CHAPTER FIFTEEN

“My what?”

Staring up at the stranger from her seat Buffy regarded him with a dubious trepidation usually reserved for someone of a mentally diminished capacity. Shock was not a strong enough word to describe the numbness reeling through her brain. She was stunned. Overwhelmed. Flabbergasted, even. It was all she could do to stay calmly focussed on what the man was saying to her.

“I am your Watcher, Miss Summers. I’ve been sent here by the Council to take over Mr. Giles’ duties.”

The man’s demeanor was patient, unruffled by the speechless gathering around the table. There was no doubt that the stranger was what he claimed to be. A Watcher. Everything about him screamed Council Man to the core, from the crisply enunciated tones of his British accent, to the unmistakable stamp of stuffy propriety that radiated from his being like a beacon in the dark. In some ways he was the aged senior embodiment of Giles, projecting an image that was educated and reserved. But where Giles was approachable, this stranger bore a distinct air of glacial coldness. In spite of his grandfatherly appearance, Buffy found it impossible to imagine Dodd hugging a small child, let alone allow one to sit in his lap atop his immaculately pressed trousers.

“Sorry to disappoint, Dobbin,” the blonde tossed back glibly. “You came a long way for nothing. I don’t need a new Watcher. The one I have still has some good mileage left in him.”

“The Council has decided that is not the case,” the Englishman returned with blunt coldness. Dodd swept his gaze over the assemblage before him. “I take it these are your compatriots,” he huffed, his eyes narrowing with a hint of disapproval.

“I like to call them friends.”

Buffy decided she didn’t like this man. His freezer burn attitude put her off, but out of deference to civilized courtesy, and the presence of her mother across the table, she restrained the impulse to punch the older man in the nose. “I’ve been apprised of your consociation with outsiders,” the Watcher bristled. “I can’t say as I approve, but this is an issue best left for discussion at some later point. Time is of the essence. I would like to be brought up to date on your current activities. Perhaps we should start with this Rusalka situation.”

“Exciting as that sounds,” the teen oozed condescendingly as she began to rise from her chair. “You’ll have to excuse me for a moment. There’s this teensy little important thing I’ve got to do. Right now.” Offering her vacant chair to the Watcher the teen backed away, moving slowly toward the librarian’s office. “Why don’t you sit. Take a load off. Get to know the gang better. I won’t be long.”

With an agile pirouette she dashed off across the library, leaving her companions to keep the Englishman occupied.

Escaping to the librarian’s private sanctuary Buffy found Giles back at his reading, his head jammed into a musty smelling volume of indiscernible age. Moving in closer she gave a casual glance toward the spread of yellow, brittle pages with their faded lines of intricately wrought text, but it was the fanciful illustration on the right hand sheet that captured her eye and held it. A nymph-like beauty dressed in a diaphanous, billowing gown of blue stood ankle deep in a watercolor stream, her outstretched arms beckoning to a passing youth on the nearby bank. She was a beguiling creature, lips rosy and red, her tangle of Rapunzel length hair tumbling down her back and trailing afloat on the rippling waters. The picture was rendered in pastel tints with golden accents that reflected back the light from Giles’ desk lamp and sparkled lustrously in spite of the years that had passed since their printing. It was an idealized, romantic representation of a classic princess, the kind that was destined to capture the heart of some brave, handsome Prince Charming and to live out her life in a happily ever after world of fiction.

“Watcha got there?”

Giles jumped, startled by the voice behind him. Tearing his eyes from his book he jerked his mop-topped head around to see who it was.

“Buffy!” he breathed, and relaxed into his seat once again. The teen sidled up to his desk and perched on one of the few square feet of its surface that wasn’t covered in papers, books or the odd piece of occult related junk. From her new vantage point Buffy could see several additional details in the illustration. Amid the rocks beneath the woman’s feet was a miniature, aqueous kingdom, complete with towered castle and a brightly shining sun.

“Who’s that?” she asked. Pushing back the hair that fell against her cheek she bent down for a better look.

