Rupert Giles glanced up from his book. The lovely Devon countryside rushed by the large window of their train compartment, but it was the faces of his two companions staring out at the green and blue world that quirked his lips into a small smile. It was the first time he’d seen either of them completely relax in ages. They looked so young at that moment, even innocent.
It was a vision that might have escaped anyone who just glanced in to see it, but the picture in front of him nearly brought tears to Giles’ eyes. These two young ladies had already seen so much horror in their short lives. They had both touched pain and darkness that would have devoured any weaker souls. And they had come into the light by choice. Standing up, and fighting the fight, and giving evil a few black eyes in the process. He slowly removed his glasses to give them a polish before his emotions could betray him.
“He’s looking at us again,” Faith said to the redhead in a teasing stage whisper. “I think he might actually tear up this time.”
“Hush,” Willow giggled. “You know they don’t let him out much these days. He’s probably just not used to all the sunlight.”
The Slayer laughed at that. “True. Did you see the looks those baby Slayers who think they’re some kind of honor guard gave us when we suggested he should come with us? It was like they thought we’d break him or something.”
“Well, he is Head of the Council. I’m surprised Andrew doesn’t have them all bowing down whenever he enters a room… yet.”
Giles tried to glare at the playful ribbing, but he knew it must have appeared as half-hearted as it felt. He had missed these girls to no end.
“It’s a good thing we showed up when we did. He was starting to look like a librarian again,” Faith smiled. “You’re gonna let them make you go soft, G. Hey, maybe we can get you a good concussion on this mission, for old time’s sake.”
Replacing his glasses, Giles finally let his smile escape. “I doubt it, Faith. This is a simple new Slayer outreach mission. I don’t foresee any complications.”
“Now he’s done it,” Willow whispered. “Famous last words.”
“I wonder if his groupies would forgive us if he’s only missing a limb or something when we bring him back.”
Shaking his head, Giles’ smile didn’t waiver as he went back to his book. He would never be able to express to them how grateful he was to be there. The work he was doing was of an import beyond measure. The Council had to be rebuilt, the new Slayers had to be found and trained. But when, on her visit, Willow sensed a new girl and Faith decided to go with her, he nearly jumped for joy when they asked him to be the Watcher on their impromptu outreach team. Yes, the work he was doing was important, but you can’t save the world when you don’t remember what it looks like.
“You sure this is the right place, Red,” Faith asked as they approached the block of retirement village condos in the tiny harbor town. “Looks more like a place we’d find him hanging out in than a Slayer-type girl.” She jabbed her thumb back to indicate the man walking behind them.
“I beg your pardon,” Giles huffed.
Both girls giggled at his indignant tone. Willow grinned, “Can you even imagine Giles retiring? I think that really would be the day the world ends.” The redheaded witch glanced back at him with a sudden frown. “Oh, not that I don’t think you deserve a chance to relax and be happy. I just can’t imagine our lives without you being there with the rest of us… B-but if you wanted to…”
The Watcher gave her a soft smile. “I understand, Willow. To tell the truth, I never thought I’d even see the age of retirement, let alone considered what I might do when the time came.”
Faith lightly punched him in the shoulder. “Come on, G. Never happen. You need to be in the middle of the shitstorm just like the rest of us. You’d never be happy rotting away in a place like this.”
Giles absently rubbed his shoulder and took a deep breath. “I don’t believe I’d miss the ‘shitstorm’, as you so poetically put it,” he looked into their beautiful smiles, “However, I would miss the company very much.”
“This is it,” Willow whispered as they approached a door. “I can sense her inside. Give me a sec and I’ll find out who we’re dealing with.” She sat cross-legged on the floor and typed quickly on her small laptop. “The apartment belongs to a Maurice and Barbara Riley, retired banker and his wife. They have one daughter, Grace, age 22.”
“That must be our girl,” Faith whispered. “Older than we usually find.”
“Yes,” Giles agreed, already pulling brochures out of his shoulder bag. “Shall we see whether that makes our job easier or more difficult?”
“After you,” Willow stood and the two young ladies flanked him with smiles as he knocked on the door.
It was answered by a lovely blond girl with a bright smile.
The Watcher grinned and went right into his speech. “Miss Riley? My name is Rupert Giles and my associates and I are here from the International Institute of Gifted Women. We are an organization dedicated to finding special and talented young ladies and helping them reach their full potential.” He held up the brochure and continued on, never realizing that she had been staring at him the whole time with a look of stunned astonishment on her face.
“Mum!” she suddenly called, not taking her eyes off of him. “You have to come see this!”
“What is it, Dear,” her mother walked up behind her and froze with the same look on her face.
“Hello. My name is-”
“Did my dad put you up to this?” Grace interrupted as Giles began his introduction again.
The Watcher stuttered in confusion. “I, well, um, I don’t believe I’ve ever met your father. We, we truly are here to see you.”
“Maurice!” Barbra Riley shouted for her husband. “Can you please come out here for a moment?”
