AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for the William Ficathon I ran on LJ last fall, but I'm only just now getting this up here at ffnet. The request was William and Giles, with Giles' prejudices about Spike falling away, gradual recognition of their similarities, a happy ending and no Daddy!kink. I think of this as my kinder, gentler fic for some reason. It turned out much more Giles-centric than I originally thought it would be, but hopefully is still OK. The title and chapter titles come from Alan Seeger's "I Have a Rendezvous with Death".
Nobody answered on the first knock.
Nobody answered on the second knock.
On the third, Giles was beginning to wonder if perhaps he'd have to undertake this outing on his own after all. It wasn't an ideal situation, but unless someone decided to stir relatively quickly, he wasn't going to have a choice. His time was limited.
He had just started turning away, giving up on having any aid in his journey, when the motel room door cracked open and Willow blinked sleepily up at him.
"Giles," she murmured, her voice rough from sleep. Slowly, she tilted forward to allow her gaze to dart to either side of the Watcher, noting the empty balcony of the cheap motel. "Is something wrong?"
"Not wrong, just…I need you to get dressed and come with me."
"Why? Where are we going?"
He paused, wondering how much he should tell her now and how much could wait until…later. "I want to investigate the remains of the Hellmouth," he finally confessed. "To ensure it's actually closed."
The mention of Sunnydale seemed to draw Willow from her drowsiness, and she stepped further out of the room, pulling the door mostly closed behind her so that her words wouldn't filter inside. "Isn't that a job better suited for daytime?" she asked. "When there's light? And less probability of one of those Turok-Hans still being around to gobble us up?"
"I want to do it now. Before the site is disturbed. The media will be all over this, Willow. The only way to guarantee we'll discover anything is to do so now." He sighed, suddenly weary. "Please. Your help would be invaluable."
She searched his face, small teeth worrying her bottom lip. "Buffy---."
"---is not to be disturbed," Giles interrupted. "And before you say anything, neither will Xander. They both lost people they…valued today. I'm not going to subject either of them to any more grief if it's not necessary."
She only nodded. Just as he had, she'd witnessed the reactions of her friends as they'd driven away from the devastation. One, withdrawn and silent. The other, cracking inappropriate jokes that wouldn't have been funny even if everyone wasn't hurt and exhausted. Going back would only exacerbate the wounds.
"What about Kennedy?" she asked quietly. "Having someone with Slayer-strength could come in handy since we don't know what exactly we'll find."
He already knew what he wanted to find, but Giles held his tongue, saying instead, "Only if you can promise me her discretion. And that she's physically up to this after today's events."
Once he had the pledge, Giles gave her instruction on where and when to meet. It was only when the door closed shut again behind Willow that he realized his heart was pounding inside the walls of his chest, a completely different rush than the one that had fuelled him so eloquently throughout the battle in the high school.
Then, he had been acting in desperate ardor, determined to push himself as far as necessary in order to beat back the First's army.
Now…well, now there was no time to consider why his body was wound so tightly. Now, there was only time to return to the Hellmouth.
The dark shadow of Kennedy appeared before them as Giles and Willow hovered at the mouth of the crater that had once been Sunnydale.
"It's clear," she announced. She almost sounded disappointed. "No vamps."
"Right." The sharp arc of his flashlight did little but show the dirt a few feet ahead of him, but Giles took a tentative step forward anyway, eyes glued to the ground as he began the descent. Sunrise was less than two hours away. If he didn't find it relatively quickly, he would have to give up hope of finding it at all, an option he hadn't actually considered ever since learning about Spike's demise. Such an artifact as the amulet should not be left to be discovered by miscreants; without understanding its true power, leaving it to fall into the hands of those with less than pure motives was tantamount to negligence. He couldn't afford such an omission with the Council currently decimated.
"You're going to tell me what we're looking for, right?"
Willow's voice behind him reminded Giles he wasn't alone in this search, her beam of light crisscrossing with his own on the earth before him almost reassuring. "None of this must get back to Buffy," he prefaced. "She's been through quite enough already."
"OK," came the response, "but never mind answering my question. That just did." There was a pause where the only sounds were the soft shuffles of their feet. "Is there a reason we're doing this the hard way, though? I would've thought you got a good enough workout today with the fight and all."
Her words stopped him in his tracks, swiveling to look at her. "What do you mean?"
Now illuminated in the path of his flashlight, Willow held up a hand to protect her eyes as she spoke. "Because if all you want is the amulet, I can find that lickety split. We could've just stayed in the car and I wouldn't currently have sand in my shoes making my toes itch."
