The librarian drove along in silence, weaving his way through nearly deserted streets as his young passenger stared out the window. They had traveled several miles across town, each lost in their separate thoughts. Ass Buffy came out of the blissful dreamlike euphoria that seeing Angel had put her into she finally noticed the awkward quiet that had settled between herself and her Watcher. Taking a deep breath she decided to take the initiative, plunging headfirst into the cold, uncomfortable hush with a question.
“Are you still mad at me?”
“What?” Giles spared a brief moment of inattention from the road to give the girl a quizzical look.
“This deep studied practice in taciturn voicelessness,” Buffy continued, challenging the Brit’s gaze. “Is it meant as some kind of punishment because I had an actual moment of happy in my life? ‘Cause if it is we’d better sign up for that course in sign language pronto. I will not play the tragic, languishing Camille in yours or anybody else’s unreasonable preordainment on how I should be living my life.”
“Buffy,” the Englishman sighed. “I never said that you couldn’t…”
“No, you didn’t,” she said, cutting him off in mid-sentence. “That’s the point here, Giles. You aren’t saying anything. It’s not like I expect you to open up and reveal the details of your entire life to me during a fifteen minute ride across town, but it would be nice if we could at least pretend to have some semblance of a conversation between us. You could try being a normal person for a change.”
“I am a normal person,” he informed the teen with a peeved grumble. “I’m simply not a teenager, like you.”
“Yeah, well be glad you aren’t,” Buffy retorted in return. “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, you know. Everybody always telling you what you can or can’t do, where to go, what you should wear. And grown-ups never listen to what you say.” The teen sighed, leaning back into the seat. “You wouldn’t last twenty-four hours as a kid.”
“I was young once,” the librarian huffed. “I went through all that and survived. Managed to come out quite well, thank you.”
“That was way back then, Giles,” Buffy remarked with the weariness of one repeating her words for the hundredth time. “This is the now. Things are a little different these days.”
“Things were different then, too,” Giles told his young passenger. “It’s never easy for anyone, this business of growing up.”
“Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, Sunnydale isn’t exactly Jolly Olde England,” the girl reminded him tersely. “You didn’t have to grow up over a Hellmouth.”
“I must admit that is true,” Giles replied, adjusting his glasses on his nose as he noted the traffic on the road around him. “But these are the challenges life hands to us, Buffy. It’s what builds one’s character, makes us grow, mature, become adults. The adversities we face shape us into who we are, who we will be. And these experiences stay with us all through our lives. Some are good, and we cherish those special moments whenever we can. Others, unfortunately, are not as nice, our decisions sometimes less than wise. But hopefully we learn from our mistakes, going on to become better people for having made them.”
“I suppose,” Buffy shrugged, her lips pursed reflectively in a pout. “Giles? Do you ever wonder what your life would have been like if things had, you know, turned out different?”
“Different?” the Brit echoed, frowning. “In what way?”
“Oh, I dunno,” the teen sighed. “Like, what would you have done if you hadn’t become a Watcher? Or a librarian? I remember you told me you’d wanted to be a pilot or something. Do you think you would’ve been happier?”
Giles stole a quick glance toward his passenger before answering. “Buffy, I hope that I haven’t given you the impression I’m disenchanted serving as your Watcher. Admittedly, there were times when I could have done without some of the, uhm, challenges you’ve presented. You’re methods do tend toward the unconventional. But they’ve proven exceedingly successful so far. As slayers go I would say you’ve earned more than your share of high marks.”
“In other words,” she remarked with off-handed detachment. “We’re both alive so I don’t exactly suck at this gig.”
“That’s a rather free interpretation, but, yes,” Giles replied, smiling at the girl. “You’ve done quite well for yourself, Buffy.”
“But that wasn’t what I’d asked,” Buffy said, bringing the conversation back to her earlier point. “You’re the one with the issues here. Okay, so you were never Mr. Put On A Happy Face Singing In The Rain Guy. But lately you’ve been kinda on the extreme side of British. It’s beginning to scare me.”
“Perhaps I’ve been somewhat preoccupied lately,” the librarian admitted with a sigh. “I’m sorry, Buffy. I didn’t realize my actions were affecting you so negatively.”
