Transformations - Chapter 1

They had won the day, Giles supposed, at rather little cost--and yet he felt a weight on his heart, as if he'd lost someone he held very dear.

Ridiculous, old man, he chided himself. The library had been, after all, only a room. The books had been saved, and even now cartons of them filled his flat almost to the bursting point. It was only a room, and a badly-designed one at that--foolish, really, to build a library on two levels, forcing one to run up and down stairs all day. He hadn't minded, except last summer, after...

Giles struggled to pull his thoughts back into a semblance of order. Angel was gone. He hadn't minded, leave it at that. Willow had told him that the previous librarian, Mr. Abernathy, a true ancient, had found the design very difficult indeed.

All their losses, all the fear and sadness they'd encountered there, and still the library had been their place, their home from home. Giles wasn't yet able to imagine his life without it, though he supposed he'd no other choice.

He mourned, even though he knew he ought to be happy. Those he loved best, his "kids," had come through unscathed: Willow and Xander, Oz--and, yes, even Cordelia. How quiet the world would be without Cordelia, without them all.

Another thing he found himself unable to comprehend--he'd no longer see them every day, and their absence, he feared, would leave a dreadful hole in the fabric of his life. Cordelia, he knew, intended to depart that very week, bound for Los Angeles. Oz, having survived, planned to spend the summer touring with his band, and Willow had wanted, very much, to go with him. There, however, her frequently-absent parents had drawn the line. Willow, as the youngest of the group, would not be eighteen until beginning of September, and her father had apparently refused to allow his under-age daughter to set out on such an adventure, much to Willow's distress.

Perhaps it was a sign of approaching old age that Giles found he agreed with Ira Rosenberg's point of view--though he would never, of course (not being an utter fool) express such an opinion to Willow herself. Selfishly, he found himself rather glad she'd been forced to stay. For Buffy's sake, and for his own. In many ways, young as she was, Willow was his closest friend here in the States, and he hated for even a day to go by without her company.

Xander had been oddly quiet, lately, about his summer plans. A few weeks before, he'd been reading Jack Kerouac, nattering on enthusiastically about the lure of the open road. Now Giles didn't even know whether the boy would be attending college or finding employment--here in Sunnydale, or elsewhere. He hadn't liked to pry. Beneath Xander's exterior of jokes and careless self-deprecation, lay a core of something else that Giles himself recognized only too well--that inner anger, that hatred of oneself.

At eighteen, Xander lacked the ability to look ten years down the line and see that if he merely kept his head above water and managed not do anything remarkably foolish, he'd come out all right in the end. He knew that Xander's home life was more or less a battlefield, and that he'd felt cast adrift by Willow's deep absorption with Oz. Xander wanted to leave home, but perhaps felt too unsure of himself as yet to cut all ties. Perhaps they should talk--really talk, man to man, not merely trade gibes.

And Buffy--her plan had worked. She hadn't been harmed. Even weakened by the blood loss, thrown offstride by all the drama with Angel, she'd come through. Her boldness and her bravery filled him, as always, with speechless admiration, even as he worried about her--not the least about her clash with Faith. He'd perhaps never know the details of what passed between the two Slayers (never to be his Slayers again). Nonetheless, when she was more herself, they would need to talk as well--not as Watcher to Slayer, not any more, but because he loved her, and because there were things he understood, in his experience, that the others did not. He didn't want her, ever, to feel alone. He wanted her to know that, heart and soul, he still belonged to her.

Enough, Giles ordered himself. Buffy wouldn't want any such thing. Why should she? Giles suspected he was actually older than her father, by a year or so. And talk of Xander being foolish--Buffy didn't need him to act the lovelorn fool. She needed him to supply weapons, read musty books, and offer advice. Nothing else. She'd treat him with affection, when she remembered, but at times Giles wondered if she even thought of them as friends. He guessed at some of the events that occurred since he'd been replaced as her Watcher, guessed with fair accuracy, he supposed, but that official tie broken, Buffy had pulled away a bit. She hadn't liked to tell him of the things she'd done.

Stupid, he chided himself. Foolish. And again, Why should she?

Glancing back over his shoulder, Giles could see the five of them walk away. He supposed, as he'd told Buffy he intended, that he ought to go see how Wesley fared.

