Lair of the Stealth Bunnies
Home Chapter Nine
The door opened almost immediately after Giles knocked on it. The room was dark beyond it; he wouldn't have even been able to see Sarah, if it wasn't for the streetlight behind him. As it was, all he could see was a general form, and the glitter of eyes. But it was a human form. Not that that helped his temper any.
"I figured you'd be around sooner or later," she said softly. She walked away from him into the room, leaving the door open. "It was a little sooner than later, though."
Giles let the door close behind him. The room was lit by candlelight, and the darkness swallowed him for a moment before his eyes adjusted. "You could at least turn the lights on," he said, and even he could hear the anger in his voice clipping his words short.
She sighed. "The light hurts my eyes," she said. Then after another moment, she went to the kitchen and turned that light on. It spilled harshly into the room, and she edged away from it.
"Are you afraid of me looking at you?" he asked sharply.
He heard a rustling as she shook her head. "No. The light really does hurt. I'm not really meant for daylight anymore." She waited another moment, then sighed again and snapped the overhead light on.
She looked different, but not all together so. It was the small details, only. Her fingernails were more like claws than nails, and he wondered how they could ever have missed her eyes. They were certainly not quite human. She had apparently just showered. Her hair was wrapped up in a towel, and she was wearing a faded grey shirt that came down over her knees over a pair of black leggings. Her feet were bare, and they were clawed too.
Giles shook his head. "How could we not notice?"
Her lips twitched slightly and she looked away. "There are different levels of the form. I could hide some of it, but it was hard. It's almost a relief to relax about it. Although, even relaxed about it, 1 can still pass in a crowd for human." She gestured at the light. "Do you mind if...?"
She switched the light off with a sigh of relief. "That's another thing that's hard about it. Trying to keep out of bright lights."
"Were you planning on coming back at all, or were you just going to let them worry about you all night?" he asked.
"No. No, I left a message on the machine at the library. And at Buffy's house. I just thought I'd better come home first."
"They were panicked about you. They didn't know if you were hurt, or if you were captured, or if you were just playing games with them. They get enough of that, you know. It would help if they occasionally got some honesty, too, to balance it out. They really liked you, you know."
"I was going right back to the library," she said, a twinge of defensive in her voice. "I rather thought some clothes would be a good idea first."
He blinked. "Clothes?"
"Yes, mine did rather take a beating," she said tightly. "I was also a bit messy, so I thought a shower was in good order, too. I didn't think getting to the library by dashing behind one tree to another would be very... efficient. Of course, this is Sunnydale. Maybe no one would even look twice."
"You may be right on that. The people here are truly oblivious."
A tea kettle began to whistle in the kitchen. It broke them both off short. Sarah let it scream for a moment before she went in after it. The squealing died to a whimper as she took it off the heat, and the apartment plunged into silence.
She started through the normal routine of making tea, and it infuriated him that she would be acting so... so normal. "Were you even planning on telling us? Or were you just going to go on lying?"
She poured hot water into to mugs, then carefully set t he tea kettle down. He didn't even hear it touch the countertop. "I never lied to any of you, Giles."
"Then what do you call it?"
She shook her head, then pulled the towel off, letting her mass of hair tumble down. "Did I ever tell you that 1 was not a demon? Didn't I tell you that most of us were not human?"
"You still hid it from us."
She looked at him then, green eyes flashing out of the jumble of hair. "You people kill things like me," she said softly. "Forgive me if I didn't want to advertise too loudly."
He snorted. "Oh, come on. We've handled it before. Oz is a werewolf, for pity's sake."
"Which I didn't know until tonight," she said just as softly. "You weren't very loud about advertising that, either." Her gaze fell on the two mugs, and she opened the cabinet in front of her and took down a tea ball. "You can have some of my blend of tea, if you like. Or just a generic tea bag if you don't trust it.."
He saw her tea-making as an attempt to brush him off, and he snapped, "Damn it, I wish there was one woman around me that didn't lie to me."
"I didn't lie!" she shouted, and her voice cracked on the last word. She fell silent, then put the tea ball in one mug and a Lipton's tea bag in the other. She poured hot water over them both and let the steam warm her face. "Giles," she asked softly, "how much of your anger is about me, and how much of it is about that computer teacher?"
