Title: A Watcher's Word
Length of chapter: 3200
Setting: Post Chosen but AU straight away. So no comics and no Angel Season 5.
Buffy rose and calmly walked to the windows to check what was happening. The Council’s offices were on the 20th floor and gave her a good view of the people and the buildings opposite. There were lights on in all the buildings across the street and the traffic lights on the corner were still fighting against the tide of yellow cabs. She could hear the noise of a distant fire engine and the inevitable sound of cars hooting, and when she peered closely, she could make out people walking to and from buildings below with no sense of panic. There were even the reflections of lights from floors below and above theirs in the glass of the building opposite. It was clear that the blackout was confined to their floor only and she sighed that the fickle protection system had struck again.
Without electricity, her office took on a gloomy appearance. The bookcases looked more menacing and the lines between light and dark were drawn more sharply. Giles remained seated at her desk and drifted even further into the shadows. She heard him breathing hard and sought to reassure him.
“It’s OK. It’s probably just the security grid going to lockdown. It trips sometimes because of Old Council wiring. We lose the power, the lights and access to the elevator but it’s nothing to worry about. George usually fixes it in about a minute.”
But Giles was panicky and paranoid guy. He checked his pockets and then dragged open her desk drawers until he found a small flashlight which he promptly spilled through shaking fingers. Buffy dropped to her knees to help him find it. He clearly needed a distraction until George got lights back on.
“Tell me about Jerusalem. Why did you go there?” she asked as they both swept their hands methodically over the carpet by the desk.
“What? Oh, I’ve been trying to find out about something called the Seal of Gethsemane. I was following a lead to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. There are a great many scholars and archives of old scripts in that area and I thought I could find someone or something to help me track it down.”
“Sounds like a dangerous plan,” she castigated. “But then I’m not your mother. What’s the big with this Seal then? What is it supposed to do?”
“It is purported to be able to bind spells so they can’t be reversed.”
Like his curse she thought. Everyone kept telling her that as it was a gift from hell gods it couldn’t be overturned. Perhaps Giles was tracking down a means of unpicking it?
“Ariela said there was a possible text and translation about it in your office but she couldn’t get in here,” he added, just as they both found his flashlight. He pulled it from her, rose swiftly and sat back at the desk, leaving her on her hands and knees on the floor. The information about Ariela was interesting because it certainly explained why she was always in the library then - Giles had had her doing his research. A small pang of jealousy stung Buffy as she wanted him to have called her and she could have been Stealth Girl.
“If it hadn’t been for Ariela rescuing me that night,” he continued, “Well, I wouldn’t be here for you to frown at now.” He smiled his uncertain smile at her and Buffy tempered her unconscious frown in turn. “Toughest little thing I ever saw. Do you like her? She talks about you a lot.”
Before she could answer, there was a scream in the corridor - a man’s voice but much higher than it ought to be. Buffy made for the door but Giles caught her arm savagely and pulled her back. “No, you can’t help him now, Buffy.”
She was so surprised by his physical contact that she didn’t throw him off. He wasn’t exactly attacking her but then it wasn’t exactly a pass either. It was so unexpected. He was usually so uncomfortable just being in the same room with her and now he had his arms around her in a surprisingly determined manner. There were noises of commotion in the corridor and the screaming stopped abruptly. She started to struggle a little at that but Giles rather ungallantly put his hand over her mouth and using all his weight advantage, pulled her backwards into the bathroom just as her main office door opened slowly.
She let him back them to the shower wall and pull her very tightly to his chest. She could hear someone or something enter the office. Whatever it was came slow and cautious and made a slight shuffling sound as it moved. She couldn't detect vampire, but even without Giles' blind panicky reactions behind her she knew it was a demon. Giles' heartbeat was rattling against her back and she could feel the buttons on his cotton shirt dig into her. He’d positioned them in the darkest part of the bathroom and with the outage on the electricity it was seriously creepy. She wasn't thrilled with the weapon choices she had in her walk-in shower and wouldn't have picked it out for herself as the best location for battle, but Giles was determined to hide, so for the moment she let herself be hugged by him and listened to the noise of the intruder in her office.
Abruptly the door to the bathroom opened wide and she saw the silhouette of their visitor. It was a creature no taller than she was, with long dark hair that covered all its body. It had a short disproportioned head with two orange eyes that glowed brightly as it looked at her. Its arms were long and curved and she could see that they ended in exposed razor sharp bone some twenty centimetres in length. There were pretty formidable weapons to be wary of even if the creature was slow in its movements. It stared straight at them and Buffy braced for the inevitable attack. She was already calculating how to battle it in the main office and keep Giles safe, when a second creature joined the first, now there were two sets of orange eyes piercing the darkness towards her. Giles continued to hold her tightly to him and neither of them seemed to be breathing.
Incredibly, after a minute, when Buffy thought her heart would explode with the tension, the creatures moved away and she heard them as they shuffled out the office and kicked the outer door shut. Giles didn’t move straight away so Buffy elbowed him gently to get his attention.
