The room, red and gold everywhere, looked like someone’s virgin kid was about to be debauched. For all that Big Al had ranted on about intentions being a heavy-duty deal for the ritual, the room he’d dumped them in wasn’t raising anything pure in Faith’s thoughts. Taking one look at the overly-stuffed velvet chairs, she decided to stand. Angel was sitting. Of course Angel was sitting. He’d been practically shitting guilt ever since he, or Twilight using his body, had killed Giles. Faith was sort of surprised he hadn’t found a bed of nails to lie on. “What is it with magic users and furniture?” She kicked at one of the chairs. “I’d rather be strung up on a rack than sit on this thing. Is it some sort of prereq for the job, never being comfortable again?”
When Angel raised his head, Faith felt a stab of guilt. He was exhausted. They were both exhausted but gathering the pieces of Giles’ soul had gone harder on him. “There’s always been a faction in the occult movement that relied on patronage.”
He slumped forward as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. “I knew a medium once, a woman who worked séances, who put on a big show.” He gestured around the room. “Because it brought in more money than the not-aware-of-worldly-concerns ploy.”
“How’d that work for her?”
“She ran into a vampire who tore her throat out.”
The knife twisted in her gut. Angel hardly ever shared his past, evil or not, at least not with her, and here she was readying another attack against him. She shook that off. So he was worn down. They both were. She still wasn’t about to let him go all maximum damage on Giles’ life. “You wanna tell me why you’re bringing Giles back?”
Angel’s arms went up, raising a shield between them.
“I’m not giving up,” Faith told him. She nodded her head toward the basement. “They said intent is a big deal for the ritual.”
“Why do you care? I thought you didn’t like Watchers.”
That was Angel trying to knock her out? Really? Her granny could hit harder than that. That Grim Reaper role he’d had in Giles’ offing must have hit him harder than she’d thought. “I don’t, but Giles did alright by me. I want to make sure he’s okay.” She paused to give Angel a chance to talk. He didn’t. “I’m not going away,” she added. “This is Giles’ life we’re talking about, his next one anyway.”
When Angel did answer, his words were slow and measured and he wouldn’t catch her eyes. “Giles has knowledge, training in demonology. He’s one of the few Watchers left and the only one Buffy trusts.”
“Bull – fucking – shit.”
Angel glared up at her. Good, not brooding now. His next words had a bite to them. “You think Giles should give up his life’s work.”
That wasn’t what she’d meant, but she could work it. “No, I think he gave up his life. I think he should get to choose what he does with the next one. I think you’re feeling guilty because Twilight killed him. I think you’re hoping that bringing Giles back will let you off the hook for that boner.”
He stood and crossed the room. When he spoke, Angel had his back to her. “It’s not that simple. Nothing I do can make up for the pain and deaths I’ve caused.”
“Look, Angel. Your torment doesn’t mean jack to me.” Not true, but Angel’s heavy wasn’t a quick fix kind of a deal. “You need to figure out why you’re doing this right now or Giles is gonna be burdened with whatever you’re carrying.”
It turned out that Angel wasn’t the only one she should have been talking to.
For a guy as big as an elephant, Al was surprisingly light on his feet. He was almost in the doorway before Faith heard him. His ritual robes were harder to miss. They weren’t tacky compared to the red and gold room she and Angel had been chilling in for the last couple of hours, but by any other scale they were way over the top. The deep purple satin was offset by silver embroidery. Faith figured she might have been impressed if she knew what any of the embroidered squiggles meant. Al’s voice, as dramatic as his clothes, held an air of solemnity. “It’s time.”
Faith pushed herself off the wall. “It’s the middle of the afternoon. Don’t you have to wait for midnight or something?”
Big Al’s lip curled up and, hey, Brits really could say “you ignorant slut” with just a gesture. “You’re welcome to leave if my ritual doesn’t meet your high standards.”
Faith’s smile was more vicious than sweet. She could kick him into next week and they both knew it. “Just asking.”
Al led the way down to the ritual space. In the dark hallway the light seemed to glow from the open doorway. When she stepped through the door, Faith saw why. The walls were covered in fire, candles everywhere. Giles’ aunts, Vin and Sophie, who looked far too young to be older than Giles, were waiting outside the circle. Their ritual robes, one dark green and slinky and the other blue and slit to the upper thigh, looked a bit tarty for a magical working, but what did Faith know? Magic wasn’t her deal. They’d only let her in because she’d threatened to break down the door if they didn’t.
Big Al had seemed the type to start with a long and drawn out blah blah blah. Instead he told Faith, one final time, to stay out of the circle and started straight into the ritual. Since she’d been told intention was important, Faith kept thinking the same thought, over and over again, as loudly as she could: be whoever the fuck you want to be.
Faith was so caught up in her intention – be whoever the fuck you want to be, be whoever the fuck you want to be – that she almost missed the impact of Vin’s words. “Oh bugger me.”
Be whoever the fuck you want to be.
“But shouldn’t we fix this?” That was the other aunt.
Faith opened her eyes. There was a body lying on the floor in the center of the circle, but Angel was in her way. She couldn’t see much but it seemed a bit short for Giles.
“It’s too late,” Al growled. “Continue.”
