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Champagne Chill

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The Nyetimber bottle of champagne is just the right temperature, Giles thinks as he pulls it out of the ice bucket. This Halloween evening is starting off well.

To be fair, it’s mid-evening now, the last of the sunset painting the sky deepest blue. Dawn and Tyrone have been over already to trick-or-treat with their children (who wore some bloody Star Wars costumes from the new one coming out, which makes him feel even more terribly old than the mere idea of honourary grandchildren does), before Dawn goes out with her Slayer to do a perfunctory patrol. Anya has been downstairs at Magic Places with her assistant Suzanne, giving out candy to the children streaming up and down this not-quite-Deep-Ellum street to knock at all the shops, but Suzanne will be closing up soon. The dark is almost here.

His and Anya’s guests will be along shortly, too. His involuntary wince at the very thought of Lindsey is much less than it once was – over a decade of fighting evil together and friendship counts – but he can’t stop it entirely. McDonald is such a tosser. It’s a wonder dear, sweet Fred sees anything in him.

“Hi, honey!” carols Anya from the top of the stairs, and he finds himself thinking that it’s been the wonder and joy of his life that she loves him, that they’ve loved each other for over twelve years, that they’ve made a home here in Dallas (of all bloody places).

Not that he intends on saying it, or saying it now when guests are expected. “Sounded from here like a bloody good crowd,” he says, as he picks up the towel he uses for efficient champagne-opening.

“Seven bags of high-end treats and one bag of loser candy,” she says briskly, “plus more good-magic charms sold than last Halloween.” She taps the glass of the lantern on the post by the stairs, and the candle flares to life. Beaming, she says, “I finally got fire!”

“That will save on matches,” he says dryly, and twists the cork out of the bottle. Under the towel it makes a soft, sweet hiss.

“Ha ha, like you haven’t used your magic on candles for years. Like a big old Watchery show-off.” She’s to him then; she goes on tiptoe for a quick kiss that tastes of chocolate (which she must have stolen downstairs). Pirouetting out of reach, she says, “The garden looks great, honey!”

“It does, rather,” he says, smiling.

Their rooftop garden is one of the other joys of his life. It’s chilly now, blessedly, but a perfect spot to enjoy the transition into November: he’s got pansies all around their sitting area, and a blooming (er, with a little help from a spell) English rose bush by the stairs. It’s a lovely place to sit any time, and an even lovelier place for All Hallows’ Eve, when only amateurs should be out, and all good guardians can take an evening off.

With one finger she lights the fire-pit he’s prepared. “Well, that was harder, but yay!” she says. Then, as he’s pouring out two glasses of bubbly, she frowns. “Shouldn’t you wait for Fred and Lindsey?”

“McDonald just texted they were five minutes away,” he says, and hands her a full flute.

“You actually read a text! You! That’s got to signal an apocalypse, or your ancestors’ graves opening early, or something.”

“As you would say, darling, ha ha.” But something in her words makes him suddenly uneasy – as if a cold hand has touched the small of his back. Perhaps it’s the closeness to the Days of the Dead, as he thinks of the overlapping festivals ‘round this time. Perhaps…

Perhaps he should just have a drink.

Anya clinks her glass with his, and they sip. The 2010 Nyetimber is exquisite, tasting of good English fruit and what used to be his home. He savors it on his tongue, swallows –

And then has to sit down. There’s that chill again, stronger and deeper.

The light’s gone, he thinks fuzzily. Night’s here.

“Honey, you look weird. As if you’re concussed again,” Anya says sharply. She bends down to inspect him.
From the street below comes a childish scream – laughter, he thinks, not fear. From nearer he hears footsteps, and then the door. The chill intensifies.

“Hey, y’all,” says Fred, and “Hey,” says Lindsey. The door shuts.

A cold, cold wind whistles through the garden, sending the fire spinning aloft and then down. He smells his roses –

No. They’re not his sweet English roses. These are old, and faded, and blood-touched. These belong to a woman long dead.

“Jenny?” he whispers.

The wind rises. It sounds like a scream. There’s no laughter in this moment, nor in the moment it brings back.

“No, I’m Anya. Your partner,” she says. “Honey, you really don’t look all right.”

Shit,” Lindsey says, nearby but out of Giles’ sight. “Darlin’, take this.” Then he’s there, crouching down, hand to Giles’ knee. “Hey, Watcher, look at me.”

Giles fights to stay in the moment, not to fall back into that old, old true nightmare. “What, McDonald?” he says.

