“It’s been there for a week,” one of the potentials–I couldn’t tell them apart, and I wasn’t going to try–volunteered. Dawn rolled her eyes audibly and brushed through the perpetual slumber party that was Buffy’s house these days. “We thought you’d know, Mr. Giles.”
Of course they would. Never let it be said that almost-Slayers were any good at doing anything by themselves. Including tying their shoes and doing things like slaying–the kind of things that were their supposed birthright.
“It’s the Bus of the Undead!” Andrew volunteered from the dining room.
“Dammit, Shake, you’re scaring Meatwad,” Xander replied, almost on cue. That’s when I rolled my eyes. The longer I knew Xander post-jilting, the gayer in a homoerotic buddy cop film way he got. Hell, at this point, he was just getting gay. Next week, he and Andrew were probably going to produce a nude boy-on-boy version of Silmarillion: the Musical. They kept joking about Silmarillion: the Musical, and no one knew why. And every so often, Andrew would look at Spike and say, “Still not King” and Xander would crack up. It was starting to really bug me. I was the one who should be having nerdy in-jokes with Harris, not the walking pop culture encyclopedia.
“How come you get to be Frylock?” Andrew whined, and I had to get out immediately or consider strangling Andrew with my bare hands. Not that I thought anyone would mind, but that way was the way to vengeance and bad things and I was a bigger woman than that. I neatly maneuvered through the house, pausing to make sure Willow was cooking and not doing something with magic, and ended up sitting on Buffy’s porch looking at my knees.
“Anya?” someone asked. I looked up. I should have guessed it was Giles. He always said my name a little differently than anyone else. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” I said, smiling. “Too much estrogen in the house. And the eau de nerd is giving me the creeps.”
“Yes,” Giles said uncomfortably, shifting a little. “I’d imagine that it would.”
“How are you? Now that we know you’re not the First and all,” I said.
“Yes, it’s rather a relief to know that one’s friends and colleagues can rest easily, knowing that I’m alive and touchable,” Giles said dryly. “I’m still rather flummoxed that you lot even considered it.”
I scowled and stood up, looking more at the backyard than him. Buffy’s backyard was getting a little overgrown these days; with the Potentials in the house, she didn’t have the money to pay the gardener, not even at the discount rate she’d been getting. Still, it was pretty. Nice green grass in January. Something I just never had as a kid. We had snow and bunnies and trolls, but not grass and sun. The price of the Hellmouth, I supposed.
“Well, maybe if you weren’t so standoffish and aloof, we could have remembered the touching,” I pointed out. “Because it would have actually happened.”
“We’re in the middle of an event unlike anything in known history, Anya,” Giles reproved. “Pardon me for not ‘making with the good touch’ as Xander might say.”
“Well, maybe you SHOULD be,” I replied. “If it’s the end of the world, isn’t it about the time we do more hugging and physical reassuring than usual? I mean, all those girls in there are touching an awful lot. And I don’t think it’s in a repressed sexual manner, like it might be for Xander and Andrew.”
“Xander’s sexuality is at all repressed?” Giles asked. My jaw dropped, and then I started to laugh. He joined in, and for a good minute, we stood on the porch, laughing so hard that tears were starting to run down my face. “I’m sorry, dear. It’s simply that I’ve known Xander for a long time and–”
“And?” I asked, looking up at him.
“I was always rather unsure who Angel fancied more, Buffy or Xander,” he said. “You must never repeat that, of course.”
I grinned and made the universal gesture for zipping my lips, which had in fact only come into being in the 1940s, but was still pretty universal for its short tenure on this dimension. I always liked when Giles told me things he wasn’t supposed to. He always blamed me, because I’m indiscreet and rude, or so the story goes. I thought it was more a function of his cultural Britishness, and that if he weren’t a tweedy British guy, Giles would be indiscreet all the time.
“You’re avoiding my question by amusing me about Xander,” I said, putting my hand on Giles’ forearm. “Don’t you think that if the world’s going to end, we should be more touchy-feely? For example, you clearly came out here to make sure my emotional state wasn’t being affected by all the chaos inside. I’d feel a lot better if you did that while holding my hand. Or touching my shoulder.”
