Rearing Its Ugly Head
Title: Rearing Its Ugly Head
Series: The Man with the Past-part 2
Author: Leah Roman
Timeline: Season 2
Summary: The pressure on Giles mounts. A friend offers help.
Notes: This is part 2 of "The Man with the Past" series. Part 1 is "I Should Tell You"
Disclaimer: Other people own these characters. I'm only borrowing them, and I promise to give them back when I'm done playing with them.
Feedback: I love feedback. Yes, I'm email@example.com
As he was knocked backward from the force of Buffy's kick, Giles held up his hands in surrender.
"Very good, Buffy," he said as he was breathing heavily. "I think that's quite enough for today."
"Did I wear you out?" Buffy asked teasingly.
Giles found himself a bit envious of his student's Slayer stamina. He was soaked with sweat and out of breath, and the teenager looked nearly as fresh as she had when she walked into the library an hour earlier. He simply looked reproachfully at her.
"Well," Buffy continued with a merry twinkle in her eye, "Maybe you would have an easier time if you didn't insist on wearing your tweeds during training."
"Yes, well," was as far as he got before the ringing phone interrupted him.
With a look of apology to Buffy, he went behind the desk to answer the phone.
As he picked up the phone, he watched Buffy cool down through walking and stretching.
"Hello," he said into the phone.
"Amanda," he said with mild surprise. "What a pleasure it is to hear from you." His face lit with a grin, which abruptly faded as he listened.
"Do you know who it is?" he asked anxiously. After a short pause, he scowled and sighed with annoyance.
"Amanda, I hardly need you to protect me." Finally he smiled again.
"Of course I would love if you were to come for a visit." After a short pause, he added with a chuckle, "I think that could be arranged. I'll see you soon, love."
"Ooh," Buffy said as she finished her stretches, "Giles has a girlfriend. And I bet she's Immortal, too."
"She's not my girlfriend," he growled. Giles really did regret having to tell his students about his Immortality. Although they still seemed to accept him completely, the children had gently teased him over the past few days. Their incessant barbs about his age were becoming tiresome. "She's just coming for a visit. It's been quite a long time since we've seen each other, and she wants us to do some catching up. In fact, she heard that I've been training a Slayer and she would like to meet you."
Buffy gave Giles a calculating look. "She's worried about you, isn't she?" Buffy asked quietly.
Damn, Giles thought to himself. That child could be far too perceptive when she wanted to be.
"Really," he said, trying to be nonchalant, "what makes you say that?"
"You told her you didn't need her to protect you." Buffy paused in thought for a moment. "This is about the crossbow, isn't it?"
Giles sighed as he momentarily debated lying to her. After all, this really wasn't her business and interference would only get her hurt. But Buffy would know the lie for what it was, and in trying to find out what was really going on, she would only be more likely to get in the way.
"Yes, Buffy. Amanda heard a rumor that someone has summoned demonic assassins along the lines of the Order of Turaka. The crossbow is apparently their signature weapon."
"I don't understand," Buffy said. "If it's another Immortal doing this," she hesitated, her brow wrinkling in confusion, "he has to know it won't do any good. What's the point if you can't be killed by a crossbow?"
"It's meant as a distraction. As I run from the assassins, I become tired and careless. Eventually, I'll barely be able to fight. At that point, all anyone has to do is walk right up and finish the job."
"But isn't that against the rules?"
"As with any other given population, there are those Immortals who will bend or even break the rules." The concern he saw in Buffy's eyes touched him deeply. He was worried that her fear would lead her to something rash, and Giles did not want Buffy to get hurt fighting his battle. "I believe that with you and Amanda looking after me, I shall be quite safe," he told her with a gentle smile. "Besides, I do have a reputation as quite a swordsman, and," he added with a grin, "after training you for more than a year, I've gotten even better."
"Yeah, well, I'm still gonna worry." She wandered over to the computer and absently ran her fingers over the keyboard. " Do you have any idea who's doing this?" She asked in a small voice.
He admired Buffy's determination to solve any problem she encountered. Most teenagers looked for the easy way out, but Buffy could always be counted on to tackle an obstacle head on.
He went to the book cage and took out the crossbow. "Well, we can start with this. If we can figure out what Order uses this weapon and these markings, then we might get a start on figuring out which Immortal would have the ability and inclination to call them."
Buffy sighed unhappily. "Research is so not my thing," she said as Giles handed her a stack of books.
At that moment, the library doors banged open admitting Xander and Willow.
"God, I can't believe she said that!" Xander said angrily.
"Yeah. And in front of everyone, too," Willow said with a conciliatory pat on his arm.
"Hey, guys," Buffy greeted. "Who said what?"
"Cordelia," Xander answered. "She said- she- God! I can't even think about it!"
"It's probably best to just forget about it," Willow said placatingly.
"Yeah, you're right," Xander sighed. He turned to Giles. "So, how goes the research? Have we figured out who came after you and why?"
