CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Giles lay across the bed, his small body quaking uncontrollably, face buried in a pillow to muffle the outpouring of his pathetic sobs. He couldn’t say why he had run to Buffy’s room as his place of refuge. Perhaps it represented security, the surroundings imparting a familiarity, somewhere he had felt safe for the first time in days. Or maybe it was the comfort promised by the mountain of plush animals, some unconscious throwback to his first childhood and the nearly forgotten stuffed bear he had abandoned long ago. Whatever the reason, sanctuary or salvation, he had ended up on the teen’s bed, burrowed within the swaddle of the coverlet, giving himself up to the torrent of tears that had gushed forth in a wellspring of anguish and misery.

After what felt like the passing of an eternity the unrestrained squall of emotions finally ebbed in its intensity. A modicum of rationality returned, bringing with it something that could be thought of as acceptably proper behavior for an eight-year old adult, if such thing could be said to exist. Choking back an exhausted wail Giles sat up, wiping a damp sleeve across this tear streaked face. Between moist sniffles he pondered who had ever said that one felt better after a good cry. Certainly not someone that had personally put the theory to test, he surmised, grumpily raking a hand through the mop of his hair. At that moment he felt positively wretched for it.

Removing his glasses, Giles pressed his hands to his face, holding them over his eyes as if to stem the remaining tears that continued to seep forth. He could make out the indistinct mumble of voices coming up through the floor from the kitchen somewhere below, a reminder that his friends were waiting for him to return. He wasn’t ready to face them just yet, however, though he realized that he would have to do so soon. Collecting the shredded fragments of his ego he dried away the last of his tears and attempted to reassert his adult composure.

A soft rap at the bedroom door drew him from his pensive reverie. Turning toward the entryway, Giles sniffled as the door swung slowly open, revealing the slayer standing outside in the hallway.

“Hey.” Buffy threw out the casual greeting as she leaned against the doorframe. She flashed a reassuring smile, but the Watcher’s only acknowledgement of her presence was an ephemeral blink, the tiny movement barely perceptible even without the obstruction of his glasses.

Pushing away from the entry the teen drifted across the room, approaching the bed where the young Brit sat. Easing herself down on the spread beside him she pretended to occupy herself with rearranging the stuffed toys, waiting for Giles to say something in return. The librarian remained mute, and unable to take the awkward lack of communication any longer, Buffy broke down and forged ahead with what had become a one way conversation.

“You okay?”

Her voice held genuine concern, prompting a hesitant nod from the librarian. It was a spiritless gesture, and not all that convincing. Worrying at her lower lip Buffy reached down, giving her Watcher’s knee a timid pat as she shifted closer on the bed.

“You don’t have to do this, Giles. I don’t need you putting on your brave face and making with the ‘everything is okay’ routine when we both know it’s not. I know this ‘I Can’t Grow Up’ Peter Pan scene has you freaked. And I can totally understand it.

“Look, if there was some way I could fix this for you, I would. And, I will. We don’t have all the answers…yet, but I promise we won’t give up. Not ever. No matter what happens, or how this works out. And until then, whether you’re in Sunnydale, or someplace else, if you need to talk to someone, or…or anything, anything at all. I’m here for you. So’s Mom. And the rest of the gang, too. We’re all your buds, and we always will be. Nothing can ever change that.”

She could feel Giles’ trembling where his leg touched against her side. A soft whimper fluttered hollowly from his chest, and her heart winced in empathy, aching for her little Watcher. She wanted to console him. She just wasn’t sure she knew how. Her dilemma became moot, however, when the young Brit suddenly fell apart and began to sob.

“Oh, Buffy!” Giles’ tiny voice warbled on the brink of anguish, his eyes brimming with unshed tears. “I realize that you’ve done your best, but -” His words caught, constricted with emotion, and he was unable to go on.

“I know,” the teen sighed. Sliding an arm tentatively around the Brit’s slim shoulders, she gave him a gentle squeeze of sympathy. “None of this feels very helpful, does it?”

“Not really,” Giles choked ruefully. Looking through the curtain of his unruly mane, he cast an apologetic glance toward the teen. “Buffy?”

“Mmm?” He’d said her name in a frail whisper of sound, and at first she’d thought she’d just imagined it. “What is it?”

“I’m afraid.”

