Acceptable Level Of Distance
written by Krystal Shay

Rating: FRC
Spoilers: Season 3.
Summary: Response to Giles/Faith challenge set during Season 3 with UST.
Feedback Author: Krystal Shay
Author's LJ: Seeker Of The Dreaming Tree




Giles glared at the innocent looking clock in the library, realising with a sinking heart how many hours it had been since Buffy had walked out of the library and with her, his entire life and purpose for being. He sighed, turning his attention once again to the books that littered the large reading table, which dominated the centre of the library, vainly attempting to decipher a language that only yesterday, had seemed so straight-forward.

“You know, for a guy who’s supposed to be a Watcher, sometimes you’re not all that observant.”

The voice startled him and he whirled around, nearly upsetting the chair he had been resting on. For one stupid moment, before his mind had even placed the voice, he had thought Buffy. Buffy’s come back. But no, not Buffy. Just Faith.

“Sorry Giles. No Buff. Just me.”

Had he spoken aloud? Giles opened his mouth to protest, but words failed him. Faith wore an amused smile, but for a moment he believed he caught a flash of hurt in her eyes and he silently admonished himself for not hiding his feelings better. Trailing her fingers idly along the library counter surface, she walked over to where he had piled some volumes on the table, another long night’s research to prevent him having to go home and lie unsleeping in bed. She eyed his rumpled attire, raising an eyebrow but making no other comment. Then she turned to the books, noting them with the similar sort of disdain she reserved for weak beer and losers with no rhythm on the dance-floor. Raising her eyebrows, she turned to Giles, a questioning look on her face. “So G, whatcha doin’?”

“Faith, I…” Still somewhat taken by surprise, Giles resorted to the routine of cleaning his glasses. “I was just researching some prophecies on likely demon births and uprisings in the near future.” Without looking at her, he asked, “What exactly are you doing here?”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the blurry figure shrug. “Y’know, just passing. Saw the lights on and wondered if anyone was home. Kinda figured you guys were all doin’ your research-Scooby party thing, maybe there was some new big-ass demon in town.” Suddenly, Faith straightened and looked up at Giles. “Not that I don’t have things to do, y’know.” She started to say earnestly. “People to d… see. Just, well… y’know…” Under Giles’ look, she ran out of steam, and she jumped up, circling the table and eyeing some of the weapons Giles had taken to polishing when even he couldn’t bring himself to pretend to read anymore.

There was a heavy silence in the library, and once again Giles noted the soon-to-be-brutally-dismantled ticking clock in the background. For lack of anything better to look at, he watched the dark Slayer as she idly picked up some of his notes, tilting her head as she took in some of the symbols of the ancient Ikian language. He was about to offer a summary of his findings, but she had already set the sheets of paper down on top of the large pile of books and hopped up on the table.

“So what’s up? You’ve got that British stiff-upper-lip thing going on, but its obvious you’re kinda… wound up.” Faith frowned for a moment, seeming to wince after she spoke, but Giles thought that maybe she was just fidgeting. Faith never seemed able to rest. He remembered becoming quite disconcerted at the way she would drum her fingers against the tabletop, or crack her knuckles during the group meetings she sometimes attended.

“Like I said, I’m just researching. I find it better to be prepared for the worst…” Prepare for any and all eventualities… Remember that prophecies will always find a way to come into being, no matter how they are read… More Watcher training that kept running through his head. When he wasn’t thinking about Buffy, he was remembering his days at the Watchers’ Council, classes he had attended, countless hours poring over texts in long-forgotten languages. My god Rupert, what the hell have you done?

“Preparing for the worst will ensure your Slayer is prepared for any and all eventualities.” Faith unwittingly echoed the voices in his head, and he started, realising for the first time how lost in his thoughts he had become, when she was sitting right there. He looked at her, and a small wistful smile graced Faith’s features. “My Watcher used to say that all the time. Figured she was trying to encourage me to keep with the training. When she first told me about the whole Slayer package and how I had been ‘chosen’, all I wanted to do was go out and beat the baddies, y’know? Get one up on all the neighbourhood losers who’d even given me a hard time. I figured why the hell do I need all this training and practice for? Slaying was what I was born to do, right? So she took me out one day, real early on, and let me get my ass kicked by a couple of real skanky vamps. We’re talking stick-thin kiddies. Got one, but shit… the bruises lasted for days!”

