*squishy hugs* to Megan for the fast beta job.
Thank you to everyone who has been reading - your comments have been excellent.
Chapter 11: Notification.
The constant drip dripping of the kitchen tap was deafening in the silence of his apartment. Scraping his chair against the floorboards as he stood, Nicolas made his way toward the offending utility and twisted the tap firmly. With a sigh of contentment, he returned to his desk. Silence had been achieved. Now he would be able to concentrate on his work.
Pen retrieved from the desk, he set about the completion of his report, a document written to exact Council regulation. The report detailed the events of the evening, of Buffy’s return. With each word, sentence and paragraph added, so grew a sinking feeling in his stomach. It was a feeling of dread, of trepidation. For the first time in his career as a Watcher, Nicolas doubted the intentions of his employers.
Nicolas Thompson was not your typical Watcher. Unlike many of his colleagues, he didn’t come from a long family line with a history of employment with the Council. For the Thompson’s, Nicolas was the first. The only. He was orphaned at the age of eight when his mother died, and he never knew his father. Being shipped from one foster home to another meant he hadn’t exactly had a normal upbringing. When he was finally adopted by a wealthy young couple—who were high in society—he thought his life would finally achieve some sort of stability. It was not to be. Less than three months later he was shipped off to boarding school.
Picked on by his classmates for being ‘bookish’, Nicolas’ life was mostly of a solitary nature. When he wasn’t in class, his nose was always buried in a book, be it for homework, research, or literature of a more idealistic nature. Where the dashing young prince saves the helpless peasant—who was actually a princess unaware of her lineage—from the horrible beast, and they lived happily ever after. It was from books that he learned about propriety, of how a lady should be treated. Nicolas was a hopeless romantic, a directionless yet intelligent young man who wanted his life to have purpose, and a beautiful girl on his arm to boot.
Despite his turbulent upbringing, he was never witness to the darker side of the night, nor those who vowed to protect those who were game enough to venture into it. In fact, it wasn’t until his first year at Oxford, fresh out from completing his A-levels—a year early—that he first became aware of the institution and their secreted position in society. But they knew about him.
Apparently the Council had contacts inside the college, or probably all colleges, and whenever a student met a certain criteria, they were notified.
It was a cold winter’s night when he met his first vampire. Walking home from a late night study session in the library on campus, he’d happened upon a mugging—or so it had seemed at first. A young woman was pressed up against a brick wall in an alley. Small, frightened whimpers escaped her lips as she struggled to gain control of the quivers that shook her body. A flick of her eyes in his direction, the silent plea in her eyes, was all Nicolas needed to wake him to action.
He remembered it as if it were yesterday.
“Unhand her at once,” Nicolas had demanded, carefully placing his books on the ground.
The moment he saw the terrified young woman, he’d acted upon instinct. It had been anticipated that it could get ugly; that there would be threats, maybe an exchange of fisticuffs. But he hadn’t expected fangs.
The gasp of surprise that tore from his lips when the man—no, make that creature—turned around, was involuntary. And the being had laughed. He had taken two hurried steps backward when the girl had pleaded for assistance. “Help me.”
Nicolas couldn’t have walked away, not then. Desperate eyes had scanned the alleyway for a weapon; something, anything to defend himself against this… thing before him. It walked and talked like a person, but it most certainly wasn’t human. It was like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a vampire.
The logical side of his brain had frantically searched for an alternate answer, anything that could possibly explain why something that was supposed to only exist in fiction, was right before him. There were no answers. Seeing was believing. In that moment, Nicolas believed. Spying a broom leaned against the wall in a backdoor nook to some establishment or other, he moved.
Weapon snatched and determination set, he’d faced the demon. Nicolas managed to get out two solid swings, and both connected with a loud thwap, before the creature had him in its grasp. The thought that ran through his mind was not one of fear; it was failure. If he died, so would the girl. When the vampire was close enough to his neck that he felt the cool exhalation of breath as the creature snarled, Nicolas acted. A knee to the groin and a sharp shove created enough space to manoeuvre away from the demon. Before he’d been able to shout for the girl to run the alley was flooded with light, both from the ends and above.
Uniformed men appeared from nowhere, taking complete control of the situation. Nicolas had watched on, absolute flabbergasted. He’d just met, fought, a real, live vampire. This couldn’t be happening…
A short scuffle had ensued, between vampire and several darkly clothed men, and it was over. Tranquillised and shackled, the creature was thrown into the back of a van, which disappeared into the night.