Bloody Wesley, Giles thought, not entirely without affection. Even he had not been that ill-prepared. He'd have been quite well prepared, in fact, if he hadn't spent the previous twenty years repressing great parts of his nature so very thoroughly. Ripper as an entity separate from himself was gone--if he had ever existed--but ever since Angelus... since that night, small facets of his nature had begun to emerge, making Giles a bit sharper, a bit harder, more passionate in his nature--less stuffy, less a textbook with arms, as Buffy might say.

He knew the potential for violence that lurked only shallowly beneath his skin. He knew the magic he could call on--not the simple spells, orderly as cookbook recipes, that he'd worked in the presence of his young friends--but a deep, Wild Magic that this time and place called out to him to express.

He'd used a bit of it the night the Hellmouth opened for the second time. Buffy had seen, and been impressed, but afterward he'd felt a little sick at what he'd done, and terrified, as well--even knowing where it might lead, the act of giving that magic a voice had felt so bloody good.

He was glad he hadn't needed to rely upon it as his contingency plan, had Buffy's strategy proved in vain.

Giles knew where such impulses led. The Ripper that came out on Band Candy night, Ripper at sixteen, was only a dim representation of what was to be--shallow, petulant, vain, a selfish boy out for a good time. Ripper at twenty-one, refined in the fire of Ethan Rayne's influence, had been something else entirely. Buffy wasn't the first person Giles had loved with changeable eyes and golden hair--he loved her for herself, not for her uncanny resemblance to poor, lost Randall James Sinclair (who in his essential nature had been far closer to Willow), but he was also quite perceptive enough to glimpse the irony. That similarity in looks served as a warning: Giles knew himself, and that knowledge told him that to give in once meant to give in again, the way an alcoholic can't ever take just that one drink, lest much the same results follow: loss, and grief, and the destruction of all one has worked for, and all one loves.

Even today, somewhere inside him, Randall never stopped screaming.

God, Giles told himself, Enough of that, as well.

He rubbed his eyes, tiredness washing over him. Bloody Wesley. No Wild Magic in Wesley, or tame magic either. No calling even to be a Watcher, really, although Giles supposed the younger man meant well. He'd have been wonderfully suited to librarianship, less so to the business of fighting actual demons. Five seconds in front of the vampire army and he'd been trampled like a grape. His injuries were quite painful, no doubt, but did he really need to whimper quite so strenuously?

He passed a stretcher that bore a small burden, covered over all in white, another similarly shrouded, long, silken hair hanging down below the sheet. Their losses, not so entirely insignificant after all. On a third stretcher, quite a large boy lay weeping, trying not to make any sound. Giles paused, speaking softly, "Larry, how are you?"

"It hurts," the boy answered, in a strained, small voice, squirming against the straps that bound him to a backboard as if there was no way for him to get comfortable. "Mr. Giles, it hurts so bad."

"Try to hold still now," the EMT said.

Carefully, Giles took the boy's hand. He didn't know Larry well, but the boy seemed so obviously distressed, so much in need of comfort. "Yes," he said. "Do try not to move. I know it's very difficult."

The boy's large fingers bit into his palm. Giles spoke to him softly, calmingly, and Larry began to relax just a little.

"You wanna ride along?" the technician asked him. "You're one of the teachers, right? Probably know most of these kids?"

"Yes, I was on the faculty," Giles answered. Sunnydale High hadn't been a large school. Over time, he'd learned many of the students' names, mostly from hearing his own kids talk. Larry had once been spoken of as a tormentor--a big, rough boy, one of the lords of the school. What did they call them? Yes, a "jock"--that was it. Larry had been instrumental in helping to plant the fertilizer bombs that would destroy Mayor Wilkins. Now he held on to Giles's hand with desperation, as one might cling to anything, in a stormy sea, that would keep one afloat. "And yes, I think I ought to."

Larry's eyes, even blurred with tears, held a look of gratitude. Inside the ambulance, the technicians continued to do their work, and Giles stroked Larry's cheek, the boy's hands now taken up by medical equipment, most of his head engulfed by a restraint. Giles continued to talk of nothing in particular. Larry's eyes drifted shut, though tears still leaked out beneath the sandy lashes. He understood enough of the medical talk to know the boy's injuries were truly dreadful--there was blood, a great deal of it, and shattered bone. Larry might never be able to walk again, though actually the fact that he continued to feel pain could be taken as a good sign.

