Buffy settled into seat 16F with a sigh, already weary before the transatlantic leg of her journey had even begun. She'd been hoping she'd be able to take Air Willow back to the States, but her friend had been summoned for urgent Council business in South America the week before, and the Slayer had been left to take the long way home. For a woman with instincts geared more toward "predator" than "prey", having to sit still in what amounted to a large, traveling cage for so many hours with so many other people was always a strain on her nerves.
She bent to tuck her carry-on bag beneath the seat in front of her, then leaned back and reached up, adjusting the little air blower vent thing so it wasn't running full blast right on top of her. The window sash to her right was open, giving her a ring-side view of the baggage handler's efforts to load the plane with luggage; she watched for a moment, wincing as one particularly burly example of the male species tossed a familiar duffle on the conveyor belt leading up to the cargo hatch, then turned away with a sigh. Hopefully, all the little crystal bottles of holy water inside would be all right; she'd have put them in her carry-on to prevent unnecessary breakage, but she'd been a little worried about trying to get all that liquid through security. There was something wrong with a world where it was harder to get water past the guards than the sharpened stakes she habitually carried.
"Long day?" a sympathetic voice asked to her left, as shuffling sounds announced the arrival of 16E.
Buffy turned to get her first look at the person who'd be sharing her breathing space for the next umpty hours. She registered the height first-- six feet or so-- and then the physique; the guy was wearing jeans and a leather jacket over a plain t-shirt that clung to a fit, muscular body. If she'd been a little less exhausted, the sight might have changed her attitude about the entire trip; who wouldn't want to sit next to that for a lengthy journey? She glanced up then, wondering idly whether such an attractive body came with an equally attractive face-- and froze as recognition kicked in.
"Dr. Jackson," she somehow managed to say. "What a surprise!"
In more ways than one, she thought, astonished. Urgent Council business my ass! She was going to kill Willow the next time she saw her. No wonder the witch had insisted on booking Buffy's tickets herself "as an apology for bailing".
"Ms. Summers?" the scholar replied, seeming as startled as she was. Then a quick smile spread across his features, crinkling the corners of his blue eyes. "I didn't know you were leaving so soon. It's good to see you again."
He held out his hand to shake with hers, and she took it automatically, blushing a little as she smiled back. "Buffy, please. We're going to spend several hours in each other's company, after all."
"Daniel," he offered in return, squeezing her hand a little before letting go.
He finally looked away then, stowing a leather satchel and carefully wedging that impressive frame of his into his assigned seat. If she leaned just a little to the left, Buffy would practically be sharing his body heat. She watched him in appreciation for a moment, then realized she was staring and hastily glanced away, watching through the window as the baggage handlers transferred the last of the luggage from their cart into the plane's underbelly. What had Willow been thinking? If she'd thought the plane ride was going to be too long before, it was going to be even longer now.
She made a face at her reflection in the hard plastic of the window at that. Of course she knew what Willow had been thinking; during the week before Willow's departure, they'd had half-a-dozen teasing conversations about the "hot American" who'd come to study in the tame half of Giles' library. She hadn't had any real excuse to talk to him-- unlike Willow, she didn't tend to read the kind of books Giles kept unless she had to-- but they'd exchanged their fair share of good mornings and how are yous and smiles of greeting. Willow had been thrilled to see her interested in someone again after her last severe romantic disappointment; Buffy had laughed it off as vacation affection, a safe crush on a cute guy that she knew she'd never see again. Obviously, Willow had taken it into her head to nix the "never see again" part of that equation.
Well, nothing for it. Buffy would be glad when the plane was in the air and she could pull something out of her bag to distract herself with, but until then, small talk would have to do. She took a deep breath, then turned back to him.
"So," she asked brightly. "How did the research go?"
His smile turned a little rueful. "Not as well as I'd hoped," he said. "Dr. Giles has an impressive collection of reference material, some of which I'd never seen before, but unfortunately none of it directly referenced the information I was looking for."
"Ouch," she replied sympathetically. "That's a lot of time and travel for not much return. What were you looking for?"
"Well, that depends," he said, enigmatically.
"Depends on what?" she asked, her curiosity piqued by his reply.
"On whether you're just asking to be polite, or whether you really want to know," he said, the corners of his eyes crinkling again in amusement. "I'm reliably informed that I tend to babble when I get going on a subject I'm interested in, and I wouldn't want to bore you."
Buffy grinned. "My best friend does the exact same thing; I'm kind of used to it. Besides-- not going anywhere for the next several hours, remember?"
