The tea was marvelously refreshing, as only properly brewed, quality British tea could be, and Giles sipped it in studied luxury, ever watchful of his hosts’ demeanors. Anne Huxley sat on the plush divan opposite him, back as straight as a genteel woman of the time should be, while William took his place in a chair tucked near the window. Upon their withdrawal to the front room, he had assumed his role within the household, speaking only when spoken to, bowing to his mother’s command. Yet, every time it appeared that Mrs. Huxley would be in need of something, William was there, the something in hand before she could even request it, a smile of such devotion accompanying every gesture that Giles was soon quite jealous of the attention his hostess was getting. No one had ever doted on the Watcher like this child so obviously doted on his mother; he could only wonder what had promoted such a state.
“You’re blessed, Mr. Giles,” she said as she sipped her tea. “I’ve heard tales of others who didn’t survive such attacks. Fortune must favor you.”
“Yes,” he murmured. His eyes flickered to William. “Your son doesn’t seem quite so favored, though. I take it, this wasn’t the first time this has happened to him?”
She shook her head. “My son has the propensity for running into trouble, usually because he’s more absorbed in his books than his path. I fear it will be his downfall some day.”
“But…his father. Why would you keep such encounters from him? Surely, if he were to intercede---.”
“My husband does not understand William’s gentle spirit, nor does he approve of his interest in his poetry. He would not be sympathetic to William’s circumstance.”
It was the first reference he’d heard to the poetry, and Giles shifted to address William directly. “You write?” he asked the boy. “Or do you just like to read poetry?”
He looked to his mother before replying. “Both,” William said. “Though I’m not very good---.”
“You are,” Anne interrupted. Her earnestness was charmingly infectious, and Giles felt his heart go out to her. This was obviously an argument the pair had had more than once. “Your verse is lovely, William. If it’s less than perfect for you, that’s because you’re only beginning. You mustn’t fault yourself because of your inexperience. Do you understand?”
A small smile. A short nod. “Yes, Mother.”
The soft thud of a door whisking shut captured everyone’s attention, and Giles frowned when he saw William pull himself up, straightening his jacket and licking his lips nervously as he stared at the closed drawing room door. Anne rose to her feet, distraction in her every movement.
“Excuse me, Mr. Giles,” she said. “I believe my husband has arrived. William, please see to Mr. Giles’ needs until I return.”
They watched as she exited the room, pulling the door firmly closed behind her. The murmur of a conversation from the outer hall could be heard, but the specifics were unintelligible, and it wasn’t until the voices had faded away that William audibly exhaled.
“Where has he been?” Giles asked. As much as he disliked the notion of feeling sympathy for a youthful Spike, he detested the notion of a father instilling such fear in his family even more. “Your mother seemed surprised that he was here.”
“She’s always surprised when he comes home.” Too late, he realized that he’d likely said too much, his eyes widening at the thought of potential retribution. “He has responsibilities,” William hastened to add. The recitation appeared to be a common one. “They require him to travel. He’s a very important man.”
“I’m sure he is.”
“He is. He knows the Queen.”
“I believe you.”
“Do you know the Queen?”
Giles smiled. “No, William, I can honestly say I’ve never even seen the Queen.”
“So, my father must be more important than you.”
The faulty logic erased Giles’ humor. “A man’s worth is more than the sum of his acquaintances,” he said. “What he does is far more telling---.”
He stopped. Those intelligent eyes were riveted on him, waiting for Giles to complete his declaration, but in that moment, the Watcher wasn’t in the Victorian drawing room of the Huxley family. He was standing on the edge of the Sunnydale crater, listening to Buffy tell what had happened to Spike at the verge of the Hellmouth.
“Yes?” William prompted.
Giles dropped his gaze to sip slowly at his tea. “How long has your father been gone?” he asked. It was better to change the subject. Any further discussion on the other, and he would find himself in deeper waters than he’d be able to navigate.
“Do you know where?”
William shrugged. “Most often he stays around London. But he does go to the continent quite a bit. He brought me back a sword once.”
“For fencing. Father teaches me when he isn’t away.”
Setting down his cup, Giles regarded the child with confusion. “Your father teaches you to fight, yet you believe he wouldn’t understand about your scrape with…what was his name?”
“Oliver Hill.” He whispered it again. Almost as if he was afraid that uttering it any louder would give it more power than it already held.
“With this Oliver,” Giles finished. “Why is that?”
William’s eyes darted to the closed door, assessing the odds of it opening unexpectedly before he replied. “It’s not the fighting Father disagrees with,” he said finally. “It’s the wherefore that prompts it that he dislikes.”
