Scars
written by Head Rush


Rating: FRM
Spoilers: Takes place between 'Bargaining I' and 'Flooded'.
Summary: After 'The Gift', Giles is back in England and back in trouble.
Thanks: To Sharon and Gail, and my heartfelt thanks to Lesley, who very kidnly read this more times than anyone should have to. Her editorial wizardry made this a much better and longer story than it would otherwise have been!
Author's Notes: WARNING: Dark, angsty, and violent in parts. Giles isn't feeling the best.
Feedback Author: Head Rush



Something was pressing him down into the mattress. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t see, and everything was spinning. Heart lurching, he fell. His eyes snapped open, and although the bedroom was nearly pitch black, he found himself looking through a red haze. Caught between sleep and waking, he fought to gain his bearings. He was going to faint. Bloody hell, not again. He felt as if he was going to be sick, and his side pained him with each quick breath. Sweat made the thin cotton t-shirt cling to his chest. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, but it grounded him slightly. He made a conscious effort to slow his breathing and focus only on the way that the shirt felt as it stuck to his skin. It was damp, warmish but cooling rapidly, and part of the shirt had rucked up under the duvet as he’d thrashed about in his sleep. He let his awareness wander down from there, resting on the feel of the soft jersey material of the sweatpants against his legs, and carried on to his bare feet, and the way that the weight of the duvet secured them in an uncomfortable position as they hung over the end of the bed. He felt unpleasantly warm, but chilled as a draught from the window passed over the sheen of sweat on his face and neck. The sensation helped bring him back to himself. He blinked a few times, and the red mist began to dissipate. There followed a surge of annoyance. It was nearly impossible to fall asleep in the first place; why wake up merely in order to faint from another sodding panic attack? It was pointless. Everything was pointless, and Giles felt another inward lurch as he wished for someone, anyone, to put their arms around him and tell him that it was all right – that he was all right, and that everything would get better. Even if he knew it was a lie. Buffy was dead.

“*Fuck*.” He sat up carefully, stood up slowly, and went to put the kettle on.

* * * * *

The next evening at exactly half past eight, Quentin Travers made his way through the barroom of the George and Dragon on Battle Road, and ducked under a low beam into a cozy, secluded alcove.

“Hello, Rupert. It’s good to see you.”

“Quentin,” he almost smiled. “To what do I owe the honour?”

Travers appeared to suppress the first comment that sprang into his mind, and gave Giles a quick once over as he slid into the booth. He didn’t comment on the younger man’s much leaner form, five o’clock shadow, or rumpled appearance. He made a mental note of both the number of empty glasses on the table – three, and the time – not yet nine o’clock. That Giles should be serious about his drinking at this point was less of a concern to Travers than the fact that he had done nothing to hide it.

“So, what has it been now… a couple of weeks since you’ve returned to the fold? How are you settling back in?” As if that wasn’t plain enough.

“Fine, thank you.”

When no elaboration appeared to be forthcoming, Travers decided to stick to the script and play along. “Good,” he said. “Because the Council has a little job for you, if you’re interested.”

Giles could have laughed at that, but shook his head instead. “I’m not.”

Travers raised an eyebrow. “Well, you could at least allow me to make the offer before you reject it.”

“What are you offering? You know I’m not eligible for active service for the next year.”

“This is a bit different. A background job. As the most recent Watcher to an active Slayer, you’d be helping us put together a revised edition of the Watcher’s handbook,” Travers said with barely concealed disapproval. “Your methods may have lacked orthodoxy, but they are at least up to date.” Then the edges of his mouth pulled up ever so slightly. “Naturally, this would involve filling in some of the holes in the reports you’ve been filing over the last several years. It would help us a great deal if you could put that formidable intellect of yours to work analysing some of the more difficult decisions you’ve had to make in the line of duty, and considering how you might improve on them, if you had a chance to do them over.”

The colours in the room were changing, and sweat broke out on Giles’ hands. The beginning of another panic attack. He rubbed his palms on his jeans and blinked a few times. He had to get rid of Travers as quickly as possible. He may be falling apart, but he was damned if he was going to give the man the satisfaction of seeing it happen right in front of him.

“Well, much as I appreciate the chance to revisit my past mistakes for the benefit of future generations, I think I’ll pass on that one, thank you,” said Giles, swallowing hard. “Was that all you wanted to ask?”

As Travers had driven to the pub, he’d wondered how long it would be before Giles grated on his nerves. He’d guessed perhaps ten minutes. It had been seven.

He shook his head. “Rupert – ”

“I said no, Quentin. Why don’t you ever listen to what I’m telling you?” came the soft reply.

Travers stared at him. He was as uncooperative as ever – perhaps even more so. Was the man simply trying to push his buttons?

“What exactly *are* you telling me?” said Travers, gesturing to the empty glasses on the table. “What’s all this telling me? What does your appearance tell me? Your body language? Your attitude?”

Giles’ eyes flashed. “Rhetorical questions all, I suspect,” he said, pulling off his glasses and tossing them onto the table. They slid over the polished wood and disappeared onto the seat below, where Travers retrieved them.

“I didn’t come here to upset you,” he said.

“I’m not upset,” said Giles. “In any case, perhaps it would be best if we continue this discussion some other time. If you want my help, you’ll have to come up with something better than that.”

“We’re not quite finished,” said Travers. “I’m just going to get a drink, if you’ll excuse me. I’ll be back in a moment.”

Travers took himself off to the bar, and Giles was grateful for a few minutes alone in which to pull himself together. The attack seemed to have abated for the time being.

Travers returned with a half of bitter lemon for himself, and one for Giles.

“Let’s start again, eh?” he said, pushing the glass across the table. “How have you been since Buffy died?”

Giles looked at him in disbelief. Did Travers really expect him to bare his soul?

“You’ve read the Watcher’s Diaries and the Council textbooks. You know the sorts of things we go through when we lose a Slayer,” said Giles. “A loss of our sense of purpose… questioning of our methods… grieving for the bond that’s been broken…,” he trailed off, disgusted. How very inadequate the Council textbooks had been. Nothing could have prepared him for Buffy’s death. The diaries, at least, were eloquent in their silence. There were no words.

“Don’t try to depersonalise this by hiding behind something you read in a textbook when you were twenty-one,” said Travers. “Losing Buffy will destroy you, if you let it. I’ve not had the honour of training an active Slayer myself, but I do know that much, and I know you, Rupert.”

Somewhat taken aback, Giles raised his head and looked Travers in the eye. That had actually sounded like genuine concern. Partly for this reason, and partly because he knew that hearing the truth would rattle the man, Giles shrugged. “Then give me something to live for.”

Travers didn’t know how to react. After an awkward pause, he gave Giles the opportunity to take it back without losing face.

“That’s a bit melodramatic, don’t you think?”

“Not really.”

Travers stared at the younger man for a few moments.

“Well, I’m afraid that’s something you’ll have to find for yourself, Rupert.”

Giles nodded slowly and eyed his empty glass. “Then I suppose our business here is concluded.”

Travers followed Giles’ line of sight and sighed. “Why don’t you come in and have a word with one of our counsellors.” Off Giles’ look, he went on, “I know it’s a rather American thing to say, but you need to talk to someone, Rupert. You’ve been through a hell of a lot this year… losing Buffy, and being gravely injured yourself. She’s gone, but you knew she would be one day. Nobody could have done better by their Slayer than you did. It was an impossible situation, but you all did what you had to do, and let’s not forget that you did actually *win*.”

The look on Giles’ face was such that Travers wondered if he was going to be punched right then and there.

“I know it’s been dreadful, but you have to go on,” he said. “You know Buffy would say the same.”

“You never knew Buffy. You’ve no idea what she would say,” Giles said coldly.

“Be that as it may, I should think you, of all people, would know what she’d have to say about *you* at the moment.”

Giles didn’t need this. He was wound up enough. The wound in his side still hadn’t quite healed properly, and it ached abominably whenever he was tense. It was aching now. Buffy had cried over him when that had happened. He could almost feel the warmth and strength of her hands as they wrapped around his own. That memory was fading now, along with so many others. How long would it be until he couldn’t remember her at all? She’d cried over him, and he’d got her killed.

Travers held out a business card. “Give the counsellor a call.”

Giles took it and stuffed it into his back pocket. “Thank you. I might do that.”

Travers half smiled. “I don’t believe you will.”

“Then why did you suggest it?”

He sighed. “Because the Council doesn’t want to lose you.”

“Is that what it is?” said Giles. “And here I was thinking that the Council might not want a Watcher with a lifetime’s worth of sensitive and rather volatile knowledge to simply go off the rails.” He grinned at Travers with a deliberately mad glint in his eye. “Who knows what I might do.”

Travers shook his head. “Not funny, Rupert. I’ll make you an appointment.”

“No,” Giles gave a strained smile. “Thank you. That won’t be necessary.” He stood up and extended his hand. “A pleasure, as always.”

Travers eyed him for a long moment before sliding out of the booth and shaking his hand. “Don’t do anything foolish. I’ll be in touch again soon.”

Giles nodded, and Travers disappeared into the crowd.

* * * * *

A couple of hours and more than a few drinks later, Giles lay passed out across the table. He was discovered by a dark-haired waitress and the barman, who had come into the alcove to clear the tables and turn off the lights.

The waitress reached out and gingerly tapped him on the back. When there was no response, she poked him a bit harder, to no effect.

“Does he have any ID?” suggested the barman.

Giles’ jacket was on the seat beside him, and the waitress deftly removed a worn, brown leather wallet from the inside pocket. “Voila.”

You’re like the Artful Dodger, you are.”

She flipped it open. “Let’s see… Rupert Giles… nope… nope… Oh, here we go. Driving license. Flat 1, 32 Roman Road, Bath.

The barman gave Giles’ shoulder a vigorous shake, and he stirred, but didn’t wake.

“Right, then,” he said. “Roman Road’s pretty near you, isn’t it, Maya?”

There was no reply. Maya was staring at the contents of the wallet with a look of deep concentration. Rupert… Giles… she’d heard the name before somewhere.

“Hello! He’s going to feel bad enough in the morning, without waking up to find he’s been robbed,” said the barman.

“Mmm. Oh, sorry,” she said. “So what are you suggesting, that I take a strange man home with me?”

“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time – ow!”

“You’re the barkeeper. Isn’t it your job to eject the stragglers?”

Her companion rolled his eyes and began to haul Giles from the booth. He gave a great heave to get him to his feet, and Giles gasped in pain. Where the barman was holding him, Giles’ shirt had been pulled up, revealing a long, angry-looking scar that curved around his lower left side.

“Bloody hell,” said Maya, squinting at the wound. “Careful, he’s been hurt.”

The barman craned his head down to look. “Shit, that looks nasty.” He regarded Giles with sympathy. “Well, he can’t stay here, and we can’t kill him and dump his body in the Avon…”

Maya raised an eyebrow.

“So the only option left is to bung him in my car and give him a lift home,” the barman smiled, happy to have got a flirty little moment in there, as well as scoring a few brownie points with Maya for being nice.

“I can manage,” Giles muttered irritably. “Thank you.” He jerked free of the barman’s grasp and lurched for the door.

“Someone should go after him,” said Maya. “I doubt he can find his own elbow right now, let alone his house.”

“I don’t think he’ll be going far,” said the barman, peering out the back window. “I’m guessing there’s some professional-level barfing going on behind those bushes.”

Maya made a face. “Thank you for that image. Come on, he seemed a nice enough guy when he was sober… ” Her eye fell on the book he’d left on the seat. ‘Annual Report on Witchcraft in the Northern Hemisphere’. She picked it up and went to get her coat. Then she and the barman scooped Giles from the grassy verge by the road.

About ten minutes later, Maya helped Giles out of the back seat and up his front steps. He rested his forehead against the cool, damp wood of the door and fumbled for his keys.

“Dulce domum,” he said bitterly.

After a moment, Maya smiled and nodded.

“He saw clearly how plain and simple – how narrow, even – it all was,” she quoted softly, “but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one’s existence.”

Giles blinked at her in astonishment. “I love that book,” he slurred. “‘The Wind in the Willows’… is the… the best bloody book ever.”

