When you were young, you had promised yourself that you would not make the same mistakes as your predecessors. You would not see those who work for you as expendable. You would not cling to traditions when compassion was required. You would never forget the human cost behind the holy war. But, of course, you became the very thing that you despise. Rising through the ranks quells rebellious tendencies and free-thinking beliefs.
But there is one promise you made to yourself that you can keep. You will not send someone as green as you had been all those years ago to perform this onerous task. For him especially, you will not send anyone at all. This is your burden to bear, whatever lies beyond this door.
In the time that it has taken you to fly from England to California, it might already be too late. But you try not to think about that possibility as you approach his apartment. His door is unlocked, which does not surprise you. He never did care for locks of any sort. You are more relieved than you care to admit when you find him alive and breathing. He barely glances your way, expressing no surprise at your visit.
“There’s a clean glass on the table,” is all he says as he takes a long swig from the bottle of Scotch at his side. You nod your thanks.
Next to the glass is a not-quite empty Scotch bottle. It has not been laid out for you, of course. There’s more than enough left for a dram or two and even for a top-off should you wish it. But that’s not nearly enough for a man who had just lost his Slayer. Knowing Rupert as you do, you suspect he must have taken out a second full bottle before he had even started drinking in anticipation of needing more and then opted for the direct approach instead. Near the abandoned glass and bottle, his Watchers Diary lies open to a blank page with his glasses and a pen resting on top. You risk another glance at the man while you pour your drink. He takes a second large sip from the bottle, heedless of your scrutiny.
There is an oppressive air in the apartment, similar to how it was when you found Sam Zabuto. You understand clearly that the only reason you were not greeted with a lifeless corpse this time is because Rupert Giles knew that his Slayer would not have wanted it. Even from beyond the grave, Buffy Summers continues to save people. But you are very aware that the memory of his Slayer’s wishes will not be able withstand the grief of her loss for long. You don’t know how you are going to be able to prevent this. You are completely unqualified. She’s the only one who could reach him. You wish that she could somehow tell you what to do.
Your attention is drawn to the music that is playing. You don’t recognize the vocalist or anything he’s singing other than “pink moon”, but the song seems mellow and soothing. It should not fill you with the dread that it does.
You make your way over to the stereo. Your eyes land on a small stack of CDs off to one side. The one on top is not store-bought. Instead, it is hand labelled in big black letters with the words: “Buffy’s Music That Giles Doesn’t Hate!!” With a smile, you pick it up and turn off the record player. Rupert looks up sharply when you do, but you offer him a self-effacing smile and show him the CD.
“I can’t imagine what music you two could possibly have had in common,” you explain.
“I don’t think you’d find much to appreciate, Quentin,” he says softly with a tender smile that you know is meant for her, not you.
There is another handmade CD in the player, “Giles’s Music That Buffy Doesn’t Hate” and you nearly opt for that one instead, since it would stand to reason that Rupert would prefer his music to hers, but your hand stops short. You decide it’s better to trust your impulses rather than your logic on a night like this. You nearly regret your decision as the first song opens with talk of cemeteries and lyrics like “that’s when they say I lost my only friend.” But something again stops your hand from shutting it off. So, you sit on his sofa with unease, wondering how to broach things when mere words seem so inadequate. He does it for you.
“I know you thought I was too close. That’s why you sacked me in the first place.”
“I sacked you so that you could stay that close. Good God, man! Give me a little credit,” you say with exasperation at Rupert’s surprise.
“You fired me so that Buffy would trust me again?” His voice is filled with a quiet, deadly outrage.
“God, no! It was clear from the moment you both entered the library that she had forgiven you everything. That you had her complete trust once more.” You pause a moment as you consider how much you should reveal. “Rupert, if I thought you were too close, it’s only because we knew that this day was inevitable. . . No,” you correct yourself, feeling the anger rising up in you once more. “No, not this day. Not like this. Those bloody monks with damn reality altering. . . . They did everything to ensure that she would willing sacrifice herself for their blasted key. Never mind the repercussions for the rest of the world.”
“What do you mean?” he asks, bewildered. You take another sip of you drink to calm yourself before you continue. You need to keep your head.
“They chose a method that all but guaranteed the survival of their key at the expense of the most talented Slayer we have ever been blessed with. Who knows how long she would have lived? I would have wagered on her surviving us all. But for the Key to be disguised as her sister, what other choice did she have?”
“No,” he croaks. “No, she wouldn’t have been able to live if it meant that Dawn must die. That wasn’t her way.” There’s guilt there. You suspect he might have advocated just that. Lesser men have contemplated far worse in much less dire situations.
