Encounter




“Remind me again why we're doing this by ourselves?” Xander panted.

“Because Buffy is staying with Dawn while her wisdom teeth are being extracted and Willow and Kennedy have far more pressing matters in Sacramento,” Giles puffed back.

“Yeah, right. A Wicca retreat's real pressing when there's a new kind of demon in town.”

Giles rolled his eyes. “You know as well as I do that the place was dead before they left. Just deal with it, Xander…or go home.”

“All right, all right. No need to get snooty, Mister 'I can't find anything in my books or Willow's computer it must be a new species let's have at it!” Xander said all in one breath and finished with a British flourish.

“Pillock,” Giles growled. “You saw it. I've never seen anything like it before. I intend to catalogue it if I can, perhaps even communicate with it…”

“Is that before or *after* it kills us?”

“The jury is still out. Look out!” Giles said in a rush and leapt to one side as the demon came at them again.

Xander almost got out of the way but tumbled over when the creature's shoulder slammed into his as it fled again in the direction from which they'd just come.

“If I didn't know better,” Giles said, helping Xander to his feet before taking off after it again, “I'd swear we were being led on a wild goose chase to divert us from some other agenda…”

“Or another demon,” Xander suggested. “A mate? A cohort in crime?”

“Possibly, or an injured companion…a nest.”

“We're hot with the options, here,” Xander cracked as they turned a corner only just in time to see the fuchsia-coloured biped look around furtively then slide through the gap in a broken fence at the back of a derelict shirt factory.

“Ah. A nest, perhaps,” Giles speculated.

“Great. More of them. Tell me again why we're chasing this thing, anyway?”

“Because we don't know anything about it.”

“Except that it got it's blurry picture in the paper this morning and gave you a Watcher hard-on when you realized it was a new species.”

“Charming,” Giles grunted as they climbed through the jagged hole in the fence. “It's my job to know everything there is to know about whatever Buffy might have to face…”

“Except when we're facing it,” Xander said blandly, trying to decide where the creature went after it crossed the small parking lot between the fence and the building.

Giles decided he'd had enough of being needled and took the point, leading them to a side-door of the factory that was ajar.

It was very obvious the place had been closed for a long time. Everything was thick with dust and the air was stale from lack of ventilation. It was also dark, apart from the bright moonlight streaming through the highest windows. There was no sign of the creature, except where its feet had disturbed enough dust to leave partial prints.

Xander followed them to a stairway to the office level. “Going up…” he said facetiously and started to climb without waiting for instructions from Giles, who was making hasty notes about the best of the footprints to go with his notes about the creature's appearance, dimensions and motion.

The Watcher just as swiftly pocketed the notebook again and followed Xander, who'd reached the next level and was making his way along the walkway in front of the office area.

“Xander,” Giles hissed. “Wait.”

Xander turned at the sound, peering down into the semi-darkness.

At that moment the creature emerged from one of the offices with something under its arm.

Xander turned at the startled noise it made, rather like a rabbit squealing, and reeled backwards when the creature suddenly lit up, its whole body glowing; giving the distinct impression, replete with accompanying adrenaline attack, of something about to go supernova.

As he reeled, Xander's legs hit the butt-height railing and his momentum shifted his center of balance, toppling him over.

“XANDER!”

Giles scrambled to where his friend had fallen, legs and arms askew, much like a rag doll flung down by a child.

“Xander?” Giles didn't dare move him, but in his heart he knew it didn't matter. Instead he reached out to confirm his worst fear. “Oh, Xander…” he whispered, the carotid artery dormant beneath his fingers, his own insides like lead.

A soft, crooning noise made Giles look up, oblivious to the moisture on his face from the tears he hadn't even realized that he'd shed. The creature, about which Giles had completely forgotten, had returned to its former state, much like a soft purplish pink reptilian demon. Under its arm, Giles finally realized, was an egg. A rather large egg, the like of which he'd never seen before.

It made the noise, almost sympathetic, again several times as it came down the stairs. When it reached the bottom Giles resisted the flight reflex and swallowed, half-transfixed by seeing something completely alien and new to him, and half-numb with grief.

The creature shifted its load and took tentative steps toward Giles.

“Who are you?” Giles whispered as it edged closer.

