"I hate this waiting," Buffy moaned as she came into the cramped living room of the isolated country cottage Benny had rented for the purpose of 'hiding out.'
"It's only been forty-eight hours, Buffy. It'll take a little time for Elinor to locate us and formulate a plan of attack," Giles said soothingly.
"Leaving me alone with a house full of cranky, PMSing Slayers...I think they're all starting to cycle together." Buffy favored him with an exaggerated pout then flushed when she remembered who she was talking to.
"Better you than me." He flashed her an annoyed, pinched look, while being very grateful to miss that particular event. "Did you bring along those reports?"
Buffy turned over the sheaf of papers and Giles' eyes widened.
"That many cases so fast?" The sheer volume of paranormal reports staggered him.
Buffy nodded. "It looks like whatever it is that's going on is picking up speed. The good news is if they're all paying customers, we'll be in good shape...if we're not dead." Buffy flopped down on the lumpy sofa. "Have I said how much I hate you playing target?"
"Many times and I'm not playing, Buffy. Benny and I are targets." Giles lips pulled into a grim line. "The only one playing is Angel."
She sighed. "I know and I don't like that either." She waved a hand around at the time-worn living room. "This place is a dump."
"Exactly why Benny rented it. Slayers aren't impervious to magic. I doubt at this point Elinor would hesitate at killing them. The potential collateral damage is the other reason we couldn't use my flat in Bath." Giles started sorting the papers into the various regions of occurrence, looking for a pattern.
"I know, it makes perfect sense." She ran a hand through her hair, a tired expression on her pale face. "I just hate you being in danger."
He glanced up at that and smiled softly at her. "Thank you. I know the feeling."
Her lips tried to find a smile then she sobered again. "Did you tell Ella you're here?"
"I've spoken to her and filled her in on as to why. I can't say she's thrilled with the idea," Giles replied. Anything that might have been romantic between him and Benny ended three decades earlier but he caught that hint of jealousy in Ella, as unwarranted as it was. "It shouldn't be much longer."
"Where is Benny?" Buffy didn't have to ask where Angel was. He was probably still in the basement of the ramshackled place. The sun wasn't fully down yet.
"On the phone doing Watcher business," Giles replied distractedly as he looked over the papers again.
Buffy caught his eye. "Do you trust her, honestly?"
There was such worry on her face, Giles paused in his task to put a hand on her arm. "I trust her. Benny is bright and has the will to do the job no matter how unpleasant it might get. Why do you ask? Do you think I shouldn't trust her?"
Buffy shrugged. "I guess I got shafted by Travers too many times. I mean, the Watchers can't be all bad. They gave me you."
Giles blushed happily at the praise.
"It's just...from the story you told, it sounded like Benny could have turned out... I don't know, like Faith. I know Faith proved herself back in California, that she's changed but...well, you know what I mean," Buffy said, looking somehow angry with herself for still having issues.
Giles took off his glasses, cleaning them. "Benny's nothing like what Faith became in Sunnydale, but you're right, she could have been. Think of her more like Riley, a very well-trained solider who will do what's needed, including killing, for the cause. Sadly, sometimes, we can't avoid the loss of life."
Buffy sighed. "I'm not sure that makes me any more comfortable."
"What doesn't?" Benny asked, hobbling into the room.
"Angel being a magical lightening rod," Buffy said, changing the subject and Giles saw instantly that she wished she hadn't mentioned Angel, as if she might have revealed the deep dark secret that she still had some feelings for him. Giles was already privy to that secret, like it or not.
"And I'm sorry to put him in the position but he's here voluntarily," Benny reminded her, sitting next to Buffy on the couch. "Are those all new incidents?" She pointed to the pile of paper with the tip of her cane.
"Unfortunately," Giles said.
"Damn, this makes hiding out like bait even more a pain in my ass," Benny groused, her eyes glinting angrily. "Investigating these occurrences is so much more important." She nodded at the paperwork.
"Giles said you were doing Watcher stuff."classSection2>
Benny nodded. "They're starting to look into the earth mysteries and archaeoastronomy like we discussed to see if they can find correlations between the ley line power and surges in paranormal activity. I was okay through the discussion of masculine versus feminine ley lines, and the fact that it seems to be the latter on the upswing. Then Palmer started talking about Bayesian statistics, multiple regression versus logistics regression, one-way independent ANOVA's, post hoc tests, bootstrapping, cluster analysis and ordination and it was like I was back in grad school with my eyes glazing over." Benny wrinkled her nose. "I like to collect the data and let the number monkeys play with the stats. The upshot is, it's still way too early to tell a damn thing about these incidents other that they're spreading like wildfire."
