"A Prospect of Whitby".
'A Gentleman Of Leisure'.
Disclaimer: See Part 1.
Part 5."The Prospect of Whitby".
Dust swirled up around them again as the National Guard Medivac helicopter heaved itself up off the ground and clattered away into a cloudless blue sky so perfect it should have been in an art gallery. It was heading south in the direction of Oxnard, about 45 miles away. The casualties would be safe and comfortable in hospital beds in a lot less than an hour.
A small group of people standing watching waved at the faces peering down at them from a small window in the rear of the fuselage as it receded into the distance and became a dark speck, hard to see against the midday sun.
"Why did you send some of the new Slayers to accompany the casualties?"
"Security," said Giles. "I've asked them to act as a sort of diversion for the rest of us - be 'the survivors of the Great Sunnydale Earthquake' sort of thing. The news media can be very persistent - they might be a problem. We may still have trouble with them ourselves, even so.
"I also took the precaution of getting the USGS people to make a couple of copies of Andrew's videotape - one for Faith to take with her which she can sell to the TV stations, which should go down well, and one for the geologists to study, on the understanding they don't own the copyright, and can't sell it on."
"So Andrew has had his uses after all?" Kennedy said, surprised.
"I regret to admit that he has," said Giles. His expression of mild distaste was eloquent.
"Are you sure they'll be OK?" said Willow.
"Of course they will. They're Slayers. And they have Faith." He smiled to himself at his own unintended pun.
"So that's that, I suppose," said Buffy, then turned her head to one side and spat on the ground. "'Scuse me, I got a mouthful of sand blown at me by that machine."
"Me too, and my ears are still ringing as well."
"Better answer them, Giles. You never know who might be calling," said Xander.
"Hardy, har, har," said Willow.
Giles spat on the ground too, almost as if to keep his Slayer company.
"So what else were you talking to Faith about?"
"Oh, nothing much," he replied. "Among other things I was just making sure she had the new Watchers' Council phone number in England. For the moment it might be the only way we can all communicate with each other. That and e-mail."
"I'll have to get a new laptop first," said Willow. "At least I remembered to bring the hard drive of the old one with me. I couldn't abandon that - it has all my favorites and addresses stored on it. Plus other private stuff."
"I guess most of us have not much more than what we're wearing, plus a change of clothes if we're lucky."
"Unfortunately some of us were too busy to remember the change of clothes," said Xander.
"I did wonder," said Dawn, who had thoughtfully placed herself upwind of him.
"Oh dear. Well I hope you at least all remembered to bring your personal documents," said Giles.
"What, you mean ID's, birth certificates, credit cards and passports? S'about all I did bring," said Buffy. "Apart from the weapons. And Mr Gordo of course."
"Oh, Buffy! You didn't! Not really?" Dawn said.
"Well sure I did. He couldn't exactly escape from Sunnydale all on his own, now could he?"
"What about you, Giles? Did you manage to save any of your books? Just a precious few?" Willow asked.
"I took the precaution of having almost all of them shipped back to England by UPS more than a week ago, particularly the most valuable ones. Didn't I tell you? I got a phone call from Robinson in London the day before yesterday to say they'd all arrived safely, thank you." He even managed to sound just a tiny bit smug about it.
"Which ones did you keep, then?" Buffy wanted to know.
"Just a few useful little ones, like er... 'Agol's Compendium of Magical Weapons, Devices and Ephemera', and a small handful of others. Merely what I could carry in my hand luggage. They're stuffed into a briefcase under the seats at the back of the bus, where they're out of the way." He paused. "Actually, I don't even remember when I last had need to refer to 'Agol's Compendium', but you never know when something like that may come in handy." AN:1
He patted his pockets, then added "and my ID and passport and green card are safe on my person."
"Well I was sewing my documents into my jacket lining at three o'clock this morning, just to be on the safe side. Though, as we all know, they're not real," said Dawn, and laughed.
