This scrap showed up full-blown Sunday morning (2/7), courtesy of spoilers and speculations on the next few eps... no real spoilers but lots of inferences drawn from previews. It's, um, dark (but nowhere near as dark as what I'm working on next... what is it with my brain and dark things these days? (don't answer that...)

As always, none of the characters are mine. Fortunately for them [evil g]

All Hail Joss and the Writers and the Actors who inspire, and the Lawyers who make fic writers perspire...

"The Watcher's Burden"
by suricata

"You were right."

Hearing Wesley say that gave Giles no satisfaction. He had known this was coming, had forseen it clearly... and still he had not been able to prepare himself for the moment of truth.

"I will arrange --"

"No." Giles' voice brooked no questioning. "I was her Watcher. I knew what I was taking on... I will do it. I have to be the one to do it."

The stage was set. Giles had arranged for a time when the others would be heading to the Bronze, taking advantage of the inevitable slowdown of scholastic responsibilities as their final year drew to a close, and the quieting of vampiric activity, with two Slayers and two Watchers around.

He asked her to meet him here, on familiar territory. She would come -- expecting a scolding, perhaps. Or a lecture on proper attitude. Bopping in with careless charm and boundless energy, so full of vitality even in the face of so much death.

He rearranged the chairs one last time, to give his hands something to do. Wesley, who had insisted on being there -- guilt, or responsibility; after Council training they were often the same -- shifted in his own chair, but didn't say anything.

"Hey there, Giles!"

Giles spun around. "Buffy. What are you doing here?"

The Slayer came into the room, casting a scornful look at Wesley, as was her habit when she deigned to notice him at all. "Oh, Faith said she was supposed to get a lecture, so I figured I'd come by and deflect the Watcherly ire..."

Her voice tried for carefree, but Giles could her the indecision under it. More likely, Faith had asked her to come, thinking to head him off that way.

"Buffy, I think that you should --"

"Stay." Wesley met his angry gaze with a steady mien. "You can't make this lesson any less painful, Rupert. Let her stay."

Buffy looked between the two men in confusion. "Hey. What's up? What lesson? And me without a chance to study..."

"Hey B! G! W! What's the deal?"

Wesley took Buffy by the arm, leading her unprotesting to the side of the library.

"Faith. We need to talk about your.. recent behavior." Giles stuck his hands in his pockets, trying to keep his breathing even, steady, calm. He perched on the edge of the table, inviting Faith to come sit in the chair in front of him. For once, she did as bid, settling herself with athletic ease.

"This is about that whole cop thing, isn't it? I said I was sorry, but you know, when the situation's getting ugly, you don't have time to stop and take everyone's pulse..."

"And yet, you must."

"Look, it's not like he was any loss to society, right?" Faith was getting defensive now, leaning forward and staring him in the eye. "He was scum, and he got what he deserved."

"And who decided that, Faith. You?"

"Yeah. Me." She sat back against the chair, her arms crossed in front of her impressive chest, and waited for him to reply to that.

Instead, he stood, walking a few steps away from her. "It's a good feeling, isn't it? To know that you're on the side of what's right."

"Yeah, right, whatever. Look, is this going to take much longer? 'Cause there was a severe hottie waiting on me at the Bronze..."

"No," Giles said. "Not much longer."

He turned around, coming back to stand behind her. One hand rested gently on her shoulder, in a reassuring, Watcher-ly pat. "You've done well, despite incredible odds, Faith. I was always impressed with your native ability." He other hand stroked the sleek fall of dark hair on the other side of her head, a barely noticeable touch. "I wish you had understood your calling a little better."

Buffy started forward, only to find herself restrained by Wesley's arms, his grip a match even for a Slayer.

And then, before Faith could react, Giles' hands moved in a precise blur, and her head fell against her shoulder at an ugly angle.

The Slayer's body slumped, falling off the chair, and Giles picked her up in a gentle cradle carry, letting her rest against his chest. He looked up, and his eyes were red, and bone-dry, his face drawn in tight lines of pain. "Tell the Council it is done. The next Slayer has been called."

Only when he had carried his precious burden out of the library did Wesley release his hold on Buffy.

"It's called the Watcher's Burden," he told her as he picked up the phone to dial an outside line. "Never make him pick it up again."

Yes, I know. I'm evil. I can't help it...