by Jeanne DeVore
Buffy, Giles, Joyce et. al. belong to Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy Productions, Fox Productions and the WB. I'm just playing with them. No copyright infringement intended.
Joyce Summers was surprised to open her door and find her ex-husband standing on her doorstep.
"Hi, Joyce." His smile was charming. But then, it always had been.
"What are you doing here?"
"I had some business in the area. Thought I'd stop by, see how everybody's doing."
"Oh. Buffy's...not home."
Disappointment flickered across his face. "Well, I knew I was taking a chance, stopping by without calling first. Will she be home soon?"
"I'm not sure," Joyce evaded. She couldn't explain to him that their daughter was out killing vampires. "She's out...studying. With her friends."
"How are her grades doing?" he asked.
Joyce shrugged. "Buffy will never be a great scholar, but... Did she tell you about her SATs?"
"No, what about them?"
"She really...." Joyce paused. They were still standing on the doorstep. "Are you in a hurry?"
"Not really," he answered. "I was hoping I'd catch Buffy, but...."
"Well, why don't you come in? Maybe she'll be home soon."
"All right." Again that charming smile. "We can take this chance to talk, and you can tell me all about her SATs."
"Come on in." She held the door for him.
Joyce fixed coffee and they settled on the sofa. And for the first time since their divorce nearly three years ago, Joyce and Hank Summers...really talked.
Buffy trotted up the front walk to her house. She was tired. All she wanted to do was put her head down and go to sleep. And she still had a French test to study for. She let herself in, a little surprised that all the lights were still on. Mom almost always waited up for her, but she was usually a little more surreptitious about it. She liked to pretend that she'd gone to bed and simply heard Buffy come in. Buffy knew better, but went along with the pretense. It let them both pretend that Buffy was a normal girl just coming home from an evening of studying or going to the Bronze. It let them pretend everything was normal.
"Mom?" she called.
Joyce came out of the kitchen holding a dishcloth. "Oh, honey, you just missed your father."
"No, he was here."
Her eyes widened. "Here? Why? He didn't tell me he was coming!"
"I know. He said he had business in the area and he just dropped by. He was sorry he missed you."
"Darn." Buffy pouted.
"But he said he'd call you later in the week, maybe make plans to get together." Joyce returned to the kitchen and Buffy followed, upset she'd missed him.
"What else did he say?"
"Oh, this and that," Joyce shrugged. "I told him about your SAT scores. He's very proud of you."
Buffy beamed. In some ways, those scores still didn't seem real-it was hard to reconcile them against her usual academic unexcellence. "Cool. What else?"
Joyce shook her head, exasperated. "Honey, I can't remember everything we talked about over the course of two hours."
Buffy blinked. "Two hours? He was here for two hours?"
Her mother nodded. "I think he kept hoping you'd come home."
"You actually found things to talk about for two whole hours?" Buffy marveled.
"Yes," Joyce laughed, "why is that so surprising?"
"Because you guys have barely said two sentences to each other since... forever."
Joyce leaned back against the counter, smiling. "I know. But there wasn't any of that usual animosity tonight. It was strange. Nice, but strange. It made me remember what I saw in him all those years ago."
Buffy's heart leapt. More than anything in this world, more than wishing she wasn't the slayer, even more than wishing she and Angel could be together, she wished her parents would get back together. She understood that people grew apart and that it was really no one's fault. But she couldn't help feeling responsible, at least a little. If her mom and dad were getting along again, maybe it was because Buffy herself was doing better.
At least, she hoped so.
Joyce's sigh broke Buffy from her reverie. "Well, you'd better get to bed, it's late."
"Yeah. I'm beat. G'night." She turned to leave the kitchen.
"Buffy?" Her mother called her back. "How'd it go tonight?"
"Okay," she shrugged. "Same old." Then she frowned. "You didn't tell Daddy, did you? About me being the slayer?"
Joyce shook her head. "He was so happy hearing you were doing well I wasn't about to spoil it for him. Besides, your Mr. Giles made it very clear I wasn't supposed to mention it to anybody, not even your father."
She sounded bitter about it, like it was a burden she was forced to bear alone. Well, it was, in a way. But that wasn't her fault. It just...was.
"It's safer this way, Mom," Buffy said quietly. "Really."
Her mother just smiled sadly. "If you say so, honey. Good night."
Buffy hugged her mother and went upstairs.
Giles was in his office, absorbed in a fascinating book: Parlance of Fate, by Geoffrey Kensleigh-Evers. A Watcher in the eighteenth century, Kensleigh-Evers, while never having a slayer of his own, compiled an extensive book of slayer history, lore and legend. It was the first time Giles had read the volume, which Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, while proving to be little more than an irritant generally, had, brought with him. It was proving to be captivating reading.
