All Mimsy Were The Borogoves
written by Pythia


Rating: FRT
Spoilers: Umm – if I tell you, I’ll give some of the plot away … Somewhere between start of first and end of seventh season, okay?
Summary: Giles is lost.
Thanks: To Gail for reading this – and for insisting that Geoffrey gets his cup of tea…
Author's Notes: Way back in September 04, Gail published a challenge on ‘Watchergirls’ that said: Lose Giles. Lets see him lost in as many different ways as possible. You can have others looking for him, but he should be lost and dealing with it on his own. This could involve survival skills, semi-nekkidness :-P even, or interracting with new characters... or even bonding with some kind of animal/pet for company while he's so isolated. It could involve a great deal of action or suspense, if he's in danger, or has to devise an escape or evade the bad guys... whatever. So it can be anything from The Fugitive to Robinson Crusoe, or Giles does Time Tunnel or... other ficverses or other dimensions, or he could just be accidentally lost in the wilderness in his own universe, or kidnapped by someone or something unpleasant. So I did just that. It’s took me a little longer than I expected – and a fair number of those suggestions seem to have ended up in the mix – but hopefully it will all make sense by the time you get to the end of it!
Feedback Author: Pythia
Author's Website: Warriors And Watchers



"This," he decided with exasperation, "is getting ridiculous."

No – make that worse than ridiculous. He had the distinct feeling that he was the victim of some bizarre and unfathomable joke – and that someone, somewhere, was busy laughing at him. He wasn’t laughing. Particularly since the room he’d stepped into appeared be just as peculiar as all the others had been. Pieces of it were crisply defined, sharp and certain with reality, while the rest dwindled into sketchy approximation – spaces where the colours lacked complexity, where the textures blurred and the objects that lurked there lacked comfortable definition. There was a desk, half in, half out of the transition; one end was square and solid, supporting a pattern of sprawled papers, of closed files and office equipment. The other end was bowed towards one corner, its supporting edge wavering upwards from a floor where the tiling shifted from utilitarian squares into something designed by Escher. It looked like someone’s office. The sort of someone who tacked a landscape calendar to his corkboard and stuck ‘to do’ lists on the walls.

He walked across to take a closer look; here, as everywhere else, the words and the letters were the wrong way round.

"Hello?" he called tentatively, just as he’d done in every room before. He’d disturbed something a few rooms back; something that had leapt from furniture and whipped away through a half open window before he could catch more than a glimpse of it. It had been nothing human, that much he was sure of - about the only thing he was sure of, other than perhaps his name.

Giles, he reminded himself firmly. Rupert Emrys Giles.

As long as he could remember that, he felt he wouldn’t be entirely lost.

No-one answered his call – although he had a sudden brief, and disturbing, impression of someone being in the room with him. He turned, but the image he thought he’d glimpsed had already vanished, stepping out of view without going anywhere at all.

"Definitely ridiculous," he decided, flicking along the hanging pages and frowning as he reached the one that only had writing down one edge, many of the words cut off halfway through. The rest of the paper – tacked up on the half of the wall that was suddenly painted brick and then just finger pliant paint – were blank. "Why on earth would anyone ..?"

Put up blank pages?

Build half a room one way, and the rest another?

Pay such attention to detail and yet get so many things wrong ..?

He’d been walking for what felt like hours, stumbling from one room to the next, stepping through doorways that promised one thing yet delivered another. He’d been opening doors that were wood and glass on one side, and nothing more than blank surfaces on the other; moving from tiles to carpet, to wood, to stone and back again, sometimes in the same room - rooms where sharp reality competed with theatrical impression and pure Dhalistical fantasy. He’d dipped in and out of them with bemusement - and hurriedly backed away from the place where everything had seemingly melted, dripping into distorted shape and rippled imagery.

Nothing felt right.

And he had absolutely no idea where he was – or where he was supposed to be, either.

He was looking – he thought he might be looking – for a library. He was sure it had to be around here somewhere. He had the feeling he’d been in it not so long ago. A good, solid, certain kind of place, with books that actually had text in them stacked on the shelves. A place where his footsteps didn’t echo as if they were slightly out of sync with each footfall, and where there weren’t – things - moving just at the edge of his vision. A place where surfaces felt the way they looked, where scent matched the things you smelled, and there was the constant, subtle sound of a real world keeping you company.

Here, he was drowning in the silence.

It was a silence that was occasionally broken by strange noises off, by odd sounds muffled by distance and that fell silent whenever he came close enough to catch what might be making them.

He’d thought, at first, that he was dreaming.

The place – wherever it was – had that feel to it. A feeling of unreality, of being not entirely there. The muzziness of his thoughts, the lack of clarity to his memories, had all supported that initial conclusion.

But dreams usually end.

Even nightmares race to heart pounding conclusions, and wake you in a cold sweat, a choked back scream in your throat.

This place just went – on.

And on.

And on.

Room after room, and all in no comprehensible order. Offices, lounges, bedrooms, boardrooms, deserted bars, seemingly endless corridors – and all them preferable to the glimpses he had caught of outside, the views from shimmering windows that promised sensible landscapes and became something else when you looked past the patches of light and into the dark beyond …

Something moved behind him and he spun round in alarm, catching – just for a moment – the impression of image that sank into the chair behind the desk, the shape that wasn’t there, but still made it bow back, made it shift and settle again.

The sight was eerie and decidedly unsettling. His heart had accelerated with alarm and his breathing sounded ragged and forced in the otherwise silent room. He took a moment to settle both, and then made himself walk round the desk and look down at the chair. It was still moving subtly, a creaking shift and sway that suggested it was occupied. But there was nobody in it. He confirmed the fact by reaching down and touching the back, sweeping the seat with his fingers – then jumped back in startlement as paper shuffled across the desk, sheets of it being lifted and turned.

"Oh good Lord," he gulped, pressing his hand to his chest in an effort to keep his heart from tearing out of it. Nothing else had moved, and nothing seemed to be actually threatening him – it was just the sheer unexpectedness of the activity that had triggered all his alarm bells.

He frowned over that while he waited for his moment of panic to subside. The phantom movements continued – but there was no sense of a ghost, no feeling of presence, no frigid air or unearthly energy. That somehow made it more unnerving, not less. He had a feeling he could have coped with a ghost. That encountering one would have somehow helped him focus the swirl of thoughts and memories that were dancing inside his head, just beyond his reach.

Where am I? he wondered, risking a wary glance out of the window at the side of the desk. There was a street below him – a paved street, with dingy buildings and parked cars. It appeared to be a street that went from urban uniformity to a crooked, angled menace only a short distance away. The daylight only seemed to fall on the pavement beneath the window; the rest of it was swallowed in a purpling gloom in which hints of shapes moved in and out of the shadows. Something rippled down the road, under the tarmac. A car bounced up as it passed. Something with too many legs hurtled out from under it – and a mouth opened in the pavement, snatched it and then closed again with a deep gurgling swallow.

Giles stepped back from the window with a shudder. This definitely wasn’t his world. He knew he didn’t belong here.

But nor did he know where here was.

He was about to turn and leave the room, to look for another exit off the seemingly endless corridors, when something caught his eye. There was a mirror on the far wall, placed to reflect the more coherent end of the room, and it was hanging slightly askew.

It was also glowing.

Only a little. Just enough to draw his attention, just enough to make him realise that the daylight was beginning to die away. Night was coming – and he had the feeling that night was not a time to be wandering these eerie halls alone. A sudden sense of danger caught at him, suggesting that to linger in this place past nightfall might be something he’d have cause to regret; he had to find a place to hide. A place he could barricade and defend.

But the mirror drew him, the light it offered tantalising him with an odd familiarity. There had been mirrors in all the other rooms, he realised, although he hadn’t paid them that much attention. This one was as mundane as all the rest – a simple rectangle of silvered glass with a plain, thin wooden frame. It was filled with an equally simple view of the room, and went on being filled with it, despite his stepping right up to it and getting in the way.

Rupert Giles blinked.

Swallowed hard

Then reached out a shaky hand to brush the cold smooth surface of the mirror – feeling it flex slightly under his touch. His reflection – such as it was – was barely visible. He was little more than a misted image, echoed in the surface of the glass rather than the silver that lay behind it. Through that, beyond that, he was looking at the inside of a room.

A room with at least three people in it.

One of them was seated in the swivel chair, while another was stood at his shoulder, carefully turning pages from the folder that they were both studying. The third was sitting on the corner of the desk, nodding thoughtfully at the silent conversation that was being exchanged. Outside, in the street, a street lamp was beginning to flicker into life.

Slowly, fearfully, Giles turned his head, in time to see the matching flicker flare into life outside his version of the room. The room that was still empty. The room that echoed the movements taking place within the translucent frame.

"Oh dear lord," he whispered, splaying his palm against the jellied surface of the glass to support himself as his knees threatened to give way. He was shaking, quivering both inside and out, his stomach churning and his whole body trembling with shock and realisation.

Everything suddenly made complete and horrifying sense.

The partially defined rooms.

The silence.

The way the furniture moved of its own accord. The reason the books were filled with empty pages and why their titles were printed on them in reverse.

The glimpses of an outside world that mocked the sanity of his own.

He wasn’t looking into a mirror.

He was looking out of one.

* * * * *

Night fell quickly in the world behind the mirrors. Realising that darkness was creeping on him apace, Giles had peeled himself away from the dingy glass and the squalid office it overlooked and gone looking for potential sanctuary. He was practically running by the time he found it, hounded by a sense of something stirring in the halls, of something that – should it catch a glimpse of him, should it sense his presence – would hunt him down without mercy.

He checked seemingly endless doors, racing through empty rooms and along twisted passages, trying not to look outside their darkening windows, or be caught by the tantalising images that now glowed brightly from inside the mirrored glass hanging on their walls. After finding – and rejecting – several furnished rooms with windows that were way too large, even if they only had a single door in and out, he eventually stumbled into somewhere much more promising.

The foyer of a hotel.

It was one of those old fashioned five star establishments with mirrored ceilings, gilt painted pillars and sofas that looked as if they could swallow you whole. The plush carpet was reproduced exactly, the mirrors above it producing a practically perfect reflection. There were paintings hanging in alcoves, a long low reception desk, and doors that opened into what looked an elevator car with mirrors on either side. There was also, he spotted with a distinct sense of relief, a decorative arrangements of shields and weapons hanging on one wall.

Something snuffled outside the foyer’s entry doors as he started to cross the carpet; not a particularly loud noise but one impossible to miss in the otherwise heavy silences. He froze in place for a moment, not daring to breath until what ever it was moved away. The need to run, the need to find a place of safety, nagged at him like an unreachable itch. Part of him was arguing that this large open space might be a good place to spend the night, with time to spot danger before it reached him and bolt holes and exits in practically every direction - but instinct was crying out for somewhere more secure, somewhere with sturdy walls and a defensible entry, somewhere hidden and out of the way.

Instinct – and possibly some of those elusive and unfocused memories - won the battle. He had the distinct feeling that if he saw what threatened him, it would be too late to do anything about it. His only chance was to hide. To make sure it didn’t see him at all.

A few moments later he was hitching a ride up in the elevator, two long daggers thrust into his belt, and a comfortingly heavy sword sitting in his left hand. He’d feared for a minute or two that he’d be unable to lay claim to, or even affect anything reflected by the mirrors, but the display had supplied him with just what he needed, and once the weapons were in his hands they seemed to have taken on his own, semi reflective properties. Looking back, he wondered if any of the hotel guests would spot that the reality of the display was no longer being reflected truthfully – but then he questioned whether anyone ever looked at a reflection that closely.

If they did, someone would have seen him by now.

Like the guests he shared the elevator with. They were crisp and clear in the mirrors, while his own image was little more than that of a ghost; he rode up in perfect comfort, occupying an empty car, while they shuffled and smiled awkwardly at each other, as hotel guests often do.

He stepped out of the car into a plushly furnished corridor, and hastily followed an unseen guest into their room. A typical hotel room, as it turned out. One high up in a tower block somewhere, its doubled glazed windows looking out across a cityscape filled with twinkling lights. It was hard to tell where, exactly, since most of the window space was almost immediately covered with a thick and heavy curtain. Giles was happy with that. He had no desire to see what lurked out in the night, and no wish to attract anything’s attention either. There was a large mirror occupying one wall, one in the passage by the door and another on the door of the wardrobe, which meant that the room was more or less reassuringly normal in all directions.

It also meant that when the guest dropped the latch on the door the action was clearly reflected, locking him in. He heaved a sigh of relief and moved a little more confidently into the room itself. A locked door was no guarantee of safety, of course, but it certainly lessened the chance of something finding him by accident. He didn’t understand the rules of this world he’d found himself in, and until he figured a few of them out, he was both vulnerable and at a distinct disadvantage. The hotel seemed to be a more stable setting among the shifting, random rooms that he’d been exploring earlier. Probably something to do with the multiplication of mirrors, and the many reflections which reinforced its sense of reality.

Whatever it was, he was grateful to find a moments respite in this strange and unsettling dimension, and …

Oh Lord.

The mirror on the wardrobe was offering him a rather unexpected vision of his room mate. She was blond, slightly plump, somewhere in her late twenties – and currently getting undressed right in front of him. He gulped and hastily looked away, casting round to see which of the two twin beds she’d chosen to occupy. The one nearest the window had the covers turned back, so he took a calculated moment or two to check the softness of the other mattress before climbing onto it and settling himself there, crossed legged with the sword lying across his knees. His reflected company had wandered into the bathroom by then; he heaved a small sigh of relief and leaned back against the headboard, vowing not to look when she wandered out again. It wasn’t fair to her, to have him sitting there, a silent and unseen voyeur – but it was too late to seek alternative accommodation. He needed to feel safe, and he needed to be somewhere where he could defend himself should the need arise.

Besides, there was something oddly comforting about her presence, a reassurance that there really was a world behind the mirrors – the real world, the one where he belonged. The memory of another blonde – of a pert smile and a very pretty face – surfaced from the murky haziness that currently flooded his past and he seized it with determination, closing his eyes and trying to focus on the tangled threads that lay around it. The young woman was important to him somehow. His consideration of her face stirred any number of emotions, including concern, pride and a fierce sense of protectiveness. There was a name that belonged with all that complexity and he teased it out with care, unraveling it from the almost overwhelming thoughts and feelings that surrounded her.

Buffy.

He lifted the memory of her name out of his mental fuzziness and laid it carefully beside his own.

Rupert Emrys Giles.

Buffy Ann Summers.

My Slayer.

The appellation fell into place with startling abruptness, almost as if he’d flicked a mental switch somewhere. Fragments of memory took shape around it. He was a Watcher. Buffy was his Slayer. Together they fought dark powers; the vampires, the demons, and the forces of evil …

He opened his eyes with a gasp, his heart racing and the sound of his breath harsh in the otherwise silent room. The sense of sudden terror that his recollections had stirred didn’t go away. There was – something – very close by. Something that moved with almost silent grace, that stalked through the passages with purposeful steps. Something that brought with it a creeping, menacing chill. Something hunting in the dark.

Hunting him.

Giles held his breath, the fingers of his left hand creeping to curl around the hilt of the sword while his heart pounded too loudly inside his chest. The menace crept closer, the cold oozing in under the door and the clarity of the reflection shifting and shimmering as whatever it was paused outside the room. For a long, nerve stretching moment it lingered there, a hint of claws clicking at the wood. Sweat slowly trickled down his forehead and into his eyes; he didn’t dare move to wipe it away.

He feared that, if he so much as breathed, he would give himself away …

A fearsome hiss and an unearthly howl suddenly shattered the silences; a sound like a rumble of thunder raced away down the passageway – and the soul shivering something followed it, charging in pursuit with a nerve wrenching growl and what sounded like a sudden clatter of spines.

Oh dear Lord

He relaxed back against the headboard with a disconcerted gulp, discovering that he was shaking from head to toe.

That was close.

Far, far too close for comfort.

The blonde came back, moving through the mirrors like a golden angel, taunting him with her indifference to the menace which had crept so close to her door. Would she have seen the thing if it had entered? Would she have seen the glass darken with its shadow? Or would his fate gone unnoticed in the real world?

Would anyone notice?

He was trapped, lost in a world he didn’t understand, with less than echoes of memory to guide and advise him. He couldn’t remember how or why he was wandering behind the mirrors, but something told him it hadn’t been of his own volition. Did his friends, his slayer, already think him dead – or had he just vanished from their lives without sign or sound, leaving no hint of where he might be?

He didn’t know – but nor was he about to give in to despair. He might not recall much about who and what he was, but it was enough to be certain of one thing; he had to find a way back. Find a way out.

Buffy needed him.

* * * * *

Days passed.

They were days in which Giles began to learn some of the tricks and twists that were to help him survive in this inverse, flipsided world. He discovered that only fully reflected food had any taste or substance, and that even that was a pale reflection of the real thing. He found that water seemed to be the only thing safe to drink, and that mirrored plumbing was something of a joke. He worked out how to shave using ‘borrowed’ safety razors, how to retrace the routes he was taking if he needed to and how to hunt for safe places in which to spend the night. Hotel rooms seemed to be the best option, although he slept once or twice in far stranger locations; inside a health club on one occasion, and in a display gallery in a museum on another. He lingered rather a long time in the museum, replacing his purloined weaponry with far better examples of the swordsmith’s art and sighing regretfully over books that – once pulled from their shelves – proved themselves to be nothing but empty pages, just like all the others he’d taken a moment to peruse.

There’d been a piece of him hoping that the books might somehow trigger the rest of those elusive memories that lay buried somewhere in his mind. They didn’t – but he took one anyway, searching among any number of desks until he found a pen that would write, using it to record what little did come back to him as he wandered the maze that filled the mirrored world.

Rooms opened into other rooms, doors lead him into passageways and they led him down flights of stairs and along galleries, each reflected space spilling into the next seemingly without pattern or purpose.

Seemingly.

It took a while, but he eventually began to figure out that the rooms were not connected in a completely random manner. The mirror world appeared to follow a very precise set of rules, partially linked to the nature of the reflections which shaped it, and partly determined by a subtle congruence between each reflection and the next. It wasn’t an easy correlation to spot, but once he had it, he could start to decipher the complex geography that shaped the world around him. It varied from room to room and from mirror to mirror; there were connections seemingly determined by colour, by common texture, or by style of design. There were sequences and patterns, whole areas of internal consistence and others where discordant architecture jostled for dominance amidst poorly defined and only partially reflected spaces. The external landscape defied definition; one room might offer glimpses of a city street, the next an enticing garden, and the one after that an ocean view. Sometimes there were doors that led out into sunlit exteriors, but – after one wary venture into an enticing vista – he made himself hurry past all and every temptation to venture outside the safety of reflected walls.

