Giles considers a unique solution to his organizational problems.
(Special thanks to Ainon, my alert and enthusiastic beta.)
FOUR FRIENDS AND A WATCHER
I feel as though I should apologize to someone for being so lax in keeping up with my Watcher’s journal. But to whom? By default, I seem to have become the leader of this new Watcher’s Council, such that it is, so there is no one to whom I’m supposed to report.
Still, I shan’t be in this position forever, so I’ll continue this journal in the hopes that some future watcher shall find it useful – hopefully while I’m back in England, enjoying a well earned retirement.
One of the reasons I’ve had little time to write is because there are so few watchers, at the moment. I’m constantly being called on to solve problems or make decisions, and except for what I’m called, the requests have begun to blend together:
“Excuse me, Mr. Giles.”
“Rupert, have you got a minute?”
“Giles, I need help …”
It was this situation that led to a unique decision I made recently. It had been a rather difficult morning, and I’m afraid I lost my temper with Andrew, who decided to initiate a fire drill after reading some material on Fire Prevention Week. Granted, we are in the upper floors of a high rise, but Andrew neglected to notify anyone beforehand, and forgot that the alarm would also sound for all the other tenants of the building.
It took the better part of the day to calm everyone down, and in the end I sent Andrew off on a rather bogus mission to Indianapolis, for his own safety.
That afternoon, having come to a decision, I left my office and began searching. Eventually I located Kara in the new classroom, but she and several other slayers were finishing a math test. She looked as if she desperately wished to be disturbed, which is one reason why I elected not to.
Instead, I made my way down to the fourteenth floor, and walked into the computer room. There I stopped short at the sight of Buffy Summers sitting on a bench, naked from the waist up. When I say naked, I mean that not only was she not wearing a top, but the skin on her back had been peeled away to allow for wires to be connected to her -- innards.
It was quite disturbing.
“Hello, Mr. Giles!” the Buffybot cried out cheerfully. “I’m getting a tune-up!”
“So you are,” I muttered, turning away. “Willow, would you mind terribly covering her up? This is not a nudist colony.”
“But Giles, she’s just a machine.” Willow threw the robot’s shirt over its chest, and fixed me with a somewhat leering grin. “You don’t want to watch me lube her joints?”
I evaded the question by pretending to clean my glasses, a tactic Willow and her friends saw through years ago. “Buffybot, have you seen Tara?”
The instant I spoke, I regretted asking the question. Willow, turning pale, ducked her head behind the robot, pretending to check its connections to the computer. “Willow, I’m sorry –“
“It’s all right, Giles.” Willow’s voice was muffled, but after a moment she straightened up, looking only a little flushed. “I spoke to her yesterday.”
“You did?” I’d been under the impression that Tara McClay’s ghost had been avoiding Willow, who was still very much in the infatuation stage with her lover, Kennedy.
“Um, she was practicing lifting things in the kitchen, and we kind of startled each other.”
Buffybot turned to give her a curious look. “You talked?”
“Yeah, we had a nice talk.”
The robot reached out to gently squeeze Willow’s hand, then turned back to me. “I haven’t seen her today. But whenever Kara and I are busy, she usually stays close to Dana.”
“And how is Dana doing?” I asked, wanting to change the subject.
“She’s sane,” Buffybot assured me, with a nod of her head.
Willow rolled her eyes, and smiled at me. “If we see Tara, we’ll tell her you’re looking for her.”
“Yes … thank you, Willow.” I turned to hurry out, worried that I had opened old wounds with Willow. The truth is, I’ve wondered for a long time whether there was anything I could have done that might have prevented Tara’s death. Stayed in Sunnydale, perhaps interrupted the chain of events that led to so much pain. Water under the bridge, I know.
As the door closed behind me, I heard the Buffybot say, “Can I take my shirt back off? The breeze feels good.”
Breeze? What kind of updating has Willow been doing on that robot’s systems?
Dana was nowhere to be found, so I resorted to calling for her over the intercom system. I don’t like doing that: it seems too impersonal, not to mention the fact that it tends to start rumors flying about why individuals are being called in. But slayers are only issued pagers while they’re in the field, so I had little alternative.
I’d passed on Xander’s offer to build me an office on the new floor, and stayed where I’d been since we moved to Chicago. This office is more like a study, with windows on one side overlooking the Chicago skyline, and windows on the opposite wall that opened onto the library. A real library, with books, as a library should be. I’d positioned my desk so that, when sitting behind it, I can see the rows of volumes, and the study tables with their lamps and reference books. A relaxing view.
But I rarely have time to enjoy it, and sure enough, it was only minutes before Dana walked through the door, looking suspiciously around her as she entered. “Oh, Dana, good. Would you please try to locate Tara for me? I need to speak with her.”
Until I spoke, Dana looked almost normal. Kara had talked her into what the slayers considered to be normal clothes – stone washed jeans and a purple Kentucky University sweatshirt, in this case – and gotten her to brush and tie back her hair. No one could convince her to get it cut; apparently barber day was one of her more traumatic experiences in the asylum.
But as soon as I asked about Tara, Dana got that deer in the headlights look that had been so common when she first came to the Watcher’s Headquarters. “Tara’s not real.”
Pulling my glasses off, I tried to rub the tension from my temples. “Dana, we’ve had this discussion before. Tara is one of the apparitions who is real – not like Joan of Arc, or Lothos. You, Kara, and the Buffybot have been spending time with her, so I thought one of you could get in touch with her.”
“Oh.” Dana nodded brightly. “Well, she’s here.” She pointed over my right shoulder, then whirled around and flounced through the door, closing it behind her.
I, also, whirled around. I confess I jumped a bit to see a tall young woman standing a few feet away, by the closest outside window.
