One Thousand Miles Of Sky
written by Athenae
Spoilers: Futurefic. Long past "Chosen,".
Summary: Giles, separated from the others, goes his own way in the desert, and looks for miracles.
Thanks: The lovely and talented Ruth without whom this story would have taken a much different turn, into suckitude and a place in
my unfinished fic hall of fame. And the darling Shelley who listened to me whine and whine about finishing it.
Feedback Author: Athenae
Author's LJ: To All The Ports Of Call
I am a man... Little do I last, and the night is enormous.
But I look up. The stars write. Unknowing, I understand.
I too am written, and at this very moment, someone spells me out...
* * * * *
Sun in his eyes.
Sand in his hair and his shoes.
A song, drifting over the waking city, prayer of hope for the day to come, echoing from hillside to hillside, mosque to mosque. Glory be
to God for this place, for this terrible land of rock and solitude, where nothing will grow and many have wandered, where I come to find
A healer's hands on his scarred back, taking away the last, the deepest and darkest and last, of his worst memories.
* * * * *
He'd started smoking again about a week before this whole thing began. He needed something to do while he waited, for the embassy to send
him his visa stamp, for the hotel to find his reservation, for the customs agents to complete their fondling of his underwear.
The Jordanian Mind Fuck, Xander called it. The tendency to make everything as complicated as it could possibly be and then twice as dull. There's no way around it. Yelling offends them and frustration only amuses them. The best way to deal with it is to take a deep breath, and wait. Things always sort themselves out.
The customs agent fingered his batteries.
"If you want them, you can have them," Giles told him, irritably. "I have a visa. Also, a reservation I'm about to be very late for, so
if you'll just give me my bags back ..."
The agent smiled, put the batteries back, and commenced feeling through every one of the five shirts he'd carefully folded, about 12 hours
ago, in Bath.
Giles lit a cigarette. There had been a baby on the flight, about two rows back, which had screamed the entire journey. The scotch he'd
downed in an effort to dull his headache only made the ringing in his ears seem louder. So far, he had done exactly nothing the way
Xander had told him to do it.
"Don't drink on the flight. You'll wake up hung over and the last thing you want to be in 104-degree heat is nauseous. Unless you like puking your way around the globe."
The satellite phone call to Xander had been brief, the boy (must stop thinking of him that way, one of these days) having only been to Jordan once, but that was one more time than Giles himself had been there, so he needed advice.
"Who is she?" Xander's voice, tinny over the terrible connection, sounded like it was coming from down a long tunnel.
"A healer, we're told," he replied, shoving a notebook and pens into another duffel pocket. A small tape recorder, a collapsible hat. Sandals. "Goes about telling women she can cure their mental illnesses, or some such, with magic. Embassy ran across her, implicates her in the death of the ambassador's housekeeper. Wants me to check her out."
At last, the agent seemed finished with him. Giles glanced at the woman behind him in line, swathed in a long green hijab and black designer suit. She had opened her suitcase and he smothered a smile at its contents – about 12 pounds of Starbucks coffee.
"Thank you," Giles told the agent as he took his passport, now entry-stamped, back. Then, remembering his phrasebook studies on the plane, he covered his hand with his heart and murmured, "Shukran."
When he'd asked Xander what to expect from the country, Xander went silent for a moment, then said, "Well, go straight to the hotel once you land and don't go out again until the next morning. Get yourself acclimated and get over the jet lag. Give yourself some time to get used to the heat, the noise, the …" he trailed off, his voice becoming muffled. "It's something, Giles, it really is. I'd also hire a translator and driver if it was me."
"I'm sure I can get by," he said, the linguist in him rebelling against the idea of conversing through another person. "I'll have plenty of time to brush up on useful phrases on the plane. And I rather like the idea of touring under my own power."
Xander's laughter was harsh, even over the distance. "Giles, Jordanian drivers … let's put it this way, the traffic signals are really more of a polite suggestion. Half the cabbies are certifiably insane. Trust me, you want a driver."
He sat down on the bed, wishing he was able to see Xander, gauge for himself how the boy was doing. "Are you staying long in Tobruk?" he asked, trying for casual and failing spectacularly.
"I don't think so," Xander said after a moment of static. "There's a girl in Nyarubuye …"
"Rwanda?" Giles closed his eyes. "Xander, I thought Willow and Buffy warned you to be careful …"
"They did." Xander's voice hardened down the line. "But I've heard the story now from two people, about how she saved seventeen members of her village from the genocide, and I need to see –" he broke off, and laughed again. "Be careful yourself," he said at last. "I've got to go."
He didn't wait for Giles to say goodbye, just clicked off, and Giles stared down at the hotel name and phone numbers, the other notes he'd jotted down on the pad on his desk.
"Don't miss Petra," he'd written.
* * * * *
Allahu ackbar … allahu ackbar … Ash-hadu an la ilaaha illa llah …
The murmured call, half spoken half song, ended and Giles looked at his watch. 5 a.m. He wasn't in the slightest tired.
He flipped once more through the hotel's five television channels: international news, Arabic-dubbed music videos, American sitcoms, obscure films and a test pattern; sighed and pulled out the file again.
Peter had called from the Foreign Office at 8 a.m. last week Monday, while Giles was out running. The message was his usual mix of jovial and cryptic: "Fax coming in. Old business. Check it out, if you'd be so kind. Don't do anything I wouldn't do. Know that doesn't leave you with much."
"Old business" meant witches, warlocks, assorted goblins. It meant things Peter might have forwarded to the Council, once upon a time.
"If you'd be so kind" meant there would be payment at the end of it which would be more than welcome, Giles thought, pulling a threadbare pair of jeans and jacket that had seen better decades out of his duffel. He called down to room service for some of the Turkish coffee Xander had told him about and set about reading the file.
The fax had consisted of telegrams, a series of them, the earliest in 1952, from the British Embassy in Amman to the Foreign Office. NURSE ADVISES WOMAN DOCTOR OPERATING CLINIC IN JEBEL AMMAN SERVING ORPHANED STREET CHILDREN STOP BRITISH SUBJECT STOP UNUSUAL MEDICAL TECHNIQUES STOP PLEASE ADVISE STOP. There was no record, then, of a reply.
In 1973, it was BRITISH DOCTOR IN SLUMS PRACTICES FAITH HEALING STOP CONCENTRATING ON PALESTINIAN REFUGEES STOP ATTRACTING ATTENTION OF LOCAL AID AGENCIES PLEASE ADVISE STOP. A curt letter was attached to this, on the stationary of a Lord Brideleigh, saying that the matter had been "thoroughly investigated and dispensed with."
In 1998, RAN ACROSS DOCTOR IN AMMAN STOP LOCAL TRANSLATOR INTRODUCED HER AS MADELINE ADDINGTON STOP HAVE MADE INQUIRIES INTO MEDICAL LICENSE AND IS NOT POSSIBLE STOP. The same stationary, with a different signature, informed the sender "surely you must be joking."
Then, shortly after the first of this year, a death certificate. Dalila Hammad, housekeeper, age 53, died under "suspicious circumstances." And one final telegram.
AMBASSADOR INSISTS UPON ACTION STOP BRIDELEIGH BE DAMNED STOP PLEASE ADVISE SOONEST STOP.
