CHAPTER ONE

Their books were open, their pencils sharpened, and even though the surroundings of a school library seemed an appropriate setting for their scholarly pursuits, very little studying was being done that day by the four teenagers that occupied the long wooden table in the room’s center. All around them were the typical trappings of a high school library. On the lower level of the room to the right of its entrance were the normal card catalogues, a few assorted green plants, an American flag, several posters on the wall, and a heavily caged book repository that held some unusual items locked away in its depths. Directly across from from that were file cabinets and more card catalogues, and a lengthy counter that served as the circulation desk and work area for the librarian, whose small office was tucked snugly off to one side. Behind the open floor area where the students sat at their table were two separate sets of stairs, one on either side of the room leading up to a second raised level. There the biggest bulk of the books were shelved in multiple rows of tall, dusty bookcases. It was at first glance a well-stocked library, but closer inspection revealed an eclectic and strangely morbid collection of volumes concerning such subjects as witchcraft, demonology and various occult references. These were not the ordinary texts associated with most high school students’ scholastic pursuits, but the specialized library of an eccentric bibliophile.


School had dismissed some time earlier, and most of the students had either gone home or to their after-school jobs, leaving the building to the few teachers and administrators that remained to work late. The hallways were quiet and the classrooms empty, but in the library there was an uncharacteristic youthful energy flowing as the four students commandeered the spacious room for their after-school study session. There was no adult present to censor their thoughts or silence their fervent discussion, which was escalating louder by the minute.


The young students were all seniors at Sunnydale High School. Two boys and two girls, they were eighteen year old teenagers, and as such they were as varied in looks and personality as any species on the planet Earth. Alexander LaVelle Harris, known as Xander to his friends, was a tall, lanky youth with dark hair and eyebrows that arched distinctively over twinkling hazel eyes. His features were well proportioned on his long, angular face, and there always seemed to be a smile waiting to break forth on his lips. The teen was lean and considered handsome, but a string of failed romances that ran the gammut from unrequited love, a praying she-mantis monster, an Incan mummy princess and, most recently, his former nemesis and the queen of dating horrors, Cordelia Chase, had left the boy suffering a bout of low self-esteem. Xander was famous for his quick parrying wit and smart-tongued commentary. He was seldom at a loss for a scathing comeback should the opportunity arise. But it was his fierce loyalty to his close friends that made him the paragon of human kindness. He was less than perfect in his academic achievements, lacking the desire to apply himself to his studies. Yet he would willingly put himself at great risk to protect his best buds, and would trust them in turn with his most personal and sensitive secrets, baring his soul for them to critique.


Sitting with Xander at the table was his long time childhood friend, Willow Rosenberg. A girl confident in her own intellectual talents and computer savvy, the red headed teen was once an extremely shy and introverted individual. But in the last few years her gentleness had evolved into a confidence that allowed her a more dynamic take-charge attitude to her life. She was at times quite naïve, always gracious, and occasionally ironic in her views of others, but she was never mean-spirited to her fellow man. Willow wore her auburn colored hair at a sensible, neat shoulder length that framed a sweet, cherubic face. A perpetual look of innocence accentuated her brown eyes that saw the world in childish wonder. She was polite, smart, and the epitome of what most parents would consider a perfect daughter, though a closer familiarity would reveal a growing independence to the girl’s personality as well as a blossoming stubborn streak. But her most unlikely talents were those of a burgeoning witch. It was an unusual pursuit, but one in which she showed increasing interest and an amazing aptitude. She pursued the craft with scholarly diligence, leaning toward the kinder aspects of white magic in her occasional mystical dabbling.


