CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Wesley was alone at Giles’ condo when the van pulled up and parked at the curb. He was carrying a tall stack of books out to his own vehicle, making his way slowly down the front walkway with the heavy tomes in his straining arms, struggling with his ungainly burden as it threatened to shift and slide out of his controlling grasp at any moment. Already he’d managed to collect thirty-four volumes that bore the imprinted seal of the Sunnydale High School library, plus almost as many other texts he thought might prove useful in his research. Balancing his precarious load of publications he marched boldly up to the arriving van’s two disembarking occupants, greeting Willow and Oz as they stepped out onto the sidewalk.


“Ah, just in time to help,” the Brit grinned at the teens. Handing each of them a part of his load he gestured toward the open back of the van parked in front of theirs on the street. “Would you mind putting those in the back with the others?”


Willow and Oz stared at each other, unsure of what to do. Then with mirrored shrugs they turned as one, obediently dumping the books into Wesley’s vehicle. As Willow stacked her armful of texts with the others in the van she leaned toward her boyfriend, whispering quietly in his ear.


“Where did he get all these books?”


“An even better question. Where is he taking them?” the musician responded in return, his voice expressing the faintest trace of curiosity.


“They’re going to the library,” Wesley replied, startling the two teens as he leaned in between them, adding yet another armload of ancient publications to the growing collection in the van.


“I can’t see Giles being any too happy about this,” Oz remarked as he neatly straightened Wesley’s stack of books.


“Rupert understands that I need these for my work,” Wesley informed the boy, his voice ringing firmly with authority. “I have his full cooperation on this matter.”


Willow wore a doubtful expression as she glanced over at her boyfriend. She didn’t have the nerve to challenge the Englishman at his word. Somehow she couldn’t imagine Giles allowing his treasured books to be taken away, not for any reason. She recalled a time recently when his library had been ransacked and its many volumes confiscated for burning by a group of so called well-meaning parents who protested that the materials were offensive. The usually restrained librarian had come close to a display of violence in his frustrated efforts to stop what he felt was an unjustly deserved invasion of his private domain. Later the Scooby Gang discovered that the angry mob had been under the influence of a demon that was trying to rouse the population of Sunnydale to self-destruction for its own evil purposes. Though they had come through in the end, thwarting the Gingerbread demon’s plot by revealing its true monstrous visage to its followers, it had been many weeks before the librarian recovered from that particular incident. Giles had been somewhat overprotective of his surviving book collection ever since. Willow found it odd that he would have agreed to something like this.


While they stood behind the van with the British Watcher Oz’s attention happened wander and notice two figures walking up the street toward them. He immediately recognized the approaching couple as Xander and Buffy. Nudging Willow he surreptitiously pointed out his discovery to her. The girl smiled then glanced toward Wesley to see if he’d noticed, but the Englishman was busy rearranging the stacks in the back of his van and was completely unawares.


Seeing the Watcher was preoccupied Willow attempted to signal her friends. Stepping back away from the van she used the open door to shield herself from Wesley’s sight and began waving her arms frantically, hoping her friends understood the universal hand gesture of warning to stay away. Meanwhile Oz did his part by continuing to keep Wesley sufficiently distracted. But Willow’s efforts proved less than successful. Assuming his red headed friend was simply greeting them with enthusiastic vigor Xander broke into a trot, Buffy running lazily at his side as they came up to the van.


“Hey, Will!” Xander grinned as he came to a halt beside the gesturing girl. “You guys have any luck? ‘Cause Buff and I…”


The boy’s voice trailed off as Wesley stepped into view from behind the door. Willow nervously discontinued her signals, tucking her arms nonchalantly behind her back as the Englishman gave the two newcomers a critical glance. Their presence didn’t seem entirely unexpected, though the Watcher definitely wasn’t pleased.


“Xander and Buffy.” The Birt enunciated each name sharply with a decided hint of disapproval. “Why doesn’t it surprise me to see you all here together? Well, I’m afraid you’re too late,” he told them with biting directness. “Giles and your mother have already gone. I suggest you do the same. It’s nearly dark and you have your patrol duties, young lady.”


Buffy saw her mother’s car was indeed gone. The teen felt a momentary shiver or trepidation crawl up her spine. Giles and her Mom gone? Where would they go, and why? Turning a blind eye to the Englishman Buffy spoke to Willow.


“Where did they go?” she asked her friend.


“I-I don’t know,” the other girl replied, wearing a sheepish expression. “Ox and I just got here a couple minutes before you guys.”


“Your mother took Rupert out to the mall,” Wesley explained, interjecting his piece into the conversation. He was irritated by Buffy’s blatant snub. She was completely ignoring his presence. Rupert was definitely exerting a bad influence upon the girl. Well, he would be putting an end to that soon enough!


“The mall?” Buffy frowned, puzzled by the man’s rely. Then she noticed the load of books in the rear of Wesley’s van. “I see. And while he was out you thought you’d help yourself to some of his stuff. Did you get the good silver candlesticks and the spare cash he keeps in his desk, too?”


“Rupert is quite aware of what I am doing with these books,” the Brit remarked curtly in offense at the slayer’s insinuation. “Why can’t any of you believe that?”


“Because we know Giles, and we know you,” Xander responded, pointing his finger accusingly at the tall Englishman. “And when it comes down to who we’d believe, you’re not even a close second in that race, pal.”


“I’m not here to win a popularity contest,” Wesley retorted.


“That’s obvious,” Buffy snapped back, her sarcastic reply earning her barely disguised grins from her friends.


Wesley could feel his patience wearing thin. The belligerent attitude of these American teens, especially Buffy’s, was becoming increasingly intolerable. Since his arrival in Sunnydale he had been insulted and belittled by their disrespectful behavior time and time again. It was a constant struggle to maintain what little order he could in this impossible situation. The Council had warned him that upon assuming his position there might be residual problems with the former Watcher, Rupert Giles, and he had accepted that possibility in stride. He had even allowed for some difficulties in the initial adjustment period with his Slayer. But things were well beyond that point. Buffy was emotionally attached to her former mentor, and Giles in turn did nothing to discourage the girl from the familial relationship. It was a situation Wesley now considered to be totally inexcusable.


Today’s insubordination had become the final catalyst to set Wesley over the top. Buffy apparently seemed willing to ignore her Slayer duties in favor of helping her old Watcher. It was just as well that the Council had decided to summon Rupert back to England. And not a moment too soon in Wesley’s opinion. These incidents of Buffy’s disobedience were increasing, her latest escapade being a perfect example of her disregard for his appointed authority. This was not something Wesley could allow to continue any longer.


“Insult me all you wish,” the Brit brusquely lectured the blonde and her friends. “But you will not deter me from performing the job I came here to do. I take my position as a Watcher seriously. Apparently more so than you, Buffy. If at times my actions seem callous and harsh it is only because I believe very strongly in what I am, and I will do all that is necessary to carry out the sacred duties I have sworn an oath to uphold.”


“Yeah, especially if it means the chance to give Giles the royal once over,” Buffy sneered in return at the pompous Englishman. “We know how you feel about Giles. You can’t wait to get him out of here so you can take over as Uberwatcher Supreme. Well, that’s not going to happen, Wes, ‘cause we intend to find a way to help him.”


