Author: flyingcarpet, aka BeccaFran
Characters/Genre: Giles and Oz, gen
Summary: Several years post-"Chosen," Giles finds his role as watcher has evolved until it's almost unrecognizable, and he must change too or be left behind.
Author's Notes: Thank you to thistlerose for being an excellent beta, and for playing in Joss's sandbox with me. *hugs her*
"Yes, that's right," Giles confirmed. "Put out its eyes and the basilisk's power should be neutralized." He listened to Kennedy's response, crackly and indistinct on her cell phone, signal stretched halfway across the world. "Exactly," he said. "Well, good luck then."
The crackle of static cut off and he was left holding the receiver, no sound coming across the line. He set down the phone and went to put the kettle on.
The house settled and creaked around him, as if dissatisfied with his presence after centuries of staid, stern watchers. "Nonsense," said a voice in his head that sounded unsettlingly like Ethan. "That's just what you are, sitting at home by the phone on a Friday night: old and boring."
Giles looked around the room at the sturdy furniture he'd chosen with a houseful of slayers in mind -- girls who, as it turned out, preferred to live in their own messy little flats and dormitories. The kitchen was stocked with plates and forks enough for a dozen people, but he generally just used one setting, washing it carefully after each meal and leaving it to dry in time for the next one. The house was spacious and solidly built, hardwood floors and a brick fireplace, comfortable chairs and bookshelves lining the walls. He'd thought it would be a nice place for young people to live and work.
He hadn't thought that life as Head of the Council would be much different from that of a watcher -- that was wrong, though, like many other things.
The water in the kettle began to boil, and it let out a shrill whistle. Hands moving automatically, Giles picked up a mug from the dish drainer and filled it with water, his eyes watching the steam rise without quite seeing.
It was hard to believe that only ten years had passed since he was sent to Sunnydale, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eager to guide and instruct his young slayer. He was no idealistic child then -- had seen and done more things than most men his age could even imagine. But in the years since -- years of Jenny's death, and Buffy's, and Tara's and Joyce's and Anya's -- he felt he'd aged more than the entire rest of his life combined. Rupert had always thought of his father and the other senior watchers as impossibly old: frail and out of touch with the world, disconnected from even the work that they claimed to value so highly. After the last ten years, though, they didn't seem so very old at all.
Holding it with two hands, Rupert lifted the mug to his mouth and sipped carefully. Even the tea seemed tasteless. Then he looked down, into a cup full of steaming hot, clear water.
"Oh, for goodness' sake," he said aloud, and dumped the hot water into the sink. This was getting ridiculous. Yes, he was Head of the Council. Yes, he had a job to do. But nowhere in his job description did it say that he had to sit at home feeling sorry for himself all the time. He picked up his wallet, keys and a stake, and slipped on his leather jacket. He was going out.
If he must feel sorry for himself, at least he could do it with a pint in front of him.
It was cold in London, and a fine mist was beginning to settle in between the buildings. Rupert pulled his jacket close around him and tucked his hands in the pockets as he walked. Down the street he went, putting one foot in front of the other and watching the buildings pass by at a distance, as though he were standing still and they were moving past him.
He'd first come to London years ago, when he was younger even than Buffy was. Of course, he'd been there before, on school trips and theatre outings. But coming to live there for the first time -- he'd been utterly unprepared for it, ridiculously young and starry-eyed. He was convinced then that he was the hero -- the superhero of his own novel. That utter conviction was just another thing that had changed over time.
London itself had changed as well. The mohawked, safety-pinned punks were gone, angry, obscene boys with spray paint and cigarettes. His own days of running around with Ethan Rayne were gone too, gone with the cult of Eyghon, and good riddance.
The fog in London was the same, though, the fog and the crows and the cobblestones. Giles passed a cross-street he went by often during the day, and noticed a neon sign he'd somehow never seen before. LIVE MUSIC BEER FOOD it said, with an arrow pointing downwards. The faint sound of angry guitar was drifting up the street, and so Rupert changed course and walked towards it.
Rupert paid five quid in cover charges, and went on inside. Inside, the place was almost a time warp: thick smoke and heavy, loud music, dim lights and the odor of spilled beer. At the bar, he ordered a pint of lager, some horrible American brew, and tried not to be too conspicuous. He couldn't help but feel that it was a losing battle. Every person in the place was at least twenty years younger than he, and many of them were mere children. His beer arrived, and he sipped it slowly, pushing those thoughts away from his mind before they could arrive at their logical destination.
