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This story is No. 2 in the series "A Long Sea Crossing". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: It's a quiet night in down-town LA. The oracles are speaking in riddles and everyone is keeping a low profile. There are rumours that one of the Princes of Hell is in town and nobody wants to risk running into them ...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Miscellaneous > Myths & Legends
Television > Xena-Hercules
pythiaFR212836,95734516,32916 Apr 1125 Apr 11Yes

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Part One

Disclaimer: This story has been written for love rather than profit and is not intended to violate any copyrights held by anyone - Universal, Pacific Rennaisance, or any other holders of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys or Buffy the Vampire slayer trademarks or copyrights.

Warning: This story carries a high rating, as it touches on some very uncomfortable subjects. It also contains some very harrowing and potentially distressing scenes. Some people may find them extremely upsetting. I know I did while I was writing them ...

The bar was dimly lit, the soft, slightly red light from the lamps effectively concealing the dingy paintwork and the age of the wallpaper – which had long since gone from being outdated had passed ‘historic’ and was heading rapidly towards condemned. The tables – which at one time might have been gleaming with polish – were dulled with age, and stained with innumerable substances, some of which had eaten through polish and wood alike. Old posters and older photographs hung on the walls, ripped at the edges and peeling away to reveal splashes of colour not yet dulled by smoke and fumes. They advertised long vanished performers offering entertainment in equally vanished venues; silent movie stars smiled down at the clientele in frozen echoes of a golden age that had never been.

The customers were, on the whole, as seedy and as suspect as their surroundings. A sharp eye might catch the occasional suggestion of horns, the hint of scaled skin or even the glimmer of slime in among the more human flotsam which filled the place. They were a diverse bunch; street punk types with ripped t-shirts and body piercing kept company with well heeled executives dressed down for a night on the wrong side of town; cowled figures lurked in dark corners and burly bikers rubbed shoulders with delicate, over painted women – and one or two over painted men as well.

It was still early evening in the outside world, but the establishment – half buried in a basement and bastioned with rusted shutters - had a late night, long lived in feel to it, as if it were always midnight there and morning never came to the place. Soft laughter rustled from one corner to another and back again. Conversations were quiet, muted and vaguely sinister. It was a place of peril, a meeting point for an underworld society that had little to do with organised crime and everything to do with life, death, and the terrors of both.

Over by the bar, a lone figure was perched on a barstool, nursing a long beer glass and watching the ebb and flow of activity around him with narrowed eyes. He was a rugged, leanly handsome man, with dark hair, a whisper of five o-clock shadow and a body language that suggested he might mean trouble if approached in the wrong way. The sleeves of his dark t-shirt were torn, and the jacket that lay across his knees was a tumble of leather, scuffed and worn to mellow brown from what might have once been black. The barman kept eyeing him with a wary, sideways look, and the one hopeful hooker that slinked up to slide her arm around his shoulders slinked away again to look for more receptive prey. Whatever the man was waiting for, it wasn’t that sort of company.

The bell on the outer door jangled as it opened to admit a customer. Eyes turned in that direction from throughout the bar as various of its inhabitants assessed the new arrival with a mixture of hostility, expectation, and no little hint of hunger and greed. The door closed behind a lean built, rangy figure of a man, draped in a long coat over a casual shirt and a tight fitting pair of jeans. He didn’t look entirely out of place, but nor did he really fit the mold; his face had an open an honest look to it, and suggested college professor more than anything else. He certainly had a scholarly look to him, although it was backed with a wary confidence and his easy studied movement hinted at a physical mastery that made less use of muscle and more of self control. He didn’t immediately take off his coat, although he did remove his glasses, carefully folding them down and putting them away. The man at the bar had turned and looked with the rest; his eyes widened and he turned away in a hurry, hunching down over his drink and muttering a silent curse into his nearly flat beer.

If he’d been hoping to be overlooked, he was scheduled for disappointment. The newcomer strolled down the steps, across the floor and made himself comfortable on the barstool right next to the black clad loner – who gave him a look of disconcerted astonishment, then hastily looked away again as the lugubrious bartender sidled in their direction.

