Ripper’s Christmas Carol
By Karen Sanderson

RATING: PG-13. But I'm guessing here. There is only a little in the way of language, and nothing else that I can think of.
DISTRIBUTION: Solo. Anyone else can just get in touch for permission.

FEEDBACK: Absolutely, so long as nobody is too harsh. I have an inferiority complex the size of the Starship Enterprise.
DEDICATION: To Solo for running a great site, and to all the authors who have had their work published on the site, because that is where my motivation and inspiration came from.  

NOTE: With grateful thanks, and apologies, to Charles Dickens, and simply because it seemed to apply so well to Ripper that once I got the idea in my head it just wouldn’t go away, and in fact grew and grew and grew.

You have to ignore the third season Christmas episode I think. I haven’t seen it, as the Good Ole BBC has only just started showing season three, and I don’t have satellite yet.


The snow fell slowly, the flakes drifting gently to earth caught in the streetlights like mites of dust in a torch beam. Everywhere was quiet, for it was Christmas Eve, and the good folks of Sunnydale were inside finishing their preparations for tomorrow’s festivities. The streets were subdued and the world was at peace.

Even the vampires were taking a vacation. So Buffy decided to end her watch early and head home for the holiday. As she walked along, the only person seemingly foolish enough to have ventured out this night, she couldn’t help but look at the lighted windows; think upon the folks inside enjoying the start of their celebrations. They had no idea that she had been out in the cold, alone, seeing to it that they would all be able to enjoy their Christmases in peace. They had no conception of her role as their protector and saviour. She smiled slightly as the last word came into her mind, quite appropriate at this time of the year she thought.

It wasn’t as if she craved recognition for what she did. At least not too often. She received attention from her select band of followers. They respected and admired her and most of the time that was enough. It was just sometimes, and tonight was turning into one of those times, she felt the need to stand in the middle of Sunnydale and proclaim to everyone just who and what she was, and what her presence meant to the people of the town in their desire to go on living reasonably normal lives.

It was a lonely responsibility, a burden that she carried and would continue to carry. Tonight, as she continued on her journey home, she suddenly felt excluded from all the bright lights, and all the jollity. Her heart felt heavy and depression settled over her like a cloud. At this time of joy she did not feel like celebrating. She felt the weight of the duties that barred her from a normal life. All she asked for was to be as everyone else was. Yet that was the one thing that was forever denied her. Others were making their Christmas wishes, and had some passing chance that they might come true.

Hers could never be.

It was not like her to wallow in self-pity, and normally she would have shrugged it away.

But tonight was the night of magic, and hopes and dreams. And Buffy felt left out. Her burden felt . . . . . burdensome.

Pausing under a streetlight Buffy realised that there was one place where she could empty her heart and not be judged harshly. There was one person who always listened to whatever she had to say and who respected her and supported her no matter what she felt. She suddenly felt a craving for the company of her Watcher.

Rupert Giles was a quiet and gentle man. His presence was always soothing and comforting. Buffy decided that she needed to see his face crease into a welcome, watch his mouth almost smile his curious half smile. She wanted to look into his green eyes and read his concern and his understanding. She wanted to listen whilst he put the world to rights in his soft warm voice which, every so often when he wasn’t paying attention, lisped just a fraction. It was one of those small ‘Giles’ things that was so endearing.

Always, Giles seemed to understand what she was feeling even before she had explained things to him. So often she had returned to his apartment after patrolling, full of doubts, worry or anger. He would look into her eyes and know instinctively what to say to comfort and console. Sometimes Buffy found his ability to straighten out her distorted world disconcerting, but he never let her down. He was the constant in her universe, and every now and then, like now, Buffy realised how much she needed him.

Walking more quickly, Buffy passed houses from which she could hear the strains of carols being sung; loud and joyous laughter; the distinctive dialogue of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ playing at high volume; and other sounds of family Christmases which came spilling out into the street carried on the crisp clear air to the ear of the one person abroad this Christmas Eve.

Giles’ apartment was quiet when she arrived. The obligatory holly wreath hung on the door lit up by the porch light. But there was no answer to her knock. Turning the handle Buffy tried the door. When it opened she went into the hallway and called.

‘Giles?’

There was no answer.

Going in and shutting the door behind her she was unaware that she was being watched. For there was someone else abroad this night. Her spidey-sense detected no threat, because none existed. The watcher merely observed from the shadows across the road, pleased that finally the time had arrived. To watch the young woman that he loved was the greatest pleasure of his life. That she had no idea of his feelings did not matter. It was his duty in life to protect and to serve. He asked for nothing more. Only hoped and dreamed, as do all people. Tonight he hoped and dreamed more fervently than ever before.

He had been waiting so long for this moment. Many years ago, to the very night, he had been privileged to be taught much about duty and honour and . . . love.

Then, he had been allowed to look at the journey of his life. Had been given the chance to view the roads he might choose to travel.

Now his past, present, and future were about to collide and things foretold might finally come to be. The circle was almost complete.

He remembered when the circle had almost been broken beyond repair.

**********

Randall was dead to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about it. He was as dead as a doornail, and Rupert Giles knew that he was dead.

Those whose paths had crossed his in the seven days since the tragedy had taken one look at the tall menacing figure coming towards them, and hurriedly yielded the pavement. Those who got close enough to see the bitter anger in the slitted green eyes had rapidly melted into any convenient doorway. He carried his burden on bowed shoulders and clenched his fists tightly against the injustice of life and fate. The lines on his face were cut harsh, and his mouth was closed hard. A shroud of intimidation was his protection against a world that he despised and hated with a vengeance. There was no doubt that this was a cold and bitter youth whose heart held no love for his fellow man.

The back streets of London had been his home for some time, and he found it easy to blend into the shadows and lose himself against the walls of the narrow lanes and alleyways. He felt that the darkness was his home. It wrapped him up against pain and loneliness. Comforted him in a way that human contact was unable to do.

Now, on this Christmas Eve, he had the added consolation of a cold fog, which crept insidiously among the streets and hid from view those who did not wish to be seen. Giles was one such. He was impervious to the chill, which accompanied the mist, and merely hunched himself closer into himself, and continued on his journey home.

Home. He laughed bitterly to himself. A cramped bed-sit in a building containing seven other such rooms. He had never seen any of the other occupants, and that suited him. Humanity was not something he craved at this point in his life.

Indeed, he was not entirely certain whether he truly wanted to carry on with his life. He had made a very poor fist of it so far, and could see little in the foreseeable future to change that view. Not only was he a fugitive from his heritage, he was a murderer. Randall’s murderer.

Rebellion against the path mapped out for him had led to a darkened room with a charm drawn awkwardly on the floor. It had led to spells spoken in hushed tones, and uncontrollable forces that had overpowered those present and taken poor Randall. The group had scattered in shock and fear. But Giles found that he could not outrun the memory of what had happened. It played out before his eyes constantly, even when he was asleep. Even when he was drunk. Which he had been often these last seven days.

He had been drinking that very afternoon. Alone. Avoiding eye contact with the others in the back street pub that he had found. And they, wary of the self loathing and air of unapproachability that emanated from the black browed young man had left him be.

Now he was going home. Alone. Would spend Christmas alone. But felt that he deserved nothing more. Perhaps it would be better to end everything. Escape from a world that had rarely been welcoming, and even less frequently loving. There were few, if indeed any, who would mourn his passing.

Life had indeed descended about as low as it could possibly go when Rupert Giles, also known as Ripper, reached home that Christmas Eve.

Now it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door. Ripper had seen it night and morning during his whole residence in the place. However, tonight, perhaps it was the drink perhaps it was the lack of food but as he approached and reached out his hand, the knocker took on the appearance of Randall’s face. Ripper pulled back as if he had been bitten, but when he was calm enough to look again everything was as it should be. The knocker looked just as it had all the other times that he had observed it. Unsettled Ripper went inside and climbed the stairs to his room. Feelings of guilt and depression churned inside him.

Ripper’s last few pounds had gone on drink in the pub that afternoon, so there was no money for the electricity meter. He pulled his coat more closely around him and slumped dejectedly onto the chair by the window ignoring the seeping cold of the room. Through the tattered net curtain he had a view of the lights of London. He could see busy car headlights, brightly coloured neon attractions, and house lights, all of which spoke of the family life, presents and celebrations in which Ripper could not share. He was as divorced from it all as if he had been on a different planet.

He came to, to the sound of church bells calling worshippers to Midnight Mass.

Christmas.

The time of hope and joy and dreams. Ripper felt no joy, and his hopes and dreams had ended with Randall’s death.

He gradually became aware that he was not alone.

His brain was playing tricks, surely?

Ripper started to his feet so suddenly that his chair toppled over behind him.

‘Randall!’ Then, in greater panic . . .’Eyghon?’ he stammered. ‘No! Oh, shit! It’s not possible! Bloody hell!’

Ripper looked around frantically for a weapon, anything, with which he could defend himself. All that came to hand was the wooden chair that he had pushed over in his panic. Grasping it he brandished it in the direction of his visitor.

His mind was fogged with alcohol, and lack of sleep, but he was able to focus enough to realise that he was looking at something that should not be present in his room. And, if he was not dreaming or hallucinating, could, surely, not be there for any good purpose.

‘Eyghon?’ Ripper tried again. ‘If you’re here to kill me come on then, you bastard. I’m in the mood for a good scrap.’

Ripper moved forward behind his wooden shield, stabbing the chair like a dagger to force the figure to retreat.

‘You take one of my friends, and then come here in his form? You total shit.’

