The weather forecasters had never seen anything like this 'weather'. Warm fronts and cold fronts clashed over England willy-nilly. There was no pattern that the meteorologists could discern. Confusion was rampant as balmy air wafted down from the Arctic Circle to clash with frigid air following the Gulf Stream from the Tropics. Then, as if an unseen hand had thrown a switch, everything reversed. Swells up to ten-feet high dashed themselves against the entire coast in undulating waves. The static electricity in the air ceased being a minor annoyance when it short-circuited pacemakers and became the causative factor in the deaths of four elderly pensioners in various parts of Britain. Numerous non-fatal heart attacks led to hospital overcrowding. Fights broke out in public places wherever people gathered. Tempers frayed; decibel levels rose as people screamed and yelled at each other to no purpose. Babies and children became jittery and cried incessantly. The sale of infant pacifiers exceeded the combined sales of cigarettes and condoms two days in a row. The very air smelled like gunpowder.
Watchers read and re-read every scrap of paper that could conceivably relate to the phenomenon. Surreptitious raids on libraries, colleges and museums accumulated more books which proved equally useless. People snapped at each other in the halls of Council Headquarters, and more people chose to eat in their rooms each successive day. One slayer ripped another's hair out by the roots over a borrowed hairbrush.
Giles called a mandatory meeting for all residents of headquarters. He explained about the suppressant drugs the Council had developed centuries ago for use in the Cruciamentum ritual, subsequently abolished in 1999. He glossed over the details and circumstances of the Cruciamentum, which none of the current slayers in residence had ever experienced, nor would ever again. Giles said only that it was a test of slayer resourcefulness under strictly controlled circumstances. He felt a desperate need to polish his glasses, but refrained from doing so. He couldn't chance anyone noticing the guilt and remorse in his eyes whenever he thought about his part in the last Cruciamentum ever performed.
To Giles' surprise, the existent crop of slayers—untainted by memories of its original purpose—saw the usefulness of the suppressant in the current circumstances immediately. Every single slayer volunteered to temporarily suppress her powers rather than risk hurting each other or innocents during this crisis.
Although he had conceived of the plan, Willow saw that Giles was uncomfortable with its execution and volunteered for the responsibility of the daily suppressant dispersal herself.
The weather anomalies continued to increase, affecting all aspects of life in the British Isles; and yet, despite the constantly building storms, there wasn't any rain. For the first time in recorded history, there was the real possibility that the United Kingdom—in its entirety—could experience a killing drought.
Fundamentalists of all religions, doom-sayers, and various cults found themselves in accord that these may indeed be
the End Days. Whether they were more disturbed at the de facto alliance with groups they had previously disparaged, or exalted at the possibility that they were among the Chosen who would soon be in the presence of their god, was anyone's guess.
“The only group that isn't
marching in the bloody streets proselytizing are the actual
followers of Taranis!” Giles' frustration reached the boiling point one evening at dinner. “And we don't have a bloody clue where they are!”
“The Outer Hebrides,” Zach said calmly as he ate another spoonful of soup.
A dead silence fell over their private table and everyone stared at him. Zach had the frozen look of a deer caught in headlights. He slowly lowered his spoon and placed it on the charger plate. “You didn't know that. I'm really sorry. I should have said something. I didn't realize . . . it was so obvious that of course I thought you knew.” Zach glanced at Andrew. “My bad.”
Andrew nodded encouragingly at Zach's appropriate use of slang.
Giles rapidly polished his glasses. Willow thought she saw minute wisps of smoke rise from the friction, and was a tiny bit disappointed when he dropped the handkerchief on the table before she could ascertain ascertain if it would actually burst into flame.
Giles replaced his glasses on his face and turned to Zach. “Perhaps you would tell us now
what you know and where you obtained your information?” he asked as pleasantly as possible, while speaking through gritted teeth.
“You're angry with me, aren't you?” Zach asked.
Giles attempted a smile. “No, of course not.”
“Yes, he is,” Andrew confirmed.
