CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Monday morning found Buffy and her four schoolmates sitting despondently in the school lounge, waiting for the first bell. They had gathered to talk, but no one was actually speaking, and soon the depressing silence became too much to bear. Shifting uncomfortably, Buffy heaved a loud sigh, her body language summing up the general atmosphere of gloom that they all felt.

“I can’t believe Giles is really gone,” the blonde bleakly announced. With another loud sigh she slumped further down into her seat. “It feels so weird to think he’s not here.”

“He’s probably up there somewhere, right this very minute, flying over us,” Willow sighed, her eyes lifting upward as if able to look through the ceiling overhead. “Do you think we’ll ever see him again?”

“Maybe,” Xander shrugged. “If they give him time off for good behavior. Then, again -”

“Maybe he’ll come visit us on his next vacation,” Willow mused, trying to cheer herself up. “Or, we could go to England and visit him. Or -” the red head rattled on, her fabricated enthusiasm building. “Giles can enroll in one of those student exchange programs. Then he could go to school here. In Sunnydale. Wouldn’t that be great!”

“I don’t know if Giles would go to school,” Oz frowned, gently pointing out the flaw in her idea. “He’s gotta have a Master’s degree to be a librarian, doesn’t he? Going back to grade school would be kind of redundant.”

“Plus, he’s already done it before,” Xander added.

Buffy threw her clueless schoolmate a weary look. “Wouldn’t matter, anyway,” she pouted, glumly toying with the purse that lay across her lap. “Giles is barely eight. By the time he’s old enough to get to high school we’ll all be graduated and outta here. Or, at least, most of us will,” she grumbled with a meaningful glance toward Xander. Leaning her head back, Buffy stared vacantly up at the ceiling tiles above her. “Face it, guys. Giles is gone. And he’s not ever coming back!”

Slouching in their various defeated postures the group of teens gave out with a collective sigh. As they continued to ruminate in silence on their friend’s absence, Willow’s wandering gaze caught Principal Snyder passing by on his routine morning prowl of the hallways.

“I wonder if Snyder’s opened Giles’ resignation letter?” the red head wondered aloud. Her question wasn’t directed at any one in particular, but Xander rallied a reply. “I doubt it,” the dark-haired boy scoffed. He threw a bitter scowl toward the troll-like administrator as he walked across the far side of the lounge. “He isn’t dancing pirouettes or flipping cartwheels down the hallway. That pretty much says he hasn’t found out yet.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go in the library again,” Buffy lamented. “It just won’t be the same without Giles there.” Willow patted her friend’s shoulder comfortingly. “It’s just a room, Buffy,” she reasoned encouragingly.

“Yeah, just a room,” Xander echoed. “A big room. With lots of books.”

“But it was his room,” the blonde dolefully reminded him. Xander sheepishly nodded a concession, the others mumbling their sympathetic agreement as well.

“It’s like you kind of expect him to still be in there, haunting the place,” Cordelia said, adding her own special spin.

“Giles is gone, Cordy. Not dead,” Xander tersely corrected the brunette. “He isn’t a ghost.”

“Actually, Cordelia might not be wrong,” Oz said, responding in the brunette’s defense. “Metaphorically speaking, of course.”

“See!” Cordelia smugly thrust a tongue out at her boyfriend. She was glad to have someone on her side for a change, even if it was someone strange, like Oz. As she sat back to gloat, a confused wrinkle creased her perfect nose. “So, exactly how am I right?”

“Well, the library is, or was, a second home of sorts to Giles,” the musician obligingly explained. “There’s a kind of spiritual connection between the man and the place. In a way, the library was Giles. He was its soul and brain. It’s only natural, now that he’s gone, for Buffy not to want to go in there. Walking into that room would be like viewing Giles’ dead body for her.” Oz slid the slayer an empathetic half-smile. “The idea kind of creeps me out, too.”

“Ewww!” Cordelia made a face expressing her disgust. “Gross, much! I’m fairly sure that wasn’t what I was thinking.”

