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Summoning Anyanka had been a foolish idea, Rupert Giles realised almost instantly. As if it wasn’t enough that he was very clearly a male and Anyanka dealt with scorned women, she also hadn’t taken too kindly to being told she had to undo her spell.

Which was how Giles had ended up pinned to the wall of his apartment by his neck, the vengeance demon squeezing hard as she slowly cut off his oxygen.

“This is the real world now,” Anyanka sneered, and Giles felt his vision narrowing. “This is the world we made.” She smirked. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

Giles struggled against the demon’s grip, but it did no good. He could feel himself fading fast, as he gasped for breath, and he knew there was nothing he could do to stop the inevitable end. But just before his vision faded entirely, he saw Anyanka’s amulet glow green. He clawed at it with a hand, and the next thing he knew...

He was falling.

The Master had Buffy in a death grip, pulling her towards him with a look of triumph. Jaw clenched, Buffy thought quickly. How did she get out of this? What should she do?

There was a thud, followed by a growl from the Master, and suddenly the death grip was gone. The Master had turned his attention elsewhere. Not wanting to let the opportunity pass her by, she lunged for her stake, having dropped it as she sparred with the master vampire. Spinning round, Buffy plunged it into the Master’s back, and watched as his body turned to dust. His skeleton seemed to hang in the air for a moment before clattering to the floor.

Lifting her gaze from the pile of bones, she glared at the boy who had been stupid enough to antagonise the Master.

“You could have gotten yourself killed,” she told him lowly.

To the boy’s credit, he simply stared back impassively.

“I didn’t need your help, you know,” Buffy added with a frown.

The boy gave a small smile at that. “I know.”

Something about the calmness of the boy threw Buffy, so instead she distracted herself with looking around the warehouse. There were bodies everywhere, as well as plenty of piles of dust, but it looked like everyone else had vacated the premises while she’d confronted the Master.

The boy was staring down at the bones. “So, uh, what exactly are we going to do with these?”

Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “They don’t normally leave bones.” She nudged the skull with her foot. “I suppose I should take them to Jeeves.”

“Giles,” the boy corrected, and a look of recognition seemed to flit across his face. “You’re the Slayer. Giles said you weren’t coming, that he couldn’t contact you.”

Buffy shifted uneasily at that. Something about the way the boy was scrutinising her made her feel uneasy. It was like he was observing her, analysing her. “Yeah, well,” she shrugged again. “I’m here now.”

“You are,” the boy agreed. “I’m Oz, by the way.”

Buffy, however, was busy looking around the room. “We’re going to need something to carry the bones in,” she said.

As she and Oz started looking around for something to use as a bag for the Master’s remains, a silence fell over them. Picking over the dead bodies, Buffy eventually found what seemed to be a dust sheet, and quickly moved back to the remains. Seeing that she had found something, Oz moved to help her with the task.

“I’m Buffy,” she said after a few moments of transferring the bones to the middle of the dust sheet so they could gather the four corners together.

Oz smiled softly at her then, and said nothing. The Master’s remains gathered, the two teens straightened up.

“My van’s outside if you want a ride,” Oz offered. “It will be quicker than walking.”

Buffy surveyed him for a moment before finally nodding. “Fine. Lead the way.”

The drive to Giles’s apartment was one filled with silence, but it wasn’t anywhere near as awkward as Buffy had expected it to be. The boy- Oz- seemed quite comfortable with the whole not-talking thing, and she couldn’t help but feel a little grateful about that.

When they finally pulled up outside the apartment block, they climbed out of the van and ascended the steps. As they reached the courtyard, however, Buffy froze, and frowned.

“What is it?” Oz asked with a small frown.

“Stay here,” she responded, shoving the Master’s bones at him and creeping across the courtyard.

The door to the Watcher’s apartment was slightly ajar, and Buffy balled her hands into fists, ready for a fight. But as she kicked the door open, she saw nothing but chaos. And a body slumped on the floor.

“Giles,” Oz breathed, and he must have followed Buffy even despite her telling him not to.

She couldn’t help but roll her eyes at that, as she stepped into the apartment. She crossed to the body, scowled at the bruises around the man’s neck, and bent down to press two fingers to his pulse point.

“He’s alive,” she stated, before looking around the room.

The remnants of a casting were evident on the wooden desk- herbs and candles and jars of things Buffy couldn’t identify.

“He tried to summon the demon,” she said as she took it in. “He tried to break the spell.”

“But we’re still here,” Oz said unnecessarily.

“Well, obviously it didn’t work,” Buffy responded, before surveying the Watcher again.

