Chapter Two - Involuntary Approaches
Next Monday morning Helen left Principal’s office - once again – not satisfied. She was hoping to get some new office room, since she really couldn’t, at least not now, face the old one, where just three days ago she had found the dead body of her colleague. However, she had prepared an alternative and headed towards the library.
She found Mr. Giles in the "cage", sorting some books, he didn’t seem to have noticed her. "H-hh", she coughed and he turned around immediately.
"O, Miss... McGregor, good morning!"
"Good morning, Mr. Giles."
"You came to borrow some more pieces", he smiled as he walked towards her, still holding a small pile of books in his hands. Helen smiled back.
"No, actually I wanted to ask you something. I have found myself in some kind of an uncomfortable situation... I was wondering, if... " For some reason she got nervous as she noticed the suddenly interested glance at his face as he looked at her now. Besides, she wasn’t really sure how he would react to her request. This was a public school library on one hand, yet it didn’t escape her, that at the few times she came in to borrow something, it was either empty or there were just the three kids. Which was actually quite weird now she thought of it... Focus now, she told herself as her mind began again to drift away. "I was wondering if I could work in the library for a couple of weeks. I don’t want to return to my old office after what happened there last week and ...."
"Oh, yes, that was terrible... Are you all right? I heard you found the body, that must have been a ... an unpleasant experience."
"Yes, it was certainly nothing I’d care to see again. Ever." She gave a tensed smile. "As I was saying, I don’t really have a place to work right now, since principal Flutie refused to offer me another room, I can’t blame him, I guess, there are no more rooms available. He offered me though to switch with someone, but I don’t really know anybody here yet well enough to ask, if they would like to take an office where a collegue was killed last week...." He could hear the sarcasm in her voice.
"Well, to come to the point, I was hoping, that... maybe ...but only if you wouldn’t object – and I will totally understand if you will, this is your library and your office is in here – " She was starting to babble again. He raised his hand slowly to stop her and smiled again, very gently.
"Of course you can work here. I couldn’t possibly object, even if I wanted to, this is after all a school library and you are entitled to use it whenever you like and to spend here as much time as you wish."
"I know." She replied slowly. "I noticed however", she paused, not knowing how to put it, "that .... you... well, I just wanted to make sure, that I won’t be in the way. Of. Something."
For a second he looked confused but then he realized: "Oh, you are referring to our ... hobby meetings in here." He had to think fast. His first impulse when she asked him was to help her. He liked her. Well, "like" was perhaps an overstatement, he didn’t know her at all, but he sort of ... well... liked her. And she was British, so naturally he felt a certain bond between them as fellow countrymen, or so he told himself. In fact over all this he hadn’t taken into consideration what her presence in the library would mean for the slayer and the slayerettes and what possible difficulties it might cause them during their researches.
He gave a very unconvincing smile again and said: "It’s... we have a club, a hobby... archaeology... club." He stuttered. "I am sure we will all find a way to .... have our meetings without disturbing you..." He now tried to sound as casual and innocent as he could manage: "Perhaps if you could show me your timetable I would rearrange our ... archaeology ... meetings according to it."
She felt a little awkward at this request, though it made sense. He could schedule his “club” during her late classes, but still she sensed his sudden discomfort and was sure that this “archaeology club” was probably not quite the whole truth. Yet, Helen was grateful he offered her a working space here and what he was doing in his library wasn’t exactly any of her business. So she pulled her timetable out of her bag and handed it to him.
"Of course. Here."
He took it and gave it a quick look. Then he looked at her again as if expecting her to say something else. He couldn’t tell whether or not she believed the archaeology-story and it made him nervous. She remained silent and he felt he had to distract her mind from possible thoughts about the white lie he presented her.
"You want to start right away I suppose? You’re welcome to use my office if you like. It’s not very large but there is a free desk in there. Or you can store your things there if you want." He gave a wave towards a glass door on the right side, behind the library-counter. At the same time he thought that this was the most pathetic attempt in history: it was – at least to himself, but she didn’t know him so well - too obvious that he was trying to conceal something. Under normal circumstances he would never be this generous and offer her his own office.
"Well thank you, that’s very kind of you," Helen said in a surprise. "I wouldn’t want to disturb you though. But I’ll probably come back to the offer and let my stuff there afterwards, if you don’t mind."
"Of course." Again the shy smile at his face. It was so beautiful she thought. He bowed slightly and wanted to go past her which accidentally happened at the same moment as she was about to bypass him taking the same way. Noticing the mistake they both changed the direction which led to another almost-collision and a very awkward moment. They smiled as Giles finally laid his free hand on her right shoulder and showed her politely to pass by.
