Failed Attempts To Fly
The briefcase stood on his desk. It didn't look at all out of place, at all suspicious. Scuffed leather and dull brass clasps, the handle worn by years of use; it could be any middle-aged librarian's attaché, filled with the tedious paraphernalia of his profession: overdue notices and catalogues and articles on electronic filing that will never be read. Giles hunched forward in his office chair, his steepled fingertips pressed tightly against his lips. Hobson had left the case that morning, patting it with a grin and a wink, keeping an avid eye on the library doors until Giles told him sharply that Buffy was in class and Faith was no doubt sleeping off the night's patrol.
"Should we be seeing that second one off for the next few days, Rupert?" Hobson asked. "Wouldn't want her to get wind of this." He smirked, showing the points of his eyeteeth. "It'd only spoil the surprise."
Giles gripped the handle, still damp from Hobson's palm. "No."
"She'll like as not get in the way--"
"No." Giles forced his fingers to loosen on the case and relaxed his arm at his side. His shoulders were tense, knotted muscles hidden behind tweed and British politeness. He recognised Father's talking-to-servants stance; the sort one must use in a world that didn't believe in servants anymore. "No," he said again, and this time he shook his head and pulled his lips into a stiff smile.
"Awright, your call, you're the field Watcher." Hobson brushed off his hands, sweeping away his own involvement. He tipped an imaginary hat with a half-nod and a smarmy grin. He was whistling when he pushed through the swinging doors.
Giles held the briefcase out, moving it away from his body. Stepping quickly into his office, he set it down. Even among the parchments, the demonaries and grimoires, it looked utterly ordinary. Giles hadn't so much as noticed it, years ago when he had first seen it--sitting in Father's study, where he took his lessons in dead demon languages. The first memory he had of it was Father clutching it, his hand fisted and white around the handle, as though it contained a terrible weight. It was the only time Giles had seen him cry.
With a sudden squeaking of castors, Giles reached out both hands to the briefcase's clasps. The metal was cold, but it warmed quickly under his fingers. He paused, then drew his hand away across the smooth leather.
The tea in his mug was lukewarm. The circuit breaker for the outlet where he plugged his kettle had gone again. He called the janitor to reset it, then set water to boil. He glanced at his supply of tea bags, and took a tin of Darjeeling leaf down from an upper shelf. The milk would be turning in the next day or two. The sugar was hard.
It was Gran who came to stay with him that night. Father left with three others, men Giles vaguely recognised as hands ruffling his hair when he recited the V'g'ras Gsenthm word-perfect, or as dark mutters from the parlour on sleepless nights. Gran arrived in a fury, muttering Ptarthian curses. When she saw the briefcase, her face went white, and her hand fluttered to the locket at her throat. Giles had never seen the picture inside, though Gran opened it often. Her stories of Watching in Tunguska--for five years and eight months, for Katrina had been one of the best--always began with her swollen-knuckled fingers on that locket. They always ended with, "Hush, Rupert. The line passed to another Slayer, that's all. As it ought."
Giles raised his head when he heard voices in the library. Sighing, he pushed back from his desk. His tea had cooled again. Cradling the mug in his hands, Giles leaned against the office door, just out of sight of the main room.
"Seriously, B, it was fucking ten feet tall. And it stank--"
"Was there mucous?"
"There's always mucous."
"I'm really not getting the part where I'm supposed to be jealous." Buffy's voice was wry, but Giles heard the amused, teasing tone underneath. Gwendolyn Post had burned in Mynhegon's inferno weeks ago, and it seemed that Buffy and Faith were finally moving past the suspicion she had used to drive them apart. It had been at least as long since Giles had heard about Angel. Willow, in her endless cheerful prattle, had let it slip that Buffy had truly ended things with the vampire. Giles hadn't brought it up with Buffy directly; he was slightly uncomfortable with just how relieved he was to hear it.
"Are you kiddin' me, B? I'm fighting this thing, right, I'm going at it with a wicked battle axe, and I slice it wide open from kidney to kidney. It, like, exploded all over me. I am covered in goo, not in the naughty Jell-O wrassling kind of way--" Faith's voice dropped. Giles realized he was straining to hear better, and berated himself. Nevertheless, Faith's next words came clearly in the library's silence, husky and intense. "So you can imagine what I had to do next."
Giles' stomach tightened. He wasn't so old that he couldn't hear all that was implicit in Faith's voice. Teasing was the least of it. Good Lord, how long had it been since he had listened to Buffy's conversation? When had "Angel said..." been replaced with "Faith and I think..."? Almost without recognising his own actions, Giles took a step forward, inching closer to the threshold.
Buffy stood with her back to the check out counter. Faith leaned towards her, one hand on the counter top, half pinning her there. She whispered something in Buffy's ear, too softly for Giles to hear. Buffy shivered under Faith's breath, and turned her face slightly. Giles could see the hot flush spreading across her cheek, and he felt the flush rise through his own body. He shouldn't be watching this, yet his escape routes were blocked. The instant he walked out of his office, he would be caught.
Faith drew back from Buffy a fraction of an inch, a wicked grin on her face. Buffy was still blushing, but she didn't push Faith away, nor did she pull back herself. Faith murmured something else in low tones, and Buffy inhaled quickly, lightly.
"Faith--" Her voice was warning and pleading at once.
Faith's eyes were dark and serious. It was so like the way Ethan had often looked, in his quieter moments, his lips curved in a solemn smile, his eyes filled with wistful hunger. But Faith was not Ethan and Buffy was, by no means, himself...
Faith tilted her head, and Buffy's lips parted, so softly. They kissed. Giles held his breath. This wasn't their first time. Near it, he thought, but not the very first. There was nothing tentative in the way that Faith pressed Buffy into the counter, nor in the way Buffy's hand crept up to Faith's neck and held her still. There was no force between them, only the expectation of pleasure, and its fulfillment. Giles wrenched his gaze back to his office, to the kettle, the Old Ones' Cyclicals--
To the briefcase.
Father had carried it with shaking hands when he left that night. The next morning, Gran was gone and Father sat in his study, holding the newspaper before himself like a shield. When Giles crept past the doorway, the newspaper crinkled and Father pinned him with his stare.
Giles stood at attention. "Yes, Father."
"Your lesson is cancelled today." The newspaper went up, a dismissal.
Giles hesitated in the doorway. "Father?"
No answer. Father's hands crushed the newsprint.
"Is Breanna dead?"
"The line passed to another Slayer."
"Are you--" Sad, was what he meant to say. Had he only imagined the tears on Father's stern face the night before? Before he could finish, though, the newspaper dropped again. Father's lips were tight. There was no trace of grief in the lines around his mouth, his eyes.
"You'll understand when you are a Watcher."
Giles frowned. "But I don't want to be--"
"It's your duty." Father cast the newspaper aside and stood up. "You're a Giles."
As if he hadn't spoken, Father swung the door closed, shutting him out. His father's decree was law. Ethan, and Eyghon, hadn't changed that, though they'd both tried, in their own ways. Their lure was never wholly gone. The wild boy hid within the Watcher. The demon-summoner and the musician lived within the librarian. Very little had changed since he'd run from Bath to London, following where his anger and Ethan's mischief led.
Sixteen, he thought. Sixteen and in love. He let out a breath that was almost laughter. Surely there was nothing in the world more dangerous.