotic from far away, foreign lands for those who have a taste for adventure…”

“Dear lord, she sounds as if she brought me from the Far East on the back of a camel,” Giles groused.

“She’s just loosening up the crowd,” Buffy said, handing him a paper cup filled with coffee. “Look on the bright side, she’s saving you for last. Maybe by then no one will have any money left to buy you.” She shrugged, “What?” as everyone again gaped at her.

Oz gave the condemned man a pat on the shoulder and smiled, “I better get going. Sounds like we’re getting started.”

As the girls waved goodbye to Oz, no one noticed Giles pouring out half his coffee and adding a special ingredient. Before he knew it, two lovely young ladies were looking down at him, shaking their heads.

“Yes?” he grumbled.

“Cordy was right,” Willow sighed, “You can’t go out there looking like that. It would just make us look bad. You know, as your…”

“Handlers?” Buffy suggested.

“I was gonna go with entourage,” Willow whispered.

Giles only whimpered again as Buffy grabbed a comb and a jar from one of the dressing tables and stood behind him. “Relax,” she said, running her fingers through his hair, “I used to do the guy’s hair all the time back at my old school.”

“Here,” Willow tugged on his lapels. “I’ll hang your jacket up so we don’t get anything on it.”

Giles sighed deeply and surrendered himself to the care of his young ladies. He didn’t know whether it was the alcohol working faster than usual, or their familiar, calming presence, but the feeling of Buffy’s hands massaging his scalp and Willow’s gentle movements as she straightened his clothing was beginning to sooth him.

“Up next we have Lance Brooks. Ladies, you all know him as the star of this year’s winning football team. Lance likes working out and, um, watching TV. Wow, isn’t he gorgeous, girls? Who’ll start the bidding at, say… fifty dollars? Oh, sorry Mrs. Kenndle. You know the rules. Only students can bid on students. Maybe next year…”

“Wills!” Xander ran up, near panic. “Can you help me with this? I can’t get this stupid tie to do anything.”

“Calm down, Xan, I’ve got it,” Willow giggled. “I wouldn’t have thought Cordy would risk letting anyone else get a hold of you.”

“Well,” he shrugged. “I think she has a plan. But, if I don’t make a good showing, she’ll skin me.”

“Frightening girl,” Giles murmured, his eyes still closed.

“Hey, how does he rate the royal treatment?”

Willow leaned in and whispered, “He’s a little wigged about all this.”

“What’s a matter, Big Guy? Afraid of selling your soul?”

This earned a glare from the older man, but before he could voice a retort, Harmony appeared backstage bellowing, “Harris! Get over here, you’re up next.”

“Wish me luck,” Xander said nervously before bouncing off.

Giles shook his head. “A lamb to the slaughter,” he muttered before taking a large gulp of his coffee.

“I don’t get it,” Buffy stated, coming around in front of him and reaching to fix his cummerbund. “Everyone else is making the most of this and having fun, and you’re just being a poopy head. Back when Snyder made us all do the talentless show you were all, we have to blend in and blah blah blah…” As her fingers dug under the silk sash, the Watcher suddenly jumped and twisted away.

At this, Buffy glanced up to Willow with an evil grin. As if having some method of telepathic communication, they simultaneously descended on the hapless victim, running their dexterous finger along his sides. Giles was just dunk enough to lack the control to counter the attacks and ended up laughing and writhing uncontrollably while the girls giggled maniacally around him.

“No, no,” he gasped for air. “Please stop.”

“In my school no means no. I would expect you ladies to know that.”

Both girls jumped away as if the Watcher was suddenly on fire. “Principal Snyder!” Willow eeped. “We were just…”

Giles stood and cleared his throat, part of his brain hoping desperately he wasn’t drunk enough yet to slur his words as he opened his mouth to speak. “These, um, these y-young ladies were only trying to improve my, my mood for the event. They meant no, ah, no harm.”

“Mr. Giles,” Snyder said smugly, “When I suggested more interaction with the students, I was envisioning something a little more on the intellectual side of things.”

“Y-yes. I, um, I know.”

“And Miss Summers, you should know better than to lay hands on a member of the faculty. Or do you?”

