Word Count: parts 1 and 2 - 10,500K
Disclaimer: The BtVS characters belong to M.E., Joss, et al. No infringement intended.
Author's Notes: This story continues the recasting of S4 that I began in "Blood Oranges," which describes the evolving relationship between Giles and Buffy and the rising threat of the Initiative. As before, a story from Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" is central to the structure. If you would like to read "Kaa's Hunting", it can be found at http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~rgs/jngl-Hunting.html and on the Gutenberg Project pages. I would like to thank Antennapedia for her rapid, accurate beta, help with the Japanese, and formating my huge document. I would be lost without her help. I would like to mention that Khaoschilde's story "Watcher's Keeper" first gave me the idea that Giles could become involved in the political relations among the non-human/demon sentient nations. Perhaps what happens in her story might have gotten its start from the events in this one. I found the scrumptious image by Khaoschilde only two days ago, but it fit so well with this story that I have borrowed it and can only hope my story does it justice. Finally, I apologize for not being able to post the entire thing on my day, but I had an unexpected invasion of family house guests which delayed the completion of the tale. I will get the rest up as quickly as possible. It would also help if I didn't let my characters run amok and force me to take detailed notes, i.e. the story completely got away from me, and grew much bigger than I initially intended.
“How very odd,” Giles muttered, re-counting his tidy hash marks in the last three columns of the meticulous chart centered among the reference books on his desk. His left hand made a casual foray around one of the stacks to locate his tea. The mug was disappointingly light, so he left it momentarily to make a notation under yesterday’s date in the X axis of his chart, shaking his head once sharply as if that might clank some recalcitrant clue into the right position to release a flash of insight about the pattern developing across his data record. Every night for the past several weeks Buffy brought him more pieces of the puzzle when she handed him the small leather notebook he had given her to keep track of what she observed on patrol.
The empty mug suggested that a fresh pot of tea might advance his cause, so he stood, shaking out the tight kinks that earnest concentration always spawned in his back and shoulders. The physical discomfort of long hours prowling among books and figures were nicely offset by the contented purr of memory and analysis working well together. And at least four times a week any lingering stiffness got completely shaken out when he sparred with his Slayer, pushing her harder than ever now that the Initiative had goaded the usual simmer of the Hellmouth into a wild boil that demanded Buffy’s complete fitness and attention.
He was delighted at how quickly she regained her former polish and then carried it forward into extraordinary refinement in every technique he offered her. There had been so few Slayers that reached her age and physical maturity that he had little in the way of precedent to guide him, but her quality as a warrior was now so evident that it moved him to make another start on his paper condemning the Cruciamentum, this time arguing on the basis of how wasteful it has been of exactly this precious commodity: the adult Slayer in all her glory. The Council would never be swayed by an emotional appeal, but they might consider a logistical one, assuming that they would ever accept such a thing coming from him. Perhaps he could persuade Robson to present it under his own name, just to get it into the hands of as many people as possible.
But first he had to sort out this bizarre local situation. While he was filling the kettle, it suddenly occurred to him that he was terribly busy. Wonderfully busy, with intractable problems to unravel and a feisty but attentive Slayer to share them with.
I just need a taller desk. He ran through a quick series of stretches for his traps, lats, delts, and pecs. I must have something in a four volume set that I don’t need very often. That would do the trick. It only needed to be an inch or so higher. While the water heated, he wandered over to peruse his fiction shelves, his eyes lighting happily on Hugo’s Les Miserables, an unabridged addition of four volumes in red calf, slightly smaller than modern paperback, quite sturdy, and exactly the right thickness, although that final volume might need a shim. Aha! that plump pamphlet on last year’s International Folklorist meeting in Cannes. Why did I keep that? he wondered, gathering up his selections. This would be easier if you unloaded the top first, idiot, he mused while heaving up first the right, then the left side of the desk and slipping a plump little volume of Hugo under each leg. Ever the bibliophile, even in unconventional applications, he sandwiched the books between stacks of index cards to protect the covers from the floor and the desk legs.
