Wesley pulled up in front of the Spanish-style condo and parked his van at the curb. He knew he was early, but he wasn’t sure what type of traffic to expect on the road to the airport, or if there might be some other type of unforseen delay. It was best to prepare oneself for every possible contingency. The Council had warned there could be problems with Rupert, not to expect cooperation. Wesely was less concerned with the boy and more worried about the slayer and her reactions to this matter.
His apprehensions only increased as Wesley approached the apartment and saw that he would not find Rupert Giles alone. He recognized Oz’s van parked beside the SUV that Joyce Summers drove, and knew Buffy was there with her friends. That could mean trouble when it came time to leave. Then he noticed a familiar jaunty red sports car sitting with the others. That was Cordelia’s car! What was she doing here? The Englishman quickened his step, briskly walking up to the entry where he rapped firmly upon the ornately decorated door. Inside he could hear the distinctive loud tones of modern rock music. It was not the sort of thing he would imagine the librarian favoring at all. Something odd was going on. A few minutes passed. He was about to knock again, thinking that no one had heard when the door at last swung open and he was greeted by Joyce Summers.
“My goodness!” Wesley had to shout to make himself heard over the blaring din of noise that passed for a melody. Stepping into the apartment he could see that a celebration going on, and a lively one at that. Furniture had been pushed aside to clear a space in the room’s center where Oz, Cordelia, Buffy and Xander were all dancing with fervent abandon. The apartment pulsed with a life and energy that was almost tangible as the teens gyrated their bodies rhythmically in a display of unsurpassed youthful zeal, accompanied by the thumping tremors of a stereo that had been cranked up to maximum volume. Wesley turned in confusion to Joyce, hoping she could provide him with an explanation for all the activity.
“It was the kids’ idea,” Joyce said, leaning in close to make herself heard. Wesley nodded, still somewhat puzzled as he followed the woman toward the kitchen area. The remains of a large variety of foods cluttered the counter, everything from sodas and potato chips to greasy pizza boxes. Pushing aside a few things, Joyce cleared a spot, giving the Englishman a place to sit at the ledge without being in the middle of someone’s next snack. She picked up a platter of brownies, offering them to the man. Wesley politely accepted the dessert, chewing at the sweetly chocolate frosted square as he watched the teens for several minutes in rapt amazement.
“This is fascinating!” Wesley marveled in spite of himself. It really was something of a spectacle to see. Especially that Cordelia. He couldn’t take his eyes off of the girl as she shimmied and wriggled most deliciously in another of her temptingly hot designer outfits. This one was a fetching number in a wild animal print, and Wesley found his mind wandering to thoughts of exotic jungles and fantasy scenes reminiscent of an Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan novel.
Suddenly aware of how easily he’d allowed himself to be distracted by a girl, a high school student at that, Wesley fought to regain his composure. Nervously turning aside from the scene of teenaged hormonal celebration, he focussed instead on the desert in his hand, taking another large bite.
“This is very good,” he mumbled, his mouth full of moist chocolate crumbs. “It’s quite, uhm, tasty.”
“Thanks,” Joyce accepted the compliment. “They’re one of Buffy’s favorites. The gooier the better. I always use extra chocolate.”
“You made these?” the Brit asked in astonishment. It was strange to imagine the mother of a slayer as being so plebianly domestic as to spend her time in a kitchen baking. He glanced toward Buffy, who was laughing at something Xander had just said to her. She looked like a typical American teenager. He supposed that in many respects The Chosen One was like any other person her age. She had a mother, a family and friends. They lived like normal people the world over. Except most young girls didn’t spend their nights fighting evil and staking vampires.
“I take it they are aware of Rupert’s departure,” he yelled over the music, mentally changing the subject away from the disturbing path he had been contemplating. It wouldn’t do to make the same mistake that Rupert had and get too attached. Joyce nodded at his spoken statement, and the Englishman sighed gratefully. At least he wouldn’t have to break that unpleasant bit of news.
Frowning, Wesley looked over the young faces in the room. He began to realize there were two notable exceptions missing from the slayer’s private entourage. The boy Oz was there, but the red headed Willow was not. And neither was Rupert. The beginnings of concern clouded Wesley’s gaze as he frantically searched the room. He found the pair at last, sitting together on the floor next to the tiled fireplace, hidden amongst tall stacks of cartons. The boy was being politely attentive as Willow handed him several slips of paper, her features registering profound seriousness as she conveyed some important instruction to the librarian.
“Now, this is my E-Mail address,” Willow said, gesturing to the small sheet she gave Giles and flipping another into his open hand. “And this one is my home, for regular type mail. You know, like for letters and stuff. And I put down all of our addresses for you. See? Here’s Oz’s, and Xander’s and Buffy’s. But you probably already know all this stuff, right? I mean, you know where we live and everything. Of course you do.” She flashed a timorous smile as the librarian dutifully stuffed the notes into a pocket.
