They disposed of the Rusalka in a deserted weed-overgrown field just beyond the city limits. Wesley had come prepared to deal with a wide variety of situations and the back of his van was equipped with two shovels and a broad assortment of digging tools. Fortunately the Rusalka was not as adapted to breathing normal air as they had previously thought and she had expired during the ride, leaving them with a non-living carcass to bury. Once their task was completed Wesley drove back into town, making his first stop at Xander’s house. The trio exchanged good-byes and Xander oozed out of the van, sliding to the ground with a soggy squish of his sneakers. With a final wave to his classmate he turned, trudging up the walkway to his front door, leaving behind a trail of wet, muddy footprints. Apparently no one was there to notice the teen’s late return, a fact that Buffy considered sad but for which Xander was very grateful. It meant not having to explain to his parents why two nights in a row he had come home in soaking wet clothes when it hadn’t been raining.
With Xander safe at home Wesley continued on to 1630 Revello Drive. Seeing the lights on downstairs Buffy knew her mother was still awake. She said a polite good night to Wesley then slid out of the van, limping up to the front door to let herself inside. The house was quiet. Her mother had fallen asleep on the sofa in the living room while reading a magazine, the evidence lying open across her lap. Her body was slumped to one side, head thrown back, mouth open and snoring softly. Buffy smiled, listening to her parent’s relaxed breathing, soaking in the moment of peace surrounding her. Then locking the front door behind her the teen carefully tip-toed through the foyer and up the stairs to her bedroom.
Some short time later Buffy had showered and changed into comfortable nightclothes. She took a few moments to tend the scratches on her leg, disinfecting the deep gouges and applying gauze over the worst of the wounds. Lying back in her bed she thought about that night’s patrol with Wesley. It hadn’t been as bad as she’d expected. The Watcher had managed to come though for her in the end. Now if only she could get him to leave the boring pre-patrol lectures at home things would work out okay for the two of them.
The teen closed her eyes, sinking back into the soft embrace of her pillow. She realized in shock that she’d fallen asleep when she roused to find the sun streaming its cheery rays through the window beside her bed the next morning. The room lights had been turned off at some point and her blanket pulled up and tucked around her, proof that her mother had stopped by her room during the night to check on her.
Buffy sat up, stretching her aching muscles. Getting to her feet cautiously she tested her injured leg before putting her full weight on it. It didn’t feel too bad. Once she got going she would forget all about the wounds. As a healthy young slayer Buffy was a remarkably good healer. In a matter of days her battle with the Rusalka would be a thing of the past, as would the scratches on her leg.
Her outfit that day was comfy and casual, chosen to hide her bandaged limb. It wouldn’t do to get her mother upset over a few Rusalka scratches. After slipping into a pair of loose fitting slacks and a matching pale blue top and cardigan Buffy did a quick knot to fix her hair up off her shoulders, fastening it in place with a sparkly clip. Then she checked her reflection in the mirror on her dresser, found it acceptable, and headed downstairs to breakfast and the new day.
Her mother was awake and downstairs in the kitchen making pancakes. It only took Buffy a minute to notice something was wrong. Her mom was walking though the motions of cooking like an automaton. She was moving aimlessly about the kitchen without any real thought as to what she was doing, leaving little messes behind on the counter as she stirred a bowl that was filled to overflowing with batter.
“Hey, Mom,” Buffy sang out, cheerily greeting her parent as she came up behind her. Joyce swung around and Buffy had to jump back to avoid the gooey batter droplets flung in her direction from the wooden spoon in her mother’s hand. “So, just how many people are in this army that you’re cooking for?” the girl quipped with a nod toward the bowl in the woman’s arms.
Joyce flushed, staring at the pancake batter. “I guess I did get a little carried away. Hope you’re hungry this morning.”
“Mmmmm, famished,” Buffy replied, smiling.
“Great,” Joyce returned brightly as she put the heavy bowl on the counter top. Her expression flickered slightly as she regarded the mess around her. “Because I don’t think I’ve got enough room in the freezer for this many leftovers.”
“We could always hang out a sign,” the teen suggested, perching atop a nearby stool. “Slayer Pancake Breakfast Social. Three dollars a plate. All proceeds to benefit local fashion needy vampire killer on a restricted budget.”
“A very worthy cause,” her mother chuckled, digging a griddle-pan out of the cupboard and setting it on the stove. “Is this a hint you want a bigger allowance?”
“Maybe,” the teen shrugged, eyeing her mother hopefully as she carried her batter bowl across the room. “You’d be amazed how little public awareness there is about the problems inherent in keeping a teenage slayer’s wardrobe properly stocked.” Buffy giggled, shaking her head as she wiped at a stray spot of batter on the countertop. “God, will you listen to me? I’m beginning to sound like Giles.”
As the librarian’s name left her lips a loud clatter at the stove interrupted Buffy’s thoughts. She looked up to see that her mother had dropped the batter bowl on the floor and was trying desperately to rescue the remaining portion of liquid pancake that had yet to spill.
“So much for those new boots I was hoping to get,” the teen sighed. She got up to give her mother a hand in the clean up, but Joyce anxiously waved her back.
“It’s all right. I can handle it. Just a little mess. Nothing serious.”