Quiet and unassuming as she was, Willow was not nearly as laid back as her rock musician boyfriend, Daniel Osbourne. They called him Oz, and despite being the oldest of the four teens present in the library that day, he was also the shorter of the two boys. Lacking any outward signs of ambition, Oz was nevertheless a brilliant young intellectual. Though at one point he had given up on the challenges of academia, a change of heart brought him back to repeat his senior year in his pursuit of a diploma. The boy’s real joy in life, next to his girlfriend, was his semi-professional career with a rock band that went by the unusual name of “Dingoes Ate My Baby.” He was one of their guitarists. The group played the occasional club date or party, but were not yet well enough known to have cut a record, but they hoped that time would come soon. The fact that Oz was a musician did not sit well with Willow’s parents, not did the teen’s unusual appearance. It was his chosen vocation that explained a propensity toward the ever-changing vibrant hues his short, spiked hair went through constantly. This month it was a shocking orange-red blonde that contrasted shockingly with his pale, almost pasty complexion. He was calm and cool individual at all times, his light green eyes surveying the world as an amused spectator of the human condition. His casual wardrobe ran toward bowling shirts and T-shirts with unusual messages or designs on them, with the occasional earring for an accessory. The normally sedate youth had one significant personality trait that he had some difficulty accepting in himself. Three nights in each lunar cycle Oz became a werewolf. This was the result of an unfortunate bite inflicted by a cousin, and though the transformation complicated his life, Oz and Willow managed to keep their relationship going in spite of his lycanthropic tendencies by taking certain precautionary measures at the proper time each month.


The remaining teen within the intimate cluster of friends that day was by far the most important in the group’s dynamics. Buffy Anne Summers was a perky blonde with dazzling green eyes and very feminine features that most males found pleasingly attractive. She had an athletic grace to her, and a slim figure that held no hint of the unusual physical strength she possessed. Her biggest desire in life had once been to be popular and well-liked among her high school peers, but the young girl had learned she was destined for a very different kind of life from that of other teenagers. At sixteen Buffy had discovered that she had been born to a most unusual calling, that of a vampire slayer. It wasn’t your typical adolescent’s dream to stand out because of one’s capabilities at battling demons, monsters and the undead, and there were plenty of times that she would gladly have given it all up for the chance at a normal life. But fate would not allow this to be. As a result, her social life was often as much a disaster as her failed academic performance. Buffy still obsessed about the same things other girls her own age would, like clothes and boys, and how she looked to the boys in those clothes. She also knew she had a much larger responsibility in her life. It was her duty to protect the world from the evil things she knew existed in it. She was a girl of destiny, whether she liked it or not. There were still the occasional moments of light fun with her three best pals, to whom she was strongly devoted. The teens formed a close-knit circle of friends that was unrivaled by any within the school.


It was Thursday afternoon, and the normal quiet of the library was broken by the lively discussion of the four young teens. But it wasn’t schoolwork or any extracurricular activity they debated with such loud, hot vigor. It was another issue, one that had become of paramount importance to them all as of late. The subject that interrupted their homework assignment was a familiar theme these days among the group. Parents.


Her face registering proper teenaged indignation, Willow was recanting to her attentive friends a conversation that had taken place the previous evening in her own home. She had asked her parents about attending a concert that was coming up soon, an event that had been the topic at their dinner table quite often in the past week. Willow and her friends had decided they would attend the musical extravaganza as a group, sharing in the fun and experience as many of their classmates were planning to do. But the red headed teen’s parents would hear none of it. They had succinctly denied the permission she had been seeking, crushing the young girl’s hopes.


“I don’t know why they're being so unreasonable,” Willow was saying to her companions. They were all listening with great sympathy to her plight. “I promised to stay away from the drinking and the drugs. I said I’d be home at a decent hour. I even told them I’d pay for the tickets out of my own money. But would they listen? No way! It was ‘We don’t approve of that type of music!’” she quoted her parents, mimicking their severe voices. Willow frowned and made a disapproving raspberry noise of distaste. “Parents!” she exclaimed in exasperation. “They just don’t understand!”


“Was it a real no, or a ‘we’re still thinking it over but might cave if everybody else’s kids are going’ no?” asked the blonde girl sitting directly across the table. Buffy’s face showed her concern for her friend. “Maybe they’ll change their minds, Will. Parents are funny that way.”


“They were pretty serious,” the other girl groused ruefully. She pouted, folding her arms across her chest. “It was a very definite no, the kind that says ‘I don’t want to hear about this again!’ So I guess I’m not going to the concert,” she finished meekly.


