I'm at least as tired of typing a stammer for Giles as I'm sure readers are of picking their way through it. When you read this, add whatever level of stammer you feel comfortable with. When it's worse than usual, I'll let you know.
If you haven't read The Key's Watcher: Help Wanted
, you are going to be seriously confused. I suggest you go back and read through it before starting this one.Disclaimer:
Joss Whedon and company own the characters and world of the Buffyverse. Laurell K. Hamilton owns the characters and world of Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter. I own a cat, two ferrets and the plot for this fic. Guess who makes more money.Part 1Journal of Rupert Giles
May 20, 2003
Dawn and I woke each other up this morning with twin screams that seemed to echo through the apartment forever. When we met each other in the hall, we were both crying. It was an hour before either of us was calm enough to talk about what we'd dreamt of. When it was clear that we'd both seen the obliteration of Sunnydale, I made Dawn go off into the kitchen with several sheets of paper to write out a narrative of her dream. I did the same as I sat at the desk in the living room. It was the only way I could be sure we wouldn't contaminate each other's memory — knowledge — of the events.
Having read through both accounts, I'm glad I took the precaution, simply for the assurance it provided that they were indeed prophetic dreams. In them, Ethan Rayne and Spike seemed to play a key role in Sunnydale's destruction. It was difficult to be certain what was happening without knowing what was being said, but it was clear that Buffy and the others seemed to be working with the two of them as they fought a massive battle in what could only be described as the maw of the Hellmouth.
Though the battle was horrifying enough, what awakened us both was seeing Buffy die. It's clear now that she survived the fight with Glory, and that she'd faced an even more horrendous opponent some two years later. Dawn's been inconsolable, and frankly, so have I. I kept her home from school and closed the store for the day, and then I called Michelle to cancel our date for this evening. Dawn and I need a period of mourning, and it will be all the more difficult, since we can't tell anyone the reason for it.
September 20, 2004
I had the strangest dream about Buffy this morning. In it, she was dressed all in white and had the standard Hollywood ghostly glow. As soon as she saw me, she started berating me, because it had taken her so long to find me and Dawn. When I pointed out that we hadn't moved in over two years, she reacted as she usually did — she ignored the logic of my argument. As if that weren't bad enough, she tried to tell me that I should have known she'd be looking for me, and why hadn't I put up a sign? I pointed out that the sign over the shop door should have been enough of a clue for her — how many worlds could have a bookstore named Watcher's Nook? She refused to be mollified, and I finally gave up.
When I awoke, I was still chuckling over the argument in my dream. It had been so real, so true to Buffy's twisted thinking. I told Dawn about it over breakfast, and she looked a bit outraged on my behalf. "That is so
typical of her. She won't admit it when she needs help, so she blames everyone else because of it. What do you want to bet that she didn't follow the directions she was given?"
I was happy to see that Dawn was willing to joke about it. She'd taken Buffy's death hard, and once she finished with school for the year, she'd spent the summer wandering through the store and our apartment like a ghost. I got so desperate to see some life in her that I actually invited Max over for dinner one night. It seemed to do the trick, and that's the only reason I haven't banished Max from our life completely. With any luck, she'll be caught and sent to jail one of these days. She isn't quite as bad as Faith was, but that's only because she doesn't have the gifts of the Slayer to pervert.
"No bet," I answered with a grin. "I remember how Buffy was at following directions. I doubt there's been any improvement in the afterlife."
"Coward. Here I am, trying to save up for a new car, and you won't even place a sucker bet. I'm beginning to think you don't want me to have my freedom and independence," she said, glowering as she took a sip of her orange juice.
"You've found me out. I want you staying here with me and dying a virgin at the age of one hundred," I said, ducking out of the way of the napkin she balled up and threw at me.
"Anyway, you have to admit I'm a better driver than she was."
I looked at her in disbelief and said, "A blind goat herder from the thirteenth century would be a better driver than Buffy. You'll have to come up with a better argument than that." The truth was I'd already bought her a car — a bright yellow Beetle convertible. It would be delivered on Saturday morning, shortly after her birthday breakfast. I'd been concerned about her taking public transportation to her classes, and with her potentially needing to study late at the library, I didn't want her to have to rely on buses or taxis to get home.
She finished her orange juice and said, "That's mean. So Nathaniel starts today, right?"
"Yes. I told him to be here at ten o'clock. He needs to fill out paperwork, and then I can show him around a bit," I answered, snatching the last piece of bacon before she could get it. I wasn't sure why we were both so territorial over fat-laden meat, but we were. Dawn and I had been known to have epic battles over the last piece of pepperoni pizza, and we didn't dare let beef jerky in our home. I thought I heard her snarl at me after losing the last of the bacon, but I hoped I was wrong. She'd promised not to do that anymore.
