Their spirited banter continued almost the entire walk back through town. At Giles’ insistence the trio made a quick side stop at a local fast food place where the librarian treated his companions and himself to sodas and burgers. It wasn’t his preferred choice of fare, but Giles was famished and the food was, if nothing else served quickly just as promised. The trio continued to elicit stares and whispered comments because of their appearance, so in the interest of other diners, plus the need to get the two wet teens home, they grabbed their cups and bagged meals, taking them along to eat as they resumed their stroll.
Xander’s house was their first stop on the way back. Seeing him as far as the door, Buffy and Giles left him to face his parents alone. They could hear the teen beginning a convoluted explanation as to why his clothes were thoroughly soaked while his father ranted loudly about some entirely unconnected subject and his mother made hysterical noises of concern about wet rugs and muddy floors. Buffy felt a little guilty deserting her friend that way, especially considering what he’d been through that night, but Giles was anxious to get going again and so they continued on.
Walking side by side through the dark empty streets the pair finished off their burgers, disposing of their greasy refuse in a trash bin along the way. To Buffy’s amusement, the Brit was in an unusually talkative mood and he waved his soda cup about with animated gestures as he jabbered away at her, talking about the strangest things. Well, strange to other people she supposed. Subjects like water demons and vampires were second nature to someone like herself or Giles. But even though it was basically shop talk she found herself joining in enthusiastically, feeling more like she was sharing some juicy gossip with a best friend rather than reporting to her co-worker.
They were still deep in conversation as they approached her house and climbed the front steps of the porch. Giles was complaining about being essentially car-less and how he had to resort to walking everywhere, or worse yet ask Wesley to drive him. He was finding it difficult to accept this new role, one with which Buffy was all too familiar. She offered noises of appropriate sympathy as she opened the door to the front entry and let them both inside the house.
“Give me ten minutes,” Buffy said, closing the door behind the librarian. Leaving him in the front foyer she started for the nearby stairway, calling back over her shoulder as she mounted the steps. “I’ll go slip into something a little less humid and then we can go hit the books together.”
Giles nodded, making empty sucking sounds on the straw in his cup as he wandered toward the living room to wait. Bounding up the stairs two at a time Buffy headed for her bedroom and something dry to wear. She met her mother in the hallway, greeting her with a casual wave, hoping she could duck into her room without having to explain her dampened appearance.
Joyce Summers took one look at her daughters disheveled and dripping clothing, her dark eyes opened wide in concern. Buffy could see how badly her mother wanted to ask what she had been doing. Since her mom had discovered she was a vampire slayer the two of them had come to an understanding of sorts about these things. No questions equaled no lies. Still, sometimes the parental instincts were too much to ignore and her mother would try to get her to talk about her slaying. But in Buffy’s opinion the less her mother knew, the less she had to worry about. Her mom had enough on her mind already.
“Oh, hi, Mom,” Buffy said, trying to sound as if nothing were out of the ordinary. “You’re home early.”
A single, working mother Joyce was the owner of a local art gallery. As such she was in charge of acquiring and selling various art objects as well as setting up the displays of featured guest artists. This involved long hours of work, and she often had to stay late, something Buffy had come to accept as more the norm than the exception to the rule.
“The shipment was late, but I expect it to be in sometime tomorrow morning,” Joyce responded to her daughter’s comment. Casting a concerned eye over the young girl, she took in the soggy condition of her clothing. “Is everything okay, honey?”
“Everything’s fine, Mom,” the teen replied. “Just went for a little dip at the park.”
“Well, you get out of those things and into a hot shower before you catch your death of cold,” Joyce instructed in her best maternal voice.
Yes, Mom,” Buffy sighed, but she flashed a warm smile at her parent. “I’ll do that.”
Leaving her mother in the hallway Buffy closed the door to her bedroom, slipping off her jacket as she crossed toward her bed, discarding her empty soda cup in a nearby trash receptacle. She frowned at the multiple slices that had been ripped through the leather material by the pond demon. Another perfectly good piece of clothing ruined all in the name of duty. Since there was no hope of ever repairing the coat she tossed it in the trash on top of the cup. She lost a lot of her stuff that way. No wonder she
had a wardrobe budget that was astronomically high. It wasn’t easy being the Chosen One and trying to look good, too.
“Honey?” Her mother was calling from the hall outside her door. “Who were you talking to downstairs?”
“Just Giles,” she replied, yanking off a soggy boot. She dumped out a splash of pond water over the discarded jacket. “We’re going to the library to do some research after I change.”
“Well, don’t stay out too late,” her mother gently admonished. “Just because tomorrow’s not a school day, it doesn’t mean you can run around until all hours of the night.”
“Tell that to Giles,” Buffy griped to her parent. Pulling off her other boot she dumped it out as well, listening to her mother’s footsteps moving off down the hallway and gradually receding in the distance. Apparently her mom had decided not to give her the third degree that night. Definitely something to be thankful for.
Stripping out of her wet clothing, Buffy dropped them in a pile to deal with later. Reaching for a robe in her closet she gave a tired sigh. A hot shower sounded like an excellent idea to her. She didn’t think Giles would mind waiting just a little longer.
