The sun was barely coloring the sky as the trill of birds began to sing. First one creature, and then another joined in, until their cacophony was loud enough to rouse Rupert Giles from his dreams. The awakening was far from pleasant. His neck was stiff from sitting slumped uncomfortably upright in bed, and in spite of the night’s sleep he felt anything but rested. Groaning, the librarian rolled over, squinting at his bedside alarm. It was only four o’clock. He still had several hours before having to go to work.
Stretching lazily, Giles let out a tired sigh. Apparently he’d fallen asleep while reading. The lamp at his bedside had been on all night, and his cup of tea was cold as a stone. The mere thought of it sitting there was suddenly unappetizing to the Brit and he turned his head aside, burying his face in his pillow as he tried to ignore the raucous noise coming from outside.
A strange feeling began to haunt Giles as he lay in his bed. It wasn’t anything he could put a name to at first. He wasn’t ill, though that had understandably been his first thought. He’d known of several dozen students that had come down with a contagious flu bug that week at school, and one never knew what other virulent germs were going about in the crowded halls. But he had no headache or upset stomach, no obvious signs of an actual disease. Just a generalized feeling of oddness that hung disturbingly over him. With a tired yawn, Giles dismissed the sensation as the unfortunate consequence of having fallen asleep while reading late.
Rousing himself from his morning lethargy, the librarian suddenly remembered his glasses. He’d had them on last night in bed and now they weren’t on his face or in the spot he usually placed them on the nearby nightstand. Searching the sheets around him, he mumbled a silent prayer, hoping that he hadn’t broken them in his sleep. When he finally located the elusive spectacles they were perfectly intact, prompting a sigh of relief as he slid the frames onto his nose.
Sitting up in bed, Giles continued to look though his covers, this time for the book he had been reading. It didn’t seem to be anywhere he could see. Peering over the edge of the mattress he discovered the missing volume lying on the ground below where it had apparently dropped during the course of the night.
With a heavy sigh, Giles rolled himself over and reached down for his book. As he stretched his arm out he felt his loose pajama sleeve slip down, the cuff engulfing his entire hand and several inches of air beyond. Puzzled, he pushed the excess material up to his elbow, holding it in place as he made another grab for his book.
Though it hadn’t looked all that far away, Giles was surprised to find the volume beyond the length of his arm. With an aggravated grunt he edged closer, attempting to hook the textbook’s spine with his extended fingertips. When the ring he wore suddenly slipped from his hand and thumped to the floor, bouncing away out of sight under the bed, the librarian grumbled irritably under his breath.
“Well, that’s torn it,” Giles muttered to himself. “Looks like it’s going to be another of those days. You won’t get the chance to lie in this morning, Giles, old boy.”
Resigning himself to the unpleasantness of crawling about under the bed to retrieve the band as well as the book still lying on the floor, the librarian threw off his covers, sitting upright on the edge of his bed. In his sleep addled head, a tiny warning signal was telling him things weren’t quite right. Again he blamed a possible illness. His voice had sounded a bit odd, rather pinched and high.
Yawning again, Giles stretched his tired and aching muscles before dropping to his feet on the floor. He was caught completely by surprise as his pajama bottoms suddenly fell away, skimming down his legs toward his ankles. He automatically made a grab for the escaping waistband, only to have his loose sleeves swallow up his hands once again.
A bewildered confusion rose in the librarian’s mind. What was going on here? Why was his clothing so loose? These were the same pajamas he wore to bed last night, and they’d fit perfectly fine then. Yet today they were inexplicably several sizes too large. Could he have been loosing weight lately and not noticed? And just how much? He looked at the excess material around his waist as he drew his trousers up. Perhaps he should consult a scale and find some answers to his questions.
Ignoring his book for the moment, Giles gathered his oversized waistband in hand and started across the room. At the first step he stumbled, nearly falling flat on his face as his dragging pant legs entangled his feet. He found that had to roll the cuffs over several times to shorten them to ankle length, then hold up his bottoms by the waist to keep from tripping over them. Even then walking proved quite treacherous as he made his way cautiously across the bedroom and down the stairs.
The bathroom floor was cold beneath his bare feet as Giles hobbled his way to the scale in the corner. Stepping onto the balance, he watched the lighted panel flash its red numbers in a dizzy blur before the digits settled onto a final reading. The librarian frowned, adjusting his glasses and squinting down at the verdict.
Giles blinked. That couldn’t possibly be right, he thought to himself. He couldn’t weigh fifty-two pounds. That was less than twenty-four kilos. If that were the case he would be nothing but a walking skeleton, a collection of bones gauntly draped in a macabre shell of muscle and flesh.
