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Darling Buds of May (Rough Winds Hardstep Dub)

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She was a strange girl, Caridad – or at least atypical.

Admittedly, Giles couldn’t say that he knew exactly how the slayers were taking their change in status, but he'd sat in on a number of training sessions, and the impression he'd received was that the majority of the girls were enjoying it. Many had asked to return home to their families and they'd been allowed to, but the optimism among those who’d stayed was palpable. The desire to get on and change things – it was really quite remarkable.

And yet, so he’d been told (since he hadn’t observed himself), at the back of every training session there was Caridad, who spoke very little. Who in fact said nothing to her instructors, unless it was to volunteer for weapons maintenance. No one was quite sure how interested she actually was in staying with them, but with them she remained, not yet giving any sign she wished to leave.

To be honest, Giles couldn’t quite remember what the girl looked like, but thankfully the software Willow had installed on the network meant he could pull up her photo and some reports from the comfort of his office (temporary, so they promised every time he complained about the damp). Sitting on his wobbly desk chair, so unlike what he’d had in the dear old Magic Box, he could read all this off a chunky second-hand screen and imagine the girl in the badly shot picture as a quiet, shy loner more comfortable with windlasses than people. If they could get her out of her shell, perhaps…?

She knocked on the door then, arrived for their meeting bang on time. On reflex he called out, “Come in!” – belatedly scrabbling to minimise the intranet before she could realise how much help he required.

When Caridad entered, of course, it was clear the information hadn’t been much help at all.

She walked like every slayer should – like Buffy and Faith always walked, like even dear Kendra used to walk when she hadn’t thought people were watching – as though the room was hers to use as she wished, from carpet square to ceiling tile, ratty brown chair to battered old desk. Without a blink of shyness, she said, “Hi. You wanted to see me?” And then she sat with less sulkiness than most seventeen year olds he’d met.

“Yes,” Giles replied plainly, reaching for the papers he didn't have. “This is just a check up, really; I wanted to know how you were getting on.”

With equal and expected candour, the girl shrugged. “As you’d probably say, things have been worse. Apocalypse is over; we’re getting back on the horse.”

He wasn’t sure why he smiled at that, but perhaps her wit was charming him. Still, he knew the phrase, and he knew it wasn’t an answer. “Now, Caridad, I know we haven’t met before…”

“No, we have,” she interrupted, startling him. Her eyes narrowed with an accusation of forgetfulness. “You came the day I met Danielle.”

Danielle…? At first he thought she meant another slayer, but then Giles remembered. From the time when almost every name he’d heard had belonged to a watcher: Danielle Masterson, who’d come out nowhere from SOAS and done her thesis on fox transformations. He’d always rather liked her, but they’d lost contact after she’d been assigned to the field and he’d moved back to England…

Oh, yes. San Diego. The young shy girl and her friendly parents; that summer when Buffy was not. He’d been there with Masterson for the distraction and for the lunch.

She seemed older, Caridad, far older than two years should have allowed. When she’d appeared at her front door – and now he could remember it quite vividly, her long pony tail and green smiley-face top – he’d assumed she’d been about twelve, no older than fourteen, but she must have been at least fifteen, if not sixteen already (an August birthday, hadn’t the computer told him?).

Giles shook his head, surprised as the memory led him back to the slayer sitting poised across from him. “Of course.” He tried to regroup, but not quite fast enough. “How is she?” he asked without thinking. “And your parents?”

“Dead,” Caridad replied, gaze level. “Can I go now?”

He forgot to reply and then, by the time he’d fully assimilated his clumsy faux pas, the girl was already gone.

As the weeks moved on, Giles tried to take an interest.

First, though, they relocated from Los Angeles to London, because the infrastructure in the UK was useful to the point of necessary, at least as far as he was concerned. He appreciated that the Council model was old fashioned and possibly somewhat imperialist (although why Willow got to argue for the States as a more neutral centre he wasn’t sure, not when all the girls turned up with Nike shoes and a preference for Coke, Diet or Pepsi), but, if they were to set up some sort of organisation, a city full of bookshops and contacts who knew the old Council remained rather useful. Yes, the main building was gone, but most of the site still stood and the majority of their books were stored in that place up the M1 anyway.

Everyone got rather excited about it, which was somewhat vindicating. The novelty had worn off LA, Giles supposed, and the only British potentials they knew about were Annabelle and Molly, the poor girls. (Or, actually, no; he’d had that call in late June from the slayer in Birmingham, whose uncle’s cousin had known Sam Zabuto – but she hadn’t been interested, had she? Busy with Carnival rehearsals or something. Hopefully that was going well.) A change of scenery and the capricious London summer were exactly what everyone needed to put the apocalypse behind them.

He asked Dawn to keep an eye on Caridad during the move, but the only reports he received were that she was being moody and unhelpful. With the way Dawn crossed her arms during their meetings, Giles tended to think this described more than one person’s attitude, but he didn’t say this out loud, bottling up his frustration with unofficial and official updates alike.

Because, after all, there was research to be done. As much as they could get through their battles by the skin of their teeth, one thing the Council had always drilled into its members was that things shouldn’t have to happen that way more than once. If there was nothing written on the First Evil, then Giles had to write something, preferably a lengthy article with a decent foundation of footnotes, maybe a few appendices including maps and eyewitness accounts. The research was filling his summer as much as it had always filled his summers, only this time he had an entire organisation to restructure as well.

