TITLE: Casual Joys
RATING: NC17, for sex
SUMMARY: New Year's Eve. Giles has moved on from the events of Los Angeles, but the past has a way of sneaking up on him...
Story begins here.
DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from The Doors’ song, “Strange Days.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Ethan learned how much Lydia told Wesley before handing her over to one of the vampires, while Wesley “saved” Giles from Jocelyn…
Giles braced himself against the white tiled wall, bowing his head to allow the water to sluice unencumbered down his back. The scratches on his neck stung from the force of the shower, but he imagined that was minor compared to what could’ve been in their place instead. He was very fortunate that the effects of the confetti had charmed Jocelyn as well. If she’d been less in the throes of their clandestine joining, she would likely have killed him.
There were other marks, other brands, from his encounter in the alley, but those were more easily concealed. Most bloomed along his back, down his sides, around his hips, while a scant few festered intangible. Those were the ones that truly pricked. A doctor would not be able to plaster over the bruises to Giles’ spirit.
He was mildly ashamed of his lust for the demon. Not even when Faith was at the height of her rebellion had he fallen prey to some of the baser instincts that she’d wanted to stoke. He’d suitably chastised her for her involvement in her various affairs, and then praised her when she found a normal, good-hearted young man to love instead. To the end, Giles played the dutiful Watcher, heedful of the rules he was meant to enforce.
Jocelyn had managed to shatter all of those rules. His behavior the previous night, magically induced or not, was cause for both retribution within the Council and reproach from himself. It had been decades since he’d so casually tossed aside convention to take what he wanted, but what shamed him was not that he’d succumbed to the magic and fucked a vampire in public. It was that he’d enjoyed every last second of it, and still grew hard at the memory.
Wesley hadn’t said a word as he’d dragged Giles away from the festivities. He’d used his coat to shield them from the remaining confetti within the air, and by the time they’d reached Council Headquarters, much of the effect had already dissipated, leaving Giles waiting for the subject of Ethan Rayne to be approached again. It had yet to happen. When Wesley had learned that Lydia was the only Watcher to fail to return as ordered, he’d immediately left again to seek her out.
Turning off the tap, Giles stood for a long minute in the tub, letting the water drip from his naked body. Before getting into the shower, he’d received a message from Travers, requesting his and Wesley’s presence for an early meeting regarding the incidents in Leicester Square. He was reluctant to go, knowing that Wesley would most likely take that opportunity to bring up the issue of Ethan. How Giles was going to respond still eluded him.
He heard her voice before he pulled back the curtain. It surprised him that it had taken this long to manifest.
“You worry too much.” Giles could actually hear Faith smacking her gum, her tone light in spite of his mood. “Q needs you. If anything, you should be the one going Rambo on his ass for all the shit with that other Slayer.”
“It’s not as simple as you might think,” he replied, reaching for his towel. “And you’re late.”
She grinned, her scarlet lips a vivid slash across her features. “It’s the New fuckin’ Year, Giles. Cut me a little slack.”
He didn’t respond. Doing his best to ignore where she leaned nonchalantly against the closed door, he set to drying himself off before turning toward the sink. In the mirror, he could see Faith watching him, waiting for some kind of reaction, but damned if he was going to give it to her.
“So, is this your way of tellin’ me you’d rather have some annoying little cricket around to tell you when you fuck up?” she finally said. “Because I gotta tell you, I’m a hell of a lot prettier, not to mention, his taste in music completely sucks.”
His lips twitched. She always had a way of making him smile, especially when he least wanted it.
“You’re the one who keeps bringing me here,” she went on. “Me, I’m more than happy spending eternity tryin’ to get into Gabriel’s pants. That boy is packin’, let me tell you, and one of these days---.”
“Enough,” he said, holding up his hand to cut her off. “I get the picture.”
“So you wanna tell me what I’m doin’ here this time?” Pushing off from her perch, she stepped closer to him, her head tilting as she waited expectantly for an answer.
It was seductive, how real she looked. The dark hair, the glint in her eyes. If Giles tried, he could even smell that musky perfume Faith had sworn attracted more vamps. But it was all an illusion. She was a construct of his own psyche, brought to life when his guilt threatened to overwhelm him. For whatever reason, she had been increasingly present in recent months.
“Please tell me this isn’t about getting a hard-on for the vamp chick,” Faith said. “Because last time I checked in, all your parts were still in working order, Giles. So what if you fucked her? You walked away from it, didn’t you? Who exactly got hurt here?”
“People died tonight, Faith. People I could’ve saved if I hadn’t been…distracted.”
“Oh, please. Ethan’s the one who pulled the horndog out of the hat, so whatever you did---.”