Peter's note at the bottom of the fax was instructive: "As I found when I started in on this six months ago, we've had queries about this woman many times over the years, and every time they've been quashed by Lord Brideleigh or his heirs, but lately, political situation being what it is, some people over there are starting to get insistent about making sure we know what our people are about. When this housekeeper, who worked in the ambassador's residence, turned up dead, well, it was hard for even a man of Brideleigh's influence to stymie the inquiries, especially considering the discrepancies.
"What discrepancies, you ask? Well, just to whet your whistle a bit, Madeline Addington, to the best of our knowledge was born April 4, 1892 to Josiah and Beatrice Addington of the Royal Geographical Society, in Cairo. Which would make the fiftyish woman the ambassador swore he met at a party last year at least one hundred and twelve years old.
"I think, old friend, that this would be right up your alley."
* * * * *
Giles was eloquent in French and Latin, well-versed in Sumerian, fluent but illiterate in Spanish and Gaelic and passable in Turkish.
Of all the tongues with which he was familiar, there was only one language he had learned through reading, not conversing in it.
"Twenty-three," the driver said, pointing at the bricked-up entrance to a shuttered shwarma stand.
"That can't be right," Giles muttered, more to himself than to the taxi man, and flipped once again through his phrasebook.
This is ridiculous, he thought, and then wondered if that phrase was in his reference. Take me to the medical house, he constructed from the page, then tried it out loud. The driver smothered a laugh, and Giles hoped that he had not just proposed to the man's sister through a mistake in pronunciation.
"Twenty-three Al-Buhtari," the driver repeated, then leaned out of the car and shouted to a couple walking by. "Btihki ingleisee?"
The man nodded and the couple came over and chatted with the driver for a moment, then the man turned to Giles and said, very slowly, "He say you ask to come here. To twenty-three."
"I am looking for a doctor," Giles said, smiling broadly and hoping he wasn't making too much of an ass of himself. "Um, ana Biritanee, and, er, bloody hell, clinic?"
The woman stared at him, and Giles addressed the question to her. "Hospital? Mitaasfeh, mabahki arabee, lady doctor?"
"Oh, for God's sakes," a voice rang out behind them, "I'm right here."
* * * * *
"I was watching you from the upper window," Madeline Addington said, "and while it was very amusing, I was a bit worried the next thing out of your mouth would be 'Please help me, I'm a paranormal investigator of some sort as well as a complete git,' and then we'd be off to the races, wouldn't we?"
Giles felt, not for the first time in this country, that he'd had the breath knocked out of him. He followed Dr. Addington up a narrow staircase that opened from the back of the shwarma hut, its walls whitewashed and smelling faintly of antiseptic.
She continued, "Really, it was enough of an imposition having that Doyle society – Doilies, I call 'em – calling my office, tracking down my patients, asking if they could see through me or did I sparkle in any way. Now they've set you on me." She sounded more amused than angry, and he wondered when the Doyle group had contacted her; why that information wasn't in Peter's file. "Name?"
"Rupert Giles." They stepped into an airy upper floor, with rosy tile floor and green-surfaced desks.
"Mm," she replied, as though he had given her his blood pressure. "And you are with?"
He shook himself. You're here to investigate her, not the other way round. Must stop acting like a schoolboy called on the carpet. She had tanned and freckled skin that crinkled in pale lines around her mouth, and close-cropped, reddish hair.
"The Doyle Society asked me to come and speak with you," he said to her back, as she fussed with a sort of complicated espresso pot on a small burner. Not entirely truthful, but it would do for the moment. "They're concerned —"
"The British Foreign Minister is concerned that his ambassador's housekeeper may have been murdered," she interrupted. "Since I was treating poor Dalila, and since they cannot determine what killed her, they cast me as the Angel of Death. Couple that with some rather unorthodox birth records, and here they come, the fairy-chasers and the seers, who think they can detect my aura when they can't even find the front door."
She set the pot on the flame for a moment, the pungent fumes of thick sweet coffee filling the warm air, and smiled at him, a little proud, a little sly. Her eyes were hazel.
"The only reason you found it is because I came out and got you," she said, turning off the burner and pouring the sludgy black liquid into two tiny glasses. She dropped a green coffee bean into each and slid one across the desk to him, taking her seat behind it and gesturing him into a chair. "This place is warded, only those who truly need me can find it without help."
"You are a witch, then," Giles said, feeling foolish.
"That," she replied, "in and of itself, is not a crime, though it wouldn't do well to advertise the fact. The government here is quite tolerant, so long as you keep your non-believer status to yourself."
She sipped at the coffee.
"Do you prefer that I call you Doctor?" he asked, trying to restore some sense of control to the conversation.
"Addy." She was a little sarcastic. "I can already tell we're going to be great friends."
"The reason I'm here —"
"I have a reflection," she said, slipping a compact mirror out of her jacket pocket and holding it up to her face. "A stake to the heart will indeed kill me, but there would be quite a lot of blood and I don't think we should muss up the place. As you can see from my skin I have spent a bit of time in the sun, and if you'd like to feel my pulse, you'll have to send me flowers first."
He raised an eyebrow. "Oh, don't look so shocked," she scoffed. "If it isn't ghosts, those Doyle people said, are you a vampire? We know someone who's interested in those. I presume that's you."
She was direct, he would try directness in hopes of throwing her off balance. "Are you hiding something?"
She laughed. "This is your first trip to the Middle East, isn't it?"
"I don't make a habit of vacationing in places with this many high explosives at hand."
"Well, stay here more than one night and you'll find that there are very few people here who are not hiding something. Broken hearts, politics, killing, betrayals … if you came here to hide you could disappear tomorrow and never be found." She ran a hand through her hair, silver bangles clattering on her thin wrist. "So I suppose you might infer something from the fact that I'm sitting here, talking quite openly with you."
He frowned, something tickling at the back of his mind. "How did you know I'd only been here one night," he asked. "Perhaps I've been here for weeks, getting the lay of the land."
In answer she downed the rest of her coffee in a gulp, then stood and went to a cabinet on the wall. Pulling down a small tube, she tossed it to him.
"You aren't wearing any sunscreen." That smile again. "Put some on the tops of your ears, they're starting to burn."
* * * * *
The bearded bird merchant leaned out of his storefront, an enormous green parrot hanging on for dear life to his sleeve.
"Pretty friend for the lady!" he shouted.
"No, thank you, Walid," Addy called back, waving. "Tomorrow, perhaps."
"Walid Ibrahim, third generation Palestinian refugee and amateur linguist," she explained to Giles as they sidestepped a man selling cassette tapes from a cardboard box on the curb. "Every day, he practices his English by trying to get me to buy that horrid thing. It knows the punch lines to several very dirty limericks and likes to shout them at children."
They turned onto a narrow street, and the noise of the vendors faded behind them. Giles looked up, the buildings above him very shabby and gray, and it suddenly occurred to him that he was following a complete stranger down an unfamiliar street in a country where he did not speak the language.
"Look, over there," she pointed. "Roman aqueduct. The Iraqi refugees who came here during the last war built shelters over them. Poured the concrete right on top."
Instantly distracted, the historian in him rebelled almost physically. "Can't the government do something to stop it?"
"The government sells petrol on Thursdays. My block has running water two days a week. The government has bigger problems than old stones." She relented with a smile. "I know, it's enraging, isn't it? But you can't eat a pretty Roman arch, and they're certainly not making much money from giving guided tours of the ruins these days."