“Mmm? Oh.” He snapped to, let out a long breath and loosened his grip. “Sorry.”
Buffy left his arms and made her way cautiously back to her main office. As far as she could tell, nothing had been disturbed. She went to door and peered through the crack. The corridor was dark, but she could she could see a number of the creatures moving, maybe six or seven, appearing as dark shadows, and seemingly searching all the offices in the row. George’s body lay on the ground near his post, twisted in a grotesque pose of death. She closed the door very gently on the scene.
Giles meanwhile had returned to the desk qhwew he switched on the flashlight and resumed his reading. She was surprised at how well he’d composed himself now the initial surge of fear had passed, and at how he was calmly researching as if big hairy, slashy creatures came and went in his life all the time. Which evidently they did.
“What the hell was that?” she whispered impatiently.
He looked sheepishly at her. “Ah, sorry about that,” he twitched. “Sorry for the, erm, intimacy.”
Buffy hadn’t actually minded that part. She rephrased her question.
“What the hell are they?”
“Pokarroh demons. They are mercenaries usually. Not terribly bright but they follow the money.”
“Why didn’t they attack? That thing looked straight at us.”
“They have very poor vision. They rely primarily on magick to sense their prey.”
“And we didn't come up on their radar because?”
“Handy side effect of the curse.” He blushed. “Because it’s supposed to isolate me from people it also shields me from anyone trying to find me using magick. I just managed to extend it around you for a time. Sorry for the, erm, inappropriateness back then. I didn’t mean to, well you know. I wouldn’t normally have…”
Buffy didn’t want to fixate on that point. She was far more interested in the bat blind mercenary demons that were roaming freely about Slayer Central and had just killed poor George “So what do they want? What are they looking for?” she demanded. “This Seal of Gethsemane thing? Have you got it?”
“No. That’s why I really need to understand this text.” He gestured to his book and continued to strain his eyes at the tiny light of the pocket torch. Buffy paced, considering her options, considering her weapons and how she was going to help the other Slayers and Robin. The demons had triggered the lockdown to trap them altogether and as they didn’t exactly look like tactical masterminds, somebody was pulling their strings. Giles had gotten himself into a whole heap of trouble.
“Could they have followed you here?”
He turned a page and didn’t answer. The security system that was designed to keep them protected was useless if the threat was locked in with them. Then it became a dangerous liability. Buffy thought of the two young Slayers she had seen in the library that morning. They might not have the experience to cope. They might even try to launch a reckless counter attack. Fallon was pretty level-headed but Julia was unpredictable in a crisis. Her duty to them was clear.
“I need to get the others out.”
“Agreed. Does your cellphone work?” Giles asked.
“No, too much interference in this part of town.” She looked dubiously at him. “Who would you call exactly?”
“Ariela. She’s very level headed.” He blinked with such trust and simple faith as he said it that she hated to have to break the news to him.
“Giles, Ariela is dead.” He looked blankly back at her, stunned at the news. “It’s true I’m afraid. Robin went round to her apartment and saw the body. That was why he was so angry. She’d been cut up by those things we just saw I’m guessing.”
“Her apartment? She must have made it back then. Oh God.” He put down his flashlight and book. “She was only sixteen,” he whispered and seemed to be in shock. “They tracked her then. I did this. I thought she'd be safe.”
“Why? What’s going on? What’s happened?”
“She told me to run. Said she could handle it. I’m letting children fight my battles these days.” He added the last line without rancour; his eyes still wide open as he fought to accept the news.
“This Seal, Giles. Did you steal it?” she asked as gently as she could. “Is that why they are after you?”
“Maybe we really should have left the Potentials alone,” he mused.
She took his left hand in both of hers. “Giles, focus. Whatever this is, whatever you’ve done, we are in this together. I know you. I know you’ll try to deal with it on your own, but you have to trust me. Your screw ups are my screw ups OK? I will protect you. It’s what I want to do.”
He hadn’t seemed to notice she was holding his hand. “We should get out of here,” he mumbled.
“Agreed,” she said, relieved he seemed to be back focussing on the practical. “The elevator is out but we can use the stairs to get to the next floor.”
He still seemed a thousand miles away but managed to mutter, “They will have posted guards.”
“Then I’ll deal with them,” declared Buffy. “But the most important thing right now, is to get you out of this building.”
That seemed to finally wake him from his grief. His eyes cleared as his brain processed her statement and he finally looked up at her as if she hadn’t understood a word he’d been telling her for the past ten minutes.
“No. the most important thing is to get you and the Slayers out of here,” he insisted.
Buffy smiled. “That’s heart-warmingly noble of you Mr Giles, but these things are on a slice and dice mission and your name is high on their entrées list.”
“No, Buffy. You don’t understand. These are the demons that have been killing your Slayers recently.”
She was puzzled as to how he knew about that and his possible connection. “Looking for you?”
