dragonyphoenix: (raven)
dragonyphoenix ([personal profile] dragonyphoenix) wrote in [community profile] summer_of_giles2017-07-16 01:49 pm

Fic: In a Corner of My Soul - PG

Title: In a Corner of My Soul
Chapter: I Robot; You Jane 3/4
AO3 Mirror:
HERE
fanfiction.net Mirror
HERE
Rating:
PG
Setting: Season 1 of BtVS
Word Count: 5381
Note: Many of these scenes were written for prompts at
Taming the Muse.

 

 

A Hellmouth filtered perceptions, changing what people noticed. Miller had heard of the phenomena but had never seen it in action before. The two boys, Dave and Fritz, had blithely scanned dozens of occult texts without once asking why the books were in a high-school library, even after the one girl, Willow, had drawn attention to the books by babbling on about some class Giles had been meant to teach. She'd only stopped when the Slayer had pulled her to one side for a quiet chat. The other boy, Xander, who didn't seem to care about the books one way or the other, spent his time blathering at Willow and casting longing glances at the Slayer. Miss Calendar, who'd not only known of the texts but had been thrilled for the chance to get her hands on them, had turned out to be a better ally than Miller had expected. Her mere presence mitigated Giles' anger or at least its expression. There was obviously an attachment between them for all that they were trying to play it down.


 

The Slayer displayed a lack of interest in the books that almost anyone in the Council would have found shocking. Potentials were trained to respect their Watchers' scholarship, but Buffy had been identified by the Council only after she'd been Chosen. Given her lack of interest, Miller was surprised to see her in the library much less helping. She removed a book from a casket and blew dust off the cover. Even though Giles said he'd have to review the book before it could be scanned, it ended up in what the Slayer referred to as the Willow pile. Giles noticed immediately. He was nothing if not competent. “Ah, no, over here please. I'll need to take a look at it first.”


 

The Watcher's disinterested glance at the cover gave way to pure terror. With a distinct lack of subtlety, he headed straight for his office with the book. “Hey,” Buffy called after. “That one hasn't been scanned.”


 

Miller could almost hear Giles sigh although the man kept his face remarkably calm. “And it won't be. There's a reason it had been kept under lock and key.”


 

But why not, Mr. Giles?” Fritz obviously cared more about needling Giles than the book.


 

Yeah, England,” Miss Calendar added. “Share with the class.”


 

I'm afraid it's too risque for a high-school library.”


 

Risque? Like etchings?” Xander turned to Miller. “You're in charge of this whole scanning deal. Make him share.”


I'll take Mr. Giles' word on what books are inappropriate. These are for high-school consumption after all.” Miller didn't know what the book was. Anything that terrified a Watcher was better out-of-sight and out-of-mind.


Giles vanished into the office and returned without the book. Miller wondered where he'd hidden it. Obviously not in the cabinets above his desk. Miller had emptied them, adding the books to the pile to be scanned. While most of the books had been schlock, there were a few valuable tantric texts in the mix. He suspected Giles would be furious that Miller had removed the books from his office. In fact, he was looking forward to Giles' rage as well as to his attempts to justify keeping books proscribed by the Council in a high-school library.


 

* * *


Bruce Lee could grab a bad guy's fist and freeze the attack mid-strike. Andrew figured it was some kind of Jedi technique only not really Jedi but some kind of mystical teaching because George Lucas had based the Jedi on Shaolin monks. It wasn't like there was a secret order of Japanese monks that wielded light sabers. That would be so cool but they probably didn't exist and even if they did, one wasn't about to leap out of the bushes and help Andrew, not that he was sure he needed help.


 

Andrew had tried digging in his feet, but Tucker had just yanked him along faster. Andrew had tried prying the fingers off his arm, but Tucker had just dug them in harder. “Ow! Do you have to grab so tight?”


 

Com on, you baby. I don't have all night.”


 

Not until you tell me where we're going.” Not that he'd been able to stop Tucker from dragging him along.


 

You'll see when we get there or don't you trust me?”


