1. Whistling in the Dark
“Melaka Fray. You’re the Chosen One,” he said from behind.
She’d been walking along, minding her own business, and then this shit had to happen. She rolled her eyes and sighed before turning around to face the guy. Too bad he was standing far enough away that she couldn’t slug him by accident. With her hands on her hips, she gave him her best death glare and said, “Yeah? So? You gonna set yourself on fire or something?”
“Nah. That ain’t my gig,” he said casually. “Besides, got things to do, and I can’t do ‘em if I’m setting fire to everything around me.”
“You’re not my Watcher?” She frowned at him, wondering why being the Chosen One meant getting stuck with all the crazies in town.
“Nope. That job belongs to someone else.” He took a bite out of whatever it was he was carrying, and kept walking, leaving her to follow or not.
She spent all of five seconds trying to convince herself to leave it alone and go home before she grudgingly turned to catch up to him. There had been precious few answers since she’d found out why she was so strong and fast, and she couldn’t pass up this chance. She was a bit surly when she asked, “So who?”
“Who what?” And maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t kill the son-of-a-bitch for being a jackass before she got some information from him.
“Who’s my Watcher?” Melaka remembered that once upon a time, not more than a year ago, she would have been upset at how perfect strangers not only knew who she was but also how they seemed to know more about what was happening in her life than she did.
That was before Urkonn showed up.
“He goes by the name of Giles,” he said, finishing up his meal and tossing the remains into an old garbage can.
Fighting the impulse to toss the little weasel into the same garbage can, she asked, “So? Where is he?”
“He’s around here somewhere. But you’ll have to find him,” he said, still walking, calm as could be.
Mel turned, grabbing the guy by his arms and lifting him off the ground so they could see eye-to-eye. “Give me the full story, all in one piece, or I’ll rip one of your arms off and beat you to death with it,” she said, her blue eyes slitted as she considered the amount of pain she could inflict on him.
He grimaced as he said, “Geez! What is it with you Slayers and the imagery?”
She shook him a little before saying, “Speak! And start with your name.”
He rolled his eyes and said, “Name’s Whistler. Happy?” When she continued to glare at him, he said, “Guess not. I was sent by the Powers That Be to help get you back on track. Part of that is getting you a Watcher who knows what he’s doing.”
“This Giles guy?” At his nod, she said, “So how come you’re not just introducing us?”
“You mind putting me down? This isn’t all that comfortable, you know,” he said. She put him down a little more forcefully than necessary and glared at him while he straightened his jacket. “Don’t know what it is about you Slayers, but I ain’t never met one that wasn’t in a bad mood.”
“You can’t be human, but you look it,” Mel said, leaning in closer to get a better look at him.
“So do lurks, if they feel like it. Anyway, I thought you wanted to know about Giles,” he said, distracting her from the question of what he was.
Torn between figuring out what he was and maybe meeting someone who wasn’t crazy and who wasn’t a demon but who could help her kill lurks, she opted for the meet. Reluctantly. And she reserved the right to kill the twerp at some point in the future if necessary. She said sullenly, “Yeah. Tell me.”
“I ain’t introducing you two, ‘cause he’s kind of pissed at me right now,” Whistler said, looking a little uncomfortable. “But when you find him and tell him who you are, it’ll be okay. He’ll become your Watcher.”
Mel, nobody’s fool, said, “What’s to keep him from being pissed at me when I find him?”
“He knows what a Slayer is. He knows it wasn’t your choice.” He stopped talking and looked around, pausing when he spotted an alley to the south. “Lurks back there. Might wanna take your pretty axe and take a look.”
She looked from Whistler to the alley and back at him again before saying, “Okay. Yeah. You stay here. We got more to talk about.”
Five minutes later, covered in lurk dust, she came back out, not at all surprised that Whistler had disappeared.
2. Close Encounter
Her axe casually slung over her shoulder, Mel went into the bar and ordered a drink. Time was, she’d have been in the middle of a fight inside ten minutes of arriving. These days, not so much. Everyone in the Warren knew who she was by now, and they all appreciated her keeping the lurk population down. For a girl who liked a good fight, it was kind of frustrating being a leading citizen.
“Here you go,” said the woman, putting an ale in front of her and pocketing the coi Mel put out.