"Hmm, a captive audience," he said teasingly, flashing a quick grin. "So, what do you know about Merlin and Morgan Le Fay?"
Buffy's eyes widened at the question; how did he know she was carrying a prophecy scroll to the Cleveland Hellmouth that mentioned their names? Or-- did he? Had Dr. Jackson's research inspired Giles to do a little research of his own into the Watcher-only section of his library? Considering at least one of the prophecies on the scroll must have come true at least a year ago, that made sense.
"About as much as your average American, I guess," she shrugged, going for the safe answer. "Merlin was a wizard, he had something to do with King Arthur, and Morgan Le Fay was some kind of evil witch. I think she's supposed to be Arthur's half-sister or something?"
He winced at that, scrunching up his face behind his glasses. They had slightly squarish frames, but seemed to add character to his face rather than detracting from his looks; in fact, if those eyes of his were any bluer without the glass between them and the world, she thought they might need to be classified as deadly weapons.
"Morgan le Fay wasn't evil," Daniel replied with a sigh. "She occasionally took a position opposed to Merlin's, yes, but her intent was never to cause harm. In fact, in the earlier versions of the tales she aids Arthur over most of his life; she's a priestess, a goddess, a creature out of Faery. It's only in the later versions, as Christianity began to humanize her and misunderstand the Celtic values imbedded in the tales, that she was reduced to the role of a mere woman-- a jealous and often sinister enchantress."
Buffy certainly understood how men might demonize something that didn't fit their worldview rather than opening their eyes to the way things really were-- especially something that came in a young, female package. She'd learned that lesson early, locked up in a mental hospital for daring to tell her parents about vampires; the lesson had been driven home again over the years by friends who didn't want to understand her less popular decisions and human lovers who couldn't handle her strength and dominant personality. To be a Slayer was, in a very fundamental way, to be alone. Empowering all of the Potentials had reduced that burden a little, but it was still a challenge they each faced on a daily basis.
Abruptly, she wondered if Morgan le Fay could have been a Slayer, and Merlin her watcher. But no-- that wouldn't fit the information Giles had found. Still, Buffy couldn't quite shake that familiar image as she turned more fully toward Daniel, fascinated despite herself by his tale.
"What do you mean, Celtic values?" she asked, curious.
"Under the beliefs of Celtic rule, women had equal if not greater power than men," he replied. "They were even expected to take lovers; in the original sagas, in fact, Guinevere would not have been judged unfaithful for her relationship with Lancelot, even though she'd married Arthur. She would have been a free woman, able to take whomever she chose to her bed."
"Wow," Buffy said. "And why is it that they're not ruling the world, again?" she asked wryly.
That got another grin out of him. "I have some friends that would agree with you," he said. "Anyway, I've been trying to research the specifics of the final confrontation recorded between Merlin and Morgan le Fay, specifically what became of an artifact he had in his possession at the time, but I haven't been having much luck."
It took a second for the implications of that to register. "You weren't there to do research for a book, or a paper, were you?" she asked, the humor draining out of her mood as she thought again of the scroll tucked in her bag. "You think they were real people, and that they left something behind."
Daniel ducked his head a little. "Well, yes," he replied. "I know that the Holy Grail has been a popular topic lately-- all that nonsense about the Da Vinci code-- but most legends do have a basis in truth, and I'm convinced there's something there to be found. After all, most archaeologists thought Troy was a myth until Heinrich Schliemann dug it up." He took a deep breath then and turned his intent gaze back on her. "But enough about my research. How did your visit go? I didn't see you in the library very often."
"That would be because I wasn't there to visit the books," she replied archly, allowing the diversion. "Giles is-- well, I guess you could say he's one of my mother's ex-boyfriends." Not strictly true, but better than implying that a forty-something high school librarian had inappropriately befriended a bunch of students less than half his age. "He was kind of a mentor for me and some of my friends, even after they broke up, and since Mom died he's pretty much been the only adult-type family my sister and I have left."
"I'm sorry for your loss," Daniel replied, reaching to clasp one of her hands briefly.
She smiled a little at his concern, but shrugged it away. "Thank you," she said, "but it's all right-- it's been several years, now. I'll always miss her, but I still have Giles and Dawn and my friends."
"I understand," he said. "I lost my parents when I was very young. It took a long time, but I built another family out of my friends, too. The family you choose is just as important as the family you were born into."
