Harrington Art House – Evening
The art house was quite large, but seemed unusually cramped because of the low ceiling and number of exhibits displayed. Paintings upon easels, urns upon pedestals, exquisite silverwork upon tables – dozens of these dotted the space. Elegantly dressed men and women meandered through the pieces of art, pausing here and there to gaze upon particular works. Among them were a tuxedo-clad Giles and an evening gown-draped Becca.
Giles and Becca both faced one painting in particular.
“That it’s weird,” Becca explained as she pointed.
“Very well,” said Giles agreeably. “The painting, as you say, is weird.”
“Funny-looking, too.” He nodded.
Giles paused, even giving a smile. “Most women don’t want their gentlemen to tell them lies.”
“Shows how much you know. There are lies, and then there are lies.”
“Ladies allow some lies,” continued Becca with a smile, “as an essential part of elementary romantic etiquette.”
“Let’s see…” Becca paused for a moment and then grinned, holding up a finger. ” ‘No, sweetheart, that dress doesn’t make you look fat,’ or, ‘I absolutely love your mother’s cooking’.”
Giles held back his laugh, not wanting to have an outburst in the quiet room of onlookers.
“As one eager to expand his knowledge of all things occult and esoteric,” he paused with a teasing grin, “thank you for the lesson. However, I must respectfully decline to characterize this painting as ugly. lest my aesthetic judgment be called into question elsewhere. More specifically, in my choice of feminine company.”
Becca chuckled softly. “Good save,” she muttered, nodding. “You’re learning already.”
“I’m a quick study sometimes.”
She smiled at Giles, but then turned to the painting again. She cocked her head a little, looking at the artwork.
“But I still don’t like it,” she decided. Then she read the card below it. “La Nephille by Honore D’Arveau. 1928. Never heard of him.”
“You did say the Symbolists weren’t your favorites.”
She nodded. “Well, look at this thing. What’s this supposed to be? Paris in the wake of World War I?”
With a smile, Giles shook his head. “Symbolism isn’t that…linear,” he explained.
Becca looked at it again, cocking her head in the opposite direction as if hoping for a new perspective. Giving up, she shook her head.
“No,” she said decisively. “I still like Dogs Playing Poker better.”
Giles let a loud chuckle escape his mouth, but he quickly quieted himself when a few heads turned in his direction. He continued to explain, putting an arm around Becca’s shoulder.
“The idea is to consciously use symbols as an interpretive medium, thus creating new symbols out of old. A nephille, by the way, is the offspring of a union between angel and demon, both holy and infernal, sacred and profane.”
“How very well-learned,” uttered a cold voice behind them. Both Giles and Becca turned and saw an elderly woman standing there. Although her hair was white and face wrinkled, her eyes were piercing. Those eyes bored into Giles, a subtle sneer on her lips. He didn’t flinch, but every trace of good humor drained from his face. “Hello, Ripper,” she said.
“Mrs. Hoffman,” he inclined his head slightly.
She looked him over, not unlike an aristocrat rendering judgment on a piece of not-very-high-quality horseflesh. Although she didn’t sniff, she might as well have. “You clean up rather well.”
“Thank you,” was his cool reply.
“But then,” she continued, ignoring Becca, “I’m well aware you are not without talent. Deceit, for example. Your abilities in that regard were considerable even as a boy. Presumably, as a man…” She let the sentence hang. They glared at each other in a very quiet, terribly British way for several thousand milliseconds before Giles blinked. Then Mrs. Hoffman turned to Becca. “My dear, were you aware your companion had such a colorful nickname? Ripper. Sounds quite disreputable, don’t you think? Brings to mind such words as ‘crime’ or ‘dangerous.’ At least it does to me. What do you think?”
“I think,” said Becca coolly, “that perhaps you should properly introduce yourself before posing such personal questions.”
That got a cackle from the old woman. “Oh, good. Some backbone. Well, you’ll need it with the likes of him. There’s little doubt of that.” And with a withering stare at Giles, she wandered off.
Giles slowly turned back to the painting, his face drawn and lips thin. Becca let out a long sigh. “And who was that sterling example of humanity?”
“Emily Hoffman. One of my teachers at Oxford.” He said this with no intonation at all.
“My condolences, Sweetie.”
