Watchers Council – Training Room – Later that Night
Faith, Kennedy and Mia all turned their heads toward the clattering noise at the door to see that Andrew had run into Xander’s back with the tray.
“When someone stops in front of you, that’s your cue to stop too,” Xander told him.
“Hey, tea and crumpets,” Faith smirked. “You shouldn’t have, Andy.”
As Faith began to make her way over, Andrew protectively pulled the tray closer. “These are for Mr. Giles,” he warned.
“He’s not gonna miss one,” Faith told Andrew as she reached over, taking a treat. “Or two, for that matter,” she added as she grabbed a second one. “Or three, actually.”
Andrew now physically moved behind Willow as a barrier between him and Faith, who gave him a teasing smile.
“Taking the scenic route to the library?” Kennedy asked as she put the dumbbells away in a nearby storage closet.
“Not so much,” Willow answered. “We’re looking for Giles and we can’t seem to find him.”
“Maybe he slipped off to Becca’s for a more private birthday celebration,” Faith offered, wiggling her eyebrows.
“Maybe,” Willow answered, not appearing convinced.
“I’m sure he’s alright. Maybe he just wanted to get away from everyone asking how he is,” Kennedy told her. “That can get real annoying. Believe me, I know.”
“We can’t help that we care about you,” Willow replied. “So I refuse to apologize,” she added firmly, but gave the slayer a soft grin.
“Yeah, well, I’m fine,” Kennedy told her.
“Mighty fine,” Mia drawled from behind Kennedy, as she examined Kennedy’s backside.
Kennedy pursed her lips to stop a grin from escaping and broke eye contact with Willow. As a result, she missed the double-take that Willow gave Mia. The witch turned to Xander and Andrew quickly. “Anyway, if you find him, can you guys give me a call?”
“Giving up the search?” Xander asked Willow.
She nodded. “I think they might be right, give him some space. Besides, I’m feeling pretty wiped out tonight. I’m gonna go lay down.”
“You feeling okay, Red?” Faith asked.
“Yeah, just tired,” she answered. “But you guys call when you find him, okay? I want to know he’s alright.”
“Sure, no problem, Will.”
Xander watched her for a moment before turning to the two slayers. “Anyone up for some lukewarm tea while Andrew goes to make a fresh pot?” he offered.
“No, but I’ll take some more cookies,” Faith said as both she, and now Kennedy, closed in on Andrew.
California Highway – Dawn
In the glimmer of stars and a startlingly full moon, the trees along the highway were easily visible, even before dawn. As a lone car made its way north, the headlights were almost unnecessary. Still, they were on. The sign the car passed was easy to read for both reasons – the moonlight and the electric shine from the car. It read: “Sunnydale – 10 miles”
Car – Same Time
Rowena Allister was driving. On the passenger side, Giles lifted his head and blinked.
“I do apologize,” he muttered. “Jet lag. One more sign of approaching senility, I fear.”
His fellow watcher made no comment, but kept driving.
“What an extraordinary moon,” he said after a few moments. He actually took off his glasses and cleaned them before looking again. “Excessively bright. And a cobalt blue I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before. It even looks larger!” His eyes darted to Rowena. “Doesn’t it seem so to you?”
She shrugged. “To me, the moon always seems huge. Probably because I grew up beside the sea.”
“Ah, yes, I remember.”
“Do you?” Now she lifted an eyebrow in his direction. “I suppose Mr. Travers shared some of my personal file?”
“No, as a matter of fact, he didn’t.” Giles blinked. “I’m positive he did not. Yet…somehow I know you were born in Nova Scotia. In a tiny fishing town? Is that right?”
“As a matter of fact,” Rowena said, “it is.”
“But…how do I know that?” Giles stared at Rowena for a long hard moment or two, looking for a reaction, but didn’t get one. She simply continued driving.
Downtown Sunnydale – Morning
Although never a hustling center of activity, Sunnydale had usually been more active than this. Several storefronts were empty, with ‘For Rent’ signs displayed, and in some cases, fading. Several pedestrians wandered the near-empty streets, but half looked homeless.
Sunlight revealed more than storefronts or a few random people. Upon one bench was what looked like a high school couple. The girl even wore a cheerleader outfit. Her date, if that’s who he was, wore an athletic jacket. Both were ashen, with unseeing eyes staring up, the heads fallen back. Mouths were agape. Each throat bore the telltale wounds from a vampire.