"What’ll it be?" the figure behind the bar demanded, eyeing his new customer with hostile assessment. It would have been hard to term the barkeep a man as such; he seemed to be male, he had two legs, two arms, and only one head, but his face was a misshapen twist of features, his skull was bald, apart from a livid red tattoo and his skin was a pale blue in colour. Most people would have been decidedly intimidated by the leer with which he asked the question; the new arrival just found him a polite smile.

"Bo Peep, please – with gin and a - a little ice, if you can manage it?"

The barkeep visibly relaxed, his lips splitting into a parody of a grin. "Sure. Salt on the rim?" he asked. "Or - er – pickle to stir in?"

"Salt will be fine," mellowed tones assured him. "Thank you."

"Coming right up." The barkeep bustled away, and the newcomer began to ease himself out of his coat and make himself comfortable. His neighbour shot him a glowering look.

"Do you have any idea what you just ordered?" he hissed, half under his breath. It earned him an amused smile.

"My doctor tells me I need the iron. Hello Wesley. Angel told me I might find you here."

"Angel’s a fool," Wesley Wyndam Price muttered, although the complaint held a half affectionate note. "He should know better than to send you marching in here like that. And what the hell is Rupert Giles doing in Los Angeles?"

"Slumming," Giles said, matter of factly, unbuttoning his sleeves and pushing them back. The bar lacked air conditioning, and it was considerable hotter than it would have been outside. The barkeep returned with his drink, placing it down in front of him almost like a challenge. "How much
do I owe you?"

The bartender grinned again – which looked decidedly uncomfortable, whichever angle you viewed it from. "First one’s on the house – provided you drink it, that is."

Wesley suppressed a small shudder. His fellow Englishman reached out, picked up the glass and studied its contents thoughtfully. The drink was a deep red in colour, thick in consistency – and clearly wasn’t tomato juice. "Smells good," Giles considered, wafting the glass under his nose as if it were a fine wine he was holding. "Fresh today?"

"This morning," the barkeep said, watching the man and not the glass. A number of others were watching too; there was an air of expectant tension across the entire bar.

"Good," the object of their attention noted, then added, "your health," as he took a careful sip from the glass and savoured it. Half the customers in the bar leaned forward …

… and then relaxed back again with a collective sigh as the imbiber smiled and nodded, tipping the glass back to take a decent swallow. "Excellent," he announced with satisfaction. And licked his lips, which produced a snorty laugh from the barkeep.

"You can come again," the blue skinned creature decided, bustling away to deal with other customers. Giles lowered the glass to the bar and eyed Wesley’s wide-eyed expression with amusement.

"What?" he questioned. "It’s just a little lamb’s blood. Don’t tell me you never ate black pudding for breakfast, because I won’t believe you." He lifted his glass again and took another sip. Wesley went on staring at him.

"There’s a little difference," he said, after a moment or two, "between eating a cooked black pudding – and drinking the stuff the way it comes out of the vein." His eyes narrowed as he studied his former colleague. "You haven’t – you weren’t – you’re not …?"

"Dead? Or undead?" Giles concluded for him. He smiled and shook his head. "Hardly. Buffy always promised me that, if that ever happened - she’d deal with it. She would too." He paused, his eyes going oddly distant for a moment. "Not that it’s likely to happen. Not n-now, at any rate." He laughed softly, half snort, half self deprecation, and returned his attention to his drink, sipping at it while he glanced around at the occupants of the bar.

"You mind?" Wesley reached over and wrapped his fingers around his company’s wrist where it rested on the bar, searching for a pulse. Giles’ smile became a wry one, but he didn’t protest the contact.

"People might get the wrong idea about you, you know," he pointed out, swirling the ice in his glass and studying the patterns it made.

"Let them." The ex-watcher turned demon hunter retrieved his hand, having found exactly what he was looking for. His eyes reflected his relief, but he went on frowning all the same. That might have had something to so with the faintly ridged scar he’d felt running down the side of his company’s forearm. Or it might have been the faint shade of violet that appeared to tint what had used to be hazel brown eyes. That was new. "I’m hardly here to make friends. What are you doing here, Rupert? Apart from drinking blood cocktails and blowing my cover, that is."

"Looking for you." Giles took another thoughtful sip from his glass as the barman bustled back in their direction. "Cordelia was worried. Thought you might need some backup. And since Angel and Gunn had to rush off to deal with a little problem in Hollywood … I – uh – volunteered to find you. Besides," he added, tipping back the glass to swallow the last drops. "I needed a drink. And it seemed a little – inappropriate – to raid Angel’s supply."

