She was going to kill Giles.
Buffy looked at her reflection in the dimly lit mirror. It frowned back at her as she washed her hands, a picture of perfectly executed make-up and barely restrained irritation. Giles was a dead man walking. She was going to kill him and then she was going to bury his body where no one would ever find it.
“I just want you to be happy, Buffy,” she mimicked nastily to her reflection, drying her hands upon a paper towel. “But you need to go out and meet people your own age. Date.”
And just how well was that going?
A grim sort of satisfaction filled her as she imagined staking her former Watcher, current boss (though only technically), and sometime not-quite-her-lover through the chest. It would possibly be more cathartic, she thought, if he would then disappear in a puff of dust, but given that he remained firmly in the land of the living, simple blood splatter would have to suffice.
With a growl of annoyance, she reached into her handbag and pulled from it a tube of violently red lipstick. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she applied a fresh layer, blending away the patches until her lips were a uniform red. Baring her teeth, she checked for transfer, before blotting away the excess with the corner of a tissue.
Next, she checked her dress, smoothing out the creases, then her hair, playing for time. Tonight she was wearing a rather impressive little black number, because really, could you ever go wrong with a classic LBD? Buffy thought not. High necked and cap sleeved, it skimmed over her curves, fitted but not tight, falling to her mid thigh in a swish of silk. Her legs were bare, and upon her feet were a pair of pointed stiletto heels, fire engine red to match her handbag. Long blonde hair, the ends curled to painstaking perfection, cascaded over her shoulders in shiny waves.
She looked fantastic, even if she did say so herself. Pity, then, that it was entirely wasted upon her dinner companion.
It wasn’t that James Beckwith was a bad person. Or even that he was bad looking. Quite the opposite. Perfect hair, chiselled jaw, muscled but not overly bulky; he looked like one of those models she’d seen on the front of GQ, all designer stubble and perfect tailoring. She’d say one thing in his favour: the man knew how to fill a suit, and an expensive suit at that.
No, on paper, he was perfect Buffy boy candy. He ticked all the boxes. He was even aware of the more supernatural elements of her existence, he too working for the Council, only in the Finances Department. It was just that he was deadly dull. So dull, in fact, that she had spent most of the previous hour trying not to poke her own eyes out with the cutlery just for a bit of excitement.
Over the course of an admittedly rather excellent three course dinner, they had broached such fascinating topics as the weather, the weekend engineering works on the Victoria and Central lines, his seemingly endless list of pet peeves regarding the upgrade to the Council’s accountancy software, and his predictions for the upcoming Premier League season. They did, at one point, stray briefly onto the topic of the coming season’s menswear, sartorial standards being of distinctly more interest to Buffy than either football or the recent heat wave. But it didn’t last, the conversation segueing, despite her best efforts, into one focused more on the range of the lunch menu in the Council canteen.
Almost bed-wetting excitement for James seemed to be more along the lines of finding pickle unexpectedly on a cheese sandwich. For a woman who spent her spare time hunting and subsequently dispatching some of the deadlier creatures in existence, it didn’t exactly make for stimulating conversation.
Not, she supposed, that he could help it. He was an accountant, after all.
Buffy sighed heavily, glancing at her watch. It was 9.30pm. The night was still young, and she was almost certain that James’ next topic of conversation would be about which bars in the vicinity were worth being ‘seen’ at, and which were not. Not that Buffy didn’t regard this as useful information, deep at heart she was still a Valley Girl, she just didn’t think the effort of suffering through several more hours of jejune James was worth it.
But what to do? It was too early to feign tiredness, and being a Friday evening, there was no excuse to be had regarding work the following morning. She couldn’t lie about patrol. As a Councilman, albeit one who worked in Admin, he probably knew the extent of her Slaying duties, so that was out.
‘Sorry, I find you super boring,’ was out, too. Besides, he was nice enough, just dull. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
Leaning against the sink, trying to work out her next move, Buffy heard the buzz of her phone as it vibrated against the countertop. She fished it out from the depths of her handbag and opened it with a flick of her wrist. On the screen a little icon bobbed up and down, indicating a new text message. It was from Rona.