The car slowed as it passed that bench, with Giles and Rowena staring at the scene from inside.
“Even for a Hellmouth,” Rowena asked, “isn’t that extraordinary?”
“Yes,” confirmed Giles. “So, too, is the way no one seems to be reacting. Presumably someone, a police officer perhaps, will notice. Presumably.” He said this last word a little hopefully.
Rowena reached down and turned the radio on. It took her a few moments to find a local radio station. A strangely melancholy song emerged from the car’s speakers. A woman’s voice intoned like confession:
“We danced graveyards with vampires till dawn.
We laughed in the faces of kings, never afraid to burn…”
“According to Tara,” Giles continued, “Willow should still be at the house where Buffy used to live. One of our priorities should be to ascertain the status of Dawn.”
“The Slayer’s sister?”
“Yes. We…that is, I…owe it to her.”
“Certainly,” Rowena agreed.
On the radio the song continued… “Oh these little earthquakes, here we go again/Oh these little earthquakes, doesn’t take much to RIP us into pieces…”
“You should know,” said Rowena, as she directed the car out of the main streets and into the residential areas, “I took the time to carefully choose a weapon before leaving London.”
“In case.” Rowena patted her side, where the slightest bulge showed. A holster? “The bullets are designed for maximum damage. Should it prove necessary, I’ll aim quickly at her head. From behind, naturally. I’ll be quick. I promise.”
“That…is reassuring, I suppose.”
The car proceeded on, while from the radio the refrain from the song played:
“Give me life, give me pain, give me myself again.
Give me life, give me pain, give me myself again.
Give me life, give me pain, give me myself again.
Give me life, give me pain, give me myself again…”
Summers Home – Later
The neighborhood looked abandoned. Most houses lacked cars, and the yards were overgrown with weeds. A few automobiles appeared covered with dust and leaves. In fact, only one lawn appeared at all well groomed – the very one Rowena drove the car towards, parking outside.
As the car’s engine stopped, Giles was the first one to emerge. His eyes were fixed on the lone figure working a rake on the same spot of grass, over and over and over. Giles waited for Rowena to join him, then walked towards the girl with the rake.
She didn’t react at first. Giles actually had to move in front of her. Still, she didn’t stop raking. “Dawn?” he whispered, then reached out to take the rake from her hand.
Dawn looked up. Her long brown hair had been combed, but not carefully. Clothes hung loosely on her frame. But her eyes – they appeared dull. Eyes that had been bright and alive now stared with hardly a flicker of reaction.
“Dawn?” Giles whispered. “It’s Giles. Tara sent me.”
She looked at him, then at Rowena beside him, and back at Giles again. Every move seemed in slow motion. Pale lips parted and repeated his name. “Giles.”
“Yes. I’ve come back.”
“Giles,” she said again without inflection.
“Magic did this,” said Rowena, an edge of fury in her voice.
“Almost certainly,” replied Giles. “Dawn, we need to see Willow. Is she here? Dawn? Do you understand?”
The teenager almost didn’t react at all. Her eyebrows moved, slightly. Her mouth formed the word ‘Willow,’ without actually speaking it. Slowly, awkwardly even, she turned and began walking towards the front door of the Summers home. Her feet dragged on the ground.
Giles followed. So did Rowena, hand hovering near the pistol under her coat.
Summers Living Room – Moments Later
Dawn clumsily opened the front door and the two watchers followed her inside. Even though the curtains were drawn, every electrical lamp was lit, flooding the interior and letting them get a good eyeful.
By any standard, the house’s interior was disheveled. Piles of books teetered on almost every flat surface. Most of the remaining surfaces held nubs of candles – lumps of mostly-melted wax of almost every color. Soot stained the ceiling. Dust was almost everywhere. The walls were defaced with hundreds of intricate formulae, combining higher mathematics with mystical symbols. Dawn wandered into the middle of the living room and remained there, eyes on nothing, not even swaying. Rowena swung her eyes deliberately over the entire room, doing a scan. Giles, meanwhile, could hardly take his eyes off the painting that hung over the mantle.
