Giles stands, stares down unseeing at the book in his hands. Buffy's training had been lacklustre, to say the least, but somehow, he doesn't have the heart to push her this morning. He has had an awkward meeting with Jenny, and the numbing routine of shelving helps him push back the memory of the distance in her eyes as she pulled away from him. He can't help but read it as disgust.
He feels obscurely that he has let them all down, simply by being human, a man, just as fallible as any other. All the reasons why he cannot get involved with someone, writ large, his past, his duty, his inability to express himself, to connect. He can't even offer proper comfort to Buffy in her distress, his own emotions a fractured mess. And he feels that he has failed as a Watcher, too, when his Slayer is willing to attack a human being. The workings of the female mind are a mystery to him, he has never wanted to push Buffy too hard, unsure of how to set boundaries with someone who is so very different from his training and expectations. And those expectations are a thing to trip on, his own issues with duty and destiny and control. Though still, looking back on it, her whole involvement with Angel had been...well, in hindsight, he can't think how or why he'd let that slide.
He's jerked from his musings by the library door opening. Xander, given the choice between spending his free period listening to Buffy cry on Willow, or, y'know, not, has decided that it is a good time to wander into the library and at least attempt to help Giles reshelve things from the crazy research party. Willow is doing her best to deal, but Xander doesn't really think he can offer much in the way of emotional support. Or, to be honest, want to.
So sue him, he's a teenage boy. He's delighted that Angel is dust. His crush on Buffy had been rather battered into the ground after her little Bronze bitchfest, but he still cares about her, and he's never going to like vampires. Dead bodies with a dark passenger. The thought of anyone kissing one is utterly disgusting.
(Xander has read some of the history, too. And, inescapable logic in his mind, if Angel and Angelus are two different beings, then why the hell did Angel spend a century brooding about it all? It's all very well being sorry about it, but you have to remember what the guy was being sorry about
. And then you wanted to back the hell away from the scary monster before he snapped again. Because Xander's been around semi-functional alcoholics all his life, and his experience is one of relapses – somewhere in the back of his mind, he's always waiting for the demon to return.)
“...I mean, I'm not gonna pretend to be that sorry, Giles.” Xander shrugs, puts another book back on the shelf. “I didn't like him, I didn't trust him. So someone took down another vampire, I'm gonna say yay.” And maybe do a happy little dance where nobody could see him, just because.
Giles' shoulders sag.
“I can't say that I don't feel the same way.” He admits, quietly. “Buffy's...uh, relationship with Angel always...it was...well, it is quite a relief to have the situation resolved, however painful it might be for her.”
And without either of them having to do it, goes carefully unsaid. Xander perks up, a goofy grin on his face.
“So, do you think sending some flowers to say thank you would be too much?”
Giles can't help the snort of laughter that bursts out.
“Only if you want Ethan to do something awful to you. He's always been the possessive sort.”
“Ah, okay, so no making nice with the Chaos Mage's girlfriend.”
“A wise choice.” Trying to move in on one of 'Acid' Rayne's birds had never been a smart idea – he'd been a nasty vindictive sod twenty years ago, and he probably hasn't changed.
“...is she another of your old friends from the land of Tweed?”
“No, actually.” On the heels of that thought. “Xander, how much do you remember from Halloween?”
“Uh...” Xander looks sideways, thrown by the subject change, shuffles. “Um, most of it? It was like I could see events, but not affect them. But...I could probablystillfieldstripanM16...”
“It's not like the hyena thing.” Xander hurries on. “It's not even memories, exactly. More like I've got a bunch of skills in my head, now. Sort of Xander-plus.” Bites his lip. “I've been running in the mornings, going through a few basic PT drills. I think I've got some CQC training in there, too. I don't want to lose this, I think it could be useful, Giles. I
could be useful, more than just the Donut Guy, y'know?”
She'd said that, hadn't she? That the vampire had needed staking, that Willow needed training in magic, that Xander needed to feel useful.
He needs to find out what else she remembers.