The man- Jeeves, or Giles, or whatever he was called- groaned, and for a brief moment Buffy thought he’d open his eyes. But he didn’t, and she sighed.

“Where’s the nearest hospital?” she asked Oz.

“Sunnydale General,” Oz answered promptly. “Maybe ten minutes in the van.” Then, without her needing to ask, he said: “I’ll take you.”

Giving the boy a swift nod, Buffy bent down to haul the unconscious Watcher up. Oz moved to support some of his weight, but he was about the same size as Buffy and she could already tell he wouldn’t be much help. So she was more than marginally surprised when he managed to take more of the man’s weight than she’d anticipated.

“You know,” Oz said, seeing her eyes widen slightly, “you’re not the only one with a secret identity.”

He gave an enigmatic smile then, that left Buffy wondering about him, as they slowly moved towards the door.

Sunnydale General was a large, bland building full of confused and crying teenagers. Apparently those who had escaped the Master’s warehouse had sought out medical attention for their wounds, and Oz and Buffy had to pick through clusters of baffled high school students to reach the admissions desk.

“Rupert Giles,” Oz said succinctly to the bored receptionist. “We think he was attacked. He was unconscious when we found him.”

The receptionist took one look at Giles and called for an orderly, who showed them to the bed. The bed was in a corridor, along with a dozen or so other beds, and Buffy realised that Sunnydale General apparently wasn’t equipped for a sudden rush of patients.

“I’d have thought living on a Hellmouth would mean they’d be more prepared for this sort of thing,” Buffy mused as they hauled Giles onto the bed.

Oz shrugged uncomfortably. “Usually people patch themselves up at home. It’s not usually safe to be out at night here.”

“It still isn’t,” Buffy retorted. “Just because the Master’s dealt with, doesn’t mean everything’s suddenly safe.” She glanced pointedly at the bones Oz was still carrying around in the dust sheet.

A nurse came by to check Giles over then, and Buffy wasn’t the slightest bit surprised when Oz explained that the man had had several head injuries previously.

“So he makes a habit of getting knocked out,” Buffy stated once the nurse was gone. “Figures.”

Oz eyed her carefully. “Giles said that you were supposed to be in Sunnydale, long before tonight,” he ventured carefully.

Buffy folded her arms, avoided his gaze. “So I heard.”

Sensing she didn’t want to continue the conversation, Oz turned his attention back to Giles. He didn’t like feeling so helpless, particularly when it came to Giles. He was the leader, the one in charge. The adult. There was something unsettling about him being out cold like this, even if Oz had seen it before.

He just hoped Giles woke up soon.

Giles was taken for tests, and when he was finally brought back, most of the teenagers had been kicked out and the sun was beginning to rise. Oz and Buffy sat on either side of the man’s bed, Buffy feeling a little awkward about the whole thing, and waited for him to come round.

“You said this has happened before,” Buffy said after a lengthy silence. “Does he usually take this long to come round?”

Oz blinked, and considered the best words to use. “No,” he responded eventually. “It’s never taken this long.”

Buffy eyed the man in the bed. “Well, that’s what happens to a guy who summons demons for fun.”

“It wasn’t fun,” Oz said, and Buffy wasn’t sure if she’d offended him or not. He was kind of hard to read. “He was trying to save us.”

I was trying to save us,” she countered with a shrug. “That’s why I went after the Master. Jeeves here was summoning demons on a hunch he might be able to undo this supposed spell.”

There was a groan from the bed then, and the man in question opened his eyes briefly before closing them again.

“W-Whoever is talking,” he said in a strained, hoarse voice, “please shut up.”

Buffy snorted. “I killed your supreme vampire for you and you tell me to shut up? Well, that’s gratitude for you.”

Giles opened his eyes again, and peered at Buffy in confusion. “Buffy?” he asked. “Buffy Summers?”

“Yeah, we’ve already covered this, several hours ago,” Buffy told him, before looking to Oz. “You weren’t kidding about the head injury thing.”

Giles followed her gaze, and blinked at Oz, a delighted smile tugging at his lips. “Oz,” he greeted, “you’re alright.” He frowned. “And everyone else?”

Oz responded with an apologetic shrug. “Quite a few people escaped, but I don’t know who,” he admitted. “I lost sight of Larry during the fight. I would have checked the bodies to see if I recognised anyone, but the Master left us a leaving present and I had to help Buffy with it.”

He held up the bundled dust sheet then, and Giles frowned, moving to push himself into a sitting position.

“What’s that?” he enquired even as he winced.

“The Master’s bones,” Buffy stated. “I figured you’d know what to do with them. Usually the vampires don’t leave me a ‘going away’ present.”

A doctor entered the room then, cutting off all conversation.