The sunlight, it seemed, only ever reached as far as the mirrors defined it. Beyond that lay shadows and shapes and soft whispering noises. The menace that stalked the rooms at night lurked out in the darkness of the day – along with other unpleasant and decidedly disturbing things. Things that scuttled and things that crawled. Hunters and the hunted, predators and prey. They were the things that you occasionally glimpsed in the depths of a mirror, late at night; the half seen flicker of movement at the very edge of your vision, the shadows that crept behind the glass.

Instinct suggested he stay well away from them.

Half remembered legends and lore agreed; there were creatures that dwelt behind the mirrors which threatened a man’s sanity along with his soul – and he had no desire to lose either, given a choice in the matter.

He fought for himself instead, using the hours he walked to delve into the foggy recesses of his mind and emerge with nuggets of memory, with names and faces and snippets of knowledge that reinforced his sense of who and what he was. Direct and immediate memory was hard; he struggled to recall recent events and achieved little more than fuzzy half hints and furiously strong emotions. He knew that the people that went with those emotions were important to him – as important as that determined label he’d found for himself that first day – but it was exhausting trying to focus on the how and the why that lay around them. As soon as he felt a headache threaten he’d retreat to easier ground, snatching at a line of poetry or prose and letting it roll out of him with lyrical exposition, using it to reinforce his mental frames of reference.

He found he could quote Homer in the original Greek, and recite Ovid and Virgil in structured Latin; English poets kept him company over lunch, and obscure singer- songwriters added music to his afternoons. He didn’t judge his eclectic store of knowledge, just reveled in it, happy to declaim classic poetry, sing light opera, or serenade the silences with acapello rock ballads as the mood took him. Each remembered line or lyric triggered a thousand thoughts and associations; bit by bit he rebuilt pieces of himself, treasuring each echo of his past that the puzzle revealed.

Rupert Giles, he decided with a slightly smug sense of pride, was a very educated man.

But then – as less the less certain parts of his memory recalled – that was something a Watcher had to be. His knowledge and his wisdom were important weapons in the war he’d been trained to fight. Every bit as important as the other skills he’d acquired; the mastery of archaic weaponry, the self-discipline of the martial arts – and, he suspected, a level of ability in the use of magic, although he couldn’t be entirely sure. Thinking about it gave him even more of a headache than recalling the names and faces that meant so much to him.

He went seeking his answers in safer memories – in recollections lifted from the written page, from the histories of his predecessors. While the history of his own life remained a jumbled, fragmented mystery, the words of the Watchers’ diaries that had once helped shaped that life began to do so again; in between snatches of song and the declamations of great literature, he sought sparks of enlightenment among his memories of dry, dusty words and the meticulous records of life – and death – serving the Slayer.

It turned out to be a somewhat unsettling way to occupy his thoughts, but it certainly served to distract him from the eeriness of his surroundings and the oppressive weight of silence that occupied them.

He’s been exploring his new world for some time before he began to suspect that he wasn’t the only living thing wandering within the maze during the day. He’d caught the odd glimpse of movement, hints of half seen figures that vanished into nothingness as soon as he turned his attention towards them, but usually they were nothing more than the echo of movements on the other side of the mirrors, those ghosts without substance that were reflections of the outer world. Once or twice though, he’d had the feeling that he’d disturbed something else in the course of his explorations, something that had raced away at his approach. At first he’d turned and hastened away from all and any such encounters, only too mindful of the thing that seemed to be hunting for him in the night. But as time went on he started to realize that these elusive day time encounters lacked the bone chilling, soul shivering presence that stirred him from unsettled dreams and warned him of encroaching danger. Emboldened by that – and driven by an insatiable curiosity to discover as much about this world as he safely could – he started to hunt down his previously unseen company, cautiously trying to follow rather than fleeing from them.

In the end, he found an answer to the riddle.

Although it might be more accurate to say that it found him.

* * * * *

The room was large and somewhat imposing; a picture gallery in some stately home, perhaps, with a row of windows running down the full length of it on one side, and a series of decorated mirrors on the other. Old paintings hung between each pair of windows, with spindly chairs and the occasional over stuffed chaise longue sitting beneath them. A long, threadbare carpet protected the highly polished wooden floor and ornate chandeliers hung from an equally ornate ceiling above it. There were people in the gallery, milling on the other side of the mirror; attending some kind of semi-formal buffet luncheon by the look of their clothes and the obsequious presence of white-coated waiters. Giles strolled down the length of the hall, feeling a disconcerted sense of isolation in the midst of so much activity. The sense of occasion felt strangely familiar and, at the same time, uncomfortably uninviting. This was the kind of event where everyone was on display, where politics and pointless diplomacy generated endless games of one-upmanship and arrogant assessments of wealth and standing. He found himself wondering what this august and decidedly pretentious gathering would make of the sword carrying, disheveled phantom that haunted their mirrors – and laughed out loud at the thought, only too aware of how disreputable he looked by now. He’d been living in the same outfit since his arrival. His casual jacket was creased and rumpled, as was the equally casual shirt beneath it. If he’d had a tie when he’d arrived, it had become misplaced somewhere along the way – along with a lot of other personal property, like his wallet and his driving license. He had the book he was using as a diary stuffed in one jacket pocket, a couple of tasteless apples in the other, and there were several long bladed knives thrust through his belt. Not to mention the sword which had barely left his hand since he’d acquired it. He had at least shaved that morning - courtesy of a rather portly gentleman in a less than swank hotel which had boasted both mice and cockroaches out in the real world – but for all that he looked less like a respectable librarian and a lot more like a bespectacled vagabond.

Librarian …

He paused as the thought came to him, mentally filing it away with the other memories that he was starting to get into some kind of order. It didn’t add much – but it sat rather comfortably beside those images of earnest young faces, sitting round a table piled high with books. He’d known all along that ‘Watcher’ was a calling rather than a profession, and it was nice to know that his obvious depth of education served him in practical as well as esoteric applications. No wonder he’d been drawn to examine the books that he’d encountered on his travels.

Or was that the Watcher’s instinct, eager for knowledge, continuously seeking to observe, deduct and learn?

It was a question worth considering, but one he needed to save for a safer place and a more certain time. The streams of sunlight cascading through the windows were a perilous deception; he was walking too close to the outside world to allow himself the luxury of philosophic contemplation. He turned away from the milling crowd and started to make his way along the rest of the gallery, hoping – as he’d been hoping every time he crossed a new threshold – that when he left it, he’d find himself in the reflection of a room he recognized.

It hadn’t happened yet, but he went on hoping. Went on believing that somewhere – somehow – he would find a way home.

Of course, he told himself wryly, what I really need is a guide.

That was when he spotted the cat.

It was just an ordinary, black and white cat, one with short, sleek fur and a proud tail which it was holding up like a question mark as it stalked imperiously along the carpet.

Except that it was his side of the mirrors – and it, like him, appeared as nothing more than the faintest ghostly image in among the swirling company that occupied their silvered surfaces.

"Good Lord," he exclaimed, coming to an abrupt halt and staring at the creature in amazement. It too stopped in its tracks, considering him with wary suspicion. For a long moment the two of them stood there, one poised as if the slightest movement would precipitate flight, the other wide eyed and totally speechless. Giles had imagined a lot of things, hearing the soft noises, catching the hints of something leaving just he entered a room, but he’d never considered that he might encounter something quite so – ordinary – stalking through this impossible labyrinth.

The fact that it was there, of course, suggested that it was far from ordinary. Perhaps it, like him, had somehow been brought to this place by some unseen power. Perhaps it was an enchanted animal, something other than it seemed. Or perhaps the entire species felis domesticus concealed skills and talents that the average human being would never have suspected.

There were, he recalled somewhat fuzzily, a lot of superstitions concerning the nature of cats …

This particular one apparently decided that he was no threat to it, because it stretched rather languidly, yawned – and then rolled over, exposing its stomach and waving its paws lazily in the air.

"Well," Giles considered, not entirely sure how to interpret this reaction. "Hello to you, too." He crouch down slowly, so as not to startle the animal too much, carefully laid his sword down on the carpet – its hilt angled so that he could snatch it up again if he needed it – and gingerly reached out his hand. There was a vague expectation, lurking at the back of his mind, of the creature transforming into something large, savage and decidedly ravenous - but the only thing that his hand found was soft warm fur and, while there were claws, they were simply a light reflexive flexing as the cat squirmed and purred under his touch.

His smile was equally reflexive – a moment of quiet delight and unexpected pleasure. He’d been lost, alone, and on edge for so long that this chance encounter, this sudden sense of companionship, was almost giddying. It was also utterly mystifying.

"Forgive my curiosity," he asked with a quiet smile, stroking the sleek fur and feeling its warm reality under his fingers, "but what’s a handsome fellow like you doing in a place like this?"

Hunting.

Giles leapt back as if he’d been bitten, somehow managing to snatch up the sword as he regained his feet; he hefted it warily, putting defensive steel between himself and the animal as he tried to assess what had just happened. The cat rolled onto its stomach and looked up at him with what looked suspiciously like a frown of puzzlement.

"D-did – you just - ?"

No, surely not. Cats didn’t talk. But then, Watchers - or librarians - didn’t usually hear voices, either.

Did they?

The cat blinked, climbed to its feet and began to walk away.

Follow me.

* * * * *

It wasn’t, Giles realized once he’d got over his initial shock, really a voice as such. It was more like a transmission of mental concepts, a sharing of thought and impression that his mind wrestled into a perception of words. That first exchange, for instance – the simple explanation of the cat’s presence behind the mirrors – had actually been an extremely complex message, filled with echoes of challenge and pleasure and prey. It had also held quieter echoes of Buffy and her Slayer’s destiny, which might explain why it had been quite so startling – and suggested that the sleek feline was almost certainly a lot more than he seemed.

The animal was quite definitely male, a fact suggested by its anatomy and confirmed by its unspoken voice. Giles couldn’t recall ever having much to do with cats in his half remembered life, although there were vague memories that had something to do with stables and horses. Old, distanced memories – recollections of childhood he suspected, since they came with a sense of comfort and uncomplicated pleasures. There was one thing he was sure of though – and that was that, while he might have occasionally conversed with a cat in the dim and distant past, he’d never had one talk back before.

If he’d come across the animal earlier in his travels he might well have started questioning his sanity, but he’d been in this world long enough, seen enough to convince him that it was entirely and bewilderingly real. It had an internal consistency that belied the deceptions of insanity. It had textures, it had hard and harsh edges, and it followed rules.

It was just that the rules here were different.

Here, it seemed, there were two types of reality – the one the mirrors imposed and the one that lurked, unseen and undetermined beyond the edges of the reflected world. It was a world that held its shape only when seen, leaving the rest to be defined by emotion and imagination. The landscapes and the dimensions of the first were somehow imposed on the second, creating further reflections; distorted echoes and dark, twisted replicas of things half glimpsed, half suggested by the play of light and shadow.

The cat led him deeper into the labyrinth, its chosen route twisting and turning through a bewildering series of rooms and passageways. They crossed wide, expansive areas – navigating the intricacies of shopping malls and business complexes – were swallowed up by sequences of homely, intimate rooms, emerged into stark utilitarian spaces – one of them a waiting room in a hospital, another the echoing emptiness of communal showers and shared locker rooms – and then moved on through a confusion of offices, galleries, and more personal spaces. They could have been going round in circles for all Giles knew – and in places he could have sworn they’d doubled back, except that they clearly hadn’t since every room they entered turned out to be somewhere different yet again. His confidence in the systems of transition that he thought he’d managed to figure out collapsed into perplexity and confusion – and he began to suspect that - where he’d thought he’d been following a carefully mapped and measured route - he’d actually achieved little more than aimless, undirected wandering.

"Where are we going?" he ventured to ask, as the cat led him out of what looked like a school-room and down a disconcertingly angled stairway. It wasn’t an easy guide to follow; it wasn’t leading him as a dog might, an eager step ahead and running back at every turn to make sure he was still on its tail. It was just making its own way through the world, walking where it wanted to walk, slinking through the furniture or leaping onto it, pausing to investigate nooks and crannies, running at speed or simply strolling aimlessly as the mood took it. For all that, it was leading him – sometimes waiting for him to catch up, sometimes appearing at his feet just as he thought he’d lost sight of it and occasionally glancing back to make sure he was still there. It had run down the stairs and then leapt onto the low banister at the end of it, sitting there and taking the opportunity to wash a non-existent spot from a pristinely white rear paw. The question – or possibly just the sound of his voice, since they had been traveling in silence for some time – lifted its head; deep green and amber eyes stared at him with a mixture of impatience and amusement.

Somewhere that isn’t here, the cat said matter-of-factly, leaping down and away before Giles could formulate a sensible response. He sighed, shouldered the sword blade and headed after it.

The route they were following seemed interminable, but at least it was going somewhere – and after so many long silent hours on his own it was a relief to be traveling in company again, no matter how strange that company might seem. They both helped themselves to food as they found it, the cat leaping on something in a shadowed corner while his human company picked up some fairly tasteless sandwiches from a buffet that they wandered past. They had the texture of cotton wool and about as much appeal as something that had been sitting in the fridge for several weeks – but it was still better than going hungry. The apples - which he’d snatched from somebody’s fruit bowl earlier that morning - were slightly better, although not by much; they offered only a reflection of the real taste, and he found himself questioning just how much sustenance the mirrored food actually held.

If I can’t find a way out, he pondered anxiously, will I just slowly fade away?

Or will I starve to death trying to live on illusions and facsimiles?

His guide reappeared from under the table, licking its lips and looking smug; whatever it was that he’d caught, he’d clearly enjoyed eating it afterwards.

"Is it much further?" Giles asked, feeling slightly resentful that someone had managed to find a square meal even if he couldn’t. The cat gave him another of those amused looks.

As far as it needs to be.

It wasn’t very a helpful answer but it was remarkably informative. The concepts behind it were extremely complicated; they contained hints of how the animal was managing to navigate the mirrored labyrinth, matters of desire and memory tangled up with patterns and correlations. He had been right about how the rooms linked one to the other – but he’d been unaware of the subtler elements that shifted random connections into directed navigation.

To actually get anywhere in this place, it seemed that you had to know where you needed to go.

It wasn’t that easy of course; if it was, he’d have found his way to somewhere he recognized days ago. The library, probably, since his memories of that seemed to be stronger than anywhere else. But memory alone was clearly not enough. There had to be a trick to it, a skill he had yet to acquire.

You think too much, the cat told him, hints of laughter lurking behind the remark. Feel it. Want it.

Become the Way …

* * * * *

They traveled a considerable distance without incident but, as the afternoon drew on both of them began to move with much greater caution, the cat pausing in doorways to assess what lay beyond them while Giles cast anxious glances over his shoulder, half convinced that something was about to happen. A few rooms further, and just as the glow from mirrors began to become visible again, his suspicions were finally proved correct; the sound of hissing and yowling suddenly shattered the oppressive silences, echoing and reechoing around them with fervent distress. His guide jerked to a halt and arched his back, puffing out his fur so that he looked at least twice his normal size. Giles frowned, glancing round what seemed to be a fairly innocuous living room before he realized that the sound was coming from behind a half open door at the end of it. It was a desperate, angry kind of sound and it was underpinned by a soft, bone throbbing buzz - the kind of noise that crawls into your body and can’t be shaken free again. He was instantly on edge, his fingers tightening reflexively around the hilt of his borrowed sword and his heart racing with alarm.

What the bloody hell is that?

Thoughts of the menacing, creeping presence that stalked the night sent a cold chill up his spine and his initial reaction was to take step back, to get away from whatever it was that was making such a furious noise. This wasn’t his world; it almost certainly wouldn’t be his fight.

Would it?

Two things put a halt to his retreat. One was the actions of the black and white cat, which had begun a slow and cautious stalk towards the source of the sound. The other was something much stronger than a merely selfish survival instinct – something in him that reacted to the sound of battle and desperate distress. Sensible men avoid things like vampires, demons and the unseen menaces of the dark, of course – and on his own, Rupert Giles was undoubtedly a very sensible man. But when someone else was in trouble? Then it appeared that a lifetime of training, an ingrained sense of duty and some inner deeper instinct kicked in.

Watchers, it seemed, ran towards danger.

He didn’t have that far to go. On the other side of the half open door lay what looked like an ornately glass roofed conservatory. One that was made up of pleasant reflected areas where sunlight danced on white painted woven furniture, interspersed with shadowed, threatening spaces which could not be seen in the narrow decorative mirrors that defined the room. The darkness of the true dimension had encroached into the gothic recesses between the glass panes; lush pot plants were matched with writhing grotesque parodies of themselves, their blossoms filled with sucking mouths and their vine like leaves groping eagerly for prey. The hanging baskets were the worst. Swathe of decorative flowers had become draping tendrils covered with a myriad of lidless eyes. They dripped slime – and they filled the air with a musty, sickly sweet scent.

In the middle of the room – standing ground on a hand woven rag rug that was part jewel-like colours and part washed out approximations – was a slender tortoiseshell cat, its back arched, its hackles raised and all its claws out. Crouched at the end of the rug, quivering up against the base of a terracotta pot, were a pair of kittens, mewling plaintively.

Giles saw all of this, and more, as soon as he arrived in the doorway. But it was the creatures that dipped and flitted around the besieged animal that drew his eye and sent a shiver of horror down his spine. They weren’t the creatures that hunted the reflected corridors in the dark; these things were too small, and they lacked the soul chilling sense of presence that haunted his nights – but they were something almost as bad.

House flies the size of Labradors would have been cute and fluffy compared to these hideous nightmares; they had a mass of squirming tentacles where they should have had legs - and too many eyes along with their blur of multiple, buzzing wings. They filled the air with a mind numbing thrum of sound, the notes of their flight rising and falling in discordant pitch as they darted between the pillars and the pot plants trying to get past the yowling, hissing wildcat that was keeping them at bay.

It took less than a moment to assess the situation; the tortoiseshell appeared to be evenly matched against one or maybe two of the creatures, but she was trying to track at least four, and couldn’t leave the confines of the rug without exposing the kittens to attack. They, in turn, were trapped in their sunlit refuge, since any attempt to bolt for the door would instantly bring them within reach of their attackers. There was a mixture of hunger and fear painting the air – and outside, night was fast approaching.

