An End To Exile, or Acquaintances: The Watcher's Remix
Author: M. Scott Eiland
Summary: Giles receives a phone call from Los Angeles—leading to a meeting with a new player in the game. My entry to Remix/Redux III: Reloaded.
Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators.
Rating: T, for themes and language.
Time Frame/Spoilers: A few days after "Billy," and some time after "All The Way." (early season six BtVS/season three AtS).
Author/Title of original story: This is a remix of Leni's story "Acquaintances." (Googling "Leni", "Acquaintances", "Fred" & "Giles" will put the URL at the top of the search)
Thanks to Leni for providing a lovely story for me to remix.
AN END TO EXILE
I finished straightening the bookshelf where the tomes containing summoning spells were kept, and walked over to the armchair I had carefully placed in a location where I could keep an eye on both entries to the main part of The Magic Box. I had found a book dealing with some of the rare cases that a person had been resurrected by magic. I knew that the experience had somehow deeply scarred Buffy—I just needed to thoroughly understand how so that I could—
The phone rang, and I frowned. The store was closed for the evening, and Willow and Tara were watching Dawn. A call at this hour could mean bad news. I shook off the uneasy feeling and walked over to the phone, answering it just after the third ring: "Hello."
"Giles, it's Angel." As if he needed to tell me. My stance toward Angel has shifted radically over the years—and currently rests at "cautious but cordial"—but I would never forget how his voice sounded. "Are you busy, or should I call back another time?"
I was amused in spite of myself. "Angel—whatever has you calling, it obviously isn't social. You're obviously either in need of some assistance, or are calling me with news—which is it?"
There was a pause at the other end of the line, and I was about to speak again when Angel replied: "There have been some recent events that have caused us to re-examine some prophecies regarding the near future. Wesley recalled that you have a copy of 'The Chronicles of Maldar' in your inventory—or at least you did before the library blew up. I was wondering if you would be willing to loan it to us."
I raised an eyebrow, remembering that the book in question had been in an obscure corner of the library before our frantic efforts to rescue the books had begun. Whatever my views on Wesley's abilities, his memory was clearly formidable. "Yes, I still have that book." As it happened, it was one of the books that Xander had volunteered to store at his apartment when I gave up mine a few months back—a decision that turned out, in retrospect, to be short-sighted. "It's a bit too fragile and valuable to ship, however—could you send someone to pick it up?"
This time, he didn't hesitate. "I assumed as much. I'll have it picked up tomorrow."
"Very well—I'll be at the magic store into the late hours, and I'll have the book brought there." I frowned, then decided to ask an idle question: "Who will you send? Wesley?"
"No, he's tied up with translating ." Angel's voice sounded uncomfortable.
"True—with Dawn and Willow around, I forget that not everyone has multiple experts in dead languages at hand. Cordelia, then?" It seemed strange to actually feel a mild sense of anticipation at the prospect of seeing the former cheerleader again—but the second-hand reports I had heard from Willow made it clear that she had changed radically in the two and a half years she had been out of high school. I was intrigued at the thought of speaking to someone who had second sight more formidable than a Slayer's.
"No. . .Cordy hasn't been feeling well." Angel could lie capably when the mood struck him, but I could tell his heart wasn't in it—he had probably concluded that saying that Cordelia had no desire to re-visit the Hellmouth now that her parents had moved away wasn't the most diplomatic way to proceed. "I'm sending Fred."
"Fred?" I was puzzled for a moment by the unfamiliar name, and was about to tell Angel so when I remembered Willow's account of her visit to Los Angeles, and of the new arrival she had met while breaking the bad news about Buffy to the others. "Winifred Burkle? The young woman you saved from that alternate dimension? Good Lord, Angel—Willow told me that she was practically catatonic during Willow's visit. You're sending an innocent like that to the Hellmouth?"
I heard Angel chuckle, and I was about to snap at him when he commented, "Giles, Fred is many things, but she's not an innocent—at least not in the 'can't defend herself' sense of the word. She survived alone for five years in a very hostile dimension where she was deposited without any warning, and once she got used to being back, she proved that she's perfectly capable of defending herself here, too. I'll make sure she's fully briefed on the dangers of the Hellmouth. She's a brilliant young woman—she was a graduate student in physics before she was sent to Pylea. I'd appreciate it if you took the time to talk to her while she is there—she doesn't get to talk with that many people who are anywhere near her level of intelligence—even Wesley tends to look a bit puzzled when she gets on a roll."
I sighed, and did not bother to ask why Angel didn't simply come to get the book himself—both of us knew perfectly well why he would not. "Very well, Angel. Try to make sure that she's here before nightfall—I'll close the store early so that we can have some privacy."
"Thank you, Giles—she'll be there." I heard a click, then dial tone. I frowned again. There was a new player in Los Angeles: what would Winifred Burkle bring to the battle against darkness?
