“This is the worst,” said Buffy. “This is the worst. This is worse than that time I got that gluey demon blood all over the physics homework I spent two hours doing, and worse than the time I almost got eaten by a snake demon—Giles, do you know what I said to Angel, Giles, I said I wish you’d feel me up sometime and then I had to go run away—”
“Buffy, your incessant chattering is comforting in its normalcy but unhelpful when I am trying to read,” said Giles thinly. “Though it’s utterly pointless, reading, seeing as every bloody thing I think comes directly out of my mouth.”
“You guys are being so dramatic,” said Cordelia, rolling her eyes as she idly flipped through a heavy volume. “What’s so bad about saying exactly what you mean?”
“I told Angel I want him to feel me up,” said Buffy, and face-planted into the book with a loud, mournful groan.
“Yes, well, that’s much better than what I am sure will happen when I see Jenny,” said Giles. A truly frustrated look crossed his face. “God, I hate this,” he muttered.
“C’mon, Giles, no secret can be worse than that one time we found out you raised demons in college,” scoffed Xander. “Buffy’s the one who’s really suffering. If I told Angel about how I wanted to feel him up, I’d be pretty messed up too right now,” and then he turned bright red and hurried to busy himself with the book he was reading.
“Well, I’m glad it’s just you two who got hit by that weird demony thing,” said Cordelia matter-of-factly. “It’d totally suck to just never shut up about—uh—” and she turned bright red, scooting her chair almost unconsciously away from Xander’s.
“What happens if we never break this thing?” Buffy said into the book. Her mind was still running a mile a minute, only now her mouth wasn’t having any trouble keeping up. “What happens if we never break this thing and I end up telling Angel about that time I dreamed he and I were—”
“Buffy, that is not something a parent needs to hear!” said Giles very loudly.
The library went dead silent. Buffy’s mind went completely blank, for a second, as she looked slowly up at Giles. “That is not something a parent needs to hear,” she echoed, a little shaky, playing it back. Then she smiled.
“Oh, don’t—” said Giles helplessly. “I’m not your father,” he said. “I’m not. I won’t ever be. It isn’t possible.”
But the way he said it sounded more like rapid-fire justifications than something that he genuinely wanted to impart on her. Buffy knew Giles’s Lecture Voice, and Buffy knew Giles’s I-Don’t-Believe-This-But-Five-Hundred-Old-Guys-Before-Me-Did Voice, and this one fell very solidly in the latter category. It took her a moment to realize that she’d just said all this, and another moment to realize that Xander had looked at them both, pushed his chair violently back, and stormed out of the library.
Xander nearly bumped into Ms. Calendar. “Xander!” she said reprovingly, then, “Xander,” in a very different tone of voice, a softer one that she usually used only with Willow and sometimes with Giles when she thought no one was paying attention. Gripping his elbow, she steered him into her classroom. “Sit,” she said.
“It’s nothing,” said Xander roughly, sitting awkwardly in Ms. Calendar’s desk chair. “It’s whatever.”
“Did Rupert do something stupid?” said Ms. Calendar, mouth twitching upward. “He’s good at that.”
“He didn’t,” said Xander. “You know that spell that Buffy and Giles got hit with last night, but there were no weird effects so we just brushed it off?”
“I do,” said Ms. Calendar. “That’s what I was referring to. I spent three hours trying to convince him to research any side effects but he was so sure—” Off Xander’s look, she cleared her throat, looking a little embarrassed. “Um. Putting aside my professional frustrations—” this was pretty funny coming from someone who played professional tonsil hockey with Giles on the regular, but Xander let it slide, “—what exactly happened?”
“Giles and Buffy are saying whatever comes into their heads,” said Xander, “and they can’t stop it, and Giles thinks of Buffy as his kid.” He didn’t know why this made him so upset, just that it did. “So, see, he didn’t do anything stupid exactly. You know. Except for the whole not-researching-side-effects thing.”