“That’s too bad,” The comment was from her boyfriend. He was sitting in the chair next to her. At a sympathetic touch from Oz, Willow’s face brightened momentarily in a smile. “We could have had fun,” he said to her.


“You can still go,” Willow remarked to the boy. “You’re parents didn’t say no.”


“Wouldn’t be the same without my Willow,” Oz replied, flashing her a special grin. She blushed, and glanced toward her friend Buffy, eyes glowing with deep pride.


“Isn’t he just the sweetest?” she gushed in loving admiration.


“Like honey,” the blonde girl responded with a grin. “So, Oz’” Buffy continued, leaning an elbow on the table before her. “What’s your big secret? How do you get your parents to let you go to these things?”


The boy shrugged his shoulders, sitting back in his chair. “They don’t consider it a big deal,” he explained. “I guess they figure if I can handle being in a band and not get into trouble, then going to see someone else play can’t be any worse.”


“Alas! I too will be ticketless come concert day,” said the forth member of the library discussion group. Xander continued with exaggerated angst. “My funds are at an all time low, and since I possess no special skills at predicting the future numbers in the lottery, I look to remain penniless and poor for some time to come.”


The others nodded in complete understanding. Oz turned to Buffy, his pale eyebrows raised in question. “How about you?” the rocker asked. “Are you going to the concert?”


“Get real!” the teen pouted, her exasperated expression saying it all. “I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count. What do you think?”


“Your Mom said no?” Willow asked.


“Forget about asking Mom,” the other girl said in reply. “It’s Giles that put the big kabosh on that one. He’s worse than any parent. He won’t let me do anything fun!”


They all knew about whom Buffy was speaking. Rupert Giles was the librarian at Sunnydale High School. A seemingly proper and stuffy individual, he originally came from England, moving to California at the very time that Buffy herself came to live in Sunnydale. It was no coincidence that their formerly diverse lives had converged at that particular point. Buffy Summers was a vampire slayer. She had discovered her calling at the tender age of sixteen, and had been indoctrinated into her life as a vanquisher of evil under the tutelage of a man named Merrick. He had served as her Watcher only briefly. Upon his untimely and unfortunate death, Buffy had hoped to leave behind her the strange vocation she had assumed. But it was not to be. Once a vampire slayer, always a vampire slayer she soon discovered. Transferring to her new school, she found yet another Watcher waiting in Sunnydale. It had been Giles. At first she had tried to ignore his efforts to lure her back into the dangerous life of slaying, but eventually she’d been forced accept the inevitable truth. She couldn’t escape what she was. And in the last few years Buffy and Giles had worked together as mentor and student, Watcher and Slayer, destroying the many demons, monsters and vampires that seemed to populate the town of Sunnydale. Along the way, Buffy made several friends who had become privy to her secret identity. Willow, Xander and Oz were the three closest to her. They called themselves the Slayerettes, and their adventures fighting against evil had brought out a special kinship between the four teens. Each had developed talents unique to their strange following. And through it all, Rupert Giles had provided guidance to the group, his distinctively British personality often bearing the brunt of their stinging barbs.


“Where does he get off telling you what to do?” Willow complained to her blonde friend, her tirade moving on from the interfering ways of parents to include all adults in general.


“Yeah,” Xander agreed, sitting forward as he made his point. “It’s not like he’s your Dad or anything. He’s just Giles. Why listen to him?”


At that moment the door to the library swung open, and in walked a tall figure dressed in tweed. Giles was carrying several fat textbooks under one arm and reading from a folded newspaper that he held before him in his other hand. His glasses had slipped down his nose, and he was totally oblivious to anything around him. His eyes never looked up from the page before him, even to acknowledge the presence of the teens in the room.


“Speak of the devil,” Xander intoned, stretching out his lank frame in his chair. That got the man’s attention. Dropping his load of books on the counter at the circulation desk, Giles turned to face the group sitting across the room, his expression one of piqued interest.


