il_mio_capitano: (Wall)
il_mio_capitano ([personal profile] il_mio_capitano) wrote2016-03-18 12:00 pm

Bookends: Understanding

Title: Understanding
Author: il-mio-capitano
Rating: 15+
Length: 4,000 approx
Characters: Giles, Willow, Xander in this one.

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.

Notes: This concludes the little mini arc I had going.

It was daylight by the time the police Land Rover drove up the rutted track towards the heath, and Giles, from his less than advantageous viewing point of being wedged between two uniformed officers on the back seat, could nevertheless make out Scene of Crime tents and several army trailers and jeeps deployed around the megalithic circle known as the Singing Stones. Most ominously ahead though, were the two armed soldiers, rifle butts on their forearms, who had mounted a roadblock and were flagging them down to stop.

Inspector Fourcade left the Land Rover to talk to the soldiers, but Giles' escorts showed no intention of moving to let him stretch his legs, so he slumped back and wondered if it were possible to ever fall asleep again. It had been a long perilous night and, similar to his exploits in Norfolk, it looked increasingly likely to end with him being taken into custody by the military. The differences to that night rankled with him though and he felt a strong sense of injustice about his situation. That he had been naïve, stupid even, was incontrovertible, but he had not willing caused death, destruction or sought to injury himself, and that, he felt, ought to count for something.

One of the soldiers relayed a message on his headset as Fourcade flapped his arms to keep warm and stomped his feet impatiently. Giles wondered if Buffy had returned his calls and was waiting for him in one of the tents or trailers up ahead. Though they had been at pains to stress he was not under arrest, the police had relieved him of the contents of his pockets, his mobile phone being uppermost in his mind. If he could just get a chance to explain properly to Buffy what had happened, she would understand and call off the troops. He had to speak to Buffy and no-one else.

Three more soldiers approached down the track to speak with Fourcade and Giles' heart sank as he recognised one of them as Captain Ryan Appleby. The young officer was sporting both his full combat gear and the air of weary annoyance, last witnessed when his unit had felt compelled to taser Giles and detain him in Norfolk. Buffy had been a few hours behind him that night and hadn't been able to prevent him from having Giles sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

The roadblock tête-à-tête came to an end and Inspector Fourcade gestured and suddenly there was movement in the car and Giles was led out of the vehicle. He blinked sheepishly at Appleby who did not look happy to see him, but surprisingly, directed his displeasure towards the policeman.

"When you said you had an interesting suspect, Inspector, I thought you meant a little more interesting than my own man! Dr. Giles is part of my team. He works for me."

The soldiers on the roadblock took the news impassively, Giles was stunned to his shoelaces but Fourcade narrowed his eyes so challengingly he looked like he might pop a brain haemorrhage any minute.

He hissed, "That's not something he chose to mention."

But Appleby was dismissive.

"He's not obliged to."

"But in the circumstances..."

"No. In the circumstances, he answers to me. As do you, Inspector." Appleby then gave the man such a condescending look that Giles began to appreciate why one so young, had risen so far. "So thank you for returning him. That will be all." And he dismissed the policeman with a wave of his hand that caused the two soldiers accompanying him to stiffen slightly as if indicating they were prepared to engage in a firefight on the matter at the merest sniff of an order from their commanding officer.

Left with no options, Fourcade bitterly handed over his force's evidence bags and Giles' personal possessions, then slammed into his Land Rover and reversed backed away down the track. With a protesting squelch of mud to signify his ill will, the vehicle u-turned back towards the police station and sped out of sight.

Appleby gave a brief smirk and politely enquired, "How are you holding up there, Giles?"

"I-I don't work for you," Giles stammered, determined to clarify the position, terrified that if he had been conscripted then he would be bound by their rulings and courts.

Appleby replied amiably, "Ah, but he doesn't need to know that." And he gave the cache of Giles' possessions back to him.

Nervously stuffing the wallet and house keys in his pockets, Giles checked his phone. There were no messages.

"Is B-Buffy here?" he asked hopefully.

"No, she's in New Zealand," Appleby replied breezily as Giles' heart sank to his boots.

"But I need to talk to Buffy. Did she get my messages? Did she send you here?"

"I don't know about any messages to Buffy. We were already in the neighbourhood so to speak. Our tech people picked up on the geological disturbances so we'd become concerned. Luckily, as it turned out."

He began walking away from the roadblock to climb up to the heath and his two escorting soldiers gestured for Giles to follow him. But despite their compelling manner, Giles took off his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose and otherwise stand his ground. He was tired and hungry and he had a childish sensation that leaving the roadside meant surrendering away his freedom.

Appleby returned and gave him a thoughtful look.

