It was Giles.
As the librarian gathered his legs under him, lurching awkwardly to his feet, Buffy rose with him. To her amused astonishment, the diminutive boyish Brit barely reached her chin. It tickled her to realize, she was actually taller than Giles, and she gazed with increasing wonder as she took in the shy gray-blue eyes, and the unbelievable abundance of thick, long hair crowning her Watcher's head. How she could have been so blind? In spite of his youthful appearance there was something unmistakably Giles-like about the face looking up at her.
An in voluntary smile crossed Buffy’s face. She chuckled, turning over in her mind the improbable concept of a young Giles. It was way strange. Giles? A kid? Giles had never been a kid! He’d been born an adult, like that Greek goddess, Athena. The one that sprang full-grown from her father’s head. Or, at least that’s what she’d thought. Or, would have thought, if she’d actually bothered to give the matter any consideration. But she’d have been wrong, because, there he was. Big as life. Correction, she smirked, as small as life, for the little guy standing in front of her was all of four feet tall.
The other teens edged in closer, each trying to get a better look at the little Giles. They gaped, inspecting the boyish figure before them, their faces reflecting an emotional range from doubt and disbelief to stupefied shock. After a few moments Giles began to squirm uncomfortably under the force of their combined scrutiny, and with an exasperated sigh he stepped back, scowling at the curious group.
“Yes, it is me,” he muttered grudgingly, sweeping back a tangled lock of curls from eyes. “And no, I don’t know how. Or who. Or, for that matter, even why,” he continued, frustrated by his inability to explain his strange situation. “It simply…happened.”
“Wow!” Willow finally managed to blurt. Her jaw had dropped open in dazed awe, her eyes wide, staring transfixed at the young librarian.
“I’ll say it’s wow,” Buffy agreed with her friend. “Way wow!” Regarding the short librarian she gave in to an irrepressible urge and giggled. “Look at you, Giles,! You’re so…so…”
“Young?” the librarian finished. A childish pout pursed his mouth as the girl laughed. “Yes, I am well aware of that.”
“Actually, I was going to say small,” Buffy replied, her smile continuing its infectious spread across her face. Seeing his annoyance she made an effort to stifle her mirth, attempting to look properly concerned and serious. “Do you feel okay?”
“I seem to be in a reasonably good state of health,” Giles answered, his brow knit thoughtfully. “Considering…”
“Considering you’re eight years old,” Xander hooted, his broad, lopsided grin showing how amusing he found the librarian’s odd condition.
“I believe I’m older than that,” Giles countered defensively, perturbed by the teen’s gleeful observation.
“Not by much,” Oz offered in conjecture.
“Wow! This is really freaky.” Willow leaned in for another long look. She couldn’t believe this little boy was actually Giles.
“Freaky-deaky, that’s for sure,” Buffy said. “This one qualifies you for parking privileges in the Twilight Zone, Giles. Really sends that ol’ needle off the scale on the Spook-A-Meter. Eeeeyuh!” The teen shivered. “Kinda gives you the heebie-jeebies.”
“You have no idea,” the Brit remarked with a pained grimace.
“Oh, man, I can’t believe it’s you!” Xander blinked, his eyes trying to clear the strange vision before him. He turned to his classmates, chortling joyously. “Look at him. Giles has hair!”
“And precisely what do you mean by that?” the librarian challenged, casting a skeptical glare toward the dark-haired teen.
“There’s so much of it,” the teen grinned. “And there wasn’t, you know, before.” The youthful Brit’s tongue began a faint clucking sound, his eyes smoldering as Xander continued his observations. “Ah, come on, Giles. Don’t tell me you hadn’t noticed a little more forehead in the mirror lately.”
“Well, the gray was starting to become a bit more, uhm, conspicuous,” the librarian reluctantly admitted. Giles distractedly ran his fingers through the thick hair at his temples. “I thought it made me appear rather distinguished looking. No?” He glanced hopefully at the faces surrounding him for confirmation.