Once it grew dark none of them would stand a chance.

The knife was in his hand almost before he knew it. He couldn’t match his Slayer’s strength - or her reflexes either – but that didn’t stop him from flipping the weapon with unconscious skill, or launching it with all the force he could muster at the nearest of the flying nightmares. His aim was both accurate and deadly; it struck the thing just as it turned in his direction. The blade sank deep and the force of the impact knocked the creature backwards, straight into the reach of one of those distorted hanging baskets. There was a sudden writhing of vines and tendrils – and the thing was gone, literally ripped apart within seconds.

Giles didn’t have time to absorb the horror of that; his actions, his flurry of movement had attracted the attention of the rest of the swarm, and he swung the sword up in haste as they dived in his direction. They’d clearly never encountered sword play before; the leading creature simply impaled itself on the blade, forcing him to use its flailing body as a bludgeon to drive back the rest. He cursed soundly, fighting to shake the half dead creature free while trying to dodge away from the rest of them. Writhing tentacles painted pain across his cheek, slashed at his shoulder and raked down his right arm. Numbness followed almost immediately, creeping out from the edges of torn skin like frost crawling across window glass.

"Bloody hell," he swore, swinging his weapon round with desperation. The blade cut through shimmering wings, bit down on an armored body – and sliced away an entire cluster of eyes as the creature tried to move away from this sudden source of pain. The thing fell to the floor in a squirm of limbs and damaged wings, where it was immediately pounced on by a furious, spitting bundle of tortoiseshell fur and claws. Giles took half a step back, grimacing at the discomfort of his wounds, then hurriedly ducked as the last of the flying things made a swooping dive in his direction. A sudden sense of weight and force scrabbled at the small of his back – and then a black and white furred missile was launching itself off his shoulder with a yowl fit to wake the dead. Claws and teeth sank into a whirr of wings, forcing the creature to the ground.

The cat leapt free as it landed, giving Giles room to drive the point of his sword through the monster’s head; the thing writhed and struggled for a moment, before finally falling still. Man and cat looked at each other for a moment, one panting a little for breath, the other letting its hackles fall and its fur return to its usual sleekness.

You fight well, came the observation, surrounded by pride at the victory, pleasure at the kill – and a whole bundle of admiration and surprise. The wounded Watcher had to smile at the reaction. He was a little surprised himself.

"Thank you," he acknowledged, relieved to find he’d survived the encounter relatively intact. "You too."

The cat merely flicked his tail at that, moving away to bump noses with the tortoiseshell and leaving Giles to gingerly examine the damage to his arm. His jacket sleeve had absorbed most of the attack, although there was rip in it that ran from shoulder to elbow and a matching shallow scratch in the muscle beneath. The wound still felt numb, but the rest of his arm was beginning to tingle - as was his cheek. There was also, he realised with a sudden shiver, a crack in the right lens of his glasses. If he hadn’t been wearing them, he could well have lost an eye.

"What are these things?" he wondered aloud, turning his attention to the recovery of his sword, which was still quivering in the corpse.

Bandersnatch.

Once again the answer was more concept than comment – but his mind bundled it up and labeled it, giving it a name that was disturbingly familiar. With it, the echoes of a bizarre rhyme, a simple piece of childhood nonsense, suddenly took on sinister overtones.

Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jujub bird, and shun The frumious Bandersnatch …

* * * * *

That night he slept with the warmth of furred bodies pressed up against his own. The soft rumble of contented purrs lulled him into sleep – and the return of silence woke him again, lifting him from unsettled dreams into an awareness of tension. Something was creeping through the corridors, bringing with it an aura of chill and a sense of ominous menace. Gold green eyes stared at him in the semi-darkness, the cats having also been roused by the presence that stalked the night.

Jabberwock. Be silent.

Giles didn’t need the advice, but the whisper of the name inside his head knotted his stomach and upped his heart rate. Imagination had painted any number of horrifying shapes for the nightly hunter – but the images the cat conveyed were far worse than any of them. There were glimpses of teeth and claws, of burning eyes and a barbed tongue. Spikes and scales and raking talons decorated expanses of leathery skin, which folded and unfolded around the thing like grotesque wings. Nor was it just the physical imagery that the cat managed to convey; the hints of cold that crept through locked doors were, it seemed, just a taste of the bitter, icy presence that the creature spawned around itself. A chill that would freeze the heart and numb the soul.

His hand crept out across the covers to close around the hilt of his sword, finding comfort in the solid weight, in the certainty of cold steel. Something, somewhere in the back of his mind, murmured words of power – an incantation that memory suggested would add fire and fury to the swing of the blade. Their resonance lanced a spear of pain through his skull, as if even thinking of magic stirred wounds he didn’t know he carried. Despite that, he fought to remember the enchantment, enduring the stabbing effort of recall so that he could extract the words and make them his own. By the time he was certain of them, he was sweating, and shaking almost as badly as the kittens – but the spell was his, and winning it had added a few more pieces of his shattered self to the fragments that lay within his reach.

Watcher. Librarian. Spellcaster …

He didn’t think he could label himself sorcerer, although there was a temptation to do just that; he had a feeling his mastery of magic was uncertain – or perhaps unpracticed. One or the other. Either way, he knew it wasn’t something he relied on as a rule. Nor was it something that came easily, or without price.

Here, that price was a nagging and unpleasant headache – but his sense of quiet triumph far outweighed the persistence of pain. He had another weapon to call on now, a weapon that might give even the lurking jabberwock reason to pause. He had no intention of unlocking the door and leaping out into the corridor to test that theory, of course, but the encounter with the bandersnatch had shaken him badly – and he needed every advantage he could find to survive in this strange and hostile world.

It has moved on. We can rest.

The black and white cat snuggled up against him, rolling over to stretch out languid paws. The tortoiseshell had curled herself back around her kittens, washing each of them in turn in order to settle them. Giles found himself smiling at the domesticity of the scene, despite the way it was lit only by the soft glow from the room’s mirrors. The jabberwock had indeed moved on, and the silence had rolled back over them like a soft blanket. There was comfort in company, no matter how strange – just as there was comfort in the cold metal under his hand and the memory, not just of mystic words, but the faces they helped focus and the emotions that belonged with them. That was his world, and he would find a way back to it, find a way back to the family that waited there, the people that he loved.

Somehow.

Tomorrow we must take the kittens to safety.

The thought was sleepy, and so was he; he nodded a distracted agreement to the idea, his fingers sliding across soft fur to offer a friendly goodnight.

And then I will take you to meet the White Knight.

* * * * *

He hadn’t heard it right.

He decided that as soon as the morning light woke him; he checked and rechecked his recollections of the night before, assured himself that the defensive incantation was safely committed to memory, and re-ran those final, sleep filled thoughts in the hope that they would take on a more sensible shape. They didn’t.

Since they didn’t, he convinced himself that he couldn’t have heard what he thought he had. There wasn’t a chess game being played out in this world behind the looking glass – just a confusing labyrinth of mirror images with a very hostile world lurking at its boundaries. So the cat had meant something else, and he’d been so caught up with thinking about bandersnatch and jabberwocks that he’d let his imagination shape it into something it wasn’t.

Rather like the rest of the half glimpsed reflections really.

His wounded arm still throbbed a little, but the damage didn’t seem to be too bad. He washed the cut again just in case and grimaced at the ruin of his shirt, which made him look even more like a disreputable tramp. Then he made a makeshift sling out of his jacket so he could carry the kittens and still have sensible use of his sword. They spent an infuriating time playing the I’ll climb out as soon as you turn your back to catch my sister game, which only ended when their mother decided to cuff them soundly and led to Giles to rather despairingly christening them Buffy and Dawn rather than his initial impulse to name them Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The kittens didn’t seem to mind either way, since they answered to neither – but it felt reassuring to have something to call them, affirming his role as their adopted protector, no matter how short a time it was going to be.

That lead him to asking- somewhat embarrassedly, since he hadn’t thought of it before – if his guide had a name. The black and white cat gave him a bemused look, considered the question for an inordinately long period of time, washed his left flank, thought a little more, washed the end of his tail, and then announced something that vaguely translated as:

Thinker among the shadows, hunter of things unseen, seeker of new places, one who sleeps where he pleases and walks where he will.

"Oh," Giles reacted, perfectly aware that the complex concept with which the animal had just labeled himself didn’t really have a human translation, no matter what his interpretive understanding of it might be. The cat gave another quick lick to his tail and added, with the hint of a laugh:

But you can call me Ari.

I might answer to that.

"Ah." That one was a little easier to manage. Ari, as in - Aristophenes? Aristotle? Thinker among the shadows … Yes, it fit. "Yes. All right. Thank you, Ari. My name is Rupert. Rupert Emrys Giles – although it seems to be just Giles as a rule …" He tailed off, realizing that that was what his – his family? – called him. Which was a little odd, but strangely comforting. Apposite and right. Ari’s tail flicked, expressing some indefinable emotion, and then he leapt to his feet and started to lead the way out of the hotel room.

Just Giles, he noted, almost in passing. It fits you well.

Which was something of a compliment, given that the cat’s concept behind the just was not the simple adverb use meaning ‘and nothing more’, but closer to the more complex adjective implying ‘of moral excellence’…

* * * * *

He hadn’t been entirely sure about what Ari had meant by ‘taking the kittens to safety’. He’d vaguely imagined some well reflected area, filled with hiding places and little or no direct connection to the world beyond the mirrors’ reach. Maybe a place where there would be other cats, or some other creature capable of offering defence. What he hadn’t expected was a mundane, ordinary sitting room, with a big mirror over the fireplace and another full length one set into an alcove behind a set of shelves. The shelves had all sorts of things scattered along them; a row of books, a few intricate figurines – dragons mostly – an oil burner, a pottery chalice, a white and a black handled knife …

"Good lord," Giles reacted, taking a closer look around the room. Sure enough, the paintings had an occult, pagan theme, the cushions had arcane symbols embroidered on them, and there was a statue of a squat female gargoyle sitting – well, squatting – beside the fireplace.

She’s out.

That was the tortoiseshell cat, moving to peer warily through the bottom of the full-length mirror. Her voice was soft and hard to catch, even in the silences. Ari leapt up onto the arm of the overstuffed armchair with its moon and star patterned throw and from there onto the mantelpiece. He too peered into the real room through the shimmer of the mirror.

Good. There’s time.

The tortoiseshell started to nose at the mirror – then stopped, turning to glare at Giles with sudden hostility.

Go away, she ordered, with unexpected force and volume. She backed the command with an indrawn hiss and a ruffling of her hackles. So imperious was the command that he took a startled step backwards, his hand tightening on the hilt of his sword.

No.

A black and white panther leapt down from the mantelpiece; Ari’s back was arched and his fur puffed out so that he was once again almost twice his normal size.

It is forbidden, the tortoiseshell insisted. No human may see …

unless the Way is known, Ari capped forcefully, staring the female down with determination. "Ah – " Giles wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but he had a feeling he’d been about to trespass on something as sacred to the cats as his duty to his Slayer was to him – and, if that was the case, could well understand the tortoiseshell’s discomfort at his presence. He gently placed his jacket – and the kittens – down on the sofa. "I can – always – wait outside," he suggested, waving his hand towards the door they’d used to enter the room and taking a half step in that direction. Quick as lightning, Ari was there before him, filling the doorway with fur and fury.

Stay, he commanded, so fiercely that Giles could swear he heard the primal snarl of leopards echo inside his head.

Go, the tortoiseshell asserted adamantly, jumping onto the arm of the sofa with all her claws extended. You shouldn’t be here.

No, Ari agreed, leaping to the opposite arm. His tail was still fluffed up with anger, and his whiskers bristled as he glared at his fellow feline. He shouldn’t be.

But he is.

The logic of this was inescapable. The tortoiseshell’s indignation instantly subsided, and she covered the potential embarrassment of the moment with a few quick licks to her side.

Maybe, she hedged, concentrating on her wash. But that doesn’t make it right.

Ari padded along the sofa, past the watching kittens, and jumped up to rub his forehead along her shoulder. A thought went between them – something so soft and complex that Giles knew he’d have no chance of catching it, let alone understanding it.

Very well, the tortoiseshell allowed after a moment or two. She turned her head to stare at him, giving him the kind of slow consideration that only a cat can. He should give a life.

He only has one,

Ari laughed with sudden amusement, rolling over – and managing to tumble himself off the sofa’s arm and onto its cushions.

"That’s – uh … very true," Giles acknowledged warily. Had they just made him an honorary cat - or had Ari been arguing that his being here, in this bizarre world behind the mirrors, automatically made him one? "And I’d - um – prefer to hang on to it, really. Given a choice," he added, a little apologetically. He didn’t want to sound ungrateful, but …

Swear on it, then.

Ari had regained his feet and was all dignified business again.

Swear on your life that you will keep the secret of the Way – and that you will honour those who follow it.

This is our gift and our duty – to walk between the worlds, to guard their many doorways and to hunt the darkness that would devour the light.

Giles blinked in surprise. He’d been right. Ari was the feline equivalent of a Slayer – or something like one, anyway. Then he blinked again, his eyes going wide as he realized what the cat had actually said. "You hunt – jabberwocks?" he queried a little faintly. Vampires and demons were bad enough.

But those things …?

Green eyes considered him with amusement. When we have to.

Only if we have to, the tortoiseshell interrupted impatiently. Will you swear?

"Yes – yes, of course." It was an easy oath to offer, almost a reaffirmation of one he’d taken a long time ago. He hesitated for a minute, feeling that there ought to be some kind of ceremony involved, then settled for grounding the point of the sword in the carpet and going down on one knee so that he could look the two cats straight in the eye. They settled side by side on the sofa – the kittens wrestling unnoticed behind them – and waited for him to speak.

"I … uh … Rupert Giles, do hereby solemnly swear to keep the secret of the Way, and to honour those who follow it." He felt oddly self-conscious, offering such a binding promise to a pair of cats in an otherwise empty room – an otherwise empty world in many ways – but he knew it was important, and he knew he had to do it right. "I swear this on my life – and," he added, realizing there was only one way he could make the vow as binding as it needed to be, "on my oath as a Watcher, which demands that I dedicate that life to the defense of the world and the service of my Slayer."

It was Ari’s turn to blink.

You are one who Watches? You serve she who walks in the night, and hunts as we do?

"Yes." Giles nodded, wishing he’d been able to piece together more than tantalizing fragments of recent memory. He knew who and what he was, but the how and the where remained frustratingly out of his reach. He was sure about Buffy, though. She was the one thing he was absolutely certain of. "Yes, I do."

Ari glanced towards the tortoiseshell as if to say ‘I told you so’. She simply stood up and gave herself a little shake.

Then Watch and learn, she said.

He watched her do it twice; once for each kitten, their tiny bodies curled up into a reflexive ball as she grabbed them by the scruff of their neck and took them home.

Through the mirror.

There was nothing spectacular about it. There were no bright lights, no magical incantations, and no dramatic gestures either, unless you counted the flicker of a cat’s tail as it stepped from one world to the next. The surface of the mirror bowed a little as her nose made contact – and then she was slipping through it as if it were water and not glass, her passage creating the barest of ripples that shimmered out from around her body.

The reflected room, Giles noted a little uneasily, rippled in almost exactly the same way.

"Can – every cat do this?" he asked, stepping up beside the shelves to run a wary hand over the chilled surface of the glass. It bowed and flexed a little under his touch, but gave no sign of melting away, or allowing him any kind of passage.

No.

Ari’s answer was confidently succinct.

To walk the Way, you must know the Way.

It comes from the blood.

Giles turned and frowned at him, wondering if he’d understood the answer right. The obvious interpretation was that it was an inherited skill, but the concept had felt much more complicated than that. There was something in there about having the skill to do it, but not being able to do it until you’d already done it at least once. Which didn’t make any sense at all – until the tortoiseshell came back for the second kitten, and the explanation dawned with a sense of quiet chagrin. The ability was probably innate, passed down from mother to child – but it only became active if the cat concerned had been born this side of the mirrors, their first breath taken in reflected air.

Making us truly of two worlds, Ari told him, as if he’d been following the twist and the turn of his thoughts. Perhaps he had. After everything else that had been happening, Giles wouldn’t be at all surprised.

"But you - give up a life to do it," he hazarded slowly, recalling the comment with a sense of unease. Ari was perched on the corner of the mantelpiece; his tailed twitched and his mouth opened with a hint of silent laughter.

Yes.

But you’d have to be a cat to understand that joke …

* * * * *

Once the kittens and their mother were safely ensconced on the real sofa, back in the real world, Ari led the way back into the labyrinth, boxing at shadows in a mercurial display of high spirits. Giles lingered for a moment, hanging back to catch one last envious glimpse of the tortoiseshell and her family. He wondered if the witch who shared their lives had an inkling of the special gifts the kittens now possessed – or the sacred duty those gifts would demand of them as they grew older. Whether she did or not, it was likely that she’d be overjoyed at her companion’s safe return; going by how old the kittens were, the tortoiseshell had to have been missing for several days.

He sighed at the thought, hefting the sword back onto his shoulder and striding after Ari before the cat disappeared completely from view. He wasn’t sure just how long he’d been wandering in this strange, silent world, but it felt like forever. Were his family missing him? Were Buffy and the others searching for him, or mourning him? Did they think him lost forever?

Or had they even noticed that he was gone?

There was disconcertion underlying that consideration. Not that he’d thought of it – but that, having thought of it – he found himself fearing it might be true. If only he could remember. His memories of the past were becoming clearer, but most of them seemed to be those of distant, long ago events. Whenever he tried to focus on recent history his efforts stirred the lurking, nagging headache into a raging protest of pain.

He went back and mentally walked through it again, frowning at the fog that still obscured the important details. He could recall fragments of his childhood, including the day his father took him aside and solemnly informed him of his birthright, his destiny to serve the Slayer. There were glimpses of rebellion in his academic years – glimpses his mind shied away from for some reason – and memories of returning to the fold, of being trained and tutored in the most obscure of subjects and skills. After that things fractured a little more, becoming hints and images, patterns of names and faces, of places and events. He had a clear picture in his head of Buffy, standing in the library protesting her destiny – and of later, less certain occasions, times when the other members of his adopted family drifted through and lingered with a sense of warmth and affection.

