Title: A Watcher's Word
Length of chapter: 3500
Setting: Post Chosen but AU straight away. So no comics and no Angel Season 5.
Buffy glared at Giles but to little avail. His focus was on Robin and he was grinning stupidly. She turned to her boss, as Head of the New Council of Watchers she was used to him acting more rationally. She hadn’t known he even owned a gun. Firearms were surprisingly ineffective against demons but she knew the damage they could do to humans and didn’t want to see what one could do to Giles.
“Robin, it's just Giles,” she pleaded.
Robin gritted his teeth. “I know who he is Buffy. But we can catch up on old times after he puts the weapon down.”
“You first, Wood,” Giles answered provocatively.
She glared at him again. He was up to something – she recognised the signs – but didn’t understand what. If he was trying to get himself shot, he was making excellent headway. “Robin,” she tried again. “He’s just-”
He cut her off. “Drunk? Irresponsible? Dangerous? Yeah I get that.” Buffy couldn’t help thinking that Giles looked tremendously sober now and a small nagging voice at the back of her brain questioned whether he’d even been drunk in the first place. The smell of alcohol was all from his rather distracting jacket. His boots were scuffed but not old. His pants were dusty but no more than could come from the subway and day to day life in the Fall. Robin meanwhile, all sharp lines and cashmere topcoat, was still pointing the gun and still looking pissed as hell. “How did he get in here?”
Giles waved his cutlass rather recklessly and replied, “Maybe you're not as safe in here as you think."
“Oh shut up, Giles,” Buffy snapped. “You are so not helping this situation.”
But Giles’ attention was all on Robin. “Are you really going to shoot me, Wood? I mean really? Do you think you could do that?” The temperature of the room seemed to drop a couple of degrees.
“I think I could find some motivation,” Robin answered with chilling composure.
Giles shook his head. “I think you're bluffing. I’ve seen you kill demons in a fair fight, but not like this. You couldn’t even stake the vampire that killed your mother.” Robin’s mouth twisted a fraction at that. Giles continued, “Because no, you had to make it a fair contest for the sake of your conscience.”
Robin gritted his teeth and Buffy had a shocking sense that he might actually pull the trigger. That Giles was certainly doing everything he could to goad him was obvious if inexplicable
Robin was still icily calm in his replies. “Spike wasn’t threating my Slayers. At this moment in time, I have a right to defend the living.”
Giles gave him a lopsided grin. “'Your Slayers' is it?”
Buffy had heard enough of the posturing and to the surprise of both men and the two watching girls; she swiftly took Robin by surprise and pulled the gun from his hand. After resetting the safety, she ignored Robin’s wounded pride and turned to Giles, holding her hand out for his weapon in turn. He hesitated for a second so she rolled her eyes. “Do you want to fight me over this, Giles?”
He did not. He gave her a sheepish grin and gave up the cutlass meekly, then thrust his hands into his corduroy pants pockets by way of contrition. Robin moved unexpectedly swiftly from behind her and threw a punch. Giles went over backwards in surprise and crumpled on the floor. Buffy pushed Robin back angrily
“Leave him alone,” she hissed
“Yeah,” Julia jumped in with admonishment. “Can’t you see the guy is just wasted?”
Robin smarted at being the bad guy and backed down. Buffy handed off the gun and cutlass to Fallon and glared at Giles as he lay on the floor flexing his chin where he’d been hit.
“I don't feel very well now,” he declared somewhat unnecessarily and rubbed his beard. “Why is the room spinning?” Julia’s giggles helped relieve the tension. Buffy’s censure melted a little and she knelt down to Giles’ side, scanning his face intently. Up close it was clear that he was not drunk and that he now knew that she knew. His green eyes were clear and bright and burning into her hers. For a moment it was just the two of them and she felt a strange contentment.
“You’re not going to give us any more trouble are you, Giles?”
“Absolutely not,” he slurred playfully. “Scouts Honour."
She fought the impulse to giggle and composed herself into the position of Senior Slayer. “I’ll take responsibility for him for here on out,” she declared. “He can clean up in my office.”
“And maybe sleep it off,” joked Julia. Even Fallon seemed to no longer consider Giles as a threat much to Buffy’s relief. Robin however had sulked over to Fallon to inspect Giles’ cutlass. “There’s blood on this,” he accused.
