Upstairs in his bedroom Giles lay across the bed, his face buried in his pillow. He was fighting desperately to reign in his despair, and had managed to regain control of his sense of rationality. Or, more accurately, he’d approached what might be construed as reasonably acceptable behavior for an eight-year-old adult, if there could be such a thing. He didn’t know who had said that a good cry made one feel better, but he was certain it wasn’t anyone that had ever tested the theory personally. He felt positively wretched.
Sitting up, Giles sniffled and wiped an already damp sleeve across his tear soaked cheeks. He sighed, choking back a sob as he smoothed the wrinkled covers beneath him. He hadn’t been able to tell Buffy everything Wesley had said in his phone call, or why it had upset him so much. When The Watcher’s Council said he was to remove himself from the situation they had meant he was to go back to England. Not immediately, of course. There were details that had to be taken care of first, certain paperwork complications that were caused by his condition. He had no valid identification as Robert Giles, or even as Rupert Giles under his present age and description. Arrangements were being made to correct that problem. And until things were ready he was to remain in Sunnydale, to keep in hiding within his apartment and to stay away from Buffy. Wesley had stressed that last point most vehemently. A sardonic grin broke through his tears as Giles considered how the impetuous blonde would take that bit of news. It was certain to make for some unpleasant friction. Well, Wesley was her Watcher. Let him be the one to tell her!
A glint of gold suddenly captured the librarian’s attention. Pulling his glasses from his pocket he adjusted them over the bridge of his nose, dropping onto his knees to search the floor. He ran his hands over the carpeting, quickly finding the source of the golden flash and plucking it from the rug’s lush pile. It was his ring, the one that had slipped from his finger the other morning. He had completely forgotten about having lost it in the subsequent shock of his other discovery that day.
In a gesture born of habit Giles slid the circle of gold with its black stone setting onto the smallest finger of his left hand. The oversized band plopped loosely down over his knuckle, a poor fit held in place momentarily on his raised hand by a mere trick of gravity. Refusing to accept what he felt was yet another blow to his crumbling dignity the youthful Brit proceeded to try the ring on several other fingers, but the results were much the same. Each time he would lower his hand to his side the ring would fall off again, dropping to the carpet at his feet. With a glum sigh of defeat, Giles finally gave up on the notion, setting the ring on the nearby bedside table.
The hushed muttering of voices from the living room below drifted upward to interrupt his thoughts, a reminder that he had company waiting for him downstairs. Giles took a deep breath, collecting together the last shredded remnants of his ego into some semblance of control and slowly approached the railing that ran around the open sides of the loft. Stopping just shy of the edge he hung back far enough that he wouldn’t be seen and cautiously peered down.
Sitting in a variety of poses on the sofa and chairs gathered around the central coffee table the group was busily engaged in their ongoing research, heads bent over open books. It was an encouraging sight, his friends hard at work on his behalf, and it reawakened a small glow of hope within the young librarian. They hadn’t given up yet. Maybe he shouldn’t either. With a firmly resolved lift of his chin Giles dried away the last traces of tears from his face with his sleeve and, turning toward the staircase, started across the loft, ready to join his companions once again.
He’d taken only a few steps when he found himself confronted by an uncomfortable reminder of the previous evening. Lying on the floor in the corner of the room was a book. He recognized it immediately. It was the same volume he’d thrown in his fit of anger the night before. A wave of shameful regret washed over him and the librarian moved toward the once treasured book that had born the brunt of his ill humored mood. It had been an act of rash stupidity on his part, an unfettered display of childish emotion. But then what should he expect? Wasn’t that what he had become? A child? It would certainly seem so if he behaved with such utter irresponsibility toward his possessions.
Silently scolding himself Giles bent to pick up the old book. He turned it over in his hands, carefully inspecting the tome for signs of damage. There was a small dent in the spine, but he was relieved to discover none of the pages torn, though a few had become creased when the book landed, its leaves spread open faced down on the floor. Thankfully that was a minor disfigurement, one that could be repaired with some degree of success, the volume having been spared anything worse for its undeserved mistreatment.
With a remorseful sigh Giles lowered himself to sit on the floor, taking up a perch at the top of the stairway. He propped the open book across his lap and meticulously, lovingly began to straighten the pages one by one, gently coaxing them to lie flat again. As he smoothed the sheets of paper beneath his small fingers his gaze casually fell upon a word here and there, and being a true bibliophile, Giles found the lure of the printed text a distraction impossible to resist. He soon became lost in the pages, quietly immersed in his reading, oblivious to the world around him as the minutes passed by.
