Here, came a muffled reply from somewhere.
Buffy frowned. He wasn't usually far away from the others. Since the big fight he'd been kind of riding herd, watching, almost as though he was waiting for something else to go wrong.
When she'd returned from trying to walk, or stalk, off a boatload of pent-up Slayer energy, several people had complained that they hadn't seen him all day.
'Here' turned out to be the back seats of the school bus.
What are you doing?
Looking for something, came the irritable reply.
If you're trying to find Sunnydale there's this hole
A snort told her the joke had fallen flat.
Can I help?
There was a short silence.
I don't think so. Unless you can use your enhanced Slayer perception to locate inanimate objects
If I could do that I wouldn't have so many not-pairs of earrings She stopped smirking, a flicker of something that might have been desolation in her eyes, then amended that. Wouldn't have *had*, that is. What did you lose?
Giles head finally appeared above the seats. He ran a hand through rumpled hair then got to his feet and came down the aisle to where Buffy was poking her head around the doors of the bus.
It was obvious that he was unhappy and distrait about the loss, whatever it was. He held up his left hand.
Buffy stared at it for a moment and then it hit her. For all the years they'd been together that hand had always looked the same. Now it didn't.
Your ring is missing? You've never lost it before. That's crazy. I mean, I know things got worse than crazy back there, but
Giles dropped the hand. I don't know how it happened. I would have sworn I still had it afterward. I just know that I woke up this morning and it was gone.
Is it very valuable?
Giles shrugged. It isn't monetary worth that's important. The ring was a gift.
Oh. I guess I always kind of thought it was some kind of Watcher fraternity ring or something.
He gave her a filthy look then let it soften to an almost-smile of amusement. No. Although I suppose it's a reasonable surmise. I've had that ring since I was ten. In answer to the look of intense interest on her face, he continued: It was a gift. My paternal grandfather gave it to me.
Your grandmother was a Watcher. Was he one too?
Giles shook his head. He was a pilot in world war one and he commanded a training squadron during the second world war.
You never talked about him before. I just assumed that Watchery-ness was the family business.
He half smiled again and made a small noise of amusement. I'm afraid not. My mother's father was a grocer and her mother was a model housewife and avid gardener amateur botanist, almost.
Buffy blinked in surprise. Oh. Then she smiled. So you liked the idea of following in your grandparent's footsteps way more than being a Watcher?
The green eyes seemed to slip away to some far off place. It seemed so much less complicated. And neither of those options required that I go away to boarding school, much less spend the rest of my life learning how to send teenage girls to their death, he finished darkly.
They told you that part ?
Of cour oh, you mean when father first told me I was to be a Watcher? Not in so many words, but yes. I may have only been ten, but little of my father's work was shielded from any of us. There was conversation over dinner between my parents about whoever the active Slayer was at the time, what sort of job her Watcher was perceived to be doing, whether she had much chance of surviving long enough to attempt the Cruciamentum
Buffy's expression darkened. Your parents condoned that that test?
Giles focused, his eyes locking with hers. My father believed in the organization, the tradition. He believed in loyalty and service and in accepting what was. My mother had many arguments she called them 'discussions' with him about the way the potentials and indeed, the active Slayers, were treated. She despised the Cruciamentum and when my father was finally assigned an active Slayer when I was eight, she was a balancing, tempering influence on his handling of the girl.
So your dad was a good guy?
At that Giles smiled. Yes. Yes, he was. I'll tell you about him some day. Right now, though, I'd dearly like to find my ring.
So is it, like, an heirloom or something? she asked as they walked away from the bus together, and back toward the row of motel doors behind which their motley group was temporarily housed.
Or something, Giles agreed, still amused.
Willow and Andrew emerged from the laundry on the right as the pair closed on Giles' room, each manning a handle on either side of a laundry basket piled high with clothes.
Hey, Giles. Buffy. Laundry's all done, but Andrew and I call not being laundry monitors again ever.
Xander's skivvies too much for you there, Will? Buffy teased.
There was too much. *Period*, Andrew interjected. It might be way cheaper doing all the laundry together, but there's something, he shuddered expressively, totally creepy about sorting piles of other people's laundry especially of the underwear kind.
Willow shot him a look. Yeah, well, it's done now. And we've got a haul of stuff three dollars forty-one cents in change, four buttons, a Hershey bar
Andrew took up the list. Three hairpins, a pen, two pencils and, um He threw Giles a speculative glance, a a um a little foil package.
Giles looked down his nose very expressively. If it is black with a gold band, believe the pen is probably mine, he said repressively.
And there was this, Willow added, holding something out in the palm of her hand. I thought it might be yours.
Giles' face changed completely. Buffy watched it light up as he took the ring and slid it back on his pinky.
Where did you find it? he asked, without looking up.
In some brown corduroy pants the change pocket, with about eighty cents in coins and a Snickers wrapper. We, uh, didn't think you'd want the wrapper but the coins are
Never mind, he said. This is all that's important. Thank you both.
As the pair picked up the basket they'd put down temporarily and headed off to Willow and Kennedy's room to sort it all, Buffy turned to Giles.
Okay, that's almost spooky. How did it get to be in your pocket, anyway?
Giles finally looked up from studying the ring. I remember, now. I took it off in the washroom after I changed that blasted tire we blew out and got grease all over my hands. I'd completely forgotten. I didn't think I'd ever see it again.
Buffy looked pleased. Well I'm glad you got it back, for your sake, and your grand-dad's and I guess it's pretty valuable, too.
Giles looked down at the piece. Oh priceless, he agreed.
He smiled as his mind's eye filled with the small Rupert watching his paternal grandfather concentrate intently on trying to capture a model Super-marine Spitfire for his grandson with the essentially rigged claw of an amusement machine at Brighton, only to have to settle for a small capsule containing a rather good imitation of an onyx cygnet ring. Later they would all be made from acrylic and plastics, but back then it was made of anodized metal and paste gems, solid and worthy for all that.
The tall, still straight, Gareth Giles had watched his grandson solemnly slide the ring on his little finger, despite it being far too loose, before apologizing one more time about the plane. Then they went off to complete the various pilgrimages of their annual journey to the seaside resort before catching the train back to Bath.
Before the end of that summer Gareth Giles was gone. By the winter Rupert was in boarding school, all vestiges of his childhood lost
He looked down at the ring, silver colour peeking through at the edges of the band where the anodized gold had worn off.