Less a book of prophecy than of lore, there were still passages Giles found cryptic and abstruse. Which made it even more interesting. Much of slayer lore and prophecy was really like intricate puzzles. Giles had always enjoyed puzzles.
The door to the library opened and Buffy bounced in. He knew it was Buffy, just by the sound of the door opening, and by the rhythm of her step on the tile floor. He smiled to himself. Amazing, recognizing her by such minute clues. But then, they knew each other fairly well by now. He was far more in tune with Buffy than with anybody else. It was his job. Whether he carried the title officially or not, it was still his job. And it always would be.
"Hey!" Buffy called and he set his book aside.
"Good morning," he called back, coming out to her. "How did it go last night?"
"Great!" Buffy beamed.
He raised an eyebrow. "You're chipper this morning. You're usually somewhat more...sanguine about your patrols."
"Huh?" She stared at him. "Oh! Oh, no, not the patrol. I mean, the patrol went fine. Quiet, no action, boring, perfect." She followed him as he returned to his office. "But when I got home, my mom said my dad just left. He stopped by unannounced and he and my mom wound up talking for over two hours!"
He stared at her blankly. "And that's good?"
"That's great!" she insisted. "Usually, they can't wait to get away from each other. But my mom said he didn't get on her nerves like he usually does. So she probably wasn't picking at him like she usually does, either. So this is a good thing." She grinned. "They're getting along."
He gave an answering smile, which didn't quite reach his eyes. He knew her well enough to know what she wasn't saying, what her teenaged mind had filled in. "I'm sure that's good, Buffy, but I wouldn't get your hopes up. When people...split up, there are usually many reasons, none of which can be settled overnight. Some of them may be irreconcilable. I'm pleased for you that your parents are on friendly terms, but it may not mean anything more than that they've decided to be civil to each other."
"I know," she said, a little less brightly. "But still...it's better than when they were fighting all the time." Her voice dropped. "Usually about me."
Giles smiled sympathetically, remembering hearing his parents argue when he was a boy. How nothing on earth made him feel worse. Especially knowing it was him they were fighting about. What his parents quarreled about and what Buffy's parents fought over were no doubt different things, although ultimately, it was the same-the fate of a beloved child.
"So," Buffy went on, bouncing readily back to her good mood, "What'cha got there? Anything I need to know about?"
"What, this?" He turned the book, glancing at its cover. She looked over his shoulder.
"Parlance of Fate? God, Giles, you're into trashy romance novels now?"
He chuckled. That had been his exact opinion when he'd seen the title. "No, actually, it's a volume of slayer lore Wesley brought with him. I hadn't seen it before and it's proving to be fascinating."
"So Wuss-ley has his uses after all," she said.
"Buffy," he scolded, which would have been more effective if he'd managed to hide his smile at the derogatory nickname. "Anyway, there are several passages which are proving to be a bit of a puzzle."
"I'm not totally sure. Slayer lore, certainly. But the book's usefulness as prophecy has always been questionable at best. A lot of obtuse references, couched in a rather florid writing style. This particular bit makes references to sires and dams...I'm assuming it means fathers and mothers. Coming as it does after the slayer reaches the age of majority, it could simply be referring to that. But it could also be referring to vampiric sires."
"Well if it's anything more nasty than my mom's still turning me down for a driver's license, you be sure and let me know, huh?"
"Of course," he smiled. Truth to tell, the idea of Buffy on the road was a fairly terrifying one. He'd fortunately missed seeing her driving that one evening. He wasn't sure he wanted that particular thrill.
A bell rang. "You'd better get to class. Unless you want to wait and give your report to Mr. Wyndham-Pryce."
"I'm outta here!" she declared and practically vanished from the library. Giles chuckled. The threat of having to talk to Wesley might well be the most effective weapon yet in getting Buffy to go to her class.
With that pleasant thought, he went back to his book.
Buffy staked the vampire, dusted herself off, and headed out of the cemetery, her duty done for the evening. It had been a quiet couple of days. Occasional vamps in the cemetery or the park, daily reports to Wesley, reporting on practically nothing, days spent going to class, afternoons spent training, evenings spent doing homework and going on patrol. Boring. Nice and quiet. But boring.
She kept waiting for her father to call, but so far, nothing. He probably got too busy again and forgot all about it. Like usual.
Her mother didn't seem too concerned. He'll call, she said, reminded Buffy that her father loved her, and that was that. Just like normal.
She headed up the steps, grateful that she seldom had to scale the trellis and come and go through the bedroom window anymore. Sometimes it was hard, her mother knowing all about the slayer stuff. Especially since she still didn't "get" it. And Buffy hated knowing how much she worried, hated even more that there was nothing she could do about it. But in other ways, it was a good thing. Not having to go in through the window was one of them.
