|The Siege of Alesia|
|By Chandri MacLeod|
|Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/So Weird|
|Categories: drama, action/adventure|
|Summary: After Sunnydale was destroyed, their old lives were over, and it was time to start new ones, whether they liked it or not. Giles, Willow and Xander embark on a quest to gather together the scattered Watchers and the Slayers.|
|Disclaimer: They're not mine, alas. I'm just using them for fun.|
|Author’s Note: This is a companion and sequel to O, Brave New World and To Paint the Silence, parts taking place immediately after the series finale. A crossover with my Paxverse; all original characters and concepts are mine. |
|One: Figures in Sand|
|Two: Long Walk on Water|
It was really rather sudden, he thought later - the progression of one extreme improbability to another, more improbable improbability. They were standing in one place, and then they stepped forward, and he was sure it had looked like solid rock, but then they were stepping through it, and it felt very much like warm water, and something pulling at them, and then--
--and then they were standing, still, stopped, on the grey marble floor of a great, round, tall room, with tall windows, and lined all around but for the wall behind them with many-tiered rows of seats.
He did the only reasonable thing. He stared.
After thirty or forty seconds, he had more or less convinced himself that he had adjusted - to the room, to the passage - he was fairly sure of himself, of the fact that none of this was likely to cause him to lose consciousness or say anything foolish.
Finally, he turned, saw a small group of people gathered next to the Gate - though the rest of the room was noticably empty. At first, he merely passed them over with his eyes, acknowledging their presence.
And then he looked again.
There were - to be precise - five people standing near the Gate. The first he recognized - though he had never seen her before, and his senses told him only that she was a Guardian. A young woman standing nearly a head shorter than himself, with softly-curling blonde hair that reached just below her shoulders, and eyes of a muddied blue that danced from behind oval-shaped glasses. She stood with great confidence and self-assurance, with the aura of comfort Giles had only known in Healers.
Which meant, he realized absently, and with mild annoyance, that she was probably a doctor. He noted, an instant later, the bracelet around her left wrist bearing the emblem of twined serpents, and nodded to himself.
Another young man, older than the others by a few years, whose appearance, for a moment, confused Giles. He was tall, lean, and his skin was of an olive tint that, with his dark, almost-black eyes, made Giles think he was probably descended, at some point, from a family with Native American ancestry. Except, irrationally, and impossibly, the young man's hair was an altogether improbable shade of red-blond. He also exuded an air of total self-assurance. He knew this place, his body said. This was normal. At the moment, it annoyed Giles to no end.
One of the remaining three was a teenage girl, the same age, he thought, as Fiona, but slightly shorter and with straight, blonde hair. She had gone immediately to the Phillipses and was now in conversation with both of them.
It was the last two that had shocked him, at least surprised him. The first, a young woman who looked as young as his charges - her early twenties at the oldest - stood with the same ease as the improbably-coloured young man. She wore all grey, short skirt and worn blazer, except for the worn, flat, scuffed boots that reached her knees. Her hair, dark blonde of the shade that teenagers lightened to gold because of its commonness, was cut to her nape in the back and left to brush her shoulders in front - these pieces were much lighter than the rest. She was tanned and wind-burned, with freckles dashed across her nose and cheeks. Her eyes were of an indeterminate blue. She was, Giles could see merely by looking, a fighter. She stood with the same easy readiness as Slayers he had known. This girl had lived fighting, at least knowing how. She was leaning comfortably into the last member of the group, a second young man who had his arm around her waist in a manner that made the nature of their relationship clear to anyone watching. It was the young man who had caused Giles' shock - presently he detached himself from his companion and advanced slowly toward them, displaying uncertainty that Giles was able to see only by having had practice.
The young man approached first Matt Hamilton, and the taller man leaned down to quietly conference with him. Improbable, Giles reflected, seemed to be the word of the day. The last young man's hair was short and spiked, and shone unmistakably red in the light from the windows. Brown eyes and narrow, quiet face gave him an overall impression of wolfishness, despite his small stature.
Finally, he stepped back from Matt Hamilton, and his eyes roved for the first time over the Sunnydale trio. And slowly, a smile appeared on the quiet face. He looked directly at Giles, but with the impression of holding the other two in his attention without trying. He extended the Watcher a hand, which Giles slowly took.
“Hey,” said Oz.
