Buffy woke to the smells of clean bed linen and a man’s aftershave. Her eyelids felt heavy but she pushed on through the sleepy haze and groaned slightly. She was lying on her back on a bed under sheets and became aware that a broad hand was cradling one of hers. She smiled at how good it felt to have someone there for her. She missed her mom terribly sometimes.
She heard the hand’s owner say, “Thank god she’s waking up, Buffy? Can you hear me, Buffy?”
She opened her eyes fully and focused. “Robin?”
Robin Wood was seated by her bedside, smiling. Worry and relief fought across his features. Buffy looked around her. She was in single rather sterile looking room. It wasn’t quite a hospital because there were no monitors, but the bed was certainly the main feature along with some stiff looking plastic chairs. Robin’s suit jacket was hanging on the back of one of them. He was dazzling her with a snappy yellow shirt and business tie. He looked like he’d just stepped out of an important board meeting. As head of the New Watcher’s Council he probably had.
“Why are you here, Robin?”
He grinned ruefully. “Good to see you too. I flew in as soon as I heard what had happened. Last I heard you were in
She propped herself up on the pillows. “Dawn is snowboarding some place. Where exactly are we?”
“Cute name. I feel right at home.”
"Yeah, well, I wanted you to have the best of care and besides, local doctors might not appreciate the miracle of slayer healing.”
A middle aged woman with short dark hair and kind eyes entered the room with a clipboard. She beamed at Robin to see the patient awake.
“How long have I been here?” asked Buffy.
“Almost a day,” he said.
“Wow. That’s a long time. I’ve recovered from death in less than that.” She turned her attention to the newcomer with the clipboard. “Am I OK doctor?”
The woman grinned and replied, “I’d say you are remarkable.”
“Sorry, Buffy,” said Robin. “I should introduce you. This is Mrs Preston. She’s been running
"Not a doctor I’m afraid.” Mrs Preston gave a pearly laugh, “Just a glorified housekeeper. May I say it’s an honour to meet the Slayer.”
“I'm just one of many now.”
“Even so. So glad you are awake and finally with us. I’ll fetch your clothes and of course you must be hungry. We have extensive catering as well as gymnasium facilities. I hope to get an opportunity to show you around.” Mrs Preston swept out almost clicking her heels in happiness.
“Thanks,” Buffy called. “Robin, er what happened? Why am I here?”
“You don’t remember?” She shook her head. “Well, memory loss is common with major trauma, even with your supernatural powers of recovery. Don’t let it bother you. I’m just glad you’re OK.”
“Me too. And I really appreciate you abusing the Council Jet, but what happened to me?”
“It was kinda mundane really. You had a car accident, that’s all. The police found you in a ditch and the fire services had to cut you free. They think you must have been driving on the wrong side of the road. They can be funny about that sort of thing.” He smiled a light rebuke.
“Yes. No-one else was involved so they are not pressing any charges. They do prefer it if you stay on the left.”
“Yes we are.” Robin wasn’t sure what point she was making.
“And Giles? Is he OK?” she asked with concern.
Robin frowned and looked down. Buffy felt dizzy with fear. Something bad had happened.
“He disappeared about six months ago,” Robin said gently. “Don’t you remember?”
“I remember that of course. But where is he now?” Robin looked blank. “He was in the car with me.”
“No-one else was in the car according to the police.” He looked puzzled. “Do you mean you found him? That he’s re-surfaced? Buffy, are you saying you were hunting him when this happened?” Robin was excited but then his eyes narrowed. “Did he hurt you? Did he do this to you?”
“No, well in a way, yes,” she conceded. “He was the one driving.”
“Rather badly it seems?” said Mrs Preston brightly as she returned with Buffy’s clothes. They’d been cleaned and pressed so efficiently Buffy had trouble identifying them.
“It wasn’t his fault," Buffy replied firnly. "Someone was chasing us and forced us off the road.”
Robin held up his hands. “OK. OK. Calm down. I’ll check again with the police but they were very confident you were alone.”
“Check the hospitals close to the crash. He might have been concussed and wandered off.”
