HOUSE GUEST


by Jane Leavell

Giles was dreaming of Jenny Calendar when the lips touched his forehead. Smiling, he looked up from the musty second edition of Haversham's Hell Hounds and Demonic Hordes given to him by his grandmother for his twelfth birthday. Jenny's dark hair and dancing brown eyes lifted his heart, as always.

"Hey, Librarian," she whispered, trailing one finger down his chest. "Not so staid now, are you?"

"Hmm?"

She stood on tiptoe, delicately ran her tongue along his earlobe. "You heard me. You're enjoying this already, aren't you?"

"Well, I...yes, I do believe...." He broke off, shocked, as her fingers closed on his groin. "Jenny?"

//This isn't possible. Jenny Calendar's dead.//

He caught her shoulders to push her back, and the grip on his scrotum tightened, undeniably real, even if Jenny was not.

Her voice deepened, grew a non-feminine rasp. "We are going to enjoy this, Rupert, old sport."

The tongue lapped hungrily at his throat. Vampire? Here? How? Giles threw back his head, struggling to pull away, but something heavy pinned him to the bed. Desperately squinting, he could make out nothing in the darkness, not even the familiar shapes of his bedroom furniture. The hand on his balls squeezed once, twice. He gasped. A feminine giggle trilled in his ear, but it wasn't Jenny's.

Two very fine, pointed icicles pricked his throat, then sank deep, bringing with them first a sharp, stinging pain that made him cry out, then a numbing cold that spread rapidly. His brain was freezing to a stop. He clawed at his attacker, calling forth more laughter--strangely, it seemed to be in stereo--but then his fingers were too cold to move, and Giles, despairing, sank beneath the suffocating snow, and was still.

/////////////////////

Anya bounced happily on her heels, surveying her domain and finding it good. The windows to the Magic Box had been carefully wiped clean, so that the crystal ball caught and reflected the morning sunlight off the herbal specials and voudun accouterments being featured this month. Sage incense was wafting through the store, held by cunning little mushroom-shaped burners, which were also for sale. In the background, not too loud and not too soft, played an aboriginal CD, steady and deep and repetitious; it was unfortunate that Giles wouldn't let her have a subliminal message about buying programmed in. He could be so stubborn sometimes.

Absentmindedly, she popped open the drawer of the cash register and rested her hands on the crisp new bills fresh from the bank, intended to provide change for the day's sale. She found reassurance in their bulk. Since Giles smashed her talisman and transformed her from a demon into a human, nothing in her life had made sense until this job once again transformed her. Humans led short, confusing lives full of devious purposes and words with double meanings and smiles that were actually threats...but business made sense. It was a giant game, played with cut-throat bloodlust that she completely understood, and these flimsy bits of paper were the visible signs that you were winning.

Anya loved winning.

These moments before the store opened were her favorite, charged with the tension and anticipation of a race about to be run. Would she convince every customer to turn over some money, however little? Would she service more customers than Giles, and thus prove herself the better salesperson?

Of course, she had a slight advantage in that he often didn't arrive at the magic shop until an hour or two after the start of business hours. Either he was out late slaying vampires on patrol with his Slayer, or he was out late on a date with his stewardess girlfriend, and then he was willing to trade customers for another hour of sleep. Anya disapproved of this poor work ethic in an employer--one shouldn't let saving the world interfere with good business practice--but it did help put her ahead in the customer count.

Oddly, despite the extra time she spent at the Magic Box, Giles sometimes still out-sold her. Although she was careful not to waste time on the customers, servicing them quickly and efficiently, while he lingered to smile and waste time chatting about inanities, she had noticed that Giles sometimes made the bigger, trickier sales and his customers were often repeat buyers, seeking him out specifically for their next visit. Anya's customers didn't seem to come back. It was quite puzzling. Didn't customers understand the value of brief but candid business tactics? Maybe he was using some sort of spell. He was extremely knowledgeable in the occult fields, for a human.

The front door flew open and she slammed the drawer shut. "Good morning, custom--oh. It's you."

Xander flashed her a pearly smile, one that made her knees feel weak. "That's not a very enthusiastic greeting. A guy's ego could be crushed."

Anya hastened to hug him tightly, in case he meant it. English could be so misleading. "I thought you were a customer."

"Well, if you ask nicely, I could be."

"Really?" Maybe he would buy one of the four-hundred-dollar troll vests Giles had foolishly bought. No one wanted them, despite the free Norse fleas and Swedish lice that came with them.

"Really." Xander slipped an incense stick from its dragon-shaped holder. "Passion scent. For tonight. For us."

"Oh." For a moment she was downcast, but then she decided that Xander wouldn't have any use for a troll vest, anyway. He'd look good in fur, but it would remind her too much of the troll she dated when she was the demon of scorned women. "Okay. It's a start, I guess."

"There's the spirit." Fishing thirty-five cents from his jeans pocket, Xander glanced around the shop. "So, where's the head honcho?"

Anya listened to the chime of a sale ringing up, and shivered. "Must've had a late night with that stewardess."

"Olivia? I doubt it, honey. She dumped him after the Gentlemen proved they were no gentlemen. Got a glimpse of a Watcher's average workday, and freaked."

"She did?"

He chucked her under the chin. "Maybe you should put a hex on her, sort of a man scorned deal, like your old gig but reversed."

Anya frowned. "But I like being an entrepreneur."

Xander kissed her cheek. "Never mind. So he'll be in later, right?"

"I don't know." If he wasn't exhausted by his lust mate, where could Giles be? Not on a buying trip--after the fur vest fiasco, he promised she could go with him next time. "On a trip with his Watcher buddies?" she ventured.

Xander's lips brushed hers. "Sounds like an ex-librarian's idea of fun." He nibbled gently on her lower lip, and she trembled in his arms. Xander could wreak magick on her that no mere demon could ever match. "I can see the Gilester now with his bookworm buddies, having a wild time just hanging...."

/////////////////////

Hanging by his wrists, Giles wasn't sure when unconsciousness gave way to reality. Both were nightmarish.

The first thing he was sure of was cold. His bare feet were planted on a cold stone floor. Goosebumps rippled up his nude body. The metal manacles binding his wrists together over his head felt as if they'd been refrigerated before being locked in place. In fact, the only part of him that wasn't chilly was the left side of his throat; it tingled painfully, as if it had been numbed but was coming back to life.

//I've been bitten,// he realized with dismay. //Why am I not dead?//

Not that he was complaining, mind. But if a vampire attacked him, it could drain him to an empty husk within instants, although some preferred to make the death a long, lingering night's work. To take just enough to cause unconsciousness called for self-restraint, and suggested some purpose other than merely stockpiling in case of an attack of late-night munchies. Fresh blood made for tastier snacks and kept better.

As a former Watcher, he was thoroughly trained in arcane matters, and his knowledge had endangered him before. But Watchers were taught to resist, to protect their dangerous wisdom at all costs. He could face torture, if he must, despite his fear.

Worse...what if he were being used to harm Buffy? She was fiercely loyal to her friends. If she knew he was imprisoned, she would do anything to free him, even if it cost her soul, and there was nothing he could do to prevent it. Not hanging here in the darkness like a slab of fresh meat.

Giles tugged desperately at the manacles, his fingers scrabbling upward against the chain dangling them from the ceiling. Even when blood coated his wrists, making them slippery, and he squirmed them from side to side, the manacles remained uncomfortably tight.

Sucking in a deep shuddering breath, he forced himself to stop. It was no use. Not even dislocating his thumbs would be enough to slide his hands from the constricting metal grasp. To fight any longer would merely lead to hysteria.

Was there some other escape? The utter blackness around him was disorienting. He had no idea where he was. How big was this room? Where was the entrance? To one side? Overhead?

Christ, he wasn't even sure if he were alone here. Was someone--some thing--standing in the darkness, watching him?

When he held his breath, he didn't hear anyone else breathing. //But then, you wouldn't, would you? If it's a vampire, he doesn't need to breathe.//

His heartbeat thundered in his ears, the only sound in this tomb-like cell.

//Stay calm. Think.//

It was difficult to focus. The nudity made him feel exposed, incredibly vulnerable, which of course was the reason for it. But it was more than embarrassment, more than the feeling of utter helplessness. //Anemia, from blood loss. Dehydration.// Which brought him full circle. Why had a vampire attacked him, then let him live?

//If it comes to that, how the hell did it get into my bedroom?//

In the past four years, he'd battled many vampires, none of whom had any reason to wish him well, but from the ancient Kakistos to the devious modern Mr. Trick to the lowliest newborn Undead, they were all flakes of dust, returned to the earth where they'd so briefly rested. Even had some master vampire held a grudge against him, any attack would of necessity have taken place in a public area, perhaps even in the Magic Box. The shop's last three owners had met unpleasant ends tied to the occult, after all, making it something of a tradition. That would have made sense. This didn't. No vampire could enter his home, let alone his bedroom, without an invitation.

//Angel.//

Strange. He would have sworn it to be impossible, yet Giles found he could become colder yet. Having one's blood turn to ice in sheer terror was even more effective than nudity.

If Angel had found a moment of true happiness in his new life in Los Angeles, the Kalderash curse would release the demon Angelus. Obsessed as they both were with Buffy, Angelus's first move would be to attack the Slayer through her friends, which would of course include him. It would make sense to start with him, in fact, since he was more experienced and a greater threat than, say, Xander.

As Angel, the Irishman was Buffy's love, and Giles had learned to tolerate him with surface calm, despite the fact that Angelus had gleefully spent an entire day torturing him. Even after that, Buffy insisted on partnering with Angel, which meant Giles had to welcome him into his home. If Angelus was freed again, that would no doubt prove to have been a painfully fatal mistake.

The aridity in his mouth and throat was no longer entirely due to dehydration.

