With her Slayer senses at maximum, Buffy began to do as she’d told her Watcher she would - she began to prepare her resources. First order of business was to increase her arsenal. She collected a number of downed tree limbs from the edge of the woods and set about cutting and sharpening a nice pile of stakes and cross bolts. With her Slayer dexterity and strength, it wasn’t long before she had made a reassuring amount. She loaded some into her jacket, tucked a few near Rupert, and placed three other sets in the tall grass on third points on a circle a distance outward from where Rupert lay.
Next, Buffy checked their provisions. There was some bread and dried meat remaining, along with two apples – more than enough to get them through until daylight when she could go hunting for fresh meat and fruit. She wasn’t certain when Rupert would be able to eat again, but if she was going to be standing guard through the entire upcoming nights, she was going to need to have her energy level up. Satisfied with the food supply, and sensing no immediate threats, Buffy dashed down to the stream to refill their water skeins and grab a few more bunches of the white flowers. She didn’t take them all at once, for fear their potency might begin to wane once picked.
Back at Rupert’s side, Buffy prepared the next dose of paste and liquid medicines, using both her and Rupert’s drinking cups. Feeling as prepared as she could be given the circumstances, Buffy spent the next few minutes examining her fallen Watcher.
Buffy placed her hand on Rupert’s forehead gently, noting that he was shivering slightly, while at the same time he felt hot to the touch and was sweating heavily. She removed her black leather jacket and laid it over Rupert’s back. She had to chuckle as she did so, as it barely covered him, but at least his wound was covered, and it would provide him at least a little additional warmth. She shivered herself a moment later, her tank top not really up to shielding her from the cool night air, but she determined that her jacket was where it could do the most good, and so there it remained.
Scanning the nearby area and finding it still clear, Buffy allowed herself a moment to contemplate the injured man before her. A year ago, she would never have been in this position. She’d traveled alone, and liked it that way. She’d had no companions, and certainly had no Watcher. She hadn’t wanted one. She’d talked to Merrick a little, but the others were fools, and in the end, she’d rebuffed them all, all five of them. All five of them had died - victims of the dark things of the night.
Rupert had been different. Even now, she wasn’t quite sure what had drawn her to him. There was something about him from the moment she’d first seen him at the Henge. She’d known what he was and why he was there, and that should have been enough to make her instantly dislike him. She’d observed him for a while, quietly making preparations for the night, practicing his sword forms. Then against her better judgment, she’d decided to introduce herself to him - with her sword. Somehow he’d known she was coming. Somehow he’d sensed her attack, and met it with more skill than she’d ever seen in a swordsman. She’d been furious that they’d sent yet another Watcher to her. Yet she’d been both annoyed and charmed by him, with his “My Lady’s” and his “lessons.” In her anger, she’d put him through the worst challenge she could imagine, and nearly left him to die.
But he hadn’t died. She hadn’t let him. Three vampires who’d thought they’d found a free meal of Watcher had been surprised to find themselves on the wrong end of Buffy’s crossbow.
Buffy smiled to herself as she recalled draping Rupert’s coat over him at the Henge. Her own looked so small on him in comparison. He’d been wounded then trying to prove his worthiness to become her Watcher. He was wounded now fulfilling that role. In the intervening year, she’d come to believe that while she still may not have needed a Watcher, she did need Rupert Giles.
A faint brush against her Slayer senses alerted Buffy to the approach of a vampire. Reaching out with her senses, honing as Rupert had taught her, she determined it was alone, and fairly young. Without bothering to turn around, Buffy drew a stake and threw it unerringly straight into the vampire’s heart. A faint whoosh confirmed the resulting cloud of dust.
Senses clear once again, Buffy temporarily moved her jacket aside and set about applying more paste to Rupert’s wound. He didn’t stir as she worked, and she couldn’t rouse him to drink, so she simply stayed by his side until the rising sun had chased all the shadows away from their makeshift camp.
As the sun sank lower in the sky the next evening, Buffy began preparations for the night’s defenses. She checked her weapons caches, adding a few more bolts and stakes near Rupert. She knew that if it came to a last stand, at his side was where she planned to be. She left her crossbow beside him as well, choosing her sword and her stakes as her primary weapons.
