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Of Demons, Deserts and Parasites

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This story is No. 4 in the series "A Long Sea Crossing". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Part two of 'A Long Sea Crossing.' In which we find out how Giles and Sky first met, why jumping to conclusions can harm the innocent, and how the truth can set you free.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Miscellaneous > Myths & Legends
Television > Xena-Hercules
pythiaFR181738,3181136,0301 Oct 1114 Oct 11Yes


Disclaimers in part one

It was nearly midday by the time the black and white pulled into the Motel car park. The other deputy - the stocky redneck with the bad attitude - had delivered the pick-up a good two hours before, giving Buffy time to climb inside the cab and carefully polish away all the lingering evidence of the examination it had undergone. The forensic team had left white dust and sticky tape all over the place; the cab had been relatively easy to clean, but she'd had to wince and resign herself to merely restacking some of the gear tumbled in the back. At least they hadn't damaged any of Giles' books too badly - although they had clearly pawed their way through his clothes and personal stuff, shuffled all his camping equipment and searched in every nook and cranny for evidence that wouldn't have been there to be found.

The florid faced policeman had been curt and decidedly off-hand when he made the delivery; he'd more or less thrown her the keys, grunted something about Deputy Zaherne and release papers and then stalked off. Buffy had decided she still didn't like him, and that it was just as well it was full daylight – which meant that she'd left Spike sprawled across their shared motel bed in a state of somnambulant satiation. Had he been there, the vampire would probably have taken the redneck's brusqueness as a personal affront.

Buffy had let him go, allowing the man to walk away without remonstration - mainly because if she had called him to task, he might well have ended up flat on his back, or limping away. She was the Slayer, gifted with the strength to dismember demons. She knew better than to express her anger like that. Especially when she was this angry.

Angry at the way men sworn to uphold the law had leapt to wrong conclusions and administered personal 'justice' without recourse to trial or regard to consequences. Angry too, that - now they knew how wrong they'd been - their instincts were to get rid of the embarrassment as quickly and as quietly as possible. And angry at a world where such things happened, and had to happen, because of the needs of the greater good.

If things were different, if their world was other than it was, she'd have been first in the queue to help their victim file his complaint. But if things were different, then that complaint wouldn't exist to be made - because the events that had brought Giles to Wilton Meadows would never have happened in the first place.

That was part of the Slayer's gift to the world - that it remained ignorant of what it cost to keep it safe. To people like Maybourne and his Sheriff, demons were the stuff of myth and legend, and those that knew - that stood against them - had to keep it that way.

It was just that the price her Watcher had paid - and was still paying - had been so high. For him to be so maltreated by the very people for whom he had almost sacrificed his soul was intolerable - and yet she, and he, would endure that abuse in silence.

To do any less would be a betrayal of his oath and her destiny.

She'd have to live with it. But it didn't mean she had to like it.

Not one little bit …

Once she'd done what she could with the pick-up - and all that wiping and polishing had helped expend a little of her frustrated anger - she'd found a place to sit out in the sun and wait. It felt a little odd, just sitting there, watching the world go by and feeling the sun on her skin and the soft whisper of the desert breezes ruffle her hair. Reality - the every day bustle of everyday lives - seemed vaguely distant and unconnected to the truth of her existence. The people that hurried by or paused to converse with one another were like flickering shadows, images glimpsed through an opaque screen. They were real enough; but they lived on the other side of a wall - the wall between their safe, secure lives and the vibrant, perilous realm she knew, where darkness and light warred in eternal opposition. Where vampires stalked the night and demons lurked to seize the innocent and the unwary. Where angels unfurled wings made of gold and glory - and where the strength of the human heart was the greatest weapon of all.

That realm seemed a lifetime away from the soft, sunwashed streets of Wilton Meadows. Which, she sighed to herself, was just as it should be.

