Length: 4300 a bargain
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: Not for profit. Purely pleasure.
Giles had often heard the expression dragged through a hedge backwards, but he’d never really appreciated just how painful it could be to actually try it. He was bruised, battered and slightly light headed but he’d done a lot of thinking in his battle to the drawing room. He was reasoning that the police couldn’t be far behind so his basic plan was to keep everyone alive till that particular branch of the cavalry arrived. Two bodies the young police officer had said, one of them always a girl.
If Popov was surprised at the last minute change to the cast list, he got over it very quickly. He was still kneeling by Buffy but he pulled the revolver out his pocket and raised it at the newcomer. “I must say,” he grinned, “you’re very persistent.”
Giles took in his surroundings as casually as he could, “It’s my one remaining virtue.” The revolver looked old but well maintained. Buffy was propped up on the chaise longue in the blue jeans and woollen top he’d seen her in previously. She seemed lost in thought somewhere, which wasn’t a look that worked for a Slayer at the best of times. Giles smiled when he noted the gun's companion piece on the table closest to him.
“Go on pick it up. Face me like a man,” challenged Popov. “It’s loaded. Tell him it’s loaded.”
At this command Buffy came to life and laughed a little cruelly, “Yes it is, but you mustn’t fight him. It’s what he wants.”
“Buffy are you alright?” but he wasn’t going to get an answer. The slayer had returned to her trance. Giles agreed with her advice but distrusted the source. The two of them could overpower Popov, but they needed to work together.
“Paul, I don’t think you’re going to shoot me in cold blood. I don’t think that’s what happened.”
“You’d be surprised what I can do.”
“I know you killed your wife and her lover in 1912. And that you keep killing them.”
“Haven’t we been busy,” Popov said sarcastically.
“Sack me,” Giles shrugged, “I may be slow on the uptake but I get there in the end.”
“We’re hearing all your virtues tonight.”
“But this is different now. I’m not playing your party games.”
“You’re here anyway.” Popov’s statement was simple and perceptive. In fact a little too perceptive, ghosts never tended to such self-awareness but this one was off the script and a little too comfortable about it. “He was a coward you know, Rutger Meister. He thought he was a class apart and could take what he wanted. Usually at this point they are begging to be spared.”
“Let Buffy go.”
“You are different to the others. But does that make you a better man? Are you to be the hero Mr Giles? Or a monster?”
Popov moved round the back of Buffy’s couch, he held the revolver lightly but its direction was never in doubt. “She loves you. Do you know that?”
“But you actually do know each other. Oh the irony, you actually have been lying to me.”
Giles raised an eyebrow, “You’ve not been entirely honest yourself have you?” and took a lazy step into the room. He was within reach of the second revolver but knew any sudden movements would currently be futile. Popov was just as likely to shoot Buffy as himself. He still needed to work out the rules of this new game.
Anton Popov looked at the Mirror, at his world, where his wife was worried on the sofa and his rival cowering by the fireplace. His world was ugly but it made a macabre sense. “You don’t see anything of this do you? You’re not affected, but here you are anyway. What interesting people you are. She’s very special to you I think?”
“We don’t have to go through all this again.”
“But she loves you,” Anton insisted.
Giles shook his head, “She really doesn’t.”
“But that’s why you are here Mr Giles. I know that’s why you couldn’t stay away.”
Popov seemed determined to prove some sort of point before he fired. Giles decided to try a new tactic. “We should ask her. Buffy, can you hear me? You need to get up now and come over here please. The police are in the grounds, they will be here any minute.”
But the girl turned her head to Popov and pleaded, “I want to stay here. Please don’t hurt Rupert. I’ll never see him again I swear.”
He patted her shoulder kindly, “You admit you knew him before? That you love him.”
Popov looked in triumph, but Giles was unaffected “It’s a nice thought but no she doesn’t. It’s just another parlour game. You’re manipulating her to say what you want her to. You…” Giles’ voice petered out as he realised the implications. His eyes flashed around the room.
Popov was excited and smiling broadly, “Let’s hear you work it out then, bright boy.”