When Giles looked a moment later, he saw that Willow and Xander were staring.
“So,” asked Giles later, after his group had been sectioned off and set down along a long, rectangular table, apparently under the pretence of serving them supper but actually for the purpose of splitting them up for a gentle debriefing, “How did you come to be involved with them, if I might ask?”
The young man next to him did not look up immediately from his plate - for his part he seemed genuinely hungry, which followed, if what he'd been told were true: that the other Hellmouths had been under guard, yesterday, by Delegates. When he did look up, he scratched his head thoughtfully, fingers threading through his hair, before answering.
“It's sort of... a story of the longer variety,” Oz told him, almost smiling, but not quite. The young man's face was leaner than Giles remembered it being, as his body was leaner, more muscled, more vigorous. A few thin scars criss-crossed his forearms - shallow pink things that rippled as he moved his hands.
“Has it anything to do with Miss Bico?”
As one, Giles and Oz looked down the table to where Tilia Bico sat with Fiona and Xander, blonde forelocks tucked behind her ears and blazer draped over the back of her chair. She was chatting animatedly with both of them, Xander paying her the rapt attention common to all young men in the presence of beautiful young women. Giles suspected that Xander had been seated with Tilia for just that reason.
Giles turned his gaze from the girl to his seatmate before Oz looked back - saw the expression of warm fondness that swelled up readily in his eyes. “With Ti? Yeah. A lot, actually. Pretty much all of it.”
Giles waited, displaying more patience than he felt, for Oz to turn back.
“Remember I said I'd been in Tibet?”
“Training with monks, you said - to control your lycanthropy.”
Oz nodded, though he flinched briefly at the mention of the last word. “Yeah. Studying hard. Had to.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Most of what they teach is focus, meditation. I went straight back there, pretty much, after I left Sunnydale. I was the only one there who wasn't a local. They take people from all over, though.”
Oz gestured down the table. “Ti and her mom - that's Marya; she died a few weeks ago - came. On retreat. Delegates do that sometimes, for higher levels of training. Variety's pretty much the basic philosophy around here, especially for martial training.”
“I take it that Marya Bico was of a higher level?”
“Oh, yeah.” Oz nodded. “One of two or three chief trainers. Kids, in the Circle, start training around nine, ten. Sometimes younger, like Tilia. Man. If I thought I was passable as a fighter, did I ever learn my lesson.”
Giles smiled wryly, glancing towards Tilia. “I take it she was the one who taught you differently.”
“Kicked my ass.” Oz grinned, eyes distant, clearly enjoying the memory. “I kind of picked a fight, I guess. Hadn't had a lot of contact with regular humans for a while, except the monks. She walked up to me one day and decided to make friends. I wasn't in the mood. She... uh... convinced me.”
He turned back to the table, took a sip from his glass of water. “Eventually, she asked me why I was there. She said I didn't strike her as the spiritual type. I told her she was right, and I told her why.”
“Did she... take it well?”
Oz blinked, eyes flickering briefly elsewhere. In anyone else, it would have been a blush. “She. Uh. Jumped my bones.”
“That was sort of... that,” Oz continued. “We almost never talked about it, but she seemed fine with it. I worried, really, that she was, like, keeping something back - not telling me something. I asked her, a couple of times, but she told me not to. Then, one night, she actually pulled me out of bed and all but dragged me, outside, through the woods, and through a - uh - rock. And there's this feeling, the first time you go through an Earth-Gate, where you kinda think you're gonna die. Kinda.”
Giles made a face. “I'm familiar with the sensation.”
Oz laughed. “I guess you are. Anyway, I go from falling headfirst through nothing to standing in the Great Hall, and Tilia, all cheerful, tells me 'now, we're even'.” He held out his arms, indicating everything around them. “First night I got here, I sat through an Assembly. I was adopted a few months later. Been a Delegate almost three years, now.”
“That's what they call it. Unofficially.” He sat back in his chair, smiling faintly. “Their creed's 'Fidelitas Domus'.”
“'Fidelity, Family',” Giles translated softly. Oz, watching him, nodded.
“It's all about family, 'round here. Kinda nice.” His eyes wandered down the table again, set on Tilia. Then he sat forward, starting again on his food. “Plus I can kick ass a lot more efficiently than I used to. Even got some students - little ones, I mean. But still.”