Buffy’s mouth twisted in a pensive frown, but she stayed put where she was on the stool. Something was definitely wigging her mom. She watched as her mother tackled the puddle of batter on the floor with a pile of paper towels. The spaz vibes emanating from her parent’s frizzled karma were so obvious they fairly crackled in the air. What had got her mother so keyed up that morning? First there was the baking, a usually reliable indication that her mom was trying to work out some sort of inner angst. Now the butter fingers syndrome had begun. If this kept up they’d be knee deep in broken eggs and flour clouds by lunchtime.
“Mom, is something wrong?” Buffy asked, leaning her chin on her hands. “You seem a little…tense.”
“Tense? Me? Nahh!” Joyce laughed nervously, her voice less than convincing. She flashed a strained smile at her daughter. “Maybe I’ve had a little too much caffeine this morning. I’m sure it’ll wear off.”
Buffy glanced over at the coffee machine on the counter behind her. A nearly full fresh pot sat warming on the burner. She looked around and saw her mother’s favorite coffee mug by the sink. From across the room she could see that it too was practically full. So either her mother had drunk and entire ten cups of coffee and was into her second pot of the brew, or she was lying.
Shrugging inwardly Buffy decided to write off her parent’s weird behavior to all the stuff that was going on with Giles leaving Sunnydale. For some reason her mom had seemed kind of upset about the news, something Buffy found strangely discomforting. Not that it was a bad thing. She certainly didn’t want her mother hating the librarian. But there was such a thing as being too much in like. Maybe it was just some biological parenting gene kicking in, she thought. What with Giles being a little kid he kind of brought out those warm, fuzzy feelings in her mom. She sure hoped that’s all it was. She didn’t think she could deal with the other possible explanation that sprang to mind. Mom and Giles. Uggh! Buffy shuddered as she recalled the display of candy induced madness she had witnessed between the two adults. No, she told herself firmly. It couldn’t be that. Never. Uh, uh. No way.
Joyce had finished mopping the floor and had returned to her cooking duties, pouring out circles of pancake batter on the preheated griddle. Buffy attempted to engage her mother with some light chatter, but the woman seemed strangely sensitive to any mention of the librarian’s dilemma. When Buffy talked about her plans to continue the search for the elusive magician her mom became flustered again, dropping things and babbling nervously about strange, unrelated things. The teen couldn’t help but notice how her parent pointedly avoided any significant eye contact and kept trying to change the subject. There was no doubt now that this thing with Giles was responsible for stressing her out.
Deciding her mom might do better sorting out her problems on her own Buffy polished off her breakfast in record time. She had a second obligatory stack of pancakes to assuage her parent’s need to mother, sticking around just long enough to help clear the dirty dishes and make sure her mother would be okay before grabbing a jacket and taking off to see how Giles was doing. As she walked out the door she could hear her mom doing a reconnaissance of the refrigerator’s contents in preparation for yet another round of therapeutic baking. Throwing out a quick good bye Buffy ducked out the back door and hurried on her way.
It was just after eight o’clock when she left the house. The condominium complex where the librarian lived wasn’t far from the school and she used the leisurely walk to work the kinks out of her stiff muscles. She was anxious to fill in Giles on the sitch at the pond. Though under no obligation to report to him anymore, Buffy knew the librarian would want to hear everything that had happened during patrol. That was just the way Giles was. And she didn’t really mind. It was kind of nice having someone who could appreciate the latest in slayer gossip and demon news, and she didn’t certainly have to worry about Giles going all freakazoid on her when she relayed some particularly juicy slayage detail. He took that kind of stuff in stride.
Sunday morning was very quiet time in Sunnydale. Buffy carried along a care package of baked goods her mom had packed for Giles. She must have been up early baking, Buffy thought as she sniffed the delicious odor of chocolate wafting from the covered plate. The teen found it funny how her mother had suddenly taken a concerned interest in Giles diet, like she was afraid he was going to go hungry or something. Not that the librarian wouldn’t appreciate the brownies. Her mom was a good cook and Giles had definitely developed a sweet tooth over these past few days.
She arrived at the condo as the neighborhood paperboy was wheeling away on his bike. Picking up the thick Sunday gazette, Buffy announced herself with a perky knock and waited. Giles answered almost immediately, greeting her with a pleasant smile as he opened the door, stepping back to let her inside.
“Whoa, Giles!” the teen exclaimed with brightly astonished enthusiasm. “Get a look at you!”
Handing over the morning paper to the Brit Buffy gave his outfit an appreciative eye. The clothing was all obviously new, fresh from yesterday’s trip to the mall. Giles still sported his oversized wire rimmed glasses, but he’d ditched the tweed suit, tie and suspender braces he usually wore, trading them in for a pair of trendy multi-pocketed baggy cargo pants and a blue and white boldly printed shirt worn with its sleeves casually rolled up his forearms. The scuffed sneakers were gone, replaced by leather docksider loafers, and somehow he had managed to tame his unruly mop of hair, brushing it into what amounted to an orderly mane for a change. The resulting effect was a remarkably together mix of haut monde casual in the stylings of Ambercrombie and Fitch, only worn by an eight-year old boy instead of the sculpted, hard bodied teen and twenty-something models usually found in the popular catalogue.