Joyce made her way down the stairs to the front hall foyer. It had been a while since the British librarian had come over to the house for a visit. Of course he was usually there because of something that had to do with Buffy. When they had first moved to Sunnydale she had been impressed by what she thought was a very caring teacher, finding the Englishman’s occasionally appearance in her daughter’s life somehow comforting. Being divorced, Joyce worried about how not having a male figure around to look up to as a role model would affect Buffy. Rupert Giles allayed those fears. He was polite, gracious and an excellent example of a proper gentleman, and being a scholar to boot was a big plus in her eyes, if not her daughter’s. Buffy needed all the help she could get when it came to school. And it didn’t hurt either that the man had a distinguished British accent that Joyce secretly found so exciting to listen to.
She lived for two years in that blissful ignorance, never knowing the truth behind her daughter’s relationship with the Englishman. Then it all came out. Buffy was a vampire slayer, chosen by fate and some mysterious set of circumstances that Joyce still couldn’t truly comprehend, born to do battle against the forces of evil that walked the Earth. The librarian was her Watcher, a trainer and guardian of sorts, there to prepare and assist Buffy in her ordained destiny with research and guiding words of wisdom. It was his job to keep her daughter alive through each skirmish, to patch up her wounds if necessary, and then to send her out to do it all again when the next demon popped up.
Looking back on things, Joyce realized that she had reacted wrongly to the shocking news. But who could blame her? It wasn’t every mother who found out that her teenaged daughter led a secret double life, especially one so dangerous. In fear for Buffy’s safety as much as in anger, Joyce had come to words with the girl. The result was a terrible fight that ended with Buffy running away from home. Giles had kindly offered his help in locating her, running down every small lead that came their way. For that entire summer Joyce sat at home, not wanting to leave the house in the hope her daughter would return. At first she had blamed herself for her child’s disappearance, but eventually she displaced her anger on the librarian, accusing him of stealing her little girl away from her with an enigmatical life in which she was allowed no part.
Buffy finally returned home on her own at the start of the school year. Things were understandably strained between mother and daughter, and there were some rocky moments with Buffy’s friends as well. But time managed to get them all through the worst of it, and life eventually became normal again. Or as normal as it could get. Buffy was still a slayer. She continued her work fighting vampires, the only difference being Joyce now knew that when her daughter didn’t come home until late it was because of some life threatening danger to the world, and not just a cute boy. The truth was far from comforting, but Joyce had come to accept what Buffy was, and that made things easier all around for everyone.
In the process of healing, Joyce rediscovered her friendship with the stoic Englishman. It was hard to stay angry with someone who obviously cared so much for her daughter. With everything finally out in the open between them, she found herself grateful for his sympathetic ear. After all, it wasn’t like she could talk about this slayer thing with just anyone. She found it helped to occasionally voice her concerns out loud to someone else, and whether it was out of guilt, pity or genuine concern, Rupert Giles became the one she turned to. Buffy certainly wasn’t anxious to share stories of her work, so she relied on Giles to keep her in touch with the teen’s other life. He was sensitive enough not to share all the gory details, but at least he would fill her in once in a while on her daughter’s whereabouts.
And that was how things had been these past few months. That is, until that night the entire town had gone candy crazy. It wasn’t easy ignoring what had happened between the two of them and it was completely out of the question to expect her to forget about it. Ever the gentleman, Giles hadn’t brought up the matter in the few times they’d talked since, and she had followed his lead, willing to let well enough alone. But as she walked toward the open doors of the living room, Joyce realized she was a little nervous about this particular meeting tonight. It would be the first time they would be alone, face to face, without Buffy or someone else being around to act as their excuse to avoid a more intimate conversation.
In spite of the anxious fluttering Joyce felt inside her stomach a warm smile spread across her face in anticipation of seeing the tall nattily attired Englishman. Silly as it was, she still got a thrill listening to him talk, his clipped British accent bringing out little school girl feelings that she found embarrassing to admit she had. Turning toward the living room she could see a shadowy silhouette cast across the fireplace, telling her he was waiting inside. She took a deep breath, and stepped into the room.
“Hello, Rupert,” she said, her voice sounding maybe a little too forced and cheery. Glancing around the room her eyes searched out the Briton, but he wasn’t there. Instead she saw a small boy standing in front of the fireplace. He was dressed in clothes that were soiled and caked with mud, and in his hands he was holding a copy of “Art in America” magazine, idly flipping through its pages. At the sound of her voice he turned toward her, displaying a face as grubby as his outfit and punctuated by a wide grin.
“Why, hello, Joyce!” the youngster replied, returning the magazine to its place on the nearby coffee table. “How are you tonight?”
Joyce stared at the young stranger in front of her. The boy seemed genuinely glad to see her, beaming a friendly welcome as if he knew her well. But his grin faded quickly when he saw her bewildered expression. His cheeks took on a blush of embarrassment under its smudges of dirt as he turned aside, hiding his face from her. Casting a furtive look back over his shoulder, he pushed at the glasses balanced precariously on the end of his nose before turning away again.
As she regarded the shy youngster before her a crazy thought suddenly popped into Joyce’s head. It was a ridiculous idea and she tried to dismiss it as such, but the notion continued to nag, refusing to go away. Her life in Sunnydale had taught her that there were many strange things that could happen, and at that moment she found herself seriously considering one of those very insane impossibilities.
“Rupert?” She took a tentative step toward the boy. He seemed to stiffen then slowly turned to face her, his head meekly lowered as he looked over the rim of his glasses to meet her eyes. Joyce gazed into the youthful features, carefully studying the face beneath the crusted overlay of grime and dirt. It couldn’t be, she thought to herself. But the pale colored eyes behind the spectacles were all too familiar to her.