Giles watched him eat for a few minutes before asking: “What about their magic?”
Oz stopped, looked at him. “It's not - exactly - magic. At least, not what we used to do. What Willow used to do. It's sort of...” He shook his head. “I don't know if I can explain it.”
“Try, please,” encouraged Giles.
Oz sat back, looking upward. “Magic, the way I learned it first - what Wil used to do - is... taking, or borrowing, or buying, from something that just... has it. Naturally. But it's not your power, and it can't be a part of the worker. What the Circle does... is use what they already have. I mean, I never had any power, or anything, before. Haven't got a trace of a mutation and the closest I got to witchcraft was reading Latin - badly - while Willow did the mojo. But... how did Marya explain it...” He looked at Giles again. “They call it 'natural magic'. People already have it in them. It uses what comes naturally, instead of going someplace else to get it, and use it.”
“Life magic,” Giles murmured.
Oz nodded. “Sure different from chanting over chicken feet.”
“It would be. Manipulating the very life-force of the Earth. And dangerous.”
Oz shrugged, returning to his meal again. “The way I figure it, it's no more dangerous than making bets with demons. I think I prefer it, overall. Haven't had a change in almost two years.” Oz waggled the fingers of his right hand, which was lacking the beaded charm he'd been wearing, the last time Giles had seen him. Instead, he wore around his wrist a chain, bearing a medallion identical to the one Fiona Phillips had shown them.
Blinking with surprise, Giles returned to his own meal, but only picked at it, lost in thought. This kind of magic - he'd thought, he had always been taught, that it had been lost, long ago. That it was a dead art, available only to creatures naturally imbued with magic. Demons. Immortals.
Then again, the Circle itself was supposed to be the stuff of legend - and human beings were still, fundamentally, magical creatures. It was just that, along with most of their other natural capacities, the ability to access it had been lost, over time, through neglect and ignorance.
This wasn't quite magic, Giles thought. This wasn't mutation or fluke or ritual. This was instinct, developed to its highest peak.
Given his current surroundings, he found that rather fitting.
Willow was feeling jealous.
It bothered her to feel it - she shouldn't have been feeling it, really. After all, she'd had her chance, and she'd lost her chance, and then she'd had it again, and lost it again - kharmically speaking, she really didn't have any excuse for jealousy. Other, mitigating circumstances also made the feeling more than a little ridiculous, if you looked at it rationally.
She had acknowledged the irrationality of the feeling some minutes ago - acknowledged it in the hopes that giving it a little attention and an affectionate yet dismissive pat would send it happily on its way and out of her head. Unfortunately, the feeling didn't seem to be especially vulnerable to reverse psychology. She envisioned it, presently, as a badly-behaved child. She envisioned kicking the little bastard out the nearby window, to splash quietly into the sea, hundreds of feet below. She envisioned this with vague panic, wishing that it would solve her current state of unease and leave her - relatively - normal, to deal with the situation... rationally. For several seconds, she applied her whole being to the attempt.
When banishing the feeling met with no success, she concentrated instead on making very, very sure that nobody noticed. She made conversation, or at least listened to conversation, watched Xander try not to drool, watched Fiona blush every time he addressed her - concentrated hard on not looking at their current hostess, nor down the table to where Giles was sitting with... conversing with...
She had her shields shut up tight, worried that the thought might leak out. Surrounded by telepaths, there was no knowing, despite their promises of etiquette. Even honourable telepaths sometimes picked up things by accident, and she had no intention of presenting them with an opportunity. In fact, she was still trying to clear the offending emotion from her thoughts. But every time her eyes lifted from the table, they settled unerringly on Oz - and noted that his eyes were settled unerringly on Tilia Bico.
And he was smiling.
That was it, she realised, with a jolt that was purely - she hoped - mental. He was smiling. In public. Easily, without evidence of being coaxed. Every time his eyes fell upon Tilia, every time she looked up to share the glance and something passed between them, or she smiled, he smiled. Oz was smiling. And Tilia was making him smile.
And Willow had never been so jealous in her life.
The room in which Matt Hamilton left him after supper was oddly normal in appearance after the rest of the journey through the Island's ornate and ancient halls - he could bring himself only to think of it in those terms.
