A/N: This AU toys with the space-time continuum to put it in the setting I want, so please bear with me. For this fic, Season 3 does not exist (literally, the entire year vanishes. No mayor, no Faith, but Willow, Xander, and class of 99' graduate, business as usual). Willow is about to start college at UC Sunnydale when a mysterious visitor arrives at Giles' house. Also, for convenience and amusement, I'm adjusting the setting to modern day (2013), so I can include somewhat up-to-date pop culture references, etc. Enjoy!

Prologue: Calling

It's been almost three months, and no word from Buffy. Rupert Giles sits in his living room with his fourth cup of tea of the night. The steady rain outside his house only blurs everything together, muddies the events that he knows must be recorded in the Watcher Diaries, for posterity, for the lives of all Watchers and Slayers who will succeed him.

The page before him is entirely blank, despite Giles's internal attempts to motivate himself. As one of a very limited number of Watchers whose Slayer has, instead of dying – how can he put it? Defected? Retired? Left? – he knows his contribution is important to the Watcher Diaries, but it is an awful thing to have to put on paper.

Well you see, gentle reader, my Slayer was in love with an ensouled vampire, who then lost his soul and attempted to suck this dimension into Hell, and my Slayer killed him in order to spare this world. So obviously, she abdicated her duties out of grief, and after all, who could blame her, poor thing?

Yes . . . yes . . . no, that sounds terrible. Heavens, he is going to be up all night.

The ping of the doorbell jars Giles from his unproductive labors. He glances at his grandfather clock – 3:24am – and, suspicions aroused, takes a wooden stake from the armoire beside his desk before approaching the door. Steeling himself, Giles lifts the latch and pulls the handle to open the door.

His first subconscious instinct is to assume that the pale, lanky, raven-haired girl standing before him must be a vampire, but the tiny wooden cross at her neck abolishes that speculation. Then, just as immediately, he assumes that he's fallen asleep at his desk and the girl is no more than a hallucination. He stares at the mysterious teenager, her brunette hair dripping with rainwater, her dark eyes narrowing as she watches him. The girl is sheathed in black – black canvas trench coat over a black thermal shirt, black jeans, black combat boots – the overall effect is of a ninja going to a funeral.

"Are you Rupert Giles?"

Her voice is distrusting and cautious. From her size she looks to be about eighteen or nineteen, but her tone and the intense glint in her eyes make her appear older.

"Um . . . yes, yes I am," Giles replies, pulling off his glasses to wipe off a few raindrops that have peppered the lenses.

"The Watcher?"

"Well . . ." – Honestly, whatever happened to keeping the secret identities of a well-established and long revered order? – "yes, yes I am a Watcher. Um . . . won't you come in, miss?"

Without taking her eyes off him, the girl picks up two small suitcases from beside her boots and cautiously steps over the threshold. Giles closes the door behind her, then moves to the kitchen and pulls several teaboxes out of a cabinet.

"Um . . . tea? Or coffee, I suppose?"

"No thank you."

She sets her suitcases by the doorpost – and the clinking sound they make indicates that at least some of the contents might be weapons – and, after a moment's deliberation, hangs her trench on Giles's coat rack.

"Um . . . if I may ask," Giles begins awkwardly, but the girl's cool voice cuts him off.

"They didn't tell you I was coming, did they?"

"Well, um . . . no, I'm afraid they, whoever they are, did not inform me that I should be inspecting anyone. Who might you be, exactly."

"Lorna Branson. The Council assigned me to you. I've just come from Cleveland."

"Cleveland?" Giles chokes on a mouthful of his room-temperature tea.

"Ohio. Second largest Hellmouth in North America. Or it was."

Utterly flabbergasted, Giles tries to remove his glasses, only to realize he already has them in his hands.

"Er . . . I'm sorry, um . . . Lorna. Did you say there was a Hellmouth in Cleveland? What has happened to it?"

The girl's eyes drop to the ground. "Closed it."

"H-how?" Giles stutters.

"Felt the power, the Slayer legacy. Started three months ago. Dad told me Kendra must be dead."

"Yes, she was slain by the vampire, Drusilla, who we believe has now fled to South America with her paramour, William the Bloody."

Giles gets the impression that his recounting of the recent weeks' events in Sunnydale is meaningless old news to his mysterious visitor.

"One moment, did you say . . . your father. . . are you possibly . . .?"

"Watcher Neil Branson's daughter, yeah." The girl's cold, steady voice falters for the first time. "If you didn't know to expect me, you probably haven't heard."

"Um . . . heard what?"

"He's dead."

Knees weakening, Giles finds himself collapsing into a living room armchair, half his remaining tea spilling over his trousers kneecap.

"Good heavens. And the Cleveland Hellmouth . . ."

"He and mom tried to help me . . . close it. There was an avalanche. A city block caved in on it. They couldn't get away in time."

"Neil and Miranda? Oh, good lord . . . my . . . my very deepest condolences, Lorna. Your father was a great man and a good friend."

"That was almost a month ago. The Council should have told you." Her voice is back to brusque and business-like, but the dark eyes that flicker between Giles's seem to bear a deep, inexpressible burden, buried just beneath the surface. "They knew I was coming to see you. Are you sure you didn't get a phone call or anything?"

"I'm afraid I was under the impression that I am not in particular favor with the Council these days," Giles admits, rubbing the spilled tea out of his pants with a dishrag.

"Because of Buffy."

Giles sighs and nods. What is the point in admitting the obvious, that Buffy's rash departure reflects badly on his influence as her Watcher?

Lorna sits down on Giles's couch, leans forward, and squares her shoulders. It's the most normal, human movement he has yet seen from her.

"I know this might be a sensitive subject, Mr. Giles, but do you know if she's coming back? Are you still her Watcher?"

"I appear to be no one's Watcher at the moment," he mutters, mainly to himself.

"Mr. Giles, I know this is short notice, and I understand if you have prior commitments, but I've spent the last week on eight different buses to get here. Since my parents . . . my Watchers . . . can't guide me anymore, and I know there's still so much I have to learn about this calling, could I . . . stay here in Sunnydale? Even if it's just until the Council decides if they have any other plans for me? Would you be willing to be my Watcher?"

Momentarily taken aback, Giles stares into the dark-haired girl's face, scrutinizing her. If not for her intense – he would even go so far as to say battle-worn – expression, he would have sincerely wondered if this was some kind of prank, or a test from the Council.

"Well, Lorna, I . . . I don't exactly know what to say, other than you're most welcome to stay here. As to being your Watcher . . . if the Council deems me fit for the task, I will undertake it as best I can."

The irony is not lost on Giles: to exchange a Slayer who has rejected her duty after paying the ultimate price and sacrificing her love . . . for a Slayer who has also lost everything dear to her – parents, Watcher, and home in one fell swoop – but was still fighting on behalf of her newfound calling. Of course he is willing to continue his own family's legacy and become Lorna's Watcher.

Even if this particular new Slayer happens to give him the heebie-jeebies.

A/N: Comments? Critique? Confused? I know it's a little rough, but I was so close to finishing it that I wanted to go ahead and throw it at you! =)