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School Break

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As usual with Christmas break, the train home seemed to take forever. By the time familiar sights were spotted outside the window, Rupert Giles was squirming with impatience. Then finally the train station came into view and he gathered up his things. His mother was there, in her farm coat, dogs everywhere, with her cloth hat squashed on her head. Rupert ran down the platform.

“Mother!”

“Hello, old thing, how was the ride?” They headed off to the car, Rupert bubbling over with happiness at being home.

“The train took forever, but I had a good book with me and Sean and I played cards part way” said Rupert.

“How did the exams go?”

“Oh I think I did well, although old Pruneface gave us a hard maths exam this time.”

“I hope that you don’t call him that anywhere near his hearing.”

“No mum, but he really is a very grouchy teacher, always telling us we’re lazy and distracted.”

Arriving at the car, Rupert and his mum hustled the four dogs into the back, piled his bags on the back seat and got into the front of the Land Rover. He loved these rides with just his mum. Life at home was good, but his father was always distracted by Rose, his Slayer potential that he was training, and Council research that needed doing. His father tended to treat Rupert with distracted affection, seeing him more as an unformed adult, someone who would be more interesting later on, when he developed more skills. Rupert occupied his time at home with books, and exploring the countryside with his dog, Bau. They would walk for miles, looking for caves and old Roman ruins, anything that had secrecy attached to it.

The only upset in his good life at home was Rose. In front of his father, Rose was obedient, did all her work, trained, and kept herself in line. When she got time off, her favourite pastime was terrorizing Rupert and pummeling him till he gave up his pocket money or helped her with whatever the latest outrageous scheme was. Rose was the only person Rupert had ever hated in his life so far, and he really hated her. He was deeply ashamed of being afraid of her, and never told a soul about her.

Mrs. Giles stared thoughtfully at her young son. He was very quiet on the ride home, not that he was normally chatty, but today he seemed withdrawn and quieter as they approached the house. Oh well, best to let him work it out on his own. Rupert hated when she meddled. He was trying so hard to be grownup for his father, but twelve was hardly grownup yet.

Rupert looked up and realized that they were at the main gate of the farm. They drove down the farm road and pulled in front of the house. The house was a lovely stone house, classed as a manor house, but barely big enough to qualify. There were stables out the back and several farm buildings, a farmhand’s cottage, two beehives, a henhouse and acres of gardens and fruit trees. Beyond that was wild land that the Giles’ used for riding and went out to get firewood and the yearly Christmas tree. As they unloaded the bags and dogs from the car, Rupert could hear the sounds of training coming from one the stable buildings that had been converted for the purpose. They were working with staffs from the sound of wood clashing on wood and Mr. Giles yelled instructions.

Rupert turned to his mum, who was just heading in with the groceries, “Can I take my things in a minute? I want to say hi to Dad.”

“Certainly Rupert, just don’t forget supper in 30 minutes alright?”

“Yes, mum” He headed out to the training area and sat up on a horsebox door, watching Rose work with the staff. She was fourteen, not likely to ever be a Slayer at her age, but Mr. Giles still wanted her ready for whatever might happen. She had dark, almost black hair, vivid grey eyes and she was tall for her age, almost as tall as Mr. Giles. Rupert’s father was in top physical shape, unlike many Watcher’s who trained from books and exercises that mostly were done by the Slayer or trainee. Edward Giles believed that the Watcher should be able to protect his Slayer if needed and that the Watcher could never judge his Slayer’s readiness for battle if he wasn’t in similar condition. He had also started Rupert learning some karate and doing physical activity at school, such as running and fencing to keep in practice. Edward Giles finally called a halt to the training and Rose headed out to shower and change for supper, waving at Rupert as she left.

Rupert hopped down and walked over to his father who was wiping his face with a towel. The two of them looked remarkably similar, with green eyes and strong chins, with Rupert getting his smile from his mother, Edward’s laugh was more subtle and he had a smile that seemed quieter somehow, more restrained. Otherwise they alike in many things, hair colour, and even cowlicks that tended get unruly in the same spot on their foreheads.

Edward smiled at his son in greeting “How are you Rupert?”

“Good, my exam results should be excellent this year. It went well, and I took a first place in the fencing competition this year.”

“That’s wonderful son, I knew the lessons would pay off. Let’s head in, I need to cleanup and change for supper. Your mother is baking a wonderful pie for us with some of the new beans from the garden.”

