Allies
written by Head Rush


Rating: FRAO
Spoilers: Takes place fairly early in season 7.
Summary: How difficult can it be to retrieve one potential?
Thanks: To Vatwoman, Kathy, Susan, and Anya.
Author's Notes: WARNING: Angst, sex, and violence ahead.
Feedback Author: Head Rush



London

That one had been sweet and slow. Giles couldn't remember the last time he had been with someone capable of opening him up to the light so easily and gently that he hadn't even realised it had happened until he had to blink. Megan had always been able to make him feel like, well, himself. The part of him that wasn't shackled to duty or the need to do the right thing all the time. Quite the opposite actually, and her sudden appearance had been just what he'd needed to loosen him up and remind him that he was a man, as well as a watcher. The moment of euphoric forgetfulness was over. His still-foggy green eyes met and held her brown ones as he carefully withdrew, maintaining a connection charged with far more than simple physicality. He pushed himself over to lie with one arm resting on her chest.

He reached up and brushed a stray lock of reddish-gold hair from her face. "You still haven't told me why you came," he murmured.

"That time?" Her eyes twinkled, and she twisted one of his curls around her index finger. "Well, there was that thing you did with – "

"My love," he said, "there's something you're not telling me. But you're *going* to tell me, and you're not going to get out of it by stroking my ego." As her mouth opened, he smiled and put his finger to her lips. "Or anything else. No jokes. Just tell me what you're up to. Last night you show up at the very hotel I happen to be staying in," he smiled, "seduce me for the first time in I don't know how long, and resist my best interrogation techniques. You're not leaving this bed until I have some answers."

She had to laugh at that. "Oh baby, is that a promise?"

He wasn't laughing now. "Megan."

"Yes."

"I'm waiting," he said. "And as you know, I can be incredibly patient. I can wait years for an answer, if need be." Words regretted as soon as they were spoken. He hadn't meant to stir that up.

She held his gaze steadily. "I really do love you, Rupert… In my way. You know that. I always have."

He did, but that hadn't made it any easier over the years. "You need to live your life your own way. I understand that. It's all right. I know you'll always be there for me, just as I will for you."

Their kiss was long, deep, and lazy; a gesture that gave everything and asked nothing in return.

Finally they had to come up for air, and Giles' searching look had not abated.

After a moment's hesitation, Megan took a deep breath and said, "Okay. I admit I came to see you on business as well as pleasure."

Giles raised his eyebrows and pointedly crossed his arms over his chest. "If it's state secrets you're after…"

She grinned, and kissed him on the nose. "Don't kid yourself. I could get `em out of you."

He sighed, and decided to hurry this along. "Come on, then. Tell me that Robson called the coven and asked them to send a seer to help me find this potential who's done a runner."

She blinked at him. "Wow, you're good."

"I'd be even better if Robson hadn't called to tell me he'd done it."

Megan nodded. "I suppose he would do. Why did you ask me, then?"

Because in the…" he checked his watch, "fourteen hours you've been here, no explanation has been forthcoming."

She gave him a small, rueful smile. "Sorry. There was nothing we could have done by the time I got here last night, and... you know things haven't exactly been easy or pleasant for us since the First has raised its ugly head… not that they were particularly easy before. And we haven't really had a chance to be together in ages… other than as half-dead watcher and his ministering seer." She flushed ever so slightly. "I've missed you… and I've missed the way you make me feel." He cocked an eyebrow. "You make me feel… right. And… safe. Does that make sense?"

"It does." He kissed her again, softly, and took her hand in his. "Sometimes we all just want to feel we belong. To be comforted." He smiled mirthlessly. "Now more than ever, I suppose. Sometimes I wish I could afford to just stay huddled under my duvet forever. But it's much nicer to huddle under the duvet with you. Even if only for a few hours."

She kissed him. "It is. It definitely is. But we have to get up."

"We do," he agreed.

"Right now."

"Yes."

"Or we'll be late, and you know how Robson hates that."

"Mmm."

They stayed where they were for another ten minutes, until Giles sighed heavily. "Right." He swung his legs over the side of the bed, and stood up. "I'm up." He crossed to the chair upon which his heap of clothes lay as he'd thrown them the previous night, and pulled on his jeans. "You can have the first shower," he said, retrieving a thin folder from the lid of his suitcase.

Megan got up and read over his shoulder. "Tracy Sawyer. So what do we actually know about this kid?"

"Potential," he corrected automatically. He didn't look up from the file as she began riffling through her suitcase for some clothes.

There was a pause, and Megan said, "But technically, she's still a kid, yes?"

Giles spared her a look. "Technically, she is. She's sixteen. Time hasn't dulled your ability to be pedantic, I see," he deadpanned.

"Nor yours," she said, ruffling his hair. "Kid or potential, what do we know?"

Giles sighed. "Not very much at this moment. Robson didn't have time to send me all the information, just a few pages he faxed to give me the basics."

Megan nodded. "Same here. All very mysterious."

She patted his shoulder and disappeared into the bathroom where, he knew, she'd use all the hot water and there'd be none left for him. He sighed heavily and turned back to the file as he heard the shower sputter into life. A minute later the door cracked open, and steam came billowing out.

"So am I going to have to wash my own back, then?"

Giles grinned, and dropped the file.

* * * * *

Robson *always* wore a shirt and tie. Giles felt quietly rebellious in his soft leather jacket and black t-shirt as the younger man buzzed them through the two lead-lined, oak-panelled security doors into the Council headquarters on Gower Street.

Today was the day the cleaners came. Generations of cleaning ladies had used the same overpowering mixture of lemon juice and vinegar to ward off dust, insects, and probably, Giles mused, evil. Any being not accustomed to the fumes would drop in their tracks. Megan made a face, and he grinned.

As they wound their way through the labyrinthine corridors of the new and old sections of the building, Giles was greeted by numerous friendly acquaintances, most of them, he noted, with a mixture of envy and pity in their eyes. Still, it made a pleasant change to be somewhere he was known. Then, if they recognised Megan, their expressions shifted to one of troubled curiosity. The seer had helped the Council on numerous occasions in the past, but she was only called in situations of dire need.

"You're late, you know," Robson huffed in mock annoyance as he escorted them into the sybaritic splendour of the newly refurbished Council headquarters common room. "I know you do it on purpose, just to wind me up." He put a large file on the coffee table, and gestured for them to sit in the black leather armchairs.

As the tea was poured, Giles and Megan shared a glance that was half amused, half guilty.

"You'll have to forgive us," said Giles, unable to resist, nor to meet Megan's eyes. "Something came up."

If Robson caught the double meaning, he managed not to show it. "It's good to see you both," he said. "We hardly ever see each other anymore, and when we do, it's usually prompted by an apocalypse of some sort." He grinned. "Always something, eh? Remind me to show you some of the latest acquisitions in the library before you go, I've had a few interesting bits put aside for you."

"Right," Robson continued. "The potential's name is Tracy Sawyer. She's sixteen, goes to a very swish boarding school, and has just started half term. She's tipped for a scholarship to Oxford. On Monday, she was attacked while on the school premises. We think it was one of the Bringers; it was wearing black robes, and had a double-headed axe. The incident seems to have been more of an attempt to gauge the girl's abilities than to actually kill her, because, obviously, she would have been killed, rather than been able to send it packing with a couple of solid blows from her aikido staff. Well, it was either a staff or a sword. The operative couldn't tell."

"Yes, that sounds like an exploratory attack," said Giles, frowning. "But why? As far as I know, the Bringers have simply killed other potentials as they've found them."

"Was she all right?" said Megan, giving Giles a look that made him aware that he should have been the one asking that question.

"More or less," said Robson, scanning the form in front of him. "The report says she received a nasty scratch on the arm."

Giles poured a cup of tea for Megan, and one for himself. "What about the parents?"

Robson shrugged. "All we know is what the operative we'd sent to keep an eye on her saw through his binoculars from across the road. He wasn't able to get into the school complex in time to approach her before she went back into the building. We don't know what, or even if, she told anyone at school or at home what happened."

"Poor kid," said Megan, feelingly. "She must be absolutely terrified."

"As far as we know, it was the first time that Tracy's encountered any mystical entity," Robson continued. "Neither she, nor her parents, have been told that she's a potential. She's never had a watcher. She's had a completely normal life. She's in the school aikido club, and is apparently the best the club has ever had, which is hardly surprising, given her latent slayer abilities. She knew nothing of her potential… duty… until I posed as her father's chauffeur. I drove her home to Sussex On Wednesday, and gave her the information pack on the Council, the slayer, and what it means to be a potential…"

"There's an information pack?" said Megan, wonderingly. "Blimey, that's organised."

"No one does paperwork like we do," Robson smiled. "Anyway, I explained to her why we were contacting her now, since the attack, and that her life was in grave danger. When I dropped her at her house, I told her that Giles here would be along in a few days to speak to her parents, and to take her to the only place where she'd be remotely safe."

"Hang on," said Giles. "How would she have known it was me ringing the doorbell, and not some random lunatic come to kidnap her?"

Robson rolled his eyes. "There was a little blurb about you in the information pack, establishing your credentials. It included a photograph, so that she could identify you on sight."

"No wonder she ran," said Megan with a quick grin.

Giles shook his head and smiled ruefully at the watcher. "The only wonder is that she didn't fling open the car door and take off before you made it halfway through your little speech."

"She seemed to take it remarkably calmly at the time," said Robson.

"Yes, probably not at all as if she was humouring the nutter who had her prisoner in the back of a moving car, and was promising to come back for her in a couple of days' time," said Giles. "Well, it seems fairly straightforward from our point of view, if not Tracy's. You scared the hell out of her, and we have to find her and talk her round before the Bringers get to her."

Megan's gaze shifted to Robson. "Do you think Tracy actually believed a word you said?"

Robson nodded grimly. "I think so. She looked frightened enough. Tracy's an intelligent girl, but she's… utterly unprepared for what she's about to face. I'm not sure why they didn't just kill her outright, and in a way, that makes me more uneasy than anything. The First might be trying something different this time. But I'm sure it won't be long before it finds her again… If it hasn't already."

Giles took the file from the table and divided the contents in half between himself and Megan. They read in silence for a few minutes, then Giles said, "Right, well, we'll do what we can. Has the Council contacted her parents?"

Robson shook his head. "No. We've been tapping the school's phone lines. When we intercepted a call from her father telling the Head she'd run off the night before, that was when I called you two. The family lives in Brighton. The address is in the file. I suggest you start there, and see if they can give you a lead. We'll sort you out with a car and whatnot, and inform the Sawyers to expect a visit from two plainclothes police inspectors."

* * * * *

Brighton

The Sawyers hadn't slept in two days. That much was clear as soon as they opened the front door of their well-kept and rather imposing property to Giles and Megan with puffy eyes and bleary expressions that shifted constantly between hope and helplessness.

"We've already spoken to the police," said Mrs Sawyer. "We're grateful that you'd come and make a second visit."

Megan smiled. "The more information we have, the better."

They settled themselves in soft armchairs in the large, comfortable living room, and Giles couldn't help but notice the collage of photos that were carefully arranged on the lid of the baby grand piano; young Tracy, an only child, camping, blowing out candles on her seventh birthday, holding a puppy, and pulling a face at the camera.

Mrs Sawyer smiled slightly, and nodded. "She'll be off to Oxford before long. At least, she will if… if her marks stay as they have been, and she's very determined. She works hard."

Giles forced a smile. Whether she lived or died, one thing was certain. Tracy was not going to Oxford. "You must be very proud of her."

"Yes." Mrs Sawyer sat on the sofa beside her husband, as composed as she was going to get.

"Tracy's never done anything like this," said her father. "She's always been very responsible. Always looked after everyone else. Never been a problem, has she?"

Mrs Sawyer shook her head numbly. "She got back from school three days ago. She came in in tears. She was very withdrawn, and went up to her room without saying much…" she struggled with the words, "I left her in peace. I thought she'd come down later and tell me what was wrong, which is what she usually does…"

As his wife trailed off, Mr Sawyer carried on for her. "My wife and I went out to a business dinner," he said guiltily. "We had to go… you know how it is… and when we came home, Tracy was still in her room, and wouldn't answer us when we called to her." He seemed to brace himself for what was coming next. "I went into her room. It was dark, and everything was all over the place. Even the light bulbs were smashed. Tracy… I couldn't believe it at first," he dragged a hand slowly down his face, "I *still* can't believe it."

"What was it?" Giles prompted gently.

The older man shook his head. "She was sitting on the bed, and she had a pair of scissors… a pair of scissors, for God's sake! She was cutting her wrists. It was obviously a… a suicide attempt..." he broke off. "I know she's been under a lot of pressure with her exams, but surely we'd have known if she'd been that unhappy... She was shaking, and crying, and it got worse when she saw me. I went to her, and tried to take the scissors, but she pushed me away, hard, and I fell over a chair." He spoke slowly, remembering every detail. "She said, `I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I can't do this, I have to do this, I love you, I love you.'" He stopped as he began to sob, and his wife moved closer, putting her arm around him.

"She ran downstairs and out of the house," said Mrs Sawyer. "I didn't move fast enough. I couldn't believe what was happening… I went after her, but it was dark, and she was too quick… she's always been incredibly quick. We drove around all night, looked everywhere, spoke to everyone, called the police." She shook her head. "She's gone."

Giles nodded sympathetically. "She had the strength to run," he said. "That's a good sign. And she didn't take anything with her? No belongings of any kind?"

"No," said Mrs Sawyer at last. "Even her handbag is still on the kitchen table."

He looked, and it was. "May we have a look at Tracy's room?" said Giles.

Mr Sawyer nodded. "Up the stairs, second door on the right."

"Thank you."

Giles and Megan made their way through the light and impeccably clean house, and up the stairs. The sheer volume of teenage paraphernalia that Tracy had managed to stick, hang on, and nail to her bedroom door identified it immediately, though the door itself had been closed. It was as if her parents were hoping that, by not having to see the evidence of that unbelievable night, they might still be able to persuade themselves that it hadn't happened, and Tracy was just away at school.

Inside, it was clear that though Tracy's room was probably not the neatest in the house at the best of times, there was more to the disorder than met the eye.

"There's mystical residue still lingering here," Megan said as she did a slow circuit around the room, running her fingers over the doorframe, walls, windowframes, and assorted broken objects.

"I can feel it too," said Giles. "The question is, where did it come from? Potentials don't have mystical power. And her father said she was alone when he came into the room." He moved away from the window, and a shaft of afternoon sunlight fell across the bed, where a glint caught his eye. He carefully took a large pair of scissors from where they lay partially entangled in a heap of clothes and bedcovers, and held them up.

"There's a lot of blood on these." He reached back down to the covers and shook them out. "And quite a bit on the bedspread. Good thing her father came up when he did." Giles wrapped the scissors in his handkerchief, and put them in his pocket.

"Here's the information pack Robson gave her," said Megan, riffling through some papers on the floor. "Hang on… I think some pages might be missing. The first page is gone…and the one with your picture. And the one with the Bringers on it."

Giles nodded. "When her father foiled plan A, it appears she took whatever she could grab and got out before he could stop her."

Megan was examining the lamps. "These light bulbs weren't just broken," she said. "They were exploded. As was the stereo," she indicated, "the tv, and the digital clock by the bed. There was a massive power surge in here, but apparently not anywhere else in the house. But as you say, it's very weird. Tracy wouldn't have been able to do it, and there was no sign of a Bringer."

Giles ran a hand through his hair. "I think we've got the picture, or as much of it as we're going to get at the moment. If you're done, I think we'd best leave the Sawyers in peace for a bit." Megan nodded. They went out into the hall, and closed the door behind them, glad to be out of there.

The Sawyers were hovering at the bottom of the stairs as they came down. "Well, I think that will be all for now, " said Giles. "Thank you, both, for talking to us, I know this is terribly difficult, but I assure you, we'll do our very best to find Tracy."

They made their goodbyes, and Mrs Sawyer automatically shoved a red backpack out of the way to open the door more easily. From the way her gaze rested on it just a moment too long, Giles knew it belonged to their daughter.

