Hi everyone! Wow, this story went a long time with no update. I must guiltily admit that this chapter has been sitting half-written in an open text window since… oh… January?
Yeah. Oh well… I won' t bother making excuses for the lateness. It's here now, and hopefully that's what counts. Getting close to the end of this particular fic- only one or two more chapters are planned. A future continuation is possible. There's some crazy dream stuff in this chapter, which I'll talk more about at the bottom of the entry if anyone is interested. ^_~
Disclaimer: None of the characters are owned by me, still. The chapter derives its name from the famous song 'Stairway to Heaven' by Led Zeppelin, released on the album Led Zeppelin IV in November of 1971.
Chapter 6: Stairway to Heaven
Council Headquarters, London, 26 December 1981
On Boxing Day morning, Rupert was summoned to Council Headquarters for a series of evaluations. The tests were quite extensive; physical dexterity, proficiency with languages, psychological resilience, even common geographical knowledge… everything would be taken into consideration before a final assignment was decided. The placements were traditionally announced on the second day of the new year, which gave Council higher-ups a week after the testing to commiserate and the candidates a week in which to wear a hole in the carpet.
In some ways it was just one more Council power play. Leaving a week between the battery of tests and the decisions gave the directors a chance to watch the prospectives squirm like worms on the hook while the board of review generally sat in chambers and smoked fine cigars, referring to the process as 'deliberation'. In Rupert's case, it would come to be seen, this process of normally passive consideration would be abandoned in favor of an all out war the likes of which the Council hadn't known in decades.
First, however, he had one last assessment to endure.
Releasing an exhausted breath, Rupert slumped into a wingback chair near the fireplace. He had just been ushered into the windowless antechamber of yet another nondescript Council subdivision. Archie was with him, having served as his sponsor for this final round of examinations. "You're sure this is the last one? I feel like we've been inside this building for a fortnight."
Archibald Lassiter chuckled, standing by the fireplace and cleaning his glasses with a white handkerchief. "Yes, lad. That I can promise you. They leave this test 'til last for a good reason. Which reminds me…" Archie walked over to the sideboard at the far end of the room, retrieving an oddly shaped bundle. He held it out for Rupert. "I have another Christmas present for you."
Brows scrunching in the firelight, Rupert carefully opened the leather parcel and extracted the object inside. The contents were perplexing, to say the least. "What is it?"
Holding back a grin with some amount of effort, Archie answered. "It's a… family heirloom. Of sorts. You'll need it for the ritual that accompanies this test. I meant to give it to you the other night, but such a gift might have aroused young Olivia's suspicion. I imagine she would have though the old man had really gone off his gourd. Forgive the pun."
Rupert examined the… gourd, grasping it by the curved protrusion and slowly scrutinizing its bulbous body. "What the bloody hell am I supposed to do with it?"
Archie's mustache twitched. "Errr… shake it, I believe. It's been quite awhile since my own vision rite."
"I think I'm beginning to understand why you told me not to eat very much at Christmas dinner." The younger man glowered, shaking the gourd contemptuously and trying to wrap his mind around what other possible humiliations could be involved in such a ceremony.
Before the Scotsman could reply, a smartly dressed attendant entered the room carrying a fully laden tea tray. She laid it on the sideboard wordlessly and left the room as quietly as she had entered. "Ah, here we are. You'll have some tea, Rupert?"
Leaning back in the chair, Rupert ran a hand through his hair in a non-committal gesture. "I'd rather a Scotch."
Fixing the cup of tea with steady hands, features turned away from Rupert's view, Archie tut-tutted. "Now now. You're nearly through. One last test and after it is done I shall furnish you with more Scotch than you can shake your gourd at."
Archie turned and casually handed the cup and saucer to the younger man. "Here. Just as you like it."
An odd smell wafted up from the tea as Rupert accepted it. He cringed slightly. "Interesting blend."
"Proprietary, I imagine."
"Well, I hope it doesn't taste as strange as it smells."
Rupert sipped the tea, finding that the warmth and relaxation it imparted easily trumped his reservations about the unusual scent. The cup seemed to be empty in mere seconds, but he was vaguely aware that it must have been longer. Archie was looking at him strangely, and he felt a tingling sensation beginning at the base of his spine.
Time in the darkened room seemed to expand and contract, wheeling past Rupert's vision as his gaze became drawn to the fire. Archie had disappeared from sight, a fact that barely registered with the young Watcher as he stared into the flames, transfixed. His limbs buzzed pleasantly, highly sensitized. He felt like he was floating, drifting through the ether, traveling outside of himself and into the fire's warm and smoky embrace.