“It’s not just me, Giles,” the teen informed him with concern. “The guys have all noticed your increased weirdness of late.”
“I’ve been that obvious?” the Brit queried, his brow furrowing with lines. Buffy nodded her reply.
His frown deepening Giles ruminated quietly about what the teen had told him. That Buffy cared about his well being was quite touching, but the pleasantness was tainted with the guilt that he had allowed his personal feelings to become a worry to her and the others. His remorse only increased as the young girl continued her disquisition.
“I can’t help thinking you must regret all this somehow,” Buffy commented, her emotions exposed for him to plainly see. “No one would blame you if you did, Giles. I’d even understand if you’d said you’d have been better off not coming to America in the first place. Maybe if you’d stayed in England you’d have met some nice, safe woman who’d never even heard of a Hellmouth. The two of you could have gotten married, had a passel of little Giles kids. Done that whole happily ever after thing. That’s the kind of life most people want, isn’t it?” Her voice softened as she looked toward him with remorse filled eyes. “Don’t you wonder sometimes how much better your life would have been if you hadn’t met me?”
“But, I did meet you, just as I believe I was meant to, Buffy,” the Englishman replied, smiling kindly at the young teen. “And I wouldn’t have wanted things to have happened any differently, even knowing the outcome of our present circumstances.”
“No regrets?” the teen pressed further, still searching for affirmation. “Not even a teensy little one?”
“We all have regrets, Buffy,” Giles continued philosophically. “Incidents that we look back on in hindsight and think we could have handled with greater wisdom. I must admit I’ve done my fair share of idiotic things growing up. Perhaps more than I’d care to think about,” he added with a melancholy twinge of compunction. “But if all that is what finally led me here to this life today, this destiny with you, well, then I wouldn’t change any part of it.”
“Really?” Buffy turned toward the librarian, searching his face for the sincerity in his words. “Nothing at all? Not even the parts where you thought I was, what was that word you used?” The blonde feigned a thoughtful expression. “Oh, yeah. Challenged.” She frowned at the Brit. “Can’t say as I find that particularly flattering.”
“I believe I said challenging,” the Englishman corrected. “A much different connotation. Though, from what rumors I’ve heard concerning your latest History exam…”
“Don’t even go there,” Buffy shot back, cutting the Brit off in mid-sentence. “Besides, you know how unreliable rumors can be. Facts get all twisted around, blown way out of proportion. I mean, you’ve got to seriously consider where these things get started.”
“Seems I heard that one from Willow,” he countered dryly. “Hmmm. She’s usually a fairly dependable source about these things. Perhaps I should have a talk with her.”
“Willow, huh?” Buffy mused, her features contracting thoughtfully as she considered the information. “I think maybe I’ll have a little talk of my own with her.”
In spite of her ominous words Buffy wasn’t upset with her red haired classmate. It would take a lot more than revealing her difficulty at maintaining a decent grade average to ruin their close friendship. And Giles knew that. As Buffy relaxed and settled back in the seat beside him the librarian sighed, his attention moving back to the traffic around them as he continued on toward the park.
Buffy was feeling a smile of contentment warming her inside. It was comforting for her to think Giles would always be there when she needed him. And it was especially nice to know it wasn’t something he did just because it was expected of him, or that it was his job. He actually wanted to be there. The Council might have sent him to America to be her Watcher, but he was the one who had decided to stay. It was a thought that left the teen feeling all warm and glowing deep down inside.
They had arrived at the park. Steering his car into the entrance nearest the pond Giles brought the vehicle to a stop under the light of a street lamp that was on the verge of flickering out. As the engine idled noisily Buffy pushed her door open and got out.
“Thanks for the words of wisdom,” she said, leaning forward to stick her head back into the car. “I think we can rank that little chat as one of your better efforts to date. Didn’t quite register up to heart-to heart on the Mom-O-Meter, but I think you got pretty close. Maybe you could talk to Mom, get a few pointers from someone with estrogen.”
“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind,” Giles chortled good-humoredly. “Perhaps I’ll have her over for tea. We can trade amusing anecdotes about the difficulties and tribulations of raising a slayer.”
Buffy gave the librarian a strange look. “You are joking, aren’t you?”
“About how difficult you can be?”
