There was only one gay bar in Sunnydale. And it mattered that it was a 'gay' bar, because it was in Sunnydale. Not Los Angeles and certainly not London. It was on Wilkins Street, nearer the University than down town, and was cleverly named “That Place on Wilkins Street”; which, Giles was forced to admit, was probably what the locals would have called it anyhow. In hushed tones, no doubt, he thought with a wry chuckled.
Despite thinking of themselves as the Capital of the Universe, Americans were still so very provincial in their own way. Especially in small towns. Especially in an insular small town like Sunnydale, which was, culturally speaking, more like some map dot in the vast American interior than the typical West coast bedroom towns where so much of the urban workforce roosted for the night.
People who lived in Sunnydale lived in Sunnydale. Most of them for generations. Newcomers didn't usually last long, one way or another. You had to have a reason to stay in this town, something that made it worth the risk, whether that was a sacred duty, an evil mission, or just a true patriot's reluctance to walk away from the one place on earth that has always been home for as long as anyone can remember.
Rupert sighed. Strictly speaking, he supposed he didn't have any such reason anymore. Not since the Council had relieved him of his duties. But he'd be damned if he was going anywhere either. Right or Wrong, officially or unofficially, there was Buffy. And Buffy was reason enough to stay. At least until he could be sure that the Council had managed to replace him with someone who actually could and would do the job. Someone whom Buffy, and Faith, could trust and respect. Someone who as not a power-mad villain like Gwendolyn Post.
And so here he was, on another Friday night. In answer to another ad in the Sunnydale Harold, meeting a stranger for 'a drink and hopefully...' '…' was all the personal life he had time for these days. All he had the emotional energy for, honestly. And though he had no strong sexual preference one way or the other, men tended to be a little more understanding of his desire to keep his '…' discrete and casual than did women.
The people who met at That Place already knew that there were no white picket fences or fat grandchildren in their futures, at least not with each other. There was a sort of freedom in that. As the old Bob Dylan song said, “When you got nothin' you got nothin' to lose.” This was a place where desperate men took what they could get and were happy to have it. The perfect place for a man who was already committed beyond all hope of disentanglement (to a woman in whom he had no sexual interest) to meet a lover with low expectations.
Rupert sighed again and turned up the collar of his leather jacket as if to ward off such maudlin thoughts and walked through the double doors into the dark, smoky barroom. Nobody wanted to drink with a sad-sack, let alone '…' And after the hellish fortnight he'd lived through since the last time, Giles needed to '…' and then some. To be close to another human being. To be held. To be desired. To lose himself in lust and physical pleasure, if only for one evening. Especially here at the mouth of hell, where one evening was almost more that he could spare. Almost more than anyone could count on having left.
Sometimes he dared to hope he might meet someone who was up for the very occasional repeat engagement. Never more than that. He had learned his lesson. His life was far too dangerous to drag another innocent soul into. His spending the odd evening '...ing' with someone would put them in enough danger as it was.
Be all that as it may, here he was. And it would all be just a tedious waste of time if he didn't get to enjoying himself, which meant finding his intended companion before the fellow found someone else to '…' with. Slowly, intentionally, Rupert scanned the small crowd, most of whom he knew well enough by sight if not by name, including several that he'd already been with, come to that.
These former partners didn't stare him down hatefully or avert their eyes the way a woman would if an old fling had dared to show his face around her favorite watering hole after casual sex had predictably led to nothing more. They smiled and nodded as he passed. Easy come easy go was no sin here, nothing either party had to pretend to be embarrassed about.
It wouldn't be any of them he was here to meet tonight. His companion was new in town and, given that he hadn't even dared to give his first name in response to Rupert's letter, probably new to the M4M scene altogether. Although, Giles had given his own name as, 'Edmund or Ed for short'. Which was true but not very. Everyone at That Place called him by his middle name. Because, he thought, amused at himself, a man living a triple life can never be too careful.
At any rate, the only person in the room who registered as new was a boy no more than eighteen, if that. The gentleman he was to meet was supposed to be twenty-seven, though it would hardly be the first time someone had lied in a personal ad. Rupert fervently hoped that wasn't the case. He needed a man, not a boy, technically legal or not.
But as he completed a second scan of the room without lighting on any likelier suspects, his mind was already turning to whether or not it might be safe to return again to an old well. Slim Jim was leaning against the wall next to the jukebox talking to another regular. He was married and had children still in school. So the chance that he'd view a repeat encounter as an invitation to demand more was virtually nil.