“You’re to write at least once a week,” Willow continued lecturing the Brit, then quickly corrected herself. “No! Make that every day. No slacking off now! And we’ll all write back, too. I promise. We can tell you about all the stuff going on at school and everything. We’ll send pictures on the computer and copies of The Sentinel and the yearbook too, when it comes out. It’ll be like you’re right here with us.”
“I’ll believe I’ll stay with the traditional pen and paper, if you don’t mind,” Giles replied with reservation. “You know how I am with those infernal machines, Willow. And I won’t have you there to fix things for me when it all comes crashing down. You have to understand it’s very possible I won’t have access to a computer,” he hinted, gently alerting the girl that her well-planned efforts might be for nothing.
“Giles, computers are everywhere these days,” Willow reminded him, unwilling to accept any excuse from the librarian. “I hear they even have them in England. You’ll find one somewhere.”
Giles nodded, realizing he wasn’t going to sway Willow from her determination to stay in touch via modern computer technology. Satisfied that he would at least attempt to comply with her wishes, the girl stood up, returning to mingle with the group of dancers. As she fell into a synchronized choreography with her boyfriend Oz, the librarian’s roaming eye discovered Wesley across the room sitting with Joyce at the kitchen counter. Springing to his feet he walked over to join the other Brit and Buffy’s mother.
“You’re a bit early, aren’t you?” he said to the man, leaning on the counter beside him and poking thorough an abandoned pizza box. Finding a lone slice inside, Giles quickly scarfed it up, tearing off a large bite to chew at.
“We still have time before we must be going,” Wesley replied, working at his own mouthful of food.
The Englishman grinned at the youthful librarian, observing with amusement how Giles devoured the pizza slice with only seven or eight bites, then finished off by licking the stray dribbles of red sauce from his fingers. Joyce handed the librarian a napkin, pointing out a few crumbs he’d missed, which the boy obligingly wiped away. It was a strange moment for Wesley to witness, and he felt uncomfortable seeing how intimately the woman interacted with the youth. To Wesley it seemed obvious that socializing with the slayer and her family on a less than professional level had been what led the librarian to the present unfortunate circumstance he was facing, that of a severe reprimanding from the Watcher’s Council of England.
“I see you did an adequate job of outfitting Rupert,” Wesley said to the woman, referring to the new clothing Giles wore. The Englishman nodded toward the dancers on the floor. “You look like one of them. Very with it, as they might say.”
“I think Rupert is very handsome,” Joyce grinned at the librarian. Giles felt himself blushing. He might look like a normal eight-year-old boy to the rest of the world, but he didn’t feel like one. Not when a woman with whom he had shared such personal moments in his past was complimenting him. “You should have been here when he was dancing,” Joyce chortled almost gleefully. “He’s had all the right moves working for him.”
Wesley raised an eyebrow, regarding Giles with a look of curious amusement. Even with the evidence standing directly before him in his youthful longhaired glory, Wesley had trouble visualizing Rupert Giles behaving like the other teenagers in the room. Interpreting the other Brit’s stare as disapproval, the librarian blushed a deeper red.
“They were quite insistent I give it a try,” Giles explained in feeble defense of his lapse in judgement. “I can now state with unequivocal certainty that I know how it feels to humiliate oneself with a public display of insanity.”
“Aw, come on, Giles!” Buffy chided, coming up from behind. She heard the comment about their attempt to get Giles to loosen up and dance with them earlier. The librarian had been reluctant at first, but with three girls encouraging him, and Xander demonstrating he couldn’t possibly do any worse, the Brit eventually dropped his reserve long enough to be led astray and dance with the appropriate abandon. The experience had proved to be strangely exhilarating, and brought back some of the fonder memories from his pre-Oxford years. Buffy and the others had been properly impressed by his brief exhibition of terpsichorean elucidation. “You weren’t so bad,” the girl cheerfully teased her librarian friend. “I’d go with you to the Bronze any night.”
“Thankfully I shall be spared that experience,” Giles retorted dryly. Buffy responded with a light dig to his ribs and an expression that said she didn’t appreciate his critical opinion of her favorite hangout. He ignored the teen’s pouting, turning to speak with Wesley again.
“I take it you’ve made all the necessary arrangements,” Giles asked.
“I have our tickets,” Wesley replied, a hand patting his suit’s breast pocket. “Once we load your luggage into the van we can be on our way.
“He’s going with you?” Buffy asked, glancing toward Giles. “What’s up with that?”
“I’m to escort Rupert as far as New York,” Wesley announced to the girl. “Once Rupert is safely aboard the flight to London, I shall return to Los Angeles on the next scheduled flight out.”
“The Council doesn’t trust me,” Giles expounded upon the reason for his traveling companion. “They seem to believe that if left to my own devices I might fail to find my way back to England. They apparently know me far better than I had imagined,” he grumbled bitterly.
