One would think that public libraries would have lost all interest to him. Having run a library certainly demystified them for him, but the old glamour was replaced by a new sense of mystery. As though knowing the arcana of the library, generic, had opened him up to a true appreciation for that of the library, specific. Each one has its own mysteries, which can't be solved easily or quickly. They're like well-made locks- comprised of a series of tumblers that must be learned as individuals and in context. Caressed by instruments held in a hand that is both confident and humble. But now, he's rambling.
He does that, now. Now, that he has the time and the space- yes, the space. Loosed on the world and its public libraries, unemployed twice over; now neither a librarian nor a Watcher. Now, just another sad case left alone to wander the corridors of Sunnydale's public libraries, to allow their geometry to mingle with that of his mind- the logical and orderly becoming one with the fractal, the shifting.
Only, he should know better. He's on a Hellmouth, after all. He, well, he's him. He's not just another sad case spending the day-time hours, the pre-evening news and pre-cocktail hours, pawing the periodicals and absorbing the free air conditioning. Even when he actively avoids them, strange things will find him. They seem to have done so, now.
Part of his mind, a scrap of some memory, has become unmoored. That man. That man, sitting at that table. Near the window. In what is neither shadow nor light, which gives him a kind of flat look, like an old illustration. From where Giles stands, he can only see the man from behind: a white man, with brown hair; both ubiquitous and anonymous. His posture is both rigidly correct and vaguely defeated, and Giles finds himself instinctively slouching a little to avoid mirroring it. He feels defensive: the way the man sits is like an unflattering parody of his own way of holding himself. Though, he doesn't know why that should be. Most likely, it's a stranger, with no reason to mock him.
Though, he could very easily not be. This man could be anyone Giles has known, pulled from five decades worth of acquaintanceship with men like him; men obviously distinct from himself, yet on such a minute level that at a distance, they could be the same man, replicated. If he were to go over and speak to the man, or even just to move, slowly and quietly on the coarse carpet, to the right angle, he could solve the mystery in a second. Giles puts down the books he was holding, walks to the staircase, goes downstairs, and exits the library. It's only later that he cringes: he didn't even think to put back the books where they belonged.
His burgundy corduroy jacket is missing. He hadn't noticed before because he never wears it. He bought it when he first came to Sunnydale, at an end-of-season sale because it was cheap, but he only got as far as taking off the price tag and hanging it in the closet. Something about the color. It's not really red, but it's close enough to red to make him feel- like a target, he supposes. He only wants it now because he finally got round to cleaning out his closet. It was to go to charity, along with several of his more worn suits. Which are all of his suits, really. Not that he needs any suits, in any sort of condition. On the occasions when he thought they might be warranted, they made him look ridiculous and anachronistic to others- and as though he were trying too hard. Which is, of course, the worst thing that a person can do. It's odd: when he was young, he was always told that he didn't apply himself enough. At some point, though, it became too much. Apparently, he missed the time when the amount of effort he expended was just right.
The jacket is missing, as well as some shirts he can't quite identify but would recognize if he saw them, and, this is very odd, a few monogrammed handkerchiefs. The jacket and the shirts, he could shrug off as having been taken years ago by Xander- with exasperation, but shrugged them off, all the same- but the handkerchiefs are perplexing. Who would want those? He barely wanted them, himself; they were a present from his mother, nearly as old as him. He never used them; just kept them because the thought of getting rid of them filled him with shame. He laughs aloud, Maybe I have a mystery admirer.
He's at his bank, doing paperwork, when he happens to look out the window. Before he can identify the reason for it, he's aware of his pulse beating in his throat. It's that man! Seen from behind, from a second story window and at some distance, but it's unmistakably him. There's an additional flash of recognition, perhaps the place from where he knows the man, but the man's already moving before Giles can identify it. He almost cries out, Stop!
Surprised to find that he'd risen, he sits down again. The customer service representative, as though sensing a disturbance in the bank's aura, comes over and asks him if everything is all right.
“Ah, yes,” he says, and pats his pockets, “I, er, seem to have forgotten one of my documents. I just need to go to my car.”
“That's fine, Mr. Giles,” she says, and gives him a brilliant smile made of up teeth that suddenly seem too white and too sharp. He smiles back, mouth closed, and dashes to the door, then out the door, then into the parking lot. He looks around before running across the street.
There are people walking, talking to each other, going about the business that people go about. Suddenly, he feels vile, as though he were ruining something, but he can't stop himself from speaking aloud and to no one in particular, “Please. Did anyone happen to see a man- a white man, in his, er, forties, I guess, with brown hair. About 'so' high-” he holds his hand up somewhere around where his own head would be. He trails off.