Anya had protested mildly when I announced that the store would close early, but I had stood firm, and she left, grumbling about lost profits. Taking her on as a partner had certainly helped my financial well being—the check that I had given Buffy was a month's worth of my share of the profits, and would be enough to help get her back on her feet. Admittedly, I didn't really need the money—I had inherited a substantial fortune from my parents years before (which had certainly helped me out during my time as "a gentleman of leisure")—but there was enough of the boy who had wanted to be a grocer left in me to take a certain amount of pride in owning a profitable business.
There was a polite knock on the front door, and I quickly moved to answer it. A young woman stood there, illuminated by the light of the setting sun behind her, which made seeing her face a bit difficult. "Mr. Giles? I'm Fred—Winifred Burkle. Angel gave me this address and told me that you'd be expecting me. May I come in?"
I stepped to one side, giving her room to enter. She stayed still for a moment, then walked in hesitantly, looking at me as she passed and saying, "Oh, don't worry. Wesley and Charles made sure I knew about the whole invitation thing—though I'm not familiar with any vampires who could have been standing where I was without combusting—still can't be too careful---oh, I'm talking too much and not saying anything important. I'm sorry, Mr. Giles."
I carefully refrained from smiling—after Willow's recent change in personality, a bit of babbling had given me a moment of nostalgia that was disturbingly comforting. "That's quite all right, no harm done. You prefer to be called Fred?" The young woman nodded hesitantly, and I nodded and replied, "Very well. You may call me Giles, or Rupert, if you prefer."
"Thank you, Giles. I noticed that Angel called you that when he talked about you, and so did Cordelia. They've told me a few stories. . .but I have the feeling that they weren't very anxious to come back here." Fred frowned, looking puzzled, and asked, "Is there something that they're not telling me about this place?"
"You mean aside from the town sitting on top of an immensely powerful source of absolute evil?" My tone was dry as I replied, and Fred nodded. I gestured for her to sit down and brought her a cup of tea—which she accepted with a smile—and sat across from her before continuing, "This place has unpleasant emotional memories for both of them, and for Wesley. They're all welcome here. . .but I have a feeling that they would just as soon forget that they'd ever been here." As would I, at times. "I certainly hope that they have not endangered you with that reluctance to return."
"I'll be fine, Giles. I've got stakes, crosses, holy water, and a couple of other devices of my own creation to deal with any pesky vampires who come along before my bus comes at ten—and running away worked really well for me for five years in Pylea." I nodded, and Fred noticed that I was studying her rather closely. "Is something wrong?"
I shook my head. "No. . .it's just that—" I frowned, taking in the sight of the slim young woman who looked as if she easily could have been in the same graduating class as Buffy or Willow, and continued: "Forgive my surprise, but I was expecting someone who looked considerably older than you. Angel told me that you were a graduate student in physics before your misfortune, and after five years in a hostile environment—"
Fred smiled, and I thought that I saw a hint of a blush before she replied, "I'm twenty-nine, Giles. I look about the same as I did before I left—I'm not sure whether it was the effect that Pylea has on Earth humans, or that running around all the time to keep from being enslaved by the natives helped keep me in really good shape." Her eyes danced with dark humor and I laughed, though I stopped quickly when I remembered Willow's brief description of what this still very young-looking woman had endured. Fred saw my abrupt change in expression, and she smiled at me again and whispered, "Don't. It's over, and from what I've heard, you had it worse than I did over the same period." I opened my mouth, then closed it as I realized that she had a rather good point. Fred nodded as if to dismiss the point, then said, "I'm still working on my translation skills—Wesley's the only one with real experience with ancient languages, though I've picked up a few things over the years. Angel had a computer installed up in my room before he went off to the monastery—" She paused as the reminder of the time Buffy had been gone caused my expression to darken, and she was silent until I nodded for her to continue: "—and I've been able to get my skills up to date there. My professional training was in quantum physics—I'm not sure how much help that's going to be to a group of demon hunters."
I blinked, and an old memory returned to me. "You'd be surprised how useful knowledge of science can be when dealing with the supernatural, Fred." I looked at the clock, then added, "The book Angel sent you here to retrieve should be here sometime in the next couple of hours—after one of my associates finishes work and some errands he needs to run--and I've closed up the store for the night. If you're interested, I can tell you a story about a young woman who turned invisible due to the rather odd interaction of quantum physics and the Hellmouth."
Fred's eyes sparkled with interest, and she nodded as I poured us more tea and began to tell the story. I have grown to have great affection for all of the young people who have shared my fight here at the Hellmouth, but I had never seen such a ferocious desire to learn in the eyes of any of them—not even Willow—as I was seeing in Fred's eyes as I told the tale of the unfortunate Marcie Ross. She seemed particularly interested in my completely candid impressions of what Cordelia had been like at that time. At one point she blinked and commented, "She's not anything like that any more."
