Giles had become accustomed to the sanctuary of his library being disrupted by rowdy teenagers. It was a particular group of teenagers, of course—Buffy Summers, Willow Rosenberg, and Xander Harris. The “Scooby Gang,” as they liked to call themselves. Normally, the rest of the population of Sunnydale High avoided the library like the plague.
That was why when the doors to the library burst open early one morning in November Giles, who had been sipping a cup of tea in his office, called out, “Buffy?”
It wasn’t Buffy who appeared in his doorway, however, but another girl, one whom he hadn’t seen since the first day of school. She was wearing a scowl on her otherwise attractive face.
“Not Buffy,” she said, hand on her hip. “Claire.” There was something unsteady about the way she was standing, and he realized after a moment’s consideration that she looked very pale.
Frowning, he stood and stepped towards her. “Are you all right?” he asked, concerned.
With a snarl, she held up her hand, keeping him from coming any closer. Suddenly she didn’t look so unsteady. Her blue-green eyes were focused firmly on his.
“Suppose I told you that I was walking home last night and got attacked by a man with really long, pointy teeth,” she said, her voice casual and her expression intent. “What would you say?”
“Dear lord,” Giles said. “Are you injured?” His eyes darted to her neck, which was concealed from view by a pastel scarf.
“I’m fine,” she said. “Freaked out, but fine. Pissed off. Tell me the truth, Mr. Giles. Was he a—a vampire? What do you know about him?”
Giles suddenly remembered one of the Council’s favorite catch phrases: “plausible deniability.”
“Er, that is, why should I know anything?” he said, looking away and keenly aware of the faint flush on his cheeks. He used to be able to lie, damn it. Spending so much time with teenagers was clearly having an effect on his intellect.
“You’re joking, right? You showed me that book! The vampire book! When you thought I was Buffy.” Her lips pursed. “Buffy,” she said again. “What does she have to do with this?”
“I thought blondes were supposed to be dumb,” he thought, and only realized he’d spoken aloud when she cocked an eyebrow.
“It’s in every blonde’s best interest for the rest of the world to think that,” she said, crossing her arms. He wondered if that applied to Buffy as well; his slayer sometimes seemed like a walking dumb blonde joke, and at times he despaired of her. Other times he was fully aware of the fact that she was the most extraordinary human being he would ever have the privilege of knowing.
Apparently his thoughtful silence went on too long, because Claire’s eyes narrowed and when she spoke again it was in a deadly serious tone, reminiscent of the way he had sometimes souonded back in his Ripper days. “I’m waiting for an explanation. I won’t leave till I’m satisfied. I hate being lied to.”
Briefly it occurred to him that he would find it much easier to lie to her if Buffy hadn’t brazenly gone and told the truth to her two friends already. Faced with Claire, who seemed every bit as demanding as Buffy, he couldn’t convince himself that it would be better for her not to know the truth. She’d seen a glimpse of it now, after all, and if she knew the truth then she would know not to go out alone after dark. She’d be able to protect herself.
He sighed and rubbed his forehead. He hoped the Council never found out about this breach of protocol. “Yes. Well. Vampires are real. Most of the myths about them are true—daylight’s fatal, holy water burns them, and a stake through the heart always does the trick. Don’t walk alone at night.” With a frown he said, “Actually, how did you escape?”
She shrugged. “Pocket knife to the eyes.” She didn’t meet his eyes when she spoke, but he was too busying worrying to notice. “And Buffy? What does she have to do with this?”
“Do I hear my name being taken in vain?” his slayer chirped, entering the library at precisely the wrong time for plausible deniability to work.
“Ah, Buffy,” Giles said through gritted teeth, walking out of his office with Claire matching him step for step. “Speak of the devil.”
“What do you—oh, Claire! Hi. Didn’t see you there.” Buffy glanced quizzically at the other young woman.
Giles cleared his throat. “It seems that Claire was attacked by a vampire last night,” he said. “I may have…inadvertently…revealed my knowledge of vampires when she first arrived here, so she came to me for answers.”
“You were attacked by a vampire? And you’re, like, totally fine?” Buffy sounded incredulous as she examined Claire, evidently searching for hidden puncture wounds.
“As I told Mr. Giles, I got him in the eyes with my pocket knife. It scared him off well enough for me to escape.”
