Jennifer tossed her stake into the air and caught it. "Come for a patrol with me, Mr Giles?"
He went to get dressed. Four in the bloody morning, and of course he would patrol. Because a Slayer was troubled by evil nearby, and he would always be a Watcher. And Xander was out there.
He armed himself for the first time since arriving here. He pulled out his photographer's vest, which suited very nicely for carrying all the odd tools a Watcher wanted to hand. Stakes, clasp knife, bottle of holy water, portable first aid kit, bite kit. What else? A good solid torch, suitable as a club if for nothing else.
Jennifer was waiting outside the door for him, shifting restlessly from foot to foot. She tugged at his sleeve and dragged him into a trot downhill toward the village. Giles switched on the torch and played it over the road before them. They followed their usual path into the town at first, then Jennifer tugged at his sleeve again and drew him into an alleyway.
"What do you sense? What are we hunting?" he said.
"A baddie or baddies." She sounded impatient.
"Is it, is it Xander?"
Jennifer stopped and stared at him. He could see the disgust on her face very clearly in the light from his torch. "No. Duh. It's a vamp. Turn that thing off. This way."
She trotted off along the alleyway and around a corner. Giles shut off his torch and followed. Somewhere on the horizon to the east the sky was beginning to lighten, but it would be two hours yet until daylight. Plenty of time for a vampire to hunt and feed.
Jennifer led him through the back-alley route to the edge of the town square. They stopped just outside, hidden by the shadow of the awnings of a closed-up shop. Jennifer tapped him on the arm, then leapt silently away from him back into the alley. Giles turned away from her resolutely and sought out whatever had alarmed her. He'd played bait for Buffy often enough that he knew his role here: blunder out into the open and look vulnerable.
He wandered out into the village square with his hands in his pockets. Just a fellow out for a midnight stroll.
A figure emerged from the other side to join him in the center. As he got closer, Giles saw that it was Ranulf Carter. Carter in the dim light of dawn looked much as he remembered him from the briefing before this posting, though rumpled and rather the worse for wear. His canvas vest was torn and the knee was gone from his trousers.
"Carter?" Giles said, in a friendly way, though his hands in his pockets were shaking.
"Rupert? You came, then!"
"Yes, I came as soon as I could. Where have you been, old man?"
Carter waved a hand in the air. "Out and around. There's quite a complex of tunnels underground, did you know that? They opened them up. Quite a find. It'll make a nice paper."
"I dare say, but you've been missing for two weeks!"
"Might have been underground a bit longer than I planned. It was rather... interesting."
Carter smiled at him. Something in his face made Giles uneasy. Vampire? Perhaps. But if so, he'd been recently turned, which meant there was another. Out of the corner of his eye Giles saw Jennifer in motion, flitting across a corner of the square behind Carter and into the shadows again. He had to give her time. "You look as if you spent too much time in the sun, old man. Let's get you to the doctor, shall we?"
Carter shook his head. "I found something there. Something I'd been looking for. I suppose you know that." His voice had turned a little sly.
"Your half-blind friend got to it before I could finish translating the inscription. I wanted to be sure. After he'd used it I was sure." He took a few steps forward and poked Giles in the chest. "I wanted that for myself."
"You didn't want that curse on you," Giles said, more loudly than needed.
Where'd he put his stake? Left vest pocket. He slid his hand into the pocket casually. How well-trained was Jennifer? Had she done any live exercises? He couldn't recall.
"Curse? Surprised you think it's a curse. Doesn't matter. I found something better down there. The amulet gives power, but I found immortality."
Carter smiled at Giles and showed his fangs. A moment later his face transformed fully. Giles stepped back and fumbled the stake out and into his hand. Carter's smile widened. He looked back over his shoulder and called out.
A scuffle erupted across the roadway. Something overturned and smashed, and then Giles heard the sound of a girl crying out. He glanced that way, but saw nothing. He shifted into a fighting stance, but he'd missed his shot. Carter had backed out of reach while he was distracted, and was now on his guard.
