Giles dropped the phone back into its cradle and slowly removed his glasses. He slowly cleaned the lenses, something he did when he needed to think.
Darkness. Gunfire. People screaming. Echoing clashes of steel on steel.
Buffy looked at him, “Are you ok, Giles? You seem a little distracted.”
Giles shook himself, “No, I’m fine. I've just spoken to someone I’ve not seen for a long time. An old friend, of sorts.”
The Slayer was slightly confused, “O-K. So what is it tonight? Training or research?”
Giles walked past her, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to give it a miss tonight. There is something I have to do.” He opened the door to the Magic Box’s back room, and locked it after him.
Buffy looked over at the Scooby's, “Ok, weird. Which, with Giles, is incredibly scary.”
Giles opened his weapons chest and quickly emptied it. The false bottom was a little stiff, but it gave way in the end, and the former Watcher looked down at what was hidden below: two cloth-wrapped cylinders and a battered old box. The first cylinder was removed and unwrapped, the black velvet dropping to the floor without a sound. He opened the end of the container and reached in. His hand found the familiar shape of a sword handle, and he drew the weapon.
The meter long blade seemed to shine in the twilight that drifted in through the windows, its marked surface showing where the steel had been folded time after time to make it stronger. The grip was varnished wood, and felt like it had been moulded to his hand, as indeed it had.
Giles stood and swung the sword a few times. It was perfectly balanced, and made almost no sound as it cut through the air. He swung it in a faster and more complex pattern, his body remembering movements long forgotten by his conscious mind.
The sounds of steel echoing against steel. Two bodies moving in a deadly dance that could spell death at the slightest mistake.
Giles bowed his head slightly as he finished his exercises, before retrieving the scabbard from the tube and returning the sword to its place. The other cylinder revealed a second sword, almost identical to the first, except for a lighter colour to the varnish in the handle. He looked at the weapon intently, tears welling up in his eyes.
A smile on a face framed by auburn hair. A laugh. A soft voice singing. Love.
He looked at the old box, but refrained from opening it; he didn’t have time for that.
Buffy’s face turned the instant she heard the lock click, but Giles breezed past them without a word, his long over coat trailing behind as he headed for the door. Her eyes caught sight of a scabbard attached to his belt, and her heart missed a beat.
Waiting till Giles was gone, she opened the door to the back room and walked over to the weapons chest and looked inside: all the swords where there, and there was an envelope sitting on top, her name printed in Giles’ careful hand. She ripped it open and read the note:
By the time you have found this note, I will be gone. Under no circumstances are you to follow me. This is something I have to do alone, and you would be more of a liability then help.
Crumpling the note, Buffy ran back to the others, “We have to find Giles!”
The steam rose up from the vents in the ground. Giles didn’t know if it was bad plumbing or demon activity, and more to the point, he didn’t care. He silently drew his sword; the phone call had merely told him where to go, not why the sudden meeting had been called. Movement in the shadows registered on some sixth sense, and he span round, the tip of the sword coming to a stop against the yielding flesh of a neck.
“Steady on there!” Spike raised his hands in submission, “I was just going to ask if there was something going on that I should know about.”
“You don’t understand, any of you.” Giles’ gaze seemed distant, like he wasn’t talking to the vampire before him, “You think that everything’s so simple, don’t you? Well it’s not. There are some things your kind will never understand. You don’t understand real pain, real suffering.”
“Ok, I know when I’m not wanted.” Spike backed away, slightly worried. “I’ll see you around then?”
Giles lowered his sword. “Possibly.”
Spike backed away into the shadows.
Buffy paced back and forth as Willow and Tara finished preparing the locater spell that they hoped would find Giles. Willow placed the last candle on the floor and took a deep breath. “Ok, for this particular type of spell to work, we’ll need something Giles touched recently.”
“Try this,” Buffy said, handing over the note, “I’m guessing he wrote it just before he left.” Willow took the note and placed it in the centre of the chalk circle drawn on the floor.
“Look what we just found hidden under the bottom of the weapons chest.” Xander appeared from the back room brandishing the tube containing the second sword.
Dawn was close on his heels, holding the battered old box, “I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Buffy opened the box, “Photos.” She looked closer, “Really, really old photos.” The others gathered round, looking at the crumpled brown photos sitting in the box, along with several letters written in a careful hand.
Anya lifted one, “It’s in Russian.”
The sword almost connected with Giles’ neck, but he reacted instinctively, bringing his own weapon up and ducking to the side, rolling over in the damp alley. He came up fighting, his sword slashing out at a shadowy figure, who flipped over backwards.