"We'll call you as soon as we know anything," he assured them.

* * * * *

"I wish we could've told them that it wasn't their fault," said Megan, as they pulled out of the Sawyer's driveway.

"I know," said Giles, "But they may not find it particularly comforting to know that it's not academic stress that's set their daughter off, but the fact that she's just found out she has a destiny to fulfill that may well involve her losing her head to a demon priest."

"Rupert… just hypothetically, what would happen if we *don't* find her? And the Bringers don't find – "

"Oh, the Bringers *will* find her," said Giles, his knuckles white on the steering wheel. "Of that you can be absolutely certain. She doesn't know who she is, what she is, or what the hell she's doing." He turned onto the main coast road. "She was so out of it when she ran, she didn't even take minimal supplies."

"And she's hurt," said Megan.

"Yes. How badly… we don't know. Where are we today… Sunday. It's been six days since she was scratched in the attack, four days since she had a go with the scissors. Potentials have the ability to heal very quickly, but it's not as highly developed as slayer healing."

They crawled along with the other beachfront traffic, drifting past elderly people on benches… young couples kissing behind the breakwaters… parents chasing after toddlers. Part of a world that Tracy would never know.

"I can understand the running," Megan said slowly, "but I don't get the suicide attempt. That seems a bit extreme. Especially as she doesn't seem to be a particularly… credulous girl. If you don't really, really believe in something, you don't rush to kill yourself for it, do you?"

Giles nodded. "Well, she'd faced a Bringer head-on. That would be enough to convince me, I think. They're fairly unambiguous-looking. She'd be unlikely to mistake one for your average yob on the street. There's that drawing of a Bringer in the information pack. She'd have seen it afterwards, and realised then what it was, even though she couldn't have known it at the time."

Megan reached again for the information pack just like the one Robson had given Tracy. "And if someone tells you your life is in danger – when you know from experience that they're at least partially telling the truth, because someone tried to lop your head off just before – wouldn't you be at least half inclined to listen to what they had to say? Just in case they were right? And she must have realised that if Robson had wanted to kidnap her, he could easily have done so, but he took her home. And he told her you'd come to see her and her parents together. It's not as if you were going to pick her up in an alley, or something."

* * * * *

After spending the rest of the daylight hours working methodically through the Sawyer's list of Tracy's friends, and searching the town center; questioning officials at the railway and bus stations, the hospital; and scanning the beach, watcher and seer collapsed into a couple of deckchairs on the pebbles.

"This might be the moment for a locator spell," said Megan. "I have all I need to do it, but I'll need somewhere private to set it up."

Giles looked around. There was the breakwater, the backs of shops, side streets, and…

"That bathing hut would be perfect," said Megan, jerking a thumb towards the jolly yellow and white structure behind them.

"There won't be anyone still renting them at this hour," said Giles.

Megan dug into her handbag and came up with a hairpin. "Who said we were going to rent it?" she grinned.

Giles kissed her. "I'm glad I let you tag along."

He made short work of the padlock while Megan retrieved her bag from the car, and as the hut could only accommodate one person, Giles sat on the pebbles and watched the waves smashing into the fragile breakwater. He couldn't help but feel a spark of anger at this girl, who had perhaps believed enough of what she'd been told to know that she wanted no part of it; so much so that she'd quickly decided that it would be better to die than to accept the duty and responsibility that lay before her. He thought of Buffy. Of the other potentials, and of himself. The anger flared. He shook his head and fought it down, wondering why he should feel anything but pity for a child whose life had been altered so radically, incomprehensibly, and instantly. He was in no position to judge her. He'd been trained as a watcher from the age of ten, but had known his destiny before he'd actually had to face it, and long before he'd tried to deny it. But still, something didn't feel right. For a well-balanced, much loved child with a promising future, Tracy had made the decision to end her life with incredible rapidity. There had to be more to this than simple fear. There had to be. She was a potential, and even if she thought she was like other girls her age, she wasn't.

"Rupert?" Megan was standing by him now, looking at him strangely. "You look annoyed."

"Yes. I just wish I knew who to be annoyed with: Tracy, or me." His expression softened. "I'm trying to make sense of what Tracy's done. What she's trying to do." He shook his head. "I understand a young person wanting to dodge a burden that, once taken up, can never be put down. Once accepted, it's with you till you die, and it will almost certainly hasten that death. Of course she wants to escape it. Who wouldn't? I did!"

Megan smiled, then grew serious. "I remember."

"And it's my duty to go after this child, and essentially force her to take up that burden."

"Yes."

He smiled humourlessly. "For the good of the world."

Megan dropped to the ground beside him, and wrapped her arms around him. "Yes, for the good of the world. You're not being cruel to her, Rupert. And at this moment, you're doing your damnedest to prolong whatever lifespan she's got."

He sighed. "I'm still not sure what's making her run. There has to be something more to it than fear."

"Perhaps." Megan winced, and rubbed her temple.

The gesture made Giles cease his internal monologue, and he eyed her with concern. "Are you all right?"

She nodded. "Headache. Something with the spell. It'll pass. Go on with what you were saying. You think there's more to it than fear."

He looked at her for a moment, attempting to gauge how much pain she was actually in. She looked away, so he finished the thought, saying, "It's just that… I've never heard of a potential behaving this way before."

"She's terrified, Rupert."

"Aren't we all?" he snapped. "God, Megan. If we don't find Tracy, then being killed is the *best* thing that could happen to her. If the First has something else in mind for her, she'll certainly wish she was dead, and so would we all. There are things… knowledge… intuition… abilities latent in her that could easily be manipulated and perverted into something we really don't want to deal with right now. I don't know what would happen to a potential who became an agent of the First, and I don't wish to find out." He pulled his glasses off and twined the arms between his fingers.

Megan shivered and pulled him closer as the wind whipped around them and the shadows lengthened. "You can, and you will," she said. "And right now, we have each other. Which is more than Tracy has. I've found her. At least I think I have. She seems to have gone back home."

Giles looked at her. "Back to her parents?"

"Yes."

"Let's go."

* * * * *

It was completely dark by the time they arrived back at the Sawyer's home. The lights were off, and everything was quiet. Giles rang the doorbell, then tried to see through the little window beside the door, and finally peered in the letterbox.

Giles pulled back from the slot, then looked again. "Oh, God."

"What is it?"

"Get me a rock. Something to break this window."

Megan disappeared, and returned with the base of a stone birdbath. "This should do it."

He broke the thick windowpane, reached in, and opened the door. "We don't have much time. A house like this – there'll be a silent alarm wired directly to the police station." He took a few steps into the foyer and turned back to Megan. "You might want to wait out here. They've been decapitated."

There was blood everywhere. The cream coloured carpet was saturated, the walls dripping. Furniture was overturned, and various objects had obviously been hurled in self-defense. Giles' stomach churned at the overwhelming stench of bodily fluids. Megan had more room to stand in the doorway, and he realised that the red backpack was gone from its place by the front door. There were empty aikido sword and staff cases on the floor by the closet in the hall. Tracy's handbag was gone from the kitchen table.

"Tracy?" he called softly, then again, more loudly.

After ensuring that the downstairs was secure, they went upstairs, Megan glued to his elbow, and quickly checked every room, including Tracy's. The remaining papers from her information pack were gone, but the mess was such that it was impossible to tell if any of her other belongings had been taken.

"Rupert," said Megan. "This place is thick with dark energies. It's incredibly strong… it's actually seeking a purchase on my own energy. I can't stay in here much longer."

He nodded. "Come on. The police will be here any second."

There were sirens in the distance. Megan was deathly pale. Giles grabbed her clammy hand and dragged her out to the car. He ran back to the house to wipe his fingerprints from the doorbell and handle with the sleeve of his jacket. He started to move away, stopped, and said a rapid prayer for the Sawyers. He didn't know why he did it, didn't really believe it would do any good, but sometimes it just seemed like the thing to do. He flung himself back into the car. Megan didn't look good. Giles revved the engine, pulled out of the driveway, and onto the main road as fast as he dared. "Hold on, you can be sick in a minute, but we have to get out of here first."

Fifteen minutes later, Giles pulled over in a layby with some convenient bushes which provided Megan with the privacy she demanded.

She emerged a short while later, very pale but slightly calmer. "All right?" said Giles, concerned.

Megan nodded slightly. "My head's killing me, though. It wasn't just the... the sight of it. The pain started when I did the locator spell. It was as if something was blocking me." She accepted the bottle of water he offered, and took a careful sip. "Something wasn't right. I had to work really hard to get past the… resistance… at first, and then it just went away – poof – instantly, and I got the visual of the location about as clearly as I usually do." He saw her wince as the headlights of a passing car aggravated her headache, and opened door for her to perch on the back seat.

Giles sighed heavily. "Well, as far as I can think at the moment, we're looking at four possibilities, none of them pleasant. One, Tracy watched her parents be murdered and ran off, escaping the Bringers. Two, they were dead before she arrived, and she ran off when she saw what had happened. Three, the Bringers caught her when she returned home. Four, she actually committed the murders under the influence of the First. Remember, the aikido weapons – one of which was a sword – were gone when we went back, as well as a backpack that was by the front door. We know she was home, but we don't know when, or for what purpose."

"You're right. None of those are pleasant scenarios," said Megan. "I'll do another locator spell, and that should at least give us an indication of whether the First has her."

Giles nodded. "I don't think you should do it right now, though. You need to recover a bit, love."

"No," she gave him a wan smile. "I can't do it just yet. The headache's too intense, and I need to top up on ingredients from the Council stores. Let's head back to the hotel. I'll give them a ring and have Robson bring over what I need; the sooner he knows what's happened, the better."

* * * * *

London

Robson arrived at seven in the morning, slightly wild-eyed and soaking wet. "Bloody belting down out there," he said, handing Megan a large plastic shopping bag. "Here are the ingredients you asked for. I hope nothing got too wet."

Megan peered into it. "Looks okay."

"How's your head this morning?" he enquired.

"Better, thanks." She put the bag on the dresser. "Would you like some tea?"

Robson smoothed his thinning hair into place. "No," he said. "I'd just like you to get on with finding the girl. I couldn't bloody believe it when you called last night. Travers is apoplectic. Lord knows what the police will make of it all. Two decapitations and a runaway." He shook his head. "If you hadn't set off the house alarm and brought them running, we'd have sent a clean-up team to deal with the scene. The police will have sealed it all off. I hope you got whatever you needed from the house, because there's no way you'll be able to get back in there now."

"I think we got all there was to get," said Giles. "Are you sure you won't join me for a cup of tea while Megan does the locator spell?"

"No, must be off," said Robson briskly. "Travers has every watcher he can spare out looking for Tracy, and those he can't are working round the clock in shifts, trying to find out more about the Bringers and the First." He turned to go, and yawned widely.

Giles spared him a sympathetic smile. "You're not used to being up at this hour, are you?"

The bedraggled watcher grinned ruefully. "No, and I don't intend to become so. I'll give you a hundred quid if you can find the girl before I have more than a week's worth of five am starts."

Giles clapped Robson on the back and opened the door for him. "You're on."

* * * * *

Rain was still battering on the window when Megan emerged from the trance of the locator spell.

"Huh," she said, carefully.

"Any luck?" said Giles, looking up from Tracy's file. He didn't really need to read it anymore. He'd been over it so often he'd memorised the contents. "How's your head?"

"Fine," she replied. "No headache this time. And I think we're in business. I saw the bookshops on Cecil Court… you know, off Charing Cross." Giles nodded. "And I saw a skip. Tracy was there, putting something in a skip on Cecil Court."

Giles drained his tea and stood up. "Well, at least she's in London," he said, grateful that she hadn't taken the next plane to God knows where. "And you didn't feel any resistance to the spell?"

"No, nothing at all. It was a doddle that time." She blew out the candles and gathered up the sand, herbs, and worked stone counters. "So. Off we go, then. Into the wet."

* * * * *

Cecil Court was deserted. The rain had driven the tourists into the museums and the underground, leaving the little side street of antiquarian bookshops looking rather forlorn. Giles couldn't help scanning the window display of a particularly fine purveyor of occult literature, but Megan grabbed his sleeve and towed him the remaining twenty yards to the yellow skip. It was filled up halfway with stinking bags of rubbish.

"This is it. In you go," she said lightly.

He looked at her. "Ladies first."

"But there could be rats."

"I expect so," he said agreeably.

There was a pause. Giles rolled his eyes and threw a quick glance up and down the narrow street, and into the shop windows. No one looking. He grabbed the rim of the container, hauled himself up and over, and landed heavily, forcing foetid air from the bags. He spluttered and gagged. "Bloody hell!"

"Stay down," Megan warned. "There are people coming."

Giles sifted quietly and methodically through the reeking, wet bags of rubbish until his fingers brushed something cold and hard. He instinctively pulled his hand away, and caught his breath as he realised his fingers were covered with blood. But not his. He moved the bag on top of the object, and saw a mid-length steel blade engraved with Japanese characters. It glistened with blood from end to end. He presumed it was human blood, as opposed to the blacker, more treacly ichor that most demons bled. "I think it's Tracy's aikido sword," he said quietly. "Can I come out now?"

"Yes, please do." She took the sword, and bent over it to protect it from the rain as he swung his legs over the side and dropped down beside her. "Whose blood is this?"

"An excellent question," said Giles. Let's see if the Council can find out. You take it to Robson, and I'll meet you over there when I've had a shower and change."

* * * * *

A couple of hours later, Giles was pacing the Council library. He smelt like Megan's lavender shower gel and week-old refuse. There were no books on the Bringers, and precious little mention of them. He'd phoned Willow after his shower. She'd just had an encounter with the First herself, and was afraid to do anything much to help Buffy in case she lost control of her magics again. She'd admitted that she could feel herself slipping sometimes, and she wasn't sure if it was her own weakness, or if the First was doing it. There were dark energies in the house. Spike was hanging around Buffy far more than everyone was comfortable with, and the attacks were becoming more frequent, and more aggressive. Giles could tell that she wanted him to come back, but couldn't bring herself to ask. He had managed to reassure her for the time being, but the conversation had troubled him deeply, and he knew he had to get back to Sunnydale as soon as possible. Again he felt a charge of anger at this potential. She'd no idea how much she was undermining everyone's safety while she gave in to her own fear.

"What *are* the Bringers, anyway?" said Megan, breaking his increasingly pessimistic cycle of thought.

"They're demon priests who can raise the First. When we first encountered the Bringers, there were three of them. They raised the First in the form of people from Angel's past, trying to convince him to join with them. Angel successfully defied the First, but it's obviously not going to be deterred so easily this time." He turned as the swing doors whispered open and Robson came into the library, his expression clouded with worry.

"The DNA results are back, and the blood on the sword definitely belongs to Tracy's parents," he said.

"It was definitely Tracy who put that sword in the skip," said Megan. "So… it's looking more likely that she's the one who killed her parents." She looked from Robson to Giles. "Do we think?"

Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "I don't think we can make that assumption at this point." He sighed irritably. "We won't know anything for sure until we find her."

* * * * *

The rain had slackened off mid-afternoon, but by dusk it had returned, running through Giles' hair, soaking his shirt collar, and not doing anything for his mood. He and Megan had been walking for hours, and had done a big circuit around the centre of the city. They'd been everywhere: the tube, shops, parks, museums, police stations, hospitals, shelters. It was hopeless. Tracy knew her strategy. Hide in plain sight. But what she was doing in London was anybody's guess.

"I have to sit down for a minute," said Megan at last, shifting her bag from one shoulder to another with a groan. Giles took it from her and slung it over his own shoulder.

"We'll find somewhere to have coffee and warm up. Good lord, what do you have in this thing?" he said. "Surely it can't all be candles and lip balm."

"Well, the lip balm is heavy, but I stocked up on supplies at the Council." When he raised an eyebrow, she elaborated. "My mobile. My diary. A `London A to Z', as I know you never carry one, deny you need one, then inevitably get lost…"

"Not lost," said Giles. "Just cartographically challenged."