Ripper was almost on top of the intruder now. Overcome by feelings that he couldn’t control, he swung the chair viciously in an attempt to cleave head from shoulders. Into that one sweep was thrown all of the frustration, guilt and anger of the last week.

This was some considerable force. Which meant that when the chair met with no resistance, but passed straight through the body of his visitor, Ripper was thrown off balance and landed in a defenceless and, it must be said, rather inelegant heap on the floor.

Confused and not a little frightened, Ripper looked up. Somewhat to his surprise he saw that the visitor was smiling slightly at him, but certainly showed no signs of attacking him.

‘What is going on?’

‘You are not dreaming Ripper. Please,’ Randall, for so it seemed to be, stretched out his ghostly fingers in a gesture that called for quiet. ‘I am not Eyghon, believe me. I am what you see before you, I am Randall. But I have no solid form. I am merely a spirit now. But that does not mean that I am lost to you.’

Randall paused, as if weighing up his next words with care.

‘You must listen, my friend. I have so very little time. Your torment is understandable. Indeed it speaks for you in a way that you are unable to do for yourself. That side of you that you keep so well hidden from the world, that causes those feelings of remorse and anguish, is a side that you would do well to listen to and allow to guide you. You are afraid that it will make you weak. It will not. It will make you stronger, a better person, and someone who is respected. Believe me. You should not give in to those dark feelings you have. Suicide is not the answer.’

Randall smiled gently as Ripper started. ‘Oh, there is nothing that you can hide from me now, Ripper. I can see everything. That is why I am here. I have been given this chance to help you. You have so much to give. You deserve a second chance. But there is so much in your life that you need to make peace with before you can move on. You need the chance to learn, and to accept the things that you cannot change. You need the opportunity to come to terms with your life as it is to this moment. When you have done that, maybe you will choose to change things. To look at things in a different light. To reach a different understanding of things. I am here to help you to begin to do that. You have a chance at a future. I have lost that chance. I want you to make the most of the future that could be yours. Believe me there will be people in the future who will need you, trust you,’ there was a pause before Randall finished, ‘love you.’

Ripper laughed harshly, ‘Oh, Christ, now I know I’m dreaming. Randall you always did talk such crap.’

‘You have so little faith in yourself.’

‘No, I recognise the truth of things. No one ever loved me, Randall. I cannot see how anyone ever will. Especially now. Why are you here? I murdered you.’

A small smile played around Randall’s finely drawn lips. ‘I am here because I care for you. Because I see what you could be if you would just come to terms with your past. You must learn to accept what you cannot change, and move forward. You have a good soul, but you have gone astray, much as I did. I have lost my chance, but I could not bear to watch you carry on down the destructive path that you are following. I see so much of me in you. Someone lost and alone, desperately searching for somewhere to belong; someone to belong to. You were my friend, Ripper. You cared about me, about all of us. The others were different. But you . . .’

Randall smiled. ‘You need to take a different road, one that is worthy of you, my dear friend. One that will give you what you seek. Somewhere to belong.’ Randall looked at Ripper enigmatically, ‘and, who knows, someone to belong to.’

‘Definitely dreaming,’ Ripper scoffed.

‘You may think so, but consider this.’ Randall drew himself up and caught Ripper’s eye with such determination that he found that he could not look away. ‘Tonight you will be visited by three spirits. Three Ghosts of Christmas. You must listen to what they say, accept their guidance.’

‘I still don’t understand. You say that you are giving me the opportunity of a future; a life; everything that you are going to miss.’ Ripper couldn’t help but retaliate. ‘Because of me.’

Randall smiled that enigmatic smile of his. ‘We all chose to be there. None of us could have predicted the outcome. I am as much to blame as you are. But I cannot bear to see you carrying the guilt for all of us. That in itself is unfair and unjust. But it shows your worth. It shows that I am right to be here. Right to try and save you.’ Randall paused. ‘Do you know where Ethan is?’

The sudden change in the conversation caught Ripper by surprise, and he shook his head. ‘I haven’t seen him since . . .’ He stopped and his eyes slid away from Randall’s face in fierce shame.

‘Ethan,’ Randall said flatly, ‘is laughing and drinking in a pub on The Old Kent Road. Right now. He has hardly given me a second thought since it happened. The others neither. It happened. How unfortunate. I died. End of story. So long as Eyghon does not manage to go after them that is the end of the matter. Thank you very much and good night. That is their philosophy. You, my dear Ripper, have hardly managed to think of anything else. Therein lies your salvation.’

Ripper suddenly found that he had so many questions. Randall smiled as if he knew this but merely said, ‘I am content now, Ripper. There is no need for you to worry about me. But, remember – the three spirits. The first shall come tonight when the clock strikes one. There will be two others after that. You must watch and learn. So much more than you could ever know depends upon it. But the choice, in the end, must be yours.’

Before Ripper could truly grasp what was happening Randall had faded and disappeared, leaving him alone and strangely bereft in a room which, for a short time, had seemed to contain a light to lead him out of his darkness.

**********

Buffy entered Giles’ house. She had knocked and called out his name. There had been no answer, but the light in the hallway was on so she went in. Giles had obviously popped out for something. Strange that he should leave the door open, but then she smiled. The visitors that he would be most concerned about would not be able to enter without an express invitation anyway.

She went into the living room, and made herself comfortable on the sofa. Giles would be back soon. She would wait.

The atmosphere in the room reflected its owner. Calm and restful. Comforting and supportive. The lighting was subdued, and the only sound was the gentle ticking of the wall clock. Buffy began to feel the evening’s tension drain out of her, leaving her at peace and with a regained composure.

She found that just sitting and allowing the room to work its influence was all that she needed. She curled her legs up, tucked her feet under her, and leaned back into the cushions. Her mind began to drift away. She thought about the things that she had to be thankful for. The friends she had; who were incredibly supportive. They didn’t have to do the things that they did. They could have abandoned her to a lonely road. Allowed her to walk alone. But they didn’t. Indeed they did so much the opposite, continually standing in harm’s way to help her in her fight against the undead. Buffy smiled unconsciously as she thought about Willow, Xander, Oz and Cordelia. They made her life so much more fun and enjoyable than she could remember it ever being. They forgave her when she made mistakes, as she forgave them. Their friendships were strong and built on foundations that were as solid as any that she could think of. The foundations of knowing that night after night their lives depended upon the actions of each other. Each had talents that made the group strong, that contributed to the continued success in the fight against evil. Buffy smiled unconsciously as she thought about Willow’s extraordinary research skills; Xander’s flippant sense of humour which kept them going in a tight corner; Oz, Willow’s support who was the calmest person Buffy had ever met; and Cordy who was just Cordy, providing someone for the rest of them to take their irritation out on!

What a motley crew! Buffy laughed to herself.

Then there was Giles.

Giles was the group’s guide and mentor. He was the one who pulled them together and held the centre when things threatened to disintegrate around them. He worked incredibly hard to ensure that they were all safe, and so far had succeeded very well. Buffy started to think with some guilt about the long hours that he worked. He was still in the library long after, on most nights, she and the gang had relocated to The Bronze for frolicsome fun. She suspected that on many occasions he brought his work home with him, that the television, video and stereo were very rarely used, and that the word ‘fun’ could not be used to describe Giles’ life very often.

Like her he was bound by destiny and duty. Unlike her, he did not seem to have much opportunity to shed his secret life and escape for short periods of time. True the group were his friends, but where were the friends he should have of his own age? Possibly in England, although he never mentioned any, other than acquaintances at the Council.

And let’s face it, she thought sadly, when he does make an effort to get to know someone the whole thing ends up in tragedy, with poor old Giles finding his girlfriend dead in his own bed. Not something that is going to encourage future relationships. And even if he did make friends how could he explain away his long nights of research? The large amounts of time spent with a group of teenagers? Buffy began to realise that for Giles it was probably easier to remain isolated from other adults and to just concentrate on watching over her and the others.

She had felt that her burden was heavy, but Giles’ was also. Guiltily as she thought back over the time that she had known him, she could not think of many occasions when she had thanked him, for his time and his efforts. Simple words, and yet she had not used them nearly enough.

She remembered one time when she had thanked him, very early on in their relationship, after Giles had saved her from Amy Madison’s mother. She had called him her hero. She remembered now the embarrassed glow of pleasure that had lit his face at her words. She needed to make sure that she thanked him much more often. There was no one else to show that he was valued. He gave up so much for her.

Buffy looked around the room. Did he ever play his records? She could not remember an occasion when she had been here and music was playing. Did he ever just sit, as she was doing now? With music playing, and a book in his hands? Leaning back into the cushions and letting the world of duty and responsibility slip away, for even the shortest time?

Was being a Watcher truly all there was to Giles’ life? Buffy felt the sneakings of curiosity.

************

When the chime of the nearby church called out the hour of one Ripper started from the doze into which he had drifted. As he struggled with consciousness he felt that there was something that he should remember. Something important. As his sight cleared and he saw what stood in front of him everything came flooding back. Randall . . . Oh! God!

Ripper sent his chair flying for the second time in as many hours as he strove to put distance between himself and his second nocturnal visitor.

It was a strange figure – like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions.

Ripper stumbled in his efforts to push himself through the wall at his back and into the next room.

‘Wh . . . who . . . who . . .’ The words failed to come.

‘I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.’

‘Long past?’ Ripper managed.

‘No. Your past.’

‘My past? But why? What brings you here?’

‘Your welfare!’ said the Ghost. ‘Your reclamation. Take heed!’

It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and clasped him gently by the arm.

‘Rise! and walk with me.’

Ripper found that he had no protests to offer, and felt his body pass whole through the wall that he had desperately been trying to squeeze himself through moments before.

