Actions

Work Header

Not So Alternate Universe

Chapter Text

Whele stared at them for what seemed like days. So long that Willow was sure the 2017 Headline Awards should have started accepting nominations by now at http://tonyhead-awards.livejournal.com/ for all of your favorite fan works featuring the many characters brought to life by Anthony Stuart Head.

He paced before them, walked around them, peered at them from every angle, with an unpleasant smile on his face. Well, a pleasant smile really, objectively. It was only unpleasant because of the brief opportunity Willow had gotten to see Whele interacting with the others at the Head Award Ceremony. She had sensed an icy ruthlessness underneath the smile; an impression of the man with which Michael and Thorn clearly agreed.

Seeing him and Giles together, one on one, was somehow even creepier than being surrounded by a whole spectrum of strange Gilesoids as they had been back at the Albert Hall. It was like seeing Giles reflected in an evil mirror. It made her wonder if this was more like the 'Ripper' Ethan kept talking about. Except that Ripper was a young, care free, reckless Giles with long tousled hiar; not an old crafty, self-serving one with a bad limp, a worse drinking problem, and an army of henchmen at his beck and call.

Feeling exposed in the low cut blouse that she had been provided by whoever it was on Consul Thorn's household staff who was in charge of these things; Willow had to actively resist the urge to wrap her arms around herself, to shield herself from the old man's predatory gaze.

“Do you believe them,” Whele asked at last, calmly, almost boredly, though his persistent attention belied any suggestion that he was truly indifferent to the two strange visitors. “Are these two, as they claim, from another world.”

Willow wasn't sure whom he was addressing. Until the resident tall, brooding immortal answered, with a queit authority that made it seem as if no question could have possibly been asked of anyone else when Michael himself was available to give an answer. “No,” the Archangel answered flatly, “They are not.”

For a moment Willow's heart felt as if it would stop. She heard Giles actually gasp in horror, which didn't help. Now her heart was pounding. She opened her mouth, willing words to come forth, but they would not. At a look from Giles, she closed it again. If Michael spoke against them, how could any words from Willow help?

But mercifully, Michael was not finished. “They simply don't recognize this world as their home. They have traveled here from the past.” A startled murmur ripple through the Senate Chamber, threatening to turn into a dull roar.

But at a waive of Whele's hand the rest fell silent and at the Consul's urging, the Angel explained. The upshot was that, although everyone moves only forward in time, they don't always do so at the same rate. The name of Einstein was invoked. Scientific terms were tossed around so haphazardly it made Willow cringe.

All explanation of what might have happened to separate these two souls from the normal flow of time was omitted. As was any mention of the things they had told Michael about their journey. Morgana's spell, seeing Whele and his son there, Crazy Surgeon Giles, Gay Prime Minster Giles, Cross-Dressing Zombie Giles, the two creepy old horn-dog Gileses. Not a word was said about any of it.

The realization slammed into Willow so hard that it almost literally knocked her over. Weak-kneed with shock, she had to grab hold of Giles's arm for support. Michael was lying! He knew perfectly well that there was more to this than a space-time anomaly. He simply chose to keep the elders of Vega in the dark.

Even knowing that David Whele was among their leaders and imaging what he might do with the knowledge that this grim world could be escaped; it was still hard to get used to the idea of a lying Archangel. Especially Michael. That path lead down the same rabbit hole as the one about God planting fake dinosaur bones in the ground just to mess with people.

But one thing became absolutely clear to Willow as she listened and processed what was being said now between Whele, Thorn, Reisen, Michael and the others. About the history of this world before the Extermination war. About Michael's observations of Willow, Giles, and their effects. About the fact that she should be subtracting about forty years from everyone's age to learn what generation they actually belonged in. About the fact that doing so suddenly made their figures of speech and points of reference shift from mildly strange to disturbingly familiar.

Despite all he was leaving out, Michael's central point was absolutely true. This was not some alternate world. It was their world. The real world. And it had gone to Hell.

