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by shalott

Many thanks to elynross, Lucy, Justine, and Jessica for looking this over, despite thinking I was weird. :-) Comments and critique welcome.

He doesn't know. He can't know, because if he did, he wouldn't have pushed her to this.

She wonders whether the Council knows. It seems like the kind of thing that would've come up before, in all those years, and even more like the kind of thing they wouldn't mention to the sucker they handed over to the Slayer. The theory makes sense of a lot of things, too. Merrick, so ham-handed he almost freaked her into a panic and nearly got her killed the first time out. Wesley, annoying as hell, completely clueless, and not-dead by sheer luck. Kendra's Watcher, sending her around the world in the luggage compartment. Faith's Watcher, dead three months into her assignment.

And Giles, reformed demon-summoner and former black sheep on the inside, bookish and stuffy on the outside, about as likely to mix with a fifteen-year-old American girl as oil and water. When they had mixed anyway, when he'd slid into her father's vacated place like a key fitting a lock, they'd made sure that she had an alternative available, in case he'd become too important to her to be used.

Yes, they had to know. Poor Wesley, she thinks, so proud of getting the call, never realizing it actually meant he was on the reject pile. Of course, he was never really her Watcher, not in the way that matters. But the Council hadn't known that.

She doesn't think, Poor Giles. She can't. There's nothing in her that can feel sorry for him now. That's been burned out of her by the emptiness of day after endless day, by Spike's hot spoiled kisses (always the faint taste of blood in his mouth), by the constant acid reminders of Dawn's increasing desperation, the earrings and bracelets disappearing, the washing machine waking her up at 5am on a Saturday morning.

He'd left her. Maybe they could have gone on forever, surrogate father and daughter. Maybe she could have stayed safe, and protected, and loved, and never come to this. But he'd left her, before they could find out.

He shouldn't have.

She's known for a long time that the option was there the occasional sly thought when they sparred, the I-know-something-you-don't-know buzzing in her like champagne with every shock of contact, the little twists of pleasure from seeing him flat on his back and blinking dazed up at her, even if it was from a quarterstaff blow.

She used to think she was sick. She used to pretend it away, covering with a disgust that was more at herself than him. But that's all past now; it's just the way things are. She started to understand that last year, in the hours spent alone in the little back room, no one standing between her and the thick syrupy pleasure that curled up in her belly as Giles' voice guided her deeper into herself, into what she was, into places where shame and fear couldn't exist.

It's simply her right. The world's dark and cold and unbearable, and she has to live in it, but she doesn't have to live in it alone. No one could ask that much, not even the fucked-up sadists that are the Powers. And friends and family and lovers are all well and good, but when you get right down to it, they can all walk away. And they do.

But a Watcher can't. He doesn't get to, even if he wants to. Even if some instinct lets him know that things are changing, that his Slayer is going to need more from him than he's ready to give. He doesn't get to make up reasons -- even if he believes them himself -- to run away.

Yes, the Council must know. Probably every Slayer comes to this, if she lives long enough. You have to have something to hold on to when your days are spent in the company of death. And it doesn't have to be sweetness and light it just has to be endlessly strong, and it has to belong to you, you, you, so completely that no one can take it away, as permanent as the earth beneath your feet.

She needs that, and she needs it now. And if Giles isn't ready to give it to her, that's just too bad. He's going to anyway.

She's ready to claim her property.

= End #