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He's never been on such a long flight in his life.

He's not been on many flights, actually. A few holidays to Italy or Greece, a research trip to some German libraries when he was writing his doctoral thesis.

Forty-three years old, and this is the farthest Giles has ever been from home. Five thousand miles, give or take. Nearly ten hours in the air, and another 40 minutes before they're due to touch down.

Those numbers, large as they are, should be larger. There should be powers of ten, too many zeros to write. Or, better, an exotic squiggle symbolizing arcane calculations, irrational and disordered mathematics. Let ƒ be the value of one middle-aged Englishman, librarian by trade, Watcher by half-forgotten vocation, suddenly uprooted from his comfortable slow decay and sent to America . . .

"Ladies and gentlemen," the pilot announces, "We are now beginning our descent into Los Angeles."

Giles has never even wanted to visit California. What's he going to do among the actors and vegetarians?

What's he going to do with a Slayer?

The air hostesses, looking strangely martial in their crisp blue uniforms, stalk along the aisles to distribute immigration and customs forms. "Purpose of Visit," one line asks. Giles considers filling in I haven't the faintest bloody idea.

Alternatively, he could write Saving the world. That might make some bored passport-control official smile for a fraction of a second before classing Giles as a madman and putting him on a plane back to London.

That official wouldn't, Giles suspects, be entirely wrong. Giles isn't meant to save the world. He's meant to catalogue manuscripts and assist more senior Watchers with translations. He's meant to stay well away from vampires and demons.

Wasn't that the unstated, unmentionable bargain the Council made with him twenty years ago? We will be your comfortable prison, your loathed refuge. We will save you from yourself, and make you a new self out of books. You will be a paper man, flimsy and hollow, a dry man who speaks in paragraphs. Your blood will turn to ink, and you will harm no one.

Business, Giles writes in the blank, and then, in very small letters, High school librarian, Sunnydale, California.

He's lived a librarian's life, truly. It's been eight years since he's seen a vampire, and that was only by chance on an evening stroll. He would gladly have worn out his days destroying nothing more significant than spiders, seeing no blood unless he cut himself shaving. Even the dreams about Randall seldom come anymore.

When Quentin Travers told him his new assignment, he tried to refuse. Travers sat through his perfectly good reasons without the slightest reaction, and then said, "Mr. Giles, you are a Watcher."

And so he agreed.

"Being a Watcher," Giles' father used to say, "is a sacred and honourable calling. And an ancient one. Before there were kings or priests, before there were builders or farmers, there were Watchers. We made civilization possible."

In Giles' boyhood, when his father was a god, he believed that. Later, when his father was an idiot, Giles mocked it. Now, he's come to think that some statements, like quadratic equations, have two solutions. X is true, but -X is also true. The purpose of the Watchers is to guard against evil; the purpose of the Watchers is to kill.

The purpose of the Watchers is to send Rupert Giles to California, no matter how badly he wants to stay home.

With a thunk and a whine, the plane's landing gear descends. Out the window Giles can see individual buildings, pale loops of motorway, and the blue glint of the sea. Nearly there.

Five thousand miles. Eleven hours. A long, long way.

Once, London to California would have taken months of sailing. Those who went knew they weren't coming back.

It should be different now, in the age of aeroplanes, but Giles knows it's not. A man called Rupert Giles may go back to London some day, but that man will not be him, exactly. That man will have breathed foreign air, lived a life that Giles can't yet imagine. He will have trained a girl to kill monsters. He will know blood again, and not just books.

As the plane touches down, Giles double-checks his passport, his green card, his papers, his baggage claim. Everything's in order.

It's time to begin.