Shit. Nothing she could do about it, whatever it was. Maybe Al had been right. Maybe she wasn’t doing any good down here. Nothing she could do about that either. She wasn’t about to leave in the middle of the ritual. Faith turned back to her intention. Be whoever the fuck you want to be. Be whoever the fuck you want to be.
Hundreds of candle flames went out as one, plunging the room into darkness. Faith pulled out a blade. Big Al hadn’t said anything about this. She stayed out of the circle though. Al had ranted at her for so long about the sanctity of sacred space that Faith had promised, just to get him to shut up, that she wouldn’t profane his damned circle with her sorry ass. Stupid bastard. All she’d needed to hear was one single, clear sentence: if you cross into the circle, we’re fucked. That would have been enough.
“What?” The voice was higher pitched than a man’s, but it wasn’t a woman’s. “Where?” Faith felt her way around the edge of the room to the light switch. “Good Lord, what’s happened to my voice?”
She hit the switch.
The first thing she saw was Giles, naked. He wasn’t Giles but he also, sort of, was. He was a kid. Putting the kid together with the man she remembered, Faith could see he was gonna be a looker in about four or five years although that thought was sort of creepy given the whole kid thing. “Giles?”
He nodded to Faith before turning on the four in the circle with him. “What the hell did you do?”
“Your soul was being held by a demon,” Vin said.
“Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?” Giles sounded pissed.
“We took reasonable precautions,” Big Al replied.
“When demons are involved there are no reasonable precautions,” Giles snapped.
“You should have known we’d step in. No nephew of ours …”
“Great-nephew,” Giles interrupted. They didn’t like hearing that.
Big Al called out to Faith. “You can leave us now.”
Faith took her time putting her knife away to emphasize that, no, she wasn’t about to leave. “Perhaps one of you should give Giles something to wear. I mean, he’s not bad looking for someone that young but, well, he’s that young.”
Wow. Apparently none of them had noticed that Giles was naked. Faith shook her head. Magic users. Always had their heads up their asses. Giles, glaring at Faith as Angel handed his jacket over, turned and stepped away as he shrugged the jacket over his shoulders. “Giles!” Faith was too late. He’d stepped outside the circle.
“What?” He wasn’t dust or demon chow or whatever.
“The ritual is over, child,” Al said, his sonorous voice echoing off the ceiling. “There’s no danger now.”
Oh. Giles stepped back into the circle. With the fabric hanging down to his knees and his hands barely showing even with the sleeves scrunched up, Giles looked even more like a child, but at least the interruption had calmed tempers. Giles didn’t speak but solemnly stared until one of them broke.
It was Vin. “We couldn’t leave you in Eyghon’s clutches.”
“Why not? My soul was his, bought and paid for.”
Shit. Apparently Angel’s guilt had transferred over. She should have knocked Angel out before the ritual had started.
“Well, Rupes, we’ve never paid our demons. Why should you?” Sophie’s laughter fluttered around the room before fading away.
Even in Angel’s oversized jacket, Giles suddenly looked older than his two aunts. A sadness crossed his face and they seemed like children before him.
Only Big Al had the balls to break that silence. “We’re clear,” he said. “I owed you a debt. It is now repaid.”
“No,” Giles replied. “I didn’t want this. You still owe me.” His grin looked dangerous. “And I will collect.”
One of the aunts, Faith couldn’t tell which, let out a sob. “What?” Giles asked.
Vin replied. “The spell was supposed to restore you, to bring you back to whom you were before the Shard stole your innocence.”
“Back to when I was a child, you mean?” He glanced down at his child’s body. “This is hardly a world where either youth or innocence will be of benefit.”
Faith felt her failure settle on her like a weight. Al had tried to clear a debt. The aunts had tried to repair old, old damage. At least only Angel’s baggage had stuck, but still, Angel’s baggage had stuck. Instead of turning his guilt to brooding though, it looked like Giles had turned it to anger.
Big Al’s study, library, whatever they called the big room full of books in England, was stuffed wall-to-wall with, well, books, more than Faith had ever seen outside of Sunnydale high’s library. Giles, sitting in one of the leather chairs, seemed to Faith to be a little king on a throne, or maybe that should be prince given how young he was. Even though he was still wearing Angel’s jacket, he didn’t look childlike here, possibly because he was the only one in the room, there were no adults to compare him to, or possibly because he was truly pissed. “I said I wasn’t to be disturbed.”
“So, puberty again. That’s gotta suck.” Faith shut the door behind her.
Gazing off at nothing he muttered, more to himself than to her, “Ah, yes.” His face fell. “Your ability to plumb the depths of an already dreadful situation is truly impressive if not entirely welcome.”
“Hey, saving you here.”
“I told your aunts you couldn’t keep wearing Angel’s jacket. I mean, come on. It’d be hanging off of you even if you weren’t kid-sized. They’re off hunting you up new threads.”
His face fell into his hands but only for a moment. “Do you hate me that much?”
Faith ignored his question and carried on. “Got them out of your hair, didn’t it? Big Al’s too afraid I’ll punch him to come in, and Angel’s gone.”
“Gone? As in dead? Well, dust.”
“Nah, apparently it’s sort of awkward, carrying your thoughts in his head. I mean, I know he gave them back to you but apparently some stuff stuck or rubbed off or something.” Giles didn’t look at all upset at Angel not wanting to be near him.
