Their dampened mood slowly improved as the trio distanced themselves from the scene of their defeat. By the time they reached the downtown section of Sunnydale the three demon hunters were chatting amiably, oblivious to the stares and whispered comments that their moist, bedraggled condition elicited from passersby. At Giles’ suggestion they made a stop at a local fast food place for sodas and burgers. It wasn’t his preferred choice of fare, but the Brit was famished and the food was, if nothing else, served quickly just as promised. In the interest of the other diners, plus a need to get home and out of their wet clothing, the trio grabbed their cups and bagged meals, and resuming their hike across town, munched away as they walked the streets.
Xander was wolfing down his last bites as they approached his house. Buffy and Giles saw the boy to his front door, but they left him there to face his parents alone. As Watcher and slayer slipped away into the night they could hear Xander delivering a convoluted explanation for his soggy clothes as his mother made hysterical noises about wet rugs and muddy floors and his father ranted on about some unconnected subject. Buffy felt guilty about deserting her friend, especially considering all he’d been through that night, but she was anxious to get Giles home, and so she abandoned Xander to his familial purgatory, continuing on her way with the small librarian.
Walking side by side through the dark empty streets the pair finished off their burgers, disposing of the greasy refuse in a convenient sidewalk trash bin. Giles was in an unusually talkative mood. Waving his soda cup about with animated gestures, he jabbered away at the amused teen, talking about the strangest things. Well, strange to other people, Buffy thought. Subjects like water demons and vampires were second nature to people like them. But even though it was shoptalk, she found herself caught up in the Watcher’s enthusiasm, the conversation leaning more toward an exchange of juicy gossip with a friend than a lecture from a co-worker.
They were still deep in conversation as they approached her house on Revello Drive. Turning up the front walk, she led the way up the steps onto the porch with its parade line of colorful hanging baskets and potted plants lining the railed perimeter. Giles was complaining about the inconveniences of being car-less in a mobile motorized society, and she in turn was offering noises of appropriate sympathy as she opened the door to let them inside.
“You can wait in there,” she said, waving toward the empty living room as she closed the front door behind the librarian. “Give me ten minutes to slip into something a little less humid.”
Giles nodded and made a hollow sucking sound on the straw in his cup. As he wandered into the next room to await her return, Buffy bound up the stairs, heading for her bedroom. Her feet squished wetly in her boots as she made her way down the carpeted hallway, trying to slink by without notice, but as she passed her parent’s bedroom her mother’s voice call out to her.
“Honey? Is that you?”
“No, Mom,” the teen glibly tossed back. “It’s somebody else.”
She had hoped to make it to her room without having to explain her dampened condition, but as her disastrous encounter with the Rusalka had already proved, luck was not on her side that night.
Stepping out into the hallway Joyce Summers took one look at her daughter’s disheveled, dripping clothing and her eyes opened wide with concern. Buffy knew her mother wanted to ask what she had been doing, but thankfully the older woman restrained the impulse. Ever since her parent’s discovery that she was a vampire slayer, mother and daughter had come to an understanding. No questions equaled no lies. Sometimes the parental instinct became too much to ignore. Her mother would make worried noises, try to get her to talk about the slaying. But for the most part they avoided the subject. In Buffy’s opinion the less her mother knew, the better. Her mom had enough on her mind already.
“Hi!” Buffy raised a casual wave, greeting her parent as if nothing were out of the ordinary. “You’re home early. I thought you had some bit shipment coming in tonight.”
A single, working mother Joyce was the owner of a local art gallery, and as such she was in charge of acquiring and selling various art objects as well as setting up the displays of featured guest artists. The job involved long hours of work, and she often had to stay late, something Buffy had come to accept more as the norm than the exception to the rule.
“There was a big mix-up. The shipment got sent to some L.A. gallery by mistake, but I expect it to be in sometime tomorrow morning.” Joyce cast an appraising eye over her young daughter. “Everything okay, honey?”
“Everything’s fine,” the teen replied. “Just went for a little dip at the park.”
“Well, you get out of those things and into a hot shower,” Joyce instructed in her best maternal voice. “I don’t want you catching your death of cold.”
“Yes, Mom,” Buffy sighed, but she flashed her parent a warm smile. “I’ll do that.”
Slipping into her bedroom, Buffy gently kicked the door closed behind her as she peeled off her jacket. Another perfectly good piece of clothing ruined in the name of duty, she sighed. There was little hope of ever repairing the coat, or her tattered pants. She lost a lot of her stuff slaying. No wonder her wardrobe budget was astronomically high. It wasn’t easy being the Chosen One and trying to be fashionable, too.
A shadow at the door announced her mother’s presence outside the room. “I was cleaning up the dishes tonight and suddenly this urgent need for chocolate chip cookies came over me. Naturally, I had to whip up a batch. If you’d like, we can have a girlie pig-out and get chip-faced together.”
“Mmmm, sounds great, Mom,” Buffy absently returned. She was only half-listening to her parent, her thoughts concerned with how she might salvage her sodden outfit and not her stomach’s cravings.
Joyce continued to stand in the doorway, hesitating, a curious knot creasing her brow. “Honey, did I hear you talking to someone downstairs when you came in?”
“Uh-huh,” Buffy replied. She yanked off a soggy boot and dumped out a splash of pond water into a wastebasket. “But it’s just Giles. I told him I’d walk him home after I changed. It won’t take me long, though. I promise, I’ll come straight back. No distractions, no sidetracks.”