 

Andrew didn't trust Tucker, or not completely anyway, not since O'Neill had vanished – and O'Neill was too a good name even if the dog had been more of a mutt than a Jack Russel Terrier. Tucker shouldn't have blamed the dog for chewing up his science project. O'Neill had been a puppy. He hadn't known any better. Mom said O'Neill had run away, but she hadn't seen how Tucker had been eyeing the dog. Not that Andrew was going to bring the dog up. Tucker didn't like being reminded of O'Neill. “It's just that you never like hanging out with me and suddenly tonight we're all buddy-buddy? I mean, wasn't it just yesterday that you called me a parasitical vine that sucked all the cool out of the room?”


 

Oh, come on, that was just a joke. You're my brother, of course I want to … who the hell am I trying to kid? Come on, runt.”


 

Hey, look, Sun Cinema's showing Starship Troopers. You know, I didn't really get to watch it closely enough the last two times. There seemed to be this subtle …” He yelped as Tucker yanked him into an alley. “You know, I really don't like dark places. There could be anything lurking, uh, anywhere, and we wouldn't see these lurking things because, you know, it's dark and things that lurk in the dark are really good at hiding.” Tucker didn't say a word. “Couldn't we go some other way?”


Main Street's too crowded.” Too crowded? For what?


The alley came out near a graveyard and Andrew tried not to say anything because Tucker seemed to be in a really bad mood but they were crossing the street and getting closer to the graves. Andrew tried to step back. Tucker's fingers dug in harder as he yanked Andrew forward. “Ow! You don't have to grab me that hard.” And, okay, maybe he was shouting, but Tucker's fingers were hurting. “You know, Mom said we weren't to go into graveyards, not at night anyway, and also not even during the day.”


We're not going in, you idiot.”


Well, where are we going? You still haven't said.”


Tucker still didn't say but he did stop but that was only because Buffy was standing in his way – “Oh, hi Buffy!” – sort of like an avenging angel except there wasn't anyone to avenge so maybe like a saving angel even though Andrew wasn't sure if he really needed saving, and how did she move that quietly anyway? One minute they were alone and suddenly she was just there.


 

She nodded in response and the nod was friendly enough but her arms were crossed and she was staring at Tucker. “What's going on?”


Andrew laughed. “Fancy meeting you here.”


 

Piss off, bitch.”


Ooh, Tucker shouldn't have said that, not to Buffy, or really not to anyone because Mom didn't hold with that kind of language, but especially not to Buffy because she was really tough and, wow, she'd grabbed Tucker and slammed him into that fence so fast that Andrew had barely felt it when Tucker had lost his grip on his arm. When Tucker tried to take a swing at her, Buffy tightened the grip on his throat. “I'm going to see that Andrew gets home safely. You should leave.” When she let go, Tucker fell.


You know, if he'd been slammed into a fence that hard, he wouldn't have gotten up so soon. It was sort of like Tucker had hooked into the dark side of the Force to make himself more powerful or …


 

The little brat's my brother. I'm taking him home.”


Hey, who was he calling brat?


 

Buffy glanced between them. Andrew's smile felt sort of wobbly. “Was he taking you home?” she asked.


Andrew didn't want to get Tucker in trouble but he really didn't know where Tucker'd been taking him and he pretty much figured that was a bad thing. “Um, not as such. Our house is sort of back that way?”


 

Right.” She smiled toward Tucker and, wow, her smile could be sort of scary. “You? Go. I'll take care of Andrew.”


Fine, it's not like I wanna hang with babies … or girls.”


She watched until Tucker was out of sight. “Let's get you home.”


 

Andrew wasn't sure he wanted to go back to the house. What if Tucker got there first? It wasn't like Buffy'd wait around all night to make sure he was okay. “Do you like Starship Troopers? Because it's showing at Sun Cinema and they have really good popcorn. Have you had their popcorn? It's got just enough salt, not too much and not too little, although I'd prefer a bit less butter …”


 

* * *


St. Jude Thaddeus Convalescent Care Center had been described as a rest home, but Kris could read between the lines. Any institution named for the patron saint of hospitals and hopeless cases would be more hospice or sanitarium. Without really thinking about it, she'd been expecting an almost Gothic nightmare, not quite gray stones guarded by gargoyles under a clouded sky, but certainly something dour and grim. She found stucco walls, almost blindingly white in the afternoon sun, and roofs of red tile made cheerful by the brightness of the day.