“Perhaps we should be on our way then, Rupert,” Wesley suggested, rising from the stool he had been perched upon. As Giles started toward the suitcases near the stair, Buffy gestured to her friends to join her. The music stopped and the apartment became quiet, the teenagers wandering over to gather around the young Brit. They were all appropriately solemn, their celebration having come to an abrupt end. It was time to say good bye.
“I believe this is everything,” Giles said, forcing a smile for his guests. The others weren’t as concerned with hiding their feelings. Willow began to cry. Oz held her close, trying to comfort his girlfriend, but the red head broke away to give the librarian a tearful hug. When she stepped back Giles shook hands with Oz, and then Xander, who for once was uncharacteristically silent. Then he turned to face Cordelia, who leaned down to give the small Brit a civilized peck on the cheek. The girl took great care to avoid smudging her perfect make-up as she made her gesture of concession to the Giles’ imminent departure, but even she seemed less than happy to see the librarian going.
“I’m afraid I left you with a bit of a mess,” Giles apologized to Joyce as she walked up with her daughter.
“Don’t worry,” the woman replied with a pleasant smile. “We’ll take care of everything. You just have a safe trip.”
Joyce reached out to embrace the young Brit. At first Giles was hesitant about the demonstration of affection in front of Buffy and the others, but as he felt the confusion and despair of the last several days fall away, he found himself clinging tightly to Joyce, reluctant to give up the moment of comfort her arms provided.
When he finally released his hold and stepped back, Giles was hit hard by a returning rush of depression. Stuck in this unnatural state of perpetual childhood, he wondered if he would ever look at life again without this dark cloud to hang over him. It wouldn’t be long before he required some serious psychological counseling just to get through the emotional roller coaster ride his life had become.
Trying to maintain some semblance of his composure, Giles took a deep breath and faced the slayer’s mother. There was so much he wanted to say to Joyce. She had proven a good friend and he would miss her company dearly. Most of all he wanted her to know how grateful he was for the special privilege she had allowed him, that of being a part of her daughter’s life. But the librarian found himself unable to utter the words he so desperately needed her to understand.
“Joyce,” Giles finally managed to choke out before his melancholy forced him mute again.
“I know, Rupert,” the woman sadly smiled. She brushed aside an unruly forelock of hair to expose his child-like face. “I’ll miss you, too.”
The moment of shared empathy quickly dissolved into uncomfortable embarrassment as Joyce and Giles became aware of five pairs of eyes staring at them. Nervously they backed away from each other, attempting to cover their uneasiness with a forced indifference. But their audience wasn’t fooled by the charade. Even Wesley had noticed something passing between the pair before they broke off their embrace. He couldn’t say what that mysterious look they had given each other meant, but it was obviously more than a casual glance. The Englishman found it to be a most curious development in an already perplexing situation.
As her mother coyly withdrew and stood to the side, Buffy chastised her with a look of silent teenaged horror. There was a moment of awkward silence as she turned away from her parent to confront Giles. He seemed flustered under her unwavering gaze, his hands buried deep in his pockets as he nervously shifted his feet under him. He looked so obviously contrite that Buffy found herself smiling as she forgot her own adolescent anxieties.
The slayer faced her former Watcher. Neither was sure of how to begin saying good-bye. Then Giles’ face suddenly brightened with a grin as he remembered something. Crossing to his desk, he returned with a small, fancifully wrapped box that he offered to the girl.
“This is for you, Buffy,” Giles announced, clearing his throat before continuing. “In the grand scheme of life, this may pale in comparison to saving the world from being sucked into Hell, but I’d like you to think of it as a small token of my personal appreciation for the hard work and sacrifices you have made.”
“Very pretty!” Buffy exclaimed, momentarily overwhelmed by the librarian’s short speech. Her cheeks became warm and flushed pink as she beamed joyously, regarding the gift with its colorful paper and big, elaborate bow. “Is this the surprise you promised?”
The librarian nodded his head in an affirmative response, a fleetingly reticent smile touching his lips. “It’s something that I hope will help you to remember me when I’m gone.”
“Giles, I could never forget you,” Buffy replied, her voice low and almost reverent in tone. “And I don’t need a present to help me remember either. You’ll always be my favorite librarian.”
“Yes, well,” Giles stammered, fiddling with his glasses in his embarrassment. Placing the box in Buffy’s hand he quickly changed the subject. “I’m not much of an expert in these matters, so your mother was kind enough to assist me in the selection.”
“You guys certainly were busy little beavers at that mall,” Buffy retorted, giving her parent a suspicious look. “Keeping secrets, shopping for clothes, shoes, presents. Sounds like you had a pretty full schedule there. Was there anything you two didn’t do?”
