Length: 3700 and change
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: Copyright infringement now intentional. Sorry Not. I always get that bit wrong.
In the late afternoon, with Paul absent preparing his surprise for that night, Buffy opted to make another attempt to seek out Giles’ new lair. He’d been given rooms on the opposite side of the house, nearer to the library for his work, but allowing the couple some privacy. Her previous attempts to track him down had failed, but then it was a bizarre house with confusing corridors.
Things had felt really weird since they’d come to this place. Her casual friendship with Paul Popov had pleased her up to then. It had been nice to be lightly romanced and not have to deal with demons and danger. But since meeting up with Giles Buffy had felt continuously on alert. Her senses were warning her of trouble and despite the heated words she didn’t want to believe that he’d truly gone rogue and that she’d lost him completely. That was the trouble with Watchers. He’d annoyed pretty much from day one but she trusted him. Even at the very lowest moments of their relationship – when he’d completely betrayed her -there had always been hope. He’d even disappeared before but she’d expected the friendship to resume. Robin had once asked her if she was prepared to kill Giles if she had to and she’d said yes and had even looked him in the eyes as she'd said it. It was however a lie as soon as it left her lips. She knew she could hurt him though which was a sobering comfort.
Surprisingly, this time Buffy didn’t have much trouble finding the place. She found an unlocked connecting door quite easily and followed her nose. She could practically smell the must from the books at twenty paces. She wondered if that was a slayer skill or just a result of hanging out with her ex-watcher too long. She felt drawn to him. He’d become a puzzle and like it or not, was her responsibility now she’d found him again. At the library door she considered knocking, but theirs had never been a relationship that required knocking and she wasn’t going to start now. She swept straight in, hoping to surprise him but was disappointed to find the place empty.
The room was darker than she'd expected. The passion for wood panelling she’d noticed in the rest of the house had really been allowed to let rip here. The Sunnydale library had windows and a skylight and she’d always felt comfortable amongst its sturdy stacks and banisters. This was a house library and seemed more determined to shield its precious contents from daylight. Giles had lit every lamp he could find and it was still dark. He wasn’t there but on the table there was evidence of his occupancy. There were old papers and some of his notes - Giles' notes - with his small careful handwriting that hadn’t changed since Sunnydale. That all seemed like a lifetime ago and yet here he was, making careful notes about someone’s family when she used to be the centre of his handwriting.
There were charts, scrolls, letters and bound volumes. Mostly Russian she guessed. Buffy turned a few pages of a slim black volume that looked to be a diary. Oddly there was the occasional English phrase. The owner seemed to be practising grammar and hiding thoughts in her foreign language skills. She read the name of the front Kristina Popova 1912. These were the papers Giles was not supposed to be reading. He still didn’t follow orders well, but then neither did Buffy. She couldn’t resist skimming for the English bits towards the end:
R came today. He’s so alive and funny. A is so dull. He doesn’t know when R is making a joke. Only I know. He smiled at me the way he used to.
Talked with R. He wants me to show him the garden one night. Do I dare?
Refused A tonight. How could I? He didn’t press the issue. Must talk with R but other guests always between us.
A is furious. R must act. It must be tonight.
‘No wonder Giles is reading this,’ Buffy thought, ‘it’s racy stuff’. Having run out of material, she remembered the purpose of her visit and resumed her quest for the ex-watcher.
Despite the mania for darkness and secrecy, the library had a single external door that was shut but not locked and Buffy pushed through out into the garden. It was really only early afternoon but the sky was starting to grow dark already. The plants in the garden were as overgrown as the timber plantations, but there was an obvious path heading towards the tree line that beckoned her. Darkness didn’t bother her, she had excellent night vision – now that really was the slayer thing – darkness had always been her ally, she’d never been afraid of that. The path took her further into the overgrown wilderness, some of the shrubs were shoulder high and she had to skirt around the occasional sharp branch. There was a mixture of roses and rhododendron. The rose bushes snaked lazily around, trailing thorns for the unwary. Their blooms had long gone and no-one was controlling their lazy ambushes. Coarse branches were ugly and gnarled, deprived of their fragrant finery they were rough and brutish. The path quickly became testament to the fallen petals. Some faded colours clung on, but most had begun their weary path to compost giving the air a pungent mix of perfume and decay. There had been only a slight breeze when she’d set out but this was starting to build and whistle through the densely packed foliage.