The teacup and saucer tumbled from Rupert's hands as he slumped forward, making barely a sound as they dropped to the carpeted floor. As his eyes drifted shut, he saw a figure emerge from the shadow in the corner of the room. The man wore robes of burgundy and gray, perfectly camouflaged against the fire-lit backdrop of the chamber. He practically melted into the walls. Distantly, Rupert could hear the unfamiliar voice of the figure chanting in Latin. He felt as though he himself were melting.
The buzzing sensation sharpened and Rupert released a pained gasp, falling to the floor in front of the fire. His arms and legs squirmed momentarily and then were still. Rupert tried to open his eyes, but found that they were heavier than lead. Dismayed, he gave himself over to the pleasurable floating feeling and the excruciating uproar of sensation creeping along his brain stem. He looked like he was sleeping. His vision rite had begun.
Archibald Lassiter frowned sadly, standing a few feet away from the Council's chief seer. "I hope he won't be too angry. I refused to speak to his gran for two years after she administered the herbs at my rite."
The seer was quiet for a long moment before replying. "He will understand. It is not a choice. What he sees will shape his future."
"Yes. But giving the drugs without consent seems so… barbaric. And tricking him into shaking that stupid gourd made me feel quite silly."
"The old ways must be observed. There is nothing remotely amusing about this ritual, Archibald." The seer fixed him with a piercing glare. "You know you must leave us."
Scratching the curled gray hairs at the back of his neck, Archie sighed. "Yes, I realize that." All the while his eyes were fixed upon the prone form of Rupert Giles on the carpet before the fire, looking deceptively peaceful in spite of the tumult which was likely erupting inside of his unconscious mind. Backing out of the room with great reluctance, Archie hoped that his young charge would be safe, that his past psychological traumas would not come to visit their wrath upon Rupert during the vision rite.
Archie pondered, shutting the door to the chamber with an air of trepidation. He wondered what the young man would see, how it would change his life, what ends of the Earth Rupert's mind might fly to.
And he hoped, with a characteristically stout-hearted determination, that Rupert would someday forgive him for this breach of trust.
Inside of Rupert's Mind
As he came to awareness, Rupert noticed several things. First of all, this was not Council Headquarters. The next thing that occurred to him was that he was laying face down on a patch of what appeared to be dry, scorched, and extremely warm earth. As he pushed himself upright, he frowned in confusion at the cracked and dusty ground beneath his hands. Rupert's attire was also a matter of some interest. The rather smart jacket and tie that he had been wearing were nowhere to be seen; he found himself clad in faded jeans, a well worn pair of boots, and a plain white t-shirt. As much as the suit had made Rupert squirm, he was nevertheless perplexed by his current state of dress. These were the clothes he was most comfortable in. Perhaps his garb was indicative of the elemental nature of his surroundings? He flexed his fingers as he stood, somewhat unsteadily, noticing that the gold and onyx ring that he had worn since his father's death was still in place.
His body felt remarkably light, as though the weight of the world had been lifted from his limbs. Either that, or the heaviness bestowed upon him by the stealthily administered herbs did not translate to this plane of existence. Rupert squinted, allowing his eyes to adjust to the surprising brightness around him. What a plane of existence it was. From the look of things, Rupert had awakened at the edge of a desert landscape. His mind dimly recognized this area as 'south'. Turning away from the sun-burnished area, Rupert took in the rest of his surroundings. Ahead of him was an expanse of snow and mountains, 'north'. To his right, the 'east', grassy plains and fields of sunflowers as far as his minds' eye could see. And lastly there was 'west', a deep forest full of ancient trees, dark and cool and forbidding.
Choose a direction.
A voice inside his head- perhaps it was his own voice, perhaps not- was telling Rupert to choose, and he had already begun the process even without further prompting. The north was out; his dream self clearly wasn't clothed or properly equipped to handle snowy and mountainous terrain. As much as he appreciated the vital warmth and crisp definition of the desert, Rupert knew he couldn't choose south either. There was nothing new for him there, just cracked earth and tumbleweeds. The east, with its pastoral beauty and gently swaying grasses, was tempting. Something nagged at the edge of Rupert's consciousness, however. He found his gaze inextricably drawn to the west, wondering what might lie within the depths of the forest. And so, the choice was made.
The temperature took a deep drop as Rupert made his way beneath the first overhanging branches of the wood, sunlight peeking playfully through the rustling leaves. The earth below his feet was soft and dark, punctuated by mossy rocks and the occasional wandering tree root. There was something odd about the forest, and eventually Rupert realized that many of the sounds of nature were absent. There was no evidence of animals or birds, just the pure earthbound noises of the breeze and the distant babbling of a brook or stream.
Traveling further into the forest, Rupert shivered slightly as the trees became denser, their shadows blocking out the sun. He walked slowly for long minutes, sensing the continual need to move forward. Looking further ahead, he thought he could see a clearing, green and bright with a shaft of white-golden light shining down. Rupert looked up curiously as he reached the break in the trees. The sky rang clear blue through the round gap in the treetops, leaves sparkling jade and small flowers and growing things in the underbrush stretching toward the sun.