Her mother blushed, quickly turning away. Joyce feigned an unnatural interest in the tiled pattern on the floor as she avoided her daughter’s gaze. When she looked at Giles he seemed equally flustered, leaving Buffy to wonder what had gone on the previous afternoon while the pair had been together in the apartment. Shuddering inwardly, the teen tried not to dwell on the possibilities. It was bad enough imagining that sort of thing going on between consenting adults, especially ones her parent’s age. But with Giles being only eight years old, it gave the idea a disturbingly creepy twist that made her cringe in revulsion.
Forcing aside the unpleasant thought, Buffy turned her attention to the present in her hand, examining the small package. Someone had done a professional wrap job on the box. The folded edges were neatly creased and crisp, the oversized bow meticulously tied in soft, springy loops. With barely controlled eagerness she began to unwrap her gift, slipping off the ribbon, unfolding the layers of elegant paper. Hidden within she discovered a satiny case emblazoned in gold lettering bearing the name of a well-known local jeweler. Her heart raced in giddy excitement, sure that what lay inside promised to be something very special. She felt like a child on Christmas morning, her hands trembling as she opened the box and peeked inside.
Buffy let out a gasp as she caught her first glimpse of what the case contained. There was an unmistakable glint of gold and jewels that set her heart racing. Unable to believe her eyes, she looked again and saw that it was a watch. Not just any old run of the mill every day timepiece, however, but a beautiful bracelet-like bangle that was truly unique. A thin metallic band gleamed brightly against the black velvet lining the case, and a tasteful accent of tiny gemstones sparkled around the distinctive face. It was everything she could hope for in a piece of jewelry without the added practical consideration of its intended function. It was definitely a classic that would look good with anything she wore, from casual to high style, denim to designer. But Buffy felt her joyous elation tempered by a stab of guilt as she realized Giles had probably wiped out a major portion of his bank account buying her this pretty thing. It looked very expensive.
“It-it’s beautiful, Giles,” Buffy breathed in an awed whisper, smiling at the librarian. No one had ever bought her anything so impressive in her entire life. Not even Angel. Tenderly she caressed her fingertips over the lustrous gold finish with its delicate, fine tracings of engraved lines. Just a touch of decoration. Not too much and not to fancy. Simple and subtle, it was a true timeless classic, which was kind of ironic considering how it was a timepiece meant to keep track of time.
Proudly the teen turned toward her friends, showing off her new present. Willow voiced appropriate approval with an “oooo” that Oz punctuated with an admiring nod. Xander murmured an awed compliment to the librarian, praising him in his gift giving choice as he made a note for future reference that expensive shiny things were obviously never a bad idea when one was looking to make just the right impression on a girl. It only took one glance to see Buffy was very moved by the present she had received. Her expression had a beatific glow that was unmistakable in spite of the tears that rimmed her eyes.
As Cordelia scrutinized the watch with a professional’s critique, she offered an acknowledging nod of endorsement. She’d seen her share of jewelry and could tell this wasn’t some knock-off wannabe, but a genuine designer original. Even the gems looked real.
“And when did you start developing such good taste?” she remarked with astonished wonder to the librarian. “First you go and wear this outfit that makes you look half decent for a change, and not like some tired bargain basement reject from Lloyd’s International House of Tweed. Then we find out you can dance, unlike some other person we know who is such a pathetic loser he can’t get his act and the music together at the same time,” she sneered in a pointed aside with a glance toward her ex-boyfriend. Xander had never been mistaken for someone with a modicum of talent on the dance floor, and Cordelia’s feet had worn the bruises to prove it. “I mean, like, you’ve got actual coordination and rhythm and everything. Who would have guessed? Not me, I tell you. You’ve got some smooth moves there, Giles,” the girl grudgingly admitted as she defined her compliment further. “ That is, for a little guy.”
“On behalf of those less fortunate souls who have flunked out of the Cordelia Barishnikov’s Queen of the Dance School of Funky Party Moves, may I be the first to congratulate you on the convocation of your diploma,” Xander quipped, making an exaggerated show of shaking Giles’ hand. He clapped the boyish Brit on his shoulder, grinning broadly. “When you finally achieve that moment of fame and celebrity with your name up in bright lights at Radio City Music Hall, remember us, your friends who were there when you were nothing but a struggling nobody, destitute and starving on the streets of Sunnydale. And might I suggest that one of the best ways to show your appreciation would be an invitation to one of those rich and famous parties with all that free booze and those glamorously scandalous women, preferably ones that are independently wealthy. I do have a certain reputation I’d like to cultivate.”
“Yes, well, I shall have to see what I can do about that,” Giles replied with a dubious look toward the older boy. After three years, there were still many times such as this when he didn’t fully comprehend the meaning behind Xander’s odd deprecatory humor. For her part, Cordelia chose to ignore rather than understand.