Two simple words, barely audible, but their unanticipated admission stole her breath as Buffy looked down at her Watcher. Time came to a stop, and in the moist, bottomless blue of Giles’ eyes she could read fear. The enormity of his confession unsettled her. Only a child, a real child could bare his soul to another with such trust, and the full weight of that responsibility was more that she was prepared for. This tiny person expected her to make his problems vanish. His trust, his belief in her power to set things right was complete. He didn’t doubt she could do what she had promised. Because she said it would be so, it would be done. He didn’t need to know anything else. But suddenly, Buffy wasn’t so sure.

Gathering Giles into her lap, Buffy hugged him and slowly began to rock. The young Brit clung to her with desperation, burying his face against her neck as a shuddering sob convulsed through him. Buffy stroked his head, her shoulder growing damp beneath his cheek, her own tears falling into the curls that brushed against her chin. She murmured words of solace and inspiration, filling the Watcher’s small ears with hope until, as the minutes passed, the emotional maelstrom gradually faded away and Giles rested quietly within her embrace.

A self-conscious cough prefaced the Brit’s withdraw from her arms. Lifting his head, Giles sat back a respectable distance, dabbing at the moist tear tracks that smeared his cheeks. Buffy could almost see the years settling in again as her Watcher mustered as much dignity as he could under the circumstances and faced her.

“I really must be going,” Giles stammered. Slipping on his glasses he tried to ignore both their teary states. Buffy threw a quick glance toward her vanity across the room, checking to see if she was presentable enough to join the world outside. Satisfied, she rose from the bed, extending a hand to Giles.

“I’ll walk you home,” she offered, helping the Brit extract himself from the crowd of plush toys.

“That isn’t necessary,” Giles replied graciously. “I believe I still remember how to get to my own home.”

“I know,” she countered. “It’d just make me feel better knowing you got there in one piece.”

Shepherding the Watcher out of the bedroom, Buffy led the way down the hall to the stairs. Giles followed close behind, his shorter legs faltering awkwardly as he descended the steps, trying to keep up as he continued to argue with her.

“I seriously doubt that I’m in any immediate danger,” he protested vainly. “Vampire attacks seldom happen in broad daylight, especially on a busy street.”

“My point exactly,” Buffy pronounced as she came of the last step and turned to wait. “There are a lot of busy streets between here and there. Dangerous streets with very fast cars. And drivers that might not notice someone, well, uhm, young… trying to cross.” Giles paused on a tread, his head slightly taller than her own as he leveled a glare over his spectacles.

“You mean someone short,” he rephrased with surly indignity. As he subconsciously stretched a little taller, Buffy sputtered in an uncontrolled giggle that only prompted the Brit to frown more tersely. “You are enjoying this far more that the boundaries of normal decency allow,” he muttered disparagingly.

Chuckling under her breath Buffy moved back as he hopped down from the last step and brushed past her, heading for the entryway. Opening the door, she was about to usher him across the threshold when her mother called out from the kitchen.

“Are you leaving?”

Buffy turned to find her mother approaching up the hallway, a look of mild concern etched upon her features.

“Yeah,” the teen replied. As she lingered a moment to talk with her parent she could hear the tromping of Giles’ buoyant step on the wood porch behind her, announcing his continued progress. “I figured I’d escort the Little Prince home. Make sure he actually gets there. Tell the guys I’ll be back, not to start without me.”

“Well, be careful,” Joyce admonished.

Buffy frowned, unsure if the caution was meant for her, or if it was some outpouring of maternal advice delivered with Giles in mind.

“Oh,” Joyce continued, her thoughts moving forward in a new line of reference. “And tell Rupert I’ll stop by later with his things.”

“Right.”

It didn’t take much in the way of insight to read through that one. Ferrying Giles’ mall purchases home was a thinly disguised excuse to check up on him. Her mother, it seemed, was worried about the young librarian, too.

“If you expect to walk him home, you’d better get going,” Joyce smiled, directing her attention toward the wandering Brit. “The way he’s going you’ll be lucky to catch him before he gets there.”

The observation was perceptive, if a slight exaggeration. Giles was hoofing along at a brisk pace, his ragmop head bobbing to some unheard melody. As he launched out onto the sidewalk and assumed a rock star pose complete with air guitar arm sweep, Buffy threw an entreating look back toward her parent.

“You didn’t happen to pick up a leash while you were at the mall?” she implored hopefully.

