Title: In the Morning Sun
Length of chapter: 4,800
Setting: Post Chosen but AU straight away. So no comics and no Angel Season 5.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Joss characters but I would if I could
Warning: This is BUFFY/GILES but fasten your safety belts because it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Ethan Rayne entered the Wentworth conference room with an overloaded plate from the buffet and balancing two full wine glasses. Before the door closed behind him, unbidden music breached the studious silence of the meeting space before swirling back to the hotel ballroom. The ever efficient Mr Henman had hired a jazz band for Giles’ wake and, at some point during the evening, the musicians had been encouraged to abandon stately and sombre in favour of lively and fun.
Away from Giles’ distant relatives, the mood of Giles’ friends was far more serious. A small working party had commandeered one of the hotel’s corporate meeting rooms but the flip charts and whiteboards had been pushed away and the state of the art projector hanging from the ceiling, ignored. Instead, Willow, Ms Peggy Harkness and Wesley had pushed four tables together to spread out the material Ethan had brought and sat painstakingly making notes and comparing against their own document base.
Half the room worked and the other half waited. Xander was pouring coffee and distributing it round. Angel, excluded from the actual funeral service, sat on table to one side with his arms folded. He regarded Ethan and his plate of food with a great deal of suspicion as the magician made himself comfortable next to Ms Harkness and read over her shoulder.
“Enjoying the fun?” Angel asked pointedly.
“It’s in full swing out there. I think the old folks will be starting a conga line soon. Maybe you should join them?”
Peggy Harkness looked up from her notes and asked, “Ethan, where exactly did you get this material?”
“Margaret, a gentleman never reveals his sources.”
“But you’re no gentleman.”
He placed a hand to his heart. “I’m touched you remember.”
Angel made a noise of disgust, which did at least make Dawn laugh. She had gathered her own plate of food earlier but was only picking at it. Dawn, though herself no slouch at research, recognised the heavy hitters they had been blessed with and had backed off respectfully to the buffet even though her appetite had deserted her.
Buffy sat on the wide windowsill at the far end of the room and watched the darkening skies now that the rain had stopped. She had never had a role in research and she knew it. Instead she watched the constellations take shape in the cloudless sky and marvelled at the beauty of a world that was a hair’s width away from evil and torment. She had spent five days trying not to imagine where Giles might be but now that Ethan appeared to bring some hope, her imagination had been licensed free reign and an open field to gallop in.
Xander, uncomfortable at siding with Angel on any matter, passed a cup of coffee to Wesley but addressed his own suspicions at Ethan. “Explain to me why we should trust you in this.”
Ethan drank from his wine glass very deliberately before answering, “Because Rupert is my friend.”
“You terrorised him,” Xander reminded him.
“Ah,” Ethan beamed angelically. “But in a friendly way. Harmless horseplay, really. Give and take. Technically he was the one that hospitalised me last.”
“Giles broke his jaw.” Willow added helpfully without looking up.
“Probably just to get him to shut up,” Angel said with some feeling. “You’re up to something. If you are trying to hurt him or Buffy somehow, then I’ll-.”
“Oh, don’t confuse your motives and actions with mine, Mr Vampire,” Ethan cut in with surprising iciness. “I know all about your quality time with our Rupert.”
Before anything could escalate, Ms Harkness tugged on Ethan’s sleeve and interjected, “That’s not helping, dear.” Ethan had shrugged and selected something from his plate to eat very, very deliberately, enjoying Angel’s glare.
From her vantage point at the far window, Buffy could feel the tensions in the room, but she had also grown tired of the wait. She left her perch and approached the main table.
“Well?” she asked of the research team.
It was Wesley that put down a magnifying glass before answering her. “It looks to be genuine. It certainly confirms with what little we had already and does indeed give us a location. It appears these gods can manipulate their landscape to anything they please, create people and beasts and generally twist reality for their pleasure.”
