The characters abused herein belong to Joss the Creator, and all associated and legally applicable corporations typically named in the credits. No profit, no lawsuit, no foul. Cal is mine, however. If you want to use her, ask me. But be warned, she's a tough little bitch and doesn't always go along with the plot.

For those of you trying to keep timelines straight, just assume that Angel is still Angel, Jenny hasn't been unmasked, but everything else (Oz, etc) has progressed as in the show. I'll deal with Jenny later. [g]

THE WATCHER YOU DESERVE
by suricata

It was damp and cold. No night to be outside, especially without a mac. She shivered, rubbing her arms where the t-shirt left them bare. Night had fallen quickly, and there weren't any pedestrians lingering. Those who walked by did so quickly, averting their eyes from the girl-wraith sitting on a storefront stoop as though even one look would brand them perverts.

She was just as glad to see them go. If she had any sense she would move, before someone came along with more than charity on their mind. Or the cops. That scared her worse than being attacked, the thought of being sent back to her parents. Anything was better than that. Here at least sex could get you a warm place to sleep at night.

But for now she'd play on her looks for sympathy, not lust. At fourteen she still looked twelve, and big eyes could scam a decent meal, if she played it right.

The sound of dress shoes on pavement made her look up and groan. Tall, pale, hair slicked back like a regular euro-dish. This one had no charity in his soul, none at all. Not the way he was grinning sideways at her. Made her flesh creep worse than the cold, it did.

"Hey, baby-doll. Mighty chill out here tonight, t'ain't it?

"Cold's good fer ya," she retorted, hoping that he would go away once he saw she wasn't selling. No such bloody luck.

"Come on, darling. Have dinner with me." Slime. He obviously couldn't believe she wasn't going to fall over at his feet and stick her ass in the air for him. She was just about to consider screaming and damn the cops when --

"I believe she said that she wasn't interested."

The voice came out of the shadows, soft-like but with real hard menace. A cop? She didn't know which to fear more, but that was allayed when he stepped closer. No way this bloke was a cop, unless they were dressing em way better. Slacks, wool and a jacket to match, white shirt showing gleaming white underneath. Real simple, but you could tell the quality from where she sat. Those threads were tailor-made, and she had the sudden urge to run her fingers in the folds of the material, and wrap it around herself like a blanket.

The Slime blustered a bit, so Stranger came closer, stepping full into the dim streetlamp light. Fine-boned face, long, with hair tousled over his forehead, and eyes like Death. But she wasn't frightened.

Slime was, though. He shifted, blustered, tried to regain the top hand. The Stranger ignored him, one hand coming down possessively on her shoulder. His fingers were warm against her skin, a warm that spread everywhere, like the promise of a warm bath and warm clothes.

Ushered by the pressure of his fingers and the promises they made, she moved away from Slime, walking as though someone else had control of her legs. She didn't ask questions, didn't hesitate. This was right. This was okay.

"Hey!" They ignored him.

Halfway across the street, well out of the lamplight and back into the safety of the shadows, a sudden cramp caught her unawares. Whirling, she stared back the direction they came from, her hackles rising. Not at Slime, but at the figure who had suddenly joined him. There was a surprised scuffle, then a low moan from the Slime as he sagged against the newcomer.

Her lips pulled back, and her muscles tightened with unfamiliar anticipation and revulsion at the scene unfolding in front of them. Self-preservation was forgotten under the need to act. Obeying some deep-seated but quickly rising instinct within her soul, she readied herself to lunge back across the road. Her Stranger restrained her.

"Not now, little one. Not yet. You're not ready." His voice was warm honey, his arm like a steel band across her budding chest. "There is much to learn before you can take that one on."

"Teach me," she demanded in an angry whisper, seeing her prey disappear back into the night..

"Yes. That is exactly what I intend to do."

** ** **

Sunnydale, CA.
USA

The weird El Nino-influenced weather -- rain, wind, everything Southern California wasn't supposed to have -- had made the last month an exercise in snoredom for Buffy Summers. Apparently, vampires didn't like to get their little undead toes wet. Even Angel had holed up until dryer weather. And while she would have sworn up and down to her Watcher, and anyone else who inquired, that she wanted nothing more than a little peace and quiet, the truth was that Buffy was... bored. And so were her Slayerettes.

Which is how they ended up having this particular little conversation one rainy afternoon, tucked in the basement of Xander's parentally-abandoned house.

"What do you mean, I can conjure a ghost?" Buffy stared at her friend, not getting it.

Willow nodded, emphatic. "Well, not a ghost exactly. Kinda. I was looking through one of Giles' books, it's this really old one called the Mysteria and it's really cool, all sorts of stuff about magic and ritual, and there was a reference to something called the conjure of the bond, and it looked like it had something to do with Watchers, so I dd some cross-referencing, cause Giles wasn't around and --"

"Cut to the chase, Wil," Xander interjected from where he was lying on the sofa, one arm buried to the elbow in a bag of Cheetos. "What's up with the ghost?"

"Okay. Okay. I tracked down the references, and there's this whole bit about how a Slayer can call upon her Watcher's previous Slayer, for, like, information and stuff. So maybe you could ask her about, you know, your nightmares and stuff. The stuff, you know, you don't want to talk to Giles about. It's a one-time-only kinda thing, though, and it doesn't last long I don't think, but isn't that cool?" Willow sat back, looking at Buffy anxiously, waiting for an attagirl.

"A ghost. That is cool, Wil. Um, a friendly ghost, right?"

"Xander, she would have been a slayer. I don't think she'd be one of the bad guys."

"I like to be sure, okay? So sue me for being cautious."

Buffy shook her head as though she hadn't heard their by-play. "No. Nope. Nuh-uh. No way."

"What?"

"Why not?"

Buffy kept shaking her head, heavy into denial. " cause Giles doesn't have another Slayer. I mean, he's never mentioned another one, right? So there isn't. So I can't call on her. On her ghost. Since she's dead. Which she isn't cause there never was one. For Giles, I mean."

"Um," Xander tried to be tactful, but it just wasn't in his mental makeup. "In denial a little here, aren't we, Buffster? I mean, you had a Watcher before him, so why shouldn't he have had a Slayer? He's never going to see young again, y'know. Would make sense you're not the first to undergo Tender Loving Giles Care."

"But he would have said something, wouldn't he? I mean, just a reference. A passing mention. Some kind of, I don't know, like, comparison?"

"You don't talk about your first Watcher," Willow reminded her quietly.

"That's different."

"Okay," Xander agreed. "How?"

"It just is." She stopped, looked at her friends. "Isn't it?"

** ** **

Three days later, the trio, with the addition of Jenny Callander, gathered in the computer lab. Jenny had gotten involved out of necessity -- their necessity to ask an occult specialist who wasn't Giles for information, and Jenny's necessity to keep them from getting into murky ghost- infested waters. She wasn't very happy about what they were doing, but the lure of possibly meeting someone from Giles' past -- however dead --was too tempting to pass by.

And they were in the computer lab because it was the one place they knew for certain Giles would never find them.