He had been about to say something else, equally as harsh, but that stopped him. "How did you know about that?" he asked, glowering at her.
"Buffy called a few minutes ago." She stirred both tea cups, then handed the one with the tea bag to Giles. Out of a long-standing habit, he took it, without even really thinking about it. "She was pretty sure you were headed over here, and she seemed to think 1 needed to know a few things before you stormed in."
"I did not storm," he found himself obliged to protest.
"All right, so you blew in here with a light wind," she said lightly. "Buffy told me that your Ms. Calendar wasn't very upfront about herself to you either. And then she told me that she hid from you that Angel was alive. And she was... concerned."
"About what?" he couldn't help but asking.
She smiled slightly, staring down into her tea mug. "That you would burst in here, with your British stubbornness and say many things that you wanted to say, but perhaps not to me or because of me, but simply because 1 was a good enough target for all those recent hurts." She shrugged and blew on the tea for a moment before taking a sip. She closed her eyes in relief at the warmth of the liquid. He broke away from watching her and studied his own tea. "How did it happen?" he asked.
She barked a sharp laugh. "How do these things ever happen? Wrong place, wrong time? Destiny? I don't know. Don't even care much anymore." She pushed gently past him and went to sit at the table. She picked up a pair of glasses frames, empty of lenses, and fingered them gently. "All I ever wanted to be was a singer. And a historian. That was all I wanted. Then this happened, and 1 lost everything, my studies, my family, my voice. Then there was Grey -- Patrick--, who made all of that worthwhile, as long as we were together and I lost him too. So my world is gone now. My life ended years ago. So you can be as angry at me as you want, whether its justified or not, and I really just don't care all that much. Not about what you think of me. But those kids of yours are incredible. I'm not a threat to you, but there's a lot of things out there that are. And hating me because of something someone else, or someone else did to you is wasting the energy you could be using to help them."
"I don't need you to tell me how to do my job," he snapped.
She looked up in surprise. "I wasn't really." Then she mentally replayed what she had just said. "Well, maybe I was. But 1 didn't mean to. I did handle this badly, and I'm sorry about that. But at the time, it was the only way I knew."
Is there anything else you're hiding from us?" he asked evenly.
She thought a moment, then shook her head. "No. Nothing that has anything to do with the Slayer, her Watcher, the Hellmouth, or any of the Slayerettes. If you want my life's history, you can have it, but it will most likely take the rest of the night, and I'm tired." She went back to her tea, sipping slowly, here gaze fixed on those glasses. Giles wondered what they meant to her, what she saw when she looked at them. After a long moment, he took the other chair. To fill the silence, he drank his own tea.
Sarah shoved her empty cup aside, and leaned down to rest her head on her arms. "Hell of a night, huh?" she asked.
He smiled in spite of himself. "I would say so, yes." He handed his cup back to her. "Thank you... Sarah," he said quietly. "I am cold, and damp, and my head hurts. And even though revealing the Orb undoubtedly saved my life, and Willow's, it's now known that we have it. And its more urgent than ever that I finish that translation." He turned to leave, then stopped at the door. "I will be back at the library tomorrow morning. We could use help with the research... if you'd like to come."
"Thank you, Giles," she said softly, with a touch of surprise.
"Don't thank me," he said shortly. "We need the help. But it doesn't change anything 1 said, or what 1 think about you right now. Now, I've got to get some sleep. You should do the same, or you'll be no help at all tomorrow." He closed the door behind him and walked briskly down the walk, in not much of a better mood than he had been in when he had walked up it.
"So what d'ya think?" Buffy asked.
They were all arranged sitting on the staircase in the library the next morning. Buffy was on the uppermost step, then Willow and Oz, snuggled together two steps below her, then Cordelia and Xander on the lowest steps, sitting across from each other.
"She's cool," Oz said with a shrug. "She helped save Willow, which is definitely cool."
Willow nodded enthusiastically. "Definitely high on the cool meter." she agreed.
Cordelia glanced up from filing her nails. "I really don't see what all the fuss is about. We deal with Oz, after all."
Oz and Willow exchanged glances. Buffy could swear a whole conversation went between them during that one look. Then Willow rested her head against Oz again. "Giles isn't too happy, though, is he?" she asked.
