[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Part two of two

Episode Seven: Restructuring

by eep


Lydia woke up sprawled on the bed, the sheets tangled around one leg. The comforter somehow found a new home on the floor during the night, and neither pillow lay under her head. Her head, naturally, pounded.

She rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, grinding them into her face to keep the sunlight out. Why did morning have to come so soon? And why did it have to be so bright?

Mustering all her strength, she rolled from her back onto her side and looked at the bedside table. A tumbler sat in the middle, a ring of crimson lining the bottom of the glass. Her glasses perched on one corner atop her latest guilty pleasure paperback—Bayou Nights. The clock was nowhere to be seen.

Lydia groaned and pushed herself to the edge of the bed. Her head lolled over the edge, taking in the mess on the floor. Two empty bottles of shiraz, a flattened bag of honey barbecue flavor corn chips, and the clock, now blinking 4:27 over and over.

“Blast,” she sighed. There was no way to tell what time it was without getting up. And getting up was the last thing she wanted to do.

A half hour later she had willed herself into a sitting position, her feet planted firmly on the ground. Shower, deodorant, toothpaste. Not in that order. Sometime in the next three hours. Lydia moaned quickly and pushed herself off the mattress. For a moment she stood solid, but then the room began to spin. Her hand shot out to grab the nightstand for support, and she promptly knocked her glasses onto the floor.

She dropped to her knees to recover her glasses, then decided to stay low. The sun couldn’t catch her down there.

Wait. If there are no shadows, the sun must be passed over. It must be after ten already.

She shuffled across the floor on her knees and groped at the top of her dresser. After finding a hairbrush, more bobby pins than she knew she owned, and a tube of lipstick, she grabbed her cell phone. She turned the power on and was immediately greeted with a message on the LCD screen: voice mail.

Lydia keyed in her code and slumped against the dresser, pressing the tiny phone to her ear.

“Thursday, nine oh three ay-em,” the electronic voice sang at her. A beep, and the message kicked in.

“Lydia, this is Quentin Travers. I’m at LAX with a delegation from the Council. We need to meet with you, Harris, and the Slayers. Our connecting flight to Sunnydale should get us there by eleven-thirty. Meet us at Rupert Giles’s shop at noon.”

That was it.

Lydia sat in shock for a moment, then frantically pressed the keypad. The LCD screen lit up again. “No new messages. 11:58.”

Suddenly her hangover was gone. “Bugger! Bugger!” She threw the phone at the bed and dove into her dresser for some fresh clothes. “Bugger!” Within seconds she stood in the bathroom, brushing her teeth while frantically trying to tame her bedhead with the brush in her other hand. “Bugger!” she cursed through a mouth of toothpaste. “Bugger!’ She pulled on fresh clothes while the toothbrush still protruded from her mouth. In the course of three minutes she dressed, washed up, and dashed out the front door.

The cell phone lay forgotten on the bed.


“Does anyone know how many cases of Wild Berry Incense we have in storage?” Giles asked, not looking up from his price sheets.

Buffy and Xander sat at the Magic Box’s round table, Xander’s nose buried in a demon encyclopedia while Buffy poured over the latest trends in Glamour. Xander was too engrossed in his reading to respond.

Faith looked up from straightening a display of idols. “I think we have two more.”

Giles leaned on the counter, fiddling absently with his pen. “Yes, yes, thank you, Faith,” he muttered, scribbling into a column on his spreadsheet. “That should be enough to get us through this quarter.”

Xander looked up at her and smiled. “You really spend too much time in here, you know that?”

Faith returned his smile and shrugged. “Hey, it’s something to do.”

“We have got to get you a social life,” he joked, looking back at his book.

“You’re one to talk, Mr. Bookworm.”

“Just call me Squirmy Wormy,” Xander’s eyes grew wide and he hunched over the book. “And that was the lamest thing I’ve ever said.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Buffy replied, a slight smile playing on her lips.

The bell tinkled as the door below it opened, and Faith turned to greet their only customers. “Can I help. . . ”

Her voice trailed off. Giles looked up to see why. His pen fell from his fingers. “Quentin. What a surprise.”

Buffy and Xander immediately dropped their reading and jumped up, turning in unison towards the door. There, standing in the entranceway, stood Quentin Travers and a dozen Council representatives.