‘Bloody Hell!’ Ripper could not help the expletive. He gazed around in shock and wonder. Then gradually his eyes lost their look of curiosity and amazement. They became shuttered and cold. The face that had been full of comical astonishment became closed and defensive.

‘You know where you are?’ The spirit enquired.

‘Home.’ Ripper said shortly.

Before them stood a large cottage. The roof was thatched, the windows were the small kind threaded through with lead to make quaint diamond shapes, there was even a slightly crooked wooden front door with a lift up catch. A little wooden fence enclosed a neatly tended garden. Everything was covered lightly by a dusting of snow, which was still floating down from a ghostly moonlit sky. It was picture postcard idyllic. And Ripper cringed back like a condemned man confronting his own gallows.

‘Please . . . I don’t want to.’

With gentle insistence the spirit drew him forward and into the house. Ripper’s footsteps were unsure and he felt his knees give way, but still the spirit proceeded. Ripper’s eyes, which had been shuttered and bleak, showed blind panic and a desperation to turn and run, but he was unable to break free of the guiding hand that gently propelled him onwards.

There, before them, appeared a man. An older sterner version of Ripper. He sat down outside an upstairs room and buried his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking almost uncontrollably.

Ripper moved forward, unconsciously. Then turned to face the ghost. ‘No! You could not be so cruel. Please,’ he begged. ‘Not this Christmas. Any other but this.’ His voice broke, and he could not continue.

The spirit rested a comforting hand on his shoulder.

Ripper could do nothing but watch, as a woman emerged from a room and touched the seated man on the shoulder. He looked up, and Ripper was almost overcome by the pain in his eyes. With a gesture of helplessness the man rose and followed the woman into the room.

‘Come.’

‘I can’t, spirit. I know what is going to happen. I can’t change it. You can’t change it. It happened. I don’t want to see it.’ Ripper looked to the spirit with eyes that welled with unshed tears. ‘It isn’t fair to make me see.’

‘But this is where it all began. You must watch and accept the past. You must be able to understand the past in order to let it go and be able to move on into the future. Come.’ The spirit drew Ripper into the room.

‘. . nothing we can do, Mr. Giles,’ the woman was saying. ‘She was already weak from the illness.’ Resting a comforting hand on the man’s arm she continued, ‘the birth was much easier than expected, but she has been too ill. With the best will in the world we cannot expect her to last even until the morning. I will leave you now, sir. I’ll wait downstairs with your son. Call me when you need me.’ Quietly she left the room, leaving the man alone with a slight figure on the bed. He moved forward and, as if his legs would no longer support him, collapsed at the side of the bed and took the hand of the woman who lay with ominous stillness. Tenderly, he pressed it to his lips.

‘Mary?’ The trembling voice was raw with pain. ‘You can’t leave me. Mary? Please. I can’t do this without you. How can I raise a son without you? Mary! Oh, God! Mary!’ The man’s grief was overwhelming him. Tears trickled quietly down his cheeks. ‘I should have taken you to the hospital. It was madness to have this happen here. What was I thinking of?’

The woman stirred, and turned to him slowly. ‘You did as I asked, Henry,’ she breathed. ‘I knew that it would be too much.’ She smiled gently, and moved her hand to caress his cheek to brush against the stream of tears. ‘I wanted it to be here.’ She spoke slowly. Each sentence was barely audible and fainter than the last. ‘Not in a hospital. Where they would fight to keep me. I didn’t want to struggle. I have to go, Henry. You and I both know that. Where better than here? Home. We have been so happy here.’ She cupped her hand against his face, and looked deeply into his eyes, as if she wanted to drown in the depths of them, as if she wanted to memorise them well enough to last an eternity.

‘I love you, Henry.’

Her hand trembled and then quietly slipped away.

The man bent his head forward and rested his forehead against her face. His shoulders shook.

‘I had no idea.’ Ripper’s words broke the spell for the two watchers. ‘He was always so distant. I didn’t know he could feel like that. Emotion,’ he paused and then went on, bitterly, ‘love, never seemed to be a part of him. At least not as far as I was concerned.’ He rounded on the spirit. ‘I killed her you know? It was too much. Her heart gave out. She died to give me life.’

‘You were not listening,’ the spirit chided gently. ‘Your birth was easy. Your father blamed himself for not taking your mother to hospital. She had already been ill. And she had insisted on the home birth. And against his better judgement he gave in. In future years his treatment of you owes much to his own feelings of guilt,’ the spirit looked at Ripper with heavy significance, ‘and his love – for her.’

‘He never spoke of her.’ Ripper’s voice wavered. ‘He never spoke of anything. He was so closed. So distant. No matter what I did I couldn’t seem to get through. I asked about her, but he wouldn’t say anything. He just seemed to get further and further away.’

He looked at the ghost. ‘He never said that he had loved her. Yet he,’ Ripper turned to look at the two still figures, one now holding the other to his chest as if he would hold her spirit in this world through mere effort of will and tightness of grasp, ‘he did, didn’t he?’

‘More than he would ever say. Even to her, until the very last. But she was a very special person, your mother. Gentle, thoughtful, self-sacrificing and capable of a deep true love. She did not need to hear him say the words, because, perhaps even more than he did himself, she knew his heart.’ The spirit looked closely into Ripper’s eyes. ‘You are your mother’s son. You will love very much as she did. With great depth and great sacrifice. Perhaps without the return that your love deserves. But you are her son. When your heart is given it will be given without reservation. You will protect and cherish to the utmost of your ability. It is your nature as it was hers. She never blamed your father for the feelings that he was not able to show. She merely accepted him for the person that he was. You will be the same. When you love it will be with acceptance of the person to whom you have given your heart, and of the limits that may have to be.’

Ripper looked up with surprise. ‘I don’t think so,’ he laughed bitterly.

‘You do not know yourself well, yet. You have still much to learn; about yourself and about others. Including your father.’

The ghost paused and looked again at the two entwined figures across the room.

‘What colour are your eyes?’

Ripper looked bemused by the sudden change of tack.

‘What colour are your eyes?’ The spirit repeated.

‘Green. So?’

‘Your father’s eyes were brown.’

‘Yes.’ Ripper agreed impatiently. ‘So?’

The spirit said nothing, waiting for him to put it all together for himself.

‘My mother’s . . .’ Ripper said dazed.

‘Your mother’s eyes were green. Every time he looked at you he saw her eyes gazing back at him. You reminded him of what he had lost so much it was easier for him to ignore you than suffer the pain of it. You are your mother’s son. More than you have ever realised. And your father found that impossible to deal with.’

Ripper’s eyes were drawn to the two figures by the bed. He felt as if a veil that had been hanging between himself and the rest of the world was beginning to lift, as if the world order that he had lived with and accepted all his life was shifting beneath his feet.

‘Your father didn’t abandon you because of indifference. It was quite the opposite, Rupert.’ Ripper started at the use of his given name. ‘After her death he hid his heart away. He felt that love was lost to him the night your mother died. The tragedy is that he was never able to explain to you what he had lost, and your lives were the poorer for it. His as well as yours.’

Ripper could do nothing but look at his father and mother. It was the first time he had ever seen his mother. In so many ways it was also the first time that he had seen his father.

‘Come,’ the spirit said. ‘We must leave now. There is more to see.’

Ripper pulled himself as if from a trance, and hesitated. ‘A moment spirit, please?’

The ghost looked questioningly at him, and then nodded in quiet understanding. Ripper stepped forward quietly, and studied the face of his mother closely. The fragile features half hidden against his father’s shoulder. The eyes, so like his own apparently, were shut forever to the world and he had to make do with imagination. But, quietly, he studied the auburn hair shot through with strands of gentle grey; the arched eyebrows; the gently feathered long eyelashes that rested against the pale skin of high clearly defined cheekbones; the determined curve of a mouth which, like the eyes, was bordered by lines caused by frequent laughter; and the long graceful line of the chin. His mother had, indeed, been a very beautiful woman.

Then, leaning over the couple on the bed, he gently kissed his mother on the cheek, and as a tear slipped onto her pale face he murmured, ‘Good night, mother. Sleep well. God Bless.’

Then he turned and followed the spirit out of the room.

**********

There was still no sign of Giles. Getting up, Buffy began to wander aimlessly around the room. She had never really paid much attention to the decoration before. Hadn’t really had the chance. Now she went and stood in front of the bookshelves, and studied the titles. Demonology; vampire lore; mythology; legends, they were all well represented. But there were also some other strange finds. Several autobiographies, among them A Long Walk To Freedom and Angela’s Ashes; a large collection of writings by and concerning Winston Churchill; and an eclectic collection of English classics including, she noted, a well worn copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This symbolised a side to Giles that Buffy had rarely had chance to think about before. The fact that he might conceivably like to read something other than Watcher necessary texts brought her up short. It was this human non-Watcher context that she had, previously, not really considered.

As she moved along the shelves she found a small picture frame into which had been inserted a photograph and a pen and ink sketch. The photo was of a stern-faced man who stood stiffly upright and looked straight into the camera unflinchingly. After a little time Buffy decided that this man might well be related to Giles. He had the same high forehead and marginally receding hairline. He also wore glasses, although they were of the heavier type of a former generation. His suit, too, indicated a different era. Buffy could only hazard at the fifties or early sixties.

The sketch was harder to fathom. It was of a woman. She was frail and fragile looking, as if she was not long for the world. Perhaps her most distinctive feature was her eyes. They had been drawn with great care and detail, and they were green. Just like Giles’s eyes. Could this be his mother? Buffy wondered. She was also curious about the initials R.G written in the bottom right hand corner, which indicated that Giles might be the artist. Buffy looked more closely. Curious she thought that Giles should have a portrait of his mother and no photographs. Did this indicate that he had been closer to his mother than to his father? She was thinking in the past tense, and yet she had no evidence yet to assume that Giles’ parents were dead.