Ms Harkness added, “Also, time moves at whatever pace the rulers wish it too.”
That sounded par for the course. Buffy herself had some experience of alternate dimensions when she had run away from Slaying, called herself Anne, and got an apartment and a waitressing job in LA. There, she’d spent her nights worrying about having sent Angel to hell, and yet circumstances contrived to force her to dive into another hell to rescue a girl she barely knew from slavery. Time had moved differently there and she was lucky to have not lost years of her life before she managed to return.
“So instead of five days, it could be five minutes or five years for Giles?”
“It’s a little more than that,” Ms Harkness explained. “These hell gods can actually warp time along with reality. Time is not constrained to follow a linear.”
Buffy must have looked as puzzled as he she felt because Willow dived in with a helpful translation.
“They can rewind too.”
Xander was on his feet and smiling. “Great, so it's a Tivo hell universe. Pause, rewind, fast forward? Any chance we could steal their remote control? Get Giles out of there while they are still looking down the back of the sofa for it?”
There was an awkward silence around the table.
“We can't bring him back, Xander,” Wesley said.
“But if we know where he is -”
“Rupert Giles is dead. On this earth, on this day, he is dead and there is nothing we can do about that.” Wesley may not have intended to intone quite so dramatically, but everyone felt it keenly like the final nail in his coffin.
Xander wasn’t prepared to accept it though. He pointed at Angel and looked imploringly at Willow. “He was dead, and he came back from a hell dimension.”
“That was because the first Evil brought him back. We don’t have that kind of power,” his friend explained.
“And the Acathla region didn’t have ruling gods to oppose such an intervention,” Wesley added.
Xander persisted, “We brought Buffy back.”
“Yes and you were incredibly lucky,” Wesley answered and started to gather together his research notes. “And as it gave the First Evil a chance to cross over to our realm, who knows if it didn’t even help in the process? Buffy passing back let it take up a presence to direct the bringers and almost end the world.” He tapped his papers on the table to give a smooth edge. “And again, I mention that in this case, we have ruling gods who would oppose any intervention on our part. They would seem to have every intention of keeping Rupert Giles as their…plaything…and they won’t give him up without a fight.”
“Then we give them one,” Xander responded defiantly.
Wesley rose to his feet to answer. “Are you even listening to me? Hello? Anyone there?”
Xander was pacing, hating to be beaten by an argument before they had even tried something. “But there has to be something we can do,” he said.
“There is.” It was Buffy that spoke, and the room turned to her in surprise. She had said very little since arriving with Ethan but now she resonated with the authority of being the Slayer. “There is something I can do.”
Ms Harkness shook her head. “Buffy, I’m sorry, but there isn’t.”
Wesley gently agreed. “Buffy, even if we could find a way there is the question of balance in the universes. We cannot allow the First another opportunity to cross again to the mortal animals.”
Even Willow looked at her in defeat. “Plus he was stabbed in a street robbery. It was a natural death so Osiris isn’t going to help or Tara would be here now.”
Buffy walked to the tables softly and looked at the scrolls and documents and then all the faces of her friends. She had only had one course of action in mind ever since she’d seen Giles on the sidewalk. There was only one thing she could do.
“Buffy,” Wesley implored her softly. “We simply cannot risk getting the First Evil’s attention by attempting a resurrection that will fail.”
She smiled her understanding. “Don’t worry, Wes, I’m not about to resurrect Giles.”
“I’m going to join him there. Find me a way in, guys. I once told him I’d kick his sorry ass if he ever got himself killed. Guess this means I'm going to have to go and do that in person.”
“If you stand before the pow'r of hell and death is at your side, know that I am with you, through it all.” Wesley quoted the hymn softly to the shocked room. It had resonated with them all during the service. “But I’m afraid you can’t,” he added. “You wouldn’t be able to come back either.”
Angel raised his head to ask, “She’d be dead?”
“No, but she’d be just as trapped there as he is.”
