This Time Around
Chapter Seven - The Face Inside Is Right Beneath Your Skin

written by Rainne





Rupert Giles is a Brit, born and raised, and it is a well-known fact that Brits as a race are given to understatement and circumspection. So it is that Rupert Giles may be forgiven if he is caught noting in his private journal that Dawn and the younger version of Buffy do not get along very well. This would, actually, be a bit of an understatement.

In point of fact, Buffy and Dawn hate one another with a blinding, burning passion. Buffy refuses to acknowledge that Dawn is her sister, even after reading the diaries of her older self. She can perhaps be forgiven for this. She has, after all, no memories of this strange brown-haired girl. Dawn has grown accustomed to being the order-giver in the Summers household and has quite forgotten how to react to a Buffy whose spirit is not bowed and broken. Peace in Rupert Giles's home only comes now when they are on separate floors of his home. Never before in life has he been so grateful that his flat in London has bedrooms on both floors.

Rupert Giles rubbed his eyes, wishing for the days when he had lived alone. Bringing Buffy and Dawn to London had been the best thing to do for research purposes, to try and figure out how to change Buffy back, but for his peace of mind it had been hell. She and Dawn could not occupy the same room for more than forty-five minutes without fighting about something. Such fights usually ended with two slammed doors. Giles wondered many times over the course of the first two weeks how on earth Joyce had the patience to deal with both of them in the house together. Then he remembered that Joyce's memories of them together had been false, and that during the time they had been real, they had been marked by turbulence of medical and supernatural natures.

Buffy came out of her bedroom, startling Giles out of his thoughts, dressed in all black: jeans, sweater, boots and knit cap. She was pulling on a pair of gloves as she walked. The sound of her bedroom door closing had startled him from his reverie and he stared at her. "Where are you going?"

"Patrol," she replied shortly. "England does have vampires occasionally, right?"

"Buffy, I'd really prefer if you didn't -"

He was cut off by a black-gloved finger pointing dangerously at him. "Don't start with me. You spent three years training me to patrol every night and take this sacred duty thing seriously. Well, this is me, seriously going out on patrol."

"Buffy, you don't know the area, you don't know your way around -"

"And guess what, Giles? This is England! Home of millions of people who, amazingly enough, speak English! I'm sure if I get lost, I can find someone that can point me in the right direction. I bet everyone in this town knows how to get to Notting Hill, Giles; they even made a movie about it that had Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in it." She finished pulling on her other glove and turned toward the door.

"Buffy -" he tried again.

She spun to face him, her cheeks red and eyes blazing. "You're a Watcher, Giles. So you know what? Watch!" With that, she turned and stormed out the door, slamming it hard enough behind her to rattle the pictures hanging on the walls.

He moved to the window in time to watch her golden hair disappearing into the night. He sighed. "Do be careful," he said softly to himself. Then, shaking his head, he went back to his journal.

I find myself at a loss to deal with this changed version of Buffy. While I know in my mind that she is the same Buffy that she was two weeks ago, simply the victim of some kind of spell (which, despite her protestations to the contrary, may well be self-induced), my Watcher's instinct is to react to her as the Buffy that she was before so many things went wrong. The illusion - if, indeed, illusion it truly is - is so very convincing. She speaks as she did then, she walks proudly, she holds her head high and, when I speak to her in Italian, she does not understand a word of it. That in itself may be most telling of all, for Buffy was so very proud of her mastery of the Italian tongue.

I am, as I said, at a loss. She will have nothing to do with Dawn. Willow, Xander and I have all received the rough side of her tongue on more than one occasion for things she has read in those damnable diaries kept by her "older" self - diaries which she steadfastly refuses any of us to even touch, much less read. After the last explosive incident, which occurred in the presence of his fiancÚ, Xander will have little to do with Buffy at all. However, I must say that I place at least some of the blame for that squarely on his shoulders. I like Marisa a great deal, but she should not have been brought here for his first meeting with this younger Buffy. I did warn him. Marisa is not Anya, and he would do well to remember that fact.

It would appear that, when Xander came to see her, despite what I told him over the telephone, he was still expecting somehow to see the older and more tractable Buffy.

He put his pen down and sighed. More tractable? What the hell was he thinking? She wasn't more tractable. She was broken. He rubbed at his temples. What the hell was he doing?

