‘Bulldog’ Giles (he’d never really thanked his mother for the name ‘Bernard’), was a man who found many things irritating, but that afternoon, nothing was irritating him more than the clock in his son’s hospital room. It wasn’t its ostentatious ticking noise, nor even the fact it recorded his having been sitting in that room for almost two hours with absolutely no change in the patient. No, the thing that irritated him most was that, when compared to his own meticulously wound pocket watch, the damn thing on the wall was three and a quarter minutes slow. It was bad enough he was forced to sit there and watch absolutely nothing happen, but to do so with a lag of three and a quarter minutes seemed intolerable. To his mind, time should not be treated so slovenly and, despite his natural respect for authority, he had a good mind to get up and put it straight.
The middle-aged nurse entered at that moment to perform one of her half-hour check-ups. She projected a brisk and starched capability though Bulldog cynically reflected she was still either eight and a quarter, or five and a quarter minutes late, depending on your pick. He hated the depressing weight of antiseptic that hung in the place and ran his hand through his greying hair as he shifted uncomfortably in his plastic visitor chair.
“If you want to go and get yourself a cup of tea, Mr Giles, it will be OK. I’m sure your son knows you are here for him.”
Bulldog grunted a refusal. The Council wanted a full report and his duty to his post was clear even if privately he thought that his presence was probably the reason the boy still hadn’t opened his eyes. If anyone could maintain a coma out of sheer spite, it would be his son.
The nurse took the boy’s temperature, blood pressure, and measured his pulse by referring to the watch pinned to her apron top, writing the results to the clipboard at the foot of the bed.
“Such a good-looking young man too,” she mused, gently stoking the hair from her patient’s forehead. “Had he been depressed, do you know?”
From the lurid reports he’d heard of his son’s activities since disgracing the family name and dropping out of Oxford, Bulldog thought literally nothing could be further from the truth.
“I don’t’ believe so,” he answered carefully. “Though I haven't seen him for some months.”
“Will any other family members be coming?”
“No. There’s only me.” He paused. “And my mother,” he conceded. “But she’s in poor health and isn’t well enough to travel.” The nurse looked sympathetically pitying and Bulldog realised she was probably painting a mental picture of some frail old lady in a wicker bath chair with a rug over her knees. He privately harrumphed that nothing was further from the truth. Frankly, the phone call informing her of this latest scandal was not going to be something he relished. For some reason, his mother had always had a soft spot for her grandson, which had recently, and quite unfairly in his opinion, blossomed into a complete blind spot for all his transgressions. In her eyes, everything, apparently, was Bulldog’s fault, and he chaffed at the injustice.
The nurse looked at the boy again. “Of course. They like to experiment with drugs at this age, don’t they?”
“Whatever happened was an accident, Sister,” Bulldog responded hotly. “There will be a completely innocent explanation for all of this.” She was doing the pitying thing again as if she didn’t believe him but he glared her down, quashing rumour and gossip was vital if the Council’s admonishment, let alone his mother’s, was to be kept to a minimum.
Suddenly, a stirring in the bed broke the stalemate as Rupert started to shake his head from side to side and mutter, “No…no…wait…no!” In an instant, Father and Nurse rushed to either side of the patient.
“He’s coming round,” the woman said, taking his hand and feeling his pulse. “Rupert? Can you hear me?”
The boy started to thrash about more wildly.
“No! Don’t… Save Buffy. No… Willow… don’t!”
“He’s talking,” the nurse observed, though it was an observation Bulldog thought somewhat unnecessary. “That’s a good sign.” She laid a hand on his forehead to calm him. “He’s still running a fever.”
“Thirsty…” Rupert gasped.
“And he’s thirsty. Poor lamb.”
Sympathy for the poor lamb or no, Bulldog didn’t think his patience could survive much longer with this woman stating, what was, medically speaking, the bleeding obvious.
“Perhaps if you fetched a doctor?” he snapped sarcastically and took his son’s other hand. She responded with a haughty, ice cold look that probably froze junior nurses to popsicles, but Bulldog had been raised on a diet of far more withering glances than that, and he glared her out of the room until he was alone with his boy.
“Now, Rupert, listen to me, listen to me.” He shook his son’s head gently. “Come on. Open your eyes, damn it. We may not have much time.”
Rupert’s eyes flickered open and then widened in extreme surprise.
“Dad?” he croaked. “Why do you look so…? Where’s Willow? And Buffy? Did we get Buffy?” He tried to sit up but his experience had left him too weak and he slumped back to the pillows. Bulldog put a commanding hand on his shoulder.
“Pull yourself together, son. Shut up about your degenerate junky girlfriends and listen to me. What happened was an accident. When the doctor asks, it was an accident. Are we clear?” The boy looked back at him in total confusion.
“What was an accident?” he challenged. “I don’t understand. Where am I? What’s going on?”
They were interrupted by the arrival of an Indian doctor and Bulldog’s bête noire of a nurse who carried a glass of water. She scooted the older Giles out of the way, and propped up the pillows to help the boy drink.
“Excellent,” the doctor said encouragingly after checking his vitals. “Back in the land of the living, I see. We were all worried about you there for a time, young man.” His voice was warming and encouraging while his brown shrewd eyes missed nothing. “How are you feeling?”
Rupert stopped drinking and looked back at him with some distrust.
“I feel,” he began cautiously, “like this is the weirdest concussion I’ve ever had.”
It sounded insolent to Bulldog who paced a little and ran a hand through his hair at the blatant lack of respect for authority. The doctor, however, perched on the side of the bed and seemed to take the answer seriously.
“No, this isn’t a head injury. You took something that has made you very ill. Can you remember what it was?” Rupert just stared blankly back at him, so the doctor tried a new tack. “Alright, let’s start with some easier questions. Can you tell me your name, please?”
“That’s good. And how old are you?”
