Disclaimer: Joss and ME own Buffy. C.S. Lewis' estate owns Narnia. I own nothing but the words.
Giles paid off the taxi, then turned to look at the house. It was in a good part of town and looked well-maintained, which shouldn't have surprised him. He supposed he still, despite all his efforts, tended to think that those who were kicked out of the Watcher's Academy must hide away in squalor until they withered and died. Although this wasn't even Edmund Gentle's house; it was his grandmother's. The Gentles were an old Watcher family, but of the present generation, only Edmund had even applied to the Watcher's Academy. Giles walked up the steps of the house and knocked on the front door. Several minutes passed before it was opened by someone who looked like a nurse attendant.
"I'm Rupert Giles," he said. "I have an appointment with Mrs. Gentle."
"Yes," the woman said. "Please come in, Mr. Giles."
She led the way upstairs to a largish parlour on the first floor, then asked him to wait while she informed Mrs. Gentle that he was here. Giles didn't feel comfortable sitting down while he was waiting, so he wandered around the room, looking at the various photographs and knick-knacks. Although there were quite a few of them, the room didn't look overcrowded; each one seemed to have been chosen carefully and put down in exactly the right spot in the room. The only exception was a large, beautifully carved wardrobe that seemed to take up most of one wall and didn't fit the room at all. Most of the pictures were of what were presumably Mrs. Gentle's children and grandchildren, but there was one photograph of four children sitting on a bench that looked like it was from the Second World War. Everything in the room looked lovingly maintained. It was a happy room.
Giles turned around to see a very old lady standing in the doorway. She leaned slightly on a cane, but otherwise looked perfectly healthy and much younger than what he knew her age to be. She held out a hand to him, and he walked forward and took it.
"Thank you for seeing me, Mrs. Gentle," he said.
"Please sit down."
After they were both seated, her on a straight-backed chair and himself on a well-padded loveseat, Giles didn't know how to start, even though he'd rehearsed this conversation in the taxi on the way over. She wasn't helping him, just looking at him with a serious expression on her face. He reminded himself that she'd agreed to see him, and decided to jump right in.
"The Watcher's Council needs Edmund back," he said. "To tell you the truth, we need every warm body we can get."
She nodded. "I'm very sorry for your losses," she said. "Although I admit not to be very sorry that certain people are no longer in charge of the Council." She left unsaid that she didn't know whether or not she was sorry he was in charge, but the way she was studying him made that unnecessary.
"Thank you," Giles said. "And I agree with you. I don't know how much you know about me -"
"Rupert Giles," she said. "Watcher to the senior Slayer, Buffy Summers, the second longest active Slayer in history. Fired for having a father's feeling for your Slayer, then reinstated at your Slayer's insistence. Left your Slayer after she had been brought back from the dead and didn't return until one of her friends almost destroyed the world. The first two facts are encouraging, the last one is not."
"How did you - no, that's not important,"Giles said. "I left Sunnydale because Buffy was relying on me too much. She needed to learn to take responsibility for herself and not always turn to me to deal with everything. I confess that if I had it to do over again, I would probably do it differently, but I did what I thought was right at the time."
"Some of the saddest words in the English language," Mrs. Gentle said, and looked like she meant it.
"I know that Edmund was..." he trailed off, not quite certain how to put it without being offensive.
"Expelled," Mrs. Gentle said, saving him the trouble.
"...from the Watcher's Academy for disagreeing with received wisdom and for exhibiting too much sympathy and caring for the Potentials with which he came into contact. Those are exactly the qualities we're looking for in Watchers now."
Mrs. Gentle put her head to one side. "You said as much in your letter. Both Edmund and I would like to believe you, but we're not convinced."
Giles smiled at her. "I know that it's you I have to convince."
Mrs. Gentle shook her head. "Edmund will make up his own mind," she said. "He always does. But I asked him if I could see you first, so that I could be easy in my mine."
"How can I help you do that?" Giles said.
Mrs. Gentle thought for a moment, and then nodded to herself. "Tell me about your Slayer," she said.