“Distinguished. Yeah, sure,” Cordelia huffed. “As in old and ready for a room at Wrinkle City Retirement Home for Over the Hill Watchers.
Seeing Giles’ frown of disillusionment Buffy tried to come up with something positive to cheer her Watcher. “At least you won’t need to fill any prescriptions for Rogaine in the near future.”
“You got that right,” Xander agreed with a chuckle. “Giles has hair to spare, and then some. Geez! You look like a girl.”
“I do not!” The librarian lashed out defiantly at the teen’s insult. Crossing his arms over his chest Giles threw his head back, his features drawing into an expression that was undeniably characteristic of a sullen child. The effect sent his teenaged audience into a burst of hysterical laughter.
“He’s so adorable when he does that!” Willow squealed in delight.
“A regular little cutie patootie,” Buffy agreed. Her voice went into a high-pitched, saccharine dripping baby-talk mode as she reached down and gripped the librarian’s cheek in a finger pinch.
Giles’ reaction was instantaneous. With a sweep his arm he batted the blonde’s hand aside, mouth gaping in horrified shock.
“What was that for?” the young Briton demanded, his glower accusing. He rubbed the spot her fingers had squeezed as if attempting to wipe away the memory of her brazen touch. “Have you gone barmy?”
“Sorry,” Buffy shrugged, offering a contrite apology. “I couldn’t help myself. It was like I was suddenly overcome by this strange urge to act all Grandma goofy and tweak something.”
“Well, I would appreciate it if you would kindly restrain yourself from any further such demonstrations of familiarity,” the boyish librarian announced with solemn firmness. “I found it to be extremely disconcerting and unsettling. Not to mention painful.”
“Oooo! Someone’s touchy about being touched,” Xander taunted. His smirk grew wider as he winked at his companions conspiratorially. “I bet he’s ticklish, too. Who wants to find out where?”
Waggling his fingers in a playful gesture, Xander advanced toward the librarian. Immediately Giles leapt back, posturing in an aggressive display, hands up and clenched in tight little fists. Growling fiercely, his expression dared the older boy to come closer at his own risk.
Ridiculous as the small Brit looked the older boy hesitated, unsure how much of a threat a miniature Giles could be. On occasion he had watched Giles and Buffy throwing each other around the library during their training sessions. And though Buffy was invariably the victor in those mock battles, Giles was no slouch when it came to playing Power Ranger games with his slayer pal. If this little Giles could fight as well as the big Giles, Xander realized he wouldn’t stand a chance against him one on one. So with discretion being the better part of valor, and less painful out as well, the teen decided to forego his teasing and back away from the confrontation.
“Feisty little guy, isn’t he?” the teen laughed nervously, covering the embarrassment he felt at cowering before the bluff of an eight year old child.
Giles blushed, looking sheepish. He met the circle of eyes staring back at him with a contrite cough, slowly unclenching his fists and returning his hands to his sides.
“My apologies,” he intoned, his voice repentant and sincere. “I don’t know what I could have been thinking. My behavior was simply unconscionable. Please, forgive me, Xander.”
“Not to worry, G-man, er, G-boy,” the teen responded. He was eager to put the incident behind him, too. “I can understand why you’d be feeling a little short. Uh, tempered, that is. Not short, you know, like,” he said, holding a hand out to demonstrate the librarian’s present lack of height. This only earned him another scathing glare from the young Brit. “Maybe this would be a good time for me to shut up,” the teen lamely finished.
“Perhaps that would be wise,” Giles agreed, his childish tone dryly bitter. Changing the subject, Willow nodded toward the librarian’s red jersey. “I didn’t know you were into football. When did you become a Forty-niners fan?”
“What? Oh, this,” Giles shrugged, frowning at the sports shirt he wore. “Believe me, it isn’t something I would have chosen. I have never understood the American compunction to profess an affiliation with their sporting cults.”