At the hospital, one of the nurses asked him if he was Larry's father, but the Chief Resident called him by name. "Mr. Giles, we don't normally see you standing."

"Unscathed this time," he answered.

"This isn't one of your usual kids."

"This is Larry...ah...Larry." Giles realized that he'd never known the boy's last name.

"We'll take good care of you, Larry. I'm Dr. Valentine. We're gonna take a quick look and then send you upstairs to surgery, and Mr. Giles can come see you after that, okay?"

Larry's lips moved. Giles touched him one last time, and wished the boy, quietly, "Godspeed," before he was whisked away.

The Casualty Ward--no Emergency Room, he reminded himself (funny, really, how the vocabulary of his old life lingered)--had begun to fill. He moved amongst the young patients, some walking wounded, some in agony, some only too still, giving comfort and encouragement where he could. They were frightened, in pain, obviously suffering the shock of what they'd done, and what they'd seen. For two-and-a-half years he'd been distant from them, a solitary figure shut away in a room they only visited when they had to collect their new books at the start of each quarter.

Now, oddly, he felt very close to them all, and they seemed almost embarrassingly glad to see him, absurdly grateful for adult comfort. Giles knew that he had done what was needed, but he wished, fervently, that he'd been able to fight alongside them. They were brave, so terribly brave, and he discovered, in a strange way, that he loved them. Their names, now, came clearly into his head. He promised to look in on them again, and to call their parents.

He could still hear Wesley, down the corridor, and found himself oddly annoyed. The Watcher had been left alone behind a curtain, far more severe casualties to be attended to immediately. Giles drew back the drape, saying, "Wesley, listen."

His words caught the younger man off guard. "To what?"

"Exactly." The sound of weeping came to Giles clearly, and a few soft moans. "They are barely more than children, only seventeen and eighteen years old, and what do you hear from them? Only this."

Wesley had lost his glasses, and his clear blue eyes looked up at Giles, oddly vulnerable. Giles lowered himself into the chair at the younger man's bedside, truly too exhausted to stand any longer.

"You need to learn to be quiet. Buffy would respect you better for it."

"As she respects you?" The Watcher gave a small laugh, then immediately pressed a hand to his ribs. "She doesn't respect you, man. She uses you when it's convenient, then does whatever the bloody hell she wants."

"I know," Giles answered, aware that the look he returned to Wesley was one of Ripper's looks, for the younger man averted his gaze at once. "I know her better than you can possibly imagine. That doesn't matter. I'm here to watch over her as best I can, not for her to watch over me."

For long moments, Wesley lay silent, then at last he said, "It all came out the way it was meant to: the demon destroyed, the Slayer living. The useless fool of a Watcher trampled over like a bloody throw rug."

Giles laughed softly. "Do you know what Xander gave me last year at Christmas? A bicycle helmet. I haven't a bicycle."

"The point being?" Wesley sounded irritated.

"The point being I've been hit on the head and knocked unconscious so many bloody times they all quite expect me to, in Cordelia's words, 'wake up in a coma.'"

"Wake up in...?" Wesley stopped, frowning.

"Yes, quite. But that's Cordelia, isn't it?"

The Watcher's frown faded slightly. "Weren't you somewhat...irked? By Xander's gift, I meant."

"Rather touched, really, though one must keep up the appearance of gruffness--for I understood that, in his own way, Xander intended the gift to say that he cared about me, and didn't want me to be hurt. We have become family to each other, you see." Giles paused, watching Wesley's face: the young man looked tired, in pain, and desperately unhappy. "It isn't easy for us to let others in."

"Especially those who try to enter so rudely, and with such blatant disregard for the feelings of all concerned." Wesley fell back on his pillow, shutting his eyes. "I come off as an awful prig, don't I? Naive, full of myself, prim, insensitive, a howling coward. All the best of the bloody British Empire."

"As the children say, 'don't beat yourself up.' I might have helped you here, and I didn't--in my own way, I was just as insensitive. I might have smoothed your path with Buffy a bit more--"

"You tried," Wesley said.

"Not so much as I should have. Had I showed you more respect, the children, to some extent, would have followed my lead."