Need files on polgara asap. 4 in NYC. Thxs.
Buffy grinned. The digital copies of those files were on the Council system; she’d need to be at her desktop to send them, which meant a trip to the office. Excellent.
Saved by the bell. Or, rather, the buzz.
She fired off a quick reply. Then, armed with the perfect excuse, she returned to the restaurant and her waiting date to give him the bad news.
After the destruction of the previous Council buildings by the agents of The First, the Watchers’ Council had relocated, taking up residence in Whitehall at the behest of the British Government. Though it still retained its independence, the new Watchers’ Council worked closely with the Secret Service and MoD, actively consulting on situations with more of a supernatural element than either organization were used to. It had been one of Robson’s bright ideas; secrecy was all well and good, but collaboration was better. It got things done. And so, as payment for their services, the Council had been given new offices right in the very heart of power, along with the freedom to operate as they saw fit.
It was a deal that had worked out very well for all parties concerned. The streets of London, and the wider world, were safer than ever before.
Passing through Trafalgar Square, tourists still milling about by the great fountains despite the late hour, she turned onto Whitehall then down a small, pedestrianized side street towards her destination. She passed the barriers and the glass security booth that guarded the entrance, flashing her ID as she went. Up the large stone steps to the mahogany doors that concealed a layer of blast-proof steel. The great, white edifice of the Council headquarters towered above her as she swiped her card for entry, the stone that made up its façade intricately carved around the windows and doors. The sound of clunking metal filled the air as the locks released, the door swinging open with an electric hum.
Stuffing her card back into her purse, Buffy walked into the foyer, her heels clacking noisily against the black and white tiles. Geoff, the Night Porter, gave her a cheery little wave from his desk as she made her way towards the lift and her office on the second floor. In his mid fifties, his hair a shocking white and his breathing laboured even at rest, Geoff Cowan had been one of the few to survive the bombing five years before. It was from the smoke, he’d told her when she’d asked about the wheeze, though she suspected the real culprit was the 40-a-day habit he’d had for the past twenty years, and probably the twenty before that. He reminded Buffy a little of her grandfather, albeit a stocker and with a Devonshire accent; both charming and sweet with a core of steel.
“Mr. Giles was looking for you earlier,” he said, leaning back in his chair and taking a sip from his steaming mug of tea. “Told him you’d gone home.”
Buffy paused, finger on the lift call button, turning to face the elderly Porter. He gave her a sympathetic smile, the white whiskers that decorated his upper lip bristling with the movement.
“Do you know why?” she asked carefully.
“Not a clue, Miss. I think he’s still here, though, if you want to ask him yourself.”
The man in question had been in a snit, according to the other Slayers, for most of the day, though god only knew why. Nothing the poor girls had done today had been right, with even their best efforts merely serving to add fuel to the fire. If Buffy were a betting woman, she’d have put money on it being something to do with her date this evening, as nonsensical as that was. After all, if had been Giles who had insisted she date; Buffy was merely following orders, if a little reluctantly. It helped keep the peace between them.
Only it didn’t, if today had been anything to go by.
The loud ding of the lift echoed through the almost empty foyer.
“Ground floor. Lift going up.”
Buffy sighed heavily. “Thanks for telling me.”
The lift took Buffy to the third floor of the left wing, the speakers set high into the walls playing The Girl from Ipanema on a crackling loop. She emerged into the high-ceilinged corridor with a purpose to her stride. Burgundy carpet stretched out beneath her feet, and from the ceiling hung warm lamps beneath cream shades, the fittings a burnished rose-gold. Upon the walls, portraits of long dead Lords, Ladies and other characters of notable rank hung in ornate frames, their names etched into brass plaques below. Doors to the offices of the high-ranking Watchers were spaced at even intervals down the hall, mirroring those below that belonged to the more senior Slayers. And, as with those below, they were dark and empty, their occupants having retired for the night, either to sleep or to slay.
At the very end of the corridor, behind a heavy oak door with a golden plate bearing the name ‘MR. R. E. GILES’, a light was shining. Giles was still working, it seemed. As she drew closer to his door, she wondered whether his mood had improved.