Spotting a faint blue glow of a light up ahead, Buffy headed towards it. The shapes of the thicket became blacker for a time, but eventually she came out into a small clearing. There was an old fashioned street light responsible for the blue glow and 2 benches in a circle. Some attempt had been made at providing a rose canopy to protect against the sun but this had fallen and begun to rot. What had been formal plant beds were over grown with weeds, the stonework gradually being reclaimed by the earth.
Giles was sitting on the back of one of the benches with his feet on the seat. He used to abuse the chairs in the library that way too, but only when there were no students around. He lit a cigarette and crumpled the empty packet back into his pocket. He must have known she was coming, much the same way she knew he was there.
“Hello Buffy,” he said quietly and the warmth of his tone momentarily threw her. It was the British accent of course, but no-one said her name quite the way he said it. There were hundreds of Slayers now but for a time she’d been the only One, the One chosen girl in all the world. Somehow only the way Giles said her name made her feel that special.
“Dr Jones I presume,” she countered and heard him ‘hmm’. The thin blue light caught his glasses for a moments dance. She sat on the arm of the same bench, her feet at right angles to his. The light was very poor and she couldn’t make out much of his features. “I keep expecting to find you gone. Where did you stalk off to before?”
“I went for a walk. After you, and then the Little Prince, I felt like having a dignified round of tree kicking.” His shadow twitched as he spoke and he drew rapidly on his cigarette, but then all was stillness again. It was strange to watch Giles smoking; smoking was more something she associated with Spike. It added an unpleasant odour to his clothes. More protection from close contact she supposed.
“Those things will still kill you,” she said gently.
“Perhaps, but tea is a hard commodity to find outside of Britain. Nicotine is at least universal.” He blew out some smoke and admitted, “I do most of my shopping at truck stops and airports these days.”
“Where are we? What is this place?”
“It’s the formal arbour.”
“I see no ships,” she responded playfully.
“It means it’s a sheltered garden Buffy,” he said with some of the studied patience he used to use back at the High School. “Popov’s great grandfather Anton, had it designed and built for his new bride in the last century. He did a lot of renovation work here and in the house. She was a high status catch and he wanted to prove to her he was a cut above the peasantry.”
“Seems creepy here.”
“I think he intended it to be romantic. He cut down a lot of his best trees to clear this.”
“Yes he told me. Why is he paying you to write his family history?”
“Maybe it’s a wedding present for you.”
Ah. She decided to let that one pass.
“Did she like it here? His wife?”
“She didn’t have much time to enjoy it. She died shortly afterwards. She was very young.”
The wind was rustling again. One of the older trees was groaning.
“What, what exactly happened to Willow?” he asked, dropping his head so she could no longer get a reflection of his glasses. Night had fallen quickly and his profile was barely a shadow against his jacket. “Is she alright?”
“She’s OK now. There was a fractured skull…lots of swelling. She really had us scared. The doctors wouldn’t tell us anything, but she’s made a full recovery. She’s OK.”
"That’s good.” There was another flare of orange tip and a plume of white smoke as if he’d held his breath for the answer.
“She still refuses to talk about it. And no-one is allowed to do anymore locator spells for you.”
“I didn’t realise. I’m sorry,” he said softly.
“That was some powerful magick to hurt a witch as strong as Willow. What did you do?”
“It’s complicated. Nothing was aimed at her. I never intended Willow to be hurt.”
“But you knew she’d try to find you.”
He shook his head, “I forgot. That is, I didn't think.” He took a deep breath. “When the First started its campaign against the Slayer line, I asked the Coven if they could do something to protect me. I needed to avoid the bringers and help gather the potentials. Something that would keep me out of the way of the Council seemed like a good idea too.”
“Solid plan. So get them to remove it now.”
“They never set it.” He stubbed his cigarette out on the bench and threw it away. Buffy waited patiently for him to decide if he should light another. He put his hands in front of him instead and leaned forward. The leather of his elbows creaked. Buffy leaned in a little closer too.
“When they began the protection spell, they were stopped by something. They said there was a powerful force opposing them. That it seemed as if something else had already cast upon me. Something so powerful they couldn’t even begin to get close to it to understanding it. Some of them were hurt trying,” he added with a tinge of regret.
“Another protection spell? From someone else?”
“Or something. They couldn’t determine what it is or how long it’s been there. With the threat of the First there wasn’t time to investigate.”
“And you didn’t tell me this at the time because?”