The two men stood facing each other, swords raised at the ready. They slowly circled, their eyes locked on each other, ready to strike at a moments notice.
The stranger smiled, lowering his sword. “It’s good to see you again, old friend.”
Giles relaxed his guard. “You to, MacLeod.”
Xander looked over Anya’s shoulder. “Can you read it?”
Anya looked at him, “Of course I can read it. It’s a love letter, addressed to Giles. It’s from a woman called Sasha, that’s slang for Alex, as in Alexandra.” She looked at the bottom of the letter. “This can’t be right; it’s dated 1916.”
Buffy grabbed one of the photos and turned it over. “What’s this say?”
Anya looked at the writing. “It says: ‘Rupert and Conner, St Petersburg, 1913’.” She flipped the photo over and looked at the two men. “Maybe it’s his grandfather?”
Connor MacLeod handed over his hip flask. “As much as I have come to love this country, you still can’t get a decent whiskey here for love nor money.”
Giles smiled as he took a swig of the strong liquor, “I suppose us Sassenach never learned how.”
Conner’s eye’s narrowed, “I never used that word to describe you, not once.” He took the flask back. “It is good to see you again. The last time was what, 1920?”
Giles’ face fell, “1917, Archangel.”
Darkness. Gunfire. People screaming. The echoing clashes of steel on steel.
Buffy shook her head, “No, it’s Giles all right. Must be some sort of trick, like those tacky ‘Wanted’ posters you can get from Wild West theme parks.”
“Hey!” Xander objected, “I look very ‘Desperado’ in that cowboy get up.”
Anya smiled, “You look more ‘Blazing Saddles’ than ‘Tombstone’, trust me.” She looked at the photo. “I don’t think it’s a fake; I think its real.” She lifted a photo of an attractive woman with dark hair. She flipped it over, “Sasha, Archangel, 1917.”
Conner sighed, “I’m sorry: I didn’t mean to bring up old memories. It’s been a long time, I guess I just forgot.”
“85 years, 2 months and 17 days; I’m not sure about the hours and minutes, but if you give me a moment, I’ll work them out.” Giles leaned back against the wall. “She was the best of us, and I loved her more than anything, more than life itself.”
Conner nodded, “I know, and she loved you the same. That’s why she faced him.”
“He was looking for me; he wasn’t interested in her.” Giles had started to cry, “It should have been me.”
The echoing clashes of steel on steel. A single scream, cut short. The sight of blood in the moonlight. Laughter; evil and full of malice.
“Look, we’re ready to do the spell, so why don’t you just wait to ask him yourself?”
Willow suggested, feeling slightly left out, “I’m sure there’s a logical explanation.”
Dawn looked at her. “In Sunnydale?”
“Oh, good point.” Willow admitted. “Well, I’m sure there’s an explanation.”
Spike breezed through the door. “Why’s 'Old Grumpy' acting strange all of a sudden?” He saw the man standing next to Giles in the photo. “Connor MacLeod?”
Conner sat on an abandoned packing crate. “That’s why I’m here. He’s here, Viktor is, looking for you. I think he wants your head.”
Giles sprang to his feet. “I know where he’ll be.”
Buffy looked at Spike. “You know this man?”
Spike shook his head. “Not so much ‘know’, more ‘know of’. He’s an Immortal.”
Anya clicked her fingers. “That explains it.” Her smile was almost a grin. “Giles is an Immortal.”
Xander raised a hand. “Exsqueeze me? And baking powder? A what?”
Anya took a deep breath. “There are certain humans who are, and no one knows why, Immortal. They can live for thousands of years, drifting from place to place, changing identities every few years so as not to draw attention to themselves. Legend has it that they can only be killed by decapitation. If one Immortal kills another Immortal, they gain their essence through what’s known as the ‘quickening’. They gain all the skills of the one they killed. If Giles is an Immortal, then he could be more than old enough to have been in Russia when these photos where taken.” She let out her breath.
Buffy shook her head. “I don’t get it; if Immortals gain this ‘quickening’ when they kill one of their own, how come he seems to be friends with this MacLeod?”
Anya sighed. “Part of the legend says that there will one day be something called ‘The Gathering’, and all the remaining Immortals will converge at the same place and fight it out until there is only one left. This winner will be given a ‘gift’ of some kind, as well as the knowledge and power of all the defeated Immortals.”