Carter called out again and this time he was answered. From the alleyway came a second vampire, with Jennifer in his grasp. He had one hand around her neck and another held her arm behind her back, twisted in a way Giles knew would be painful. Her chest was heaving and her face strained. Giles swore under his breath. Two vampires, two of them. If he could help Jennifer escape they had the barest chance.
Carter moved to the side of the other vampire. His sire, Giles presumed. This vampire was wearing a white robe stained with dust and splashes of something dark. He spoke to Carter in a language Giles couldn't recognize. Carter answered in the same language. An ancient language-- as old as the village they were in.
"Allow me to introduce Bishoy, Rupert. I met him in the tunnels that first day. He'd been trapped there for nearly two thousand years. Dormant. I awakened him."
"I made a bargain with him. One to our mutual advantage."
"You let it turn you?"
"Can you honestly tell me you've never considered it?"
"Honestly, no. Never."
Carter laughed. "Liar. Bishoy was hungry after all that time down there. He fed on me, and then on a few villagers while he waited for me to waken. He brought me the sweetest blood to wake with-- a Slayer's blood. We'll taste it again. Perhaps with Watcher blood as an aperitif?"
"Not a chance."
"Not giving you any say in the matter, Rupert."
Behind him, Bishoy sank his fangs into Jennifer's arm. Giles lunged at them, but Carter kicked him away effortlessly. He scrambled backwards, desperate to regain his footing. Bishoy had his teeth sunk deep into Jennifer's arm still, but Jennifer's other arm was free. Giles shouted her name and threw his stake. Jennifer snatched it neatly from the air left-handed. She slammed it into Bishoy's chest without any hesitation. Perfect aim. The vampire looked down at himself in surprise, and dissolved into dust.
Carter turned and ran. Jennifer shoved herself to her feet and staggered after him.
"Bugger it." Giles caught Jennifer's shirt and pulled her to a halt. "You're bleeding too much for that."
"He's getting away."
"Let him." He shoved her flat down to the ground and took a look at her arm. Bite marks, ripped when she'd struggled. He took her left hand and pressed it over the wound.
There was a heavy thump on the pavement behind them. Giles reached for his knife, but it was only Xander, breathing hard with wings spread wide. He folded them and knelt next to Jennifer. "What's going on?" he said.
"Vampires," Giles said, tersely. Blood seeping, not pumping. He had been playing with her, not going for the killing bite, but he'd begun to drain her. None of the bandages in this little kit would do. He ripped the sleeve from his shirt.
"How many vampires?"
"Two. We got one."
"I need a weapon."
Without a word Giles handed him the clasp knife. Xander snapped it open. He grinned at Giles, and to his horror Giles saw fangs in his mouth. Xander ran, one step, two, and leapt into the air. His wings beat powerfully and he mounted into the air smoothly, as if he had been born doing it. Giles gaped. He flew straight up, hovered, then shifted his weight and swooped over the rooftops and out of sight.
Giles snapped his mouth shut and got back to the task at hand. He had an injured Slayer to cope with. "Let go of the wound for a second."
"Looks like he figured it out," Jennifer said. "Ow."
He wound his shirtsleeve around her arm, just above the bite-marks. "Pressure again now. Good. You let that vampire capture you," he said, to distract her.
She bit her lip. "He was faster than they said in training. Surprised me."
"First live encounter?"
"Next time you'll know. There. That'll hold until we get you back to the house. Proper bandages there."
Giles helped her to her feet. She wrapped an arm around his waist.
"Hey, Giles! Look what I found!"
Giles flinched and looked up. Xander was hovering in the air twenty feet above the fountain, dark against the lightening sky, wings beating fast. He held Carter dangling by an ankle. Blood dripped and spattered on the edge of the fountain.
"Want him?" Xander let go, and Carter plummeted to the ground. Bone snapped and blood splashed. He looked at the mess and winced-- the vampire was still alive, moaning in pain. Xander swooped down in front of them and landed hard. He fell to one knee. The clasp knife was open in his hand and it was wet with blood. The vampire's blood, Giles guessed.
