watcher sepia

FRAGMENT: Giles arrives in Sunnydale

Disclaimer: I claim no ownership and am making no money.

This is a fragment from a version of the NLBS that turned out not to be part of the actual story. I have resisted the urge to smooth out my prose and de-clunk my expository moments. (Amazing what one can learn in the space of six months, isn't it?) Starts setting up ucky Council issues; introduces some Giles backstory, though not much.

Opening section; Giles arrives in Sunnydale.

Giles had an aisle seat, but it wasn't enough. His legs had already begun to cramp, and he was barely an hour in. Thank the lord the seat next to him was vacant. He sighed and looked at the file again. Bloody useless, it was. They'd taken out everything of interest. What remained told him nothing of what he needed.

Buffy Summers, age fifteen. She'd be sixteen by the time he met her. Address in Los Angeles, vitals on the parents, divorce proceedings, address of the home recently purchased by the mother, currently in escrow. Her juvenile criminal record, the consequence of firesetting, and included no doubt quite against American law. And why had she set a fire in the school gym? Explanation not included. Merrick had arrived on this date, had sent thus and such reports-- only the first of which was present in the file-- and had been found dead on that date. Dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Explanation not included. The date was before the date of the gym fire, however, and its sequel. No Watcher would ever have allowed his charge to suffer the indignities of a criminal record. The right strings would have been pulled to hush matters.

Giles wondered why the Council hadn't done so anyway, even without Merrick present to request it. He supposed they hadn't learned in time.

What could have driven Merrick to take his own life?

If he'd kept the required journal, it wasn't here, not even in photocopy. Giles was owed the journals written by his predecessors, though in practice this seemed to work out to only the journals from before the second world war. Perhaps it would be among the books the Council had sent ahead, allegedly already awaiting him in a storage facility in California. His personal library was still en route.

The file contained a recent photograph, a candid shot taken by telephoto lens. The girl stood in a group of her classmates, golden and glowing. So young, so pretty. It was unbearable to think what the Powers put these girls through in the service of life. Giles wondered if she had seen what happened to Merrick, what losing him had done to her. If she still glowed. He wanted her to. His Slayer. His.

The throbbing in his chest rose for a few moments into a burn. He longed for her. It wouldn't ease until he'd met her. The feeling still surprised him, though he'd been living with it for a week. Longing and joy mixed. He felt it in his chest, sometimes in his throat. It was strong, so strong. He closed his eyes and breathed until the burn faded back down into the background.

He opened his eyes again, and returned to the world. He let himself be aware of his surroundings. The bright diffuse light of high altitude. The rush of the ventilators. The all-pervasive whine of jet engines. The murmur of attendants pushing carts, scooping ice into cups, popping open cans of soda.

He returned the Summers file to his case, and extracted the folder on his destination. Sunnydale. The material was new to him. He'd taken a week to prepare to relocate, once he'd learned that she wouldn't be in Sunnydale until late January, but the Council hadn't given him even these pitiful data until last night. What had they planned for him? Only the job, it seemed. He was to be librarian at her school, as Travers had said. They'd already written and sent an application for him, copy enclosed. They'd produced a restrained version of his curriculum vitae, but even so had needed to explain his drastic step downward as a change made for his health. Doctors recommended sunnier climes; family nearby made Sunnydale attractive; and so on, all blatant lies. The role was easy enough to play, though. It would barely occupy a tenth of his attention.

The careful preparation for the cover job made the omissions in the Slayer's file the more puzzling. What were they up to? Would they tell him? Something was wrong. Giles couldn't put his finger on what, but he'd been edgy for days.

He'd met some Council friends in a pub, two nights ago. It had cost him some pains to disengage himself from the assistant the Council had sent to help him prepare for relocating, but eventually he'd convinced the woman that he'd be perfectly fine on his own for the remainder of the evening.

He met the three of them at a place they'd never been before, Alan's suggestion. Rose, a research librarian; Simon, her husband, another historian; Alan, employed outside the Council teaching Latin to schoolboys. All conservatively dressed, not attracting a second glance, the layers of clothes hiding bodies kept fit with training regimens made habit at young ages. All four of them had scanned the pub as they arrived, searching for the unspeakable. Sometimes they found it, of course, though not usually in Islington. Whitechapel, yes; vampires were drawn there and to other sites where horrors had once walked. But not here, in a nice loud smoky local.

Giles drank his black and tan, talked quietly with them. These were the Council people he'd miss most. Giles had always tended to find his friends among the more bookish of the Watchers. The sorcerers had been off-limits to him, and the combat experts off-putting.

