CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

The trip to the library was a disaster.

From the moment they entered the school building Giles was uncooperative. An entire day in Dodd’s demoralizing and unsympathetic company had taken its toll. His brief surfacing of adult clarity had been tenuous, and the elder Englishman’s pompous attitude had overloaded the small Watcher’s constitution. When the force of Giles’ returning childhood mindset hit it swept him under like a raging tidal wave. As each hour dragged he grew increasingly tired as well as less responsive to Dodd’s authority. Giles rebelled, whining in complaint, his attention wandering from the tasks he was directed to do. Finally, Dodd could no longer keep the boy in line. Neither Watcher could tolerate the other’s company, and the night dissolved into an unproductive clash of wills. It was time to call an end to the evening.

Gathering Giles’ journals and various books, Dodd began to load his van. The youthful Watcher was by then stressed beyond his childish physical endurance, so strapping him into the passenger seat the elder Brit instructed him to behave and then returned to retrieve another load of books. Giles was too spent to argue, and once restrained, quickly succumbed to the inevitable, nodding off within a few passing minutes.

He remained asleep as Dodd finished his packing, never even waking as the elder Brit locked up and drove back to the condo. Once there, Dodd roused him with an ungentle shake, and dragging himself from the van Giles stumbled his way to his apartment under the stern guidance of his older colleague. They entered the darkened flat, the librarian weaving over to his desk. Plopping lethargically into the chair he leaned forward, and resting a cheek among the papers and writing implements that littered the desk’s surface, he yawned and rested his head.

Dodd flipped on the lights, and Giles squinched his eyes shut, letting out a feeble grown of protest. Turning away from the bright intrusion, the small Brit lazily opened on eye and stared blankly at the papers spread around him. His gaze lit upon an object sitting amid a stack of bills waiting to be paid. It was the amulet Buffy had found. The glitter of its stones catching the light awakened a spark of boyish interest, and instinctively he reached out a hand for the forbidden item.

“Rupert!” Dodd’s chastising tone rang out behind him, chilling the young librarian’s blood. He froze. “I’ve told you not to play with that amulet. Leave it be.”

Reaching over the boy’s shoulder Dodd plucked the jeweled piece from the desk, and opening the drawer below, swept the amulet into one of the neatly divided nooks within.

“There are a few more errands I need to complete tonight,” Dodd brusquely announced as he slammed the drawer shut again. Nudging Giles out of the chair and onto his feet he pushed him away from further temptation, steering him toward the nearby couch. “You sit there,” he instructed. “While I take these boxes out to my vehicle.”

Giles nodded. Tripping his way around to the sofa’s front, he crawled up onto the cushions and eased his tired body into the collection of throw pillows gathered in one corner. Dodd waited as the librarian settled down, then setting his cane aside, he lifted one of the pre-packed cartons stacked by the staircase, carrying it to the door.

“I shan’t be long,” he grunted, shifting the heavy box in his grasp to wrestle with the doorknob. “I expect you to stay put ‘till I return. And no mischief. Is that understood?”

He didn’t wait for Giles’ reply, but stepped outside, closing the door behind him. Alone, the librarian breathed a long, noisy yawn and rubbed his knuckles over the weary ache behind his eyes. On the coffee table beside him sat the plush bear Cordelia had given him. He smiled, reaching over to grab the tiny bruin by one of its floppy legs. Tucking it under his chin, he curled up his short legs, and nestling deeper into the soft pile of pillows beneath him, waited for Mr. Dodd to return.

He had almost nodded off again when there was a knock at the door. Throwing off the clinging shroud of slumber Giles sat up, and scooting off the sofa, trudged slowly over to the apartment’s entry. Pulling the door open he looked outside. The courtyard was dark, the moon’s light barely penetrating the treed canopy overhead and its pale beams casting ominous shadows. A lone figure stood out on the door’s stoop. Tall and imposing, it loomed over the smaller Watcher, and as his gaze traveled upward, Giles was instantly jolted from his somnambulist stupor. For the dark clad entity standing before him, waiting in the cool, breezy night wasn’t Dodd. It was Angel.

The librarian’s heartbeat quickened within his chest. He took a backward step, retreating further into the apartment. Angel was the last person he had expected to see, and not the most welcomed of visitors. Even wearing his human face the vampire was a frightening vision. Dressed all in black and wearing a long, flowing duster that fluttered in the gentle wind, Angel had a commanding, powerful presence. His unsmiling features were handsome, carved in an enigmatic expression, his dark eyes penetrating and hinting of possible danger as they stared down at the youthful Brit.