"I wonder how long he'll last," Xander said. He turned and threw the knife deep into Carter's gut. The vampire screamed.
"Xander! Just bloody kill it!"
Xander grinned at him. His fangs looked sharp, as sharp as those of the vampire writhing before him. "Not until I've had my fun. This guy killed my Slayer."
He pulled the knife out of Carter's belly and held it over him again. Giles knocked it away. He summoned every scrap of calm authority he'd ever had and said, "This ends now."
Xander snarled at him but stood aside. Giles fumbled his second stake from his vest pocket. He plunged it into Carter's heart and ended his suffering. One last scream, sighing away into infinity, and he too was dust.
Xander seemed to crumple where he stood. His wings drooped. He wiped the blood from his face and stared at his wet hands. His teeth were normal again and so were his eyes.
"Shit shit shit, Giles, what did I just do?"
"Jennifer's hurt. Get her back to the house now and have your bloody crisis later."
Xander gathered Jennifer in his arms and without another word leapt into the air. He flew off over the rooftops while Giles stood and stared after him in amazement. Then he swore to himself and set off through the streets at a dead run.
He found Jennifer in the kitchen with the big first aid kit, contemplating a sloppy bandage half-taped to her arm Giles clucked at her and snatched the tape away. Wrong, all wrong. Jennifer snatched the tape back from him and rolled her eyes.
"Xander's on the roof. Go talk him out of whatever stupid thing he's going to do. I can finish this."
Giles took the stairs at a dead run, afraid of what he might find.
Xander stood at the edge of the roof on the low wall. At any other time Giles might have panicked and run toward him to pull him away, but everything had changed. He was in no danger. If he jumped, he would fly. Xander's wings unfolded, lifted, and spread. Four meters, he guessed, from tip to tip. Four meters, completely improbable, and utterly beautiful. Water dripped from the feathers onto the wall beneath Xander. His jeans were soaked as well, Giles saw, and the blood had been washed away from his hands.
The sky behind him was brightening with the dawn.
"You can fly," Giles said, aware it was fatuous.
Xander stretched his wings up high over his head, then slowly folded them against his back. "Been practicing. At night. Didn't want to try it in front of you in case I couldn't. Wanted to make a big splash. Sure fucking made one." He turned to face Giles. "You looked like you were scared spitless. Of me."
"Furious. I wanted to kill Carter myself."
"What were you scared of, Giles? What did you see?"
Giles sighed. "Fangs. You had fangs when you were fighting. And your eyes were red. They're normal now, in case you were wondering."
"Shit. I'm evil. I knew it."
"You're not evil, you fool!"
"How do you know? How do you know I didn't get turned into a demon just like Carter did?"
Giles strode to the edge of the roof. He grabbed Xander by the belt and tugged him away from the edge. "Your chest. The marks left by the amulet. That was not an evil object. Let me look at it, damn you." Giles bent close to look. He touched his fingers to the marks on Xander's chest, tracing the faint lines. "It's a cross. Four equal arms with a circle at the center. No demon could bear this mark on its chest."
"But the fangs! And I beat that thing. Just kept shoving the knife into it. It killed that poor kid before I had a chance to find her and teach her what she was and I wanted to slice it to ribbons and I just couldn't stop!"
"Battle frenzy. Blood lust!" Then, more quietly, "Buffy gets that way too. So do I sometimes."
Xander breathed in, out. He took a step closer to Giles. "But you don't get fangy."
"Nor do I have wings. But we both got angry about the same thing this morning. The right thing." Giles reached out and laid his hand on Xander's shoulder, and for once he didn't flinch away. "Angel of vengeance. Your soul is fire. It burns to defend the weak."
"You got a way with words," Xander said, unsteadily.
Giles touched two fingers to Xander's lips, just as Xander had done to him weeks ago, ages ago now, in his study in England. Xander's lips parted under his fingers. He was breathing fast, nearly as fast as Giles was. This was his chance. Giles let his fingers tangle into Xander's shaggy hair.
"You're the best man I know," he said, and he leaned forward.