“About the tea. ‘Cause, the idea of the two of you together, after that thing with the candy…” Buffy’s voice trailed off, but the librarian could see her shudder as she contemplated the unuttered thought. “Let’s just say I’m not ready for the picture that springs to mind.”
The older man directed one of his patented scathing glares of disapproval at the girl. But his face warmed with a blush in spite of himself. Giles knew exactly what the teen was thinking. It had been only a few weeks since the school’s sale of band candy had caused an unexpected turn of events in Sunnydale. Every adult that had consumed the chocolate had reverted to irresponsible, immature adolescent-like behavior. His own actions that night had been less than reputable, though he suspected Buffy had no idea how far things had actually gone between himself and her mother. And he preferred that it stayed that way for a good, long time to come.
“I know, I know,” the blonde sighed with a practiced teenaged angst. “It was just the candy and all those nasty hormones making you guys act that way. Sheesh!” Buffy grumbled petulantly. “Nobody’d ever let me get away with a lame excuse like that. Seems to me like there’s some politically incorrect age discrimination going on here.”
“Shouldn’t you be patrolling somewhere?” the Brit inquired, squirming uneasily.
“Well, it’s true!” came Buffy’s indignant retort. “How come when I screw things up I get lectures about responsibility and obligations and all that other happy crappy horse hockey? But let a grown-up do something wrong and it’s, ooops! Let’s forget that happened.”
“It’s not that way at all,” Giles rejoined defensively. “And I’m sure you’ll see these things in a much different light when you’re an adult.”
“Yeah, well I wish you were a kid and could really see how tough things are on my side of the fence,” the teen argued in return. “I bet you’d find it’s not as easy as you remember.”
As Buffy spoke her words triggered something magickal. The disk-shaped amulet gave off a mysterious glow. It was responding to its uniquely special command, the stones calling forth a powerful and ancient spell. Buffy’s idle wish had unleashed an enchantment, one that at that very moment was working its devilry upon an unsuspecting victim.
Hidden deep within the dark recesses of the librarian’s jacket no one noticed the strobe-like winks of illumination or the momentary burning brilliance that followed. The stones completed their task of sorcery then fell dark to patiently await their next magickal command, leaving Buffy and Giles none the wiser to anything that had transpired.
“Well, thanks for the ride,” Buffy said, slamming the heavy car door shut. “See you tomorrow.”
With a cheery wave Buffy turned, striding boldly off toward the path that would lead her through the park and eventually down to the pond. Alone in his car the Englishman watched as the young blonde walked away, waiting until she had disappeared among the cover of the trees. To any casual passerby Buffy appeared to be nothing more than an innocent, pretty girl out for a stroll. But Giles knew better. She was the Chosen One. And although the Englishman knew Buffy was well prepared to handle whatever she found out there in the dark, perhaps more than anyone else could ever be, he found that he still worried about her safety.
“Be careful,” the Brit whispered softly, saying a silent prayer for his slayer.
Giles lingered in the empty parking lot a few minutes longer. Realizing there was nothing more he could do the Watcher finally wrenched his car into gear and drove away, the Citroen’s engine protesting with a whining roar that shattered the quiet night.
Arriving at the school a short time later the librarian pulled his tired old Citroen into the otherwise empty lot and cut off the ignition, riding out the last shuddering trembles of the engine as it died. A moment of weakness overcame him, and he idly toyed with the idea of acquiring a new vehicle. He quickly dismissed the negative sensation, however. He didn’t need a new car, he told himself firmly. But perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to bring his vehicle in to a mechanic. It had been a while since he’d last had it checked. Make a mental note to call and schedule a visit for sometime the next week, he reached into the backseat for his leather briefcase, groaning at the resulting protests of his bruised body.
Sighing, Giles took his time getting out of his car, cautiously stretching his aching limbs. He was feeling a little sore from the evening’s altercation with the vampires. It seemed that lately that his body didn’t recover as quickly from the bumps and bruises that inevitably came from fighting. Could it be that he really was getting old?
Clutching his briefcase the Brit casually sauntered across the paved lot and up the walkway to the library’s outside entrance. Unlocking the entry with his key, he stepped into the dark room, snapping on the overhead lights and throwing the library into warm illumination.
