Giles doesn’t look up as Kennedy approaches. Even if he hadn’t recognised her footsteps, he’d seen her coming down the stairs on the video feed displayed inches from his elbow.
“Report,” he says.
“Teams B, E and F were successful,” Kennedy says. “B and E have their packages safe in the secondary safe house. F’s are in the cell downstairs.”
“Teams A, C and D?”
“Haven’t reported in yet.”
When Giles turns the chair to face her, she’s pale and drawn, eyes gleaming with some dark unpredictable fire. He knows the look; he sees it in the mirror every morning.
“Send out support teams to find the stragglers,” he says. “Give me the key.”
“The key?” Finally a flash of uncertainty.
“To the cell.”
After a moment Kennedy unclips the key ring from her belt. Her hesitation is not lost on Giles. He wonders what she is so worried about him seeing. Kennedy is gunpowder waiting for a spark, though he’s been hoping it would stay within reasonable boundaries. Clearly, that has not been the case.
He doesn’t get up immediately, turning the key between his fingers and thinking about choices and lesser evils.
“I chose you for a reason, Kennedy,” he says, and his tone is quiet, but Kennedy flinches as if he’d shouted. “I needed someone with clear eyes to assist me. Someone not as close to the issue as Buffy and Faith. Someone who could do what needs to be done.” She is silent, not saying anything. He leans forward just a little, and says: “It is not a license to do what we please.”
Her gaze skitters away from his, and the tip of a tongue moistens her lips. That dark fire is, at least momentarily, banked in favour of nerves. Satisfied he’s gotten his point across, Giles slips his glasses on and stands up.
“Third door on the left. I’ll get one of the girls to–”
This particular safe house had once been used to store ancient prophecy scrolls, but flooding a few months back had forced the scrolls to be moved elsewhere. The door that Giles unlocks glides on well-oiled hinges. Inside, stripped of the cosy shelves and writing desks, the room looks exactly like what it is: a bare grey room without windows.
The three people huddled against the far wall have their hands bound with plastic strip-locks. It isn’t standard Slayer gear. It wouldn’t hold most demons.
But then, these aren’t demons.
Giles recognises Charles Gunn from the photographs Cordelia had emailed Willow up until that ascension business two years back and the mess that came after. He looks older than his pictures, though this might be due to the impressive bruising swelling up the side of his face. There is a flash of surprise on his face when Giles enters, but that quickly disappears beneath guarded inscrutability.
The woman on his right is less careful. She glares at Giles with an impressive amount of naked hostility, making him glad that the slayers had searched her for weapons. She’d never been in any of Cordelia’s photographs, but he knows her from Andrew’s dossier on the current incarnation of Angel Investigations. Kate Lockley, the former police officer. He finds it easy to believe; even dishevelled and at a disadvantage, there’s steel in her expression.
The second woman huddled on Gunn’s left is younger and more frightened than the other two. Ironic, considering she has the potential to be the most formidable – at least during a full moon. According to Andrew’s report, Nina Ash had dated Angel casually until an amicable break-up a year or so ago. Not precisely one of Angel’s group, but not far removed from it either. Her gentle, pretty face is filled with equal parts fear and apprehension that she tries unsuccessfully to hide.
She’s the most battered out of the three, with a split lip and an ugly bruise coming up over one eye. Giles takes a deep breath and starts planning the talk he’s going to have with Kennedy about her slayers and acceptable force when detaining a human (or close enough for it not to matter). He’ll allow some leeway for the fact they’ve no experience with such fragile prisoners, but this far exceeds anything that could be explained away as accidental.
“I apologise,” he says. “The slayers were instructed to be gentle in your detainment. They will be reprimanded.”
No one answers. Nina’s nostrils are flaring slightly; a quirk particular to werewolves or shapeshifters when under stress. Giles tries again.
“I will have a doctor brought in to treat you. I understand that you must be frightened and confused, but I assure you, you are safe here. My name is –”
“We know who you are.” It’s Kate that speaks, her voice flat and unfriendly. “And who you work for.”
“Then let me assure you that, although it may not seem like it now, we have good reasons for our actions.”
Kate turns her chin away, letting a breath out through her nose, like someone so exasperated they couldn’t even be bothered to answer. Gunn’s eyes narrow ever so slightly.
