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Posted April 5, 2003
Fan Fiction: LM Interlude 8: Watching Over
Title: Interlude Eight -- Watching Over
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: All your Buffy are belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
Summary: Giles, Wesley, Ethan: actions and premonitions.
Spoilers: Takes place after B:tVS S6 and A:tS S3, which in my AU conform to canon through 6.17, "Normal Again" and 3.16, "Sleep Tight".
Series: This is the eleventh entry in the "Lesser Men" AU.
Notes: This is the last interlude before "Never Look Back", the fourth (and final) novella in this series.
FRIDAY, JUNE 7, 2002, 1:15 AM
Giles blinks once, twice, three times before the ringing of the telephone registers in his mind. He's still disoriented from the dream, the same Dream he's had at least once a week since Buffy fell from the tower, and awareness is slow in returning. Before he can urge sluggish muscles into movement, he hears the answering machine click on in the kitchen.
Dawn's pre-recorded voice cheerily informs the caller that no one is available to come to the 'phone. Giles glances at the digital clock set atop the stack of boxes on the near wall, and groans quietly. Everyone had gone to bed early, anticipating a long day of moving and unpacking, but he's still only had about four hours of sleep.
He's tempted to just turn over and ignore the call, but the likelihood of this being an emergency is high. There are very few people who would ring the Slayer's residence at this hour, he knows, and most of them are currently at rest within its walls. Slowly, he sits up on the couch and gropes toward the coffee table for his glasses.
The tone sounds, and the caller begins to speak. "Hey, guys, is anyone there? Come on, there are nine of you in that house, somebody's got to be awake. Hellooooo... Wes? Giles? Buffy? Anybody?"
Giles is on his feet by the end of her first question, wincing at the distress in Cordelia's voice. She and Groo had elected to stay in a nearby motel-- for privacy reasons, he assumes-- and promised to call in the event of a vision. No one had expected her to actually do so, however.
He mutters under his breath as he carefully wends a path between sleeping bodies, thinking dark thoughts about the execrable timing of the Powers That Be. If they are aware of all probable occurrences far in advance, what could possibly prompt them to send their servants scrambling with untimely warnings and impossible deadlines? Sadism?
The kitchen floor is chilly under his bare feet. He curls his toes a little as he reaches for the 'phone, wishing for his house slippers. Like almost everything else he brought back to America, they're in a box in Los Angeles. "Giles," he says shortly, cutting off Cordelia's babble.
"Oh, good," she answers, relieved. "I thought I was going to have to start calling cell phones. Can you wake Wes up? Something's happened to Faith. I saw Lilah, and a bunch of rubble-- I think they were out by what's left of Wolfram and Hart-- and the bitch had needles in her hand. Since Lilah was the one who got her out of jail in the first place..."
"Happened?" he interrupts, disturbed by her use of past tense. An image flashes before his mind's-eye, the falling figure from this morning's dream-- and belatedly it occurs to him that the diving girl's hair is much darker than Buffy's. His next words are sharper, edged with fear. "You mean to say this is not preventable? Why didn't you call sooner?"
"Because the vision came after the fact," she answers, irritably. "Jeez, Giles, like I'd really sit on something like this. Just because Faith and I aren't the best of friends..."
Giles sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose with his free hand. He hasn't encountered after-visions before, but he can easily believe it of the Powers; execrable timing, indeed. "Cordelia, I apologise, I'm not entirely awake yet. Give me a moment, and I'll locate Wesley for you."
He sets the 'phone down on the kitchen counter, prepared to shuffle back out to the living room, then blinks as he notices a large square of paper propped up a few inches to his left. "Rupert," it says at the top, in a precise, educated hand. A sense of unease settles in his stomach, and he reaches for it with hesitant fingers.
"Cordelia? Yes... You may want to try his mobile after all..."
FRIDAY, JUNE 7, 2002, 5:17 AM
The eastern horizon is beginning to lighten with the first hints of dawn, washing out the late-risen stars-- all save one. High above the tarmac of the Los Angeles International Airport, a bright spark moves toward the mountains-- a small twenty-passenger plane, reflecting the early rays of the sun. It is almost painful to look at, but Wesley refuses to turn away until no glimpse of it remains.
Faith is gone.
He should have paid more attention to the Council, should have remembered his erstwhile father's threats, should have known things were going too well, should have made sure all of Wolfram and Hart were dead--
He's failed again, and Faith is gone.
A shadow darkens his peripheral vision, and the self-pity gives way to self-preservation. Wesley glances away from the bank of windows, looking for the culprit, and spies a man ambling slowly toward him, wearing the uniform of a security guard. He's plainly not staring in Wesley's direction, but he's casually scanning everyone in his vicinity, and his gaze passes over the ex-Watcher more than once.
Abruptly, Wesley realises what he must look like. Tousled hair, stubbled chin, that line of scar across his throat; ten to one his eyes are still bloodshot, and he'd chosen his moving clothes for comfort, not appearance. He's sure he looks nothing like the sort of professional traveller one would expect at this hour of the day, and the last thing he needs is official attention.