Chapter Text

It had started out seriously enough. Or at any rate reasonably enough. Rather in the same spirit as the American soldiers in an old war movie asking the suspected spy who won the nineteen-whatever World Series... if with just a shade more self referential irony. But now it had devolved into a sort of parlor game.

The Senators of Vega competed to find the most 'on-point' questions to ask sometimes Giles but mostly Willow, questions that only someone of their stated generations rather than their apparent ages would know. It was tedious. But not unbearably so. At first.

At least it wasn't as though they were harping on the fact the there was now less than a week left to nominate your favorite fanfic, vids, and art for the 2017 Headline awards honoring and celebrating the many fine characters portrayed by Anthony Steward Head. Not as though they were lamenting the lack of nominees in the Uther and Other Characters categories. Not as though they were decrying the relative lack of fine smut for the judges to peruse. Not as though they were exhorting him to visit http://tonyhead-awards.livejournal.com/ by January 20, 2017 to see a list of nominations so far and add his favorites to the list.

In fact, Giles had been bearing it all in reasonably good humor until someone who looked about his own age had announced gleefully, “Alright, I have the prefectest, most totally definitive question possible! What is Jenny's phone number?”

For a moment, time stopped. A knife twisted in Giles's heart, and his brain froze up, too stunned even to wonder how this hurtful question had caught up with him here.

Willow squeezed his hand sympathetically and answered the question as any moron who had been alive in the late Twentieth-Century would know to do. “867-5309.” The crowd went wild. Willow turned to Giles with a look of deep concern, but he was too busy willing himself not to loose his temper just because he'd proven himself an idiot to give her even the barest nod of a response.

Willow opened and closed her mouth looking from Giles to the Senators and then sidelong at 'Michael' dithering between silence and speech. But the decision was soon made for her by a sixtyish Senator in a Nancy Reagan suit. “I know, I know!” the gray-haired matriarch offered excitedly. “Why do they call it 'Puzzles?'”

“No way!” objected a paunchy middle-aged statesman, before Willow's face could even register surprise. “That's not until 2000 and something. He's from the Seventies and she's a Ninety's chick, keep up!”

“Opp!” shouted another, “shoehorned geri-pop reference foul! My turn!”

They were having much too much fun with this. Like people who had been desperate for anything at all to laugh about for a very long time. Something clicked in Rupert's dislocated brain at last. We may in fact stand between the Earth and it's total destruction.

And just like that, his bone deep annoyance, which had been just on the cusp of exploding into a storm of temper, melted into sadness and regret. Grief. Guilt, even. He saw the pain and sorrow beneath the tight, straining mask of merriment.

Here he was on the other side of a global catastrophe like nothing seen since the end of the Cretaceous period looking at the remnants of devastated generation. Buffy's generation. Willow's generation.

They had been only in their twenties and thirties when this... apocalypses had overtaken them. They had been parents and teachers and soldier and officers. They had been priests and ministers, imams and rabbis. But the world had not yet truly been intrusted to them. They were not Kings or Presidents or Popes. They were not Generals or Captains of Industry. The nearly complete destruction of the world had been their loss, but it could not have been their failing.

No. That was a shame for others to bear. Most of whom were now mercifully dead. At the end of it all, the world had still been born on the shoulders of his generation. And like some useless Randian Atlas, they had dropped the ball.

The Earth had been doomed not by the frivolity of these brave children whom he suddenly couldn't help but see staring back at him from two dozen wrinkled, bespectacled faces, but because his generation had failed to keep it safe for them. Because their parents (and teachers) had been the first to break that ancient, sacred trust.

“I'm sorry,” Giles heard himself saying hoarsely, suddenly nearer tears than he had been since the last time he'd nearly let his foolish elders get Buffy killed. Something is his voice caught the Vegan's attention. The laughter stopped. The room fell silent. “We should've... I should have... This isn't the world we meant to leave you.” The words hung in the air, unresponded to. Tiny pebbles of remorse sinking down into a deep, deep well of irreparable harm.

