It was a bright and sunny Saturday morning with a cloudless azure sky, but inside the Spanish-style condo Giles’ mood was still dark. The night had not been an easy one for him. His head had been filled with fearful nightmares that reflected his frustrations and feelings of increasing inadequacy. It was late before he finally forced himself out of bed. There was little to encourage him in the belief that this day would be any better than the previous one. For a brief moment he had harbored the dim hope his situation would have miraculously resolved itself somehow overnight, but one look in the bathroom mirror told him he had no reason to get out his razor and shave that morning. Nothing had changed.
Returning to the loft bedroom upstairs he raided his wardrobe looking for something to wear. The mud on the jeans Wesley had bought him had dried overnight, enabling him to brush out the worst of the dirt. A few minutes with a needle and thread repaired a ripped pocket and a small tear across one knee. Finding the results acceptable he slipped the trousers on, turning his attention to his shirt. Deciding the grime-stained top unsalvageable without a serious laundering, Giles dug into his drawers for one of his adult-sized sweaters. He had to roll up the ends of the long sleeves several times over to reveal his arms, but the effected look was no worse than some of the strange styles he saw the students at school wearing. Realizing how inadequate his usual clothing had become in his present downsized condition, the librarian reluctantly realized that he would have to speak with Wesley about picking up a few more items at the shops. Apparently his unfortunate situation wasn’t turning out to be as temporary as he had hoped.
He was tying on his shoes when there was a knock at the door. With a hurried flourish the librarian finished knotting the laces then bounced down the stairs, skipping over the last few with a boisterous leap as he ran to see whom it could be. A pleased smile shadowed his face when he opened the door and found Buffy standing on the front stoop. And she was not alone. Though Faith was a conspicuous no show, Willow, Oz, Xander, and Joyce were there, each wearing an encouragin grin of greeting. Stepping back the librarian invited his company to come inside.
“I wasn’t expecting you so early,” Giles said as the gang trooped into his apartment and proceeded to make themselves at home.
“Early?” Willow scoffed as Oz helped her shed the coat she wore. “Giles, it’s past ten. Did you sleep in or something?”
Glancing toward a nearby clock Giles saw that she was right. It was well into mid-morning, much later than he had thought. He had lost track of the time. The nightmare of his revisited youth seemed to have robbed him of any sense of reality as had the interminably long night he’d passed with its distressing dreams.
“Maybe Giles is suffering a hypoglycemic hangover,” Xander smirked. He and Buffy added their jackets to the coat rack near the door. “Looks like he’s finally come back to earth after all that bouncing around he did yesterday.”
“Well, then we’ve got something that’ll help put that ol’ zip-a-dee-doo-da back in your day,” Buffy announced with a cheerful grin. She pointed to a large pink bakery box her mother was holding. “Nothing like starting the day off with a nutritionally incorrect helping of sugar loaded doughnuts.”
“Buffy insisted we stop on the way over,” Joyce explained, crossing toward the kitchen counter where she set the box down. “The kids picked them out.”
“We got lots of your favorites,” Willow added excitedly. “The kind with jelly in the middle!”
“I’ll go put on a spot of tea,” the Brit announced brightly. He started toward the kitchen, but Joyce motioned him to sit.
“Oh, I’ll do that,” she offered politely, pulling out a nearby stool for the small Brit. “You sit tight and let me take care of everything.”
Giles cringed inwardly. He told himself that Joyce had meant well, but her words set off an unpleasant feeling inside. Wesley had said almost the same thing to him last night. Suddenly everyone wanted to take care of him. Did they think he was incompetent? His immediate urge was to insist on doing the task himself, but the librarian showed restraint, taking a seat at the counter as the woman invaded his kitchen.
Joyce searched through the cupboards, pulling down several porcelain cups and a dainty, matching teapot that she set out on the counter. Checking the kettle on the stovetop, she filled it at the kitchen tap and set it back on to boil before turning to fumble her way through unfamiliar drawers looking for utensils.
“Any luck last night after I left?”
Giles looked toward the blonde who had asked the question. She was reaching into the open bakery box, frowning as she paused thoughtfully before pulling out a doughnut. The other teens moved in to choose their favorite variety from the mix, the contents of the cardboard container swiftly diminishing with each withdrawn hand. Giles leaned forward and peered into the box, selecting a plump jelly-filled round for himself. Taking a big bite he ripped into the sugary sweetness, surprised by how ravenous he suddenly felt.
“Mmmmff, we ended up calling it a night, too,” the librarian answered around a mouthful of gooey raspberry filling. “Wesley decided it was time to go. Apparently he thought I had stayed up past my bedtime long enough.”
Buffy heard the sarcastic acidity in the young Brit’s childish voice. Obviously Giles’ mood hadn’t improved much over the course of night. Whatever Wesley was going to do to help the librarian had better work, the girl thought to herself, because she was so not liking this embittered little changeling twin of Giles Junior that kept popping up.
“Forget about Wesley,” Buffy said, hoping to coax a better side of Giles to come forth again. “This site has just officially been declared a No Wesley Zone. Got that?” she asked, turning to her classmates. They nodded understandingly.
“Here, no Wesleys,” Xander repeated.
“See no Wesleys, speak no Wesleys,” Willow chirped, grinning proudly at her own joke. The group stared at her blankly and the red head timidly explained. “You know, like in hear no evil, speak no evil, ‘cause of the hear and the here both sounding the same.” When no one acknowledged her attempted humor, Willow pouted in response to their indifference. “Well, I thought it was funny.”
"Uh, right, Will,” Xander remarked, eyeing his friend as if she needed fitting for a straight jacket. “We think it’s really great how you don’t let these little failures discourage you from trying.”
“Thanks a lot, Xander,” the girl rejoined, her frown deepening. “Like none of your jokes ever bombed.”
“There may have been a bon mot or two that’s gone down in flames over the years,” Xander admitted reluctantly.
Oz nodded. “Rumor is he keeps the ashes in a special urn next to his bed, but no one’s ever actually seen them.”
The teens shared the light-hearted exchange with a brief round of smiles between them. In the kitchen Joyce had caught the end of the conversation, pausing in her tea preparations to stare strangely at the four young adults. With a serious expression she leaned toward the librarian and spoke in a concerned whisper.
“He keeps somebody’s ashes by his bed?” she asked Giles.
“Mmmm, I don’t believe so,” the Brit replied, licking at his sticky fingers. He shoved the last large bite of doughnut into his mouth and reached for another from the box. “But one can never tell with Xander.”
“Thanks for joining us tonight at the Comedy Club, Mom,” Buffy retorted, having overheard her parent’s comment. “Oz was making with the funny. I mean, think about it. What kind of creepy would keep some dead person’s ashes by their bed?”
A short choking cough punctuated her question and the entire room turned its attention toward the librarian. His cheeks were stuffed full from a bite that was much too big, his lips barely closing around the doughy mass as he tired to hurriedly chew and swallow it down. Wiping at the stray traces of powdery sugar on his mouth, Giles looked up and met the five strange stares aimed at him with a sheepish grin.
“Gahhh, uhmmm, damnable icing sugar,” he muttered in a muffled apology. “Went down the wrong way.”
“Ewwww, Giles!” Buffy remonstrated dramatically, her nose wrinkling in disgust. “Please don’t tell me you’ve got a corpse sitting upstairs somewhere. I know you like to bring your work home, but storing the departed in your bedroom is so seriously not of the norm.”
“It isn’t as strange as you would think,” the Brit offered in explanation. “There are numerous cultures that consider such practices a sign of respect for the deceased. Ancient peoples went to great lengths to preserve their dead. Egyptians perfected mummification, some South Sea cultures preserved the bones or skulls of their kings for veneration. And among modern Western civilization it’s not unheard of for people keep the ashes of their cremated loved ones.