It was then that he noticed the young woman, looking like anything but the damsel in distress with a bright grin on her face. She nodded once in his direction before she moved to the side of a portly older gentleman with greying hair, dressed head to foot in tweed. His eyes lit up as the girl said something in passing. The man’s booming reply had echoed and found Nicolas’s ears, before the young woman disappeared through the mouth of the alleyway. “Oh, jolly good. It would appear our assessment of you was correct.”
The aristocratic voice broke through the startled young man’s daze as his own speech capabilities returned. “Assessment?”
“Well, yes,” the man had replied as he walked toward him. He’d then laughed in a manner that shook his distended stomach with its joviality. “We had to test you, dear boy, to see if you had the goods. And I’m pleased to inform you that you passed, with flying colours I might add.”
“Might I ask, what exactly is it that I have passed?” a confused Nicolas had queried.
“All will be explained when we return to headquarters.” The older gentleman shot out a meaty hand, grasping hold of Nicolas’ and shook it vigorously. “Welcome to the Council.”
It had all been set up. A test. The vampire, the girl, it was an experiment.
At the time he hadn’t known how to react, still shocked from the situation itself. But Nicolas had quickly settled into his new life. Study, research, and a little field training filled his weeks. His wish had been granted – his life now had purpose.
It had been a long time since Nicolas had thought about his initiation into the Council, and a part of him wondered if there was more to it than simple reminiscing. Now though, the duplicitous nature of his recruitment had him wondering about other things.
The telephone conversation with Quentin Travers had been… surprising, to say the least. He’d called with the intention of informing the Council of the resurrection of Miss Summers. What he hadn’t expected was that they would already know. It made sense really, now that he thought about it. They always knew when a new slayer was called, and not always was this due to a watcher’s confirmation of his charge’s passing. Seers and soothsayers were under the employ of the British organisation to monitor for such things.
No, it wasn’t that his employer knew of Buffy’s return, but of what he requested and the tone of voice with which he had spoken.
“Your duty as watcher for Ms Rodriguez is still your primary objective. In light of Ms Summers’ unexpected return, and the fact Mr Giles is currently in England, I am placing you in temporary control of both girls until which time a replacement can be found.”
“Sir, I have yet to inform Rupert of—”
“I can take the rest from here; that is not of your concern,” Quentin had tersely interrupted. “Just keep a close eye on Ms Summers. I want a fully detailed report on my desk at the end of the week in regards to her… adjustment.”
At the time his boss’ word choice had failed to raise any flags. Now, with the advantage of hindsight, Nicolas wasn’t so sure.
Dedicated as he may be to his job, loyalty to his colleagues—to friends, was more important than protocol.
Reaching for the phone, Nicolas dialled for an international call.
If she didn’t get answers soon, heads were going to roll. Lilah was livid.
It was late, well passed her normal knock off time for the evening and it didn’t look like she would be leaving any time soon. Putting in overtime was not the issue; it was the incompetence of her colleagues that caused her to see red. For hours they’d had this information and it had been kept from her. And because of a misfiled document, the Senior Partners were breathing down her neck.
The lawyer had taken great pleasure in all aspects regarding her case with Angel over the last twelve months. Toying with the ensouled vampire had been… almost fun. The game of cat and mouse had brought wins and losses to both sides. When the plan to use Darla to break Angel had backfired, Lilah had almost lost her job—and her life. If it weren’t for Lindsey’s obsession with the blonde vampiress and her apparent approval of his attentions, she would probably be dead.
Then he ex-partner in crime had fled town and it had been Lilah running the division in charge of making the helper of the helpless’ life a living hell. And she’d revelled in it. A pregnancy between two vampires, however, had not been foreseen. That had been strike one in the Senior Partners’ books. The vampiress death on Lilah’s order had been strike two. But her plan had worked. Killing Angel’s sire, lover, and mother of his child had completely broken the do-gooder mid-rise on his climb of the hero ladder.
Angel had dived head first into a self-destructive path. Firing his staff—for a second time—and the reckless attempts at revenge upon W&H, had shown just how much the loss of his ‘family’ had destroyed him. It had been the golden opportunity to strike. The vampire’s return to his former love had not been expected. The grief Angel felt at his loss, combined with the slayer’s suffering at the vampirism of her mother, made for a volatile cocktail. The results were devastating.
What could have been a joining of forces, a strengthening of bonds and will—something the Senior Partners had worried about—became the best possible scenario. Not only had Angel Investigations been shaken to its very foundations, but the Slayer’s stronghold on Sunnydale was also weakened. Angel’s reappearance in Ms Summers’ life only served to exacerbate the situation on the Hellmouth.