As they passed the Tottenham Court Road tube station, a newspaper vendor was putting the evening headlines out on a sandwich board. Giles froze. "Girl stabs man with walking stick in tube attack. Body vanishes." He turned around, and smiled as Megan placed a copy of the London Evening Standard in his hands. They shuffled into the shelter of the station's entrance and began to read.

"It was her. The description's quite clear," said Giles. "It was obviously a slaying. Looks like she used her aikido jo." He smiled slightly. "She saved an eight year old boy."

Megan looked at him. "So she's got the instincts. And she's not afraid to fight."

Giles wasn't entirely sure how pleased he was about that. "Yes. Let's just hope she's on our side."

A few hundred yards down the road they found a relatively quiet café, gave their order, and sank gratefully into some comfortable low armchairs by the front window, where they could keep an eye on the people going past.

A waitress set their drinks on the table and Megan closed her hands around her mug to warm them. For a minute neither of them spoke. Giles was aware of her looking at him. Finally, he met her gaze head on, and raised his eyebrows.

"Sorry," she smiled slightly. "I was just thinking… wondering."

He nodded.

"About Tracy."

"With you so far."

Megan looked out the window. "Well, say we find her, but she refuses to come with us. What then?"

Giles sighed, toying with the handle of the mug. "I imagine that at this point she may be quite glad to see a friendly face."

Megan nodded. "And if she isn't?"

His brow was drawn, and his mouth set in a hard line. "If we find her, she's coming with us whether she wants to or not." At Megan's questioning look he went on, "If worst comes to worst, we simply physically hold onto her and call the Council. She'll be stronger than the average sixteen year old, but she doesn't have slayer strength. They'll send some operatives to collect her and take her to a secure holding facility where we'll do our best to… well, reason with her."

"And if that doesn't work?"

Giles shifted. "I don't know. I presume she'll just… stay there."

Megan was beginning to flush with anger. "And they'll keep her there…"

"For life, I assume." He pulled off his glasses and wiped the rain from them with a napkin. He could tell they were on dangerous ground. Megan had strong views on civil liberties. "I don't know. As I said, this hasn't happened before."

"I'm not sure I feel comfortable with all this."

Giles nodded, but he didn't know what to say to reassure her. Or himself, for that matter. He put the glasses back on. "I understand. If you really feel – " Megan's phone rang, cutting him off. He was grateful not to have to finish what he was saying. He understood Megan's position, but needed all the help he could get just now.

"Yes…. All right. Thanks, Robson. We're on our way." Megan snapped the phone shut and started pulling her jacket on. "One of the seers in the coven saw Tracy running down Berwick Street. It looks like she's in trouble. We're the nearest ones to her."

Giles grabbed his jacket, and they were out the door.

* * * * *

It was dark, but the streetlights, headlights, and driving rain added an extra dimension of confusion and malignancy to the rush hour chase. A few streets down, Megan slowed to catch her breath. "I can't do… a full locator spell," she gasped, "but I can try to reach out and… get a sense of which way she's going."

"All right, but hurry." Giles removed his glasses and shook the worst of the rain from the lenses.

Megan sat on a stoop, crossed her arms over her knees, and put her head down. Giles wandered back and forth along the side street, as much to indulge his adrenaline level as to keep watch. This was taking too long. He was about to say so when Megan stood up and called to him.

"It's hard to tell in the dark…I don't know London that well… but I think she's in one of the squares nearby."

Giles' hand automatically went to rub his temple. "Golden Square? Bedford Square? Soho Square? St James' Square? Russell Square?" He glanced at Megan and stopped. She was clearly in pain. He touched her arm gently.

"Headache again?"

"Yes." She closed her eyes. "I saw bright lights. Lots of traffic. Foyles…"

Giles nodded. "That's on Tottenham Court Road. It must be Soho Square then. Are you all right? Can you carry on?"

"Yeah, let's go."

They ran, and they were soaked. The mass of homeward bound commuters hindered their progress, and they took several wrong turns before reaching the now-deserted square. The little park-like area in the middle of it was bordered by tall Regency townhouses and a French Protestant Church. Giles scanned the square. Five roads led away into a dark maze of side streets and back alleys. There was movement at one of the corners. A small, dark figure was fending off four attackers. Even from a couple of hundred yards away, he could tell they were too tall to be human.

"Tracy Sawyer!" he yelled, starting towards them. Four large figures turned to him. The small figure seized the opportunity to bolt down a side street. The large figures followed. Giles and Megan took off after all of them at full speed. A short distance ahead, a steel rubbish bin lid hit the side of a brick building with a tremendous crash. Another one followed, and rolled out of the alley onto the pavement. Giles snatched it up and ran across the street to grab another. He handed it Megan. "It's not much, but it'll have to do. Defend yourself if you have to, but don't attack them. Try to stay out of sight."

He took a deep breath and rounded the corner quickly. It brought him face to face with a Bringer. He could see every pockmark, welt, and gouge in the malformed, eyeless face of the massive demon priest. Giles swung the bin lid with every ounce of strength he possessed. The Bringer's head snapped back. Giles tore the double-headed axe from its grasp and severed its head. Three to go.

The small figure was coming up behind the Bringer in front of him.

"Hey!" she shouted, kicking it hard behind the knee. It turned and swiped at her with the axe. She jumped back, and Giles lashed out. Sodium light flashed on the blade. The Bringer went down screaming, clutching its midsection. Giles took another swing, and it was dead. Two to go.

The girl's eyes got wide. "Watch out!" she yelled, a moment too late. Another Bringer grabbed him from behind, wrapping its arms around his chest, almost lifting him off the ground. He could smell its mephitic breath. Even the shock of fear surging through him wasn't enough to give him the burst of strength he needed. The other Bringer came to stand directly in front of Giles.

It inclined its head to the girl. "You have done well," it said. Tears left tracks down the girl's dirty face as she backed away. The demon opened a bag tied round its waist and withdrew a long, serrated dagger coated in a thick black substance. The concoction reeked, and glowed with a faint green light.

The Bringer looked from the blade to Giles. "We have been waiting for you, Watcher," it hissed. "Dead or alive, you shall be bound to us." It extended a huge, mangled hand. Giles felt long, sharp fingers raze his skin as the creature lifted his shirt. Claw-like fingernails dug brutally into his chest and stomach, tracing a symbol there. It was excruciating. Giles struggled helplessly as the Bringer's blood-coated hand left him, only to be replaced by the cold bite of the dagger. It was so sharp he barely even felt it at first. The blade jerked through his skin, tracing a small pattern. The Bringer leaned forward, fixed its mouth over the wound, and began to lap at his blood. Giles continued to struggle, though he knew it was useless. He looked to the girl in desperation. She seemed to be fighting some inner demon of her own. Her face was contorted, and she was shaking her head. The tears kept coming. She wasn't going to help.

Giles closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing. He began a silent incantation to release his mystical energies. He felt them stirring faintly, once, and then they were gone, extinguished. The Bringers had blocked him somehow. He opened his eyes. The demon priest was drawing the blade across its own hand. Giles could guess what was coming next. Many binding rituals involved the exchange of bodily fluids; blood, for preference, but substitutions could often be made if necessary.

Warm rivulets of blood coursed down his body now, a stark contrast to the chill tickle of the rain. Of course the First would want to get at the slayer's watcher. Giles twisted and kicked, resisting with everything he had, but the Bringer was far too strong. He would die before he'd let the First use him. He would have forced them to kill him if he thought it would defeat their purpose, but it wouldn't. The First would have him either way. Alive or dead, it would use his body and his knowledge to destroy Buffy and everyone else. He fought, but was gripped so tightly now that he could hardly breathe, his vision was darkening, and he was seeing spots. The Bringer in front of him cried out, jerked, and turned. A long knife was deeply embedded in its back. Giles was hurled to the pavement as the Bringer holding him fell forward with a grunt.

He rolled clear as Megan hit the demon several more times with the garbage can lid. Giles wrenched the axe from its grasp, pulled himself to his knees, and severed its head. He got up and ran after the Bringer that was advancing on the girl even as it worked the knife free of its back. Giles swung his axe a final time, killing the demon that had cut him. His hands were shaking. The front of his shirt was soaked with blood, but it hadn't started to hurt yet. He supposed that would come soon enough.

Megan was staring at him in utter shock. "I'm sorry I didn't reach you sooner. Another Bringer appeared when I was waiting around the corner. Are you…?" she said numbly.

Was he all right? He had no idea. Megan had certainly looked better. "Yes. Well, still alive, anyway." He brushed a hair from her face. "How about you?" She nodded. "Give me a moment with the girl?" he said quietly. She nodded again, and walked a short distance down the alley.

It was quiet now. All he could hear was a faint, exhausted sobbing coming from the far corner, and the relentless thrum of rain hitting asphalt. As he drew nearer to the girl he could see that one sleeve was torn and both cuffs were dark with old blood. There were bruises on her face, and her long brown hair was a mess.

"Tracy?" He spoke gently and walked towards her very slowly. "Tracy Sawyer?" He didn't wait for a response. "My name is Rupert Giles. I'm from the Council of Watchers." He smiled in what he hoped was a placating and non-threatening manner, which he realised must go rather incongruously with the blood and the axe he could not bring himself to put down. "Perhaps you recognise me from my unflattering picture in the information pack Mr Robson gave you last week."

Tracy didn't reply, but shifted to take hold of the shoulder strap on
her red backpack.

"We need to talk." He pushed his wet hair back. "It's not very nice out here… and there could be more Bringers at any moment. Will you come with my friend and I? We have to get you somewhere safe, and then I'll explain everything." But before that, she would be interrogated within an inch of her life to find out why the Bringers were grateful to her.

"No." The voice was small; hoarse with tiredness and, Giles supposed, sleeping rough.

He took a breath, and tried again. "Tracy. My friend and I are here to help you. That's all we want to do." He smiled. "You helped me just now. I'd be dead – "

Tracy shook her head and clutched her bag closer. "I'll *never* do anything for you again. You'll have to kill me first." She was crying, obviously trying to get herself under control, refusing to look at him. It was almost as if she was speaking to herself. Tracy stood up and hauled the backpack onto her shoulders. She reached behind her and took her aikido staff from where it leaned against the wall.

She glanced at Giles. "Keep away from me." She started walking towards the end of the alley. Giles kept in step with her, not blocking her way just yet. In the corner of his eye he could see Megan had moved closer and was watching them.

Tracy made eye contact for a fleeting second. "My parents are dead."

This was delivered with a such a complete lack of emotion, Giles realised that, whatever had happened back in Brighton, the girl was deeply in shock, and had every right to be. Her world had exploded, and with her parents gone, her life could never go back to the way it was, ever. Not even if she somehow managed to get rid of the mad people who wouldn't leave her alone, and forgot about the monsters that she had fought and killed.

"Yes, I'm afraid they are. I'm so very sorry."

Tracy nodded politely. Her parents must have brought her up to acknowledge adults when they spoke to her, and she was in automatic just now.

They were nearing the alley's entrance, and Tracy wasn't slowing down. Giles stepped in front of her. As she moved to dodge him, he dropped the axe, reached out, and took her firmly by the shoulder straps of her backpack. She pushed at him, and tried to knee him in the groin, but he blocked her.

"Let go! You have to let me go, I can't – "

It was no small effort, but Giles managed to keep his voice calm and soft. "I'm sorry, but I can't do that. If I could leave you in peace, I would. But I can't. You're special, and you know it. You've probably always known it. You've read the material in that pack. You've heard what Robson had to say. You've seen what the Bringers can do. By all rights, you shouldn't have survived this long. Until you, they've never passed up an opportunity to kill a potential." Tracy pulled back with a choked sob, but Giles moved with her and tightened his grip. "Listen! You know that you are in terrible danger, and as long as you're on your own, you're putting many more people's lives at risk." He searched her face for a sign that he was getting through. "I know you're grieving. I know you're scared out of your bloody mind, and I don't know how to prove that you can trust me. But whatever happens next, there's so much you need to know… to- to understand. I'm asking you to please just come with me to the Council and listen to what we have to say. Will you do that much?" He released her, and she took a couple of steps back.

Tracy swallowed hard and screwed her eyes shut. "I can't fight it… I can't stop it… Stay away from me," she gasped quietly, and began walking again, fast.

Giles went after her with a swiftness fuelled by adrenaline. He caught Tracy easily, prepared to put her in a serious restraining hold. Megan was yelling something, but he didn't hear it because in that instant the girl lashed out, striking him in the center of his chest with her aikido staff. A blinding flash of green light shot down the wooden shaft, and Giles was out before he hit the ground fifteen feet from where he'd started.

* * * * *

The darkness was penetrated by the overwhelming need to breathe. And cough. Giles did both convulsively. Hands on his shoulders pressed him back onto the cold, wet pavement. At least someone had put something soft under his head. Rain was still falling on his face, but his glasses were gone. He couldn't stop coughing, and tried to sit up in an effort to ease it. The hands pressed harder.

"Try not to move, love," Megan said shakily. "You've been unconscious for a few minutes. That blow to your chest stopped your heart, and I had to give you CPR. I've called the Council and they're sending someone to pick us up. Just keep still while I check you over, yeah?"

He nodded absently, his mind still foggy. He knew there was something he had to do, but hadn't the faintest idea what it was. Megan ran practised hands over his head, feeling for bumps; then moved to his ribs, making sure she hadn't broken any with her compressions. Her gaze lingered on his chest and stomach for a moment, and he could tell something was wrong, though she smiled reassuringly. She took his pulse and inspected the inside of his mouth with a penlight, checking for blood. She shone the light into each of his eyes in turn, and gave him a quick grin, followed by a light kiss on the forehead. "Well, that's something. The last thing you need is another bloody concussion."

He smiled agreeably, and let the darkness close in again.

* * * * *

It was soft under his back now, and he was warm. Very warm. Pain in the crook of his arm. He shifted. Someone gripped his left wrist.

"Just a second. Almost done."

It was a familiar voice, but one he hadn't heard in a long time. His arm throbbed again. A soft bit of something was pressed onto the part that throbbed, and the hand on his wrist bent his elbow up to hold it in place. Giles opened his eyes and squinted at the bright lights, then at the doctor hovering beside the… damn, it was a treatment table. The Council infirmary was as pleasant and non-threatening as one could hope for, but he'd sworn he'd never be here again.

"It's about time you were awake. Do you know where you are?"

Close-cropped brown hair, blue eyes, boyish round face, Edinburgh accent. "Peterson?"

The young doctor smiled. "I'm impressed. I wouldn't have thought you'd remember my name under the best of circumstances." He handed an attendant a long vial of dark blood. "Get path started on that right away. Tell them to note any anomalies, however trivial. The sample may contain demon contaminates, so be very careful how you handle it."

A watcher whose name Giles couldn't remember leaned over him with a camera. It popped and whirred a couple of times. He suddenly felt rather naked, though he still had his jeans on. Thank God.

"What's that for," Giles said weakly as the woman turned to go, "the school paper?"

"We need a record of that symbol the Bringer carved into you," said a new, all-too-familiar voice. Travers. "Hello, Rupert." He moved into Giles' field of vision and forced an amiable smile.

This night just kept getting better.

"Quentin." Giles was with it enough to feel the burn and sting of the cuts the Bringer had made. He sighed, and the sharp ache in the centre of his chest reminded him that he'd been killed that evening. He wasn't prepared to deal with all that went with that realisation, and pushed it to the back of his mind for now. Then the rest of it came back to him.

"Tracy. *Shit*." He sat up slowly, swung his legs over the side of the table, and swayed as he was assaulted from all sides by nausea, dizziness, a splitting headache, and, of course, the more superficial cuts and deeper pains. He teetered on the side of the table for a moment. Peterson, Travers, Megan, and Robson all stepped in to catch him as he fell forward.

"He's in shock. Hardly surprising," said Peterson.

Megan and Robson supported him as he sat on the table and waited for the worst of the initial reaction to subside.

Peterson reappeared with two hypodermics. "One for the sickness, one for the pain. It'll probably make you quite groggy. All right?"

Giles nodded, and let the doctor do his worst. "When can I get out of here?"