She heard her mother’s footsteps move off down the hallway. Apparently she wasn’t going to get the parental third degree about her activities that night. Stripping off her other boot, Buffy tossed it into the corner with its mate. She shivered as she eased out of her wet clothing, dropping her sodden laundry in a pile on the floor to deal with later. Moving to her closet, she pulled out a fuzzy, terry robe, wrapping it around her with a tired sigh. A hot shower sounded like an excellent idea. It wouldn’t hurt Giles to wait a little longer.
Joyce made her way down the stairs to the front hall foyer. It had been a while since the British librarian had come over for a visit. Of course, it was usually something that had to do with Buffy that brought him. When they had first moved to Sunnydale she had been impressed by what she thought was a very caring teacher. She had found the Englishman’s occasionally appearance in her daughter’s life comforting. Being divorced, Joyce worried about her daughter not having a male figure to look up to as a positive role model. Her own ex was seldom around. Having Rupert Giles there had allayed most of those fears. He was polite, gracious and articulate, an excellent example of a gentleman. Being a scholar was also a big plus in her eyes, if not her daughter’s. Buffy needed all the help she could get when it came to her studies at school. And it certainly didn’t hurt that the man had a distinguished British accent, something Joyce found very interesting, and maybe just a little bit sexy, too.
For two years she had lived in a blissful ignorance, never suspecting what lay behind her daughter’s relationship with the Englishman. Then one horrible day it all came out, and her life was shattered forever. Buffy was a vampire slayer. Chosen by fate and some mysterious set of circumstances Joyce couldn’t comprehend, she discovered that her daughter had been born to do battle against the forces of evil that walked the Earth. The librarian was her Watcher, her trainer and guardian. It was his job to prepare and assist Buffy in her ordained destiny. With research and guiding words of wisdom he kept her daughter alive, getting her through each skirmish, patching her wounds if necessary, and then sending her out to do it all again when the next demon popped up.
Joyce had not easily accepted the shocking news of her daughter’s secret double life. And who could blame her? It was only natural she would fear for Buffy’s safety. In a moment of anger they had exchanged some very harsh words. The fight had ended with Buffy running away. Rupert Giles had offered his help in locating her. He ran down every small lead that came their way, while Joyce sat at home, afraid to leave the house, hoping that her daughter would return home.
For that entire summer she had agonized over her parenting mistakes, wondering how she might have handled things differently. At first she had blamed herself for Buffy’s disappearance. Eventually her grief and remorse turned to resentment. She accused the librarian of stealing away her little girl, of ensnaring her within an enigmatical life which she, Joyce, was allowed no part. Months later Buffy returned home. Her maternal fears assuaged, Joyce put aside her anger. Things were understandably strained between mother and daughter for a while. There were some rocky moments with Buffy’s friends as well. Time managed to get them all through the worst of it, however, and eventually life for the Summers women became normal again. Or as normal as it could get. After all, Buffy was still a slayer. The only difference was now Joyce knew that when her daughter didn’t come home until late it was because of some life threatening danger to the world, and not just a cute boy. A far from comforting notion, but Joyce was learning to accept Buffy for what she was, and that made things easier for everyone.
In the process of healing, Joyce gradually re-established her friendship with the stoic Englishman. It was hard to stay angry with someone who so obviously cared for her daughter. With everything finally out in the open, she found herself grateful for his sympathetic ear. After all, it wasn’t like she could talk about this slayer thing with just anyone. It helped to occasionally voice her concerns, and whether it was out of guilt, pity or genuine concern, Rupert Giles became the person she turned to most often when her daughter’s slayer life grew too crazy for her to handle. Buffy wasn’t anxious to share stories of her work. She grew to rely on the librarian to keep her in touch with the teen’s other life. And though he was sensitive enough not to elaborate on the more dark and gory details, at least she could count on him to fill her in on her daughter’s whereabouts whenever she became concerned.
And that’s how it had been since then. That is, until that night the entire town went band candy crazy. In a typical Hellmouth incident, cursed chocolate bars were distributed for sale by students on the pretense of buying new uniforms for the school band. Buffy managed to finagle both Joyce and Giles into buying her allotment of the fund raising burden. The two adults indulged themselves in the consumption of their respective purchases, and that was when the insanity took over. Every adult who ate the candy soon reverted to an unrepressed teenage state of consciousness. Joyce and Giles had compromised themselves with some questionable behavior, the gist of which involved and intimate act atop a police car hood that neither would have considered under more normal circumstances. Eventually, the candy’s effects wore off. It wasn’t easy ignoring what had happened. Ever the gentleman, Giles had avoided any mention of the matter in their few phone conversations, and she had followed his lead, leaving well enough alone. But this would be their first face to face confrontation since that day, and as she walked toward the open doors of the living room, Joyce realized she was more than a little nervous about this particular meeting tonight. There was no use in evading the moment. It would have to come some point, and now was as good a time as any to get it over and done with..
In spite of the anxious fluttering she felt inside her stomach a warm smile spread across Joyce’s face. She looked forward to seeing the tall, nattily attired Englishman. Silly as it was, he brought out little school girl feelings of flustered embarrassment. Her heart skipped an anxious beat in anticipation as she stepped into the living room. Glancing around she saw a shadowy silhouette cast across the fireplace. With a deep breath she gathered as much calm as she could find for her voice, and greeted the Brit with cheery hospitality.
“Hello, Rupert.” Joyce winced. That had been a little too cheery, and definitely forced. But she was saved the awkwardness of her social faux pas, for Giles wasn’t there. Instead, she saw a small boy standing in front of the fireplace. Dressed in clothes that were soiled and caked with mud, he turned at the sound of her voice, displaying a face as grubby as his outfit.
