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The Rhymer's Return

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This story is No. 2 in the series "The Rhymer's Gifts". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The gifts she made were numbered thrice, beneath the Eildon tree. The price he gave was triple paid: three time three the key.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Miscellaneous > Myths & LegendspythiaFR724,805361,1022 Aug 102 Aug 10Yes

Witch to the rescue

Warnings and Disclaimers in Part one.




At 5:37 precisely, every single lock inside the Romsey police station snapped open. Every fire alarm bell sprang to life, filling the place with pulsing sound, and every single phone line, computer screen, copier and fax went dead. A wind, filled with the scents of summer and the sharp tang of the sea flew through the building, lifting papers from desks, tugging posters from walls, and pushing open the (now) unlocked doors. It arrived in the custody suite in a swirl of dust and flowers and summer leaves, which danced in front of the desk for a moment before turning into a very angry looking young woman, wearing tight fitting jeans and a drawstring gypsy shirt. Her long hair was fanned out to form a halo of glimmering white – and her feet were a good seven or eight inches above the ground.

The custody sergeant immediately hit the alarm, which didn’t make much difference as it, like all the other alarms, was already ringing. The young woman frowned at him for a moment, lifted one hand, closed her fingers - and silence fell. 

“Are you Merryfield? The custody sergeant?” she asked, and he nodded dumbfoundedly, the shock of her appearance having – briefly – rendered him incapable of speech. “Where’s Giles?”

He pointed towards the line of cells with a shaking hand. Dr McKinley had just emerged from one, either because she’d finished what she was doing, or possibly to determine the cause of the alarms. She took one look at the young woman floating unconcernedly above the tiled floor and the file she was holding dropped from her suddenly nerveless fingers. Papers scattered in every direction, painting the floor in an avalanche of white and pink and brown.

“Oh, good lord, Willow,” a warm voice said from behind her. “That really isn’t necessary.”The young woman turned, the anger in her eyes instantly replaced with brilliant delight. Her halo of hair swirled down into a lush bob that swung and bounced around her elfin features, shimmers of red and gold creeping into her locks. She also dropped like a stone and hit the floor with her feet already running, powering her forward, past the still startled doctor – straight into the arms that the man held out for her, her own folding round him in a determined bear hug.

“Giles, oh sweet goddess, Giles!

The crackle of power and presence that had announced her arrival dissipated almost without a trace. All that was left was a young, redheaded woman, hugging the man with almost desperate fervour, as if she hadn’t seen him for years.Which – if he was indeed the man in the missing person’s report – was almost certainly the case.

“Hello, Willow,” Rupert Giles said with what sounded like a catch in his voice. “It’s good to see you.”

Her head – previously buried into his chest with the certainty of a cat determined to offer affection whether the recipient wanted or not – jerked up, and she stared at him with wide eyes. “Truly?” she asked, and he smiled.

“Cross my heart and hope to die …”

“… for I cannot tell a lie …” Willow’s eyes went even wider. “You did it? You really, really did it? You have the Rhymer’s gift?”

“That- and a couple of other things.” His smile crooked into a wry grin, and she returned it with warmth. “She – um - drove a … hard bargain. Took me a little longer than I thought. Three years longer, apparently. Hence the – um – good to see you. The – ah – business we’re in, I couldn’t be sure that … any of you …”

“Hey,” she interrupted firmly. “None of that. Well, okay, a little of that, perhaps, because you’ve been away, and you wouldn’t know, and there have been … moments, since you’ve been gone, but - I’m here, and I’m fine. Xander’s in New Zealand and he’s fine. Dawn’s busy defending her Doctoral thesis, and Buffy … oh, boy.” She paused to gulp in a much needed breath. “Buffy’s in Cleveland. With Faith. And she is going to be so mad that she wasn’t here to meet you.” A second breath was for courage; the look in her eyes held a haunted apology. “She – she didn’t think you’d be coming back…”

Reinforcements were beginning to arrive; several burly policemen, a plainclothes officer and even a dog handler – complete with dog – were emerging from various doorways and concrete stairways. The dog bounded in as its handler slipped the leash, ran across to the oblivious pair standing in the corridor, took one sniff – and sat back in what looked like astonishment, its mouth panting open and its tail starting a furious wag of delight. The lurking policemen all shared a bemused look, while the custody officer waved his hands at them in an equally bemused attempt to get them to stay where they were. Dr McKinley had backed into the wall, and was slowly trying to edge her way along it, her eyes still wide and looking shell shocked.