“Yes, I’m quite aware of what you and the others have been doing,” Wesley replied with smugly cool disdain. His eyes narrowed as he stared down at the petite blonde. “And while I may not have control over what you do on your own time, I’ll remind you that you still have an obligation to keep up with your Slayer duties. I expect you to continue to deal with this situation that has arisen at the pond, keeping it as your number one priority.”


“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of your water demon,” the girl responded contemptuously. “And every other bad guy that’s stupid enough to get in my way. Including you,” she said, clenching her small fists as if about to start a fight.


Buffy tensed with barely contained righteous anger, her eyes blazing and hot. No one was going to tell her what to do! She knew all about obligations and responsibilities. Hadn’t she had to give up the hope of a normal teenager’s life to become a vampire slayer? It’s not like there were many benefits to the calling. It didn’t make her popular or well liked at school, and it was a definite drag on her social life. But she also knew about the idea of loyalty, especially to one’s friends. She intended to stick by Giles through all this for as long as he needed her, and it didn’t matter what Wesley thought about that one bit.


Seeing her friend’s temper heating toward a dangerous flash point Willow decided it was time to step in and cool things off. She put herself between Watcher and Slayer, physically separating the two before something got ugly. Wesley wasn’t her favorite person, but she didn’t necessarily want to see his blood spilled out on the street.


“Okay, guys,” she cautioned, appointing herself referee. “Time out. Everybody take a nice deep breath and count to ten.” She gave Wesley a sweetly apologetic smile, then grabbing Buffy by the arm she pulled her friend aside a few paces. The Slayer’s unbroken gaze was fixed venomously upon the haughty Englishman. “Down girl,” Willow pleaded with the angry blonde. “Buffy, you’ve got to get control of yourself. This isn’t helping Giles.”


“I know,” Buffy reluctantly admitted with a grumble. “But punching out his lights sure would feel good!” Rebuked by a castigating frown her companion threw at her Buffy sighed, unclenching the fisted hands at her sides. “Okay. No violence,” the Slayer grudgingly pouted. The red head nodded approval at the wise decision. But Buffy couldn’t help herself and amended her promise under her breath with a terse “For now!”


The air was still charged with tension, but the argument was over, at least for the moment. Buffy postured defiantly, her slim arms folded across her chest, glaring at her Watcher. In turn the Englishman gazed back with arrogant egotism, gloating in his presumed victory. He seemed blissfully unaware of the danger he was still in.


“Well, that seems to be the lot then,” Wesley announced, turning away to take a last look at his full cargo of books. Closing the back of his van he addressed the four teens. “I have my research at the library to attend to, so I’ll be running along"


“And we’ll be staying,” Buffy told the man, making no effort to hide her intentions. “I want to wait for Mom.”


“No doubt you wish to tell her and Rupert what you did today,” the Brit replied dryly. The four teens exchanged glances, wondering just how much Wesley knew about what they’d been doing. He answered their silent inquiries with sharp disdain. “Don’t think that because you don’t include me in your activities I’m not aware of what is going on around me. I’m not the blind and clueless fool you take me to be. Your little adventures today have not gone unnoticed.”


“Cordelia!” Xander and Buffy chorused the name in unison, having come to the same conclusion. The others teens stared at them, hoping for a further explanation.


“Fill you in later, “Buffy promised in an aside to her classmates.


“I look forward to hearing about your exploits as well,” Wesley told the blonde girl as he locked the back of his vehicle. “But you and I can chat later, when we go out on patrol.”


Buffy’s jaw dropped, her face registering shock. “We?” she echoed, gaping dumbfounded at the Englishman. “You mean as in you. And I? Us?”


“Precisely,” the Brit nodded. Walking around to the front of his van he paused at the driver’s side door. “It’s about time we went out on patrol together, without Rupert tagging along.” He grinned at the idea, obviously pleased with himself. “I shall pick you up to drive you to the park, of course. That will give me the opportunity to brief you on the research I’ve come up with so far. I think I may be able to provide you with some interesting insights about our Lady of the Lake.” Opening the van door he climbed up behind the steering wheel. “You’ll still be here, I would imagine?” Buffy felt herself nodding in a daze. “Very good. I’ll see you around nine o’clock then.”


They watched in silence as Wesley drove off down the street in his van, leaving the four teens standing in front of the condo. Still stunned by the Watcher’s announcement Buffy let out a groan of horrified angst then dropped dejectedly to the curb with a heavy thump, her knees tucked up under her elbows.


“This can’t be happening!” she wailed in complaint, resting her chin in the cup of her hands. “Me and Wesley? Alone? On patrol? Can it get any worse?”


Leaning over the blonde girl’s head Xander directed a comment to his two standing companions. “The way I see it, this situation will work itself out in one of two ways. Buffy will either deep six the Littlest Mermaid and both she and Wesley can return safe and sound, or she’ll deal with the demon and Wesley in a double header match up and come back alone.”


“I think option three is the most likely scenario,” Buffy muttered glumly. The others looked at her curiously.


“I’ll bite,” Oz said, the palest of grins teasing his calm face. “And that is?”


“Wesley talks me to a slow and painful death on the ride over,” the girl moaned piteously.


Buffy looked up at her three friends. They were gazing at her in sympathetic understanding, unable to disguise how glad they were that it was she and not them that would be stuck with the Englishman’s company later. Having nothing to say that would cheer the blonde girl the group decided to move on to Giles’ apartment and wait for the librarian and the slayer’s mother there.


By the time the four teens had reached the librarian’s front door they were deeply involved in relating what each had done while out that afternoon. Wesley had left the door unlocked so getting in was not a problem. Buffy was the first over the threshold. Stepping inside she pulled up short, halting in mid-stride, her mouth agape and her eyes wide.


“Geez!” the girl breathed, staring at the results of Wesley’s visit. “He took everything!”


The Englishman had been very diligent in his search for material to bring back with him. Where earlier that day there had been books piled on the coffee table and filling the bookcases along the walls only a few assorted volumes remained behind. There were huge cavernous gaps on the nearly empty shelves, dark ghosts that attested to the accumulated collection that had once been Giles’ private library. Wesley had apparently taken any book that could have even remotely been labeled valuable toward his research, leaving behind a pitiful scattering of novels and volumes of unrelated subject matter. The shelves had literally been stripped and plundered of their contents, the few remaining tomes lying toppled over on their sides like despised pariah.


“Wesley’s in big trouble now,” remarked Xander as he surveyed the destruction before them. “I think it might be wise to hide all sharp implements and heavy blunt objects before Giles gets back, ‘cause he’s going to go psycho when he sees this.”


“What if we fix things up a bit?” Willow suggested, trying to interject some hope into what looked to be a devastating situation. Crossing the room to a near empty bookcase she picked up a lone text, standing it upright on the shelf. Collecting a few more she placed them neatly next to the first, stepping back to show off the results of her effort. “Maybe he won’t notice.”


“Somehow I think he’ll notice,” Oz replied as gently as possible. He didn’t want to crush his girlfriend’s sensitive feelings, but the truth was blatantly obvious. Walking up to the girl he embraced her, their foreheads touching lightly. Willow looked at what she’d done and saw how pathetic her attempt had been. Oz was right, of course. There was no way to hide the huge cadaverous spaces on the bookshelves.