The week progressed, to Giles’ relief without any troubles. He prepared Buffy and the others to the new “situation” in the library. They nagged about it, naturally, and Willow gave him again that meaningful look – whose meaning actually he again seemed to miss :). But they accepted it, all the easier as it appeared that peace had returned to Sunnydale after they destroyed the Incan Princess. Of course Giles knew only too well that this calm vampire-less period was delusive as he was wondering what kind of a monster they’d have to face next.
So it happened that during that week Helen and the Scoobies met only few times and always only for a short moment in the library – they used to pop in to say hello to Giles, to inquire whether he had anything new for them to work at – archaeology-wise as they always hurried to accentuate when they thought she might hear them – or simply to help him with some new arrivals.
She liked working there, the atmosphere, the smell of the old books, the peace and most of all the silence. Every time she entered the library, stepping in out of the loud crowded bustling school corridor, it felt like acceding another world. It reminded her of the Room of requirement for some reason where she once used to hide. The library too appeared to have a certain “magic” around it, as if no one else could see it or find it. Or enter it, which was true for no one else, nor a student nor a teacher, except for the three kids, really ever came here.
It was late Friday afternoon, Helen, sitting at one of the front wooden tables, finished writing her notes for the day and was about to go pack her things, which she kept stored on the free desk in Mr. Giles’ office. She moved towards the room with loud footsteps and cleared her throat to alarm him of her coming in.
And indeed almost immediately she heard a frantic flutter of paper pages, slamming of heavy book volumes, followed by a loud clinking – he obviously overturned his teacup - and a silent murmur "O bloody..." Helen smiled to herself since she had already got a similar performance yesterday, and paused in front of the door offering him couple of more seconds.
Then she entered and found him, not really surprised, cleaning the mess his spilt tea had left on his notes. She didn’t want to stare at them, she was sure that, as the rest of the things he was trying to clean away before she came in, his notes too were of some delicacy and he wouldn’t want her to see them. She noticed however that he had a very handsome old fashioned handwriting, and only on the second sight realized that the notes weren’t in English anyway.
He gave her a short look and then continued to dry the pages with a tissue.
"I ... I had a little accident here."
Helen repressed another smile, laid her books on the other desk and tried to put an earnest face. "May I help you somehow?" She pulled another tissue out of her pocket, the one he was using over and over was already soppy.
He made no objections so Helen helped him to dry the rest of the pages. The damage didn’t seem to be very great. Luckily he apparently managed to put away all the valuable secret volumes before, she thought. Her curiosity was rising gradually as to what matters he might actually be pursuing.
But the last thing she wanted was to be inquisitive. People do have the right to have and keep secrets. She was very well aware of that as much as she would ask everyone to accord that same right to herself. That was also one of the reasons why she wasn’t much into socialising nor was she too eager to make friends here to whom she would have to explain... Therefore Helen remained very cautious in her contacts with colleagues or others and minded to keep her reserved attitude towards them and sort of a low profile as well.
"Thank you." He said embarrassed as they had finished and he had spread the wet but otherwise undamaged sheets on her desk, where she in the meantime started to collect her stuff she wanted to take home over night.
He stood next to her, his hands in his pockets, once again a little nervous as he felt so caught in the act. He tried a conversation. "So... how ... was your week? Were you-eh, could you work well here?" He closed his eyes for a moment, sure of the silliness of his question.
She didn’t seem to notice it though.
"Thank you, yes, it was great." Great?! What an answer, Helen thought. But it was the first thing that came into her mind, she didn’t really know why. It WAS – great. As she reflected before – it was a nice hall, it was surprisingly well armed when it came to history and arts volumes she needed for her own research, it was comfortable, quiet, cosy...... very well built, mysterious and in a very appealing way – but she would never admit it aloud – sexy, his smile had to have melting powers and when he spoke it was what velvet would sound like if it had a voice of its own she was sure..... Focus!!
She tried again: "It is a great place to work in. The library." Yeah, that was MUCH better, said her inner voice laughing, good job! Yet poor as this statement might have been it was awarded with another gorgeous smile from his face. They both seemed to realize their mutual nervousness and laughed together. Then she continued in a more relaxed tone. "And because it is such a great place to work in, I was wondering if it’s possible to use the library at weekends." She pointed at the pile of books at her desk for explanation.
The request took him by surprise though not an unpleasant one. After all he too used to spend most of his weekends here as well, especially when he was researching some new kinds of evil.
"Of course. I myself will be here too."
"Great. When do you usually arrive?"
"I shall be here at eight."
She re-packed her pile and put only two of the books back in her bag. "Great then. I certainly won’t come before nine." She grabbed her car-key, took her bag and went to the door where she turned to him to say goodbye.
"Good bye then, have a nice evening. And careful with the tea. Till tomorrow then."
He laughed a little. "Yes. Good night." And she left.