Xander gulped and crossed the store to shake Quentin’s hand. “Nice to see you again, Sir.”

Quentin smiled warmly at his newest Watcher and shook his hand. “How have you been, Harris? All going well, I take it?”

“Yes, sir. Lydia and I have been busy with Faith’s training, and we have a lot to report. If that’s what you want,” he added quickly. His eyes flashed across the rest of the group, none of whom he recognized except for Niamh. Xander felt his face growing hot and quickly turned back to Quentin.

“We’ll have to take a look at it,” he replied, his eyes drifting past Xander into the shop.

Buffy already took her place at Giles’s side, both their arms folded across their chests, their faces set in masks of contempt. Faith slumped against a bookcase on the wall, her arms supporting her weight behind her. Otherwise the store was empty. “Is Lydia not here?” Quentin asked.

Xander looked at him, one eyebrow raised. “I haven’t seen her since last night. We had a meeting of the minds, and then she went home to do some more work.” Xander’s lighthearted banter sounded forced, even to himself.

“Ah, that’s Lydia,” a man with graying hair sighed wistfully.

Xander looked the man over. “You know Lydia?”

“We go back several years.” He extended a hand to Xander. “I don’t believe we met while you were in England. Magnus Bellingham.”

Xander nodded, then stepped back to take in the group. The Council representatives stood in two neat lines, all starched collars and sensible shoes. Xander gulped and rubbed his hands together. “So, what can we do for you?” He gestured to the people behind Quentin. “This looks important.”

The Council party made its way into the center of the shop. “Yes, it is,” Quentin said, his eyes roaming over the merchandise. “But I’m afraid we’ll have to wait for Lydia to arrive to explain everything. She’s rather central in all this.” He stopped near the desk, looking over the books. Xander noticed Quentin’s gaze fall on the fashion magazine, and then over to Buffy.

“Miss Summers, how have you been?” Nothing about Quentin’s question sounded sincere.

“Fine. You?”

Xander felt his stomach tighten. Something about this whole setup seemed wrong, and he knew it teetered on the verge of getting ugly. “So, coffee, anyone?” he asked, walking back to position himself between the Council and his friends. He looked from the Council to Giles and Buffy. “Anyone?”

The bell above the door tinkled again, and all eyes turned to the entrance. Lydia wobbled in the doorway, her hair pulled back in a sloppy twist and the cardigan of her sweater set hanging halfway off her shoulder. “Oh!” she moaned softly, worry streaking across her face as she took in the scene before her. She rushed across the room at the Council members and thrust a hand out to Quentin. “I’m so sorry I’m late,” she gushed. “Have you been waiting long?”

“No, we only just got here,” he replied, taking in her disheveled appearance. “I see it hasn’t taken long for you to adopt the Calfornia dress.”

She looked down at her drawstring skirt, slide shoes, and bare legs. “Ah, yes,” she faltered. “Much more. . . casual. . . here, than in London.”

“I should say so.”

Lydia sucked in her lips, a flush creeping up from her tank sweater and onto her neck. “How was your trip?” she offered.

“Fine, fine,” Quentin said, his attention turning back to the others. “But now that you’re all here, I think it’s best we get down to business.”

Giles glared slightly and pursed his lips. “Yes, let’s.”

The Council members settled themselves around the table or perched near countertops, clearing a space on the floor for Quentin. Xander saw Faith sliding away from Niamh. While everyone arranged themselves, Xander took advantage of the momentary rustling to take a place beside Faith. He nudged her arm with his elbow. “You okay?” he whispered.

She looked paler than normal. Her eyes squinted slightly at Quentin, the dark circle of skin underneath crunching up slightly. She nodded, then swept her gaze across the swarm of Council members that flanked one side of the store.

Quentin cleared his throat. “We’re here today to recognize the many years of hard work and dedication that Rupert Giles has given to the Watcher’s Council. As you all know, he is a third-generation Watcher, and, not counting his absence, he has been in active duty with one consecutive Slayer longer than any other Watcher on record.”

Here Quentin paused as some of the Council members broke into light applause. Xander’s eyes darted to Giles, whose eyes narrowed in suspicion at Quentin.
“Rupert’s methods of training and supervision may seem unorthodox to many of us at Council Headquarters, but his tactics have proven nothing but sucessful, and so we must congratulate him on a job well done.”