Bulldog barked his disgust. “My son, the comedian!” he exclaimed and raised his eyes to the ceiling in despair. “You’re twenty-one. He’s twenty-one.”
The doctor turned sharply.
“Yes, I really need your son to answer these questions on his own, Mr Giles. You can either wait outside or quietly in the corner please?”
Waiting outside not being an option, Bulldog slunk to the corner as the nurse shot him a completely unprofessional beam of triumph.
The doctor resumed attention to his patient.
“So Rupert, we’ve pumped your stomach and given you some fluids, but something still seems to be in your system and making you sick. Can you tell me what drugs you took? I’m not here to judge, but you are still running a high temperature.”
The boy looked dazed.
“Twenty-one? That can’t be right. This never happened before.”
“What do you mean by that? Have you had similar reactions previously? But perhaps not as bad eh? Can you tell me why you took as much as you did?” The doctor dropped his voice. “Did something happen to make you do this? Have you been having difficulties with your father? We’re here to help you, young man. We only want to keep you safe.”
“What? No. This is all nonsense. None of this is right. I never woke up in a hospital like this.” Rupert put an arm out and made to get up. “I have to get out of here and help Willow.” He swung his legs clear of the bed and tried to lift his upper body.
“That’s not a good idea, young man,” cooed the doctor as Rupert spectacularly underestimated his weakened state and slumped sideways on the bed.
“Don’t want your opinion… Leaving… anyway…” the boy said through gritted teeth and this time, made a better fist at rolling off the bed and spilling onto the floor. In his increasingly agitated state, he kicked and punched away attempts to help him, catching the doctor on the chin and bumping him into the wall.
“Sedative, doctor?” the nurse asked as the medic picked himself up.
“Not until we know what he’s taken. Get a couple of orderlies and the restraints. Mr Giles, can you lend a hand please?”
Having taken a tactical appraisal, Bulldog obliged by jerking the bed to one side and getting behind his son to contain and lift him. The three men fought briefly, but Rupert was already weakened and there was no real doubt as to the final outcome. Bulldog got him back on the bed and used his strength advantage to keep him pinned down, hugging him closely.
The doctor flexed his chin as hostilities ceased and called out to the corridor, “And we’ll need a psychiatric examination as well, nurse.”
“Dad, please. What have they done to me? Help me! What’s going on?”
“I’m sorry,” Bulldog said. “You’ve brought this on yourself.” But as he held him, he couldn’t quite hide the crack in his voice as he added, “Just calm down, son, just calm down. Everything is going to be alright.”
They’d made his father wait outside the room, which was something of a blessing really. Giles was already feeling like he’d ridden the world’s largest rollercoaster upside down and backwards, and any more disapproving sighs from the old man and he really did think he might throw up. He’d drifted in and out of dreams and memories for the past two hours, each time, waking with a start to find he was still in the same grey hospital room with his wrists bound to the sides of the bed with thick leather straps. He should have been dead. He’d certainly felt himself dying when he’d been unable to maintain his part of the portal spell, and yet here he was, seemingly only twenty-one years old and at a time when neither Willow nor Buffy had even been born. The situation was bizarrely confusing and not helped by the fact he couldn’t even pinch himself.
The door to his room opened and shockingly, his old friend Randall appeared. Giles let out a swift ‘Good Lord’ and stared in astonishment at the prominent Adam’s apple and rampant acne he knew so well. It was incredible, yet the flared jeans and lilac paisley shirt (which had pretty much been Randall’s only clothes), were visible underneath a white, mis-buttoned doctor’s coat. He’d swept his draggled blond hair behind his ears and was carrying a stethoscope, but it was unmistakably Randall. Randall: who was dead, Giles reminded himself. Very, very dead. And definitely dead of the unfunny kind, the sort of dead you couldn’t brush off lightly.
Randall however, seemed cheerfully oblivious to his deceased status and even winked at Giles playfully as Bulldog bustled into the room after him.
“Right then,” said Giles’ father. “Are you the psychiatrist?”
Never the brightest bulb in the box, Randall seemed to take an age to think the question though.
“Yes. I am. That’s me,” he said finally, beaming as he warmed to his new persona. “I’m Doctor Randall. I’m the Psychiatrist. Yep, that’s me, pop.”
Giles knew his father had a natural tendency to kowtow to authority but even he expressed some not unreasonable doubts.
“You seem very young,” he countered in hesitation.
Randall swung his stethoscope in what he clearly hoped was a convincing medical manner. It was not.
“We’re like policeman, man. Always getting younger.” Then he gestured to the bed. “Is this the loony patient?”
“This is my son!” Bulldog actually went a bit purple. “I think I should stay for your examination.”
“No, no, man. That’s like unethical. Like a breach of patient /doctor… thingamajig.”
“Confidentiality,” supplied Giles, observing the exchange in rapt disbelief.
“Yup! That one!” Randall snapped his fingers and pointed to Giles like he’d won at charades. “Actually,” he continued. “I’d have been here sooner but there were some shifty looking dudes asking where the blood bank was. I don’t know if they were here for plastic surgery because they both had these weird lumps on their foreheads and funny coloured eyes.”
The outrageous lie did the trick. Giles knew his father wasn’t a stupid man, but he also knew that while he was a man of limited imagination, he did possess boundless courage. Bernard ‘Bulldog’ Giles was a man for whom a duty to protect the innocent ran deep into his very core. Inevitably, he took the bait.
“The blood bank, you say? I’ll be right back. Rupert, while I’m gone, don’t say anything to this…this…person.”
Randall closed the door after him and grinned.
“I’d ask about your childhood traumas but I think I’ve just met him.” Holding up the business end of stethoscope as if it were a magnifying glass, he approached the bed. “So, fräulein.” He gave his cheekiest grin. “What seems to be ze problem?”
Giles rattled his wrist restraints impatiently.
“Stop mucking about and untie these things. I have to get out of here and we haven’t got much time.”
