Hannah immediately leapt for Giles, managing to grasp one of his forearms firmly. It was only too painfully apparent, however, that she alone would not be enough to restrain him, and she looked over her shoulder for assistance. Ethan had positioned himself to the side, his head tilted as he took in the scene before him with great interest. Hannah's eyes widened as she realized he had no plans whatsoever to do more than be a spectator.
"Help me with him!" she commanded, causing Ethan to tear his gaze away the visage of Giles, snarling and almost feral-like. He sighed heavily and rolled his eyes, but did in fact join her.
It was no easy task, but by seizing a wrist each and pinning his arms behind him, Hannah and Ethan managed to restrain the struggling Giles. They wrestled him back toward their compartment as he cursed and kicked violently with his legs. Leaving the toy gun where it had fallen, the small boy fled, his high-pitched wail finally dying away.
Hannah slid back the door and opened her mouth to address the old woman, but the crone had vanished. With a hefty shove, Ethan bundled Giles into the now empty compartment. Keeping a tight grip on the handle, Ethan and Hannah watched from outside as Giles blindly threw punches in every direction, almost losing his balance from the force of the swings.
"He's going to hurt himself in a minute," Hannah murmured worriedly.
Ethan chuckled. "Behold ... loverboy in a really bad temper." He shrugged. "You get used to it."
Hannah frowned. "You've seen him as bad as this before?"
Ethan nodded. "Dozens of times, but never without a good reason before." He pondered for a moment. "And he doesn't usually go for me but then again, his reason doesn't necessarily have to be a good one."
Hannah started in surprise as Giles' face, expression set in fury, was suddenly pressed against the glass door. It took all of Ethan's strength to keep the exit closed as Giles' fought to wrestle it open. Finding his efforts fruitless, Giles pounded fiercely upon the door and hopped from one foot to the other in his agitated state.
Hannah massaged her forehead with a shaky hand. "He's going to have a heart attack if he doesn't stop. We have to do something."
"Such as?" asked Ethan scornfully. He cocked his head and regarded Giles with a grin. "Looks a little bit like a caged gorilla, don't you think? I reckon that old bitch put a hex on him or something." With a mock pout, he wiggled his fingers at Giles through the window. "Poor old Ripper."
"Well about a month or so after that we got married," Hannah continued. "We were in Cadiz at the time and ..."
An exclamation rose up from Hannah's audience, bring her tale to a screeching halt.
Buffy's vehemently protesting voice cut through the others. "No, wait, you can't just go from, 'Giles cursed and nearly killing some kid' to 'One month later we were married'. That's violating some sort of code or something."
"The Geneva Storybook Convention?" Tara suggested with a smirk, earning a 'like that!' nod and gesture from the disgruntled Slayer.
Hazel was quick to agree. "Come on, what happened? How'd you break the curse?"
"Usual stuff," Hannah replied with a dismissive gesture. "Some chanting, a bless'd stone, the blood of six virgins ... and a virgin back then wasn't easy to find, let me tell you." At the collective look of horror, the blonde grinned. "I'm only kidding," she assured.
Leaning forward eagerly, Willow asked, "So what'd you do?" She wore a look of intense concentration, as though she were going to commit the information to memory, just in case it might come in handy some day.
Hannah sighed. "It's all very mundane and rather boring. Suffice to say we did. Now, moving on to the ..."
"No, no moving on," persisted Buffy.
"Whose story is this?" demanded Hannah.
Deflating, Buffy sunk down into her seat with a pout. "Yours," she admitted with reluctance.
"Exactly. So as I was saying, about a month or so later ..."
Cadiz, Spain – September 1974
The sun was setting as Ethan and Olivia strolled along the narrow cobbled street. Olivia carried a basket stuffed with several freshly baked stick loaves, a sphere of Manchego cheese and two kilos of king prawns, while Ethan toted half a dozen bottles of chilled Manzanilla.
"I'm sick of this place," grumbled Ethan. "It all comes to a screeching halt every bloody afternoon."
Olivia grinned. "It's the custom. Siesta time." She turned to her companion. "Don't know what you're so worried about. The bars stay open."
"Aww," she commiserated. "What's the matter? Diddums miss his running mate?"
Ethan scowled. "Not like Ripper to just disappear without telling me where he's going."
Olivia laughed. "Hannah left a note. She said they'd be back in a few days. They probably just felt like being on their own for a while. If there was a bloke in the group I fancied, I'd probably do the same thing." She shot Ethan a sideways glance. "No offense."
"None taken, I'm sure," he replied smoothly. "And don't worry, the feeling's mutual."