She looked at the photo of Giles and MacLeod. “I’ve met a few Immortals in my time, and one of them told me that they tended to keep as far apart from each other as possible so as not to accidentally trigger The Gathering. Still, while Immortals may not see each other for decades, they can forge friendships that last centuries. Then again, the same could be said for their hatreds.”
The fog rolled in off the sea, covering the docks as Giles and MacLeod made their way towards the distant shape of a large container ship.
Buffy started pacing back and forth. “I knew Giles looked distracted; he left not long after he got a call. I’m betting that it has something to do with this MacLeod.” She stopped. “Anya, you said that Immortals can hate each other for a long time? Is there any chance that Giles and MacLeod have bad history?”
Anya shrugged. “I can’t say: I’ve never met MacLeod, and until just now, I didn’t know Giles was an Immortal.”
“Willow, Tara, do your spell.” Buffy took the cylinder from Xander and drew the sword from inside, “Giles may be in trouble.” She looked at Anya. “You said that an Immortal can only be killed by decapitation, right?”
Anya nodded. “That’s what the legends say.”
Buffy looked at the sword. “We need more information.” She walked over to the phone and dialled an overseas number from memory. “Hello. I need to talk to Quentin Travers. No, I think he’ll talk to me. Tell him it’s Miss Summers from America. It’s about Rupert Giles and Conner MacLeod.”
The distant sound of a foghorn out at sea disturbed the night as Giles and Conner stealthily made their way up the gangway leading to the deck of the container ship. Giles caught sight of the name and port of origin painted on the rusting side of the vessel: Vorovskoi Mir, Murmansk. He laughed, “Vorovskoi Mir: Thieves World.”
Conner nodded. “Viktor always did have a twisted sense of humour.”
The deck of the ship was deserted as the two Immortals made their way towards the superstructure at the back, their swords at the ready.
Buffy but the phone down. “Well, the Watchers' Council has always known about Giles being an Immortal. He’s worked for them as a Watcher, on and off, since the late 1700’s. As far as they know, he’s friends with MacLeod, but he hasn’t spoken about him to anyone since returning from Russia in 1917.”
“Ok, well that sound’s good.” Willow smiled. “Do they know who Sasha is?”
“She was also an Immortal,” Buffy said, placing her hands on the table, “And Giles’ wife.”
“Was?” Willow asked, wary, “As in ‘past tense’?”
Buffy nodded. “She was killed; beheaded by another Immortal. The Watchers' Council doesn’t know who, but they think it could have been MacLeod.” She drew the sword from its scabbard. “We find this MacLeod, and if he did kill her, I’ll take his head myself.”
The ship was eerily silent as the two Immortals made their way through the narrow corridors, their swords out and at the ready. A swinging lamp over a stairwell gave notice that someone had passed that way recently.
Giles went to descend, but MacLeod held out his arm to stop him. “It’s a trap.”
“I know it’s a trap,” Giles said, pushing past his friend, “But traps only work if the target doesn’t want to be caught.”
The smoke slowly cleared, allowing Buffy a view of the room. “Well, that’s not the result I was expecting.”
Willow waved the smoke away from her face, “It was meant to form a…” She stopped as the smoke converged to form the outline of a large bird. There was a flash of light, and the smoke turned into an Owl. “…guide. it should lead us to Giles, no matter where he is.”
With an ear-piecing cry, the owl took flight and headed to the door. Buffy opened the door, and the bird flew off into the night.
Xander grabbed his coat. “Catch that pigeon!”
The dark hold of the container ship was full of shadows that could contain untold dangers for the un-weary. Giles and Conner split up, each taking one side of the ship as they slowly started their way forward.
The bow of the container ship was walled off, a single door standing ominously open. Conner stepped forward, but again Giles stopped him. “No. This is my fight; I go first.” The room beyond was in darkness, the dim light from the cargo bay silhouetting the two men in the doorway.
Bright floodlights robbed them of their night-sight instantly, the shock hitting them with an almost physical force, knocking them back on their heels. Giles raised his sword hand up over his eyes in an attempt to see into the room.
“Greetings Rupert, Conner,” a thickly accented voice echoed from inside. “It has been too long, me thinks. Time now that you should die.”
The Scooby's followed the owl as it flew through the night; its ear piercing screech making it easy to track. It stopped occasionally, sitting on a branch so that they could catch up, hooting at them with what could only be described as contempt for their speed.
