Surrendering To Fate
Chapter Eight - Business As Usual

written by Jolene Beasley




It was nearly ten thirty in the morning, and Buffy was just coming in the front door of the house when she heard the telephone ringing. Knowing that her Watcher and her mother were probably still asleep due to their late evening (she giggled at that thought) she ran to the telephone and answered it. "Hello, Summers-Giles residence."

An unfamiliar voice asked, "is... is Mr. Giles there? Uh, this is Tony Salerno, at the restaurant. We got a problem, and I need to talk to him ASAP."

"Sure, hang on just a minute... Iíll get him." She laid the receiver on its side and ran up the stairs. They were probably way zonked out, or her light-sleeping Watcher would have heard the ringing. She stopped in front of their closed bedroom door and knocked lightly. She was rewarded by a breathless, "What is it?" from her mother. Confusion washed over Buffyís face... where was Giles?

"Sorry, Mom, but thereís a guy from the restaurant on the phone for Giles. Is he awake? The guy says itís kind of an emergency."

The muffled laugh that came from inside the room made Buffy roll her eyes in disgust. After a minute, her mother answered, "Heís awake... hang on."

Inside the bedroom, Joyce slid off her husband with a sorrowful sigh. "Oh, well, duty calls."

Giles muttered a few choice words as he threw on his robe. "Love, we simply must get an extension up here. I so detest traipsing downstairs for a three minute conversation."

"Iíll call the phone company today, hon." Joyce slid out of bed, intending to follow him to the telephone.

He stopped her with a quick kiss. "You stay put. Iíll return shortly, then we shall pick up where we left off."

Grumpy and disheveled, Giles descended the stairs as Buffy watched in amusement. Boy, that musta been some night! she thought wickedly as she gave her new step-dad a knowing grin. He smirked back at her, still too preoccupied to blush properly. He seized the telephone and growled, "Giles here."

He listened closely for about a minute, then started asking rapid-fire questions. "Is this the first time? Between two and nine in the morning, eh? Hmmm. Did this ever occur while Barnaby was alive? He did? I see. You think itís... what? No... I donít think youíve gone crazy. Yes, I believe I know what to do. No, it wonít come out of your salary... I pay you to be a chef, not a night watchman. Just replace what you must and continue on. Instruct the staff to stay quiet during working hours, all right? I donít want to frighten the clientele. Iíll be there as quickly as I can... good-bye."

Buffy waited while he gathered his thoughts and fell into his familiar ĎWatcher Modeí stance, arms folded, head tilted, and a frown of concentration on his face. When he didnít volunteer to tell her what the problem was, she cleared her throat loudly. He looked at her, seeing the curiosity on her face, but still didnít speak.

When Buffy realized she was losing the staring contest, she gave an impatient grunt. "Well, Giles? Whatís the big?"

"We seem to have a problem with the restaurant."

"I gathered, oh taciturn one." She grinned as his eyebrows raised at her words. "Yes, I am a college girl now, and I decided it was high time I started talking like one."

He smiled fondly. "Good for you. Uh, actually, I might need your help on this one. It seems that something broke into the storeroom and freezer at Barnabyís last night and devoured or destroyed all the food it could find, which was a considerable amount. I canít afford too much of that kind of monetary loss. Iíll have to go survey the damage and try to get an idea of what is doing this."

"You said Ďwhatí, not Ďwhoí, Giles. You know something... tell me."

He turned and leaned against the back of the couch. "I have a reasonable idea. Apparently, itís something with a twelve-foot stride and a footprint that is more like a birdís than a humanís."

Buffyís eyes widened. "Demon."

He nodded. "Iím almost certain. Iíll need to examine the scene, replace supplies, see to the repair of the locks and doors... Iíll look through my correspondence with Cousin Barnaby and see if he recorded anything about a similar incident."

"You mean, itís happened before?"

Giles sighed. There went his nice, leisurely morning with his new wife. He turned to his step-daughter and smiled sadly. "Yes, unfortunately, Tony seems sure of it."

* * * * *

Gilesí long, sleek BMW glided smoothly down the long highway, lulling its passengers into a comfortable doze. The driver glanced down happily, watching Joyce as she slept next to him, her head resting on his arm as he drove. A second glance in the rear view mirror revealed a back seat full of slumbering Slayer, curled on her side with her head pillowed on her arm.

He wasnít entirely thrilled about involving his new family in the current crisis, but neither of them were willing to stay home. Joyce was scheduled to return to the Gallery the following week, and two weeks after that, Buffy would be moving into her new dorm room at the college. He knew they wanted this last week of leisure to be a family time... and he certainly never intended for it to involve demons and mysterious food disappearances.

As they started up the winding drive, Joyce roused and sat up. She took in the view with a puzzled look, then turned to him and asked, "Are we here already? I mustíve dozed off."

"You did. So did Buffy. We had rather a late night, all of us."

Joyce ran her fingers through the hair at the back of his head, smiling. "Some of us later than others."

He chuckled softly. "Yes. Five-thirty, wasnít it, when we finally decided to get some sleep?"

"Something like that. So that wouldíve given us about four hours before your friend called."

From the back seat, a loud yawn came forth, followed by a disgusted snort. "Ewww... not only are you guys sex maniacs, but when youíre not doing it, youíre talking about it. Bleah."

Joyce reached over the seat and patted her daughterís head. "Just keep that attitude about sex, honey, at least until you graduate from college, and Iíll be happy."

"Oh, Mom..." Buffy sat up and used her compact mirror to check her hair. "Uh, anyway, changing the subject before I barf... who was the guy who called? Nice voice. He sounded Italian, or something."

"He is Italian. Tony is the best gourmet chef in this part of the country... perhaps in the entire country. Heís a third generation chef... learned from his father, who is acclaimed all over Europe. Heís a near genius, and heís an excellent manager, as well. Barnaby gave him a chance when he was just out of school, and now I owe the success of the place to him, no question. I havenít the first idea about running a restaurant."

"Youíre a pretty good judge of character though, Rupert. If you say this guy is good, then he must be." Joyce unbuckled her seat belt as the car came to a halt near the rear entrance. "Whoa... what a mess."

The rear door of the establishment, a solid metal affair complete with security locks, was crumpled like a piece of aluminum foil and lay in the middle of the parking lot. There were crates and boxes scattered about, crushed and oozing their contents onto the pavement. Many of the crates were empty.

Giles frowned as the three of them got out and surveyed the damage. There wasnít a salvageable item left. The cans had all been punctured, the neat holes reminding Buffy of vampire bites. The vegetables were crushed or missing entirely. Buffy nudged a fractured crate of carrots with the toe of her shoe, turning the box over to reveal nothing but chewed off carrot tops. "Hey! Looky here, Giles. Whatever this thing is, he subscribes to the five basic food groups."

"Hmmm? Did you find something?"

"Well, yeah." She pointed to several crates, explaining as she went. "See here? The milk is all gone, and not much of it spilled, either. The thing mustíve taken the unopened jugs. Very conscientious. And there, a bunch of vegetables, all chewed on until thereís not much left. Fruit over there, here, big meat hooks... just a few shreds of meat on them... I bet thereís no freshly baked bread or frozen fish left, either. This critter eats right."

"I see." Giles thought furiously. "A demon who eats human food? Highly suggestive."

"Suggestive, how? What do demons usually eat?" Joyce picked up a bread wrapper, shaking out the few meager crumbs inside, a thoughtful expression on her face.

"The purebreds usually eat metaphysical or emotional things... fear, love, hate... but there are some that prefer... other, more, um, physical things."

"Like babies?" Joyce shuddered at the memory.

"Well... yes. I didnít really want to bring it up, but children are a common, ah, meal. We seem to run into a great deal of those kinds of creatures in Sunnydale."

"You said something about Ďpurebredsí..."

"Yes. Most of the demons we encounter are Ďtaintedí, or not one hundred percent demon." He clicked into Lecture Mode without missing a beat. "There are two classes of Ďlesserí demons: those who can pass for human, at least most of the time, and those who cannot. The chameleon demons can eat regular food, but they donít usually draw attention to themselves in this manner. The other class usually have a specific diet..."

"Buffy! Donít touch anything!" Joyce trotted towards her daughter as she poked around the back of the garbage bin with a long stick. "You might get demon germs!"

"Been there, done that, went Ďewí and Ďickí, remember? Iím being careful, Mom, I promise." Buffy held up a shredded piece of something that sheíd exposed with her stick. It dangled, speared by the stickís sharp end, and Buffy was examining it with great interest. "Hereís some demon skin, or something."

Giles was immediately at their side. He took the stick and examined the remnant carefully, pulling his ever present switchblade out of his pocket to poke at the material. When he straightened, he smiled grimly. "Well, thatís one mystery solved. It is indeed a demon."

"Thereís a demon with purple spots?" Buffy looked like she was about to laugh.

"You should be grateful. This is a tail segment of some type of lesser demon, one that can be fought with conventional means."

"Tail segment? Ouch. Do you think Stubby is gonna come back tonight?"

"I donít know. Perhaps." He continued to examine the fragment, lost in speculation.

"A regular, ordinary lesser demon did all this damage, in just a couple of hours?" Joyce looked around, then stepped into the kitchen, looking at the broken crockery and bent pans. the freezer door was torn from its hinges, and was practically empty. "Did I just call a demon ordinary?" She laughed derisively at herself. "I think Iím going as crazy as you two are already. Also... I donít think I want to meet this demon, ordinary or otherwise."

"I quite agree. However, it may become necessary for Buffy and I to do just that."

Buffy rubbed her hands together in mock delight. "Oh, goody. And I was getting tired of dusting ordinary olí vamps. Thisíll be something different!"

They continued their examination inside, noting the state of the kitchen as they searched for clues. As Giles was clucking sadly over the dented metal vats, a tall, dark-haired man in his mid-twenties strode up to them, his face pensive. "Mr. Giles, sir! The supplies I can replace today, but I havenít found us a new freezer door yet. Oh, sorry for my rudeness! This must be your family." The attractive young man stuck his hand out and shook Joyceís carefully. "Mrs. Giles, pleased to make your acquaintance!"