"They're as real as you are, no more and certainly no less," Giles reminded her, putting a reassuring arm round her for a moment. She smiled at him and rested her head on his shoulder briefly, and then sprang away and started spinning round like a whirling dervish, leaping up and down like the little girl on the pogo stick, waving her hands in the air and shrieking and whooping at the top of her voice.
"What's got into you? Ants in your pants?" said Buffy in surprise.
Dawn stopped dead in her tracks, facing her sister.
"No! Don't you realise? We're finally free of Sunnydale. It's gone - the town is gone! All its darkness and angst and blood and pain and anguish - it's finished, done with, ended. The Hellmouth is closed, gone out of business. It's over, it's all, all over!"
She paused, panting, looking intently at her companions. "Don't you see? We survived! We can go anywhere, now. Do anything! Absolutely anything at all!"
There were several seconds of sudden intense silence while everyone present absorbed this statement, but were also remembering those who were absent, who had not made it out of Sunnydale.
"You know what? She's right - Sunnydale is dead and buried. Literally. 'Bereft of life, it rests in peace!'" said Xander unexpectedly.
"Yes. Yes! Absolutely!" exclaimed Giles. He glanced round at them all. "All together now...?", he said, grinning broadly, despite himself. They all looked at each other for a moment. Then...
"It is an Ex-Town!" they all bellowed at the tops of their voices.
Suddenly, to the amazement of the bemused group of watching USGS geologists, who'd paused in their urgent preparations for departure in the direction of the remains of Sunnydale to watch the helicopter take off, they were all leaping about, waving their arms in the air, spinning round on the tips of their toes like humming tops, and running about in circles tagging each other like a game of catch-as-catch-can, and all the while screaming their heads off. Even Giles! There was so much noise that the remaining new Young Slayers came rushing over to find out what on Earth was up, and then join in!
Sitting in a large circle in the sunshine, they rested and got their breath back.
"Woo, that was fun!" said Buffy.
"Yes, I really needed that, too," said Giles. "It's nice to be uninhibited for a change - to be able to unwind and let your hair down once in a while."
"Hair? What hair?" Xander asked Willow quietly.
"Hair today, gone tomorrow!" she murmured back to him with a slight shrug, a raised eyebrow and a sly smile.
"I never thought I would ever see you being silly, Giles," Buffy said.
"Me neither," Willow agreed, and Kennedy nodded too.
"My dear young ladies, even though at your age you might not be able to imagine it, inside almost every boring middle-aged man there is a much younger one still trying to get out. Don't ever forget that! You mustn't be deceived by the tweed jacket!"
"Yes, but... I mean... English people don't really do things like that, surely?" said Vi.
"They most certainly do! Didn't I ever tell you I was once the bass player in a punk band?
"And how about 'Monty Python'," he continued, "'The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy', The Edinburgh Fringe, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, before they came to America at any rate. Doctor Who, the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, even the Sex Pistols. The list is endless - need I go on?"
He paused a moment and repeated, half to himself "Doctor Who?" then shook himself. "All English, or British at any rate."
"I suppose..." Willow said, still doubtful.
"And the Bay City Rollers?" said Buffy wickedly.
"Oh, well er... yes. I think perhaps the least said about them the better," Giles admitted, looking a trifle embarrassed. "Anyway, they were Scottish!"
"What's that noise?"
From somewhere out of sight behind the gas station buildings a faint, peculiar, rhythmical, mechanical, metallic grating, grinding sound could be heard.
"That sounds strangely familiar," Giles said thoughtfully. He sounded puzzled. "Where have I heard it before?"
"Someone fixing something, most like. Though I feel as if I'd heard it before too. It's like I thought I'd seen that friend of the Bot's somewhere," said Xander. "And that's another strange thing - did anyone catch his name?"
"No, she didn't really introduce him," Dawn said.