Halfway to the door, she froze, her "spider sense" tingling. There was evil here. Her mother knew better than to invite people in, no matter how friendly they seemed. It was one of the first lessons she'd learned. She put her hand inside her jacket, feeling for her stake, then cautiously opened the door.
"Oh, Buffy, you're home. Good." Joyce Summers came to the door, smiling. "Look who's here?"
She stepped aside and Buffy braced herself to face some evil thing. Maybe Spike had come back-for some really warped reason, he and her mom seemed to have hit it off.
Then her mouth dropped open and her eyes widened.
Her father was sitting on the couch, smiling at her.
"Hey, Princess," he grinned.
"D..dad! What are you doing here?" She was in a turmoil. Hadn't she felt evil? Did she misunderstand? Was it simply the presence of someone new? But that didn't work, her father wasn't someone new, he was her father.
"Had some business in the area, thought I'd stop by, see my favorite girl. Didn't your mom tell you I came by the other day?"
"I was so sorry I missed you I had to come back." He smiled and held out his open arms for a hug.
Buffy grinned, firmly tamping down the unease. There was nothing to be afraid of; this was Daddy. She moved to him for a hug.
As soon as she touched him, all the nerves in her body seized up in terror. Something was horribly wrong here. The man hugging her looked like her father, sounded like her father, even smelled like her father. But the last time she checked, her father wasn't a blood-sucking fiend.
"You're so cold." Somehow she forced the words out of nerveless lips, forced herself to sound calm. His hands were like ice, turning her to ice where they touched her.
"Yeah, I got chilled earlier and I can't seem to warm up," he answered easily.
"Oh, Hank, do you want me to put on a fire?" Joyce asked. "Are you coming down with something?"
"Nah, I'll be okay," he said, letting Buffy go. As soon as she was out of his arms, she felt herself relaxing again, the sharp terror receding. "I shouldn't stay too much longer. But I couldn't go without seeing you this time, honey."
Buffy found a smile. "Yeah, it's great to see you, too. I was really disappointed when I missed you the other day." She sneaked a glance at the picture window behind the couch. The darkness outside had turned the glass into a mirror of sorts. It reflected the room, including the back of her father's head, and she relaxed further. Maybe it was just her overactive imagination. Too much stress in recent days, too little sleep. Giles' duplicity on her birthday still stung, even though they were back on good terms now. Maybe she was just expecting betrayal again.
"So," she began, "you owe me a cotton candy."
Her father's expression went totally blank, like she'd just spoken Urdu or something. "From the ice show?" she prompted, worried again. Or still. Cotton candy was a tradition between them. No way should he have forgotten that.
His face broke into a smile. "Oh, of course! Absolutely. I don't think there's an ice show in town, but I'm sure we can find something else with a decent cotton candy quotient."
Good save, she thought.
He went on. "I'll tell you what. Let me check my schedule when I get back and I'll give you a call. We'll set something up." He sounded like he was arranging a business meeting.
"How long are you here for?" Joyce asked.
"I'll head back tomorrow night. I've got meetings all day, including one with your mayor." He smiled and Joyce nodded approvingly while Buffy felt the tightness in her gut clench a little more. "I guess the council are looking into making some civic improvements they want my input on."
"That's good," Joyce said. "I do like our mayor. Such a good man."
Buffy bit her lip to remain silent. She hadn't told her mother about their suspicions about the mayor, and so far they had no proof. But knowing her father was having a meeting with him, well, that creeped Buffy out just a little bit more.
"Well," her father sighed, setting down his coffee cup, "I'd better get going. It's late. And you've got school in the morning, young lady." He said it pointedly, just like he used to, and Buffy became even more confused. He was exactly the same, and yet he was...different. Somehow very basic. She couldn't put her finger on it. He wasn't a vampire, but she knew that whatever it was, it was something bad.
But she forced a smile. "Yeah. I know. But I'm going to class regularly, and passing and everything," she said. "Did Mom tell you?"
"She did," Hank Summers nodded, "and about your wonderful SATs. I'm very proud of you, honey. Of course," he cleared his throat, "she also told me about a missed chem test last week."
Buffy flinched. Skipping that chem class was the least of what she regretted about that day. "Yeah, but I couldn't help it. A...a friend...really needed my help," she explained. "And I made it up right away."
"And dropped a grade because of it," her mother interjected.
"I don't want to hear about that sort of thing happening again, Buffy," Hank said sternly. "You don't just miss class like that. Your friends can wait 'til after class."
