She knocked on the closed office door, but there was no response from within the room, no acknowledgement that she was there. Buffy wondered whether to leave Giles alone, to let him wallow in a good brooding and get it out of his system. He’d been pretty upset with Wesley. If he’d been adult Giles she would have given his time to get over his outburst before walking in on him uninvited. She wasn’t too sure how to treat this strange little kid. One minute he was all Huckleberry Finn full of laughter and fun with eager to please sweet intentions, and the next thing she knew he was spouting dictionary hissy fits of the nth magnitude and stomping around like some miniature personification of Conan the Librarian. It was a good thing Giles’ weapons were locked up safe and tight in the book cage across the room or she suspected Wesley would be well on his way to joining the ever growing list of Buffy Summers’ ex-Watchers.

Buffy timidly pushed the door to the librarian’s office open and slipped inside. She found Giles sitting quietly at his desk in a familiar posture, head bent over a thick book of questionable vintage. He glanced up briefly as she entered, saying nothing as he aimlessly flipped through the book’s pages, searching for some elusive piece of information. But she could tell his heart wasn’t really in the assignment. Giles was merely going through the motions, as if the repetitive task were meant to somehow offer comfort to him. But it wasn’t working. Not this night.

Crossing the small room she stood at the librarian’s side, trying to think of what to say. She wanted to tell Giles that everything was going to be okay, that she would make sure he got back to being himself again. But that wasn’t something she could promise. What did she know about spells? That was Willow’s thing. But even she hadn’t been able to transform their friend Amy back into a human again from the rat she’d become after that incident with the Hansel and Gretel demon. It’d been weeks now since that happened, and Willow had tried dozens of incantations to change her, but poor Amy was still living in a cage in Willow’s bedroom, eating rat pellets and running endless circles in her little exercise wheel. Was Giles to be doomed to the same fate, trapped for the rest of his unnatural life in an irreversible spell like some bewitched Peter Pan?

The silence between them began to grow uncomfortable for Buffy. Giles wouldn’t look at her, pretending to be absorbed in his research as he hunched over his book, his oversized glasses dangling precipitously at the end of his nose. Finally realizing that she was going to have to be the one to make the first move, the teen reached out a friendly hand and touched the librarian’s shoulder.

"Giles?” she queried softly, her tone one of concern. “Are you okay? ‘Cause you seem a little on edge tonight.”

“What? Oh, yes. I-I’m fine, Buffy. Thank you,” Giles replied, sighing wearily. “It’s late and I suppose I’m feeling a bit tired. I could do with a little time to myself.”

Buffy understood Giles’ was asking her to leave, but she had no intention of abandoning him. Not now, and not like this. He was her friend and whether he knew it or not, Giles needed her. So she ignored his polite hint to take a hike and instead dragged over a chair and sat down next to him.

“So, whatcha reading?” she asked, leaning on the desk and peeking at the Brit’s book. It was open to a double page spread full of unintelligible foreign words set in tiny faded type, the kind that was certain to lead to headaches when read for too long. In one corner was an illustration of a well-fleshed young woman who obviously had never heard about the Jenny Craig diet plan.

Giles looked up, his voice and expression flat as he answered her question. “Esselborn’s Anthologie und Untersuchungen zur Creaturen.”

“Oh,” the teen responded, nodding thoughtfully. “Wasn’t that one of Oprah’s recommended reading picks last summer?”

Her comment produced a brief smile from the librarian. “You’re welcome to borrow it when I’ve finished,” he offered wryly.

“I dunno,” she pouted, pretending to think about it seriously. “I think I’ll just wait ‘til it comes out as a mini-series on TV.”

“Buffy,” the librarian said, pushing aside his book for a moment to give her his undivided attention. “I realize what you’re trying to do, and while I’m very appreciative of the gesture, it really isn’t necessary.”

“You could come and stay with Mom and me tonight if you want,” Buffy suggested sympathetically, taking the librarian’s hand in hers. “I’m sure she’d say it was okay.”