“Sorry, Victor old boy, but you’re the one who buried a ripping yarn inside 1200 pages of detailed politics,” he said, happily testing the new height of the desk. Yes, perfect, he thought, just as the kettle whistled and his front door exploded inward with bang. He shot up into a perfect roundhouse turn, landing in full fighting stance, his shout eerily underscored by the shrill whistling steam.
“Giles! Help! I can’t hold him –,“ and the struggling tangle of limbs in his doorway resolved into his petite Slayer and an extraordinarily tall, gaunt figure collapsed over her shoulders. Her efforts to guide him were further hampered by a long wrapped bundle she had tucked under one arm. Giles bounded forward to catch the thin figure just as he failed to make the final step over the threshold and came crashing forward, his sheer height thwarting Buffy’s attempts to maintain enough leverage to keep him upright. He fell into Giles’s chest with a shriek of profound pain.
“Asukete kudasai, tasukete!” he rasped, then mercifully passed out. Giles realized that the figure’s right shoulder and arm had been terribly broken. Buffy sprang past them and laid the long bundle carefully across the top of Giles’ desk, then together, she and Giles gingerly lifted the wounded person in a lopsided chair carry, bearing him over to the couch. As soon as he was settled, Buffy darted over and closed the door as quietly as she could. Giles heard the deadbolt thunk home followed quickly by the whish of all the blinds dropping over his windows.
“The Initiative?” he asked, although he already suspected the answer.
“Of course,” she said, her breathing rapidly returning to normal although sweat continued to bead on her forehead. Buffy vibrated with rage and in her fiery eyes he saw something else, pity? horror? awe? – then decided all of the above, and ran a thorough eye over her to check for injuries. Other than her emotional turmoil, she had only a minor assortment of bruises and scrapes. This did not square, however, with the ravaged state of her usually impeccable clothing: one sleeve torn nearly off at the elbow, both knees out of her jeans, a long scuff mark down the back of one thigh. Pine needles in her ponytail. First things first, he thought, give her something to do so she’ll start to calm down.
“Upstairs in the airing cupboard there is a sleeping bag and pad, and several blankets. I don’t think our guest will fit on the couch and he needs to lie down.” She nodded and took the stairs four at a time, banking off the wall to make the turn at the landing. A Slayer whose quarry had escaped, the battle joined but not finished – she wasn’t going to be very coherent for several minutes, particularly since there seemed to be more than just deflected fighting fury complicating the situation.
Giles nipped into the kitchen to pacify the nearly dry kettle, then continued down the hall to the bathroom for the first aid kit. There was something hauntingly familiar about that long form in his living room, and as he grabbed towels, ace bandages, and painkillers, the professional part of his brain whipped systematically through his mnemonic inventory of demon and non-human species until he lit upon the answer and pulled up sharply in astonishment.
“But they’re extinct! At least in this dimension.”
“Who are?” Buffy asked around her armload of bedding, keeping her voice low in deference to the figure in the lounge.
“The Tengu,” Giles replied, stepping past her to set his armload on the kitchen pass-through. “Let’s see to those wounds first, then I need you to tell me what happened. Lord, I hope he stays out for the duration, I don’t fancy having to set those bones when he’s delirious, terrified, and, um, quite lethal.”
“Did I screw up bringing him here?” Buffy asked, genuine worry in her voice.
“No, you certainly didn’t. Besides, what do your Slayer senses tell you about him?”
“Kinda mixed messages. It’s like he’s more than one thing, and totally dangerous, but not to us.” She shrugged. “But that’s not why I brought him.”
“It was what they did. And then what he did, which was totally amazing. And they are so lucky they aren’t just meat out there, the assholes. Actually two of them are meat, and I hope they never find all the little pieces. Not like they’d think to look that high in the trees anyway, fucking idiots.” She caught herself, gave him an apologetic look and took a couple of deep breaths.
“I couldn’t not bring him, y’know? And when they took – “ she stopped abruptly and swallowed and he knew he’d have to wait until she had the whole story assembled in her head – “well, I think you two really need each other.” She met his eyes, hers haunted and his startled. “Don’t ask me how I know that, but I do.” And that was all she would say about it. Giles squeezed her shoulder reassuringly, cranked his patience with her scattered narratives up another notch, and they set about their task. Fortunately coping with the emergency did appear to be easing Buffy’s agitation, and he could see her making a conscious effort to keep her movements restrained and gentle in spite of the tension still twitching through her body.