Meanwhile, Xander is looking at him, the puppy who has peed on the rug, but still hopes you'll take him for a walk. When Giles had been his age, he'd already got belt ratings in two martial arts, and held the school medals for foil and epée...
“Close combat is probably not a good thing with vampires.” He says, dryly. “Not without Slayer strength to back it up. But,” (...“teach him to use a sword...”
) “how would you feel about wielding a longsword?”
Xander grins, something slightly feral in it.
Giles leaves the school grounds with a purpose. He's a little shaken at how grateful Xander had been for a scrap of attention. He'd question how long the dedication of a teenager would last, but – the boy had chosen the fight, shown a tenacity and loyalty to his friends. There had been an awkwardness in his movements, knowledge without the muscle memory, and he certainly needs to work on his fitness, but there had been disquieting flashes of alien competence, too. Old instincts in Giles recognise the beginnings of a truly dirty fighter – there are things he will never teach Buffy, that she doesn't need to know, her speed and strength enough. But Ripper can certainly teach the lad how to really stitch some bugger up...
He quells that thought. The last thing he needs to do is to lose his temper today. He'll be facing two magic-users, one of whom at least will be wary of him, and the other with no reason to be friendly, either.
Had he left behind an innocent to be ensnared, that evening, or something else? And what other kind of power or knowledge does she have? She clearly knows about the Slayer, and the supernatural. But how much of that is a remnant? And there's Ethan, who is another unknown quantity all by himself. What he could do with such an accomplice, unwitting or not..
That worrying thought is very much on Giles' mind when he knocks on the shop door. Ethan opens it, face set.
“I do hope that you haven't brought your homicidal little playmate with you.”
“Just me. May I come in?”
A tense moment, and then Ethan steps back.
Eris, clipboard in hand, is dressed in what can only be one of Ethan's shirts, collar open, and Giles winces when he sees the bruises on her throat. She doesn't look remotely surprised to see him.
He doesn't know whether to apologise, or to demand an explanation.
“You knew, didn't you?” He asks, instead.
“That the exorcism would take them both out?” Her voice is still a little hoarse. “I trust nobody is expecting an apology.”
“You were doing the silly chit's job for her.” Ethan's expression of hostility melts into anxious care as he turns to her. “Are you up to talking?”
This display of solicitude makes Giles double-take. It sits strangely on someone he remembers as somewhat of a libertine. But then, he'd been a callous young toerag as well, back then. He likes to think that he has changed, so perhaps he should give Ethan the benefit of the doubt...
“I'll be fine, darling. Rupert is going to be civilised.”
“He'd better be.”
Ethan puts a deliberate arm round Eris. He wouldn't stand a hope in hell of kicking Ripper's arse, never has, but he has his unreconstructed moments. And Eris, judging by her expression, understands, and is a little amused. She meets Giles' eye briefly, a quick conspiratorial flicker, and then leans comfortably into Ethan's shoulder.
“So, what do you want to know?”
Giles stares at them both, and wonders where to even begin.
“Who...how...I, really, this is very awkward, but, um, who are you, and why are you with him?”
“We did actually meet at Halloween...well, you were there. It was as if fate brought us together.” Turns her eyes up to Ethan with a overly sappy smile. Ethan sniggers.
“Divine intervention, surely?” He offers. Giles is less amused.
“You bloody enchanted her?”
“No, he didn't.” Eris says, sharply. “I chose to come and find him. And I told you exactly who I was when we first met.”
Giles makes a strangled noise.
“You're claiming to be an actual goddess?”
“Well, human avatar of.”
“And what about the poor woman whose body you've...usurped?”
“This is my
body. Only one careful owner. As you may have noticed, once the spell ended, not everything went away. Well, I'm one of the things, and I'm not going anywhere.”
She looks to be just a pretty woman with an inexplicable fondness for the dubious company of his old friend-turned-enemy, or whatever Ethan is. But Giles has seen too much to discount anything. He had rather expected to be rescuing someone from Ethan's clutches, but now he's beginning to wonder if it is Ethan who might need rescuing. Except the bloody sod is looking damnably smug about it all.