The air shifted behind them and Giles felt magic tingle at his senses. He let go of Xander and spun, and found himself nose to nose with Willow. Buffy stood behind her. Giles's face flushed and he felt his ears burn. They'd caught him.
Buffy winked at him, but said nothing. "Like the new look, Xan."
"Yo, Buff, this is not at all awkward."
Xander rubbed his hands on his jeans. He wasn't looking at Giles at all, so Giles studiously looked away from Xander and instead opened his arms to return Buffy's enthusiastic hug. He fought to tamp down his annoyance, for he was genuinely glad to see her. Though perhaps she might have waited another few hours before teleporting over.
He gave Buffy another squeeze out of guilt for that thought. "I was just, uh, explaining to Xander that he's not evil," he said into her hair.
Buffy pulled away from his embrace, apparently for the express purpose of making a face at him. Jennifer appeared behind her and made a face at him as well. Did none of his Slayers respect him in the least? Thank goodness, no.
"Xander thinks he's evil?" Buffy said.
Giles looked at Xander, who shrugged and shivered his wings. "Jennifer's been staring at me. Yeah, okay, that sounds like a pretty lame reason for believing I'm evil now that I've said it out loud."
"It's 'cause you've had your shirt off," Buffy said, casually. "She has a thing about pecs."
"She's not staring because I'm evil?"
"Course you're not evil, you dork. You're just sort of vibey." Buffy waved her hands in the air. "You know, the way other Slayers are vibey. The way anything supernatural is. You vibe. Slayers stare. And unless they need to learn some manners, they stop staring."
Jennifer wrinkled her nose at Buffy. "I wasn't sure," she said. "He's been all weird."
"He did suddenly sprout wings," Giles said, helpfully.
Willow said, "He's our angel-shaped Xandery friend."
"Plus fangs. No joke. I went all fangy when I killed a vamp just now. That was sort of scary."
"Don't forget the eyes," Giles said. "His eyes turn red when he's enraged."
"Why does Xander get all the cool toys?" Buffy said, addressing the sky.
Willow made Xander turn slowly so she could take a good long look at his wings. Xander spread his wings very wide, showing off, then folded them up neatly. He preened for the girls with absolutely no shame at all, no sign that minutes before he'd been panicked about the state of his immortal soul. Willow, in turn, was examining his body with no restraint whatsoever. She stroked his wings as Giles had wished to but had refrained from doing. He felt rather cross watching it, in fact.
"Ooh! Look. He's got a sort medallion around his neck. It's all glowy in magic-space."
"Giles was just, uh, examining that when you dropped in."
"Oh, is that what he was doing," Willow said, completely bland. Giles grit his teeth. "Dawnie found what she thinks is a description of Xander's cross. In a chronicle of the vampire problem in fifth century Egypt. We'll have to compare Xander's marks to it."
Giles brightened. "Oh! Did you bring it?"
Willow shook her head. "It's in your place in Bath."
"Speaking of which," Buffy said. "Let's get going."
It was the work of fifteen minutes to pack their bags and books, and another half hour to hand the keys of the Rover over to a fellow who promised to return it to the agency in Asyut. Finally they were on the rooftop again, joining hands in a circle. Willow rose gently into the air, white hair flying, and the next breath Giles drew was cool and moist. He was standing in his own drive, before his own front door, and it was drizzling. He breathed in again. Rain, sweet rain on his face, the smell of mown grass. A dismal gray English dawn. And one thing he wanted more than anything else as homecoming.
"Fancy a cup?" he said. Getting the blood and sand out of his clothes could wait.
But Buffy shook her head. "No time. Come on, Xan. To the Slaycave, Willow!"
And the three of them vanished with a sound like popping soap bubbles. Giles and Jennifer stared at each other. Jennifer shrugged and Giles laughed, for what other response could he make? His business with Xander would have to wait until Buffy had worked through whatever scheme she'd hatched. He ushered Jennifer inside and the two of them went to his kitchen to make some tea and a bit of breakfast. Willow reappeared a few minutes later to join them, but Buffy and Xander were not with her. Giles itched to ask Willow where they were and what they were doing, but she volunteered nothing. And he felt that asking might reveal his secret.