“I dunno, Giles,” Willow said with a small shudder. “I’m kinda with Buffy on this one. The whole idea is kind of ick when you think about it. How can you sleep knowing someone dead’s right there?”
“Well, she-she isn’t actually there next to the bed,” the librarian continued. “I put her in the cupboard.”
“She?” Xander asked, his voice cracking in squeamish disbelief. “What? You’ve got some dusty old girlfriend in your closet, packed in a shoebox and shoved up behind some old photographs? Man, this goes well beyond a mere ick. I’d say it qualifies for an actual eeeyaaah!”
“She wasn’t a girlfriend,” Giles frowned, perturbed by all the negative fuss. “And she isn’t in a shoebox. She’s been properly interred inside a sealed urn. A quite nice one, I might add.”
“Please don’t tell me she’s someone we know,” Buffy pleaded. For a brief moment she had thought the ashes might have been Jenny Calendar, their computer science teacher that had died last year. Giles and Ms. Calendar had been dating, their relationship developing into something very serious. If things had gone differently, if only she had lived…
But real life isn’t made up of happy ever after endings. Lies and betrayal sometimes intertwine with destiny, and what could have been becomes something lost. They didn’t know that Jenny Calendar was actually Janna of the Kalderash people, a gypsy who had been sent by her tribe to keep watch over Angel, Buffy’s boyfriend. But not as his protector. Janna was there to ensure the vampire’s eternal suffering. Generations before the people of her tribe had put a curse on him, when he was the evil Angelus, a creature that wantonly fed on the blood of humans. The gypsy curse restored his soul, and for the first time in a century the vampire became aware of the agony of profound remorse, experiencing an unremitting guilt for the pain he had so joyously inflicted upon his victims. He became Angel, a tormented undead creature trying to escape the morbid weight of his sins. For decades he wandered, unable to justify his own existence in the world, loathe what he and his kind were until the powers that be sent a messenger, someone who showed Angel a path he could take that would begin to atone in some small part for his immoral past.
And that was the Angel that Buffy met, the brooding vampire with a tortured soul. In her head she knew that falling in love with him was wrong. A vampire slayer and a vampire? How bizarro could they be? But the heart is stronger than reason. And Angel wasn’t like the other monsters she hunted and staked. He had a soul. He didn’t drink human blood. Buffy came to love the cryptic, ageless man that devoted his undead life to fighting with her on the side of good. But neither of them realized how Angel was drawing dangerously closer toward a moment of true happiness, the one thing that would end his curse and revert the vampire to his former persona of Angelus again.
Through it all Janna the gypsy continued to watch the couple in secret. But though it had been her sworn duty to her people put a stop to any hope of Angel ever finding peace of mind, as Jenny Calendar the woman could see the good the vampire was doing and she was reluctant to interfere. If not for Angel’s sake then for Buffy’s, for Jenny Calendar believed that the young girl deserved to know the joys of love.
The computer science teacher was not stranger to Buffy and the Scooby Gang. She was aware of the teen’s secret identity as The Chosen One and knew that Giles was her Watcher. Jenny Calendar had helped them out on numerous occasions in her role as a technopagan, readily accepting the existence of the vampires, monsters and demons that stalked the streets of Sunnydale. As a believer in the supernatural she became a valuable ally in their fight against the dark forces. And over time the teacher became something else as well. That something was Giles’ girlfriend.
At first Buffy and her friends were surprised at the budding relationship between the socially inept Watcher and the hip computer science teacher. The watched with approving amusement as the oddly matched couple fumbled through their first dates, their romance gradually developing into something more serious. Through it all, Buffy and Angel continued to grow closer as well. But that happy life was about to change for them all.
It started to unravel around the time of Buffy’s seventeenth birthday, when she had those dreams about Angel being killed. And then that fateful day arrived. It was the day she gave herself and her love in its entirety to Angel and unwittingly broke the vampire’s age-old curse, bringing about the return of Angelus.
Buffy had been heartbroken when her once kind lover turned evil on her. At first she didn’t want to believe it. She had no way of knowing the integral part she herself played in Angel’s transformation. But in seeking the cause behind her beloved’s sudden change the truth about Jenny Calendar’s double life was revealed.
It had stunned them all. Buffy felt hatred for the woman whose friendship had been nothing but a sham, a betrayal of her trust. But Buffy’s anguish was nothing compared to her Watcher’s. Giles had been forced to choose to between a growing love and his sworn duty to her, The Chosen One. The Englishman had sided with his slayer. She had expected anger or disappointment, that Giles would have blamed her for the youthful foolishness that had led to that moment. But he was more than forgiving. He’d understood that she and Angel had been in love, real love, and he gave her the respect and support that she needed to continue on.
The next months had proved a test true for that bond between them as Watcher and slayer. Angelus had targeted Buffy and her friends, taunting them with his perverse sense of humor. And each act of malicious violence made it that much easier for her to consign herself to the inevitable, that she would have to kill the vampire. She wanted so much to blame Ms. Calendar for her grief, to punish the woman for her loss, but Buffy couldn’t take seeing Giles suffering, too. He at least deserved to be happy. And so Buffy had begrudgingly confronted Ms. Calendar, letting her know that the Englishman still needed her, opening the door that conceded she might someday be willing to forgive the woman as well.
Her attempt to reconcile the couple had worked. Within hours they were talking again, building hopes for a future together. It wasn’t until later that Buffy and the gang discovered Ms. Calendar had been secretly working on a spell to restore Angel’s soul. The ancient knowledge had been lost to her gypsy tribe for years, the annals for the Rituals of the Undead untranslatable, but the teacher had devised a computer program to crack that code. She had gathered all the necessary supplies to carry out the curse, even hinted to Giles she might have something for them, but she didn’t say what, not wanting to get their hopes up too soon.
Jenny Calendar never lived to see the fruition of her efforts. She was stopped by Angelus, who found her before she could perform the ritual. The vampire destroyed her work, murdering the woman who had been trying to help him. Then as an added cruelty, his macabre sense of whimsy surfacing once again, Angelus left the gypsy’s lifeless body in Giles’ bed for him to discover.
It became a night that Buffy would never forget. The phone call from Giles with the news had left her stunned and reeling. Later, when she went with the gang to check on the librarian and offer her sympathy, they discovered he had taken off alone, intending to hunt Angelus down, seeking retribution for Jenny Calendar’s death. By the time Buffy arrived at the old factory the vampires frequented the place was engulfed in flames and she found Giles lying unconscious on the floor. She immediately had moved in, taking over what her Watcher had started, fighting her ex-lover in a violent match. But the rapidly spreading fire finally forced her to make a choice. Was she going to kill Angelus or save Giles?
That night she decided on life. Rescuing her Watcher, Buffy had led him to safety outside only to be rewarded with raging anger. Giles had been so furious with her, telling her it wasn’t her fight, she had no right to interfere. But she had been afraid. Afraid of loosing him, of having to go on without his help. She needed Giles. And together they had wept, sharing their pain and grieving for what might have been. If only…
After the funeral at Ms. Calendar’s grave, he had said something to her. She remembered his words, and the sorrow in which he had spoken them. He’d told her that in his years as a Watcher he had buried too many people. Jenny had been the first one that he loved. And that was when Buffy realized she was finally ready to kill Angelus.
