[With evil, inspirational help and nagging from Chris *unrepentant giggles* Kamnikar. :-p]
//requisite author babble//
O.K., in watching 'Reptile Boy' it was quickly obvious to me that, while Giles may have many valid points in his dressings down of OFSlayer, his crabby tone comes pretty much out of nowhere. This is, therefore, my explanation of the 'nowhere'. (Kinda like a Chaos Challenge... only not. :-)
Chris suggested while we were watching the first time through that Ms C _must_ have either had a big fight with him or be out of town. *g* I agreed. I saw exactly what must have happened-- clearly from his POV-- so I transcribed the first Buffy & Giles scene from RB to be my ending and started in.
Only Rupert was _not_ being forthcoming, and I was forced to write his and Jenny's scene from an outside POV. Until, of course, halfway through, when I finally gave in and let Jenny Calendar just spill the whole thing in the first person. (That'll teach you to play coy with me, Scone Boy! :-))))
*Then*, of course, Kiki insisted on a follow-up, which Giles *did* finally spill. So now it's a two-parter-- the first before Reptile Boy, the second afterwards. (Damn, but she can be a naggy little beta-reader sometimes! *g*)
Giles, Jenny, and the rest of the crew aren't mine in any way, shape or form. They belong-- lock, stock and barrel-- to the WB, Mutant Enemy, and The Almighty Joss. I just had a little fun with them and now I'm putting them back, 'K? 'K. (Blah, blah, bitty, blah. I'm so broke. Don't bother trying to sue....)
"You're going to _Venice_?"
Rupert Giles, high school librarian by trade and Watcher by vocation, paused mid-stride and turned a startled gaze on me.
In no particular hurry to make my early-morning 'Staff/Administration Communication Session'-- or, as Principle Snyder liked to put it, my "Show-Up-and-Shut-Up Meeting"-- I stopped as well and smiled. "Venice _Beach_. You know, in L.A?"
"Oh! Right. Of course," he nodded vigorously-- failing, as he did so, to hide a gratifying level of relief.
You know-- I thought with a private grin as we fell back into step-- for someone who so embodies that old-fashioned, proper, British reserve, he can be amazingly transparent sometimes.
"And then on to Tijuana... you know, in Mexico?" I continued. He gave me a sideways glare for that one. "Yep. Every teacher's dream: A week and a half of playing hooky in the middle of the semester." I sighed dramatically, "You know, I miss Principal Flutie."
I didn't miss Giles' wince, but he shrugged it off, and so I let it go. He took a quick glance around, before responding wryly: "And Herr Snyder is going along with this?"
I snickered. Two cultures, two countries, two genders-- forever united in their dislike of one man. The U.N. should really give it a try.
"No choice. I got it in writing from Flutie three days before... well...." This time I was the one who stopped, eyeing my companion with a sudden caution. Once again the little kaleidoscope pieces of life suddenly fell into a slightly sharper focus. _Oh_.
"Uh, I'm guessing now that you knew more about that little incident than most people. Am I right?"
Instead of looking at me, Rupert kept his eyes focused forward, on nothing in particular. He swallowed nervously and opened his mouth several times, as if to say something... but no sound came out.
"I probably don't want to hear about it right now, do I?"
"Uh, no. No, I think better not," he responded, relief once again very much in evidence. That bad, huh? Well, I could let him off the hook for that story right now, secure in the knowledge that he _had_ been trying to find a way to share what had obviously not been a pleasant experience. After all, as far as I knew he had no other adult to share his terrible secrets with. And, just judging from what I already knew, his secrets _were_ pretty terrible.
As far as I was concerned, since I was in this now, I might as well be in it all the way. If nothing else, my curiosity would never have let sleeping hell-hounds lie. I had been afraid he'd try to hold out on me-- some old-fashioned, theoretically flattering notion of 'shielding' me, no doubt. But once again he'd genuinely surprised me.
Meanwhile we'd resumed our walk and were quickly approaching a parting of the ways-- he to the library, me to open the computer lab before I headed off to hear Snyder carry on about how I'd never get a break like this again on _his_ watch. Time was running short.