"You've been a right misery-guts since they left," she informed him sharply. "No wonder the others made you come with me to get the grub. I imagine they were glad to get shot of you for a while."
Ethan glowered. He glowered at the locals enjoying their evening meals of Paella and Pollo al Ajillo, he glowered at the tourists making their way from the golden beaches of the Costa de la Luz to their hotels, and he glowered at the green-uniformed Guardia patrolling the area.
"You want to be careful how you look at them," Olivia cautioned. "I hear they carry machine guns under those capes and aren't too particular how they use them." She grinned. Apparently, Ethan was not amused.
"Another reason to get out of this backwater country," he sneered. "Day after tomorrow can't come soon enough for my liking. I do so hope our prodigal children have returned by then," commented Ethan in a tone loaded with sarcasm. "I have no intention of waiting around for them."
Olivia grabbed his arm. "Don't think you'll have to," she smiled. "Look." She pointed toward a bus heading for the central square and the terminal. "There they are."
Hannah's smiling face could be seen through the window. She waved excitedly as Giles moved to the front of the vehicle and spoke to the driver. Almost immediately, the bus came to a stop and the pair hopped off, quickly crossing to where Ethan and Olivia were standing.
"Take a gander at this," beamed Hannah. She proudly extended her left hand.
Olivia's eyes widened. "Married? So that's what you've been doing ... among other things." Her grin was wicked as she gave Giles' shoulder a shove. He shuffled his feet sheepishly.
"When?" continued Olivia, her tone insistent for all the details. "Where?"
Hannah took her friend's arm and escorted her down the street, the two men trailing behind.
"He was so cute," Hannah relayed as they walked along. "It was a few nights ago. We were about to get ready for bed and then he turned to me and was all like, 'Uhm, err, well, I ...'." She glanced over her shoulder. "You know how he can be sometimes." Olivia rolled her eyes and nodded.
"Anyway," continued Hannah, "all of a sudden, he drops to one knee and pulls out this little square box. Of course, I knew what it was immediately, but he was still, 'Um, err, well ...'"
Ethan turned toward Giles with a contemptuous smile. "Aren't you just precious?" he asked, earning him a dark glower from the other man.
Seemingly oblivious to the others, Olivia shook Hannah's arm. "I get the picture. Go on," she urged.
"I knew it would take him forever to get around to it so, I took the box, opened it up, put the ring on my finger and said, 'I will.'" She chuckled. "If I hadn't, he'd probably still be down there on one knee."
"And now you've already tied the knot" queried Olivia. "I've heard of short engagements, but Jesus." She looked at Hannah curiously. "You're not ...?"
Hannah laughed. "Perish the thought. No, I'm not, but we didn't see the point in waiting. We caught the last bus that night to La Linea and walked across to Gibraltar. We got a special license and had to wait a day or two, but then ..." She clasped her hands, moderated her stride to a sedate pace and began to hum the Wedding March.
Olivia stopped short, put down her basket, and treated Hannah to a huge hug. "You make the perfect pair," she murmured. "I'm really happy for you." Olivia retrieved her purchases as she and Hannah continued their walk arm-in-arm.
"What about university?" asked Olivia after a moment of silence.
"We'll get a small flat somewhere in town," Hannah told her. "Rupert will be attending Magdalen next term, remember? And I'll still be at St. Hilda's."
Olivia nodded and then pouted. "Where am I gonna find another roommate who's willing to share her hi-fi?"
"Or one that'll listen to music 24/7 during finals week?" returned Hannah. She squeezed Olivia's hand. "We'll still be friends. I'll come see you. You'll come see me. Nothing's really changed that much."
Her friend returned the squeeze. "It better not," she warned with a smile. "Now, let's hurry up and go tell the others. I can't wait to see their faces."
The two men had dropped back some distance, though neither had spoken for a time. The bottles of wine chinked together merrily as Ethan swung the bag. However, the cheery sound was not reflected in his dour expression. "Married?" he asked incredulously. "What in the hell possessed you to do something like that?"
"She's good for me, Ethan," replied Giles. "Oh, and did I mention that crazy little thing called love?" He grinned at his friend but Ethan did not return the gesture.
"It was bad enough when you told me about going to Oxford," he griped bitterly. "Now this? Between studying to be daddy's pride and setting up the perfect little love nest, there'll be no time for anything else." He frowned. "This is going to put a severe crimp in everything. You do realize that, don't you?"
Giles sighed. "We've all got to grow up some time, Ethan."
"Is that right?"