“This rather lovely lady is a Rusalka,” Giles replied. He smiled, his glasses bobbing precariously near the end of his nose. Frowning thoughtfully, Buffy studied the image, squinting her eyes narrow as she raised a doubting eyebrow.

“You sure? She doesn’t look much like our demon girl. Though, it could I don’t recognize her because of that whole lack of nakedness thing.”

“Erm, yes, well…“ Giles coughed, disconcertedly clearing his throat as he tried to pretend he hadn’t heard the slayer’s last comment. “I haven’t been able to find much in the way of definitive research on the subject. There are some brief references in Lauder’s Demons and Devils, and Gregor Varloff’s Encyclopedia of Russian Mythological Creatures, but nothing one could call useful. My usual sources simply don’t cover this sort of thing. I’ve been reduced to gleaning through folklore collections, picking out the odd anecdote and fairytale. Most of it’s just imaginative drivel about ‘love-lorn maidens’ and ‘crystal palaces beneath the foaming waves’. And this bit here,” he said, adjusting his glasses to read to her. “The magical sun shone beneath dark and watery depths, radiating with a light so dazzling that it rivaled the brilliance of its twin in the sky.” With a frustrated scowl the librarian flipped the book shut, pushing it aside to the back of the desk. “Nothing but a load of useless treacle,” he grumbled.

“I thought it sounded pretty,” Buffy smiled. Giles shot her an exasperated glare as he flopped back in his chair and began rocking.

“I’m at a loss as to where to look next,” he muttered, removing his glasses to toss them on the desk. “If something doesn’t turn up soon we’ll simply have to take inventory of our weapons and have another go at this creature.”

“Before you start planning your battle strategy, Napoleon,” she said, hooking a foot under Giles’ chair to bring a stop to his rocking and the incessant, brain-piercing squeak. “There’s this guy that just showed up. Claims the Council sent him to be my new Watcher. Anything you might want to tell me about that?”

Instantly Giles was up and out of his chair. Snatching up his glasses he shoved them back onto his face. With several gamboling leaps he threw himself across the office at the window and pressed his nose against the glass pane. The stranger was sitting at the table, his back toward the office, surveying the room as he listened to the struggling attempts of the Scoobies to engage him in conversation.

“I certainly hadn’t expected anyone this soon,” Giles remarked, a small frown creasing his youthful features. Cocking her head to one side, Buffy regarded her Watcher with a perturbed pout.

“Wait a minute. You knew he was coming?”

“Yes,” the Brit replied. Turning around to face the teen he noticed her pique and stammered as he explained. “I rang the Council, asked them to send someone to assist us.”

“And you didn’t mention this before because…”

Giles gulped, a sheepish grin flashing out in her direction. “Because, I forgot?”

“You forgot!” the teen snipped, her hand placed on a hip in a posture of annoyance. “How could you forget something like that? Next time you pull a crazy stunt like that, I expect at least a twenty-four hour notice.”

“I’m sorry,” the Brit apologized, his head bowed contritely. “What with everything that’s gone on today, it simply slipped my mind. I suppose some of my forgetfulness could’ve been that I didn’t want to have to argue with you about this. Buffy, you and the others have been very understanding, but I know that having me around is placing a strain on all of you. And it isn’t right to ask you all to continue placing yourselves in peril because of my shortcomings.”

“Giles, you’re not -”

The Watcher raised a hand, silencing the teen. “I believe that it’s time we both admitted the truth,” he said, meeting the slayer’s gaze over the tops of his drooping glasses. “I am simply not able to be what you need me to be. A Watcher must be there for his slayer, to prepare her for the danger she will encounter, and if necessary, fight at her side against the forces of evil. I can’t do any of those things. Not like this. Last night was proof enough of that. I was in the way, and my selfishness nearly got us both killed.”