“Sorry,” Tara said, although she was rather obviously hiding a smile behind the sleeve of that rainbow colored peasant shirt she liked so much. “I’ve been practicing being corporeal so much that now I have to practice to keep from being seen.”
In other words, she’d practiced by sneaking into my office, but I didn’t mention that. “Please, sit. So, you’re doing better, then?”
In answer, she reached forward to pick up a file from my desk, waved it around, then set it back down before taking a chair on the other side of the desk. “I can interact fully with the real world. Yesterday I pushed Kennedy down the stairs.”
“Just kidding!” She held her hands up, and this time didn’t even bother trying to hide her smile. “You know I’m okay with everything, Giles.”
And so she had unwittingly brought up one of the subjects we needed to speak about. “So it would seem, Tara, and yet – and I mean no disrespect in saying this – you’re still here.”
She regarded me with a slight frown.
“A spirit usually crosses over, when they have no unfinished business. You’ve helped Willow; accepted Kennedy; even spent time with the two of them. I can’t help wondering why you haven’t gone on to, ah … eternal rest.”
“Oh.” Resting an elbow on my desk – an action she couldn’t have taken only weeks ago – Tara rubbed her chin. “I don’t know … I like it here. I like being useful.”
“I see.” And I did. I’d enjoyed my retirement back in England, when I’d believed Buffy and her friends didn’t need me anymore. Before Tara’s murder precipitated my return. However, within days of arriving at my family home in England, I’d begun having strange feelings of … dissatisfaction. Planning a book on my experiences made me feel better, but there had still been that vague discontentment. A feeling, I realize now, that I wasn’t being useful.
“So …” I watched Tara carefully. “You’re planning to stay?”
“Um … if it’s all right …”
“Oh, of course, of course. In fact, if being useful is something you desire, I have a proposition you might be interested in.”
She straightened up, looking interested, indeed.
“I have very little time for field duty these days. In point of fact, I have to give credit to the former Watcher’s Council – I had no idea how much time and effort went into administering the organization, and that was with just one slayer.”
She nodded. As her back was to the library, she didn’t notice when the door that led from there to the hallway opened. No one came through.
“Now there are many dozens of slayers. As if that wasn’t enough, potential slayers are still being born, and now they become slayers at puberty. Some, through various means, are coming here, while others stay in their homes. In either case, they need training and direction, and monitoring.”
I tried not to let on that I was keeping half an eye on that door, which had suddenly opened and closed again. After a moment I realized someone must be crawling into the library, below my line of sight.
“Xander has been effective in seeking out and establishing a network with all these slayers, but he doesn’t have time to become watcher in the traditional sense. Richard would make an excellent watcher, but because we have so many very young slayers, and he has a teaching license, he’s now devoting his time to looking after their schooling.”
The door opened a third time, then closed firmly. I had a pretty good idea who the secret visitors were, and tried to ignore them while staying on track.
“Andrew and Jason have been very helpful, but quite frankly, they’re both too immature to act as watchers. That means not only do I need watchers, but I also need to train new watchers.”
Tara nodded, and seemed to be paying rapt attention. How unfortunate that all the young females in the building didn’t act the same. “Robin Wood has agreed to become a watcher, and Dawn will be a very good watcher, indeed, but they’re only two people. This leaves me in the position of having the older slayers mentor the younger ones, but –“
“Don’t forget Willow,” Tara interrupted. “And Bottie, she’s programmed with lots of knowledge.”
I caught a flurry of movement in the library, just outside the door to my office, and frowned. They’d done an admirable job of stealth up until then. “Of course not, Tara, how could I? But the robot, for all her knowledge, can be …” I paused, searching for words.
“Yes, sometimes she’s …” Tara also paused, and waved a hand in the air as if trying to catch the right words. Behind her, a flash of something caught my eye, then disappeared below the window sill again.
“Well. I have developed a plan, in which a group of younger slayers will be mentored by an older one, and the older ones will, in turn, report to a watcher. This will leave teaching more in the hands of the slayers themselves, and who knows the job better?”
“That sounds like a great plan,” Tara said, enthusiastically.
“Well, there will be some adjustments, of course. Meanwhile, it occurred to me that you might like to take a position as watcher.”
I’d expected her to have realized where I was going by then, but apparently not – her jaw dropped, and her hands fluttered to her face. “M-me?”
An abrupt, barely audible, burst of noise came from next door.
“Yes, of course. You’re knowledgeable, patient, trusted by the girls, and you have the advantage that you can watch them and their enemies without being seen. And you did say you wish to be useful.”
“I – I don’t know what to say.”
“Specifically, I’d like your group to include Kara, Dana, and the Robot – ah, Buffybot. It – she – has also expressed the desire to be useful, and as she was programmed to be a slayer, a slayer she shall be. But that gives you unusual difficulties – these aren’t your normal slayers, if such a thing exists.”
“No.” Tara looked at me with glittering eyes, and I suddenly found myself wondering if ghosts can cry. “But … do you really think I can do this?”
“Of course I do. I’ve seen your work.” And then I smiled, because I knew she would say yes. “Besides, I recently had an offer from Roger Windham-Price to come out of retirement as a watcher, and I’d rather have my fingernails pulled out than work with him again.”
Tara vaulted to her feet, ran around the desk and, to my surprise, gave me a hug. Her skin felt cool, but otherwise it would be impossible to tell she wasn’t alive.
Actually, now that I think on it, she’s very much alive, in every way that matters.
“Do you mind if I go find the others, and tell them?” Tara said when she’d released me.
She hadn’t seen the three pairs of eyes that peeked into the window at the moment she’d jumped up. I simply nodded. “I don’t believe,” I said, “that finding them is going to be a problem.”