It was a large oil. The subject was a beautiful woman, save that she wasn’t really a woman at all. Black horns rose from her forehead and brilliantly colored wings fanned out from her back. Behind her blazed a full moon of almost neon blue. Giles stared at it.
The voice came from the stairwell and roused Giles from his reverie. He turned in time to see Willow come down from the second floor.
“I said, who’s…” she paused and blinked. “Giles?”
The two looked at each other for what seemed like a long time. Willow’s hair, like Dawn’s, was combed but little else. Also like Dawn, Willow was pale, as if suffering from a combination of poor sleep, too much worry and too little sun. Her eyes appeared puffy, yet sunken at the same time. Like dark pearls, they shone from Willow’s face and the ghost of a smile flickered there.
“I should have known,” mumbled Willow, her weirdly dark eyes still set on Giles. “Giles. Of course – it had to be Giles.”
“Willow, you need to tell me what’s happened.” He spoke soothingly.
“Giles…it’s too late…Buffy’s gone…you’re gone…Xander’s gone…Tara’s gone…but Dawnie’s not, are you?” Willow reached out her hand and stroked the back of Dawn’s head, but the teenager seemed unaffected.
“Willow, tell me what’s happening?”
She blinked, and it looked as if she suddenly saw him there for the first time. “You’re really here.”
“Indeed, I am.” He tried to smile.
Willow grinned. It didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Things got out of hand a couple of times…” She nodded, then her smile faded. Silence.
Giles nodded, as well. “Things got out of hand…?” he prompted.
“Magic…it’s…” she continued after a moment, even taking a few steps forward, “it’s like a computer. Magic doesn’t think, it just does. Whatever you program it to do, it goes ahead and does.” Taking a swallow, she kept those dark eyes on Giles. “And…and if you forget something…or, or if you don’t compensate for possible glitches…all kinds of other things can happen. Things you didn’t want. Things you never, ever wanted, not ever.” Every trace of pleasure suddenly drained out of Willow’s face. She looked infinitely sad, wrung dry of tears. “Like…” she whispered “…maybe you just want somebody to be quiet, you know? Just want them to…to…to shut up a little. So you can concentrate! So you can make things better! I never meant to kill him. He was my friend.”
Giles sighed. “I understand.”
Willow’s face lit up, ever so slightly. “You do?”
“Only too well,” Giles answered. He noted the stealthy way Rowena had circled round so that she now faced Willow’s back. As he spoke, however, his gaze remained on Willow. But his voice was louder than need be for just her ears. “Listen to me. There is still hope.”
“Giles, I have few things left in this world. Hope isn’t one of them.”
“But Willow, you do, don’t you see? You’re an exceptional watcher. In fact you won a fencing championship in nineteen…seventy…” Giles trailed off, a confused look on his face.
“Giles, I wasn’t even born then,” Willow told him. “I could never become a watcher. Not after all the damage I’ve done.”
“Something’s not right here,” he muttered.
She nodded emphatically. “Believe me, I know, Giles. That’s why I’ve been studying.” She waved her hand at the books all around them. “To correct it all I’ve got to be able to compensate for a huge number of factors, taking literally thousands and thousands of possibilities into account, from the weather to the astrological signs and genetics…and…and the moon…plus my own diet, even! And the clothes I wear! Plus concentration! Plus what kind of ink and paper to write out the incantations…!” Her voice rose, along with its speed. “It’s too much! Too much for any one person! That was my mistake! I can’t do this on my own. I can’t be everything to everyone.” She almost cried at this last, but barreled on.
“I realize that, Willow,” Giles told her with understanding in his voice.
“But do you? Do you really? The fate of the world, or even one life, doesn’t rest in your hands alone, right?”
Giles’s face grew more confused and he looked past Willow in thought and spotted the picture on the wall again. He stood up and walked over to it. Once there, he ran his hand over the canvas and bumps of oil paint.
“This isn’t our world,” he muttered and began to turn around. “It feels real, but…”
Giles slowly turned around to face Willow and saw Rowena, taking advantage of the distraction. She drew her pistol and aimed it at the back of Willow’s head.
“No!” Giles shouted. At the last moment, he pushed Willow aside and raised Rowena’s arm.