“The devil did you say?” he asked in a voice that was precise and very unmistakably British. “Is he here in Sunnydale?”


The teens exchanged bemused glances, grinning at the middle-aged man standing across the room. They knew he was being completely serious in his inquiry. That was Giles. Always one to have his nose in a book and his head in the Hellmouth.


Giles was everything the teens imagined a devoted bibliophile could possibly be. A graduate of England’s Oxford University, he’d worked some years at the British Museum before eventually becoming the librarian at Sunnydale High School. Giles surrounded himself with things that were old, from his precious volumes of ancient and archaic texts, to the unusual primitive artworks he collected. He even looked the part of a picture perfect academic to them with his bepectacled steely blue eyes, receding hairline and the beginning etchings of fine character lines forming around his mouth and eyes. For the most part, what passed for the Englishman’s poor excuse of a social life was non-existent. The librarian was perfectly content to while away what leisure hours he had on his favorite pastimes of researching, reading and cross-referencing. But Giles did happen to possess a few unusual talents one would not normally expect from bookworm librarian. He was exceptionally skilled in the art of fencing and swordplay. His use of a quarterstaff in combat and his ability to accurately shoot both a tranquilizer gun and the crossbow were not to be taken lightly. The librarian’s knowledge of medieval weaponry was unsurpassed, as was the unique collection of daggers, halberds, spiked flails and swords he kept locked away in the library’s book cage.


But Rupert Giles was not some sinister deranged lunatic with a penchant for ancient implements of torture. First and foremost, he was a scholar. He could competently read several languages, some of which were no longer in spoken use by the population at large. He was well suited to his present profession of librarian, possessing a great respect and love for books, specifically those ancient tomes he had managed to acquire through years of meticulous ferreting in unusual bookstores. Giles’ major downfall was his strong prejudicial aversion to certain modern technologies, the most notable being the computer. Times being what they were, he was sometimes forced to use what he referred to as “that dread machine”, but avoided the opportunity whenever he could in favor of his beloved musty books. When he did confront his technophobia, the Englishman’s battles with the library computer were stories of legend among the teens. And though he would loose his patience with them as well, in the opinions of the four students with which he spent most of his time, Giles was an alright kind of guy.


Buffy held back a snicker as she replied to her adult friend’s question. “It’s just a figure of speech, Giles,” she told the concerned man. “Xander didn’t mean the devil was actually here. So don’t go getting your knickers in a knot.”


Now there’s an image that sounds uncomfortable,” Xander responded with an impish twinkle in his eye. “How would you be able to walk?” He smirked at his own bit of humor as the others gave him looks of mild amusement. Giles ignored them all, pushing up the sliding frames balanced so precariously on his nose. He returned to his perusal of the day’s news, his expectations of a forthcoming adventure in research dashed by the teasing youth.


The teens sniggered under their breath, finding humor in the stoic Brit’s disappointment. After a few minutes, Buffy noticed the librarian’s apparent fascination with what he was reading. She quickly interpreted Giles’ studious expression as something that meant trouble for her.


“Anything interesting on today’s front page?” she asked, hoping to divert his attention. She wanted to head off any ideas he might get, having some plans of her own for later.


“I hadn’t noticed,” the librarian muttered without looking up from his paper. “I was reading the obituaries first,” he explained casually, as if it were the perfectly normal thing for a person to do.


Willow made a face that expressed her dislike of the idea. “Only you would read the obits first,” she said to the Englishman. She shuddered at the morbid thought of dead peoples' names in print.


“Didn’t happen to find your own name in there by any chance?” Xander asked the man.


“My name?” Giles looked up momentarily from his paper to frown at the youth. “Of course not!” his reply conveying the tone of one whose patience tried too many times.


“Well, then,” the boy continued with his teasing. “I think it’s safe to assume you’re still alive, and you can move on to the rest of the news now.”


The four teens were all smiling, having managed once again to make Giles the subject of a joke. But they were not done with him yet. They enjoyed ribbing the stuffy Brit, who seemed to tolerate their strange humor, allowing it to slide away with little more than a disdainful sigh or scathing glance.