“I’m afraid not. You’re on you own there.”

With a resolute sigh the teen took off across the porch in pursuit of the errant Brit. From the doorway Joyce watched her daughter sprint down the front walk, moving with an effortless, supple grace acquired through long hours of diligent physical training. She easily overtook the young librarian, and within a dozen strides was pulling up at his side. Readjusting her pace, she matched Giles’ sprightly gallop, and the pair continued on, jogging down the sidewalk with an indefatigable energy that only youth, or slayer prowess, could hope to sustain.


They raced along for several blocks trotting through the quietly reserved residential neighborhoods with their stylish Arts and Crafts bungalows, stately Mediterranean manses and the occasional ubiquitous Southern California ranch. It was a route familiar to Buffy. She traveled it to and from school all the time. But today the wide boulevard lined with its expanses of identical groomed lawns stretched side by side ad infinitum was devoid of its usual traffic. Instead, the graceful palms and tidy flowerbeds lent an air of tranquil prosperity to the rows of middle class homes, creating a false security that flourished under the blue, sunny Sunday morning sky. The effect was so convincing, Buffy began to second guess her decision to walk Giles home. The small librarian seemed perfectly fine, almost bubbly as he bounced along beside her, and except for his excess of energy, showed no trace of declined maturity, stopping at each and every corner to check for oncoming cars before crossing the street.

As they neared the high school Giles veered northward, leading Buffy into an area of town where the houses were interspersed by apartment buildings and several sprawling condominium complexes. With each passing block the teen relaxed more, secure in the knowledge that Giles hadn’t actually needed her. Still, there was no harm in offering moral support, and she felt better for knowing that he was safe.

Giles’ animated step gradually slowed to a reluctant plod as they turned up the entry drive of the condominium village where he lived. Buffy had never approached the Brit’s apartment from this direction before, preferring the more direct and public route that followed along the outside street. She was surprised at how different everything was from the other end of the complex where Giles lived. The buildings were the same basic Spanish influenced architecture, but where Giles’ section was secluded amidst sedate, shady fountain courtyards and uncluttered multi-leveled walkways, the units she saw around her virtually overflowed with signs of familial life. Small patios served as corrals for bicycles and assorted brightly colored toys. Many windows proudly displayed seasonal figures created by tiny hands from construction paper and gobs of school paste, attesting to the unseen children living within each respective home. As she walked though the daunting maze of walkways, she could hear the sporadic cacophony of cartoon sound effects blaring behind closed doors, and the gentle ring of a wind chime swaying in the breeze somewhere nearby.

Cutting between two long stucco buildings, the pair came out onto what appeared to be an shared common area. The space was at least twice the size of her yard on Revello Drive, and had been developed into a small playground for the condos’ younger occupants. In all her visits to Giles, Buffy had never suspected that such a place even existed, and within such close proximity. A surround of short trees and several picnic tables encircled an impressive wooden structure that was the focal point of the makeshift park’s center. The design elements included a castle-like tower for climbing, and obstacle course made up of brightly painted truck tires of gargantuan size, and a set of teeter-totters tilted at haphazard angles. A tall slide invited little ones to take a downward spiraling ride, and an ample sized sandbox encouraged budding treasure seekers and construction workers to dig within its desert expanse.

But it was the multi-seated swing set that Buffy noticed her Watcher wistfully eyeing. An impish smile curled at her mouth, and grabbing Giles’ sleeve, she began dragging him toward the nearest seat that swung empty in the sunny breeze.

“What-what are you doing?” the Brit demanded. Giving him a firm push, Buffy plopped her companion into the swing seat. Protesting vainly, Giles tried to stand. “Buffy, we haven’t time for these games now. Mr. Dodd is waiting.”

“So, let him wait,” she snorted, pushing him back down. “Go on, Giles,” she encouraged. “You know you want to.”

“I…” Giles stammered, blushing a warm red, ashamed that his thought had been so transparent. It was true. For a fleeting moment he had yearned to relive the joyful rush he remembered, to fly through the air, feel the wind sweeping over him as he defied gravity’s pull. But rationality persevered. “This is ludicrous,” he stoically argued. “I can’t do this.”

“Sure you can,” she grinned. “You just hold on to the chains here, and you pump your legs back and forth.”

“Yes, I know that,” he replied in an annoyed grumble. “What I meant was we can’t waste our time dallying like this.”