She couldn't see the sea, not this far from the shore, but beyond the facility the ever-present mountains loomed. The grounds were well maintained, hinting at funding she wouldn't have expected for a public institution. She'd heard that the Mayor supported the facility but hadn't expected this level of generosity. Kris had been told that Sister Hyacinth Gilman would meet her. As she walked from the parking lot, Kris contemplated vocations. Hers had been forced on her and unwelcome although, in the end, she hadn't been deserving enough to be Called. She should be glad. The life of a Slayer wasn't her own but devoted to protecting others. A nun's life must be similar. Kris had been told that their vocation was chosen but still, it couldn't be easy to always put the needs of the world above their own. It must set them apart, leave them feeling isolated.


Sister Hyacinth – “Please, call me Cindy.” – didn't look as if she felt isolated. Kris had expected a dour old woman, trapped in a stifling and dark habit. Cindy was middle aged and wore khakis below a cute, if conservative, blouse. “Mrs. Madison's room is this way. I'll take you up.”


 

As they turned a corner, a man lunged at Kris, grabbing her arm. Before she'd even thought it through, she had him pinned against the wall, one of his arms locked behind his back. Below the balding head, Kris took in a well-cut blue pinstripe suit. Despite Sister Cindy's gasp, the man didn't seem upset by her attack if his torrent of words was anything to go by. “Don't go out after dark. Stay home. Don't answer the doors. They come at night, the jaws that bite, the claws that catch.”


 

She released him with an apology. “Sorry, I was attacked, mugged, not that long ago. I guess I'm still on edge.”


 

Sister Cindy nodded but seemed warier than she had before the incident. “I do apologize for Dr. Sharp. In his enthusiasm, he forgets how his actions might be perceived.”


Although Kris hadn't seen Sister Cindy page anyone, a young man, dressed in scrubs, came around the corner. “That's enough, Dr. Sharp. No need to bother the lady.”


 

As he was led away, Dr. Sharp called back. “Churches, churches are safe. Don't go out at night.”


 

That was odd. If he was on staff, why was he being led away? “Is he a doctor here?”


No, a patient. Dr. Sharp was a neurosurgeon – one of the best in Sunnydale I've been told – until his wife passed away. I'm don't know what happened, not exactly, but I heard rumors of an accident with a barbecue fork. Dr. Sharp became paranoid. He was convinced that monsters had killed his wife and that they still lurked in the dark, looking for victims. He was actually trying to protect you. We believe it's projected guilt. Having been unable to save his wife in real-life, in his fantasy he thinks he can save others.”


 

How long ago did this happen?”


 

Four, or no, five years back.”


 

As Sister Cindy continued to lead her through the facility, Kris breathed a sigh of relief. The attack – it must have been a vampire – had happened before she'd moved to Sunnydale. It wasn't her fault. This one, not her fault.


 

Catherine Madison's room held no personal effects, not even a photo of her daughter. Kris recalled the time she'd visited the woman in the hospital, after Mrs. Madison had been found unconscious in one of the high-school labs. Kris had brought flowers as a cover for her visit. She wished she'd thought to bring flowers again. The sparseness of the room was too painful, too strong a reminder of her own life when she'd been training as a Potential. She'd had little of her own. Her clothes had been chosen for her. Her food, studies, and training had been dictated by tradition. Only a small pin, a butterfly set out in shimmering stones, which she'd later learned were fake, had been her own, and she'd found that, had picked it up off the ground and kept it hidden.


 

The last time she'd seen Catherine Madison, the woman had seemed almost dead. Then she hadn't moved, hadn't made a sound. Now the woman's tongue reached out from her mouth, moving outward as far as it could reach and stretching out from side-to-side. “She's always like this around meal times,” Sister Cindy said. “At first we thought it might be a sign of cognitive function, but it hasn't gone beyond these motions.”