“Hey, Amma? You seen any new people around these last few days?” Mel took a drink and looked at the crowd. She recognized everyone there at the moment, so she turned her attention back to the bar’s owner.
“Drifters come, drifters go. Looking for anyone special?” Amma pulled out an old dishrag and made a half-hearted attempt to clean the bar. Ever since Loo was killed, she’d had a hard time caring some days.
“Some guy. Name’s Giles,” she said, considering whether or not to put down her axe. If he was a Watcher, chances were he’d recognize it and come talk to her. Better to keep it up and visible.
Sounding like she didn’t really care about the answer, Amma asked, “What’s he look like?”
Along with no more casual brawls, there was also the problem with shits named Whistler who disappeared before Mel could get around to asking that kind of important information. More than a little disgusted and pissed off, she answered, “No idea. Son of a bitch that told me about him took off before I could ask.”
A small spark of interest seemed to light Amma’s face for a little bit, and she said, “He someone to worry about?”
“No. Pretty sure not. Maybe someone who can help.” Mel finished off her drink and added when she stood to leave, “You hear anything about him, let me know?”
Outside the bar, it was full dark. Lurks would be bolder, which meant Mel would have to put off her search until daylight. On the other hand, there was no reason she couldn’t go looking for more of Harth’s suck-ups. She was in the mood for —
Flattened against the pavement, she tried not to think how much that damn boot on her face hurt. She couldn’t squirm without leaving a goodly piece of skin on the ground, so she decided to try the axe first. When she moved to swing it up and behind, all she got for her trouble was, “Nope. Don’t think so.” He pulled it out of her hand and said, “You always this easy to take down?”
“Wad be to adswer dat or kick your ass?” Whoever he was, he knew how to put her down and keep her down, and yeah, that kind of scared her. A lot. On the other hand, she was pretty sure he wasn’t a lurk. They weren’t that chatty for the most part.
Unless they were like Icarus.
“Such language. Tell you what. I’m going to throw this pretty little toy of yours. Wonder how long it will take you to find it,” he said, his voice deep and kind of rumbly.
She felt his weight shift, and she tracked the sound of the axe as it whistled through the air and away from her. Next thing she knew, the weight was gone. She sat up and saw someone running away from her, but tracking him would have to wait.
Damn pump threw her axe away, and she’d have to get it back before she could make him pay.
3. Rat Bastard
“You talkin’ to me, yet?” Whistler figured the brick chucked at his head was about all the answer he was going to get for the moment. He called out, “Okay. You’re still a little upset. I get that.”
Giles threw another brick at him for good measure before settling down again at the small fire he’d made earlier. It offered only minimal warmth, and absolutely no comfort. He wanted nothing more to be back where he belonged, but he’d been told that wasn’t going to happen.
He heard the small demon approach again and discarded the notion of throwing another brick. Since none of the ones he’d thrown had made much of an impression, he didn’t see the point in making the effort.
“You know, they had their pick of Watchers. Coulda had anyone, and they only wanted you,” he said, sidling up to the fire and watching Giles carefully.
Astonished, he asked, “Am I actually supposed to feel good about that?”
“Well — yeah,” Whistler answered. Giles sat with his face in shadow, so he couldn’t tell if the man was just pissed off or if he had gone back to the insane fury he’d wallowed in three days earlier.
“This isn’t fair,” Giles said, sounding both outraged and petulant.
“Don’t think Randall figured it was fair either, huh?” Whistler put his hands out over the fire and waited for —
“What? That’s what this is all about? Eyghon? That was sixty years ago!” Giles stood up, his fists clenched at his sides.
“Technically, it was about two hundred ninety years ago, but who’s counting?” Whistler caught sight of Giles’ face and winced. Bad enough to bring him forward, but did they really have to —
“I was assured that I had made amends for that — had exceeded, in fact, what was due the universe in recompense,” he said, his tone sliding into pure outrage.
“Yeah, yeah. I hear that all the time. Thing is, though, the Powers ain’t what you’d call big on paying attention to what’s fair if they need something you got. And what you got, Rupert Giles, is a boatload of experience at keeping Slayers alive,” Whistler said. He’d given his little speech earlier, but he didn’t think the man had been listening. Giles had been too distracted by where he was and his new-found strength.
“I heard you the first time,” he snapped. “I didn’t like your message then, and I like it even less now. I’ll talk to the Council about the girl, and then you can send me back.”