The headache began to pound at the back of his skull as he tried to follow what remained; the slender threads of memory unraveling into disjointed flashes that had no context or meaning. A young man in combat fatigues. A shiver of something primitive and very powerful. A place – not the library – filled with shelves and books and other objects. A bleached blond vampire fighting beside him, rather than against him. Buffy and her sister. Xander and a rather attractive blonde woman. Willow and an equally attractive but far shyer blonde companion of her own. A shadowed tower. A man lying on the ground …

Pain flared with almost unbearable savagery, making him gasp and stagger. The world pitched around him and he was forced to seek the support of the nearest wall while he fought down a surge of dizziness and nausea.

Are you all right?

Ari had to repeat the question, emphasizing it with an added piirupp? of sound. The pressure of solicitous paws on his thigh lifted Giles from his self inflicted misery, and he looked down, finding the cat standing on his hind legs so that he could push his nose into the curl of a shaking palm.

"Oh, Lord," he sighed, letting his weight slide down the support of the wall until he was sitting on sketchy linoleum. Ari immediately climbed into his lap; they sat like that for a moment or two, the man letting the impact of pain slide away while the cat purred reassuringly and let himself be petted by distracted fingers. "No," Giles breathed eventually, giving his companion a friendly scratch behind his left ear. "I’m not all right. I - I seem to be incomplete … bits of me missing. I’m lost, Ari. I’ve lost myself as well as my way, and something tells me I need to find one before I can find the other. But it’s hard. Like – trying to sort through pieces of broken glass."

Memories and mirrors share many aspects, Ari observed philosophically. And both need light to give them purpose. He licked at his company’s hand in much the same way that the mother cat had offered comfort to her kittens. The White Knight knows many things. Perhaps he will know your way.

* * * * *

If there was one thing that Giles was certain of, it was that the world behind the mirrors was never quite what it seemed. The residence of the White Knight turned out to be a perfect illustration of this rule – as did the White Knight himself, who wasn’t at all what he expected.

Although he matched the name the cats had given him exactly.

Strictly speaking – and since cats didn’t actually speak as such, that was something it was hard to be strict about – it wasn’t White Knight at all. It was closer to one old and noble, sworn to defend, honoured and honourable, serving the light. All of which Giles had, for some subconscious reason, translated into Looking Glass terms; probably because the concept sat so comfortably alongside the terrors of the bandersnatch and the jabberwocks – not to mention his being on the wrong side of the mirrors to begin with.

Ari had led him into what looked like yet another hotel, this one mellowed with age and seasoned with expensive touches. There were long carpeted corridors with doors off at regular intervals, impressive meeting rooms with oak paneling offsetting the ancient silvered mirrors that gave them shape, curtained foyers containing delicate works of art, and a sweeping staircase complete with intricate balustrading. He felt remarkably at home in this mellowed, comfortable environment, and a lot safer than he had for days. That was mostly because of the cats.

He hadn’t seen another living soul since he and Ari had left the tortoiseshell and her kittens safe at home, but as soon as they passed through the first panelled doorway, he spotted a brindled feline lying half asleep on a table. That cat leapt to its feet and glared at him until Ari trotted over with a friendly meow, and one of those too quick and soft to follow exchanges of thought. After that, Giles began to see cats everywhere; sitting on the furniture, lying on window ledges, or just standing, watching him pass. They all watched him pass. It was as if a whispered message had gone ahead of them, announcing his arrival, and stirring curiosity among all the Walkers of the Way. They weren’t hostile glares, just inscrutable ones; he was studied and assessed by dozens of eyes – deep green ones, soft amber and even a pair that were a brilliant blue. The Siamese fell into step behind him as he crossed that particular room. Several others joined the parade as they went so that, by the time he and Ari descended the stairs and arrived at their destination, they were flanked by a flood of fur, one that spilled past them to scatter itself across every available surface.

Giles himself came to an abrupt halt, looking around in astonishment.

He knew this place. For the first time since he’d entered this world behind the mirrors, he’d arrived in recognisable location.

"Good Lord," he reacted, looking down at Ari. "The White Knight lives in the Savoy?"

"The only place a respectable Englishman would choose to live, don’t you think?" The comment was soft and quietly amused. "The Ritz is so passé these days. Besides, it’s convenient for the theatre. And I do like good performance. When I get the chance."

Giles looked up. There was a group of overstuffed armchairs off to one side of the foyer, grouped around a low, gilt-edged table. Sitting in one of them, with a cat curled up in his lap and another stretched out along the back of his chair, was a man.

A very old man.

He was weathered and wizened by his age, his thin white hair clinging to the spotted skull beneath it like tufted sea grass creeping across a tide washed sand dune. His face and hands were wrinkled and lined, heavy with the leathering of years, and his body had a shrunken look about it, as if his muscles had withered away, leaving nothing but skin and bones behind. For all that, his eyes were bright and clear, an intimation of keen intellect lurking in their piercing depths. He was wearing what looked like a rumpled dressing gown made of quilted dark green silk – and a matching pair of velvet carpet slippers.

"Forgive me if I don’t get up," he was saying, with a hint of self-depreciation. "But it’s somewhat of a performance these days. Very undignified really. I try to avoid moving unless I have too."

"No, no … th- that’s fine," Giles assured him, his manners kicking in with instinctive reaction while the rest of him floundered in astonishment. "Please – don’t put yourself out on my account."

"Oh, I won’t," the old man said with confidence. His voice was soft but rich, accented with gently aristocratic tones. "I’m far too old to bother with such ritual inconveniences. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be polite about it. I don’t get many visitors. In fact," he considered, looking briefly concerned, "I think you’re the first for … Well," he smiled. "The first for a while, anyway. Unless you count the cats. Which isn’t a very productive occupation. Counting cats, I mean."

"No," Giles agreed a little bemusedly. "I- I don’t suppose it is."

"Well. Don’t just stand there. Come in. Sit down. I’d offer you tea, but … I don’t recommend it. Nasty stuff. Tastes as if it’s been strained through a sock. One that’s been in the laundry basket several days. Pity that." The old man sighed, shifting a little to get himself comfortable. "I used to like taking tea at the Savoy."

"Yes," Giles concurred warily, deciding he probably ought to do as he was told. "It – um … used to be a real treat." He moved to where he was being motioned, sinking into one of the deeply padded chairs and propping his sword up against the arm of it. Ari leapt onto the fabric and sat beside him, posing there like an Egyptian statue. "Umm … this – umm … probably sounds like a silly question, but – ah … have you been here … long?"

The old man laughed, a soft wheezing chuckle that ended in an equally wheezy cough. "Long enough," he answered, once he’d got his breath back. He leaned forward, studying his guest with a discomforting intensity. "I," he said, "am Geoffrey Davenport. A lost soul, you could say. And you. Who – or what are you?"

"Um … Giles. Rupert Giles. I-I think." The admission of doubt earned him a raised eyebrow and a look of amusement.

"You think? You think? No, no. You have to be sure here. Here the slightest doubt will twist you and reshape you before you know it. This world reflects what it sees."

"I – uh – noticed. But … what about the things it doesn’t see?"

"Oh," the old man chuckled, waving a dismissive hand. "It makes those up as it goes along. What did you say your name was?"

"Giles," Giles repeated defining himself with a little more certainty this time.

Just Giles, swift with the sword, certain of heart, Watcher and wise among men, Ari interjected firmly, his tail twitching a little. I found him walking the Way. Or trying to, he added smugly. He’s not very good at it yet.

"Is that so?" Davenport reacted, looking surprised. He reached out a cautious hand and touched Giles’ arm. "You’re real," he breathed, the tentative touch becoming a lurch forward and a determined grab. The cat in his lap was thrown rather unceremoniously onto the floor. "You’re really here."

The old man’s fingers were thin and mostly bone; they sank into the solidness of flesh with a grip like steel. Giles winced. "Ah – yes. Yes, I am. Although … I don’t know why, or how."

"You don’t?" Davenport considered, staring at him with disturbing intensity. "No idea at all?" His fingers were clenched around his visitor’s bicep with determined fervour. Giles wondered if had any way to convince the old man that he wouldn’t fade into mist the minute he let go.

"No. No, I – I just found myself here ... well, part of myself, anyway. The details seem … a little fuzzy."

"They often are, here." Davenport went on staring, studying him the way a moth collector might study the unknown specimen caught in his jar. "Don’t you know your Alice, my boy? Let's pretend there's a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let's pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it's turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It'll be easy enough to get through … And it was, and it is, but only the cats know how that’s done. Know how to walk the Way. There are other ways into Looking Glass House. But they’re hard to find." His eyes twinkled with sudden amusement. "Harder still to find a way out." He finally let go, and sat back, leaving behind a lingering and bruised impression of his wizened fingers. "I never did."

His conclusion came with a wry smile, one that hinted at a subtle instability. Giles gave him a wary, and slightly worried, look. The world behind the mirrors trembled at the very edges of sanity – and so, it seemed, did Geoffrey Davenport.

Tread carefully, Ari recommended, offering the comment behind the cover of a washed paw. He doesn’t know if you can be trusted, yet …

This sounded like good advice, especially since Giles was thinking much the same thing about the wizened figure in front of him. On the other hand, how sane was he, taking advice from a cat?

"So … Lewis Carroll," he questioned slowly, thinking that literature, at least, was something he could discuss with confidence. "The things he wrote about – this world, the bandersnatch, t-the jabberwock … they really exist …?"

Davenport chuckled softly.

"In a way. I don’t think he ever truly came here, though. It was a dream, perhaps. People often come here in dreams. They walk past a mirror, giving it a glimpse of themselves, and a little of them lingers in the glass. Their image wanders the halls and it takes memories of them back next time they meet their reflection. That’s what I thought you were at first. A fetch. A fantasy. Nothing but an echo, caught between a glimpse and a glance. But you’re real. As real as I am. And just as lost, it would seem. Did you come here of your own accord?"

"I don’t know." Giles leaned back into the padded chair and sighed, expressing some of the frustration of his situation. "I can’t remember. I wish I could."

"But you remembered you’re a Watcher." The question was pointed; the old man leant forward a little, his eyes glittering with challenge.

Ari had already said as much, so there didn’t seem much point in denying it – but Giles had to wonder how Davenport knew about his calling, what made him ask the question quite so bluntly. He’d even given the title its appropriate capital letter. You could hear it in his voice. Watcher.

"Yes," he nodded warily. "That I remember."

The answer seemed to be the appropriate one. Davenport returned the nod with a sage one of his own. "Hard to forget, I should think. Earned yourself a Slayer, yet?"

"Ah … " Earned? Was that how he’d describe it? "Well, there is a Slayer I serve …" He paused, his eyes going wide and a sudden cold shiver running down his spine. "She … died," he realized, struggling with the horror of the unexpected memory, the recollection of his heart being ripped in two.

"They do that," the old man noted, sharing the thought with the cat at his shoulder. "Don’t last long, you know. Not written into their destiny."

Giles barely heard him. His soul was shattering all over again, splitting into jagged, unbearable pieces of pain.

Buffy …

Something butted against his chest, a persistent demand for attention; he looked down to find Ari sitting on his lap, pushing a warm nose inside his shirt and purring loudly. So loudly that the vibration of it rumbled through every inch of him.

"Are you all right?" Davenport was asking solicitously. "You – ah … drifted away for a moment. Went almost transparent. Not a good thing to do around here."

"Uh – what? No. No, I –I suppose not," Giles said bemusedly, wrapping his arms around Ari’s solid warmth. The contact helped drive away the shivering chill that had seized hold of him; the tears that had tracked their way down his cheeks had left a trail of ice behind them. "I’m – I’m sorry," he apologised, hastily reaching to wipe away the wetness as he realized what a spectacle he was making of himself. "I- I – um – I didn’t expect …"

"Of course you didn’t," the old man interrupted, waving his hand to dismiss the apology as unimportant. "Bad enough the first time, I should think. Having it all come back like that … well – not the pleasantest of experiences, by the look of it. Shook your sense of self … and that’s all we have around here. You lose that – you risk losing everything. Which, I’d say," he added perceptively, "is what losing her felt like at the time. Am I right?"

Giles nodded, still wrestling with the intensity of the memory. Images of Buffy’s broken body flashed through his mind, along with echoes of unbearable grief – and a disconcertedly stubborn knowledge that, despite all that, she still needed him. That he needed to get back …

"Those that wait to Watch," Davenport considered ruefully, talking as much to their feline company as anyone else, "think that being assigned a Slayer would be the greatest of privileges. Even getting a Potential to care for is seen as a way of gaining status. But those who do … " He sighed, giving his company a wryly sympathetic look. "It takes a hard heart not to care, young man. Don’t curse yours for failing you in that duty."

Potential.

The word stirred further memories, setting his mind spinning again.

Something about the Potentials …

"I- I don’t," Giles murmured distractedly. "Were you a Watcher? Is that how you -"

"Know?" The question was amused. "About Slayers and Potentials, about the Council and the cause? No." He said it with matter of fact confidence. "No, it’s not that simple. I wish it was. I probably wouldn’t be here, if that was the case. Although - you are. So perhaps – if things had been different … We never know our fate," he considered slowly, leaning back in his chair and steepling his fingers over his chest. "My intentions were good. My research was meticulous. And my downfall was hubris. I’ve been paying for that ever since. I was born into the order. But I was the younger son of a younger son. My older brother was assured there was a place for him in training once he’d left the Academy – and I was told the calling had passed me by. That I should focus my attentions on serving the Council in other ways. I rather resented that. I was a far better student than my brother; I felt he was a … somewhat stodgy and unimaginative prospect compared to myself. But – tradition, you know? The calling falls to the first born in the line and – if they test positive … the second born doesn’t get much of an opportunity to protest their view on destiny."

"No," Giles agreed with a remnant of personal resentment. "The first born doesn’t get much chance of that, either."

"It’s a calling," Davenport reminded him. "Being chosen can be hard – but being passed over … not even being offered a chance to be assessed - that’s much harder, believe me. I was bitter about it for years. But the Council … " His expression twisted into a telling grimace. "Often has need of other talents. Mine turned towards restoration and preservation: the transcribing of records and the maintenance of artifacts. I was very good at that … and it gave me access to the great repository of knowledge and history in the order’s archives."

Ari had clearly decided this was going to be a long story; he flopped down and rolled over, making himself comfortable in the crook of his supporter’s arm. Giles leant back into the depths of the chair, abstractedly stroking the cat’s soft white belly fur while he watched the old man and tried to make sense of what he was saying.

"I buried my resentment in study. In research. I learned a great many things I probably wasn’t meant to know – including a few things nobody else did. That was how I found out about the Walkers of the Way – from a very old and crumbling papyrus I extracted from a set of Canopic jars I was given to investigate … one of the finds from the Kingman expeditions. You’ve heard of David Kingman, I suppose?"

Giles nodded. The mention of the name had instantly brought the knowledge to mind: there’d been a time, back at the turn of the century, when the Council had been very active in the retrieval of ancient artifacts – mostly because so many other eager archeologists were busy retrieving them with no idea of what sort of trouble they might get themselves into by doing so. Kingman had led a number of expeditions to Egypt, earning himself a reputation for meticulous and thorough scholarly work – at least until he was strangled by the mummified tomb guardian that he and his team had managed to awaken on his final trip.

"Of course you have. His texts are probably still required reading at the Academy. Did you study his work on Bubastis?"

Bubastis …

The city dedicated to Bast. The cat headed goddess, patron of Egypt’s sacred felines.

Giles glanced down at Ari, and then round the room with wary consideration. There were cats draped everywhere, watching the two men in their midst with unreadable intent.

"Yes," Davenport chuckled, nodding his acknowledgement of the connection. "I know. That’s what I discovered – or re-discovered , perhaps. The secret the priestesses of Bast took to their graves. Cats have been walking these places since the dawn of time. Ever since the goddess’ first cat – her own child, they said - was dragged through a mirror so that the demon that did it could take her place and feed on the souls of her worshippers. What the demon didn’t know," he confided, leaning forward to share the information with a smug grin, "was that the sacred cat was pregnant – and that she survived the terrors of the world behind the silver mirror, raised her kittens to become warriors – and sent them back to slay the demon and free the souls it had devoured."

Salla Bu-shabis, Ari commented, flexing his paws and purring softly. Mother of us all. In her name we walk the Way and guard the many doorways of the world.

May she guard and guide us. A chorus of feline thoughts rippled around the room. Until we walk together once again.

"Good Lord," Giles murmured, struck by the quiet reverence in their shared refrain. "They take this really seriously, don’t they?"

"They do – and they don’t," Davenport smiled, putting back a bony hand to stroke the cat lying along the back of his chair. "Cats never take anything entirely seriously. But who and what they are is important to them. They were sacred back then – servants of the gods – and here, they still hold to that status and that duty. Took me a while to understand that. The Walkers are not pets, my friend. They are free and independent spirits. They cannot be commanded – only watched over with love."

"Just like a Slayer." Giles’ comment was soft, delivered with a quiet sigh and a great deal of feeling. He could remember – somewhere, in among the fractured patterns of his past – the anger and the sadness he had felt, finding that the men in charge of the Council had no grasp of that concept, no understanding of the nature of their duty, or the cause they were sworn to serve. To those men, the Slayer was no more than an expendable instrument, a weapon to be wielded without thought or consideration. How many Watchers, he wondered, had taken up their post only to find – as he had done – just how wrong that perception was? Had they felt as he had felt, the day their Slayer died ...?

"Exactly," Davenport was saying. "Hard lesson to learn. To try and mold such a creature without regard to their will – just, can’t be done, can it? Not without breaking something. My brother’s Slayer broke," he announced, watching his company with a shrewd consideration. "My brother with her. He never forgave himself for her death – and nor, I think, have you for yours."

"No such mistake for me. Not here. Not among these fine felines. I love them and I let them go, hard as it is. You’d be well advised to do the same."

"I did." Recollections were falling into place, like scattered pieces of an unfinished puzzle. The old man’s words had triggered a recollection that warmed his heart and soothed his fractured soul – a certainty that he couldn’t place as yet, but was there, as surely as Ari’s warm and furry pelt beneath his hand. "It was difficult, but I had no choice. She did her duty. Fulfilled her destiny. She died saving the world. There was nothing I could do but let her go. And then she came back."

Brought back, memory suggested, although by whom he wasn’t so sure. It didn’t really matter. The terror and the pain of the earlier moment were past and unimportant. By some miracle or other, Buffy was still part of his life.

