Summary: A Post Season 6 BtVS/Tanya Huff "Keeper" series crossover/AU. With a heavy B/W vibe. And NO Spike (sorry).
Spoilers: Seasons 1-6 of BtVS. All of the "Keeper Chronicles"
Author's Notes: This was originally the first half of the prologue. It has been revised. See the end for additional notes.
Gently squeezing her shoulder one last time before getting to his feet, Giles paused to brush bits of dried grass from his clothes. He gave her one last long look, wishing he had some way of removing the sad expression from her face, before he headed back towards her cottage to get his car. It was the same expression she directed at him from behind a curtain of long red hair every time he saw her. He knew that on his next visit, rain or shine, he would be able to find her meditating under the same tree in the isolated meadow.
It was a beautiful early autumn day and he would rather have stayed with Willow but duty called. He wasn't looking forward to the surprise meeting in London that the Council Secretary had insisted he attend. He'd learned long ago that there were times when he could safely ignore the Council and this wasn't one of them. He'd managed to avoid any Council meetings or contact since returning to England at the beginning of the summer with Willow in tow. But something was going on in London and they'd insisted that, barring an apocalypse, he make an appearance.
Coming around the stand of trees that hid the meadow from casual discovery, Giles was surprised to see an unfamiliar looking car parked next to his in front of the small cottage. It had the distinctive look of a hired vehicle. He wondered who it could be. The rest of the buildings on the coven's country estate were out of sight but close enough together that most residents walked. But, as he approached the cottage, it was not as much of a surprise as the sight of the young woman sitting quietly on the front stoop, seemingly lost in thought, her short blonde hair gleaming in the sun. She was the last person he would have expected to find anywhere in England, at any time.
"Buffy?" He asked as he came closer, hoping he was successfully keeping his surprise out of his voice. He couldn't think of any reason short of an immanent apocalypse in the neighborhood that would pry her loose from Sunnydale, but from her relaxed appearance she didn't appear to be in a hurry to explain her presence. She just sat there patiently as he approached.
"Hey Giles." She answered in the same calm tone he'd used, looking up at him. She moved to one side and patted the step below the one she was sitting on. "Why don't you take a seat." It was more of a command than a request and he found himself unconsciously doing so. She raised an eyebrow at him as soon as he was sitting, a sign he took to mean he was free to talk.
"What brings you here?" He asked, watching her face closely. He used to think he was able to read her extremely well, but since her return he'd begun to suspect that he'd only ever seen what she wanted him to see. And her current expression was more impenetrable than ever, even though her position allowed him to look directly into her eyes.
"Here England? The Council wanted to see me. Here here? Willow." She gazed at him expectantly. He noticed her lips twitching as she watched him trying to decide which question to ask about first.
Sighing, he took out a handkerchief and rubbed an invisible spot from his glasses, gathering his thoughts before asking the question most likely to cause he or his Slayer problems. "What possessed the Council to bring you to England?"
"You never told me how the Head of the Council was chosen." she replied, looking pensively down the drive and not answering him directly.
"I didn't think it was relevant." He mumbled, shifting nervously and wondering why she'd brought it up, adding, "Quentin Travers will probably outlive both of us."
"He didn't." She told him calmly, turning back and looking him in the eye again.
"What happened to him?" He asked, this time unable to control his surprise, wondering how Quentin's niece had reacted when she found out she was now the Head Watcher.
"Plane crash a week ago." Buffy shrugged as if the details didn't concern her. "He and his posse on the Council were coming back from some trip. Probably out terrifying some future slayer into blind obedience."
"And the new Head?" He asked curiously, putting his glasses back on. "I'm assuming she wanted something from you?"
"Almost. She wanted to see the current slayer and her watcher." She shook her head and glared at him before continuing. "Unfortunately, all she ended up with was me! Someone decided to retire and didn't tell anyone except Quentin Travers!"
"Buffy..." he wilted under her annoyed gaze, just barely resisting the urge to take off his glasses again. "I had planned on telling you eventually."
