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Outside Deep Ellum

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Night, dark and quiet, and Giles is alone in a furnished studio flat in Sunnydale. He’s told Buffy and the Scoobies that he doesn’t want to over-burden the Summers house, already crammed with Potentials and Andrew and a potentially murderous souled vampire with a trigger, but that’s not it. He can’t stand the bloody noise. It might collapse the shell he’s carefully constructed around himself: the Watcher to end all Watchers, quite literally.

This will be the end indeed, he thinks, and he pours himself another whisky. Golden liquid trickles over ice.

The First has appeared to him, of course – as Randall; Ethan; Jenny; his grandmother who loved him and wanted him to be better than he was. Better than he is, he corrects himself. Takes another drink. But the First hasn’t reached him. Takes more than those ghosts to break him.

The golden liquid could melt the ice, so he drinks more quickly.

An odd thing. His only Sunnydale break has been when he realized that the studio he’s chosen had been Anya’s – she had held onto it even while engaged, and stayed there after Xander wounded her, until she offered D’Hoffryn herself in recompense for blood. Silly beautiful girl, he thinks sadly, fondly, somewhere inside his shell. She should know that anything once spilled, even blood, is like melted ice: no matter if it re-freezes and becomes ice again, it’s not the same.

He’s rather glad she left Sunnydale after she became human again. He fears his shell would shatter under her high voice and her higher heels, her honesty and awkward care. However, he has kept the furniture as she left it, and in the night-depths, he sometimes lies in her bed and dreams of warmth and tart sweetness and amnesia kisses.

Silently he drinks, while in front of him he spreads out the weekly newsletter from the Society of Magic Shops. He’s held onto his subscription; he doesn’t know why it offers sweet, sharp-toothed slivers of comfort. But now he has another purpose for it. He flips to the classifieds, looking for an answer to his own advertisement.

He’s searching for a Prokaryote stone. Spike, trigger always ready to be pulled, chains gone except the ones which Buffy holds – he’s the First’s creature there in the Summers basement, and no one seems to care. Giles has tried to talk to both Spike and Buffy, but they don’t listen. His voice doesn’t seem to carry outside his shell. Perhaps if he offers a specific solution, a chance for Spike to choose....

Silently he drinks. He doesn’t need a Prokaryote stone to let loose the memories and the damage, Jenny’s body in his bed, Angelus laughing while Giles batters him with wood and fire. Buffy didn’t listen then, either.

The answer is there on the page. A. E. (no name given), Dallas, Texas, can put him in touch with a private collector of mystical artifacts; there’s a phone number, an address, a request for contact. "Let’s make a deal," the advert ends, and he finds his mouth curving in what’s not quite a smile.

When he gets to Dallas the next day – blue sky fading into dark as he’s flown east – it’s bitter cold. The worst weather comes at the end of winter, the hire car agent says as she gives him directions to the address he has.

Lights hurting his eyes, he drives the freeways like he’s spinning down a river. The riverbed here is all concrete, without water. The water’s underground.

The address is in a renovated warehouse and retail district: one of those reclamation efforts, industrial space made into tiny shops full of uselessness and art, clubs spilling over with the well-dressed and the would-be cool, light where there was darkness. Unused railroad tracks cut through the streets like streams from the dead river. Here at the end of winter, everyone is wrapped up.

He parks, walks a block to the address. It’s a small magic shop called Magic Places – closed now for the night but still bright, beaming light into darkness. The window display of candles and magic-filled jars on gold cloth is familiar; he knows that artist’s hand, he’s sure he does. But he’s too deep inside himself to remember. The damage keeps him inside

A passerby, a local by his clothes and accent, hails him. "Looking for her?" the man says. He points across the street to a club. Its neon lights deliberately evoke the past, two martini glasses limned in the black window; a throb of music reaches Giles from across the street. "She’s probably in there. It’s her night, you know."