“That’s not true,” the blonde protested. Secretly, Buffy was gladdened by the small Brit’s burst of maturity. It was good to know Giles still could think like Giles. “Okay, so maybe you can’t fight vampires, or water demons, or-or big, evil monsters. But there’s still a ton of stuff you can do.”

“Such as?”

“Such as,” she echoed, trying to come up with something quick as the Brit waited for her to continue, his expression skeptical. Casting her eye about Buffy picked up the book Giles had been reading. “Research!” She blurted the word, her voice punching a desperate emphasis to make up for her less than full conviction. “You’re great with the research. And the Latin. And ancient Babylerian, and Sumerian, and a whole bunch of other tongue twisting dialects to boot. When it comes to dead languages, you’re the expert I’d want on my team.”

“I appreciate your voice of confidence, Buffy,” Giles said. “But the truth of the matter is I’m no longer capable of serving as your Watcher. You deserve better than I can give. If for one minute I were to think that a lack of action on my part, or an ill-advised decision were responsible for you coming to harm -” He stopped, the words caught unspoken in his throat. “I would never be able to forgive myself.”

Lowering the book back to the desk Buffy walked over to her young Watcher, and dropping to her knees before him, looked up into his childish face. “We’ve been through a lot. You, me, the gang. We’ll get through this, too. I promise. I mean, it’s not like it’s the end of the world.”

“Precisely,” the Brit nodded. “Though we both know that you can handle,” he chuckled. “This is merely a temporary arrangement. A precautionary measure, until I’m…better.”

“Fine. If you can put up with The No-Humor Man, I guess I can give it a shot.” A mischievous grin tickled the corners of her lips as she leaned a little closer and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “And I bet one shot is all I’m gonna need to take out that old mook.”

“Buffy!” Giles’ look was reproachful.

“Okay, okay,” she pouted, throwing her hands up in surrender. “Still not ready to hop on the ol’ happy-happy joy-joy train, huh? Well, give it time.”

The librarian huffed. “A commodity it would seem I now possess in unlimited reserves,” he noted dryly.

“Can’t say the same for Mr. Golden Years out there,” she said with a nod of her chin toward the man outside.

“Perhaps it’s time I went out and introduced myself,” he declared, smoothing the trace scattering of crumbs that still attempted to cling perniciously to his shirt front. “I’m sure our guest is anxious to get to work. Shall we, then?”

With a mannerly wave Giles invited the teen to precede him out of the office. Pushing to her feet Buffy lead the way, Giles following on her heels as they marched side by side across the library toward the assembly of people sitting quietly at the study table.

“Hello,” Giles greeted the older man warmly, his childish voice squawking into the upper registers of youthful exuberance. He extended a small hand, offering it in polite welcome to his colleague. “Rupert Giles,” he announced brightly, introducing himself to the stranger.

The elder Watcher ticked a cold glance downward, frowning in disapproval at the chocolate frosting visible on the smaller Brit’s unwashed palm. For an uncomfortable moment Giles waited, his proffered hand remaining untouched and ignored. Finally he capitulated, and self-consciously tucking the offending hand into a pocket, he smiled at the man, his face colored in a pinking blush.

“Oliver P. Dodd,” the Englishman curtly announced.

“Thank you for coming, Mr. Dodd,” Giles continued, recovering quickly from his initial embarrassment. “You made rather good time. I wasn’t expecting you quite so soon."

“The Council was of a unanimous opinion that your request for assistance merited expedient consideration.”

“Well, that clears up the mystery of what happened to the other half of that dictionary Giles inhaled at birth,” Xander mumbled, his comment directed to be audible only to his surrounding peers.

Unfolding himself slowly from his chair, Dodd rose to his feet, his taller frame towering over the diminutive Giles. The two Watchers presented a study in antithetical contrasts. Dodd was elegant and aristocratic in his stylishly cut suit with its impeccably coordinated accessories. Giles on the other hand wore a mis-matched hodgepodge, his outfit conspicuously shabby and worn. With his unruly mane framing his pre-pubescent features the smaller Brit was the epitome of a ragamuffin waif. Old and young. Tall and petite. Refined and earthy. It was physical paradigm that only served to point out the dissimilarities in the two Britons’ personalities.