"Eventually?" She continued glaring at him from her superior position on the stoop. "When is 'eventually'?"
"Retiring was the only way to keep Travers from interfering in Sunnydale. The Council found out about Willow's problems with magic." He reluctantly told her. "He demanded that I do something about her or the Council would take action."
"Well, he can't interfere any longer." She told him grimly. "And you should have told me he was threatening Willow. I would have dealt with him. She's my responsibility, not the Council's. Or yours." She paused for a moment before continuing. "When Willow and I eventually get back to Sunnydale we need to have a long chat about your paternalistic tendencies. Assuming you still want to work with us."
"Back to Sunnydale?" Giles stared at her in confusion. "What are you up to?" he asked suspiciously.
Ignoring his question, Buffy stood up and stretched, looking nervously in the direction he'd come from earlier, before turning back to him. "I'm taking her away from here Giles. Today."
He frowned at her, not sure where she had gotten the idea that she could handle Willow in her current condition. Trying to exert his former authority over her, he briefly attempted to put a stop to it. "I can't allow you to do that. She isn't ready." He told her firmly. "She has a lot more work to do with the Coven before she is."
"She's as ready as she's going to get here." she told him, dismissing his concern with a wave of her hand. "I spoke with Miss Harkness last night. Her magic is as under control as it is going to get here. I think she scares them. They aren't too upset at the idea of her leaving." She held up a hand to stop him from protesting. "She needs to come home to... us. And we need her. Her things are already packed and in my car. It's no longer her choice. Or yours." She looked down at her dust covered boots for a moment before giving him a sad smile. "As painful as it might be at first, she needs to come back to us, her family."
Surprised at the maturity she was displaying, Giles thought for a moment before nodding his head reluctantly in agreement. He'd seen signs that the coven wasn't completely behind Willow's presence in their midst but there hadn't been anywhere else he could take her. "What are your plans?"
"I made a deal with the new Head of the Council." Buffy grinned slightly at his worried expression and sat back down on the stoop. "I think you'll like it."
"As you just reminded me, I'm retired. I don't think my opinion of whatever scheme you've cooked up with 'that' woman will matter." Giles told her grumpily.
"Listen before you condemn." She said, admonishing him like he was a small child. "If you're nice you can play too."
Bristling at her tone and not sure how to take her comments, he simply raised an eyebrow. "Go ahead." He encouraged, leaning back against the railing and crossing his arms.
"I'm taking Willow on a road trip. The Council is paying for it." She grinned at him again.
"What?" He looked at her like she'd grown horns. "Why would they agree to something like that? It must be a trick."
She nodded in agreement at his surprise. "That's what I thought at first. I couldn't believe it until she explained her reasons."
"Which are?" Giles prodded grimly. "What were 'that' woman's reasons?"
"You don't like her. Do you." Buffy commented, giving him a cheeky grin.
"It's none of your business." Giles muttered. "She'll certainly make a much better Council Head than Travers." He stood up and started pacing in front of her. "What were her reasons?"
"She thinks it's a mistake to tie any slayer to a specific spot." Buffy began.
"Like an active Hellmouth?" Giles asked acerbically. "Who else is going to keep an eye on it?"
"That's what I asked her." Buffy told him approvingly. "She didn't have a good answer. But she does have a few ideas she wants to try out. To see if the Council can make better use of my abilities. More than just killing demons attracted to a hellmouth." Leaning down, she picked up a smooth rock and started rolling it between her fingers as if she had all the time in the world.
"And this road trip is one of them?" He stared incredulously at her.
"It isn't so much a road trip." Buffy admitted, "as much as it's a chance to check out some of the mystical hot spots the Council has been ignoring for the last few decades. Places and things that might have needed attention from a slayer but didn't get it because Quentin Travers was too busy playing Council politics to do something about them."
Giles groaned, rubbing the back of his neck, guessing where this was leading. "Cleveland Hellmouth?"