“What are we going to do?” the red head moaned sadly. “This is going to kill Giles!”


“I know,” Buffy responded and moved to her friend’s side. “He’s practically over the edge as it is. I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but he’s been getting way too in touch with his inner child lately.”


They all thought back to the librarian’s exhibition earlier that afternoon. It had disturbing to hear Giles crying like a small boy. They weren’t used to such temperamental displays from the reserved Brit. It was as if the transformation he’d undergone had left the reasoning side of his adult personality basically intact, but was playing havoc with his emotions, twisting them around to make him see and feel things as a young child might. The concept was a frightening one for them to consider.


“Well, you guys had better decide what to do and fast,” announced Xander who was still standing by the open front door. He pointed to the boy and woman coming around the corner. “They’re baaack!”


Rushing across the room in a tight herd the others crowded the doorway with Xander to stare out at the approaching pair. Joyce was carrying multiple shopping bags in each hand while an equally burdened boy-Giles trotted along at her heels. They could hear the older woman chattering gaily, seemingly oblivious to the comical predicament unfolding behind her as the librarian juggled his packages, struggling to maintain his precarious hold on them.


Pushing the others back Buffy hurriedly shut the door before they could be seen. She didn’t know why it was that she felt guilty. It wasn’t like she’d done anything wrong. It had been Wesley who took Giles’ books. But she knew that having someone else to blame wouldn’t make things better. She should have stopped the Englishman. If only she’d tried harder, gone after him or something. Anything. Now it was too late.


A few moments later the door swung open. Giles entered first. He looked momentarily surprised to find the teens standing there in front of him. Greeting them with a tired smile he stepped aside, letting Joyce in behind him.


“Mind your step,” he cautioned the woman as he put his load of bags down on the nearby bench. Turning expectantly to the teens he met their gazes with an expression of expectation. “What did you find? Anything?” he asked with boyish excitement lighting his features in a hopeful glow. But his sparkling smile quickly faded as he studied the four worried faces before him. “I see.” Giles released a weary sigh, struggling to hide his disappointment. “I suppose it was asking a bit much. Ah, well. ‘Twas a consummation…devoutly to be wished.”


“We’re really sorry, Giles,” Willow said, her own emotions reflected in the tremble of her pouting lip. “We tried everywhere, but no one remembers seeing this sorcerer guy.”


“I’m sure you did your best, Willow,” the librarian replied, his manner the picture of resigned practicability. Suddenly Giles felt very tired. “You’ve all been very helpful. I owe you a great thanks.” Relieving Joyce of her armload of bags he set them down with the others. “I think I could just fancy a nice drop of Chablis,” he said to the woman. “How about you, Joyce?”


“Sounds great,” the woman sighed gratefully, glad to be rid of her heavy load.


“I believe I have a bottle chilling in the fridge,” Giles announced, starting for the kitchen. “Why don’t you make yourself comfortable and I’ll pour us a glass.”


Gesturing toward the living room sofa he invited the woman to sit and relax while she waited for his offered refreshment. As he walked past the line of young friends the librarian couldn’t help but notice how they all seemed to be staring at him. He dismissed the idea as paranoia on his part, but their strange looks lingered in his thoughts as moved into the kitchen and set about getting the wine from his refrigerator. He needed something to revive him after his exhaustive shopping spree with Joyce Summers, and a bit of light wine seemed the perfect thing to do the trick.


Stretching up on tiptoe Giles got two glasses down from the cupboard and put them out with the wine on the counter. Once he managed to locate a corkscrew it took him a few minutes wrestle the bottle open and pour out the vintage beverage. He had looked forward to this treat the entire ride back from the mall. That afternoon’s shopping experience had been like none he’d ever known. It hadn’t taken him long to discover that women, Joyce in particular, approached selecting items of apparel with a totally different philosophy than he could ever hope to understand.


As Giles returned the re-corked wine bottle to his refrigerator he ruminated mentally over the differences in the male and female purchasing psyche. Again he had been forced to confront the shortcomings associated with being only eight years old. It had been bad enough having to shop in the children’s department of the various mall stores, but when a salesclerk had referred to Joyce as his “mother” Giles spent the rest of the shopping trip in a state of depressed oblivion.


Grabbing the two glasses of wine Giles carried them to where Joyce was seated on the sofa. Passing by Buffy and the others the librarian noticed that the four teens hadn’t moved from the entry area. They kept exchanging furtive and mysterious looks, watching him very closely. He could feel their eyes following him as he handed a glass over to Joyce, and then settled himself down on the sofa next to the woman. The teens’ rude scrutiny was becoming disturbing. It was as if they were waiting for him to do something, though he couldn’t imagine what. Dismissing them with a sigh he raised his wineglass to his lips for a much welcomed first sip.


“Do you really think you should drink that?” Joyce interrupted before he could take his first taste. Giles frowned at her in puzzlement.


“I assure you there’s nothing wrong with it,” he replied. “I only just opened the bottle in the kitchen now.” Again he went to take a drink and she stopped him, this time with a light restraining hold on his wrist.


“What I meant was, well, you being so young and all, maybe wine isn’t an appropriate thing for you to drink,” the woman continued with genuine concern. She flashed the librarian a motherly smile. “Wouldn’t you like a nice glass of milk instead?”


“Milk?” Giles repeated, his incredulous voice cracking as he spoke. It was happening again. The entire afternoon had been like this. No one seemed to think he was old enough to do anything. Not Wesley. Not any of the wretched salesclerks at the mall. And now Joyce was doing it, too. Well, he’d had just about as much of this as a man could be expected to take.


“I really don’t see how a glass of wine could hurt me,” he argued with a petulant grumble. “Children in Europe drink wine and beer all the time. My own grandmum used to slip me a sip from her pint now and then, and nothing bad ever came of that.” The Brit sat back, a look of determined defiance in his eyes. “After a day like this one I think I deserve to indulge in a bit of…”


Giles voice trailed off. Something wasn’t right. He frowned, cocking his head to one side, his eyes slowly roaming about the surrounding room. It took a few moments to register what he was seeing, or rather not seeing. They were gone. Not all of them, but his books were most definitely not on the coffee table where he had left them. At first he was simply in mild shock. He recalled Wesley saying he was going to return some of the books to the library, though he hadn’t thought it would be quite so many. Glancing over at the twin bookcases that stood against one wall he looked to see what else the man might have taken.


Suddenly Giles felt his breath leave him in a lung-wrenching gasp. His heart nearly stopped as he gaped aghast at the unthinkable. His personal library collection had been vandalized. Almost two thirds of his books were missing from their shelves. The concept was so foreign and strange the librarian was having trouble simply comprehending it.


By the horrified expression on his young face Buffy knew that Giles had finally noticed his books were gone. He was staring at the empty shelves in a dazed and unblinking stupor. Her heart aching in empathy Buffy crossed the room to be at her friend’s side, hoping to offer some word of comfort. But the small Brit didn’t even acknowledged her presence as she sat on the sofa next to him, and it wasn’t until she touched Giles that he slowly roused from his reverie, turning to her with a pained look in his eyes.


“Giles,” she began in a soft voice that fumbled hesitantly in explanation. “We were going to stop Wesley, but he…”


“You know, Buffy,” the librarian interrupted, his own voice strangely thin and boyish. The glass he held wobbled momentarily in his small trembling hand, its contents sloshing slightly. “Your mother is quite the bargain hunter. I don’t think she missed one sale at that mall.”