And she needed him …

"Came back?" Davenport straightened up and stared at him in bewilderment. "She died and … Are you sure?"

"As sure as I can be." Giles grimaced apologetically. "I know it doesn’t make any sense, but – Buffy is alive, and I have to get back to her. Wherever she is," he added, frowning at his inability to retrieve concrete facts to underpin the certainties his emotions were offering him.

"Well, of course you do," the old man said, still looking a little bewildered. "A Watcher belongs with his Slayer …" He went on frowning for a moment, then shook his head and sat back with a quiet sigh. "If a cat like Ari here can walk the Way whenever he pleases, and bring me a living soul to talk to after all these years – well, who’s to say a Slayer can’t come back from the dead? Miracles have been known to happen."

"Yes," Giles agreed. "I- I suppose they have."

Miracles …

He’d unearthed a memory of holding Buffy in his arms, her body warm and solid and very, very much alive, her heart thumping behind ribs with too little flesh on them. It seemed a very important memory, one he frowned over, trying to place its context among the shattered snippets of his missing life. How could he have forgotten that?

"Mr Davenport?" he asked warily, "what are you doing here? How did you …?"

"… Get stuck inside the mirrors?" Davenport completed with a wry grin. "Long story. Thought I was telling it to you, actually. That Slayer of yours keeps distracting us both. Now – where was I? Oh, yes – the papyrus. The legend about the cats. Most people would probably have just dismissed it as mere myth, but I – I was intrigued. You work for the Council for any length of time and you learn there’s a good deal of truth in myth. As well as a great many lies, of course. I began to – watch, I suppose you could say. Cats, not Slayers, that is. I read everything I could get my hands on: grimoires, histories, legends, old texts and more recent treatises. I studied folklore, I researched rituals, and I even sought out initiation into an obscure cat cult. All in secret, of course. The order tends to frown on extra curricula involvements like that. Did in my day, anyway … I learnt a great deal about the mysterious and wonderful felis domesticus: habits, preferences, activities … biology, behaviour .. but not a hint about what I was really looking for."

The Watcher had to smile at the chagrin in the old man’s voice. It had a ring of familiarity, helping to evoke the frustrations of seemingly fruitless research, the need to revise and re-visit time and time again. He could recall, it seemed, endlessly long hours spent pouring over apparently irrelevant volumes, their contents useless for the task in hand – only to find the work invaluable on some later occasion, when the pages came back to mind, just when they were needed most.

"You’ve been there, I take it?" Davenport’s look was shrewd, and Giles nodded, acknowledging their shared experiences.

"You looked elsewhere," he suggested softly. The old man laughed.

"I did indeed. I studied mirrors and the myths about mirrors, about mirror magic and illusions, about transportation spells, the rites to summon unseen spirits, and rituals for the opening of doorways. The more I researched, the more I wanted to know. I even took to carrying a copy of Alice, pouring over it for hours in the belief that Carroll had known much more than he’d been prepared to reveal. Cats and mirrors. My specialty. My obsession."

"My foolish, fateful folly."

Davenport sighed, expressing an acceptance of something he’d managed to come to terms with a long time ago – and yet still regretted, still grieved over, despite there being nothing he could do. Giles had the uncomfortable impression that he was familiar with that feeling too, although he couldn’t quite put his finger on why …

"I became quite an expert. I learnt to do all these – little tricks – with the mirrors. I could, for instance, make them reflect, just for a moment, other things. Someone else, for instance …glimpses of the past, hints of other places. Even things I’d never even seen. But I never came close to the doorway I was seeking. Never quite believed it enough."

"Until the day I saw one of the Walkers step into a mirror – and vanish from sight."

His audience nodded once again, understanding what he meant. Giles wouldn’t have believed it himself – until he’d seen it happen, until he’d seen the tortoiseshell take her kittens home

"I’d gone back to the family estate for a while. To look after my brother. After the loss of his Slayer … well, I don’t have to tell you about that, do I? No," he decided, clearly seeing the look that had chased across his company’s face. "Let’s skip that bit, shall we? Suffice it to say, the two of us spent long hours, walking, keeping each other company. Sometimes he’d talk, and I’d listen – or I’d talk, and he’d ignore me. Most of the time, though, we’d keep our own council. Days of quiet silence. In good weather we’d walk outside, around the house, down to the barns, out to the stables – wherever we felt like. But when it rained – we’d pace the corridors, room after room, one after another. That’s when I saw it. There was this - grizzled old queen, one of the good farm mousers that the cook had encouraged into the house in her old age – and a much younger cat, both of them lurking by the fire in the picture gallery and both of them, I thought, seeking sanctuary from the weather. My brother barely glanced at them – but I was in the habit of watching for cats, the way he watched for vampires. So I saw it. Saw the moment when the young tom stepped away from the fire, jumped up onto the mantelshelf – and stepped out of the world altogether."

"My brother must have thought me utterly mad. I rushed back into the room and practically tore the mirror down from the wall. But the cat was gone. The glass was solid and the old queen just sat there on the rug and looked at me as if she knew all the mysteries of the world and wasn’t going to tell me one of them."

"She didn’t have too. I had the proof I needed, and the impetus to return to my studies with renewed enthusiasm. There was a way. I just had to find it. I thought – I knew – that if I could just do that, could prove to the fools on the Council that I was just as valuable, could contribute just as much as any one of their precious Watchers … no offence intended, I should say."

"None taken," Giles smiled, shifting Ari’s relaxed weight into a more comfortable spot on his lap. He had a feeling that’d he’d never been one of the favoured few. As far as he could recall he hadn’t been considered worthy enough to be assigned a Potential at an early age, and – hadn’t he inherited Buffy in some way? From a somewhat maverick Watcher who’d only tracked her down after she’d been called. The man had been killed on Watch and … what had his name been?

"Pride, my friend, can be a great inspiration. And impatience a greater pitfall." Davenport returned to his tale with a hint of quiet regret. He had, his audience suspected, been waiting a long time to tell someone his story. It would have grown over the years, and then dwindled again, made large by being dwelt on, and reduced to distance by time. "I returned to my research, going back over things I’d already dismissed, and eventually, I found a way. Just a little one … just a possibility … but a way. Not the Way, but I didn’t know about that then. I just wanted to see what lay behind the mirrors. I thought I’d find a world full of wonders, and littered with secrets. Which I did, of course, much good it did me. I didn’t tell anyone what I was up to – and I was so certain of returning that same day, that I never even bothered to leave so much as a note behind me."

"That was over fifty years ago. I’ve been here ever since."

"Good Lord," Giles reacted, sitting up to stare at him in amazement.

Fifty years?

"I know." Davenport smiled wryly. "Hard to believe, isn’t it? But it’s true. I never found a way out. I found the right places, I even found one or two of the right people, but – I don’t think anyone cared about me enough to notice I was gone. Certainly not enough to come looking for me. The Walkers may come and go as they please. But for those who lack their particular gifts, the only certain way out is to be called out. As you were called in, I suspect. This is a dark and distorted place, Giles. A twisted, treacherous version of the world you and I know. The Walkers guard the doorways, and try to keep the darkness and the hunger from oozing through – but it’s there, all the same. Waiting. Watching. Wanting what we have and it can never know."

"Jabberwocks," Giles breathed, remembering the presence hunting in the passageways, the sense of something dark and dreadful lurking in the night.

"Jabberwocks – and bandersnatch, and siligoths and dandagyre. All kinds of things you’ve never even heard of – and possibly one or two you have, but which are spoken of in hushed tones and disbelieving words. The reflections of our worst nightmares. Many of which we have created, giving shape to shapeless darkness, in a landscape where our world provides the only light."

Giles found himself glancing round room a second time, half expecting to find something dire lurking in the shadows; he shivered, caught in a sudden moment of realisation like a man looking down in the snow to find himself treading on the ice above a lake. The surface might look strong enough, firm enough to support his weight, but one wrong move, one misplaced step could shatter the surface and plunge him deep.

"So," he managed around a hastily swallowed gulp, "how did you survive?"

"With difficulty," Davenport answered promptly, grinning at his company’s disconcerted reaction. "To begin with, anyway. I was lost for a long time. Lost – and hunted. I stumbled from room to room, from place to place, desperately searching for a way out and finding nothing but dead ends and empty promises. Things followed me at night, forcing me to run or hide – and I spent weeks without sleep, snatching what rest I could during the suspect safety of the day. I didn’t have the advantage of your training," he pointed out, nodding towards the sword the Watcher had left propped up against his chair. "Or your experience, either," he added shrewdly. Giles rejected the implied compliment with a wry shake of his head.

"I’m not sure either helped," he confessed, recalling the first few days he’d spent wandering in the labyrinth. "Although – knowing I could use the sword if I had to … that has been something of a comfort, I have to say."

"I’m sure it has. I was nothing but a bookworm and a somewhat overweight scholar when I arrived here. My sole defense was a smattering of magic I’d gleaned from ancient texts and had never used for anything other than parlour tricks. So I ran. I ran for my life and my sanity and I barely managed to hang one to one while clinging desperately to the other. The Walkers didn’t find me walking the Way, however inexpertly. They found me huddled in a corner somewhere, praying for the nightmare to end."

He exaggerates, Ari yawned, obviously having heard all this before. If he’d been as helpless as he says, a jabberwock would have eaten him long before we found him.

"You have no idea, young fellow," Davenport said huffily. "You weren’t there. I was like a mewling infant, with no idea how to feed or clothe myself. The Walkers adopted me. Took care of me – and taught me many things. In return, I have taken care of them. They come to me when they are hurt, when they have burs or tangles in their fur, when they are sick, or simply old. They ask for stories and they share their own; I have tutored kittens and I have tended to the dying. They are my family and have been so for generations. Now that I am old and in need of comfort, they offer it without complaint."

* * * * *

They talked for hours – or rather, Davenport talked for hours, his words tumbling out as he warmed to his subject and his company. Giles was content to sit and listen, Ari sprawled across his lap while he relaxed and felt safer than he had for days. The old man had spent half a century without human companionship, and it was hard to deny him his eager hunger for simple conversation. The cats, for all the care they had shown him, and the respect they obviously held for him, were still cats – creatures with a mindset far removed from human perceptions and human emotions.

Somewhere, in that long and rambling discussion in which Giles learned far more about the mirror world than he had done in all the days and weeks he’d spent there, the two men moved from wary acquaintance to a sense of comfortable friendship. They had a great many things in common; much more than just their mutual membership of the ancient order which had shaped them both. They had been taught in the same schools, been raised according to the same traditions, and they spoke the same language, albeit one separated by a generation. The surface impression – that Davenport was not the most stable of personalities – was quickly overtaken by an understanding of just how stable and self certain he had to have been to have survived all those years of isolation and exile. He admitted, at some point or other, that his hold on his sanity had shifted and shivered over the years; that there’d been times when he’d neglected his hygiene and his appearance, had once wandered naked and alone through rooms crowded with life on the other side of the mirrors just to satisfy the fact that he could – and had even once gone out into the dark with the sole intention of letting something end his desperate existence. But those had just been phases, ways of working through the pressures and the challenges of his strange imprisonment, and he claimed to have woken from those moments of madness to a much greater certainty of himself and his place in the world.

Giles wasn’t so sure about that – but he could understand the need to cry out in the oppressive silences, to declare war on the world in preference to drowning in loneliness and frustrating torment. There’d been moments – even in the few short weeks in which he’d been wandering the maze – when the anger and the agony of being trapped, of being walled away from life and human contact, had threatened to overwhelm him. If he hadn’t been so busy fighting to recover his past, working through those fragments of memory and battling for the pieces that, even now, lay out of his reach … if he had had, like Davenport, to face the knowledge that he, and he alone, was the one responsible for his fate … would he have struck out in equal fury and frustration, or would he have simply succumbed to despair?

He didn’t know. He liked to think that he was stronger than that, but he couldn’t be sure. Couldn’t be sure of anything really, not while his memory was so fragmented and the events that had brought him to this place remained a baffling mystery.

The old man rambled on, telling tales of his early explorations, of adventures spent hiding from creeping jabberwocks while he searched for familiar landscapes on the other side of the mirrors. They were tales peppered with references to cats long gone, and to people and places that held disconcerting familiarity. Giles had visited the many of the locations Davenport spoke of, had studied in the Council’s libraries and had even been trained and tutored by some of the men his current company had once viewed as friends and colleagues.

His years of exile had clearly mellowed the old man’s resentment of the order that had once denied him his chance to shine. He spoke of his life working for the Council with nostalgia and regret. His views on life – and on Watchers and Slayers in particular – had been changed and tempered by his involvement with the Walkers and the dangers they faced every day. The nobility of spirit which Ari’s affectionate description had credited him with had been forged over long years fulfilling the very destiny he’d been denied in the real world. Here, he had come to learn the reality of service, of duty, and of sacrifice. He’d taken on the mantle of Watcher to an entire slew of chosen ones – and he’d spent his time productively, recording their observations, cataloging their foes and teaching each new generation the lessons they needed to help them survive.

"They always were inducted by their mothers," Davenport explained thoughtfully. "That’s how the line passes, from one generation to the next. The teaching was done through memories and legends and allegorical tales. I started writing them down. Took elements of one to add to the detail of others – and found I had a whole history, swirling around inside a vast repertoire of myth and exaggeration – and yes¸ young man, I know I am a little guilty of it myself," he said, fixing Ari’s one open eye with a firm stare, "but I have lived with your people a long time. You all encourage me."

This, Ari remarked, butting his head back against Giles’ chest and squirming happily, you did not exaggerate

"No," the old man smiled with wry self-mockery. Since the this Ari was referring to was his current supporter and everything the cat had decided he represented, Giles was more than a little bemused by both their reactions. "They love my tales of the Slayer," Davenport confided with a sly wink. "Her heroic deeds, her noble sacrifices – and her ever faithful, ever loyal Watcher, the one who guides her, supports her, and is equally noble in word and deed and dedication to his cause."

"Oh." The exclamation was somewhat faint; the Watcher concerned cast a slightly nervous glance around their attentive audience. "You mean, they think I …?"

"Oh, they know, " Davenport assured him with amusement. "Very perceptive creatures, the Walkers. Read you in instant. Know you better than you know yourself."

"Well, um – "Giles shifted a little uncomfortably in his chair. "I’m no … hero. I know that much. But, my Slayer is very special, and I think – I – I hope I’ve always tried to do the right thing where she was concerned." He paused, looking at the old man with slightly embarrassed distress. "You know – many of the Watchers in the diaries …"

"Ah, ah, ah," Davenport interrupted firmly. "Let us aspire to the ideal, not dwell on those who might have … failed to meet some of its expectations. You have not disappointed them. Which is something of a relief for me, I have to say."

It was something of a relief for Giles, too, although he really didn’t think he could justify occupying the kind of pedestal that the old man’s stories seemed to have put him on. He wondered why Davenport would have bothered creating such a mythical vision of the Slayer and her Watcher when he seemed so contemptuous of the Council - and then remembered the part he’d skipped over in his story, the words which had held respectful sympathy.

My brother’s Slayer broke. My brother with her …

"Your brother was a good man," Giles offered softly, putting two and two together and coming up with a younger son who had envied and resented the fortune of his older sibling – until he had witnessed the man’s loss and the grief it had caused him. "And – I’m guessing here, but - a dedicated Watcher, too."

"Too dedicated, according to some in the order. ‘Got too close to the child,’ they said. What would they know? Never having – watched, the way we have."

We. The smile at the inclusion was a wry one; Davenport might never have been trained as a Watcher, never been assigned a Slayer, or even a Potential to Watch over – and yet, from what he’d been saying, he probably had more right to call himself one than many who’d claimed the title over the years. Giles wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t one of them.

"So, what do you watch for, here in Looking Glass house?" he asked curiously, looking round the foyer with interest. He was a little amused to note that most of their feline company had fallen asleep at some point during their rambling conversation. Davenport sighed.

"This and that," he said, reaching for the jug on the table so that he could top up his glass of water and frowning as he realised it was empty. He put it down again with a slightly martyred sigh. "You know about the jabberwocks, of course. I try to avoid those as a rule. Then there are the siligoths … and the bandersnatch - "

"Met some of those," Giles interjected, recalling the encounter with a shudder. The old man raised an eyebrow at him.

"Bandersnatch? Really? My, my. And you escaped with barely a scratch? I can see why Ari was impressed. Nasty pieces of work. But cowardly. They hate fire. A lot of things in here do. It’s something to do with the light, rather than the heat, I think. Light has power in this place. You would do well to remember that."

"I will." The Watcher’s thoughts slid to the magic he had managed to recall the night the jabberwock came so close, and he mentally repeated the incantation, relieved to find he could still remember it.

"The dandygyre are particularly susceptible in that regard. You won’t find them creeping around in the daytime. But you might stumble over a mome rath or two. They’re fairly harmless compared to most, although they do like to gather at the edge of vanity mirrors, sucking in self-confidence and reflecting it back as self doubt. If you’ve ever looked into a mirror and thought ‘I’m getting old,’ or ‘I’m putting on weight’ … even though you know it’s not true? There’ll have been mome rath lurking behind the glass somewhere."

Giles nodded warily, filing the information away for future reference. It always helped to know what you might be facing. "So," he said, "jabberwocks, siligoths, bandersnatch, dandygyre and mome raths. A positive menagerie of menace. No vampires?"

The old man laughed. "You’re in a world of mirror images, Rupert. How can there be vampires, here? They don’t have a reflection. No …" His face sobered and his eyes grew grim. "There are demons here – but they’re far more dangerous than the undead. They don’t suck blood. They devour life. That’s all a reflection is, you know … a vision of your lifeforce. Since vampires aren’t, strictly speaking, alive, they don’t reflect in mirrors. But for those who do … well," he concluded with a tight smile, "the jabberwocks are bad enough, but - let’s just say that – looking into a mirror that a visszatük haunts may not be good for the soul."

"A visszatük?" Giles echoed thoughtfully, struck by the familiarity of the word. "I think I’ve come across a reference somewhere …"

"Been reading your books in a mirror?" the old man asked, the question quietly amused. "I suppose you might have been. All that ‘reverse writing’ that people used to do to hide the truth. You can’t always trust a reflection, Rupert. Not even your own. If you’ve heard of the vissatuk, it’s likely that one of them has marked you as his own. Shown you his name in a mirror sometime. His name, and possibly some of his nature. Maybe he was the one that brought you here."

"And that’s … bad." The Watcher frowned, wishing he could remember the events that had trapped him here, in this strange, distorted world.