“My books.” He was quick on the clarification, and the sudden blaze in his eyes attested to his vehemence on the matter, even if the child was too frightened to address it more directly with his father. “He says they’re meaningless. That I don’t need them because of our station.”
“Books are an important learning tool,” Giles said. “If they’re important to you, you shouldn’t abandon them. Doesn’t your father believe in the quality of your education?”
“He thinks stories and poetry aren’t worthy to be studied. He thinks they’ll make me weak.”
“That’s a rather narrow opinion, don’t you think? After all, knowledge is power.”
“Sir Francis Bacon.”
“Knowledge is power. That was Sir Francis Bacon.” William stopped, his head tilting as his eyes narrowed in confusion. “Am I wrong?”
Giles had to wrack his brains for a long moment to remember the proper attribution for the quote and finally shook his head. “No,” he said in amazement. “I just…didn’t expect you to know such a detail.” Setting down his teacup, he leaned forward, his forearms resting on his knees as he addressed him further. “What does your father do when he finds out?”
The boy’s mouth opened to speak, but then closed again, his head slowly shaking in denial. “I mustn’t,” William said. “Father just wants what’s best for me. He---.”
The rest was strangled in his throat when the drawing room door flew open, and a man nearer to Giles’ age than Anne’s came striding in. Immediately, Giles stood, but it was more out of shock than any sense of propriety. While William had inherited his mother’s eyes, many of his other features---the hawkish nose, the sharp bone structure---clearly came from his father. They were built nearly the same as well, average height, average build, but where William’s diffidence made him seem smaller than he actually was, the senior Huxley male wore his self-confidence in such a way as to make himself appear larger. This man looked more like Spike than the child did. Only the flashing black eyes set them apart.
“You must be Mr. Giles.” He never even looked at the boy who’d leapt to his feet. “George Huxley. I hear you’ve had a bit of adventure today.”
“A bit,” Giles agreed. He stole a glance sideways, catching William alert and hanging on every word to come out of his father’s mouth. “Your son has been quite helpful.”
“My wife informs me that the constable has already been called. Do you require any other assistance? I hesitate to say, but my wife is not always thorough. A lovely creature, but overwhelmingly female in certain regards, I’m afraid.” He seemed oblivious to the frowns from both Giles and William as he strode to the sideboard. “I must admit,” Mr. Huxley said, pouring out a finger of whiskey, “I’m not familiar with any Giles families in the vicinity. Where is it exactly you’re from, sir?”
“Bath.” True enough. “I’m just visiting the city.” Even more true.
“But I thought you said your daughter went home.”
The worry in William’s voice was what caught Giles’ attention, but when Mr. Huxley’s head whipped around to glare at his son, it was all too clear that it was the fact that the boy had spoken at all that bothered him.
“Your presence is not required here, William,” he said coldly.
“Your mother is not here. I am. Considering what she told me happened this morning, I would not be so argumentative if I were you.”
Giles stepped forward. “The boy can stay. He’s doing no harm.”
Cold eyes swiveled to meet his, and for a moment, Giles wondered if the elder Huxley would resort to violence at having his orders countered so publicly. There was another visual sweep, this one more discerning and particular, and when their gazes met again, Mr. Huxley smiled.
It made Giles shiver.
“You’re a scholar, aren’t you?” he asked the Watcher casually.
The observation from seemingly nowhere was baffling. “Actually, I would qualify myself as a teacher of sorts,” Giles replied.
But Huxley was already bored with the topic, turning back to the sideboard to pick up his drink. “Only men of letters seem to find any worth in William. I would imagine they see him as a kindred spirit.”
“He’s an intelligent boy---.”
“I never said he wasn’t.”
“Your treatment of him---.”
“---is my prerogative as his father.” Huxley drained the rest of his whiskey and replaced the tumbler. Without another glance at either of them, he headed back to the door, saying, “Since he seems to prefer your company, William, keep Mr. Giles entertained until the constable arrives. At least I can be certain you will not be falling any more as a result.”
Giles was left speechless when the doors shut loudly behind Mr. Huxley. It had been years since he’d been treated in such callous regard, truly not since before he’d joined the Watcher’s Council. In many ways, it was the same conduct his father had displayed, though in regards to other circumstances and not education, and was largely instrumental for Rupert’s revolt upon entering uni. Now, it served to make him see red, and he had to sit down before his baser instincts took hold and drove him to charge after the man.
It was almost a whisper, and Giles turned to see William watching him with solemn eyes. “For what?” he asked.
“For…” But he couldn’t voice the subject of that for. He struggled finding the words and eventually just said, “For not telling.”
In spite of his agitation, Giles smiled softly in the face of the boy’s sincerity. “It was my pleasure, William.”
To be continued in Chapter 4: Take My Hand…