"Iím pleased to meet you, too, Tony. Rupert speaks highly of you."

"Oh, thank you very much, the pleasure is mine. Mr. Giles speaks of you like a goddess!" He kissed his fingers dramatically. His gaze shifted to Buffy, and his eyes began to sparkle. "And is this your daughter?" He took Buffyís hand just as gingerly, but instead of shaking it, he bowed slightly over it, turning a charming smile towards her. "She is a goddess, as well. Two goddesses in your home! Mr. Giles, you must be very proud."

Buffy grinned at his obvious interest. "He is. And also very protective. Watch out, Tony, heís also very good with weapons."

Tony dropped her hand and stepped back quickly, shooting an apologetic look at his boss. Gilesí mouth twitched as he fought the laughter that bubbled up inside him. Buffy certainly knew how to put a young man in his place!

Intentionally changing the subject, Giles motioned Tony over to the damaged counter. "How much of this is the insurance going to cover?"

"The agent says Ďall of ití, boss." Tonyís face turned earnest. "Heíll be here in a little while, to look things over personally. Mr. Barney was a good customer, so theyíll want to be sure you stay a good customer. Theyíll bend over backwards, I bet."

"Good. I hope I wonít say anything to reveal my abject ignorance of this business." He gave his employee a wry grin. "Youíll have to stay close, and cover for me."

"No problem, sir! Iíll be right here. But you arenít ignorant. You may not have restaurant savvy, but you have other savvy. You treat everyone like people, not just workers. Just like Mr. Barney."

Giles knew a heartfelt compliment when he heard one. "Thank you, Tony. Youíve put together a topnotch staff, and Iím grateful. I barely have to show my face around here, and everything proceeds as it should."

Buffyís voice echoed as she raised her voice in the large freezer. "I hate to interrupt this mutual admiration society, but you guys need to come look at this."

Giles and Joyce stepped into the doorway of the room-sized freezer, and stared in amazement as Buffy pulled a bent and leaning shelf away from the wall. Behind it was a ragged, larger than man sized hole leading outside. From the looks of things, someone, or something, had just gone through the wall and the metal casing like they were butter. The freezer doors had been torn off from the inside.

"Rupert, I donít like the look of this," Joyce said nervously.

"Neither do I, love... neither do I." Giles entered the still-chilly room and bent over to examine the edges of the opening carefully. "It appears that our guest entered through here, and then broke out into the kitchen to finish the job. Most unusual." He stared at the rough, torn edges, lost in comparing them to his memory of other demonic forced entries. Something was nagging at the edges of his thoughts, but he couldnít put his finger on it.

"Giles, why didnít we see this hole from outside?" Buffy was staring at the parking lot through the ragged hole.

"Itís on the far side of the building. We didnít go round that way. This is where the employees park."

Tony added, "I saw this mess when I first pulled up... I donít mind telling you, I was afraid! That big hole was made by a big thing!"

"Yes, it was..." Giles continued to study the edge carefully. Finally, he straightened. "Buffy, hand me something to put some scrapings in."

"Huh?"

He sighed patiently. "Something like a small plastic bag. I want to examine these crumbled edges under a microscope."

"You turning into Quincy now, Pop?" She nevertheless strolled over to the counter, pulling drawers open until Tony came over to her side, hovering nervously as she invaded his space.

"Miss, can I help you?"

"Yeah, Giles needs a plastic bag, like a zip-lock. Do you have..."

The young man whipped open a cabinet and handed her exactly what she asked for. "You have only to ask." He put on his best girl-killing smile as he looked at the small blonde beauty.

She gave the dark-eyed chef a grateful smile. "Thanks. And donít be too afraid of Giles... heís really a sweet guy."

"Iím not afraid of him, but I respect him. Mr. Barney told me he was pretty tough."

"Oh, he is. But, just between you and me..." She leaned over and finished in a conspiratorial whisper, "...my Momís the one you gotta watch out for."

Tonyís eyebrows tried to crawl up into his hairline. In a small voice, he said, "oh?"

"Yeah. Sheís wicked accurate with an ax."

"Uh...ax?"

As if on cue, Joyceís voice floated in from the freezer. "Buffy? Are you all right out there? Rupert needs that plastic bag!"

"Coming, Mom!" Buffy feigned a tinge of fear at her motherís voice. "See?"

Tony watched her dash back into the cold room with trepidation plain on his face.

* * * * *

After a busy morning of meeting with the police, the insurance agent, and several repairmen, Giles finally gathered his family for a quick lunch, courtesy of Tony and his kitchen assistants. They had made considerable headway on getting the place cleaned up, salvaging enough utensils and pans to be able to prepare a quick meal. Since the restaurant was always closed on Monday evenings, Tony stated confidently that he had plenty of time to get things back into shape for their Tuesday opening.

After the meal, they thanked Tony and his staff warmly, and started the short drive back to Sunnydale. Buffy chattered happily with Joyce about what kind of demon they might be looking for, then switched to how good the roast beef sandwich was, interspersing offhand comments about the cute chef.

Joyce kept glancing at Giles as if to say, ĎJust who is this boy and what do you know about him?í To her credit, however, she didnít comment until they arrived at home and Buffy had left to visit Willow. Joyce was sure Willow would know everything in a scant few minutes, once Buffy arrived!

Giles headed immediately to his bookshelf and began carefully sliding a fragile, leather bound volume into the palm of his hand. Joyce still wanted to talk about the chef, but she was a little surprised to recognize the title of the tome her husband was carrying to the coffee table. It was a Watcherís Diary with the name ĎGilesí embossed on the spine in heavy gold letters.

She joined him on the couch as he carefully opened the fragile binding and searched the almost transparent pages. "You have on your Watcher Face, hon."

He glanced up at her absent-mindedly. "Hmmm? Oh, yes, I suppose I do. This is our familyís Watcher diary. It was among the effects Barnaby left to me. I havenít taken time to read his entries... perhaps I should have."

She looked at Giles in disbelief. "Your black sheep cousin was a Watcher?!"

"Well, yes, for a short time. Three days, I think... it isnít a pleasant story, but it does explain why Barnaby left England and settled in Los Angeles."

Joyce watched thoughtfully for several minutes as he poured over the last dozen or so entries. They were written in very modern ball point ink, which contrasted sharply with the delicate pages. Suddenly, Giles surprised her by chuckling. She looked up at him, and he smiled wistfully. "My cousin was quite the rebel. He wrote this to deliberately anger our superiors. He should have been a newspaper columnist."

"Sounds like you and he had a lot in common."

"Yes." He smiled fondly as he read.

"Does he mention the break-in?"

"Not directly. He did say, in his last entry, that the entire lot of them, meaning the Watcherís Council, Iím sure, could go directly to the Devil in a hand cart, and that he was going to buy a little restaurant in the foothills and retire. That, of course, is precisely what he did."

"Good for him. Aunt Rose notwithstanding, I donít trust them, even if they do decide to reinstate you."

"I donít trust them, either. They could be toying with me, testing me to see if I can survive without their pitiful stipend."

"They sent you a stipend?" Even after dating and marrying the man, it had never occurred to Joyce to ask him that question, and, being the private person he was, he had never volunteered to tell her.

"Well, until January." He ducked his head to hide his discomfort at the mention of Buffyís disastrous eighteenth birthday.

Joyce reached for his right hand, sliding her fingers between his in what she hoped was a comforting gesture. "Oh, Rupert... Iím sorry. I guess I shouldíve realized youíd lost more than just a title."

"No, itís all right. It wasnít important, really... not even enough to pay my rent, but it helped."
"Barnabyís inheritance certainly came in the nick of time, didnít it? That sounds really callous... Iím sorry."

"No, Joyce, itís true. It was almost as if he knew..." Something flashed in his mind, and he stood, his hand still clutching hers. "I just had a remarkable thought. I need to go through some of those boxes we took to the attic."

"It figures." She followed him up the stairs, a resigned grin on her face. "Just as soon as we get all that stuff put away, you have to go through it."

"What is it you always say? Ah, yes... must be ĎMurphyís Law.í"

* * * * *

Joyce had done a thorough attic-cleaning just before he moved in, so there wasnít too much dust and clutter to deal with. Giles pulled two old side chairs up to the first box and started sifting through the stacks of carefully categorized paperwork that represented most of his adult life. Correspondence was neatly bound in slender silk ribbons, not rubber bands. He never ceased to amaze her. Joyce sat beside him, enjoying just being with him as he worked methodically through the stacks of memories. Occasionally, he would grunt, or chuckle, or give a snort of disgust at what heíd read. Years, even decades, passed through his hands as she watched.

Slowly, he began to gather a small pile of letters, the earlier ones postmarked from England, the later ones from LA. When heíd found all of Barnabyís correspondence, he carefully re-packed the remaining papers and stood, stretching carefully. "I think this is the lot. Letís take them downstairs where weíll be more comfortable."

She got to her feet and gave him a gentle kiss, clutching his shirt front for leverage. "We could read them in bed... that would be very comfortable."

"Youíre completely insatiable, Joyce Anne Giles! Have you been taking vitamins? Whatever they are, I want some of them."

"You seem to be keeping up with me just fine. Iíll share my Geritol with you, if you insist."

He started laughing, interspersing chuckles with kisses. "Come on, research before rapture."

"But only just before..."

"Vixen!"

"Tease."

He stared at her in disbelief. "Iím what? A tease? How?"

"Well..." She trailed an index finger upwards from his belt, circling each button on his shirt until she reached the top. She toyed with the neck of his undershirt for a few seconds before finishing her reply. "...first of all, here we are, sitting up here, just the two of us, and youíre being all cute and serious, which is bad enough, but then you have to go all soft and sentimental on me, and you know that just drives me wild..."