//You survived it once,// he reminded himself. //At least without disgracing yourself by screaming your head off.// A grim smile stretched his dry lips, cracking the skin. //Maybe I can saw through an artery with the edge of the manacle...?// Suicide did seem a bit premature, but if this was the work of Angelus--and it bore the mark of his malicious sense of humor--it was worth considering for the future. There were things worse than death.

//Whoever it is doesn't plan to convert me to vampirism. That could've been done at home, in bed. No reason to haul me off and hang me up like a side of beef. Unless there's to be a bit of playtime before the dramatic finale.// That didn't bear thinking about. //If I do become a vampire, I'll be as obsessed with Buffy as Angelus is, and I'll have the Watcher knowledge and training at my beck and call.//

His fingers bent, trying to find the edge of the manacles. How sharp was the metal? Could he indeed rub the skin away deep enough to pierce an artery?

A slight breeze against his right side made him stiffen. There was no sound, nor any leavening of the blackness around him; perhaps his captor had been standing there all along, watching him. Something whispered around his face, drew snug. Giles tossed his head, but whatever it was didn't move. At least it stopped before his nose, so breathing wasn't a problem. Ah. A blindfold. In this darkness? Whatever for? It felt like velvet. //So nice to be kidnapped by a vampire of taste,// he thought giddily.

Was there light beyond the velvet, or was that wishful thinking? Unable to tell, he rubbed his face against his upraised arm, trying to force it up. There was indeed light beyond the edge, very dim but quite real.

The blindfold was jerked into place again.

Giles swung his head to the other arm and tried again, but this time when his unseen captor made to repair the damage, he pushed against the floor with his bare feet, flinging his head back with all the savagery he could muster. Although it elicited a satisfying grunt, the movement felt off. His abductor hadn't been standing directly behind him, and got only a glancing blow, dammit.

Quickly, he slid his face against his left arm, dragging at the velvet. Something creaked off-key, and he was jerked upward. It felt much as it had that day in the mansion, when Angelus dislocated his shoulder with a simple jerk of the wrist, made worse by the fact that his arms were bearing all his weight.

//Christ!//

Something flicked against the bottom of his right foot, and his toes curled reflexively. The delicate floating touch moved to his left foot, and he kicked out violently. That made his arms scream, and he bit back a matching cry.

Another faint, teasing touch, this one up the back of his left leg. Again he kicked out, but that sent his entire body swinging, driving his wrists against the manacles.

This time the touch brushed against the top of his right foot. He ignored it. Fingers lightly walked up the side of the leg, and he tried a sideways kick with less force, but it still strained his arms and back almost unbearably, to no effect.

//Don't react,// he told himself. //Get yourself back on the ground, then kick its bloody head in.//

Easier said than done. Each feather-light touch lasted longer, until one even lingered on the inside of his bare thigh. Giles flinched, but fought the urge to strike back, concentrating instead on the blindfold. It wasn't possible to pull himself up and jerk off the velvet strip, but he could peer down the side of his nose. There was light there, but not enough; his tormentor was just a shadow that flicked across his restricted field of vision too quickly to be clearly seen.

Despite the chill, sweat rolled into his eyes, stinging like acid.

Not knowing where the next touch would fall was maddening. It made his skin feel hypersensitive, so that he jerked in startlement each time something brushed against him.

One cold finger traced a circle on his thigh. Giles shuddered, beyond caring, praying for the pain in his wrists and shoulders to ease. The skin drawing was followed by a pinch, ending with sharp fingernails jabbing into the flesh. He curled his toes and fingers tight, holding back an outraged cry.

//Hold on. Hold on.//

For what seemed like an eternity, the harassment stopped, long enough for him to realize in horror that he might be left dangling like this until his hands went black with gangrene.

Another jerk on his arms nearly made him pass out, but the chain had been extended, and his searching toes felt glorious cold stone. Giles staggered, caught his balance, and forced the muscles in his back and shoulders to relax. //Yes.//

Where was his captor? He twisted his head, straining to hear some betraying sound. Nothing.

"Who--" Embarrassingly enough, his voice cracked. He licked dry lips and tried again. "Who are you? What is it you want?"

There was no response. Had it left? He tilted his head back an inch, trying to unobtrusively scan the room. A hand caught the back of his head and gently pushed it forward again. //It knows what I'm doing. It's staying out of my line of vision, such as it is.//

Goosebumps rolled across his body, anticipating another touch. When nothing happened, he felt almost impatient. //Just get on with it, damnit!// Waiting and wondering where it would fall was nerve-wracking.

This time the light stroke ran down the middle of his back like cold rain. He stiffened but endured it, hoping the vampire would underestimate him. Most people did. It didn't do much for the ego, but it did give one openings to exploit.

Fingers danced lightly on his bare right shoulder. Giles shifted his weight to his left leg and did a short spin kick with the right, connecting solidly with bone. The only problem was that a powerful blow like that felt a great deal worse without shoes on. His own startled croak was drowned by the howl from his kidnapper. Flinging his head back for a narrow view beneath the blindfold, he fumbled along the floor with his aching foot, searching for the body. Another kick, then he could drag the body closer and with any luck find keys to these blasted manacles....

He gasped as the chain squealed into life and yanked him off his feet.

/////////////////////

Absorbed in today's chapter of her psychology textbook--she really was getting into it, aside from a brief tendency to self-diagnose herself as a schizophrenic manic-depressive lesbian with neurotic tendencies, only part of which was true--Willow absently rubbed at one shoulder.

"Something sore?" Tara asked, dropping her books on the coffeetable and sliding her purse from her shoulder.

"Oh, all of a sudden I got these muscle cramps." Willow made a face and tried to be cheerful about it. "Probably from carrying all those textbooks, huh? One thing about college, I miss the lockers."

Tara plucked the kitten from a Goddess pillow in the corner of the sofa and set her on Willow's lap. "Maybe we can help." She dug her thumbs into the backs of Willow's shoulders and started a slow, strong massage.

Willow signed, leaning back against her lover while stroking the kitten. It purred, and she wanted to join in. "Mmmm. That feels so good."

"Better?"

"Better than better. Heavenly." She let her eyes drift closed, emitting a small ladylike moan of pleasure. "How about you? How was your day?"

"Okay, but I missed you. I wish we had more classes together."

"Me, too. We'll do better next quarter." Willow rolled her head with Tara's movements. "Any luck borrowing Giles's copy of Grendel's Grimoire?"

"Not really. He wasn't at the store today. Anya said he's at some sort of Watcher's convention."

Willow's eyes popped open. "Huh? That's impossible. He's not a Watcher anymore. After the Quentin Travers thing--"

Tara shrugged, but those magic fingers slowed. "Well, you know how Anya gets things confused sometimes. I figured maybe he was hanging out with some friends. Ex-Watchers or librarians or something."

"No, that's not right. We were there just yesterday, remember? And Xander was ragging him about singing at that coffeehouse?"

Tara laughed. "Giles said he was auditioning for Chippendale's tonight. In the fuddy-duddiest librarian voice I ever heard."

"Well, if he was going to hang with buds, he'd have bragged about it. It's like a big deal when he gets to be with other grown-ups. I mean, not that we're not pretty much grown up now, but, you know, with people his own age. Like that time he didn't get invited to the Watcher camping trip, even though he had the only active Slayer. I mean, I know I'm not making sense, but I am, really."

"No, I--I understand. Honest."

Willow closed her psych book and reached for the phone. They had Giles on the speed-dial, because when you're a practicing witch and a member-in-good-standing of the world's only Scooby Gang, you never know when you might need an occult expert. Indignant at being ignored, the cat rose and stalked back to the pillow, her tail forming an exclamation point, making it clear she had no interest in the phone call.

"Any luck?" Tara asked.

"I got his answering machine. It's just the usual cut-and-dried leave a message message." Willow gave the receiver a dirty look and hung up again.

Tara chewed on her lip. "Maybe--maybe he's on patrol with Buffy?"

That made her feel a little better. "You're probably right." Still, she stared anxiously at the silent phone, wishing there was some way to be sure. If Buffy had her cell-phone...except it would be hard to stalk vampires if your phone kept ringing, and you couldn't exactly stop in the middle of a life-and-death battle to call your friends and ask what's up.

Giving up on the massage, Tara went to the refrigerator. "How about some zinfandel?"

"Better make it Chianti. We're having that leftover lasagna for dinner, remember?"

"I remember." Tara grinned as she filled the crystal goblets. "I love lasagna nights. Wine and marinara sauce make you...frisky."

Willow grinned back as the red wine filled her mouth. She said demurely, looking up through her eyelashes, "Maybe you better pour us both another glass, and put more sauce on the lasagna. I think I'm feeling a sudden thirst."

/////////////////////

The thirst was killing him.

A human being can only live three days without water. Let a vampire drain some of his blood, then chain him up and make him sweat, and the three days are presumably much shortened. With no way to judge the passing of time, Giles wasn't sure how much longer he had. It certainly felt as though it were time to expire. The only faintly positive aspect to it was that the dehydration made it unlikely he would piss on himself.

The light seemed to be on permanently, presumably so the vampires could admire their handiwork. There was no way to tell time by it. Whenever he began to fall asleep, one of them would stroke him, as though he were a cat, and he would start awake, so he couldn't gauge time by sleep patterns. He'd given up on fighting back after the fourth or fifth session of dangling from the ceiling; now he stood, panting, wishing he could bend and lick the few precious drops of sweat from his own skin. They felt like tiny chips of ice.

Trying to be cunning, he arched his neck, catching a glimpse of a pair of black boots. Before he could see more, a hand pressed his head forward, tucking his chin into his breastbone, then lingered to ruffle the hair.

//Like petting a dog that's resisting obedience training,// he thought bitterly.