Faith hopped up on the table, letting her legs dangle toward the floor. It left her towering over Giles but, hey, he was gonna have to get used to that.
Giles sighed. “What do you want, Faith?”
“Huh, that’s funny. I came here to ask you the same thing.”
“Faith.” He barked out her name. “I’m not in the mood.”
She hopped off the table and started pacing. “Fine. I’ll give it to you straight up. You gave me a chance to get out. I’m giving you the same deal.”
“That’s hardly yours to give,” he offered.
“Nobody knows you’re back.” Buffy doesn’t know you’re back. “You could get out of the Watcher biz, live a normal life.”
He stared straight ahead, motionless and heavy, like one of those big planets, Jupiter or something. Faith felt like a tiny moon whirling around him as she paced. She stopped, right in front of him, and stared, and waited.
“You’re no better than the rest of them then, wiping the slate clean so you can move on. Well, I had moved on, and I would have greatly appreciated it if you’d minded your own business.” Okay, maybe he was still a little angry.
“Hey, I never agreed to any of this. That train was roaring down the track. I just held on for dear life.”
“Then why be a part of it at all?” he asked.
“Because I could see that Angel wanted something for you, from you, whatever: forgiveness or maybe that cleansing the slates bit. Shit, I don’t know. I just knew he had a specific idea of who he wanted you to be. I don’t want you trapped by his, or anyone’s, idea of who you should be. I want you to have a choice, a whatchamacallit, an option.”
“The option I would have preferred was to remain dead.” The words weren’t angry, like they had been earlier. They were thoughtful.
“Yeah, well, welcome to the land of the living. Now what are you going to do?”
“I think I’d like to go home.” He looked surprised as he said it, as if he hadn’t know he wanted anything until she’d asked.
“Your flat? There’s kind of this issue where it’s not there anymore. I mean, it is there, but it’s not yours.”
“No.” His mouth twisted into something close to a smile. “Home.”
Home turned out to be a place called Westbury. “Because it’s near a cemetery? Did you get a lot of practice with vamps when you were a kid?”
Giles’ look said Faith was the most impossible adult he’d ever met. He’d got that being a kid routine down quick. “It’s near Bath,” he told her.
“Bath, huh? So you could train it in.”
“Train? I’ll drive, thank you very much.” She could see it hit him. “I … I can’t drive, can I?”
“No sweat,” Faith offered. “I’ll drive you.”
“What?” He blinked up at her. “I couldn’t possibly put you to that sort of trouble.”
“Hey, I’ve got your back. Anyway, not gonna be any harder than gathering bits of your soul.”
Giles got sort of quiet after that and Faith, itching for a good fight, had started wondering if Big Al had a place where she could spar when the aunts blew in like a gale. Vin had on the same dress she’d left in, black lace with just enough fabric to keep it from being illegal. Sophie, who’d left in white pants and a blouse that looked like a hoity toity dream of a tie dyed top, had replaced the pants with a miniskirt and a pair of suede boots that ran up her thigh. “Do you like? I saw them in the shop and couldn’t resist.”
“Speaking of which,” Vin said, “Wait until you see what we’ve gotten for you, Rupes.”
“I’d … I’d rather not.”
“Nonsense, you can’t be seen in that oversized coat.” Sophie dropped a bag, labelled Marks & Spencer, at the foot of his chair. “Try something on. I’m afraid there’s not much choice.” She glared at Vin. “We didn’t have your exact size and so limited our purchases.” She brightened up as she finished. “But we promise to take you to a proper tailor tomorrow.”
“I’m afraid I can’t,” Giles said.
“Can’t what, darling?”
“Faith is taking me home.”
“Home?” Vin and Sophie looked at each other as if they couldn’t imagine what he was going on about. “Oh, don’t be silly, Rupes,” Sophie added. “Your mother can wait. She doesn’t even know you’re alive. It’ll be too much for her, especially given that you’re twelve again. It’ll be far less shocking once you’re properly fitted out.”
“I don’t want to make an impression.” It was sort of interesting, watching Giles deal with these aunts of his. Less than five minutes and already they had him almost whining. ”I want to go home.” He stood and his voice hardened, taking on an aura of command. “I am going home.”
“Fine,” Vin sniffed. “Gad about dressed like a yob if you must, but don’t come crying to us when your mother kicks you out of the house.”
“Hey.” Faith’s voice sounded harsh and, well, common, after all the Brit-speak, but what the fuck, that’s how she talked, right? “His Mom’s not going to care what he’s wearing. He’s been dead. Now he’s not. She’ll be dancing in the streets.”
The aunts smirked at each other but at least they got off Giles’ case. “Well, boy, try on your new clothes. Let us see how handsome you look.”
Giles made his escape, leaving Faith alone with the aunts. She could have gone too, it wasn’t like they cared whether she lived or died, but she was curious to see what they’d gotten for Giles. While the two aunts ignored her, talking together about people Faith had never heard of, Faith pulled out a small knife and started cleaning away the dirt under her nails. One of the aunts hissed at that and Faith smiled.
Giles came out dressed in charcoal trousers with a black jacket over a gray shirt. “Way to make him look like a stuffed shirt,” she called out. He didn’t. He looked elegant, but still, that was no way to dress a kid.
