Author’s note: I have included in this story some of the background that is added to canon by Nancy Holders Buffy novel “Queen of the Slayers.” It covers the time during which Buffy and co were staying in Italy with the immortal, after the fall of Sunnydale. Basically, while not wanting to issue spoilers I have to mention for clarities sake that Buffy “dies” again at the end of the novel and comes back. So she has now died three times. Also Oz appears again from a monastery where he and other werewolves have been guarding a guru of the light. The guru is killed as are many of Oz’s packmates but some (and Oz) survive. Sorry about the spoilers guys, but I would still say read the book, it’s pretty good. And a very logical next step for Buffy after Chosen.
And now on with the story!
For Rupert Giles it had already been a rather long day and it wasn’t getting any shorter. Pulling off his glasses he cleaned them absently with his ever-present handkerchief, taking a moment to rub at the crease between his eyes where he could feel the beginnings of a skull splitting headache starting. He had a budget meeting in 10 minutes and after that a sub committee meeting with each of the major regional watcher heads. Thank god Willow had managed to set up that astral projection spell last time she had been back. It did make speaking to everyone a lot easier than that damned conference call contraption. At least this way they could see each other’s faces when they spoke. And there was no time delay. Practical magic of which Giles thoroughly approved. Than he had to go and check up on the arrangements for the next rotational shift of the more nomadic slayer/watcher pairs around their territories while still of course keeping up to take on the constant flood of supernatural intelligence from around the globe. He sighed heavily and tried not to give in to the urge to take a pre-emptive pain killer.
Admittedly the new Watcher’s Council was an infinitely more effective organisation than the old one had been, up to date and on the ball. But it had to be admitted that staying in control, of both it and the information it collected was often a job for ten men, not just one. And even with his focused and dedicated staff the buck too often stopped with him in his position as Head of the Watchers. Which was often rather stressful. Not to mention the amount of work an averted apocalypse generated. Sometimes he looked back on his times in Sunnydale with an almost nostalgic feel for the sheer lack of paperwork he used to have to deal with. He sighed again. Still. Mustn’t grumble. At least this way he wasn’t fighting for his life everyday on the front lines. He was getting too old to do that and have any chance of survival.
Even hours of paperwork and frequent headaches were a small price to pay for the knowledge that, baring accidents and acts of an otherwise benevolent deity, one would wake up tomorrow and possibly even the next day. It made a change from living on a hellmouth where the chances of waking up the next day were always a matter of percentages, rather than absolutes.
A tentative knock on the doorway pulled him abruptly out of his musings and he looked up, startled, to find his assistant Fiona curling half her body around the door frame in that particularly disturbingly flexible way that she had.
“Mr Giles? Do you have a second?”
He waved vaguely at the paperwork strewn across the desk. “I’m just about to head into the budget meeting. Can it wait?”
Fiona hesitated, an uncharacteristic tendency in one who was normally so forthright.
“Well, it’s just that, sir, Buffy’s here.”
Giles straightened in shock. Buffy? Here? Without being asked? It had been months since she had last slipped through the doors of Watcher Headquarters and even longer since she had come in without her presence being requested. As a matter of form she did all of her business with the London branch of the Council either off campus, or by phone or email. In fact the senior slayer was so notoriously elusive that some of the non slayer staff had jokingly begun to assert that she didn’t exist, that she was only a myth conjured up by the scoobies to spur the other slayers to greater heights. Although admittedly they didn’t say that in front of any of the scoobies, not wanted to be eviscerated, verbally or otherwise for the sake of gossip. Which is why his normally levelheaded assistant was acting as wide eyed as a five year old, as though a phoenix had suddenly appeared in her office.
“Well then, show her in.” When she didn’t move immediately his voice sharpened a little. “Quickly, please, Fiona. And can you call around to reschedule the budget meeting. Tell them I have been unexpectedly delayed.” As the sharpness in his voice registered she straightened up and slipped around the doorway, still looking a little wild eyed. But as Giles reflected ruefully, Buffy often had that effect on people.
