But another chapter out of the way of this - finally. A lot more Buffy in it than I'm used to writing, and my first bash at Giles. We also get a first look a the B and C plots I've been agonising over.
Thanks to calove and hesdevil for betaing.
Chapter Eight – Mistakes and Regrets
As Giles paced the bounds of his small office, a dark den of books and polished wood, he was well aware that Roger Wyndham-Pryce was watching him carefully over the top of his crystal sherry glass, surreptitiously trying to gauge his reaction.
“I trust this facility will be suitable to the needs of the Slayers?” He said, gruffly, dissatisfied with the neutrality he saw in Giles’ expression.
Giles leafed through the file that Wyndham-Pryce had brought with him. He didn’t trust the motives of the older man, but was grateful anyway. “Why yes, that looks more than adequate. I…”
“Of course,” Wyndham-Pryce interrupted, “all will depend on the outcome of the Board election.”
Giles nodded. “So I understand.”
Roger finished his drink and rose to his feet, disrespectfully putting his empty glass down on a pile of Giles’ notes. “Then I shall say Good Day to you. I trust I can leave the arrangements in your care?”
Giles held open the heavy oak door politely for him. This little meeting couldn’t be over quick enough. “I’m sure Buffy will be very pleased to hear it.”
“Very well. I shall arrange for the keys to be sent up to you.”
Giles returned to his desk after closing the door on the other watcher’s retreating back. He’d spent the last hour listening to Pryce’s sales pitch and he knew full well what the Acting Head of the Council’s sudden interest in him meant. He’d known for a long time that Wyndham-Pryce had been the main obstacle to the formation of a central training facility for the new Slayers. For Wyndham-Pryce to have capitulated at such an opportune moment for his own ambitions was deeply suspicious. An important stage of development for the new Council had been delayed, then offered as a sweetener, a bribe, and Giles was well aware what the expected cost would be. But he was damned if he was going to allow the old goat to manoeuvre him into his withdrawal from the upcoming Board election so easily.
He stared out of his window for a moment, out over the elegantly landscaped parkland of Stoke Park and the lengthening shadows of a late wintry afternoon. Spring was on its way and the first trees were starting to burst with bud in the mist. It didn’t feel like London somehow, here at the arse end of the Piccadilly Line, more like an encroachment of suburbia into the leafy estates of the Home Counties and it was a world away from the invigorating rush of central London.
He let the serenity of the scene calm and centre him again, using techniques he’d mastered on his many travels. The internal politics of the Council could probably rival Hell’s for intrigue. With the elections due in less than a month, the atmosphere amongst the Watchers had become tense, as candidates marked out their territories and garnered their support. The schism between the factions, traditional and progressive, had grown wider in recent days, as it remained unclear whether the old guard would still have the upper hand on the day. Giles had put himself forward as a candidate only due to a firm nudge from his fellow reformers, mostly younger watchers and those who’d spent more time in the field than politicking at HQ. Personally, he had little desire for a seat amongst the stuffy upper echelon; when he’d been quite happy with his position locating new Slayers. But new voices were badly needed on the board, to push through Council reform and to stop it slipping back into its blinkered old ways of inflexibility and self-interest. Influential backing had already begun to swell behind his nomination and it seemed that was enough to worry people like Wyndham-Pryce into the defensive. They weren’t going to give up their coveted positions easily.
His short break over, he put the file on top of the rest of his papers and resumed his seat behind his desk, returning to the research for his next trip overseas. He hadn’t stopped travelling since the Hellmouth was closed; the Slayers kept on coming. It had been Salzburg last week, and it looked like it would be Istanbul again next week. Another girl, another country; might as well have been another planet.
Giles had been staggered by the amount of damage that the First Evil and its minions had managed to inflict on the Watcher’s Council in its short campaign, damage that could take up to a generation to repair. The Council, although relatively small, was an organisation of immense power, and could influence governments if that was its will, yet it had been brought to its knees through its own complacency, thinking it was untouchable. Now it was a quarter of it’s former size and was struggling to keep all its interests afloat. How could it cope with over a thousand Slayers, all called at once, all needing training, supporting, guiding? Buffy’s training facility was going to be overstretched before it had even started. If it ever did. The Council had been set up to maintain one Slayer, one girl in all the world, and it now had but a fraction of those resources. Wyndham-Pryce was deluding himself if he thought that the Council would cope with all the changes in its traditional manner. Not taking this opportunity to reform could be a huge mistake.
