“Giles, I – I can’t. I have class; I can’t skip again. Are you all right?”
Buffy was just about to step into her dorm room when she heard Willow’s hushed voice; she opened the door an inch and peeked inside, to find her roomie on the phone.
“I can get Buffy for you – ”
The Slayer was about to announce her presence and take the phone, already running through a mental list of possible demon catastrophes it could be this time. At the next words, however, she stopped.
“Giles, that’s dumb; Buffy can handle it. You obviously need help – I can come over in a couple of hours, but it doesn’t sound like you’re gonna make it that long.”
Since when did Giles go to Willow instead of her? What was she, chopped liver? First, she gets pushed aside for some British chippie (whatever the hell a chippie was; she made a mental note to ask Giles the next time she saw him.) And then, he goes to a Wicca in training – not even a very stable one these days – instead of asking the Slayer. His Slayer. What kind of Watcher was he, anyway?
A few seconds later, Willow hung up the phone and Buffy burst into the room.
“Buffy!” The redhead looked up, flushing guiltily. “Hey – I didn’t hear ya coming. Guess that’s the whole stealthy Slayer thing, huh? Good job. Way to be all…” her voice faded. “Slayer-y.”
“I heard you on the phone,” Buffy accused. “What’s wrong with Giles? Why didn’t he want me to come?”
“He made me promise I wouldn’t say anything.”
Buffy didn’t even pause to ask more questions, just went straight to her weapons chest and grabbed a healthy selection of stakes, bottles of holy water, and her crossbow.
“Is he at his apartment?”
Willow’s eyes widened even further as Buffy stuffed everything into her backpack. She nodded, mute.
“I’ll just go; prove to him that even if he’s not my Watcher anymore, I’m still the Slayer.”
Willow didn’t find her voice until Buffy was already out the door and down the hall, managing faintly after her:
“You probably won’t need the crossbow.”
Once she’d reached Giles’ apartment, Buffy didn’t even bother to knock – even though she knew firsthand the horrible demon-y things (Olivia) that could be waiting on the other side of the door. Why hadn’t he called her instead of Willow? They’d grown apart in the past few months, sure – but that was because he’d practically thrown her out the door once he got a girlfriend. He’d made it perfectly clear more than once that he didn’t want his former Slayer hanging around; so if she went out and got herself a life all her own, complete with boyfriend and almost-respectable grade-point-average… Well, that was just fair play, she reasoned. But there was no cause to think she wouldn’t be there for him when he really needed her. Was there?
Racing inside, she found the apartment empty, clothing strewn across the couch and books tossed to the floor. Taking in the living room and kitchen, she stepped further inside and suddenly became aware of a sound that traveled up and down her spine in waves, chilling her. A howl, a scream; Buffy took the stairs two at a time, and it was only when she stepped into Giles’ bedroom that she realized what the sound was.
He looked up at her, his face a mix of exasperation and surprise. The yowling bundle in his arms took a moment to replenish its tiny lungs and then began its furious protestations anew.
“That’s not a demon.”
He rolled his eyes, bouncing the tiny bundle in his arms ineffectually.
“Says you,” he quipped dryly.
Buffy took a cautious step forward, and Giles laughed despite himself.
“What?” she demanded.
“You – ” he raised his voice a notch, in order to be heard above the squalling infant. “You look as though it’s going to stake you… It’s just a baby, Buffy.”
“Well, what about you?” she retaliated. “You’re bouncing that thing like it’s a… well, something that’s good with the bouncy life. I don’t think you’re supposed to do that to babies.”
Sure enough, the infant had had quite enough of Giles’ inexperienced jostling – it promptly spit up all over itself and the Watcher’s favorite sweater.
“Bloody hell,” Giles muttered. He stood, gesturing Buffy closer. “Here – will you take it. I’ll get something to clean it with.”
Buffy’s eyes widened in horror. “Nuh unh – I’ll get something. You keep it.”
“Honestly, Buffy – it’s a baby. You’ve saved the world, for heaven’s sake.”
“And I’ll do it again, too. Got a demon in the closet or a vamp about to drag the world into hell, I’m your gal. I don’t do babies.”
Giles ignored her, pushing the whimpering child into the Slayer’s arms. “Well, you’re doing this one. I need to clean this up.”
At the change in venue, the child’s screams began anew. Against her own advice, Buffy began bouncing on her heels; the screams escalated. She shouted after her Watcher, who’d disappeared down the hallway.
“I think there’s something wrong with it.”
Which was when Riley came bursting through the front door, already open from Buffy’s entrance earlier. In full commando garb, he scanned the apartment before coming to rest on Giles, who was wiping ineffectually at the mess on his sweater in the kitchen.
“Where’s Buffy – I got a message there was trouble. What is it? HST? Vamp?”
Giles looked vaguely confused as Buffy came down the stairs, her brow furrowed and the baby cradled awkwardly against her shoulder.
Riley’s face softened when he saw her. “It’s a baby.”
He went to her, taking the infant from her arms. Instantly the bundle fell silent. Giles stared at the young man in awe.
“My God – how did you do that?”
“My God, too,” Buffy agreed. “I didn’t think it would ever stop.”
Riley shook his head, then ran a hand experimentally under the baby’s blanket.
“Looks like somebody needs a fresh diaper.” At the helpless look on Giles’ face, Riley looked skeptical. “You don’t have diapers?” The older man shook his head, and Riley immediately took charge. “Just a clean dust cloth or something’ll do. And some warm water and soap. Safety pins, too,” he added authoritatively. Grateful for some direction, Giles went to work gathering the items Riley had listed.
The young soldier lay the baby down on Giles’ table. Clear blue eyes stared up, chubby fists waving in the air as Riley removed the soiled clothes. Buffy peered over his shoulder.