The shot went off into the ceiling and Rowena turned angrily toward Giles. “You have a job to do, a duty to see through!” she shouted. “You are a watcher.”
“I most certainly am a watcher, but I am not a murderer,” Giles shouted back. “This is not the answer!”
Rowena shouted back. “You’ve taken lives for just the mere sport of it – some directly and some indirectly. We both know that, don’t we? Tell me I’m lying!”
“That isn’t who I am today!” Giles protested.
“Today, yesterday…what does it matter?” Rowena challenged. “It’s all a part of you. Honestly, look at her,” she went on pointing at Willow, who appeared to be doing a breathing exercise, chanting softly. “She’s let magic consume her life. There’s no hope for her, ever! If she continues to exist, she will go on to kill more people she claims to love.”
Willow’s eyes went blood red, no longer reflecting light, but emitting it. She turned around with a snarl. Her voice reverberated like thunder as she pointed at Rowena with both hands. “MORTIS!”
Eldritch red light flashed from Rowena’s eyes and open mouth. She had enough time to cry out in pain exactly once. The power running through her body made it jerk and spasm. A gasp escaped cooked lungs as the young woman collapsed to the floor. Wisps of smoke emerged from a lifeless, gaping mouth. Even her eyes looked boiled.
And Willow…Willow screamed. In fury, or grief, or both.
Giles acted instantly. He went over to Willow and took her by the shoulders. Looking her in the face, he could see the grimace of hate and pain and horror as plain as the still-simmering scarlet of her eyes. Buried deeper was regret and guilt.
“Willow! Willow! You must listen to me!”
“For the love of Hecate, somebody stop me…” Her voice was small, frightened.
Giles hugged her, letting the sobs wrack her body. He glanced at Rowena’s smoldering corpse and at the still-unmoving Dawn as he simply rocked Willow like a child.
“Listen carefully…” he whispered in her ear. “The past cannot be undone. I’m sorry for it, but that is the truth. Yet its wounds can be healed and good things grown from out of its ashes. Not all wounds. I will not lie to you. But many.”
“No,” came her muffled reply from amid the sobs, “they can’t.”
“Actually, you’re quite wrong.” Giles said these words gently, yet with a firm strength. “Do you remember that talk we had about butterflies? About butterflies in China?”
For a long time she said nothing. Then, “How the beating of their wings can change the direction of a hurricane?”
“Exactly,” Giles nodded, holding Willow even closer. “And they never even know they’re doing it. By landing upon one single flower, they take thousands of lives. By landing on another, they save them. All unknowingly. You and I, Willow, we are like butterflies that way. Everyone is. Being human, we can choose. Being human, we do. And, being human, we make mistakes. Yet we can also choose again. Choose better. Wiser. Therein lies all the hope of this world. In us.” He added with a melancholy smile, “And in the butterflies.”
“So…” Willow said after a moment, her voice low, “…we can’t simply give up.”
“We can,” said Giles softly, “but then all the good we might do dies unborn.”
“Unlike Howard. He did his best, just like you on your path to redemption.”
“Yes, we…” Giles’s jaw dropped. He blinked. “What did you say?”
At that very instant, the world around him changed. Willow, weeping in his arms, vanished like smoke. So, too, did Rowena’s corpse. One by one, the pieces of furniture in the room around him faded out of existence. His eyes were fixed on the painting above the mantle. The mantle itself melted away, but the painting remained, even as the walls themselves dissolved.
“Nephilim,” he said under his breath.
Nowhere – Same Time
Instead of a room, he was now surrounded by sky. But not a night sky such as he had always known. This was the deep black and brilliant shine of interstellar space. Stars did not twinkle here, but burned. In fact, they danced around him, as if he’d suddenly gained the stature of whole galaxies. Comets shot past him. Nebulae twirled.
And Dawn gazed upon him with eyes older than the Earth. No longer a mind-blasted teenager, pale of face and dull of eye, she shimmered. And when she spoke, her voice was a thousand voices.
“You have said the words needed.”
“This place, this reality…” Giles said, looking around him.
“Is the painting,” she finished. “The part you called forth.”
“My memory does seem to have been playing tricks on me lately,” Giles replied with dignity. “But I do believe I would have remembered going through any kind of ritual to summon this world.”