“Huh!” Whele Scoffed, breaking the silence after much too long a moment. “Don't flatter yourself,” he said, his voice unnervingly pleasant and light in contrast to his heavy, vicious words. Having the overall effect of sucking on a Saccharine tablet, too sweet and too bitter at the same time. “His kind did this,” he explained affably, conversationally, nodding and smiling in Michael's direction, “Not us. Your generation or mine.”

Chapter Text

“His kind did this,” Counsel Whele explained to his disconcertingly familiar guest, mock casually, nodding and smiling in Michael's direction, “Not us. Your generation or mine.” David's smile widened when he'd lobbed that little gem at Vega's self-styled Guardian, but only on the inside. For public appearances, he schooled his features into a slightly more serious and sympathetic expression, even as he reveled in the vexation that was (subtly) written all over the Archangels face.

The bastard creature had super human control over its subhuman temper, which was mostly a very good thing. But once in a while, David liked knowing he had gotten under the thing's thick skin a little. Sometime, some blessed time, he thought, he would find his opportunity to plunge something firmer than barbed comment into the beast, and a lot more than skin deep too. But right now, that kind of thinking was like looking down at an alligator and seeing new boots where you ought to be seeing a reason to run for your life.

“Well, I...” Blind Justice! His poor, befuddled doppelganger was trying to respond. Appropriately! “I must say, I...” Without offending either David or Michael. “Well but that's hardly th... but, at any rate, I wish we'd done... more. Somehow.” How very English of him.

A thought suddenly clicked into motion in David's brain. A thought that didn't, that couldn't occur until he stopped suspending his disbelief about these time travelers and truly let it drop. Suddenly, as if of it's own accord, David's voice flew from him, whizzing towards his seemingly younger self, landing softly, but with precision. “When did you first arrive in the United States?” he asked, in a tone that might have sounded causal if it were not such a spectacular non sequitur.

The Senate Chamber was completely silent now. All eyes turned to David, wondering what he was up to now, and then to the strangers, who must have been wondering much the same thing. The young redhead looked towards the youngish copy of David for reassurance. But when she saw his face contracted into a tightly guarded expression that David knew all too well from his own mirror, she seemed anything but reassured.

“What will that tell you?” Giles asked, “that these...” a sharp note of annoyance rang through his gentle tone now, “...inquiries have not.”

“We do have access to some records from Before the War,” David bluffed, or mostly bluffed. “It's hit or miss, but if you could point us in the right direction, we might be able to lay some of our concerns to rest...” Here he deliberately punctuated his remarks with a vicious smile. “...once we know that you are who you say you are.”

“I see,” Giles answered curtly, in a tone that suggested he was seeing things a bit differently. “Well then, why don't you tell us what records you have access to and we can tell you if we are likely to appear in any of them.”

“That won't be necessary,” a strong, commanding male voice spoke up. General Riesen had not said a word as he had nodded his recognition of the newcomers and his permission for Thorn and Michael to present them. He had sat like a marble statue during the Senators' ridiculous 'questioning'. But it was clear that now he had heard enough. “Michael says they are who they say they are. That's good enough for me. From this day forward, Rupert Giles and Willow Rosenberg are members of my household. Under my protection. Is that understood?”

He looked pointedly at David, who nodded slightly, regaining his affable expression. “Of course,” he agreed. “Sorry if I'm getting bogged down in tiny details like making sure we know who we are admitting to the innermost ranks of our society on the uncorroborated testimony of an angel. I guess that's just the administrator in me, Edward.”

Riesen glared, but let that one pass, as David had known he would. That was Riesen, always taking the high road. In public. As long as there was nothing much at stake.

And for him there wasn't. Riesen could afford to let the comment go. In his internal universe, Michael was both unimpeachable and unassailable. What did it matter if poor, silly little David Whele, pencil pusher extraordinaire, buzzed at The Great Archangel Michael like a gnat? Michael could have swatted him by now if he had really minded. Not that he would, being so gosh darned nice. Unlike his brother. Whom he certainly never flew off to see behind Riesen's back at all.