Sophie glanced over, throwing knives with her eyes before turning to Giles. “Oh, aren’t you the dapper gentleman.” They gushed over him. Yeah, like who couldn’t have predicted that? “But you didn’t put on the bow tie.”
His face looked like a little thundercloud. “There will be no bow tie.”
“But Rupes,” Sophie added.
“No,” he said. Both girls sighed. “And while we’re at it, you couldn’t have bought me anything casual to wear?”
They turned to glance at each other before turning on Giles. “But this is casual.”
Giles rolled his eyes but there was sort of an affectionate air to it. “Right. Of course. Well, I love you dears but we really do have to leave now if we’re going to be home before dark.”
“You could at least let us see you in your other outfits.” Boy did that Sophie have her killer pout down.
“Those inferior rags?” Giles asked.
“There,” Vin shouted triumphantly. “I knew you’d hate them. Obviously you can’t see your mother in that. We’ll see Pierre today. He’ll make time for us.”
The aunts stopped and stared at Giles, and then they got their steam going again. “But Rupes, you said yourself …”
“Sacrasm, Aunt Sophie.”
“But we had all these plans.”
“And it would be so delightful to show you off, our little man around town.”
“Oooh, we could take him to …”
“Yes, I know and also to …”
Giles started for the door. “Faith, whenever you’re ready.”
“Rupes,” Vin said.
“Where are you going?” Sophie asked.
“I’ve already told you,” he said. “Home.”
“But what about us?” They didn’t quite cry. Faith figured because it’d mess with their makeup.
Giles sighed. “When I return you may take me shopping.”
“Wonderful. I’ll call Pierre and reschedule.”
Sophie looked lost for a moment. “Do you think he’ll take on Rupes? I mean, Pierre doesn’t tend to dress children.”
“For us? Pierre would do anything and besides, Rupes is almost a little man.”
“Of course, you’re right. How about that one shoe shop? You know, near that café where we met those two delightful men.”
“Dear, you’re going to have to be more specific. We meet so many delightful men.”
Giles’ voice rang out over theirs. “I will call you before I return. Keep your plans in reserve until then.”
They turned their pouts on him. Giles nodded toward the door. “Faith.”
“At least give us a hug before you go.”
Big Al came to the door as the hugs were going round. As Giles gave her an extra hard squeeze, Sophie complained about him wrinkling her clothes, but she was smiling as they pulled apart.
“I really do need to thank Alexander for his hospitality before I leave,” he told them.
“I should think so, Rupes,” Vin agreed.
Giles held out his hands, clasping each aunt’s hand in one of his own, only dropping them as he turned and followed Big Al out of the room.
Giles looked a bit sniffy from his goodbye with the aunts but he bucked up and came off all formal with Al. “Thank you very much.”
Big Al, raising himself to his full height, towered over Giles. “I suppose, Rupert, that I’ll be seeing you again.”
Giles’ grin reminded Faith of the one he’d given Al in the ritual space. “That you will.” He gestured toward the door, indicating Faith should leave first. “Let’s go.”
Faith had never heard of an MG6 before Giles had made her the main beneficiary of his worldly goods. It looked like a regular car, maybe with a bit more style, but it drove like a dream. Giles took one look at it and stopped. “I guess this is yours,” Faith offered.
“No. I left it to you in the will.”
“But you’re sort of back now.”
“I.” He looked like he was gonna drop to the ground and cry. “Perhaps we could discuss it some other time?”
“Sure,” Faith agreed. “We should probably motor before your aunts come looking.”
Giles looked sort of dazed as he got into the right side of the car. “Are you sure I can’t drive?”
“Giles, you’re twelve. What do you think?”
“I think I’d prefer to arrive in one piece.”
“Hey, a few hours ago you were all I’d rather be dead and now you’re complaining because my driving might kill you?”
She tried not to grin at his pout. There was no way he’d appreciate how adorable it was.
They’d been on the M4 for a good half-hour before he relaxed. “Are you certain you’re a Slayer?”
“Don’t you Watchers have ways of telling?”
“Yes but one of the signs is a complete inability to operate a vehicle safely.”
Faith grinned but kept her eyes on the road. “Are you saying Slayers can’t drive?”
“That has been my experience, yes.”
“There’s enough danger in my life. I don’t need to add crappy driving into the mix.”
They’d been motoring along in a comfortable silence for another fifteen minutes before Faith felt the hairs on the back of her neck rising. It didn’t feel like a demon. It felt more like some sleazoid checking her out. She looked around, scanning for other cars, but there weren’t that many drivers on the road and none close enough to be ogling her. As she turned her head left, Giles whipped his head away but not before she had a chance to see he’d been eying her tits.
It pierced her heart like a sword. Giles? Giles was the horndog who’d been eying her rack? “Hope you got a good look because you won’t be touching anything like them for a good two, three years.”
“Faith.” He turned back to her, goggled a moment at tit level and, with a wrench, raised his gaze to her face. “I’m sorry.”
“Hey, no sweat. It’s not like they don’t have mileage on ‘em.” Except he’d seen her as a person, not just as a fucked up Slayer. He’d seen her as someone who’d deserved a real life, or she thought he had. Maybe that whole chance he’d given her had just been an excuse to get one out-of-control Slayer out of circulation.
“No, it’s not alright. It’s just …” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Prepubescent boys are not known for their impulse control.”
“You’re the one who welcomed me back to puberty.”