“Where’s Conner?” Nina blurts out. Her voice is low and husky, and probably quite attractive when she isn’t terrified out of her mind. “One of your slayers tazered him. I saw it.”
She’s talking about the boy that rumour places as being Angel’s son. A ludicrous-sounding story, but Giles is not going to dismiss anything as impossible. Not where Twilight is concerned.
“Conner O’Riley is perfectly fine,” he assures Nina. “He is right now being held in another safe house, along with Laura Weathermill and Miss Anne Steel and her son.”
Nina’s lips press together unhappily, but it’s Kate who observes acidly:
“Separating us in case of rescue. Very efficient of you. Now what the hell do you want from us?”
Giles removes his glasses and folds them away into his pocket.
“Were any of you aware of Angel’s recent activities?”
It’s an important question. Truthfully he thinks it highly unlikely that Angel’s people had been involved with the Twilight movement. All reports indicate they had remained in LA over the past year while Twilight was flitting about the globe.
Still, he can’t help but hope. It would make this entire situation so much simpler.
“You mean flying around playing super-villain?” Gunn’s voice is laced with scorn. It’s the first time he’s spoken since Giles entered the room. “Yeah, your girls filled us in. And me without my kryptonite.”
“You find two hundred dead slayers funny?” Giles says sharply.
“I’m sorry your slayers are dead, but Angel didn’t do it.”
Giles studies Gunn for a long moment. The man’s expression is irritated and holds an understandable antagonism, but he’d been sincere about the slayers, and he’d shown none of the fear or superiority that came from concealed knowledge. Kate looks about ready to explode from outrage at the very suggestion, and even Nina is nodding, as if Gunn had said the sky was blue and gravity fell downward.
“You know this for a fact?” Giles persists. “You haven’t noticed any change in his behaviour recently?”
Neither Kate nor Gunn betray even a flicker of expression, but Nina glances uncertainly at her comrades. Giles directs his attention at her until she answers reluctantly;
“Angel’s been out of touch.”
Nina shrugs, avoiding his gaze. Giles wonders how long it’s been since Angel’s team have seen or spoken to him. Weeks? Months? Maybe it’s not fair to place the blame for Twilight entirely on them, but so many lives might have been saved if they’d paid more attention to their leader’s activities.
“What Angel does is none of your business.” Kate manages to be both icy calm and scathingly angry all at once. “You made that clear a long time ago.”
“Angel changed that when he started killing slayers.”
“Come on. Angel’s a lot of things” – and her tone says she isn’t a fan of those things at all – “but a genocidal maniac with god-like powers is not one of them.”
“I saw it with my own eyes, as did other trusted members of the New Council.”
“I believe that you believe you saw it,” is all Gunn said, which could mean anything.
“I don’t understand,” Nina says, sounding very young and very vulnerable. “If it’s Angel you’re after, what do you want with us?”
Giles fishes his glasses out of his pocket and begins to polish them with his handkerchief, focusing on the tiny motes of dust marring the glass.
“In his past turns to evil, Angel has consistently been shown to target those closest to him. Removing you from his reach was of the utmost urgency –”
He is silenced by Gunn’s harsh bark of laughter.
“Be honest, Watcher. Whoever Twilight is, whether you’re right or I am, we’re not dealing with Angelus.” His words, like Buffy’s, cut right through Giles’ prepared speech to the heart of the matter. “We’re not here to be protected. We’re leverage.”
“If you insist on viewing it that way –”
“Are we free to go?”
The directness of the question makes Giles hesitate.
“That’s not a good –”
“Yes or no, Watcher. There’s only two possible answers.”
Gunn glares at Giles, unflinching, not backing down. Giles supposes that a man who spent his entire adult life and most of his teenage years hunting vampires was never going to be easily intimidated. It’s something to avoid thinking about: that in different circumstances, Gunn could have been an ally.
“No,” Giles says finally. He wants to say more, that this is a last resort only, that they will never have to follow through, that Angel will certainly back down once his people’s lives are on the line.
But Gunn and Kate strike him as the kind of people unlikely to be comforted by reassuring lies.