“Booth talks just like that when he's angry with me or Hodgins. Are you going to shoot me?”
Shoot you? No, of course not. Why on earth would you think I would shoot
Andrew jumped in. “You'd better
not shoot Zach, Mr. Giles! Not unless you want hairy toes for the rest of your life!”
Andrew, what the bloody hell
are you nattering on about?”
“Never mind.” Willow took over. “Giles isn't going to shoot anyone, Andrew isn't going to curse anyone with hairy toes, everyone is going to calm down and Zach is going to tell us what he knows. Are we all on the same page? Good. Go ahead, Zach.”
It was clear—to Zach, if no one else—that there was a specific epicenter to all the disparate weather anomalies. They all originated in the Outer Hebrides on the Isle of Mingulay
. Anyone could come to that conclusion from the evidence. It was science, not magic. But this particular group seemed to view his ability to work with science and numbers in his head as magic. Zach took a deep breath and prepared to attempt to explain the magic of science.
With the missing piece supplied by Zach, preparations rapidly intensified.
Willow and Giles closeted themselves in the library for most of the night. At eleven o'clock the next morning, they sent for Andrew and Zach. Willow sat cross-legged on a rug before the dying fire, a large moonstone in her hands. Giles bent over the library table, flipped through the pages of one of the dozen or so open books, and made a notation on a tablet. He looked up as Zach and Andrew arrived and beckoned for them to join him at the table.
“Good morning, Andrew, Zach. Willow will join us in a moment. She's speaking with Althenea now. Due to the amount of atmospheric disruption the Taranis cult has accomplished, we thought it best not to trust highly sensitive information to be relayed via the telephone or . . . er . . . computer.”
“So what's up, Mr. Giles?” Andrew asked as he slumped into one of the chairs pulled up to the large table.
“I'll fill you in on the information I have, and Willow will join us when she has finished. The first order of business is Zach . . .” Giles turned to Zach and addressed him directly.
“This isn't your fight. You have no connection to the Watchers' Council and very little idea what we do here.” Giles raised a hand to keep Andrew from interrupting. “You have a unique way of processing information that has been very helpful and could conceivably be in future, however . . . things are moving rapidly along and will very soon reach a head. Now is the time to bow out, and I suggest you do so. The things we deal with are . . . beyond your experience and I don't see that you'll have time to . . . to . . . prepare . . .”
There was a knock on the library door and one of the young Watchers stuck his head in.
“Mr. Giles—may I see you for a moment?” he asked urgently. “Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt—”
Giles stepped into the hall and shut the door. Andrew and Zach looked at each other.
Giles' face was noticeably paler when he returned. He sank into one of the library chairs and rested his elbows on the table as he rubbed his forehead with his fingertips. Andrew and Zach exchanged another glance.
Giles finally looked up and Andrew spoke immediately.
“Mr. Giles? Zach and I were wondering if you're trying to blow him off because you think he'll get in the way, or if you're afraid he'll get hurt, because—”
“I have a security clearance,” Zach blurted. “It's not as high as Dr. Brennan's or Booth's, but I do have one. I can keep secrets and I'm very loyal.”
Andrew added, “So if the government trusts him, we can, too. He's not gonna tell anybody what he sees—”
“Unless Dr. Goodman specifically asks . . .”
“Unless Dr. Goodman specifically asks, but what are the chances of that
, huh? And if you
tell Dr. Goodman that Zach can't talk about it, he probably won't even ask anything. And it's not like Zach is gonna be selling his story to the Sun—”
“Alright, Andrew, I take your point. Zach, you know that we are dealing with a cult attempting to bring back an ancient deity and we are planning to use magic to fight it—what are your
thoughts regarding further involvement on your part?”
“I have a security clearance.”
“Yes, yes . . . we've established that.”
An abrupt knock signaled the return of the Watcher, who handed Giles a file folder and then turned to go.
“Bring me anything else as soon as it comes in.” Giles ordered.
The Watcher nodded and left.
Giles slapped the folder down on the table in frustration.