He seemed ready to burst into tears at any moment.

“Agreed,” said Maya quickly, as she helped him to fit the key in the lock. “Goodnight, Mr. Giles.”

* * * * *

He was falling. His heart was pounding and he couldn’t breathe. He looked up at the tower and saw Buffy belting towards the edge. He was lying on his back, and tried to get up, but he couldn’t move. He tried to call out to her, to tell her something, but he couldn’t make a sound. Couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. There was nothing he could do. He woke with a convulsive jerk, and his head connected solidly with the side of the coffee table. The pain brought reality crashing back over him, and he staggered into the bathroom to be sick.

* * * * *

A few days later, the George and Dragon was packed to capacity when Giles arrived mid-evening. The bar was full of burly, dirty rugby players drowning their sorrows after being thrashed on the field.

“Pint of Boddington’s, please,” Giles bellowed over the din. Then he realised that the girl behind the counter was the one who’d escorted him back to the flat. God, how embarrassing. He turned to watch a drunken game of darts taking place in the corner. He began to feel uneasy, and turned back to the bar to see the dark-haired girl staring at him. He gave her a questioning look.

“Sorry,” she said. “I’m stuck here for the minute, but could I possibly have a word with you in a bit?”

He didn’t have a clue what she wanted, and he didn’t really care.

He nodded shortly. “I’ll be back there,” he said, gesturing to the alcove.

“I know,” she grinned, and he wondered when he’d become so predictable.

Giles paid for the pint and disappeared into the back room. He’d been there often enough to feel possessive about it now, and glared at anyone who dared come in after him. He picked up his book and began to read.

* * * * *

At about ten-thirty, several slightly bruised and very drunk young men wandered over to where Maya was ringing up one order after another.

“Don’t I know you?” said one with a cut above his eye.

“I don’t think so,” said Maya with what she hoped was an amiable smile. She turned back to the cash register.

“Yes I do,” he declared loudly. “You’re the town witch, aren’t you?” He grinned to his friends. “Care for a ride on my broomstick, love?”

They howled with laughter, and a few others joined in. Maya looked to Richard for help, but he was around the corner serving another large group. She decided to ignore them and hope they went away.

They didn’t. They were bored and drunk and had found themselves an easy target.

“So what do you do then?” said one with a missing front tooth. “Spells? Love potions an’ that?” Shouldn’t think you’d need one, with lovely tits like those.”

Maya blushed furiously. “I think you’d better leave.”

“Only if you’ll come with me,” he said, taking her roughly by the arm.

“Richard!” She yelled for the barman, but her cry was lost among the loud music, gambling machines, and noise of the crowd. The rugby player was pulling her out from behind the bar, much to the amusement of his friends.

Then Maya felt a large hand on her breast, and her control broke.

“*Alcium!*”

* * * * *

By eleven o’clock, Giles had had enough lager to be really quite relaxed, but still firmly in control of all the mental processes he would need to get himself back to the flat he did not think of as ‘home’. The noise in the bar had been escalating steadily, and he was fed up with it. As he ducked through the doorway to leave the alcove, he was blinded by a burst of white light.

The energy seemed to have emanated from the girl he’d spoken to earlier, and a group of what were obviously drunken yobs were hurled back into the crowd, sending the other patrons flying.

One by one, the locals disentangled themselves. They stood in shocked silence, staring at Maya with wide, wide eyes.

The yob with the cut above his eye was the first to recover. “Told you she was a sodding witch! Did you see that? She could’ve sodding killed us!”

His friend with the missing tooth hissed then, and looked down at his arms. They were burnt an ugly shade of red, peeling, and beginning to blister. “That’s bleeding assault, that is! Isn’t it? You all saw what she did!” He turned to the shocked barman. “I’m not moving until you call the police to fucking well arrest her!”

Maya looked at her own hands then. If anything, they were more burnt and blistered than the man’s.

The barman looked at her with an utter lack of comprehension. She stood frozen in place, breathing hard and trembling for a few eternal seconds, then bolted for the door. No one tried to stop her.

Giles stared after her. The locals were starting to snap out of their daze, and someone was talking about calling the police, or the army. Others were saying they knew where she lived. He wanted no part of this, but he knew she’d be lucky to make it home on her own. Besides, he was ready to leave anyway, and he supposed he owed her a favour.

* * * * *

It was darker than usual on Battle Road. A thick scotch mist softened the lines of the rough stone buildings and gave rise to a chilly dampness that made Giles’ side ache. The sodium lights offered just enough visibility for him to see the girl disappearing down a side street.

Maya didn’t turn around when she heard heavy footfalls behind her, but when she felt a hand on her arm, she whirled around with her hand outstretched.

“*Einto – *”

Giles let go of her immediately and stepped back with his hands up. “Easy. No need for that, I assure you,” he said soothingly. “Maya, isn’t it? The Kenneth Grahame fan?”

Maya took a deep breath and lowered her arm. “Mr. Giles.”

He waved a hand dismissively. “Just Giles will do. I didn’t mean to scare you. I saw what just happened and I came to see if you – ”

“I know you’re a Watcher,” she blurted. She’d had to go and do that in front of a Watcher, for God’s sake. He’d been so hidden away all evening, she’d forgotten he was there.

After an initial blink, Giles’ expression gave nothing away. “What?”

“Your wallet… I had to look in it to find your address the other night, and I saw your Council ID.”

Giles crossed his arms over his chest and looked at her levelly. “You know what a Council ID is, do you?”

“The compound is only six miles away. You weren’t the first Watcher whose pockets I’ve had to pick. Plus, a friend of mine’s dad’s a Watcher. Maybe you know him… Eric Stevens?”

That was where she knew Giles’ name from. Lucy and her dad had run into Travers a few weeks ago, and Lucy had been party to the details of Giles’ return, and the events preceding it; which she’d then dutifully relayed to Maya. He had been Buffy Summers’ Watcher.

Giles nodded slowly, wondering at the slightly awed look that had appeared on the girl’s face. “Rings a bell.”

Maya sighed deeply. “So… I guess we’re going to the Council, then.” She was going to be in so much trouble.

“I don’t… you mean, because of what you did just now?”

“Well, duh… Oh, sorry.” Sarcasm probably wasn’t the best way to handle this situation, and she was surprised when it briefly raised a proper grin from him. It was gone as suddenly as it had appeared.

“Are you registered with the Council as a practising witch?” he asked automatically, then held up his hands. “Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know. As of right now, I’m a Watcher in name only, and I don’t wish to add to your problems, or mine,” he said tiredly. “Come on, I’ll walk you home.”

They walked on in silence for a while before he said, “I take it this was the first time you’ve used magic to hurt someone?”

“I didn’t mean to hurt him. The spell didn’t go right.”

That sounded uncomfortably familiar. He wondered how Willow was doing. He hadn’t heard from any of them since leaving Sunnydale. He stopped walking as they passed under a streetlamp.

“Let’s see your hands?”

Maya gave him a questioning look, but did as requested. He moved them into the light and examined her shaking hands closely for a few moments before meeting her eyes again.

“I thought you’d burned yourself, as well as him?”

“I did… but I’m pretty good at healing spells. That’s what I’ve been doing longest.” She smiled. “I used to be so clumsy as a kid that I learned a little alternative first aid.”

“Mmm. How old are you?” said Giles, walking again.

“Twenty. I started learning magic when I was ten.”

“So did I,” said Giles.

“I have a mentor now… He’s pretty amazing,” she said, frowning slightly. “He’s showed me some pretty weird stuff as well as the more basic magics, but I am learning a lot, and he’s invited me to join his coven. A bunch of people I know are already in it, but I have some catching up to do. This is me,” she said, gesturing to a townhouse not unlike his own. “Thanks for walking me.”

He smiled. “No problem. Have a good – ”

“I hate to bother you,” she said quickly. “But I was wondering if you would mind helping me with something. I-I mean if you have time. You probably don’t have time, and I shouldn’t be asking this. You don’t even know me, and there’s no reason – ”

Whatever it was, she was absolutely right. He didn’t want to do it. He didn’t want to do anything for anyone right now, including himself. Giles held up a hand. “Just… tell me.”

She took a deep breath. “I could really use your help with some spells. Watchers are allowed to help people learn magic, aren’t they? I really want to get into this coven, but I have to be able to perform the magics perfectly before they’ll even think about letting me in the door… ” She trailed off as Giles shook his head.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. Goodnight, Maya.” He turned to go.

“Can’t, or won’t?”

“Won’t. It’s too dangerous.”

It was hard enough trying to keep Willow and her magics in check. He wasn’t about to encourage another girl to become any more deeply involved in the dark arts than she obviously already was. Clearly, she could use some help with the magics, but that wasn’t *his* problem, and he refused to allow her to make it so.

“The kind of stuff I do really isn’t that dangerous – ”

He spun around. “Oh, isn’t it? Tell that to the idiot with the second degree burns!” he snapped. “Tell that to the people you chucked around the room. There were elderly people in the bar. They could have been badly hurt falling into the furniture like that. *You* were badly hurt, but for the healing spell. What was it? Pieters Salva Illuminata?”

She nodded.

His eyes were frosty. “For Christ’s sake, don’t take risks when you don’t even know what the risks *are*. And that goes for your dealings with any mysterious ‘mentors’ as well. How did those yobs know you were a witch, anyway? Have you performed magic in public before this?”

Maya was staring at him open-mouthed, eyes brimming. This was not what she needed tonight.

Giles shook his head. “I’m sorry. It’s really none of my business. All I’m saying is… be careful. There are people… things… in this world that will seek out young witches with your kind of potential and try to manipulate you for their own purposes.”

“That’s not what’s going on here.”

He frowned, irritated at her persistence. “What do you mean, ‘going on’? And if you want to convince me that there’s nothing going on, you should work on sounding more sure of that yourself.”

She looked profoundly uncomfortable, but her eyes flashed, and he wondered if she was going to give as good as she got.

“Okay. Here it is. I’m a witch, but – ” She stopped then, as a car pulled up to the kerb then, radio blaring, and several of the yobs from the pub spilled out onto the path.

“Fuck off, witch!” bellowed the one missing a front tooth.

Maya scrambled to open the door. Giles automatically moved so that he was between Maya and the yobs, and ushered her inside as half-empty lager cans exploded against the door, soaking them both.

Suddenly overcome with righteous indignation, Maya picked up a can and was about to hurl it back when Giles stopped her.

“Don’t, you’ll make it worse. Just get inside.”

The car sped off, and Giles and Maya looked at one another. Magic gone wrong, consequences to pay. Giles was curious despite himself. There was fear in her eyes, but anger as well. He recognised it in her as he had in Willow, and in himself.

“You all right?” he said.

Clearly shaken, she just nodded.

“Do you live alone?”

“No, I have flatmates.”

“Good.” He dug a pen and notepad from his jacket, tore off a page, and scribbled a  number on it. “Call me if they come back. Otherwise, I’ll see you tomorrow at three in the café in Campbell’s bookshop. All right? We’ll talk some more.” He picked up the lager cans and examined them for fingerprints. “In the meantime I’ll work on a highly unethical forgetting spell that should at least keep them from pursuing you further.”

“Thanks, Mr… I mean, Giles,” she smiled. “I really appreciate all this.”

He briefly returned the smile. “That’s all right. I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

Giles heaved a deep sigh of consternation as he walked back to the flat. Something about this girl made him uneasy, though he had no idea what it was. He didn’t really want to see her again, but he’d been lonely and bored out of his mind since leaving Sunnydale, and he suspected that the diversion might be good for him. Sometimes it wasn’t *what* you thought about so much as what you *weren’t* thinking about that mattered.

* * * * *

Maya arrived at the café at exactly five minutes to three the next day. Giles was already there, sitting at a round table by the window with a pot of tea and a small stack of books. She approached him with caution, trying to subtly gauge his mood.

“Hi.”

“Hello,” he said. “Do sit down. Help yourself to tea. Before we go any further, I must apologise for shouting at you last night. Magic’s a bit of a sensitive subject with me, but you weren’t to know that.” Buffy was dead. Why hadn’t any of them called him? Why was it that the only way he could communicate with them was by leaving messages on their bloody answer phones? He would have expected Willow at least to have been in touch by now.