Giles felt the heat of anger rise in his neck as his self-control began to slip. “This was my fault,” he nearly growled. “The students were merely assisting me.”

Thankfully, no one noticed Cordelia call a recess in the auction, or saw her approaching with Xander. Taking in the look in the Watcher’s eyes, she could see the trouble brewing.

“Principal Snyder,” she cooed. “We will be starting the second half of the action in a few moments. You look so good, I just know some of those ladies out there are waiting just for you. Why don’t we start out strong and have you lead the way?”

Teenaged stomachs began to turn as they watched the little man preen under her flattery. “Do you really think so? I did spring for the nicer tux.”

“And we can all tell,” Cordy grinned, picking a speck of lint from his sleeve. Knowing she had him under control, she turned to Giles. “Have my staff managed to get you in a better mood, yet? I can’t sell mopey goods.”

“Cordelia,” Giles tried to control the red he knew was still creeping up his neck. “Trust me when I say the last thing you want to do is put me on a stage in front of a room full of women. Is there not some other way I can help?”

Snyder snorted, “If you had bothered to attend any of the recent faculty meetings, Mr. Giles, you would know that it was decided that the men would help raise the money for the senior trip and the ladies would take the chaperoning duties. Now, I could add your name to the other list. Have you ever accompanied ninety teenagers to an amusement park?”

Cordelia smiled sweetly at him. “Giles on a rollercoaster,” she mused. “I’ve always had this theory that if a man was a screamer on a rollercoaster, that meant he’d be a screamer in other areas, too.”

Giles whipped his glasses off and furiously began to polish. Before Snyder could use the opening to gloat, Cordy gave his arm a tug.

“Intermission is almost over. We’re due on stage.” Leading him away, she looked back and whispered. “I don’t care what you have to do. Get him out there and looking fine. I’m behind, and he’s gonna put me over the top.”

Willow sighed when Giles slumped down, defeated once again. “Maybe she really does see you as her prized bull.” Deciding to take pity and let him be for awhile, she turned to Xander. “That was quick. How’d it go?”

“Well, it all just happened in a blur. Suddenly I was pushed through the curtain, and all these girls were ogling me. Then Cordy started talking really fast and all at once I was sold to her for fifty bucks.” Xander grinned at Willow’s giggle. “She told me the money was for a good cause. I think she means helping her break the record.”

“I’d pay that much for a date with you,” Willow chuckled, then glanced down at Giles. “I’d pay that much for a date with you, too,” she grinned, trying to make both her boys feel better.

To her surprise, the librarian looked up at her with a goofy smile. “Sweet, innocent girl,” he murmured.

“I, um, I think we’d better go get you some more coffee.” Her cheeks glowing red, she grabbed Buffy and left Xander to guard the prisoner.

The boy plopped down next to Giles. He didn’t let on when he noticed the coffee in the Watcher’s cup wasn’t exactly the right color. “Hey, G-man. Just us guys here now. You wanna tell me why this thing has you so freaked? I mean, yeah it was kinda weird being out there on sale. And, yeah it felt a little, I don’t know, degrading. But it wasn’t really that bad.”

Giles took the last gulp from his cup and rolled his head back to stare at the ceiling. He started whispering the words to a song Xander didn’t quite recognize. Something about a room and black curtains. The boy was concentrating so hard on listening he almost jumped when Giles began to speak. “I remember… I remember the last time someone decided I was worth some monetary value. Ethan was in over his head in this poker game, and decided the only thing he had left worthy of the sum on the table was me… bloody bugger. Next thing I know, I’m being shoved into an auto, the guest of Mama Rosey. I spent three days chained in a basement before my mates found a way to spring me.” He let out a giggle as Xander gaped, opened mouthed at him. “I’m not saying they were the worst three days of my life. I merely think I don’t have that kind of… stamina any more.”

Xander shook his head clear. “I’ll tell ya, Big Guy. The more I learn about your past, the more I’m not sure whether to bow to the master or run for the hills.”

Giles giggled again and slapped the younger man a little too hard in the chest with the back of his hand. “I’ll tell you a secret though... I still have a thing for the redheads.” He then sighed deeply and frowned, “Don’t tell the girls.”