It replied with another wistful sound, reached out an extraordinarily long limb almost reflexively toward the distressed, uplifted face. Then it was turning and Giles felt a surge of panic as it moved towards Xander's body.

“No! Don't hurt him!” he exclaimed, then closed his eyes against his own foolishness.

The creature bent down and Giles realized it was lighting up again, but this time the light was diffuse and almost…alive…he couldn't decide if it was pink or violet, red or gold…every time he blinked the air seemed to change colour again, and it was warm…so warm.

A part of him wanted to stop the demon from touching his friend, but something was stopping him…not restraining, but reassuring, comforting.

“Xander…” he whispered again, lost, bereft…empty. It was his fault…his own stupid fault…

Then the bathing light faded and the room was suddenly starkly normal and empty again. The creature moved away.

Giles froze, his heart beating at an astonishing rate. Xander was no longer lying like a rag doll. Blood was no longer seeping from the smashed temple; the broken end of a tibia was no longer poking nauseatingly through torn flesh.

“Xander…” This time it was a wish, a will…a plea.

The dark brown eyes flickered open and Giles almost passed out.

“Giles? Eieww!” Xander sat up as though bitten when he realized the sticky mess he was lying in was blood. “Did I kill it?” he asked blearily.

At which point came an answering, soft trill.

Both men turned at the same time. The creature was watching them, its almost alligator-like eyes warm with emotion.

“Um, Giles,” Xander said nervously.

“It's all right, Xander. I don't think it means us any harm.”

“So the blood… tomato sauce, huh?” the younger man wisecracked nervously.

“I think…I think the demon is a mother…and I think she might have just saved your life.”

Xander looked from Giles to the creature, up at the office level, more than twenty feet above the concrete factory floor, down at the blood, and turned a violent shade of green. A split second later he was frantically checking every part of himself.

The endearing silliness of it made Giles laugh, and choke a little.

That extremely emotional sound made Xander stop and look up at him curiously, paling when he saw the almost frighteningly uncharacteristic moisture back in the other man's eyes.

They both turned as one toward the creature, which was cradling its egg in both arms now.

“Thank you,” Giles said.

It glowed warmly and Giles' thoughts were brushed by something that felt remarkably like a 'you're welcome'.

“C-can we help?” Xander asked hoarsely.

The creature looked down at the egg, then hugged it closer before shaking its head slowly, though the sense of good-will intensified.

There was a noise that made them all look up. It was almost beyond the range of normal perception and yet both men heard it as clearly as the creature had. It was moving. They followed it out of the building where it was re-united with another of its kind, and a third.

“I'm definitely a demon magnet,” Xander muttered.

“Oh my lord,” Giles muttered under his breath then aloud said: “I think not.”

A smudge purple tinted white light hovered over the area and an intense beam focused on the group of creatures.

Giles could see the mother turn as the beam intensified and he felt her farewell as surely as if she'd call it out across the distance between them.

“Okay, I'm still unconscious and this is a dream. I did not fall off a building and ET with the little baby Mork did *not* just put Humpty back together again. I am *not* going all Richard Dreyfuss…and if you even try to do the tones I'll hit you,” Xander babbled.

Giles closed his mouth and glared back. “I was not going to do any such thing,” he growled then his tone softened. “I was going to point out that they're leaving.”

Xander blinked, shut up and turned to watch the beam draw itself up inside the smudge of light, which, after a moment that was an eternity, suddenly seemed to be everywhere at once, and just as suddenly a distant point of light in a faded night sky.
He eventually broke the long silence while they watched the point slowly vanish.

“I'm guessing they definitely weren't in anyone's demon lexicon.”

Giles didn't answer, nor did he turn immediately.

“Giles?”

After a few more moments the older man turned slowly, only to see Xander sway a little and put a hand to his head.

“Whoa…woozy. Feels like I was hit by a truck and the truck won.”

“You were. And it did,” Giles said quietly, watching the younger man's eyes widen in shock.

“Wait…I was…? No…I couldn't have been…not even a scratch…or bruise…but… me…that's…”

Xander gave up. “I was going to kill her.”

Giles nodded. “It's been quite a night,” he added hoarsely, then cleared the emotion from his throat. “Come on, Lazarus, let's go home.”


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