“Hello, Joyce!” the youngster replied. An impossibly wide grin punctuated his grimy, cherubic face. “How have you been?”
Joyce stared at the young stranger. The boy seemed genuinely glad to see her. His impish features beamed a friendly welcome. But the grin quickly faded as he saw her bewilderment. A blush of embarrassment rose under the smudges of dirt. Turning aside, the boy hid his face from her, but he cast a shy, furtive look back over his shoulder, and pushing at the glasses balanced across the end of his nose he stared at her with a haunting familiarity.
A crazy thought popped into Joyce’s head. It was a ridiculous idea, and though she tried to dismiss it as such the notion continued to nag, refusing to go away. Living in Sunnydale had taught her one thing. Strange things happened. And at that moment she found herself seriously considering one of the most insane impossibilities she could have imagined.
“Rupert?” Joyce took a tentative step forward. The boy stiffened, then slowly turning toward her, raised his gaze meekly to hers over the rim of his glasses. Carefully, she studied the youthful features, looking beyond the crusted overlay of grime and dirt. What she saw was all too recognizable. It can’t be, she thought. It’s not him. How could such a thing be possible?
Rupert Giles blinked, his timid grin addressing the confusion in the woman’s eyes. “Uhm, I realize this may seem a bit peculiar,” he started hesitantly. “But, I can explain everything. Really. You see -”
“Oh, my…” Joyce Summers felt her head spinning. She knew she was about to black out. She was having trouble breathing, and so it surprised her to hear the intensity of the ear-piercing shriek that escaped from her throat. The sound reverberated out to every corner of the house, echoing loudly in her ears. It was the last thing she remembered as the world suddenly went blank, and she collapsed to the floor, unconscious.
Buffy was stepping into the shower when she heard the horrified shriek. Immediately, she realized what had happened. Mom had met Giles. Throwing on her robe she hurried down the hallway, grumbling a mental chastisement for not warning her mother when she’d had the chance. Too late now. She’d just have to work damage control at this point.
Taking to the stairs at a run, the teen flew across the foyer and into the living room. She almost tripped over her mother’s body. The older woman was stretched out across the rug like a limp rag doll with Giles kneeling beside her, tentatively holding onto her hand, and looking extremely distressed with the situation.
Buffy dropped to the floor, gathering her mother into her arms. The woman’s face was ashen and cold, shock having drained the blood from her cheeks. Gently, Buffy brushed aside the hair that had fallen across Joyce’s closed eyes, and cradled her parent against her in an embrace.
“Mom, wake up. It’s me. Buffy.”
“I don’t believe she took the news very well,” the Brit remarked apologetically.
“Doesn’t look like she hit her head on anything,” Buffy assured him, checking her mother for injuries. “I think she’ll be okay.”
As if to prove her right, Joyce began to stir. Opening her eyes, she looked up into her daughter’s worried gaze.
“What happened?” Joyce mumbled, dazed. Sitting up, she shook her head slowly, trying to clear the fuzziness inside her skull. She was still puzzling out why she was on the floor when she noticed the other anxious young face peering down at her. And then it all came back. With a hysterical gasp Joyce pointed at the boy, her hand trembling, lips moving without sound. Finally, she choked out his name.
“Rupert?” It was as much a question as a declaration of incredulous wonder. “It is you, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” the librarian replied. “I’m afraid that it is.”
“Oh! Oh, God!” Joyce moaned. Leaning back in her daughter’s arms, she put a hand to her head. “I-I don’t feel well.”
“Mom?” Buffy felt her mother swooning. Supporting her with a firm hug, the teen caught her Watcher’s eye and inclined her head toward the kitchen. “Why don’t you get her some water or something.”
He leapt up, scurrying off on his appointed errand. Alone with her mother Buffy took a moment to fuss, trying to make her parent comfortable. Joyce sighed. Her color was improving, and she could sit up on her own, but she was still in a state of mild shock.
“What is going on?” Joyce looked to her daughter, pleading for an explanation to what she had seen.
Buffy took a deep breath. No dancing around the issue on this one. Her mother deserved the truth. With a wavering smile she launched into her story.
“Uh, Mom? There’s something you need to know about Giles…”
Keeping her narrative brief and simple, she quickly filled her parent in on Giles’ “condition”. Joyce listened in dazed attentiveness, and by the time Giles appeared with the glass of water, she had managed to pull through her initial shock, accepting the situation with a strangely practical attitude. Within a few minutes Joyce was back on her feet, and shifting into maternal overdrive, was making fussing noises over the Brit’s scrapes and cuts. Buffy silently gave thanks Giles didn’t raise a protest against the overly cloying behavior. Instead, the small librarian quietly followed her parent to the kitchen, patiently enduring the woman’s concerned motherly clucking as she got out the first aide kit began to tend to his wounds.
With her mother handling the news just fine, Buffy left her alone with Giles, and returning upstairs, went back to her interrupted shower. The scene in the kitchen had been quaintly surrealistic. Her mother acted like it was perfectly natural to have a forty something year old boy jabbering away at her about vampires and water nymphs, and Giles, looking every bit the precocious child, was excitedly relating his tale of danger and adventure to her, pleased to have an audience that was willing to listen to him. Buffy found it oddly disturbing that the two got along so easily in their newfound roles, and she struggled to put the thought behind her, focussing instead on the burning warmth washing over her from the shower spray. After all, she was only going to leave them alone for a couple minutes. What could possibly happen?
