For those of you who recognize the insurance adjuster, yes -- there’s a crossover in my future.
Xander's Job, Chapter 3: Epithany, Part 1
When Giles was ushered into the office, the large man behind the oak desk immediately rose to give him a firm handshake. “Mr. Giles, welcome.” He offered Giles a chair, waiting until his visitor sat before taking a seat himself.
“I’m terribly sorry to have kept you waiting,” Richard Gilmore said as Giles settled into the soft leather.
“Not at all.” Giles had an immediately good feeling about the man. Gilmore’s office was tastefully furnished, with a bookshelf of expensive looking volumes and a huge, neatly arranged desk. The man himself wore what appeared to be a custom tailored tan suit, complete with a burgundy silk handkerchief. “Nothing serious, I hope?”
“Not at all ...” Gilmore hesitated for a moment. “If I may ask, do you have any children?”
Giles shook his head. “Not biologically, but I think of my charges as my children.” One especially, although explaining that would be complicated.
“Yes, of course.” Gilmore sighed. “My daughter’s chosen a challenging life for herself, and sometimes it becomes a bit too challenging. It can also be a challenge to get her off the phone when she needs to vent a bit.” With a dismissive wave, he pulled out a file folder and opened it. “Now -- to business. All this information is on our computers, but I much prefer to stay away from those infernal machines.”
Giles liked this man more with every passing moment.
“It’s a commendable thing you’re doing, operating a nonprofit boarding school for gifted ladies. Since opening your doors in Chicago there’s been only one claim, involving a chemistry lab accident that sent several of your charges and some instructors to the hospital.”
“With only minor injuries,” Giles reminded him, having been prepared for this. “Overnight stays for observation, for the most part. In any case, we’re opening a new floor which will include a state of the art, quite safe computer lab.”
“Ah, yes -- your assistant, Mr. Harris, included a copy of the plans.” Gilmore shuffled through the papers. “Your school for gifted young women involves a high degree of physical education, as I understand it. Also, it’s based on two floors of a downtown Chicago high rise, which calls into question issues of fire and crime safety. But all those concerns can be addressed, and for the life of me I can’t understand why the major insurance companies are refusing to cover you. With the one exception, you have an impeccable safety record.”
Something about that tickled at Giles’ conscious. He couldn’t place what bothered him -- other than that Gilmore apparently hadn’t dug far into their history, yet. He sat back, wondering why a good safety record seemed wrong, somehow.
Gilmore apparently took his expression the wrong way. “Don’t worry, Mr. Giles, we’ll work this out. Do you mind giving me a couple of days to dig further into the situation? Perhaps a further review of your insurance history will lead us in the right direction.”
Or the wrong. But there was nothing to be done about it, so Giles nodded. “As it happens, I’d planned to meet with some associates in a little place nearby, Star’s Hollow. I haven’t found --” He stopped short at Gilmore’s shocked expression.
“You’re joking! That’s serendipitous -- my daughter runs a very nice bed and breakfast in that town. If you’ll hold on just a moment, I’ll see if she has a place available.” He paused, then added, “I’ll make sure she doesn’t give you a room next to those two young ladies who’ve been raising so much cain.”
Serendipitous, indeed! Carefully keeping his expression neutral, Giles merely said, “Two young ladies?”
“Yes, they’re ...” Gilmore had lifted the phone receiver, but now he placed it back in its cradle. “Ah, they’re dating. Each other, if you catch my meaning.”
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” Gilmore hurried to add, lifting his hand. “Connecticut is quite an open minded state, I assure you. But they’re young and -- ah -- rambunctious, as it were. Lorelei -- my daughter -- tells me they’re in and out at all hours, and somewhat noisy when they are in. And, although they haven’t been caught at it, the town rumor mill holds that they’ve been looking for trouble, and getting into fights all across the area.”
Good heavens. “Being around rambunctious girls is something I’m quite used to, I assure you.” While he waited for Gilmore to make the phone call, Giles mentally kicked himself. During their last conversation Giles had gotten cross with Willow, convinced she and Kennedy were blowing off their duties to take some unauthorized vacation time with the Council’s money. Instead, it appeared there really was trouble in the little town, as the young witch claimed. Clearly, he owed them an apology.
“It’s all set -- there’s a room available for as long as you need it, and now I’ll know where to get in touch with you.” Standing, Gilmore gave him another firm handshake. After getting directions, Giles took his leave and walked out into the hallway.
