Sine Qua Non

Summary: During the events of "Which Way?", Faith ponders her relationship with her Watcher, Buffy, and their friends. Fourth story in my "Straight Ahead" universe.

Disclaimer: These characters are all the property of their owners/creators (not me).

Rating: PG-13, for violence, language, and themes.

Time Frame: During the events of "Which Way?", which is the version of "The Zeppo" that took place in the Straight Ahead Universe, which was first established in my story, "Left and Up, or Straight Ahead?" Also contains references to other, prior events in that timeline.

Sine Qua Non

The Apocalypse bitch grabbed me again, and I felt my right shoulder dislocate. * Damn, I'm in some serious trouble now. . .wish I had thought to carry a knife * Reluctantly, I began trying to fight defensively, but she was not inclined to mess around. She grabbed me with both arms and threw me against the chain-link fence, stunning me. I could see her coming in for the kill, and I was not going to be able to stop this attack, no way. * Later, Buffy. I hope the next Slayer has a longer run *

Suddenly, the Apocalypse bitch was pulled away from me, and I could hear her grunt as she slammed into a tree. A knife was tossed at me, and I caught it reflexively with my left hand as I noticed who my rescuer was: Giles. I watched for a long moment, fascinated, as he expertly pummeled the confused Apocalypse demon, causing it some serious pain. After a few seconds, though, she began to recover, and Giles shot me an annoyed look as if to say, "What in the hell are you waiting for?"

Admitting to myself that he had a point, I moved up, watched as he executed a perfect sweep to knock her onto her back, then I leaped onto her and drove the knife into her chest, twisting hard and reveling in her death scream as she twitched and went limp. I pulled the knife out and wiped it off on the grass, tossing it back to my Watcher, who incredibly managed to look annoyed through his vampiric mask. I managed to look innocent, in spite of the fact that my shoulder hurt like a son of a bitch, and asked plaintively, "What?"

Giles looked at me for a long moment, then his features returned to a more human appearance and the glamour spell reasserted itself. That was the only reason he had fooled me so long. . .the spell that Willow and Miss Calendar had discovered created the illusion of warmth, heartbeat, and other indications of life. . .but it could not conceal a vampire's true face. He looked at me sternly and replied, "Faith, you saw the measures that we had to take to clear out that nest. The Sisterhood are far tougher than any vampire you have faced, except Kakistos himself: they are almost immune to normal pummeling and a stake is woefully inadequate. By being outside without a proper blade, you were taking an inexcusable risk with your life."

I managed to look embarrassed, then groaned as I remembered again that I was in some serious pain. Giles looked at me, noticed that my right arm was dangling, and moved over to me, murmuring, "This is going to hurt, Faith." With a quick, efficient motion, he slipped my right shoulder back into place. There was a moment of blinding pain, then blessed relief as I tested the arm and found it working right again. With that little annoyance gone, my mood slipped into where it usually was after a good kill: I had the munchies, and I was seriously horny. I turned to my Watcher with a certain look on my face: he recognized it immediately and sighed, "Bloody hell, Faith, do we have do go through this every time? I am not going to serve as your. . .how did you charmingly put it. . .'boy toy'. You're just going to have to exercise a little willpower, or you could always track Xander down and try your sales pitch on him."

I snickered and replied, "Naw, Buffy made me promise to stay away from him after I told her about how I felt about guys in general. . .she doesn't want me to chew him up and spit him out, I guess, though at least he'd have some fun in the process. Besides, I think she's got some interest there herself, though she hasn't told me that. . .I won't be shocked if they hook up in the next month or so." I laughed at the mildly surprised expression on his faced and commented, "You really aren't that good at spotting these things, are you?" I moved up to him and wrapped my arms around his neck, whispering, "Come on, Giles. No one's around, that nifty spell that Angel and Willow zapped you with has your soul stuck tight, and I'm not demanding. . .Jenny doesn't have to know."

Giles laughed, then carefully lifted my arms from his neck and commented, "Faith, do you really want to tempt fate by annoying Jenny? Her people invented that curse, you know, and vengeance is a major theme in their culture. Why do you think I was so careful to make her swear not to come after you before I handed you that stake?"

I blinked, and remembered the events of the last month. I had been out on one of my wandering Slaying expeditions, and had come back to find that all hell had broken loose. No one was home at Buffy's house, and the front door was standing wide open. I ran over to the library and found some stuffy Brit named Travers, who claimed he was from the Watcher's Council. He was rather closed mouthed when I demanded to know what in the hell was going on, but a few subtle. . .well, OK, direct threats to break every bone in his body convinced him to let me know where Buffy, Mrs. Summers, and Giles were. We went over to the house and heard the sounds of a struggle. I ran into the room where the noise was coming from, Travers right behind me, and was shocked at what I saw.