Giles thanks him and then crosses to the door. The heat pulls him in before he knows it – even though it’s early still, he’s swallowed up by illegal smoke, perfume and alcohol, by anguished blues over a cold, driving beat. On a small parquet floor a woman glitters in gold as she dances. She’s dancing for herself, heedless of those watching her. Her sinuous hips and graceful hands and closed eyes draw Giles closer. Much closer. Too close.

Then she opens her eyes and sees him, what must look like a dark frozen shape at the edge of the light. The shock makes him catch his breath, but Anya smiles. "Hey, Giles! I’ve been waiting for you. Ready to make a deal?"

...................................................

As Shanice the DJ turns up the music in the club, blues over beats that are very good to dance to, Giles winces. This is a familiar Giles-thing. He’s also drinking bourbon remarkably fast, which is not.

In one of the few, prized booths in Blind Willie’s – she has managed to dislodge Yuppie Steve and Old-Timer Eddie with merely a smile and a slight shake of her breasts – Anya swirls the ice in her vodka tonic and stares at her other prize. Okay. His hair is a little greyer, his already pronounced worry lines a great deal deeper on that ruggedly handsome face, and his smile is non-existent. This is not what she hoped for when she saw his advertisement in the newsletter last week.

Not that she had hoped for anything, she tells herself. But when she’d seen the terse, precisely worded ad and its R. Giles signature, she’d had an intense pang of missing Sunnydale -- no, not Sunnydale, but him and their shop. Instead of sitting in her own little store here at the edge of Deep Ellum, for a long moment she’d felt herself in the Magic Box again, swimming in the scents of money and dried herbs and magic and old books, drinking the Darjeeling he’d made and watching him clean his glasses, his hand rubbing through linen in a neat, tidy circle.

His thumb moves on his cut-glass tumbler in a neat, tidy circle, spreading around the condensation from the melting ice in his glass, and she smiles. She’s missed him, she thinks again, and now she can help him. She wants to help him. But still –

"You really didn’t know it was going to be me?" she prompts again.

Not a smile, but almost. "You didn’t use your name in the advertisement, Anya, or even initials I’d be able to identify," he points out, before he takes another drink. He closes his eyes when the liquor hits his tongue, tilts his head back to let the good stuff slip down.

She’s staring, she realizes, and he’s said something... "Oh. Well, I’ve been experimenting with names, and there are safety issues, and actually you didn’t use your whole name either."

"I used enough so that you knew to expect me," he says, and then turns the tumbler around in his hand. His eyes still seem to be closed, but that might be a trick of the shadows. Then they open, the sharp Watcher behind his glass wall. "Why didn’t you let me know who you were?"

She recognizes the several layers to this question, feels the knife-edge of them like she felt Buffy’s sword in her chest that horrible night. Unconsciously she rubs at the gold silk-satin material that covers her scar – D’Hoffryn left her the mark when he changed her back to human this time, no doubt for vengeance-reasons – as she says, taking the most literal meaning, "I didn’t really know if you’d be happy to see me. You haven’t exactly been a good correspondent since.... you know."

"No." He finishes the drink, then pushes the glass away as if it hurts him. Slowly: "I’m sorry for that, Anya. I’ve been... I’m just sorry."

It’s like she can feel him turn the knife-edge against himself, which she finds unacceptable. She puts her hand out to cover his cold one, drape herself over masculine bone and muscle. "It’s okay, Giles. I had to deal with everything myself. Find out who I was."

"I’m still sorry," he says, his voice so soft she can barely hear him.

She plunges into memory like breaking through ice – back in their Magic Box, and he’s smiling at her, saying that very thing in a voice filled with such love that she wants to wrap him up with her in linen so they’d be together always, in some dim quiet place where he could say more things like that to her.... She doesn’t realize how hard she’s gripping his hand until he tries to pull it away, at which point she feels heat rush up her body, her throat, her face. "Oops," she says, and she lets him slip away. Slip away again, and that’s her second mistake, her stupid mind finishes.

He does slide his hand out of her grasp, of course. Picking up a soggy club napkin as if he’s searching for anything at all to distract him, he says, "So this club is named Blind Willie’s? There was a blues artist named Blind Willie Johnson–"

"Yes. It’s a tribute – the owner knew him well, and Blind Willie played here. Not here, precisely, but in Deep Ellum proper."