David could have pushed it a bit further without risking serious reprisals, but he had made his point. To those who were interested in hearing it. Just as importantly, he had distracted those assembled from his momentary laps in judgment in bluntly questioning this “Mr. Rupert Giles” the way he had. If he was the man David suspected him to be, there was nothing in it for him to answer the question honestly. Hell, he probably hadn't even gotten used to not being wanted by the police yet.

As the meeting broke up and David took the short ride back to his own house in the back of his bulletproof limousine, he was so lost in thought that he barely saw anything around him. Not even the inexplicable billboard by the side of the street that read: Only Four More Days To Nominate Your Favorite Anthony Stewart Head Based Fanfic, Fanart and Vids for the 2017 Headline Awards! Go to http://tonyhead-awards.livejournal.com/ to See All the Current Nominees and Add Your Favorites to the List!  Nominations Cose at Midnight on January 20th, 2017!

The name was probably false, David decided, or might be, just one more reason not to want any actual records brought into play. The last name might be false anyway. The first name, stodgy as it was, bore an odd resemblance to one of the two possible names his mother had been able to give him. Street names only, of course. That was just how she rolled in those days.

Which was why, years later, as she lay dying, she had only been able to tell him that (based on her shaky understanding of both math and biology) his father was probably one of two hard drinking, pot smoking, acid tripping, wannabee rockers from merry old England that had 'crashed' with her and her straggling, left-over hippie friends in the summer of 1977. Two rootless bums who were happy to sleep anywhere and with anyone. A couple of real brain trusts who called themselves The Thin Man and The Ripper.

Chapter Text

“Wait; what?” Willow hissed in Micheal’s ear as the meeting suddenly brokeup and their new 'friends' seemed prepared to leave them in the hands of General Riesen, an even more total stranger. One with a gun in his belt and an evident fondness for elaborately decorated military customary. “But I thought—” she began, turning to Becca Thorn, who seemed reluctant to leave them, but not very.

Willow saw it in a panicky instant. These two, though serious political operators, had been overruled by someone even more powerful. He, not they, would have these visitors under his control. At his mercy. Michael wasted no display of emotion on this turn of events. Thorn was disappointed, but took it in stride. The travelers belonged to El Jefe now, for better and for worse.

The cautioning look Giles gave Willow, together with the steadying hand he laid on her shoulder, said that his thoughts were much the same, but that they stood to gain nothing by expressing them. Instead, he thanked General Riesen, rather deferentially if maybe just a touch ironically, for his hospitality and all but pushed Willow out the door and down the hall through which several of the General's personal guards where escorting them to a waiting vehicle.

The military appearance of the vehicle, a large SUV with desert camouflage, did nothing to quell Willow's misgivings. Neither did the fact that the General himself was not accompanying them, though his claim of having work yet to do before he could return to House Riesen for the evening seemed logical enough.

“Listen,” she whispered to Giles, putting her mouth uncomfortably close to his ear for fear of being overheard, “I love a good military dictatorship as much as the next twentieth-century American Jewish girl, but hadn't we better be thinking of a way to get out of here?”

Giles shifted uncomfortably. The flush on his cheeks might have been exasperation with what he clearly considered to be a foolish suggestion. But Willow had never seen Giles's ears turn bright pink when he was exasperated. In fact, she realized, turning pretty pink herself, the only time she had ever seen them do that was at a Sunnydale High football game, when Jenny Calendar had whispered something to him far too low for the 'children' to hear. Something that had made him grin.

Oh. Oops. Well, Willow rationalized/chided herself, she had practically been blowing in his ear. It was hardly the big surprise that that might cause him some embarrassment... or whatever.

And so, of course, now he was annoyed with her. Polishing his glasses meaningfully and then carefully positioning them on the bridge of his nose as he tersely and quietly reminded her that they would simply have to take this world as they found it and work within it's existing structures (and strictures) if they ever wanted to have the opportunity to find out if it was even possible for them to go home, if there was even a home to go to.