It was strange to think that Giles had parents. Somehow he had succeeded in being just Giles, with no real history attached, apart from Ethan Rayne and an association with the Watcher’s Council. Parents had just never seemed to enter into her thinking. And yet he must have them, Buffy thought. Unless they were dead? He had never said. And you never asked, a little voice of guilt said in her mind. In all the time that you have known him he has had to listen to you harping on about your family and background, indeed he must know your autobiography inside out. And you know what about him, precisely? Actually, precisely nothing.

Her curiosity further piqued Buffy started to look seriously for evidence of ‘Giles History’. Beyond the picture frame she could discover nothing in the immediate vicinity.

**********

Ripper found himself in a classroom.

Rows of desks were neatly arranged. All empty except for one. Ripper looked at the lonely figure with hooded eyes.

‘I don’t see the point, spirit,’ he said. ‘There is nothing for me to learn in this place. I came here to school, that is all.’

The spirit smiled. ‘And did you enjoy your schooling?’

Ripper shrugged. ‘I suppose so.’

The spirit did not answer. Instead they watched together as the solitary boy who was undeniably a younger version of Ripper sat at his desk reading. Every now and then he used his left hand to push a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles back onto the bridge of his nose. But still they persisted in slipping. The boy sighed, and looked out of the window. Just visible was a crowd of boys gathered around various motor cars, accompanied by parents. There was a longing in the boy’s eyes that was heart-breaking. However, as two other boys skidded into the room his eyes became shuttered and blank, very much like the expression that Ripper’s eyes so often held.

‘Still here, Giles?’ One of the intruders asked.

‘Come on Porter,’ his companion laughed. ‘You know he never goes anywhere. Holidays or not. Still I expect you like it here by yourself don’t you, Giles? A text-book freak like you must love it, having the free run of the school over the holidays. Having the library all to yourself. What a blast.’ The two boys laughed in the careless way of those who know that they are being cruel to someone who has no defence.

‘Have a great time, Giles. Don’t metamorphosis into an encyclopaedia whilst we’re gone will you?’

Laughing loudly the boys gathered up the pen set they had come to retrieve and left. Giles watched them go without saying a word and then quietly went back to his book. But his body was held tautly as if he were in pain, and was afraid that any sudden movement would hurt badly. And Ripper knew that his eyes did not see the page in front of them. That a mist of tears got in the way.

‘You were lonely,’ the spirit said in a matter of fact voice.

Ripper merely nodded. ‘I never went home. That made me different. The others always talked about their parents, families, holidays that sort of thing. It was like a foreign world that they all lived in.’ Ripper watched his younger self with pained eyes. ‘I wanted to share their world, but I couldn’t. So the more they talked about things I couldn’t share in, was jealous of, the more I withdrew from them. The more I withdrew the more I had to find something else to do. I found books. I read the books so I did well in lessons. I got called a swot. But it didn’t matter. I found I could escape into books, and so I did.’ He stopped, as if suddenly aware of what he had revealed.

Ripper laughed scornfully. ‘That was in the days when I still thought that if I studied hard, and came top of my class, that my father would be proud of me and would come to prize-giving. Well, I got to be top of my class but he never came to prize-giving. I don’t think he even knew I made it. I tried so hard to please him and he never bloody took any notice.’

Ripper turned and kicked hard at one of the desks, which, being of a ghostly persuasion was impervious to his anger.

The spirit smiled. ‘You discovered a talent, that is all. You found studying easy. It would stand you in good stead later, when you began training to be a Watcher. But this period in your life will also stand you in good stead in the future. It has provided you with an understanding.’

‘Of what exactly?’

‘Of those who are alone. One day you will have the opportunity to help someone who feels just as alone as you did back then. Your understanding and sympathy will bring you close together and you will be able to provide the support that person will need.’

Ripper looked scathingly at the ghost. ‘I don’t know where you get your ideas from, but you are completely stark raving mad. I can’t imagine anyone wanting my sympathy or understanding mate. Not in a million years. Some bloody agony aunt I would be. Let’s see . . . . you want to tell me your troubles? Well let me first of all tell you about the death of one of my best friends during the summoning of a demon. I killed him. You still want to be around me? Or would you prefer to run a mile? Oh, really? Well I can’t say that I blame you.’ He swung back to the ghost and pointed an angry finger into his face. ‘This is a load of crap. Any minute now I’m going to wake up and laugh at myself. Now bugger off.’

The ghost smiled slightly. ‘You say that your father never took any notice?’

Ripper was caught off guard. ‘What?’

‘You say that your father never took any notice?’

‘He never did, no. So? I got by. When he told me about the Watchers I went along with it. It just seemed like more school. More learning. Well I was good at that so why not?’

Ripper wasn’t aware of a shift but suddenly the school room was gone and he was standing in his father’s study back in the cottage where he had been born.

His father was talking with two men who were dressed in tweed suits. Both men wore wire-rimmed spectacles that made them appear learned and somewhat formidable.

Ripper heard his father say, ‘He’s at school. He stays there for the holidays. I pay extra, but it means that I don’t have to see him.’

‘Gosh. Thanks, Dad.’ Ripper breathed.

‘Then you have no idea how he is progressing?’ One of the visitors asked. ‘It is your duty, Henry to keep a good eye upon your son. You know his destiny. You know of the calling that awaits him, as it did you. We had word that you were neglecting this.’

‘I neglect nothing,’ Giles senior argued. ‘There’s his report card. See for yourself how well he is doing. Top of his class in everything except Gym. His teachers think he is a future scholar. Studious and dedicated it says. He is doing fine.’ The report card was thrown onto the desk.

‘But you don’t see him?’

‘Is there any reason why I should?’

‘He is your son, Henry. Surely that should mean something. He must be guided by you. He is a future Watcher for God’s sake. You should be tutoring him in the ways of the Council. You haven’t even started to do that yet. Instead you leave him to run wild at some boarding school, and hardly set eyes on him from one start of the year to the next. What sort of training is that?’

‘I hardly believe that his report suggests that he is running wild. Rather the opposite. He is working very hard. I haven’t begun his training yet, but that hardly matters. If he’s as bright as his teachers say that he is, he’ll pick it all up very quickly anyway. Why worry him about it now? We all known that the training starts with very basic routines, he will have no trouble. None of us ever did. I expect he’s like every other child, like I was at his age, his head filled with strange nonsense’s about what he wants to do. The council can tutor him soon enough. Destroy his childhood dreams.’ Giles looked up, and ended, bitterly, ‘like it did mine’

The second man interceded quietly. ‘Henry, please. Lets discuss this rationally. We were all prepared by our parents, or our relatives connected with the Council. You are failing in your duty, to the boy and to the Council.’

Giles senior rounded on him. Then he seemed to pull himself up short, and took a deep breath.

‘Right, Travers. Fine. What do you want? The boy? Fine. Take him. I don’t want him.’

Ripper caught his breath, and turned to the ghost. ‘Please take me away. I don’t need to see this.’

The ghost crossed his arms and continued to watch.

Travers held onto Giles’ arm gently, and turned him so that the two men faced each other.

‘Henry,’ he insisted sympathetically.

‘Goddammit, Travers. Let go of me. He’s my son. I can do what I like.’

‘Fine. If that’s the way that you feel then I think that it would be in the boy’s interests for us to take him into the Council’s care. He can begin his training early. We will take over his guardianship. However, you are his father, and it is your responsibility to explain to him what is happening, and to prepare him for the duties that await him. That I will not allow you to shirk.’

There was a quiet in the room. Everyone watched as Henry Giles shrugged his shoulders and looked at the group one at a time. ‘If you feel that that is what would be best, then take him. I’ll do what you ask.’

After a moment when the men seemed to wait to see if he would change his mind, Henry Giles turned his back to draw the meeting to a close, and the council members finally turned collectively to leave.

‘Thanks Dad.’ Ripper said bitterly. ‘You put up such a struggle. I meant so much to you it’s painful.’

The ghost rested a hand on Ripper’s arm, and pointed at his father’s figure. Henry Giles had slumped into an armchair and covered his eyes with his hands. Hands that Ripper noted shook with emotion.

‘Mary . . . oh, Mary.’ The words were muffled and Ripper had to listen hard to make out what his father was saying.

Henry Giles looked up, and the tears on his cheeks were visible to the two watchers.

‘I know you would be ashamed of me. I know that I’ve let you down. I know that I’ve let him down. But Mary, I just didn’t know what to do. You weren’t here, and I just shut down.’

Ripper found himself compelled to watch.

Henry Giles crossed over to the desk and picked up a photograph. Gazing down at it as he sat himself down again he began to speak in quiet strained tones.

‘It’s not his fault. Mary, you would have been so proud of him he is doing very well. I would have to be made of stone not to be proud of a son who produced a report like his. But I just can’t . . . .’ he faltered, and then continued, ‘I can’t love him like he deserves. Every time I look at him I see you, and I think of what I’ve lost. I blame myself for what happened, and then I find myself blaming him, which is completely unfair but I just can’t help it. Mary . . . I’m so sorry.’

Giles picked up the discarded report and thumbed through it. ‘He really is doing so well. He is going to get prizes on Speech Day. I could go I suppose, but . . .’ Giles sighed heavily. ‘Every time I look into his eyes, I see your eyes, Mary. Every time I see him, I see you.’

Giles stopped speaking, and remained sitting in silence looking at the photograph he held in shaking hands.

