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Odd Shoe

Rupert Giles was very nearly humming a tune as he walked through the vaulted, musty darkness of Deep Storage Three, making plans. Although he certainly was going to miss the easy access to the manuscripts, the departure of the Library for its new St. Pancras facility meant a substantial increase in the exhibit space his own department could use. Of course, he would have to choose the objects carefully; it wouldn't exactly do to put any of the more unorthodox items out onto display...

Giles was pulled from his pleasant musings by the sound of sobbing up ahead. He frowned, peering into the gloom until he could make out the blonde hair of one of his graduate assistants, who was leaning against a crate and sniffling. Oh, dear. Giles sighed and raked his hand through his own hair, then approached the girl reluctantly.

"Caroline, are you all right?"

She lifted her head to show a tear-streaked face. "Oh! I'm so sorry, Mr. Giles. I didn't think anyone could hear me back here."

"What--what are you doing?"

She looked back down at her shoes. "Nothing." There was a long, excruciating pause. "It's just..my boyfriend's gone and left me."

"Well, yes, I'm sorry"--he frowned and looked more closely at the crate she was draped over--"but you--you can't be crying here. It simply won't do. Run along." He made a little shooing gesture.

The girl looked at him blearily, and he repeated the gesture, a touch impatiently. She started crying again, but got up and shuffled off. The graduate assistants simply weren't worth the trouble, he thought, looking distractedly after her for a moment. Next year he'd have to see if he could get away without supervising any. He bent down to inspect the crate, fishing a tiny crystal on a chain from his pocket. It flashed a deep purple as he passed it over the crate's lid. Yes, the despair demon trapped in the funerary urn inside had definitely been feeding on Caroline's grief. He would have to come back later that evening to dissipate the energy it had built up. Much later. It would be embarrassing enough to be seen with a John Denver album in his possession, but it would be even worse to be caught playing it to one of his relics.

"Good evening, Mr. Giles."

Startled, Giles dropped the crystal, and glanced up at the figure looming over his shoulder. "Oh, it's you, Dr. Trapes."

"As perceptive as ever." The pudgy, pasty man stooped and picked up the crystal, looking at it significantly.

"Thank you." Giles didn't care for the way he was studying the crystal with his close-set eyes. "Tell me, how are you enjoying that charming new purpose-built facility of yours?"

Trapes glanced up sharply, and his eyes glinted. "We're managing." He held out his hand. "I apologize for interrupting...whatever it was you were doing...but I have important news."

"It couldn't have waited for the committee meeting next week?" Giles asked irritably, hastily putting the crystal back into his watch pocket. "I do have work to do."

"More than you realize. We have been informed that Merrick has been...eliminated."

Giles sat down on the crate and took off his glasses. "Oh. Goodness, that's awkward."

"Certainly it was unexpected. Of course, he was a colonial, and they rarely show good form in this sort of work, but the powers don't consult us when they make their choices." Trapes tsked, smiling faintly.

"So, Buffy Summers no longer has a Watcher."

"That's not strictly accurate. She hadn't a Watcher."

"The new one has been chosen already?"

"Yes. The signs were very clear."

"Who is it? Poor chap, having to go into exile in California and hold the hand of some silly American girl..." Giles trailed off, noticing Trapes's slight smirk, then leapt to his feet. "Oh, no. Absolutely not. It's--it's--it's out of the question! I'm a leading scholar of occult relics and an important member of the staff here! I can't go to...to...Shinyvale!"

"Well, as you mention it," Trapes said mildly, "the Council certainly would have preferred someone more reliable, someone in whom we could place more confidence, but, as I said, we weren't consulted. We'll all simply have to make the best of the situation."

"I beg your pardon? More reliable? I've been supervising every cursed, possessed, or otherwise unpleasant relic that the Council has come across for fifteen years without incident! There hasn't been a single death, dismemberment, astral projection, or transmogrification on my watch!" Giles paused for a moment, remembering. "Except for that one fellow who was turned into a frog, but I did restore him...after a while, at any rate."

"And before that? The Council has a long memory, Mr. Giles."

Giles's tone was icy. "It cannot possibly be longer than mine on that subject."

"What about that crystal?"

"Strictly white magic. I can't possibly control these artifacts without some resort to the supernatural."

"Well, perhaps you're correct. Perhaps you can't. It may be for the best that you're moving on, then."

Giles put his glasses back on and stared at Trapes. "I will be returning."

"Of course," Trapes said dismissively. "Of course. No doubt sooner rather than later."

"What, exactly, are you trying to insinuate, Dr. Trapes?"

He smiled coolly. "Only that Miss Summers is not exactly a credit to the Slayers, and even your undoubted prowess as a Watcher may not serve to prolong her life unduly. Now, we've found a position for you as the librarian of her new school. We're sure you'll find that experience quite enjoyable."

"Librarian," Giles repeated blankly. "At a...high school."