To the accompaniment of more chatter from his son, Edward headed along the path back to the house. He loved the sound of his son around the place, he never stopped missing him when he was gone to school, but it was for the best. He had it in him to be one the best Watchers and Edward wanted him to do well. He knew Rupert worked hard, but he also knew that his son didn’t really want to be a Watcher and he resented his calling. At twelve, he understandably hated the idea of his life being already decided and he pulled away from talking about that side of things when his father brought it up. Rupert did like the physical side of it though, learning to fence and fight, pretending when he was off in the woods that he was a famous demon hunter. But the idea of really spending his life buried in research and books made him restless and afraid of the responsibility and he preferred to change the topic. Edward couldn’t blame him and thought that maybe this Christmas, he and Rupert could take some time alone to do something special.

Supper was wonderful; Rupert ate steadily and only stopped when addressed by his parents. Not that school food was really that bad, but his mum’s pies were wonderful and he had missed sitting at the table together. Rose was chattering away about some group on the radio, the Beatles or something, and his parents were listening politely, Simon, the farm manager was sitting at the end of the table, with his helper, Bruce, and everything was as it should be. Finally Rose came to a stop to eat and his mum started asking him about school, if he had any new friends, that sort of thing.

“I met one new kid this term; he switched from a London school, Brian something. He’s ok; he likes chess so we play that sometimes.” Rose sniggered at that and Rupert kicked her under the table. She merely grinned back at him and went back to eating. One thing that had always been part of meals in the Giles’ household was reading at the table. Edward was deep into the paper, as was one of the hands, his mum, Katherine, was not actively reading, but a book was behind her on the sideboard. Rose, when not talking nonstop was flipping through a film magazine and Rupert had his newest adventure comic tucked by his plate. Conversation tended to be in short spurts between reading and it was a relaxed table.

Finally though, dessert was done, the adult had their coffee and Rose had excused herself to watch television. Rupert was still nose deep in his comic when his mother’s voice brought him to attention.

“Rupert you should fetch your things out of the car before it gets too late. We have an early day tomorrow with people coming over and the tree to put up.”

“Yes mum. I’ll do it now.”

Rupert headed to the front of the house, grabbed his coat and went outside shutting the door quickly, against the cold. It was dark and snow was lightly falling. He stopped to admire the new snow, when a movement caught his eye. Someone was rummaging around in the car. He padded silently over and watched. As his eyes adjusted further to the dark, he could just make out it was Rose, she was pulling something out from one of his bags. All at once he wrenched the door open and grabbed her arm.

“Hey, get out of my stuff!”

She laughed and held up his prize penknife, with its multiple blades and accessories.

“This is a pretty thing to have; surprised you’d leave it out in the car.”

“Give it back” said Rupert.

Rose shouldered him aside and bounced out of reach on the drive. “What if I didn’t? What you do, tattle to Daddy? He thinks I’m wonderfully responsible. I’d just tell him that you lost it and you were embarrassed and blamed it on me instead. He knows you don’t like me. He might just think you were jealous and being a mean little boy to get attention.” She started moving down the drive with his knife in her hand, loosely held, taunting him with how easy it would seem to be to get it back.

“Give me my knife back. You’re stealing!”

“Catch me then, and you can try to get it back!” Rose took off at a run down the drive, laughing as she went. Rupert was furious and he raced after her. They were very close, only Rose’s longer legs were helping her get ahead. She let him catch up in the training stable and faced him across the sparring space and got into a fighting stance.

“So how badly do you want it then? Enough to fight me for it?” Rupert was beside himself with rage. That penknife had been a present from his grandfather and he loved it. There was no way he was letting Rose get away with stealing that. She had taken other things from him, comic books she didn’t even like, money, and even a stuffed animal, but this was it. He was putting up with no more abuse, stealing or physical attacks from Rose. Never again.

“Fine, let’s do it then. I fight you and win. I get back everything you ever stole from me. Everything you got it? And there will be no more stealing or anything else.” Rose nodded in agreement.

