Transformations - Chapter 4

Giles dreamed of The Factory, that dangerous half-burnt ruin where Cordelia had been so badly injured, and he'd come terribly close to following Jenny into death.

In his sleep, he often visited that place when he felt most helpless, or overwhelmed--when he was struggling against the nearly unbearable desire to lash out with lovely, soul-freeing violence. That was something Buffy didn't realize, and that he hoped she never would discover: it wasn't just Ripper; Rupert liked to fight, always had done. At school, and at Oxford, he'd played rugby, which nearly amounted to the same thing--a game like American football without any of the protective padding. He'd trained with weapons, formally, and less formally, had quite a reputation, in his youth, as a street-fighter. He'd always enjoyed the way that a spot of violence shut off the worrying, guilt-stricken part of his brain--and since Sunnydale provided a never-ending stream of evil creatures that must, at any rate, be defeated, he was able to indulge that particular taste with very few pangs of conscience.

What Giles hated, utterly, was to be out of control. His dreams of The Factory often included Angelus's cruel face, his mocking, taunting voice. Buffy had never understood how difficult it was for him even to share breathing space with Angel--though of course the vampire did not breathe, not really--that even to look at Angel's somber visage, or to hear the subdued tone in which he spoke, kept alive the torturous memories of unstoppable loss and complete humiliation.

And so, it surprised him to dream of The Factory, and not have Angelus appear.

He walked silently through the darkness, hearing the ghosts of voices, words he could not quite make out. In younger days he'd seen ghosts quite clearly, but now rarely did--he certainly never saw Jenny, but then, why should he? She'd been a practical woman, not one to cling to a life she must have known only too clearly that she'd left behind. His own stupid assumptions at the spirit manifestation of James Stanley and Grace Newman more than a year before had been only that--the foolish, disordered thoughts of a grieving mind.

In dreams, however, the ghosts appeared again. A little girl in a white dress drifted before him, luminous in the inky room, where the filmy curtains of Drusilla's bed still stirred softly in a phantom wind. The child picked up Drusilla's half-burnt dolls, laying them carefully, in a row, on the stained mattress.

"What are you doing?" Giles asked her, with curiosity.

"The dollies all got spoilt," she answered, her eyes meeting his, the colour of snow in moonlight. Giles knew her at once, though he hadn't seen her for many, many years.

"Yes, they certainly did. How are you, Clarice?"

She covered her mouth with her hands, giggling a little, then answered. "I'm dead, Rupert. You know that."

"Yes, dearest."

She'd only been three months at school when their father came for her--and for Marianna, their elder sister--in the night. An emergency, he'd told the headmistress. Imperative that the girls return home at once. Only a day, at any rate, before the school broke up for the Winter Holidays. They must come now. Their mother...

The creature that wore their father's face had manufactured tears, and the headmistress patted his cold, unliving hand before she'd hastened away to fetch the sleeping sisters from their beds.

Rupert thought of them, Clarice and Marianna, lying somewhere out in the country alone. He thought of their pale eyes, so much like own, staring up into the December-bare branches of a weeping willow tree.

It was not, after all, a white dress that Clarice wore, but her little flannel nightgown.

Clarice wriggled up onto the bed, touching the mattress beside her with an ethereal hand. "Come sit beside me, Rupert, do."

He sat, and Clarice leaned against his arm. She'd been his favorite, always. Marianna, the eldest, had been bossy in the way that only a twelve-year-old could be: a girl who stated her opinions in no uncertain terms, and when crossed, was not above resorting to physical violence. She'd been a devil at games, Giles recalled, and had trained him better in the art of resisting pain than the Watchers ever could--when he was nine and Marianna was eleven, she'd broken his nose with her field hockey stick, then whacked him another one, even harder, for blubbing. And he'd loved her. Loved both of them.

One of his earliest, sweetest memories involved leaning over Clarice in her little cot, touching her nearly-transparent fingers and toes, watching the perfect bow of her mouth open. He couldn't, given the difference in their ages, have been more than three or four at the time.

"You got old, Rupert," Clarice told him. "You look exactly like our dad."

Giles smiled, knowing what she said was true: that he no doubt appeared old to her eternally childish eyes, and that he now resembled their father at the time of his death even more uncannily that his own son, Sebastian, resembled him. "I know," he told her quietly.

