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A Good Watcher

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“It’s a little like having Mom back.”

She says those words guilelessly. Her eyes are large and liquid and trusting. And he has never felt more like a sham.

A duplicitous fraud. 

A liar. 

Once. Only once, mind you, she had asked him to lie to her. But in some ways he has never stopped. He is a man of words, after all, and words can be so deliciously twisted, bent to one’s meaning at will. 

Lies of Omission are his favorite ones to tell. Biting the inside of his cheek until it bleeds, the copper tang a reminder of transgressions past. Ironic that if she kissed him, he might taste just like her past lover. Not that she ever would. 

He doesn’t lie to himself about that. Not anymore. Not for lack of trying, of course. 

“In this scenario,” he clarifies, “I am your mother?” 

From Buffy’s grave, a new truth had arisen inside him, squalling and red and furious. It echoed too loudly to ignore any longer. 

What he had been while she lived. 

What she had been to him. 

Months of curling in on himself, gripping a bottle too tightly in hands that never seem to fully unclench. Months of self-flagellation in the form of training a robotic simulacrum who bore his late Slayer’s face and form. Months of trying to forget or outrun or numb away the ceaseless pain. Buffy’s memory a phantom limb at his side. 

A good Watcher doesn’t stay up late nights watching old films and digging into a popcorn bowl, feeling his Slayer’s greasy fingers brush his and nearly dropping the handful of kernels. 

A good Watcher doesn’t feel his pulse race when his Slayer stands a little too close, when she brushes past him or pins him down in the practice room, slender legs straddling his heaving chest as her too-strong grip traps his wrists above his head. 

A good Watcher is all about keeping traditions intact and Slayers alive just long enough to serve their purpose. Sharpening stakes and wits and the edges of young women who were never born to be soft. 

A good Watcher doesn’t fall to pieces when his job has ended. 

But Giles hasn’t been a good Watcher for a very, very long time. 

“Wanna be my shiftless absentee father?” Her humor is flat, strained thin where it used to be effortless. There is a chasm in her where once shone the purest spark. 

Someone put the light out behind her eyes and he can only envision himself as the culprit. Senseless though it is. The oxygen in his lungs feels undeserved, drawn as it is from the same pool that keeps her barely flickering. 

There is nothing fatherly in him. Certainly not for her. 

His stomach is an ouroboros, coiling tighter every moment until years of withheld secrets will swallow him whole. Practiced liar that he is, his voice doesn’t even waver. 

“Is there some sort of, um, rakish uncle?”

He smiles winningly, all English charm and poise, pretending he isn’t dancing on the point of a blade and waiting for the inevitable fall.