"Okay, what now?" Buffy was kneeling in the middle of a large circle, drawn with white paint on the floor. They had tried chalk, but it wouldn't mark the school-issue floor properly. She was in full Slayer gear, and had a stake clutched between her hands.

"Um... you need to shed some blood on the wood."

"Great. Just want I want, the smell of my own blood on my Slayer stuff," Buffy grumbled. "Vamps'll go nuts for that."

Ms. Callender picked up a small, sharp- edged knife with a bone handle and placed it on the floor, sliding it gently over to where the Slayer waited.

"Sterilized, I hope," Buffy joked. She released her grip on the stake and placed the edge to her palm. "Man, I really hate this."

"It's not too late, you don't have to go through with this," the woman said.

"No." Buffy shook her head. "If there's even a chance I can get some useful help out of this, I need to do it." And with that, she drew the blade firmly across her skin, wincing a little as it sliced.

"Okay, now hold onto the stake, and repeat after me," Willow instructed. Jenny shifted away from her companions, nervously rubbing something held in her left hand and mouthing an incantation of her own, just in case. She really didn't like this. Ghosts could be unpredictable. "In the name of the Light --"

"In the name of the Light," Buffy repeated obediently.

"In the service of the Light --"

"In the service of the Light."

"Bound by the Sacrifice --"

"Bound by the Sacrifice."

"Reborn by the Bond --"

"Reborn by the Bond."

"Sister of my service --"

"Sister of my service."

"Come to me now."

"Come to me now."

They both fell silent. Nothing happened.

"Well, that was a total waste of time," Xander said, breaking the expectant tension. "I guess you were right, Buffy, Giles didn't have a--"

Ms. Callender's gasp made them all spin around. And the only sound was the clank of Buffy's blooded stake hitting the tile. Perched on one of the long computer tables, between two terminals, was a young woman in her late teens or early twenties. She wore tight, dark blue jeans, and a bright red sweater that threatened to fall off one shoulder. Her hair was dark brown, very straight and cut short to her chin, and she had a cigarette tucked behind one ear. Her eyes were emphasized with kohl and mascara, but she wore no other makeup. Her feet, clad in flat-heeled black boots that ran almost to her knees, swung gracefully back and forth. And she glowed, a faint, pulsing dark blue nimbus that made her skin seem even paler than it must have in life.

"That paint's gonna be a bitch to get clean," she said, her accent placing her firmly within the British Isle, and probably not from the more fashionable parts. "I'm Cal. And I take it you're Rupert's new baby?" She shook her head, casting a rueful glance over the Slayer and her companions. "Man, who let the crowd in? They sellin' tickets for the slayin' now? Wish I'd though of that."

"I'm, my name's Buffy." the present-day Slayer finally managed. Despite her own personal involvement in daily Weirdness, she hadn't actually expected this to work. And she certainly hadn't expected her predecessor to be so...well, so attractive. In a tough, brassy, mondo 80's kind of way. She picked up the stake and stepped across the paint line, not bothering to smudge it first as Jenny had instructed. If their ghost had managed to bypass the supposed controls of the ritual sphere, she didn't think it was that potent, anyway.

"Pleasedtameetcha. I'd shake on it, but I'm not feelin real solid at the moment."

"I'm Willow," Willow offered. "And that's Xander, and that's Ms. Callender."

Cal nodded to each, then returned her attention to Buffy. "So. You called, I'm here. What's the worry?"

"The worry?"

"The problem. The cause. Why'd ya call me?"

"Oh. The sitch. I um..." Buffy cast a look behind her for help from the Slayerettes. None was forthcoming. "I.. it seemed like a good idea at the time?"

Cal laughed. "Yeah, I heard that one before." When nobody else seemed to get the joke, she stopped. "You are Rupert Giles' pet project, yeah?"

"Yeah." Buffy agreed, not sure she liked being referred to as a 'project.' Or 'pet,' for that matter.

"She couldn't be anyone else, since she called you," Willow added.

"And that would make you...?"

"We're Slayerettes." the redhead said proudly, indicating Xander and herself.

"Slayerettes?" Cal seemed to find this profoundly amusing. "Rupert got himself some backup singers too?"

Buffy was beginning to really dislike this chick. "Look, Cal, I don't know what's so funny--"

"No, you don't, do you. Fuck, ya go away a couple of years and the whole world changes. Um.. what year is it, anyway?" She seemed to notice her surroundings for the first time. "And where the bloody hell are we?"

"It's 1998. And we're in Sunnydale. California."

"Over the Hellmouth," Xander added, feeling the need to participate somehow.

"1998." That seemed to sober her. "Fifteen years. Bloody fuck. Fifteen years." Her eyes closed as though in pain. "Ah, my poor Rupert..." She opened her eyes again. "And where is my sweet Watcher, anyway? Not here, so you're doing this on the sly.. always a good move, where he's concerned. Easier to talk him 'round than get permission first. And a lot more fun, besides." She grinned, an impish glitter returning. "So tell me, sister Slayer mine, what's it like here in sunny California, and how is my poor Rupert taking to the wild American life? And vice versa, of course. Tell all, tell quick, and don't leave out any of the deliciously gory details."

Buffy was beginning to wonder what the hell she had gotten herself into...


An hour later, she was still wondering. Unless this dead Slayer had come from an alternate universe -- not an impossibility -- there was no way in hell the two of them had the same Watcher.

"Tweed?" Cal still seemed to be having a problem with the picture the 90's contingent was drawing her. "Well, yeah, I guess I could see that. But sweater vests?" She shook her head. "Fuck me. Well, I guess you go with what fits the role."

"Role?" Xander finished his soda and tossed it overhand towards the garbage can. It missed, noisily, rattling onto the floor. Jenny, whose office they were currently crowding, winced, just as she had been wincing with every curse that came out of Cal's mouth. The ghost seemed to use them like others used punctuation.

"Yeah, you know. The part. The camo. Rupert's current chameleon phase?"

"So... you're saying he didn't wear tweed when he was your Watcher." Buffy Summers, Master of the Obvious.

Cal snorted indelicately. "Tweed is not a word I would've associated with him, no."

"What did he wear?" Jenny sat forward, interested. Cal looked at the teacher, seeming to size her up, and apparently didn't mind what she saw. "Is that what I'm here for? To spill the dirt on Rupert?"

Buffy was taken aback, then she smiled, an anticipatory grin. "Yeah. I think it is. I mean, I should know everything I can about him, right? To, like, make my training easier, give us a better chance to bond. Hell, he knows everything about me. Turnabout's fair play, right?"

She looked around the office for confirmation. Jenny looked intrigued, Willow doubtful, and Xander outright gleeful. Anything they found out would be ammo in the never ending battle of youth versus age, watcher versus Slayerettes, alpha male versus omega. In other words, Xander wanted dirt, and he wanted it to be as embarrassing as humanly possible.

Cal thought about this, chewing her index finger until Jenny, goaded beyond endurance, tried to swat the digit out of her mouth. Her hand passed through Cal's slowly, as though it were the consistence of halfway-set Jell-O."Sorry. Bad habit." She folded her fingers together, resting them in her lap.

"You're more solid," Willow noted.

