DISCLAIMER: They belong to Joss and all those other people, not to me.
NOTES: This is a lttle vignette, following the events described in ‘Step in Time’ and takes place on Christmas day.
THANKS: Once again to Ann, who made me work a little harder on this - and made it a much better tale as a result. :-)
It seemed to take forever for the international line to make the connection, after which it seemed even longer before anyone picked up the phone. Giles waited patiently for a reply, knowing that his father would be home; the man claimed to prefer the solitude of an empty house at Christmas, determinedly turning down numerous invitations from friends and relatives across the world.
Last year – and the year before that, for that matter – Giles had thought he understood the reasoning in that. Why shouldn’t a man take the opportunity to spend some quality time on his own? Comfortably ensconced with his books in front of a roaring fire, his feet tucked up on a footstool, the warmth of a drink in his hand and nothing but the stirring notes of Wagner to keep him company?
Of course, in his
case it had been too warm for a fire and the music had been Pink Floyd, rather than German Opera, but he’d still found himself justifying spending a lonely day with precisely the same excuses his father used.
This year he found himself wondering just how justified
those excuses really were.
“Giles residence. Percival speaking.”
His father’s voice finally echoed down the line, deep and dry and heavy with weariness. Not the weariness of age, but the well-worn weariness of a man who’d lost everything he really cared about a long time ago.
Well. Not everything
. Not if the words of a fading memory, summoned from an equally fading photograph, could be considered as having any truth in them.
Rupert Giles trusted his Grandfather, memory or not – and he trusted his Grandmother’s gift even more. That’s why he’d made the phone call in the first place.
That and … well, there were some things his father would be better off hearing from him
, rather than the Council. Although he hadn’t entirely worked out how to broach the subject yet.
He’d decided that: hello Dad, Merry Christmas. I’m calling to tell you I’m going to marry my Slayer
probably wasn’t the most sensible way to open the conversation.
“Dad?” he said instead. “It’s Rupert.”
“Rupert?” The puzzlement wasn’t due to lack of recognition; far from it, in fact. It was clear his father hadn’t expected him to call. “Good Lord. It’s barely lunch time. You must have been up with the lark.” He paused for a moment. “Do they have
larks in California ?”
“Yes. Yes, they do.” Giles answered patiently, wondering if he’d woken the man up from his afternoon nap.. “Although it’s not that
early here. I wanted … that is, it – it’s Christmas and … ”
“I’m well aware of the season, Rupert.” Maybe it was more than simple weariness. That faint snap, the little hint of sharpness underlying familiar tones, sounded more like defensive desperation. Not just an exhaustion of life. More like battle fatigue. “I doubt the forces of darkness are paying much attention to it. I’m surprised you are.” Damn you …
was the instinctive reaction to that, hearing the long ingrained habits of withdrawal and distance surfacing almost before they’d begun. He spoke to his father on a semi-regular basis, but they rarely talked
He wasn’t entirely sure they knew how.
Giles fought down a quiet sigh and took a determined breath instead. “Hard to avoid it,” he said, trying to sound conversational rather than deferential. They were both adults, both veteran Watchers, and both men of the world. It was about time they stared communicating as equals. “The demands of the retail trade, you know?”
“Ah.” It was hard to tell if that was disappointment or surprise. Giles blood had never sullied itself with mere retail
before. The men of his father’s line had generally been academics - or else had followed professional callings, becoming doctors, lawyers, that sort of thing. They’d even had a bishop or two in the family. Shop keeping was beneath them. On the other hand, it was his father who’d married a shopkeeper’s daughter …
“Your shop. Of course. Hardly the sort of place for last minute gifts, though. Unless … shrunken heads and hands of glory make good stocking fillers in California.
Was that a joke
? It hadn’t sounded as sarcastic as it could have been. More … sardonic. Or was that just the weariness grinding down all the sharp edges, the pointed words that his father had always wielded with such skill?
“You’d be surprised. Or maybe not,” he added, unconsciously echoing the dryness in the other man’s tones. “The Americans do seem to have some … peculiar ideas about what makes an acceptable gift. We’ve had quite a demand for pickled newts for some reason. The pentacle coaster sets make more sense, but … they’re plastic and quite … tacky.” He paused, thinking about that. The gift sets had been Anya’s idea, and they had
sold well, but …
“Oh, that it should come to this,” his father declared with a hint of self mockery. “That my only son rings me up at Christmas to talk about selling vulgar notions and nonsense. I trust you’re making money doing it?”