“Jawohl, mein Ripper!” Randall barked, clicking his heels in mock salute, but he dived to the buckles and undid them swiftly enough.
They found Giles’ clothes and boots in a cupboard, and Randall waited while Giles got dressed agonisingly slowly. Sudden movements brought back waves of nausea and if it weren’t for the fact that he felt it was some sort of magick inside him rather than a medical problem, Giles was almost tempted to stay in the hospital and let them pump his stomach a second time.
“So that was the Bulldog, eh?” Randall struck up conversationally as Giles decided to give up on the lifelong habit of tying his boot laces and concentrate on getting his arms through his denim jacket without spinning over in a heap. “Loyal old bird for sticking to you though, I don’t think my old man would.”
“He enjoys the disappointment,” Giles replied automatically. The relationship with his father and his father’s relatively minor career in the Council had certainly afforded ample opportunity for the man to experience disappointment. Even in the present - the thirty years present - when so much had happened, there was still a distance between the two men. Nothing Giles had done had ever impressed his father and, in the end, he’d decided it was just plain masochism on the old man’s part and left him to it.
Having successfully proved what a tough guy he was by dressing himself, Giles stood up and immediately regretted it, grabbing the end of the bed so that even Randall looked concerned.
“Whoa. Can you walk? Because if not I’ll have lower you out the window using knotted sheets.”
“Given that option, I can walk.”
Giles held it together past the mercifully empty nurses’ desk and out through a further corridor before dizziness struck and forced him to lean his face against a beautifully cool wall. Providence appeared to show her bounty though, in the form of an unattended wheelchair, which Randall swiftly commandeered.
“Your chariot awaits, my lord. Where to?”
“Shut up and moosh,” Giles said, smiling despite the dizziness and quite enjoying the spirit of fun that his friend had always brought. At times, he’d found him a royal pain in the arse but there was no denying the lad’s boundless sunny outlook. There was always a joke or a bright side to Randall. Of all the group, it had hurt the most that he was the one they’d lost to Eyghon.
Giles closed his eyes as the lights and people blurred past. He wondered that if he truly was in the past and Randall wasn’t dead then perhaps he could keep him that way?
“What’s today’s date?”
“Thursday,” his friend answered cheerfully as he pushed past a waiting area for clinic appointment and a long string of orange plastic chairs. “Or Tuesday. One of those.”
“No, the date. The date!” Giles said in exasperation.
“Hang on, old cock.” Randall slowed the wheelchair and picked up a discarded red top newspaper from the end chair. “Yes, here we are,” he said in triumph. “Thursday!” He frowned. “Unless this is yesterday’s edition? Or the day before’s, in which case, Tuesday is back in play...”
Giles half-turned and grabbed the paper from him. It was June 12th 1975 and at least two months before Randall was killed in the fight against Eyghon. In fact, Giles realised with rising excitement, June 12th meant they hadn’t even found the summoning spell to raise that demon. Randall was alive and he could stay that way. Eyghon never needed to happen. Giles could return to the Council and do exactly what he’d done before except without the guilt that hung over his head of his friend’s death. The Council, whilst deploring the raising of such a demon, had condoned his action in killing its human host and had welcomed him back to the fold. Some members had even congratulated him on his quick thinking on destroying such a powerful demon adversary, but Rupert had always felt guilty that he’d cut short Randall’s life in the process. Now he had a second chance: he could still become Buffy’s Watcher without anyone having to die.
They travelled the length of the third floor and finally reached a tantalising rear exit with a metal spiral staircases leading down to the car park. Randall wondered if they should double back to find an elevator, but Giles decided he could manage so long as he went down second in line, and kept a tight grip on the handrail.
“Did anyone else come?” he asked, more to make conversation and avoid looking down. Randall kept a single step ahead of him in case he needed to grab his shoulder.
“Lord no! You should have seen everyone scarper when they heard the siren!”
Giles pulled up sharply and asked, “What siren?”
“The one on the ambulance of course. What’s the last thing you actually remember?”
“Cleveland,” Giles said honestly as he took a breath and looked at all the 1970’s cars below. “Which one is ours?”
Randall gave an elaborate flourish of his hand and Giles looked puzzled, at which, Randall flourished his hand expansively again.
“That’s rather your area of expertise, Ripper, old thing,” he explained.
Giles sighed heavily that they were about to make a getaway with no legal transport and he was expected to boost something. Thirty years ago, he’d have been entertained, now he just found it unbelievably irresponsible.
“Are you alright, Rip?” He must have been lost in thought because Randall was in his face and looking concerned. “You look a bit peaky still. It was just a joke, man. I just wanted to see how you’d react. It wasn’t enough to do you any harm.”
Giles genuinely felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. “What wasn’t? What was just a joke?”
“I got hold of some mandrake mix and put it in your beer.”
Randall actually had the audacity to grin cheekily at the confession, but Giles was appalled and gripped the handrail with white knuckles. Mandrake was incredibly dangerous stuff to an unprepared practitioner of magick. Yes, he vaguely remembered the ‘mandrake in the beer’ incident. Yes, that had actually happened, but it hadn’t played out like this. He dug deep into his memories: he hadn’t done any magick that day so it had had nothing to react against and he’d been all right. He remembered that he’d thrown it all up and punched Randall a couple of times, and the people in the house had actually laughed, but it hadn’t been a big issue. None of it had stayed in his system and there was certainly no trip to the hospital and no calls to his dad. But it could, Giles realised, have been fatal. Randall didn’t know if he’d done any magick, he hadn’t checked, because it was just a joke to him, and one that could have easily killed him. Giles’ anger started to rise at the incredible irresponsibility of his friend.
“And you thought that was a joke?”
“I thought it would be funny, yes. And it was, in a way. You went a strange colour and started shaking, which was funny, and then foaming and frothing. A sort of blue frothy foam,” Randall said in a dreamy, analytical way before catching the sharpness in Giles’ eye and adding hastily, “That was obviously less funny.”