"I saw a large number of very fine tourist hotels as I came in from the airport," Giles offered, taking note of the people she nodded to, the children she patted on the head as she walked past. He could circle back tomorrow, if only he paid attention to the way.
"Yes," she replied, taking a sharp turn down an alley that led, inexplicably, upward. "After the 1994 peace treaty with Israel, the Jordanians anticipated a massive rush in tourism. They threw up the Hilton, the Intercontinental, the Sheraton. Even that Howard Johnson. They're all pretty much empty now, the Palestinian situation being what it is. You can stay at a five-star hotel in Amman cheaper than anywhere else in the world."
She stopped, and he stepped forward. "Here we are."
It was extraordinary. Row on row of tiny storefronts, all of them filled to bursting with long strands of shining metal, glittering in the midday sun. Black velvet trays piled with rings, stacks of bangles and pendants, all in the richest orange-yellow gold he'd ever seen. The street twisted round and upward, every window displaying the same riches, like the yellow brick road of Oz.
"Where on earth …"
"The gold souk," she said, admiring bracelets in the nearest window. "Merchants from all over the world come to this market because the metal is so cheap and plentiful here, and popular with the locals. Combined, it makes this a wonderful place to seek information. It's quite something, isn't it?"
"Why did you bring me here?" he asked, and she turned it around on him.
"Why did you follow when I asked if you'd join me on a walk?"
"I have been engaged to learn more about you," he said, truthfully. "That includes learning about the place you've chosen to live." There were threads of gold in her hair, and flecks of it in her eyes. "Do you do much shopping here?"
She laughed. "No," she replied. "I much prefer silver."
* * * * *
She led him back through the winding streets of Amman, sidestepping taxis that simply used the sidewalk when the street's width proved insufficient, and bade him goodbye with a promise to meet him at the Roman Forum, day after tomorrow.
"That should give you enough time to complete your investigation," Addy said, smiling that infuriating smile. "I look forward to learning what you learn about me."
He watched her walk away. Her red hair bobbed above the crowd of men in keffiyahs and women in black chadors, until she turned the corner, and he was left in the crowded downtown, surrounded, but alone.
The taxi driver whose car he climbed into spoke no English at all, and looked perplexed when Giles mentioned his hotel. The name of the neighborhood, Shmeisani, worked, however, and they spent the next 45 minutes driving up and down the streets of that section of town, very pleasantly lost, until Giles spotted the hotel out the window.
"I'll need to place a call to England," he said to the young, tidily uniformed desk clerk, stepping inside the air-conditioned vaccuum of the Al-Qasr Hotel.
"Of course, sir, the phone is over there," the clerk said, smiling hopefully.
"No, thank you, the phone in my room works very well," Giles said. "I simply can't get it to call out of this building."
"But we have everything you need right here!" the young man beamed.
Dear God. Giles took a deep breath. Remember what Xander said, and just be patient. It will sort itself out.
Or not, as the clerk brought out a teapot and two cups, and began pouring, clearly delighting in the possibility of a lengthy conversation.
"Do you have a pseudo-scientific group obssessed with a dead writer of detective stories that goes on fairy-hunting expeditions in Cornwall?" Giles asked, hoping his smile was more sincere than the stretched muscles of his face would have him believe. "I'm rather in need of that at the moment."
The clerk's face fell. "Here," he said sadly, pulling the desk phone over and miming the correct sequence of numbers.
Winston's voice was crackly and a few seconds behind, so he and Giles kept talking over one another. "Yars, we ran across her few months back, but we didn't do too much with her once we'd determined she was corporeal. Figured it was a lot of nonsense. Still think so, as a matter of fact. She's murdering people, let the police sort it out, right?"
"Hmm," Giles murmured, and Winston Dobson cut in midsentence, "ought to come and check it out."
"Check what out?" He could hear, faintly, music in the background, and Millicent Milverton's high quavering voice calling for something.
"The seances, we've started them again, key was moving the table," Dobson enthused. "Millie really thinks she's on to something now—"
"Yes, well, you've been very helpful," Giles said, wondering, as he always did when his work brought him into contact with this particular group of loonies, whether someday in the future it would be possibe to throttle someone over the phone.
"I do have some names I could give you, former patients we interviewed," Dobson offered, as Millicent's voice faded out again. "Back when we thought she was something from the Spirit World. Where shall I send them?"
* * * * *
"Charlie Elliott, deputy ambassador," the young man said cheerfully. "Peter called from London, oh, ass o'clock in the morning about a week ago, said you'd be coming by. Have some experience in this, debunking cults and the like, right? Glad you could help."
"I'm glad as well," Giles responded smoothly, sipping the man's excellent tea. Must have it imported, along with his hideous red braces. "What can you tell me about your dealings with Doctor Addington? How did she come to your attention?"
"Met her at a party, actually," Charlie said, "ambassador's house. He has them for expats mostly, author who was visiting, journalists, local bigwigs, bank presidents and such. And the ambassador's wife, who brought the doctor along. Said she was helping her with headaches or something.
"In any case, we were all standing round having a drink and a perfectly lovely talk, when the maid started screaming."
"Screaming?" Giles was startled.
"Right. She took one look at Doctor Addington and broke into a fit of hysterics. Well, of course, Dotty asked the good doc to have a look at her, and so they went off into another room and weren't seen again for the rest of the party."
Charlie's demeanor sobered. "Next morning, woman was found dead in her bedroom, horrendous trauma for everybody. Dotty was sick for days about it, blamed the doctor, said she'd been treating the maid for years and must have known something was wrong. She's been kicking up an enormous fuss about it ever since."
"How did the maid die?" Giles asked, accepting the cigarette the younger man offered.
"That's the thing, or else we'd have just charged the good doc with murder and let everything work itself out in the court system back home." Charlie looked down at his hands. "It was a massive blunt trauma to the chest. Like a freight train had slammed into her at a hundred miles an hour. Nobody knows what killed her. Nobody knows what could have."
* * * * *
"The woman is a menace," Dorothy Needling-Smith said savagely, stalking back and forth behind a large oak desk, her tall thin heels stabbing into the carpet. "Dalila Hammad was my housekeeper for seven years, a charming woman from a lovely family, and to be killed in my own home …" She pressed a hand to her forehead. "For the doctor to say she knows nothing about it, why, it's simply too much to believe."
The Needling-Smiths and their staff lived in one of Amman's finer homes, a rose-peach stone dwelling atop a hill, built not more than five years ago, Giles estimated. The entranceway was marble, the furniture was French, the paintings large and gilt-framed. Mrs. Needling-Smith herself put him in mind of something gold-leaf, blonde and frosted, dressed in a yellow dress.
"You first engaged Doctor Addington to assist you with some headaches, madam, is that correct?" She nodded, and Giles leaned back on his heels, wishing she would ask him to sit. He envied Muhammad, who he could see from the large window of Mrs. Needling-Smith's vast parlor, smoking and leaning against his cab in the sun.
The taxi driver who picked him up at the embassy had seen his confusion and offered to translate, and drive him wherever he wished, for 30 pound a day. Baffled by street signs, trying to find the ambassador's residence in the rabbit warren of downtown Amman, Giles had thrown up his hands and agreed.
"How did you come to discover the doctor's services?"