“Look, if you’re already late, what difference will a couple more minutes make?” she said, whittling at his resolve. “It’s not like Dodd’ll get any grumpier than he is now.”

“I suppose,” Giles mused. Seeing a weakness opening in the librarian’s staid armor, Buffy drove her point persuasively home.

“Five minutes. That’s all. I’ll even tell him it was my fault we were late.”

Giles wavered, indecisive. Buffy’s smile broadened, sure that she had him hooked. But responsibility reared its tenacious face, and with an emphatic shake of his head Giles began to extract himself from the swing.

“No, no, no,” he asserted, his mouth set in a determined grimace. “What am I thinking? I’m too old for such nonsense.”

“No you’re not,” Buffy retorted. Blocking the Brit’s path, she prevented him from rising from the swing. “And it’s not nonsense. It’s fun.” Her voice wheedled as she pleaded with the boyish librarian. “Giles, you’re about to while away hours cooped up in a cramped, gloomy apartment with the world’s stuffiest old stick-in –the-mud grouch. Trust me. You’re going to need to store up some serious feel good recreating to get through that experience.”

“But…” Giles hesitated, his self-will crumbling rapidly.

“Come on,” the teen whined, her foot stomping with melodramatic insistence. “Sheez, Giles. It’s just a swing. Would it kill you to sit in it and have fun for a while?”

His reluctance continued to challenge her. In a flash of inspiration the teen brought a coquette-like smile to bear upon her stubborn young Watcher, and in a honeyed voice delivered what she hoped was the ultimate clincher.

“I’ll push you, and make you go really, really high.”

Instantly, every pretense of maturity amassed within forty plus years was abandoned. With giddy delight, Giles sat back in the swing’s seat, his small fists wrapping around the taut chain lengths hanging on either side of him. His short legs dangled freely above the soft, sandy earth where legions of other juveniles before him had scuffed out a shallow depression beneath the swing.

A triumphant grin lit Buffy’s face as she moved around to stand behind Giles. She took hold of the swing seat’s edges, and drawing it back, held Giles aloft. The small Brit’s weight was balanced precariously as he looked back over his shoulder, his expression glowing with breathless anticipation and boyish glee.

“Ready?” The eagerness with which the librarian nodded his reply had Buffy snickering with hearty amusement. “Here goes!”

She gave the swing a shove, sending it forward in an uplifting arc. As the seat rose in the air, reaching its apex, Giles hung momentarily suspended above the ground, defying the laws of gravity. Suddenly he kicked out, his short legs swinging forward with zestful abandon. Buffy watched as latent memories suppressed within now youthful muscles took control, reconnecting instinctually with fluid rhythm, surfacing from a distant past. With an exuberant grunt Giles pumped his legs, and the swing came rushing back toward her, answering the earth’s immutable pull. She stepped back, arms stretched up, and the seat flew over her head with a whoosh of air as her fingertips snagged hold, catching the swing at its pendular return to give it another push and send it soaring forward once again.

Up and back he came. Giles soon established a timelessly familiar tempo, and with an extra boost of slyer strength added to his energetic pistoning, he cut through the air at an exhilarating speed, flying higher and faster with each and every swing. The years slipped away with a disarming ease. Closing his eyes, Giles reveled in the simple pleasure of sailing free through the sky. A warm California wind caressed his face as he defied the graveness of responsibility accumulated throughout decades of self-imposed maturity. All thought of duty and obligation were swept aside. His existence became reduced to that moment, the here and now of life, and nothing more. It was just him, the swing, and the pleasant companionship of a very good friend, Buffy.

Falling into a hypnotic cadence, Giles felt the heavy, tiresome burdens of adulthood slip away. All the worries, the pressures of life as a grown up dissolved in an illusory fog. A warming infusion of contentment and euphoria surrounded him. The world became brighter, a better place to be, filled with joy and fun, and the promise of great adventures. He was happy.

