Giles glanced across the basement to the desk where his colleague was intently studying the computer screen. "How bad is it?"
Percy took off his glass and tossed them on top of the mountain of files littering the desktop. Dressed in a dark grey, hand-tailored Saville Row suit, he looked the penultimate Anglophile. "Dreadful sums up the situation nicely." He leaned back sighing wearily. "According to this report, it's still uncertain if the surviving member of the Retrieval Team will ever walk again."
Giles slumped back in his chair. He was wearing close-fitting khaki trousers, which rode low on his hips, and a crisply pressed white shirt. The shirt was open at the collar, the sleeves rolled up to his forearms. "And Katako Hojo?"
Percy shrugged. Deep lines of frustration seemed to have become permanently etched across his forehead. "Vanished into the ether."
"You've taken every possible precaution," Giles assured him. "The other Council members and our allies have been alerted and the Watchers have tightened security around their Slayers. Sooner or later she will be found."
"We both know that she won't allow herself to be captured alive." Percy rose to his feet and began to pace back and forth across the plush rug covering the basement floor. "In effect, my order to 'detain by whatever means necessary' means that I've signed the girl's death warrant."
"What is the alternative?" Giles took off his glasses and ran an exhausted hand over his face. "The carnage cannot continue."
Percy leaned back against the desk and crossed his arms over his chest. "Realizing it's the right decision doesn't make it any easier."
"She will be given the opportunity to surrender peacefully and receive help," Giles said. "That's more leniency than the Council would have exercised in the past."
Percy's jaw tightened. "You'll forgive me if the knowledge that I'm somewhat less of a monster than Quentin Travers is cold comfort."
"For people like us," Giles answered flatly, "sometimes the only thing left to hold onto is the belief that we're the lesser monster."
Percy smiled grimly. "Which doesn't say much about our career choices."
Giles shrugged. "Or perhaps it says too much."
There was silence for a moment, then Percy stood up and moved away from the desk. "I believe it's time we changed the subject to something more pleasant before I decide I need to retire from the Council, move to Sussex and keep bees. I've been here for almost a week and there is something I've been wanting to talk about with you."
Giles stood up and stretched. "I believe Buffy addressed that topic the very first day you were here."
Percy shook his head ruefully. "Her declaration of, 'We're together. Deal with it!' while charmingly succinct was rather lacking in any real information."
"Dear me, if I'd known there was going to be an exchange of girlish confidences I would have brought ice cream and worn my pajamas," Giles said dryly, shoving his hands into his pockets.
Percy grinned. "I won't ask for any of the risqué details…"
"Bloody generous of you."
"…since Buffy has already indicated that too much curiosity on my part will result in the removal of certain body parts that I much prefer remain attached."
Giles couldn’t stop the giggle that escaped.
Percy studied the ceiling with exaggerated intensity. "However, I would be extremely remiss in my duties if I didn't inquire about your intentions regarding your Slayer."
"Your concern would be a bit more believable if you wiped that smirk off your face."
Percy's slight smile widened into a grin. "You didn't expect my entire visit to pass without there being some discussion regarding this new development in your relationship with Buffy?"
"Hope springs eternal." Giles shrugged and then nodded. "Very well. I did expect there to be an inquisition at some point. What exactly did you wish to discuss?" He made it sound more like an accusation than a question.
"Knowing you as I do, I'm sure you've already evaluated all the pros and cons of the situation and stayed awake countless night worrying about everything that could go wrong and the possible repercussions."
Giles said nothing but nodded slightly to acknowledge the accuracy of the statement.
"Considering everything from a Watcher's point of view is so much a part of you that it's become your immediate reaction to any situation," Percy continued in a lecturing tone. "That works perfectly well when dealing with Buffy as your Slayer, but it's hardly the model for a successful relationship between equals. "
Giles frowned. "Either I've completely misunderstood, which I pray is the case, or you're about to offer unsolicited advice about my love life."
Percy smiled broadly, clearly enjoying himself. "Not entirely unsolicited. Xander suggested that perhaps you required some pointers... guidance, if you will… from someone you would consider a contemporary." He frowned for a moment. "Not that he was that delicate. I believe his exact comment was, 'You gotta help him before he does something stupid and screws up everything. Giles is so old and out of practice that he's probably forgotten everything he ever knew about women and with all that tweed he grew up in, he probably never knew that much to begin with'."
"I'm going to kill him," Giles growled. "I know a dozen different demons who will dispose of a body without asking a single question."
"Willow did come to your defense. Something about a guitar and singing."
"Yes, well…" Giles shifted uncomfortably.
"Anyway, you shouldn't be angry with the boy. All of this happened the other night while you were patrolling with Buffy. We were chatting and he quite innocently mentioned his concern that the two of you would never 'get together' since your idea of romance was giving Buffy a giant slug." Percy chuckled. "I admit to being a bit confused but Willow soon cleared up the misunderstanding." He continued in an undertone. "I was quite relieved to learn that giant slug was not some odd American colloquialism for… well, no need to go into that."
