His mission is to be Buffy’s Watcher, but he watches all of them, sometimes amused, often annoyed, but primarily astounded by their courage. Only one of them was Chosen. The others have chosen themselves, voluntarily taking on the long battle against evil. Giles remembers himself at their age, resisting his destiny with the rage and carelessness of adolescence. He remembers, too, the price of that rebellion, and hopes they won’t pay as much for their youth as he did.
So he observes, wondering wryly if any other Watcher in history has ever had to deal with a teenage love triangle in the line of duty. Very likely, though it isn’t recorded in any of the official Watchers’ Diaries. He expects he isn’t the first Watcher to keep a separate personal journal, either. It’s doubtful that the Council would approve of his increasing closeness with Jenny Calendar; their ideal Watcher is celibate, ascetic, obsessed with duty. He can wear that mask, but while he will cheerfully lie to everyone else, he tries, at least, to be honest with himself.
He knows the children keep secrets from him, and he keeps his own, like the quirk of acoustics that makes conversations around the library’s main table easily audible from his office. His heart sinks the day he overhears Xander say, “Buffy, I love Willow. And she's my best friend. Which makes her not the kind of girl who I think about her lips that much. She's the kind of girl that... I'm best friends with.” Then he sees Willow at the door, trying to hide the fact that she has heard as well, and for a moment he hates Xander, for his careless adolescent-male obsession with beauty, for hurting Willow.
He pays more attention to Willow after that. He admires her skill with computers, which has provided crucial information on several occasions. His own discomfort with technology embarrasses him, especially in the face of Jenny’s teasing. Jenny says that Willow could probably teach her classes, and her respect for the girl increases his own. He is always pleased when Willow joins him in the library, sometimes to research the latest mystical threat, sometimes simply to study or finish her homework. They drink tea and talk about books and mathematics and history, her impressive intellect allowing him to forget she is a teenager, and that he is a foreigner, stuffy and overdressed in casual Southern California. She feels at home with ideas, and they have that in common.
When she walks through the wall on Halloween night, he is thinking of her, and he’s flustered not just because she is transparent, but because she seems to have arrived in answer to his musings, and is dressed in what appear to be Buffy’s clothes. He’s grown inured to his Slayer’s displays of young flesh, but Willow, in her baggy jumpers, has always given an impression of sexless innocence. Suddenly she’s a young woman, lithe and sexy and distracting. When they find Ethan, Ripper rises to the surface like his own ghost, his rage intensified by an impulse to protect her, to rescue her from being transparent and untouchable forever.
He despises the violent appetites that lurk within him, entombed but never eradicated, concealed under a conservative demeanor and a Windsor-knotted tie. He hates the fact that the glimpse of Willow’s cleavage, the smooth expanse of her midriff, made him imagine seeing more of her revealed. He wants to blame Ripper, as Angel’s crimes are handed off to Angelus, but Rupert is Ripper, and after Ethan’s return, the children know it too. He assumes that Buffy has told the others the full story of Eyghon, of his long-ago descent into dark magics, but it is left unsaid, and he is grateful for their unexpected discretion.
He wants to think of them as children, but they don’t hide from things that go bump in the night. He cannot hide either, but he can feel shame, at old lusts brought to light, at the joy he once took in violence, and the way his body reacts to the beauty of a woman far too young for him.
It hurts to know that Xander doesn’t think of her that way, but she figures it’s her own fault. She can’t dress like Buffy, she doesn’t know how to be anybody but her geeky super-student self. You can be smart or you can be sexy, but not both, at least if you’re a girl.
She forgets these things when she’s drinking tea with Giles, discussing politics or poetry or ancient history, because then it’s just ideas meeting and sparking; it’s like the sparring he does with Buffy, only no bruises. One day she overhears him talking with Ms. Calendar in the hall.
“I’ll just ask Willow to take care of it. She’s quite the talented researcher; she’s got the sort of intellect that can find the connecting thread between two separate ideas.”
Ms. Calendar laughs. “Tell me about it. That girl could probably teach my classes for me. She reminds me of myself at that age—book-smart, but socially a little behind the curve. She’ll be quite a woman someday.” Ms. Calendar’s words sting a little, but it feels warm and fuzzy to find out that Giles respects her. And if Ms. Calendar used to be “behind the curve,” maybe someday Willow can be smart and sexy, the kind of confident woman that a man like Mr. Giles wants.