Setting the plate of baked goods aside on the kitchen counter Buffy grinned at the young librarian. This was definitely a Giles she’d never imagined. Dressed as he was the Britisher could easily have walked the halls of any socially upscale school in California and not caused a hint of suspicion, though she had no doubt he could have turned more than a few heads. Buffy quickly dismissed that last thought, not wanting to dwell on the possible scary implications it brought to mind. Still, Giles was looking pretty much a tot-sized version of a muffin du jour.
Circling the young librarian Buffy continued to examine him closely from every possible angle, her face a picture of critical concentration. Giles endured the acute scrutiny with fidgeting apprehension, shuffling from foot to foot as he pushed at the glasses sliding down his nose. After several excruciatingly long minutes Buffy stepped back, folding her arms across her front with a gesture of finality. Beaming a bright smile she gave the small Brit a nod of approval.
“Gotta say, Mom sure knows how to pick ‘em,” Buffy announced admiringly. “And who woulda guessed you looked like this under all those uptight layers of suit?”
“Why do you automatically assume your mother had an influence in my clothing purchases?” Giles remarked defensively, his cheeks blushing warmly at the girl’s offhanded compliment. “I happen to think I have a more than fair appreciation for what is considered stylish.”
“Yeah, as long as it comes in either tweed or tweed,” the girl observed wryly. “Face it, Giles. You have about as much flair for fashion couture as I do a grasp of Quantum Physics. Besides, I’ve been shopping with her for years and believe me, that outfit fairly screams Mom.” Buffy chuckled, shaking her head in wonder. “Who’d have guessed she knew so much about buying guys’ clothes?”
“Personally, I suspect she was more than a little delighted to have a go at it,” Giles frowned, recalling Joyce’s jubilant reactions as she led their buying excursion at the mall. He sighed and closed the front door, leading Buffy across the room. “She seems to have harbored some hidden desire to shop for the brother you never had. I-I don’t know if I could go through an experience like that again. It was positively frightening!”
“Come on, Giles,” Buffy chided the librarian. “It wasn’t really all that bad, was it?”
Tossing the unread paper on the coffee table Giles flopped down on the sofa. “Buffy, your mother is a very dear woman. But put a charge card in her hand and she’s an entirely different person. It-it was like some unholy demonic force had been lurking about in that mall, just waiting to possess her!”
“That’s my Mom!” Buffy grinned proudly. “Those old Latin guys of yours had a saying for her. Veni, Vedi, Visa. I came, I saw, I charged it.” Chuckling in agreement Giles scooted over to make room for her to sit beside him on the sofa.
“And how did everything go last night?” he asked, trying to appear casual as he changed the subject. Buffy suppressed the urge to laugh at the young Brit. It was obvious that Giles was dying to find out what had gone on in his absence. Fighting down a bout of giggles she kept her own voice nonchalant as she replied to his inquiry.
“Oh, you know how it is,” she sighed, perching next to the librarian and carefully curling her wounded leg under herself. “You slay one morphing killer fish-faced water demon, you’ve pretty much slain them all.” Giles turned toward her, his expression barely containing his unappeased curiosity. Buffy finally broke down into a fit of laughter, her eyes twinkling merrily with glee. “We kicked major butt and hung that Rusalka out to dry” she boasted to the Brit with cheerful enthusiasm. “Xander thought you might have wanted to keep her as a pet, you know, set up one an aquarium with the little diver and some pretty colored stones, but we couldn’t find a plastic baggie big enough to bring her home in. Wesley made us bury her.”
“And how did it go with Wesley?”
“He did okay, I guess,” the teen grudgingly admitted. “He started off a bit shaky, but he really came through when I needed him. Not a bad shot with the ol’ crossbow, either. Almost as good as you,” Buffy teased. “But don’t you worry,” she grinned an assurance at the youth beside her. “I’m not going to trade you in for the newer model just yet. Things wouldn’t be the same around here without you, Giles.”
“But you do think that you could work with Wesley on a more permanent basis,” the librarian continued probing cautiously. “If it became necessary.”
“Well, yeah, I guess so,” Buffy frowned. “If I had a major lobotomy first, because, like, I would definitely need one of those before I even considered what you’re talking about.”
Buffy gave the librarian a skeptical glance. She didn’t like where this conversation had headed. Maybe Giles was sliding into one of his depressed funks again. He did seem on the downside of glum now that she looked at him. Was everyone taking unhappy pills today? Giles and her mother were practically a matching set of bookends in mood. Well, she’d put a stop to that soon enough. A little Buffy pep talk should do the trick and boost Giles’ spirits. Switching into full-of perky-energy cheerleader mode the teen began what she hoped to be a rousing speech.
“I did some thinking last night,” she started, pausing to grin as she attempted a bit of humor at her own expense. “Yeah, I know. It’s not often you get to hear me say that, so you might want to get out your calendar and jot this date down for posterity’s sake. Anyway, when the guys and I go out today to look for…”
Buffy stopped in mid-sentence. She’d just noticed several suitcases stacked near the bottom of the stairs. She was pretty sure that they hadn’t been there yesterday. That meant Giles had brought them down this morning. Buffy knew that her friend didn’t like to let things go until the last minute, but this was a little early for him to start thinking about packing his bags.
Puzzled, Buffy turned to Giles. The librarian was fidgeting nervously, his hands folded in his lap, his gaze fixed on his feet as they swung slowly back and forth above the floor. Doing a quick survey of the apartment Buffy discovered that all the bookcases had been emptied of their few remaining volumes. The texts had been carefully sorted and placed into several cartons scattered about the room as had Giles’ valuable record collection. In fact, everywhere she looked around her was evidence the Brit had been busy, filling boxes that she hadn’t noticed before.