"Dalila's mother, actually, who was my housekeeper before her daughter, remembered a doctor she had been to years before," the woman said. "She suggested I seek Doctor Addington out, and the next day, offered to take me to her office. Said it was a bit hard to find, and it was, sort of tucked away."
"Were her remedies effective?" Giles asked, and her face softened for the first time.
"Oh, yes," she said enthusiastically. "They're powders, you just mix them in with water and they help enormously." She pulled an envelope out of her drawer and held it out.
Giles opened it and looked, then sniffed. He wet a finger and dipped it in, then tasted. Sweet, without the bitter chalky taste one associates with analgesics, or the herb smell one would expect from a charm or potion. Sugar, he decided, and hid a smile as he handed it back. Mrs. Needling-Smith had continued her story, but by this point, having heard it all from Charlie, he was barely paying attention.
"So my husband calls the Foreign Office, and did you know what they told him?" Giles shook his head, though he had some idea. "That if she was who she says she is, their records indicated she was more than a hundred years old! A hundred!
"Clearly something is very wrong here, and I insisted something be done. We simply cannot have this, some woman running around the city telling people she's more than a hundred years old and can cure their personal problems as well as their illnesses, and who knows how many more have turned up dead?"
He stood straighter, sensing she was winding herself down. "Tell me again, ma'am, about the night of the party. How long had Doctor Addington been here before Dalila noticed her?"
"Perhaps an hour." Finally, she motioned him into the uncomfortable gilded loveseat behind him and sat down in her own leather armchair. "We had been talking about the political situation in Israel and Palestine, and what was to be done. Dalila had come in to refill the punch bowl, and the next thing I know she dropped the pitcher. Glass, pink lemonade, all over the floor. Then she started to scream.
"The Doctor was looking right at her, and I saw how pale she had become. She walked right over to Dalila and began talking to her, in a low voice. I couldn't hear what she was saying. Then they left the room together and I followed them."
"Where did they go?"
"Up the back staircase to Dalila's rooms. She's lived here for three years, since her husband died. Her daughter lives in town, on her own. I followed them up the stairs and stopped outside the room. They were whispering. Something about returning to a place. Then they began speaking in another language, not Arabic. I thought it was Latin. Then Doctor Addington saw me."
Mrs. Needling-Smith closed her eyes. "She said something quickly and left the room, not even bothering to speak to me. I stayed behind to speak to Dalila, but she swore she was all right, that it had been a momentary attack of nerves, nothing more."
"Did the doctor leave your house immediately after getting her settled?" Giles asked.
"She did," Mrs. Needling-Smith admitted. "Robert, my husband, said that he would see her home, but she apparently told him, in so many words, to get lost."
"And the next morning?"
"The next morning I went looking for Dalila when I rose and there was no coffee made. It's not often she neglects her duties. I found her … " she raised a trembling hand to her throat. "Her chest was crushed in like something massive had stepped on her."
"Why do you suspect the doctor?"
"Because apart from myself, she was the last person to see Dalila alive. The police questioned her, of course, about her whereabouts after she left the house. She wouldn’t answer them. Fools."
"I've read their reports," Giles reminded her. "They found nothing in her office or in their interviews with her to indicate she was responsible."
"And nothing to say that she wasn't, either." She stood. "I think I've told you enough."
At the door, Giles turned. "There's just one thing I'd like to point out," he said. "Madeline Addington wasn't the last person to see Dalila Hammad alive."
She was silent, looking at him warily, and he held her gaze.
* * * * *
"Doctor did not kill her mother," Muhammad said, nodding emphatically, listening as the young, hijab-clad woman pattered in a swift stream of Arabic, bottomless brown eyes fixed on Giles. He liked her, the animated way her hands moved as she spoke. "Doctor is good, kind. Take care of her after mother die."
Rania Hammad's name was on the list of patients Dobson had faxed to the hotel, not knowing her mother was central to his investigation.
She had been reluctant to allow them in, until Muhammad, low, explained to Giles that they would leave the door open. Her landlord, who they'd passed on the stairs and who barely nodded at them, would then serve as chaperone.
"Ask her what the doctor did to help her," Giles prompted, "they first met about 12 years ago, correct?"
Muhammad translated quickly and the young woman asnwered. "She say the doctor work with her grandmother once, her grandmother a good healer. Her grandmother help the doctor, to find medicines, old kinds of medicines, in the desert."
"And in her case? What kind of medicine did she need?"
"She worries for having children. She says doctor puts her hands, here," Muhammad indicated his lower abdoment, "say she cannot have children. Say there is nothing she can do. She worries she will not find a husband. Doctor tell her not to worry, to do instead what she likes."
Giles looked at the girl, lovely of face and charming of manner, and thought she would not have as much trouble as she feared. "And your mother? For what illness was the doctor treating her?"
Rania answered quickly, and Muhammad shook his head, repeating the translation of Giles' question. Rania, looking annoyed, repeated her answer.
"She say her mother helping doctor." Muhammad sniffed, his face a mask of disapproval. "Her mother is the maid. Why does a doctor need the maid's help?"
Rania responded with a stream of speech that needed no translation, and Giles hid a smile, even in his confusion. "Ask her how her mother was helping."
Grudgingly, Muhammad complied, and Rania answered.
"She says her mother was … I do not know the English for this, a … medicine woman. For her family. She had many books on old, old medicines and the doctor spends many hours reading them."
"Tell her," Giles said slowly, looking at Rania now and not at Muhammad, "That I am very sorry for her loss. And if she needs assistance, financially, if she needs money, I can give her some people to talk to about …"
At this Rania laughed, and stood. From behind the settee on which Giles was sitting, she reached around and pulled out a canvas.
"She paint," Muhammad said, his gruff tone turning admiring as he looked at the picture. "She say rich Americans buy her art at market. She say when she is rich, she will do honor to her mother's name, and build a hospital for her."
Giles looked at the canvas she presented to him. Abstract reds and golds, swooping upward as a bird in flight, the very representation of a soul breaking out of its shell.
* * * * *
"Doctor Addy, she teaches my son and daughter games," Walid the bird merchant said as Giles pretended to admire his squawking wares. "She brings them sweets and plays with the birds. Once, she cooked dinner for all of us."
Walid's English, Addy's humorous description notwithstanding, was very fine. Muhammad looked bored, a blue parakeet perched on his shoulder as its mate circled his head. Giles smothered a laugh. "Does she take care of your children when they are sick?"
"She does, but only when I ask her. She came by one day, just out walking, and I asked her to look at the birds. She did not want to buy one, but she noticed my daughter was ill, very ---" Walid mimed sleeping, his folded hands against his beard. "She put her hands on my daughter's head, and said I needed to feed her different things, fruit, figs, instead of so much bread. She is right. Manal is much better now."
"Does she care for your son as well?" Giles asked, watching the little boy give birdseed to a cageful of finches.
Walid shook his head. "Not as much. She says I should take him to regular doctor, that she is better with girls. But he likes her."
"How does your wife feel about her children seeing such a doctor?"
At that question Walid looked down at his feet. "My wife, she died three years ago. I take care of the children alone."
Little Manal, who could not have been more than six, ran up to her father, her bright orange dress flying in the wind. She threw her arms around his legs and held on, tight.