He began rocking her gently in his arms, a delighted grin on his face. "And then?"

"And then, you have the audacity to start kissing me, and holding me close like this..."

"You mean, like this?"

He tightened the circle of his arms until she couldnít look up at him, but rather rested her head against his shoulder and sighed happily as he kissed her forehead, her cheek, and her chin. "Thatís exactly what I meant."

"And just how does that make me a tease, love?" He nuzzled her neck, smiling.

"Be-because you know what all those little things do to me..."

"Well, the kissing and holding... that certainly is deliberate. However, I canít help being cute."

She giggled against his lips as she kissed him again. He resumed the rocking motion until it became very much like slow dancing. Suddenly, blue fire crackled, dancing around them before dissipating into the air. He realized they would have to stop soon, or abandon all research and go back to their room. Reluctantly, he took a step back and took a deep breath, reiterating his earlier statement. "Research before rapture."

She pouted slightly, but acquiesced. "Okay... but Iím holding you to the rapture part, hon."

"Thatís a promise Iíll be happy to keep, love."

He followed her back down the stairs and into the living room. They took up their favorite spot on the couch, and she curled up against his side as he began to read the letters that spanned most of his adult life.

After he had been reading for a while, he glanced down at Joyce, wondering if sheíd fallen asleep. Sheíd been so quiet. He was surprised to find her gazing up at him, her face relaxed and content. "Iím sure this is terribly boring, isnít it?"

She smiled. "Boring? No way. Itís wonderful to be able to just sit here and be quiet for a while. We donít get much chance to do that."

"No, we donít. Weíll have to schedule some Ďdo nothingí time into our week, if you enjoy it so much."

"Good Idea. Only, next time, letís do nothing at a picnic."

He chuckled. "That would seem to fall into the category of Ďdoing somethingí."

"Iím willing to compromise, if you are."

The memories of the pleasantly sensual picnics theyíd shared while dating caused him to smile in fond reminiscence. "I think something might be arranged."

He returned to his perusal of his relativeís elegant and distinctive handwriting. Joyce scanned the page as he read, realizing the unusual appearance of the words were due to a marked left-handed slant. ĎRupertís writing is similar, although his letters donít lean so much,í she mused to herself.

Suddenly, she felt him stiffen beside her. She sat up and watched his face as he found what he was looking for. She couldnít help blurting, "Well... what did you find?"

Instead of explaining, he began to read the passage aloud. "I am having a problem at the restaurant. Although it pains me to admit it, I think I am out of my league in this matter. Would you please send me several of your best warding incantations, primarily the ones dealing with protecting a home and business? I have a sneaking suspicion that my old friends are behind my recent trouble, though I shall never be able to prove it. It smacks of the Councilís black sense of irony, though--the idea of attacking the only thing in my life that has any meaning for me. I will await your reply."

"Did you send him the spells?"

Giles thought about it for a second, then nodded. "Yes, I did. He didnít elaborate on the matter, and he never mentioned the Council again, as I recall. Barnaby could be maddeningly vague, when he wanted to be." He looked at the small stack of papers to his left. "I will read the rest, just in case my memory has failed me, but I think this is the only direct reference in any of his correspondence."

"Do you think he was right? I mean, about the Council trying to force him out of business because he quit their little club? That seems awfully petty." Joyce shook her head in disbelief.

"I suppose it does, but the Council has never allowed common sense to stand in the way of tradition. Be that as it may, I still doubt that heíd be important enough to them to warrant direct interference. He was expendable, Iím sure, but hardly worth the effort."

Joyce snorted softly at that, then stood gracefully. "I want tea. How Ďbout you?"

He looked up at her, his eyes sparkling with love and desire. "I want you, but Iíll take tea as a prelude."

She chuckled and ran her fingertips through his hair as she passed behind him on her way to the kitchen. "Is everything a prelude to sex with you?"

With a perfectly straight face, he replied, "No, of course not. Some things are postludes."

He could hear her laughing until the kitchen door closed and muffled the sound.

* * * * *

As soon as Buffy returned home, their relaxing family evening became an intense research session. Giles had no intention of letting another break-in occur while he searched ineffectually for a solution, so Buffy volunteered to call Willow and Xander. The five of them sped through over twenty volumes during the night, and Willow clocked almost eight hours on the Internet looking for clues, blanket warding spells, and descriptions of carrot-eating, ten-foot tall demons who took pleasure in wrecking restaurants. In other words, they found nothing.

"My eyes are about to fall out of my face," Xander announced as he shut his book with a resounding clap. "I donít think the last hundred pages I read even registered. I need to take a break."

Willow shook her head at her life-long friend. "Go home and get some sleep. The tireder you get, the weirder you get. And youíre weird enough already."

"I resemble that remark!"

Giles interrupted their banter. "Xanderís right, Willow. You both need to rest. I believe Iím going to stay at the restaurant tonight, just in case there is a return visit. Thereís nothing more you can do right now." He glanced at his watch, seemingly shocked by the late hour. "And, Iíd best be going soon. The last break-in was estimated to be at around 2 a.m., so thereís just time to get there and find a comfortable spot in which to wait."

The two tired Slayerettes reluctantly said their good-byes and left. Giles closed the front door and returned to the living room, where he was faced with two very angry females. The expressions on their faces stopped him short, and he shifted his gaze from one to the other, trying to think of what he had done or said to make them so irate.

Joyce found her voice first. "Rupert Giles! Did you just Ďforgetí to tell me about your little plan? Or did you intend for me to just wait and worry about you until sunrise?"

"Well, I..."

"Yeah, Giles! Were you going to inform your Slayer of this little demon hunt of yours, or were you just going to drag in half dead and tell me about it afterwards?" Buffy rounded the couch and stepped towards him.

"Actually, I..."

Joyce moved towards him as well, a dangerous expression on her face. "I canít believe you! If I hadnít wanted to be a part of your crazy evil-fighting life, I wouldíve stayed single!"

"Joyce, I had no intentions of..."

"Giles, I know youíre a big boy, and all, but you shouldnít go gallivanting off by yourself on stuff like this!"

"Buffy, really..."

"You shouldíve discussed it with me first!"

"I..."

"And me!"

"Ah..."

"Rupert! Stop beating around the bush and answer me!"

"Yeah, Giles, what do you have to say for yourself?"

Giles waited for the volley to continue. When it didnít, he looked vaguely off-balance for a moment, then finally said, "Are you both finished?"

The two blondes looked at each other, still glowering. They stared for a beat, then turned back to him and nodded.

"You sure?"

The pair crossed their arms and shifted their weight to one leg, their movements almost identical.

He did his best not to laugh. It wouldíve made things much worse. "Well, all right, then, gather your things and letís be going."

Buffy gave her mother a high five and sprinted up the stairs. Joyceís face relaxed into a seductive smile. She sashayed over to him as he watched, a little distrustful of her change in mood. "I promise to make it worth your while, after we get home." She gave him a short, but sensuous kiss. "You know how demon hunting turns me on."

His breath quickened, and he didnít have the heart to tell her heíd been planning on taking them both all along.

* * * * *

The black BMW pulled into the parking lot at Barnabyís at just before midnight. The security lights surrounding the place created a narrow expanse of false daylight around the building, the artificial glow casting weird shadows as they approached the work entrance. Giles and Buffy carried heavy bags full of weapons and warding supplies, each with a crossbow strapped to their backs. Joyce carried her short ax and a squirt gun full of holy water.

As Giles began unlocking the hastily repaired door, Buffy stood guard, alert readiness apparent in her stance and in her face. Joyce watched her carefully sweeping the area, moving with almost mechanical precision to keep every visible spot in her surveillance. She felt a swell of pride in her daughterís ability, despite her hatred of the danger it brought her. On the heels of pride was a tingle of anticipation, something that had appeared fairly recently in her since her marriage to Rupert.

ĎIs that how Buffy feels every night? The excitement, every nerve alive and singing... No wonder she and Angel couldnít keep their hands off each other!í She glanced at her husband as he undid the last of the locks and opened the door. He looked up at her and his eyes sparkled with humor and desire. ĎHeís feeling it, too... I almost wish Buffy had stayed home, now...í Shaking her head slightly at her own thoughts, she followed him into the kitchen, with Buffy bringing up the rear. The petite Slayer didnít relax until the door was closed and locked behind them.

Tony had faithfully left every light inside the building on, to make their late-night inspection easier.. and safer. Giles once again thanked his lucky stars that Tony had agreed to stay and manage the place. The young man had confided in Giles that his dream was to one day buy the restaurant and start a chain, and Giles hoped for just that eventuality. As generous as cousin Barnaby had been, passing a considerable inheritance to him, Giles had no desire to own the restaurant forever.

He wasnít sure exactly what he wanted to do, at this point in his life, except be the best husband, Watcher, and step-father he could be.

Buffy brushed past him, dropping her bag on the floor and swinging the crossbow up to a ready position. "Just in case, Pop, Iím gonna check around in here, okay?"

"Good idea. And please, be careful."

"Always!" Her cheerful reply was in direct contrast to her stealthy cautiousness as she moved further into the restaurant area.

Giles dropped to one knee and began assembling the wards for each doorway. He had decided to triple the wards on the kitchen entrances, and mix the wards in the rest of the building, just to be sure. Joyce pulled a barstool over near him and watched as he worked, admiring the dexterity and graceful motions of his fingers and hands.

When he finished, he looked up and caught her smiling. He answered her with a smile of his own. "Enjoying the show, love? Or are you bored to tears already?"

"The former." She gave him an appreciative once-over, causing his grin to widen.

Buffy bounced back into the kitchen, announcing, "No boogie-men on the premises, Giles. Just some really cool views of the valley... this place is great! Wheníre you gonna buy me dinner?" She looked at the two of them, taking in their bemused expressions. "Or, do ya just bring women here when you wanna get lucky?"