Ms. Calendar sat down on the edge of her desk, looking at Xander with an uncomfortably assessing expression. He looked away. “Xander,” she said, “you know Rupert cares about you, don’t you?”
“Sure,” said Xander. “He loves it when I put my feet on the desk and get chocolate on the books and make too much noise while he’s reading. You know, he’s been under this spell for three to five hours, and that’s the only stuff he’s said to me? He said Willow’s a remarkable girl and he even said Cordelia was surprisingly tolerable, on occasion—”
Ms. Calendar’s eyes had narrowed and she was looking a little bit scary. “You know what?” she said. “Let’s go talk to Rupert.”
“Ms. Calendar, I don’t want—”
“No,” said Ms. Calendar. “He means something to you, and I know you mean something to him, and if you two weren’t busy being such men, you might actually get things done.” She pulled Xander back up from the chair, tugged him out of her classroom, and stepped into the library. “Rupert—”
“Oh, Jenny’s here, I love Jenny so much,” said Giles, and then looked horrified, but didn’t stop talking. “She does look extraordinarily pretty today, though that certainly isn’t out of the ordinary given that she always looks pretty, but of course her looks alone aren’t why I’ve spent this year falling madly in love with her, not when she’s so intelligent and compassionate and incisively witty—”
Ms. Calendar didn’t react in the way that Xander was sort of expecting, which was either to throw herself at Giles and start kissing him or start yelling at him for confronting her about his feelings in front of everyone. Ms. Calendar, who had gone ashen, turned and ran.
Giles was still talking, a truly panicked look in his eyes. “—and she’s really the only thing that occupies my mind when she’s in a room, I love her smile almost as much as I love making her smile and good god I cannot stop thinking about her now that I’ve started, would someone please knock me out and figure out how to fix this bloody spell before I ruin more of my important relationships, romantic or platonic—”
“Giles,” said Xander suddenly, “what do you think of me?”
“Xander, now really isn’t the time,” said Giles sharply.
Something about that cut, hard. Xander leaned against the checkout desk and stared up, tilting his head back; it was his old trick from when his dad would say something and it would make him want to cry. He wouldn’t, though. He never did.
Willow tracked down Ms. Calendar in the faculty room. Ms. Calendar had this habit of making coffee when she was stressed and then not drinking any of it, and by the time Willow had gotten there, Ms. Calendar had poured out seventeen cups and was just staring at them like she wasn’t quite sure how they’d accumulated. So that was probably bad. “Ms. Calendar?” said Willow hesitantly. “Is Xander okay?”
“What?” said Ms. Calendar, staring at the cups.
“Is Xander—what happened? You talked to him, right?”
“What?” said Ms. Calendar, and Willow noticed for the first time that she was clutching a book to her chest. A copy of A Room with a View, old but well-maintained, and her knuckles were white around the binding.
“O-kay,” said Willow. This seemed sort of like something that Giles should handle, but then Ms. Calendar had bolted the moment Giles had started talking gooey love nonsense, so maybe this one would have to be on Willow. “Um, Ms. Calendar, do you want to talk?”
“Willow, do you want coffee?” asked Ms. Calendar a little too loudly, and then turned and left the faculty room at a brisk, directionless pace. Willow watched her go, turned back to the seventeen cups of coffee, and started really hoping that someone would figure out a way to break the super-truth spell. Like, soon.
Giles had locked himself in his office, though his panicked soliloquy was still faintly audible, most of it pertaining to how he hadn’t wanted to upset Jenny and he loved Jenny and he wanted to kiss Jenny until she wasn’t scared anymore. Buffy, who really didn’t want to listen to Giles panic over Ms. Calendar (like, sheesh, she’d already seen him practicing pick-up lines on the chair), walked over to Xander. “Are you okay?” she asked.
“Fine,” said Xander to the ceiling.
“You know, I kinda wish you had that truth spell on you,” said Buffy, grinning wryly. “At least stuff would be a little more out in the open, then.”