“Somehow, it’s oddly appropriate,” Oz grinned, noting the name emblazoned boldly across the back.
“Oh, yeah!” Willow giggled appreciatively. “Young!”
“Mmmm?” The Brit craned his head around, trying to look over his shoulder. “Ah, yes. A mere coincidence, I assure you.” He turned questioningly toward the red head. “I take it this Young fellow is somewhat famous?”
“More like infamous,” Xander quipped jovially in reply. “He’s probably the only guy who’s had as many head concussions as you.”
“Well, I think you should take that thing back to whatever store sold it to you and demand a refund,” Cordelia harped, giving the garment a severe scrutiny. “That big look just isn’t working. And those jeans? They are so not in style. That whole grunge thing went out with last season’s fashions. As for those shoes, don’t even get me started. God, Giles! Where do you shop? At Dumpsters Are Us?”
“I didn’t exactly buy these things,” the Brit countered, shirking from the girl’s criticism. “I, uhm, borrowed them. Temporarily.”
“Well, that would explain the looking used part,” Buffy said, noting the thin, worn knees of his pants.
“Yes, and while I’m sure your ever helpful fashion tips will undoubtedly procure me a much coveted position on the best dressed list,” Giles announced in a huff as he stooped to retrieve one of the fallen books at his feet. “You shall have to excuse me as I have a great deal of work to do. I can’t afford to waste my time lollygagging about with idle chitchat.”
Straightening, the librarian mounted the ladder behind him, climbing toward the empty shelf above with the heavy book in his hand. As he busied himself arranging the volume in the vacant space, he was oblivious to Buffy motioning silently to the others, directing them to join her in gathering the remaining texts on the floor.
“Boy! Cranky much?” grumbled Cordelia. She flashed a sharp glance toward the tiny figure above them. Before she could say anything further Buffy threw the dark haired girl a warning glare that Cordelia returned with an exasperated roll of her eyes, and thankfully, silence.
Scanning the title of the book in her hands, Willow frowned thoughtfully. “You think this is some kind of spell, Giles?” she asked. Like those on the library table out front the publication she held dealt with magicks and sorcery, and the idea that the librarian’s peculiar circumstances might have originated with a spell intrigued the budding young Wiccan. “I’d be glad to help with research and stuff. There’s that book I borrowed last week, the one on modern incantations. I think it had something about a potion to make you young.” The small Brit frowned down at her from his elevated position. “But, that’s not what you’re looking for, is it?” the red head sheepishly continued. “Hey! Maybe with a few changes here and there, you know, substituting some of the ingredients, changing the proportions or stewing time, we might get it to add a few years.”
“Willow,” the librarian reprimanded the perky teenager. “We’ve discussed this matter before. The forces of magick are not something to be trifled with lightly. I do hope you’re not experimenting with dangerous spells unsupervised.”
“Of course not,” Willow lied, feigning a look of complete innocence. “I only do the safe ones. Nothing dangerous. Nope. Not me. Uh, uhhh!”
“Magick, huh?” Buffy handed a book up to the Brit and he placed it to the shelf next to the other. “Guess that makes sense. If any of this makes sense,” she muttered, shaking her head as she stared at the boy on the ladder. “Who would do something like this? And, why do it to you?”
The words had barely left her mouth before the teen answered her own question.
“Ethan Rayne,” she said. Her lips unconsciously curled back in a contemptuous sneer.
“That possibility occurred to me as well,” Giles answered. Grunting, he sled another book into place. “However, I I’ve rung every accommodation in Sunnydale and several nearby communities, spoken to a dozen clerks. He isn’t registered anywhere.”
“He could have used another name,” Buffy suggested, handing up the last of the books to the librarian. “We should check things out in person. You know, show his picture around.” Her excitement grew, anticipating an assignment that might get her out of class. “Xander can come with me as back up. We’ll do a real professional investigation.”