“If it’s someone selling something, send them away,” the irritated griping came for inside the flat. “There is nothing the two of you could possibly need from a door to door…” He, too, froze as he came around the open door and saw the visitors.
Faith and Willow both gasped in surprise. The man stood about six feet tall with broad shoulders and a pleasant face. He had his hair cut very short and wore no glasses, but, if they weren’t standing right next to their friend, both would have sworn they were looking at Giles. The resemblance was breathtaking.
Before they could react any further, however, this doppelganger flew forward, wrapping his hands around Giles’ throat and ramming him back into the wall. “How dare you come here and endanger my family?” he growled wildly.
Everyone else was stunned for a moment, until Faith regained herself and grabbed Maurice by the shoulder, throwing him backwards into his flat to land heavily on his back. She was on him in the blink of an eye.
Giles struggled for breath, Willow trying to help hold him up. Just as the Slayer raised her fist against his attacker, he managed to grind out hoarsely, “Faith, don’t hurt him! He’s my brother.”
“I’m so sorry,” Barbara looked worried as she handed Giles a glass of water. He sat on the couch, Willow beside him gently probing his neck for anything worse than slight bruising.
Faith stood next to an armchair across from them, her arms crossed loosely over her middle. She chuckled, “Foresee no complications, huh?” Despite her light teasing, she didn’t take her sights off Maurice, who was pacing the other end of the living room like a raging bull.
“Thank you,” Giles smiled gratefully as he took the offered water. “And you needn’t fret. I’ve had worse greetings.”
Barbara frowned. “That may be true, Mr. Giles, but not in my home.” She turned to address her daughter, who was sitting in the chair and still studying him intently. “Grace, could you please see to our guests for a few moments? I must discuss something with your father.” Her gaze fell pointedly on her husband, who stumbled mid-step and visibly paled.
Grace nodded, stifling a giggle. She firmly believed that there was no power in the world her father could not stand against, except one, her mother. She watched as the elder woman strode into the bedroom, the much larger man following with his head hung low.
“It looks like you’re gonna be just fine,” Willow announced as she finished her exam. “You never told us you had a brother, Giles,” her tone verged on accusing.
The older man gazed down at her with steady eyes. “No one ever asked.” When she ducked her head in shame, he smiled softly and rubbed her arm, taking the sting out of his words. “The truth is, we haven’t spoken in many, many years. Mo left when we were still young men. I’d never thought to see him again.”
“I just can’t believe it,” Grace grinned at him with a fair bit of awe brightening her face. “I have an uncle. You really are my uncle. I mean, mum had no other family, and dad always said he was alone in the world except for us. I never dreamed.”
“Your father left on very bad terms. It doesn’t surprise me that he would keep us and his past to himself. And he wasn’t completely wrong about the danger that tends to follow me.” Giles smiled, “But… I have a niece. And you are so very lovely. You have your grandmother’s features.”
Grace’s grin brightened even more at that. “Do… Do I have any cousins or anything? I’ve always thought it would be nice…”
“I’m sorry, no,” he frowned. “I never married nor did I have any children of my own.”
Willow quickly squeezed his hand. “Unless you want to count the dozen or so of us who love him like family. He’s been,” she looked meaningfully into his eyes, “way more than a father to so many of us.”
Giles blinked a few times and turned his hand to hold hers properly. He knew he didn’t need to say anything in response.
Faith spoke up, leaving them to their moment. “And if you ever wanted a sister-type, well, if Red here is right about you, you’re about to get a couple thousand.”
Grace looked up at her with a confused smile. “I don’t understand what you mean.”
“It’s the reason we came here in the first place.” Giles cleared his throat. “And, I confess, the reason your father’s reaction to seeing me was not completely unwarranted.” He leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. “Let me start from the beginning. Our family comes from a long line of people called Watchers. And the mission of the Watchers has been to…”
Barbara leaned against her dressing table with her arms crossed and watched her husband continue to stalk around the bedroom. “Maurice Riley, if you wish to continue to have me as your wife, you will not even consider lying to me when you tell me exactly who that man out there is.”
He stopped and looked up at her. “Barb, please…” Her hard expression didn’t waiver. “All right, yes. He is my brother. And he’s out there alone with our daughter right now.” He went for the door, but his path was blocked.
“HE seemed perfectly calm and polite. HE did not fly into a rage and try to strangle a member of his own family in front of Grace.”
Maurice ran a frustrated hand over his face. “You don’t understand-”
“No I don’t. I don’t understand how I could have been married to a man for nearly thirty years who has never told me he has an, apparently, twin brother. I don’t understand why you would keep a secret like that from me. And I’m not even sure I understand who you are at the moment.”
He forced himself to calm down as he slowly turned back into the room and sat on the bed. After a few false starts, he took a deep breath and sighed, “The truth is, I come from a world that I never wanted you and Grace exposed to.”