Giles was clearly trying to understand Willow’s apology – and the reason for it, which – just as clearly – had not made any sense at all. “Why on earth …” Possible comprehension glimmered, and his face fell. “She thought I’d fail? That I wouldn’t …”

No,” Willow dismissed that thought with a hint of exasperation. “Course not. She was all ‘Yay, Giles,’ and ‘if anyone can do this, he’s the doing-guy’ … but then … she told us what you said. About not being missed. And, I guess …” She took another of those determined breaths and let it all tumble out, three years of anxious waiting, along the regret of maybe- just maybe­ – agreeing with her friend and not wanting to believe it, even if there was too much of her that did. “She thought you wouldn’t want to come back. That you’d do – the thing, and be hero-guy, and then … then we’d fail you. That you’d think we’d all moved on without you. That you weren’t needed, that we’d be better off without you and – you’d stay. Because of the growing distant thing, and that – we never told you how much we loved you, and needed you … that all those upsets and angers and disappointments and all that other stupid stuff we’ve all been trying to sort out in our heads would get in the way. That you’d … you’d think …” She was crying now, soft, heartfelt tears welling from her eyes and trickling slowly down her cheeks. Tears of sorrow, for a sense of loss. Tears of anger at her own failings. And tears of joy, because the fear that haunted her had been wrong.

So wrong.

“Buffy thought – we thought – that you’d have no faith in our love. That you wouldn’t know … and you wouldn’t want to come home …”

“Oh, Willow.” Giles gathered her back into his arms, pulling her in a loving hug that spoke volumes. Willow buried her face in his chest again, trying to settle the sobs that were shaking her frame. “Such a load of tosh and nonsense. How long have you been studying magic now? Long enough to know that that’s not how it works, I hope. And, yes,” he went on, driven to elucidate his point, “had I been lured away, and one of you – Buffy I would hope, but any of you would have done – had been required to bring me back, ala Tam Lin, then … maybe, that concern would have validity. But I wasn’t lured. I wasn’t taken. I went of my own free will, and I earned my freedom – through my own merits, my own determination … and through my love for the whole impossible, infuriating, insufferable, and irreplaceable lot of you, not the other way around. Bugger,” he muttered at the end of that. 

Willow made an odd sound, half sob, half giggle.“Truth got your tongue?”

He grimaced. “Tripped me up and left me flailing. Oh well – in for a penny, as they say … I was tempted to stay. In fact – when she offered me her final gift, I was extremely tempted to take her up on her offer. But  …I went there with a purpose, and I never lost sight of it, despite the … distractions I encountered. I had good reasons for that. Reasons that were threefold, like the gifts - like the price: my duty to my oath, my duty to myself, and – above all things – my duty to my family. And I think – I think if I had failed at that final hurdle, I would have disappointed her. But I didn’t. So she laughed, and she accepted my choice – and she set me free. Completely free,” he added, a little pointedly. “Free to roam as I will, wherever I wish. No barrier can hinder me, no lock can confine me, no chain or rope can bind me,  – and the only thing the gift will not undo are the ties of the heart. Which I bear willingly, and without regret …”

The dog turned and growled softly, making the couple of policemen feeling brave enough to edge forward immediately edge backwards again. Sgt Merryfield had pulled out his chair and was helping Dr McKinley sit down in it. The dog handler unclipped her flask and offered it across without comment; the doctor took it, smelled the contents, raised an eyebrow – and then took a hearty gulp of its contents, bringing a healthy flush of colour back to her cheeks.

“Wow,” Willow was saying, pushing back a little to stare up into green and amber eyes. “That’s a pretty awesome gift. No barrier? Gates, fences, walls … rivers? Canyons? Wards and shields ..?”