“It’s really kind of cute… Once it stops screeching like a howler monkey.”
“It’s really kind of a boy, Buffy – not an it.”
“How do you know how to do that?” She took a step back, wrinkling her nose distastefully when an extremely soiled diaper was removed from an extremely soiled bottom. Riley whistled, completely unflustered.
“Wow. No wonder he was screaming.”
Giles reappeared, his arms loaded with supplies. At the sight of Buffy and Riley standing together, he recoiled – they were poised over the infant, cooing attentively; the picture of domesticity. He thought of his complete ineptitude earlier, - the reason he hadn’t called Buffy in the first place. He was already obsolete in her life, he hardly needed her to know that her former Watcher was a complete disaster with children.
Unlike Finn, he thought bitterly. Apparently, the strapping young Iowa lad was not only a stellar student, a patriot to the core, and an action hero in training… he would also be a wonderful father. Buffy looked up with a soft smile at Giles’ entrance, nodding toward the table.
“Riley figured out how to make it happy.”
“He,” Riley insisted.
She rolled her eyes. “Right – he. Take a look, Giles.”
Giles stepped closer, cautiously. In his absence, Riley had cleaned the baby up with a wash cloth – now, an utterly nude, blissfully content baby lay blowing bubbles on his dining room table, chubby arms and legs waving in the air.
“See. Not so scary,” Riley admonished.
Giles nodded, though not without reservations. He suddenly became aware of a stench issuing from a bundle of clothes off to the side of the table.
Buffy nodded gravely. “’Fraid so, Giles. Who knew babies could be so… well, ick.”
“And you couldn’t have possibly found a better place for this than my dining room table?”
“Sorry, Giles,” Riley took the items from the Watcher’s arms and began assembling a fresh diaper. “Gotta make do with what you’ve got.” Lacking safety pins, Riley used a paper clip to secure the handily-made diaper, sealing off the ends carefully by closing them together. Buffy shook her head, clearly impressed.
“Wow – you’re like the MacGyver of baby-dom.”
Giles looked at her in confusion; she smiled apologetically. “Sorry – pop culture reference.”
He nodded, feeling increasingly out of place. “Right – of course. Well… you two seem to have this well in hand. Perhaps it would be best if you took charge of the situation, until we figure out who the child belongs to.”
“Wait. You don’t know who he belongs to?”
Giles shook his head. “Of course not. I’m not the obvious choice for babysitter, in case you hadn’t noticed. Someone left him on my doorstep this morning.”
“And you just picked him up?” Buffy stared at him in horror. “He could have been booby-trapped… or a demon. Or a booby-trapped demon.”
“Buffy, this is Sunnydale, not ‘Nam,” Riley advised. “You did the right thing calling Buffy, though,” he continued, apparently discounting how flustered his girlfriend had been when he’d first arrived. “She’s great with kids.”
Buffy’s eyebrows went up in surprise. “You must be thinking of your other Slayer girlfriend. And besides,” her lower lip came out just slightly and Giles rolled his eyes. “Giles didn’t call me. He called Willow.”
“Who was supposed to keep this to herself.”
Riley picked the now-diapered baby up and pressed him gently against his shoulder, removing himself from what had the potential to be another Slayer-Watcher blowout.
“Why didn’t you want me here? I could have helped.”
Giles went to the kitchen and put the kettle on for tea, Buffy close on his heels. “Right. Because you’ve been so monumentally helpful thus far.”
He regretted the words the instant they were out. Buffy’s face fell, hurt flashing in her eyes before she looked away quickly. “You could have called.”
The front door flew open just then and Willow, Tara, Xander and Anya came rushing in.
“Hail, hail, gang’s all here,” Xander announced as he shut the door behind them. Anya’s eyes widened in horror as she took in the sight of Riley walking the baby gently ‘round the apartment.
“My God. It’s a child. You have a child. Where did he get that?” She looked at Xander, who put a hand on his arm in a gesture half-restraint, half-reassurance, then returned her attention to Riley. “You can’t just take children, you know. It’s frowned upon. They put tiny pictures on milk cartons to prevent it.”
Buffy piped up, entering from the kitchen. “I’m guessing you’ve had this conversation?”
Xander nodded reluctantly. “Yeah. There was a thing with a little girl at the mall.”
“She was very tiny and very freckled. I thought she would go well in my living room.” The former demon rolled her eyes with a sigh. “Xander wouldn’t let me have her, though. Not that I wanted her after the fuss she started making, anyway.” She took a step closer, peering at the wide blue eyes staring out at them, tugging Xander with her.
“This one is much smaller, Xander. Not as many freckles, but there’s still something appealing about it.” She paused, weighing things out before making the final announcement. “We should get one. Immediately.”
Xander’s eyes widened and the rest of the gang looked at him expectantly as he stuttered over a response. “Uh – we can talk about it. A lot. And then think about it for a while. Talk and think – both goods. Hey… How ‘bout that geranium you were lookin’ at the other day? Geraniums are nice. They smell good.”
“And they almost never cry,” Willow added helpfully.
Anya was paying no attention to either of them, experimentally poking the baby as Riley backed away, looking to Buffy for help.
“Hey, Buff… Maybe you should take him? Use your Slayer reflexes to deflect likely attacks.”
Buffy shook her head immediately; Giles watched her face change, and felt something go through him, a knowledge that others lacked. He’d watched her for years now, it was his job - he took that job seriously; he took her seriously. And Giles suddenly sensed that the fear that crossed her face at Riley’s suggestion had little to do with her self-proclaimed distaste for children.
“Sorry, can’t… I’ve gotta get going. I’ve got some stuff at Mom’s I need to do, and then studying. Looks like with the whole gang, you’ve got it covered.”
And with that, she was out the door.
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