Length: 4500 give or take
Rating: Let's say PG but I don't think it gets too bad.
Setting: Post Chosen but we go AU almost immediately. Forget Angel season 5 references and certainly forget the comics.
Disclaimer: Done for love not money.
In the thin light of the following morning Paul had insisted he would show Buffy the grounds of his estate. His family had made their fortune from lumber and he was excited to explain it all to her. She was reluctant at first and wanted to check up on Giles’ whereabouts but Paul had assured her that he’d just checked and ‘his man’ was hard at work. On their arrival the previous night, she’d poked around the outhouses for alternate means of transport but found the old stable block only contained their own hire car. With Giles whereabouts verified and the only set of car keys in her pocket she headed off to make appreciative noises about timber. The fresh air and daylight would be pleasant she hoped, though see one set of trees you’ve seen them all.
After a long walk through the dense woodlands and crossing many tracks, Buffy and Paul Popov came to a small rise giving them an extensive view of thousands of trees. “And this,” he pointed, “is all mine up to the ridge that way, and another 2 miles to the south.”
“It’s lovely,” she tried to enthuse, “what do you do with it? The trees I mean.”
“Currently it’s not economic to start up the lumber business so I just let them grow.”
She sat on a wooden fence and looked towards the ridge. Given the encouragement to grow they had not disappointed. The trees in his estate had swarmed up the hillside like a dark army. He certainly owned an impressive amount of land; they seemed to have been walking for hours and it was refreshing to be out of the plantation area and looking up at the sky at last. It was warm work too and she was surprised to find the temperatures so mild.
“Are you tired? It’s a bit of trek.” Buffy loved the way he was so solicitous. He just wanted to look after her. It made a nice change from always having to be the person in charge. “Am I boring you?” he asked.
“No it’s just unusual. I don’t know anything about you and here we are looking at your trees.”
He sat on the fence next to her and she snuggled into his arm, “Tell me about yourself Buffy Summers. Tell me something I don’t know.”
That was quite an invitation. He’d be very surprised if she took him up on it. Buffy opted to play safe.
“There’s not much to tell. I have one sister – younger. My father is an architect and my mother used to run a gallery. She died a couple of years back though and I don’t see much of my dad.”
She shrugged, “I’ve got used to it. What about you and your family?”
“There’s just me left. We’ve always owned the land here. I don’t know what to tell you…The house is 19th century though there were a lot of improvements made by my great-grandfather, Anton Popov. He was very progressive I think you’d say, he wanted to safeguard the future of the estate. He cut and replanted a good deal. We owe all this to him.”
“It must be nice to leave a legacy like that.”
“There was some opposition of course, the peasants held some of the trees shouldn’t be taken, but he wanted to rebuild the house and lay out the gardens as a wedding present. There was some trouble but he got his way and the rest is history.”
“He stole the peasant’s trees?”
“Oh no, nothing like that. It was a silly thing really, they objected to the oldest trees being taken. There was a huge Linden tree that was cleared for the garden area. The superstition was that it was guarding the house against Evil. It was ridiculous of course; he wanted to make something beautiful for his bride Kristina. He was a very generous man.”
Buffy was alarmed. “But he cut down the tree. I mean if the tree was protecting the house?”
“What a strange thing to say,” he laughed, “It’s just an old peasant superstition. He wanted to prove he was part of the modern world. Mind you,” he confessed playfully, “he planted watchful battalions of linden saplings around his borders, just to be on the safe side.”
“Sensible man. They’ve certainly grown. Are they what I can hear whistling all the time?”
“Do you believe in Evil Buffy? You seem too young to be weighed down by any but the brightest, happiest thoughts.”
“No argument from me on that score.” Buffy jumped down from her perch to resume the walk, “Is it this way? Some of these routes are very confusing. I thought this was the way back?”
“No, I admit the rides have got overgrown in places. I don’t advise trying to find your way around in the dark.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” she replied. They began to leisurely stroll back into the woodlands. “So all this is Anton’s legacy.”
“His legacy, my heritage. I am bound by it as such. Perhaps things are different for you?”
“I used to think I was bound by Heritage. That it controlled who I was, but now I think there are always choices. There’s freedom in that. I choose my friends, I choose the people I want close to me, not strangers assigned to me.”
“Then you’re very special. You know what it is that makes you happy.”