“Which means, you’re doing all of this. Buffy isn’t possessed by your wife. She’s possessed by you.” And Giles finally understood, “It’s always you. In fact it’s only you.” Giles picked up the second revolver. “Buffy. I need you focus on me please. Don’t look into the mirror. Or look at him. Look at me. I need you to remember who I am. Can you do that?”
She looked blankly at him. Everything was shrouded in different overlapping worlds. The pull of the warm smells of Christmas seemed strongest.
“Come on Buffy. It’s me it’s Giles.” He moved towards her. Popov still held his gun but seemed amused to watch the Englishman’s efforts. “Giles. I was your Watcher in Sunnydale. You’re the Slayer. Sunnydale Buffy think, Willow, Xander, Dawn. Cordeilia, Anya, Angel, even Spike god help us.”
“I’ll thank you to stop hounding the girl. I have a right as a husband to insist upon that.”
“You are not married to this jerk. You are my Slayer.”
Buffy seemed to be making some progress through the fog. She looked intensively at the strange and muddied Englishman in her drawing room. “I don’t know who you are.”
“Yes, yes, you've said that before.” Giles muttered softly.
“I know who he is.” Popov was enjoying this new game, his rival was failing to make much headway and it entertained him. “He’s a coward. A liar. He’s a man that runs away.”
“I killed Ben.” Giles raised his voice. It was all he had left. “Remember Buffy? Remember that? That first night after Sunnydale. Remember how angry you were with me? How angry I hadn’t told you about Ben? How angry everyone was, how Xander told me to leave, Willow’s hurt eyes, even Faith looking at me like I was something she'd stepped in, which is mighty rich coming from Faith. How Dawn was crying? Everyone was shouting. You shouted I was a monster, I shouted you should know you’ve slept with enough of them? Come on Buffy, you don’t forget good stuff like that. You’ve let it fester for six months now. Remember how much YOU HATE ME.”
The words were still some way off but Buffy finally made a connection to the voice and her memories.
“That’s my girl!”
Two shots rang out just as the police finally found, and broke through the door.
Dawn came into the back room of the motel and sat down next to Buffy. It was late but nobody wanted to go to bed. They’d had the fight of their lives that day and some of them hadn’t made it. The potentials had become Slayers. Robin was in the hospital and no-one wanted to be out of sight of the others for too long. Buffy had negotiated the exclusive use of the back room for the group. She and Xander had explained they’d been in Sunnydale, yes the one on the news, but that they wanted privacy. They’d been a bit vague about the school trip they’d been on but the manger was sympathetic. Their Principal had been taken ill but the English teacher seemed responsible enough.
“You OK Dawny?” Her little sister looked tired and a little shaken.
“Yeah, I’ve just stopped by Giles’ room. He said he was getting an early night.”
“It’s catching up with the old man,” laughed Willow. “Probably had his fill of teenage girls and their awesome powers,” she added with a shameless flirt at Kennedy.
“Probably had his fill of that back in the library days,” remarked Xander.
“Or the magic box.”
“Or when we used to crash his place in the middle of the night.”
“God,” said Buffy, “Did that man ever lock a door?” the three of them giggled fondly at the memory.
“Buffy, what’s wrong with Giles?” Dawn asked the question so very quietly they almost missed it. “You two don’t seem to talk anymore. It’s more than the Spike thing isn’t it?”
“Yeah, brat has a point,” chipped in Faith, “back in the day, you guys used to be so, watcher and slayer-y. It was kind of sickening.”
Buffy had been dreading someone asking that question, but she’d also rehearsed her answer. “He just needs some space,” she said, “I mean, we may have thought very little of the Council, but Giles must have known a lot of them personally. It can’t have been fun, travelling around trying to find potentials before the bringers. I mean, he must have been too late as well, a lot of the time.”
Even the boisterous element of the room had calmed at this point. The discredited watcher had been instrumental in saving all their lives one way or another. For some it was just cash and a fake passport but for some that had been enough.
“He was nearly too late for me,” Kennedy said. “The Council told us to run and not to trust anyone. But we didn’t get very far before my watcher was cut down and I was facing three bringers with nothing more than deadly than a hair brush. Out of nowhere this tall dude just swept in and took them out. I’ve never seen anyone so …angry. He really wailed on those guys.”
