Fic: Watcher’s Keeper
"Sorry about the mess, didn't expect to be entertaining." Giles spread out the blankets on his small couch and shuffled the pillows aside, tossing a couple stray newspapers aside and out of his way.
"What you call a mess, others call meticulously organized. Xander's locker, now that's serious mess." Buffy helped move some of his stacks of books out of the way. "Besides, I don’t need entertaining, Giles. I can entertain myself."
"Are you sure you wouldn't be more comfortable at a hotel? I've never had overnight guests before..."
"Really?" Buffy's snooping glance made Giles struggle to rephrase his words.
"I meant at this current location. It's smaller than my previous flat. Let's just say I'm ill-equipped to offer a proper room."
"Ill-equipped?" Buffy snickered. "This is perfect, Giles. Look at it as karmic retribution for torturing you with the Summers family couch for close to a year." Buffy helped him situate the blankets. "Besides, I'm used to sleeping in strange surroundings. Not that your place is strange. It's nice... really."
"It's quite alright. I'm well aware I haven't a shred of talent when it comes to interior decorating. The furnishings are minimalist at best. With my recent engagements, I don't find much need for a fully furnished home."
"I know what you mean. I still haven't unpacked from my last move yet."
"Mr. Harding must be quite the patient and supportive chap, with you taking on such a time consuming career that requires frequent travel." Giles diverted his eyes as he asked his own probing question as indirectly as possible. "Not to mention the recurrent dangers involved. Does he work for the US government as well?"
Buffy watched him dance around the issue with a smile on her face, enjoying the sliver of curiosity he was working to conceal. "There is no Mr. Harding, Giles. It's an alias. Don't you ever watch those spy dramas on TV? You're supposed to use an alias."
"Alias?" Giles smiled brightly, strangely relieved. "Of course, I hadn't thought of that."
Buffy noticed the news seemed to uplift Giles' spirit. "But Roman wants me to use my real name, though. Thinks it might scare off any possible nasties."
"It might. You do have a distinctive reputation of being an especially successful Slayer. It might be enough to provide an adequate deterrent."
"Why are you doing this, Giles?" She asked, worried.
Giles stopped arranging the linens and sent her with a curious glance. "I thought the pillows might make the cushions more supportive..."
"I meant the part about risking your life for these creatures. Why you? Roman is right when he says they might hold you responsible for the actions of my past. Why take the risk?"
"Because I can. It's what I have to do." He'd said it in a tone making it perfectly clear the subject wasn't up for discussion, but he couldn't avoid seeing the concern in her eyes. "Speaking of which," He glanced at his watch, "I need to prepare for this meeting. Make yourself at home. We'll leave in a half an hour." He seemed to be in much more of a hurry than necessary and she wondered if she'd struck a nerve. As he disappeared into his bedroom, Buffy decided to take advantage of the time to get a better look around.
Everything about Giles' apartment screamed single. From the plethora of unopened and opened cardboard boxes having yet to be unpacked, to the scarce amount of welcoming furniture packed tight within the very small living quarters, she could tell he was busy and probably spent little time there. He did have a bookcase but it was nearly empty, with only a few computer books and catalogues. There was a small wooden table blanketed with unopened mail and magazines from around the world. Only a single couch was offered for seating, centered in what was barely recognizable as a living room. The walls were bare, no touch of him there. The place didn't feel like Giles, no real flavor of the man. His life was at his office, now. Much like the library must have been in those early years on the Hellmouth.
It didn't take much for Buffy to draw her own conclusions, that he not only lived alone but that he most likely hadn't the time for friends of any variety except colleagues. It made her sad for him but at the same time, some small part of her was relieved and she was at a loss to understand why.
As Buffy wandered around the tight t-shaped space, moving from the living room, past the kitchen, towards a perpendicular hall leading to the bathroom and Giles bedroom, she came to a closed door. It was situated on the opposite end of the hall from Giles room and she couldn't help her curiosity for what lay beyond it. With a twist of the knob, the door creaked open to reveal an empty, hardwood floored room, about twenty feet by twenty feet in dimension. On the walls hung sets of weapons, swords, staffs, knifes, all the regular weapons they'd mastered together back in Sunnydale. She realized it was a training room, with the practice pads and dummies tucked neatly away in the far corner. Buffy stepped inside, walking the length of one wall, examining the various tools of her trade on display. She ran a finger along one handsome crossbow and saw a thick coating of dust come off to blacken her fingertip. She'd found him and it made her smile.