“Some of my choices haven’t worked out too well, and sometimes people change on you, but yes, I think I’m happy.” She drove her hands into the pockets of her coat and quickened her pace.
After lunch Buffy resumed her exploration of the house and grounds alone. Her rooms were on the eastern side of the house along with Paul’s. He’d told her the library was on the western side to avoid sunlight and that Giles was billeted there, to be closer to his work. Her host was planning a surprise that night he'd said and she was free to explore as she wished, however the woodlands could be tricky and she was safer staying closer to the property.
The house was in good shape considering Popov only used it a few months of the year, and Buffy had tried doors and nosed into rooms around her side of the house. The corridors were all panelled with the dark and heavy wood she’d come to associate with the house. It seemed to be irregularly built, as she kept finding different ways back to her bathroom, or the kitchen or the master bedroom but never an unlocked door to the western side. She wondered if Paul had had them locked to maintain some propriety between her and Giles. He was an old fashioned boy after all.
Eventually her investigations seemed to take her down a new corridor and the door at the end opened to a pleasantly decorated room with large airy French doors that led out into a walled garden. The furniture seemed like antiques; small uncomfortable looking chairs with delicately turned legs were pushed to the walls whilst beautifully carved tables littered the room with onyx ashtrays. There was a chaise longue of green crushed velvet that looked as good as new. The dark and heavy panelling in this room had been painstakingly carved into romantic scenes. Scantily clad nymphs frolicked towards the fireplace and paid homage to the giant centrepiece of the room; a huge green glassed mirror housed in an expensively ornate wooden frame. It was the most beautiful and delicate thing Buffy had seen in the house. The glass was old and slightly curved.
‘You knew him from before.’ She thought she saw movement behind her. Odd, she’d investigate in a minute or two...
‘You lied to me.’ She touched the frame gently. It was warm and inviting.
There was a knock on the door which made her jump. It seemed absurdly formal given that, to her knowledge, there were just the three of them in the house. She issued a terse “come in” and Rupert Giles entered the study suspiciously.
“I got a summons to report here,” he explained waving a hand written note.
It was the first chance she’d had to see him properly since, well the night after the destruction of Sunnydale. He’d changed his glasses since then; the frames were thicker, squarer and darker. It was strange how glass designed to let through more light could so effectively hide the wearer’s eyes. She wondered who he was trying to be this time. There were layers of clothing again. That habit was back. She remembered how when Jenny Calendar had died he’d wrapped himself in layers. Shirts, vests, jackets. Big clothes to hide his pain in. She thought he’d broken free of that particular addiction. She remembered a time when he seemed comfortable in shirtsleeves, even tee shirts. In fact there were times in the magic box where he’d looked positively relaxed. But even then perhaps he still bought and hid behind nice suits that the customers demanded of him. He’d constantly played the part that was expected of him. And now he’d retreated into his protection again. A big dark leather jacket shrouding all. Who was he now and had she ever really known him? Ethan had once taunted that he knew Giles better than she did. A part of Buffy hated to think that might be true.
“Paul isn’t here right now. He said something about organising a surprise for tonight.”
“I’ll come back then.”
“No wait. Please...” She softened and took a step towards him but stopped sharply, wrinkling her nose. “God you smell like Spike. Are you smoking again?”
Giles flinched, “It’s really none of your business is it?”
There was an awkward silence which Buffy finally broke, “I didn’t expect you to still be here. Thought you might have run away again.”
“You pocketed the car keys.” She’d been right to be vigilant. He had looked for them.
“You’ve got some nerve showing up again after what you did to Willow.”
“Buff, we have a problem. He’s gone.”
The diner across the street had opened especially early for them as they were such a large party. The school bus had looked a bit incongruous in the parking lot but the news about Sunnydale was on all the TV stations. They just wanted breakfasts and their money was good.
Buffy had been watching Dawn eat. Her sister was still pretty shaken after last night. Too much had been said, too much she’d rather had protected her from. But that was all pointless now. They thought everything would be OK now the Hellmouth had gone. It was a shock to all of them that they couldn’t relax. Dawn had always found solace in food. Buffy wondered where she put it all. She looked up from her cup of coffee at Xander. “What do you mean gone?”
“I mean gone. He took off last night. His stuff’s gone. Bed's not slept in. That’s gone in my book.”