“Yeah, same thing here,” Rona admitted, “he was pretty vicious, out of control even. I didn’t know who I was more scared of.” This caused a little laughter and Buffy was tired and hoped that would end the conversation.
Dawn however was not content to leave it at that. “No, something else is wrong. Not just the Council. Before then. I mean when he took Willow to England, he was acting like he couldn’t get away fast enough. And before that even, let’s not forget the ‘he left us when we needed him the most’ part.”
“He’s entitled to his own life.”
“You’re not listening properly, Buffy. Entitled, yes, but is it his life? He’s not been acting like Giles for a long time now. I know we ruled out him being the First, because we drove to the desert and prodded him. But why did we suspect him in the first place? Because he was distant and because he hadn’t hugged anyone. That’s not like Giles, not really.”
“He’s British. They’re not good at the hugging.”
“Oh come on. No-one is that British. He doesn’t even like to be in the same room with us half the time. Why isn’t he here now? He should be here, waving his Council credit card while it still works. Looking after us. Being here with us.”
“Caleb wasn’t the First either. He could touch plenty,” Faith had the decency to look a bit embarrassed at bringing that up especially when everyone tried not to look at Xander’s eye patch.
“He is on his own a lot these days,” said Willow sadly, “I can’t seem to talk to him much.”
“He’s not another Caleb,” ruled Buffy. “Look, I know what it is, OK. I know what it is. It’s me,” she admitted flatly, “He can’t stand being around me.”
“Crap. He loves you B. Hey, just saying.” It was almost heart-warming coming from Faith but Buffy couldn’t help thinking that Faith had missed a lot of episodes.
“Of course, maybe we’re looking at this wrong. I mean you died,” Kennedy interrupted.
“Yeah.” agreed Buffy, cautiously taking a moment, “So what?”
“As you know that can really screw up the watcher.”
“Yeah,” Buffy took another moment. “How do I know?”
“It’s in the Slayer Handbook.” Both Faith and Buffy looked blank. “Did you two never read the Slayer Handbook?” The older slayers guiltily shook their heads.
“We’re not really book chicks,” said Faith trying to help again, yet oddly, not.
Kennedy shook her head sarcastically, “And the fate of the world rested with you two.”
“Sweetie?” Willow thought it wisest to refocus the conversation, “What’s your point?”
“Only that there are precedents for this sort of thing. Most watchers don’t live very much after their slayers die. They either get themselves killed or they go off the rails. Some turn to magicks and dark stuff and the Council have to intervene. Depends what he was like before. Has he ever been violent?”
“Oh shit!” exclaimed Faith. Buffy forgot she’d told her about her watcher’s past. Faith also knew enough of the night of the band candy. ‘Ripper’ had badly beaten an elderly cop. How had she described him – ticking time bomb guy – was that coming back to haunt her?
There was a potential loophole though and she voiced it. “But I’m alive now. I’m like, over it. Shouldn’t he be?”
“Although, oh my god!” Kennedy had had another thought.
“What, what?” She might be Willow’s girlfriend but she and her book smarts were really starting to bug Buffy.
“Watchers and Slayers are meant to get along. They have a relationship that’s special and uniquely personal. In the fifteenth century the Council tried using witchcraft to bind a watcher to a slayer. They were losing a lot of watchers to the Black Death and it’s hard to form a natural bond with a replacement watcher. So they found a way to speed the process up. Trouble was those guys really went off the deep end when their slayer was killed. The magicks were too strong. There was one guy that nearly ended the world. Council had to mount a crusade to stop him.”
“Oh. Well. Grief can be like that. Especially if you fuel it badly,” Willow muttered.
“Just what are you trying to say?”
“Just that maybe your dying probably upset him, a bit.”
Buffy couldn’t help thinking that Kennedy had just said a whole lot more than that.
“But Giles was your first Watcher right? And the Council stopped doing that sort of magic centuries ago. And anyway they were the good guys.”
“Yeah.” Buffy didn’t like this clinical discussion of one of her personal relationships. And she especially didn’t like the way Kennedy was implying the Council may have done something dangerous just to make Giles like her. That was both humiliating and kinda creepy.