I tried to think of somewhere to broach my next subject. The teacher's lounge was no good-- the few times I'd ever even seen Rupert in there he kept completely to himself. He'd go completely turtle on me.
I looked over at him. He was apparently still deep in unpleasant memories. This would be _good_ for him, I told myself, completely aside from how appealing it sounded to _me_....
Snagging him by one sleeve I guided him to the slight corner where the hall met the side of the staircase. Students continued to stream by, but here we were at least out of the main current.
"Come with me."
Before the blinking I suddenly faced could be joined by stuttering, I jumped in to clarify: "Look, this isn't like a heavy-duty come-on or anything, and I know it's really, really late notice. Cami was going to go with me, but her mother's been really sick and she needs to stay with her. I was just going to head down alone, but Chris and Tracy have everything planned out for four and they said to bring someone else if I could. So...," I forced myself to pause, consciously halting the stream of adolescent babble that seemed to be issuing from my mouth, "..._can_ I?"
"You... you... you and... and I? To... together? _Now_?"
So much for heading off the stutter. It _was_ damned cute, I had to admit. But now he was looking at me in utter shock-- good, bad, or otherwise I had yet to determine.
"Look, I think you really could use the time off, you know? It'd be perfectly proper and all," I reassured him. "You'd be sleeping on their couch...."
The shock had clearly turned to distress by now. He kept opening and closing his mouth, starting sentences that refused to materialize, words failing him utterly.
"It's a very nice couch." Lighthearted, I reminded myself firmly as I felt a distinct sinking feeling in my gut. Casual. Relaxed. Non- threatening. Nothing that would trigger a turtle-like reflex in him.
Or that would leave too much of my own pride exposed. Maybe time for some humor? "O.K., fine then. _I'll_ sleep on the couch!"
Damn! Why hadn't I waited to catch him alone in the library? But I knew why. Bearding the lion in his own den gave him too much of an advantage. I'm not sure I would even have found the guts....
"No, I just... I just don't...."
I was wincing internally by this point. O.K., Girl/Guy Nightmare #228. Been here, done this. How fast can I disappear with even a modicum of grace? I found myself making mental asides to the passing students: I bet you all think this gets easier when you're a grown up, right? Hah!
"Look, I don't mean.... Or rather...." He was looking at me intently now, determined to convey something that I was becoming more and more certain I probably didn't want to hear. "Listen, I'm certain your friends-- and their couch-- are very nice and all. It's just that, well, I _can't_ right now...."
O.K., I know when it's time to cut your losses. "Look-- too much, too soon, too weird. I get it. It's O.K. Forget I said anything."
_That_ was loud enough to draw curious stares and too-knowing snickers from a few of the passing students. He laid a hand on my arm for a moment as he turned our conversation further away from the passing crowds.
When he spoke, his voice was notably lower and softer. "Ms--" He looked heavenward for a moment, then tried again. "_Jenny_..." I smiled a little in approval while I wondered how the simple use of a first name from him could seem so _intimate_. It was doing things that stuffy, proper, very British librarians just really weren't supposed to be doing to your insides. "I would really very much like to go...." And he meant it. I swallowed and hoped like hell it wasn't visible. "I just _can't_. Not _now_...."
There was real regret there. And I shared it. Oh come on! This could work _somehow_... right? "So, if you can't duck out on Mine Fuhrer for a week, just make it a long weekend at the beach. We leave this afternoon, spend the weekend, you call in sick Monday, and then Chris and Tracy and I will wave 'Hasta la vista, baby!' and head off to Mexico while you come back here."
But he was shaking his head and absently fiddling with his glasses. "I can't just leave now, I'm needed...."
"Oh lighten up, Rupert! A day or two won't matter. I bet you no one even notices the library's closed!"
I said it joking. And I was-- chiding him for what I thought was a prissy sense of duty, and trying to get him to lighten up on the little things in life a bit. But I heard the mistake as soon as I said it. Way to go, Jenny! I kicked myself. Hard. Completely dis the man's chosen profession, why don't you?
He didn't look happy, but from the frown and the dismissive head- shake I'd obviously hit on the wrong problem, so he seemed to have let it slide by. I thanked Goddess for small favors.