They laid out a long pallet on the rug beside the hearth, leaving plenty of room for Giles to kneel on both sides of his patient while keeping the bed fairly close to the fireplace. It was late November and the dry California night was distinctly cool, the sort of nip that made Giles pull a jumper on over his henley but otherwise he ignored it. Their guest, however, had begun to shiver in earnest, and Giles worried about shock, particularly as he had no idea how severe the person’s injuries were, or even what his native climate might be. Before they moved him from the sofa, Giles laid and lit a fire and went over to the thermostat to bring up the ambient temperature a bit.
When Buffy and Giles gently scooped the lean figure off the couch, they saw that his joints did not seem to bend in the directions they expected, although somehow this made him more graceful rather than grotesque. He was also far lighter than either of them expected for his length, which Giles estimated to be over six and a half feet when he was upright. Buffy clearly remembered her lessons in first aid as she carefully elevated the man’s legs with a pillow from the couch, then removed his soft leather boots. Giles glanced up to see her puzzling over the Tengu’s narrow feet, with three long toes and a fourth, backward-pointing toe, significantly recessed toward the arch. There was also a gleaming black spur laying against the smoothly scaled skin right above the ankle. When she looked up, Giles pointed out to Buffy the three long fingers and recessed thumb, each tipped with a gleaming black talon, two of which had had their points badly broken.
Giles took a moment to study the being’s long cloak of dark green wool, noting the exquisite embroidered patterns around the collar and down the front hem, and also around the wide hems at the wrist and bottom. There were mountains, rivers, trees, birds, deer, fish, foxes, and elegant pictographs all worked in a silk thread that exactly matched the wool. The patterns would show as a play of light when he moved. Very gently, Giles undid the fastenings and slipped the garment away from the narrow shoulders, long neck, and prominent breastbone. He drew the sleeves down the arms, taking particular care on the right side where the main injuries seemed to be. Giles indicated that Buffy should lift their patient so he could guide the cloak carefully down the torso and slip it out from under the legs. His fingertips tingled with the magic woven into it, and he stood to hang it carefully on the rack by the door.
When he came back, he found Buffy staring at the light body armor and closely fitted helm made of small leather rectangles sewn together with subtly colored silk braids of astonishing intricacy. Tentatively, she reached out to touch one of the panels on his shoulder, then snatched her hand back, startled.
“What is that?” she whispered. Giles swept his hand down over the armor without touching it, wanting his initial impression to be uncluttered by textures.
“Ah. No wonder it sets off your spidey sense,” he smiled at her. “That, my Slayer, is dragon skin. The real stuff, probably the hide of a Weatherlord, if I’m right, and this gentleman is a Tengu.” He was grinning now. “You don’t get much more magical than that. I doubt many in this world have seen such a thing for millennia.”
“Wow. Did he kill the dragon, then?”
“Oh, no. The skin would have been a gift from the dragon to the Tengu, an exchange of favors, perhaps, or the outcome of a wager, as both species are notoriously fond of gambling. Dragons do shed occasionally, and the discarded hide has all the protective power it had before, just without the dragon muscle and mind inside it.”
“I thought dragons were kinda dense.”
“Well, there are dragons proper, which are animals, and then there are several species that we call dragons who are not at all related to the poor beasts skewered by St. George and hounded to extinction across Europe. But the Weatherlords, though they look dragon-like, are elemental powers that govern the behavior of the atmosphere, though few remember that now. There are Waterlords, too, but their hides are nothing like this, and probably wouldn’t survive in air.”
Buffy cocked her head at him, one eyebrow raised.
“What?” he asked.
“Your brain, that’s what. D’you ever get lost in there? And I’m wondering about the b.s. factor – how’d I ever know if you’re making something up?
“Ah. The appearance of critical thinking early in the freshman year.”
“Just that you never questioned me on this sort of thing before. This is a first and I’m savoring it.” He smiled at her.
