This little Giles bit follows directly upon "The Dark Age."
With big TYKs to Betsy for quick research help, Cath Boone, Lizbet, and Perri for some serious beta reading, and Chris for the eleventh-and-three-quarters-hour phone call to _insist_ that I give him a job history (and to help me figure out what it was :)!
And if Giles _ever_ jumps me at 7 a.m. after only three hours sleep needing to bare his soul on the DC Metro again... so help me, I'll throttle him! :-p
And Ethan laughed... and laughed....
Rupert Giles scrambled upright in his bed, the wreck of twisted covers refusing to let him find forgetful absolution in the daylight sun.
Eyghon was gone, dead, dispersed. Shoved back into the Hellhole in which they'd found him twenty years ago. Back then it had just been a desperate hope-- and one that seemed born out by the mercifully passing years. But this time he was sure of it. Angel's personal demon had finally finished what they had so rashly started.
And yet the sins of the past would still not let him be. Willow's plan had rid them all of Eyghon, but nothing so simple and elegant would free him from his own conscience.
Jenny had been right to pull away, he lectured himself. His past held too many secrets to allow any hope of a happy future.
Now she knew-- now they all knew-- what he had been, what he had done. As with anyone's past, anyone's mistakes, they had in no small part shaped the man he was today... the Watcher he was today.
Xander had once joked that Jenny was ideal for him because she already knew of his position as school librarian-- thus eliminating what Xander saw as a painful revelation. The small smile at the thought of his "kids"-- and, with a shock he realized that in some way that was how he had come to think of them-- faded almost instantly.
He wasn't a school librarian, of course. No kind of librarian at all, truth be told. He'd never returned to finish reading history at Oxford. But that was a necessary fiction-- a simple way to disguise his position as Watcher.
But then he wasn't the Watcher either. Another necessary fiction, but one that weighed far more heavily on his mind.
Randall had been the next Watcher-- and they'd killed him.
Oh, Randall had joined the game willingly enough. Indeed he had brought the requisite knowledge-- ancient crumbling books, mystical 'tools' of uncertain origin that looked for all the world like relics from an old black-and-white horror film.
But it had been Ethan and Rupert that had egged him on.
For Ethan it had always been purely about the power-- gaining it and testing it against the terrible powers of the unseen night. But for Rupert there had also been a genuine curiosity-- a fascination with the sense of destiny inherent in such a calling.
He had no such sense of history-- of a future-- himself. He had spent so much time at boarding school that he could not honestly say how much genuine grief had been behind the tears he wept at his family's funeral.
'So sad. Such a shock. Tragic. The poor boy....' What was there really to say to a seventeen-year-old boy suddenly alone in the world? The insurance-- both from the fire itself and from his parents' life policies- - had seen to it that money was not an issue in his life.
And, for a long time there, nothing else was either. He passed his A- levels, because it was expected. He went to Oxford, because it was expected. He did well because he was bright-- and because it was expected.
Then, suddenly, in the library stacks one day he decided instead to worship the unexpected.
In doing so, of course, he had followed the classic pattern of youth rebellion that was as old as humankind. Looking back at it, he had once again done the expected-- only deluding himself with his belief in the novelty of it.
But Randall had had a true calling, and on some level it mystified Rupert that he should seem to find it such a burden. The study, the training, Randall's mocking parodies of his grandmother's seemingly endless lectures on duty and responsibility, his confession of rebellion at a young age, insisting that he would be a RAF fighter pilot instead. Rupert would have given so much for such an intrinsic meaning to his own life, such a sense of inevitability and purpose to his own existence.
Randall had been happy to share what he knew with his friends-- his own form of rebellion-- testing the truth that the power to heal is also the power to kill, that to know how to contain the darkness is also to know how to release it.
Philip, Deirdre, and Thomas had just been along for the ride-- recklessly eager to try any new high. But it was Ethan and Rupert who had coaxed Randall into bringing Eyghon out again... and again... until they grew casual and careless and....
After that night Rupert had been the one to gather all of Randall's things together, Ethan's laugh still ringing in his ears. It was a laugh not hysterical and not panicked, but still giddy with the rush-- a thrill undampened by something so trivial as the death of a friend.
He had meant to deliver the books, the notes, the journals back to Randall's grandmother-- only to arrive at a house of mourning. The grandmother had finally succumbed to that most ancient of demons, Time, and the father had suddenly left for Japan-- following his duty and his charge, no doubt.
And Rupert was left at a loss.
Their little group had disbanded that night-- as much in fear of police questioning as in horror at what they'd done. And he was once again alone. Not knowing what else to do, he'd kept the books, the papers, the surprisingly arcane array of weaponry that he'd found in a back closet. He hadn't been able to stomach returning to Oxford and the life he'd had before, so he had drifted in and out of various research and consulting positions, trading heavily on his natural skill with languages.