Next Saturday morning Giles was sitting in his office already from seven a.m. and reading some very old manuscript on a vampire named Castor and forgot all around him. At half past ten Helen arrived and found him scribbling some notes about his reading. "Good morning."
He almost jumped.
She laughed. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you." And said to herself: I am seriously thinking about getting myself a cowbell around the neck.
He laughed back. "It’s probably good that I already drank up my cup of tea this morning."
"I’ll just.... take my books and leave you work then." She took a couple of the books and her laptop – towards which Giles directed a very distrustful look - and went to do her own work in the library hall.
She only paused several hours later when her stomach announced itself and with a loud growl-noise it asked for some food. She closed the book and got up. This time she decided not to go into his office to prevent further accidents. Instead she said in loud voice:
".... Yes?" She heard him standing up from his desk and seconds later he appeared in the door. "You need anything?"
"No. I was just going to have a lunch somewhere and wanted to ask you, if there’s anything I could bring for you."
"Oh, that’s ... very thoughtful, thank you. I already ate." She looked a little surprised. "A cucumber-sandwich. I brought with. I ate an hour ago."
"Oh." She nodded her head. "Great..... Then .... I’ll be going. See you later." She put on her coat and was about to leave, but turned around once more and asked to make sure: "You are going to be here, right?"
Giles raised his eyebrows and hurried to say "Yes, yes."
The following Sunday and the next week passed in the same way, with both of them working in the library, no talking, just to say the obligatory “hello” and “good night” to each other, occasionally accompanied by a smile.
It wasn’t before next Sunday that they exchanged more than polite greetings. After noon Helen went for lunch and decided to pick up some doughnuts on her way back. She returned to the library as Giles was sorting out some books on the counter.
She raised the paper-bag and said: "I brought some doughnuts. Would you like some? My lunch wasn’t very satisfactory..."
Giles paused for a moment as she came to stand in front of the counter, waiting for his reply.
Then he answered in a rather hesitating tone. "I think, I could allow myself a little break.... Would you like some tea? I’ve just made a fresh pot."
"That would be nice." Giles went to his office to get the teacups as Helen took off her coat and placed the doughnuts bag on the table next to her books.
He came, with two cups of tea in his hands and two plates clamped under his arm. She helped him, took the cups from him and laid them on the table, then packed out the still warm doughnuts. They set down and remained silent for a moment.
Helen wondered if this was such a good idea. As she out of her good spirit made the offer she didn’t think as far as to the point where they would actually sit down together and had to talk, have an actual conversation. It was beginning to get awkward as they both at the same time said: "So..." and had to laugh.
Then Giles bowed to her: "You first."
"Thanks, but ... there really was no deep thought..." She had lost what she was about to say and was now trying too hard to think of some innocent topic that would keep them both far away from any unpleasant or sensitive questions.
Finally he interrupted her hard thinking: "Are you .... have you settled in well here at the school? ... I mean despite the death of Mr. Watts?" He regretted almost immediately that he mentioned this. "I’m sorry. How very insensitive of me..."
But Helen didn’t seem to be upset. "Not at all. And thank you, I’d say I have settled rather well. I mean, apart from that. Of which I do hope it was a singular and very rare, not common incident that won’t occur again." I’ve certainly seen enough deaths for a lifetime, she thought.
At this point Giles gave her an absent and forced smile. But he didn’t want to tell her, that unfortunately this being Sunnydale and all, an incident like that was pretty much the common thing and that there will very likely be more of the kind. He sipped out of his cup. "How are your classes? I recall you were quite concerned about teaching the arts class."
"They are fine. Actually, I think I am doing surprisingly well." She replied in a half amused, half proud tone. The tension began to flow away, from both of them. "Thanks to the books you recommended me upon my arrival, I learned the ropes very fast, I had some basics, I just needed to deepen some stuff. And in a couple of classes I simply decided to begin with history of music, for that I knew best..... And the students are quite nice... There are exceptions, of course, like everywhere else, but the majority of them are very assiduous, hard working, not so unlike ..." She almost added at Hogwarts
and came to an abrupt pause.
As he raised his eyes curiously, she said: "...at my previous school." He nodded in understanding.
"What about you? Have you been long here, in Sunnydale?" She took her plate with a doughnut and so made clear that it was now his turn to talk and hers to eat.
"Yes.... Well, not too long. Actually not much longer than you. I arrived at the beginning of this school year."
It was obvious that he wouldn’t say more on the matter.
"It’s a very good collection you’ve got here." She said after a moment of silence, pointing at the bookracks. "I mean, it’s certainly an admirable size, especially for a mug-... for a-merican school library." That was a cheap shot, she admitted, but it would give her a much harder time to explain a muggle, than to feel embarrassed for having just insulted their host country.