Willow re-opened one of the books doubtfully. “Buffy, if we found a way in it wouldn’t a portal like a doorway that could be re-used. It would only be one-way and once only.”
This was something she had always anticipated but Angel was appalled at the implications. “No,” he said. “You are not doing this. This only ends with you getting hurt. He will be very different from the man you remember. Time passes at different rate in these dimensions. And he has hell gods determined to torture him and maybe have been for hundreds of years…there might not be enough of him for you to find. I’m sorry, but I think you should accept it’s a lost cause. He will be a broken man by now.”
“Oh no he won't be,” interrupted Ethan laconically. “You, of all people, should know Ripper is made of sterner stuff when it comes to being tortured.”
Angel looked uncomfortable but didn’t let Ethan distract him. He addressed Buffy directly, “And then what do you do when you get there?”
“Then I find these brothers of Glory’s and I make them give him up.”
“He’s dead though. You heard Wesley, on this earth, he is dead. He can’t come back.”
Ms Harkness intervened with a suggestion, “Of course, you might persuade them to let him pass on to another place.”
“Heaven?” Buffy was surprised at the idea.
Giles’ friend from the coven nodded. “It’s a little more complicated than that, but perhaps, yes.”
Buffy liked the sound of it anyway. She was resolved, she would find a way to free him, even if it meant offering to take his place if necessary. She had experienced Heaven once, now he deserved a little piece of it.
Angel cut into her reverie. “What about Dawn?”
Buffy looked across at her sister for her answer.
Dawn positively shrugged. “You’ve always fixed things, Buffy. It’s what you do as the Slayer. I’d hate to think I’d never see you again, but somehow you always come back.” She grinned. “I mean, I never get to keep your stuff. So go, find Giles if you want to and figure out whether you have whatness.”
Buffy smiled at her sister’s code.
“No. This is wrong,” Angel still insisted. “He wouldn’t want this. He wouldn’t want you throwing your life away like this.”
“Probably not. But it’s what he’s getting. Find me a way in, guys.”
She left the conference room and walked through the wake, aware that Angel had followed her for Round Two of the argument. The party was indeed in full swing and Giles’ distant relatives were certainly making a fine night of it. A number of couples were waltzing to the band whose singer was by then crooning out ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ for all he was worth. Some of the older people were singing along too:
I'll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day and through
I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you
Buffy wasn’t sure if Giles even liked jazz all that much. He’d have probably preferred to have booked The Who.
Angel brooded up to her as she stepped out in the freshness of the night air.
“Why?” he asked simply.
She walked into the gardens before giving him a reply, “You of all people know what it will be like for him.”
“And that’s all the more reason why I don’t want you to go there. You have your own life, and Dawn’s life to think about. You can’t throw that away just for Giles. We all feel for his situation. I know he was your Watcher, this this is madness.”
Buffy led them around the parking lot. There was a crispness in the air and frost was starting to form on the windscreens.
“It’s more than about him being my Watcher,” she started carefully.
“Alright, more than a Watcher. He’s been like a father to you, I know.”
Buffy realised it was time to stop walking. “It’s more than that too,” she explained.
Angel looked at her intently, seeking out the truth in her eyes. “You can’t be serious. What does he think about you?”
That was a good question and one she could only answer truthfully. “I don’t think he understands his feelings for me.”
He gave a small grunt of frustration. “Sounds real promising foundation to take a one-way journey to hell for.”
“I knew you'd understand,” she joked.
Angel kicked at a stone that bounced over an icy pothole. All the rain from earlier was starting to set as a hard, black glass. “He’s a lot older than you,” he muttered.
Buffy rolled her eyes at that one. “Is that really your best argument?”
He came closer to her, close enough to see the hurt she was causing him. “It’s different. I loved you the moment I laid eyes on you. He met you as a mature man with a duty to protect you because you were a child. He will always see you that way.”
She shook her head. “I have always been the Slayer to him. Never a child.”