Staring at the scale’s improbable readout, the librarian found his thoughts increasingly overwhelmed by the morbid image of that cadaverous figure. The concept flooded his mind, filling him with an apprehensive dread he was at a loss to explain. Emaciated and gruesome with its sunken cheeks and bloodless pallor, he could see the phantasmal corpse in vivid detail, and it sent a shiver racing up Giles’ spine as he realized that the imagined ghoulish face was his own.
Gripped by the fear that this could somehow be true, that he had become one of those horrendous creatures, the Brit staggered back a step from the scale. The urgent need to purge himself of the horrifyingly real nightmare sent Giles scrambling in a panic toward the full-length mirror that hung on the back of the bathroom door. His heart pounded with anxious trepidation, his entire body shaking as he confronted his reflection in the polished glass, looking to see if his imagined terror had indeed come true.
An immediate sense of relief washed through Giles as he gazed upon what was obviously a fully fleshed figure. The face staring back at him was healthy and robust and undeniably full of life. The librarian breathed a grateful sigh, momentarily ashamed that he’d nearly come to hysterics over some nonsense that was nothing worse than a child’s bad dream.
But Giles’ feelings of elation were short lived. As he continued to study the figure in the mirror before him, his eyes opened wider, his mind reeling from a sight so unfathomable that at first he couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing. For there in the glass was an image from long ago, a reflection of a memory he hadn’t seen in almost forty years. It was the face of a very young boy.
The librarian continued to gaze at his reflection for a long time in wondrous disbelief. Was that really him? He studied the soft, rounded features of his face, the youthful contours that seemed so vaguely familiar. The glasses he wore weren’t part of the distant memory, but the pale eyes they framed were definitely those from his childhood years. Gone were the character lines and furrows of middle age that had taken decades to develop. Years had fallen away overnight. Even his receding hairline had filled in with a thick growth of new hair. In fact, the hirsute mop that covered his head was a veritable mane, falling across his brow and sweeping down to his collar in luxuriant waves. He hadn’t had hair like that in years.
Timidly, almost fearfully, Giles combed his fingers through the shaggy thatch on his head, marveling at the sight of it. It was real! He had hair. Lots of it. He ran his hand under the thick forelock, tugging at the amazing growth, and as his mirror image mimicked his every move, he began to appreciate just how very frightfully real it all was.
Giles blinked, frowning at the boyish figure he had become. How was this possible? One didn’t suddenly become younger overnight. It just couldn’t happen. Except, he thought to himself with a silent groan, except maybe in a town like Sunnydale, California. Then it all made perfect sense. But why? And how? What magic was responsible for this unbelievable transformation? For Giles was now positive it was some type of witchcraft that had bedeviled him. He tried to think back over the events of the previous day, searching for some clue to explain his situation.
Giles shivered, alarmed as much by the eerie sound of his own voice as the thought of the man whose name he had said aloud. Ethan Rayne. Years ago Giles had foolishly called him a friend. Together, the two of them and a few others had raised all kinds of hell, literally as well as figuratively. Those had been the dark days, a time in his life the librarian wished could be buried and forgotten. Yet somehow those years always managed to return and haunt him, much like Ethan himself. The man had an uncanny knack for turning up at the most inopportune of times. Of course, any time Ethan showed was a bad time.
Yes, Ethan Rayne. This whole thing simply reeked of his twisted sense of humor. Giles suspected the man would stop at nothing to make his life miserable. When they had parted ways years ago, he’d thought he’d seen the last of Ethan. They certainly had little in common now, except for that sordid bit in their mutual past. While Giles had finally chosen to return to university and accept his destiny as Watcher, Ethan had continued on with his dabblings in the black arts, becoming more sinister and hungry for power with the passage of years. This had led to their paths crossing a few times, as recently as a month ago. Ethan had disappeared and they had all assumed he had left Sunnydale, but apparently he was somewhere nearby, no doubt gloating over this latest bit of his devilish handiwork.
Stepping away from the mirror, Giles slowly walked back into the bedroom. He would have to find Ethan and put an end to this mischief. And he had to do it soon. He was due to report to work in only a few hours. But as the Brit stood pondering his course of action, he became overwhelmed by the terrifying implications of his condition. He was a child again. Nothing more than a mere boy. What was he going to do?
Strange emotions gripped the young librarian with an anxious dread. Standing there in the bathroom, his body lost in its voluminous shell of oversized clothing, he felt small and vulnerable, and so very alone. Shaking his head, Giles tried to dispel the sensation of helplessness rising fast within him. This was no time to fall apart. He needed to stay calm, to think this thing through. But he couldn’t get rid of the emotions welling up within him. That was when he realized he wasn’t going to be able to handle this problem on his own. He would need some kind of assistance to keep him focused and rational.
With a sigh of resignation, Giles made his way back to the living room area. He knew what he had to do. It wasn’t going to be easy or pleasant, but he was desperate. Scooting up onto the chair at his desk, the Brit picked up the telephone receiver and began to punch in a sequence of numbers. He waited for the connection to go through, the line ringing for what seemed an eternity. A sleepy mumble finally answered at the other end of the line. Steeling himself, Giles took a deep breath, and in a voice that sounded strange even to himself, he spoke the words he never imagined would come out of his mouth.