His sudden change in subject matter told them he didn’t want to discuss the obvious. Giles was going to ignore his loss, act as if everything was fine. He was trying to retreat into the safe emotional dimension of denial. But the hurt he felt was plain for everyone to see and Buffy couldn’t pretend that she didn’t care.


“Giles, I’m really sorry,” she continued in apology as she reached out to hold the young librarian’s free hand. “We would have stopped Wesley, but he said you knew what he was doing. Guess he got us good with that one, huh?” Turning her sincerest gaze upon the Brit her green eyes longingly searched his for forgiveness. “I’ll get your books back for you, Giles. I promise.”


“That won’t be necessary,” Giles told her with a feeble smile. He realized despondently that he simply didn’t care any more, not even about this. “Wesley was merely returning some of the books I had here to the library,” the Briton said, his throat catching thickly around the words. “After all, that is where they would be of the most use to you.”


“Giles, what am I going to do with your books?” Buffy asked, a teasing smirk on her lips as she attempted to lighten the young librarian’s downcast disposition. “You know I’m a strict devote of the hands-on style of dealing with evil. I get my hands on the bad guys and then I start to deal out the damage.”


A faint smile twitched at Giles’ mouth as he regarded the blonde girl seated at his side. He was definitely going to miss her when he left. Buffy was a unique young lady. True, at times he didn’t understand her strange perspectives on life, and she was often quite exasperating. But she was a brave soul, heroic beyond compare, and she could always find something humorous in even the worst of situations. Her tongue often proved as dangerous as her fists in a fight, and one had best steer clear of both when she let loose. Yes, Giles thought to himself, there was no disputing Buffy was special. He would certainly never meet another girl like her back home in England.


Home in England. Giles considered his departure with surge of trepidation. Was there still a home for him back there? Willow had been correct in saying that he belonged here with them, with his friends. How could he leave all this and go back? And back to what? With no work, no home, no family. Would he be any better off there? There were occasions when he missed his old haunts, even longed for the dreary, boring pre-slayer days he remembered so well. It would be nice to hear the voices of people who spoke actual English. His English. But truth be told there was nothing waiting for him back in his homeland. All he needed was right here.


“Hey, Giles! Giles?” It was Buffy’s voice calling him back to the here and now. She was waving her hand in front of his face, testing his awareness of his surroundings. A blush lightly pinked Giles’ cheeks as he realized that he’d allowed his mind to wander a bit too long. “Have a nice trip?” Buffy needled him, her one eyebrow raised in a questioning jibe. “You looked about a gazillion miles away there.”


“I-I suppose I was,” the librarian admitted sheepishly.


Looking up Giles noticed that the others had gathered around him. There were concerned expressions on all their young faces. Even Joyce appeared worried. Forcing a smile for his companions the librarian attempted to put them at ease. He was about to make some innocuous remark and change the subject of conversation when a sudden loud rumbling growl rose up from his stomach.


“Doesn’t sound like you got the in flight meal on that trip,” Xander quipped jovially as the librarian colored again with embarrassment.


“Apparently not,” the young Brit muttered in return. “I-I don’t understand. I had something to eat only an hour ago. How could I be hungry again?”


“An ice cream cone at the mall hardly qualifies as dinner,” Joyce chuckled in matronly amusement. “A growing boy your age needs to eat real food.” She stopped, suddenly realizing she might have said the wrong thing. “What I meant was…”


“I know.” Giles sighed in concession to the obvious. “It would seem I’ve developed a bit of an appetite due to this condition of mine. As I recall my mother often complained I was in danger of eating the family out of house and home. It appears some things are destined to remain unchanged on this time around as well.”


“So, all of this,” Xander said, gesturing at the young librarian’s physical self. “It’s pretty much the same as when you were a kid before? Man, Giles, you sure were small-owww!” The boy howled as Buffy suddenly kicked him in the shin, reminding him of his promise not to chide the Brit about his diminished stature. “Smart!” Xander swiftly amended his interrupted statement, attempting a recovery that was less than smooth. “I meant smart. You sure must have been a smart kid. A regular little genius. What?” he protested in irritation as Willow elbowed him in the ribs.


“He-he didn’t mean little,” Willow apologized, hoping the librarian hadn’t been upset by Xander’s comment. “At least not in a bad sense. What Xander was trying to say is that you’re, well…”


“Only slightly vertically challenged,” Buffy suggested as she tried to define the librarian’s lack of height in a non-insulting way. “Kind of a Giles in the pocket sized edition.”


Joyce jumped in at that point, seeing how the conversation was beginning to deteriorate. She remembered how irritated the librarian had become when the salespeople at the mall made some pointed reference to his age or size. Some adults had been condescending and overly sweet while others simply ignored the Brit, turning instead to Joyce as if the boy weren’t there at her side. The shopping trip had shown her how cruel and rude the world could be to a small child. Giles didn’t need to think his friends were that way, too.


“If you’re hungry,” Joyce brightly interjected. “I could start dinner. Why don’t we go see what you’ve got?”


“I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble,” Giles responded politely to her offer. “You’ve done enough today already.”


“Nonsense!” she said and rose to her feet. “I know I wasn’t any big help with the research and all. I still don’t have a clue what we were looking for. Anyway, it may not be the politically correct thing to admit these days, what with women’s liberation from domestic drudgery and the equality of the sexes, but I happen to like cooking and doing the ‘Mom’ thing as Buffy puts it.”


“And she’s not half bad at it,” her daughter complimented with a grin. “Especially the cooking part.”


“You’d be surprised at the miracles I can work with a few leftovers and a cup of rice,” Joyce bragged cheerfully. “I’m sure we can rustle up something for this hungry gang.”


“If a free meal is part of the deal, I’m in,” Xander said voicing his support for the idea. His own mother wasn’t much of a cook. In fact, her best efforts in the kitchen usually involved a telephone and a select list of take-out restaurants. The chance for a home cooked dinner, even in someone else’s home, was something Xander wasn’t about to pass up.


“That sounds like a resounding yes,” Buffy chuckled at her friend’s enthusiasm. “Anyone else in favor of Mom doing her Julia Child routine?” There was an eager show of hands among the teens. Turning to Giles the blonde grinned haughtily down her nose at him. “This being a democratic society, the people have spoken. Once again the English get their royal butts whipped!”


Giving Giles an apologetic smile for her daughter’s Brit bashing comment Joyce headed toward the kitchen, moving into a familiar “Mom as Chef” mode. The teens took a few minutes to call their respective homes and alert parents to their dining plans then wandered over to gather around the kitchen pass through counter where they proceeded to provide a running commentary as they watched Buffy’s mother work. A quick reconnaissance through Giles’ cupboards turned up a veritable horde of pasta, enough to feed an army of teenagers. The refrigerator was stocked with plenty of choices in the vegetable department and the freezer yielded several small packages of chicken. Soon Joyce was assigning tasks to everyone as she put on a pot of water to boil and set about preparing dinner for six hungry people.