"Yes, it’s not bad. Though I must say I brought many of the history-related volumes myself." Could she hear just the slightest sign of pride in his tone?
"Oh? Is that so?"
"Yes." Yet again he wasn’t about to give away much more. "But, as you have probably noticed yourself in the last few weeks, there aren’t many here who would appreciate it. Hardly anyone ever comes here and when that rare case occurs that students find their way here, because they have to prepare some homework or an essay, they mostly can’t get out of here fast enough.... But, I am not complaining. In fact that was one of the reasons I took this job, because it promised to be quite solitary, and calm, without too much contact with the students." Helen started to wonder what the other reasons might have been.
So they ate in silence and when finished they each returned back to their work. At eight in the evening Helen decided to call it night, said good night and left.
The next week began very promising. First a new teacher for history arrived, an elderly peculiar Mr. Pescoe. Then another colleague of Helen’s, the English teacher Mrs. Jennings, who seemed to like Helen a lot for some unknown reason and who knew of her office-situation, finally suggested to her fellow English-teacher to switch their classrooms and attached offices, so that by the middle of the week Helen found herself in a new classroom, sharing a working place there with Mr. Pescoe. Mr. Pescoe however seemed to have cultivated during his clearly long teacher-career a number of rather annoying working habits, such as humming or whistling or sudden outbursts of enthusiasm, when he came across an interesting passage in his readings.
On the Wednesday afternoon for example they were both sitting in their common office, preparing their lessons in silence, when out of nothing he cried out: "A-ha! There!" Helen got the scare of her life. This was followed by several as loud and as unexpected I knew it!s
and Of course!s
, so that by the end of the day Helen was having serious doubts whether this switch really was an improvement to her previous office-less (yet Giles-y) situation.
She had already told Giles the day before, that she won’t spook in the library that much anymore and that she got a new room. It probably was just a fancy of her, but she thought she saw a little shadow of disappointment on his face.
It was on Friday again, that one bad news followed another. First the mascot of the school, a small pig that Principal Flutie bought for their squad, had been eaten by someone. But the most awful thing happened in the afternoon, when all teachers were summoned and told that principal Flutie died after an attack of wild dogs that apparently accessed his office through the window. They were all given the warning to keep the windows shut and were dismissed. With very mixed feelings Helen returned along with Mr. Pescoe to her classroom, where they talked for a while. He was about to stay and work in their office. She needed to prepare an exam for next Monday herself, but decided to work in the classroom instead of the office, where his constant outcries would distract or scare her every few minutes. However she took care that he wouldn’t think she was working outside because of him. His ways might have been annoying, but she sort of came to like him and had respect for him, he obviously had a great knowledge and competence when it came to his subject, what she could clearly see very soon after having a few conversations with him.
At six in the evening Mr. Pescoe left for home and Helen stayed alone, she had a hard time to concentrate, besides she had a bad feeling that something was up. Her hand once again ran automatically to the pocket of her jeans where she wore her wand. She didn’t have much use for it after what happened, but she used to wear it anyway, in a way it belonged to her and she belonged to it, no matter what she’s done before. She and that nine and a half inches long, mahogany stick, with an unusual core of powdered dragon scales and a unicorn hair were closely connected.
She wasn’t half finished with her work when short after seven she remembered she wanted to look for a book about the French revolution in the library to borrow it for the weekend. Only too glad to have an excuse to leave the work her mind wasn’t in at all, she got up and headed to the library. The school was already empty and a spooky silence reigned in the corridors. As she was approaching, she heard voices. It was Willow talking to Xander. She entered and to her shock noticed that Xander was locked in the cage and shouting at Willow to let him out, while she turned her back to him and walked to her computer.
"Willow! What is going on?" Helen asked.
Before Willow could give an answer, there was a loud bang and someone broke a window on the library. Helen recognized another student of hers, a very unpleasant boy, but she could barely have a better look, when a second window broke and a girl, with a disturbing almost beastly expression on her face was already climbing in.
Willow grabbed her teacher’s hand and dragged her behind herself, running out of the library hall. They ran through half of the school but they could hear fast approaching footsteps and loud, again animal-like breathing behind them, when Willow in panic finally pushed Helen in an empty classroom. They locked the door and were trying to move some tables in front of it. Obviously - it was no time for questions.
But the person or group outside was too strong. They were banging on the door and it was only a matter of moments when they would force their way into the room. Willow and Helen hid under a table.
"What do they want?" Helen whispered.
Willow was trying to suppress the panic in her voice: "Without exaggeration? I’d say, they already digested the principal and now they’re looking for their dinner."
Helen had no time to comprehend this very disturbing answer. After a loud crash they heard at least two persons entering the room.
Helen felt she had no choice. She took her wand out of her pocket.