Note: this story was inspired by Maureen Wynn's "Little Helper" stories (available at the SunS site). It was such an appealing concept, I just had to -- with Maureen's permission -- try my hand at a variation. I'm not thrilled with the result, but...if you like it, let me know why. Maybe I can jumpstart my muse.

OLD FAMILY RETAINER

by suricata


The box was large, wooden, covered with "fragile" and "handle with care" stickers. And it had air holes. Not many, but if you were looking carefully, you could see them.

Rupert Giles, librarian for the Sunnydale High School, and Watcher for not only the Slayer, but her self-appointed Slayerettes as well, was not looking carefully.

He was, in fact, looking irritated.

"I should just let you sulk in there for a few years. Perhaps then you would learn that when I say no, I mean no."

His normally gentle voice was harsher than his scolding usually took with Buffy. If you were to listen closely, however, there was a definite affectionate "you damn idiot" undertone that Xander Harris might be familiar with.

The box remained stubbornly silent. Apparently, it wasn't impressed with the Watcher's ire. Or perhaps it knew it all too well, and deemed it safer to remain out-of-sight in the hopes of being out-of-mind. If so, it wasn't working.

"And what were you thinking, anyway? This is no place for you."

At that, the top of the packing box popped off, and several layers of shredded newspaper -- pale orange, the =Financial Times=, Giles noted -- fluttered into the air and down to settle on the library's floor.

"Not my place?" spluttered a shrill voice. "Not my place? My place is with you, thank you very much. As it always has as it always will. Wantin' to shame my honor, you are, all this nattering of place and safety, as though I were a wee babe not to know enough to duck come danger. And if you think that you can shuffle me off on one of your idiot cousins, who by the way, haven't enough Giles blood in them to warrant the name, well then Master Rupert you have yet another thing comin' to you."

The endless tirade, delivered in an unabashed hard-a accent, ended on that dire note, and more newspaper fluttered through the air as the speaker came to the surface,

Hands reached air first, small, pale fingers that gripped the side of the box and pulled the rest of the body up so that his accusing face could stare up at the human.

"You'll not be rid of me that easily. Not by disappearing without no forwarding address, not by crossing that bloody awful stretch of water, and not by muttering of boogies in the night. At your side is where I belong, and at your side is where I'll be. So there," he finished, the effect ruined somewhat by the stands of pale orange newsprint stuck in his frizzed black hair and behind overlarge ears that protruded like jug handles from the side of his pale, weathered face.

"Yes. Well." The human sighed, sitting down and taking his glasses off to polish them. "You're here now, and I suppose it would be useless to try and pack you back up again, wouldn't it."

"Damn shootin' straight." The gnome climbed out of the box, saw the mess that had been created by his entrance, and started to gather the debris, tsk-tsking under his breath all the while.

Giles, having accepted the situation with debatable grace, went back to the book he had been reading, trusting Oliver to get out of the line of sight should anyone come in unexpectedly.

Over the course of the day, the contented hum coming from the stacks, where Oliver was busily sorting through reference works and reshelving misplaced books, caused a stiffness in Giles' back that he hadn't even been aware of to smooth itself out. Perhaps leaving the gnome behind in England had been the wiser, the _safer_ decision, but it hadn't been an easy one. On either of them, it would appear.

And, for the first time since arriving on the Hellmouth and taking up his Watcher's duties again, Rupert Giles found himself humming under his breath in tenor counterpart to the old and slightly risque folk ditty rising from Oliver's throat.

"That was rather well done, Buffy," Giles said, panting slightly under her onslaught.

"ooo, praise," Willow said from her spectator's chair, far from flying heels and wayward quarterstaffs.

"Yeah, I must be getting good at this. Good enough to take some time off, even."

Giles, in the process of divesting himself of the protective gear, stopped at that. "Must I remind you that --"

Buffy held up her hand. "No. You don't have to remind me of anything, Giles. I'll be here, early and awful on Saturday morning."

Seeing her expression, Giles relented. "Perhaps we could defer training for a day... but I will expect to see you here Sunday afternoon" he added quickly, anticipating her attempt to wheedle an entire weekend out of him.

"Fair enough," she said cheerfully, making him wonder if perhaps he had just lost both the battle and the war.

The two girls packed up their belongings and left the library, chatting excitedly about their plans for that evening. It was the night after the full moon, so they were having their monthly "welcome back to good hair days" party for Oz.

The moment the doors closed on them, Oliver appeared, pulling the training gear out of Giles' hands.

