This, I reflect as I stand in the middle of the empty library, was not in the job description.

I had been so very excited when the Watcher Council told me I was to be assigned to not just one active Slayer, but two! Responsible for two Slayers, for guiding them and teaching them and molding them, and for undoing any damage caused by Rupert Giles.

I had never expected to have been chosen for this assignment, even after news of Mr. Giles' removal from his duties had been announced. While I am, of course, one of the better educated and better trained members of the Council, I am still far junior to many others who could have been selected: Sam Zabuto, Slayerless after the death of Kendra last year; Edward Covington, a member of the Council for nearly 30 years; Brianna Clark, Oxford honors graduate, daughter of two Watchers of very high standing.

Yet I was given the job. I, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, of no particular lineage save that my parents had been Watchers, no impressive connections within the Council -- in fact, I'd always been of the impression that those in whose hands my future lies... disliked me. Yet they chose me, and I was determined to prove their choice had been correct. That I could take on the responsibilities of two Slayers and lead them to triumph.

Now here I stand, alone in an American high school library, twiddling my thumbs for lack of anything better to do. I could go out in search of Faith myself, I suppose.... but I still do not know Sunnydale well, and Buffy and her friends will have already covered the most likely places. And what would I do if I found our renegade Slayer? We've already seen my abilities in a fight, which are, as much as it pains me to admit it, relatively nonexistent. Something which must quickly be rectified.

I think I begin to see now what Mr. Giles told me when I first arrived here, his little dig about controlled circumstances, and the lack thereof. At the time, I'd assumed it was merely sour grapes, the natural grumblings of a man replaced in his work by a younger, more suitable candidate. Now, I wonder...

And I regret, because I have somehow lost any hope I ever had of being the Watcher for these two girls. Faith came very close to killing me tonight, when I rashly attempted to remove her to England on my own. And Buffy.... I had no idea the gaze of an 18-year-old girl could carry as much contempt as hers did just before she lead her small cohort out to the field of battle.

Not to mention that 'friend' of hers, that Angel. After 240 years, he seems to have developed a knack for combining condescension and utter derision into one quick glance. And the others, Xander and Willow... Well, bad enough to be ignored by a vampire, but to have a pair of eighteen-year-old children simply dismiss you -- it almost makes one wonder if one is truly worthy only of dismissal.

Which is nonsense, of course -- I am a Watcher, after all, sent by the Council to do this job properly, however carelessly it has been performed until now. And so I shall.

I set my jaw and rub my eyes, realizing I've been standing here in the center of the library for quite a while now. There is no place else to go, really. My rented flat is still almost entirely empty; I brought very little with me from England, knowing I would be able to use the resources Giles had amassed here.

Those resources are scattered on the main table, where Giles and his young helpers have left them spread as they fell. A dreadful way to treat books, completely careless... I automatically begin to straighten them, and my hand brushes against the volume I left there myself, earlier this morning.

It's one of Giles' diaries, the latest. I've read through the others, looking for what he has done to the Slayers, looking for ways to correct his errors and keep from making any of my own. Which does not seem to have helped appreciably, but the intent was pure and correct.

Which seems to be, as Buffy would sarcastically put it, the story of my life.

I polish my glasses, then settle down in one of the hard-backed chairs. They will be searching for Faith for some time, I suspect; since I seem to be unwelcome in the search, I may as well find some way to make myself useful.

The diary falls open to an entry from a few months before, long past the time when the diaries began drifting from simply chronicling research and Slaying, and becoming more... personal. More comments on the Slayer herself, and the little troupe of toy soldiers they have assembled, then on the job at hand -- another example of carelessness, of course, and rampant self-indulgence. Yet, for my purposes, perhaps vital.

Cordelia's name catches my attention instantly. A lovely young lady, and brave as well, if she knowingly associates with a Slayer. A pity she's so young....

26 November 1998

I was gone for only three days!

I left for my retreat in the full knowledge that, when I returned, all would be as I had left it -- a small consolation, given current events, yet a comforting one. I dislike leaving Buffy and the other children on their own for any length of time, yet they seem to have surpassed even their considerable capacity for chaos and mayhem during this particular outing. Fortunately for the residents of Sunnydale -- and unfortunately for the children -- all of that mayhem appears to have been visited upon themselves.

I cannot even conceive of what the last days must have been for them. Xander and Willow kidnapped by Spike; Buffy forced to face him with only Angel, still far from trustworthy, at her side; the two reasonably healthy, if mystifying, relationships between Xander and Cordelia, and Willow and her Oz, lying in ruins; Cordelia in the hospital; Willow barely able to speak without crying; Xander actually shelving books alone in the library; Oz nowhere to be found; Buffy retreating into herself beyond all hope of reaching.

With all of them in various stages of trauma and shock, unwilling or unable to help each other, I find myself confronted with sole responsibility for five broken teenage hearts, and no earthly idea what to do with any of them. But at least there is an obvious place to begin....

Giles knocked carefully at the door to Cordelia's hospital room; it was halfway open already, but knocking seemed the polite thing to do. He'd been uncertain of what gifts to bring the girl, and had compromised on both the traditional -- a bouquet of cheerful spring flowers -- and the absurd -- a bundle of equally cheerful balloons. He felt a bit ridiculous carrying them, but Buffy had been pleased with similar gifts during her own sojourn in Sunnydale General.

Cordelia did not appear to notice them, or Giles, even after he cleared his throat. "Cordelia?" he tried carefully, but the girl simply continued to stare up at the television screen, flickering with one of the inane situation comedies Americans seemed to like so much. But though the laugh track blared merrily, Cordelia's face was empty.

Giles took a deep breath and deposited his flowers on the bedside, but had no idea what to do with the balloons. "I only just heard you'd been injured," he started, trying to ignore the lack of response from the girl's still form, "and I came straightaway."

No response. He kept trying. "I understand from the doctors that you're expected to make a full recovery, and a quick one, which is certainly good news."

Still nothing. She simply stared at the television screen, her usually flawlessly and obsessively groomed dark mane lying in tangled disarray over the pillows, no trace of makeup on her drawn face. It bothered him more than he'd thought it could, to see Queen Cordelia reduced to this pale, silent form.

He abruptly made up his mind, and reached out to draw a chair closer, tying the balloons to the footboard of her bed so that she could see them -- but could not see the television screen. It did not get the reaction he'd hoped for, but her eyes flickered.

It was a start.

"The retreat was quite fascinating," he said conversationally, seating himself by her bedside and speaking to her as he would to Willow or Buffy, completely ignoring her lack of response. "Many interesting views of the energy surrounding the Hellmouth, more than a few tales of monsters and such. I have no idea which ones are real and which can be ignored, but any knowledge is helpful. You probably don't want details...."

He looked, but she didn't confirm or deny. He pursed his lips and continued. "Still, there was one in particular, a gent from Los Angeles mentioned -- seems there's been a sighting of sea monsters. Not our fishy friends from the Sunnydale swim team, but an actual Nessie, swimming about in the Pacific...."

He continued in that vein, detailing the results of the retreat and comparing them to past experiences in Sunnydale, talking to himself more than to Cordelia sometimes, but never letting his eyes quite drift from her face. He might have been imagining that her eyes were beginning to show some signs of life, had nearly convinced himself he was, until her quiet voice finally broke into his monologue.

"Don't you ever talk about anything non-gross?"

He blinked at her, hiding his flash of entirely inappropriate triumph. There were two approaches with these children -- nag them until they responded, or bore them until they responded. Good to know he hadn't lost his touch for the latter. "Sorry. You have shown interest in the past, and I--"

"That was the past, Giles." She closes her eyes. "They call it that because you're supposed to get 'past' it."

A joke. A bitter pun, but a joke nonetheless. Say what you would about Cordelia, Giles thought, she did not stay down, no matter how hard she was knocked. The silence stretched out again, and Giles realized the girl's eyes had begun to drift back away.