She stirred from her seat long enough to buy a cream cheese bagel and a bottle of Dr Pepper from a nearby kiosk, and sat and ate brunch in the sun, tugging the mobile out of her purse so that she could phone home and check in. Tara answered the call; she said that Willow was awake but still weak and headachy; that Dawn had headed off to school on time for once, that Xander and Anya were both at work, and that life in Sunnydale was continuing at its usual hectic pace. She'd be back soon, Buffy promised - and then cut the conversation short, since the black and white was pulling into the lot with the dark haired deputy at the wheel - and a familiar figure folded into the seat beside her.

Buffy suppressed the desire to leap to her feet and run over to the car like an eager six-year old. She had no idea how Giles might react to the kind of exuberant relief she wanted to express. The last time she'd seen him … The memory of it haunted her, the pain and the despair of it feeling like taloned claws sunk into her heart. There'd been a nagging fear, deep in the pit of her stomach, that she might not see him again. That the weight of his grief and his guilt might have been more than his wounded soul could endure.

Prison, the deputy had said, her own guilt in the affair darkening her eyes and creasing her brow, is no place for a victim of abuse. And West County has a bad reputation …

But here he was - opening the car door and unfolding into the day, an unassuming figure in dark jeans and his dark tan hunting jacket. Buffy stood up, pushing the phone back into her bag - and then hesitated, staring across the gap between them, her breath caught in her throat and her heart pounding a soft staccato rhythm inside her chest.

Because, where she'd expected a dejected, beaten figure, burdened with weariness and despair - where she'd thought to see a fragile, wounded man, reflecting less than an echo of his true self - she found herself staring at someone she'd been beginning to think lost to her forever.

Someone who happened to be wearing that vaguely anxious, quietly martyred expression that was so utterly Giles.

It was hard to put a finger on the difference; mainly because it wasn’t difference, but a subtle reassertion of the man from beneath the weight he had been forced to bear. He wasn’t free of it – not by any measure – but now he was carrying it with the quietly determined strength that had always been so much a part of who and what he was. There was an air of certainty about him that she hadn’t seen since that bleak and dreadful day that he’d been taken, and twisted, and changed. And it was the little things that gave it authenticity – the tilt of his head as he glanced around, the bare hint of English reserve in his body language – and the way he abstractedly swept the weight of his open jacket back so that he could jam his hands firmly in his pockets, the way he always did.

She was crossing the distance as he completed his turn, striding to meet him with an impulsive grin on her face that the six-year old would have been proud of. Their eyes met; the hint of shadow, the briefest echo of grief flickered across his face – and then he greeted her with one of those soft, almost sheepish smiles that was his way of saying well done and I’m proud of you. "Buffy," he acknowledged softly – and all her self control went completely out of the window and ran away down the street. She threw herself forward – and hugged him. Hard.

"Ah – oh – ah, Buffy," he protested, tensing under her assault and half lifting his hands to fend her off. "Bruises, Buffy. L-lots of bruises?"

"Oh God," she reacted contritely, hastily letting go and starting to take a step backwards. What was she thinking? Thoughtlessly hugging a battered man was bad enough – but to do it with unrestrained, fully expressed, Slayer strength … "I’m sorry. I – "

His hands caught her before she could let go completely, restraining her escape with a strength that echoed her own. "It’s all right," he said quietly. "I-I need the hug. Just – do you think you can manage gently?"

She looked up, studying his face and the pattern of bruises that lay over it. Her expression was apologetic; his was full of wounded bravery. It was a good job he had steel laced through his bones and armour lurking under his skin; without them, he might well have been adding cracked ribs to his list of misfortunes. "Bruised Giles, gentle Buffy," she assessed and nodded. "I can do that." She started to take the required half-step to do just that, when it hit her. "Fresh bruises," she realised, frowning at him – and at the discolouration that now encircled each wrist, clear evidence of restraint and struggle. "What happened? Did they – hurt you too?"

An odd look – one that held a whole complex of emotions – chased across his face. "I – ah – had an epiphany," he declared thoughtfully. His eyes darted towards the deputy, who was walking round the bonnet of the car to join them. "It’s a long story, Buffy. I’ll - tell you later."

She accepted that. They had a lot to talk about, once they had a chance to be alone. A lot to discuss – and more that wouldn’t be said, but would be expressed and understood in other ways. They’d both been through the fire - and some things just couldn’t be put into words. "Okay," she agreed, and wrapped her arms back around him. Gently.