He was skimming through a chapter that dealt with the various historic tools of magic and their uses when Giles suddenly sat up with a startled jerk, his heartbeat quickening in his chest. A tremble of excitement raised tingling goose bumps along his spine as his grip tightened on the book in his hands. Fervently he scanned the text before him, his eyes growing wider with each word he read. Giles took a deep breath and held it, readjusting the glasses that had slid down his nose as he refocused on the page before him. There it was. Just a short paragraph, only a few sentences, but it was enough to renew his hopes to a level that was bolstered with confidence.
Letting out a loud whoop of triumph Giles snapped the volume shut, his finger marking the passage. He clutched the book to his chest as he leapt to his feet and proceeded to throw himself down the staircase with a thunder of exuberant energy. His loud cry drew the attentions of those in the room below, the group looking up as one from their books to watch in astonishment as Giles came bounding down the stairs two at a time.
Buffy rose from her seat on the sofa, her expression sliding from concern to open-mouthed shock as the young Brit bypassed the dogleg turn on the stair landing and vaulted enthusiastically over the handrail, avoiding the last few steps. Landing with a resounding thump near the foot of the stairs Giles immediately broke into a run and launched himself across the room toward the others.
“Buffy, Buffy!” Giles crowed gleefully, skidding to an abrupt stop in the center of the gathering. His broad exhilarated grin glowed like it had seen the most marvelous of Christmas mornings imaginable and he was bubbling over with uncontainable excitement as he waved his book at the blonde.
“Hey! Simmer down there, Giles,” Buffy counseled the hyperactive librarian as she attempted to anchor him safely at arm’s length. Giles flipped his book open to its marked page, shoving the text up to the blonde teen’s face. His small finger jabbed at the passage he had discovered, pointing it out to the teen.
“Buffy, look at this! Just look!” he commanded with fanatic vehemence. “Look at what it says!”
She grabbed his hand to hold it steady, pushing the book away from her nose to see what had the Brit so worked up. Buffy silently read the words inked on the yellowed page, her pout of concentration quickly lifting until her own features mirrored the effervescent beam on her eager young companion’s face. With a rousing hoot of joy, Buffy snatched the book from Giles’s hands, brandishing it like a trophy prize as she joined the librarian in his giddy dance.
“What is it?” Joyce asked, her own elation instinctively rising to match her daughter’s. By now everyone in the room was on their feet and crowding around the jubilant pair at their center.
“It’s something good!” Willow giggled, smiling knowingly at her friend. Buffy nodded back, her blonde hair bouncing everywhere.
“So tell already!” Xander demanded in frustration at being left out on what was obviously going to be something of earth shattering importance. “Inquiring minds want to know.”
“The amulet,” Buffy panted, finally containing her hysteria enough to reply to her classmate’s query. “Giles found something about the amulet!”
“Way to go there, Giles!” The lively cheer came from of all people, Oz, who was holding a hand aloft in a high-five gesture of spirited camaraderie. Suddenly self-conscious of his emotional display the musician toned down his grin, his features to their usual detached mask of zen-like tranquillity as he dropped his arm casually to his side. “Uhm, that’s news of the good variety,” he quietly offered.
“Good?” Willow snorted at her boyfriend, echoing his sedate choice of wording. “Good? Why, it-it’s more than good! It’s very good. Great, even! No, no, make that fantastic!” The red head began to burble, her enthusiasm building to a fevered pique with each new description that entered her mind. “Monumental, stupendous, tremendous…”
“Whoa! Someone stop that girl before she does the entire Webster’s unabridged dictionary,” Xander chuckled. Willow fell silent, blushing at the admonishment from her classmate, but she noticed that Xander’s hazel eyes had a glint of approval that betrayed his own gladness at hearing the good news.
“So, what does it say?” Joyce asked, her impatient curiosity interrupting the teens’ cheer-fest and bringing them all down to reality again. Her initial capricious impulses vented Buffy managed to calm herself, and holding Giles’ book before her she found the passage in question and read it aloud for the group.