Giles joined Joyce in the kitchen, helping her find the tools and pans she needed. Setting his worries about his impending departure aside the young Brit decided to enjoy what little time he had left with his good friends. They had been his extended family these last years and had made him feel at home in this strange new country where he had come to live. He shrugged off the gloomy pall that threatened to smoother him, concentrating instead on the teens’ spirited exchange of stories as they described what they had been up to that afternoon.


First up was Buffy and Xander who told of the vampire nest and its subsequent destruction with great satisfaction, though the blonde was understandably vague with certain details of her slaying activities for her mother’s sake. Willow and Oz’s took their turn next. Excitedly they related the tale of the people they’d seen and questioned. It seemed to Giles that the young couple had enjoyed their particular assignment. His observance was confirmed when Willow dropped the hint she and Oz had used the opportunity to check out prices on engagement-style rings.


This last bit of news stirred the three females into a pique of excitement. Willow beamed with uncontained joy as she announced nothing was official, but she and Oz were definitely at a serious phase where their relationship deserved some outward symbol of recognition, if not an engagement ring then at least a token of their promise to each other. The musician shyly admitted they had one or two purchase prospects in mind and had set cash down to hold them until they finished checking out all their options.


“I couldn’t help noticing someone else went to the mall this afternoon,” Buffy said with a look toward Giles. She pretended nonchalance, busying herself with the task of chopping vegetables as she prodded the librarian for further information. “What were you guys doing out there?”


“Shopping,” the unsuspecting Briton replied without elaboration. Giles was pre-occupied with his own assigned chore, slicing the frozen chicken breasts into thin strips. Joyce had announced that she planned to sauté the meat with some fresh garlic that she had found hanging in his kitchen. Buffy didn’t have the heart to tell her mom the fragrant string of herbs was probably purchased for purposes other than culinary and Giles was too polite to speak up himself.


“Yeah, well like, duh!” Buffy sneered with exaggerated sarcasm at Giles’ succinct reply to her question. “I’d figured as much when I saw the stuff you came in with. Give with the info, Giles. Where’d you go? What’d you get?”


“Nothing special,” he answered. Frowning Giles brushed the back of a hand across his face, pushing back the hair that had fallen across his eyes. “Just stuff.”


Buffy grinned at the librarian. His glasses had begun to slide down his face again and he kept scrunching up his nose to prevent them from slipping off. The teen thought her British friend looked too adorable for words at that moment. With his tongue sticking out one side of his mouth between lightly clenched teeth and his concentration totally focused on the butchering task before him she could see the quintessential Gilesian potential waiting within the boy to blossom into full adulthood. She was particularly amazed at how skillfully he wielded the sharp chef’s knife in his small hand, using it with the same proficiency and expertise as he would any of his weapons.


“I think Buffy was hoping that there was something for her in one of those bags over there,” Willow added with a nod of her head toward the packages on the nearby bench. The red head shared a knowing grin with her best friend as she sneaked a taste from the pile of vegetables Buffy had been chopping. As the blonde slapped her hand away Willow continued her interview, her own curiosity now roused. “So, what kind of ‘stuff’ did you buy? Anything good?”


“Clothing,” was the librarian’s succinct answer.


“Clothing?” Buffy repeated. Brushing a stray lock of hair from her cheek she frowned at the youth standing beside her. “That’s it? That’s all I get? What happened to all that stuff about details and being helpful with specifics? Humph! Sounds like I’m not the only one here who has a problem with pertinent particulars.”


The librarian winced inwardly, his own words thrown back at him once again. Buffy deserved a better answer, but he hadn’t sufficiently recovered from the ordeal of shopping to want to talk about it. That afternoon’s excursion had been simply dreadful for him. First there was the unpleasant indignity of picking through the horrid selections in the children’s departments where it seemed almost every shirt featured an outrageous cartoon creature’s picture or some sporting celebrity on its front. And once one found something remotely worthy of purchase there was the matter of service to deal with, or rather the lack thereof. It was as if he’d become an invisible person. No one paid any attention to him, turning instead to Joyce for her input and approval. He was forced to rely on the woman like an interpreter, allowing her to voice his needs and handle the financial end of his transactions. The entire experience had left him quite frustrated.


Then there had been the agony of the countless humilities he had been expected to endure. He shuddered recalling how one particular salesclerk had made a big fuss over him, telling Joyce how her “son” was “a little darling” and “such a polite young boy”. It was all Giles could do to control his temper. He had an unbearable urge to smart off at the woman in full ‘Ripper” mode just to prove her wrong. But realizing the resulting embarrassment would reflect unkindly on Joyce as well he kept his tongue in check, ignoring the woman’s so called compliments. Thankfully his shopping companion had understood his discomfort and they left the store as soon as that purchase transaction had been completed.


The remainder of their mall outing proved little better for the age metamorphosed Brit. Everywhere he went the adults treated him with either callous disregard or a cloying contempt for his diminished years. Joyce tried to shield him from the worst of it and for that he was very grateful, but the experience had left him embittered and cynical. He had seen the world from the unfortunate eyes of an eight-year-old child and things would never look the same again.


But fortunately for the girls Joyce was more than willing to share the particulars of their shopping escapade and launched into a lengthy tale regaling many of their exploits, saving the Brit the agony of having to deal with that bit of unpleasantness. Listening to the woman prattle on Giles was amazed by Joyce’s fantastic memory for minutia as she gave a full account of the inventory from each store, embellishing with exacting detail the description of every outfit. Meanwhile Oz and Xander, who were less than interested in the discussion of someone else’s wardrobe, became engrossed in the critique of the latest video game that had come out.


As the normally quiet sanctuary of his apartment resonated with noisy chatter Giles felt a serene contentment fill his soul. Multiple hands were busy working away at meal preparations, friends were sharing joyous laughter with open abandon. Was this what life was like for other people, normal people? Everyone just hanging around and having a good time? No monsters and demons to fight, no prophecies of death and doom or apocalyptic end of the world devastation to avert. In his forty-plus years of life he didn’t think he’d ever experienced anything like this. It was a moment he could only define as ordinary. But Giles knew that it was the very everyday commonness of the scene before him that destined it to become a special memory he would treasure for a lifetime to come.


The conversation continued to swell and flow around him as the Brit allowed himself the indulgent luxury of just being with his closest friends. From time to time he would join in, adding his own take on whatever topic had come up for discussion. Music, homework, even politics: the teens freely touched every subject he could imagine, and then some. Inside of one hour’s time Giles learned all the latest school gossip from which student was dating what particular boy or girl to the low down on several juicy rumors concerning his fellow teachers. And when the librarian thought he’d heard it all and his steadily increasing appetite could no longer go ignored Joyce finally announced dinner was ready to be served.


Having lived as a reclusive bachelor Giles’ apartment wasn’t set up to accommodate larger dinner gatherings. But the group improvised, putting together chairs and a table he kept for just such ‘emergencies’. As Xander took and filled orders for who wanted what to drink Buffy went exploring and came up with a tablecloth, while Willow and Oz put out plates and utensils. Eventually they all settled down to a pleasant dinner, which the librarian proceeded to devour with all the gusto befitting a starving youth from the orphanages of a Charles Dickens novel. The only dark cloud hanging over the occasion was the unspoken secret that he and Joyce shared alone, that this evening could very well be the last time he would be able to get together with his four teenaged students. But as was befitting his honor as both a gentleman and good host Giles did his best to keep his guests in good spirits, forgoing any mention of his imminent departure during the meal.