"At any rate," he said hastily, "it was a rather interesting weekend. Certainly not as interesting as I understand yours was, of course..."

That did the job. "Did Xander send you to grovel for him?" Cordelia demanded, her eyes suddenly ablaze, even if she didn't have quite enough strength to raise her head

Giles affected innocence; not difficult, since he'd spoken with Xander only once since his return. "No, he did not."

She seemed undecided between relief and annoyance at that, then surrendered both to exhaustion, her eyes drifting closed as if she could no longer be bothered to keep them open. "Then why are you here?" Her lips curled in one of her practiced sneers; in her tired face, it was less insulting than almost pitiable. "It's not like anyone actually cares what happens to me."

"If I did not care," Giles pointed out carefully, aware that he was on quite unsteady ground, "I would not be here. I certainly would not have arrived with balloons in red and purple declaring to the world 'Get Well Soon'. Quite embarrassing, the glances one gets while carrying those."

Her eyes opened again at that, and she seemed to see her room for the first time -- the balloons, then the flowers, then Giles himself. He returned her look as blandly as possible. "Well, thanks, but I'm fine." He didn't budge, and she glared at him with some of her old spirit. "So you don't have to stay here anymore. So you can leave."

"As you like." He rose from his chair slowly. "If you require anything -- better food than this dreadful place provides or, perhaps, your homework assignments --" he got another, half-hearted sneer at that and hid a smile "-- you've only to call the library and I'll do my best."

"Sure. Whatever." Her eyes were closed again in clear dismissal, her face turned away, but Giles found himself oddly reluctant to leave. She tried so hard so much of the time to be an adult, yet injury left her a young, fragile child. Such damage done from one mistake....

Of its own volition, his hand reached out and rested for a moment, awkwardly, on the tangle of her hair, then pulled itself back quickly. "Do get well soon, Cordelia," he said quietly, then turned to leave.

As he reached the door, though, she spoke again. "Giles?"

"Yes?" he asked, looking over his shoulder.

Her eyes were open, and she was biting her lip. "Could you... I mean... My mother forgot and I... I kind of want my makeup. I look like the living dead."

He smiled, almost laughed, but managed to suppress it. "You've a full arsenal in your school locker, I presume?"

She looked mildly offended, and, finally, like the Cordelia of old. "Of course."

"Of course," he echoed. "I shall bring it tomorrow."

"Cool." She settled back in bed, her eyes drifting closed once more, but her color was a bit better now, he thought. And if she'd recovered enough to worry about her appearance, then she would indeed be well soon.

Satisfied, Giles headed briskly down the hospital corridors. He still had four more children in need of help and comfort, but at least this one would mend in time....

I look up from the pages of the diary, staring thoughtfully across the room. While my encounters with Cordelia have been brief, I find it quite difficult to imagine her beauty and life in a hospital bed. I also find it disturbing; while I cannot say I am fond of these children, as Giles seems to be, I dislike the notion of any of them -- of any child -- laying wounded and alone.

That is, of course, one of the reasons Watchers and Slayers exist: to defend the greater populace -- the children, the parents, the innocents -- from the threat of darkness, of vampires. To fail in that duty is unthinkable, even if you do not personally know those who suffer and die as a result. And if you do know them....

I shake my head sympathetically at Giles in absentia. Perhaps I can understand how he could become attached to these 'Slayerettes' -- despite their contempt of me, they do seem to be rather an engaging lot. But to have to live with, not only the direct responsibility for the Slayer, but for four other children, and for what will inevitably happen to them, given the danger of our task?

I shudder at the very notion. What can the man have been thinking?

Still shaking my head, I return to the pages of the diary. Sunnydale certainly had an eventful time near Christmas, and the aftermath from Miss Rosenberg's and Mr. Harris's little imbroglio apparently had far-reaching consequences....

4 December 1998

Cordelia's teachers inform me the girl is finally out of the hospital; however, I can state unequivocally that Xander is not yet out of the doghouse -- if, indeed, he ever will be, Cordelia not being the sort to live and let live.

Be that as it may, I am, for the moment, more concerned about the girls. Buffy is still avoiding anything that remotely resembles conversation, and, to the best of my knowledge, avoiding Angel -- I find myself torn between approving of this stance and worrying. Particularly knowing the amount of time she is currently spending on patrol -- she and Faith are accumulating an impressive body count, even by their standards, but if Buffy continues to bury her feelings in violence rather than actually dealing with them, she may find she has only created a worse problem.

Willow seems to have taken a similar route to dealing with her estrangement from Oz. She haunts the library, doing homework, assisting me with research, or continuing her own studies into witchcraft. Again, I am torn between encouraging her interest and being trepidatious about the speed at which she appears to be learning. Her natural talents, while not the equal of, for example, Amy, are nonetheless formidable. And, like Buffy, I suspect her of burying her emotions within her books. Perhaps not the worst of routes, given that a single attempt to speak with Oz today left her perilously close to tears.

She has abandoned the library for the last few nights, as Oz himself has taken over for his monthly bouts with lycanthropy. He seems less than comfortable coming to me for help every night -- not that he has ever been truly comfortable before, being the sort of young man who prefers to do for himself whenever possible. But certainly the situation is somewhat more... fraught, now.

Still, there is nowhere else safe for him to stay in his bestial form and this is, at least, the third night. Then the moon begins to wane, and we can both return to something resembling our normal routine. Or as normal as we can hope for, given the current state of affairs....

"Giles? You here?"

"Yes, of course." Oz was already beginning to prepare as Giles appeared from his office at Oz's call. Giles himself had already hung the towels Willow had instituted, to give the boy a bit of privacy during his transformations; all Oz had to do was place his belongings out of reach on the library table, then remove his clothes before sundown.

"Cool," Oz nodded in greeting, taking off his jacket. "Sure am glad this is the third night. Getting kinda hard to explain to Devon and the guys why I'm disappearing." He stripped his t-shirt, bright lipstick pink and emblazoned with the name of what Giles assumed was a rock band of some sort, over his head, then raised curious eyebrows at Giles. "Good book?"

Giles blinked, then realized he was still holding the book he'd been reading when Oz had arrived. "What? Oh, yes. Or, rather, a somewhat informative one." It was, in fact, one of many treatises on lycanthropy, the ones he kept meaning to read in search of a palliative or cure, but were often pushed aside by more urgent matters until the full moon brought them guiltily to the forefront again.

He sighed, and admitted to the boy, "But not informative enough, I'm afraid. I am no closer to finding a true cure for your... condition."

Oz might have looked disappointed -- it was always difficult to tell with Oz. If he had, it disappeared quickly, replaced by a shrug and a simple, "No sweat. I'm think I'm starting to get used to this, in a weird kind of way."

Giles chuckled sympathetically. "I quite understand. The unnatural can become the ordinary with rather disturbing speed upon occasion."

"Big time," Oz agreed, settling on a chair and beginning to untie the laces of his tennis shoes. Giles leaned again the table, studying him. The boy's hair was extremely blond this week, standing up in his customary spikes, as if he'd just emerged from a wind tunnel and hadn't yet found a comb. His eyes were calm, as always, a still pool hiding unknown depths -- unknown even to Oz himself, Giles suspected. He was much shorter than Xander, though a year older, and built on much slimmer lines; but Giles often had the unsettling feeling that, despite his appearance, Oz was the strongest of the lot of them.

"Is your band playing at the Bronze this week?" Giles asked, suddenly aware that he had almost no idea what Oz did with his time outside of the Slayerettes and, specifically, Willow.

"Not 'til this weekend," Oz answered amiably, pulling off his second sneaker and stuffing his socks neatly into them. "But we've been trying to rehearse, 'cause, you know, it's not like we're much good even when we do practice. Without it, we're kind of going to drive everyone out of the room, which doesn't help us get more gigs."