“Well, being as it’s the place where the books live, and we keep doing that research thing, I’m going to have to go in there at some point,” Buffy announced with resignation. “Guess now’s as good a time as any.” Gathering up her purse, the blonde pushed herself up onto her feet. She set her chin high, and bravely stiffening her spine she started to walk down the hall toward the library. After a few steps she stopped. Turning back to face her seated companions she threw an entreating glance their way. “I wouldn’t mind having a little psychological back-up here” she hinted pointedly.

Rousing themselves from their seats the rest of the Scoobies joined their leader, falling into step behind her as she took off down the long hallway. They slowed to a halt just outside the library, standing in silence before the double doors with their round windows as the growing crowds of students parted and passed around them, oblivious to the personal drama unfolding in their midst. At some point that morning a custodian or teacher had come by and turned on the lights inside, but otherwise, nothing moved within the room. The library appeared to be deserted.

Buffy took a deep breath. Gathering her courage, she threw her shoulder to the door and pushed her way into the library. Her friends followed, cautiously fanning out around her as they entered the large, empty room. Instinctively the slayer cast her eyes about furtively, as if hunting for some invisible prey. Everything in the library looked disturbingly normal, a fact that bothered Buffy more than she wanted to admit. There was the smell of musty books hanging heavily in the still air. Spread out across the long, wooden study table in the center of the room the blonde teen could see evidence of her former Watcher’s last visit on display in the short stacks of crumbling texts that cluttered the table’s surface. Piled in haphazard order the amassed publications tilted this way and that like some child’s interpretation of the leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. At one end of the table a volume lay open, abandoned by its reader, waiting patiently for his return.

But Giles isn’t coming back, the slayer mentally chided. And these books are no longer his. It was a thought that grieved the young teen, and she found herself fighting back the rising swell of her tears as she made her way across the room, her curiosity aroused by what had kept Giles busy during his last few hours in the library.

Slowly she approached the table, circling the open book warily. To her surprise, it wasn’t one of Giles’ special older volumes, but a simple reference book from the library’s general collection. The modern, slick pages were filled with colorful photographs of various rocks and minerals, with an accompanying caption to detail information about each example. Lying on the table next to the book were several small nuggets. She recognized the golden stones as the ones Giles had found on their fishing expedition a few nights back, and as she picked one up, a wistful smile touched her lips. It surprised her that Giles had left them behind. She was sure the small librarian meant to take his treasures with him. Slipping her purse off her shoulder, she tucked the shiny stones inside, telling herself that she would mail them to him later.

A faint noise from the direction of the upper stack interrupted her thoughts. She experienced a distinct feeling of déjà vu, her head replaying the scene from the day she had discovered Giles Junior. With a questioning glance toward her classmates, for they had heard the noise, too, Buffy quietly re-shouldered her purse, and cautiously stepping around the table, moved in closer to investigate.

Creeping up toward the raised railing that bordered the upper floor area, Buffy peered between the wooden stiles, her eyes searching down the long canyon of bookcases. At the end of one dimly lit aisle she saw a lone figure dressed all in black. She knew who it was instantly, even at that distance, and as she stepped back, her relaxed senses coming down from red alert status, she began to wonder what had brought Angel to the library.

“Angel?” The vampire looked up from the book that he held in his hand, his gaze finding hers across the room. In spite of her earlier melancholy, Buffy felt a warm tingle at the sight of her boyfriend’s subtle smile, and her voice reflected some of her joy as she challenged him curiously. “What are you doing here?”

“Lurking.” Angel’s reply was succinct. Closing the book in his hand he replaced it carefully on the shelf before him, then turned to saunter up the narrow wall of bookcases. He moved fluidly, adroitly avoiding the occasional patch of sunlight that streamed down through the overheard skylight. Following the railing’s edge, he descended the short flight of stairs to the main floor, wandering nonchalantly into the circle of teens. He gave the collective group an acknowledging nod of greeting, then sidling over to Buffy, gave his full attention to her.

“Stopped by last night,” he said. Angel tucked his hands into his pockets. “Your mom said you were out.”

Scooting up onto the table beside him Buffy sat between two stacks of books. “The guys and I were making a last minute sweep through downtown, looking for Waldo. But -” She shrugged, the listless gesture a confession of their failure.