At the far end of the clearing was an odd structure. Rupert moved toward it, gradually approaching the series of crumbling stone pillars. The pillars were set in a semi-circle, crawling vines of bright emerald winding up and around them. Between the last two pillars was a weathered stone staircase, rising with the gradient of the steep hill behind, cutting through the face of the cliff that rose beyond, leading up and up… to where? Rupert couldn't see an end to the ascent. It continued between the walls of stone, through the treetops, seeming to climb right up into the sky itself.
Rupert jumped back, startled by the greeting. He had not perceived any visitor, having been too busy contemplating the long-stretching stairway leading out from the heart of the forest. Seated near the bottom of the staircase was a form, clad all in white robes and seemingly lit from within. It was a man, or at least it was shaped like one. Blue eyes peered out knowingly from beneath a fringe of sandy blond hair. This man, this creature or whatever it was, had Randall's face. Only… the expression was so much more serious, wiser and more solemn, than any he had seen upon his lost friend before. Taking a step back, he regarded the figure with trepidation.
"Yes, it's me. It's Randall. Don't be afraid, I won't harm you. I'm here to help you along. Come, sit." The white-robed figure smiled somewhat sadly, motioning for Rupert to come closer.
Approaching slowly, Rupert looked at Randall's glowing pale face in astonishment. "But… how can you be here? You-"
"-died?" Randall released a small chuckle. "Yes, I died. But this is not the living world. We are inside your mind, and in this landscape I will always exist- unless you forget me, of course."
Rupert reached out instinctively, as if to touch Randall and prove his existence. Realizing that his dead friend's degree of corporeality would prove nothing, not here and not now, he drew his hand back. "That will never happen, Randall. How could I ever forget?"
"I can still feel your guilt, Rupert. Perhaps, if anything, you will eventually leave that behind?"
Frowning, the young Watcher sat on one of the steps. "We killed you, Randall, Ethan and I! How can I ever forgive myself for that?"
Randall shook his head. "No, Rupert. Eyghon killed me. You shouldn't seek forgiveness where the burden of blame isn't yours."
"We were responsible. I gave you the mark, for fuck's sake!" Rupert squeezed his eyes shut, assaulted by the memory and unable to wipe the images from the back of his eyelids even here in the dream world.
"Ethan doesn't blame himself. Why should you?"
Laughing darkly, Rupert fixed his gaze upon the Randall-shaped apparition. "That's because he's Ethan. It's not the same."
Smiling, Randall quirked an eyebrow. "No, it isn't the same. Don't you understand? That's exactly what I'm trying to tell you!"
Leaning back against the cool stone, Rupert was silent for a few moments. The circular logic was making his head spin, and he was far from comprehending what any of these visions were supposed to mean. "So tell me, then. Why are you here? What is it I'm supposed to understand?"
The ghostly blue eyes blinked slowly, regarding Rupert with infinite patience. "You already know most of the answers. You have seen them in your dreams. All that's left is for you to put together the pieces of the puzzle. It's fate and it's magic and it's what's inside your heart. You can't rein in the magic forever, Rupert. It is too strong. And contrary to what you may believe right now, your power is not inherently evil. You will need it before the end, and she will need you."
Rupert's mind reeled. He couldn't mean… "She…?"
"You know who I mean. The girl- the warrior from your dreams." Randall's hand shot out, grasping Rupert's forehead with his thumb and pinky finger at the temples. Images suddenly assaulted him, so vivid he felt like screaming. Maybe he was screaming. Screaming, crying, laughing… Rupert didn't know what was happening to him.
He saw a girl who could barely be sixteen, recoiling as an older version of himself offered her a thick and cumbersome book.
He saw her in a dress, torn and soiled, expression fierce as she faced down an ancient and powerful foe.
He saw himself, so much older and more careworn, swinging a flaming baseball bat with a look of ragged desperation on his face.
He saw people frowning at each other, crying, people he knew must be his friends.
He saw a man transform into a giant snake, and felt the promise of all-consuming flames.
He saw himself falling down drunk, watched with contempt and disappointment by the young ones who looked up to him.
He saw a version of himself, embracing the warrior girl, comforting her as she cried with the specter of death hanging over them.
He saw his friends racing around helplessly on the ground as something terrible happened up above on the tower, overcome with helplessness.
He saw and felt the power coursing through his flesh and his nerves as he returned from afar to face the evil which threatened them all.
He saw himself arguing with the one he loved the most, the girl with the golden hair, hope and confidence crumbling bitterly in the wake of their misunderstanding.
And he saw it all crashing down, collapsing into dusty nothingness as they fled, not knowing in that moment if they would survive or it anything would ever be alright again.
