That night at dinner, Buffy told the gang her good news.
"It isn't all that much money, but I like the place. It's all green and growy and stuff," she bubbled. "I even like Daisy. Lyle's a bit on the quiet side, but he seems okay enough. I just wish the pay was a little more."
"It's not as if you need to worry unduly about money, Buffy," Giles reminded her. "You've plenty for your needs for some time, sitting in the bank, thanks to Anya."
Xander shifted uncomfortably and feigned more than usual interest in his food. Everybody did their best not to let on that they'd noticed. Dawn tried to lighten the mood.
"We're like, rich, now. We could totally ditch working ever again," she said.
"I'm not touching your college fund, Dawn. You will be educated, Little Sister, whether you want to be or not."
"I'm not little. I'm taller than you."
Willow looked over at Giles. She watched him make an awkward attempt to cut his meat.
"Did you want some help?" she asked. "I could cut it for you, if you wanted."
"No thank you," he said stiffly. "I can manage. Besides, my official meat-slicer is sitting right over there." He nodded at Buffy.
"I said I was sorry about that," she sighed, looking harder than she meant to at his taped fingers. "I guess should have stuck with Hamburger Helper a while longer, huh?"
"No, no, this is no trouble. I've been considering vegetarianism lately." He set down his knife with a small sigh and turned to the rest of his meal. "I'll be fine soon. Buffy, why don't you tell us more about this job of yours?"
"Yeah, Buff." Xander seemed to grab onto the topic as if it was a lifeline. "What are you growing out there? Anything the Feds would be interested in?" He waggled his eyebrows for emphasis. "How about your fellow employees? Any cute girls in need of a little loving?"
"Nobody for you or Will to date, I don't think. There's Stephanie, but she's kinda scary. I think she has blonde issues. She kept glaring at my hair. And Daisy's been married for about a million years. Nope, unless one of you suddenly gets interested in boys, there's no hope."
"Well, maybe there's someone for you, Buffy," Willow suggested. "What are the guys like?"
"Lyle's of the taken - not to mention the prehistoric."
"Giles, he's way older than you. That makes him seriously an old guy. You're like... pretend old guy next to him."
"Does that mean I'm officially free to give up my walking frame and ear trumpet?" he grumbled.
"For now," she deadpanned. "I'll even get you a subscription to Boy's Life. Also, you're way more fun. Lyle has no sense of humor. Yours is seriously weird, but you have one, at least."
"It's widely admired in some circles."
Buffy and Giles smiled at one another across the tables.
"Just 'cause it's weird doesn't mean I don't like it," she told him. "I'm actually gonna miss it when... well..." she looked down at her plate, blinking hard. "Hoo boy, and I didn't really want to talk about that tonight."
"Then let's not," Willow said a bit too quickly. "So Lyle's no good as potential boyfriend material. Is there anyone else?"
Buffy grimaced slightly as she thought of her other co-workers.
"Bob's a little strange," she said. "I sorta didn't notice him a lot. He completely disappears into the background."
"Like he's invisible?" Xander asked. "I thought this town wasn't on a Hellmouth."
"Not literally, Xand. He's just... odd. Like Robin Williams in One Hour Photo. But he seems harmless enough. Except I caught him talking to a fern. Then again, maybe the plants are the only things on his mental level. He doesn't seem too bright, if you know what I mean."
"That makes him perfect Buffy boyfriend material," Dawn said.
"And then there's Jalil," Buffy continued, pointedly ignoring Dawn's comment. "He's from India. He seems like a nice guy, but I can't understand half of what he says."
"Well, if he's from another country, we can't be too hard on him if he aren't speaking the English too good," Xander joked.
"Oh he speaks English fine. It's just he's also fluent in Computer Geek, and that's a language I don't speak at all. Definitely no sparks there. Brad's nice, though."
Buffy ate in silence as the others waited for her to elaborate. At last, Willow couldn't stand waiting anymore.
"Well? Tell us all about him."
The Slayer looked up.
"No more office romances," she said firmly. "Probably no romances, period. I'm no good at them. I think I'm gonna play to my strengths for a while. See who Buffy is without man-shaped distractions. Get down with my inner Johnny Appleseed, maybe go back to school next semester."
"I thought you were playing to your strengths," Xander teased.
"I think that's an excellent idea," Giles said quietly. "I always thought it a pity you had to drop out of college when you were doing so well. You'll, um... you'll have to write often, to keep me apprised of your progress."
He looked down at his plate, but while his fork dipped into the food, it didn't carry any toward his mouth. Buffy pushed her plate away.
"I'm full," she announced. "Whose turn is it to do the dishes?"
That night, as Giles prepared for bed in the guest room, there was a knock at the door. He threw on his robe quickly and crossed the room.
"Yes?" he said, opening the door. "Dawn. What are you doing here? Is Hedwig keeping you awake?"