“What would we do if we did manage to escape this fortress?” he hissed in conclusion. “Go die in the desert? Or be possessed more likely. Become, Eightballs as they call them. Vampire or the next thing to them.” Willow could think of no response to this sobering dose of undeniable truth, so she merely nodded and kept on worrying silently.

Then suddenly she saw it. The Billboard. “Hey look!” she said to Giles pointing out the window.

“Good Lord!” he gasped, snatching off his glasses and then putting them back on again.

The Billboard read: Only Two More Days To Nominate Your Favorite Anthony Stewart Head Based Fanfic, Fanart and Vids for the 2017 Headline Awards! Go to http://tonyhead-awards.livejournal.com/ to See All the Current Nominees and Add Your Favorites to the List!

“I'm just going to make believe I didn't see that,” Giles concluded resolutely, after a long moment. Willow nodded eagerly and went on staring out the window.

Some of what she saw she recognized as belonging to the ancient City of Las Vegas, as seen on TV. Some of the architecture. I sign or fountain here or there. But most of the City of Vega was entirely new to her, even the parts that were clearly more than twenty-five years old.

“Do you think Michael is right?” she asked after a while. “Is this really our world? Or, anyway, what's left of it?”

“I don't know,” Giles admitted, his voice still sounding hushed and worried. It sounded as though he was about to say something more, but then the vehicle stopped and two soldier helped them climb down. Giles tried to insist that he didn't need any help, but the soldiers, who were much closer to Willow's age than his, called him 'Sir' in a way that kind of seamed to mean 'calm down' and managed to help him anyway.

At least the place they were going really turned out to be Riesen's home, and not equipped with any obvious dungeons or cells, though it was certainly large enough to conceal either. When they were actually shown into the Generals private apartments, Willow breathed her first real sigh of relief since landing in this strange city. Giles seemed to relax as well.

To both their surprise, they were greeted not by a servant, but by the General's daughter, Lady Claire Riesen. A beautiful, warm, openhearted brunette, who might have been thirty or a little less, but certainly no more. Better still, she had with her another honored guest who was 'under the protection' of House Riesen, and who showed every sign of enjoying their full hospitality, which was clearly not of the dungeon variety.

Bixby, as the little girl was called, was a blonde waif of perhaps ten years old who openly admired Willow's red hair and 'pretty clothes', but who kept her own very wary distance from Giles. More proof that his double was not a man to be trusted.

“Housekeeping will have your suite ready soon,” Claire assure the two obviously worn out travelers. "But in the meantime, I hope you can join us for lunch."

Willow almost panicked again over the use of the word 'suite', singular. But Giles wasn't panicking, so that was probably just her nervous nature wanting to over-react. After all, living in what was still basically a hotel, the Riesens probably had lots of suites with more than one bedroom.

Besides, Willow was soon distracted by Bixby's jubilant assertion that there was plenty of food for all of them. “Whatever you want!” she enthused, eyes gleaming. “As much as you want of it! Meat, cake, even fruit!!!” How long had she been living here, Willow wondered. Not long enough to get used to the miracle of a full pantry.

Which meant that somewhere in this city, empty pantries were still the norm. Underneath its thin-brushed golden uppercrust, Willow concluded, even more firmly than previously, the City of Vega must have at least its share of squalor, desperation, and decay. A class of oppressed people working beneath the surface to make all these glittering penthouses and cozy parlors possible.

She would have to find out more about that, Willow decided. At some point. For now it was chore enough to get her bearings in the tiny world of Official Vega to which she and Giles had been consigned. And realizing the enormity and strangeness of even that, she was glad that she and Giles were to have a suite, singular, after all.

Oh, she was glad alright. Until Carlos, a young man who fit somewhere between butler and bell hop, showed them to their suite. It included a den, a study, a formal living room, a formal dining room, a breakfast-nook/kitchenette, and two full bathes, one of which had a hot tub. But there was only one bedroom. With only one bed.

“I'll just... sleep on the couch,” Willow offered.