Leaning her weight back on one arm, Buffy felt seized by a heavy sadness. Try as she might, she couldn’t ignore the emotions that being in the library triggered within her. Oz had been right. It did feel like Giles was still there. She could almost sense his presence in the room, the heady aroma of his tea lingering amidst the musty, aged books, pervading the atmosphere like some odorous and ethereal ghost haunting the very air around her. In spite of the eerie image that it had conjured, the scent was familiar and comforting, and evoked an intense longing to be with the absentee Watcher.

“You okay?” Angel had noticed the teens growing distress.

“I’m fine,” she lied, blinking back a tear. “Or, I will be, someday. I hope.” The blonde teen let out a frustrated moan. “Don’t mind me,” she apologized, grinning sheepishly at the vampire. “I’m still trying to get used to the idea of Giles being gone. You know, it’s weird. It’s like, any minute now I expect him to come waltzing through that door,” she said, waving vaguely across the room toward the librarian’s small office. “I can almost see him. Decked out in one of his stuffy tweed straight-jackets, polishing those dorky glasses he wears. Or, maybe reading some moldy, oldy book, totally out of it, clueless to anything in the real world.”

As she gazed off into space, allowing her imagination to run with the vision she had created, a tall figure emerged from the office. Buffy froze, her jaw gaping open, her breath caught in a silent gasp. She watched the apparition stride across the hall with an assured purpose before it slipped in behind the long counter that served as the book check out area. A steaming mug in its one hand, a tome of dubious age clutched in its other, the specter flittered busily, completely oblivious to its astonished audience, never bothering to look up as it filed away its book beneath the circulation desk.

“Whoa! That’s some imagination you got there, Buff,” Xander gulped, his voice an incredulous whisper. “It’s so good, even I’m seeing it.”

Transfixed, Buffy stared at the implausible image and felt the edges of reality begin to crumble around her. Time imploded in upon itself, collapsing an eternity of ages within the span of a fractured second. She could feel her heart drum a crazed tattoo inside her chest as a moment of light-headed daze swept over her. He’s not real, she told herself, fighting to come to grips with what she saw before her. It’s just some kind of hallucination, a trick of the light. Or, mirrors? But a quick glance toward her friends put an immediate end to those theories. She knew that they all saw him, too. Yet, still she refused to believe, afraid to even hope that it might somehow be true. That was, until the vision spoke, and then instantly every doubt vanished.

“Angel? If you’re of an interest, I have a nice Ellis Peters over here. Might help you to pass the time.”

It was as if the words had unleashed some alluvial force. Five simultaneous shrieks rent the air with excitement as the teens launched themselves across the library, with Buffy leading the pack. A babbling flood of voices rushed out of their mouths, not one distinguishable from another, the cacophony merging into one loud, unintelligible sound as the Scoobies began pouring out their questions, demanding an explanation, everyone talking at once. Finally, a single sound rose above the others as Buffy tore loose with a giddy squeal that brought the raucous assault of noise to an abrupt halt.

“Giles!” she screeched. “You’re here. You’re really here!”

The Watcher unconsciously stepped back from the swarm of students thundering his way. As he struggled to maintain his composure and resist the urge to flee in the face of such youthful exuberance, he calmly set his mug aside and greeted the teens with typically polite reserve.

“Good morning, Buffy.” Giles nodded his head at the others, including them all in his salutation.

Her classmates pressing tightly in behind her, Buffy leaned across the waist high counter, beaming happily at the librarian. “Look at you!” she cheered giddily. “You’re you, again. You’re Giles!”

And he was, in every way that she could hope. For this was not the little boy that she had so reluctantly said good-bye to the previous night. No. This was Giles. Adult Giles. Full-sized and grown-up Giles. And it was a sight that lit up the teen’s tearful eyes, tickling her with such delight that she was tempted to hug her British friend, and would have if it hadn’t been for the desk standing between them.

“Yes,” the librarian replied. “I am, once again, I.”

“You’re old,” Cordelia chimed in brightly, proclaiming the obvious in her usual tactless style. But the insult didn’t seem to aggravate the Brit in the least. Instead of glaring at the comely brunette, Giles broke into a pleased grin.

“And isn’t that marvelous?” he chortled.