Faith turned her eyes back to the road and thought that through. “You’re saying you perved on my tits when you were all grownup but that you hid it better?”
He turned his gaze straight ahead as if there were something fascinating on the road. “That’s not quite how I’d phrase it.” When she didn’t reply, he called out her name. He sighed. “I was aware of your … charms, certainly.”
Charms? She had “charms” while Buffy got all the fucking friends and respect and recognition? When he’d sent her after Gigi, who’d been like the other half of her soul they were so alike, she’d thought it meant he’d valued her. Stupid, stupid, stupid. She’d been expendable, no better than a rogue herself. How hadn’t she seen that? Hell, Buffy had even said as much: Giles never trusted you any more than I did.
“Faith? Please tell me what you’re thinking.”
I’d bet my life you never checked out Buffy’s tits. “Robin called on me for the dirty jobs. You gave me the dirtiest job of all.”
“Because you were the best candidate.”
Yeah, right, the expendable candidate. Let’s not go there. “So, what’s up with all this green?”
“I, er, what?”
She nodded towards the fields on her left. “Green. We’re not that far out of London but it’s all fields and cows and …” Shit. Please just go with it.
She could feel concern radiating off of him. “Of course it is. We’re outside the M25, after all.”
“I take it you’ve never seen the burbs outside of Boston.”
“Suburban hell as far as the eye can see.”
The chit chat dried up. Faith didn’t feel like making the effort and Giles either couldn’t be bothered or couldn’t come up with anything to say. She wasn’t sure which. He gave directions for turn offs but offered nothing else. As the roads grew smaller, the paving gave way to gravel and then to dirt. Huh, she’d never have pegged Giles as a backwoods boy but it made sort of a deranged sense. All men were pigs but they were the worst of the lot. She figured it was all that isolation growing up, creating a whole load of pent up urges. Once one of them got out into the big, wide world, one taste of heaven was enough to set him off like a rocket.
They pulled up a drive. What the? “This is it?”
“Yes.” Giles’ voice sounded small but Faith didn’t look over. She couldn’t take her eyes off the house. Not backwoods, not backwoods at all. “Whattya call it?”
“I’m pretty sure castles have more than three stories but it’s too big for a cottage. What do you call it?”
“Home,” he said. “I call it home.”
“Let’s get you home then.” Giles didn’t follow her out of the car. Well, big boo hoo. He was gonna have to deal sooner or later. She rang the bell.
“Yes? Can I help you?” The woman who’d opened the door was older, much older than Giles even. Faith glanced back at the car. Much older than Giles had been anyway. But Faith could see where Giles had gotten his looks. She seemed nice in the same way that Giles was nice, quiet or um … soft-spoken, that was it, but without being snooty.
“Are you Mrs. Giles?” That just sounded wrong: Mrs. Giles.
Giles stepped out of the car. “Mum.”
The woman’s hand clenched so hard on the door frame that her knuckles grew pale.
“It’s me, Mum.”
“How?” Mrs. G. didn’t step out of the house.
“Aunt Sophie, Aunt Vin, and a warlock I knew or I suppose I should say I know.”
He grimaced and that’s when Mrs. G. ran over and threw her arms around him. “It is you.”
Faith took a step back from the laughter and the kisses. “I’ll just come back later. “ The sky was getting dark. Didn’t kids have an early bedtime? Would that even apply to Giles? “Tomorrow. I’ll find a hotel for the night and come back tomorrow.”
“Mum? Faith helped bring me back.”
Mrs. G.’s hand squeezed hard around Giles’ shoulder. “Roo? You said aunts brought you back.”
First Rupes and now Roo? How many nicknames did Giles have?
“Faith was part of it, an invaluable part.”
Mrs. G. spoke before Faith could say she hadn’t done much. “Then you’ll certainly stay the night, Miss?”
“Mother, Miss Faith Lehane. Faith, my mother.”
“Please, call me Margaret. There’s a guest room upstairs. Come along.”
“I could take her up, Mum,” Giles offered.
“No.” Margaret looked almost panicked. “I’m sorry. I’d rather not have you out of my sight right now.”
They both led her up to the room. “Do you think you’ll be comfortable here?” Giles asked.
Faith felt like that little ragamuffin, Oliver, when that rich family took him in. It wasn’t permanent, she knew that – nothing ever was – but here Giles was, even though they were still not square, giving her this treat of a room and worrying that it wasn’t good enough. It was tiny, sure, but the cream walls catching the last of the sunlight, the vine pattern on the pale green comforter, the flower prints on the wall, the embroidered pillows, they all served to create so welcoming an air that the word small just didn’t do it justice. It was cozy, snug, five-by-five. “Yeah. More than comfortable.”
Giles and his mom obviously wanted to be alone but still they invited her to join them downstairs, and even seemed to mean it. “No, I’m good.” They didn’t quite buy that so she added to it. “Bit tired. Long day. Think I’ll rest my eyes.”
“We’ll call you when dinner’s ready.”
Once they were gone Faith didn’t know what to do with herself. She wasn’t about to horn in on their reunion and there didn’t seem to be much to patrol, just fields and trees. There’d been some buildings off in the distance but not more than a dozen. They looked like some posters she’d seen once, something by a painter, Kincaid. That was it, except these were less like a fairy tale and more real than his stuff. So patrolling was out and it wasn’t like there was any kind of nightlife. Faith sighed as she dropped onto the bed. She could deal with boring for a day or two if she had to. She’d just lay here and stare up at the ceiling and maybe close her eyes a bit.