“No can do. This kid’s the first to be called in a couple of centuries, and so far, she’s got squat to work with,” Whistler said, sounding sincerely regretful. “These days, the Watchers’ Council is made up of religious freaks lookin’ for the end of the world. Slayer’s got no one to show her the ropes.”
Giles frowned at that and said, “What are you talking about? The Council would never deteriorate so badly. Besides which, the Slayer line has been unbroken since the beginning.”
“Yeah, well, last Slayer before her got ambitious and managed to suck all the demons and herself outta the world. Council kinda fell apart after that.” Whistler patted down his jacket and said, “Got anything to eat? I’m hungry.”
His voice low, tight and unpleasant, he said, “You little pissant — the Powers dropped me here three days ago with only the clothes you see on me and not a bloody penny to my name. What makes you think I’ve had anything at all to eat?”
Whistler just looked at him for several long moments before Giles finally broke eye contact, saying, “I’m not sharing it with you. If you’re so hungry, send me back. You can have what I leave behind.”
“Haddyn is your home now. Deal with it,” Whistler said as he continued to warm his hands over the fire.
“Haddyn? I’ve never even heard of it,” Giles said, seriously thinking of shoving Whistler’s face into the fire. Though it probably wouldn’t do any more damage than the bricks had, it would certainly give him a keen sense of satisfaction.
“Used to be called Manhattan, back in the day,” Whistler said as he gave the man a sly look from beneath the brim of his hat.
The implications crashed in on him, and he launched himself at the demon, grabbing him by the throat. “You little rat bastard! You knew all the time where I was and you didn’t say anything until now?”
Unfazed by the attack, Whistler put his hands on Giles’ forearms and said, “Easy, now. No need to ruin the suit.”
Giles pushed him against the wall and said, “Where exactly am I?”
“Harlem. Major street names are mostly the same — Hey!” Whistler shook his head in disgust at the sight of Giles’ back as he ran off. Humans were all the same. Impatient.
From the shadows, a figure watched as Whistler walked off into the night. He’d learned more in the last fifteen minutes than he had in the last few months, though it wasn’t nearly enough to be able to make a decision. Whistler would know everything he needed. The problem with that was he wouldn’t say a word to him, which meant beating him up would be boring and unproductive.
Giles, on the other hand, didn’t know a damn thing, but he was like Father. He was the kind of man who could figure it out if he had enough time and books. Since the Watcher now knew he was in Manhattan, it was pretty easy to guess his destination.
He tossed his cigar stub away and strolled northward at a leisurely pace, pausing once to make note of the location of a litter of kittens. There was no need for him to hurry, and it was a fine night for a walk.
4. Bad Morning
Mel crawled out of bed and barely made it to the window before she vomited. It was pretty much standard procedure after the kind of drinking she’d done the night before, and she could even pick her way from bed to window without opening her eyes.
She’d found her axe okay — at least a hundred meters past where a normal human could have thrown it — then she completely lost track of the whatever-he-was who threw it so damned far. She’d been frustrated enough over the incident to decide to take out a nest of lurks she’d been kind-of-sort-of afraid of taking out on her own.
When even that stupidity hadn’t been enough to calm her down, she went back to Amma’s place and got thoroughly and righteously falling-down, piss-faced drunk. She’d even managed to be obnoxious enough that Kettie Rawls started complaining. As far as she was concerned, it was Kettie calling the pot black.
The unwelcome pun made her head ache just that much more, and when she eased her way back out of the window and turned around, she didn’t know what felt worse — the hangover or the fact that the little shit from the day before had strolled in like he owned the place.
“Nice dump you got here,” he said, picking a stray sock and tossing it at her, even as he took the time to squash a cockroach.
“G’way,” she mumbled, holding her head.
He ignored her and said, “No. Really. Gotta admire the peeling paint and holes in the wall. They make a statement, you know? And the clothes on the floor scream urban blight. Tell me something. Do the larger bugs have names?”
Still not moving with anything resembling grace, she stumbled over to where she’d left her axe and held it up. “Gonna start swinging this thing in a minute. Don’t much care if anything — or anyone — gets cut in half by it.”
“Whatever,” he said, clearly unimpressed by her threat. “I’m guessing you haven’t gone looking for Giles yet.”