Barbara went to sit beside him and took his hand. “Love, you are one of the greatest thieves this country has seen. You are on Interpol’s most wanted list, the leader of the Invisibles. Your whole life is a secret, except from me, and now Grace. How much worse can where you came from be that it frightens you so much to share with me?”
He gazed into her encouraging eyes and swallowed hard before beginning. “You know I changed my name before you and I, well, got together. Yes, it was Giles. I come from a family that, for generations, has been involved with this, this secret organization. My father, my grandmother, at least one from every generation. And growing up, Rupert was the golden boy of ours. The best schools, the best tutors… He was pushed to excel while our parents were happy with whatever I did.”
“Some would say you got the better part of that deal. Sounds terrible for him.”
Mo frowned. “That’s what my friends said when we went out and he had to stay in and study. The thing was, I always knew there was some secret being kept from me. Some great family legacy that I wasn’t a part of.” He stood and began pacing. “Well, when we were eighteen, I finally got my chance to find out what it was. Rupert suddenly had a great row with our father and left, no one ever told me why. But that was when they decided to force their bloody destiny bollocks down my throat. I was thrown into training before I knew it, and that’s when I found out…”
His wife was staring up at him with sad eyes. “That must have been difficult. To have your brother suddenly leave you like that without an explanation.”
He flinched as she saw directly into the heart of his past wounds. “Truthfully, I tried not to blame Rupert. When I found out what he was running from… As you can guess, I ran too, and have been for the past thirty years. What I do blame him for is going back.”
“So, what is it? This hateful legacy of your… our family.”
Maurice plopped gracelessly back down on the bed. “There is a secret… agency, called the Watcher’s Council. A group of useless old men who force young girls to fight their war for them.”
He sighed deeply. “Against the vampires and demons.”
“I warned you not to lie to me,” Barbara shook her head.
“Everything is real, Barbara. Let me start from the beginning.” He held her hand, not letting her move away from him. “The Earth is older than anyone realizes…”
“So, is that why you came looking for me?” Grace asked. “Because I’m next in the family line and I’m supposed to be one of these Watchers?”
The bedroom door had opened just in time for her parents to hear the question. Barbara held her breath, still trying to process the fantastic story her husband had shared with her. Maurice stood behind her and she could hear his teeth grinding in anger. Were they really about to enter the nightmare he’d feared?
Giles took a breath and answered, “No. That’s not why we sought you out.” He noticed the added company when they both sighed in relief and cringed as the bile rose in his throat. The girl before him was his own blood. At that moment he couldn’t look his brother in the eye for anything.
Willow sensed his hesitation and continued. “Grace, can you tell me if you’ve noticed anything different within the last few months? Things that just aren’t like they used to be.”
“Jars easier to open?” Faith clarified. “Glassware seem more fragile? Rip any doors off their hinges?”
“Well, I did recently get back from dancing in America. The last few performances I couldn’t control my jumps and almost hurt some other girls. I seem to always be slamming doors. Oh, and I gave dad a nasty bruise on his arm with just a tap. Didn’t I, dad?”
“I was off balance and leaned into it,” Mo replied, near panic in his voice. “It wasn’t your fault.”
The two young Americans nodded to each other. Faster than anyone could realize, Faith pulled a knife from her heavy boot and threw it at Grace’s face. Instinctively, the young blonde’s hand shot up and caught it.
“Welcome to the tribe,” Faith drawled.
Barbara ran forward, sputtering in terror. Maurice leaned heavily on the wall, trying to control his overwhelmed emotions. And Grace stared in shock at the point of the knife. “How did I do that,” she gasped.
“I apologize for the crude display,” Giles murmured. “We find it helps get past the disbelieving arguments.”
“I’m all right, mum,” the new Slayer said to her mother who nearly collapsed in front of her. “And I think they knew I would be.” She confidently flipped the knife in her hand and tossed it back to Faith.
“This can’t be real,” Mo groaned, slamming his fist into the wall. “Wake up you pathetic, old sod!”
“Don’t be so melodramatic, dad. I’ll be fine.”
Her father’s fierce eyes shot up, but looked past her to his twin. “No! Nothing’s fine. He and his kind are going to take you away from me. They’re going to take you and make sure you come to an early and brutal death.”
Giles stood sharply, his emotions just as turbulent. “You think I did this on purpose, don’t you? That I would be so petty as to hunt you down and use my only niece for some kind of vengeance against you. This is no more my choice than my own destiny was.”
Willow placed a light hand on Giles’ arm in an attempt to calm him, as Grace turned to her father after she had sufficiently soothed her mother. “Settle down. It’s not what you think, dad. Besides, Faith is the Slayer, so I must be a potential or something.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Mo growled. “Rupert is only a lackey for father and his cronies. They’re the ones who want to punish me. They’ll make sure to find a reason to take you from me.” He hadn’t once taken his gaze from his target. “Sending you with a couple of innocent looking girls is a new twist on their old scheme though, Rue.”
Faith nudged Willow on the shoulder. “Dude thinks we look innocent. That’s funny.”
