I’m older, Giles reminds himself. Wiser, more experienced. It’s doing him a favour to point out how ridiculous he’s being, persisting in this absurdity that he’s Buffy’s Watcher.
He watches Wesley’s face tighten with what he imagines is hurt as he carries on talking to him, stripping away the pleasure the man must have felt when Buffy grudgingly admitted that he’d improved her crossbow proficiency by suggesting a change in her stance. The stance I taught her...
“- and I’m sure, were you to report back to the Council, recommending my reinstatement, they’d not take it as a failure on your part. Let’s be sensible, Wesley; you’ll never get Buffy to accept your authority – and Faith’s a lost cause. You see, Quentin was quite wrong. I’m not hampered by feeling an understandable affection for Buffy, not at all. It means she listens to me, it means –”
“It means that when she dies, you’ll grieve on a personal, as well as a professional level,” Wesley says. “It means that you’ve forgotten she’s but one in a line that will never be broken. It means you’ve lost the ability to use her as a weapon because you fear that she’ll...break.” His eyes are cold now. “I rather think you’ve become a liability, Mr Giles. One that’s making my job more difficult than it need be.”
“Bollocks,” Giles says, resorting to crudity. “You’re doing that for yourself by the way you act around them both. They’re Slayers; they’re strong. They need to be guided by someone who doesn’t simper and beg.”
Wesley nods. “I couldn’t agree more. That they’ve mistaken courtesy and an initial, understandable nervousness for weakness is entirely my fault. I’ve taken steps to address that.”
There’s a dark amusement in Wesley’s voice and Giles frowns. “What steps?”
“Well, you know,” Wesley says softly, taking a step forward, “that’s really none of your business, now is it? My training methods might be a little unorthodox – or perhaps archaic is a better description – but I can assure you they’re all as set down in the handbook. Which, in passing, you should have returned to the Council by now. It’s not meant to be issued to civilians.”
Giles knows what Wesley means and he closes his eyes against the images of Buffy – and Faith – bodies worked to the point of pain; pain applied with a careful precision and a specific goal. “How did you get them to agree to...that?” he says, feeling the words rasp harshly against his dry mouth.
“By not bothering to ask their permission,” Wesley says, with a casual glance at his watch. “They’ll have finished today’s session soon enough and I’m sure you’ll make your shoulder available to be wept upon.”
“This isn’t going to happen, Wesley,” Giles says slowly. “I won’t allow it.”
“Won’t allow the Council appointed Watcher to train his Slayers using methods proven to be efficacious, if a little...stringent? Endanger two young women by mollycoddling them, deferring to them, forcing them to do your job as well as theirs?” A dark eyebrow lifts. “Really, Rupert, one would almost suspect that you were doing your best to get them killed, were it not for all this boundless affection you’re so fond of parading.”
“I do care for them,” Giles says, his voice flat. “Faith’s troubled of course, but –”
“Faith’s a true Slayer,” Wesley says coldly. “Pure killer, responsive to authority – an authority you’ve failed to provide – and once a tendency to be reckless is trained out of her she’ll be a credit to me. Buffy, on the other hand –”
“She’s special! She’s achieved so much –”
“Indeed she has. Saved the world, slain no end of vampires and assorted beasts; pity she died so soon after you arrived, but at least she came back to life; close call, hmm? And let’s not forget her penchant for falling in love with vampires and fucking the soul right out of them so they go on a killing spree and try to end the world.”
“Are you quite finished?” Giles says, biting out the words.
“Nearly...” Wesley stares at him. “You want to stay here don’t you?”
“I’m not leaving, if that’s what you mean.” Giles folds his arms across his chest and smiles.
“I can have you deported with one phone call,” Wesley says gently. “If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m not blind to your usefulness as a researcher, I’d have made it a while ago.”
Undeniably true and Giles slips off his glasses, cleaning them to give him an excuse to look away from Wesley’s eyes, which are studying him carefully.
“I – yes, you can, that’s true. I rather hope that you won’t.”
“And I rather think you need to convince me that you’re not going to challenge my authority again before I make any promises.”
The words are icy but Wesley’s hands are trembling slightly. Giles wishes he could believe it was from nerves.
“I’ll – I’ll do all I can to help you,” he says. Throw him a bone, watch him wag his tail in gratitude.
“Not enough, Rupert.” Wesley’s voice is lighter now, as if he’s enjoying this and really, Giles can’t blame him. He knows firsthand how entertaining bullying can be.
“I don’t know what –” Giles leans back against his desk, trying to seem relaxed, and knocks his pen off it, turning to see it roll and fall in a dark corner. “Damn. Sorry, just let me-” He leans over the desk, hand outstretched, straining to reach the slender silver cylinder.
“That’s just perfect,” he hears Wesley murmur.
He hopes it is. Hopes it’s enough – for Wesley, for the girls. For him.
He grips the pen so hard during what follows that the marks it leaves across his palm don’t fade until after the ones on his backside disappear.
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