This...was an idea that came to me a while back. I sat down and talked with a few friends about it, and all told we came up with four or five different characters from the BtVS and AtS canons that could have secretly been Actives.

Maybe one day I'll tell all their stories. But for now, we're focusing just on Juliet.

I hope you enjoy.

Most engagements weren't meant to last much longer than ten hours. Sometimes it was a case of give or take…sometimes they lasted as long as sixteen, sometimes as little as six. Ten, however, was the baseline. The standard.

The Active he had been assigned to, however, was anything but standard.

Long term engagements…for weeks or months at a time…were less common but still just as routine. The Actives assigned to them were meant to go for months without Treatment or maintenance. It was up to their Handlers to keep them in working order, and it was up to their Handlers to make certain they stayed on task. Long term engagements also generally called for more…cohesive imprints. They called for personalities that could exist fully in the world for long periods of time without experiencing memory loss or the resurfacing of their old personalities.

Long term engagements also tended to be the most dangerous. Thanks to its deep ties to the Watcher's Council, those who ran the Dollhouse were well aware of the supernatural entities that walked the world. Those Actives assigned to the long term engagements were generally done so for the purpose of keeping a lid on things.

Long term engagements meant that Handlers, as well as their Actives, were expected to operate independently, without needing to keep in constant communication with the Dollhouse. Rupert Giles arrived in Sunnydale a few months into the school term, and the months that followed had led them to facing witchcraft, demons, the She-Mantis, animalistic possession, living nightmares, and one of the most evil and powerful vampires ever to walk the Earth.

In other words, it had been a busy year.

Summer vacation was barely two weeks old when the call came.

"Mr. Giles?"

"Yes?" he asked, balancing the phone precariously between his ear and his shoulder as he continued to examine the book he'd been reading. Angel had brought news of growing vampire activity, and with Buffy away for the summer this was the very last thing any of them wanted. "Who is this?"

A chilly silence met him on the other end of the phone line for a few seconds before his caller spoke again. "This is Adelle DeWitt, Mr. Giles. Been a busy year, has it?"

"Oh!" Giles started in surprise, accidentally sending the book tumbling to the floor. It landed spine up…he hated it when books were dropped or placed spine up. Bending down the pick it up and nearly dragging the phone off the counter in doing so, he hurried on. "Ms. DeWitt! Um…y-yes, yes. Rather a busy time down here." He managed to retrieve the book, and carefully ran a hand down the binding as he straightened up again, checking for damage. "It's…um…nice to hear from you," he lied.

"I wish it could have been under better circumstances." Adelle's voice did not lose its hard, clipped edge. "Topher brought some rather interesting news to me today, Mr. Giles."

"Oh, yes?"

"We have a tracking band installed in all our Actives, as you know. A GPS system that lets us locate them anywhere in the world. Imagine my surprise when Topher mentions to me in passing that Juliet is now in Los Angeles. You were assigned to Sunnydale, Mr. Giles. May I ask your reasoning for the change of venue?"

Giles winced. He knew that he walked a fine line between Watcher and Handler, but spending these last few months in Sunnydale with Buffy, Xander, and Willow had caused him to slip his rails a bit. His only reservations when Buffy had told him that she planned to spend the summer away had been for the safety of the town…not for the protocol of the Dollhouse.

You could not lie to Adelle DeWitt, however, and so he didn't even try. "Um…no, actually. I decided to remain in Sunnydale over the summer. It's just Buffy that's gone. She wanted to spend the summer with her father, and with the Master gone…"

"Yes. I see. After such a trying year, who wouldn't want a nice little holiday?" DeWitt's voice could have etched steel. "And what do you expect to do if something happens to her, Mr. Giles? Not only are you supposed to monitor her condition for anomalies, you are supposed to be there to guide her in her duties as the Slayer."

"I thought I could do that just fine over the phone." Flippant, but true. There had already been a minor catastrophe involving Buffy seeing the deaths of everyone she touched, but she'd called him again a few days ago to let him now that the danger had passed. "She needed some time away, Ms. DeWitt. She died barely a month ago – I thought it would be best for her…"

Adelle's sigh was clearly audible even through miles and miles of phone line. But, when she spoke again, she seemed somewhat mollified. "I had been about to ask about that. Topher mentioned it around that time, but by the time I got to the lab to check her vital signs all appeared normal."