The sudden change of tack startled him for a moment. “Yes. Quite a lot, actually. Enough to start paying you back the purchase loan.”
“Gift.” The correction was terse.
,” Giles insisted, not really wanting to start that
his father growled, clearly not wanting to either. “Rupert – please. Indulge an old man whose money you’re going to inherit anyway. I have no intention of letting those blood suckers at the treasury getting half your inheritance by taxing me to death. Or you, after I’m dead, for that matter.”
“No, Dad.” The responsive smile was wry; he wouldn’t be entirely surprised if his father was talking about there being literal
bloodsuckers lurking in the Treasury Office. There had been one or two close calls in Parliament over the years ...
"Hmm.” The sceptical grunt was both reflexive and familiar– but Giles suddenly caught a hint of something else within it, the faintest echo of another emotion lying at its heart. His breath caught, and his voice with it, struck dumb by a moment of doubt that shook his entire sense of the world. Had
he heard it?
Was there really a note of affection lurking beneath the dismissive scorn?This .. gift of yours. Really does make you look, doesn’t it?
The memory of Buffy’s words – and the memory of her
they invoked - choked him even further; he sat down with a breathless thump, totally oblivious to the fact that his chair had scuttled across to catch him as his knees gave way.
“Rupert?” His father’s question held wary concern. “Rupert, are you all right? I thought I heard - ?”
.” Too quick, too defensive. “Ah - yes.
Um … Oh lord. Umm … Dad?”
Rupert?” That was honest scepticism ,and Giles couldn’t blame him for it. He should know better than to hedge like that
, talking to a man who’d spent fourteen years of his life Watching a Potential – and the Slayer she became
“Did you … did you go to Nana’s funeral?”
“Did I - ?” Puzzlement gave way to quiet comprehension. “Oh. Yes. Yes, of course I did. You didn’t miss much. It was a cold day. Rained a little. Your Uncle Arthur was in fine voice, although Tom was … slightly less exuberant than usual. Richard turned up with Natalie and her girls in tow – and your other cousins were there, of course. They all asked after you. I told them you were well and … that it was a long way to travel, just to say goodbye to an empty shell. Mary would have hated the fuss. Too many flowers and too many tears and nonsense. No-one quite knowing what to say to one another. She was a good woman, Rupert. She had a good innings too, but … I’ll miss her.”
“Yes.” Giles had started to get his breath back, but the sudden lump in his throat was hard to swallow. “So will I .”
“Is that what all this is about?” The query was soft, far less abrasive than the usual interrogation about his health and his habits. Either time was mellowing the man, or the gift was working a little of its magic on the both of them “Losing someone is never easy, son. Even when that someone
is a cantankerous old biddy who lingered well past her allotted years.” His father’s insult was affectionate rather than malicious; it sounded rather like something Mary herself would have said, given half a chance. “She was very fond of you, for some reason. Always wanted to know how you were doing. What
you were doing. Not that that stopped her leaving what little was left of her money to her boys.”
The thought of his well-weathered uncles being call boys
lifted a wry smile to Giles’ lips. True, they were all somewhat younger than his father, but they’d all lived rather adventurous lives; Arthur had served in the merchant navy for a while, Tom had travelled in the Far East, and Richard – the third (and his family never let him forget that
joke) – had mined diamonds in South Africa, gold in Peru and opals in Australia. None of them had ever made the fortune they’d threatened, but all of them had come home the better for being away. Nana had kept an album of their postcards by her bed – and he’d been unconscionably pleased about being able to send her one of his own, the day he’d arrived in Sunnydale.
“They held the reading of the will after the service,” his father continued blithely, unaware of the turn of his listener’s thoughts – or the way one of the volumes stacked on his desk had politely slid out of the pile and opened up to reveal a parade of neatly ordered postcards. “The money went to your uncles, as you know. The jewelry to Natalie and the girls, of course, and the rest she scattered among your cousins as eccentrically as she always did. She left me some of her books. Rather surprising, that. I always thought she’d give them to you. Come to think of it …” The voice at the other end of the phone paused in puzzlement. “I remember you being mentioned, but - I can’t for the life
of me remember what she left you. Something about … her legacy, your mother’s inheritance … I can’t quite …”
“Dad,” Giles interrupted softly, smiling at the way the postcard album now lay open, ready for his inspection. Or introspection
perhaps. “She left me her gift.”