“Perhaps I should try that one on Buffy, the next time she kicks up a fuss over throwing practice,” he replied, returning her smile, but then he sobered, remembering, yet again, that there might not be any throwing practice. He remembered just what he was doing in the library. Researching prophecies, trying to help. Trying to be useful now his purpose had been taken away from him. Because if he couldn’t be Buffy’s Watcher, then what else was he good for here?

His thoughts trailed off as he saw the girl before him with new eyes. She had grabbed the top book and began thumbing through it, pausing at some drawings of particularly nasty-looking demons but not really taking much notice of the words. He could still be a Watcher, albeit one of the unofficial variety, but that would hardly worry Faith, surely. She was no Kendra. He still had one Slayer left, one whom he could guide and train. Faith was still here, sitting before him, asking him for things to slay, awaiting instruction. She hadn’t turned her back on him, he hadn’t betrayed her.

Haven’t you?

(“You know, for a guy who’s supposed to be a Watcher, sometimes you’re not all that observant.”)

When was the last time you saw her? The last time you even asked after her?

Do you even know her last name?

Would you have even known she’d died, unless you saw it on the 10 o’clock news? ‘Anonymous girl found dead with massive blood loss.’ Or perhaps you’d just think that Faith had left on one of her 'unscheduled walkabouts'…

Did Faith have friends in Sunnydale? He imagined she must, she had, after all, said that she had people to see. Was she still at the motel? Did she still see Buffy?

An immense feeling of guilt and self-loathing pierced Giles’ exterior, and he sat down heavily, his head in his hands. He felt Faith come closer, could almost sense her hand hovering in the air between them, not quite reaching him. And by god, her touch would be welcome. Just to remember there was something in life with some meaning. That he was a person, a human, who made human-type mistakes. That he wasn’t just a father figure to a bunch of kids with their own barely decipherable form of language. People all seemed to think he was untouchable. Occasionally Willow reached out to him, but even then she was unsure her closeness would be welcome, and he had to admit that sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes it was too much. And this touch, something that not even Buffy felt comfortable doing at the best of times…

…This could prove his undoing.

He sat up suddenly, and Faith stepped back, obviously uncomfortable, cocky expression replaced by one of uneasy confused compassion, her hands once again at her sides, one shoved in the pocket of her tight-fitted jeans. He was well aware of her reputation, Buffy and Cordelia both having taken the time to remark upon Faith’s non-slaying antics. He wondered how she regarded him, whether like everyone-else, she thinks of him as a guardian, or whether she sees something-else in him, some other potential, perhaps some remnant of Ripper that her rebellious nature can empathise with.

And however much he may have longed for some sort of kindred spirit, one who might accept and even embrace the darker side of his nature, he knew that he cannot approach Faith in this manner. He had already betrayed one Slayer in the past 24 hours and now apparently he had been betraying the other without even realising. But he would not compound the problem. He knew that he could not let Faith get too far out of reach again, but he must raise boundaries. He needed to find some sort of balance. He needed to find what all other Watchers have struggled with – an acceptable level of distance.

So instead of reaching out, he stood and addressed Faith in the manner in which a Watcher should address a Slayer. He told her to patrol some cemeteries near the school and to then get rest. And he told her to check in with him in the morning. She nodded her head at him and then left without another word, no smart remark or dramatic exit highlighting her path.

And once again he was left with just the ticking of the clock for company. And the comfort that he could perhaps still have a purpose. He knew he would have to find a balance, an acceptable level of distance. But he would not betray another Slayer.

Before he turned the lights out in the library, he pledged to find out Faith's last name.