Buffy snorted. “Mr. Giles, that’s nice,” she said. “He just goes by Giles around here.” Giles opened his mouth to protest but she just breezed over him. “Nuh-uh. Don’t go all stuffy Brit on me, Giles. So Claire found out. So what? I’m barely undercover here as it is, and obviously she can take care of herself. Why not let her join the Scooby Gang?”
Annoyed, and practically forgetting that Claire was even in the room, Giles put on his sternest expression. “Now, Buffy, I really must protest. You have a sacred duty. You are the Chosen One. I appreciate that you want to have your friends helping you, but never forget—”
“Forget?” she snapped, the warrior inside of her shining through the façade she presented to the world. This was the slayer who had defeated the Harvest in her first week at Sunnydale. The one who he firmly believed would defeat the Master someday soon. “You think I could ever possibly forget?” She advanced on him, poking him in the chest with one super strong finger. “I know that I have a sacred duty, Giles. I know that I have to go out there every night and put my life on the line so that everyone else can sleep safely in their beds. God! Forgive me if I just want an ounce of normalcy in my life. Forgive me if I want to have friends, for whatever little time I have left. I’m not trying to convince Claire to help me. I think we both know she’d be safer if she didn’t. But I don’t see why we can’t let that be her choice.”
“Uh, guys?” Claire said, drawing both of their gazes. “I’m right here. And still waiting for an explanation. Buffy—fights vampires?” She didn’t sound quite as appalled by this idea as she should have. In fact, her expression was almost resigned.
“Yes,” Giles said reluctantly after another fierce glance from his slayer. “That’s right. One girl in all the world, she alone stands against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of—”
“She gets the picture, Giles,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes. She smiled at Claire. “I’ve got super strength, super healing, the works—helps me fight them. Willow and Xander help me out on the research sometimes. If you want, I mean, if you’re interested, you could work with them. I know they’d appreciate the help.”
Claire’s brow furrowed. “And Giles, is what? Your…sensei?”
Buffy grinned. “Nah, he’s my watcher. I slay, he watches. Really useful fellow.”
“What Buffy’s trying to say, Claire, is that there is no pressure for you to work with us,” Giles said, leaning forward intently to convey how serious he was. “In fact, I know that I would be more comfortable if you didn’t.”
“No,” Claire said, shaking her head, eyes shining with naïve excitement. He couldn’t help but think that she, like Willow and Xander, had no idea what she was getting herself in for. “No, I want to help.” Her lips twitched. “And I thought this town was boring.”
Over the following weeks he was surprised by how well she assimilated into the Scooby Gang. Claire was neither as studious as Willow nor as flippant as Xander. She had a perky sense of humor but never seemed to forget the seriousness of the situation. And there was more to her than met the eye, Giles was sure—a cloud of something like sorrow or wisdom that hung over her, as though at one time she had experienced something terrible. Even after several weeks had passed, he knew very little about her.
She was watching him spar with Buffy one evening in January when she hit upon an idea.
“Giles, what if one of us tried sparring with Buffy?” Claire said, shortly after he took a particularly painful blow to the stomach.
“What?” he wheezed as Buffy smirked at him.
Claire bit her lip. “It’s just—wouldn’t it help you, if you could watch Buffy spar with someone? And I’d really like to learn a little. I mean, it would be good if we knew how to defend ourselves, wouldn’t it?”
He smiled tiredly. “I appreciate the offer, Claire, but I’m afraid you just wouldn’t be able to keep up. Buffy could seriously hurt you.”
“Hey!” Buffy said, with one of her infamous pouts.
Claire smiled. “I’ll be fine. Really. Please, Giles? Let me try?”
He might have protested further, if not for the painful twinges in his bruised ribs. “If you insist,” he said dubiously.
He handed his protective padding off to Claire, who donned it eagerly and was completely dwarfed by the chest protector. Similarly, the gloves swallowed her hands. That didn’t stop her from smiling brightly.
“Hit me, Buffy!” she said, holding up her hands.
Buffy nodded, a look of intense concentration on her face. Her right fist flew forward, smacking into Claire’s palm. Giles knew from experience just how much that hurt, but Claire shook it off as if it were nothing, her grin if possible growing wider.
“Again!” she said, and Buffy did.
This continued for nearly an hour—far longer than Giles had ever been able to endure—before Claire, sweating but barely winded and apparently in no pain at all, said to Buffy, “Will you teach me how to do that?”
And so Buffy began to carefully coach Claire through the proper way to throw a punch, showing her how to curve her fist with her thumb on the outside to avoid breaking it, and Giles watched, amazed to see a side of his slayer he hadn’t seen before. She was a surprisingly patient teacher, and Claire caught on very quickly. Standing so close to each other, the two blondes could easily be sisters.