Finally someone speaks. “Sorry. No one but you.”
The bottle of gin is missing at least an inch. But he hardly ever drinks gin.
“Do you drink regularly?”
When he tries to answer, the doctor tilts back his head and palpates the glands his neck.
He puts his head back down at normal level. “No.”
“Hmm,” humphs the doctor. “What about smoking? Nicotine can cause sleep disturbances, lucid dreaming...”
“No. I don't smoke, either.” He fusses with the material of the hospital gown he's wearing, hiding the tips of his fingers.
“Drugs- prescription medication?”
“No, I'm not taking anything.”
The doctor again produces that queer, guttural hum, and makes some marks on a set of clipboarded notes, obscured from Giles by the angle.
Finally: “Well, I don't see anything wrong, here. Make sure to get plenty of rest. Maybe do some light stretching. Flexibility is important for people your age. And stay away from the liquor.” Is the doctor making the 'finger-to-nose' gesture, or just scratching it?
When Giles gets home, he pours all of the liquor in the house down the sink, and throws his cigarettes in the trash.
He comes home, and the house smells like someone's been smoking there. It will make things inconveniently awkward, but he really has to get around to uninviting Spike.
Of course. Spike. He laughs, aloud and long. He laughs, aloud and longer than is seemly. It's a good thing no one's watching. With a finger, he wipes the tears from his eyes, and removes from the supermarket paper bag a new carton of cigarettes and a bottle of Scotch.
Vampire or no, it's beyond the pale to interfere with another person's library books.
“Er, yes,” he says to the woman on the phone, “I can't really explain this, but I seem to have lost the books I took out.”
“Name,” she says.
“Giles, Rupert.” He starts spelling it when she interrupts him.
“Yes. Mr. Giles, the books were returned on the twenty-first.”
“But they weren't due until today.”
“Yes, but they were returned on the twenty-first.”
“But I lost them.”
“But they were returned on the twenty-first.”
“But they were returned.”
“But I didn't-”
“But they were-”
“There's no fine on them,” she spits, and hangs up.
“Did you forget something?”
He furrows his brow. “No.”
“What did you mean by that?”
The young lady at the cash register looks up. “Well, you were here before.”
“No, I wasn't.”
“Okay,” she says, without conviction.
“I was here before, you say.”
“Mmm,” she exhales through her nose, not looking up.
“Yeah,” she says softly, looking up, but not at him.
“What did I buy?”
“Um... A cup of tea and a pack of cigarettes?” her voice swinging up at the end like she's questioning him, or herself, or perhaps the universe as a whole.
He looks at her until she looks down again. He looks at his hands, the nicotine stains on his fingers already faded. “But I don't smoke.”
“What the-” Spike puts his hand against the invisible barrier to Giles' home.
“I'm going to need assurances from you before I invite you in again.”
“'Assurances'? What are you talking about- and are you drunk?”
“I am talking about you stealing my clothes,” he shakes his head, “for reasons that I, frankly, neither want nor need to know. And my gin. And my library books.”
“Okay. One-” Spike holds up a finger- his nail varnish is chipped, Giles notices- “I wouldn't be caught dead in your clothes. Pardon the expression. Two-” another finger, “I don't drink gin, because I'm not a bloody housewife. Three-” another finger, “Why in hell would I want your library books?”
“For evil purposes I don't pretend to understand.”
Spike raises an eyebrow. “'Evil purposes'?”
“Would you stop quoting me in that tone,” Giles huffs, “Yes, evil purposes. For the purpose of making me think that I'm losing my mind.”
“Nice idea, but it requires too much commitment.”
Giles looks down. “Yes.”
Spike continues, and Giles hopes that it's just his imagination that Spike seems to be speaking in a softer voice, “The whole mind-fuck thing was never for me. You're thinking of Angel, there, mate. And if he'd gone off the wagon again, we'd know about it, yeah?”
“So, would you just let me in, already?”
“You could just be trying to convince me that it's not you in order to better exploit your strategic advantage.”
Spike rolls his eyes, but says, still in that horribly gentle tone, “Does that sound like me?”
“No. Not really. Fine. Spike, you may come in.”
Spike mutters, “And thank fuck for that.”
“But you can't smoke in here.”
“What else is new? Oh, and I shouldn't give you this after the way you've treated me tonight, but I will, anyway.” Spike hands him a small pile of matter he can't identify at first. “Found it in your front yard. You're very welcome,” Spike says, and plonks down in couch.