Joyceís bark of laughter broke the spell, and they all started chuckling.

Giles set about to place the wards around the dining area, with Buffy alternating between watching him and checking on her mother. As she flitted in and out of the kitchen, Joyce busied herself with making a late night snack, finding sliced roast beef and sandwich bread in the front refrigerator. As she rummaged, she found a note from Tony taped to the mayonnaise jar. "Look at this, Rupert. Your employee has quite a sense of humor."

Giles stepped over to her and read the note. "Boss, I figured youíd get hungry tonight, so I left this note on the mayo where youíd find it for sure. Barnaby always made sure I had enough mayo. Maybe youíre supposed to smear the demons with it! (haha) There are two cases in the supply room. I made enough roast beef for a midnight snack. If you need me, my number is on the wall by the telephone. Tony."

Joyce chuckled softly. "Mayonnaise... the ultimate weapon in the fight against evil."

She looked up to see her husbandís face shift into Research Mode. He was thinking furiously. Ingredients in mayonnaise... eggs, milk, oil, vinegar, lemon juice, corn starch...

Vinegar!

Certain types of demons had an extreme dislike of vinegar... and the mayonnaise would make it sticky and hard to remove...

A thrill of discovery washed over him, and he leaned forward and kissed Joyce thoroughly. "You are wonderful, did you know that?" he said when he pulled away, looking deeply into her dark eyes.

She cleared her throat, feeling slightly unsteady. "Tell me again."

Passion danced in his eyes as he lowered his head to hers. "...wonderful..." he whispered, before capturing her lips with his. Their eyes closed in bliss, relishing the warm, soft contact of lips and tongues, reveling in the taste and feel of each other. Giles noticed a barely audible crackle of energy, and he realized that a restaurant kitchen wasnít the place for conjugal activity.

They both pulled away at the same time, breathing heavily.

"Hey, I can see a traffic jam in the valley... looks like a string of pearls and rubies... very pretty." Buffy wandered into the room and stopped when she saw her parentsí flushed faces. "Am I going to have to make you two sit in opposite corners of the room?"

Giles turned his gaze to his Slayer, clicking almost instantly into Watcher Mode. "Mayonnaise, Buffy... it was Barnabyís secret weapon against these nocturnal visitors."

Buffy backed towards the door, a worried look on her face. "Youíve flipped out, havenít you? Too much sex has fried your brain."

Fighting his annoyance, he explained patiently, "Certain demons are allergic to vinegar. Vinegar is difficult to use, however, because in its liquid state it evaporates rapidly. Mayonnaise contains a great deal of vinegar, and has the added advantage of being thick enough to stay where it is applied. A note from Tony, mentioning Barnabyís preoccupation with having several spare cases of mayonnaise, plus an offhand comment by your mother, suddenly brought everything into focus."

"Oh, okay, so youíre not flipping out." Buffy relaxed slightly. "But you were kissing before I came in."

Joyce took that opportunity to add her two cents worth. "So?"

Buffy glared at her for a moment, before replying in a grudging tone, "...so... nothing. Forget I said anything."

"Fine with me." Joyce turned back to her husband and asked calmly, "So... we smear the place with mayonnaise? How on earth are we gonna do that?"

"I think the doorknobs, door facings, and windows will be enough for now... thank God the viewing glasses are located in an area that would make access difficult, if not impossible... Iíd hate to think what replacing them would cost..."

"If things get too exciting, Iíll just throw a whole jar at Ďem." Buffy picked up one of the containers, hefting it to judge its weight. "I think I could hit something with this."

Giles gathered his wards as he spoke. "Yes, but that would be our last resort... donít want to waste supplies, you know."

Joyce laughed. "Spoken like a true restauranteur."

He straightened, surprised. "Really?"

"Thereís hope for you, yet, hon."

"Giles! Mom! Demon coming, I can feel it!" Buffy sprinted to a window, peering out into the artificial daylight outside. "I donít see it yet, but the olí spider sense is tingling like crazy."

"What species would set off your Slayer senses in the same way a vampire would?" Giles mused as he joined her in scanning the parking lot for movement. "I wish I had my books..."

"No time for reading, Pop, Ďcause here something comes!"

"I donít see anything."

"There!" She pointed, a little desperate. "Itís gotta be right in front of us! And thereís no mayo!"

"I still donít... of course... an invisibility spell... now if I can just remember the counter..."

Something heavy pounded against the metal reinforced kitchen door. On the second assault, the door began to buckle on its hinges.

"Giles! Hurry up with that spell stuff! Mom, get back! Hide... itís way too strong!"

The third blow bowed the heavy door inward like a sheet of aluminum foil.

"Buffy! Arm yourself!" Giles gathered several jars of the condiment and pushed the rest towards Joyce. "Joyce! Smear yourself with it! Coat the ax, a stake, anything you can find! Quickly!" She scrambled to comply, spilling several globs on the floor before covering her weapon with the slick substance.

The door was barely hanging onto its hinges. Buffy thought furiously, trying to come up with a strategy to catch the creatures by surprise. Before she could come up with anything, Giles grabbed a jar and opened it, dumping the majority of its contents right in front of the door. He used a broom to spread the stuff around, hurriedly coating the floor with slippery mayonnaise. As an after thought, he tossed a hand towel to Buffy, then turned and handed one to Joyce. "To wipe your hands with... canít get the jars open with oily hands!"

Joyce thought briefly, ĎHeís so smart... to think of something like that!" Then she stopped thinking and started hyperventilating as the door flew off its hinges and landed just a few feet from her husband. Anger arose in her, along with a thrill of fear and a healthy dose of exhilaration... she threw the mayonnaise lid off to the side and began applying the fragrant paste to her exposed arms. She saw Buffy just behind Giles doing the same thing. Three pairs of eyes glued themselves to the open doorway, waiting for something... anything... to come through. Buffy and Giles eased towards the opening, stopping just short of the mayonnaise on the floor.

"Where is it? I canít see anything..." Giles shouted as an loud screeching surrounded them. Suddenly, he was belted across the face, and he flew back across the kitchen, landing against the wall. He slid down, dazed, blinking to clear his blurred vision. He managed to croak, "Flour..." before the unseen assailant leaped across the hastily applied barrier and seized him by the throat. He was lifted off his feet, struggling to grasp the appendage that held him, so he could breathe.

Buffy screamed his name in sudden panic. She could just make out the outline of the creature, its cloaked form causing the light to bend slightly as it moved. She took out the crossbow and moved to an angle that wouldnít impale her Watcher if she missed, aimed, and shot. The arrow lodged somewhere in the creatureís side, and it roared, dropped Giles in a heap, and whirled to face her.

Joyce crept up underneath the open shelving between her and the monster, her ax at the ready. When the demon turned its back on her, she slipped behind it on her knees and swung, hoping she was hitting something vital. All she could see was its approximate position as it refracted the light around it. The mayonnaise slick blade struck a glancing blow, causing deep purple blood to begin flowing from twin slashes across the back of its legs. It roared again, but before it could spot her, she scooted back into her hiding place, hoping sheíd bought the two real warriors enough time to recoup.

Giles lurched to his feet and brandished his sword, striking the demon in the forearm with the mayonnaise-encrusted blade. A well of blood gushed from the wound, and the creature roared louder than before, slamming the Watcher against the wall again. Giles tried to move out of the line of fire, but every time he moved, the invisible monster batted him back against the wall, multiplying the impact by two with each strike. He lost track of the number of blows as Buffy tried desperately to distract the creature. She repeatedly struck the shimmering form, kicking it in what she could only hope was its side. After a particularly well-placed kick, it whirled, causing ripples of fluid non-existence to gleam in the fluorescent light. Somehow, it caught Giles across the face again as he was pushing away from the wall, and his head contacted the plaster with a sickening crunch. He slid down the wall, stunned into near unconsciousness.

Buffy continued to fight the almost transparent monster. For what seemed like an eternity, Giles tried to rise, but couldnít get to his feet. For some reason, his coordination was off, and he couldnít clear his head long enough to make his legs work. He wasnít breathing too easily, either. He threw out a hand, searching for the sword heíd dropped, instead finding a jar of his make-shift demon repellent lying on its side next to him. Blindly, he worked the lid off and slung the oily stuff in an arc, hoping he had enough strength for it to reach the roaring behemoth in front of him.

Buffy saw that Giles was hurt, and she felt an overwhelming surge of fear. Both he and her mother were depending on her to subdue this demon and keep them alive! Suddenly, she recalled the one word heíd spoken before the demon began pummeling him. Flour? What did he mean, flour? She whirled and picked up a large canister of the powder, pulling the lid away. She avoided a side swiping arm... barely... and jumped onto the counter, turning the contents of the container over and shaking it onto her opponent.

A greyish white demon appeared, dusted with the sticky white flour. Where it mixed with the traces of mayonnaise, it formed a paste. The creatureís roars were becoming shrieks of pain... apparently, the mayonnaise was pretty uncomfortable. With a sure target in front of her, Buffy confidently advanced, easily avoiding the clawed hands and getting in several satisfyingly sound kicks and punches before the creature slipped on the excess dressing and fell to the floor with a bone-jarring thud.

Giles retrieved his sword from the floor and advanced painfully, still groggy but determined. Buffy moved closer with him, and Joyce made up the final point of the triangle. The demon began to whimper, its voice a mere rattle now that it was defeated. Just inches from striking the final blow, Giles stopped, holding the blade near the demonís throat.

Between pants, Giles demanded, "Why have you come? Why did you attack my restaurant?"

The beast clawed at its neck frantically. It didnít reply, just grunted and whined.

"Giles, thereís something... thereís a collar on it..." She stepped closer, still wary, and tried to get a better look.

The demon nodded vigorously and made a mewling sound. Giles handed the sword to Buffy, knowing full well she could handle it left-handed as well as he could, and knelt unsteadily by the creature, his shaking fingers exploring until he felt something that felt like leather. He traced around it until he found what appeared to be a buckle, and he worked it loose, fumbling several times due to the slippery mayonnaise that was splashed all over his hands.