"Backup, huh?" Wesley glanced round, scanning the crowd for trouble. As far as he could see they were being ignored. "I’ve been coming here for three nights now. The big bad’s a no show. No-one’s seen him, or if they have, no-ones talking about it. And there’s this rumour – about someone, something – that’s come to town. Got everyone scared rigid. No-one’s making trouble right now. They’re all keeping a low profile."

"Good thing too," the barkeep said, bringing over a fresh jug of beer and a second glass of blood and gin. "Way I hear it? There’s a prince of Hell in the neighbourhood. The seers are having kittens about it. And no-one can get a word of sense out of them. Safest thing is to lie low and
wait for things to pass."

"A prince of Hell?" Wesley questioned, surprised enough to slip back into scholar mode for a moment. "There’s no conjunctions, there’s been no mystical signs, or prophecies … Why would a noble demon come to LA without magical prescience?"

Giles shrugged. "Perhaps he’s on holiday. Come to see the sights."

Both Wesley and the barkeep gave him a disbelieving look. "Sure," Blueskin reacted. "And I work here for my health. Get real. Those kinda demons only cross over when they want something. And want it bad. Besides – current thing on the grapevine is either a title, a name, or a description. Ripper’s coming. That’s what the oracle said. Who wants to mess with a demon with that epithet?"

"Ripper?" Wesley echoed, throwing a sideways glance at Giles, who gave a non-committal shrug and picked up his fresh glass.

"You never know with oracles," he said philosophically. "They always speak in riddles anyway. Think it must be an occupational requirement."

Ripper? Wesley mouthed again, adding a little urgency to his look.

"So what do we have here?" a coarse voice drawled from somewhere behind them both. The barkeep developed an immediate interest in something at the other end of the bar – and another expectant hush fell over the room. "Brave men, suicidal fools – or just a late supper?"

Giles and Wesley both turned, to find a menacing figure standing right behind them, backed by three or four thuggish types wearing amused and confident smiles. Wesley’s heart sank. It was the villain he’d been trying to track down for the past week – and which he’d rather been hoping to spot before trouble spotted him. No such luck. One warm blooded, living, breathing man might get away with being anonymous, even in a place like this – but the veneer of don’t mess with me he’d been wearing was a suspect protection at the best of times, and the bluff was never going to work now. Not with an equally warm blooded and probably very appetising soul sat right next to him. There’d been a rumour that the character currently pandering sweet runaway flesh to the undead underworld was mortal - but one look was enough to label him vampire; the pale skin, the faintly yellow eyes and the hungry sneer were a definite give-away, even if he wasn’t wearing his ‘vamp’ face as such. Wesley glanced round to check how close the nearest exit was – and his heart sank even further as he realised there were at least three more vamps between them and the way out. They might make it – but it wouldn’t be easy. Cordelia had been right. He was in trouble. A little bit of him wished it had been Buffy she’d sent, not her mentor; however experienced Rupert Giles might be in the overall fight against evil, he wasn’t exactly the Slayer. Not even a Slayer wannbe.

"Do you mind?" Giles was asking mildly, lowering his drink down to the bar and giving the vampire a slightly vexed frown. "We’re just trying to have a quiet drink here."

The vampire threw an amused look over his shoulder. "So are we," he quipped, getting an evil laugh from his cronies. Wesley slid his hand down to retrieve the stake he had hidden in a pocket in his jacket. Not much of a weapon, but better than nothing at all. "And here you are. Walking buffet. Vintage on tap. Much better than the stuff they usual serve around here. Right boys?"

A murmur of agreement rippled round the room. They weren’t going to get any help from the rest of the clientele, that much was certain.

"I - I’m sorry?" Giles’ frown had become a perplexed one. "You seem to have the strange impression that my friend a-and I are on the menu. I can assure you we’re just customers, the same as yourself."

Wesley had to admire the man’s remarkable aplomb; he seemed more irritated than intimidated. The vampire laughed.