"Very." The old man’s smile wasn’t pleasant. "The visszatük are emptiness. Despair given a will of its own. They’re things born of the dark, like the jabberwock – born of it, and hungry with it – but unlike their brutish cousins they are subtle, cunning things. They don’t have a shape of their own – they haunt mirrors, pick a victim and take their form, feeding on them through the glass."

"Like the mome raths."

Davenport’s bark was more a snort of contempt than laugh; it woke up several cats who looked around in alarm. "If you like. If you like to think a vampire feeds the way a mosquito does. No, no. They take everything. And they drain their victims slowly. Over weeks. Months. A slow descent into numbed despair. The more they feed, the stronger they become."

"Good Lord," Giles reacted, his blood running cold at the thought. There’d be no defense against such a thing. You wouldn’t even know what was killing you.

"They’re not common," Davenport assured him, taking pity on the look of horror which had settled on his face. "And if the Walkers catch them getting solid enough to hurt they tear them to shreds. I have every reason to believe it was a visszatük that stole away that first cat, all those centuries ago. They hate them with a passion."

It is never to happen again, Ari announced, sitting up with determination. He also put out all his claws and Giles winced as they sank into his skin.

"Ow," he protested, throwing the cat off his lap and glaring at him with irritation. "Ari! That hurt."

The cat had the grace to look abashed, reaching up to the arm of the chair so that he could strop his claws on the fabric. We hunt them wherever we find them. When they have flesh to rend we rend it. When they have blood to spill, we spill it. Let them drift as mist, let them starve in the dark. They must never grow strong enough to cross over again. Never.

"Except – " Davenport had also sat up and was now staring at his visitor with horrified realisation. "One has, hasn’t he?" He leant forward to grasp at his company’s arm, his hand shaking with reaction. "That’s why … That would explain … Merciful heavens – that’s it, isn’t it? One of them has grown strong enough. Strong enough to take, not just your form, but your place in the world. A way to trap you here, where he belongs. What was in that book, my boy? What were you reading? Researching? Think, young man! If you have released a visszatük into your world, everything – everyone you care about is in mortal danger. He will suck the life from them. Take their joys, their pain, their feelings – everything that makes them human, that makes living worthwhile. And once they are nothing but empty husks, they’ll simply lie down and die."

"Oh dear Lord," Giles whispered, his eyes going wide with terror. The memories he’d fought so hard to recover rose up to mock him with heart wrenching clarity. Images of his friends – his family – danced through his head. Buffy smiling at him with that indulgent, knowing look that she saved purely for him … Xander, laughing at one of his own jokes … Willow’s shy pride when she knew she’d helped save the day … Young souls filled with life and energy, a tempting feast to a creature accustomed to leaching what little sustenance it could find reflected in a mirror’s glass. He half rose to his feet, his hand reaching for the hilt of his sword. "I have to get back. I have to get out of here."

"Easier said than done." The old man’s grip tugged him down again. Davenport’s eyes were pleading for thought and caution rather than emotional reaction. "The visszatük must have stolen your life. That’s why you are struggling to remember it. It will know what you know, be acting as you would, hiding itself in you. It will be an almost perfect imitation - and one whose flaws will almost certainly have been overlooked in the hopelessness its feeding will have inspired. No-one will be looking for you and it will know to avoid the glass. You’ll have to find someone who will find him. Find a window into your world, find one you love and stay with them. Stay with them until you can glimpse yourself beside them … Get them to call you back if you can.

"And even then," he concluded bleakly, "you will need a way to reclaim what is yours. To drive the visszatük back here - or better yet, destroy it completely. Better if you do that – or else you’ll never be able to look into a mirror again."

* * * * *

"Bloody typical," Giles muttered angrily, flicking through Davenport’s extensive wardrobe in search of a suitable change of clothes. "My Slayer is in danger and I’m the one responsible."

The actions of the visszatük are hardly your fault, Ari observed from his place on the bed. Do not forget you are the victim here.

"I’m her Watcher." The blue shirt was too small. The white one too impractical. He threw both at the bedspread and Ari leapt back as they landed. "I’m supposed to know about these sorts of things. And not allow myself to be targeted by a totally unknown demon from the other side of the Looking Glass. Damnit," he cursed, pausing with his hands clenched around reflected cotton as a moment of despair swirled through him. "How could I let this happen?"

You did not allow anything, the cat pointed out gently. Just Giles, the visszatük pick their victims carefully. A glad heart and a strong soul can fight them away even without being aware that they do so. This one must be older and more cunning than most: one that has avoided our hunting and found a way to grow strong without us seeing him. He will have found you and claimed you when you were at your most vulnerable. After the death of your Slayer, perhaps?

"Perhaps." The anger dissipated as quickly as it had arisen. Giles sat down on the edge of the bed and heaved a weary sigh. "I wish I could remember."

Perhaps, Ari suggested, padding over to nudge at him with a comforting nose, that was the moment when he chose you. And perhaps there was another moment of despair – when your defenses had been eroded by his constant presence and you no longer had the strength to fight against him –that was when he took your place.

"Possibly," Giles agreed, taking comfort in the warmth of the cat’s fur beneath his hand. "Certainly some time after Buffy came back … and I must have been in England when it happened, because I seriously doubt I would have found my way back to the London behind the mirrors if it had happened in Sunnydale."

It will be a long journey. The cat was clearly amused by his reasoning. Although not as far as you think. You may be right, though. You were very lost when I found you

"Hah." The Watcher stood up and went back to his investigation of the wardrobe. Davenport had accumulated a great many things over the years, pandering to his vanity with Saville Row suites and expensive hand made shirts among other things. Items – strictly speaking – stolen from behind the tailor’s mirrors, snatched from hangers after being tried on and paraded in front of the glass. "Tell me something," he asked, momentarily hovering over a tweed jacket before rejecting it with a wry smile. "When you first saw me. Did you think I was a visszatük? A stolen reflection, given form by someone else’s life?"

Yes, Ari answered brightly, then opened his mouth in a silent laugh, rolling over to snuggle into the discarded shirts. But that was days before we met. I caught a glimpse of you in a mirror – and came through the glass to hunt you down.

"You were hunting me?" Giles threw the cat a bemused look. "I had no idea."

You wouldn’t. I’m good.

Ari’s smug confidence earned him a warm chuckle. "No," Giles corrected shrewdly, "well, maybe you are, but – I didn’t know what to watch for. You might not find me such easy prey in future."

Probably not, the cat agreed with a laugh of his own. But I am cunning and I am quick, and I am only seen when I wish to be seen. Had you been a visszatük, the first thing you would have known of me would have been my teeth and my claws.

He’d found the perfect thing; a soft faux suede shirt the colour of warm butterscotch, just right for wearing over a t-shirt and jeans. "Then I’m relieved you realized I wasn’t."

So am I.

"Now, now," Davenport’s voice drifted in from the next room. "Don’t fuss so. I’m perfectly capable of walking a few steps when I have to."

The old man himself appeared a moment later, making his way with careful, shaky steps, which he was managing with the assistance of a gnarled walking stick in one hand and – of all things – a sword in the other. There were several cats milling about his feet, which probably helped explain some of the cautious nature of his progress. "Ah – Giles, there you are. Find everything you need? I don’t use this room much any more, so do feel free to think of it as your own."

"Well," Giles smiled, resisting the temptation to rush across and give the man a helping hand. "Don’t get me wrong, but – I really don’t intend to stay that long."

"Of course you don’t," Davenport retorted, his eyes twinkling a little. He reached the nearest armchair and sank onto it with decided relief. "Now then … have something for you here. Knew I had it somewhere. Might come in handy." He lifted up the sword and pushed it onto the bed; Ari padded over and sniffed at it warily.

"I – um – do have a sword," Giles pointed out, having quickly checked that the one he’d brought with him was safely propped up against the coffee table.

"Not like this one." The old man waved at the blade with a smug look on his face. "This one is thrice reflected."

"Thrice …?" Giles dropped his chosen shirt onto the pile of clothing he’d been assembling and reached across to pick up the weapon, feeling it somehow shimmer and pulse under his hands. "I don’t understand."

Davenport grinned. "Here, light is power. The clarity of a reflection gives it both substance and strength. Reflect something once, and it will exist, here in Looking Glass house. Reflect it twice – between two mirrors, or using an angled pair, and it will have much greater certainty, more … reality, if you like. But reflect it thrice," he leaned forward, making his point with a jab of a bony finger, "and you create magic. I found this blade years ago, hanging on display in the British museum. All set up in a special display case with three mirrors, set so a visitor could observe the intricate detail on both sides of the hilt at once. Thrice reflected, Mr Giles. It’s as light as a good sword can be and still have weight to force a blow – and yet it’s stronger than steel and sharper than a razor’s edge. It’s killed four jabberwocks and more dandygyre than I care to think about. This is my Vorpal blade. And it’s yours. You’re going to need it where you’re going. If this place of yours – Sunnyday, or whatever it’s called …"

"Sunnydale," Giles corrected absently, testing the weight of the sword in his hand and marveling at the feeling of power that seemed to follow every stroke, every movement it made through the air. Ari, and a number of the other cats, followed the movement of its point with fascination.

"Yes, well, whatever. If it has an active hellmouth, then its mirror-side is almost undoubtedly going to be crawling with jabberwocks. Among other things. Ari, here, may scare a few of them away, but that will help you defend yourself. Got to get you back safely to that Slayer of yours. She needs you. Especially with … well, you know."

"I do." Giles swung the weapon with care, admiring its balance and measuring its reach. It was a far better weapon than any of the ones he’d acquired in his wanderings. "This is very generous of you, Mr Davenport. And most appreciated."

"Geoffrey, please. And good heavens, m’boy, who else am I going to give it to? I haven’t been able to swing the blessed thing for years … and I hate to think of it gathering dust and rust in some forgotten corner of this cursed hotel, long after I’m gone. Take it. Go sniker-snack, and win your way home. Your Slayer will know you. I know she will. She’ll know you and she’ll call you out. You’ll see. I never got home. But you will. You have to. For her sake. For all our sakes."

He lowered the blade and considered the old man on the other side of the bed with a mixture of sympathy and pity. "I’ll do my best," he promised softly. Davenport nodded.

"I’m sure you will."

A whip tailed mackerel tabby padded into the hotel suite, making its way through the gathered felines, before leaping up onto the bed and sitting there, blinking eyes so green they could have been emeralds.

There has been council, she announced, her voice soft and sweet compared to Ari’s masculine growl. It has been agreed. If one of the shapeless ones has found a way to pass beyond the glass, then we have failed in our vigilance. We will not fail in our duty. Watcher: she turned to Giles, tilting her head with formal politeness. You have been the victim of this offence, and we recognize your right to seek redress before any other action can be taken. Ari will go with you as your guide and assist you in your quest – but should you fail, then others among us will hunt this creature down and make it pay for its crimes. We will avenge you, as she who was Mother of us all was avenged.

And if – for what ever reason – you are unable to find your way back, if your fate should be to stay this side of the mirrors, then you will be welcomed among us, as the White Knight was welcomed, long ago.

This we have agreed, and this we promise.

"Thank you," Giles murmured, grateful for their willingness to give him a chance to recover his life, despite the fact that it was one of their most hated enemies who was thought to have stolen it. He was equally grateful for their offer of a place – a purpose – among them, should there be a need for it. He was rather hoping there wouldn’t be; not just because that would mean living out the rest of his days behind the mirrors, the way Davenport had done, but because it would necessitate the Walkers having to hunt down and kill the thing that Buffy currently believed to be her Watcher – and even drained of spirit, numbed of feeling and, by now, possibly bereft of all hope, he had the temerity to believe she would defend him. To the death, if necessary.

Which it would be, since the Walkers would be equally determined to deny their ancient enemy a foothold in the outer world.

"Tell your council," he said with a confidence he didn’t really feel, "that I will happily seek Salla Bu-shabis’ revenge; that I will find this thing and find a way to destroy it. And that, once I have done so, you and all of those who walk the Way will be welcomed in my house and given my eternal friendship."

"Good show, my boy," Davenport murmured approvingly.

The tabby dipped its head in acknowledgement, offered Ari a friendly nuzzle to his cheek and turned to jump down from the bed. You have ten days, she said in parting. May the Mother of us all guide and guard you both. Until we walk together once again.

"Ten days?" Giles echoed with bemused astonishment as she left. He glanced across at the old man, to find him smothering a wheezy chuckle. "Bloody hell! I can’t walk from London to
California in ten days!"

Of course not, Ari denied with equal amusement. It only takes three. If you know the Way …

* * * * *

She was done with him.

No – more than that. She wanted nothing more to do with him.

He’d ignored her wishes, overridden her decisions, conspired behind her back, betrayed her … and turned the last of her certainties, the last of her trust, into little more than bitter ashes in her mouth, into the words she’d spat at him with anger and disillusionment.

She thought she’d feel better once the door was closed, once she’d shut out that look – the look of pained disappointment and martyred necessity – which had been a painful reflection of her own inner turmoil. But she didn’t.

If anything, the finality of that firmly closed door had made her feel worse.

Much worse.

When had it all gone wrong? When had he ceased to be her rock and turned into yet another drain on her energies? When had the tensions between them shifted and tightened until everything she did disappointed him and everything he did seemed to add to the burdens she carried?

When had she started to feel so tired?

Buffy sighed and turned away from the door, acutely conscious of having lost something infinitely precious and utterly indefinable. She didn’t want to think about that, right here and then. Didn’t, in fact, want to think about anything at all. She was too numb, too drained, to want to consider the hows and the whys and the whens.

And the ‘what if’s’ were definitely off the list for a while.

Her turn into the room had put her in sight of her wardrobe mirror and the pale, pinched reflection of what she’d become. She wasn’t sure she wanted to face that, either, but she lacked the energy to do anything that would prevent the painful image from mocking her every move.

"Oh God," she muttered, sinking onto the edge of the bed and wondering if she had energy left for anything anymore. She ought to have been feeling a raging anger. Ought to be contemplating hate and the pain of betrayal and all that sort of stuff – but all she really felt was tired.

Empty.

Alone.

Well, not totally alone. A movement caught her eye and she looked down to find a sleek black and white cat in the process of jumping onto the bed. That was a little weird, but not completely unlikely, since Miss Kitty had always been given free run of the entire house. Maybe one of the other girls had brought a cat with them – although Buffy couldn’t remember anyone mentioning pets. She’d certainly never seen this particular animal before. It was a very handsome cat, too.

"Hello, puss," she registered quizzically. "Where did you come from?"

The cat paced across the coverlet to join her, proving its substantiality by rubbing its cheek along her arm. Not a manifestation of the First, then, which was something of a relief. If she’d been a little less sunk into apathy, she’d have probably picked it up and evicted it – a little less forcibly than she had her Watcher, perhaps, but firmly enough to send it on its way. As it was, she lacked even the motivation to expel an uninvited guest, and she found herself fondling the warmth of its ears as it paddled and purred at her side.

"At least someone’s happy," she sighed bitterly. The cat’s comforting presence was making her feel a little better, and she didn’t want better. Didn’t want to feel, or think, because doing either brought her back to …

"Giles?"

She froze in place, her fingers buried in fur, her eyes staring at the mirror across the room. The mirror, and the image it contained, faint and translucent beside her own.

A moment of anger crackled through her like a flare of fire. How dare he! How dare he use magic to spy on her – or worse, use it to try and force her to talk when she’d made it perfectly clear that the time for talking was over.

Done.

She half rose to her feet, then sank down again, the impulse to storm out and make her point with violence draining away as her eyes adjusted to the vision – and began to make a little more sense of what she was seeing.

It was Giles. No doubt about it. More than mere illusion, or hallucination … and it certainly wasn’t the First, because he wasn’t dead, even if an uncharitable part of her heart had wished him so a short while ago. But nor was it the man she’d just shut out of her bedroom – and her heart and her life. That man – a weary, rumpled figure, weighted with the cares of the world – was nothing but a pallid reflection of the person currently leaning on – no, in, her mirror.

It was almost as if he were standing on the other side of the glass, standing there wearing one of those quiet smiles of his, a sword dangling from his left hand and his right pressed up against the glass, his fingers splayed out as if he were trying to push his way through to reach her.

Sword.

Buffy’s mind did several somersaults, reassessing the situation as she registered exactly what she was looking at. Forget the heavy jacket and the dowdy sweater; this was Giles in a soft tan over-shirt and a pair of jeans that could have been painted on, they fit so perfectly. He wasn’t wearing his glasses, and there seemed to be some sort of wound on his cheek, but she didn’t really notice that because she was on her feet and moving closer, moving close enough to look into those warm, loving, laughing eyes…

"Giles," she whimpered, reaching her hand to match the one pressed up against the inside of the glass. He wasn’t even a true reflection. Not solid, like her and the rest of the room. Just a soft, semi-translucent image, the sort of thing you might catch reflected in a window – but she could feel him, feel his presence with a certainty that she hadn’t felt for weeks. Hadn’t felt, in fact, since he’d first arrived on her doorstep trailing all those girls.

She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against the mirror, swallowing a sob. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. It was just her mind playing tricks after all, offering her hopeless illusions: memories, perhaps, of better times. Times when he was her Watcher and hers alone, when he had more to offer than regretful words or cold condemnation.

Times when all he offered her was his support and respect …

"Mrrow!" The cat had jumped down from the bed and was standing beside her, rubbing against her leg. His persistence made her look down – which meant she was just in time to see it jump up – and jump into the mirror.

Into that half glimpsed, not quite there impression that was somehow behind the glass.

She stepped back in alarm, witness to something utterly impossible. The man in the mirror had also stepped back, dropping his sword so that he could catch the cat as it leapt up into his arms. He looked almost as startled about it as she was.

"Oh my God," Buffy breathed, really staring now. The man and the cat stared back. "Giles?"

He smiled, a wry, I think she’s got it kind of smile. Buffy, he acknowledged gently – or rather, his image mouthed gently, since no sound reached her at all. The smile widened, and he added something else, something she didn’t get, because lip reading had never been a skill she had much need of before.

"I can’t hear you," she told him, resisting the temptation to shout, because that would be ridiculous, and besides, everyone would come running to see what the problem was. She didn’t want to attract anyone’s attention; she still wasn’t sure what was going on, and she didn’t want to shatter what seemed to be a very fragile connection to .. to whom, exactly?

