Transformations - Chapter 12

Buffy and Xander did a quick round of calling--first to Willow's house, to let her know what had happened, then to Joyce and Cordelia in L.A. Joyce cried, and Cordy said, "God, two days without me and already everything's falling apart?"--which made Buffy pretty sure neither one had gotten vamped.

Will took a while getting there--she'd made a couple quick calls of her own to make sure some other people Giles knew were still okay, like Michael the witch-boy, and Jonathan. None of them had felt quite up to trying all the ex-teachers from Sunnydale High.

Buffy could hear Wesley going, "Ouch, ouch," all the way up the flight of stairs that led up to Giles's definitely not handicapped-accessible building, then all the way down the one that led to his apartment. Wes had a neck brace, and a splint on his right leg, and was walking with a cane, but otherwise looked okay. It still appeared as if no power on earth or in hell would be sufficient to make him wrinkle. Moira went at once to the dent in the wall. She stared up at it, saying nothing.

With a big groan, Wesley lowered himself beside Buffy on the couch. She'd gotten all ready to be annoyed with him, but then he took her hand and said to her kindly, "Don't worry, Buffy. We will locate Mr. Giles, and bring him home safe and sound."

Buffy doubted that was true, but still, it was a nice thing to tell her. "I guess I goofed up again, huh, Wes?" Somehow it helped to have Wesley there--at least in the way that, although she really just wanted to cry and cry, his presence stopped her.

"Well, as they say, no one's perfect." He glanced at Moira. "Have you discovered anything, ma'am?"

"I'll need to do some castings. Has Rupert a good map of Sunnydale, do you know?"

"I'll get it," Xander answered.

"Very good."

"I know where Giles keeps his magic stuff," Willow volunteered. "What kind of casting? What will you need?"

"My God--you're LeFaye!"

"No." Will looked nervous. "Just Willow. Rosenberg."

The Watcher sounded excited. "No, no you are. Look at this." She hauled a compact out of her purse, holding the mirror so Willow could see, then with her fingertip drew a design on Willow's forehead. Just for a second, the mark glowed like fire. "See? Merlin's sigil, come down to us from our foremother, Vivienne. You were even given one of our family names. I must meet your parents."

"Uh...okay," Willow answered. "Sure. Later, maybe?"

Buffy almost giggled at the thought of Moira meeting either Sheila or Ira Rosenberg. If Willow really did come from an ancient, mystical magic family, something major had definitely skipped a generation or two.

"Ah, yes. Quite right." Moira snapped shut the compact, looking like maybe she'd embarrassed herself with her own eagerness. "Sorry."

All business again, the Watcher gave Willow a list of instructions and ingredients, threw back the rug and stared at what lay underneath it. "Well. Rupert has been the busy lad."

"He's been teaching me," Willow said. "And no matter how we mop, we can't seem to get rid of all the lines."

"Remind me, sometime, to tell you of Rupert's family." Moira knelt to lay the map Xander handed her flat on the floor, tacked it to the boards in thirteen places, then began to mark a design around one quarter with green chalk. "Do you see what I'm doing here, Willow? You'll need to use your white chalk to draw the mirror image on opposing corners to one another, like squares on a chessboard."

Willow stared at the pattern a minute, then started to do the opposite image. "This is a Greenlady Cross, isn't it? I saw it in one of the books Giles doesn't let me see."

Moira laughed softly. "If you like, whilst I'm here I could show you a thing or two--mostly about the level of control you need to use in your castings, because that wouldn't be Rupert's strong suit."

"That's not very nice--" Buffy started to jump to Giles's defense, then realized that Moira had been saying something else entirely. "It's possible that didn't mean what I thought it meant."

"Honestly, Buffy, I'm not saying Rupert lacks self-control--" Then she looked at Buffy, hard, and muttered, half to herself. "Or perhaps I am."

"That's not fair," Buffy told her, in as cool a voice as she could manage. They traded looks for a minute, a little visual duel, while Xander and Wesley glanced from one to the other of them, not getting it. Willow stared with a little too much interest at the knees of her own overalls.

If Buffy thought about it even a little, she could still feel the touch of Giles's hand on her skin, and it made her almost desperate. "Let's just do this, okay? We can rag on each other later."

Moira looked like she wanted to blush, if she were the kind of person who actually ever blushed at all. "Quite right," she told Buffy. "Sorry. It's none of my business. I honestly do want him to be happy."

She and Willow edged around the map on their knees and started the second set of designs. None of it made any sense to Buffy.

"A man with a strong natural talent for Wild Magic performing Gray Rituals atop a Hellmouth is more than a bit frightening to me," Moira said at last. "I'm hoping that these leftover marks don't bugger up our own spell."

"We were pretty careful," Willow told her. "To dismantle things, I mean. Giles checked and checked, didn't he, Buff?"

"Uh-huh," Buffy answered. She really had no idea. She usually sprawled on the couch and read fashion magazines while Giles and Willow did their magic stuff, and had never paid much attention unless the spell made the room smell really bad--which some of them did. Rotten eggs didn't begin to cover it.