The shadows had engulfed the world in darkness by the time Giles was disturbed again. The rap on the door was strong, but tentative, unwittingly acknowledging his authority in his domain, but as Buffy swung the door open without invitation as usual, Giles was relieved to see that some things never changed.
He greeted her warmly, much more grateful for this interruption than Wyndham-Pryce’s. With all the travelling, gathering the new Slayers from across the globe, he hadn’t had much time to spend with his own Slayer. She looked well, but he still sensed the underlying sadness that he’d noticed the last time he’d seen her despite her bright smile.
“Hi,” she said, seating herself in the same leather chair Wyndham-Pryce had vacated earlier. She got straight to her point. “I’m dreaming again, Giles.”
“Slayer dreams?” he asked, settling back into his own chair ready to listen.
“Yup, with all the gut wrenching terror in full Widescreen Technicolor,” Buffy picked up a pen from the desk and twirled it in her finger nervously. “It’s the same dream, over and over for the past week. And every time it adds some new spookactular detail.”
Giles nodded. “What do you see?”
“Faces, between the trees. Then they come out and there are hundreds of them, Giles. They’re all vampires.”
“I see,” Giles pondered this. That description wasn’t much to go on, vampires were hardly unusual for the Slayer to be dreaming about, yet the numbers appeared to be significant. “Did you see the location of the dream? Some landmark that might help us identify what’s going on?”
“There’s a pub. Does that help?” Buffy volunteered. “It’s like, really old, and it’s all white and viney.”
Giles sighed, despairingly. “Buffy, we’re in England now, can you be a little more specific? Is there any way of identifying it? A sign, perhaps.”
“I don’t think so,” Buffy thought for a moment, retracing her steps through the landscape of the dream. “There’s a church and a small lake of some kind and a road… Wait… yes! It does. Ugh. It’s called The Gallows. That’s way creepy. You guys are so morbid.”
Giles sat up with a start. The name of the pub sounded familiar. Thinking carefully, he asked, “It’s not a common name. Anything else?”
“That’s all I remember,” Buffy replaced the pen angrily onto the desk. “I thought this was over, Giles. There’s hundreds of Slayers now, why do I have to have these dreams still?”
Giles removed his glasses, as he always did when imparting advice. “You’re still a Slayer, Buffy. Maybe you’re the best one to handle whatever this is. You do still patrol…”
“Yes, but there’s never very much here,” she replied. “And I like that. I’m retired, Giles! No more apocalypses for Buffy!”
“I wish things were that simple,” he picked up the file Wyndham-Pryce had left with him, flicking through it until he reached an appropriate page. He handed her a small glossy brochure. “Do you recognise this place?”
Buffy took it and looked at the picture Giles had indicated, in a corner was a view of a pretty country village, complete with green and swans by a pond. Buffy’s eyes grew wide as she saw it. “That’s it. That’s the place in my dream. Pretty.”
“Yes, it is rather pretty, isn’t it? It’s a village called Little Darrow. There used to be a Watcher’s Council Retreat there, but no one has been up there since the Holborn bomb and it was mothballed. There has been talk of it being reopened as your new Training Centre.”
“Where is it?” she asked, looking at the picture more closely. “Is it close?”
“It’s in Gloucestershire, I believe.”
“Gloucestershire. It’s near Wales.”
Buffy’s expression told him clearly that she didn’t have a clue where that was. She put the leaflet back in front of him. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not going. Send someone else.”
“I thought you wanted to make a go of training the Slayers?” Giles asked.
“Yes, yes I do. But this… This is… This.”
Giles understood, but didn’t seem that Buffy had much choice but to follow her calling. “Buffy, you cannot deny your Slayer dreams, as much as you would like to.”
Buffy went to rebuff Giles’ words, but thought better of it. “I thought all this was over. Slaying as a hobby is kinda fun, but… But I can't take the angst anymore.”
Angst. There certainly had been a lot of that last year, and Giles was well aware that he had caused a lot of it for her. Events during the last days of Sunnydale had put an uncomfortable distance between them that he wasn’t sure they would ever be able to close. One issue especially still remained an unspoken barrier between them. Spike.
He had done what he thought was best; doing what he knew Buffy wouldn’t have the stomach for. Spike, for all they’d known, had been a dangerous liability, and still controlled by The First, there was no end to what harm he could have done to a house full of young potentials. He couldn’t have seen the importance Spike was to have in the final battle, and he wouldn’t regret the decision he’d made with Wood to attempt to terminate the vampire, even if the manner in which their plans were attempted proved to have been less than ideal. On the other hand, the events that had led to Buffy’s exclusion from Revello Drive were regrettable. She’d been deposed and exiled from her own house and it was a mark of her strength of character that she had returned from that so triumphantly. But, he suspected, not without Spike’s help.