“Not a word, Big Guy,” Xander sighed, patting him on the shoulder. “And I promise, if you end up in another basement, we’ll be right there to rescue you.”

“Who’s putting my Watcher in a basement?” Buffy asked as she and Willow appeared from the crowd. Before anyone could speak, they all watched as Giles took the cup of coffee from her, poured most of it into a potted plant, and refilled it from the flask.

“Well, now we know why the coffee’s not helping,” Willow observed.

Buffy frowned, “What’s Cordy gonna do to us when we send a drunk librarian out for her auction?”

Giles giggled and sighed, “Pretty red…”

“Um,” Xander jumped up to stand protectively next to Willow. “Maybe she’ll be happy. I mean, he does seem to be in a better mood.”

“Come on,” Willow took his jacket from its hanger. “At least we can get him looking all right. It’s almost his turn.”

Before Giles could regain his equilibrium, he was up and being rushed toward the stage. The yelps and hollers of the audience could be heard along with Cordelia’s voice on the other side of the curtain. He was tugged one way and Buffy stretched up to put some finishing touches on his hair. Yanked another way and Willow was straightening his bowtie. His head was spinning and he didn’t know if he could force his stomach to remain in his body.

The curtain suddenly flashed open and the dirty blond stranger was grinning at Giles. “Two-seventy,” he announced. “Seems like I’m the stud of the evening. You look a little green around the gills there, Mr. Librarian. Hope that doesn’t put the ladies off.” With a laugh, he strode away.

“Hey! It’s not a competition,” Xander yelled after him. “We’ll show that big jerk.” He grabbed a white carnation from a nearby table and shoved it into Giles’ lapel.

“That’s right,” Buffy nodded, pulling off his glasses and sticking them in her pocket. “No one messes with my Watcher. You’re gonna do twice as good as him.”

“Well…” Giles groaned, correcting her out of habit.

“And last, but certainly not least, the surprise I’ve been promising you ladies all evening. Here, all the way from merry old England, I present to you Mr. Rupert Giles!”

Buffy and Willow turned to give Giles a shove, but he was nowhere to be seen. The three young Scoobies were staring at each other when they heard a burst of applause from the audience. With a glace, they all ran for the stage door and out to watch from the edge of the crowd.

Cordelia looked over to see the man standing beside her. He stood straight and tall, his tuxedo impeccably fitted to his lean, strong body. The spotlights glinted off the soft green of his eyes and a subtle, seductive smile graced his lips, seemingly meant for each individual lady in the room.

With a nod of approval, Cordelia continued, “What did I tell you, girls? James Bond, eat your heart out.” A flirty wink from the tall Brit and Cordy knew this was going to be good. “Now, you can see from the bio that we’re lucky enough to have Rupert here because he’s our current school librarian, but don’t let that limit you when you imagine the possibilities. For instance, you can choose to be seduced in any one of the five romance languages this guy speaks fluently. But that’s only if you can get over the way he sound in English. Why don’t you give us a taste, Rupert?”

Giles leaned into the microphone and grinned, “I’d like to welcome you lovely ladies here tonight, and thank you for supporting these wonderful students.”

There were audible squeals from all around the audience.

Buffy whispered hoarsely to Willow, “Who is that guy, and where’d my Watcher go?” The young witch only continued to watch with a dreamy smile on her face.

“And if that isn’t enough to make your knees weak,” Cordy was saying. “If you’ve ever wished you could find the guy with some culture, the guy who can do more than grunt at the museum, the guy who is actually happy to accompany you to the ballet or opera, here’s your man. During his collage days, you would have found him walking across the Oxford campus on the way to his doctorate, and until recently, the British Museum called themselves lucky to have him.”

“Two hundred!” shouted a woman from the crowd.

“I guess that gives us a starting point for the bidding,” Cordelia laughed. “Do I hear two-ten?”

There was a flurry of shouting until the bidding seemed to peeter out around two hundred and eighty dollars.

“Do you really think that’s all he’s worth?” Cordy tried to reinvigorate the bidding. “I haven’t even told you yet that I happen to know, in addition to all those brains, this man studies the martial arts. Hardly a day goes by that he doesn’t spend some of it working out. Isn’t it worth a little more just for the chance to try finding out what’s under that tux?”