She put the axe down again — wincing at the noise of the thump — because threats only worked if the person believed them, which Whistler didn’t. Anyway, she was feeling so lousy at the moment, she wasn’t sure she could slay a spider.
Mel grumbled, “I started looking. Might help if you tell me what he looks like.”
“You want me to spoil the fun?” The glare she directed at him was almost enough to make him think about taking a step back. But Whistler had dealt with annoyed Slayers before, and Melaka Fray wasn’t nearly as mean as some of them had been. Still, she continued to glare, so he said, “Fine. He’s just under two meters tall, light brown hair, green eyes. Mostly, he looks like he wants to rip apart a small city right now.”
“If he’s been talking to you, I can guess why. What did you do to him?” She moved her head a little too fast, and she felt pain shoot up from her neck.
Maybe she should cut down on the drinking some.
Whistler scowled and said, “I didn’t do anything — I was just the messenger. It was the Powers that set him up. Is he yelling at them? No. Is he throwing bricks at them? No. Is he slamming them against a wall? No. Is he —”
“This gonna go on for much longer? Got places to go just as soon as my head explodes,” she said. Her eyes had finally opened to the point where she could see the clothing — some of it almost clean — Whistler had been so snide about, and she needed to get dressed to see Gunther.
“One of those places better be to where Giles is,” he said, still kind of miffed at the way he’d been manhandled the day before. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t be injured. It was the principle of the thing.
Bending down carefully to sort through the mess on the floor, she said, “Yeah? Great. Where is he?”
She found a shirt and pulled it on over her tank top. Another careful look yielded denims that didn’t look too grungy, and she dropped them on the bed before looking for a pair of underwear.
In an exaggerated pose of thoughtfulness, complete with tapping his chin, Whistler said, “Lessee — you’re a Watcher in Haddyn with no friends or family to speak of. Where do you go?”
The answer came to her in a flash, though when she looked up to tell him, the little twerp was already gone. She grumbled about it as she continued to get ready for her meet with Gunther. She’d find this Giles guy later.
The Manhattan offices of the Watchers’ Council were, in short, a long-abandoned disaster. Giles had been attempting to impose some kind of order in the library since early morning, and he was beginning to think it was a task that wouldn’t be completed in his lifetime. Many of the books had been stolen or ripped apart, and others were stacked in haphazard fashion. The only thing that kept him going was the thought that with what remained of the Council’s resources, he might actually be able to find a way back to where he belonged.
Over and over, he told himself that all he had to do was be patient, and he would find the emergency key to get into the vaults. As he’d been the one to hide it in the first place, his conviction of success was based on something more than unbridled optimism.
His search was interrupted by the sound of someone landing on the floor behind him. When he turned to look, he saw a young woman with black hair, the ends dyed a bright pink. Her eyes were a shockingly intense blue, and she bore a scar just above the left side of her mouth. She looked edgy and dangerous, ready to attack at the slightest provocation.
When he saw what she carried, he turned back to his research.
Offended by the man’s complete disinterest, Mel stared at his back for a few seconds before she blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “I got an axe!”
Since the man didn’t turn around again, she felt kind of stupid just standing there. Still, she figured it couldn’t hurt to assert her authority a little, so she swung it harder and enjoyed the satisfying whoosh that echoed through the room.
He turned the page of the book he was reading and said, “You have a scythe. Before recorded history began, it was created as a weapon for the Slayer to use. Kindly stop swinging it about as if it were a baseball bat.”
She felt a blush rise and stopped all motion of the axe. Then she decided to try something else — the obvious. “You’re Giles.” When he didn’t respond, she added, “You’re my Watcher.”
“I won’t ask who told you that — I can guess easily enough. I will, however, correct you and point out that I’m not your Watcher.” He made a small noise and snatched up another book before asking, “Is there some reason you think you need one?”
She gaped at the back of his head before stammering out, “Well — Whistler — but — All these books! They say it. Every Slayer has a Watcher. Except for me. Don’t have anyone to write about what I did or teach me how to fight. No one to tell me ‘bout demons and stuff.”
The weight of her plea and need shook him, but the irony of the situation nearly overwhelmed him. Giles imagined he could hear Buffy cackling in unholy glee at the complete reversal of their own first meeting so many years before. Closing the book he held, he took a deep breath and stood up to face her. “What’s your name?”