"I know," she said softly, looking down guiltily. It was just like in LA when he'd yell at her. This had to be her father; no one else could make her feel so small.
"Well," he stood up. "I'd better go. I don't know if I'll be able to stop back before I leave tomorrow, but I'll try. Otherwise, I'll call you next week and we can make plans for a visit. Okay, Princess?"
Buffy smiled. Everything was okay, it had to be. It was just her imagination running away with her. "Okay, Daddy."
He gave her a hug and her blood ran cold again. Not okay. Most sincerely not okay.
"Bye, Joyce." He let Buffy go. "Good to see you again."
"You, too," her mother replied, walking him to the door. "Take care."
He put an arm around her and gave her a kiss, one far more passionate than two people who could barely stand each other ought to share. Any other time, Buffy would have been thrilled to see such affection between them. But instead she just felt...ill.
The kiss broke, Joyce's eyes sparkling with surprise and passion, his eyes with something that chilled Buffy to her bones. Something...feral.
"'Night," he said again and let himself out.
Joyce closed the door behind her, a bemused smile on her face. She leaned against the door, silently basking in the recent passion.
"Mom? Did Daddy seem...okay to you?"
"What?" She broke from her reverie. "What do you mean?"
"I don't know, did he seem...normal?"
Joyce chuckled. "Well, he was a little friendlier than usual, but I don't think I'd worry too much about that. In fact, I think it's a good thing."
"So you didn't get any...." Buffy sighed. "Never mind. I guess I just don't see him enough anymore." She looked at her mother. "You had to tell him about the chem test?"
"Buffy, Principal Snyder was ready to suspend you over that little antic. You need to be more careful."
Careful. Definitely. Like careful around her father, who was so much like her father and yet...wasn't. "Yes, ma'am," she saluted. "I'm going to bed."
"Good night, honey." Joyce kissed her daughter and Buffy headed upstairs.
And then went straight back out again through the window. She had too many questions and they weren't going to get answered by sitting in her bedroom. This was a job for Answer-Guy.
Who was, unfortunately, not in the library.
Granted, it was late, but Giles was often here no matter how late the hour. Of course, since he'd been fired from the watchers, Buffy had noticed that he'd actually been going home at a semi-reasonable time. She wasn't sure how much of that was the fact that he no longer had to devote himself heart and soul to research on her behalf, and how much was trying to avoid Wesley, who'd adopted the library as his own domain. Buffy did a quick peek around, just in case "God's Gift to the clueless" happened to be around. But the library really was empty, so she moved on to Plan B.
Glass of good scotch on the table at his side, volume of lore in his hand, feet propped on the coffee table.... There were, Giles decided, a few good things about his abrupt removal as Buffy's watcher. Oh, not that he was any less vigilant. He owed at least that much to Buffy. But now he did it because he wanted to, rather than because a group of stuffy old men told him too. Now he did it for her.
He was finding he rather enjoyed the feeling of freedom. Let Wyndham-Pryce deal with the paperwork and the bureaucracy. He'd simply stand back, laughing behind his hand, and let him get on with it. He'd offer to help if asked, of course, but he rather suspected the twit never would. And on a whole, he was just as happy to be well out of it.
The knock on his door made him scowl. If it was Wyndham-Pryce, wanting, finally, to ask his advice, he had half a mind to tell the idiot to figure it out himself.
He yanked open the door. It was Buffy.
"Buffy? You're here late. Is anything wrong? Did something happen on patrol?"
His slayer was frowning as she moved past him into the room. "Do you still have that prophecy thingy you were telling me about the other day?" she asked.
"Prophecy...." Giles frowned, trying to recall the exact conversation.
"You know, Sweet, Savage Slayer or whatever it was called."
Giles laughed at the name. "Parlance of Fate," he corrected. "Yes, it's right here. Why?"
"What was that stuff you were wondering about, the thing about the slayer and her parents?"
"Buffy, Parlance of Fate isn't exactly prophecy. In fact, no one knows how much is fact, how much is lore, and how much came from the fertile imagination of Mr. Kensleigh-Evers."
"Find me that part," she went on, as if she hadn't heard a word he'd said.
Giles sighed and picked up the book, thumbing through it to find the passage in question. He'd finally given up on it, deciding the passage was probably one of Kensleigh-Evers' flightier flights of fancy. "Here we are." He handed the book to her.
Buffy scanned the passage, murmuring the words aloud. "And the sire shall be brought down, and the dam shall be vulnerable, and the Chosen One shall grow stronger through her sacrifice. Though she shall be alone."
The book dropped from her fingers. "Oh, God..." she whispered, her face ashen. "Oh, my God...."