"I am The Watcher." And the capitals were clearly there in his voice. "I have a duty, not only to the Slayer, but to everyone who lives on the Hellmouth. I can't simply 'take off' for the weekend."
Suddenly I had a terrible sinking feeling and my voice instinctively dropped to a low whisper. "What is it?"
Rupert looked at me in confusion, so I prompted him: "Vampires? Demons? Armageddon? Something worse?" Did I even want to know? Regardless, I would have to call Chris & Tracy and cancel. There was no way I could go on vacation while who knows what forces of evil were attacking those near and dear back home....
"No, no. Actually, things seem to have been very quiet of late. I'm not aware of any prophecies imminent, and Buffy has actually reported a slight decrease in her...," He looked up, both of us seeming to remember only then that we were still standing in a school hallway, "In her, um, 'encounters'."
"Sounds like the perfect vacation time to me!"
"No, I must be here for her. To guide her...."
"I'm only talking a weekend here, Rupert. Not the rest of the millennium." I let out a sigh of frustration. "She survived all summer without you hanging over her shoulder. And it's not like she's going to have you around forever, right? Let her spread her wings a bit."
This time I didn't have to kick myself. The stricken look on his face did it for me.
It was gone in a second, transmuted into righteous annoyance, but it had been there just the same. Sometimes, the little common-sense censor in my brain steps out for a smoke and before I know it, I'm saying things that make me want to wash my own mouth out with soap.
Forget his profession. After all, I'd doubt as a child he dreamed at night of becoming a high school librarian in a little California town. That's just a convenient means to his true vocation-- which I've now managed to trivialize... at the same time I'm kicking one foot into the grave. Some days I hate my brain.
Bravely-- and in the absence of any brighter thoughts-- I tried to brush it off. "Hey, I just mean she can take a break herself. Kick back a little...."
"No." He was actually scowling at me, as though the thought of having fun was a moral outrage of some kind. "It is now that Buffy must practice. There is much that she must learn. She must keep her skills honed; develop them against future threats; push herself ever harder...."
Sounded like a damned depressing future to me. "Look, she's got to rest sometime. You'll burn her out at this rate!" Great. 3 and 0 and I just couldn't seem to shut up. This was _not_ going the way I'd planned....
Luckily, our mutual arms escalation was stopped by the warning bell. It was some comfort to think that he looked as confused and frustrated as I felt.
"I've got to meet with Snyder."
He nodded-- one of those brisk, restrained, curt little cranky-Brit nods, opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it, nodded again, and left in the direction of the library.
Not good, Jenny.
Damn! Not good at all.
But it didn't matter, because I was off for some well-deserved fun and sun, far away from "The Undead's favorite party town," as Xander Harris had once so aptly put it. I was already packed, my last class ended at one, and I was off. No students, no computer viruses, no things that shouldn't go bump in the night... but do. And, most especially, _no_ uptight Brits with eyes and voices that, every so often, could just slice right through all the defenses I thought I'd been building up since I was these kids' age.
No. Not gonna think about him.
[Much later that night...]
Rupert Giles sighed as he pulled into his parking space and carefully extracted himself from the Citroen. Once again lives were saved, an ancient evil destroyed, and all members of their little band were safely accounted for.
He'd yet to find in any of the Watcher records evidence of a time when Slaying was carried out as such a team effort. Two high-school students-- and another who seemed always present under near-constant protest-- and a two-and-a-half century, re-souled vampire? Ridiculous!
And yet it worked. It worked frightfully well. And every time he was struck by a guilty conscience at the realization that he was involving what were almost still _children_ in such horrifying and dangerous endeavors, they came through at the last second, saving Buffy, himself, or, indeed, both of them.
From the beginning, of course, it had often enough been Xander or Willow who was in trouble and needed rescuing, but he had to admit-- without their assistance, Buffy's term as the Slayer would have ended almost before it began. It had happened before-- he had the sad historical records documenting it. Giles was honest enough with himself to admit that the fact that Buffy had not suffered such a fate had less to do with his own skill as a Watcher-- or even her own gifted ability as a Slayer-- than with the existence of their unprecedented support network.