The red-head shrugged her off, not liking the tension that still ran thick between the brothers. “It’s not like that anymore. Things have changed so much. And if you’ll all sit down and let us explain… Please,” she turned to her friend, “Giles, he’s scared for his daughter. You know why. You can understand that.” The Watcher nodded stiffly and sank into the couch. “And, Mr. Riley… The Council is more different than you can ever imagine now. Your brother doesn’t answer to anyone like he used to. Sit and let us tell you everything. Please.”
Mo moved slowly into another chair. He could feel the calming power this girl held over his twin and it intrigued him. A small part of him suddenly wondered exactly what they might be to each other. Barbara perched in the armchair with Grace, holding tightly onto her daughter’s hand. She had quickly regained full control of herself and sat with a pleasant, if apprehensive, smile, awaiting more explanations.
Willow took a deep breath, seeing that she would have to take charge of the conversation at this point. “It was about six months ago when everything changed. Giles was Watcher to the Slayer, my best friend, Buffy.” She saw Mo’s eyebrow quirk and guessed he had been trained enough to know Slayers weren’t allowed friends. “We were in the fight of our lives. The First Evil was about to open the Hellmouth and let its army loose on Earth. We won and Sunnydale was destroyed, sealing that gateway forever.”
“I remember hearing about an entire town falling into a sinkhole while I was over there,” Grace said softly.
Faith snorted, “That was us.”
“So your Slayer died and along came Faith,” Maurice growled, trying to make a long story short.
“Actually, Buffy is on vacation in Rome at the moment,” Willow grinned.
“But… I thought…”
“Oh hell yeah, I am,” Faith laughed. “I could have thrown you right out the window if I wanted to.”
“Two Slayers?” Maurice asked, confused.
Willow continued. “When The First attacked, Giles was spending all his time gathering Potentials, and Buffy was doing her best, but we knew we were going to lose. It was the plan that saved the world that ended up changing everything.” She looked up and found all eyes were on her. “To stop The First, Buffy lead her small army into the Hellmouth. At the same time a… a very powerful witch used the power of a weapon made only for Slayers and activated every Potential in the world.” Willow looked at Giles’ twin with compassion. “No, Mr. Riley, there aren’t two Slayers. There are thousands.”
Several moments of silence went by as her last statement sank in. Giles finally glanced up at Grace and said, “That’s why we’re here. We… detected another Slayer here and came to find her. To find you.” Ducking his head, he whispered, “I’m sorry, Mo.”
His brother was quickly turning red again. “You bastard. You can go back and tell those old pillocks that they can’t have my daughter as another pawn in their sick little game!”
Giles’ eyes had a cold edge as he looked back up and held the angry gaze. “Eight months ago. An explosion in a London office building. Hundreds killed.”
“That was all over the news,” Barbara said. “It was a gas leak at some banking institution.”
“A cover story. It was an attack by the enemy… on the headquarters of the Watcher’s Council.” His hard stare never wavered from his brother, and Maurice visibly paled as the meaning struck him.
“Was he there?” the other man murmured after a few moments.
“They were gathering. It was the fight they’d been waiting their entire bloody lives for. Over in a bright blaze that turned out somewhat less than glorious.” Giles let his features soften a little. “I imagine him at his desk, same as he had been since we were boys.”
Maurice released a humorless chuckle. “Funny. I never thought this news would have any affect on me at all. I’ve… I’ve spent so much of my life hating everything father was.”
Giles let his gaze dip as his brother tried valiantly to school his emotions.
Willow touched her friend’s shoulder with worried sympathy. “You never told us your dad was in that blast.”
“It was hardly the time for mourning. And I wasn’t about to add myself to the list of burdens you were all carrying.”
“You’re not a burden, Giles. You’re a friend. Someday we’re gonna make you realize that.”
He gave her a tiny smile and whispered, “Perhaps.”
“Mo, honey, are you all right?” Barbara reached to comfort her husband.
“Yes,” he inhaled sharply with a quick nod of his head, “Yes, it’s fine.”
“You just learned your father was murdered. Nothing about that is fine.”
The scowl settled back onto Maurice’s face in full force. “It was the life he chose. The same one he tried to force me into. The old rotter most likely would have preferred that kind of death. It’s why I left. He put his whole family in danger for the sake of his… calling. At least now mother will have a chance at something more than sitting at home waiting for him.”
Giles knew his brother was turning to anger as a defense, but something in the disrespectful tone set his hackles on end. Slowly removing his glasses, the Watcher leaned forward and said in a low, even voice. “Our father held mother’s hand as she lost her battle with illness eight years ago. She kept asking for her son, even as she was sure that she must have outlived him. Forgive me, dear brother, I would have had you informed, had I thought you’d cared.”
Maurice moved like a shot, his right hook connecting solidly with Giles temple. The Watcher flew back over the arm of the couch. Both Willow and Barbara were standing between them the next moment.
“That’s it,” Willow growled. “If you hit him one more time I will so lose my temper and turn you into… into a toad.” She gave a jerk of a nod as emphasis.