Time seemed to pass by all too quickly for the librarian that night. Soon appetites had been satisfied, furniture returned to its proper place and the dinner dishes washed and put away. Oz and Willow announced they had to leave and began their good-byes. Willow promised to call Buffy the next morning to confirm any possible plans for the day, and then she and Oz headed off together in the musician’s van. The others weren’t far behind them. Worried about Xander walking alone across town in the dark, a time when they all knew the vampires of Sunnydale could make such a solitary sojourn deadly, Joyce offered the boy a ride to his home. Having faced his quota of hungry vampires for the day Xander wisely accepted.


Giles was escorting his guest toward the door when a loud knock surprised them all. In an apprehensive flash Buffy remembered Wesley’s previous arrangement to meet her. She glanced at the nearby clock on the wall. It was nine o’clock, right on the dot. She groaned in reluctant acceptance of the inevitable as she turned to face Giles.


“That’s Wesley,” she sighed apologetically. “He said he’d meet me here so we can patrol tonight. Guess I forgot to mention that, huh?”


“You’re going on patrol with Wesley?” Giles asked, his surprise obvious. He glanced anxiously toward Buffy’s mother who immediately understood the librarian’s look of concern. Talk of his rescheduled departure had been avoided with great care that evening. The two of them had discussed the matter earlier, Giles feeling that the news could wait for a more appropriate time, preferably the next day. Joyce had reluctantly agreed to keep the information quiet, though she protested having to withhold something so important from her own daughter. So far their secret had remained safe. But all that could change with Wesley.


Giles stared at the closed door before him. The only other person knowing about his departure tomorrow was Wesley. He hadn’t anticipated the Watcher patrolling with Buffy that night. He had hoped to speak with Wesley the next morning, before the man got together with the slayer. All he needed was for the man to let one wrong word slip and he would divulge the carefully kept confidence Giles had fought to keep from the girl. He had to find some way to prevent that from happening, to get Wesley to agree to be part of the silence.


“I know, I know,” Buffy was saying as she threw her hands out in a gesture of apology. She’d interpreted Giles’ question as a complaint about the Englishman’s presence. “He’s the last person you want to see. Believe me, if I could get out of this, I would. I’m not getting any warm fuzzies over the idea of me and Wesley alone together.”


“How can you be both alone and together?” Xander puzzled as he shrugged on the jacket he’d worn earlier that morning. “You’re either alone, or together. Unless…oh, oh! I get it! This is one of those oxymoron things, like jumbo shrimp and military intelligence.”


The knocking at the door became more insistent. Giles briefly considered ignoring the rapping. He could pretend he wasn’t at home and maybe Wesley would just go away. But reality took over. He knew the man wouldn’t give up so easily. He had no choice but to confront his fellow countryman and hope for the best.


Taking a deep breath Giles opened the door. Wesley was there as Buffy had predicted. The Englishman pushed his way inside without further invitation, greeting the others with cool politeness before turning to Buffy. He looked pleased to find she had her coat in hand and appeared ready to go.


“Excellent!” The Watcher grinned broadly, his head moving in that smugly arrogant wobble that Buffy was beginning to recognize as purely Wesley. “I see you’re as eager as I to get started. We’ll not waste any more time then. There’s so much we have to discuss!”


“Oh, great!” the blonde griped glumly. She frowned and turned toward the others wearing a “pity poor me” look that begged for their sympathy. “Well, I guess there’s no escaping my destiny.” Dismissing her own problem with a shrug she showed the librarian an encouraging smile he addressed him. “I’ll be back tomorrow and we can look for this salesguy again. Sooner or later one of us is going to find him, I promise.”


Wesley raised a dubious eyebrow at the girl’s comment. “Bit of an optimist, aren’t we?” he chided the young blonde. “You haven’t much time-”


“To spare on things other than her Slayer duties. Yes, she knows,” Giles rushed in, interrupting the other Brit before he could say any more. Pushing the man back across the threshold, Giles stepped outside with him, his hand on the doorknob. “Will you please excuse us a moment,” he said to the others as they gaped in mild surprise. “I’d like to speak with Wesley alone for a moment.”


Closing the door on his friend’s perplexed faces the librarian turned to confront Wesley. The Watcher was frowning down at him, his irritation clearly written across his features. It was an intimidating sight that nearly robbed Giles of his courage, but the younger Brit managed to pull himself together and face the bigger man.


“What is this about, Rupert?” Wesley demanded impatiently. “You promised no more trouble. If you’re up to something-”


“We haven’t exactly seen eye to eye on many things,” Giles began in a rush before Wesley could stop him. “But I believe we can agree on one issue. Buffy’s safety and well being is of major importance to both of us.” Giles hesitated, uncomfortable at having to ask Wesley the favor he was about to propose. “I…I haven’t told her about my-my departure tomorrow,” he continued, his voice swiftly losing the confidence it had possessed only moments earlier. “I’m asking you to do the same, Wesley. To-to keep this to yourself, for tonight at least. Buffy needs to keep her mind focused on this demon problem. I-I wouldn’t want to see her hurt because she’s been distracted by other concerns.”


“And you think she would become pre-occupied by the news of you leaving and be unable to concentrate properly? Yes, I can see your point.” Wesley was quiet, his gaze directed off into the distance as he considered Giles’ request. “It happens that I am in agreement with you on this issue, Rupert. You needn’t worry yourself about Buffy’s welfare. I won’t say a thing to her about any of this. Your departure shall remain our little secret.”


Unaware that he had been holding his breath while waiting for Wesley’s decision Giles released a loud sigh of relief. That hadn’t gone so badly. Wesley was being quite reasonable for a change. He was fairly confident the man could be trusted to keep his promise. Wesley wouldn’t want anything going awry on tonight’s patrol. With his immediate apprehensions assuaged the librarian felt the beginnings of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.


“So,” Giles said, tilting his head back to look up at the Watcher with a faint trace of amusement. “I assume you’re prepared for this outing of yours tonight.”


“I’ve done my research,” Wesley replied with confidence and a touch of arrogant bravado. “And I have a sufficient variety of weapons in the van at our disposal. I believe we’ll be ready for any contingency that might happen to come along.”


“Weapons, yes,” Giles nodded thoughtfully. “A Watcher certainly should have plenty of those on hand for his slayer. But tell me, how are you set for cash? I trust you carry a credit card or two for emergencies.”


“Well, uhmm, yes. I do,” Wesley replied, taken aback by the inquiry as to his available monetary resources. “Why do you ask?”


A twinkle of amusement lit Giles’ eyes. The other Brit was frowning at him in complete confusion, unable to understand how he could possibly need a credit card while out on patrol. He really has no idea what he’s in for, the librarian chortled devilishly to himself under his breath. Well, he wasn’t going to spoil that little surprise. Wesley would just have to learn for himself.


“Oh, no reason in particular,” the librarian lied, his boyish face the picture of innocence. “Buffy will fill you in later. Just try not to get yourself killed out there, Wesley.”


“I assure you I have no intention of allowing that to happen,” Wesley haughtily retorted. He was insulted by the suggestion he might not be able to handle the situation. Scowling down at the impudent boy the older Englishman opened his mouth to protest, but held his tongue as the librarian turned away and yanked the front door open. Three sets of curious eyes immediately looked up, confronting the two Brits with questioning stares.