"Well, great." Buffy slapped her thighs then got up. "I should get back to the house before the girls set it on fire or something."
"Especially since you're still not comfortable driving and it's dark," Angel said, surfacing from the basement.
Buffy pursed her lips at him. "Hey me and cars used to be unmixy things so just be happy I can even drive. Is it wrong of me to want to hang here a little longer? It's less noisy and crowded."
"I was about to whip up some pasta for dinner for me and Rupert. You're welcome to stay. Angel, want me to slip some blood in the microwave for you?" Benny asked, heaving herself back up.
"No, that's alright, I'll take care of it," he said, looking somewhat embarrassed.
"I can help you cook," Buffy offered.
"You can fix up the garlic toast when we're ready, how's that?" Benny asked. "Doesn't take much to stir up the sauce or boil the water. I can handle it. Cooking gives me time to think...so long as it's not thoughts about running SPSS."
Buffy glanced over at Giles for clarification.
"Statistical computer program," he replied, "You'll need to ask Willow if you need more than that."
Buffy made a face. "Thanks, no."
No one noticed the shadow in the window nor saw a hand taking aim at Angel as he stepped aside so Benny could get by him. Buffy didn't get two steps towards the kitchen before all the little hairs on the back of her neck and arm stood up. It felt like lightning tearing through the cottage. A wall died in a cry of cracking wood and plaster. The window went the way of the wall in the thunder of shattering glass. A lurid ball of blue light slammed into Angel so hard his head and shoulders left an imprint in the plaster of the far wall. He slid down it, leaving a streak of red, as he folded up on the floor.
"Angel!" Buffy cried and her only answer was a pain-filled murmur.
Giles thought he wouldn't regret using Angel to draw Elinor's fire and for the most part he didn't. The other small part of him hated to see the fear on Buffy's face for the vampire she couldn't quite pare out of her soul. He didn't have time to worry about it. Elinor came through the ribs of the wall, looking so much older than he could have imagined her being. Her grayed hair hung in tangles around her wan face. Her body was so thin her clothing looked like it was draped over a hanger. Wrinkles crazed her face like old china but her eyes burned with intensity and malice that decades sequestered from the world had only made stronger.
Her lips pulled away from yellowed teeth in a sickly smile, her eyes flickering from Angel, who was trying to get up, to Benny and Giles. "Waiting for me, weren't you? Should have expected you'd have a bodyguard immune to a death spell. Well, I won't aim for him this time."
"Why do all the bad guys talk too much?" Buffy stalked toward Elinor hoping to catch her before she could do another spell. The older woman fell back and whistled. A good dozen anthropophagi swarmed through the rent in the cottage. This time Buffy backpedaled, realizing she was, unarmed which was fine for a human but not for these things. "Oh ewww, these things again."
"They're quite effective," Elinor assured her, raising her arms, ready to cast a spell.
"Buffy." Giles kicked a box toward her and Buffy yanked it open grabbing a sword out of it. She went to toss a crossbow to Benny but the Watcher was nowhere in sight so Buffy threw it to Angel, who barely pulled himself together enough to catch it. Giles shouted something in a language Buffy didn't know but whatever it was, the spell slapped Elinor down.
"Angel, you have to move," Buffy yelled, seeing the vampire was close to getting penned in by the anthropophagi, one of them nearly biting off Angel's arm. The death spell might not be able to dust him but it had obviously damaged Angel badly.
Giles saw the conflict in Buffy's eyes. She wanted to shield Angel but she wasn't about to leave Giles unguarded. She kicked one anthropophagi between the legs while shoving her sword backwards into another. Elinor staggered upright. Giles chanted the spell Buffy remembered from his fight with Willow, the one that imprisoned her but this time he wouldn't have the coven's backing.
Elinor's eyes flashed black as she countered the spell.
"I hate that look," Buffy muttered then jumped when the sound of a shotgun echoed inside the house. One of the anthropophagi trying to shove Angel into its maw was nearly cut in two when the shotgun blast ripped into its flesh. Buffy turned and saw Benny pumping the gun to take another shot. Angel managed to shoot one in its little brain with the crossbow.
"A gun?" Elinor sounded disgusted, then pointed at Benny. "Incendi."