“Her gift. Well,” he corrected with a sudden sense of honesty, “strictly speaking, she left me her carpet bag, but her gift … came with it. About two weeks ago. Its – um – taking me a while to … um … get accustomed to it.”
” The repetition was agitated. “She left you her … Good heavens
, Rupert! Are you … have you … do you …?”
“I’m fine with it, Dad. I have used it, I’ve tried to not let it use me, and – no, I don’t really understand it, not yet. But I’m working on it.”
“Good lord.” The sound at the other end of the phone suggested that the elder Giles had sat down just as heavily as his son had done a few moments before. “Mary’s gift. Well, I never. And you a … Watcher. Ex-watcher. No – right the first time, Percy. Boy’s a true
Watcher, Council be damned. Watcher with a gift. Mary’s
gift. Oh, sweet Alice …”
He’d never heard his father babble before. It wasn’t as startling as his final exclamation, that soft whisper of his mother’s name, offered up as if in prayer.
“Dad?” It was his turn to ask the question, wrapped with just as much concern. “Dad, are you all right?”
“Yes,” came the answer, although it sounded a little dazed. “Yes, of course I am. Just … a little taken aback, that’s all. Who’d have thought …? Well, I suppose I might have done, if I’d actually thought
about it. Natalie is utterly lacking in imagination and Emily’s far too flighty a child … Good lord
“Yes,” Giles agreed, disconcerted at having finally managed to fluster the man. It had only taken him forty seven years. “Quite. I was … um … somewhat thrown at the time. Still am, I think. Are you sure
you’re all right, Dad?”
“Quite all right, thank you. It’s you
I’m worrying about. That’s an old – and mostly undocumented power. Not at all like any of the traditional magics .”
Giles shifted in his chair, suddenly glad they weren’t having this conversation face to face. If there was one thing his father generally took objection to, it was being contradicted in one of his fields of expertise. “Well, you know,” he offered, a little apologetically, “in many ways this is the most traditional magic of all. It doesn’t need words … doesn’t really need gestures. It just – happens. When it’s needed. Where
it’s needed,” he added softly. He closed his eyes for a moment, dipping his hand into the carpet bag at his feet and closing his fingers around the bottle he found there. He could feel the gift spill away from him, whispering down the phone lines; could almost see the empty glass as it turned itself upright, and hear it clink softly as ice cubes came to rest in its base.
When he opened his eyes there was a matching glass sitting on his own desk – one without ice, since he preferred his Scotch neat. He tipped up the bottle and poured, imagining his father’s face as the amber liquid slowly filled the tumbler that lay a continent and an ocean away. It wasn’t much of a gift, but it was something
– and until he could find a way to read his father’s heart, it was the best he could do.
“Merry Christmas, Dad.”
A long way away, in the gloom of a book lined study, an old man reached out a tentative hand, finding the glass hard and cold and very real beneath his fingertips. “Good Lord,” Percival Giles muttered for the third time in as many minutes, then added, with vehemence: “Good Lord.
Is this what I think it is?”
“Probably,” Giles answered, putting down the bottle and reaching for his own glass. The whiskey smelt of smoke and fire, as mellow as summer and as aged as the leather binding on a mediaeval grimoire . A rich and rare malt indeed. “Don’t tell your Doctor.”
“I should think not
,” came the instant snort. “He’d want to know where I’d got the bottle. Rupert …?” His father’s voice was suddenly suspicious. “This isn’t going to … vanish when you put the phone down, is it? I seem to remember …”
“The gift creates moments, stirs memories and manages the odd miracle or two.” Giles said softly, quoting his grandmother’s last letter. The one she’d left tucked inside her carpet bag. “It can also counter curses, open eyes and – when truly needed – fulfil the hearts desire. No returns and no refunds,” he added wryly, suddenly remembering Anya saying exactly the same thing to a customer only a couple of days before.