“On the contrary,” Giles replied. “She has reason for her low opinion. My youth…was not a terribly mature time.”
“Isn’t that the whole meaning of youth?”
Giles waited. “It depends,” he said at last. “Shall we stroll?” Although he had a smile on his face while saying this, Giles’s face was clearly a mask.
“Truly, we only have another twenty minutes before the auction begins. I’d like you to choose a suitably lovely piece that I can buy for you.”
“Well, that’s all very well, but –”
“Becca,” he began stubbornly, “let’s enjoy this event together. Please.” He didn’t even look at her as he said it.
“Alright,” said Becca delicately. “It’s your night.”
“Excellent.” The relief on his face was obvious.
Harrington Art House – Later that Evening
“And sold! …To Number Six for one thousand two hundred dollars. Congratulations, sir.” The auctioneer rapped his gavel and the audience broke out in polite, but sincere, applause. Employees of the Art House tagged the little bronze centaur statue with the number six, the same number as Giles had on his bidding paddle.
Becca smiled almost shyly. “I could get used to having a rich beau,” she whispered.
“Do so,” Giles whispered back. His features were again relaxed. He even winked before turning to see the next item up for bid. It turned out to be the painting he and Becca had been examining earlier.
“Next,” said the auctioneer smoothly, “a Symbolist oil painting from the 1920s. La Nephille by Honore D’Arveau. Mr. D’Arveau, as you may know, vanished in 1931, leaving a body of work that has only been rediscovered within the last two decades. Harrington House acquired this work from the estate of Mr. Carlo Giovanni. Let’s start the bidding at five hundred.”
Giles stared at the painting, his eyes drawn to the face of the winged being. For a few moments, he didn’t even react to Becca’s words.
“Excuse me?” he asked as he turned to her, realizing she had said something.
“Maybe you should get that one for yourself, I said,” whispered Becca.
“I have one thousand five hundred,” said the auctioneer, “one thousand five hundred. Do I hear one thousand six?”
A paddle marked “22” was raised.
“One thousand six! Is there a one thousand seven? Anyone?”
Giles stared at who was bidding. So did Becca. Mrs. Hoffman, behind them and to their right, looked pleased. No one else had bid. It looked as if she would carry home the D’Arveau.
“One thousand seven?” repeated the Auctioneer smoothly. “Going once, going twice…”
Giles raised his paddle.
“I have one thousand seven. Does anyone wish to bid one thousand eight? I have a thousand eight,” the auctioneer nodded to Mrs. Hoffman, who now glared at Giles.
“Do I have one thousand nine?” The auctioneer asked the gathering.
“Twenty-five hundred,” Giles said, raising his paddle.
By now, Mrs. Hoffman’s glare had just a hint of fear. Giles stared right back. Becca looked between them, puzzled. Mrs. Hoffman raised her paddle.
“Two thousand six hundred, do I hear two thousand seven…”
Instantly, Giles raised his own. “Three thousand,” he offered.
A pale Mrs. Hoffman continued to stare at Giles. She ever so slightly fidgeted.
“We have three thousand. Three thousand and one?” he asked looking at Mrs. Hoffman, who simply played with the paddle. “Three thousand it is. Going once…”
Becca leaned over to Giles and whispered, “What’s going on?”
He didn’t answer, but continued to stare at Mrs. Hoffman.
Again the audience broke into applause, and Mrs. Hoffman rose from her seat. Her movements appeared almost regal, but as she made her way out of the auction room, there was something unmistakably shaken about her. She didn’t look back as she exited the room.
“Rupert?” Becca said as Mrs. Hoffman went out of sight. Giles turned in his seat, back towards Becca. “What was all that about?”
“That must have been the only thing she wanted,” he said. His gaze was fixed on the painting he’d just bought. “How odd.”
“You know what’s odd?”
“The way you’re acting.”
“You suggested I buy the bloody thing,” he noted.
“But you didn’t just buy it, you kept that old woman from having it.”
“In a way. Yes – I admit that is true.”
The auctioneer was speaking. He was introducing a Japanese vase once owned by the Bartletts of New Hampshire. Giles almost seemed to be listening. But then he turned to Becca, his eyes a million miles away. They came back into focus to look at her. “I’m not entirely sure.” He stole a glance at the painting he’d bought. “You know, I’d never even heard of that work until today. Or the artist.”