Ripper looked at his ghostly companion, and smiled weakly. ‘Fine. You proved your point.’

The spirit smiled.

Ripper looked at the tableau again and then went forward. He laid his hand on his father’s shoulder and moved his hand back and forth in a soothing motion. He knew that it was impossible for his father to feel, see or hear him. But still he left his hand in contact and said, ‘It’s okay, dad. Please don’t punish yourself. I understand, now. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to shut down when someone dies. When you feel responsible for their death, and would do anything to change things. I wish I didn’t but I do. I know exactly how you feel. I don’t blame you, anymore. It wasn’t your fault. You were just human like all of us. Love was stronger than you were. I don’t blame you, dad. And,’ he smiled quietly, ‘I don’t blame me anymore either.’

He stood up. ‘Time to go, I think.’

The ghost nodded.

**********

Now in full investigative mode, Buffy decided to widen her research parameters. She tried the study, the hallway and then tentatively ventured upstairs.

A dim light showed her the way along the landing. There were no photographs on the walls, merely two landscape paintings by an artist she did not recognise, one of a bleak foggy city scene, and the other of an idyllic cottage out in the country.

Buffy pushed the door to the bedroom. There was a light on beside the bed but the room was empty. There was only one photograph in the room. It stood on the bedside table, and showed herself with Xander, Willow, Oz and Cordelia. All were looking either into the camera or at each other, and all were smiling. She recognised that it had been taken not long after her return to Sunnydale, when friendships were being renewed and strengthened into bonds that were almost like family ties.

It was strange that Giles would have that picture next to his bed, surely? And yet . . . .Giles was like a father to the gang. Wouldn’t a father have pictures of his children where he could see them last thing at night as he turned out the light? And where he could see them first thing in the morning upon waking?

Buffy stared at the photograph. It suggested an affection of which Giles had never spoken. And yet of which she had always been aware, she realised. He had stood in for her father, for both Xander’s parents, and both of Willow’s, too. It was to Giles that she and her friends had become accustomed to turning if they had a problem. She smiled as she remembered how he had struggled to cope and understand the teenage mind. He hadn’t done too badly, she decided. And he’d had to put up with quite a lot along the way. He had been the butt of many a joke, and they had often poked gentle fun at his style of dress and his mannerisms and habits. Yet he had just smiled that self-deprecating smile of his and carried on. Buffy started to feel a little pang of guilt about the ribbing. Had they hurt his feelings, she wondered? Had any of them taken the time to really get to know him? Since she herself, the one who had the most contact with him, could not tell whether his parents were alive or dead, or if he had any other living relatives, she began to suspect that the answer was no.

They had been typical teenagers, absorbed with themselves.

Buffy tried to think about anything that she knew about Giles’ childhood or youth, other than the infamous Ripper incident and the fact that he had once told her that he had wanted to be a fighter pilot when he grew up, and came up with a big fat zero. More investigation was needed, Buffy decided. The man was an enigma and could not be allowed to remain so.

She continued with her search.

**********

Ripper found himself back in his bed-sit. It was dark and depressing but he had much to reflect upon which meant that he took no notice of the gloom. Indeed, in a perverse way, it helped him to focus. He felt as though his emotions had been through the ringer, and his chest hurt somewhere in the region of his heart. He slumped into his chair and tried to make sense of it all.

He must have fallen asleep because he was brought awake by the sound of the clock striking the hour. Ripper waited for what he was certain would come.

The Ghost of Christmas Present smiled a half smile and asked Ripper to accompany him.

The Watcher’s Council was in session. They had much to discuss that was of importance before they broke for their Christmas recess.

‘There is the case of Rupert Giles,’ one elderly gentleman said.

There was a general murmuring of agreement. ‘A decision will have to made, and soon. Once we locate the young man we will have to decide what we are going to do. His actions are unprecedented, and are a disgrace to the council and our traditions.’ The elderly man’s voice rose. ‘I vote that we expel him. He has betrayed us, and all that we stand for. I believe that no second chance should be given.’

Again there was a murmur of agreement. But one man shook his head. ‘You do not agree, Travers?’

‘No. Rupert lived under exceptional circumstances for a great many years. He was denied the love of a father or a mother for reasons with which you are all familiar. Therefore he had to survive alone. He was his own best friend, and he was a good support to himself. However, he wanted desperately to earn his father’s love. When he came to us I secretly suspect that he still hoped that by following in Henry’s footsteps he could gain the recognition from his father that he had craved for all his life. His father’s death last year meant that that was no longer possible. I believe our young Mr. Giles finally decided to please himself for once, and who can blame him?’

The others watched and listened. There was much logic in what Travers was saying.

‘He had been cooped up with books since he went to Prep. School. Ordered about left, right and centre. Remember he never went home for the holidays so I suppose school rules still applied, and although his father paid the school to keep him over the holiday periods, I doubt that any special provision was made. The company of other boys, of friends was not something that happened. He was something of a loner by all accounts anyway. School involved a rigid following of rules, when he came to us that was no different. And remember he came to us much earlier than other candidates because of his father’s neglect. I believe we then neglected him also. When,’ and Travers surveyed the group, ‘when did Rupert ever have the chance to be a child? To blow off steam the way normal children do? I submit, gentlemen, that rather than Rupert failing us, we in fact have failed him. We should have seen this coming and we didn’t. He needed more support than we gave. Because he was withdrawn and quiet, because he was no trouble and kept himself to himself, we assumed that everything was fine. How many of us actually bothered to get to know him properly?’ Travers looked around, but no one caught his eye.

‘That is fine gentlemen, because I am as guilty as all of you. The boy was a terrific asset, a fantastic scholar. He was his father’s son without question. There was no doubt in my mind when I looked at him that I was looking at a future Slayer’s Watcher. None whatsoever. And that was it. That was all he was. A future Watcher. And because he worked so hard and said very little I didn’t need to worry. I didn’t need to get to know him. He made it so easy for us, and none of us,’ Travers hammered the table with his forefinger, ‘none of us took the time to see the child who wanted someone, anyone, to say well done. Praise him. See him for the person that he was, and not just the future Watcher we knew him to be.’

The council sat silently and in reflection for some time. Then Travers cleared his throat. ‘His father’s death meant that the one thing he wanted most in life was denied to him forever. I believe that he then decided to see if life had something else to offer instead of destiny, vampire lore and endless study. Those first few days at University must have been overwhelming. So many new things, new people and so forth. I wonder? Did we prepare him as well as we could have done? I think not. Then, as luck would have it he ran into Ethan Rayne and was seduced by forces that must have seemed exciting and intriguing. We know enough about Rayne to realise, now, that a worse influence on someone who feels that he might like to embrace a rebellious lifestyle it is hard to imagine.’

Travers voice had calmed now. ‘We owe it to Rupert to find him, bring him back and see if he wishes to continue with his training. We need to talk to him, and make him realise how important to our organisation he is. But, sirs, we should not punish him. I do not think he deserves that from us.’

Ripper watched the discussions going on in front of him with a face that looked as if it was carved out of stone.

The spirit nudged him, and laughed playfully. ‘Good man that Travers. Is he right?’

‘About me? I s’pose so.’ Ripper shrugged. ‘It was a wonderful feeling to do things that I wanted to do for once. There was no one to say no. No rules to follow.’ He grinned, ‘it was bloody fantastic.’ He paused, ‘Until . . . .’

‘Until you did something that you wish that you hadn’t?’

Ripper nodded. ‘It all got out of hand. Bloody stupid really. God I’ve been such a pillock. But if I went back . . . I don’t know. So much has happened. I’m not the same bloke who ran away. How could I face them, knowing what I’ve done. Travers is okay, but the others aren’t so forgiving.’

‘Things are never easy, young man.’ The spirit looked at Ripper closely. ‘But you have to make the choice, and soon. You should recognise that although not everyone will welcome you with open arms, there are those who will support you, and guide you.’

Ripper nodded. His eyes swept over the scene, then he looked at the ghost. ‘Is that all you have to show me spirit?’

The ghost smiled. ‘There is nothing else that is necessary here. It is up to your last visitor to make up your mind.’

**********

Buffy was continuing her search. The bureau in the study was her latest target. She pulled open the top drawer, and smiled with success. Inside was a treasure trove of personal effects. Her hand paused. This was an invasion of privacy, and she wondered if she should continue. She assuaged her conscience with the thought that Giles knew everything there was to know about her, and that fair was fair.

The first thing that came to hand was an old school report. Smiling happily, Buffy opened it and began to read. Giles had been a model student. But she would have expected nothing less. By all accounts he had been top of his class in all his academic subjects, and his teachers could not praise his efforts and achievements enough. Buffy felt her chest swell with pride. She knew that her Watcher was an intelligent man, but she doubted that even Willow had ever received such a glowing report. Thinking of Willow made her realise how alike Giles and she were. Giles’ report stated time and again that he was quiet and reserved, and his form master mentioned that he felt that Giles needed to mix more with his peers.

Buffy remembered Willow when she had first met her. Quiet and subdued, and looked upon with disdain by the majority of students because she excelled academically, and, more than that, because she enjoyed being academic. Was that what it had been like for Giles, too? Did that explain his studiousness, and his appealing embarrassment when he knew the answer to a difficult or obscure question? Did that stem from his schooldays? Had he been bullied? Buffy could not imagine it, and yet the more that she thought about it the more that she was certain that school had not been easy for Giles. He was studious, and wore glasses. That was enough, she knew, from experiencing youth culture at first hand.