“Everyone gets exactly what they deserve,” his father capped, an odd hitch in his voice. “I know, I know … My God, Ru . You … and the gift. It doesn’t seem real. And yet …” He paused to swallow, his voice betraying a sudden stir of emotion, a crack in the armour he’d worn for nearly forty years. Giles’ hand clenched around the handset, his own breath hitching and his heart tightening inside his chest. Ru …
His father never
called him that. Not since …
“Your mother … is probably laughing at me, right now,” the old man said on the other end of the line. “For spending all that time raising you to be … what you are. And her
mother just – snaps her fingers and … and …” There was a hint of bitterness behind his father’s words, a mocking acknowledgement of time and fate and the foolishness of fighting either of them. “Damn her. She always wanted to take you away from me. And now she has. You were always Alice ’s son to her. Never mine.”
"That’s not true, Dad.” Giles took another sip from his glass, using the warmth of the spirit to drown the tremor in his voice. “If I wasn’t … what I am - what you made me … she’d never have left me this
. You taught me about – duty and responsibility and knowing right from wrong … I didn’t always get
it back then, but I do now. Without that, this gift would be – well,” he sighed. “Someone else’s responsibility, I suppose. Certainly not mine. She was waiting,” he realised , his heart turning over at how ill his grandmother had been, last time he saw her. “For me to … accept my destiny. No,
” he murmured a moment later. “That’s not it. Not just acceptance. I had to prove myself worthy of it.”
“Rupert,” Giles senior pointed out, his tone conveying a hint of underlying sympathy. “The Council fired
“The Council be damned,” Giles said, echoing his father’s earlier words. “Being a Watcher isn’t something you get paid for. It’s something you are
. You know that. You tried to tell
me that, all those years ago. I didn’t stay to be stubborn, Dad. I stayed because this is where I belong. At my Slayer’s side.”
“The girl is wilful , defiant, uncooperative and impossibly American.” That was a quote. Giles could hear the echo of Quentin Travers in every syllable of it. “As are you, Rupert. Well – apart from being American, which you most certainly are not.
They say a Watcher gets the Slayer he deserves. I know I did. Of course I raised
mine. With your mother’s help.” His voice softened momentarily. “Lost them both too soon …”
It had been close on forty years. The memory was still fresh and sharp, too brittle for either of them to handle with anything but the utmost care.
“And what was I left with?” Giles senior continued briskly, moving past the moment with the skill of constant practice – and what sounded like a hasty swallow of time-mellowed spirit . “A stubborn, rebellious child, continually being led astray by his doting grandparents. God love them both,” he concluded with feeling. “And you, for that matter. You turned out all right in the end.”
Giles didn’t quite know how to react to that. “You … you really think so?”
There was a moment’s pause while his father considered what he’d just said. “I do,” he decided thoughtfully. “Damnit , Ru - you must
have done. You survived all that early idiocy of yours, you showed the Council you had the guts to defy them, you’re Slayer’s still alive and kicking and … Mary left you her gift. I’d say that proved a thing or two. Unless you’ve got some other surprise you want to throw at me for the hell of it?”
“Ah …” It was the perfect opening, and not at all
the way he’d wanted to bring the subject up. “Well … um …”
” The reaction was startled. The old man had been joking, of course. Giles wasn’t. “Oh, good Lord. Spit it out, son. This is obviously a day for revelations. Just tell me the worst. Get it over with.”
“Umm …” Giles really
didn’t know how to say it, so he took a deep breath and gave his heart leave to speak its mind. “It’s … umm … about Buffy, Dad.”
“Your Slayer, yes?”
“Something wrong with the girl?” Lips like silk and honey, warming his own. The curve of her body pressed against him. And the agile grace with which she had leapt and spun, dancing across the ice, amongst the moonlight, and into his heart …
“Not – exactly. Not at all, in fact. Far from it. Dad …” A second deep breath and a quick, nervous thought to the power of the gift, lurking within him. That
would be too easy. And wrong. Very wrong.
“Yes, Rupert?” A surprisingly gentle prompt, given their previous history.