Xander was gone for three days, doing he knew not what. Giles tried not to fret. He busied himself with catching up on correspondence that had stacked up on his desk while he was away, with the reports on the ever-slowing hunt for awakened Slayers. He was beginning to think they'd found the lot, at a count of nearly fifty girls. He also spent time with Dawn pursuing the line of inquiry she'd begun into amulets that effected magical transformations. After a brief vacation, Jennifer returned to the London field office with a commendation for bravery and a stern admonition to work on her reaction time.
Once she'd left, Giles found himself disconsolate. He'd spent two weeks living cheek by jowl with Xander and he missed him keenly. And for the second time they'd been separated moments before something that might have been a first kiss, might have been an awkward misunderstanding, might have been wonderful. Giles knew he was pining, and that was an absurd thing for a man his age to do.
It would have to join a long list of absurdities he'd committed in his life.
With nothing better to do with his afternoon, Giles settled down to write as complete an account of the affair as he could for his personal journal. He would, he thought, try to restrain some of his more purple urges to describe the beauty of Xander's wings, but he should attempt to describe them at least once. He was well engaged in this task when someone knocked on his study door. Giles swore and put down his pen. He called for whoever it was to come in while he wiped the ink from his fingers.
The door squeaked on its hinges and Xander's voice said, "Hey. You busy?"
"Xander!" Giles stood and almost ran across the room. He reached out to grip Xander's shoulder but otherwise restrained himself. "You look, you look good."
And indeed he did. He was wearing a shirt, to Giles's dismay, a sleeveless black affair that left his back free. He was breathing as if he'd been running, and his face was bright. He was grinning with the easy joy Giles had been missing since before Egypt. Since before Caleb had injured him.
"Yeah, the Buffster took my head off my shoulders then screwed it back on right. She's great about the sudden conversion from ordinary human to supernatural crime-fighter thing, you know?"
"So you've been with her the whole time?"
"Spent the first day at Buffy's Fortress of Solitude, aka her London apartment. Then I moved back here, to the Wayne estates, where by Wayne I mean Giles. I've been a mile away living in the converted hayloft. I've got this thing for being high up now. Someplace to launch from, I guess. Plus it has that big window that opens up where they used to pitch the hay from."
"So close?" Giles felt a little miffed.
"Buffy wouldn't let me come talk to you until she'd finished making me memorize the Slayer Creed."
Giles laughed. He'd heard Buffy give that lecture before to newly-found Slayers who hadn't yet accepted their new powers and the burdens thereof. It was a wonderfully Buffy-ish speech, ranging from boys and dating to the importance of sharp knives and clothing that could be laundered at home. These days she also included a bit on the perils of dating one's prey. He doubted Xander had needed that part of the lecture. The part about life going on, however, that might have helped.
"So you've switched to press-on nails then?"
Xander made a show of looking at his fingernails. "Yeah, I'm sold. How you been? How's the research been going?"
Giles sat on the edge of his desk and stuck his hands into his trouser pockets. "Oh, it's been successful. I found several references to your amulet. Fifth century Egypt, various places from Alexandria moving steadily up the Nile to Thebes. It's been knocking about for a long time. A monk wrote quite a detailed account of one transformation. It, er, seems to last until the death of the winged being, at which time the amulet manifests itself again."
"And waits for the next victim?"
"Say rather, host. I believe it seeks a suitable vessel for the energy it houses. Carter was, I suppose, interesting to it because he was a Watcher. But you--" Giles pulled his hands from his pockets and spread them wide.
Xander was not a demon-hunter by accident of birth. He hadn't been molded and trained and told what he was from an early age. He had chosen to hunt demons of his own free will, because it was something that needed to be done. The spirit of the amulet would have found Xander irresistible, and it would have taken a stronger will and more training than Xander had for him to resist it in turn. Once the thing had sensed Xander, the outcome had been inevitable.