The instant the collar came away, the invisibility spell was broken, and the creature solidified into a seven-foot, muscular monster with mottled blue-gray skin and red eyes. A row of purple, irregular spots ran from the bridge of its nose up over its head and down its back. Its fangs hung over its lips, and it had no recognizable nose, just two slits where a nose should be. Its feet and hands were heavily clawed, like the talons of a bird of prey.

Giles grabbed the counter for support, stood, and stepped away, examining the restraint in his hands. The demon sat up, stretching its throat gratefully. Its long teeth glistened in the bright artificial light, and Buffy thought to herself, Ďnow we know where those nice neat holes in the canned stuff came from... it sorta looks like a walrus... except those suckers look really sharp.í She held the sword to his throat, just to be sure it didnít make any wrong moves.

When it finally spoke, its voice was surprisingly low and intelligent. "Oh, man, thatís better! Thank you! You canít imagine how awful that was... to be forced to obey someone elseís commands like that. I couldnít fight it, even though I tried. Does it ever feel good to be my own demon again! Except for the arrow in my side, and the mayo... it itches!"

He rubbed his arm, yelped as the motion rubbed the irritating substance into his wounds, then nonchalantly pulled the crossbow bolt from his side as if it were an annoying splinter. He handed it back to Buffy with casual ease, causing her to relax slightly at his complete lack of malice.

Joyce lowered her ax slightly, but still kept a bead on the beingís head. "Somebody was making you do all this?"

"Yeah. A sorcerer. I was stupid enough to play cards with a sorcerer... and lose." The blue monster hung its head in shame. "Dumb, very dumb. It was bad enough I had to wear this stupid collar..." The creature snorted in disgust. "...then the guy up and says I gotta destroy this place! I didnít want to, believe me. Iíve eaten here before... the foodís great!"

"You eat regular food?" Buffyís face indicated she didnít believe a word of it.

"Sure! Demons can eat regular food... at least, all the ones I know can. And Iím only half demon, see. I can appear human... except that right now, if I was in human form, Iíd be buck naked, so Iíd rather stay in demon form, if you donít mind."

"Not at all," Giles said mildly. "Weíve grown accustomed to it."

"Thanks, again. Boy, that arrow smarted... good thing I heal fast... I got pretty scratched up last night, what with all the splintered crates and stuff."

"We found your tail by the garbage bin." Buffy grinned at the intruderís surprised look.

The demon blushed deep green, which was an interesting sight. "Yeah, that smarted, too. I almost lost my job over this, being out all night, sleeping on the job next day...and boy, if my wife finds out, my ass is grass."

Buffy giggled, stopping abruptly when Giles gave her a warning look. He cleared his throat and said calmly, "I suppose we should get your name. We canít go round calling you Ďthingí or Ďcreature.í" He returned his gaze to the demon, who was now sitting cross-legged on the floor, looking much relieved and completely harmless. Well, if you didnít count the fangs and the three inch claws on the end of each finger.

"Nameís Alwindell, but everyone calls me Al. Iím half Forest Demon. Iíd never make it in the forest, though... grew up in LA." He looked down at his flour-and-mayonnaise-splotched arms. "Iím not green enough to be forest material, either... got my maís fair skin." He looked back up at Giles, then at Buffy, holding the sword in one hand and the crossbow in the other. He gulped and said in a frightened voice, "Are you guys... uh, gonna kill me?"

Giles shook his head. "Not if you help us."

Alwindell held up his hands in surrender. "Iím all yours!"

Giles stood and wobbled over to the sink to grab a few hand towels. He turned the tap on them, then wrung them out until they were damp, but not dripping. He came back, moving a bit steadier than before, and handed the cloths to Alwindell. "Here, clean yourself up. And, while youíre at it, tell us more about this sorcerer."

"Thanks, man! This stuff really stings... if I wasnít half human, Iíd be covered in huge red welts about now... oh, about your sorcerer... well, heís pretty powerful. Dark magic. I shoulda known... I can sense these things, most of the time. But he was with another guy I know, so I figured heíd been checked out. Yísee, Dave runs this really clean game in the valley, and all kinds of people go there... actors, movie producers, millionaires, you name it. Iíve met some interesting people... made some nice change... when I wasnít losing my shirt."

Giles leaned against the counter and grunted noncommittally, hoping the creature would get on with his narrative. His head and side hurt abominably, and he really wanted to go sit quietly for a few minutes. He forced himself to listen as the demon continued.

"So... this guy isnít much to look at... skinny, yíknow? And he starts winning, and I start winning, too, so pretty soon thereís just me and him in the game. I guess you know what happened next."

"I can imagine."

"Well, came time to ante up, and everything I had was on the table. So... he suggested I wager my fealty for a season."

Buffy looked confused. "Uh, can you translate that last sentence, Giles? ĎCause I was with him right up until then."

"He was being asked to sell himself into slavery for a short period... a season, which is usually three months. During that time, the winner can call upon the loser to perform any services he wishes, and the loser cannot refuse." Giles looked down at the discarded collar, a small smirk on his face. "I gather from this..." He waved his hand at the magically enhanced bit of leather. "...the winner didnít take your word on it."

The demon laughed derisively. "You got that right... I had to wear that dang collar every time he asked me to. Mostly I just did little stuff, B and A, shoplifting supplies and food... nothing too big. Then, a couple days ago, he comes around with this hare-brained scheme to put this place out of business. Why, I have no idea."

Joyce turned the demonís confession over and over in her mind. Something sounded familiar, like she knew the answer already, but just couldnít put her finger on it. Sorcerer, demon, slave, collar, supplies, breaking and entering... the pieces clicked into place all at once, and she shrieked, "It was Ethan!"

Giles spun to face her, then caught himself as the room tilted dangerously. "Ethan? But heís in jail... has been for over twenty-four hours now." He took a deep breath and blinked, trying to clear his vision. "This smacks of his particular brand of magic, though... he couldíve set this all in motion before coming to Sunnydale..."

Al nodded amiably. "Yeah, my guy gave me my marching orders a couple of days ago... said I had to keep at it until the place was nothing but splinters. I havenít seen him since."

As he started to take a step, Giles stumbled, clutching the counter to right himself. Concerned, Joyce came to his side and slipped an arm around him. "Rupert, hon, are you okay? Youíre listing to the left."

The contact seemed to perk him up a bit. "Actually, Iím feeling better all of a sudden."

Buffy drawled, "Itís that magic mojo again... just donít start with the hot monkey sex until you close the door to your room, okay?"

The vanquished demon gave the two older humans a startled, yet fascinated look. "Hoooo wee! Together, you guys got an aura that would smelt pig iron! I never saw humans with that kind of whammy on Ďem before."

Buffy informed him, with just a touch of pride in her voice, "Youíve never seen a Slayerís mother and Watcher together, then. Happens all the time." Her calm acceptance faded into her usual grimace of distaste. "Not in public, though. That would be eww."

"Buffy." Gilesí long-suffering voice caused her to flash an apologetic smile. "Um, weíd best be cleaning this all up. If this is Ethanís doing, then, hopefully, his being in jail will end Alwindellís forced subservience. How much longer before your fealty is up, by the way?" He began to pace, but the instant he pulled away from Joyce, his headache returned in full force, and he slowed his steps until he was leaning against the counter again.

"Oh, a few weeks, I think. He didnít ask for anything right away. Left me alone for a couple of months, then started showing up at work and bugging me... smug British jackass... oh, sorry about the British thing... youíre not anything like the sorcerer. You got a heart, even if you are an English guy. He said his employers wanted him to close this place down, and he wanted me to do it for him." Alís eyes began to glow a little brighter as an idea crossed his mind. "Hey, I could help you clean up! After all, I made this mess."

"Giles? Should we trust this guy? I mean, heís the one who took this place apart last night."

"Actually, I think... that it would help tremendously if Al would lend a hand." To his own ears, his voice sounded weak and far away.

Al stood and leaned down to look in Gilesí eyes. "You donít look so good, buddy. You better sit down and let me do all the heavy lifting. I think I rattled your cage with that last backhand."

Joyce found her husband a stool and slid it behind him. He sank onto it gratefully, and closed his eyes for a moment. Darkness descended, and he wasnít aware of anything for a long time.

* * * * *

The paramedics from the valley werenít as friendly as the ones in Sunnydale. Of course, these guys hadnít seen Giles as many times as the ones at home had. These two were coolly professional, descending on Gilesí still form with a rapid barrage of medical mystery words. After stabilizing him to their satisfaction, they carefully lifted him onto the stretcher and started for the door. Buffy and Joyce moved to climb into the ambulance, but one of the medics stopped them and stated firmly, "Sorry... we only have room for one."

Buffy bit her lower lip, seeing the anguish on her motherís face. "Go, Mom. Iíll call Tony and see if he can get me to the hospital later. Al and me can clean up while you get Giles checked out."

Joyceís eyes were bright with unshed tears. "I donít like the idea of leaving you with a strange... uh... creature."

"I can always call Angel. Heís not far away."

Joyce weighed the options... leave her husband to wake up in an unfamiliar hospital, disoriented and alone, or leave her teen-aged daughter with a previously rampaging demon. Or a handsome young Italian chef. Or a vampire. There were no good options. Still, Rupert was injured, and Buffy was no ordinary teen-ager...

"You do whatever you think is best, honey... maybe Tony can bring you to the hospital later... uh, excuse me..." She touched the female paramedic lightly on the shoulder. "Which hospital are we going to?"

"Valley General. Itís only about 4 miles away. We need to get going now, Mrs. Giles."

"Okay... okay... Buffy... please be careful!"

"You too, Mom... Iíll be okay. Al will behave, or Iíll tell his wife."

Joyce favored her extraordinary daughter with a shaky smile before climbing into the ambulance. The noise of the siren followed the vehicle out into the darkness.