“Wesley,” he said, his hands trembling as they gripped the telephone tightly. “I need your help.”
Pulling up in front of the Spanish-style condo building, the van came to a stop, parking behind the old Citroen coupe. Wesley wasn’t fully awake as he slowly got out of his vehicle and headed toward the gated entrance to the front courtyard. It was an unnaturally early hour to be up and about, but Giles had been quite adamant about some emergency requiring his immediate attention. The librarian had been very cryptic about the situation when he rang, and he didn’t sound at all like himself. In fact, Wesley wouldn’t have guessed who it was if Giles hadn’t identified himself at least twice. Strange how a terrible phone connection could make one’s voice sound so very different.
Walking up to the apartment’s front door, Wesley rang the bell to announce his arrival. He straightened his tie, smoothing the lines of his impeccably cut suit as he waited. The early morning air had a damp, dewy chill to it, though it looked like it would eventually turn out to be a fairly warm day. Glancing around, Wesley saw was the only person about at that impossible hour. It was a good thing, too. He was in no mood to deal with the odd ways these Americans had. He only hoped Giles would indulge him in a cup of hot tea as they tackled whatever this mysterious problem of his was.
He was idly inspecting one of the nearby potted plants when the door swung. For a moment, Wesley stared. There in the doorway was a young lad of about seven or eight years of age. He had an uncombed mop of long brownish hair and wore spectacles perched precariously on his nose. A bathrobe several sizes too large draped his slim figure, and the pants of the boy’s pajamas were bunched and rolled up at the ankles to fit. Wesley took a started step back, rechecking the apartment’s address. Yes, he was at the right place. Puzzled, he turned toward the small boy.
“Excuse me, young man,” he hesitantly inquired. “By any chance do you know if Mr. Giles is at home?”
The youth nodded and held the door open, wordlessly inviting Wesley to enter. The Englishman stepped boldly across the threshold and into the librarian’s private residence, making an immediate cursory survey of his surroundings. He was standing in the entry foyer, which was tucked under a curved staircase leading up to a loft bedroom above. There was a wooden desk and armchair nearby and off to one side. Beyond that the room opened into a fair-sized open floor area that served as a primary living space. A seating arrangement consisting of a green sofa, several end tables and chairs was set before a fireplace that was decorated with Spanish tiles and whose mantel top displayed a clutter of candlesticks and various art objects. As properly befitting the home of a librarian, more than one bookcase was featured in the room, with each tall stand containing shelves full of priceless collections of antique texts. There were many other small consoles, occasional tables and storage cabinets tucked strategically about the spacious floor plan, as well as some unique framed artworks, a world globe on a pedestal stand and the ever ubiquitous stereo system that no apartment seemed to do without.
The remaining portion of the apartment to the right of the entry was devoted to a compact kitchen visible through an open pass-through in the wall with a stool sitting at the wide counter severing the eating area. There was a dark hallway leading back past the kitchen itself. The Englishman couldn’t discern where it went, but there seemed to be another space tucked off in the back corner of the apartment. But in all of his careful scrutiny of the condo’s layout, the one thing Wesley couldn’t see anywhere was Rupert Giles.
The Briton felt a momentary concern that he was in the wrong condo unit. But then he recognized a pile of library books stacked on the desk nearby. The coat hanging on a rack near the doorway also looked familiar to him. This was the right place. He was sure of it. These things belonged to the librarian, and the entire apartment had the unmistakable imprint of Rupert Giles about it. But who was this boy? Perhaps he was a neighbor, Wesley thought to himself. Or one of Buffy’s friends, though he didn’t recall ever meeting this particular lad and couldn’t imagine why he would be here, especially at such an early hour. And in his night clothes as well. This was very strange, indeed.
Closing the door behind him, Wesley followed the boy as he padded barefoot across the room toward the kitchen. He watched the youth set out two porcelain cups, pouring them each some tea from a pot that had been steeping on the counter. Well at least the lad, whoever he was, seemed reasonably well mannered, Wesley thought as the youth wordlessly offered him one of the cups. The Englishman gratefully accepted the tea, taking a tentative sip of the steaming liquid. Pulling the nearby stool up to the kitchen counter, he settled down to relax and enjoy his freshly brewed beverage.
As he took another sip from his cup, Wesley turned his attention to the boy puttering about busily in the kitchen. He was certainly no stranger to the place, that much was obvious. He would make a point of asking Mr. Giles about the lad later. Right now he was anxious to know where the librarian was keeping himself. Maybe he didn’t know that Wesley had arrived.