"What is this place? How did it get burnt?"

"It's an old factory. I burnt it."

"One oughtn't burn things, Rupert. Did you get into trouble?"

"I was already in trouble, love. Burning this factory made it no worse."

"You sound like dad, too." Clarice crawled up into his lap. Instinctively, Giles held her: she weighed nothing, and her body felt cool and insubstantial, like water and moonlight. Her dark head rested without pressure against his chest. "Why did you let yourself get old?"

"It just, eventually...happened," he answered.

"Well, it shouldn't." Clarice glanced up, speaking to him with a seven-year-old's sternness. "If you can make yourself young again, then you can get what you want, but if you go about acting like an old man, you never shall."

"Clarice, you don't understand," he told her.

"She's very pretty, isn't she?" his sister responded, proving, in fact, that she understood very well indeed. "Prettier than mum, even. Marianna and I quite like her."

"Have you been watching, then?"

"That's what we are, in our family. That's what we do." She slipped out of his arms, down from the bed, reaching out a hand to lead him. "Come now. Quickly. Before the bad girls get here."

Every step Giles took made Clarice and The Factory fade a bit more, until he was lying sprawled on the sofa in his own flat, the shadow of a mountain of books cast across his face, the dream--or vision, whatever it had been--still clear in his mind.

Wishful thinking, he told himself. Nothing you can do will take away twenty-seven years, even if you wanted it to.

Still, when he went upstairs to shower and change clothes, Giles did not dress himself in his usual tweed, or even the open-necked shirt and jacket he'd begun, still with some reluctance, to adopt more recently. Instead, he chose another sort of apparel entirely.

Buffy sat on the bench beneath the gnarled oak tree and waited for Giles to come--she'd decided he would be drawn to this place, the same way she had been. After all, he'd practically lived here for the past three years--ten o'clock, eleven, even midnight, if she'd wanted him, she'd known to try the library instead of his home. He'd be there, working on something for her, to keep her safe.

He said you didn't need a Watcher anymore. Cordy's words echoed in her head. Cordy said she'd called Giles a big loser, still hanging around after he was fired by the Council. What if he'd taken that to heart?--he did, sometimes, take things to heart, not that he'd ever say anything. He didn't brood, like Angel, and he was the opposite of selfish--but he had a lot of time alone, to think about stuff, and she knew he still missed home.

What if, like Cordy said, he really was planning to go? What if he really, really thought she didn't need him? And not that he'd been fired or anything, but she kind of wondered if a librarian still had a job after he'd armed all the students to kill their commencement speaker, and blown up his own library. He might have problems with immigration, Willow had said, and she'd looked worried.

It was funny--although she always thought of Giles as English--how could she not?--she forgot what that meant. It was more a quality, like saying Willow was a red-head, or Oz was a musician, or Cordy was spoiled. She forgot what it really meant, that he was from another place, and only had the right to stay here as long as the government said it was okay--and forget for a minute planting bombs (they were really quite a pair, weren't they?--he'd blown up a library, she'd burned down a gym, keep the two of them away from school property). The government didn't like it if you were a foreigner and didn't have a job.

She didn't know what his plans were, that's what it boiled down to. She hadn't asked, hadn't thought about it, hadn't--if she wanted to tell the truth--even cared.

What had that guy from the Council, Travers, said? That Giles would be dealt with, if he interfered. Well, it had been her decision to quit, but he'd backed her up. That was interfering, all right. And what better way to deal with him than forcing him to leave her? The Council hadn't thought twice about dragging Faith off to England, and she was an American citizen. With Giles, all they'd have to do was push a few papers and he'd be on the next plane out of there--and maybe that's what he wanted anyway. Maybe he was already gone, and that's why she couldn't find him. Maybe he hadn't been allowed to, or maybe he just hadn't been able to say goodbye.

She thought of him at the Prom, looking so proud of her, the proudness just shining out of him. He'd looked adorable in his tux, she had to admit, and for a minute, standing there with her Class Protector award in her hands, Giles smiling down on her, she'd thought of asking him to dance. She wished she had. It would have been nice to feel his arms around her. They hardly ever touched except in the course of training--but whenever he did, in real life, he was always so gentle, like she wasn't the Slayer, like she was something precious, or made of glass. Even when they trained, she suspected that he held back, that she always won so easily because, although he wanted her to learn, he was terrified of hurting her.