“Fray. Melaka Fray,” she answered, her voice getting just a tiny bit defensive. No one intimidated her, and she wasn’t about to let this guy do it.
Even if it seemed like he’d already looked at her and found her a few coi short of the mark.
Unsmiling, he asked, “How long have you been the Slayer?”
“Urkonn told me who I was about ten months ago,” she said, uncomfortable at the way he stood there, just kind of scoping her out the way she scoped a building before she made a grab.
Whistler had been right — and wrong. Sure, the guy looked like he wanted to tear something apart, but he also looked like he’d been carrying a load too long. Didn’t make sense. Someone as young as he was shouldn’t seem that old.
Giles frowned at her answer and said, “Urkonn? Who is he?”
“A guy,” she said defensively. And when his frown deepened, she added, “A demon, I guess. Kind of looked like a big goat on two legs.”
Looking around the room and up at the skylight in alarm, he asked quickly, “Where is he now?”
Her face blank as she could make it, she said as dully as possible, “Dead.”
Mel didn’t like to think about her part in his death and the fact that she missed him. He’d been a friend and had taught her a lot. If he hadn’t killed Loo, she would have been happy to slay with him at her back.
Giles seemed to get it was a touchy subject for her, because he didn’t mention Urkonn again. Instead, he cocked his head slightly and asked, “Is that when you were called? Ten months ago?”
“Not sure when. Maybe five years ago,” she said, embarrassed at not knowing the answer. Hard on the heels of embarrassment came the need to defend her ignorance, and she added, “Not my fault I don’t know. Didn’t get the dreams, didn’t get a clue.”
Looked like she surprised him, and it made her feel better. Turned out he didn’t know everything after all.
“Every Slayer gets the dreams,” he said. “Perhaps you don’t remember them?”
Mel suddenly remembered she hadn’t planned to talk about Harth. Still didn’t want to. Not at all. But if she had any hope of convincing him to help, she figured he’d get pissed she didn’t tell him the worst up front.
“Harth —” Her throat closed up around his name, and she had to swallow before saying, “Harth got the dreams. He’s — he was my twin.”
Giles’ face took on a look of sharp interest, and he said, “You have a twin brother?” After half a beat, he recognized the past tense and said gently, “I’m sorry. He’s dead, I take it?”
Unable to meet his eyes at this point, Mel studied her boots as she answered, “Sorta. In a walking-around-without-a-heartbeat kinda way.”
She heard him take a breath, but before he could speak, someone jumped down from the skylight and landed behind her, shaking the floor with his weight. Spinning around, she swung her axe, only to have it plucked from her hands.
Again. Second time in less than a day.
The thing was way too big to be a pump — must be a demon — stood at least two meters tall and had skin as red as coalfire. On its forehead were two round stubs that looked like they should have been horns. Its right hand and forearm were made of stone. Holding her axe up and out of reach, it said, “Glad to see you found your toy. Take you long?”
“You motherfu —”
“Melaka,” said Giles as he pulled her away from the demon that took her down the night before. “Kindly refrain from swearing.”
Spluttering, she said, “But it —”
“He is well known to me,” he interrupted. And then, to the thing before them, he said, “It’s good to see you, Hellboy. I didn’t expect to meet any old friends here.”
6. Old Times Not Soon Forgotten
Giles kept an eye on Melaka as she stalked around the perimeter of the room. She wasn’t happy with the situation or with being ignored. But as long as he allowed Hellboy to retain her scythe, she wouldn’t leave — or possibly couldn’t. As he recalled, Buffy and the other Slayers had been just as possessive of it.
“Last time I looked in on you, you were just this side of a corpse,” Hellboy said quietly as he lit his cigar. “Must be nice having friends in high places.”
Giving him a sharp look, Giles said, “Do you know something about it?”
“Just what I heard Whistler tell you last night.” He puffed a few times on the stogie and grimaced at the taste. It had been too long since he’d had a decent cigar. He added casually, “Wondered what happened to you.”
“What do you mean?” Giles watched as Melaka kicked over a stack of books. Her quick look at him confirmed his suspicion that she was misbehaving to get back at him for taking Hellboy’s side.
Giving up on keeping his cigar lit, Hellboy said, “You remember me visiting you in the hospital?”
“Not while I was still coherent. When they confirmed the cancer had metastasized to my bones, I finally allowed them to dose me with every painkiller known to man and mage,” he answered. “I doubt an apocalypse would have caught my attention after that point.”