Sometimes he lay in bed and wished Anya were alive, with her acumen for numbers and ruthless pragmatism (and willingness to manage things on paper), if only because this really was the time they needed someone to take care of their money. The thought could distract him for hours, which made his tasks all the harder.

Nonetheless, Giles tried to take an interest in Caridad – but no one was helping him. Buffy, Faith and Kennedy seemed to have collectively decided that commenting on each slayer every session was unnecessary, and their feedback grew shorter and sketchier by the day. By the time the move had been completed, all the admin barely begun, he was getting maybe a sentence a week, in a blue-grey box that flickered across his screen saying nothing.

fixed target test: 9/10. moving target test: 8/10. hand to hand ladder placed 4/50 (-2). took point on 8/2 patrol: calm, but should work on giving direction.

When it came down to it, he wasn’t Caridad’s watcher; he didn’t know her. There had to be diaries on the girl somewhere, lost on an unknown rubbish heap – in accordance with the old system they’d stretch back to Masterson’s first meeting with her, at least a hundred words a day if not a regular three to five, as he’d got into the rhythm of with Buffy. Were Caridad a slayer from the old days, when the Council had still possessed seemingly-infinite time and money, those diaries would have been retrieved by all the magic the institution could access, and Danielle Masterson’s knowledge wouldn’t have died with her death. Giles would know the girl’s thoughts and fears, her strengths and her uncertainties. He’d be able to talk to her.

It was a Thursday when they crossed paths again. Leaving the office late, torturous chapter on the Seal of Danzalthar now complete, half an hour spent contemplating tea leaves by the dictates of those pocket books they’d never managed to shift, Giles found Caridad in the gym. She had the crossbows all laid out in front of her; WD-40, bicycle oil and furniture polish set by her side… Buffy had said something about the girl doing this a couple of weeks ago, hadn’t she? From the way the weapons gleamed, at least, it was obvious it didn’t need doing.

“Caridad?” he asked quietly, edging the door open in a way he hoped didn’t sound like a demon. “Are you all right? Why haven’t you gone home?”

She looked up, bleary-eyed with a rag and a crossbow haft in hand. “Oh, hi,” she said, before answering, “I’m fine. There’s not much to do in the dorms anyway.” Then she looked back to her work, cleaning precisely around the mechanism.

“But I think the weapons are fine,” Giles said gently, sitting down opposite her on the cheap vinyl floor, dark green with coloured tape marking out where the mats were to go. “It’s good to keep them maintained, but we did only buy them at the end of June.”

The reply came stubbornly. “I like doing it.”

Did she want to feel useful? Giles wondered whether a little more responsibility might be a good thing, to pull her into the swing of things. There were a hundred and one things to do, a dozen more that wouldn’t get done, all of them more useful than cleaning the crossbows. “Has Faith spoken with you about the training schedules? There’s a lot to be organised and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind…”

“I don’t want to help schedule,” Caridad said, not looking up and with a definite sense of finality. “What’s the rush, anyway? Let me do this; the world’s saved.”

And that was true, but Giles realised then that they’d never quite articulated to these girls how saving the world was a continuous occupation. “Unfortunately, my dear,” Giles explained, feeling old, “the world moves on – and us with it.” The summer went by and set them up for another year of problems.

Caridad snorted, unimpressed. “Your world,” she replied, placing the crossbow on the floor – not with the surliness of a loner, he now realised, but with the defiance of grief.

Balking, Giles sat back. A question sounded in his mind.

What have you become, Rupert, trying to get grieving orphans back to work?

He knew how to tread elsewhere, of course; he should have remembered there wasn’t a standard practice. Buffy and Xander, he knew he could ask anything of them, tell them he needed books sourced or applications written and they would get things done; he knew the only thing he had to avoid was the suggestion they might be meeting people when they went out to drink and dance – if he asked they’d pretend to him it was possible, even as it hurt to do so, and he hoped to never be that crass. With Dawn, he knew to let her talk about anything, to be the mentor, confidant and adult she could come to who wasn’t Buffy’s best friend – but he also knew to never offer an opinion on a certain dead vampire, because he would always, always be wrong. He knew to never let himself dwell, not ever, not now he was truly in charge.

But they were all old residents of Sunnydale, a town besieged by loss unlike any Giles had visited in the developed world. They’d learned to be functional within days, at least on the outside, and sociable within weeks. They weren’t normal; he simply knew how best to help them cope.

Caridad he didn’t know. This girl nobody knew, not her training leaders and certainly not that computer. He didn’t know how to help her.

And so Giles sat with her in the gym and helped clean the weapons, not wanting to leave, but not knowing what to say. He cleaned long into the night and wondered if this was the price of progress.

A few months on, Caridad headed back over the ocean with Faith and her team. Her test scores ranked her high when blitzed through Willow’s calculations, so she was placed second in command, but wasn’t the popular choice.

Giles met her again a year later, three years from Buffy’s resurrection, sixteen months from Caridad’s parents' and Masterson’s deaths, two months from Cleveland’s last apocalypse. To his mind she’d come the wrong way out of grief, wearing black as more than a fashion statement, but there was a hard, determined drive in her eyes and the computer told everyone she was to thank for the world being there.

With Faith she stood like an echo of the past, a barely contained gyre to the steady, self-assured slayer at her side.

“Yeah, she’s good,” Faith said in private, in a position now where she did. “Let’s things get kinda risky sometimes, but she gets her girls back home safe. They like her.”

These things went in cycles, Giles thought, perhaps, and he wouldn’t be surprised if one day the girl led them all.