With a certain amount of resignation, Giles viewed the interior of the Sunnydale High library. It had been repaired in his absence, and the repairs had done nearly as much damage to his filing system as the original earthquake. Forgetting himself, he sighed. And he had just finished the dusty, messy job of clearing out his office in London...
"You're definitely going to need some help in here," Calendar said. She had been the only person he could think of to call when he had landed in California and found that his car had been towed from the long-term parking he had placed it in. She had cheerfully come down to get him, and cheerfully chattered in his ear all the way back to Sunnydale, mostly about a diary that had been discovered in Napa Valley that had been written about a century ago and had answers to several unsolved mathematical equations that would revolutionize the computer industry.
Giles sighed again. "Yes," he said finally, surveying the wreckage, "I am."
They worked throughout the afternoon companionably enough, Calender pausing occasionally to look through some of the more arcane volumes she found carelessly stacked here and there. "Gonna have to learn Latin," she muttered at one point, flipping through a volume done in exquisite calligraphy.
"I'll teach you," Giles said absently, rescuing a three hundred year old volume from the floor and frowning at the cracks in the binding. When she didn't say anything, he glanced up to meet her eyes.
"Thanks." She smiled tentatively. "I was going to look for a Web site that had lessons or something but... thanks."
Suddenly embarrassed, Giles put the book down on a shelf. "It's nothing. It would be... helpful to have someone else who can decipher these volumes."
Shortly after sundown, pleading exhaustion, she left. "Don't work too hard, Rupert," she scolded lightly as she gathered up her purse and some papers.
"I won't... blast it, what *is* your first name? If you insist on torturing me with Rupert."
Calendar grinned and waved on her way out the door. "It's Nikki. And no, I'm not telling you what that's short for."
Chuckling, Giles continued his labors under the glare of artificial light. Oddly enough, he didn't mind being there as much as he thought he would. His memory of the night of the Master's death was still vivid, but more than bearable. He had other memories...
He paused while straightening the stack of previous Watcher's diaries. Harriet Wentworth's would be there, he knew. He had scanned it briefly, months before, looking for clues about the vampire she had called Angelus. But he hadn't read carefully, hadn't paid attention to the fate of the Slayer she had guarded...
Slowly, he sorted through the stack. Hers was fairly thin, no more than a couple hundred pages, bound in boards rather than in leather. He lifted the cover with a hesitant hand, and stopped.
A sound... no, not quite a sound. A *sense* made him look up, expecting to see Calendar -- Nikki? -- return, Willow reclaim her spot behind the computer, Buffy charging in to declaim *something* vitally important, Xander at her heels.
Instead, it was the boy that Giles had met so briefly in his travels to Ireland and the eighteenth century. Except that he was no longer a boy. Two centuries of vampirehood and a restored soul had changed him.
But now, at least, there was one person who knew what he had been before.
Angel had one of the oldest of the diaries in his hands, and was deeply engrossed in the text. Giles had seen him last the night that the Master died. The contrast between the very modern-looking man before him and the boyish novice in a monk's robe was jarring.
Angel looked up and met Giles' eyes. "Quite a library."
"Yes." Still holding Harriet's diary, Giles stepped out from the stacks to come face-to-face with Angel. "Yet I didn't have the volume that I needed at the time I needed it. I don't believe I ever thanked you for that. I -- I am thanking you now."
Angel shrugged. "It was nothing. I... knew that it would be needed."
"How did you get it?" Giles kept his voice very deliberate.
Smiling slightly, Angel replaced the manuscript he had been reading. "You gave it to me."
Imperceptibly, Giles' shoulders relaxed. "I wasn't sure at first," Angel continued quietly. "But I remembered tales about the dance. And I remembered your voice when you called me here, when you read the Codex and knew Buffy's fate. It was the same as the man who gave it to me two centuries before. A physical resemblance I could understand. But... it was the same man."
Giles closed his eyes, remembering. "It was all I could do. As little as it was."
The wind outside rustled the trees, wailing slightly in the night. "Do you know what happened to her?" Angel's voice was low and hoarse.
"To Deirdre?" Giles shook his head. "I have all the diaries of the Watchers before me, but frankly, they offer little information of use to me. Knowing the past is rarely helpful. My books of lore are my tools. I skim the diaries for information on specific vampires, should they appear in the Slayer's vicinity, but knowing the lives of previous Slayers is rarely useful."
"But you could find out."
Giles glanced at the volume in his hand. "Yes. Yes, I could find out. Do you... do you truly want to know?"
Angel raised his eyes to meet Giles'. After a very long moment, he shook his head. "No. I don't. It's not... necessary." Angel opened and closed a few books, obviously stalling for time. "I... I want to you know... if you need any help, I want to help you. Help Buffy."
"I thought you were going to... refrain from seeing Buffy."
"I can't." The words were rough with feeling.
Despite himself, Giles smiled ruefully. "That was your answer when I asked you if you were going to see her." Turning to place Harriet's diary on a shelf, he said casually, "I believe she is meeting Willow and Xander at the Bronze for a welcome home party."
When he turned back, Angel was gone.
"Ugh." Willow shuddered. "I've always hated that story."