Angel reacted fast enough, pulling the Watcher off her feet but out of the path of the fireball. which grew until it hit the far wall, splashing everywhere. For a moment, everyone froze staring at the enormity of the fireball.
"Shouldn't be that big," Giles said. "The power...it's surging here."
"Worry about the weirdness later, Giles. Worry about burning now," Buffy said, trying to chop her way through the anthropophagi that stood between the humans and freedom.
"Buffy, down," Giles ordered and she flattened. She felt the magic scraping along her back like a metal brush followed by a vinegar wash. She shielded her eyes as the anthropophagi started exploding into goo, reminding her of the heads of the Gentleman the time she screamed. The stench was amazing. She looked back at Giles, who had the defiant, scary-powerful look he had on his face the time he had beaten up Ethan and again when he fought Willow. This was the Giles she barely knew.
Hearing Elinor readying another spell, Buffy popped up, anthropophagi guts sliding off of her, and she punched Elinor once hard in the face. The woman crumbled and Buffy was sure she had broken bone. She was too used to hitting demons. She glanced over at Giles, "Should it have been that easy?"
"You are the Slayer," he said, turning to Angel and Benny who were using each other as supports. Grabbing Benny's forgotten cane off the couch, Giles slid an arm under Benny's shoulder and helped her and her shotgun outside.
Buffy pulled Angel along. The vampire paused to drag Elinor out of the quickly burning house. He dropped her near a linden tree then sat down heavily.
"Angel?" Buffy asked tentatively, touching his cheek.
He looked up at her. "That really hurt."
"Sorry, Angel, and thanks," Benny said, flopping to the grass to massage her ankle.
"Yes, is there anything we can do for you?" Giles asked.
Angel just shook his head, still in too much pain to do much.
"I hope I didn't accidentally pepper you with any shotgun pellets, Angel," Benny said. "I took the time to change out the cartridges when you agreed to do this so you'd be safe."
"Bullets can't kill a vampire," Buffy reminded her.
Benny smirked. "I load my own, wood pellets. This is my vampire-shooting gun...which probably is as illegal as hell here. I'm not you, Buffy. I don't have the strength or the moves and I'm getting older. I prefer to shoot any vampire I might be in danger of coming across, from a nice safe distance."
Buffy shrugged. "Makes sense to me."
"You didn't hit me," Angel said. "Giles, your spells...hers, should they have been that strong?"
Giles looked back at the consumed cottage. "No, I think we were the next incident on the list. Something supercharged us."
"This can't be good." Buffy looked down at the still-unconscious woman. "She doesn't look like much."
"Just a shell over pure festering hate," Giles replied, wondering if there could have been more the Watchers could have done for her thirty years ago so she wouldn't have ended up like this. He'd have to content himself with the idea that there wasn't. His head jerked up at the sound of sirens. "The fire engines are coming. Angel, Buffy, you need to go, take Elinor with you. I trust you can keep her unconscious until Benny and I can get there."
"Take her where?" Buffy asked.
"A holding place," Benny said. "Angel knows where."
Buffy looked very unhappy at the idea. "And what about you?"
"What was the favorite excuse in Sunnydale? Gas line explosion?" Giles replied.
Buffy grumbled but she and Angel took their captive and the shotgun, making it out before the police and firemen arrived.
Giles sat down next to Benny, far enough away from the house to be safe. "The power's growing. I felt it move through me. I could barely contain the energy."
She sighed. "I know you're already working with the coven to do what's necessary to stop it. Any help the Watchers can be, we shall be. I don't like this at all. Ever think you're getting too old for this, Rupert?"
"Sometimes, and others I think if not me, then who," he replied wearily.
"Yeah, I know. Sucks to be us sometimes," she said.
"That's a word for it."
"And what happened next?" Sadie asked, big eyed. She was leaning over her knees next to Vi, who was shoveling in crisps and soda.
"I think you've heard enough stories," Buffy said, wading into the Slayer packed living room. "You've had Benny talking for hours."
"And don't think I didn't enjoy it girls," the Watcher said with a smile. "But Buffy's right, I need to be hitting the road. The sun's already down...good thing I like driving under the stars." She got up to the groans and protests of the young girls who were enjoying tales of past glory. "Rupert, Buffy, Angel, would you care to join me outside for a moment?"