"I see you've discovered the training room."
Buffy pivoted around, both stunned and embarrassed to be caught snooping.
"I'm... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..."
Giles held up his hand, dismissing her concern. "No need to apologize. It's not that I'm hiding this away or anything. It's just... I don't get much use of this place anymore. At times I even forget it's here."
"How could you, it's perfect. A bit small, maybe, but you have a little of everything here."
Giles took a step inside, shifting his weight from his bad leg to his cane as he moved forward. "It is quite nice, isn't it? Amazing use of such confined space." He moved to the wall and with a pull of a string, the blinds lifted to expose a spectacular view of the city below. "I guess I haven't found the time to enjoy it lately."
Buffy's gaze fell to his leg and she prevented herself from asking the obvious. "That's gonna change. I need a serious refresher course and who better to serve as my coach than the man himself?"
“I highly doubt your need for review.” Giles offered her a grateful smile but it soon faded off to sadness. "We'll see." He turned and made his way to the door. "I think I could use some tea. Care for some?" he asked without glancing back.
"Naw, I'm fine," Buffy said, bothered by his detachment. "You need help?"
"I think I can handle it, thank you." He answered softly as he rounded the corner. Buffy felt he meant more with those words than he would ever admit to.
Buffy was nervous. For the first time in years, she felt like a rookie. The only plausible explanation had to be her voluntary appointment to Giles. She recognized that she was intensely possessive and protective of him, perhaps some mythic symptom of the Slayer and Watcher bond. She always felt connected to him. When he’d left her for her own good so many years ago, she had to learn how to let him go. Even with the more recent mutual drifting apart, she again had to adjust to missing something she’d come to accept as part of her. Now, being in his presence again, the old instincts were coming back and with interest, making for a nervous stomach and itchy staking hand.
Much to Buffy's dismay, Giles insisted on driving to the location of their first outing together, claiming he knew the layout of the town much better. She couldn't argue, she was definitely out of sorts in the alien environment. But it worried her that he wouldn't let her do her job when it came time for her to.
They arrived at the location without incident. Buffy was the first in and out of the vehicle, inspecting the surroundings with a speculative eye. Giles had to admit he was impressed by her air of professionalism. Even so, the idea of a Slayer using her abilities for protection of a single being was beyond him. Her gifts were wasted with him and he had to fight the urge to refuse her current post. But he knew better than to argue the point, she was just as stubborn as he was, especially in regards to decisions affecting her friends.
When Buffy felt the coast was clear, she motioned for Giles to exit the car and escorted him to the building, her eyes scanning the area for trouble the whole while. It was the back entranced to an Italian restaurant and the scent of the garlic and fresh baked bread immediately reminded Buffy of how she had forgotten to eat anything for lunch and Giles' kitchen was bare of even the essence of ingredients of food. He must eat out, another assumption that made her sad.
She always enjoyed the adventure of visiting him on a routine midweek post patrol report, when his artistic side would seize him and she’d calculatedly stumble upon a gourmet meal waiting for her. Those were the only times they had to themselves, the rest of the Scoobies having adopted the daylight and early evening hours as their time with the Watcher. Maybe she could get him to cook for her.
As she closed the door behind her, Buffy inventoried the figures in the room and assessed the level of threat was much too high for her tastes. She assumed they would be outnumbered, but the number of beasts crammed within the dark and smoky room made her uneasy. The attendees were taller, ranging between six and eight feet in height, dressed in long raincoats and all with a distinct feline quality in the facial features but with scales instead of fur. A handsomely dressed, gray faced, elderly demon sat at a table surrounded by a small group of younger demons. All but the older one was armed and Buffy was immediately troubled by the impressive arsenal they carried; the smallest member held a TEC-9, beside him was a brute who towered above the others proudly displaying his MAK-90, and the demon immediately to the right of the older one held an AK-47. Attempting a more subtle approach, the rest had neatly tucked there pistols away within their raincoats, ready for action when needed. It was one thing to deal with armed humans; it was far different dealing with nervous demons. In that moment, she realized that with her new choice of a profession, she'd nearly forgotten what it was like being the Slayer.
"I know this one." The tallest demon grumbled. "That's the Slayer."
"Which one, there are more than a few now, Marcus." His hefty partner said smartly.
"Buffy Summers of Hellmouth fame." Marcus snarled.