Downstairs, Joyce was also trying to deal with some unexpected feelings. She found herself staring in amazement as she ran a damp washcloth over Giles’ face, revealing the youthful countenance beneath the layers of dirt. It was a truly disarming sight. Brushing back an unruly lock of hair she attempted to bring some semblance of order to the tangled mass. An impossible task she soon discovered. Finally, she gave up, and turned her attention instead to patching up the more obvious of the Brit’s injuries.
“I can’t get over it,” she said, cleaning a bloody gash on the librarian’s arm. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were a real eight year old boy. This is…this is all just so unbelievable!”
“Disconcerting would be a more accurate assessment,” Giles replied. He squirmed on the kitchen stool as Joyce applied some antiseptic to an abrasion. “I’m finding it difficult making certain adjustm-owww!”
“Sorry.” Digging a large, square bandage out of the first-aide box, Joyce peeled back the outside wrapper. “And you have no idea how…” Her voice trailed off, hands gesturing vaguely in the air as she searched for a word. Finding nothing appropriate in her non-slayer vocabulary to describe his condition, she returned to dressing his wound with the sterile patch.
“Not as of yet,” the Brit sighed. “I suspect it’s magick, but I’ve no idea what kind of spell would do something like this. And, what with this other matter at the pond, I haven’t had time to do a proper investigation.”
“If it were me, I’d say to hell with that other thing,” Joyce returned emphatically. “Can’t it wait until you take care of this?”
Giles shook his head, frowning. “As a rule demons seldom reschedule their agenda of evil for the purpose of being convenient.”
Joyce smiled, pausing in her doctoring ministrations to look at the young librarian. He reminded her of Buffy, when she had been little. All innocence and sweetness, she had been a child full of loving kisses. Oh, how she yearned for those days. But they were gone. Never to return. Or so she would have thought. Seeing Giles, with his ragamuffin mop of hair and grubby face, she found herself turning back the clock, the years falling away in an instant. Apparently, when living atop a Hellmouth, a man could become a boy once again.
“Magick. Spells. All this abracadabra stuff is beyond me.” Joyce sighed. Closing the first aide box she put it aside. A plate of chocolate chip cookies sat on the counter nearby. Pulling it closer, she offered one to the librarian. Giles accepted with well-mannered politeness. Biting eagerly into the home-baked treat the gooey chocolate bits melted in his mouth as he chewed, eliciting a hearty mumble of appreciation. Helping herself to one as well, Joyce nibbled delicately at the edges as she sat on the stool next to the librarian.
“How exactly do you go about undoing a hex, or spell, or whatever you call this thing,” she asked. “Does it wear itself out, or do you have to whip up some sort of antidote?”
“That would depend on the type of magick,” Giles responded between voracious bites. He was surprised at how hungry he still was. “Sometimes a general spell reversal will do the trick. Of course, this particular situation hasn’t proven itself to be quite that simple. I spent the better part of the day trying to locate an incantation that would address the specifics of my problem.” Finishing off his cookie, he idly picked at the stray crumbs that had fallen to his lap. “Strangely, there doesn’t seem to be much call for spells that make people look older.”
“Which would explain why the cosmetics industry is so successful,” Joyce chuckled. “I figure over the years I’ve personally added to their profit margin by a thousand or two.”
“Ponce de Leon and his Fountain of Youth.” Giles sighed, his expression a melancholy cloud. “The man never knew how lucky he was not to find it.”
“I take it you've had a rough day.”
Joyce smiled sympathetically at the boy before her. She could see the experience had taken its toll on the small Brit. He looked physically tired, and in desperate need of a bath. And in spite of his boyant attitude, it was obvious to her that stress had taken a big toll as well.
“You know, Rupert," she said, shifting a little closer. "If there’s anything I can do, anything you need help with, I’m here for you. In fact,” she continued with warm sincerity. “You’re more than welcome to stay here tonight. We can fix you up a place on the couch. How's that sound?”
“That’s very kind of you,” Giles smiled uneasily. Joyce's offer was touching and helped to allay some of the strange uneasiness that had dogged him that day, but he wasn't comfortable with what she was proposing. “I’m fine," he lied, forcing his composure to look the part. "Really. There's no need to fuss.”
His affirmation wasn’t very convincing, but Joyce decided not to press the issue any further. She didn’t want to upset Giles or add to whatever problems he had. When the time was right he would talk. Until then, she would have to be patient and trust that everything would work itself out.
Sitting back, Joyce regarded the small figure before her. “I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to wake up to something like this. Must have been quite a shock for you.”
“I suppose there are worse things that could happen, though I can’t call any to mind at present. It is a rather novel experience having hair again,” he chortled, grinning. “If this situation isn’t resolved anytime soon, I shall have to consider a visit to the barber.”
“Don’t you dare cut off all those beautiful curls!” Joyce smiled. Sweeping back his long forelock of brown hair she rubbed at a smudge she had missed earlier. “Well, maybe a little trim wouldn’t hurt, just so it’s not in your eyes. They’re such nice eyes. You’re quite a handsome young boy, Rupert.”
“Yes, well…” Giles stammered nervously, blushing at the unexpectedly open compliment. “Apparently your daughter is in agreement with you on that matter, though I believe the word she used was ‘cute’.” In spite of himself, Giles began to giggle. “I must admit, it’s been some time since I’ve heard anyone say that to me.”