“The sorcerer or caster need not limit themselves exclusively to the aforementioned list when considering the use of tools for conjuring or divination,” Buffy intoned as her eyes skittered over the page. “In some instances inanimate objects such as stones, amulets or charms may be invested with specific powers that will allow its owner to call forth complicated and lengthy spells by use of an abbreviated phrase or gesture. At times these magics can be invoked with a predetermined command as simple as a single spoken word.” Looking up from the text, Buffy gave Giles a broad smile laced with comprehension. “Just like when our sorcerer salesguy made that fairy appear out of nowhere, right?”
“Precisely,” Giles replied. “Remember what the fellow said? The amulet was merely a tool. It could be endowed with any spell its user desired, and as long as the magician was alive his magic remained viable. Almost in the same manner that a tape recorder would play back a song or message at the push of a button again and again, the amulet would repeat whatever magic it had been programmed to do, enabling the spell to be invoked by anyone knowing the enabling command.”
“I’m sorry, but I-I’m a little confused,” Joyce confessed, frowning in puzzlement. “What’s this about a magic amulet? I thought we were supposed to be looking for a spell.”
“We were looking for a spell,” Buffy replied. She gave her mother an indulgent look. “And we still are, I think,” she continued, glancing dubiously toward Giles who shrugged noncommittally. “Maybe I should give you the notes from yesterday’s homework.”
Buffy concocted an abbreviated explanation of the events from two nights back, taking care to leave out the more dangerous parts of the story, not wanting to upset her mother more than necessary. She described the circumstances behind finding the amulet and what it looked like, Giles filling in the detail that Wesley had taken it into his possession. Buffy also related how the salesman had vanished without a trace from the scene with his box full of jewels and magical goodies, the other teens listening to her tale intently as well, this being their first time to hear the facts of that night’s patrol.
“I still don’t see how that helps,” Xander remarked when Buffy had finished. “So this amulet thingamajig’s magical. It can’t change Giles back. Can it?”
“It could if we found that salesman and got him to put the right spell into it,” Willow eagerly responded, catching onto the idea immediately.
“Here’s a radical thought,” Oz proposed insightfully. “What if was the amulet that did the trick in the first place? You said all it needed was a word or a sign. How do you know one of you didn’t wiggle a finger the wrong way, or sneeze and jump start the spell?”
“Oz is right!” Willow effused, flashing a proud smile at her boyfriend. “That could be exactly what happened to Giles. You are so smart!” the red-haired teen complimented the modest musician.
“He’s a regular Alfred Einstein,” Buffy replied in agreement with her friend.
“Albert,” Giles automatically interjected, correcting the blonde’s mistake. Buffy looked at him perplexed and the librarian expanded his explanation. “It’s Albert Einstein. Not Alfred.”
“She probably got him mixed up with that African guy,” Xander commented with a smugly know it all grin. “You know, Alfred Schweitzer.”
“He’s Albert, too,” Giles grumbled, a hint of irritation beginning to invade his voice.
“Wasn’t there a Prince Albert?” Willow asked no one in particular as she picked up her classmates’ line of thought and took it another step. Giggling, she turned to Xander. “Remember that old joke? You used to call up the drug stores and ask ‘Do you have Prince Albert in a can? Then let him out!’” The two friends shared a laugh over the remembered childhood moment until Giles’ scathing glare dampened their mood of amusement.
“Well, I want to know who Alfred was,” Buffy demanded, refusing to give up on her unresolved point. “I’m sure he was somebody.”
“Batman’s butler,” Oz chimed in with a response. Giles shot the musician a ‘not you too’ expression, the teen shrugging apologetically for his quip, but Oz’s eyes contained a dancing merriment that said he’d been pleased with his own added bit of humor.
“Then there’s Alfred P. Doolittle.”
The four teens fell silent, turning with various expressions of surprise toward Joyce, who had supplied the last comment. Smiling sheepishly at her audience the older woman stared back timidly at the astonished line of faces and explained.
“He’s a character from the musical ‘My Fair Lady’,” she told them, her courage rapidly failing her. “He sang that song, the one about getting married? You know, ‘I’m getting married in the morning…’” she warbled weakly, her increasing nervousness showing in her tuneful struggles. She finally gave up, realizing that her reference was too obscure for the teen’s to understand.
“I don’t think he’s the guy I was thinking of,” Buffy replied, fixing her parent with a look of mortified embarrassment that begged the woman not to continue. “Must have been someone else.”
