Disclaimer: None of the characters outlined in the following story are my property
The Watcher Who Knew Too Much
Thick mist hung over the alleys and bridges of Sunnydale, reflecting a ghostly glow upon the city streets. The pale neon sign of the Hellmouth Hotel flickered slightly, awakening Giles from his slumber. Startled, he winced while peering about his room. The bed smelled of moldy socks.
Springs must be ancient, he mused, reaching for his glasses. Where the hell am I? He stood, taking in the modest room with its pallid green wallpaper and unkempt carpet.
The only light emanated from the bathroom. He crept there, glanced at himself in the mirror, then to the bathtub in the corner. Wet locks of hair dangled from over the tub's porcelain lip, each drop of water pattered on the floor, and echoed along the bathroom's green tiles.
Moving closer, he found a naked woman, the water all about her clouded with blood. He staggered back to the front room, breathless, snatched his shirt and overcoat from the sofa, and opened the door.
"Evening, uh, Mr. Lowens?" Xander said from under a blue policeman's hat.
"Xander," Giles replied. "What on earth are you doing?"
Giles eased out into the hallway, closing the door behind him. He could almost see his reflection in Xander’s boots.
"Mr. Lowens, the front desk called about a disturbance earlier."
"Xander, is this some kind of joke?" Giles replied. "I'm not--this Mr. Lowens fellow. It's me, Giles."
Xander reached into his coat and extracted a small notepad. He flipped through a couple of pages, keeping a wary eye upon Giles.
"My mistake, Mr. Giles," he murmured, returning the notepad to his pocket. "I'll clear everything up with the front desk." Xander turned down the hallway, approaching the elevator at the far end.
"Wait, officer," Giles said. "What was—your name again?"
"It's O'Connell, sir," Xander replied, his knees buckling as he fell to the floor.
Giles bolted back into his room, latched the door, and flicked on the lamp near his bed. The telephone rang.
"You don't have much time, Mr. Lowens," a man's voice on the other end spoke. "They're--in the elevator."
"Who the bloody hell is this?" Giles said. “And what happened to Xander?”
“Who?” the voice whispered.
Giles bit his lip.
“They’re coming for you, Mr. Lowens,” the man continued. “Something went wrong—with the experiment. Please, just…”
Giles caught the faint glimmer of a long, serrated knife stuck into the far wall, the shimmering liquid splotched on the wall above that read:
ILLUSION, ILLUSION ALL AROUND
The crimson letters, arranged with similar spiral patterns painted all about, sent shivers down the back of his neck. He turned, lurched open the door, and watched the elevator at the opposite end of the corridor. Three men, dressed in black fedoras and long coats, stepped off the elevator. He started to yell out for Xander to wake up but hastily flew down the staircase.
He looked over his shoulder and down the adjoining hall before approaching the lobby, finding Dawn sleeping in a phone booth. He rapped on the door.
“Dawn?” he said, knocking harder. “What is happening? Just as well, I suppose. You probably don’t know me either.” He pressed on to the lobby, at the head of which sat a hotel clerk, snoozing against his hand.
Everyone’s had Thanksgiving dinner I see, Giles mused. He sneered at the drool dripping down the clerk’s sleeve. The clock behind him struck midnight.
“Mr. Lowens,” the hotel clerk said, rising from his nap. “You’re a hard man to catch. Couple tenants heard a commotion earlier, phoned me—so, I phoned the cops.”
“I believe there was a misunderstanding with that,” Giles replied, leaning on the large oak desk. “I spoke with the officer.”
“Yeah, well, you’ve been in and outta here for the past three weeks, different broad on your arm every time, and—“
“Really?” Giles replied. “That’s—wonderful, I suppose.”
“You been hittin’ the bottle I take it, Mr. Lowens?” the clerk said, opening the hotel ledger.
“No, I mean—I’ve been here for three weeks?”
“Three weeks, Mr. Lowens,” the clerk replied, pointing to the name Hayden Lowens marked in blue ink in the ledger. “Right there in black and white.”
“My God,” Giles said, patting his pockets. “My memory must be—“
“You’ve not paid for this past week, Mr. Lowens,” the clerk said, closing the ledger. “We’re not running a homeless shelter, you know.”
Giles exhaled. “Yes, I gathered that. But I seemed to have lost my wallet.”