"Buffy, what is it?" Giles reached for her, concerned by her suddenly pale complexion, the stark fear in her eyes. "What's happened?"
"No," she shook her head over and over, mechanically. "No, no, no...."
"Buffy!" He grabbed her by both shoulders and turned her toward him, roughly. He needed to break through to her. He needed her to talk to him.
She looked up at him, the terror in her eyes unabating. "My father..." she whispered and brought a trembling hand up to her face.
"What about him?"
"Oh, God...my father...."
"Buffy...." Giles led her to the sofa and sat her there, sitting next to her and turning her to face him. "Buffy, I can't help you unless you tell me what's wrong."
She took a deep, shuddering breath, biting her lip to stop it from trembling. "I...I came back from patrol and my dad was over, visiting. Remember how I said he'd stopped by earlier?" He just nodded, encouraging her to continue. "Only...when I got to the house, I felt something...bad. Evil. Only it wasn't, it was only my father. Except.... Oh, God.... Except when he hugged me.... I felt it all over again, only stronger.
"He hasn't been turned into a vampire, not unless they're making them with reflections these days. But he was...not right. Wrong. Way, way wrong. He looks like my father, sounds like my father, acts like my father...except maybe he's a little nicer to my mom. But I...." She looked up at him with eyes brimmed with tears. "Oh, God, Giles, what do I do?"
Giles was stunned. This was the last thing he expected. That some demon should have got hold of Hank Summers.... The only logical explanation was that somehow someone found out that he was the slayer's father, and chose to use him as a weapon against her.
"Did he say why he stopped by?" he asked, his hands resting on her shoulders now, less to keep her there than to offer comfort.
"That's the other thing. He says he has business here. Only he's never had business here before. Why suddenly now? And one of his business things he has? Is a meeting with the mayor."
It kept getting worse. If the mayor had been friendly with Trick, then he no doubt knew that Buffy was the slayer. And as Trick and his kind were not friendly with slayers, it could be assumed that the mayor, whatever he was up to, felt the same way. Unfortunately, they knew too little about him. He showed all the signs of being dirty, but they had no proof of anything. But it wouldn't be too difficult for someone in the mayor's position to find out who Buffy's father was. If he had used Hank Summers to get at Buffy....
It was working a treat.
Tears were streaming down Buffy's face now as she contemplated the possibility that her father had been turned into a demon. "Giles, what do I do?" she whispered.
"Nothing," he began. "We- "
"Giles!" Buffy interrupted.
"Shh-shh. Nothing yet. We don't know enough. We don't even know whether...whether it's really your father."
"You think I don't know my own father?"
"I think in this instance there's a question, yes. You've admitted as much yourself."
"Yeah, but Giles- "
"No, listen to me, Buffy." He slid his hands down her arms to hold her hands securely, a gesture meant to reassure her. "We simply don't have enough information. You say you felt something very wrong and I believe you. The fact that he's meeting with the mayor is enough to give us cause for concern. But until we can find something out for certain, there's no point in jumping to conclusions."
"Can you call him in the morning?"
"I don't know where he's staying."
"Not here. At home. If he's there, then you'll know for certain that whoever or whatever was at your house tonight, it wasn't your father."
"What if he's not?" she asked. "Home, I mean."
"Then we keep looking. Searching until we can find something definite."
"And meanwhile he's putting my mother in danger, putting me in danger." Buffy's fear was escalating again.
"Oh, God, what do it do if it is true?" Her fingers dug bruising holes into his hands and her eyes were panicked.
"If...if it is true. Then we'll deal with it."
Her chin quivered. "Giles, I can't....my father...."
"Shh, I said we. No one expects you to handle something like this on your own." He was lying. Slayers in the past had had to kill mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, even watchers. It was never easy on them. In fact, the histories showed that after a slayer had to make such a kill, she usually survived only a very short time afterwards. As if having to destroy a loved one also destroyed her will to keep living. He vowed he'd keep that from happening, no matter what it took.
"But I- "
"No more," he stopped her. "You're buying trouble. We can't make any decisions until we know more. Here." He reached across to where his glass of scotch sat on the side table and pressed it into her trembling hand. "Drink it." He guided the glass to her lips. "It will help settle you down."
Buffy took a sip of the amber liquor, making a face at its taste, and hunching her shoulders as it burned warmly. Her physical reactions could almost trace the path of the liquid as it hit her system.
"There. Now I'll take you home and you try and get some sleep. In the morning we'll see what we can find out. All right?" He stroked her hair gently, hoping to offer her some small modicum of comfort. And finally she nodded silently. "Good girl." She held the glass out to him, having taken only a couple of sips. Buffy was not much of a drinker, for which he was rather grateful. He set it aside and stood up, helping her to her feet. "You ready?"