“You could’ve killed me!” Anchoring himself with one had on the rail, Giles and pushed at his friend’s shoulder. “Did you even think of the possible consequences?”
“Come on, Ripper. This isn’t like you.”
“Yes it is! What the hell else did you do? Did you throw in some magick as well? Is my being here your fault?” Giles pushed him angrily again. “Well, is it? Is it?”
“Hey, I called you an ambulance.” Randall appeared to think he was the aggrieved party. “Show some gratitude please.”
“I’ll show you gratitude, you stupid, irresponsible moron.” Giles gave him another, more ruthless, shove. Whether it was the weakness from his ordeal, the sweat on his hands, or just that he’d used more force than he’d realised, he couldn’t say, but he lost his grip and then his balance, and he hit Randall with such a heavy blow that the surprised boy folded backwards over the railings, and with three sickening thuds of bone on metal, smashed head first into the ground.
For thirty seconds, all Giles could hear was the sound of his own heartbeat. No-one came running, no-one had apparently seen the incident. He forced himself to look over the railing and saw the twisted neck of his friend and what was clearly grey matter from a distorting head wound.
Dead Randall. Like before. Very, very dead. And definitely dead of the unfunny kind, the sort of dead you couldn’t brush off lightly. Only this time the Council wouldn’t step in to support him. No-one was going to slap him on the back, accept his contrition, and welcome him back into the fold. This would be chalked up to basic thuggery and he wasn’t even sure if that were untrue. He looked at Randall’s accusingly lifeless eyes: definitely the unfunny kind of dead.
He wanted to be sick again, but kept it down by thinking of crime scene DNA tests, but course they wouldn’t have DNA tests in 1975, he reminded himself, or CCTV cameras. His slow brain did eventually figure they could check fingerprints and he should do something about that. Breathing hard, he risked returning to the wheelchair and used his shirttail to rub it, and then the handrail, of prints as he slowly descended and stepped over the body. He was burning bridges quickly – the others in the group wouldn’t protect him with Randall murdered – and his father and the Council would not either. He only had one option left, only one person who might help him, but as it was June 1975 and he was a little hazy of the actual date, he couldn’t be sure of even that. In the carpark, he found and hotwired a non-descript Ford Escort, wound down its windows, took some deep breaths and hoped to god he wasn’t too late.
It was a long drive. The roads out of London were different without the orbital M25 and he couldn’t remember the full address he was headed for, only the name of the village by the sea, and hopefully, he would remember the look of road leading to the isolated cottage when he saw it. He stopped three times en route, twice to be sick and once to swap cars when the gas needle dipped low. It fell dark to night as he travelled and white, rather than the more familiar orange streetlights, dazzled his eyes. With no wristwatch or clock in the car, he had no idea of the time.
The need to concentrate on driving, particularly without power steering, seemed to keep the dizziness at bay, and he started to feel a little better when he finally recognised enough landmarks from his earlier visits to his grandmother’s house as a boy. In his childhood, it had seemed bigger, a darkly gothic and thoroughly foreboding place. In reality, he was surprised to realise it was actually just a neat and tidy 1920’s build with its own driveway that he crunched onto.
There were no lights present at any of the windows and Giles worried again if he was too late. He really hadn’t a clue what time he was ringing the doorbell and it certainly took a long time for anyone to answer. But then her unmistakable voice barked out from behind the closed door and hit him like icy water.
“Who is it?” she demanded.
“Gran, it’s me. It’s Rupert.”
“Is anyone with you?”
“No. It’s just me.” He waited but the door remained firmly closed. “I’m in trouble. I need your help.”
“If you’ve come here, I suppose you must be.” Her greeting was typically sarcastic. As a boy he’d found her prickly and difficult to talk to because of it. She had always treated him as an adult and expected him to keep up. In fairness he also remembered that she’d treated all the adults around her pretty badly too.
He waited patiently as she opened the locks and pulled the door slightly ajar, and then he heard a scurrying noise. Cautiously, he pushed the door fully open but could see nothing but complete darkness in the hallway.
“I’m not inviting you in,” she said but her intention was clear and he took a noisy step inside to prove he had not been turned into a vampire. She grunted approval. “At least it’s not that sort of trouble then. I should warn you I am armed. Have you wiped your feet?”
As he hastily scrubbed his boots on the mat (mildly uncertain if her two previous sentences were linked), she flicked a switch and the entrance flooded with a stark, bright light, causing him to blink and put up a hand to shield his eyes before he could focus. At the furthest end of the hallway, he saw her: an old bird-like woman, much as he remembered her, with her head slightly tipped to one side, though currently, her most notable feature, was the fact she was waving a seriously hard-ass looking crossbow in his general direction. Giles instinctively put up his hands and then felt mildly foolish because, of course, she couldn’t see his defensive posture, only listen for tell-tale changes in his position. She’d been blind and relying on hearing pins drop since before he was born and he was under no illusion that if he made any sudden movements, or caused any unexpected noise, she would fire.
He remembered when he was about six, asking his father what had happened to her vision, and his dad had dismissively said it was from reading too much, but that hadn’t been true. In the harsh light of the unshaded bulb, Giles could see through her thinning white hair to the faded ugly scars about her temples. He was twice her height now it seemed. She had shrunk with age and suddenly looked so small and vulnerable, that despite the artillery, he felt guilty about causing her such late night distress when she appeared to be alone in the house. He remembered her from his childhood as such a formidable force of nature that it had never occurred to him that she might be frightened of him now as a late night visitor.
“I thought you had a live-in housekeeper?” he asked softly, whilst not moving.
“It’s Janet’s night off,” she said briskly. “She’s gone to the pictures.”
“You should have someone here all the time.”
“You sound just like your father!” She gestured with the crossbow. “I am perfectly capable of defending myself.”
“I can see that,” he said. “I have missed you, Gran.”