Giles wondered if he'd make friends in America. Would he meet anyone with whom he had the least in common?

Alan was talking: "Travers must have been boiling."

"Pardon?"

"When he discovered it was you who'd been called, and not one of his men."

Rose said, "Rather the opposite, I think. I overheard something the other day, one of his special ops ferrets talking to old Perkie"-- the head librarian-- "saying something about how pleased Travers was."

"That's not good," said Simon. He flicked ash from his cigarette and pointed at Giles with it. "You'd think he'd have wanted to give the plum to one of his cronies. It's a nice assignment. California. Not a known center of activity."

"But the Slayer is there," Giles said, mildly. "The vampires will follow. And Los Angeles has always had a solid population, the way any large city does."

"What about this Slayer, anyway? What do we know of her?" Alan again, halfway down his second pint, well ahead of the rest of them as usual.

Giles shrugged. "I've seen nothing as yet. They're late with the files."

"None of Merrick's documents have arrived with us," said Rose.

"How often do we end up with one we didn't spot ahead of time?" Simon ground out his cigarette. He tapped another out of the box, but didn't light it.

"More often than they admit," said Giles. "But not at all in the last twenty years."

"How well do they do? How long do they last?"

"Christ, Simon," said Alan.

Giles felt the three of them looking at him covertly. Simon had, with his usual tact, kicked at every field Watcher's sore point. Just how sore it was Giles hadn't known until that moment. He'd never met the girl, hadn't seen so much as a photograph, and the thought of her death made his chest hurt. He took a deep draft of beer, then answered anyway. "They're extreme cases. Either it's very short, or they are, well, exceptional. In all ways."

Simon said, "Travers must be betting on the former."

"Merrick went out, what, six months ago?" said Rose. "Poor man."

"Hmm," said Alan. "That's something."

Simon pressed his point a little further. "The Giles Slayers tend to live a long time, don't they? All making it to their eighteenth and beyond."

Giles nodded.

"Must be all that mystical mojo," Alan said. Rose laughed.

"I-I'm not very mystical," Giles said.

"Bollocks! You're dripping with it, Rupert," said Alan.

"The chapel was humming for a day after you did that ritual, you know," said Rose. "It was remarkable. Wallace refused to go near it the next morning." Wallace was head of the ruling committee, had been for decades. Magic notoriously made him tut.

"The California women aren't going to know what hit them." Simon, putting on a leer for them. "Not to mention the men."

Giles blushed. That was tactless of Simon, to say that in front of Rose. But that was like saying Simon had opened his mouth. The conversation turned elsewhere.

The group broke up an hour later, emerging onto the wet street in plumes of boozy breath. Giles said his farewells and promises-to-write to the Council-bound pair and walked with Alan to his car.

"You remember how to contact me?" Alan asked.

"Yes, got it." Giles tapped his temple with a gloved finger. Questions about memory addressed to a Watcher were superfluous. Alan's nerves were showing.

"Find a way to let *her* know how as well."

"Aren't you being a bit..."

"No. I was closer to Rebecca than you were." Alan said no more, but Giles didn't need him to. Rebecca More had been the Watcher to the last Slayer but one, three years ago. Rebecca had gotten the wind up about something related to Council special ops and had told Alan so, but had died along with her Slayer before she'd given him any details. A Cruciamentum death. Alan had remained uneasy.

Giles turned as he walked, and watched Alan a little. He looked a little seedy, sandy hair going a bit long, face thin and creased with worry. Whatever it was, Alan was taking it seriously.

"Be careful, Rupert. Something's up."

"Yes." They'd shaken hands, and gone off in separate directions then.

Sitting on the plane, holding the pitiful manila folder so obviously censored, Giles felt Alan's uneasiness touch him. Something was wrong. Something that Travers had said bothered him, but he couldn't recall what.

What awaited him in California?

He sighed. In the space of a week his life had been shaken out. A week ago, he'd had his quiet museum job, puttering around behind the scenes with Anglo-Saxon artifacts. He had a little flat, a local, friends to drink with. And now he was at thirty thousand feet arcing through nothing to a great unknown. A place he'd never been. A girl he'd never met. A job he'd never trained for. A destiny that filled him with longing and made him profoundly uncomfortable by turns. The whole thing felt unreal. Had he really just abandoned his life?

No, he must not allow himself to think like that. He had to think of what was ahead of him. His Slayer. What would she be like? What would he be able to teach her? What evil would they fight together?

God, it was no use. He tucked the folder away and did what he could to stretch his legs. Perhaps some light reading, then. Or a nap.