“Isn’t reading the obits a sign that you’re getting up in years?” Buffy asked her friends, making sure she spoke loud enough for the librarian to hear. “You know, checking out which pal died, who’s left that you know, and all that stuff. Have another birthday you forgot to tell us about, Giles?” she queried the librarian. “I hear forgetting things is another sign of aging.”


Dismissing their razzing, the Englishman bent over his paper again. Suddenly he made a small noise in this throat, indicating that he had discovered something. Buffy immediately took notice. She knew what that sound had meant. She glanced at the librarian who was frowning thoughtfully. When he wandered over to the research area and booted up the computer, Buffy knew for certain that something had grabbed his attention.


Setting aside his newspaper, Giles sat down in front of the computer, waiting impatiently for it to run through its opening screen messages. When it finally gave him the prompt he needed, he selected a floppy disk from a nearby filing box, inserting the flat square of plastic into the drive. He hesitantly punched a few keys, attempting to call up a particular file he wished to read. Giles was obviously not comfortable working in an electronic medium, but somehow he managed to work his way to the desired information, though it required some concerted effort on his part. As the monitor before him filled with lines of small print, he adjusted his glasses and leaned forward to squint at the words.


“Hmmmm! Very odd,” he mused aloud. He typed a few keystrokes and additional narrative popped up on his screen, flashing by too rapidly for him to read. He frowned, hitting a few more buttons, trying to control the speed at which the lines scrolled past his eyes. After several unsuccessful endeavors and an exasperated series of inaudible grumblings, he got the machine to behave, but not before his patience had worn thin. “Idiotic machine,” he insulted the computer with a withering look. “Why can’t it simply do what you ask of it?”


“Did you try saying please?” Buffy teased the man with a smile. Giles sighed, continuing to hunt through the files for his information, making notations about his findings on a slip of paper. He scribbled away excitedly, and Buffy knew he was going to soon announce some discovery. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please fasten your safety belts and return all seats to their full upright position,” she warned her friends as the librarian sat back in his chair, putting down his pen at last. “Here it comes!”


“Very odd,” Giles repeated. He carefully rechecked the newspaper article he had been reading. “Very odd, indeed.”


“I think we got that part,” Buffy retorted. “It’s something odd. So what is it already?”


“There’s been another unexplained drowning in Fuller’s Pond,” the Brit replied. “That makes four this month. Too many to be just coincidence, I would think.” He shook his head slowly and read the information the computer had given him. “I wonder why I hadn’t noticed this earlier?”


“You must be slipping, Giles,” Xander chided the librarian. “Better watch out, or Wesley will give you another demerit for goofing off again!”


Giles snorted disdainfully at the mention of the other man’s name. It was no secret the two Englishmen had problems getting along. After having served as Buffy’s Watcher for several years, the Watcher’s Council in England had decided Giles was too emotionally protective of his young slayer and no longer capable of performing his duties with the necessary detachment. The librarian was subsequently fired from his position as Buffy’s Watcher and replaced by a younger man, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. The two men were immediately at odds with each other. It didn’t help that Buffy herself was not too thrilled with the new arrangement. Wesley was pompous, overly confident in himself and very unaware of how to handle his American Slayer. It had been similar when Giles first assumed his duties as her Watcher, but Buffy had managed to get beneath the crust of the Brit’s reserved demeanor, the pair eventually learning to work together. They occasionally had their moments, but once Giles discovered she did things her way, no matter how unique those methods might be, they got along just fine. Wesley, however, was still clinging to the notion that there was a rule for everything, that he knew better, and that the Watcher’s Council had sent him to take charge none too soon. Giles had not easily accepted his dismissal, refusing to gracefully bow out of the picture. And as far as Buffy was concerned, Wesley was her Watcher in name only. It was Giles that she continued to depend upon for most of her training and true guidance. Theirs was an unusual relationship, but a strong one built upon several years of fighting side by side against the evils that threatened the word they both protected.