She snorted disbelief and replied, “You haven’t been here for a visit in four years. You can’t have missed me that much.”
Four years for her, but considerably more time for him. When he’d turned seventeen and got his driving license, it had been expected he would pay his own duty calls but Giles had steadfastly not done so. His childhood visits had been challenging enough. She would press for information on his school reports and even set Latin problems that were far too difficult for him. He would stutter and stumble and even silently cry, and the more she couldn’t see his distress the more he felt obliged to hide it from her. Of course, she hadn’t been a complete tartar, he had better memories too, ones involving enormous slices of cake and listening to her being rude about other people. Sometimes they had shared jokes at his father’s expense, but mainly Giles remembered her as a prickly old woman with a sharp tongue and whose lack of eye contact unsettled him. He’d been too young to forge a meaningful relationship with her without it and when he’d got a car and independence, he’d arrogantly decided to no longer try.
He’d eventually heard of her death in August 1975, some two months after the event and long after the funeral. He’d never even been to the cemetery since.
Giles walked towards her and gently directed the business end of her crossbow to one side, before putting an arm round her. Surprisingly, she hugged into his chest and he could feel her ribs, tears, her weak heart, and all of her frail health as he mumbled more apologies. She reached a familiar hand to feel the outline of his face and forehead and he remembered that tender intimacy with affection, and how oddly upset she used to be when their visits came to an end.
And then she slapped his cheek so hard he thought it might leave a bruise.
“You’re a stupid boy! You reek of magick. And is that mandrake I can detect? No wonder you are sweating up a storm. Have you any idea how dangerous mixing those can be?”
“It wasn’t entirely my fault, Gran,” he mumbled defensively.
She held up the crossbow threateningly again.
“Are you about to pass out or be sick in my house?”
“No,” he said quickly. “I think I’m over the worst of it.”
“Good. Make yourself useful and you can tell me all about it. You do remember where the kitchen is, I assume?”
Having given him his instructions, she hung up her crossbow, turned her on heel and left him alone in the hallway. Giles sighed and put on more lights to find the kitchen and make a pot of tea. He carried the tray of cups, saucers, milk, sugar and biscuits through to the little sitting room where his grandmother sat by the electric fire. Then he returned with the teapot and sat down opposite her. The room was completely unchanged as he remembered it, but then, why would it? She clearly had no interest in changing the wallpaper, nor the paintings that possibly once had given her pleasure. Even the layout of the furniture was exactly as he had been, but then that been arranged based on accessibility rather than any aesthetic criteria.
“Did you warm the pot first?” she demanded.
He poured her a cup and between them they placed it on the occasional table to her left-hand side. As he prepared his own and broke a biscuit in half, he watched her sip her drink tentatively and then show an infinitesimal sign of appreciation. She would of course, die first than praise his efforts, he remembered.
“Let’s hear it then,” she commanded.
Giles put down his own cup and took a deep breath.
“What if I was to tell you that I was actually fifty-two years-old and had come from the future?”
“I’d say,” she paused as she sipped again. “That as you appeared to have learned how to make a decent cup of tea, your future isn’t an entire waste.” Giles rolled his eyes witheringly but, of course, the effect was completely lost on her. “And how have you managed this incredible feat?” she continued. “Is your TARDIS perhaps parked outside?”
“There was a spell,” he cut in. “An incredibly powerful witch and I were trying to keep a time portal open for the Slayer. She’d chased a tempus demon rat in, and, well, the portal started to collapse and the spell went wrong. I couldn’t hold it, I was dying, and I think Willow - that’s the witch’s name - Willow sacrificed herself and flung me to safety. Only, instead of going back to where I started, I came back in time here, to my younger self.”
She clucked her tongue in disapproval.
“I ought to slap your face again, because if you really are fifty-two years-old, you should know better than to mess with temporal magicks. Nature may abhor a vacuum but she makes it her business to kill anyone who messes with Time.”
Giles found he had no appetite and nervously broke one of the halved biscuits into quarters.
“We knew the risks but it was important we try and retrieve Buffy. She’s the Slayer.”
His grandmother had been about to drink again, but stopped suddenly.
“In the future, someone trusts you with a Slayer?” She paused for effect. “Called Buffy?”
“Well, somewhat off and on,” he had to admit. “She’s American,” he added helpfully.
“Ah. And the mandrake?”
He told her about Randall’s ‘joke’, waking up in the hospital, Randall’s rather bumbling attempt at helping him escape, the anger, the argument, and then falling to his death. Giles left nothing out.
“He’s dead because of me,” he concluded gloomily. She found the saucer to her side and returned the cup.
“And is that what this is really all about?” she inquired with a slight harshness. “Trying to get some sympathy by spinning this impossible yarn? Because I don’t think we can mount any sort of legal defence based on time travel and your pivotal role in some Slayer’s development thirty years from now.”
Giles made eighths of his biscuit and said nothing. Perhaps it was far too fanciful a tale to be believed and he couldn’t think of how to make her understand, how to make her see he was in earnest.
His grandmother, meanwhile, hit on another theory.
“Or do you have some crazy idea to try and alter time and prevent the death of this Randall person?”
Giles was stung. “No, of course not.” He dropped the pile of crumbs he was making and swept a hand through his hair. “No. I accept what’s happened has happened. I know I can’t change that. I’ve mucked everything up… the timeline, everything. I will accept whatever the consequences are for Randall’s death but he isn't supposed to die now. It's another two months before we raise Eyghon and things get out of hand.”
“Eyghon? Dear lord, you really know how to sell an image of mature responsibility.”
He looked at his boots and told her all about Eyghon, and outlined the future he had now destroyed. She was lost in thought for some time when he’d finished.
Finally, she asked, “So what do you want, Rupert?”