“I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself!” Giles suddenly blurted, snapping his hand back. There it was again, Buffy thought, that Jeckle/Hyde change coming out of nowhere. She’d only been trying to be nice to him and Giles had practically bit her head off.

“I know you can, Giles,” Buffy countered, attempting to quell the young Brit’s temperamental outburst with a show of her own calm serenity. But Giles would have none of it.

“I’m not some helpless child!” he protested, his eyes glaring at her like cold stones. “And I don’t need some wet behind the ears teenager playing as my nursemaid and telling me what to do!”

It wasn’t easy to keep her own feelings in check. Buffy told herself that Giles didn’t mean what he was saying, but his callous words had still hurt her. She was about to get up and leave when librarian’s angered expression suddenly softened. Giles seemed contrite, smiling meekly at her in apology.

“I’m sorry, Buffy,” he said to her gently. “I had no call to speak to you like that.”

“Hey, it’s okay,” she shrugged understandingly. “We all have our problems. Yours just happens to be a bit stranger than most.”

“My only problem right now is him!” Giles muttered, nodding toward the outer library where Wesley sat working. Sitting forward in his chair he leaned in conspiratorially toward Buffy. “That man has frayed every nerve I have. If he doesn’t get off my back and stop treating me like an insolent school boy he can order around as he pleases, I’m going to-to…” He paused, thinking better of what he had been about to say. “Well, I’m going to have to do something. Since the day he arrived he’s been nothing but a source of irritation to me.”

“Wesley’s a real pain,” Buffy agreed sympathetically. “I can’t say he inspires the warm fuzzies in me either.”

The librarian lowered his voice to a whisper, glancing about as if afraid the other Brit might overhear him. “This morning he actually had the unmitigated gall to confiscate one of my books,” Giles snorted derisively. “He said it contained material that was inappropriate for someone of my age. I mean, really!”

“Why, Giles!” Buffy giggled, winking at her friend. “Were you looking at pictures of naked nymphs again?”

“It was perfectly legitimate research,” Giles argued, straightening stiffly in his chair, but a blush of guilt had risen to color his cheeks. “How am I expected to do my work if he insists on censoring everything I read? He’s being thoroughly unreasonable.”

“Welcome to my world, Giles,” the blonde consoled the dour librarian. “When you’re our age, adults assume they have this supreme given right to tell you what you can and can’t do. They know what’s best for you,” she said with venomous sarcasm.

“But this is different,” Giles insisted. “Wesley is aware of what has happened to me. He knows perfectly well what I was. What I am,” he corrected himself. “I haven’t changed who I am on the inside. I’m still me in here. Why can’t he respect that?” The Brit sighed, his frustration clouding his expression. “I’ve already put in my years of growing up, Buffy. I’ve paid my dues, as they say. I can’t be expected to suddenly stop being an adult, to forget forty odd years of living experiences and everything I am, chuck it all and start life over as an eight year old child. I-I can’t do that, Buffy. It’s just not…” he hesitated, searching for the proper word to convey the injustice he felt.

“Fair?” Buffy prompted with a knowing smile. “I seem to remember a wise older man telling me that ‘life isn’t meant to be fair’.”

“And so my words return to haunt me,” Giles lamented woefully, but there was the faintest glimmer of a twinkle in his eye that told Buffy he wasn’t totally unappreciative of the irony. “I was right, you know. Though I derive very little satisfaction in that knowledge at this moment.” The librarian sighed, frowning pensively as he reflected upon the useless advice. “Somehow it made sense when I was saying it to you.”

“Yup, that’s what the adults always think,” Buffy told him. “But fortunately for those of us who happen to be less chronologically challenged, what they say isn’t what we hear.”

“So I’ve noticed,” the Brit grinned. “You seem to be forever twisting around what we say to suit your own particular notions. And then you claim with great sincerity that you simply misunderstood, or forgot, and by virtue of your inexperienced youth expect to be unconditionally forgiven of any transgression you may have committed.”