A disquieting feeling settled upon the anxious teen. Buffy found her mind conjuring up some very unpleasant thoughts. People used luggage when they traveled. Multiple suitcases meant a far away trip, or going away for a very long time. Plus Giles had put anything that was of any importance to him into boxes. And all this after announcing he was going back to England. It didn’t take a genius to do the math. Turning toward the librarian she asked for an explanation.
“Giles? What’s with the bags?”
“Ah, yes, uhmm, those? Well,” Giles cleared his throat, avoiding the teen’s searching gaze. He realized that the time for the truth had come at last, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to speak the words. Staring down at the floor he could feel the girl’s words burning accusingly into his soul. She deserved an answer, but he had none to offer. How did one tell a dear friend they were going away forever? As he struggled to find the courage to reply Buffy finally interceded and said what he couldn’t.
“You’re packed and ready to go, aren’t you?”
Giles meekly shrugged his slim shoulders. But Buffy wasn’t about to let him off so easily. Grabbing his arm she pulled him around to face her, giving him a rough shake.
“When, Giles?” she demanded gruffly. “When are you leaving? Tell me!”
“Tonight,” he mumbled. “My flight departs from L.A. at eight.”
The baggage had said as much, but actually hearing the admission from Giles left Buffy stunned. Tonight? She couldn’t have heard that right. But the young Brit’s downfallen expression revealed it was true. He really was going to leave tonight. A numbing sickness suddenly hit Buffy’s heart with a force that made it skip a beat. Staring blankly into the young face before her she felt lost, alone. What would she do without Giles? He was her mentor, her trainer. Her friend. Though they’d only known each other a few years he’d become such an important part of her life, as much as her parents or her friends. The thought of him not being around left a terrible aching emptiness inside her. He couldn’t just go away and leave her like this. But her heartfelt anguish all too quickly began to twist into something else as she realized Giles had not been entirely honest with her.
“How long have you known about this?” she reproached the librarian with a fiery scowl. The guilt written on his face told her what she’d suspected. “You knew about this yesterday, didn’t you? Didn’t you?” she demanded, her temper flaring dramatically. Giles didn’t answer, his repentant shame striking him mute. “Why didn’t you say something?” she continued accusingly. “Why, Giles? Why didn’t you tell me last night?”
“I-I didn’t want to burden you with my-my problems,” he choked out in an apologetic whisper. “And, well, I thought there might not be a need to say anything at all if…” Giles sighed, his voice trailing off weakly with the unspoken disappointment of yesterday’s failures.
“This can’t be happening,” Buffy moaned, releasing her hold on the librarian as she collapsed back on the sofa. She thought of her mother and how upset she’d been that morning. Well, this news definitely wasn’t going to improve her mood any. Still, she had to tell her. She’d want to know.
“I’ve gotta call Mom,” the teen announced, jumping to her feet and starting across the room toward the phone. “She’s going to freak big time when she hears this.”
“Your mother knows.”
“What?” Giles’ unexpected comment brought Buffy to a halt in mid-step. Turning on the librarian she shook her head in disbelief. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I heard that right. What did you just say?”
“You don’t need to ring her,” Giles responded with a quiet, brooding sigh. “She knows.”
Suddenly it was all becoming very clear to Buffy. This was the reason for her mother’s moodiness that morning. She’d known about Giles leaving. It certainly explained a lot. Her nervousness, the strange elusiveness when Buffy had started to discuss her plans for the day. No wonder her mom had been so stressed out.
“Wait a minute,” the teen puzzled aloud. “If Mom knew, then why didn’t she said anything to me about it? It’s not like her to keep secrets. And when did she find out? We didn’t get any phone calls this morning. And it’s not like you guys knew about this last night.”
“Well, uhmm, I,” Giles stammered meekly, hanging his head as he stared at the floor. He experienced an uncomfortable wave of shame at his duplicity. This wasn’t going quite the way he had hoped. And his guilt only increased as he listened to Buffy rant on about her mother’s deception.
“My mother lied to me!” Buffy felt her emotions twisting into a tangled knot of confusion at the realization of her parent’s betrayal. Yeah, it wasn’t exactly a regular lie, more of a ‘let’s not say anything about it’ kind of deception. Still, it hurt.
“Wait a minute.” There was a sharp edge to Buffy’s voice that made Giles’ heart pound. He looked up and found the teen staring at him, her green eyes blazing hotly with suspicion. “Seems to me Mom’s not the only one here who’s been less than truthful. You knew about this, too. Of course you did. You were the one who told her. Right? Right?”
Buffy’s anger was boiling now. Her mother and Giles had both conspired to keep the truth from her. As the pain of their recreant act continued to consume her Buffy found herself wanting to strike out and hit something, anything. Her eyes focused on the small figure sitting on the sofa. With slayer swift reflexes she reached down and grabbed Giles by an arm, yanking him to his feet.
“How could you and Mom do this to me?” she snapped at the young Brit, her eyes stinging with salty tears. Her hold on the young librarian’s forearm unconsciously tightened, fueled by the thought of her parent’s dark deed. As her strong fingers clenched Giles’ thin limb like a closing vise pressing into his soft flesh the librarian began to squirm, grimacing at the pain she was inflicting.