There were at least two of them, but surely neither was Angelus. He'd have spoken by now, to see Giles's reaction to his voice, and he did love to gloat. That silken, faintly Irish voice would cheerfully carry on a one-sided conversation while the hands...well. In any case, if he'd kicked Angelus, the vampire would've broken his leg, or at least would've badly sprained the ankle, which in the end would hurt worse. And he did have a thing for chainsaws, which weren't in evidence here.

Did it matter who was doing this? Well, no, but it gave him something to think about other than himself. Being tortured generally consisted of stretches of boredom mixed with adrenaline-pumping periods of terror. One wasn't given books to read during the boring parts, and brooding over the pain was rather like aiding and abetting the torturer. Besides, if he knew who this was and what was wanted, he'd be able to prepare himself, to figure out the best response. Although it was the first to come to mind, screaming didn't really seem a particularly useful action.

His knees wanted to give way. Since that would leave him once again hanging from alarmingly numb wrists, he locked the joints in place. Sooner or later, he would end up kneeling, but he supposed it was comforting to reflect that at least then his captors wouldn't be able to grab him by the heel and spin him around like a top. He hadn't enjoyed being pushed back and forth like a child on a swing, either.

Something briefly rested on his hip, and he shifted position, evading it. That drove him directly onto a finger aimed at his belly button. When he sucked his belly in, the finger followed, kneading him, pushing in and out in an obscene demonstration of something he'd rather not think about. He tried to edge sideways, but it followed. Nothing to do but pretend it wasn't happening. Without reaction from him, the vampire tired of the game, but a new one always started up.

Butterflies walked all over his nude body until even the reflexive movements died. Giles closed his eyes beneath the blindfold and tried to pretend he was somewhere else--in a forest glen, perhaps, with only the stray breeze caressing him as he sank deep into meditation.

One Popsicle-cold finger floated along his neck, then traced the scabbed-over fang marks on his throat. Despite himself, Giles flinched.

//It's the breeze,// he told himself sternly. //You're in the woods, and there are too many flies, but you don't really mind because you're meditating....//

The finger trailed up his arm, pausing to tickle the exposed underarm.

//Does he expect me to laugh myself to death?// Giles thought acerbically, giving up all pretense of meditating. But, no. That wasn't the point of this little harassment. The lifeless appendage roamed over the manacles, probed underneath them, slid greasily down the underside of his right arm, and drew an elongated heart shape there. Giles tensed.

A cold tongue lapped delicately at the blood-drawn heart.

It was a feeble kick that probably wouldn't have done any good even if the vampire hadn't anticipated it, but he didn't regret it, not even when his shoulders slipped out of their sockets as he was once again hauled into the air.

/////////////////////

Buffy sat on her dorm room bed, idly drawing a heart in the margin of her psychology textbook as she waited for Willow. She was officially studying the chapter she would've read last night if she hadn't been busy killing a nest of town-boy vampires with a grudge against college kids. The only problem was that thinking about her psych class inevitably called up images of Riley Finn, the handsome teaching assistant.

She drew back and studied the heart carefully. If she'd still been in high school, she would've drawn in it in red ink, but she was beyond such childish hijinks now. Okay, so the two sides were uneven, so what? Maybe it had an enlarged valve or something.

Nodding firmly, Buffy wrote "RILEY" in big black letters in the center of the heart. It didn't look right. Scowling, she scratched it out, almost putting a hole through it, then scribbled "ANGEL" in the little space remaining. After staring at that for almost a minute, she scratched it out, too, and then colored in every blank space until the entire heart was black.

Scowling, Buffy drew an X over the heart, then turned the page and concentrated on reading, which wasn't easy when you started in the middle of a footnoted sentence full of italics and what looked like Latin. It was a relief to slam the thing shut when Willow and Tara skittered in. As she jammed the book and pen into the bookbag, she realized they both had the same wide-eyed nervous look, like cartoon chipmunks.

"Hey, Will. What's up?"

"Oh, uh, nothing. How was patrol last night? Did you and Giles dust a lot of vampires?"

She slung the bookbag over one shoulder, which twinged. It practically got broken when that ex-football tackle kicked it last night. "So-so. I staked about five of 'em. But Giles didn't go on patrol; he wanted to review some tax thingies. He was spending all day at the shop, doing book-keeping stuff, because Anya hates to give money to the government and she fudges the records."

"All day today, right?"

"No, yesterday. Why?"

Willow glanced at Tara, then grimaced. "Giles wasn't at the Magic Box."

"You mean he left for awhile?"

"No, he wasn't there at all. Anya thought maybe he was meeting with the Watchers or something."

Buffy let the book-bag drop to the floor. "No way. We're not speaking to them."

"That's what I thought," Willow said all in a rush, "and he didn't answer his phone. Not last night, and not this morning, either."

"Shit."

Tara stammered over the words in her anxiety. "Maybe--maybe he's just sick. With a cold or something. Or he's...you know...drinking?"

She tapped the reasons off on her fingers. "He's got a job he likes, we're killing vamps like Raid kills bugs, and I'm training with him at least three times a week. He's got no reason to drink." As proof, she waved the three raised fingers at them.

"If Ethan Rayne came back?" Willow suggested. "He's kind of a bad influence on Giles, you know."

Buffy grabbed the car keys. "Come on. We'll check out his apartment."

The whole way there, Buffy felt a sense of doom increasing. Giles was Mr. Responsibility. If he thought he needed to get paperwork done, he'd see that it got done, even if he got sick or get turned into a demon or something.

//He's the Watcher. He knows everything and can do magic when he has to and he knows how to fight, so he can teach me. Plus he always knows the right thing to do and the right thing to say, and whenever I mess up, he's already been there and done that, so he understands. I need him. If he's gone and died on me, I'll--I'll kill him!//

"Don't get too worried yet," Willow told her softly. It was weird, but also cool, how Willow always knew what was up with her. "Wait until we find out what's going on."

"And then panic," Buffy finished.

"Well, maybe. If it's called for. But me and Tara are already panicked enough for all of us."

At least she had the keys to Giles's apartment, so they didn't have to kick the door down, which would really tick him off. She had no qualms about using the keys. Gesturing to Tara and Willow to stay back, Buffy stepped inside, every sense alert.

Everything seemed normal, for Giles. There were tons of books everywhere, mostly relating to the occult, but the piles were neat and deliberate, not knocked down in a struggle. Except for the books, everything was clean and uncluttered. He even dusted regularly, which was a lot more than she did.

"Buffy?"

"It's okay. You guys can come in."

Cautiously, quietly, she went upstairs as the door clicked shut behind them. Again, nothing seemed out of place, until she went into his bedroom.

"Will! Get up here, now!"

They clattered up the stairs like they were joined at the hip. "What's--oh, my God!"

Tara looked blank. "What? What's wrong?"

"His bed isn't made!"

"So?"

"Giles would never leave the bed unmade," Willow said solemnly.

Buffy lifted the smooshed-up pillow and poked at the bed. Her face twisted as she pointed. "Blood."

/////////////////////

The last symbolic lynching had torn the scabs forming on his wrists and blood was trickling down his arms, but it was warm and Giles took some comfort in that. Unfortunately, so did the vampire.

A cool tongue worked its way up one arm, then made a leisurely journey around each shackled wrist, probing beneath the metal for more. Finally on his knees, Giles endured it in silence, head obediently bowed, trying to snatch a moment's sleep. He was achingly weary. The pain, the cold, the killing thirst, even the humiliation shrank beneath the terrible need for sleep.

As a Watcher, he was taught to deal with this. No one can make you immune to pain, but they can teach you to fight the purpose of the pain, to defeat your own drive for self-preservation as well as your opponent's quest for knowledge. Defying your torturer gives you a focus. But how can you defy a purpose you don't know?

//Not even a single question....// But he was beyond caring, now.

Perhaps the vampire was too absorbed with the fresh blood to bother stopping him. Perhaps Giles was simply beyond noticing any attempts to rouse him. He didn't care. All that mattered was that at last, for some unknown period of time, he slept.

/////////////////////

Watching Willow work her magic on the computer, Xander felt his eyes drifting shut. It wasn't that he was bored--worry about the Gilester had his blood pumping just as hard as everybody else's, thank you very much--but he was more Action Guy than Sit-and-Think Guy. Figuring out the villain's schemes and planning to counteract them, doing the detective work, that was Giles's specialty. Xander was more like the ground troops, good at carrying out the attack.

Besides, Willow's computer work was beyond him. He could turn one on and look for e-mail, sure, but he didn't have a clue how she made it give her info she wanted instead of ads and porno sites, and trying to figure it out just gave him a headache.

//Of course, I'm also totally whipped 'cause of me and Anya doing the dirty dance last night, but let's not go there.//

What really wore him down was not being able to help. Xander hated sitting around, feeling helpless. Sometimes it seemed like that was the story of his whole life. Yeah, he had a decent job now, finally, and he could build things, see something sturdy and trustworthy and stable that sprang from his hands, but what could was a construction worker in a case like this? Now someone he really cared about was in the trouble, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. He didn't have useful contacts in the underground, or the underworld; knowing which guys in his old high school class picked on geeks wouldn't save Giles. He wasn't gifted with supernatural powers of healing, speed, and fighting skills.

Basically, he was no use at all, which was pretty much what his parents were always telling him.

"Any luck?"

Willow rubbed her eyes. "No, nothing. As far as I can tell, Ethan Rayne is still locked up in Arizona."

"And it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy."

She gestured helplessly. "Most of Giles's other enemies are dead."

"The ones we know about."

"There is that. I wish Giles would talk more about his past. It's not like we're little kids anymore. We're the Scooby Gang. We deal with death and magic and stuff all the time. Okay, maybe we freaked out a teeny bit when we found out he raised demons and stuff, but we got over it, right? What else could he've done?" She hesitated. "Maybe we shouldn't go there."