The walls in this room were, he thought, granite; dark stone with veins of quartz that glittered in the daylight entering through the south-facing windows that filled one wall. Through them he could see the ocean. Well. An ocean. The lower few feet of each wall were panelled in some pleasantly golden wood that glowed gently in the sunlight. The centre of the floor was dark, golden hardwood, bordered in the smooth worn stones that had probably underlain them before the addition of the wood, scattered with worn woven mats. The room was warm, but not unpleasantly so, and cozy, despite its size - it actually put him most in mind of a studio, or a grammar-school classroom. It was, overall, overwhelmingly comfortable.
Tapestries, some pictographic, some bearing mottoes and parables, covered one wall. One design, repeated several times, was worked out on the tapestry in elegant embroidery in several different languages - many of which Giles did not recognise. Scanning down the lines, he read the first line he comprehended - which was not English; the seventh iteration was in Breton, and the English translation, to his surprise, was nearly halfway down the tapestry.
The words read: “Always guard, always believe.”
He shivered - he remembered those words, changed in Gaelic by the coven, months back, as they connected him with the First Guardian. The shiver was a purely involuntary reaction, the echo of a sensory memory burnt into him by the events surrounding his first meeting with a Guardian.
The faint shadow of another memory, this one more distant, standing arrogantly on the foggy shore of the Thames, flickered across his thoughts. No, not his first. Not really.
He shook his head and took in the room a second time. It was really a rather comfortable little space, so much so that he wondered whether someone had gone out of his way to produce such an atmosphere.
“That was the general idea, I think,” said a voice, and he turned to see a young woman closing the door of the room behind her. “I imagine that whoever built the place went to great lengths to make it feel that way.”
He’d turned quickly, out of reflex - then felt abruptly, faintly, silly. Before the door stood a young woman who appeared to be about eighteen, perhaps younger. Her hair, wavy and red-brown, hung loose almost to her waist, damp. Her skin was fair; her cheeks and nose, and her bare, pale arms, were dashed with freckles. He realised with a start, then, that she was barefoot - she wore, entirely out of keeping with his mental image, a pair of worn jeans and a sleeveless green t-shirt with the words “Clear the Air” blazoned across it in worn black silkscreen.
She could not, realistically, have come up to his chin.
He couldn't keep himself from staring - even in the few seconds before he recognised her consciously. For something else within him recognised her first, recognised the powerful - almost glowing - aura surrounding her like a cloak, which beat in her like a pulse. That was it, he remembered. They called it “meadhon” - “pulse” was the literal translation.
Physically she was, at first glance at least, unimpressive, at least knowing what she was. She looked, if anything, younger than he remembered, than he'd expected - they'd never really met, of course, but the form in which she'd appeared to him a year ago had given him an impression of wisdom and great, great power.
Looking at her now, he thought she looked younger than Buffy - her early twenties, at most. Though he knew that couldn't be right - not for Jack Phillips to have been an infant when she'd come into her power. Fifteen years ago, he'd been told.
He wondered at himself that he had not recognised her right away - but then, he remembered, they had never met, not really, and she appeared differently than she had, then. Differently how he could not quite describe - it was subtle, but significant.
Her eyes - green - gave lie to her appearance. Dark, and lively, and filled with an unfathomable sense of balance, they seemed to hold him without trying. She wore a silver-set amulet, egg-shaped, of dark, vitreous red stone, on a long silver chain around her neck. He should have seen it first.
He stood facing the First Guardian.
She smiled, then, presumably at his expression - which he was sure was a rather foolish one. “I'm sorry,” she said, “I don't mean to invade your privacy. But the best of mental defences are of little use, here.”
He met her eyes again, then, more calmly, and was surprised again by what he saw there. It had been a long time since he'd practised magic - nearly a year - since his mind had last been open and exposed in this way - long enough that he had not thought to shield himself. But the personality revealed in her eyes belied her appearance completely.
“You've got nothing to worry about, Mr. Giles,” she assured him. “I'm not much of a telepath - even here I can only hear surface thoughts. Crystallis has an amplifying effect, even with latent gifts, like yours. I'm sure you've noticed.”
He nodded. “I do seem to be able to sense everything more strongly than usual.” He looked at her, considering. “May I ask you a question, uh... what shall I call you?”
She blinked in some evident surprise, and then looked down at herself. “Oh,” she chuckled. “You know... there was some debate as to how I should approach you. I was trying to decide between relatively normal human me, and the ceremonial awe-inspiring version.” She paused, looking amused. “Though that always did baffle me.”