They simply regarded each other coolly for a moment. Giles glanced away first, and Ethan couldn't entirely keep the smirk off of his lips. "Well then," he began, "here's to being a grown up."
"But weren't you guys kinda young?" asked Hazel.
Hannah grinned mischievously. "Of course, dear. That was sort of the point."
Dawn sighed. "Running away to get married. I'm not sure if it's romantic or—"
"—or a really bad idea that you should never, ever, ever do yourself?" Buffy meaningfully interjected.
"Yeah, or that," Dawn agreed quietly.
"I'm thinking you should go with door number two," remarked Hazel, sounding wise beyond her years.
Dawn nodded emphatically, a wary gaze fixed upon her sister.
Willow shook her head. "I know it's been a while, but me?" She blew out a puff of air at the remembrance. "Still stuck on the make-up parts."
Looking up, Buffy watched Kennedy and Faith approach the table. Kennedy rolled her eyes as Faith ground out her cigarette on the railing and flicked it carelessly over the top.
"Any joy?" asked the blonde Slayer with a smirk.
Grinning broadly, Kennedy flashed a couple of scraps of paper on which some telephone numbers had been scrawled. Faith nudged Kennedy with her elbow before grabbing a chair and spinning it around. She straddled the seat and motioned toward the other woman, who was tucking the small pieces of paper safely into her pocket.
"The girl's a machine," Faith admired. "Man, I thought I was smooth, but I think she could teach me a thing or two."
"It's all in the smile," confided a cocky Kennedy. She flashed Willow a prime example of the smile in question and a light blush crept into the redhead's cheeks. With narrowed eyes and something akin to a tiny frown, Tara looked from one to the other as Kennedy sat down.
"So what'd we miss?" asked Kennedy, eying the glasses on the table as she searched for her drink.
"Oh," Hazel rushed to divulge, "all the stuff about how Giles got cursed, then they got married—"
"Suits what I always said about gettin' hitched," interrupted Faith dryly.
Tara turned to Hannah. "How did two split up though? I-I only know a little bit, what Willow told me ... but it couldn't have been too long after, right?"
"You want our whole history in one fell swoop?" queried Hannah with an arched eyebrow. "Haven't you girls learned anything? It's all about the mystery."
Resting an elbow on the table, chin cupped in his hand, Andrew's expression grew trance-like as he began to reminisce. "It was balmy night. The kind that lingers long after the experience has passed, like that naughty feeling you get from listening to scrambled cable porn."
Xander and Wood exchanged an amused glance. The basketball game having reached a most favorable conclusion, Wood was no longer overly interested in watching television and he focused on the blond storyteller to supply the entertainment. Andrew basked in the apparently rapt attention with a self-satisfied and all-knowing smile. He casually twirled his straw around the depths of the drink in front of him and spoke with great authority as he wove his tale.
"There was this unsolvable crime, the sort that was average for the Dale of the Sun. The SDPD were, typically, at a complete loss so they turned to the one man left who could help them ... and the entire town."
"Grissom?" suggested Xander with a smirk.
"Me," replied Andrew with a confused frown. "See, they'd heard about my special connection to the stinking, wicked underbelly of society."
Wood's eyes widened in mock horror. "'Stinking, wicked underbelly'." He shuddered and grimaced at Xander. "I'd think that pretty much says all I need to know about this story right there."
Andrew chose to ignore the obvious barb and dauntlessly continued. "The chief investigator on the case was Detective ..." He paused just for a moment as he searched for a name. "... Christine Cagney." He threw his two companions a smug grin. "She was a leggy blonde who immediately—"
"Christine Cagney?" interrupted Xander blithely. "Where was Mary Beth?"
"And please," sighed Wood. "Even the Sunnydale police department wouldn't have anything to do with you."
Xander leaned across the table and poked Andrew in the chest. "Except maybe to arrest you again. Remember that part, don'tcha Andy?"
The blond regarded the jabbing finger ruefully as his confidence slowly fizzled like a punctured balloon. "Aww, but this one was gonna be really good. I was gonna save Christine from a Devourer of Tarsnal and—"
"And then she was gonna sleep with you," added Xander with a disapproving shake of his head. "You're such a Marty Stu."
With an offended pout, Andrew returned to slurping on his drink.
"Guess Giles isn't coming back, huh?" questioned Wood. His eyes traveled wistfully toward the door.
"Doesn't look like it," sighed Xander. "So much for guy's night. I guess Buffy wins after all."
Wood nodded and all three men sat in dejected silence for a moment.
It was Andrew who broke the demoralized hush. "I really wanted to make a 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' joke there, but I didn't."
