Greater Good Part 14/27: Sermon
Spoilers to Season 7.
Summary: A surprise encounter, some awkward conversation… and the story moves on.

The inactivity was driving her insane. True, it had barely been a week since High Noon in Helltown, but Buffy was restless just the same. Everything was getting on her nerves, including the Potentials. That was the reason behind her unannounced field trip to the old high school.

Like most other buildings in Sunnydale, the place was abandoned. She wouldn’t be surprised if this had been the first location to be vacated, being smack-dab over the Hellmouth itself. She strolled by the empty classrooms, noticing for the first time the trivial, hand-drawn posters garnishing the sterile halls. Spirited banner announcing invitations to juvenile, hormone-driven activities sure to keep the chaperones engaged. Half torn sheets lay strewn about, offering superficial promises of happy memories with every sporting event. It was all so normal it made her want to scream.

After some aimless wandering, she found herself walking into the main staff area that housed the administrative and principal’s offices. But to her, the renovated space would forever be the old library. And as she took slow strides toward her desk, her imagination transformed the setting into her old hangout.

Willow was seated beside Oz at the oversized table, glancing through a demonology text as she let a stray finger tease the short, strawberry-blonde hairs of Oz’s neck. Cordelia sat across from them, impatiently examining herself with her compact, making sure every hair was in place and wondering why she was hanging out with the most unwanted of sociable groups. Xander burst through the doors with the usual box-o-pizza and an array of sugary and salty treats, sure to tickle the fancy of the various members of the Scooby gang. Buffy could almost smell the pepperoni.

Giles appeared out of nowhere, materializing from the books like a scholarly spirit drawn out by the inviting scent. She couldn’t help but grin as everyone dug in, making short work of downing the snacks. Xander took a slice into his mouth and tried to return Giles’ greasy change. The Watcher always funded the feast. But Xander's attempt was dismissed with a satisfied smile and a thankful nibble of crust. Giles knew finances were tight at the Harris house and since Xander was always too proud to ask for help, the Watcher had his ways of slipping the boy some much needed cash, pizza nights being the easiest and most rewarding. Xander claimed his usual place beside Cordelia. She offered him a subtle peck on the cheek as she carefully bit into her anti-pepperoni slice, trying to avoid any unnecessary mess of her make-up. The scene was set and almost perfect except for one small detail… Buffy wasn’t there.

“See now…” the jovial southern drawl took her completely by surprise and she whipped around to face the owner of the voice she unfortunately recognized. “Does my heart good to know our fine educational institutions haven’t failed to draw in the less fortunate souls of our worthless society.”

“What can I say,” Buffy took a few apprehensive steps backwards and paused as the room returned to the cold surroundings she first walked in on. “Can’t get enough of that school spirit.” She lunged forward and Caleb threw his hands up in a good-humored defensive motion.

“Hold it right there, Missy. I'm not here to paint the wall with your innards just yet. There’ll be time enough for that later.” He began to meander around the room, completely at ease as Buffy stood in the defensive, ready for any sign of attack.

“So, come for some serious learnin’ or are you just walking down memory lane?”

“What’s it to ya?” Her eyes followed his every movement, ready to strike at a moments notice.

“Let’s not forget our manners, shall we,” Caleb gave her a quirky smile and continued on with his stroll. “This used to be the old library, was it not? A haven for heretics. Sanctuary for the sinners.”

“You get off on the sound of your own voice, don’t you?”

“I do so love a dash of the poetic here and there to classy up the vernacular. But I’m used to lowering myself to suit the needs of the less sophisticated whores I teach.”

“You have serious issues with women.”

“Issues?” Caleb chuckled. “No, no issues. I just think your evil, is all.”

“Well sure, that clears things up nicely.”

“Your friends will writhe in the flaming pits of Hell to pay for your sins.”

“Way to change the subject.”

“There is a way to prevent their damnation,” Caleb’s tone had turned deathly serious.

“Do tell,” Buffy was beginning to get tired of the conversation.

“A beast walks amongst you, an abomination whose sole purpose is to lead you all into the depths of Hell.”

“Last time I looked, you were playing for the opposing team. Why should I believe you?”

“'Cause I always speak the truth. Without fail.” Caleb’s confident smirk reappeared as he sat on the edge of an empty desk. “The demon inhabiting your Watcher’s corpse will be your undoing. I suggest you rid yourself of his company before it’s too late.”

It bothered Buffy that Caleb was so convinced of his warnings of doom. “But I’m not through with him yet.” She couldn’t believe her own words and wanted to take them back the second she’d voiced them.