"Let's not," Giles suggested grimly. "However, in the interest of accuracy I should point out that Buffy gave *me* the slug."
"I wonder if I should take one home to my wife," Percy muttered, seemingly thinking out loud. "It would certainly be a change from the usual perfume and jewelry. Although I'm not sure she would fully appreciate the gesture since they bear a remarkable resemblance to her Great-aunt Hermione."
Giles blinked and shook his head. "Charming as that mental picture may be, could we please return to original topic. Other than Xander and Willow was anyone else involved in this Barbara Cartland moment?"
Percy acted as if he was trying to remember. He walked over to one of the over-stuffed chairs, sat down, extended his legs, leaned back and hooked his fingers behind his head "Let me see. I believe Dawn was there."
Giles looked down at the tips of his shoes. "Of course."
"I seem to recall her friend Mark being present as well."
Giles nodded agreeably. "Wouldn't want to leave him out of such an important discussion."
"And in order to avoid any hint of favoritism regarding significant others, Xander's friend Carrie was included."
"Naturally," Giles agreed politely. He thought about it for a minute. "I assume that the flurry of activities for tonight; Dawn's unexpected babysitting job, your invitation to dinner to discuss Council business, Xander and Carrie's mystery date and Willow's insistence that a stay-at-home evening of 'girl talk' with Buffy was essential to her mental well-being are all related to your current project."
"Project? I'm not involved in any sort of project," Percy protested.
"Then how about diversion?" Giles fired off the word. "Would that be a more accurate interpretation?"
Percy unlaced his fingers and got to his feet. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
Giles shook his head sadly. "You're a terrible liar."
"I resent that." Percy straightened his tie and brushed an invisible speck of lint from his jacket sleeve. "I'm an excellent liar."
"And an even better friend," Giles said with an unexpectedly warm smile. "Let me see if I can reconstruct exactly how that devious mind of yours came up with this plan. It wouldn't have taken you long to see the general stress caused by recent events of the last month. You realized something must be done and decided that the perfect solution was some non-threatening, totally entertaining diversion, with Buffy and I your innocent targets. What better to fit that bill than matchmaking?"
Percy examined his nails. "Dear me, if I'm as clever as all that I should make an appointment with myself to discuss an immediate increase in salary."
Giles' mouth twitched and an amused expression lit his eyes. "I'm sure you also recognized that a secondary benefit of allying yourself with Willow, Xander and Dawn would be that they would no longer view you as simply the head of the Council, but as a friendly co-conspirator."
Percy looked at Giles. "I hope that one day Buffy will be willing to call me her friend," he said sincerely, for the moment abandoning all attempts at verbal parrying. "But for now I'll settle for her accepting that I'm not her enemy. I realize her past experiences with Quentin and his merry band of sadists have predisposed her to mistrust the entire Council."
"Given past circumstances, an entirely natural and reasonable reaction," Giles pointed out. "However, I don't think you realize how much Buffy does trust you. Otherwise she would never have been left you alone with Dawn and the others and given you the opportunity to concoct this harebrained scheme."
"I suppose now that you've ferreted out our little plan you'll blow the whistle and expose all the conspirators."
Giles shook his head. "No. Although it does seem rather excessively complicated."
Percy nodded. "Yes, and I'm not quite sure how that came about. There was so much babbling..."
Giles laughed. "However, since everyone has gone to a lot of trouble to carry out this little plot. Which reminds me, what exactly is Willow's part in this?"
Percy chuckled. "I believe she plans to spend the evening with Buffy pointing out all your sterling qualities, or as she expressed it 'all the Gilsey goodness that's Giles.'"
"I thought the same. I had no idea your name could be considered an adjective. I had to ask how it was spelled." Percy raised his hands beseechingly. "Now will you please keep our secret?"
"You need not worry about my telling Buffy. I'll be quite surprised if she doesn't figure it out for herself. Once you get to know her better, you'll realize that beneath that ever-changing blonde hair is an amazingly astute brain."
Before Percy could respond, Buffy appeared in the open doorway at the top of the stairs. "Giles! You'd better get up here." She looked back over her shoulder and her eyes widened. She blinked, stared and then blinked again. "Right now!"
Giles dashed for the stairs, Percy on his heels. By the time he reached the top, Buffy had disappeared. He heard the sound of voices coming from the entryway and ran toward the front door. He and Percy rounded the corner side-by-side then both abruptly skidded to a halt.
Standing just inside the front door, flanked by wide-eyed Buffy on one side and gawking Willow on the other, was a large white rabbit. About the same height as the red-haired Wicca, the rabbit was wearing a stylish picture hat trimmed with wide green ribbon and a large, pale pink rose. Her large blue eyes were edged with thick black lashes and around her neck was a pearl necklace and long silk scarf that exactly matched the color of the rose adorning her hat.
Ignoring the two girls, the rabbit turned her head and gazed at Giles. Her nose twitched as she fluttered her eyelashes. "Hello, Rupert, my dear."