“Summers and Harris, P.I.s,” Xander enthusiastically voiced, draping an affectionate arm around his classmate’s shoulder. “Sounds like the perfect team to me. Our names will be right up there with all the famous detectives. Starsky and Hutch.”
“Cagney and Lacey!” Willow beamed.
“Yeah, right,” Cordelia sniffed. “With those two it’s more like Andy and Barney Mayberry.”
The group turned to Oz, waiting to hear whom the musician would pick as his favorite duo.
“Mmm, tough call.” He brooded thoughtfully for a minute. “Scully and Mulder would seem an obvious choice. But I think I’ll go with agents J and K.”
“Good call, Oz, my man,” Xander nodded approvingly. “Those Men In Black had some way cool weaponry going for them.”
“Not to mention the ultimate in shades,” Oz grinned back.
Willow gave her boyfriend a quick hug. “You’d look really cute in a pair of those.”
“Then let’s get started. We gotta book before the clues get cold,” Buffy exclaimed with fervid animation. She whirled on the stunned librarian as he descended the ladder. “Have you got a picture of Ethan?”
“Not anything recent,” Giles replied. Hopping off the last rung he landed sprightly beside the blonde. Without missing a step he moved up the canyon of tall book stacks, making his way toward the front of the library. “Buffy, much as I agree with your assessment that this is the sort of duplicitous jiggery-pokery Ethan would take great delight in, I have my doubts this is his doing. He would certainly have made his intentions known to us by now. I know Ethan all too well. He simply couldn’t resist rubbing my nose in his sick, twisted little accomplishment.”
“Well, if it isn’t Ethan, than who?” the blonde queried. She fell into step behind the librarian, the others tagging along at her heels as they marched through the labyrinth of the upper library. “Have you got some other evil friends lurking in your secret past that we don’t know about?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” the Brit shrugged. He had reached the short flight of stairs that lead down the lower main floor. With an exuberant leap he cleared them all, bouncing up energetically as he headed toward his office. “And since I can’t sit about doing nothing and wait for this thing to sort itself out, I’ve decided to direct my research toward finding a spell to reverse my, uhm, condition as it were. Unfortunately, so far I haven’t met with much success.”
“I take it you’ve been at this for a while,” she remarked, indicating the chaotic array of books scattered around the room. “So, when did this…” She gestured toward his youthful personage. “…happen?”
“It’s rather difficult to say,” the Brit replied. Entering his office he crossing to his desk, picked up a half-empty mug to take a swig of its contents. Frowning, he moved toward the station of bookshelves where his tea making paraphernalia littered the counter top, and snatching the lid from a china container, raised it to his nose and sniffed, before spooning out what appeared to be several heaping spoonfuls of sugar into his mug.
“You seemed normal to me last night,” the blonde prompted, trying to get the young Watcher to continue. “I mean, you know, for you.”
Giles swirled his cup a moment before downing the liquid in one loud gulp. “As far as I can tell I was. Perhaps I was a bit tired. And sore. That little incident last night did my old bones quite a disservice. But I wasn’t any worse for wear than I usually am after one of our more vigorous training sessions. I simply woke up and found myself younger.”
“What is it with you, anyway?” Cordelia groused. “Don’t you ever get a regular cold or the flu like the rest of us real people? Why does it always gotta be something weird, like finding horns on your head, or growing a tail.”
“None of those things has ever happened to me,” the librarian grumbled back belligerently in reply.
“Yeah, well give it time,” the dark haired girl muttered.
The sound of briskly marching footsteps entered the library. Immediately everyone froze. Six sets of anxious eyes turned toward the office doorway, waiting, hoping the intruder would go away. Since most students weren’t aware the librarian was usually available at such an early hour there was a good chance whoever was out there would hang around for a minute or so, and then leave. But the trespasser was obviously intent on seeing someone, and headed directly for the librarian’s private office, heels thudding loudly across the tiled floor as they approached.
