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Giles answered the phone at 2.13 am precisely, one hand groping out to grab the infernally buzzing device by his bed.

"Hi G."

Sigh. "Must you call me G?"

"It's my thing. You know that." Faith was smiling as she spoke; it coloured her tone.

"You might at least make it 'R'. I think we're past formality now, no?"

Chuckle. "Just a little."

Giles paused briefly to wonder once again why he didn't really care more that despite everything Faith continued to use his surname. That, in fact, he now thought of himself as Giles. Then sanity kicked in. "Faith, did you call me up at the arse end of night just to call me nicknames?"

"Shit, no. What time-? Oh hell. Sorry G. Got my zones mixed. Think I lost another hour travelling; all my timings are screwed."

"You've moved on from Irkutsk?" Giles struggled into a more attentive position. This wasn't just a routine check-in call.

He could hear Faith's sigh across the four thousand-odd miles separating them. "Yeah. There was a thing."

"Tell me." Giles wasn't going to waste time pretending he wasn't worried, though she didn't sound too portentous.

"We lost him. Some kinda mix up with Corliss. I'm not sure she's XO material, G. Seems like I spend every day telling her what to do and every night fixing what she's done. And I'm not that bad at the boss thing, right?"

"No. You're not bad at all." She wouldn't take higher praise, though in fact Giles thought she'd matured into a strong tactical leader. "But there's no one obvious in the squad who could take over, is there? Maya's just starting out, Therese isn't a leader... Oh, hang on, what about-"

"Dita? Yeah, I'm on it. Time she got her shot. Corliss is pissed as hell."

"Well, that can't be helped. I agree, Dita's the only choice you could have made." Faith knew she'd made the right decision – confidence rang in her voice. But Giles in turn knew that on their current mission, an inexperienced XO could be disastrous. Every possible reinforcement of Faith's belief in her reformed team would help. And if anything did go amiss (Don't think it, G said Faith in his subconscious), it would help that she'd had support before. She still took every hurt to her squad as a personal failure: soft heart under the tough words. His opposite, in fact.

No wonder they clicked.

Giles tuned back in to Faith's description of the squad's morale. "- right in her face. Which... G, have I lost you?"

Not likely. "Sorry, zoned out a bit. It's been hectic here."

"Hey, I can call back in the morning-"

"No!" Ridiculous woman. As if he'd miss this chance to talk. "Ridiculous woman. As if I'd miss this chance to talk to you."

Faith's laugh shouted across the airwaves. "I'm touched, G. You old sweet talker."

He smiled. Don't call me old She usually avoided the word as though it was cursed. "Well, I don't like it when you're away this long. I take it there's no chance you'll be back before the 18th?"

"Looks like a no." She didn't sound specially concerned.

"Damn. I was hoping we could do something nice." Involving jewellery and candlelight, ideally.

"It's no big, G. Not like 29 is a major milestone."

"Still, I can think of better places to celebrate a birthday than... where are you, actually?" Bravo Giles: excellent Watcher technique. So on the ball.

"Someplace near Chita. Think we'll be in the city by evening. Should be nice. I hear it's twinned with Boise, Idaho."

"Sounds delightful. So is he likely to stay there?"

"God, I hope so. I can't take another stint in Ulan Bator, G." The tension in her voice rose, sudden and tight.

"I know. But, Faith, someday you'll have to go back." He didn't want to remind her. He remembered her in hospital there, the great wound in her thigh, and her sunken eyes closed as she told him how Tzipi died, for hours.

"Yeah." Deep sigh. "After we get him, maybe. I don't wanna face him on his turf again, though. Maybe Chita's the place. Can't see him having good cover there."

Oh, Faith. I hope not. I want you back here, whole and celebrating another year of life. "Well, let me know when you need more of the text. All right? I can get to it whenever you need."

"Yeah. I know. You got our backs." She sounded tired.

"Yes, we have. I have. Take care of yourself, Faith. I need you to be strong."

"Thanks for the pep talk." Offhand. She'd heard him notice her vulnerability, and was reacting, trying to cover. "We're five by-"

"Oh bloody hell. I thought you'd stopped saying that."

She laughed: better. "It's my other thing, G. You know that."

"Yes. I know." His smile was audible, and Faith reciprocated.

"Go back to sleep G. We'll be okay."

"I know you will. Good hunting." Breezy good wishes, she would accept.

"Sure thing. Stay busy." Offhand again, but happier with it. Strengthened by the contact with Giles.

"I always do. Love you." He couldn't resist it; but she never answered that one. Not on the phone, anyway. Just a soft "Yeah" and she was gone.

Giles put the phone down after a few minutes. But he didn't sleep again that night.