"We're giving out the statement that the girl was killed by a freak lightning strike and as the police didn't get time enough to raise any formal charges or court dates, and there has been no other publicity, the matter is closed to the public glare."

"I wasn't…I didn't…" Giles tried to begin.

"Who was she?"

"I don't know. She never told me her name." Giles swallowed hard. He'd been so wrapped up in the books he'd barely taken an interest in the girl. He couldn't now describe her appearance or her voice and berated himself for the lapse. Had he paid more attention, she might not have been able to trick him so easily. "She just approached me in the Bodleian library with a small research project," he added rapidly. "I didn't get her name."

Appleby looked incredulous. "All this started out as a small research project?"

"It took an unexpectedly practical turn," Giles replied weakly. "She said she had a great-great-uncle who was a Watcher. Oh! So we might be able to trace her that way if enough of the old council records survive. I think there's a repository in a salt mine in..." He broke off, feeling stupid at his babbling and self-conscious that he'd overlooked something rather obvious. "Though she seemed to work at the Bodleian, so that's probably an easier place to start."

Appleby agreed and dispatched the two escorting soldiers with the new line of enquiry before turning back to Giles and regarding him not unsympathetically.

"You look about done in. When did you last eat or sleep?"

"I had breakfast yesterday." He immediately felt foolishly defensive about the fact and sighed. "But I didn't get any sleep at the police station. There was a lot of hanging around and waiting, and then when I did close my eyes, they always seemed to have more questions."

"Save us from Parochial plods and their little power games!" Appleby shook his head. "Oh, salt of the earth, I'm sure, but the way they have been going on, anyone would think I was spearheading an invasion to overthrow the democratically elected town council."

The outburst amused Giles who responded, "I don't suppose they get a lot of the supernatural in these parts."

"Now there's an irony," replied Appleby meaningfully. "Do you know, Giles, I've even had the Chief Constable on the phone, trying to explain how it was really just some murder-suicide pact gone wrong."

"Given she tried to murder me and ending up losing her own life, it sort of was."

"Big night for irony then," the soldier said thoughtfully.

They sat in the army's canteen trailer and Giles, whilst demolishing two bacon and egg sandwiches and three mugs of tea, went through his story, leaving nothing out.

"When I came to, I had been thrown some fifteen feet away from the circle. I picked myself and walked back inside and it was all completely calm as if nothing had happened there at all. Except for her body, of course." He drained the last of his tea. "There were no marks or signs of any injury on her. I felt for a pulse but she was unnaturally cold, like stone, and undeniably dead. I panicked a little at first. I thought about moving the body hiding it, or even burying it but of course that would've just made things worse. She was human after all, she was going to be missed and she was going to be linked to me. So I decided I should call the police and say I had just discovered her. They wouldn't like it but her body temperature would give me an alibi as it suggested a time of death many hours earlier."

Appleby nodded.

"I don't know why she was so cold," Giles mused. "I'm guessing the stones took everything from her. But I don't understand what happened. Why they took her and not me."

"She suggested they needed a willing sacrifice."

"Exactly! I mean, I was angry and I was damn well not going to lay down and die for anyone, but I don't think she was exactly expecting to either…" He ran a hand through his hair. "I, I don't think I did anything to deflect them or get her killed or anything... I was just suddenly thrown out of the circle and she wasn't."

"We've got a couple of researchers working on it in the Command trailer. They've been just dying to say hello."

They walked to the other trailer and Giles was surprised when Appleby dug out his wallet and proffered an old fashioned business card.

"I'm glad to see you're too stubborn to die," he explained. "Next time though, call me first, not the police."

Giles took the card warily. Despite the fistful of international contact numbers, it innocuously promoted 'Ryan's Home Improvement Services. No job too small. Free quotations.'

"It pays to be a bit cloak and dagger," the soldier explained. "Though if you accidentally call about a plumbing leak, don't be too surprised if we turn up in a tank." He made to go and leave Giles on his own at the trailer door.

"Wait. So what happens next? To me?"

"When you're done with the books?" Appleby shrugged. "Come and find me and I'll arrange a lift home for you."

Giles managed a smile. "I don't work for you."

"That doesn't matter," the younger man said affably and nodded at the business card. "You can still call me."

The Command Trailer was so dominated by books and old manuscripts that Giles felt like he'd walked into a mobile library. A central table was filled with research and ran the whole length up to a further portioned door. The far long wall was a complete windowless whiteboard with papers pinned by magnetics and scrawled hand-written notes and arrows with a penmanship that looked familiar. Giles called out a 'hello' to the far room, and marvelled that all in all, it was an incredibly impressive assemblage of materials for such a short amount of time.