“I'm a worshipper of chaos, Ru. And as it turns out, chaos is quite fond of me, too.” He smirks. “Some women can never resist a bad boy.”
“Oh, stop gloating.” But her tone is purely affectionate. “Yes, Ethan caught my attention, and when I took a look at what was going on here, I didn't like it, and so I took the opportunity to step in and tinker.” A mild understatement for the wholesale derailment to date.
“This delightful creature announced that she was going to save my life and make my world a better place. So far, my world has become a much better place. Even if it does look like I will be taking up reputable employment.” Pouts tragically at Eris. “I don't know why I can't become a pampered consort.”
“Because you'd get fat and bored slumped in front of the telly, and go out and find yourself some trouble to get into.”
“Sadly, probably true.” He shrugs. “So, we're going to be fine, upstanding members of the business community, and a little bastion of culture.”
“...You are really going to open a bookshop?”
“Well, I don't have the patience for teaching, and how else will I get to be an unwholesome influence on youthful minds?”
“This is a Hellmouth, darling. Don't make it a competition.”
There's an awful impish likeness in the way they grin at each other, then at him.
“I didn't stake the vampire on a whim. That curse was on a fast track path to breaking, and it was going to get very ugly, very quickly.”
“Angelus was going to come back?”
“And team up with Spike and Drusilla. And no, Buffy couldn't bring herself to stake him, not even after he killed...” Catches herself up. “So I removed the problem before it became a problem.”
“You can see the future?”
“I could see a
future.” She smiles, not entirely pleasantly. “I'm changing it. Hopefully, for the better.” She touches Ethan's arm lightly as she says it, something Giles notices. His eyes narrow.
“Better for who?”
“A lot more people who could remain with their lives, souls and minds intact. And yes, Ethan is one of them. Since he enabled my presence, it seems the least I can do.”
Ethan grins, but his eyes are serious.
“Listen to her, Rupert.”
“Why are you doing this?” Giles is still suspicious.
“Because I can.” She says, simply. “People who use innocent children as pawns really piss me off.”
“And yet you associate with Ethan?”
“Cruciamentum.” Watches Giles' mouth shut with a snap. “Quite.”
Giles is looking at her like she's an unexploded bomb.
“Good lord...this is a, a lot to take in.”
“Imagine how I felt.” Ethan says. “It seems that I am fated to be the plaything of a cosmic force.”
He looks indecently pleased about the fact.
“Believe it or not, I do
actually like him.” Eris says. “Yes, I know he's a self-centred trickster with a dicey moral compass, but he's very sweet to me.”
Giles rather boggles at the concept of Ethan and 'sweet'. So does Ethan.
“Couldn't you at least stress my dashing good looks and roguish charm?”
“That, too.” She rolls her eyes, though she's smiling. “But we'll move swiftly on before his ego attains critical mass and consumes the Hellmouth.”
“I could stand to hear a little more...” Ethan preens. Giles twitches. Eris takes pity on him.
“If it makes you happier, you could consider me...a time traveller. I'm going to be able tell you some things and people to watch out for, but I'm not going to be able to catch everything. The more things change, the less useful my knowledge is going to get, so it will be more reacting to things if I remember them happening, rather than being able to predict them.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“Make Ethan take me to bed and do filthy things to me.” She says, promptly, and laughs when Giles drops his glasses.
“I think I can accommodate your desires.” Ethan purrs, sidling closer. “Bugger off, Ru, there's a good chap.”
“I, er, yes, well...”
Eris hands his glasses over, pats his arm as she steers him towards the door.
“Rupert, go home. Get some decent sleep. Leave dealing with your ridiculous teenagers until tomorrow. Give Jenny a few days, and then talk to her properly.” Smiles up at him. “Oh, one more thing. Buffy temporarily flat-lined before Xander brought her back, so there's another Slayer out there, based in Jamaica, one Kendra Young, her Watcher is Sam Zabuto. She's probably going to turn up here in the next week or so. You'll like her, she's read the Handbook.”
Shuts the door with cheerful finality, leaves him staring at the clouded glass.