“I see. Got a hankering for the long tooth’s?” Caleb chuckled to himself and continued his stroll around the room until he paused to look at her with a knowing glance. “Oh, that’s right… this wouldn’t be the first time you’ve laid with one of the devil’s disciples.”

“I haven’t laid anyone!” Buffy was unraveling. “Ok…so, there was Angel… and Spike, but he doesn’t count… and why am I telling you this? It’s none of your business! Giles and I…we never…”

“No…no need for explanations. You’re preaching to the choir here. I’m quite aware you’re a whoring blasphemer. I just want to see you come to accept that fact before I send you to an early grave.”

“It won’t be that easy.” Buffy worked to keep her fists loose and relaxed, prepared to pummel the offbeat Preacher threatening her.

“Oh… yes it will.” Caleb threw a wild punch and Buffy blocked it just in time.

“Let the sermon begin…” he smiled.

Buffy started with a combination of high kicks, following through with sharp elbow strikes, testing her ability for the day. She’d found it best to figure out her strengths and weaknesses early to avoid revealing them while in the more obvious fatigued moments. Caleb blocked every strike, countering with straightforward punches of his own. Buffy could tell he was a brawler, very little finesse and no flashy moves. He didn’t seem naturally talented at any fighting style but his power was incredible and she got the feeling he could swat her down like a fly at any moment.

“Your Mr. Giles is a curious fellow, don't you think?” Caleb continued to speak as he fought.

“Why’s that?” Buffy fell into a pattern of strike and move as they circled around the perimeter of the room. It was annoying to her that the Preacher seemed to be fighting her as more of an after thought, like she was nothing more that a toy he was playing with until he was ready to move on to something else.

“Well… here you’ve got a grown man, a wealth of experience and knowledge…” Caleb surprised her with a swipe of his leg and Buffy dodged, shifting her weight to go south-paw as he continued on. “And he chooses to surround himself with children, high-spirited ones at that. And now, even with the destruction of the physical representation of his life’s work, he still holds himself to the strict moral codes enforced on him by a dead establishment.”

“Tis the call of the Watcher,” Buffy leapt into the air to land her first solid blow to Caleb’s chin. His head jerked back with the connection, only to spring forward with a pleased smirk and he countered with a combination of punches.

“But he isn’t a Watcher, not anymore and will never be again. If that useless Council of his wasn’t in ruins, they would destroy him as surely as any demon,” Caleb landed his first blow, sending Buffy crashing through a nearby window. She quickly gathered herself up and returned within the sparring room.

“Can we just focus on the fight?” Buffy tried to connect with an uppercut only to be leveled by a rock-hard punch to the abdomen.

“I feel you’re avoiding some issues with Mr. Giles.”

“There are no issues with Mr. Giles… I mean Giles,” Buffy was losing her focus and Caleb could see it. She struggled to get to her feet, feeling her temper rising out of control.

“That’s good. Because I’ve heard the bond between Watcher and Slayer doesn’t fair well when emotions get all muddled and perverted. Best to avoid the more intimate relations in regards to working partners.”

“Intimate? What are you talking about?”

“Oh dear…” Caleb stopped cold, offering the Slayer a wide-eyed glance as he covered his mouth with a single finger in a mockingly shy display. “I thought you knew. I am truly sorry.”

“Knew what?” Buffy’s curiosity was piqued, unaware that her defenses where quickly dropping.

“Silly child. Your Mr. Giles…he’s in love with you.” Caleb punctuated the sentence with an uppercut that sent Buffy crashing through another window, this time smashing headfirst into an unforgiving brick wall. Her final thought was of the beast and then she blacked out.

The sky had just begun its journey into night. The sun dipped below the horizon as Buffy made her way down the path home. She could barely recall what had happened. The last thing she remembered was going head first into a brick wall then waking up two hours later with a gross feeling gigantor pimple donning her neck and the strange feeling she’d forgotten something important. She wasn’t eager to get a glimpse of her new face but she knew she’d have to face the inevitable sooner or later. With a hefty sigh, she opened the door.

The gang was on her in an instant as she hobbled over to the stairs, barely catching the banister in time to prevent her legs from giving out under her. Dawn was the first one to rush to her aid, providing a supportive arm to guide her to a sitting position on the second step.

“Buffy? Where’ve you been?” Willow asked, grimacing at the injuries decorating her friend’s face. “What happened?”