“Get used to it,” Joyce teased. “With that face I’m sure you’ll be hearing it a lot.”
“Mmmm, yes. This face,” Giles repeated, his mood sobering quickly. “This whole experience has left me feeling rather like Alice, lost in her Wonderland. Only she got to wake up from her dream. I haven’t been so lucky.”
Reaching out, Joyce took hold of the librarian’s small hand and gave it a tender squeeze. She felt his immediate hesitation, the reluctance to accept her touch, but then his timid grip took her own, returning the gesture of simple friendship. The moment became charged with intensity, the rest of the world forgotten around them, and that was why neither Joyce nor Giles heard the patter of footsteps coming down the stairs.
Fresh and revitalized by her warm shower and change of clothes, Buffy was ready to tackle the rest of her evening. She planned to collect Giles and take him straight home before returning home for a well deserved rest, and as she walked up the hall toward the kitchen she was smiling in anticipation of just that. In the distance she could hear her mother and Giles talking. Then, suddenly everything went quiet. The abrupt silence threw her, and unconsciously she slowed her step, coming to a stop outside the kitchen entry. She ignored the tiny voice warning her about the immorality of eavesdropping, and keeping out of sight, listened in on what was unfolding in the next room.
“What will you do if you can’t reverse this thing?” It was her mother that had asked the question. Buffy thought her parent had sounded worried. Buffy waited for Giles’ reply. He seemed to be taking a very long time mulling over his answer, and she could almost sense the tension growing thicker in the quiet kitchen.
“That is a possibility,” Giles responded at last. The Brit’s childish voice sounded flat, scared. An image popped up in her mind, the scene at the park when Giles had tearfully confessed his fears. Was this what had been bothering him? “I suppose if that were the case, then I would continue to age physically, much as a normal, unhexed individual. And, in some thirty years’ hence, things would come about full circle to where they are now. Or, rather, where they were. Before all this.
“But, it’s quite possible I’m wrong about how all of this works.,” Giles continued, attempting an air of bravado. “Perhaps the effects are merely temporary. I could wake up tomorrow and find everything’s gone back the way it was before. Or…”
“Or what?” Joyce prompted.
“Or…” Giles’ voice dropped, obviously disturbed by the idea he was about to voice. “I could remain as I am now, living out the duration of my life, however long that would be. But, I see no sense in worrying about such things. Not when there are so many other more pressing matters at hand.”
“Wait a minute." Joyce's features registered genuine concern. "Are you telling me you could be stuck like this for the rest of your life?”
The silence that followed her mother’s question was tomb-like in its deathly resonance. Creeping forward, Buffy dared a peek around the door jam to see what was going on. Giles was sitting on a stool, his back toward her, shoulders slumped forward in a posture of dejection. Her mother sat next to him, and from her vantage point Buffy could clearly see the genuine empathy her mother’s face reflected. She recognized the concerned and anxious expression, for it was the same one her mother wore during their heartfelt discussions.
Buffy frowned, thinking about what she'd overheard. Giles a kid, forever? Now that was a concept beyond weird. It defied description. What would life as a perpetual pre-adolescent be like? Buffy shuddered, disturbed by the depressing notion of not ever being able to look forward to becoming a grown-up. It sounded like being sentenced to an eternal life in purgatory, if not in hell itself.
Deciding she’d heard enough, the teen made a small noise, alerting the occupants to her presence as she boldly breezed into the room. She wore a cheery smile, pretending she knew nothing about what had transpired in the kitchen before her entrance as she tossed out a casual greeting to the seated pair.
“Hey,” she chirped, her voice sounding loud to her ears, and forced. “I’m back.”
Her sudden appearance had startled them both. There was an exchange of guilty glances between Giles and her mother, and as Buffy moved closer, she noticed her parent pulling back her hand from the librarian’s. The pair was reacting like two teens caught sneaking a kiss, only the roles were reversed, and Buffy was playing the part of the parent discovering their little secret. Her mother was tried to appear all nonchalant, and was pretty much succeeding. Giles, however, was totally flustered, and almost fell out of his chair.
“Buffy!” A nervous grin flashed across the Brit’s face. “That certainly was quick.”
“It doesn’t take me long to get ready if I don’t have t as he turned towardo put on my other face,” Buffy grinned. Her mother chuckled softly, sharing an understanding look. Giles, however, was confused.
“Y-your other face?" The small Watcher frowned, perplexed by the odd reference. "I was under the impression you only had the one.”
“News flash, Giles. I’m a girl,” the teen remarked, her tone one worn of patience in having to explain what should be obvious. “We females always carry a spare. What did you think we kept in those little make-up boxes we have in our purses?”
“You know,” Joyce smiled, retranslating her daughter’s line into a pop-culture reference more in age with her own years. “Wearing the faces we keep in a jar by the door.”
“Ah!” Realization finally clicked for Giles. “Eleanor Rigby.”
“Eleanor who?” Buffy queried, puzzled. She frowned at her Watcher. “Please don’t let this be some hotsy-totsy girlfriend you used to date in days gone by, 'cause, there are some things I’d just as soon never know about.”
“It’s a song,” the Brit grumbled with annoyance.
“Obviously one from well before my time,” Buffy tossed back in return. Executing a mental about face, the teen grabbed a jacket from the peg rack near the kitchen door. “We need to get going if we expect to get you home while it’s still today.”