“It wasn’t important. You had a lot of other concerns at the time.”
“Could it have been from the First? Is this like Spike’s trigger?”
He laughed a little bitterly, “Now that would have been ironic wouldn’t it? I don’t know. I haven’t slaughtered half of Europe if that’s what you’re thinking. Not like Spike.”
“Could it be something the Council did to you?”
“It’s possible.” He turned his head sharply to her. “What makes you say Council?”
“Or Ethan,” she added hastily. “He likes to mess with you.”
“He said not.” In three words he confirmed he’d been in London. “The Council seems the most likely candidate but there aren’t any records left to find out.” He took a deep breath. “And it wouldn’t be reversible if it was from them. As I presume you already know.”
“Yes. We’ve been doing some research,” she had to admit. “Robin Wood is rebuilding a network of watchers. He’s found a lot of the old infrastructure. Money, people, papers. He can help us with this.”
“No he can’t.” Giles surprised her with his vehemence. “If it’s from the Council then there’s only one outcome. Wood won’t take a chance. He’d try to lock me up and you know it. That wouldn’t end well.” The last sentence chilled her slightly.
She looked around her. “Is this you?” He looked back at her, puzzled. “Since we’ve been sitting here, my spider sense has been tingling like crazy. I thought you were doing some magicks.”
“No. I can’t. I daren’t. With this unknown spell the coven said there was no telling what could happen if I tried casting.”
“So this isn’t you?”
“What isn’t me?”
“Can’t you feel it?”
He contemplated the surroundings and shrugged, “Wind has died down a bit. That’s all.”
He was right. There was nothing but an expectant stillness in the air now.
“I miss our friendship Giles,” she said impulsively and reached out for his hand. He surprised her by pulling away.
“Sorry,” he mumbled and folded his arms.
“What? Is this difficult for you? Being here, talking with me?”
“Very strong urge to run away,” he ruefully admitted.
“I have that effect on guys all the time.”
“Paul seems,” he puffed his cheeks as he thought for a compliment, “admirably wealthy. He wants to marry you anyway. That’s not running away.”
Giles meant it kindly, making her feel guilty and it was time to come clean, “Yeah about that…” she began.
The blue lamp above them flickered.
“I need you to take me away from this. I need to escape, to be free, to be in your arms.”
"What?" Buffy Summers had knocked Rupert Giles out physically a couple of times over the years, but this was the first time she’d knocked him speechless.
“Darling please,” she continued, her speech suddenly formal, “I’ve made a mistake. He’s brutal. Take me with you. We can still be married.”
“What on earth are you talking about, woman?” She moved to kiss him but Giles grabbed her arms to stop her. “Buffy, what’s wrong? What’s happening?” The light was poor but her eyes seemed distant.
“I knew it! I thought I’d find you two alone!” Paul Popov’s voice thundered beside them. Neither of them had heard him approach and they jumped a little guiltily apart.
“We were just er...” Giles realised he had no idea what they were just doing.
“We were not doing anything wrong,” his companion added with petulant defiance.
“I’m afraid I must insist you return to the house at once.”
“That’s an order.” Popov grabbed at Buffy’s arm and swung her around. She seemed weak and cowed and when she didn’t pull herself together and deck him, Giles began to realise that Buffy Summers was probably no longer in control.
“Hey. Hold on there," he interposed. "Look I know you’re engaged but I’m not going to let you treat Buffy..”
Popov snapped back, "You are a guest in my house. Do not interfere nor speak of my wife so informally.”
“Wife?” Giles was momentarily stung by that, “Buffy, have you actually married this poseur?”
But Buffy’s attention seemed to be with pleading with Popov, “Don’t hurt him. Rutger and I love each other.”
“What the hell is going on?” Giles scanned his environment for signs of charms and spells. Popov and Buffy were being affected by something but he couldn’t get a line on what. He grimly understood he was supposed to be part of this domestic drama but he could appreciate the irony of the source of his protection later.
The master of the house was still playing dominant male, “I need to be clear on this. I want to know why you came out here. Was it to speak to him?”
“He’s a guest in the house. I’m free to speak to whom ever I choose,” she said with impressive haughtiness.
Inside Buffy felt as if the world were changing around her. The words made a sort of sense but she was losing her grasp of who they were talking about. The lights were brighter and she could see more of the garden. The trees seemed to have come closer as though they were an eager audience hanging on every word of the drama.