“It’s okay,” she smiled tolerantly. “I’ve been yelled at worse.”

“Do you have family around here?”

She nodded. “Not far. Chippenham.”

“Do they know about your abilities?”

“Yes.” She looked out the window. “I don’t talk about them anymore. It makes them uncomfortable.”

“I see,” said Giles. “It can’t be easy to keep a part of yourself hidden from the people closest to you.”

“Well, it’s not exactly hidden,” she said carefully. “The Council training fees are pretty steep.”

Giles’ eyes widened. “Training fees?” he echoed.

“I’m studying to be a Watcher – ”

“I don’t believe this.” He slumped back in his chair and shook his head. “Why didn’t you say so before?”

“I didn’t get a chance. I wanted to have a proper conversation about it, but things kept happening, and – ”

“Well, we’ll have a conversation about it now,” said Giles.

Maya nodded, but she hadn’t exactly found his tone to be conducive to a relaxed discussion.

Giles could see that she was beginning to bristle. They stared at one another for a moment before Maya moved to get up.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have bothered you. Maybe we can talk some other – ”

“No, sit down.” When she hesitated, he added, “Please.”

She sat, and he poured her out a cup of tea. “So, what is it you wanted to talk about?”

“These spells I need to get into the coven.”

“Ah yes, the coven. How often would you say you practise witchcraft?”

“Usually… about three times a week. My friend Lucy and I have been practising together. But now that there’s this induction coming up, I’ve been practising loads. Every day.”

“What kinds of spells?”

“Well, healing, of course. They’re my favourites, so I always start with those. I want to use magic to help people, not to turn them into toads. Horny or otherwise,” she said, remembering the yob in the bar.

Giles smiled. “What else?”

“Lately it’s been floating objects. Flying. Transmogrification. Mind control. Invisibility… ,” she stopped as she registered Giles’ expression darkening. “What?”

“Those are very advanced techniques, and not without their more disturbing applications; especially the mind control. I thought you were a novice, from the way your spell went last night.”

“Well I didn’t say they worked.”

He didn’t return her smile. “I’m relieved to hear it. You could easily be killed or worse trying those things without adequate supervision.”

She sighed. That’s why I could really use your help. Your books. Whatever wisdom you can impart about spellcasting that might help me get up to the level I need to be at in two weeks.”

“Two weeks?”

“That’s when the next coven induction ceremony is. It coincides with an important ritual.”

Giles shook his head. “The best advice I can give you is… don’t do it. It takes years to become proficient at those spells. What’s the hurry to join this coven anyway? Why now?”

It did not escape Giles’ notice that where the girl had been very forthcoming so far, she had suddenly gone quiet, picking at the spines of his books.

“If you don’t want to tell me, perhaps there’s something about it that makes you uncomfortable,” he ventured.

“It’s not that I don’t want to… ” she looked almost panicky for a moment, and Giles wondered what she was holding back. “It’s just important that I do it now.”

“Why?” he pressed. “You don’t commit yourself to something like this lightly. No two covens are alike. Each has an underlying agenda, and you’d better know what it is. So. What’s in it for you?” He fixed his green eyes on her brown ones appraisingly. “There must be something.”

“There is,” she shifted uncomfortably, “but I’d really rather not talk about it.”

Giles stared at her for a beat before trying something else.

“You said this coven’s based in London. Have you met the other members? Do you know the kinds of magics they perform?”

“Some of them are in my class. Most of them are pretty old. Like, your age… Oh, sorry.” She blushed. “I just meant they’re much more experienced, and I can learn a lot from them.”

She needn’t have worried. Giles had long since become immune to a wide range of tactless remarks from young women.

“The spells you’re being asked to perform are quite… unusual… for an inductee to an average coven. Are you sure this *is* an average coven?”

Maya looked confused. “Well, I don’t really have anything to compare it to.” She gave him a hundred-watt smile. “That’s why I need to research a bit more before I make my final decision whether to join. Plus, it’ll be great material when I come to write my dissertation on modern British covens.”

Giles was almost as immune to the wiles of the female scholar as he was to tactless remarks. But not quite.

“I thought the research was merely a means to achieving your single-minded, uncritical aim of joining a mystical circle you know next to nothing about,” he shot back.

“Well, that too. I need to research the coven, but I also need to find some books that explain the spells they want me to do. Preferably in twenty-five words or less. I can’t ask my mentor… ” she trailed off, her features clouding. Again, Giles had the feeling that he wasn’t hearing the whole story.

“You’re not going to find that information in the local library,” he said, rubbing his temple. Her sincerity was plain, and God knew he needed a little diversion and human interaction before the guilt and grief became any more of a fixation than it already was.

“It’s not very likely,” she agreed.

Giles glanced quickly around the café. “Lean forward,” he said quietly.

Baffled, she did. Giles took her face in his hands and focused on her eyes. She wanted to blink after a few seconds, but found that she couldn’t. Her head felt warm and a little dopey. His eyes were a shade darker than before. After a minute or two, he pulled away and snapped his fingers. She blinked.

“What the hell was that?” she demanded.

“Forgive me, but as you’ve already pointed out, I hardly know you, and you could be a demon, an enchantress, or God knows what, so I think it’s reasonable to check you out before I let you loose among my books.” He lapsed into a bit of a grin. “Well, there’s a good lesson for a Watcher-to-be. You can never be too careful.”

“Are you satisfied?”

“Yes. You can look through my books, but I’m not going to help you perform any spells you find.”

“Fine,” she beamed. “I understand.”

“No, you don’t.” He sighed, and finished off his cup of tea. “Come on, then. There isn’t much time, so you might as well get started.”

* * * * *

Giles’ living room looked as if someone had played a very successful game of ‘How many boxes can you cram into a small space?’ Only a couple had been unpacked. Giles hadn’t quite assimilated the idea that he was actually staying here now. The cardboard containers remained more or less exactly as the removal men had left them two weeks previously.

He could tell Maya was impressed by the number of boxes labeled, with limited usefulness, ‘books’. He gave her a Swiss Army knife and leave to open any box she chose, and retreated to his study.

At first she skimmed through every single text, from ‘Templetwist’s Elemental Tables and Their Practical Applications in Alchemy’, to ‘Flying Blind: A Transmography and Teleportation Primer’ to ‘Daemon Invictus Canticle’, on down, but there were so many. At length she came to a small, handmade manuscript bound together with strips of hide. It was written in a clear hand on ivory parchment. The energies radiated through the pages, and Maya’s hands tingled as she picked it up. This one was obviously worthy of closer attention. She made a cup of tea and curled up to read on the lumpy green sofa.

* * * * *

He’d found the book by chance, looking for something else. Giles squinted at the tiny, crabbed latin script and read the passage a fifth time, just to be certain. There was no doubt about it now. The Irion demon was coming this way. There was no Slayer to stop it, and no gang of faithful sidekicks to back him up. He couldn’t do this right now. It was too much. He was too tired. He couldn’t do it on his own – no one but the Slayer could. Perhaps he was wrong after all. He’d have to cross-reference this text with other prophecies. He scanned the groaning bookshelves. There was one volume he could see that might have something, but it was, of course, at the very top of the bookcase, just below the ceiling.

Giles perched on a chair and groped for the book. It had been pushed back until it was half hidden behind other volumes. With a sigh of annoyance, he tried to work it free with his fingertips, then lost patience and hit it off the shelf using another, larger book. The codex fell to the floor, and something he’d used as a bookmark years ago fluttered out to land face down on the carpet. He stared at the bit of paper. It was a wallet-sized school photograph with ‘Just so you don’t forget who’s boss’ written on the back in the looping, careful hand of a fifteen year old girl. Underneath was ‘Buffy’, and a cartoonish doodle of a heart. Giles knew the heart was included as a calculated effort to make him roll his eyes at the daffiness of teenage girls, and it had worked. He lightly traced the purple ballpoint pen lines with his index finger, careful not to smudge them, but he didn’t dare turn the photograph over. He opened his desk drawer, dropped the photo inside, and quickly shut it.

* * * * *

A few hours later Maya opened the door to the study. Giles was hunched over the desk with his back to her. She opened her mouth to ask him what kind of pizza he wanted to order, but the words caught in her throat. His face was buried in his hands and his shoulders were heaving. She had no idea what to do, so decided the best thing was to at least spare him any embarrassment. She shut the door again, careful not to make a noise, and returned to the living room.

* * * * *

Giles emerged from the study around midnight with a battered, leather-bound tome in his hand and a despairing look on his face. He jumped when he heard Maya sneeze. “Are you still here?”

She looked up with such an expression of hurt surprise that he rubbed his eyes and forced a smile. “I’m sorry, that didn’t come out quite the way I meant it. How’re you doing? I take it you’ve found something of interest?”

“Uh, yeah. I found this,” she grinned, brandishing a yellow mug with ‘Kiss the Librarian’ written on it, “a lot of old records, and this.” She displayed the small, tattered volume, noting his frown.

He held out his hand and she gave it to him. He put it back in one of the cardboard boxes. “You don’t want that one,” he said, handing her a basic book on witchcraft. “Try this instead.”

She looked faintly insulted. “What *is* this?” she grinned. “Learning the Dark Arts With Mother? I’m way past this.”

“Not from what I’ve seen.”

“What’s wrong with the other one?” she insisted.

He sighed. “Practically everything. Just leave it alone.”

“Fine,” she sighed. She’d managed to memorise one or two of the more interesting spells anyway. “Is it okay if I take this book with me? I’ll bring it back tomorrow.”

“Yes… yes, I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said distractedly. “Goodnight.”

“Night,” she smiled. “Um, one thing I was wondering?”

Giles raised his eyebrows.

“A *lot* of these books have library labels on them. You didn’t steal them, by any chance?” she grinned.

God, he could use some Scooby backup right now. There was so much research to do, and so little time. They would add their strength to his, and it might just be enough. Wasn’t going to happen, though. What were they doing now? No news was generally bad news.

“Okay, never mind,” Maya was saying as she backed out the door.

“Sorry,” he said, looking up. “I was miles away. No, I didn’t steal the books. The library belonged to me. Well, sort of. It might as well have.”

She nodded, and he knew when he was being humoured. “Well, that’s all right, then. See you tomorrow.”

He grunted in response, but his attention was back on the codex, his brow furrowing ever more deeply.

* * * * *

Over the next several days, Giles became accustomed to having another person sharing his space, if not his books, and was beginning to quite look forward to her turning up at ten each morning. Maya covered it well, but there was something fragile about her that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. That, combined with her seeking his help and advice, made him feel needed; stronger, perhaps. She was good company, anyway. Like him, she was content to work in companionable silence, but unlike Giles alone, she was able to fill that silence when it turned into something more malignant. On the fifth visit, she brought him a little teddy bear for company and help him research when she wasn’t around. He appreciated her efforts to try to make him laugh, but the momentary relief of it was swiftly followed by a pang of guilt. He’d no right to be alive and enjoying himself. In return for her eagerness to help him unpack, or with research – though he hadn’t told her what he was researching – he would occasionally make her laugh with a funny story of some stupid thing he’d done while at the Council school in his teens. He told her a little bit about Eyghon, too. Her lack of control when it came to the magics concerned him, and he reminded her more than once that there were stories he could tell that would be a good deal less amusing than the one where he’d added a love potion to the coffee pot in the faculty room.

* * * * *

Giles was becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of further information on the Irion demon. It was the savage leader of an unusually well-organised band of chaos demons, and due to enter the world next week, if the prophecy was to be believed. There was no mention of where or how Irion would make his appearance, nor of exactly what he would do once he did. There were the usual chest-beating promises of world domination, torment, and pain to all but those who submitted to his rule, but that probably wasn’t what the demon was really after. But there were no further leads to what he might want from this dimension, so Giles had no clue as to how to prevent him from getting it. The research would go quicker if he told Maya exactly what she was looking for, but he knew that she’d want to do more to help than just research, and he’d never allow another person to place themselves in danger on his account.