“But If he loved you, it was as a daughter,” he argued. “You can’t be sure he’s changed his views.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’ve changed mine. Everything is different now. I’m different now: older, blonder, couple of times dead-er. You can’t stop me from doing this. You don’t have that sort of power over my heart anymore. Going after Giles and helping him is what I want to do.”
Buffy turned and started walking back to the lights and the music of the hotel but Angel recalled her with barely a whisper. “You didn't come for me.”
It was an accusation that stung as only truth can. Buffy fought the guilt and the tears and returned to hug him, to soften the hurt he had expressed. She mumbled into his chest, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know how then. I would have. Had there been a way, I would have.” She meant it with every fibre in her being, just as she knew that was in the past and her feelings had taken a new direction. As the ice formed in the trees around them, they held each other like dark statues, in recognition of something important drifting away from them.
“Giles,” Angel finally said with grudging understanding, though he rolled his own eyes.
Buffy smiled at his reluctant acceptance of the situation. “He’s a good man,” she stressed.
“No-one will ever be good enough for you in my eyes. And if he hurts you, I’ll-”
“No. You’ll do nothing to him,” she cut off his declaration with a fond finger on his lips. “Not ever. You don’t have the right to interfere in my life anymore, Angel. You’re not my big brother or my dad.”
She put her arm through his in consolation as they walked back.
“Giles,” he exclaimed again in resignation.
Willow was excitedly explaining things to Dawn when they returned to the Wentworth. “We can do it,” she said to Buffy. “We can send you there, but we can’t send you there alone.”
Ms Harkness took up the explanation. “You’re going to need someone else to anchor the magick as you make the journey. Otherwise you’d be ripped apart as nature fights to restore the balance between the dimensions.”
“Oh.” Buffy hadn’t thought about a travelling companion. It wasn’t the sort of mission she wanted to have company for.
Angel stuck out his chin. “Then that’s my job. I can see you are going to do this damn silly thing with or without my blessing, but if anyone should be at your side, it should be me. I have some experience in these places after all.”
Buffy had a million objections but fortunately Ethan beat her to a response. “Oh yes, because if Rupert is in some relentless hell dimension, seeing the vampire that tortured him and killed his girlfriend is just bound to lift his spirits,” he said sarcastically.
“How much magic does this other person need?” asked Xander, but Buffy knew what was behind the question and she didn’t want him going with her either.
“I can’t ask you to give up everything, Xander.”
“And you’re not” Angel stated bullishly. “Because I’m going, and that’s final.”
“I’m sorry, Angel,” Willow said with all the authority her knowledge of magick gave her. “Even though Ethan is a snake in the grass, he does have a good point. I don’t think you’d be the right person to go.”
“I can’t ask you do this, Will.” Willow and Xander were her best friends, but Buffy wanted them to live more than she wanted their companionship. She had accepted that it was a one-way ticket for herself, but that didn’t mean she wanted to condemn her best friends to a dubious oblivion too.
Willow smiled at her. “I would do it for Giles without your asking, but I’m not the best person to go either.” She gestured to the chaos mage sitting to her right who was munching a sandwich. “I think you should take Ethan with you.”
“Me?” Ethan raised a hand to his heart in mock defence but Willow cut him off swiftly.
“You've gathered a hell of a lot of research into this place for someone who just came for the finger food.”
He put down his plate. “Yes, but I saw myself more as travel agent than personal tour guide.”
Wesley stood up and casually sat on the corner of the table next to Ethan.
“You've gone to a lot of trouble to bring this to us. You came here for our help. Of course,” Wesley smiled. “You already knew it needed a team to combine the spell to break through and that you would need a companion to help anchor you. You can’t do this on your own; otherwise you’d already be there.”
“I still think he’s lying to us about something,” Angel accused. “We shouldn’t trust him.”
Ethan beamed in defiance of the vampire. “You probably shouldn’t. But if it’s a straight choice between you or me… well, just this once. I’ll go.”