"Yeah, if I concentrate, I think I can even hold something, or open a door. But it's a lot more fun to fade through walls."

"Yeah, that's fun," Willow agreed, then stopped when everyone looked at her. "Hey, I was a ghost. For a while, anyway." She giggled. "You should have seen Giles' face when I showed up in the library. Too funny."

"You were a ghost?" Cal looked at Willow with more respect. "And you managed to goose Rupe? Okay, I think this is a story I need to hear."

"Well, it was Halloween, and this guy named Ethan showed up and cast this spell that made everyone into what they were. For Halloween, I mean. And I was a ghost."

Cal mock-pouted. "All right, no fair. You guys have way more weirdness than I ever got."

"You want weirdness? You got it," Xander grumbled. "I could use a little less weirdness in my life. All this is too weird. No offense."

"What, you mean you're not aware of what a great honor it is to live right smack dab in the middle of such a cornucopia of supernatural delight?" Buffy asked from her position, slouched against the door.

"Oh boy. Somebody's been lectured by The Watcher, Master Giles. I'd recognize that tone of voice anywhere. He can be a snide son of a bitch, can't he? All that breeding and education funneled towards making you feel about two feet tall and half as smart as a cocker spaniel."

"Tell me about it," Buffy said with real feeling. And the two Slayers grinned at each other, finally finding mutual ground.

"Okay. So you want to know about Rupert Giles," Cal said, dragging the conversation back to their original point. "All in the name of perfecting your ability to work with Himself, of course."

"Of course." Buffy said virtuously.

"I think that falls within the bounds of what I can do, yeah."

"There are limits to this?" Xander asked, surprised.

"There are always limits, boy-o. The trick is knowing what they are and how to wiggle around them."

"I like the way this girl thinks," Xander announced to the room at large. Everyone ignored him.

"So "

"So think up your interrogation. But think them up carefully. I've only got a couple of days and it's real wearying to stay solid. Can't guarantee I'll be on tap when you discover that absolute gotta-know question. And speaking of which," Cal said, jumping off the desk she was perched on and landing on the floor without a sound, "it's time to break up this little chat."

"It is?" Willow looked confused. "Why?"

"Dusk," Cal said, looking at Buffy. "Can't you feel it? If this place is as much the magnet you're claiming, shouldn't you be out and about? Y'know, slaying?"

"Oh. That."

"Yeah, that." She mimicked in Buffy's less-than-enthusiastic tone. "Come on, little sister, show me how you 90's Slayers get the job done." Then she stopped, thinking. "Oh."

"What?"

"Rupert still come along for the ride?"

"Yeah, sometimes. Why? Oh. Yeah. Problem, huh?"

"Problem. Yeah." An expression passed across her face too quickly to be categorized. "You don't want him to know, I should make myself scarce when he's around. But I'll be around. Ciao!"And she was gone, nothing left but a faint sparkle in the air.

"Well." Jenny sounded a little indignant.

"Sorry, Ms. Callender. But I think the spell requires Buffy to be around. If she isn't we don't get to pump Cal for details." Willow sounded deeply regretful. "But " and she perked up, "That doesn't mean we can't get some info on her."

"You're supposed to use your power for good, not evil," the computer teacher scolded. But she couldn't stop an unteacherly smirk from appearing on her face.

** ** **

Buffy lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. Two newbie stakings, all perfectly routine. Rise and stake. Giles had even complimented her on her "slay and move on" technique. But her mind hadn't really been on it. Half of her kept glancing over at her Watcher, wondering. Did she really want to know? Too unnerving. Like finding out about a boyfriend's past love life whoa. Don't go there, she told herself . Not at all like.

Damnit, it wasn't fair. This was way too distracting. She was the Slayer. Giles was her Watcher. Having to think about stuff that happened before she was even born -- well, okay, when she was just a little kid -- it was way weird, like Xander said.

Punching the pillow underneath her to a more satisfying fluffiness, Buffy turned on her side and sighed. But still. Fifteen years ago. She'd barely been talking when Cal was out there staking the fang gang. What had Slaying been like, fifteen years ago?.. ...

The street was deserted, street lamps casting enough light to create shadows and nothing more. She walked forward, confident. She owned the night. She knew it, welcomed it like a lover, the shadows her companions and her confidants.

A figure slithered against the far wall. "Well. Hello there, sailor Just in town for the night?"

A faint snarl, silibant and nasty. But it didn't rise to the taunt.

"Shy? Oh don't be. I've been waiting for someone like you." Apparently, her rep was getting around. Damn the undead gossip chain, anyway. Things went like this much longer, she'd have to actually work for a living.

"Come on, then." She coaxed. "I've got my eye on you. Let's dance, shall we?"

Faced with the knowledge that she wasn't going to let it hunt in peace, the vampire made an abrupt move, then dodged again, hoping to catch her off-guard."Not bloody likely, leech." And she was on it, hand swinging it around by the shoulder, other arm raised to deliver the downward thrust. The vampire snarled and dusted.

"Nicely done." The voice was dry, and male, and as familiar as her own breath.

"Praise from Caesar is praise indeed," she said, turning to face her Watcher. "You must be in a good mood. Get laid tonight?"

Rupert raised one eye brow, sardonic without having to say a word. She grinned at him anyway, feeling her pulse rase in the slaying aftermath. A better high had yet to be invented than taking out a bloodsucker. It was better when they fought back, but Rupert abhorred the waste involved. And she much preferred her Watcher when he wasn't scolding her. Not that those scoldings couldn't be fun, too. Rupert was as good at making up as he was at fussing. Maybe even better.

Tucking her stake into the sheath tied to her thigh, she stepped forward, into her Watcher's arms."You stink," he said with his usual tact, even as he was returning the embrace. "Been hanging in the alleyways long?"

"Ah, you know me. Alleys are my favorite places. All this dark, damp... solitude..." She rubbed her face once against the soft cotton of his shirtfront, then stepped back, breaking the physical connection, but still able to feel his presence, like a comforting humm underneath her skin. "Works up a powerful thirst, it does. Hope you brought cash. I'm in the mood to go slumming."

"And have you earned such a reward?"

"Three, with this one" She wasn't boasting, just reporting the facts. "Not much fresh blood in town, I think they've all taken to the countryside for a vac."

"And that is your ever-so-subtle way of asking if you might also have some time off?"

"When I want time off, sweet Rupert, you can put me out to pasture. But right now, I just want to get shit-faced and do some staking that doesn't involve hard, splintery wood."

His sigh was long-suffering, but it didn't fool her for an instant. She loved her job, but if she didn't blow off steam somehow, her slaying would suffer. And Rupe was too good a Watcher to let that happen.

"The Old Sailor?" she asked hopefully.

"If you think they will let us in, after your contremps there last month."

Ow. That was cold. Rupert was too damn good at his sarcasm. "Ah, they'll have forgotten all about it by now," she predicted, taking his arm and fitting herself up against his side, his arm falling comfortably across her shoulders. "It was only a little blood, after all." "Indeed."

...

Buffy woke up slowly, not certain for a moment where she was or who she was. Then the familiar surroundings of her bedroom reoriented her.

"Wow."