It's a box, wrapped in gaudy paper. Giles shakes it. Something inside moves solidly back and forth. The other thing is bouquet of some kind. It looks like weeds.
He's still puzzling over it when Xander walks in through the still-open door, with Anya.
“Is that a bouquet of linden?” she asks.
On the couch, Spike starts laughing to himself.
“I don't know,” Giles says, caught off-guard, “Is it?” he turns to Spike, “Why is that funny?”
Spike clears his throat. “Just, y'know, an unconventional take on flowers and chocolate.”
Giles takes off his glasses. “Why's that?”
Anya says, in that clear voice of hers, “Linden means 'fucking'. In the Victorian language of flowers.”
Spike raises his hands as though in defense. “She said it; not me. And, actually, it's 'fornication'. Specific kind of fucking.”
“Oh, yes,” Anya continues, “Fucking someone you're not married to.”
“That's the one,” says Spike.
“Are you fucking anyone you're not married to?” Anya gets out before Xander says, “Okay. That's enough of the Victorian language of flowers.”
As he's speaking, Giles is still able to make out Spike asking, “Are you going to eat the chocolates?”
When he leaves the house, he makes certain that all of the windows and doors are locked. When he comes home, he checks under his bed and in all of the closets. Years living on the Hellmouth, and suddenly, he's afraid of things in the closet. It's not monsters he fears, though. They would just want to eat him. Not ruin his mental equilibrium, or make strange romantic overtures.
The door is still locked, and so are the windows. There's nobody under his bed, or in his closets. Nothing is missing. He sighs. A feeling of relief fills him, all the way to his toes. It's like removing a garment that is necessary but horrifically oppressive. He takes off his clothes, runs a bath, and lies there until the water begins to go cold. He dries off, gets into his pajamas, and brushes his teeth. He pulls back the sheets of his bed, and begins to tuck himself in.
It's warm. And there's a smell. The rather pleasant smell of someone's cologne. But not his. He puts his coat on over his pajamas, and runs outside. While he's waiting for the police to show up, he keeps sniffing the sleeve. He doesn't smell anything, but he keeps sniffing, all the same.
“Angel Investigations, we help the helpless.”
“Giles, is that-”
“Yes. Is Angel there?”
“Yeah. I'll just-”
He hears her not-whisper, It's Giles and he's freaking out, and then Angel picks up the phone.
“Giles? Is everything-”
“Yes. Fine. Thank you.” He hangs up.
Whoever sent him the chocolates paid for them using his credit card. Giles frowns. Fifty dollars for chocolates that ended up being eaten by Spike, who doesn't even have a sense of taste. There's another charge, too, from an internet book retailer. What that can be, Giles doesn't know. He both wants and doesn't want to know.
For the past couple of days, he's been staying at a hotel, but he can't really afford this, and it sort of rubs him the wrong way- hiding. Hiding from whom or from what, he doesn't even know. At this point, it feels like he's hiding from his own house, as though the structure itself were complicit in- whatever this is.
As he's waiting in the line to check out, he looks over toward the little garden courtyard where people sometimes eat breakfast, and sees the man again. In a strange way, it's comforting. He hadn't seen him in weeks, was beginning to think that there'd never be any closure. Not that there is, now, standing in a hotel lobby, a stranger surrounded by strangers, with the air conditioning blowing down his neck, but it's another piece to the mystery. If a mystery can't be solved after some effort, that's one thing, but if the mystery, itself, won't cooperate by supplying enough clues to allow itself to be solved, that's a special sort of rudeness. The mystery man,of course, is determined to not turn around. Giles can't help but smile. Now, he knows that it isn't all in his imagination. Some of it, at least, is real.
A book- the book, he imagines- arrives. Fierce with excitement, he tears away the paper, and finds- that it's a copy of A Season In Hell, by Arthur Rimbaud, in the original French. There's a card, which reads “Qu'il vienne, qu'il vienne- le temps dont on s'emprenne”. Giles takes off his glasses, rubs his brow. His French was only ever adequate. An online search engine tells him that this is- rather disappointingly, actually- a quotation from the book: “Let it come, let it come- the time we'd be enamored of.”
Giles frowns. “What the fuck does that mean when it's at home?”
“Maybe Buffy could-”
“She doesn't need to know about this.”
“I mean, I don't want to worry her unnecessarily.”
“Yeah. I know. I just-”
“I'd just like it if you could tell me what I'm dealing with before I bring her into it.”
