Fandom: Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and Angel: the Series
Spoilers/Timeline: Goes AU with "Fredless" and set after "Tabula Rasa"
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and Melville Dewey
Notes: My knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System is spotty; I used this as my resource. For noelia_g in the nevermet ficathon. She wanted Fred/Giles, London, rain, and a desk. Many thanks to karabair for the beta.
Summary: A relationship between two librarians that is 000: not otherwise classifiable.
Where have we come from? How have we arrived here? Where do we go from here? How do you measure the distance between London and Texas, between Los Angeles and Sunnydale (a distance measured some nights in teardrops, in phone calls, in anxious, white-knuckle miles, gears grinding with the words I have some bad news)?
If Fred's boat doesn't capsize, if it steers true and fast, if the wind is with her, could she reach London before Giles, tossing against an uncomfortable airline headrest, dreaming of the ones he left behind? Or will Giles always arrive here first, in every permutation?
A more basic question: does Giles really exist here, unobserved, blending into dark bookshelves and dark books, leather embossed with silvery runes? Or does it take the arrival of a starving-skinny woman in clothes that hang wrong because they are not tattered, a woman who would look more natural with leaves and dirt ground into her hair, to observe Giles into existence?
These are the questions Fred ponders, Giles ponders, and they come to the library to ask them, because a library is a room full of answers, if you know how to search for them.
Some precise facts: Winifred Burkle was born more than twenty-five and less than thirty years ago, to Patricia and Roger Burkle. She graduated salutatorian from West Calgary High, and magna cum laude from Rice. Her senior thesis was on molecular decomposition, and she got straight B's in all her non-science classes because she spent the lecture periods doodling and scrawling bits of stories about Fox Mulder and -- but she doesn't write any kind of fanfic anymore, especially not with self-inserts. She got much better quite quickly. Hell will cure most bad habits; that's kind of the point of hell.
Rupert Giles was born considerably longer ago than that, studied hard for more years than he'd like to remember, never married, never had any children, and unless you count a slightly more orderly library at the British Museum and a highly unusual Slayer in Sunnydale, produced nothing of value in his fifty (there; he's confessed it) years of existence.
What are the great writings? Children's books and frivolity. Empty poems and Gothic romances. They enjoy picking apart the metaphors and deflating the hyperbole, experimenting with understatement of their own. "Not the best poet in history, is he?"
"I suppose there are worse misrepresentations of vampires -- somewhere."
The chronicler neglected fiction when compiling the great texts, so they are forced to make their own sense of their stories. Giles is convinced he's not a hero; when he tries to hold a sword, he can feel Ben's last shuddering breath against the palm of his hand. And Fred knows that Giles is, that no one can come out of Sunnydale unchanged. She's never met Buffy, but she knows what she does to people. In Fred's imagination, Buffy is a fierce and consuming warrior whose radiance burns everyone she touches. Buffy is the truest of true champions, the last of a race of heroes. Fred will not stop believing this even after she is permitted to read Giles's Watcher Diary -- the limitations of literature include its inability to change perception.
What do they do in their spare time? What spare time do they have, when there are worlds to be saved, worlds that would remain undiscovered if they didn't read them, know them, love them?
600s: Applied Science
Recipes fall into this category, so Giles's cooking is not leisure time but something more essential, and while he tries to find appropriate seasonings in the garden he's grown for them to share. On a rainy day when the inside of the flat feels too cave-like, Fred builds a chicken-wire fence around it to protect their hard-h herbs from the kind of people who pick plants from other people's gardens. Fred didn't want to have wanted to build it, since she's been homeless too, but she had to build it to have something to do while Giles cooked dinner, while he played his guitar (not leisure, but 200, religion), while he read. Fred can't sit still yet for long enough; she has a room of her own which she's written on, shamefully, after hours, covered with equations for things that will never be built, that couldn't be built in a gravity so heavy, in a world so round. The applications of Fred's theories are purely speculative, machines to be built on the edge of forever, cities that float on the air if only everyone breathes out hard enough, portals that will open and take you away from yourself.
500s: Pure Science
Giles likes books not because they're clean, but because they're not. He likes books the same way Fred loves beakers, and both are full of magic. You can't bottle book-magic in beakers any more than you can scan books into computers and have them still remain themselves, unchanged.
Books require paper to exist, pulpy and fragile. You should be able to tear books, and burn them, to enchant them, transform them. Book magic is the oldest magic but one, and that is the pure magic of science, of bubbling elements combining to create molecular magic.
But all this is theory.
If you stare into a particle accelerator long enough, your eyes will adjust to the smallness, and big things won't exist for you anymore. Everything will be details, everything tiny.
Fred is afraid they are going blind from their self-imposed blinders, that their astigmatism is getting worse and their eyesight deteriorating from lack of new things to look at. This is why she paces, why she draws, why she scrawls stories, algorithms, and equations on the wall of her room. New stimuli will keep them both from shutting down.
There are evident and non-evident language barriers between them. Giles's accent is often more pronounced than even Wesley's was (is), and his mumbling slurs into incomprehensibility, mostly when he's talking about Sunnydale. But there are other barriers between them. Like this:
"How long are you planning to stay?"