* * * * *

One evening a few days before the demon was due, Giles cooked for the first time since Maya had started helping him. He made pasta, because he had trouble swallowing when he was tense, and lasagne was easy to eat. He was a good cook, and they sat down together at the kitchen table.

“So,” he said. “How’s the research going? Have you found anything useful on the coven question?”

“No. there’s no mention of any covens that match this one. They’re not registered anywhere. I did find out about some of the covens that *are* registered, though, and they seem quite different.”

Giles noticed the tension in her posture, and the reticent tone in her voice. “Different in what way?” he said neutrally.

“Well… *whiter*. More in tune with the kinds of things I like to do. Healing. Herb lore. History of witchcraft, and the community of it. There’s no mention of those covens using dark power…” she shook her head. “No mind control, or anything like that. I mean, what’s *that* about?”

Giles didn’t push for further details. She seemed to be going in the right direction, and it was better to let her draw her own conclusions about this thing than to pull rank and risk having her go off to the coven in order to prove something to him.

They ate in silence for a while, and Maya’s frown deepened. Finally she stopped eating and simply stared down at the table as she fiddled with the pepper shaker. Before Giles could comment, she asked the question that had been tearing at her for days, since reading the chapter on sorcery in that book on witchcraft.

“Giles?”

“Mmm?”

She hesitated, and colour rushed to her cheeks. She shook her head. “Nothing. Forget it.”

Giles looked at her seriously. “No, what is it? Something you found in one of the books?”

She nodded slowly.

“Something that worries you?”

She sighed. “Yes. And no. I knew why he did it, but I’m not sure now… ,” she trailed off, blushing more.

“Knew why who did what?” Giles prompted gently.

“Is… is it true that a sorcerer can pass some of his magical ability to a novice by having sex with them?” Her face was really burning now.

Giles looked her in the eye, careful not to let any anger or judgement show there. “No,” he said unequivocally. “The transfer of mystical energy of any sort is purely a magical process. Biology doesn’t come into it, with the possible exception of any body parts or fluids that may be used as ingredients for starting a ritual wherein power is transferred from one person to another.”

She was looking down at her plate, not meeting his eyes any more.

“When did it happen?” he said.

After a moment, she sighed. “A couple of weeks ago.”

“Are you all right? I-I mean physically, at least.”

Her discomfort was palpable. “I am now.”

He waited, but she didn’t elaborate. “Can you tell me what happened?” he said gently.

As she glanced at him, he could see the defenses going up.

“I don’t think so. I’m sorry, Giles. You’re a friend,” she said. “But you’re also a Watcher. Abuses of magical power have to be reported to the Council, don’t they?”

He nodded. “Usually.”

“Well, then.”

Giles sat back in his chair. “I’m sure you’re aware that the Council forbids its students to undertake any kind of study with magical practitioners that haven’t officially been appointed as external tutors. But it’s not for me to report it. That’s up to you, if you want to take some sort of action against him. I’m not interested in the bureaucracy of it. I’m interested in what this man wanted, why you let him do it, and whether you’re all right.” He looked at her seriously. “You did *let* him, didn’t you? He didn’t force you?”

Her jaw tightened. “No, I wanted to do it… at first… I told you, I really need to improve quickly if I’m going to get into this coven, and he said what you said: that learning those spells takes years, and he was offering me a shortcut. Then I changed my mind after we started, but it was too late, if you know what I mean.” Her eyes were becoming blurry, and Giles grabbed the tissue box from the counter and handed it to her.

“Did you tell him to stop?”

“Yes.”

“What happened?”

“He didn’t,” she said flatly.

Giles was no stranger to the impulse to suppress emotional trauma with a degree of numb detachment. “Were you… I mean… are you… ” He searched for a tactful way to say it.

“Yes, it was safe.” She made a choking laugh. “If you want to call it that. I’m not pregnant or anything. But I have felt kind of… strange… wrong… since then. Not only for the reasons I expected to feel bad. My mystical energies feel off as well. And there are some things I try to remember, but I just can’t.”

Although mystical energy couldn’t be transferred from one individual to another through sexual contact, spells could be performed or enhanced that way, but Giles didn’t want to worry her further by saying so.

“I see. Maya, I’d like to do the same thing I did in the café last week,” he said. “If that’s all right with you. But this time I’m going to do it more intensely. You might feel quite dizzy, but there’s nothing to worry about, and it won’t hurt. All right?”

She didn’t respond, and he suspected that it was because she was picking up on the fact that there were things he wasn’t telling her, and she didn’t want those fears to be confirmed.

“Will you give me your permission to do this?” he pressed. She didn’t need to feel that another man was forcing her to do something against her will.

After a moment she nodded.

He crouched down beside her chair, then took her face in his hands.

“Look at me,” he said.

She did so with some reluctance.

“Ready? It won’t take a minute.”

She nodded again.

“While I’m doing this, I’d like you to think about the man who did this to you, and try to focus on an area that you’ve been having trouble remembering.”

Her mouth quirked up a little at that. “You want me to think about what I can’t remember?”

He returned the smile. “Just try.”

Giles reached out with his mind and began searching her unblinking eyes for signs of any dark energies or residue. Though his search revealed nothing, he did not believe for a moment that it was because there was nothing there to find. Whoever had done this spell had covered their tracks completely.

He snapped his fingers. She blinked, swayed, and grabbed the back of the chair for support.

“Dizzy?”

“Yeah.”

“Sorry.” He helped her up and over to the sofa, and she lay with her feet up on the arms while he went to consult a few books. He returned some minutes later to find her sitting up. “I was looking for traces of a spell just now,” he said. “I believe that there is some sort of spell, or combination of spells, affecting you at the moment, but I can’t reach it. He’s concealed it very well. Who is this sorcerer, anyway? Had you met him before?”

“I knew him,” said Maya, making a tremendous effort not to cry. “Of *course* I knew him. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise! He’s… he was… my mentor. He was trying to help me get in the coven. I think he really does… did want me to get in.” She buried her face in her hands. “Oh, I don’t know *what* he was trying to do. *I* was trying to get into the coven until he did that. Now all I can think about is how the hell I’m ever going to get over what he did… but first I have to find him and get him to tell me what spell he’s put on me so that I can get it broken somehow!”

“That’s why you’re still trying to get into the coven?”

“Yes. I just need to get close to him, and find out what he did to me.”

They were quiet for a while then, until Giles said, “Suppose you do get near him. What then?”

She didn’t look at him. “I’ll make him sorry. I’m sure I can’t have been the first person he’s done that to. Someone has to stop him.”

“I see.” He leaned forward. “Maya, I do understand that what he did to you was incredibly damaging, and your wanting to hurt him back is a perfectly natural response; but you must remember that you’re dealing with a very experienced and powerful practitioner of the black arts. With all due respect, you’re a twenty-year-old novice with a gift for casting healing spells. I know who I’d put my money on.”

She frowned. “So do I. But I have to try.”

“Do you really think you have it in you to hurt someone that badly? Vengeance isn’t something you can leave half done,” he said.

“I don’t know. I guess that’s the kind of thing you find out when the time comes.”

Giles waited until her gaze met his, then said, “I know what it takes for a… decent person to do something despicable. Many Watchers do, but perhaps myself more than most. I was the Watcher to the active Slayer; and as such, I sometimes had make extremely difficult choices. Suppose you did manage to do something truly terrible to this person?” She opened her mouth, and he made a silencing gesture. “Don’t think you could get away with hurting him just a little. If he’s a dark sorcerer, you’d have to use all the mystical energy you possess to stand even the slightest chance. Don’t kid yourself. It would be kill or be killed.”

Maya shook her head. “Then that’s the way it would be.”

“Yes, that *is* the way it would be,” he said firmly. “And supposing you survived – which you wouldn’t – how would you be able to go back to your daily life knowing what you’d done? What you were capable of? Wondering if you had the same kind of darkness inside yourself?”

“I can’t just let him get away with it. What would that say about me?”

Giles looked at her. “It would say that you were strong enough to accept that you made a mistake, and learn from it. The Council may be able to help you track him down and punish him according to official procedure. Going off half-cocked and getting yourself killed would be profoundly stupid.”

“I agree, but – ”

Giles’ eyes flashed. “Maya, have you registered how many times I’ve referred to your getting killed? You’ve told me what you want to do. Now if I let you go off and do that, and something happens, where does that leave me – knowing that I could’ve stopped you, but didn’t? So hear this. Either you let it go, or you report it. That’s fine. But I can’t let you go after him. I’ll take you to Travers myself, if I have to.”

This was met with a challenging stare.

She knew she shouldn’t have told him. “I could be expelled from the Council for what I’ve done so far.”

Giles nodded. “It’s still preferable to being dead.”

She had no answer for that. At least, none that she was prepared to voice.

“So what do you think?” said Giles. “Council, dead, or let it go… at least for now?”

Maya slumped back against the sofa. “I’ll let it go. For now.” She smiled a little. “Just so that you don’t have to feel guilty about denying some future Slayer a fantastic Watcher.”

He looked at her searchingly for a few moments, and hoped that she actually had seen sense. He had enough to worry about. “Very wise. What’s his name, this mentor?” said Giles. “Perhaps I can find out something that would be useful in bringing him to justice through more conventional channels.”

The conversation had taken the fight out of Maya, and tears began to fill her eyes. “I can’t remember.”

“Oh.” Well, it was a start. “Do you know where to find him?”

“No.” She looked at him intently as she forced herself to stop crying. “God, Giles, I hate myself! I hate him, but I can’t do anything about that. I can’t believe I was so stupid and careless.” Her eyes flashed then. “I’m going to find him, though.” She stood up and put her jacket on.

Giles took a step towards her. “Not tonight, you’re not. And not on your own, either.”

She patted his arm, and he jumped, but she had half expected that, and didn’t take offense. He was wound pretty tight himself. “You’re sweet, Giles. I *am* going to find him one day, and he won’t be happy when I do, but right now it’s late, and I’m going home. I’ll be back tomorrow to help you with researching this mysterious bad thing you’ve found but won’t tell me about.” She hesitated. “It’s not me, is it?”

He laughed a little at that, which was reassuring. “No.”

“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” She met his eyes. “Chill out. I’m not going to do anything.”

He gave her an appraising look, decided she was telling the truth, and opened the door for her. “If you’re not here at ten am, I’m coming after you,” he promised.

* * * * *

Maya showed up on time the next day, and they sat on the front step having tea before beginning research. They’d done it three times now, and it was a tradition.

“I really do appreciate your letting me hang around and go through all your books,” she said. “I wish there was something I could do for you in return. I know you’re going through a hard time right now… You know, because of… of Buffy. I was really sorry to hear about that. I heard a lot of great things about her, and her friends.” She smiled. “Even about her Watcher, sometimes,” she laughed. “Though not from Mr. Travers.”

Giles grinned a bit at this, but hearing Buffy’s name so unexpectedly was a blow he hadn’t been braced for. He was speechless for a moment, then managed, “I see the Council grapevine is as secure as ever.”

“A friend of mine got the news about Buffy from Mr. Travers.”

“I’m sure.”

And that was the end of that discussion.

* * * * *

For the rest of the day Maya helped Giles look out a few more vital books among the sea of half-empty boxes. They usually turned up in the far corner, at the bottom of the heap. Giles explained that she wasn’t to look at the content of any more of his books until he figured out what spell had been put on her and why. In point of fact, he was extremely sorry that he’d let her go through his library in the first place, but there was no way that he could have detected the spell. Now that he knew about it, he wanted Maya where he could keep an eye on her as much as possible, and he never left her alone with the books. Neither of them brought up Buffy or the sorcerer again.

Giles handed Maya another rejected volume to go back in the box from whence it had come, but she assumed that as it had been unpacked, it might as well go on the bookshelf. Giles opened his mouth to say that it wasn’t necessary, he wasn’t staying, when it hit him that he was staying. He had nowhere else to go. He’d either failed in, or done, his job – whichever way you wanted to look at it – and that part of his life was over. This was his life now. Right here. Suddenly the room felt very close and airless. His side began to ache again, and he took a few deep breaths.

“You all right?” Maya had paused in her shelving and was looking at him with concern.