Giles grimaced with even more sympathy. "Ah, yes, I distinctly remember being asked to leave more than one performance when we'd spent too much time enjoying being a band and not nearly enough time actually working at it."

Oz looked up from stuffing his shoes into a gym bag. "You were in a band?" he asked, looking... not shocked, as the other children had been when they had discovered this particular secret, but simply interested and mildly curious. "I didn't know that."

"Yes, well, it was many years ago, in my more rebellious days. I was not always the tweed-clad librarian you see before you," Giles said dryly. "Once upon a time, I too wore denim and leather, and attempted to change the face of music as we knew it."

"Did you?"

"Only for the worse, I'm afraid." Oz laughed appreciatively and Giles found himself grinning in response. "There are pictures -- I'm certain the others would enjoy showing them to you. They certainly had enough fun tormenting me with them."

The humor fled abruptly from Oz's face, returning to its customary calm inscrutability. "I don't think that's gonna happen any time soon."

Giles cursed mentally at his gaffe. Just as the boy had been starting to feel comfortable... Well, nothing for it but to keep going. "I, ah... I understand Willow spoke to you today."

"Yeah." Nothing else -- no expression, no further comment. Just that one, inflectionless word that spoke volumes.

Giles sighed, leaning one hip wearily against the table. "I'm sorry," he said, taking off his glasses and pulling out his handkerchief to polish them -- and not incidentally avoid Oz's eyes. "I do a terrible job at meddling in others' affairs -- god knows I have enough trouble with my own."

"Usually a lot easier to give advice than take it," Oz observed with a great lack of interest, starting to unfasten his jeans.

"Yes, well...." Giles sighed again and replaced his glasses. "That's never stopped it from being offered. I... care a great deal for Willow, and I dislike seeing her cry."

A single muscle in Oz's jaw jumped; nothing else in his face changed. "She was crying?" Giles nodded wordlessly. Oz looked away. "Yeah, well, I wasn't too happy either."

"Yes, I'm aware of that. And I dislike that, as well."

Oz sat down again, slumping forward in his chair with his elbows on his knees, wearing only a baggy pair of boxer shorts in bright red. His knees were knobby with adolescence, his body pale and skinny. But his face was strangely adult. "I don't know," he said quietly, almost to himself. "When we came into that basement and saw them... We were riding to the rescue, only it didn't look much like they wanted to be rescued."

Giles snorted slightly; he couldn't help it. "You've made Spike's acquaintance, Oz. I can assure you they did, in fact, wish to be rescued. As for the other..." He fumbled. "Surely allowances must be made for life and death situations?"

Surprisingly, Oz nodded agreement. "Yeah, they do."

Giles looked down at him. "And yet...?"

Oz lifted one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. "It hurt," he said simply. "A lot. I don't think I want to do that again."

Giles laughed sadly, suddenly remembering the expression on Jenny's face when she'd confessed her true identity. "You've very little chance of avoiding that, I'm afraid. Pain and love appear to be two halves of a whole, as dreadfully unfair as it seems at times. And forgiveness... has its own rewards."

"Maybe. Doesn't mean I have to like it." Oz stood up and headed for the cage, his posture making it very clear that he didn't want to talk about this any more. Which was more than acceptable, as Giles suddenly had absolutely no inclination to continue the discussion himself. "Time to turn back into a man-eating creature of darkness."

"The creature of darkness is the werewolf, Oz," Giles reminded him firmly, as he retrieved his keys from his jacket pocket and locked the cage. "What it is, what it does, has nothing to do with what or who you are."

Oz looked back at him steadily. "That's not what you say about Angel."

Giles almost dropped the keys, then recovered, carefully leaving the cage and retreating back into his office. It seemed polite to let Oz deal with his demons in private, as Giles dealt with his own.

Odd, though, he thought, jingling the key ring in his hand. He hadn't expected the young man to retaliate to his own meddling in quite such a direct fashion.

Nor had he expected Oz's aim to be quite so precise....

Well, it seems even Giles can be taken aback by a few of these children -- somewhat soothing to my own ego, I suppose, when I find myself so often helpless before them. I have had very few encounters with Oz -- and wish as few as possible, truth be known. Bad enough Giles allows his Slayer to consort with a vampire, but he adds a werewolf to the mix?

Still, the few times I have seen him with Willow, I have been forced admit they make quite a lovely couple. It is almost... reassuring sometimes, to see the pair of them huddled together in a corner researching, or simply holding hands in the middle of a disaster. It rather reminds one of the real life that lies outside of slaying.

Yet therein lies the problem -- for a Watcher and a Slayer, should there be a life outside of slaying? Can friendships, relationships, do anything other than distract the Slayer from her duty?

It bothers me that the answer is not quite as straightforward as it once was. I suspect most answers have gone that way for Giles -- and more are joining them all the time. I imagine he envies me, still able to see my duty so clearly.

Or should I, perhaps, envy him?

25 December 1998

Another Christmas come, and not soon enough gone.

Last year, Christmas was, at the least, less lonely than those that had come before. Jenny brought light and joy to the winter holidays, holidays I'd long since written off; her loss has taken that light with her, it seems.

Christmas Eve was bad enough, after Buffy left the library in search of the Bringers -- dealing with old memories and more recent ones, and continuing to research Angel's situation, more for Buffy's sake than anything. Should she lose Angel, after all she has already been through, the consequences could be... disastrous. So it seemed appropriate, since I could not celebrate Christmas, to work through it. Whatever Buffy -- and Angel -- faced last night, I have the impression I should be available to deal with the aftermath.

At least there is far less 'aftermath' from other situations to be dealt with. Willow and Oz have reconciled, Faith and Buffy seem to have come to some sort of peace with each other, and Cordelia seems to be giving the lot of them a wide berth; even Xander has let go of some of the anger he has carried since Angel's return. I find myself with mixed feelings where that situation is concerned, but there is no denying that Xander's more relaxed attitude will make Buffy's life a bit simpler.

And Buffy is, after all, our paramount concern....

Giles walked carefully through the empty halls of Sunnydale High, his footsteps echoing weirdly off the walls. He more or less ignored the sound, accustomed to roaming the corridors at all hours of the day and night. And on Christmas Day, there was less than no danger of running into anyone who would ask awkward questions -- even Der Fuhrer wouldn't come near the school today. If nothing else, the unexpected snowfall would keep most at home. And that snowfall was on his list of things to research, though he had the strange certainty it was no bad omen.

His keys jingled softly as he unlocked the library door and stepped inside, pausing for a moment on the threshold out of sheer habit. Knowing there was a Hellmouth just beneath the floor did tend to make one a bit cautious, not to say paranoid. And he could almost think he wasn't alone....

He shook his head, dismissing the feeling, then flipped on the light switch, already heading for his office. As the florescent lights hummed into life, something stirred underneath the table, then groaned.

"Who's there?" Giles demanded, reaching automatically for the stake he kept beneath the front counter and bracing himself for a fight with anything from a vampire to a Hellbeast.

But the only thing that emerged from beneath the table was Xander, rubbing his eyes blearily and attempting to disentangle himself from a bulky down sleeping bag. "Wha--?" he mumbled as he blinked under the assault of the lights and squinted up at Giles. "Giles? What're you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same," Giles pointed out, staring down at the boy in bafflement. "Did you sleep here last night? Why aren't you at home?"

"Snow," Xander said, as if that should explain everything. Giles lifted his eyebrows and simply stared. Xander yawned widely and managed to sit up, still keeping his sleeping bag around his bare shoulders. "I was sleeping outside, like I do on Christmas Eve, then it started snowing and I didn't want to sleep in it. Figured it would be kinda lame to survive all those vampire attacks, then freeze to death."

