Xander, Giles and Jenny had made their way to one of the few diners that stayed open all night. You would think that it was strange to find something like this in a town that had evil running hot and cold but one of the things that Xander had learned was that the regular vampires and demons left well enough alone when it came to certain all night joints. Not only had the owners and workers of these places come to defend them tooth and nail, making it certain that if they went down, whoever came after them wasn't leaving unmarked if at all, but there was also another reason. Everyone needed a place where you could pick up a few things at odd hours in the night and early morning, even demons.
No one had said much of anything since leaving the cemetery. Xander had made sure that the spell was in working order and wasn't overly concerned about anything coming to this town except those that where only drawn by the Hellmouth's energy. He suspected that whatever was on their way here had suddenly realized that they had been lied to and the Thul Bone was somewhere else or promptly gave up on it entirely realizing they had better things to do the second the magic kicked in. Hell, Giles and Jenny probably wouldn't remember exactly where it was and they had hid the damn thing.
The whole ride over, Xander had tried racking his brain for any information on Giles sister that he might know. He hadn't come up with anything, which wasn't much of a surprise. Buffy was the only one who had gotten to know Giles on that deep of an intimate level and only knew a little bit about Giles family but he couldn't remember her mentioning a sister or any other family except his father and Grandmother who were both in the Watchers Council. There was too little information for him to even begin trying to piece together what this was going to be about. He hadn't heard Giles ever bring his sister up before so whatever it was, it probably had to do with what happened on Halloween in some roundabout way. It's the only reason that Giles would even be talking to him about what was bound to be a sensitive subject. That meant that they were talking about something with the Nightside, which wasn't going to be pretty.
Once everyone was seated in a booth, black coffee all around, Xander had completely dropped the slightly goofy personality traits that he had. He was still silly and in fact geekish in his way but it was a lot more subdued, only coming out when he was completely comfortable or putting on an act. The latter being more often than the former since he was rarely comfortable these days. The Nightside had jaded and hardened him more then he would have liked, but that was the way of the world.
"So let's hear it," Xander started, his voice gaining that edge he used when he was working a case.
Reaching into a brief case he had brought in his car, Giles removed a sheet of paper that had been carefully tapped back together in a plastic sheet and slid it carefully across the Formica table. Eyeing it warily, Xander picked it up and tried his best to keep his face under control. Never let them see you sweat, that's what John always used to say. The paper, however, was something that Xander had hoped to never see again, though he often did in his nightmares. The artist rendering couldn't possibly do the thing justice, after all it was only in two-dimensions and the artist was far too sane. No one could quite capture the essence of the Lamentation and no one ever should. Out of everything that Xander had witnessed in the Nightside, the Lamentation was one of the worst for him.
"Where did you find this?" Xander asked his voice thick.
"It was faxed to me by a...an acquaintance of mine. Specifically, only after I made mention of the Nightside and dropping the name John Taylor." Giles continued staring at Xander, hoping to see some kind of reaction from him.
Dropping the paper back on the table, Xander shook his head. "Let it go, Rupert. That…thing won't be bothering anyone anymore."
"So I've heard. But still, I need to know. What is it, Xander? What power did it hold? What did it do?"
Xander was ready to jump out of the booth and head for the door till he made the mistake of looking Giles in eye. There was emotion in them, pure and simple rage and pain. Not directed at Xander, but at the subject and it was then that Xander knew. Something had happened with his sister and Xander now knew what it was. But there was nothing that he could offer to help ease the Watchers mind or undue what had happened. In fact, knowing would more than likely only hurt him more than leaving it a mystery. Could he do it, though? Was he able to just walk away and leave Giles in the dark? What about the option? Could he explain to him that his sister had offered herself up, killed herself in the name of the Lamentation in order to escape whatever turmoil she felt? In the end, it wasn't his call to make. Giles was more than old enough to make these decisions for himself. Besides, if he stone walled the man, Giles would only keep searching and end up doing something drastic and end up getting himself killed.
"Let's start from the beginning," Xander said with a sigh. "What are we talking about here? Why do you think this has anything to do with your sister?"
Jenny, who had been sitting close to the librarian showing her support, put her hand over his. It was easy to see that she was aware of what had happened, which would probably make it easier in the long run. If Xander was right in his assumption, Giles would need someone to talk to, to help him through this, after they were done talking.