As Giles swooped overhead, Buffy looked up past the soles of his shoes and gazed into a pair of eyes that sparkled with merriment. A unbelievably wide grin spilt her Watcher’s youthful countenance, and a thrilled screech of laughter rent the air, breaking the morning’s tranquility. In the second the Brit hovered there above her head, the teen realized she had never seen Giles as happy as he was at that moment. Giggling and squealing in boisterous delight, there was no sign of his normally stoic reserve to hold back the flood of emotion that spilled forth. This was Giles, free and unplugged, at his inner most childlike self, and as wonderful as it was to see him this way, the teen realized there was a serious downside to this display of emotional liberty. Giles the adult had gone AWOL, sliding into another of his regressive episodes. The second that morning. Not a good sign. The incidents were happening more frequently, coming seemingly out of nowhere. And there was no way to know how long this particular lapse would last, or how deeply the Brit was submerged within his childhood confusion. It looked like she was going to be handing over her babysitting duties to Dodd.

Dodd!

Buffy groaned. She’d completely forgotten about the elderly Watcher. Giles said he was meeting with the Englishman at his apartment. Dodd was probably waiting for them at that very minute. She doubted Dodd would be sympathetic, especially when he saw Giles in his present condition. Nor did she think he would show any tolerance for their tardiness. Still, there was always the outside chance that this once the man would be reasonable, and accept that the delay was totally unavoidable. Yeah, and Satan’s going to take up ice skating once Hell finishes freezing over, she grumbled inwardly.

With a sigh, Buffy grabbed the swing on its next pass, easing it gently to a halt. “Fun time’s over,” she informed her disappointed playmate. “Time to head on out.”

“Can’t we stay a little longer?” Giles’ wheedled. He squirmed, scuffing a toe in the dirt as he shifted anxiously in the swing’s seat. “Two more minutes. That’s all.”

“Sorry, pal,” she intoned with a firm authority. “I’d like to stay, too, but there’s stuff I gotta do. Important stuff. And you’ve got a someplace else you need to be. So, get a move on there, pardner. Time’s a wastin’.”

Giles whined a disgruntled protest, but he obeyed, saving her the anguish of having to back her words with disciplinary force. Jumping down from the swing, the young Brit pouted as she conducted him away from the playground and its temptations. He dragged his feet, making an obvious point of his reluctance to leave, but Buffy was insistent, and with firm but gentle guidance she herded Giles back onto the labyrinth of paths that wound through the residential buildings.

As they drew closer to familiar surroundings, Giles eventually grew resigned to the inevitable. By the time they approached the final stretch of walkway that would lead to his apartment, he was skipping complacently at the slayer’s side and chatting amiably, switching from one unrelated topic to another, his disjointed tutorial proving impossible for even Buffy to follow.

Dodd was there as expected, waiting for them in the fountain courtyard. He sat on a bench, alone, looking stiff and uncomfortable among the tranquil scenery. His palpable impatience sucked the quiet ambiance from his surroundings, and Buffy involuntarily slowed her step as she descended the last steps to the tiled yard. Unfortunately, Giles wasn’t paying attention to where he was walking, and clipping the back of her heel with his foot, they both stumbled unceremoniously down the final step, making an ungraceful and somewhat noisy entrance.

Rising from his seat the elder Brit greeted the pair with a cold, disapproving eye. “You’re late.”

“My fault,” the teen answered, taking full responsibility as she had promised. Dodd grunted, his dissatisfaction sculpting his already stern countenance into a hardened frown, a frown that deepened further when Giles rushed past him, making a beeline for the fountain pool. Buffy jumped after the younger Brit, but before she could catch him Giles had flung his belly over the fountain’s ledge and plunged both hands into the bubbling water.

“Rupert,” Dodd brusquely reprimanded. “What are you doing?”

“He’s playing,” Buffy replied. The response earned her another haughty stare.

“Playing?”

“Yeah,” the slayer countered petulantly. “It’s this thing kids do. It’s kinda their take on work, only…it’s fun. All the young people are doing it these days.”

“I am quite aware of what constitutes play behavior in children,” Dodd groused, glaring irritably at the specter of the librarian splashing his hands in the pool. “I don’t see what that has to do with…ahhh!” Realization dawned. Nodding, Dodd immediately dismissed any further attempt to communicate with his colleague and directed his comments toward the slayer. “He’s reverted to one of his regressive phases, yes? Fascinating.” Stealing a brief glance toward the boy, Dodd studied the younger Watcher with a detached, scientific interest. “Is he aware of who we are?”

“He’s a kid, not an amnesiac,” Buffy shot back huffily. “Giles still knows…stuff. He’s just got a different way of looking at things as a non-adult. But, it’s not like he’s like a regular kid his age. His little person age. Not his real age. ‘Cause, there aren’t any kids his actual age. And Giles can still think and do some things like a grown up. He’s a whole lot smarter than your average barefoot boy with cheeks of tan.”