“She knew all along and she didn’t say anything,” Buffy grumbled, her throat constricting around the words. Her unwavering gaze bored into what felt to Giles like his very soul. His pulse raced faster as Buffy drew him closer, actually lifting him off his toes as she thrust her face uncomfortably near his own, her very closeness threatening. “Why didn’t she tell me, Giles? She’s my mother! I can’t believe she wouldn’t tell me something like this!”
“Buffy!” Giles whined, confessing his transgression to the distraught girl. “Please don’t be upset with your mother. This-this is entirely my fault. Sh-she did want to tell you, but I-I convinced her otherwise. She only misled you because I’d asked her to. So you see, I’m the one you should be angry with. Not your mother.”
“Oh, don’t you worry, Robby Boy! I’ve got plenty of anger for you, too!” the blonde hissed viciously. Giles instinctively flinched from the raw, bitter fury he saw on the girl’s face. Buffy was teetering dangerously close the edge of control and the glare of her icy green eyes struck a nerve of genuine fear deep inside him. He’d seen firsthand the slayer’s unnatural strength in battle, had experienced that same power in its diminished reserves during many of their mock confrontations. He knew the harm she was capable of inflicting upon a foe, be it demonic or human. The realization of that thought suddenly became very intimidating for the small librarian in fear as he felt Buffy’s hand clamping ever tighter around his arm with each passing second.
“Uh, Buffy?” Giles winced, gritting his teeth, unable to ignore the pain any longer. He attempted to pull back against the slayer’s firm grip, but she held his arm fast, refusing to let go just yet.
“How dare you treat me like I’m some kind of child,” the teen chastised the young Brit. She was absolutely infuriated by Giles’ deliberate deceit. “I thought you had more respect for me than that. Don’t I deserve the truth? Do you think I don’t care?”
“Of course, I-I-I re-respect you,” Giles groaned around clenched teeth. He swallowed the lump rising in his throat, fighting the fear that gripped him as firmly as the teen’s hand. “And-and I know that you c-care. V-Very m-much. But, I-I, oww!”
“Yeah, sure, Giles,” she growled, rolling her eyes in disbelief. “That’s why you were just going to slink off without telling me you were going.”
“I-I was going to tell! Truly, I was.”
“When, Giles?” Buffy demanded angrily. “When? In a postcard from London?”
“Buffy…” Giles let out an involuntary gasp. The pain had become unbearable for him. Buffy was squeezing his arm so hard his hand was going numb. At any moment she would snap his bones in two, crushing them in her grip like dry twigs. Tears spilled from him as Giles heard himself whimper. “Buffy, please! You-you’re…hurting…me! Please, stop! Please…”
Through the incendiary haze of her emotions Buffy became aware of the way Giles was staring up at her, his pale eyes wide and his lower lip trembling in an expression she recognized as pure panic. Tears ran in flooded streams down the librarian’s cheeks and he was writhing in undisguised pain as he tried to escape her hold.
In shock Buffy suddenly realized that she was the cause of Giles’ fear. Releasing her strangling grip on his arm she watched in mortified shame as Giles scrambled to get away from her, retreating to safety behind the sofa. His apprehensive gaze was filled with distrust that brought pangs of deep regret to the teen, dousing the angry fire that been there only moments before.
Giles cradled his aching forearm, sniffling as he gingerly rubbed the flesh to get the circulation flowing again. It was encouraging to discover he could still wiggle his fingers, an assurance that nothing had been permanently damaged, though he felt far from all right. He was shaking all over, his breath heaving in nervous gasps as he waited for the terror he felt to pass. When Buffy made a move as if intending to come closer he reacted quickly, stumbling back until he bumped up against the desk behind him.
“Giles, I’m sorry,” Buffy apologized, her voice an agonized tone reflecting sincere remorse. “I swear, I never meant to hurt you. Honest! It was a mistake, an accident. You know how I can get a little excited sometimes and…”
The teen sighed and fell silent. Her excuse sounded lame even to her own ears. She’d never meant for any of this to happen. But the damage had been done, and by the look on Giles’ young face she wasn’t sure he was willing to forgive and forget. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to be between them. Not when he was going away so soon. They couldn’t afford to waste the few hours they had left fighting with each other. She had to put an end to this, here and now. And he had to meet her half way.
“Giles, we don’t have time for the blame game right now,” Buffy told the librarian. “I don’t understand why you did what you did, and in the end, I guess it really doesn’t matter. What’s important is that I need you to believe you’re my friend.” She paused, a gentle smile teasing her lips. “My grownup friend,” she added with emphasis.
“It-it isn’t that I think of you as a child,” Giles responded, attempting to gather his wounded confidence together and explain his own actions. “I simply didn’t want my problems adding an undue burden to your work.”
“Don’t you get it, Giles?” Buffy replied, extending her arms toward the librarian. “This isn’t just your problem. We’re all in this with you. Me, Willow, Xander, Oz, Mom. Especially Mom,” she said, her smile growing as she saw the Brit gradually begin to let down his guard. “You’re not alone, Giles. I promise I’ll always be there for you if you need me. And that won’t change, no matter how far away they try to send you.”
“I know that, Buffy,” the boy librarian sighed. Really, I do.”
“But?” Buffy prodded, knowing there was more.