"You want me to leave, don't you?"
"Of course not."
"I could be gone already, if you wanted."
"Are you sure?"
"Certain." Giles's voice can be angry without becoming loud.
Some barriers are natural; she is female, he male, she Texan, he English, she crazy, he sane. And some they erect themselves, the protective layers of his tweed suits and tweed habits, of the babble that bubbles around her without her meaning to let it out of her mouth, swelling larger and larger, polysyllabic words jetting from her mouth and almost drowning both of them in confusion. Giles wipes his glasses and she fears she's gotten some on him, that he is trying to wipe her away, keep the barrier of his glasses intact, protecting himself from seeing her, her from being seen.
She struggles to understand poor eyesight, which is something they share. If their unfiltered seeing is imperfect, then they will not see each other as they really are, but always already processed. In order to properly observe a bacterium, it must be killed, stained. Then it can be visually dissected and understood entirely, but to understand something dead revokes its right to be alive, to be free.
They have certain rights, established by the Magna Carta, though as a big-hearted Texan she sometimes misses home and the Amendments, a longing that can neither be properly expressed through keening nor reading nor lovemaking. And they have personal rights -- to have the upstairs toilet seat left down, to have the kitchen free of science projects when the time arrives for cooking dinner, to have time to be alone, to have time to be together. Fred's never lived with anyone except a stoner roommate her freshman year, but Giles has years upon years of experience in living together and apart, in having flatmates and lovers, in sharing space.
Fred, used to the confines of a cave that was all her own, ponders the logic of living together. Do they each have half the space they would if living apart? Are they pressed into rooms not big enough for them, or, contrariwise, are they, by virtue of squeezing tightly and moving carefully, living almost as fully as they would alone, darting around each other to find room to read or walk or draw or think in silence? They value silence almost as much as they value words, the endless, misleading words of the languages they speak.
300s: Social Science
Learning another person is a vast task, almost unspeakable in its breadth. It is not limited simply to customs and habits, which are difficult enough to perceive rightly, but encompasses the universes that are Giles, that are Fred.
Giles outlines his life in crusty, doughy words, speaking of duty and sacrifice. She learns of Jenny's death and Olivia's defection only through old diary entries; Giles lets her read the less personal diary he kept of Buffy's training, and she can read between the lines and learn his heart. He must have known she would, or else why share the books? Fred herself has no diary of Pylea, although now that it is later, she can write dispassionately about the demons, their customs and their way of life. She can even speak of cows without thinking of herself.
It is sensible for people of their social class and education to cohabit; they have no religion left over to them, no ethics that declares thou shalt not. All over England, men and women are bedding each other, in ways described by Masters and Johnson, Kinsey. People are only 63% of the time vanilla, and when Fred calculates their own percentage, she finds it considerably lower. But neither are they as alternative as they could be; they are slightly liberal but on the whole perfectly middle-of-the-road. There's the age gap, but their heterosexuality perhaps makes up for that. Statistics can't lie; statistics say she is, finally, normal.
It isn't entirely true that they are religionless, though even their belief has been secularized by their years in libraries. It's not difficult to feel holy in a library your first time, where the books seem chained and ordered as if they had mystical properties (and some do, of course, as Fred now knows), but after re-shelving and repairing books for even half a year, you learn that books are not gods, but just as human as yourself, as fallible as Giles and as fragile as Fred.
They've both experienced disillusion before, however -- Fred was, an impossibly long time ago, a Baptist, and stood in almost sacrilegious awe of the baptismal font until, at age seven, she figured out how the water was pumped from the church's well to the sanctuary and felt for the first time the click of discovery that eroded the fascination she had once had with God.
For his part, Giles -- Rupert; now he is named Rupert (things change, names change, people aren't called what they once were) -- has always been a skeptic, and when he was seven, he was forced to reconsider even that most basic atheism, when he learned that gods were real and also dangerous, and that his sacred duty was to aid in their demise. It was, for a thickset and bespectacled young man, quite a disappointment, though Giles tells the story as a mere anecdote, a moment out of time when he was young and foolish.
Fred thinks perhaps Giles is a little jealous because she is still both.
Knowing Rupert Giles becomes simple with time, like riding a bicycle, like doing trig. Understanding another person, Fred learns, has learned, is learning, is simply a matter of perspective. If you stand too far away, they are blurry with distance, and if you stand too close, you blend into your subject, become the same person. Relationships are levers, and love is the fulcrum. This is easy, now that she knows it.
Knowing herself is still the fundamental question. Who am I? She thought if she left California, she wouldn't have to learn the answer, that if she didn't confront her past, she would be selfless, a free-floating humanoid creature with no past and no destiny. But she has found a place in England, and having a place gives her a name. They've divided their personal library into two sections, his books lining the walls above his desk, her books filling three bookcases and then stacked knee-high on the office floor. She has accumulated possessions, and these give her an identity. She's shared her bed with someone, told him her secrets, and that is another fragment of selfhood.
Having a self is like a shell, a multi-colored sheen of sediment that's painted over her skin, giving her meaning, making her Fred. Like a book with a blurb on its back cover, Fred can now be classified, catalogued. She isn't crazy anymore.