“Uh, hello, Joyce,” Giles timidly grinned as he addressed her again.
“Oh, my…” Joyce Summers stared in petrified disbelief, unable to even breathe. Giles waited for her to continue, anticipating the difficult questions that were sure to follow. But they never came. Instead the woman loosed an ear-piercing shriek that reverberated into every corner of the house then collapsed to the floor in limp heap.
Upstairs in the bathroom Buffy was about to step into the shower when she heard the horrified shriek. Immediately she realized what had happened. Mom had met Giles. She chastised herself for not saying anything her mother when she had the chance earlier and now it was too late. She’d have to work damage control at this point.
Throwing her robe around her, Buffy rushed down the stairs and into the living room. Her mother was lying stretched out on the floor, pale and unconscious to the world with Giles kneeling over her, looking distressed and holding her hand.
“I-I don’t believe she took the news very well,” the Brit apologetically remarked, looking up from his efforts to revive the woman.
Dropping to the floor Buffy lifted her mother in her arms. Her face was ashen and cold, the shock having drained the blood from her features. Gently she brushed aside a strand of hair from her mother’s face, cradling the woman against herself tenderly in an embrace.
“Mom?” she softly crooned, touching her face again. “Mom, wake up! It’s me, Buffy.”
Joyce slowly stirred, rousing as if from a dream. She blinked and opened her eyes, looking up into her daughter’s worried gaze. She tried to remember what had happened. Why was she lying on the living room floor? Then she noticed the other anxious young face peering down at her and suddenly it all came back. With a hysterical gasp Joyce pointed at the boy, her hand trembling, lips moving without sound. Finally she choked out his name.
“Rupert?” Her voice quavered hesitantly. “It is you, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Joyce,” the librarian replied. “I’m afraid that it.is.”
“Oh, my God!” Joyce moaned. Leaning back in her daughter’s arms she closed her eyes, her head spinning dizzily. “I-I don’t think I feel well.”
“Mom?” Buffy supported her mother, feeling the woman swoon again. Jerking her head toward the kitchen, she spoke to Giles. “Why don’t you get her some water or something.”
He nodded, eagerly leaping up to rush off on the errand like a child wanting to please its parent. Alone with her mother for the moment Buffy attempted to wake her again. Joyce sighed, her color improving slowly. Helping her mother sit up, Buffy continued to hold her until she felt she had recovered from her shock.
“What is going on?” Joyce pleaded for an explanation to what she had seen.
Buffy took a deep breath. The story was going to be a long and difficult one. No more dancing around the issue. This time her mother deserved to hear the truth.
“Uh, Mom? There’s something I have to tell you about Giles…”
Buffy supplied a simple narrative accounting of Giles’ “condition”, her parent listening with dazed awe. By the time Giles reappeared with the glass of water she had pulled through the stage of initial shock and seemed to accept the unusual situation with a strangely practical attitude. Getting to her feet, Joyce shifted into maternal overdrive, insisting she do something about the Brit’s collection of scrapes and cuts. Thankfully Giles didn’t protest, quietly following the woman to the kitchen and allowing her to cluck and fuss in a concerned mother mode. See her mother was doing okay Buffy left her tending to Giles’ wounds and returned to her interrupted shower.
Downstairs the scene was quaintly surrealistic. Joyce found herself unable to stop staring at the small librarian, becoming even more amazed at the disarmingly youthful countenance that was revealed as she washed away several layers of dirt. She couldn’t do much about his clothing, but she did offer a brush to tame his unruly mass of hair, which made him look a little more presentable. Finally she broke out the first-aide kit and started in on the more obvious of his injuries.
“I still can’t get over it,” she said, cleaning a bloody gash on the librarian’s arm. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were really eight years old. This is all just so…incredible!”
“Disconcerting might be a more accurate word,” Giles replied, squirming on a kitchen stool as the woman scrubbed dirt from an abrasion on his arm. “I’m still find it difficult making certain adjust-owww! Uhm, adjustments.” He winced as she dabbed antiseptic on his open cut.
“Sorry,” Joyce apologized. She dug a large, square bandage out of the first-aide box and peeled back the outside wrapper. “And you have no idea how…” Her voice trailed off, hands gesturing vaguely in the air as she searched for a word to describe what had happened. Finding nothing appropriate in her non-slayer vocabulary, she returned to dressing Giles’ wound with the sterile patch.
“Not as of yet,” the Brit sighed. “I suspect it’s a spell of some sort, but I’ve no inkling of its source. And what with this other matter at the pond, I haven’t had the time to do a proper investigation.”
“Well, if it were me, I’d say to hell with that other thing, whatever it is,” Joyce told the librarian emphatically. “Can’t that new Watcher work on it? What’s his name, Winston?”
“Wesley,” Giles corrected, grimacing as he said the name. His expression of distaste was not lost on Joyce.
“You don’t like him.” It was a statement, not a question. “I don’t think Buffy does either. What’s wrong? Isn’t he any good?” Joyce asked with concern. “Buffy’s not in any danger, is she?”
“Buffy?” Giles shook his head, giving the woman a reassuring smile. “You needn’t worry about her. There seems to be a slight personality clash, as sort of battle of wills going on between them, but I think things will settle down eventually.”
