The Madness of My Muse


“The test is done. We’re finished.”

The man I’d branded betrayer spoke and it hurt that I didn’t care anymore. Hurt that stung my forehead, pulsed along my cheek, throbbed beneath my eye, ached within my shoulder, churned my stomach and dulled my heart. Most of the wounds were won in battle, one wounded in trust.

“Not quite. She passed. You didn’t.” Travers bowed his head, crafting his thoughts an instant before unleashing his steel tongue. “The Slayer is not the only one who must perform in this situation.” He looked toward Giles but not at him, gaze stiff as his resolve, unfeeling as his tone. The man admitted little with words and even less with expression. “I’ve recommended to the Council, and they’ve agreed, that you be relieved of your duties as Watcher immediately. You’re fired.”

Fired. A small part of me liked hearing that. But my satisfaction for revenge was quickly diluted by what came after, realization. And with it, I couldn’t breathe. I watched helplessy as my Watcher silently crumbled before my eyes, lost to the world, lost to me and most devastating, lost to himself if only for a moment. I began to panic. Giles didn’t. He swallowed down his shock and reinvented his strength as his lips parted, already formulating a defense. But instead of protesting as I expected, he simply asked, “On what grounds?”

“Your affection for your charge has rendered you incapable of clear and impartial judgment.”

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t look away or muffle the gasp that escaped my bruised lips. Giles must have heard it because he seemed to shrink, as if suddenly exposed.

“You have a father’s love for the child, and that is useless to the cause.”

That’s when I saw it, a splinter of vulnerability as Giles couldn’t look at me and somehow I knew why.

“It would be best if you had no further contact with the Slayer.”

Only then did I break from my stare, confused at the tiny, fragile voice within me pleading unspoken for Giles never to leave me. How quickly I’d turn from tantrum to terrified.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he responded firmly but without strength, driven purely by heart.

“No, well, I didn’t expect you would adhere to that. However, if you interfere with the new Watcher, or countermand his authority in any way, you will be dealt with. Are we clear?”

“Oh, we’re very clear.”

Quentin, in trying to salvage our already nonexistent working relationship, acknowledged me with a polite bow. It was the most respect he’d ever bothered to pay me and I wanted nothing more than to shove it up his ass. “Congratulations again.”

“Bite me.” The words were softly threatening, more hiss than rattle. I hoped that even in my weakened condition, the bastard knew I would stake him if he so much as tried to correct me.

Travers chuckled, unwilling to allow me the last word. “Yes, well, colorful girl.”

Neither Giles nor I gave Travers the benefit of an audience with his departure. We’d both had more than enough of him, mutual in our intention to ignore him for the rest of eternity.

Everything had changed and I wasn’t ready for it to. Rather than deal with it, I embraced the distraction of my pain, slipping comfortably back into my discomfort. Immediately, I grew frustrated with the sting of my forehead and the trembling of my hands. My wounds needed care and I could barely move without suffering for it. Even wringing the cloth limp in the bowl of warm water seemed a brutal task.

Then he was there, just like before only entirely different, never to be the same. His broad hand met mine. Apprehensive fingers pinched the fabric, awaiting permission to help. I let go of the anger I’d mistakenly thought gone and let the rag slip free. He knelt low before me, lower than necessary. I felt above him and wondered if that was intentional, putting me on the pedestal in punishment for his crime. Concerned creased his brow as he treated my gash.

Suddenly, I couldn’t bear to look at him, overwhelmed by my conflicted emotions amplified by my circumstance. Teacher, father, mentor, friend, all precious but not a one shaped to patch the missing piece between us. A teacher wouldn’t lie. A father wouldn’t risk. A mentor wouldn’t interfere and a friend wouldn’t deceive. What shadow that left for us seemed strange and indefinable. I wanted him to say something, anything so I could hate him again. At the same time, I wanted to sink into his arms and cry.

Giles’ mouth fell open in concentration, cringing in empathy as I cringed with a press of the rag. I wanted to ask if Travers was right but I knew neither of us were ready for that question to be answered. Instead, I sat and watched and thought, allowing Giles his apology and by doing so, apologizing myself.

What it all meant, only time would tell. It would have to, because neither of us was talking.

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