“No, of course... of course not, I'll...” Giles's ears were blushing again. But why, over just a mixup? Unless... “Look,” he changed course abruptly, addressing the young man in a firm though not unkind tone, “There's been a mistake. We'll be needing two bedrooms, please.”

Carlos looked unsure how to proceed, and then he said as much. “I have my orders,” he half apologized, half argued. “Lady Riesen told me you were to have this suite exactly. It's between hers and General Riesen's. The Queen Consort of Helena has stayed here, and any number of diplomats. It's an honor, really.”

The young man finished with a pained yet hopeful smile. The look of someone who fears getting in trouble with his superiors if the one simple task he has been given goes awry. “I'm sure this will do nicely,” Giles told him kindly, suppressing his own frustration under a convincing smile. “We'll sort it out in the morning,” he assured Willow after the door had closed behind Carlos.

“Okay,” Willow agreed, "but I'm taking the couch."

“Don't be silly,” he countered. “I am still a gentleman and not yet in my dotage, no matter what you lot seem to think. The couch in the den looks quite comfortable.”

Willow gave him a doubtful look. “No it doesn't,” she contradicted him flatly. It looked over stuffed and lumpy, though admittedly more comfortable than the chrome and leather doll furniture in the formal living room. The bed, meanwhile, though not as big as Michael's was huge. Vast even. “We could share one more night,” Willow offered. “We won't even have to be in the same time zone.”

Again with the ears blushing, making Willow blush. He was picturing it. That was the only explanation. The whole time they'd been talking about literally sharing a bed, his brain had been rolling film on what that usually meant figuratively. It was almost enough to make willow change her mind and sleep on one of the two clearly uncomfortable couches after all. But instead she decided to opt for comfort. And not to examine too closely the reasons why sharing a bed with Giles, again, didn't sound all that uncomfortable after all.

Chapter Text

It wasn't a prophetic dream. Not exactly. Nor was it his typical sort of recurring nightmare. Not the fanciful terror of Eyghon sucking his brains out through his eye sockets. Not the too real horror of Randall's broken body lying at his feet, filling him with dread and despair that sometimes followed him into the waking world.

No. This was something altogether less exotic. The mere, typical nagging of long suppressed knowledge bubbling up through the psyche and into the conscious mind.

There was a girl with no face. Or more accurately, with a face he couldn't see, couldn't remember. Except when he could. And then it wasn't always the same. She was any girl. All girls? Almost, but not quite. Not Jenny. Never Jenny.

How could you?” she demanded. For a moment, she was an old girlfriend. Olivia. Dear sweet Olivia. Unless she was Diedre. Either way, she was chained to something. Or possibly pushing something. Something immensely burdensome and altogether his responsibility.

She was probably calling out to him for help, but he couldn't hear her over the wailing siren/infant. Nor could he see her face, whosever it was, for her red hair flying in the gale force winds from the open window, chilling him to his soul.

You wish!” she laughed, tossing her dark curls back to reveal her featureless visage again. “Go on!” she demanded harshly, now sounding much too much like Faith, or possibly Buffy. Shoving the thing—which was a pram, of course—at him until suddenly, he was the one chained to it. “Look inside! I mean, that's what you're here for, isn't it?”

He looked. Of course he looked. He looked and he saw! But it was too terrible.

I'm sorry,” he—which is to say King Uther Pendragon of Camelot—said. Morgana, who sat beside him in a peaceful glen not far from their comfortable, secure palace, reached up and gently, affectionately stroked the side of his face.

It's okay, Father,” she cooed lovingly. “You're here now. That's all that matters. You're here now.”

Fat lot of good it does now,” Arthur objected sullenly, arms crossed, leaning against a nearby tree. “We're grown now, no thanks to you.” At least, he looked like Arthur. But that voice! That saccharine and bitter taste of chewed up vowels and and jagged, crunching consonants. It sounded like—and if he squinted very hard at the young man's features...

Except he wasn't a young man. He was an old man, dying in a dying world. And pissed about it. Ready to make someone pay. If not God, then perhaps the next best thing.