Giles hopped down from his stool, following her over to the back door. Remembering how chilly it had been earlier Buffy was worried whether Giles would be warm enough the way he was dressed. This is getting scary, she thought. I’m beginning to think like Mom. Hoping to escape any further contamination from residual mom-induced emanations she ushered her Watcher out the door and onto the back porch. Before she could get any further, her mother came hurrying after them, a plate full of chocolate chip cookies in hand.
“How about taking a few with you?” Joyce suggested. “In case you get hungry.”
Buffy snatched up a big fistful, and mumbling a quick thanks she pushed Giles toward the steps. She was anxious to get going. It had been a long day, and she wasn’t going to relax until she got Giles home safe and sound. Besides, no one was paying her for this babysitting gig.
As she watched the duo walk off toward the street, an amused expression touched Joyce’s face. They were such a strange pair, the Slayer and her little Watcher. Opposites in every way, it was destiny that had thrown them together, and yet there were never two people so suited for each other. Not that they were a perfect match. But then, that was why their friendship worked so well. Life was never dull for the contrary duo.
Listening to their kinetic voices as they disappeared from sight, Joyce was struck by a sudden concern for the small Brit. It went against all the laws of nature and every maternal instinct she had to send an eight-year old boy off on his own to look after himself. But Rupert Giles wasn’t really a boy. He was a mature, responsible adult, who just happened to look like a child. At least, that was what she wanted to believe, though every fiber of her parental experience was screaming out to her otherwise. Still, he said that he would be fine. She could only hope the Brit’s stubborn pride wouldn’t prevent him from asking for help if it was needed.
Breathing a wistful sigh, Joyce turned back into the house and closed the door on the chilly night behind her. Setting the plate of cookies back on the counter she paused for a beat, then with a reconciled shrug, nabbed one of the sweet baked treats and bit off a greedy mouthful.
The walk to the Giles’ condo wasn’t as brisk as their jaunt home from the park. After the first few blocks the conversation slowly petered out to nothing and the night’s deep silence closed in around them. Giles finally showed signs of tiring. His short legs were barely able to keep up with Buffy’s more energetic pace. Or maybe it was something else. Glancing toward the small librarian, the teen wondered what was going through his head at that moment. She’d always heard adults talked with longing about their carefree and happy days of youth, but Giles didn’t look very chipper to her.
“Pick up the pace there, Robby Boy,” Buffy mumbled through a mouthful of crumbs. “Get that little butt in gear and move it along.”
Giles frowned, throwing her an irritated glare. “Would you please not call me that!”
“What?” Buffy chuckled, regarding the small Brit with cynical amusement. “What’s wrong with Robby? I mean, you really can’t expect me to call you Rupert,‘cause, that would be just a little too weird. Who names their kid Rupert anyway? No one. Not even here, in California. And we’re the land that made Chastity, Moon Unit and Soleil famous. Face it. Rupert’s one of those names that makes technonerds cringe. Besides, what are other kids gonna call you? Rupe? Rupie?” Shaking her head, she mimed a shudder of obvious revulsion. “Now Ripper," she grinned, nodding with satisfaction. "There’s a name with attitude. It's got uhhnnff! And a definite macho thing going for it, too. Plus..." She threw up an encouraging thumb of approval. "Way cooler than Rupert. Turst me. So, can I call you Ripper?”
“Yes. I mean, no!” he vehemently retracted, his voice taking on a tired whine of frustration. Sighing, he pouted pleadingly at his companion. “What’s wrong with Giles? It’s seems to have served us well enough to this point.”
“Have it your way. Giles it stays. No more Robby, I promise. Except, when you’re pretending to be your nephew. Or, if we’re in the company of certain persons who don’t know you’re you, and think you’re someone else who’s not yourself.” Pouting, she mulled thoughtfully over what she had said. “That did make sense, didn’t it?”
“Frighteningly enough, it did,” the perturbed Brit replied. “But, if you must use another name in those circumstances, I would much prefer Robert to Robby.” A spark began to shine in his eyes as he droned on, his voice taking up the all too familiar tone Buffy recognized as the forewarning of some stale, trivial piece of information. “Willow was being quite introspective in her choice of nomenclature. Rupert is a actually a variation on the name Robert. It’s derived from the German, Ruprecht, originally Hroudperht, Hroud meaning fame and perht bright...”
“Mmm, very interesting,” Buffy interrupted, not bothering to hide her bored yawn.
Giles prattled on for several more minutes, spewing a seemingly inexhaustible supply of stodgy facts. Buffy felt her mind wander, numbed into a defensive comatose state by the educational discourse. Deciding she had to distract the librarian from his lecture or she’d be lulled into a sleepwalking stupor, she extended her hand with its trove of sugary treats, offering them as a bribe.
“Cookie?” she asked.
The deception worked. Giles immediately turned off the unsolicited recitation, his insatiable penchant for sweets surfacing once again. They continued on toward the condo, further conversation set aside as they munched away on their cookie stash, the pile quickly depleting in volume with each block traveled. By the time they reached the courtyard outside Giles’ apartment the handful of cookies was gone with only a few crumbs and some chocolate stained fingers left behind as evidence to their satisfaction.
Walking the Brit to his door, Buffy waited while he collected his mail. His arms filled with magazines and envelopes, Giles struggled to hang on to the uncooperative load as he attempted to fish his keys out a pocket. The teen bit back a laugh, and unable to watch the perilous juggling act any longer finally stepped forward to relieve the Watcher of his burden so that he could unlock the door.