“It’s still my fault.” He looked away, forcing his attention on his grooming. “I abetted Ethan’s return to the world. If I hadn’t, we could’ve averted tonight’s disaster.”
“And here I thought Buffy was the one who gave him the ring.”
“Only because I turned my back on what she was doing. I had the power to put a stop to this once and for all, but I let her pleas for mercy sway me.”
“Bullshit. Since when have you ever done what a Slayer told you? You sure as hell didn’t listen to me.” She grinned. “Well, except for the earring. I told you it would be wicked hot.”
Shifting so that she stood next to the sink, Faith lounged against the wall so that he had no choice but to look at her. “Look, what’s done is done,” she said. “You let Ethan walk because you wanted to believe Buffy was right. Believing in people isn’t something you should be knockin’ yourself around for, so why are you making this harder than it has to be? That’s what you always said to me, you know.”
It was bad enough his conscience took the form of his dead Slayer, but when it started throwing back his own precepts, Giles knew it was time to move on. “It doesn’t matter any more,” he said, turning to reach for his clothes. “Wesley will tell Travers about Ethan’s existence, and Buffy’s efforts will all have been for---.”
“Rupert? Are you…all right?”
The sound of Wesley’s voice on the other side of the door made him stiffen. When he glanced back in its direction, however, the image of Faith was gone.
“I’m fine,” Giles replied, hastily slipping into his pants. He unlocked the door and opened it to face a frowning Wesley. “Did you find Lydia?”
Something dark passed behind the other Watcher’s eyes. “Yes.” Briefly, his gaze flickered past Giles’ shoulder. “I thought I heard you talking to someone.”
Giles shook his head. “Just myself,” he said quietly. “It’s been a long night.”
“Quite.” Angling away from the bathroom, Wesley gestured toward the hall. “Mr. Travers is ready for us. We shouldn’t keep him waiting.”
While Wesley lingered outside the door, Giles finished dressing, every passing second filling him with more dread. He still had no clue how he was going to explain himself or his failure to reveal what he knew about Ethan. He just hoped that the punishment for his negligence wasn’t too exacting.
From behind his large desk, Quentin Travers regarded the two Watchers with a heavy-lidded stare, one he’d spent years practicing on lesser men. Giles had long grown immune to it; he knew too many secrets to be fooled by the solemnity of the Council Head’s countenance. It didn’t make the silence any more comfortable, though.
“So,” Travers finally said, his voice low and even, “I believe it’s safe to say that last night’s mission was a failure. Would either of you care to hazard a theory as to why that is?”
Wesley spoke up before Giles could even open his mouth.
“Our intelligence was faulty,” he said. “We were under the impression it was merely an organized effort on the part of the vampires for victims. We had no idea that there would be magic involved until it was too late. If it weren’t for Rupert’s insistence, our casualties would have been much greater.”
The show of support caught Giles off-guard, but Travers’ response was even more bewildering.
“We should be grateful, then, that the spell didn’t affect Rupert until after he’d made the decision to evacuate the square.” He shifted his attention to Giles. “I take it you’re sufficiently recovered from the vampire attack. Wesley’s already told me how he rescued you. It’s just a shame she escaped before either of you could stake her. It might have stopped the ritual from proceeding.”
Though he didn’t understand why he wasn’t being reprimanded for his actions, Giles was even more confused by the other detail Travers let slip. “Ritual? What ritual?”
“The one the vampires were collecting victims for,” Wesley said. “We’ve only learned about that after the fact.” He paused, his face closing. “When I went back to look for Lydia.”
“The vampire who attacked you is named Jocelyn,” Travers explained. “Apparently, she organized last night as a means to collect women for sacrifice in the ritual she had planned.”
“That’s where I found Lydia. She was drained for…whatever purpose the ritual held.”
Giles searched Wesley’s gaze for some kind of understanding about what exactly was going on. Hearing about the ritual was news enough, but so far, there had been no mention of Ethan Rayne, and it sounded as if he’d glossed over the specifics of Giles’ encounter with Jocelyn so that Rupert was the injured party and not a willing participant. It didn’t make sense.
“While last night is most certainly a disappointment,” Travers said, steepling his fingers as he leaned back in his chair, “I’m indebted to both of you for your quick thinking to save what was potentially a disastrous situation. We’ve suffered great losses in the past year, and if last night’s mission had continued as planned, our ranks would’ve been drastically undermined more so than they already are. That’s not an expense we can afford at this time. With that in mind…” He pushed a file folder across his desk toward them, but Wesley was the one to pick it up. “…I’m assigning both of you to finding out just what this Jocelyn needed the ritual for. If there is an apocalypse on our horizon, I’d prefer being aware of it than not.”