Barbara was no less incensed. “Maurice, you will stop attacking our guests this instant.” Her husband stood there trying to control his anger and holding his throbbing hand. “And you, young lady, should not make idle treats.”
A few feet away Faith was helping to set Giles upright again. She grinned at him. “You know you had that one coming, don’t you, G?”
He carefully shook the stars from his eyes. “I think it’s clear my brother’s temper has not diminished with time.”
“You guys have an ice pack around?” the Slayer asked Grace.
“Um… Try the freezer?”
Faith was on her way back when she heard Barbara’s comment to Willow. “Nothing idle about Red there, folks. Remember that uber-witch that did the major Slayer mojo? She says toad and he’ll be hopping before he knows what hit him.” She tossed a bag of frozen peas to Giles, who gently pressed it to his face. He made the mistake of letting out a small groan.
Willow quickly turned on him. “And don’t you think I missed your passive-aggressive bull. If you insist on baiting him, you can spend some time as a newt. Then you two can have a nice little amphibiany conversation until you promise to stop hurting each other.” She earned a meek nod.
Barbara looked to her husband, who easily caught the small bag of frozen carrots that was tossed to him. “She can’t really…?” He gave a small nod of his own in reply and grimaced at the cold against his knuckles. She turned back to the visitors with a sharp sigh and, seeing the peas that were keeping the swelling down on Giles’ face, said, “You will, of course, be joining us for dinner.”
The next hour went by in relative calm. Willow happily helped Barbara in the kitchen. She didn’t shy away from any direct question the older woman asked, but tried to stick mostly with pleasant small talk. Faith had found some space in the living room and was teaching a very eager Grace several basic defense techniques. The new Slayer was clearly enjoying the lesson. And Maurice and Rupert sat across from each other and glared. Mo’s mind racing with memories and desperation to protect his family, and Giles’ to find some common ground they shared to start rebuilding their broken bonds.
The table was set for six and everyone took their places around it. A strained silence remained for the first several minutes of the meal.
Barbara glanced from her daughter to her husband, able to read both their thoughts, and sighed. She decided to act on Grace’s curiosity and began in a conversational tone, “So, what is it that usually happens when you… detect a new Slayer?”
Giles looked up with sympathy at Mo’s low growl. “Well, first a team is sent to find her and assess her current situation. These days we prefer to work in groups of at least three, consisting of a Watcher, a senior Slayer, and one of our mystics. Once she is located, the team will decide the best way to proceed for each particular girl.”
“Best for her…? Here’s a stake, now go fight monsters,” Mo muttered.
Giles gazed seriously at him. “For a few, yes. Those who are ready to be assigned to an active team straight away.”
Willow touched Barbara’s forearm. “But, mostly in those few cases, the young lady had already been in training of some kind for many years. For instance, we’ve located one who is a soldier and another was a deputy sheriff before joining us.”
“And what would you recommend for Grace.”
“I admit,” Giles smiled at the girl in question. “Grace is another rare case for us. Slayers are most often called in their mid-teens, you see. We have found a few that are younger even. Unless they are in danger or a danger to others, we prefer to leave them with their parents until they reach secondary school. It, of course, saddens me that we still have need to employ a few primary school tutors for the youngest children we have taken in.”
“But I’ve already finished university,” Grace said.
“Yes. Therefore, my next step is to ask Faith what she has learned from her time with you.” He looked pointedly at the Slayer beside him who was in the midst of stealing a roll from his plate.
She gave him a cheeky grin and took a bite for show. “Girl’s got the chops, G. She’s fast and accurate. Still a little clumsy, but no more than any newbie. I’d say some intensive training in hand to hand and weapons and she’ll be a star.”
Grace had an expression like she didn’t know whether to be proud or insulted. The redheaded witch smiled at her. “All of that means she likes you.”
Giles nodded. “So we all concur. I’d recommend that Grace come up to the compound for a one year intensive training course. We will teach you to defend yourself, to recognize and assess threats, and to use the weapons most effective against supernatural enemies. After that, I would assign you to a team. You may even come back here to be close to your parents, if you like. There’s a coven nearby that has been of invaluable help to us, and I want them to be protected by a Slayer team in the event that the demon community finds out.”
“Oh, Giles,” Willow beamed, “Miss Harkness would be so grateful. You know how she worries about the students.”
Mo couldn’t take it anymore. He pounded both fists on the table as he stood abruptly. “No! You come in here with your pretty words and promises, saying everything’s all rainbows and ponies now. But I know what your damned Council is like. You can make all the promises you want, but whatever pillock has taken over as Head of the Watchers will never give one bloody bean. I will not allow you to take my daughter and have her end up like every Slayer ever has!”
“And if I give you my word he is trustworthy and what I promise will be done?”
“He’s a bloody Watcher, isn’t he!?!”
“Yes, he is.” Giles removed his glasses for a slow polish.
“And I can only imagine what kind of soulless bastard used a massacre as an opportunity to seize his chance at the big chair...”