“I want to know how I ended up here and I want to help Buffy. Without me supporting the spell, it will collapse and they will both die. I need to find a way to contact Willow in the future and warn her so that she knows she has to rescue Buffy at all costs. To do that I’d need to see the text of the original spell Willow used, and I can hardly ask Dad or the Council for a copy.”
“Not with the body count piling up around you,” his grandmother surmised, rather cheerfully.
“One is not a pile!” he retorted primly, but she moved on and was smiling.
“Ah, but now I see. It’s not me you came for at all. You want the books.”
Taking a key from her handbag, she led him towards the back of the house and unlocked the room he’d always been told contained only ‘odd sticks of furniture and general lumber’. Instead, he was amazed to find it housed an exquisite mahogany reading table and chair that was flanked by ceiling high book lined walls that comprised a veritable treasure trove of the occult. It was all neatly indexed and dusted too and he wondered if Janet the housekeeper had any idea of the value of the contents she gave a weekly ‘once over’.
“Foolish of me to keep these I suppose,” said his grandmother wistfully. “I haven’t been any use to them for many years. I always intended to give them to your father, but I learnt, early on and with the sad passing of time, that my son is not the bookish type. He wants me to donate them to the Council library. It’s selfish of me I suppose, keeping them here, but this is my collection. I don’t want them scattered about the four corners of some dusty archive. I’d want a better home for them than that.”
Giles reached for a copy of the Book of Abramelin, but before he made contact, a huge electrical arc struck him, snapping his wrist back so sharply he briefly wondered if it were broken. He let out a distressed ‘Ow!’ at the pain but the old woman was completely unsympathetic to his distress.
“Did you just touch one without its permission?” she enquired sharply.
“Oww!” Giles repeated with melodramatic emphasis, clutching his wrist until the bone tremors subsided.
“What? Did you think you were the only person in the family who could do magick?” she gently mocked. He didn’t answer, concentrating instead on waggling his fingers and restoring blood flow until she spoke again. “I’m not entirely a defensive old woman.”
“I’m getting that loud and clear,” he griped and heard her chuckle.
“Books, this is Rupert Giles, my grandson. Rupert, these are books. Go on. Introduce yourself,” she prompted. “So they will know you.”
He felt a little stupid, but said hello and gave his name and, despite his lack of enthusiasm, the effect was instant. A thin veil of colours seemed to detach itself from the front of all the shelves, and then it spun exquisite circles before dissipating with small splashes of pink into the centre of the room. Giles had never seen such a beautiful ward before. It quite dazzled his eyes.
His grandmother interrupted his delight.
“I’m no use to you in here. See what you can find for yourself.” She stood silently for a moment as if hearing her books for the last time, her chest rising and falling as if acknowledging she was truly taking her leave of them. A deep breath and she turned for the door, calling, “I’m trusting you with these because I’ve decided to believe your story. You are my grandson and, ultimately, I trust you to be sensible.” She smiled to herself, as all her smiles had been since the accident. “Though mainly because it’s my firm belief that no-one could possibly make up such ridiculous names as Willow and Buffy.”
She closed the door behind her and left him with the books. His books. Because that was the irony as he looked around and recognised the spines of volumes he’d come to count on as old friends. The lawyers had shipped them to him late in ’75 when he’d returned to the Council, or quite possibly his father had, but Giles had never thought about their provenance till now. Her library had become his books on her death. She’d left them to him in her will, even knowing he’d gone off the rails and was mixing in dangerous company. It was sobering, he’d never before realised that she had always meant them for him and what’s more, had always kept faith in him.
He pulled several volumes that he remembered Willow consulting prior to her portal spell, and carried them to the reading table. Something fell from one of the books and onto the carpet. Giles ducked to retrieve it and found it to be dog torn envelope, postmarked 1930. In it was a school report card for his father, which rather emphasised his rugby and athletics prowess over the academic, and a handful of family photographs taken at the seaside: a young father playing with his son, a young mother looking proudly at their sandcastle and laughing. All three were laughing. His family’s past had always seemed such ancient history, but looking at the photographs he appreciated the eyes and smiles shared between father and son, and if he were honest, he could see some of his own features in there too, and he felt a connection to this little family’s once happy past which he’d never felt before.
Giles had never known his grandfather or what had become of him. He didn’t even know if he’d been a Watcher. When people in the Council had spoken of his ‘family’, they had always meant his grandmother: her intelligence, her drive, her occasional downright fierceness. She had been a major force to be reckoned with back in the day before she’d lost her sight, and even now, Giles could see she was not letting that disability diminish the power of her withering sarcasm. But no-one ever mentioned her late husband, just as people rarely spoke of her son even though he actively worked there for forty years. In that time, to Giles’ knowledge, no one ever thought Bulldog should be entrusted with a Slayer. But they had been wrong in that. It might not have been a long appointment but Giles suddenly felt pretty sure Bulldog would never have deserted his post as he had once done. He looked at the laughing boy and his mediocre report card that had nevertheless been preserved with some pride by his mother. His father was a good man, reliable and trustworthy, a yeoman of the guard, if not knight in armour, and no less for that. To his shame, the son realised that had Bulldog found himself in Giles’ present shoes, he would have stubbornly refused to let Willow and Buffy die for him. Of course his gran, and Giles smiled at the thought, his gran would have simply found an ingenious way around the problem in the first place.
Having spent an hour researching, Giles returned to the sitting room and found his grandmother listening to the BBC World Service.
“I think it’s to do with the mandrake,” he began. “Some of Willow’s magick must have been released when she died and it latched itself on to me. I was falling through time but the mandrake episode must have acted like a giant fishing hook and pulled me into this place in time.”
“That sounds plausible. You must have achieved a lucky balance for it not to have killed you. Some of the old practitioners used to swear mandrake could boost spells, though most of them died trying to prove it. Still, it’s good news, both will eventually dissipate from your system and you will start to feel normal again. ”
He nodded and sat on the settee opposite her.