He remembered following Buffy to the Bronze in Sunnydale, being even more out of place there and not caring at all. He'd been following his mission then, his destiny, or at least that's what he'd believed. One girl in all the world to fight the forces of darkness, and he was her guide, her trainer, her watcher. Had been. His role now was of a more fluid nature, nothing so defined as a watcher, nothing so hands-on as the padded combat suit he used to wear.
The music ground to a halt and Rupert sat with his back to the crowd, drinking his beer. A young man slid onto the stool next to him and signaled for a drink.
"Hey," he said.
Giles looked up out of reflexive and long-trained politeness, expecting to see that the man was in fact speaking to the bartender or a friend. Instead, he saw a pair of bright amber eyes looking directly back at him, in a face that was open and calm and tilted to the side, under spiky hair that looked almost maroon. It was a familiar face.
"Oh, hello," Rupert replied, more than a bit surprised. He'd thought Oz had disappeared for good into the Mojave Desert, or some such place, never to be heard from again. Given the frequent tragedy of his life, he'd half expected that Oz was no longer among the living, when he'd given it any thought.
Oz nodded back in response and accepted what seemed to be a plain club soda from the bartender. Rupert noticed an army-green duffel bag and a worn guitar case at his feet, propped against the bar. He searched his mind for the appropriate thing to say to an acquaintance one had expected never to see again.
"How have you been?" he asked finally. "Well, I hope?"
Lips quirking in a little smile, Oz nodded. "Well," he said. "You?"
"Well enough," Rupert answered. Then, before he could let his judgment get the better of him, he asked, "You heard the news of Sunnydale?"
Oz nodded, solemn. Rupert waited for him to ask about casualties, braced himself to relate the list, but thankfully Oz was quiet again. They sat without talking for a minute or two, the hubbub of the bar filling in the empty space.
Rupert looked down toward his drink and past it, and noticed the duffel bag again. "How long have you been in London?" he asked.
"I have some extra room if, ah--" His sentence begun, Rupert was unsure of how to finish it. For a moment, he felt as though this was all horribly improper, as though he was a dirty old man taking advantage. But Oz grinned in response and agreed, and Rupert felt reassured. He left a few pounds on the bar, Oz picked up his duffel and guitar, and they left the bar together.
In the low light, Oz's eyes had a dim yellow glow, and Rupert was reminded again that this was no helpless youth to be taken advantage of. There were a hundred things that could have happened in the years since they'd seen each other last, and most of them were not good. Rupert touched the stake in his pocket, then gripped it for reassurance, and hoped he wasn't making a terrible mistake.
They arrived at the steps of Rupert's new home, and the Council's new headquarters. On the outside, the house looked much like the others on the street, solidly built of heavy brown stone. It was large for a single occupant, but that was not unusual in this neighborhood; many of Rupert's neighbors were wealthy people who lived in houses just as large with only a maid or lapdog to keep them company. Most of the neighbors probably did not store antique battle-axes in their basements. This was a quiet neighborhood, and that was part of why he'd chosen it. He'd hoped that the quiet and normalcy could be a good cover, not expecting it to take him over in the way it seemed to have done.
Rupert led Oz up the stairs to the front door and unlocked it, then stood aside to let him enter, careful not to issue an invitation aloud. Oz stepped over the threshold without hesitation, and Rupert let out a grateful breath.
The feeling lasted no more than a moment, though, because as soon as he shut the door behind them, a female voice called his name from the rear of the house. "Giles?"
Rupert looked down and saw a single drop of blood on the smooth hardwood floor, vividly red against the grainy brown background. He pointed toward it to alert Oz, but when he looked up, Oz already had a stake in his hand.
"Hello?" Giles called cautiously.
"Giles?" called the voice again, and this time he could hear the familiar tones, laced with panic. "I-- something bit me and I don't know what it was and--"
In the living room there was more blood, and Giles followed the trail to the kitchen, moving at a run. If this was a trap, it was a well-baited one. But he did not find a trap.
Sitting on the kitchen floor, a dishcloth pressed to her leg above the knee, was Rona. Her dark hair was pulled back in a sleek ponytail, and Rupert could see the whites of her eyes all around her pupils, stark against her dark skin. In the wideness of her eyes and the tightness around her mouth there was something of a wild animal caught in a trap. There were streaks of blood on her gray hooded sweatshirt, and blood was smeared around her on the worn white kitchen tile. The first aid kit was open on the floor next to her, half its contents spilling out as though she'd rummaged through it in desperation.
"Are you all right?" Rupert asked, dropping to his knees at her side and pushing the first aid box out of the way so he could get a closer look.