"I'll do anything to win back your trust," Giles had told her, the night of that horrible test, and he'd proved that, hadn't he? That he'd do anything for her: take care of Angel, go back to the mansion--for a minute, as they crossed the threshold, he'd had the strangest look on his face, one she'd never seen before, and didn't understand--even back her up when she told the Council to go to Hell. She didn't know much about the Council, just that they hadn't been a whole heaping lot of help, but Giles did. She guessed he knew how they'd handle the news, and it wouldn't be good, but he'd stuck with her anyway.

It was getting toward sunset, the sky all golden, red and bruised-purple. The school looked so different, the grounds like an explosion at a folding chair factory, all the windows blown out and the library just a big pile of rubble, broken concrete, jags of wood, splinters of tile. While Buffy watched, a man came poking around the edges. She pulled back into the shadow of the oak, so that he wouldn't notice her. She only saw him from behind: he was tall, dressed in jeans and a blue polo shirt, and the way he moved was powerful, confident. An unconscious part of her mind registered: nice shoulders, really nice butt--but she still didn't want to be seen, or to talk to a stranger. She wanted Giles.

After a while, the man left. By that time, night had fallen all the way.

Buffy decided she'd stop home for her jacket and supplies, then go on patrol. She didn't expect much action, not after the previous day's blowout, but it was better to be sure. She'd swing by Giles's place again; he might easily have come home in the time she'd been waiting. For sure, he was too smart to be hanging around here at night. Maybe he'd even left a message on her answering machine, to tell her where he'd be. She needed to see him.

At her house on Revello Drive, her mom still wasn't home, but then she wouldn't be, not until morning. She'd set up some sort of buying trip for the gallery after Buffy told her to get out of town. The only message on the recorder was from her dad, saying, "Oh, honey, I'm sorry--was your Graduation this weekend?" She pushed the erase button without listening to the rest of what her dad had to say, muttering, "Giles, Giles, where are you?" She called his number, got the machine and left a message--maybe he was just screening his calls.

With her jacket on and a duffel of weapons, she took off. Giles's place was dark, but she tried knocking anyway, quietly at first, then louder. Finally, loud enough to wake the dead. There still wasn't any answer.

"Fine," she muttered, and stomped away, down the stairs. She marched all around Sunnydale's twelve graveyards and didn't see a thing. Big old fat waste of time. The Bronze was closed for the next two nights, and when she stopped by Willow's house she found Oz's van parked out front, with weird sounds coming from the inside.

Buffy had to smile a little at that: the sounds weren't really so weird; she knew what they meant.

She crossed the street to Xander's, and almost knocked, but she could hear yelling, then Xander's voice sounding high and anguished. "Dad! Please, Dad!" and the noise of breaking glass. Xander came bombing out the door, right past her, not even noticing she was there.

"Xand?" Buffy called, but her friend kept going. She'd suspected, for awhile, the kind of things that went on at his house, even though Xander never talked about them. In the old days, before Oz, he'd have gone over to Willow's. He'd have gone to The Bronze, or to the library, to hang out with Giles until he fell asleep with his face in a book--she knew that, because lots of times she'd come in to report after a weird patrol and find Xander there with his head on the table, a book scooted out just beyond him, so it wouldn't get scrunched or drooled on, and a blanket draped around Xander's shoulders. Giles would take her into his office, and they'd talk quietly so as not to disturb him.

There wasn't anything else to do, and so she went home. When she woke up in the morning, her mom was there, and the house smelled of waffles.

"Good morning, sleepyhead!" Joyce called to her, with a sweet, bright mom-smile. "I can still say morning since its--" She glanced at her watch. "Five minutes 'til noon."

"When did you get in?" Buffy slid up onto one of the bar stools at the counter and her mom handed her a glass of fresh-squeezed juice.

"Just after nine. I peeked in on you, but you were still deep in dreamland." Joyce's forehead wrinkled a little. "I've just been reading in the paper. Oh, honey!"