How would he have dealt with it, and thought guiltily of how he dealt with the gentle bullying of the Slayerettes. He shrugged it off, and hid any hurt behind a smile. Buffy suddenly realised that Giles had probably got very good at hiding his feelings throughout his life, and that he quite likely had had to start at a sadly young age.

Buffy thought of Giles’ enigmatic green eyes and began to wonder what he really thought, and how much he did keep hidden. She found this disconcerting and went back hurriedly to the report.

The back page was an invitation to Prize Day, addressed to Mr. Henry Giles. It took Buffy a short moment to realise that there was no Mrs. Giles mentioned. She speculated upon this. Had Mr. Henry Giles been widowed, or divorced, or separated? There was no further clue. The penultimate page was written in an upright hand under the heading ‘Pupil’s Comments’. Feeling like a sneak, Buffy read what had been written: ‘I think that I have done very well throughout this year. I have gained good grades in all my subjects, and have been awarded five prizes. I hope that my father will be able to come to Prize Day, and that he is pleased with what I have achieved. I will continue to work hard, and will strive to do even better next year.’

Buffy read this through twice, and then flicked back to the final page. At the bottom of the invitation was a return slip which she had not noticed before. It was blank. Mr. Giles she realised had not gone to Prize Day, and had not seen his son receive his prizes. Buffy read again the pupil’s comments. They seemed very formal and something about them indicated a distance between father and son, and also that the son wanted the father’s approval. Buffy had some experience of this through her relationship with her own father, and she wondered again about hidden feelings and Giles’ childhood.

She at least had her mother. It looked as if Giles had not been so fortunate.

Just as she was putting the school report back she saw something else in the drawer, which piqued her interest. Gently she withdrew the black and white photograph which showed a group of young people with their arms cast carelessly around each other. One was unmistakably a youthful Giles, another Ethan Rayne. A third was a thin fair haired youth who did not look as brash and bold as his companions. And there was something of hero worship in the way that he looked up at Giles who had his arm around the youth’s shoulders. They were all similarly dressed in jeans, leather jackets, t-shirts and boots. Ethan and Giles both had ear-rings in and were both smiling the wolfish smile Buffy had come to associate with Ripper. Was the callow youth Randall? The one whose death had caused Giles so much heartache over the years? She looked at the group. There was so much history here. It was a shame she thought that people were unable to see the consequences of their actions. How different things could have been. The pale boy, for really he looked no more than that although his two companions looked older, might not have died so uselessly leaving Giles with a void of shame and guilt with which he had had to come to terms.

Buffy followed this line of reasoning. If that had not happened would Giles have gone back to the council? If he had not gone back he would not have been there over the past years to care for and protect her. Buffy realised that that did not bear thinking about. Life without Giles? She realised suddenly that that would leave a huge hole in her life. One that could not be filled. She had grown comfortable in his company. She had come to see him as the rock in the turbulent sea of her life.

Yet, as she looked at the photograph, she realised that his life, and therefore hers could have been so different. He looked very striking she thought, unconsciously, as she admired the attractively tousled hair and the eyes which looked filled with wicked mischief. And that smile. It was such a devil-may-care, to-hell-with-the-rest-of-the-world kind of smile. I bet he had all the girls for miles around wanting to eat him alive, Buffy smiled to herself. And then caught herself. This was Giles she was thinking about. Mr. Tweed.

Buffy looked again at the photograph. How much of Ripper remained in Giles, she wondered? Surely you could not just reinvent yourself, and become someone totally different, as Giles seemed to have done. Had the Watcher’s Council browbeaten him when he went back? Had they punished him to such a degree that he had had to discard Ripper forever?

She suddenly thought about her own life, after Merrick her first Watcher had approached her and revealed her Destiny to her. She had had to reinvent her own life. Was that why Giles might be frustrated with her, and yet show such endless patience? Could he see something of his own experiences in hers, and therefore be able to sympathise and understand more than she had thought possible?

There was so much she realised, that she did not know, or had chosen to ignore. She thought about the quiet reserved manner Giles had. Was that an act? She did not think so. He was, essentially, a shy man. He was methodical and studious, he was intelligent and occasionally witty, he was able to take care of himself in a fight (despite his careless habit of being knocked out more times than she could count) and had been known to wield a hefty baseball bat in anger. Was that the Ripper side that he now kept carefully under control thanks to the experience of life? Which was the real Giles? Or were they both real?

Buffy slowly came to the realisation that she was spending a great deal of time musing over her Watcher’s life, something that she had not done before. And why did I not she wondered? He spends almost his entire waking life thinking about me and the dangers that surround me, and I hardly give the poor man a passing thought. Because I know that he is so reliable, so dependable.

Buffy thought about this for some time. Yes, Giles was those things. But he was also . . . . . also what? He was also a very interesting man, she decided. Someone about whom she wanted to know considerably more.

She slowly replaced the report and the photograph.

**********

Ripper was prepared now. He had some idea of what was in store for him when the final ghost appeared. The phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.

Ripper looked at the spectre with eyes that were weary.

‘Ghost of the Future,’ he said. ‘I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But I know your purpose is to do me good.’

Nothing was said, but as the apparition took his hand Ripper found himself transported to a white-tiled room containing two grey steel benches and several hospital gurneys pushed up along a wall. His eyes flitted nervously around and then came to rest on two men in white jackets who were wheeling in another trolley on which rested a suspiciously shaped black plastic bag.

‘Spirit?’ He queried quietly.

The phantom made no response but continued to watch. Ripper did the same.

‘For God’s sake! Christmas bleedin’ Eve, an’ ‘ere we are fishin’ ‘em out the Thames. Happy bloody Christmas to you, too.’

‘I don’t think he did it with the express intention of ruining your Christmas, Frank.’

‘I was ‘opin’ to get off early ‘n’ all.’

‘Well let’s hope no one else feels as desperate as this poor chap, and that this is our last case.’

‘Amen to that, for sure.’

‘Meantime, Frank, do you think that you could find it within your kind and Christian heart to show a little feeling for your fellow man, and help me treat this young man with some dignity and respect? Especially as it is Christmas n’ all.

Frank had the good grace to look ashamed.

The two men lifted the body from the trolley on to one of the metal tables. Then Frank, smiling sheepishly at his companion, picked up a clipboard.

‘Sorry, Timmy my boy. You’re right o’ course. Well, let’s get on wi’ it. Do we ‘ave a name for the poor bleeder?’

Tim checked a tag attached to the bag. ‘No name,’ he said sadly. ‘Just John Doe Number 24.’

‘Well we’d better ‘ave a few more particulars then.’

Tim went to the head of the bag and drew down the zip. Although Ripper had felt that he would be prepared he found that he wasn’t, and found himself gagging at the sight of his own pallid lifeless face.

‘Poor bleeder.’ Frank said again. ‘I s’pose he’ll be just like the other J.D’s. Nobody’ll claim him, and the local council will end up paying for ‘is funeral. Then ‘e’ll get an unmarked grave somewhere. Shame really. ‘E looks kinda young, too. Poor sod.’

Tim listed a few particulars about hair colour, teeth, and distinguishing features, and then looked closely at the dead Ripper’s face.

‘It seems such a shame. He does look young, you’re right. So sad to feel that life had nothing to offer, and that it wasn’t worth going on with things. To feel that there was nowhere he could turn.’ He shook his head sadly, and as Frank disappeared to file his report, gently touched Ripper’s face. ‘Lord, bless the soul of this poor unfortunate man, and give him the rest and peace he seeks.’

Ripper watched with tears in his eyes as Tim refastened the zip, and then as he and Frank wheeled the body out of the room.’

The sun shone bright in the cold blue sky of winter. There was a harsh chill in the air. Young voices chattered loudly. Ripper blinked. He was completely disorientated, and struggled for some time to get his bearings, only to find that he was failing miserably. He was standing in front of a large building with the legend Sunnydale High School over the door. Ripper turned to the phantom. ‘This place . . . I don’t recognise,’ he swung around, ‘it,’ he concluded.

The ghost said nothing.

‘Talkative aren’t you? Well, fine I’ll draw my own conclusions. That is what you want, isn’t it?’

A group of youngsters walked past. One was a young girl with fair hair, another was a girl with striking red hair. They were followed by a young man in oversized clothing, and an endearing puppy dog look on his face.

‘Guys,’ he was saying, ‘I can’t just get you to listen to this theory? It’s a perfectly good theory. Really. The vampires will be completely deceived.’

The girls exchanged looks and proceeded on their way without slowing down.

Ripper moved to follow them. ‘Vampires?’ He swung around. ‘One of them is the Slayer, right?’

He followed safe in the knowledge that to these people he was invisible. The group finally finished in the library, to be greeted by an elderly man with a thin face and even thinner mouth. His eyes were hard and cold as he surveyed the youngsters.

‘You are late again, Buffy. Your tardiness is not in keeping with your responsible position. You really must begin to grow up. People rely on you. You are ignoring your calling.’

Ripper looked with sympathy at the blonde girl – Buffy. She shrugged.

‘So what are you going to do? Fire me? It’s Christmas. I wanted to do some shopping.’

The conversation got no better. It was obvious to any onlooker that Slayer and Watcher, for so Ripper presumed the elderly man to be, had nothing in common. They were generations apart in age and even further distant in personality. There was no connection. Ripper knew that that sometimes happened. He had read one or two books on the subject whilst at the Council’s headquarters, before going to Oxford. Sometimes the right Watcher just did not present himself at the right time, or was prevented from taking up his position due to unforeseen circumstances. A substitute was sent in an emergency, but the situation usually proved to be very unsatisfactory.