 

Will she understand me?”


Sister Cindy shook her head. “There's no sign she will, but, well, if I were her, I'd want to be told.” Her smile was full of compassion although it wasn't clear whom that empathy was directed to: Kris or Mrs. Madison. “I'll be nearby if you need me.”


Kris reached out to take one of Catherine Madison's hands. At her touch, the woman jerked her hand back. Mrs. Madison's limbs started thrashing as if an unskilled puppet master were pulling her strings. Kris stood and stepped back, raising one hand to her mouth, and was about to call for help when she realized the thrashings, as uncoordinated as they looked, were purposeful. The woman was moving away from her.


After Mrs. Madison had stilled, the tongue stretched out again and her movements made Kris think that she was searching, reaching out, trying to communicate in the only way she could. Kris sat again, moving slowly to avoid upsetting the woman. She didn't try to touch the woman again. “Mrs. Madison,” she said softly. “I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news. It's about your daughter and your husband, ex-husband. I'm afraid they've passed on.”


 

The woman's tongue pulled back, quick as a whip, and stretched out again. “I'm sorry,” Kris said. “Whatever happened to you, it's my fault. I told myself I was gathering information and learning the layout of the land, but I knew you see. I knew about the demons and you didn't and now you're …” Kris put her hands over her own face and sat there, breathing into them. With a shudder, Kris pulled her hands away. “Your daughter and your husband, their deaths are my fault. I was afraid and now they're dead. If I'd acted, if I'd gone patrolling …”


Then what? a voice in Kris' head asked. You think you're the Slayer now? If she couldn't save them, what makes you think you can? “I'm better than her,” Kris muttered to herself. “She's not serious. She distracts herself with school and friends.”


 

Kris had never had friends. She'd had duty, as dry as dust, and in the end that duty had failed her. She hadn't been Called. Kris didn't understand it. She'd been rejected but this girl who'd been Chosen, who'd been given the privilege of protecting the world, abandoned her duty in favor of unworthy friends, schooling she could never use, and nights pursuing dubious pleasures. “She doesn't deserve it. She doesn't have the discipline.” Kris watched Mrs. Madison, a woman lost in a nightmare. “I failed you. I failed your daughter. I won't fail again. I'll protect Sunnydale. I promise.”


 

* * *


While most high-school librarians couldn't afford a sporty two-door Volante, Miller hadn't been surprised by Giles' car. He had thoroughly researched the man before accepting this assignment after all. Miller, in this persona, drove a black Toyota Corolla, a slightly dumpy car that wouldn't attract attention.


After they'd finished the day's scanning, Miller had followed Giles to his apartment. It had been where he'd expected the man to head. Miller knew he'd been recognized. Giles, knowing he was being watched, would play the good boy and say in. Except he hadn't.


An hour after dusk, a man left Giles' apartment. Tweed had given way to bluejeans and a wife-beater. The hair had been slicked back. Still, the man couldn't be mistaken for anyone else. Giles stopped, peering keenly into a store window and brushing a few stray strands of hair down before sauntering, so slowly Miller had to believe Giles wanted to be followed, past factories, abandoned or not, and into a neighborhood where prudent businessmen pulled gates over doors and windows at night.


Giles' cigarette, tossed aside, glowed like a comet against a polluted sky. As Giles vanished into a dive, Miller noted that he hadn't glanced over to see if Miller had followed. He didn't have to. He had to know Miller would be following.


Miller remained outside in his car. Logic said Giles would duck out the back to lose his tracker, but instinct told Miller that Giles wasn't going anywhere. The man had wanted to be followed here. Men vanished into the alleyway, reappearing quickly enough that they could be enjoying quick fucks, but Miller didn't need to see drugs to know that someone was selling. They didn't matter. Lowlife scum weren't his assignment.


Stakeouts could drag out all night but Giles didn't make him wait. Less than a half-hour after he'd entered, Giles left the bar with not one but two women, one on each arm. The taller, a brunette dressed in a black tank and a paisley miniskirt, looked like an extra from an Austin Powers' flick. After a moment's thought, Miller wasn't surprised Giles had picked her up. He seemed to be determined to relive his own glory days after all. The blonde, the front of her hair curled back into Farrah Fawcett wings, wore a jacket with shoulder pads, a look that was both more dowdyish and yet less dated than her companion's outfit.