"What is it with you today?" asked Wood. "You're stuck in a decade you can barely remember."
Andrew winked meaningfully. "Retro is hip, dude."
With a puff of exasperation, Xander buried his face in both hands.
"I so need new friends," he moaned quietly.
From a nearby table, Willow and Kennedy glanced at Buffy, Tara, Dawn and Faith, who were all leaning on their elbows and chatting in an animated fashion. The pair weren't close enough to catch the conversation, but the occasional burst of laughter could be heard and the four appeared to be in decent spirits.
Kennedy tapped Willow's hand to draw her attention. "Sorry about earlier."
"No you're not," smirked the redhead.
Kennedy grinned. "No, I'm not," she agreed. "The dancing was good. I wanted, you needed – it's our formula." She inclined her head toward Tara, who was smiling brightly at something Dawn had just confided. "Lost the moment for you though, huh?"
Willow sighed regretfully. "Yeah. She said later, but ..." She twisted her fingers. "I dunno. I guess I'm not as patient as I used to be, but at the same time..." Willow sighed again, unable to put her feelings into words. "I just wanna help her however I can, so- so we can deal with it, get past it, a-and get back to ... you know, maybe trying for an us?"
The redhead's eyes widened as she turned and regarded Kennedy with horrified realization. "Oh, Kenn, geez, I didn't ... I-I should've thought. I was just ... You know my mouth doesn't really clear stuff with my brain sometimes and then I..."
Kennedy gave a sharply dismissive nod, effectively cutting off Willow's blithering. The movement was tight and strained, but her expression indicated no show of anger. "Oh, hey, no problem," she told the redhead with forced cheerfulness as she patted her pocket. "I got phone numbers and a killer smile, right?"
The corners of Willow's mouth drooped. "I know we haven't really talked about it."
Kennedy shrugged. "Yeah, well, for some funny reason, I haven't really wanted to hear it." She crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair.
"But if Tara and I have a chance, any chance at all," persisted Willow. "I have to try. I want to." Her gaze drifted to Tara, who was chuckling and arching an eyebrow at something Buffy had just said.
Willow's eyes grew sad. "She never looks that happy when she's around me anymore."
"She will be," assured Kennedy, unable to disguise the tiny note of bitterness that crept into her voice. "You've both got that 'true love fated soulmates' crap going, right?"
Willow's expression was wistful. "I thought so once." She treated Kennedy to the shadow of a smile. "Someone taught me love's not quite that simple."
The brunette returned the smile and then looked in another direction. Willow watched her fondly for a moment. "I'm sorry," she whispered, just loud enough for Kennedy to hear.
Kennedy smirked as she stared into the redhead's sorrowful face. "No you're not."
"Some part of me is." She paused. "We'll be friends, right? Can we be friends?" Willow asked in a rush.
The Slayer snorted a laugh and gave Willow a wry grin. "Maybe if we'd been friends first, things could've been different." She chuckled softly, "Trust me to do things ass-backwards."
"That a yes?"
Allowing the legs of her chair to hit the floor with a thud, Kennedy leaned across the table. "You want me out of your life completely, Rosenberg," she stated firmly, "you'll have to voodoo me out. And I hear you don't do that sorta thing any more." She shrugged her shoulders and leaned back again. "So looks like you're stuck with me."
"Yay for stuck," replied Willow with a sunny smile.
They glanced up as Hazel passed by, leading Hannah back toward the main table.
"It took a bit of work," the Junior Slayer announced brightly, "but I got Mrs. Hannah to finish her story." She beamed with pride.
"I was going to anyway," Hannah told the group as she reclaimed her seat. "I just needed a break."
An expression of extreme disappointment crossed Hazel's face. She was obviously crestfallen and Hannah was quick to make amends.
"I mean ... yes, it was all Hazel's doing," she hastened to inform the gathering. "Quite the silver-tongued devil, is our young Slayer."
With a happy grin, the satisfied Hazel sat down.
Kennedy inclined her head and glanced at Willow. "Wanna rejoin the campfire girls?"
The redhead got to her feet. "Naturally. Every good story needs an ending, right?" She moved toward the nearby table and Kennedy followed, just in time to hear Hannah begin her final chapter.
"We hadn't been back in England long before both Rupert and I were summoned to an emergency meeting with several key Council members ..."