“Perhaps it was Alfred the Great, King of Wessex,” Giles sputtered in a voice that was obviously reaching its limit for patience. “He put and end to the Danish conquests of England. And if we’re quite done with this ridiculous game of who’s who, could we get please on with the more important matter at hand?” The entire group responded with appropriate mumbles of humility as the librarian went on. “As I was about to say, Oz may indeed have a legitimate argument. If the command word to trigger the amulet’s magic was a common one, any one of us might have said it that night, thus activating whatever spell had been previously used.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Buffy mused thoughtfully with a frown.
“It makes a lot of sense,” Willow agreed. “So all we have to do is figure out who said what when, and we’ll know what happened. Oooo! Oooo!” Willow gestured spastically toward Giles as an idea popped into her head. “You were regular sized when you went to bed and then woke up the next morning all mini-munchkined, right? And-and didn’t you say that Wesley had taken the amulet from you that night? Huh, huh? I bet he’s the one responsible for this turvy-topsy mess. Somehow he found out what the spell was and he cursed you with it!”
“I’ll go along with Will on that one,” Xander chimed in. Adopting what he imagined to be a sleuth-like stance he intoned in a faux British accent “I accuse Professor Wyndham-Pryce of committing the crime in the Library with the Amulet.”
“Much as a large part of me is tempted to agree with you both on that projected scenario,” Giles replied with a wincing grimace at Xander’s poor attempt at mimicking his enunciation. “I’m rather reluctant to go so far as to believe Wesley is capable of such vindictive behavior. He may be a pompous, irritating twit with all the smarmy appeal of a fifth class mucous secreting Belleusian de-…”
Giles paused mid-word in his venomous ranting, uncomfortably aware of the stares he was receiving from those around him. Once again his temper had carried him toward the point of saying something inappropriate, though he had managed to curtail his tongue before the worst of what he had been thinking had actually slipped out. Taking a moment to regain his composure, he curbed his impulsive emotions and returned to his original train of thought, his cheeks flush with nervous shame.
“Yes, well,” he said, clearing his throat and continuing as if nothing had gone amiss. “What I’m saying is that Wesley simply doesn’t strike me as that type of person. He may be blindly dedicated to the Council and their inane and archaic rules, but he does seem to possess a certain sense of honor within him. Actions such as you suggest would require that he compromise those very principals that he so vehemently vows to uphold.”
“Giles has a point,” Oz frowned seriously. “Wesley does seem kinda straight that way. Almost rigidly so. But then, we could be wrong. None of us really know him that well.”
“I’m not so sure Wesley could have figured out that amulet thingie by himself,” Buffy added with an acknowledging nod toward the young Brit at her side. “Giles here is way smarter than he is, especially when it comes to magic stuff and he doesn’t know how it works yet. What are the odds Wesley could get it in one night?”
“You’re probably right,” Xander nodded slowly, his opinion seemingly swayed by his classmate’s reasonable sounding argument. “Sure, maybe Giles had been under a little extra pressure lately; what with being fired by the Council, then Faith going over to the dark side, and let’s not forget the Mayor’s upcoming Ascension. I mean, if it were anybody else they’d be looking at an all expenses paid vacation in the Loony Toon Ward of the Sunnydale Hospital. You know, that place where they provide every guest with one of those spiffy complimentary jackets with the special sleeves that tie all the way around? But not Giles. No, uh-uh. He’s Mr. Don’t Worry, Everything’s Under Control. There isn’t anything this guy can’t handle. He lives for this kind of a challenge!”
As Xander’s impromptu pep talk wound down, five pairs of eyes slowly turned toward the librarian and stared, sizing him up. Giles felt the intensity of their scrutiny, meeting the ring of dubious faces with a firmly defiant gaze as he stood tall, or as tall as was possible considering his diminutive stature. The effect of determined confidence and dependability he had been striving to achieve was apparently lost on his audience. He took in their various expressions of gloom around him, the group’s message communicating itself clearly.
“We are so in big trouble,” Buffy declared with a despondent sigh.
“No, no,” Giles protested in reply, fighting to keep his composure. The teen’s criticism, intentional or not, had stung his pride, but he managed to ignore the cascade of emotions awakened by the comment and continued. “Buffy has made a valid point. It‘s unlikely Wesley had either the resources or time to ascertain the amulet’s powers. He’s been occupied with other Council matters lately.”