She returned a few seconds later, the object of his musings following behind her like a lithe blond shadow, padding so silently into the room that if he wasn’t looking straight at her he would have doubted the evidence of his senses. Even Faith, with her street smarts and attitude had never quite gained Buffy’s ability to blend in, to disappear unless she wanted to be found. It was one of the reasons he had found it so hard to find her the summer she had run away. For if she was concentrating on being invisible Buffy was surprisingly hard to see and almost to impossible to hear. But as she padded across the carpet towards him it was obvious that something had happened to make her discard her customary elusiveness, at least for the moment.
He moved out from behind his desk and gestured for Fiona to leave. She did, closing the door behind her, still google eyed at catching a glimpse of the closest thing WCI had to a living legend. The focus of her regard waited until the door swung shut with an amused lift of the eyebrow, habituated at least in part to being stared at by those who were privileged to be in the know. It didn’t make it any easier but she had learned to put up with it.
As soon as the door was shut Giles slipped out from behind his desk and came to greet her, a smile of hesitant pleasure hovering around his lips as drank in the all too rare site of his oldest and most experienced slayer. She returned his gaze, the slightest ghost of a smile hovering around her lips, no doubt cataloguing the small changes in his appearance just as he was doing with her. She looked….well, Giles decided. Physically she looked splendid, the taut muscles sleekly visible under golden skin, her blonde hair pulled casually back in a pony tail, face bare of any make up bar maybe a slick of lip gloss. But it was the other small changes he was more encouraged by. Her eyes, which the last time he had seen her had been so dead and dull held a faint flicker of renewed life, a slightest tell of a tentative sparkle, which heartened him immensely. Anything was better than the robotic indifference he had noted there the last time they had met just before he had sent her to pick up the Ring of Tahnmonet some six months ago.
“Buffy.” He dug his hands into his pockets reflexively, wanting to reach out and hug her but prevented for doing so by a combination of his innate old school reserve and the almost visible aura of detachment that she wore like a cloak.
She smiled up at him but he could tell that she was deeply uncomfortable and would rather be anywhere else but here in his office. No doubt it and him held too many memories, most more unpleasant than not. He could even put a finger on the exact moment when the balance between the good and bad memories had finally tipped for her, that moment when she had woken up from her third “death” at the end of that fiasco with the Immortal in Rome when the other slayers had crowned her Queen of the Slayers. She had blundered and stumbled through an accounting of witnessing the final fight of Angel and Spike and their friends in Los Angeles, still disorientated and weakened from her own experience. Her voice shaking she had confessed to him how she’d seen Spike die, again, when she hadn’t even known that for all these months he’d been alive. All that time she’d been mourning him unnecessarily, an irony which was only making itself apparent with his so recent true death. But it was when she had reached up to grasp his hand and asked if he’d known that Spike was still alive that he was unable to meet her eyes. He remembered how her eyes had slowly filled with tears as the extent of this further betrayal damaged the remnants of her trust in him, ripping holes in a fabric that had been almost beyond repair already.
Things between them had never been quite the same since. Which is why he hadn’t protested like the others when she had left to seek out Oz and the rest of his decimated pack in the new monastery they had retired to, realising that more than anything else she needed time away. Away from other slayers, away even from the scoobies, and especially, time away from him. He’d hoped that time away might allow her to gain perspective and heal a little. But as became more and more apparent it had only allowed her to fully embrace what used to be the slayers mantra. That a slayer was always really alone. And no slayer was ever more alone, by choice or design, than Buffy.
It was her choice and despite various well-meaning attempts none had so far managed to pierce the adamantine barrier she had woven around herself over the last few years. The fact that she had come into speak to him was the first small but positive sign he’d seen from her in a very long time. Consequently he was anxious to make her feel as comfortable as possible.