The portioned door opened and suddenly Xander Harris stood before him. Giles blinked and waited for the familiar lopsided grin to break out, but he'd forgotten that Xander was older now, and wore his hair shorter and was generally more serious than the good hearted High School clown he'd first met. Giles remembered the day he'd replaced the eye-patch with a glass eye because he 'no longer wanted to look like a comic book hero' and was 'sick of the pitying looks' it evoked. Giles had been proud of the decision though he'd found looking at the new static eye quite disconcerting for a time.

"Xander," he said awkwardly. A smile came then from the younger man.

"You have to stop doing this, man."

"I don't entirely disagree with that."

Xander rounded the table quickly and pulled him into a tight hug. Giles felt his strength and sense of protection and allowed himself to melt into his young friend. They had not seen each other in almost a year and had not parted on the best of terms. But being held, Giles regretted his harsh words of the past.

The trailer door opened behind. Smiling, he recognised Willow's step and presence before she even made contact and flung herself at his back.

"Giles!" Her arms were round him and her face pressed and knotted his jacket.

"Yes. Um, hello."

"We have to get you a better doctor," she mumbled into the fabric.

"Oh I'm fine, not even a lasting concussion this time," he deflected lightly.

She pulled back sharply, breaking all the hugs and pulled his shoulder to look him in the eyes.

"You had another blackout?"

"I'm fine."

"Giles, you are not fine. Look at me, you are not fine." Her voice was quite fierce with concern and he found it disconcerting to be on the receiving end of something both touching and yet mildly threatening. He broke free and busied himself looking through their research materials.

"I must say you've done jolly well to gather all these resources in such a short space of time."

"We've had a lot of practice," Xander said evenly and folded his arms.

Giles looked past him and caught some handwriting on the whiteboard.

"What's that -'And they took the Watcher to the stones. And the stones took the Watcher.'?"

Xander turned to look. "What? Oh that? That's from some travelling preacher guy in the 19th century." He fumbled for the book, flicked to the bookmarked page and handed it across. "This guy."

"Giles," Willow interrupted softly. "We need to talk about what happened."

"Certainly. In a minute."

He was perhaps dimly aware that his friends exchanged a look, but Giles sat and closed his mind off from everything but his reading. The language was flowery; the subtext, a sanctimonious tract on perils of a pagan countryside, but the passage Xander had found was a crucial eye-witness account of a previous sacrifice to quell the Singing Stones. The author had hidden and observed as a group of Scholarly Men had performed a ritual to cleanse each stone and then withdrew, leaving only the youngest of their number in the centre. The author had been discovered and had run off but returned an hour later to find the young man dead, 'and of such coldness that could not be holy.' He learnt the Scholarly Men called themselves Watchers and he condemned their actions and tried to alert the authorities but to no avail. It seemed the young man had chosen his own fate and no magistrate could be moved.

"Sacrifice of the Watchers, Giles." Xander sounded impatient. "It's why you went up there."

"I didn't know it was called that then," he muttered without looking up. "And I still don't see how a group of rocks, however enchanted, can distinguish who is a Watcher."

He supposed the people who first laid down the magicks would be the wisest of their group, and perhaps seven of them had willingly given their lives to cement the spell. And when each soul faded and another was needed to replace it, the group would pick, who exactly? Another wise man? Again, he questioned how rocks where supposed to determine IQ. And then it hit him. The eternal diviner across all ages - blood. The stones could recognise family lineage. The young man had been a Watcher, but Watchers also run in families. He had been willing to die, but then perhaps he understood the repercussions and felt he had no choice, others in his place may have been reluctant and yet subsumed anyway. Like the dead girl last night, who had done her research on her great-great Uncle, but had misunderstood, thinking she could offer up Giles instead, not realising her own risk.

"The stones wanted her, not me. I was never in any danger." Looking back he wondered if all the barrage and buffeting had been designed to make him withdraw, whether in the end, the stones had grown tired of his presence and simply flung him out.

"But you put yourself in danger, Giles." Xander was back to folding his arms and looking down at him. "And her."

He had and he regretted it. He had gone to the Stones like some first year at the Academy, convinced he had the answers and could make a difference. That the girl had manipulated made no difference. He was not without experience, he should not have tackled such a ritual without backup, without knowing how it would end. He knew he hadn't read everything; he should have contacted Buffy and got the Council resources. They had, after all, put together a trailer bursting with books and manuscripts in an incredibly short amount of time. Giles looked at the books and the notes on the whiteboard. There was evidence of several pens and different hands, almost as if the work had involved more people, or taken place over a longer period of time. It gave him a nasty feeling.

"Just how long have you two been researching all this?"

Xander looked impassively back at him so he turned to Willow.

"About three weeks," she admitted.

