Rupert Giles looked about him at the busy street before making his way quickly up the steps of Sunnydale's most prestigious hotel.
The reason this place had been chosen was due to it's location in the very centre of the town's tourist quarter. The beach front property was flanked on both sides by a mix of restaurants; curio dealers and surf shops, dozens of holiday-makers and more than a few teenaged locals were going about their colourful business right outside the hotel. Giles and the people he was coming to meet would not draw attention to themselves here in the crowd.
Or at least that was what they had assumed, looking around now at all the casually dressed, carefree passers-by, Giles felt they may have been less noticeable had they all donned Abba wigs and held their meeting in front of Buffy's fourth period Maths class.
Giles knew that if one of the children were to catch sight of him here, amongst the garish Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian shirts and string bikinis, they would be suspicious. At the very least there would be questions about how safe it was for him to be out of his natural habitat, the library, for too long.
Although Xander, given his view on Hawaiian shirts and string bikinis, would probably look at him with new respect.
At the top of the steps he gave the chaotic street one more quick sweep with his eyes, before walking with deliberate casualness through the door being held for him by a smartly dressed attendant. Nodding his thanks, Giles made his way over to the receptionist desk.
"Hello sir, how may I help you?" A bright-eyed girl smiled up at him from behind the high desk.
"I- I have a meeting, in room, ah, 212 I believe. It's possible I'm a trifle early." He apologised with a smile.
The receptionist tapped some keys on her keyboard and looked back to him with that too eager-to-please smile. "Yes sir. The others are already here sir. Would you like to go straight up?"
Giles wavered. He didn't want to go up at all.
The phone call he'd received that morning hadn't gone into any details about what he could expect at this meeting, just that his attendance was required. The faculty-meeting and the Opticians appointment excuses he had invented to try and get out of it had been met by a non-negotiable insistence that he attend, leaving him with at least an inkling of what he might expect in room 212.
He was staring at the key card the girl was handing out to him without taking it. With a little shake, or perhaps it was more of a shiver, Giles pulled himself together. He'd known this day would come, even prayed it would a few times when things turned especially dire.
"Ah yes, I suppose I may as well go and get this over with." He accepted the card with his own too-bright smile and, with a deep sense of foreboding, headed for the elevator.
He was alone as he travelled smoothly up the floors, which seemed oddly fitting.
When the bell dinged and the elevator doors slid open to reveal an empty corridor, Giles stepped out and checked the doors around him. He had to walk half way along the corridor before he found the one he was after. He lifted his hand to knock, but faltered before his knuckles could rap on the wood.
His early arrival had been intentional. He had wanted to have the upper hand in this meeting, needed the people higher in the system than he to listen to what he had to say, and being the first in the room would have given him some kind of psychological advantage at least. Now he was going to be the last in and he knew he'd be made to feel late, despite there still being another five minutes until the pre-arranged time.
He took a deep breath and straightened his tie with one hand while running the other over his hair, needlessly tidying it. Clearing his throat, he straightened his shoulders and banged his knuckles on the door, the key card forgotten and growing slightly slick in his other hand.
It was jarring to hear that cultured English accent even though Giles was expecting it. Aside from the occasional phone call placed with colleagues or old friends in the name of research, he had become very much cut off from his old ties since arriving in Los Angeles.
Being fully in the field was a world away from the strict rules and regulations ingrained in his psyche during training at the academy. The policies and procedures instilled by the system over the centuries were largely useless when applied to the real world; or possibly only when applied to Buffy.
The thing was: you couldn't tell them this, they had to experience it for themselves and with only a week to go until Buffy's eighteenth there wasn't enough time for the old farts to come around to the idea that tradition for tradition's sake wasn't always a good thing.
He opened the door and entered the room. Two men were seated comfortably in the plush room, drinking tea while the waited for him.
"Quentin," he addressed his senior and merely nodded at the other man.
"Rupert, how good of you to join us. Come in, have some tea."
Quentin stood to shake his hand, which Giles did stiffly, never comfortable in the presence of the senior Watchers and least of all today.
Giles sat in the vacant chair waiting for him and went straight to the point. "Quentin, I'd like to take a moment to discuss some concerns…"
Travers cut him off, "So you realise why we are here, that's good, it will save us some time."
"Of course I know why you're here, I'm not bloody stupid," Giles reined in his rising temper, getting angry at the old boy wouldn't help anyone and the satisfaction of punching the smug bastard on the nose would only last as long as what would be left of his career with the Council. He bit his tongue against what he was about to say before going on. "Sir, I would like you to consider cancelling the Cruciamentum. I think if you take a look at Buffy's past performances you will see that it is entirely unnecessary – she's already proved her worth as the Slayer."
"In your opinion maybe, but the Council is bigger than one man. This trial was designed long ago by men far worthier than you or I, to test the Slayer's durability and resilience when faced with powerful opposition. With all due respect Rupert, I think I'll trust their instinct over yours, and now, if we could get down to business."
Giles sat defiantly silent until Travers fixed him with a hard stare.
Uncowed by the stare, he said, "We should at least tell her what is going on."
"The rules of the Cruciamentum are very clear about interference from Council employees," said Travers, his stern voice a clear warning he would implement those rules to the letter if Giles should intervene in the trial.
It wasn't lost on him either that he had just been referred to as an employee, not a Watcher or even a Council member, as even the most junior employees were known as.
Travers seemed to soften just slightly, perhaps finally remembering all those years ago when it had been him in this position, with a Slayer of his own about to face the most dangerous test of her life.
"If the Summers' girl is as competent as your reports indicate, this will be a walk in the park for her Rupert, and afterwards she will be stronger and better prepared to face the harsh realities of her calling than ever before."
With a heavy heart, Giles nodded. "What is my part in all of this?"
Quentin Travers' companion, who had yet to speak, placed a dark blue velvet covered box onto the tea table and opened it; next to it he placed a large flawed grounding crystal
Giles closed his eyes for a second against the sight of the tools he would use to betray his Slayer.
"When do I administer the first injection?" he finally asked.