CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

She ran the entire way home to Revello Drive, her head abuzz with a dozen different ideas. Arriving at her house Buffy discovered that Cordelia had joined the assembled gang, bringing the available Scooby search party contingent now to five. Time was getting short, and if they expected to find Waldo the Disappearing Salesman in the dwindling hours that were left, they needed everyone they could get to help.

The first order of business on assembling her troops was to give them a quick update on Giles’ deteriorating condition. Her announcement was met with anxious faces, and prompted some urgent discussion among the teens. Suggestions were put forth, each carefully considered, then rejected or consented upon by an informal vote. Debate quickly drew to a close. The need for action took compelling precedence over further planning. Splitting into factions the teens dispersed out into the streets with their respective assignments. Willow and Oz made up the first team. They drove off together with instructions to comb the outlying areas of town less accessible to those on foot. Xander and Cordelia joined ranks, leaving with a squeal of tires in her red sports car to do their part for the cause. Joyce was drafted as honorary home base intermediary. She would be the person everyone reported in to, and would relay any progress made and coordinate leads that needed following.

Buffy had reserved the least desirable challenge for herself. Hitting the streets on foot she covered the back alleys and sewers, seeking anyone and anything, human or otherwise, that might provide a clue to Waldo’s whereabouts. She left no lair unsearched. No den of iniquity went unvisited. She questioned dozens of suspects, grilling them for information, and pummeling those who were less than cooperative. Every hour on the dot she called her mother, getting the latest scoop on what the other Scoobies had done. And with each successive report her frustration grew greater, her disappointment deeper as the burden of their collective failure weighed heavy within her leaden heart.

What had been morning’s swift advance into afternoon became a torturous march toward early evening. Nightfall slipped its darkening pall over Sunnydale. The vampire community began to come out in force, and Buffy had to temporarily suspend her hunt to deal with the undead. Those bloodsuckers unlucky enough to cross her path that evening suffered dearly as the cranky slayer vented her anger on them. Vampire after vampire received a brutal bruising before being finally subjected to the vicious stab of her stake. She managed to decimate a noteworthy portion of the town’s evil population, but it brought her little satisfaction, so she decided to call an end to her patrol, and heading for Giles’ apartment, went to check on how he was doing.

On the way she stopped and made a brief sidetrack into a local convenience store. She didn’t have much cash on her, but she wanted to get Giles a little something, to cheer him up. Cruising the aisles, she surveyed the miscellany of inventory designed to allure pre-teens and underagers to force impulsive purchases from their gullible parents. After some serious deliberation she found something she hoped Giles would like, and selecting a card and pretty gift bag to complete her shopping spree, paid for her items, then resumed her interrupted journey across town.

She was climbing the front stairway at the condo’s front entrance when a familiar blue van pulled up to the curb behind her. Hiding her purchases behind her back, she turned to face Willow, greeting the red head as she leaped out of the passenger’s seat.

“Any luck?” Willow’s query was hopeful, expectant.

Buffy shook her head. “I take it the news is the same for you guys.

“We looked everywhere,” Willow sighed, waiting as Oz came around the van to join her on the sidewalk. “Not a single Waldo in sight. It’s like the guy just disappeared into thin air.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Buffy snidely grumbled. Nodding toward a fancifully wrapped package the musician held at his side she moved down the stairs, her curiosity aroused. “What’s that?”

“This?” Willow dismissed the item in question with an offhand wave. “Nothing special. Just a little something we picked up for Giles. Kind of a bon voyage thing. ‘Cause, with us not finding, and him having to, well, you know…”

“You brought him a gift to buy off your guilt?” Buffy clicked her tongue, frowning at her friend in disappointment. Flustered, Willow blushed, and started to protest, but stopped when the blonde produced a bag from behind her back. For a moment the two girls exchanged shame-ridden glances, then suddenly burst into relieved giggles.

“What’d you get him?” Willow whispered with conspiratorial excitement.

“Bear in mind, I wasn’t carrying around Fort Knox with me in my pocket,” the slayer prefaced her reply. “And the corner Quickie Mart isn’t exactly Toys ‘R Us.” Opening her gift bag, she displayed the contents to Willow and Oz. Inside she had assembled a make-shift artist’s kit compete with several pads of paper, some puzzle books, markers, a set of colored pencils and an assortment of stickers. “I thought he might need something to keep him busy during his flight.”