“What’s really unbelievable,” the girl addressed the librarian, continuing her speech as if Xander had never interrupted. “Is that after all this time, you’re finally turning a genuine type person, someone I almost wouldn’t be ashamed to know or be seen with in public. It’s really a shame you’re not staying.”
There was an awkward silence as Cordelia realized what she had said and how it might have sounded to the others. Tact had never been one of her better character traits, and only she could deliver such an off-handed compliment laced with just a stinging touch of the infamous Cordy venom. But for once Cordelia hadn’t meant to be quite so truthful, regretting her callously spoken faux pas. It hadn’t been her intention to cut Giles down. But she was Cordelia and there were just times when peoples’ feelings couldn’t help but get in the way of her formidably sharp tongue.
On this particular occasion her schoolmate stepped in to rescue Cordelia from her unprecedented foray toward possible emotional trauma. Buffy sensed that for once the dark haired girl hadn’t meant her comments to be cold and cruel, and in a magnanimous gesture allowing Cordelia to save face, the blonde teen pointedly turned the conversation back toward herself and Giles with a light-hearted remark.
“I suppose this is your way of getting me to be more punctual,” Buffy ribbed the librarian.
“I did make you a promise,” Giles replied, his smile warm and efficacious.
In an impetuous burst of emotions, Buffy grabbed the small boy that was her librarian friend, lifting him from the floor in a whirling embrace. Giles was caught completely off guard by the move and could do little more than hold tightly onto Buffy as she spun around in a dizzying circle on a breath-taking ride. When she set him back down on his feet at last, it took Giles a full minute to recover his balance as well as his composure. He felt giddy and elated, and just a touch nauseous from the unexpected bout of vertigo that had him reeling in momentary drunkenness. He panted lightly in heart-thudding excitement as Buffy gave him a firm squeeze and a kiss on his cheek before backing away an arm’s length.
“I promise I’ll never be late again” Buffy swore in deeply earnest fealty, blinking back a threat of welling tears. She embraced him again, her hug compressing his arms tightly to his sides and forcing him to gasp for air. “Thanks, Giles.”
“You’re quite welcome, I’m sure,” the dazed Brit responded, trying to catch his breath as he readjusted his rumpled clothing and the glasses that had been knocked askew on his face. “I’m glad you like it, Buffy.”
“Giles, I absolutely love it!” Buffy gushed, but her words were sincere, her feelings heartfelt and honest. As she removed the precious bangle from its box to put it on, Buffy noticed there was something engraved on the back. She held the watch up to the light, squinting curiously at the incised message. There was her name in italic lettering, followed by something that read like one of Giles’ archaic texts.
“Amy city very connect TV then ignore rat,” Buffy read aloud, phonetically muddling her way around the unfamiliar words. She looked at the Brit and frowned. “Giles, what is this? Some kind of secret librarian code?”
“Amicitia vera senectutem ignorat,” Giles corrected her pronunciation, wincing at teen’s murderous articulation of the inscribed phrase. “In early Latin writing an uppercase V was commonly used in place for the letter U.”
“No wonder it’s a dead language,” Buffy frowned, draping the watch over her wrist and fumbling with the clasp one-handed. “Those old Romans spell worse than I do.”
“Well, they were at a decided disadvantage,” Giles informed her with a grin. “They had to make do with an alphabet that didn’t have the full twenty-six letters you’re familiar with today.”
Buffy frowned, absorbed in concentration with the fastening device that seemed to elude her efforts to lock it closed. Her frustration was becoming obvious, and Giles chivalrously stepped forward to offer his help. With his smaller fingers and the additional dexterity afforded by two hands, he easily fastened the gold band around her slim wrist without any difficulty. Buffy smiled a warm thank you as she held out her arm, turning her wrist this way and that to admire the delicate fillet. The watch looked as good on her as it had in the box. Maybe even better, she thought to herself. Glowing happily with pride, Buffy couldn’t wait to brag off her newly acquired sparkly to Angel.
“So what does it mean?” Buffy asked, her curiosity finally aroused. “All that city ignore the rat stuff. You know the only Latin I understand is pig dialect. What does my watch say?”
Giles found himself hesitating to answer her question. When he had requested the jeweler engrave the words he’d thought them meaningful, but now he was simply embarrassed, afraid that Buffy would find the message maudlin and childishly sappy. He was beginning to rue his impulsive moment of sentimentality, wishing he’d forgone this entire idea of securing his immortality in some banal missive on a piece of jewelry. As Giles thoughtfully mulled over a response that would allow him to save face and avoid any further damage to his rapidly deflating ego, Wesley suddenly spoke up in reply to Buffy’s inquiry.
“I believe that would roughly translate as ‘true friendship does not know old age’,” the Englishman responded, smiling haughtily and pleased at a chance to show off his knowledge. “Though a less literal phrasing might be ‘is ignorant of age’ or perhaps ‘is ageless’. You did leave it open to a rather broad interpretation, Rupert.”
