Disclaimer in Part One
“There’s a prophecy, isn’t there.”
Buffy was toying with her toast, dipping the crust into the pot of marmalade and leaving buttery crumbs behind. Giles restrained himself from plucking the offending piece of bread from her hand and settled for a reproving frown instead. It was excellent marmalade, and it deserved to be treated with a little respect.
“What makes you think so?”
“Because there’s always
a prophecy. It comes with the whole chosen by destiny
thing. Slay-girl here, remember? Was the one
, got to be two,
managed to be one of many
… and here and now? I’m guessing it’s back to just the one again. So Hal-bad here – his eyes go wide, he’s all wow, she’s the slayer
… and that
means there’s a prophecy. About me. Whoop-di-do.”
He couldn’t help but smile at her expression – a quietly resigned here-we-go-again
look, that spoke eloquently of the lessons she’d learned, and learned to live with, over recent years. Back in Sunnydale she’d have been ranting and resentful, unwilling to accept either her destiny, or the responsibility it had bestowed on her. He’d never subscribed to the old Council’s view of the Slayer, but he’d always believed – and still did – that those who were chosen were special. Gifted.
And gifts like that always came with a price.
Still, that didn’t mean that everything was always about her.
“Actually,” he observed mildly, rescuing a pot of jam before she started dunking toast in that too, “if I understood Elrohir correctly – I believe it’s about me. Not you. Although you are mentioned. Briefly.”
“What?” She stared at him, her eyes narrowing – then threw a suspicious glance at the elves, who were busy questioning Halbarad in low tones and words too quick for him to follow with any confidence. “You’re kidding me.”
Halbarad nodded once in his direction. Elladan’s eyes went wide. Elrohir’s mouth opened in a silent Oh
of realisation. Giles’ heart sank a little. He clearly hadn’t
misheard, but it was entirely possible that all three of them were busy leaping to erroneous conclusions.
“Apparently not,” he said, unable to help the pained note that crept into his voice. Buffy blinked, taking a moment to absorb the concept.
“Wow,” she breathed, then frowned. “Whoa.
Hold on a minute. Does that mean …. no, no, no, no, no. I’m
the Slayer. You’re
the Watcher. Me slay, you watch. Research. Deal with minions. Do good back up. That’s what you do. No way am I
gonna be the sidekick in this – adventure of ours. Or play the damsel in distress. Or be the good little woman who stays behind while men go off to do – men things …”
It was his turn to blink, astounded – as he so often was- by the quicksilver leaps of her heart and mind. Surely she didn’t think … “Buffy,” he assured her softly, “I’m quite sure there’s no danger of any
of those things. You are
a slayer … and yes, possibly the
Slayer in this world. I am merely a scholar with a little skill in magic and a little more with a sword. If this – whatever it is – is about me, then … I am going to need your help. As an equal – no,” he corrected quickly. “ not
an equal. As my slayer
. And definitely not a sidekick. Other than the occasional … Yoko Geri, of course.”
” she snorted. “Not in these
shoes. Pu-lease … “ She paused, giving him the kind of close and thoughtful scrutiny that made him want to squirm. Just a little. All the time he’d known her, and he still
couldn’t be certain of what was going on in her head.
“You know,” he offered a little anxiously, “if you would rather I focus my attention on finding us a way home …” He trailed off. She was still looking
at him. Intensely. Something prowled in the depths of her eyes; echoes of the First Slayer, assessing his value, measuring his worth.
slayer?” Ah …
He opened his mouth to respond to that, and she grinned. “Still my Watcher?”
Was he? He certainly thought of himself that way, but he wasn’t sure that she did. Still … he closed his mouth again and nodded, not entirely trusting himself to speak. The grin softened. So did the look in her eyes. “Then it’s a deal.” She put down the last of her toast, wiped her fingers on her napkin and held out her hand. “Partners?”
His heart turned over at the way she said it, meant to be confident, yet tinged with the vaguest hint of hope and offered with an equal hint of question at the end. Did she doubt him? Maybe she had reason to …
He reached over and took her hand, firmly and with all the forthrightness he could summon. “Partners,” he affirmed, meeting her eyes and hoping that his own held nothing but honesty. Her fingers gave his a gentle squeeze … and just like that, it was done. Nothing forgotten, and probably not everything forgiven – but settled,
all the same.
“Home can wait,” she decided, reaching for a new slice of toast. “After all,” she said, “nothing says ‘this place needs a Slayer’ more than dead guys that get up and walk around … not to mention hordes of yrchy goblin things that spring on you without warning. If Hal-bad and the Els need our help, then – let’s help. S’what we do, right?”
“Right,” he agreed. Across the table the two eldar were considering them both with hooded and thoughtful eyes. Halbarad was clearly fighting down a grin, and Giles couldn’t really blame him. There was no way the man – the Ranger,
Giles reminded himself, having heard Butterbur refer to him that way earlier - had any idea what they’d been talking about, and to a stranger, who knew nothing about their relationship, it probably looked as if … well, either that he was an entirely too indulgent father, or – that Buffy had him completely wrapped around her little finger. Neither were true – not exactly,
anyway – especially since Buffy would be perfectly capable of wrapping him around something salutary with
her little finger if she wanted to. But he wasn’t in a position to counter any conclusions Halbarad might leap to. The man had been honest and forthright enough so far, but he didn’t know him well enough - not yet - to trust him with some of the more intimate details of their lives.
Even if he’d had the words to share them in the first place …
Giles sighed and reached for his mug. Butterbur had been very apologetic about not having any spare cups; there’d been something about the Hobbits monopolising them that morning, and him having to serve the breakfast drinks in tankards as a result. He’d seen no reason to complain, since it had brought him a generous helping of the hot, sweet brew – and the tea that the locals drank with breakfast had turned out to be every bit as good as the mix he used at home.
” Elladan announced in thoughtful tones, “you should head east.
” Elrohir’s words were a perfect complement to his brother’s. It was as though – for a moment – they spoke with a single voice. “Where our Father dwells.
Giles frowned for a moment, glancing down at Halbarad’s map. East
took them towards what looked like a range of mountains. He didn’t know where Imladris
was - or what
it was, for that matter - but it sounded like sensible advice. The inn, like the town it served, was little more than a waypoint in the middle of nowhere, offering only brief respite and little help or information. If there was
a prophecy, then they needed to be somewhere where they could learn more about it. And if he’d misunderstood – well, he was fairly sure the twins were talking about their father, and he was likely to be someone who could offer much more help with their situation than someone like Butterbur could.
“Halbarad will go with you.
Halbarad looked from one to the other, his expression dropping into a quiet frown. “I must call on my kinsmen,
” he protested. “The word must be sent …
“We will send it. You are wounded and weary. Our horses are swifter; we will cover more ground.
The Ranger nodded slowly and reluctantly, clearly accepting the argument even if he didn’t entirely agree.
“All right. But do not take long. The Grey company must ride to war – and ride soon.
” Elrohir said with a knowing smile, “have you not realised?
” He turned his smile towards Giles and dipped his head in a brief but courteous gesture of respect. “Our grandmother spoke true, as always. The Grey mantle has passed. The gathering of the company has already begun …
Here endeth the first tale in 'The Ride of the Grey Company.'