She nodded again. "Giles?" she said softly.
He smiled. "Come on, let's get you home."
Buffy was waiting for Giles when he got to the library the next morning, had been waiting practically since the school opened. She hadn't slept at all; kept dozing and having horrific images, sickening thoughts in her mind. As soon as it was feasible, she'd gotten dressed and come to school. She couldn't face her mother, didn't know what to say to her. Oh, hey, Mom, by the way, I think Dad's a fiend? Not likely.
He came in through the doors and she got up to meet him. He glanced at her and his gaze softened. "Didn't sleep well?"
"At all," she admitted. "Every time I closed my eyes I had this horrible feeling come over me...like the one I felt when he...." She swallowed. "W..would you mind if I called him from here? I mean, just in case...?"
He smiled gently. "Of course not. Let's go into my office and...."
The door opened again and Wesley Wyndham-Pryce came in. "Good morning, Buffy," he said, nodding cordially. "Mr. Giles." Somewhat less cordial. "You're here early, Buffy."
Buffy swallowed. Whatever was going on, she especially didn't want to tell Wesley about it. All he'd do was go whining to the Council and she didn't want them involved. No matter what.
Wesley went on, oblivious to her discomfort. "I'll have your report on last night's patrol now."
"Oh. Um...yeah. Nothing to report. Nick Sealy came up on schedule and went down the same way."
"Excellent." Wesley scribbled in the little notebook he always carried. "Buffy, I'd like to discuss your training with you. I was thinking that it would be a good idea to-"
"Later," Giles interrupted. "Buffy has a phone call to make before class." He held out his arm to usher her into his office. Buffy glanced at him gratefully and moved toward the office.
"Mr. Giles," Wesley began, sounding annoyed, "please don't interfere with something that's none of your business."
She felt Giles stiffen. "Oh, I shan't," he said calmly-the kind of calm that's deadly. "But this has nothing to do with the slayer. This is personal. And it's private." He turned toward his office.
"Everything to do with the slayer is the concern of her watcher," Wesley insisted.
Giles just stood there for half a second, then he smiled, the most unpleasant smile Buffy had ever seen. "Buffy, would you wait in my office, please?"
She nodded and went into the small office, stopping just out of sight, the better to eavesdrop. They spoke softly, she couldn't hear the words. But she recognized Giles' tone-that intensity that always gave her a chill. It was hard to remember sometimes that her tweedy book-man librarian could be quite fierce when he wanted to. The nickname "Ripper" was obviously an earned one.
She crept to the window. Giles had Wesley backed against the circulation desk. He never laid a hand on him, but Wesley was cowering anyway. Eventually, he moved away and Buffy quickly sat down before he came into the office.
He glanced at her as he came in and shut the door behind him.
"Everything okay?" she asked.
"Pillock," he muttered.
"Is he gonna cause trouble?"
Giles shook his head. "He knows he'll have to deal with me if he does."
"I meant with the Council."
"What can they do? Fire me?" It was said bitterly. That must hurt so much, to have something you'd spent your whole life working for taken away from you by a bunch of stupid old men who didn't have a clue. And then to be replaced by a guy who had even less of one. She respected Giles...so much. He made her mad, he made her frustrated, sometimes he hurt her. Sometimes she hurt him. But there wasn't anyone she trusted more. The thought of having to do this without him made her feel sick. She needed him.
And right now, she needed him here, being with her.
As if he read her mind, he picked up the telephone on his desk and sat it on the couch next to her. "Why don't you call?" he said gently.
She swallowed and nodded, dialing her father's number. There was a series of beeps, then a recorded voice said that the number was out of service. She hung up, frowning. "It's out of service."
"The message just said out of service."
"Call the operator. Maybe she can tell you more."
So Buffy dialed again. "Yes, operator, can you tell me why number 213-555-7987 is out of service?"
"One moment, please." Buffy looked at Giles, chewing her lip nervously. A disconnected number didn't sound good. "Our records show an open line."
"What does that mean?"
"If a phone is off the hook for an extended period of time, we'll take the number out of service."
"Off the hook?"
"Oh. Okay, thanks." She hung up. "She says the phone was off the hook. Like maybe it got knocked off?"
"Is that a guess?"
"Might he have already gone to work?" Giles asked. Buffy looked at the small clock on his desk.
"Do you have his work number?"
She nodded. He had to be at work. Please let him be at work. She dialed.
His secretary picked up. "Hank Summers, please," she said.
"Is this Buffy?"
"Yeah. Hi, Maryanne. Is my Dad there?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Buffy. He's out of town for a few days. Went up to Sacramento to meet with some clients."
She swallowed. "When did he leave?"