“Then this trip won’t prove to be a complete waste of my time,” the relieved Watcher pronounced. “If he still maintains his full memory and a rudimentary understanding of reading and writing we should be able to extract some useful semblance of enlightenment from his journals. Come along now, Rupert,” Dodd called, rapping his cane emphatically on the ground. “We have work to do.”

Giles continued to wriggle his fingers in the fountain pool, ignoring the other Watcher’s command. Leaning downward, the boy librarian stretched out on tiptoe until his shoes lifted off the ground and he tottered over the fountain’s edge, his head slipping into the water. Or, it would have, if Buffy hadn’t been there to rescue him. Leaping forward she grabbed Giles by his collar, hauling him out of danger and setting him on his feet again.

“What is it with you and water?” she scowled in exasperation. Fussing with his shirt, she frowned as the little Brit wiped a damp hand on his trouser legs. “I swear, every time I turn around I’m hauling your butt out of some puddle. You do understand they make special suits for swimming so you don’t have to get your regular clothes wet, right?”

“I found a penny,’ Giles grinned excitedly, pointing down into the shallow fountain. “In there.”

Following his finger, Buffy peered down into the burbling water. There was a glint of something shiny and metallic reflecting back the dappled radiance from the morning sun that had managed to penetrate the canopy over their heads. Giles was right. It was a penny. In fact, it was a whole lot of pennies, as much as several dollars in pocket change. They were scattered across the bottom of the pool, a veritable trove of copper faces glittering with tempting luster, one that had proven irresistible to a certain young British Watcher.

“Wow! Look at that,” Buffy exclaimed, playing along with Giles’ childish enthusiasm. “Looks like someone might have found himself a genuine wishing fountain.”

“A wishing fountain? What’s that?”

Giles’ curiosity was clearly piqued. Buffy laughed, her throat rumbling in winsome delight. It seemed that her Watcher’s unquenchable thirst to know about things demonic and paranormal was well ingrained within his biology. There was a fire of unrestrained excitement in his innocent little boy expression as Giles fidgeted anxiously from foot to foot, waiting for her reply. It tickled her that he was so eager, and she couldn’t fight the impulse to bait him further. After all, it wasn’t often she got to be the one imparting the big knowledge.

“You don’t know about wishing fountains?” she snickered under her breath, feigning surprise. “Well, they say if you throw a penny into a wishing fountain, your wish will come true.”

A thoughtful frown creased Giles’ childish brow. He regarded the collection of pennies in the fountain pool with solemnity as he digested what he’d been told.

“Does it work?” he asked. “Do the wishes come true?”

“Sometimes,” Buffy replied. “But only if the wishing fountain is real. Most people don’t know how to tell a fake from the genuine article. They toss their pennies into any old fountain, and when nothing happens they say ‘that wish stuff, it’s a bunch of hooey!’ And then they stop believing. But the smart ones know better. They’ve learned the special secret of the wishing fountain.”

Giles mulled over this new information. “How do they know?” he challenged the teen. “How can they tell the wishing fountain is really real?”

“There’s only one way to find out,” she said. “It’ll cost you a penny. Have you got one?”

Nodding vigorously, Giles reached into one of his bulging pockets and began to root through its contents. Several seconds of serious hunting finally ended with a victorious grin as the Brit extracted his hand and held up a bright copper penny.

“Here,” he said, proudly exhibiting his coin. “Is this one good?”

“Perfect,” she smiled. Stepping aside, she waved an arm toward the fountain. “So, what are you waiting for? Go on. Make a wish.”

Giles was almost twitching with enthusiasm as he approached the fountain, the penny clutched tightly in his small hand. Buffy resisted the urge to giggle as the librarian stood before the octagonal pool and took a deep breath, holding it as he closed his eyes. A look of fierce concentration fell over his boyish features, his nose scrunching, lips fluttering in a faint mumble. The librarian’s whisper became lost as it fell from his mouth, snatched by an unexpected gust of wind that swept across the courtyard, stirring the leaves and branches around them to life with a clattering rustle.