"I think she was trying to sing me a lullaby, but it's way old and Swedish and she didn't seem too sure of the words. Lots of humming. I thought I'd come see you, if that's alright."
Giles opened the door wider and smiled at the girl as she entered the room.
"Of course. Was there something on your mind, or is this a social call?"
"I'm thinking social call."
"At this hour? Can't you sleep? Is something bothering you?"
"No," she said as she settled herself in a comfortable chair. Her face was hidden behind a shiny brown curtain of hair. "Okay, yes. I said I wouldn't bug you about it, but I wish you didn't have to go away."
"Dawn, you know why I have to leave. I told Lord Percy I would join him in London as soon as all of you were settled. I would have left some time ago if it hadn't been for Drusilla."
"I know. Doesn't mean I have to like it."
"I'll call and write often. And I'll visit whenever I can manage. But you'll all be fine without me. You have plenty of money; Buffy's got a job. Willow and Xander will find work soon. You're all making plans. At this point, I'd be in the way here. Besides, I have important work to do. You know that. It's vital that the Council have the input of someone who has dealt with a variety of Slayers and seen how their personalities and training affect their work. These girls Willow activated need someone in their corner, to explain what works and what doesn't. I'm their advocate; their voice. I can't let them down."
At last Dawn looked up at him.
"So who's my advocate gonna be?"
"You'll be your own," he replied gently. "You're more than capable of defending your own interests. Everyone here cares about you, and wants you to do your best."
The girl shrugged noncommittally.
"It won't be the same. I hate how everything changes all the time."
Giles smiled wryly.
"You're not alone, Dawn. Any number of times, I've wished time could stand still, but I never managed to make it happen. The thing to keep in mind is you'll be fine. You've a lovely home; your sister is doing well. You have Willow and Xander here to help out."
"Not to mention my trusty diary."
"I've always found keeping a journal a wonderfully stabilizing habit. And you'll find new things here. New friends, like Liz."
"I just don't want to lose any more old friends. I don't want you to leave, Giles. Liz is cool, but she doesn't know about vampires, and she never saw Sunnydale. I can't talk to her about a lot of stuff. Are you sure you have to go?" she asked wistfully.
"Yes, I'm afraid so. There's a great deal to be done and very few people to do it." He moved closer to Dawn. "That doesn't mean I wouldn't rather be here."
In a flash, she was on her feet and Giles found himself with an armful of teenager.
"Then don't go," she begged into his chest. "Don't leave us."
He held her close and did his best to soothe her, but there was one thing he couldn't do: he couldn't lie to her.
"I wish I didn't have to, Dawn," he said. "I truly wish I didn't have to."
The next morning, Buffy followed Brad around as he explained more of her duties and gave her tips on dealing with certain regular customers. As he was quizzing her on the names of different gardening tools, Lyle appeared.
"Brad, have you seen Jalil this morning?" he asked without preamble.
"No, I haven't. What about you, Buffy?"
"Um... no. Why? Is he late?"
"Two hours," Lyle said. "I'll check with Bob and Stephanie, but he didn't call in sick, and Daisy and I haven't seen him."
"Maybe he overslept," Buffy suggested.
Lyle fixed her with a dark stare.
"I don't pay my employees to oversleep," he said. "Brad, if you see him, or hear anything, let me know right away."
Buffy watched her boss' retreating back.
"I just made a really bad impression, didn't I?" she asked.
"You'd have made a worse impression if you hadn't said anything," Brad assured her. "Lyle's a little gruff, but he likes people to speak their minds. Now, what's this?"
He pointed to a tool. Buffy smiled.
"I know that one. It's a scythe."
"Yes thank you, that will do nicely," Giles said into the phone. He wrote down his flight number and the time it was leaving on a pad of paper.
As he hung up, he turned to find Willow, standing behind him looking miserable.
"Is everything okay?" he asked her.
"Nope." She shook her head. "Things haven't been okay for a while, and I know we all said we wouldn't say anything, but maybe nothing's the worst thing we could say. How can everything be okay when you're going back to England again? Don't you remember what happened the last time you did that?"
"Do you honestly think I could have stopped what happened?" he countered.
"Maybe you could have, if you'd stayed. Or maybe at least we'd have had someone with some brains around to say 'I told you so' when everything went kablooey. Maybe you couldn't have stopped everything, but maybe you could have stopped some of our dumbest moves, and then maybe things wouldn't have been so bad for so long."
"When have I ever successfully stopped one of you doing something insanely dangerous? At last count, not even once. Willow, I know you'd like me to stay. I know none of you really want me to go, and truth to tell, I don't want to go, either. But I have a duty to perform. I'm needed with the Council."
"And you think we don't need you? That's just stupid."
"I can't stay just to make sure you get your daily dose of... what was it? Furry eyeball?"
"Hairy eyeball. And that's not all we need from you. We need someone older and wiser around, and that's you."