Ripper rewound his thought – ‘the right Watcher was prevented from taking up his position due to unforeseen circumstances.’ Did that include, in a bizarre fashion, the Watcher being unavailable due to having committed suicide some many years before?

Ripper watched the girl, and found himself being strangely drawn to her. There was a spark there, an independence. But he could see that she and the elder statesman who was her Watcher had nothing in common. She had the repressed air of rebellious youth ready to break free of its bounds and experiment with what life had to offer. Ripper watched with sympathy as time and time again she and her guide came to verbal blows about slayerage and its importance in their respective lives. Ripper came to see a bright young girl with enough energy and enthusiasm for three slayers.

It was also obvious that her Watcher could no more relate to her than Ripper could to – his own father he realised ruefully.

Is this what I’m going to miss? Being the Watcher to this girl?

The sense of disorientation that he had begun to be familiar with enclosed him again.

‘Jesus! I wish you guys would give me some idea of when you are going to do that,’ Ripper complained peevishly.

He found himself in a cemetery. Looking warily around he finally saw Buffy fighting a clutch of vampires. She moved with an athletic grace that was completely natural, and which can only be practised not taught. Ripper watched in admiration as she dispatched the undead with economy and little fuss. Her lithe and supple body moved with total and unthinking coordination, and Ripper felt his body stir. He found just observing more difficult than at any point during the difficult scenes that he had witnessed throughout the long night.

She looked so capable and yet so strangely vulnerable. He held his breath as one of the remaining vampires came close to striking her a fatal blow, but her superb reflexes saved her, and she finished the job with a swift strike to the heart.

‘Way to go, luv,’ Ripper breathed his approval.

Buffy recovered herself, and Ripper admired the way the moonlight caught her fair hair, seeming to give her a halo akin to a saint or an angel. Ripper decided he favoured the angel, and felt his breath catch in his chest as he watched. She has the most intriguing eyes, he decided. Such smooth skin. And bloody fantastic reflexes. Christ! I bet she could do a guy some damage if she wanted to. Ripper suddenly realised where his thoughts were going, and smiled wolfishly to himself. Shame I can’t go up and introduce myself, he thought. She wouldn’t stand a chance.

If you play your cards right you can go up to her and introduce yourself in a few years. Then see where that leads, Ripper smirked to himself. However . . . he paused. How many years? What year was this? As if the phantom had read his mind, which Ripper realised he probably actually had, he found himself presented with a newspaper.

‘Nineteen ninety what?! Oh, bloody hell, spirit. That’s positively cruel. I’ll be bloody middle aged. She’d never look twice at me.’ He turned to watch Buffy as she hitched herself up on to a convenient tomb and began to examine her nails.

‘Mind you, as her Watcher I could make damn certain that nobody looked at her, couldn’t I?’ he grinned wickedly, and leaned back against a tree to admire the view.

The vampire appeared out of the shadows with frightening stealth. His strike was swift and sure, and before Ripper could shout a warning, which would not have been heard anyway, Buffy had slumped forward and Ripper could only watch in horror as her body sagged bonelessly into a crumpled pathetic heap at the foot of the tomb.

‘Christ!’

Ripper made as if to move forward, but found that the elderly man from that afternoon had beaten him to it. He had emerged from a grove of trees carrying a cross-bow, and had seen the final moments. He stood over the body looking down with a flickering of regret upon his face. ‘ Well, Miss Summers, you see I always said you would be careless once too often.’ He bent to check for a pulse that Ripper knew was gone, and then shaking his head he moved away to be swallowed up in the darkness.

Ripper found that his feet moved of their own accord, and he found himself kneeling, as if for absolution, at the side of the dead Slayer.

‘Buffy, if I can change this, I will. I promise. Any Slayer deserves a Watcher who will be dedicated. Who will stand by them to the end. Even I know that, and I only read a couple of the bloody books.’ He rested his hand on the straw fair hair that had so fascinated him earlier, and gently stroked the disordered strands. ‘You deserve someone who won’t just walk away at the end. There should be someone to cherish and hold you. I promise Buffy, when the time comes, in the future, there will be someone there. I promise, Buffy. I promise to be there.’

**********

Buffy found that she was intrigued by her latest finding. It was a piece of paper, well-creased and coming apart along the seams of the folds. It had seemed to be cast into the drawer carelessly, and she had almost overlooked it. Now she wasn’t certain what to make of it.

It was dated some twenty or so years ago, in a handwriting which although not exactly the same was unmistakably Giles’. Underneath the date was written a poem.

Weary with toil I haste me to my bed,

The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;

But then begins a journey in my head

To work my mind when body’s work’s expired;

But then my thoughts, from far where I abide,

Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,

And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,

Looking on darkness which the blind do see:

Save that my soul’s imaginary sight

Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,

Which like a jewel hung in ghastly night

Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.

Lo thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,

For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

Below the poem had been written, I will work hard and do what is required. I will make sure that I am there. I must make sure that I am there. R.G.

Looking again Buffy found that on the back was another penning, underneath a much more recent date.

Being your slave, what should I do but tend

Upon the hours and times of your desire?

I have no precious time at all to spend,

No services to do, till you require;

Nor dare I chide the world-without-end-hour

Whilst I my sovereign watch the clock for you,

Nor think the bitterness of absence sour

When you have bid your servant once adieu.

Nor dare I question with my jealous thought

Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,

But like a sad slave stay and think of naught

Save where you are, how happy you make those.

So true a fool is love that in your will,

Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.

I am here, and it is as I thought. But it is no mind, because I am here, as I should be. R.G

Buffy started to wish that she had paid more attention to some of her lessons in school. There was an obscure message here that she felt that she could not quite see. Or that maybe she did not want to see.

She read the second sonnet again. ‘Your slave’ and ‘your servant’. Who did Giles see in such a way that he would describe himself as their ‘slave’ and ‘servant’? And ‘love’? Her mind slipped away from that for the time being, as she strove to find a link between the two sonnets. They were written almost two decades apart, and yet she felt that they were connected in some as yet unfathomable way.

The link she could not find, but the second verse made her feel upset in a way that she could not truly understand. She could not possibly be feeling some kind of . . . she paused to examine her thoughts carefully . . . jealousy?

Buffy dropped the paper back into the drawer as if she had been stung by it, and stood looking at it as if she expected it to morph into a vampire on the spot and she would have to kill it swiftly.

At last, reaching into the drawer, she extracted the paper again turning it over and over in her hands. Trying to ignore the feelings that she could sense beginning to take form in her mind, and her heart. Or possibly they had always been there but had been rigorously suppressed.

She looked at Giles’ upright slightly cramped handwriting. It looked like it was repressed, she thought with a smile. Like the man himself. A quiet reserved man who found it extremely difficult to show or share his feelings.

Buffy looked again at the piece of paper. Was this what he had to do? To write down his feelings, because he felt that he could not share them? Or at least talk them through with someone? But who was there, truly? Buffy thought about the Scooby Gang. How could a reticent middle-aged man unburden himself to a group of teenagers? She knew that Giles would rather die first. Horribly. So who else was there? She realised that there was no one, and that it was difficult for there ever to be because Giles spent almost every minute of his time searching out obscure references about numerous demons and such, so that she could go out and kill them. And if he wasn’t doing that he was out on patrol, or being knocked unconscious for the cause, or saving her or the other Slayerettes from grievous harm. Giving of himself selflessly and with true dedication to something that could not be revealed to most people.

Buffy looked at the slip of paper again and studied the words. ‘No services to do till you require’. Who did Giles serve?

He served her. Which meant . . .

Buffy found that her mind was toying with an idea that she simultaneously wanted to walk away from and explore further. The feelings in her heart were growing stronger, but she was aware of confusion in her mind.

Confusion was not something that the Slayer was used to. It was uncomfortable, but she needed to deal with it. She needed to deal with these new issues, and decide what she was going to do. Yet, were they new? She wondered, had she subconsciously been aware of them for a long time but ignored them?

She began to re-examine her relationship with her Watcher, trying to remember expressions that had crossed his face, words that he had said, gestures he had made. Anything. Glimmerings came to mind, but nothing that would result in anything but a hung jury. Giles, she realised, would be extremely hard to convict, and yet she was beginning to believe that he was guilty. And for herself . . .?

There were odd times when his eyes had lingered just a fraction too long, and she knew that it had pleased her. Times when he had looked up and smiled as she entered the room, which had made her feel warm inside. She remembered his complete lack of condemnation, no matter how far she pushed him or made him suffer; and she had made him suffer, especially over her actions concerning Angel, she realised. Yet he had never turned his back. She read again - ‘though you do anything he thinks no ill.’

There had been so much she realised.

He had served her with a loyalty and dedication that she barely deserved.

Buffy sat down in the chair by the bureau and read through the poems again. They had made her think more honestly about Giles than she had before. They had made her realise that she was very good at taking, but was not so very good at giving and being appreciative. Of the time and the effort that went into doing what he did. Of the fact that it deprived him of the semblance of an ordinary life. And more . . .

And the very stark fact that she had so very very rarely taken the time to thank him for what he did.

For any of it.

For being there when she returned from patrols; for offering to take on The Master in her place; for resisting Angel with all the strength that he could; for searching for her countrywide for a whole summer after she left without a word; for being so lacking in condemnation when she came home; for offering ‘support and respect’ when she most needed it; and simply . . . just simply for being there.

She had just accepted, and taken from him selfishly from the moment that she had first met him.

And he had let her.

Buffy looked once more at the words.

Slave.

Servant.

Fool.

**********

Ripper fell out of his chair as the clock struck the hour and pulled him rudely from his slumber.