A shiver caressed Buffy’s spine. Something about the fleeting breeze disturbed her. Brushing back a wisp of stray hair she quietly moved in closer to her Watcher, assuming a protective posture. She cast a wary glance about, searching for any sign of movement, anything that might qualify as out of the realm of ordinary. But there was nothing, and after a moment the wind died away, disappearing as mysteriously as it had come, leaving Giles, Dodd, herself and the gently bubbling fountain draped in a calm puddle of sunshine. Blissfully oblivious to everything around him Giles opened his eyes, and gazing down at the fountain before him, cocked his arm back and sent his penny flying into the pool. The coin hit the water’s surface with a soft plop, and as Watcher and slayer looked on together, the shiny disc sank, twisting and spiraling, its coppery face catching the sun’s blazing light. Gradually the penny dropped to the pool’s bottom. There it settled, resting among the wealth of change that lined the shallow reservoir, a tiny flash lost amid the bounty of wishes made by countless optimistic dreamers before him.

“Miss Summers.”

Dodd’s voice shattered the magical moment. An impatient rap of his cane accompanied the annoyed words, underscoring the elderly Englishman’s impatience.

“If you’ve quite finished with your fanciful bedtime fable, Rupert and I have a great deal of work ahead of us, and very little time to waste.”

Clamping a hand possessively onto Giles’ elbow the older Watcher nudged his charge across the courtyard toward the door of his apartment. Dodd ignored the small Brit’s feeble protest, pushing him forward, using his cane to herd him along as a shepherd would use his crook. An aching reluctance filled Buffy as she watched Giles stumbling ahead of his colleague, and her sadness was only vilified by the cold, unsympathetic manner with which Dodd treated her small friend.

Giles had stopped in front of his door. As Dodd tapped his cane, the younger Brit fumbled through his many pockets in search of his keys. Locating them at last he unlocked the door, pushing it open before him. Immediately, Dodd brushed past, entering the apartment without further invitation, leaving Giles behind, standing alone on the stoop.

“Aren’t you coming along, too?” the young Watcher queried. Buffy shook her head, smiling apologetically.

“Can’t. The Scoobies are waiting for me. We’re going out his afternoon to look for that Waldo guy. There are a few rocks in this town we haven’t turned over yet, and I figure we might find him under one of them.”

“Ah,” the Brit nodded, pushing up his glasses to frame his plaintive gaze. “But, you will be coming back. Later. Yes?”

“Sure,” she replied. And even though her answer had felt forced and fake, it served to satisfy. Relief instantly brightened the Watcher’s face, a broad grin flashing out at her. “Oh, before I forget" she continued. "Mom said she’d drop your stuff by later. Knowing her, which, considering I’m her daughter and all, I do, it probably means snacks of some variety are part of that deal. I expect a ten percent cut of the take,” she admonished, wagging a finger at him in mock threat.

“I’ll save you something,” Giles promised.

“Well, I gotta go.” She began to inch toward the stairs, walking backward.

“Yeah.” Giles sniffled, staring after her as she walked away.

“I’ll be back. And with Dodd here, you won’t be alone.”

Her last comment didn’t have the comforting ring she had hoped for, but Giles smiled anyway.

Hesitating on the stairs, Buffy looked back over her shoulder one last time. Poor Giles! The little Watcher looked so lost. She hated having toleave him with Dodd. But what other choice did she have? She had to track down that Waldo character, or the Council would send Giles back to England. And she didn’t want that. So, she had to go. Now. Before she changed her mind.

Giles’ll be okay, she told herself. He can take care of himself. Besides, once he starts in with his books he’ll be so busy he won’t even think about anything else.

The mental pep talk did its job. Convinced she was doing the right thing, she tossed back a cheerful wave to her youthful Watcher, and breaking into a run, headed up the narrow walkway that would take her out to street at the condo’s front. Eyes forward, head up, her only focus became the hunt ahead of her. She didn’t look back. She couldn’t afford to. She was racing against the clock now and time itself was nipping at her heels.

As the slayer hustled around the corner and vanished from view, Giles leaned back against the open door behind him and breathed a melancholy sigh. Deep within the magick clouded recess of his brain a spark of adult reason asserted itself, rising to gain control over his child-oriented faculties. For several uncomfortable moments the librarian wrestled with the ghost of his puerile emotions, his British reserve fighting to take possession once again. The struggle continued, and in a hollow victory maturity finally won out. With glumly resigned fortitude Giles stepped into his apartment, and closing the door behind him, assumed the mantle of his Watcher duties for what could be the very last time.

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