“Not your way either. What would you have done if Dawn had been Buffy’s child? Your child?” You deliberately keep your wording vague, to claim innocence should he object, but Giles hisses as if he is hit. It seems like the thought of his and Buffy’s child together is as potent as you had hoped.
“It wasn’t like that between us. It was never. . . .”
“Then I am sorry for you both. Slayers live short and brutal lives. They deserve what little happiness they can find.”
“You said I had a father’s love.” It isn’t a question. You might be imagining that hint of guilt in his voice, but you don’t think you are.
“Because you are a good and decent man and, in many ways, she was still a child. You loved her then as you love her now: purely and unselfishly. But Watchers who become emotionally invested in their Slayers. . . . Well, they go through what you are now. There are those on the Council who would have used that as an excuse to have you called back to London and you would have never seen Buffy again.”
“When you sacked me, I was free to stay at Buffy’s side,” he states, with dawning realization as he places his bottle on the floor next to him. You have his full attention now and it’s time to let him hear the full truth of the matter.
“That was my motivation, yes.” You set down your glass. “Perhaps it was the wrong decision, but I was more interested in your survival at that moment.”
“Surely, this comes as no surprise, Rupert. Did you think was coincidence that Buffy’s Cruciamentum had so many similarities to the deaths of your father and his Slayer?” This was highly emotional territory. Rupert had been so disillusioned by the completely avoidable deaths of his beloved father and adored foster sister he had quit the Council of Watchers in rage. It’s a relief to see that Rupert’s bottle of scotch remains on the floor.
“Of course, I couldn’t help. . .” Rupert trailed off, raising his hand to his face and then abruptly aborting the motion. With a deep sigh, he briefly closes his eyes. “From the moment, the Board overruled you and sent you Kralik instead of the fledgling that you selected, how could I think that it was anything but a deliberate choice? But I. . . ”
“But you took it as a personal attack from a faction who believed you should not have been welcomed back into the fold. And you were quite right,” you add, unable to keep the disgust from your voice. Rupert was an excellent Watcher. Though the Council had nearly lost him for good to the drugs and the darkness, he had come out of the experience stronger and more seasoned than active Watchers twice his age.
“It was obvious,” Rupert says with a sigh. “They weren’t nearly as covert as they thought they were.”
“Thank you for not believing I had any part in it,” you say, gruffly.
“Quentin, you are many things,” Rupert replies with enough humor in his voice to indicate that a fair number of those thing are likely negative, “but you are first and foremost a good Watcher. And a good actor you are not.”
You huff a little at the memory. To say that you had lost your temper when you discovered the substitution is to put it mildly. You had been angry not only for Buffy’s sake but for the risk Kralik posed to your Watchers as well. And your concerns turned out to be far too valid as you lost both Hobson and Blair to that monster. You feel your temper rise again at the memory.
“Am I to assume that you believe this wasn’t an isolated incident?” Rupert asks gravely and you pull yourself together.
“It’s very clear to me and the few people I still trust that Buffy’s entire Cruciamentum was part of a much larger pattern of targeted violence against Slayers and active Watchers alike. Nothing we can prove, of course. Just like we could never prove a damn thing with your father and Emma. We live dangerous lives and die violent deaths, but that can also serve a disguise for murder.” You freeze for a moment. You have never phrased it like that before. Never allowed yourself to think about it as murder. But that is exactly what’s been happening and the realization overwhelms you.
“Was that why you wouldn’t speak to me in London about Glory? Why you chose to come to Sunnydale instead?”
“Yes, exactly. As ironic as this may seem, it’s safer here in Sunnydale.”
“Do you have any suspects?” His voice is soft and concerned.
“Rupert, if I had any suspects, I could bloody well do something about them!” you reply. Rupert must hear the years of frustration and worry in your voice. He gives you a nod of understanding.
“‘This is not the Council that I’ve known,’” he says after a few moments of silence.
“I beg your pardon?” you ask. It sounds like he’s quoting something, but you can’t place the reference.
“It’s what I told Buffy, after you left us in the Library. That this was not the Council that I gave the greater part of my life to.”
“It’s not. Because the people who made it the Council that you knew all have been quietly hunted down.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I am open to suggestions,” you sigh. The two of you are quiet for a time, contemplating your lots in life. Your mind drifts to the music that has been playing all this time.
Other than the opening song, the rest of the CD has been quite benign with people singing about an eclectic and baffling mix of subjects: year 1979, some woman only sleeping when it’s raining, asking a woman named May to slide into a window, and life being a bittersweet symphony. You could even say you liked some of them. Or at least tolerated them. Well, not that strange song about being spit out, of course, but rest were soothing. Too soothing
The music has lulled you into a false complacency. Right after a song about a someone named Sunny coming home, a woman started to sing about not having the strength to let her love go. You catch your breath and glance at the man across from you. His expression is wistful.