Well, he’s still the number one suspect on my list,” Willow retorted. “He had the amulet, and it’s no secret he’d like nothing better than to get rid of Giles so he can be the King Watcher of Buffy. That makes for both motive and opportunity.”
“Ah, but you’re making the assumption that physical possession of the amulet would be required for its use,” Giles argued with the red head. “While that may be true of the initial casting, it’s very likely that a close proximity to the charm is no longer important once the spell is completed. And at that point it wouldn’t matter who had the piece in hand.”
“Okay, that sort of makes sense,” Willow reluctantly agreed, her pout conceding the librarian his point. But she was unwilling to let the issue drop. “That only proves I’m right, it was Wesley,” she reasoned vigorously. “He had the amulet in his grubby mitts when you got all youthy.”
“Will’s got you there,” Buffy said to Giles, placing the book she held in her hands on the coffee table with the others. “You said yourself that things were normal when you went to bed that night.”
“It-it’s possible I was mistaken,” the Brit explained as the blonde teen flopped down on the sofa. “Some complicated magics take time to work. I may not have noticed anything out of the ordinary until hours later.”
“Okay, let me get this straight then,” Buffy frowned, her expression thoughtfully composed. “The facts as we know them so far are that something, possibly the amulet, but we’re not really sure, at sometime, probably during the last couple of days, we can’t say exactly when, changed you from a grown-up into a kid. And this magic of a heretoward undetermined nature may or may not be permanent, you don’t know for sure, but in two days it hasn’t shown the slightest sign of wearing off on its own.”
Giles lowered his head, somberly studying the scuffed toes of his sneakers as he considered the blonde teen’s assessment of the situation. “Well, when taken in that context,” he admitted with an unenthusiastic mumble. “I suppose things do look rather bleak.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of dismal myself,” Buffy retorted glumly, slumping back on the sofa.
“What about your book, Rupert?” Joyce asked, gesturing toward the volume Buffy had set down. “You seemed pretty excited about what was in there, all that stuff about magic charms and amulets. Isn’t that going to help?”
“It appears to confirm that the amulet is most likely the cause of all this,” Giles answered the woman’s query. “But I’m afraid it does little more. We’re no closer to finding a solution. Apparently I was premature in my celebration.”
Giles sighed, the futility of his predicament once again weighing heavily upon him. This up and down roller coaster ride of emotions was more than he could take. As he struggled to quell the beginnings of what promised to be yet another crying jag that threatened to drag him down into its mire of despair, the youthful Brit wondered if he would be spending the rest of his life wrestling with such bouts of puerile embarrassment. These foolish displays were proving more difficult to control with each passing hour.
“Hey, don’t worry, Giles,” Buffy said, noticing the Brit struggling to remain composed. She flashed him an encouraging smile. “We’ll find a way to get you back to normal again, or at least what seems to pass for of the norm where you’re concerned. It’s just going to take a little longer than we thought.”
“Yes, well,” Giles cleared his throat, his voice a small, thin whisper as he spoke. “There-there’s a bit of a problem with that, you see. I-I haven’t got much time.”
Buffy’s right eyebrow arched upward, her expression growing serious. She studied the small librarian’s downcast face, her questioning gaze trying to read what was going on behind the over-sized spectacles balanced on the bridge of his nose. Giles was doing that nervous thing again where he wouldn’t look at her, his pale eyes blinking like a cartoon owl. It was obvious there was something the Brit wasn’t telling her, something important.
“Okay, Giles,” she frowned, addressing the librarian a firm but gentle tone. “I feel like I missed a chapter somewhere in this Agony Christie whodunnit of yours and now suddenly there’s been a major plot twist. What’s the what here? Come on, out with it.”
Giles hesitated, silently wishing that he could have somehow delayed this moment for a bit longer. But it had arrived and he was faced with the unpleasant task of telling his friends the news Wesley had relayed to him earlier on the telephone. He considered his next words carefully, steeling his resolve against the collapse of his ego, gathering in the last reserves of calm, adult reasoning left to him. Drawing a deep breath he released it slowly with a disheartened sigh and plopped himself down onto the sofa next to Buffy.
“I…I have to go,” he said.
Buffy regarded her small Watcher with a raised eyebrow. "This isn't school, Giles. You don't need to ask to use the little boy's room. If you gotta go, then go."
"That isn't what I meant," Giles grumbled, his cheeks flushing with embarassed color he realized her implied suggestion.