* * * * *
Giles paid Muhammad and, with a quick glance at his map, decided to walk to the forum. After that conversation, he needed to clear his head and review what he'd learned today, before confronting Addy over dinner.
Why had he felt compelled to defend her to Dorothy Needling-Smith? Was it just the insufferable attitude of that woman, reminiscent of a thousand officious bureaucrats over the years? He had come to Amman to interrogate Madeline Addington, who might well be a murderer, not to defend her reputation, no matter how irritating those who assailed her might be. Get hold of yourself man, he thought sternly, how many things have you had to kill in your lifetime that looked harmless at first?
It was no use, however; every encounter only convinced him of her innocence. Mere opportunity did not necessarily a murderer make. Dalila Hammad had been giving the doctor her secrets, no need to kill for them. What he'd found was a kind woman who seemed to perform simple healing maneuvers on the people she met, who gave care to those who came to her and asked for it. There were clearly things he did not know, but perhaps one thing more than any other convinced him of her virtue: she had never once asserted it, to him or to anyone else.
Still, there was an odd guardedness there, a sense of watchful skittishness that intruded at odd moments. In her own office she sat with her back to the wall, in the gold souk she looked at each doorway, as though ticking off, on a mental list, those things which had and had not changed.
He looked up the road and saw her, standing in front of a group of Saudi men in long white robes, holding a camera. As they posed in front of the crumbling Roman columns, she snapped picture after picture, until they called out to her to stop.
* * * * *
They walked from the Roman Forum, cut into the hillside in downtown Amman, her long white skirt and sandals slapping against the ground, to a restaurant with lights strung from an outdoor canopy.
"So," she said, ordering a bottle of local white and plates of lamb and couscous for both of them, "tell me what you've learned about me."
Across the street from the terrace where they sat was a house. Giles could hear children playing in the yard, their laughter echoing in the gathering dark. He looked at Addy, who wore a blue shirt open at the throat, and was smiling at him as though this, her past, was a project they were engaged in completing together.
"I know you're a gifted healer," Giles said, "and not just because of your powers. Because of the way you listen, really listen, to your clients and their stories. That's terribly important in a leadership position, where you are responsible for others. They feel you have their best interests at heart, and after talking with them, I feel you do as well."
He expected her sarcastic bite this time, so it was tempered. "I'm glad my work pleases you."
"I also get the impression that you are not quite as adept at avoiding detection by the local authorities." He nodded at the waiter as their plates were set down. "The incident with the ambassador's wife, for example, which landed you in the trouble you're in."
"Ah, yes, dear Dotty. She is, you know, perfectly well." Addy sipped her wine. "There's nothing wrong with her that's not due to being bored and neglected by her husband. She invents the headaches to get attention, transparently. Pathetic, really."
The lamb was thick and flavorful, the couscous well-spiced, and he replied around a mouthful. "Charlie Elliott seemed to think, after the incident with the maid, that you had ingratiated yourself with her in order to press some sort of political objective."
"Hardly." She looked hard at him, nodding as if to encourage him on.
"Dalila's daughter is convinced you did not kill her mother, but she said something I found hard to understand." Giles looked back at her, judging her reaction carefully. She said you weren't treating her mother.
"She said her mother was treating you."
Addy looked away quickly, surprise rippling across her face. Giles couldn't shake the feeling that today had been some sort of test of his abilities, a confirmation of whatever impression she had formed yesterday (was it just yesterday?) when they first met. She seemed to be feeling the ground with him, seeing if it was solid enough to stand on. What did she want from him, he wondered, and had he passed the test?
"Are you ill in some way?" He cast about for an explanation. "Were you … losing your power? Is that what Dalila was assisting you with?"
She would not turn to look at him. "Perhaps I did kill her," she said softly, her bravado and sarcastic nonchalance falling from her like a veil. "You barely know me. You have no way to say if I did or didn't. Perhaps I'm thinking of ways, more subtle to be sure, to kill you right now."
She looked very pale, twisting her napkin in her lap and looking at the exit, as if ready to bolt. He sat back in his chair and picked up his wineglass, sipping from it with a calm calculated to soothe her.
"Addy, I know killers. I know people — beings — who have murdered and destroyed, I know those who have been harmed by it, and those who have no regrets. My ideas about crime and punishment aside, I've come to know that it is not actions but their motivations that reveal evil. I've come to recognize —" carefully now "— those who kill for pleasure, those who kill out of folly, and those who do so out of necessity. Even if, at times, I've seen all three faces in my mirror in the morning."
She turned back, shocked, and he nodded at her. "It took me quite some time to understand it myself," he said. "You heal children, Addy. You help the daughter of the woman you supposedly slaughtered secure an apartment and a vocation. You are not careless, nor are you vicious. That much I've learned about you today. But something is pursuing you, killing someone who was assisting you. And what that is, I cannot find out anything about but from you."
He leaned forward. "Trust me with your story, Addy, please. Let me help you."
She looked down at his hands, now covering hers. He felt a flush in his cheeks and withdrew them quickly, wondering if he'd frightened her back into that brave, teasing shell she wore. But her eyes were very bright, and when he nodded at her, she spoke.
"How much do you know about Josiah and Beatrice Addington?" she asked.
"Not much," he admitted. "That they were your parents. That they raised you in Yorkshire and later brought you here to the Middle East."
He could not read the sudden smile that crossed her face.
"They were cartographers, with the Royal Geographical Society, working in Damascus in 1903. It was a heady time; Ibrahim Pasha had created a secular government that put Christians and Jews on equal footing with Muslims, schools were being built, courts established. The Society sent them to establish an office there, to use as a gateway to exploring the entire region.
"But there was another reason they came here. Think of your own experience … a museum, or bookstore, right? That was your cover job?"
He frowned at her easy knowledge. "Your father's name was Josiah Addington ... J ... A ... Royal Geographical ... Good God, he was Council, wasn't he?"
Eyes very bright, she nodded. "I recognized the look the moment I saw you and wondered if they still spoke of him."
"There is a Watcher in the records at the turn of the century noted only as JOA, but his accounts are legendary," he said, becoming enthused as he remembered the haunting tales. "His final slayer was one of a very few to have magical skill as well as slayer abilities. She went with him to Syria, to explore rumors of a hellmouth there, I think, and as of five years ago the locals still sent occasional information to the council, the long-lasting effects of her work. She, along with him and his entire family, died defeating a vengeance demon calling himself The Prophet, said to be as powerful as The Master. I used to set her stories in front of my ... She was ..." He stopped.
Long-sleeved blouses and long skirts in the intolerable heat, deference to local custom, he'd assumed. The way she never turned her back to him. The way she paid attention while they ate, her eyes darting this way and that, covering every window and door. The way she coiled when someone approached her unexpectedly, the way ...
Addy's smile was infinitely sad.
"Good God," he breathed out. "It can't be, but ... it was there all along. I simply didn't see it."
She took a gulp from her wine glass. "To be fair," she said hoarsely, "I didn't exactly give you much chance to stop and look."
They stared at one another for a long moment, Watcher to Slayer. Here, he thought, was the reason she had struck such a chord in him. Here was the reason he looked at her and could not look away.
"What parts of the records are true?" He finally asked. "Because clearly, you are not dead," and she smiled.
"The Addington family moved to Damascus in 1903, that is true. The Council supported the idea because it gave them a portal into a whole other region of magical activity, and rumors of a hellmouth proved irresistable to both Josiah and I. The Addingtons' daughter, Madeline, was 12 years old.