On cue, the phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Buffy?"

"Oh. Willow. Hi." She started to get more comfortable in bed, but her friend's next words stopped her in mid-scrunch.

"Did did you just have a really weird dream?"

"About Cal?

"And Giles. Yeah."

"Twenty minutes. The lib no. Not the library. The computer lab."

"Should I call Xander?"

There was a beep indicating an incoming call, and Buffy laughed, a little ruefully. "Don't think so."

"Right. See ya in twenty."


It was closer to half an hour before the three were gathered in the computer lab, Willow having used her position as the remaining prize pupil of the comp-sci teacher to sneak them in early past the janitor.

"Okay. What the hell was that?" Xander seemed a little weirded out, even above and beyond the basic not-normal factor.

"What? You wanted to know what it was like for me, didn't ya?"

All three jumped at the sound of Cal's voice. "Christ. Don't you guys every go anywhere else? What are these things, anyway?" Cal poked at one of the computers, her finger going half-way through the plastic casings. "Oh. PC's. They're a lot.. .different than I remember. Smaller, for one. And where are the Mac's?"

"It's a cold, cruel, IBM world out there," Xander told her in mock sadness.

"So that was you? I mean, I know it was you in the dream, but you sent it to me? To us?"

Cal frowned, looking at the Slayerettes. "You dreamed it too?"

The two nodded.

"Hmm. Interesting. I guess, since you were present.. or maybe it's a side effect of being a -- what did you call it? Slayerette? Maybe it's a side effect of that. Something for the histories. Anyway, yeah. Buffy wanted to know what it was like for me, so I showed her."

"You.. um... you seem to take a lot of, I don't know, pleasure out killing vampires." Willow seemed a little uncertain with her phrasing, trying hard not to offend.

"Damn straight." Cal tossed her head, hair settling back into it's original position, the cigarette still tucked behind one ear. "And why not? The only good vamp is a staked vamp."

"Um, yeah, I guess..." Willow said, looking sideways at Buffy as though to apologize for lumping all vampires into that category, but not sure if this was the time or place to explain about the re-souled Angel.

But Buffy had something else on her mind. "Giles... he was so.. different. I almost didn't recognize him."

"What, you mean with hair, and all?" Xander asked.

"Well, he was a lot younger, for one," Cal said, shrugging. "But the hairline was beginning to fade even then." She twinkled, literally; her outline shimmering blue as she laughed. "To the tune of frequently muttered disclaimers about me driving him to pull his hair out. Nice to know you've continued the tradition."

"And the way he was dressed...not a shred of plaid in sight." Buffy rubbed her fingertips together unconsciously, feeling the soft cotton of his shirt under her hand, as though it had actually =been= her there, in the dream.

Xander, in the process of pulling a chair around to straddle it, stopped in mid-action and shuddered. The dream had been a tactile one for him as well, and the memory -- of having the Watcher's arms around him like that, hearing the other man's heartbeat like a reassuring echo of his own pulse -- was unnerving, although it hadn't bothered him at the time.

"So, what's up next?"

"Class, for one," Willow said glumly, looking at her watch.

"And I have to check in with the mighty Watcher after that. He didn't have a real happy about my backswing last night. So you know what that means."

"Staking practice?" Xander said.

"You got it. Joy. Oh well. It beats watching the raindrops fall"

"Not by much," Willow said.

And at that, the first warning bell rang.

"Mind if I tag along?" Cal asked.

"What? Oh, sure. Class'll be pretty boring, tho. Rehashing stuff before midterms."

"When you've been dead for fifteen years," Cal said, "you wouldn't believe the stuff you can get jazzed on."

They walked through the halls, Cal invisible to the rest of the student body. She discovered a mordant amusement in seeing who was affected by her slipping past them, and who were oblivious to her presence. But as Buffy and Xander waved goodby to Willow and headed to their first class, she found herself moving away from them, attracted to a destination down another hallway.

It was only when she had entered the library that she realized what had enticed her there. The room -- the entire library -- was perfumed by a familiar psychic scent.

"Rupert." It was barely a whisper, almost inaudible, but the sadness, the longing, was unmistakable. She felt her eyes flood, and for the first time the actuality of it all came home to her. She was dead. She had been dead for almost two decades. And Rupert -- her Rupert -- had a new Slayer.

"Oh, sweet Rupert..."

The faintest *click* and she disappeared.

The door opened, and Giles came out of his office, looking around curiously. "Hello?" He paused, bemused. "Could have sworn..." He shook his head, as though to clear it of a fog. "Starting to hallucinate, old man." Turning, he paused again for an instant, then went back into his office, closing the door firmly behind him.

** ** **

"Man, there has got to be a law against this somewhere. The Geneva Convention. Child labor laws. Cruelty to Animals. Something." Xander lay on his back, sweating his jaw muscles more than the ones supposedly worked by the weightlifing equipment he had been assigned to. "I mean, gym class. Don't they know that it's our god-given right to be couch potatoes?"

"Careful, Xander. A flabby body's only going to appeal to she-mantises."

"And mummy girls who need the fat," Willow added as she let the free weights down carefully.

"Gee, thanks, girls. Nice to know I can count on you for supprt."

"Always," Buffy agreed, barely aware of the weight she was pushing with her legs. "I don't know what you're complaining about. At least you can veg after school. I get to work out all over again, with Giles dissing my music."

"Yeah, but you're not the one who has to explain to the parents why he got a C for the semester. Slayers get A's in gym class, it's a given. The rest of us mere mortals have to suffer."

"And you do it so well," Willow said, her long red hair pulled into a ponytail She got up and wiped the vinyl seat with a hand towel.

"You know, I liked you better before you started hanging with the mutt," Xander muttered, which earned him a sharp jab under the ribs from the Slayer.

"Well, at least he's housebroken," Willow said, stung.

"Whoa!" Buffy got up and stood between them. "No fighting among the Slayerettes. Rule number two."

"What's rule number one?"

"I don't know. Something will come to me."

Before they could glare at each other more, the teacher blew an amazingly annoying whistle, indicating that their term of torture was up. With a groan of relief, Xander got up and headed for the boys' locker room.

"He didn't mean it," Buffy said.

"I know. I just don't get it. He's got Cordelia to finally admit they're together. In public, and everything. You'd think he'd be happy that I was happy with someone too."

"Even if that someone spent three days a month slavering over something other than you," Buffy agreed. "You'd think."

"Men." Willow said in disgust, tossing her towel into the waiting basket and heading into the girls' locker room.

"Tell me about it," Buffy agreed, following. "Ugh. I don't know why I even bother getting changed, just to sweat it up again in two hours. Unfairness, majorly."

"I wonder if Cal had to deal with this," Willow said as she opened her gym locker. "I mean, school, practice, slaying, dating..."

"Or not dating..."

"Or not dating," Willow agreed. "Still no word, huh?"

"No." The one word boded ill for Angel when he finally ventured outside again.

"Sorry."

"Hey, not your fault. I just wish he'd let me know he's okay, you know, and not in trouble or something."

"Probably just as well," Willow said thoughtfully, pulling her regular clothes out and placing them on the bench behind her. "I mean, I don't know, somehow I don't think Cal would react real well to Angel. Him being a vampire and all."