Drawing a sigh of relief, Joyce was satisfied by his comforting words. This Slayer business was scary stuff for her to think about. Her daughter faced constant danger fighting monsters and demons. There were nights when she couldn’t sleep until Buffy had returned home safely. Of course she tried not to let her see how upset she was by all this. They had discussed the matter and while Buffy had assured her mother that she could take care of herself, it was difficult for Joyce to relinquish her fears. But she realized things could be far worse if there weren’t someone she could trust to watch over her girl, preparing her to do battle with all those terrible things. Luckily Giles was there to guide and teach and offer his support whenever needed.
Joyce smiled at the young librarian beside her. He looked sweet and cherubic as only a child could be. It reminded her of when Buffy had been a little girl, all innocent curls and loving kisses for her mother. Oh how she sometimes wished for those days again. But they were gone, never to return. Or so she would have thought until tonight. Apparently there were times when the clock could turn back the years and a man could become a boy again.
“Magic. Spells. All this abracadabra stuff is beyond me,” Joyce sighed, closing the first aide box and pushing it aside. She reached for a plate of chocolate chip cookies that sat on the counter nearby, offering it to the librarian. Giles took one, biting eagerly into the treat. It was still warm from the oven, the chocolate bits gooey and sweet in his mouth as he chewed. Joyce helped herself to one as well, nibbling delicately at the edges as she talked.
“So how do you go about undoing a hex, or spell, or whatever you call this thing,” she asked the young Brit. “Does it just wear itself out, or do you have to whip up some sort of antidote?”
“It would depend on the type of spell used,” Giles responded between voracious bites. He was surprised at how hungry he still was. He was suddenly glad he had stopped off for a bite on the way back from the park. He’d have never lasted the night if he’d had to wait until he got home. “It hasn’t been easy locating the right incantation. There apparently isn’t much call for this sort of thing.” He finished off his cookie and began to pick at the stray crumbs that had fallen to his lap. “Strange as it may seem most people don’t want to look older,” he said dryly.
“And that’s why the cosmetics industry is so successful,” Joyce commented in return. “I figure I’ve personally added to their profit margin by at least a thousand or two.”
“Ponce de Leon and his Fountain of Youth,” the librarian sighed, his expression turning glum. “The man never knew how lucky he was not to find it.”
“Tough day?” Joyce asked sympathetically. She could see the experience had taken its toll on the Brit. It wasn’t just his torn clothes and dirty face. He looked tired in spite of his youthful features. “If there’s anything I can do, Rupert,” she said with firm sincerity. “Don’t hesitate to ask. You know I’m here for you.”
“That’s very kind, Joyce,” Giles smiled at the woman. Her offer was touching and helped to allay some of the strange melancholy dogging him all that day. “But I’m fine. Really, I am.”
His voice didn’t sound very convincing, but Joyce decided not to press the issue further. She didn’t want to upset the librarian and add to whatever problems he had. When the time was right they would talk. Until then, she would offer what support she could.
“So!” Joyce sat back, looking over the small figure before her. “I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to wake up to something like this. It must have been quite a shock.”
“I suppose there are worse things one could have happen to them,” Giles remarked without much cheer. “Though I can’t seem to call any to mind at present. It was a rather novel experience having hair again,” he suddenly grinned. “I’d forgotten how long it could take to put it in order. If this situation isn’t resolved anytime soon, I shall have to see a barber about having a cut.”
“Not too much!” Joyce smiled. She brushed back his long forelock of brown hair. “Maybe just a touch here, so it’s not so much in your eyes.” She let her fingers linger a moment, rubbing at a smudge she had missed on his cheek. “They’re very nice eyes. You’re quite a handsome young boy, Rupert.”
“Y-yes, well,” Giles nervously stammered, blushing at the compliment. “Apparently your daughter agrees with you. Though I believe the word she used was ‘cute’.” The librarian chuckled in spite of himself. “It’s been quite some time since anyone said that to me.”
“Get used to it,” Joyce told him. “I’m sure you’ll be hearing it a lot with that face.”
“This face,” Giles sighed, his mood sobering quickly. “This face, this body. It’s like being trapped in some bizarre topsy-turvy world where nothing makes sense. I feel rather like Alice in her Wonderland, only she got to wake up. I’m not so sure I’ll be so lucky,” the librarian frowned. “My search for a counter-spell hasn’t been encouraging.”
Their conversation had drawn them around to an uncomfortable point. Joyce thought she knew what the Brit was thinking. His youthful features reflected a tortured angst, plainly revealing his emotional vulnerability. She wanted to console his pain, to let him know everything would work out all right. But Giles seemed to be having his doubts about counteracting this sorcery that had befallen him. And since he was the expert on these matters of magic and the supernatural, how was she to convince him otherwise?
Taking hold of the librarian’s small hand, Joyce gave it a tender squeeze. She felt the Britisher’s hesitation, his reluctance to accept her touch. And then his timid grip took her own, returning the gesture of simple friendship without reservation. The moment was charged with an intensity that shut out the rest of the world around them. Neither one of them heard the patter of footsteps as Buffy came bouncing down the stairs. Fresh and revitalized by her warm shower and a change into dry clothes the teen was ready to collect Giles and head out for the library before it got too late. As the blonde walked up the hall toward the kitchen, she could hear the librarian’s and her mother’s voices in conversation. Then suddenly all was quiet. Taken aback by the abrupt silence, Buffy slowed her step, pausing just outside the kitchen entry. She ignored the warnings from her conscience about the immorality of eavesdropping and waited to hear what was being discussed in the next room.