Faith suddenly stood to face the large man across the table. “Listen up, numb-nuts,” she pointed her bread at him menacingly. “I’ll have you know that I consider the new head honcho a personal friend of mine. And believe me, I had as much reason to hate the old Council as anyone. But this poor guy didn’t even want the job. He was shoved into it by the Slayers that crawled out of the wreckage of Sunny-hell. Why? Because he was the only one we trusted to always have our backs, even when he was sending us into danger to save the world.” Her fiery eyes swung to a new target, “And you can stop kickin’ me under the table, Red. I’m not Xan. I know when I’m stickin’ my foot in it. And I know it’s not my place to tell him.” Her gaze cut back, “But you make one more disrespectful comment, and I’ll show you what kind of loyalty that good man has earned.” Faith slowly sat and collected herself. “Mrs. Riley, I apologize for being rude at your dinner table.”
“Don’t worry, Faith. Mo has a tendency to bring it out in people,” the older woman smiled. “Especially those who just met him.”
Maurice slowly took his seat. Across the table Giles fidgeted a bit, a mixture of pride, amusement, and affection warring to break loose on his stoic face.
“She’s talking about you, isn’t she?” Maurice mumbled. His brother gave a short nod. “Things must have changed. As I remember, Head of the Council was always a senile old man who would never think of leaving his office, let alone go on a field mission.”
“In truth, this is a rare treat for me these days. You see Willow is actually my regional director for South America, and Faith is in charge of watching over the Cleveland Hellmouth. It was only because they were visiting the compound when Willow sensed Grace that I was permitted to come along. Most the time my young associates worry that, if left to my own devices, I will return to them bruised and battered.” He smiled, placing his fingertips tenderly to his black eye. “Luckily, this was to be an exceptionally uneventful mission.”
His two friends began to chuckle, giving Grace and Barbara the cue that he was enjoying the humor of the situation.
Giles continued seriously. “Maurice, Grace is an adult. And I can already tell you’ve raised a beautiful, intelligent, vibrant young woman. But this is her decision to make. You know that, even if she hid her Slayer powers, the dark forces will eventually seek her out. We only hope to give her the tools and knowledge to keep herself safe.” Mo slid his hand over to hold Grace’s. “And, Grace luv. You mustn’t feel you need to make your decision right now. We can easily arrange for you to come visit us at the training compound before you do.”
“I think I’d like that,” the blonde grinned.
“Oh, Andrew will be so happy to make the plans for your trip and visit. He loves showing the school off to new Slayers,” Willow chirped happily. Soon the women were all talking about how soon both Grace and Barbara would be able to travel to Scotland and see the compound while Willow and Faith were still on their visit. The two men went back to their meals, quietly contemplating everything that had been said.
When Giles had eaten his fill, he pushed his plate forward and ran his fingers through his hair. He was staring somewhere in the middle of the table when he began to speak again. “I…I know you’ve never forgiven me, Mo.” His brother concentrated on the one remaining bite on his plate. “I know you thought I was weak for crawling back to father and the Council. You’re right, I was. I went out into the world on my own and found that I had none of the control I thought I did. I was stupid and reckless, and I and everyone around me paid dearly for my foolishness.” He looked up. “I needed the Council to keep me in line. But I am so proud of you.”
Maurice snorted loudly.
“I am. You walked away and never looked back. You made your own way in this world. I still can’t believe the boy I grew up with, the one who would do anything for a thrill, settled down to become a banker of all things.”
Grace nearly spit the drink she’d just taken all over the table. Her mother shook her head in warning. “What?” the blonde whispered. “They work for an organization that hunts vampires. I think they can keep a secret.”
Giles decided to set the strange exchange aside for a moment and continue with his original point. “The thing is, I came here looking for one more Slayer, but I found so much more than that. I found her. I found family I never hoped to have. And one more thing that I am desperate beyond reason for. I found a Watcher. This is not father, or any of the old guard trying to force you back into the ranks. This is me, your brother Rupert, asking for your help.”
Maurice’s eyes widened in shock, then hardened into a glare. “I must have hit you harder than I thought. Jarred a few wires in that huge head of yours loose. If you even think for a moment--”
“You say you left because you couldn’t stomach a bunch of self-righteous old men using young girls as tools in their ugly war. You were right, but that time is over now. Yes, there is still a Council, and I was placed at its head, but it is a Council populated by both Watchers and Slayers. I and my young friends are working for a partnership that we can be proud of, and that will last long after we’ve passed this fight on.” The passion in Giles’ voice and eyes held the others captivated as he spoke. “But I know I do not have the resources to keep these girls safe. The majority of the old Watchers were killed in the explosion, or trying to protect their Potentials from the enemy. When I was put in command, about half of the survivors refused to return and work under what they saw as a disgraced Watcher. We are recruiting and training as fast as we can, but I have over two thousand Slayers now, and fewer than a hundred field-ready Watchers to give them the information they desperately need to survive. All I’m asking is that you come see the work we’re doing. Come help me re-build the Council as we always thought it should be. To serve the brave young women protecting the Earth every day.”