Again, light applause filled the room. Travers held up his hand and the patting of palms ceased.

“However, while Rupert Giles’s work with Buffy Summers has been beyond our expectations, his current physical state prohibits full training of the Slayer as called for by Council standards. Therefore, we regret to announce Rupert Giles’s retirement from the Council of Watchers, plus benefits, effective immediately.”

“What!?” yelled Giles.

He moved forward to confront Quentin, but Buffy beat him to the older man. She shoved him in the chest with the flat of her hands, knocking him backwards into the table. “I don’t know what you’re trying to pull --”

Xander raced to the table without thinking, and only after he began pulling her away from Quentin did he realize three other pairs of hands held his friend back. He looked down at where his hands gripped Buffy’s forearm, then trailed up the length of her arm to her face. Rage seeped from every pore. Xander hadn’t seen her look so angry since, well, Acosta.

“Buffy, calm down,” Xander pleaded.

Her head turned sideways to face him, and as she realized who held her she stiffened. She wrenched her arm out of his grip and looked back at the Council head.

Quentin straightened himself up and turned to Giles. “Really, now, Rupert. After all these years I thought you finally got that girl under control.”

Now it was Giles’s turn to attack and he lunged forward to grab Quentin by the lapels. The men who held Buffy dropped her like a hot rock and dove for Giles, pulling him away from Quentin.

“Don’t you dare!” Giles shouted at him. “Don’t you dare come into my store and insult her!”

Quentin’s eyes locked on Giles, a look of mild annoyance crossing his face. “Now is that really called for? We didn’t come here to insult either of you. On the contrary, we’re quite glad for your years of service, Rupert. It’s just time the torch was passed. Buffy has reached a new stage in her Slayer duties, and we feel it’s best if a new Watcher takes over for this stage of her training.”

Buffy firmly planted a hand on her cocked hip, her voice thick with disgust. “And just who do you expect me to take orders from?”

“Due to Lydia’s continued efforts as a field Watcher here, we feel that she is best suited to take over as your Watcher. She has shown great promise during her stay here in Sunnydale, and her work here has only helped to hone her skills as a Watcher. We feel she will be a great asset to the Council, and to Buffy Summers.”

Lydia’s mouth hung open in shock. “Mr. Travers, you can’t be serious.”

“Why yes, I am. We’ve given this a great deal of thought, and your work here on the Hellmouth only solidified your status as our top choice.”

Lydia broke into a grin. “I. . . I’m speechless.”

Giles rubbed his forehead with his hand. “I don’t believe this.”

Quentin looked back at him. “I’m sorry, Rupert, but the decision is final.”

Giles stared at his former superior, anger eminating from him in waves. “You bastard. You arrogant, self-righteous bastard!”

Quentin held up his hands. “Rupert, honestly.”

“Shut up!” Giles shouted, striding back across the room toward the countertop. He stopped and leaned on it, his head dropping for a moment. “Do you have any idea how many years I’ve sat by quietly, listening to you spout your archaic beliefs and rules?” Giles turned back to the group, his composure regained. “You sit in your office, reading through old diaries, with absolutely no idea what it is that these women go through every day. And yet you feel that you somehow have the knowledge to dictate how they should live?”

“Yes, I do,” Quentin scoffed. “It’s not a matter of knowledge, Rupert, it’s a matter of right. After all, they are our employees. We pay them, and as such, we have decided that we need them to be in top form. Having a Watcher that cannot participate in training and fighting duties will only hinder Buffy Summers’s success.”

“I doubt your concerns are for Buffy,” Giles hissed. “You don’t care about anything but your appearance as the head of the Council. All my life, I’ve heard how the Council exists for the good of the Slayers. And I’ve played along even though I knew it was all rubbish. I’ve bitten my tongue, and I’ve done it for Buffy’s sake. But if you insist on following through with this ridiculous notion that Buffy needs a new Watcher, then why should I hold back? You, Sir,” Giles spat out, pointing straight at Quentin, “are an ignorant man who has no regard for how this decision will affect the life of the Slayer. All you care about is how good you look in front of your lackeys. Let me tell you, you look like a bloody fool. And when this decision to dismiss me as Buffy’s Watcher comes back to bite you in your ass, you can bet your life that I’ll be there to rub your face in your mistake!”