Peterson turned to Travers, who, like Megan and Robson, was still staring at the symbol on Giles' chest. Giles noted their troubled expressions and had a look for himself. His torso was a ragged mass of lacerations roughly fashioned into a malevolent-looking pattern. The sudden surge of fear made him dizzy again.

"I'll get rid of that for you in a little while," said Megan. "That's why they took the photos just now."

Travers looked to the doctor. "Is he fit to leave?"

"Ideally, he should stay here for observation, at least for tonight. But he's out of danger. There's significant abdominal bruising, but nothing's actually broken. His vital signs are more or less stable, and –"

"And he's right here," Giles cut in. "Please talk to him."

Peterson smiled apologetically. "Sorry. You've lost enough blood to make you feel weak and rough, but not a sufficient amount to warrant giving you any more. You were extremely fortunate that your friend was able to resuscitate you." He glanced at Megan, and then back to Giles. "She saved your life. You're in good shape generally, and provided you take it easy, you should be pretty well back to normal in a few days."

The infirmary was comfortable enough, but apart from his disinclination to be poked and prodded any further, he had too much to do, and just wanted to be left alone to decompress. On top of that, he didn't like the uneasy way everyone was looking at him. "I'll go back to the hotel then," he said, and glanced around for his shirt. It was lying on the floor, presumably where Peterson had dropped it after he had cut it off. "That was new," he said tiredly. "Can someone get me my jacket, so I don't have to go into the hotel half naked?"

"Oh, don't worry about that, Rupert." said Travers lightly. "I'm having a suite made up for you in the guest quarters. Your luggage will be brought over."

Giles looked from Travers to Robson, who seemed uncomfortable. There was definitely something going on. "No, really, I'd just as soon – "

"The truth is, we want you here, where we can keep an eye on you," said Travers. "At least until we have the results of Peterson's tests, and," he inclined his head to Megan, "Ms Jones here has removed that…" he waved a finger at Giles' chest, "well, whatever it is. And even then, medical tests can only tell us so much. It may take rather longer to ascertain whether your mystical energies have been affected."

Giles looked at him. "And what if I were to say we don't have time for this, and walk out the door right now?" As if he didn't know.

"You would be stopped," said Travers. "From what Ms Jones has told us, the potential knifed that Bringer before it was able to complete the binding ritual. But whether she stopped it in time, who knows. Neither do we know what kind of mystical energy might have passed from her to you when she struck you."

"You have quite the bedside manner, Quentin." Giles rubbed his eyes. "She shouldn't have had any power. Potentials don't have power. I don't know what's going on, but I'm no use to anyone sitting around here. I'll have to leave sooner or later. Preferably sooner."

"I cleaned a lot of black fluid out of those gouges," said Peterson. "Some of it was definitely ichor, but there may have been other substances as well. We'll have to wait until the tests come back to know whether it's entered your bloodstream." He hesitated a moment. "If it has, I'm not sure what effect will be, or quite how we'll treat it."

"How long will it take to get the results?" said Giles.

Peterson shrugged. "A day or two, to isolate all known demon fluids."

Giles shook his head. "No, that's too long," he said softly.

Travers sighed. "You understand that we simply cannot take the chance of having you at liberty as an agent of the First. If you were in my position, you'd do the same. We've no choice but to wait and see how the results turn out."

Giles nodded slowly. Even more than usual, it had come down to an "us" and "you" situation, with him on the outside. "If they come back positive, would you tell me?"

Travers made a noncommittal gesture. "Let's hope we don't have to cross that bridge."

Giles understood. If he became a genuine threat, the less warning he, or the First, had that the Council was onto him, the better for everyone.

Robson shifted anxiously. "Sir, I wonder if we've fully considered the implications of having Giles here at Council headquarters if he really *has* been bound to the First? There must be somewhere less…sensitive… he can be… kept?" He threw Giles an apologetic look. "Sorry, you know what I mean."

Travers shook his head. "If the First is going to use Rupert, it won't matter where he is. At least if he's here we'll have the earliest possible warning, and be able to…" he looked away, "well, react quickly."

Flushed with anger, Megan said harshly, "You mean kill him. After everything he's done for you, you'd kill him without even trying to help him!"

"Yes," said Giles. "And so they should." He reached out, took her hand, and squeezed it as he looked at Travers. "What are you doing about Tracy?"

Travers jaw tightened. "I've given the order to shoot her on sight, if possible." As Giles' mouth fell open, he went on, "I'm sorry, Rupert, but something's clearly got to her, and she's a liability now. Better we lose one potential than all of them. And the slayer. And that's just for starters." He looked at Giles evenly. "You've just said that if you were affected by the First, we would be obliged to remove you as a threat. This potential is no different."

The medication had started to kick in. Giles fought hard to keep alert, to make a cogent argument for the girl, but his eyes kept closing. A flutter of panic seized him at the thought of becoming unconscious again, but he found himself leaning more and more heavily on Megan.

"He's had enough for one day," he heard her say as he drifted off into a thick haze. "If you can get him up to his room, I'll remove the symbol and stay with him."

* * * * *

Warm again, and soft this time. More relaxed. Just the muted light from a single lamp by the… bed. Giles opened his eyes. Megan was curled up in an armchair nearby.

She looked up from her book and smiled at him. "Hello."

"Hello."

She put the book down and came to sit beside him on the bed. "How do you feel?"

Giles wasn't sure. "Better. I think. In some ways."

She nodded. "That's a start. I've got that symbol off you. It wasn't easy. I used a bit of mystical energy to put you in a more profound sleep. If you hadn't been asleep to begin with, I'd have asked your permission before I did it, but I didn't want to wake you to… put you to sleep. That seemed a bit silly." He nodded, and she smiled. "I did it because I had to go deeper under the skin to make really sure the wounds healed properly, and won't leave any scars or marks on you that the First could use."

Giles ran his fingers over his chest and stomach. It felt normal. He looked down. It looked normal. Even the livid bruises were gone. That was a relief. "Thank you," he said. "And… thank you for saving my life." It was surprisingly difficult to vocalise the fact that she had had to do so in the first place. He smiled at her, and dropped his hand over hers. She covered it with her free hand, and squeezed it. "But you know getting rid of that thing doesn't mean I'm in the clear."

"No. Not yet." She met his eyes with a searching look. "While you were out, I took the opportunity to see if I could get a sense of how your mystical energies have been affected by Tracy's power."

"And?"

She sighed. "Nothing conclusive. They're very disrupted, but simply withstanding the shock of foreign energies flooding you like that could have that effect."

Giles nodded. "My energies had gone wrong before that, though. I tried to repel the Bringers before they cut me, but as soon as I started to summon my power, they blocked it. I don't know what it's doing now. I haven't tried to use it since."

"Don't. You're not up to it right now." Megan frowned. "Are you sure it was the Bringers that blocked it, and not Tracy?"

Giles blinked. "I don't know. I suppose it could have been, but I've no idea. I was a bit distracted by the huge demon waving a knife at me."

"Your glasses are there," she said, indicating the bedside table. "I picked them up for you in the alley. You must have some amazing scratch protection on the lenses. There's not a mark on them."

He smiled. "I pay extra for it. Thanks."

Megan fell silent, running her finger over his knuckles.

"What is it?" Giles asked quietly.

She smiled slightly, her eyes suddenly bright with unshed tears. "I was… terrified… when they had you," she said. "And then again when Tracy hit you."

The corner of his mouth quirked up. "Well, that makes two of us."

"I knew it was up to me. If you could be saved, It was up to me to do it. And there was only one chance to do it, because there wasn't much time." She smiled sheepishly. "I almost lost it. I was so desperate to save you, I almost couldn't do it, because I was so scared, I couldn't remember for sure how to do CPR." She laughed softly at the irony. "Some healer, hey?"

Giles tightened his grip on her hand and smiled. "Yes, some healer. You did wonderfully." The smile faded. "You shouldn't be here. I don't know what's going to happen. If I've been bound to the First, it could take me over without warning. I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you."

"If you've been affected, there'll be a massive surge in your mystical energies as the First takes over. I'd feel that."

"Not in time."

"In time to have a good head start. I'm not leaving you. Travers and his minions might be treating you abominably, but you won't get rid of me so easily, love."

Giles shook his head. "No. I can't – "

"I'm staying. So stop arguing before I put you to sleep again."

Giles gave her an evaluative stare for a moment, then pulled himself up a little and leaned back against the headboard. "If you're going to stay," he said slowly, "go down to the armoury and get them to issue you with a .38." She was shaking her head, but he kept going. "As soon as you're certain I've been taken over, you're to shoot me, and keep shooting until you're sure I'm dead. Then you're to have me cremated immediately." She was staring at him, and he knew she was about to argue. More gently, he said, "If the First has me, I'm as good as dead anyway. You'd be doing me a favour."

"I understand what you're saying, and I… I do believe it's a possibility, but I really don't know if I could shoot you."

"Then go back to the coven, and do what you can from there! If you stay with me, you'll do it on my terms. Otherwise, for God's sake, keep your bloody distance! Enough people are in danger as it is, without you doing this!" He hated himself for saying it, but it was the truth, and her care for him, however much he appreciated it, and loved her for it, could get her killed.

"Rupert – "

He shook his head and gripped her hands hard. "I'm sorry, but we cannot underestimate the danger we're in if the First plans to use me. Please don't make this harder than it is."

"I don't intend to."

"I know," he sighed. "Even if you *were* to kill me, that still may not be enough," he said. "The First could still appear in my form. So the moment I die, you're to call Buffy and the Council and tell them what happened. The *moment* I die. Do you promise?"

Megan wiped her eyes on her sleeve. "Fine. I promise." She sighed. "I'll go to the armoury first thing."

"Go now."

* * * * *

By six o'clock the next evening, Giles had had enough of pacing the corridors, smiling politely at friends too nervous to spend any but the shortest amount of time with him. One of them told him that the Bringers had just killed a young watcher he'd been friendly with. The man had died defending his potential.

Giles had made several unsuccessful attempts to summon his energies, trying to get a sense of whether they'd been affected. He'd searched himself in the mirror for signs of possession, thrall, or any indication that the binding ritual had been completed. He'd read up on the First, the Bringers, potentials, demonic rituals, weapons, and spells until his vision became too blurry to continue. He'd even wandered down to the pathology lab, and had been asked to leave. His body was practically thrumming with nervous energy. Tracy could be anywhere by now. As a last resort, he went back to the library wing and sent an email to Willow, telling her what was happening. He warned her to watch out for a dangerous potential, should she suddenly turn up on the doorstep, and gave Tracy's description. As he sent the message, a new one appeared in his inbox, from an address he didn't recognise.

*Meet me at the entrance to Green Park by the tube station tonight at 7. Bring other people with you. Tracy Sawyer*

Giles stared at it. If it really was from Tracy on her own volition, he'd have thought the last thing she'd want would be for him to turn up with half the Council. Certainly not if she knew they'd shoot first and ask questions later. He couldn't leave the Council building. He *shouldn't* leave the Council building. He was there for a very good reason. He couldn't send anyone in his stead. It could be a trap. He frowned. He had to go alone. There had to be an explanation for everything that had happened, and Tracy was a human being as well as a weapon in an age-old battle. She was facing death or worse at the hands of the Bringers and the First; and death or life imprisonment at the pleasure of the Council. It was sickening to think that she could – and probably would – lose her life without ever being given so much as a chance to tell her story. But if either side caught him trying to help her, they'd both be dead.

Giles wondered what it would be like if and when the First took possession of him. Maybe it already had, and was manipulating him even now. That would explain the decision he'd just made.

*Only just got your message. Be there as soon as I can. May have some difficulty, so if I'm late please wait for me. Rupert Giles* Send. Who knew where Tracy had sent her email from, or whether she'd get his message and wait for him.

Giles got up and walked back to his room at a normal enough pace. He picked up his wallet and took some, but not all, of the paper notes. It wouldn't immediately be missed. Megan was meeting with Robson and some of the others, and probably wouldn't be back for a while. There were CCTV cameras all over the building, and security posted at every entrance. His stomach lurched and his palms began to sweat as he made his way downstairs and into the main hall. The beginning of a panic attack. The gents' was just ahead. He went in and splashed cold water on his face, then stood up and sighed as a cool waft of fresh air hit him. Fresh air. From the open window. On the ground floor. Giles almost laughed. So much for security. After all these years, they'd never twigged to this.

He was neither as agile, nor as thin, as he'd been the last time he'd climbed out of a Council restroom window, but it was a successful attempt nonetheless, and he was free. But undoubtedly not for long.

* * * * *

Giles raced to Goodge Street station and crammed himself into the packed lift just as the doors closed. He fidgeted as it descended to the platform level with painful slowness. He checked his watch. 7:09. He mentally exhorted Tracy to wait. He would be there as fast as he bloody could. As soon as they realised he was gone, Megan would do a locator spell and that would be it. He boarded a train at last, and one stop down, at Tottenham Court Road, he changed to the Central Line. The next stop, Oxford Circus, lived up to its name, and he had to wait eight minutes to fight his way onto the next Victoria Line train to Green Park.

As he passed through the tall, wrought-iron gates that led into the park, Giles glanced at his watch again and sighed heavily. 7:28. There was still a bit of daylight left, and he walked a short distance down the tree-lined path, scanning the crowd of tourists and commuters for one small girl.

"Mr Giles?"

The timid pat on his back made him whirl around, and Tracy jumped back.

"Sorry," he smiled. "You startled me."

She smiled slightly for the first time since he'd met her, and she sighed heavily with what appeared to be relief. "I can't believe you're alive. I thought I killed you."

"You very nearly did. My friend resuscitated me." He paused. "If you thought I was dead, why did you email me?"

She shrugged slightly. "Nothing to lose. It was in the information pack, so I tried it. I'm sorry. I didn't want to hurt you. I tried not to, but you wouldn't back off." Tracy's eyes darted around. "Where are the others?"

"There aren't any. I had to come alone."

Tracy began to look nervous. "I told you. You shouldn't have done that. Not after last time. I can't stay, then." She began backing away.

Giles reached out and put his hand on her shoulder very gently, uncomfortably aware of how his actions might appear to passers-by. "No, please stay and talk to me, just for a minute. That's probably all we have anyway. I'm not supposed to be here." He decided to be honest with her, in the hope that she would respond in kind. "We're not sure if you were able to stop the Bringer before it bound me to the First. The Council's running some tests to see what they can find out, and in the meantime they've had me under a sort of house arrest. I'm sure they're on their way by now, and I'd like to get some answers from you before they arrive."

He looked at her appraisingly. Dirty hair, face, hands, and clothes. Rusty brown bloodstains on her sleeves. She was a mess. "Are you all right?"

Her mouth opened, but she seemed incapable of forming an answer. Her eyes filled with tears.

Giles nodded. He threw a quick glance up and down the path. So far so good. "Let's sit down for a minute." He led her to a bench, fished in his pocket for a handkerchief, and handed it to her. Unfortunately, there was no time to win her trust; no time to negotiate this conversation with the tact and care that was unquestionably required. "My friend and I spoke to your parents on Sunday. The day they died. They were very proud of you. Very worried. They told us what happened the day you ran away."

Tracy shook her head. "Don't talk about my parents."

"Your father told me he'd come into your room and found you cutting your wrists." No response. "May I see your wrists?"

"No. They're fine."

"What happened when you went home the day before yesterday?" he asked gently. The girl swallowed hard as tears streamed down her face. "Tracy, if you did something against your will, you won't be held accountable for it, I promise."

Her expression hardened. "You think that's what I'm worried about?"

"I don't *know* exactly what you're worried about," Giles said honestly. "I don't know how much you believe of what we've told you. I don't know what you did in Brighton. I don't know why you came to London. I don't know why… or how… you did what you did last night. I don't know why you asked me to come here, or to bring other people with me." He cast another quick look up and down the path. "And I don't know whose side you're on. First you save my life, then you stop my heart. I'd say your messages have been mixed, at best." He smiled slightly at her.