He hugged her back, just as gently, heaving a quiet and heartfelt sigh as he did so. That was okay. That was relief and gratitude and a little bit of that still hurts, but I don’t care … Then he went all British and embarrassed on her, and that was okay too. Because that was who he was, and it told her all sorts of reassuring things. Including that he’d finally found his centre - and with it a place to stand, a place where he could finally turn to face the fight.

"Um, ah," he said, unfolding his arms and catching her shoulders instead. "I - uh – think that’s quite enough, don’t you?" He pushed her away a little, trying to redefine the respectful space that propriety demanded – but he didn’t let go. Not completely.

Neither did she – but she smiled and took a small step backwards, letting one hand slide down his arm so that they could turn together to greet the dark haired deputy, who was watching them with wary assessment.

She looked tired. Bleary eyed and pale in the midday sun. Her whole stance was weary; she wouldn’t have had much chance to sleep the night before, and she probably hadn’t slept much the night before that – and yet she still had that air of understated, elegant beauty about her. Nobility of soul, Spike had suggested with a grin. He’d been trying to unsettle her when he’d said it, and he had – but now Buffy could see what he’d meant.

"Thank you," she said, meaning it from the bottom of her heart. Without this woman’s help, her Watcher might still be in jail, still facing unthinkable charges. Of course, she was the one who’d arrested him in the first place …

"You’re welcome." The policewoman’s smile was strained. This hadn’t been an easy experience for her. Buffy hadn’t meant it to be, and she wasn’t about to apologise either. Life this side of the wall was something you learned to face with fortitude – because without it you didn’t live long. Besides – a lot of what she was struggling with was her own fault. Facing down Zamaroth demons was one thing; facing up to personal guilt was something else entirely. She clearly couldn’t look Giles in the face; she focused on his company instead, trying to sound brisk and business like – and only just succeeding.

"I don’t want to sound ungrateful," she said. "But I think the best thing for both of you would be to get out of town. As soon as you can. People have long memories and once mud’s been thrown – well, it’s safer not to hang around where it might stick. Just in case."

The Slayer started to bristle at that suggestion, her earlier anger reasserting itself at the thought of being run out of town because of someone else’s mistake – but gentle fingers tightened on her shoulder, conveying both wisdom and warning. She glanced at Giles and he confirmed his message with an almost imperceptible shake of his head. Let it go, his eyes counseled – a quiet plea that she answered with an understanding nod and a soft sigh. "All right," she decided. "I guess there’s nothing to keep us here. And I need to get home in any case. While the Slayer’s away…"

" … demons and vampires come out to play," the deputy capped, looking as if she couldn’t quite believe she’d said it. "I should be thanking you," she decided, a little bewilderedly. "Both of you. I guess. Spike too, maybe, but – him, I don’t get at all."

"Go home, Deputy," Giles suggested, not unkindly. "Get some sleep, dream dreams of everyday, normal life – and forget you ever met us."

She nodded, finally finding the courage to look at him. "Maybe I will," she considered, her voice echoing her weariness. "Maybe I’ll try. But I can’t promise anything." Her expression slid into a reluctant smile. "Take care of him, Buffy. And Ripper? Take care of her." She turned and walked away, around the bonnet of the black and white and back into the driving seat. The two of them stood and watched as she fired up the engine and drove away; in fact, they stayed watching long after the car had vanished into the traffic.

Finally – after a lengthy silence punctuated by passing cars and the occasional blare of a radio – Giles glanced down at Buffy and asked, very quietly: "Ripper?"

Buffy grimaced embarrassedly. "Well," she allowed, "Spike might have said something – she may have got the idea – they seemed to think …" She tailed off. He was smiling at her, one of those knowing, gently teasing smiles which sat more in his eyes than on his lips – and which a lot of people mistook for smug superiority. "Hey," she defended, torn between the desire to hit him – or simply hug him again. "You have been known to answer to it. Sometimes."