"So? She's dead. Not her problem."

"I guess." Willow sounded doubtful, then shook it off. "So," she said with more enthsiasm, "have you come up with a new question for her?"

"No, but you did."

"I did?" Willow squeaked.

"Yeah. How did she manage to get Giles off her back about training every minute of her life?"

"What if she didn't?" Willow asked.

"Then I have to kill him," Buffy said, only half-kidding.

** ** **

That evening, Buffy and Willow presented themselves at Jenny Callender's office. She was on the phone when they came in, but she waved them to seats that had been hurriedly cleared off, as evidenced by the piles of soft-bound manuals and grading folders piled haphazardly on the floor.

"Yes, that's right. How long? Okay, thanks." She hung up, and started to rummage in her purse. "I called for pizza. You guys cleared this with your folks?"

"Yup," Willow said. "Oh, Xander's gonna be late. Cordelia's taking him clothes shopping."

The three women looked at each other, then burst into giggles.

"Poor Xander," Willow said.

"Poor Cordelia," Buffy replied.

"Poor salesclerks," Jenny finished, sending them off into fresh gales of hysterics.

"So..."

"So," Buffy agreed. "How do I do this? I mean, does she monitor us on some kind of ghost camera, or do I haveta call her or something?"

"Um..I think you just call her. Maybe."

"Summoning is usually a good approach. She is tied to you." Jenny agreed.

"Okay. Yo, Cal!" Buffy shouted into the air.

Nothing happened.

"Perhaps you might try asking her to come to us?"

"Yeah, you know, ghosts are pretty big on that politeness thing," Willow added. "What?" she asked in response to the looks she got. "I'm research girl. I did some research."

"Okay. Cal? You've got time, we've got time -- what say we pow-wow?"

Still nothing.

"Cal?" The tentative voice was Willow's. "We have a question..."

"Hey."

"Jesus, don't do that to me!" Buffy shouted, overturning her chair in an instinctive reaction to turn around and be facing her assailant. "Never sneak up on people like that! You of all people should know better!"

"She didn't exactly sneak," Jenny said helpfully, but she was a little pale as well. Only Willow seemed completely undisturbed by the sudden appearance of the ghost.

Buffy picked the chair up from the floor and resettled herself into it.

"You've got a question?"

"Yeah," Buffy said. "What emotional trauma ran you over?"

Cal grinned, a cocky, hard-luck grin that didn't quite come off. "Allergies?"

"Uh-huh." The Slayer studied the ghost's red-rimmed eyes and splotchy complexion. "You went to see him, didn't you?"

"Let it go, sister-mine."

"I thought you agreed that we weren't going to let him in on this," she said, disregarding the warning in Cal's voice.

"I said, let it go."

"No. Look, I'm the one who's gonna have to live with him when this is all over, so --"

The moment the words were out of her mouth, the room dropped several noticeable degrees in temperature. Jenny reached for something under her desk, halting only when she saw the look on both slayers' faces: one horrified by her callousness, the other...

"He didn't see me, okay? He doesn't know I'm here." Her voice became brittle. "What's your damn question."

Buffy, still recovering, couldn't answer, leaving it up to Willow to ask.

"Um... how did you handle it all. I mean, Slaying, and school, and, well, y'know, guys. Real Life stuff."

Cal's gaze turned inwards, as though trying to translate Willow's halting request into a language she recognized. The tension was broken by the shrilling of Jenny's office phone.

"`Za must be here," Buffy said too brightly. "I'll just go get it, okay?"

"She didn't mean to --" Jenny started to say after the Slayer left the room, but Cal shook it off. "I know. She doesn't understand..."

"Understand what?"

"Things. A lot of things." The ghost's voice was resigned, the earlier anger and tension gone as though someone had flushed it. Willow raised a hand as though to comfort her, then checked the movement. Cal didn't notice. They sat in silence until Buffy returned, triumphant, with a white cardboard box which the three live females fell upon as though they hadn't eaten in a week.

"Ummm..." Buffy offered a slice to Cal, hesitant.

"Thanks, but no. Smells good, though."

"So," Buffy said, sitting on Jenny's desk and talking around a mouthful of cheese. "Spill. What was the deal with a Slayer's schedule in your time? Giles as much a slave-driver then as now?"

Cal sat, cross legged, in mid-air, to Jenny and Willow's obvious fascination.

"Honestly, I don't know what to tell ya. All this..." and she spread her arms to encompass not only the office, but the entire school. "I didn't have this."

"What, school?" Willow asked.

"All of it. School, dating, whatever. You want to know how to handle it, I can't tell you."

"Giles let you skip? No way!" Buffy seemed fixated on that concept.

Cal shrugged, something she was doing a lot around Buffy. "Why bother? I went until I was fifteen, because the laws made me. Then I dropped out. Kept vamp hours; sleep until noon, hunt at night. Studied what I needed to know. Rupert taught me Latin, I was always pretty good with languages, and I read the stuff he had in the apartment. Or he'd go over them with me. Worked out in the afternoons, sometimes the morning, if I was too wired to sleep. Everything I did revolved around the slaying. Wasn't much else I was interested in."

"Get you and Kendra together, laughs-a-minute," Buffy muttered in disgust under her breath.

But not quite under enough. "Where the fuck do you get off judging me, Slayer-girl? I loved my life. I loved what I did. I was the fucking Slayer, and vamps left town when they heard I was hunting. You? You prance around half-assed and bitch and moan and wonder how the hell you're going to find a date for the fucking dance."

Cal's eyes literally flashed with anger, and her glow was sparking with static charges.

"You want a personal life? Get a different career, little girl. You know what the average life expectancy is for a Slayer? No, of course you don't. I bet you've never cracked a fucking book in your life that wasn't required reading, much less researched what the fuck you are, or what you're a part of. Well, I'll be the fucking reality check. Average age of death for a Slayer is twenty-three. Twenty-fucking-three. After that, your reflexes start to slow, and one night you end up a hot hours d'ourve on some vamps' tray.

"So don't plan for the future, Sister-mine. Odds are, you don't have one. All you'll leave is a couple of entries in a Codex and a Watcher who'll move on to some other new young chick."

She stopped cold then, seemingly as astonished by her words as everyone else.

"Fuck." A long, shuddering sigh swept through her body. "I can't do this. I'm sorry."

"Cal."

The ghost brushed her hair out of her face and looked at Willow. "What?"

"Giles didn't forget you. He wouldn't."

"I know." Cal swallowed hard. "But that's worse, y'know?"

And then she was gone.

"Well." Ms. Callander put her slice of pizza -- frozen in position during Cal's outburst -- down on the paper towel, and looked at her companions. "That was a revelation."

Buffy nodded. Jenny could practically see the smoke coming out of her ears, the girl was thinking so hard. "Is that what Giles meant, when he said he threw out the rulebook? I mean, I'm supposed to live like that, nothing except Slayerage?"

"He did throw the rulebook out," Willow reminded her. "I mean, he doesn't want you to be like Cal. I mean, or like Kendra. Right?"