She still feels the old love for Xander—it’s part of her, like being good at math and bad at makeup—but she has begun comparing him to Giles, who makes her feel all adult and competent and interesting. She looks up to Giles, who can read and write five languages and has read nearly every book in the library. Xander is a still a boy, she realizes, and Giles is a man, possibly a dangerous one. There is another person hiding behind the glasses and the suits, with another name: Ripper, who used to raise demons for fun. She finds herself increasingly aware of him when they talk; not just ideas now, but his strong hands lifting a heavy volume with ease, his jaw line, his smile. She notices the subtle man-smell, aftershave and wool and a faint tang of sweat, when he leans over her shoulder at the library computer.
She finds a “Kiss the Librarian” mug in a gift shop, and leaves it on his desk when he is not there. She watches his lips when he drinks tea from that mug, and sometimes imagines his lips touching hers.
He is pleased that Willow has a boyfriend, although the werewolf aspect is worrisome. But he can’t help liking Oz, who is so thoroughly and simply himself, lacking the posturing so common to teenage boys. And this boy appreciates Willow, unlike Xander, who has fallen for Cordelia’s shallow charms.
He thinks he is falling in love with Jenny, so it is disturbing to wake from a dream of naked limbs and passionate kisses and a huge dog howling outside the window, and realize that he was dreaming of Willow in his bed, in his arms. A high school girl. The next day he buries himself in the dullest research he can find, but images of Willow’s smile and her slender body return to him between the pages of every book, and he spills tea on a Watcher’s Diary from 1874, blurring the sepia ink.
Jenny Calendar’s murder turns Giles into a stranger. He will not meet their eyes, and suddenly he looks old, not merely older in that adult-old-enough-to-be-your-father way, but crumpled and worn out by hurt. She can see that he blames himself, and that he is holding his emotions so tightly he may explode. She thinks of Ripper, of the man with a demon’s tattoo on his arm, and knows the explosion could destroy him.
She hurries from the computer classroom to the library, the diskette in her pocket. There is a new possibility, a way to fix things, and she is confident that she and Giles can make it work, restore Angel to what he was before and erase at least one horror from their world. His office door is closed and she is about to leave when she recognizes the strange, faint sound she is hearing.
She doesn’t bother to knock, and the face he turns to her is so open, so broken that he cannot even pretend embarrassment or dignity. It is streaked with tears and she goes to him, holds him, wordless as he sobs into her chest, clutching her as though he would fall into the Hellmouth itself if he let go. His head is between her breasts and she strokes his hair, feeling sad but strong, knowing she can give him something he needs now, if only for a moment. A bell rings in the hall and she realizes she is missing Chemistry and she holds him until his gasping misery slows.
He looks up, and he is still broken but there are other things there too. She can’t sort out all the emotions in his face. “Willow, I…”
“Shhh,” she says. “You don’t need to say anything.” She walks around behind him and rubs his back, his shoulders, as he slumps on the desk, exhausted with the tears and the hurting, the loss. He thinks he has failed, but he cannot see that she is wearing her resolve face. She may not be able to conquer death, but she can and will work magic if that’s what it takes to help the people she cares about.
Later, when she and Buffy tell him about the disk and the restoration spell, their eyes meet and she gives him a small nod. They will never talk about how he wept in her arms, how she helped him heal, at least enough to go on.
Willow looks so fragile in her wheelchair, and he is afraid for her. Her magical ability is far beyond anything he expected; she should never have been able to perform such a spell, weakened and injured as she was. She is certain that it worked, talking with enthusiasm of the power that flowed through her, and that opens up a new Pandora’s box of worry. He remembers that same thrill, and the greater thrill of knowing he could control those energies. For him at least, such knowledge had been a deadly illusion.
She does not know it yet, but he can see that the shy, awkward girl she was—the phrase “socially a little behind the curve” springs painfully to his mind—is disappearing fast. She has become a powerful woman, and will soon have the confidence to match her power. He hopes she can keep the two in balance.