"Do you blame him?" Xander said. "After all, he gets enough surprises from the Hellmouth. You expect him not to react when it comes from his own side?"
"Giles is Giles," Buffy said after a moment's thought. "Hell be in a pissy mood, but he'll have himself convinced he's hiding it and no one will notice."
"Great," Xander muttered. "Well, our next few days are going to be pleasant. I look forward to it as much as Cordelia's family reunion."
"I told you, you didn't have to come," Cordelia said in exasperation.
"And I thank you for the glorious reprieve," Xander answered smoothly. "Any chance we can get such a reprieve, saving us from miffed English Librarians?"
"If there is, I haven't figured it out yet," Buffy told him. "Besides, if I have to suffer, so do you."
"So much for sneaking out without being noticed," Xander sighed. "So we decided that this Sarah chick is cool, even if she turns into a cat from Hell?"
"What do you have against shape-changing?" Ox asked.
"Maybe I should just stay out of this conversation entirely," Xander said.
"That would be a first." Cordelia murmured.
"I am going to show great restraint and not respond to that." Xander said with dignity. "But whatever we decide to do, we better decide real quick, because she just walked in."
As one, they all looked up. Sarah had been walking across the library toward them, but she stopped warily, and a fight-or-flight reaction flittered across her face.
After a moment of hesitation from both sides of the library, Oz leaned forward and touched Willow's shoulder. She smiled up at him and moved so he could stand up. He went down the rest of the stairs, careful not to step on anyone, and walked over to Sarah, his hands jammed in his pockets. "Why don't we start over again?" he suggested. He held out his hand. "Hi. I'm Oz. I'm a werewolf."
A slow smile began to grow into life on Sarah's face. She took his hand. "I'm Sarah. But I'm usually called The Cat. I'm a half-demon."
Willow had come over to. stand next to Oz. "I'm Willow," she said in the bubbling way she had that made Oz beam adoringly at her. "I'm a novice witch."
Buffy bounced down the stairs. "Hi," she said with a grin. "I'm Buffy. The Vampire Slayer."
"And I'm Xander, Wisecracker Extraordinaire."
"I am not playing this game." Cordelia hadn't moved from the stairs. "She knows who 1 am." But she smiled pleasantly and nodded at Sarah.
"We're not sure just what she is," Xander said, gesturing at Cordelia, "but we let her hang around with us, anyway."
A purse came flying from the general direction of the staircase and smacked Xander on the back of his head.
"If you are quite finished destroying my library... again," Giles walked up to the table and put a box of books on it, "there are a few more boxes out in the car, that need to be brought in."
"I think we've just been volunteered, guys," Oz said.
"Well, it's definitely a job for you male types," Cordelia said. "I might break a nail, and 1 just finished doing them this morning."
The purse flew back and smacked her shoulder. She glared at Xander.
"I don't care who does it, as long as they are in here in the next ten minutes," Giles said testily. He glanced once at Sarah, then turned and went into his office.
"Oh, yeah," Xander said. "It's going to be a real fun day."
"C'mon," Buffy said pulling him to the door. "Before you make it any worse."
"Me?" Xander yelped. "Why is it always my fault?"
"And do you think you can do it with a minimal amount of noise, for once?" Giles snapped from his office.
Xander started to retort, but Cordelia and Buffy each grabbed one of his arms and dragged.
Oz looked over at Willow. She cocked one eyebrow, and he smiled and nodded. "I'll go help the others," he said, and followed.
Sarah had turned to go, too, but Willow popped in front of her. "Umm... do you... have a minute?"
"Sure," she said. As one, they glanced at the office door. Willow nodded upstairs with an inquiring expression, and Sarah nodded in agreement. They went upstairs and sat down on the floor, facing each other, between two rows of books.
Willow stared at her feet, nervously twisting her fingers around each other. "Well, um... I ... um... couldn't help but notice you last night. You know, doing that cat thing. And don't get me wrong," she said quickly. "I think it's cool. Cool being my word for today. But, I mean, last night wasn't a full moon, so I... well, we, actually, Oz and I, I mean, wondered how you were able to control it."
Sarah stared at her in confusion until her mind had a chance to run a couple of replays. "Oh, you mean, am I a were-thingie?"
"Um hmm." She nodded eagerly. "I mean, if you can control it out of the moon phases, could you teach Oz?"