"We were just about to look into that," Giles answered. "I received a phone call from a friend who believes that another Immortal may be behind this."
"Another Immortal?" Willow exclaimed. "Who would do something like that?"
With everything the teenagers had seen while living on the Hellmouth, Giles was astonished at their continued innocence of the evil that men could do. They still believed that everyone played by the rules and that good would always win in the end. Giles wondered if he had ever been that naïve.
He took a stack of books from behind the counter and dropped them on the table in front of Willow.
"Perhaps we should try to find out," he said mildly. He struggled to contain his chuckle at Xander's disappointed sigh as he grabbed a book at random and started flipping pages.
"Look at it this way," Buffy said brightly as she grabbed a book, "at least this'll get your mind off Cordelia."
"Yeah," Xander responded sarcastically with his nose reluctantly in a book, "and thanks for reminding me just now."
"Wow," Buffy said as she stood up to stretch, "how long have we been at this?"
"Little more than an hour and a half," Giles answered after checking his watch. He allowed himself a moment to admire Buffy's natural grace, telling himself that he was only giving his tired eyes a rest.
Buffy's head suddenly snapped up, her eyes focused intently on the stacks.
"Did anyone hear that?" Buffy asked tensely.
"Hear what?" Giles asked, his gaze following hers.
"I didn't hear anything," Xander responded.
"That's because you were snoring," Willow teased. "But I didn't hear anything either."
"I'm sure I heard a noise," Buffy said determinedly. "I'm gonna go check it out."
After a quick detour to the cage to grab a short sword, Buffy slipped silently up the stairs and into the stacks.
Buffy moved slowly and carefully among the shelves laden with books listening intently for the slightest noise.
As she rounded the corner of a bookcase, she saw her goal. A man dressed in a hooded black tunic and black pants was sighting along a gilded crossbow, waiting for a clear shot at Giles.
As Buffy snuck up behind him, the creak of a floorboard betrayed her presence. He whirled with startling speed and loosed a shot at Buffy's head. Only her superior Slayer reflexes saved her from the shot that surely would have ended her life. As Buffy kicked the weapon from her opponent's hand, his foot swept her support leg out from under her landing her hard on her back, her own weapon clattering to the floor. The assassin followed her down and grabbed her throat in his surprisingly powerful hands. Buffy fought for her life, trying to shake off the intruder and reach her sword. Finally, one of her wildly flailing hands latched onto her weapon. With a swing that arched high over her head, she managed to cut deeply into his back. Buffy moaned in pain and fear as the man continued to strangle her as if he hadn't noticed his injury. She kept slashing wildly at his back until she felt his hands loosen. The assassin's dead weight collapsed on top of Buffy as her head fell back to the floor and struggled to relearn how to breathe.
"Buffy," Giles called urgently as he rushed toward her. "Are you alright?"
"Compared to him," Buffy answered hoarsely, "I'm fine."
"Is Buffy okay?" Willow asked as she and Xander headed up the stairs.
"God," Xander exclaimed, covering his mouth with his sleeve, "what is that smell?"
Giles quickly turned to block their path. "Don't come any closer," he said sternly. Even with everything the children had seen on the Hellmouth, Giles didn't want them exposed to this kind of carnage. The man, if that's indeed what he was, had his entire back slashed to ribbons with his gangrenous insides gruesomely showing through. Everything around was covered in a slick, inky black liquid. All of Buffy that Giles could see was smeared thickly with it.
After making sure that Willow and Xander heeded his warning, Giles knelt next to Buffy and gently rolled the body off of her. It squished sickly as it was moved.
"I'm sorry," Buffy whispered.
"Sorry," Giles answered with confusion. "Whatever for?"
"If I hadn't killed him, we could have gotten some answers."
"Buffy," Giles sighed sympathetically, "we will find the answers, of that I have no doubt." He smoothed the ochre-caked hair away from her face. "The important thing is that you are alive and well."
Giles helped Buffy get to her feet. He put a hand on her arm as she swayed dizzily. They walked carefully down the stairs, as Buffy was still somewhat unsteadily upright.
"Willow," Giles asked quietly, "would you help Buffy get to the shower?"
"Yeah," Willow responded wrinkling her nose. "That's probably a good idea." She led Buffy by the elbow toward the door. "We'll stop by her locker and get a change of clothes, too."
Giles pondered how to get rid of the body. The thing was obviously demonic and he didn't know if touching it would be dangerous. He would have to do it alone since he wanted to shield Xander from the grisly remains.
Pulling out his wallet, he handed Xander some money. "Why don't you go to the vending machines and get something for the three of you?"
"Umm," Xander asked hesitantly, "aren't you gonna need help moving the body?"
Giles resisted the urge to chuckle at the poorly disguised fear on the boy's face.
"It's probably best if I do it myself," Giles said gently. He suspected that the boy felt useless often enough. Buffy had the Slayer abilities, Willow could hack into almost any computer system out there, and Xander got the snacks. Giles mentally kicked himself as he realized what he was doing to Xander's self esteem.