"A friend of hers' performed some very timely CPR. No physical damage, as far as I could assess. But I thought some time away from Sunnydale might help her find her footing again…"

"Very well. I will allow that there were extenuating circumstances. It's true that it can't be forgotten that Juliet is a…special case. Exceptions may, perhaps, be occasionally allowed." Just as Giles allowed himself to relax, however, she pressed on. "But that does not change the fact that you are neglecting your duties as her Handler in allowing her to go off alone."

"I'm still monitoring her." Probably not as much as he should, but it had begun to feel too much like spying on her. "Besides, she's in your neck of the woods, isn't she? If you're so worried, why don't you bring her in for a Treatment? I can call her now and mention it."

"Yes, why don't you do that? I'll send one of the Handlers to pick her up."

"…are Romeo and Harriet in the building at the moment?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Well, why don't you send them along? I'm sure Romeo's missed her terribly."

"Yes. Yes, he has been…pining a bit. Very well. I'll send them out."

"That sounds fine. Now, if that's everything…" Giles wanted desperately by now to put down the phone and end the conversation. He realized, to his slight horror, that he'd gotten used to life in Sunnydale, used to pretending to play one part when in fact he had to play two. But Adelle was not quite done.

"Yes, that will be all, Mr. Giles. Except…"

"…except what?"

"When it comes to matters of the House, she is not Buffy Summers. She is an Active with the designation of Juliet. Remember that, won't you?"

"…yes. Yes, I will. Sorry."

He hung up before things could get any worse.

It had been a busy year.

He'd only realized when talking to DeWitt just how busy a year it had been when he'd had to take a few seconds to remember who exactly "Juliet" was. Giles could tell that that hadn't gone over well at all.

He didn't really know when she'd ceased to be "Juliet" and started to be "Buffy" to him. Probably the night the Master had risen, or perhaps a bit before. The day their nightmares had come to life, perhaps, and he'd found himself staring at her headstone. However it had happened, he supposed that he'd been feeling more…attached than any competent Handler should feel.

But he was a Watcher as well, damn it all. Watchers and Slayers had worked together since the dawn of time…it was only natural that he care for her a little.

When he was younger, he'd balked at his "destiny" to become a Watcher but had accepted it, in the end. If he'd known about the Watcher's Councils ties to the Dollhouse, if he'd known that they'd been brainwashing helpless young girls for the past couple of decades…well, Giles liked to think that he'd have fought harder. But he hadn't known until it was too late to back away with his life, and he'd found himself saddled with the care of what must once have been a fully functioning human being. Topher had told him that most of the "imprinting" they put Slayers through was minimal…they didn't want to risk messing with the supernatural forces that made them what they were. All they'd done was make Buffy a little more focused, make her rather more attendant when it came to her own destiny. She still complained about it, as she must have done before they'd brought her in, but she never meant it. Could never mean it. She would never turn her back on someone in trouble, would never run away from a threat to the world. They had turned her from a teenage girl into a tin soldier who would keep on marching until she broke beyond repair.

Giles had known all this when he'd lived back at the Dollhouse, had known about the cold, efficient, callous process that would eventually end in Buffy's death. He thought he'd accepted it.

But being here in Sunnydale, actually working side by side with the girl he'd been charged to protect in more ways than just to watch from the sidelines…it was affecting him. And he knew it. There was no denying to himself that Buffy Summers was a truly remarkable girl…

He stared sadly around at his apartment…the Watcher's apartment, not the Handlers. But the Handler wasn't needed in Sunnydale. The Watcher was needed desperately, especially now that the Slayer was away. He had responsibilities to the town and those in it that outweighed his responsibilities to the House. Keep the citizens safe. Keep Willow and Xander safe. Make sure things went along with as little supernatural activity as possible.

It had seemed remarkably quiet since the Master had died, though…

Giles cast an eye toward the trunk he kept by his couch, and could not suppress a shudder at the thought of its morbid contents. At least it was easy to blame his worries and anxieties on the presence of the bones. It was easy to think that it was only because of the evil influence of the Master's bones that he was dwelling on the fact that he was lying to everyone he was nevertheless growing to care for…

Giles picked up the book he'd been reading, made a play of dusting it off, and made to get ready to leave, suddenly. No doubt his research would go more quickly at the library. He had patrol in a few hours, and he should probably get in touch with Jenny again about her efforts to find a way to purify the bones.