And he'd begun to write to Randall's father. The airmail speed clear across the better part of the globe lent a leisurely tone to their correspondence. Rupert had simply introduced himself as a friend of Randall's from school who had lost track of him, until shocked by word of his sudden, unexplained death.
The father had welcomed the chance to speak of his son, and when, as the years began to pass, Rupert finally confessed to having learned of the family vocation, Randall's father accepted the revelation without qualm. Indeed, he began to confide in Rupert-- the worry, the stress, his fear at the depletion of the Watcher ranks.
Rupert's own sense of guilt made him leery of the topic, even as he could not let it go. So he knew when Randall's father retired, turning the mantle over to a cousin, Merrick. He continued to follow at one step removed until word came of Merrick's sudden death in Los Angeles.
Randall's father wrote him from Osaka-- a letter full of duty and stiff upper lip and a determination to return to his post until a new Watcher could be trained, the tradition firmly reestablished.
It arrived the same day as the telegram from the British Consulate informing him that Randall's father had died of a sudden heart attack. They had found Rupert's name and address featured prominently in his private papers and, seeing as the man had left no will nor known family, they had sent official notice to him.
Rupert had never been so scared or so excited as at that moment, when he first knew what he must do. He had spent years living with the guilt. Now it was time to make things right.
There was still a Slayer in Los Angeles, alone and unprotected. He had helped to deprive her of the Watcher who should have guarded and guided her. Now there was no one left.
No one but him.
In a frenzy of activity he'd made arrangements for Randall's father's burial overseas and for his personal possessions to be shipped out, General Delivery, Los Angeles, California. He gave formal notice at the several government and research offices for which he did on-call translation work, dug out everything he had saved of Randall's things, and made preparations to be stateside within the month.
Luckily his preliminary research turned up the fact that the Slayer had actually moved outside of Los Angeles proper during the course of the summer. Doctoring up enough credentials to impress the school board of Sunnydale, California, and convince them that he would make an excellent-- and economical-- high school librarian was simple. (Too simple, in fact. The British Museum? What had he been thinking? He'd had to devise a strong hint of obscure academic scandal on-the-spot in order even begin to explain such a 'career move'.)
He was also more than a little chagrined to realize how easily he fit the role already. He didn't even need a new wardrobe. With a sigh he realized that the aspiring Bad Boy had apparently fallen by the wayside long before.
From the moment he accepted his self-imposed calling, Rupert had spent every spare moment poring through the old journals and the cracked tomes Randall's grandmother had pressed upon him.
Of course he intended from the start to explain to her, the Slayer, what had happened. Not the horrors twenty-years past, but the immediate situation. He planned to admit to her his necessary usurpation of the post of Watcher, to ask her patience as he tried to learn a lifetime's lore in the blink of a demon's eye....
Until he finally met her.
God, she was so young! He'd never consciously reconciled the thought of such power and responsibility in the form of one barely more than a child.
And she wanted no more part of her destiny. He'd been shocked, completely taken off-guard by what-- in retrospect-- was a perfectly reasonable reaction. He'd expected to encounter the semi-mythical Slayer-- and had been blindsided by the reality of a scared, angry, sixteen-year-old girl named Buffy.
He'd known instantly that he couldn't confess his assumed office. Without a genuine Watcher to offer her, how could he convince her to resume her place as Slayer? And resume it she _must_, for otherwise the demons would stand unopposed, and there would be nothing to prevent more deaths like Randall's or to keep such forces from becoming pawns in the hands of those like Ethan.
So he'd kept mum as her role had slowly retaken her. That was the reality of a genuine destiny, he supposed-- there was no escape from it.
For his part he'd studied and read and fought to overcome a truly daunting learning curve. Somehow he'd managed to stay a bare chapter ahead of his pupil (who had soon somehow become only Head Girl in a whole tutorial section), reaching desperately for Randall's books when he found himself at a loss, and relying heavily on memories and a few extra decades of pure life experience to get himself over the rough spots.
And still, after all that had been revealed this past night, for all the closeness and dedication they both now shared, still this one thing he could not bring himself to tell her:
You are the first Slayer, I think, in recorded history to be without a Watcher to protect you-- and I am in a very real way to blame for that. What can I say, but I'm sorry? And I am, more than you can know, because you deserve so much better.
You deserve the best support possible-- and it frightens me half to death to realize that that means _me_. And if you ever come to harm because I've failed you, because I couldn't truly be what you needed, I will never be able to forgive myself.
But they were true-- every one of them. And the nightmares and the inner isolation of that final secret-- they were still his penance for a terrible mistake one night, long, long ago.
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