“There are two hundred slayers dead,” he says instead. “With more dying every day. We don’t know what Twilight’s plan is. We don’t know of any physical weaknesses we can exploit. The traditional ones – stake, beheading, sunlight – have failed in the face of his invulnerability. The only weakness we can find is his emotional connections. You have every right to think us brutal and unfair, but the fact is you are the last card we have to play.”
“Been talking to Wolfram and Hart recently?” Gunn bites out. He doesn’t look scared but he does look disgusted. “What am I saying, of course you have. This has their stink all over it.”
Kate is even less diplomatic.
“So we’re just supposed to wait here, until you finally believe us when we say this Twilight character isn’t Angel?” Her tone is incredulous. “We’re just supposed to hope that he is Angel, because if he isn’t, we’re in a shit-load of trouble?”
“You’re unbelievable.” Nina touches her arm, murmuring her name, but Kate shrugs her off. She pushes herself to her feet. With her hands bound in front of her she has to use the wall as leverage. “Slayers are supposed to be heroes. Watchers are supposed to help them with that. You’re supposed to save people. But you go around kidnapping and dragging innocent people to use as pawns in a war and you expect them to smile and thank you for the privilege–”
“From what I understand, very few people in your group could be considered, strictly speaking, ‘innocent’.” Giles stops, presses his lips together. He hadn’t meant to say that.
Kate’s eyes widen and he is prepared when she flings herself forward. Andrew’s dossier had made particular mention of her judo training, but even she can’t manage a good punch with her hands tied. He grabs her shoulders, forcing her to a distance, and turning so her knee catches him on the hip, not the groin. It is such a short, pathetic show of defiance he feels embarrassed for her.
But her blue eyes are calculating. She doesn’t look like a woman driven past sense by rage. He has a split second to realise he’d allowed himself to be maneuvered too close to the wall before Charles Gunn tackles his legs. The cold ground hurts like hell, and then it’s all scrambling and kicking and them trying to cover his mouth while he tries to yell for the slayers outside the door. He’s no pushover, but even with the striplocks Gunn is a good deal bigger and at least fifteen years younger, and both Kate and Nina have experience with opponents who are heavier and stronger than they are.
Then the door slams open and slayers are swarming the room. Someone drags Gunn off him, and Nina shrieks. Giles hears the distinct buzz of a tazer.
“Stop!” He coughs, rising to his knees. A helpful slayer hauls the rest of the way up and hands him his glasses. He hadn’t realised he’d lost them. “Don’t hurt them.”
Gunn is hunched over on the ground, fingers curled to hide the twitching that results from a thousand volts of electricity flooding the human nervous system. Kate is kneeling beside him protectively.
“Don’t do us any favours,” she spits at Giles. The look in her eyes is pure, unadulterated hatred. Sometime during the struggle her blonde hair had come loose, and it makes her look younger. She reminds him suddenly of Buffy, of her outrage and betrayal on her eighteenth birthday when she found out what he was doing on the Council’s orders. Of all the betrayals, large and small, he’d committed over his time as her watcher.
“These are desperate times.” He starts to put his glasses on, then realises they are broken. He put them in his pocket. “We do as we must. I take no pleasure in it.”
“Do they know?” Gunn forces himself to his knees. “Do Buffy and Willow know what’s going on, or is this your version of Watergate?”
The question is meant to be armour-piercing, and it is – just not for the reasons Gunn intends. Giles goes very still. For a second, he’s back in that last fight in Scotland, watching the spell that chance or good aim had sent glancing off Twilight’s cheek, burning away the mask.
“Willow is dead,” he says at last. He is surprised at how calm he sounds. “Angel killed her for breaking his cover.”
Finally no one argues back. Even the slayers are quiet. He orders them out and limps after them, feeling every bruise. He pauses in the doorway, not looking anyone in the eye, and says:
“I’ll see about that doctor.”
Kennedy is waiting outside. She holds out a mobile, with the expression of someone holding something potentially explosive, and mouths “Spike”. Apparently Team A weren’t successful in their mission.
Giles presses his fingers to the bridge of his nose, deliberately does not say any of the words he is thinking, and raises the phone to his ear.
“Hello, Spike.” He keeps a level tone. If he sounds slightly strained, then hopefully Spike will take it as irritation.