Robin’s cellphone started to ring in his jacket and he reached for it. “That’ll be Dawn I guess. She’s been phoning about every thirty minutes.”
Buffy focussed on Mrs Preston as he took the call. “We have to find Giles," she pleaded. "He was in the car when it crashed. I’m not imagining it.”
“If you say so dear.”
Robin wandered out to the corridor but Buffy could still hear him.
“Dawn, hello. Yes, she’s alive and already kicking. I’ll pass you over in a second. Say, has Buffy said anything about finding Giles to you recently? She’s asking for him. No huh?” He dropped his voice but Buffy could still hear. “Yeah, maybe she’s hurt, disorientated and lying in a strange English bed and wants to be comforted by her strange English watcher. Hell I know I would. He hasn’t contacted you has he?”
Giles had been driving she was sure of that. Could he have wandered off and left her? Could he have taken his opportunity to run away from her again? No. She didn’t know what this spell was doing to him but some things were inconceivable. Giles was gone again and for all his discomfort at being with people she did not believe him capable of leaving her injured in the wreckage of their car. No. His paranoia had been justified, somebody had taken him from her and Buffy was going to get him back.
Buffy took the tour of the facilities whilst Robin checked his police contacts. Mrs Preston had been at pains to show off the kidney shaped pool with spa and sauna. Which was nice if a little dated in design. There was no-one in residence at the moment Mrs Preston had explained, “We rather wound down when… when…” but she couldn’t finish the sentence. The destruction of the Watcher Council had been a grave shock to Buffy but she’s never really thought about the impact it would have had on the likes of Mrs Preston left bewildered behind. Carrying on in that British way she supposed.
“You mentioned a gym?” Buffy helped out. Mrs Preston gratefully took the change of topic and led her to the training area. There were standard treadmills, rowers, spinners. No free weights but wall bars and an elderly medicine ball. She tried a cycle spinner, it looked new though slightly outmoded in functionality. Robin entered as she pushed the maximum resistance and continued to sprint furiously.
He beamed. “What do you think? Can we convert this place into Slayer Training Central?”
The cycle wobbled alarmingly forcing Buffy to quit. “I dunno. This equipment looks new but it’s dated and it doesn’t seem very sturdy. I may have trained by beating the crap out of a school librarian but this stuff isn’t going to hold up to daily use by multiple slayers.”
Robin couldn't hide his disappointment at her snap judgement. “Well, we need to make quite a few changes certainly but the girls would be well protected here. It’s extremely secure. There are magick barriers plus a major wall and perimeter wire with just a single gateway into the grounds. It’s a highly classified building in the Council. Could be one of the reasons the Bringers never attacked.”
The three of them left the Gymnasium and turned for the main library area. Buffy was puzzled by
“What sort of Slayer rehabilitation was this place used for?" she asked. "In fact how come I’ve never been invited here? I needed healing plenty of times.”
“Oh but Mr Giles opposed your leaving Sunnydale,” Mrs Preston interposed helpfully.
“Did he now?” Buffy thought she would take that up with Mr Giles personally if she ever found him again.
Robin added quickly, “And it wasn’t used primarily for Slayers. The Old Council’s focus tended to be elsewhere.”
“Watchers do rather lack your powers of healing,” added Mrs Preston cheerily.
That was certainly true. Buffy could picture Wesley whimpering in pain trying to lift the medicine ball. Looking after their own was what they did best.
They entered the library of
“Sheesh. Has Giles ever been here? I bet he loved it.”
“No,” said Mrs Preston following them in. “Our records show he was never brought here.”
“Pity. He’d never want to leave.”
“Access has always been strictly controlled.”
Buffy got the impression that Mrs Preston didn’t approve of Giles which was odd because usually women of that age fawned over him. They certainly had when he'd run the Magic Box but Mrs Preston was dismissive as she led them to the table where they had laid out what even Buffy could tell were a few meagre books and engravings.
Robin sat at the head of the table to explain. “This is all we’ve got from our resources on the Watcher Slayer Bond. It’s not much I’m afraid,” he apologised. “And we found some Watcher Diaries we’ve managed to recover where the writer makes references to feeling some sort of a bond.”
“Any common factors?”