A short, troll-like figure with prominent ears peered in through the open doorway and looked around, scowling darkly at the teens. Nearly bald, the man had a square face and features that were blunt and severe as his disposition. A momentary shudder passed between the five students as they recognized the malevolent scourge that terrorized the classrooms and hallways of Sunnydale High School. It was Principal Snyder.
The squat administrator grunted, his face marred by a perpetually unpleasant frown. His beady eyes searched the room, ignoring the teens as he looked for an adult. Seeing none, his already grim countenance darkened, becoming even more disagreeable. Fixing his glare on Buffy he grudgingly directed his question at her.
“Where is he?”
Buffy shrugged, looking toward her peers. “Where’s who?”
“Mr. Giles,” Snyder sneered impatiently. His frown deepened to cut into his face with the permanence of carved granite. “Have you seen him?”
The teens exchanged furtive glances. Immediately, the principal interpreted the mysterious looks as a sign of guilt. Known as a man who cared little for the students he was appointed to watch over, Snyder particularly disliked the five young people he saw standing before him. He made it no secret that he considered children, especially teenagers, nothing more than irritating annoyances he was forced to deal with on a day to day basis in his work. He trusted none of them, and held a contemptuous disdain for the youth under his charge. And his personal opinions of a certain English librarian weren’t much more favorable, and were becoming even less so when he discovered Giles was not there.
“He’s not in?” the principal snarled with obvious irritation.
Giles had felt the hairs at the back of his neck begin to rise. Before the principal could spot him he slunk behind the line of older students, trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible.
“Gile-Mr. Giles is…out,” Buffy replied, seeing Giles’ attempt to hide. She didn’t blame the librarian for wanting to avoid a confrontation with Snyder. It wouldn’t do to raise the principal’s suspicions. He could ask too many questions, questions for which there were no easy answers.
Snyder was staring at the blonde teen with narrowed eyes. Her atypically polite answer was disconcerting. Regarding the petite teen with an unwavering, penetrating gaze, he tried to figure out what was going on in her mind.
“You’re up to something,” he declared, pointing a finger accusingly toward the teen. “I’m not sure what it is yet, but I intend to make it my business to find out. Don’t think I don’t know what goes on in my school.”
Buffy remained meekly silent, doing a plausible impersonation of a wronged innocent. As Snyder glared at her, his eyes ticked slightly, distracted by a movement beyond the girl’s elbow. Like a predator on the scent of fresh meat he shouldered his way forward, pushing through the protective wall of teenaged bodies. Immediately, he zeroed in on his new target, a young boy standing at the librarian’s desk. Frowning down at the strange child Snyder delivered his most scathing look of authority.
“Who are you?” he demanded in a brusque snarl. “You’re not a student here.”
“Him? Uhhh…” Buffy threw a nervous glance toward Giles. The librarian actually looked scared. He was visibly cringing as he backed away from the principal’s fierce glower. “He’s nobody. Really. Just a visitor.”
“Visiting, huh?” Snyder thrust his face in close to the short Brit, baring his teeth in a menacing sneer. “Just what I need. As if I don’t have enough headaches keeping track of the bigger ones now I’ve got little kids to worry about, too. This isn’t a babysitting service I run here, you know. It’s a school.” He directed his next question toward the older teens. “Where’s his parents?”
“Parents?” Buffy repeated the query, stalling as she looked toward her companions, her gaze begging for help. “They, uhhh…”
A heavy silence fell on the room as the teens tried to come up with an answer to explain Giles’ presence among them. Willow shrugged apologetically toward her best friend, for once unable to provide a solution of any kind. Xander scratched his head, obviously drawing a blank in the idea department as well. A thoughtful reticence was all Oz had to offer. And Giles himself wasn’t proving any fountain of helpful information. The librarian had gone back into his turtle act, ducking his head as he tried to avoid eye contact with his administrative superior.
“His parents aren’t here.” It was Cordelia, her cocky voice blurting out the answers that eluded the others. “You know the routine. Typical dump and run. Couldn’t wait to get rid of the snotty little brat. Just left him here for the day.”