"Quite," Giles agreed blankly. "And you didn't simply go home because....?"

Xander shrugged. "I didn't know if everyone was passed o-- um, asleep yet," he covered his slip as casually as possible. Giles winced inwardly, filling in the blanks, and tried to keep his sympathy for the boy from showing, knowing Xander's pride would not appreciate it.

"Anyway," Xander continued, after a short pause to make sure Giles wasn't going to ask anything awkward, "I'm still pretty persona non grata-ish at Willow's house and she was doing an Oz-thing anyway, and I figured Buffy had enough to deal with, and I had my key to the back door, so I headed here and crashed. And then certain librarian-types -- who need to get lives, I might add -- started coming in and turning on lights and waving stakes around."

Giles looked at the stake dangling, forgotten, from his hand. "Ah, yes. I seem to be making, ah, rather a habit of greeting people with weapons."

"It's not like that's a bad reflex around here." Xander yawned again and scratched his head thoroughly with both hands, leaving it standing on end and giving him the appearance of a rudely-awakened hedgehog. Giles smothered a smile, although Xander still didn't appear to be focusing enough to notice.

"I apologize for disturbing you," he said as sincerely as possible under the circumstances. "If you like, I'll retreat to my office and turn out the lights in here so you may continue your, ah, hibernation."

Xander considered, then shook his head. "Nah. I'm awake. Besides, only old people sleep late on Christmas morning."

'And you would classify old as something about 25, correct?', Giles thought to himself, but out loud, only said, "As you like." He turned towards his office to give the boy a chance to get himself together. "Would you like some tea? Coffee? I believe Buffy left some cocoa somewhere...."

"Hot chocolate would be cool, yeah." Behind him, Giles heard Xander shuffling out of the sleeping bag, pulling a sweatshirt over his head and stretching, joints popping in a symphony of crackles in testament to the general discomfort of sleeping on a hard linoleum floor. The boy appeared in the doorway as Giles put the kettle on his small hot plate to heat.

"You look like you got about as much sleep as I did," Xander said, leaning against the door frame. "Dare we hope you were doing some of that Yuletide spirit thing? Or were you just doing the Save-the-Vampire thing?"

The question, though flippant, held less animosity that it would have had even a few days ago. Giles took a moment to answer. "Yuletide spirit, no; research, yes. As for Angel... I've not yet heard from Buffy. She came here last night after a rather disturbing confrontation with Angel, then left again in rather a hurry, apparently having deduced the location of the Bringers. I have no idea whether her hunt was successful, or, in fact, where she and Angel are now." And he was more than a little worried over that fact. Worried enough to have spent several of the past few hours calling the mansion, and paging Buffy.

Xander nodded judiciously, almost hiding his own flash of concern. "She probably kicked some Bringer butt, then headed home to grab the prezzies."

Despite his nagging fears, Giles managed a smile. "One would hope." The kettle started to boil and he carefully poured it into the correct mugs, stirring the cocoa and handing it carefully to Xander. Then wincing as Xander instantly slurped with no regard whatsoever to the temperature.

"So," Xander asked casually, without even a trace of second-degree burns, "what'd you get the cool people in your life for Christmas? Like Buffy and Willow and oh, say, me?"

Giles chuckled slightly, stirring his tea bag around in the cup. "You'll have to wait until everyone is here -- far be it from me to spoil a surprise."

Xander made a disgusted face. "It's socks, isn't it? With adults, it's always socks. Or underwear."

Giles lifted amused eyebrows at him. "I can promise you, no articles of clothing were involved."

"Well, that's all right then," Xander said magnanimously. Then, with resignation, "So it's a book, huh?"

Giles burst out laughing in spite of himself, leaning against the edge of his desk. Xander grinned crookedly, not even slightly offended. "Yeah, thought so. Do I win lots of Slayerette brownie points if I pretend to read it?"

Giles shook his head, still chuckling. "Yes, but you will win more if you actually do read it."

Xander considered. "I can handle that."

"Without Cliff Notes," Giles clarified. "Or Willow notes."

Xander made a face. "Damn." But it was a half-hearted protest at best, the boy's attention having already wandered to poking through the books and papers Giles had left on his desk the night before. Despite his carefree demeanor, something seemed to be bothering him -- several possible somethings presented themselves to Giles almost immediately.

"You, ah, mentioned an 'Oz-thing' with Willow last night," he said as casually as possible, starting to stack his papers so he and Xander wouldn't have to actually look at each other. "Would that be the date she was speaking of to Buffy last night?"

"That it would be," Xander confirmed, stacking books on the opposite side of the desk, pausing to read some of the titles off of the spines. "'Xeno's Demonology of Lower Sumeria.' Wow, hours of fun for the entire family."

"Ah. Good." Giles ignored Xander's snide comment, frowning at a teacher's form he didn't remember signing and filing it away to be read later. "It is good, isn't it?"

Xander shrugged without looking up from the book he was reading with thorough absorption. A text written in ancient Greek, which made his concentration suspect, to say the least. "I guess. Will seemed real excited about the whole deal, but she's not exactly baring her soul to me these days, you know."

And Xander was far from happy about that, Giles surmised, sighing inwardly. Such a furor for one kiss to have caused....

Since meddling seemed to be becoming his lot in life, he turned resignedly to face Xander. "And how do you feel about it?" he asked point-blank, subtlety not being the sort of thing that worked on Xander.

Xander shrugged without looking up. "It's not like it matters. Willow wants Oz. Just like Buffy wanted Angel, and Cordelia wants me. Well, wants me dead." Another shrug, as studiously casual as his voice, and as false. "I'm kinda getting used to it."

Giles fumbled for a way to continue the conversation, but Xander ended it by the simple expedient of picking up his stack of books and leaving the office. "I'll just go shelve these, so we can find them the next time Sunnydale is threatened by the ultimate evil of the week."

Giles watched him go, shaking his head. "Leave the counseling to the counselors," he told himself in a furious undertone. "You're obviously not equipped for this particular duty. Why they don't cover this nonsense in Watcher training...."

"Hey, Giles, you got a voice mail in here!"

More than mildly confused, Giles poked his head out the door to look at Xander. "Excuse me?"

Xander stared patiently back with the adult-to-three-year-old expression the children used when instructing him on some point of information that had landed at the bottom of the generation gap. "Voice. Mail. Cute little device on your phone that people can talk into and it records their voice? Everyone in the universe has it, including the teachers at Sunnydale High? Makes the little light on the phone go on, even one as hopelessly low-tech as this one?"

"I am aware of the concept," Giles informed him sourly.

"Then, don't you think you should check it?" Xander inquired. "In case it was, maybe, Buffy?"

"Ah. Yes." Giles gave up on getting across the concept of manners and rushed to the main desk, trying to remember how to access his voice mail. After two minutes of fumbling with the number pad and swearing under his breath in Latin, he got it to work.

It was, in fact, Buffy; after a second's thought, he held the receiver far enough away from his ear for Xander, who had seated himself on the counter, to hear as well.

"Hey Giles, it's me," Buffy's recorded voice said, with a forced cheerfulness that neither of them missed, judging from Xander's expression. "Missed you at your place, so I figured you were at the library, because where else would you be on a holiday?" She sobered a little. "Um, Angel's okay now, I think. I mean, don't start inviting people to the big victory bash, but I think the home team pulled this one out -- thanks to some help just before the final buzzer."

Giles gritted his teeth and made a mental note to discuss with Buffy the lack of propriety in giving a report to her Watcher in sports metaphors. But he did get the general idea -- and was surprised to find himself faintly relieved. If only faintly.

"Anyway," Buffy continued, "I'm gonna stay with Angel for a while, make sure no one else shows up to play 'This Was Your Life,' then head home to hit those prezzies. Maybe make a snowman -- I've read about that. Anyway, Merry Christmas, Giles. Don't work too hard."