Oxford University – October 1974
One of the smaller study rooms at Magdalen College had been commandeered by a delegation from the Watcher's Council. The five members, all dressed virtually identical in charcoal gray business suits, crisp white shirts and neckties of subdued navy blue, sat behind a long table on a raised dais. Before them at a much lower level, two student desks had been positioned several feet apart. The whole area was reminiscent of a court of law, even down to the poker-faced minion standing stiffly by the entrance, whose presumable duty was to act as some type of bailiff.
With all the authority of a Lord Chief Justice, the man who had assumed center seat behind the table, indicated for the Bailiff to open the door.
"Ah," murmured the Council head as the pair of summonees entered, "Mr. Giles and Miss Sinclair." He waved them toward the two desks.
Hannah lifted an eyebrow and pointedly waggled the fingers of her left hand in the direction of the dais. "That's Mrs. Giles," she corrected.
Through his rimless glasses, the presiding leader glanced briefly at the display of bright gold. "No," he told her flatly, "it's not."
With a confused frown, Hannah sank into the chair behind one of the desks and looked up at Giles as he moved to stand beside her.
"Won't you take a seat, Mr. Giles?" the leader suggested politely. Tight-lipped, Giles shook his head.
"It really would be best if you did. We could avoid so much unpleasantness and get this matter underway without further ado."
When Giles' only answer was a dangerous glare, Hannah quickly jumped in. "It's okay, Rupert," she urged. "The sooner you sit down, then the sooner we can apparently get the hell out of here." She gave him a sharp nudge and he reluctantly complied. Then, she turned her attention to the Council members. "Okay, what's this all about?"
Still only one person continued to do the talking, and he did so with every ounce of superiority he could muster. "Your marriage to Mr. Giles has recently been brought to our attention, Miss Sinclair. As we speak, any records documenting this union are being expunged."
Hannah laughed. The sound was strained and brittle. "You're joking, right? Pulling our legs?" She glanced at Giles.
His eyes remained locked on the leader, but he shook his head at her questioning gaze. "They wouldn't know a joke if one jumped up and bit them in the arse," he spat from between gritted teeth.
"You can't do this!" Hannah stated emphatically. "You don't have the right!"
The head of the Council leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. "On the contrary, Miss Sinclair. We can and we do." He glanced at a young man of perhaps twenty-five who sat to his right. "Mr. Travers?"
Immediately, Travers reached down and retrieved a brown leather briefcase. Snapping it open with great efficiency, he extracted two slim manila envelopes and handed them to the Bailiff, who duly deposited one before Hannah and one in front of Giles.
"Your annulment papers," the Council head informed them.
"Divorce?" Hannah looked to Giles. His expression was grim and his knuckles showed white against his clenched fists. Her eyes searched each of the five faces. "Why?" she demanded angrily. "I think I'm entitled to know."
With another great sigh, the leader regarded Hannah imperiously. "We are under no obligation to furnish explanations. However, as you are a member of the organization ... albeit an exceedingly minor cog ... we will make an exception."
Hannah arched an eyebrow. "Flattery will get you everywhere," she muttered darkly, but the comment was either ignored or went unheard.
"As you probably are aware," he began, "Mr. Giles' father is a well-respected and highly-valued member of the Council. He harbors a desire that his son, Rupert here—" The leader gestured absently in Giles' direction, seemingly unconcerned by the murderous glare Giles had fixed upon him. "—be groomed for the most prestigious and elite programme the Council has to offer. In short, that of Slayer's Watcher." With a sneer and a dubious look at the conversation's subject, the leader leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table. "Frankly, we are far from convinced that Rupert has the necessary credentials ... although he does, on occasion, show a modicum of potential. So, given that, and in deference to the high esteem in which his father is held, the Council is prepared to—"
"Slayer's Watcher?" interrupted Hannah with some excitement. She looked over at Giles, whose expression remained dour. "Now there's a feather in the old cap, Ziggy," she told him. Then, a frown creased her forehead and her gaze fixed once more on the dais. "What does that have to do with our marriage?"
"Singular devotion," snapped Giles. "One focus and one focus only. Total dedication with no distractions. An absolute commitment of Watcher to Slayer."
The Council head nodded. "Exactly. There is no room in the life of a Slayer's Watcher for any distractions. There can be no family ties ... wife, children, things of that nature," he stated with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"But that's so antiquated," scoffed Hannah. "Women of today, they're independent and self-sufficient. Or at least I am." She regarded the Council members earnestly. "I could be a great asset to Rupert in—"
"Impossible. It's one of the cardinal rules." The leader's tone brooked no further protest, and although Hannah's mouth opened in protest, he quickly continued. "However, Miss Sinclair, it seems quite clear to the Council that your mere presence is just such a distraction. Consequently, we will be relocating you with 24-hours to our facility in Andermatt where you will be—"
Hannah leaned forward in her seat. "What!" she practically shouted. "You can't just ship me off to the far corners of the earth!"