With that, Giles turned and marched out of the room, storming past Faith and slamming the door of the training room behind him. A moment later, the sound of the back door banging shut followed.

Quentin looked back at the Council representatives. “I gather from that sound that Mr. Giles has left us.”

Lydia stepped forward. “Mr. Travers, I’m so sorry about that. I can assure you, Mr. Giles has never acted like that before --”

“You bitch,” Buffy interrupted.

All heads turned to face her. Buffy stood alone between the Council and her friends, her body heaving with angry breaths.

The new Watcher stared at Buffy for a moment, shocked by her words. “What?”

“You heard me. You. Bitch.”

Lydia gaped at her for a few seconds more while the Council operatives began shifting uncomfortably. Her voice was soft when she spoke again. “Why would you say that?”

“You’re taking Giles’s job. And you’re happy about it.” Buffy spoke slowly, emphasizing every word with staccato exaggerations. Then her tone changed and her voice personified condescension. “You really are part of the Council, aren’t you?”

Lydia rocked back on her heels under Buffy’s words, and her hand gripped the back of a nearby chair for support.

“Miss Summers, I would like to remind you exactly who it is that signs your paycheck every month,” Quentin said. “Maybe you should rethink criticizing the Council when they’re the ones keeping you and your sister housed and fed.”

Buffy’s hands clenched and unclenched again and again. Xander turned to look at Faith, hoping she’d understand from his look that she might be the only one strong enough to tear Buffy away if she decided to throttle someone. The only question now was who: Quentin or Lydia?

Faith backed away from the group during the fighting and stood near the door to the training room, her hands wrapped around her shoulders. Her eyebrows furrowed down into a sharp V, and her gaze locked on Quentin. Immediately Xander went to her side.

“Hey, it’s gonna be okay,” he whispered.

Faith shifted her weight and cleared her throat loudly. “Um, what does this mean?” she asked curtly, breaking the tension in the room with her voice.

All eyes turned on her.

“Pardon?” Quentin asked.

“If Giles isn’t a Watcher anymore, what does this mean? Will he have to go back to England?”

Quentin looked at Buffy and Xander. “He once had a proper work visa. Has he been keeping up with it?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Giles isn’t stupid. He wouldn’t let that slide.”

Faith let go of the breath she was holding in.

Quentin ignored Buffy’s tone and turned to face the other Slayer. “Faith, I’m happy you spoke up. You’re a second reason why we’re here today.”


“As it was that the Council lost track of you for a few years, it seems that we were never able to properly initiate you as a Slayer. You see, there’s a test all Slayers must pass on their eighteenth birthdays --”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Buffy groaned from her quarter of the room.

“But due to past complications,” Quentin paused to glare at Buffy, “and the fact that you were not under Council supervision at the time of your eighteenth birthday, a new test has been prepared for you.”

“What, like a written test?” Faith asked. “Because I got my GED, but I don’t do so well on multiple choice.”

“No, not like that,” Quentin continued. “It’s more of a physical and mental trial for you to complete. Something like what Buffy went through.”

Buffy threw her hands up in disbelief and faced Xander. “You’re not going to let them go through with this, are you?”

Xander looked away, his eyes searching the ceiling, trying to buy himself enough time to stall her, to find the right words to explain it to her. But he couldn’t tell her -- not here. He looked back and bit his lower lip. “Buffy, I have to do this.”

Her nostrils flared slightly as she pulled her head back. “Fine. Fine. If that’s who you are now, then that’s that. But if you’re siding with the Council from here on out, then I hope you realize you’ve lost a friend.” Buffy turned on her heel and marched toward the front door.

“Buffy!” Xander shouted, running after her. “Buffy, wait!”

She ran up the stairs and yanked open the door, not bothering to look back as she slammed it behind her.

The room was silent save for the crazy ringing of the bell as it swung above the door.

Quentin finally cleared his throat. “Mr. Harris, I’m sorry things have to be this way.”

Xander jammed the toe of his shoe into the floor and turned back to the group. “Not as sorry as me, trust me.”

“You’re doing the right thing by working with us,” he continued.

He turned to Quentin, eyes blazing. “I’m going to be straight with you. If working with you means that you want me to knowingly put Faith in danger, then I’m quitting right now. I understand there are risks with her job, but I’m not going to let her get hurt if I can keep that from happening.”