“That’s right,” Buffy nodded, embellishing on the idea. “He’s-he’s with Mr. Giles. This is, uhh, his nephew. Yep. That’s it. His nephew.”
“Nephew?” Snyder harumphed, turning on the small boy. “And I suppose you’re from England, too?” Giles nodded a wordless affirmative, shrinking from the principal’s intense, disapproving glare. Snyder grumbled sourly. “It’s beginning to look like a damned British invasion in this school.”
“Yeah, that pesky foreign element can really ruin a good dictatorship,” Xander interjected with a sarcastic chuckle.
The teen fell quiet as Snyder directed an unimpressed mirthless evil-eye in his direction. Satisfied Xander wouldn’t interrupt again the principal turned his attention back onto the younger boy.
“I’ll be keeping my eye on you, so watch your step, boy,” Snyder groused threateningly. “I don’t tolerate troublemakers in my school. And you look like a prime candidate for detention if I ever saw one!” He snorted disdainfully at the youthful Giles, his eyes narrowing. “I bet you’re just like that obstinate uncle of yours.”
“You have no idea,” Xander grinned, unable to resist a tempting straight line. The comment earned him an irritable grumble from the principal.
“So, how come your uncle got stuck with you?” Snyder demanded, questioning the librarian. “Don’t your parents know we expect our employees to work around here? I can’t have my teachers hauling their punk kids to class with them. School is no place for kids.”
Xander coughed, a strangled noise of frustration escaping his throat. He looked toward his friends, eyes pleading in agonized desperation as he fought to hold back an obvious rejoinder.
“His folks had to go somewhere. Somewhere out of town,” Willow said, stepping in to supply a vague explanation when the librarian remained mute. “I think it had to do with business, or something, and they couldn’t bring him because, because...”
“Because he’s too young,” Buffy injected with a vigorous reply.
“Yeah, too young,” Willow nodded.
“And you know how little kids can get,” Buffy blithely continued, draping an arm around the librarian’s slim shoulder. “Ten minutes into the trip they’re bored, and then the whining starts.” Mimicking a small child Buffy began a litany of complaints, her voice a singsong wail that grated on the ears of everyone in the room. “‘Do I have to go? Are we there yet? Can we eat? What time is it now? When are we going home? I want-’”
“Yeah, yeah, I get the picture,” Snyder grimaced, interrupting the blonde’s convincing impression. Shuddering in revulsion he tried to expunge the loathsome image Buffy’s impromptu performance had brought to mind. With a malevolent growl he fixed his disdainful glare on the teen and the librarian beside her. “Why is it other people’s kids end up being my problem all the time?”
Buffy met Snyder’s dour gaze with a “you mean me?” look that only made the man seethe with contemptuous ire. Irritated that the girl flaunted her disrespect for his authority so openly the principal redirected his efforts toward a fresher target, one in which he could instill the fear his position deserved. Squinting his eyes into a sinister vermin-like bead he lowered his sights on the small child again.
“You!” Snyder pointed at Giles. “This is my school. If you know what’s good for you there are certain rules you’ll obey. You will remain at all times in this room, and this room only. You are not go wandering about where you don’t belong or in any way disturb my teachers or the other students. This is not a playground. I will not have any running or yelling in my halls. There will be absolutely no fun of any kind. Got that?” When Giles didn’t immediately acknowledge the instructions the administrator snapped at him, startling the youthful librarian. “Well? Did you understand what I said? Speak up!”
“Y-yes,” Giles stammered, his childish voice squeaking timorously.
“Yes, what?” the man continued, pressing his advantage.
Giles felt himself shaking. Usually he had little trouble turning off Snyder’s dictatorial ranting, but for some reason the man seemed especially intimidating that morning. It took all his courage just to look up and meet the man’s eye.
“Yes, sir,” he choked out in a meek mewling tone his ears couldn’t believe was his own. “I won’t do anything that will cause a disruption in your school.”