Buffy watched until the flashing lights were no longer visible. Then she turned, sniffing and wiping her eyes with a shirt sleeve. She cleared her throat, and went back into the kitchen. From his hiding place inside the darkened dining area, Al called, "Is the coast clear?"

"Yeah, theyíre gone. You can come out."

The demoralized demon slid into the room, feeling terrible. He was responsible, at least physically, for hurting a perfectly nice human. He might have been under a spell and all, but it was his fist that put the guy in a coma! "My brother-in-law was right... I am a screwed-up half-breed. I didnít mean to hurt your dad, kid. If you still wanna kill me, I wouldnít blame you."

"Iím not gonna kill you, Al. It wasnít your fault. It was Ethanís, and if I ever see him again, heíll wish heíd never played poker. Giles is tough... heíll be okay." ĎI hope,í she thought desperately. She put that out of her mind immediately, then surveyed the damaged kitchen with a critical eye. A curious thought struck her, and she had to ask, "Uh, did you really eat all that stuff from last night? The milk and meat and veggies? ĎCause that was a lot of food."

Al shrugged. "Yeah. Going Godzilla like that takes a lot of energy. That sorcerer told me to trash the place, but he didnít say anything about the food, and I really hated for it to go to waste, so I ate it to keep me going. If it wasnít for that stupid collar... well, you know. It was fun when I was a kid, to Hulk out and stir up a little panic, but I got responsibilities now, a family... I sure hope I didnít hurt your dad too bad."

Buffy faced the still-demonic Alwendell squarely, taking in his downcast expression. They both needed something to take their minds off of Giles for a little while. She strode to the corner of the room and grabbed a mop and bucket. Handing it to the gray mottled creature, she said, in her best no-nonsense voice, "Okay, demon guy. Iím gonna go call Tony. Iíll have him bring you some clothes, too. But right now, you have some serious mopping to do."

* * * * *

Inside the ambulance, Joyce tried to gather the shreds of rational thought around her. The unsteady rocking of the vehicle as it rounded the curves that descended into the valley made her vaguely ill. She braced herself against one of the storage units and used her free hand to caress her husbandís quiet face. Sheíd never seen him unconscious before. It wasnít like he was sleeping, because the slightest touch, the softest word, wouldíve awakened him.

"Rupert, honey, itís gonna be all right... youíre gonna be just fine..." Her voice failed her, and she sat and watched him sadly, tears streaming down her face, unnoticed.

The female paramedic, who chose to ride in the back with Joyce and Giles, said in a soothing tone, "Heís doing okay, Mrs. Giles. Vitals are stable, and heís not showing any signs of serious damage."

"Thank God..." she whispered. Recovering slightly, she moved her head closer to his and spoke softly into his ear. "Hon, you have to come out of this soon... you donít want the Slayerís Power to wear off before you come home, do ya?"

She started crying again when he murmured, "Good heavens, no..." His eyes opened and searched for hers briefly, and the moment they connected, he smiled slightly. "Hello, there."

She replied with a breathy "Hi. You scared me half to death."

"Came as a bit of a shock to me, as well. I had no intention of losing consciousness tonight." His lips curled even more, and she knew he was thinking something wicked. She leaned closer, and he whispered, "At least, not from fighting a demon."

She laughed soggily and gave the paramedic a triumphant look. "I think heís okay."

The woman grinned back. "Told you. Heís got a thick skull."

"I already knew that." She gave him an affectionate kiss on the forehead. The ambulance lurched into the Emergency Room parking lot, and she and her queasy stomach were fervently grateful that the ride was almost over.

* * * * *

Two hours later, Buffy burst into the observation room with Tony Salerno right behind her. Joyce looked up from her chair beside his bed and stood to hug her daughter. Buffy crossed to the bed where Giles was sleeping, lightly touching his cheek before turning to her mother. "Is he gonna be okay?"

"Heís fine, honey. Keep your voice down, heís sleeping."

"No, heís awake." Giles sounded a little groggy, still, but his eyes cleared as he focused on Buffy and her companion. "Hello, Buffy, Tony."

"Hey, Pop, how are you? We got the place all cleaned up."

Giles looked to Tony for confirmation.

"Sheís right, boss... except for the back door, which is still warped bad, everythingís back to normal. That Al guy said he would guard the place until we can get a new door... again." Tony winked at Gilesí worried expression. "Donít worry, I found him some clothes. Heís just a regular looking guy now." He shook his head and, with doubt in his voice, said, "Buffy said it would be okay."

Giles sighed heavily. "Itís fine, Tony. I think weíve weathered this particular storm... however, the insurance people are not going to be thrilled to hear from me again so soon."

Ever practical, Joyce wondered aloud, "what kind of story are we gonna tell them this time?"

Everyone started talking at once, each of them trying to concoct a believable tale. Giles listened in vain for a coherent thought, then finally held up his hand. The chattering stopped immediately.

"The truth would be far more preferable. With the exception of the identity of the invader, of course. Wouldnít want them to arrest our new security guard."

Joyce cast a doubtful look at Giles. "Rupert, are you sure itís a good idea to trust that... person? After all, he was the one that did all the damage."

Giles patted her hand soothingly. "Alwendell couldnít control his actions while under Ethanís command. He was under no obligation to tell us his story, either. He chose to trust us, and I chose to trust him. I still have the collar with me, so if Al double-crosses me, I will be able to track him wherever he goes and exact any retribution I wish."

"How?" Buffyís face was curious.

"The season of fealty is not over. Heís still obligated until the end of the lunar month, and the collar is connected to him through Ethanís spell. I will keep the collar to prevent anyone from using its influence for evil again."

Buffy nodded to acknowledge Gilesí superior occult knowledge, then promptly forgot about the problem. "How long are you gonna be in here? I was supposed to go get my books with Willow tomorrow."

"The doctor says at least twenty-four hours." Joyce sat on the side of the bed and took Gilesí hand in both of hers.

"Yuck. Spending the night in a hospital... not my idea of fun."

"Mine, either." Joyce suddenly remembered something. "Oh, no... how are we gonna get the car up here? Itís at the restaurant!"

Buffy and Tony exchanged a long, meaningful look. Joyce was looking at Giles, and didnít notice, but Giles did, even though he wasnít wearing his glasses. He frowned, then asked, "Buffy, is there a problem with the car?"

Buffy still didnít look at Giles or her mother. "The carís okay, you guys. I promise."

"You didnít answer my question." His voice wasnít angry, just curious.

Joyce used her most stern and forbidding tone to utter one word. "Buffy..."

"Okay! Itís in the parking lot downstairs!"

"And just how did it get here?" Joyceís voice didnít change at all. Giles watched in amusement, Tony in amazement, and just a little fear. He remembered what Buffy had told him about Joyce being the one to watch out for!

"Well..."

"You drove it, didnít you?"

"Uh, well, yeah. I had to! Tony had his car, and I know Al is nice now, and everything, but I didnít wanna just leave Gilesí car there."

"So you bent the rules a little, just for tonight?" Giles had a hard time suppressing his laughter at Joyceís authoritarian tone.

"Well, yeah... are you mad?"

Her little-girl-lost expression broke Joyceís resolve. "No, honey, Iím not. Someone had to bring the car, so it was the only thing you couldíve done. Just donít try and weasel out of telling me next time."

Buffyís face lit up, and she smiled happily. "Promise! Iíll just blurt stuff out the next time... Iíll be a regular flowing fountain of information!" She gave her mother relieved hug, then kissed Giles on the forehead.

Tony relaxed slightly. Maybe he wouldnít be fired for letting her follow him to the hospital, after all.

Ever the practical Watcher, Giles eyed the large clock next to his bed and commented, "Itís already four oíclock, Buffy. Even if you go home now, youíre not going to get much sleep, Iím afraid."

"Hey, Iím used to it. Uh, would you mind if Tony gave me a ride home, Mom? Giles? Otherwise Iím gonna get no sleep, as opposed to not much sleep." She knew she was pushing her luck, especially since sheíd gotten by with driving the BMW without permission. She just didnít want to spend a whole day in a strange hospital.

Joyceís mind whirled furiously. She wasnít crazy about the way Tony looked at her daughter, but her husbandís trust was difficult to ignore. "Buffy, could you two wait outside? I need to talk to Rupert before I decide."

The two young people filed out, casting worried glances at Joyce before closing the door.

"Okay, Rupert, out with it. Just what kind of boy is Tony? I know you trust him with your business, but do you trust him with Buffy?" Joyce knew he was tired, but she wanted his input desperately.

Giles smiled wearily and squeezed her hand. "Joyce I trust him as much as Iíd trust any young man that had an interest in her... which is to say, not very much at all. However, I do trust Buffy. Do you?"

Joyce stared at him, open mouthed. "Of course I trust Buffy! How can you say that?"

"Then what, exactly, is the problem?" He closed his eyes, wishing he could lapse into slumber again.

She saw his weariness, and felt a sharp pang of remorse. She shouldnít be forcing him to make decisions for her, especially in his weakened state. ĎTime to deal, Joyce Anne... something you havenít been too good at in recent years.í She took a deep breath let it out with a whoosh. "I guess Iíd better go tell Buffy." She got up from the side of the bed and started for the door.

His voice was groggy again, but he managed to speak loudly enough to stop her. "Tell her what, love?"

"To get out of here and let that boy take her home."

"Thatís my girl..." he sighed as he finally drifted away into sleep.

* * * * *

After the obligatory day of observation, the doctor finally released Giles. As Joyce drove back towards Sunnydale, she glanced over at her sleeping husband. He had reclined the passenger seat slightly and pillowed his head on his folded jacket. It worried her a little that he was sleeping so much, but the doctor told her reassuringly that as long as he was easily roused, he was doing fine. The Doctor also prescribed pain medication, but she had every kind of pain pill known to man in her medicine cabinet already. Every visit to the ER resulted in a new collection of drug samples. She had never seen him take any of them. Her instructions were clear... keep him relatively quiet for several days, then light activity for up to two weeks. A return visit, if he had any further pain or blurred vision...