"What’s Deep Ellum?" he says, almost smiling.

"The name of the neighbourhood. Years ago it was where the outsiders lived – people of different colours than the rest of Dallas, and, well, others who might not have been people. Now it’s a thriving small-business area where much money is exchanged. A good place for a magic shop, even if I’m not quite within the boundaries." When he does smile at that, she says, "What?"

"Nothing." He drops the napkin and the smile, and then says, "Shall we do that deal, Anya?"

"Deal...Oh, yes! That’s why you’re here!" She says this with great enthusiasm, as if to convince herself that she doesn’t mind he wouldn’t ever look for her, just her. "Actually, let me go just set up your meeting with the Blind One."

"The Blind One?"

"Yes, the current holder of the Prokaryote stone you want. Also, the owner of this club, and the controlling interest in the shop which I co-own and manage." When he raises his eyebrows, she clarifies, "Magic Places. Anyway, back before you know it."

As she goes across the now crowded dance floor, she throws a look back at their booth. He’s almost hidden in the corner, but she can see the flash of his glasses and the gleam of his hand reaching toward his empty tumbler. He needs a refill, she thinks –

And then Drunk Delia spins her around before Michael, who sculpts tiny misshapen animals and somehow sells them from his gallery three doors down, catches her, saying, "Hey there, Anya-girl, why aren’t you dancin’? It’s your night, you know?"

"I’ve got something better to do, just for tonight," she says, but pats his arm. She likes Michael. On Wednesday nights – which is her night off, before her three late-opening nights when the streets are full of people with money – she comes to Blind Willie’s and dances. Michael often gets a drink and sits there watching, smiling at her while she twirls for hours, dipping and swaying and immersing herself in the pour of music.

He misses his lover Jerry who died a few years ago from a stupid human disease, he told her one night, and he thinks she dances like his man did. She considers this a compliment.

Shanice shouts across the turntables, "Hey girl, you want me to play your song? You ain’t dancing, you know."

"In a minute!" Anya calls back, and then pushes the rest of the way to the bar. Esteban is tending bar tonight – very attractive man with excellent muscle tone, although she doesn’t find herself interested in him sexually. Which is odd. One more glance back at the booth, at glasses and long fingers on an empty tumbler and hidden warmth, before she says, "Esteban, I need another vodka tonic and another Booker’s, make this one neat. And I need an appointment with the Blind One."

"That’s your Giles, then?" he says, already reaching for the bourbon with one hand and the special house phone with the other.

"Not mine." She makes herself sound cheerful. "Just Giles."

"Ah, chica, did you not see the way he looks at you? Who’s the blind one here?" he says. Before she can answer, he turns around to conduct his business conversation and make their drinks. The sounds of glass on glass and the spill of liquid mingle with whatever Shanice is playing, and she looks back again.

For a second it’s like Giles is gone, disappeared into shadow or England or the depths of his overcoat, and she’s caught by terror, but then he comes back into focus. He didn’t really go anywhere, she tells herself.

And then the drinks she’s ordered slide across the bar, and Esteban leans over to say, "He can’t tonight. It’s one of his bad ones, I’m afraid. But he says he will see your Giles tomorrow evening."

"But that’s a late-opening night!" she says, breath catching in another kind of terror. Then, resolutely: "I guess I can close early just this once."

"You have to come with the man to hold his hand?" Esteban laughs, pushes the drinks closer. "No, chica, he’s not your Giles. No, not at all."

"No, he’s not. He’s just Giles," she says again. Her words sound cold and unhappy even to her own ears, which depressive moment she decides to ignore. She gives Esteban the money and a good tip, collects their drinks, and starts back across the dance floor. The minute her foot touches the parquet, Shanice waves at her and then spins into a re-mixed song Anya loves.

As a husky male voice sings about crazy rivers and trains, about heat and sudden passionate connection, Anya carries their drinks back to Giles. When he sees her, he leans forward out of the dark of the booth.

And she smiles. At least she’s got him for one night.