Giles forced a smile and nodded. He stood and reached up to place a book on one of the top shelves. As he did, his shirt pulled up, exposing the angry scar. That… whatever it was… had really left a mess behind. It turned her over just looking at it.

There was a soft scuffle beside him, and Maya said, “Don’t move for a second, okay? Just stay like that.”

She pressed her hand firmly to the ragged red line and focused her mystical energies on healing the damage beneath. It was an impulsive gesture, instantly regretted.

Giles went absolutely rigid, and moments later his hand clamped around her wrist. His eyes were wild.

“What. The hell. Do you think you’re doing?”

Shocked, Maya stuttered, “S-sorry. I… I didn’t mean… I just wanted to… ,” she jerked her arm from his grasp. “That can’t feel good. Wouldn’t you *like* it to be made better?”

He glared down at her, and his voice was dangerously soft. “You don’t use magic on people without their permission. Some things just deserve to be left as they are. We’re done for today. I think you’d better go.”

She went.

* * * * *

Maya did not return the next day, nor the next. Giles didn’t worry too much at first, although he wished he could apologise, yet again, for his behaviour. He hadn’t been so short tempered for a very long time. His annoyance with himself, however, was peripheral to the near-paralysis he felt when contemplating the rise of the Irion demon, whose appearance was imminent. He supposed he should tell the Council, but he knew that Travers would disapprove of his involvement. He went back to the study, and was called back almost immediately by the doorbell. A tall, solidly built man with short, greying hair stood on the front step, and he looked frantic.

“Mr. Giles, I’m not sure we’ve been properly introduced. I’m Eric Stevens.”

“Yes, I know. You once lent me a pen during a Council briefing when mine had run out,” he smiled.

Stevens shifted back and forth with nervous energy as Giles took his hand and shook it. “I’m sure you’re busy, so I’ll come right to the point. I understand that you’ve been in contact with Maya Davies. She’s one of my students. She’s also a friend of my daughter, Lucy.”

“Yes, Maya’s mentioned you both. I was just about to have a tea break, if you’d like to join me.”

* * * * *

Giles shut the door behind them and waved off Stevens’ offer of help with the tea, telling him instead to sit down and make himself comfortable.

Stevens nodded gratefully, and spent the next five minutes pacing the living room, doing a circuit around the cardboard boxes.

Giles re-emerged from the kitchen and handed him a steaming mug. “What does the Council want with Maya, then?” he said. “Or is it me they’re after?”

Somewhat taken aback by the defensive tone, Eric shook his head. “I’m not here about her. Or you. It’s Lucy. She seems to be missing. My wife and I haven’t heard from her in a while, which isn’t all that unusual… She’s a grown woman, got her friends and her job… I understand that, but I’m her dad, and I got worried, so I went round to her flat the other day and it seems that nobody’s seen her for a couple of weeks. She hasn’t even been in to pay her bills or the rent. Maya spoke to my wife a week or so ago, and apparently she didn’t know where Lucy was either. I was going to ask Maya to ask around, but she hasn’t been to classes for a good few days now, and I’m starting to worry about her too.”

“So am I,” said Giles, as he took his glasses off and began polishing them absently.

“Maya mentioned that she was spending a lot of time helping you unpack,” said Eric, missing the way Giles’ eyebrows shot up at this. “So I was wondering if perhaps she’s said something to you that might give me an idea of where to start looking.”

“Eric… “ Giles said gently, “Are you aware that Lucy and Maya practice witchcraft together?”

Eric frowned at the floor. “Yes. I haven’t tried to stop them, but I haven’t encouraged it, either.” He looked up suddenly, brow creased. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Giles gave him an appraising look. He wasn’t going to like this. “Well, let’s not jump to conclusions,” he said slowly. “But I have reason to believe that Lucy and Maya have been practising spells together in order to be inducted into a coven in London in a couple of days. Lucy may have gone ahead… I think she must be more adept with the magics than Maya. Anyway, we had a bit of a blow-up the other day, and I haven’t seen her since. I’m not certain, but I strongly suspect that this coven isn’t all it appears to be; and if I’m right, I think that Lucy and Maya may be in way over their heads.”

The colour was draining from Eric’s face.

“I’m afraid that’s not all,” said Giles. “I’ve happened upon a prophecy which suggests that Irion, a chaos demon, may be putting in an appearance on the same day that this coven induction is taking place. Maya said that an important ritual was to coincide with the ceremony. I’m afraid the two may be connected. I was going to try to talk her out of going to London, but she disappeared before I had the chance.”

“Oh God. What’s Lucy got herself into? And Maya. Christ. No wonder. She’s always been a keen student, but we’ve noticed that she’s seemed very withdrawn lately, and she’s been missing classes the last few weeks. Hasn’t come in at all for several days now.”

Giles took the mug from Eric’s shaking hands and set it down on the coffee table. “Do you want to call the Council in on this?”

Eric shook his head. “No. You know what they do to unregistered, unlicensed witches who practise black magic. I can’t let them do that to Lucy. I don’t know which of them has been leading the other astray, but I have heard rumours that Maya’s been seen with a sorcerer. It’s not the sort of thing we can confront her with without evidence, though.” He looked at Giles. “Has she said anything to you about it?”

Giles shook his head. “I really can’t say, Eric. I’m sorry. All I can tell you is that she’s had a very difficult time over the last couple of weeks, and it’s affected her magics. But she did tell me that some other student Watchers might be involved in this… initiation, or whatever it is, as well.”

Eric stared at him. “I’ll take that as a yes,” he sighed. His face darkened then. “So what else has Maya mentioned?” he snapped. “If you know so much, why the hell haven’t you contacted me?” He stood up. “You’re not supposed to be involved with Council matters anyway, since your Slayer died.”

There was a deadly silence in the room before Eric said, “Oh Christ, Giles. Please forgive me. I didn’t mean that. I’m just worried about those stupid kids. I didn’t mean to shoot the messenger.”

“I know. It’s all right,” Giles said quietly. “You needn’t worry about me turning your daughter in to the Council. I’ll tell you what. We need to find out a bit more information on Irion tonight. Tomorrow, we’ll go to London and see if we can’t locate this mysterious coven. Help me go through these boxes. There must be something here that can point us in the right direction.”

* * * * *

Together, the Watchers rummaged through box after box, until Eric came to a small photo album. A loose picture fell into his lap, and he picked it up.

“Buffy?” he said.

Giles looked over enough to see what Eric was holding, but not the picture itself.

“Yes.”

Eric smiled at the image of the pretty young girl slung over the shoulder of a dark-haired boy. “She had a hard life,” he said. “What was she like?”

Giles had no idea how to answer that. She had infuriated him, challenged him, made him laugh and cry, and had been braver than anyone he’d ever known. She’d taken care of everyone, and he, who had loved her and been charged with her safekeeping, had got her killed.

“She was… extraordinary.”

Eric nodded. “I can believe that. It can’t have been easy for you, either. Always having to be one step ahead of whatever was going to jump out at her next, and trying to prepare her for it.”

“‘Trying’ being the operative word,” said Giles, tossing a book across the room into a box in the far corner. “I did a wonderful job… until I failed her and got her killed. My books couldn’t save her. I couldn’t save her.”

Eric looked at him. “Do you really think Buffy would say you failed her?” he asked gently.

Giles’ jaw tensed. “I’m rather tired of people wondering what Buffy would say.” After a long pause he said tightly, “Would you excuse me a minute.”

Giles stood up with a wince and disappeared into the bathroom for a good half hour. Eric pretended not to notice how puffy and bloodshot his eyes were when he returned.

* * * * *

The research continued throughout the night. They found that the Irion demon would require an accomplice on the other side in order to open a dimensional portal. His first requirement for survival was to drink fresh, warm human blood. This done, his typical pattern was to kill a mortal and assume their form, allowing him to wander the world at will. His first venture into a dimension was often simply one of reconnaissance. Irion wanted to know what – and who – the new territory had to offer before massing his minions to conquer it.

Giles looked up from the book on his knee. “I might have something here.”

Eric moved closer and sat down, carelessly jostling him as he did. When Giles’ face contorted in pain, he shot him an apologetic look and said, “Sorry… I forgot. You were injured, weren’t you? Travers mentioned something about a spear?”

“Yes,” Giles nodded. “A spear.” He tore a strip of cardboard from a nearby box and scribbled down some notes, then turned his attention back to the text in his lap.

“I don’t mean to pry,” said Eric a few minutes later. “But… what happened to you back there, if you don’t mind my asking?”

Giles looked up, confused. “Where?”

“In the lead-up to the fight with Glory. The Council hasn’t been able to find much information on what happened before you got to the part where you all interrupted Glory’s ritual. Your reports are pretty vague. Maybe you didn’t remember so much about that?”

Giles sighed heavily. He *didn’t* remember too much, as it happened, but what he did recall was only too clear.

“Not much to tell,” he said. “One of the Knights of Byzantium ran me through with a spear while I was driving the RV, and it crashed. We managed to hole up in a derelict gas station. One of Buffy’s friends set up an energy barrier to seal us off, and we were safe for a while,” he frowned. “I would have died, but Buffy brought in the only doctor she knew to call, who, rather unfortunately, turned out to be the hell-god’s mortal host,” he laughed bitterly. “Ben saved my life, then turned into Glory and took Dawn off to complete the ritual on the tower. Later on, I killed Ben – ”

“A mortal,” Eric cut in.

Giles hesitated. “Yes,” he said, removing his glasses and folding them neatly on top of a box. “I had to… to prevent Glory from coming back.”

“I haven’t read that in any of the reports.”

“No. I told Travers off the record, but he’s the only one.” He smiled. “Until now.” The smile faded. “Then Buffy… threw herself into the dimensional vortex. She sacrificed herself to save the world. So you see, it might all have turned out very differently had I either not been hurt, or at least had the courage to die like a man. They might have got away, had I not slowed them down. Glory wouldn’t have got to Dawn; she would have missed her window for finishing the ritual; and Buffy wouldn't have died.”

Eric stared at him. “Are you serious?”

“Of course I’m bloody serious!”

“Well then, are you mad?” Eric put down the book he was holding and looked at him intently. “Giles, obviously I don’t know the whole story, but from what I’ve heard, and the reports I’ve read, there’s just simply no *way* that you could have done any more than you did. I’m sure you did your damndest not to get hurt, and when you were, you were in no shape to strategize about it, now, were you?” Giles opened his mouth to protest, but Eric was on a roll. “You said it yourself… you were going to die in that petrol station; and Travers said you were unconscious most of the time anyway, so what the hell were you supposed to do? It was all completely out of your control. I know Buffy was incapacitated shortly thereafter, but she was calling the shots for longer than you were. Bringing Ben in was her doing, not yours.”

Giles was shaking his head. “She wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been so fucking stupid as to get hurt in the first place!” he snapped. “I should’ve insisted they leave me to take my chances,” he said, swallowing hard. “It wasn’t me the Knights were after anyway. They probably wouldn’t even have bothered slowing down to finish me off.”

“If one of those kids had been injured instead of you, would you have abandoned them? It’s a credit to you that they didn’t leave you. You must mean… have meant… a great deal to them.”

Giles gave him a considering look for a minute. “Eric, did Travers ask you to talk to me?”

“Travers?” Eric looked confused. “No. Why?”

“Well, you’re… ,” he smiled. “Oh, never mind. You’re just pretty good with the head shrinkage, as Buffy would say.”

Eric grinned. “One of my many talents.”

“It would seem so.” Giles turned his attention back to the book in his hand. “Right. Well, listen to this,” he said. “The Irion demon needs stones steeped in the blood of ninety-nine sacrifices if he’s to retain his powers and his mortal guise in our dimension for more than an hour. The only stones like that that I know of are kept locked away in the storage basement of the British Museum.”

Eric looked at him curiously for a moment, then accepted that the conversation had moved on. “Do I want to know how you know that?”

“Used to work there,” said Giles. “Lots of ancient pagan rituals required stones steeped in blood; nothing very original about that. It’s the ninety-nine sacrifices that matter… he’ll be wanting an even hundred. So it follows that whomever’s helping him from this side of the portal will be nipping in there to get them.” He frowned. “If they haven’t already. That’s where we’ll begin our search.”

