The librarian drove along in silence, weaving his way through now familiar streets. His young passenger stared out the window as they passed by blocks of fifties style track housing and older bungalow homes that were nearly all alike except for the subtle changes in paint color and the occasional lawn ornament sitting out front. Buffy found this neighborhood a definite improvement over the tired, derelict business district they had been in, though she didn’t see any place quite as nice as her own home on Revello Drive. They had traveled several miles, each lost in separate thought when something suddenly occurred to Buffy.
“Giles,” she frowned in puzzlement, facing her older companion. “I didn’t know Wesley had a key to the school library.”
“He doesn’t,” the Englishman succinctly replied.
There was a quiet pause for a heartbeat. The pair turned to look at each other. Buffy saw Giles grinning with what could only be the undeniable glint of wicked mischief in his eyes and she couldn’t help but burst out in raucous laughter.
“Giles, you dog!” she hooted appreciatively. “I swear, there are times when you seem almost normal, just like the rest of us regular people.”
“I am normal,” he said to the young girl, his smile still strong. “I’m just not a teenager, like you.”
“Yeah, well be glad you aren’t,” Buffy retorted in return. “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, you know. Everybody always telling you what you can or can’t do, where to go, what you should wear…” The teen sighed, leaning back into the seat. “Giles, you wouldn’t last twenty-four hours as a kid today.”
“Least you forget,” the librarian said to the blonde. “I’ve been through all that and managed to come out quite well, thank you.”
“That was then,” Buffy remarked. “This is the now. Things are a little different these days, Giles.”
“Things were different then, too,” Giles informed his young passenger. “It’s never easy for anyone, this business of growing up.”
“Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, Sunnydale isn’t exactly Jolly Olde England,” the girl reminded him tersely. “You didn’t have to grow up living on a Hellmouth.”
“I must admit that is true,” Giles replied, adjusting his glasses on his nose. “But these are the challenges that life hands to us, Buffy. It’s what builds our character, makes one grow, mature, become an adult. The adversities we face shape us into who we are, and who we will become. And these experiences stay with us forever. Some are good, and we cherish those moments when we can. Others, unfortunately, are not as nice, our decisions less than wise. But hopefully we learn from our mistakes and go on to become better people for having made them.”
“I suppose,” Buffy shrugged, her lips pursed pensively. The car’s dark interior was silent as the girl’s thoughts became reflective. “Giles? Do you ever think about what your life would have been like if things had turned out different?”
“Different?” the Brit echoed, frowning. “In what way?”
“Oh, I dunno,” the teen sighed. “Like, what would you have done if you hadn’t decided to become a Watcher, or a librarian? I know you told me once you wanted to be a pilot or something. Do you think you would have been happier?”
Giles stole a quick glance toward his passenger before answering. “Buffy, I hope that I haven’t given you the impression I wasn’t satisfied acting as your Watcher. Admittedly, there were times when I could have done without some of the, uhm, challenges you presented. You’re methods tend to be a bit unconventional at times, but they have proven to be exceedingly successful. As slayers go, I would say you’ve earned more than your share of high marks, so I can’t complain.”
“In other words,” she remarked with off-handed detachment. “We’re both alive, so I don’t exactly suck at this gig.”
“That’s a rather free interpretation of things, but, yes,” Giles replied, smiling at the girl. “You’ve done quite well for yourself, Buffy.”
“But that wasn’t what I’d asked you, Giles,” Buffy said, trying to bring the conversation back to her earlier point. “I’m not the one the Council fired. Like it or not, I’m pretty much set for life when it comes to job security. You’re the one with the issues here. I mean, if I was told I had to step aside while some dork like Wesley breezed in and took over my life, I’d sure be looking at things a little on the cyan shade.”
“Wesley hasn’t taken over my life,” the librarian said, adding with a terse grumble under his breath. “Not that he hasn’t tried.”
“See? That’s what I mean,” Buffy retorted. “Ever since ‘he’ came, you’ve been getting crankier and crankier. It’s not like you were ever Mr. Put On A Happy Face Guy to begin with Giles. But lately you’ve been on the extreme side of British. It’s beginning to scare me.”