The Bronze was comfortably familiar. Loud music, lots of people, and Buffy, Willow and Xander seated around a table. Willow and Buffy were sharing a piece of Chocolate Sin cake, with Xander sneaking bites when he thought neither of them were looking.
"It's definitely no longer one of my favorites either." Xander shuddered. "And then Pete told the one about the golden arm, and then Josh told one about a chick with an ax and..."
"I can see where this is going." Buffy slapped Xander's hand away from the last bite of the chocolate cake.
"But they went away, right? When you told a story about a disappearing girl?"
"Yeah. Hey, don't look so surprised. I've got a brain."
"It even gets used sometimes, too," Buffy said dryly.
"I don't want to wear it out," Xander protested.
Buffy and Willow looked at each other, and cracked up.
"Your dad's okay, though, right?" Willow asked anxiously.
"Yeah. He thinks that someone just flipped and he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm just really glad that everything turned out okay."
"You know, you could have called me for help," Xander told her in his best suffering-put-upon-male voice. Buffy just rolled her eyes.
"So, Will, tell me about this guy Rick. Is he cute?"
"Rick? Rick? Who is this? Will..." Xander went into immediate panic mode.
Buffy planted her elbows on the table, and propped her chin up, bestowing a beatific smile on her two buds. Behind her, a sixth Slayer sense told her that a vampire was watching her. From Willow's drifting eyes and smiles, and her own intuition, she knew who it was.
She didn't have to talk to him tonight. It was enough to know he was there.
"What's the grin for?" Xander asked.
Buffy slung her arm around him. "It's... just good to be home."
"Xander," Willow's exasperated voice sounded from the stacks, "I know that library systems are strange things to you, but even you can put things in numerical order..."
Buffy, Willow and Xander were helping Giles restock the library shelves with their dusty volumes of gloom and doom. Bright sunlight shone on the new woode n desk and sent dust motes dancing in the beam. Nikki breezed in, and stopped dead when she saw the three teenagers clustered around the librarian. She blinked, then grinned. "Sorry, even now that I know the deal, it's still weird to see kids in school in the summer. Voluntarily, even."
"That's us," Willow said brightly. "Weird."
"Besides, summer's almost over," Buffy added, dusting her hands off, and examining the grime under her nails with disgust.
"And we have a lot to catch up on," Giles said severely, looking over his glasses at an unconcerned Buffy.
"Cool enough," Nikki said. Walking over to one of the stuffed trucks of books, she heaved some up and pitched in. "So, Giles, what's the score in your magic Codex? Does it tell us what happens next?"
"I, um, am afraid I don't have it any more," Giles pulled off his glasses and cleaned them.
Nikki put the books down with a thump that raised more dust in a shimmering cloud around her. "You don't have it? You *lost* it?"
"No!" Giles denied vehemently. "I deemed it necessary to pass it on to someone else. Unfortunately, it is now impossible for me to retrieve it."
"So we're flying blind again," Buffy said. She crossed her arms and leaned a hip against the central table. "Should be interesting."
"You have no idea," Giles said. He paused and watched as Nikki was dragged into the stacks and a three-way conversation, listening to Willow describe a mathmatics-minded ghost and Xander tell his tale about how telling tales nearly got him and his friends killed. Quietly, Giles said, "I apologize for not being there when you needed me."
Buffy smiled a little at him. "Hey, it's okay."
"No, it isn't. I'm your Watcher. It is my responsibility and my duty to look out for you."
"You're human, Giles." Buffy perched on the table beside where he was standing. "If you could have been there, you would have. And...."
Buffy broke off, embarrassed. "What?" Giles asked her.
"I'm sorry about the night I ripped into you." She pleated the meager material in her skirt, not meeting his eyes. "You know, when you told me about the prophesy."
"When you overheard me telling Angel about the prophesy," Giles interjected.
Giles fumbled with putting his handkerchief back into his pocket, pushing his glasses up his nose. "There is... there is no need to apologize. You were understandably distraught."
Buffy smiled. "Thanks. So you don't need to be sorry and I don't need to be sorry."
They sat in meditative silence for a moment, and then Giles said, "There is one thing that puzzles me."
"What? Only one thing?"
Giles ignored her. "You know, quite a bit less than a year ago, I came here thinking that I would be guiding the Slayer in her destiny. Very simple. Very direct. And that's the last time anything was simple and direct." He paused as Nikki's laugh drifted out to where he and Buffy were. "How we managed to... accumulate, I really don't understand."
"Giles just lucky, I guess," Buffy deadpanned, looking at the three emerging from the stacks again, knowing that there was one more that Giles was referring to who was a part of their little circle. She knocked against his shoulder lightly. "All I know... it's better than being alone."
Leaning companionably, they watched Nikki and Willow and Xander bicker among themselves about the difference between Willow's ghosts and Xander's monsters.
The library doors heaved open, and a dark-haired whirlwind blew in. "Guys!" Cordelia cried. "You are just *not* going to believe what happened to me over the summer!"
Xander, Willow and Nikki stopped their argument and turned to look at her. Buffy slid off the table. Giles pushed his glasses up his nose again.
As one, they looked at each other, and burst out laughing.
THE END, REALLY THE END, FINALLY, COMPLETELY THE END
Buffy's Story | Giles' Story | Xander's Story
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