“Would you like a seat? Tea, coffee…hot chocolate?”
Her slight smile grew a little wider and a touch more warm, but she declined his offer of refreshment with a slight shake of her head.
“Thanks, but I haven’t got time. I’ve got a 8pm flight out of Heathrow to catch.”
He was slightly taken aback; as he had thought that her schedule had her in London for the next two weeks.
“Anything I should know?”
She shrugged bonelessly, a small frown of frustration etched between her brows. “I’m going back to the States. There’s something…” her voice trailed off as she padded blindly across the room, pivoting gracefully as she reached the far wall. He watched her quietly, attuned enough to her moods to realise that there was something further she needed to tell him. She paced for a few more minutes and then stopped dead in front of him.
“I had a visit.”
She shrugged again.
“Yup. A full on in-dreams-intervention, kind of visit.”
“Oh.” He reached up and took off his glasses, cleaning them as he concentrated even harder on what she was saying. Of all of his slayers Buffy was still by far the most reliable for prophecies, dreams and other contact from the Powers. He assumed it went part and parcel with being the original slayer, and if Buffy herself knew any differently she wasn’t saying. So he listened intently as she described her dream visitation from Tara, complete with dire warnings and visuals. By the look of Buffy’s face it had obviously not been a particularly pleasant experience. By the time she had finished her face was creased by an even deeper frown and his headache had come back full force.
Buffy finished with the last part of Tara’s cryptic warnings. She had left out the bit about her being the Champion and her dead friends passing remark about trusting in love, considering it none of any one else’s business, but the rest she had recounted in faithful detail. But from the look on Giles’ face he was as clueless as she was. She held in a sigh. She’d had so hoped he might have an idea where she could go next, hoped hard enough that she had even forced herself into the orbit of the one building she hated most in all the world, the headquarters of the Watcher’s Council. Next to her old high school in Sunnydale it was pretty much up there on her loath-a-metre.
But no such luck. She was on her own, as always. But hopefully her old watcher could at least clarify one of her burning questions. She glanced up at Giles. He was still pondering what she had told him with an expression of deep concentration on his face. Knowing him he would mull over it for days to come and harness the brains of many others to attack the issue as well. But that was his job, not hers. She was research girl only until she had enough information to become action girl. And if he had no information for her she might as well get moving on the job herself. She usually did work better alone anyway.
Out of politeness she waited until he had finished his initial ruminations, shifting impatiently from foot to foot, the plush carpet giving under her weight. Finally he looked up.
“Well, I must admit I’ve never heard of anything like what you have described. But of course I’ll get our best researchers on it as soon as possible.” He quickly caught on to the impatience screaming out from her body language and straightened up.
“Now I know you have a plane to catch. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
She regarded him cautiously, head tilted at an angle, as if unsure whether to ask. But her curiosity obviously won over her caution as she strightened up to ask him. Whatever it was was obviously something that was of importance to her.
“Yes. I was wondering, that thing that Tara said, that slayers can never be possessed. Is that true?”
He smiled at her in relief, glad to be able to answer at least one of her questions.
“Within reason it is. While slayers have been temporarily possessed by ghosts, and even once in Spain in 1769 by a demon, it does seem that a slayer cannot be possessed on a permanent basis by any other creature, whether it is a physical or a psychological possession.”
She frowned at him again.
“Does that mean that for instance a slayer can never become a vampire?”
Giles polished his glasses still further. He should have told her this months earlier, but the final piece of scientific explanation had only been pieced together recently and it had slipped his mind. He remembered how scared she had been of becoming a vampire when she had been younger. No doubt she had been officially told in one of the email memos that she never read, (Buffy’s distaste for paperwork was legendary) but still… He should have told her personally.
“Yes. It just became definite in the last six months, when Ailysa, remember her?”