"Nice to be remembered," Buffy said flatly, keeping a keen eye on the movements of everyone in the room.
"She slaughtered a gang of N'Gravics in the Southside a few years back. Friends of mine."
"Maybe not so nice after all." Buffy glanced at Giles who remained perfectly calm though it was obvious his aggravated associates were ready to strike at a moment's notice.
"What's the Slayer doing here, Mr. Giles? I thought we had an understanding." The beast motioned at Buffy with his gun.
"I'm here for emotional support," Buffy suggested. "Care to put the pea shooter away?"
"Miss Summers is here to ensure the safety of the participants," Giles explained.
"How, by staking us in the back?" The demon snickered.
"If you will recall, Miss Summers is well known as a protector and friend to demons. She's helped and worked with quiet a few."
"Only those pretty faced ones who know how to tickle her temptation, Ain't that right, sweetheart?"
With that, the older demon raised his hand and the beasts' nervous laughter fell off. They all took their places at the table, some slipping back to their places in the shadows.
"Forgive my son's impudence, Rupert. He often lets his passions rule his tongue. We are honored to be in the presence of the Chu-kar M'wurrow."
Buffy shot Giles a quizzical look. He grinned and mouthed the word "later."
"Thank you, Cane. But it is a privilege to serve as your moderator. I trust you received the contracts I sent?"
"I have. There is much to discuss, my friend." The demon's mouth curled to a pleased smile as he gestured to the chairs positioned opposite him.
"Shall we get down to it then?" Giles pulled back a chair and nodded gently to Buffy. After a brief moment of confusion, she finally recognized the polite gesture and took a seat. Giles then took the offered seat directly across from Cane and began to skim through the papers displayed on the table.
"I hope you don't mind, Rupert. I invited some of my Council to join us in these proceedings."
"Not at all." Giles smiled and stood as the door to the kitchen opened. Buffy hurried to get to her feet as Cane motioned to the guards at the door behind him and nodded.
"May I present the High Priestess Haranka and ambassador to the N'Gravics United Clan, Mordinzor."
Giles moved through the door and tossed his keys to the table situated beside him. With a hurried stride, his cane pounding the floor beneath him, he made is way across the room and disappeared into the kitchen just as Buffy came in and removed her coat. She shook her head disapprovingly as she closed the door behind her.
"Giles, you really should let me do a sweep before you enter. Someone could have broken in and left a toy surprise."
"P245 Hauser wireless security system networked to the laptop on the desk. Any intrusion triggers a warning signal to my cell." He spoke concisely and Buffy could hear the frustration in his tone. "Besides, I've had quite enough surprises tonight."
"Sorry about that. I didn't realize they would flip out over such a little thing." She gave a discomfited shrug and nervously fiddled with her bracelet.
He returned with a glass in his hand and took a generous gulp of what she could smell was a rather pungent scotch.
"Little thing?" Giles echoed, flustered. "You threatened their ambassador and insulted the high priestess."
"I thought the ambassador was attacking you," Buffy countered defensively.
"He was greeting me with the traditional salutation of his people."
"Looked liked a choke hold to me. Whatever happened to the time-honored, old-fashioned handshake or salute? So much for a friendly greeting. And as for the priestess, all I said was that the robe had to be a bitch to get around in with the get-over-yourself train and all. Did you get a look at that thing? Looked like a wedding gown from hell! And what was with the pointy cap? Was she trying to pick up satellite signals with that thing?"
Giles swallowed down the rest of his drink, his eyes shifting uncomfortably between her and the glass. "This isn't going to work."
"Oh come on! First day jitters, that's all."
"I fear your previous experience may not have suitably prepared you for this particular set of circumstances." He tried to be as gentle as he could, though barely able to contain his irritation.
"I'll be all prim and proper girl with the next one. You'll see. Just need time to adjust, get into my groove."
"And while you're attempting to find your groove, what shall I do? Continue apologizing to my battered and offended colleagues for your presumption."
"Okay... you're tipping toward overreacting now. It was just a misunderstanding."
Giles eyes blazed with anger. "That misunderstanding came dangerously close to devastating years of peace negotiations, not to mention nearly costing us our lives tonight, Buffy. This is not Sunnydale or Los Angeles . It's not about the attack or the defense here. It's about words and subtlety. Every word, every movement must be calculated for its consequences. This work is a delicate balance of tact and cunning, both of which you displayed an incredible lack in with your behavior tonight." He took a sip of his drink, trying to lower his voice and bridle his temper. "These negotiations require patience and tolerance. There is no place for disrespect or rash action here."