“Where is Mr. Giles?” he asked the silent youth. The boy paused in his kitchen chores, turning to stare at the Watcher with a strange expression. Wesley nodded toward the staircase across the room. “Is he upstairs?”
“No,” the boy replied, his voice sounding flat and mournful with only that one word. He wasn’t a very happy child, Wesley thought to himself. Apparently he didn’t appreciate being up at such an early hour either. He certainly couldn’t blame the lad. Wesley would have preferred staying at home snug in bed as well. But Mr. Giles had been quite insistent that he come over right away. So here he was. But where was the librarian?
“This is Mr. Giles’ flat, isn’t it?” Wesley asked the boy, his tone worried. When the youth nodded, the Brit gave a sigh of relief. “Then could you please run along and tell him that Mr. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce is here to see him?”
The boy frowned thoughtfully, as if considering some unpleasant bit of news. As he stared at the youngster, waiting expectantly for an answer to his question, Wesley became sure he’d seen him somewhere before. The school library immediately came to mind, but the Watcher told himself that wasn’t very likely. This boy was too young to be at that advanced high school grade level. Frowning, the Englishman was disturbed that he couldn’t recall who the lad was, and he continued to fret over that fact while awaiting the youth’s reply.
“Wesley,” the boy leaned on the counter, facing the man. “What I’m about to tell you may sound unbelievable at first, but please hear me out.”
The Englishman sat up, regarding the youth with a perturbed expression. Something about the boy’s voice had made him uneasy. The words had been spoken with an unmistakably British pronunciation, taking Wesley somewhat by surprise. It was almost as unnerving as the gaze from the strangely familiar pale eyes that were fixed upon him with such serious directness. But none of these things were as shocking as the boy’s next statement.
For a moment Wesley gawked in stunned silence, a reaction the librarian thought perfectly reasonable considering what he’d just said. Giles watched the other man’s face, expecting to see doubt, uncertainty, even disbelief. But what he got was anger. Wesley scowled, frowning darkly as he stared down from his elevated perch.
“Is this some sort of prank?” the Englishman demanded brusquely. “Surely you don’t expect me to believe such nonsense.”
“It’s not a prank, Wesley,” Giles calmly assured the other Brit. “This is me. Rupert Giles.”
Wesley shook his head. It was obvious he refused to believe what he perceived as a child’s attempted mischief. With a disdainful huff he glared at the impudent lad, waiting for him to admit his lie was nothing more that a joke. But the boy did no such thing, standing firmly on his words, obviously expecting the Brit to take his statement as truth. Wesley had no intention of doing any such thing. He wasn’t going to be taken for a fool. Dismounting the stool, he began to stride purposefully across the room, heading toward the stairs.
“Wait!” Giles hurried after the man, hiking up his sagging pajama bottoms as he ran. The drooping leg cuffs nearly tripped him as he scrambled to catch up, grabbing at Wesley’s sleeve to stop him.
“There’s no need to be rude, young man,” the indignant Englishman responded, brushing the librarian’s hand aside. He came to a halt near the foot of the staircase. “I would like to see Mr. Giles now. Run along and fetch him for me.”
“But I’ve already told you,” Giles protested. “I’m him.”
“Young man,” Wesley sighed in irritation, confronting the youth with a stern face. “I’m not in the mood for such games. Now either you stop all this foolishness and bring Mr. Giles here immediately, or I shall make a point of contacting your parents about your insolent behavior.”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake!” There was a peevish whine to Giles’ words as he raised his voice. “This isn’t a prank. It’s me!” The librarian ripped off his glasses as if unmasking himself. “Look at me. Isn’t it obvious, man? Are you blind?”
Wesley glowered at the youth, dismissing him with a haughty stare before heading for the stairs again. The loft bedroom seemed a. likely place for librarian to be, so the Englishman decided to start his search there. As he mounted the steps and started upward the boy followed close behind, fervently trying to convince the Watcher of his identity.
“I realize how incredible this all must sound,” the youth argued, his childish voice tumbling over the words. “I-I-I didn’t believe it myself at first. But it’s true, Wesley. It is me! It-it’s really me, Rupert Giles. And-and I need you to help me undo this-this…thing that’s happened. That’s why I rang you.”
Wesley ignored the youngster, continuing to climb purposefully toward the bedroom above. Giles fumed, his anger rising as the other Britain refused to acknowledge him. What was wrong with Wesley? Was he so dense he couldn’t see the truth? They didn’t have time for all this nonsense. He had to think of something that would make Wesley recognize him. But what?
With an exasperated grumble Giles shoved his glasses into a pocket of his robe and hurried after the other Brit, bounding up the staircase in an attempt to catch him. In his distracted agitation the librarian forgot about his dragging pajama cuffs. As he sprang from step to step the rolled hems swiftly unraveled until one of them finally slipped down, entangling his foot in engulfing folds of excess material. Giles felt his balance suddenly compromised, then disappear entirely as he tripped forward, his body slamming unexpectedly against the stairs with a painful thud.