"I'll live," Rona said, looking away as Rupert cut her sweatpants away from the wound. "Who's he?"
"Rona, Oz. Oz, Rona. He's a friend of Willow's from Sunnydale." Giles didn't even look up as he finished his task, then pulled the blood-soaked dishtowel away from Rona's leg. He did not worry about what kind of first impression this was, for either of them. "Clean towels are in the cabinet in the hall, Oz. Can you bring me a few, please?"
"Sure," came Oz's voice from above.
"You said something bit you?" Giles asked Rona, examining the wound as blood seeped sluggishly from it and ran down the side of her thigh, red against her dark skin, recalling the appearance of the drop on the hardwood floor near the door. Rona's skin was ripped and torn, and the flesh beneath was wounded as well. The marks were certainly consistent with a bite, Giles decided.
"Here." Oz pressed towels into Rupert's hand, then stepped back a pace. Rupert pressed a towel to Rona's wound and glanced up at Oz to thank him. Oz's eyes were shining yellow in the low light, and Rupert looked away again without unspeaking, unsettled. Just what -- or who -- had bitten his slayer?
"It was definitely a demon," Rona said, and launched into a description. Rupert cleaned her wound as she talked, wiping up the blood as he worked so he could see what he was doing, applying adhesive sutures to hold the skin together and taping on a thick white bandage over it all. From above him, he could hear the sound of a pen scratching against paper, and he knew that Oz was taking notes on her story.
When he was done, he helped Rona up to a standing position and she hobbled over to the refrigerator, leaning heavily on the counter for support. "Thanks, Giles," she said. "Got anything to eat? I'm starving."
"Help yourself," he said, amused at the sudden change of attitude. He wet another towel and tried to mop up the smears of blood on the floor. The room smelled of copper even to his untrained human nose, and he tried not to think of how it would smell to a werewolf, or how it might affect him.
He put the kettle on for the second time that evening, and walked into the living room to find Oz standing near a bookshelf in the corner, looking at the titles. Now that he had the time to notice it, he could see that it was not only an effect of the bar's dim lighting: Oz's hair was actually tipped with maroon streaks.
The room was lit only by a couple of small lamps and the light in the front foyer that Rupert had switched on when they arrived. Outside, the streets were dark and full of fog. It was quite late, at the hour which was nearly morning, and Rupert was faced with a wounded slayer to nurse and a hungry demon to identify. It was quite a different night than he'd pictured for himself a few hours earlier.
There was a question in Rupert's mind, one that he was not quite sure how to phrase. Once again, he fell back on courtesy to cover his own discomfort. "You've been well?" he asked, repeating his earlier question. "No -- no problems?"
"I'm good," Oz said, for all the world as if he had just been offered a cold drink or the like. "Under control."
Rupert cleared his throat and looked down. "Under control?" he repeated. "You know I hate to ask, Oz, but--"
"You should ask," Oz said evenly. "I know what I am. But it wasn't me. I haven't lost time for nearly three years now. But you should always ask."
When Rupert looked up, Oz was looking right at him, meeting his gaze with steady eyes. He looked calm and contained, not at all like a man who'd just been accused of some heinous crime. Not the way he himself might react in such a circumstance. It was not so much Oz's denial that reassured him, but his insistence that asking was appropriate. I know what I am, he'd said.
"That's wonderful news," Giles said sincerely.
"Yeah," Oz said with his small smile.
"The extra bedrooms are upstairs, if you'd like me to show you..."
"Sure," Oz replied. "That's great. Thanks, Giles."
"You're quite welcome," Giles answered automatically. "Stay as long as you like." As he said it, he realized it was true.
"That would be good," Oz said simply. "I kinda missed this stuff."
Rupert smiled to himself. How many years had it taken him to learn the wisdom of that statement?
"I've heard some things," Oz said. "About slayers. Rona's not the only one, is she?"
"Buffy is in Rome, and Faith in the States," Giles said, answering the unspoken question. "There are five in London, and more around the world. We are discovering others all the time."
They had reached the top of the stairs, and he led Oz to the first room, a neat, plain dormitory of a room with a twin bed and plain furnishings. "We could certainly use your help," he told Oz.
Oz leaned his guitar against the wall and dropped his duffel nearby on the floor. "Happy to help," he said. "I want to find this thing."
Downstairs, the kettle was boiling and the books were waiting with their answers carefully hidden away, if only temporarily. Giles had a tin of biscuits in the cupboard, and they could make some sandwiches, fuel for the research they were about to do.
Rupert rolled up his sleeves, not even noticing the specks of blood that stained the cuffs. "Let's get to work then, shall we?"