Quentin sighed. “Mr. Harris, I assure you that we do everything in our power to keep our Slayers alive.”

“Gee, great. That’s comforting,” Faith muttered under her breath.

“Ah, Mr. Travers?” Lydia asked from the corner. “I don’t mean to seem overzealous, but when do my duties as Buffy’s Watcher begin exactly?”

Quentin smirked at her. “They actually began a few moments ago when I announced the change.”

“Oh! It seems I’m not doing a very good job so far,” she said, trying to apologize somehow for the war of words that just took place.

Quentin laughed bitterly. “Considering who your Slayer is, be glad you’ve managed this far.”

“I suppose I should try to find her.” She made her way past the group and began up the stairs towards the door.
“Ah, Lydia?” Xander said softly, catching her arm. “I don’t think that’s the best idea. We’re not her favorite people right now.”

“But I --”

His voice dropped lower. “Give her some time to cool off. She’ll need it.” He tried smiling at her.

She nodded, a slight gesture so that the Council members wouldn’t see. She turned to the group. “Everyone, it was wonderful to see you all again, and thank you so much for this opportunity. I’ll meet with you later, but if you’ll excuse me, please.” She pivoted back to the door, locked eyes with Xander for a split second, and left.

Quentin gestured for Xander and Faith to take seats at the table. “Now, let’s get on with business,” he said, smiling as they sat down.

Faith looked at her Watcher quickly, her eyes filled with worry and questions he couldn’t even begin to try answering. Quentin started talking, but Xander barely focused on him. Instead, one thought swirled around his brain over and over:

How could it all go so wrong so quickly?


Buffy paced the kitchen, darting back and forth from counter to counter like a wild animal trapped in a cage. How could this happen? How could Giles be forced to quit, and how could Xander just stand there and let it all happen? After everything Giles did for Xander, to have him turn his back on Giles?

And what on earth was he thinking, letting them test Faith? Didn’t he care what it might do to her?

“Um, Buffy?”

The voice snapped Buffy out of her thoughts, and she turned to find Willow and Oz in the doorway of the kitchen. “Yeah?”

Willow tugged on her fingers as she spoke. “Oz and I were thinking; if Xander shows up, we’re gonna stick around. Because we know you’re really pissed and all, but we don’t want you to kill him.”

“Oh, I’m not going to kill him,” Buffy said. “I’m just going to kill him.”

“That’s kind of what we’re afraid of,” Oz mumbled.

“I’m sure there’s an explanation for what he did,” Willow said, her face scrunching up with worry.

“It better be a damn good one,” Buffy grumbled.

Just then the back door opened and Xander stepped inside. As soon as he saw Buffy he stopped, one hand on the doorknob, one on the doorframe. Buffy glared at him and he stood halfway in and halfway out of the house.

“Speak of the devil,” Buffy quipped.

Xander looked from Buffy to Oz and Willow, then back at Buffy. “Um, can I talk to you?”

Buffy crossed her arms. “If you really think it will help.”

He walked into the room and shut the door. “Buffy, please, just hear me out.”

She raised an eyebrow and gave him her most withering stare.

Oz gestured over his shoulder to the living room with his thumb. “We’ll be in there.” Then, to Xander, he added “Yell if you need anything.” He left the room, and Willow gave Xander and Buffy both a weak smile before following him out.

Buffy turned slowly to look at Xander. “So? Talk.”

He cleared his throat and looked up at her, his eyes wide and sad. Buffy recognized the look. It was one he gave Anya whenever he messed up good and knew he better apologize if he didn’t want to end up sleeping on the sofa. It made Buffy feel a little better knowing he understood this situation called for that look.

“Buff, I’m sorry.”

“You better be.”

“Listen, you have to understand, I had to go along with what Quentin wanted.”

“Bull!” Buffy shouted, the calm-but-angry front breaking with her anger. “You don’t have to do a damn thing for those people! They don’t respect us. They come in here and bark orders, and they don’t even bother to ask if it screws any of us over. We’ve always done what we know is right, and it’s always worked out. So why are you doing what they say now? You know you don’t have to.”

“But I do,” Xander said softly. “I made an oath.”