"I came with them as well, but in secret, listed nowhere but in the Council's books. Passenger manifests were falsified, visas were faked, and I never left their hotel in daylight. For three years, Josiah and I worked to set up a network of local informants to discover where the hellmouth was, and who or what was waiting at its borders, and it seems we got too close."
"The Prophet found you first," he said, reaching out to touch her cold hand, and remembering the story. "He followed you back from the ... date seller, wasn't it, who was your informant?"
"Yes," she replied. "But everything you know from there on out is a lie."
The carpets of their five-room flat were soaked with blood, obscuring the gold pattern little Madeline had loved to follow with her fingers, tracing circles and hexagons in the plush. Josiah was dead, and Beatrice and Madeline were dying. Looming over them, the thin man in the brown jellabiyah glared at her as she approached, the curve of her axe flashing in the low pre-dawn light.
"He claimed vengeance for the murders of a Bedouin family out in the Eastern Desert, whose killers had one of Josiah's maps with them. I could not judge the truth of his story, but regardless of that, I do not see where Madeline fit into his vicious balance. She used to bring me her dolls to bind their imaginary wounds. She was blameless."
"I killed him, not nearly as slowly as I would have liked," she said dispassionately, and for a moment he was reminded of Faith. "In retrospect, I suppose I took a little too much time anyway, for he worked his own curse on me."
"Immortality," he said, and she smiled, bitterly.
"'Bu uzakta sen-ecek yürümek ve hayir uzak,' is what he told me."
"Turkish," he said, recognizing it and aching for her. "'This far you will walk, and no farther.'"
"He said something else, as well, something I suspected but didn't fully understand until days later, when I was able to get out of Damascus and contact one of Josiah's university friends, under an assumed name, of course. The translation they came up with was, 'and no longer be what you were.'"
"He took your powers." Giles was staggered, remembering how devastated Buffy had been during the Cruciamentum. To live like that, helpless … for nearly 100 years … "Took your powers from you and condemned you to live forever without them … God, Addy …"
She pushed up her sleeves, and he saw, raking her forearms, thick, deep, dead-white scars against her freckly tan. "He did, though, leave me these. The ones on my legs and back are much worse. It's good in a way, the reminders. I never have to wonder how my life happened to me."
"Why were the records falsified?" Giles asked. "Why was the council not informed of your survival?"
"For my protection. The definition of a Prophet is one who has followers, and if his knew I was alive, I feared there would be a concerted effort to find me. I'm not indestructible, nor has long life inured me to fear. So I took the name of a child who was sweetly remembered, and lived as Madeline Addington, a harmless orphan, who went to home to England for University and studied medicine, because it is a field of lifelong learning which will always be useful. My life is long, and I do not wish to be useless. When I finished my studies, I came back here, where I knew the culture and the people and knew I would be needed."
He protested, the words out before he thought about them. "Your slayer abilities ... You could have come back to the Council, they would have tried to help, perhaps assigned you another watcher—"
"Who would have been endangered by my presence, and would have been killed. I had three innocents on my conscience, Rupert. I had no need of others."
"Did they never investigate, look for your body?"
"They might have tried, but the next Slayer had already been called. The loss of my powers so suddenly, catastrophically, registered in the Line as a death. Which, I suppose, it was." She paused. "They looked as hard as they felt like looking, but they had a new girl to contend with."
"But to live all alone … what about your original family?"
"Orphaned," she explained. "It's why I found it so easy to travel with the Addingtons, play big sister to little Madeline. They were the only family I really knew. As for living on my own, in the first few years I had help, of course."
Her eyes crinkled. "Archibald was a friend of Josiah's from childhood, knew everything about the Mission, and understood my desire to hide from his life. As a tribute to his friend, he gave me shelter and paid my medical school costs, which let me obtain my license and allowed me to set up this clinic here. Now his son protects me as much as he can, knowing only what he has to: that the clinic I run was the beneficiary of much of his father's charity, and that he should assist me as much as possible in keeping government functionaries out of my way. It's worked very well over the years."
"Until Dalila Hammad died." She nodded. "What killed her, Addy? I can't believe it of you."
"Vengeance demons …" she looked away, and he fought off a vision of Anya, bright hair and eyes. "They're long-lived and successful, and it's not because of the dearth of slayers in the world. It's because vengeance does not die with the one who made the wish, or the one who is helping to carry it out. Vengeance, in the memory of these creatures, lives forever. When one cannot carry out the wish, the others ... pick up the work, so to speak."
"I don't understand what you're trying to tell me, Addy."
"There is a way to reverse the Prophet's Curse. Dalila Hamad, a very powerful witch in her own right, found it."
"And the Prophet's people returned to prevent her from giving it to you. Or …" A chilll ran though him, remembering the sketches in the file. "Is it the Prophet himself?"
She looked away. "I don't know that for sure. I was sure I saw him dead. I saw his body. But I'd never faced a vengeance demon before; I may not have known the signs. I can't say for certain that he hasn't come back. It might just be one of his imitators."
"But you suspect."
It wasn't a question. Her words weren't an answer. "I suspect."
"Dalila Hamad died from massive chest trauma," he said, very gently, seeing the way she twisted her hands together. "Not from being bled, as Josiah and Beatrice Addington were."
"I know," she said. "But different curses call for different means, and why else would she be killed?" For the first time, fear crossed her face. "Would that he had just killed me, instead of poor Dalila ..."
"Addy," he asked after a moment, "why did you want to reverse the Prophet's spell? Are you trying to kill yourself?"
She sighed, humming something under her breath for a moment. "Rupert, if I wanted to kill myself, I could have done it," she said finally, very low. "I can bruise; I broke my ankle once, years ago. I can be harmed. I could walk in front of a bus tomorrow and end the entire sorry business. I could have done it on my 63rd birthday, when it finally sank in that this was as far as I would be walking. Or on my 100th, when I began to feel the futility of it all.
"I've seen so much in this place, so many extraordinary lives spring up from nothing but rocks. You feel it here, too, I know you do, the feeling that if one single stone in this place is yours, you'd fight for it with all you have?" He nodded. "There have been many, many people I've been able to heal, to help, and that has kept me going. But I am getting tired."
She reached up and pushed a hand through her hair. "I don't want to commit suicide. I do very much want to grow old, and sit on my porch in the sunset, and feel this all ending. Does that make sense?"
And miles to go before you sleep, he thought, looking at her eyes, framed by the same wrinkles as were there fifty years before. He thought about the not-admitted aches in his joints after his morning run, about the weight of all the history he carried. How much was that burden lessened by the knowledge that he could one day lay it down?
He had seen enough to realize what a curse survival was.
Suddenly feeling that he'd drunk entirely too much wine, he found himself reaching out, felt the warmth of her hand under his, the tablecloth scratching at their fingers. She looked lighter, somehow, immeasurably relieved that her story was, once again, in the hands of a Watcher ... no, simply a friend.
And he could no longer pretend that the singing in his blood at the sight her face was mere recognition of a Slayer.
"What would you say," he said slowly, moving his hand up under the bottom of her thin linen sleeve, feeling her tense and then relax as he touched thick scar tissue, "if I told you that nothing I've seen or heard today disabuses me of my first impression of you?"