“What will you do if you can’t reverse this thing?” her mother was saying. Buffy thought she sounded worried. The teen listened for Giles’ reply. He seemed to take a very long time mulling over his answer, and the girl could sense the tension in the kitchen growing.
“Of course, that is a possibility,” Giles finally said. Buffy thought the Brit’s childish voice sounded edgy and distant, almost scared. An image came to her mind, a scene from the park when Giles had tearfully confessed his fears. “I suppose I would continue to age at what appeared to be normal rate,” the librarian answered flatly. “And in some thirty years’ time things would eventually come about full circle.”
“Oh, Rupert!” her mother’s response was definitely distressed. “What if you stay like this the rest of your life?”
Buffy didn’t like the disturbing silence that followed that question. She dared a peek to see what was going on between the pair. Giles’ back was to her as he sat at the kitchen’s island, his head bent forward, shoulders slumped in dejection. Her mother’s face was turned toward her. It reflected a genuine empathy for the librarian’s plight. Obviously what they were talking about affected her mother very deeply. Buffy recognized the expression her mother wore from many heartfelt discussions between themselves in the past.
“I shall simply have to cross that bridge when I come to it,” Giles said at last. “I see no good in worrying about things ‘til then. There are many other more pressing matters that need attending to.”
Buffy didn’t want to hear any more. The idea of Giles being a kid was weird enough. To think of him stuck as an eight-year old was beyond description. What could life as a perpetual pre-adolescent be like? She shuddered at the thought. It sounded pretty much like being sentenced to purgatory, if not hell itself.
Making a small noise to alert the pair of her presence, Buffy stepped into the kitchen. She put on a cheery smile as she approached them, pretending she knew nothing about what had just transpired. Her voice sounded loud to her, almost too eager as she announced her readiness to go.
“Come on, Library Guy,” she said to the Brit. “Time we booked!”
Her sudden appearance startled them. There was an immediate exchange of guilty glances and as Buffy moved closer she noticed her mother quickly pulling back her hand from Giles’. They were reacting like two teens caught sneaking a kiss by a parent, only the roles were reversed and Buffy was the one who had discovered their little secret. Her mother was trying to appear casual, and pretty much succeeding. It was Giles that seemed especially flustered, the young librarian almost falling out of his chair as he turned toward her.
“Buffy!” He flashed a nervous grin, hopping down from his seat to stand beside the blonde. “That was certainly quick.”
“Well, it doesn’t take as long to get ready when I don’t have to put on my other face,” she told him.
“Your other face?” he queried, confused. “I was under the impression you had only one.”
“In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a girl, Giles,” Buffy remarked with the tone of one having to explain the obvious. “We always keep a spare in those little make-up boxes we carry around in our purses. Didn’t you know?”
He looked toward Joyce, whom he found grinning at him in amusement. “It’s sort of an Eleanor Rigby thing,” she said, reinterpreting her daughter’s word. “Wearing the faces we keep in a jar by the door.”
“Ah!” the Brit responded, his face lighting as the realization began to click. Turning toward Buffy he feigned a hurt pout. “And I’m not someone you need to wear that face for? I believe I’ve been insulted.”
“We’re going to the library, Giles. Not out on a date,” Buffy teased her friend. “It’s not like anyone’s actually going to see us. I hope. Not with the way you look.” Her green eyes twinkled as she picked off a leaf clinging to his torn shirt. “I hope you’re not one of those kids that are allergic to baths. Things could get ugly if you don’t clean up your act.”
Giles started to chuckle, then stopped as he glanced down at his hands. He was appalled to discover they were so grimy. It looked as if he hadn’t washed them in weeks. He realized with embarrassment that the rest of him wasn’t any cleaner. And his clothing had certainly bore the full brunt of his day’s sui generis activities. Flashing a sheepish grin, Giles wiped his dirty palms across his shirtfront.
“Like that’s gonna really help,” Buffy chided him.
Giving the librarian a gentle nudge she got him started toward the kitchen door. Remembering how chilly it had been earlier Buffy grabbed a jacket from the peg rack nearby and for a brief moment she found herself worried whether Giles was going to be too cold the way he was dressed. Now that’s scary, she thought. She was actually beginning to think like her mother. Well, there was no way she was going to embarrass herself with that kind of behavior. Instead she ushered the librarian out the door, hoping to escape before any more mom vibrations contaminated her. She was about to say goodbye when her mother suddenly came hurrying after them, holding a plate full of chocolate chip treats.
“How about taking a few along,” Joyce suggested. “In case you get hungry.”
Buffy took one look at the cookies and snatched up a handful, mumbling a quick thanks as she pushed Giles ahead of her and stepped out into the night. Standing in the doorway Joyce watched them go, an amused look crossing her face as the duo walked off toward the street, already blathering away about some slayer thing or another. They were such a strange pair, she thought, each one as unlike the other as possible, and yet so perfectly suited to be together. Soon they had disappeared from sight with only the sound of their kinematic voices carrying back to her in the darkness. With a sigh she turned and went back into the house, smiling wistfully as she closed the door behind her.