“Is everything okay?” Buffy asked. She looked from Giles to Wesley and back to Giles again, searching for some sign of injury to either one of them that would betray the violent scene she suspected had taken place outside only moments ago. But neither Briton bore a mark of any kind she could see.


“Everything is fine,” the librarian assured the blonde teen. “Wesley and I have reached an understanding. He’s to have you home no later than midnight, or your mother and I will forbid you to go out with him again.”


“Thanks a lot, Giles,” Buffy grumbled as the librarian cracked a wry smile, but she grinned at his attempted humor. It was nice to see Giles in a good mood again. Though he had been cheerful enough over the course of the evening there were times when he’d seemed distant, lost in some other world. No doubt contemplating some weighty Watcher issue, the teen concluded introspectively. She imagined Giles thought about little else. Probably catalogued demons in his sleep. Yeah, that was her Giles. Research Brit extraordinaire, a Watcher tried and true. Being fired by the Council hadn’t made much of a difference in his life that she could see. He still clocked in the long hours doing all sorts of Watchery stuff. Even with this second childhood curse and everything else that had happened during the last few days Giles was managing to stay on top of all his routine duties, though she admitted it had made him a tad crankier than usual. But that was perfectly understandable. She could hardly expect an eight-year-old bewitched librarian to be Happy Little Camper Guy of the Year.


Slipping on her jacket Buffy gave her mother a peck on the cheek and said good-bye to her friends. With a final sigh of resignation she turned to leave with Wesley. She wasn’t looking forward to this night with her new Watcher. Several excruciating hours in the pretentious Englishman’s company was not her idea of fun. But she had a job to do. As an idle thought flitted across her mind Buffy felt her spirits take a slight upward swing. Maybe she’d get lucky and bag the demon right off, calling an early end to her evening patrol. Then she could bail for home and get a good night’s sleep for a change. She had a lot of stuff she wanted to do tomorrow and the rest would be welcome.


“Take care, sweetie,” Joyce called out after her daughter. Buffy raised a hand in return, acknowledging her parent’s cautionary counsel as the over-eager Wesley took her by the elbow and proceeded to whisk her away into the night.


“Don’t bother to wait up for me!” the teen yelled back over her shoulder to her parent. She shot a pointed sideways glare toward her Watcher, finishing with a snide crack. “I’ve got a feeling this is going to be a really long night.”


“Buffy?”


The sound of Giles’ little boy voice piercing the darkness brought the teen to an immediate stop. There was a sense of urgency in the librarian’s tone and Buffy’s felt her heart skip a beat. Pulling away from Wesley guiding influence she turned back toward the apartment. The young librarian stood in the open doorway, his smaller figure framed between her mother and Xander.


“Giles?” Starting toward the trio Buffy felt Wesley’s hand restrain her. “Giles, what is it? What’s wrong?”


“What? Wrong? Oh! Uhhm, n-nothing,” the Brit stammered hesitantly. “I-I-I wanted to say, uh, good-bye.”


“Good-bye?” Buffy regarded Giles with dubious suspicion. She knew the Brit was holding something back. With a skeptic frown creasing her features she prodded her youthened friend further. “That’s it? Just…good-bye?”


Giles swallowed the lump in his throat that rose with the lie, pushing its sour ache downward where it lodged uncomfortably behind his sternum. “Yes, that was all,” he mumbled in meek reply. “Good-bye. Oh, and be careful!”


Something was wrong. Buffy could feel it. Deep inside her was an awareness, a sixth sense that told her Giles wasn’t being totally straight with her. He was trying to hide it, but she knew he was worried. And while that in and of itself wasn’t such an oddity, her instincts told her things were different this time. This was serious. She could see a hundred unspoken fears etched into Giles’ anxious young countenance, the pain of whatever it was that he held back lying exposed in his unwavering gaze.


“Giles, it’s not like I don’t have Mom here for the big ‘Be Careful Out There’ speech,” the teen jovially admonished, wrestling back her growing anxieties. “You’re supposed to make with a rousing pep talk, something encouraging and inspirational, do the Knute Rockne bit. You know, ‘Get out there and win one for the Ripper!’”


“No, no! That would be my line,” Xander said, censuring his classmate. “Giles would probably come up with something more cerebellic like, uh, Corpus Demon.”


“You wouldn’t by some chance have meant to say Carpe Diem?” Giles asked, wincing at Xander’s unwitting mangling of the often-quoted phrase.


“Uhh, maybe,” the boy replied with an insecure shrug. Realizing he was in over his head with his foray into a subject he knew little about, Xander hesitated, but only briefly, pushing on with a renewed boldness that was inspired by his blissful ignorance. “That’s Latvian, right? Catch of the Day?”


“It’s Latin,” the librarian corrected. “And the generally accepted translation is Seize the Day. The phrase has nothing whatsoever to do with catching fish or demons.” Giles shook his head slowly and let out a long, exasperated sigh. “Really, Xander, the amount of incessant nonsense that you are capable of misconstruing never ceases to amaze me.”


“Yeah, I kind of have that effect on people,” the teen returned with a proud grin.


With an impatient glance at his watch Wesley cleared his throat, hinting that it was time he and Buffy were going. Not wanting to leave just yet the teen held her ground, hoping Giles would come clean about whatever was bothering him. But the librarian remained stubbornly silent, his expression once more composed and unreadable. Sweeping back her hair with a resolute gesture Buffy reluctantly turned at last and fell into step with her Watcher, walking at his heels as he made his way toward the street out in front of the condo where his van was parked.


Rounding the corner of the building Buffy looked back over her shoulder, fervently willing some miraculous excuse to make itself know so she would be spared this ill-fated appointment with her Watcher. It was obvious how she felt about the night ahead. Obvious that is to everyone but Wesley. The egotistical Englishman marched blithely onward, his thoughts focussed on the patrol ahead of them as he lectured Buffy, delivering what promised to be a lengthy summary of his day’s research.


Xander watched from the apartment doorway as his schoolmate’s blonde head slump forward in dejected misery, her normally high spirits under assault by the Briton’s boring monologue. The teen had a special soft spot in his heart for his slayer companion and it pained him to see her so down in the dumps.


“Maybe I should go along,” he suggested aloud, his gaze following the pair as they retreated across the courtyard. “I could sort of keep an eye on things, make sure there isn’t an unexplained sudden increase in the Watcher slash Slayer related murder and or suicide statistics.”


“Perhaps that would be wise,” Giles quickly agreed.


Taking off at a run Xander caught up with Buffy and Wesley as they were about to disappear around the next corner. From where they stood Giles and Joyce couldn’t hear the exchange of conversation as the boy approached the pair, inviting himself along on the night’s patrol, but Wesley’s initial reaction was unmistakably negative. The Watcher shook his head vehemently, his expression one of adamant opposition to the boy’s presence. Buffy, however, had a different opinion. She threw her arms around her friend, hugging him warmly, her enthusiasm conferring definite agreement with her friend’s offer to come along and help. A short discussion ensued amongst the three and Giles couldn’t hold back a grin of satisfaction as the Watcher’s stiffened back and sullen step as he trailed the two young students off into the darkness made it clear who had won the argument.