She’d managed to catch a nice rabbit during the afternoon, and located some wild potatoes, so she’d been able to fix herself a nice hot meal and bring her energy level up. Rupert had been unable to eat still, but at least she’d been able to rouse him enough to drink the seed pod tea three times, so she was feeling good about that. She’d also reapplied the paste to his wound several times as well.
In between treatments, Rupert slept fitfully. He thrashed about, muttering and crying out when the fever peaked, and settling again as it ebbed. Buffy tried to keep him as still as possible and bathed his face, neck and wrists with water to control the fever and calm him. He didn’t seem to be getting better, but he also didn’t seem to be getting substantially worse, so Buffy counted herself ahead, recalling that Rupert had said he would be very ill for several days
Having done all she could think to do, Buffy watched the last fading rays of the sun disappear and settled in to await the challenges of the night.
It was well after moonset when they showed themselves.
Buffy’s senses picked up multiple vampires approaching from the direction opposite the stream. These vampires were darker, deeper, and older than the one youngster she’d encountered the night before. She knew she’d have to be careful.
“That’s far enough,” Buffy challenged as three vampires came out from the woods and set foot on the grassland leading up to the stream. They were tall, with the typical dramatic black clothing. One wore an ankle-length duster and seemed to be the eldest or perhaps the leader. Another wore a short black coat, and the third wore a heavy leather jacket. Buffy quickly labeled them Long Coat, Short Coat and Leather Coat in her head for convenience. Although Long Coat seemed to be the leader, the other two were obviously no mere fledges. These were three experienced, powerful vampires.
“Well, well, what have we here?” Long Coat addressed her. “Hello Little Slayer. And how are you this fine evening?”
“Be a lot finer without you,” Buffy retorted.
The vampire tsked. “Oh, so hostile toward a simple, polite greeting.”
“You may be simple, but if you were polite, you’d be somewhere else.”
“But then we couldn’t have this conversation,” The vampire returned smoothly. He pretended to notice Rupert on the ground for the first time. “What’s this then? Your Watcher? Feeling poorly, is he?”
The three vampires spread out smoothly in a semi-circle around Buffy and Rupert – a move made with the ease of long practice. Short Coat sniffed the air. “Oh, dear. That’s a nasty wound he has – took full poison did he? So sad.”
Leather Coat chimed up. “So true. Qujarka poison is nearly always fatal for a normal human such as he, even with a glancing strike.”
“He'll be just fine soon, so buzz off and I promise I'll make time to kick your asses later,” Buffy replied.
“Fine?” Long Coat returned. “Is that what he told you? He probably just didn't want you to worry your pretty little head. Or perhaps he was afraid you’d leave him to die alone? You do have a bit of a reputation for going through your Watchers, you know. Frankly, we’re all quite surprised he’s lasted this long.”
Buffy fought the rage rising within her. A year ago, she’d have launched herself at the vampire and made him eat his words. But Rupert had taught her control, how to maintain her calm in difficult situations, and she drew upon his teaching now. If she rose to the bait, she risked one of the three getting to Rupert before she could return to defend him. If she attacked in anger, she risked herself as well.
“I go through a lot of vampires, too,” Buffy returned with deadly calm steel in her voice. “Would you like a demonstration?”
The vampire chuckled at his failure to stoke her anger, and decided to try another tack. “I see you've tried the tamlin pods. Alas, if they were going to work, they would have done so already. You do realize he's suffering intensely right now – the fever, the spasms, the psychosis.”
Buffy’s steely expression wavered a moment – enough for Long Coat to notice. “I see you've noted them as well. Do him a favor, let us ease his suffering for you.”
Buffy couldn’t help herself – she laughed out loud. “Yeah – by drinking his blood? I gotta think it won't be very tasty right now.”
“On the contrary, the poison is nothing to us, but fever-fired blood – the blood of the Slayer's Watcher – ambrosia indeed. In the thrall he will feel no pain, he'll pass in peace. He's in no condition to drink from us, so you needn't worry about his precious immortal soul."
“Right,” Buffy sneered, “and how many people you tell that story to actually believe you?”
“All of the intelligent ones.”
“So, you want me to believe you, a murdering vampire, over my Watcher, who’s sworn to teach and protect me. Are you starting to see how stupid your question is?”
Annoyed, the vampire drew himself up to his full height and his tone turned deadly serious. “Then believe this. Give us your Watcher, and we'll leave you alone tonight, and you can get to a place of safety. Refuse, and we'll take you both, and I swear by the 7 Pits of Hell I'll find a way to make him drink from me.”
