Come on Willow,” Xander gestures and Giles catches it in his peripheral. “Gay me up!”
The anger surges in Giles unexpectedly, a roiling tidal wave that has been building all day. He thought he’d let it ebb before with his diatribe against dating in an apocalypse. But the one person who needed to hear it most wasn’t even present, then. She had, in fact, been on her maybe-date with a man she described as ‘too charming’ just that morning. As though keeping around her undead ex-lover with a murderous trigger in his brain wasn’t sufficiently foolish and short-sighted.
Buffy’s refusal to see the danger Spike represented had been an angry itch at the back of his mind for some time now. When she first told him about sleeping with Spike, all he could do was laugh. Which, he supposed, was better than the alternative. The very notion was ludicrous to him in ways Buffy would never know - could never find out. He had taken his secrets to her first grave and they would likely follow to her second. Or his own, whichever came first. Perhaps there’d be no graves at all, if the First got its way.
Now Buffy is here and laughing with her friends as Xander jokes about switching his sexuality. That alone stokes a fiery reaction within him: memories of violence against men of his persuasion, the sneering insinuations that one could choose.
“Children, enough,” he warns.
Giles calls them children because that is how they are acting, all nonchalance and candid nonsense. They pay him no mind until he raises his voice. Then a stunned silence descends and he fills it with the facts they cannot deny.
“Girls are going to die. We may die.” Their eyes are all on him now, all sense of levity broken. Chastisement painted plainer than his rubbish illustrations. “It’s time to get serious,” he concludes before striding from the room.
It was necessary, he reminds himself, bringing reality back to crash the party. Still, he doesn’t want to see their faces again for a while. He can’t risk being sliced open by the lingering shards of youthful gaiety he’d dashed apart with heavy words. He heads into the backyard, hands stuffed deep in his pockets, wishing he hadn’t given up smoking. Perhaps he’ll take it up again. Self destructive habits seem par for the course in the Summers’ residence these days.
He glares at the ground and begins to pace.
It isn’t that he doesn’t understand the impulse to indulge oneself at the most desperate of times. It’s not like he wasn’t young himself, so many years ago.
Rupert Giles was once as loose-limbed and fancy free as the best of them. He walked - no strutted - ‘round town with a head full of sex and smoke and every cheap thrill he could fit his hands or mouth around. There had been a guitar slung over his shoulder and a new bird or bloke in nearly every club that’d have the likes of him.
And there had been magic. Sweet gods above and below, there had been magic. Wrapping around his mind, melting across his tongue, bittersweet and fickle and oh so dangerously seductive.
What had that gained him but a litany of unnamable sins and a black mark on his soul?
He had indulged Buffy over the years, forgiven her the foibles of youth, an excess of misspent time and attentions. Going to parties when she should have been patrolling, hiding Angel’s return from them all (from him most especially), dating that hulking lump of military-trained muscle. Now, he can no longer stand idly by and watch her waste herself on loving a loaded weapon. But his words seem to have little effect on that matter and his frustration and disgust builds by the day.
“Rough day, sweetheart?” Jenny Calendar appears on the porch, leaning one hip against the railing.
“Go away,” he tells the apparition. This isn’t the first time the evil thing has appeared to him wearing Jenny’s face and he’s sure it won’t be the last. “You’ve no power here.”
“Don’t need it. At this rate, you’ll have brow beaten them into implosion in no time.” The First as Jenny sashays toward him, swinging her hips more than the real woman ever did. “I won’t have to lift a finger - corporeal or otherwise.”
The timing is shite but at least he has another place to direct his wrath.
“You’re only coming after me again because you lost Andrew today,” Giles throws the small victory back in the thing’s face. “How powerful can you really be if you can’t even hold a sniveling boy, barely on the threshold of manhood in your thrall?
“Ooh. That was a little harsh, dontcha think?” Jenny smirks at him, arms crossing over her chest. “But then I always liked a little darkness in my man.” A pause. “Just like Buffy does.” A throaty chuckle as she purposely closes in, invading his space. “You sure do have a type, Rupert.”
Giles feels his shoulders go rigid, a muscle jumping in his jaw. He says nothing.
In the blink of an eye, The First has taken on Buffy’s form. She smoothes her hands over her waist and hips with a knowing smile that is entirely unfamiliar on his Slayer’s face. At least to him. Giles turns away, his face burning and not just with anger.
Not-Buffy gives a sarcastic little laugh. “Oh you silly, silly Watcher. Always one eye on the prize but never close enough to touch - isn’t that it?” She circles him until he is confronted with her visage again.
“Jenny Calendar was, what? Barely 30? Buffy is just freshly 22.” She leans in close, so close that he would feel her breath if she was human.
Giles refuses to flinch away though every instinct in him is screaming for distance.
“Filthy man,” Not-Buffy chides, in a tone that implies it is nearly a compliment. “No wonder you like going out to gather those Potentials. Traveling alone, in such close quarters with all that nubile flesh--”
Giles cannot hold it back and a growl of fury escapes him. “Fuck you, you incorporeal Nothing. Fuck your twisted notion of backwards reality and every little thing you think you bloody know about us. It’s all wrong. Because you can only see the evil, the wicked.” He has warmed to his subject now and the First has gone temporarily speechless. It hadn’t been expecting him to go on the offensive. “You’ll only ever get half a picture or less. And that,” he breathes, “that will be your downfall.”
“And I’ll be yours, mate,” The First drawls with Spike’s muddy accent, now wearing the vampire’s form and smirking like he invented the expression. “All this time, all the battles you’ve fought by her side and the Slayer will still choose me. She still wants me .”
This is the lowest blow yet, twisting in Giles’s gut like a knife. He has refused to let himself even think it, to even consider that his concerns about Spike were anything but professional. The First has neatly flayed through that protective layer of denial. His face burns with the shame of it - how low he has fallen.
“I’m done listening to this.” He turns to head back into the house but First-Spike steps in his path.
“Rupert Giles. The man who could just never measure up. Not in the eyes of his father. Not for the Watcher’s Council. Not even for his Slayer,” The Thing taunts, eyes alight with the pleasure of its own cruelty. “Why are you even here? You’re barely a glorified babysitter to her.”
There is painful truth in all of it but what strikes Giles most is how quickly The First has been taking aim, over and over again. It’s a sloppy move, this attempt to wield his insecurities as a makeshift weapon. If It wants him gone so badly, there must be a very good reason for him to stay. For the first time that day, Giles feels bolstered, a small sense of purpose renewed. There is even a mild flicker of hope deep within his chest.
“You’re showing your hand, O’ Great Evil One,” he coolly informs the incorporeal Spike. “I’m not your puppet.” His humorless smile is a blade as he leans almost nose to nose with The First. “And I’ll not be leaving My Slayer’s service in this lifetime. Mate .”
The First makes a deep, angry sound but Giles doesn’t wait for a retort, instead he walks straight through the vile vision and back into the house.