What We Can

They sat on twin couches, twin laptop computers on twin coffee tables in front on them, the one on her lap clicking happily as she typed, and the one on his lap crossing his eyes, the too-bright contrast yet to be adjusted to his comfort level and the too-overwhelming task before them weighing on his mind and making him irritable. She had asked him half an hour ago if he wanted food, and he had snapped at her so peevishly that she had retreated immediately back to her work. She had not spoken to him since, but she had kept an eye on him, and he was flagging---the keys on his laptop clacked less rapidly as he keyed in the search parameters, and his brow had crinkled---whether in impatience or disgust or exhaustion, she couldn't tell. Poor guy. He was probably still jet-lagged.

His soft, tired voice interrupted her reverie. "Just ask if you want to."

"Wh---what?"

"Ask it. Go on. I'd rather endure the fussing than the surreptitious gawking."

She pushed the computer away a little, dropping the pretense of work. "Sorry."

"Well?"

"Right. So, um, are you okay?"

His eyes met hers with a flat, cold glare. "No."

Well, he had said it at least. She gulped, then plunged ahead with it. "Do you wan to talk about it?"

"Do I need to? You know what's at stake here, Willow."

"Fate of the world, yeah. What else is new?"

"What's new?" He sighed heavily. "This is going to sound rather selfish, isn't it? But…what's new, I suppose, is my being in the hotseat this time. I've spent the last seven years watching Buffy fight a sacred battle that only she was equipped for. And this time…"

"This time it's on you?"

He nodded. "It's on me. There is so much work to be done…"

"We're doing it, Giles. I've equipped you with the best computers money can buy, loaded them with the GPS software and Google Maps and radar imaging, and…"

"It's not enough."

"It never is. But Giles, we've found almost 50 potentials already, and…"

"And every one we miss, dies. Every one we miss is another wasted plane trip to another sleazy motel room or college dorm or suburban home to collect a dead girl. I've done it already. I've seen their bloodied bodies, their glassy eyes…"

"It's not your fault."

"Of course it isn't. But even so…"

"It's still hard, yeah."

"Hard is not the word."

He pushed aside his own computer. "This isn't working."

She bristled a little, not sure if she should be reading a criticism into that. "It's the best there is."

"It isn't enough. Bits and blips and plastic…it's not a defense. It's not a weapon. It's not…it's not fair to lose, to DIE, for that!"

"But…" She paused, trying to backtrack. He was so exhausted, and sleeping in Buffy's basement, on army cots, with several dozen girls wasn't helping. She supposed she should have seen this breakdown coming. This was Giles, their watcher, their knower, their rock. But even so…she should have seen this coming…

"We do what we can," she offered weakly.

"What we can, yes. What we can. Win some, lose some, is that how it goes?"

"That's how it's always gone. I didn't make it that way. You didn't make it that way."

"And if a bigger fight comes along than this one? And it's our turn to lose?" He closed his eyes, his voice by now a whisper. "Alabama, two girls missed. Montreal, four of them sought shelter together, and died together when my plane was held over for fog. Nagasaki, the blood was still wet on her throat, and her fingers were still twitching when I got there…" A tear crept down his cheek. "Dublin, and I had to tell her parents the news." His voice broke and the tears gushed openly now. "Willow…I can't lose again…"

She reached out her hand, clasped his, squeezed it gently. "Oh, Giles…" What a burden he had been carrying. For all of the complaining she and Buffy had done, about the girls, about the work to be done with them, and about the battle that was still to come…and all this time, they had been the ones who had it easy, because they only ever knew about the ones who lived…how many others had their been? How many had he…had they…lost already? How many dead girls for every one that was here?

"I can tweak the search parameters," she said. "There is a seer I know in San Francisco, I can bring her down, and have her help us map the best route. But Giles…we still won't get them all."

He nodded slowly, the cathartic breakdown seeming to have steadied him again. "We never get them all, Willow." There was more resignation than despair in his tone this time, and that encouraged her.

"We'll get a lot of them," she said. "I'll help you get a lot of them."

He crinkled his eyes, stretched a little. "Perhaps you are right about the snack. I've been

working for so long…"

In her head, she was already tweaking the algorithms. Let him rest, she thought to herself, picking up the laptop and hauling it onto her knee. Let him rest. I'm carrying it too.

The end