Only one way to find out.
The knock sounded dreadfully loud in the deserted hallway. Buffy brushed her hair out of her face as she waited for a reply. It did not take long.
“Yes,” came the barked response.
Steeling herself for the inevitable argument that would surely follow, Buffy opened the door, stepping inside his office with her head held high. She was still mad at him over her disastrous date. Not that it was really his fault. He hadn’t specifically chosen James as a potential paramour; that was something she had done alone. Indeed, Buffy wasn’t sure he even knew who James was. Nor had he made her fall dangerously close to being in love with him; she’d done that all by herself, too. But he had insisted she date, which was more than enough to provoke her ire, however displaced.
He was sat as his desk, frown creasing his brow as he glared down at the notepad on which he was hastily scrawling. Buffy could see the tension in his frame, in the way he held the pen, the point pushed deep into the paper as he wrote.
“Giles,” she said tartly.
“Oh, hello, Buffy,” he replied, his face softening as he looked up, placing the pen and the piece of paper he held in his right hand down upon the large box file that took up most of his desk. “You look nice.”
The complement caught her off-guard, knocking the wind from her sails. She felt her heart skip at his words, her stomach filled with butterflies. She willed the feelings away, well aware he meant nothing by it beyond mere friendly politeness.
“Er, thanks,” she said, irritation momentarily forgotten, letting his office door close with a soft click behind her. She stood frozen, trying to remember exactly why she’d knocked to begin with. After a moment, it came to her. “Geoff said you were looking for me.”
He waved away the statement with an air of casual dismissal, taking a large gulp of tea from the cup sat beside the keyboard. He grimaced, glaring down at the cup as he set it back down upon its saucer as though it had done him a terrible injustice.
“Urgh, cold,” he said, making a face. He blinked owlishly, giving his head a little shake as he did so, as though he were clearing out the cobwebs. “Geoff, did you say? I honestly can’t remember now. Probably wasn’t all that important.” His eyes seemed to refocus, coming to rest on her. “Off out for the evening?”
“Just came back, actually. Date night, remember? Had to bail,” she said, approaching his desk. “What are doing?”
“Nothing of any great significance,” he replied, snapping the open file shut before she had a chance to snoop further. “General admin, answering emails, that sort of thing.”
Buffy paused, thinking. He looked dreadfully tired. His hair was in disarray, its current state the product of weary fidgeting rather than any deliberate attempt at style; his tie hung loosely about his neck, the top two buttons of his creased shirt undone; there was a drawn look to his face, and what she suspected might be the beginnings of a tension headache. The last of her irritation evaporated.
“Well,” she said slowly, an idea forming, “if you’re not doing anything important, fancy playing hookey?”
He frowned. “Pardon?”
“Hookey. You know, bunking off. Truant.” She perched upon the edge of the desk, careful not to topple the precarious towers of files and books that littered its surface. “Wait, what did you call it at that meeting last week? Skiving?”
Giles rubbed his face, pushing his glasses up to his forehead.
“I don’t know, Buffy. I do have rather a lot to do.”
“It’s 10pm on a Friday. It’s practically the weekend.” She gave him a nudge, fishing the keys to his garden out of her purse. The jangled merrily between her fingers. “Live a little.”
Giles let out a long sigh, slumping back in his chair gracelessly.
“Well, I suppose I could come down with a terribly convenient case of skiveitis for the weekend,” he said thoughtfully. He gestured at the mess of his desk. “It’s not as though any of this is going anywhere anytime soon.”
“That’s the spirit.” She flashed him a toothy grin, sliding from her perch. “I’ve got to go and send some stuff to Rona. Something about Polgaras in New York. Ten minutes?”
“Fine,” he said with a nod. “But we’ll stay at mine tonight and head over to Gloucestershire in the morning. I’m not entirely confident I’ll manage the drive without incident.” He gave her a tired smile. “The spare room’s made up, in any case. And it saves me coming to pick you up in the morning.”
She tossed the keys towards him. He caught them deftly, sliding them into his trouser pocket where they jangled merrily against the change he kept there.
“Sounds good to me.”