"Don't you know, Giles," Xander said with a smirk, "friends help you move, but real friends help you move bodies."
Giles looked at the floor and stifled his urge to laugh. One of the things he admired most about the boy was his gallows humor. Xander could face the most terrifying situations and still be able to crack a joke.
"Are you telling me that you're a real friend?" Giles asked softly.
Xander looked Giles straight in the eye, and for a brief moment Giles caught a glimpse of the man that Xander would become. He saw the man that Xander was struggling to grow into.
"Well, yeah," Xander said quietly, "I guess I am."
A flash of understanding passed between the two men. Giles went behind the counter and retrieved a large key ring.
Tossing the keys to Xander, he said, "On your way to the vending machines stop by the chem lab and get two pairs of gloves, safety goggles and two aprons." If Xander was going to help, Giles would do everything he could to minimize the potential danger to him.
"Which key opens the lab?" Xander asked as he fingered the keys.
"The one that says chem," Giles replied with a gentle smile.
Xander noticed the small, neat label on each key for the first time. "Right," he said as he headed for the door.
As the students were on their various errands, Giles went to the janitor's closet to get cleaning supplies. All of them arrived back at the library at about the same time.
Buffy had showered and changed, but still looked a bit pale and glassy-eyed. Xander handed each of the girls a candy bar and held one out to Giles.
"I think I'll hold off on the candy, and perhaps you should, too," Giles told him. "You and I have quite a bit of work, yet," he gestured to Xander's armload of safety gear.
"What are you guys doing?" Willow asked.
"Giles and I are cleaning up the body," Xander answered, swelling slightly with pride.
"Well aren't you the lucky ones?" Buffy asked teasingly.
"Well," Giles said as he opened the library door, "best get to it."
Giles led the group into the library and settled the girls at the table.
"Willow," he suggested, " why don't you and Buffy try to do some research while Xander and I take care of the rest of it?"
"Yeah, you girls just sit back and relax while Giles and I clean up Buffy's mess." The potential sting of the words was lessened by Xander's trademark goofy grin.
"Yeah, well at least I don't fall asleep while we're researching," Buffy joked at him.
Giles and Xander got into their protective gear and headed up the stairs. Noticing Xander's slight trepidation, Giles put a gloved hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Ready?" Giles asked gently.
Xander blew out a quick breath and looked Giles in the eye. "Ready," he agreed.
They bent next to the body. Hesitantly, Xander reached out a hand. As his fingers contacted the corpse, he withdrew quickly.
"Oh, my God," Xander said with a panicked squeak, "what is that? It feels," he poked hesitantly at it again, "it feels squishy. Ugh, it feels like-"
"Like syrup in a baggie," Giles finished in awed tones.
"Yeah," Xander said. "I guess that works." With a gulp Xander visibly gathered his courage. "Let's do this."
Giles almost laughed at the feigned bravery in Xander's voice. "Yes, let's."
They grabbed the body and tried to lift it. It squished and sloshed viscously as Giles attempted to take the body under the arms to gain some leverage. Xander reached under its knees and together they struggled to get the burden down the stairs.
"This really stinks," Xander commented as they managed to half drag half carry the corpse to the door.
"You volunteered to help," Giles reminded him.
"No, I mean the smell. I don't think we'll ever be able to wear these clothes again."
Giles chuckled. "You have a point. Somehow, I don't think this will come out in the wash."
They pulled, dragged and carried the body outside and heaved it into a dumpster. It landed on top of the other trash with a wet splat.
Attempting nonchalance, Xander wiped his hands on his jeans. "Whew! I'm glad that's over."
"As am I," Giles agreed.
"So, uh," Xander asked hesitantly, "Any idea what that thing was?"
"I'm not really sure." Giles rested for a moment as he looked at the setting sun. "I think all of us should get home before dark. A shower is definitely in order and then I'll do some research at home."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
Giles smiled. Xander was making great strides toward manhood. He was learning how to confront problems with courage and creativity. A few months ago Xander would have been all too willing to bury his head in the sand and let someone else handle it, but now he was beginning to come out of his shell. Giles only hoped that the boy wasn't trying to grow up too fast and take on too much responsibility.
"I think you've done quite enough for one day, young man," Giles said with mock severity. After all, if they could tease him about his age, then he was more than willing to get in his own shots occasionally. "Thank you for your help. I think I'll just have a nice quiet dinner and research late into the night."
"Oh, okay," Xander said poorly disguising his disappointment.
"Don't worry Xander. After all, we live on the Hellmouth and someone's after me," Giles said with humor. "I'm sure there will be plenty for you to do tomorrow."
Xander laughed. "Yeah," he said brightly. "I guess you're right."
Giles clapped Xander on the shoulder. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah," Xander said, practically glowing with pride. Suddenly his face turned serious. "You be careful."
"I will," Giles responded with a smile. "I always am."