“Giles?” Angel tilted his head to one side, a faintly quizzical look teasing his usually cryptic countenance. “Buffy told me what happened. I knew you’d be younger, but I hadn’t figured on you being so…short. I guess it makes sense, though, when you think about it. Kids are usually little, ergo…”

His attempt at humor was met by a wary silence. Relaxing his posture, Angel crossed his arms behind his back, a thoughtful frown tightening his mouth downward. It didn’t take his acutely attuned vampire senses to feel Giles’ tension. It was obvious he wasn’t welcomed. Not that he could blame the Brit. The hours he had spent torturing the librarian undoubtedly weighed heavily within his memory, as they did in Angel’s own since the return of his soul. Giles had treated him with civil deference in the few times they’d met after, but his current situation had apparently put a new spin on what was an already strained alliance. Giles was afraid. Angel could feel the Brit’s heart pounding a frantic staccato within his trembling body, and the scent of adrenaline driven terror that hung in the air was like the ripe, cloying odor of a rotting corpse.

Giles’ fear was discomforting for the soul-encumbered vampire. His first impulse was to turn and leave. But it wasn’t just his desire to socialize that had brought him that night. He was there for a purpose, so setting aside his brooding guilt, Angel took a deep breath, an action guided more by involuntary habit than any need for oxygen, and broached the reason for his visit.

“Look,” the vampire said, speaking quickly and bluntly. “Neither of us really wants me to be here, and since we’re on a tight schedule I’ll skip past all the solicitous pleasantries and get straight to it. I’ve been asking around, talking to some underground contacts, and I think I’ve found a lead on this Waldo character. But we’re going to have to move on this fast. If word gets back to him before we do, he could blow town for good. So…”

Stepping back from the doorway Angel melted into the shadows, leaving a clear path for the librarian to join him. He waited, patient in spite of his contrary message of urgency. Giles had a difficult decision to make. Was there enough hope in his promised lead to overcome the Brit’s fear? Angel didn’t fool himself. Giles trust wasn’t something he could expect to gain easily, not after the things he had done. The librarian had made that clear in their last encounter when, at this very doorstep, Giles had met him with a loaded crossbow pointed at his heart. Yet, even with their tainted history, Giles had asked him to enter his home, knowing full well what such and invitation meant to a vampire. The Brit had put aside his personal feelings, accepting Angel and Buffy’s renewed relationship, and graciously refrained from any overt demonstrations of disapproval. These were all acts of compassion and civility, a testament to the man’s genteel concern for others. But it was not a substantiation of his forgiveness. That Giles would have to prove now.

As the seconds ticked by Angel realized that absolution had been too much to expect, even from someone like Giles. With his gaze dropped meekly downward the young librarian finally mumbled a reply after a long hesitation.

“I-I can’t go,” he explained contritely. “Mr. Dodd said I was to stay here.”

Hearing the elder Watcher’s name instantly caused the short hairs at the nape of Angel’s neck to rise. Dodd was the last person he wanted to run into that night. Or ever. His lips curled unconsciously into a feral snarl as Angel threw an apprehensive glance over the boy’s shoulder, scanning the apartment behind him.

“Dodd?” he echoed, scowling glumly. “He’s here?”

Giles nodded, his head bobbing slowly, unsure as to how much information he should disclose to the vampire.

“He stepped out. But I expect he’ll be back straight away. Do you need to speak with him?”

“Not if I can help it,” Angel mumbled sullenly under his breath. At Giles’ confused look, the vampire slipped on a composed smile. “That’s okay. I can catch him some other time. I’ve got to get going. Got that lead to follow up on.”

With a conciliatory nod to the librarian, Angel swept around on his heel and walked away. He’ gone only a few strides across the courtyard when he heard Giles’ voice call out behind him.

“Angel?”

He stopped, turning to look back. Giles was standing in the open doorway. For a moment Angel thought the Brit had reconsidered his proposal to join him. But the boy stood poised at the apartment’s threshold, afraid to leave the comforting security the lighted interior represented. Angel waited, persevering, the cool night breeze rustling his long coat. And as he watched, a small, almost imperceptible change wrestled hold of the boy librarian. Marshalling a tenuous show of courage, Giles put a cautious foot forward and stepped out across the threshold.