Wesley heard the thump and quickly turned around, but it was already too late. He watched in alarm as the boy slid down the staircase feet first, then suddenly flip and tumble end over head to crash against the wall below where the stairs took a sharp turn. The Brit’s irritation was displaced by his concern for the child’s welfare and he rushed down the stairs, hurrying to the fallen youth’s side.
“Just lie still,” Wesley cautioned, kneeling next to the dazed boy. “Don’t-don’t move.”
The Englishman hovered nervously over the crumpled heap of clothing with its arms and legs sticking out in different directions. He made a brief check for any broken limbs and breathed a sigh of relief when he found none. By then the youngster had begun to show signs of recovering from his initial shock and was slowly struggling to sit up.
Giles groaned, glancing up at the long flight of stairs behind him. He was battered and sore from head to foot, having plummeted unchecked for at least a good ten or so steps, but it was his rattled nerves that had suffered the most damage. Hugging an aching knee to his chest, he pulled up the leg of his trousers to survey his wounds. Just a small bump over his patella, a few sore areas on his back and hip. So far, nothing serious. Touching another tender spot on his forehead, Giles winced in pain. That last bump was beginning to swell. Looked like an ice pack was in order or he’d end up with another ugly goose egg, his third this month. At least he didn’t require a trip to hospital for this one. The emergency room staff was becoming familiar enough to know him on a first name basis these days.
Let’s have a look, shall we?” Wesley frowned, pushing back the boy’s shaggy hair to inspect the reddening lump closely. It was well on its way to becoming a nasty bruise, though the Watcher didn’t think it would amount to much more. “Mmmm, perhaps you’d best show that to your Mum. We could give her a ring, have her come pick you up. How does that sound?”
“I don’t need-owww!” Giles yelped as Wesley’s fingers pressed a sensitive spot. Pain shot through his head, bringing tears to the librarian’s eyes. An intense flood of emotions suddenly overwhelmed the librarian. It was like the rush of helplessness he’d experienced earlier, but this time he was unable to control the childish feelings that assaulted him. He listened in horror as his own breath wrenched in an agonized sob, only to have the embarrassment compounded further by the realization that tears were spilling freely down his cheeks. Good Lord, Giles, he admonished himself. Pull yourself together, man! What’s happening to you?
“There, there now,” Wesley said, his voice assuming the kind of condescending tone one used to soothe a small child. “Everything is going to be all right. No need to cry. It’s just a smallish bump.”
“I’m-I’m not c-crying,” Giles protested crossly. But he knew he didn’t sound the least bit convincing as he fought to hold back the telltale moisture blurring his vision.
“Of course you’re not,” Wesley replied gently, empathizing with what he perceived to be a fragile young ego. “You’re a brave lad. I can see that.”
Giles sighed, sniffling noisily as he wiped a sleeve across his wet face. It was impossible to ignore the strange emotions trying to assert themselves upon him. Another unchecked sob shook his small frame as any trace of reason or rationality began to slip away, lost in the powerful eddy that took over his being until one single thought was all he could grasp. He could surmise no logical explanation for it, but there it was, irrefutable and undeniable in its absurdity. He wanted his mother.
That was when Giles knew he had lost it. He tried fighting the tears, refusing to give in to the confusion that enveloped him, but it was so strong. Tucking himself tightly into a ball, he began to rock back and forth, biting his lip to keep back the psychological maelstrom. What Wesley would think of him if he began crying like some infantile schoolboy? That is if he ever managed to convince the man who he really was. It was beginning to look like Wesley wasn’t going to ever come around to the idea that he was who he said he was.
The Englishman had been contemplating the librarian’s whereabouts when the sound of his name called his attention back toward the youth sitting curled on the stairway beside him. As the youth swiped a hand across his face, clearing aside what the Watcher had feared might be the first bit of a rain of tears, the boy stared at the Englishman with eyes that were eerily familiar. Once again the Brit was struck by the unnerving sensation he should know the boy.
“Yes?” Wesley replied, and attempted a smile of encouragement for the lad.
“Why won’t you believe what I’m telling you?” the youngster asked, his lower lip trembling in the threat of a pout. “You’re a Watcher. You must know what magic can do. Is it that difficult for you to extrapolate the concept that a spell could do this?”
“No, but the idea that…” Wesley started, then dropped off in mid-sentence. His mouth opened and closed in shocked disbelief. His expression grew intensely serious as he leaned forward, lowering his voice in a conspiratorial hiss. “You know about Watchers? What has Mr. Giles been telling you?”
Giles whined, his eyes rolling in exacerbated aggravation. “Is that besotted excuse of a brain rattling about in your head totally devoid of imagination? This is Sunnydale, man. It’s the land of the Hellmouth, home of vampires and ghoulies, a place where every demon that despises mankind is planning his next bloody bank holiday. Wesley, things happen here. Very strange things. Unexplainable things. Things like-like, well...this,” the librarian said, gesturing at his small transformed body. “I’m telling you, Wesley. Someone has put a spell on me!”