"Oh, good." Buffy sighed, her expression one of great relief. "'Cause, if you were gonna need help, I'd have thought Xander or Oz..."
"I have to go back," the librarian remarked, cutting her off before she could become too involved in her explanation.
“Go back?” Willow echoed questioningly for all of them. “Go back where?”
Giles glanced down at his hands, his lips barely moving as he mumbled his reply.
“Back to England.”
There was a long, uncomfortable moment when no one spoke. The teens exchanged bewildered looks among themselves, unsure that they had heard the librarian correctly. Had he said he was going back to England? As the others stared blankly at the small librarian, Buffy turned toward her mother, searching her face, hoping to find some understanding that her parent might know what Giles was talking about. But Joyce was as stunned by the Brit’s announcement as the rest of them were.
It was Xander who spoke up at last, asking what was on all their minds. “Why?”
“Good question,” Buffy noted, confronting the youthful Brit with her own query. “Why do you have to go back to England?”
“I-I don’t know why!” Giles whined in an exasperated pique, his tone betraying the obvious frustration he felt. “Do you think anyone bothers to explain these decisions to me? Wesley simply told me that the Council said I was t-to report b-back to England for some type of-of briefing, or something.”
“This is what that phone call was about, wasn’t it?” Buffy asked and Giles nodded slowly, lifting a drooping sleeve that had unraveled down over his hand to drag its length across his nose.
“Thank goodness for government bureaucracy and red tape,” he sighed, wiping a wet sniffle as he attempted a weak smile for the blonde. “It seems they’ve hit a slight snag concerning my travel arrangements. In my present metamorphosed condition I’m lacking a birth certificate or valid passport visa, and since one can’t go anywhere without proper identification I shall be staying on here at least a little longer before having to return home.”
“But, Giles,” Willow mewled in a tiny protesting voice, regarding the librarian with a wounded pout. “I thought that this was your home, here in Sunnydale, with us.”
Raising his head Giles raked back the hair that had fallen over his eyes and contemplated the red-haired girl standing before him. His pale smile brightened as he considered Willow’s words and the simple, open sincerity with which they had been offered, a revelation of mild wonder filling him with a warmth deep inside. It was true. He hadn’t been consciously aware of it happening, but at some point during the last few years what had been his perspective of home and family had changed. There would always be a part of him that would miss his former homeland, its familiar people and culture forever to remain an intrinsic part of his life’s memories. But he realized with a pleasant shock that he had come to accept, yes even enjoy this strange and perplexing place to which he had moved. And that was due to the influence of these exceptional young people.
Though constantly testing the limits of his patience with their idiosyncratic, mystifying American ways, Giles never ceased to be amazed by the propensity for courage that Buffy and her companions displayed whenever faced with unusual adversity. The teens exhibited an unflagging devotion to each other, a loyalty that he found refreshingly affirming in a world where young people often had a reputation for being narcissistic and self-interested. He found their humor strange, often unfathomable, but it was their interminable capacity for living life to its fullest measure each and every day that impressed him most and left him envious of their uniquely close-knit camaraderie.
Jolted out of his pensive reflections by a small, distressed sounding cry Giles glanced up just as Willow threw herself down on the sofa next to him, her slender arms engulfing him in a surprisingly robust hug. The unexpected demonstration overwhelmed the librarian who instinctively tried to escape the outburst only to discover his retreat blocked as he fell back against Buffy sitting on his other side. Trapped, wedged between the two girls and buried by Willow’s continuing exhibition of affection, Giles had little choice but to give in to the sweeping tide of the red head’s onslaught. Timidly at first, then with increased emotion on his own part as his British reserve began to slip away he embraced the teen, returning her tightly restricting clasp with a tender squeeze. Willow ferociously clung to him for several minutes longer, finally releasing her strangling hold with a show of obvious reluctance as the Brit gently disentangled himself from her grip.
“Wh-while I can’t say that I don’t appreciate such, uhm, an, er, enthusiastic demonstration of sentiment, Willow,” Giles stammered, clearing his throat as he attempted to catch his breath and regain his composure simultaneously. “You-you’re a bit premature in your farewell. I don’t leave for several days yet.”
“Yeah, Will,” Buffy chirped up from the Brit’s other side. “Put it on pause and save the two hanky ending for later.”