"Sometimes," he echoed, the smile fading as memory – and something else – surfaced to replace it. Resignation, perhaps. Or just weary acceptance of things beyond his control. "Buffy," he sighed, staring out at the street and the passing traffic, "what I said, yesterday …"

"Is part of yesterday," she said, watching him with sympathy. "And that’s where it’ll stay. Unless you ever tell me differently."

He nodded, his eyes haunted and his expression hard to read. "Thank you," he breathed. "And – thank you for coming when you did. I appreciate it."

"You’re welcome," Buffy smiled. There was another of those lengthy, thoughtful pauses and then she asked: "Giles?"

He turned at the question, answering it with a distracted frown. "Mmm?"

"Come home."

It was a request, not a command; it was offered with hopeful affection, and a great deal of love. He stared at her for a moment or two, assessing her plea and weighing it against all the reasons he’d left in the first place.

"You know," he decided eventually. "I think maybe I will."

"We left that night – right after sundown." Giles said, recalling the trip with a wry smile. "It took us three days to get back to Sunnydale, even travelling practically non-stop. We split the driving – Spike got the midnight shift, Buffy took midday and I filled the spaces in between. We drove and we talked. Well, Buffy and I talked, anyway. Spike just interrupted from time to time. He was a little disgruntled about having to travel under the tarp for half the trip, but then – desert sun and vampires … not exactly a good mix. They told me about the Zamaroth, I told them about the Aslewaugh, and then Buffy went through everything that had been going on in Sunnydale while I was away. Bits and pieces really – a little trouble with bank raiding demons and Dawn dating vampires. Nothing serious though. I got the impression I hadn’t been missed much, although Buffy assured me that I had."

"They’d have missed you," Angel smiled, knowing how worried Buffy would have been about him, whether she’d needed him or not.

"Well," he allowed, "Willow, Xander, even Dawn, seemed pleased to see me back, at least. Anya said she was happy about it, but I think she was worried about where she stood with the shop. To be honest, I was perfectly content to leave her in charge. She has this – flair – for commerce. And I didn’t really want to be bothered with it. I was still trying to come to terms with everything. With who and what I was."

"That can’t have been easy," Cordelia observed softly. Giles shook his head.

"It wasn’t. I – ah – went looking for further background material, but apart from that one text - and an occasional comment or two in Enoch and the book of Jubilees - there wasn’t much. Some obscure Cabalistic references. A few lines in the Mala-malatrius, and a footnote in Lendle. Nothing else. That wasn’t really surprising; Salamiel had been locked up so long, even demons thought he was a myth. Very few of the recognised texts go back that far. And the ones that do are so obscure, they’re practically useless."

"Mistranslated copies of copies," Wesley noted knowledgeably. "You should have called. I’d have – "

"What?" Giles asked with a quiet laugh. "Done the research or come and studied me? I wasn’t ready for that, Wesley. Not back then. Maybe you could – ah - "

"Love to," his fellow scholar smiled, not at all put out by what could have been seen as a snub. "I’ve picked up a few volumes that might help, actually. Including Ben Haseck’s Seroph." The smile became a grin. "In the original Hebrew."

"Really?" Giles sounded impressed. "Who did you steal that from? Or shouldn’t I ask?"

"You shouldn’t," Gunn interjected firmly. "Not while the lady sitting next to you is a cop. No offence," he added, smiling at Sky. She laughed.

"None taken. Especially since I don’t hold any jurisdiction in L.A. I’m learning to uphold a higher law these days. They don’t concern themselves with local statutes in the courts of heaven – or hell, for that matter."

"Judge not, less ye be judged," Fred quoted philosophically.

"Amen to that," Lorne said, with decided feeling. "So – tell us. He goes back to Sunnydale with the Slayer, and you - ?" He looked at Sky hopefully and she grinned.

"I did what I’d been told. I went home, I went to bed – and when I got up the next day, I tried to forget everything that had happened. But I couldn’t. My eyes had been opened. My world had changed. I just didn't know how much ..."

The End

You have reached the end of "Of Demons, Deserts and Parasites". This story is complete.

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