“That’s a great idea,” Willow grinned. “We got books.”

“’Cause, he’ll never have enough of those,” Buffy snickered.

The three teens turned and climbed the staircase toward the condominium’s stucco residences. They continued to chat, trading stories of their adventures that day as they walked together through the complex. As they approached the courtyard outside Giles’ apartment, they saw Xander and Cordelia standing beside the fountain. Xander acknowledged their presence with a raised hand.

“Hey! Didn’t think we’d see you guys here,” the boy greeted them.

“What are you talking about?” Cordelia scowled, her arms crossed over her front. “You were the one who said ‘let’s go to Giles’. That’s where everyone’ll be.’” Rolling her eyes in exasperation, the brunette confronted the new arrivals. “We’ve been here waiting, like, forever. Where have you been?”

“Sorry,” Buffy retorted, her sarcastic tone bordering on the defensive. “Some of us have had a busy day.”

“Tell me about it,” Cordelia muttered, though she was not in the slightest interested in hearing what anyone else had done. “All that street walking completely wore me out.”

In the beat of silence that followed her statement the others directed expectant looks toward Xander.

“I’m not even going to touch that one,” the teen said, throwing up his hands in defeated apology. Cordelia shot a fiery glare his way, and with a toss of her head proceeded to put Xander on ignore mode. But in the next moment her hardened exterior melted, and in a moment of uncharacteristic concern for someone other than herself she related the results of their search. “We looked everywhere. Found nothing. It’s like no one’s even ever heard of that Mr. Waldo creep.”

“Pretty much sums it up for all of us,” Buffy sighed. “It was one tired chorus after another of “Waldo who?’”

Willow nudged her elbow, pointing out something Buffy had missed. On the fountain ledge behind Xander sat two packages wrapped in sparkling paper and bows. Buffy smiled.

“Let me guess,” the blonde said. “Send off tribute for Giles?”

“What do you get the Watcher who needs everything?” Xander replied, answering her question with another query. As he picked up the packages and casually juggled them in his hands they made strange clinking sounds, like something inside loose or in pieces. “Marbles. A tried and true classic for the ages. I figure they were invented in Giles’ hey days, back when he could actually still make hey, so he should know how to use them. If not, they come with this nifty little instruction manual. Or, he could use them as weapons. Shoot them at stuff. That’s always fun.”

“I’m in the loop this time,” Cordelia proudly announced, flashing a perfect smile. She reached into her shoulder handbag and produced a small fuzzy bear with floppy limbs and a ribbon around its neck. Willow pouted critically at the tiny, white bruin with its patriotic colored decoration.

“Uh, Cordelia,” she hesitantly offered. “You do know that’s an American bear.”

“It is?” The brunette frowned, regarding her gift. “I guess that makes sense. It’s a polar bear, and they’re from Alaska. That’s part of America, right?”

“I think Will was talking ‘American’ as in ‘Revolution’,” Buffy patiently enjoined. “You remember history class. Seventeen seventy–six. Patriots. Finny three-corner hats and muskets.”

“I don’t think he looks like a patriot bear,” Cordelia challenged, examining the little stuffed toy.

“Well, the spangled stars and stripes sewn on the bottoms of his little feet kind of say different,” Buffy informed her non-observant schoolmate. At Cordelia’s worried expression the slayer back peddled quickly, attempting to rescue the situation with a positive spin. “It’ll be like a souvenir for Giles. You know, to remind him of his friends in America.”

Xander nodded. “And with any luck British customs won’t impound him for bringing traitorous contraband into the Queen’s back yard.”

Cordelia, however, was having second thoughts about her purchase.

“I’m sure Giles’ll like it,” Willow pronounced encouragingly.

“And the British flag’s the same colors,” Oz added diplomatically.

“Right!” Cordelia brightened instantly, grasping at this new theory. “He’ll probably never even notice he’s American.” Satisfied, she turned, walking with the others as they moved toward Giles’ apartment. “Besides, he’s just a little kid. And they wouldn’t put him in jail. Would they?”

“Nah,” Xander replied, unable to resist a final parting dig at her wavering confidence. “Worst he could get is a lifetime of detention in The Tower of London.”

The teenagers came to a halt in front of the librarian’s door.

“Guess this is it.” Willow glanced nervously at her companions, voicing aloud what they all had been thinking.