Oz grinned, his expression bordering on gleeful. “I agree,” the musician noted smugly. “A sizable improvement.”

“But…how?” Willow babbled curiously. Her feet did a mincing geeker dance of unrestrained excitement. “I mean, when…how-?”

“You left out who and where,” Xander quipped, ribbing the hyper redhead with a

gentle nudge of his elbow.

“The who…” Giles replied with a nod across the room. “…was Angel.”

The teens spun around as one to face the taciturn vampire.

“You?” Buffy challenged, an eyebrow gracefully raised toward her hairline. An equally surprised Xander echoed her dubious sentiment.

“Him?” The lanky teen’s voice climbed upward in undisguised jealousy. “What did he do?”

Angel shrugged, his hands buried in his pockets. “I got lucky.”

“That’s just the regular kind of lucky, right?” Cordelia frowned, giving the distant vampire a careful scrutiny. “Not lucky as in ‘I got it on and now I’m an evil blood sucking psycho fiend’.” The remark earned her a dark glare from the slayer. “What?” the brunette shot back scathingly. “Oh, yeah, like that's never happened,” she sniffed, crossing her arms defensively.

Ignoring her classmate, Buffy continued her questioning as Angel slowly ambled toward the group and joined their ranks. “I take it you found Waldo?”

“Actually, it was more like Waldo found us,” the vampire modestly explained. “Once word got around the we had his amulet and wanted to make a deal, he came forward on his own.”

“And that’s when he reversed the spell,” Willow concluded. Giles affirmed the red

head’s hypothesis.

“A single word was all that it took to set things to rights again. Unfortunately, at least for me, the word chosen to enable that particular amulet, though unusual in origin, also happened to sound very much like another phrase. One that might be heard used within the context of everyday speech.”

“And that word was…” Buffy prompted. “It is safe to say, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. The word was iwis…

“Gudzeundheit!” Xander interjected.

“…which is derived from the Old English, gewiss,” the Brit smoothly continued as he threw an annoyed glare toward the dark-haired boy. "It means certain, or certainly."

“Leave it to the old English to come up with something like that,” Buffy snickered teasingly. “But it still doesn’t explain how you ended up auditioning for the lead role in Seven Up. I don’t remember anybody saying ‘go whist’.”

“Erm, no,” Giles countered. “But someone did say ‘I wish’, which was apparently a near enough phonetic approximation to activate the amulet. Taking the next command it heard to be the instructions for its enchantment, the stones released their magicks, and the rest, as they say…” Giles let the sentence hang unfinished, his expression filling in the rest.

A flashback of memory burst up to the surface within Buffy’s mind. In it she saw herself with Giles, standing beside his car. They were at the park, and she was just about to leave him to go out on her patrol. Suddenly, a look of contrite horror fell over the teen’s face. “I wished you could see things our way. As a kid,” she gasped, recalling her words. “Oh, my God! Giles! It was me. I did it. I’m the one who voodooed you.”

“So it would seem,” the Brit soberly intoned.

“I am so sorry,” the teen gushed apologetically. “When I said those things I never really meant -”

“I know, Buffy,” Giles smiled understandingly, setting the girl at ease. “But, regrettably, the amulet wasn’t able to make a distinction between a passing sound bite of conversation and a genuine dictum.”

“I’m still confused,” Xander said, breaking into the conversation again. “Wasn’t Buffy there when she said that wish thing? I mean, wouldn’t she have seen you ‘poof’ into a kid if that’s how it happened? You’d think she’d have noticed something like that.”

“Some complicated magicks take time to work,” the librarian patiently explained. “The changes were probably so gradual at first that no one would have noticed anything amiss. I, myself, wasn’t aware that any transformation was in progress, and I dare say, I’m a bit more privileged as to what goes on with my own body than anyone else would be.”

“And as we change course to steer clear of those dangerously murky waters,” Buffy grimaced as she segued out of an unpleasant topic.

“That must have been so weird, having to grow up all over again,” Willow said, continuing on with the idea in spite of her classmate’s obvious discomfort.

“I thought it was kind of interesting,” Angel grinned with what, for him, was animation. “It was like watching one of those time lapse photography sequences. You know, like they show on the Science channel? Though, after the first couple hours, it definitely began to loose some of its excitement.”