The blonde caught both Giles' hands in hers, and stepped backwards, towards the alley. Laughing, Giles allowed himself to be led into the darkness. A few minutes later, Giles half-flew, backwards, out of the alley, moving so fast his feet barely seemed to keep him upright. The brunette, following him into the street, had revealed her true face, the unmistakable ridges of a vampire.


 

Et tu, Brute?” Giles' voice carried. “I'd thought at least one of you was human.”


 

You killed my Childe. You'll pay for that, you cur.”


Miller, not even bothering to glance towards the cache of weapons hidden under his passenger-side seat, reached for the lever to open his trunk. A flamethrower was his best bet. Anything else might not kill the vampire before she'd fed on Giles. Antonia Ashworth would not be pleased if he allowed the man to die. She wanted Giles punished, humiliated and broken, not merely dead.


While time seemed to speed up, Miller felt as if he were slogging through molasses. He couldn't reach the weapon in time and Giles, the idiot, just stood there as if waiting for death. “Move, you git.” Was this Giles' response to his presence? Suicide over public disgrace?


 

As the vampire approached, Giles thrust his hands forward, reaching toward her. A point between his hands began to glow, increasing in intensity until it was so bright that Miller had to cover his eyes. With a burst of even brighter light, the magic burned itself out. After Miller had blinked his sight back, he saw Giles, unharmed and staring straight at him. The vampire was gone, presumably crumbled to dust. Miller wasn't sure what he'd seen. Nothing in Giles' records suggested he could control that much power.


Although bareheaded, Giles touched his fingers as if to the brim of a hat. “Be seeing you.” Miller stared as Giles strolled out of sight. Had the man put himself into extreme danger merely to force Miller to reveal himself?


 

* * *


Angel hated approaching Buffy in the Bronze. Seeing her there, in her element, surrounded by the warmth of her friends as she flashed that bright smile with the lights sparkling on her hair, glowing like a halo above her, only accentuated the gap between them. She was a daughter of the light; he, a son of the dark. He might watch from the shadows but could never join her, not even under artificial lights.


He left the Bronze to wait in the alley. Knowing she wouldn't leave her friends soon, he wondered if he should patrol in her place. The smarter demons would be out in force while she distracted herself. No, that wasn't fair. She wasn't distracting herself. Buffy deserved a normal life. Besides, it wasn't his place to comment. If anything, it should be her Watcher setting her a less predictable patrol schedule.


Her Watcher didn't trust him. That could be deadly, not for Angel but for Buffy. The Watcher, in rejecting his sketch, had rejected his help. Angel had come to Sunnydale to help Buffy. How was he supposed to do that if the Watcher rejected his assistance? If he gave the sketch to Buffy, would the Watcher reject it, knowing the source? No, Buffy wouldn't allow it.


But then what? Buffy couldn't act against a human. The Council could. In fact, Angel knew of three mages who'd been locked up by the Council, never to be seen again.


Maybe he should have just gone up to her in the Bronze. Waiting in a dark alley, second guessing her Watcher's motives wasn't getting him anywhere, but Angel couldn't see himself, drink in hand, making small talk and pretending he blended in with the crowd. So he waited for more than two hours until she finally left the Bronze. She wasn't alone. He followed as she escorted Willow home, waiting until she was alone to step out of the shadows. “Buffy.”


Angel.” She crossed her arms. What was wrong with her? Was it that guy she'd been seeing? She couldn't still be dating him. He was too ordinary. She must be upset Angel lost the possessed man the night before. With this tension between them, he couldn't tell her how strangely her Watcher had acted. He handed her the sketch. She stared at it so hard and so long that he felt as if he should explain himself, but she knew what it was.


 

So, this is the possessed man?”


 

Maybe.”