“Back to that story again, are we?” the Watcher frowned, shaking his head. Wesley rose to his feet, staring down at the boy in haughty disapproval. “Mr. Giles may find these stories of yours amusing, but I do not.”
“You don’t understand…” Giles protested.
“Oh, I think I do,” Wesley countered bitterly. “It’s becoming quite clear what this is all about. The man rings me at a dreadfully impossible hour and then carries on about some great emergency, but when I arrive he hasn’t even the decency to be here. I wouldn’t have suspected Mr. Giles capable of such low, common humor, but it seems that I’m wrong. Well, he may have got the better of me this time with his twisted little prank, but I’ll not be made to play the fool again.”
“I seriously doubt that,” Giles sarcastically muttered.
“And as for you, young man,” Wesley snapped, zeroing in on the librarian with a wagging finger. “I’ll thank you to keep your cheeky comments to yourself. You had better learn to respect your elders, or one of these days someone is going to put you across their knee and give you the proper spanking you deserve!” Glaring pompously at the child, Wesley added, “Be thankful, boy, that it isn’t me.”
‘Yeah, right!” Giles snorted contemptuously, his temper bristling at the man’s admonition. Like a small boy challenged to a schoolyard fight the librarian jumped to his feet, fists tightly clenched at his sides as he faced the other Brit. “Try it, and I'll give you the thrashing of your life.”
“Well, I never!” Wesley exclaimed, shocked by the youth’s impertinent attitude.
“You’ve got that right,” Giles growled back. “I’ve seen you fight. Your swordsmanship leaves much to be desired, and as for your so called skills at hand to hand, well, let’s just say that Buffy has been exceedingly kind to you thus far in those training sessions you’ve two have had. You won’t find me to be quite so lenient.”
Drawing his fists into tight balls and holding them at ready before him in a fighter’s stance, Giles suddenly hesitated, taken aback by his own actions. What was he doing? Wesley might be a royal pain in the posterior, and goodness knows how divinely wonderful it would feel to knock the man’s teeth down his throat, but now was not the time for such indulgences. If he ever expected to get to the bottom of this mess he was in, Giles would need Wesley’s help. He couldn’t afford having the man angry with him. And it only took one look at the Watcher’s face to see that he was pretty ticked off at that moment.
“I-I’m sorry, Wesley,” the librarian apologized, backing down from his aggressions. He meekly returned his hands to his sides, his expression one of pained contriteness. “My apologies. That was uncalled for. I-I don’t know what’s come over me. I seem to be having a problem controlling myself. It’s quite unnerving.”
“Not to mention rude,” Wesley appended firmly, his own temper far from soothed. The Englishman gave a disdainful huff, his body rigid with resentful tension. He had it in his mind to reprimand the child further when he saw something.
Wesley felt the hairs at the back of his neck begin to tingle. Bending forward he studied the youngster’s face with a keen eye, examining the distinctive cheekbones, the well-proportioned nose and softly chiseled jaw line. There was an unmistakable stamp of familiarity to the boy’s youthful countenance, and Wesley finally realized why. The child’s impossible claims were true.
“Oh, my!” Wesley gaped, his eyebrows shooting up above his glasses. He brought his face within inches of the boy’s to inspect it more closely. “Oh, my!” he repeated, louder this time as the shock of what he saw began to hit him. “Oh, dear! But-but you can’t be. It’s not possible. Mr. Giles? Is that really you?”
“Yes, Wesley,” the librarian finally sighed in relieved reply. “It’s really me.”
“Good Lord!” the Watcher exclaimed in wonder. “What has happened to you?”
“I would think that was rather obvious,” Giles muttered, taken aback by the other man’s continuing scrutiny of his person. “I’m…younger.”
“You certainly are,” Wesley responded with incredulity, trying to comprehend what he saw before him. “Quite a bit younger,” he added, an amused grin growing across his face.
Giles grimaced, unsure of how to respond. He didn’t like the way Wesley was looking at him. The other Brit seemed to think the situation was funny. Well, it was anything but that for Giles. He was most anxious to get back to his adult self again. Wesley on the other hand was rapturously marveling at the unlikely phenomenon of an eleven-year-old librarian.
“This is remarkable.” the adult Brit prattled on in excitement. “Simply fascinating. I don’t know why I didn’t recognize you straight off. It’s obviously you, Mr. Giles. There is no doubt of that.”
“Yes, well, I’m rather pressed for time, Wesley,” Giles interrupted the man, anxiously glancing toward the clock on the wall across the room. “I suspect magic is responsible for my sudden decline of years. Perhaps it would be prudent to start our research efforts along that avenue.”