She shook her head sadly. “That pretty much confirms it then.”
“No wait,” said Willow, “it doesn’t confirm anything. He could just be upset.”
“I’m the one that is upset,” said Buffy coldly, “I don’t know what he is anymore.”
“We all said some pretty rough things last night.” Willow reminded her.
“Will, we have a much bigger problem than a Watcher with hurt feelings. You of all people know this.”
“Then all the more reason we should help him.”
“And we will I promise. But he’s been lying to us and we don’t know what we are dealing with. When we have him under control: then we can help him.”
Buffy rose and approached three of the young slayers in a neighbouring booth. “I need you guys to find Giles and fetch him back,” she ordered.
They looked at each other nervously. Last night’s fireworks had been tough to ignore even as relative outsiders.
“What if he doesn’t want to come back?”
“Fetch him anyway.”
“Buffy!” pleaded Willow, “You can’t send Slayers after him.”
“Why not? We’re saying he’s dangerous aren’t we? I’m hardly going to send Andrew.”
“We don’t know he’s dangerous,” Willow argued, though even Xander avoided her eye on that one, “Well OK. It’s a strong possibility, but we don’t know for sure. Let me do a locator spell. He might have just gone for a walk. It’s Giles. Please?”
“Give it your best shot,” shrugged Buffy. Willow always wanted to see the best in people, and she had a connection to Giles through her time in England. At worst she could give them a direction to search in.
Willow cleared the diner’s table of all plates and condiments. She focussed her energies on the shiny white surface. Buffy and Xander watched patiently, waiting for the map that would materialise on the Formica. Buffy swirled the bits in her coffee. This was routine stuff for Willow. It wouldn’t take very long.
“Buffy, something isn’t right,” Xander said quietly. Willow had started to take deeper breaths and gripped the booth table firmly. The surface started to glow white hot.
“Will?” But her friend was too intent on winning the battle. Sparks started to dance from her hands. The bolts holding the fittings to the floor suddenly gave way and the table slammed up from its moorings and straight into Willow. It’s momentum hurled them both across the diner and was arrested only with a sickening thud of bone on the far wall.
“Jesus Christ,” Xander was the first across the room. “What did he do? He knew she’d try.”
One of the new girls watched warily. “He can do that? What is he?”
Buffy sat stonily watching Xander. He was right. Giles knew they would use magick to find him. Giles knew it would be Willow too. Even if he was worried she was going to bounce him off the ceiling again, that was as nought to what the Slayer was going to do now.
She finished her coffee. “Dawn, call 911. You three have your orders. Do whatever you have to do to bring him back.”
“It’s going to be OK Will. You’ll be OK.” Xander was afraid to touch her but wanted to hug her so much. His fingers were shaking in the blood from her head injury, “Hang on in there. Shhh. Don’t you die on me. I can’t lose you too.”
But in six months there had been no sightings. He was too smart and knowledgeable to operate near any slayer habitats. Willow refused to talk about it and forbade any other attempts involving magick in their hunt. Kennedy had joined the tight lipped camp too which made a nice change. Faith had merely shrugged; these sorts of things happened in Faith’s world. The only possible lead they had was when Ethan Rayne had had his jaw broken by some mystery assailant in London. Buffy caught the first flight and crashed the hospital but the trail had gone cold. There were probably a long line of suspects besides Giles and Ethan was annoyingly supercilious even with paper and pen. Just a regular mugging. What is the world coming to... I blame the parents.
‘Stay away from him’ she’d warned. I don’t know who you mean, he’d written. But it was time for his meds and his eyes had lost that playful sparkle.
“You nearly killed Willow with your little protection spell. I’d stay out of Kennedy’s way if I were you. Or should she be staying out of yours these days?”
He stood dumbfounded for a second and surprised her by abruptly taking off for the big French doors and heading for fresh air.
“Come back here now or so help me I’ll..”
He swung round viciously, “Or you’ll what?” The accompanying glare was disconcerting. He resumed his course outside, tugging at his pockets for matches and a cigarette case. God it was all true. He wasn’t even going to deny it. She followed him out into the garden.
“Fine. Run away. Kill yourself with those things.”