"I would ask what that impression was."
He leaned back in his chair and drained his glass. "That you were too smart and self-reliant by half, and very, very lovely."
She met his eyes for a long moment, and then bent her head down to rest her lips on the back of his hand. He felt her breath, warm and dry, like the wind in this place, like the early morning air.
When she raised her head again, it was with a smile that said they were no longer uneasy adversaries, they were allies, and the thrill of partnership and something more threaded through her eyes.
"Well," Addy said with the direct abruptness he'd come to expect from her, motioning over her shoulder for the check, "I think you'd better show me where you're staying."
* * * * *
Her body was hard, used by the heat and the sun, and the old scars did indeed run up and down her frame. This land and so much time had tempered her as attrition tempers rocks, the loose particles breaking off and flying away, the durable remaining. The tan ended at her forearms and ankles, a brown sugar triangle of skin at her throat, lines of demarcation showing him as surely as any map where she had been.
Since the moment he stepped off the plane, Giles had felt out of his depth in this place, overwhelmed at every corner by emotions he had not had use for in years: wonder at beauty, simple joy in conversation, and hunger for the solution to a mystery. Addy hadn't answered all his questions, he did not even know her real, her former, name.
Her fingertips stroked the scars across his back, and he could have loved her in that moment simply for not asking what they were, or where they came from. And the buzzing in his nerves subsided; the phantom pain in his hand and ribs that never really left him easing entirely, as he rose over her in the gathering dark.
He did not expect to find the end of her puzzle in his bed that night, but he did enjoy, as she gasped with pleasure and pressed her mouth to the base of his throat, the attempts to fit together the pieces.
Afterward they lay, drowsing, on his clean white hotel sheets. He had kept the window open, so the cool of early evening drifted in, and she sang something, low and under her breath. He tangled his fingers up in her hair.
"Drive through the Eastern Desert before you go," she said dreamily, her eyes closing and opening again, her head resting next to his on the pillow. "Get out of the crowded city and just drive. You take the King's Highway —" she traced a route down his shoulder "— and you'll be nowhere, sand on all four sides of you, and suddenly, out of nothing, there's an orchard. Or a group of camels walking. You get a sense of this place you'll never get from the city alone."
Shaking himself, not for the first time, he gave one last stab at duty. "Addy, would you consider … coming back to England with me?
"You could explain yourself to the government, you could … visit," he stumbled. "After all, you were born there."
She laughed again and shook her head. "Even if I had some perverse desire to explain myself to a group of people that thinks me a charlatan and a murderer, I'm not myself in England. I wake up screaming in the middle of the night, thinking my house is burning down. The crowds and rain and darkness drive me wild, and all I can think of is being back here."
He thought of his first months in California, a lifetime ago. And smiled as Addy began her song again, whispering it against his skin.
* * * * *
He woke to the sunlight hitting the crack between the hotel drapes and scorching his eyelids. Groping blindly for a glass of water, his fingers found paper instead, and after he wrenched the curtains shut and switched on his desk lamp, he smoothed it out and read.
"Rupert — Come find me at the clinic later today. Hopefully I will have some good news for you. — Addy"
He smiled at her lack of sentimentality. No "thank you for last night," no "you made the earth move and the sky go dark and bright and explode." He looked at her scraggling handwriting a moment, then picked up the phone.
"Giles! How is the Cradle of Civilization?" Willow's tinny voice echoed strangely into the phone, but her giggle came through loud and clear.
"Lovely, Willow, thank you. I was wondering if you could check something for me." He wedged the phone beneath his chin and bent down to look under the bed for his shoes. "Does the Demon Text Reference have a listing for a vengeance demon called 'The Prophet?' And if so, can you tell me about its lifespan?"
Papers rustled on another continent, and she came back a moment later. "Not good," she said through a mouthful of something. "Kennedy, no just — gimme a minute. Giles, this guy's pretty old. Supposedly killed by a gang of angry Beduoin merchants in the 1830s because they considered him a heretic, he actually possessed one of them and managed to carry on through this new host body — only the most powerful vengeance demons can do that — until that one was killed by a slayer around the turn of the century."
Killed by a slayer, he thought, amused as a picture of Addy as a young girl flitted through his mind. Task at hand, he told himself briskly. "And his followers?"
More rustling. "Nope," she said. "This guy worked alone, Giles, and from these sketches it's probably because his fugly face scared everybody else off. If you see him over there, I'd suggest running the other way."
He signed off with a thank you and instructions to say hello, and checked his watch. Addy would surely be at the clinic by now.
When his room phone rang, he picked it up cheerily, hoping it was her.
"Mister Giles?" the desk clerk's eager voice filled his ear.
"Speaking." Perhaps she had a message for him, then.
"There is a woman here to see you. She requests you meet her down here right away."
He stepped into the lobby assuming it was Addy, and was surprised by the small, wrinkled Bedu woman swathed head to toe in black fabric, black eyes snapping up at him. Muhammad stood at her side, ready with his translation services.
"Can I assist you in some way, madam?" he asked quietly, conscious of the clerk looking on in curiosity.
"Suri Jabbah," she said softly, with a quick look at his face before fixing her eyes again on his shoes. "My daughter is Dalila."
Giles lowered his eyes as well. "My condolences on your loss."
Muhammad translated, and she nodded. "Thanks to you. I have something you may wish." And held out a piece of folded paper, a few words scrawled in thick black ink on it.
"I speak this Turkish, all my life, for my father he is. I speak it now for Doctor. She know my daughter, before she die, ask for this translation, ask if I have. Doctor say she come for it today, but she not come. I call granddaughter, she say you come asking questions about Doctor Addy, say you stay at this hotel. I bring here. You give to her."
He placed a hand over his heart. "Shukran."
She bowed her head slight. "Tell her, I could not fix. Not all. It will be ended."
He barely heard her, intent on the script scribbled on the paper in his hand. "Madam, do you know where they would have gone with this, to … speak to someone? To use this?"
She looked at him blankly. Muhammad translated, and a smile broke over her face exactly like that of her grandchild's. "To temple. Jebel Al-Qatar. Temple. They go there, fix Doctor." She turned, said something softly in Arabic to Muhammad, and left, the automatic doors swishing behind her.
"Temple of Herc … Hercules," Muhammad said. "I take you there now?"
Temple of Hercules. Addy was planning to try to reverse the spell, and this translation would complete the process. This was the good news she'd been hoping to give him. Giles looked up at the younger man. "By all means."
"What did she say?" Giles asked as they walked out the door. "Just now, when she left?"
Muhammad looked up at him. "She say, 'Beware of false prophets.'"
* * * * *
The Herculean temple was another of Amman's quirky leftovers from the days when the city was Roman Philadelphia. Like the Roman Forum and the acqueducts, it was something of a tourist attraction, but only up to the point that it still stood. Whereas a Westerner would have accessorized it with historical signs pointing out the nearby museum or the vast pre-Christian cistern, the Jordanians had left it alone, at the end of a narrow paved road at the very top of the mountian.
Puffing a bit more than he wanted to admit, having left Muhammad at the bottom with instructions to wait, Giles came up over the brow of the hill. Addy stood in the center of the Temple, preparing, as she must have been for several hours, for the ritual. Herbs were scattered in a circle, candles burning at the foot of each pillar. He walked toward her, ready to announce his presence with a shout, when he saw what she was looking at, and what she was holding.