“Sorry,” the red head sniffled, dabbing lightly at her dewy eyes. “I guess I got a little carried away. It’s just, well, when I think about Giles leaving, I-I…”
As Willow began making tiny crying noises again Oz moved forward, coming around the sofa to stand behind her. He reached out, touching her shoulder, letting her know in that silent way he had that he was there for her. Taking his hand in her own, Willow entwined their fingers, smiling up at her boyfriend through her tears, grateful for the comfort that he offered.
Buffy sighed, brushing back a lock of hair that had fallen against her cheek and using the gesture to cover as she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. She was suddenly feeling a bit weepy herself. She glanced around the room at her friends. It wasn’t just her and Willow that were affected by the moment. Xander was hanging his head, his face hidden and unreadable, but the slouch in his posture and lack of a smart-mouthed comment said he was in uncharacteristically low spirits. Even her mother looked upset, her expression pained as she blinked to keep herself from crying.
“I think we’re all forgetting something here,” Buffy said, setting aside her feelings for the moment. There was something she had to deal with that was more important. “Giles isn’t going back to England, or anywhere else for that matter. He’s staying right here in Sunnydale.”
“Buffy,” Giles frowned, sighing tiredly. “We were through this earlier. It-it isn’t my place anymore to say whether I stay or go. Wesley and the Council have decided…”
“I don’t care what Wussley and the Council decide!” Buffy rankled in annoyance. Her back rigidly upright the teen glared down from her slightly elevated height at the smaller librarian beside her. “And you don’t care either, Giles, because we’re going to find our Magical Mystery Man, and when we do he’s going to fix everything and make you The Big Man On Campus again. Then there won’t be any reason for you to go back.”
“Sounds like our Fearless Leader has come up with an idea,” Xander grinned, gleefully rubbing his hands together. “So, give with the details, Buff. What’s the game plan here?”
“We’re all going on a scavenger hunt,” the blonde teen announced. “But no matter who finds the stuff first, Giles gets to be the winner.”
“Let me take a wild stab at this proposed list,” Xander responded, catching his classmate’s excited fervor. “First item, one spell spinning magical amulet, minus the Watcher presently holding it in his possession.”
“That’s absolutely correct, folks,” Buffy grinned broadly, gesturing her hand dramatically like an imaginary game-show host. “Would you like to go for what’s behind door number two?”
“I would! I would!” Willow cheered loudly as she bounced on the sofa, her hand waving in the air for attention.
“The answer is,” Buffy continued, pointing at the red head. “And please remember to phrase your response in the form of a question.”
“What is find the sorcerer who knows how to use the amulet so we can have him undo Giles’ magic spell!”
“I think you got the new car and the all expenses trip to Hawaii with that one,” Oz smirked, patting his girlfriend on the back.
“This is all well and good,” Giles interrupted, scooting forward to sit on the sofa’s edge. “But I can’t see Wesley simply handing the amulet over to any of you. He intends to send it on to Council, I suspect as a sort of tribute for those who backed his appointment as your Watcher, to let them know they chose well.” The young Brit grumbled bitterly, his opinion of his fellow countryman less than positive at that moment. “I expect it’ll win him some favorable notice. Sodding clever Dick.”
“O-kay,” Buffy responded, rolling her eyes toward the petulant Brit and trying to get a read on his mood. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that one and move things right along. So, you don’t think Wes’ll give up the goods? Not even if I ask really nice, pretty please with sugar on it and everything?”
“I very seriously doubt it,” Giles replied.
“But if it were to help you, Rupert,” Joyce chimed in, backing her daughter’s argument.
“Especially if it were to help me,” the Brit countered glumly. He sighed, head bowed dejectedly as he swung his short legs, rhythmically kicking them against the sofa front. “Wesley and I were never on friendly terms with each other. And after these past two days of Hell on Earth working together he most likely thinks I’m some beastly spoiled brat. Probably detests me. Can’t say as I blame him. Haven’t done a single thing he’s asked without argufying the point simply to make things more difficult. Of course, I was never one to listen to authority in my younger days. My own father would be the first to attest to that.”
“Leaving the Freudian comparisons of Wesley and your father aside for the moment,” Buffy retorted. Let’s get back to the problem of finding this sorcerer. How much time are we talking here? A week? Two?”
“More like few days,” Giles corrected. “Not much more. Wesley sounded rather positive on the phone that this matter would be resolved sometime soon.”
