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Marching Orders

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Andrew tried not to fidget in the hard, straight-backed chair in Mr. Giles’ study as they waited for the phone to ring. That was something he was working on, being still, not so twitchy. It was hard, but the daily tai chi workouts were helping.

As always happened, his eyes began to drift around the room. There was a lot to see. Bookshelves crammed floor to ceiling, artifacts in display cases, ornate boxes with who knew what inside. And weapons. Lots and lots of weapons. He often thought being a Watcher must be a lot like being a dungeon master, except you got to be a player character, too.

And you could die.

His leg started bobbing nervously. That was what he was most afraid of with this new assignment. And why they were sitting here waiting for a phone call.

He was relieved when the phone finally did ring. Mr. Giles stood up as he answered it. “Hello, Rupert . . . Hello, Buffy . . . Yes, he’s here. Let me put you on speaker.” He pressed a button and cradled the handset. “Are you still with us?”

“I’m here,” Buffy’s light voice crackled through the speaker. “Andrew?”

“Present!” His voice cracked nervously, and he pulled back into his shoulders.

“How have you been?” She sounded genuinely interested and concerned.

“I’m good! Great in fact. Doing really well. Fine, even. Or, well, not so fine. Buffy, I don’t think I can do this!”

“Giles explained what we needed?”

Mr. Giles spoke up, his voice and eyes compassionate. “I did.”

“We need you to do this,” Buffy encouraged. “She needs you to do this.”

“I just don’t know if I’m ready.”

“You’ve done very well in your training so far, Andrew,” Mr. Giles said. “Better than I frankly would have expected. I think you are well prepared for this challenge.”

“But why me? Why not one of you? They would just give her to you, wouldn’t they?”

“We don’t know that they would. They’ve changed sides. We don’t know what they’ll do.”

“What we do know,” Buffy added, “is that they know us. They’ll be on their best behavior and do whatever they can to keep us away from her if they can. That’s why it needs to be you. They don’t know you, and if you play it right, they won’t even see you coming.”

“But what if they do? I’ve been vampire food once in my life, and it’s not an experience I care to repeat!”

Buffy chuckled softly. “I understand that, Andrew, really I do. I’ve been a vamp snack more than once. But trust me, you start with the Alistair Cooke routine, they are going to tune you out so fast you’d think you had a switch.”

“That’s exactly right,” Mr.Giles picked up the thread. “And then you can be present while they search for her without them even really being aware of your presence. And then you can take her at the last minute before they take her away for their own purposes.”

“They’ve tried to use Slayers as assassins before, Andrew.”

“But come on,” he protested. “This is Angel. The original vampire with a soul, t-m. A city’s hope and a Slayer’s first love.”

Mr. Giles turned his head away before Andrew could read his expression, but Buffy’s voice came stiff and hurt through the wires. “We haven’t been in each other’s lives for five years now. I don’t know what kind of a man he is now. And someone who has a soul has something to sell. I’d say controlling interest in the Los Angeles branch of the most powerful demonic law firm on the planet might just be the asking price.”

“And his help in Sunnydale got Spike killed,” Andrew blurted out.

Mr. Giles’ head came up in surprise, as though that thought hadn’t occurred to him. “Good lord. And you don’t know who his intended target was.”

“I don’t.” Her voice was steely now. “Don’t trust him, no matter how convincing he seems. And you bring her home no matter what, even if it means putting him in a dustpan.”

“Yes, ma’am.” His inspiration faded a bit and he folded in on himself. “But do I get cyanide pills or something? Because I really don’t want to join the undead corporate world. Pinstripes make me look fat.”

Mr. Giles sighed, but Buffy chuckled. “How about a dozen slayers as backup? Will that make you feel better?”

“Hmm. My very own Angels. Excellent.” Andrew steepled his fingers in a thoughtful pose.

“Andrew.” Mr. Giles chided him.

“Can I trust you two to work out the details?” Buffy asked. “I need to go pick Dawnie up from school.”

“I think we can manage here, Buffy,” Mr. Giles said. “Give my love to Dawn.”

“I will. And Andrew? Be careful.”

“I will, boss. Buffy?” He caught her before she disconnected. “Thanks for giving me this chance.”

“You’ve earned it. Good luck. And keep me posted.”

Andrew felt a surge of pride as she disconnected. But it only took him a moment to realize the surging feeling wasn’t pride, and he turned to Mr. Giles with a distinctly queasy expression.

“Can I be sick now?”