Rupert was on a late-afternoon train. He’d been two days in London this time, on head of Council business. Xander picked him up at the station in downtown Bath. He was obviously tired and grumpy about something. He slung his little rolling suitcase into the trunk, then hung a garment bag more carefully in the back seat of the Beemer. He collapsed into the passenger seat.
Xander leaned over and kissed him, then reversed out of the parking space.
“Bloody Savile Row,” Rupert said. “Bloody endless fittings. Bloody Whitehall. Bloody committees. Bloody stupid architects.”
“I got a Scotch and fizz waiting for you at home, hon.” Xander eased through the beginnings of the commute traffic, and onto the road heading east to Westbury and their house. The police driving class the Council had sent him to had been a trip. He’d finally started looking right-left-right instead of left-right-left. And of course he’d achieved the pinnacle of his boyhood ambition: he now knew how to brake a car into a high-speed u-turn. Turned out driving wasn’t so bad with only one eye.
Not that late-afternoon Bath traffic demanded such maneuvers. Xander wished it did. Rupert had that restless look on his face, that itchy tense distraction that led to outbursts. Or the closest he came to what Xander would call an outburst. A day spent in the workout room, sword-fighting an imaginary opponent. Riding Otto for hours, returning at sundown jogging alongside him with man more lathered than horse. Or one of those fits of passion that left even Xander exhausted at the end of them.
It was better when Buffy was in the country. The two of them would go vamp-hunting, and Rupert would be steady for days afterward. It was like Watchers had a mini-version of the dustlust that Slayers had. Xander made a mental note to look this up. He had rapidly become one of the few living experts in what it meant to be a Watcher.
“So,” he said, once they were well out of city limits, and winding through countryside. “Crappy meetings?”
“Yes and no. Yesterday was all government committees, briefing idiots on issues their staffs ought to have handled. Today wasn’t so bad. We did end up hiring that therapist fellow. I convinced them.”
That had been Willow’s suggestion, following a painful discussion about combat veterans and shellshock and what she’d seen in all of the Slayers. Rupert had vanished for one of those afternoons spent running alongside Otto, then reappeared with new resolutions in hand. He would train and treat Watchers the way he wished he had been handled. As the summer ended, and construction on new Council facilities began, Rupert had started classes going.
Xander and Andrew and Dawn were the first students of the new curriculum, the Giles curriculum. Firearms and swordfighting, Sun Tzu and Clausewitz, martial arts and massage, psychology and Latin. He’d set the three of them to the task of revising the handbook as they learned it. He didn’t take all their suggestions, but he’d demonstrated clearly that no past tradition was sacred.
And the further Giles innovation: Watchers and Slayers, next to each other in the classes. Slayers got more weapons training, Watchers got more on adolescent psychology, but otherwise, they were together. But at the moment, the Slayers outnumbered the Watchers four to one, even counting the three survivors of the old Council. They were all housed in the temporary training facilities near Westbury, just a few miles further from Bath than the Giles property was.
So now weekly sessions with a shrink would start as well, for everyone who was in the field. There had been some moments in Sunnydale when Xander had thought that a shrink was exactly what Buffy needed. All of them, to be honest.
Xander turned off the road onto the long drive that wound back to the house. Rupert was still deep in thought about something. He came to when Xander shut off the engine. He smiled at Xander a little wearily. “Dinner, love? I’d like to cook tonight, if you don’t mind.”
Xander grinned and leaned across the bucket seats to grab another kiss. “Mind? You’re crazy.”
“Right, then. Just let me scrub the city off.”
Rupert appeared in the kitchen a half-hour later, with wet hair, smelling of his sandalwood soap. He had on faded jeans and a blue button-down shirt, tails out. He’d put on an earring, a little onyx stud Xander had found for him, to match the signet ring. Xander liked this look on him. It was the Giles he’d known for years, right alongside the Rupert he’d fallen in love with in the last months.
Xander put a marker in the book he was reading, on vampire behavior. “Want that drink?”
“No, no. Feel much better now. You keep studying.” Rupert gave Xander a little smile.