Xander exhaled. Then he said, “Do you think Giles thinks I’m a waste of time?”
Buffy sort of wished he hadn’t asked something that she needed to do so much thinking for, because now all the words were spilling out of her head. “I don’t know what to tell him,” she said aloud, wincing a little. “I don’t want to tell him that sometimes Giles does seem a little too hard on him, but then again Giles is hard on me so I don’t really know—I mean, Giles loves all of us, right? I think he loves all of us. I hope he loves all of us. God, that’s stupid, hoping he loves all of us, it’s just my dad sucked and he keeps on forgetting about weekly calls and visits and I miss him so much but I don’t miss him as much when Giles says stuff like he wishes he was my dad, I mean, I know that’s not what he said—"
“Thanks,” said Xander. He was smiling a little.
Buffy wasn’t entirely sure how she’d helped, but she apparently had helped, so that was good. “You’re my Xander-shaped friend,” she said. “Maybe Giles thinks you’re a waste of time, sometimes, but Giles thinks pretty much everyone is a waste of time sometimes. He thought Ms. Calendar was a waste of time, remember? Look how that turned out.”
Xander shuddered. “Uh, not really looking to lock lips with Giles anytime soon, but—”
“God, is sex all you think about?” Buffy whacked his shoulder, gentle for a Slayer but edging on painful for Xander. At his wince, she winced too. “Sorry. Just—he cares about her, Xander. And I’d bet a whole bunch of money on him caring about you.”
“Might take you up on that,” said Xander quietly.
Giles stepped out of his office, still talking rapid-fire about Ms. Calendar. One of his hands was clamped over his own mouth. Feeling a mixture of sympathy and exasperation, Buffy said, “Giles, Xander thinks you don’t care about him,” then cringed.
“Why would you tell him that?” Xander demanded.
“Um, it’s not like I can choose what to tell anyone right now!” Buffy shot back. “And besides which—”
“Xander, don’t be ridiculous, of course I care about you,” said Giles, lowering his hand from his mouth. He still looked a little annoyed, but his expression was softening as he took a second look at Xander. “Do you really think I don’t?”
“You don’t bring it up all that much,” said Xander awkwardly. “And it’s not like I’m all that useful, most of the time.”
“Xander, you’re a seventeen-year-old boy,” said Giles. “Not being useful is practically part of the job description at your age.” He winced. “That came out wrong. What I’m trying to say is—”
But something in Xander’s face had relaxed. “I get it, man,” he said, grinning. “Don’t twist yourself into knots trying to find the right words.”
Jenny was very maturely hiding under her desk, Rupert’s book clutched to her chest and a terrible, clawing feeling overwhelming her. As long as this wasn’t a serious thing, as long as they weren’t in love, she didn’t have to tell him about Angel. And she knew, logically, that she hadn’t done anything wrong, but Rupert wasn’t going to see it that way. Angel was Buffy’s boyfriend, and Jenny was from the family that wanted him to suffer, and what if Rupert thought she was trying to get to Angel through Buffy? What if Rupert thought she was the kind of person who would lie and manipulate him and his kids for the sake of vengeance? She hadn’t known he was a Watcher; she’d known nothing about Buffy. All she’d known was that she had never been looked at like she was precious, and that Rupert’s gentle touches made her chest ache with longing.
It was love, what she felt for him. And that scared her. Because the moment he found her, she was going to have to tell him, and then she was going to run the risk of losing the first person she had ever really loved.
There was a knock on her door. “Jenny?” Rupert called, and Jenny heard the door open, followed by the sound of Rupert stepping inside. He shut the door behind him. “Of course you’re not in here,” he mumbled, a tired, bitter laugh in his voice. “Thank heavens. I don’t think I could handle embarrassing myself like that again.”