“How anyone could find me in any way awe-inspiring. You know, some of the older Delegates use some profoundly embarrassing honorifics - like Lady. I've gotten used to it, I suppose, but...” She shook her head. “Just Areahannah is fine.”
“All right,” Giles said, “Areahannah.” For some reason the name felt rather strange on his tongue - he had indeed been thinking about her, in the back of his mind, as Lady - most likely because his last contact with her had been through the minds of some of her most ardent followers; as likely because of the nature of his first encounter with - he thought - one of her predecessors.
But for now he forced himself to put that aside, along with the knowledge of just how powerful she really was, to regard her merely as a young woman, the way he'd always done with Buffy: it would not do to forget her true nature, he knew, but he wanted very much for his voice to retain its customary aloofness.
He found it surprisingly easy - as he put it out of his mind (as far as he could manage, at any rate), she became, to his eyes, less formidable, and did not seem to suffer for the difference.
“I'm told you sent your people to watch the Hellmouth,” he said.
She nodded. “Yours and every other.”
He wasn't sure what he expected - surprise, maybe. But she merely shrugged.
“Mostly a precaution,” she said. “Sunnydale isn't the only Hellmouth - we needed to be sure the others posed no threat, while you and your people were dealing with the primary focus.”
“So you were watching us?”
Again, no reaction but a nod, though his tone had been an accusing one. “From about yesterday afternoon. One of our strongest telepaths was with that group.”
“What if we had failed? What would you have done?”
For the first time, he spied a reaction - her back stiffened, and the warmth faded somewhat from her eyes. She crossed her arms and regarded him evenly, and the impression he'd been trying to cultivate, of a young woman in a burdensome position of power, vanished like smoke. What he saw, instead, was a general, a woman aware and competent in her command. “We would have contained the rising, Mr. Giles,” she said, and now it was her tone that was challenging, if subtly. “We had protections in place by afternoon yesterday. If you'd tried to leave, then, you'd have found yourself unable to pass the city limits.”
“These protections, I assume, were built to collapse once the Hellmouth had closed.”
“And if we'd failed, and it had remained open, you'd have done what, exactly?” He tried to keep the nettle out of his voice, and failed.
“We'd have sealed the breach.” Her voice was strangely quiet. “Permanently, if necessary.”
“With us inside?” He could feel himself scowling. But she only nodded, again.
“If necessary. Fortunately, it wasn't.”
For a moment he searched her face, looking for signs of rashness or relief - but found only the calm conviction that lies on the far side of a difficult decision already made. No, he remembered - they'd lost a dozen people in New Mexico yesterday. No real leader could feel relief at that; only satisfaction that the job was done and the losses had not been greater. Indeed, as she looked at him, she was still willing to defend her decision. “Does that bother you, Mr. Giles?”
No, he realised - this young woman was not like Buffy. She was what Buffy could have been, had she not so bitterly resented her destiny.
Finally he sighed, shaking his head. “It's a relief, actually,” he said. “Knowing that there was a last line of defence.”
She smiled at him crookedly. “That's sort of our job.”
He'd been looking for something in her face - it took him a moment to realise he'd been expecting to find doubt, there. Not finding it had surprised him - almost more because there was regret: it never seemed to leave her face. But no resentment, not wistfulness. This girl knew what she was, and what it meant, and didn't mind.
And he felt rather abruptly foolish for being angry with her - of course she'd have sealed the Hellmouth, if she'd had to. It was the only reasonable course of action. It was what he would have done.
“I assume Matt explained the basics of our proposal,” she said, and Giles noted, with some puzzlement, that she was now standing before the tall windows without him having seen her move. This place had a strange affect on the senses.
“You'll get used to that,” she said, absently. “This place... it's not out of time, exactly, but it does seem to follow its own rules on occasion.”
Hearing the fond amusement in her voice, he joined her at the window. “I do find all this rather unsettling,” he admitted. “Until a few hours ago I was dubious that the Terra Porta were anything other than a legend, let alone the Island of Crystallis, but here I am.”
She laughed. “You have an advantage over me, my first visit here,” she said. “At least you'd heard of the place.”