"Right." She paused. "You've got that look, Wil."

"Wh-what look?"

Now Jenny was staring at the redhead as well. "Buffy's right. You've got that look. The 'I know something but I'm not sure I'm supposed to know it' look." She frowned at her student. "What did you hack into this time, Willow?"

Knowing she was defeated even before the battle, Willow gave up, and gave in. "I did a search on Cal this afternoon, like I said I was going to. Used London as a base, since that's where Giles is from, and started the search in 1983, fifteen years ago, then back ten years from that."

"And...?" Buffy asked.

"And... There wasn't a lot there. First of all, not much was archived then, and --"

"Will! Details, okay?"

"On April 11th, in 1983, there was a death notice. That's all."

"Cause of death, big hickey on the neck, right?"

"I guess. They didn't say. Just that she was twenty-one, and..."

"What? Will, spit it out!"

Willow pulled at the ends of her hair nervously. "He wouldn't forget her, Buff. Not ever."

Jenny Callender, a bad feeling building in the pit of her stomach, leaned forward, trying not to give in to the urge to grab Willow and shake her until the information fell out. It didn't work with mainframes, and it wouldn't work with people.

"Willow?"

"She was survived by one family member." Pulling nails with a tweezer would have been easier. "Buffy... the name in the paper... her name was Callista Giles."

** ** **

Jenny Callender sat back in the oversized chair and rolled her neck, trying to get the kinks out. She had been searching for almost an hour past her usual bedtime, but hadn't managed to pull up anything more than what Willow had found -- Cal's brief death notice.

It seemed almost impossible for a person to pass their time on this planet with so little fanfare. But to history, Callista Giles wouldn't even make it as a footnote.

"Damn." She didn't want to feel sorry for the girl. With her mouth, and her attitude, she was a prime candidate for seriously unlikeable. Add to that the question of what exactly her relationship with Giles had been --

"Oh, don't go there, Jenny," she told herself. Don't go there. The assumption nobody wanted to voice was just that, an assumption. And probably a wrong one, too. For gods' sake, this was Rupert Giles. Giles the eternally proper. The thought of him... Nope. Not going there.

With no other family to take care of her, or even claim her body, Giles, as her Watcher, probably gave his name to the authorities so there would be something to put on the tombstone. That would be more like him. Conscientious to a fault. From what Willow and Buffy said, Kendra hadn't had a last name either. Damned difficult in a place as orderly and rule-minded as England to get that past them.

Or so she assumed. She had never actually been to England. But any place that produced Rupert Giles had to have a fetish about rules and regs.

Besides, Cal and Giles? The mind, it boggled. No, it not only boggled, it fell over, laughing its ass off. Christ, she hadn't even been able to get past a good night kiss yet. Admittedly, it was a very =nice= kiss, and filled with all sorts of promise, but still... Giles? And Cal?

...

The park was almost empty this early in the morning. Dawn was fully in the sky, but only the most determined hardbodies were out running through the pain. She stretched her legs, feeling the ache as an almost sexual flush. Her breath was coming easily, the sweat sheening her skin a sign of her conditioning rather than of exertion.

Behind her, she could feel the larger mass of her Watcher. Rupert knew better than to try and keep up when she got the bit between her teeth, but he wasn't exactly a slug himself. Even without turning around, she could imagine him: eyes shadowed and heavy with the agony of getting up this early, hair slicked back, long-sleeved jersey plastered with sweat in a vee, the dark grey GorTex pants she had splurged on for him last birthday clinging to him in all the most intriguing places... Not for the world would she ever let him know that it was wonderfully obvious in those pants when he got a hard-on.

On the other hand, why waste such a wonderful view? She slowed up, turning around and jogging backwards to watch him catch up with her. His eyes were a little more alert than her mental picture had described, but otherwise he was as he always was. The wonderful thing about Rupert was that he was always Rupert. No matter the chaos, the disaster unfurling, the surprises life had a habit of tossing at one, he was a certain thing. A rock to hang on to when the storms battered away. And at the same time, he could constantly surprise her. Like last night, when the boys had coaxed him up on stage...

She sped up her pace, feeling the energy surge through her again. But it wasn't the runner's high this time, or even the leftover flush from Tuesday's Slaying, although those four had given her a fight that kept her up and dancing afterwards until the disco finally closed down and kicked her out.

But no, this wasn't from either of those things. This was from the pure joy of watching her Watcher. And such a joy it was, too.

He looked up and saw her watching him. From the look on his face, he knew what she was thinking. Of course he did. He always knew. It was what made them so good together. Her grin widened, and before he could react, she had changed course, running forward and tackling him, landing them both on the grass by the side of the path with an "ompf" from him, and a giggle from her.

"Surprised ya."

"I'm easy prey this early in the morning," he said grumpily, shifting as though to escape her grasp. She moved to prevent that, hands pressing against his forearms, feet hooked just below the knees to keep his lower body still.

At that moment, they both realized that this left her positioned directly over his crotch.

"Cal..."

"Hmmm?" Her voice was innocent, but her eyes were anything but. She could feel the change in his pulse rate, smell the alteration in his body chemistry. An exhilaration not at all unlike that from Slaying swept over her, and before she could think twice, before he could break the spell, she lowered her body onto his, the jointure of her body straddling him.

"Cal..." He said again, his voice hoarser this time. "Cal, don't..."

"Too late," she whispered, feeling his dick pulse and leap against her weight. She shifted, and he groaned, the sound of a man pushed too far for bearing.

"Tell me you don't want this," she challenged him, pressing her advantage. "Tell me you don't want me." She moved her body up slightly, dragging herself against him like a cat in heat, and swallowed a moan of her own. She was no shy virgin, Christ knew, but no man had ever made her feel this way; hot and heavy and quicksilver all at once.

"Fuck me, but you feel good," she said, unaware of the humor in her words until a bark of laughter escaped her watcher. But far from breaking the mood, it seemed to intensify it.

"Does this feel good as well?" he asked, doing a little shifting of his own.

"Fuck, yes."

They stared into each other's eyes, three years of living in each other's pockets, three years of training and danger and shared meals and jokes and more than one run-in with people who tried to separate them, all coming down to this.

"Cal, love..."

"Shhh..." she told him, lowering her face to his. "Shhh..." She licked at his lips, tasting the skin there, and felt him shudder under her. Those finely-drawn lips opened, and his eyes closed. Supine, restrained, defenseless, he was like a sacrifice laid out and anticipating the knife.

The level of trust implicit there, the need and the wanting and yeah, the love, were fair to take her breath away. So she stole his, swooping down again to invade his mouth with the same ruthless passion she took to her Slaying, memorizing the taste and texture of his teeth, his tongue, the insides of his cheeks and roof of his mouth. And when he moaned again, she stole that as well, swallowing his voice into herself.

A cough broke into their private world, and they resurfaced to see a cop standing on the path a few feet away, looking off into the lightening sky, politely giving them enough time to recover.

Pulling herself off Rupert slowly, giving him something to remember, she stood up and adjusted her nylon running shorts, shaking the few pieces of grass out of her hair and flicking the strands back into place behind her ears.