Mrs. Summers was tied to a chair, and Buffy was frantically trying to untie the ropes that should have been easy for her to snap. Giles was fighting a vampire, and winning: as we watched, he staked it, causing it to burst into dust. He turned back to Buffy and Mrs. Summers, and saw me and Travers standing in the doorway, where we could clearly see his vampire face. His face quickly turned human again, and he gave Travers an unapologetic glare before looking at me and starting to speak. I never heard his words, though. I turned tail and ran like hell, not knowing or caring where I was going until I wound up on the edge of town. One of the few people in the world I trusted had just turned out to be a fake, and I had no idea how I wanted to handle it.

Buffy tracked me down that night, after her mother was safe, and we talked for a long time. She told me about the Cruciamentum, and how Giles had decided that Buffy was not going to have to deal with it without her powers. They had put on a show that had worked well until those idiot Watchers let Kralick loose and Buffy's mom got kidnapped. She asked me not to tell anyone about that, which was cool by me: now those bastards wouldn't be able to pull that stunt on me.

After that, Buffy told me the whole story about how Giles and Miss Calendar became vampires last year. It was scary just how close things came to totally falling apart for them that night. She filled in some of the other blanks from the time before I came to Sunnydale, and a lot of little things started to make sense: why the library windows were always covered, why I never saw Miss Calendar during the daytime. . .now all I had to do was deal with it. . .and I just couldn't. I took off and was gone for days, while the Council sent their investigators over to decide how to resolve things. They fired that jackass Travers, and Buffy and the others did a good job of sticking up for Giles, I guess. They let him stay on as the Field Watcher, but they made him take an assistant. . .some guy named Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. He's OK, I guess. . .good with the research thing and all, but he's got to stay out of fights, even Willow could beat him up. Funny, he looks a lot like a younger Giles.

I didn't know any of this at first, of course. I was out on another of my roving "seek and destroy" missions, and this time I was feeling even more careless about my safety. I had attacked a group of six vamps, and was about to get the fang treatment from one of them when Buffy showed up and helped me trash them. She gave me a concerned look, then told me that Giles wanted to see me. I didn't want to go, but Buffy asked me to do it as a favor for her, and since she had just saved my ass, I was inclined to go along with what she wanted.

We made it to the library all right, and Giles and Miss Calendar were there. Giles asked Buffy and Miss Calendar to move off a little ways, and he looked at me with sad eyes. "Faith, the Council has decided to let me stay on as Watcher, but I still need to make things right with you. What can I do?"

I looked at him angrily and snapped, "You lied to me! You didn't trust me. . .and why should you? You're just another miserable vampire. . .demons don't trust, and I'm not going to trust one, soul or not!" He looked at me and studied the expression on my face for a long moment before replying, "Very well, Faith. There will have to be trust between us if we are to work together, and I need to be the one to make the first move." He pulled a stake from his vest pocket, causing me to flinch, but he handed it to me and explained, "Faith, if you cannot trust me, you have no choice but to stake me."

I was startled, and was taken off-guard by Miss Calendar wailing, "Rupert, please don't do this!" Giles looked at his lover with infinite compassion and replied, "Jenny, you swore to me you would not interfere. . .or take vengeance against Faith. . .I need to know I can trust you on this." Hurt showing in her dark eyes, the Gypsy vampire sank to the floor and began crying as Buffy snapped, "Well she may have taken an oath, but I sure as hell haven't. Faith, if you even-"

"Buffy." One softly spoken word from her Watcher stopped Buffy's diatribe and caused her eyes to brim with tears as he continued, "Buffy, if you interfere, I will have to resign immediately as your Watcher."

"Fine!" snarled Buffy, striding up to him and giving him a truly lethal glare. "Better that than seeing you gone forever. . .I won't let you leave me. . .or her."

I watched them together, and was startled at the tenderness with which he reached out to touch her cheek. He replied quietly, "Buffy, the night it happened, you gave me-us-a choice. I've never regretted it, but now things have changed, and I may have to take a different path for the greater good. Please don't take that choice away from me." I watched Buffy's face change, then saw her give him a ferocious hug before releasing him and walking back over to where Miss Calendar was. He handed me a sealed letter and explained, "This will explain the whole matter to the Council: Wesley will be in charge until the Council assigns a new Watcher." He looked intently at me and stated, "I have but one request to make of you, Faith: please let Jenny alone. She won't hurt anyone, and you won't have to see her again after this."

The request hit me like a knife twisting in my gut, and I had to gather my thoughts for a moment, to remember that I was supposed to be angry, not nauseated and horrified. I nodded and replied, "All right, Giles. . .I guess that's OK." He smiled gently, then took off his coat. Abruptly, his vampiric features returned, and he watched me with those yellow eyes as I began to raise the stake. I had done this hundreds of times. . .I could do it again, couldn't I?

I closed my eyes for a moment and remembered all of the things that had happened to me since I blew into Sunnydale. Giles had been there for most of them. . .and except for this one secret, he had never crossed me. The whole Angel losing his soul story had me wondering whether Giles or Jenny could turn on me too. . .but even my paranoid self was beginning to feel a little ridiculous about the whole thing. . .Giles was the best Watcher that I had ever had. . .and Wesley would definitely be a lousy replacement.