He could not discern whether she was serious, or not. Instead, he returned to the subject at hand. “I understand some of your interest in us,” he said, folding his arms across his chest, “that is, I understand the historical aspect.” He kept his tone carefully even as she turned her head a little to look at him with calm questioning. “But to be perfectly frank, I don't understand what... or why you would make the offer.”
“You mean to bring the Slayers into the Circle?”
She shrugged, turning back to the window. “It took several days for us to piece together our records of the Schism that separated your Watchers and ours,” she said slowly, “and even then there were gaps we couldn't have filled without knowledge gleaned from your Council.”
“So it's true. You have been watching us.” He did not intend for his tone to sound defensive - but he supposed some habits were hard to kill.
“Not us, specifically,” she told him, still not looking at him. “Our Watchers. We consider them Delegates, Mr. Giles, but they tend to hold themselves apart from us, for what must be obvious reasons.”
“Miss Phillips said something about lost histories.”
She sighed. “That's an unfortunate truth about us. We have lost a great deal of our own history - and with it we lose numbers - people. But now isn't the time to detail our fairly complicated family structures.” She shot him a brief grin, which disappeared quickly. “When unfortunate things happen here, our policy is to send as many of our people as can be sent as far away as possible - and apart from one another. That way, if one is found...”
“...Then what they carry is not altogether lost.”
She nodded again. “Unfortunately we don’t always find one another again.”
He waited, but when she did not elaborate, he filed his curiosity away for later, and asked: “Why watch us?”
“It's ironic, I suppose - at least, Matt thought so.”
She smiled again. “In all honesty, Mr. Giles, the Circle - the way we live and do our work, our goals, our ways, hasn't changed all that much in several thousand years.” She looked at him expectantly. At length, he smiled.
“Your Watchers left the Council because--”
“Because they felt the old ways were becoming stagnant, yes,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I don't know what that says about us - or you. Maybe we came upon something without trying.” She fixed him, then, with steady eyes. “But our purpose has always been the same - and in keeping with that, our original offer still stands.”
Puzzled, he tilted his head slightly to one side. “Your offer?” though he had an inkling of what she meant.
She arched one eyebrow, apparently amused by his obtuseness, but her expression quickly grew sober and grave. “It must have occurred to you, Mr. Giles, that your job's about to get a lot harder.”
Giles turned away from her again, looking out to the sea. “You know about the spell.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her nod. “We know about the spell.”
There was a moment of quiet - distantly, though he supposed the sound must have come from a nearby room, he heard what sounded like chanting, rising and falling, the voices those of children.
“We know you have a problem,” she added.
He sighed, low and frustrated. “At the time there were few alternatives.”
“I'm sure that's true,” she said, “but it isn't true right now.”
He glanced at her face - it was, frustratingly enough, as calm and serene as when she'd entered the room.
“I'm an empath,” she answered to his unspoken question. “It's something you sort of have to learn.”
The chanting paused for a long moment, and then started up again, slower and in a different key. Now it sounded more like singing.
“This is a beautiful place,” he said, under his breath. She said nothing for a time, and gradually the light in the room shifted into warmer shades, turning the rocks far below them blood red.
“The meadhon is the source of all life on Earth,” she said, just as softly. “And it is the only chance your Slayers have.”
He furrowed his brow. “How?” he asked.
She was quiet for a moment. “The magic your people used the create the Slayers - closed away to form the reservoir that has created them over and over again, that has been the source of their power - it came from here.” She did not move, but he had the impression that she had spread her arms to indicate everything around them. “There is no other source. Even the power used in arcane magic must come, at first, from the meadhon. You know that. You've felt it.”
Again, he shivered involuntarily; another sensory memory, this one of standing in a darkened Magic Box as Willow tore the power from his chest, and the fleeting awareness of what seemed a limitless fount, power beyond his ability to comprehend.
“Are you telling me that - that you can re-integrate that power?”
“No,” she said, and before he could say anything, continued: “I don't have to.”
He stared at her for several seconds before understanding. “Willow,” he said, almost before he thought it.
She smiled. “I doubt she meant to do it, but that much power... it's like... water, running downhill.”
“Do you mean to tell me that... all the Slayers... they're already linked to this place?”
She shrugged. “They may not know it yet. It may change the way they develop. It may change who they are. I don't really know. The spell made them Slayers - at the moment the only difference is that when that power is no longer needed...”
“It returns to its source.”