Xander didn’t open his book again, however. He leaned an elbow on the kitchen table and watched, head turned to point his good eye in the right direction. Rupert set some funky-looking dried mushrooms soaking in water, then vanished down to the cellar, where he kept wine. Just like the movies, though he only had the one rack. He reappeared with something in one of those heavy-shouldered bottles. He opened it, sniffed, made a harrumphing noise, then left the bottle on the table. Xander rotated the bottle to read the label. Barolo. Italian. Red.
He tied on his apron, which really ought to look dorky but never did. Shallots diced. A few cloves of garlic sliced. Rice, measured and washed but left in the cup.
Rupert handed Xander the remains of some Pecorino. “Grate this,” he said.
Xander took the cheese and rummaged out the hand grater. He leaned over the counter and grated into a bowl. Rupert hadn’t said how much, so he would do the whole thing.
“Did you meet with Willow?”
“Yeah,” said Xander, grating.
Rupert gave him a moment to continue, and prodded when he didn’t. “And?”
“She thinks she can do something with it. Enchant a, a, fake eye or something. But not anything… nothing big. Nothing like vision. Maybe more like ESP. Magic detection. Maybe ghosts.”
“Was it difficult?” Rupert didn’t have to specify what. They’d talked about it beforehand, the fact that Xander was going to have to take off the eyepatch for Willow.
“Yeah. She was a champ about it. Tried to make it easier.” He was down to the heel of the cheese now. A few more swipes and he’d be done.
“We all love you, you know.” Rupert put a big pot over one of the front burners, and set it simmering with stock, some of the wine, and the water from the mushrooms.
“Yeah, I know.” Xander carried the bowl of cheese over, then popped himself up on the countertop to watch from a closer vantage point. “I’m just bummed I can’t have a Mad-Eye Moody deal. You know, see out the back of my head.”
Rupert snorted. He set a big pan out over low heat. “It bothers you,” he said, looking up from the pan while he sloshed oil around it. “Exposing it again.”
“No, that’s not… Well, that’s part of it, but I think I’m starting to get over that. Getting a fake eye will be okay, I think. Really it’s… It’s the Watching. I can’t shoot for shit, and it’s a weak spot.” And he had this superstitious Odin-dread thing going, but he wasn’t ready to confess that to Rupert yet.
Shallots and garlic in, moved through the oil with a wooden spoon. “Your Slayer can help. Shemsa is a crack shot, isn’t she?”
“But nothing. You don’t have to do it all. You complement each other. It’s why we go in pairs, Watcher and Slayer.” Rupert dumped the rice into the pan and stirred it up. It sizzled in the hot oil.
“Buffy will use guns if she has to, but she’s not fond of them. I like shooting. Sarah loves knife-fighting; Andrew, well…”
Xander shared a wry look with Rupert. Andrew tried, but he still tripped over his own feet in the field. Fortunately, he’d turned out to be an amazing tactical thinker. He won their war gaming exercises every time.
“I get it,” Xander said.
Xander watched Rupert move at the stove. He’d take a dipper of stock, pour it into the rice, then stir for a while. Then another dipper. It was slow, and took most of his attention, but he looked completely relaxed and content. God, he was sexy, leaning over the stove in that shirt. Xander had it bad, he knew. As bad as he’d ever had it for anybody. It was utterly weird that it was Giles, stuffy Giles, the guy who’d stammered while he tried to explain to Xander that vampires existed, way back when. That had turned out to be partly an act, just one aspect of the man that he’d played up so he could fit in. The real man was more complicated. Smart, yeah, and jam-packed with weird facts, but also sweet. And intense in bed. The guy learned fast.
He liked teaching, too. Lover, boss, mentor. Xander had learned a lot.
Recently, he’d been learning what it meant to be a Watcher, and to support a Slayer. Rupert had a lot to say about that. Trust, he’d said. Trust and affection were the core. What you layered on top of that was up to you and your Slayer. Specific to the pair of you. Complicated and intense no matter what. Rupert had told Xander some weird things that had happened between him and Buffy, from fist-fights through sexual tension so strained Rupert had had to flee to cold sulky hurt that froze for weeks, fetching up at their current comfortably tight friendship. But they got through it because they loved and trusted each other.
Trust. Buffy’d had a lot to say as well. The two of them had abolished Cruciamentum. It had almost been Rupert’s first move as Council head. The three older surviving Watchers had been scandalized.