“Well, sure. That's just prudent, and you're a prudent kind of guy,” she waits for the reassurance that doesn't come, then says, “Okay. Is tomorrow morning okay? Because I have class in the afternoon.”
It's not as though he'd forgotten that she's at university- that she is, while legally an adult, as good as a child to him- but that brings down the full weight of all of the time between them upon him, and he suddenly feels either extremely guilty or extremely tired, or perhaps both.
“Yes. That's fine. Thank you, Willow.”
“No problem,” she begins, but he's already hung up.
He's still willing to entertain the notion that he's merely losing his mind, possibly due to massive intake of alcohol over the years, but he drinks quite a lot that night, all the same. He's rewarded with a long dreamless sleep, as endless, warm and smooth as a summer sea.
Mysteries are mysteries, but sometimes, they're just irritating. Willow brings over Tara, and he leads them through the house- or, rather, it feels like they lead him, as he walks behind them, feeling impossibly tall and old, like Stonehenge.
“The verdict?” he says, when they've been through the house.
“Well, it's nothing demon-y or vampire-y,” says Willow.
“It definitely feels human,” then Tara adds, somewhat apologetically, “Actually, it only feels like you. Like, there are traces of other energy signatures in the living room, but everywhere else, it feels like you're the only person to have been there in a long time.”
“Be that as it may, I'm sure someone else has been in my house.”
“We're not disputing that,” Willow says consolingly, “Maybe they weren't here long enough to leave any kind of persistent energy signature.”
“That's a definite possibility,” says Tara.
“This might be a problem that's less paranormal-y, and more normal-y. You could just have a regular, human stalker.”
“Oh,” he says.
Willow smiles. “Ya almost sound disappointed, there.”
“No. No. I just- I suppose I assumed it must be something more, well-”
“It's a natural assumption to make,” Willow says, and shrugs, “I could set up some cameras, with a live feed to a laptop, so if- when someone breaks in, we could call the police immediately, before they even leave.”
“That sounds like the best course of action.”
“Great. I just need to get a few things, and then I'll have then set up for you in a jiffy.”
“Thank you. Both of you.”
They smile at him, their expressions synchronized in a way that both disturbs him slightly and makes him feel a pang of- whatever it is, it's not jealousy- and they leave him.
“Sorry that it's only black and white,” says Willow.
“That's quite all right.”
“It has sound, though-”
“How long do you think this will take?”
Willow's mouth claps shut. Quickly, Tara speaks, “There's no way of knowing. With people like this, if they feel like they're being ignored, they'll usually act out in more and more provocative ways, until they get the attention they want.”
“You make me wish I'd taken Abnormal Psychology with you,” Willow says.
“So, soon?” he asks.
“Hopefully. Whoever this is feels pretty comfortable in your house, so they'll just walk in whenever they feel like they need to reaffirm their connection to you.”
“You almost make it sound like they miss me.”
“Well, in a way, they do. Look, there.” Tara points at the computer screen. The front door is opening.
“Damn,” hisses Giles, when all that's revealed of the intruder is the back of his head. And not in terribly good detail, either. He almost asks if these were the best cameras Willow could find, but stops himself.
“It's okay,” Willow says, “We'll get him.”
The intruder makes his way through the house, avoiding showing his face, as though he knew where the cameras were. At least they know that it's a white man. Who could be young or old. Who could be shorter or taller, depending upon how and where he stands. Whose hair appears to be dark or fair, depending upon the way the light falls on it. There's something familiar about the way he moves, but the familiarity is lost in the disorienting sensation of watching him only from behind. Viewed this way, he's everyone, and he's no one.
He walks into Giles' bedroom. Backward.
At once, he and Willow and Tara exclaim variations on, “How does he know where the camera is?” Willow shushes them, and then gasps, “He's turning around.”
Then, Willow gasps again. In the periphery of his vision, Giles sees Tara clutch at Willow's arm.
Softly, Tara says, “But that's not-”
Giles, himself, cannot speak. Cannot speak as he watches the intruder who is him- who has his face, and moves like him, and is wearing what he knows, even though the camera transmits in black and white, is a burgundy corduroy jacket, walk toward his bed. Giles puts up a hand to but can't bring himself to touch the screen as the intruder kneels on his bed and moves toward the camera concealed over the headboard. Then, he does touch, without thinking, feeling both revulsion and something else, when this stranger who looks like him says in a voice that is most certainly not his, but almost as familiar, “Hello, Ripper”.