He wondered if he should call for more help. Faith was available, and Robin, although Xander was busy with the expansion project. Richard should stay behind, since he was still recovering from his illness, but Jason could be quite helpful in a fight. The young slayers should all stay safely where they were, of course, training and --
That’s when it hit him. Giles stopped short just before reaching the elevator, and stood there while a shock of recognition ran down his spine. Protect the slayers? He had well over a hundred of them, and he barely let them out of the building except for the occasional stroll through what turned out to be empty Chicago area graveyards. With few exceptions, the only time he let even the most senior of them out of the city was to collect another new slayer, who was also quickly shut into the headquarters.
He wasn’t supposed to be protecting the slayers. He was supposed to be sending them out to protect others, people who didn’t have their power or their knowledge. Somewhere along the line, after seeing so much death, he’d started walling them up -- shutting them off from the rest of the world. He didn’t want to see another slayer dead. The only challenge to them since Willow’s spell released their powers had been inside the headquarters, when a magically charged Dana trashed the gym, and everyone in it.
Giles’ shoulders slumped, as the force of knowing what he had to do hit him. For the first time, he realized how terribly difficult it must have been to the original Watcher’s Council. As a watcher, he had to send only one slayer out to her untimely death. As a Council, they had to search each one out, so that she could be trained and then die, one after another. If they allowed themselves to consider it at all, they must have spent many a sleepless night.
“I’ve been a fool,” Giles murmured to himself. He hadn’t been preparing them to battle evil at all. He’d been imprisoning them, trying to keep them safe. But that wasn’t how it worked. Taking a deep breath, Giles reached for his cell phone. He’d call the older ones out first -- Vi perhaps, Rona, and of course Faith. Buffy? She’d earned her retirement, but he could no longer coddle the rest of them. If things were as bad in Star’s Hollow as Richard Gilmore had made out, he’d better show up with warriors.
The elevator doors opened, and Giles glanced up.
With an incoherent cry, he dropped the cell phone and crashed into the opposite wall, then grabbed for the cross in his pocket as Angelus marched toward him.
“Giles! It’s all right!” Xander stepped around the vampire, clutching Giles’ arm. “He’s not bad. On average.”
“Oh, really?” Giles kept his hand in his pocket, partially to clutch the cross and partially so the two men standing before him wouldn’t see it shake. “Why did you come to Hartford, Angel? While we’re on the subject, what are you two doing together?”
Angel just stood there, giving him a bleak look. Giles wondered if they were both remembering a certain incident involving torture and, if so, whether the vampire was suffering guilt from the memory. He wasn’t above hoping so.
“He’s providing me with transportation,” said Xander, who Giles noticed was also looking a bit down.
“Transportation?” His suspicions aroused, Giles stared at the pair. “Why? I hope I’m not expected to believe your law firm has started doing pro bono work for widows and orphans.”
“Some widows,” Angel shot back, but his heart didn’t seem to be in the response.
“I wanted to tell you in person.” Xander drew a deep breath. “About Cordelia.”
“Cordelia? Is she out of her coma?” Even as he said it, Giles knew he was about to hear something much, much worse.
“No, she’s ... she’s ...” Xander swallowed, and rubbed a clenched fist against his cheek.
Angel took a step forward and, to Giles’ amazement, put a hand on Xander’s shoulder. “She passed away, Giles.”
Giles removed his hand from his pocket, without the cross. Rivers of memory poured through his mind: Cordelia Chase shooting insults, wearing that ridiculous cheerleading outfit, whining about doing research but staying anyway. That girl has been so annoying. So clueless in her way, while sharp as a knife at the same time. So brave. “What happened?” he asked quietly.
“There was too much damage,” Angel told him, his voice equally quiet. “She never woke up.”
“I see.” Giles drew a deep sigh. Here it was, then, real life. Back to haunt him. “You’re contacting the original group in person.” He’d never been particularly thrilled about the idea of calling them the “Scoobies”. Besides, didn’t Hanna-Barbara have some kind of copyright on that term?
Xander nodded. “I was hoping we could all get together to ... say goodbye.”
The younger man seemed more torn up than Giles would have imagined, considering the death they’d seen over the past several years, but perhaps this was a delayed response to everything he’d lost. To Giles, the surprising thing was the haggard expression on Angel’s face. The vampire looked as if he’d lost a true love, rather than an associate. Of course, he and Cordelia had probably become friends after finding each other in Las Angeles -- assuming Angel was capable of having friends while being drawn into an evil law firm. In any case, this wasn’t about Angel, so Giles determined to hold his mistrust inside, for now.
“It’s an excellent idea,” he told Xander. “As it happens, I was on my way to meet with Willow. We’ll collect her, and then head off to retrieve Buffy.”
When he said the Slayer’s name Giles glanced at Angel, and was secretly satisfied to see the vampire wince.