“Nightfall is nearly upon us,” Dodd announced, staring down his thin nose at the small Watcher. “I suggest we save the social pleasantries for a later time and get on with the more important matter at hand. I understand that you have a creature that is decimating the numbers of the local populace. Perhaps we could start with a report from Miss Summers?”

The Englishman slid his focus onto the blonde. It took Buffy a few seconds to realize that she was being asked to say something.

“Wouldn’t it be easier for you to just read Giles’ journals?” she suggested, feeling suddenly put on the spot. “He’s got really neat penmanship. And since he was there, he saw as much as I did. His report is probably way more interesting than mine.”

“Modesty is a laudable trait,” Dodd countered evenly. Leaning forward on his cane he smiled at the young slayer, but there was little warmth in the expression. “Please, indulge me, Miss Summers. I’d like to hear in your own words what has transpired thus far.”

“In my own words.” A spark of defiance lit the teen’s impish gaze. If it was an update the wanted, she’d give it to him, and in what Giles always referred to as her “uniquely peculiar American idiom”. Brushing the hair back from her face, Buffy casually flopped down into an empty chair, settling into a comfortable position. “Okay. Here goes. In my own words.

“Couple days back Giles read this obit. Some guy drowns at Fuller Pond. Will does her research bit on the computer, you know, checks out the coroner’s files, scopes some back issues of Sunnydale’s finest daily. All the usual stuff. Things look significantly suspicious so Giles sends me out to investigate the alleged crime scene, but all I come up with is a big, fat zero. Nada. I’m talkin’ zippo to show.”

Taking a breath Buffy paused, collecting her thoughts and considering where to take her narrative next. It was at this point in the sequence of her story that Giles’ condition had made itself known, but that fact was incidental to the ongoing Rusalka saga. Or, at least she thought so. And she wanted to keep things with Dodd on a need to know basis for the time being. So she decided that she would just gloss over the whole magick mojo issue and stick with the monster stuff.

“Night two. Second patrol. Same time and station. This time, paydirt.” Her declaration held a touch of undisguised triumph as she smugly folded her hands across her lap. “Houston, we have a Rusalka sighting.”

“We?” Dodd queried with a frown. “I take it then you were not alone on this patrol”

“Uhm, no,” the teen replied hesitantly. “Not alone. Not exactly. Xander was there. As backup. And-and, uh, Giles.”

Dodd’s curious scowl swung toward the youthful Brit. “This was before your transfiguration?”

“After,” Giles answered, meekly averting his gaze from his elder’s caustic glare.

“A highly irresponsible decision on your part, don’t you think?” the older Watcher’s gruffed disapprovingly.

“In hindsight, perhaps,” Giles reluctantly admitted. There were a few, erm, problematic moments. Minor, I assure you, but I felt it best to call in the reserves, as it were, and rang the Council straight off.”

“Indeed.” Dodd tapped the knob handle of his cane lightly against his open palm, his mustache twitching slightly as he considered his colleague’s information. “Please, be kind enough to elaborate on these ‘minor difficulties’ you encountered.”

Buffy could see the mask of panic that flittered across Giles’ face. The small Watcher seemed more than merely embarrassed. It was like he was hiding something from Dodd. Or, from her? Between several long nervous studies of his shuffling feet he sent an uneasy glance of two her way.

“Rupert?” There was an impatient edge to Dodd’s prompt, followed by the threatening tap of his cane on the floor. “I’m waiting.”

It was Xander who jumped in at that point and rescued the tongue- tied librarian. “We ran into some stray vamps,” the dark-haired teen blithely tossed out. “But Giles and I stepped back, gave the Buffster room to do her thing, and in no time those guys were pushin' up toadstools.”

“And the Rusalka?” The elder Watcher’s piercing eyes narrowed, boring down on the quiet youthful librarian like a shark sensing blood. He knew there was more to be said.