“Must have cut myself shaving,” muttered Giles triggering Robin to flare up in height again.
Buffy punched Giles lightly on the arm and hissed quietly in his ear, “Stop it now. Don’t overdo this.”
Giles studied her in curiosity and said “Sorry” very quietly. Buffy was torn. She had a loyalty to Robin. He’d given her a key job in the New Council and apart from whenever the topic of Giles had come up; they had always been in sync. Robin was noble and loyal and trustworthy. She knew she could always count on him make the right decision; to do the right thing. But Giles suddenly confused that situation. He introduced greys and shadows into her sharply defined world view. She looked back into his eyes and knew she couldn’t betray him to Robin. She needed to figure out what he was doing there and she needed to figure it out on her own. Giles was watching her face with a slight anxiety as she made up her mind. She felt a small thrill at the power she had. She liked independent decision making. She liked going it alone and defying expectations. She liked having Giles in her life again.
She smiled. “Do you trust me, Giles?”
“Always.” His answer came so openly and honestly it surprised her. He’d been so awkward around her the past couple of years she really didn’t know what he thought of her. They had been very close at some times in the past, deeply angry and bitter at other times, but now, when she was completely clueless as to what he felt about her, now he said he trusted her. The curse, of course, just messed up everything between them
She swept her thoughts back to practical considerations. “Let’s get you up off the floor then.” George came forward to help and Giles leaned away from Buffy and onto the security guard. She grateful as his tramp jacket was seriously barf inducing. “On the count of three, tough guy,” she encouraged and they rose in a crumpled heap to something like stability
Robin watched with a glower. “My office now Buffy,” he snapped and turned curtly out of the library.
“Show him to my room, George. Giles, use the restroom in there and clean yourself up. You’re unbelievably gross right now.”
“Right-ho. Sorry. I didn’t mean to er, yes, sorry,” he stammered, dropped his head and followed a rather wary George.
Fallon was the first to speak. “So that was Rupert Giles. I’m so not impressed.”
Buffy could only shrug. The girl’s ego had taken a knock but she didn’t have time to deal with that right then.
“You should be,” was all she could reply.
Robin’s office was at the opposite end of the corridor from Buffy’s. He had at least left the door open so she didn’t feel too much like she’d been called to the Principal to cover for her friend caught smoking in the toilets. She walked in defiantly. Whereas Buffy’s office had remained unchanged from the Old Council occupation, Robin had remodelled with shelves and lights to exhibit the weapons and confiscated objects of occult and demon origin he had acquired over the years. In pride of place he had the Slayer Axe prominently mounted on the wall behind his desk. It was the symbol of the New Council’s authority. Buffy indulged him his toys, she herself preferred the smell of the books for a working environment Probably something that had ingrained in her blood from her time in the high school library. Probably something that explained her relationship with Giles?
Robin had taken his overcoat and scarf off and was straightening his suit jacket on his shoulders with some fierce shrugging.
“I’m really sorry about Giles just now,” she began. “I guess he’s not taking this curse business very well after all. He's good when it comes to saving the world stuff, just not so good at solving his own problems,” she trailed off. Robin eyed her coolly.
“We have problems of our own too. I’ve just come from Ariela’s apartment. She’s dead,” he said bluntly.
“Oh god.” Buffy slipped to chair opposite Robin’s desk. She’d found the girl difficult to fathom and hadn’t spent nearly enough time with her. The New York centre was supposed to be a haven, a place she could teach and protect the new Slayers. Ariela had been so independent, so self-sufficient that Buffy had focused on the others more. She’d been so smart that she’d intimated Buffy a little but now the girl had slipped from her protective reach, she had so many questions. “How? What happened?"
“She’d been viciously attacked.” Robin’s anger was mixed with his own sense of guilt. “Plenty of signs of one hell of a struggle. Furniture everywhere.” He was noticeably still standing as he spoke. “She was gutted with some sort of curved weapon.” He pulled himself up to his full imposing height. “Originally I thought scimitar but now I'm thinking cutlass.”