 

Buffy looked up from the sketch, her eyes blazing fury. “This might not be the guy? I mean, yeah, he doesn't even look human so what good's it supposed to be?”


 

No, no, this is the man. I just mean it might not be possession.” Angel could only hope he didn't look as gobsmacked as he felt. Why was he bringing up domination? Buffy would never run across a man dominated by a demon. In all his two hundred and fifty years, Angel had never met a dominated human. Even the Master had known only one. What had he said? In all my years, I've never faced so vicious an enemy. He'd claimed the man's soul, corrupted by the demon, had driven the man to heights of atrocities that not even a vampire could match. “The Council calls it domination. A demon can create a connection to a human mind, something like a chain that links them.”


 

Chain? So the person would be bound?”


 

No, it's not a physical connection. That would be possession. Domination is more like a web connecting the demon to the person. The demon can't physically control the person but it can influence.”


 

Sounds pretty tenuous.”


 

Damn, he shouldn't have used the spider web metaphor. Why did humans think of webs as fragile? “The demon isn't in the body; it's connected to the person's mind.”


 

So? Why not just stand up to it?”


 

Buffy didn't understand. He should be glad. A demon had never wormed it's way into her thoughts. She had no idea how difficult it was to face that pressure day after day. “What's important to understand is that it isn't the person's fault. Demons are trickier than you know. They can get a hold on the most innocent of victims.” Oh, that's why he'd brought up domination. He didn't want Buffy to think of him as a monster. He wanted her to see him as a hero, trapped but resisting, holding out against evil.


 

But this guy killed a little girl. He's evil now. So what's the diff?”


 

Of course, Buffy was the Slayer. She looked at a demon and could only see evil. “Do you think the sketch will help?”


 

Buffy shrugged. “He doesn't look even close to human. How am I supposed to recognize him? Or am I supposed to wait until he sacrifices another child and then hunt him down?”


 

There are rules for invoking demons: only under the light of a full moon, things like that. It's not true for every demon but your Watch … if you know what kind of demon it is, you might predict where and when it can be called again. Stop him ahead of time.”


 

She glanced at the sketch but was still glaring when she looked back up. “You've had this since last night and are only giving it to me now?”


 

Damn, if he said he hadn't wanted to spoil her evening, it'd sound as if he thought she was a lightweight, more concerned with partying than with Slaying. If he told her the Watcher had rejected his first sketch, it'd sound as if he was complaining. “You're welcome.” He turned on his heel and walked off, hoping she'd call him back.


 

* * *


 

When he'd had Buffy assigned to the library for homeroom, Rupert had assumed she'd be a willing participant in her early morning training. Instead she'd never once been on-time much less early. On the contrary, Rupert had consistently waited for her. Buffy waiting impatiently as he arrived was a blood-curdling sight. “Gods, Buffy, what happened?”


Her eyes widened as if she hadn't expected his concern. She stood and held out a piece of paper. “Angel gave it to me.”


Giles stared at the paper as he gathered his thoughts. Apparently the vampire hadn't told her that he – Ripper actually but the vampire wouldn't know the difference – had torn up the first sketch. He should have guessed the vampire wouldn't drop the issue, that he would bring it to Buffy's attention. Giles couldn't have her interested in Eyghon. He'd have to nip this in the bud. “It's a drawing of a demon.”


It's the demon, or man I guess, that killed that girl at the zoo.”


 

Ah, that confirmed that the vampire hadn't told her that Giles had destroyed the first sketch. Buffy wouldn't have led with that sentence if she thought he'd torn up another sketch. “Are you certain?”


 

Certain? Giles, you told me that she might have been killed in a ritual to call a demon into a person. That's a demon in a person.”


 

Buffy, it's difficult to distinguish a pure demon from one that has been invoked into a human body. The differences are subtle. How can you be sure?”


 

Well, Angel said it was both, a, uh, demon invoked into a person.”


 

If anyone could tell the difference, it would be a vampire. Buffy wouldn't know that, of course, but now wasn't the time to drive a wedge between them. “If that's the case, I suppose we can take it as a given that this is a drawing of a demon-possessed man, but we can't be sure he is one who killed that child from the zoo.”