Eric went home around four am, and Giles passed out on his bed, too tired and wrung out even to get under the covers. The heaving of his chest as he sobbed woke him two hours later.

* * * * *

Eric was back at nine the next morning, armed with a sports bag full of weapons to match Giles’ own.

They walked down to Bath Spa station and boarded the next train to London. They arrived at Paddington station a couple of hours later, and took the underground to Tottenham Court Road. Eric wanted to go directly to the British Museum, but Giles had insisted that they wait until just a short time before it was due to close in order to have a good look at the layout of the building without appearing to loiter too near to closing time. At around eight-fifteen, Giles and Eric each went into a stall in the men’s room and perched on top of the toilets so that their legs would be out of sight when the guards did their routine sweep of the building to clear any remaining visitors.

“You done this before?” Eric whispered.

Soft laughter erupted in the next cubicle. “Now and then.”

“You’ve been living an interesting life, Mr. Giles.”

A half-amused grunt. “I suppose you could say that.”

A little later Eric whispered, “Wish I’d brought a book.”

A pause.

“I have one. You want it?”

“I was joking, Giles.”

“Suit yourself, then.”

For the next twenty minutes, the only sounds in the bathroom came from the soft rustle of pages turning as Giles continued his research, wondering how the hell he and Eric were going to pull this off on their own.    

* * * * *

Forty-five minutes later, at just after nine pm, they emerged with creaking backs and popping knees. The museum was dimly lit, and quiet but for the cleaners and the security detail. Giles and Eric moved swiftly through the Ancient and Near East rooms toward the Greece and Rome exhibitions, periodically dropping beneath benches or ducking behind large display cabinets when a loud static squawking of a walkie-talkie telegraphed the coming of a guard.

At length they reached a discreet door marked ‘No Admittance: Museum Staff Only’. Eric took a paperclip from his pocket and jimmied the lock.

“I was going to do that. I like picking locks,” said Giles in mock indignation, as they hurried down the steps to the lower storage basement.

They reached a locked door that led from the stairwell to the basement. Eric grinned at him. “Perhaps you’d like to do the honours, Raffles.” He handed Giles the paperclip, and ten seconds later the door was open. Giles took a tiny pen-light from his bag and found the light switch. Visibility-wise, it wasn’t a great improvement, but the darkness might at least afford them some cover.

“Right,” said Giles. “We’re looking for several smooth white stones in a leather bag or stone bowl. I think the most likely section is 26C, down that way.” He snapped off the pen-light, and they crept forward.

The basement of the British Museum was a sprawling, dirty labyrinth of a place. They made their way past piles of specimen cases, battered boxes, broken statuary, and heaps of bone fragments of indeterminate origin. Suddenly Giles caught a movement in the shadows. The form was a familiar one.

“Maya?”

“Giles!” She whirled around, her face tear-streaked. “Giles, he’s going to call forth a demon. He’s killed one of the student Watchers, and I think he’s going after Lucy next. I don’t know what – ”

Eric grabbed her arm roughly. “Where is she?”

Maya just stood there with her mouth open, utterly unable to respond though she desperately wanted to. Giles pushed Eric aside and cupped the terrified young woman’s face in his hands. He looked into her eyes. The pupils were blown, and he could see the aura of green energy surrounding her. The sorcerer wasn’t bothering to cover himself anymore.

“She can’t tell us,” he said. “There’s a spell on her, and we don’t have time to break it.” He continued to search her eyes. “It’s a convexor spell. There’s some mind control involved. Similar to thrall. Multi-layered, very strong. But not unbreakable. It’s probably what drew you here.” He gave Maya a reassuring smile “At least we know what it is now.”

She looked slightly relieved at this.

“She came from that way,” Giles said reasonably. “Let’s see if we can retrace her steps.” He took Maya by the arm, a little more gently than Eric had done, and steered her down the aisle ahead of him. She stumbled on a large fragment of diplodocus bone, and then one, two, three polished white stones stained a faint rusty colour dropped to the floor. She hastily scooped them up and shoved them back in her jacket pocket.

“Hand them over,” Giles said softly.

Maya shook her head. “I can’t. You don’t understand. God, I want to, Giles, but I just… can’t. If I don’t show up, or if I go back without them he’ll… ” The conflict between the influence of the spell and her will was making her panicky.

Cold eyed, Giles took a step towards her. “Right. You do what you have to do, and I’ll do what I have to do. I’m the one you have to worry about right now. You’re not thinking clearly, and I don’t have time to argue. You have five seconds.”

“Remember what we talked about a couple of days ago? This is my chance, Giles,” said Maya. “I’m sorry, but I have to do *something*.”

“Oh, no,” said Giles, shaking his head. “Maya – ”

“I have to be there for Lucy right now. Everything after that is negotiable.”

Though the spell made it almost impossible, she shot him a look, then turned and bolted for the far end of the basement. Eric tried to make a grab for her, but missed. Giles grabbed up the weapons bags. “I think she’s trying to show us the way.” They took off after her, feet skidding on the worn flagstone floor, no longer bothering to be quiet.

They followed Maya down dark, narrow aisles for what seemed a very long time, until she ducked into a doorway in the far wall of the basement. Giles and Eric took up position either side of the door, put their weapons bags down, and leaned against the wall gasping for breath. Giles’ side was killing him.

The door opened into a large storeroom lit by candles and lanterns. Giles counted near a dozen black-robed figures gathered against the wall. They chanted deep, guttural incantations around a ritual bloodletting symbol scratched into the flagstones. A large arc had been drawn on the wall in blood. A prone figure in a black robe had been bundled partway into a bloodstained sack in the corner. The student Watcher. He had already made his contribution.

“That’s where the portal will open,” Giles whispered.

“There she is,” choked Eric. “Lucy.” He pointed to a young blonde woman huddled against the far wall. Her wrists and ankles were bound with cord, and bleeding from her struggles. She cried out as one of the black-robed figures drew a long, serrated knife with runes etched on the blade across her forearm. Maya was crouching down beside her murmuring words of comfort as she handed three white stones to the man in the black robe. He put them in a stone basin and held them under Lucy’s arm so that the thick line of her blood trickled steadily over them.

When the stones were thoroughly coated, the man stood up and turned to the rest of the coven. Giles and Eric’s eyes opened wide. “Ethan Rayne,” they said together.

* * * * *

Giles kept a firm grip on Eric as he strained forward. “We have to wait until the portal is just about to open,” he said. “That way we can hopefully trap the demon between his dimension and ours, and it’ll kill him. Lucy will be all right until the very end of the ritual. The… sacrificial blood had to be warm when it coated the stones, which it was just now… so in a little while we can expect the portal to open.” He shot Eric a glance, and said, “Then we’ll need to move quickly, because the demon will have to drain her before her heart stops beating.”

Eric checked and rechecked his weapons. His hands were shaking uncontrollably. Giles’ hands weren’t much better. “It’ll be all right, “ he said with a weak grin. “We’ll kick its arse, no problem.”

Eric forced a sickly smile. “Too right, we will.”

Giles saw the colours in the room begin to shift and felt his hands go clammy. Not a panic attack. Not now. He armed himself as best he could with a crossbow. He rejected the daggers. Magic was to be the main weapon tonight. At last, they were as ready as they would ever be. Side by side, they entered the storeroom.

Ethan felt the familiar presence. He turned to face the Watchers, and even Giles caught his breath. Ethan’s hair was wild. His eyes resembled nothing so much as smooth lumps of coal. His teeth were almost fang-like, and he looked completely insane. He had stretched the limits of his powers too far to get the demon to come here, and that had taken its toll.

With the utmost caution, Giles moved a little closer to the sorcerer. He reeked of the black magic’s acrid, oily discharge.

“Ethan, what have you been up to?”

Ethan grinned unpleasantly. “Oh, a bit of this, a bit of that. It’s been two weeks since the delectable Maya had her unfortunate run-in with my friends in the pub. Never could resist a pretty maid in distress, eh, Ripper?”

Now that the spell on Maya was visible, Eric had begun to work on breaking it in order to reduce the risk of her turning on them. He wasn’t sure how successful he’d been so far, and Maya was looking angrier by the second. She stretched out her hand. For a moment Eric wasn’t sure whether she was aiming for Giles or Ethan.

Giles saw her out of the corner of his eye and signalled her to stop. “No, don’t!”

“*Scissare*!” She was aiming at Ethan.

Nothing happened. Ethan rolled his eyes. “*Dissoltare*. Maya, the word is *cinssor*. Did that shag do *nothing* for you?” He thrust his hand toward the Watchers, and they were both flung into the wall. The black-robed figures closed on them.

“*Repulse*,” said Eric, and the witches were pushed inexorably back by an invisible force. The spell only lasted long enough to move them to the other side of the room, but they held their position, presumably awaiting a signal from Ethan. Eric and Giles stood up slowly as Ethan drew closer. Any swift movement would bring the coven rushing to his aid.

Ethan made a quick gesture with his hand, and Giles and Eric stumbled as they were blinded for a few seconds. When their sight returned, the spell held them immobile against the wall.

“Now then, Ripper.” Ethan grabbed Giles’ arm and pulled the black onyx ring from the little finger of his left hand. “You won’t be needing this anymore.” He dropped it to the floor, and waved his hand over it. It shattered.

“I was sorry to hear about Buffy,” he said with mock sincerity. “Truly. She was very attractive. Spunky, too. I bet you blame yourself for her swan dive. Oh, don’t look so shocked, it was the talk of the underworld. Of course it was! Don’t torture yourself. Nobody’s perfect all the time. You were bound to slip up at some stage. You never really *were* a Watcher at heart, were you? The Council dragged you kicking and screaming through your training, and if there was ever a way to twist your arm that the Council hadn’t discovered, your dear old dad was always happy to do it, wasn’t he? He knew who you’d run to, the moment he let go.” Ethan smiled. “Admit it. You’ve always loved the chase. The fight. The rush of the unknown coming at you out of the darkness. You lived for it, Ripper, remember? You’ve done your community service. So what’s next? Slowly drinking yourself to death all alone? Or are you planning on having a little ‘accident’ to end the pain, while allowing those bright young things to mourn you without feeling guilty that they might have changed your mind, had they ever bothered to call?”

Ethan made another swift gesture with his hand. Released from the restraints of the spell, Giles and Eric stumbled forward.

Giles’s face was thunderous. “What do you want? As if I give a rat’s arse.”

Ethan favoured Eric with a look of disdain as he pushed him to one side, then clapped Giles on the shoulder in a chummy sort of way, seeming not to notice when his arm was instantly knocked aside. “I want *you*, old mate. I want you to reclaim the power and the glory. The freedom of your youth. I want us to be together again. Like old times. What’s stopping you? You have nothing. No job, no friends, no life… just me, and I’ll never desert you.” He gestured around the room. “And as you can see, I’m up to here in nubile young things and all kinds of lovely creatures. I have power, but you have more… perhaps. Probably, like your dick, you’ve forgotten how to use it. Speaking of which, did your Slayer ever have a little Watcher in her before she met her sad demise?”

Giles lashed out at the sorcerer, connecting squarely with his cheekbone. Ethan’s head snapped back, but beyond that, the blow didn’t seem to register. Ethan smiled, shook his head, and drove his fist into Giles’ side. “Just like old times, Rupert.” No one was more surprised than he when Giles gasped and dropped to the floor clutching his side. He didn’t get up, but lay there, chest heaving. God the pain was intense. He was going to faint. Ethan stared down at him in astonishment.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “You never used to be so dainty, Ripper. Let’s try again. This used to be one of your favourites. Remember… when was it? Oh yes. Halloween.” Ethan delivered a savage kick to Giles’ midsection. Giles gave a choked-off cry, and Eric shoved Ethan away.

Giles’ eyes were fixed blankly on the fragmented remains of his Watcher’s ring. His life for the past twenty-nine years.

Eric knelt by his friend and looked him over with concern. “Giles?”

Giles couldn’t form the words to reassure him. When Eric pulled Giles’ hands from his side, they came away covered in blood. “I’m afraid that wound’s been reopened,” he said. “But it doesn’t look too bad,” he added, trying to jolly Giles along. He had no way of knowing how bad it was, or of doing anything about it right now, so might as well think positive.