The walk to the school wasn’t as brisk as their earlier jaunt home from the park, and the conversation soon petered out to nothing. Giles showed signs of tiring, his short legs barely able to keep up with her pace as they made their way down the sidewalk. Or maybe it was something else Buffy thought to herself, glancing sideways at the small librarian. She wondered what was going through Giles’ head at that moment. Adults always talked about longing for the carefree and happy days of their youth, but the Brit didn’t look very chipper to her. Maybe his mood would improve once they got to the library and he was back in his own element again. An old boring book was probably just the thing Giles needed to cheer up his day.
“Come on, Robby Boy,” Buffy mumbled through a mouthful of crumbs. “Get that little butt in gear and move it along. You’ve got homework to do.”
“I do wish you wouldn’t call me that,” Giles complained with an irritable frown.
“What? Robby?” Buffy chuckled at the Brit. “You don’t really expect me to call you Rupert, do you? ‘Cause, I’m not so sure that I can. It would be way too weird, like on this whole new dimensional interpersonal rift level. I mean, who names their kid Rupert anyway? No one. Not even here in California, the land of Chastity, Moon Unit and Soleil. The name just screams technonerd. And what would the other kids call him? Rupe? Rupie? Ru? Uh, uh. I don’t think so,” she said, shaking her head. “I might be able to swing Ripper though. Yeah, Ripper. Now that’s a name. It has attitude, punch, and it is so the whole macho kind of image thing us girls really go for. Plus it’s way cooler than Rupert! Can I call you Ripper?”
“Yes,” he said, then shook his head vehemently. “I-I mean, no!” He sighed, giving her a sad, weary look. “What’s wrong with Giles?” he asked, his voice pleading for understanding. “I’ve grown rather accustomed to hearing it.”
“Okay,” she shrugged, sensing that somehow this little thing was important to him. “No more Robby, I promise. Except, of course, when you’re pretending to be your nephew. Or, like, maybe when we’re in the company of certain persons who don’t know you’re you, but think you’re someone else not yourself.” She paused, pouting as she mulled over what she had said. “That did make sense, didn’t it?”
“Oddly enough, it did,” Giles replied in perturbed wonder. He shook his head as if trying to physically dislodge the disturbing thought of actually being able to understand the girl’s disjointed ramblings. “But if you must use another name in those circumstances, I would prefer Robert to Robby. Actually, Willow was being quite introspective when she chose the name,” he went on, his voice taking up the familiar tone it had when about to impart some boring, trivial piece of information. “A very appropriate choice of nomenclature. Rupert is a variation on the name Robert. It’s from the German, Ruprecht, or originally Hroudperht, Hroud meaning fame and perht bright...”
“Mmm, very interesting, Giles,” Buffy said, not bothering to hide a bored yawn.
He continued to prattle on for several minutes, spewing a seemingly inexhaustible supply of stodgy facts until Buffy’s mind began to wander, numbed into a defensive comatose state by the educational discourse. Deciding she had to distract the librarian from his lecture or she’d be lulled into a sleepwalking stupor, the teen extended her hand with its trove of sugary treats, offering them as a bribe to the librarian.
“Cookie?” she asked.
Her deception worked, immediately silencing the unsolicited recitation. They continued on toward the school, contentedly munching away on their stash of cookies, Giles’ insatiable penchant for sweets surfacing once again. By the time the handful of cookies was gone they had reached their destination.
The building was dark and apparently deserted of even the requisite night janitor to notice their arrival. Giles used his key to let them in and soon they were busy browsing the bookcases, searching for information on the pond creature. A short time later Wesley made an appearance, seemingly drawn by some kind of sixth sense that told him Giles was there. The Englishman quickly took in the younger Brit’s grubby veneer and launched into the beginning of a questioning tirade. Buffy quickly cut him off, briefing him instead on their activities at the pond. Wesley voiced his obvious displeasure that Giles had taken it upon himself to intercede in Buffy’s patrolling assignment, scolding the librarian and only reluctantly conceding the trip had produced something useful to assist in their research. Finally he got over his tiff and they returned to their interrupted investigation. It wasn’t long before the trio was immersed in old books of folklore and demonology, scanning for anything they could find about the thing that had attacked Xander and Buffy.
It was closing in on midnight and they had yet to discover an answer to even the most basic of their questions. Wesley had commandeered the desk in the library office for his workstation, while Giles was using the table in the main room, his resource materials collected haphazardly around him in untidy pyramids. Buffy flitted back and forth between the two Brits, trying to spend most of her time with the younger librarian. She was becoming increasingly worried about him. Giles had lost the bouncy exuberance he’d shown earlier and had taken to brooding sullenly. He didn’t bother sharing with her all the interesting tidbits of knowledge he picked up as he read, something she knew he normally liked to do. Buffy suspected the talk she’d overheard between Giles and her mother had only begun to hint at the reasons behind his darkening mood. Whatever was to blame for his down in the dumps funky attitude, she wanted it to go away, and soon. This little stranger that looked like Giles was starting to scare her.
They were well into another round of textbooks when Wesley decided to make an appearance and check on their progress. Unhappy with their research efforts thus far the Watcher began to chastise Giles for not keeping pace, accusing him of daydreaming. Buffy found the criticism totally unfair. Giles had never been the type to waste time when it came to work. Wesley’s reprimand was not sitting well with the librarian either. He was pouting, his disposition souring as he moped and fumed in contemptuous resentment. The young Briton was beginning to look more like a spoiled child with each passing minute. Buffy fully expected Giles to storm off in a snit and it wasn’t long before her suppositions were partially confirmed, the librarian finally going over the edge and breaking into an irritable outburst.