The declaration inspired a round of strange stares for the five teens as they realized that the vampire and the librarian had spent what sounded like an entire night in each others’ company. But, before any of them could comment on the unusual event the library door swung open with a whoosh, and in stalked Principal Snyder. The administrator took one look at the gathering of conspirators, for that was how he thought of them, and glowering disdainfully, he confronted the assemblage of Scoobies.

“Don’t any of you ever go to class?” he snarled.

“The bell hasn’t rung yet,” Buffy explained, her nose wrinkling smugly as she pointed out the error behind his caustic commentary.

Snyder grunted, dismissing her from his attention as he turned on the adult librarian standing behind the counter. “Did you get my message?”

“Which message was that?” Giles politely asked. But his question only seemed to perturb the smaller man.

“I knew that nephew of yours would screw things up,” Snyder grumbled irritably. The expression on his face, however, was one of gleeful vilification. “Can’t trust a kid to deliver one simple little message.” Pulling himself up taller the principal scanned the room with a baleful eye. “Where is the little brat?”

“Where is who?” Giles asked. He was still trying to puzzle through the man’s last question.

“Your nephew!” Snyder growled back, snorting his impatience with the Englishman. “That Robby kid. The one you brought and let loose to run like a hooligan all over my school last Friday.”

“Oh, that nephew!” Xander returned, grinning his impression of a Cheshire cat. “Giles remembers him now, don’t you?” the teen teased. “Bundle of hyperactivity, about yea tall, with an appetite for anything sugar-coated that he can get his hands on.”

“Yeah, that nephew,” Snyder confirmed. “He was supposed to tell you that the teachers’ meeting was rescheduled.”

“Ah, yes. He did mention that,” the Brit back-peddled, graciously covering his momentary ignorance. Giles slid a quick look toward his slayer. “I’m afraid that the boy is no longer here with me.”

Robby, er, I mean, Robert,” Buffy corrected, exchanging a smile with her older friend. “Robert had some problems adjusting. I don’t think he liked it very much here, so he went back to where he came from. I’m sure he’s happier there.”

The librarian returned a barely perceptible nod in her direction. “He most definitely is.”

“Just as well,” the administrator grumbled, noting the look that had passed between the pair. “Kid was nothing but a troublemaker. I knew it the minute I laid eyes on him. He had that look.” Pausing, Snyder drew a piercing bead on the taller man across the counter. “Seems to run in the family.”

Delivering a final contemptuous glare the troll-like administrator promptly turned on his heel, and marching across the room with a short, pompous stride, he shouldered his way through the exit door, leaving behind in his wake one very indignant Englishman.

“Well! I never -!”

An eruption of laughter filled the library as the teens doubled over in varying degrees of amusement. His ego wounded, Giles’ mouth pulled tight in a reserved frown, his tongue unconsciously clucking away within as he stalked away, putting some distance between himself and his vocal detractors. Moving out from behind the circulation desk he climbed the stairs to the upper level stacks, and turning down one of the cavernous rows, promptly disappeared from view among the tall bookcases.

Buffy watched the librarian walk away in his silent huff. Her initial amusement suddenly dissipated, the void replaced with a conscious-stricken twinge of guilt. Something about Giles’ comportment had caught her notice. To the casual observer he was just being Giles, withdrawn and quiet, distant amid the loud turbulence of life sweeping by him. But Buffy knew better. The librarian was anything but unfeeling. She had seen him hurt, scared. His studied indifference was just a shield, something that he, as an adult, used to hide his pain. And while once upon a time she could have ignored the confusion of emotion that her new insight had brought to her, she was no longer blind, or ignorant. She had seen the little boy that lived within her Watcher. Vulnerable, and alone, she could imagine him crying. The realization that she was in some way responsible for hurting him left the teen with an empty churning regret in the pit of her soul, a feeling that she couldn’t hide the way that Giles did his.

Her fellow classmates continued to snigger, oblivious to the inner turmoil that tortured the slayer. Only Angel sensed the blonde’s emotional agitation. As Buffy drifted several steps away from her friends, Angel followed, staying at her side.