Faith sat up in one quick, fluid motion. The room had gone dark. There’d been a noise, something from the hallway. When she followed it she saw that one of the doors was open. Light spilled out from the room, creating a bright patch of carpet and wall. Faith put her knife away but walked toward the light. She saw Giles, facing a bit away from her. Toy rabbit ears stood up from his closed arms.
He jerked when he saw her and Faith could see he was holding a stuffed animal, a toy rabbit. She tried not to smirk, she really did, but it was too adorable.
“Mr. Bun,” he said, carefully putting the rabbit onto the dresser. He didn’t even glance at her but kept his eyes on the toy. “I didn’t know she’d kept it.” He turned to face her but averted his eyes. “Mother wanted, um, dinner’s ready. I was sent up to fetch you, but you were asleep and I didn’t want to disturb …”
Disturb. That meant he’d looked in. Had he grabbed another eyeful? Was that why he was acting distant? “Food’s good,” Faith said. “I mean, I wouldn’t mind eating.”
“Ah, well. Good. Downstairs then.”
The dining room was a bit hoity-toity with all that wood, the china cabinet, and flowers on the table, but the plates didn’t look particularly breakable. Faith figured she’d get along okay as long as no one expected her to be too formal. When Giles held out her chair for her, she gave him a sour look before taking her seat.
The food, waiting on their plates, smelled incredible. Faith grabbed what looked like half of a grilled cheese sandwich, not as in half a sandwich but as in there was only one slice of bread smothered with cheese. It didn’t taste like any grilled cheese she’d ever eaten. “Oh my God,” she said after the first bite. “If you cook like this all the time, I may never leave.” She swallowed before continuing. “Uh, sorry about the whole full mouth thing. I’m usually more of a grab and go girl with my food.”
“I’m delighted you’re enjoying it, Miss Lehane.” When Margaret turned to question Giles, Faith wasn’t sure if it was a comment on her own table manners or not. “Rupert, have you decided what you’re going to do next?”
“I suppose it is too early for you to have given it any thought.”
“How long will you and your friend will be staying?”
He glanced over at Faith. It was the first time he’d looked at her since they’d sat down. “Don’t know.”
Faith stared openly at Giles. If he was this bad at twelve, imagine what he’d be like as a teen. Faith wasn’t big into filling uncomfortable silences but, well, Margaret had just gotten her dead son back. She sort of figured the woman deserved a break. “So, this meat thing, um pie, here. Is that mashed potatoes on top?” It was kind of weird. Good, but weird.
“It’s a cottage pie: meat, vegetables, mashed potatoes. I could show you how to make one if you’re here long enough.”
Giles flushed at that. What? He wanted her gone already? “Thanks but I’m not big with the cooking.”
Faith wasn’t sure what to say after that but nobody else spoke up either. The forks, clicking against the plates, sounded louder than swords clanging against each other in a fight. Faith thought she might finally get those PBS flicks where nobody said anything but everyone knew who was pissed off. You know, if she were ever bored enough to watch one.
“Faith,” Margaret said, breaking the silence. “I’d like to say thank you for bringing Roo, Rupert that is, back to me.”
Faith, wondering how much Giles had told his mother, tried to catch his eye, but he wasn’t looking anywhere near her. “I was there but it’s not like I did much. I wasn’t even in the big circle.”
Giles’ fork clicked against the table. When she glanced over, he was staring at her. “If those idiots had raised Eyghon, which was a distinct possibility no matter what my aunts think, believe me, your presence would have been invaluable.”
“Oh. Uh, thanks.” Faith stared down at her plate. Invaluable. She didn’t get him. He’d say things that’d make her think she was worth something but then it turns out he’d been checking out her tits the whole time.
After the meal had finally ended, Faith offered to help with the dishes. “No,” Margaret said. “You’re our guest. Rupert will help me.” The look she gave Giles suggested it was less mother-son bonding time and more we have to talk time.
“Sure. Okay,” Faith said. “I’ll just patrol a bit. Make sure no vampire, um, sheep attack the house.”
There were no vampire sheep or vampires or demons of any kind. There were no sheep either or at least not this close to the house. She flopped down on a bench and stared up at the sky. There were so many stars here she figured she’d be able to see even without the moon. She felt chilly enough that she wished she’d packed a sweater or a jacket or something. They’d made a fast getaway out of London and she hadn’t thought to grab something warm. What the hell, it wasn’t not like she’d never been uncomfortable before. When she caught sight of Giles’ mom, Faith bolted to her feet, wondering if she’d done something wrong, lying down on the bench like that.
Margaret held out cloth, folded into a square. “I brought you a jumper.”
Huh? Oh, sweater. “Thanks.” Margaret sat as Faith examined the sweater. It was a little itchy as if it had some wool in it and was knitted in a raised pattern. It was nice. “I don’t want to ruin it,” Faith said.
“I’m from a Watcher family,” Margaret replied. “I’m used to clothes being destroyed in battle, although I think we can say we’re fairly safe this evening.” Margaret patted the seat beside her. “Put on your jumper and come join me.”