"Maybe you could find his diary and read it?" The look she gave him made him feel sleazy, but he still figured it was a good idea. "It's practically public info. The Watchers pass 'em down to each other for exactly this kind of problem."

"Those are Watcher journals. His wouldn't even begin before he met Buffy. If he had enemies before that, it would be in a private diary, and those are, you know, private. Besides, he wouldn't put that on a computer. Do you want to go rummage through his stuff?"

"If we have to," he said uneasily. "But, hey, how about the Watchers? I like them as the villain."

"I know they're old-fashioned and set in their ways, and not exactly loyal, and not real helpful, either, but I don't think they're evil. Not exactly. And what good would it do them to kidnap Giles? Buffy would kick their butts, and they know it."

Xander nodded. "Kidnapping wouldn't be enough. At least if they killed him, they'd have an excuse to send a replacement Watcher without pissing her off."

"Xander!"

"I'm not saying they should," he said hastily, and cast about for a more useful suggestion. "Want me to go out for doughnuts?"

"Y'know, I always saw a career in fast food for you," a familiar voice observed.

Xander jumped up, knocking his chair over, which only made Spike's sneer broader. He blurted, "What are you doing here?"

The vampire shrugged insolently. "It's a store, a public place. I have as much right to be here as you do, Harris."

"Not unless you buy something!" Anya shrilled from the cash register.

Spike knocked a porcelain Buddha off its table and stirred the shattered remnants with one boot. "I guess I'll buy that. Put it on my tab, would you, love?"

She stormed toward him, and Xander lunged for her, arms outspread. "Anya, Anya, it's okay. I'll take care of it. Keep an eye on the store while we talk, okay?" It was a close call, but she stamped one foot and withdrew. Turning, he glared at the vampire. "Good choice. Mostly they sell books, but you have to be literate to enjoy those."

For some reason, that seemed to hit home. His blue eyes narrowed as his high-planed face hardened, and even his bleached blond hair seemed to bristle. Twin ivory fangs shot out, stark against his lips. Xander swallowed hard, but wasn't about to back down.

"Is that supposed to scare me? In case you've forgotten, you've got that chip in what passes for your brain, Dead Boy; it won't let you hurt humans."

"You don't qualify as human, Harris."

Their eyes locked.

Willow slapped her hand down on the table, startling them both. "I'm trying to concentrate here, okay? Spike, go find Anya. She'll help you find whatever you're here for, if you show her some money."

He ran a hand through his white-blond hair, the arrogant smile returning as the fangs retreated. "I'm not in the market to buy. I heard you were the ones on the lookout."

"If you have something to sell, Anya can--"

He cut her off. "Heard you managed to misplace your librarian. Mis-shelved him, as it were."

"Oh, now the truth comes out. He's here to gloat, Will."

"Hey, give me a break here. I came out in the middle of the day, risking my life, for this?" To Willow, he said, "Look, I lived in the man's house. When he turned into a Fyarl demon, and his 'buddies' tried to kill him, I was the one who helped him out, remember?"

Willow's green eyes lit up. "You know where he is?"

"Whoa, Red. All I wanna do is offer my services. I figure you could use someone with contacts in the field if you wanna find out who took him."

"For a fee," Xander said coldly.

"Of course. A man's gotta live, if he can't feed off his normal prey." Something glinted in those cold blue eyes. "But if the Watcher's not worth the money to you, I can find other buyers."

"Yeah, figures you'd sell out your friends," Xander jeered. "Once a bloodsucker, always a bloodsucker, right? If there's a way to rip off your friends when they're already hurting--"

"I keep tellin' you, you're not my friends. I'm a vampire. You're prey."

"And when things go wrong, just like a vulture, you're there to prey--"

"Xander." Willow laid a hand on his upper arm. It was hard, but he shut up. "Spike, if you think you can help us find Giles, talk to Buffy. She's out there looking for him now. But you better be serious. If you don't come through for her on this, she's gonna be really, really mad."

Spike slipped on a pair of dark Foster Grants and picked up the black tarpaulin he'd used as a shield from the sunlight. "Not to worry. If anyone can lead you to your Watcher, it's me."

/////////////////////

Someone was kissing him.

Giles frowned, wishing they would go away. It didn't hurt, but it was waking him up, and he wanted to go on sleeping.

What he wanted apparently didn't matter, for a hand ran through his hair, cradled his cheek, and turned his face up for more kisses, one on each eyelid.

//Someone has mistaken me for Sleeping Beauty.// Sluggishly, he gave up and let awareness return, even though he knew it would lead to pain. //That's odd.//

He wasn't dangling in mid-air like a giant piñata, nor even slumped on his knees. The chain had been extended, letting him lie down.

Cold lips brushed against his.

//I'm naked, blindfolded, chained, and lying down. Bloody hell.//

Immediately awake, he pushed down with his elbows, trying to lever himself upright. It was no use; corpse-cold hands pressed him back down, and the lips returned. Stubbornly, he shook his head, evading the assault. Another set of hands pressed down on his shoulders, and despite his best efforts he screamed, because they were barely in their sockets. Instantly, the lips locked on his...and his mouth filled with water.

He was so very dry that the water sank into the tissues, leaving nothing to swallow. Still, no champagne had ever tasted better.

The lips brushed his again. They were damp, promising more life-giving fluid.

//Seduction,// Giles thought. //Training you to respond.//

Despite himself, he surrendered to the kiss, accepting another mouthful of water. It was every bit as wonderful. He waited in shameful eagerness for a third gift.

Each mouthful gave him more strength, but also more shame. With each kiss, the hands caressed him, rubbing along his ribs, stroking his hips, grasping his buttocks and squeezing hard as he drank. A penis pressed against his belly, then shifted to rub against his own. He didn't fight it, totally focused on the next mouthful of shared water, though he knew he should be refusing to submit to such degradation. But he was so damned thirsty--!

Then the lips met his but remained closed and inert.

//No more passive acceptance. He wants you to participate.//

What was more important: to take a moral stance, or to quench his raging thirst? Whether he gave in or resisted, he was still being tortured and raped, but if he returned the unwanted kiss, he could drink. He could live just a little bit longer.

//Can one be only a little bit a whore?//

There was water just one set of lips away. Giles strained upward, tentatively meeting those dead lips. When he pressed against them, they parted, yielding one more precious swallow of water.

Of course, the vampire wasn't content to stop there. One hand slid further beneath the buttocks. One finger probed at his anus, becoming more insistent as Giles tightened his muscles, forbidding entry.

There were no more kisses. Giles waited, and wasn't disappointed. The chain went taut, pulling him upright, first to his knees, then to his feet. The only surprise was that it didn't haul him directly off his feet again. He was left standing for a bit, long enough for the shoulders to mute their shrieks to mere whimpers and for his trembling to finally cease. This, of course, only made the stress of anticipation even worse. What little water he'd earned was only enough to whet his appetite and remind him how dehydrated he was.

//So much for my career as a whore,// he thought ruefully.

With nothing visible, his other senses came to the fore. He heard faint movements, and caught a whiff of perfume. Something trailed down his face and puddled around his shoulders--not spiderwebs, despite the feel. A woman's hair. She trailed the hair along his chest, tweaked his nipples with nimble fingers, then let her hand drop to his penis. He pulled back, and she laughed, a throaty mew of genuine amusement. It chilled him to the bone.

A different set of lips, soft and pliant, not demanding like the water-givers, rained kisses down his throat, then stopped at the fang-marks. She sucked on the scab and pressed her fangs against it, hovering.

"Get on with it, then," he croaked.

Instead, the fangs withdrew. Still holding his penis in one hand, she rested her head on his left shoulder, giggling merrily when he groaned, and slid cool arms around him. With a sudden sharp downward stroke, she raked her free hand down his back, and he felt the blood well up.

"Mm-mmm," she purred.

But it was another tongue that eagerly licked up the drops.

/////////////////////

When the golden-haired woman stepped into the bar, Willie's first thought was, //What now? Why me? Why me all the time?// Casually picking up a rag and polishing the far end of the bar, he announced, "The Slayer! What brings you to our, er, neck of the woods, you should excuse the expression?"

With satisfaction, he spotted two vamps and a stray werewolf rising and walking briskly but unobtrusively toward the back door. Having customers staked to death at the bar was bad for business. Bad enough that Spike kept coming by and picking fights to work out his frustrations. Couldn't the guy pony up a few bills and settle for a bottle of A-Negative, for crying out loud?

"I'm looking for someone," the Slayer announced.

A Toth demon slouched low in his chair, and a Haklar demon across the room flat out slid to the floor, hiding beneath the table.

Willie cleared his throat. "Nobody's here. The place is dead tonight."

A low chorus agreed with him, and all the customers tried hard to look dead, or at least invisible. One or two actually made it.

"Rupert Giles."

Willie blurted, "Who?"

"Rupert Giles."

"He don't come to my bar."

"I know that!" she snapped. "He has better taste. He's my Watcher."

It still wasn't coming clear to him. The guy wasn't a customer, he wasn't from within the Hellmouth--he was one of her buds, and she thought Willie could fill her in? What did she think, he was psychic or something?

"So, I'll, uh, spread the word he should get back to you," he offered, hoping it would placate her.

Her foot flashed out, and a table hit the far wall and shattered. Looked like he wouldn't need to order toothpicks this month.

"Some lowlife scum kidnapped my Watcher. I want the scum, and I want my Watcher back in one piece."

"Okay."

She was at the edge of the bar before he could blink. "Do you know where he is?"

"Uh, no. No, I don't. But I hope you find him."

"Oh, I will." The Slayer turned away, and Willie was glad to note that his bar was still in one piece, unlike the table. "Do you guys know why?"