* * * * *

It obviously took some force of will, but Tracy nodded. "When I went home on Sunday, the front door was open, and Mum was screaming." She stopped, gathering herself. When she began to speak again, her voice took on the same flat, dull quality that it had the night before, when she'd told him that her parents were dead, prompting Giles to wonder how close she was to a psychological breakdown. "I went inside and saw two Bringers. One had my mum, and... and one had my dad. I made a noise. I couldn't help it. I was scared."

"Of course you were," said Giles. "What did you do?"

"I was standing by the hall cupboard. The Bringer let go of my dad, and started to come towards me. I didn't think. I just grabbed my aikido sword from the cupboard. The Bringer overpowered me. I fought as hard as I could, but it was too strong. It dragged me over to my mum and stood behind me and put my hands on the hilt of the sword." She stopped again, hyperventilating. Giles put his hand on her back and rubbed gently until her breathing calmed. He wondered how long it would take for the special operatives to arrive. This was probably the only chance Tracy had to tell her story to someone who would listen.

"It stood behind you and put your hands on the hilt, and then what?" he prompted softly.

"It held me like that, and brought the sword back, and… cut my mum's head off. The Bringer let her go, and grabbed my dad. He couldn't move anyway. And they did the same thing again."

"Made you hold the sword while it severed your father's head."

Tracy nodded, elbows on her knees, and face in her hands as she began shaking and crying uncontrollably. Giles tentatively put an arm around her, and hoped neither of them was about to be taken over. The poor kid really needed a psychiatrist to help her through this, but she wasn't going to get one, and he didn't have time to let her cry herself out. It was almost dark.

"I'm so sorry, but we really don't have much time. Can you tell me any more? How did you escape the Bringers?"

After a few moments, Tracy lifted her head from her hands and went on as calmly as she could. "I didn't. They just disappeared after Mum and Dad…"

"So you grabbed some things to take with you, including your aikido jo."

"It's the only other weapon I have. I couldn't stay there," she said. "What was I supposed to tell the police? I just got on a train and came here."

Giles nodded. "We found the sword you put in the skip." Tracy looked at him, startled. "My friend is a seer," he said. "She has special abilities in somewhat the same way you do. She saw you put it in there. Why did you bring it all the way to London?"

Tracy rubbed her eyes. "I came to London because I couldn't decide if I should try to find you or not. I brought the sword and dumped it because I couldn't leave it at home. My fingerprints were on it, and I knew what everybody would think."

Giles nodded. "I must ask you to forgive the abruptness of this question, but why did you try to commit suicide last week?"

Tracy's jaw set.

"You've told me this much. Please tell me the rest. You may not have another opportunity," Giles pressed, hoping he wasn't pushing her beyond endurance.

"I was attacked at school," she began.

"I know." She looked at him, and he said, "The Council's had you under surveillance since the First began targeting potentials."

She nodded, obviously past the point of being surprised by anything. "I didn't know what the thing was that attacked me. It cut me on the arm and drank my blood. Then it cut itself on its hand and shoved its hand in my mouth. I pulled away and spat out the blood, but I…" her voice became unsteady, "I think I still swallowed some. I started feeling really weird. I'd kind of zone out and start writing all these symbols, or saying things in languages I've never heard." She stopped, frowning, and looked at him. "I wrote `Rupert Giles'. Those were the only words I wrote in English. That's why I kind of freaked out when I saw your name in all that junk the other man…"

"Robson."

"Yeah, in all that stuff he gave me to read. When I looked at it, I knew it was a Bringer that had attacked me at school. I read about the way they mess with people's minds and make them do things, and about what a potential is, and what the slayer does, and how it's up to the slayer and the potentials to save the world from this thing called the First… Is that right?"

Giles nodded. "Spot on."

Tracy's jaw tensed again, and she fiddled with her backpack. "I'm not stupid. I know there are things we don't understand, and there have been things about *me* I don't understand for as long as I can remember. Like you said, I've always known I was different. I just didn't know *why*. So when I read all that and thought about what the Bringer had done to me, and how we'd drunk each other's blood and that the stuff I had been doing meant it had probably bound me to the First… " She shrugged helplessly. "I was able to stop zoning out sometimes, able to resist it a little. But I know it's only a matter of time. So I tried to kill myself before it made me do something really bad… When my dad caught me before I could do it, I just ran, so at least I wouldn't be putting them in danger. But they were anyway. After a couple of days I felt so bad about how worried Mum and Dad must be that I went back to tell them what was happening." She shook her head. "But it was too late." Her chest heaved, but she didn't cry this time. Giles supposed she was just too exhausted.

"I'm so sorry… what they did to you and your parents…" Giles shook his head. "I suspect they were trying to break you, psychologically. So that the last of your resistance would dissolve, and the First could take you over without having to use so much force as to render you useless to its purpose."

"I don't understand any of this. I killed my parents! Even if they made me swing it, I was the one who got the sword out of the cupboard. I don't know why I did that. I knew I couldn't fight them. I should have known they'd just use my weapon against me." She shook her head. "You don't bring out a weapon if you can't match your opponent. They told us that in my first aikido lesson, when I was nine. I killed them."

Giles got off the bench and knelt in front of her. "*No*, you absolutely did not. Tracy, the Bringer held your hands on the sword while *it* swung it and killed them. If you hadn't had that sword, they'd have wrapped your hands around one of their axes. You didn't kill anybody. And you saved a little boy from a vampire yesterday."

"If I hadn't been a potential, they'd still be alive," she forced out. Giles had no comeback for that. Tracy raised her eyes to meet his. "And, I killed *you*… you said so yourself."

Giles sat back on the seat beside her, and decided to leave the subject of her parents alone for the time being. "Yes. Let's talk about that." He scanned the park again. "Briefly."

"It was the First again. That was the worst it's ever been. I was able to fight it while the Bringers were there, and I could feel it getting worse. I tried to get away from you, but you wouldn't let me. I couldn't hold on, and all I saw was a flash of green light. I don't know what it was, or how I did it." She looked at him. "I'm really sorry. I know it used me to hurt you. Maybe it's still going to. That's why I told you not to come here by yourself."

"It's all right. You couldn't help it, and I'm still here. That power belongs to the First, not to you." It was getting colder. He glanced at his watch. 8:23. "Do you have any warning signs when the First is about to take you over?" he said.

"Not unless it starts really slow." She swallowed hard. "I can… kind of feel it now. I think you'd better go. I just wanted to tell you… to tell someone what happened. `Cause I think I'm going to be dead soon, and I just wanted to say I'm sorry. Will you call my grandparents and tell them I'm sorry?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Giles could see several dark figures running down the path towards them. There was no one else about.

"Thanks for coming, Mr Giles, but I have to go now," she blurted. "Keep away from me. I shouldn't even have asked you to meet me. It was too dangerous."

Giles stood up. "Tell me where you're going," he said desperately, as the figures' pace increased. "I'll come and find you later. There's still a great deal we have to talk about. There has to be a way to break the First's connection with you. I'll find it, and then I'll take you to the slayer and the other potentials."

"Waterloo Station," she said reluctantly, and pelted down the path. She had looked at him with the penetrating hope of the very young, and he knew that whatever she had said, there might still be a chance for her, and she deserved that chance; all the more so because she had been willing to give up her life for a cause she could hardly comprehend, yet knew to be larger and more important than herself and her family. That was a hell of a leap for a sixteen year old to make. Giles turned to face the figures.

Robson reached him first, breathless. "Was that her?" Giles didn't respond. "Giles! Was that her?" Robson gave him an angry look, drew his gun, and took off after Tracy.

Giles stood frozen for a moment, poised between being one of "us", and one of "them". He set off in pursuit of Robson. He ignored the shouting, and the footfalls that pounded close behind him. Giles was older, but fitter, and about seventy yards down the path he brought his friend down in a bone-crunching rugby tackle. He felt his power stirring, but hardly had time to register the fact before three special operatives in full body armour seized him. They flung him away from Robson and held him face down on the wet grass. The cold barrel of a semi-automatic dug into the back of his neck. Two of them knelt on his back while the other snapped handcuffs tight around his wrists.

"I'm not taken over," he gasped. "I have to talk to Robson! Robson – "

"Mr Robson and a couple of the lads have gone after the girl, so just you relax," said the one kneeling beside him in a tone of professional calm obviously designed to soothe an agitated suspect.

Two gunshots cracked in the distance, and they all flinched. Giles turned his head to look back down the path, but the operative was in the way. "Can I get up, please?" he said.

"Sorry, mate," said the operative. "We've orders you're not to move until Mr Robson gets back."

Giles was fairly sure now that if he were to summon his power, it would respond. It would also almost certainly get him shot.

Twenty minutes later, footsteps approached. "Lost her," said Robson. He sighed exasperatedly. "Well, let's get him back to the Council, anyway."

Giles was hauled to his feet by his rather stiff arms, and came face to face with the furious watcher. "What the *hell* do you think you were you doing?" exploded Robson. "Do you know how close you came to getting shot? And now we've lost her!"

"What have you done?" Giles demanded. He felt the operatives' grip tighten as he tensed. "Did you shoot her?"

Robson shook his head. "I don't know. If we hit her, she was able to keep running."

"There's a better way to handle this. I talked to her for quite a long time," said Giles. "She cleared up a lot of things, including what happened to her parents."

Robson's face was set in stone. "Has the First got to her?"

Giles opened his mouth, torn between the truth he knew he should tell, and a lie that could save Tracy, or kill them all.

"Fine. Tell it to Travers," Robson said after a moment, and Giles knew his friend was hurt that he hadn't received an answer. He indicated for the operatives to go ahead, and Giles was taken back up to the park entrance, and into the waiting car.

* * * * *

Still handcuffed, Giles was escorted into the common room and told to wait. The same three operatives took up positions by the door and the windows. Five minutes later, Travers and Robson arrived.

Travers placed a digital voice recorder on the coffee table. "You've no objection to this conversation being recorded, do you?" he said.

"No."

Travers eyed him, and turned to one of the operatives. "I think we can dispense with the handcuffs. Unlock him, please."

The operative did so, and Giles went to sit on the sofa, rubbing his sore wrists.

"Rupert, I cannot imagine what you were thinking tonight, so please enlighten me." He leaned forward and switched on the recorder. "This is the testimony of Rupert Giles, on Tuesday, the fifteenth of October, two thousand and two. The time is ten forty-seven in the evening. Present are Quentin Travers, Martin Robson, and special operatives MacKenzie, Lewis, and Ziegler." He looked at Giles. "Please state your name for the record."

Infuriating as it was when Travers defaulted to petty procedure rather than taking the initiative as the situation required, Giles had to play along. It would be no bad thing to put Tracy's story on record. "Rupert Giles."

"Do you agree that you are giving this testimony of your own free will?"

"Yes."

"And do you agree to this conversation being recorded and transcribed?"

"Yes."

"Then please begin."

"I'd like Megan Jones to be present. I want her to hear this."

Travers shook his head. "I'm sorry, but she's not authorised to take part in Council procedures. You can talk to her afterwards."

Giles knew when he was being lied to. Travers didn't want an outsider's sympathies muddying the waters. This was the only time he'd have a chance to plead Tracy's case, and he needed as many allies as possible. He was no longer be certain if he could count on Robson. "I'm making a formal request for Megan Jones to be here, and you have no legitimate reason to deny it. I'm sure we'd all like to get this over with as quickly as possible." He let the implied threat hang in the air.

Travers' frown deepened, but he went to a side table by the window and picked up the phone.

Megan arrived a couple of minutes later and sat down beside him on the sofa. She eyed him with concern and gave him a small smile, which he returned.

"You okay?" she said.

He nodded wearily. "You're the one who found me, I take it?"

"Actually, no. When we realised you'd gone, Travers summoned everyone who'd seen you today, and basically reconstructed your movements. The librarian said you'd been at the computer for a while. They accessed your email, and there it was."

Giles nodded. He knew he'd have a reason to dislike email if he had it long enough. "All right, here it is", he said. "As you know, Tracy sent an email asking that I come and meet her at seven o'clock this evening."

For the next hour, Giles told them everything they needed to know about Tracy. What had happened to her; to her parents; how she had tried to resist the First; and how, when she realised that it was hopeless, she had been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to remove herself as a threat the only way she knew how. He told them why she had first defended, then attacked him in the alley. He told them how brave she had been to contact him again after what had happened, and in asking him to bring reinforcements for his own good. It wasn't her fault that he hadn't been able to. He told them why she had been running when Robson and the operatives arrived, how it had been out of concern for his safety, and not her own. "I believe she deserves all the help we can give her," he said.

"And you believe everything Tracy told you," said Travers.

"She was lucid, and had no reason to lie," said Giles. "She was genuinely distressed, frightened, and exhausted, and I don't think that she was capable of spinning me a yarn I wouldn't see through. Not in the state she was in. Besides which," he added, "I do have some experience with teenagers. There's not much they can get past me at this point."

"We're not talking about sneaking off to see a boy," said Travers.

"I'm aware of that," said Giles, pushing down the irritation.

"This girl is an agent of the most formidable enemy we've yet faced," said Travers. "And it seems to be using her to get at you. If the First wanted her dead, it would have killed her just as it has the other potentials. It's letting her live for a reason, and that reason seems to involve you… the current slayer's watcher." He sighed. "And so far, its plan seems to be going very well. Whether Tracy's telling the truth or not, as an agent of the First or not, she's reeled you in quite nicely, and got you doing just as she – or it – asks."

"That's not –"

"And how you could leave the premises knowing the danger we'd all – including Tracy – be in if you were suddenly taken over is beyond me," said Travers. "And frankly it's giving us considerable cause for concern with regard to the possible influence the First is having on *you*."

"I didn't go out under the influence of the First," said Giles.

"Not so far as you were aware," said Robson. "Tracy, the First, whatever. She could have told you anything. Made you hear what you wanted to hear."

"What I *wanted* to hear?" said Giles, bristling. "I've no reason to be biased in her favour! I'd never met her before yesterday! I'm just going on the evidence I've seen and heard for myself."

"I'm going to stop the recording now, at eight minutes past twelve am, while we have a brief recess to decide what course of action to take with regard to Rupert Giles," said Travers, and he snapped off the machine. He stood up, beckoned to Robson and Megan, and headed for the door. As they went out into the hall, he turned back to Giles with a faint smile. "We'll be a few minutes. Don't go anywhere, will you?"

* * * * *

In fact, it was well over an hour later when Travers reappeared, alone this time. Giles wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not.

Travers perched on the edge of the armchair looking almost as wrung out as Giles felt. "All right, Rupert, this is what we're going to do," he said tiredly. "I believe that your actions were prompted by a genuine desire to help this girl; and I believe that *you* believe the story you've told us."

"I didn't tell you a `story' – " Giles began.

Travers held up a hand. "Yes, I've just said I believe that as far as you're concerned, you were telling the truth. But be that as it may, the jury's still out on whether you were actually in control of yourself for some or all of what happened this evening."

"I *was*," Giles insisted. Wasn't he? His power had returned when he went after Robson. What did that mean?

Travers shook his head. "You can't be sure of that, any more than we can." His expression softened. "I've known you a long time, Rupert, and I know that, although we don't always agree on the method, we do both fight for the same cause. I truly believe it would be best for all concerned if Tracy was disabled as a threat before she brings you, and everybody else, down with her. You, apparently, have a different view."

"Yes."

"Various suggestions have been made, ranging from sedation to incarceration, but as we've already established, if the First has you, there's really nothing we can do short of…"

"Killing me."

"As you say. So we're simply going to confine you to quarters until Peterson has the test results. When those come back we'll re-evaluate the situation; and in the meantime we're going to keep searching for the girl."

Giles nodded.

Travers looked at him. "I don't suppose she gave you any idea of where she was going?"

Giles met Travers' interrogative stare without blinking. "No."

Travers nodded with an air of finality and addressed the operatives. "That will be all for now, gentlemen. You can take Mr Giles back to his room."

* * * * *

Four operatives were posted outside the entrance to the guest suite, and two were actually in the room with him. Apparently, Travers didn't trust him. Giles took an armful of clothes from his suitcase and announced that he was going to take a shower.

"Alone," he said pointedly, as the operatives stood up. "There's no bloody window in here; what do you think I'm going to do, escape down the plughole?" Giles shut and locked the door on them.