"And he didn't actually introduce himself either," Buffy said. "He just sort of wandered in. We all assumed he was one of the geologists." She sat up and looked round at the others. "Kinda weird that, don't you think?"
"Not necessarily," said Giles. "Some people are just very self-effacing."
"He didn't exactly sound self-effacing," Xander said.
"He didn't look self-effacing," said Willow.
"Not with that big floppy hat and several yards of scarf. In summer! You'd certainly pick him out in a crowd, no doubt of that!" said Buffy.
"Hat and scarf?" Xander echoed, and suddenly scrambled to his feet. "Did anyone see where he went?"
"Out back, past the workshop there with Botty, just a little while before the helicopter left, I think," said Dawn. "Why?"
"I just had a thought. Probably nothing to it. I think I'll just go and look for him. I'd like to ask him something."
"You know, I think I'll come with you," Giles said unexpectedly, also rising swiftly, and the rest of them watched as the two walked briskly away out of sight together.
"What was that all about, d'you s'pose?" Willow said.
"Who knows? You know them. It's probably just a guy thing." She lay down in the sun again, and closed her eyes.
"I guess," said Willow, yawned, and stretched herself out between her friends.
Buffy came awake suddenly as someone touched her lightly on the arm. Dawn was leaning over her, and the sun had moved round a bit since she had last looked.
"Woof! How long was I asleep?"
"'Bout an hour. Giles said to 'leave you be' as he called it - and not to disturb you until we had to."
"We've been getting ready to move, to drive on. We've bought up enough bottles of water, and juice and coke and food and stuff to keep us all going for at least a couple of days. We've almost wiped out the gas station's entire stock of candy bars as well, and topped up the fuel tank right to the filler cap. He's got something planned, I think."
"Hm. Sounds like, doesn't it?"
Buffy got to her feet in one smooth movement, and stretched like a cat or a mountain lion, one limb at a time.
"Right! Now I feel ready for anything."
"Did you dream while you were asleep?"
Buffy thought for a moment, trying to remember.
"Oh. Yes, I did. About Spike, actually. About leaving him. It wasn't sad, though - he was happy, laughing." She looked away westwards at the horizon for a moment, and then turned back to her sister, smiling. "At the end he did what he wanted. He was what he wanted to be - my knight in shining armour."
"Then I guess you could say he 'brought the house down', as he would have called it," Dawn said.
"Really? I don't remember him ever using that phrase. I suppose that what with all the babysitting and stuff, you and he talked about a lot of things I never got to hear about."
"I never hid things from you, Buffy, well except for little things like the kleptomania, and the would-be vampire boyfriend in Makeout Park of course."
"And one or two other things that you'll think of later and probably forget to remember to tell me about," Buffy said, amused. "'S OK. We all have our private secrets."
She looked round. Giles and Xander and Andrew were deep in discussion a short distance away, with the Buffybot sitting on the bottom step of the bus watching them, and looking highly amused.
"What's going on over there?"
"That Doctor guy left without saying goodbye to anyone except Bibi, and she won't tell them how he went, just that he wasn't one of the geologists."
"He wasn't? Well, who was he?"
"Those are the exact words I used, and she just said 'Yes, that's right.'"
"Just what I said. I asked 'Who was he?', and she just said 'Yes, that's right', just exactly like that. It made no sense that I could see."
"Do you suppose there's something wrong with her?"
"Not a chance," said Willow, who'd come over to join them now she could see Buffy had woken up. "She's changed, Buff. You could see that - that's why you didn't recognise her. This is a totally different Buffybot to the one we remember. I don't mean she's not the same one, but she's not the simple Bot we once knew and loved. When she said she'd had an upgrade she really meant it. It's almost like she's a real person now."
Buffy looked at her friend in surprise.
"I've had a chance to talk with her for a bit, while we were getting the stores on board the bus. She's brighter than I am, Buffy. She almost scares me."
"So I guess this Doctor guy was an expert robotist or whatever you call them, and he rebuilt her."