“Not really. The watchers varied in age, sex and nationality. Only thing we can really say is that it tends to be the longer surviving Slayers but even then it’s by no means everyone. The Old Council chalked it up to sentimentality.”
She wished she had
“How come you’ve not shown me any of this before?”
“You’ve never wanted to discuss his name before.” It was true. Giles had been a tetchy subject ever since his disappearance. Buffy had been so angry with him. “I’m pleased you’re taking the threat seriously now,” Robin added.
“He thinks there’s a curse or spell on him. Did you find anything to suggest the Council did any magick to make him my Watcher?”
Robin picked up a journal to re-read. “Not from any evidence we’ve found. And we’ve dug pretty damn deep. We have some medieval references to the incident of the Old Council trying to speed up the Bond. But it was too unstable and I can’t see any reason for anyone to do that in the modern era.”
Mrs Preston ventured an opinion. “So much was destroyed of course, but I really can’t believe the Council were responsible. I’ve seen Watchers when their Slayer has died. They don’t display the symptoms you say Mr Giles has. I can’t see why the Council would have done anything different in his case. He comes from trusted old Watcher stock and his father was still active in the Council. He’d hardly have permitted anything ‘experimental’ on his son.”
“I don’t think they were close,” frowned Buffy.
“They may have had their differences but Mr Giles Senior was a gentleman,” said Mrs Preston. And that seemed to be her conclusive argument. She’d liked Giles’ dad maybe that was why she didn’t like Giles? she might have only heard one side of the old stories.
Buffy's eye caught sight of a small gilt edged painting. “What’s that?”
“That is what I call desperation research,” Robin replied. “It’s a 15th century oil painting called The Bond so we included it out research. Like I say, we’ve pulled everything we have and it’s not a lot. I’m not sure it tells us much but it was in the archives so...” he trailed off in apology.
Buffy studied the delicate painting. It was dark and grimy and the oils had an additional thick texture of dust in places. It depicted a simple night scene in some stylised woods: a confrontation between five people. There were three large feral men in dark peasant clothing on the right hand side. On the left there was a man in a dark torn shirt. He was on his knees, his hands were in front of him pleading. Standing between them, at the centre of the action, was a young unassuming girl with long hair and white peasant dress. To the untrained eye she looked like a victim. Buffy knew better.
“Do you know the picture?” asked Mrs Preston.
“No.” Buffy shrugged. “But she’s The Slayer. The big guys are vampires. They think they are on to a sure thing but she’ll take them down.”
Robin looked at it. “Yes, I agree. Looks to me like she’s just knocked the vampire king on his ass and the minions don’t like it. She doesn’t seem to have any weapons but my money is on her for the win.” He flirted a little. “It always is.”
“What’s the Slayer's name?”
“We don’t know. We don’t know who any of the people on it are supposed to be. I might not be based on real people anyway.”
“Pity.” Buffy wanted to ask Giles because he always knew that sort of stuff.
“We do have one good lead though. Although we’ve exhausted our research materials there is perhaps one place we could try. Have you heard of the Library of Chalcedon? Legend has it that it is housed in a great stone fortress where immortal scholars chronicle the battles between Demons and Men. If anyone can help us with the answer to what is affecting Giles, they can.”
Buffy's mood brightened at the thought of action. “Great, let’s go there," she said and rose. "Library? So what do we need, like a photo id or something?”
Mrs Preston rained a little on her parade. “It’s not that simple. The means of access is lost to us. The Council has not made contact in over a quarter of a century and we do not know where it is or how to contact them again.”
“Guys guys. This is the 21st century. Honking great stone fortresses are not so easily lost, not with satellite spy cameras up there.”
“It is hidden by magick,” the older woman replied curtly.
“OK, but there will be someone there that would know what’s happened to Giles?”
She looked to Robin who replied, “We think so yes. Find the library and they might have better information about Slayers and Watchers than we seem to have.”
“Maybe you could ask the Coven when you go to see them?” suggested Mrs Preston.
Robin agreed. “That’s actually a good idea. They don’t return my calls these days. So I think it would make sense if you went there to talk to them.”