"Three… weeks? You've known the protection spell, on the town, where I live, has been at risk of collapse for the last three weeks, and you didn't think to tell me? Why on Earth not?"

Willow pulled a chair next to his and took his hand.

"Because of exactly what happened last night. You found out, you wanted to go do something about it. Buffy thought…" She stopped and corrected herself, "We all thought, we should keep you safe."

"Had I had more information," Giles said testily. "I wouldn't have gone up there at all."

"Bullshit!" Xander exclaimed. "You knew exactly what you were doing."

"Xander! Not now."

"He went up there to die, Willow. Only he's gotten someone else killed instead. He's got to take responsibility for that."

"I'm sure he knows that. Don't you?" She was pleading, sympathetic and soothing but Giles didn't want to be on the receiving end of that sort of relationship.

"I don't need you to defend me," he declared, pulling his hand free. "And that is not what happened!"

"Giles. Giles." She put a hand firmly on his shoulder as she spoke. "You went to the stones to perform the sacrifice of the Watcher. Only, a girl got in the way. I'm sure you didn't mean it to happen, but you have to acknowledge what you've done".

He brushed her off rudely and stood up.

"It wasn't like that. You're not listening to me, either of you. Why don't you believe me?"

"Like in the hospital when we told you your father had been turned and had killed everyone at your birthday party? Like how you didn't believe us then?"

Xander's words hit him incredibly hard. He remembered how he felt waking up in the hospital and seeing Buffy. In his pain and drugged dream-state he'd reasoned he'd been in a car crash, and how stupid he'd been to smash a car on his birthday. And she'd been so upset and he'd felt he had to reassure her. And everything was going to be OK and then he'd remembered his mother would be worried too and had asked Buffy to let the family know he was a bit beat up, but otherwise OK. And then she'd explained...

"That was different. It was…unthinkable." He stumbled the words out. "I was in the hospital. I was badly hurt. I… I didn't remember what had happened."

And he remembered the anger he'd felt at her for lying to him about his dad, about all the deaths. Because it couldn't be true. And then Xander had come in to see what the shouting was and Giles had just launched all his rage at him instead of Buffy. Nursing staff had practically jumped on him to stop him getting up and ripping out his IV and monitors. And he remembered Buffy was crying

"But you accept that's the truth now, don't you?" Xander insisted.

"Yes," Giles admitted quietly. He'd been wrong.

"And while we're on the subject of honesty, have you ever admitted what you were really doing in Norfolk?" Xander pressed. "What you put us through that night?"

Willow interceded sharply.

"Xander, that's enough. Stop pushing him. It's OK, Giles. Like I said, we'll get you a better doctor."

Giles was feeling a little dazed by the emotional onslaught but the mention of Carol at least reminded him he had routines and techniques to cope with stressful situations. His hand sought the reassurance of his house keys.

"I don't need a better doctor. I like my doctor. She thinks I've made a lot of progress, and I have! You're both wrong. Very, very wrong."

Xander sat on the edge of the table and Giles could see the concern in his one good eye.

"This isn't working out, man," his young friend said gently. "Why can't you see that? Getting you this job, we thought you'd be safe. But you keep looking for ways to die."

They weren't listening to his arguments that he'd been duped into performing the ritual, but Xander's phrase about how he'd come by his job was a sobering, new twist.

"I submitted an employment application form," Giles said carefully.

"Course you did." Xander actually smiled. "To the safest town in the world for someone who is vampire shy. Wasn't that just a piece of luck."

Giles dropped his head. The girl at the Stones had taunted him that his job had been an act of charity and now he had confirmation that everything he'd built up for himself the past year was based on a lie. He became aware his young friends were talking about him softly, as if he wasn't in the room.

"We're going to have to call Buffy and think of something else," Xander said. "Maybe another hospital."

"Poor Giles. It's going to be OK though."

That was it. He'd heard enough.

"I am not submitting to another hospital and you don't have the authority to make me. You got me the job…" he chuntered. "Buffy got me the job. Unbelievable! I can't have anything for myself, can I?" he shouted, causing them both to flinch. "Without you lot interfering, controlling?" There wasn't a lot of room to pace in the trailer but he made a good stab at small circles. "Led by the nose is about right, isn't it? But I will not be a victim to you!" He waved a shaking finger at them. "I understand it's because you care, but you are not helping. I am not an object of pity. I will not be 'Poor Giles' to you or anyone."

He needed fresh air and made to the door. Xander rose defensively and looked like he might try to stop him but Giles was so angry he backed off.

"If I didn't come by my job honestly, then I don't want it. I quit! I resign! I will lead my own life and make my own mistakes without your interference." He wrenched open the trailer door. "From now on, you lot stay the hell out of my life and that goes double for Buffy."

And with that he slammed the door closed behind him.

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