"Do you know what I mean by Wild Magic, Willow?" Moira asked.

"It's like the Chaos stuff Ethan Rayne did, right? Like on Halloween, and with the Band Candy?"

Moira gave a little soundless laugh and threw Buffy a look. "Not precisely. Wild magic takes things of the natural world and sets them free. It opens doorways, sometimes into places that are best kept shut. It takes an iron will for someone with those skills, in this location, to make any sort of ritual work predictably."

"You mean, Giles is actually good at this stuff? My Giles?" Buffy stared down at the pattern. No, it still didn't make sense.

"'Good' is a relative term. 'Effective' might be more accurate, and not necessarily in a positive way. There's a very good reason why Rupert refused to attempt the soul-restoration spell that was used on Angelus--and that reason had nothing to do with any level of discomfort with the mechanics of the spell itself."

"In what way, then?" Buffy asked. "And what did you mean about his family?"

"In the way that creatures of the night: vampires, demons and any number of other evil beings are drawn to Wild Magic users, as steel filings are drawn to a powerful magnet. You could be on a beach in Tahiti, Buffy, and if you were in Rupert's company, you would still be fighting vampires. As a line, the Giles Watchers are clever and dedicated, but what they really do, to a much greater extent than any other of the old family lines, is to reinforce the attractive power of a place. They ensure that the Slayer always has something to Slay."

"They're baity," Xander said, nodding.

"The name Giles," Wesley said, speaking up for the first time. "Is derived from an Old French phrase meaning 'of the goat.'"

Try as she might, all Buffy could think of was Goat Peter, from the movie "Heidi." But goats were used for evil sacrifices too, right? "So, you need a lot of magic to deal with goats?"

"Umn, not that kind of goat, Buffy." Willow glanced from Wesley to Moira, to see if they agreed. "Like that Greek god Pan, right? Who was, like, the god of Wild Magic?"

"Very good, Willow!" Moira exclaimed. "And some say the Old Gods were actually demons."

Buffy tried to process exactly what Willow and the Watchers meant.

"Take that as you can, Willow," Wesley said, smiling a little. "Her Ladyship doesn't give out many compliments."

"Are we ready?" Ignoring the younger Watcher's comment, Moira started to unbutton her suit jacket. "Sorry to put you through this, Wesley, but boys must leave the room. Girls, I'll need to take blood from each of you."

Moira got out her medical kit, swabbed their arms, and slid a needle into each, hooking them up to those plastic test-tube things like the technicians used for blood tests at the hospital. She did the same thing to herself, not even flinching as she pushed the needle home, then passed out cotton balls to press to the punctures. "Only a moment now, and we'll begin.

"Why did you send them out?" Willow asked. "Would their guyness mess up your magic?"

"No, but we must take our clothes off, and I didn't want to embarrass them, or shame you." The Watcher checked Giles's curtains, making sure they were all the way closed, then started unbuttoning her blouse.

"Um..." Willow said.

"Uh..." Buffy began.

"You took physical education at school, didn't you, and showered with the other girls in the change room? Have them off. Jewelry too. Time's wasting." She'd already dropped her skirt and kicked off her shoes, then sat on the couch to get out of her pantyhose. "Don't worry, by the way. I'm not interested. You're both lovely girls but, believe me, I'm not." Naked, Moira began to move some of the candles into place around the map.

Buffy got out of her clothes fast, trying not to think about it. Why should it be any different from changing after P.E.? She tried, too, really hard, not to stare at Moira, who had an athlete's sleek body made--she didn't want to say ugly, Moira wasn't ugly, by any means--but alien by the collection of raised white scars. She wondered if the scars made Moira ashamed, and if that's why she didn't want to have sex anymore, or if she just missed her Slayer so much she couldn't be with anyone else. Buffy didn't understand the older woman, not at all--Moira's combination of ice-cold matter-of-factness, and edgy vulnerability did nothing but confuse her. She couldn't figure out why Moira seemed so able to take huge, scary things--like Giles being gone--while other little teeny things nearly unglued her.

"Where do you want me?" Buffy asked, trying to sound nice to make up for staring.

The Watcher pretended not to have noticed. "Either kneel on the map, or sit cross-legged, whichever is most comfortable. You're our focus, Buffy. Do not move from that position until I tell you. That's quite important."

Buffy sat, feeling weird. Tingly weird, and not in a good way. Magic stuff always made her Spidey-sense go nuts. She got a strange vibe off Moira--the older woman may have been good at running and doing the Watcher thing, but Buffy had the feeling that where she really cut loose was with the magic. She hoped Moira knew what she was doing, involving Will.

Still dressed, Willow brought over Giles's little mini-magic-barbeque-thingy full of herbs, setting it down in front of Buffy's crossed legs. Moira poured each of the tubes of blood over the top, then lit the whole mess up with just a glance. After it was burning nicely, she nicked her own thumb with one of the scalpels from the medical kit, feeding the blood to the fire one drop at a time while saying words that sounded even stranger than the spells that, by now, Buffy was used to hearing.