“And I’ve found the composite spell Willow used, so I can write her a letter to be opened thirty years from now. Something to warn her that once it goes wrong and I start to lose cohesion, she has to keep going and save Buffy.”
“And what happens to you? Rupert, temporal spells are incredibly dangerous. Most magicks adapt and work with Nature, but to tamper with Time is completely taboo. Nature very often demands a life as payment. There’s a reason we’re not all popping back to take tea and scones with Shakespeare, you know.”
“Then it shouldn’t be Willow’s life it takes,” he said stubbornly. “She’s only twenty-six.”
“And you’re only twenty-one! Has it occurred to you that your witch has deliberately given you another chance at life? Yes, your friend Randall has died and yes, you are responsible, but that doesn’t have to mean it’s the end of your world. We can rebuild your life from this, here and now in this Present. You said yourself he dies anyway in a couple of months. Maybe Nature wants balance and wants him dead, but it means you could do anything with your life now. It’s a fresh start.”
“I have to become Buffy’s Watcher,” he said stubbornly.
“Somewhat off and on? No-one else could do that job? Are you sure?”
He wasn’t sure, but it was what he wanted and his grandmother accepted his silence.
“Right then,” she said briskly. “Then we have to reverse everything that has happened by sending you back to your Willow at the exact moment you left. With the remaining magick inside you, you might be better prepared to stop the portal spell collapsing.”
“But what good would that do? Randall has already died. You can’t undo things like that.”
“This young man has already had two deaths apparently, so I say we can.”
“But these things have already happened.”
“Oh look everyone! I’m being lectured on the properties of temporal causality by my grandson, the magick junkie time traveller!”
“Now you sound like my father,” Giles chided, but he knew she had a point. She sat rigid and silent, somehow knowing she had made all the arguments she had needed to and waited for his response. Giles marvelled at she could switch horses so completely from advocating he stay to pushing him away. He’d always found the contradictions of the woman confusing. She could be affectionate and scolding within seconds of each other and it had alienated him as a child. The fifty-two-year-old knew a thing or two about defensiveness himself. That she had not argued he should stay because of her, was not because she didn’t want it, just that she didn’t want to emotionally blackmail him. She wasn’t, of course, to know there would be very little time together. He could not prevent the heart attack that would kill her in the next few days.
“You really think it could work?” he asked quietly.
“Can you reproduce the spell? Open a second time portal and travel to the first?”
He was doubtful.
“I'm not as powerful as Willow.”
“But you can use the magicks that are in you, and the mandrake to help,” she said impatiently. “You said the mandrake had hooked you in here, therefore you can also use it to boost the spell and springboard you back. Come on, Rupert. I’m doing all the work here. I thought you were the smart one.”
Giles’ withering retort was forestalled by the sound of car pulling up outside the cottage. His grandmother was suddenly alert.
“Ah. Actually, that sounds like your father.” She anticipated his question briskly. “It’s a heavyset Volvo. Janet drives a little Fiat that she might as well wind up with a key.” She rose quickly and began pulling Giles to his feet. “Come on, you don’t have much time. Go do the spell now. Quickly! You might not get another opportunity. I love the old blockhead dearly, but he will want to do the right thing as he sees it. He will want all the facts and a formal inquiry and by that time your system will have flushed the mandrake and the magicks. This is your only chance, so go and lock yourself in the library and start the spell while I stall him. Go!”
Giles allowed himself to be pushed to the door and objected, “But I won’t see you again.”
She practically slapped him into the hallway.
“Yes you will, Rupert. Everything should go back to how it was before and…Oh I see!” She had made a claw of his t-shirt and now the hand relaxed as the implication of his words hit her hard. She always was a sharp as a tack. “How long do I have?” she asked.
Giles felt wretched at his slip up.
“I only remember it was in June 1975,” he offered, uselessly.
The front doorbell rang and the woodwork hammered. Bulldog began to shout, “Whose car is this on the driveway? Are you all right, Mother? Mother?”
The old woman got a grip of her emotions and punched Giles in the chest. “Go!” she ordered. “Some of us clearly haven’t got all day!”
The earth tremors below the underground parking garage in Cleveland had begun to increase in intensity, and more and more car alarms began to squawk in protest. Their time portal had ripped a small tear in the concrete support pillar nearest Giles, and he and Willow had worked hard to extend it wide enough for Buffy to force her way back, but the effort of their magicks was excruciatingly hard to maintain and they were fading.
“Buffy!” Willow called. “Can you see it? Can you hear us?”
The time portal fought back and contracted a couple of inches, trying to fold back on itself. Giles pushed his strength into holding its position. Every car was now defending its honour by flashing its lights and shrieking for attention.
“Buffy,” Willow shouted again. “We can’t maintain this much longer. Buffy!”
Mercifully, a hand clutching a stake, appeared through the Portal, then a shoulder and then Buffy’s head. The opening was narrow but she dropped the stake and tried to wriggle more of her body through.
“Too tight,” she gasped.
“Try to relax,” Giles advised, his own body rigidly tense with the effort. “Don’t try to force it.”
“Giles! It’s shrinking! Help me! Can’t…breathe…”
Willow looked across to Giles in alarm and upped her own magick threshold. He was pouring everything he had and yet his energy was clearly beginning to lose cohesion. All around them the earth tremors grew more intense and some of the cars began to slip and slide. Willow tried everything she could to take the burden as she watched the orange car lights strobe across Giles’ face of anguish and his physical form begin to deteriorate.
“Save Buffy,” he grunted. “Just…need…a little...”
It was horrifying watching two people she loved die, and Willow instantly weighed her options and prepared to boost everything she had to save at least one of them. After all, what was her life if her friends were dead? However, her plans for self-sacrifice were interrupted by a second portal opening to the left of the first, and a blast of pure energy came through it and struck into Giles’ body causing him to spasm. He snapped to alertly enough, but Willow had no time to react to what had happened because the second portal was widening itself to wrap a new location all around them, bumping cars now jostled with an unknown library with a heavy wooden door, but neither world had dominance or solidity, both seemed to exist in a dream state.