She nodded, squinting in the bright sun and throwing the stone down the driveway before answering. "Yup. Cleveland Hellmouth." She held up a hand to stop him from commenting. "I told her I would take a look at it and some of the other places on her hit list and tell her what I think."
"And this road trip idea?" He could tell she was intentionally avoiding providing him with the entire story behind how she'd been convinced into going to Cleveland and what she was supposed to do once she got there. He grimaced. It didn't take a genius to know it wasn't going to be a simple research trip. When he got to London he was going to have something to say to the new Head.
"We negotiated. I think it'll do Willow some good to be involved in like that. It's sort of a working vacation. A slayer and witch thing. I do the slaying gig, Willow helps me while she works on practicing the non-evil magic thing." She looked anxiously in the direction of the meadow where he'd left Willow and continued speaking rapidly, as if to prevent him from objecting more than he had already. "I have copies of all those books we scanned in years ago, and some other things from the Council library. And I've got the Council archivist on speed dial. So we won't be totally helpless if we run into something that needs to be researched."
Watching her expression as she faced the meadow, he wondered for a moment if she actually knew that that was where Willow was meditating or if she was just guessing. "What about Dawn? What has she been doing while you are gone? And until you get back?"
"She's been helping Xander and Anya repair the Magic Box. That and school have been keeping her out of trouble. Mostly anyway, with the new high school being built over the Hellmouth." She pulled a much folded envelope out of a back pocket and handed it to him. "They want to finish it before Willow gets back to Sunnydale. It's all in that letter." She gave him an earnest look. "They could really use your advice."
"Do they know you are bringing her back with you?" He stuffed the letter into his shirt pocket, planning on looking at it later. "And do they know about this road trip idea?"
"Sort of. They don't know it's really a working vacation. They think it's just the new Council Head trying to bribe the slayer into working with them again." She gave him a firm look. "And you aren't going to tell them. Xander thinks Willow is still so fragile that she'll break and wouldn't understand any of my reasons for this trip. It'll just be between the three of us."
"I'm not sure I understand it myself." Giles muttered under his breath as he sat back down, momentarily forgetting just how good Buffy's hearing really was.
"Don't worry about it." She told him flippantly. "It's all under control." Standing up again, she walked over to her car. Reaching in through the passenger window, she pulled out a large envelope. Returning to the stoop, she handed it to him. "Here. This is from the Council. You should really read what's in it before your meeting tonight."
He gingerly held the envelope in his hands as if it were going to bite. It was the same color used by the Council for some of its most important documents. And usually dreaded by the recipients. "What is it?" He asked her.
"I think you'll like it." she told him, smiling perkily. "I have to go find Willow and you should probably leave now so you can go get ready for that meeting." She leaned down to give him a quick, hesitant hug before dragging him to his feet and pushing him towards his car. "Maybe we'll see you in Sunnydale in a month or two." she told him before heading up the path towards Willow.
He watched her for a minute before shaking his head. Although she still seemed a little worn around the edges, she was obviously very much in control of things. He already knew he wouldn't have any chance of convincing her to change her plans. He stared at the object in his hands and threw it in the open window before getting into the car himself. He would read whatever was in the envelope at home before he headed to the Council office for his meeting. And hopefully he would see what the Council had planned for his slayer and, if need be, stop it before she and Willow ended up in any danger. From experience he knew better than to completely trust the Council, even if there was a new Council Head.
After four months in the quiet English countryside, the noise in the crowded airport was deafening, and a little scary. Shivering, Willow huddled as close to Buffy as she could get without getting in her way, not really paying attention while she efficiently dealt with their airline check-in. She was startled out of her self imposed isolation when the ticket agent asked to see their IDs. She frowned as Buffy handed over two British passports.
"Uh... Buffy?" she murmured quietly, not sure what was going on and trying not to attract too much attention. "Passport?"
Buffy gently squeezed her arm before whispering in her ear, her warm breath feeling like a soft caress. "I'll explain everything later."