It was only by chance that they later found Ms. Calendar’s computer disk containing the coded restoration spell. It had been saved when on the night of her murder it had slipped down unseen between her desk and a cabinet. Willow attempted to use the spell, hoping to return Angel’s soul to him, but once again the plan was thwarted. Angelus was performing his own ritual, the awakening of the demon Acathla, who would destroy the world as it was known, sucking all human life into an eternal torment in Hell.
But Angelus was having problems. The ritual he had performed had failed. Knowing Giles would be able to tell him what he’d done wrong, the vampire had abducted the librarian and tortured him to get the information he needed. Buffy went after her Watcher again, unaware that Willow was once again attempting the restoration spell to re-curse Angel. Once Giles was safe, Buffy fought Angelus in a heroic sword duel. But Acaltha had already begun to open the portal to the demon dimension. And just as it was Angelus’s blood that had been the key to starting that fateful act, it was Angel’s blood that was needed to end it. This time the battle would not stop until one of them was dead.
Buffy was about to finish the deed when Willow’s spell began to work. She realized quickly what had happened. Angel, her dear Angel had come back. But it was already too late. Knowing there was only one thing she could do she had kissed her lover, the two of them pledging their unending love for each other. Then she had asked him to close his eyes, and piercing him with her sword she sacrificed Angel to prevent the world from being sucked into Hell.
When it was done she had fled Sunnydale, leaving behind her mother and friends, her despair. But she couldn’t escape her destiny. Returning home she struggled to gather the pieces of her life together again, trying to put the memories of Angel behind her. She had thought him gone forever. But she had been wrong. She didn’t know how, or why, but somehow Angel managed to come back from Hell itself and find her, and she thanked the powers that made that possible every time she drew a breath.
Enough time had passed since Angel’s return that most of the gang had forgiven the vampire. Willow and Oz had accepted Angel as one of the good guys again, though Buffy thought the red head was sometimes nervous around her undead boyfriend. Xander had resigned himself to tolerating Angel, occasionally venting his resentment with typically biting barbs. Cordelia didn’t seem to care as long as her personal life was not being threatened. And even Giles had set aside his feelings, showing the vampire a calm, reserved courtesy whenever the two would work together. Buffy knew the Brit would never forget what Angelus had done, how he had mercilessly tortured Giles and robbed him of the woman he had loved. But for her sake, her peace of mind, he kept any overtures of animosity buried within him, allowing her to enjoy what he had missed out on, a chance at knowing a life of happiness.
Coming out of her contemplative musings, Buffy remembered something Willow had once told her. Love makes you do the wacky. That was certainly true. And Giles had said that he’d loved Ms. Calendar. He’d also said people kept the ashes of their loved ones. Had Giles been talking about Jenny Calendar? Was she the mysterious Urn In The Closet Lady?
As if reading her thoughts the young Brit smiled at the distraught teen, shaking his head. “Don’t worry, Buffy,” he said to her in a comforting tone. “It isn’t anyone that you knew. In point of fact,” the librarian continued, frowning thoughtfully. “I never actually met the woman myself. My great auntie died a few weeks before I was born. The old dear and my mother were apparently quite close, and my parents chose to honor her memory by passing her name on to me.”
“That’s sweet,” Joyce remarked, smiling kindly at Giles. She was obviously impressed by his family’s gesture of remembrance. “Family traditions can be so important. Keeping a memory alive and everything. But, uhm, Rupert? What would that be the female version of?”
“Mmmm, Ruperta,” the librarian answered, his mouth full as he returned to eating his doughnut.
Xander snorted, unsuccessfully holding back a loud guffaw. “Well, I guess that explains how you ended up with such a crappy name. What excuse did her folks use to cover for their insanity?”
“Undoubtedly the same imbecilic justification as yours did for LaVelle,” the Brit answered with a belligerent grumble.
“Rupert!” Joyce interjected, her motherly voice disapproving of the small Brit’s rudeness.
Her parent’s expression of shock over Giles’ bitter comeback pushed Buffy quickly forward to interceded. The young librarian was scowling and looked ready to launch himself off the stool and challenge Xander to a fight. She had to do something, put a stop to things before the situation got totally out of hand or Giles and Xander would start something ugly that they would all regret later.
“Time out, guys!” she told the pair as she stepped between them. “Save it for the playground after school. You,” she said, pointing an accusing finger at her fellow classmate. “I don’t remember that little promise you made last night coming with an expiration date. ‘Cause if you’re having a problem keeping that tongue zipped I’ll be only too happy to help out. And as for you,” she continued, swinging around to face Giles with a no-nonsense glare. “Cute and lovable only goes so far. You’re about this close to finding out how much I can take. So pull in those punches and cut Xander some slack. I catch you two trading anything more physical than a friendly handshake and you’ll learn first hand how much I’ve been holding back when we’re training. You got that?”
There was a long, heavy silence. Buffy looked from boy to teen, waiting for either to answer her ultimatum. Xander hung his head, an expression of contrite penitence on his face, unable to meet her eye. Giles gaped in open-mouthed awe, the half-eaten doughnut in his hand forgotten for the moment. Suddenly aware of the circle of astonished faces surrounding her the teen blushed, her own words echoing in her head.
“Whoa!” she breathed, glancing timidly at her audience. “Was that actually me that said that?”
“I think it was,” Willow replied in amazement. “I mean, it was your mouth moving and you’re voice coming out and everything.” Oz reinforced his girlfriend’s observation with a reticent nod.
“Congratulations, dear,” Joyce chuckled, giving her daughter a droll smile. “You just gave your first Mommy talk. A little heavy on the threatening innuendo, but you’re a beginner at this sort of thing. That’s to be expected. Give it time. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it.”
“I thought she did a more than adequate job of it, myself,” Giles responded, snapping out of his numbed stupor. “Though I could have done with a bit less of that withering glare. Gave me goose flesh!”
“A little more practice and she’ll be able to do it with the look alone,” Joyce teased, winking at Buffy. “She’s a real natural at this Mommy stuff.”
“That’s great, Mom,” Buffy groaned, slumping dramatically against a nearby wall. “I’m not even out of high school and you’re ready to whip out the old brag album and show off pictures of the grandkiddies to everyone.” The teen paused, turning toward her parent with a puckish twinkle in her gaze. “You do realize that if I became a mom, that’d make you a grandmother. From what I hear, they’re pretty old. That means gray hair and wrinkles and…”
“Well, you don’t have to rush into this thing right away,” Joyce countered, smiling sheepishly as she reconsidered the less pleasant implications her daughter had mentioned. “I be willing to wait a few more years.”
“That’s what I thought,” Buffy grinned back at her mother. “Besides, if real kids are anything like him,” she added, nodding toward the young librarian. “We’re talking decades before I’m ready for Mommyhood. God, Giles! Were you like this as a kid? It’s a wonder your parents let you grow up. You’re like England’s answer to Dennis the Menace.”
“Hey!” Xander protested, frowning at his blonde friend. “How come you get to make with the insults, but I don’t? Slayer double-standards. Oooo! Sounds like a discrimination suit somewhere in there.” He nudged Giles to get his attention. “How much do you think I could get if I sued the Watcher’s Council?”
Giles opened his mouth to make a biting reply, and Willow diplomatically interrupted, diffusing any further hostilities between Xander and the librarian.
“Are we gonna just stand around stuffing ourselves with doughnuts, or are we gonna do some work here?” the red head asked, smiling a bit too boisterously. “Why don’t you point us at those books of yours and we can get the old ball rolling.”
Setting aside the remainder of his meal, Giles wiped his hand across his mouth and gestured toward the area that functioned as his living room. A sofa and several occasional tables were arranged in a grouping around a low table stacked high with dozens of thick books. Last night before bed the Brit had set out what he thought would be the most promising volumes for their search. They could go to the library later for additional texts, but these should do well to keep them occupied for the bulk of the day.
