Scurrying after Giles, Buffy tried to keep up with the Englishman as he stalked across the parking lot with long, sweeping strides. She quickly spotted the vintage sixties Citroen coupe the librarian drove, nestled conspicuously between a pair of stylish, more respectable vehicles that had come off of the present decade’s assembly lines. As Giles jogged around to open the driver’s door, the teen paused to give the battered vehicle a hard, critical look. It had definitely seen better days and gone through more than its fair share of repairs in the years she’d known Giles. On those occasions when she or her gang of Slayerettes had jokingly suggested the librarian trade in the old car for something trendier, or at least more reliable, they were met with a castigating stare of disgruntlement from the Brit. He stubbornly refused to replace the outdated automobile, claiming his chosen mode of transportation suited him quite fine. Buffy had a less favorable opinion of the tank-like relic that was known for its undependable engine and the difficulties it had in achieving anything resembling a reasonable speed limit.
“If we’re really in that much of a hurry, Giles, maybe we should walk,” Buffy teased her elder companion. She yanked the passenger side door open and peered dubiously in at the car’s worn seat upholstery. “This thing isn’t exactly ready to run the Indy Five Hundred.”
“Just get in,” Giles grumbled, sliding in behind the wheel. He jammed his key into the ignition with a twist and the car groaned, its ancient gears grinding in protest at being forced into service. Buffy shrugged and dropped down onto the low seat, yanking the heavy door shut with a slam that caused the vehicle to tremble ominously beneath her. She waited as Giles performed a complicated combination of synchronized wrist and ankle gyrations, pumping his foot on the accelerator pedal and wrestling with the key as he attempted to coax the car to life.
The engine caught at last and Giles threw the car into reverse with a creak of the clutch, backing out of his parking space. Another shift of gears and the car bucked violently, shuddering before it lurched forward, the Brit steering the vehicle through the parking lot with an uncharacteristic recklessness that had Buffy unconsciously gripping the edge of her seat. She inhaled with a sharp audible hiss as Giles cut the wheel roughly with a jerk to one side, narrowly missing the rear bumper of a red pick-up truck as he swung out the exit and directly into traffic without so much as slowing down. Ignoring the irate blare of a horn from behind, the Englishman aimed his vehicle into the leftmost lane and entered into what passed for Sunnydale’s version of a downtown traffic jam.
Usually a very cautious driver, Giles’ foot was riding the accelerator heavily as he swerved erratically from lane to lane, advancing a car length here and there in an attempt to make up for lost time. The librarian sped through yellow signal lights he would normally have stopped for on other days and coasted blatantly through a stop sign at an intersection on a less traveled side street. He even took a shortcut through a busy filling station, zooming in one entrance and quickly out another to avoid traffic piled up at another corner. When Giles actually laid his hand to the car’s horn and cut off an unsuspecting motorist trying to back out of his driveway Buffy knew the Englishman had lost it. He definitely wasn’t himself.
“We’re in a real mood tonight, aren’t we?” Buffy muttered through nervously clenched teeth, glancing sideways at the librarian. Giles’ face was set in a stern mask as he concentrated on his driving, eyes fixed vacantly on the road ahead. He either hadn’t heard or was choosing to ignore her comment. Buffy couldn’t be sure which. Pouting thoughtfully she tried another line. “I hear they make a pill for PMS,” she quipped, hoping to get a reaction from the Brit. “We could stop off at the drugstore for you on the way.”
“I beg your pardon?” Giles replied distractedly, a frown tightening his mouth. “You were saying?”
“Nothing,” Buffy sighed, leaning against the door.
They drove along in silence for the next mile, heading toward the outer city limits of Sunnydale. As the blocks rolled by, Giles eventually showed the first signs of calming, his driving technique becoming less spastic and returning to its usual reserved cautiousness. Buffy relaxed enough to stretch out in her seat and watch as the scenery of downtown businesses gradually disappeared and were replaced by small older homes in a less prosperous area of town. Several uncomfortably long minutes passed and the librarian turned to speak to his young passenger.
“Buffy,” Giles started, trying with some difficulty to keep his voice level and untainted with anger. “Do you realize how long I waited for you tonight at the library? You promised me that you wouldn’t be late.”