“So we’re saying he’s Psycho watcher now? Jeez, Spike got a soul and Giles got evil. You really do miss a lot in the joint.” But there was no laughter at Faith’s attempt to lighten the mood. Instead the room was as silent as a cathedral as everyone became aware that another presence had joined them. Only Xander gasped in surprise, but then everyone else knew.
“Anya? You made it,” he choked.
The presence in Anya’s clothes directed its attention to him. It split itself in two from top to bottom, then rejoined as a thousand cartoon rabbits had done so before it.
“Guess again. Bachelor boy,” she mocked. “But then you never understood what you had when you had it. You were too much of a child Xander Harris. Spike and Rupert knew far more than you ever will.” It turned to Willow conspiratorially, “great spell by the way, the table in the magic box saw plenty of action that day.”
Willow’s eyes flashed dangerously, “Leave us alone. You’ve no business here and I’m guessing you have very little time left for these parlour tricks.”
The Anya smile glided into Tara’s shy smirk.
“It’s over isn’t it baby? And the sheets are barely cold. You moved on pretty quickly Will. I’d have waited for you beyond a thousand deaths. Don’t look so worried, I’d never hurt you. Not when I have so much to be grateful for you for. After all it was your resurrection spell that opened the portal for me in the first place.” She paused and enjoyed their reactions. “You seem surprised? I thought they’d consulted Beljoxa's Eye? Oh dear. They didn’t tell you. Perhaps they had other things on their minds.” The First gave a dirty wink to Xander.
“Stop this, you’re not Tara,” challenged Buffy.
“No. But I could be Joyce if you like little girl. Tell you what,” it was actually a relief when Jenny Calendar appeared, “that better? God, such a trail of carnage you people leave behind you.”
She wasn’t as solid as the previous apparitions. Willow was right; the destruction of the Hellmouth had closed off the First’s power source. Her time couldn’t last much longer.
“No Rupert tonight? Oh no. That’s right. He can’t be here can he?” ‘Jenny’ turned a look of pure hatred at Dawn, “I’d have liked to have seen him kill you up on the tower. You’re such an annoying brat. Finally put you out of all our miseries. What? You seem surprised? Did she never tell you about that? About what he wanted to do to you?”
Dawn looked in confusion to Buffy, “Giles?”
“You can’t protect her Buffy. I don’t know why you try to hide her from the darkness. There’s a monster in your midst and you don’t realise just how much harm he can do.” Andrew was looking a mixture of pride and nervous concern. “Sorry small fry. Not you.”
The First changed again but this time to blue hospital scrubs and good looking man most of the room didn’t recognise.
“Did you ever ask yourselves what happened to me? I was human. I helped people. Saving lives, saving his life. Did you even care? Did you ever wonder who snuffed the life out of my body?”
As a final hurrah, Ben changed into Caleb.
“Have you ever asked yourselves children, who is Rupert Giles? I could’ve had the bringers kill him anytime I wanted. You let him wander around on his own so much it would have been so easy, but it amused me to see you sharing confidences with him, trying to be his friend. Because you don’t know do you? You have no idea.” He grinned broadly, “Watch your back kiddies.” And the image of the First finally faded to nothing only instead of a cheshire cat grin it was the white of the insulting clerical collar that was the last thing to depart. There was a long silence before anyone dared to speak.
Finally Faith plucked up the courage, “It’s just the First. A last attempt to screw with our heads.”
“Andrew, go and fetch Giles here now please.” There was a hurried scrape of chairs as the boy rushed off to follow Buffy’s orders.
Dawn’s eyes were red and shining, “Was it true that Giles wanted to kill me?”
Buffy tried to put arm around her sister, “I wouldn’t have let that happen.”
The girl shrugged her off, “What it TRUE?”
“Did he and Anya…?” Xander’s voice cracked a little.
“I don’t know,” said Buffy.
“Did he kill Ben?” asked Willow.
“I don’t know. No. He wouldn’t. It’s unthinkable.”
“No. No. He can’t have. I’d know. He’d have told me. In England, he’d have told me,” Willow became upset at her own arguments, “Buffy?”
“I don’t know,” she repeated.