Giles threw a scathing ‘who asked you to butt in” glare at Wesley, who was immediately brought down a few notches in his over-inflated sense of self worth. The Englishman scowled, withdrawing to the background to nurse his wounded pride as the librarian turned toward the blonde teen, meeting her gaze with a blush of self-conscious color in his cheeks.
“True friendship is ageless,” Buffy repeated thoughtfully, smiling gently at the librarian. “I like it, Giles. It’s sweet and kind of poetic in a special way like those sayings they have inside of fortune cookies. Appropriate and yet obtuse, and I’m suddenly thinking how that isn’t the word I want to use, is it?” she asked, seeing how Giles was looking at her strangely. “Okay, obtuse isn’t it then. Forget I said that. Maybe what I meant was obtund?” she queried timidly, but Giles expression clearly said he hoped that was not what she had meant to say either.
“Well, I’m sure there’s some word for it,” Buffy pouted peevishly. She turned to her four schoolmates. “Help me out here, guys. Anybody?”
“How about obscure?” Xander suggested.
“Too dark,” Oz said, shaking his head.
“Abstract!” Willow announced gleefully, hoping she had found the right one for her friend.
“Too vague,” her boyfriend returned. “I think Buffy wants something less ambiguous, more sagacious.”
“Oooo! I’ve got one!” Cordelia gleefully chimed in. “Obfuscate.” When Oz responded with a raised eyebrow, the dark haired teen frowned back, crossing her arms in front of herself defiantly. “Alright, so maybe it’s not the best word. And now that I think about it, I seem to remember it having something to do with clouds or weather. It’s not like I’ve heard you come up with anything better,” she protested, glaring at Xander who had begun to snicker.
“Obdurate, obelus, obsequious, otiose,” Xander said, rising to the challenge and impetuously tossing one nonsensical possibility out after another. “Abstruse?”
“I’m not sure that last one’s in the dictionary,” Oz remarked doubtfully. A glance toward Giles revealed Xander hadn’t pulled his suggestion out of thin air after all, but the Brit obviously wasn’t too pleased with the accompanying definition.
“Well, you’re supposed to be the expert on this kind of thing,” Buffy said to Giles. “You can fill in the blank with your choice of the above. Anyway, the little proverb thingy sounds exactly like you, a sort of special Giles-speak ‘friends forever’ quote.”
“That’s as fair an interpretation as any, I suppose,” the librarian replied with a pensive smile. Perhaps he expected too much from Buffy, Giles thought to himself. He had hoped she would understand what he had been trying to say in his epigram. The difference in their ages had long ago become inconsequential to the kindred spirit he felt they shared. More binding than Watcher and Slayer, as filial as any father and daughter, theirs was an especially unique relationship. He would entrust Buffy with his own life, his very soul, and would willingly sacrifice the same to protect her in turn if it became necessary. To say he cared for this young woman seemed woefully inadequate a description for his feelings, and the word love had connotations that were too easily misinterpreted. How could he express in mere words what this brave, vibrant girl meant to him, this winsome whirlwind of an adolescent who had captured his heart with her irrepressible and untamable personality?
Giles sighed, resigning himself to the conclusion he was not one who approached such matters of affection with any degree of comfort. He knew so little about his own feelings. Too many years of his youth had been wasted in misguided anger toward himself and others. Hate had seemed to come much too easily. Though he eventually emerged from his juvenile folly with a sense of profound remorse and a deep desire to atone for his perceived sins, he was unfortunately none the wiser for the experiences learned during his injudicious past. He merely exchanged one delusion for another, burying himself within the dutifully honorable profession of Watcher.
But even the lofty goal of ridding the world of evil hadn’t brought about the fulfillment and purpose Giles had so desperately sought in his life. In the end he realized that dedicating himself to duty alone had proved no better than the lie he had lived before. And it had taken a child to show him that. Buffy may have been the student in their relationship, but he was the one who had learned the more important lesson. She had taught him there was more to life than just existing and doing right. To be alive was to know passion and great joy, to feel ecstasy as well as disappointment, and perhaps most important of all, on occasion simply to have fun and not reason the why of it. Life’s pleasant moments happened too infrequently to ignore any one of them.
Buffy was having her own difficulty trying to find the way to say good-bye to someone like Giles. There were just so many things she had taken for granted. He’d been there whenever she truly needed him, dependable and stalwart, a stoic rock in the otherwise tempest of her teenage life. He advised, often criticized, and endlessly lectured, but seldom did he judge, a trait that other adults were all too quick to exercise. He allowed her to be what she was, imperfect and impetuous, all the while encouraging her to strive toward a noble ideal she felt she fell so woefully short of most days. And yet in his eyes she was that better person, and because he believed in her, she kept reaching for that impossible pinnacle of achievement, growing to obtain if only in some small part that perfection he saw in her. Giles was a demanding mentor, but a fair and just man nonetheless, and her friend.