“Sorry, Giles” the girl apologized contritely. “I guess I was having too much fun and lost track of the time.”
“I see,” the Englishman grumbled, accepting her simple explanation. His expression of disappointment said a lot more, that he did not necessarily approve of the offered excuse. “This is the third occasion this week that you didn’t show when you were expected,” he complained to the teen. “I do wish you would learn to take these things more seriously.”
“You want serious?” the girl questioned, turning to face her companion. “Serious I can do.” Carefully composing her features in a fair imitation of the Englishman’s dour expression the teen proceeded to mock his clipped accent. “Look at me. I’m exceedingly serious. Tediously boring. Please be good enough to stop me if it should appear I were having fun.”
Giles ticked an irritated glance her way, his frown deepening, unimpressed by the performance. Sighing, Buffy gave up on her teasing and regarded her mentor with a straight face.
“All right, Giles,” she addressed the older man. “Something’s eating you. What is it?” She paused, thinking about the wording of her question. “Okay. Maybe not the best way to phrase it considering we live on a Hellmouth where the answer could be any one of a gazillion different demons, but you know what I mean. You’re really tense today, even for you. Something’s got your British up. What’s wrong? Spill.”
“Nothing is wrong,” he replied, but she could hear the hard edge in his denial. “I merely believe that someone of your age could be a bit more responsible, not to mention punctual.”
“Responsible?” Buffy echoed incredulously, her green eyes widening. “You think I’m not responsible? Excuse me! But who else in this car has had to give up on all the fun of a normal life to be the Chosen One? Let’s have a show of hands.” She raised her own arm alone, giving her Watcher a pointed look. “I slay and I slay, and do I ever get any thanks? Does anyone cut me a break on my homework, make my tests easier because I have to go out and patrol for vampires instead of staying home to study? No! So, once in a while I want to relax and unwind with my buds, kick back and enjoy a night out on the town. What’s the bad with that I ask?”
“I understand that you have an unusual burden being a slayer, Buffy,” Giles grudgingly conceded. “And while I can appreciate the difficulties inherent in juggling such a dual life, it is no excuse for what happened tonight.”
“Oh, great! I’m a couple minutes late and you go all Norman Bates on me,” the blonde retorted with a pout. Brushing a stray lock of blonde hair from her eyes she flopped back in her seat, arms folded across her chest. “That’s so not fair, Giles.”
“Life was never meant to be fair,” the Brit responded philosophically. “And the sooner you realize that fact, the quicker you will grow up.”
“Giles, have a care. I’m eighteen and still in high school. Graduation isn’t for another couple months. Can’t I wait a little longer to grow up?” Buffy asked plaintively. “These are supposed to be the happy, carefree days of my misspent youth, the times I look back on years from now with great fondness and warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgic longing. There’s this unwritten code thing that says I’m required to go to parties, date boys, have senseless fun.” Buffy gave the librarian a surly look. “You do remember what fun is, don’t you, Giles?” she inquired, her voice dripping with unrestrained bitterness. When the Brit didn’t reply, she sighed and closed her eyes, arms dropping in limp resignation at her sides. “Okay. I’m ready. Let’s have it.”
“Ready?” Giles lifted an eyebrow in quizzical confusion. “Ready for what?”
“The Lecture.” Buffy said, her curved fingers making sarcastic quote marks in the air. “You know, the one that starts ‘when I was your age”, fill in the blank, blah, blah, blah.”
In spite of himself Giles cracked a brief grin. “I’m afraid I don’t know that one. You’ll have to teach it to me so that I may add it to my repertoire.”
It was Buffy’s turn to stare at the Englishman. His expression was no longer strained or somber. Whatever had been causing his dark mood had been forgotten, or at least set aside for the moment. She smiled, relieved that the uncomfortable cloud of negative emotions between them had finally passed and Giles was back to his old self again.
“No lecture?” she asked, feigning deep disappointment.
“No lecture,” he repeated, a faint smile tugging at his mouth. “However, I feel we cannot continue to ignore this chronic propensity toward tardiness that you seem to be developing. Something must be done to correct this unfortunate habit. Perhaps a nice watch might be in order. That is, if you would actually bother to glance at it once in a while,” he continued dryly, peering out of the corner of his eye toward the teen. “What do you think?”