Jenny’s stomach twisted. She hadn’t considered that his thought might have been just that—a thought. She thought ridiculous, inappropriate things sometimes, things that weren’t technically all that true, and—
“I do love her,” said Rupert, his voice softening. “That’s a bit easier to say to an empty classroom, whether or not I can control it. I love her so much. She’s clever, and kind, and a rather incredible teacher, and she stubbornly refuses to be cowed by authority. I love her and I respect her, which is an unusual feeling.”
Jenny was holding her breath, because she knew she might cry if she let herself breathe.
“I hate the thought that I’ve upset her,” said Rupert. “I wanted to tell her on, on Valentine’s Day. I could have played it off as a joke if she looked nervous. She’s never struck me as the sort to appreciate long-term commitment, a-and I’ve never really minded that, but I worry I’ve overstepped my boundaries with such a declaration.” The desk shifted, and Jenny realized with horror that Rupert was now sitting on the desk, his legs inches away from where she sat. “I think—when I see her—I shall tell her that my love is in no way something she should feel a need to reciprocate,” and oh, Jenny could hear the tired sadness in his voice, “and that however she wishes our relationship to continue will—”
“I love you too,” blurted out Jenny from under the desk, saying it in the same, desperate moment that she thought it.
Rupert jumped, and fell ungracefully off the desk, landing in a sprawling heap in front of Jenny. “Jenny!” he gasped, now blushing furiously. “What—”
“I love you too,” said Jenny again, unsteadily, and reached a hand out to him. “And I think I have something to tell you.”
Giles and Ms. Calendar came back into the library, both of them looking kind of exhausted. But they were holding hands, which Buffy noted with relief and then (mortifyingly) aloud. “You’re holding hands!” she observed, then made a face. “Ugh. God. I will die of embarrassment if I admit you two are a ridiculously cute couple.” At that, she buried her face in Willow’s shoulder and said, loudly, “FIX THIS, GILES.”
“Actually, the fix is rather simple,” said Giles. “I really should have listened to Jenny.”
“Oh, really?” said Ms. Calendar, and kissed him.
Buffy should not have been able to tell that Ms. Calendar was kissing Giles from the noises alone. Raising her head to inform them this, she was caught off guard: Ms. Calendar was pulling back, and Giles was looking at her, and they were both glowing. “Uh, guys?” she said.
“I love you,” said Giles.
“I love you too,” said Ms. Calendar.
“Did you miss the part where we need this fixed?” said Buffy very loudly.
Giles blinked, sort of shook himself, and turned apologetically to Buffy. Ms. Calendar was grinning. “There’s a counter-spell I found online,” she said. “I’ll go print it out.” Patting Giles’s shoulder, she hurried out of the library.
Giles turned to Buffy. “Buffy, Jenny informed me of something she wishes to pass on to you,” he began.
“So let her do that,” said Buffy hastily before he could keep going.
“Right,” said Giles, looking relieved. “Yes. Um.”
“Can we talk about the parent thing?” said Buffy shyly. Which was something she never would have done if not for the stupid spell, but as she began to blush, her mouth kept going. “You know I don’t have a great dad, right? I mean, obviously you know, you met him that one time and only that one time ‘cause he hasn’t been coming by anymore, and you’re always here, and I guess what I’m saying is I think you’d make a way better dad than my dad, especially since you’re basically everyone’s dad at this point even if none of us talk about it at all—”
Giles very firmly put a hand over Buffy’s mouth. He opened his own mouth, very clearly about to give Buffy some really painful Watcher speech about how Slayers couldn’t have Watcher dads, but then stopped, a half-frustrated look on his face as he studied her. “I do love you very much,” he said quietly, and in a way that suggested he might have said it whether or not the spell was making him.
“Mmf,” said Buffy pointedly.
Sheepishly, Giles removed his hand.
“You’re not very subtle about it,” said Buffy, and grinned up at him. “You helped me study for the PSATS, remember? Merrick said I should focus on vampire-killing and not my college applications, especially since most Slayers don’t make it past eighteen.”
“Well, this Slayer will,” said Giles, “if I have anything to say about it.” And then he sort of awkwardly patted Buffy’s shoulder, which somehow felt just as big and important as it might have if he’d swept her up into a big hug.