"Last one home gets to cook breakfast," she said, and took off down the path again without waiting for him to regain his feet. She sure as hell wasn't about to start playing fair =now=, of all times!

...

"Wow."

"Yeah. Tell me about it. I don't think I wanted to know quite that much, if you know what I mean." Buffy poked at the remains of her Mickey-D's breakfast muffin, frowning as though it were to blame for the unsettled feeling in her stomach. They were sitting in a booth in the corner, having woken up obnoxiously early and needing to spend some quality recovery time someplace Else.

"It bothered you?"

"It bothered me...that it didn't bother me. I mean, it was kinda wiggy, when you think about it. That wasn't us, it was Cal, but it felt like us. Me. Whatever. You know?"

"Yeah. I know." Willow's vice echoed Buffy's in an almost wistful sigh. Not that either girl would have entertained thoughts of Giles like that -- cute accent or not, he was... well, Giles. But the dream hadn't allowed them that distance. Everything Cal had felt, they had felt. And that included her emotions.

The sound of a backpack being dropped on the seat next to them broke the girls from their respective contemplations. Xander, seeing their faces upturn with the identical expressions, held up a hand palm outward. "Let's not go there, okay? I'm just chalking last night up to some really skunky pizza, and we're all going to pretend it never happened."

He went to get his own breakfast, and the girls looked at each other.

"Oh wow."

"I didn't even think..."

"Poor Xander," Willow said.

"Nah, I think it'll be good for him," Buffy said confidently, her normal sense of humor breaking through. "Now, if we could just get Cal to let him know what cramps are like..."

Xander came back to his two best buds giggling hysterically into their orange juice. "Great. What? Tell me the worst now, cause otherwise I'm just going to be imagining something even more embarrassing all day."

** ** **

While the Slayer and her companions were recovering over grease and Styrofoam, Jenny Callender was having a little more trouble putting herself back together. She had awoken in the middle of the night, her back and neck screaming from her position in the computer desk's chair, and forced herself into a cold shower to shake the last remnants of the non-dream from her brain.

The shower hadn't worked. She could still feel Rupert's body underneath her own. Could still taste him in her mouth, smell him in her nostrils. And they were familiar sensations. She had been all over him once like that. Admittedly, it had been at the urging of a more tangible demon than most people got to blame, but it had happened.

And then she had run, scared, and denied any of that had ever happened. Convinced herself that the passion, and -- oh hell, no other word for it -- virility that she had sensed was the result of the demon, not Giles. Giles was safe. Sweet. Masculine, yes, and with his own innate power that she definitely responded to, but not break-out-in-a-hot-sweat, shaky-kneed, fuck me til I'm screaming kind of dangerous.

What was it Ethan had called him? Ripper? Yes. She could see where Ripper lurked within Rupert Giles. What had happened, to lock all that fire away?

Cal was the answer, Jenny knew. But did she have the strength to ask the question?

And, more to the point, did she have the right?

** ** **

Cal didn't appear at all that day. Not when Buffy called her, not when the Slayerettes wheedled, not even unexpectedly out of thin air just to shock a few years off their accumulated lifespan. It was eerie. A few days of a ghost bopping around running commentary, and you start to expect it all the time.

That night, her back swing perfected, Buffy was released to hit the Bronze. Braving the runoff swamping the streets, she met her cohorts inside; Cordelia and Xander off making some kind of dance movements on the floor, and Oz and Willow holding down a table. Buffy looked around once, half-hoping, then let out a heavy sigh.

"That's the trouble with vampires. Completely undependable. Unless it's at being undependable. In which case they're stellar."

"Yeah, well, not everyone can be on as tight a schedule as I am," Oz said, half his attention on the band wailing something remotely resembling music on the stage.

"I don't know. Day and night seem like pretty tight schedules," Willow argued with more vigor that she would have, pre-Oz. "I mean, one slip-up and you're dust. That would be -- well, that would be bad. Not that I think that's what happened," she rushed to reassure the Slayer, who say down next to them with a heavy sight. "I'm sure he's fine."

"Yeah, just keeping his little vamp feet dry," Buffy agreed.

"Christ, call that music?"

All three humans jumped at Cal's voice, coming from behind their heads. They turned around to see her leaning over the back of their seats, watching the band with the same intensity Oz was giving them. "Man, on their bad days the boys could've knocked their flipping socks off. They getting paid for this gig?"

"Yeah," Oz said moodily. Then, really hearing the newcomer's words, brightened. "I'm Oz."

"Cal," she said in response, waving a pale hand at him, as amazed as the other two girls that he could see her. "You with these two wild-and-crazy bit- wenches?"

"That I am. Or one of them, at least." Willow's shy grin at that indicated who he was talking about.

"So," Oz continued as Cal slid around to join them around to join them on the settee. "What "boys" were you talking about? That were better?"

"Oh, just a band I knew back in London. Great guys, could wail on the blues like nobody's business." She paused. "Wonder whatever happened to them," she murmured to herself. "Probably still playing in that funky dive. Fucking shame."

"London, huh? You're a Brit?"

Cal grinned. "I'm kinda a citizen of the world, now. Borders don't seem to mean much anymore."

"Yeah, I can get into that," Oz agreed.

"So, where've you been?" Buffy asked Cal, as quietly as the Bronze allowed her to, and still be heard by her companion.

"Around. Resting, mostly. Those memories are tough for me, too, y'know."

"Um. Yeah. About those memories..."

Cal raised one dark eyebrow. "A little much for you, Slayer-girl?"

"A shock, okay? Buffy went defensive. "I mean, it was Giles."

"No," Cal disagreed. "It wasn't. It was Rupert. My Rupert. Not your Mister Giles.' In case you need it fucking spelled out for you still."

"You loved him." It was like a revelation, where nothing else had managed to sink in.

"Heart and mind, body and soul. You don't know, sister-mine, the man your Watcher is. Not really. But I did. I remember."

Before the conversation could go any further, the band took a break, and Cordelia and Xander came back to the table. Xander saw Cal and blanched, but managed not to show his discomfort too obviously.

"Hey," Cordelia said, on seeing Cal there, another surprise for the Slayerettes. "You can't smoke in here."

Cal reached up in surprise, as though she had forgotten the cigarette tucked behind her left ear. "No?" She looked at Buffy for confirmation, but it was Willow who responded.

"State laws. No smoking in public gathering places, like this. Cause of second-hand smoke and all."

"Second-hand..." Cal shook her head in bemusement. "Ah, America. The Colonies always were a weird place."

"Hey!" Cordelia said, upset both at the words and this new woman taking up her space.

"Um, Cordy, I think you're makeup's a little, you know..." and Xander indicated a spot vaguely to the left of Cordelia's eye.

"Oh. God." And Cordelia disappeared into the crowd, heading at light speed for the ladies' bathroom.

"Not bad, Xander," Buffy said approvingly.

"You live, you learn," he said, shrugging. "Makeup's a number one prime diversionary tactic when Cordy's about to go somewhere she shouldn't."

Cal had taken the cigarette down and was holding it in her hands, turning it over and over as though she had never seen it before. It was longer and more slender than the cigarettes Buffy could remember seeing. And wrapped in a pale brown paper instead of white.