The flight attendants interrupted them then, making announcements and readying the passengers for flight as the plane taxied down the runway. Buffy was almost relieved to break gazes with Daniel and turn her attention instead on the uprightness of her tray table, the location of the exits, and the condition of her seat-belt; she could hardly believe she'd managed to get into such a deep conversation with a near-stranger, but when she replayed their conversation in her head she couldn't find anything suspicious about it. He just happened to be a handsome, friendly guy, and she just happened to be very much attracted to him.
Danger, Will Rosenberg. Surely it wasn't possible that he'd turn out to have something to do with the prophecies she was carrying back to Cleveland? Because that would be an excellent excuse to see a lot more of him in the weeks to come. But it didn't seem likely-- and besides, how would she find out? Should she just come right out and ask him if any friends of his had pulled a sword out of a stone sometime in the last year? Or whether he knew a former goddess of sex who'd given birth to a demoness that threatened the whole world? As if. He'd laugh in her face. No, it would take a lot more footwork to solve those questions, she was sure.
In the meantime, though, there was no reason why she couldn't indulge herself a little, right? Sure he was older-- he looked like he might be in his mid to late thirties-- but she was hardly a teenager any more, and it wasn't that big of an age gap, considering. He was human, and hot, and smart, and maybe if he knew a lot about myths already he wouldn't be so shocked if he ever stumbled across the kinds of things she dealt with every night. And if he was interested back...
"So where's home for you?" she asked, as the engine noise finally faded enough to allow quiet conversation again.
"Colorado Springs," he said. "I do consulting work for the Air Force base there. How about you? Where do you call home?"
He's with the military? Buffy thought with a pang. Though maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing-- she could always have Riley check him out, couldn't she? Make sure he wasn't involved in anything like the Initiative?
"I'll be staying in Cleveland for awhile with my sister," she answered. "I lived in California for most of my life, but I've done a lot of traveling recently; after we lost our house in Sunnydale, I sort of went wherever the wind blew me. I was in Rome for awhile, and then Brazil, and England; I'm not sure yet where I'm going to settle down."
"Living in the journey instead of the destination?" Daniel asked, smiling again. "I did that for several years. My parents were archaeologists, and so am I; I spent a lot of years traveling, between digs and the various universities I attended."
"And you're happy just staying in one place now?" she wondered aloud.
He shrugged. "The work is rewarding, and my team-- my friends there-- are my family. I know eventually some of us will move on, but for now, I think I'm exactly where I need to be."
Buffy nodded thoughtfully. "I hear that," she said, thinking of the Scoobies and the seven years they'd spent holding the line together. They'd all scattered now, but they were still bound together by all they'd been through despite the distance between them.
The conversation continued off and on for the rest of the flight, between meals and naps and an amazing view of the sun setting over a high bank of cloud out of her tiny window. She never did have to find something to distract herself with. Whatever the topic was, Daniel always had something to say, and another question to ask; by the time the plane reached New York, where she would change to a plane to Cleveland and he one to Denver, she felt almost as though she'd known him for years. He'd managed to avoid too many specifics about his current life-- a relief to her, as she hadn't had to be too evasive about what she actually did for a living, either-- but aside from that, she felt she'd come away with a very good picture of his character, and he of hers. She definitely wanted to keep in touch, military involvement or no.
When it came time to part at the airport, she caught his hand impulsively and pressed her card into his palm. Andrew had had them made; the strange graphic on them was meant to be a heart with a stake through it, but it was so stylized no one not in the know would be able to tell, and in small print underneath it bore just two lines: her name, and her cell phone number.
Daniel smiled at her as he put it in his pocket, then stepped out of the flow of traffic to rustle through his satchel. "I don't have any cards with me," he said, "so this is just going to have to do." He pulled out a notebook whose pages were heavily covered in script, then scribbled something quickly in the bottom margin of one of them. When he tore off a small scrap of the paper and handed it to her, she saw the same information she'd given him: his name and a number, in very cramped print.
Buffy smiled back and promised to call soon, then watched him until he disappeared out of sight. She hated to see him leave, but wow, what a view as he walked away. She sighed, then turned the scrap of paper over in her hand before putting it in her pocket.
"-ed Ganos Lal, th-" read the hurried scrawl on the reverse side.
Buffy gasped. According to Giles, that was the true, original name of Morgan le Fay, a name the Watchers had kept a close secret-- something Daniel would never have found in the tame half of the library.
"The Lazarus Scholar, the Knower of Names," she whispered to herself, recalling a line of the prophecies, half-elated and half-dreading what that might mean.
Yes, she would be calling him back very soon indeed.