“I’d say that about sums up how the system works,” she agreed. “You know,” she continued. “Now that I think about it, I probably shouldn’t be in a hurry to heap those birthdays on. Things sound pretty cushy for us guys at the lower end of the lifetime line. If I were you, I’d make time with the youthful indiscretion while I could. Go out and run around, climb a tree, play ball, or cricket, whatever it is you Brits do. Have fun!”

“Buffy, I’m too old for that kind of nonsense,” Giles retorted with his typical British gravity.

“Giles, you’re all of eight!” the blonde countered. “You’re the perfect age for that kind of nonsense. Except, it really isn’t non-sense. It’s so much the yes-sense. People need to have fun. It’s what keeps our days from turning into one huge yawn. Without fun our lives would be boring, pathetic and, well, kind of like yours.”

The young librarian sat back in his chair, regarding the young teen with a sober expression. “Is that how you see me? he asked her. “As some tediously wretched soul incapable of understanding pleasure? Because I assure you, Buffy, I have many personal pursuits that I consider quite entertaining.”

“Yeah, right, Giles” she intoned deadpan. “Name one. And anything with a book in it doesn’t count.”

“Well,” he paused, struggling to fill the sudden void gripping his mind. Giles frowned, mouth twisted in serious thought. “There’s-there’s, uhm, uh…”

“Giles, it shouldn’t be this tough,” Buffy softly told the stumped Brit after several moments of silence had passed.

“I-I, uhh, oh dear, God!” he groaned, hanging his head in dejected defeat. The librarian felt a misery settling in the pit of his stomach as he realized the truth to Buffy’s words. “I am rather dull, aren’t I? Exceeding so, it would seem.”

“Surprised?” she asked, an eyebrow raised as she gave him a half-smile. “Giles, somewhere along the line when you were doing all that serious growing up, you forgot how important it is to enjoy yourself. Well, you just got another chance. Don’t waste it. It isn’t going to last forever.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” he sighed wearily, looking at the girl with an uneasy gaze.

“You’re are going to be big again, Giles,” Buffy said, trying to cheer her despondent friend. “And the guys and I are all going to help with this one. Tomorrow we’re gonna hit the books, hard. We’ll have ourselves a major research marathon. With all of us looking we’re bound to find something in one of your magic encyclopedias that’ll help with your, uhm, situation.”

When the young librarian didn’t show the appropriate enthusiasm for her suggestion, Buffy zealously pressed on. “I’ll call Willow and Xander tonight. We can all meet at your place in the morning. You bring the books, and we’ll take care of everything else. And we won’t bother inviting Wesley. How’s that sound to you?”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t mind?” he asked meekly, his childish features hopeful. “It could get rather…boring.”

“Giles, you’re our friend.” Buffy put her hand on the Giles’ and smiled at him tenderly. “Our boring friend, but still our friend. My friend. And I think that I can spare a Saturday out of my life for you.”

He smiled then, a charming and winsome expression that told her his spirits had finally begun to lift out of their funk. But Buffy couldn’t help but notice from the look of dismay still clouding Giles’ eyes that he was also scared. Maybe not screaming in terror of his life afraid, but there was definitely a disquieting anxiety that made him seem very vulnerable. A lot of it probably had to do with him being young and small, but she knew instinctively that this helplessness went beyond that. It wasn’t just his inability to fend off an attacking monster or vampire. The thing Giles feared most he couldn’t see. It was the demon hiding inside of him. And Buffy knew that was something she was powerless to protect him from. Giles would have to fight that battle on his own.

Returning his attention to the book on his desk Giles pulled the tome closer, uncovering an item that had been hidden beneath. Buffy immediately recognized the jeweled amulet she’d found the other night. She watched Giles pick up the talisman, absent-mindedly palming the peculiar charm, his thumb rubbing idly over its incised runes and the shining green center stone. As she stared at the gem-laden piece in the Brit’s hand an inspired thought suddenly came to her.

“Giles, why can’t we use that thing to undo what happened to you?” she asked the librarian. “That salesguy did say it did magic stuff, didn’t he?”