“Buffy, what’s between Wesley and me is, well, between Wesley and me,” the librarian remarked in a tone the teen found less than comforting. “It’s our problem, not yours. Perhaps I’ve been somewhat amiss concerning this situation. I didn’t realize my actions were affecting you so negatively.”
“It’s not just me, Giles,” the teen informed him. “The guys have all noticed.”
“I’ve been that obvious?” the Brit queried. Buffy nodded, and Giles’ frown deepened as he ruminated quietly about what the teen had said. That Buffy cared about his well being was very touching, but the pleasantness was tainted with the guilt that he had allowed his personal feelings to become a worry to her and the others. His remorse only increased as the young girl continued her disquisition.
“I can’t help thinking you must regret all this somehow,” Buffy commented, her emotions exposed for him to plainly see. “No one would blame you if you did, Giles. And guess I’d even understand if you’d said you’d have been better off staying in England, never even coming to America in the first place. Maybe you could have met some nice, safe woman who’d never even heard of a Hellmouth. The two of you could have gotten married, had a passel of little Giles kids and done that whole happily ever after thing. Isn’t that the kind of life most people really want? Don’t you ever think about it? Don’t you wonder if your life would have been better if you hadn’t met me?”
“But, I did meet you, just as I believe I was meant to, Buffy,” the Englishman quietly replied. “And I wouldn’t have wanted things to have happened any differently, even knowing the outcome of our present circumstances.”
“You don’t have any regrets?” the teen pressed further.
“We all have regrets, Buffy,” Giles continued philosophically. “Incidents that we look back on in hindsight and think we could have handled with greater wisdom. I must admit I’ve done my fair share of idiotic things growing up. Perhaps more than I’d care to think about,” he added with a melancholy twinge of compunction. “But if all that is what finally led me here to this life today, this destiny with you, well, then I wouldn’t change any part of it.”
“Really?” She faced the librarian, her gaze meeting his and she searching for the sincerity in his words. “Nothing at all? Not even the parts where you thought I was, what was that word you used to describe me?” The blonde feigned a thoughtful expression. “Oh, yeah. Now I remember. Challenged.” She frowned at the Brit. “I’m not too sure I like that.”
“I believe I said challenging,” the Englishman corrected. “It has a much different connotation. Though, from what rumors I’ve heard concerning your latest exam in History class…”
“Don’t even go there,” Buffy shot back quickly, cutting him off. “Besides, you know how unreliable those kind of rumors can be. Facts get all twisted around and blown way out of proportion. You’ve got to seriously consider where these things get started.”
“Seems I heard that one from Willow,” he countered dryly. “I’ve usually found her to be a very dependable source about these things. Perhaps I should have a talk with her.”
“Willow, huh?” Buffy mused, pouting as she reflected on the information. “I think maybe I’ll have a little talk of my own with her.”
In spite of her words, Buffy wasn’t upset with her good friend, and the librarian could see that. As the blonde settled back in the seat beside him, he thought she looked quite relaxed and herself again. He sighed, directing his full attention once again toward traffic as he continued his drive to the park.
Buffy was feeling a smile of contentment warming her inside. It was nice to know Giles was there when she needed his guidance. And it wasn’t just because it was something that was expected of him or part of his job. He actually wanted to be there. The Council might have sent him to America to be her Watcher, but he had also decided to disregard their orders, staying when they had fired him. He could have gone back to England once Wesley arrived to take over, but he didn’t. He had promised her he would be there as long as she needed him, and that was a thought that left her feeling very safe.
They were close to the park now. Giles steered his car into the entrance nearest the pond and came to a stop under the light of a street lamp that was on the verge of flickering out. As the engine idled noisily, Buffy put her hand on the door, pushing it open as she spoke to her friend.
“Thanks for all the words of wisdom,” she said, stepping out of the car. “I think we can rank that little chat as one of your better efforts to date. Not quite up to heart-to heart on the Mom-O-Meter, but you got pretty close. A bit more estrogen on your part and you would have made it all the way. Maybe you could get Mom to give you a few pointers.”
“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind,” Giles chortled good-humoredly, taking the girl’s ribbing in stride. “I’m thinking of inviting her for tea so that we can trade amusing anecdotes about the difficulties and tribulations of raising a slayer.”