The party was most definitely over and the urge to stay together drained away from the new slayers. This was something for the war council to resolve. When Buffy asked for the room, they gladly filed out.
Buffy was worried about Dawn. She was so angry. Xander and Willow looked hurt and confused and yes, angry too. Faith was just shocked and looking to Buffy to see how to react. Kennedy was the last to leave. She leaned in to Buffy, “When he rescued me that day from the Bringers he-“
“I know, out of control I got that.”
“Maybe, but he did save my life that day. That sort of thing matters to me. I wouldn’t want that point overlooked.”
Buffy heard the two shots and the world seemed to slow down. All she could see was contained within the mirror. There was no-one else in the room with her but the mirror was filled with images. Popov was standing with his revolver at his side, but somehow he’d changed into full evening clothes. Her own reflection found her in a beautiful red silk evening dress still upon the sofa. The room was lit with candles and smelt of woodland berries, brandy and cigar smoke. The girl in the red dress thought she was in control, thought no-one could touch her. He couldn’t take his eyes off her in that dress. He loved her so completely he only wanted to keep her safe. He wanted to give her the world. He thought he had.
But Buffy knew she wasn’t the girl he was really thinking of. She knew who all the players were in their little drama. There was Anton as he’d always been. The shots had been a surprise but everything else made a warped sort of sense. He only wanted to protect her. She was aware that there were others who had entered the room. She couldn’t see them in the mirror but she heard their voices, angry and excited. The sofa was moved slightly, jolting her and she thought she heard a man’s voice far away shout “get the gun”.
Popov’s eyes were desperately trying to keep her focused on his world. “Hold him”. Somehow she knew it wasn’t even English the men were shouting, but she understood the meaning. Was this how it had happened? Would her husband kill her now? No, that was the other story not hers. Her story was different. The shots were different.
Someone was screaming her name. Someone she loved was in pain but she couldn’t place who. “Don’t hurt him,” she said softly. In speaking she felt like she was part way back through her journey. Anton Popov was smiling at her still. He looked so very proud of her. He was finally happy because he had got what he wanted. He turned very slowly to the Linden Mirror, raised his weapon and fired at the centre of the glass.
There was a moment’s pause. An improbably stretched second in which it seemed that nothing had happened. No violence. No sound. No movement. The world held its breath as it waited for her to understand.
She already knew some of it. She knew she was no longer alone in the room. She’d felt them break the door, crash into the sofa she sat upon. Dark jackets and caps. Nightsticks and vengeance. There was one policeman kneeling by the dead body on the floor, a second was holding a gun by its tip as if in evidence, the others seemed to be panicking trying to hold down the gunman. They were kicking him and shouting. She heard her own voice again, “don’t hurt him”. In that moment she connected with who it was and what happened. At that moment of revelation time resumed its stately course. Anton had fired at his mirror of course; the Linden tree that had guarded the house could stand down.
“Take cover!” she shouted and shielded her face. The explosion of the glass and the noise of splintering wood seemed to rip through the house. The room seemed to heave and Buffy felt blood ringing in her ears. Light danced off the shards of glass as they flew around her. The panelling cracked loudly and sent a further peel of groans from the plantation outside. Her sofa moved again but this time because the ground beneath it surged in a stranglehold of death. Finally the cacophony stopped and Buffy opened her eyes.
The police were still there but the room was very different. The thick lavish curtains had gone and the thin light of dawn met no obstacle to show the room in all its squalor. The fittings were smashed, the panelling had been torn away or burnt and there was graffiti across the walls of obscenity and swastikas. There was no Christmas tree, no decorations to mark the winter solstice. The room wore the decay of decades. The mirror itself was in pieces, the frame crudely destroyed and covered in cobwebs and dust. It had been destroyed some time ago.
The young officer who had been holding the gun now stared at his empty hand is disbelief. The other policemen were pulling a handcuffed Giles up from the floor. “Don’t hurt him. Let him go,” said Buffy repeated quietly.
“But he just shot a man. We all saw him.”
Buffy pointed to the spot where Paul Popov’s body should have been lying. The sergeant was alone on his knees there. There were just dirty newspapers, and beer cans now.
“Well there’s no body here now,” she said and she was right. The house had given up its last occupant. All that remained were the living.