Taking a steadying breath, Giles began. "I wouldn't be bringing this up if there wasn't a chance…if there weren't a chance that…that Abigail might be alive. My sister, you see, never did fit in with the rest of us. She was them, uh, 'black sheep' as it were. The Giles' family has had a hand in the Watchers Council for as long as the family name has been around and we my father was no different.
"Abby was younger than me, nearly twenty years. It came as quite a shock to all of us when my mother announced it. I was going through my rebellious years at that time, getting involved in things…well, anything really. Anything that I thought might be enough to have my father sever ties with me so I wouldn't be forced to become a bloody Watcher."
"Your sister changed something," Xander stated.
Nodding, Giles continued. "When she was born, I knew without a doubt that my father wouldn't hesitate to cut me from the family now. He wasn't a harsh man, mind you. He merely wanted the family to continue on in the tradition. Abby would have suited him just as well as I would have. But when I first saw her, when I looked down at her, at the small girl who had been alive for barely a day, I couldn't let him do that. I couldn't allow him to condemn her to a life of nightmares and monsters, of constant battles and death.
"That day I spoke with my father and we made a deal of sorts, one he was more than happy to accept. I joined the council that very night, enrolling in all the necessary classes and such, and as long as I kept up the family name, Abigail would be spared the horrors that we dealt with. He swore to keep it from her as much as he could and he was as good as his word."
He paused for a moment, apparently lost in a memory that he would have liked to forget. His eyes glassy with unshed tears, Giles entwined his fingers with Jenny's. Xander had almost completely forgotten the woman was there.
"It wasn't until my father passed away that she found out our dark secret. Abby was fourteen when it happened. She was studying at a private school in France of all places." He smiled briefly at this, though it looked as if he was ready to shut down at any moment.
"What happened, Giles?" Xander prodded as gently as he could.
Nodding, Giles went on. "My father had set up for Abby's education funds to be taken directly out of his account, however he had left quite a considerable amount to the Council after his death and Abby was present when the will was read. I had tried to ignore or put off her questions about the Council but it was too hard, they were always there during that time either going through his Watcher's diaries or talking to me about my future in the Council. I was engrossed in my work and she was smart, too damn smart. She started going through his papers, those that the Council didn't claim as their property anyway. Whatever she found in those damn notes…she called me one evening, nearly six months after our father passed. She was frantic, babbling about being able to help, that she had found some way to help end it all. She hung up before I could ask her what she was talking about. It was the last time I ever heard from my sister."
Giles sighed and seemed to age a decade with that one breath. His shoulders slumped and if the now cold coffee wasn't in front of him, Xander was sure he would have fallen forward. Jenny had been watching him the whole time he was telling the story, sympathizing with the man she clearly loved. When it seemed that Giles wasn't going to continue, Jenny turned to Xander.
"It was after Halloween that Giles found some sort of clue as to what might have happened. He was trying to find information about this Nightside place and about the guy who you turned into, John Taylor. One of his contacts had thought Giles was still looking into his sister's disappearance," Jenny explained. "He thought that Giles was in on the secret now and he could be let in on a few things. It turns out that the Council had looked into her disappearance in secret, tracked her down all the way to the Nightside but they wouldn't go any further. Rupert says that they have this sort of 'hands off' policy with it. But this man's brother had went there a few times, drove him nuts too. When he was sane enough to talk again, he kept going on about…whatever that is." Jenny pointed to the piece of paper on the table with an almost sick look to her face. "He drew that and mentioned Abigail's name a few times. Taylor's name came up too."
"Seems a bit strange to me, some random guy who happens to end up in the Nightside happens to run into the Lamentation and finds out about Abigail. The Nightside is a big place, so big in fact that it's easy to get lost just walking down the street and the one thing that it doesn't have is coincidences," Xander told them.
"I understand how it sounds, Xander," Giles said, his eyes once again level with his. "The man is insane and not to be trusted but…I have to look into this. I need to know. The only things that I have been able to come up with are a few obscure and random passages that call this…this thing the Lamentation. Some sort of dark God or what have you. The only other thing is that John Taylor has some sort of history with it and that he destroyed it."
Xander remained silent, hoping that Giles would take it as a sign, hell that he would even get fed up and punch him. Anything than make him tell him what he was sure he didn't want to know.