Just when it seemed life for the slayer might turn around, when her confidence was slowly returning and she was just beginning to work through her grief, they struck. A retrieval team swooped in and nabbed Angel so quick he hadn’t known what hit him. And thus re-broke the slayer.
Although the prospect of ultimate chaos and destruction as a result of Glorificus’ folding of dimensional walls—if she had found her key that is, the identity of which W&H were still unsure—was intriguing, the timing wasn’t exactly ideal. It was too soon. All the pieces of the puzzle for their final plan had yet to be put in place. What was the point of assisting the destruction of mankind if they couldn’t make a profit from it? When the apocalypse came she wanted her place in history, wanted eternal life at the side of the Senior Partners.
The capture of Angel had earned Lilah her return to their good graces with the Senior Partners. Ensuring that the portal Ms Summers had already closed with her blood was magically sealed for good, resulted in a promotion. The slayer’s death was just a bonus. With her out of the picture, and Angel in W&H possession, the stronghold of ‘good’ on the west coast Hellmouth was all but decimated.
When the vampire had outlived his usefulness, Lilah had made the order to end his existence. The once mighty Angelus, the former champion of the people and her once great adversary… dusted without opposition, the name of his dead slayer on his lips as he combusted to ash.
The sudden unexpected return of Ms Summers was troubling. The fact that the returned was not even of this world was worse. Now that she had the information, Lilah had to decide what to do with it. Obtaining information in regards to this Ms Summers was not impossible, but it was unlikely to be simple. And complications were not something she needed or wanted right now.
Lifting the receiver of her telephone to her ear, Lilah made the order.
“Take care of it.”
Rupert Giles was a broken man. It was as if the universe was toying with him. The loss of Buffy, his slayer and the girl he’d come to look upon as his daughter, had been the hardest experience of his life. The grief he’d felt had been monumental and all consuming. If not for the modicum of loyalty he felt to the Council—why on earth he felt any at all was beyond him considering the past—and the sense of responsibility he felt toward Buffy’s former friends, Giles probably would’ve given up on life. Guarding the Hellmouth in Buffy’s absence, protecting her legacy had been the only thing that kept him going. The appointment of a new Slayer and watcher to his former home had been more than he could handle.
So to England he’d returned.
Giles was well aware his usefulness at the Council was close to zero—they kept him around for much the same reasons as they kept all watchers’ who’d lost slayers around. Out of pity.
Appointed a managerial position in the research department, thanks to his extensive knowledge of both human and demon languages, he spent most of his days hidden in dully lit rooms, head buried in some book or another. And his nights usually concluded with scotch, sherry or the quintessential English liquor, gin. Most nights he passed out in the living room in his comfy chair beside the bookcase, or sometimes at his desk. Rarely was a night spent actually in bed.
Apart from the occasional drunken ramble, he avoided discussing his feelings—how he felt about his slayer. Because talking about it would mean having to accept it had actually happened. That she’d died. And acceptance would bring closure, and would mean moving on with his life. The very thought felt like a betrayal to her memory. Giles didn’t want to accept it, didn’t want to get past it, so he evaded it. Counselling was refused and if her name was ever mentioned it was only shared with one person. Work was a distraction that got him through the day. Some days were harder than others and today had been an exceptionally difficult one.
The telephone call he’d just received hadn’t made things any easier.
Right now he was seated at his desk, hand still rested upon the telephone that he’d returned to its cradle many minutes earlier.
It’s not possible. It can’t be real. It has to be a mistake.
The short sentences repeated over and over in his mind, becoming a mantra, almost as if the repetition in his mind would make it so.
“’t’sh not poss…” he mumbled, his speech slurred from the several fingers of scotch that he’d already downed.
Buffy is alive.
Giles shook his head.
Buffy is back from the dead.
He shook it again.
It was his deepest desire and greatest fear all rolled into one. For months after her passing, Giles had researched nothing but methods of restoration. If Absalom and the Anointed One had planned to resurrect the Master, it had to be possible with humans. All of the research he’d mustered had pointed to one big thing. Consequences. Bringing back a life lost could, would have a ripple effect. After both serious and drunken consideration of what bringing Buffy back to life could mean, Giles had shelved his research. As much as he wanted her back, as much as he loved her, he couldn’t forsake the life of another—let alone endanger the entire human existence, which was a probable outcome.
Nevertheless, she was back. Buffy was alive, and neither by the Council nor his hand. It was too much to process. Sobriety would be of use at present but Giles couldn’t stop himself for reaching for the bottle and taking another large swig.