“Ok, plan B. Xander, go back to the Magic Box and get your car. I’ll follow Big Bird here, then phone you when we get to wherever we’re going,” Buffy said, taking off at full Slayer-speed, leaving the others behind.
“Conner,” Giles had his sword held at the ready. “Go back up onto the deck and wait for me.”
“Are you crazy?” Conner looked at his friend. “Why do you think I’m here, if not to help?”
“Conner!” Giles turned his head to the side. “I told you that this was my fight. Sasha was my wife. It’s my duty to avenge her.”
“She was my friend!” Conner objected. “I knew her long before you met.”
“If I may interrupt,” the owner of the Russian voice stepped out of the shadows, revealing a tall, rakishly thin man in dark glasses. “I am quite willing to take you both on at the same time, but as Rupert has said, this is personal.” A long broadsword shone in the harsh light.
“Ok,” Conner backed towards the door. “Whatever happens, I’ll be waiting.”
Buffy’s increased pace seemed to please the guide, who swooped through the air, heading towards the docks. Buffy gripped the sword Xander and Dawn had found tightly as the owl started to circle above a large container ship.
A figure pacing along the deck caught her eye, and she squinted to get a better look. Conner MacLeod. She sprinted to the gangplank and dashed onto the deck, drawing the sword from its scabbard.
Conner ducked just in time to dodge the blow that would have claimed his head, and he rolled across the deck, drawing his own sword. “Just what the hell are you playing at?” he demanded as they started to circle.
“Conner MacLeod?” Buffy asked, her sword moving from side to side.
“So what if I am?” Conner asked, his eyes never leaving the other blade. “Where did you get that from?” he asked, recognising it.
Down in the hold, Giles and Viktor also circled, their swords shifting slowly from side to side, eyes locked.
“Why’d you do it?” Giles asked, stopping the circling and setting his feet apart, one slightly in front of the other. “Why’d you kill her?”
“Because she stopped me from getting to you.” Victor also stopped, and likewise got into a fighting stance. “Besides, is that not the fate of our kind? To fight to the death, till there is only one? Someone had to claim her head.”
Giles fought to keep his growing rage at bay. “I would have fought you then, if only to save her. She managed to convince Conner to keep me distracted while she faced you.”
“She was good,” Victor mused. “I’ll give her that. Just not good enough.”
Losing all control of his emotions, Giles charged.
“I found it.” Buffy got ready to attack. “I believe it belonged to someone you knew. A very good friend of someone I hold very dear.”
With that, she leapt forward at Conner.
Viktor dodged Giles’ attack, whipping his sword around to cut the other immortal on the upper arm, drawing blood.
“I could claim First Blood and consider this over,” he smiled, “but then, neither of us wants that, do we?”
“I’m here for your head, Viktor.” Giles turned to face his opponent, ignoring the cut on his arm. “And I'm not leaving 'till I've got it!”
“Then we shall continue!" Viktor feinted at Giles, and as soon as the other man went to defend, twisted his sword low, catching him in the abdomen.
Giles ignored the pain of the long-bladed sword slipping from below his ribs and into his lung, and brought his own weapon down in a strike that sliced at Viktor’s upper arm, cutting into the muscle.
Conner flipped over backwards as he tossed Buffy over his head, his feet pushing against her stomach, causing her to slam into a crate. The wood broke, dropping the young Slayer to the ground.
Buffy jumped back to her feet, maintaining her grip on the sword. “You’re good, I’ll give you that. But me? I’m better!” She aimed a punch at Conner's jaw, with her fist clenched around the sword handle, but it found only thin air.
“You fight well for someone who can only have been training for a few years,” Conner said with a smile, “But I’ve had 500 years to practice; you’re good, I’m better.” His sword seemed to blur as it moved, the force of the blow knocking the borrowed sword from Buffy’s hand. He grabbed it before it hit the deck. “You’re right, this sword did belong to someone I knew. A very good friend of mine. I’m the one who introduced Rupert and Sasha in the first place.”
“Then why did you take her head?” Buffy asked, looking for an opportunity to grab one of the swords. “Jealousy?”
“I would never have hurt her.” Conner tossed Sasha's sword back to Buffy, who caught it gracefully. “I cared for her almost as much as Rupert. Yes, I was a little jealous when she picked him over me.” He lowered his sword, “but true love is wanting the other person to be happy, no matter what.”
“Nice story,” Buffy kept her sword high, “But if you didn’t kill her, who did?”