“Yes, he did,” Giles replied, then shyly confessed. “I’d had the same thought myself. Unfortunately, without knowing how it works, it’s of little more use to us than a fancy trinket. Given time I might be able to come up with something, I suppose, but Wesley intends to send it to the Council for them to study. I doubt once they get hold of this we’ll ever see it again.”

“Maybe we should add that to our list of things to do,” Buffy said, rising to her feet to stand beside him. She made an imaginary writing gesture in mid air. “There. ‘Discover mysteries of the amulet’. Right after ‘Cure Giles’ and ‘Clean my room’. Who knows? We could get lucky and by this time tomorrow night you’ll be back to your older self again. But right now it’s late and I gotta go. Mom’s probably wondering why I’m not back yet. She had that face tonight. The one where she stays up until she knows I’m okay, all safe and tucked into my warm little bed.”

“I believe I’ve seen that particular look,” he remarked, remembering several occasions over the past summer after Buffy had run away and he’d stopped by the house to talk with Joyce. The woman had been anxious and distraught from lost sleep, her face etched with a raw worry for her missing daughter. It had made him uncomfortable to see her in such pain, knowing he could do nothing to relieve it.

“This is me, on my way,” Buffy announced and started for the door. She paused, hand on the knob and looked back at him anxiously. “You sure about that sleepover thing then? I’ll make you breakfast in the morning. One of those big ones with bacon and bangers and eggs and waffles with lots of syrup and real English muffins.”

“That’s actually a misnomer,” the Brit said. “We don’t have English muffins in Britain.”

“Oh,” she pouted. “Then why are they called that?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted, smiling in amusement. “It seems to be one of those peculiar Americanisms you people seem so fond of.”

“Wow! Who’d have thunk it,” the blonde shrugged. “The next thing you’ll be telling me is french fries don’t come from France.” His skeptical expression said he wasn’t sure if the teen was teasing him with that or not. “So, you coming with me or not?”

“I think not,” Giles replied. “It sounds like fun, but…”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” she grinned at the boyish Brit. “I guess you’re aren’t ready to go there yet, huh? Okay, Giles. Well, gotta run. Catch ya tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, Buffy,” he responded, acknowledging her departure as he turned back to the book on his desk.

Buffy closed the door quietly behind her as she left the office. She surveyed the main library room and was relieved not to find Wesley anywhere in sight. Hoping to make a speedy escape she made her way up the stairs and into the upper level of the room with its rows of shelved books, heading for the exit in the back. She was almost at the door when the Englishman suddenly popped out from behind one of the tall bookcases, stepping directly in front of her. Gesturing her closer with a wave the teen reluctantly leaned forward, her face registering her impatience.

“Make it fast,” she said before he could start talking. “My Mom expected me home ten minutes ago.”

“I’ve been considering what we discussed earlier about you know who,” Wesley whispered, peering over her shoulder to see if she’d been followed. Satisfied they were alone he continued. “And I’ve decided that you are correct, Buffy. This matter cannot wait. We must attend to Rupert’s problem immediately.”

“Good for you, Wes!” Buffy responded. She idly wondered what had caused this change of heart on Wesley’s part, and if she weren’t so anxious to get going, she might have asked him. But she was afraid the Englishman might launch into one of his duty and destiny speeches, and so she kept her mouth shut and any questions to herself.

“I intend to do something about this matter straight away,” the Watcher continued solemnly. “We can’t have this interfering with our other work and the only way to deal with it is straight on.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” the teen cut him off, backing away toward the door. “I’m behind you all the way on this one, Wes.” With a quick salute, she made a hasty retreat, slipping out the door before he could say anything else.

Wesley watched from the exit as she hurried down the sidewalk, running through the dark night on her way home. He had wanted to say more, but Buffy was gone. It’s just as well, he thought to himself. This was his job to handle. He was the Watcher in charge.