"Xander," Giles said his voice soft, almost desperate, pleading. "I have left you alone out of respect and because I can't possibly begin to understand what it is that's happened to you. Even when you've felt the need to intervene, when you've felt it warranted, I chose to let you be. When the Judge was assembled I saw you across the street from the warehouse. I don't have an explanation why he suddenly fell apart but I do know that you had a hand in it. While I thank you for it, I know that you had a reason for staying in the shadows and I kept that from the others. I need your help, Xander."
He had thought he had been careful that night, staying hidden from view but he was wrong. When Angel had told him about the demon and who it was after, he had dropped everything and went to help. It had been simple enough to break the spell that kept the thing in one piece, making it fall to apart again. Apparently Giles had seen him and didn't tell Buffy or Jenny either, judging by the shocked look on her face. He didn't feel he owed the man for that, in fact after everything he didn't really feel he owed anyone, well, perhaps Angel, but that was a different matter.
"Giles…this isn't something that can be explained easily. The truth isn't pretty and it's not going to clear up anything. I don't know anything about Abigail, John never came across anyone who even had that name. But this thing," he said holding the drawing up again. "This thing isn't some dark God, not in the way they talk about. It was a Power and Domination to be sure, but like most things it was just playing at being a God. This thing haunts my nightmares, Giles. When I go to sleep at night, it's the Lamentation that I check for under my bed.
"John didn't just come into contact with it, he destroyed it. Ripped the magic from it and left it huddled on the floor like so much garbage. It…it preyed on the weak and the down trodden. Not so strange for the Nightside, but this thing was different. It went for those that wanted to end it, to kill themselves. They gave themselves up to it by ending their lives, hoping to get some peace and rest. Instead this thing kept them alive, if you could call it that, for its own sick and twisted wants. It was a creature of suicides and false promises. Giles…if your sister…if Abigail went looking for this thing, then I'm sorry but she's gone"
Dishes clacked in the background. Silverware cut across plates, idle and light hearted conversation carried on all around them but none of it did anything to ease the heavy air that seemed to be pressing in on them from all sides. The information Xander had given them wasn't what they had expected, not that he could even begin to guess what they had expected. He felt sorry for Giles but this was the truth, it's what he was asking for. He may not have wanted to hear it, but it's what he needed. No one wanted the truth, not really. The truth hurt and could break a man but with something like this, what else was there to do?
"I'm sorry, Giles. I really am."
"No. I don't believe it. Abigail…Abby would never do something like that. She was going there for help, don't you see? Perhaps she thought she could get some from this Lamentation but then left when she realized the truth. You have to help me find her. I know you can do it."
"Giles, don't do this," Xander pleaded tiredly.
"No!" Giles yelled, getting to his feet and out of Jenny's grasp. "I know you can do it. You don't think I haven't heard the rumors, that any of us haven't heard them? You've been selling your damn services to demons and the like, not caring what the job was but now you're suddenly hesitant. When you got in over your head you came to me and did I turn you away?"
Xander, already on his feet, slammed his hands on the table with enough force to cause Jenny to jump slightly. "You don't know what you're asking! Even if I could find her it would mean going back there, Giles. Back to the Nightside, back to that insane asylum they call a city. You don't know the first thing about the place, even with all your warnings and damn books. If you did then you wouldn't be so willing to go there to find your sister who's, if she's lucky, been dead for years!"
Xander didn't see the punch coming and reeled back from the hit, losing his balance and falling back into the booth. If it hadn't been Giles who had hit him, Xander would have been on his feet and throwing his own punches but he stopped himself just short of pulling his fist back. Giles was seething and had only stopped from trying to hit him again by Jenny grabbing his shoulders, holding him still.
Neither said a word, merely glared. Everyone in the diner had stopped what they were doing and stared at the two of them waiting for someone to make the next move. The day time citizens of Sunnydale would run at the first sign of anything that even resembled trouble but those who ventured out at night knew the difference between a demonic attack and regular fist fight. No one would try to stop it, not when it was more interesting than any conversation they may be having.
"She's not dead," Giles seethed.
Shaking his head, Xander stormed away banging the door open on his way out. Taking a big breath of the fresh air, he tried to calm himself down. It wasn't doing him any good, but anything short of punching someone a few times really would. He understood Giles anger. He had seen it countless times before. Everyone in the Nightside had experienced loss like the type Giles had. Hell, most of the people in Sunnydale had as well but they just had the luxury of pretending that something else had happened and promptly forgot it. It was one of the things that he despised most about this place. At least back in the Nightside people simply didn't care if you ended up missing or dead. Everybody understood the risk and if they didn't, well, victims of circumstance weren't uncommon in any place you went.