“Perhaps you should investigate this situation further,” Giles said to the young slayer. “It may turn out to be something supernatural. The police obviously aren’t having much luck solving this problem.”


“You mean the Sunnydale Keystone Kops?” Buffy scoffed. Her opinion of the local police force was less than glowing. “They wouldn’t recognize a vampire or ghoul if it bit them on the...well, you know what,” she finished lamely, curbing her tongue when she saw the disapproving look the librarian was giving her. “I don’t think we can count on them for much help,” she finished.


“So what are we talking about here?” asked Willow, her interest piqued by the idea of a new adventure. “You don’t think the swim team is back in town, do you?” She shuddered, remembering one of their past experiences where the Sunnydale High School swimming coach had used unauthorized chemicals to enhance his team’s competitive performance. The man’s plan had backfired, causing the athletes to mutate into fish-like creatures.


“No, I don’t believe it’s them,” Giles assured the girl. Willow breathed a quick sigh of relief. “There isn’t any mention of mutilations to the bodies, at least not in the news articles.” He turned hopefully toward the red head, gesturing at the computer. “Do you think you might give us a look at the autopsy reports?”


“Here I go again,” Willow rose from her seat and crossed the room to assist the librarian. She was their resident computer genius, and whenever the situation required hacking into sealed files, she was the one that they turned to for help. Waving the man aside, she took his place before the computer. “This will take a few minutes,” she said, her fingers already tapping at the keyboard.


“Okay, if not the swim team,” Buffy continued the line of questioning her friend had started. “Then who? Or should I ask what?”


“An appropriate question considering we live over a Hellmouth,” quipped Oz with a knowing grin. He had seen enough strange things in Sunnydale to realize anything was possible.


Giles nodded in agreement to the boy’s assessment. “Many creatures inhabit the waters around us. It could be any one of hundreds of demons.”


“Translation,” Xander said in an aside to his companions. “He doesn’t know.”


“But I shall know soon,” Giles corrected him, a familiar gleam sparkling in his eyes. “That is what research is about.” With a lively step he was on his way up into the library stacks behind them, eagerly beginning his search. Giles was now in his natural element, completely at home among the rows of dusty volumes that were enshrined on the shelves of his library. He knew every book like an old friend. He rapidly scanned their spines for just the right titles, and within a few minutes he returned, a dozen books in hand. These he brought over to where the teens sat at the table. Without a word he handed them each a volume, reserving one for himself. The rest he placed on the table before them. Giles immediately began paging through his choice, absorbed in his pursuit of knowledge. The others sat motionless in their chairs, simply staring at him in disbelief, their unopened books in hand.


“Giles,” Buffy eventually interrupted the librarian’s studied concentration. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we were doing our homework.”


“Indeed,” the man replied, not sounding at all concerned. “I suppose there’s a first time for everything.” Just as he was about to gloat over his own attempted humor, Willow let out a cry from across the room.


“I'm in!” she said excitedly. Giles hurried to her side, leaning down to read over her shoulder. What he saw disturbed him. With a gesture the teens found very familiar, he removed his glasses to polish them with the handkerchief he kept in a pocket. Returning the spectacles to his face, the librarian peer again at the computer screen.


“May I?” he asked the girl. Willow vacated her seat and stood to one side. Giles slid into the chair and began to read each report in turn. The teen quietly walked away, leaving him to his investigation as she returned to her friends across the room.


“That should keep him happy for a while,” she announced to the group as she sat down.


Buffy and her companions looked at each other. Then as one they threw down the books in their hands and went back to their previous conversation. They continued to chatter nosily back and forth for some time, working in the occasional brief homework problem as they ignored the man across the room. Some time later Giles finally shut down his computer, leaning back to digest all that he had learned. With a glance toward the teens, the librarian picked up his book as he got to his feet, and started toward the small room that served as his private office. He paused before entering to toss out one last comment.


“I want you to check out the pond on tonight’s patrol, Buffy,” he said, interrupting the teen in mid-sentence as she talked.


“Uh, sure, Giles,” the blonde replied. “I’ll swing by after.”