“Good to have the old Watcher back, isn’t it?” Angel remarked. He kept his conversation low and private, away from the possibility of prying ears.

“Uh-huh,” the blonde nodded. Her gaze sought out the librarian, finding him at the end of a long row of bookcases. Giles’ back was turned toward her, his attention focussed on the books before him as he diligently searched the shelves for some coveted title. “Can’t wait to give our Mr. Dodd the ol’ ‘so long, fare the well, pip, pip, cheerio’ routine.”

“I think someone beat you to the chorus on that one,” the vampire informed her with a soft chuckle. Buffy spared her boyfriend a curious look. “As soon as his voice stopped cracking he was on the phone to the council. They were skeptical at first. Sent Dodd over to check things out. Once he saw everything was back to business as usual here on the Hellmouth, and his services weren’t needed any more, he took off. For some reason the old guy was kinda anxious to go home. Packed up and caught the first flight out of here. Anyway,” he shrugged, leaning back against the stair railing. “He’s gone. And Giles is still here.”

“Yeah, he is,” she smiled, a wash of genuine warmth illuminating her young face.

“That’s a good thing,” Angel continued in a relaxed, off-handed tone.

“Mmmm. Definitely of the good,” Buffy assured him. Her attention had wandered back to her Watcher, still on the hunt for his book. She couldn’t help smiling as the Brit finally located his prize. Giles’ very demeanor intensified as he withdrew the volume from the shelves and began to flip through its pages. It reminded her of how he had panned through the water, searching for his gold. “You know,” she frowned, a thought beginning to coalesce within her mind. “I just spent the better part of the last couple days working for this. Maybe I should take some time to bask in the glory of success. Of course, that success wasn’t actually of my doing. Look, uhm, Angel,” she continued, flashing the vampire an apologetic smile. “I think Giles and I could do with a little Watcher, Slayer bond time. I’ll talk to you later. Okay?”

She didn’t wait for his reply, but took off, bouncing energetically up the staircase to the upper level. As she melted into the tall stacks, her blonde mane catching a stray glint of sunlight before the shadows swallowed her up, Angel’s somber countenance briefly indulged in a satisfied grin.

“No problem,” he said. “I can wait.”

Giles heard the soft tread of footsteps that told him he was no longer alone. Glancing up from his book, he saw the young slayer making her way toward him down the aisle. She looked vibrant and confident as she traipsed along, her outfit a stylish interpretation of some teen fashion magazine layout, her purse swinging jauntily from her shoulder. For a brief moment he thought he saw her hesitate, but she recovered swiftly, strolling lithely up to his side, a whirling eddy of life force contained within a human form.

“Oooo! A book.” She smiled, feigning what she probably believed to be a scholarly countenance. The result was charming, but far from the studious expression she had aimed for. “Now, that’s a surprise. So, watcha reading? Rusalka stuff? I thought I’d closed the chapter on that book.”

“You had. And quite handily, or so I’ve been told,” he confirmed. Holding up the book he’d been reading, Giles displayed its fanciful gilt-scripted cover. “This is for purely recreational purposes, I assure you. There are those of us who actually do read for the enjoyment that the printed word brings.”

“So, I’ve heard,” she chortled softly. Squinting, she scrutinized the title. “European Folklore and Legends: An Historical Perspectus by J. Cummimgs Bradley. Giles, only you would call something like this ‘recreational’. Those of us in the world with a normal aversion to anything like work would see this as the unnecessary evil that it is. Didn’t being a kid again teach you anything?”

“A good deal more than I had ever cared to know,” the Brit replied grumpily. Tucking the large volume under his arm, Giles removed his glasses and began to carefully polish them with a handkerchief produced from his pocket. “But, hopefully, with some vigorous repressing on my part, I shall be able to put that all behind me.”

“I hear ya,” the teen agreeably cheered. As she leaned back against the stacks behind her an impish grin punctuated her features. “You know,” she sighed, tossing her head gently to shake back her blonde tresses. “I miss him.”

“Miss who? Dodd?” Giles frowned, his eyebrows flirting incredulously upward, unable to believe she could possibly mean what he thought.