"Can I see?" She glanced at the lead story: typical Sunnydale Gazette. It said that Mayor Richard Wilkins III had been tragically killed, along with Sunnydale High Principal Ralph Snyder and several of the student body, including Harmony Kendall, daughter of prominent local businessman Samuel Kendall, when a leaking gas pipe exploded beneath the school library. No mention of the mayor turning into a sixty-foot snake, who then ate Principal Snyder. No mention of a pitched battle, students versus vampires, or of Harmony having all the blood sucked from her body. No mention of the mild-mannered school librarian planting fertilizer bombs and blowing up his own library, thereby splattering said demon serpent to kingdom come.

"That wasn't really what happened, was it?" Joyce said, clinging to her coffee as if for warmth and comfort, instead of to drink.

Buffy shook her head, and told her. The whole truth, even the part about Angel. She had the hardest time saying what she'd done to Faith, and even then she couldn't go into the details. That was awful, and wrong. Faith was dangerous, crazy, and she had to be stopped, but not the way Buffy had done it, and not for those reasons.

Joyce got a look that was lost and sad. She kept going back and forth to the waffle-iron, making waffles and stacking them on a plate, like she wanted to fix comfort food for the world. She didn't say anything until Buffy finished.

"Poor Faith," she said then, shaking her head. "What will become of her?"

"Cordy said Wes told her they sent his boss over, from the Watchers' Council. He was nervous about it, about seeing her--'cause she's one of the bigwigs, and really tough, I guess. I felt kinda bad for him, but I'm not going back to them."

"Is that wise, Buffy? You might need..."

"I don't think they're the good guys, Mom. Giles says it's like playing chess to them, sometimes. They don't mind sacrificing a pawn. That would be me."

"I got that," Joyce answered.

"Can I actually have one of those waffles? 'Cause I'm kinda hungry, and you look like you're saving them for the starving children in India."

Joyce gave a sad little laugh and fixed one of the waffles just the way Buffy liked it when she was feeling bad, with lots of butter and maple syrup. She poured her daughter another glass of juice. "If you've had blood loss, you need to drink extra liquids. I'm going to be pushing them for the next few days, except--" Joyce blushed a little. "I have to go out of town again. Can you forgive me?"

"What, you've joined the Rosenberg Travel Club?"

Her mother looked at her, confused.

"Sorry. Bad joke. Yes, I'll be okay. Buffy's a big girl, she can take care of herself."

"I'd bring you with me, but--"

"I know, I know. Your daughter's Hellmouth girl. Honestly, Mom, don't worry. I'll be good, I'll drink my juice, I won't have any parties. Anything else?"

"Everyone's all right, aren't they? Willow, and Xander, and...umn, Mr. Giles."

"Umn, Mr. Giles is fine, Mom--at least he was last time I saw him, which was a couple days ago. You know, if you like him, why don't you just say something?"

"Of course I like him. He's a lovely man, very..."


"Well, yes, British. And...and nice."

"And not a robot," Buffy teased, "Which makes a good change for you. Maybe you two could find another police car, have a romantic weekend?"

Joyce blushed furiously. "I can't believe he told you about that!"

"He didn't. Remember that time I could read people's minds?" She leaned across the counter and tapped her index finger against her mom's forehead.

"Oh!" Joyce went even redder.

"So I made an off-handed remark to Giles and he ran into a tree. Walking, not driving, which was good. It was all pretty funny." But it wasn't, really, the more she thought about it--sure it was fun to tease Giles, and to tease her mom, but she didn't really want them getting romantic. She didn't want them together.

Because he wasn't Joyce's; he was hers. Her Watcher. Her friend. Her...

"Mr. Giles respects me," Joyce was saying, "And he really is a nice man--when he isn't being a teenaged hoodlum--but I don't think you should make too much of it."

Buffy ate some waffle, waiting for her mom to go on.

"We talked, not very long ago. Before I went out of town, in fact. I wanted to know if I should actually go, if my being here would really hamper you. From the things he said, it seemed clear that he's...ah...involved with someone else. And Buffy--" Joyce blushed again. "I'm getting involved somewhere else too."

"That's great, Mom," she said, honestly surprised. "Can I meet him? I promise not to get drastic this time, and kill him, or throw him down the stairs--unless he actually is an evil demon or something."

Joyce laughed. "I learned my lesson there. No, I think it'll be all right, and I'll tell you more when I get back."

"Ooh, mom being mysterious! Is this a good or bad sign?"

"Good, I hope." Joyce spread strawberry jam on a waffle of her own. "I hope it's very good."

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