And now here they both were, two people whose lives were thrown together by destiny and fate, he as a Watcher and she as a Slayer, forced to set aside their friendship because some Council of decrepit, heartless fogies a few thousand miles away across an ocean said Giles had to leave. Buffy couldn’t see the reason or logic in the decision. What was Giles going to do there that he couldn’t do here? Or maybe it was more what he wouldn’t be doing here that concerned the Council. She’d only ever met a few of the so called distinguished ruling members of the elite group from England, and in her opinion, not one of those wrinkled old stiffs could hold a candle to her former Watcher. In fact, except for Giles and Merrick, who had been her first Watcher, she hadn’t been any too impressed with anyone that had been associated with that whole bunch. Apparently the Watcher pickings were pretty lean over there in Jolly Ol’ England. No wonder they wanted Giles back so desperately. He was the best thing they had going for them.
Wesley had moved toward the door, holding it open as a hint that enough time had been spent on good-byes. Ignoring her Watcher’s irritating impatience, Buffy took a deep breath and blinked back the tears that had begun to fill her eyes. In a calm, quiet voice she addressed her librarian friend.
“I guess this is it, then,” she told him with a wistful smile. “I guess this is the part where I say I’ll keep in touch and you promise you’ll write, and we pretend to believe it’ll really happen. Let’s not kid ourselves, Giles. We both know I’m not the most reliable person when it comes to these things. It’s not like I don’t have good intentions. I do! I have better than good intentions. My intentions are the very best of intentions. At least they are right now. But,” Buffy sighed in self-effacing resignation. “The day will come when I’ll be too busy partying at the Bronze to send off a postcard. So when the days, weeks, months go by and you haven’t heard from me, I don’t want you thinking I’ve forgotten you, or I stopped caring. It’s just, well, I can’t help being what I am, Giles. You do understand what I’m trying to say, don’t you?”
“Perhaps better than you think,” Giles responded gently. “Don’t ever underestimate yourself, Buffy. You’ve shown me you’re capable of most anything when you have a mind to do it.”
“I just don’t want you to get your hopes up,” the teen countered seriously. “Anyway, Willow says she’ll do the trusty scribe thing and keep you up to date on all the latest Sunnydale gossip.”
“So she has told me,” Giles turned to grin at the perky red head in question. “It seems she intends to make a techno-geek of me yet.”
“It wouldn’t kill you to move out of the first millenium and into the third with the rest of us, Giles,” Willow chided the librarian in retort, defending her beloved technology. “The world is changing, and if you don’t keep up it’ll leave you behind at the side of the road like a piece of litter from a fast food place that someone tossed out of their car. You’d be like a cup, an empty cup, worthless and rolling around on the ground. Nothing more than an eyesore along the highway, ignored by all the cars just zooming right on by until whooosh! Suddenly a big gust of wind blows you back onto the road right into traffic and a tire runs you over and crushes you flat!”
Willow’s voice rose passionately as she gesticulated with an emphatically clenched fist, demonstrating the folly of ignoring her advice to keep up with technology. Pausing in her metaphoric anecdote, the teen suddenly realized how her companions were staring at her, regarding her with a questioning uncertainty for her sanity. She blushed in self-conscious embarrassment and with an apologetically sheepish grin she abandoned her lecture, changing her tone to a shy, reserved mumble.
“Anyway,” she cleared her throat, turning back to face Giles. “If you start having computer problems and think you’ve gotten in over your head, just remember what I taught you. Relax, sit back, take a deep cleansing breath and repeat the following. ‘The computer is my friend. It is not evil.’ And if that doesn’t work,” Willow instructed with a mischievous wink. “Then try a good hard whack on the side of the monitor. That’s what usually does it for me.”
Giles drew a doubtful bead on Willow over the top of his glasses. “And here all this time I thought it was some special magical touch you had that made those wretched machines cooperate. Well, if all it takes is the proper application of force, I believe I have a few selections in my weapons trunk that should do quite nicely the next time I happen to have a run in with a spot of bother.”
“Sounds like someone’s been practicing with their English Berlitz tapes,” Buffy teased Giles about his obvious Briticism. “At least we don’t have to worry about you knowing how to speak the language over there, Giles. You’re definitely British American bilingual. Hey! Maybe you can get a job as an interpreter. Living all these years in Sunnydale should help you understand those American tourists.”
“I can’t say as I ever truly understood any of you,” Giles replied with a chortle. “But I must admit it was quite an education for me. And as for that interpreter suggestion, I’m not sure I’m up to that sort of challenge. Imagine associating with all those Americans from across the pond,” the Brit said with a mock shudder of terror.
“Oh, I think you could handle them,” Buffy smirked in return.