“Yikes, G-man!” Xander exclaimed, impressed by the number publications he saw before them. “You planning to open your own branch of the library in here?” Then the teen’s eye was drawn to a tall bookcase along the wall and yet another across the room, each tightly packed with old books. Dozens upon dozens of them. “This is going to take a while,” he groaned in a dazed mumble.
“Then the sooner we start, the better,” Willow remarked, striding across the room. She picked up a book and settled herself comfortably on the sofa, opening the tome to begin thumbing through its pages. Oz sauntered over to join her, scrunching down next to his girlfriend as he selected his own copy to read. With a shrug Xander crossed the room, plucking a musty publication from the now diminishing pile and plopping his lanky form in a nearby chair. Soon they were busy flipping through their choices, searching diligently for the answer that might bring an end to the librarian’s youthful tribulations.
“What exactly is it they’re looking for?” Joyce asked. She filled the dainty teapot with steaming water, holding out a selection of teas she had found toward the Brit, indicating he should chose one. Giles picked an Earl Grey and went back to munching at his doughnut as he waited for the brew to steep.
“It’s difficult to be specific,” the Brit frowned, attempting to answer the woman’s question. “A basic spell dealing with prolonging age might be useful if we could somehow readjust it, though one that advances growth could possibly serve the same end.”
“You do this a lot?” Joyce questioned her daughter. “The reading, I mean. I thought being a slayer was, you know…” She made a stabbing gesture with her fist closed over an imaginary stake. “This looks safer.”
Buffy knew what her parent was really asking. It would be a lot more reassuring to believe her daughter wasn’t always facing big bad danger when she was out until all hours of the night. With a casual shrug the teen moved to stand next to her British companion.
“Contrary to popular belief, being the Chosen One is more than just fun and games, Mom,” Buffy mock lectured her parent. “Besides all the recreational gore, apocalypse, and merry mayhem they make you learning with the how to read, too.”
“Actually,” Giles frowned contemplatively. “Reading has never been a necessary part of a vampire slayer’s skills, Buffy. In the past there have been countless slayers who never mastered the basic principles of understanding the written word, some who could scarcely write their own name. That was one of the reasons for Watchers. They served not only as trainers, but also as scholars. It was their task to provide the more cerebral aspects of the Watcher Slayer pairing. The slayer was merely expected to stake vampires.”
“No school?” Buffy stared at the librarian with a look of shock. “You mean if I’d been born, oh, say five hundred years ago, I wouldn’t have had to ever study for a test, or write a term paper? God, Giles, that would have been so cool! Sitting around the old castle in some beautiful long, sweeping gown and Cinderella slippers.”
“Ooo! And a pointy hat with a veil,” Willow added, caught up in her friend’s fantasy.
“Scratch the hat,” the blonde teen quickly countered. “This girl does not do the wicked step sister pointy head look. But I’d wear one of those pearl head wrap thingies, or maybe just ribbons in my hair. That’d be such the perfect life. Nothing to do all day but…”
“Sew? Cook? Clean?” Giles interrupted, peering at the teen over his spectacles. Buffy pouted, confusion clouding her formerly blissful expression.
“I think what Giles is saying here is,” Xander rejoined from across the room. “No malls, no fast food and no powder room privileges.”
“Okay, so maybe school isn’t such a bad,” Buffy grudgingly admitted, glancing toward her classmates. “It does fill those idle hours I seem to have in my day. And I get to hang out with all my best buds there. Plus that reading thing comes in kinda handy when you’re at one of those restaurants that don’t put pictures on their bathroom doors.”
“An eminently practical girl,” Giles observed, smiling wryly at Joyce.
“You wouldn’t say that if you were paying for her clothes,” Joyce countered, pouring out a cup of tea for the librarian. “There is nothing practical about teenage girls and fashion.”
Giles chuckled appreciatively at the woman’s bit of parental wisdom. He had to admit that there was a lot about Buffy he didn’t understand. Being an adult male definitely left him at a disadvantage in that department, though from what he observed of the other students at school Buffy was certainly no odder than the next young girl. Of course, those other girls weren’t spending their evenings in a cemetery staking vampires and trying to keep the local population of fiends and ghouls down to a reasonable number.
As the librarian reached for his tea he was suddenly overcome by a tired yawn. He made a polite attempt to hide it from his guests, but both Buffy and her mother noticed the jaw stretching exercise behind his discrete hand.
“You look beat,” Buffy said to the librarian. “Didn’t sleep too well last night, huh?”
“I've had a lot on my mind,” he vaguely confessed, stifling yet another sleepy yawn. Taking a tentative sip from his cup he enjoyed the burn of the hot liquid as it went down, warming his insides. It was a comforting feeling. Finishing the last bite of his second doughnut, he made a grab at another and began to devour it as well.
“Maybe you’re coming down with something,” Joyce suggested in a worried tone. “There’s been a flu bug going around. Do you have a fever?”
Reaching across the counter Joyce put a hand first to Giles' forehead, then a cheek. The librarian’s eyes opened wide, so taken aback by the gesture he didn’t know what to do. A blush quickly colored his face where the woman had touched him and he began to choke on the bite he’d been trying to swallow, lapsing into a fit of coughing as he worked to dislodge the doughy mass stuck in his throat. His reaction only seemed to intensify Joyce’s growing concern.
“You are a little warm,” she announced in a firm motherly diagnosis. “Are you feeling okay, Rupert?”
“Mom,” Buffy interrupted as the librarian’s coughing suddenly ended with a loud gulp. “You and Giles can play doctor later.” The blonde paused as the other teens looked up from their reading. Carefully reconsidering what she had said, the teen frowned at her friends and amended her comment. “Delete that. Anyway, considering that’s the third doughnut Giles has managed to scarf down, I don’t think his problem is being sick.”
“What is it then?” Joyce asked the boyish librarian.
“N-n-nothing,” he lied, skittishly glancing from mother to daughter. “Nothing.”
“Still adjusting?” Buffy guessed. He nodded slowly, cautiously picking at the crumbs on the counter before him. She offered a sympathetic smile to comfort to her small friend, but the librarian had returned to sating his appetite again and didn’t seem to notice her at all.
Buffy watched the young boy Giles had become, marveling at and yet frightened by what she saw. He was so unmistakably a kid in the way he nonchalantly dug a finger into the wet center of his doughnut, pulling out the red glob of jelly and licking it from his hand. She found herself wondering what was going on in his head. Had he forgotten the rest of the world, drawing into some time warped instant of childhood where there were no problems or worries to concern him? And that devilish little boy smile he flashed at her and the way he couldn’t seem to sit still, well it was definitely cute, but it wasn’t Giles. Not her Giles, the staid and serious Englishman who could make her, the Chosen One, tremble in fear with a mere scathing glower of disapproval. This was somebody else. And even though at that moment he was funny and full of carefree merriment, she suddenly found herself wanting her old Giles back.
“Come on, Mom,” Buffy sighed, starting across the room toward her friends. “We’ve got work to do. You can help, too.”
Not quite sure of what she was expected to do, Joyce moved out of the kitchen, following her daughter as she joined the other teens. She approached the table full of old books with trepidation, suddenly feeling very out of place. Much as she wanted to help, and curious as she was to know just what Buffy did when she was at the library, this was not something she was comfortable with. The few brushes she’d had with the world of magic had ended up being less than pleasant for her. Believing in the supernatural and accepting it as part of her daughter’s life was a difficult enough step to for her to take. To actually invite such unfathomable phenomenon into her own world bordered on the insane.