“Another Immortal called Viktor Danilov,” Conner explained. “Rupert and I where serving as members of the Russian Imperial Guard at the time. We knew of Viktor, but we had never actually come across him. He joined up with a group of Soviet rebels and took part in the storming of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Rupert stopped him from getting to the Tsar, and so he swore revenge. He tracked the three of us down to a farmhouse near Archangel.
“Sasha had me distract Rupert while she went out to face Viktor. She was good, and almost had him.” Conner looked at the deck. “Be he killed her, right in from of Rupert and me. Knowing that neither of us could stop Viktor that night, I knocked Rupert out and dragged him to a waiting car. He didn’t speak to me again until tonight.”
Viktor screamed in pain as the blade severed tendons, his arm falling uselessly to his side, the sword dropping to the deck. He looked up at Giles.
“How? You have not taken a head in almost 100 years. How could you defeat me?” he asked, shocked.
“Because I’m better.” Giles’ sword cut through the air, passing cleanly thought the other man’s neck. “And you don’t deserve to live.” Viktor’s head fell to the floor, his body collapsing like a marionette with the strings cut soon after.
Ribbons of energy played across the deck and walls like renegade electricity, the light bulbs exploding as the charge reached them. Giles stood in the centre of the storm, his sword held high. The energy flowed through his body, erupting from the tip of his sword like a lightning bolt in reverse, blowing a hole through the ceiling, up through to the top deck and beyond.
The bow of the ship exploded outwards, a pillar of energy reaching up to the clouds. Buffy shielded her eyes. “What the hell is that?” she yelled at the top of her voice.
“It’s a quickening!” Conner explained. “Rupert was fighting Viktor; one of them is dead.” He turned to face the doorway leading to the cargo-hold, “And the other one is on their way back up.”
“If it’s Viktor…” Buffy stood next to him, sword ready.
“Then Rupert is dead, and it’ll be up to us to avenge him.” Conner raised his own weapon. “I take it from your strength and speed that you’re the Slayer. You got a name?”
“Buffy, Buffy Summers,” Giles said from the doorway, leaning heavily on the metal for support. “And she needs to learn when to stay out of things that do not concern her.” Shakily, he walked over to the side of the ship and dropped Viktor’s sword into the water below. “It’s done.”
“We better get out of here,” Conner said, cocking his ear to the sound of approaching police sirens. “Unless you want to explain the dead guy below, and the new hole in the boat?”
Back at the Magic Box, Giles sat patiently while Willow bandaged his wounds.
“I still think you should go to the hospital,” Willow reiterated as she packed away the first aid kit. “I think you've got a collapsed lung.”
“I do, but Immortals heal almost as quickly as Slayers.” Conner handed Giles a drink. “In fact, a friend of mine once told me that the First Slayer was an Immortal.”
“How would he know?” Buffy asked, still not believing everything she had been told. “Was he there?”
“No, but he did speak to someone who was,” Conner explained. “He is 5,000 years old; he’s seen a lot of things and talked to a lot of people in his time.”
“So how old are you, Giles?” Xander asked. “If you don’t mind me asking?”
“I’ll be 384 next year.” Giles explained, “I was born in London in the Year of our Lord 1624, and I 'died' my first death in the Grate Fire of London at the age of 42. I was a Watcher, and so the council helped me set up a new identity. They watch Immortals as well as Slayers, vampires and demons.”
“Three hundred and eighty four! All the things you must have seen! It must be cool to be immortal.” Willow sounded impressed.
“It’s not, really.” Conner shook his head. “It’s very lonely. You see, you can never let yourself get too close to anyone, because you know that they will one day die. In all my years, I have been married only once. It is not something I plan to do ever again.”
“I was lucky, finding Sasha. We had a lifetime together, more than we could have dreamed.” Giles sounded sadder, but there was less pain in his voice than before. “But the life of an Immortal is violent. We live by the sword, and we die by the sword.” He looked round at the Scooby's. “Be glad that none of you are potentially Immortal.”
They all looked at each other, the enormity of what they had been told finally sinking in.
“I think I should return this to you.” Buffy handed Giles the sword she had taken. “I didn’t know what was going on. I would never have taken it, if I had known the truth.”
“That’s ok,” Giles smiled. “Sasha would have wanted someone like you to have it. Keep it.”
“Well, as good as it has been to see you again, I must be off.” Conner stood, heading for the door. “Let’s not leave it other 80-years this time.”
Giles waved farewell to his friend. “I’ll see you around, Highlander.”
Many thanks to Cutiepie at Twisting the Hellmouth for beta-reading and constructive criticism.