Giles paused inside the threshold, looking around with satisfaction at the rows of books laid out before him. There were times when stepping into this room felt like coming home. He certainly spent as many hours here as he did in his apartment flat. Between school and his research it sometimes felt as if he lived out his entire life within these familiar walls.
Threading his way through the tall bookcases the Englishman headed for his small office. There he set his briefcase aside on his desk and indulged himself in the familiar preparations of a cup of tea. His electric kettle was empty, necessitating a brief trip to the water fountain down the hall. The walk took only a few minutes, and he spent the time collecting his thoughts as he surveyed the dimly lit corridor surrounding him.
Returning to his office Giles plugged the kettle in, setting it to boil before he collapsed wearily into the chair at his desk. It had been a long day and there were still several hours of work to be done. Picking up a book he had been reading earlier that evening, he leafed through its pages, searching for the spot where he had stopped. Soon he was deeply engrossed in his ongoing research, questing for the elusive answers that would assist his slayer with her work.
Time passed. The individual minutes slipped past quickly for the older Brit. He had finished his first cup of tea and was well into his second by then. The words in his book were beginning to blur, and he was finding it harder to concentrate. Taking off his glasses he rubbed tiredly at his eyes, trying to keep himself alert. He was exhausted. And something else, too. It was a strange feeling, nothing like he’d ever known before, a sort of warm, itchy prickling inside and out. Sighing, Giles hoped the disturbing sensation wasn’t the preliminary symptoms of some illness. He couldn’t afford to be sick.
Readjusting his glasses Giles continued his reading. After realizing that he’d spent close to thirty minutes on a single page and still didn’t know what he’d been reading, the Brit finally admitted he could take no more. Closing his book, he pushed it aside, taking a moment to tidy the collection of small occult related items on his desk. He’d done enough research for one night. There was plenty of time tomorrow to finish. Perhaps Buffy would have something useful to add from her patrol tonight. Right now, it was time to go home.
The librarian rose to his feet, stretching his back to work the tired kinks from his muscles. As he adjusted his tweed jacket on his shoulders he frowned. For some inexplicable reason the coat fit a bit more loosely than he remembered. The waistband of his trousers seemed roomier as well. Shrugging, he dismissed the information as inconsequential. He’d lost a pound or two. That was all. Certainly nothing of earth shattering importance.
Gathering up his briefcase Giles shut down the lights in his office, and closing the door, made his way toward the back exit. It was nearly midnight as he pulled out of the parking lot and turned his vehicle toward the condominium apartments that had been his residence during the last few years. Minutes later he parked the Citroen at the curb near the low stucco wall out front. With the leather weapons bag in one hand and his briefcase in the other, he made his way up the front walk, passing under the treed canopy of the fountain courtyard where he like to take his tea on pleasant afternoons.
After stopping briefly to collect his mail Giles unlocked the ornately decorated door to his bachelor apartment and stepped inside. Once again the librarian was astonished at how tired he felt. Letting out a yawn, he perused through the bills and junk mail catalogues, tossing several items immediately into the trash without a second thought. The rest he set aside on a nearby desk to deal with later. It was all he could do to keep awake, and he stumbled wearily as he went through the motions of his familiar nightly routine.
A short time later he had retired for the night to his upstairs loft. Sitting comfortably propped up in bed, a cup of soothing hot tea on the nightstand beside him and one of his favorite books in his hand, the librarian began to read. And though he tried to fight the persistent lethargy that he felt, it wasn’t long before his eyelids grew heavy and his chin settled against his chest.
The untouched cup of tea grew cold as the Englishman finally succumbed to the somnolent sorcery that had shadowed him since his return from the park. Nodding off into a restless slumber the Watcher’s book slipped unnoticed to the floor, his forgotten spectacles left to dangle askew across the bridge of his nose. His body sagged, slumping lower in the bed as a series of strange and disquieting dreams invaded his sub-conscious. The images made little sense, bits and snatches as they were of times past vaguely remembered, but they brought forth a disturbed mumbling as the librarian thrashed fitfully in his sleep. And that was how he passed through the dark hours, tossing and moaning, unaware of the miraculous changes that took place as the night gradually turned into day.