Again, she nodded. “Your problem is what happens when it's gone. What happens in twenty, thirty years when there are no more Slayers and no way to make new ones.”
“And what is it you're proposing?” he asked.
She sighed, quietly. “Mr. Giles, it must be apparent to you that with our resources your Slayers could do a great deal more than they do. Things have changed in the last few thousand years - at the moment we're in a much better position to help them - to help you serve your purpose, than you are, alone. Your Watchers are scattered and there are few of you left. And unless something is done, some new spell is created to ensure otherwise, your Slayers...”
She let the sentence trail off into silence, looking at him with sober eyes. He studied her for what seemed like a very long time, but when he blinked he suspected the strange nature of the place for having interfered again. Finally, he let out the breath he'd been holding in a low hiss.
“You need them,” he said quietly, with a faint edge of desperation.
“No,” she replied, shaking her head. “We don't. But they need us. And we need you.”
Slowly, he turned away from her, to look out at the sea once more. The distant voices were chanting again. “This is a beautiful place,” he said again, feeling very old, and very tired, but younger than the stones beneath his feet.
That was something, he supposed.
It had come upon him while they weren't watching. Every time that had happened in the past two years - every time he'd managed to forget, anyway - he found himself trying to decide on a reaction. None came easily.
Now he sat as if waiting for one to happen upon him.
It was cold out here of a morning, but it was also clear. Even sitting, half-lotus on an old stone bench near the courtyard wall, he could see all the way to the furthest horizon - which he'd delineated as simply the furthest point visible to the naked eye. No land could be seen from the Island. Only ocean, for miles and miles. But this early in the morning he could also see the Moon, waning in the second day after its peak. Willow had been the first person to tell him that the Moon, at the height of its cycle was full for three days, not one, counting the day before and the day after - at least insofar as he was concerned.
They'd had a schedule, a calendar, the days mapped carefully, almost obsessively. It would get close to the full moon and they would remind one another, over and over, until it became redundant, but no one sniped, because they all knew how necessary it was that they didn't forget.
He and willow had worked out the schedule together. Two weeks before his second transformation she'd presented him with a date book she'd made herself - one in which his “wolfie days” were marked with a little cartoon wolf.
He'd still been afraid of himself, then, and it had helped.
He wasn't quite sure when he'd stopped being afraid of himself. Or if he had, for that matter. But he did remember that it had gradually faded into the everyday background of his life, until it was no longer the unbearable sudden chaos it had been in the beginning, merely something inevitable, to be expected and endured. He'd begun to think that he could live with it. Everyone seemed willing to do the same.
When Verucca came along, it was as if the Universe had grown frustrated and slapped him. He'd felt nothing for Verucca - unless you counted contempt - but her brief appearance in their lives had served as a sudden reminder that his lycanthropy could not be allowed to become something routine, however much he'd wanted to believe it possible, however Willow assured him that it was. The danger, he'd realized, lay in forgetting the danger.
He'd gone away, pained at hurting Willow but knowing it was necessary. He'd left with his own terror of himself revived to full strength, but grimly determined to subdue the beast, once and for all, or die trying. He remembered precisely that phrase running through his mind on a daily basis. ::Or die trying.::
The first time, he'd thought of Willow, every day. The second, after leaving Sunnydale again, for good, he'd been at a loss of any reason to carry on. One night he'd cast off his control in despair and gone tearing out into the nighttime forest. He'd awoken bruised and freezing, remembering that the night before had been the second night of the full moon and cursing his stupidity before the monks found him limping back.
That time alone of all the other times he remembered it: only a brief moment out of the night but enough to remain with him. The howling anarchy of the beast had found its way into his waking thoughts, impressing upon him for the first time that the thing must be subdued for its own sake. He understood for the first time what Willow and Giles and the others had meant by evil, and wondered now if most of them had ever understood it, really. He bent to his meditation that day with more concentrated intent than he ever had, before.
When the moon rose that night, he did not change. He never came that close, again.
After he met Tilia, not long after, that he'd ever been “close” became incredible, so great was the distance he'd put between the monster and himself. He had not changed in nearly two years. But he made a point of remembering when a full moon was upon him.
He wasn't sure it qualified as “just in case”, because the “maybe” was so remote. But no matter how disciplined his mind, how great the measure of control, how distant and even inaudible the howls of the wolf, he knew, in a part of himself he did not enjoy but understood, that it was still there, that it would always be there, however often his new family assured him otherwise.
