Title: Never Look Back

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: All your Buffy are belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.

Rating: R

Summary: Then Shall the Chosen make their Choices Four. Can the Scooby and Fang Gangs integrate succesfully to meet the challenges that face them? Or will the trials ahead tear them apart?

Spoilers: Post B:tVS S6 and A:tS S3, which in this AU conform to canon through 6.17, "Normal Again" and 3.16, "Sleep Tight".

Series: There are three novellas and eight interludes prior to this story in my "Lesser Men" saga. See profile for a "map" of the saga.

Notes: This story has been a long time in the writing. Other Muses and RL have kept the author distracted, but as of April 2006 it is back in the priority queue.


SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 2002, 8:04 AM


Quentin Travers, sometime Field Watcher and current Head of Operations, frowned as his assistant knocked hesitantly at the door of his office. Travers had made it quite clear when he'd acquired the young man a year ago that he was not to be bothered on any working day before he'd finished his first cup of tea and perused the morning papers, and up until now that directive had been scrupulously obeyed. That Percy dared risk his displeasure before the tea had even been poured was suggestive of urgency and disaster, and given the operations currently underway, that did not bode well for the remainder of his day.

"Well, what is it?" he asked, his tone clipped and precise as he addressed the interruption. He pushed the open newspaper to one side, clearing an expanse of highly polished mahogany desktop directly in front of him, but neglected to refold the paper or remove his reading glasses. He was not a man who believed in unnecessary displays of emotion when a few well-placed props could hint at his displeasure and impatience just as effectively.

Percy sighed audibly and eased the door open, then took a few slow steps in the direction of the desk. He held a sheaf of papers before him like a shield, and the blank expression on his face owed as much to nervousness as any sort of professional behaviour. "Sorry to disturb you, sir, but there has been a development, well, a few developments, regarding the subject of our current operations. You had asked that the airports be monitored for any incoming persons from America at all associated with her, or her acquaintances from her time in Sunnydale, with especial focus on those involved in that unpleasantness with the law firm in Los Angeles a month ago..."

"And...?" Travers cut in, hoping to bring him closer to the point. Whatever blood ran in young Percy's veins, it was Travers' opinion that the boy was not true Watcher material, despite his mild gifts in the areas of research and administration. Travers had been tempted to post him to the Archives and request a new assistant on more than one occasion, but then, he had also thought the same of Wyndam-Price the younger before that young man's Calling to Sunnydale. They were still dealing with the fallout of that misperception. It was always possible that there were more to Percy than met the eye, as well.

Percy stepped closer and proffered the papers with a slightly unsteady hand. Travers raised an eyebrow at the boy, then took them casually from his hand and glanced down, scanning the topmost page. His impatience fled, however, before an abrupt wash of unease as he recognized the face captured in a pair of digitized images, staring back up at him. It was clearly Ethan Rayne-- yet another fragment of the Council's dirty laundry come back to haunt them.

The images had apparently been taken in an airport, presumably one of the many in Britain whose camera feeds were regularly monitored by the Council, and the timestamps indicated that they were less than twelve hours old. The sorcerer had not aged particularly well-- few so deeply absorbed in the darker magics did-- but he possessed that same hungry, determined air about him that Travers remembered from their last, unpleasant meeting. What was more, he had clearly not returned to Britain alone. In both of the photographs, his eyes were directed off-camera, narrowed slightly as his attention was diverted by the person he was following.

"Damnation," Travers muttered. "Do we have any stills of the person he was tracking?"

Percy seemed mildly startled. "Ah, no, sir. The Head of Intelligence had the same concern when the images were recovered-- his department spent some hours on the question, but whoever it was, he or she managed to stay out of reach of the cameras. Mr. Rayne avoided the obvious ones, but the individual he seemed to be watching wasn't even picked up by the secondary system."

Travers' scowl deepened further. It went without saying that such stealth should not have been possible, at least without attracting the attention of the airport's security personnel with unnaturally evasive behavior. Every camera had its blind spots, but weaving such a path between them would have been extremely difficult, even with a working knowledge of the cameras' locations, and the cameras were not blind to magical means of concealment. "The presence of Mr. Rayne on his own is questionable," he mused aloud, "but if he were accompanied... do we know the current whereabouts of Rupert Giles and the younger Wyndam-Price?"

Percy cleared his throat. "Ah, the page following, sir. The overage account, the one cards are issued from in the event of a Special Operations deployment in America..."

Travers set aside the page containing the photographs and turned his attention to the second sheet of paper. It appeared to be a photocopy of a credit card receipt from a store within the Los Angeles International Airport, detailing the purchase of a number of travel-related items, such as a piece of luggage, a suit of clothing, toiletries, and so forth. Slight shadings and faded lettering suggested that the original receipt had perhaps been retrieved from a trash receptacle after being carelessly crumpled and discarded by the shopper. "This purchase was made on one of the assocated cards?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," Percy confirmed. "Specifically, the one issued to Weatherby's team when they were sent to Los Angeles to apprehend the subject three years ago."

"Immediately after she awakened from her coma," Travers nodded, remembering the event. "Weatherby didn't mention the loss of the card. Has he been reported for disciplinary action?"

"That report is in with the others," Percy said, gesturing toward the remaining stack of papers on Travers' desk. Then he shifted a little, uneasily, and continued his narration. "The passenger logs on Mr. Rayne's flight and the ones immediately preceding it from the States were checked carefully, and there was no mention of a Wyndam-Price, Wyndam, Price, Giles, Wesley, Rupert, or any derivation of those names. There was, however, a businessman on the flight in question that answers to young Wyndam-Price's description. A security guard, a flight attendant, and a woman at the ticket counter all remembered the scar at his throat clearly, but unfortunately none of them have any recollection of the name he was using."

Travers sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "And the rest of these papers?" he asked wearily. It was clear from Percy's manner that that had not been the last of the unpleasant news.

Percy winced. "If you will recall, sir, you asked that I pass on several specific security protocols to the men in charge of restraining the subject..."

"And you failed to impress the seriousness of the issue on them," Travers surmised, and his lips thinned to a grim line. The rest of the paperwork would likely be injury and damage reports, in that case. Very few of the Special Operations men had been in contact with an actual Slayer, as opposed to a Potential Slayer, in recent years and had likely overestimated their own ability to deal with her. He was suddenly glad he hadn't had his tea yet; this called for something a bit stronger. "How many casualties?" he asked.

"Half a dozen wounded, sir," the boy reported, "but no fatalities. There was, however, considerable destruction of property before they were able to subdue her."

Travers looked away from the paperwork, past his irritant of an assistant, and met the marble gaze of the bust positioned just to the left of the door. The Founder of the London branch of the Council had been immortalized in that form hundreds of years before, and the rumor persisted that something of the man still lived on, observing his successors. Indeed, the stone figure seemed to have developed a distinct sneer and superior tilt of chin in recent months that it had not possessed before.

I would like to see you do any better in these circumstances, Travers thought at the figure, then shook his head. Damn these unpredictable Slayers and their maverick Watchers.

"Aspririn, Percy, and a secured line, if you please," he said aloud, rubbing at the bridge of his nose again. "I have a few calls to make."

"Yes, sir." The young man backed carefully out of the room, then eased the door quietly shut behind him.

Travers reached for the bottle of scotch he kept in the bottom drawer of his desk. It was shaping up to be a very long day.