“I … umm … I’m going to marry her, Dad. If she’ll have me. I think she will. She loves me and – I know
I love her. And I know what you’re going to say, about Watchers and their Slayers and age differences and what people might say and what the Council might do, but … None of that matters. None of it. I just wanted you know. From me, I mean. Before anyone else …”
“Let me get this straight.” His father’s interruption was firm. “You’re in love with your Slayer?”
Giles braced himself for the inevitable storm. “Yes, Dad.”
“And now she’s
fallen in love with you and you’re telling me you intend to marry her?”
“Well, thank the Lord for that.
” There was a brief pause, just long enough to account for another mouthful of whisky , and then his father added: “ It’s about damn time that girl figured it out. Took her long enough.”
Giles was totally floored for a moment. “What?” he whispered, unable to believe what he’d heard.
“You heard me. I’m not a fool, Rupert. And I’m your father.
I know you. And I know those idiots at the Council don’t, because all they’ve
ever read in your diaries is some stuff and nonsense about inappropriate parental attachments. Inappropriate!
” His father’s snort held both contempt and disdain. “Bloody soulless bastards. Every Watcher worth their salt has cared for their charges, one way or the other. Louise was mine
, Rupert. I raised her, I trained her, and she thought the world of me. Your mother … loved her as if she were
mine. But you – you
inherited another man’s child. Another Watcher’s charge. And just like a few other worthy Watchers down through the centuries who did just
that – you came to see her in a different light entirely. Can’t blame you for that. Could
feel sorry for you, though. Nothing worse in this world than loving someone who doesn’t love you back. That way, at least.”
“There’s even been a bit of this selfish old bastard praying that she got herself killed before she broke your heart some other way. Running off with some – gung-ho young man or other.”
Giles’ head was reeling. H is memories of Louise lay buried under years of discipline and indoctrination , coloured by the stern insistence of both his father’s and the Council’s training. In many ways he ’d been taught not
to think about her. But she’d been his father’s Slayer – and there’d clearly been a lot more between them than a grief stricken seven year old would ever be able to recall. The foundations of his life shook, shifted, and settled into disconcerting uncertainties. He’d been expecting indignation. Outrage. But his father approved?
“There’s been … one or two of those, over the years,” he admitted. “But – they made her happy … well, happier
, so …”
“So you grinned and endured it? Or just denied everything, to make it easier on you both?”
“A little bit of both, I think. She was … only sixteen when …”
“I know, I know.” His father’s sigh held a note of weariness. Or perhaps it was regret. “I raised you to be a gentleman, Rupert, I don’t expect you to apologise for being one. Things were so much easier, back in the middle ages, you know? You paid the lord of the manor a cow or two, and you rode off with the girl and a marriage sanctioned by Mother Church no matter how
old she was.”
” Giles managed to sound suitably scandalised . He knew his father was joking, but even so …
“Yes, yes. Barbarous customs and unenlightened times. But it was so much easier
being a Watcher back then. Well – apart from the inquisition, and the plague, the short brutish lifestyle and all those unsanitary living condition of course …”
“Of course.” He couldn’t have helped the wry twist to his smile, even if he wanted to. He was, he was beginning to realise , very much his father’s son.
“Do you know how old your mother was, the first day I laid eyes on her? She was barely fourteen. And there was I, a strapping lad, five year her senior. Fresh out of the Academy. Poised to enter Oxford . Spending a little of my summer playing cricket at the Colonel’s manor. Your grandfather was umpiring the game and this … angel
brought him over a cup of tea in the interval. I was smitten. Lost. I spent my entire time in the cloisters trying to get her out of my mind. Never did, thank God. Your grandmother knew, of course. But then … Mary knew everything. She was like that.” There was a pause while his father thought that through. “Good Lord,” he realised . “I suppose that means that you, now …”
“I … umm … think it takes practice.” Giles interrupted, a little uncomfortably. He wasn’t used to this; wasn’t used to his father talking to
him rather than at him. And certainly not about his mother. He knew so little about her; so little, in fact that even those few short words were headier than the taste of the scotch. He wanted more, but he knew better than to push for it. Nor did he want his father thinking that he’d inherited his grandmother’s wisdom and intuition along with her gift. There was no doubt that it helped in that department, but he knew he still had a lot to learn.
“No doubt.” Giles senior conceded the point without protest. “But - you’re certain about the girl’s feelings?”
That was one thing he was
sure of. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
“And your own?”