“This was one of her favorite songs.” His eyes are far away.
“You’ll see her again,” you quietly assure him. You then wince. That might be the single worst thing that you could have said, undoing any good your visit might have done.
“Ha!” His laughter is cynical and his expression cross. You feel yourself relax slightly. Anger might be for the best, all things considered.
“Does my faith strike you as strange?” you ask. “‘There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ If there is a hell, then surely there is the opposite.”
“I don’t doubt it. I just don’t believe I’ll ever see it myself.”
“So, you think you won’t make the cut? Can’t follow her to wherever she is now? If you’re damned, Rupert, then God help the rest of us poor souls.” The very thought both astounds and horrifies you.
“I am not a good man, Quentin. You know that.”
“I know no such thing. You’ve made mistakes. Deadly, tragic mistakes. But you have never intentionally harmed an innocent.”
“I murdered an innocent man in cold blood last night.”
“From everything that I have been able to gather, Ben Wilkinson was anything but innocent. You protected the true innocent, even if her death was the easiest solution.”
“You would have done the same.”
“Would I? I pray I’m never tested the way that you’ve been.” You pause to study the man you have known since he was five years old. Suddenly, the right words fall from your lips, as if by magic. “She would agree with me.”
Rupert’s eyes snap up to meet yours. You have him now.
“It was absolutely clear to everyone that Miss Summers thought the world of you,” you continue. Rupert scoffs at that. “Well, it was clear to everyone, but you, I suppose,” you add with a slight smile.
“She was the hero.”
“Yes, she was. But you were hers.” You lean back and let him mull that one over. The music changes again. You can see that Rupert recognizes it.
“She loved this song. ‘Good Riddance,’” he mutters. Your brow furrows in confusion. “It’s the name of the song,” he clarifies with a faint smile at your expense. “It’s also known as ‘Time of Your Life.’”
You listen the lyrics carefully. The second title does seem a far better fit for the wistful words about the unpredictability of life. You think about Buffy Summers and the song somehow seems even more poignant. You look over at Rupert, who seems lost in his own world.
“She was my life.” His voice is filled with his heartbreak.
“No, Rupert,” you say as gently as you can. “She’s the one that you dedicated your life to helping, before you even knew her name. Before she was even born. I suppose, knowing her as well as you did, she then became the person who gave your life meaning. But, Rupert, death doesn’t change that.”
“That's easy for you to say, Quentin.”
“What would she have wanted you to do now?”
“I don’t bloody well know!”
“Yes, you do. Say it.”
“She’d want me to live.”
“She’d want me to keep helping. To keep fighting.”
“She’d want me to make it easier for the Slayers that will follow her.”
“She’d probably want me to stay as far away from the Council as I possibly could.”
“But I won’t do that.”
“Oh?” You wait, still and silent.
“You need my help and you’ll have it whether you want it or not.” He offers you a ghost of a grin and a feeling of relief nearly overpowers you.
“Thank you.” You can hear a shake in your voice, but can’t bring yourself to care. You came tonight to try to give Rupert hope. Instead, he is the one that has given that to you.
“And then, maybe, if I do enough, if I live long enough….” He can’t bring himself to finish the sentence. So, you do it for him.
“Then you’ll be with her afterwards. We both know she wouldn’t have it any other way.” Rupert nods.
There has been silence after that last song. You had assumed the CD had ended, but the light sound of a ukulele suddenly fills the room. Rupert raises his head, shocked. It’s only when the vocalist begins to sing the words that you realize you know this song too.
“She wanted me to sing this at her— We talked about what she wanted ages ago. Back when she was still in high school. She asked me to sing this. Made me promise. I had forgotten. I don’t know how.”
“She made sure that you remembered.”
“Yes,” he breathes. “I still… I still have to write how she… I promised her. I promised that I would. For the Slayers that will come after. I won’t be drunk enough to do it later.”
“You already gave your report on the phone.”
“That’s enough,” you say firmly. “Go to bed, Rupert. She’ll be watching over you.”
You watch Rupert make his way upstairs. He’ll be alright now, though you don’t think you can claim any credit for that. You are equally certain you're not the only one visiting tonight. With a sigh, you offer a silent prayer of thanks up to Buffy for being with you and guiding you. You then turn towards the table. There is one last thing that you must do.
It is with a heavy heart that I, Quentin Travers, writing on behalf of Rupert Giles, must report that the Slayer Buffy Summers, both willingly and heroically, sacrificed her life in order that the world may continue. She died as she lived, with courage, strength of will, and a deep love for all around her. We shall never see her like again.
The following was told to me by Mr Giles, who is grieving, but otherwise unharmed. Miss Summers and her companions had launched a rescue mission. . . .