As if on que, Giles complained, “It’s getting bloody hot up here,” and began removing his jacket and undoing his bowtie.

From the back of the room, a familiar voice screamed, “Take it off, Ripper!”

“Mom?” Buffy gasped.

“And can’t we get some real music for this do?” Giles griped.

Oz stood and, throwing a wink to Willow, crossed the stage to hand Giles his guitar. “Show us how it’s done, Big Guy,” he smiled sincerely.

“Ah, crackin’,” Giles grinned, tossing the strap around his shoulders. When he was comfortable, he started pounding out a slow progression of hard cords. On the eighth, he nodded at the drummer, who joined in with the beat as he sang out, “In a white room with black curtains at the station…”

The whole room was bouncing and dancing, and the bids began to go up again.

“Okay, what kind of sick parallel dimension did we stumble into,” Xander shouted over the din.

Buffy shook her head and muttered, “All I know is this whole day is getting buried deep in the denial portion of my memory.”

“Come on guys,” Willow laughed. “I was just thinkin’ we should get Giles drunk more often.” She stared adoringly at the stage as her boyfriend’s voice blended beautifully with the librarian’s in the soft melody of the chorus.

“She didn’t say that,” Buffy plugged her ears. “I did not just hear my best friend say that.” Xander could only nod his agreement.

All three jumped when Harmony appeared among them and mumbled, “Poor Mr. Giles.”

“Tell me about it,” Buffy replied. “Total after school special on the evils of alcohol here.”

“That’s not what a mean,” the blond rolled her eyes. “See that woman in Prada and too much makeup in the front row? That’s Ms. Domner. Complete man eater.”

The Scoobies exchanged a glance, wondering if slayage was called for. “You mean she eats people?” Willow ventured timidly.

“Why do I bother talking to them,” Harmony sighed. “No, Einsteem. She destroys men. My uncle went out with her once. She totally took over his life until he finally had to convince her he was dying. Now, he only comes out of his house to go out of town for business, afraid he’ll run into her.”

“Geez, and you think she’s after Giles?” Xander asked.

“I know that look in her eyes. She has enough money to wait ‘til the end and outbid everyone else, too.”

“Quick,” Buffy huddled the Scoobies. “How much can you get a hold of?”

“Buffy…”

“Will, I know you’re smart enough to have savings.”

“Buffy…”

“I can break out my shoe fund and ask mom for a loan.”

“Buffy…”

“What, Xander!?!”

“Your mom just bumped the price up past four hundred dollars. There’s no way we can get that much money.”

“I don’t care,” Buffy hissed. “He my Watcher and it’s my job to save him, no matter how big an ass he’s being.”

“Buffy, we’re students,” Willow worried he lower lip. “Even if we could, we can’t.”

Giles was just finishing the guitar solo finale when the crowd quieted down. Cordelia was grinning from ear to ear. “I have four-fifty-five from Ms. Domner. Any more bids?”

“Oh God, this is our fault. We put him up there.” By this time Xander and Willow were physically holding Buffy back.

“Going once…”

“It’s Giles,” Xander tried. “He can take care of himself.”

“We hope,” Willow whispered.

“Going twice…”

“I have to get him out of there,” Buffy kept glancing from her Watcher’s goofy grin to the feral smile in the front row.

“Going…”

The whole room jumped at the crash of the double doors being flung open. Mouths hung open and all eyes followed as a young brunette in tight leather strode down the center isle. The dark beauty jumped up on stage and eyed Giles unashamedly. She threw a bundle of cash in front of Cordy.

“Five hundred.”

Cordelia stared lustfully at the cash. “As much as I hate… Students can’t bid on-”

“Not a student,” Faith interrupted with shrug. The dark Slayer stood in front of Giles and grinned, “Guess I win this one. Up for some fun, G?” She boldly ran her hands up his chest and took hold of both ends of the tie hanging loose around his neck. Turning on her heels, she led him back towards the exit as if on a leash. All Giles could do was giggle and stumble along behind her.

“What the hell?” Buffy gasped.

Willow was already running to the doors, yelling, “Hey, I saw him first!”

Xander could only mutter, “Shit, does Faith have a basement?”