“Hell with that!” Buffy gripped the countertop behind her, her fingers pressing into the formica. Better that than Xander’s neck. She closed her eyes, took a few deep breaths, and hoped she could regain her composure. “You know what the Council’s test did to me. I was weak, and I almost died because of them. So you mean to tell me that you’re willing to put Faith at risk because those people tell you to?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then why are you going along with it?” she asked, anger boiling to the surface again. “Don’t you have any sense of loyalty, Xander? To her, and to Giles?”

Xander’s jaw dropped. “Of course I do!”

“Well, you certainly have a funny way of showing it.”

“Buffy, please. Try to understand. I have to stick with the Council. But that doesn’t mean that I agree with them.”

She shook her head. “You know what Xander? I don’t understand. You’re gonna have to explain it to me a little better. Because right now you’re coming across as a real jackass.”

He sighed and leaned on the countertop, his head drooping. “I just have to go along with it. If I don’t, they might replace me.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “That’s your big argument?”

He looked up at her. “Yeah, it is. Please, listen to me. What they did to Giles was really wrong. They should have at least discussed it with you and him first. Giles put in years of service, and I can only hope to be for Faith what he is for you. You trust him completely -- we all do. I want to be that for Faith. But if I piss them off, they might make someone else her Watcher.”

Buffy sucked in her cheeks slightly and waited for him to say more.

“Buffy, I can’t let them take her away from me. I promise, I won’t let them hurt her. And I’m not going to blindly go along with every single thing they want. You and Giles and Willow and everyone else come before the Council. But right now, Faith comes first.” Xander paused and looked Buffy in the eyes. “I can’t lose her.”

She straightened up and her hands dropped to her sides. She stared at her friend, searching his face, recognizing something in him that she hadn’t seen in him for a long time. “Xander? Are you in love with her?”

He looked away and shoved his hands in his pockets. “I know it’s really messed up. I mean, I’m her Watcher. But. . . I can’t help it.”

Buffy nodded her head, her eyes roaming across the room but not taking anything in. “That explains so much.”

A smile played at the corner of his mouth. “So you understand? And you’re not mad at me anymore?”

Her mouth opened and closed a few times. Finally shrugged at him, at a loss for how to respond. “I’ll get over it.”

Xander crossed the kitchen and caught Buffy in a hug. “Thank you.”

Buffy hugged him back. “But really, watch out for those people. I know the Council has been pretty good to us lately, but you never know when they’re going to mess with us again.”

He let go of her and nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind. Hey, Buffy?”


“Don’t tell Faith, okay?”

Buffy looked at her friend. Xander had grown up so much in the past year. Losing Anya, becoming a Watcher, leading the town in battle. But deep down, he was still the insecure boy from Sunnydale High who worried that girls wouldn’t like him. “Yeah, Xander. I promise.”

He grinned back at her, his wide, crazy smile that showed almost every tooth in his mouth. “You’re the best.”

“I know.” She shrugged and tilted her head, batting her eyelashes a few times.

Xander threw his arm around Buffy’s shoulder and they walked out of the kitchen together.


The sun dipped behind the rooftops, its amber glow reflecting off the clouds. The sky in the east looked nearly cobalt, and in the west it blazed an intense orange. Directly over his head the colors joined in a mishmash of hues that left one wondering if the Carribean oceans had somehow floated into the sky. While the sun had yet to disappear past the edge of the Pacific, stars already blinked in the universe above. It was one of the most spectacular sunsets in years. Too bad Giles couldn’t give a damn.

There were always sunsets, there were always clouds, and there were always people like Travers coming in and turning his life upside-down.

Thank God there was always scotch.

Giles spent the better part of his day at the Fish Tank, knocking back glass after glass of a foul-smelling breed of scotch that may have been distilled in a basement bathtub somewhere.

For some reason, drinking shoulder-to-shoulder with some of Sunnydale’s rougher citizens made him feel a little better. It reminded him a bit of his younger days in London, traipsing down one dark street or another, searching for a pub that didn’t mind his presence. After all, the sight of a decidedly middle-class youth trolling for fun amongst London’s lowest classes wasn’t welcome most places. What he found entertaining, others called existing. At first Giles felt uncomfortable about putting on airs that he was someone he wasn’t, but Ethan insisted on the faÁade.

“It’s the only way we can hope not to get our bums kicked,” Ethan had laughed, slapping Giles on the back.