Buffy hesitated, her hand still holding the open door as she gave the librarian a strange look. “You are joking, aren’t you?”
“About how difficult you can be?” he asked, suddenly concerned that he may have been too flippant with the teen. Buffy had seemed somewhat emotionally sensitive to these things tonight.
“About the tea,” she replied, her concerns being apparently elsewhere than he had suspected. “’Cause, the idea of the two of you together, after that thing with the candy…” Her voice trailed off, but he could see her visibly shudder as she silently contemplated the unuttered thought. “Let’s just say I’m not ready for the picture that brings to mind.”
“Buffy,” the older man scolded lightly, giving the girl one of his scathing glares of disapproval. But his face warmed with a blush in spite of himself for he knew exactly what the teen was thinking. It had been only a few weeks since the school’s sale of band candy had caused an unexpected turn of events in Sunnydale, reducing every adult that consumed the chocolate to irresponsible, immature adolescents-like behavior. His own actions that night had been less than reputable, though he suspected Buffy had no idea how far things had actually gone between himself and her mother, and he would prefer that it stayed that way.
“I know, I know,” the blonde sighed with a practiced weary teenaged angst. “It was just the candy and all those nasty hormones making you guys act that way. Sheesh!” Buffy grumbled petulantly. “Nobody’d ever let me get away with such a lame excuse. Seems to me there’s some politically incorrect age discrimination going on here.”
“Shouldn’t you be patrolling somewhere?” the Brit inquired uneasily, attempting to change the subject. The conversation was becoming uncomfortable for him.
“Well, it’s true!” Buffy retorted indignantly. “How come when I screw things up, I get lectures about responsibility and obligations and all that other happy horse hockey, but when a grown-up does something wrong it’s, ooops! Let’s just forget that happened.”
“It’s not that way at all, Buffy,” Giles rejoined defensively. “I’m sure you’ll see these things in a much different light when you’re an adult.”
“Yeah, well I wish you were a kid and could really see how tough things are on this side of the fence,” Buffy argued in return. “I bet you’d find it’s not quite what you remember.”
As she spoke the words the amulet tucked away deep in Giles’ pocket began to give off a glow. It was responding to its uniquely special command, the magic imbued within the stone calling forth a powerful spell. The girl’s idle wish had unleashed an enchantment that was working its devilry on an unsuspecting victim.
Hidden within the dark recesses of the librarian’s jacket the stone gave off its pulsating flashes. No one noticed the strobe-like winks of light, or the momentary burning brilliance that followed. What little light that escaped was lost in the camouflaging effects of the overhead street lamp shorting in and out. The stone completed its task of sorcery, then became dark once again, awaiting its next magical command with neither Buffy nor Giles the wiser that anything had happened.
“Well, thanks for the ride anyway, Giles,” Buffy said, slamming the heavy car door shut. “See you tomorrow.”
With a cheery wave, Buffy turned and strode boldly off toward the path that would lead her through the park and eventually down to the pond. The Englishman sat alone in his car, watching the young blonde walk away, staying until she had disappeared among the cover of the trees. To any person passing by Buffy would look like nothing more suspicious than a pretty girl out for a stroll alone through the park. But Giles knew better. She was the Chosen One, and although the Englishman knew Buffy was well prepared to handle whatever she found out there in the dark, perhaps more than anyone else could ever be, he still worried about her.
“Be careful,” the Brit whispered softly to himself. He lingered in the empty parking lot a few minutes longer, then satisfied he could do no more, he finally wrenched his car into gear and drove away into the quiet night.
Arriving at the school a short time later the librarian found Wesley’s van parked off by itself in the otherwise empty school lot. He pulled his tired old Citroen alongside the other vehicle, cutting the engine off and riding out the last shuddering trembles as it died. A moment of envy overcame him as he stared at the mirror-like, unmarred paint job on the vehicle beside him. Quickly he dismissed the negative sensation. He didn’t need a new car, he told himself firmly. But perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to bring his vehicle in to a mechanic. It had been a while since he’d last had it checked. He made a mental note to call and schedule a visit for sometime the next week.