“Well, Mr Giles, it looks like you had quite the night,” the doctor noted in a cheery tone. “There doesn’t seem to be anything too wrong, and nothing’s broken, but you do have some cracked ribs as well as a bruised larynx.” The doctor frowned then. “May I ask what exactly happened? Your... Friends here weren’t able to fill in all the details.”

“An intruder,” Giles rasped. “Most likely trying to steal from me.”

Buffy almost rolled her eyes at how easily the doctor accepted the explanation.

“Well, you’ll have to take it easy for a few days, and be sure to drink lots of fluids, but I see no reason to keep you here any longer. I’ll just go see about getting your discharge papers.”

It took all of about ten minutes to discharge Giles; apparently Sunnydale General had a quick turnaround regarding patients. As the three of them made their way out to Oz’s van, Buffy glanced up at the older man.

“I’m guessing the thing with the demon didn’t work out, huh?”

Giles scowled at her. “She must have escaped while I was unconscious. The spell worked fine, but she was stronger than I anticipated.”

“You’re lucky she didn’t kill you,” Buffy said as they reached the van. “Most demons don’t let their victims live.”

“I’m well aware of that,” Giles snapped, before wincing at the pain in his throat. “We’ll simply have to summon her again. I’m fairly certain the amulet around her neck is her power source- it was glowing.”

Oz had already climbed into the vehicle, and watched as Buffy and Giles climbed in. “Well, maybe we should wait to summon her again,” he said as he started up the engine. “Between the three of us, we might be able to take her.”

“Or next time she gets to kill two men,” Buffy frowned. “I don’t see why you’re so fixated on what this girl told you anyway. Who says this is a result of a spell? What if this is just life?” She shrugged, folding her arms across her chest. “Maybe you both need to let go of this fantasy that there’s a better world out there.”

Oz and Giles glanced at each other and said nothing.

Giles was immediately sent to relax on the sofa when they reached his apartment. Oz busied himself tidying up the debris from Anyanka’s visit, and Buffy leaned against the wall and watched.

“Buffy,” Giles said after several long moments, “why don’t you bring the Master’s remains over here? Let me take a look?”

“Sure,” she shrugged, crossing the room to dump the remains on the coffee table. “But they just look like a bunch of old bones to me.”

Giles said nothing, and instead slipped a pair of glasses on before unfolding the dust sheet. A heavy silence filled the air while he examined the bones, and Buffy quickly grew tired of watching him. If she hadn’t believed he was a Watcher already, the way he scrutinised the remains would have proved it to her. He looked fascinated, in a way that she had only ever seen on her other Watchers’ faces.

“We should bury these,” he said after several minutes. “In consecrated ground.”

“We should destroy them,” Buffy countered. “I’m not about to give some vampire a nice little funeral.”

Giles blinked, and Oz watched the scene from where he was finishing tidying up the desk. “Well, I, I understand your feelings,” the older man began slowly, “but I don’t think destroying them is necessary-”

“Isn’t it?” Buffy interrupted coolly. “And how many supreme vampires have you fought?”

Giles stuttered a little more at that, and Buffy folded her arms across her chest.

“We’re destroying them. We’re destroying them, and then I’m leaving.”

“Now hang on,” Giles protested, finding his voice even if it was a little hoarse. “What about Anyanka? We still need to break the spell!”

“You can do that without me,” Buffy dismissed. “You have Oz to stop you from being beaten to a pulp again.”

“But Anyanka deals with scorned women,” the man continued. “I’ve already tempted fate summoning her once-”

“Fine,” Buffy said loudly, cutting him off mid-sentence. “We destroy the bones, summon this Anyanka, and then I leave.”

Giles seemed to sense that this was the best he was going to get, so he nodded after only a brief hesitation.

Buffy looked at the bones set out on the coffee table. “Have you got a sledgehammer?”

Although he didn’t own a sledgehammer, Giles had the money for one. They all piled back into Oz’s van with the bones and drove to the nearest hardware store, before continuing on to the woods.

“I do vaguely remember something about my taking it easy,” Giles muttered as Buffy led them deeper and deeper into the woods.

“You could have waited in the van,” Buffy countered over her shoulder.

“Absolutely not,” came the rasping reply. “You are the Slayer, and I am a Watcher, and it is my duty to-”

“Yeah, yeah.” Buffy sounded extremely unimpressed. “I’ve heard it all before. A Slayer slays, a Watcher watches. You’re here to watch me pulverise some bones just so you can make sure I’ve done it. Haven’t you guys ever heard of trust?”

She came out in a clearing then, and dumped the bones onto the ground. Giles and Oz came to a stop just at the edge of the tree line, and Buffy moved to take the sledgehammer from the younger man.