“A reasonable supposition,” Wesley agreed, but he made no move to act on Giles’ suggestion, continuing instead to stare at the childish librarian. “When did all this happen?”
“I’m not sure,” Giles shrugged, turning to walk toward the kitchen where their two cups of tea that sat cooling on the counter. “I felt perfectly fine when I turned in last night. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say it probably happened sometime this morning, earlyish.”
“I’ll wager you had quite the shock when you went to shave,” Wesley chuckled, following along behind the librarian and seeming completely enthralled by everything the now younger Brit did. Sensing the Englishman’s eyes upon him, Giles turned around to glare at his fellow countryman.
“Must you stare like that?” the librarian grumbled as an uncomfortable shiver ran up his back. It gives me the jim-jams.”
“Yes, well, sorry,” Wesley apologized, but he didn’t stop his gawping. “It’s just that seeing you like this…” He shook his head, awe-struck by the sight before him. “Well, it does tend to knock one for six.”
“Really?” Giles replied dryly. He hopped up onto the stool Wesley had used earlier and pulling his tea across the counter took a sip of the tepid liquid and made a face.
The librarian’s childish reaction set Wesley tittering in amusement, earning him a scathing glare from Giles. Making a concerted effort to compose himself, the adult Briton regarded the youthful boy, amazed by how small he was. When standing, Giles had barely measured to mid-chest on the Watcher, where before the two had been nearly similar in height. And dressed as he was in such outlandishly over-sized clothing, the librarian looked like an unpretentious waif in shabby cast-off wear.
“Could it have been something you ate?” Wesley asked, finally coming around to pondering the reason behind the librarian’s transformation.
Giles frowned. “This isn’t a case of indigestion, Wesley.”
“Yes, I know,” the Englishman argued. “But there are spells that work on the principle of ingesting a vitiated substance, so it is a logical starting point.”
“A valid theory,” Giles sheepishly admitted, remembering his recent chocolate binge. For a fleeting moment he wondered if his new-found youth had something to do with the other incident. Was this some kind of delayed side effect of that curse? There could be people all over Sunnydale waking up as children this morning, just like himself. It was a thought that offered him little comfort.
“So, why don’t you tell me what you had to eat yesterday,” Wesley was saying, his voice breaking in on the librarian’s musings.
“The entire day?” Giles gave the other Brit a skeptical look before shrugging compliance. “Well, let me think. I was running late that morning, so I did without breakfast, but I had some tea at school. And some of those dreadful cracker things they sell in the vending machine. Lunch was something from the cafeteria, this chicken thing with vegetables over rice. At least they said there was chicken in it. I don’t recall actually finding anything resembling meat in all that sauce.
The librarian frown, continuing his dietary review of the previous day. “What else did I have? A salad, a cola and an ice cream cookie sandwich. Then more tea. I had several cups over the afternoon. Oh, and some pretzels.” Giles turned to the other Brit and announced firmly, “That’s pretty much the lot of it, I think.”
“Are you sure?” Wesley questioned the youth. “What about supper?”
“That was the bag of pretzels,” Giles replied. At Wesley’s disapproving scowl the young librarian flared defensively. “I had a very busy afternoon yesterday. The post mortems of those drowning victims were quite lengthy. By the time I’d finished it was too late to run out for a bite.”
“Well, suffice it to say, it probably wasn't anything in your diet,” Wesley deduced. “That is, if one can properly use that word to describe what you eat. If yesterday serves as an example of the typical fare that you consume , you’ll be fortunate indeed if you live long enough to be forty.”
“It isn’t, and I did,” the librarian grumbled in return. “Plus a few years to spare, I might add.”
“Be that as it may,” Wesley remarked, casually dismissing the boy’s argument and changing the subject. “It would certainly help to determine a method of reversing this spell if we had some idea how it was administered. Though I’m puzzled as to who would even want to do such a thing to you.”
“I have my suspicions,” Giles answered.
Wesley raised a questioning eyebrow and the librarian went on to explain about Ethan Rayne and some of the troubles he had caused in the past. Giles didn’t mention the bit about he and Ethan dabbling in the black arts many years ago. There was no need for Wesley to be that familiar with his life.
“I’ve tried a few of the local hotels,” Giles continued between sips of tea. “No one matching his description has checked into any of the establishments so far. Ethan’s smart enough not to use his own name, so it isn’t going to be an easy search.”
“We’ll have to widen our search,” Wesley remarked. “There is also the possibility that this Ethan Rayne is not the responsible party and come up with another explanation for your, uhmm, condition. But I do believe you are correct in one thing. This does seem to smack of some magical origination. If we consult our books, we might find a counter-spell to help you.” He frowned as he considered the task ahead of them. “This could take some time.”
“I don’t have time,” the librarian anxiously countered. “But I do have a job, and if I expect to keep it much longer we’ve got to find the answer, and soon.”