The sweater was nice and warm, toasty even. Margaret’s words weren’t frigid but they weren’t welcoming either. “Rupert tells me the two of you fought.”
What? He’d shared that with his mother? “I wouldn’t call it a fight exactly. I mean, no blows were exchanged.”
“Faith, adolescents, particularly boys, just can’t be subtle. I know he didn’t intend for you to feel …”
“Like a piece of meat?” Faith interrupted.
“That’s as good as a description as any.”
“Don’t worry,” Faith replied. “It wasn’t that.”
“So there was something.”
“No, no,” Faith said. “I’m good.”
“Neither of you are, as you put it, good.” Man, Margaret could get a snap into her voice when she wanted to. “Rupert thinks I’m interfering, but this is much like Watching, or Slaying I suppose. You can’t let things fester. You have to catch them when they’re small. If it wasn’t Rupert ogling you, then what was it?”
“Oh for Heaven’s sake. We’re human, Faith. Sex is a basic fact of life.”
Faith knew that. Hell, she was usually the one sticking it in everyone’s face, but with Giles’ mother? Well, it was different somehow. Uncomfortable.
“In fact you should have seen Rupert’s father when he was young. That man had the nicest bum I’ve ever seen.”
Faith could feel herself blushing under Margaret’s gaze. “Many people use sex to keep others at bay. It’s a defense mechanism obviously.” Faith wasn’t sure what that meant but she could feel herself bristling. “It devalues people, as if being sexual made then less human. Rupert may have noticed your sexuality – in fact he’d have been hard pressed not to – but that doesn’t mean he values you, as a person, as a colleague, or as a friend, any less.”
Faith felt like squirming in her seat but held herself still. Margaret’s eyes on her felt like laser beams piercing deeply into her soul. “Rupert is afraid he’s lost your good opinion,” Margaret added.
Faith shrugged. “Not like it’s worth much.”
“Untrue,” Margaret said. “Your good opinion is invaluable to Rupert. Of everyone who brought him back, you’re the only one who had his best interest in mind.”
Faith thought back to the ritual and her intention: be whoever the fuck you want to be. “I’m not sure I’d call that his best interest.”
“You two should talk,” Margaret said, “and work this out.”
“Uh, thanks, but I’m not so big with the talking.”
“Well then, we can have a nice long chat, girl to girl. Let me tell you about the first time Rupert’s father and I made love. Seeing him naked, a veritable Adonis, was an almost spiritual experience.” She leaned in closer to Faith and lowered her voice. “His nipples were so unbelievably sensitive, just a few licks, those flickering ones at the edge of a nipple, and he’d be moaning like a …”
Faith leaped off her seat as if she’d been burned. “Okay, okay, I’ll talk to Giles.”
Margaret wrapped an arm in Faith’s and started walking to the house. “Good. I’ve made hot chocolate. You can take some to Roo and have one yourself if you like.”
She really did have the hot chocolate ready to go. “Rupert is probably in the study,” Margaret told her. “He tends to lose himself in books when he’s worried.”
Faith, burdened with two mugs, thought about lamming it out of there and finding a place to hide. She’d have to drink both hot chocolates but it wasn’t like that’d be a hardship. No, Margaret would probably hunt her down and embarrass her until she gave in. Faith forced herself into the study. The books Giles was poring over looked dry even from across the room. Faith put one of the mugs down and tapped a book. “What’cha reading?”
“Faith, please do not thump the book of L’Rakian prophecies.” He pulled out a handkerchief, picked up the mug, and wiped underneath. “And please be careful of the furniture. Father used to be a real demon about rings. There are coasters in that side table.”
It wasn’t until then that he saw what he had to drink. “Chocolate!” And there he went into excited kid mode but only for a moment.
“What?” Faith dropped a couple of coasters onto the table.
“I don’t suppose there are any marshmallows.”
“I could check,” Faith offered. Hey, if it’d get her out of this conversation, she’d go to Hell and back for them.
“No, Mum never kept them in the house. I had them at Joyce’s once.”
As Faith sat she got a glimpse of the books. There were pictures of tattoos, ugly ones. They looked sort of occultish. “Tats? You’ve got books on tats?”
He carefully placed his hot chocolate on the coaster but almost spilled it when he leaned over to answer. Faith moved the drink out of the way. “A demonic tattoo, once activated by a ritual, is a form of contract with a demon. Because this body predates my tattoo, I believe I’m no longer bound to Eyghon.” He was grinning like a mad man, or, well, a mad kid anyway. “I think I’m free. There’s a bit more research I need to do before I’m sure.”
Faith felt herself grinning, and yeah, they had issues but it sorta seemed like he’d been on her side in the past and anyway nobody should be bound to a demon. “So no more bad boy demon toy? That’ll save trouble the next time you die.”
“Nope, just a bad boy, er, man.” He spoiled the image by grabbing his hot chocolate, taking a big swig, and coming back with a mustache.
“You’ve got a thing, right there.” Giles’ eyes crossed as he licked at the mustache. Faith choked back a laugh. “I think you’re gonna have to work on that whole bad boy look.”
“Faith, I have something important to tell you.” He was trying to look earnest but it wasn’t really working with the remnants of chocolate on his face.
No, no, no. He was gonna talk about what went down in the car. There was no way she was gonna take him seriously with his face messed up like that. “Here, wait a sec.” She took his handkerchief and wiped off the mustache.