The thin figure in the long dark robe faced her across the cracked and broken mosaic floor, its hands held out as though about to pull the sky down to it. Addy's axe glinted in the setting sun.
"Dalila wasn't screaming because she saw me!" Addy shouted. "She saw you. She saw you and she recognized you for what you were!"
The Prophet moved closer, and as he came into Addy's line of sight Giles saw her try to keep her face still. But the demon saw the fear that flashed in her eyes, and turned.
And instead of the scaly visage of a dark thing, Giles saw in the depths of its hood the immaculately made-up face of the British ambassador's wife.
"Don't you touch him!" Addy shouted as the figure moved closer.
The Prophet's laugh, a high shrieking sound, issued from Mrs. Needling-Smith's throat, and Giles felt a flash of heat surround him, as though he'd walked past a furnace. He strained, but bonds held him fast now, bands of glowing orange that imprisoned his hands and arms, locked his ankles. And in his pocket, the words that would reverse the spell that took Addy's power, that doomed this confrontation from the beginning.
He couldn't move, couldn't run to her. Couldn't very well shout the words of the spell at her, God only knew what would happen to them both. There was only one way to reach her in time.
It had been so long since he'd done this, and the last time it truly worked it was heavily influenced by huge quantities of LSD, but he blocked out the sounds of the Prophet's screaming, Addy's shouts, and he concentrated as hard as he could on the words he'd read, over and over, on the long cab ride here.
Beni ben dairede bir kez yürümedim nerede geri verme yas¸am … Beni ben dairede bir kez yürümedim nerede geri verme yas¸am …
He saw her head snap up, know she heard his voice, and just before the flash of yellow light from the Prophet's hands blinded them, saw her lips move.
The explosion was like a nova.
He felt himself flung into the ground, rock chips and dust grinding into his skin, as rumbles like thunder shook the ground, bouncing him up not once but twice, only to fling him back down again, where he shut his eyes and just tried to concentrate on breathing.
When the noise subsided and he managed to stand and brush off his face and hands, the devastation around him made his breath catch in his throat.
Columns that had stood for a two thousand years lay in pieces, huge chunks of rock that had missed him by the grace of he knew not what. Dorothy Needling-Smith was sitting up, woozily, her carefully arranged hairdo cocked entirely sideways. She looked at him as if looking at a stranger. There was no sign of the demon.
And Addy … He looked about the site. The cistern, maybe she'd taken shelter there. Or the museum, surely there was a way in, it hadn't seemed that secure … surely she'd found a way to get away.
Then from behind him, he heard her shaky voice.
"I did it," she was saying, crying and laughing at once. "I fooled him again."
He whirled around as she stepped from behind the shortest of the fallen columns, clutching her side. He should have expected this, he thought, damnable to have learned nothing in all his years as Watcher, damnable not to expect from these girls nothing but self-sacrifice.
He helped her sit down on the largest of the pulled-up paving stones. The sun had set completely by now, the call to evening prayer beginning.
"The spell worked," she whispered in his ear, as he pulled apart her shirt to find the wound, try to staunch the bleeding. "He was about to leave Dorothy and enter me, take me from the inside like he did Dalila, and it worked. I can feel it again, can feel time moving around me. It's like spinning, like spinning and spinning … he couldn't get to me, to the end …"
"How did you know?" she asked, as he tore his worn jacket into strips and tried to bind up a cut on her arm. "How did you know the words, and to come here?"
"Suri Jabbah came to see me," he said softly, bending down when he saw her straining to hear. "She said she did the translation but couldn’t … she talked about not being able to fix it somehow. Does that mean something to you?"
She smiled then, a wide, beautiful smile. "We couldn't get the time balanced correctly," she said, very faint now, and he thought he caught a wisp of silver appearing in her hair. "It will move fast, now, for me. I'm sorry, Rupert."
"It's all right, Addy," he said, pressing a hand to to the gash in her side. "It's all right." What everyone says, at moments of sunset, because it's the only thing they're sure of. He wiped the dust from her forehead, pressed his lips there.
As he watched, her skin wrinkled, her hair grew white, until her face matched the age of her eyes and her voice. And try as he would to feel sorry, as those eyes closed, and that voice was silenced, he found he could not begrudge her the coming peace and darkness.
"Asalaam alaikum," he whispered, and laid her down.
* * * * *
The telegram to Peter was brief: MATTER RESOLVED STOP MADELINE ADDINGTON DIED IN SERVICE TO THE MISSION STOP SURE YOU AND BRIDELEIGH CAN COME UP WITH SOMETHING STOP HAVE SOMEONE WORKING ON THE RECORDS NOW STOP RETURN SOONEST STOP.
To Willow he sent the packet of necessary and instructions; he received a short e-mail in repsonse, summing up the task of altering birth certificate and visa and inventing a death certificate plus backdating it by 50 years with a breezy, "It's all good." For all that their shared history sometimes scratched at him, Giles reflected, it was useful to have a small army of powerful people who owed him favors, who responded when he called them in. He would call Charlie Elliott tomorrow, tell him to check the records, that there had been a mistake.
The newspaper the next morning, slipped under the door of his hotel, noted that a small earthquake had done damage to the Temple of Hercules, and that local archaeologists — Giles sniffed, remembering the Roman arches — were exploring ways to repair it.
To Xander, Giles sent a postcard, the ruins of the Temple of Hercules, the word Jordan written in neon-pink: "For travel advice thanks much. It's everything you told me it would be, and more."
* * * * *
The guide stopped just shy of the Treasury, according to Giles' map. Leaning back against a Roman carving, Harabi motioned him forward, around a dark outcropping of rock.
"Go on ahead," said the young Arab man, for whose knowledgeable company down the narrow Siq canyon Giles had paid a paltry sum at the gate. "I've seen it a thousand times. I don't want to spoil it for you."
Every visitor to Jordan, Xander had said, gets assaulted by pictures of the Treasury at Petra. The building, one of many carved into the peach-rose rocks of this vast archaeological site three hours south of Amman, was believed to be a tomb for an early Arab king, taking its name from the urn at the top of the roof, once thought to contain gold. Giles himself had seen photographs of this place: on the cover of his guidebook, on postcards, even keychains.
But when he walked forward and around the corner, and looked up, he gasped.
The magnificent carved façade rose between the two towers of black rock like a flare of light through an open door, its sheer size dwarfing Giles, the canyon, the small cluster of camels drowsing in its shade. Cut directly out of the rust-colored mountain, it was as awe-inspiring as any cathedral, any monument to the durability and ambition of human beings.
People were not allowed inside, but Giles slipped past the guard at the doorway when the man was distracted by French tourists wanting to take his picture, and stood silently in the narrow hall. It was bare and weather-worn, rock rippling from floor to ceiling, and it was utterly silent. He remembered Xander's words from their phone call, which seemed like it had taken place in another lifetime:
"It's hard to describe." Static crackled and, Giles thought, some kind of bird was making a racket wherever the boy was. "You feel simultaneously as if you're breaking and entering, and as if you're coming home. You're the one walking over your own grave."
Giles closed his eyes, and in the silence, heard Addy's song.
* * * * *
For three nights after he got back to England, Giles woke startled in the dark, and in the moments before he returned to himself, it was the air of the desert he breathed.