“Then there’s nothing else to discuss, is there? Have you popped the question yet?”
“Yes. Umm – no, ah … not exactly
. In a manner of speaking .. which wasn’t speaking at all, really… umm …”
“Just let me know when you have, will you? The Council are bound to take umbrage at the idea. Despite a few traditions they seem to have conveniently forgotten about. Forwarned is forearmed and … well, we’ll worry about that if it happens. I’ll expect an invitation to the wedding, of course. No chance you’d consider coming home to … umm … no, no. silly thought. Marry the girl in her own benighted country. But if you fancy a week or two … afterwards? Place is yours. If you need it.”
Giles leant back in his chair, thinking of home
in a way he hadn’t dared to do for years. His father no longer lived in the house he’d known as a child. The elegant London townhouse, tucked into its equally elegant mews with the Royal Park barely a stones throw away, had long since been converted into trendy flats for busy city executives. His father had moved several times since, mostly so he could have access to the Council’s library, and was currently living in a stone walled cottage at the edge of the Cotswolds . His own house, in Oxford , had been sold just prior to his move to the States, of course. But home
was England, and everything that came with it. Rolling countryside and equally rolling roads; houses sprawled in languid disregard for planning zones or regimented development schemes; village ponds and country pubs; streets of shops and Saturday markets; cities filled with elegant architecture, Georgian grandeur and Victorian industry; the people and the weather and the whole multicultural, multi-layered potpourri that was everything and everybody, the good, the bad, the indifferent, the brilliant and the bloody minded… and that deep seated sense of history
that permeated it all.
“Thanks, Dad,” he murmured, wondering if there were any way that he could share a little part of that with the woman he loved. A honeymoon perhaps? A week or two away from the hellmouth , visiting old haunts and creating new memories. “I’ll bear that in mind.”
“See that you do. And Rupert?”
“I’m expecting grandchildren, you know. Lots of them. Someone has to carry on the family name. Inherit my collection. No good leaving it to you
. You already have one of your own.” Grandchildren?
Giles hadn’t been thinking that far ahead. Slayer’s didn’t usually live long enough to contemplate marriage, let alone having a family. He looked a little suspiciously at the half filled glass in his hand, wondering how much remained in his father ’s; not much, if this sudden attack of sentimentality was anything to judge by.
“Well, that’s true, but …”
“No buts. A boy for my books, and one for yours. One
of them to train as a Watcher, and – a girl would be nice. Maybe two. An Alice ? And a Mary …?”
Any thought of further protest died on Giles’ lips. It would
be nice. And maybe even possible, given that he now possessed Nana’s gift, which had a habit of making dreams come true.
“I’ll – talk to Buffy. But I’m not promising anything.”
“Wise man. Nice to see that education of yours isn’t entirely going to waste.” He didn’t need to see his father’s expression; the words conveyed it with confident accuracy. The tight press of his lips, the wry twist that was nearly a smile, the slightly haunted look in his eyes … Every time he sees you, he sees her ...
Giles shivered, hearing his grandfather’s words echoed in the way his father had started to reach out to him – and now was backing away, before either of them could make anything of it.
“Dad – “ he started to say, and was quickly interrupted.
I’ll expect you’ll want me to keep this to myself until you’ve made a more formal announcement? Assuming the girl says yes, of course. ”
Giles sighed, hearing a familiar terseness resurface in his father’s tones. “Yes, Dad.”
“And can I safely assume that the news of your inheritance is not something for public consumption ? ”
“Well then ,” Giles senior said briskly, his armour firmly back in place, “ That’s settled. It’s been very nice to talk to you, Rupert. We must try and do this more often. Thank you for the gift – and be careful how you use yours.”
“I will, Dad. Thank you for being so understanding.”
There was an uncomfortable pause, and then his father said, a little awkwardly: “Merry Christmas, Ru .”
“Merry Christmas, Dad.”
His father put down the phone. Giles followed suit, leaving his hand resting on it for a moment, as if clinging to the unexpected sense of connection that had underpinned their conversation. His mind was reeling: he’d wound himself up to expect an angry tirade and instead had received – not just a gudging acceptance, but genuine approval.
He’d thought he knew his father.
And he was beginning to realise that he didn’t really know him at all.