“Angel called just as we were getting out of the car,” Lindsey says, his gaze steady and as honest as a lawyer with an evil hand ever gets. “Something’s up in New Orleans. Clan Kalderash straggler out for Angel and vengeance. Wes says you especially gotta watch out for the spirits tonight, it’s all stirred up everywhere.”

Old grief, old blood, and that fucking aria from La Boheme, all in the wind, all in that cold, cold wind– “Well, too bloody late,” Giles manages to get out. “And why couldn’t Wesley ring me himself?”

“Because he’s busy, obviously, fighting evil and protecting Angel,” Anya says, and elbows Lindsey away. “Okay, honey, what do we do to keep you safe?”

Giles blows out a breath, concentrates on the present. Right now is his Anya holding onto his hands. Right now is Lindsey and Fred hovering, fire-lit and concerned. Right now is his garden, his pansies, his roses. And then he remembers Dawn in Bath, years ago when Wandering Jack was walking through worlds, chanting Ophelia’s words. There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pansies, that’s for thoughts. He’d used rosemary then…)

“Fred, could you get me four sprigs of rosemary? Garden shears behind you. Lindsey, four petals from a pansy,” he manages to get out.

As they scatter, Anya’s hold tightens. “What can I do?”

The wind is howling now, howling as loud as Giles’ grief that long ago night, and the lantern by the door swings, swings, swings in the gusts. Something’s coming.

“You just hold onto me, love. You hold on.” His fingers link with hers.

For a moment their commitment bonds glimmer in the firelight. For a moment he feels warm again –

And then there are steps on the stairs, and wind, and decaying roses and blood all around.

“Hurry!” Anya says over her shoulder.

“I’m here I’m here I’m here,” Fred says, and Lindsey says, “Got ‘em.”

“Around the fire, please,” Giles says, and with only a little stumbling on his part, they make a circle. Then, “A sprig and a petal for everyone, please.”

While these get shared out, he concentrates on staying upright, on being here now. He concentrates on Anya. Then, once everyone’s back in place, he says, “Here are the words for all. Rosemary for remembrance, pansies for thoughts. We acknowledge the bad, we remember the good, for those gone and those remaining. Remembrance. Thoughts.”

Lindsey clears his throat. “I’ll start.” Almost singing, he repeats the incantation and throws the sprig and the petal into the fire. (Giles thinks, in passing, that these friends and his partner have done enough magic over the years to know how it goes. He almost smiles.)

Fred, her voice clear, repeats the words, repeats the actions. When her herb and flower find flame, the light goes a beautiful purple.

Anya’s next. She incants. She throws. And then she adds, “We remember you, Jenny Calendar, even though I never met you. We think of you.” At that, the fire goes white.

Giles almost loses his grip on… everything… there. But Anya’s holding him in the teeth of the wind, and it’s almost done. “Rosemary for remembrance, pansies for thoughts. We acknowledge the bad, we remember the good, for those gone and those remaining. Remembrance. Thoughts.” Then, as his tokens go into the fire, “Go in peace, Jenny.”

The fire leaps. The wind softens, the wind dies.

It’s just his and Anya’s rooftop garden then. It’s just an ordinary (slightly magical) fire, and friends and lover, and flowers all around, on a night meant for remembrance.

“Well, that was exciting,” Fred says, a little more soprano than usual.

“Yeah. That’s one word for it,” Lindsey says, more affectionate than sharp. “Say, Giles, didn’t you say we were getting’ champagne? We’ve earned it.”

“Over there,” Giles says, “already open, and your flutes are ready.” He doesn’t serve them, though. He’s too busy gathering Anya in and kissing her, in thanks and gratitude and wonder.

Her eyes are just a little teary when he pulls away. “We’re so lucky,” she whispers. “Also talented at magic, which is helpful on a night like this.”

He catches one stray tear with his index finger. “I am very lucky indeed,” he whispers back, and tastes her tear, and makes a good wish for lost loves and all those gone.

Anya has taught him about wishes, good and bad. He remembers. He remembers a lot of things.

And later, as the last of the Champagne is drunk and Lindsey’s famous spice cake is cut and passed around, as Lindsey and Fred kiss each other in the shadows on the other side of the fire and Anya rests her head against his shoulder, Giles thinks he hears laughter out in the night. It’s not a child’s laughter.

“Just a memory,” he says, and kisses Anya’s temple, and lets himself enjoy the dark and the fire.