“Besides,” added Xander. “If anyone can find a way to slither home, it would be Ethan.”
“This is no joke, Ethan,” Ms Harkness warned. “You both need to be careful when you go because it’s not at all clear what would happen if you were to die there. My best guess is that Glory’s brothers would own your soul completely too. “
“That’s alright then,” Ethan said cheerfully. “I never carry mine about with me.”
“I’m afraid you have to wake up now.” Buffy’s head was rocked from side to side. “Are you still alive after all that?”
“Barely,” she groaned. Buffy woke feeling her entire body had been put through a power blender. “I guess this means we’ve arrived.” Every part of her body ached, even her eyebrows. “You suck as a magick anchor, Rayne.” They had arrived rather uncomfortably among some overflowing dumpsters in a small commercial district back alley. She hadn’t known what to expect about their destination but landing in trash still came as a surprise, even if Ethan was involved.
Buffy looked around defensively in case anyone had witnessed their arrival but there were no signs or noise from the streets beyond. The only illumination came from a weak and grimy street light on the corner.
“I’ll be sure to take it off my résumé.” The sarcasm was Ethan’s but the voice was different. She looked across sharply to see a very different man was lying on the ground, stretching his limbs gingerly and removing garbage from his person with some disdain. He was younger than Ethan and with slightly longer hair and caught her uneasy stare with a wink.
“Ah, now I knew there was something I forgot to mention,” he added, completely confirming his identify in her mind.
“What the hell happened to us?” Buffy jumped to her feet and realised disconcertingly that she was taller than she was used to in flat shoes. She looked for a window to see her reflection, “What is this?”
“If you recall I said something about how it be necessary to adopt a disguise when we got here,” he replied smoothly. She did indeed remember Ethan making some vague reference to that effect just after Willow had conducted the pre-flight checks.
“But I thought you meant a dark wig and shades. What is this? What did you do?”
“It’s vital that our true identities are not discovered.”
She looked at her reflection. Her face was older, late thirties perhaps, with a darker skin complexion and laughter lines around her eyes that her makeup did well to obscure. Her hair was distressingly grey at her ears and even her eyes were a different colour. It was not a face she recognised, but it did at least feel like it belonged to her.
“We can’t use our own names either,” Ethan continued. “Tell you what, I’ll be Adam and you can be Eve.”
Ethan, it seemed, could be annoyingly smug in any dimension. Buffy punched him in the ribs but was shocked to find it made very little impact on him, quite the opposite in fact, it was her fist that actually hurt.
“Damn,” she said. “Unless you are wearing body armour, I’m not as strong like this. I’m not the Slayer here.”
“Ah.” Ethan looked comparatively worried even by his louche standards. “I hadn’t actually accounted for that. That might be a bit of a problem.”
Buffy narrowed her eyes. “Just what have you been accounting for? Are you sure we are even in the right place?”
“I’m sure. These hell gods can make their domain look like anything they please, so I’d say this is for Rupert’s benefit.” He looked around slightly nervously. “Though I brought you along because I thought I could count on you as the Slayer.” He looked up at the dark sky and the alley they had found themselves in. They were alone for now, but in the poor light, anything could sneak up on them. “So that’s a pity.”
Buffy folded her arms to demand further explanation. “And here’s me thinking I brought you along. What else are you not telling me? You do have an escape plan, right?”
He smiled weakly. “Actually, no. I’m rather hoping something will present itself. In the meantime we should probably get out of here and mingle a bit. See if we can muster some intelligence about these hell god brothers and strike a deal.”
He began to walk and she followed, angry at his haven taken the lead.
“We should try to find Giles first,” she argued.
“No, that’s actually the last thing we need to do.”
“Why?” She stopped and gave him an angry head-tilted look. “I may not be able to punch you very effectively, but I’m sure I can find a trashcan to bludgeon you to death if needs be.”