Willow sighed, forcing herself to stay calm. This wasn't the first time Buffy had used that excuse since she'd almost forcibly removed her from the Coven grounds earlier in the day. Something was definitely going on but she wasn't sure she had the energy to care. Exhausting what little enthusiasm she had for external events, Willow stopped paying attention again, her mind going back to the thoughts she couldn't escape no matter how hard she tried; the look of surprise on Tara's face when she'd died inher arms, and Warren's terror seconds before she'd killed him.
Several minutes later, she was once more forced into the present, this time by Buffy's voice.
"Yes?" She look towards Buffy, noticing that she now had her carry-on slung over one shoulder. She was holding Willow's out for her to take while motioning her away from the counter. "Oh." She grabbed her bag and followed Buffy, grumbling under her breath as she struggled to keep up with the briskly walking Slayer. "Short blondes with short legs shouldn't be moving so fast that taller people can't keep up." She blushed when Buffy, apparently hearing her complaint, slowed down and silently grabbed her hand before once more moving quickly through the crowded airport.
Willow relaxed in her seat, her heart no longer beating so hard that it felt like it would burst. They'd barely made it to the gate before their flight started boarding. She'd been so focused on keeping up with Buffy that she hadn't had any time to really wonder about their passports or why they were in First Class on a flight to Ottawa, Canada. And, sitting in the aisle seat with her eyes closed, Buffy didn't seem to be in any hurry to explain anything.
"Buffy?" She opened the eye closest to Willow and gave her a look that Willow recognized. It was her "you might be doing something cute or funny but I'm not going to laugh" look. It had been a long time since Buffy had graced her with one of those looks and she was so surprised that it stopped her questions before she could get started.
"Can you save your questions for a little bit?" Buffy asked. "It's been a really long week. I'll answer all of your questions before we get there." She sat up, and leaning over, kissed a surprised Willow gently on her right cheek. Before sitting back in her seat and closing her eyes again she softly uttered a single word. "Promise."
Shocked once again at how gently Buffy was treating her after her 'gonna end the world' rampage; Willow stared at her for a few minutes before following her example and closing her eyes. She didn't think she would be able to rest but meditating seemed like a good alternative. The last few hours had been very stressful and she could feel her control over her magic wavering. Buffy had been very considerate so far but losing control thirty thousand feet in the air probably wouldn't make her too happy.
Continued in The Long Way Home
AN1: This crossover is with Tanya Huff's "Keeper Chronicles":
(1) Summon the Keeper ISBN: 0-88677-784-4
(2) The Second Summoning ISBN: 0-88677-975-8
(3) Long Hot Summoning ISBN: 0-75640-136-4
All of which can be found on Amazon or at your favorite brick and mortar bookstore
AN2:This is a crossover set post Season 6. The differences from canon should be obvious.
And not just the B/W-ness of the fic. There is no First or crazy Spike in this fic.
AN3: Yes, this is a kinder, gentler version of the Council of Watchers. No, the world will not implode as a result.
AN4: My policy towards story change/updating demands can be found in my profile.
AN5: Feedback appreciated/welcome.
AN6: For those insist that Spike, Buffy's Twu Luv appear in this fic follow me on a little imaginary journey:
Please follow me. Watch out for that low hanging beam.
Be careful, don't step in the puddle of Chaos demon slime, it's a pain to get out.
Where are we? You don't recognized the sewer entrance to The Magic Box?
Shhh! Anya is doing inventory. If she sees us we'll be stuck down here until the next Apocalypse!
Got your invisibility cloak with you? Good. Xander is working on some shelves to replace the ones Willow threw Buffy through.
Stay close, if he sees us he'll wake Dawn up and her screech can kill!
Okay. See that small glass vial in the plexiglass window case? The one with the damp gray dust in it? Why is it wet? I believe that is Holy Water. The books say it prevents vampire resurrection tricks like the one Wolfram and Hart used on Darla.
I hope that answers your theoretical Spike question.