"End of message," the electronic mailbox informed him in an annoying computer voice; Giles ignored it and hung up.

"Well, that's certainly... good news," he said, more or less to himself.

"Yeah," Xander echoed, also mostly to himself. "Looks like we get to keep Angel around for a while longer." Xander slanted a sideways look down and over at Giles. "You, um.. okay with that?"

"Mmm? Oh, yes," Giles answered automatically. "That is... For Buffy's sake..."

He stumbled to a halt and Xander nodded wisely. Or what passed for wisely with Xander. "Yeah. Keeps coming down to Buffy, huh?" He shook his head, making a face. "We gotta do something about her taste in guys."

"Indeed," Giles agreed, with a humorless half-laugh. "You, ah, seem a bit less concerned about that than a few days ago."

"You mean 'cause I helped research his sitch and all?" Xander swung his legs against the counter, then abruptly slid to the floor . "It was kind of fun yesterday, doing the research party thing. Just like old times and all, right down to My Boyfriend the Vampire."

Giles took his glasses off to polish them. "And what, if I may ask, caused this sudden change of heart? Besides the, ah, 'Channukah spirit'?" he added with more than a touch of irony.

Xander leaned against the counter, and shrugged. Again. "I don't know. I just... I was thinking about it, after I told Buffy... um, after something I said to Buffy yesterday and... I don't trust Angel," he said, with absolute conviction. "No way do I trust him. But Buffy, she still loves him, I guess, and..."

He looked at Giles as if to judge whether or not it was all right to keep talking. Giles didn't look up from his sparkling clean glasses. "Go on."

Xander sighed, crossing his arms tightly over his chest and suddenly looking a great deal younger than his years. "And I just figured that, by warning her all the time that Angel was going to hurt her, I was the one actually making her hurt, you know? I manage to screw up everything: Jesse, Willow, Cordelia.... I didn't want to screw up me and Buffy, too."

He dropped his arms and head to stare at his feet; with that single move, he suddenly reverted again to 18 and then some, his shoulders bent under the weight of the world. "And I got tired of being mad all the time," he finished quietly. "It never does any good anyway."

Giles replaced his glasses slowly and carefully, not quite trusting himself to speak. There were levels of meaning in that last sentence he wasn't equipped to deal with, not at that moment.

At any rate, the moment in which he could have said anything passed too quickly. Xander abruptly moved out from behind the counter, and began stacking the books on the main table. "Okay, here's the deal," he informed Giles with determined cheer. "I help you stack the books, then we both head over to the Willmeister's and see if we can con breakfast out of her. And maybe that Dreidel song. And a snowball fight. And something involving wrapping paper."

Giles considered -- a morning spent in Xander's company, or a entire day spent thinking about things best not dwelt on at the moment. Not much of a choice, really.

"It's a bargain," he said as he started stacking the journals on the floor by the chair he'd been using. "However, I'm buying breakfast, and we must stop by Buffy's house on the way."

"Deal," Xander agreed instantly, with a degree of smug satisfaction that had a suddenly suspicious Giles wondering how much he'd just been manipulated. He dismissed it favor of a more pressing thought.

"Xander?" Giles' voice stopped the boy before he could head back for the stacks. "Next time you feel the need to sleep... out of the cold? Do remember that I have a sofa, and it is far more comfortable than the library floor. And usually unoccupied."

Xander ducked his head, suddenly interested again in one of the books he was carrying. "Yeah. Got it."

"All right, then." Giles shook his head at the boy's back, and bent his attention to cleaning up their not-inconsiderable mess....

Christmas on the Hellmouth. Truly a mind-boggling concept. And it appears as if the holiday was as bizarre as one would expect, given the surroundings.

Reading between the lines of Giles' diary, I have assembled a somewhat grim picture of the Harris boy's home. As far as I -- or Giles, apparently -- can tell, he himself is probably the closest thing young Mr. Harris has to a reliable figure of authority in his life, not to mention one of the few points of stability. Is it any wonder the boy chooses to spend a not-inconsiderable part of time in the library or being involved in other Slaying duties?

Knowing this, Giles seems unable to turn Xander -- or the others -- away, for all that it is far from in their best interests to stay, whatever they may believe. Slaying is an excellent way for bystanders to quickly become dead; keeping them from becoming involved, for their own good, is really the only thing to do. Not to mention best for the Slayer, should her Watcher's attentions become divided from training and aiding her, into also acting as in loco parentis for an entirely separate brood.

Yet once that responsibility, however wrongly assumed, is taken up, how to put it down again, when the job of Slaying becomes the only stability that brood knows? When, despite the danger, the Watcher and the Slayer are where their only true safety seems to lie?

A not-inconsiderable, and potentially quite painful, puzzle -- one best solved by simply avoiding it to begin with, of course. Before complications and emotional attachments make difficult a job which should be very simple.

14 January 1999

... despite all I have read of history -- both natural and supernatural -- I am still finding it hard to credit the witch hunt that passed through Sunnydale. Even knowing the true cause behind Joyce and Mrs. Rosenberg's actions, and the actions of the other adults of the town, make it no easier to accept the sheer, thoughtless violence that threatened Willow and Buffy and Amy's lives. Threatened by their own *parents*.

Seeing the two of them tied to stakes, flames at their feet as their mothers stood watching... of all the things I have seen, I believe this will haunt my nightmares longer than most. Not all, but most.

Despite my own disturbance, however, the trauma was much greater to Buffy and Willow. For Buffy, it was yet another betrayal by one she trusted -- something she has had to deal with far too often as of late, and may have to deal with again very soon. The Council contacted me today -- it will soon be Buffy's 18th birthday. If I cannot find a way out of my duty to the Council....

Yet what of my duty to the Slayer? And to the other children? Every time I turn around, I seem to see another of them wounded and in pain. Shall I cause that pain, instead of soothing it, as has become my role.... and what will I lose if I am forced to do just that?

The knock at the door was unexpected, and more than a little unsettling -- news delivered at 1:30 in the morning was seldom, if ever, good. He left his journal, at which he'd been staring sightlessly for half an hour, and moved quickly to open the door.

He'd expected Buffy, perhaps -- or worse, Angel. It came as something of a surprise to find Willow there instead, huddled in on herself until she was little more than a pile of brightly colored jacket and big eyes.

"I'm sorry." Her apology rushed out before Giles so much as opened his mouth. "I know it's late and I shouldn't be here, but I was just sort of walking around and I couldn't think of anywhere to go so I ended up here and I'm sorry if I'm bothering you, I could go away if you want me to...."

"Willow." Giles cut off her babbling as gently, but firmly, as he could. "Are you all right? You shouldn't be out this late alone, it's not safe."

Willow shrugged. "Like anywhere is ever safe anymore?" The words came out with more than a little bitterness, surprising Willow as much as Giles, judging from her expression. "And anyway," she continued quickly, "Angel, he's kind of been following me for about the last ten blocks, since I left Buffy's house. Like a bodyguard, you know?"

Automatically, Giles's muscles tightened, his head whipping around to the street. Sure enough, a dark form lurked in the shadows near the sidewalk, still and watchful. His jaw tense, Giles nodded at Angel, who might have nodded back. It was difficult to tell in the darkness.

"Come inside, Willow," Giles said, as he stood back and held the door open for her.

"Um... okay," she obeyed, slipping under his arm. He closed the door and secured it behind them, all three locks.

He turned to find Willow wandering aimlessly around his living room as if she'd never seen it before. Which she had -- they weren't in the habit of congregating there, but the library wasn't always convenient. Such as, for example, at 1:30 in the morning, two days after a town-wide witch hunt.

"Please sit down, Willow," he told the girl, when she showed no signs of either stopping or meeting his eyes. "Would you like some tea?"