Buffy rose slowly to her feet, brandishing her sword. “Do your worst,” she replied. “You won't touch him as long as I'm alive, and if I can’t protect him, I guarantee he won’t be alive to feel your hands on him.” Buffy cringed inwardly at her own words, knowing she’d just threatened the vampire with what she had sworn to Rupert she would never do, despite his plea.
“With pleasure,” Long Coat replied, and gestured to his fellows to proceed.
Short Coat and Leather Coat immediately came at Buffy from opposite sides, one with a dagger and the other with a short sword. Her longsword allowed Buffy to match their reach, and Rupert’s lessons allowed her to quickly disarm them.
“Had enough?” she asked them.
Long Coat laughed heartily. “My dear child, we haven’t yet begun.”
And so it went on, for what to Buffy felt like hours. They danced around her, always at least two worrying her, while a third attempted to distract her focus by trying to get to Rupert. Unfortunately, their strategy was sound. Buffy left herself open to several painful wounds from her opponents as she tried to balance her focus between trying to kill the vampires, protect herself and protect Rupert all at the same time.
Buffy was tiring and knew she had to bring the fight to a close before they wore her out. It was going to take strategy, not just brute strength, to defeat this bunch. Fortunately, she’d had a pretty could strategy teacher over the last year. She pretended to focus only on her own defense a moment, and let Short Coat get close enough to Rupert to think he’d succeeded. As his fingers closed in the Watcher’s jacket, Shorty was surprised to feel a stake enter his back from behind. But he only felt it a split second before he was dust.
“Now that wasn’t very nice,” Long Coat growled.
Leather Coat, clearly a pal of Shorty, let out a furious roar at his friend’s demise and came at Buffy in a rage. It was all she could do to hold him off. Steel rang on steel and Buffy took a number of additional cuts in the process. She decided to fall back before his onslaught, much as Rupert had done with her during their first meeting. She tried to conserve her energy and waited for the vampire to make a mistake. To her relief, Long Coat seemed to be enjoying watching the fight, and wasn’t making a move for Rupert.
Finally, Buffy’s opening came. Leather Coat took a dramatic swing at her, leaving his front open. Buffy stepped under the strike and plunged a stake directly into his heart from below.
Unfortunately, as the dust billowed, Buffy was struck from behind - the flat of Long Coat’s sword smashing across the back of her head. Stunned, she tried to lunge away from him, but he grabbed her and wrenched her sword from her hand. Weakened from her injuries the exertion of the fight, she wasn’t able to pull away from him. He was still fresh from letting his associates handle the fight before him. Try as she might, she just couldn’t break free from his powerful grip.
“Now, then, my little bitch, have you any more threats to hurl at me?” Buffy continued to struggle, but Long Coat seemed able to counter all her moves. “No?” the vampire sneered. “Then I shall drink you enough to put you down, so you may witness as I slowly take your Watcher’s life and give him a new one as my slave. The newly sired are so willing and eager to please their masters. My first order to him shall be to finish you for me.”
Buffy didn’t give the vampire the satisfaction of replying to his taunt, but inside, she felt her heart die at his words. She’d failed utterly, and Rupert was going to pay the price for her failure – for eternity. Done in from injuries and exhaustion and anguish over her Watcher’s fate, Buffy’s head started to spin, and suddenly she found herself on her hands and knees on the ground. Confused, thinking the vampire had already drank from her, she looked over to where she knew Rupert lay, expecting to see Long Coat looming over him, ready to take his life and his soul.
Instead, she found herself looking into Rupert’s fever bright eyes and saw her crossbow in his hands.
She realized she was covered in dust. Long Coat was gone – just like his associates.
Buffy continued to stare into Rupert’s eyes, trying to comprehend the unexpected turn of events. The moment was broken when Rupert's eyes rolled up, the crossbow slipped from his fingers, and he slumped back to the ground. Buffy forced herself up and scrambled over to his side.
Buffy took a moment to be sure Rupert was breathing adequately and that his pulse was steady. The first rays of sunlight were breaking through the trees, and Buffy breathed a sigh of relief. She collapsed against her Watcher’s side and slept deeply, her arm flung over him.
Whether it was for his comfort or her own, she couldn’t say.
(On to Part 3)