“Yeah, I guess it is,” Buffy echoed in a dejected sigh. With an uneasy smile the blonde reached for the door knob, but before she could had even touched it the door was flung open and a high-pitched voice screeched out her name.

“Buffy!”

She looked down into Giles’ excited, smiling face. The Brit greeted her with unabashed enthusiasm, hopping up and down in place as he hung from the door, waiting for her to come in. His bright, innocent expression told her that he was well immersed in one of his childhood phases, and her heart thudded several aching beats as she fought to keep her sprits aloft. He’s probably been like this all day. The thought unsettled her, twisting her stomach in a tight, sour knot. She’d abandoned her friend, left him at the mercy of an uncaring old bully. Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, she’d failed him by not finding Waldo. I’m so sorry, Giles. You deserve better than this, and I couldn’t give it to you. I’ve let you down. Again.

Piling her newest guilt atop the heavy burden of her conscience that she was already shouldering, Buffy forced a cheerful smile and returned Giles’ hearty hail.

“Hi, Little Buddy.” Giving the young Watcher’s hair a friendly tousle she stepped inside and nodded at the hand he was waving around. “Watch got there? Smells good.”

“It’s a cookie,” Giles informed her. In proof he held up the item in question. The baked treat had several bites missing from its edges, and crumbling bits clung to his fingers. “Your mum brought them. They’re Peanut Butters. Want one?”

“Mmmm, maybe later.” The teen made a swift case of the apartment’s interior. “Is, uhm, he still here?” she asked, lowering her voice in an exaggerated whisper.

“He who?” Giles scrunched his nose, frowning at her, perplexed by the question. An answer came from somewhere off to her right.

“I think she means Mr. Dodd.”

Buffy looked up in surprise. Her mother was smiling as she leaned out over the counter pass through that separated the apartment’s small kitchen from the main living area.

“You,” the teen addressed her parent with suspicion. “Again?”

“Me, again,” Joyce admitted.

“Well, that explains why I got the answering machine the last couple times I called home.”

Moving across the kitchen Joyce came around to join the teens that had filed into the apartment behind her daughter. “I told you I’d be coming by to bring Rupert his things,” she explained, helping the kids as they hung their jackets on the hall tree inside the doorway. “We just finished packing all his new clothes and were taking a cookie break.”

Near the bottom of the staircase next to an antique-looking globe on its revolving stand sat a dozen or so neatly stacked boxes. In the same corner were also two leather-strapped suitcases. It was the sight of the latter that hid Buffy hardest.

“You two have been quite the busy little bees,” the teen said, nodding at the cartons.

“I just helped with the clothes,” her mother disclosed humbly. “Rupert did the rest himself. He spent all day getting things organized and packing up his books.”

“I thought you and Dodd were supposed to be going over your journals or something,” Buffy said, arching a cynical eyebrow at her Watcher.

“We did that,” Giles returned. He quickly became distracted by the group of teens moving around the apartment as they moved into the living area and took up seats, settling in. “That’s all he talked about,” the small Brit grumbled, following the older kids. “He wouldn’t let me do anything fun.”

“All work and no play,” Xander chuckled as he eased his long frame down into a corner of the librarian’s sofa. “Sounds to me like the perfect recipe for making cranky, little people.”

“So, where is the Man of the Glower,” Buffy asked. Flopping down next to Xander, she scooted over on the green cushions to make room for her mother beside her.

“He should be back soon,” Joyce replied. Sitting back she put her arm around Giles, gathering him onto her lap. The young Watcher squirmed for a few seconds, the quieted down, snuggling into the older woman’s embrace as if it was something completely natural for him. “Mr. Dodd was moving some of the books to his hotel room.”

“You’re letting him keep your books?” Willow was shocked at the announcement, her mind overloaded by the impossibility of the concept. Collapsing into a chair she shook her head in disbelief. “Why would you do that?”

“He said I have to leave them,” Giles explained. He seemed to be having his own trouble understanding the reason behind it all. “They’re supposed to be for important Watcher work. And for slayers. Not for boys.” He dutifully recited the litany, an obvious parroting of what he’d been told by Dodd. As he turned toward her, revealing the pain of his difficult sacrifice in this blue eyes, Buffy felt her heart sink deeper. “He told me that you needed to have them,” the Brit finished.