 

There can't be that many demon-possessed guys running around Sunnydale.”


 

No, there weren't but he wasn't about to set Buffy after Eyghon. “It may, in fact, be a cult. Let's ignore what you might do if you did catch this person. Even Slayers aren't sanctioned to kill humans after all. If it is more than one person, moving too fast may destroy any chance we might have to stop them.”


 

But Giles, he's killing little kids!”


 

And if it were merely one man, we could catch and stop him, but if it's a group and we stop only one, the rest will scatter and take their rituals elsewhere. We'd be hard-pressed to even find them much less stop them.”


 

I can't sit here and do nothing!”


 

Damn. “I'm not asking you to. I'll research this demon, see what I can learn. All I'm asking is that you wait. Or do you want other girls, in other cities, to fall victim to this cult as well?”


You don't even know it's a cult.” Her words contradicted him but her tone said she'd allow him time to investigate the demon. Good, that should give him time to deal with Weirick.


 

* * *


The books stacked on the library's table bore a striking resemblance to tiny Towers of Babel. Giles was certain they were about to crash to the floor. Unfortunately he wasn't allowed to correct this obvious and egregious error. The day before, after he'd shifted the highest stack to a cart, Jenny had carried on as if he'd murdered her grandmother. Discretion being the better part of valor, Giles merely eyed the books and hoped to avoid a landslide.


One by one Jenny and her students – Willow first, before Jenny even, and then the two boys – trailed in after the final bell. Miller had arrived a half-hour earlier. Giles didn't know exactly how the man had spent his day, but nothing the man had done or turned up would be to Giles' advantage. Unfortunately, with the scanning sessions limited to after school hours, Giles had no excuse to keep the man in the library where he could keep an eye on him.


Jenny glanced over the students who'd already busied themselves scanning the books. “You all know what you're doing, right?” The two boys seemed to ignore her but Willow popped her focus up out of the screen and nodded. Apparently that was enough to satisfy Jenny. With nothing better to do, she started browsing through an already scanned book. It hardly seemed fair. They were his books. He should be allowed to put them away now that they'd been scanned.


Hmm, L'Étoile et la Jarretière,” she said in quite passable French. “I'll have to check this out. A bit racy for a high-school library.”


Giles could only hope that no one else had noticed Willow's blush. As he took the book calmly, not ripping it from Jenny's hands as he wanted to, he said, “That one's not meant for public perusal.” He turned on Miller. “In fact, I had it under lock and key in my office.”


I am here to scan your entire collection.” Only years of tight self-control kept Giles' fist at his side. The man might not be Council, but he knew better than to leave out a book on sex magic.


Don't worry, England. I won't damage your precious book. I'll read the digital copy.”


 

You'll read the what?”


 

That was the agreement Jenny and I came to,” Miller said. When had she become Jenny to him? “She keeps a digital copy of the collection.”


We are scanning them to preserve and disperse information after all,” she added.


Disperse? Mr. Miller, could I have a word in private?” Miller withdrew not to Giles' office but behind the circulation desk. Very well, they'd just have to speak quietly. From the corner of his eye, Giles could see Jenny speaking with Willow. He shook the distraction off to focus on Miller. “Are you insane?”


Jenny understands which books should be available to the general public.”


Jenny understands? And how, exactly, did she come to this understanding? Access to those books has been restricted …” No, he couldn't mention the Council, not while he and Miller were pretending that organization didn't exist.


Miller's smirk suggested he'd released the books to raise trouble. “Sex magic books aren't verboten, merely private.”


 

Before he could formulate a response, Jenny's voice rang out. “Rupert!” She dragged Willow over and dropped a book onto the circulation desk. “How has Willow read this?”


 

L'Étoile et la Jarretière. Giles hid a wince. One of the tantric books he'd left hidden for Willow to find. “I wasn't aware that she had. It was, after all, under lock and key in my office. I'd had it mailed here, rather than to my home, because I'd be available to sign for it when it was delivered.” That sounded almost plausible.