“Still, it seems like the type of position positively fraught with danger,” the librarian said, an impish twinkle in his eye. “Perhaps it’s something better suited to your slayer talents. Need I point out that I’m not the Chosen One?”
“Oh, yes you are,” Buffy corrected with a gentle smile. She impulsively embraced the young librarian, burying her tear damp cheeks in the mop of his thick hair. “You’re the one I chose, and don’t you ever forget that Mr. Rupert Giles!”
The young Watcher looked up into his Slayer’s eyes and he knew she understood. Though they were to be separated this day, their lives were forever entwined. The future had yet to be written for either of them, but the past could never be undone. It seemed unlikely he would ever see her again, to know the exceptional young woman she was sure to become in the years ahead. The thought brought him a great sadness. And yet Giles realized that he would always treasure the memory of this bittersweet moment with all its pain for it meant Buffy felt as he did. He could clearly see that truth in her tear filled gaze.
“It’s getting late,” Wesley’s voice interrupted. “We should be going now, Rupert.”
“Very well,” Giles sighed in woeful resignation. He returned Buffy’s hug with a squeeze of his arms and reluctantly stepped away. Xander and Oz picked up the librarian’s bags from near the door as Wesley led the small troupe out to his van. As the boys loaded the suitcases in the back, Giles handed his apartment key over to Joyce with some last minute instructions. A few more farewells were exchanged among the group of friends, and then Wesley ushered Giles inside the vehicle, closing the door impatiently behind him with a resounding slam. Circling around to the opposite side the Englishman let himself in behind the wheel, cranking the engine over with a loud roar. He steered the van out into traffic as Giles tossed a final wave to his American companions.
Buffy stood apart from the others, watching the van gradually disappear down the street. By this time tomorrow Giles would be in London somewhere, she thought to herself. He’d explained to her what would happen. He’d have to appear before the Watcher’s Council to give an accounting of what he’d done while in America and defend his actions. The Council would review his collection of Watcher’s journals, evaluate the situation’s circumstances, and then proceed to dispense some age-old wisdom they claimed was rooted in centuries of logic and procedure that failed to make sense to anyone in the world but themselves. And so they would seal Giles’ fate and close the final chapter that was his life. Meanwhile, things would go on for her as usual here in Sunnydale. There would always be vampires to slay and evil to eradicate. The world would continue to depend on her to be the Slayer, no matter how terrible she felt inside.
“Is this what it’s about?” she said aloud. Buffy turned toward her mother, a disconsolate expression on her tortured young face. “Is this what it’s like to be a grown-up? Cause I gotta say, it’s the absolute suck.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Joyce sighed wistfully. The woman approached her daughter, putting a maternally protective arm around her shoulders as she wiped away the traces of tears on Buffy’s face. “But don’t worry, honey. You don’t have to grow up. Not ever. You can stay my little girl for as long as you want.”
“Promise?” Buffy asked, the tweak of a smile teasing the corners of her mouth. Then the teen fell into her mother’s embrace, breaking into wrenching sobs and letting loose the flood of her anguished sorrow as she cried.
Joyce held her daughter close, sharing her frustrations and agony, weeping softly for the end of Buffy’s childhood. Being a vampire slayer had changed her little girl, forced her to grow up so fast. Gone was the carefree, irrepressible child she had raised, her innocence and youth thrown away as she took on responsibilities far beyond her years. It was a burden the world had no right to ask of a mere teen, but Buffy had risen to the challenge, surprising her mother with flashes of maturity at the most unexpected times. But Chosen one or not, Joyce knew nothing could have prepared her daughter for this moment. As a mother she could only hope she had provided her girl with the love and strength she would need to face the difficulties that lay ahead. It was time to let go and allow Buffy to find her own way. Fortunately her daughter was blessed with some very special friends who would be there to help, through rough times and good, to console and commiserate when the pain got too great to bear.
“Why don’t we go back inside,” Joyce suggested as Buffy sighed, stepping back from her embrace. Her daughter delicately wiped away her tears, pulling back a stray lock of blonde hair from her face and nodding gently in agreement. Looking around her, Joyce included the other teens in her invitation. “Rupert told me he left us some ice cream in the freezer. I believe he said there was Chocolate Brownie Fudge Decadence, Pecan Caramel Praline Crunch, and my personal favorite Peanut Butter Cookie Dough with Double Fudge Ripple. What say we go grab a few spoons and dig in?”
There was a concurring chorus of consent from the classmates. The idea seemed a good one to them. Falling into step behind the slayer and her mother, the gang headed slowly back up the walkway toward the condo entry. Their mood was a far cry from the exuberant gaiety they had displayed during their farewell celebration. But they shared a common misery, one that brought them closer together as only friends could be, bonding and talking through their pain as they eased their way through the moments of melancholy with heaping bowls of sweet, cold ice cream.