Ethan smiled patiently. “He cannot learn who we are, dear child. If we tell him or he figures it out, there is a real danger our outward appearance and bodies would collapse as the deception is broken and our foreign presence is this dimension is rejected.”
“Meaning we would cease to exist, here or anywhere else. And as ‘no more me’ is not something I wish to contemplate, we should actively avoid Rupert wherever possible.”
They left the alley with Buffy uneasy at the sudden way her rescue mission had been turned on its head. Nothing was how she had expected it to be. They were walking in a regular town with no obvious evil undertones except a complete absence of traffic and people.
Ethan seemed to be amused though. “So this would appear to be Rupert’s vision of Hell: small town Americana,” he mocked. “How quaint.”
Familiar landmarks suddenly appeared: buildings, street signs, fire hydrants and parks she knew. Buffy was puzzled to find herself in a facsimile of the town she grew up in.
“This is Sunnydale,” she said. “A slightly freakier version perhaps.” Buildings that had no business being next to each were suddenly near neighbours. “Slightly cramped maybe, but still Sunnydale. Did you know about this too?”
“No, I was expecting something far more Hieronymus Bosch. It’s disappointing really. Ripper has no imagination. Not a pitchfork in sight.”
They walked on and although Buffy couldn’t quite remember how they got there, she found they were in the middle of one of Sunnydale’s cemeteries. Restfield, if she wasn’t mistaken. Giles’ favourite hunting location when he’d first taken her out on patrols. All the headstones and monuments were as familiar in outline to her as childhood. Ethan stopped to read an inscription. – Jennifer Calendar. Buffy was pretty sure Ms Calendar had been buried in Stonevalley, but as she looked around at more of the grave markers, unease grew inside her. All the stones in Restfield now read Jennifer Calendar.
It was a disturbingly cruel blow to realise Giles’ vision of hell centred on his grief for another woman. He had loved Ms Calendar, and Angel, whilst soulless, had killed her and taunted Giles with her dead body. Buffy, having felt betrayed by Jenny, had failed in her duty to protect her and now she was being punished with the knowledge that Giles’ passion and grief surrounding his loss of his girlfriend was what fuelled his idea of purgatory.
A woman’s scream suddenly pierced the night. It was the first noise they had heard since they’d arrived and it came from the Du Lac Church, which should have been five miles away but had now obligingly hooved into view just across the street.
Buffy started to run while Ethan protested, “Oh must we charge quite so heedlessly into danger?”
She ignored him and raced up the stone steps to the East entrance. Ethan had followed reluctantly but pulled up sharply. “You don’t actually expect me to go inside? These places are terribly bad luck.”
“Oh I don’t know.” A new voice spoke to them from behind Ethan, recognisably the female who had screamed to get their attention. “They always work for me.”
The church door opened suddenly and Buffy was grabbed from behind. She didn’t have the same strength but she levered her attacker over her shoulder as best she could, unfortunately he was quick to his feet and caught her with large hands. She struggled in his grip and looked for Ethan to help her.
“Buf-” he began but his words were cruelly choked in his throat.
As her burly vampire attacker held her, Buffy was forced to watch the whole horror play out before her like a slow motion replay. A woman’s hand snaked around Ethan’s neck from behind, then savagely pulled his hair to lower and twist his head. There was a rush of blonde hair as she’d jumped and plunged her fangs deep into his artery. He thrashed his elbows briefly, but she snapped his neck bone and his hands dropped lifelessly before Buffy could even think about moving. She could only stand pinned and in shock whilst Ethan’s body was being held up grotesquely and the female vampire continued to feed. Other vampires gathered from the shadows and stood gleefully in admiration of their leader’s kill. Finally she let his dead body slump to one side and wiped her mouth the back of her wrist. To Buffy, it was horrible to see this vampire’s face, contorted in pleasure and blood. But then more horrifying still, the creature dropped her demonic appearance, and her features turned into a prefect replica of Buffy Summers.
on to chapter four...