He grunted in acknowledgement of the point then said, “Two days after I stopped in, the nurse went to check on you, and you were gone.”
“I wondered about that. Whistler wasn’t exactly forthcoming on whether I had died before the Powers kidnapped me,” Giles said, frustration evident in his voice. Something else occurred to him, then, and he asked, “Did Buffy ever make it back to New York?”
“Yeah. Saw her the night I came to visit. She went nuts when you disappeared,” Hellboy said casually. “Damn near tore the hospital down with her own two hands. Good woman.”
More gratified than he should have been by her reaction to his abduction given the ensuing destruction, Giles relaxed a bit. He’d gone without narcotics as long as possible, hoping she would finish in Romania soon enough to visit one last time. It had nearly broken his heart to accept the drugs before she could return.
His tone mild, he said, “I do hope she didn’t injure herself in her ire. It’s not as if she was still in her twenties.”
Hellboy grinned at that, saying, “I told her she did pretty good for a middle-aged broad.”
Laughing at the thought of Buffy’s likely response, Giles said, “Had you been human, I doubt you would have survived a crack like that.”
“She did some damage. My left knee aches a little when it rains,” he answered.
His amusement disappeared abruptly as the truth of his situation hit him yet again, and Giles said in a low voice, “I don’t belong here. I’m eighty-three years old. Four days ago, I was on my deathbed, and now —”
When Giles stopped speaking, Hellboy said, “At least the Powers were nice about it.”
Aghast at the demon’s comment, he pointed at himself and sputtered, “Nice? You call — this — nice?”
“Gave you back your health and took fifty, sixty years off your clock. Could’ve been worse,” he answered calmly.
Frowning, Giles said, “They could hardly send me as I was.”
“Sure they could. Especially if they had it in for you,” he said, silently daring the Watcher to deny the possibility.
“They wouldn’t —” Giles stopped speaking as he realized that yes, they very well could have forced him to be Melaka’s Watcher while keeping him just a breath away from death. The reality of the situation finally broke through the first wall of his denial. His shoulders slumped, and he said, “You’re right. It could have been worse.”
At that point, a moderately irate Melaka said loudly, “I want my axe back, and I wanna go home.”
Looking over at her, noting that she stood in the middle of the room as if she owned the place, Giles said, “Promise to leave Hellboy alone and you may have your scythe.”
Cold with anger, she said, “I promise. Give me my axe.”
Hellboy tossed it to her, saying, “Here, kid.”
She caught it easily then turned her dour gaze back to Giles. “You gonna be my Watcher?”
It was a horrible question, and it was one he shouldn’t have been required to answer. Though he now had the body of a thirty-year-old man, emotionally and mentally, he was still very much an octogenarian with the experiences of a full life. He’d fought the forces of evil for nearly sixty years, and in doing so, he had helped avert far too many attempts to end the world. He’d watched old friends fall in battle and to the seduction of dark magic. And now he was expected to go through all that again?
Longing for the death which had been denied him, Giles looked away from her and said, “No. I won’t. I can’t.”
Mel stood there for a moment then turned away. She jumped up on a table and tossed her axe out of the skylight before leaping up to follow.
Her arms and legs were a blur of motion as she fought the lurks, and still, they kept coming after her. No sooner would she dust one than two more would take its place. One sucker punched her in the gut, while another, this one behind her, grabbed her head and pulled it back so it could get at her throat.
Fighting hard, she managed to get free again, but it didn’t change the fact that she would lose. She could feel herself slowing down, knew the end was near when —
“Fray? You up?” The pounding started again, and it was loud enough that she thought the door might break if it kept on too long.
She launched herself out of bed, yelling, “Shut up, already! I’m awake, dammit!”
The noise stopped, and she continued to the door to open it. “Great. You. Come to steal my axe again?” she said, all but snarling at her visitor.
Hellboy leaned against the door frame and gave her his most ingratiating smile. “Somehow, I just knew you would be a gracious hostess.”
The look she directed at him suggested he could die in one of several interesting ways, and that she would be more than happy to take care of it for him. “What do you want?”
“Thought I’d stop in, see how you’re doing.” He pulled a half-smoked cigar out of his pocket and lit up. The smoke curled up and into a long disused air conditioning vent. Inside, a rat caught whiff of the odor and, terrified, it turned and ran for its life.