I nodded. "Her time helping us caused her to look at the world a different way, I think—and her time with Angel and the changes she has undergone have certainly influenced her, apparently for the better. The potential was always there: she just needed to be encouraged to develop it."
Fred nodded in response, and I went on to finish the story. The conversation naturally flowed to related topics, and Fred's own recent experiences made the subject of dimensional gateways an obvious point of discussion. I retrieved several arcane volumes, and we spent some time researching the various theories of precisely how dimensions interacted with one another, with Fred interjecting with various points of a paper she was planning to publish on dimensional physics when her schedule allowed her to finish it, and with my own comments based on what I had seen with Acathla and Glory and several other incidents where dimensional magics had been invoked. We were both deeply engrossed with our discussion, and it wasn't until I heard a sharp, sudden inhalation a few feet away that I turned and saw that someone had walked into the Magic Box; more precisely, two someones—Buffy (who was trying in a rather absurd manner to hide the massive copy of "The Chronicles of Maldar" behind her back) and Xander (who was staring quite openly at Fred, who was still reading one of the tomes on dimensional magic). I frowned and said, "Good evening. Buffy—what in the world are you doing with that book?"
Fred looked up at my words, and I noted vaguely that she was staring at Buffy. Buffy apparently didn't notice the reaction: she looked uncomfortable and replied, "Ah, sorry Giles—we didn't know you had company. We'll just leave this and go."
"Company?" I was puzzled briefly, and turned to Fred—who was still looking at Buffy with an odd expression—before realizing what Buffy meant, and that Fred and I were in very close physical proximity. I deliberately took a step away from Fred and explained tersely: "This is Fred—Angel sent her here to retrieve the tome that you are holding. We were discussing matters of mutual interest to pass the time before you arrived."
"So that's what you older types call it." Xander can be dreadfully irritating at times, and I could see that this was going to be one of those occasions. He stepped forward and extended his hand to Fred. "Xander Harris—maybe Cordelia has mentioned me once or twice?"
Fred managed to look away from Buffy and shook Xander's hand as she replied, "Yes, she has. We had a lot of margaritas one night, and she told me that you were a no-good, rotten cheating bastard who she never should have started dating." Xander seemed to deflate like a punctured tire, and I almost felt sorry for him before Fred added, "She also told me that you were one of the bravest people that she had ever known, and that she'd have died repeatedly if you hadn't been around. I'm not sure, but I think she's a little conflicted about you."
Xander released her hand, stepped back, and chuckled nervously as he said, "You could say that. Please give her my best."
Fred nodded, and Buffy carefully placed the heavy tome she was carrying on the table in front of us before she turned to Fred and said softly, "Willow's mentioned you, Fred—I'm Buffy Summers."
Fred nodded again, but seemed disinclined to speak further. Buffy waited for a moment before realizing that Fred wasn't going to say anything to her, then turned to Xander and nudged him. "Come on—the grownups want to talk alone." Xander blinked, turned to Buffy long enough to catch the look in her eyes, and followed her out.
I waited for the door to close behind them before turning back to Fred. She was staring at the closed door with wide eyes, and I could see that she was shaking slightly. I walked over to her, put my hands on her shoulders, and looked down into her eyes before whispering, "Fred, what's wrong?"
She pulled away from me gently and turned away, and I could hear her mutter softly: "It's nothing. . .nothing you could understand, Giles."
I smiled involuntarily, though the situation wasn't remotely amusing. "Fred—when it comes to feeling guilt related to Buffy, there's only one other person on this Earth who could understand more thoroughly than me, and you apparently haven't felt comfortable enough to bring it up with him." Fred flinched, and turned back to me: her eyes were dry, but the guilt was more visible than ever. I met her gaze again and coaxed, "Why don't you tell me about it, Fred? What can it hurt?"
Fred nodded and sat down again, and I waited for several moments before she began: "Giles, as time went by in Pylea, I felt my old self go farther and farther into a little place inside my head, until I hardly remembered what I had been back here. I only had two things on my mind: surviving, and that somehow someone would get me out of that hell." She blinked, and a soft smile appeared on her face as she continued, "Then Angel came, and the others, and they led me out of that place and took me to their home. The old me started peeking out and getting ready to come out. . .then we entered the Hyperion, and Willow was sitting there with that horribly sad look on her face. Angel knew without words what had happened, and I saw my savior—the person who had reached down into hell and pulled me out—turn into a broken, drained husk of a man in front of me."
"And it was the news of Buffy's death that did that to him." I commented gently. Fred nodded, and I continued, "Fred, it's natural to blame people a little when they die and disrupt our lives in profound ways. You don't have anything to feel guilty about."