“We’ll move our base of operations to the library, of course,” the Englishman pronounced, warming to the challenge presented by the librarian’s dilemma. “There is still that other matter at the park we have to deal with as well. Buffy’s patrol should provide us with additional information on that issue. However, until she reports in we can devote our time to your ‘little’ problem.” The Englishman smiled, obviously pleased with his own humorous pun, but Giles not in the mood for his companion’s teasing.
“I’m glad that you find this all so amusing,” he scowled bitterly in complaint, sliding down from his seat to confront the Watcher. “But you try waking up to something like this!” and the librarian pointed angrily to his own face with its youthful features. “Damn it, Wesley! Look at me! I-I’m a ch-child!” Giles’ voice caught, finally saying aloud the dreaded truth. “A child!” he repeated in a plaintive wail.
“Well, throwing a tantrum isn’t going to solve anything,” the miffed Englishman curtly replied. “This is no time to panic.”
“Wesley,” Giles snarled, clenching his teen in his barely contained irritation. “If now is not the time to panic, then please tell me when the time is appropriate, because I wouldn’t want to miss my opportunity!” Turning his back on his fellow colleague, the young Brit mumbled as he began clearing away their used tea cups. “Why I rang you I’ll shall never know. You’ve been of no help to me whatsoever.”
“I’d be only too happy to step aside and leave this problem to you to on your own,” Wesley retorted sharply, stung by the librarian’s insolent attitude. “Perhaps Buffy or one of her friends could help you with your research.”
Giles froze, his throat constricting in panic. He couldn’t possibly handle this situation on his own. That was very obvious to them both. Whatever was happening to him was affecting his judgement. And as for Buffy and the others, he had decided there wasn’t much use in involving any of them. They would all have been willing to help out, he was sure of that, but with the possible exception of Willow who could only read a smattering of Latin, he didn’t think the teens were up to the task at hand. Much as pained him to admit it, he desperately needed Wesley.
“I suppose I haven’t given you a fair chance at this thing,” the librarian sighed, mumbling his off-handed apology. “And I do need your help, Wesley. Very much. Please.”
“Well, well,” the Englishman replied, seeing that he had gained the upper hand at last. “So, we’re not Mr. Know It All, are we, Rupert? Luckily for you, I’m not the type to hold a grudge against a man, or boy as the case so happens to be.” Wesley was grinning broadly, feeling superior and in complete charge of the situation. He gave the young librarian a pat on the back. “Don’t you worry, Rupert. I’ll take care of everything.”
“Oh, God, I’m doomed,” Giles dolefully muttered.
“What was that?” Wesley asked, frowning in puzzlement at the boy. He leaned down to listen. “You were saying?”
“I said, please make it soon,” Giles replied, forcing a smile to cover his lie.
“We shall start straight away,” Wesley assured him cheerily. “So be a good lad then and finish your tidying up so we can go.”
Giles nodded, gathering the cups and taking them into the kitchen. He rinsed the dishes, setting them aside to wash later, and then did a quick pass through area, putting things away. A few minutes later he reappeared at Wesley’s side again.
“We’ll take my vehicle,” the Watcher said, starting toward the front entryway. “I dare say we can’t have a child driving about town. It might raise a few suspicions.”
Giles hesitated, hanging back as Wesley reached for the door and held it open. When the librarian made no move to follow, the Englishman gave an impatient sigh.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Giles asked. “I can’t go out looking like this.”
“No need to be shy about how you look, Rupert,” the Brit remarked philosophically. “No one is going to notice anything out of the ordinary about you. People shall merely assume you are what you appear to be. A young lad. A, uhm, rather badly dressed young lad. Hmmm!” Wesley contemplated the diminutive Giles in his baggy nightclothes. “Yes, I see your point. You are a tad conspicuous.”
“Just a tad,” the librarian agreed.
“Perhaps you could change into something else,” Wesley suggested.
“I have nothing else,” Giles responded curtly. “My present wardrobe isn’t equipped for this situation.”
Wesley thought for a moment, his face brightening as solution came to him. “There’s a department store near where I stay, one of those all night franchises these Americans are so fond of. We could run in and find you something more appropriate to wear.”
Nodding in agreement, Giles started across the room. As he approached, Wesley noticed the librarian’s bare feet and quickly revised his previous suggestion.
“On second thoughts, perhaps it would be best if I went in alone,” he remarked. “You could wait in the van.”
“An even better idea,” Giles graciously conceded.
They left the apartment together, the librarian feeling self-conscious as they walked out in the open toward Wesley’s parked vehicle. It was still very early and fortunately no one was about to see them as they got into the van and drove away down the empty street. The bright sun was climbing slowly in the cloudless azure sky, giving every indication it would be another perfectly beautiful California morning. But as far as Giles was concerned it was turning out to be a very bad day, and he would be only too happy to see it end.