Xander was half way past the graveyard when he heard the noise. Years of Slayerette practice hadn’t gone to waste – he knew what to expect when he turned. Sure enough, there was the game face. He’d been a youngish guy when he died, medium height and stocky. Black suit covered in dirt, clearly just up from the grave. And hungry as hell.
He started to run, digging in his pocket. Crap. Well done, Xander. Take the short cut, why don’t you? Hours after sundown, and in your work pants, not even a cross to help you out
The vamp was gaining on him as he dodged round the corner into a poorly lit street, tree-lined. No sign of any stake material to hand. And no chance to outrun this one, probably a football player with that build. Where’s the Slayer when you need her?
Less than thirty yards down the street the inevitable happened. A hand on his shoulder, then an arm around his neck, pulling him up short and in against the stinking body. Xander took a deep breath and slammed his elbow back, trying to get enough distance to turn. They may recover quickly, but a kick in the balls still hurts them, might give him time to get away.
No such luck. Seconds later the vamp had him backed up against a broad tree trunk, leering in at him with foul yellow eyes. How many aborted apocalypses had he seen, only to end up going like this? It seemed a terrible shame, somehow. And the others, they’d all be sitting around at Giles’s place right now, special scoobies meeting in session. How ironic.
Buffy is going to make this her fault, for sure.
He brought his knee up sharply, made the connection, saw the genuine pain in the vamp’s eyes. Not such a killer move without the added Slayer strength - he was still pinned against the tree, only now the vamp was mad as hell, as well as hungry. One grey, filthy hand came up and grabbed him by the jaw, slammed his head back into the wood. He saw stars, and something else: a glimpse of blonde hair, moving very fast.
Jeez, where did she come from, out of the tree?
Xander slumped to the ground, head reeling, as the vamp was pulled off him. Then opened his eyes and came back to earth in a rush. That most definitely was not Buffy, blond or not. Then who the hell was it? Some tall guy in a fancy dress outfit, like an extra from Robin Hood, but nothing fake about his fighting, that much was clear. The vamp was down, not finished, in spite of the vicious looking knife being yanked out of somewhere near his heart.
“Won’t do it,” Xander croaked. “Need to cut his head off.”
The tall guy turned and glanced at him. Wow. You wouldn’t have to be into men to spot this one. Plus, he didn’t mess about – just waited till the vamp got to his knees, then dusted him with a flash of steel across the neck. A very fast flash of steel.
“Who . . .” Xander stopped, finding the guy suddenly crouching next to him, hand at his throat, holding him still without quite hurting him. There was something very strange about him. They stared at each other. The guy seemed wild, frightened. And the more Xander looked, the more obvious it was that the guy wasn’t actually human. The voice confirmed it, making the hairs on the back of Xander’s neck stand up.
“What is this place?”
When the conversation turned to Riley, Giles fled into the kitchen area to make another pot of tea. Fond as he was of Buffy and Willow, and even, these days, of Anya, there were definite limits to his indulgence. He could not deny that mention of the boy’s name still stung. Oh, they had all been at pains to make up for his complete humiliation, had apologised a hundred times between them for simply forgetting to tell him about the college-boy commando. If anything, they had tried far too hard to make him feel better. The damage was firmly done, and Giles knew that it would be a while before he could be in their company for any length of time without feeling old and, quite frankly, useless.
Still, here they were, supposedly engaged in research, although in fact the sum total of their findings was too close to zero to bear examination. Whatever the new threat in town might be, it was not announcing itself clearly.
He crouched at the fridge, reaching for the milk, as he heard the door open and Xander, boisterous as ever, calling, “Good evening, Ladies! Daddy’s home!” Giles winced at the boy’s assumed accent. “And look who’s coming to dinner.”
The room seemed to become very quiet. Giles felt goosebumps starting on his skin even before he placed the carton on the tray, picked the whole thing up, and turned to look over the counter top into the lounge.
The man standing behind Xander, gazing around the room as if taking in every detail, was extraordinary. One could ignore his clothes and his hairstyle; Giles had seen far stranger sights on the Californian streets. His height and bearing, however, would merit a second glance in any company. He had a lean, muscled look, almost a dancer’s build; and a sense of wary readiness, as if some internal spring was coiled for a hair-trigger release.
Giles stared silently, worried for a moment by some faint, nagging hint of familiarity. He couldn’t begin to place it, as he was sure he had never seen the man before. It would be impossible to forget a face like that.
‘Man?’ he thought suddenly, realising that he was looking at no such thing.
Buffy, with her Slayer sense, must have reached the same conclusion.
“Ooo – a pretty demon! That’s a new twist,” she said.
The visitor turned his head towards her and spoke, the sound sending shivers down Giles’s spine.
“I am no demon, Child. You would be wise to choose your words with more care,” he said.
There was no anger in his tone, but Giles, for one, would be inclined to agree.
Xander seemed to be the only one of them entirely at ease with the situation. He finished off a burger with his customary enthusiasm for such junk, and threw the crumpled wrapper across the room into the bin before he spoke.
“He’s on our side, whatever. Gets my vote – I’d have been partying solo in the morgue if he hadn’t shown up to save me. He’s an edhel, right?” He looked at the other for confirmation. “Name’s Legolas.”
Giles heard Willow’s squeak, as he let the tray crash down on to the counter and blurted out the exclamation, “Good God!”
Less than half a second later he was staring far too closely at a long, gleaming knife. How it had come to be so near, he was not entirely sure.
“Buffy, no!” he cried, as the Slayer vaulted the sofa to come to his defence. Raising his hands in what he hoped was a universal gesture of surrender, he focussed on the edhel – elf – in front of him. Strangely, it did not occur to him to doubt that Xander had spoken the truth.
“Amin hiraetha,” he said, rather breathlessly. “Avo ‘osto.”
The knife was lowered slowly.
Giles brought his hands down carefully to his sides before carrying on.
“Mae govannen, mellon. Creoso a’baramin.”
He was quite unprepared for the effect the elf’s smile had on him.
He was aware of Buffy, standing just behind and to one side of Legolas, ready to step in if necessary. He heard Willow’s “You speak Sindarin? Cool!”, and the confused queries from Xander and Anya in response. But all those things seemed to exist somewhere on the periphery of his consciousness, in the tiny fraction of his brain which was not riveted to the sheer radiant beauty of the sight in front of him.
Giles could feel the blush rising and his heart speeding up, as the blue eyes continued to gaze into his. He was quite convinced that the elf knew exactly what was happening, and cursed himself as a fool for his lack of self control. He longed to take off his glasses and polish them, his habitual gesture of self defence, but could not even bring himself to move.
“You are most courteous,” said Legolas, at last, in strongly accented English that sounded infeasibly musical. “Please forgive my unnecessary aggression. Finding myself here in your world has unsettled me.”
The spell seemed to be broken by the words, and Giles felt himself smile at the gentle understatement and the serenity of the stranger's voice and expression. This, then, was the legendary composure of the elves. Even by Sunnydale’s rather exceptional standards, this promised to be a most interesting evening.
Amin hiraetha: I’m sorry
Avo ‘osto: Do not fear
Mae govannen, mellon: Well met, friend
Creoso a’baramin: Welcome to my home