“There's been a third body found. Ritually murdered like the others. Three bodies in three nights . . . It could be something else entirely, but I very much fear our Taranis cult is behind these murders. Human sacrifice to the gods . . .”
Zach picked up the folder and quickly leafed through it.
“There are no pictures,” he said with disgust. “No crime scene photos, sketches of the ritual mutilations, autopsy measurement—nothing!”
Giles stared at Zach in horror. “Why on earth would you want to see pictures
—aren't the written notes ghoulish enough for you?”
“Mr. Giles? Do you have any idea what I do
at the Jeffersonian?”
Giles hadn't really thought about it. Zach was young, he was brilliant, he worked at one of the most famous museums in the world—Giles had assumed Zach performed the usual curator duties. Apparently, he had made an erroneous assumption.
Giles raised an eyebrow. “Er . . . now that you mention it . . . what do
Zach proceeded to tell him.
Giles contacted various sources he had cultivated and received access to two of the police reports on the murdered men.
“I haven't done it in awhile, but if the weather doesn't mess me up, I could probably hack into police files for the third,” Willow suggested. “The problem is, we don't know where the body was found, so I don't know whose jurisdiction it's in.”
Zach was studying the files Giles obtained and he spoke in a distracted voice without taking his eyes from the files. “Land's End. The body will have been found at Land's End in Cornwall so try whatever police are near there.”
Willow stared at him. “How do you know that? Oh, does it mention where the third body was found in those reports?”
“Yes. No. It doesn't actually say, but the one body was found in Heckling Broad in Norfolk.”
Andrew jumped up to get the atlas and brought it to the table. He opened it to a fold-out map of the United Kingdom. Zach pointed to the area in East Anglia where the body had been found.
“The other was found at Dunnet Head in Caitness, Scotland,” Zach pointed to Dunnet Head. “That's the furthest point north on the landmass and Norfolk is the easternmost point, so the third body should have been found at Land's End in the west. They make a triangle.”
Willow nodded. “Makes sense to me.” She looked closely at the map. “I'll see if I can hack the Penwith police computers.”
“Oh dear lord!” Giles exclaimed.
“Uh-oh!” Andrew contributed.
“I don't know what that means,” Zach said.
“Whenever Giles says 'Oh, dear lord', duck!” Willow added.
“There's a duck?” Zach asked.
Giles gave Willow a long-suffering look. “No, Zach, there isn't a duck. It's tonight. The information Zach obtained from the . . . er . . . ritual markings sounded familiar to me, but I just now realized where I'd read something like that before, and I cross-checked with the Druidic calendar and I believe they will attempt the ritual to manifest Taranis tonight. We must contact the coven at once. Let me try to ring them up, as I don't want to over-tire either you or Althenea—if I am correct in my calculations, we'll need all of the resources we can possibly muster by moonrise.”
The trip to Devon was a nightmare of violently gusting winds, fog, and severe temperature changes. Giles fought to keep the car on the road, but dared not decrease his speed for fear they would arrive too late. Andrew sat in the front seat with Giles and attempted to watch for obstacles and other hazards. Willow tried to rest during the trip, but she was too concerned about her part in the ritual to be able to truly relax. She didn't want to distract Giles, so she closed her eyes and pretended to sleep. Zach had no idea what to expect, but he was pleased that he had been able to contribute to the enterprise.
When they finally arrived at the coven homestead, their headlights caught the gleam of thousands of eyes in the surrounding woods. Giles felt a shiver run down his spine and the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck seemed to crawl. Althenea came to the door and waved them in. She immediately poured them cups of an herbal tea and apologized for not offering anything else.
“It's better not to eat anything before the work we must do,” she explained. “I won't ask how your trip was, because I know it will have been a beastly drive, but I'm glad you arrived safely.”
Althenea led them through the house to the great room where the others were gathered. Bethany was almost blown into the room by a blast of wind. Giles rushed to help her close the outside door.
