Title: In the Blood
Trigger warning: Mental Health issues (I probably should have warned for Giles’ PTSD long before this).Series: Bookends. All the Companion pieces in the series are listed here... It might not make much sense on its own
It was technically two and a quarter hours when she returned to St Catherine's, but Giles was too busy to notice the slight discrepancy of her promise. He'd taken over all three study tables and assembled a vast array of manuscripts and library materials that were balanced, to the inexperienced eye, in a completely haphazard fashion with open books acting as page markers to other open books and maps and scrolls weighted at curling corners by closed, evidently discarded, volumes.
"I'm impressed," the girl declared, after Giles, having grunted at her arrival, resumed his intense flitting from book to book. "Not least because you're not supposed to have this many books out at a time."
He made no reply whatsoever and she stood for a whole minute, wondering if he'd already forgotten she was there. She thought he had the appearance of a man who wasn't even capable of sitting down anymore.
She added, "Unless this is some kind of breakdown and you are building a fort?"
"Mmm?" He stopped and ran his hands through his hair. "I don't have everything I need. The 'Reverend Pilger's Travel Diaries of the 1860's' would be most useful." He swooped under three tan skinned volumes to pull out a notebook and pencil. Tearing off the top sheet, he rounded the table and proffered it to her. "The other staff can't seem to find these, but you seem to be resourceful."
She looked at the names thoughtfully. "I take it you found something of interest in the passage I asked you to translate?"
"Mmm? Oh yes. It's a conjecture on the feasibility of maintaining large scale protection spells. And it cites the example of my own university town." He stopped suddenly and tilted his head at her shrewdly. "But then of course, you already knew that."
There was little point denying it so she didn't: "I suspected there was a reference."
"Why did you ask me to look at it?"
"You're the only Watcher I know who uses this library," she responded baldly.
Giles grimaced. "I've retired."
"And also because you already know your town is protected from demons entering it. Otherwise you wouldn't have chosen to hide there."
"Actually," he began, climbing on his highest horse, she thought, whilst simultaneously pulling out a handkerchief to clean his glasses. "I only found out about its unique position after I'd taken the job. It wasn't something I…" He broke off, replacing his glasses quickly as something on a vellum scroll caught his attention.
"If you say so," she answered sardonically, but she was back to competing with the books again as Giles turned his back on her and rushed back around the furthest study table. "Anyway, you know about this sort of stuff," she continued. "My great-great-uncle did too. He was a Watcher, albeit briefly, and I've often wondered if it's in the blood."
"I'm really not the best person to help you with any sort of apprenticeship deal," he muttered absently.
"That's not what I have in mind." She followed him and provocatively tugged open a book from his discard pile. "Alright, I give up. What is all this?"
"Ah." Taking the book from her, he briefly beamed at her interest and his own accomplishment. "If my calculations are correct, I think the spell that maintains the protection wards is at risk of collapse."
"Wow," she said, genuinely impressed. "That's…Wow."
"Quite." Giles seemed to realise his happiness was inappropriate and checked it. "Obviously that would be catastrophic."
"You've only had two hours!"
Interpreting her incredulity at the timescale as mistrust in his results, Giles impulsively took her hand and led her to a table of maps, stabbing his finger at the contour lines under which nestled a street plan of his place of work.
"It seems to emanate from the Neolithic stone circle up on the heath, outside of the town."
She peered down carefully and read aloud the name of 'The Singing Stones' as Giles continued. "Which means it's incredibly old magicks. Something that pre-dates the building of the university, and everything bar the earliest settlement. Which makes a lot of sense actually." He took his glasses off and waved a circle over the chart. "Find somewhere that already has wards safeguarding a geographic area and throw up a town under its protection. And what better place to educate and keep safe the privileged young of rich merchants and barons than somewhere they won't get picked off by the undead?"
"The rewards of privilege?" she offered, and Giles nodded vigorously and began to lightly chew one stem of his glasses. "Alright, I'm sold on the history, but so what?"
"Prehistoric magicks of this scale are not self-supporting, they require periodic replenishment."
Wow, she thought again. He really had covered an awful lot of ground in two hours. She'd heard tales of Watchers, but she really hadn't expected this level of efficiency. It was almost a shame but no, she hardened her heart.
"And you think this one is due a top up?"
"I do. There are several accounts of periodic geological disturbances in the region over the centuries, and look at this." He was bustling again around the tables and dragging his MacBook Pro from under a pile of papers so she waited patiently until he found what he needed on the internet.
"Something is happening," he declared and shared his screen as if that were the key. On it she saw a confusing collection of tables of numbers and graphs that were labeled as data from the University's Geology department, monitoring the heathland outside his town. "They have been registering very small tremors for the past two months," he explained. "Miniscule really, but on the increase nevertheless.
"It doesn't look like much. How can you be sure?"
"Contrary to expectations, when the earth starts to move, it's never a good sign. The town is not on any mapped fault or tectonic stress line and importantly, this has happened several times before." He put down the laptop and found a diary to read out. "There's an account from the sixteenth century of the stones 'taking voice until', here we are, yes." He used a finger to trace the text. "'Until a party of the learned visited the spot and quelled the disquiet.'"
"How?" That was the million dollar question and she held her breath. Giles sheepishly dropped the diary and pushed his hands in his pockets.
"That I haven't actually found out yet," he confessed. "But if you really are serious about helping me, we might be able to deduce it together."
She regarded his earnestness thoughtfully as if considering his offer. With this research, he'd transformed into a different man from the one she'd spotted in previous visits to the Bodleian. That Dr Giles had been a quiet, gloomy and depressed visiting academic who probably hadn't ever noticed her interest in him. Whereas this one, well, this one was indeed a Watcher, and that was exactly what she needed him to be. She just needed one further test to judge his commitment.
"Is this really all that important?" she asked. "I mean, what happens if you just let the spell collapse?"
"That would be unthinkable! It would mean a town that has barred demons for thousands of years will become open for business, and I'd be putting a young population, who have no idea of the risks, in grave danger. It would be a complete massacre." He paused and his eyes glimmered. "I cannot let that happen."
"No matter what the cost?" she pursued.
"At any cost."
She couldn't help but smile at the adamancy of his answer.
"Now, if you work here, then work here," he commanded. "Fetch me what materials you can find from that list. Especially the Pilger." Having dismissed her to role of assistant, Giles turned his back on her again and fussed back to his old manuscripts. If the girl grated at his rudeness, she consoled herself at the thought that there would be very little she would produce for him from the list.
"Sure. I'll see what I can do to help you. Once a Watcher, always a Watcher, eh?" she teased as she retreated out the library door. "I guess we're going to see if it's in the blood after all."