Taking a deep, steadying breath Joyce looked over the pile of books. The bulk of the selection seemed deceptively innocuous and plain, and except for the subject matter typical of what one might expect to find hidden in a box at a yard sale or a second hand bookshop. Then there were the other volumes. She was immediately struck by a text with elaborately tooled leather binding, and another volume with what looked like hand stitched silk embroidery on its detailed cover. Joyce had been in a few antique stores in her day and though she wasn’t an expert in such things, she couldn’t recall ever seeing anything as impressive as the collection before her. Certainly nothing as old. In fact there was one huge book in a pile of its own that looked positively ancient to her.
Joyce’s eye finally found a small primer on spell casting that didn’t look too formidable, and picking it up she hesitantly considered its contents. The words were set in a tiny gothic font and it all seemed very confusing to her. Even when she squinted at the page Joyce found she had difficulty making heads or tails of any of it. She timidly glanced around, but the teens were all engrossed in their own reading material, leaving her to blunder through this novel experience on her own.
From his seat across the room Giles noticed what the woman had in her hand. Finishing off his last bite, he licked the last traces of sticky sweetness from his fingers as he slid off his stool and then went over to Joyce to offer his help. He gently took the small text from her, returning it to the table.
“Unless you’re fairly well versed in Latin, I’d suggest you start with something simpler,” he told her with a kind smile. Rummaging through a neat stack, Giles carefully selected another volume for her. “I think you’ll find this one a bit less daunting.”
She nodded, accepting the new choice and cautiously peeking inside. A look of great relief flooded across her face and she smiled at the young librarian. This one was in English. Thanking Giles she found herself a comfortable spot to sit and began to read with the others.
For the next few hours the small group immersed themselves in the inexhaustible supply of books. They searched every remote reference they could lay their hands upon, gradually emptying shelf after shelf in the bookcases, going through each volume with studious care. Giles may have kept the majority of his library collection at the school, but there was an ample supply of reading material at home as well. Xander had been very accurate in his jest. There was almost no end to Giles’ private athenaeum.
Around noon the teens began to show signs of restlessness, their appetites gaining rule over their fading attention spans. The box of doughnuts was long gone, so it was decided that Oz and Xander would make a food run to replenish their supplies. Giles and Joyce provided the necessary funding and after consulting everyone for their preferences the boys took off, returning in short order with plenty of munchies and burgers from the nearest fast food restaurant. Soon the entire group was busy eating their way through the bountiful, if not nutritiously correct repast. In a fussy moment of true librarian mode Gile insisted they set aside their books for the duration of the lunch break. He didn’t want greasy fingerprints damaging his valuable library of irreplaceable texts from previous centuries.
The food rapidly disappeared and the atmosphere became more relaxed once the teens had satisfied their hunger. Joyce did her domestic bit, collecting wrappers and wiping the stray crumbs from the furniture. It was apparent to Buffy that her mother was feeling a bit out of place among the group. She wasn’t exactly thrilled with this business of looking through old books. Their contents seemed to disturb her, but she’d insisted on coming along to help and Buffy had to admit she was trying. Her mother had read through several tomes already that Giles had personally handpicked for her, publications that he obviously thought would be less stressful or offensive. Buffy noticed the librarian had chosen the most dark, obscure references for himself, solicitously protecting his guests from the unpleasantness of that task. He also took any volumes written in a foreign language, including the Latin missal he had taken from her mother earlier.
As the afternoon slowly dragged on a round of snacks and junkfood made an eventual appearance. Joyce brewed another pot of tea and they all settled back in for a lengthy research session. There was an interlude of excitement when at one point Oz found what looked like a promising spell. Giles had hurriedly collected the necessary herbs and ingredients, all of which he had on hand in the apartment, and Willow dutifully carried out the ritual with its lengthy incantation. The results were less than encouraging. Except for producing a pleasant tasting blue liquid with the consistency of honey there was little else to show for their efforts. Giles gamely consumed an entire recipe, remaining as young as ever. He even tried applying the goo like a salve, but it produced an itchy rash that sent him fleeing to the shower to scrub off the offending material before it did any further damage.
The failure did little to help the group’s collective mood. They were growing tired and frustrated by their lack of success. Only the idea that they were helping Giles managed to keep the teens going for so many long hours at such boring, tedious work. But eventually the drudgery took its toll and the gang began to socialized more and read less. Food disappeared at an increasing rate, the piles of discarded volumes accumulating more slowly. When the telephone rang late afternoon it was like hearing the school dismissal bell for the four students. They broke into loud and boisterous chatter as Giles ran to answer the instrument at his desk. The librarian had to resort to shielding his free ear to hear over the escalating noise that came from the talkative group behind him.
Joyce glanced up from the book she had been reading. Watching the librarian as he spoke on the phone she quickly sensed something wasn’t right. Giles’ posture seemed to tense as he gripped the receiver tightly in his small hand, listening to his caller on the other end of the line. Throwing a cautious look toward his noisy guests, Giles turned his back on them, hunching over the instrument in his hand, anxiously muttering something terse and sharp that Joyce couldn’t quite hear. There appeared to be a short and heated exchange between Giles and his caller.
When it was over the librarian slowly hung up the receiver, sitting quietly at his desk for several minutes. He removed his glasses, rubbing wearily at his face, apparently lost in some deep thought as he ignored the rowdy group behind him. Setting aside her book Joyce walked over to the young Brit, placing a hand on his slim shoulder.
“What is it, Rupert?” she asked softly in concern. “Is everything alright?”
Giles looked up, his expression drawn and pale. Their eyes met and for a moment Joyce thought she saw something akin to actual terror in the pale gaze that stared back at her. Then it was gone and Giles was rising to his feet, pocketing his glasses in a distracted, fumbling gesture. Slowly he made his way toward the kitchen, showing a forced, calm exterior to the woman as she followed him across the room. But Giles knew his air of composure was a tenuous facade, a lie ready to fall apart at any moment. Inside he was in a state of confused turmoil, unable to feel or think, his brain numbly guiding his movements like an automaton.
Retrieving the teapot sitting at the counter Giles drained the last drops from it into his cup. His hands trembled as he poured, the loose porcelain lid clattering noisily to betray his distress. Setting the pot aside he lifted the cup to his lips to drink, but found it impossible to swallow, his throat tightly constricted with his unsettled emotions. The hot liquid in his mouth burned, bringing a sting of moisture to his eyes. At least, that was what he told himself was responsible for the tears he felt threatening to fall as he turned away to hide his face from Joyce.
“What is it, Rupert?” Seeing the librarian’s agitation Joyce approached closer, confronting him with her concern. “What’s wrong? What was that call about?”
“I…I…” Giles stammered, the words sticking inside him. It had been Wesley on the phone and the news had not been good. This wasn’t happening, he tried to tell himself. It was all just a bad dream. Well, he’d had enough and it was time now to wake up.
But nothing ended. There was rousing from this horrible nightmare his life had become, no moment of wakeful clarity to rescue him. Setting down his cup Giles turned toward Joyce. He wanted to explain everything to her, to share the misery and despondency he felt. He needed to confide in someone. But when he opened his mouth to speak all he could manage was a weak, pathetic squawk before his breath caught in his throat.
There was no need for words. Joyce could clearly see it in his face, the emotional pain that gripped the Brit. She was a mother and recognized the look instantly, raw and exposed as it was without its repressing layers of adult manifestation. She hesitated only a second before moving forward, putting her arms around the boy to pull him against her and offering him a needed comfort.