"For pity's sake, Willow," he snapped, "you're an adult now. All of you are. You don't need a grownup to show you when you're going wrong. If you don't know right from wrong by now, my staying isn't going to be of any use."
"You think we want you to stay and play daddy to us?" Willow's eyes flashed fire. "You really think that's what we want? Newsflash, Giles: we all have fathers of our own. Well, not Xander anymore, and I know Buffy and Dawn's never shows up or anything, not that mine really does too much, either, but you know what I mean. All our dads were - or are - big poopheads. Just because we're grown up doesn't mean we don't need a smart friend around sometimes." She paused for breath. "You know what I think? I think this doesn't have anything to do with all the mini-Slayers and Lord Percy What's-His-Face. If that was so important, you'd have gone away before now. And I don't think there's anything about the job you couldn't do from right here by phone and email. I think there's some other, Non-Percy reason you're going. And... I've told you what I think, so I'm just gonna go before you say something to mess up my big exit line... which I think I just did... but that's all your fault!"
With that, she turned on her heel and left.
"Thanks," Buffy beamed at the man who'd just bought a bouquet of roses for his girlfriend. "Come back the next time you need flowers."
"I will, though I hope I won't have to apologize like this again for a long, long time," he said with a rueful smile. "Next time I'll lie and say I think her mother's cooking is great, no matter how much Alka-Seltzer I need afterwards."
Buffy laughed. The man laughed and left. From behind the flower arranging counter, Stephanie glared at her new co-worker.
"You shouldn't flirt with the customers like that," she said as she put up her scissors and tape.
"Flirt...? Who was flirting? Where was I when this was going on?"
"You were laughing with that man. You know, not every man who walks through that door is yours just because you're short and blonde."
"Darn," Buffy said in mock-disappointment. "I guess that means I can't steal him from his girlfriend like I was planning to with a total stranger who doesn't know the value of a social lie, and who actually wears a Star Trek uniform shirt in public. I'll just have to set my sights a little lower from now on."
"Don't get above yourself," Stephanie warned. "Others around here have done that, and they paid for it."
She turned to leave, but Buffy stopped her.
"What do you mean 'paid for it'? Who paid for what, how?"
"Debbie and Becky," Bob said from behind.
Buffy jumped slightly.
"Don't sneak up on me like that," she warned. "And who are Debbie and Becky? What happened to them?"
"A pair of little tramps," Stephanie sniffed. "They flirted and didn't pay attention, and now they're both dead."
"I don't think the plants liked them," Bob added.
"The plants? What do the plants have to do with it? Why would flirting get anyone killed?"
"Ignore them, Buffy," Daisy said from a corner. She looked sharply at Bob and Stephanie. "They're just trying to get your goat. You should have heard what they said to Jalil when he started, and he's just fine."
"So you heard from him?" Buffy asked.
"Not yet, but there was nothing wrong with him when we left him to lock up last night. I doubt anything has happened to him since then. He probably just got caught up in his computer programs again. It's not the first time this has happened."
Bob shook his head, but went back to his sweeping without further comment. Stephanie sniffed loudly, then set about clearing up her counter. Daisy and her inevitable dogs moved to Buffy's side. The beagles wagged their tails and begged to be petted.
"Down, Primrose!" Daisy ordered. "Down, Poppy! Buffy has work to do. In fact, would you help me take these new roses to the rear of the greenhouse, dear? There are too many for me to carry in one load."
"Sure, no problem." Buffy gathered up as many plants as she could juggle at once. "Where do you want them?"
"Back near the large vines. I want to check that corner, anyway. The dogs have been trying to go there all day and I think we may have a mouse or a squirrel trapped in the greenhouse."
"Ugh. Rodents. Not of the fun. I hope we don't have one."
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that, dear. If there's anything like that, Stephanie and Bob are both very good at getting rid of them."
The pair headed down the aisle. As they squeezed past a customer, one of the roses in Buffy's arms toppled and fell to the ground, smashing the pot.
"Oh, oh dear. That was my fault. I'm so sorry, Daisy," Buffy apologized. "You can take it out of my paycheck or something."
"Don't worry," Daisy said. "Accidents will happen, and it was just about ready for re-potting, anyway. I'll have Brad take care of it. Let's just get the rest of them where they're going."
While her boss picked up the fallen plant, Buffy continued on her way to the other end of the greenhouse. She was surprised to find the dogs leading her down the aisle, barking and wagging their tails. When they got to the vine display, they showed an excessive interest in a large plant that draped to the ground.
"Is that where the mouse is?" she asked the dogs as she put down her burden. "Let me see."
The dogs whined and sniffed. Buffy moved to the vine cautiously. She lifted part of the plant. She held it up for a moment, stunned into paralysis, then quickly dropped it and turned away.
"What is it?" Daisy asked as she arrived. "Is it a mouse?"
"No. No mouse. It's - it was Jalil. Or at least, it's what's left of him. You probably don't want to see this."