Fred shook her head and replied, "That's not all of it, Giles." I waited, and she continued: "The others were shocked too, and everyone huddled and talked. They fed me and sent me upstairs to a room first, but I crept out and listened to them all talking about Buffy. Giles—she died to save the world."
"Twice, as a matter of fact. It's becoming a theme in her life." I immediately felt guilty for the bad joke, but I desperately wanted to do something to break the dire mood that Fred seemed to be in.
"It's not funny, Giles." I blinked, and Fred went on: "I was so desperate to come back here, and there wouldn't have even been a here to come back to if it weren't for Buffy! I was just getting ready to reveal myself and comfort my new friends when Angel stood up and said that he would be going away—that he needed to deal with what had happened and that he couldn't do it there. Giles, I ran back up to my room and I cried. I hadn't cried in five years, but I cried that night until there weren't any tears left in me. Angel had saved me, and he was going away—and in my head it was all Buffy's fault. So I spent months while he was gone, hating this person I had never met, while feeling incredibly grateful to her for making sure I had a home to come back to. It made me feel sick, and like I was evil for feeling that way."
I stared at Fred, desperately searching for something to say. She looked at me and clearly saw the conflict on my face, and she reached out to squeeze my hand before she continued, "Angel came back eventually, and I was able to put it all behind me, by telling myself that Buffy was gone, and that I hadn't hurt her by being ungrateful to her. I could go to sleep at night and thank whatever forces for good there are that Buffy had done what she had, and feel as if I was a good person again. Then—"
"She came back." My tone was gentle, but the memory of the day I had heard the news was still raw in my own mind, and that was even with the immense amount of joy associated with hearing that Buffy was alive.
Fred closed her eyes and turned away from me as she continued, "He came back and seemed fine after he saw her, and then things started happening—I didn't have time to think about it any more. When I came here, I wasn't even thinking about Buffy, really—I was curious to meet you and wondering why no one wanted to come here. . .and then I saw her, and it all came back to me. I felt sick, and afraid, and. . .ashamed to face her. How can I make it right for how I felt about her?"
I looked at her, and knew what had to be done. "Fred, I'm sure that she'd understand—but don't dwell on it now. We have two hours until I need to drive you to the bus station to catch your return bus—let's use the time productively." Fred nodded, though she still looked a bit shaken up, and I suggested, "Why don't you get started? I need to start another pot of tea." I slipped into the back room and quietly made a phone call before starting the tea. After that, I walked back into the room and smiled at Fred before asking, "Now—where were we?"
"Thanks for driving me, Giles—I've heard it can be hard to get a cab at night here." Fred looked better than she had two hours ago, and the time had been very productive. Her mind was of the same quality as Willow's, and she looked at things from a somewhat different perspective—I envied Angel for having her as a routine resource.
"Glad to help—besides, I'm not sure I want any of your devices being used within city limits: I fear they might violate international weapons control conventions." Fred laughed politely at my joke as we drove up to the bus station, and I walked her over towards the waiting bus, looking for a familiar figure.
I wasn't disappointed. Buffy slipped out of the shadows and stopped in front of us, looking at Fred as she commented, "I heard you were leaving tonight, and I didn't want you to go before—"
Fred turned to me, and she looked betrayed: "Giles—"
"Don't, Fred—I'm glad he told me." Buffy walked next to Fred—who looked uncomfortable—and said quietly, "I have a couple of things to say to you, Fred."
Fred blinked, then forced herself to look into Buffy's eyes as she whispered, "Go ahead, I'm listening."
Buffy nodded, and began, "I can't be there to help Angel—I'm pretty sure you know why." Fred nodded, and Buffy continued, "I need you to be there for him, like Wesley and Cordy and their friend Gunn are—can you do that? Angel thinks the world of you, and I know you'll help keep him and the others safe if you are willing to stay with them."
Fred smiled hesitantly, and replied, "Of course I will, Buffy."
Buffy smiled, and added, "Then there's only one more thing for me to say to you, Fred." Fred caught her breath, and waited as Buffy looked intently into her eyes and whispered:
I felt a surge of pride, and watched as Fred blinked, then stepped forward and hugged Buffy firmly as she whispered back, "Thank you, Buffy—thank you for everything." Buffy returned the hug, then stepped back and let Fred step back, wave, and walk onto the waiting bus.
I turned to say something to Buffy, but she had already vanished. I sighed—Buffy could reach out to others in need, but there was still an unsettling distance between us. I looked back to the bus and saw that Fred was already in her seat, looking at me with a smile on her face and waving as the bus started its engine and drove off into the night.
I sighed again and walked off to my car. I knew that I might be leaving this place again soon—and now I had another reason for regretting that action even before I took it. Fred was well-equipped to fight against the darkness, but it would still be a hard road for her, as it had been for all of us. I returned to my car and drove back to the Magic Box, hoping that she might be more fortunate than we had been.
As always, comments are welcomed and desired.