“Right, you win and I leave you alone.” She laughed at this and they moved closer. Rupert circled around her, reluctant to start the fight, with her longer reach; she would get under his defenses soon enough anyway. As they moved around the room, Rose suddenly lashed out and her fist connected with Rupert’s cheek, causing him to stumble back. She followed it up by a blow to the side and he punched back, landing one blow on her arm. They traded blows back and forth for a few minutes finally the pace picked up and they were slamming each other back and forth, Rose was holding back somewhat, but when Rupert stomped on her foot, she let loose a flurry of blows that had him clutching his stomach on the ground, trying to protect himself from her boots that were landing kicks everywhere. He tried, but she got in a few good hits and he clutched his ribs where he was sure one had broken, that however left his groin unprotected, and she landed a good hit there and he howled in pain. Eyes watering with tears, he was blurrily staring up at Rose when suddenly he saw the unimaginable. A shape loomed up behind her and she was screaming and he couldn’t tell what was happening, but as he wrenched himself up, he could see it was a vampire. Here in the country, where they never had vampires, one was drinking from Rose, blood running down her neck. Her face was twisted up in rage and pain and she was struggling, trying to get free, but her strength was failing her. Rupert was panicking in fear, trying to find a weapon but everything was locked up. Finally he spotted a stake that had been left out and ran with it. He tried stabbing the vampire himself, but he got thrown off. Whimpering now, Rose was dying, her skin was white and she was sagging in the vampire’s arms, but her eyes stared straight at him and then the stake. Rupert nodded and threw the stake right at her, and she caught it and staked the vampire smoothly. As the vampire exploded into dust she fell, hitting the ground hard. All this had taken literally moments and finally the yelling was attracting attention. Edward came running into the stable and knelt down by Rose.

“What happened son? Tell me quick”

“A vampire attacked her. It came out of nowhere.” Rupert was shaking and cold and he barely got the words out without his teeth chattering. Rose nodded in confirmation, but that was almost all she could do. Edward lifted her into his arms and carried her into the house, while Katherine phoned for the doctor, but it didn’t look good. Edward did everything he could, but Rose died before the doctor even got there. After checking her over, the doctor patched up Rupert and the official part began. The doctor was a Council employee, so he phoned to tell them the news and let Edward grieve. Edward came to see his son much later and sat holding his hand.

“Rupert, I’m sorry you had to see this so soon, but Rose was brave and she knew that her life was a dangerous one. She fought to protect you and lost, sometimes that happens in our line of work.” His father’s voice was calm, but his hands were shaking and he looked tired and suddenly old.

There was a feeling inside Rupert as if a light had come on and he knew he had to lie. He could never tell his father that a small part of him was relieved that Rose was gone and that she wasn’t really brave and selfless. How could he tell his father that Rose died because she was distracted fighting him? He simply hugged his father and they left it at that. His father left, and Rupert knew that this was part of what grownups sometimes did, lied to make someone feel better.

In a little while his mother came up. She also held his hand, but her hands were firm and she was calm. Rupert sat up and for the first time in a very long time he crawled into his mother’s lap and wept noisy messy sobs that wouldn’t stop, until his mother shook him lightly.

“Rupert stop now, you’ll make yourself sick.” She gave him a handkerchief and he blew his nose and quieted down.

“Mum I’m sad she’s dead, but she was awful. I feel so horrible that I don’t feel worse, and dad doesn’t know. He’s so sad; I couldn’t tell him about it now.”

His mum just stroked his hair and held him close. “Sweetheart, I wasn’t blind. I knew Rose was making things hard for you, but I wanted you to work it out for yourself. I was going to step in, but I didn’t in time. Not all those injuries were from the attack were they?”

Rupert shook his head and whispered, almost afraid to bring it out in the open. “We fought in the stable; she was beating me up when the vampire attacked. I wasn’t even close to winning, she just kept kicking and kicking me…” he stopped talking, his fingers gripping the blanket and twisting it in embarrassment.

Katherine looked at her precious son. Tonight had been traumatizing for him and now was not the time to try and deal with everything. The Council team was still in the study and her husband was upset as well. There would be time enough to talk to her son tomorrow and reassure him that he didn’t get Rose killed in his desire to stand up to her. She felt a wrench knowing there was much worse coming for Rupert in the future. For now she kissed him and tucked him under the blankets, trying to ease some of his pain.

“Sleep now love and we’ll talk tomorrow alright?”

“Ok, but stay with me till I fall asleep?” Katherine nodded and Rupert snuggled farther under the covers. His mum was protecting him and for now he could try and let go of the night’s chaos. The face of the vampire receded a bit and he was able to fall asleep. Katherine watched her son long after he had fallen asleep, wishing he could be protected from all the danger out there in the night and knowing that he would grow up to be a protector one day and maybe dying for it. She sighed quietly, kissed her son on the forehead and left the room, door ajar, to deal with the rest of the grief and pain in the house.