“Buffy!” Giles’ voice was firm and real and his appearance much improved. He stooped to the first portal and began to claw at the magick, incredibly, widening it with a power, Willow just didn’t know he possessed.
“Giles, what’s happening?” she shouted as she ducked to grab Buffy’s arms and pull.
“Reinforcements,” he muttered. “Can you get her?”
As she tugged, the door onto the library part of the world seemed itself to be under some sort of attack. It buckled and braced and finally flew open with flying splinters to reveal an angry man in tweed carrying an axe. He advanced into the room with an old lady following and tugging at his jacket, He was shouting something too, angry words obviously, but Willow couldn’t hear any of the noises from that universe, only Cleveland, and the sounds of cars crashing into each other and their incessant alarms.
“Don’t worry. He hasn’t got any magick, he can’t get through,” Giles reassured her, though he looked shaken at the scene. “How are we doing?”
The Slayer was almost free when an unseen force seemed to grab her ankles and knock the two girls down.
“Fight it, Buffy,” Willow implored. “Giles, I’m losing her again.”
“There’s nothing to fight,” Buffy said in panic, her upper body giving evidence of wild kicking motions in the void beyond. “I can’t feel anything. It’s just sucking me backwards. Giles, do something! Oh God, Willow! What’s happening to Willow?”
Giles looked in horror to see Willow’s features start to contort as the magick forces they were trying to control, took a hold. She was about to disintegrate before his eyes and there was nothing he could do about it. He’d failed. Failed again unless he could concentrate past the incessant noise of car alarms and focus his last ounce of strength to sacrifice himself and maybe… Then suddenly he heard his grandmother’s hands clapping for attention and all the other noises stopped completely in obedience. She stood exuding such power, almost ethereal, half in the library, half in the garage, and smiling, and looking at him. Looking right at him.
“That’s better. It’s a wonder you people can hear yourselves think with all that noise,” she declared. “Trust you to pick such a ridiculous setting for such a delicate spell.”
“Um, Giles?” Willow spoke with a reassuringly firmer voice, her crisis of disintegration seemingly having passed with the addition to the group of a new magick practitioner.
“How...?” Giles stumbled out only the start of his questions because his grandmother openly smirked at him and he found himself grinning back at her. Then the image of the library started to fade and collapse and Giles could see his father shouting and begging her to stop what she was doing, but his hands passed right through her, she was in both places at once and the effort must have been enormous. Too much in fact, Giles realised.
“Some of us haven’t got all day, you know,” she reminded him, and he understood and hated what she was about to do. “Retrieve your Slayer, Rupert, and save your Witch. The ones with the preposterous names,” she added, then threw her arms into the air and released all her magick across the portal. Buffy was torn free of her trap and smashed into Willow, the pair of them flying into cars. Giles grabbed the concrete pillar to anchor himself and could only watch in horror as his grandmother shrivelled to her death, Bulldog raced to catch her, and the library scene evaporated completely. Nature reasserted her command over Time, and had exacted Her ultimate payment for those that meddled.
Bulldog Giles leaned heavily on his walking cane to rest the bunch of flowers on his mother’s grave. It had been thirty years but he’d never missed the anniversary of her passing even though she herself might have considered it sentimental tosh. He ran his hand through his now thin, white hair and smiled at his memories of the old warhorse.
He didn’t hear the footsteps until the other visitor was almost next to him.
“Rupert.” Bulldog acknowledged. “I don’t remember ever seeing you here before.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been before,” his son admitted. He ducked down to arrange his own flowers and Bulldog studied the boy’s thinning grey hair, straight back and broad shoulders.
“Busy man of course,” the father said.
“I’ve just flown in from Cleveland actually but that’s not really important.” Rupert rose and looked at his dad thoughtfully. “How have you been?”
The question was shrugged away.
“Prickly woman to the last your grandmother. Always had a soft spot for you though. She’d be proud of you now of course. Important man in the Council.”
“Oh, I daresay she’d still find something to complain about.”
Bulldog gave an involuntary grunt of amusement and Giles took the opening. He produced the envelope of photographs and school report cards and handed them to his father.
“I found these the other day in one of her books. I don’t know why I hadn’t come across them before, but I think, no I know, she was proud of you too. That’s why she kept these.”
His father looked through the snapshots, smiling, lost in memories of innocent times. As Giles waited patiently, he suddenly became conscious that both their lives had been in near constant motion, and usually, in opposite directions, but that they had both orbited around the same planet of duty, and family. It was how they were both made.
“I had the strangest dream about your grandmother recently,” his father said finally. “Confusing dream… Very vivid though. About the night she’d died.”
Giles held his breath.
“Getting on myself. I daresay,” Bulldog resumed. “Memory playing tricks on me. I suppose I don’t like to think of her being on her own at the end. Just a simple heart attack the doctors said at the time.”
“I’m sure she went out fighting,” Giles suggested.
“Giving the grim reaper a piece of her mind, eh?”
“Especially if he hadn’t wiped his feet on the mat.”
“Oh Lord, yes!”
Both men laughed through stages of remembered glee and sadness until an awkward silence fell between them. Bulldog, taking the initiative, signalled the end of the meeting by planting his walking cane in the opposite direction, and taking a resolute step.
“Anyway. Good to see you, Rupert.”
His step was resolute but not quick. Giles easily matched his stride and glued himself alongside.
He said, “Dad, the pub on the corner will be open.”
Bulldog pulled his pocket watch to cover his indecision.
“For another three hours and twenty-seven minutes, yes,” he agreed. “But you’re a busy man these days, Rupert. You’ll want to be off somewhere, saving the world.”
“Not today, Dad. Today, I have all the time I want.” The son grinned. “And at least three hours and twenty-seven minutes for you.”