“Will you be okay?” The apartment was dark and it took Giles a few seconds to find the light. Dumping the mail on his desk amid the papers and paraphernalia that littered most of its surface, Buffy’s eye lingered a moment on a photograph that sat back in one reasonably uncluttered corner. It was a picture of herself and the other four younger Scoobies. She didn’t remember when the picture was taken, or the occasion, but they all looked happy.
“I’ll be fine,” Giles replied.
“’Cause, if you want, you can come stay with Mom and me tonight. I’m sure I could get her to say yes to a sleepover.”
“I assure you, I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” the Brit responded dryly.
But she was really only half listening to him. Her gaze had wandered from the photo to peruse the rest of collected items strewn across the desktop. Except for the occasional blowout research marathon, Giles was normally an orderly person and kept his apartment in a “clean and neat, prepared for company at any time” state of readiness. From the looks of things around her it seemed apparent that his juniorized personification wasn’t nearly as concerned with keeping things tidy. The disorganized jumble of objects scattered on the desk included the usual quota of office supplies like pens and paper, plus a few less typical pieces. Among the antique books, the brass orrery – now there’s a word most people don’t know, but thanks to Giles I not only know what one is, but what it’s for - and the magnifying glass on its adjustable stand, sat the amulet she had found the other night. Frowning, she picked up the jeweled piece. “Still haven’t figured this out, huh?” she asked the librarian.
“Not yet,” Giles returned. He was standing by the open door and waiting expectantly. “But it’s only a matter of time. Speaking of time,” he continued with a pointed look in her direction. “It’s getting rather late, don’t you think?”
“Mmm, I guess,” she replied, setting the amulet back on the desk. Still she hesitated, not wanting to leave. Something was keeping her there at the apartment. You sure you don’t want to come back with me? The offer includes breakfast. I’ll make you one of those big ones with the bacon, and bangers and mash. And real English muffins, just like the ones you get back home in England.”
Giles stared back with a deadpan straight face. “You do realize that in Britain there is no such thing as an English muffin.”
“Oh,” the perplexed teen pouted back. “Well, if they’re not English, then why do they call them that?”
“I couldn’t say. It’s just one of those peculiar Americanisms you people over here are so fond of.”
“Well, that’s a bummer. Next thing you’ll tell me is french fries really don’t come from France. So, you comin’ with?”
“I told you I’ll be fine,” the librarian repeated, but this time there was an unmistakable testiness to his tone. “I’m not some helpless child. I don’t need to be tucked into my bed. And I certainly don’t want some wet behind the ears teenager playing nursemaid telling what to do!”
The sharpness that had punctuated his speech seemed to have thrown Giles as much as it had her. His angered expression softening, the Brit apologized contritely for his outburst. “I’m sorry, Buffy. I had no call to speak to you like that. I appreciate the gesture, but it really isn’t necessary.”
“Hey, no big,” she said, shrugging off the incident. “We all get a little cranky from time to time. You’ve got some heavy stuff to deal with. I can understand how it’d get to you. ”
“Still, it isn’t fair that I take out my frustration on you.”
A sympathetic spark lit the slayer’s eyes as she sauntered over to her Watcher’s side. “Well, I seem to remember a wise and older man once telling me ‘life wasn’t meant to be fair’.”
Giles features flooded with a sheepish grin as he recognized the quote. “And so my words return to haunt me,” he sighed. “I was right, you know. Though, at this moment I’m finding very little satisfaction in that knowledge. For some reason it all seemed to make so much more sense when I was saying it to you.”
“Yup, that’s what the adults always think,” the teen chuckled. “Fortunately, those of us who are less chronologically challenged don’t listen to what grown-ups say.”
“So I’ve noticed.” Giles harumphed peevishly. “You yourself seem to possess an uncanny talent to ignore the things I tell you. And if I dare to be so bold as to chastise you for not paying attention, you respond with a most genuine sounding sincerity that you simply misunderstood. Or, that you forgot. Then you go on to claim that the very virtue of your youth and inexperience allows you unconditional forgiveness for any resultant transgression that may have occurred.”
“That sort of sums up how the system’s supposed to work,” she cordially agreed. “It’s the one major advantage we folks of the younger generation have going for us. If I were you, Giles, I wouldn’t be in any hurry to heap all those birthdays back on. Things can be pretty lush down here at the lower end of the lifetime line. I’d make with the youthful indiscretions while the gettin’ of it is still good. Go out and run around. Climb a tree. Play some ball, or cricket, or whatever it is you Brits do.” She placed a hand on the librarian’s shoulder, her words emphatic as she imparted their wisdom. “Go have fun.” The librarian sighed with a wistful gravity as he adjusted his glasses. “I’m afraid I’m too old for that sort of nonsense.”
“Wrong again,” Buffy countered smugly. “Giles, you’re eight years old. That’s the perfect age for that kind of nonsense. And, it really isn’t nonsense, not in the sense of being ‘no’ sense. “Cause it’s ‘yes’ sense. In fact, it makes perfect sense. People need to have fun. It’s what keeps our lives from turning into one huge yawning waste of time. Without fun, we would all be boring, pathetic losers.”
“And is that how you see me?” Giles asked, pouting. “Do you think I’m some tedious, wretched soul incapable of finding enjoyment in my existence? Because, I assure you, my life is quite satisfying as is.”
“Is it, Giles?” she challenged with calm seriousness. “Not to go casting aspersions on your chosen path in life, but don’t you ever wonder if things would have been better if you’d been something else, instead of a Watcher? I mean, aren’t you even the teeniest bit curious?”