He took his wallet and other papers from where they were tangled up in the bundle of clothes he'd thrown on the floor, and sat down on the side of the bath to collect himself. It was nearly two in the morning and he was exhausted. His chest still ached. His body had been through a great deal, and hadn't had much of a chance to get over the battering of the previous night. He stood up and turned on the shower. Tension and fear coursed through him as he began to summon his mystical energies for the second time that night. At least, he hoped it was his own energies he was calling on. He leaned on the wall for support. The surge of energy was slow in coming, and took more effort to raise than usual, but he brought them forth steadily, visualising a side street around the corner. He should be able to manage that much. Teleportation took a huge amount of energy, and was not a spell one could easily recover from if it went wrong.

Gradually, the sound of the shower receded, and the surface under his hands turned from smooth plaster to rough brick. A damp breeze ruffled his hair, and he opened his eyes, momentarily disoriented. It had worked. He couldn't see the Council building, so it was fairly safe to assume that he was out of range of the CCTV cameras. He walked to Goodge Street as fast as he dared, and got the Northern Line down to Waterloo Station.

Giles looked around as the escalator reached the main station concourse. It was quiet, but there were a surprising number of people about even at this hour: platform guards; cleaning staff; students sleeping atop their bags; the homeless sleeping under theirs. He walked a little way along the platform, and glanced at the schedule board. Then he saw the now-familiar red backpack and aikido staff. He sighed. Tracy lay asleep in front of the Body Shop outlet. He knelt down and shook her gently.

"Tracy."

She woke with a jerk. "Get off!"

"Shh, it's all right. It's Giles," he said, glancing up and down the platform. He scanned her for obvious injury. "Are you hurt?"

"No, they shot at me, but they missed."

"Well, thank goodness for that." They mustn't linger in a big open space. "Then let's get out of here, shall we? There's a train about to go. Quickly, now."

Tracy just nodded, got to her feet, and stumbled after him to the ticket machine, and then onto the train. Only when the train had started to move did she ask where they were going.

"Heathrow. I'm taking you to California, to be with the slayer."

Tracy sat up, her face a picture of dismay. "No, I told you, it's not safe! That's the last place I should go!"

"I have a friend there – Willow Rosenberg – she's a very powerful witch. The most powerful I know, and between us we may be able to get the First to leave you… and me… alone. At least for now. I can't stay in this country, the Council will reach me in no time, and I've used up all my credit with them." He froze. "Do you have your passport with you?"

"Yeah. I brought a bunch of stuff like that from… home."

Giles sighed with relief. "Thank God. I would teleport us, but I'm not up to it at the moment. I'm afraid we'll have to fly. But again, we don't have much time." He looked at her. "How are you feeling? With the First. Any sign of it?"

She nodded. "It came and went. I saw some Bringers when I was running, but I lost them." She hesitated. "What about you?"

He shrugged. "Shortly after you left, my power… at least, I *hope* it was my power… started to become accessible again. I used it to teleport out of the Council, but it took all my energy just to do that much. I won't be able to use it again for a while." He smiled slightly. "Tracy, if anyone's being manipulated here, I don't know which of us it is… If indeed it's not both of us. I don't really know what's happening. I don't know if the First wants us alive… in which case for what… or if it wants us dead. In which case you and I being on public transport together may be a very bad idea."

"Yeah," she said faintly.

"Yeah," he echoed. "I don't know what it has in mind, but it doesn't seem to want us dead. At least, not yet. I'd rather not be around anyone, let alone the slayer, until we have some idea of what to do next, but I don't see what choice we have." He gave her the best smile as he could muster. "Is any of this making sense? I need you to trust me as much as you can."

Tracy nodded, then lay down across the seat and was asleep in seconds. Giles couldn't afford to do the same, though he knew it was only a matter of time before his body simply gave out.

At Feltham, they left the train and took the bus to Heathrow.

* * * * *

When they reached the check-in, Giles left Tracy on a seat nearby while he bought their tickets. He showed the woman at the desk his passport and that of his niece, whom he pointed out in the distance. He was issued with tickets and boarding cards, and Giles gave silent thanks that the Council hadn't alerted the airports yet. The flight would be leaving in a couple of hours. Giles went and bought some vile sandwiches and stale pastries to tide them over. He hadn't had dinner the day before, and given the way in which she fell on her food and his, he suspected it had been rather longer since Tracy had eaten. Both of them dozed off.

"Rupert."

Giles woke with a start. Megan was kneeling in front of him. *Sodding* locator spells.

"You can't do this. It's too dangerous. For you, for Tracy, for Buffy."

They were calling his flight.

"It's not going to get any better if we stay here. The First will just carry out whatever it's already doing. We have to try to stop it, or Tracy and I will die."

"If that's what the First wants to happen, it'll happen wherever you are. If you stay, the Council will just hold onto you. If you run, they'll come after you and kill you in Sunnydale."

"Not if I can get us sorted first," he said, looking at Tracy.

"Rupert, you're the most rational person I know, but you must admit that the way you've been behaving looks… well, bad. I know you've been doing all this for what you think are good reasons, but I don't think you're quite in control of yourself, and I can't let you go to Sunnydale like this."

Giles' temper flared, and with it, completely unbidden, his power. He pushed it down, but saw the fear in Megan's eyes as she felt the surge in his energies. She had that pained look she'd been having the last couple of days, when a headache was coming on.

"Don't," she said. "Rupert, come with me now."

The flight was announced again. Last call to go out to the mid-field terminal.

Giles stood up and handed Tracy her ticket and boarding card, and shooed her to go ahead.

"Tracy, you stay right here," said Megan. Tracy hesitated.

"No, go," Giles told her. "It's all right. Just go. Quickly." She went, and he turned back to Megan. "We can't stay. There's no chance for either of us if we do. And once the slayer's watcher is done for, his knowledge absorbed, and God knows what else, what do you think will happen next?"

He turned to leave. Megan grabbed his arm. His power surged, and this time holding it back took all the strength and skill he possessed.

Megan drew the .38 from where it had been tucked into the back of her jeans, and concealed it from public view under cover of her jacket. "Please come with me. You told me to use this, and I will."

"In here? With armed security everywhere?" Giles gave her a searching look as he heard the safety click off. Her eyes were clouded with fear, silently pleading with him not to make her use it, as he knew she would if pushed. He kissed her on the forehead and took a few steps back. "Then we'll both do what we have to do. If I make it as far as those security barriers, I'm going to point you out and tell them you threatened me with a gun."

He turned, and ran for the shuttle.

* * * * *

The rest of the journey was blessedly uneventful. Once they were on the plane, Tracy fell asleep almost immediately, and Giles held out as long as he could. He'd hoped to be able to use the long flight to talk to her more; to get to know her better, and to tell her more about himself and what he was leading her into. They had to be able to trust one another, and to know each other well enough to tell when something wasn't right; when they might have been taken over. The next thing he knew, a tired stewardess was tapping his shoulder, wanting him to fill out a landing card.

Sunnydale

What the Sunnydale Comfort Inn lacked in charm, it made up for in anonymity and convenience. Late in the afternoon, Giles checked himself and his `daughter' into a room; then, when Tracy went into the bathroom to clean up, he called Buffy's house. Willow answered the phone, and Giles explained the events of the past day as concisely and coherently as he could. When he told her that he and Tracy were staying just a couple of miles down the road, and he needed her help, there was a silence on the line.

"Willow?"

"Yeah, I'm here."

"I can't come over, so I need you to bring me some of the books I left at Buffy's. There are a couple of spells I can think of that might do… something. I don't know. But we have to try, and we have to move quickly, because I only have half a day's head start on the Council. They should be here by early evening."

"What if they just teleport over?"

"They know that if the First has me, it also has my knowledge; including the knowledge that they might try something like that. If I were to set up a barrier spell to terminate the teleportation, they would be killed instantly. I don't think they'll risk it."

"Yeah." Willow sounded nervous, and he knew they were both glad she hadn't known about that spell before now.

Giles softened his voice. "I know what you're worried about, and I won't ask you to do any spell you can't handle. Please, Willow. I'm not sure I can trust my mystical energies enough to do this on my own." He knew she would be weighing her feelings of `owing' him for helping her when her magic got out of control, against her current fear of losing it and endangering everyone again; this time at Giles' behest. He really didn't know how much magic she could handle at this point, and could only hope for the best. "I'm very sorry to have to put you in this position, but you're the only one who can help." He waited, but she didn't speak. "Willow."

He heard her sigh. "Megan called last night and told us what happened. She said the results of the blood tests were hopeful, but inconclusive. None of us are sure what's up with you and Tracy. I don't know if I should listen to you. I don't even know if I should be *talking* to you. In case… well, you know. You're the First or something. `Cause, honestly, we could do without an evil watcher and potential right now."

"Willow – "

"Giles, I've *seen* the First. I've spoken to it. I've *been* it for a few seconds when my magics got out of hand! I don't trust myself to tell whether you're okay or not, whether *I'm* okay or not – "

"Willow!" he snapped. Automatically, she shut up.

"Giles…"

"I think there's a way to help Tracy… and me, if need be. I know this must seem like the worst kind of emotional blackmail," he said more gently, "but I think, as far as I can tell, I'm all right. I can't swear to it, but I think I am… And if I'm not, you're the only person I know, apart from Megan, who might be able to stop me if the First takes over while we're doing the spells. I completely understand your reasons for being afraid to help us, but if you *don't* help, Tracy and I will almost certainly die at the hands of the First or the Council."

"Oh, so no pressure!"

He smiled at the fleeting glimpse of a younger, more innocent Willow. "No pressure whatsoever. Will you help? Or do I go back and throw myself on the mercy of the Council?"

She exhaled sharply. "Bloody hell, Giles."

They both laughed.

"Okay… I'll help. But if you're evil, and this is a trick, I'm going to be extremely cranky."

Giles closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Willow. I shan't forget this." He asked to speak to Buffy, but Willow, understandably, refused to pass the phone over, just in case. So he gave her the address, and a list of books and ingredients for the spells, and sat down to wait.

* * * * *

"She should've been here by now."

"Maybe she couldn't find the stuff you asked for."

"Maybe." Giles hoped that, if anything, that was the reason Willow hadn't turned up, rather than that she had second thoughts about getting involved.

He called her mobile. It took quite a few rings for her to pick up. She sounded breathless and panicky.

"Willow? What's happening?"

"Buffy decided to take the potentials out on early patrol around the high school. We got ambushed by demons, Buffy…" she broke off and there was a long pause, during which Giles could hear what experience told him was the sound of wooden plank hitting a body.

"Willow!"

"Got it," she panted. "Buffy's out cold. The demons have trapped the potentials around by the fountains in the central square. Xander and Anya and me are holding them off, but I don't think..." she broke off again, and this time didn't come back. The phone went dead.

Giles hung up the receiver. An immediate threat versus a possible one. There wasn't time to analyse it. If Buffy had been awake and fighting, he might have been able to make the more sensible choice.

"Put on a thick jacket and grab your aikido staff. Take off any jewellery someone could grab you by," he told Tracy. "You're about to get some on the job training."

* * * * *

Giles parked the rental car as close to the central square as possible.

"I don't know what kind of demons we're up against, so stay by me if you can. Don't let them lure you away from me or the others. Don't attack them. Use the staff in self-defence only… and speak up if you feel the First coming over you. All right?" She was staring at him with fearful, slightly zoned-out eyes as they moved swiftly through the high school grounds. He smiled reassuringly. "We'll be fine. Just keep your head down and stay out of sight if you can."

They ran to the central area, using low walls and bushes for cover when they could. It would be getting dark soon, and then they'd have vampires to worry about as well.

Giles heard Xander shouting, and the sound of glass shattering. He could see the weapons bag and a small heap of swords where the scoobies had left them behind a wall. He took a crossbow and short sword for himself. He hesitated, then wordlessly handed a broadsword to Tracy. It hung loose in her grasp, and he knew it was really the last thing she needed to have in her hands again so soon after her parent's deaths, but he'd no time to teach her to use a crossbow, and a dagger would bring her too close to an opponent.

Giles opened a smaller bag within the larger one. It contained magic supplies Willow must have put in with the weapons on her way to meet him at the hotel. He jammed all that he could into his pockets, then looked back to the square. He could make out five demons in the twilight. They were tall, solidly-built, blue, and had bony, button-like ridges running down the backs of their heads.

Xander was occupying two, though he was obviously tiring quickly now, and Giles drew the attention of one of them, easing Xander's burden. Anya and Willow were fighting one each, and the potentials were fending off the last. Out of the corner of his eye, Giles saw Tracy run up behind it. A single blow from her aikido staff broke the bony protuberances on the back of its head. The skull opened up and the creature's brains fell out in a slimy black tangle. Kennedy, Molly, and the other potentials rushed forward and finished it off and hugged Tracy enthusiastically.

Giles raised his crossbow, aimed, and hit the demon fighting Xander directly in the eye. The bolt slammed into its brain, killing it instantly. The other demon looked at its companion, and in that split second, Xander hurled himself forward and drove his longsword into its chest. He twisted the blade and jerked it down. The creature's entrails coated his hands, and he retreated with a sickened look on his face. Xander looked over to Giles, and appeared uncertain as to whether to be relieved or not. Megan's phone call would have made them all uneasy about him.

Xander just nodded to him, and Giles nodded in return. They crept up behind the demons Anya and Willow were fighting. They drove their swords into the demon's backs, and in case that wasn't enough, the women drove theirs into the demon's fronts for good measure.

Dark shapes materialised from the shadows. Tall, black-robed figures with double-headed axes.

Giles turned to make sure that Tracy was still with him. She wasn't.

"Oh, no."

Tracy was creeping up just behind the Bringer that Kennedy was stepping up to face. She raised her sword and plunged it into the demon's back. It screamed and turned to her, axe upraised. Then it put the axe down. Tracy nodded to it, and it nodded in acknowledgement. Unlike Giles, the potentials could see Tracy's face, and they were falling over each other in their haste to back up. Tracy was forming symbols in the air before them. Giles knew they were sigils of death.

"Willow!" Kennedy yelled. "Little help with the First here!"

For a second, none of them could move. Giles closed his eyes in pain, disbelieving. He'd brought Tracy… the First… right to them, and now… here was a movement over to the side. As if things couldn't get any worse, Megan and Robson were hovering by the back wall.

Giles could feel the warm buzz of his magic stirring. He knew Megan would be able to feel it too. His power was getting stronger. It had happened as soon as Tracy had been taken over. He wondered if he was about to be taken over as well. Whether he should tell them all to kill him right now. Whether he would have to, or if they'd just do it anyway.

There was no more time. The battle had begun, and everyone was engaged. It seemed to go on for hours. A Bringer bore down on Giles, and he swiped at it with his sword. It came at him too hard, too fast. He stumbled on the uneven ground, and fell. The Bringer raised the axe over its head, preparing to swing. It gasped, stiffened, and turned to where Megan stood behind it, her sword dripping ichor. It swung at her furiously, and she spun to the side. She wasn't quite quick enough to escape a glancing blow, but recovered quickly and lashed out again, cutting the Bringer's throat.

Giles opened his mouth to thank her, but another Bringer was on him. One huge, twisted hand pinned him down by his neck while another pressed hard against his chest. The searing heat of its power spread over him as it searched out his energies. It wanted to complete the binding ritual, and was looking for the symbol that should have been left on him. It wouldn't find it.

The heat intensified. Eyes screwed shut, teeth gritted, Giles fought to hold onto his power, to keep himself from releasing it. At first he didn't dare let go long enough to resist the Bringer. Then, suddenly, he didn't want to resist. A blinding rage flooded him, the force of it making him catch his breath. The Bringer fell across him, dead, a sword through its neck. He pushed the anger away as much as he could. Megan knelt over him, peered into his eyes, and evidently didn't like what she saw there. "Stop fighting. Go over to the wall and sit this one out."

"I can't do that. I think I'm all right. I think it's my own energies. I can tell."

Megan was shaking her head. "I don't know. The way you looked just now…"

"I'm all right." He worked himself out from underneath the Bringer's corpse, and stood up.