Grinning smugly and assured in that knowledge, Wesley strode through the stacks, descending the staircase and marching toward the office where the librarian was sequestered. He didn’t knock before entering, simply barging in unannounced. His sudden appearance at the librarian’s shoulder startled the boy. Giles spun around to face the Watcher, a look of guilt on his youthful features. He quickly shoved the amulet he had been holding beneath his book, not knowing why he wanted to hide it, but sensing whatever Wesley didn’t see wouldn’t get him into trouble.

“And what have we here?” the Englishman demanded sternly. He snatched up the open book and saw the glint of something metallic visible beneath the librarian’s down-turned palm. Reaching down he lifted Giles’ hand, removing the amulet from his possession. “I’ll take that,” he said as he confiscated the charm and slid it into his own pocket. I’ll put this someplace safe. Can’t have you playing with it like that, now can we?”

“I wasn’t playing with it,” Giles protested with a defensive snarl. “I was…studying it.”

“Of course you were,” the Englishman replied brusquely. “Well, perhaps it’s time we put our things away and got you home, Rupert. It’s getting late and you need your rest. A child your age shouldn’t be staying up ‘til all hours of the night.”

“It’s barely midnight!” the librarian objected.

“And time you were in bed, young man,” Wesley returned. “So let’s be on our way then, shall we?”

Giles grumbled under his breath, but obediently closed his book and got up to leave. He was tired anyway, he told himself. Wesley supervised as he put his things away, turning out the lights and locking up the library behind them. They walked out to the Englishman’s van in the parking lot and Wesley drove them the short distance to Giles’ condo, escorting the librarian to his front door and making sure he got inside.

“I do hope you don’t think you have to see me to bed and tuck me in for the night,” Giles said wryly, noting that the man still lingered as he crossed the threshold. “I’m a bit old for bedtime stories.”

“Actually, there is something I need from you,” Wesley remarked, following Giles inside his home. He hesitated, then composed himself and spoke in his best authoritative voice. “Rupert, I want you to give me the key to the library.” Before Giles could begin his argument, the Englishman rushed on. “I know we’ve discussed this matter before, and you’ve had the opinion, perhaps rightly so, that you were under an obligation not to compromise school property. But I believe that circumstances have changed considerably. It’s unreasonable to expect me to do my work without direct access to the resources available in the library. It will be a temporary loan, of course. I don’t wish to cause any trouble between you and your Principal Snyder.” He softened his voice a bit, sensing that his persuasiveness was meeting with success. “It will be much easier for both of us if you would agree to this, Rupert.”

Giles stared numbly at the man before him. He was tired, too tired to care at that moment. He was ready to do anything if it would make Wesley go away and leave him alone. Nodding docilely, he dug into his pocket, fishing for his key ring. Removing the one to the library he handed it over to the Watcher.

As soon as the man’s fist closed around the brass piece Giles felt his stomach begin to tighten. It was as if he’d given up some small part of himself to Wesley. The library was no longer his now. He knew in his heart that what he had done was wrong, that he should have argued against the point, but what could he do? It was too late to turn back now.

“I’ll take good care of everything,” Wesley promised, triumphantly tucking away his prize in a pocket. He was smiling smugly, proud of his easy conquest and the newfound freedom it gave him. He was no longer dependent on the librarian for anything. “You can stay home tomorrow. Buffy and I will handle this matter at the pond on our own. If we need any assistance, I’ll give you a ring.” He gave the youth a firm nod of dismissal. “Good night, Rupert. Pleasant dreams.”

The Englishman turned and walked away, a cocky spring to his step. Giles watched him retreat down the walkway and get into his van, never looking back again before driving away. Slowly he closed the door behind him, carefully locking it against the intrusion of any uninvited guests. Wesley was gone at last. It was what he’d wanted. But now that he was truly alone the confusing emotions he felt inside him became overwhelming, leaving him miserable and discontent. He couldn’t believe he’d actually given Wesley his key to the library. What had he been thinking? The man’s point had been a valid one. As Buffy’s Watcher he required access to the library’s books. Giles sighed. At least he wouldn’t have to deal with Wesley’s irritating presence any longer. That was some consolation to this dreary situation.