"You'll be sitting down and resting," he said, staggering a little under the weight of the protective vest. "She fair knocked you on your well-bred arse more'n a time or two, didn't she?" He tsk-tsked over the state of the gear, depositing it on the weapons chest and rummaging in his toolkit. Pulling out a tub of saddle soap and an old rag, the gnome sat down crosslegged on the floor and began to rub the mixture over the seams of the padded leather arm protectors.

"That's her job," Giles said, gladly relinquishing the task, sitting down with a groan and stretching his long legs out in front of him. "If she is to do her job properly, she must excel at both defensive and offensive maneuvers."

Speaking to the familiar creature, his voice lost the stammering, hesitant quality which marked his interactions with others of his own species. It was as though he spoke to himself. Although, certainly, his companion was not shy about speaking up with his own opinions.

"Yah, so you say. Little gel t'fight the big ugly monsters."

Giles glared at the gnome over the tops of his glasses. "Don't make light of the dangers here, Oliver," he warned. "You sit on the top of a Hellmouth. Vampires may be the most constant of our trials, but they are by no means the only threat we face."

Oliver rolled his beady black eyes, never missing a spot in his waxing. "So you say, so you say. I seen more unseelie than you ever dreamed of and they ain't so tough."

"This is why I wanted you to remain in London," Giles said in exasperation. "You've absolutely no sense of the dangers you've put yourself into."

"Ah, ya worry too much. Gray in spirit 's well as hair, looks like. The only danger t'me would've been staying with Georgie one more blasted day. Boy could bore a turtle to suicide."

The Watcher's lips twitched at the mention of his younger cousin on his father's side. It was a sad truth that the boy -- no boy now, almost thirty -- was a bit on the stodgy side...

=who are we kidding here? he asked himself. George could make drying paint look like the Derby with a moneymaker coming in stride.=

This thought was interrupted by the swinging of the library doors. Before Giles could react -- and, more to the point, before Oliver could escape into the stacks, Willow came careening into the room, skidding as she tried to come to a quick halt.

"Sorry, Giles, I didn't mean to spook you, but I forgot --oh!" That was directed at Oliver. "Oh! Giles?" And she looked to the older man for reassurances. "That's, um, I mean, you're sitting there so I guess, oh, it's not a monster or anything, is it?"

"Monster? Monster? And I'm thinkin' he had such hopes for you, gel. Book learning and some native smarts -- but not too quick on the uptake, is she?"

"Hey!" Willow recovered quickly, turning to face Oliver, her hands firmly placed on her hips. "Watch it, or I'll kick your grey behind all the way to the physics lab." Then she recoiled. "Oh. Oh. I mean..."

"Don't worry, Willow," Giles sighed. "He rather enjoys having someone to squabble with."

"Do not!" Oliver protested. "Especially not a skinny hank o' bone like that." he paused, considering " Nice hair, though. You want to sell, I could find a buyer..."

"Oliver!" Giles warned, but to no avail. Her hair, newly-shorn under Cordelia's makeover' directions, threatened once again, Willow went on the offensive. Advancing slowly on Oliver, her eyes narrowed. The gnome, being no fool, turned tail and ran.

The Watcher sighed again, taking off his glasses and resting his forehead in the palm of his free hand.

"Halp! Halp!"

"Serve you right if she ripped your ears off, you bloody fool," he muttered unkindly, but got up and headed into the stacks in search of them.

"Willow? Um, oh dear. Willow I would appreciate it if you didn't, um, harm him...too much."

"Harm who? Who's Willow gonna dis? Man, the girl gets a meow, she picks up a bad word, now she's into physical violence? That girl is gonna go places, mark my words, Giles...Giles?"

But she was speaking to an empty library as his backside disappeared behind a tall bookcase. Shrugging, the Slayer slouched into an empty chair and stared mournfully at her nails. "Slaying is just the worst on a manicure. I don't know why I even bother. I should just go back to chewing them, like when I was eight and mom made me stop--"

A short grey blur whizzed by her, followed by a taller, redheaded blur. A screeching sound of laughter trailed behind them both.

"Hey. Yo. Will?" She looked up. "Giles? Somebody want to tell me what's happening here, before I pull out a stake and start abusing people at random?"

Giles appeared, looking somewhat bemused. He hadn't replaced his jacket or vest after the practice session, and his hair was standing on end, as though he had run his hand through it in exasperation. Many times.

"Giles?"

"Yes. Um. Buffy."

"Yes, Giles, it's me. Where's Will -- oh. There you are."

Willow showed up behind Buffy's chair, breathing heavily. "He's... fast."