"Are you … Giles?" she asked, hoping that he had the lip reading thing cracked because they really, really needed a conversation right there and then. "My Giles?"

He nodded, somehow managing to convey a sense of chagrin, apology and pained resignation all at once. That was convincing, if nothing else had been. It was a typically Gilesian expression, most of which was centered in his eyes. It occurred to Buffy, watching them, that that was where the difference was; the man she’d spent the evening with had long since shuttered his feelings away, locking them in and rarely letting them show.

"Okay," she breathed, her heart racing in a way she didn’t think it had done for weeks. "But if you’re in there … then who do I have – out here?"

Long story, he mouthed, then looked down at the cat in his arms and asked it a question – one she had no hope of following, let alone interpreting. That was a little weird, but no weirder than her trying to have a conversation with what seemed to be a mirror image of her Watcher – inside her mirror. A moment later the cat was jumping down from his hands and walking back into the room, just as solid and real as it had been before. Buffy stepped back to let it out, watching it with wary eyes as it leapt up onto her dresser and sat itself down next to Mr Gordo.

I’d sit down if I were you, it suggested, in a soft warm voice that was more idea than exclamation. This may take a little while to explain …

* * * * *

Xander was busy applying a little fresh putty to the window frame when he heard Buffy come out of her room to knock at Dawn’s door and ask her to join her for a moment. The sound of her voice raised a ripple of tension around the sitting room, those few potentials still awake whispering to each other about what possibly could have happened for Buffy to come back and storm upstairs in such a temper – not to mention why the Watcher who’d tried to go up and talk to her had come back down the stairs looking like he’d been slapped in the face, and then kicked in the guts for good measure.

It was clear that Giles was not intending to be communicative on the matter; he’d immediately retreated to the dining room, picked up one of his precious books and buried himself in it with determination. Several of the girls had been speculating whether making him a cup of tea might cheer him up a little. Xander seriously doubted it. He’d been waiting for that whole relationship to fall apart ever since he started to spot the signs of its disintegration, and he knew – probably better than anyone, except maybe Willow – just how deeply Buffy’s rejection would wound the man buried behind the Watcher’s mantle. The potentials had never had an opportunity to see Giles at his best; to them he probably seemed little more than a musty old textbook on legs, serving the cause and supporting Buffy because it was his duty to do so. The conflict and tension between them had been becoming more and more obvious every day, and that – along with what had to be the weight of caring for a whole host of innocent and vulnerable young women – had reduced the Watcher into a pale reflection of the strong and vital soul that Xander had once known.

He didn’t know what to do about that – and he would have liked to have done something, because, hang it, he cared about Giles and not just because the man had meant so much to Buffy over the years. The trouble was none of them had any time for each other these days. Ever since Giles had appeared on the doorstep with that first group of Potentials in tow and the First had made itself known, every passing hour had seemed to demand more and more effort for less and less effect. High spirits had been turned into anxious moping, fear and apprehension had become a way of life, and it took determined work to raise even the ghost of a smile. Only Andrew seemed immune to the general sense of growing gloom, and that was probably because he hadn’t actually noticed it as yet. He lived in a fantasy world of his own making, hiding from his guilt and desperately trying to pretend he might actually be of some use in the fight against the First.

Xander sighed, picking up the sandpaper and rubbing at a rough spot in the woodwork that had been irritating him all day. Andrew wasn’t the only one overcompensating among the fear-touched community that occupied the house on Revello drive. It was way past midnight. No-one really wanted to go to bed, since no-one would actually sleep – and here was he, seeking retreat in carpentry the way Giles had retreated into his books.

Even Spike had stalked down into the basement with a ‘don’t ask and I won’t bite’ look on his face after Buffy had stormed off to her bedroom.

Dawn had obviously answered her sister’s call with reluctance; her sleepy voice, protesting the interruption to her beauty sleep, drifted down the stairwell and raised another murmur from among the potentials gathered in the sitting room. Anya, who was busy wrestling with some paperwork or other, looked up with a worried frown. The ex-demon was having trouble reading the undercurrents of tension that swirled around the house these days, and Xander had no energy left to try and explain them to her.

He didn’t really have energy left for anything anymore.

"I’d call it a night, if I were you, Xander."

Giles was standing in the middle of the sitting room, watching him with a weary smile. Xander straightened some of the kinks out his back and made an effort to return a smile of his own. "It’s a night," he announced, spreading his hands in pantomimed demonstration. "Still looks like a window to me, though. Should keep out the weather, at least. Bringers," he concluded with a shrug. "Who knows?"

"You do good work." Coming from Giles that was high praise, and Xander responded to it with a sheepish grin.

"I try. Have to do something to contribute around here."

"Xander … " Giles took a step forward and gently rested his hand on Xander’s shoulder – a habit he’d taken up ever since that silly misunderstanding about him possibly being the First. "You contribute in so many ways that I can barely begin to number them. Rest assured that I – if no-one else – values and appreciates your input."

"I bet you do."

Buffy’s voice was cold. A harsh and accusing sound, filled with anger and contempt. Xander heard Giles sigh and saw the pained, irritated look that flickered across his face before he schooled it into quiet patience, ready to turn and face his furious Slayer.

"Is there something you want, Buffy?" he asked, carefully keeping all hint of emotion from his voice.

"Yeah." Her face was so frosty it could have frozen flame. "I want you to take your hands off him. And I want you – " Her step forward was a sudden and determined lunge. "- out of my house!"

The Watcher had no time to react or defend himself. One minute the Slayer was standing there, glaring at him in undisguised fury, and the next she’d grabbed hold of his sweater and was tossing him bodily from the building.

Straight through Xander’s carefully reconstructed window.

"Buffy! What the …?" Xander, who’d barely avoided being struck by flying Watcher, stared at her in total astonishment. "Are you crazy? That’s Giles!" He half turned to go after the man, and she caught hold of him, turning him back.

"No," she said forcefully. "It’s not. And it hasn’t been. For weeks."

The potentials were all awake and staring. Anya’s mouth was hanging open. So was Andrew’s.

"Weeks?" Xander echoed bemusedly, glancing out of the now broken window to where the Englishman was climbing carefully back to his feet. Buffy hadn’t been holding back; he’d flown several yards and looked as if he’d bounced once or twice. "Buffy, what are talking about? He’s Giles. We proved it, we – "

"No," she denied with a quick shake of her head. "All you proved was that he wasn’t the First. Which he isn’t. But he isn’t Giles, either. He is."

Her head jerked towards the stairs; Xander glanced in the relevant direction and his eyes went wide, his own mouth falling open as he took in the sight that awaited him. He could have sworn that Buffy had just thrown her Watcher out of the window – only there he was, as large as life and instantly recognisable, hastening down the steps with a sword in his hand.

Only, for some reason, Xander could see right through him …

"Oh, now that was intelligent," the semi-transparent Watcher was complaining, arriving at Buffy’s side and assessing the damaged window with a disbelieving look. "Is there something wrong with the door?"

"No," she said impatiently, waving at the opening and the figure it framed. "You said get it away from the mirrors. There are no mirrors out in the street – and I figured this was the quickest way. Besides, I didn’t want it to touch anyone else. I didn’t want to touch it. Not for any longer than I had too."

"Probably a wise move," he observed, glancing up as the evicted figure came stalking back across the grass, a look of thunder on its face.

"Buffy," the more solid looking Giles was saying, his voice tight with anger. "I don’t know what you’re up to, but – "

"Good Lord," both Watchers chorused, coming face to face across the broken glass. Xander blinked.

You couldn’t exactly say they were identical; one was looking tired, care worn and washed out from effort and concern, while the other seemed far more alert and animated, despite his only being half there - but they were both undeniably Rupert Giles, from general build right down to the colour of their eyes.

The only obvious difference – apart from the whole translucence thing, that is – was the way they were dressed. One in chalk and charcoal, the other in warm butterscotch and rich indigos.

"What is this?" the wearier looking of the two demanded, staring at the reflection of himself standing inside the house. "Some trick of the First? A demon wearing my image? Buffy … "

"Oh no," she interrupted firmly. "There’s only one demon around here, and I know he isn’t standing beside me, so don’t go giving me any of that crap. Give it back. Give back what you took – everything that you took – and I might consider letting you crawl back where you came from. But don’t count on it. Because I’m pretty pissed right now, and when I get mad, I tend to hit things. Hard. And often."

Dawn had followed the second Giles down the stairs, her arms wrapped round a sleek black and white cat. She moved to stand by Xander, staring out at the man in the garden with an angry, hurt look on her face.

"You bastard," she murmured, fixing him with a steely glare. "You heartless, manipulative bastard. I hope you burn in hell."

"There’s no need for that," Giles’ familiar tones admonished softly. They held a quiet confidence Xander hadn’t heard for weeks. Hadn’t – for that matter – heard since the day Giles had taken Willow with him back to England. The figure at Buffy’s side was trying hard not to smile. "Although, I – I must say, I appreciate the sentiment."

"Don’t listen to it," the Giles outside the window insisted anxiously. "Buffy, please - it’s some kind of trick. A spell perhaps … a deception sent to manipulate and divide us. Girls …" he threw his plea to the potentials gathering in the sitting room. "Listen. That isn’t me. Buffy’s being deceived, she – "

A fist lashed out, striking the speaker hard in the face. He flew backwards and hit the ground a second time, landing with a painful grunt.

"You know," translucent Giles observed worriedly, "you’re taking far too much pleasure in all of this. How long have you been wanting to hit me?"

"Since never," Buffy answered, glaring at her victim with open hatred. "You, I don’t want to hit. Him, I want to pound into a pulp."

"Need any help?" Spike’s voice enquired languidly from the back of the room.

"Stay out of this, Spike," Buffy and Giles chorused – then threw each other a quick grin. That – if nothing else – convinced Xander that Buffy and Dawn were backing the right Watcher, even if he was only half there and could have been a trick of the First, because the First was sneaky and loved playing games with people’s minds. But it was hard to see the Slayer lash out like that at a man who’d been nothing but supportive since he’d turned up on her doorstep several weeks ago. Hadn’t he fought Bringers with determined effort? Hadn’t he exhausted himself flying round the world to rescue Potentials – sometimes putting himself in danger by doing so? What was it that Buffy was so mad about? Why was Dawn so upset?

And where on earth had that cat come from?

"Okay," Buffy was saying with determination. "This shouldn’t take too long. I just need to – "

"No." A half-seen hand caught her shoulder as she moved to step out of the broken window. "No, no, y-you’ve done enough already. I can deal with this."

She turned back towards him, the flash of irritation at his interference softening as she caught the look in his eyes. "You sure? He’s been – feeding - for weeks. And you’re not … exactly here."

"Which is precisely why I need to be the one to face him. He’s already taken all he can from me. You fight him, you could just end up making him stronger. Besides," he added softly, "angry as you are, I don’t think … could you really …? Would you want to live with … with having killed me?"

Killed? Xander’s eyes went even wider. He glanced out into the garden, catching sight of the man they were talking about, and wondering if his whole world really had turned upside down and inside out in the last few minutes. Giles – the Giles in the front garden that was – was clambering back to his feet, picking up part of the broken window frame as he did so. It didn’t look like much of a weapon, but then a hint of light glinted along it, and the watching carpenter realised that the pieces of broken glass clinging to one end turned it into a very nasty make-shift axe.

"If I had to," Buffy was saying, although her look of angry determination had fallen into more anxious lines.

"I know. But you don’t. Not yet at least. And if this doesn’t work, or I … well, " he concluded briskly. "There is – backup – on its way. You could always leave them to deal with it."

"Like that’s gonna happen," she retorted, rolling her eyes. "Slayer here, remember? We get to that, I’m gonna kick his ass from here to the hellmouth and feed his entrails to the First. But we’re not gonna get to that. Are we?"

Translucent Giles was smiling at her – which was so right and so weird that Xander couldn’t quite get his head round it.

"Not if I can help it, no." The sword in the man’s hand – which was as see-through as he was – was lifted to offer mock salute, and then he was stepping up onto the shattered window frame and leaping out onto the grass, where his mirror image was waiting for him.

"What the hell is going on?" Xander demanded, having finally managed to regain his voice.

Buffy threw him a sideways glance. "Short answer? Demon over there snaffled Giles, took his place, left him trapped behind the mirrors. Long answer? Will wait until Giles can tell it." Her eyes were fixed on the wary confrontation taking place on her front lawn, which was also the centre of attention for everyone else in the room. Potentials had crept up to crowd around the broken window. Anya had wriggled in beside Dawn, while Andrew had snagged his camera and was busy looking through the viewfinder at the action, lowering the camera with a frown, staring at the two men on the lawn and then lifting the camera again.

"Curiouser and curiouser," he quoted puzzledly. "I can see them both, but the camera only gets one of them."

"That’s ‘cos it," Dawn said impatiently, jabbing a finger at the more solid of the two protagonists, "stole his reflection. And you know what?" she demanded angrily, glancing around the gathered girls. "It’s been feeding off us. Using us. Taking our joys, our feelings - our hope. I trusted him," she protested. "I thought … I really thought …- "

"It’s okay, Dawnie." Buffy’s words held a warmth and a comfort that Xander had thought he’d never hear again. "Giles is dealing with it."

He was certainly trying too. The two figures were circling, taking wary steps as they assessed each other’s intentions. It was an eerie sight. The more translucent of the two shimmered like a ghost, the sword in his hand glowing softly, like some ethereal light saber, but their stalk, their stance, each considered step, matched with disconcerting precision. They moved like a pair of dancers choreographed so that each was a reflection of the other; the same shift of weight, the same graceful steps, even the same guarded expression on both of their faces.

"This isn’t going to work," charcoal gray Giles said, hefting his makeshift axe and eyeing his opponent with hostility. "You can’t fight me. You’re not even real."

"Oh, I’m real enough. You’re just a facsimile. A copy. A very good copy, I’ll grant you, but a copy nonetheless."

"Really. Well, if that is the case – and I’m not saying it is – this is all going to be a bit pointless, isn’t it? If you and I are mirror images, won’t we just reflect each other’s moves? I’ll strike, and you’ll strike back, with perfect timing. Play off each swing, match each blow ... like a pair of bloody marionettes, tied to the same strings."

"He has a point," Spike said, pushing his way through the potentials to loom up beside Xander like a bird of ill-omen. "Maybe I should go do it."

"You should have noticed there was something wrong with him in the first place," Buffy told him tightly, not bothering to take her eyes off the figures out on the lawn.

"And you didn’t, luv?" The vampire snorted. "You and I know the Watcher’s been ‘off’ ever since he got here. But I just figured that was reaction to the whole ‘hey, the First blew up the council and is busy killing every Watcher and Potential it can get its hands on’ thing. Or my soul, mucking up the old vamp radar somehow. How would I know? If he is a copy, he’s been a damn good one."

"That’s why he wanted you dead," she murmured. "You could have figured out what he was up to …"

"Nah," Spike laughed. "Well, maybe … if I was bothered enough to pay attention. But he was right. About the trigger and stuff. I was dangerous. Still am," he added with a small grin.

Light flashed with determined purpose. The shimmer of the sword had connected with the makeshift axe and the contact had created a momentary flare of brilliance. "You see?" Charcoal Giles was trying to sound confident, but Xander could hear the sudden note of doubt in his voice.

He wasn’t expecting him to be real …

"All I see is a demon wearing my face, and pretending to be me. One that didn’t expect me to turn up, let alone be corporeal when I got here. You might match my skill, but you can’t match my weapons – or my determination. You have been using their trust in me to attack my friends … my family. That is intolerable. And it ends right here."

Another flash of light painted the garden with rainbows. Several of the potentials let out a gasp, and Xander flinched at the force of the blow. The axe twisted round, pushing the sword blade down and then swung up, forcing the sword wielder to step back in a hurry. Xander flinched a second time, thinking of the jagged, broken glass that formed the makeshift weapon’s blade.

"You are nothing. A nothing made of nothing. What did you do? Use Buffy’s anger at me to convince her you were me? Was that it, Buffy?" Charcoal Giles called, sending his opponent’s eyes darting towards the house. "Did he tell you I was the imposter? That he’d never go against your wishes, or deceive you? I did what I had to do, just as I have always done. To protect you. To save this sorry world of ours. And I’m sorry if you didn’t like that but – "

He staggered back with an oof as the sword swept his weapon away and the man behind it followed through with a lithe twist and a determined elbow and shoulder slam. "What the …?" He swept the axe up in hasty defence, recovering himself with an effort and staring at the figure responsible with disconcerted eyes. "Y-you can’t … that’s not a move I know. Where did you …?"

"Fighting my way past a couple of jabberwocks, somewhere near the hellmouth," translucent Giles told him with a twisted grin. "I’m a quick learner when I have to be. And that’s the point, isn’t it? I can learn new moves. You can only reflect what I knew the day you took my place. You didn’t expect me to survive Looking Glass house, but I did - and you are going to pay for putting me there."

"Go Giles," Buffy murmured with approval. Xander felt inclined to agree with her.

The sword swung again, only to be deflected by a matching sweep of the axe.

"Brave words. But words don’t win battles. That takes strength - and yours is already fading. I don’t think you’re strong enough. And even if you are …" Charcoal Giles’ right hand twisted in an arcane gesture, somehow ripping some of the light out of the figure in front of him. "I’ll just take what I need to make the difference."

His victim dropped to his knees with a gasp of pain, the sword tumbling from his hand. Buffy cursed and half moved to leap out of the window, only to be held back by Spike.

"Don’t be stupid, luv. If he’s got a way of stealing the life outta things, the last thing you want is to be putting yourself within his reach. Hand him the Slayer’s strength on a plate? I don’t think so."

She jerked free of his touch, but made no further move to leap to the rescue. Outside on the lawn the tan clad Watcher had fallen forward, supporting himself with his hands as he fought to regain both his breath and his balance. The axe was lifting with an air of finality. The man wielding it had a pitying, almost sorrowed look on his face.

"It didn’t have to be like this," he was saying softly. "But sometimes you find yourself forced into doing what has to be done."

"Ari," translucent Giles cried, desperately groping across the grass for his abandoned weapon, "I could really do with a little help here!"