“You’d better not,” Snyder continued in his hostile grumble. “Because not only will it be the sorriest day you’ll ever remember in your miserable little life, but I can make things pretty tough for that uncle of yours, too.” The principal paused, straightening to look around. “Speaking of which, where is he? I haven’t seen him this morning.”
“Oh, he’s here somewhere,” Xander wisecracked, slyly jabbing the small librarian in his side. Giles threw the older teen a scathing glare.
Snyder frowned. “Sometimes I wonder what that man thinks we pay him to do around here. Well, I can’t spend my entire day chasing him down.” He turned on the boyish librarian. “When you see your uncle, give him this message. Today’s teachers’ meeting has been cancelled. It’s been moved to Monday.”
“I shall let him know it’s been re-scheduled,” the young Brit dutifully replied.
The principal winced, cringing painfully at the youngster’s distinctively British pronunciation of his last word. “You’d think if you people came here you could learn to talk normal, like the rest of us.” he sneered in disgust. With a final glower at the room full of teens he turned and stalked out of the library, a firm, deliberate purpose ringing triumphantly in his step.
When the doors had swung shut and the principal was out of earshot Buffy turned toward Giles.
“What’s with the cowardly lion routine?” she demanded. “You let Snyder walk all over you and then left us to pull your butt out of the hot seat.” The librarian shrugged, preoccupied by the administrator’s parting words.
“There’s nothing wrong with the way I speak,” he complained with an irascible pout.
“Giles!” Buffy’s impatient whine cut through the Brit’s distraction. He glanced toward the distraught teen, meeting her gaze with an innocent stare and a question.
“Did you find anything of interest on last night’s patrol?”
The abrupt change of subject caught Buffy by surprise. With an exasperated sigh she gave in and answered her Watcher’s query.
“Met up with two vamps.”
“And?” Giles probed for further details, but Buffy was not one to waste words during her reports.
“Staked ‘em. As for the pond, it was a no scene kind of scene. Nothing but frogs, ducks, and a couple of college kids I caught making out in the bushes.”
“Nothing of interest then,” the Brit summarized.
“Speak for yourself,” Xander retorted. He winked at the boyish Brit. “You may be too young to care now, but wait a few years. That kind of thing will seem a lot more interesting, believe me.”
“So, what was I supposed to find?” the blonde asked. She leaned against the librarian’s desk. “Demon? Trolls? A giant calamari?”
“It’s difficult to say at this point,” Giles replied. Taking off his glasses he began to fuss with them in an all too familiar gesture. The movement gave Buffy a sudden case of the creeps. It wasn’t easy thinking of this small boy as Giles. And yet, even though his voice was strangely high-pitched, the accent was there and he certainly thought like the Watcher she knew.
“Giles, if you expect me to find this mysterious Loch Ness monster thing, you’re going to have to give me some idea what I’m looking for, or I won’t know if I’ve found it,” the blonde teen argued. “Can’t I get even a teensy little hint?”
“Dozens of demons exist in and around water sights,” Giles answered, his childish countenance an incongruous contrast with his serious attitude. “There are sprites, spirits, nixies and the like. Then you have your nymphs, fairies…”
“Okay! We don’t need the entire L.A. phone book listings,” Buffy interrupted, calling a halt to the librarian’s expanding laundry list of supernatural beings. “Isn’t there something in one of your books that can tell us what to look for?”
“The problem seems to be there are too many somethings,” the young Brit complained. He rubbed a hand across his eyes in a gesture of tiredness. “It would require more specific information to separate what is useful from what is not. That was the purpose behind last night’s reconnaissance patrol.” He put his glasses back on his nose, pushing them up into place. “Perhaps tonight you’ll have better luck.”
“Tonight? No!” It was Willow who raised the protest on her friend’s behalf. “Tonight’s bad. She can’t go tonight.”
“We’re going to the Bronze,” Buffy explained. “The Dingoes are playing.”