And here, decades later, Giles had dropped the faÁade, lived his life as he should, and gotten his ass kicked just as Ethan had promised.

Giles frowned and shoved his hands in his pockets. He hated returning to the Magic Box. It was, as Xander might say, the site of his spiritual pantsing. But the shop was his responsibility, and the only thing he had left. He better take care of it, lest he lose it, too.

This thought had come to him sometime around six-thirty, and the spent he following three hours sobering up so that he could drive back to close. Now he stood in the late evening air, leaning against his convertible, glaring at the lit window of his shop across the street.

Finally he slogged across the road and pushed open the door. His eyes immediately locked on the person behind the counter. “What are you still doing here?”

Lydia’s head snapped up. “Rupert! I -- I thought I’d come back and tidy up,” she offered feebly.

He strode across the store and slammed his hand on the register. “If you don’t mind,” he snapped, “I believe this is still my job.”

She stepped backward and blinked, her lips trying to form the right words. “Rupert, I --”

“Get out from behind my counter.”

She moved quickly but carefully, not turning her back to him as she slid through the gap in the counter. His eyes bore into her, making her feel like the biggest traitor since Judas Iscariot. And why shouldn’t she? That’s what she was to him, to all of them.

She moved out of arm’s reach. “I had no idea,” she blurted out. “It was as much of a surprise to me as to you.”

“Oh, I doubt that very much.”

Lydia felt queasy. “I never would have agreed to it --”

“But you did!” Giles roared, his fist banging down so hard on the glass counter that Lydia expected it to shatter. “Travers made his announcement and you stood there like a damned fool! You didn’t even try to help us!”

Lydia’s mouth dropped open in disbelief. “Help ‘us?’ Or help you?” Lydia shouted. “What is it, Rupert, are you angry because you think I undermined your little team, or because you’re out of a job?”

She instantly regretted raising her voice. His eyes narrowed and his words came at her through clenched teeth. “How dare you. How dare you even think that this is all about me. Yes, I’m bloody well pissed off that I’ve been fired. But do you even have the slightest idea why that is?”

She swallowed, afraid to answer.

“I’m not angry that I’ve lost my job. There’s a nice retirement plan set up, in case you don’t remember. But if you can’t understand my anger, than you’re even more of a fool than I ever thought you to be.”

She squared her shoulders. “You think I can’t handle being a full-time field Watcher, do you?”

“That’s part of it, yes.”

“I’d like you to know that I’ve had the best training there is, more than you’ve ever had. I can teach her things you never thought to learn.”

Giles’s spine straightened as he stood at his full height. “Is that some sort of challenge, Lydia?” Her name dripped off his tongue like a curse.

She crossed her arms. “If that’s what it takes to get you off my back, then yes, it is.” With that she turned and marched into the training room.

Giles followed, rolling up his sleeves.

As soon as he stepped into the room, Lydia was ready. She stood barefoot, her legs bent slightly at the knees. “Let’s see what you’ve got,” she dared him, holding up her fists for a fight.

He took a step towards her and threw a punch. She ducked, dodging his second swipe at her ribs. Her hands flew up to make contact with his chest, and she caught him squarely in the breastbone, shoving him back a foot.

Giles recovered his footing and grabbed a quarterstaff from the wall behind him. He swung the stick at her, aiming for her knees. She jumped over it, but when he gave it a half twist it swung back and caught her in the shoulder. Rolling with its force, she tucked into a ball and tumbled across the floor towards him. She ended in a crouch and pivoted on one foot to sweep-kick him to the ground. Her foot hit his shin and he fell backwards.

He braced his fall with his hands, and as he pulled himself back up he saw Lydia flip into a back-handspring to place some distance between them. His eyebrows raised a little, and she saw this tiny gesture in his face.

“Surprised?” she asked.

He nodded, frowning. “A little. But I’m still going easy on you.” He lunged at her again, swinging the staff over his head to crack it down on her. She jumped and rolled out of its way with every move. He advanced on her across the training mat. In a moment he had her backed up against the pommel horse. He gave her a satisfied smirk.

She smirked back and launched herself into the air, landing squarely on the horse. “I’m going easy on you, too,” she said, vaulting forward.