* * * * *

Everything went black and peaceful then, and Giles closed his eyes. When he opened them again, a young woman was beside him, rubbing his hands vigorously in an attempt to bring him round.

“Buffy?”

“No,” said Maya. “Sorry.”

Even as he emerged from the fog he knew it wasn’t her. Buffy was gone, and the pain was back.

Giles lifted his head to see Eric with his hand stretched out towards Ethan, and a second later a crackling stream of green energy sent the sorcerer slamming into the wall.

With some difficulty, Giles struggled to his feet and looked down at Maya. “Do you know any spells that actually work?” he asked, with just the merest trace of humour to leaven the insult.

“I don’t have the power… ”

Giles took her hands in his and a warmth, closely followed by something akin to an electrical current passed between them.

“That should be sufficient for now. Don’t think you’re going to get to keep it, though. Do you know any binding spells?” His mouth quirked up just a fraction. “Something from that manuscript I took away from you the other day?”

She looked uncertain. “I should be able to set up a small tertiary protection field.”

“Do so. Around the witches. We can sort them out later. It’ll neutralise their energies… for a time, at least, and that’ll even the odds a bit. Don’t try to do anything else, just concentrate on that. We need them contained, all right?”

She nodded, and they split up.

Giles hurried over to Eric. The coven was trapped behind the invisible field. “Lucy’s open. I’ll distract Ethan,” he whispered.

Eric didn’t need to be told twice. He rushed over to his daughter, picked her up, and pelted for the door as Giles turned to face his old friend.

“What are you doing, Ethan? This isn’t your usual game.”

Ethan grunted. “Like you, I have nothing left to lose. Everything’s a bonus for me. This demon has access to incredible resources of power. All kinds of power. Magic. Sex. Life. Death. You don’t have to be where you are or what you are a moment longer than it pleases you. You can do anything. Have anything. I’m offering that to you.”

Giles didn’t allow himself even the briefest of moments to be tempted. He answered immediately, unthinkingly. “I don’t want it. I don’t want anything from you. Ever.”

“What if I told you that it has access to the kind of power that could restore your Slayer to you?”

Giles froze. “I’ve had enough of your lies. Enough of you altogether.”

Ethan shook his head. “It’s the truth. It’s possible, Ripper. I can get you the one thing in this world that you actually care about. The one thing that makes your life worth living. I can’t do it alone, but together we can make it happen.”

Giles blinked away the furious tears that had begun to obscure his vision. “I don’t… no, Ethan. It’s not possible. It’s too late. Even if it weren’t, there are too many ways it could go wrong. I won’t do that to Buffy.”

“A bit late to be overly concerned about her well-being, isn’t it? I mean, you did get her killed – ”

“Don’t,” said Giles roughly.

“Fine,” Ethan shrugged. “But don’t you think you owe it to her to bring her back if you can? Let’s be mates again, Ripper. We’ll learn from each other, and there’ll be nothing we can’t do; nowhere we can’t go… No one we can’t have.” He smirked. “Bet Buffy’d be so grateful, you could have your wicked way with her at last. She’d probably respect you more if she didn’t have to protect you all the time. Fuck, but that must have been tedious for her. Especially when those Knights showed up, eh? Saving your sorry arse was the last straw, wasn’t it? That’s when everything really went to hell. Actually,” he laughed, “that was when hell came to you. Come on, Ripper. Play on my team again. We’ll get her back, and you can show her that you can be more to her than just the proverbial millstone. What do you say, old mate?”

His answer was a sob torn from Giles’ throat, and two ferocious punches to the face and solar plexus. Giles didn’t want to fight like this, but he couldn’t stop. The rage had to go somewhere. He grabbed Ethan and wrestled him down. The sorcerer fought back wildly, but Giles was bigger and stronger. Always had been. He rolled them both over and sat astride Ethan, then gripped the sorcerer’s head with both hands and slammed it onto the slate floor again and again, as hard as he could. Ethan’s hands flailed at Giles, but he couldn’t get a hold. He tried to work a spell, but he couldn’t get the words out. Eric watched in horror until he couldn’t tell whose blood was whose, or who was in more danger.

“You fucking bastard,” Giles ground out. “Don’t you *ever* dishonour her name again, you hear me?”

An incoherent noise of assent was all Ethan could manage.

“Do I need protection now, Ethan?” he was saying, although Ethan couldn’t understand him. “Do you think I need someone to come and fucking well save me now?” He slapped a hand to Ethan’s forehead and rammed his head down into the pool of blood that ran off in rivulets, tracing the cracks in the floor. Ethan went limp.

“Giles, stop it. He’s a mortal,” said Eric, pulling at his arms. “Come on, that’s enough! You’ve made your point. We need him alive to stop this thing. The demon has to sense his presence on the other side of the portal.”

Giles did not appear to hear him.

Finally, the Watcher reached his arms around Giles’ chest and hauled him, sobbing, off and away from the unconscious sorcerer. “That’s enough!” he said firmly. “Any more and you’ll kill him. You don’t want to do that, Giles. You don’t want to deal with that right now.”

“I’m going to kill him,” Giles gasped, fighting to break Eric’s hold. “Buffy… I didn’t… It wasn’t like that – ”

“I know,” said Eric, in as calm a tone as was possible under the circumstances. “Everybody knows it wasn’t like that. Except you. And I think perhaps you do too, really.”

Giles stopped struggling then, but Eric didn’t loosen his grip.

As Ethan stirred, Eric turned to him. “I do believe he said no to your kind offer, Ethan.”

Ethan muttered a spell then, and his battered face began to heal. He touched his head and chest gingerly, then patted them, then thumped them. He smiled at Eric. “All better.”

Ethan looked at his watch, then cast a quick glance into the corner where Lucy had been, and looked back to Eric. “We’ve met,” he said, looking the Watcher up and down. “In Nevada. You interrogated me, and told those idiots that they had the Council’s blessing to poke and prod me with electrified skewers for the rest of my days. Bet you’re wishing you hadn’t done that now.”

“That’s not what I – ” Eric began, but Ethan pulled him away from Giles, and had him by the neck and against the wall before Eric could utter a spell.

“Ethan,” said Giles. He reached for him, but a wave of Ethan’s hand sent him flying.

There was a low rumble then, and the whole back wall shimmered with heat. The panic on Ethan’s face was mirrored in Giles’s. “You took the demon’s sacrifice, which was a bit inconvenient,” said Ethan. “You can make up for it though.” He grabbed Eric and threw him against the wall. “Stand *here*.” As Eric hit the rough plaster of the wall, the Irion demon materialised. A typical chaos demon, it was slimy, and eight feet tall with razor sharp antlers. In no other way did it resemble any creature Giles had ever seen. Its leathery armoured hide repelled his crossbow bolts easily. Eyes wide, Ethan stared at it. “Here it is. Drink your fill,” he said, shoving Eric into its grasp.

The demon’s long, hooked claws slashed through Eric’s neck and shoulder and it fastened its mouth to the wounds. Eric gasped and struggled frantically to free himself, though he and Giles both knew it was a futile effort. Giles circled the demon. The creature did not seem to consider him a credible threat, and made only token swipes of his claws when Giles drew too near. According to his books, he was in no immediate danger as long as it stayed focused on the warm blood it required. He hoped the books were right.

Giles quickly placed his hands near demon’s head and began an incantation. The demon remained fixated on the blood, but Ethan was coming up behind him. Giles closed his eyes and forced himself to ignore the sorcerer for the time being. He focused all of his mystical energy on the demon. Ethan hit him in the back with a whirling sphere of energy the size of a football. It burned like hell, but Giles gritted his teeth and used the pain to help him tighten his hold on the creature. Eric was unconscious now.

* * * * *

Ethan prepared to hurl another, larger burst of energy at his old friend, but when he thrust his hand forward, the crackling black stream of energies only made it out as far as his fingertips before reversing themselves back into his hand, up through his arm, and into his chest. The pain was so fierce and deep that breathing became impossible for a few agonising seconds, as the energies shot through him. He turned to see Maya standing behind him.

“That shag did do something for me, Ethan,” she said. “It made me realise how much a person can be hurt by wanting something so badly that their judgement just falls away.” She smiled. “Something else has occurred to me in the last couple of days, too. You know how they say that every action has an equal and opposite reaction? I find that quite interesting, and I wondered if there was a spell that reflects that principle. Turns out there is. It’s a pretty simple spell, but very obscure, and tricky to break. Sometimes, when you use the black magic on someone, the spell will work on you instead. I’m only a novice, as you know, so my spells won’t cover all of yours, but they will cover a good number of them: you’ll just never be able to predict when or how. So every time you cast a spell it’ll be kind of like playing magical roulette. You might want to think a bit harder about just how much you want to perform each spell from now on; because the consequences could be pretty nasty.”

Ethan tentatively aimed a small burst of energy at her, and then at Giles, but nothing happened either time. It was true. His energies were disrupted, and he could see the subtle change in the colours of his aura.

“Oh, yeah. That’s my own personal variation on a stasis spell,” said Maya. “You’ll find it affects your ability to perform. In all kinds of ways. It may be permanent,” she smiled unpleasantly. “Or have other effects as well. I’m not sure. My spells don’t always work the way I expect them to. Then again, sometimes they work perfectly.”

Ethan stared at her.

* * * * *

Maya ran to stand beside Giles then, and put her hands next to his by the demon’s head. “Immolation,” muttered Giles. She nodded, and added her energies to his. A minute later the sudden stench of burning hair and flesh made them gag as the demon smouldered, roared, and burst into flame. Eric dropped to the ground at its feet. The creature staggered around the room and wheeled toward Ethan, who repulsed it with a burst of energy that sent it reeling into the energy barrier that imprisoned the coven. The flames were absorbed by the energy until nothing could be seen of either demon or coven but the fire encasing them. The howling and screaming ceased abruptly, then all was silent and the room was dim again.

Giles and Maya had turned away when the demon had penetrated the barrier. The demon was evil, but the coven may or may not have been. Some had simply been students under Ethan’s influence.

“Eric,” Giles said tightly, peeling back the blood-soaked shirt to examine the deep, ragged gouges torn in his friend’s neck and shoulder.

Maya held her breath.

“He’s alive,” said Giles, with a quick smile. “Where’s Lucy?”

“Passed out in the main basement. Eric and I healed her arm, but it’ll take a while for her to come out of the shock, I think.”

“Eric,” Giles repeated, applying pressure to the wounds. “Come on, you silly sod.” He looked at Maya. “He’s not good. He’s losing a lot of blood. But the demon can’t have hit an artery, or he wouldn’t still be with us. Do you think you could…?”

“I can try,” she said, kneeling beside her tutor.

* * * * *

As Maya worked, Giles could feel a reaction to the events of the past few hours beginning to set in. His hands were shaking again, and he felt sick. His shirt was soaked and sticky with his blood, as well as Eric’s and Ethan’s. When he moved, the pain in his side made him catch his breath. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard a movement behind him. He’d completely forgotten about Ethan. He took a deep, centering breath and stood up. Ethan hovered near the door.

Giles moved towards the sorcerer with a singularity of purpose.

Ethan’s irises had almost regained their natural colour, but Giles’ had faded from green to black.

Ethan shook his head. The blank expression on Giles’ face was scaring the shit out of him. He held up his hands. “All right, Ripper,” he said quickly, backing up. “What I did was wrong, and I surrender.”

Giles continued to walk towards him very slowly. “I’m afraid I don’t accept your terms,” he said mildly.

Ethan bolted for the door.

Giles lifted his hand. “*Stay*.”

The sorcerer was flung against the wall and held there by hot ropes of blue energy that snaked from his ankles to his shoulders.

“I take it all back,” said Ethan. “I was desperate, all right? I was going insane with nothing to do. No purpose,” he said earnestly, “however wrongheaded. I had to do *something* to keep the sodding demons… pardon the pun… at bay. I know you can understand that. This is what happened to come along, and it seemed too good to pass up. And well… I just thought it would be so much friendlier with two. Thought it would do us both some good.”