"Who is? Giles, if somebody doesn't start giving me answers, I'm going to start getting irritated."

"If you pardon me, missy, but I need that rag you're sitting on."

"Oh, sure, sorry." Buffy shifted, then yelped when she looked down to see who she was talking to. "Giles!"

Giles sighed.

"Okay. Let me see if I've got this straight. Three hundred years ago, your great-whatever grandfather Giles did a cool deed--"

"Saved three gnomelets from drowning when the drainpipes overflowed. We don't swim very well."

"You sink like a bloody stone," Giles clarified.

"O-kay. Whatever. He was a boy scout, and in return, you got a gnome-for-life."

"I prefer the term family retainer," Oliver said with dignity, a difficult thing considering he was sitting crosslegged on the table, mending a seam in Giles' jacket that was beginning to fray.

"Oliver has, um, been in, well, in service to my family ever since then. Um, as a sort of, um, aide d'camp, as it were. Quite useful in keeping research material straight."

"So, you're kind of, like, a Watcher's Watcher? Hey, how many Watchers would a Watcher watch if a --" She broke off, seeing both Giles' and Oliver's pained expressions. "Sorry."

"Not Watchers, no. Oliver comes to me via the paternal line." At Buffy's puzzled expression, he clarified, "my father's father. The Watcher line is reckoned from my father's mother's line. The Giles family has a slightly less, er, um, energetic legacy."

Oliver snorted, biting off the thread and tying it with expertise. "Start with a saint in the seventh century, go downhill from there."

"A saint? Really?" Willow perked up. "That's so cool. All we have in my family is maybe a horse thief."

"Really? You never told me that," Buffy said, turning to her friend.

Willow shrugged. "Never came up."

"Ahem." They both turned back to Giles

. "Sorry, G-man," the Slayer said, co-opting the hated nickname from Xander without hesitation.. "Okay, we were up to.. Will, where were we up to?"

"Um, saints. I think."

Giles sighed. He seemed to be doing that a lot recently. Ever since Oliver had arrived this morning, in fact. He paused. Was it really only this morning? Only -- he checked his watch -- only twelve hours since he entered the library and saw that damned crate waiting for him? He felt another sigh coming on, and sternly repressed it.

"In short, and not to, uh, be unnecessarily long about it, Oliver felt that he was being, um, wasted in London--"

The gnome muttered something about inbred cricket-playing numbskulls that Giles carefully ignored.

"And, um, chose to relocate himself despite my request that he remain there."

"Two years," the gnome protested. "Two years you left me there to rot. Now, that's just not right. Is it?" and he appealed to Buffy for validation.

"Leave her out of this," Giles interjected sternly. "I have already agreed that you may stay. Don't make me regret that decision." He paused, then added under his breath "any more than I already have."

"So..." Buffy's brain was turning, obviously working out some deep, dire, and very important calculations. "So, a research brain, huh? How good are you at doing homework?"

Oliver snorted. "For you? Why? What are you to me?"

He finished with the jacket, and handed it back to Giles. "You're nothing to me, gel, save you make Master Rupert's life more difficult."

"Oliver. Be polite, or be silent."

The gnome looked at his human with a "you can't be serious" expression on his face. Giles held firm.

"Fine. Sorry. I'm sure you're a fine gel. For a bottle blonde."

"Hey! You little..."

"Oliver!" But the Watcher's lips were curling up in a smile he was fighting hard to repress. "Oliver, please. Put your material away. It's past time to go home. And no, you can't drive." He turned to the girls. "For obvious reasons, Oliver's existence is not something I wish broadcast to the known world."

"Right. No knee-high manservant with a mouth the size of the Grand Canyon at your beck and call. Gotcha. Like I was going to call the National Enquirer. Sheesh, Giles, learn to trust, willya?"

"Sorry. This... is going to take some getting used to."

"Hey," Buffy shrugged. "This is Sunnydale, home of vampires, demons, werewolves, lunatic principals, and a host of other fun Saturday night dates. How tough can one little grey gnome be?"

Giles opened his mouth to reply, and Buffy shook her head. "Nope, take it back, don't want to know. Ignorance. Bliss."

The two girls left the library again. From the hallway, Willow's voice rose. "Hey. How could a saint have descendents? Weren't they supposed to be, I don't know, celebate?"

"Those're priests, Will. Saints just die in gory ways. They're allowed to have sex first. I think."

"Oh. They don't cover that stuff in Hebrew School."

Giles sighed.

More to come...someday....maybe. Feedback will help me decide!