Now Becca stared at it as well. The winged female figure in it seemed to stare back.
Watchers Council Library – Later that night
“Well,” Xander said, “apart from the whole glowing eyes, wings and, oh yeah, the horns, I’d say she’s cute.” He was looking at the painting Giles had brought back from the auction. It was propped up in a chair where Xander and Kennedy could see it. Giles, likewise, was staring at the painting, with Becca hovering nearby.
“Yep. She’s a dish.” Kennedy agreed. “And since she’s a demon, she’s just your type.”
“Hey,” Xander replied in mock outrage. “I’ll have you know I’ve dated some women who were not, in fact, demons of any kind.”
“Didn’t Cordelia become a demon later?”
Xander sighed. “I forgot about that.”
“Sooooooo….” continued Kennedy, “name one.” She smiled as she said it.
At that, Xander suddenly turned. “I’ll ask Rowena out again.”
Kennedy didn’t quite snort. “She’ll be sporting fangs and a tail inside a year, I bet.”
Xander ignored the remark and turned to Giles. “So what’s with the painting? You don’t see enough demonic creatures during your working hours that you gotta buy pictures of them to look at for fun?”
“A Nephilim,” said Giles, “is actually not a demon of any kind. It’s a half-breed. A half-demon, but also half-angelic, being.”
“Talk about your mixed marriage,” offered Kennedy.
“Demons aren’t necessarily evil, after all,” Giles added. “Nor, for that matter, are angelic beings always virtuous. Both do have free will.”
“Rupert,” said Becca. “I think I should be getting home.”
Giles didn’t quite do a double-take, but near enough. “I’ll drive you.”
“No, that’s alright. Besides, my car is here anyway.”
She nodded. “But I’d love it if you’d show me out.”
With a grin he offered her his arm, and they left the room.
Xander and Kennedy were still staring at the painting. “Wonder if she’s a natural redhead,” pondered the Slayer as she looked at the creature. “Or if the model’s still around somewhere. Maybe she has a grand-daughter?”
“Or a great-granddaughter,” said Xander. “Get Willow – or maybe Rowena – to do a search about the artist. Who knows? You might get lucky. In more ways than one.”
“Nah,” Kennedy said, patting him on the back before leaving the room. “I’ll leave the demon chicks to you.”
Watchers Council – Slayer Training Area – Same Time
Rowena was putting the crossbow bolts back inside the storage closet when she heard music coming from the new music room. Curiously, she cocked her head and listened. “Not a bad take on Mozart,” she muttered.
Closing the closet and locking it, she began to make her way toward the sound.
Watchers Council – Music Room – Moments Later
Willow sat at the overly large synthesizer, her fingers tickling the keys. Rowena stood in the doorway, listening with an expression of astonishment on her face, one which quickly turned to admiration.
When a break in the music came, she began to applaud, making Willow snap her head around. Rowena walked deeper into the room and over to the obviously startled witch.
“I am thoroughly impressed – Sonata in C,” Rowena nodded as she finished her journey over. “And here I was ready to compliment some young, artistic slayer.”
Willow quickly turned back around to avoid making eye contact and started to blush.
“Sorry, I didn’t think anyone was over here,” she answered. “I’ll stop now,” she said, reaching for the power switch.
“No,” Rowena insisted, putting her hand on Willow’s to stop her. “Don’t you dare. Keep playing.”
“I don’t play. Not in front of people. A-and it’s been years since I actually sat at one of these,” Willow answered.
“For someone who hasn’t played in years, heck for someone who has, you’re really good,” Rowena complimented.
Willow blushed deeper and shook her head. “Really, I don’t…”
“Come on,” Rowena said as she took a seat beside the witch. “Play for me. I always considered learning, so I admire someone who’s done it.”
Willow rolled her shoulders and cracked her knuckles before she turned to smile at Rowena. “You realize the only reason I’m doing this is because I have a weakness for blondes, right?”
Rowena now began to blush. “Hey, however I can get it,” she joked, bumping shoulders with Willow.
Willow let out a small chuckle. “I’ll play, but you have to play too.”
“But I don’t play,” Rowena reminded her, suddenly appearing nervous.