That wasn't fair, he realized. They acknowledged that the wolf could not be completely destroyed - they had admitted that in the beginning. But they did promise him that it could no longer threaten him. But he held to his perhaps irrational paranoia with great stubbornness. He remembered having become too comfortable, and exactly what had happened.
By the time Tilia found him, the moon had faded almost to nothing, and dawn was becoming more pronounced in the East. He didn't turn to look at her, but she crossed the courtyard and sat down beside him, curling against him like a cat. He felt her mind brush against his, as well, offering, but not intruding. He accepted the warmth of the gesture, but didn't look at her. “I woke up, and you were gone,” she said, not accusing, merely stating. “I felt you were restless. Are you all right?”
The sky was turning from grey to cool yellow, now, and he turned to meet her eyes, knowing as he had known for a long time now that it was pointless, trying to keep things from Tilia. “Nothing major,” he said quietly. Something about mornings here gave the quiet authority. He almost whispered: “Just thoughts.”
“Good thoughts? Bad thoughts? Naughty thoughts?” He chuckled, and she smiled, quirking an eyebrow at him in a decidedly lascivious fashion. When he only smiled in response, she nodded. “Ah. Deep thoughts.”
“Deeper than usual, I'll admit.”
“Don't sell yourself short.” She looked at him with curiosity, inspecting him. Gradually her expression became one of understanding. “Or too long, for that matter.”
“Most people just admit that things in the world cause deep thoughts, instead of attempting to convince themselves they exist independently.” Her tone was softly chiding. He sighed.
“I'm all right, Ti. She just got me thinking.”
He blinked at her. She shook her head. “I'm not - well, yes, I am jealous, Danny. But not actively. I'm only suggesting that these thoughts aren't new thoughts.”
She snaked an arm around his waist, and he let his arm fall around her shoulders. “They're not,” he admitted. “They're background thoughts. But right now they're not. I forgot the full moon.” He looked at her, saw her eyes reflecting concern. She touched his face with her free hand.
“You seem to have come through, all right,” she said gently.
He sighed. “I know. Usually I know.” He looked out over the wall. “Usually I just note it and move on. But they... she... reminded me.”
“Reminded you differently, you mean.”
“Yeah.” He sighed again.
“She makes you feel guilty, doesn't she?”
There was a long silence before he answered. “I never hurt anyone before her, Ti,” he said. “Not like that. Didn't think I could.” He swallowed. “After the change, after I left... I thought maybe it had to do with the wolf.”
“You didn't set out to hurt her, Danny,” Tilia reminded him softly. “You were protecting her. All of them.”
He shrugged. “I didn't say it made sense.”
She sat up then, put her other arm around him, pulled him close. “That's the thing about love, Love,” she said. “It doesn't necessarily make sense.”
After a moment, she pulled back, kissed him, and then looked at him. “You should talk to her.”
“We did talk. Some.”
“I’m quite sure you know ‘hi, how are you,’ doesn’t qualify.” She shook her head. “You told me you told her, long ago, that you left because you thought it was best. You didn't tell her why you felt it was best.”
He was quiet for a while, and then: “I guess there's a difference.”
“Of course there is,” she agreed. “Thinking and feeling are sometimes so different as to be separate. Not this time, I think,” and she regarded him with curiosity, then calm certainty, “No, not separate. But different.”
Another long silence. He could hear the waves crashing in across the sand. “I don't know what to tell her.”
“Did you ever tell her you were frightened?”
Honestly surprised, he looked down at her. Her expression was full of the same everlasting calm certainty she'd worn like a comfortable garment for as long as he'd known her: it came, he supposed, of never going into anything without being as certain as possible of one's position. Certainly she knew him well enough to know more about his reasons for - he supposed - everything than even he did.
He turned puzzled eyes out toward the sea. “I think I remember thinking it would make things worse.” He combed fingers back across his scalp. “I can't remember why.”
Her fingers moved in small circles against his back. “I can't speak for your state of mind at the time.”
“No,” he agreed. “I'm not sure I can, either.”
At length, he sighed, at himself. “That's the point, right?” He felt her amusement and fondness in response, and tightened his arm around her shoulders. The sun came up slowly and bathed them in gold.
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