She turned to him, startled, as if she'd forgotten he was there. "Yes... oh, no. No, I don't want to be any trouble, I'm sorry..."


She went quiet again under his look of fond exasperation, ducking her head. "Yes, thank you, tea would be nice," she told her sneaker-clad feet.

"All right, then. Take off your coat." She obeyed as he moved into the kitchen, put a kettle on to boil and rummaging around for fresh tea. He seemed to be feeding hot drinks to Slayerettes quite frequently these days. "You said you were at Buffy's?" he asked, pitching his voice to carry out to the living room. "And she let you leave at this time of night?"

"Well, I wasn't exactly inside Buffy's," Willow clarified, stopping at the doorway to the kitchen and hovering there. "I was kind of outside thinking about being inside, but I was inside last night and I didn't really want to be inside again tonight, so I stayed outside. And then I left and then I was here. And... um, here I am," she finished uncertainly.

Giles sighed mentally, rubbing his eyes beneath his glasses. Willow must be extremely upset -- she had reverted to her usual habit of babbling unintelligibly to avoid coping. Still, the events of the past few days were enough to leave anyone a bit rattled, much less a person as sensitive as Willow.

Taking a firm hold on his patience, he looked steadily at Willow. "And why are you here, instead of at home asleep? This is a school night."

"I know," she nodded. "And I was home, 'cause I slept over at Buffy's last night and I couldn't do that again tonight. But...." She finally met Giles's eyes. "I couldn't sleep. I heard my mom outside my room, and I... I kept remembering when she...."

Her voice trailed off and Giles mentally continued for her, *When your mother and a group of strangers broke down your door and carried you off to die. Not precisely a soothing memory on which to sleep, no.* But all he said out loud was, "Yes, I understand."

She looked almost pathetically grateful for not having to say the words. "So, anyway, I couldn't get to sleep after that, and I couldn't go to Xander's ' know, or Oz's 'cause... well, you know."

"Yes, I know." He tried to keep his opinions of those particularly tangled relationships out of his voice; it wasn't any of his business, and it certainly wasn't relevant now. He had given up meddling for lack of ability.

"So I went to Buffy's," Willow continued, "and I was going to go inside, but then I remembered her mom standing next to mine when they...." She swallowed hard and Giles almost spoke again, but she managed to complete her own sentence this time. "When they were trying to burn us. So I didn't want to go in." She shrugged a little, helplessly. "So I came here, 'cause... well, you weren't at the library and here's safe."

His heart melted a little at that, and froze at the same time, remembering that damn message from the Council; fortunately, the kettle boiled then, giving him an excuse to turn away. He fussed over the teapot until his face and emotions were back under control, then handed the cups to Willow. "Let's go into the living room, shall we?"

She obeyed wordlessly, following him out. They settled on the sofa and Giles tried to find the proper words to soothe the girl huddled on the other end.

He started, finally, "I can tell you again that your mother -- and Buffy's for that matter -- were not responsible for their actions. That they were being influenced by the demon you saw, and were only carrying out the actions it desired. However, I don't think that's going to do you a great deal of good at the moment, is it?"

Willow shook her head, her hair falling to hide her face. "No," she said softly from behind her curtain. "Not much."

"I thought not." He sighed again, raking a hand through his hair. It was too early in the morning -- or late at night -- for this sort of thing.

"It wasn't just that," Willow offered quietly, lifting her eyes to peek out from behind her hair. "It was... Giles, magic was fun. I mean, not fun like amusement park fun, but fun like, being able to do stuff to help Buffy, and to do stuff no one else could do," she admitted.

"And now..?" Giles prompted.

"Now... it's not fun anymore." Willow's eyes drifted, looking at something very far away. "Those people wanted to kill us, Giles, like we were automatically evil just 'cause we had magic. And some people -- Michael, he didn't even have magic, not like me and Amy, but he got hurt anyway. We never did *anything* to those people and they didn't care. They just wanted to kill us."

Her wounded eyes focused on Giles, as if begging him to explain, to make it all clear. "I know it was the demons, but... this has happened before. Witch hunts and burning and... I don't understand how they could do that. Strangers, our teachers, our *mothers*... How could they do that?"

Giles looked down, unable to meet that wounded, confused expression without giving in to his own emotions. His helpless rage when his books had been taken, his gut-wrenching fear when his children had been threatened, Willow and Buffy and even Amy tied up to burn... He fought it back, knowing this wasn't the time or the place.

When he spoke, his voice was as deliberately gentle and soothing as he could make it. "I wish I could explain it to you, Willow, but I cannot. Fear can make people, even those not influenced by demons, irrational. They perform acts which, in their right minds, they would consider heinous, yet which seem perfectly justified at the time. It has been so since the first humans walked the Earth, and learned to fear what they did not understand. And, I'm sorry to say, I don't think that fear will ever go away."

"But we're nothing to be afraid of." Willow made a little, helpless gesture with her hands. "We're the *good* guys."

Giles smiled a little, sadly. "I know that. But they do not." He shook his head, then reached over to pour the tea. "Perhaps Buffy's mother was not entirely wrong -- ignorance does seem to be the greatest threat facing Sunnydale. Yet knowledge, as we saw, can be equally dangerous. Such a fine line to be drawn, and so little margin for error."

His voice trailed off as he contemplated the problem, then abruptly remembered he was still holding the teapot. He set it down carefully and handed Willow her tea.

She cupped her hands around it without drinking, as if she wanted the warmth more than the tea itself. "I don't want to go home, Giles," she admitted in a tiny voice. "My mother doesn't remember -- she's kind of gone back to ignoring me again -- but *I* remember. How can I look at her without seeing her and Mrs. Summers throwing the torches on the books, and telling us dying is for our own goods? How can I forget that?"

He hesitated, then reached out to touch her shoulder. "Forgetfulness will come with time," he told her carefully. "Until then... there is only forgiveness. Forgive your mother for listening to a demon she could not help but hear, and know that she did not hurt you by her own will."

"I know," Willow said into her teacup. "But... it's hard."

Giles' eyes went involuntarily to the window and the darkness where a vampire had stood silent guard over a wandering girl, then to the stairs, where that same vampire had murdered a woman Giles had loved. "Yes. Yes, it is."

They sat in silence for a bit, drinking their tea, then talked again, innocuous subjects such as Amy's still-irreversible transformation and Willow's college applications. Eventually, Willow's voice slowed and faded away, her eyes slipping closed as she drifted off to sleep.

Giles stayed on the couch for a long while, watching the girl sleep. He should wake her up, he knew -- drive her home or to Buffy's home.

Instead, he gently lifted Willow's legs to the couch, taking off her shoes and settling the pillow more comfortably under her head, then covered her with a thick quilt, smoothing her hair back with his hand in an affectionate gesture he could not bring himself to offer when she was awake. It would be good to have someone else in this shabby, haunted apartment, even if for only one night.

He started for the stairs, then stopped and, almost in spite of himself, turned back to the window. Drawing aside the curtain, he looked out into the night.

Then, quite deliberately, he turned out the living room light, so anyone watching would know no one was going anywhere else that night....

Witchhunts. Burning at the stake. In such modern times, the very idea would horrify anyone not under demonic influence. And to imagine Buffy, or worse, fragile young Willow, with flames licking at their feet... Yes, I can easily see how Giles' sleep would be disturbed. Mine would be also, after such a sight. I do not envy those girl their nightmares.

I do not envy Willow, that is. The Slayer surely dreams of worse than that -- necessarily, sometimes, for her dreams can be omens, signals that help defeat the darkness. If a little sleep is lost in that goal, a little peace of mind sacrificed... Well, it is for the greater good.

Yes. Of course. So why does it bother me so to think of Willow huddled in terror at the hands of a mob, or Buffy fighting helplessly against, not monsters, but those she loves? It should not -- such things, while out of the ordinary, are certainly part of the job. I can read of the Salem witchhunts, and of the results of the spells of Abigail Williams, and not be disturbed in the slightest. Why should it bother me now simply because I know the faces of the participants?