The air seemed to be knocked out of Buffy’s lungs. “And guess what else I found,” Robin added and silently reached behind his desk to pull up a sleeping bag, a dark leather jacket and a brown canvas travelling bag. He unzipped the bag and tipped the contents across his desk, then went through the pockets of the jacket and threw those pickings down too. Buffy recognised everything as belonging to Giles even before his wallet, driving license and passport slipped to the floor at her feet. Giles was a travelling man these days, his whole life was now trashed across Robin’s office for scrutiny
Buffy didn’t need to ask where he’d found it but she shot Robin a look. “Oh come on. You don't seriously think Giles killed her? A sleeping bag could mean he was staying there, sleeping on the couch.”
“How long has he been in town?” Robin asked impassively.
“I don’t know,” she admitted in confusion. “He hasn’t called me.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“Yes.” Buffy didn’t like the high-handed tone she heard in his voice. “It’s difficult for him being in contact with me. He thinks I don’t want anything to do with him because of this-."
“Yes, yes, yes. This curse. We all have to make allowances,” Robin interrupted somewhat tetchily. His attitude bugged Buffy to the point she was glad she’d decided not to share her suspicions that Giles wasn’t nearly as drunk as he was pretending to be.
Robin grunted and stopped trying to look intimidating in front of the mounted Slayer Axe on the wall. He sat on his chair, leant forward and put his elbows on the desk. “We've lost three Slayers in the States this past week,” said Robin. “All brutal attacks with no witnesses. It feels like someone or something is starting something Buffy, and I have a duty to protect my Slayers from whatever is picking them off.”
“Yes but it's hardly Giles. He wouldn’t hurt a Slayer.”
“Maybe she interrupted one of his really big nightmares…” He let the accusation drift around the room. Ten months ago Buffy witnessed some of Giles’ nightmares first hand, and though he never showed any signs of reaching for weapons, it did take him a long time to wake up and perhaps he wasn’t quite himself then, but no, but she wasn’t going to be shaken in her belief in Giles.
Robin continued his theory. “Maybe he doesn’t even remember what he did. Maybe he came here in a subconscious act of penitence?”
She shook her head. Giles was up to something but she needed to talk to him before she said anything to Robin. She changed her argument smoothly. “Except you said yourself the previous attacks have suggested a pattern, a calculated threat. You don’t really think Giles is masterminding some big attack on the Council?"
Robin looked uneasy. “We don't know where he is half the time. Large sums of money go out of the account we set up for him. It’s not always him that picks it up.”
“Oh come on! You’ve been following him?” Giles was seriously paranoid and the last thing he needed the Council trying to keep tabs.
He persisted in the face of her indignation, “And then he turns up out of the blue with one of my girls dead and him threatening two more in the library. How did he even gain access to this floor? Did you let him in?”
“No.” The outrage in her voice was apparent. “What is your problem with Giles? I thought you liked Watchers. I thought your mom's Watcher raised you after she died?”
“I like Watchers that stick around. I don't trust the shiftless ones that get their asses fired and disappear for months at a time running up huge debts."
“If this is about the money,” she started but he shook his head.
“I don't care about the money, evidence today is that he’s been drinking most of it, but I would like to know how he spends his time.” Robin rose and walked around the desk to perch on a corner, his arms open in conciliation. “Don’t get angry with me, but what is his agenda these days?”
“He's trying to find a way to release himself from this curse.”
“And who are the sort of people that he could be asking? If Willow can’t do it then what sort of unholy power would it take? And what would he have to give them in return?”
It was a chilling thought. Willow had had the power to raise Buffy from the grave. She’d heard Giles smack down Willow’s insistence she was the only one that could have done that. The phrase ‘Oh there are others, and you wouldn’t want to meet them’ pushed unwelcomed into her mind. She dismissed it. So Giles knew people, so what. That was a bonus in his line of work, not a cause for concern.
“This is Giles we are talking about. He's not like that.”
“Everyone is like that when their lives depend on it. It's even higher stakes for our Mr Giles because it's his whole afterlife depends on it too. When he dies, as one day he surely will, then he falls to a particularly nasty hell dimension ruled by Glory's brother gods, who want eternal vengeance.”
Buffy had heard enough and stood up. “He's a good man. I trust him.”