“God, no!” the slayer shot back, aghast. “Him. Robby, my bestest little friend.” At the mention of the name an infinitesimally perceptible twitch pulled at the librarian’s composed countenance. Unable to resist, the teen plunged on dramatically. “And I’m not the only one jonesing for the little tyke. Mom’s gonna be pretty broke up when she hears about his Houdini vanishing act.”

“She’ll recover, I’m sure,” the Englishman replied, a pale blush rising as he cleared his throat self-consciously.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” the teen continued, grinning deliciously. “There were a few moments there where I began to think I’d have to get used to having my very own pesky little brother around the house. Not really sure how that would’ve worked out for me. I’d be hard pressed to give up on all those great bennies I’ve worked so hard to acquire during my current standing seventeen years reigning as an onliest child. Though, I guess might have been persuaded to share, you know, if the right person happened along. Someone, say, who knew what it really meant to have fun.” She straightened, head inclined slyly to one side as she challenged the librarian with a long look. “But, you wouldn’t know anything about that sort of nonsense, would you? A serious guy like you, you’d never even consider blowing off an important appointment, or shirk your duties just to, oh, I don’t know, play on a swing?”

The intense glare she received in answer to her question brought with it a warm glow of satisfaction. Yes, she was teasing Giles, but she could tell he wasn't seriously angry with her, for behind the Brit’s icy pretense she could see a tiny spark of appreciation within the deep blue of is intimidating disapproval. Giles obviously remembered their brief play interlude with fondness, even if he was too English and proper to ever openly admit it. Instead, he covered by changing the topic of conversation toward more neutral ground.

“I take it that all went well with last night’s patrol?” As he began to stroll slowly back up the aisle toward the front of the stacks Buffy fell in to step beside her Watcher, her graceful stride keeping pace with his longer step.

“And what makes you think I had time to go patrolling?” she asked. “Maybe I had other plans for the evening. Not everyone is the slave to duty that you are.” Without breaking stride Giles shot a skeptical eye her direction. Sighing resolutely, the teen threw her hands up in mock surrender. “Alright! I went. I happened to be in the neighborhood between interrogations, so I made a short pass through Restfield. Staked a couple vamps. Three. One was a newbie, piece of cake. The other two were just slow and stupid. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

She trailed Giles as he made his way down the stairs to the main floor, following him closely as he walked toward his private office sanctuary. The rest of the Scoobies had dispersed during her brief absence, and were now milling in the area of the study table, where they were engrossed in light conversation and the exchange or student gossip. Angel had slunk off again, and was nowhere to be seen for the moment, but Buffy knew he would make an appearance later, when he felt like talking.

As Giles entered his office Buffy paused briefly at the door, collecting her busy thoughts. She watched the Brit cross to his desk and sit, his tall frame collapsing smoothly in to the revolving chair that gave out with a familiar squeak of protest she had heard a million times from the next room. In the three years she had know Giles she had always assumed that his retreat into this space was an escape for him, that he regarded his privacy as a luxury, a defense against the fast paced social world he avoided. It never occurred to her that he might have been lonely, and was just too afraid of being ridiculed to ask for company. Suddenly, the tiny office seemed less inviting, almost prison-like. Still, Giles did look comfortable there, sitting at his desk, his book open before him. Maybe he actually liked being by himself, sometimes.

But her guilt wouldn’t dissipate so easily. Wandering slowly into the room she quietly took the empty seat next to the librarian, her eyes taking in the office with a new perspective. It’s not so bad, she reasoned. Giles had his electric kettle and the blue and white porcelain teapot he used for brewing, plus an assorted inventory of mugs and cups that had constantly rotated through the years. Why does one man need so many cups? Plain ones, fancy ones. Dainty china saucers. I mean, look at that one with the flowers. Frowning, she studied the newest addition to Giles’ tea collection, a delicate white china cup with matching saucer decorated with old-fashioned cabbage roses in variegated reds and pinks. Attractive, yes. Manly, in no way imaginable. Does he think the Queen’s gonna stop by and expect him to serve her high tea? The only people that ever use these things are us. The Scoobies. You can’t tell me he bought that for one of us? Then again…

In her head a conversation began to play itself out. On a Sataurday a few weeks back she and the Scoobies had been hard at work researching some slime slinging demon, helping Giles in out the library. During one of the quiet lulls that had developed the Brit had made his usual polite offer to provide tea, prompting a casual remark by Cordelia that he should invest in some decent china service if he expected his guests to actually accept his lame excuse for hospitality.