She gave him a searching look. "I don't think you are."

"Giles?" Buffy was standing rather shakily by the fountain. She took a few steps towards him.

He froze. "Buffy…" There was so much he wanted to say.

"Buffy, keep back," Megan said calmly. "Rupert, put your weapons down."

"I'm not taken over," he said, a little less convincingly than he would have liked. The special operatives had arrived. He could see two of them, but there would be more.

"Do as she says, Giles," said Robson. The operatives settled their rifles in the crooks of their shoulders and took aim.

Giles gave Buffy a small smile. She looked stricken, and Willow had tears in her eyes. They obviously thought he was lost. Maybe he was. If so, he was going to take the First down with him; at least for a while. He murmured an incantation, reached into his pocket, and ran his hand along the flat of his sword.

He forced his mystical energies to full strength as he crossed the courtyard in long, quick strides, hoping there were too many people behind him for the operatives to get a clear shot at him. He drew back his sword and rammed the blade right into Tracy's back and out the other side.

There was a massive explosion of green and white light. Screaming. His own. A massive bolt of energy discharged from Tracy, ripped through the sword, and slammed into Giles' own body. He barely registered the arms that wrapped around him as the absolute, shattering cold of the First's presence tore into his energies. Before it could get a purchase on them, Giles surged his energy forward. It pulled a massive charge of fresh power with it, and the light and dark energies collided within him. There was another explosion. This one was white and burning, but Giles never felt it.

* * * * *

Sky. Almost dark. On his back. Again. Buffy. Buffy's all right. He was alive, too.

"Giles? Oh my God, are you okay?" Tears spilled down the slayer's face, and she hugged him as well as she was able, considering he was lying flat on his back on the grass. He put his arms around her as best he could.

Megan knelt beside him and rested her hand on his forehead. He relaxed as her energies rapidly and gently sought out his, a stark and welcome contrast to the vicious method the Bringer had used. She smiled at him, and at Buffy. "He's all right. You're all right, Rupert. It's gone. Just you in there." She rubbed his shoulder. "No doubt this time."

"What happened?" he said thickly.

"I was hoping you might be able to tell us," she said.

"Tracy…"

"She's dead, love."

Giles blinked. "No."

"You killed her," said Buffy.

"It coulda been any of us," Kennedy said dully.

Giles struggled to sit up. The operatives moved to keep him down, but Robson called them off.

"How long have I been out?" Giles demanded.

"Just a minute or two," said Xander.

Giles got to his feet and staggered over to where Tracy lay with the hilt of Giles' sword protruding from her back, and the blade visible through her front. "Megan, Willow." They went over to him. "I'm going to pull the sword out. Can you be ready to heal her?"

Megan looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. "She's dead, Rupert."

There was no time to argue. "Just be ready," he ordered. He turned Tracy on her side and sat down behind her. He braced both feet on her back, and grasped the sword hilt with both hands. He took a deep breath and pulled the long blade free in one smooth movement. Tracy jerked and cried out.

He scrambled back. "Now! Megan, *now*!"

Megan and Willow pressed their hands over the entry and exit wounds, doing what they could to slow the gush of blood and repair damaged arteries, organs, and tissue. Giles sat back, his body wracked by shudders. Buffy, Xander, and Anya settled beside him, supporting him for what seemed a very long time as they watched the witches working to save Tracy's life.

"Okay. What the hell was that?" said Xander.

It was difficult enough to understand it himself, let alone explain it to everyone else, but Giles did his best.

"I asked Willow to bring me some spell ingredients, which I found in the weapons bag when we got here. There was only one spell I could use at that moment, with the resources to hand; one which purges mystical energy in a particularly unforgiving way. In fact, in times past it was used as an execution spell for sorcerers. I took a handful of the spell's ingredients and brushed them over the blade."

"And *stabbed* her," said Buffy. "And brought her back to life. How does that work?"

"The `killing' and the `death' that Tracy suffered were symbolic rather than real, because she doesn't actually *have* any mystical energy of her own; she was merely a host for that which belonged to the First. If the energies had been hers, she really would have died, because she wouldn't have been able to survive such a forcible removal of the energies that constitute part of her life force."

"But her life force doesn't include mystical energy, so she wasn't killed," said Anya.

"Exactly. And when the sword was removed, so too was the spell, and so her body was able to resume living. Does that make sense?"

"Yes," said Megan.

"No," said Buffy, "but I'll take your word for it, seeing as she's alive. And hopefully going to stay that way."

"She is," said Willow, smiling down at the disoriented, but healed, girl. "Hi, Tracy."

"Hi," said Tracy, in a very small voice indeed. The potentials crowded around. When they had made their introductions, the scoobies moved in to do the same.

Willow turned to Giles. "But what about *your* life force? That does include mystical energy."

"The power that allows the First to manifest itself as it had done when Tracy was taken over, as when she threatened the potentials, is not the First itself, but the energy that *sustains* the First while it's in a human host. That energy entered my energies with the intent to take them over, not to negate them. It tried to bind my power so that it could take it over without resistance, and use my body and mind for… whatever. It would have succeeded if I'd still had the mark the Bringer carved into me the other day. If that had been there, then I really would have been bound to the First."

"I still don't get how you survived," said Willow, whom he knew was painfully aware of how dangerous it was to have magic removed by force.

"When the dark energy left Tracy, it came into me, as I knew it would. I was braced for it, and brought my energies forth as strongly as I could. It was like a… a plane taking off. There comes a point where you just can't pull back anymore. Take off or blow up, as they say. At that point, Megan, I assume…" she nodded, "Megan was hanging on to me. I didn't intend to, but I drew on her very considerable power as well as my own."

"I had that happen sometimes with Tara," said Willow.

Giles nodded. "Same idea, just a little more extreme, and not at all intentional." He smiled at Megan. "Our powers combined were enough to counter the dark energy. It couldn't stay in me without taking me over… so bang, off it went."

"For now, " Buffy said quietly.

"For now," he agreed.

"So was the First controlling you or not?" said Robson.

Giles shook his head. "No, I don't think so. It tried to, on several occasions. It did affect me momentarily, and that was when my own energy would retaliate and force the First's energy out of me. It would happen so suddenly and strongly that I couldn't be sure what was happening, or who the energy belonged to. Tracy couldn't fight back like I could, because, as I said, she has no mystical energy of her own."

"But the First made you do all that stuff to help her… in the park in London, and bringing her here, to the slayer," said Xander.

"No, that was just me," Giles smiled tiredly. "Good and bad decisions, but my own."

"You sure?" said Buffy.

"Yes. I wasn't then, but I am now," he said.

"Hey, what do you say we take Tracy home now?" said Willow.

There was a collective murmur of assent, and everyone hauled themselves up.

"I think you can consider yourself off the hook with the Council," said Robson. "I'll explain it all to our esteemed leader… not that I'm totally sure I understand it… and file a report. I'm sure you'll be doing likewise when you've had a chance to recover."

"Yes," said Giles. "Thanks, Robson." He grinned. "And by the way, you owe Megan and I a hundred quid."

Megan came up beside him and took his hand. "I guess love means never having to say `thanks for not setting airport security on me', but I'll say it anyway."

He grinned. "S'all right. Thanks for not shooting me in the back."

She smiled slightly. "Don't think I didn't consider it… *hard*."

"I'm sure."

The operatives stayed behind to deal with the demon's corpses.

* * * * *

By two am, everyone had fallen into bed. Giles was still having difficulty sleeping, and went downstairs, minding the third one from the bottom which creaked, and into the kitchen for a cup of tea. He flipped on the light, and both he and Tracy jumped. She sat at the kitchen table, and her head had been down on her arms. Giles' gut tightened. Getting her out of immediate physical danger was one thing, dealing with the psychological consequences of the past week and a half was quite another.

He smiled. "I couldn't sleep either."

At sixteen, she'd been brutally traumatised by an enemy she could scarcely comprehend, then nearly killed by an ally as soon as she'd begun to trust him. He could relate to the fear of relinquishing consciousness after that. Staying awake might very well seem the only way to protect herself from real and imagined horrors. She looked dreadful, and he was surprised she could function at all. She was clearly ill at ease, and embarrassed to have been caught crying.

"That's a bit bright," he said, indicating the light over the table, and turned it off. He turned on the small light over the sink, opened the cupboard, took out two mugs, and put the kettle on. He took the box of kleenex from the counter and put it on the table.

"Mind if I sit?" he said. "Or I can find somewhere else, if you'd rather."

Tracy shrugged.

He sat, and neither spoke for a few minutes.

Giles broke the silence. "It's not physical pain that's bothering you, I take it?" She shook her head, and he went on. "I'm sorry I had to put you through all that with the sword. There was no other way."

She nodded. The kettle boiled, and Giles got up to make the tea.

"You know you can call your grandparents any time," he said. "It's up to you what you tell them about where you are. Or I'll speak to them, if you like."

Tracy nodded again, crying hard but silently as Giles sat back down and put the tea in front of her.

"What you've been through is enough to shatter anyone, and no one's going to push you to do or say anything before you're ready." Apart from his genuine concern for her, a potential with a broken mind would be both tragic and incredibly dangerous.

Another nod.

"But if you want to talk, I hope you'll come to me, or one of the others. I realise there's a limit to what we can do for you at the moment, but anything we can do, we will."

Tracy looked at him. "That's great, seeing as I almost killed everyone."

"That was the *First*, not you. We all know that. I've told them what a tremendous job you did in England, trying to protect us as soon as you knew you needed to." It suddenly hit him that although he barely knew the girl, he was proud of her already.

She looked down again. "I just want to go home…I want my mum and dad… I'm sick of being scared all the time."

"I know," he said. "For what it's worth, you won't find a person in this house who doesn't feel the same. We just have to do the best we can."

There was another long silence while Tracy drank her tea.

She put the mug down and blinked back the tears. "When do I start to train?"

* * * * *

The next evening at Buffy's, all was uncharacteristically quiet. Megan leaned well back into the sofa cushions, outstretched legs crossed, bare feet propped on the coffee table. She had his Swiss Army knife, and was using it to peel a dark red apple. Light from the setting sun exploded down the blade. Giles was blinded for a moment, but he barely noticed, hypnotised as he was by the movement of her fingers, and the delicate strength in them. Her copper-gold hair was slightly askew, and radiant as the sun played on it. Careful not to break the spell, Giles leaned silently against the banister and watched as Megan gave the fruit her complete attention. It reminded him of a zen meditation, the way she brought herself so fully into the present moment, and seemed so untroubled by what had passed, or what was to come. It was an ability he deeply envied, and knew he'd never possess. Even so, studying her in her absorption brought about a kind of stillness in his own heart and mind, and he was grateful for it.

She worked the knife with fine precision, and the peel cascaded down over her hands, now sticky with juice. It came away in one unbroken reel, and he smiled as he heard her satisfied little sigh. She tried to assemble the components back into an apple shape, but it stubbornly refused to resume its original form. It fell in on itself in a heap. The banister suddenly creaked beneath Giles' arm and they both jumped, then smiled sheepishly.

"Things fall apart, eh?" she said.

He made a noise that wasn't quite a laugh. "It certainly seems that way sometimes."

Megan sliced a piece of apple from the core and held it out to him. "Can I tempt you?"

His eyes twinkled. "Always." He crossed the floor and sank down beside her on the sofa. He took the fruit and propped his feet up next to hers. "Don't tell Xander," he said. "He's just finished repairing and polishing this table."

"So we're being naughty then," she said.

His eyes flicked to hers, and he nodded slowly. "You're the one being naughty. I'm the one being led astray. Nice apple."

She smiled. "Sweet while it lasts."

They sat in companionable silence as daylight faded from the room and the shadows deepened. Giles squinted at his watch. "Where is everybody?"

"`Chilling at Xander's', I believe was the exact phrasing."

Giles shifted. "Oh. Well, as long as we're unsupervised, shall we break into the liquor cabinet?"

"Sounds like a plan. You get the demon drink – not literally – and I'll get some glasses."

Megan escaped the gravitational pull of the deep sofa faster than he did, and as she stood, he caught the flicker of pain that crossed her features, and the momentary clutch for the side of the sofa. He stood up, frowning now. "Are you all right?"

She met his stare with her own, but finally relented. "When I wounded the Bringer that went for you when you fell, it got me behind the shoulder with its axe. Nothing major, so please don't – "

"Bloody hell, why didn't you say anything?" he demanded softly. "Let's have a look." He reached for her, but she blocked him and he felt the strength in her fingers as she held his wrist.

"It's fine," she said firmly. "And seeing as I'd almost got you killed last night, I wasn't about to fuss over a minor wound. When I left you at Heathrow, I told Robson and the operatives where to find you. If any of us had succeeded in stopping you before you got to Tracy, that would have been *it*."

Giles nodded. "You did what you thought was right, and I don't blame you for that. At all. I wouldn't have been able to repel the First's energies without your help. If you had been less powerful, you wouldn't have been able to withstand it when my energies drew on yours. You'd have been killed, I'd have been taken for certain, and that would have been it for all of us too. We'd have been lost without you, and you got hurt in the process of saving my life. Megan, you do realise that not telling me was profoundly stupid, don't you?" He took a step towards her. "Did you think that what happened to you didn't matter?"

"I'm not quite as barking as all that," she said. "It's not like I have a death wish. I guess it's more that, in the great scheme of things… what happened to me… well, I don't know. It just seemed less important than what happened to you and the others." Her hands fluttered vaguely. "Because there's only a few of you, and an awful lot of… bad things."

He nodded slowly. "I see."

"You do?"

"Yes. You obviously haven't a clue how much I care about you." He tried to get the words out without blushing, but failed miserably. He pulled her to him and kissed the top of her head, feeling her relax almost immediately as his arms encircled her. She returned the force of his embrace, and for an instant he was lost in the present moment.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I should've trusted you when you told me you were all right."

He smiled. "Yes, but I can see why you had difficulty doing that under the circumstances. You did what you thought was best, and I would expect nothing less." He kissed her again, and looked down into her eyes. "Do you trust me now?"

She nodded against his chest. "I think the bigger question is whether *you* can trust *me* after this." She hesitated and he felt her tense slightly beneath his hands. "Or whether I can trust myself."

And she had looked so peaceful peeling that apple. "My love, we can both trust you completely." Giles reached down and gently took her face between his hands, moving them into a deep kiss that extinguished any lingering doubt on either side, while sparking something entirely different and far more pleasurable.

When they finally broke away she said, "I'm sorry."

He smiled. "Don't be silly. You have nothing to feel sorry for. God knows I've made enough mistakes, and I might well have made another one yesterday. We were all just fortunate that things turned out as they did. Now go and get the glasses. I'll get the wine, and we'll meet on the sofa."

* * * * *

An hour later, Giles was beginning to doze off, basking in the rare feeling of connection and tranquillity. He looked down at Megan, curled up against his side, his arm around her, their fingers entwined. With her, he almost felt as if he was home again; or at least somewhere he belonged. Somewhere he was himself, and not the embodiment of his rather strange calling. He was free, or could at least enjoy the illusion of being so, however briefly.

He was so lost in thought that it took him a few moments to register that she'd undone a couple of his shirt buttons, and there was no cloth between her warm hand and his bare skin. Her fingers brushed across his nipple and he woke up a little more. It was amazing how so small a thing could be so complicated. Giles wasn't sure how to interpret the gesture, and didn't want to ruin the moment if this was all she wanted. He couldn't help that his heart was beating faster, and he knew she could feel it. He was content enough. Or thought he was, until she looked up into his face, and as their eyes met, she said almost shyly, "Come upstairs with me? Please?"

Giles nodded, recognising the olive branch for what it was.

She kissed him slowly, softly at first, and then more insistently. She stood up, grinned, and held out her hand. "We're still here, and I think that's worth celebrating."

He'd lived with a high level of fear and uncertainty for so long that it took a lot to shake him, and he'd almost forgotten that this was not so with her, with the potentials, or indeed with most people. They *had* survived, and it *was* worth celebrating. Happiness was fleeting, life was precarious, and you had to make the most of it while you could. He stood up, and let her pull him toward the stairs.