Carefully, infusing every movement with feigned nonchalance, he turns and makes his way toward the nearest airport store. He still has one credit card in his wallet (squirreled away for a rainy day) that draws upon Council funds; now seems like an excellent time to make use of it. All he needs are a few quick purchases and ten minutes in one of the lavatories, and he'll be an entirely new man.
His selections are quickly made, and the credit card is accepted without any sort of electronic alarm. The sales clerk is disinterested, barely paying any attention to the name on the receipt, and the security guard passes by the store's entrance without pausing. The knot of tension in Wesley's chest uncoils a little, and he allows himself a deep breath of relief before heading for the loo.
"Bond, James Bond," he mutters quietly to himself as he changes, and a quick flash of nostalgia leaves a lump in his throat. He pushes it quickly from his mind and completes his transformation with a switch of ID, tugging several rectangles of plastic from the lining of his jacket and tucking the remnants of Wesley Wyndham-Pryce in their place.
He's gotten used to carrying an alternate identity since embarking on his career as a rogue demon hunter, and this particular one has never been used; as a matter of fact, he just finished creating it a couple of weeks ago. Hopefully, the Council won't recognise it. For the next little while, he'll answer to the name Connor MacLiam.
A flash of memory hits him again as he fills his new luggage with travel toiletries and overpriced clothing. "Preparation, preparation, preparation", he can hear himself saying, lecturing Buffy about the "three key words for any Slayer". "That's one word three times," he murmurs, remembering her flip response with a rueful smile. She'd chafed under his superior attitude, and rightly so, but it is driven home to him now as seldom before the sense behind those emphatic Handbook procedures. The Watchers had had the right idea, once upon a time; they have never been inherently bad. Just... misguided, of late, hidebound, unable to cope with the changing times.
He straightens up, checks his reflection in the mirror, and gives Mr. MacLiam a solemn nod. All hints of wrinkles, angst, and weariness have disappeared under a smooth businessman's facade; it will be difficult to maintain it for the duration of the journey, but no more difficult than anything else he's done since Travers fired him. There will be time enough to let loose again once he reaches English soil.
If the Council will not change, then it is time for change to come to the Council.
FRIDAY, JUNE 7, 2002, LATE EVENING
The view outside the window is muted and dark, a scattering of stars glimmering above a thick blanket of grey cloud. The last rays of the sunset are dying in the west, almost too faint to be seen, and the waning moon has yet to rise. It is a time of transition in more ways than one; nothing new to Ethan Rayne, whose whole existence has been spent "in transition" from one state to another.
Transition: from the Latin /transire/, "a movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another". In other words, change. Entropy. Chaos. For more than thirty years, this has been the only constant in Ethan's life, a paradox he has savoured and preserved with cynical pride. Even Ripper was never quite able to pin him down, despite all that had gone between them-- no temptation has ever supplanted the call of Janus in his life.
It's been weeks since he left Los Angeles, almost an entire month spent traveling from town to village to city almost at random across the American landscape. He's made similar journeys before, many times, taking his joy in the moment and making mischief wherever he goes, visiting some places more than others but none frequently enough to fix an anchor-point on his internal map.
Where had he lost that freedom? In that compound in Nevada, perhaps; his years there had taught him more than he ever wanted to learn about patience, endurance, and long-term planning. Had reminded him of the son living on the Hellmouth, who might now be amenable to a bit of fatherly guidance. Had dredged up long-banished memories of a youth spent in Watcher's training, before he'd slipped the leash and set up in London on his own.
Of course, he could be getting old, going through a mid-life crisis. Ethan considers that for a moment, then snorts, and turns away from the window with a self-mocking smirk. No. If he's going to be utterly honest, he might as well amend that to "growing up". He may never yet acquire what an ordinary person would consider "moral standards", but responsibilities...
However unsettling he might find it, however inexplicable, he has acquired an anchor at last, complete with people whose fates he cares about and a nebulous sense of duty. He's had a month to work that out. The main question left in his mind is whether he's going to accept that, embrace it, or go on running for the rest of his life.
Perhaps he'll find the answers in England, where it all began.
In the meantime-- a drink-cart rattles in the aisle, and Ethan signals the flight attendant for more refreshment. A little alcohol to dull the edges, perhaps a nap before they land...
Some time later, a gasp of indrawn breath and a muttered curse pull Ethan out of a blurry nightmare. The images are confused, jostling about in his mind, but clear enough to recognise from a similar dream the night before: Faith, in the Council's inner sanctum, and a spreading pool of blood. Travers' face, and the elder Wyndham-Pryce, solemnly passing judgement over a group whose faces he can't see. Wesley, sword in hand, going down in a hail of bullets. He shudders, trying to banish them from his mind, and runs a hand over his face.
Out of the corner of his eye, two aisles over and a seat up, he catches another passenger making the same motions. A smartly dressed young businessman, with brown hair and a familiar profile--
Ethan straightens in his seat, staring at the man he'd left behind in Los Angeles, and a number of things fall into place. There is only one reason he can think of for the ex-Watcher to be on a plane to London, one that intersects nastily with his own nightmares: Faith.
It looks like he'll be making that decision a little sooner than he had planned.
© 2004 Jedi Buttercup.