The four ladies jumped as Maurice suddenly got up and left the table. He was pacing quickly around the room and muttering to himself. Giles removed his glasses and shook his head.
Sliding her hand onto his, Willow squeezed lightly. “All of that is why your Slayers love you, Giles.” She blinked away a tear. “It’s why we all love you. Because you care so much. And we’ll make it all happen. You’ll see. Just like you envision it.”
“I apologize for Mo,” Barbara said softly. “I’m sure you know how stubborn he can be when he has his mind set a certain way.”
“I’m not a Watcher!” the man in question stopped and stated. “I only did less than two years of training while you were gone. I never finished.”
Giles smiled softly. “You knew who Faith was straight away. You knew about Grace, though you didn’t want to consider the possibility. That’s why you reacted as you did when you saw me. I’d wager you can even sense Willow’s power, which is why you knew better than to test her anger. You are a Watcher. It’s in your blood.”
Maurice ran a frustrated hand over his short hair. “Perhaps. But the kind of thing you’re talking about requires so much more than basic instincts. I wouldn’t know the first thing about giving these girls what they need. The last thing you want to do is put lives in my hands.” It surprised Giles that his brother seemed so pained to admit this.
“Then offer them the skills you do have. For instance, I am trying to run a world-class school as well as support Slayers on nearly every continent. We are scraping by for now, but the majority of the Council’s funds are still hidden out there in accounts and vaults that we are becoming desperate to find and secure. The talents of someone who is versed in finance would be a gift right now.”
It was hard to tell whether the look that appeared on Mo’s face meant he was holding back tears or laughter. He turned and walked slowly away, his head slightly hung as if deep in thought. His wife and daughter frowned sadly at each other, but said nothing.
After the silence stretched on, Giles softly added, “I don’t think I can do this without my big brother at my side.”
All four ladies glanced at each other. Faith was the first to speak. “Ok. Was it just me, or did anyone else get it into their head that big G was the big bro here?”
Barbara nodded, “With all Mo’s talk about the family legacy going to Rupert, I just assumed.”
Giles smiled. “That’s not how it works with Watchers. In my case, it became clear to my father when, at the age of seven, I began to have nightmares of women I’d never met being attacked by monsters. On my tenth birthday, father explained to me what they meant and that it was time for me to begin training. However, I am the younger, more dashing brother here.” His smile stretched into a roughish grin.
“You’re younger by all of about three minutes,” Maurice groaned, pacing back to the group.
“Twenty-three minutes, as you never allowed me to forget when we were boys. Funny how the pride of being older shifts as we age.” Their eyes met, and the serious, but gentle, tone returned to Giles’ voice. “Tell me.”
Maurice’s gaze slowly moved to meet his wife’s kind, beautiful eyes. She only gave a small shrug, but he could hear her voice in his head as clearly as if she spoke. He knew his brother’s heart, and it was his decision what to share. He was standing behind her in one long stride and slid his strong hands onto her shoulders.
“You said you’re proud of me, Rue,” he began with a touch of hesitation in his voice. “I wish I could accept your praise. I wish the reasons for it were all true.”
Barbara craned her head up and whispered, “Would you like me to take the girls somewhere so you two can talk?”
“No,” her husband shook his head slowly and squeezed her shoulders. “I… They have a right to know why I’m not worth their…” He put a hand up to stop the concerned comment coming from the kind witch. “I’ve never worked in a bank. At least… not officially. When your life went wrong, you returned to father for help. My contribution to society was no better, but I was too proud for that. Maybe you remember twenty-odd years ago, the news reports of a group they dubbed ‘The Invisibles’? Romanticized heists that baffled the police. That’s what I am, Rupert. Nothing but a thief, a common criminal. Someone I’m sure you don’t want anywhere near your young heroes.”
Giles never broke his gaze, the look on his face an unreadable mask. After several tense moments passed, it was Grace who spoke up.
“Wait a minute. You’re not a common criminal, dad. You are like the best safe cracker ever. And you planned everything. And you never let anyone get hurt. Never ever.” She turned to their guests. “It was a long time ago. He’s retired now.”
Faith was the first to break into a smile. “Criminal, huh? Convicted?”
“No. We never got caught. But The Invisibles are still on Interpol’s most wanted list. They just don’t know who we really are.”
The Slayer chuckled, “So, it’s not like you’re a convicted murderer who broke out of a maximum security prison and is a fugitive now?”
“No… but still.”
Both Giles and Willow finally broke, their laughter clearly confusing the others. “Good,” Faith finished, “Because that would be awkward.”
Giles finally spoke up. “None of us are saints, Mo. All any of us can give is our best, and that’s all any of us can expect.”
“But surely someone like me-” Maurice began.
Willow timidly raised her hand. “I tried to destroy the world once. I was this close to burning the whole thing. That’s kinda why we all need each other. Without Giles and my friends, who knows…?”