"Xander, wait!" Jenny called to him leaving the diner. He turned to face her, hands stuffed deep into his coats pockets. "Rupert...he was stressed. You have to understand, he's never really believed that his sister was dead. There was never any body and...he spent years looking for her."
"I get. Trust me, I really get it. But the sooner he realizes that she's dead the better off he'll be. If he gets it in his head to go after her, he'll only end up the same as her, or worse."
"I know that," she sighed, wrapping her arms around herself as a wind chilled her. "And...he knows that. This is the only thing he could think to do."
Raising his eyebrow, Xander looked her in the eyes. "No, it isn't. He could give up on it, get over it and move on."
"She isn't dead, Xander," Jenny told him. "Believe me, if she was I would have talked him out of this, tried to get him some help, something!"
"What are you talking about? She disappeared, what, six years ago into the Nightside? I don't think any of you really understand what that place is."
"You told them that people went to the Nightside all the time. You made it through."
Frustrated and angry, Xander grabbed Jenny roughly on her shoulders. "Listen to me! Whatever anyone has told him, whatever anyone has said, it's a lie! And even if she was still alive there's no guarantee that she would be the same person she was back then. The Nightside changes people, Jenny."
Shaking free of his grasp, Jenny straightened herself. She looked angry but her eyes showed a bit of fear. "Like it changed you? Rupert and the others told me what happened after Halloween, what happened with Kendra, but I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that you could do something like that, not knowingly. You helped people, Xander. You saved Buffy several times, countless others as well!"
She took a step back, as the two continued to watch each other. It was true. He remembered what it had been like back then. To him it seemed so long ago but to everyone else only a small amount of time had passed. The Nightside really had changed him and no one would realize it. At one time he would have jumped up and grabbed the nearest weapon ready to charge into wherever the hell Giles had said to go after. He would have liked to say that he was still that guy, but he knew he wasn't. The Nightside did so love to break a hero.
Jenny turned to leave, giving Xander one more look of disgust before doing so. As she reached the door, Xander called out for her to stop. "I'll look into it, as much as I can. But I'm not going there, I won't."
She nodded her head just enough so he could see, but didn't turn around before entering the diner leaving Xander standing alone on the sidewalk. He'd be one of the first to admit that he was a sucker for a lady in distress, another thing he and John had in common. While it wasn't Jenny who was actually looking for help, it had called to that all important male part of his brain that made him do stupid things. Or maybe he was just trying to prove to himself that he wasn't as much of a bastard as he thought he was. Either way, he had his work cut out for him. At the end of it though, he almost hoped that Abigail Giles had been dead for six years and wasn't trapped somewhere in the Nightside.
The next night Xander found himself sitting on the couch in Angel's apartment. It was still slightly odd to consider it their apartment, it sounded too permanent. He might have changed his view on the vampire but he didn't want to live with the guy for the rest of his life. The sooner he could get his own place, the better it would be. For now he was grateful to just have a roof over his head that he could count on.
In his hands he held a yellow legal pad as he taped the edge of a pen against the paper. Only a few odd lines of writing littered the page. There was so little information to go on in regards to Abigail's disappearance and too many possibilities. Xander ignored the usual suspects such as being picked off fresh from the underground by any number of things. If that was the case, then this whole thing would be futile. Instead he focused more on some of the usual suspects that may or may not have had gotten their hands on her.
The Lamentation was dead or at least close enough to it. The husband and wife that had made up that horrible thing had no power anymore now that they had been separated. Either way, it was crossed of the list. Abigail wasn't one of its followers, Xander knew that. He couldn't explain it, but he knew it. When John had severed the line of power that the Lamentation had over those that worshiped it, he touched them all in a way. If Abigail was one of them, he would have known it, felt it.
Glancing at the rest of the names, Xander let out a breath and tossed the pad down on the coffee table. This was pointless. There wasn't any way he could actually figure out what happened without going into the Nightside. Something that he couldn't bring himself to do, not if he wanted to keep what little of his sanity he had at the moment. But without actually doing the footwork, what could he do? John had contacts he could call on but they wouldn't do anything for him. Abigail was missing for too long and any leads would be cold anyway. It was all he could do to not throw the pen against the wall in frustration. It was a simple missing person's case, no matter how long it had been, he should be able to find her. Instead he was stuck sitting here and trying to reason it out which was never his strong point. He didn't even have a damn picture of the girl.
