written by Head Rush
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
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."
"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.
"Or we'll be late, and you know how Robson hates that."
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
"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."
* * * * *
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.
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."
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."
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?"
* * * * *
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."
* * * * *
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."
"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
"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.
"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
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
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."
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
"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."
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."
* * * * *
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.
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
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
* * * * *
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
"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
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…"
"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.
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?"
"And do you agree to this conversation being recorded and transcribed?"
"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."
"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…"
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
"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
"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.
"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
Giles turned to make sure that Tracy was still with him. She wasn't.
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.
"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*."
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."
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.
"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."
"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."
"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
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
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
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.
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
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."