She smiled as he stirred and opened his eyes. "Hi, there, sleepyhead. Weíre almost home. Do you think you can stay awake long enough to eat something?"

He returned the seat to an upright position as they turned the corner and started down Ravello Drive. "Absolutely. You saw what the hospital offered up as a substitute for food. Iím ravenous!"

"Good. Iíll whip up some pancakes and sausage."

"Blueberry pancakes?"

His voice sounded boyishly wistful, and she giggled as she turned the BMW into the driveway. "I think I have some blueberry mix somewhere." She turned off the ignition and started to open her door. Giles did the same, and she commanded, "Stay put. Iím coming around."

"Oh, Joyce, for heavenís sake, Iím not an invalid!"

She rounded the car and grabbed his arm. "I know, hon. Humor me." She escorted him inside, ignoring his irritated expression as she ushered him into the kitchen. ĎWell, I finally found something about Rupert that isnít perfect,í she thought to herself as she prepared the meal. ĎHe makes a lousy patient.í

Despite the events of the last two days, she found herself humming happily as she poured pancake batter onto the hot griddle. The urgency of attraction, that weird vibe that Ethan had called the Slayerís Power, had lessened somewhat during Gilesí hospital stay. It was impossible to remain amorous when there were nurses and doctors flitting in and out all the time. Yet, her whole body still hummed with his nearness. Instead of fighting it, she went with the feeling, allowing it to distract her from worrying about his injuries.

Giles was feeling quite warm and comfortable as his eyes followed Joyce around the kitchen. He recognized the pull of the Slayerís Power, but his sore ribs and still-throbbing head reminded him that he was in no shape to act on his feelings... at least, not at the moment. Perhaps in a few days...

They ate in companionable silence, with only an occasional word passing between them. After they finished, she ushered him out of the kitchen and upstairs to their bedroom. His willingness to comply told her he was still very weak. She tucked him in, kissed him until he smiled, and then left him to sleep his injuries away.

* * * * *

The next few days were spent in a haze of sleep, quiet meals, reading on the sofa and warm embraces. Joyce was an excellent nurse, waking him dutifully at the prescribed times, watching him carefully as he padded around the house in his slippers, and generally making life as easy as possible for him. Buffy was surprisingly solicitous, helping her mother with cleaning house and doing laundry, staying close to enjoy the last few days before she moved to her dorm room on the college campus. It was the most relaxing, yet frustrating, time of his life.

He awoke early Saturday morning, squinting over his wifeís tousled head at the clock until he could read time clearly. Seven thirty. He decided to get up and make himself some tea. Gently, he disengaged his arm from around Joyceís waist, and slid carefully to the edge of the bed, stretching his toes to feel for his slippers and fumbling along the night stand for his glasses. Joyce murmured something softly and snuggled into the warm space he had vacated, then was still. He smiled at her sleeping face and resisted the urge to crawl back into bed and wake her with a kiss. Sheíd been on twenty-four hour duty since he was admitted to the hospital. She needed her sleep.

He shuffled downstairs and into the kitchen, preparing his tea from long habit. Tea leaves, tea ball, mug, kettle, water, stove, wait. As the burner began to heat, he stopped to evaluate his injuries. His head no longer throbbed, although he still sported a brilliant bruise on one cheek. His ribs, although still tender, were healing more quickly than he expected, too. All in all, he was feeling better.

He was sitting at the bar, contemplating that fact over his cup of tea, when Joyce came in and placed her hands on his shoulders. Instant warmth invaded him from the contact, and he moaned slightly as she leaned around to look at his face.

"Itís still there, isnít it?" Joyce felt a pleasant shiver race down her spine as he smiled up at her.

"If you mean our little connection, then yes, it is. Iím feeling much better today. Perhaps when we finish breakfast..." One eyebrow went up suggestively, and she almost laughed in relief. He was really okay, if he was thinking of that.

"You might just be able to talk me into something. Speaking of breakfast, what would you like?"

"Why donít you sit down and let me prepare the meal for a change. Youíve been pampering me for two days. I want to return the favor."

She sat and watched as he pulled out the waffle iron. A short time later, they were munching through a stack of Belgian waffles with fresh fruit toppings. "Youíve done it now, Rupert. I could get used to this."

"Get used to it, then. Iím very much accustomed to fixing my own meals, at least until recently. I am a fairly decent cook." He grinned mischievously. "The hard part is getting used to where you keep things... itís all backwards to me."

"You lefty. Iíll give you a tour sometime, if you like. We havenít had much domestic time since weíve been home, have we?"

"No, but I have a lifetime to discover in which drawer the bread knife resides. Iím rather looking forward to it." He gave her a quick kiss and stood to gather the dirty dishes, humming happily.

"So am I, hon... so am I."

Buffy bounced into the room, frowning at their empty plates. "Hey, whereís mine?"

"Good morning to you, too, Buffy." He put the plates in the dishwasher, deliberately ignoring her comment.

She rolled her eyes at him, but surrendered. "Sorry, Pop. Good morning. Morning, Mom."

"Morning, honey," Joyce responded with amusement in her voice.

The instant Buffy apologized, Giles turned and gave her an approving hug. "Would you like a waffle, then?"

"Sure! Can you put chocolate chips in it?"

He grimaced, but said, "If you like."

"Cool! Waffle me!" She plopped down at the counter next to Joyce and gave her a sunny smile. "You guys have only been married three weeks, and youíve already got him trained. Way to go, Mom!"

Giles snorted as Joyce and Buffy giggled. He found the chocolate chips and dropped a handful in the batter as he retorted, "Yes, Iím very well trained. Weíre still working on you, however."

"You got me to say ĎGood Morning,í didnít you?" She squirmed in anticipation as the aroma of baking waffles filled the kitchen. "As hungry as I am right now, thatís nothing short of miraculous!"

"Until you learn to say it without prompting, my work is incomplete."

After he passed the piping hot waffle to his step-daughter, he stood with arms folded in front of him until she said jokingly, "Thank you, oh Great Waffle Provider!" She turned up the syrup bottle and quickly forked a huge bite into her mouth. "Ummmm. Mif if gwate!"

Joyce started laughing. "I think we need to move on to Lesson Number Two... Donít Talk With Your Mouth Full!"

As Buffy munched, she chatted happily with them about her plans for moving to the dorm. Suddenly, she remembered something. "Hey, you guys wanna go to a thing in the park tonight? Itís outdoor theater. You would like it, Giles, itís something classical. I forget what itís called, but they made a movie about it with Mickey Rooney when he was just a kid. The one where he had wings and a really annoying laugh."

"A Midsummer Nightís Dream?" Giles was definitely interested.

"Yeah, whatever. Should be fun. The college is putting it on. Maybe Iíll take a drama class sometime."

Joyce saw the glint in his eye, and decided he needed to get out. She nodded, and he smiled happily. "Letís go, then. A nice family outing."

"Great! Iím gonna go hang with Willow today. We didnít get to be roommates this year, so weíre gonna do some consolation shopping, then drown our sorrows in mochas. Bye! Oh, Giles..." She dashed over to him and gave him a careful hug and a kiss on the cheek. "...thanks again for the waffle! Bye!"

The door swung wildly in her wake, and after a moment of sudden silence, the two remaining occupants of the kitchen burst into laughter.

"And I was just wondering about how we could get rid of her for a couple of hours." Joyce stood, wrapped her arms around his neck and gave his ear a gentle nip.

She grinned as he growled in response, "Only a couple of hours?" He turned and stood, matching her grin. He pulled her closer and began some judicious nipping of his own, trailing nibbles along her neck and shoulders. He paused just long enough to whisper in her ear, "I was thinking more along the lines of the rest of the day."

"Feeling that much better, are you? Weíd better make the best of the time we have, then, right? Follow me." She loosened her grip on him and glided away, capturing his hand at the last minute to pull him along behind her.

"Yes, maíam."

He trailed obediently behind her until she giggled and stopped at the foot of the stairs to give him a quick kiss. She looked at the bemused expression on his face and stated with a grin, "Buffy was right."

"She was?"

"Uh huh. She said I had you well trained."

"Oh. Well, I respond to certain kinds of training better than others."

* * * * *

"KNOCK, KNOCK!" Buffy called loudly as she let herself in the front door. It was mid afternoon, and the house was ominously quiet. Suspiciously quiet. "Hey! Where are you? I donít wanna be traumatized in my own... almost former... house!"

She wandered into the kitchen, noting that the dishes were clean as she opened the refrigerator and rummaged for something to drink. A popping sound caught her attention, and she had to think for a minute before she realized what it was. The hot water heater in the utility room was singing and pinging like a tea kettle. That could only mean one thing.

Sheíd have to wait before taking a shower.

She started grinning at the realization. Tease ammo, definitely heavy artillery. She grabbed a bottled fruit drink and sauntered into the living room, grabbing up the remote off the TV. She gathered all the throw pillows in the room and cocooned herself between them on the couch while she channel surfed. An old movie caught her attention, and she quickly became engrossed.

After about an hour, Joyce came down the stairs, still flushed from their shower activities. She was mentally planning their picnic dinner in her mind when she heard a blare of laughter from the living room. She walked up behind Buffy, commenting, "Watching "Love in the Afternoon" again?"

"Yep, love that Gary Cooper! Besides, I had to do something to while away the time. I was gonna take a shower, but somebody, or maybe even two somebodies, used up all the hot water in the tank. Itís still chugging away like a freight train. I sorta think the name of this movie is significant, donít you?"

Joyce was grateful that she was standing behind her daughter. She could feel herself blushing, the heat rising up her neck to her face despite her efforts to keep it at bay. She and Rupert had just taken a long, leisurely, and much more than strictly utilitarian shower. She bit her lip to keep from giggling, and retorted coolly, "The hot water was good for Rupertís sore muscles. And at least we waited until you left."