Suddenly Giles wanted nothing more than to go to sleep and forget. It had been a long and grueling day and the stress of coping with the consequences of his altered state was too much for him to deal with any longer. Tomorrow would be better, he promised himself. He’ll have adjusted and with rest be able to approach the situation with a fresh resolve.

A short time later he had completed his usual nightly routine and was climbing the stairs to his loft bedroom. It had taken a fair amount of hot water and soap to scrub away the grime that covered him, but he was clean and the day’s accumulation of wounds disinfected and bandaged once again. Dressed in his oversized pajamas he crawled wearily into his bed and pulled the covers up over him, ready to call it a night.

Removing his glasses Giles placed them carefully on the bedside stand beside him and stretched to turn out the light. His eye fell on the book he’d been reading the previous night. It was still where he’d left it that morning after picking it up off the floor. Suddenly that seemed so very long ago.

The librarian reached down, running his hand over the worn binding, lovingly caressing the obviously well read volume. It had been one of the first books he’d bought for himself after finally deciding to follow in his father’s and grandmother’s footsteps and dedicate himself to the life of a Watcher. He smiled, remembering how pleased he’d been making the find among the dusty shelves in the old bookshop back in London. It had meant so much to him then. More than any of the many volumes he’d acquired since. The book represented stabilization in his life, an abandonment of his wild and rebellious phase. Its acquisition had reflected his changing philosophy about life, especially his life, and with that purchase he had renounced the aimless anarchy of his youth, accepting the duties of manhood and those of a Watcher.

But tonight the book offered Rupert Giles no comfort. Instead it mocked him, reminding him of what had become of his vocation since Wesley’s arrival in Sunnydale. In an impulsive fit of anger Giles seized the tome and threw it violently across the room. The book slammed against the wall, falling to the floor with a resounding thud. Snapping off the light, the darkness closed in around him, tangible and oppressive in its potential for danger. With a lonely strangled sob Giles buried himself beneath the covers, face turned against his pillow as he cried himself to sleep.

Arriving home Wesley proceeded to immediately set his plans into motion. It was late, but he knew the time difference would make it a reasonable hour for an overseas phone call. After being transferred through several people he managed to contact Quentin Travers, a compatriot within the Watcher’s Council of England. Wesley explained the situation that had arisen concerning Rupert Giles and his condition, emphasizing what he perceived as the youth’s increasing instability and potential for interference. Travers listened with great interest as the Watcher revealed the unfolding situation, questioning Wesley thoroughly about various details of Giles’ behavior. Consulting several of his colleagues Travers passed along their preliminary decision to Wesley, requesting he keep them apprised of any new developments.

When their conversation ended at last Wesley knew what he had to do. He’d received his instructions from the proper authorities and intended to carry them out exactly as told. Initially he would keep a close watch on the young librarian, reporting any insurrection or problems as they might occur. Travers would discuss the matter further with the rest of the Watcher’s Council, but it was already the consensus among those present that it was time for Rupert Giles to return to London. He was not being of any service in his present condition and only hampering Wesley in the performance of his duties. In the immediate past, Giles had been able to argue that his job at the school demanded he stay in America. That excuse was no longer valid. Details would be worked out later, but the mechanisms for his departure had been put into motion. Travers would ring back when the proper arrangements had been made. All that remained was to inform Giles of the decision. That was Wesley’s job, of course. But it was late, and the news could wait until the next day and a decent hour.

Wesley was feeling very satisfied with himself. He’d taken a large step forward that evening. Getting Giles out of the picture would allow him the opportunity to take full charge of his young American Slayer. Buffy would have to look to him for assistance from this point on. There would be no more running about behind his back on unannounced adventures. No more conspiracies, or being the one left out in the dark. Not any more. He was finally and completely in command. It was a good feeling. Wesley could sleep well that night, secure in the knowledge he had done what would be best for all involved. Especially for him.

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