A stray breeze rustled the leafy canopy over the courtyard, sending Giles back into the foyer behind him to escape the cooling night. His hands thrust deep into his pockets the librarian felt a shiver run through him. But it wasn’t the evening’s chill that was responsible for the trembling in his body as he looked out over his apartment. It was the emptiness of the room he faced. At one time he had welcomed its tranquil seclusion, relishing the quiet of his surroundings as a place where he could escape the oppressive, confusion of the outside world, and his work at school. Now the dismal, tomb-like atmosphere was nothing more than a paltry excuse for shelter, a depressing mockery of the life-filled home it had been during the last few hours.


“Rupert?” The sound of Joyce’s voice brought him back from the emotional abyss into which he had been about to plummet. Her forehead was creased with small worry lines as she stared down at him. “Are you all right? You seem…out of it.”


“I’m fine,” he sighed, the briefest flicker of a smile touching his lips at her concern. When she didn’t seem convinced by his assurance the librarian added a meek confession. “Well, perhaps I’m a bit tired.”


“Only a bit?” the woman replied with the punctuation of a raised eyebrow. “You look like you’re about to fall asleep on your feet.” Her expression softened as she continued in a sympathetic tone. “It’s been a long day, hasn’t it?”


“And yet not nearly long enough,” he answered with a weary sigh. “There’s so much that I need to do before I leave tomorrow. I-I can’t imagine how I’ll finish it all.”


“I could stay,” she volunteered. “Help out with the packing.”


“It’s not that I don’t appreciate the offer,” the librarian politely began.


“But?” Joyce prompted the boyish Brit to continue.


“But,” Giles obligingly responded, his words apologetic. “I’d prefer to do it myself, thank you. Besides, I really don’t think I’m going to getting much sleep tonight, considering. The work will keep me occupied, help pass the hours.”


“If you’re sure,” Joyce frowned, gathering her coat from the rack behind her and slipping it on. Giles nodded. “Well, I guess I’ll be going.”


She started through the doorway, her curious gaze following the small librarian as he stepped back out into the courtyard with her. “I’ll see you to your car,” the Brit announced, meeting her quizzical eye.


“I think I can find my way,” she flippantly teased the boy.


“And so could any vampire that’s creeping about waiting for its next meal.”


It was a reply that caught Joyce by surprise. The serious voice that had cautioned her was experienced beyond the years of the young face that looked up at her. Her first reaction was to challenge the librarian. What could he possibly do to protect her? He was so small, a tiny slip of a boy. But she knew that would be a mistake. Giles had enough problems coping with the return to childhood that had been thrust upon him. He didn’t need her stepping on what might be an already bruised and fragile ego.


“All right,” she nodded, trying her best not to sound condescending. “I guess there’s something to be said for that old adage about ‘safety in numbers’.”

“Personally, I prefer ‘walk softly and carry a pointy stick.’” the librarian cracked back smartly.


“I think that’s ‘big stick’” she gently corrected the youthful boy at her side. “At least that’s how I remember Theodore Roosevelt saying it. You need to take a refresher course in American history, Rupert.”


With what could only be described as a devilish grin the Briton reached into a pocket, withdrawing a sharpened wood stake.


“Your President Roosevelt apparently never had a run in with a vampire,” he retorted with a gleeful chuckle. “Or I’m sure he would have said pointy.”


They shared a brief moment of laughter, Giles’ childish giggles temporarily holding the gloom of Joyce’s impending departure at bay for a few minutes longer. Then the darkness returned once again, enveloping them both in its silent stillness. Without a word they turned and began to make their way out to the street.


The night was slightly chilly, the sky dark and clear of any cloud cover. Every star stood out against the deep blue canopy overhead, the moon glowing bright enough to light the empty street. Climbing into her SUV Joyce slammed the door shut, rolling down the window to say her farewell.


“Buffy will be here bright and early tomorrow,” she warned the librarian good-naturedly. “You’d better set your alarm.” Her smile faded, her features concerned and seriously thoughtful. “You should have said something to the kids about having to leave tomorrow. They deserved to know the truth. They’re going to find out anyway. Why didn’t you just tell them?”


“I suppose I was rather hoping one of them might have found something, that it wouldn’t have been necessary,” Giles replied pensively as he pushed up the glasses that had slid down his nose.


“You really don’t want to go,” she observed, frowning sadly at the young boy. Giles shrugged philosophically.


“Sometimes these matters are decided for us. We must learn to accept what can’t be changed.”


“We’ve also got to know when it’s the right time to take a stand and fight against what’s wrong,” Joyce pointedly told the Brit, her voice edged with indignation. “This all seems so very wrong. You should stay if it’s what you want to do. You’re not in England, Rupert. This is America. Land of the free. We fought a war and won the right to make our own decisions over here,” she lectured with a smile.


“An unfortunate fact for which I will not hold you personally responsible,” the librarian replied in turn. Joyce laughed, starting the car’s engine. Suddenly Giles leaned forward, his hands anxiously clasping the door as if hoping to prevent her driving away.


“What is it?” she asked, her hand on the ignition key, ready to turn it off at a word from the librarian.


“I was wondering if perchance I could ask a favor,” Giles said.


“You know you can.”


“I shall need someone to post my belongings to England,” the Brit requested shyly, nervously studying his hands. “I realize it’s a lot to ask, and I wouldn’t want to burden you with the task except-“


“Buffy and I can do that,” Joyce interrupted. “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of everything on this end. It’s the least we can do.”


“Thank you,” the soft reply was a polite but barely audible mumble above the car’s purring engine. “You’ve been a kind friend, Joyce.”


Turning a smile upon the boy Joyce placed a hand over his, giving comfort with a gentle pat. “Call me if you need anything, anything at all. Even if it’s just to talk. I’ll be up for a while, at least until Buffy gets back.”


The librarian nodded, unable to trust his voice to speak. Reluctantly he slid his hand from the woman’s touch and stepped back from the car. Joyce signaled her final parting with a wave, pulling slowly away from the curb to drive off into the night. A glance in her rear view mirror showed Giles standing alone in the dimly lit street, a small forlorn figure of a child looking lost and abandoned. For a moments she was tempted to turn around and go back, to sweep the young Brit up in her arms and take him home with her. But she reminded herself he wasn’t what he appeared to be. Inside that boyish urchin was a grown adult who was perfectly capable of looking after himself. With that thought she pressed her foot to the accelerator and continued down the road, heading for her home on Revello Drive.


Giles watched as the SUV disappeared into the distance. With a listless sigh he turned and slowly began to trudge back toward his apartment. There were so many things waiting for him. He had his belongings to organize, packing to do, a letter of resignation to send out. It was all so overwhelming. He hardly knew where to begin.


Shutting the door behind him Giles locked up for the night, alone once again. He paused, taking a long hard look around him at the place that had become his home. By this time tomorrow he would be well on his way to England, he reminded himself, possibly never to return to Sunnydale again. The despairing thought started a horrible tearing inside him as he fought back a wave of tears. He hadn’t time for such childish indulgent behavior now. There was too much work to be done. So it was with great effort Rupert Giles began to gather the pieces of his life, packing them away like so many treasured souvenirs. It would be many hours before he would see the sun rise through bleak, tired eyes and finally call an end to his day.







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