Mel just directed a look of pure disgust at Hellboy and said, “They got laws against polluting.”
“Yeah. I heard,” he said with a more natural looking grin. “Also heard those laws are more honored in the breach.”
He rolled his eyes at her as he took another puff. “Never mind, kid. I stopped by to see if you wanted company tonight.”
Deeply suspicious of him, she asked, “Why would I want company?”
“Don’t know. Maybe so you almost die like last night.” He remained in the hallway, patient, and continued to puff on his stogie as Mel’s face turned all kinds of red.
She could barely get the words out. “You — you prick — you knew — and you didn’t —”
“Didn’t say I didn’t do anything. What do you think happened to those last two you couldn’t find?”
She tried to hold her anger, but her nightmare about that fight was still fresh in her mind, and so was the fear. She’d been alone against too many of them, and she’d even known that when she decided to fight. “Stupid,” she muttered.
Hellboy frowned at that. “Who’s stupid?”
“I was. This mean you’re gonna be my watcher?” She looked up at him with hope and longing in her eyes.
Gently, he answered, “Sorry, kid. That’s Rupert’s job.”
Her eyes hardened at that. “He doesn’t want it, and I don’t want him.”
“He’s had a bad couple of weeks,” he said. “Didn’t you hear us talking about it the other night?”
She looked down and mumbled, “Yeah. Didn’t make any sense.”
Hellboy sighed. “Come on, kid. Let’s get you something to eat, and I’ll tell you the story of Rupert Giles, okay?”
Several kilometers away at the Watchers’ Council offices, Giles finally had the last piece of the spell he needed to get into the Council’s vaults. Given the disarray of the library, he felt he was rather fortunate in having found it so quickly.
A short trip to a nearby outdoor market helped him procure the ingredients he needed, and when he returned, he started the casting immediately. Giles frowned at the level of effort required for the spell, but after a few minutes, the magic started to flow a little more easily.
When the vault door swung open on silent hinges, he loosed a shout of triumph and ran in, only to be brought up short by what he saw. Looking around, he tried to comprehend what he saw before he eventually picked up a piece of paper. When he read and understood it, he dropped to his knees, laughing.
And if there was an edge of hysteria or possibly a hint of madness to his laughter, there was no one around to make note of it.
Giles was truly alone.
Mel crept along the rooftop of the Watcher building. She hadn’t planned to come back — ever — but the lure of the diaries was too strong for her to resist. ‘Face it, Fray,’ she thought as she moved ever so slowly to the broken skylight. ‘It isn’t any diary you want. It’s his.’
Since Hellboy had filled her in last night on the story of Giles and Buffy and Faith and all the other Slayers he’d known, she’d been burning with curiosity. She wanted to see what the man had written, hoping she could get a clue from the journals.
No matter what Hellboy said, she didn’t think Giles was going to be her Watcher. She knew she’d be saying no under the same circumstances, and she was certain nothing would change her mind about it. Hell, if she were Giles, she’d be plotting how to take out those stupid Powers.
She was at the edge of the skylight now and peeked into the room below. It was empty.
She did a careful drop down and froze, listening for any sign that she’d been heard. When two minutes passed, she relaxed enough to start moving around to look at the shelves.
“Guy’s been busy,” she murmured, looking at the orderly arrangement of books.
“Exceedingly busy, in fact.”
Mel jumped straight up and came down ready to fight.
Giles. And he looked drunk. Or maybe a few steps beyond drunk. Mel didn’t think she’d ever seen anyone holding half a jug of moonie and still standing. “You scared me,” she said, accusation in her voice and eyes.
“No, I mean it! You scared me,” she said, getting a bit angry with him.
“Sorry about that,” he said, his words only slightly slurred. “Didn’t mean to. In fact, shouldn’t have been able to. You’re the Slayer. Shouldn’t be scared of a mere mortal.”
“Yeah. Well. Wasn’t expecting you here,” she said, keeping a wary eye on him. It wasn’t just that he was drunk. It was that he looked like he wasn’t completely sane anymore.
“That makes two of us.” He added confidentially, “Did you know I planned to be back home by now?”
Catching a whiff of his breath, she leaned back a little. “Oh?”
“Indeed. Found the key to the vault and the key to home.”