“She got away,” Buffy covered as she slid forward in her chair, capturing Dodd’s attention if only for the moment. “My bad. I wasn’t ready for her. Wasn’t even sure what she was until Giles here came up with the winning Million Dollar Monster of the Week and I.D.’d her.” She shot a brief, encouraging smile toward her small friend to bolster his fortitude. “Had that Rusalka tagged and classified as soon as he laid eyes on her.”

“Then what we have here are three excellent eyewitnesses to the sighting. That is very good news, indeed!” For once Dodd was genuinely pleased. But his reaction did little to alleviate the stress Buffy could read in Giles’ uneasy features. The interplay between the two Brits was fast becoming a repeat of Giles’ scene with Snyder on the previous day. Her young Watcher had apparently lost all confidence in himself, and if she didn’t step in soon and do something about it, Giles was going to loose it in a big way.

“As you may know by now,” Dodd said, taking the only remaining empty chair at the table and sitting down next to Buffy. “Research on this particular subject is vague as to the creature’s habits, its life cycle.”

Buffy threw a pained glance toward her classmates. They too had recognized the signs of an impending lecture, and easing back into their seats, got comfortable. “Most Rusalka references are based on unreliable anecdotal reports, the stuff of folklore and fairytales. There is very little empirical data available, so any information we collect will prove most elucidating. My own research to date has been frustrating. I’ve analyzed the more probable scenarios, and based on my sketchy findings I have come to the conclusion that there are two varieties of Rusalka. The more savage of the species is common to the northern Slavic countries. Her attacks are cruel and brutal. She is an opportunist that will seize any hapless victim that strays too close to her lair, pulling him into the water and dispatching him with a slow, unagreeable death by drowning. She has been described as a cadaverous monster, pale, unkempt in appearance, and with green fire eyes.

“Her sister Rusalka, on the other hand, by contrast is said to be most maidenly in her manifestation. The tales say she has a power to lure passersby with a voice beautiful beyond description. Her bewitched victims eventually succumb to an euthanistic death, possibly never comprehending their unfortunate fate until the moment when escape becomes impossible.

“And, so, Miss Summers,” the elder Brit said, leaning forward expectantly. “I’m very interested to hear your opinion. Which of these creatures do you believe you encountered?” Caught in the midst of a jaded yawn Buffy suddenly realized that the Watcher was talking to her. Worse yet, judging by the attentive gaze he had leveled directly upon her he expected a reply. She hadn’t actually been listening, having tuned out his long-winded dialogue after the first dozen or so words. It had been too much boring info for her to absorb, or to follow. Even three years of Giles’ wordy spountings hadn’t prepared her for such a verbose diatribe. Dodd had managed to out Giles Giles at his best, a feat she once would have thought virtually impossible.

Shifting uneasily in her chair, the teen glanced around at her friends, searching their faces for some clue as to how she should respond. Willow was fidgeting with an open book that lay on the table in front of her, pretending interest its pages and hoping to avoiding Dodd’s attention. Xander’s blank expression said he was as clueless to what was going on a she was, while Cordelia was staring at her nails and admiring her recent manicure. Stoic and subdued, Oz sat quietly in his chair, observing the scene with a calm indifference, his eyes taking it all in with a look of inscrutable thoughtfulness. In contrast, her mother was teetering on the emotional fence between apprehension and confusion. The whole Scooby/slayer thing was obviously still a bit overwhelming for her. It had been only in the recent months that Buffy’s unusual calling had come to light. This latest situation with Giles, and the substitution in mid-game with some unknown Watcher was apparently too much for her normal mind to accept, unversed as she was in the ways of the supernatural.