“Ummmm..... excuse me,” the boy said, sure enough, locking eyes with Giles and walking in his direction. Rupert tried not to show his disappointment, he'd have to let the boy down gently, that was all. He'd already put enough innocent kids in harms way to last a lifetime. But that didn't matter now. Evidently, he'd got it all wrong. The boy was already moving past him, gently push-gesturing him out of the way.
Rupert turned to see a tall, thin, sallow, grim-faced individual nodding in acknowledgment as the boy walk over to join him at the table by the window. Rupert's pulse quickened. He knew that one by sight and by a name of sorts. Regulars called him the Grim Reaper, or Grim for short. He didn't come in here much, but when he did, his drinking companions tended to disappear.
Rupert's hand instinctively went for the cross in his jacket pocket, but he didn't pull it out. Not yet. There was, usually, more than one way to deal with a vampire, especially in mixed company as it were. There was not more than one That Place, and no night life establishment in Sunnydale could stay open very long without the protection of at least one vampire. Even two Slayers could not be everywhere at once.
In short, Rupert would do himself no favors by being seen to interfere with the delicate balance of business and politics that kept these double doors open. Any way you looked at it, this was not a bridge he could afford to burn. But this child was exactly that. And he had no notion how deep the water was that he'd decided to take a swim in, nor what dangers lurked in those depths.
Rupert stood there a moment, watching, until Grim finally looked up at him. “You want somethin'” the vampire demanded, hostile but guarded. He knew a thing or two about bridges it didn't pay to burn himself.
“Hunting is one thing,” Giles replied coolly, “But stealing downy chicks from the nest is a bit unsporting, don't you think?”
“Hey!” the kid shouted, jumping to his feet, offended. “You can't talk about me like that! You're not my father!”
Giles smiled wanly, “Yes, well. Thank God for small favors,” he said, turning away from the dumbstruck youngster and back towards Grim. Then he let his smile light up his face as if noticing something for the first time, “Well, but you are looking better though, aren't you! Still a bit pale, but I'm sure little sun will take care of that now you're back on your feet.” Then, leaning in close, speaking too low for anyone not at the table to hear he added, “What have they got you on this time? Still just the AZT, or one of those new combination therapies?”
The vampire gripped the table, nails biting into the wood with an audible crunching sound. For a moment he was too angry to speak. Instead he made a menacing sound between a grunt and a growl. Meanwhile, his silence was taken as an admission, just as Giles had gambled that it would be. With vampires, just as with men, it helped to know your individual adversary.
The boy's eyes widened. “I... uh... I just remembered... something,” he mumbled, getting to his feet and hurrying for the door. Giles couldn't help another slight, sad smile. Children really are so easily shocked, so easily frightened, he thought. Especially by the bogeymen their parents use to get them to behave. And, therefore, easily manipulated.
Poor dear little wallflower. It really was a shame. He'd probably used up a years worth of courage coming in here tonight. Now he was just another victim of the sexual counter-revolution of the last decade and a half. Which was still better than being sucked dry by The Grim Reaper. Which... speaking of...
“You're going to pay for that, Watcher.” Grim hissed venomously. At least he was polite enough to keep his voice low. 'Ed's' secret identity was not the best kept secret in Sunnydale, but it was not general knowledge either. It might be good for a little bit of leverage against someone, at some point, and so Grim was in no hurry to share what he knew. Grim was no orator, but he was no fool either. And it was not in his nature to willingly share anything with anyone.
“Calm yourself,” Rupert ordered, sharply but quietly. “I don't know why you insist on drinking here anyway. You know I'm not going to stand idly by and—.”
Grim looked like he was thinking up a few choice words for the Watcher, but before he could spit them out, they were interrupted. "Erm, excuse me, erm, Gentlemen?” said a young Englishman nearly as tall as Giles, hesitantly tapping on his shoulder. Giles blink in surprise a moment, then sighed at his own predictable karma. This would be him, of course.
He was the only man in the place who looked like he'd never been inside this bar or anyplace like it. Who sounded like it was beneath his dignity to be here now. All around them was a sea of well worn denim, cotton and leather. 'Ed' was wearing his best vintage Floyd with black jeans and a leather jacket. This berk had on a pair of stiffly pleated navy trousers and a white Oxford shirt with exactly one button undone. Clearly dressed down for the express purpose of slumming.
Still, Giles thought hopefully, he supposed there was a slight chance that this was not his 'New in Town', that another might be about to walk in, just as this one had following his first wrong assumption. Which was when the prat wrinkled his nose diffidently and stooped at ask the likes of them, “Has either of you two, erm 'gentlemen' seen a rather tall Englishman, with light brown hair and Green eyes, answers to the name of Edmund?”