Giles didn't know where to begin, then laughed to himself and began at the beginning. He told her about his arrival in Sunnydale and what he'd thought of Buffy when he first met her. He spoke of the Master, and the prophecy that Buffy fulfilled while thumbing her nose at fate. Of Angelus and Angel. Of Buffy's friends, who had become almost as important as she herself in saving the world on a regular basis. Of all of the apocalypses, the minor demons and vamps, and the life problems that Buffy faced all the time, with courage, grace, and a quip on her tongue. Sometime during the telling, the nurse attendant brought in tea, and he had to stop while she was in the room, but he continued again immediately after she left. Once he'd started, he felt like it was all pouring out of him, all of the triumphs and failures, the joys and sorrows. Mrs. Gentle was a wonderful listener, silent when he needed her to be, and encouraging when he faltered. He did falter when he reached Buffy's death and resurrection and again while describing the First's attack on the Watcher's Council. No matter how much he disagreed with the leadership of Quentin Travers, he couldn't easily speak of the deaths of so many, especially the students at the Academy, who had never had the chance to agree or disagree. He wasn't surprised to see tears in her eyes when he spoke of it.
Finally, he spoke of how he'd taken over as the head of the Watcher's Council, mainly because there wasn't really anyone else to do it. Except Roger Wyndham-Pryce, who hadn't been in London when the First attacked, and who no one in his right mind would allow to be head of anything.
"We're trying to change everything from the ground up," he said. "Well, almost anything; we're still strongly encouraging the use of journals, however many times Xander complains."
"We?" Mrs. Gentle said. "I thought you were the head of the Council."
"I am, but," he said, and then realized that her question was a test. "We're truly trying to change," he went on. "I have two Senior Slayers - Buffy and Faith - as well as several others who were activated by Willow during the fight with the First. Plus Willow herself, and Xander, both of whom have fought more vampires and demons than most Watchers ever see in their lifetimes. I'm shamelessly picking their brains and forcing their opinions on everything from what training schedules should be like to how best to ensure that the right Watcher is paired with the right Slayer."
"Forcing their opinions?" Mrs. Gentle asked.
Giles laughed. "Both Buffy and Faith can be quite forceful in their opinions, but only on certain subjects. And neither one wants the responsibility of creating a system that might cause pain to girls like them some day."
Mrs. Gentle looked away from him for the first time since he'd started talking. Her eyes fixed on a painting of a lion in a forest, the lion looking majestic, strong, and proud, but a little out of place in his environment.
"Yes, you must be careful when creating systems that are intractable," she said, more to herself than to him.
"We're trying to ensure that doesn't happen, too," Giles said.
She looked back at him and smiled for the first time. His breath caught, because he could see how beautiful she must have been in her youth.
"It will happen," she said. "It's the nature of systems. The best you can do is try to work in checks and balances."
"We are," Giles said, and smiled back at her. "I'd appreciate your input, if you could spare the time to come see what we're doing."
"That's very kind of you," she said. "I find it difficult to leave the house these days, but I may take you up on your offer."
Giles felt a weight he hadn't even known had been there drop from his shoulders.
"Does this mean that you'll allow Edmund to rejoin us?" he asked.
"It means I will encourage Edmund to rejoin you," she said. "As I said before, Edmund always makes up his own mind. He's very like his namesake, my brother, that way."
"Your brother Edmund," Giles said, his mind filled with a sudden, impossible thought. He looked around at the painting of the lion, the photograph with the four children on a bench, and, most tellingly, the wardrobe sitting in pride of place in a parlour, instead of a in bedroom where it would normally belong.
"You can't be," he said. "You're not -" But he stopped, because it really was so impossible. He'd read those books when he was a small child. He'd loved those books, and spent hours trying to get to a wonderful fantasy world through the backs of so many wardrobes. He felt his eyes drawn back to the wardrobe, then dragged them back to Mrs. Gentle.
She smiled at him, that lovely, understanding smile.
"Call me Susan," she said.
Author's Note: I've always liked Susan and thought that Lewis treated her horribly. So I like to imagine that she's had a long and very happy life.