"Monday. He should be back tonight. Do you want me to leave a message for him?"
"Oh. I tried calling him at home and his phone's out of order."
"Really? That's odd."
"Has he been calling in?"
"No, but when he's in long meetings, he sometimes doesn't."
"Well, is there a number where he can be reached? 'C..cause I, um...I had some good news for him...about my SATs. And I know he'd want to hear about them."
"Yeah sure, hold on." Maryanne put her on hold.
She glanced at Giles, who was watching her intently. "His secretary thinks he's in Sacramento."
"Hmm," he mused. "Why would he lie about- "
Buffy stopped him when Maryanne came back on the line. She gave Buffy the phone number of the hotel her father was supposed to be at, and Buffy thanked her before hanging up.
"Oh, God, Giles. He's not home, he's not where he's supposed to be. That means he's here! Only he's not him!"
"Hold on, let's not jump to any conclusions."
"But the conclusions are there! They're obvious!"
"Are they? Then who is it we're dealing with? Is it your father, or is it something else?"
"It has to be him-otherwise where is he?"
"Perhaps in Sacramento?" he suggested. "Why don't you call the hotel?"
Buffy sighed and wiped a hand over her face. "Oh." She sniffed and looked up at him again. "That's why I didn't want to do this at home."
He just nodded, giving her that small, special smile just for her. She dialed again, this time getting the reception desk of the hotel.
"Yes, Hank Summers' room, please."
"One moment, please." Buffy held her breath, waiting for the operator to come back on. Hoping she'd connect her. Hoping her father would pick up. Hoping....
"I'm sorry, but there's no one registered here by that name."
Buffy's hopes were dashed. "A..are you sure? This is where they said he'd be. Henry Summers? Or Hank? He should have checked in on Monday."
"One moment." This couldn't be real, couldn't be happening. She glanced over at Giles. He was sitting still, watching her, compassion in his eyes.
"He's not there," she whispered, but before he could say anything, the phone rang again and someone else picked up.
"Reservations, may I help you?"
"I don't know. I'm looking for a Hank Summers. He was supposed to have checked in on Monday, but the operator says he's not there."
"What was the name?"
"Summers," she repeated, and spelled it for him.
"We had a reservation for a Henry Summers on Monday, but he never claimed his room. Perhaps he made alternate arrangements?"
"Did he call to cancel?"
"No. He just didn't show up. Happens all the time-people change their plans and forget about their old reservations."
"All right. Thank you." She hung up. But before she could say anything, Giles stopped her.
"All we know is that he isn't where he said he'd be," he reminded her. "We don't know where he is."
"Meeting with the mayor," Buffy mumbled.
"Perhaps. But Buffy, let's not do anything hasty. Your father's secretary said he'd be home this evening-perhaps you could call him then. Maybe he simply went to a different hotel."
"You're clutching at straws, Giles."
He sighed. "I'm trying to exhaust every possibility first. Until we know something for certain, it would be foolish to make any assumptions just yet."
Buffy sat back, handing him the phone. "What if we go to LA?" she asked.
"Find out why his phone's out of order. The operator said it might have been knocked off the hook. Like in a struggle."
"Now who's clutching at straws?"
"But Giles, something's happened to him! I know it!"
He frowned, looking at her for a long time. "Are you sensing something?"
"I can't do that," she shook her head.
"And yet you knew it wasn't your father."
"No, I knew he was different from my father. It might still be him, only different. Like something's...possessed him or something. Or maybe it's not my father and he's still at his house and hurt and can't answer the phone. I won't know for sure unless we go there." She stared at him, daring him to contradict her. Finally, he nodded.
"All right. We'll go after school."
"No, now," she insisted.
"No, you have classes now," he countered.
"You think I could concentrate on my classes knowing that my father might be a...a something terrible?"
"I think you'd better." He took a deep breath. "Look, whatever's happening, a few more hours won't make a difference. And if it is a case of him simply being elsewhere, how do you propose to explain your truancy to him, or to your mother? Not to mention my part in it. Need I remind you that this job is the only thing I've got to legitimately keep me in Sunnydale now. Without it...."
Her eyes widened in shock. She hadn't considered how precarious his position here was. Snyder must hold Giles at least partly responsible for what he saw as Buffy's bad behavior. They were lucky so far that he hadn't demanded that Giles have nothing to do with her. Or worse, fired him for "inappropriate behavior" toward a student.
"Okay. But we can go right after sixth?"
"Yes. Now you'd better get to class."
She nodded, but didn't get up.
"Buffy, did you hear me?"
She looked up at him. "Thanks," she whispered.
He smiled gently. "Get to class."