Buffy's face fell. She could hear the hidden meaning masked behind his carefully chosen words. "What you're really saying is that there is no place for *me* here?"
He stared at her, eyes regretful at how every word they exchanged since her arrival seemed to spark a disagreement. Perhaps some part of her statement was true. It had taken him years to separate himself from her. Leaving her was akin to removing an emotion, learning to function without happiness, without passion. He’d only recently begun to heal from those old wounds, diving headlong into his new duty to substitute for what he was missing so dearly. Having her back, it brought back those hard memories and emotions he wasn’t ready to face. He’d forgotten how to deal with them, with her.
"Buffy, there will always a place for you here, but as my friend, not as my security specialist. You may very well be considered an authority in your field of work but I feel your present set of skills are incongruous with what I require here."
Buffy dragged herself over to the couch and took a seat, sinking in as deeply as she could, wanting to bury herself in the cushions to hide from her embarrassment. The disappointment and sadness in her face stung, he'd hurt her. Racked with guilt, Giles joined her on the couch, giving her shoulder a consoling squeeze.
"I'm truly sorry, Buffy."
"Don't be. You're right, Giles. I messed up."
"Not entirely. I'm still alive and with no new head wounds. More than I can claim credit for on my own."
Buffy gave him an appreciative smirk which quickly gave way to a look of contemplation.
"You know at first, I thought being the Slayer made me special.” She rolled her eyes at the recollection. “Took me a long time to realize what responsibilities came with that title. It didn't make me better than anyone else or make me above everyone. What it made me, was expendable."
"No… no, Buffy, you were never expendable." Giles shook his head, reaching out to console her with a gentle squeeze of his hand to her shoulder.
"Sure I was. It was my job to serve humanity, Giles, to put everyone else's lives above my own until I died and someone else took my place. And when I finally clued in to that, it royally pissed me off. I went through the 'why me' phase, said and did things I wish I hadn’t." She glanced over at him, her eyes apologizing for the hurtful ghosts of the past. Giles brows lifted, unsure of where she was going with her train of thought but not wanting to interrupt her.
"I opened my eyes, Giles, and realized I was never alone. My job may be to serve humanity and to save lives, but you made it your job to serve me and keep me alive. You didn't treat me like some tool, like the Council wanted you to. You treated me with respect. For better or worse, you let me make my own decisions and my own mistakes and stuck with me, even when I tried to fire you by saying I didn't need you anymore. You stayed with me, supported me. I didn't see it then, but I see it now and I can't tell you how much I love you for that.”
His lips curled up to a faintly embarrassed grin and he folded his hands in his lap. “Buffy, I…”
“I’m not good at apologies so this is my way of saying thanks." Buffy reached out and tenderly covered his hand. His gaze lifted to meet hers, touched by her words. "I know I messed up tonight. I know I have a lot to learn. But I'm not letting you fire me, okay. We’ll make this work… I’ll make this work. Let me do this for you, Giles. Please."
He could feel the sincerity in her words and the gentle caress of her thumb passing along his fingers shattered his resolve. Securing his grip on the arm of the couch, he lifted himself and dipped his hand within his coat pocket, removing a small envelope.
"There is a formal dinner tomorrow evening. It's at the Royal Guardhouse. This is the invitation. Make whatever arrangements you deem necessary." He held it out, a hint of concern in his weary expression.
Buffy accepted the envelope and smiled. "Thank you."
"Thank you." He took up his cane and began toward the kitchen to relieve himself of his glass.
"Giles, Chu-kar M'wurrow?" She asked and he paused. A subtle smile of amusement lifted the thin lines of his eyes.
"A title given to the purveyors of peace."
"What does it mean?"
"The N'Gravic believe only a couple bonded to each other in both the spiritual and physical essences can seal the peace of their people. Roughly translated, it means the pure and joined hearts."
"Roughly translated," Buffy reiterated with a sly smile.
Giles face dipped forward with a hint of a shy smile. After letting out a sigh, he lifted his head and motioned to the phone. "There’s a quaint little Thai restaurant on the corner that delivers. The owner is an old friend of mine. Care to join me in a late evening snack?"
Buffy’s stomach roared out her approval of the suggestion, eliciting a pleased smirk from him. “I thought you’d never ask.”