The kind gesture wasn’t unappreciated by the librarian. This was not the first time they had embraced. He hadn’t been so small then, or young, though he had undeniably acted less than mature. Under the cursed influence of tainted band candy and succumbing to the resulting adolescent impulses that overtook them both, he had answered the deep-seated temptations of his psyche on that night. It wasn’t easy as an adult to look back and admit he had behaved as he did, irrationally swept up in the powerful magic that had stripped away his reason and reserve. Still, it hadn’t been an entirely unpleasant experience and as Joyce held him close he sensed a sharing with her for the moment of remembered gratification between them.
Buffy’s attention began to wander as she listened to her friends talk. She had noticed her mother and Giles going into the kitchen together and it seemed to her that they’d been in there for a long time. It was awfully quiet, too. The others hadn’t noticed anything. They were too involved in their own conversation. But the blonde teen was becoming concerned, her anxiety increasing as the lack of any movement or noise from the next room continued. Finally she couldn’t take the suspense any longer. Getting up from the floor where she’d been sitting Buffy walked over to find out just what was going on.
Quietly she approached the kitchen pass through opening. As she drew close to the counter area she cautiously peeked around the edge of the wall into the small kitchen. It was obvious they hadn’t heard her coming. She caught them in their clandestine embrace. To say she was shocked was a gross understatement, gross becoming the operative word. She was outright traumatized. If it was strange to think of them as consenting adults doing that sort of thing, this was a huge leap upward in the wig-out factor on the weirdness scale.
She was about to make a nauseous sound of revulsion, warning Giles and her mother that they were venturing once again into that forbidden realm where older adults behaved like real people with feelings and everything. But something in the way her mother’s arms cradled the small librarian’s head made Buffy hold back, not wanting to interrupt the moment. She could see that here was nothing particularly passionate in the way they were hugging. They looked like nothing more than two friends trying to console each other, sharing some terrible personal pain. Giles seemed on the verge of tears. Her heart skipped a beat, wondering what could have happened to make him this way. It didn’t take much for her to figure it had something to do with the phone call he had received.
“Giles?” Buffy moved forward into full view of the couple, pretending not to notice as her mother surreptitiously released the young Brit, hastily backing away from him. Giles turned away from her mother as well, attempting a studied nonchalance as he picked up his cup to cover his guilt with some small activity. Buffy was alarmed to see her friend was actually trembling as he lifted his drink, the teacup threatening to spill in his quaking hand.
“Uh-uh, yes, B-buffy?” Giles stammered, his cheeks blushed in a self-conscious pink tone. Her mother suddenly became busy at the sink behind them, noisily clattering dishes as Buffy leaned over the counter and faced the librarian.
“Who was that on the phone?” she asked. She was switching to the direct approach on this one. Giles stared at her over his teacup, fixing her with a look she interpreted as seriously contemplative. He was obviously trying to decide whether or not to lie to her. Holding her breath, she waited for his reply.
“Wesley,” he finally answered in a flat, quiet voice.
Buffy sighed, knowing instinctively that he’d opted for the truth. That was a relief. At least he wasn’t going to play head games with her. Relaxing slightly, she perched on one of the stools, waiting as Giles walked out of the kitchen and came around to the other side of the counter to stand nearby. Within seconds her mother had abandoned the dishes to follow the librarian, hovering over him like a protective mother bird watching its young fledgling.
“So, what did he want?” Buffy grumbled. By now the other teens had become aware that something was going on. They looked her way, the room falling expectantly hushed as everyone honed in on the conversation between Giles and Buffy.
“He-he spoke with the Council last night,” Giles began. It seemed to Buffy that he was struggling to keep his tone composed and level, devoid of emotion. “Apprised them of my, uhm, condition. There was some discussion as to what appropriate action should be taken regarding the situation presently at hand.”
“Yeah?” Buffy snorted an unladylike sound. “I’m guessing they had some stunningly brilliant insight to offer those of us unfortunates who happen to live on the wrong side of the ocean. So what is it this time?”
Giles took a deep breath. “Apparently, I’ve been demoted again.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Xander piped up from across the room. “But they already fired you. Isn’t that as low as you can get?”
“It seems there are levels one can go beyond even that,” the librarian’s replied with a bitter smile twisting his lips. “Until now my presence here in Sunnydale has been tolerated by the Council. They were of the opinion that while employed at the school I still served some usefulness to them, providing Wesley with a convenient and unobtrusive link to Buffy in her capacity as a student. But they’ve since reconsidered. Since I obviously can’t continue to function as the school’s librarian in this…form, my being here is considered an interference, a liability of sorts. It’s thought I might…distract you from your work. Therefore the Council believes it would be best if I…” He paused, the words difficult for him to say. “I was r-requested to-to remove myself from the…situation.”
“Well, you’re not going to listen to them, are you?” Buffy challenged the distraught younger Brit. When he didn’t immediately reply she shook her head, huffing at him in disbelief. “Wesley and the Council aren’t the bosses of you anymore! Why should you do what they want?”
“Because not doing what they ask could mean problems for you!” he curtly snapped back in retort.
“Giles, those guys are thousands of miles from here,” she flippantly responded to his concern. “What are they going to do? Send me a postcard telling me how they’re so upset? Bad Slayer! You’ve been a naughty girl! No more scones for you!” She snorted again, sweeping back an escaped lock of her blonde hair in an unimpressed gesture. “Like I even care.”
“Then start caring, Buffy,” Giles scolded, his childish voice rising to a stressed pitch. “Because I have enough problems of my own to deal with, and I don’t need to hear them telling me that it’s my fault if you get hurt!
“And since when do you care what the Council thinks?” Buffy frowned. “They’re the ones who decided to sever your Watcher umbilical cord. Not you.”
“How could I possibly forget,” the Brit grumbled irritably. “What with the fondness you people seem to have for reminding me of my failures! Or perhaps, considering my present condition I should call them shortcomings,” he corrected, directing a sardonic glare toward Xander across the room. “I’m sure that’s what he would have said”
“Hey!” Xander protested, defensively throwing up his hands. “He’s putting words in my mouth now. Ones I haven’t said. Okay, they’re funny words. And maybe it’s the kind of thing I might have been thinking. But I refuse to be held responsible for something I haven’t actually said in my own voice.”
“Paranoid much, aren’t we, Giles?” Buffy rebuked the angered younger librarian. “Nobody’s here to make fun of you. We came to do the help thing. Books? Research? Magic spells and curses? Any of this lighting up that little idea bulb over your head yet?” Giles sighed, acknowledging the validity of her point with an apologetic nod, his choler momentarily deflated. “Good. ‘Cause we could use some cooperation here. We need Giles, the grown up version, and not that juvenile delinquent with the wicked mood swings you keep channeling in on. Oh, he’s a regular little cutie pie, and he could certainly teach you a few things about what it’s like to have fun, but he’s not being much help right now.”
“So I’ve come to notice,” Giles reluctantly admitted. “I-I suppose I have become a bit awkward to get on with these past days, what with this unfortunate business and all. It isn’t easy for me, you know. I’d very much like to have my real life back again sometime soon, because this one, well, let’s say I’m not mad keen on the way things have been going as of late.”
“Which brings us back to that phone call,” Buffy responded, her voice softening slightly as she continued to wheedle the rest of the story out of the recalcitrant Brit. “Sounds to me like you intend to give up and let Wesley and the Council walk all over you.”
“I have no such intentions,” Giles replied, his childish features attempting a resolved expression. “But…there is only so much I can do about this. If Wesley insists I stay out of the picture, then I shall honor his request.”
“But I don’t want you out of the picture,” Buffy complained with her best sulking pout for emphasis. “I very much want you to be in the picture. The big picture, the whole picture. And especially my picture. Giles, you’re my Watcher. That isn’t going to change just because I’m now the taller one and you lost the gray in your hair. Give me time. I’ll guarantee you I’ll find a way to put it back.”