The Watcher reached an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into his side. Willow happily ducked her head under his chin in the half-hug.
“We all have our pasts,” he continued, “some dark side to each of us. All that matters now are these girls. As long as we keep working for them, we are doing good in the world.”
“Hey,” Faith piped up. “World’s best safe cracker… Sounds to me like we have a new candidate for Director of the Acquisitions of Rare and Dangerous Artifacts Division.”
“Oh no,” Barbara suddenly interjected. “Mo promised me when he retired that there would be no more ‘dangerous’. I am done with waiting up and hoping he makes it back home to me alive.”
Giles smiled, “Heads of Divisions are rarely in too much danger.”
“Says the man with the black eye!”
He barked a laugh. “Yes, you’re right. And I am truly sorry. I’ve shown up at your doorstep and, in one day, put everyone you love in danger. It… it tends to happen wherever I go.” Willow gently squeezed his hand. “I wouldn’t blame you if you end up hating me for it. Perhaps you will come to realize that I’ve earned every violent reaction Maurice has for me. But I do know that the things I do and the things I ask of others are necessary. Right now, all I ask is that you all come and see what we are trying to accomplish.”
Barbara looked up at her husband and he nodded slowly. “All right, Rue,” he replied. “We’ll come see what your new Council is all about.” The three visitors smiled. “But I warn you that I have baggage you might not want to deal with.”
“I think we can manage,” Giles grinned, glancing at his two associates.
Barbara took a deep breath and let it out in a decisive puff. “Well. Would anyone like some desert? We have ice cream. Mo, if you will? And Grace, get down some bowls please.”
As Maurice was digging in the freezer, a short, rather round man came through the front door with a worried look behind his thick spectacles. He looked straight at Giles and said quickly, “Mo, I need your… Oh sorry, I didn’t know you had company. Just come by when you get a chance.” He swung around and, seeing the man standing at the refrigerator holding a carton of ice cream, said, “Hey, Mo…” The stranger glanced back at Giles, then again at Maurice, and finally landed sprawled on the floor in a dead faint.
“Oh, Sidney,” Barbara sighed and got up to tend to him.
“Who’s that?” Willow giggled.
Mo stepped over his oldest friend on his way back to the table and stated in a long-suffering tone, “My baggage.”
The twin brothers stood in the opened doorway staring at each other for a long time. Sidney’s exasperated voice could be heard coming from deeper inside the flat.
“What do you mean Mo has a twin? He never told me about it. I’m his partner, Mo tells me everything.”
“Oh yes? Well I’m his wife and I never knew either. Don’t worry, we’ll have time to make him suffer for it later.”
A small smile crept across Giles’ lip as he put his hand out. “For what it’s worth, there’ve been many times I’ve missed you beyond reason. Even if you continue to despise what I do, I’m grateful to have you back in my life.”
Maurice gripped the offered hand tightly. Willow knew this was the closest to a hug these two long-lost brothers were going to come. The redhead rolled her eyes and grumbled, “Englishmen.”
“We will be there to see you soon,” Mo was saying to Rupert. “I can’t give you any answers yet. I won’t tell you that you have another Watcher or anything like that. But I promise you do have a brother. I never thought I’d miss you. You were always so serious and annoying. It seems I have nonetheless.” Both men gave a chuckle.
Faith was talking to Grace. “Listen, chick, I know what it feels like to suddenly be all powerful and stuff. Just don’t go out lookin’ for trouble. At least, not until you come let Big G over there teach you what you need to know. There are plenty of things out there that can still lay a hell of a smack down on you.”
“I promise,” Grace nodded with a grin. “And I’ll see you when I get there?”
“I’ll be waiting… Unless an apocalypse shows up to crap on my plans again…”
“Grace, Barbara,” Giles took the new Slayer’s hand. “It was a great pleasure to meet you both. I couldn’t wish my brother better.” He turned back to Mo. “Oh yes, and as soon as we return to the compound I’ll, of course, have my will changed to include Grace. There are a few that I want taken care of when the time comes,” he threw an unconscious glance at Faith, “But the bulk of the family estates will be passed to your daughter… My niece,” he added with a grin.
“Wait, wait, wait… Family estates?” Grace gaped at her father.
Barbara and Sidney were closing in on him. “Maurice Riley! All your hatred of the upper class? All your rants about how the rich people and old families can’t be trusted? And now we find this out?”
Maurice turned to his family and said without flinching, “And I think I’ve proven my point.”
“You have so much explaining to do.”
The door swung closed and Giles shook his head with a smile. His young ladies laughed as they each took one of his arms and led him away together.
“I wouldn’t be grinning if I were you,” Willow chuckled, hugging his arm tighter.
Faith snaked her arm around his shoulders. “Just wait ‘til B and the Dawnmister find out you’re not a one-of-a-kind.”
“Not to mention Xander. Oh, and I can’t wait to tell Andrew!”
They only laughed harder as a put-upon groan rumbled through the subject of their teasing.