“You called with the ritual of your heart. Your soul begged for answers, answers you already possessed, but your mind refused to let you see. Hence I gave them to you.”
Giles took this in. “You are a Nephellim.” His voice was low.
“And in some way connected to the painting.”
“The artist called me also, and through him I was rendered into matter.”
“You called me. As many have over the years. I gave them what I gave you, the truth you knew about yourselves. Forgetting is a curse for your kind. I am balm to that curse.”
Lips thin and eyes blazing, Giles stared. “You kidnapped me, created this…nightmare! One where Buffy is dead! Xander is dead! And Willow and Dawn, both insane! You made me watch Rowena die…!”
“You called me.”
“I bloody well did not! You stole my life!”
“Did I? Or did I just show you the facets that make Rupert Giles who he is – the Council Leader, a dedicated watcher, an uncertain lover torn between loyalty and duty…a magic abuser. Are they all not parts of Rupert Giles?”
“Those people…Every last one of them…they were me,” Giles said softly as he began to put the pieces together.
“And with the mildest of hints, the first opportunity to renew what your life has been, you did not hesitate. Some have spent years refusing the siren call of truth. Hardly a day passed for you here, and all your memories of what truly is have returned.”
Now Giles stared even harder at her, but with much less venom. He was silent for a long moment. “You had no right.”
“You. Called. Me.” She said it with finality, as if the response was beyond doubt. And in her eyes was neither shame nor cruelty.
Giles cleared his throat after a moment or two. “And…what now?”
“The rest is up to you.”
Watchers Council – Library – Same Time
Giles blinked. He looked at the door, where someone was knocking.
“Giles?” called out Xander’s voice. “You in there?”
“Yes. One moment.” He strode over to the door and opened it. Xander was there, looking puzzled. Beside him stood Andrew, looking puzzled and worried. And carrying a tea set.
“Um…is that for me?” Giles asked.
No one said anything for a moment, and then Andrew chimed in. “Thought you might like some fresh tea. But you weren’t in the library or the study or the slayer training area…” He trailed off.
“Well, thank you. That’s most kind.” Giles took the tea set from Andrew and placed it on a coffee table. Xander and Andrew both followed him into the apartment with still-puzzled expressions.
“Giles,” Xander started, “not to be nosey with your British self or anything, but where the hell have you been?”
“Oh!” Andrew exclaimed before Xander could get his answer. “Is this the painting you bought?” He was staring at La Nephille, propped up on a chair. “How very…what’s the word? Surreal? Expressionist? Dada?”
“Symbolist, actually,” Giles said.
“Well, I think it’s pretty,” Andrew nodded.
“Not to get obsessive or anything, but we were worried.” Xander actually had one eyebrow up as he tried to work his question in again.
Giles looked at them with a curious expression on his face. “I…don’t really know. More tired than I thought, evidently. Or distracted.” He shrugged.
“Well, you’ve had a lot on your mind lately” soothed Andrew.
Becca’s Bedroom – Night
Becca was curled up on her bed and well into reading a hardcover when the phone rang. She watched it ring. Watched as the answering machine picked up. Then, her taped message spoke to the caller.
“This is not Rebecca’s answering machine,” it said. “This is Rebecca’s VCR. The sad truth is her answering machine was having a mad passionate affair with the toaster oven, and now they’ve run off together leaving me to pick up the slack. I’m going to try and make a beep now. If I succeed, I’ll do my best to record any message. Wish us luck.”
Following the beep, a masculine voice could be heard. “I know it’s quite late…”
Becca grabbed the receiver. “Rupert!”
“Becca? I was afraid of waking you.”
“No fear. I’m finally getting a chance to read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”
Giles chuckled. “Perhaps I should doubly apologize.”
“Don’t be silly. What’s up?”
“This will sound rather silly, perhaps, but I simply wanted to hear your voice. To tell you that I love you. And to end this day on that very pleasant note, for the time being ignoring all the travails and nonsense of earlier.” There was a beat. “As I said, that might sound rather…”
“No, dear heart.” Becca smiled a brilliant smile. “No, it doesn’t sound silly at all.”
Fade to Black
End of High Art
On the next episode of Watchers…
Amy returns to Cleveland and puts a hex on Willow, Xander and Faith, resulting in the trio experiencing an unexpected flashback to their childhoods.