"We’re not even in the same league," he chuckled, donning his vamp face and leaning forward threateningly. Wesley’s hand clenched on the stake. Any minute now …

There was a soft metallic sound, something like a sword being drawn from a scabbard, or cutlery being shuffled in a knife draw. Giles’ left hand shot forward with surgical precision, punching the vampire firmly over his breast bone. The demon’s eyes went very wide – and then he simply collapsed into dust, exactly as if he’d been staked.

"No," the Englishman said, quite softly. "We’re not."

Hush became horrified silence – a silence Wesley participated in, since his mouth was busy working, but no sound was coming out of it. Part of him wanted to curse. Part of him wanted to scream – and the rest was simply gibbering quietly in a corner of his soul. Giles was just sitting there, his arm extended in that text book punch, his fingers clenched and the gold ring on his third finger gleaming in the red light.

Which also gleamed off the fan of narrow blades which now spread out from his wrist and along his forearm like some exotic metal fin. The longest of them – the one closest to his hand – extended straight out, past the knuckle of his little finger like an assassins dagger. The rest – five in all, Wesley noted with a Watcher’s instinctive eye for detail – sat at decreasing angles so that the last lay back, parallel with his arm. The punch would have driven the longest blade straight through the vampire’s heart; metal blades weren’t normally a problem for the undead – unless you used them to cut their heads off – but these clearly weren’t the usual kind of blades.

"Anyone else have a problem here?" Giles asked the general assembly, unclenching his fingers and letting the weapons close back into his forearm – the same way a penknife closes, tucked all the way back into the bone. There was an almost universal shaking of heads and shuffling of feet; practically as one, the vampire’s cronies turned and ran for the exit. "Good," he concluded, casually turning back to the bar and the clink of ice in his drink. "Glad to hear it."

Wesley’s fingers were clamped so hard around the concealed stake that they were going numb. He reached down with his other hand and carefully pried them open, bringing both hands back so that he could lay them – trembling – flat against the surface of the bar. His heart was pounding loudly in his chest and there was a tight band of panic holding it in.

"Wesley?" Giles voice was quietly concerned. "Are you all right? You look a little - pale."

"Uhhuh," Wesley managed incoherently. He turned to stare at the man beside him, his eyes drawn – inevitably – to the softly tanned arm that now rested back on the bar. The one which he’d so firmly encircled with his fingers, only a few moments before.

"Oh. Yes. That." The acknowledgement was apologetic. "Sorry about that. I – uh – normally warn people. Well – people who might need to know. Not exactly something I - I make public, you understand."

Wesley nodded, although he didn’t understand at all. Last time he’d seen Rupert Giles, he’d been nothing more than a typically reserved fellow countryman; a scholar of some ability, despite his slightly sloppy approach and the occasional wild leaps of his imagination. Tough, yes. Determined too. You had to be, to train a Slayer and keep her alive for as long as he’d been able to. Wesley’s own failure to connect with Buffy had rankled in the early days of their association, since he’d been confident that Giles’ ‘failures’ had been due to his rebellious disregard for tradition and the importance of the rules. Time, a remarkable Slayer, a vampire with a soul and his own collision with the reality of what they were all fighting had given a different perspective on all of that; he knew now that his fellow Watcher had always been a remarkable man, whose strength to succeed was fuelled by his inner passions, and sustained by a mixture of conviction, commitment, compassion, and love.

Love – not just for what he did, or why he did it – but for the Slayer he'd nurtured and the friends she had found to aid her in her quest.

Except that, right now, that remarkable man was comfortably sitting in a down town demon dive, unconcernedly drinking fresh blood and slaughtering vampires with his own built in Swiss army knife.

Which made him a lot more remarkable than Wesley Wyndam Price had ever considered possible.

The barkeep was edging back down the bar towards them, looking more uncomfortable than ever. He nudged a third drink in Giles’ direction and jerked his head towards a slack faced demon type who was occupying the other end of the bar. "Goygallin bought you this," he said. "In recognition of – well, you know. He’d - like to know your name."

Giles smiled, getting to his feet and tipping back what remained in his glass. "Thank Goygallin for me," he said, "but two is my limit. Maybe another night. If I’m still in town. I really ought to take my friend here home. His family’s expecting him. Here – " he tossed a handful of bills onto the bar. "Buy yourself something – and treat Goygallin too. Ripper’s compliments," he added, with a knowing grin. "Come on Wesley. Let’s get you some air …"
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