Rupert poured another dipper of stock into the rice and stirred. Xander dropped down from his perch on the counter and loomed over the pan for a moment. The rice had plumped up a lot. It was a rich dark red, from the wine in the stock. Xander’s mouth watered. He took over the spoon from Rupert and stirred while Rupert tossed in the cheese and a big lump of butter.
“Hey. I was thinking.”
“Oh?” Eyebrow up.
“We’re short a lot of Watchers.”
“Yes.” Rupert spun off the gas under the stockpot.
“Where are we going to get more? I mean, if we need one per Slayer, like you say. I think we need it sooner rather than later. I mean, Shemsa and I, we’re pretty tight. But Vi keeps trying to get my attention in dojo, and I’m thinking it’s 'cause she needs somebody’s attention.”
Rupert sighed. He poured the stock into a plastic container and snapped on a lid. He leaned a hip against the counter and watched Xander stir, then finally said, “You’re right. She needs her own Watcher.”
“So, what’s the plan?”
Rupert sighed again. The tension Xander had seen in him in the car had returned to his shoulders and to his forehead. “I’ve been working on it with Willow for the last few weeks. Quietly. We’ve been researching something like what she did to activate the Potentials. Though in this case it’s more of a call than an activation.”
“A summons for anyone with the Watcher destiny. A tug at their souls, to come to, well, wherever the summoner is.” Rupert took over the spoon from Xander, and tested a few grains of the rice. He took the pan off the burner. Xander turned it off.
“Yes. The thing that makes you want one of the worst jobs in creation. The thing that pulls you to a Slayer and her to you. You have it. Dawn has it. Willow, to a lesser extent. Ever wonder why we didn’t recruit the aikido instructor as a Watcher?”
“Oh. Duh. I should have known. Had all the clues.” Xander got out two pasta bowls. “How’s the research coming?”
“Done. Willow has designed a spell that she thinks will work, and I agree.”
“So… what’s the holdup?”
Rupert spooned rice into bowls. “Get me some parsley? In the vegetable drawer. I’m the holdup, I’m afraid. I’m not ready for them. I wasn’t ready for thirty adolescent Slayers, and I’m even less ready for that many Watcher candidates. I don’t know how old they’ll be, or how much they’ll know. I don’t have places for them to sleep. I’m trying to hire instructors for the things that can be taught by outsiders, but…”
Xander handed over the parsley. “We had less than this when we collected all the new Slayers. Way less. We had one dinky house in Sunnydale, and no money other than what you kicked in. Look at how much more we have now.”
“No buts, Rupert. Look around. You have the Westbury compound in progress. It’s not finished, yeah, but it’s halfway there. And you can fit a bunch more people in the existing house. You have all that Council money, which is kinda obscenely a lot, and don’t get me started on how pissed off I was to learn that. Everybody has salaries now, so they can find their own places to live if they need to. You have people who can help. Put that jerk Travers Junior to work as quartermaster, for pete’s sake.”
Rupert’s shoulders shook in a silent laugh. He carried the two bowls to the table. Xander pulled some silver from a drawer while Rupert poured wine. Full glass for himself, half-glass for Xander, who liked to taste but not really drink. They sat kitty-corner at one end of the huge table. Xander always put himself on Rupert’s left, so he could see him without having to turn his head. It was almost unconscious habit at this point. All those little adjustments.
“Slainte,” said Rupert, lifting his glass. “I do love you so.”
“Love ya too, big guy.” Xander ate a forkful of rice. It was creamy and rich. He could taste the wine and the cheese and the mushrooms. “Man. This is good. Never had rice like this before.”
“It’s, er, risotto. Can’t get it in restaurants, because it’s such a deal of work to make. Or if you do, it’s done with pasta instead of properly with rice. You like it?”
“Good, good.” They ate for a while without talking. Then Rupert said, “You’re right. We do have everything we need. Willow and I should, should simply do it. I’ve been a bit selfish, I think.”
“Yes. This has been a quiet time, for all of us, even with the rebuilding. I’ll be sorry to see it end. But it has to.”
Rupert stared at his bowl for a moment. Xander wondered what he saw in it. He looked less tense than he had a few minutes ago, and now more resigned. Xander reached over and rubbed his thumb over Rupert’s, just a little reminder of one thing that wasn’t about to end. Then he dug into his risotto.
Life was about to get busy again. Better enjoy dinner while he could.