“Of course,” he admitted. “It’s only natural to reflect upon ‘what might have been’. But just because the occasional ‘if only’ thought crosses ones mind, it doesn’t mean I’d actually want things to be that way. Well,” he grudgingly grumbled, reconsidering his statement. “I certainly wouldn’t mind if the last twenty-four hours were somehow not included.”
“Too bad cartoons aren’t real,” Buffy chuckled understandingly. “We could fix all this with a quick trip to Mr. Peabody’s lab, and he and Sherman could just pop you into the ol’ Wayback Machine. Or…” The teen’s eyes suddenly lit up, an idea blossoming within her mind. Rushing over to Giles’ desk, she snatched up the amulet. “What about this? That salesguy said it did magick. Maybe we could use it to undo your spell.”
“Unfortunately, without knowing how it works, its little more than a gaudy trinket,” the librarian said, moving to her side and taking the amulet from her hand. “Then why not go to the source?” she argued. “That salesman. He knows what makes this thing do its stuff, right? We find him, ask him to undo your voodoo, and then you can kiss your Sesame Street days good-bye.
“So, here’s the plan,” she continued, excited now as she embellished on her idea. “I’ll call the guys, and we’ll all meet tomorrow. At the library. You provide the books. I’ll bring the doughnuts. We’ll make with the research thing, and if that doesn’t pan out, we can go looking for our friend who never met a customer he couldn’t scam. How’s that sound to you?”
She finally got the positive response she’d been hoping for. Nodding enthusiastically, Giles smiled. It wasn’t just a grin, or some shy upturn of the lips, but an actual expression of what was undeniable happiness. The effect the expression had upon her Watcher’s childish face was one of infectious charm, and Buffy couldn’t help but beam back in return, her own heart sharing in the Brit’s youthful glee. For this is what had kept her from leaving. Satisfied that Giles was okay, she could at last go.
“Mom’s probably wondering if I got lost,” she said as she started toward the door. “So, this is me. On my way.”
GIles walked her over to the entryway, and sending her off with a polite “Good night”, he watched as she crossed the dark courtyard. She looked back briefly for a moment, and the small Watcher raised his hand in a hesitant wave. Buffy answered with an encouraging smile, and then breaking into an easy trot, she sprinted off into the dark, heading for home and bed.
Closing the door, Giles sighed. Alone in his apartment, the day's events suddenly overcame him in a swell of hopelessness. He was tired. His body hurt. It had been a long, and grueling day. The stress of coping with his altered state was too much for him to deal with any longer. Suddenly, he wanted nothing more than to go to sleep and forget. Tomorrow will be better, he promised himself. Some rest, perhaps a relaxing soak in the tub, and then I can tackle this from a new perspective in the morning. After all, things are bound to improve tomorrow.
A short time later Giles was ready to call it a night. It had taken a fair amount of hot water, soap, and some extremely vigorous scrubbing, but he finally managed to remove the day’s accumulation of dirt and grime from his body. After applying some disinfectant, he added a new collection of bandages to his battle wounds, and then slipping on a clean pajama top for a nightshirt, he shut down the apartment’s lights and trudged up the stairs to his loft bedroom to crawl into bed.
Placing his glasses on the nightstand the young librarian stretched out an arm to snap off the lamp beside him. As he leaned across the bed his eyes fell upon a book. It lay on the floor, untouched, wre it had fallen during his restless sleep the previous night. With a sigh Giles reached down to pick up the volume. Holding it in his hands he ran his fingers over the worn binding. It had been one of the first books he’d bought after his eventual decision to become a Watcher and follow in his father and grandmother’s footsteps. Smiling, he recalled how pleased he had been with the find, having rescued the well-read volume from among the dusty shelves in the bookseller’s shop. It had meant a lot to him. Perhaps more than any book he’d acquired since. It represented stabilization, a change in his philosophy about life. Especially his life. With that one simple purchase he had renounced the aimless anarchy of his youth, and accepted the mantle of adulthood and his destiny as a Watcher.
But tonight the book offered him no comfort. Instead, it mocked him, reminding him what would become of his vocation should adulthood fail to return. The overwhelming despair he’d felt earlier descended upon him again, and in an emotionally consumed fit he threw the volume across the room. He heard the brittle crack of its spine slamming against the wall, then gravity claimed its injured victim, and the text dropped to the floor with a wild flutter of pages and a thudding clap.
Giles fought the surging threat of tears, his chest heaving, constricting around his heavy heart. Stifling a sob, he forced himself into a controlled composure. The Chosen One’s life was dependent upon her Watcher’s ability to think rationally, to remain levelheaded in a crisis. As he was now, a child, he was being neither of these to Buffy. His stubborn folly was jeopardizing his slayer. Because of his refusal to admit the truth he had put his friend and charge at unnecessary risk.
Taking a deep breath he lifted the receiver form the phone on the nightstand. His small fingers punched in a string of numbers he knew by heart. The connection seemed to take an eternity to go through, but at last a voice at the other end answered the ringing. It took every last reserve of his patience to convince the secretary of his identity, but eventually he was put through to the proper channels. The words came with great difficulty, but he explained everything as best he could, knowing that it was the only thing he could do. That it was the right thing to do. For his slayer. For Buffy.
As he hung up the phone an empty numbness gnawed within him. He snapped off the bedroom light, and immediately the darkness closed in around him, swallowing him, its potential for danger tangible and achingly oppressive. With an involuntary whimper Giles pulled the cocoon of covers tightly around himself, shrinking down into their promised protection with an anxious shiver. Then, turning his face down against his pillow, he cried himself to sleep.