At Buffy’s silent nod of recognition he went on. “Yes. Ailysa was ambushed by a master vampire and some twenty minions. Unusually he attempted to turn her, but it didn’t take. He drained her and then forced his blood onto her but it seems that the attempt by the demon to take over her actually reactived her slayer side which then went into overdrive, so to speak. Emily her Watcher said she had never seen any thing like it. It was as if Ailysa just exploded. One minute she was almost dead and the next she had killed the Master and decimated his crew. The rest of his kiss are we believe, still running."
“And she’s okay?”
“Yes, she’s absolutely fine. Nothing more than a little residual blood loss, and a few bruises which of course healed up as always. Absolutely no sign of any vampirism at all.”
Buffy seemed to be musing on this new information. “I wonder if that’s why the first Master, back in Sunnydale didn’t try to turn me once he’d drained me. I remember when I woke up that first time, I felt invigorated. Really alive and so powerful. I put it down to almost dying, but maybe it was something else.”
“Maybe. He was an extremely experienced demon. Perhaps he had tried to turn a slayer before and had realised that it didn’t work.”
“Do we know why slayers can’t be taken over?”
Giles polished his glasses almost absently, before putting them back on.
“Well one of our researchers has a theory.” He ignored Buffy’s snort and continued on. “She thinks that because the shadow men made Senaya the first slayer from a demon, that the part of a slayer that is demon based rejects any attempt by any other demon to take possession in a host body. Thrusts it out, so to speak. No room at the inn.”
“Sort of like two magnets getting too close together?”
He was impressed by her insight and it showed in his pleased tone of voice. “Yes, exactly. Like the opposite of attraction. Repulsion. That’s a very good analogy if I may say so Buffy. I’ll have to use that one.”
She favoured with another ghost of a smile. “Be my guest.” She turned to the door, strangely comforted by the knowledge that at least one of her adolescent nightmares could be put to rest.
“I’ve got to go now Giles, otherwise I’ll miss the plane. But I’ll keep you posted. Especially if I see anywhere that looks like that place from the dream. And if you could get your people working on it?”
“Of course. I’ll assign some people to it today. Hopefully between our combined resources we should at least be able to narrow it down.”
“Good. That would be great.” She was almost at the door when he called out to her and she turned, taking him in, the solid presence, the now graying brown hair, and the creases that time and worry had riven into his face. It was with a strange pang that she realised Giles was starting to get old. She’d never thought she would live to see a time when Giles started to get old. It gave her a bittersweet feeling in her gut.
“Buffy, I know I say this too often, but please be careful.”
In reply she smiled at him for a moment, a real smile, like the ones she used to give him years ago, eyes wry and laughing.
“Don’t worry, G-man. I’m careful enough for two slayers. Dying three times is enough for anyone.”
And with a last glimpse of a smile and the bob of a blond ponytail she was gone, leaving an emotionally torn watcher behind her, pulled between the twinge she had given his heart at her old teasing use of Xander’s nickname and the cold necessities of his position. All he wanted to do was to go to her and help her fight whatever it was that was coming for her like they used to. But the cold hard realities of the situation were that he was of more use to her and to all of them here in his office, co-coordinating the research and the response than out in the field where his increasing age made him a liability, not an asset.
With a sigh he sat down again behind his desk and leaned heavily on the intercom.
“Please tell the rest of the budget committee that we’ll have to reschedule for another day. And get Pierson, Scott and McCloud up here as soon as possible.”
“Of course sir.” There was a moment’s silence on the other end of the intercom as she took in the implications of the head of the council asking for the council’s three top apocalypse researchers.
“Is it another one, sir?”
“It looks like it. But keep that to yourself. Make up a file though. Call this one Ap214 – subtitle “Tara.”
And with that Rupert Giles attempted to put out of mind for now the possibility of yet another impending apocalypse and instead focused on the more currently pressing issue of territory slayer/watcher territory rotation and budget allocation. For while ravening hell gods might try to take over the world tomorrow, today he had to deal with a far more frightening body. Auditors. And even slayers trembled at those.