“I don’t doubt that for a minute,” Giles smiled, then sighed and became more serious. “But you’re wrong, Buffy. I am not your Watcher. Wesley is.”
“But you were her Watcher first,” Willow protested. “Shouldn’t that count for something? They can’t expect you to just sit around like some big ol’ bump on a log and do nothing while Buffy’s out there kicking demon butt. If not as Buffy’s Watcher, or-or as the assistant to her Watcher, well, then as one of us. Yeah, that’s it!” she announced with a bright smile. “You could be the newest Slayerettee! Okay, I know, I know,” she went on apologetically. “It lacks some of the prestige of a full Watcher and all, but, hey! It’s not all that bad. In fact, it’s kind of cool. We’re proud of what we are. And we stick together, don’t we guys?” she asked turning to her friends around her.
“Like the Musketeers,” Oz grinned in agreement.
“Like Cubby and Annette,” added Xander. “And Britney. Only without the funny hats with the big round ears.”
“They were Mousketeers,” Willow frowned, throwing her classmate an intolerant look. “I’m talking about the Musketeers. They were these four guys with swords and tall boots and big, fluffy feathers in their hats. All for one…”
“And one for all!” her boyfriend finished.
“Oh, yeah! Now I remember,” Xander nodded. “That was one of those Tom and Jerry things.” He jumped to his feet and made a fencing gesture with an imaginary epee. “Touché, pussycat!” When the others merely stared at him in silence, he challenged them with his own haughty gaze. “What? No one else watches the Cartoon Network?”
“Willow’s right,” Buffy said, ignoring her wisecracking friend across the room. “It’s not like the Council can stop you from helping. Besides, Wesley wouldn’t get very far without you,” she reminded the librarian with an impish grin. “You’re the one with the key to the library."
Giles suddenly dropped his eyes to the floor. It wasn’t the response Buffy had expected. She thought he would find her remark funny, but the librarian’s silence was disturbing. The teens exchanged worried glances. They knew something was very wrong, and it was something big. They waited as the Brit spent several long moments preoccupied with studying his sneakers. Finally he raised his face again, hesitantly meeting Buffy’s curious look with his own uncomfortable gaze.
“I-I gave the key to Wesley,” Giles mumbled in a flat, detached whisper. “Last night.”
“You what?” Buffy practically shouted the question. She couldn’t have heard Giles right. “My God, what were you thinking? What does Wesley need a key for? You’re the librarian!”
“Am I?” Giles retorted, his pent up despair spilling out at last. “I can’t go to work looking like…like this! My opinion of Principal Snyder’s intelligence may be a good deal less than flattering, but the man does has enough brain in his head to figure out something is amiss when I fail to show for work on Monday. I can’t play message tag with him forever. Eventually he’ll ask questions, and the answers aren’t going to make any sense.” He sighed, restraining his outpouring of emotions as he continued. “I have to begin to look at this rationally, Buffy. The solution to my problem apparently isn’t going to come anytime soon.” He paused, glancing toward Joyce with a sad, pained expression. “Or perhaps at all,” he added grimly.
“Can’t you tell Snyder you had a family emergency or something?” Buffy frowned at the librarian. She was upset by his strange complacency, his unwillingness to fight the system that was pushing him down. “That should buy you a couple days to work this thing out. It’s just a matter of time before you find something. And we’ll keep helping. All of us. Every chance we get, I promise!” The others were nodding their agreement as Buffy went on. “We’ll look through every book you’ve got in the library if we have to. And we don’t care how long it takes.”
“And just how am I to live in the meantime?” Giles replied, confronting her with the reality of his dilemma. “I’ve got to be practical about this, Buffy. I have some savings set aside, but it won’t last me forever. Eventually my bank account will become exhausted. And without a job I won’t be receiving anymore paychecks. No salary, no money, no way to pay for the things I need like food, clothing, this flat. And if by some great miracle I do find a way to manage to get by, how long will it be before someone notices me and questions why a child is living alone? What do I tell the truancy officer when he comes knocking at my door asking where my parents are and why I’m not in school?”
Giles could feel his control slipping away. These were obviously issues the teens had not considered. His night may have been restless and plagued by fearful dreams of demons and monsters, but these thoughts of what his future held in store for him had weighed heavily on his mind for the past two days and were no less frightening.
Buffy looked over the small librarian’s head into the worried face of her parent. Her mother seemed to be tuned in to whatever was upsetting Giles. She laid a hand on his shoulder and he had made no attempt to hide the personal contact, instead reaching up to hold her comforting touch to him as he leaned back into her. The intimate gesture was without sexual overtones and Buffy found it strangely more alarming than seeing the kissing clenches her mother and the Brit had shared several weeks earlier. Giles looked so tiny and vulnerable, nothing at all like the Englishman she’d known who had once dared to tackle a vicious vampire single handedly with nothing but a flaming baseball bat, survived hours of cruel and inhuman torture, even braved the Hellmouth itself. Buffy bit her lip, holding in check the unsettled confusion that flooded her as she stared at the couple before her.
“Look at me, Buffy,” Giles pleaded, his voice wavering with barely contained emotion. “To the world out there I am nothing more than a child. That is all that they can see. And as an eight-year-old society won’t allow me to live on my own even though I am perfectly capable of doing so. It just isn’t the way things are done in today’s modern civilized world.”
“But you’re not like other kids your age, Giles,” Buffy argued. “I mean, even if there were other kids your age. Which there probably aren’t. I’m thinking forty plus year old kids are something of a rarity even in a Hellmouth kind of town like Sunnydale.”
“And once again, Giles, you have managed to put the ‘you’ in unique,” Xander said, sitting forward in his chair. “But that’s what we like about you,” the dark haired teen grinned at the librarian. “You really go out of your way to make our lives more interesting.”
“Yes, well,” Giles cleared his throat before continuing. “Flattering as that may be, the point I’m trying to make is that I can’t pretend to be something I’m not. I can’t go back being eight years old again. No one can. It-it’s asking too much.”
“Okay, I agree it’s a big thing,” Willow interjected, rising from the sofa and approaching the young Brit. “Granted, I wouldn’t want to have to repeat third grade either. Eww, especially if Mrs. Crevalli is still there. Remember her?” the redhead digressed, turning toward Xander with an expression much like she had bit into a sour lemon. “She used to hand out these poems and stuff for us to memorize and then recite on Friday. Xander never learned his assignments. When it was his turn to recite he’d be so nervous he barfed up lunch in front of the whole class. It became kind of a traditional weekly thing, like the mystery meat casseroles they served for lunch in the cafeteria every Tuesday.”
“Both of which seemed to have had the exact same effect on me,” Xander shuddered, dredging up the long repressed memory. “Man, I hated Fridays. I always said Cravelli wasn’t really human. She was out to get us. Looking back on it, I’d say there’s a pretty strong likelihood she was some kind of anti-kid demon that got its life forces energized by sucking the fear out of helpless, innocent students.”
“I’ve had that same suspicion about a few of my teachers,” Oz frowned thoughtfully in agreement with his classmate. “Present company excepted, of course,” he added with a nod toward Giles.
“Well, yeah, of course!” Willow responded with an exaggerated enthusiasm and a flippant dismissing flick of her wrist. “Giles isn’t like that at all. I mean, it’s not like he’s even a real teacher. Oh!” the teen’s eyes went wide, realizing her words might have a different interpretation for the youthful Brit. “I’m sooo sorry, Giles. I-I wasn’t trying to say that you didn’t know how to teach. I’m sure you could, if you really had to. You’re smart enough and everything. What I meant was you’re not like the other teachers at school, on account of you’re a librarian and don’t have actual classes to teach with homework and stuff.”