With a sigh, I dropped the stake and looked into his eyes, commenting, "I guess I can handle it for now, G." As I turned away, I felt Jenny running by me to give Giles a frantic hug as she demanded, "Damn it, Rupert! How could you take a chance like that?"

I turned and saw him smile gently at her and reply, "* Sine qua non * , Jenny. . .* sine qua non. *" She glared at him for a long moment, then she leaned up to kiss him. His words sounded odd to me, and I asked Willow a couple of days later what they meant. She thought a moment, then replied, " * Sine qua non * is Latin for 'without which not'. . .it means the essence of something, the part without which something cannot exist." She looked at me curiously and asked, "Where did you hear that, Faith?" I made up some story about watching a Perry Mason rerun, and she bought it, but I was thinking about what Giles had meant when he spoke those three words.

Anyway, I agreed to stop trying to molest my Watcher, and he drove me to his place so that he could pick up some books and weapons and I could grab a quick shower to loosen up some tight muscles before I had to kick ass again. When I came down, refreshed, he had stacked the items that we needed by the door, and he was watching me with a thoughtful look. I frowned and asked, "What's wrong. . .do I have something in my hair?"

He frowned and commented, "I was just thinking. . .now that you're in a stable situation here, we should think about continuing your formal education."

I laughed and replied, "What, me go to Sunnyhell High and live under the rule of that eunuch Snyder? I don't think so."

He chuckled and responded, "No, and I don't blame you. . .would that Buffy never had to deal with that bloody idiot. . .no, Faith, I was thinking that we could tutor you in the appropriate subjects, and that you could take and pass the high school equivalency examination. After that, perhaps junior college."

I frowned and commented, "Yeah, I've heard that any clod could pass that test. . .but what's the point, Giles? I think tonight said it all. . .I could be dead at any time, so what's the use of wasting an education on me?"

I saw anger in his face, and I wondered if he would lose control and assume his game face, but his face, though definitely looking pissed off, stayed human as he responded, "Damn it, Faith! I won't tolerate that attitude! Do you think I would have placed my life. . .the life of the woman I love, and the well-being of Buffy at the mercy of someone I thought wasn't worth an education? Buffy has already survived longer than ninety five percent of the Slayers who have ever lived. . .with you here to help her, there is no reason to think that you two can't survive indefinitely. I've known you for several months now, Faith, and you are not stupid. . .you choose not to think things through sometimes, but that is not the same thing, and it is something you can get past if you work at it." He looked at me for a long moment, and his face softened as he continued softly, "Faith, you belong here just as much as Buffy does, as Xander or Willow do, or any of us. Getting a good education will help you make the best of your life. . .will you at least consider it?"

I was silent for a long moment, not trusting myself to speak. At length, I took a deep breath, nodded and replied, "Don't we have a Hellmouth to keep closed?"

Giles smiled, nodded, and gathered the materials we needed together as we went out to his car. As we drove over to the school, I considered what Buffy had told me about Giles a few days after that unpleasant night after the Cruciamentum. I had made a point of watching Giles and Miss Calendar during the time we spent together after I found out about them, and I noticed some things that I couldn't resist asking Buffy about: "B, it seems like Miss Calendar is a lot moodier than Giles is. . .I've seen her watching Giles when he wasn't looking, only to turn away when he looks in her direction. Is there something I'm missing here?"

Buffy had sighed sadly and replied, "The spell cast on them, except for the escape clause, is basically the same one that Angel had cast on him. Angel has a century of evil deeds on his conscience, which explains the brooding mess that is my ex." I nodded, and she continued, "Giles didn't kill anyone in the few hours that he was a soulless vampire. . .his conscience, in effect, is clear. . .but Jenny. . ." Her eyes looked haunted as she concluded, "she has to deal with the fact that she killed the love of her life during that brief period. . .and is reminded of that fact every day."

I nodded and replied, "Yeah, I can see why Miss Calendar is a bit broody about that, but how does Giles deal? To hear Angel talk about it, being a ensouled vampire isn't all it's cracked up to be."

Buffy frowned, and replied, "I guess it's that he's basically been able to keep living his life. . .even after he died. Researching, helping us fight, all of that stuff. . .I guess it's what keeps him going."

"* Sine qua non *," I commented, drawing an odd look from Buffy and a nonchalant look as a reply from me. I thought that I understood. . .Giles had basically lost everything in his fight against the bad guys: his freedom, the woman he loved, even his own life, only to get them back in an unusual manner. The experience had changed him completely: Rupert Giles was now inseparable from Rupert Giles, Field Watcher, and the duties that that required. Whether it be Buffy's emotions or my educational needs, he would not rest until we had what we needed. . .and it felt good to realize that. I, who had a miserable time for most of my life up to now, had found my salvation in the form of one of the undead. . .go figure.

We pulled up to the school, and my thoughts returned to the present. Musing about one's life can be diverting, but the world was about to end, and I was damned if I was going to let Giles down by letting that happen. With a feral grin, I grabbed the bag of goodies and ran for the library, laughing out loud at Giles' murmurs of annoyance as he strained to follow.

I was home.

As always, comments are welcome and desired.