“The horses are very uncomfortable,” she said sadly, “but there's nothing else I can do for them. The wind has them spooked enough and they sense the animals gathering.”
“Yes, the animals,” Giles said. “When we arrived . . .”
“They know this to be a place of peace and safety,” Miss Hartness said, “so they have congregated here for refuge. Our domestic animals are not happy about sharing their space.”
“Now that we're all here,” Althenea began, “I think we should go over the details of the plan. We haven't much time until moonrise. Maude, would you like to begin?”
Miss Hartness gripped the arms of her chair and leaned forward. “It's a pagan ritual they'll be using, so we must counter it with one of our own. That's why we asked you here to perform it. We'll make the ritual ascent of the tor—that means you don't climb straight up, Rupert and the others—follow along as we circle the tor—sunwise, of course, never windershins. The standing stones at the top will concentrate our power. We've drawn the protective circle using the stones so many times that it's probably the safest place in Britain tonight. We had originally thought we'd be able to bind the entity, but that was before there was blood sacrifice to summon it. I hope it won't come to that, but there is a chance we may have to draw the entity here
to banish it. We won't know until we begin. Willow art thou prepared to do what must be done?”
Willow answered, “I am,” but what she thought
Althenea went to a cupboard in the great room and removed an armful of homespun robes. She handed the pale green robe to Willow and the brown one to Giles. The two she gave to Andrew And Zach were white.
Althenea smiled at them. “You'll be acting as Willow's pages tonight. That means you don't really have to do anything but lend her your energy if she needs it. If she touches you, don't pull away. Much depends upon her tonight. Rupert, you will, as usual, take the role of the horned consort to the Goddess. Take your clothes off and put these robes on, please. Bare feet, also. I'm sorry—this isn't pleasant weather for bare feet, but hopefully, we'll change that.”
The wind buffeted them as they climbed the hillock in a zig zag pattern. Andrew's goosebumps had goosebumps of their own and he stubbed his toe on a rock. When they finally reached the top, he was glad to see the ancient circle of standing stones—he hoped they'd at least block some of the wind.
They wove in and out between the stones. It's like we're a conga line, entered in a barrel racing event in a rodeo . . . in the frickin' Twilight Zone!
Andrew thought. At the conclusion of their 'event', they moved inside the circle of standing stones, Althenea sprinkled something on the ground between two of the stones, said a Word Andrew didn't quite hear and suddenly, the wind was gone! At least it's gone in here
, Andrew amended, as outside the circle, the violent weather continued unabated. Within the circle, the air was calm, much warmer, and smelled fresh and clean.
“Whoa!” Andrew said, and Zach nodded in agreement.
“We ask the Goddess' help and blessing on the work we are about to do,” Althenea said as she raised her arms. “We celebrate all aspects of the Great Goddess—Maiden,” she stretched out her right hand to Willow, who stepped forward. “Mother,” Althenea indicated herself, “and Crone,” she reached out with her left hand to Miss Hartness.
Andrew suddenly realized that Willow's robe was the pale green of new spring leaves; Althenea's was the rich green of summer fullness, and Miss Hartness' robe was also green—but so dark, it was almost black, like winter pine trees. That was pretty cool, he decided. He looked around to see if he could figure out what the colors of the other robes meant. Mr. Giles' robe was brown and he was wearing antlers on his head, so he was probably supposed to be a deer or something. His own and Zach's robes were white, and he tried really hard not to think 'sacrifice'. Everyone else seemed to be wearing a natural cream-colored robe, so he guessed they didn't have any special meaning.
“We come to the Great Mother as we were born—skyclad,” Althenea continued, and then she slipped the robe from her shoulders and stood naked.
Andrew's eyes almost bulged out of his head as the other members of the coven followed suit. He stared at Willow.
“Wow, you are really pale,” he said. “I mean, really
pale. If it weren't for all those freckles, you'd be pure white. You're even whiter than Spike! And I guess you are
a natural redhead—”
“Disrobe!” Willow hissed.
Andrew looked at her blankly.