“Now try it on me,” Buffy said after Claire had taken a few practice swings.
“You’re not wearing any padding,” Claire pointed out, looking nervous.
Buffy smirked. “Benefits of being the slayer, I don’t need any. C’mon. Hit me!”
Taking a deep breath, Claire nodded. Her face set firmly, she balled her small fist and swung it forward with all her might.
Buffy stumbled backwards, her hand coming up to protect her cheek. Claire’s eyes flew wide. “Oh my god, Buffy, I’m so sorry!” she said.
Buffy grinned. “That was amazing, Claire,” she said, dropping her hand to reveal a reddened but otherwise unblemished face. “You’ve got some real strength. You learn how to do that on your old school’s chess team?”
Claire colored. “I used to do gymnastics when I was a kid,” she muttered, looking away. “I guess I got to be pretty strong, and it never went away.”
Buffy nodded. “Well, once we get you trained up, you just might be able to take on a vamp yourself,” she said.
“Really?” Claire grinned.
“Maybe,” Buffy said.
Thus began a routine. Giles would spar with Buffy at the start of each afternoon, teaching her new moves that might one day save her life. When he couldn’t stand any more Claire would take over, and he would coach Buffy from the sidelines. Once they were done with the official training Buffy would walk Claire through the moves that she found the most effective. Claire continued to learn with impressive speed; she wasn’t a karate master by any means, but she was learning how to improvise, how to fight dirty. How to defend herself.
One afternoon while they were in the midst of this routine Giles felt a presence at his side and turned to see Angel standing beside him. He shifted uneasily, still not certain what to make of the vampire’s presence. Angel had a soul, yes, but that didn’t take away the fact that for centuries he had been a ruthless killer. Buffy cared about him, though, and that meant that he stayed. He usually didn’t come to the library, though, choosing to accompany Buffy on patrols instead. In fact, he had never met Claire, to Giles’ knowledge. Claire, unlike Willow and Xander, never went to the Bronze; apparently her father refused to allow her out late, and only permitted her to stay after school the way she did because she told him that she had joined the school’s historical society.
“What’s that smell?” Angel said now, his eyes on the two girls. Claire was attacking Buffy in a flurry of almost coordinated punches; Buffy dodged easily but occasionally allowed a punch to land so Claire could get a feel for how hard she was hitting.
Giles frowned. “Smell?”
“Yeah,” Angel breathed. “You don’t smell that?” When Giles turned to examine the vampire he was surprised to see his nostrils flare; if he were a dog he would be salivating. “It’s like—light and air. Life. It’s—delicious.”
Giles’ stomach roiled at that description. “Perhaps you are smelling Buffy’s blood,” he said delicately. “It’s said that a slayer’s blood is a powerful attractor of vampires.”
Angel shook his head violently. “No. I know what Buffy’s blood smells like. This is different. This is—” he tore his eyes away, seemingly with great force of will. “This is making me hungry.”
“Are you losing control?” Giles demanded, wondering whether this was more serious than he’d realized.
“No!” Angel said, nearly shouting. His cry distracted Buffy and Claire, who stopped sparring and turned to look at the two observers, their challenging expressions nearly identical. “It’s the girl,” Angel said more quietly, staring at Claire.
Claire, noticing his stare, stepped closer and stuck her hand forward. “You must be Angel,” she said. “I’m Claire.”
Angel stared at her hand as though it might be poisonous, and did not shake it.
“Angel?” Buffy said, perplexed by this exchange. “What’s going on?”
Angel looked away from Claire. “I came to warn you,” he said, swallowing. “There’s something new out there. Something dangerous.”
“What are you talking about?” Buffy said. “The Master?”
“No. This is something—different.”
“I hate when you speak in riddles,” Buffy said, visibly annoyed. “What’s happening?”
“Whatever’s out there, it’s scaring the vampires,” Angel said. “There are whispers of it—some kind of predator that hurts us, that does something so terrible none of the vamps will even say what it is.”
“Isn’t it a good thing if the vampires are scared?” Claire asked. She seemed to shrink back under their collective gazes. “I mean, the vampires are the enemy. Isn’t it good if they’re afraid?”
Angel shook his head slowly, but it was Buffy who spoke. “Only if the thing that scares them is on our side. And how often are we that lucky?”
The silence after that statement was resounding.