Sarah shook her head ruefully. "Sorry, kiddo, it's not the same type of thing. As near as I can understand lycanthropy, it's a condition, not a becoming."
It was Willow's turn to look confused.
"Let me try again." Sarah thought a moment, then leaned forward. "Oz developed lycanthropy. I became a demon."
"Oh," Willow said softly. "So he can't control it like you do?"
"I'm not really in control of it," Sarah said slowly. "See, I'm not mostly human and a little bit demon. It's the other way around. If I dropped the control I have, I would revert to demon. There's another difference between me and Oz. Oz defaults to human. I default to demon."
"Oh." Willow digested that for a moment. "Well, I really don't mind. I mean, it makes him special, doesn't it?"
Sarah looked at her in surprise, then smiled affectionately. "Someone said that about me, a long time ago. I didn't believe it then, and it always separated us. And now, it's too late."
She squeezed Willow's foot comfortingly. "Don't let it do the same to you two."
She nodded happily. "Yeah, I know."
A jumble of voices downstairs announced the return of a small mob. "We'd better go help." Sarah said, climbing to her feet.
"Um..." Willow said, "you know Oz would have asked you himself, but he's like... a guy..."
"And they don't like to admit to soul-searching," Sarah finished. "Don't worry about it. I used to be the one elected to ask the uncomfortable questions, too."
"Honestly, Giles," Buffy was saying as they came downstairs, "is your attic just wall to wall books?"
"Not quite," Giles said, opening one box. "Only about two thirds of it."
Buffy stared at him blankly. "I was joking," she finally said.
He allowed a smile to steal across his face as he lifted a stack of books out of the box. "So was I." He handed the stack to Xander. "These boxes have to be sorted through. I know there are some on talismans, but I wasn't sure what boxes they were in. So I brought them all."
"Oh, joy." Cordelia said tonelessly.
Giles pushed a box across the study table to Sarah. "I know you said your Latin was a bit rusty, but if you could page through these? If you find a reference, I can do the actual translation." His voice was very carefully neutral Buffy recognised it as the one he used when talking about Angel.
Sarah took the box. "Sure," she said in a matching tone. "I think I can handle that." She took the box over to one of the largest of the reading chairs. She settled into it sideways, her knees folded against one of the chair arms and her back against the other. She picked a book out of the box randomly and began to scan through it.
"Well, go on," Giles said, shoving boxes at each of them. "I need to work on that translation." He handed the last box to Cordelia, who muttered something about dust, and went into his office without saying anything else.
Xander and Willow gave Buffy matching looks. "Ah, cmon, guys," she said in a low voice. "I dealt with the last miff."
"He's your Watcher, Buff," Xander said cheerfully. "Besides, you were the one who didn't let us escape."
Buffy made a face at him and reluctantly walked into the office. She took a deep breath and leaned against his desk.
Giles spent a few seconds trying to ignore her, then gave up. "What is it, Buffy? I'm busy."
"Settle a bet for me," she chirped. "I'm betting you burst in there last night, full of righteous indignation at being wrongs, and she barely reacted. Am I right?"
Giles pushed his chair away from his desk, taking his glasses off and dropping them on the pages of the book. "Really, Buffy this isn't something I wish to disc--"
"Didn't she?" Buffy pressed.
Giles deflated. "Yes," he said in a sulky voice.
"I think she has more on her mind then whether or not you're pissed," Buffy said gently.
"And in care you didn't notice, she saved your life last night."
Giles glared at his desk. "I am aware of that," he said tightly.
"Then get over it, Giles," she said, but patted his shoulder to take the sting out of her words. "We're cool with it. And you know you're not being angry on our behalf anyway. So go back to what you do best and figure out that funny language."
"It's Latin, Buffy."
"Like I said," she agreed. "You think you can get through the rest of the day without taking out heads off?"
"I think I can manage that." he said carefully.
"Good." She made a face. "Guess I'd better get back to work, huh?"
"Yes. I think you probably should." he said gently and smiled fondly after her as she left. Buffy really did have a knack for putting complicated matters into as simple terms as possible, and therefore coming directly to the point. It was something he had never been very good at.
His eyes fell on the books in front of him. "Funny language, indeed," he said softly and with a certain amount of affection. He put his glasses on and went back to what he did best.