So, he does listen, she smiled, glancing over at the oblivious Englishman with his nose buried in his book. And he cares about what we’re saying. Not quite the tough old adult you want us to think you are. You’re secret is out, Giles.

As if knowing something was going on behind his back Giles suddenly looked up, turning to the young teen beside him. “Did you say something?”

“No.”

With a dismissive sigh Giles picked up his book to return to his reading. A quick peek over his shoulder revealed the topic of this particular research session was less icky than the usual fare of demons and prophecies Giles studied. As she skimmed the page with its references to Arthurian tales and sacred waters, Buffy realized that she was the culprit that had catalyzed this foray of educational fervor in the Brit.

“So it’s wishing wells, huh?” she queried her Watcher knowingly. “And did they really expect to get something in return for a bent pin? “Cause I’m thinking, inflation hasn’t been that bad over the last couple hundred years.”

“I suppose the value in the gift is in the eye of the receiver,” Giles returned with a sage smile.

“Are you going to tell me what you wished for?” she asked. “You know, at the fountain, with your shiny new penny?”

“Does it matter? It was nothing more than a child’s silly wish. A passing whimsy.”

“Still, I’d like to know,” the teen prompted earnestly. “I need to know. Did it come true?”

A wistful smile tugged at the Brit’s lips and he sat back, regarding his companion with shy uncertainty. “Well, it was a rather large wish for a very small boy,” he replied cryptically, unwilling to divulge what had been his secret desire to possible ridicule. “One could hardly expect so much for a mere penny. Let us just say, some of it did come true, and leave it at that.” His smile broadened, his eyes twinkling in a knowing acknowledgement to his blonde slayer. “I suppose that means our wishing well is indeed the genuine article.”

“That’s nice to know,” Buffy remarked, returning the Brit’s grin. “Might come in handy some day, when I need another wish. A real wish,” she babbled. “Not the idle variety. ‘Cause those kind never seem to work out the way you want them to, as I’ve so painfully learned from recent experience. And speaking of learning…” she smoothly segued as a bell rang out, warning class would soon start. “I’ve got to go do some.”

Bouncing up from her chair, the teen said a quick good-bye to her Watcher and rushed out of the office to join the rest of her assembling schoolmates in the outer room. Angel put in another appearance. With the bright, sunny California day that was shaping up outside, she could count on the vampire hanging around for at least a few more hours, and she promised to stop by the library again later to talk with him. Hitching up her purse, Buffy turned to follow her friends as they made their way toward the exit and into the amassing throngs of students flowing through the hallways beyond. A brief reluctance nagged at her. It felt strangely like guilt, but she couldn’t understand what had induced the sudden penitence within her, or why it wouldn’t let her walk away. Buffy cast a last glimpse back toward her Watcher. Through the open blinds of the office window that separated them, she could see Giles sitting alone at his desk, leaning over his book, completely absorbed in his studies. He looked so perfectly at home. And though it was reassuring for her to see the Englishman in there, surrounded by his eclectic collection of occult idols and knick-knacks and office supplies, she knew that the comforting picture was only an adult veneer. Deep down inside him, Giles wasn’t as contented with the solitary existence of his life as he pretended to be.

Then she saw it.

Nearly hidden behind the multi-armed statue of a Hindu deity, sat a white and furry lump, its neck cinched by a big, red bow. The unjointed rag-doll limbs lay askew at a multiple of ridiculously impossible angles, but it was obviously the same tiny teddy Cordelia had given to little Giles the night before.

A smug, satisfied expression slowly lit up the slayer’s face. As she scurried to catch up with her departing friends she felt a warm, happy glow began to spread its way within her. She was ready to tackle her day now, freed of the shadowing burden of guilt that had eclipsed her youthful zeal. After all, she was not leaving Giles alone.

He had his “special friend" to keep him company.



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