“No. There are after you. Somebody wants to stop the proliferation of Slayers. There have been shifting powers in the demon world, many people unhappy that the balance has been disturbed in favour of multiple Slayers. I heard a rumour of an attack on the Council and I’ve been trying to investigate so I could warn you. I still don’t have all the details, I just know there has been talk of the Old Ones opposing the new setup you have here.”
Buffy took a beat to process his information.
“The Old Ones huh? It’s never the New Pretty Ones,” she quipped.
“This is serious,” he replied harshly.
“Hey, I get that,” she snapped back and then felt bad as he’d flinched a little, but she pressed on regardless. “So you’re telling me that this is nothing to do with you?”
“Buffy, I know things have been difficult between us and I've lost a lot of your respect, but I would never do anything to hurt you. You have to trust me.”
“Always,” she affirmed without a shadow of doubt as to the goodness of his Word. He looked pained again at the intensity of her trust so she grinned and added, “Can’t make the same promise on Robin’s behalf though. He will be royally pissed you didn’t drop him a dime.”
“I wasn’t sure he’d believe me and I don’t’ have anything concrete to go on.” He gestured to the book. “This has all happened too quickly,” Giles explained. "I needed more time."
She nodded her understanding and returned to peer out of the crack in the door. The corridor had very brooding emergency lighting but there was no sign of the creatures and someone had removed George’s body. Her throat constricted at that memory. She couldn’t imagine George really being much a threat to them. He’d just been in the way and tried to do his best. With an empty corridor, the door that led to the emergency stairwell was unguarded and Buffy made up her mind to take action.
“We’re on the move. We’re getting you out and then I’ll round up the girls.” She raised a hand to cut off his objection. “On this point, you have to do as you are told, OK?”
He nodded reluctantly, sheepish at her command. He’d always respected her authority in battle even when they’d first met and he’d had a lifetime of Watcher training whereas all she thought she’d known were a couple of good cheerleading moves. His faith in her was always empowering.
She nodded back, opened the door wider, and led the way cautiously along the gauntlet of the dim corridor. Many of the other office doors were open. She nervously checked them for any signs that would herald an attack of the fuzzy folk, but each was empty and Buffy also breathed silent prayers of thanks as each room was also apparently free of Fallon or Julia lying injured or dead.
“Was the attack on Ariela random then or were they looking for you?” she whispered.
“I don’t know. I have been sleeping on her couch but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. Ariela fought them whilst I ran. Because that's what I do these days,” he added the bitterness in his tone obvious.
They made it to the stairwell without attack. The only closed door that could possibly house the demons was to the library. There was some evidence of flickering candle lights and motion in there and it was clear that that was where the action was going to take place. She turned to Giles and put a hand on his chest.
“You have to go. I can’t fight these and worry about protecting you. I care too much to lose you now.”
He looked so baffled and confused by her concern that Buffy fought the impulse to touch him, to give him a reassuring hug. He’d freak on her completely of course, but she was puzzled by her desire to touch his beard and kiss his cheek. Other thoughts drifted unbidden to her brain and she must have looked a little flushed because Giles had developed a glassy look of pure fear in his eyes. She sighed and dropped her head. He was going to need a boat load of therapy thanks to this curse.
But then she heard what Giles must have seen over her shoulder, the true cause of his fear.
She turned sharply to see that one of the dark Pokarroh demons had locked her in its radar. Buffy looked back at Giles, but he’d taken three steps back and was pressing himself against the wall. His handy magick cloak thingy wasn’t going to work now the creature had a fix.
The demon extended its curved talons. For most people this would have been pretty much be a fight or flight moment but Buffy had never been the running away type.
“Show me what you got then, you big old furry hearthrug, you,” she taunted, desperate to calculate the best way to keep it away from Giles.
It slashed wildly and Buffy threw a quick ranging kick at its chest as its arm sailed past on its follow through. The demon staggered backwards and sensing an advantage, Buffy fired more blows, moving the fight into the centre of the corridor as she did so. The Pokarroh seemed sluggish and slow to defend itself. Her tiny inner warning voice, the one that warned her about the folly of spending way too much on shoes, whispered to her that it was too easy. That Ariela was too good a Slayer to have died at the hands of a slow creature like this. She was just processing the thought, when she was grabbed from behind by a second of the demons. It must have slipped out of another of the offices. She wrestled to get it off her throat and kicked wildly out at the first again. She wondered if Giles would help anytime soon. Something in a broadsword would have been really useful about then. But help didn’t come. The first demon got a hold of her legs, raised her and wrapped her ankles under its arm. She was pinned and helpless. She tried to go limp and constrict her muscles but her captors merely spun her and took a firmer grip. She could see Giles now. He was still rooted to the same spot. He looked pale. Buffy tried to smile. It was OK. She understood. They seemed fixated on the Slayers and had simply killed George as a guy that had gotten in their way. She couldn’t bear it if they just executed Giles in the same casual way.
She smiled as warmly at him as she could. ‘Run Giles’, she thought. ‘For my sake, please run.’Chapter Four...