"No. Actually she said there was another robot called Marvin, who did most of the work, and was far more intelligent than she is, but she won't say any more than that."
"Another one? You think she's joshing you?"
"Giles thinks she's 'winding us up' as he calls it, so she can hide the truth."
"And what do you think the truth is?"
Willow shrugged. "She's been fixed by some sort of an expert, a real genius, and the only other person who knows has gone without saying goodbye."
Buffy turned to her Watcher, who'd just joined them, in company with the other two male members of the expedition.
"Giles! Hi! Do you really think this Doctor guy was the one who fixed her?"
"But who is he?"
"Exactly," said Giles, confusingly.
"Oh, Geez, not you too," Willow exclaimed.
"Sorry," said Giles, "but that's the only answer I can give. He wasn't a roboticist, apparently - the Bot, sorry, Bibi says he called himself a 'Doctor of Temporal Physics'."
"And he was right here, here, in the flesh and talking to us..." said Xander.
"...And we didn't recognise him until it was too late!" Andrew sounded absolutely furious.
"What? You sound like know who he was!" Buffy said, confused.
"We think we do," said Giles, "except that of course it couldn't really have been, because he doesn't actually exist."
"It might have been someone pretending to be him."
"No, Xander, we all heard the sound of him leaving," Andrew argued. "It has to be him."
"But only the Buffybot knows, and she's not telling!" Xander said exasperatedly.
"She saw us leaving the crater, and she picked up the Scythe. You can't get past that fact!" Giles said. "And the gas station owner swears they turned up here two and a half hours ahead of us. That's a short while before we even drove to the High School this morning. What more do you want?"
Buffy looked from one to another of them, then at Willow, and shook her head.
"What have they been smoking, Will?"
"No, Buffy, they've been like this for an hour, at least."
"Round and round in little bloody circles," Giles said in agreement. "Only the Buffybot knows for certain, and she aint sayin' nuffin'."
"Perhaps we should dismantle her to see if there's something wrong with her," Andrew suggested brightly.
Buffy gave him a look that would have stripped paint at forty yards.
"You touch her, and I swear I'll let her tear your arms and legs off, and we'll leave you here!" she said. "And I'll help!"
"All aboard that's going aboard," said Giles, in unconscious imitation of the Doctor a few hours earlier. "Non-stop to all points East! Hurry along there, please!"
"He'd have made a good conductor, wouldn't he?" said Vi admiringly.
"Where are we going? Anyone know?"
"Sure. Cleveland. Ohio."
"Hi ho, hi ho, we're off to Ohio!" sang Dawn as she engaged first gear, a little more successfully than the previous time.
"Left hand down a bit, Mr Sulu," said Xander. "Engage warp engines."
"Aye aye Cap'n," said Andrew.
"Actually," said Giles loudly above the engine as it picked up revs, "that's not quite right."
"What? Have you changed your mind where we're going, Giles? Aren't we going to visit the Hellmouth in Cleveland?"
"Well, yes we are, but not in Ohio."
Conversation was suddenly suspended as everyone except the driver looked round at him in surprise.
"Not Ohio? But Cleveland's in Ohio, or it was when I last looked."
"Well, er, yes and no. I suggest we drive a few miles down the road, out of sight of the people at the gas station, and then we can stop and I'll tell you what I mean."
"OK everyone. As I was about to say to Buffy several hours ago, when we were so rudely interrupted by the aftershock that incidentally persuaded us to let Dawn drive, I did indeed mention a Hellmouth in Cleveland, but I never said I meant the one in Ohio."
Everyone looked at him, waiting, ears flapping.
"There's another Cleveland?" Buffy said. Her surprise was obvious.
"There are a number of Clevelands," said Giles, "(or do I mean 'there is a number'?) Well anyway, I never actually said I was talking about your one, in Ohio." He paused and looked at his audience. "Where do you suppose they got the name, Cleveland, from in the first place?"