Giles hesitated, frowning as he considered his next words. He moved forward around the end of the sofa, stopping a few feet from Buffy as if he were still afraid her. The teen directed her gaze demurely downward, her eyes catching a glimpse of the librarian’s arm. It was encircled by red welts, perfect impression of her fingers. He was going to have some nasty bruises to take back home to England as her special souvenir of their time together.
As if reading her thoughts Giles dropped his injured arm to his side, ignoring the throbbing ache he felt. With a show of trust he boldly walked in front of the teen, brushing past her to sit on the sofa. Then giving the cushion beside him a pat he invited Buffy to join him. Encouraged, the blonde arranged herself next to her friend, timidly putting an arm around his shoulders. When he didn’t draw back she followed with a tender squeeze.
“Buffy,” Giles explained as he wiped the clammy traces of tears from his cheeks. “You’re a very special person. And you mean quite a lot to me. So, try to imagine how I would have felt if during my last evening here you’d met with some untimely demise because you weren’t paying attention, and it was because of me. I would have been left with a most unpleasant memory of all this.”
“Well, fortunately I’m still very much of the living,” she assured the youthful Brit cheerfully. “And I intend to keep it that way for a good long time.” Becoming more serious Buffy’s dropped her perky tone. “You should have told me about tonight,” she gently chastised Giles. “The gang and I would have pulled an all nighter for you. We lost some primo opportunity time that we could have been working on this thing. We’re going to have to really crunch down and get seriously serious.”
“It all seems rather futile at this point, don’t you think?” Giles dejectedly returned. Tucking his legs up he hugged his knees tightly to his chest and heaved a disparaging sigh. “We’ve been through my books and found nothing of help. And as for that salesman fellow, well, I’m afraid he’s gone, most likely headed for parts unknown. I seriously doubt we’ll ever see him again.” Giles rested a cheek across one knee, turning a somber face toward the blonde. “I don’t know as there’s anything any of us can do now. We’ve run out of options, Buffy. And time.”
“What are you talking about?” Buffy jibed the Brit, trying to alleviate his apparent depression. “There’s plenty of time. We’ve got a whole eleven hours.”
Running a hand through his hair Giles forced a faint smile, but he wasn’t fooled by the teen’s enthusiasm. His own desperate hope for salvation had been dampened by another restless night of disturbing dreams, many of which seemed to plague him during his waking hours as well. He wasn’t sure how much more of this situation his fragile psyche could handle. It was as if with each day his tenuous hold on adulthood slipped further away and he became more like the child he saw reflected in the mirror. Perhaps it was just as well he return to England. Having Buffy and the others witness his disintegration into incipient childhood would be more than disheartening. It would be downright mortifying.
“Eleven hours, or eleven days. What difference could it possibly make now,” the librarian morosely announced. “It’s over, Buffy. Done. Can’t you see that?” Giles sighed and he sat up, holding his head high. He had decided to resign himself to the inevitable, accepting it with some semblance of grace. “I’m going back to England and that is that.”
“But you can’t go!” Buffy vehemently declared, her pout showing definite disapproval for the whole idea. “I won’t let you!”
“What choice do I have?” the youthful librarian wearily sighed.
Buffy put on her resolve face. She refused to give up so easily. Not while there was still a chance to find a solution, to change Giles back. It might take a while, and admittedly time wasn’t a commodity they in an unlimited supply, but nothing would happen unless they went out and made it happen. And if Giles wasn’t going to do it himself, well, then she would have to do it for him.
“I’m going to call the guys,” she told the Brit as she quickly made a mental review of what they had to accomplish in the next few hours. “We’ll start by going through all your books again, in case one of us missed something. I’ll have to get them back from Wesley, but that won’t be a problem. If he hands me any crap I’ll be more than happy to have a little extra-curricular training session with him.
“Ooo! Better yet! We’ll go to the library.” she continued excitedly, the ideas now rolling freely in her head. She flashed a teasing grin at Giles, her eyes sparkling as she jabbed him with an elbow. “I understand that’s where they keep all the books. And since it’s Sunday, you won’t have Snyder giving you any hassles. And we could buy some new books, too,” she mused thoughtfully, considering new possibilities. “Where would we find that kind of stuff in Sunnydale? How about the magic shop? You think? Willow goes there a lot. She would probably know.”
As Buffy babbled on she could hear the pathetic desperation creeping into her voice, but she couldn’t stop the words that spilled senselessly from her. She had herself to convince as well as Giles. But as she rambled she could feel her eyes welling with tears, her aspirations weakening as she realized just how hopeless the situation really was. It took all her determination to ignore her negative feelings and rally her thoughts toward a positive goal.
“Willow could try another spell,” she burbled brightly, inwardly hoping she didn’t sound too crazed. “She’s getting pretty good at the witch stuff these days, don’t you think? That thing with the rash, I’m sure it was just a fluke or something. Maybe the ingredients were too old. Past their expiration date. That could be it, right? Next time we use only the fresh stuff. Some eye of newt, hair of the dog, a little of that ol’ Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo and ka-poof! You’ll be your old self again in no time, just wait and see!”
“That’s enough, Buffy!” Giles snapped, his childish voice thin and strained. The loud interjection immediately silenced Buffy’s discourse. For a long moment they stared at each other, neither speaking. Seeing the hopes he had dashed in the girl’s tearing eyes made Giles’ regret the sharp tone he had used with his friend.