“Not even,” Giles leant forward to whisper it, “red tape.” His eyes darted towards their gathered audience, and he smiled. There was enough of a knowing smirk in it to make the officers that had arrested him go a little pale. Dr McKinley dropped the flask to the desk with a decided thump.

“And I was thinking of sectioning him,” she muttered, earning herself a sympathetic pat on the shoulder from Sgt Merryfield. 

Willow frowned. “So I come charging in all witch to the rescue – and you could have walked out of here at any time?  Why didn’t you?”

“Well,” Giles considered, holding out one hand so that his guitar case– which had been safely locked away in the evidence locker – could gently float into it. “For one thing, I was enjoying the good Sgt’s hospitality. He makes a wonderful cup of tea. Nectar. Especially after three days of tempted self deprivation.” The strap slid easily over his shoulder, letting the instrument settle comfortably at the small of his back. At least four of the watching officers wondered why they’d never spotted the sword, resting in its handy scabbard on the back of the case. “For another,” Giles continued, removing his other arm from Willow’s waist so he could tuck it back round her shoulders with companionable affection. “I was quizzing Dr McKinley here on recent events. It’s only been three days for me – and three years here, apparently. I felt the need to catch up. While the Sgt was kind enough to make the necessary phone call. And thirdly,” he added, turning her towards the cell door opposite the one he’d been locked behind, “I didn’t think it would be fair to leave these good officers to deal with the vampire they had locked into their holding cells. Waiting for nightfall, I presume?”

The occupant of the cell in question lurched out of the doorway with a hiss, his face distorted and his eyes a gleaming, angry yellow. “What the hell gave me away?” he demanded, glaring at the couple in the passageway with unmistakable hatred. The dog whimpered and slunk back to his handler. Policemen reached for their truncheons  Willow straightened up, stepping out from under Giles’ arm to cup her hands and begin rolling them, one above the other. Her hair drifted out at the tips, as if lifted by an undetected breeze. “And who the hell are, you, anyway?”

“I have been away too long,” Giles muttered, rolling his eyes. “Look up Giles, Rupert,” he said sternly. “You’ll find it indexed under Slayer: Watcher to the -  and nothing gave you away. Except perhaps your turning down one of those superb cups of tea. I’ve just come back from three days at the Fairie court. I’ve been gifted with the Sight. And I could see straight through your disguise.”

“Right ,” the vampire scoffed, baring his fangs in a hungry smile. “Fat lot of good the Fairies are going to do you …”

He sprang forward – straight into the sudden ball of light that Willow released from her cupped hands. His reaching leap became a flail of agony. Giles stepped one way, Willow the other – and the flaming vampire fell into the space between them, little whiffs of smoke spiralling up as his ashes drifted down.

“I love the smell of vamp dust in the morning,” Willow quoted happily, fastidiously brushing some of it off her shoulder. Giles frowned at her.

“But it’s nearly six o’clock in the evening.”

I know. I just … oh. True tongue, huh?”

“I’m afraid so. Apparently I need to … practice curbing it.”

Willow giggled. “That won’t be hard. Just think of Anya every time you start to say something you think you might regret.”

Giles opened his mouth to respond to that – took a thoughtful breath instead and closed his mouth again. This triggered a round of snapping jaws from their audience, most of whom had had their mouths open ever since the fireball. Dr McKinley’s jaw had dropped at the appearance of vampire, which rather suggested that the stalwarts of the Hampshire Constabulary might know more than they’d be prepared to admit.

Willow smothered a second giggle. “Ready to go?” she asked. Giles nodded.

“Absolutely. Can we …. um … find a place to eat on the way? I’m starving.

“Oh – right. Yeah.” Willow dug into a pocket and produced a fancy looking phone. “Andrew? You still at the office? Good. Call up the Golden Duck and have them send over a seven treasures banquet, will you? Yeah – the one with two kinds of sweet and sour. Don’t forget the garlic mushrooms … oh, and send a message to the Adarax liason will you? Tell them …” She paused to flash an affectionate smile at her company. “Tell them the Rhymer’s come home – and we’re finally ready to make that deal.”



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