Buffy smiled, leaning into his hand, and then—screw it. Looping her arms around Giles’s neck, she pulled him down into a big hug, completely ignoring how totally bad he was at hugging her back. “You’re gonna have to get used to the hugging, Dad,” she informed him.
“I am never going to live this down,” said Giles, but it was in the same voice he used when Ms. Calendar made a really good point in an argument—kind of reluctantly proud, even if he was also a little annoyed. So that was cool.
“Do we get hugs too?” Willow asked hopefully.
“Fine,” said Giles, who was clearly trying to pretend to be a Repressed British Librarian while still hugging Buffy back. He sort of opened one arm, said, “You too, Xander,” and then made the face he’d been making every time the spell made him say something he’d only meant to think.
Xander blinked, then gave Giles a soft, wide smile, following Willow almost shyly over to join the Scooby cluster.
“Oh, wow, I am seriously regretting tossing that old digital camera,” said Ms. Calendar as she entered the room. “This is the kind of thing that would make excellent gossip material at faculty meetings.”
“Better gossip than that one time you dragged me out of the classroom to shag me in a broom closet?” said Giles, and then clapped both hands over his mouth, turning bright red.
Buffy, Willow, and Xander all leaped back.
“GILES!” shrieked Willow, horrified.
“I think my brain is broken,” said Xander weakly.
“Ms. Calendar, fix this now,” said Buffy. “I am not hearing more about that broom closet.”
“Yep,” said Ms. Calendar, blushing a little bit herself, and hurried to set up the spell.
Jenny’s fears of his leaving her were not only unfounded, they were ridiculous, and Giles made sure to emphasize this fact to her through excessive affection. Though her omissions had initially thrown him for a loop, he loved her, and he knew she would never have lied about loving him. He had been delighted to learn more about vengeance curses and their effects on vampires, sending an extensive list of questions to her uncle regarding Angelus and the ritual that had ensouled him. And that had brought up some extremely unnerving news about Angel—news that had absolutely everyone infuriated, Jenny included.
“I can’t believe he didn’t tell me Angel could lose his soul,” she was complaining, filing books with a particular vengeance (though all perfectly in order). “Like, what did he think was going to happen?”
“To be fair,” said Giles, “you didn’t mention Buffy.”
“Also, you kind of suck at the whole vengeance thing,” said Buffy. “Which is definitely a compliment.” She hesitated, then said, “But Angel can still feel me up, right?”
“Does it make him happy?” said Jenny, continuing to file.
A goofy grin spread across Buffy’s face. “Yeah,” she said.
“Can you two not have this conversation while I’m here?” said Giles with some exasperation.
“So is there a way to magically protect him from losing his soul if things go past a little friendly groping?” Buffy asked Jenny hopefully. “Not that things necessarily will, but it’s nice to have that as an option—”
Giles started knocking over books in an attempt to drown them out.
“Ooh, careful, that one looks antique-y,” said Jenny, and Giles visibly saw her mouth twitch. “Buffy, do I need to give you the safe sex talk?”
“Yes,” said Buffy emphatically, giving Giles a sidelong look. “Please. In detail.”
“You two are deliberately attempting to ruffle me,” Giles realized aloud.
“Your fault for sitting in on a private conversation,” said Jenny.
“This is a school library—”
“So shh!” said Buffy, and started giggling when Jenny high-fived her.
And a thought came to Giles, leaving him almost without his permission. But it was different than a spell, because it was something that he wanted to say. “I think I’m very lucky to have met you both,” he said, and gave them a small, shy grin. “I think it’s made my life a richer one.”
Jenny smiled—the new, openly tender smile she had begun to give him, now that they were in love—and said, “Ditto, honey,” then turned back to filing books. Buffy smiled too—the tentatively happy smile that Giles was only now getting used to seeing—and hopped off the table to unceremoniously tug him into a hug.