"How is that possible?"
"I was tired. I forgot socks."
"No. I meant, how would you find it?"
"Oh." She shrugged. "I can feel it. The magic in it, I mean. I felt it when it started working during the fight, and now that we're back here…" Slowly, her head turned away, shadowing as she gazed off into the darkness to her left, and Giles felt the faint stirrings of power emanating from her slight form.
"If it's a dangerous spell---."
"It's not. It's more like…" Her hand disappeared as she extended it into the darkness, as if Willow was plucking something from the very air. "…magic coalescing," she finished, pulling back her arm and turning to smile at him once again.
In her palm, she cradled the amulet, dirt dulling its shine, the heavy chain dangling between her fingers. Giles had seen it earlier, of course, but only from a distance, once Spike had started wearing it. Listening to Buffy's explanations about it coming from Angel made him itch to examine it more minutely; however, Giles' recent discord with both Buffy and Spike made that impossible. He had to settle for stealing scrutinizing glances in the vampire's direction whenever he thought he wasn't being observed.
Spike was gone now, though. Giles had all the time in the world to try and ferret out all the amulet's secrets.
"You say there's still magic in it?" he queried as he took the heavy charm from her. He shone his flashlight directly at it, noting the way the stone's flecks seemed to vibrate, and felt an odd pulling at the periphery of his vision.
"Not a lot," Willow said. "I think most of its power got used up destroying the Hellmouth. But yeah, there's some. Kind of like…an echo, if that makes any sense."
It didn't, but standing in a darkened crater after a grueling day and an exhausting night left Giles less than at his sharpest. "We should return to the hotel," he said, turning back toward the bus as he slipped the amulet into his pocket.
They trudged in silence for several minutes, their breath labored as they climbed back up the side onto the desert plain. A grim Kennedy waited, and the moment she saw Willow, she stepped forward and slid her arm around the witch's waist, taking her weight when the weary girl leaned against her.
"I was beginning to think rescue mission," she commented as they walked back to the bus.
"No, no, the rescue's already been completed," Giles replied. His pocket weighed against his thigh. What exactly he'd rescued, however, he had yet to determine.
Sleep was elusive.
As the pink dawn began to creep around the edges of the ratty curtains, Giles pushed back the blanket and sat up, his blurry gaze fixed on the amulet he'd left on the nightstand. The others would be asleep for hours yet; exhaustion and peace of mind were two of the most powerful sedatives in their world. He should be able to make his examinations without fear of interruption and without fear of Buffy discovering that he'd retrieved it.
Frighteningly enough, the latter was his primary concern.
The fact that Willow could still sense magic surrounding the amulet worried him. Putting on his spectacles as he picked up the necklace, Giles frowned as he turned it over, fascinated by its unexpected simplicity. He felt nothing, but that didn't preclude residual power from being housed within it. Its weight when he let the charm fall from his fingers made it swing in slow circles, and he flashed on how Spike must've felt with it pressing against his chest. Too heavy to forget. Too cumbersome to disregard. Had he suspected what it would do to its wearer? Giles mused.
Doubtful. Even with a soul, Spike remained the sort to live in the moment. Most likely, he would not have given any serious consideration to the repercussions of his involvement in the final battle, other than to wonder what ground it might gain him with Buffy.
He felt it when he coiled the chain back up around his fingers.
On the back.
A slightly raised section at the edge of the jewel.
His frown deepened. Turning on the wall light for extra illumination, Giles peered more closely at the amulet, seeing for the first time the symbol his touch had found. Part of it was obliterated by scorch marks, but what he could make out looked remarkably like an omega.
Quickly, he scanned for more, but the dust and damage from the Hellmouth hid anything else the amulet might have to offer. Only a crack that ran along the setting was readily obvious.
His thumb skimmed the edges of the fault, assessing the damage that must've occurred during the destruction of the Hellmouth. Something snagged, and Giles felt a sharp prick in the fleshy pad, pulling it away just enough to see a drop of blood already welling from the injury.
Damn it, he thought irritably. I should've expected that Spike would have a way of getting back at me from beyond the grave.
Before he could clean it off, however, the drop of scarlet fell, staining the jewel and mingling with the dust that still clung to it. The flecks that had seemed to vibrate when he was in the crater now leapt out at Giles, striking in their clarity, and the entire necklace pulsed within his grip.
For a split second, he could see into the jewel's heart. And it was…not what he expected.
But it lasted only for a moment.
Because then…his world went dark.
To be continued in Chapter 2: Blue Days and Fair…