Why should I care about these children, about Buffy, when I know what her role must be in this eternal struggle? How can Giles, with all the grief that has already been visited upon him, still become so involved, when he knows how unlikely it is that the girl, having survived to her 18th birthday, will live to see her 21st? How can he send her into danger, against demons and vampires and all the others tests a Slayer must face -- how can he do this if he allows himself to care for her?

Yet... I am beginning to understand how it happened, how easy it must have been for Giles to slip, and why the Council warns so strongly to keep one's emotions in check at all times. For I am not sure I like these children -- but, already, I do not wish to see them hurt.

Any of them.

22 January, 1999

'I don't know you.'

Of all the words I have ever heard in my life, nothing comes close to the pain carried in those four, when they are delivered to me by my Slayer.

No, not my Slayer, it wasn't the Slayer speaking. It was Buffy, my Buffy, whom I had just utterly and unalterably betrayed by my knowing actions. She almost died at the hands of a lunatic, her mother was almost killed, and the fault of it lies at my door.

And Quintin Travers strolls home to the Council, smugly certain he has done everything he should have. I cannot decide which of the two of us I hate the most.

I have, today, stood accused on two sides, for remarkably opposite reasons. Buffy accused me, with more than a little justification, of caring more for my duty to the Council than for my duty to her. Than I do for she herself. She was wrong.

While Quentin, damn him, now accuses me of loving Buffy more than my position as a Watcher. And he is correct. I can live, however difficult it will be, without a connection to the Council, without the title of Watcher. I could not live with the hurt I saw in Buffy's eyes when she knew I had betrayed her.

I have tried to do my duty to the Council, to stay separate, and I have failed. But there remains my duty to Buffy, to my Slayer. To the daughter of my heart, for Quintin was correct in that, also....

As far as Giles was concerned, Quintin Travers became of no consequence as soon as he left the library. All of Giles' attention was focused on the girl huddled on the chair in front of him.

He had seen her injured, and often -- part of his job was tending to her injuries. Yet he had never seen her look as she did then, nearly swallowed up by her baggy overalls, blood streaming from the long gash on her forehead.

But it was not the wounds of her body that made her look so fragile. It was the wounds on her soul, staring out at Giles through her tear-filled eyes. Just thinking of wandering through the broken-down old mansion, terrified, stalked by a madman, powerless and alone... He was almost ridiculously proud of her for succeeding against such odds, yet she had paid the price and then some. His own injuries faded to nothing beside the pain of hers.

He'd been afraid she wouldn't allow him to tend to her, would shrink back from his help as she had every right to do. He could only assume she didn't have the strength, for she sat quietly, but for her exhausted trembling, as he tried to clean away the blood.

"You'll have a black eye." Almost as soon as he said it, he was cursing at himself for uttering such a stupid banality.

Buffy simply shrugged, as if she barely had the strength to lift a shoulder. "Something new. Guess the cool healing factor won't kick in again for a while, huh?"

He couldn't meet her eyes, turned to remoisten the towel instead. "I'm afraid not. It, and your strength, should return in a few days. No more than a week."

"Great. Does that mean I get sick days from slaying?"

Her wry tone, all the more remarkable because her voice was still shaking, caught Giles off-guard, surprising a short chuckle out of him. "Obviously." He sobered, forcing himself to look her in the face. "You should not patrol until your strength returns, until you are recovered."

She shrugged again, with a bit more strength, but still didn't move away. "So the vamps get a free Taste of Sunnydale week? No way."

He stared at her, helplessly. How could she still be so determined to do her job, in the face of such ingratitude from the very people who knew how much it cost her? "I assure you, Sunnydale will survive for a week without you," he said, with more bite than he'd intended. "I shall take your place on patrols."

She met his eyes and shook her head slowly. "It's not your job any more."

She said it evenly, with no malice, but it still knocked Giles' breath out. No, it was not his job any more. Nothing to do with the Slayer was his job, or would ever be again. The Council did not believe in second chances; everything he had worked for was gone.

But there was still Buffy. "Patrols were never part of my job," he said calmly, forcing his hand do begin moving again, gently dabbing at the cut on her forehead. "I did them anyway, and I shall continue to do so until you are well again." The blood was slowing, beginning to clot. She would wear the mark for quite some time, but her Slayer's gifts should return in time to prevent a permanent scar.

She bit her lip, and flinched once as he hit a particularly sore area. "I don't want you out there alone."

Was she frightened that he would be hurt? Giles wondered. No, that was too much to hope for. Did she simply not trust him to defend Sunnydale, since he had done such a poor job of defending one 18-year-old girl? Far more probable, and far harder to bear.

Yet bear it he must. "I can handle it for a week. You must rest."

She shook her head more strongly, trying to sit up. "Giles, I don't want--" She winced as the movement proved to be too much; what little color she had regained drained from her face and she slumped back into the chair.

Giles watched helplessly, waiting for her to recover before returning to his medical duties. Her forehead was as clean as he could get it; it should probably be stitched, but he had no intention of subjecting her to the further trauma of a hospital that night. He went for the first aid kit instead, using two small pieces of tape to pull the edges of the cut together. He touched her as little as possible, but she still flinched back. "Sorry," he apologized quietly.

"It's okay," she whispered, without opening her eyes. "It just hurt."

If Quintin Travers had been there, Giles would have strangled him with his bare hands. But all he could do was apologize again, knowing he could never apologize enough. "I'm sorry."

She opened her eyes and looked at him with an unreadable expression. "Giles, how many times are you gonna say that?"

He rewet the towel and concentrated on dabbing at her growing black eye. "As many as it takes, I suppose."


A distinctly unenthusiastic sound if he had ever heard one. Putting the towel down, he turned away to fuss with the medical kit, repacking the supplies and doing a very poor job of it. "Or perhaps I have overstepped myself. When I told Quintin I was not going anywhere. I would understand if you would prefer that I, ah, move on. You would be well within your right to *wish* to have a new Watcher, after the events of the last week, and I would not blame you..."


He flinched, and looked up from the first aid kit to meet Buffy's gaze, painfully uncertain of what he would find.

To his surprise, she was looking at him with -- not anger, or distrust, or even blankness, but something like... amusement. "Giles, could you just sit down?" she asked somewhat plaintively. "'Cause you're making me dizzy. Um, dizzier."

He hovered above her, unsure how to respond. "I should... you'll need ice for that eye and I don't..."

"Giles!" She nearly shouted it, and winced when that had the predictable effect on her head. He quickly knelt in front of her, in case she needed his help, but she opened her eyes again after only a moment. "Look, Giles," she said carefully, "I know I'm Head Injury Girl right now, but I don't think you'd be making any sense even if I wasn't. Without going into Willow-mode -- do you *want* to leave me?" Her voice cracked on the question.

"No!" he said instantly, appalled. "No, I don't. I just thought...."

"You thought I'd be so mad and hurt that I wouldn't want you around anymore, right?" She bit her lip and looked down. "Well, you're right. I was. And... I'm not sure I trust you any more."

That hurt. That hurt more than almost anything in his existence. He could feel himself going stiff, trying to distance himself from the pain before it became too much. It took enough effort and concentration that he almost missed her next words.

"But I don't want you to leave, Giles. I... I need you to stay."

He blinked, unsure of what he'd just heard. "You... you do? Even after...?"

She sniffled and shrugged, offering him a crooked, sad smile. "Yeah. Even after."

"Ah. Well." There wasn't an appropriate reaction to that, to the uprising of relief that almost managed to drown out the guilt. He took off his glasses and, in automatic reflex, started polishing.

Which seemed to amuse Buffy. "I can't do this without you," she said, somewhat ruefully. "And... I know what it cost you. Standing up for me against the Council."