“Anya,” he said, trying to sound cross. Then he put his hand on my shoulder. “You’re right, of course. This is a period of great stress for everyone, and we should be more sensitive to each other’s–”
I got on my tiptoes and kissed Giles full on the lips.
“Sensitive,” I agreed. “We should definitely be more sensitive.”
“Anya!” Giles said, trying to sound shocked and failing. “Are you quite mad?”
“Maybe,” I said, putting my hand on his neck and squeezing. “But I think I’m just trying to follow your advice. We’re all very stressful, Giles, and–”
“Please don’t say anything ridiculous about de-stressing or relaxing,” Giles pleaded. “I know it’s inevitable, but–”
I pulled away, sat back down on the porch, and pouted. “Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, fine. Go away, Giles. I can relax without you, that’s for sure.”
“Damn it all,” he said, sitting down next to me. He still didn’t sound grouchy the way I knew was actually Giles-grouchy. It was more as though I’d surprised him. Giles hated surprises–not that I blamed him. On the Hellmouth, surprises usually involved slimy demon guts or prophetic doom and gloom. “You made a pass at me, Anya. How is that in any way relaxing?”
“Well, maybe if you kissed back, it would have been relaxing,” I argued. “I think you’re wound up over watching all the mini-Buffys, and no one’s paying attention to you. Hence, the unfortunate group touch in the desert. So maybe if someone pays attention to you, it’ll be better for everyone. And I thought–”
Giles put his hand on my arm and squeezed. “Anya,” he said, as though my name were some sort of invocation. “You’re very kind.”
Now I was the one who didn’t want to hear the stock phrases.
“But you don’t want that sort of attention, right?” I asked snappishly. “I’m too young, or maybe too blunt and ex-demony. Or you’re afraid this has to do with getting back at Xander for flirting with Andrew.”
“On the contrary, I was rather thinking that I liked your hair that color,” Giles said, smiling at me. “And that we’ll have to look into the tour bus just in case that little prat’s right and it is the bus of the undead or some such rot.”
I nodded. “I’m up for some quality bus-investigation,” I said. “Especially if it means I don’t have to listen to Slayers in Training train. Or make out with Willow.”
He chuckled at that sentiment. “Yes, that was rather sudden, wasn’t it?” Giles asked, his hand still on my arm. It was warm, and I liked it there. I still wanted him to kiss me, and I was pretty sure he wanted to kiss me, but if it wasn’t going to happen, I could deal.
“Yeah,” I said, trying to decide if he was. On the plus side, hand still on arm. On the minus side, there was no shifting of the shoulders or familiar head-tilt to signal that he was about to make a move. “Out of no–”
Sneaky of him to move in while I was in the middle of making a snarky comment. I kind of liked it, and I liked more that Giles was kissing me. He had good lips, and he wasn’t super-pushy, the way Xander might be if he thought he’d scored a few points by doing the suave move-in kiss. Giles had good taste in how to kiss, and I very much approved of that.
“Oh,” I said when he pulled away, looking kind of surprised, too. “That was good.”
“I think so,” he agreed, smoothing my hair. “I liked it.”
“I’d like more of them,” I said. “Your glasses–”
Giles smiled and took off his glasses, cleaning them in that cute nearsighted way. Oh, yeah. I could get used to this fast. “Then it would be relatively agreed that we should pay attention to each other,” he said, replacing his glasses. “And that this is–agreeable–to both of us.”
“Very much so,” I said with a smile, getting to my feet and giving him a hand. “So. Bus of the Undead, followed by a discreet make-out session somewhere less prone to hordes of pubescent girls walking by windows?”
I pointed over his shoulder. One of the potentials was gaping. Giles almost blushed, but looked down at his feet again with a little embarrassment. We were going to have to work on that. I was twelve hundred years old. There was no Lolita-esque weirdness going on, and if the potentials didn’t like it, they could suck on a lemon. Also we were going to have to work on the name thing. Calling Giles Giles, if we were going to continue, was too X-Files to contemplate. But that was all going to have to wait anyway.
We had a bus to investigate.
“Indeed,” he said to his shoes. “Shall we, then?”
I shooed the potential away and nodded vigorously. “We shall.”
And so we did.