The black and white cat, which had been sitting comfortably in Dawn’s arms until now, immediately squirmed out of the girl’s grip and leapt out through the window like a miniature missile. Dawn gave a yelp of surprise – which was nothing compared to the cry of pain that ripped across the lawn as the creature arrived at its destination. The cat had raced across the grass, and run straight up charcoal Giles’ leg and onto his back, digging its claws in as it went. The axe wavered, then was dropped completely as teeth sank deep into its wielder’s neck and claws raked their way across his throat and face. It was a vicious, savage attack and its victim howled with agony, reaching his now empty hands to seize the offending animal and rip it bodily from his skin. A black and white furred form was flung away with fury – just as the groping, half seen figure on the lawn closed his fingers around his discarded sword and lunged upwards with an equally furious yell.

A shaft of light slid straight through charcoal Giles’ chest, piercing his heart to emerge, glinting and shimmering, between his shoulder blades.

For a long moment, nothing happened. The two men were held in a breathless tableaux, one on his knees, the other pinned, held in place by that impossible blade. Then, almost unbelievably, what had been solid flesh began to crack apart, little hairline fractures running out from the point of impact like winter frost crackling its way across a window.

"Shit," Spike exclaimed in sudden realisation. "Get down. Everybody get down!"

He dragged Buffy towards the floor, reaching out to pull Dawn after her. Anya flung herself sideways, seeking the shelter of the wall, while Xander turned and dived away, pushing several of the Potentials down with him. Barely a second later the deafening sound of shattering glass echoed across the lawn and round the room. Fragments of something flew overhead and buried themselves into the far wall.

After which the silence of the night rolled back, as if nothing had happened at all.

"Giles," Buffy gulped, struggling out from under Spike’s arm and leaping through the window. Both Xander and the vampire followed her, the younger man’s heart in his mouth. He half expected to see a translucent corpse lying on the lawn, one ripped to shreds by the demon’s final death knell.

He was extremely relieved when he didn’t.

What he did see was a single, solid looking Giles. A tan and denim clad Giles, kneeling in the grass with a very dazed look on his face and a still practically transparent sword lying under his hand. There were what looked like cuts, lots of little ones, painted across his skin, although they seemed to be healing up and vanishing away almost as soon as Xander had registered them.

"Giles?" Buffy’s pace had slowed; she paused before she reached him, considering him with wary, uncertain eyes. "Are you …?"

"Me?" he completed, turning his head to blink at her bemusedly. "Not entirely sure. I’ll – I’ll let you know in a … good Lord." His eyes went wide. "So many … and – and Spike?" The confusion on his face was almost comical. Almost. Xander had no idea what was causing it.

"The one and only," the vampire drawled, reaching down a hand to help the Watcher back to his feet. "Nice bit of blade work, Rupe. Nice blade too. You didn’t pick that one up in Woolworth’s."

"No," Giles confirmed, still looking a little befuddled. "N-no. It was the Savoy, actually … Bloody hell," he swore, his eyes snapping back into focus and his attention fixing on Spike with a vengeance. "A soul?" he questioned. "You got yourself a soul?"

"Well – yeah," the vampire said, then frowned. "How do you know that?"

"Memories." The Watcher ran a weary hand through his hair. "I seem to have – got mine back, and his with them. Little … confusing at the moment."

"I bet." Spike’s eyes narrowed. "All his memories? Including what he did today? And – why?"

Giles frowned, thinking about it. "Oh yes," he said. He glanced towards Buffy, who was still looking at him with hesitant concern, and he shook his head, his lips twisting in a wry smile. "I don’t know," he declared. "All of that going on, and you still didn’t get it wasn’t me?" He shook his head a second time, a hint of amused disbelief dancing in his eyes. "Should have been bloody obvious."

"It should?" Buffy’s response was wide eyed and held a hint of hurt. She hadn’t known. None of them had – and Xander suspected he was going to be feeling pretty guilty about that for some time to come. Now that Giles – the real Giles – was standing in front of him, it was, as he said, bloody obvious. The demon that had taken his place had been nothing but a pale reflection of the real thing.

"Of course it should." Giles wasn’t angry with her. If anything, he was trying hard not to laugh. "Buffy – think about it. If I wanted Spike dead, do you really think I’d let anyone else kill him?"

There was a beat of general startlement, and then Buffy smiled. A slow, warm smile that began with her lips but settled in her eyes. "No," she said softly, considering him with affection. "No, I guess you wouldn’t."

Spike laughed. "Watcher’s back on the clock," he declared with relish. "’Bout bloody time, too. I guess … getting back from wherever he sent you wasn’t easy."

"No." Giles dipped down to retrieve his sword. The barely visible blade was shimmering softly, almost as if it were made of glass. "Not easy at all. If it hadn’t been for Ari … Ari!" He glanced around the lawn with sudden concern, only to relax again as the black and white cat strolled nonchalantly out of the bushes. "Ah - yes. There you are. A-are you all right?"

"He’s hardly going to answer you back, Giles," Xander noted with a roll of his eyes. The Watcher always had been a little eccentric, and circumstances could probably excuse him a lot of things right there and then … but showing signs of turning into Dr Doolittle was probably taking things a little too far. Giles gave him an odd look. Buffy smothered an unexpected snort of laughter.

"You never know," she grinned, offering her arms to the animal and catching it as it jumped up into her embrace. "Ari’s a very clever cat, isn’t he, Giles?"

"Remarkably so," her Watcher confirmed, reaching to fondle the animal’s ears. "Thank you. Thank you both."

Buffy smiled. "You’re welcome. Very welcome, actually. As in – hey, all that crappy depresso ‘no hope,’ ‘no chance,’ stuff has turned out to be this demon thing feeding off my friends and my family, and, hey look, now the demon’s toast … or splinters, or something, and – hey, bonus! I got my Watcher back. In one piece, I should add. One large as life and him actually living it … which is of the good … and am I babbling?"

"Beautifully," Giles assured her, putting his arm around her shoulders and steering her back towards the house. "We do still have to deal with the First, you know."

"Yeah, I know. But we will. I know we will. It’s what we do."

Amen to that, Xander thought, stuffing his hands in his pockets and following them. True, he’d have to fix the window yet again, but that was a small price to pay for the almost giddy way he was feeling. It was as if someone had lifted an unseen weight from his shoulders and opened a floodgate somewhere, dousing him in life; all that listless, hopelessness was just washing away, leaving him bright and alert and a little breathless.

Maybe just a little afraid too - but that was good. That he could feel.

Willow is going to be so mad she missed all of this …

"So what’s the plan, then?" Spike was asking, sauntering along beside the Slayer and eyeing the cat in her arms as if it were a potential supper – or a stake in a poker game.

Buffy moved Ari to her other shoulder, giving the vampire a warning glare. The cat yawned unconcernedly. "I’m working on it."

"Good," Giles said. "And while you get on with that, I am going to make myself a hot pot of tea and find Ari that tin of tuna I promised him …"

* * * * *

Postscript: London, three months later. The traffic along the Strand was as busy as might be expected for a wet Sunday afternoon. Most of the passers-by were hurrying, huddling under their umbrellas as they made their way to theatre lobbies for the matinee performances. The exception was the four figures that were strolling along the road, sharing three umbrellas between them. There were two young women in their late teens sheltering under a dark red one, a gawky looking young man with one hand clinging to the handle of one decorated with beefeaters while he balanced a guidebook in the other, and a tall, distinguished looking gentleman who carried his black silk umbrella with abstracted dignity, his mind obviously on other things.

"Hey, get this," the young man was saying, catching up with the two young women. "The road in front of the hotel? This says it’s the only road in Britain where it’s required by law to drive on the right hand side of the road. That’s so that – "

"-patrons of the theatre could step straight from their carriages into the theatre lobby," the older man interjected, reaching to pluck the book from the young man’s fingers. "All of which is unquestionably fascinating, but hardly relevant to the matter in hand. There is a time and place for research, Andrew. This isn’t it. Do pay attention."

"Sorry, Mr Giles." The young man did his best to look contrite and the young women giggled at his expression.

"Yes, well." Giles sighed. "Let’s get on with this, shall we?"

He led the way down the road and turned into the side road in front of the hotel, sparing only a short glance for the theatre entrance as they passed it. The smile that touched his lips lasted a little longer, although he was all business again by the time they reached the hotel steps and the welcoming nod of the top-hatted doorman.

"You go ahead and order tea," Giles advised, pausing to shake some of the excess moisture from his umbrella. "I won’t be long."

The young women giggled again as the doorman stepped up to push open the door for them. Andrew followed them in, trying hard not to gawp.

"We’re here to collect a friend," Giles informed the attentive doorman. "I’m afraid he’s rather elderly, so there’ll be a private ambulance arriving shortly. Can you make sure it has space to park?"

"Of course, sir." The doorman tipped his hat, smoothly accepting the note that he was offered and pocketing it with a practiced hand. "Anything else I can do for you?"

"Not right now, thank you." Giles tucked his now furled umbrella under his arm and strolled into the hotel, that small smile resurfacing on his face as he took in the sight that awaited him.

The lobby and the dining areas were just as he remembered, and he made his way across to where Andrew and the girls had settled themselves, no doubt feeling very important and privileged as they ordered afternoon tea from an attentive waiter.

"Can we have cake?" the younger of the two Slayers asked as the Head of the new Watcher’s Council stepped up to join them.

"You can – and you may," Giles answered, peeling himself out of his Burberry coat and handing it – and the umbrella – to another of the attentive hotel staff. "A slice apiece, I suggest. Make mine a pot of Earl Grey, will you? And – um – crumpets. With lots of butter."

The waiter smiled as he added the request to the order. "Anything else, sir?"

The Watcher hesitated, giving the older of the two girls a chance to tug at his jacket. "Fig Newtons, Mr Giles?" she asked, her crisp English accent a sharp contrast to the other girl’s American twang. Giles smiled.

"Yes, of course. Can you provide fig biscuits?" he enquired of the waiter. "Our guest is … said to be very fond of them."

The waiter looked a little worried. "I don’t know, sir. But I’ll ask."

"Thank you." Giles casually perched himself on the arm of Andrew’s chair, watching while the waiter weaved his way back to the kitchens with their order.

"This is so cool," Andrew declared, making himself comfortable in the over stuffed chair. "Tea at the Savoy. Dawn is going to be so jealous."

"I doubt it," Giles observed dryly, glancing round the room to assess who else was having tea among the art deco decorations. "I treated Buffy and Dawn to dinner at the Ritz, the night before they left for Paris. Dawn’s idea," he added distractedly, frowning at the somewhat noisy group of tourists who’d just arrived. "I did tell her there were far better places to dine in London, but … Ah!" He’d spotted what he was looking for, although it was unlikely anyone else had; the ginger cat that had stepped out of a mirror behind the potted palm had stepped back again almost immediately. "I’ll be right back."

"Be careful," the younger Slayer advised and he threw her a patient, if slightly pained, look.

"I don’t know why I should," he muttered, climbing back to his feet. "You lot never are …"

"That’s because there are so many of us," the older girl smiled. "You have to be careful. There’s only one of you. That makes you irreplaceable. "

He snorted, expressing disbelief at the sentiment while being deeply touched by it; there were days when he suspected that most of the new Slayers that Willow’s spell had awakened saw him only as some kind of outdated and ineffectual figurehead – a symbol rather than a useful contribution to their cause. It wasn’t true, of course, and he was used to being taken for granted most of the time, but it was nice to occasionally have his place in the scheme of things affirmed by something other than one of Buffy’s interminable speeches.

Much as he loved to listen to her make them.

"Back in a moment," he promised, making his way across to the far side of the room. Once there he reached to push open the polished wooden door with the discrete male figure painted on it, and heaved a small sigh of relief on finding that there was nobody using the facilities behind it.

He’s ready, a soft voice announced from down by his feet. The small ginger tom padded over to weave its way round his legs in greeting, and Giles suppressed a momentary wince. He’d come to love the Walkers dearly, but it was taking a lot longer to get used to living with cat hair decorating his clothing.

"Good. Hopefully this won’t take long." He gestured towards the floor length mirror inset beside the urinals. "After you."

The young tomcat flicked its tail and stalked into the glass, vanishing into its silvered depths.

A moment later, the Watcher stepped up to the mirror – and followed him.

* * * * *

"You think he’s all right in there?" Melanie asked anxiously, fiddling with her slice of cake and trying hard not to stare at the toilet door.

"He’d better be," Helen muttered, doing much the same. Melanie threw her a sympathetic look, knowing how proud she was of the position she’d been assigned and how seriously she took her duties. Melanie took them pretty seriously too, even if she wasn’t on the regular roster. Buffy Summers’ induction lecture had been very clear about that aspect of their responsibilities. Whenever a Slayer was acting as official bodyguard to the Head of the Council, she became the one who’d be held to account if anything happened to him. Whether it was her fault or not.

"Just relax," Andrew advised breezily. "He’ll come back. He always does. I mean – it’s not as if either of you could follow him in there, is it?"

"No," Helen acknowledged sulkily. "But it’s been fifteen minutes. His tea’s getting cold."

"Twelve and a half," the self styled Watcher-Apprentice corrected, pulling out his pocket watch to check. "And the waiter only delivered our order seven minutes ago, so it’s hardly likely that the tea pot would have lost sufficient heat to cause concern. Of course," he added a little more worriedly, "it will still be brewing, so it might be getting a little strong …"

Helen rolled her eyes and Melanie stifled a giggle. They both knew – all the newly recruited Slayers knew – that Andrew had been in the final battle with the First, and that he’d adopted Mr Giles as his role model with a fervour that the man concerned despaired of from time to time, but that didn’t stop him from acting like an idiot on regular occasions.

"Mr Giles likes it strong," Melanie pointed out, reaching to pour herself a second cup. "Oh, gosh."

The teapot halted in mid-air, the action of pouring forgotten in an instant. She stared across the room instead, her eyes wide and her breath caught in her throat.

The Head of the Council had finally re-emerged from behind the toilet door, still looking as smart and business like as he had been when he’d left – but he wasn’t alone. There was a man clinging to his arm, seemingly holding onto him for dear life.

A very old man

"Gosh," Andrew echoed, his own eyes going wide as he registered the Watcher’s company. Geoffrey Davenport looked as withered and as ancient as Yoda himself, with little more than wisps of hair clinging to his skull and his body thin to the point of emaciation. He was wearing a pale grey suit, a plain white shirt – and a pair of dark green velvet carpet slippers. "He looks just like Grand Moff Tarkin."

"So he does," Helen blinked, then recovered herself with a effort. "So call up the evacuation shuttle, already. That guy needs an ambulance to go home in."

"Ah – right." Andrew scrabbled in his pockets for his mobile phone, pulling it out and hitting the speed dial so that he could call in the support team. Melanie was already on her feet, her heart beating a little wildly as she stepped across to offer the old man her support from the other side. She’d spent days preparing herself for this, and it had still taken her by surprise. The gesture earned her bemused look from the old man and a perceptively grateful glance from his solicitous escort.

"Gently, Geoffrey," Giles was saying, guiding him to the empty chair on Andrew’s left. "No need to hurry. Just take it one step at a time."

"I will, my boy." Coming from anyone else that would have sounded rudely presumptuous and extremely disrespectful – but the man was so old, and the smile he wore so bright, that it seemed an entirely natural thing to say. Melanie tried to smother a grin. Never, ever, in her entire lifetime had she imagined hearing the Head of the Watcher’s Council addressed as ‘boy’. Nor to see him smile quite so warmly when it happened.

True, Rupert Giles didn’t exactly fit the mold when compared to previous Heads of the Council and he certainly wasn’t as old as most of them seemed to have been, but even so … she let the grin surface, imagining her grandfather’s reaction to the moment, had he still been alive to witness it. He’d have been totally outraged.

Her grandmother, on the other hand…

"There you go." Giles helped her lower the old man into the support of the chair where he relaxed with a look of relief. "That wasn’t so bad, was it?"

"That," Geoffrey Davenport announced with feeling, "was ab-so-lutely bloody brilliant.
Oh." He suddenly seemed to realise he was in company. "Please – ladies. Excuse my language."

Helen giggled at his expression. "We’re not ladies," she denied, amused at his embarrassment. "We’re Slayers."

Davenport’s eyes went very wide. Melanie winced and Giles frowned. "Helen," he growled softly, as much as rebuke as it was warning. She went a little pale.

"Oops," she offered apologetically, along with a wary half smile. Much to her – and Melanie’s – relief, it was returned with weary indulgence.

"Oops, indeed." The words were wry, and the small shake of his head spoke volumes. "Fortunately there’s no harm done, since Geoffrey is a member of the order, but – for future reference …?"

The weary smile grew a little warmer as Andrew leaned in to interject sternly. "Ix-nay on the ayer-slay when in public."

"I got it, I got it," Helen protested, ducking her head and looking even more embarrassed. Melanie grinned at her.

"It’s not her fault, Mr Giles," she said, sitting down to pour both men a fresh cup of tea. "She didn’t even know about you-know-what until you-know-when. It takes a little getting used to."

"Mmm. I’m sure it does." He didn’t sound completely convinced, but he accepted the proffered cup of tea without further comment.

"Slayers?" Davenport was murmuring, staring into his teacup with wary consideration. He lifted it to his lips with suspicious caution, took a small sip – and then relaxed with what sounded like a blissful sigh. "Delightful," he declared, his bright smile returning with extra mega-wattage. It almost immediately collapsed into a perplexed frown as he realised what Helen’s faux pas had revealed. "More than one?"

"Long story, Geoffrey." Giles sighed softly. "I’ll tell you all about it … once we get somewhere we can talk properly. Suffice to say, there are now almost as many Slayers as there are Walkers, and it would seem that I have managed to acquire responsibility for all of them. Not entirely sure how that happened, but nevertheless …" He laughed suddenly, a soft chuckle that reminded Melanie just how deeply this man cared about what he did – and who he did it for. More than her grandfather ever had, that was for certain. "Let me introduce you. This is Andrew, my … um ...assistant."

"Hi," Andrew simpered, waving his fingers in greeting.

"Helen Nichols, my somewhat … blabbermouthed bodyguard …"

Helen had the grace to look abashed. "How do you do, Mr. Davenport."

".. and Melanie Travers." Giles’ smile curled into warm benevolence. He – like her - had been looking forward to this moment for days. "Your great-granddaughter."

It’s hard to be grateful to demons, especially ones that kidnapped unsuspecting Watchers and collected innocent potentials together in a place of danger so that they could feed on them without danger of discovery – but, looking at the old man’s face, seeing the wide eyed smile of delight that slowly settled there, Melanie decided that the visszatük’s escape into the world was something she could be thankful for.

Although not as thankful as she was to Rupert Giles for finding her great-grandfather and bringing him safe home from Looking Glass House …

END