Title: Scholarly Pursuits
Characters: Giles in this one.
Trigger warning: Mental Health issues (I probably should have warned for Giles’ PTSD long before this).Series: Bookends. All the Companion pieces in the series are listed here... It might not make much sense on its own
St. Catherine's Reading room in the Bodleian Library was by far Giles' favourite place to work whenever he was in Oxford. For one thing, very few people even knew it existed let alone had privileges to use it. It was not mapped on any floor plans and access was through two nameless doors and then required a signed out key to gain entry through a third door made of heavy oak. All work undertaken in that room was viewed with the utmost discretion as permitted readers had access to materials from the Sensitive Collections, the sort that would never be indexed on any open access computer systems. Kings, Chancellors and Watchers had used that room for centuries: it was a quirk of his calling that Giles had first been given permission to use the room as an undergraduate, and probably a complete oversight that he could still use it. He'd been surprised to discover his rights hadn't been pulled due to any of his splits with the Council, nor even with the destruction of the Council itself. No-one had questioned the truculent eighteen year-old's right to be there, just as no-one challenged the retired Watcher's business now. Membership appeared to be for life.
The formidable Fiona was visiting Craig that weekend and Giles had taken advantage of the reduced workload caused by his academic probation to arrange four days at his old college to access some research materials he knew were there. In truth he had his pick of reading rooms, but he'd always liked the seclusion of St Catherine's and the whispered continuity of inheritance it conferred. The room itself had only a single entry point and barely three desks albeit widely spaced apart but then it didn't need to support that many users. Giles had only ever encountered one other reader using the room, and even that was thirty years ago when an old man in a forgotten suit had eyed Giles' entrance suspiciously, but then quickly resumed his research, clearly indicating that decorum regarding privacy was to be respected even amongst those who had equal access to the treasures brought up from the darkest of vaults. These days, Kings, Chancellors and Watchers being a bit thin on the ground, Giles had the place to himself, and that suited him just fine.
Unlike other library reading rooms, there were no actual books stored there, not even for show. A dark oak panelling with hunting scenes, hugged the walls, its Tudor origins sitting effortlessly with twentieth century mouldings and art deco electric lights. Reading materials were requested in advance and brought to one's desk by a trusted librarian who treated every delivery with equal reverence, requiring only a signature on a clipboard and returning a respectful nod. Giles' current research was in truth, rather mundane and hardly merited the seclusion, but he was enjoying the pleasure of his self-imposed project and returning to Oxford had put him in touch with some of his happier memories of his time there. Working alone in St Catherine's was a big part of that.
He was hip-deep in cross-referencing the accounts of a colourful fourteenth century Irish nun against a copy of 'Lives of the Saints' on his MacBook Pro when the door to his sanctuary opened and a young woman, whom Giles took to be a librarian, approached him carrying a large hide-bound book and a regulation clipboard.
"Dr Rupert Giles?"
He nodded innocently and she dropped the book on the desk in front of him causing Giles to physically recoil as the scent of magick smarted in his throat. He didn't need to read the title to know this was a rather special volume. Someone had taken the precaution of 'charming' it so it could sit on shelves and allow itself to be discretely overlooked. On a dangerous scale of 1 to 10, it was probably a 4 but Giles was nevertheless angry at having it thrust at him.
"I didn't request this."
"I know, but there's a passage I need your help translating." She made to open to a bookmark but Giles stopped her hand.
"No, there's been some sort of mistake. I'm not on staff here and I don't assist on individual thesis work. I suggest you find someone else. "
She took her hand from his restraint but made no further attempt to open the volume, instead she looked at him thoughtfully.
"This is something of a niche research project and there isn't anyone else here on campus that can help me." Giles opened his mouth to begin another polite refusal but she cut him off harshly. "I know who you are, Dr Giles, and why you are here. I'm also well aware of your mental breakdown and the limits currently imposed on your teaching commitments. I wouldn't be asking if it weren't of the utmost importance."
The snap in her voice piqued him. "I've retired," he argued. "I don't do this type of thing anymore."
She looked at him with disbelieving, hard eyes and spoke again. "Really? Because in the past two days you've consulted heavily on a number of works on saints and female warrior figures in medieval Europe."
"That's… entirely different. I'm looking into historical facts not…" he broke off, looking at the book.
"Mere prophecies?" she supplied. "And what do you hope to gain from your research? Do you foresee some sort of academic paper coming out? A treatise on how the Sisters of the Magdalene fought off a gang of vampires in 1392 but had to stake their Bishop through the heart in the process? I can't wait to hear you deliver that lecture in the Union. We could have a sweepstake to see how quickly the men in the white coats come to take you off to the loony bin." She paused before adding "Again." for dramatic emphasis.
Giles folded his arms, resentful at the bullying. "Leave me alone."
"I will, but I'm leaving this book with you." She signed the clipboard and Giles recognised the correct paperwork. "It's officially with you now."
"You can't sign on my behalf," he spluttered.
"I've been practicing, so yes I can. Honestly, please just take a look at the passage I've marked. You can decide what to do about it after you've read it. I'm confident you will see how important it is and that it benefits you to assist me. I'll be back in two hours, Dr Giles."
She spun on her heels, leaving him almost as soon as she'd surprised him.
"I notice I didn't catch your name," he taunted after her.
"I know you can do this for me," she replied as she closed the main door and left him alone.
Giles glared at the book like it might turn into a cobra and strike him. Within the protocols of the reading room, he was trapped with the damn thing. He couldn't just get up and leave it on the desk for anyone else to view. All books signed out had to be signed back in – even if she'd faked his signature – and he sensed that particular sheet would not be put in the head librarian's office in the next two hours to allow him to make an escape. He couldn't afford the fuss of a book of this nature being left unattended or going astray whilst technically in his possession.
Giles stood and paced a little, working through his thoughts. He'd assumed she had legitimate access to the reading room, but again, she might have just been resourceful? He'd assumed she was a member of staff but then again, might that not be the case? But no, she knew the distinctive procedures, she knew what materials he'd read from the regular library, and she'd gotten hold of that damn book for a start, even Giles didn't know where the Sensitive Collection material was physically stored. She'd known all about him, all about his academic probation, all about his 'specialist' knowledge. She'd known too damn much altogether.
He sat back on his chair and slumped his chin on one hand on the desk. Had she mentioned Buffy, it would have been easier, because that was something he could have verified. He could have asked Buffy if she had sanctioned this approach and then castigated her soundly for it. But Buffy's name hadn't come up, and Giles wasn't about to look stupid by phoning her to ask. No, his best course of action was to ignore the book and resume his legitimate research interests. He picked up his fourteenth century nun again, and tried to rekindle the pleasure of losing himself in research but the words only swam meaninglessly past him. His pushy librarian friend had stung a victory when she'd argued the lack of a legitimate end product to his work. Sadly, he knew that identifying maybe three historical figures who might have been Slayers was of no interest to anyone. The Council of Watchers' Library had held all that information before it was destroyed and he could never hope to replace the wealth of knowledge that had been lost. Not that anyone but him cared these days. Intellectual curiosity or not, his work on the subject suddenly seemed completely futile.
Damn, in the end, she was right and there was really only one thing he could do. One research project being very like another, Giles lifted the volume of prophecies onto the book-rest in front of him and turned to the bookmarked section. After all, what was the worst that could happen?