“You made a hell of a sales pitch.” The heat and tension of the bonds increased, and Giles watched the sorcerer writhe as his skin began to blister and peel.

“Is this because of what I said about Buffy?” he gasped. “I didn’t mean any of that. Honestly. You used to be able to take a bit of teasing. A bit of roughhousing. That’s all it was, I swear. I didn’t know you’d been hurt before.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

Ethan regarded him curiously. “Then what is it?”

“You’re my dark half, Ethan, “ said Giles, in a voice far too calm for Ethan’s comfort. “We’ve had our moments in the dim and distant past, but you and I’ve long since parted ways. You raped Maya – ”

“That wasn’t rape!” Ethan insisted, as his bonds grew almost unbearably hot.

“Perhaps not in the beginning, but it was later, and you manipulated her into it in the first place,” said Giles. “You manipulated me as well. You planned to kill two people, You indirectly caused the deaths of a dozen, and had the demon escaped into this dimension that number would have been far greater. Not to mention… you were prepared to kill me,” he looked him bang in the eye. “Old mate.”

Ethan’s bonds seared through another layer of skin, and his face twisted in pain.

“Giles?”

He spun around to see Eric behind him, leaning on Maya for support. Four ugly but fairly well healed scars ran down his neck and disappeared under his collar. He was pale and shaky, but alive and well.

“You all right?” said Giles.

“More or less,” said Eric carefully, taken aback by the darkness in Giles’ eyes and tone. “How about you?”

“Fine. Lovely. Bit busy at the moment, though.”

“I can see that,” said Eric. He really didn’t know Giles well enough to guess how far he would take this, especially in his current frame of mind. This was not the Rupert Giles whose cool-headed and perceptive diaries he had read. “Let’s put a sleep spell on Ethan and get out of here. As soon as we can get to a phone, we’ll call the Council’s Containment lads to come and pick him up.” Eric looked to Giles for a reaction, but his friend was staring at Ethan, who had managed to dissolve the ropes.

Ethan flung a hand out towards Eric and Maya. “*Repulse major*.” Instantly, they flew to the other side of the room and crashed into the rough concrete wall. Then he turned to Giles, his hand outstretched and glowing dark red.

* * * * *

Ethan cocked his head and genuinely regretted what he was about to do. Still, it was for Ripper’s own good. “Sure you wouldn’t care to reconsider?” he asked. “Last chance.”

Giles stared at Ethan incredulously. He recognised the spell that the sorcerer was building up to, but he couldn’t quite believe that Ethan would actually kill him. He certainly wasn’t above getting someone else to do it, but he’d never do it himself, though he’d threatened to often enough when they were young. He hadn’t seemed such a credible threat then, when Giles had been stronger in more ways than he was now. Still, he never thought Ethan would actually engage in the distasteful business of scraping the blood from beneath his own fingernails. The spell was unmistakable, though, and Ethan actually seemed prepared to go through with it this time. For the first time in forty years, Giles offered up a rapid prayer, scanning his memory for the patron saint of lost causes. “Go ahead, but first tell me why,” he said.

“You’re an idiot,” said Ethan. “But you’re a powerful one. I don’t think you’re going to want to be pals after this, and there’s too much fun to be had for me to have to keep looking over my shoulder to see if you and the Council or those military lackbrains are following in my wake. It’s been fun, but I’m tired of this, Rupert, and I think you are too. You fought bravely, but I’m afraid you lost… Again.”

Giles shut his eyes tight for a moment, and then he shook his head. He was utterly exhausted, his side hurt like hell, and he’d had to turn down the only chance he’d ever have to undo what he’d helped do to Buffy. He thought of the days and nights of loneliness stretching ahead and behind him, and all of a sudden it was just too much. He stood there, stooped over, one arm around his middle and the other hanging down.

“Go on, then,” he said quietly. “Finish me off… ” He cocked his head. “If you think you can.”

There was a deafening crack, and an explosion of red and white energy. It felt as if all the oxygen in the room had been sucked out and returned at the same instant. All of the candles in the room blew out, and Giles fell back into the arms of his friends.

* * * * *

Someone was shaking him, and it hurt. “Bloody hell, Giles. Remind me not to play poker with you.”

More hands, more voices, more shaking, and it still hurt.

“Get off… ,” he muttered. But they didn’t. The shaking stopped as his shirt was pulled up, and then he was vaguely aware of something warm pressing on his side.

“Keep still,” Maya was saying. “For God’s sake, Giles, this won’t take a second if you’ll just settle down.”

“I said get off… get off!” When he was finally allowed to push the hands away, he propped himself up on his elbows, thoroughly disoriented.

“Now that’s the Giles we know and love,” said Eric, handing him his scratched and blackened glasses. “You look like shit.”

Giles squinted at him. “So do you. And… and so do I.” He gave a funny little laugh, prompting Maya and Eric to exchange a glance.

“Maybe it’s his head you should have concentrated on,” said Eric.

“That was scary stuff, Giles,” said Maya. “We thought you’d completely lost it.”

Eric nodded. “For a minute there, I really did think you wanted to die. I thought you were going to kill him.”

“I did,” said Giles. “I was. You can play poker with me, Eric. It wasn’t a bluff.”

“Oh,” said Eric.

“And then we thought he’d killed you,” Maya chipped in. “Thanks for breaking the spell, and saving me and Lucy. I really don’t know what to say.”

Giles flashed her a loopy grin. “Happy to be of service.” He let one arm lie over his face, and giggled a bit hysterically. “I wonder if this is the sort of thing Travers had in mind when he told me not to do anything foolish.” The amusement faded as he looked around. “What happened to Ethan?”

His gaze followed Maya’s finger as she pointed to the wall. There, scrawled on the rough plaster in what looked like charcoal, or, more likely, ashes, was ‘See? Don’t say I never do anything for you. Be seeing you.’

Giles stared at it for a minute. “Oh, my God. Please tell me you didn’t, Ethan.” He groaned, and fell back to the floor, his face in his hands.

“What does it mean?” said Maya.

If he’d had the strength, Giles would have been furious. As it was, he just shook his head in disbelief. “It means that this whole abomination that we’ve been subjected to was, to Ethan’s sick, sick mind, a way of doing me a favour.” He looked from one uncomprehending face to another, and went on, “He found his purpose, if you want to call it that, and thought that he’d help me find mine. Give me something to care about. Force me to make a choice between what I used to be and what I… am now. Prove to me that I really do want to… ” he trailed off. The rest of the sentence was just too pathetic even to complete in his own head, let alone out loud. “Of course, he didn’t give a thought to the consequences.”

It really wasn’t funny, but Giles’ giggling erupted again, and then his laughter became something so crazed and strange that Eric and Maya couldn’t help but wonder if he’d actually lost it after all. Then they noticed that Giles had ceased to laugh and started to sob.

Embarrassed, he pulled himself together as quickly as he could. A look of bewilderment crossed his face, and he frowned. He put his hand to his side and felt around it gingerly, then lifted his shirt. He was covered in blood from various sources, but the wound from the spear was gone. Only the very faintest mark remained.

Giles suddenly remembered the warmth he’d felt there a short while ago, and his expression darkened. “What did I say about – ”

“It’s a thank you from me and Lucy,” said Maya. “Please don’t be mad. I know you said you wanted it to be left alone, but that was before it was reopened and made even worse on our account. I really couldn’t leave it like that, after all you’ve done for us.”

“She couldn’t,” said Eric. “It was pretty bad, Giles.”

There was nothing he could do about it now, so Giles simply nodded and closed his eyes in pure exhaustion. Some scars could be healed more easily than others. Eric prodded him. “Come on, let’s get out of here,” he said, pulling Maya up. They both helped Giles to his feet, and Maya slung his arm across her shoulders while Eric picked Lucy up.

An expression of surprise flitted across Giles’ face, and then he laughed softly. “Just like old times,” he said. “Does Kenneth Grahame have a quote for this?”

Maya grinned, and they made their way out through the vast dimness of the basement, then stumbled up the stairs and repeated the security guard dodging procedure. By the time they reached an exit and Giles had picked the lock, they were all completely spent and shaking. The long, cool walk down Marylebone High Street helped them to work off the worst of the shakes for a time, and close on an hour later they dropped gratefully into the hard plastic seats on the draughty platform at Paddington station.

“That power you lent me probably saved Eric’s life,” said Maya.

“And mine,” Giles interjected. “When you stopped Ethan from hitting me with the second burst of energy when I was working on the demon.”

With some trepidation, Maya filled him in on the rest of her confrontation with Ethan.

“You were right,” she told Giles. “When it came down to it, I didn’t want to hurt him, because that was too much like something *he* would do. So putting him on the receiving end of his power seemed like the next best thing. I think I gave him a fright, anyway! I’m not sure how well or how long the spells will work. They didn’t work when he was fighting you at the end, but I think they will work sometimes, at least for a while. That’s something.”

Giles smiled. “Yes. I should think it was more of a blow to his ego than anything; being taken out by a novice. I expect he’ll break the spell in due course, but as non-violent vengeance goes, your method of making him use his power against himself certainly has an aesthetically pleasing quality to it. But don’t make a habit of that sort of thing, all right?”

Maya shook her head. “Never again. Even though I was so angry, doing even that much to him made me feel sick. I think I’ll actually be glad when the spells I put on him wear off. I don’t want to be like that. Like him. Hurting people with my magic.”

“No.” He suddenly registered that the green aura of Ethan’s spell had disappeared. “Eric broke that spell, did he?”

“He got rid of most of it while you were with Ethan, and I think the rest went poof when Ethan vanished. I can’t feel it anymore.”

“We’ll double-check that later.” He smiled. “I’m sorry about that dig I had at your spells not working. You did very well tonight, under extremely trying conditions.” He glanced at Eric. “And saving your tutor’s life might go some way towards redeeming you in the Council’s eyes.”

“Sure, if they overlook the fact that I almost got him… and you… and Lucy… killed in the first place.”

“Well, nobody’s perfect,” said Giles, still just unbalanced enough for some weak black humour.

“But if I’d spoken up sooner the Council might have been able to raid the coven and get those students out before anything happened.”

“Don’t,” he said quietly. “It’s pointless to think that way. It wasn’t your fault. Ethan put a spell on you, and there was nothing you could have done differently. You did the best you could at the time; and afterwards you tried to make amends for your mistakes.” He stared down the platform and out to the open sky. “Sometimes that’s the only option left to us.”

She smiled at him and almost took his hand, but decided that he probably wasn’t up to being comforted too much right now. “Yeah. But I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done. I’ll never do anything like that again. I can’t believe I was so incredibly stupid in the first place.”

“It’s all right,” he said with a weary half-smile. “Some lessons have to be learned the hard way.”

“You are going to take that power away from her again, though, aren’t you?” said Eric, pulling his sleeping daughter closer.

Giles grinned slightly. “You’d better bloody believe it.”

“So did Ethan succeed in the end?” said Eric quietly, as they waited for the first train of the morning.

Giles hesitated, then smiled. “Indirectly, I suppose he did. That won’t save him the next time we meet, though.”

Eric grinned, and nodded. After a moment he said, “You do know that you’re not responsible for what Ethan did, right? Let’s be clear on that.”

Giles nodded slowly. “Yes, I know.”

* * * * *

Four hours later, Giles dragged himself up the steps to his front door, and up another flight to his flat. He was so utterly exhausted that the ground swayed under his feet, and he made no attempt at conscious thought. The room was dark but for the blinking red light on his answer phone. For a few moments he didn’t even know what it was. It was the first time anyone had left him a message on the wretched machine, and he had to get the manual out before he could even make a guess at the right combination of buttons to press. Eventually he managed it, although his hands were still shaking badly.

The recording clicked on. “Giles? Are you there?”

He caught his breath. Willow. He knew instantly that something was wrong.

“Giles, please, please pick up… We… I… Buffy’s back. We brought her back, Giles, and she’s okay now. Well, kind of, but I’m not sure she’s… well, we need you right away. Please.”

Giles’ mouth fell open and his knees buckled. He sank to the floor by the phone, his head in his hands, and everything faded to black.

Seven hours later, he was on the plane.

END