July 2003

Giles rapped twice with the large brass doorknocker. Silence. Then the stump of footsteps followed just as he was about to knock again. The door was wrenched open and a wild-looking man with a great bushy beard glared out at him. "If you're from the studio, you can piss off! I'm not getting involved in Watch?oh." His face brightened and he laughed a little. "It's you, Ripper."

Giles smiled. "Hello Alan. It's been a long time."

"And who's fault is that?" grunted Alan, but his tone was jovial enough. "You disappear to America, chasing a girl, then you only show up when you need something." Alan narrowed his eyes, gripping the doorframe. "And this is one of those times, isn't it?"

"Ah. Yes. Well," Giles looked at his shoes for a second. Although they were roughly the same age, there was something about Alan that felt ancient, almost primeval. It gave Giles the unfamiliar sensation of being terribly crass and modern. "I'm afraid it is."

"Predictable as effing clockwork," said Alan, but he motioned to Giles to follow him back inside.

Minutes later they were sitting in armchairs by the fire, drinking enormous tumblers of Irish whiskey. Alan took a thoughtful sip, then leaned back in his chair. "So?I assume this has something to do with the seismic shift in the universe your lot brought on a few months back? We all felt that, no mistake. A wind from the West, blowing through, raising all the hairs on everybody's necks?that was your lot, wasn't it?"

"Yes. A spell to share out the power of the slayer between all the girls who had the potential. Rather a considerable spell, as you say."

"Bloody stupid idea," said Alan. He grinned underneath his beard. "And I love you for it. Stealing fire from the ****ing gods. Or?whatever those men were?the ones that made slayers first time around. Never did get around to genning up on slayer lore?seemed a bit niche. Til now."

"Actually, it wasn't my idea at all. It was Buffy's."

Alan's bushy eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Buffy?"

"The slayer. Though, the definite article isn't accurate any more. Slayerdom now being a shared trait."

The eyebrows twitched skywards still further."And she's called?Buffy?"

"Oh, Alan, shame on you!" Giles sipped his whiskey. "And I thought you were an iconoclast."

"There's iconoclasm, and there's?.Jesus, Buffy?" Alan chuckled to himself. "No, really Ripper, I'm just having a go? it's perfect."

Giles cleared his throat. Getting down to business with the Great Bearded Wizard of Northampton could sometimes prove an epic task. But at least he had excellent whiskey. "Anyway. That's what I came to you for?we're setting up a new council."

"As in?the Watcher's Council of Great Britain? Oh, I've heard of them. I've heard a lot." The wizard's expression was suddenly darker. A little hostile. "Not interested."

"No, that was a poor choice of words," said Giles, hurriedly. "We're aiming at something a little less?."

"?.patriarchal, hierarchical and up its own dusty arse?" suggested Alan.

"Exactly."

The wizard stroked his beard, thoughtfully. He was the only person Giles knew who actually did that.

"It's a new era, Alan. Our aim is not to?repeat the mistakes of the past. To give these young women the support they need without stifling them."

"Noble aim. But what's in it for you?" His tone was harsh and suspicious.

"Sorry?" Giles was thrown by this.

"Being a shoulder to lean on?giving these girls a helping hand? I'm sure they could do it perfectly well on their own. What with them having superpowers and all?you could retire. So, why are you doing it?"

"Habit, perhaps," said Giles. He realised it was a glib thing to say ? again, that feeling grew, that he was somehow artificial compared to the solid, tangled mass of the wizard. Perhaps he should feel grateful. It wasn't often he had the opportunity to feel young and foolish. Unless you counted that incident with the chocolate bars.

"And the honest answer?"

"Because I want to help," said Giles.

They sat in silence for a moment, with Alan holding Giles's gaze, direct as a cat. Giles half suspected he was reading his mind. But? no. The power of those eyes wasn't to steal thoughts from your mind. Their power was more subtle than that.

Giles sighed. "And because I don't trust her."

Alan broke the gaze, took a sip from his drink and smiled. "Right," he said. "In that case?I'll help you."

"Because you needed an honest answer?"

Alan shook his head. "I think I'll keep my reasons to myself, if you don't mind. Since I'm doing you a favour."

"Of course," said Giles.

"And I don't do memory spells. Nor resurrections."

"I wouldn't ask you to."

"Good. Then it's settled," said Alan. He got up, and Giles followed suit. The two men shook hands. "Now," said Alan. "Can you please, for the love of Glycon, explain why you didn't call Althenea back after you two went out last year?"