“Buffy,” Giles sighed, drawing a disapproving bead at the blonde over his glasses. “What is more important here? Duty, or frittering away the hours dancing at some club?”
“An honest opinion?” Her remark drew a look of cool disdain from the librarian. “Come on, Giles,” she pleaded. “All work and no play makes Buffy a cranky Slayer. And you wouldn’t want that, now would you?” Putting on her best begging face, the one with the wide innocent eyes and pouting mouth she knew could melt the librarian’s firmest convictions Buffy began to wheedle away at Giles’ resolve. “I won’t stay long. Just a couple quick sets. I’ll go straight to the park afterward. Promise!”
Giles knew he should say no, remain firm with the teen, but Buffy was very persuasive. She had an uncanny knack for making him feel bad about being right. Wrestling with his conscience he walked slowly over to his desk, frowning down at the book he had left there earlier. Flipping through its pages he pretended interest in some lengthy passage he found, his eyes avoiding the teen’s imploring gaze. Finally he could stand it no longer.
“I suppose that would be an agreeable compromise,” he mumbled grudgingly. As the blonde’s face lit up with her victory Giles continued with the terms of her pardon. “You’re not to dally all evening with your friends. I expect a thorough search. And a full report in the morning!”
Giles’ tone had been solemn, implying the threat of dire consequences should his words not be heeded, but the effectiveness of his scolding was lost on the teen as she found herself faced with the comical youthfulness of his features. It took all Buffy’s self control to hold back the laughter threatening to spill from her as she listened to the serious little Brit lecture her on what she should do.
The first bell rang out its warning, signaling the official start of the academic day. With an exaggerated groan Buffy pushed herself away from the librarian’s desk.
“Well, it’s time us big kids got going,” she sighed, readjusting her bag over her shoulder. “I’ve got a really important Lit test to flunk this morning.” She started toward the office door, her classmates following in a tightly knit herd. The teens paused long enough to say good-bye before taking off for their respective classes, their voices ringing out boisterously as they filed out the library’s double doors to join the throng of students in the hallway.
Giles returned to his interrupted research. Now that Buffy and the others knew about his condition, there was a strange sense of relief. It wouldn’t have been an easy task keeping things hidden from the bright teen. Buffy might not have the desire to buckle down and study for the best grades, but she was not a stereotypical dumb blonde. Sooner or later she would have caught on. Even Snyder could eventually prove to be a problem. Though the two of them rarely talked during the day, the librarian keeping to his domain and the principal purposefully avoiding him, they did occasionally cross paths professionally, like at the required teachers’ meeting scheduled for Monday. He was going to have to solve this thing soon or the despicable little authoritarian principal was going to notice something was wrong.
Giles sighed and bent over the open volume on his desk. He had barely read one line when he was distracted, his eye drawn by a sparkling of brilliant colors. It was the amulet that Buffy had found. He had taken it from his pocket last evening and put it there on his desk. A curious urge overcame him, and he picked up the piece with its gaudy stones, inspecting it closely. He turned it over and over in his hand, noticing how the play of light caught the various gem chips and reflected their multiple colors on the walls of the room around him. A childish smile of delight touched his lips, and for a brief moment of indulgence he amused himself by watching the light show the stones created as they cast dappled pools of changing color.
The rest of the school day fared little better for the young librarian. Buffy and the others seemed to find an inordinate amount of free time from class to drop by and check up on him. Though they were there under the pretense of helping, these visits were full of good-natured ribbing, which under other circumstances he might have found mildly entertaining, but the amusement had begun to wear thin. As had his nerves. On top of all that, every time that he tried to venture out of the library he ran into Principal Snyder. The man was everywhere, his evil eye keeping vigilant guard, waiting for him to do something wrong. By the end of the afternoon the librarian was completely on edge. But a stalwart dedication to his research kept him sane and focussed, and somehow he managed to struggle through what was a most impossible day, secured in the hope that everything would eventually work itself out in the end.