“Oh, get stuffed, Wesley!” Giles griped as he slammed the book in front of him shut. Pulling off his glasses he tossed them on the table, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. The stress and exhaustion of the day were plain on his features. “We’ve been at this for hours now and don’t know any more than we did this morning. It isn’t like you’ve managed to come up with anything useful.”
“Temper there, lad,” Wesley cautioned. He pulled up a chair to sit with them, folding his hands with an air of calm authority as he addressed them. “Perhaps it would help to review what we know thus far. First, we have multiple mysterious drowning deaths going back at least a century, all centered within this Fuller’s Pond, none of which was reputedly witnessed until tonight.”
“Well, if you want really to get technical about it, Xander didn’t actually drown,” Buffy pointed out to the Englishman. “He’s still much of the alive and kicking category, so I think that kind of eliminates him from the aforementioned list of breathing challenged type persons.”
“Yes, well,” Wesley frowned, miffed by her smug correction. “And it’s lucky for Xander that he didn’t become the latest victim.” Turning to Giles his voice grew stern. “I can’t imagine why you even encouraged the boy to accompany you on this foolish expedition of yours. You had no idea what you were looking for or how dangerous it might be. You should know better, Rupert.”
“I never encouraged him,” the librarian grumbled bitterly, leaning back in his seat and crossing his arms over his chest as he regarding the Watcher with a burning glare. “I assure you that it was entirely his idea. Believe me, I would just as soon have done without his vacuous commentary.”
“Whoa! Time out, guys,” Buffy interceded, hoping to defuse what looked to be an ugly situation developing. “If anyone’s to blame it’s me. I should have gone alone.”
“Be that as it may,” the Englishman said, dismissing her apology and moving on to his next point. “You mentioned this creature used its voice to lure Xander into the pond, that it sang to him. Do you thing you could describe what you heard?”
Buffy shook her head and shrugged. “If you expect me to name that tune, you’re out of luck, Wes. It didn’t sound like anything that’d made the top ten in Billboard during this millenium. I’m not even sure it was actually a song. It was more like lots of different notes all stuck together one right after another.”
“Sounds like a fair description of a melody to me,” Giles interjected with a dry muttering. Buffy threw him an annoyed look, but kept in check the temptation to voice a retaliatory quip.
“And you yourself weren’t affected by this music in any way?” Wesley continued, frowning thoughtfully. “Very curious. Very curious, indeed! This could be important information to keep in mind for your next encounter. Perhaps our young lady can only direct the full powers of her enchanting serenade toward one particular individual.”
“Or her song was really the suck and Xander just didn’t know it,” Buffy countered blithely. “He isn’t know for having the best tastes in music.”
“Considering the choices available to you young people today, I hardly find that surprising,” Giles remarked drolly. Buffy stuck her tongue out at the young librarian, who managed to crack a brief smile in return. Ignoring them both Wesley pressed on with his postulation of the facts.
“Or perhaps it’s not the number of persons hearing the music, but their gender that is at issue here,” the Watcher suggested. He directed his next comment toward Giles. “In your review of the news accounts do you recall any females among the victims?”
“Now that you mention it, I believe they were all male,” Giles remarked thoughtfully. “At least most of them were. I would have to consult the computer’s archives to determine if that holds true for all the previous incidents.”
“Allow me to save you the trouble and shoot a hole in that theory,” Buffy said leaning on the table. “Giles is a guy and he didn’t jump in the lake after Miss Venus de Milo on the clam shell.”
“I say! She’s right about that,” Giles chuckled, grinning gleefully at the other Brit. “She’s certainly got you there!”
“Or there could be another explanation as to why you didn’t respond to the lure of the siren’s call,” Wesley suggested, not willing to let his theory go just yet. “Perhaps it requires a certain amount of, shall we say, development for one to be susceptible to her musical charms.”
“What do you mean, development?” Buffy asked.
“Well, er, growth, hormones, that sort of thing,” Wesley replied, fidgeting in his seat with discomfort under the slayer’s direct gaze. He attempted to broach what he felt was an indelicate subject matter with his mixed audience using discretion and the proper sensitivity. “Rupert is rather young at the moment, most definitely pre-pubescent. Xander on the other hand is significantly more mature, at least in a physical sense. The difference in their hormone levels could have made Rupert less predisposed to certain stimuli the Rusalka may have been projecting through her voice.”
Buffy turned her blank face toward Giles. “I think I left my universal translator in the pocket of my other coat. Could you maybe explain that so us normal people can understand?”
“He’s suggesting the creature uses her voice in a manner similar to how some insects use pheromones,” Giles replied to her question.
“Oooo! I remember that one!” Buffy responded, excited she actually knew something about the subject under discussion. “Pheromones are chemical attractants bugs give off to find mates.”
“Why, yes! That is correct,” Wesley remarked with awe. Even in his short time serving as Buffy’s Watcher he had learned the girl was not one for studying such matters, and her display of knowledge was a pleasant shock. “I must say I’m impressed,” he complimented the blonde. “Someone’s obviously been hitting the old school books.”
“Actually, we had a substitute teacher that was a giant praying mantis bug monster,” Buffy said in explanation to the man. “She almost killed Xander, too.”