“That reminds me,” the clerk added, shuffling through a small stack of papers. “The diner called, said they had your wallet.”
“The diner?” Giles said.
“Yeah, you know. The greasy spoon across the street.” Giles backed away from the counter, hesitated for a moment, and continued toward the hotel exit.
He rushed out into the rainy streets, clutching his coat around his chest. Giles made his way to the diner. The cook—a forlorn young man with red hair—stood at the grill, turning an order of fried eggs. A slender, middle-aged waitress stood nearby, filing her fingernails.
“Excuse me?” Giles said, taking a seat at the counter. The cook turned his head slightly, called out to the waitress.
“What can I get for you, honey?” the waitress asked Giles, ticket book in hand.
“Well, actually,” he started, catching movement outside the diner’s front window. The same three strangers passed by, the tallest one carrying a familiar looking police officer over his shoulder.
Giles sprang from his seat and peered out at the Xander’s captors as they rounded a corner on the next block. He rushed out into the street, jogging most of the way, until he arrived at the corner.
What on earth am I doing, he asked himself, breathing in the chilled night air. He peeked around the corner and watched as one of the strangers waved his hand before a brick wall, conjuring an impromptu door from thin air.
Giles moved quickly, pouncing along the sidewalk with adolescent agility. The portal disappeared before his eyes. Frustrated, he gazed up into the foggy sky, and saw something familiar.
Something that reminded him of an earlier, simpler time. He could practically smell the popcorn; the sound of the calliope rang loud in his ears. The sign read “Shell Beach”, a bikini-clad blonde beauty stretched out against a summery, seaside background. He climbed to the top of the scaffolding that skirted the bottom of the sign, his heart racing faster with every footfall. He felt like a child again.
“Mr. Lowens, yes” a serpent-like voice hissed from behind him. “How delightful it is to—meet you, yes.” It was the stranger who created the portal, baring his yellow teeth and brandishing a knife.
“Who are you people?” Giles said, backing up along the scaffolding until he reached the railing.
"You know very well who we are, Mr. Lowens,” the stranger replied, ever closer. “How quickly you forget, yes.”
“Kill him, Mr. Card,” the tall stranger called from behind the knife-wielder. “End this now, yes.”
“Perhaps you fellas should re-think that,” a female voice called out. Giles turned on his heel and saw Buffy standing at the ready on the street. “I kinda need him and stuff.”
“The slayer,” one of the strangers exclaimed. Mr. Card sneered, rose into the air, and descended over the scaffolding edge. Giles watched as Mr. Card’s head erupted with a thunderous pulse, knocking Buffy into the air. She recovered, cart-wheeled several feet, and sprang into the air, landing a perfect heel-kick to his face.
Mr. Card slammed to the concrete, black blood oozing from the corner of his mouth. Giles hoisted himself upon the railing behind him as the tall stranger approached, cutting a long gash into his arm.
“We’ve got big plans for you, Miss Summers,” he heard Mr. Card shout as he grabbed onto a thick cable dangling from the sign. “If only you knew your true place in this universe.”
Giles kicked at the tall stranger in black, who hurdled back through the scaffold’s brittle planks and down onto a metal fencepost below. The stranger’s body convulsed for a moment; Giles squinted to ensure he wasn’t imagining a squid-like creature oozing out from the stranger’s open mouth.
“Killer moves, old man,” Buffy whispered, brandishing her own stake before her own foe. “Deserves an encore, don’t you think?”
Mr. Card scowled at her from under his furrowed brow, his razor-sharp teeth black with his own blood.
“You’ll never get back home, slayer,” he hissed.
“Yeah, well, I’ll be the judge of that,” Buffy replied, burying the wooden stake deep into Mr. Card’s chest. “Now tell me—whatever you are—who’s the wizard behind the curtain?”
Mr. Card spat blood onto Buffy’s face, turned his eyes to the heavens, and chuckled.
“Whatta you mean?” Buffy said, driving the stake deeper. “Ask who?”
Mr. Card eyes went black as his life drifted away, his lips quaking with an unintelligible answer. Buffy stood, gazed up at the enormous sign overhead, and at Giles, clumsily cleaning his glasses.
“Buffy, where have you--?”
“No time, Giles,” Buffy said, wincing as Mr. Card’s own innards spilled from his agape mouth. “We’re not in Sunnydale anymore.”