They watched in silence as the Slayer got to work methodically smashing the bones into the ground. Shards of white bone jumped through the air, buried their way into the dirt, scattered across the grass. There was an angriness to the girl’s movements, and when Oz glanced towards Giles he knew that the older man had seen it too.

Buffy didn’t stop until the shards had been hammered into the ground, until every last bone was barely more than dust, and when she turned to face them, there was a furious look in her eyes. As she walked past Oz, she shoved the sledgehammer at him and he took it without thinking.

She didn’t stop walking until she reached the van.

“Just tell me what to do.”

Giles surveyed the stubborn Slayer with a slight unease. None of them had talked about Buffy’s actions in the woods, but he couldn’t help but feel the reason for her anger might have been at least in part linked to her failure to show up in Sunnydale. Still, he could tell that forcing the matter would only anger the Slayer, and he knew their current priority needed to be undoing the wish.

“I’ll do the mixing of the ingredients,” he told her carefully. “I simply need you to recite the spell. When Anyanka appears, you will need to grab her amulet and destroy it. That will reverse the spell.”

Buffy didn’t look convinced, but Giles pointedly ignored that and instead set to work mixing the ingredients. When he was ready, he nodded to Buffy.

With a sigh, she leaned over to read the words for the spell. “Anyanka, I beseech thee. In the name of all women scorned, come before me.”

Oz startled as the demon appeared in the middle of the room, and even Giles unconsciously backed away. But Buffy just arched an eyebrow at her.

“You know, I was expecting something a little scarier,” the Slayer said as she scrutinised the demon in front of her. “Oh well. Let’s just get this over with.”

She darted forward then, and aimed a blow at the demon’s head, but the demon blocked it.

“Slayer,” Anyanka greeted with a smirk. “How nice of you to join our little town.”

Buffy said nothing, and instead blocked a blow from Anyanka.

“B-Buffy,” Giles’s nervous voice came from a few feet away. “We might have a problem.”

Landing a blow to the demon’s stomach, Buffy glanced over her shoulder with a scowl. “What?”

“T-The amulet,” Giles said, wide-eyed.

“Yeah?” Buffy prompted.

Oz pointed towards the demon. “She’s not wearing it.”

The Slayer blinked, and looked back at Anyanka. There was no amulet around her neck. Anyanka laughed.

“Do you really think I didn’t know what you were planning?” the demon sneered. “I wasn’t falling for your little scheme! My amulet is safe and sound somewhere you’ll never get your hands on it.”

“Without the amulet, we, we can’t reverse the spell!” Giles informed them, sounding more than a little anxious.

“Oh, you won’t be reversing anything,” Anyanka grinned. She looked around wistfully. “I hope you enjoy your new lives. They were so much fun to watch unfold.”

And before anyone could react, Anyanka had vanished. Buffy blinked at the spot where the demon had been just a split second before. A heavy silence filled the room.

“I take it that wasn’t the plan?” Oz said at last.

“No,” Giles agreed quietly. “It wasn’t.”

Oz left a little while later, sent home by Giles to get some sleep.

“I should go,” Buffy said, standing by the front door.

“Back to your Watcher?” Giles asked, perched on the arm of the sofa.

Buffy shrugged and avoided his gaze. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

Giles frowned. “You know,” he said after a moment, wincing at the soreness of his throat, “when I was first told I was destined to be a Watcher, I was told that the most important thing for a Watcher was to be trusted and respected by their Slayer.”

Buffy watched him suspiciously then. “What are you getting at?”

“Oh, nothing,” he said, looking away across the room. “Just that I don’t think you trust your Watcher, if you’re so reluctant to return to him, and that isn’t right.”

The Slayer scoffed. “Look, I can handle myself,” she said, frustrated, “and-”

“I’m sure you can. But it isn’t right that you are stuck with a Watcher you don’t feel a connection to. A Watcher is there to train and guide the Slayer, and the Slayer must have absolute faith in them. Otherwise people get hurt.”

Buffy stepped a little closer then, arms wrapped round herself and a hint of vulnerability on her face. “My Watcher hates me,” she said after a moment. “The one before hated me too. And the one before that. They all had these perfect ideas about a Slayer, and because I didn’t fit into the mould they tried to force me. And when that didn’t work, well...” She shrugged, not meeting Giles’s gaze.