Standing, he went into the kitchen alcove, taking a bottle out of the cabinet above the small stove. Staring at the label, his thoughts drifted back to the Nightside. In the back of his head he could hear the screams of the dead and the dying and the laughter of those that reviled in it. His vision tunneled as memories started to flash to the forefront of his mind. The choices that he had made, that John had made. They were the hard choices that no one else could make, no one else would make. That just meant that he had more blood on his hands then he would ever be able to wash off.
It wasn't fair. He didn't ask for this, he didn't want to be like this. It took everything in him to keep it together and the cases he took, the menially little things that he did to keep busy, helped with that. And when there wasn't a case, the drinking helped too. It did little to hold back the anger he was constantly feeling though, the rage that was building up inside of him at the complete lack of understanding from everyone here. Even the demons were too...normal. They didn't know what it was like to have lived through what he'd been through. It would have been funny to think of demons of being too soft it wasn't completely frustrating.
With a snarl, Xander hurled the bottle at the wall with a satisfying crash. He didn't know when he had started breathing heavily but suddenly his chest was heaving and his face was flushed. He watched the liquor splash onto the floor and dribble down the wall, glass laying everywhere.
Spinning on his feet, Xander found Angel at the door watching him. If it had been anyone else, Xander would have played it off, maybe got in there face just for the joy of looking for a fight. But Angel understood, so much as anyone could, what he was feeling. He knew the confusion and the guilt over things that were completely out of his control. The vampire dealt with all of it on a daily basis with what Angelus did. His curse made sure of it.
Deflating slightly, Xander looked back at the wall where he smashed the bottle of scotch. "Yeah, sorry about that. Just...frustrated."
"I can see that. Seems to be a lot of that going on." Angel shut the door and walked further into the apartment. "I ran into Giles back at the library, Buffy had to stop by after patrol. He didn't seem to be in the best of moods either, snapped at Buffy more than once. Heard him mutter your name under his breath a few times. Anything you want to talk about?"
Running a hand over his face, Xander sighed. It took only twenty minutes to explain to Angel what had happened between him and Giles. Angel was interested to learn that Giles had a sister, but was concerned about the same things Xander was.
"He's going to end up trying to find his sister if you can't," Angel stated.
Nodding, Xander leaned heavily against the wall. "Giles will ignore everything and run right into the Nightside without knowing anything. He'll get himself killed if not worse."
"And you can't track her down from here."
"That's the long and the short of it. If I went to the Nightside, I'd at least be able to try to pick up some kind vibe on her or at least get some news on what happened to her. Someone knows. There's always someone who knows the truth about something or other there. At least close enough to the truth to get started."
After a few moments, Angel looked up. "The Council. They said that the Watchers Council made an investigation into her disappearance, right? Even if they didn't go after her in the Nightside they might have more information than what we have."
"It's a start. Its better then what I've been able to come up with anyway." Wryly, Xander asked, "And what's this 'we' business?"
Raising an eyebrow questioningly, Angel asked, "You saying you don't want my help on this?"
"Not saying I don't want it, just wondering why. I mean, yeah, you've helped me before but usually there was some kind of disaster going on or something really big was happening."
"It's Giles. Besides, there is the fact that this girl might actually be alive," Angel said not fully convincingly.
"Don't want to see Buffy get hurt if anything happens to Giles, huh?"
"Something like that, yeah."
Pushing off the wall, Xander started to gather up the pad and pen. "Any idea how to get this information or are we going to have to talk with Giles again? I don't think either of us is in the mood to really see each other so soon."
"I got an idea. There's a guy I know who might be able to make contact with someone in the Council." Angel peered into the kitchen and winced at the wall. The scotch had run down it completely and the small apartment had started to reek of the liquor. "Clean that up while I'm gone."
Before Xander could protest, Angel had left the apartment. In his head, he chuckled. He was probably more upset that it had actually been a good bottle then the fact that he had made a mess in the surprisingly neat vampire's home. He wasn't feeling better, not really. But he was headed in a direction now, he was doing something. In the long run, that's all that mattered. Keep busy and move fast enough and the demons couldn't catch up with him, both real figurative ones. Well, no point in dwelling on that now, or ever if he had his way. Clean up the smashed bottle and wait for Angel to get back. It was something at least.