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At Last

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Giles had been looking forward to this since the morning of that first day at Sunnydale High School, when a smirking senior interrupted Giles' survey of the grimoires to ask for Penthouse. Half an hour ago the last student had scurried off to the beach or the mall or whatever unutterably Californian place it was these teenagers went during summer hols, and now Giles locked the library doors knowing no one but the janitorial staff and the last of the renovation crew could burst in on him.

He took a moment, forehead to the wood veneer and eyes closed, and listened to the peace. No clamor of voices; no lockers slamming shut. Something clattered distantly: a chalkboard eraser, perhaps, fumbled by a teacher hurrying to leave.

Doubtless they all found their homes more appealing than their classrooms.

He turned and skirted the main floor, where gaps in the tiles remained although the worst of the damage was cleared away – the bookcases mended or replaced, the litter and glass all swept. He'd still to finish bringing the books in order, but that was a project for another day. Now he turned into his office and spread out scans of this latest find from the black market bazaars of Alexandria. A man mustn't lose his skills in trade.

After ten minutes of unnatural quiet he took Buffy's training CD player from its cabinet. It took only another five minutes of fiddling before he had the CD loaded: The Who's Lifehouse - a gift from Buffy after she'd realized he owned no CD's. "Rock for old English people," she'd called it, tentative, uncertain. He'd thanked her gravely, somehow not wanting to let on how near his tastes she'd come. Now it broke the stifling silence, allowing him to work.

At four thirty-one – he'd have to adjust that wall clock again – the phone rang.

"Giles speaking."

Through the intercontinental crackle came Travers's secretary, inquiring. In moments there were others on the line: not just Travers himself, but Watterson and that new man, Hyde, whom Giles had only met the once before setting off to meet his Slayer. Wonderful thing, this modern technology, Giles thought. Second-guessing from multiple voices at once. How refreshing.

He bit back the unexpected bitterness and let the men talk, answering their questions, describing the Master's final defeat. He assured them of the Hellmouth's restored slumber, of Buffy's continued health; he didn't mention the summer departure of the latter from the former. Had it really been only a month since the last of these interrogations? And had it felt an interrogation then?

Watterson was on about the Codex now, wanting scans, probing Giles on the subject of just how he'd obtained it. Giles answered briefly; now was not the time to mention Angel.

Giles traced the lines of a hieroglyph on his notepad and waited for them to finish.

Finally they had, their questions all asked if not always fully answered. Weary, Giles set the telephone back in its cradle.

It was the prophecy, he realized as he straightened his lexicographies and his translation of the Book of the Dead. It was the moment he'd told Buffy she would die. Some unfelt loyalty had stretched and snapped.

He finished tidying his desk. It was after six now; dinner from the least appalling of the Sunnydale establishments would be best, so that he could continue work on these scans of the Alexandria stones straightaway.

He stopped at the library door with coat and book bag in hand, listening again to the quiet. No students asking ridiculous questions; none of Buffy's friends making inscrutable allusion to American popular culture or leaving donut crumbs on the study table. Buffy herself gone for a well-deserved rest, leaving him to mull over his studies in peace.

As he locked the door behind him, he admitted to himself how very long a summer it would be.