Luckily, no one was dumb enough to answer, concentrating as they were on being invisible. Her smile was a predator's showing of teeth. "Because until I get Giles back, safe, I'm on patrol 24/7. In full killing mode. No questions. No excuses. Just 'Meet Mr. Pointy.'"

Willie rolled his eyes. Not Mr. Pointy! The complaints he'd heard from the surviving vamps....

"If you know what's good for you, you'll hit the streets right now and FIND RUPERT GILES!"

He'd never seen a bar empty so fast.

When she turned those bleak blue eyes on him, he dropped the rag on the bar and headed for the door. "As soon as I find out anything, I'll let ya know, right?"

"You do that," said Buffy Summers.

/////////////////////

//Mr. Pointy. That's what it is,// Giles thought, and laughed, without humor.

It might as well be. The damnable hunk of meat had long since succumbed to the vampiress's lips and tongue and fingers; even now it was erect and straining against her grasp. Betrayed by his own body. How could that brainless appendage find anything at all erotic in its mishandling? She was as likely to bite it as to pleasure it; the human penis is chock full of blood vessels and veins. Yet there it was, standing upright, swollen and aching for release, as though he were actually enjoying this.

Groaning, he thrust upward with his hips, and she laughed, sounding genuinely happy. At least he was providing entertainment. Dreadful to be a bad house guest.

She kissed the tip of his cock, the bishop's hat, then crawled off him. She had brought him to the crest, and kept him there, desperate for relief, and now she was gone. His hands were still trapped in the manacles. The chain was long enough for him to lie supine, yet too taut to allow him to roll over and rub against the floor. There was no way to bring this painful erection to fruition, and it felt as though his penis would very shortly explode.

He drove upward again, futilely trying to mate with thin air.

A harsh voice whispered, very close to his ear, "Do you want me to help?"

Panting, he shook his head.

Perhaps if he could think of pornography, remember Jenny, relive a romantic tryst with Olivia, he could bring himself to climax without pressure, without friction and warmth. But he was too thirsty and too weary, and there was nothing at all sensual about what was being done to him. The images wouldn't stay.

God, it hurt. He heard himself whimper, and it frightened him, but he couldn't help himself.

Could a man die of an erection that was kept unfulfilled for hour after hour? Or did he merely want to?

A hand settled on his lower abdomen, pressed gently. Again; "Do you want me to help?"

He shook his head, wildly, but what came bursting from his mouth was, "Please!"

A body straddled him, stretched out on him, and he surged against it. Lips hungrily tugged at his, and he knew those lips--they brought him water. He didn't want kisses, didn't want water, wanted only release. Then something rubbed against his erect penis, and even as he recognized it for another prick, he was shoving himself against it. They met, dueling as if with foils, cocks slapping against each other, and the vampire rose and fell, pressed hard and released. Finally given a target, Giles's penis erupted in a painful wonderful relief. At the same time, the vampire's lips closed over his, swallowing his screams.

The upright bishop pulsed, spurted, and was limp. It should have taken much longer, but then, in his condition, he was amazed it had gotten erect at all. He was sticky and wet, and couldn't tell if he was coated with his own cum or the vampire's dead seed or both. He stunk of sex and blood and fear.

A tongue slithered into his mouth, but he gritted his teeth, blocking it. This much he could deny. This rape he could stop, at least for now.

The vampire moaned, and Giles, dry-eyed, began to sob.

/////////////////////

Buffy felt tears well up in her eyes, but she refused to let them spill. She wasn't going to cry until she saw his cold dead body, and Giles wasn't dead, so she wasn't going to cry.

"Willie called. He swears there's no new master in town, and nobody's heard anything about plans for Giles. He says most of the vamps have always been afraid to come near him, because he's dangerous and because they're afraid of me." Her voice didn't sound like her, and it seemed to be coming from somewhere far away. "We've got nothing."

Willow said anxiously, "There's still Spike. He said he could bring Giles back, and you promised him money, and he needs money, so--"

She had slept for an hour or two, but awoke shivering from a nightmare, something about darkness and the sweet metallic odor of fresh blood and hands everywhere, touching her. She wasn't sleepy now. Maybe she'd never be sleepy again.

Buffy stood up and reached for the stake Kendra, the other Slayer, had left her. Kendra was dead, just like her first Watcher. Everyone who came near her seemed to die, didn't they?

"I've already done the campus and downtown. I'll hit Docktown now."

"I'll come with you."

"No!" It exploded from her, and Willow involuntarily flinched. Buffy hesitated, then reached out to gently touch her red hair. "I'm sorry. I need to be on my own. I move faster that way."

She glanced around the room. Tara had fallen asleep in front of the police monitor, but they hadn't heard anything useful in all the hours they'd listened, so it didn't matter. Anya had closed the shop early--unheard of!--to be with Xander, and now was asleep in his arms on the sofa. He met Buffy's gaze pleadingly, but she shook her head.

"You guys stay here, in case there's news. I'll call every hour or so to check in. Okay?"

Her best friends nodded silently. There was nothing left to say.

Buffy slipped out the door and into the night, a tawny lioness on the hunt. She didn't intend to return empty-handed.

/////////////////////

//So this is how a mouse feels, batted about the room by two cats,// Giles thought dreamily. //Maybe if I play dead, they'll give up and eat me.// It didn't seem likely, though. Every time he passed out, they poured water down him. They seemed to prefer him awake and in misery, able to fully experience the sick games they'd invented.

He'd given up on suicide; the male took great pleasure in licking the wound closed each time, wrapping itself around Giles--sometimes from the front, sometimes from the back--and rubbing hard against him as it drank, taking sexual pleasure as well as blood. It was unbearable. No, opening his wrists wouldn't work unless the vampires became bored and went away. They showed no sign of being bored.

Distantly, he was aware of them still crawling all over him. She had carved a circle around his nipple with one razor-like fingernail, and the male was blissfully suckling at it. Humming what seemed to be an off-key version of "Greensleeves," she was entertaining herself by engulfing his balls in her mouth, pricking at them with her fangs.

Whoever his captors were, he prayed they would be satisfied with his death and would leave Buffy alone. The same could not be said for her, of course. She would hunt down his killers and make them pay. It was some consolation. A remarkable girl, she had grown into an even more remarkable woman, and he had been incredibly fortunate in being assigned as her Watcher.

//They were sure she'd die young, and with any luck take me with her. So much for their plans. We had a long run, she and I. And she'll go on without me. She'll outlive them all.//

His face felt damp. They'd given him enough water for tears, it seemed. Abandoning the dry nipple, the male vampire moved up and licked away the tear. How considerate of him.

The female, having succeeded in somehow teasing some approximation of an erection from him, switched to his penis, first licking it, then raking it with her teeth. Despite himself, he arched his back and cried out. She sucked noisily. "Watcher blood. Mmmmmmm. Yummy."

Even though it was distorted by a mouthful of his flesh, he recognized that voice. "Drusilla?"

"Oops," she said, spitting out his cock.

"Shut up!"

The furious hiss wasn't really enough to be identifiable, but it didn't matter. Other than Angelus, only one vampire had been a guest in his home. How could he have overlooked it? "Spike," he said, repulsed.

A beat. "Who?"

Rage coursed through him, temporarily warming skin that felt almost frostbitten. Squirming, he rubbed the blindfold up, then winced as the dim lighting seared his retinas. "You worthless bastard!"

"You shouldn't talk about people you've never met. As it happens, you're wrong about dear old mum."

Giles blinked.

Spike was still blurred, but unmistakably Spike, bleached hair disheveled, the scar standing out in his left eyebrow, lips scarlet with blood. His blood. As Giles stared at him with loathing, the vampire's tongue darted out and curled sensuously along each lip.

"I took you in when the Initiative was after you." To his mortification, his voice cracked. "I fed you."

"Oh, right, cold pig's blood from the fridge. Not exactly a gourmet treat."

"So you slice open my veins and help yourself?"

Spike bristled. "Yeah! It's what I do. Don't get all self-righteous with me, Watcher. You're the one who kept parading past me all the time with those tight little buns and that bare chest while you buttoned your shirt--"

This was outrageous. "It was my house! My bathroom!"

"And you're the one who chained me in the bloody bath, so don't complain when it's your turn. Turnabout and all that, right?"

"I certainly didn't sexually molest you there!" Oh, it was no use. "You stayed at Xander's house, too. I suppose he's next?"

"There's no need to be disgusting, Rupert." Giles arched one incredulous eyebrow. Looking briefly abashed, the vampire said in a barely audible voice, "I've...always had this thing for intellectual types."

"You couldn't simply ask me for a date?"

"I don't ask." Fangs gleamed. "I take."

//Why am I trying to discuss morality and good manners with a vampire?// Giles wondered. Particularly standing nude, scarred, and in bondage in the middle of an old mausoleum.

To Drusilla, he said sharply, "Let go of that."

Pouting, she gave it a final petulant tug before flouncing onto the floor, black skirts flowing around her like petals around some deadly flower.

Like himself, Spike was naked. It didn't bear thinking about. Instead, he glared into the vampire's face. "How the hell did you get rid of the microchip?"

Unfazed by the glare, Spike gave him a smug half-grin. "Didn't."

Drusilla piped up, "My Spike's ever so clever. Those nasty people tried to ruin him, didn't they? But he's finally fought back. I came to help."

"But the chip...the chip kept you from hurting people. It was the only thing that made you bearable."

"Sucks to you, too."

"You did."

Spike's grin widened. "Yeah, I did, didn't I?"

"But how?"

He shrugged. "I just never hurt you."

"Never hurt--?" It was so over the top that he didn't have the words for it. Giles gazed down at himself: naked, freezing, anemic, blood-dappled, starving, stinking of semen and sweat, his shoulders dislocated and then shoved back into place, his wrists bound above his head until his arms were numb leaden weights. "You're mad."