There wasn't an immediate answer. Then, at the back of his audience a hand went up. Everyone turned round to see. It was Bibi, the Buffybot.
"England," she said.
"Well of course she knows," Willow whispered to Kennedy. "She's probably got GPS fitted!"
"Shush! This is interesting! Sounds like Giles has a plan!"
"England. Exactly. Thank you, Bibi," said Giles.
"Er, where's England again?" someone asked.
"Just turn right at Greenland," said the Buffybot quietly, though clearly enough for everyone to hear her. There was a muffled snigger from somebody else, and a miffed-sounding "Huh!" from the original enquirer. International geography is not most Americans' strongest subject.
Giles waited patiently for them to settle down again, and then continued.
"Cleveland is an area in the North of England where there is a little town called Whitby. Whitby itself is quite a famous place. Anyone remember why? Er, except you please, Bibi. Sorry."
Everyone looked at him blankly.
"Oh, come on people, who do we know who lives, or lived in Whitby? He provided us with a delightfully entertaining and amusing little interlude just before the (thankfully now late) and (un)lamented Glory came on the scene. As did Dawn herself, of course!"
Again, blankness. Giles sighed. Again, a hand shot up at the back.
"The Count," said the Buffybot.
"Right. Thank you. And who was, or possibly we ought to say 'still is', the Count? Anyone? He owed Spike money, and I thought I would never hear the last of it after Buffy disposed of him!"
"Oh, oh, yes! Count Dracula!" someone exclaimed. "But I thought he was a fictional character out of some book!"
Xander shuddered, and murmured to himself, "No more flies for me please, Master."
"That's right - Count Dracula himself. He lives, if that's the right term for it, in Whitby, in the old County of Cleveland, in England."
"What was that about a debt, then?" Buffy asked, puzzled.
"Spike was owed eleven quid by him, if you remember. If nothing else we have a debt to collect in his memory. He was whinging on about it for days after you dealt with the Count. Don't you remember?"
"Pff! A lot's happened since then, Giles," Buffy said dismissively. "Been dead, been resurrected, and helped save the world again one or three times if I remember rightly. Busy, busy, busy!"
"Poor Buffy, her memory's not what it used to be - it used to be her sense of smell!" said Xander, and hastily shuffled backwards through the crowd and out of her reach.
"So what's the illustrious Count been up to since we last spoke?" Willow asked.
"Making trouble, what else? I thought we might take a little excursion to the old country, sort out the problem, do a bit of work re-establishing the New Council of Watchers, see the sights. That sort of thing." He looked round at them all. "What do you think, everyone?"
"Hey, road trip, people! What's not to like?" said Dawn, excitedly. "I want to see where Harry Potter lives!"
"Sounds fun to me," Kennedy said. "I could probably get my folks to put us all up at our Long Island summer place while we get the paperwork sorted - if you like, that is," she added.
"That's very generous of you, Kennedy. Are you sure they wouldn't mind?"
"Oh, you know me, the spoiled brat - I can usually get what I want, one way or another!" She winked at Willow. "Am I right, or am I right?"
Giles looked at the small group of Slayers and non-Slayers, Scoobies and ad-hoc Watchers.
"What do you think of the idea, ladies and gentlemen. Entirely up to you. Would you like to discuss it? Have a vote on it?"
People looked at each other for the very briefest of intervals. Then...
"Naa! Road trip!"
"Yay! Road trip, road trip, road trip!"
"So, Whitby, here we come!"
"Hey! First thing I want to do is visit a real English pub and try some of their famous warm English beer!"
"Oh, well, in that case I know the perfect place," said Giles with a smile. "It's a pub in East London, called 'The Prospect of Whitby'."
AN:1. See my 1st story - "With A Little Help From My Friends".
AN:2. Here endeth also that series of stories known as 'THE LONG WAY ROUND'
AN:3. This story is followed by "Conversations In A Desert".
Started 24/5/2006.Finished 21/2/2007