As he opened the door to the dark and silent apartment, however, that train of thought invariably brought to mind the one member of their little "club," as Willow had put it at the time, who had been absent from tonight's events.
He'd been right, of course. Had he been on his way to Venice Beach with Jenny this afternoon, Buffy and Cordelia might well not have survived the night. His own part in their rescue had not been insignificant, after all. He _had_ been right to stay, to put duty above pleasure.
The thought didn't make him feel any better, though. Sometimes moral victory felt suspiciously like personal loss.
Giles flipped on the lights, dropped his satchel on the couch and hung up his coat. He just wished that he knew how to reach her. Having just endured another paranormal near-catastrophe had perversely made him want even more to take her up on her offer of a weekend away. Without any empirical rationale, he felt relatively safe leaving Buffy and the others for a few days. After all, never in their (admittedly still limited) experience had two such disasters followed upon each other *that* closely. It was almost as if the Hellmouth needed a few days or weeks to recover, to gather its strength before launching another attack upon this poor, abused town.
It was weak, he admitted. Nothing more than a Watcher's 'hunch' at best, and a self-indulgent justification at worst, but it _was_ also true that he couldn't be at Buffy's side night and day for the rest of their lives. Much as he hated to admit it, Jenny had been right. Willow, in her amazing burst of righteous anger on her friend's behalf, had been right. Buffy, for all her irresponsible attitude and mendacious ways, had been right.
Driving Buffy, or himself, twenty-four hours a day would only exhaust them, slowing their reflexes and dulling their senses. After all, it was a well-documented fact that adequate amounts of rest and relaxation were essential to any high-stress occupation....
And the thought of spending a weekend with Jenny was not at _all_ unpleasant. He was seriously starting to regret this morning's stubbornness.
He had already made himself a nice cup of Earl Grey and was preparing to sit down for a bit with a newly discovered volume on vampiric demonology before going to bed, when he noticed the red light on his answering machine blinking. For a moment, he simply blinked back, frankly unaccustomed to receiving many phone calls. It was with a slight feeling of dread that he reached over the arm of the couch and pressed the "play" button.
The sterile pre-recorded voice told him it had been left over an hour ago, in the midst of the fight at the fraternity house-- which meant at least that it was not word from Buffy or Willow that something else had hap....
"Hi there, Rupert. I've just gotten in at Chris and Tracy's here and thought I'd give a call. And yes, I know your number's not listed, but hey... where do you think Willow picked up half her hacking tips, huh? Not that it was all that hard.... O.K., I'm babbling again...."
The small smile that had appeared at the first sound of her voice was spreading slowly of its own volition across his face.
"Anyway, I just wanted to call and tell you I'm sorry for... well, let's just say I'm sorry for most of that conversation this morning. And I'm sorry we left on such bad terms, it's been bugging me the whole day.... Anyway, I'm sorry, O.K.? I really do respect the way you take care of Buffy and how seriously you take the Watcher thing. I don't know that I could do it. I just worry about you sometimes, you know? I mean you're so worried about everyone else, but who...."
There was a self-deprecatory chuckle from the tape, one that did quite amazingly un-Watcher-like things to his insides.
"O.K., I'm hanging up now before I make a complete fool out of myself again. I definitely need more sleep. But hey, if things stay quiet and all this weekend maybe I'll try back and see if I can catch you later... just to chat, you know? And if not-- since you're out _somewhere_ at this hour... and the phone at the library just rings off the hook.... Oh look, you've probably just got a hot date, right? But if things do get crazy and you need another grown-up to talk to... or someone to make a circle... or even a line with? I'll be at 213-555-1718. O.K., so.... Geez, answering machine message from hell, right? I need Buffy here to stake it and put it out of its misery. Anyway, I'm _going_ now. Have a great weekend, Rupert. Good night."
The line disconnected quickly, and Giles barely had time to drop the pen he'd pulled from his pocket and hit the "save" button before it rewound. Staring at the numbers marked hastily across his palm, he let the smile take control of his face.
He put away the book and returned to the kitchen to pour out the tea, humming some bright scrap of tune to himself. He needed his sleep, especially if he were going to make a phone call first thing in the morning.
After all, he had plenty of vacation time piled up already. Sick days too, if that's what it took....
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