“Buffy, I will never, ever mislead you in things that matter to Slaying, your safety, and our mission here. I do, however, henceforth reserve the right to tease you mercilessly when it suits me and does no harm. So consider yourself on notice.”
“What, like you never teased me before?” she said. Then paused, considering. “Well no, actually, now that I think about it, you never have. About anything. Hmm.” She mulled on this for a moment. “Notice taken, then. And maybe, um, I should be honored that you think I’m worthy of being teased?”
Giles beamed at her.
“Just so. I would not bother with an unarmed opponent.”
“Uh-oh.” But she smiled back.
“Yes. Now, in all seriousness, I don’t think you should handle this armor very much. I suspect it will make you rather jumpy. Hmm,” he leaned over to peer on either side of the beautifully worked vest, “Good. Traditional fastenings.” He started with the helm, untying the neat row of knotted braids that fastened it to the vest at the top of the shoulders, and then those that held it over the back of his head and neck. Giles carefully lifted the helm away and they got a look at their guest’s face for the first time. Buffy made a small astonished noise, then
“He’s so beautiful.”
“Yes, he is,” Giles agreed quietly. The Tengu’s face was long and delicate in a way that gave it dignity, but also a marked and ancient sorrow, the sort that came from knowledge as much as from loss. His prominent cheekbones and brows were sharply arched and backswept, as though this face had been honed by centuries gazing directly into powerful winds. He had a long widow’s peak of sleek, iridescent black hair, and a splendid moustache under a nose that would have been comically disproportionate on any other face than this. For all that it was thin, the face was in no way fragile, but rather spare and precise, alert even in this forced quiescence. The look of eagles, Giles thought. I have never known what that could mean until now.
Buffy carefully shifted her hold to allow Giles to untie the knots along both sides of the Tengu’s torso. Giles lifted the armor over the elegant head, trying not to pull it in the places where the under tunic had torn and tangled with the panels. He handled the armor and helm with even more reverence than the cloak, carrying them over to his table and laying them down on a clean towel. When he returned to the pallet, Giles studied the tunic, passing his hands over it as he had the armor and grunted.
“Good, just silk. I hope it doesn’t have some sentimental value, because I’m going to have to cut it off of that arm and shoulder. I’ll need your help again with the lifting.” Giles tried his best to follow the seams of the dark, lovely garment, and with a few deft cuts, he removed the shirt and they could finally see both the damage and the peculiar shape of their guest’s torso.
“Does he remind you of anything?” Giles asked. Buffy studied the still form, noting the rapid breathing, pale gray skin with a regular but subtle pattern of small bumps. His sternum rose like the keel of an upturned boat, the well-muscled ribs arching down away from it to form a huge chest cavity crowned by wide, prominent collarbones. His shoulders seemed humanlike, but the structure of his arms was entirely alien. His elbows were very high, his wrists were where she expected elbows to be, and what she had initially taken for forearms were actually extensions of his palm and finger bones for all that they were encased in skin and muscle like her own radius and ulna. Tentatively, she ran a finger down the wide line of fine black hair that ran along the underside of the arm.
“Oh my god, feathers? Is he a bird?” she asked. Gently, she touched the black sleekness on his head.
“Got it in one,” Giles answered. “Tengu are ptinoids, avian-people, perhaps the most ancient species of that kind. And he’s a shapeshifter. That, plus his dragon skin armor, were probably why your Slayer senses couldn’t get a fix on him. You have rescued one of the Raven Warriors, Buffy.”
“So he’s one of the good guys?”
“I don’t know if our designations are very appropriate in his case, but I can say that he definitely isn’t evil. There is so little truly known of the Tengu, and so much that is tangled legend we cannot confirm or deny. We do know they once lived near the Ainu tribes on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. I suspect they also lived among the Tlingit and Haida in British Colombia, because they, too, have such a rich raven mythology and the landscape is quite similar to that of Hokkaido. A few might have even visited the Scandinavian countries. Now that I think about it, the tales of Odin’s companions Hunin and Munin, the ravens reputed to live in Yggdrasil, the World Tree – they could have been Tengu, too.”
Buffy nudged him and he looked back at her.
“Help wounded guy now, lecture later?”