"Have you heard back from the police?" The question was asked quietly, and it was the first she'd spoken of Abigail since I returned home last Wednesday morning. I hadn't pushed the issue, because I didn't particularly care to discuss it myself. For now, the police had been able to keep my name out of it by invoking victim's privacy rights, but there was no telling what Abigail or her lawyer might do if they thought it might help her case.
"No. Not since Detective Zerbrowski brought Ms. Pearce around to chat with me," I answered. Tamara Pearce was the attorney who would be prosecuting the case. She wanted to meet me to tell me that Abigail had waived her right to a trial by jury. It made sense. She had a slightly better chance in front of a judge than she did before a jury of her peers. The local papers and TV news had been going over the case with the intent to convict before a trial even started. I wasn't sure how they'd gotten hold of certain of the passages in Abigail's diary, but I had my suspicions. As for me, as long as I wasn't mentioned by name, I ignored the articles and broadcasts.
I wasn't so naive as to believe my identity would remain hidden. Poorly-paid public servants could be bribed all too easily, and much of my privacy was dependent on the goodwill and decency of editors and news directors. Given the possibility that I'd been sexually assaulted, there was a better than average chance I wouldn't be named, but that didn't necessarily hold true for the tabloids. As a result, Dawn and I had spent the last several days talking with our close friends and associates about the issue, and expressed our desire not to see anyone cooperating with the press by providing interviews once my name came out.
It was embarrassing, though, to have left such a gaping loophole in my wards. The only reason Abigail's spells had worked was that as far as she was concerned, she had no intent to harm me. She was free to enter and free to give me food tainted with her magic, because she was merely helping me to discover my "true" feelings for her. Since Wednesday, I'd been revising the wards to close that particular hole, and I'd had Dawn going through them on her own, so as to be certain there were no other ways in. Between the two of us, we found a few other problem areas, but when we were finished, the building, from ground to roof, was as secure as it could possibly be.
I hadn't yet removed Abigail's spells over me, as I would be meeting with a state-approved coven later this week. We would determine the shape and nature of her castings, and the coven would help dismantle them, as I didn't feel I could do it on my own. The coven would also provide the equivalent of forensic testimony, once the case reached trial. According to last night's news coverage, that would be within two weeks, no later. I sighed at the thought of what might happen if CNN or Fox picked up the story. There would no doubt be scads of legal and magic experts eager to step forward and offer their own opinion of what Abigail had done. I shuddered to think what they might call the story. I still recalled the tacky graphics and absurd headlines they used in my world while reporting the indiscretions of the President of the United States.
Dawn interrupted the downward spiral of my thoughts by asking, "Do you think Anita will be by today?"
"I doubt very much that Ms. Blake
will be here. Mr. Callahan assured me that he would do everything possible to keep her out of what little hair I have left," I said, making a grumpy reference to my ever-receding hairline. I didn't remember my grandfather losing his hair quite this early, but it was forty years and one universe ago that I'd last seen him alive. My memory of his appearance wasn't all that reliable.
"Please. Like you don't have half the women coming into the store just so they can sigh and hope you'll notice them one of these days," she said, effectively dismissing my self-pity. "Anyway, if Ms. Blake
comes in, give her this, will you? Or send it home with Nathaniel."
She handed me a card in a hot pink envelope with Ms. Blake's name on the outside. I held it up and said, "I know it's none of my business, but what is this?"
"A thank-you card for saving you. I've got one for Nathaniel, too, but I left it in my room. I'll give it to you before I leave," she said matter-of-factly.
I frowned, realizing that I owed both of them my thanks as well. I wasn't sure how well it would be accepted, considering what happened the last time, but I decided to invite them both over for dinner at some point this week or next. It wouldn't be Thursday because of Dawn's dance class. Friday and Saturday were likewise out. Dawn had a date with Brian Moran, her newest beau, on Friday night, and I had no intention of dining with Ms. Blake without at least two buffers. Saturday was out, because Dawn and I had a dinner date for her birthday. Saturday's dinner would be early, as she planned to go out with friends later on. I suspected they would be going to Danse Macabre or Circus of the Damned, but I didn't ask. I really didn't want to know, and I had no intention of policing her activities, as she would be eighteen that day and legally responsible for her own decisions.
"I'm thinking of inviting them over for dinner," I started.
Dawn interrupted me before I could finish, saying, "Oh yeah, because the last dinner party they came to went so well."
"It was hardly my fault," I spluttered.
"Yeah, but it wasn't hers either, which hasn't kept you from blaming her," she said with a moderate scowl.
was the one who was attacked," I pointed out.
"Yeah, but she was attacked because of your
stalker. Face it, Dad, you owe her an apology for blaming her. I gotta finish getting ready," she said, standing and leaving the kitchen even as I glared at her. I hated it when she was right and I was wrong, because it usually meant I hadn't thought clearly about a given situation. It was no wonder so many parents wanted to choke their offspring before they moved out of the house.