Giles was waiting for Buffy after the last bell, and wasn't too surprised when Xander and Willow followed her into the library.
"....so sudden?" Willow was asking.
"Yeah, Buff. And during the week, yet," Xander added. "How are we gonna Bronze if you're in LA LA land?"
Buffy looked at Giles imploringly.
"Up to you," he answered. "Uh..." before she could say anything more, "Wesley's in the stacks."
She nodded. "It's my dad," she told her friends. "I think he may be sick. Giles is just gonna take me up there and we'll be back tonight."
"Is he okay?" Willow asked. "What's wrong?"
"I'm...I'm not sure," Buffy admitted. "That's why I want to see. He's been acting sort of...strange."
"Strange how?" Xander asked.
"Didn't you say he stopped by the other day to see your mom?" Willow went on.
"It's sort of...complicated," Buffy insisted, glancing again at Giles.
'We'd better go, Buffy," he said, hoping that would forestall any further questions.
"Go where?" That was Wesley, coming out of the stacks. Giles closed his eyes and sighed.
"To Los Angeles, just for the evening," Giles answered.
"Why are you going to Los Angeles?" Wesley asked Buffy, ignoring Giles.
"What we discussed this morning," Giles said quietly.
Wesley froze. "Oh. What about your patrol?"
"Can't Faith do it?" Buffy asked.
"Well, uhm, you see...," Wesley waffled.
"Not just yet," Giles told Buffy. "Especially not if he requests it. Better to skip it for a night."
"I'll try to get back in time," Buffy said weakly.
Wesley, realizing there was nothing he could do about it, simply nodded curtly. "Uh, Buffy...."
"I...I do hope...everything's all right. With your father."
She smiled at him and so did Giles. There might be hope for the little twit yet. "We'd better go," he said.
Buffy nodded and gave a parting wave to her friends as he escorted her out of the library.
"What did you say to Wes this morning?" she asked as they got underway, Giles coaxing his old car onto the freeway. It was balky in town and hated acceleration, but once he got it to speed, it dropped into top gear and hummed there quite happily.
"You were there," he answered.
"Yeah but you were talking too quiet-I couldn't...um...." Busted. He knew she'd been trying to listen in.
He chuckled. "I just reminded him that a distracted slayer is a dead slayer, that the situation was a personal one involving your family and as such I was in a much better position to deal with it, since I know your family and he doesn't." Buffy smiled gratefully at him and he took a breath. "And then I told him that if he attempted to interfere he'd find that I could be an even more formidable enemy than a ticked off slayer. For some reason, he believed me."
Buffy chuckled. "My hero," she teased. "Of course, you could take him with one hand tied behind you. He's such a...wuss."
"I have no intention of "taking" him at all. If the idiot would ever realize we're all on the same side, things would go more smoothly. There are times, Buffy, when dealing with two slayers, and all the goings-on of the hellmouth, has stretched me to my limit. Thank God for Willow and the others; we couldn't do it without them. But how much more effective could we be if we had two watchers-two trained watchers on the job. Twice the resources, twice the knowledge. Don't let Wesley fool you, he's not stupid. He's been trained, he simply has no practical experience to apply that book learning to. If he'd finally get it through his head to work with me instead of continually fighting me, we might actually be able to accomplish something. As it is...." He shrugged. "I'll do whatever I can to assure that he keeps out of the way and lets me get on with the job at hand."
"Meaning me." He glanced at her; she was frowning.
"Meaning keeping you alive. And happy, if I can swing it. But alive foremost. Without that, there's not much point to the rest of it."
She smiled grimly. They'd taken to frequently using morbid humor around each other, knowing that the other would understand a dark joke more than anybody else would.
"That's what today's about? Keeping me alive?"
"No, today's about keeping you happy. So far, you're not in any danger from this...this whatever it is that looks like your father."
"Is my father," she corrected.
"May be your father," he returned. "But the situation has taken your peace of mind. We're going to do what we can to get that back."
"And if we can't?"
He took another deep breath. "Then we'll deal with that. And," he put a hand up to forestall her, "I do mean we. It's not just your problem, it's ours. If he's been possessed, then we'll do everything in our power, including calling on some forces I'd just as well stay clear of, in order to exorcize it. If whatever it is has...has destroyed him, then I will take care of it. I can't ask you to do it, and I won't. I've killed my share of demons in my time, it's nothing I can't handle. If it's something else, a doppelganger or something...then we'll deal with that, too."
Buffy was silent, and he glanced over at her. She was gazing at him, her big eyes full of gratitude, brimming with tears. "Thanks," she whispered.
"You're welcome," he answered with a smile, reaching over and patting her hand.
Then he returned his focus to the road and the rest of the trip was conducted in silence.
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