Unable to fully repress a smirk, the Council head looked down at Hannah. "Miss Sinclair, your grasp on what we can and cannot do seems severely impaired. It's quite simple – as a member of this organization, you will be sent where we wish, when we wish."
"Fine then," she retorted furiously, brushing the papers from her desk. They fluttered ineffectually to the ground and were promptly ignored. "I choose to resign from your precious, narrow-minded 'Council'."
The leader inclined his head politely at Hannah's announcement. "As you like," he began.
"Bloody right I do," she shot back.
"However," the Council head continued as though she hadn't spoken, "this in no way changes the facts of the matter. Your mere presence is a distraction that Mr. Giles can ill afford at the moment. It is our ... recommendation that you find yourself another education option, Miss Sinclair."
Hannah narrowed her eyes. "What are you saying?"
Leaning forward again, her angry stare was met unflinchingly. "I am saying, Miss Sinclair, that should you choose to remain at St. Hilda's, the chances of a crippling academic travesty will increase exponentially. You will expelled before you have set foot outside of this room, and I believe you will find it quite difficult to locate another school willing to accept you." He paused for a moment to allow his words to sink in. "Such news would be quite a blow to your father, would it not?"
Her jaw slacking open at the brazen threat, Hannah could only blink as the leader rested his back against the chair. "On the other hand," he stated in a much more pleasant tone, "should you choose to cooperate without further protest, I believe you'll find that life has just opened a great many new doors to you." He paused again and considered her carefully. "Wherever you wish to go. Anywhere at all, provided it is nowhere in England. Money is no object."
A tense silence blanketed the room. The next move was clearly Hannah's, and the Council members waited patiently for her response. She glanced to Giles, but his head had dropped, his gaze focused on the desk before him. Her jaw set, Hannah turned back to the main table.
"I'll go," she all but snarled. The leader's mouth twitched in an expectant, smug smirk. "But I don't want a damned thing from you. Not one penny, not a single phone call. I'll make without you bastards."
"I'm sure you will, Miss Sinclair," replied the Council head with a nod. "I'm sure you will."
Quickly getting to her feet, as though the thought of spending one more second in the room was unfathomably intolerable, Hannah glanced to Giles. Although his head remained down, his fists were clenched so hard, they were stark white and shaking on the desktop. Her angry expression softened. "Come on, Ziggy," she urged him gently. "Come help me pack."
Slowly, Giles lifted his eyes, and in turn, locked his steely gaze on each of the Council members presiding over them. "You haven't heard the last of this," he informed them in a frighteningly calm tone that was belied by his demeanor.
"I really do believe we have," assured the leader. With that, he began to gather his papers together, and spared the couple no further attention.
Hannah sensed Giles tensing next to her, and it was only the restraining hand she laid on his arm that kept him from vaulting over the desk and wrapping his hands around the leader's throat. "Come help me," she repeated.
He turned toward her and she offered him a smile that she clearly didn't feel. Without further comment, she left the room. Giles afforded the Council one more piercing glare, seeming to commit each face to bitter memory, before hurrying after her.
Giles caught up with Hannah on the street outside the building. The rain was descending in torrents and she was already almost soaked to the skin. He seized her by the elbow and spun her round to face him. "Where are you going?"
Hannah shrugged. "Away." She waved vaguely. "Not sure where. Just know I've had about all I can stomach of this place for a while. Maybe forever."
Giles pulled her close. "I'll come with you. We can get married again. They can't keep throwing annulments at us for eternity. And if they do well, we'll just live in sin." He raised her chin with his forefinger and grinned. "I'm sure our kids will understand."
Hannah gently stroked his cheek. "No can do, Ziggy," she told him emphatically.
He laughed. "Don't worry about them. There's nothing we can't handle together."
She disentangled herself from his embrace. "They're the last people I'm worried about," she said tenderly. "The very last." She sighed. "I've got to go, Rupert, and you can't come with me."
He frowned, bewilderment stealing across his features. "You can't mean that. You go your way and I'll go mine?" He shook his head. "No. We're a team, Hannah. We can't let them split us up."
"It's not for them," she told him firmly. "It's for you."
"What? That- That's absurd. You're for me," spluttered an indignant Giles.
Hannah regarded him seriously. "If I hadn't stopped you in there, Rupert, what would you have done?"