“Nothing like a little deadline paranoia to get the ol’ Slayer juices going, eh, Giles?” Buffy said as she winked encouragingly at the librarian. He responded with an unenthusiastic shrug that was disheartening, almost depressing to see. It was obvious Giles wasn’t feeling optimistic about her plan. Fortunately, the others were, their growing enthusiasm fueling her own will to go on.
“The pressure’s on then,” Xander announced, stoking himself up for the task ahead. “Where do we go from here?”
“I think I’ll start by paying a visit to Willy, our favorite snitch,” Buffy mused aloud. “He keeps tabs on these kinds of people. If this guy hangs with vamps and demons, maybe Willy’s seen him, or will know who he’s been hanging with. Xander, why don’t you come with me? I’d appreciate a little back up, maybe some good cop-bad cop role play.”
The dark-haired boy nodded eagerly as Buffy stood up at his side. He didn’t mind pairing off with the slayer. Besides, this assignment didn’t sound nearly as dangerous as their adventure in the park last night. Getting information out of Willy the Snitch was a piece of cake. A few bucks across his well-greased palm were usually enough to loosen the man’s tongue, and with Buffy there to let her fists do the convincing for them, they could probably even leave the cash at home.
“Sounds like this guy might do some legit deals, too,” Oz remarked, picking up on the idea. “Maybe he’s been selling his stuff around town. Willow and I can check out the jewelry stores, walk the mall, see if we come up with anything.”
“Good idea,” Buffy agreed.
“What can I do to help?” Joyce asked, eagerly volunteering her services. She was infected by the teens’ positive energy and wanted to do something too.
Buffy hesitated. She didn’t want her mother getting involved at this point. One never knew where danger lurked. But the expression on her parent’s face was hopeful, expectant. The desire to help was there, but what could she do? Her mother just wasn’t ready for full membership duties as a token elder Slayerette yet.
“Perhaps you could help me,” Giles suggested, popping up to his feet and rescuing Buffy from having to deal with her mother’s offer. With what could pass as sincerity the Brit gently took the woman by the elbow, steering her toward the desk behind them. “We can ring the motels and see if this fellow is staying somewhere in the vicinity. I’m sure the desk clerks would be much more responsive to an actual adult voice. I had a bit of a bother with that the other day when I was looking for Ethan. You’ll have better luck than I with this blasted squeaking.”
Buffy gave the librarian a grateful nod. It sounded like a safe idea to her, and one that would keep both her mother and Giles occupied for some time. Of course, they’d be alone for those few hours. That was kind of a scary thought. She still wasn’t so sure about those two. Well, she guessed that she was just going to have to trust them to stay out of trouble. If this was what being a parent was like, Buffy thought to herself, she wasn’t going to ever have any kids.
“We’ll meet back here later,” the blonde directed her friends. A grin spread over her face as she looked at Giles, remembering something else. “And you still owe me a new watch, so don’t even begin to think about skipping out on me to England, Buster Brown. If you’re not here when I get back you’re toddler toast.”
With that the teens immediately went into action, pairing off for their self-assigned tasks like a well-practiced team. Giles walked with them to the door, holding it open and watching as they filed out past him. He could see the confidence in their faces, four young people on a mission, setting out in separate directions but with one goal in mind. It was definitely inspiring and he felt his expectations beginning to rise.
The slayer and her entourage left amid a resonating chorus of chatter, already engrossed in another of their conversational diatribes. Their footsteps echoed loudly as they trooped along the walk leading away from the apartment, making their way toward the street. Shaking his head Giles closed the door, turning to face Joyce who had approached from behind him. He noted the look of bemused wonder in her eyes and raised a questioning eyebrow in her direction.
“Yes?” he queried the woman expectantly.
“Is it always like this?” Joyce asked.
“Of course not,” he replied, smiling as a jovial sparkle lit his eyes. “Most days aren’t nearly so boring!”
Joyce laughed, relieved that the librarian was able to look at things with a new slant. His future no longer seemed as bleak. There was time enough for him to worry about tomorrow when it came. But for right now they had work to do. Giles went to the kitchen, taking a moment to fix them each another cup of tea. Bringing their cups to his desk the young librarian dragged an extra chair over, inviting his companion to join him. The pair settled down together, opening the phone book to the yellow-paged listings of hotels in Sunnydale and the surrounding towns, then phone in hand and starting with the As they began to dial.