And the guilt just keeps on coming. With a sigh Buffy sank back into the cushions. “You gave him all your books?” she asked. Giles nodded, his glasses slipping down his nose. “For me? Wow. That’s really…wow.”

Staring at the bag in her hands the teen was swept up by a wave of self-condemnation. She felt small, so very shallow. Giles’ books meant everything to him, but he had given them up, and all for her.

“I guess I owe you one,” she said. “Here. This is for you.”

She handed the bag to him, knowing that there was no way her pitiful offering could compare to what he had done for her. Giles, however, accepted the gift with all the unbridled greed one could expect from an eight year old boy. Hopping down from Joyce’s lap, he sat on the floor and began to gleefully explore the bag’s contents.

Whether it was his well-mannered British upbringing, or a genuine delight at what his child-like mind perceived to be something spectacular, Giles’ reaction to the gift was everything she had hoped for. He rifled eagerly through each pad of paper, and inspected the boxes of coloring tools with deliberate interest as he babbled excitedly, telling her how wonderful each thing was. This prompted a shower of more presents from the other teens.

Ripping into the various wrapped packages Giles was soon elbow deep in discarded paper. An impressive collection of children’s literary classics soon lay balanced across his knees as a rolling hoard of marbles spilled and scattered about underfoot on the carpet.

Cordelia’s bear proved to be a big hit as well. The youthful Brit’s squeal of joy at the plush toy’s presentation prompted a gloating “Ha! What do you people know anyway” glare at the other teens that they all endured happily, and without complaint.

“Is he really mine?” Giles gushed excitedly.

“He’s all for you,” Cordelia smugly replied. Her face radiated with genuine altruistic pride in having pleased the small boy.

“What his name?” the Brit asked as he squeezed the bear in a hug. “Can it be Paddington? I used to like reading stories about him when I was little. Only,” he went on, having seemed to reconsider the idea and summarily dismissed it. “He was a sort of tannish color. Not white. And he wore a hat, not a ribbon. Maybe you could help me name him.”

“I think he’s already got a name,” the brunette countered. She reached over, reading from a tag attached to one of the creature’s fuzzy ears. “Miss Lib-bear-ty Belle. Hmmm. Guess she’s a girl bear.”

“Libber Tea Bell?”

“Close enough,” Cordelia pronounced with a condescending smile. “You can call her Miss Libby, for short. How’s that sound?”

Giles was too busy playing with the bear to reply. As the Scoobies watched the Brit enjoying the fruits of their purchases, Joyce got up and began gathering the torn paper and ribbons to throw out.

“Looks like we’re going to have to pack you another bag,” she chortled, taking in the collection of toys strewn across the floor. She paused, and leaning down whispered something in Giles’ ear. Immediately, he was up on his feet, marbles flying in every direction as he raced across the room toward the stairs.

“I’ll fetch it,” he yipped with boisterously eager excitement. “I know where it is.”

Hitting the staircase at a full run, Giles clambered noisily up the steps on all fours. As he disappeared into the overhead loft, Buffy turned toward he mother with a quizzical look, but her parent merely smiled back, her expression inscrutable. There was a thumping sound, and the protesting screech of a drawer first being pulled open, then slammed shut with a loud bang a moment later. Finally, the clomp of little feet found their way back down the stairs, and Giles launched himself across the room, scurrying to the slayer’s side.

“This is for you,” he proclaimed breathlessly as he shoved something into her hands. “It’s a present.”

Buffy stared down at the box he had given to her. Narrow and rectangular, it was dressed in a layer of elegant paper, the edges folded precisely with neat, crisp creases. A large gold bow had been tied around the package, and was meticulously shaped into full, springy loops. This was not the handiwork of someone with awkward, fumbling little fingers. The person who had wrapped this present was disciplined, methodical. They understood the importance of small details others might not notice, and had taken a great deal of care to make things just right.

“Very pretty,” Buffy said, examining the box appreciatively from several angles. “Maybe I’ll just bring it home like this, so I can look at it.”

“No! You have to open it,” Giles demanded. Leaning against her knees, he wriggled with undisguised excitement, waiting impatiently for her to obey his command.

“Better do what he says,” Joyce advised with a soft chuckle. “I don’t think he can contain himself for much longer.”