Giles frowned. "I ... I don't ..." He paused and then abruptly dismissed the implication. "Look, what does that matter?"
But Hannah was insistent. "What would you have done?"
Giles' eyes narrowed. "I'd have killed him, all right?? Smug bastard." His lips curled disdainfully. "I'd have snapped his neck like a chicken and not lost a moment's sleep over it!"
She nodded sadly and appeared to be confirming an inner conviction.
Hannah took a deep breath. "There are things, Rupert. Things that I can't help you with." She allowed a sardonic chuckle to escape from her throat. "The funny thing is, they're right. For all the wrong reasons, but they're right. You need this. The focus. It will help protect you from yourself in ways that I can't hope to match."
"Bollocks," spat Giles with a sneer. "That's bollocks and you know it."
Hannah shrugged regretfully. "I'm sorry."
Her expression grew sorrowful as she seemed to realize there was nothing more she could add which would ease the impending separation. She looked to Giles, but the tiny smile of consolation hovering about her lips quickly faded in the face of his mounting fury.
"Go then," he informed her scornfully, eyes becoming cold and well nigh devoid of any tenderness. "I don't need you. I never did and I never will."
Still, he lingered a moment longer, scouring her face as though searching for some sign that she might be relenting, that she might be changing her mind. He found none.
Giles' gaze narrowed as his features contorted in an ugly fashion. "I don't need anyone!"
She winced a little beneath the venom with which the words were delivered and watched him stomp away, carelessly brushing aside anyone in his path with a violent shove of the shoulder.
Almost of their own accord, Hannah's feet carried her in the opposite direction. She glanced back only once. His relentless march was continuing, back stiff and rigid like that of a clockwork soldier. "Oh Ziggy," she sighed, "you always were a terrible liar."
Hannah's audience was indeed captive – each woman's eyes were riveted on her and they were collectively leaning forward in their seats, as though moving closer would allow them to catch the words just that much faster.
A small frown creased Buffy's forehead. "Ouch," she murmured with a wince.
Willow nodded in sympathy. "So much for the happy ending."
"With the Council involved, did you really expect one?" asked Hannah with an ironic smirk.
Tara's shook her head sadly. "He must've been so angry ..." she commented softly and looked to Hannah. "But you're both okay? Now, I mean. Despite all that."
"Time heals all wounds," Hannah told her with a shrug. "It's corny, but mostly true. When you love someone, forgiveness can't be far behind, wouldn't you say?"
Most of those gathered exchanged glances, indicating they just might have some insight into such things.
"What about after, Mrs. G.?" asked Faith, breaking the moment. "What happened with you?"
Hannah pondered the question for a moment. "It turned out our trip that summer was useful in more ways than one. I finished university at Boccani in Milan. I kept the Giles family name, partly as a dig at the Council, but mostly because it made me happy. For a while, studying was the only thing that I did, but I eventually realized a degree in economics didn't lead to a job any more interesting than the subject matter suggested. After you get a taste for what the world is really like, accounting doesn't quite cut the mustard." Stretching her arms above her head, she openly yawned. "But those are stories for another time, I think."
"But what about Giles?" Kennedy wanted to know. "What happened to him?"
For the first time since the evening had gotten underway, Hannah's expression became truly quite serious. She shook her head, denying the request. "That would be for Rupert to say."
Dawn voiced the protest that the entire group doubtlessly harbored. "Yeah, but he doesn't like to talk about stuff from back then as much as you do."
There was a contemplative pause as Hannah surveyed the circle of disappointed expressions.
"There's a reason the past is never called the present," she reminded them gently.
On the floor of his loft, Giles sat cross-legged surrounded by stacks of CDs. The room was mostly swathed in darkness, the few lights that had been turned on serving only to enhance the depressing aura of gloom. He hadn't bothered to remove the jacket he'd been wearing when he left earlier that evening, although he had loosened his tie and unfastened the top two buttons of his shirt. The Watcher hummed morosely to the music that played softly in the background:
Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines.
He flipped through the photograph album balanced on his knees and reached for the half-empty bottle of scotch. Filling his shot glass to the brim, the Watcher's hand was far from steady and he had obviously been imbibing for quite a few hours. His head jerked upward at the sound of a voice by the door.
He watched Hannah walk toward him. She was still wearing the outfit she'd chosen for 'girls' night out' and obviously hadn't been home. She regarded him with a puzzled frown.
"Are you all right? You didn't sound well on the phone."