“Yes, sir,” Wesley said. He rose to his feet, glancing at Giles as if to prompt him to follow. “We’ll get right on it.”
They left Travers’ office in silence. Neither said a word until they reached Wesley’s.
“I’d like to speak with you in private, if you don’t mind,” Wesley said as he unlocked the door.
“Of course.” Once they were inside, the door shut safely behind him, Giles didn’t wait to say what was on his mind. “Why did you lie to Travers about what happened last night?” he asked.
“I didn’t lie.” Wesley loosened his tie, striding with long steps to the barrister bookcase on the far wall. “I just…colored the truth a little.”
“Jocelyn didn’t attack me.”
“Neither was she responsible for the confetti, but Mr. Travers doesn’t need to be aware of that either, now does he?”
Giles watched as Wesley removed a bottle of Glenmorangie from the bookcase and poured out two tumblers of whiskey. “What game are you playing here?” he asked, his voice hard. “Since when do you fail to toe the company line?”
“I think you’re misunderstanding my intentions, Rupert.” He handed him one of the glasses. “There is only one enemy here, and we both know who he is.”
Giles pressed his lips together, waiting for Wesley to say the name again. When it didn’t come, he sighed. Better to just get it over with. “How did you find out about Ethan Rayne?” he asked.
If Wesley was shocked by his admission, it didn’t register in his features. “From Lydia,” he said. “Apparently, he’d been meeting with her for weeks. I’d wager she’s the reason he knew to take advantage of the vampire attacks last night.” Sipping at his whiskey, his eyes darkened behind his glasses, evidence of a rising emotion that took Giles by surprise. “Was he in Los Angeles? I read your reports, but there isn’t a single mention of the Slayer having a Watcher as she did in Cleveland. Was she alone when you met up with her?”
But still, Giles wasn’t ready to betray Buffy’s confidence. “He escaped,” he answered smoothly. “When I first arrived. Since my orders mentioned nothing of Rayne, I let it go. I didn’t think it important enough to mention.”
The response seemed to satisfy Wesley. “He’s exactly the type to run when he gets threatened,” he mused. He began to wander around the room, his drink forgotten in his hand. “I doubt he’ll run again so soon. He probably considers last night a tremendous success.”
For the first time, Giles began to get an inkling of why exactly Wesley had hidden the truth the way he had. “You’re mad,” he said out loud. “And completely out of your league if you try.”
“Am I?” The corner of his mouth lifted, though there was nothing resembling mirth in his eyes. “He may have got the best of me in Cleveland, but that’s because I was unprepared. I’ve learned a great deal about magic in the past few years, and with your help---.”
“It’s going to take both of us to bring him down.” He went on as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “And with Travers’ new directive, it won’t appear unusual for us to be working together so much…”
Though Wesley continued to expound on his hopes to bring Ethan down, Giles only heard bits and pieces, too lost in his own thoughts to concentrate on anything else. On the surface, it seemed the perfect answer. Stop Ethan, stop the attacks on the Council. No more guilt about letting him go, no more worry about other people getting hurt.
It was beneath the surface that made him pause. The promise he’d made to Buffy to allow Ethan a second chance. The understanding of just why Ethan had gone after the Council. The question of why the Council had hidden Ethan’s association with the rogue Slayer in the first place.
Suddenly, consorting with a vampire while under the influence of magic didn’t seem so dire. The next few months were going to prove either very rewarding for Giles, or very dangerous.
Ethan left Lydia’s flat just after dawn, the file folder tucked tightly beneath his arm. It had taken little effort to find what he’d been after; for once, he was grateful for her obsessive orderliness that had so frustrated him while he courted her attentions.
The night had been, while not a resounding success, fruitful enough to leave Ethan thrumming with newfound power. Discovering Rupert’s hasty exit from the square was all he’d needed to return to his magical circle, using what little time before midnight to siphon the energies his confetti had released. Not exactly as much as he’d wished, but certainly enough to make a difference, and now, he was flying high on the feeling of his own invincibility. Lydia was dead, Rupert was safe, and Ethan had a brand new game to play. Getting vengeance on the men responsible for Buffy’s death over the past few months had been rewarding, but he had a distinct feeling that finding William the Bloody to get the remaining answers he wanted was going to be even better.
Life was good.
Very, very good.
I had mentioned to people that the next installment was B/S. I was wrong. It's a Spike-centric one-shot. The B/S will likely come after that.
Thank you to everyone who's following me in my indulgence. You have no idea how much I appreciate knowing I'm not alone here. :)