“No, the cigarettes and I will be just fine, it’s you and your sanctimonious ways that will be the death of me.” She pulled on his arm to stop him lighting up. She was suddenly so angry with him and what’s more, she’d never seen him so angry before either. Not at her anyway. He’d always bitten his tongue in the past, supported her in everything. She felt she was seeing the real Giles at last.
“What do you want with Paul? What are you doing here anyway?” she hissed.
“He’s paying me Buffy. It’s business, an old fashioned transaction. What are you doing here? Or is that old fashioned transaction too?”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed as he stomped off further into the grounds. “Oh if you want a fight I can give you one mister.” It was all true. Any last lingering doubts had been childish. He didn’t know where to draw the line anymore. He was out of control. Robin Wood had worked hard to identify the remaining Council properties. She wondered if Giles would know which ones had detention cells. She wondered how far she could take him voluntarily.
They’d reached the far end of the walled garden, Giles stopped and dropped his head, “I’m sorry. I’m here because he’s paying me rather well and the work is interesting. There’s quite a history to his family, to this place. There’s a definite darkness here. Something vaguely evil.”
“Yes and I’m looking at him.”
“I’m serious Buffy, do you sense anything? There’s something about this place.”
“Sense something? No. Stop changing the subject.”
He looked disappointed at her, “There was a scandal in the house ninety years ago. I just haven’t found out all the details yet.”
“So pleased you’re still keeping up with the research in between bouts of being evil.”
“Don’t be childish. I am not evil. And you can’t order me about like you’re mistress of this house. You haven’t even got a ring off him. How long have you known this prat anyway?”
“Three days,” she admitted. That part was true and she got the satisfaction of annoying him with the information.
“It’s really none of your business is it?” She folded her arms at him defiantly.
“Right then,” he said, “and here we both are. Don’t you think it’s funny that the one interesting thing that’s ever happened in this house, is the one thing he seems to want to hush up?”
“You’re just making up fairy stories now. I’m not sixteen anymore. The sun doesn’t shine out of your oratory anymore. This isn’t about him. This is about you. You’ve lost control. Are there warrants Giles? How many others are there? I saw what you did to Ethan. How many other people have you killed?”
The mention of Rayne sparked his anger again. “Sod off Buffy. Is there not some vampire you could be sleeping with?” Had this been a film she’d have slapped him in the face, but he’d always been too tall so she kicked him in the shin instead.
“Stop wheedling out of this be saying there’s something wrong with the house or with Paul. He’s a nice boy, leave him out of it.”
“Oh yes because he’s from such a fine noble family. No hint of darkness here.” But as he rubbed his shin, he was distracted by the sight of the cigarette case in his hand. He’d pulled out of his jacket as a reflex against her accusations. The case puzzled him. It was not what he expected to find. It was old with worn silver and an elaborate engraving of a hunting scene. He opened it carefully and found an inscription:
To Rutger from K. 1912.
Buffy looked over his arm. It took her a couple of seconds to understand his surprise at it “That’s not even yours is it?” She looked at him with disgust and indignation, “It’s from the house, it’s his,” she accused. “Are you stealing as well now, Ripper?”
He snapped it shut and limped angrily back to the house. Finding a convenient mantelpiece he slammed the case down near the big mirror. “I don’t remember picking that up. I’ve never even seen the damn thing before.”
She folded her arms and assumed the moral high ground. “This has to stop Giles. You and me are catching a flight after the holidays. We’re going to see Robin Wood. Pick a passport I don’t care which.”
“I’m a little old to threaten with a trip to the School Principal.”
“Ah, can I hear voices?” Paul Popov’s distant voice drifted in from behind the internal door.
“Besides, would you leave him at the altar? Three days and you’re engaged? I suppose at least he’s got a pulse,” he rumbled spitefully.
“You’re a monster Giles. Don’t you touch him; I swear I’ll kill you if I have to.”
Paul Popov opened the big door and entered. Both Buffy and Giles turned and radiated rather forced tight smiles back at him.
“I thought I heard voices.” Popov looked suspiciously at his two guests. “Is everything all right my dear?”
“Peachy,” said Buffy. Giles put his hands in his pockets.
Popov’s English was impeccable but not yet Buffy-Proof and he looked confused at her phrasing. She ran and put her arm through his, smiling warmly and nodding assurances. This had the bonus of giving her the satisfaction of provoking Giles to scowl briefly at her.