“Why must you make this more difficult for me than it already is?” he whined piteously, his voice softening in an emotional plea. “Do you think I want to go? Well, I don’t!” Giles choked as a flood of pent up feelings unleashed within him. “It isn’t easy for me to…to leave behind…everything. My work, m-my friends. My…life,” he sobbed. Giles hung his head a wave of tears wet his cheeks. “And for what? I-I don’t even know if…if I h-have a…a home to go to, or…or…oh, my God, Buffy!” Giles felt his stomach churning sour as his despair enveloped him in its dark cloak. “This-this can’t be happening to me! E-everything is so mixed up inside, and…and…I-I d-don’t know what to d-do anymore! I don’t know what to do! Oh, God!”
Drawing the young librarian near Buffy gathered him into her arms. Giles resisted at first, the shredded remains of his adult pride refusing to succumb to what he perceived as an embarrassing display of weakness. But the teen’s strong embrace was seductively unyielding in its offered comfort. It eventually became too much for him and he felt his propriety melt away as Buffy began to rock gently back and forth, holding him as a mother might cradle her beloved child. Finally he abandoned any pretense of maturity, giving himself up to the fear and pain he had been holding inside for so long, and burying his face against the teen’s shoulder he wept without shame.
Buffy snuggled Giles closer, her fingers lightly stroking his hair. She waited patiently for the spasms that wracked his small body to subside, whispering what she hoped were word of comfort to her friend. She was crying too, but quietly, on the inside where no one could see the tears. She instinctively knew she had be strong for Giles at that moment and not show any sign of frailty. It felt awkward. Not the being strong part. She’d often had to put on a brave front when battling with vampires and demons even when she’d actually felt scared deep down inside. It didn’t do to let a foe discover they had any type of advantage, even an emotional one. No, the weirdness she felt was because suddenly she was playing a different role, one she wasn’t used to, maternal and mature, grown-up.
The young librarian’s sobbing began to lessen at last. As Giles sat up he dragged a sleeve across his face, drying his tears as he sniffled wetly. Buffy held him a little longer, not releasing her embrace until he seemed calm again. Brushing back a lock of stray hair from his face she smiled as he took off his glasses, trying to clean away the smeared tears from the lenses.
“You’re really going to go, aren’t you?” Buffy lamented cheerlessly as she helped wipe the tears from Giles’ face.
“I’m afraid so,” Giles sighed, readjusting his glasses on the bridge of his nose. He smiled at the blonde teen, his eyes reflecting a deep sorrow. “With all the vampires, demons and monsters this Hellmouth has vomited up for us to face, even the end of the world itself, this seems to be the one fight we can’t win, Buffy.”
“I’ll miss you,” she said, her heart already heavy with grief.
“And I you, Buffy,” he returned softly. “You’re a very special young lady, and I feel extremely honored to have called you my friend.”
“You can’t go without saying good bye to the gang,” Buffy announced firmly. “It wouldn’t be right, Giles. And there’s only one way to do it properly. With capricious havoc and wanton ravaging, the consumption of copious quantities of sugar and carbohydrates, some lascivious bodily agitation accompanied by tumultuous discordant pandemonium, and a heaping dose of unbridled mayhem thrown in for good measure. In other words, a party!”
Giles stared at the blonde, his mouth agape. “Why, Buffy, I had no idea you were capable of such an astounding elocution of the English language,” he marveled in rapt admiration. Buffy frowned back at him with a perplexed expression. “You go, girl. Word up!” the youthful Brit translated, a glimmering twinkle in his eye.
“Sounds like a certain librarian has been nosing in on student conversations in the hallway at school,” Buffy chuckled, wagging a scolding finger. Giles ducked his head in contrite repentance, his face flushing with embarrassment at having his secret discovered. But the reaction only served to bring about further teasing from his companion.
“So,” Buffy continued affably. “You’ve got the clothes, and can talk the talk, but have you got what it takes to hang out with the in crowd?” Narrowing her eyes she gave her companion a long, hard look as she contemplated the answer to her question. “Hmm! This isn’t going to be an easy case, I can see. It’s going to take a lot of fun and relaxation, some serious attitude readjustment, maybe even a personality transplant, but, yeah, I think we could do it. A couple hours of ‘because it feels good’ therapy with Young Dr. Buffenstein and we’ll will have you acting like a typical American high school student before you can say ‘You mean the test is today?’”
“And while I’m at it, why don’t I have the American flag tattooed across my backside?” Giles grumbled with a wry roll of his eyes. “It would certainly be the ideal embodiment to sum up my nugatory tenure here in America.”
“And for those of us who haven’t memorized the Oxford English to American dictionary that would be because it's...” she expectantly prompted the petulant Brit.
“A bloody pain in the ass.”
Buffy’s jaw dropped as she met the librarian’s scathing glare. There was an unmistakable glint of Ripperish roguery in Giles’ bold gaze, and just enough waggish gleam to hint that he wasn’t as serious as he tried to put out that he was. With a loud whoop the teen erupted in an appreciative explosion of laughter, acknowledging the Brit’s sardonic bit of witticism. But within moments her effervescent smile had faded and taken on an expression of nose wrinkling revulsion.