It was a lot like swimming through a thick fog, working his way through the thoughts in his head, and vaguely, Giles realized that something wasn't right. What had ever made them think that cutting Buffy off and exiling her in Rome was a good idea? He rubbed at his eyes now, trying to remember. It had all occurred just after the destruction of Sunnydale. He and Willow and Xander had been discussing possibilities for the future, wondering among themselves if Buffy would want to go to England with them and continue to be involved in the Council, and Buffy had gone with Dawn to take care of some things. Then Dawn had come back for something - he couldn't quite remember that part - and then they had been discussing how they didn't want Buffy to go with them to England. And then Buffy herself had walked in on them talking. He vaguely remembered thinking that she might have been crying.

Why couldn't he remember? Why was it so hard? He stood up and began to pace the room, thinking about that incident, and other, similar incidents. When Buffy had tried to kill herself, he had rushed to Rome, fully intending to damn the consequences and bring her back to England to be with him so that he could remind her how much he truly did love her. He had gone to the house to see Dawn first, and then he had gone to the hospital and been distant with Buffy. She had even asked him - practically begged him - to take her home with him, and he had refused. Why?

That Christmas he had called to invite them both to come out, but only Dawn had come. He got the impression from Dawn that Buffy hadn't wanted to come. Why had he accepted that?

There were dozens of other, smaller incidents. Calling to speak to them both and Buffy being out, then refusing to answer the telephone when she called him back later, for example. Or even recently, when he'd gone for Dawn's college graduation intending to tell Buffy that it was time for her to come home. After he'd seen Dawn, he'd gone to the little restaurant where Buffy had been. She'd looked like hell, frankly, despite the obvious lengths she'd gone to in order to look nice for him. She was too thin by more than a half and she wasn't sleeping at all if one judged by the circles under her eyes. But she'd been so excited to see him and his own heart had done its familiar dance. right before he told her in not so many words that she'd be remaining in Rome indefinitely, and then walked out on her.

What the hell was wrong with him? He was behaving like a man under a spell or something. He froze in his pacing, turning his head slowly to look up the stairs. No. No, surely not. Not Dawn. He swallowed hard, then moved quietly into his study with his cup of tea, trying very hard to behave normally. He looked around the room slowly, centering himself, wondering which would be the best volume to select. Finally he closed his eyes and whispered the words to a very simple guidance spell, one which would lead the caster to that which they sought. He opened his eyes to find a sparkly sort of haze collected over a set of books at the north end of the study.

He moved over to the shelf and took the two books off the shelf, thought about it for a moment, and then replaced them with a Complete Works of Shakespeare which had been gathering dust on a nearby table. Then he moved to the desk that had been his father's and sat, looking at the two books. One of them was the Weisen des ▄bels, or, Ways of Evil; the other was one of his own Watcher's diaries. He opened the Weisen des ▄bels and found that the spell was still active. He flipped to the pages that were sparkling and began to read.

"The ways of the Evil are many," the book read in German. "Possession is a common tool used by the Evil in order to provide it with a temporary body, for the Evil is without form. The Evil may not possess a living host, however; as it takes on the forms, so must it take on the bodies of the dead."

The forms of the dead? He suddenly had a deep, sinking suspicion in his gut. He reached for his own journal and opened it.

"The First Evil can take on the forms of the dead," he had written, "but it is incorporeal. I believe its eventual goal is to obtain corporeal form of some sort, but I cannot fathom how this is to be done now that Buffy has killed Caleb. All of my research indicates that whatever body the First intends to inhabit must be enhanced - imbued with mystical power and therefore strong enough to contain the essence of the First Evil. An ordinary human's body would not be strong enough to contain it. Caleb would have, eventually, but Buffy reports that the First Evil had empowered Caleb and he was very nearly as strong as she. Perhaps a Slayer's body would be strong enough to be the vessel for the First Evil. I pray that we will never find this out."

A Slayer's body. or perhaps a Key's?

He rubbed his hand over his face. "Oh, dear God," he whispered.

He stood, returning to his pacing. Then he stopped, sitting down again, and turned to the end of that diary, where the pages were blank. Picking up a pen, he began to write rapidly. He had no idea if Dawn or the thing which might be living inside Dawn would know that he knew, but he had to assume that at the very least, it had a regular schedule of whatever it did to keep them under its thrall. If he should fail in this, all might well be lost.