"I was sent here to kill her," Wesley said bluntly. "Not in a direct way, of course. You know how we work. Not even through deviousness, or indirection. My uncle--"

"This would be Quentin Travers." Giles felt his face tighten.

Wesley, nodded, then gave a grimace of pain. "He so much as told me. I was to 'be myself.' Just that. Be myself. Which was intended to annoy you so much that you would back away. I was to rely on the Council's authority to make my orders law, which in turn would merely irritate Buffy."

"True enough," Giles agreed. "To date, they haven't done a great deal to command her respect, especially in the light of Cruciamentum."

"I watched the tapes," Wesley told him suddenly.

Giles found himself blushing, and said lightly, "I hope they excised the nude scenes."

The younger man looked faintly shocked.

"They put lenses in one's bedroom. One must still shower and change clothes occasionally." He found himself glancing at Wesley's trim physique, visible enough through the thin cotton hospital gown. At thirty he'd also had that perfectly flat stomach, but time had marched on, and the truth was, no matter how he trained, no matter how often he simply forgot to eat, he was forty-five years old and spent the bulk of his days sitting in a chair and reading. Chances were he'd never again know the joy of perfect muscle definition. As Willow had said before the prom, upon seeing him in his tuxedo, "Giles, you look really nice in clothes." And later, sharing with him the second-to-the-last dance, during which some of the other girls also danced with their chaperoning fathers, she'd stretched up far as she could on her little toes to whisper, God bless her, "You look way better in your tux than Angel does in his."

For she knew, or course, his wise young witch, the true depths of his love for Buffy. She knew, and yet would carry the secret as he needed her to, just as he carried it himself. She'd readily have foregone her own dance with him, had Buffy not been closely and passionately twined in Angel's arms, the most beautiful Giles had ever seen her in that lovely pink gown. Willow's small hand in his, her cheek resting lightly on his chest, had at least been some consolation that--in whatever way--he was loved.

"Mr. Giles?" Wesley said, and Giles realized that, for a long time, he must have been silent.

"What? Oh, sorry. And since I've already said the word, I do wish to apologize. For all of it."

"I should like to apologize, as well," Wesley responded formally, then added. "I intend to resign from the Watchers."

"Easier said than done," Giles told him. "Believe me, I tried. They keep hauling one back--until one's sacked, and even then they don't merely leave one alone to live one's life."

"But we aren't the same, are we--you're special, chosen, as Buffy was chosen, while I'm just some prat sent out to cock up a messy job no one else wanted."


"No, that's more or less what my Handler told me. That most of us are insignificant. We're sent out, we get killed, or we get our Slayers killed. I lost Faith, and I drove Buffy away from the Council."

A realization dawned. "I'd forgotten you were one of Em's kids--er--Candidates. She told me about you, but I hadn't connected."

"Nothing flattering, I'd imagine," Wesley responded, with astounding bitterness.

"It was back during the first year of your training, just before I left England. She said she'd a frail one, a prim one with a title, and a girl with the most alarming hair, and that she quite liked you all." Giles couldn't help but smile a little. "And you, I imagine, are the prim one with the title. Have you a title, Wesley?"

"Not that I'd care to share--my father's having a rare time drinking himself to an early grave, and the money's all gone, so he dies the estate will get eaten up by death duties, manor and all, and I'll be the Duke of Sod All. I've a bit of a trust fund from my mother's father, who'd money but no class--and that keeps me in suits and pays my expenses."

"I wondered how you lived--the Council not being notoriously generous. My family never had much money to start with, only heaps of arcane knowledge and the most dreadful sense of responsibility, which I'm afraid I only shared intermittently, and not at all during my youth. Em's family, you know, has pots of money, and a great old heap of stones down in Cornwall, near the sea. Did you know they're the only peers in England who pass their title down the female line? They did something of a vaguely appalling nature for the Virgin Queen, and were so rewarded."

"Then perhaps I should marry her," Wesley answered, no less bitter, and sounding tired, now, as well.

Giles rose, looking down at him. "Wesley, what is it?"

"Yet another thing I wanted that you've beaten me to. Maybe I can make a life for myself, picking up your leavings."

Giles didn't understand, but a nurse had entered, and he knew the time had come for him to depart. He touched Wesley's shoulder lightly.

"Be well," he said, and left to begin his calls to the families of the injured children.

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