"I'm his mummy, so I fed him," Drusilla murmured happily, hugging her knees. "I'm a good mummy, I am."

"Did get a bit of a headache, with the touching and all, but it didn't actually hurt you, so I didn't get the big whammy. Dru did the fun bits, like the elevator rides, and she bit you, not me. If she'd left you like that, with that anticoagulant crap runnin' through your veins, you'd've bled out in fifteen minutes, tops. I stopped the bleeding. Saved your life." He reflected on that for an instant, and nodded. "You ought to thank me."

Mad as Drusilla ever was. It was as if he were trapped in a sick vampiric rendition of Alice Through the Looking Glass. "You practically raped me!"

"We didn't get that far, thanks to Dru." He shot her an irritated glower, making her toss her head. "You did ask me to bash the bishop, remember? You know bloody well you wanted those kisses, too. And you'd've gotten hot soup, next." He switched the glower to Giles. "I didn't figure on you fighting back so much."

"I've been told that before, actually."

"You'd have come around in the end, though."

"Would I?"

Spike's lips thinned, the fangs pressing hard against the corners.

Drusilla whined, "I'm bored now. Can't we go back to playing? I'll bite his thing, shall I, and you can drink him up." She beamed at her former lover, her voice coaxing. "You know you want to. It'll make you feel like fire all over."

"I told you before, Dru, I didn't want to kill him."

Giles noted the use of the past tense, distantly interested. So long as they didn't turn him....

"But why not? You used to love to."

He seemed a trifle exasperated. "Because once he's dead, we can't do it again."

//Now there's a charming thought. Rather makes living through this unappealing.//

She made a face, indifferent. "Once he's gone, there'll be another Watcher. There's ever so many of them."

"I'm not through with this one yet."

"Haven't I a vote on this?" Giles inquired.

"No," they said in chorus, not looking at him.

Drusilla's hand crawled spider-like toward him before pouncing, and Giles swiveled his hip, managing to miss her grasp by a scant centimeter. She narrowed those dark eyes at him. "You're a bad boy. You need to be punished. Doesn't he, Spike?"

Spike sighed and reached for a pile of clothing tossed over a sarcophagus, producing a cigarette and a lighter. "I'd love to, but it won't work. If I try to touch him now, that bleeding headache will kick in."

"I don't have a chip. I like punishing bad boys," she said ominously.

"Yeah, well, I don't like watching as much as doing."

"He spoiled it all. If he hadn't guessed it right, you'd have gone on playing, wouldn't you? Stick 'im proper, you would."

He sighed, nostalgic for what might have been. "Yeah...."

Disgusting. Somehow it was worse that they were people--well, vampires--that he knew, not some stranger after a position, after 'the Slayer's Watcher.' It made it all so much more personal. To Spike, at least, it appeared that Watchers weren't interchangeable.

Spike sat on the sarcophagus and crossed one leg across the other knee. The left leg was badly scarred, and one hand absently rubbed it for a moment. Unlike Giles, he didn't appear embarrassed by his public nudity. "I was gonna get paid for finding and rescuing you, once we were through." He lit the cigarette and took in a deep lungful of smoke, letting it trickle from his nostrils. "But if I let you go now, Buffy'll kill us. Bit perturbed, she is."

"I don't think I'd like that, Spike," Drusilla said dubiously. "I've been dead once, haven't I?"

"And it suits you perfectly, love."

She beamed like a child being given a present, and made a surreptitious pass at Giles's nearest kneecap. He evaded it, but didn't kick at her. In the first place, he didn't want to encourage her hostility, which was already daunting. In the second place, if he tried it, he'd fall down and no doubt do permanent damage to his aching shoulders. It didn't seem likely that they would be releasing his wrists any time soon.

"You could keep me as a pet," he suggested dryly.

Spike made a face. "See what I mean? I like you better when you don't know what's up. Scares you, not knowing who and why, not being able to look up the answers in your books. Now you've got it all catalogued, figured exactly how to respond. Takes the fun out of it."

"I'd no idea you were an amateur psychologist," Giles said stiffly. There was nothing wrong with seeking order from chaos. It was a genetic human imperative, after all--perhaps just a bit more imperative than usual for him.

Spike's mouth quirked. "The old straight snatch-and-drain gets dull after a bit, even if it still tastes good. Now, Angelus taught us to take our time, figure out what'd hurt the meat most. There's lots we could do with you...." He shook his head and tapped cigarette ashes into an urn meant for cremated remains. "Pity. I was having such a good time."

"I wasn't."

"That's the fun of it, innit?" His voice hardened. "You lot treat me like some sort of harmless mascot. You think just because I can't smack you around, I've been castrated, and I'll hop about being helpful and all. Well, I got my own back on you, and without having to trigger the chip, either." He flipped the cigarette butt into the urn. "You act like I haven't been ripping people into little bloody bits for hundreds of years."

"Spike the Ripper!" Drusilla squealed, clapping her hands. "Do it!"

He slid off the sarcophagus and stepped closer, one eyebrow tilting up. "You got any idea where I got my nickname?"

It was a wretchedly stupid thing to do, but he was still furious. "Yes, as a matter of fact. From the way editors always impaled your attempts at poetry on a metal spike, to be sent a rejection letter." He met the vampire's reddening gaze evenly. "The Watchers recently got samples of your verse, and having read some, I quite agree with your editors."

He really ought to have let the vampire threaten him with that absurd story about railroad spikes through the wrists, and he knew it even before Spike's forehead expanded into bumpy ridges and his eyes filled with malevolent yellow. It was what the children called his "game face." Silly name, that, since there was nothing playful about it.

Playtime was apparently over.

Fangs in full display, Spike lunged at him, only to scream in agony and fall back, rubbing his temples with both hands. "Dru!" he said in a strangled voice.

She struck like a cobra, sinking her fangs into Giles' inner right thigh, and then wrenched her head from side to side, gnawing and pulling on the flesh. His knees buckled.

When the red waves of agony eventually washed away, he was sprawled on the floor again, and Spike was rooting at him like a hog, whimpering. Drusilla was on her knees beside Spike, embracing him.

"That's right, love," she crooned. "Drink it all up. You'll feel better, you'll see. Make the bad Watcher pay."

"Oh, God..." Giles moaned. "...no...."

Instantly, Spike sprang back, with a matching wail of pain. The chip was indeed still working.

Giles clasped both hands around the wound, feeling it pulse with agony, each pulse forcing out more blood. Funny how instinct drove one. He had tried to kill himself more than once, to keep them from turning him, yet here he was, trying to stop the bleeding. Well, trying to stop the pain, anyway.

Shakily, Spike sat up again, his face still warped into that alien configuration, glowing yellow eyes locked on Giles' hands and on the red spilling over his fingers. "You'll bleed to death."

Very likely. Drusilla had been quite angry. //There are worse fates.//

Spike licked bloody lips. His eyes were hungry. "I can make it stop, or I can let Dru finish you...after you have a nice long drink of my blood. Your choice, Watcher."

"You can't...make me drink."

"Dru can. Dru will." He waited, head tilted, those hungry eyes very sure.

//Bloody hell.//

Giles closed his eyes. "Make it stop."

Almost hesitantly, hands settled on either side of his thigh, then the hands squeezed tight and he let his own hands fall away, feeling something probe the wound. Spike's tongue was no longer cold, warmed now by Giles' blood. It slathered up his thigh with long, sensual movements, soaking up the blood, spreading the chemicals vampires used when they wanted to save a victim for future bloodletting. Serving as a vampire's stockpiled food supply could be a long, horrid death. The wounds closed, but that did nothing to alleviate the pain. Giles knew that from experience. There were stinging slashes, gouges, and toothmarks all over his body, even now. He shifted position, and the hands tightened, dragging him closer. Had a lover been licking him like that, it would have been erotic and arousing, but he felt his cock shrivel at the nearness of those fangs, his skin crawl at the damp kiss of that tongue. He had to struggle to keep from flinching away.

//Let the doctor close it up for you,// he thought, and wondered why more vampires didn't become doctors. Then he wondered just how much blood he'd lost; his thoughts weren't making much sense.

The blood dried up with the wound's closing, although the throbbing pain continued, for though the skin was sealed, each individual cell had been ripped apart and had yet to heal. Concentrating on Watcher knowledge like that helped him endure. Recalling what he knew about vampiric wounds was far preferable to thinking about what was being done to him.

That greedy tongue rasped one more time over scar tissue, questing futilely for more. Finally, reluctantly, Spike raised his head. "You asked for that, you know. How hard would it be to do what you're told? To make me happy?"

He didn't open his eyes. "Too hard."

Spike sat up, leaving one proprietary hand on his thigh. The hand, too, was now warm. "Then Drusilla will have to work a bit of magick, won't you, love?"

"I'd rather eat him all up, like a treat. Can't I eat him all up, Spike?" She sounded like a spoiled brat, no doubt batting her eyes at him, all cunning. "Darla would let me."

"Next time, love."

"Promise?"

"Next time you drop by, we'll work out a way to do it all, just like the old days, just you and me."

She was enchanted by the project. "Oooh, can we have a tea party, too? With Miss Edith, if she's very very good? Because he's British, too, isn't he?"

Giles screwed his eyes even more tightly shut. He remembered this from his torture at Angelus's hands, how Drusilla hypnotized him and made him see her as his dead Jenny come back for him. She'd made him betray his secrets, and the world was nearly destroyed. Spike was vile, but Drusilla, for all her insanity, could be far more dangerous.

She crawled over him, the long mane of hair gliding across his bare skin. "Open your eyes, sleepyhead! Open your eyes and look at me. Be in me."

He shook his head silently.

She nuzzled his cheek. When he turned away, she gripped his head with both hands, anchoring it in place. "You're being naughty again. If you're a bad boy, Mummy will spank."