“Sorry. Yes,” he blushed a bit, “it’s just that I’ve never had a mythological figure in my lounge before. Other than you, of course,” he added very softly, but she caught it.
“He’s bleeding on your sleeping bag,” she said, deflecting the subject quickly away from that last remark, an evasion he noted. She had never been comfortable with the Slayer’s stature in the mythic order, he realized; she would only ever be herself, Buffy, and that was enough for her. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. I can’t imagine it would be very comfortable to get up every morning thinking ‘I am a great hero’ on your way to the loo.
“Right, then, we know about the damage to his shoulder and arm; before we work on that, though, I want to do a quick look at his back to be certain we can do a conventional wrap and brace without irritating other wounds. Let’s sit him upright-- ” Giles was all business from that point, running his hands carefully over the Tengu, following the layers of muscle along the exquisite bird bones, noting the areas of darkening bruises on the right thigh just below his loin wrap. His legs were otherwise unharmed; the most significant damage was that arm. Before he examined the broken limb, Giles spent time acquainting himself with the uninjured left arm to be certain he understood how the bones were supposed to align and working out how best to make a sling that would support the wounded areas without unduly straining the strange joints.
“Thank heavens there are no compound fractures,” he said as he set out his supplies. “I am not at all prepared to deal with that kind of soft tissue damage. Now, if you will kneel there by his shoulder, we can start at the top and work our way down – gentle traction from you, I’ll do the adjustments, and we’ll both pray that he stays out for the duration.”
So Buffy lent her strength as stability and Giles systematically pulled and shifted things back into position. In one place the damage was not a break but a dislocation, and made a sickening wet crunch as it snapped back into position. Buffy swallowed hard but Giles’ hands worked on, deftly supporting and wrapping, smoothing the silken skin and meticulously arranging the lines of lovely feathers so they would lie correctly under the layers of bandage. He finished by securing the arm in a softly bent position against the side of the torso, holding it in place with a series of long wraps around the ribs. That settled, he moved down and gently stroked arnica cream over the huge vermillion bruises blooming under the pale skin of their patient’s long legs and muscular back. Finally, he rocked back on his heels, satisfied that he had done all he could for now. His timing was excellent, as their patient had stirred once or twice, and his color was improving, suggesting they had arrested shock and he might regain consciousness soon.
“How’d y’know to position it that way?” Buffy asked.
“His arm evolved from a wing, and I helped my mother mend a small flock of wounded songbirds over the years. She had the most amazing hands and the neighbors were always bringing her robins and larks that had flown into windows or been caught in storms and the like. Birds bones heal very quickly because they’re hollow. That’s why he’s so light. The arm is warm all the way down, too, so I don’t think circulation is compromised anywhere, but he certainly took a beating. The soft tissue damage is what worries me.” He glanced up and could tell she wasn’t ready to talk about it yet.
“I’ll go make tea. It would help if we could get something warm into him. I’m rather afraid to try any painkillers because his metabolism is so different from ours.”
“Just give me a sec to run to the bathroom, then I’ll sit with him.” She flickered away, still vibrating lightly from the emergency. Giles heard her grab her duffle from the airing cupboard in the hall, and the sound of running water. Several minutes later she was back, cleaner and calmer, dressed in sweats and a UC Sunnydale t-shirt which said Scooby Team Captain on the back, Xander’s back-to-school present to her.
On her way to the hearth, Buffy slipped by Giles’s desk and picked up the long bundle, bringing it over and laying it down beside the Tengu so that his left hand would find it easily.
“His sword and stuff,” she said. “I think it’d be very bad if he woke up and it wasn’t there.”
“Good thinking,” Giles said, peering with interest at what he could see of the scabbard and what appeared to be the tip of an elegant bow. Even at a distance the sword spoke to him, a faint hiss of static at the edge of his thoughts. He leaned away from it and the noise stopped; the blade meant only to warn him against taking liberties. Which I would probably have done. Archeologists should have a dead cat on their Society’s seal. The whole was wrapped in a woolen cloak like the one their guest had been wearing, but indigo and seriously damaged.
“Is this all he had with him, then?” he asked. Buffy looked suddenly shaken again.