I cleared away the breakfast things and went to take a shower. When I came out, I found both of Dawn's cards on the kitchen table, and I picked them up before going downstairs. I didn't really know what to do about Ms. Blake. She'd frightened me badly when she showed up in my store a week ago, and her subsequent behavior had done nothing to abrogate my initial bad opinion of her. Still, from what Detective Zerbrowski told me, she'd been instrumental both in my rescue and in Abigail's capture.
Ms. Blake had been the one to stand before the judge and explain how Nathaniel had tracked me to Abigail's home. She'd further explained that Nathaniel had seen gargoyles, which were extinct. That meant Abigail had used magical constructs in a physical attack against me. She also testified that we had been attacked the night before, and that a gargoyle had attempted to enter my home. Without her expert testimony, it is unlikely a search warrant would have been issued.
With these thoughts and others chasing through my head, I set about getting the store ready to open. It wasn't a particularly difficult chore, but it did require me to focus on the task at hand, which meant I was finally able to stop thinking about Ms. Blake. By extension, I was also able to stop thinking about Jean-Claude. He'd been in my thoughts far too often since I crept out of his lair like a thief in the night — morning, in this case — last Wednesday. Between the two of them, they'd turned my carefully built life upside down.
I'd wanted none of this attention. Since falling through Glory's portal, my one goal had been to see Dawn safely to adulthood. Saturday would see the fulfillment of that goal, assuming my sanity survived the intrusion of Ms. Blake and Jean-Claude in my life. I'd been quite happy not to associate with vampires, but now I'd piqued the curiosity of a master vampire — one who had every intention of discovering our secret. It wasn't fair. Not one little bit. I felt my inner Buffy agree with me and sympathize with my plight.
I finished sweeping the floor and checking that the books and other stock were in place just before my ten o'clock opening time. When I emerged from the back, having put away the broom, I could see Nathaniel standing out on the sidewalk. I opened the door and said, "Good morning! A beautiful day, isn't it?"
From the other side, the blind side as far as anyone in the store was concerned, I heard Ms. Blake say, "It's just a peachy day. Can't you tell how thrilled I am with it?"
I sighed and turned to her. "Ms. Blake. How kind of you to grace my store with your presence again. Unfortunately, at the moment, I have no customers you can scare away. Perhaps if you returned at three, you might have better luck."
"Nice try," she said, walking past me and into the store. I glared at the wards for not flaring up and preventing her entry, but there was no getting around the fact that she neither intended nor planned harm against me. It would have made a lesser man bitter, and I was mildly ashamed to discover that I was, in fact, a lesser man. I gestured to Nathaniel to enter, and I left the door unlocked. It was close enough to ten that opening a few minutes early didn't matter.
"I have some paperwork for you to fill out, Nathaniel, and I'll need to see your social security card and an official photo ID," I said, moving past the two of them to go to the research table. It was out of the way of any customers who might come in that early, and I wanted him to be able to fill out the forms in relative peace.
When he was settled in at the table with the various pieces of busywork the government insisted on having for all new employees, I turned to Ms. Blake and said, "I thought we agreed that it would be impractical for you to accompany Nathaniel for his shifts."
I saw a burst of humor flare in her eyes, which seemed to confirm that she was starting to enjoy our mutual antagonism much the same way I was. I hadn't had anyone to despise since Spike, and I found I rather missed it. "You've changed your warding," she said.
"How kind of you to stop by and point that out. I'm sure you have to be going now, so —"
"Not so fast," she said, obviously enjoying my discomfort over her presence. "Aside from dropping Nathaniel off, I came by to hire you."
"To — I beg your pardon?" My stammer deepened as I wondered if this were an elaborate ploy to get me to respond to Jean-Claude's increasingly insistent invitations to dinner.
"I want you to ward my home and Jeep the way you've warded your place." She leaned in conspiratorially and added, "I don't know if you realize this or not, but for some reason, people just don't like me." Her self-mockery humanized her in a way I hadn't thought possible.
"I can't imagine why," I said, my stammer receding considerably once I understood her true purpose for being here. I could appreciate her concern, but I wasn't entirely certain I wanted to play a role in her protection. On a very deep level, I thought the world might be a safer place without her in it. Still, warding her home and car would get me out of inviting her for dinner.
I began the negotiation with this world's standard Wiccan line, "How much are you willing to pay?" Demanding a set amount for magical services tended to backfire on the provider. It was better to determine what the customer felt the value of the service was. If the practitioner felt the sum was too low, he or she was free to refuse the commission. In any event, there always had to be a payment of some sort. Something for nothing was not simply bad business, it was also bad dharma for those on either side of the contract.
My jaw dropped at the figure she mentioned, and she said, "I'm going on the theory that what you send out comes back to the power of three. I figure if I pay you well enough, your wards should be enough to withstand a demon attack."