“I think what Willow is trying to say,” Buffy said, interjecting herself into the conversation in an attempt to rescue her friend. “You’re different than the other teachers at school. We could never talk to them the way we do with you. And I don’t mean just the slayer stuff either, though that particular topic of discussion doesn’t much seem to come up with anyone else but you. But I’m talking really important stuff, life stuff. Stuff we wouldn’t dare dream of telling our parents. You’re the one we talk to about those kind of things. And that isn’t going to change just because you’re a little shorter than you used to be.”
“While I truly appreciate what you are saying, Buffy,” Giles started to reply, a sorrowful smile tilting the corners of his mouth. He found himself touched by the kind sentiment of the teen’s comforting words. It was gratifying to know these young people considered him special among other adults and worthy of their trust. But that only seemed to make the burden of his news more difficult to bear. As a heavy knot of emotion tightened within his chest, gripping him in its disheartening darkness, Giles felt a puddling of tears sting his eyes as he began to cry.
“Giles?” Buffy’s voice broke the quiet that had suddenly fallen on the room. Her tone was soft with genuine concern, the blonde teen taking notice of the librarian’s distress. She saw the Brit’s tears, read the anguish and confusion that shadowed his youthful features. Reaching down Buffy gathered her librarian’s hands in her own, drawing them to herself. “Giles, what is it? What’s wrong?”
“Buffy, I-I…” Giles stammered, fighting to get out the impossible words. He bit his trembling lip, meeting Buffy’s sympathetic gaze. Staring deeply into the piercing directness of her intense eyes his thoughts reeled dizzily without form or control, awash in the tide of disparaging fear that overwhelmed him. It became a struggle of pure will for him to force out each syllable as he spoke. “I-I have something I must s-say to you. It-it’s about…it…I…you see, W-w-wesley…”
Hearing his voice crack piteously Giles was unable to go on, his stomach twisting painfully with the agony of his frustration. A blushing of hot shame rose in his cheeks as he realized everyone in the room was looking at him, waiting for him to continue. At that moment he felt small and utterly helpless, nothing more than an immature child teetering on the verge of hysteria. Tears spilled from his eyes unrestrained, blinding him with their moist haze as an overwhelming panic flooded his tenuous hold on adult reasoning, drowning him in its instability.
The strange rush of childish emotions was too intense for Giles to ignore any longer. He felt the fragile shell of what semblance of control he’d had falling in on itself as a throat-wrenching sob escaped him. Blurted out a quick, unintelligible apology he ripped himself from Buffy’s hold, bolting toward the staircase, hoping to escape to the privacy of his bedroom before he totally broke down in an embarrassing display of infantile weeping.
“Giles?” Buffy called out after the fleeing boy, watching him stumble his way up the stairs. She turned to start across the room, intending to follow Giles, wanting to offer some word of kindness that might ease his misery and let him know things were going to be okay. But before she could take her first step she was brought to a stop by her mother’s voice.
“Honey, no,” Joyce said, gently reprimanding her daughter. “Leave him be.”
“But, Mom!” she protested, staring uncomprehendingly at her parent. The sound of Giles’ small feet retreated into a far corner of the open loft above them, his pathetic whimpering increasing in its volume and intensity. Buffy felt her heart ache for her obviously troubled friend. Maybe her mother could ignore the loud sobbing that so plainly rang with echoes of some mysterious misery that was plaguing the English librarian, but she couldn’t. Whirling around Buffy moved toward the stairs only to have her mother once again hold her back.
“No!” Joyce spoke in a firmly commanding parental tone, her hand touching her daughter’s arm in restraint. She could have easily broken free but something in her mother’s voice made Buffy hesitate. The crying sounds from above had become slightly muffled as if they were being buried. An image of the young Brit sobbing on his bed haunted Buffy’s thoughts, and she turned her own pleading gaze toward her mother, searching for some hint of understanding.
“God, Mom, how can you just stand here and listen to that?” she demanded, her own voice quavering with emotion. “Giles is crying! He needs-”
“He needs to be alone right now,” Joyce said, emphatically cutting off her daughter’s objection. Smiling sadly the woman put her arms around her daughter, enveloping her in a maternal embrace as she gently steered the reluctant girl away from the staircase toward where her classmates were waiting. “I know you want to help, and so do I, but this is something I think he needs to work out on his own. Trust me on this, dear. When he’s ready, he’ll come downstairs.”
“But-,” Buffy frowned, chewing at her lip in frustration. After a moment she sighed, her shoulders slumping dejectedly in deference to her parent’s wishes and accepting the value of her mother’s wisdom. Turning away from the continuing wails that came from above Buffy looked toward her friends. They were equally as uncomfortable with the situation, especially Willow who regarded her with sad, round puppy dog-like eyes and an empathizing pout.
“Poor, Giles,” the red haired girl somberly commiserated. “I feel so bad. Isn’t there anything we can do for him?”
“He could still use our help here,” Joyce replied, indicating the pile of books they had been using to do their research that day. “He seemed pretty confident someone would find this magic spell he needs. And we haven’t finished going through all the books yet, have we?”
“There’s still a couple here that haven’t been cracked,” Xander admitted in a low mumble. Sitting up he reached for a volume, trying to put himself in a positive frame of mind as he began to thumb through its yellowed pages. “Who knows? We could get lucky. Don’t they say you always find what you want in the last place you look for it? Maybe if we could figure out where that is we could look there next instead of last and find this thing sooner.”
The others stared blankly at the teen, varying degrees of confusion in their stunned expressions. It was Oz who finally spoke up, responding to Xander’s suggestion.
“Oddly enough, there’s a certain bizarre logic to what he said,” the spiky-haired musician acknowledged reluctantly. “Maybe we should give this some serious thought. And then, if I could make a suggestion? We consider the option of blind panic.”
The tension in the room lifted, the group breaking into timid smiles all around. But the lightened mood was fragile and fleeting, unable to survive the punctuation of heartrending sobs that continued to come from upstairs. Still, the moment of camaraderie was enough to coalesce the four people into a unified purpose again.
As the group settled into their seats once again to tackle the remaining books piled before them Buffy sighed, fighting to block out the sounds of Giles’ crying. It wasn’t easy. Every tortured sob and sniveling whimper penetrated her concentration, stabbing into like a knife, wounding her soul with its sharp edged pain. She wanted so desperately to run upstairs and comfort him, to bring an end to his suffering and misery. Stealing a surreptitious glance toward the woman sitting at her side Buffy was surprised to see a mirror of the same compelling desire that she felt etched across her parent’s concerned features. Apparently her mother wasn’t completely immune to the librarian’s poignant weeping.
Buffy experienced an uneasy dawning of awareness as she recognized an too familiar expression on her mother’s face. The drawn tightness around the mouth, the weary sadness in her eyes, she’d seen these things before and never bothered to question what they meant. Now she understood. Being a mother meant times you had to let go even when your heart was telling you to hang on tighter. It was feeling someone else’s pain and not being able to do anything to make it stop. Well, if this was what it was like to be a mother, she didn’t want to ever have a kid of her own. It hurt too much.
At that moment Joyce Summers turned to look toward her daughter. The two women locked eyes, a silent communication bridging their generations. Reaching out Buffy gingerly slipped her hand into her mother’s, taking hold with a tender squeeze that said more than any mere words could have imparted. Her touch brought a smile to Joyce’s lips that Buffy impulsively answered with one of her own. Finally the pair looked away from each other, returning to their research, but their fingers remained delicately intertwined in mutual understanding.