“A new watch would be decent,” Buffy admitted, quickly warming to the idea. “You offering to buy? ‘Cause I hear they’re having a big twenty percent off sale at Lazler’s this weekend,” she said, mentioning a local store that dealt in fine jewelry.
“I believe I might be persuaded to spare an hour or so of time from my busy social calendar for an excursion to the mall,” Giles responded drolly, his smile gradually broadening.
“Oooo, shopping trip!” Buffy squealed, beaming excitedly in anticipation of the chance to pursue a favored pastime. “Giles, you know how to make a girl happy.”
“And you thought I was too old for that sort of thing,” the Brit chuckled.
“I take it all back,” Buffy replied earnestly. “Any guy that offers to spend money on a girl ought to qualify as dateworthy, no matter how old he is.”
“Yes, well,” the Englishman clucked his tongue, taking umbrage at Buffy’s slight about his supposedly advanced age. “Flattering as I’m sure you meant that to be, I would expect that you would want a relationship to be based on something more substantial than the potential of someone’s bank account.”
“Geez, Giles!” Buffy protested with an askance roll of her eyes. “I wasn’t talking about you and me! Do you even realize how desperate a girl would have to be before she thought about dating a librarian? That’s like social suicide. Personally, I’d rather die a lonely old spinster before I ever had to sink that low. Just the thought of it makes my skin crawl. And don’t even get me started on that other thing about being old. Ewww!”
Giles felt his wounded pride slip another notch as he noticed the teen shudder, her face wrinkling in an expression of undeniable disgust. Not that he’d ever had a desire to pursue a relationship of that type with someone half his age, and it hadn’t been what he’d been talking about anyway. But it did seem to him quite ironic that Buffy would object so vehemently to the idea when her own paramour was an undead man over two centuries old. And yet she herself would probably not admit to the duality of her personal tenet concerning this obvious double standard of age discrimination. After all, he could imagine she would argue, unlike him, Angel was a very young looking two hundred and forty plus years old.
“What I meant was,” Buffy was continuing to talk on, unmindful of the Brit’s silent brooding. “Maybe it’s time you got out and found yourself a significant other type of person. You’re not getting any younger, you know. A guy like you only has so many good years left in him before things stop working or parts start falling off. Kind of like this car,” she added as the Citroen’s over-taxed engine made a series of strange noises that were unlike any it had given forth before.
“There is nothing wrong with this car,” the librarian retorted sharply, though even he found the latest sounds emanating from under the hood less than encouraging. “Or, for that matter, with me,” he muttered defensively.
“I never said that there was,” Buffy countered with amusement. She realized that she had managed to strike a sensitive chord in the Englishman’s psyche. A mischievous glint flashed in her eyes as she teased her companion further. “It’s not like you’re that bad looking, Giles. I mean, for someone in your particular demographic age bracket. Why I just bet that there are scads of older women out there with great personalities beating down the door to your apartment every night. It must be a real pain for you.”
“Not nearly so bad as the one you’re giving me,” the Brit grumbled.
Buffy grinned. Needling Giles was an art, one at which she had become quite accomplished over the years. She knew how far she could push the hapless Englishman before his temper exploded.
They drove along for several more minutes, Giles’ ancient car straining to keep within the speed limit as he carefully negotiated through what little traffic they happened to encounter. A turn down an unfamiliar street took them through one of Sunnydale’s older neighborhoods. Looking out her window at the paint faded houses with their postage stamp sized yards Buffy realized just how nice she had it in her own cozy home on Revello Drive.
Single homes and duplexes eventually gave way to tired office buildings and run-down storefronts as they entered a seedy looking business district. Slowing his vehicle to a crawl, Giles pulled off the road into a dark, narrow alleyway. There he braked to a halt, the Citroen continuing to ride forward several more feet before it finally rolled to a stop near an overflowing dumpster. As the Brit cut the ignition, the engine rattling and heaving to a climactic death, Buffy felt herself hit by a familiar exhilarating rush. Glancing toward her companion she flashed him a roguish smile.
It was time to go to work.