They followed her outside to her car and away from prying ears. "Thanks for all of your help with this...matter with Elinor, I appreciate it. I'll be quite glad to go hug my kids when I catch up to them," Benny said "And I know I owe much of that to you."
"Just glad you and Giles didn't end up those things' dinner." Buffy made a vinegary face. "What are those men in black going to do with Elinor? I mean, what happens now to make sure she doesn't come after you and Giles again?"
"I had the Special Ops take her to Ireland," Benny replied.
"What's in Ireland?" Buffy asked.
"Plenty of bogs," Benny said grimly.
It took a second for the meaning of that to sink in for Buffy. "Oh," she said, softly
"Where will you go now?" Angel asked, looking less surprised over the idea of an execution.
"I've talked it over with Giles. I'll leave it to you three to work on the theory that they might have something to do with this," Benny said, her eyes flicking to the house full of Slayers, "Which would be a shame since an army of Slayers...well, we already know the good one Slayer can do. As for me, first I'll head to the sidh of Ardtalnaig, the fairy hill near Loch Tay."
"What's that?" Buffy asked.
"A cup-marked stone near a powerful energy ley. There are long-standing theories that the ancient peoples here used these cup-marked stones to alter the telluric energy from the earth. I'll be working on the theory that there is a shift in these energies along the ley lines. I'll go from there to the cup-marked circular ley at Druid Cave then on to Calanais, one of the stone circles. But before I head back to Scotland, I might walk a little of the Michael ley line starting at the Glastonbury Tor with Caprice and the crazy Irishman. He's going to do the ley line investigation along the Michael."
Buffy wore an expression of someone who had given up ever figuring out what any Watcher was talking about. "Crazy Irishman, dare I ask?"
"Patrick Creegan, her significant other," Giles supplied.
"Caprice's father. He's a bit crazed and wild but I'm not sure I've ever met an Irishman who wasn't a bit nuts, no offense, Angel." Benny smirked at him.
Angel smiled, still looking a little weary from getting the brunt of a spell designed to snuff out life. "I think I'd be hard pressed to argue."
"I'll let you know if we find out anything about the ley lines and the telluric energy, Rupert," Benny said, leaning into her car's window.
"And I, you if we learn anything," Giles replied.
Benny nodded coming up with a small box that had been resting on the car seat. "Well, good luck with the agency, Rupert. You'll need it and here, as promised." She handed him the box.
"You promised not to," he replied, a hint of blush creeping up his face.
"I did no such thing. I couldn't help it. I saw them and thought of you. Just tell Ella you bought it yourself. She'll never know."
"You're impossible," he told her.
"What is it?" Buffy asked, grinning.
"Do not tell her," Giles warned Benny.
Her eyes danced. "Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album art...on silk boxers."
"Now there's a picture," Buffy said with an exaggerated shudder.
"And on that note, I'd better get moving." Benny's face went somber. "Rupert, anything you need, ask. Anything you find you need to do, anything." Her eyes floated back to the house again. "Do it. We'll back you. I trust your judgment."
"Thanks, Benny. Take care of yourself out there," Giles said, putting a hand on her shoulder.
"Always do." Benny opened the driver's door. "Nice meeting you, Buffy, Angel. Take care of him for me."
Buffy smiled. "Will do."
Angel just raised his hand in a small parting gesture. Benny headed out with speed that suggested not taking risks was foreign to her.
"Think she really will do what she just said?" Buffy asked.
Giles nodded. "She'll do it and she'll make sure no one gets in our way. Benny is good at getting things done."
Buffy crossed her arms. "Like dropping people in bogs?"
Giles looked at her. "Remember that talk we had, Buffy?"
"Yeah, like Riley, a soldier," she said, ignoring the slight bristling Angel couldn't quite hide at the name. "Still...not sure I like it."
"I wouldn't say she did either," Angel said softly.
"Guess not." Buffy shook her head then pasted a smile on her face. "You are not wearing those boxers, Giles."
Giles took them out of the box. "And why not?"
She shot him a 'well duh' look. "Because it's wrong."
"Well, I think I'll wear them for Ella," Giles beamed at Buffy's horrified expression. "And nothing else, except maybe a guitar strap." He waved the boxers at Buffy then headed into the house.
"Oh, how am I supposed to sleep with that image in my head," Buffy demanded, stalking into the house after him.
Swallowing a laugh at the Watcher-Slayer antics, Angel looked back at the house, thought about all the Slayers within, and opted for a good brood under the stars.