The blonde teen regarded her small Watcher’s agitated dance of expectation with sudden concern. “He’s not going to spring a leak, is he?” she asked with obvious trepidation. “I don’t want to get stuck having to clean up a puddle on the rug.”

Her parent shot back a chastising glare. “It’s not what you’re thinking,” she rankled with peeved annoyance. “He’s been waiting for hours to give that to you.”

Buffy flashed a contrite grin. “Well, then, let’s see what we’ve got here.”

Untying the ribbon with deliberate care, she folded back the paper to reveal a black leatherette case emblazoned in gilt lettering. She recognized the name on the box immediately. It was a local jeweler that was well known for his unusual and sometimes pricey inventory. Buffy felt her heart skip a beat. She knew that what was inside the box would be very special, and as she stole a glance toward her mother, her breath caught unexpectedly in her throat.

“And was this part of that adventure you two had at the mall?” she asked her parent.

“Don’t look at me,” Joyce said, throwing up her hands to absolve herself of any connection with what lay inside. “It was Rupert’s idea. He picked it out.”

Buffy’s hands trembled as she cracked open the case with its gold edged seal. She peeked inside, and let out an incredulous gasp when she saw what lay the unmistakable glint of fine gold sparkling back at her. It was a watch. Not just any old watch, but a bracelet-styled timepiece that could only be described as beautiful. A thin band of gold metal had been wrought into a delicate design of interlocking links that connected to either side of a locket that lay open, exposing the distinctive face with gracefully incised tracings and filigree hands. She had no doubt the piece kept the most accurate accounting of time possible. Everything about it spoke of fine craftsmanship, from the finely incised engraving she discovered on the locket’s cover when she closed it, to the accent of tiny jewels glittering tastefully at its seamless edge. It was a marriage of feminine style and function, a piece that would look good with any outfit she wore. In a word, perfect.

“Do you like it?” Giles prompted, anxious for some sign of approval. He fidgeted at her knee, leaning in for a closer inspection of the boxes interior. “I fancied the little sparkly bits. They’re rather pretty, don’t you think?”

“It’s beautiful,” she agreed in an awed whisper. For the watch was definitely that, and much, much more. It was impressive, and probably the single most expensive thing she could ever hope to own. That is with the possible exception of the diamond engagement ring and matching earrings she sometimes dreamed about. No one had ever bought her a gift like this before. Not her parents. Not any boyfriend. Not even Angel. And after everything that had happened in the last few days, she doubted that any present would ever be as special.

Blinking back the tears in her eyes, Buffy forced herself to put forth a cheerful face. Don’t cry now Summers, she admonished with a glance toward her smiling little Watcher. Plenty of time for waterworks later. Gotta be strong. Do the happy face thing. For Giles. And with a plucky beam, she turned to her friends, proudly showing them what she had got.

There were lots of appreciative murmurs as the watch was passed around the circle of teens for inspection. Even Cordelia voiced approval, responding with what amounted to a professional endorsement.

“Huh! When did you suddenly develop good taste?” she chided the librarian. “First you wear an outfit that actually looks half decent for a change, not at all like those bargain rejects you usually get from Lloyd’s of London’s International House of Tweed. And then this,” she said, gesturing at the watch. “I mean, who knew all this time you were like this real type person, someone you could almost be seen with in public. It’s a shame you have to go, just when you started to get interesting.”

Tact had never been one of Cordelia’s virtues. Only she could deliver such a barbed and offhanded comment, and get away with it passing as a complement. Thankfully, Giles hadn’t been paying that close attention. As the watch finally came around back to its rightful owner he sat down next to Buffy.

“There’s more,” he immodestly informed the teen. “Look there. On the back.”

Turning the watch over as instructed, Buffy noticed some curious engraving on its backside. She recognized her own name straight off, but the italic string of lettering that followed was as indecipherable to her as one of Giles’ archaic texts.

“Amy city a vera connect TV ten ignorant,” she read, squinting, puzzled by the tiny characters. “What is this? Some sort of librarian code?”

“It’s Latin,” Giles explained. He wiped a sleeve across his nose, and adjusting his glasses, pulled the watch closer, his small fingers pointing out each word as he proceeded to correct her murderous pronunciation. “Amicitia vera senectutem ignorat. See? The V is read as a U. They did that a lot, the early Romans, on account of their alphabet hadn’t all the letters in it.”