Suddenly, Willow stripped off her clothes and her undies, flinging them to the floor. She looked, to Buffy, like someone who all at once decided to go skinny dipping in really cold water, and was getting if over with before she could change her mind. Buffy never understood why Will was so shy about herself--she had a great body, long legs and a good shape, cute little breasts. Put that together with her brains and personality, and no wonder both Xander and Oz were crazy about her.

As if reading each other's minds, Moira and Willow reached out their arms on either side of Buffy's body, touching hands palm to palm. The fiery mark she'd seen before appeared on both of their foreheads, and Willow didn't seem to be needing her spellbooks the way she usually did. Both women's eyes shone green as they recited a whole dictionary's worth of strange words, and Buffy got freezing cold, even though her cheeks were burning. She felt like a Buffy-shaped helium balloon rising out of herself, until she hovered over Sunnydale, the lights of the town bright below her, the houses and cars looking like toys. She swayed back and forth as if blown by the wind.

Then she realized she wasn't just swaying, that she actually swung back and forth, like a pendulum, her arcs going at different angles, narrowing down the territory that she needed to cover. Back and forth, back and forth, in a way that could have been soothing, but wasn't--it made her tense, anxious. She realized she was lowering closer and closer, down to The Factory, where Drusilla's half-burned dolls still lay scattered on the floor. The place was filled with vampires, lots and lots and lots of vampires, as many as had been at the Ascension and more. Their leaders seemed to be two dark-haired women, both about thirty, and both tall, athletic-looking and really pretty--if you forgot, for a minute, that they were dead.

The two traded looks, then smiles, then sent the other vamps on their way. The one who looked kind of Italian switched on a bright light, like a movie light, which allowed Buffy to see what lay between them on the dirty concrete floor. "You're sure this will work?" she asked her partner. "You don't want to make the tape?"

"Sure, Maria, make the film--but I'll bet you anything Emmy's already watching." The second woman used her boot to kick over a drab-looking bundle. "Oh, c'mon, Rupert, wake up. It's no fun until you do."

"You're sure he's still alive? How hard did you hit him, Helena?"

"Giles!" Buffy yelled, snapping back into her physical body. She leaped to her feet, as Moira screamed and collapsed against her, falling through the candles until she lay face down on the map.

She grabbed her now-crumpled blue dress from the heap of her things on the floor and dragged it over her head, not bothering with her underclothes, not even caring when the zipper caught and snagged the fabric. She thrust her feet into Willow's sneakers, while Willow stared up at her, mouth hanging open.

Buffy tore out of Giles's apartment without even stopping to think. What did she have? No weapons, no plan--but he'd been alone with the two vampire bitches, and mad as she was, she thought she could take them. Just a quick stop home for supplies, and Factory, here she came.

Those chicks, she swore, were dust.

She had to remember not to run for The Factory full tilt--it was a good, long way, and she didn't want to be too tired to fight when she got there, but she didn't want to take it too slow, either. In her vision, Giles had been completely out of it, the vampires flipping him around like a sack of laundry, and there had been blood, more than he could probably afford to lose.

Why in hell had he let a vampire into his apartment? Had he been totally loopy, or was there some sort of hole in the "they can only come in if they're invited" clause? Knowing Giles, he'd probably said something gracious to Helena when she was still alive, something along the lines of "You're welcome to stay at my place any time."

Another note to self: avoid saying stuff like that.

Buffy made The Factory at record speed, and set about working her way inside. The place was half in ruins, so doors weren't really an issue anymore. Lots of bad memories here for her, and for all of her friends: she could still see Giles whaling on Angelus with that flaming baseball bat, and remembered thinking, Really stupid choice of weapons, Giles before she'd realized that Giles had known he couldn't kill the vampire--he'd just wanted to hurt him as much as he could, and then get killed himself. And he'd known Angelus would do that, just kill him, not turn him--that Angelus hated Giles about four times as much as Angel liked him, and Angel and Giles had, at one time, been pretty good friends.

Angelus would've been scared of a vampire Giles, who'd have been smarter than him, and maybe tougher--Buffy suspected there were whole frightening levels of Ripperdom beyond the relatively wimpy sixteen-year-old version she'd seen on Band Candy night--not to mention that Wild Magic stuff Moira talked about. She had no illusions that a vampire Giles would be anything like her Giles--warm, generous, and practical. And even her Giles had that side--he liked to fight, one look at how he'd gone after the demon Balthazar's vamp boys had told her that--and sometimes when he got onto an idea, he go after it like a tiger. A vampire who wasn't a quitter was not a good thing.

She hoped that turning Giles wasn't in either of these vampires' plans.

Armed now with the stakes and holy water she'd picked up from home, she slipped down into the factory itself. The Italian-looking vampire, Maria, walked right by her, not even knowing Buffy was there--the Slayer could tell she was pretty new-made, and maybe not in the top two percent for brains, either. Buffy worked her way further in, until she stood on the dark edge of the room where the one bright light shone.

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