“Take your robes off,” she clarified.
“What? Us, too?”
“Yes. Hurry up! You're holding up the ritual.”
Andrew and Zach shrugged out of their robes. Andrew was wearing white BVDs and Zach had on blue-plaid boxers.
Willow rolled her eyes. “Althenea told you to take your clothes off
when you put the robes on!”
“Yeah . . . but she didn't say anything about our underwear.”
“I don't know why we even brought
you! If you mess this up, Andrew Wells, and the whole world is enslaved by an ancient god because you wouldn't take off your underwear—”
“We'll be good,” Andrew promised, and he and Zach self-consciously took off their underwear.
Andrew couldn't resist sneaking surreptitious glances at Zach, and he noticed Zach doing the same to him. So, maybe Zach is . . . interested
, Andrew thought hopefully. The thought made Andrew feel warm and tingly all over. Then the very pleasant warm and tingly feelings began to coalesce in one specific
part of his anatomy—a part that was currently on view to Zach, Willow, Mr. Giles, and the entire Devon coven, including Miss Hartness—an 80-year-old, equally naked, Miss Hartness.Don't look at Zach! Don't look at Zach! Don't even think about Zach! Look at Miss Hartness!
The problem immediately resolved itself, and Andrew gave Willow his best Who-me?-I'm-not-doing-anything-I'm-just-standing-here-behaving-myself-la-la-la smile, while keeping his eyes firmly fixed on her chin.
The rest of the ritual was pretty much a blur for Andrew, between trying not to think about Zach, and looking at Miss Hartness when he failed. Ohmigod! Please, please, please don't let this be like 'A Clockwork Orange'! Please don't let me condition myself to see Miss Hartness naked every time I think about Zach. Because that would just be
— Andrew shuddered. He shut his eyes tightly when Mr. Giles came forward to say his part, wearing only the antlers. He had no idea if the sight of a naked Mr. Giles would affect him like Zach did, or like Miss Hartness, but he knew for certain that he didn't want to find out.
A sort of humming in the air that was less of a sound and more of a pressure
brought Andrew's attention back to the ritual. The non-sound seemed to come from the . . . stones. Is that even possible?
The Celtic armband encircled Willow's right bicep, and she stood over a stone table that hadn't been there the last time he looked. The torc lay on the table and Willow's hands were weaving intricate patterns above it. Ghostly transparencies of energy rose from the torc as they unwound themselves from the actual metal of the necklet. It was slow and painstaking work. Willow's skin was even paler, although Andrew would have sworn that wasn't possible. There were dark circles that looked like bruises under her eyes and her hair was damp with sweat. She seemed to stagger for a second, but immediately drew herself up and squared her shoulders. Her hands never ceased unweaving the layers of spells and mystical energies from the torc.
Althenea had said that Willow might need to borrow his energy and not to resist if she touched him, but what if she couldn't?
Althenea had never mentioned the contingency of what to do if Willow's hands were too busy to touch him, and her concentration on her task too important to break it to ask for help. Andrew took a step toward Willow and tentatively reached toward her. His eyes frantically searched for Althenea. Their eyes met and she nodded. Andrew took a step forward and touched Willow's shoulder.
It felt like sticking his hand into a fire, and he had to marshal all his inner resources to keep from snatching his hand back. He felt a brief moment of pressure as his and Willow's energies equalized, and then it was as if an internal tap had been wrenched open, and everything he was flowed down his arm and out of him, faster and faster. Andrew bit back a scream.
Just when Andrew was sure he couldn't stand it any longer, he felt a hand touch his own shoulder and the equalizing pressure was back. Zach's energy flowed into him to replace what he freely gave to Willow. Time seemed to stop for Andrew, and then he saw a huge, angry face, covered in swirls of blue tattoos, completely blotting out the sky. Andrew gasped. Willow waved her hands over the torc and the last of the ancient energy disappeared.