"Hang on," he said, sliding the heavy security chain into the catch on the door.

"But they won't be able to get in."

"Oh, they'll figure out a way, but this should at least allow us a bit of advance warning."

He grinned in pleased surprise then, as she planted both hands firmly on his chest and pushed him back against the door with a bump that knocked his coat off its hook. She reached up, swept her hands through his hair, clasped them at the back of his head, and pulled him down into a kiss that blocked out everything but the path of her hands as they slid down his face, his neck, his shoulders, and then went to work on the rest of his shirt buttons.

"Still a bit wired, are we?" he said, amused.

She grinned. "That. And being here with you." Her hands slid around his waist, into his back pockets, and squeezed.

Giles dropped his hands from her chin to slide under the hem of her t-shirt. He slowly ran his fingers up the smooth skin of her sides, over the ridges of her ribs, and across her breasts. Her moan was swallowed in his kiss, and Giles's hand slid round to gently rub her back. She broke off the kiss and pulled away, and his eyes flew open, slightly dazed.

"Sorry," she said sheepishly. "Just a bit sensitive there. Carry on."

As much as he wanted to, Giles couldn't let it go. He had been partially responsible for the injury, after all. "Your cut. I'm sorry, I forgot." He turned her slightly with a puzzled frown, and gingerly patted her back. "You didn't bandage it?"

She shrugged. "Couldn't reach."

He rolled his eyes in exaggerated exasperation, took her hand, and led her up to the spare bedroom, where he hit the light switch. "Sit down and don't move." He disappeared for a minute, and returned bearing a huge first aid kit.

"Rupert…" He detected the note of amusement underpinning the frustration in her voice.

He towered over her as she sat on the bed. "First things first. You're not going to have a lot of fun if that's reopened." He gave her his best `responsible adult' look. "Are you?"

It was her turn to roll her eyes. "No." She held out her hand. "Fine. Give us the antiseptic."

He sat beside her. "You couldn't reach it last night, but you think you can reach it now? Lift your arms?"

She did as requested, and he pulled the t-shirt over her head and unhooked her bra. She stretched out on her stomach, and he allowed his appreciative gaze to sweep over the graceful line of her bare back before forcing himself to focus.

"This isn't a small cut, love," he said as he unwrapped a sterile pad and began cleaning the angry red slash that ran across her shoulder blade. "I'd have put stitches in if you'd told me sooner. Besides which, demon-forged weapons aren't terribly hygienic, as a rule."

"It got washed in the shower."

"Ah, yes. It's amazing how shower gel can neutralise even the most stubborn demon bacteria."

"Ow, Rupert."

"Sorry…antiseptic." He made as good a job of it as he could, then rubbed her good shoulder soothingly and reached for a bandage. "Well, this makes a change," he said lightly. "Usually, you're the one dousing *me* in nasty potions that sting. Or jump-starting my heart." He added the last as a deliberate reminder that she'd done him some not insignificant favors recently, as well as making his life more difficult in all sorts of ways. He smoothed some wiccan salve over the wound for good measure, then covered it with a little more gauze than was strictly necessary, so as to prevent her being distracted at a critical moment later on, and taped it firmly in place. He sat back and admired his handiwork. "There we are. Perfect, if I do say so."

Megan smiled. "Modest as usual." She sat up and stroked a finger down his arm. "Thanks," she said seriously.

He tilted her chin up and kissed her softly. "Happy to help." Giles repacked the kit meticulously, and returned it to the bathroom. He came back into the bedroom to find her looking at him, amused but... something else he couldn't determine.

He stood in the doorway with his head to one side. "You're staring. And not in a come hither-ish way. What have I done now?"

She smiled. "Just observing you. Rupert Giles… A man in the middle of a grand seduction who stops to worry about a cut; and then takes the time to put everything away so carefully."

He smiled and shrugged as he crossed the room to put his glasses on the nightstand. "Creature of habit, I suppose. We always put everything back as it should be right away. Weapons, first aid, research material. Around here you never know what you're going to need at a moment's notice. Having something vital readily to hand has saved us on more than one occasion." *We*. *Us*. He had automatically counted himself as a scooby, rather than as a representative of the organisation he had been bound to since the age of ten. The scoobies had done more to make him feel like one of them than the Council ever had.

Megan stood up and came over to him. "Stop thinking so much."

He smiled. "That would make a pleasant change. For both of us."

"Then let's see if we can arrange it," she smiled, dimming the light. "Where were we, Mr Giles? I believe we were right… about…" And her arms went around him as they picked up their previous kiss where it had been so rudely interrupted. The short delay had only intensified the anticipation, and she wasted no time in sliding her hands under his shirt. She pushed it as far down his shoulders as she could get it to go, until he finished the job himself, and flung the offending object across the room.

The warmth of her bare chest and belly pressed against his contrasted with the coolness of the room, and sent goosebumps chasing up his back and down his arms. Her hands went to work on his belt buckle as he kissed, nipped, and licked his way down her face and neck. She shuddered and giggled as he went, and it made him giggle too. A little jolt of excitement shot through him as she circled his nipple with her tongue and unfastened one, two, three of the buttons on his jeans. Enough to ease a cool hand into his boxers and do something that made him gasp and laugh.

"I like that you're into the button-flies now," she grinned. "It's slower. I can torment you more."

He quirked an eyebrow and nodded. "Torment me like that again, and we'll both be sorry." He knelt in front of her and pulled her jeans down and off. She anchored herself with a hand on his shoulder as his mouth found a ticklish spot on her stomach and his hand stroked the inside of her thigh almost, but not quite, *there*.

She smiled down at him. "Who says men aren't good at multi-tasking?"

"Just `good'? We'll see about that." He grinned wickedly, and then his finger *was* there, feeling how ready she was, and it was her turn to gasp and clutch at his shoulder as he slipped another finger inside, and pressed that little nerve center with his thumb.

She pushed against his hand as he stroked, seeking the rhythm she needed; gently at first, and then more insistently as he kissed her lightly across her stomach and steadied her with a firm hand on her hip. Taking advantage of what was in front of him, he drew a nipple into his mouth and sucked hard. They both moaned, and she gripped his shoulder tighter.

"There! Harder… deeper."

He complied even as he turned to her other breast, and her commands became less coherent, then ceased altogether. As she went rigid and clamped down on his fingers, he kept them moving as hard as she needed him to, and didn't stop until the spasms died away, and she collapsed against him.

He stood and held her up for a moment, before pulling back to brush the hair from her eyes. "How was that?"

She nodded and laughed against his chest. "You outdid yourself."

"I am quite amazing sometimes." He rubbed her shoulder. "Would you like to lie down?"

"Yes… but I'd like to do this first." She undid his remaining buttons, worked the jeans and boxers down, and trailed kissed over his thighs, his hips, his cock, and the crimson scar just below the ribs on his left side.

No sooner had his eyes closed in bliss than they popped open in shock and ecstasy as a long wet finger suddenly explored somewhere fingers very rarely went. "Aah… fuck!"

"Went where no woman has gone before, have I?" she murmured.

Giles laughed and caught his breath even as his body responded instantly and enthusiastically. Megan continued to tease him with fingers and mouth until he felt the pressure building to the point of no return, and urgently tapped her on the shoulder. "That's fantastic," he said, fighting to regain some semblance of control, "but I want to share this with you. Let's get more comfortable, shall we?"

She nodded, and they broke into laughter as he tripped over the clothes puddled around his ankles, and long since gone from his mind… along with everything else.

"Watch it," she giggled as they untangled him. "This is no time for a concussion."

"It would take more than a bloody concussion to make a dent in my manly prowess," he grinned, yanking his socks off.

Once he was free, they settled themselves on the big bed and lay entwined, stroking and soothing, giving their bodies a chance to calm for a moment. She would be leaving soon, and he would be alone. He wanted this to last, and sensed that she did too. When his fingers began to stray once more, she tensed, and he stopped, concerned. "Did I do something wrong?"

She shook her head and kissed him as she ran her hand across his chest, tracing the contours of him as if she was trying to memorise them. "No, no. It's not you. It just came back to me again. I almost lost you. I can't believe things got so out of control so fast. I'm used to knowing what I'm doing. Being prepared. I'm sorry, Rupert," she smiled apologetically. "I know this isn't the moment for soul-searching."

He looked at her seriously. "It's not an issue between us, love. You acted quite rightly, given the information that you had… or didn't have. And as for knowing what you're doing," he smiled wickedly, "believe me, you do. And I'm prepared, even if you aren't." He rolled to one side and took a brown glass bottle from the nightstand. "Turn over," he commanded softly.

She raised her eyebrows in amusement and curiosity, and giggled when he straddled her thighs. "Shh," he said, letting his voice assume a more sonorous, mildly hypnotic quality. "Don't move, and don't speak. Don't think about anything. Just try to clear your mind and let it all go. Let yourself go." He poured a generous dollop of fragrant sandalwood and ylang-ylang into his palm and rubbed his hands together to warm the oil before sweeping it across her back and shoulders in firm, circular strokes, avoiding the injured area. Her muscles instinctively resisted the pressure at first, but soon relaxed under his ministrations.

"Oh, God, Rupert… that's… incredible."

He grinned. "Shh. Of course it is." He worked each muscle group in turn with a touch that was confident and practised. She moaned and reached back to toy with his knee, which was all she could get hold of. This was definitely the most transferable of his watcher skills. He kept going down the curves of her back, her hips, her buttocks, thighs, calves and feet; manipulating muscles and pressure points.

When he had finished with her toes he started back up again. He stroked the insides of her knees, her thighs, and was not surprised when she shifted a little to allow him access. He took his cue and eased two slippery fingers into her right up to the knuckles. She gasped her encouragement as he thrust them a few times, and objected loudly when he withdrew his hand to let her turn over. She kissed him hard, brought him down to lie on his back, and proceeded to work every nerve ending until his vision darkened, his ears sang, and he knew it was now or never. He scrambled off the bed, fumbled in his jeans pocket for his wallet, and was extraordinarily relieved to find a couple of condoms left over from before.

She grinned at his sigh of `thank God', as he made the necessary adjustment and came back to bed.

"Is your shoulder going to be all right like that?" he asked softly, as he moved over her and she made room for him.

She nodded, and Giles touched his forehead to hers. "Trust me?" he whispered.

Her eyes filled with tears. "Yes."

"Good," he said, and turned them so that she was on top. "And I trust you, too."

She nodded and bent down to kiss him; and to his surprise, rolled them back to the way they were, her message clear.

He kissed her deeply and reached down to position himself. "Give me your hands." She did. He laced their fingers together and pressed her arms back down on the bed, keeping her still as he slid into her depths with an agonising slowness that pulled a long, quiet moan from her; and a ragged sigh from him.

She shuddered beneath him, and he asked if she was all right. She smiled and nodded, and squirmed a little, but he had her where he wanted her, and if the way she was gripping his hands was any indication, she had him where she wanted him too.

He closed his eyes, revelling in the sensation of holding and being held, loving and being loved. He was everywhere and nowhere, centred at last. It wasn't long before she laughed against his belly and poked a ticklish spot on his side so that he jerked back to the room, himself, and her.

"Take a breath, Rupert," she smiled.

"Right," he laughed against the hollow of her collarbone. "Good idea."

She thrust her hips against him. "Now concentrate!"

He nodded obediently, and began a lazy rhythm that raised happy, senseless noises from them both. He pulled out completely to slide down her body, kissing and sucking everything he found along the way.

"Come on, you." She took him firmly by his ears and brought him back up to gently thrust into her warmth again.

This time he pushed harder and went deeper than before. She gasped, and her hips bucked up to meet his as need spiralled from urgent, to insistent, to frantic; he changed the angle of each stroke until he found that elusive spot, and her hidden muscles grasped at him even as her arms tightened around his back and she cried out without making a sound. He slammed into her again and again until he followed her over with a cry, lost in a blinding collision of euphoria and peace.

He slowed his thrusts, but kept up a gentle repetition until her body stopped convulsing around him and she relaxed. He let his head drop to her shoulder, closed his eyes, and focused on the rhythm of their breathing as they calmed.

She ran her fingers through his hair, and kissed the top of his head. He shifted to look into her eyes, searching for something beyond his own hazy reflection; and tried to convey his happiness as he kissed her and gently withdrew.

* * * * *

A short while later, Giles lay on his stomach as Megan massaged the strained muscles in his back.

"That's it," he mumbled. "That's the latissimus dorsi… major muscle group… you want to go a bit harder there."

She reached back and smacked his arse just hard enough to shut him up. "Who's doing this, you or me?"

"You," he said contritely. He was quiet for a moment, and suddenly flashed back to a memory that made him laugh until he had to wipe the tears from his eyes. She asked him what was so funny, but he just shook his head; so she playfully grabbed his hair, and he propped himself up on his elbows.

"I just remembered the time Willow asked me only half-jokingly if I knew about sex," he managed between fits of giggles. "She said… she thought that… because I was a librarian, I might not know."

Megan collapsed on the bed beside him, as helpless with laughter as he was.

* * * * *

The next morning, Giles made his way downstairs to see if the potentials would have left anything in the house that he and Megan could survive on till lunchtime. He pushed open the kitchen door and found himself face to face with Anya. Her eyes widened, then narrowed.

"You've had sex. Recently."

Giles stared at her for a second, a rabbit in headlights. "Well done," he said. "You managed to insult me twice in the space of just four words."

"Who's had sex?" Willow's head craned around the side of the fridge. "Oh," she said. Then she saw Giles. "Oh," she repeated. Her face took on an `I will not look wigged' expression.

"Yes, shocking," Giles muttered.

"*I'm* shocked," said Anya.

"So Megan's leaving today, huh?" said Willow, handing him the least stale, most full cereal box.

"Yes."

Anya leaned against the counter. "Goodbye sex is always good. There's that added edge of desperation and longing; neither of you knowing when, or even *if* you'll ever have sex again… or even if you'll ever *see* each other again…" she mused. She caught Giles and Willow's looks. "Well, it's true."

There was a pause.

"Anyway," said Willow.

"Right," said Giles. "I'm taking Megan to LAX in a couple of hours. I think we might go and have breakfast in Starbucks." He had a thought. "The potentials don't go to Starbucks, do they?"

"Not much," said Willow. "They should have some food left." She lowered her voice. "I think Tracy's kinda hoping you won't be out too long. She's sleeping now. I sat up with her most of the night."

Giles nodded. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

* * * * *

He was alone again, on Buffy's sofa, feeling vaguely hollow and depressed. They had been stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the airport. Megan barely had time to check her bag and run for the plane. They hadn't had a chance to say goodbye properly, as usual. He would have liked to have had his arms around her just a little longer; kissed her a little longer; apologised again for endangering her life. Spent more time with her, not that either of them would be able to recapture that feeling of safety that they'd enjoyed in London. Incredible to think it was only last week.

Giles took in the small details of the room. Everything was different. American. From the light switches to the doorknobs to the kind of sunlight that slanted in through the front window and glinted off the glass of water on the table in front of him. He'd grown so accustomed to his `otherness' among the Americans that he barely noticed it anymore, except, as now, when he'd been back and forth between England and California, and forced to make a conscious adjustment to the quirks of each.

"No, that's not how you do it!" came Willow's voice from the kitchen. He heard a muffled, though plainly peeved, retort from Buffy. "Fine, do it your way, but don't come running to me if it makes him barf." There was another irritated response, and Willow emerged.

"Hey," she said, plunking down beside him. "Buffy's making you a cup of tea, now that we're convinced you're not evil." She grinned. "No more than usual, anyway."

Giles nodded. "And here I was thinking the attempts on my life were over. Buffy's tea may very well succeed where the Council and the First failed."

He and Megan would see each other again when the time was right. They always did. For now, he had a job to do, loved ones to help, and he was going to do it to the best of his ability, or die trying.

Buffy came in, set his tea on the coffee table, and flopped down on his other side. She smiled, and he was surprised to see how affectionately she was looking at him. "It's good to have you back, Giles. We really missed you around here."

END