Shafts of sunlight crossed the room catching the sparse furnishings and showing up the stains on the wallpaper and the worn carpet. The light cruelly exposed the layer of grime that covered most of the window, the windowsill, the table, and the empty shelves. In the sink were the few pieces of cutlery that Ripper owned. They were unwashed and festering. A few clothes, creased and unwashed were flung carelessly over the back of a chair by the unmade bed. The small room was testimony to a man who had lost his way and given up hope of salvation.

Ripper surveyed things.

Then he realised how things were. There was light. That meant that it was day. Which meant that his night of strange encounters was complete. Pulling himself to his feet he staggered to the window and looked out. He then tugged the pane open exposing the room to a sharp intake of cold air. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious! Glorious! He could see the roofs of London glistening with the raw frost that had cleared the air. The sky was a pale blue which complemented the yellow glowing sun. Ripper could see right across the city.

Everything was so clear.

With a decisive move he collected his jacket and shrugged it on. Casting a swift glance around the hovel at the debris of his life, Ripper went out shutting the door conclusively behind him.

**********

Giles entered his apartment. Making certain that he slammed the door loudly. He went into the front room, and smiled a greeting to Buffy who was sitting on his sofa. He glanced at the piece of paper on the coffee table, and looked thoughtfully at her.

‘Buffy?’

‘Giles?’

The tone of her voice caught him.

‘Where you been?’ Buffy asked.

‘Store.’ Giles raised the paper bag he was carrying. ‘Uh, Buffy? It’s Christmas Eve. Don’t you have somewhere that you really ought to be?’

‘I’m not certain.’

‘Oh . . .?’

‘It depends.’

‘On . . . ?’ Giles let the question hang in the air between them.

‘You.’

‘Me? Well, I don’t have any pressing predictions pending, that I can think of. I don’t think you need to stay on patrol if you would rather go home. Your mother will be waiting.’ He paused. ‘Did something happen?’

‘Yes, I rather think that it did.’ She looked up at him Really looked at him. The attractively tousled hair, the green eyes which so often looked deceptively uncertain, and yet which were capable of piercing decisiveness. Eyes, that rarely let you know what their owner was thinking. Eyes that were accustomed to hiding feelings. There was the mouth that could thin in anger or smile shyly or shut tight in disapproval at the antics of a group of teenagers who mocked mercilessly. And there were worry lines across his forehead that she hadn’t noticed before. Giles looked like someone who carried the weight of the world around on his shoulders, but who wouldn’t share his burden with anyone.

But they were, she had to admit, broad shoulders. She had not noticed them before beneath the tweed jackets that he wore.,

And his tie looked very rakish, pulled down to half mast.

She had never consciously looked at him from that point of view before, and she was beginning to see what she had been missing.

‘Buffy?’ Giles prompted.

‘Giles, I need to ask you a question, and I need for you to answer it honestly.’ She paused and looked at him. ‘When you need someone to talk to, and I mean really talk to, who do you turn to?’

His eyes looked curious for a moment before the shutters came down, and he hid behind a half smile.

‘I’m not sure that I know what you mean?’

‘When you really worry, who do you talk to?’

‘No one. I work out any problems I may have through thinking the situation through and acting upon the conclusions’

Buffy smiled.

‘That’s a good Giles answer. Self reliance rules, huh?’

Giles returned her half smile. ‘Not really. It is more a case of necessity. After all if I was to talk to anyone about my Slayer, who is an seventeen year old girl and with whom I do things like fight vampires and demons I feel that I would very likely find myself committed to a mental institution of some kind, or at the very least asked to leave the country as a delusional alien. Besides, most of the time I’m too busy to think too deeply about anything except the next rising of the undead, in whatever form it might take.’ He looked at her. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘I was just thinking about things. I was just thinking about . . . you.’

‘Really? I’m flattered.’

Giles moved forward and parked himself attractively on the edge of the coffee table facing her.

He picked up the paper, and turned it over and over in his hands before looking Buffy in the eyes questioningly.

‘I found it,’ she defended.

‘It was rather well hidden, as I recall.’

‘Not well enough.’

‘Obviously.’

The stilted conversation stalled for a moment.

‘Giles, who did you write the poems for?’

He smiled. ‘Again, I’m flattered, Buffy.’

‘Huh?’

‘I’m flattered that you think that I would be able to produce work like this.’

‘Oh. So who wrote them then?’

‘A chap named William Shakespeare. You might have heard of him.’

‘Of course I have,‘ Buffy nodded in certainty. ‘He’s in that film, right?’

At Giles’ look of pure despair she rescued him. ‘Giles, of course I’ve heard of Shakespeare. He is very famous, and wrote some very famous plays, some of which I can name, like Romeo and Juliet, and stuff.’

‘Definitely and stuff. I believe he’s very well known for that masterpiece.’ He smiled that quirky smile that often came to the fore when he had tried to bring culture into the conversation, and the gang had brought him down in flames.

Buffy realised that she had been diverted off the point, and strove to get back on track.

‘The poems Giles?’

He looked down at the paper again and shook his head.

‘It’s a very long story, and it’s almost as bizarre as having a Slayer and fighting vampires through all hours of the night. Buffy what brought this on?’

‘I was thinking, and I’m going to ignore that look. I was thinking about you, and how I actually know nothing about you at all. Which seems really unfair, seeing as how you get to know everything there is to know about me. So I,’ Buffy had the grace to look a little embarrassed, and flunked the rest of the sentence.

Giles looked amused. ‘You took advantage of my absence to attempt a research project.’

‘Yes,’ Buffy nodded enthusiastically. ‘And I came up with these. Tell me about them Giles.’

Neither of them could ignore the undercurrents that were playing around them, tugging gently and drawing them away from safety.

‘The second one seemed appropriate when I reread it some little time ago. It reflected my life and the way that I led it very well I thought.’

‘Does that mean that you see yourself as my slave and servant?’

She could feel the dangerous waters closing in around her. She wondered if Giles was affected by such a whirlpool of emotions as she could feel swirling inside of her. Outwardly he looked so calm.

Giles smiled slightly. ‘Buffy, that is the purpose of my life. I am here to serve you, because that is what I was trained to do, and because you do rather need someone to watch over you.’

Buffy looked into his eyes, and for the first time saw all the things that he did not say, saw the depths that he had kept so well hidden. She wondered if they had been there before and she had just been blind, or if his self control had been much better. She felt that she was going to drown. The undertow was so strong now that she could do nothing but be pulled along with the tide.

‘Just watch?’

Again he got the gentle reflective smile.

‘There has never been an opportunity to do anything else but watch, and protect, and support. What was needed, and what was necessary, I provided. That is my job, Buffy. And it always will be. I had known that it would be for a great many years, and I accepted it willingly when the time came.’

Buffy listened to his voice. Like all of him she had taken its calming tones for granted. He had come to be a part of her life that she merely accepted could be trusted and relied upon without question. She had rarely, except when he had torn himself apart over Jenny Calendar, thought about him having feelings at all. He was just Giles. Giles the Reliable. Giles the Researcher. Giles the Responsible. Stuffy Giles. Tweedy Giles. Mr. Bookman.

Buffy looked. She saw the human being behind the title ‘Watcher’ for almost the first time. For the first time she saw . . . him.

And more.

Because he allowed her to see it.

For the first time.

Things slowed, and the moment’s silence stretched comfortably as he allowed her time to explore his eyes, her feelings, his eyes again, and then her feelings once more. He smiled in support, not just with his mouth, but with his eyes as well. Giles often smiled, but although his mouth quirked his eyes would usually be distracted. Now they were not distracted in any way. They were very clear, and what Buffy could read in them took her breath away.

Somehow their hands became entwined without either of them being aware of any movement being made.

Their eyes continued to communicate all that needed to be said, and then, as if by mutual unspoken agreement, they both leaned forward towards each other and allowed their lips to touch. Their mouths smiled against each other and then gently drew apart. Both were aware that tacitly a pact had been agreed between them, and that their lives had taken a new turn.

Later, as she rested comfortably against his shoulder, both of them curled up on the sofa, Buffy asked the question that was uppermost in her mind.

‘Giles?’

‘Yes, love?’ How good that sounded she thought.

‘You said that the second poem was how you felt about your life now. So what about the first one? What was that all about? Is there someone that I should be jealous of?’

‘Not at all,’ and she could hear the laughter in his voice, although there was an undercurrent of something else. Bitterness?

‘Tell me, Giles. Please.’

Giles sighed. He thought back twenty years. He could still remember the effect of seeing Buffy for the first time. He knew that in a strange way he had been in love with her for longer than she had actually been alive. Freaksome, he thought with an inward smile. His beloved’s vocabulary was obviously rubbing off on him. He thought back to those troubled haunted days when he knew that his life had been a mess and his mind verging on the unhinged.

Then he remembered the things that he had been shown, the things that had driven him to turn his life around.

And at the end, when the last phantom had been fading away, he recalled the vision that had seemed an illusion. Of him standing across from his house watching Buffy going in, and then of the two of them coiled up together as they now were, and of the sense of completeness and happiness that had come to him across the years. He had had no way of knowing if that last seemingly unbidden hallucination had been one that he was meant to see, or one that accurately foretold the future, or whether it was a figment of his fevered mind that night. But the hope had kept him going for many many years. Now he could sigh with total contentment, and tell her the story.

‘Buffy you will think me run mad, believe me. However, you feature in things rather strongly so I suppose you have a right to know. Then you can judge for yourself.’

Giles gathered himself, for the account did not reflect well on him he knew. Thankfully, Buffy was aware of certain elements of the tale already.

‘Well, let’s see. Randall was dead to begin with . . . ‘

END


Karen Sanderson
Dec 1999-April 2000