And then there was Giles. Standing docile at Dodd’s elbow the librarian looked for all the world like a naughty little boy who had been caught telling lies and was now awaiting the pronouncement to his punishment. Buffy felt a pang of compassion for the small Brit. He seemed so forlorn to her, so vulnerable. So young. But he wasn’t young, she reminded herself. Not really. It was all just an illusion of magick. Giles spoke with an adult’s recollections. He still had the memories and the education of four decades plus of life experience. Didn’t that make him a grown-up? But with the passing of each hour she was finding it harder to think of him as the man that he had been instead of the child she saw before her now. His transmutation was slowly stealing away his adulthood, bit by bit, stripping aside the composure of Giles’ true years, and revealing a very lost, lonely boy who was fast reaching the limits of his emotional stability.

The source of Giles’ distress continued to wait impatiently for her reply. Attempting a studied calm Buffy sat up straight, and giving a confident toss of her blonde head she met the elderly Watcher’s cool gaze, her own unwavering eyes silently challenging his authority.

“That thing you said before, about how one kind of Rusalka is more fiendish when it kills than the other? That’s a very interesting point,” she said, nodding her head as if reflecting on the insightful information. “Though, I don’t suppose that in the end any of their victims appreciated the subtle nuances in that oh so fascinating enlightenment. Hmmm. You know,” she continued with an insolent note creeping into her tone as she drove home her point. “Come to think of it, neither do I. I mean, when you get right down to it, doesn’t much matter how pretty the face of the thing that kills you is. Dead is dead, and so are you.”

His posture stiffening perceptibly, Dodd was clearly annoyed with the teen’s flippant attitude. It was obvious he was not used to being addressed with such open disrespect, and definitely hadn’t anticipated this reaction from his slayer.

“Miss Summers,” he harumphed testily. Bringing his sharp disapproval upon the young blonde he intensified his frown. “Perhaps this is how you have comported yourself in the past under Mr. Giles’ tutelage. I, however, will not abide disrespectful behavior. Not from you, or anyone else,” he said, his glare traveling around the table before resettling on Buffy again. “If we are to work with any degree of success in this venture I will require full cooperation from you at all times. There will be no idle nonsense while I am in charge. I demand straight, simple answers to my questions. Is that understood? Good,” he snapped as she offered an intimidated, brief nod in reply. “Now, I will ask you once again, and you will give me your concise compendium and nothing more. What particular characteristics did you note in this creature that you encountered.”

Buffy contemplated the Watcher’s stern words and came to the conclusion that she did not like Dodd. In fact, she was liking him a whole lot less with every passing second. He was arrogant, smug and pompous, and he treated her friends as if they didn’t exist. But she had promised Giles she would try to cooperate. Besides, the arrangement was only temporary. It wasn’t like Dodd was her real Watcher. She could put up with him for a little while, but just until Giles got his feet back under him again. Then it was adios muchacho!

“Alright,” she agreed, resigned. “It was dark, and like I said before, I was kinda preoccupied with other concerns at the time, but I think I got a pretty good look at this thing and could pick it out in a line-up. Blonde hair, human-ish, and definitely female. Not at all your typical scary monster type. She was a real hottie. You know, pretty, in a suggestive sort of ‘come hither’ way.”

“Then she would be of the southern variety, the less aggressive species,” Dodd mused thoughtfully. He stroked an idle finger across his trim mustache. “You mentioned another concern occupied your attentions. I assume you mean this vampire attack. And how did that business unfold?”

She hesitated, looking to Giles for guidance before fumbling a reply. “Nothing spectacular. Just a couple of your run-of-the-mill bloodsucking fiends out looking for a bite to eat. I’m sure Giles has it all written down in his books.” She exchanged a look with the young Brit.

“Well, actually,” Giles stammered, a blush rising in his cheeks. He faced Dodd’s critical glower with uncertainty in his voice. “This-this other matter had us quite busy, you see,” he stumbled in a faltering explanation, feet moving anxiously back and forth in place. “What with trying to avoid any undue attention, and my work here at the library…” With a gulp he finished in a lame, defensively apologetic mumble. “I would have gotten around to it eventually.”