Giles wrote furiously for probably forty-five minutes, filling page upon page, and then at last he sat back, sighing. He had done all he could. He closed the book, then walked over to the door of the study and peeked out. The first floor of the house was empty. He strode quickly across the main living room to the guest room which Buffy had claimed for herself. He slipped inside soundlessly and moved to the bed, sliding the book into her pillowcase. He turned away from the bed, intending to leave the room, and his eyes fell on the stack of spiral-bound notebooks on her dresser.

He knew he shouldn't. It was a breach of trust. But he found himself moving to pick up the first notebook, flipping the cover open, scanning down the first page, flipping the thin pages, scanning the words. And he saw his name, over and over. He read what he had done to her and his heart clenched when in the next lines he read that she forgave him because she loved him so. He wanted to weep. How did he deserve this remarkable woman?

Giles put the notebook back, wanting to get out of Buffy's room before she came back and caught him looking at the diaries. He slipped out of the room quietly, pulling the door closed, but when he turned around, he discovered that he was caught.

Dawn was standing on the bottom step, dressed in her pajamas, her arms folded beneath her breasts, glaring in his direction. "You've been a naughty boy, Giles," she said softly, and he felt his heart freeze. She stepped down and moved toward him. "Buffy said she didn't want you reading those. I didn't want you reading them either. Do you have any idea how hard I've worked to break that fucking Watcher-Slayer bond? Do you have any idea of how difficult it is to make a Slayer stop loving her Watcher once she falls? But I'm almost there. As soon as we fix this spell, whatever the little bitch has done to herself, I'm going to finish what I started. And then I'm going to cast this body off like so much detritus and I'm going to have hers. How about that? The greatest Vampire Slayer ever to walk the earth. and she'll be mine." Dawn chuckled, and Giles realized that her eyes were completely black.

Then the Watcher recoiled as the thing wearing Dawn's face opened its mouth and a thick, tarry black smoke issued forth, surrounding and enveloping Giles before he could speak or move, and soaking immediately into his skin. That fog he'd fought so hard to throw off earlier in the evening was back, wrapped around his mind, and all he could think about was how angry he was at Buffy for going out patrolling against his wishes. He looked down at Dawn, who stood before him sleepily. "Did you want a cup of tea, Dawn?" he asked her.

She smiled up at him. "Yes, please," she replied sweetly, moving to sit on the sofa like a little queen.

Giles moved obediently into the kitchen to put the kettle on. Neither of them noticed at the window the pale face and wide eyes of the greatest Vampire Slayer to ever walk the earth.

Buffy dropped to her knees beneath the window, her mind racing. She'd peeked in the window just in time to see Giles leaving her room and so had seen the whole thing. She didn't know if he was snooping in her room or leaving her a note; she wondered if he'd found out that something was going on before the Dawn-thing had attacked him. She needed to know that before she did anything else. The Slayer took several deep breaths, then rolled slightly to the side of the window before standing again. She had to act normally until she knew more. But she would be wary.

She pushed the door open and entered the house as Giles came out of the kitchen with tea. His face settled into a glare. "I see you made it back," he began, but she cut him off.

"Don't start. I'm the Slayer, Giles. I Slay. Get used to it." She pulled her cap off, ignoring Dawn completely as she had begun doing in the last couple of days. "I'm going to bed." With that, she moved into her room, shutting the door behind her and then, very slowly and silently, turning the lock. Her eyes darted around the room. Nothing was out of place. except the top notebook on the stack. He'd been looking at her diaries. She wanted to run out there and scream at him, but she held herself back. She had to know what was going on.

Buffy pulled the covers back on her bed, getting ready to get in it, and paused when she saw the square shape inside her pillowcase. She reached in and pulled it out, finding Giles's Watcher's diary. Moving to sit in the chair by the window, where the streetlight shone in, she opened the book and flipped to the back, where he'd slipped in a bookmark, and began to read. Her eyes got wider and wider as she read his carefully detailed suspicions about what had happened to Dawn and what the creature in her body actually might be. When she was done reading, she slipped the small book into the cargo pocket of her pants and pulled her cap back on. Then, silently, she opened the window and climbed out, dropping to the ground on cat's-feet. Taking a moment to center herself, she whispered a brief prayer to whatever deity might have its ear out for Slayers in a heap of trouble, and then set off into the night at a trot.

Read the next chapter: Doing The Right Thing Sucks