A key in the lock sounded the return of his roommate, not that Giles showed any outward acknowledgement of his presence.
“Giles, hey Giles, what are—”
Xander came to a dead halt. Loosed tie, dishevelled hair, scotch. It could only mean one thing. Buffy.
The young man sighed, dropping his keys on the side table as he closed the door and walked further inside. He got it. Xander understood with complete clarity what Giles felt, what he was feeling, because Xander felt it too. They’d both lost someone very dear to them, a person they loved. Buffy was… she was a part of him. Or she had been. One of his dearest friends and the first girl he’d ever loved. Her no longer being of this world broke something inside of both men.
Buffy’s death had signalled the end of an era in his life. Xander literally grew up at the moment. Gone were childish games and childish ways; adulthood was upon him.
He’d spent several months just drifting, needing to get away. There was nothing left in his life that meant anything to him anymore; nothing keeping him in Sunnydale. His friendship with Willow was in tatters, his relationship with Anya was non-existent thanks to several bust ups—ironically a lot of them about Buffy before her death—and his family couldn’t care less whether he stayed or left.
So he’d set out on a trip to find himself. First, he’d driven until his uncle’s car died. When replacing parts along the way was no longer possible, he sold it and used the profits for bus tickets. Where there were no buses, he hitched. For two weeks he’d wandered aimlessly. Finally, when he was down to his last dollar, he made a decision. He could travel directionless for the rest of his life, going from town to town doing odd jobs for money, or he could face up to the fact that his life was different now.
Decision made, he’d trekked back across the country and found himself in LA. Buffy may no longer be alive, but he could still do good in her name. Carry on her legacy. After a few days he’d tracked down the remaining members of Angel Investigations: Cordelia, Wesley, Gunn and the unexpected presence of Faith. Apparently Wesley had managed to break her from prison, legally, when Angel had first disappeared.
Cordelia had at first been hostile, which Xander supposed was not much of a stretch from her normal attitude toward him. As time passed, things became easier. A friendship was reformed. And it looked like more would possibly come from it when disaster struck, again.
Angel’s capture in the weeks before Buffy’s death was not something Xander was unaware of. One day the brooding vampire was there, the next he was gone. Buffy had protested he’d been taken but no one had believed her considering his past habits of disappearing when it suited him.
Well, the vampire’s former crew had confirmed it. Despite past grudges toward Buffy’s ex-love, Xander assisted because it mattered to Cordelia.
When a porcelain jar with ashes was delivered to the hotel one weekend, all hell broke loose. Angel’s team all felt the loss, but it was Faith who was hit hardest. She literally went mad with despair. She credited Angel as being the reason for her turn around in life, her savour. Her reaction to seeing the proof of Angel’s death had been explosive. Both Gunn and Wesley had tried to stop her and had both been knocked out for their efforts. Xander himself had probably been saved the same fate because he’d been out following a lead when the package had arrived. When he returned, Cordelia informed him what had happened and where she was headed. Wolfram and Hart. She was armed and looking for vengeance.
As quick as they could, Xander and Cordelia had made their way to the building. And made it there minutes too late. There was blood, everywhere. On the walls, floors, security monitors at the front desk, everywhere. Apparently Faith’s darker side had been awakened, and gone on a rampage. The pair had followed the sounds of fighting through the lobby into a conference room, arriving just in time to witness Faith slice open the throat of someone in middle management. Cordelia’s shout of alarm at the sight momentarily distracted the slayer, and was just the opportunity W&H’s security needed. Before their eyes, three gunshot wounds to the chest took down Faith and ended her life.
It was the last straw. Witnessing the death of another person in his life had been more than Xander could handle. With insincere promises to return once he got his head straight, Xander booked a seat on and boarded the first plane to England to find his former mentor, in the hope of guidance. Somehow it ended up that he was the one doing the guiding.
For the last two months, they’d lived as roommates in a small flat in London; Giles attempted to work for the Council whilst Xander did what he knew best – menial work. Enough to bring in his share of income and keep his days busy. Just this last week he’d begun training in a special program with the Council, after months of rejecting the offers. It wasn’t a watcher he was planning to become, but an operative. This way, he could make a difference in the world and support his friend at work.
“Giles, what’s wrong?” Xander asked gently as he knelt beside his friend.
“Buffy…” Giles mumbled. “She… she’s…”
“I know,” Xander sympathised. “I know it’s hard, but you have to understand. She’s—”
A/N: Hope you all liked!
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