"Yeah, probably just barely. And continued until way after I got back. Gross. Okay, subject change... you need some help with the munchies?"

"Werenít you just complaining about wanting to take a shower? Go ahead, I can manage. Iím just throwing in sandwiches." She wasnít ready to face Buffyís innuendo and ribbing at the moment... not while she was still tingling all over.

Buffy tossed a few pillows aside and stood, stretching. "Youíre letting me off the hook, food-preparation-wise? Iíll have to thank Giles for whatever it was he was doing before I got home. Not that I ever want to know what it was." She faked a shiver and smirked at her mother before skipping up the stairs humming happily.

She met a still-damp, but fully dressed Giles coming down the upstairs hall, and grinned widely. "Hey, Pop, whatíd you do today? Anything interesting?"

She watched him eye her warily before allowing a small smile to creep across his face. She continued blithely, "You must be feeling way better. I just hope the hot water tank doesnít explode, though... itís not used to that kind of abuse."

At first, he was slightly chagrined, then he decided that two could play at her game. "Ah, well, if it does, we can always get a replacement."

She seemed disappointed by his lack of embarrassment, but forged ahead. "At least you were trying to conserve water... showering together and all."

"I wouldnít want to run afoul of the Water Police." He frowned thoughtfully. "Of course, we were in there an awfully long time..."

"I saw nearly a whole movie while I was waiting downstairs."

"You were downstairs?" He didnít look the slightest bit chagrined.

"Yeah."

"Itís a good thing we werenít overly noisy, then."

"Gi-iles! Yíknow, you couldíve checked every hour or so, to see if anyone was home."

"No, that wouldíve rather spoiled the mood."

"Geez, donít you guys take rest breaks every once in a while?" She was beginning to sound exasperated.

Giles smiled wickedly and raised an eyebrow, demoralizing her completely.

Buffy conceded defeat with an exaggerated shiver. "Okay, okay, I give up... no more teasing... Iím going to my room, to my one-person shower, and try like heck to forget this conversation."

"Whatever you say." He continued down the hall, humming nonchalantly to himself.

The humming was the last straw. She whirled and demanded, "GILES! Stop sounding so... so..."

"...Happy? Content? Sated?"

He began to chuckle as her bedroom door slammed shut. Chalk up another victory for the old guy.

* * * * *

It had already gotten dark by the time they arrived at the park. A deep orange-red glow low on the western horizon was all that was left of the day. Despite the danger brought by the darkness, Giles found himself looking forward to the play. He knew it was just a college production; he didnít expect Royal Shakespearean quality, but he hoped the story would survive even the most Ďcreativeí of interpretations. The description on the flyer in his hand didnít give him much hope.

They gathered their lawn chairs, with Joyce and Buffy sharing the burden of the heavy ice chest, and found a quiet spot near a stand of trees. He made sure there was at least twenty feet between the thicket and their seats... he didnít want anything dropping on them from above. Buffy raised her eyes at his precaution, but didnít comment. She knew about the things that went Ďbump in the nightí just as well as he did.

Joyce set up the lounge chairs side by side, and placed the food nearby. "Rupert, Iíll toss you for the middle seat... so I donít have to get up and get the sodas."

He laughed lightly. "Not necessary. Iíll happily play waiter tonight. Iím just glad to be out of the house for a change."

"You didnít seem to be so eager to leave the house this morning," she teased.

Giving her a knowing smile, he pulled her against his side to whisper, "This morning, as well as this afternoon, my dear, was incredible. Tonight shall be, as well. And the next day, and the next... whenever you are with me, wherever we are, I shall be happy."

She gave him a misty eyed look as they settled into their chairs to wait for the beginning of the play. Despite the skimpy outfit that Buffy wore, Giles knew she was carrying at least a stake, a cross, and a dagger. He was carrying a few hidden weapons himself, something he always did by force of habit whenever he went anywhere at night.

He really didnít want to bring up the subject of vampires in front of Joyce, but his eyes met Buffyís significantly as the announcer came to the microphone and began to introduce the eveningís performance. They would be vigilant, despite the crowd. It was a Ďgivení in Sunnydale. Understanding flashed between them, and Buffy gave him a saucy wink before settling back with a soda and a sandwich.

She thought of something, and asked, "Díya think Ethan will get out of jail any time soon, Giles?"

He smiled thinly. "Ethan is being deported as we speak. I called the police station this afternoon, and they said two Interpol agents had taken him into custody."

"Interpol? You think it was the Council?"

"Possibly, although I donít know if they mean to chastise him for causing trouble, or chide him for failing to cause more."

"Just so he stays outta my way. I really wanna make him bleed. If he shows up again, I just might." She sat back once again, looking deceptively young and harmless, but he didnít doubt her words for a moment.

The play began with a blare of strange music. A three piece band, comprised of guitar, drums and bass, was grinding out an odd mixture of jazz and heavy metal. Giles smiled in amusement, and leaned over to Joyce. "I see this is to be a Ďmoderní interpretation."

"Whatíd you expect from eighteen to twenty-two year olds? They think they invented rock and roll."

He laughed. "Chuck, Eric and Keith might argue that point."

"Donít forget Elvis."

"If only I could."

"Rupert! Thatís sacrilege... oh, look, everyoneís in blue jeans! This is gonna be fun!"

Giles took in the laughter in her eyes. The play faded into insignificance. Joyce was happy, and that was all that mattered.

* * * * *

"Okay, Ďsplain it to me again...why was the guy wearing a pocket protector?"

"He was the geek."

Buffy looked confused. "I thought he was the Greek."

Joyce sighed patiently. "He was a Greek before he turned into a geek."

"He was supposed to be an ass," Giles offered helpfully.

"Huh?" Buffy looked even more confused.

Joyce snorted in amusement. "Just because a guyís a geek doesnít mean heís automatically an ass."

"I never meant to imply such. The implication was strictly in the mind of the director, Iím sure."

"Huh??" Buffy said again.

"Most guys I knew in college were the other way around... the geeks were nice and the Greeks were asses." Joyce finished folding the quilt and stuffed it into the back seat as she spoke.

"Huh???... for the third time..."

"I had no idea you were traumatized by fraternity boys in college, Joyce." Giles waited by the chairs while Buffy and Joyce continued to pack everything back into the van. Lifting still wasnít comfortable, and the ladies had insisted that he stand back and let them take charge of all manual labor. Heíd learned not argue with them when they were trying to be helpful. It made them cross.

"I married one, remember. Sorta soured me on Greeks in general."

"Ah, I see. Quite understandable, then." He smiled at her as she glanced over at him, hearing the unspoken tease in his voice. "And now youíve moved on to the geek."

"Youíre not a geek, silly."

"I thought I was."

"No, but I certainly did get lucky the second time, even though youíre not a geek."

"I rather consider myself the lucky one, love."

Buffy maneuvered her lawn chair into the back of the Jeep and turned to Giles for help. "Okay, Mr. I-Read-Shakespeare-For-Fun... stop with the sweet talk and explain this play stuff. Iím tired of saying ĎHuh?í and being ignored!"

Giles waited by the open passenger side door as Joyce climbed into the vehicle, frowning. "Iím... well, Iím not sure I can. What we saw tonight bore little resemblance to what I remember of Shakespeare." He closed the door as Buffy crawled into the back, still peppering him with questions as he got in and pulled on his seat belt.

"Okay, then, who was that crazy chick with the bellbottoms and tie-died shirt?"

"That was Titania, I believe."

"Why was she waving that huge flower?"

"She was the queen of fairies, the wife of Oberon. I suppose it was to represent her power over the nature and the elements."

"If she was married, why was she after the Greek geek?"

"Puck put her under a spell." Giles decided a simple explanation was best.

"The guy in leather?"

"Yes."

"Oh." She was silent again until Giles started the engine. "Oh! Wait! I think I left the ice chest in the park!"

"Iíll get it." He left the engine running and climbed out, heading for the now deserted clearing. Buffy clambered out and fell in beside him. "You neednít get out of the car, Buffy, I can manage."

"Yeah, right, Mister Cracked Ribs. You donít need to be lifting stuff. Besides, youíre vamp bait right now and you know it."

"Buffy..."

"Youíre still in Recovery Mode. I donít want you getting all confused and staking a tree by mistake."

"I hardly think..."

Before he could finish the sentence, the tiny blonde whirled and staked the vampire that was sneaking up behind them. The creatureís ghostly scream faded quickly as the cloud of dust settled around them.

"You donít really wanna finish that sentence, do ya?"

She picked up the ice chest as he grinned sheepishly at her. "Not particularly, no."

As they marched back towards the Jeep, Buffy said cheerfully, "Business as usual, right, Giles?"

"Yes, I suppose so."

"Uh, one more thing."

"Yes?"

"Why did Puck put the spell on the fairy lady?"

"Oberon, her husband, wanted to teach her a lesson."

"Did it work?"

"Eventually."

"Oh. Good. Did I mention I really hate Shakespeare?"

Giles began to chuckle. "I can see that you need to be eased into the classics. I might have a book or two at home that you could read. Some of them are fairly short."

"Oh, thatís sure to change my mind, Giles, a dusty old book," Buffy responded as dryly as possible. "Say, could you and Mom drop me off at the Bronze on the way home? I think I need a little mental cleansing."

He composed himself with an effort as they got back into the car. He turned to Joyce and commented, "Buffy wants to stop off at the Bronze. Do you mind if we drop her there?"

Joyce grinned widely. "Not at all."

* * * * *

An hour later...

Joyce snuggled comfortably into Gilesí arms, sighing happily. Theyíd made good use of Buffyís absence, she thought, as afterglow faded into blissful drowsiness. Just as he was drifting into sleep, she murmured, "Did I mention that I really love Shakespeare?"

A rumbling laugh made its way up from his chest at her words. "So do I, love. So do I."

END