Buffy checked her watch. Good, she had a plan. Slayer on the move. “Can I borrow a car?”
Mrs Preston frowned a little concern. “Are you sure you should be driving after last time? One of the boys could take you.”
“I wasn’t driving the last time,” she reminded the older woman rather sharply. Buffy wasn’t sure she liked Mrs Preston.
“There’s nothing you can do here.” Robin rose from the research table. “If Giles turns up we’ll notify you at once. So far no patients at any local hospitals match his description. We’re checking hotel records. The police reports insist they found you behind the wheel. The engine had cooled though so it is possible he took the opportunity to leave you.”
“If I was injured he wouldn’t leave me,” Buffy said firmly.
“Maybe he intended to get help," Mrs Preston began. "Only then he forgot….?” Something about Mrs Preston bugged Buffy. In fact, something about the whole of
“Did Giles want to stay in Sunnydale too?” she asked.
“This is the place they fix broken Watchers right? And yet you said Giles was never brought here. I’m thinking here’s a guy that was tortured by vampires. Concussed more times than can be good for anyone. Half killed by Gwendolyn I’m-smitten-with-my-evil-mitten Post.
“Don’t you dare speak ill of the dead," Mrs Preston said angrily. "Mr Travers was my best gentleman. Excuse me.” And exhibiting an angry turn of speed she fled the room and left Buffy and Robin alone. Surprisingly, he glared at her.
“She’s just a housekeeper. Don’t take out all your grievances on the Old Council on her. She didn’t make policy. She’s not the enemy here.”
“You knew about this?”
“Yes and it’s not important now. What we do next is how we’ll be judged. The Slayers that need help will come here I promise. But Buffy, she cared for those senior watchers as people. They were her gentlemen. There are a lot of Old Council keen to help but we have to tread carefully.” Robin pulled out a set of car keys from his pocket. “Go see what the Coven have to say. Call me if you find him. I mean it this time.”
He heard electronic locks this time and bright lights forced him to close his eyes as he was carried in and then dumped to the ground. He spun round but they had gone, leaving him alone in a large clean room with a heavy iron table securely bolted to the stone floor, with the additional decoration of a set of manacles welded to the top. They looked well used and blood stained. It was a grim conversation piece.
His captors had taken his watch, his glasses, his belt and even his shoelaces. It was difficult to judge how many days he’d been there. His only clues were the stubble on his chin and the ripeness of his clothes. Giles took some deep breaths to calm his nerves. The air was hot and sweet. He touched the walls and inspected the joint work. The construction of this space had taken much effort. He doubted he could have lifted one of the stones. It had a high ceiling and bars topped the final foot all the way around. Hot light poured in from one side. He jumped up but could see nothing. The heavy granite floor made no noise as he landed. It was a room designed for silence. There were incongruous cameras positioned just out of reach, but these had been added relatively recently as the room was old and had served its function for maybe hundreds of years. The electronic door locks and lights were also recent. There were no clues to what country a captive was held in. Or even if such trivial matters of nation states still mattered here.
He felt surprisingly calm even though he was sweating and his hands shook. It was oddly comforting to find his paranoia justified. But as he spent longer in the room and he analysed his emotions, he realised he was starting to feel at home there. As if he deserves to be locked in his hot box. He sat on the floor by the side of the door. It had been some years but it was sickeningly familiar. He should have realised the moment he encountered the hot sticky environment; that and the smell. The Council and its confederates exchanged a number of secret storage facilities around the world to contain threats. Places that knew how to keep a secret. Giles was pleased his father wasn’t alive to see what was happening. He hadn’t thought about him in years. He tried to take a deep breath and stop thinking about the past. The room should not frighten him. There was a puzzle here; if he focussed on solving the puzzle then the shaking might not be so obvious to his captors. He needed to be logical not emotional.
The electronic release on the door worked and the heavy iron door opened to admit a single figure in a light linen suit. The man waited for the door to be locked again and sighed as he looked around the interrogation cell with some disdain. His eyes fixed on Giles who was crouched in the corner.
The man smiled benignly. “Get up off the floor, Rupert”, said Quentin Travers, “You’re making the place look untidy.”