Miller's face had gone perfectly blank. Wonderful. Just what Giles needed, for the Council to get word of this. Leaving the books in his office had been a mistake. Hindsight, as ever, was 20/20. The best Giles could do now was minimize the damage. “Willow, this is quite serious. The books in my office aren't for general consumption.”


At least she's only read the one,” Miller drawled.


 

Damn the man for sticking his nose in. Jenny glanced at Miller before asking Willow, “What other books have you read?”


 

Well, it's a library. I mean, I've read lots of books.”


Willow.” Gods, he hadn't know Jenny could sound that severe. “You know which books I mean.”


Willow stared down at the ground as if wishing it would swallow her whole. “Well, there was The Rose and the Thorn and then this one?”


 

The Rose and the Thorn,” Jenny repeated. “I saw that in one of the piles. That's it?”


Well, that is, I've got …” Willow's voice dropped to a whisper. “The Rising Serpent.”


The Rising …” Jenny stopped half-way through the title. “Willow, is there someone you've been practicing this with?”


 

Giles reviewed his interactions with the girl to see if there was anything that could implicate him. He'd mentioned tantra but in a seemingly absentminded manner, and he'd then immediately turned around and told her she was too young. He'd allowed her to see the books but had made it seem more of an accident that she'd found him putting them away. Still, it'd been careless of him. He should have found an intermediary to introduce Willow to the tantric texts.


Practiced with?” Willow practically squeaked. “No. No! I tried the energy org …” She blushed and quickly moved on. “But that was all by myself and anyway that was only once. Taboos. I was breaking taboos.”


Ah, that explained why Willow's energy flow hadn't smoothed out. She'd resisted the allure of sex magics. Noting how Miller had almost vanished into the woodwork, observing but not influencing Willow's confession, Giles decided to lead her off the topic of sex magic. “What kind of taboos, Willow. What have you been doing?”


It was kind of hard to decide. I mean, I could have tried smoking but that's really unhealthy and I like my lungs all cancer-free, and I thought about drinking but Mom and Dad allow me to have wine at the table, a half-glass and only for special occasions, but alcohol just doesn't feel all that taboo-like.”


Willow.” At the sound of her name, Willow jerked, cringing and staring up at Jenny like a rabbit before a hungry fox. “We're not angry, but we need to know what you've done.”


I didn't study for a whole day, twenty-four hours I mean, from midnight to midnight. It was easy at first, you know, when I was sleeping, but it got harder later.”


Not studying? That was the girl's idea of violating a taboo?


 

Anything else?”


 

Just one other?” She looked up hopefully.


 

And that is?”


Willow stared at the ground again. “I, uh, sort of wore gang colors to school.”


Gang colors?” Giles asked. What on earth was the girl going on about?


Yeah, Principal Snyder said were weren't allowed so I thought it'd make a really good taboo to break. I'm not going to get in trouble, am I? If I'm suspended it'll ruin my perfect attendance. Well, not perfect because I did miss class that one day in third grade, but perfect in high-school where I've never missed a day.”


 

I don't recall seeing you in gang colors,” Jenny said.


 

It was my Hello Kitty t-shirt, you know, black shirt with the red bow? Nobody seemed to notice.” She petered off.


It's okay, Willow. We'll keep the gang colors to ourselves but you'll have to return Giles' book.” Willow looked up as Jenny dropped a hand on her shoulder. “I'm going to drive you home and you're going to hand me the book.”


But the scanning project. We've still got a few more hours this afternoon.”


Now.”


Um, okay. I'll get my bag.”


 

Miss Calendar,” Giles said. “The book is mine. I should take Willow home to retrieve it.”


Jenny glared from behind crossed arms. “Not on your life. It's your fault she had the book in the first place. You're just lucky there's no damage done.”


If she chose to report him, things could go badly. “Of course. I will be more careful in the future, but do keep in mind the books were under lock and key.”


She nodded but didn't look back when she left with Willow. Giles turned to find Miller wearing a bland smile. Not knowing how the man would handle this, Giles chose to retrieve the offending books. They'd have to be removed from the high-school that evening even though that rather felt as if he were locking the barn door after the horses had escaped.




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