“Well I’m a cautious man. He killed Ben that doctor because you couldn’t do it and Giles thought it was the right thing to do. I get nervous with people who think they can act in the best interests of others. I get nervous about people who can bring themselves to kill as a cold blooded calculation like that.”
Robin’s words were reasonable and his tone conciliatory. “Buffy, be careful. You don't owe him anything; he brought these consequences on himself. That's not your responsibility. He's not your responsibility."
“I know.” In the ten previous months she had analysed her feelings. She felt no guilt or indebtedness about what Giles had done. “He did it to save the World as much as for me or Dawn."
“Just be careful. We don't know where he's been or who he has been talking with. We don't really know anything about him anymore.”
“We know he's Giles,” she replied adamantly.
“Better be enough.”
George was outside her office in full guard duty but Buffy told him to stand down and he shuffled back to his reception console.
Giles’ unbelievably gross jacket caught both her eye and nose as she entered. He had discarded it and bunched it by the window but it still stank the place out. Giles himself was wearing the frameless glasses she rather liked and was sitting at her desk intently reading. He had pulled half of the books from the shelves and had the sleeves of his check shirt rolled up to the elbows. The memories of Giles in full research mode in Sunnydale High came flooding back to her happily. He’d looked up briefly at her entrance and then turned back to his texts.
“You’ve sobered up a lot quicker than you used to,” she said as casually as she could. She approached her desk and perched on the corner. She gestured to the disgusting jacket.
“Not a good look on you. And so not a good smell.”
“Cost me fifteen bucks and my wristwatch to a tramp on 57th street,” he replied matter of factly without even looking up.
“Why? You could have just rung the front doorbell. You’re always welcome here.”
“I needed to be sure.”
“We've been through all this," replied Buffy, unable to hide the slight exasperation from her voice. She moved closer and as she did so she could see the rest of the books had been tossed to the floor as worthless. He used to be a lot more respectful of the dignity of his books. Either something important was going down or his paranoia had reached new dizzying heights. Oddly, she hoped for the former.
“What’s going on?” she asked softly.
“Yes, sorry. Of course you're right but I needed to research something in rather a hurry. Ariela said you kept these volumes in here.”
She frowned. “Willow said these weren't the sort of books we should have out in the library."
“No, well quite,” he agreed and turned to another book.
“I didn’t know you knew Ariela,” Buffy asked, carefully biting back any suspicion in the question
Surprisingly, Giles smiled rather fondly as he answered. “Oh yes. Remarkable girl. I met her in Jerusalem. Well I say met, actually she rescued me from a group of vampires.” He looked a little sheepish at the admission. “Sixteen years old and no idea who I was or that I used to be a Watcher. I was checking something out and it got a little hairy. Fortunately she stepped in before I got knocked unconscious.” He flashed her his cute self-deprecating smile. “She had no family left over there so I called Xander and he arranged for her to come to the States. She thinks the world of you - talks about you all the time.”
Interesting though that was, Buffy wasn’t about to be side-tracked. “What were you doing in Jerusalem?” she asked. For a guy that needed to stay alive, touring the Middle East on his own didn’t seem the most sensible plan.
“I was looking for some information.”
“About?” she prompted. God. He could be insufferably hard work at times and now he merely grunted, his attention back to his cross-referencing. She knew the signs of Giles in serious research mode. The library at Sunnydale High could have been on fire and he wouldn’t have noticed sometimes. She put a hand on the top of his book and pushed it slightly down to get his attention.
“What gives? You don’t call, you don’t write. And when you do get in touch you are only interested in my first editions."
He grunted again with a flicker of amusement that was quickly lost as he turned pages and read.
“How long have you been in the city?”
He turned to the bookcase and pulled another sinister looking volume. “A couple of weeks,” he replied absently.
“I’m sorry Buffy, it’s complicated and we haven’t got a lot of time.”
It was his paranoia talking of course. Everything had become life and death for Giles. And whilst she could imagine him trusting no-one but a Slayer who’d saved his life, it still cut like a knife that he didn’t think he could trust her.
She pouted. “Don't give me complicated; I want to know what’s-”
Her indignation was interrupted by her PC abruptly snapping off, the air con unit’s hum ceasing and the office lights plunging them to sudden and frightening darkness.
“Damn,” said Giles. “They’re here.”