Giles rolled his eyes. “I can see that childhood will be a delight the second time around.”
Faith jumped in before he could get back on topic. “Couldn’t we just tell your mom we worked it out?” He blinked at her like he wasn’t following. “The whole car and tits thing? Let’s just tell her we talked and that we’re over it.”
“That wasn’t what I was going to …” He shook his head. “That won’t work with my mother. She’ll know we didn’t speak. She has her ways.”
Faith shrugged. She wasn’t about to start.
“Faith I apologize for, ah, looking. Apparently it’s not something I can control as well as I might like.”
“It’s not something you can hide you mean.”
He took a deep breath. “I do understand that, given our age differences and my status as your Watcher, it was entirely inappropriate that I, er, noticed.”
“But you’re only human. Yeah, I already got this from your mom. She is seriously into the TMI.”
“TMI?” Giles asked. “Ah, Too Much Information. Oh, Good Lord, she didn’t mention my father, did she?”
“Yeah, in more detail than I woulda liked.”
“Right,” he said. “Well, we certainly don’t want to go there.” He stared intently at her. She returned his gaze, not wanting him to think she was avoiding it. “So can we agree that we are on cordial terms?”
“If that means we’re cool, sure.” She decided to change the topic before he could go on. “So, if that isn’t what you’d meant to bring up, what was?”
“What? Oh, yes. That.” He looked sort of sheepish for a moment and then he squared his shoulders and spoke. “I wanted to thank you for ensuring I had a choice during the ritual.”
“What? You mean back at Big Al’s? Sure, no sweat.” She looked off at the table, noting all the books he had out. His mom said he read when he was worried and he’d had that tat issue to research but she was starting to wonder if this wasn’t more Watchery. “And what choice did you make?”
“I, um, I’m going to help the Slayer.”
She felt a pang that he’d said the Slayer and not a Slayer. “Um, Rupes.”
“Please, never call me that again.”
Fine, not going there, but this wasn’t good. It was Angel’s shtick all over again: duty, responsibility, lifetime of knowledge, blah, blah, blah. She had to say something. “That’s what Angel wanted for you.”
He gave her a blank look. “I beg your pardon?”
“That’s what he told me. He was bringing you back to help Buffy. Probably because he can’t boink her, but even so, it’s not your choice. It’s what he wants, not what you want.” She’d looked away as she’d said boink. She knew he wasn’t a kid but, well, he looked like a kid.
“And that bothers you.”
She jumped to her feet and started pacing the room. Shit, why couldn’t she ever stay still when she was upset? “Yeah, it bothers me. I want you to be you, whoever you want to be, not fulfill a role somebody else laid out for you.”
He stared at her without speaking. That adult stare from a child’s face felt like spiders were crawling up her spine. She stopped pacing under that gaze. It had one thing going for it. It was the stare one gave to an equal, not to a fuck toy. Maybe Margaret was right. Maybe he could have a pup tent going and respect her. It was gonna take a while to get her head around that thought though.
“Faith, during the ritual, I could hear, no hear isn’t quite right. I could feel, no that’s not it either. Aware, yes, right. During the ritual I was aware of intentions. Most of them were selfish – healing old wounds, clearing out old debts, repairing old mistakes – but one, um, voice kept insisting I could fulfill my own desires, follow my own path. I take it that was you?”
That wasn’t quite how she’d worded it. “Yeah.”
“How do you know this isn’t my calling?”
Huh? “Because Big Al said intentions were a big deal for the ritual and you’re following Angel’s intentions.”
“Those weren’t Angel’s intentions.”
“What?” Of course they were. That’s what Angel had told her. Of course she’d called Angel out on that.
“Nobody in that room intended for me to go back to being a Watcher.”
“You’re saying that all on your own you chose to go back to the life that got you killed.” She watched him intently as she spoke, waiting for a hand caught in the cookie jar look.
He looked as serious as a twelve year-old could. He looked like he was telling the truth. “I’m saying that I can’t stand by and do nothing when I know my assistance will save lives. I appreciate what you’re trying to do for me, I honestly do, and yes, in the past it has been duty and even guilt that have kept me at my post, but now, at this point in my life, it is my calling.”
He looked like he thought he was telling the truth. “How do you know this isn’t what somebody else chose?” she asked.
He rolled his eyes and sighed. “Faith, I heard everyone’s intention in that ritual. No one wanted me to become a Watcher again.”
Oh, yeah, he’d said that earlier. Wait. “Big Al said intentions were important, but you don’t seem to be following anybody’s intentions. Al wanted to repay an old debt and your aunts wanted you to be innocent again.”
“Another set of intentions drowned them out.”
“Oh? So what orders are you following?”
“Be whoever the fuck you want to be.”
Oh. Those had been her words. Out of everyone in the room, he’d listened to her? Over his flesh and blood even? She found herself grinning. “Fair enough.” He looked surprised as if he’d expected a bigger battle. “But I want a favor.”
“A favor.” He gave her a wry look. “For allowing me to do what I want to do.”
“Yeah,” Faith said. “If not for me, you could have been in a major Angel-brood for the rest of your life. I think that deserves a favor.”
“And that would be what?”
“I want to be there when Buffy figures out you’re checking out her tits.”