“Oh no,” Willow told her. “If I have to play, then you have to play. Besides, this part’s a breeze. You’ll hit these keys when it’s called for.”
“But how will I know?” Rowena asked.
“Oh, you’ll know,” Willow told her. With that, the witch started to play Moonlight Sonata and Rowena smiled, giving Willow a nod of understanding. As Rowena’s part came up, Willow nodded to her. Rowena hit the keys and began to giggle.
“Look at this! I’m playing the piano!” she said, almost in a squeal, which made the witch smile even more. After a few more bars, Willow stopped and turned to her fellow watcher.
“See?” Willow beamed. “You did good.”
“I can die a happy woman now that I’ve played Beethoven,” Rowena smiled back. After a few moments, both their smiles slowly faded away, but their gazes were still intent on each other. “You’re extraordinary,” Rowena admitted softly. “Do you realize that?”
Willow blushed and seemed to will herself not to look away. She licked her lips and a light grin came to her face. “You’re pretty special yourself,” she told the blonde.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Same Time
For a little while, the couple walked together in silence. Giles seemed somewhat distracted, but more than pleased with the company. Becca, if worried, also looked like someone who’d had a good time.
“I don’t pretend to know what precisely lay between you and that old woman.”
“I’m not sure if I want you to know.”
She paused before answering. “Okay,” she drawled. “But am I right in thinking it has to do with who you were twenty years ago?”
“More like thirty, actually. I have now achieved demi-centenarian status now,” Giles said with mock grandeur. “In those days,” he added a moment later, his manner very different, “I rather doubted I’d live to see thirty, much less”
“Your Ripper days?”
“But you didn’t collect body parts and feed them into a machine, right?”
“Well,” he said, a gleam in his eye, “not as a rule.” That got a smile out of Becca. His own grin faded slightly as he continued, “But that does not mean it wasn’t apropos. And yes, that was the time in my life when I knew Mrs. Hoffman.”
“Not a giddy relationship?”
“There were times I laughed. I shouldn’t have, but I did. And seeing her, after what happened with Howard…” he said nothing more.
Becca hugged his arm.
Outside Watchers Council – Moments Later
From a shadow across the street, Pete Owens watched the front door. His face was different: Brow furrowed, eyes a red-tinged yellow, and fangs protruded over his lips. As the door opened, he shook his head, and the vampiric features faded. Now, he appeared human. It was in this form he watched Giles and Becca, still in evening clothes, head out the door and for the latter’s car. They walked arm in arm, saying little.
The car they were headed to lay quite close, but neither was in any hurry. That gave Owens enough time to catch up. He was quiet, so they didn’t hear him. At least, neither one of them reacted.
“Hey, Mr. Giles,” said Owens when he was less than fifteen feet away.
Giles turned in the direction of the voice. That moment gave Owens all the time he needed to cross the distance. Once in range, he threw a superhumanly strong punch at the older man, sending him to the ground. “I thought maybe you’d answer some of my questions now,” the ex-reporter gloated. He let his face turn, again assuming a demon visage. “Hell! I figure in a little while, you’ll be begging to!” Then he looked at a horrified Becca. “First, though, how about some dinner!”
He lunged. Becca ducked and so managed to avoid his grasp.
“Becca!” said Giles, struggling to his feet. “Get Kennedy!”
Becca looked torn for a brief moment between doing as Giles asked and staying, but in a split-second decision she took off toward the Council building.
“What’s the hurry, man?” Owens yelled. “Ain’t got time for the press? Don’t you know that’s always gonna turn around and bite you?” He laughed at his own joke, then broke into a run.
Becca’s hand was on the door when Owens caught up with her and grabbed an arm. He yanked her toward him, fangs bared. “You think you could go for a younger man?” he sneered.
Becca kneed him in the groin, forcing him to lose his hold, and she rushed inside the Council.
Watchers Council – Music Room – Moments Later
Willow and Rowena sat shoulder to shoulder as Willow began to close the distance between their lips. Rowena’s eyes fluttered closed, but quickly shot open when they both heard a scream from the lobby.
“Somebody help! Vampire!”
“Becca,” Willow muttered as both she and Rowena shot toward the door.
