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If Strangers Meet

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They caught me in Spain during the war.

Was a bit drunk at the time, so all I remember is meeting this bloke in a bar who invited me to... uh, a party, and the next thing I know, I'm in a cage somewhere in sodding Germany with white coats and swastikas as far as the eye can see. Wasn't the only one they caught - the place was like a demon all-sorts. Lots of vamps, a couple of fyarls and polgaras, even a few bigger demons. Humans too. Never saw them myself, but I could hear them sometimes, crying and praying in their cells.

The scientists kept us weak, don't know how exactly. There was always enough to eat, always enough fresh blood except when they were doing some "Let's see how long you can starve a vamp before it dusts" experiment, so it wasn't like they kept us in hunger.

And it was always human blood. Didn't much think or care about it back then, but... yeah.

But the thing is, they were stupid, the scientists were. After they stopped with the prodding and poking, it didn't take me long to figure out what they wanted from us.

It was all about the blood. They thought they could control us, thought that if they kept us weak, they could make us into their little bloodhounds who'd smell out the traitors in their super buddies club. Stupid bastards. Didn't realise I don't need fangs to kill, can just as well do it with my brain. You don't need to be a demon to be a monster.

So I smiled and talked and knew my Nietzsche. Bowed and heiled like a good little nazi. After a while they'd start tossing me a fag or two whenever they passed by, gave me a bit more blood than the other vamps, let me hang around unchained when the other beasties were locked up. 'Cause we were all mates, see, all part of the same happy superman family.

Then one day I turned to one of the soldier boys and said to him, monster to monster: "You know, your mate there smells a bit funny".

S'like Yoko and the Beatles, divide and conquer. Had half of the guards in front of the firing squad by the end of the week.

In the end I nicked one of the suicide pills they were carrying around those days and dropped it in the coffee pot. Grabbed a coat and boots off one of the stiffs and walked out. Kicked over a can of petrol and set the whole fucking place on fire.

"I'm glad you're here, Giles," Crowley said as soon as he opened the door. "I've been asking the Council to send someone here for weeks now, but they keep ignoring me."

Crowley was not a particularly large man; shorter than Giles and a bit round at the waist, but by no means fat. He had salt and pepper hair and was either young-looking for a man in his sixties or prematurely aged for a man in his forties, Giles really couldn't tell. He was dressed in a frayed tweed jacket and kept nervously twiddling with his wire-rim glasses as he ushered Giles to the living room. Giles followed, taking in the shoddy apartment, decorated entirely in dull brown with books and weapons covering every available surface. The place smelled faintly of mildew and cough drops, and Giles found himself praying that this wasn't what his own future would be like.

The watcher moved a battle axe and a pile of dusty volumes from a dull brown chair to an equally dull brown table and gestured to Giles to sit down before clearing a seat for himself as well. They had hardly settled down when a little boy - the Slayer's son, Giles realised - ran into the room carrying a colouring book and a box of crayons and, after giving Giles a curious look, climbed into Crowley's lap.

"Say hello to Mr. Giles, Robin," Crowley said to the boy with a smile, "He's come all the way from England to help your mother."

Robin gave Giles another curious look and then muttered a quiet "Hello". Giles wasn't certain if he was expected to reply or not. He ignored the boy's stare and turned to Crowley.

"You said on the phone that you had problems. What kind, exactly?"

"Vampire problems," Crowley said, and in his lap Robin made a stabbing motion with a red crayon before returning to his colouring. "For the last three weeks Nikki has been followed by a vampire. At first I didn't think much of it, assumed it was simply some random vampire looking to better his position in the demon world by taking on a Slayer, but I did some research nevertheless, just in case." Crowley paused for second before continuing, absentmindedly stroking Robin's hair. "The description Nikki gave me of the vampire fits the description the Council records have of William the Bloody."

The watcher said the name as if was something Giles should immediately recognise, but despite his familiarity with occult texts, Giles had never much bothered with vampire lineage, knowing quite well that after "that unfortunate affair in London", as his father insisted on calling it, he would never be assigned a slayer of his own.

Crowley noticed Giles' confusion and gave him the same fatherly smile he'd given to Robin.

"One of Angelus' line," he clarified, "Sired by Drusilla and though his deeds are not quite as notorious as those of his grandsire, there is one thing that makes him worth of note - he is one of the very few vampires to have managed to kill a slayer."

"And you think he might be after Nikki now?"

"I'm not sure. I checked with the Council and the last verified sighting of William the Bloody is from the fourties in Spain. As far as we know, he was dusted during the war. Also..."

Crowley fell suddenly quiet, absentmindedly turning his glasses around in his hands for a second before taking the crayon from Robin's hand.

"Mr. Giles looks a little thirsty, Robin. Be a good boy and fetch him a soda. Take one for yourself as well."

Robin nodded and dropped on the floor. Crowley waited until the boy had disappeared into the kitchen before turning to Giles again. "Because if it were William the Bloody, Nikki would already be dead."

He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples.

"The first night Nikki saw the vampire, she naturally attempted to kill it and very nearly succeeded. It was only the distraction from a police officer who saw the fight which allowed the vampire to escape. After that the vampire has not approached Nikki, has not made any contact except by following her on her patrols. Nikki insists that it is nothing, but as it has been going on for several weeks, I am beginning to worry. Why would the vampire not try to attack her? Why is it acting so strangely? And I'm starting to wonder if it's-"

"A trap? A bait or a distraction of some sort?"

"Yes," Crowley replied. "If the vampire truly is William the Bloody, then it must be after something more than just killing Nikki, maybe taking her captive for some reason or another. Or perhaps we are only meant to think that we are dealing with William the Bloody and someone else altogether is behind all this. Someone like the Scourge of Europe himself."

Crowley gave a short humourless laugh when he saw the stunned look on Giles' face. "Oh, the Council still insists that Angelus has been dead for more than half a century, but I have my sources and according to them, Angelus is not only very much alive, but has also been sighted in New York quite recently."

He sighed.

"So we now have not one, but possibly two dead Aurelian vampires roaming around New York and at least one of them has his eye on my Slayer. You understand why I might be more than slightly worried."

Robin returned from the kitchen with the drinks and as Crowley turned to thank the boy, all the tiredness and despair seemed to suddenly disappear from his eyes. He helped Robin climb back into the chair to continue with his colouring before addressing Giles again.

"Nikki should be back from patrol soon. When she returns, we can put our heads together and start planning on how to handle this thing. You have a place to stay, Giles?"

Giles nodded, wondering if manic depression was a career requirement for watchers.

"Splendid!" Crowley announced with far too much enthusiasm. "I'll make some tea for us while we wait for Nikki."

Crowley stood up and headed towards the kitchen but stopped as he passed Giles, laying a hand on the younger man's shoulder.

"Oh, and Giles," he said with a somber tone, "I know what they say of you in the Council. That you've been playing with dark magics and killed a man. I'm guessing that's why they sent you to me, actually, considering that I've had my own quarrels with them. But the fact of the matter is that we all have our sins to bear and as long as you're here to help Nikki, I don't really care what you did and who you used to be."