He’d known all along that Buffy and the vampire were steadily growing closer, but as long as there appeared to be no resumption of the their previous sexual relationship, he had decided to keep his opinions mostly to himself, except when the safety of the group had been considered. She was an adult now, and she would have to learn from her own mistakes. He had never asked for details of their affair and Buffy had never volunteered them, remaining characteristically silent on that and the circumstances of Spike’s soul. The others had told him quite enough. Later, he’d heard whispers amongst the potentials, as Buffy would slip into the basement. By then he couldn’t deny her what comfort she could find on the eve of a hopeless battle, but he would always wish that she had made a wiser choice. Spike, soul or not, had been a wildcard, too volatile to really trust. Not just as a vampire, but he’d been as dangerous as any man in love could be. His sanity frayed to breaking point, a desperate longing for a girl he couldn’t have and a murderous past that that spanned a century of mayhem and corpses could hardly be qualities to be desired in a paramour. But since his death, Giles had never heard her say his name, not even once, and that silence was more telling than a thousand of her words could have been.
Giles looked at Buffy seriously. “Buffy, are you alright?”
She nodded. “Yeah, I’ve just had it with waiting for the Council to make up its mind.”
“They are rather slow, I agree. But, we’ll get there, Buffy,” Giles paused. “You might find things go better for now you're away from the Hellmouth, and certain temptations."
Buffy gave him a sly look. "No more vampire boyfriends you mean."
"My point exactly,” he smiled.
She smiled back. "So should I find myself a nice Watcher boy and settle down?"
"You could do worse than that, Buffy."
“You have no more to worry about on that one. That chapter of Buffy’s life is totally over,” she assured him.
"I can't say how pleased I am to hear that. They were bad for you, Buffy. You deserve better."
A shadow crossed Buffy’s face. “Maybe. There must be something about Buffy that drove vampires to do crazy things…”
“Buffy,” Giles stopped her. Perhaps this was a subject he shouldn’t have broached. “Don’t you ever think that it might be one of your better qualities? They saw something in you that was worth striving for.”
Buffy thought about that then stood up. “I suppose you’re right. They had faith in me. I guess I’ll be off to Gloucestershire tomorrow after all.”
The early hours and Buffy was asleep in her small, boxy room. Her limbs curled up and tense, she slept fitfully, her eyes skittering under her lids as she drifted into a surreal REM sleep.
It’s that dream again, calling her like a siren into its depths. She can’t resist or wake up, the scene plays out regardless.
She sees the faces first. Ordinary ones, pretty ones, men, women, old and young, just people; they swim in front of her eyes before melting into the background of trees. She is in woods, soft loamy soil under her feet, thorns and dry roots grabbing at her legs as she runs. It’s dark, and a pale moon penetrates the canopy of empty branches, spackling the long shadows where it shines with freckles of light.
She can hear them laughing.
She reaches the edge of the wood and stops. She’s on a muddy track next to an old church, its spire pointing sharply to the sky. Beyond the churchyard, a wide green stretches out its perfect lawns, past a mirrored pool of silvered ripples, to a row of cottages topped with a dark thatch. At the end of the row, a low roofed pub puffs smoke from a real fire out into the night through chimneys of weathered terracotta, signalling safety to travellers on the road. On the sign outside, creaking in the breeze, ’The Gallows’ is stencilled in cracked gold paint below a faded picture where a rope awaits the damned.
It’s a gruesome image, but the real terror lies behind her. She doesn’t want to turn. She doesn’t want to see them. But she can’t stop her dream self.
The faces emerge from the trees, disembodied, hundreds of them, floating towards her. They’re still laughing as they bend and warp into vampire shapes. At this point she normally wakes, but not this time. The faces don’t stop coming, so she turns to run, but someone is blocking her way.
Her heart feels like it’s stopping again, dying in her chest like it did before. Like his did so long ago now.
His head is turned towards the moonlight; and angular shadows cast his face in monochrome. Eyes like shards of lapis, moon-kissed skin as pale as milk, mouth soft, but she knows too well it's cruel with a whiplash wit. In this light he’s unearthly, too beautiful to be real, until his sharp, delicate bone structure, picked out in silvery highlights, hardens and condenses as his forehead starts to thicken and contort his features into hideous caricature. Teeth lengthen into fangs, shark-lethal and deadly, as he turns his gaze back to her and she sees the hunger there.
She knows now that she’s in trouble.
Previous parts are here.