“No. But it was all I could get away with at the time,” she paused, her voice getting softer though the anger running through it intensified, “They took the rest, and this cloak was from the smaller one, the one they captured. When they took him down, this one went just completely berserk.”
“There are two here?” Giles’s voice cracked in surprise.
“I don’t know,” she said sadly, “I think maybe there’s only one now. The smaller one got hit by like six tasers at once and he was still fighting. Finally they netted him, but there was gunfire, too.” She looked up at him, her eyes desolate. “It was like a feeding frenzy, Giles, they were so violent. But the Tengu hadn’t done a thing, drawn a weapon or even spoken when the commandos just nailed ‘em. I had just discovered the two of ‘em sitting and talking by a little fire. They were making tea, I could smell it.”
“Where were you?”
“The eastern side of Breaker’s Woods, a little way in. I was in the trees because I could hear a commando patrol.”
“’In the trees’ as in climbing?”
“Yeah. Like in the Mowgli story. It seemed like such a good way to watch without them knowing I was there. I’ve been practicing, too, so I can sort of travel that way, but it’s noisier than I’d like. Mostly I just sit. But tonight it was the strangest thing. As soon as I was up in the tree, I sensed the Tengu. I didn’t feel them before, when I was on the ground, didn’t smell their fire or anything. But they were really close, almost right under me.
“I was going to go have a look after the patrol passed, but their techie demon-detector things must’ve gone off because the commandos suddenly turned and came barreling over. Surrounded the Tengu and jumped ‘em. It was brutal and so fast I didn’t have time to help.
“But god, can these guys fight. Giles, I’ve never seen anyone use a sword like that. The Initiative would never have gotten away with the small one if they hadn’t called in help. Two more guys on a big ATV came bashing in and ran over our guest here. Then they loaded their wounded and the one they’d caught and took off. They even left the bodies. ‘Course there were so many pieces, it would have taken too long. This Tengu took out at least six commandos, two of ‘em permanently.
“He would’ve gone after ‘em, but he was all broken, and I knew they’d just disappear him like they do everyone else they’ve taken. And by then I’d really felt him, and knew he was so not a demon. Something else, something way more important. So I caught him, tried to talk to him, and he kept calling – ‘Bat sue non’ – I can’t say it right.”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“Oh dear lord, they took his son. No wonder he wanted to kill them all.”
“His voice, it was horrible. Like they had taken his heart and left him behind.”
“That would be pretty accurate,” Giles said sadly, looking again at the lank figure laying by the fire. “How did you convince him to come with you, though? In that state, he could have killed you, too, you know.”
“He saw me hit the driver of the ATV who was trying to squash him. I dropped out of the tree right onto the guy and threw him enough to turn the thing to one side so it clipped the Tengu instead of plowing right over him. Then I just scooped him up and ran while the commandos were busy. He passed out and I doubled back to get their stuff, then brought him here.”
“You did well,” Giles said, laying his hand on her wrist for a moment while he regarded their patient. “Do you think they saw you? That could be a problem.”
“Dunno. What with snatching up the wounded and the smaller one, they were pretty busy. The guy driving the ATV didn’t know what hit ‘im because I clocked him hard, and the one riding shotgun was already out of the vehicle and running toward the mess when I landed. The most they got was something small and fast, I think. ‘Course it’s hard to know with those night goggles how well they can see, but I do know their peripheral vision isn’t worth shit while they’re wearin’ ‘em. What good is seeing in the dark if all you get is tunnel vision? Seems like a bad trade off to me.”
“That’s because you can see like a cat. The rest of us would be grateful for even a limited boost when we’re in the dark with all the other things that see better than we do and consider us delicious.”
The Tengu stirred again, straining lightly against the wrapping that held his right arm firmly against his body. The shivering had subsided, but not enough to satisfy Giles.
“I’m going to see about some tea. I think he might wake enough to swallow safely.”
“Okay,” Buffy said, settling herself on the warrior’s left side, where she could exercise some control over his sound arm should he wake and panic with his sword at hand. Giles left her leaning over the Tengu, gently examining the long, powerful fingers with her own small ones.