Angel barely had time to register the triumph of that small gesture before Giles had reversed it, spinning around in a quick about face to dash back into the apartment. Sighing, the vampire began to turn away again, resigned to having to continue his search alone. But then Giles suddenly reappeared, running across the tile-paved courtyard toward him.

“We’ll be needing this,” the librarian announced, skidding to a stop in a puddle of moonlight that had managed to penetrate the canopy overhead.

Giles thrust out a hand toward Angel. In his tiny fist was the amulet. The flat disk dangled freely at the end of its chain, spinning in the pale light, the moon’s silver rays filtering though its magickal stones in a prism of rainbow brilliance that illuminated the surrounding shadows with bewitching warmth.

“Looking for a trade in?” Angel grinned.

“I’d settle for a generous finders fee,” Giles returned sheepishly. “I’m afraid I’m a bit short on cash at the moment, and if he were to demand reimbursement for his services…”

“I wouldn’t worry,” the vampire chuckled affably. “He’ll cut you a fair deal. I’ll make sure of it.” His smile suddenly faded, his brow creasing in curiosity. He had noticed something in the Brit’s other hand. “And that?” he frowned, gesturing at the item in question.

“This?” Giles brought up his hand, staring down at the object in his palm as if unsure how it came to be there. “It’s my…” He blanched, regarding the small, white teddy bear with horrified wonder. “Cordelia gave it to me. I’m not really sure why I picked it up. It’ll just take it back, and then we can be on our way.”

“No time,” the vampire proclaimed. He had picked up a set of distinctive footsteps approaching though the maze of walkways. Taking the bear from Giles, Angel shoved it into the pocket of his duster. “Let’s go.”

Placing a gentle hand behind the Brit’s shoulder, Angel urged him across the dimly lit courtyard and led him away into the black night. Within seconds of their disappearance a lone figure came down the stairs at the opposite end of the yard and strolled past the fountain, moving toward the open apartment door.

Oliver P. Dodd frowned as he entered the librarian’s flat. He was sure he had closed the door when he left. He dismissed his own thoughtlessness, and walking over to the pile of packed cartons by the staircase, chose one. Hefting the bulky load with a soft grunt, he paused, struck by how quiet the apartment was. It presented a delightful change from the unceasing chatter and noise Giles had barraged him with for the better part of the day. Working with the little boy had proven to be an exasperating experience. He hadn’t been at all helpful with the journals, his short-lived attention span trying Dodd’s patience to its limit. Just keeping the child out of mischief was a near impossibility. It was one catastrophe after another, with endless bouts of juvenile wheedling in between. Eventually, he had put Giles to work packing books and cleaning, the menial tasks at least serving to keep his little devil-idled hands occupied, thus freeing Dodd to attended to more important matters. Though even then he found the boy required his almost constant supervision. He would be glad when Giles went to sleep. Maybe then he would be able to finally find some peace.

Dodd smiled pensively. Bedtime was an excellent idea. Adjusting his load in his arms, he circled around the sofa, putting forth his most commanding tone as he addressed his small colleague.

“Rupert, it’s time you were-”

He stopped in mid-sentence. The sofa was conspicuously empty. With an irritable sigh the Englishman glanced toward the loft overhead and set down the carton in his hands amid the jumble of pillows where Giles had been sitting. He grumbled about the shortcomings of a headstrong boy and the inability of youth to obey simple instructions as he marched to the staircase. With each step he climbed his choler grew less tolerant, until, when he had reached the top of the stairs, his temper was in full heat.

A quick survey of the bedroom loft, however, provided no clue to Giles’ whereabouts. Concern replaced anger as the elderly Brit made a more thorough search of every corner and closet, and still found nothing. Now he was truly worried. Returning downstairs he expanded his exploration to include the entire apartment. He checked every cubby hole, under the furniture, inside cupboards, calling out the librarian’s name. Nothing. Rupert Giles was gone, and with the evidence of the open door he had discovered on his return from the van, Dodd had to concede the unthinkable. The boy had left the premises in direct violation of his orders.

The elderly Watcher abandoned all pretense of calm. Grabbing his cane he stormed out in to dark courtyard to broaden the boundaries of his hunt. He combed the grounds of the condominium complex, circling its walled borders inside and out, trekking back and forth through the maze of winding paths. Finally, in desperation, he was forced to accept defeat, and returning to Giles’ apartment, he made a transatlantic call to report the untimely loss to a very displeased Council of Watchers.

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