“I remember,” Giles said slowly, watching the small girl in front of him, “that Cordelia Chase knew you were meant to be here, in Sunnydale. That I was sent here to await a Slayer by the name of Buffy Summers, that I was to be your Watcher.” Buffy met his gaze hesitantly. “That there was another world, a- a better world than this, where you made it here and I did my duty.” He swallowed, dropped his eyes to his hands, unable to look at her any longer. “We might not be able to reverse the spell, to undo this nightmare entirely, but perhaps we could- could make this world a little more tolerable.”

“How?” Buffy asked, though he sensed she knew what he was hinting at.

“You have no connection to your Watcher, Buffy, perhaps because he was never meant to be your Watcher. By the time I was made aware of your not arriving in Sunnydale, I had started building a life here, and I was informed by the Council that alternative arrangements would be made for you. But what if those arrangements were doomed to fail? What if the world Cordelia came from got one specific thing right? You being in Sunnydale as the Slayer, I as your Watcher?”

“What if my presence here changed everything, you mean?” Buffy asked, and she looked vaguely ill at the thought. “If I’d arrived when you were expecting me, how much would have changed?”

“Exactly,” Giles agreed, and he couldn’t help the excitement building in him. It would be a lie to say that he hadn’t been disappointed when he had been informed of the change of plans, that he would not receive a Slayer. And to have her here, now, albeit a couple of years later than planned...

“You can’t put that on me,” Buffy said, voice quiet and angry. “You cannot hold me responsible for the way things turned out here.”

The man frowned, and suddenly realised how his words had been misinterpreted. “I- I don’t,” he hastened to assure her. “I, I merely meant that your presence here in Sunnydale might help this world find its balance. Clearly Anyanka has taken extra precautions to keep us from getting her amulet, and while we could try summoning her again, I’m quite certain she’ll avoid Sunnydale in its entirety for the foreseeable future.” He sighed. “I just wanted to offer you an alternative, to going back to a Watcher you don’t trust, or, or being on your own. You were meant to be here in Sunnydale, and so the Council can hardly protest at your staying here. I just thought you might like the option.”

Buffy frowned a little at that, apparently confused by the idea of choice. She moved across the room, and sank slowly onto the sofa, causing Giles to have to move in order to see her.

“Options,” she echoed softly, before meeting his eyes. Suddenly, she wasn’t that cold, hard Slayer who had found him at the side of the road; she was a scared, lonely teenage girl. “I haven’t had options for a long time.” She gave him a tight smile, and the action looked foreign on her face. Giles was willing to bet all his good scotch on the fact she hadn’t had a reason to smile for quite a while. “You know, when I was a kid, I was gonna be a cheerleader. Or an ice skater. My biggest concern when I started high school was getting on to the cheerleading team. It was all I cared about.” Her brow furrowed. “Then it became all vampires and demons and death.”

She lapsed into silence then, and Giles felt compelled to say something.

“When I was a child,” he responded quietly, “I wanted to be a fighter pilot, or a grocer. I was rather quite put out when I was told I’d be a Watcher instead. I think part of the reason I hated it was because I wasn’t given the luxury of choice. It was like what I wanted didn’t matter. I even ran away for a while; I dropped out of university, ran off to London. Did everything I could to avoid the call of the Watchers Council and my destiny as a Watcher. Eventually I went back, of course, but only when I felt ready.”

Buffy seemed to process this. “I don’t think I ever felt ready,” she admitted, voice barely more than a whisper and a pained tone to her words. “I even tried to quit, after my first Watcher died. They wouldn’t let me.” She glanced up at Giles, gave another smile, and somehow this one felt a little more natural. “It’s nice to know someone gets it. My Watchers have always been pretty smug with themselves for being picked. I think it’s why they hate me so much. They can’t understand why anybody wouldn’t want the job.” She thought for a moment longer. “Is the offer to stay still on the table?”

Giles smiled back then, a soft reassuring smile that made Buffy’s eyes light up just for a second. “It is,” he nodded. “I’m afraid the spare room is rather full of things right now, but I can make up the couch for you until we get it cleared out?”

Buffy nodded, though he could see she was trying not to let on how affected she was by his words. “Sounds good.”

Giles stood then, and paused briefly before turning back to her. “I know you’ll probably say no, but I’ll ask anyway. Did you want to call your Watcher?”

“No,” Buffy responded calmly. “But we should probably call the council. Make my move official, and all that.”

Blinking at that, Giles found a slow smile spread across his face. “We should?” he asked, not wanting to get his hopes up just yet.

“Yep,” Buffy said, getting to her feet. “You’re back on the clock, Watcher.” She moved past him to the kitchen. “Got any cereal?”

And as the Slayer began rooting through his cupboards for food, Giles couldn’t help but smile. This world wasn’t perfect. In fact, it had been downright horrific for the past two years. But something told Rupert Giles it was about to get a whole lot better.