“I suppose I should have expected as much,” Dodd sighed. His irritation was plain to see as he scolded the young librarian. “I’m afraid your professionalism in this situation has been sorely lacking, Rupert. It seems that my arrival here has been none too soon. Well, we can go over your journal entries at some later time. For the present let us continue with our review of last evening’s patrol.” Casting his eyes over the table they came to rest upon Xander. “I understand that you were with the slayer as well, yes?”

“Yeah,” the boy shyly affirmed. Sitting up, Xander quickly reaffirmed his replay. “I mean yes. I was one of the we, uh, the three there.”

“Is there anything useful you can think of to add to Miss Summer’s report? Or were you also too busily engaged in battling vampires to take notice of the Rusalka?”

“Well…” Xander leaned forward and cleared his throat. “There was that singing thing she did.”

“Singing thing?” Dodd echoed, perplexed by the teen’s vague jargon. “I’m not sure as I understand. Perhaps if you could describe what you heard in a little more detail,” Dodd encouraged the boy.

Xander shrugged. “It didn’t sound like anything that had made the top ten in Billboard during this millennium. I don’t know if it was even a real song. It was more like a bunch of different notes all stuck together, one right after the other. Anyway, this babe really belted out some mind-blowing acoustics. If it weren’t for Buffy, yours truly would be doin’ the dead man’s float at the bottom of Fuller Pond.”

A thick silence fell over the room. Realizing that he had said more than he had meant to, Xander ducked his head, avoiding the evil glare Buffy shot his way. His blunder had caught Dodd’s notice, however, and with a scowling grimace the Englishman confronted the blonde slayer and her youthful Watcher.

“It sounds as if there is more to this adventure than I have been led to believe,” he rumbled. “What else have you neglected to tell me?”

“I guess that part must’ve slipped my mind,” Buffy apologized contritely with a flash of a bright smile for the older gentleman. Seeing that her charm was doing little to improve the man’s gruff mood she sighed, deciding it was best to come clean. “We left Xander alone at the pond for a few minutes, and he fell under the Rusalka’s thrall. But you can’t blame him for that. It wasn’t like he could help himself. He’s a guy, and that thing already had him picked out to be her next meal.”

“Oh, I don’t blame your young friend,” Dodd calmly responded. “Nor do I criticize your actions. As this young fellow is still alive and with us today to talk about his brush with near death, you obviously did your part with great success. No, if there is any fault to be assessed here it lies with the person who allowed you to walk into this perilous situation without the proper preparation.”

“Back off just a minute there,” Buffy said, quickly coming to Giles’ defense. “That one was totally my call. I’m the one who asked Xander to come along. Giles had nothing to do with it.”

“Which is precisely the point I am making,” Dodd countered brusquely. “As a Watcher, Rupert had no business abdicating such a responsibility. It was an undeniable sign of his inability to maintain proper discipline and control of the situation, and he should have recognized it as such sooner rather than later.”

Rising from his seat Dodd towered imposingly over the distraught teen, his stern condemnation visible in the tight set of his jaw.

“This unacceptable state of affairs had gone on far too long already. It’s time that things were brought back under some semblance of control.” Turning toward his younger colleague, Dodd proceeded to deliver a detached pronouncement, his voice ringing with a thunderous finality that was devoid of any compassion. “Rupert Giles, as the duly appointed representative of the Watcher’s Council of England, I have been charged to relieve you of all official duties as Miss Summer’s currently instated Watcher pending a review of your competence to serve. Having no further need of your services at the present I would suggest that you make wise use of this time to ready your affairs here. Your flight to England is scheduled for early Monday morning. Good day, then, Rupert.”

Giles stared at the elder Watcher, his unblinking eyes round and owl-like behind the lenses of his glasses. For a silent eternity he stood frozen, unmoving. Finally, a thin, breathless wail burst from the his throat, and with tears pouring down his cheeks, Giles turned and bolted out through the library’s double doors, his small sneaker clad feet echoing hauntingly down the empty hallway as he made his escaping flight.

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