Gasping for breath as he regained awareness, Rupert's body tensed. His wide-eyed gaze rested upon Randall's hand, which looked ever so harmless resting upon his white clad knee. "What… what was that?"
Randall smiled gravely. "These are events from your future. I am not allowed to tell you when or why these things may happen, in what order or for what reason, but know that they will."
"Why are you showing me this? These things are terrible… are they meant as my punishment? And… how… how can I stop them from happening?"
Feeling a strange coolness upon his cheek, Rupert reached up and was surprised to find tears dripping down his face. These people… the ones from his dreams and especially the mysterious Slayer… would he destroy their lives as he had done his own, lead them to death as he had done to Randall?
"I know what you're thinking, Rupert, and you are wrong yet again. The suffering that you see is inconsequential against the good that will result. You must always understand: good cannot exist without evil, just as white cannot exist without black. If these regrettable incidents do not occur, you will never know joy like this!"
Again, Randall grasped Rupert's face, this time with both hands. The images that followed were imbued with a warm glow, euphoria tingling at the edge of Rupert's consciousness as he watched it all unfold.
He saw himself carrying the Slayer, laying her down and using his magic for the first time in ever so long just to save her.
He saw a dark haired woman, Mexican food and margaritas, joy and laughter that was as authentic as it was fleeting.
He saw his hand brushing against that of the warrior-child, being slapped joyfully away as they both reached for the last jelly doughnut.
He saw all of them laughing, sitting at a table in what appeared to be a library, the dark haired boy and the red-haired girl at the Slayer's side.
He saw her again, resplendent in a formal dress, spinning a small and glittering umbrella in her hands and giving him a look that melted what was left of his heart.
He saw them smiling at each other, her lips quirking and him in a truly horrible shirt, and he felt at that moment that no one had ever understood him better.
He saw them training, felt the force of her blows as he directed her, how proud- and how reassured- he felt as she focused and improved.
He saw himself in a suit, looking far more comfortable than he felt in one as a younger man, engaging in workplace banter with a very unusual and stubborn young woman.
He saw the laughter that lit his life behind the scenes even at the gravest of times- a moment with the Slayer where all was well, leaning against a pommel horse and laughing.
And last but not least, he saw the smile on her face, which mirrored the joy in his heart, as they stood at the edge of destruction and realized that they were still meant to live.
Rupert couldn't help but smile as Randall gently released him, feeling the ecstatic force of the visions like an afterimage at the base of every cell in his unearthly body.
Some moments passed without words, Rupert gradually calming down and Randall remaining still and contemplative. The glowing figure's smile was true, though the look in his eyes was uncompromisingly stern. "The Powers have spoken. Now, Rupert, do you understand?"
Lip quirking just slightly, the young Giles bowed his head in acknowledgement. "I believe I do. But there is one thing I want to ask…"
"I will answer if I can."
His green eyes questioning, twinkling as they looked toward the sky, Rupert smiled knowingly. "Randall… exactly where does that staircase lead?"
Randall stood, knowing that his task was at an end. "You may find out someday, Rupert. And yet again, you may not. I can tell by the way you are grinning that you already understand this. The future is never set in stone, and there will be many times when you must choose your own path."
The white-robed form began to ascend the staircase, pausing just within sight to regard his friend one last time. "Just remember- the world is awash with consequences, and the best decision isn't always the right one. If we are both very lucky, someday we shall meet each other again."
Rupert nodded, feeling sorrow as he watched his dead friend climb toward the edge of the clear blue sky, filled at the same time with wonder and amazement as he contemplated the scope and the profound complexity of his future… of a possible future, anyway. He knew now that his dreams had not been the stuff of madness, and that his path as a Watcher was not chosen in vain. He wasn't sure how he would get there, or what would happen on the road in between. What he did know was that she would be waiting, and that every moment of his life from now must be dedicated to her safety and their fight against the darkness.
Gathering his thoughts, Rupert rose from the weathered stone step and let the cool forest air comfort him. Lucid now, at the end of his vision rite, he knew he would wake soon enough. And on the other side of consciousness the real world waited.
Rupert Giles, Watcher newly reborn, was ready to face it.
Yes, another chapter done! (sighs in relief) Hmm, I hope someone out there is still interested in this story- it is one of my favorites, and I feel terrible for neglecting it for so long.
Concerning Rupert's dream/vision, I tried to do some research into dream interpretation, lucid dreaming, divination, and so on… but it got frustrating. I got tired of reading things like, "The direction 'west' may symbolize a positive life change and a desire to move forward, or it may represent DEATH!" (facepalm) Seriously? It's all extremely wooly, so don't read too much into it. I took a few cues from what I read online, more than a few hints from Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven', and the rest I just blatantly made up. Cool?
Reviews will be greeted with Jammie Dodgers and auto parts. Why are you looking at me like that? I received both these items in the same Amazon box today, so they can't be THAT unusual… can they? ;)