“No wonder the language is deceased,” she scoffed. Draping the watch across her wrist, she fumbled with the clasp. “Those old Roman guys were worse spellers than me. So, what does it mean anyway, all that fancy zitti ectum ignore the rat stuff?”

As Giles opened his mouth to reply he was pre-empted by an uncomfortably familiar and snobbish voice.

“I believe a rough translation might be ‘true friendship is ageless’, though the choice of your phrasing leaves it open to a broad interpretation, Rupert.”

It was Dodd, back from his errand, standing in the open doorway behind them. The elderly Watcher strolled into the apartment, immediately taking charge with his presence. Buffy acknowledged the man’s uninvited entry into her conversation with a small, contemptuous sniff, and dismissing the Englishman with a haughty “who asked you to butt in” glare, turned her attentions back to the younger Brit at her side.

“True friendship is ageless,” she repeated, pursing her lips in thoughtful repose. “I like it. Sounds all astute and full of wisdom, like those Confucius Says quotes they put in fortune cookies.” She finally mastered the difficult clasp, and snapping it closed, held out her wrist before her, modeling the watch to appreciate its effect. “Perfect. Thanks, Giles. I give you my word, on my honor as a Slayer Scout, I will never again be late for anything.”

“A most admirable ambition,” Dodd commended, giving the teen an approving nod. To Buffy’s ears the praise sounded forced, pretentious, but she grudgingly admitted that her hearing was probably prejudiced by the knowledge Dodd was one of the parties responsible for Giles having to go away. Her bitter outlook grew only grayer as the elder Watcher continued his dialogue, oblivious to the fact he had interrupted a special moment.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse us,” the Brit apologized for his younger colleague. It’s getting late, and we have packing to finish, as well as an errand or two to run. Say good night to your guests, Rupert.”

“But, I-” Giles started to mount a protest, but Dodd cut him off with a severe glower. The veiled threat behind the look did its work. Giles backed down, meekly lowering his gaze in a gesture of abject submission to the older man. “I’m sorry,” the librarian mumbled. “I did promise Mr. Dodd that I would go with him to the library. There are some journals in my office that we need to collect.”

It was a polite excuse, and the very typification of what made Giles British. Buffy was disheartened by Giles’ spiritless acceptance of defeat. But the civility in his well mannered tone, and the correctness with which he had worded his apology left her hopeful that, somewhere within his mop-topped head, there remained some vestige of her Watcher, holding on, refusing to let go of all he remembered about being proper and grown up. It was little to draw comfort from, but she clung desperately to the notion, refusing to believe Giles, her big Giles, was forever lost to her.

“It’s okay. We understand,” she consoled the young Brit. As she rose to her feet the rest of the Scoobies followed her lead. Joyce joined their ranks as they gathered around Giles to say their good-byes.

“Here, this is for you,” Willow said. She pulled a slip of folded paper from the bib pocket of her bright colored overalls and held it out to Giles. “This is my e-mail address,” she explained, her expression vacillating between tears and an attempt at profound seriousness. “And my home address, for, you know, regular type mail. Oh, and I put down everybody else’s address, too, in case you wanted to write them. See?” She opened the paper, pointing out each name. “There’s Oz’s, and Xander’s, Cordelia’s, and Buffy’s. But, then, you probably already knew all that, didn’t you?” she chided herself with a nervous laugh. “Of course you did.

“Now, I want you to promise you’ll write. At least once a week. No,” she corrected. “Make that twice a week. And we’ll all write back. Won’t we?” she said, looking at the faces around her for affirmation. There was a unanimous round of obedient nods. “We’ll tell you all about what’s going on at school, and everything. And we’ll send pictures on the computer, and copies of The Sentinel. And the yearbook, too, when it comes out. It’ll be just like you’re here. With us.”

“Thank you, Willow,’ Giles solemnly intoned. He tucked the paper safely away in his shirt pocket, and sliding down from the sofa, followed the teens as they made their way toward the door.

Dodd was standing at the entry, holding the door open in a not so subtle hint. Ignoring the elder Watcher’s impatience, Buffy fought back her tears and walked beside the librarian as her parent and friends crossed the room toward the doorway.

