Forever and a Day
The waiting game
As Giles walked wearily into the foyer of the Hindhead Hotel, he stopped in mid stride. Willow was sitting there, hunched up in a big leather chair, gazing into space. Even from a distance he could see the streaks of tears on her cheeks. She blinked and stared up at Giles, her expression defiant. “They’re not here,” she said. “They’ve gone.”
Giles sank down in a chair opposite her. “And left you behind? Deliberately, I imagine.”
Willow shrugged away the hurt. She would never tell anyone how devastated she’d felt when she’d come downstairs after speaking to Kennedy on the phone to find Buffy and Spike had tricked her and left.
For long seconds the woman who was still the most powerful witch in the world, the one who had almost brought that same world to an end, vanished. All her old lack of confidence had reared its ugly head and she was the dorky girl at school whom no one liked, who was always the last to be picked for a team, who had few friends, who wasn’t cool enough for the popular kids to play with.
“Why did you try to kill them?” she asked quietly. She wasn’t scared of Giles – jeez, she knew that even as tired as she was, she had enough power at her command to squash him like a bug if he tried to attack her no matter how strong he’d become. “Spike – well, I guess I can understand that – you’ve never liked him or trusted him, have you? – but Buffy? Giles, whatever’s happened to you, what has the mist done - how could you try to kill Buffy?”
Giles took off his glasses and dabbed ineffectually at them with the end of his tie. His eyes looked strained and tired and Willow felt her heart contract a little as she realised how many new worry lines were forming round them. He seemed to have aged over the past few days.
“Willow – believe me – I didn’t know I’d been…changed…by the mist until I lifted up that enormous boulder to block the cave entrance. Believe me, I wouldn’t have lied to you, or pretended if I’d known. I really thought your wonderful magic barrier had stopped the Plague reaching us. Obviously it didn’t touch you. I’m glad about that.”
The redhead waved her hand imperiously. “I know about the mist, Giles. Heard the monster it was feeding. I’ve seen it changing all those poor people back into kids. I know it’s made you super strong, OK, I get that. But you still haven’t answered my question. Why try to kill your Slayer? And are you going to try and kill me next? Because, honestly, Giles, bad idea!”
“Believe me, I have no intention of killing you, Willow. And I don’t understand why the mist has made me so strong. Unless it has something to do with being a Watcher. But what I do know and believe in every nerve of my body is that it has changed Buffy and Spike and not in a good way.”
“But Giles, they’re together, fighting this new threat. All they want to do is solve the puzzle, kill the monster and get back to ordinary life again.”
Giles smashed his fist into his palm, making the girl in front of him jump. “Ordinary! Willow – Spike’s become invincible – and as far as I can work out, all vampires are now invincible. Do I have to tell you what that means? WE CAN’T KILL THEM. EVER!”
“But Buffy – ”
Giles buried his head in his hands. “God Willow, don’t you think my head feels as if it’s going to explode every time I think about this? Yes, she looks like Buffy, talk and acts like her, but she isn’t her, She’s fed on Spike and whatever is in his blood that makes it impossible to destroy him, it’s now inside her veins, making her stronger, a super Slayer.”
“But killing her, Giles?”
“She isn’t Buffy any more. I don’t know what she is, but there is no way I can allow her and an invincible vampire to do exactly what they want to do. How could you even start to think I could?”
Willow looked bewildered. “No, Giles, that doesn’t make sense. OK, Spike, invincible, so you say. Well, how do you know? We’ve come across lots of these “you-can’t-kill-me” types before and they’ve all been vanquished eventually. And Buffy, she is still herself! I’d swear she is. And she’s trying to make things better. She’ll find this Plague monster and kill it. I know she will.”
Giles stood up and strode across the hall to the main door. He stared out at the heavy grey sky. The village of Hindhead lay deserted in front of him. Evening was falling now. Back in the States that would have been the time when the vampires would start to appear. But here, in England, they could now walk the earth at any time because the sun couldn’t touch them.
“You admit you’ve changed – you’re strong now – but you’re still you,” Willow called out angrily. “So why won’t you accept that Buffy is still Buffy?”
Giles felt a great weariness flood over him. His newfound strength didn’t seem to have the ability to stop him feeling tired, he thought wryly. And he was - to the bone. He felt the bitter taste of sheer exhaustion in his mouth and realised how weary he was of his life as a Watcher.
He could still remembered how he’d felt once Buffy and Willow had enabled all the would be Slayers following the Sunnydale apocalypse. They’d thought life would be so easy for them all. But he hadn’t believed that for one second. Even as it happened and they defeated the First, he was calculating what would happen. Because they’d never taken into account that you could awaken hundreds of girls to Slayerhood but every Slayer needed a Watcher and there just weren’t enough.
He, himself, had sixteen girls in Europe who called him their Watcher. At any time he had to be ready to help, advise, teach. The phone rang without stopping, day and night. With the majority of the Council gone, those who were left had spent every hour of every day contacting elderly Watchers, men and women who’d retired years before, dragging them out of their comfortable homes and lives to face demons, vampires and monsters once again. And youngsters of eighteen and twenty, still in training, anxiously flicking through reference books every time they faced a problem, had been given five or six Slayers each to look after. There had been enormous casualties, and most of them had been due to the amateurs that were running the show.
But at least they’d had one advantage: the demon world had been fairly routine for a while. Vampires, the odd demon on the prowl. But this Plague was something no one knew about. And he was one of the few people who had the experience to know that it was only going to get worse now vampires could no longer be killed.
Buffy wasn’t Buffy any longer. The girl he had looked after so carefully for so long had gone - at last. He rubbed his eyes – they were watering – probably because he was so tired. His Slayer had gone and he had to react just as if a vampire or demon had killed her years ago. He knew Willow would never understand – he didn’t know anyone who would.
The redheaded witch crossed to his side. She stared out at the darkness of the January evening. “What are you going to do, Giles?”
He wondered grimly what she would say if he replied, ‘Go home, pour myself a large Scotch, listen to some cool jazz, and forget about everything.’ He didn’t think Willow would be very impressed. Even as powerful as she was, the American girl expected him to come up with an answer to the problem.
“I’m going to follow them, Willow. I’m sorry, but I have no choice.”
“And then you’ll try to kill them?”
He hesitated. “I can’t kill Spike. I think the only thing that can defeat him is the monster they’re hunting. I’ll need to rely on that.”
Willow turned and looked up at him, her eyes huge in her pale, tear-stained face. She had to pinch herself to recognise that this was Rupert Giles, the man who’d fought against Evil for so long. “You’re going to help the Plague monster?”
The disbelief, bewilderment and pain in her voice cut him to the bone. They had shared such a lot in their lives; pain, trouble, addiction, grief and happiness. But he felt that deep down he’d always had her respect. But now as she looked at him, asking that vital question, he could see that respect fading away and being replaced by a kind of disgust.
He took a deep breath, realising that this moment was where all his training and years of experience had been heading. “The mist has fed the monster; the damage has been done and yes, it’s tragic and dreadful, but I have to discover what it wants and if there’s any way to reverse what it’s done to vampires. And if there isn’t, then I need it to tell me how to eliminate them, because, by God, Willow, the Plague monster is the only thing that can. And if that means I have to help it, then – I will!”
* * * *
Eight miles north of Salisbury, on a bitterly cold, wind-swept plain, the circle of stones that had stood for over five thousand years ignored the icy rain and wind that tore at their unyielding sides.
Stonehenge was waiting….
Then from miles away back along a deserted road, headlights cut through the night and the blare of of rock music shattered the silence.