“Just letting off some steam,” Buffy grumbled and tried to flip her hair away from her face, only to be painfully reminded of her almost broken spine as she braced her neck until the ache subsided.

As Buffy pulled her hand away, Willow noticed a curious mark in the very spot Buffy had been covering. “What’s that?”

Xander leaned in to get a better look and Buffy was quickly feeling uncomfortable with being the center of attention.

“It’s nothing. I’m fine,” she said, trying to stand up. Dawn pushed her back down with an insistent hand and examined the strange mark for herself. It looked like a burn but in a particular shape, a cross.

“The Preacher did this. You went to face Caleb without us?” Xander’s patience with his old friend was at an end. “You got a death wish?”

“It wasn’t like that. I didn’t mean to run into him. He was just there.”

“There where, Buffy?” Willow was starting to see what Xander was taking about. Buffy was not right. “Where did you go?”

“The high school. I was picking up a few things and surprise, Mr. White Collar himself made an unexpected appearance.” Buffy dabbed her thumb at her freshly split lip and then the gash over her brow, wincing as she struggled to her feet.

“Why all the mystery? We were worried, Buffy.” Willow tried to stay calm but was finding it difficult with Buffy’s impassive attitude. “You should have told us where you where going. When you’d be back…”

“Thanks for the heart to heart, Mom.” Buffy’s tone was more than sarcastic, It was rude and won her a swift punch in the shoulder from Dawn as well as a stern glare. “Since when do I have to answer to the sidekick squad?” Buffy growled and limped up the stairs to escape into her bedroom. “Don’t remember hearing about a curfew for the Chosen One…” The door slammed shut.

“Do the mood swings come with the Slayer dish? 'Cause I gotta say, if so, I wanna change my order,” Rona mumbled.

“Yeah, take me off the reservation list,” Viv agreed, receiving a scolding glare from Kennedy.

“I know she’s the Slayer… but is that the sign of a well thought out plan?” Amanda agreed. “Did you see the condition she was in? What chance do we have?”

“B’s just workin the intel, gathering up the goods on the anti-fem preacher guy. She knows what she’s doin.” Faith tried to sound certain but Xander could hear the doubt in her voice. “Gotta have faith.”

“We do,” Kennedy smirked and Faith rolled her eyes.

Andrew could see the Potentials growing restless with the sudden silence that fell over the room and decided it was time to give the Scoobies some space.

“Who wants Jiffypop and smores? Campfire out back, ten minutes. Last one there has to do the laundry.” Andrew said it in his cheeriest tone, but he felt just as worried as they did. The fearless leader was displaying symptoms of shell shock and he’d already heard the faint calls for mutiny sprouting up in the gossiping banter of the Potentials.

He chose to focus on the good rather than the bad, knowing that Anya and he had scrounged up enough graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate to feed a small nation for a week. Snack foods a plenty and an endless supply of RPG’s and everyone could have the best pajama party ever, if only they could all just get along.

The Potentials started to scatter, leaving the Scoobies grouped at the base of the stairs, exchanging worried glances as they contemplated what to do.

Andrew decided he would offer up his first batch of smores to them. Besides, the tasty treats were nothing more than empty calories and his hips were already heading into wide-load zone. Then he considered whether vampires liked smores, contemplating slipping a plate to Mr. Giles who was just as in need of some appreciation as his young friends.

It had been five days since his confrontation with Caleb, and every second had felt like an eternity as Giles waited alone in the dark for her. But she never came. He understood her absence. He didn’t deserve a moments notice from Buffy after what he’d done. But some speck of hope kept him waiting, listening with foolish anticipation as footsteps approached the basement door only to continue on, leaving him alone.

He’d cursed himself with the loneliness, asking Spike to keep the others away until he’d regained control over himself. The peculiar vampire seemed only too happy to oblige, jumping at every chance to assist him, all the while trying to convince Giles to feed. And though he couldn’t dismiss the violent past between them, he began to feel a strange bond with his sire.

The Watcher in him considered such behavior as nothing more than a textbook example of the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Perhaps it was why vampires seemed to gravitate toward their own kind, the need to belong, to fit in. Or perhaps it was as simple as Spike wanting to watch him suffer. Regardless, Giles found some slight comfort in the infrequent and often irritating visits from Spike.

And then there was the pain that never left him, the hunger that never slept and nor did he. So he sat, alone in the dark, waiting for the next distraction from the pain, ever hopeful that the next footsteps he heard would be hers and that maybe this time she wouldn’t pass him by.

Part 15...