The wind was still cold. A breeze from the open window. Nothing more. It suggested something though.

Hi Rupert, I wasn't sure you were going to wake up. You had me worried there. The idea of Angel's voice sifted from the shadows in the back of Rupert's brain where it always lurked and followed him up from the pit of nightmares up into the waking world. It was a mere suggestion of sound, a thought of words in silence. But there was someone there.

A dark figure stood quietly by the window, breathing in and out. Watching. Waiting. The patience to wait millennia was displayed in his easy posture. It was Michael, Rupert realized, feeling a stab of resentment and anger at the mysterious creature, looking over to make sure that Willow was still safely asleep in the bed beside him.

Another minute passed. The 'Archangel' didn't move, didn't even look up. “We need to talk,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Do we?” Giles asked, careful not to reveal too much emotion. A little wariness and hostility seeped out anyway. “About what?”

“About your presance here. About what it might mean. Especially to David Whele.”

For some reason the mention of Whele irritated Giles more than it should have. “Why?” he found himself demanding, “Other than... an unfortunate resemblance, he has nothing to do with me. Now we're Riesen's guests, he hasn't even any power over us, has he?”

The Angel made a small noise of vague consideration. “David Whele can find a surprising number of ways to assert his power in any given situation, but that isn't really what I meant.”

“What then?” Giles asked again, schooling his voice to sound patient and cordial, though he felt neither.

There was another long pause. A pause so long that an announcer could have burst into the room and shouted: 'The Nominations List for the 2017 Headline Awards is complete! Big thanks to everyone who participated, both the creators and those who submitted nominations. Thank you for making this years awards another success in the making! Don't forget to go to http://tonyhead-awards.livejournal.com/ to see our list of great nominees, read the ones that interest you and vote for our fan voted Awards. The winners will be announced on February 20, in celebration of Tony's Birthday!' But fortunately, that didn't happen. It would have broken all of the dramatic tension.

Instead, Michael said something even more mysterious than here to fore. Something that seemed a total non sequitur for the direction in which he'd just been steering the conversation. “You called the Chosen One 'She'. Said it without a moment's thought, even though you come from a time in which male default gender applies to nearly everything, but most especially to Saviors. Even now, most Vegans say 'He' or just 'The Baby'. Yet, you said 'She'. Confidently. Without hesitation. I need to know why.”

Chapter Text

Giles was quiet for a long moment. Taking the measure of the being whose scrutiny he must withstand. Or trying to. But its eyes no more reflected it's soul than a mirror the face of a vampire.

What was it getting at? Did it know he was a Watcher? Did that matter? Were there Watchers in this wasted world? Was the Slayer still something 'angels' feared? Someone whose hiding place they were seeking to ferret out?

Or did Michael suspect something else altogether?

She. Of course he had said She. Without hesitation. Without thought. Since the age of ten and probably even before that, Rupert Giles had been conditioned to assume that 'The Chosen One', however anyone else might abuse the term, could only truly mean The Slayer.

But Slayers were seldom called 'Savior', though that they surely were. It hadn't taken him long, especially once he'd reached the Senate Chamber, to realize that The One everyone in this world waited for (or professed to wait for) was nothing so solid as a Slayer. Just another vague, adaptable Krishna by which Vega never was but always to be blessed.

If Michael had indeed pegged him for a Watcher, and if that still mattered, where would lie the advantage in announcing his suspicions while at the same time pretending ignorance of what it was he clearly suspected? Michael might not be the holy messenger of God, but he didn't strike Giles as foolish or frivolous in any sense.

More likely than not, Giles realized, the question had been entirely straightforward; however unclear the motivation behind it. As far as Michael was concerned, 'The Chosen One' meant whomever it was he intended to foist upon this world as it's purported salvation from the depredations of Angelkind. And no doubt co-opt and neutralize whatever was left of the Human leadership in the process; converting restless natives into useful member of society, as any good alien conqueror would want to do.