Watchers Council – Same Time
Giles leaped on Owens’s back and the vampire twisted back and forth, trying to shake him free. In a last ditch effort, the demon flipped Giles over so that the watcher landed flat on his back, knocking the wind out of him
Owen closed in on Giles with a smirk but then, his face went slack. He stumbled backwards and looked down at the pointed piece of wood sticking out of his chest from his back.
“Damn,” was all he had time to say before going poof.
By now Becca, Rowena and Willow had arrived outside, each armed with stakes. Giles gingerly rose to his feet, and, almost instantly, he and Becca were in each other’s arms.
Clutching Becca to his chest, Giles looked at Faith, who was standing with her slayer group, putting her stake back in her pocket.
“Thank you,” he told her sincerely.
“Timing makes champions, huh?” She said as she bent down to examine the dust. “He hadda be a newbie vamp,” she surmised. “I mean, who else is gonna try that at Slayer Central? Sucky way to end a date though,” Faith said as she rose and turned in the couple’s direction.
Almost against her will, Becca began to laugh. “You…could say that…” she agreed between chuckles. Nervously, she continued to giggle, a reaction Giles didn’t share. Instead, he looked sick.
“Is everyone okay?” Rowena asked. “Giles?”
“I’ll be fine,” he told her shortly. “Just need to catch my breath is all.”
“Okay,” she said, sounding a bit nervous. “I’m going to call it a night, I think. I’ll see you all in the morning.”
With not so much as a glance toward Willow, Rowena swiftly went back inside. A look of defeat came over Willow’s features as she watched Rowena’s hasty exit. The witch looked up to see Kennedy’s curious expression at the display and she quickly started to speak.
“Think I will too,” Willow told the group. “Maybe Kennedy or one of the girls should see you home?” Willow told Becca.
“I’ll be fine Willow, but thanks,” the shopkeeper answered. “It was just a fluke, I’m sure.”
Willow nodded as she quickly walked inside.
Watchers Council – Library – Later that Night
The painting was still on the chair. But now Giles, his necktie undone, sat alone staring at it. As always, the beautiful creature on the canvas seemed to stare back.
Robin stepped inside the library. “You’ll be pleased to hear,” he said, “Becca got home without incident.”
“Good. That is genuinely excellent news,” Giles replied, his voice lacking any excitement.
Robin scrunched his eyes as he examined Giles, but didn’t push for answers about his lack of enthusiasm.
“Xander had a good idea, by the way,” he said instead. “He figured there’d be a way to rig some kind of mace spray, but with holy water. Or better yet, a mix of holy water with mace. That way, all of us without superpowers could be that much better prepared, for both vampires and just plain muggers. Good idea, don’t you think?”
“Yes. Excellent.” Giles continued to stare at the painting.
Robin watched Giles viewing the painting for a moment. “You want a drink?”
“No, thank you.”
“How about some tea?”
“That would be fine, yes.” His eyes didn’t waver from the painting.
“Good. ‘Cause Andrew took it upon himself to make you some. He’ll be here any moment. I’m not sure, but maybe he even found some crumpets to go with.”
That got the mildest of smiles from the older watcher. “Well, that’s a kind thought.”
“Yeah,” agreed Robin. “Looks like you might need a few minutes alone. Think I’m gonna do some research on this painting, myself.” He contemplated it. “I’ll let you know what I find.”
“Same to you.”
Robin looked back one last time before he left the room, shaking his head. Once alone again, Giles got up and went to one of the desks. Inside a drawer, he found a magnifying glass. Then he approached the painting, examining it closely. He used the glass to look at the subject’s face. Fully a minute passed. Then…the eyes of the portrait blinked.
Giles pulled back with a start.
“You look as if you could do with some tea,” a voice called to him.
Turning, Giles said, “That’s exactly what I was thinking.”
Instead of Andrew, Quentin Travers stood before Giles. Neither watcher seemed too alarmed by the fact, nor concerned.
“It hath power to soothe the nerves and calm the soul,” replied Travers, passing Giles a cup from the service he had brought. It seemed particularly in place here, surrounded by antiques and memorabilia. “And despite your calm exterior, Rupert, clearly both nerves and soul could do with some aid.”
Sighing, Giles nodded. “Maybe so.” He sipped his tea.
End of Act Two