That idiot voice in his head observed that this was probably better than being made to stand naked in the corner, since at least a spanking would warm up his bum. He suspected he was rather losing it.

"Spike can't hurt you, poor thing," she whispered. Her tongue touched his ear, slid lightly along the curve of it. "But I can. What part shall I bite off? Hmm?" Grasping a handful of hair in her left hand to hold his head still, she let her right hand snake down his body. Of course, she ended with a handful of her favorite body part, which she squeezed tight. "Spike would be so disappointed, but I do fancy a bit of sausage...."

She was quite mad, and he knew she would do it gleefully. Giles swallowed hard, opened his eyes, and was lost.

/////////////////////

Driving her mom's car in one last futile sweep of the campus, Buffy felt lost. It wasn't like she was still a scared high schooler who had to run to her Watcher three times a day for directions. No, she was an adult, confident in her abilities. But with Giles around, she felt grounded. Knowing that she could turn him to him for help if she needed to made anything--everything--possible. But she'd lost that hope of guidance when she lost him.

Buffy switched off the ignition and leaned forward, resting her forehead on the steering wheel. It felt slick with sweat. "I'm out of ideas. I was on the streets all night, and zip. Nada. Not even a hint of a whisper of a rumor about Giles."

"Returning to the scene of the crime is a proven technique on TV shows," Xander said sagely. "Your mom will call us if anyone shows up at your place, and Anya has the shop covered, and you never know, we might pick up some clues."

"There could be a message on his answering machine," Willow suggested weakly.

"Or a clue in his diary. You know, like names of secret enemies."

Buffy straightened up. "Well, let's get on with it."

The apartment was the same, peaceful and thoughtful and stable, but too quiet. Willow looked at the answering machine, where no message light flashed, and her face fell. Tara reached for her hand and squeezed it affectionately.

Xander shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "I didn't see Giles's bedroom. Maybe a fresh eye could catch something that would, like, help."

Buffy nodded, and he took the stairs two at a time.

"We need to get tracers," Willow said. "You know, so we always know where each other are. Some high-tech spy thing you keep in your tooth, so you don't forget to wear it."

Buffy dropped onto the sofa, wishing she could stretch out on it and sleep. "Maybe you and Tara could do some sort of spell to track him down?"

Tara's stammer got worse than usual. "We can't...we couldn't...I mean, we can t-try again, but--"

"Guys!" Xander bellowed. "Guys, he's up here!"

She was off the sofa and on the second floor even before her brain kicked in. When she saw the body on the bed, and caught the stench of old vomit, Xander grabbed her. "He's alive, Buff. He's just asleep or passed out or something."

She drew in a long, shuddering breath, feeling her heart start thumping again. Giles had been laid in the center of the bed, naked, streaked with scabs, his hands neatly folded across his chest. He was much too pale, except for the dark shadows beneath his eyes. When she reached for one limp blood-crusted hand, she felt the massive scab running around the mottled blue-green wrist. Biting her lip, she gently lifted his chin. Behind her, Willow sucked in a ragged breath.

There were two ugly fang marks nestled in a mound of puffy swollen flesh.

"Oh, Giles."

He stirred, frowning, and twisted his head away.

Xander bent and lifted Giles's arm, putting it around his neck. Before he could straighten up, Giles yelped, and Xander slid out from beneath the arm, looking helpless. "We gotta get him to the hospital. Who knows how much blood he lost?"

The almost translucent eyelids fluttered. "X-Xander?" Giles croaked.

"It's okay, Giles. It's me. It's us."

His eyes were open, but murky with confusion. "Angelus...the sword...."

"No, that was before," Xander told him, his voice strained. "We're not in the mansion, G-man. Angelus isn't here."

Even though she'd sworn she wouldn't cry until she saw his cold dead body, and he wasn't dead at all, Buffy felt tears sliding down her cheeks. "What happened to you?"

The confusion deepened. "I hurt," he said. "All over."

She hadn't seen him after Angelus tortured him for the way to call forth Acathla. Intellectually, yeah, she had known he suffered, but she ran away after stabbing Angel, never saw close-up the after-effects of what had been done to him. Such a simple word, torture. It was worse, much worse, than she had imagined then. Buffy could hear the anger in her voice. She hoped he knew it wasn't directed at him. "Who did this to you?"

He frowned, then turned his head to one side and vomited. Although it was only a mix of bile and phlegm, it seemed to come in an unending stream, leaving him gasping for breath.

Buffy handed the keys to Xander. "You drive. Willow, can you and Tara do something--a healing spell or something--if he needs it in the car?"

"I'll check his supplies; he keeps a lot of the most powerful stuff here." She vanished, all Earth Goddess and efficiency.

"Will can handle that," Tara said softly. "I'll clean this up, and get a cab when I'm done."

Buffy nodded and scooped Giles up, cradling him against her chest like some immense child, taking the stained quilt with him and flipping it over his naked body to hide the slashes and bruises and bite marks. At least her Slayer strength was good for this.

She whispered, "It's okay. Everything's going to be fine."

/////////////////////

Tara entered the hospital room with her usual hesitant, don't-want-to-bother-anyone expression; she always made Buffy think of a small stray cat entering a room full of pit bulls. Her asshole father had a lot to answer for. "How--how is he?"

"He's fine," Buffy said firmly.

Willow surged from her wooden chair and into her lover's arms, and they kissed, a sweet swift kiss so full of love that it made Buffy's heart ache. They'd been like that once, she and Angel.

She cleared her throat. "They, um, poured an awful lot of blood into him, and some sugar stuff because he was dehydrated and starving."

Willow added, "The cuts are all half-healed already, which is creepy, but they're hurting, and so are his shoulders. You can tell because his nose looks all pinched and he's gotten crotchety."

"I have not gotten crotchety. And stop talking about me as though I'm too senile to understand."

"Mostly I think he needs his sleep," Willow told Tara confidentially. "That's why he's so cranky. That's how I get, too."

"I know."

"But not too cranky," Willow hastened to add. "I mean, not like Giles is. Just half like Giles. Right?"

He closed his eyes. Maybe he was trying to go to sleep. Tara and Willow interlaced their fingers and walked to his bedside, holding hands. "You look, um, better. Not good, but better than...well, you know." She blushed, and Willow squeezed her hand. "I've never seen anyone with two slings before." Digging in her purse, she pulled out his glasses and gently settled them around his ears.

"I don't need them," Giles said shortly.

"Oh." She reached for the glasses again, but Willow stopped her.

"He means the slings. He's a really bad patient. A lot like Buffy, actually."

"This from the girl who, hours after coming out of a coma, was tooling around Sunnydale High in a wheelchair," Xander pointed out.

Buffy told the room, "One of us will need to stay with him all the time until the doctor okays dumping the slings. He says from the X-rays, the shoulders probably don't need surgery, but they'll be easier to dislocate now."

"So much for my career as a trapeze artist," Giles muttered. They ignored him.

"We can take turns. It'll be fun," Willow said brightly. "We can take him to physical therapy, and make sure he takes his pills, and feed him, and--and dress him." She stared at Giles with an expression reminiscent of a deer caught in the headlights. "Um, Xander can come over and do that, right?"

"She used to blush when she dressed her Ken doll," Xander told the others.

Giles's green eyes glowered through eyelashes at half-mast. "I do not need a nursemaid."

"Oh, yeah? Try to get out of that bed without using your hands." To the others, Buffy explained, "He's signing himself out against medical advice." They watched him strain to sit up, give that up as impossible, slither on his back toward the foot of the bed, and scoot laboriously to get his legs over the side. When he tilted dangerously, apparently about to slide onto the floor, Buffy said, "Xander?"

"I'll try, but there's no place on him I can touch that doesn't hurt. Come on, Giles, I've got your high speed racer right here."

"It's a wheelchair," Giles said waspishly, "not a car."

"You haven't seen how fast I can push it. Think of it as your substitute BMW."

"Don't spill him, whatever you do!"

"I'll pretend he has 'fragile' stamped on his forehead. Who knows? He probably does. Did anyone look under his hair?"

"Xander, shut up," Giles said.

"Okay." Xander shoved the wheelchair through the door, picking up speed as he hit the hallway.

Tara asked softly, "Has he said anything...?"

"Every time the doctor asked him a question about what happened, he threw up. The doctor was really freaked out about it, but Giles won't stay."

"Stiff upper lip and all that," Willow explained, starting after the wheelchair.

"He's just stubborn. Too stubborn for his own good."

"There's a lot of that going around," Willow said knowingly. Buffy shot a sharp look at her, but Willow didn't glance back.

Getting Giles into the car without hurting him wasn't easy, but the minute his head hit the back of the seat, he fell asleep, so at least she didn't have to worry about him retching his lungs out. That was not just gross, it was scary. Willow was right about the crankiness; the doctor's diagnosis included sleep deprivation, which explained why Giles slept through the whole transfusion thing. He could pull all-nighters for patrol and Hellmouth openings, sure, but going without sleep for a few days on top of blood loss and torture was a different thing entirely.

She was still fuming. Some vampire in Sunnydale was thumbing its nose at her, kidnapping the Slayer's mentor, torturing him, and then tossing him back like a broken toy.

Some vampire was going to pay.

His head slid against hers as he slept, and joy briefly swept aside the grimness. He was alive. Against all odds, Giles was alive. She didn't get him killed just by loving him. Unlike Kendra and Merrick, he came back. And not as a vampire, either.

"It's a shame we have to wake him up," Willow whispered.

"He'll feel better in his own bed," Buffy said quietly. He smelled so much better now; not a Giles smell, but at least all clean bandages and antiseptic instead of a combination of dried blood and vomit and sex.

The grimness knotted her guts again.

"I changed the sheets and pillowcases, and I'm soaking the bloodstain out," Tara said earnestly.