“You knew him from before and never told me. You betrayed me with him.”
“No.” The words were repeating in her head again.
Buffy was getting very confused. What was her name? What was his name? There had been someone else here. Her husband was so angry. She’d done such a bad thing. But it was just a little excitement she’s wanted. Provincial life could be so dull. He could be so dull.
“You have made a fool out of me. Laughing behind my back. Have you granted him favours? Have you slept with him?”
A very small part of her thought that didn’t sound at all right and she really needed to remember who they were talking about, because that would help. But like the ocean crashing on a beach and eroding the memories, the thought was dragged away from her. She needed to remember his name, her own had gone, washed away. Out to sea with all the other details of her life. She needed him to rescue her. She needed him to make her feel safe. A part of her thought she didn’t need anyone to rescue her; that that wasn’t her life at all. It was difficult knowing which bits to hang on to.
“Hey,” said Giles, “You need to let go of her.”
“You steal my wife and then presume to give me orders?”
She could see patterns in the trees now. Old gnarled faces of disapproval. They were as ugly as his family. The branches started to close in on her. As the two men argued, the girl was overwhelmed with the sights and smells of the garden. This was their land and they didn’t welcome outsiders. She tumbled to the ground.
“Stand clear. She’s fainted.” Popov took charge of the situation immediately. Giles could only watch and feel useless as the young man laid her tenderly on the bench. He wanted to help desperately, but held back. They were together he reminded himself. It wasn’t his place to take care of her anymore.
“Paul, we need to get her back to the house. What’s happening….this is your great grandfather. You have no reason to be jealous. You are not Anton Popov, you are Paul. This is Buffy Summers. Just focus on the now.”
Popov looked at him thoughtfully. His jealous anger had at least dissipated for the moment. Giles had no hope to counteract whatever spell was on Paul and Buffy, but maybe if it acted off strong emotions, he could cool the situation down.
“We don’t need to let history repeat itself,” he said soothingly, “Let’s just all calm down and go back inside the house.”
Paul blinked, “Dr Jones? Yes, of course. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over me.” The spell seemed to have weakened its hold on the young man. It was to be hoped the Slayer would be coming free too.
“Buffy, are you alright?” Giles dropped to one knee beside, her pulse was strong and though her eyes were glazed she seemed physically unhurt. He smiled despite himself because it was just like old times, but that lapse in concentration was his undoing. Popov punched him on the side of the head and then kicked him across the kidneys. He rolled instinctively but Popov had somehow moved to his other side and, grabbing fists of his jacket, he bodily threw the older man into the shrubbery. Giles couldn’t help but think that the kid was a lot stronger than he looked. He bounced into the platoon of shrubs which seemed a hell of a lot nearer than before. Buffy remained impassive.
“Stay out of this. It is between me and my wife.”
Giles groaned, trying to rise. He was getting too bloody old for this. Everything hurt like hell and he was caught in some weeds and brambles and his legs held fast. He tried to kick himself free but only slipped face down into the earth again. He needed to stop this possession. He needed Buffy to snap out of it. And most of all he need to get free of this sodding shrubbery. He lifted himself to his elbows to examine what he was caught upon. The ground was thick with thorns and roots. He made to rise further but strong tendrils of ivy moved swiftly and wrapped themselves around his arm. He was hit on the back of the head by something and felt thorny vines embrace his throat. Suddenly everything started to drag him further into the undergrowth.
“Kristina, my darling.”
“What are you doing? Where are we?”
“You fainted, we came outside for some air.”
Giles kicked and fought savagely but there wasn’t just one attacker, he was swamped by many. He was not only caught but actively being pulled backwards and, he realised with growing horror, downwards into the earth itself.
“You’re always such a considerate husband. What would I do without you.”
“Are you ready to go back inside my love?”
“I still feel a little weak. Perhaps if you carry me.”
“Buffy help me!”
The girl stopped and was listening, “Did you hear that? The wind seems to be picking up again.”
“Don’t worry my dear, I’ll keep you safe. I always do that don’t I?”
Anton Popov swept his bride into his arms and set off back to the house. A golden light enveloped them as they made their way along the path. Behind them the darkness circled hungrily. Giles was getting more frantic as he felt himself being pulled down into the ground. More and more twines seemed to wrap around him. He tried to grab at roots, but they mocked him and only speeded up his progress. Heavy branches hit his shoulders and back. His fingernails clawed at the earth.