“Where are they, Watcher?” Spike is unexpectedly calm. Giles would have expected calm from Angel, but not from Spike, especially not after escaping a five slayer team.
“Where did you get this number?” He counters. “This is a private Council line.”
“Don’t screw around with me, Rupert. I’ve had a bad year and this kidnapping crap is the cherry on the sodding cake I’m going to ram down your throat.”
“Is Illyria with you?”
“Don’t think you want to talk to the old lady. She’s a mite ticked off at you for nicking off with her followers and trying to kidnap her, and she has some fairly graphic descriptions of what she’s planning to do to you. Oh, and Betta George wants to know how you feel about Freudian complexes.”
So Team D and C failed as well. The three most powerful members of Angel Investigations – with the exception of Angel himself – are in the wind. It could be worse, but Giles is hard pressed to think how. He restrains the urge to ask if the slayer teams are alive. If Spike hasn’t thought of using slayers as hostages, Giles isn’t going to suggest it to him.
“Spike, this isn’t a good time. We have a lot bigger issues to deal with at the moment. But if you’d like to arrange a meeting, we can discuss a time and place.”
“Don’t fancy getting jumped by ten slayers the minute I turn up. I’m kind of a one-woman guy, y’know? Except for that one time in Hell, but they were mostly evil anyway, and you don’t need to know about that.”
“I’m sure Buffy would like to hear from you.”
This is Giles’ failsafe. Even if Spike won’t agree to a rendezvous, his love for Buffy will cloud his judgement. Where Buffy is concerned, he’s always been a constant, predictable force.
But Spike doesn’t even pause to think about his answer.
“I’ll have to turn you down on that one. If she’s not part of this, I’d rather not make matters more complicated. And if she is, I’d rather not know.”
“Part of what, exactly, Spike?”
“Fine, play dumb. That suits me just fine. Just don’t think the innocent face will stop me killing you if you get between us and our people. I don’t know what the hell kind of reason you had for taking them, but in all honesty I don’t give a crap. We are going to find them, and they’d better not be hurt or I’m going to show you exactly why Angelus kept me round. Fair warning, Watcher. It’s the only one you’re getting.”
There’s a click and a dial tone as the vampire hangs up.
Kennedy is watching Giles hopefully.
“That’s good, right?” She says. “Them coming after their friends? We can lay a trap.”
Giles doesn’t answer. The plan which had been so simple, so brutally straightforward when conceived – as simple as his hand over Ben’s mouth – is unravelling at the seams. Too many variables, he thinks. Too many factors they’d been ignorant of. Believing that Angel would hesitate when his people were threatened had been a calculated risk. But now Spike had been thrown into the equation with the insidious ability of a telepath at his command and the amoral power of a god who, if unlikely to take direct orders, was at least slightly more inclined to destroy in a direction of his suggestion than anyone else’s.
It wasn’t just Spike’s friends that make Giles so uneasy. What makes him truly, deeply uncertain is the fact that he’d known Spike for six years, and while the vampire was loyal in romance – obsessively so – Giles has never known him to be this steadfast in friendship. Not for any true length of time. Even the affection between him and Dawn had cooled by the time he wore the amulet into the Hellmouth. Giles had anticipated his potential escape – the damn vampire had more lives than a cat – but he’d always imagined if that happened Spike would go to ground, and reappear elsewhere like a blasted immortal cockroach that just wouldn’t die.
Never in a millions years would Giles have predicted this matter-of-fact declaration of war. He has no idea what to expect from Spike, anymore than he knows what to expect from Angel now that he’s calling himself Twilight.
“Contact the other safe house,” he says. “Tell them to increase security.” He’ll be damned if he’d let one vampire ruin everything. Not Twilight, and certainly not Spike. Not even if one of them was only trying to protect his family. But Giles kicks that thought down ruthlessly. “I’ll send the message to Twilight’s forces. Once he knows we have his people, we’ll see if he’s more open to negotiation.”
Inside the cell, someone slams a fist against the door.
“Hope you sleep well at night, Watcher!” Gunn’s muffled voice shouts. “I hope you sleep real well.”
Giles doesn’t tell him he hasn’t slept well in years.