"It'll be fine," Buffy said again, as much to convince herself as for Tara.

Xander opened the passenger door and reached inside. Before Buffy could knock his hand away, he gently tapped Giles's hand to wake him. She'd noticed at the hospital that he really didn't like being touched right now. Even before opening his eyes, Giles was fighting the slings, trying to hit him. Xander ducked.

"Whoa! It's me--Xander. We're home."

Giles blinked at the building through his glasses, seemed to recognize it, and smiled weakly. Buffy slid out and let the rest of the gang get him unloaded and to the door while she moved in a slow wary circle, every Slayer sense extended, searching the dusk for vampires. *I hope one shows its face; I'll smash its fangs down its throat before I stake it.*

Word about her quest must have spread, because the street was unusually placid. Reluctantly, still sweeping the street, Buffy backed through the door. "Put him on the sofa."

"I'm going to my room," he said crossly.

"Not until you've had your pills, you're not."

With a skittish look over his shoulder at Buffy's face, Xander steered Giles to the sofa. He sank into it very slowly, like an arthritic old man. "They're antibiotics--they're useless against vampire bites."

Willow fastened on this bit of trivia. "They are? Don't the bites get infected?"

No matter how much discomfort he was in, Giles would never pass up the chance to play teacher. "Bacteria and viruses need living tissue to reproduce; they can't survive in the Undead. hence cannot be passed on to the victims. Human beings, on the other hand, have the foulest mouths in the animal kingdom and their bites are always septic. Since Buffy insisted on telling them I'd been engaged in dominance/submission games that got out of hand--"

Tara let out a hearty bellow of laughter, then clapped one hand over her mouth. "Sorry."

Buffy held out a glass of water and three pills. "If we told them it was a vampire attack, we'd all be in the Psych Ward right now." She saw him recognize two of the pills as painkillers; the fact that he took them without complaining told her just how much pain he was in. "How was I supposed to know they'd also pull out the rape kit and send the social worker to talk to you?"

"Excuse me. I, uh, I'll go check on the bedroom one more time," Tara said, biting her lower lip hard.

"Yeah, I'll go with her and help," Willow agreed, but neither of them moved.

"I didn't vomit that much, surely?"

He might complain, but Buffy had seen how relieved he was when the doctor said there was no--how did he put it? 'No anal penetration.' Giles hadn't known. How could he not know?

Despite his attempts to be smart-mouth Giles, his eyes were drooping, and he was looking green again. She said briskly, "Giles, we're going to do that ritual to keep vampires out, the one where we take back the invitation. Since we don't know who it was--"

Xander held up one hand. "It wasn't Angel. We called Cordelia."

"--we fiddled it around to block out everybody ever invited in. Will it work even if you don't cast the spell, just us?"

Giles sighed, considering it, temporarily distracted from his own thoughts. "If one of the people who cast it is going to be staying here with me, it should work until I'm able to cast the spell myself."

The front door opened and closed. Buffy spun, Mr. Pointy practically levitating into her hand. Behind her, the others lined up in a human wall between the door and Giles.

"Hey!" Spike held up his hands, all innocence. "I came to collect my pay, but if I'd known you lot were such moneygrubbers--"

"Excuse me. Your pay?"

He nodded to the sofa. "I brought old Rupert back, didn't I?"

"That was you?"

"Who'd ya think it was, his fairy godmother? I couldn't hang around because the sun was coming up, but I figured he'd fill you in. Didn't you tell them who kidnapped you?" He looked surprised when Giles began vomiting into the potted plant beside the sofa. "Get a spot of the flu from being kept in that cellar?"

"He does that every time he tries to remember what happened," Willow told Tara.

"I g-guess it was pretty traumatic."

Buffy wiped his face and eased him back in the sofa. "He called up Eyghon when he was practically a teenager, and defeated him. He's been my Watcher for almost five years. He was tortured by Angelus. Giles wrote the book on trauma, and it never did this to him."

Spike shrugged. "From what I saw, he had a pretty bad time of it. You see where they chewed up his leg?" He touched Giles' pants, along the inside of one thigh, and Giles jerked his leg away, groaning when his shoulders suggested it wasn't a good move. Buffy shoved Spike away from the sofa, and he looked amused. "Anyway, it was a new vamp in town, out to make his name by killing a Slayer. He figured to kill your Watcher slow, and then take you out when you got rattled by it."

Oh, that vampire was so dead. She'd show him slow. "Where is he?"

"Blowing in the wind. I staked him and cut your Watcher down. Right, Giles?"

He opened his mouth, and started vomiting again. Willow ran to the kitchen for a big mixing bowl. "Buffy, he's vomiting blood."

"Is he?" Interested, Spike leaned forward for a look, unconsciously licking his lips. Buffy shoved him away, harder, so that he bounced off the wall and knocked Giles's dartboard down. "Hey! I'm a guest here, you know!"

"Not for long," Buffy said with satisfaction, and turned back to what the other Slayerettes were saying.

"It's a geas," Tara declared, sounding certain. "A spell. Every time he tries to remember--"

"--he spews," Xander finished. "So?"

"So he'll get an ulcer, or more likely kill himself. And in the meantime, he can't identify his kidnappers or where he was held," Willow said, holding the bowl on her lap. She wiped Giles' mouth with a damp dishrag. "He probably can't even remember it."

"Huh. The vamp must've cast it before I tracked him down." Spike shook his head. "Good idea, you've got to admit. Wish I'd thought of it myself." He widened his eyes as a roomful of disapproving stares was turned on him. "What?"

Buffy flipped her hair over one shoulder and turned back to Giles, laying a hand on his forehead. "You hear that, Giles? Don't think about it!" Like that would work. There was nothing he loved more than solving a riddle, and this one involved horrible things done to him personally. He would worry at it like a dog with a fresh bone until he got to the marrow or killed himself, whichever came first. "Willow, can't you guys remove the spell?"

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Spike interjected. "Unless you wanna turn his brain to mush." He thought about that for a moment and raised an eyebrow. "Might improve his personality, at that."

"Spike's got a point," Willow said reluctantly. "Not--Not about Giles's personality, but about his mind. Without knowing what sort of spell was used, or how powerful the spellcaster was, and in his condition...."

Tara said, "Sometimes there are boobytraps."

"I mean, with Giles to help us...."

"But he can't."

"Hard cheese," Spike said, not sounding particularly upset.

"I'll...be...fine," Giles panted, pulling away from the mixing bowl. "If we wait...until I'm better...."

"At this rate, you won't get better, will you?"

"Shut up, Spike!"

"It's the truth, innit?"

Tara offered tentatively, "We could augment the spell, instead of fighting it."

"Something to make him forget the whole thing ever happened?" Xander asked. "Uh, wouldn't he notice the slings?"

"Something to make him uninterested in remembering it, like it's all so distant and unimportant." Willow sounded like her mind was already racing. "If you really pushed him, he'd think he got hurt on patrol or something. The way Alzheimer's patients make up stories to explain what they're doing."

"Confabulation," Tara said, nodding. She'd taken psychology classes, too.

"That'd be safer. If we erase the memory, we're meddling too deep in the mind again. He's already been hurt by the original spell. Or maybe it's a curse," she said, distracted by the thought. "It could make a difference."

Giles objected, "If you add your spell to the original one, I won't ever be able to remember what happened, even once I recover. The odds are against it with a single spell, let alone two." He yawned. "And in any case, if you slip up with a total amnesia spell, I could lose all my memories, not just the memory of my abduction."

Xander straddled a chair. "You don't need to remember what happened, if the bloodsucker's already dead. And there are probably some memories you wouldn't mind losing. You know, like the dorky teenage years."

"I liked my teenage years," Giles objected. He yawned again. "As it happens, I was not 'dorky.'"

Spike fiddled with the zipper on his black leather jacket. "Look, before you haul out the old baby pictures, could we finish up our business here? I mean, given that I wasn't exactly rescuing Hugh Grant, I wasn't expecting hugs and kisses, but you did promise a reward if I brought him back, and here he is."

Buffy turned to him, plastering a totally insincere smile on her lips. "Yes, here he is. You dumped him alone and naked in the bed, unable to move his arms, and left him there to die of blood loss and vomiting."

He scowled. "Hey, he only ralphed a couple times for me. I'm not the one nagging him to remember stuff, am I? And the cuts were sealed. I'd have smelled fresh blood if he was leaking."

"You didn't even bother to call and tell us he was here!"

He shrugged, unimpressed. "I tried. None of you were home, and the sun was coming up."

"You could've stayed here with him."

"I've got company. A friend from out of town. It'd be rude to spend all night looking for the geezer for you, and then hang around here all day, too."

"And you're never rude," Xander said heavily. There was a snort from the sofa, where Willow, Tara, and Giles were bent over a fat brown antique spellbook.

"At least I pay off my debts. If you don't want him, I can take him back. There's a market for Watchers, even ones in bad shape." He studied Giles dispassionately. "They're worth more that way, actually--makes 'em easier to handle. The good ones can be a bit of trouble."

She'd thought Giles was absorbed in the procedural discussion about spells--Willow had the open book balanced precariously atop the mixing bowl--but he shot Spike a slit-eyed stare. "Give him some money and get him out of my house. Mr. Manners was a dreadful houseguest, and he hasn't improved any since."

"Oh, really? Did it ever occur to you that were a lousy host?"

Buffy slapped the money into his outstretched hand. "Thanks, Spike. Goodbye."

Giles's eyelids finally drifted fully closed, and he leaned back against the sofa. She pushed Spike toward the front door, but he clutched at the doorsill and dug in his heels, determined to have the last word.

"You're welcome to be my houseguest any time you wanna see what kind of host I am, Rupert, old sport. You might find yourself quite surprised."

Buffy slammed the door in his face.

Turning up the collar of his jacket, Spike smiled.


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