Giles had no time to react as her hands planted on his shoulders, using him as a springboard. She did a full handspring off his standing body and landed behind him, her hands at the ready to block any attack. Giles spun and caught another hand to the chest, knocking him against the pommel horse. She jumped once again. Giles suddenly found himself bent backwards over the equipment. Lydia’s knees struck either side of the horse, and he realized he was in the incredibly awkward position of being pinned between her thighs. She bent to press her forearm into his neck.

“Do you still think I have nothing to teach her?” she panted.

Giles gazed at her and swallowed, hard. Her eyes shone with an intensity that he’d never seen from her before. “Where did you learn to fight like that?”

Her nostrils flared slightly as she spoke. “I’d think you would know, Rupert. All of the girls go through this training while they wait for their calling.”

His eyes widened at her confession, and Lydia shook her head slightly. Her fierceness vanished and she dismounted the pommel horse.

Giles straightened and watched her walk back across the room, her poise collecting with each step. As she slipped on her shoes, he studied her form. Under her skirt and loose linen blouse, she had an uncommonly fit body. Graceful, lithe, more muscular than he had noticed before. Her reflexes were stunning, and her movements precise.

Pity she never got her chance.

“Good night, Rupert,” she said, pinning her hair back into place.

His brow furrowed in confusion and—he couldn’t quite place it—intrigue. He took off his glasses and blinked twice, then placed them back on his nose to look at her clearly. “Yes. Of course. Good. . . good night, Lydia,” he answered, distracted by the sight of her.

He watched her leave, but it wasn’t until over a minute later that he realized he was alone again.


“So what do you think?”

“What about?”

“About our progress. Things seem to be going well,” Magnus said.

“Yes, so far it’s quite a successful trip.”

“The Slayer isn’t adjusting as nicely as I’d hoped.”

The elderly Korean man scoffed. “Did you expect her to?”

Magnus shook his head and poured oil into a flat bowl. “No, of course not, Myong. He knew she wouldn’t cooperate with the Council’s orders. She never has in the past. I just hoped this time it would be different.”

“The second Slayer is acting rather agreeably, though. Funny, really, considering her past.”

“Yes, she was quite the hellraiser, wasn’t she?”

Both men looked at each other and laughed, the irony of it all far from lost on them. Finally Myong gathered his composure and waved for his companion to calm down. “All right,” he sighed. “Enough of that. We need to concentrate now.”

Magnus nodded and gathered a pile of bones onto a black cloth. “Do we have everything?”

Myong held the bowl in one hand and a candle in the other. “Yes. Let’s go.”

They left the room and crossed a hall into a small drawing room. Three others stood waiting for them, and one quickly drew the curtains as they entered.

Myong kneeled on the ground and looked at the others to follow. They knelt in a line beside him and watched as he scooped handfuls of salt from a pouch in his jacket pocket. He threw the salt onto the floor in front of him, then placed the bowl on top of the grains.

Magnus handed him the cloth, which Myong shook over the metal bowl. The small bones wrapped inside tumbled out and hit it, causing a tinny ring to echo off the metal bowl and around the otherwise silent room. Some of the oil splashed over the low brim and onto the floor, melting the salt in tiny puddles.

Myong bent over, placed his palms on the floor and began to chant. “Haatu thlik mnetlak serrah. Haatu gnawe benlaak venoh. Haatu thlik mnetlak serrah. . .”

The others joined him in chanting and bent into the same position, all five on their hands and knees, their heads bent towards the floor. They continued chanting, beads of perspiration forming on their faces and necks, the dampness on their skin quickly turning into rivers of sweat pouring down their bodies. Their voices softened to whispers, and their pace quickened as they spoke the ancient language again and again. Soon the words flowed out of them like the sweat, pouring from their lips without needing to think of what was said.

Myong reached to his side and picked up the candle with a shaking hand. He held the flame to the bowl and lit the oil, sending a pillar of flames into the air. The candle fell to the floor as he grabbed the black cloth, throwing it over the bowl and smothering the fire as quickly as it began. Thick black clouds of smoke billowed out from under the cloth, filling the room like the densest of fogs rolling in from the ocean.

The group still chanted, the sounds indistinguishable from one another. They stared directly ahead of them, unable to see their own hands on the floor due to the thick smoke that curled around them. It melted away slowly, yet none of them dared to look up, afraid to find that the spell failed -- more afraid to find that it worked.

Myong closed his eyes tightly, swallowed once, and looked up. The spell worked.



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