Giles stared at her for a moment but said nothing. Then, his gaze returned to the photograph album. Moving closer, Hannah inspected the picture that had claimed his attention. The snapshot showed a youthful couple, captured in a moment of sheer happiness – Hannah in fashionable hot-pants, which showed off her long legs to perfection, and a beaming Giles, sporting a white t-shirt bearing the image of a dismayed Britannia floundering in the waves.
"The Trevi Fountain in Rome," murmured Hannah with a smile. She sat down beside him on the floor. "Ye Gods, we look young." She traced a finger over the surface of the photograph.
"I thought that if you threw a coin into a fountain, all your dreams would come true," mused Giles, taking a stiff pull of his whiskey. He turned to Hannah. "Didn't happen, did it?"
Hannah chuckled. "Well, the fact that you waded into the water afterwards to get the coins back because we were skint may have had something to do with it." She tilted her head to one side as she gazed at the moment frozen in time. "My, quite the day for resurfacing memories, isn't it?"
Giles refocused on the snapshot. "It was all so much easier then."
"In many ways, yes," agreed Hannah gently.
"No responsibilities," mused the Watcher, "save to ourselves."
His ex-wife smiled wryly. "The gift of youth." She stifled a yawn. "That, and the ability to stay up beyond 2am."
Taking her hand, Giles brought the upturned palm to his lips before releasing it. "I never thanked you."
"Quite possibly because I never needed you to," replied Hannah, stroking his cheek.
"I was angry." His tone grew caustic. "So angry for so long."
"Yes," she agreed with a tiny smirk. "The six years of complete silence was an indication."
Giles threw her a searching glance. "But I forgave you."
"I figured that part out around year seven when you finally called," Hannah replied, good-naturedly jostling his shoulder.
Giles frowned, deep creases embedding themselves in his forehead. "I did some ... terrible things. Simply terrible."
Hannah placed a forefinger against his mouth to hush the words. "I know."
"I thought perhaps ..." He took her hand again and entwined her fingers with his own. "If I'd been with you, you would've somehow prevented it. All of it. The things with Ethan and the others, the ..."
Giles' voice trailed away as Hannah squeezed his hand. He treated her to a grateful smile. "But it wouldn't have, would it?"
"We were young," sighed Hannah. "I had my own life to lead, and I couldn't live yours too." She turned to him with an ironic grin. "And frankly, you wouldn't have listened to me."
Giles chuckled ruefully. "No," he admitted grudgingly. "And if I'd turned my back on the Council that day, if you'd let me leave with you ... they would have cut me off. When I think about the things that might have happened ... To me. To you."
Hannah gave his hand an encouraging shake. "They didn't."
Giles nodded emphatically. "They didn't."
Grabbing his drink, the Watcher drained the dregs as Hannah smirked with open affection.
"That stuff will be the death of you one day," she remarked.
"Will it?" queried Giles, peering at the bottom of his empty glass. "How remarkably mundane."
Dropping her hand, he reached for the bottle, but Hannah removed it from his grasp and then also relieved him of the shot glass. Turning, she placed both on a nearby table and then pushed herself up from the floor.
"Let's get you to bed," she told him briskly. "A good night's sleep so you can get an early start on regretting this in the morning." She extended her arms and he accepted the gesture.
With a mock groan, Hannah hauled Giles to his feet. He swayed unsteadily and she caught him around the waist. He draped both arms over her shoulders and held on tight. The moment of sudden closeness caused both their bodies to become taut.
"Stay," he urged, his voice no more than a whisper.
"When you're drunk, depressed and wallowing in the past?" replied Hannah in a half-hearted attempt to alleviate the tension. "How charming."
"Stay," reiterated Giles. His tone was more insistent now as he pulled her closer and Hannah made no move to disentangle herself from his embrace. "We can be together," he attempted to persuade her, "not ..."
The Watcher suddenly straightened, and he held Hannah at arms length.
The Council panel, almost thirty years ago. A row of men, all there to pass judgment on Giles' life, to set the course for his future. His hatred for them at that moment when Hannah walked away, the loathing with which he studied each man, each face.
One face in particular stood out now. Even among the sharply dressed professionals that made up the Council panel, this man in particular stood out. His eyes, a penetrating blue that hinted at no emotion whatsoever, save a disdain for everything around him. His demeanor, an air of superiority that telegraphed his utter conviction in absolutely every thought he possessed. His face was clean, unmarred by the disfiguring scar fate would one day grant him.
Giles blinked, returning to the present. "Robespierre," he whispered to himself, the name finally finding the connection it had been seeking since the moment he'd heard it.
He gazed down at a concerned Hannah, his eyes no longer hazy or unfocused.
"I know who we're facing."