"You can go outside and smoke it, if you want," Buffy offered, trying to be generous but clearly offended by the idea.

"Wha? Oh, no. Wasn't for me. Liked the taste but never took up the habit."

"Ummm," Xander said. "Then why do you have one --"

"Rupert. He was always running out at really bad moments, so I started carrying one just in case."

"Whoah." Everyone stopped cold at that.

"Giles?"

"Giles smoked?

"Our Giles?"

"No way."

Cal shrugged. "Two packs a day. More when I was really driving him stressful. Man couldn't roll out of bed without lighting one up. Said it got his brain working."

Oz looked from one member of the group to another, aware that he was missing a piece -- or several pieces -- of the discussion, but not quite willing to break in at this point. Instead, he sat back, sure that Willow would explain as much as she could at a later time. Maybe when they were waiting for the moon to rise next week. He was always in the mood for a story then.

The band came back for another set then, and conversation dwindled. Cordelia came back, makeup perfect, and dragged Xander off to the dance floor again. Oz devoted 3/4 of his attention to the band, which seemed finally to have recognized the concept of tuning, and 1/4 to holding Willow's hand. Willow devoted almost all of her attention to Oz holding her hand, which left Cal and Buffy the freedom to talk. Or attempt to anyway.

Cal winced as the bass player screwed up an easy chord, tucked the cig back into place, and tapped her nails against the Formica tabletop. "So. Any other questions you need answered? I don't think I'm going to be hanging here much longer, the pull's getting stronger, and I'm tired all the time. So, hurry em up."

Buffy shook her head. "I've got a whole headful to think about right now, if you don't mind. I mean, Giles, smoking?" And having sex, was the unspoken addition. "It's wigging me out a little, okay?"

Cal shook her head, smiling sadly. For once, her expression wasn't amused, or patronizing, or snide. It was...sad. And understanding. "You have a question, sister-mine. You just haven't gotten up the guts to ask it yet."


A few minutes later, Oz looked up. "Hey. Where's Cal go?"

** ** **

Willow scrunched herself down into the blankets, watching Oz watch the television. Teen Wolf was on, and he seemed to take some kind of perverse delight in commenting on the action. She smiled happily at him, sleepiness not diminishing the glow she got from watching him. Fighting back a yawn, her thoughts wandered to Buffy, out on patrol just in case the slackening rain drew any vamps out, and from there to the other Slayer literally haunting Sunnydale. Poor Cal. If the average age of a Slayer was mid-twenties, she must have been reaching that point when she.. Well, when she... when she became a ghost.

"How horrible it must have been," she murmured.

"What?" Oz split his attention, reaching over to stroke her hair gently. "You say something, Wil?"

"Mmm," she replied, liking the feel of his hand against her hair and encouraging him to continue. Not being too dense, he did so.

...

The sun was out. It was a beautiful day, warming and welcoming and all those other sappy adjectives you could apply to late Spring weather. They had tumbled from the flat late that morning, having celebrated her twenty-first birthday with many rounds of drinks and Rupert even getting coaxed up to his place with the band for a rendition of Wonderful Tonight' that had purely curled her toes. And afters... Cal reached down to twist the heavy ring on her finger, still marveling at the newness of it. He had kissed that finger, then slid the ring from his hand onto hers, and it was as though the circle of her life had been completed. From that first night, scared and shaking and half-afraid this stranger would turn out to be just as horrible as what she'd left behind, to this moment. Nothing frightened her any more. Nothing could be frightening. She had a promise for the future. A promise of something that would last beyond the night. Beyond the Slaying.

Paying for the rolls and coffee with the change in her jacket pocket -- Rupert's jacket, actually, heavy tweed, too big in the shoulders but smelling of him, she smiled at the man behind the counter and stepped out of the corner shop. Seeing Rupert across the street, head down into the morning newspaper, her smile broadened, turned into something more. Suddenly needing to feel his arms around her, hear his voice warm against her ear, she shifted the paper bag in her grasp and hurried across the street, intent only on him.

Her mind heard the tires, the sound of the horn, but never had a chance to process it. All she saw was Rupert's face, his tired, sweet, beloved face, rising from behind the newsprint. And her last vision was of his eyes, terrified.

...

** ** **

Buffy sat in the library, listening to Giles natter on and on and on about research he had been doing, filling his time while the forty days and nights of vampire-free downpour continued. Normally, about this time, she would be bouncing in her seat, anxious to do something other than what she was doing, which was currently nothing. And Xander would be making wiseass comments, and Willow would be pestering Giles with questions, and... none of that was going on today. And none of them were meeting each others' looks, and for sure nobody was looking at Giles.

Giles. Tweedy, stammering, long-winded, sweet, brilliant, occasionally clueless Giles. He'd been young once. Well, younger, anyway. And he'd been in love. And been loved. And she had died before they'd ever had a chance to live.

Buffy had asked to know about her Watcher. Now she did. And she didn't know what to do about it.

Well, duh, she thought irritably, chewing on a pencil. There isn't anything you can do about it. It was in the past. That Rupert Giles doesn't exist any more. This is the Watcher you've got.

This is the Watcher you want.

The thought surprised her. Sure, there were things about the Giles Cal had described that were, well, weird to think about. But the whole thought of being free of school, free of all these stupid restraints and restrictions, that should have been something she wanted. Right? Not Kendra's slay-and-nothing-but-slay -- Cal'd had a life. Okay, so it had been a life that revolved around Giles -- the younger (much younger!) Giles, but still, she'd had fun.

But that Giles, from what she'd seen, didn't appeal to her. Not as Watcher, and maybe not even as a person.

And Cal had died anyway. And not even in the line of Slayerage duty. That was way much a bummer. To get taken out by a car accident, how humiliating.

And if she hadn't died? Buffy's thoughts, no matter how much they wandered, kept coming back to that. What then? For all that she had griped about career day, for all that she couldn't imagine anything past the nights of Slaying, the days of training, she knew that it might not last forever. That if she could get past the years of service -- how ever many they might be - she could still have a chance at something. Some kind of normal life.

And if that were to happen, some day, she'd need the stuff like this to remember. School. Friends. Some kind of normal background.

Her teeth clenched on the pencil and stopped. All the stuff Cal never had.

"Different Slayers, sister mine," a voice whispered into her ears. "Different Watchers. You don't always get what you want -- but he'll make sure you get what you need."

Buffy started, then realized that nobody else had heard the voice.

"Cal?" she whispered under the sound of Giles' droning.

"Goodbye, sister-mine. Take care of your Watcher. Don't leave him alone this time."

"I won't," Buffy promised.

There was a faint papery sound, and Buffy reached forward to pick up the slender brown cigarette that had just dropped onto the table in front of her. The motion drew Giles' attention, and he looked over at her.

"Yes, Buffy?"

She rolled the cylinder between her fingers, smiling thoughtfully.

"Nothing, Giles. Go on."

** ** **

"In the name of the Light.

In the service of the Light.

Bound by the Sacrifice.

Reborn by the Bond.

Sister of my service.

I release you now."

=end=

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