“I see,” Wesley lied, nodding his head even though he didn’t have a clue as to what the slayer had been talking about. He made a mental note to consult Rupert’s Watcher journals later and see if he could gleen a bit more information from them. At least Buffy seemed to have grasped the gist of the concept. “As I was saying, Xander’s advanced development physically made him the target of choice for our demoness. She simply wasn’t interested in Rupert since he isn’t, well, that is to say…”
Giles frowned as the others stared at him strangely. “What?” he challenged, glaring back at them.
“I don’t think I need to know this,” Buffy shuddered, trying to blot out the thoughts suddenly springing to her mind. “Anyway, Giles seemed to appreciate her charms just as much as Xander. Maybe more,” she teased, glancing sideways at the young blushing Brit. “This chick wasn’t any too shy about letting a guy know what she had to offer, if you know what I mean.”
“I’m not sure that I do,” Wesley responded with confusion. Buffy was often cryptically American in her speech. It was difficult for him to follow what she said. He looked to the librarian for a helpful translation, but Giles had suddenly become very interested in one of the books on the table before him, his eyes avoiding the Watcher’s gaze as he flipped studiously through the pages. “Is there something you’ve neglected to tell me about your encounter?” Wesley asked the boy.
“N-nothing of particular importance,” Giles replied, casting a furtive glimpse toward Buffy, his eyes pleading with her to not say anything that might cause him further trouble with Wesley. Feeling sorry for the librarian, Buffy decided she would keep her mouth shut, at least for the time being.
“Everything that happened, anything you saw or heard could be of importance,” Wesley emphasized as he proceeded to lecture the other Brit. “You mustn’t leave anything out, Rupert. Any small detail might be the one that leads to the eventual solution in this investigation. Are you sure that you’ve told me everything?
“Yes!” Giles snapped, his face flushing a deeper shade red. “I’ve told you everything, everything you need to know.” But it was obvious to even Wesley that he was holding something back.
“Then perhaps we should start at the beginning again,” the Englishman pronounced authoritatively. “And this time you can tell me what took place with all of the details intact.”
“But we’ve been over this a dozen times!” Giles whined, slumping down in his chair dejectedly. “How daft can you be, man? The demon appeared, sang Xander her aqueous little lullaby, turned his brain to more mush than usual, got him into the pond and attempted to lure him to an untimely demise with her farcical amphibious bewitchery.”
“Please, Rupert,” Wesley admonished the belligerent youngster. Giles muttered something inaudible under his breath, arousing Wesley’s ire further. “There’s no need for that attitude, young man!” the Englishman scowled indignantly.
“Young man?” the librarian sputtered angrily, repeating the offending epitaph. He snatched up his glasses and shoved them back on his face. “Oh, for…”
Cutting his curse short, Giles rose from his seat and with a scathing glare toward Wesley. He seemed about to launch into what could have been an ugly shouting match with the Englishman, but then suddenly turned on his heel and stomped off toward his office. In his angered pique he threw the door shut with a slam forceful enough to make the glass panes in the nearby window rattle. The noise startled Buffy and she jumped in her seat, staring uneasily at the door of the librarian’s barricaded sanctuary.
“Well!” Wesley raised a critical eyebrow at the youngster’s emotional display. “It appears as though someone needs to be taught a few manners,” he said, standing up to follow the boy. “I believe it’s time I had a word with him about this matter. His unruly behavior has become quite unacceptable.
“Let it go, Wes,” Buffy pleaded with the Watcher. “Giles isn’t feeling himself tonight.”
“That is no excuse for such insolence,” the Englishman countered sternly. “We can’t have these petty tantrums of his interfering with our work. Rupert must remember what he is and act his age.”
“But that’s the point, Wesley. He is acting his age,” she reminded the Brit. “And it’s starting to get scary.” Buffy looked toward the office window with its downed slats. She didn’t like what was happening to Giles. He was falling apart. If one day of being a kid did this to him, what was he going to be like by tomorrow? Turning to her Watcher she made an appeal. “You’ve got to do something, Wesley. Giles is totally beginning to wig.”
“I would have to agree with that assessment,” the man replied thoughtfully. “But there are more urgent issues to contend with at present. We must remember where our priorities lie. Our efforts should remain concentrated toward eradicating this water demon. Innocent lives are at stake and we can’t allow personal problems to prevent us from performing our duty. I’m afraid that Rupert’s little problem will have to wait.”
“Wait? For how long, Wesley?” Buffy demanded, her anger rising. “Until I take this water demon down? Fine. Okay. I can deal. And Giles being Giles, I’m sure he’ll do the noble martyr thing and say he understands why he rated second after some anonymous, faceless stranger I’ve never met. So I kill this Rusalka. She’s gone. History. And then? What if another demon comes along and takes its place? Or a bunch of vampires go on a feeding frenzy? This is Sunnydale, you know. There’s always going to be something evil or slimy out there that needs to be put in its place. It’s why I’m here, remember?” She shook her blonde head, reproaching the Watcher curtly. “Wesley, you can’t put Giles off until some more convenient time comes along. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to deal. And,” she added emphatically, her green eyes blazing. “I suggest you make it sooner, ‘cause I’m not so sure Giles’ll make it to later with his sanity intact.”
Then with an air of finality Buffy rose from her chair, leaving the disconcerted man frowning after her as she marched off to join Giles in his self-imposed exile.