Giles took his time getting out of his car. He was feeling a little sore from that evening’s altercation with the vampires. Collecting his things from the backseat the Brit casually sauntered across the paved lot and up the walkway to the library’s outside entrance. A roguish smile broke out on his face when he saw Wesley pacing impatiently by the back door. He gave the Watcher a puzzled look as if questioning why he was standing outside.
“It’s locked,” the younger man responded, obviously irritated at having been made to wait.
“Oh, is it?” Giles responded innocently, feigning ignorance as he unlocked the door with his key. Turning aside to hide a smugly pleased grin, he stepped into the dark library, snapping on the overhead lights as he passed through the door.
Giles paused inside the threshold, looking around with satisfaction at the rows of books laid out before him. There were times when stepping into this room felt like coming home again for the Brit. But his momentary elation soon faded as he considered the task that lay ahead. He was looking at several long hours alone with Wesley, a thought that did not sit all that well with him.
The two Englishmen went immediately to work, each retreating to a separate section of the library to do his appointed reading. Giles took great pains to avoid his fellow countryman as much as possible, keeping to the privacy of his office and only venturing out on occasion to collect another book. Though he couldn’t put his finger on an exact reason, that night Wesley seemed particularly difficult to take. Everything the man did seemed more irritating than usual. The librarian found himself longing wistfully for the days of peace and quiet when he had the library completely to himself in the late hours of the evening and the early morning.
Time passed slowly, the individual minutes stretching endlessly for the older Brit. The words in the book he was reading began to blur, and he was finding it harder to concentrate as the hour wore on. Taking off his glasses, he rubbed at his eyes, trying to keep himself alert. He was tired. And something else, too. A strange feeling, nothing like he’d ever known, a sort of warm, itchy prickling inside and out. Giles sighed, hoping the disturbing sensation wasn’t the preliminary hours of a bad bout with an illness. He could certainly do without that.
Readjusting his glasses on his face, Giles continued his reading. From time to time Wesley would pop into the office with some question or speculation concerning his research efforts on the drowning incidents at Fuller’s Pond. Willow had taken time that afternoon to outline detailed instructions that would give them to access the various autopsy reports from the coroner’s computer files, which the younger Brit was gleaning through for any clues that might hint at what creature or demon they were up against this time. Giles was more than content to allow Wesley the honor of that task. He had no patience that night for bothering with a temperamental computer.
After realizing that he had spent close to thirty minutes on a single page of his book and still didn’t know what he’d been reading, Giles finally admitted he could take no more that night. Setting aside his research for the morning, when he hoped he’d be able to approach it with refreshed vigor, the librarian shrugged on his tweed jacket and closed up his office, announcing to Wesley that it was time to lock up and call it a day.
It was nearly midnight before Giles got the other man to leave. As Wesley drove off in his van, the librarian turned his own vehicle toward the condominium apartments near the school that had been his residence during the last few years. Minutes later he had parked the Citroen at the curb near the low stucco wall out in front of his place. Slinging the leather weapons bag in one hand and his briefcase in the other, he made his way up the walk, passing under the treed canopy of the fountain courtyard where he would sometimes sit on pleasant afternoons and take his tea.
Stopping for moment to collect his mail, Giles unlocked the ornately decorated door to his bachelor apartment and let himself inside. Once again the librarian was astonished at how tired he felt that night. He let out a yawn, perusing through the bills and junk mail catalogues he had received that day, tossing several items immediately and leaving the rest of the pile on a nearby desk for later. It was all he could do to keep awake as he stumbled through the motions of his familiar nightly routine.
A short time later Giles retired to his upstairs loft. He sat comfortably propped up in bed, a cup of soothing hot tea on the nightstand beside him and one of his favorite books in hand. Stifling another weary yawn, he began to read. Though he tried to fight the persistent strange lethargy he felt, it wasn’t long before his eyelids grew heavy and his chin settled at last onto his chest. His untouched tea grew cold as the Englishman finally succumbed to the somnolent sorcery that had shadowed him since his return from the park. The book in his lap fell to the floor with a dull thud, and Giles slipped away into a state of restless slumber, his sleep haunted by strange and disturbing dreams that made little sense. So it was the librarian never noticed the miraculous changes that took place as the night gradually passed into day.