"It will be easy for you to conceal your books there. It's quite a pleasant facility, I'm told; large, modern, vaguely ethnic...very American."

"Well, that's, that's just wonderful."

"Such devotion to duty is commendable, Mr. Giles. There will be a briefing tomorrow at six. Please be prompt."


A few hours later, Giles stood at the entrance to the tube, gazing wistfully at the pub across the way. A pint would go down well just then, but he wanted to be prepared for the meeting the next day. He certainly wasn't going to have that wretched Trapes patronizing him in front of the rest of the Council. He needed to learn everything he could about the Summers girl and Sunnydale. Sunnydale--heavens, what a name. They probably had mandatory group hugs to start out the school day. He winced. He didn't think he could do it. There had to be some way out. Perhaps he could prove it had been a mistake. He wouldn't put it past Trapes to try to tamper with the selection process--

"Sometimes I wonder what we were thinking myself. Man, he's a pain."

Giles blinked at the short American in the pork-pie hat who was suddenly standing next to him. "Who are you?" He felt the crystal pulse in his pocket. "Besides a demon, I mean."

"You know, that was kind of direct for an British guy," the stranger observed. "Aren't you supposed to say everything sarcastically or ironically or something?"

"An annoyance demon. What a fantastic discovery." Giles started down the steps. "I must update our typologies at once."

"You don't want to go to Sunnydale, do you?"

Giles froze. "How do you know about that?"

"I was eavesdropping earlier."

"Not in Deep Storage Three," he said indignantly. "I have wards against--"

"I'm not that kind of demon. Not all demons are dedicated to the destruction of mankind."

"All right, let's say, for the moment, you aren't out to rid the earth of our kind." Giles shifted to the side to avoid a surge of people. "Then why were you eavesdropping?"

"Do you want to have this conversation in front of every tourist in London?"

"Oh. No." Giles came back up and moved to a bench set back from the street. "There. You know who I am."

The demon sat down next to him. "Yes. You're Buffy's new Watcher."

"And you are?"

"Whistler."

"And...?"

"And..." Whistler leaned forward. "...that Trapes is a real dork. How do you not punch him in the nose?"

Despite himself, Giles relaxed a little. "I did--once. Many years ago. I don't believe he's ever forgiven me."

"Good for you. Too bad it didn't help his attitude."

"I don't think homicide would help his attitude."

"Well, now you get to get away from him for awhile. And you thought going to Sunnydale was gonna be such a bad thing."

Giles grew wary again. "How do you know about Sunnydale? And about...us?"

"You mean the Watchers? I was sent."

"By whom? The great supervisory board in the sky?"

"Yeah, something like that."

"Why should I believe you?"

He shrugged. "You don't. But I have to give you the pep talk anyway, Ripper."

Giles looked at the demon's frank, rabbit-like face for a long moment, wondering if his heart would ever stop sinking at the sound of that name. "All right. Give me the talk. I suppose I have to get used to them."

Whistler nodded. "Your new boss is really touchy-feely. But that I understand. He's from California, what can he do? You, I don't understand. I didn't think you'd take it like this. I thought you British guys were all about duty. You know it's your job to go watch Buffy."

Giles pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. "Oh, I understand it's my duty. What I don't understand is, is why. You people--whoever you may be--were spoiled for choice. The Council has a whole stable of potential active Watchers who are younger, stronger, better-trained for dealing with young people, enthusiastic for their work. And..."

"And who don't have that line on their resumes, '1974-5, Raised demons; got friend killed.'"

Giles sighed. "Yes."

"Well, maybe that's why."

"I don't understand."

"Nobody understands me. It's my curse."

"That, or you speak cryptically on purpose. Do you, by any chance, get paid by the word?"

"I'm a messenger, not some kind of journalist. Look, Giles, Buffy Summers is gonna have it tough. She's no ordinary Slayer. The guys you mention, they're okay, but they wouldn't cut it in the long run. Not for Buffy. She needs somebody who's not gonna be the usual kind of Watcher. For now, you're just gonna have to accept that. But you'll get it soon enough."

"So, you're telling me to have faith." Giles shook his head. "That's marvelous."

"Those other guys?" Whistler got up. "They wouldn't need to be told."

"And that's in my favor?"

"What can I say? You'll see." Whistler crossed to the edge of the street. "Bye."

Giles threw his hands up in frustration. "Good evening."

The demon looked back over his shoulder. "Oh, and cheer up, Giles. It's not every day you get to go live on a Hellmouth."

"Sunnydale is a Hellmouth?" Giles jumped to his feet. "Whistler--"

But the diminutive demon had already vanished into traffic.

"A Hellmouth!" Giles said to himself, oblivious to the passers-by eyeing him dubiously. There were only five of them that they knew of, and none of them were active. This was a tremendous research opportunity! Oh, and it would make Trapes furious--

For the first time since he'd heard the news of his selection, Giles smiled.


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