Mel was caught between anger and confusion, and she wasn’t sure what to say. “Why are you still here then?”
He giggled again, and when his giggle turned into a snort, he bent over laughing for several minutes. Ordinarily, Mel might have started laughing in sympathy, but she didn’t. Not this time. His laughter wasn’t in the least bit friendly or happy.
He straightened up at his name and hiccuped, starting off another round of snickering.
Mel darted in and took the moonie away from him, ignoring his outraged, “Hey!”
“You get this back — never. You never get this back. You can’t handle it,” she said, pitching it through the skylight.
“Have you know I was drinking before your great great great great great grandfather was having his first wank,” he said, managing to sound fairly majestic in a drunken way.
“Yeah. Whatever. So why are you piss-faced here instead of happy and dead back home?”
He frowned at her. “What do you know of it?”
“Hellboy,” she said, then she crossed her arms in front of her and started tapping her toe. “Well?”
“Well what?” His confusion was, unfortunately, genuine.
Mel sighed and said, “Why are you still here, Giles?”
“Ah. That.” He started patting himself down, and when his hands were on his butt, he said, “Here they are.”
He pulled out several pieces of paper and threw them in Mel’s direction. “That’s why I’m still here.”
His eyes rolled back in his head at that point, and he fell forward. Though Mel winced at the sound of him hitting the floor, she ignored him, figuring he wouldn’t be feeling any pain for the next month or so.
Instead, she knelt down to start picking up the paper he’d thrown. It took her a few minutes to make sense of them, and when she did, she said, “No wonder the poor bastard’s drunk.”
The next day, Giles woke up with a hangover that was at least as bad as any he’d had during his Ripper days. He groaned, then stopped when the sound made his head hurt worse.
“Here. Drink this,” he heard. And before he could respond, his head was tipped back and liquid was filling his mouth. Not having much choice at that point, he swallowed before he choked.
When he was finally released, he came up fighting. Not that it did any good. Mel moved away too quickly for him to connect.
“What the hell was that?”
Mel figured he hadn’t noticed yet that his headache was gone, so she said, “Hangover cure.”
Giles started to answer, then realized that yes, his hangover was gone. Completely gone. There was a part of him that was offended by the notion that such determined drinking could be erased so quickly, but the wiser part was grateful. “Oh.”
They stood there for a moment, awkward, before Giles said, “What are you doing here?”
“Figured I’d make you a deal,” she answered, looking a great deal more confident than he had ever seen her.
Giles frowned at that. “What sort of deal?”
“Went through all those bits of paper. I’m guessing none of that stuff ever came back, did it?”
Disgusted at the level to which the Council had sunk, he answered, “Apparently, funding was far more important than retaining significant mystical artifacts. As far as I can tell, not one of them ever tried to buy back what they sold off.”
“Yeah. Could tell when I saw the vault. Looks like they cleaned it out, huh?”
“Hundreds of amulets, statuary by the score, rare texts,” his voice trailed off as he considered the devastation wrought during the decline and fall of the Watchers’ Council.
All business now, Mel spoke up again to distract him from his memories. “So if you could get some of that stuff back, you could get home, right?”
Giles blinked. “Yes. That had been my plan.”
She nodded at that. “Here’s the deal. If you’ll be my Watcher, I’ll work on finding what you need.”
“I’m a grabber. Best in the city. Ask Gunther if you don’t believe me,” she said, sounding very much like she was on a job interview.
Confused by her speech, all he could say was, “Grabber?”
“I’m a thief, Giles. And I’m a damn good one. You couldn’t get anyone better to grab your stuff back,” she said calmly, waiting for his brain to catch up to her.
“You’re a thief,” he said slowly. “You believe you can get these items back?”
“As long as they’re still in the city, yeah.”
His eyes started to show signs of life in his brain. “In exchange for — grabbing — the items I need to return home, all you want is for me to be your Watcher?”
They stood looking at each other for the longest time before Giles held out his hand and said, “Agreed.”
Mel gave him a big smile. She went to shake his hand and suddenly found herself on her back, looking up at him.
“First lesson is to never, EVER pour anything down your Watcher’s throat without asking. Understood?”
She made a move she’d learned from a pump a couple of years earlier, and Giles landed on his back. Straddling his hips, Mel leaned forward, and grinning at his surprise, she said, “Understood.”
~ fin ~