“Uuugh! Scary visual there, Giles,” she censured her youthful companion. “I for one would like to call a cease and desist order any further references to your butt. Now, getting back the party. It’s a definite doable, a done deal. And when it comes to gatherings of the sociable variety, I’m the guy, er, girl who knows what it takes to put the fun in function. So just leave all the details to me. In two hours this place is gonna be Party Central!”
Bubbling with growing enthusiasm Buffy jumped to her feet, a dozen different ideas already beginning to coalesce into a plan. A party was just the thing they needed to help send Giles off. She didn’t have much time to pull together a really big bash. They’d have to make do without a real band or fancy eats, but with her mom’s help and the Scoobies all pitching in she was sure they could give Giles something he would remember. It was the least they could do for the little Brit after all they’d been through together.
She was buzzing excitedly as she started across the room, tossing out instructions over her shoulder as she headed for the door. “Sit tight and don’t go running off anywhere. I don’t want you disappearing before I get back.” She paused, her hand on the doorknob. “What time was your flight again?”
“Eight,” he replied, twisting around to follow her with his gaze. “But Wesley said he would be here to pick me up at five. But you needn’t worry. What with the packing to finish and the thousand or so last minute tasks demanding my attention here, I don’t believe I’ll be getting away any time soon.”
Taking in the room with its collection of half-full cartons stacked everywhere Buffy could see there was plenty to keep Giles busy for hours. It was amazing how much stuff the librarian owned, and this didn’t even take into account the junk he kept at school. She realized that there was no way Giles could ever hope to finish packing his stuff all by himself in one day. He was going to need help, and lots of it. The gang would have to lend a hand and come to his rescue.
She was almost out the door when he had called her name. Coming to a halt she turned toward the small librarian and was totally unprepared for the look of vulnerability in the large, pale eyes that met her gaze. It was a heart wrenching sight, one that made her breath catch in her throat as she smiled at the youthful Brit, waiting expectantly for him to continue speaking.
“Don’t be too long,” Giles intoned as the faintest of smiles flickered apologetically across his face. “You have no idea how quickly time can pass. An-and I would very much like to spend the few hours I have left to me here in Sunnydale with my friends.”
The librarian paused and a warm, bright pink began to color his cheeks. Casting his glance coyly downward he cleared his throat. "I, uh, have a little something to give you”.
“A surprise, huh?” Buffy grinned with excited anticipation. “I like surprises. Except, of course, that wonderful bombshell you dropped about your change in flight plan. That kind of surprise I could have lived without.”
“Well, I’m fairly certain you’ll be pleased with this one,” the young Brit assured her. “Your mother rather fancied it for herself. Said that if you didn’t care for it, she’d be only too happy to take it off your hands.”
“Hmmmm, so the something is a ‘some thing’, huh? And possibly girl -like in nature. Ver-ry interesting,” she grinned, pondering the possibilities Giles’ hint had suggested. Her brief mental foray into ‘what could it be’ fantasy land was cut short when she noticed the time on a nearby wall clock. “I gotta go,” she told the librarian. “Catch ya later, Giles.”
Giving a quick wave, Buffy hesitated for a brief moment, glancing back at the young boy. Giles had moved from the couch and was returning to the work he’d been doing before her arrival, packing his boxes with the things he held most dear. She watched as he walked around to his desk, stooping to pick up the several small objects he’d knocked to the floor earlier. Among them was the collection of golden nuggets he’d fished out of Fuller’s Pond the other night when he, Buffy and Xander had been on patrol together. To Buffy’s surprise, Giles proceeded to carefully wrap the rocks in layers of paper, tucking them safely away in a box to take with him. She remembered how he’d said the mineral samples were nothing more than common, worthless pieces of Pyrite, having little or no value, except maybe to a collector. Something had obviously changed his mind.
Giles looked up and smiled at her. He looked so sad in spite of the outward expression of cheer on his boyish face. There was a lot he was apparently trying to hold back from her, but the teen could see traces of it deep in his forlorn eyes and the wistful down-turned curve to his mouth. Buffy realized she had to leave right then or she would start to cry. Hurrying out the front door, she pulled it closed behind her, pausing a moment outside to take a deep breath and get hold of herself again. Then she was off, running down the sidewalk, her mind racing as swiftly as her feet as she made her way through the streets.
Buffy went straight home. She found her mother in the kitchen, moping over a cup of coffee and several bills. When she informed her parent she was aware of Giles having to leave that night, the instantaneous look of relief on her mother’s face told Buffy the guilt of keeping such a secret had weighed heavily upon the woman’s soul. Just as Buffy had suspected, the conspiratorial efforts had been responsible for her parent’s brooding behavior that morning. Freed from the emotional burden at last, the mother could finally commiserate openly with her daughter, the two women sharing their heartfelt pathos with hugs and tears.
After the initial moments of mutual misery, Buffy explained her idea of a farewell party, and her mother quickly agreed it was just the thing for Giles’ last day in Sunnydale. Joyce eagerly volunteered to assist her daughter and together they made their plans, taking stock of what was available in the house and organizing a list of supplies. In short order they had collected everything they needed, loading them into the SUV. Then while her mother ran out to the store to buy food and pick up a few extras, Buffy resigned herself to a more difficult task, one in which she found no enjoyment at all. But it had to be done, so she took the phone in hand and sat down, dialing the first of many painful calls to tell her friends about the change in plans for the day.