Giles shouted something in a language that Andrew didn't understand and pointed his hand at the sky. Willow seemed to drag her hand through thick mud, but it rose and she and Giles clasped hands, their templed index fingers pointing at the angry face. Andrew felt a surge of dizziness as power was sucked from him, and then there was a CRACK!
that split the sky and he collapsed in a heap. His ears were still ringing as he looked up, but the face was gone, the winds had died and the fog was rapidly dissipating.
“I guess we won,” Andrew said, smiled at Zach, and passed out.
Andrew awakened to the welcome scent of blueberry pancakes, oatmeal, coffee, scrambled eggs and toast. There was tea, apple juice and milk, too, but he couldn't really smell those. He was all warm and cozy, snuggled in soft blankets on a futon on the floor of the great room and he really didn't want to move. If he just closed his eyes again, he could probably sleep for a week. But hunger pangs eventually triumphed over comfort, and the food did
smell wonderful. Andrew roused himself and joined the others in the large, bright kitchen, where he ate more than he ever believed it was possible to eat. When he was replete, he sighed with satisfaction as the warm carbs and fruit sugars worked their magic. He dozed with his head on Zach's shoulder during the drive back to the Motherhouse.
Andrew showered and shaved and dressed in clean clothes. He felt rejuvenated. There was a definite spring in his step as he made his way to Mr. Giles' rooms for the debriefing. His excellent mood lasted all through the discussion, to which he really didn't pay attention, because now that Taranis was banished, he could finally concentrate all his attention on Zach. Should he invite Zach out to dinner at a really special, fancy London restaurant, or go with a small, intimate pub? Or, maybe, after all they both went through in the past few days, he should opt for a quiet dinner in his rooms with just the two of them?
Andrew's delighted musings came to an abrupt end when he heard Mr. Giles say something about plane tickets.
” Andrew's voice squawked and he cleared his throat and tried again. “What did you say about plane tickets?”
“I said, I was pleased to be able to obtain a ticket upon such short notice for Zach's return trip to the States. Apparently there was a cancellation, so I reserved his seat. The actual ticket can be picked up when we take him to the airport tomorrow.”
He hasn't even had a chance to see anything, except pictures of dead bodies, really
bad weather and a bunch of naked women. I ask you, is that how we want visitors to our fair shores to remember England?”
“I'm sorry, Andrew, but his work here is finished. We've rendered the torc harmless, and it needs to be returned to the Jeffersonian, as does their employee.”
“But . . . but . . .” Andrew's shoulders sagged and he turned to leave. “I'll be in my room, if anyone needs me.”
“Well, I should hope so. You've got quite a bit of packing to do.”
Andrew looked confused. “Packing?”
“Oh, didn't I tell you? Buffy and Willow and I had discussed the possibility of basing a slayer in Washington some time ago. I think this would be an opportune time for you to, er, set up shop as it were, and when you have familiarized yourself with the area, obtained appropriate quarters and so forth, we'll meet and discuss which slayer will be your assignment.”
“Me? You want me to be an active Watcher with a slayer? In Washington?”
“Yes, of course. I thought you understood that you would be retuning with Zach—” Giles began to laugh. “No, I didn't. Willow and I only conceived the idea last night, after observing how well you handled yourself throughout the Taranis crisis, but Willow asked me to . . . er . . . play it out like this.”
“You had it coming after . . . gawking
at me, and the stupid underwear stunt.” Willow grinned. “So, do you want to go back to the States?”
“This isn't a joke? It's for real?”
“If you accept the assignment, it's yours, Andrew.”
Zach wasn't nearly as concerned about flying over water during the return trip, because he spent the majority of the flight holding Andrew's hand—although, they still talked like pirates.The End . . . of this adventure, at least.
Special thanks to Mahaliem who wrote one of my favorite fics in the Buffyverse, Amnesia!Spike
, a hilariously funny fic that still makes me laugh, even after numerous readings. In that fic, Anya threatened to curse Spike with hairy toes; Mahaliem was kind enough to allow me to have Andrew learn the curse from Anya, which I have christened the "Maleas Mahaliem" curse in tribute.