“Ah, yes!” The Englishman smiled in approval as if the girl had passed some test. “Then you remember our other appointment for tonight.”


“Appointment?” Buffy drew a blank, but tried to convince the librarian otherwise. “Uh, that’s tonight, right?”


Giles frowned at her. “You don’t recall what we spoke of this morning?” Buffy nodded slowly, but it was obvious she didn’t remember. This seemed to vex the librarian. “What do you mean by after?” he asked, his brow furrowed in puzzlement.


“We were going out for pizza tonight,” she stated in sheepish response. “Oh, by the way,” she continued more boldly. “Could I borrow a few bucks until tomorrow? I don’t think I brought enough cash with me. I’ll pay you back later. Promise.”


With an exasperated sigh the Englishman tucked his book under one arm and dug into his trousers for his billfold. Buffy hopped up from her chair and eagerly bounced over to him, her hand extended for the loan. Opening his worn leather wallet, the Englishman withdrew a bill, placing it in her open palm. The teen considered the denomination for a moment with a critical frown.


“I intend to both eat and drink, Giles,” she reproached the man. Giles thrust another bill into her hand and she flashed a quick smile. “Thanks!” she said, and promptly turned on her heel to rejoin her friends.


“Weren’t you out last night?” the librarian asked, returning his thinner wallet back his pocket. “Don’t you young people have homes to go to and parents who expect to see you there?”


“Of course we do,” Buffy replied to his sarcasm with her own quip. “We just don’t have lives of our own that older people think that they can run better than we do.” Her comment brought on a round of nodding heads from the others at the table, and she acknowledged them with a bow as she took her seat. Giles understood the rub was intended for him and he responded with an exaggerated expression of injure pride.


“Pardon me for being concerned about the family values of today’s troubled American youth,” he said in a voice edged by righteous indignation. “And I do not try to run your life for you young lady,” he corrected the girl. “I merely offer advice from time to time. Not that any of you have ever deemed it fit to heed my counsel. Far be it from me to actually know what might be best for you once in a while.” He feigned the countenance of one suffering great pain. “Mine is a thankless task. Yet I continue, hoping that perhaps someday some small good may finally come of it all.”


“Giles, you totally missed your calling,” Buffy grinned at the librarian. “You’d make a great mother. You’ve got that guilt thing down solid.”


The teens began to snicker uncontrollably at the idea. “Can you imagine it?” Willow giggled, hiding her smile behind a hand. “Giles, a parent!”


“A scary thought,” Oz agreed, an impish twinkle in his eye. They all laughed.


"Here’s an even scarier one,” Xander continued, leaning forward to exchange his views with his fellow schoolmates. “Think what the kids would be like.” That comment had the teenagers doubled over in hysterics as their imaginations ran wild.


“That’s right. Laugh all you want,” the Englishman grumbled, peeved by their reaction. “But someday you may have children yourselves. I only hope that I’m here to see it. Then we shall see who is laughing.”


“Oooooo! Score one for the Watcher!” Buffy retorted, marking an imaginary tally board in the air. Giles turned to enter his office as the four friends were launched back into their conversation again. They were immediately interrupted by the Brit’s disembodied voice coming out to them from the small sanctuary.


“Oh, and Buffy,” the librarian said, his words calling a halt to their chatter. Buffy craned her neck to look in his direction of Giles’ office.


“Yes, Giles,” Buffy replied in a mocking sweet voice.


“The appointment is at nine,” he told her. “Please try not to be late this time.”


“No, Giles,” she continued, making a face that started Willow giggling again.


Buffy rolled her eyes, heaving a dramatic sigh as she looked to her friends for sympathy. Beside her Xander silently mouthed the words “Yes, Mother” and they all burst out into convulsive titters. They finally managed to work the hysterics out of their system and began making a serious attempt at finishing their homework assignments, but that mood didn’t last very long. Soon they were again engaged in animated conversation, ignoring the Englishman who kept himself hidden away in his private room with his books. They were in their own separate worlds, neither side interested in the other’s activities. And that was how they would remain for the rest of the afternoon.







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