He put considerable concentration into resettling his glasses on his nose. "Not that much. Not after what they did to you. What *I* did to you on their orders," he amended, with a fresh stab of remorse. "I could not have stayed, I think...."

"Not just that," she interrupted, then fumbled for words. They were both being remarkably incoherent, actually. "I mean... It wasn't like you got off on hurting me, and I know you didn't want to do what the Council dudes said, even though.... I mean, they're your bosses, but you still... you still came through. And that... that means a lot."

He lowered his head again -- not to avoid her eyes, this time, but to hide his own. It lacked a certain something to cry in front of one's charge while she was being magnificent. "I... It does not mean enough. But I am... grateful that you feel that way."

Unexpectedly, she laughed, a breathy sound so unlike her usual laughter that he had to look up again. She was grinning wryly. "If you're looking for guilt, Giles, I'm not your man." He breathed a short laugh of his own to hear her throw back the words he had spoken to her once before, right after she had suffered another betrayal, however inadvertent.

Her smile widened at his response. "Which is not to say that I'm not gonna throw this up at you like, every time we argue for the next couple months. Or years. Or decades."

He bowed his head and let himself smile, a real smile that stretched his face in ways he'd forgotten over the dreadful last week. He was going to be forgiven. Oh, he was aware that there would be repercussions, that he had still lost an irrevocable piece of Buffy's trust... but there would be a chance to make amends.

A chance to earn the forgiveness Buffy had, against all odds, granted him.

Giles pulled himself together as much as possible and looked up again, to find Buffy slumping in her seat, obviously barely able to keep her eyes open, what little energy she had left expended on soothing him.

A fine Watcher... ex-Watcher he was tonight.

Firmly pushing aside all emotional considerations for later, he placed the newly wet towel against the girl's face again. "I'll get you some ice for that eye," he said gently, "then we'd best be getting you home to rest. Your mother will be waiting."

"'Kay." she mumbled without opening her eye. "Home's nice."

He considered, then asked, hesitantly, "Would you like me to call your mother to come get you? Cordelia, perhaps? Oz?" The last possibility was the hardest; it almost stuck in his throat. "Angel?"

Her eye opened wide, then, slowly, she shook her head. "No. S'okay. Can you take me?"

He nodded in return, smiling. "Of course."

By the time he returned with one of the many cold packs stored in his office, she had drifted into a half-doze, and winced and shifted only when the icy bag touched her face. "Buffy?" he asked gently. "Can you walk?"

Her eyes came ever-so-slightly open as she considered it. "Uh-uh," she said finally. "Don't think so. Think I'm gonna need a ride."

"Ah. Yes." He bent to slide his arm under her knees, another around her shoulders, and lifted her, then paused as deja vu hit. He'd carried Buffy when they'd first met, when she'd almost died from a spell cast by Amy Madison's mother.... How far they'd come since then. Yet she seemed to weigh no more in his arms now than she had nearly two years ago, when he'd cradled her close, praying he had the strength and knowledge to keep her alive.

He prayed it again now.

"Giles?" Buffy mumbled sleepily as he settled her against his chest and started towards the door.

"Yes, Buffy?"

"You're still gonna patrol? Tonight?"

"Yes, I am. Kralik might have made other vampires, and they might be out."

"Then could you call Angel, anyway? To go with you?" She snuggled her cheek against his wrinkled shirt. "I don't want you to get hurt."

He blinked, breathed deeply, and saw Jenny's eyes float in front of him, the blank, dead stare that had haunted his nightmares for the last months. Something else he'd said to Buffy months before floated through his mind -- 'To forgive is an action of compassion... It's not done because people deserve it. It's done because they need it.'

And he blinked again, and saw Jenny as she had been before that last terrible night -- gently teasing him, her eyes full of light and love. And compassion.

Given the circumstances... perhaps it was time to put his money where his mouth was. To return the gift that Buffy had given him tonight. Somehow, he thought Jenny would have understood.

"Yes, Buffy. I will ask Angel for help."

"Cool." She snuggled closer and dropped off to sleep. Walking slowly and carefully, Giles carried his Slayer home.

The diary slips closed as I finish reading the last entry, then stare off into space. I had known, of course, of the ritual Slayers must undergo on their 18th birthday -- the drugs, the trial, the test. I had even, in the back of my mind, begun assembling possibilities for Faith's trial, should she reach 18. It was an academic exercise, considering a time-honored ritual meant to ensure the Slayer's abilities and the Watcher's objectivity. The most noble of all possible goals, with the most solid historical reasons behind them, the Council assures us all. A test not only of a Slayer's strength, but of a Watcher's.


Yet it is one thing to think of a nameless Slayer, deprived of her powers and triumphing by her wits alone, as her Watcher looks on dispassionately and makes notes. It is quite another to imagine Buffy trapped with a maniac, alone and defenseless, her face streaked with blood and tears as she tries to save her mother. Achieving... not a magnificent victory, but one too nearly lost completely. While the Council, in the form of Quintin Travers, sits back and watches -- and lifts not a finger to help either of them.

My head, carefully taught by the Council, believes that Travers is correct, that Giles has failed in his duties as a Watcher, for all that Buffy prevailed over her trial by fire.

My heart cannot help but feel for Giles, as he was asked -- ordered -- by the Council to do the one thing we are taught never to do. To betray his Slayer.

And neither head nor heart knows if I would have done as Giles did, and told the Council to go to hell. A few weeks ago, I could have answered with a ringing, certain "No." But this is not a few days ago. And the Slayers have faces now.

*My* Slayers.

I read these diaries once before looking for mistakes. This time, I read them looking for answers -- how to make these Slayers respond to me as they do to Giles (although, one would hope, with a modicum of respect, which he seems to have entirely foregone), how to corral this mob of teenagers (as it is apparent they are going nowhere), how to deal with... uncontrolled circumstances. How to do the job I was sent to do.

Instead, I have found only more questions, more confusion as to the role I must assume.

It should not possible to balance the responsibilities of a Watcher with affection for the Slayer. How can one be Watcher *and* father, love a child and then send that child out to fight and kill and die? Quite simply, one cannot. Affection leads to weakness leads to a dead Slayer -- yet Buffy Summers has survived.

Slayers should be solitary, depending only upon themselves and their Watchers. But Buffy and Giles have amassed a gang of assistants and hangers-on -- of friends. Toy soldiers, ill-equipped to fight a war, yet fighting it nonetheless. Weak points in the Slayer's armor if ever any existed -- yet Buffy Summers has survived.

Slayers should not love, should not allow themselves to be distracted by the opposite sex in any way. Their energy must go towards the Slaying, towards beating back the darkness and keeping themselves alive. Still, Buffy... loves Angel, a vampire, despite the fact that their love almost killed them both, and did kill Giles' lover -- yet Buffy Summers has survived.

Against all odds, against all traditions, against everything the Council teaches, she has survived. And perhaps that, in itself, is proof enough that even the Council can make mistakes.

But I do not have to repeat those mistakes, if I can somehow learn to tell the difference between those things taught by the Council that will keep my Slayers alive, and those taught by Giles and his toy soldiers, the things that will let my Slayers *live*.

Giles' diary lies forgotten on my lap as I stare out over the empty library and watch the sun slowly lighting the windows, and wait for my chance to begin again.

"Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve.
And I am not resigned."
   -- 'Dirge Without Music', Edna St. Vincent Millay



Originally published in The Return of the Sunnydale Slayers, this is, to my knowledge, one of the first pieces of Wesley fic written, way back when he was an annoyance on Buffy rather than a reasonably cool guy on Angel. As such, I'm rather proud of it. But it turned out to be much more a Giles story than I had intended, the only one I've ever written, and a response the lack of time devoted to Giles' relationships with the people who weren't Buffy.