Giles said none of this just then, however. He would finish his translation of the account and give it to Xander to read when he was ready to read it.
"I was a natural, huh?"
"Yes. Er. You seem to be reconciled to this prospect."
"I'm okay with it now. I got my gig with the Uncanny Scoobies. Willow is Jean Grey, Buffy is obviously Emma Frost, and I'm Archangel. Zoom!" Xander spread his wings for a moment and pointed off at the ceiling theatrically.
He was absurd and beautiful and Giles's heart turned over.
"You, of course, are Professor X, but we'll call you Professor G."
"No, you won't."
"Which reminds me. Buffy said I should find somebody to teach me how to use a sword without slicing my own wings off. Since I've decided to keep them and all. She said I could borrow her personal Yoda for a while."
Xander poked at Giles's chest. Giles smiled to cover his disappointment. This wasn't the conversation he'd been hoping to have. "I can train you, yes. Contact Andrew to set up a time to reserve the sparring gym for us. He has my schedule."
Xander frowned at him. Had that been the wrong answer? Then his face cleared and he took a step closer to Giles. Giles attempted to ease away but he was trapped against his own desk. Another step, and Xander was most definitely invading his personal space. With intent. Giles looked into his eyes, the real one and the uncanny prosthetic, and swallowed. There went his stomach again, thrilling as if a million butterflies had taken flight inside him.
"We got interrupted last time we tried to talk," Xander said.
"Er. Yes. Twice."
"If we stay here, we're going to get interrupted again."
Giles considered. In the house with him now were Dawn, Andrew, and two Slayers, twins from Russia, who were allegedly teaching Andrew how to speak Russian. "I'd rate the chances of an interruption at about one hundred percent."
Xander stood on one leg. His wings beat once, ruffling Giles's hair, then stretched back. They were, he thought, an even better indicator of Xander's mood than his face, if only he could learn to read them.
"Wanna come see my perch?"
Giles tilted his head and regarded Xander solemnly. "Not sure. Do you have any engravings?"
"No, but I can offer you a private aerial tour of your own land. Offer only open to very special friends."
"Yeah. Come on outside."
The tall windows of his study were already open to the flower garden behind the house. They stepped through them and onto the lawn and the bright sunshine of a perfect English afternoon. Xander eyed him up and down. "I think I can handle you," he said.
"Oh really," Giles murmured.
"Yeah. I so can. Turn around."
Giles turned and Xander wrapped his arms around his waist. His hips were snugged tight against Giles's backside. Giles had the urge to press himself backwards into Xander. It would be too forward of him, given that Xander hadn't kissed him yet, never mind expressed any interest in going to bed straight off. But his heart beat faster at the thought of it, the feeling of that hard body over him, inside him, wings covering him. Oh, Lord, the very idea of those wings brushing over his bare skin-- He shivered.
Xander bent his knees and drew in a deep breath. He leapt, and they were in the air. Giles gripped Xander's arms too hard, he knew, in sheer panic as the ground fell away. Xander's wings beat hard and fast. Giles felt him breathing steadily and deeply against his back. Up, up, until the treetops were below his feet. Giles laughed aloud, whether in delight or terror he couldn't have said. Then they were in motion again, swooping lower across the fields, frightening his sheep, skimming along ten feet above the rippling green grass and the hedgerows. The converted hayloft was in sight almost too soon for him.
He'd forgotten to be afraid, held tight in Xander's arms.
Xander swore softly as they approached the open windows of the loft. "Controlled stall," he muttered, obviously more to himself than to Giles. "Controlled stall. Oh shit." They slowed, lurched forward, slowed again, then dropped the last five feet in an instant. Xander's feet slammed into the loft floor hard. He let go his embrace and Giles went sprawling on his face.
"Sorry! Landings, man, they're hard. I still fall on my own face half the time."
Giles rolled onto his back and grinned up at Xander. He'd skinned his elbow, but he would, he thought, be grinning for another week. "I don't care about the landings."
"No." He reached up and took Xander's face in his hands. The kiss was every bit as sweet as Giles had thought it would be.