Giles successfully fought the impulse to laugh out loud. Didn't even crack a smile, though the joke was cosmicly funny. So that was what was so urgent that it compelled The Great Archangel to spend his evening prowling around the City like a common thief secretly questioning what he might usually regard as a relatively insignificant being.

Michael suspected this inexplicable new arrival of having information about his 'Savior' that wasn't common knowledge; at least, not among the humans of Vega. Or perhaps of supporting a competing scheme of a similar kind. Either way, Giles realized, his situation here was even more precarious than he had feared. And perhaps even more so was Willow's.

Because the Salvation Narrative that Michael was weaving was no simple tale of God made Man. Whether she was to figure as his Christ or his Anti-Christ, Ohrmuzd or Ahriman; in this story, there was a woman. A very powerful, very mysterious woman; and if her expected male counterpart was any indication, one who should still be fairly young. And suddenly, dropped in this hellscape as if from outer space, here stood Rupert Giles. Who seemed, at least to Michael, to have unique and totally unexpected knowledge of this young woman.

As Giles gave his taciturn and evasive answers to the being before him, feigning ignorance and indignation interchangeably, hardly knowing what else to do, needing time he think; his mind's eye never left the girl sleeping beside him, though his actual eyes hardly dared to glance at her. Because if he were to be pressed into the role of John the Baptist; or indeed, the harbinger of whatever else might have managed to lurch it's way to Bethlehem in the past forty years or so, it wasn't difficult to see what part that left for Willow.

An image flashed upon Rupert's mind. One he was never sure if he'd remembered or only imagined, head trauma being what it was. Blood spraying onto the library floor; throat slashed like a sacrificial lamb. A child chosen to spend fifteen years of hard, grim training and study in preparation for her death. An anti-bride, to be buried in white.

He wanted more than that for Willow. She deserved more. Of course, so had Kendra. So did anyone.

But Willow wasn't 'anyone'. She was Willow.

And Michael hadn't bought a word of his denials. He could feel it in his bones.

“Oh, hang it all!” he declared at last, suddenly realizing what a foolish and dangerous game he was playing by trying to hide what it really was that he knew, making Michael's wild suspicions seem ever more plausible. “I'm a Watcher, that's all. I, I used to train... Vampire Slayers. One of which is Chosen in every generation, or so we always say. That's why I said She. Out of habit. Not because I have a single bloodly clue what's going on here, but because I don't!”

It was only when Willow mumbled in sleepy distress, “Giles, what wrong?” that he realized he'd been shouting. For a moment he looked down at her worried face, bleary eyes still half shut. “Turn down the A/C,” she mumbled, snuggling against him as she never would have consciously chosen to do, already drifting off again. “It's too cold in here, even for the penguins.”

Rupert struggled within himself. Innocent as their embrace was, half of him thought he should put a few inches of distance between Willow and himself, out of respect for the fact that she would have done the same if she were awake.

But she was shivering so badly. Shaking far worse than the cold could account for. He wrapped his arms around her instead.

Giles felt a slight variation in the breeze from the open window. When he looked up, Michael was gone. “Willow?” he ventured hesitantly, half thinking he should wake her. Should worn her. But of what exactly? Instead, he tried to gently extricate himself from her sleepy embrace suddenly very eager to get up and close the window.

“No,” Willow half sighed, half whined in her sleep. “Don't go now. If we eat all the Apple Jacks, they might tell us who won the prize. An' we have to thank everyone for participating. We just.. we have to.”

Willow clung even tighter to the man in her arms, as if holding on for dear life, or to prevent an anxiety attack. Giles sighed and pulled her close. Clearly he wasn't going anywhere. Not even tohttp://tonyhead-awards.livejournal.com/where the winners of the 2017 Headline Awards might be announced at any time.

Willow needed someone, and here he was. He was her rock to cling to in a world without parents, or Slayers, or Gods. And he must be a good rock, a strong rock. One worthy to anchor the faith and hope of such an extraordinary young woman. No matter what chill winds might blow. Because he was the rock she had chosen to cling to. If only by default.