“I guess this is it,” she said, slowing to a stop just before the entry. She turned to face her Watcher, her smile fleeting and wistful. “This is where I say I’ll keep in touch, and you promise to call, and we both pretend it’ll really happen.” Sighing, Buffy’s expression was one of self-effacing resignation. “Let’s not kid ourselves, Giles. We both know I’m not exactly reliable when it comes to that kind of stuff. I mean, it’s not like I don’t have good intentions. I do. At first. I start out all gung ho, but the day eventually comes when the gung’s all gone and I’m to busy to ho, and next thing you know I’m two months behind in my correspondence homework.”

During the awkward silence that followed Buffy had a chance to reflect on her own ill-chosen words. “Okay, that didn’t come out exactly how I’d planned it,” she muttered, glancing around sheepishly at her companions. “But, you know what I was trying say.” Turning back to the librarian, she continued with emphatic sincerity. “No matter how long it is between postcards, I want you to know, I haven’t forgotten you. And I never will.”

The young Watcher looked up into her eyes. At first Buffy wasn’t sure Giles realized that the good-byes they exchanged were permanent, that they might never see each other again. Then something shifted behind the Brit’s glasses, and for a moment there was a glimmer of awareness, a recognition of the enormity in their parting. Giles knew. But he also understood that though they were to be separated, their lives would be forever entwined. A future had yet to be written for either of them, but the past was something that could never be undone. And, for all its pain, he would treasure the memory of this bittersweet moment, for he could see in the teen’s tear filled eyes that they were more than just Watcher and slayer. They were friends.

“I’ll miss you,” Giles whispered. Sniffling, he suddenly threw his arms around the teen, hugging her tightly.

“I’m gonna miss you too, Mr. Rupert Giles.” She squeezed Giles back, her tears falling into the soft thatch of his hair. “You’re a pretty special little guy.”

The tick of Dodd’s cane on the floor remanded the pair for their extended parting. With a heavy sigh Buffy straightened. Taking hold of Giles’ tiny hand she walked resignedly to the door, her troops quietly falling into rank behind her. The apartment lights were flicked off, and as everyone filed out into the courtyard Dodd locked up. Like a small funeral procession they marched through the hallways, out to the curb where their respective vehicles were parked. A few more farewells were exchanged. The librarian handed Joyce a spare key to his apartment. She assured the young Brit that she would take care of any loose ends. Then Dodd was ushering Giles into his van, and with a final good-bye wave to his American companions, the boy librarian sat back and buckled himself in as the elder Watcher slid behind the wheel, cranked over the engine, and drove off without so much as a backward glance.

Standing apart from the others Buffy watched the van make its way down the street and disappear into the flow of traffic. She knew that by this time tomorrow Giles would be in London, appearing before the Watcher’s Council. The young Watcher would give an accounting of the things he’d done. The Council would review his journals, make an evaluation of the circumstances, and dispensing a verdict based upon cold, hard logic and centuries unbending of tradition they would seal Giles’ fate, closing the final chapter on his career in Sunnydale. Meanwhile, life upon the Hellmouth would continue. There would always be vampires to slay, no shortage of evil to eradicate. And the world would still depend on her to be the Slayer, not caring that inside she was feeling broken and in pain.

Buffy sighed, turning toward her mother. Her face wore a disconsolate expression, her eyes sad and tortured. “Is this what it’s like?” she asked. “Being a grown up. ‘Cause if it is, I gotta say, it sucks.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Joyce replied, slipping a maternal arm around her daughter. “But don’t worry, honey. You don’t have to grow up. You can stay my little girl for as long as you want.”

“Promise?” The tweak of a smile teased Buffy’s lips.

“Promise,” Joyce repeated. She gave the girl a tender squeeze to reinforce her words. “Let’s go home,” she suggested, including the other teens in her invitation. “I’ve got ice cream in the freezer.”

“What flavor?” Xander asked, perking up at the thought of food.

“Mint Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough with Double Fudge Ripple, Pecan Caramel Praline Crunch, and my personal favorite,” she said, finishing off her list with a wicked smile. “Chocolate Brownie Fudge Decadence. So, who’s with me then?”

There was an immediate chorus of affirmative replies from the teens. Ice cream sounded like the perfect medium in which to drown their sorrows. With a reaffirming embrace, Joyce snuggled her daughter to her side and slowly led her away toward her car. The rest of the Scoobies split up to pile into either Oz’s van or Cordelia’s red Sebring convertible, and driving off together, the group reassembled at the Summers’ home for commiseration and heaping bowls of sweet, cold ice cream.

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