* * *

The flight, mercifully, was uneventful, customs perfunctory thanks to Council preparation. Sixteen hours after he'd left the ground at Heathrow he was in his hire car, pulling off the freeway onto the streets of Sunnydale, driving on the wrong side of the road with less difficulty than he'd predicted.

He'd had some notion that it simply didn't rain in California, but apparently he'd been mistaken. It did rain in January. The three months of winter were the wet months. In winter, California turned green. Or so the guidebook said, and the landscape along 101 northbound bore it out. He navigated the surface streets to his hotel, bemusedly observing the town. The colors were so different from the colors of London, or the west country. The trees were a dusty olive. The buildings were painted in tans and faded reds. The signs on shops had stylized sun logos, or the silhouette of a walking bear. Golden State this and Western that. Spanish street names: El Camino Real, Embarcadero.

The air smelled of eucalyptus and dust.

He ought to rest, he supposed, but he was too keyed up and the hotel room too antiseptic. He resolved to walk the Sunnydale high street. The downtown, he supposed. Main street. There were still a couple of hours of daylight left. He slipped a cross and a stake into his inside jacket pocket anyway. The Powers were sending the Slayer here, which meant the Slayer had a reason to be here.

The town had two clusters of shops: one near the city hall, and a second near the university. The university, his guidebook said, was the smallest in the UC system. Giles set aside that part of the town to explore later. The main downtown had the more upscale shops and restaurants, aimed at tourists and wealthy Los Angeles weekenders. The Slayer's mother's art gallery would be one of these, and the house she'd bought was on this side of the town. The downtown was small, but charming. He had a decent meal at a Mexican restaurant across from the empty retail space where the Council said her gallery would be. He walked back to his hotel, cautiously because the sun had set, but saw nothing.

Two weeks later, Giles wondered why vampires would come here, to the land of the near-ubiquitous sun. The days were so much longer than they were in England in mid-winter. A simple question of latitude, yes, but why wouldn't they migrate north? And the rainy season did not seem to involve much actual rain. Some days of overcast, perhaps a day of pounding rain, then it was back to the brassy sun in a hazy sky, the horizon pulled in so near that he could no longer see the hills.

He'd explored the town on his morning jogs. A few variations on a three-mile circuit could take him through most of the neighborhoods once a week. It wasn't a large place, despite the presence of a university.

He'd found himself a flat in a pseudo-Spanish building near the high school, not as new or as cookie-cutter as the condos that seemed to make up so much of the available living space in the town. It had a courtyard, and a fountain, and jasmine grew on the walls. Not blooming yet, but it would. The dogwood had already begun to bloom. The open floor plan suited him. He painted the walls pale green, and bought dark comfortable furniture with the Council's relocation allowance. If the place had ghosts, they were restful ones. After his first night sleeping there he knew it would be a haven. He wrote letters announcing the new address and the new phone number, and mailed them in envelopes with unfamiliar airmail stamps. He took a postoffice box, and sent that address more cautiously.

He'd found a place for groceries, a shop that carried tea not in bags. The American terms and brands bewildered him. One asked for meat from the butcher by weight, not by slice. One put peanut butter in one's sandwiches. Coffee was ubiquitous. The local produce was a marvel. The restaurants had seating outdoors during the day. Outdoors! In the sunshine, in January! It was still too cool for it, really, but Giles sat outside anyway, because he could.

He'd found the local Episcopalian church, of a sufficiently high church variety, and made the acquaintance of the rector. He'd eventually need a source of holy water. And the Council expected it of him. It was soothing, even if one knew the reality of the universe was so much worse than the version taught in the liturgy. And besides, one's blood was supposed to be repellent to vampires the day one took communion. Not that Giles had ever verified this. He amused himself during services constructing double-blind experiments intended to test its efficacy.

Obtaining employment with the high school had been laughably easy. His suspicions about why this was so were not laughable. His predecessor had died a murder victim. Staff turnover was high. The death rate in the student population was high. He began taking the local paper, and perusing it for missing persons reports. The daily police blotter horrified him. So much violent death, so close to that charming little downtown with the galleries and the restaurants.

On the Monday he would commence his new career as a librarian.
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(Anonymous)
Really, really good. More, please
Very nice! I especially enjoy the details like buying meat differently.
My husband's startup-before-this-one was run by an expatriate Brit. I got he & his wife talking one night at dinner about what they noticed most when they moved here, small domestic stuff. And now, several years later, I get to use what I learned. I also drew from my own reactions about moving to California from New England, nearly 20 years ago now (gulp).
YES!!!

Spot on perfect! That is Giles to a 'T'.

Oh, please, you have to keep going. We have to see his reactions to meeting Buffy.