“You received my note I see Dr Jones.” They’d both forgotten clean about the note. Paul stopped smiling at Buffy and confronted Giles. “I stopped by the study earlier and you were not working.” He surprised both of them by adopting the sort of superior tone that demanded explanation.
“I m..may have stepped outside for a moment.”
“Yes perhaps. But I’m paying you a great deal of money Dr Jones and I’d like to see it wisely spent. I also noticed that you were looking at my great grandfather’s papers. Well?”
Buffy was alarmed at the tone Paul was taking. He was rich and clearly used to people obeying orders.
“I was cataloguing a little,” said Giles defensively.
“I gave you specific instructions about those papers Dr Jones. Did I not make myself clear?”
He was surprisingly angry and Buffy had quite forgotten her own rage at this point. She felt uncomfortable and was worried that Giles would snap at some point.
“What were your instructions regarding those papers Dr Jones?” Paul was determined to make his point and Buffy could see that Giles was starting to resent it.
“If you are unhappy with my work I can of course leave,” the Englishman was clearly torn between wanting to get paid and wanting to offer up some instructions of his own for what Paul Popov could do with his bloody papers.
“What were your instructions?” the younger man thundered.
“To focus on the undocumented 18th century and to leave the 20th century alone,” came the stony reply.
“And yet you did not?”
Buffy didn’t think anything good could come of provoking Giles any further. She didn’t want a repeat of what happened to Willow. Or Ethan.
“He was probably just being thorough weren’t you Gi- er Jones?” Giles said nothing to confirm or deny it. He just looked at Paul Popov with an unsettling directness.
“I must say I’m surprised you are so quick to defend him my dear. Very well. Please don’t make any more mistakes. Go about your work.” Giles sauntered out of the room but his gaze never left the younger man.
After he’d gone, Buffy let out the breath she’d been holding.
“How do you do that so easily? Give orders I mean. Whenever I try it’s like scenes from Mutiny on the Bounty. For once I want to be Mel Gibson. Well, maybe sober and less crazy,” she rambled nervously.
Paul surprised her by breaking into a cheery grin, “I thought I heard raised voices before I came in. Was he upsetting you?” He voice took on a slightly menacing tone, “I will not permit that.”
“No. Please it’s alright. We were just talking.” She changed the subject hurriedly, “Why can’t he look at your grandfather’s papers? He said that something happened in the house? A scandal?”
“Scandal is over dramatising. There was some trouble over that.” He pointed to the impressive mirror. “My great grandfather is already well documented. I don’t need to pay anyone to write Anton’s story. He was a great man, a respected man. He made many improvements to the house. He had this mirror made – it was the finest piece of carving and glasswork of it’s time. It is still the most precious item in the house.” He touched the framework with all the fondest of a father of his brightest child, “It was this the peasants objected to. This was the Linden tree he cut to make a wedding gift for his bride.”
Buffy moved next to him and stared into the mirror. “The one protecting the house,” she said dreamily. She spied the stolen cigarette case below it and felt a huge sense of guilt that Paul would realise it had moved and that she was complicit. She mustn’t be caught out. Suddenly a blue light caught her eye in the reflection of the mirror, “I thought I just saw something….”
“No no, my dear. The glass is old, it can sometimes distort the light and play tricks. Have you explored the gardens at all?” He put his arm around her. She felt warm and safe again.
“Briefly. They seem very overgrown. Untidy compared to the house I mean.”
“I’m not here very often so I let the grounds take care of themselves. It keeps trespassers out. I confess I had the inside of the house prepared for your arrival. I wanted it to be special. I could never lie to you my dear.”
“You told Dr Jones we were engaged,” she pointed out.
“Yes, but that was lying to him not you. I don’t like the way he looks at you. I didn’t want him getting any ideas.” Buffy found it highly unlikely Giles was going to get those sort of ideas. He stroked her arm affectionately. “you seem very tense when he’s around, should I have him removed?”
“No. No.” she said hurriedly, “I’d actually prefer to know exactly where he is.”
Paul sighed deeply at her reply. She didn’t understand why. “What’s my surprise tonight?” she asked brightly.
“It’s Christmas eve. Is that not surprise enough?” he smiled.
“Tell me,” she pouted.
“Wait and see.”
You should have told me you knew him before.