The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 7 & 8

Standard Disclaimer

This is fan fiction of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which were created by Joss Whedon. If you like, you can read my thoughts on the ethics and legality of fan fiction.


[Start reading story from beginning]

[Go back to chapters 5 & 6]

Chapter 7

Dawn led Willow briskly through the white, antiseptic halls of the E. Johnstone Psychiatric Hospital.

Dawn’s navy skirt left her lower legs bare, and Willow couldn’t help but glance at her right calf, which had a slight polymer sheen under the glare of the LED bulbs. You might not even notice if you weren’t looking for it. And that was a ten-year-old model – the new prosthetics today were indistinguishable from the real thing.

Willow had asked her once about upgrading, but Dawn said she didn’t care if people noticed. Why should she? If it made someone uncomfortable, that was their problem.

In some ways, she hadn’t changed at all.

“You haven’t seen the room since they remodeled, have you?” Dawn was saying. “It’s a lot better. I think he’s happier now.”

Willow tapped her wrist. The time blinked there briefly. “It’s almost ten. Will he still be awake?”

“Should be. He only sleeps six hours a night. You know how active he is.”

“How often do you visit?”

“Two or three times a week, if I can.”

They stopped at a door that read:

Rupert E. Giles

Rm 2389

Dawn touched the doorknob, looked back to Willow. “Sometimes he knows me. Usually not. If he isn’t, you know, there, don’t push him too hard. It just gets him mad, or scared.”

Willow nodded, a queasy feeling growing in her stomach.

They went inside.

The room was huge, nearly as big as Dawn’s entire flat. Left and right walls fitted with floor-to-ceiling oak shelves, every inch crammed with books. Personal area on the far side, bed and a curtain, bathroom door half-open, shoes and clothes lying around.

In the middle of it all, four big tables, each with a pile of books.

Not a hospital room. A library.

“It’s incredible,” Willow murmured. “Can’t believe how much they expanded. This must have cost a fortune.” She gave Dawn a sharp look. “You’re not paying for any of this yourself, are you? ‘Cause you know I can…”

“Everything courtesy of the Watchers’ Council,” said Dawn, with a hint of pride. “Thank God, for all the struggles we’ve had, we’ve never lacked for money.”

Willow set her eyes on the figure at the far right table. With a deep breath, she went to him, Dawn following behind.

In many ways, he looked just as he had in high school, all those years ago. Slightly rumpled gray tweed suit. Old-style glasses, probably non-corrective, as he’d long since gotten laser surgery. Clean-shaven. Standing over an open book, left hand marking his place, taking notes with the right. Yes, he was more wrinkled now, hunched over a bit, hair thinning and gray. But it was still him. Still Giles.

Except…

Except he hadn’t looked up when they approached. And something…there was no other way to say it. Something was missing in his eyes.

“Yes,” he muttered to himself. “Yes, these markings certainly indicate the artifact was created by the Patoreth clan. But the grammar…” He squinted at the book, flipped a page forward, back again. “The system of verb declension is unprecedented for this region.” Now he was scribbling in the notebook. “If I could reproduce…”

He went on.

“Try calling him Rupert,” Dawn whispered. “He seems to respond better to that.”

Willow cleared her throat. “Hello, Rupert. We came to visit you.” No answer. “Do you know who I am?”

Giles halted suddenly, looked her up and down. “Of course,” he said. “You’re Willow.”

She and Dawn exchanged grins.

“Willow Rosenberg,” he continued, returning to his book. “Yes, I’ve read all about you. Very famous. Instrumental in the human victory at the Battle of the Palace, Rio de Janeiro. The eighth of April, in the year of Our Lord 2015. Arguably the turning point in the Great Vampire War.”

Willow’s smile slipped.

He was pacing, now, wagging his finger as if lecturing. “The war began, of course, with the vampire Gabriel o Diabo. Diabo’s key insight was to transform the siring of new vampires from a haphazard personal affair into a systematic and disciplined method for building a vampiric army. At the height of his power, he controlled Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and parts of Argentina and Peru.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Willow said gently. “Rupert, I’m here with you right now. Willow Rosenberg is here. I want to talk to you. Can we do that, Rupert?”

He gazed up at the ceiling a moment, lost in thought, then went to the shelves as if hunting for another book.

Willow glanced at Dawn again, then back to him. “Giles,” she tried.

“Rupert Giles,” he said, finger still moving over the spines of books. “A controversial figure. President of the Watchers’ Council for seventeen years. Sometimes criticized for allocating immense resources to certain projects deemed…”

Always the same tone. Dry, but somehow lively, in an academic sort of way.

She kept pace with him. “What about Joyce Summers? Do you know her?”

He switched gears seamlessly. “Mother of Buffy Anne Summers, widely considered the most prolific and effective Slayer of the last century. Joyce’s influence on the Slayer during her formative years cannot be overstated. Her unexpected death is frequently cited as a key event in the early…”

Willow listened. Be patient, she thought. Give it time. But inside she felt terribly hollow.

“Jenny,” she said.

“The Djinni are a race of quasi-spiritual entities, originating in the Arabian Peninsula, most known for…”

“Jenny Calendar.”

The finger stopped. The lecture fell silent.

From behind, she watched him lift his head.

“What did you say?”

Heart beating quicker, Willow kept her voice steady. “Jenny Calendar. Do you know who she is?”

He turned around. Looked at her – actually saw her – for the first time.

Softly. “Yes.”

“Would you like to see Jenny again?”

He studied her. Searching.

Barely a whisper. “Yes.”

“Would you like to travel to Sunnydale and see Jenny Calendar again?”

Slowly, he took off his glasses, wiped them, put them back on.

“I believe I should like that very much indeed.”

“Okay.” Willow was nodding, over and over. Couldn’t stop. “Okay, Giles. We’ll go and see Jenny again. Okay.”

Giles frowned.

“Now where was I? I’ve lost my train of thought.”

Back to the bookshelves.

“Yes, yes. The Compendium of Elders. If I could locate the second volume, I could begin translating the key passage in the Zaddion Codex, which may shed some light on this grammar issue…”

Willow looked at Dawn and saw that her cheeks were wet with tears.

“Dawnie,” she said, then realized for the first time that she was crying too.

Chapter 8

Back in the flat now, almost midnight. They were leaning against counters in the dark kitchen. The only light was the moon gleaming on the Thames. Two empty wine glasses stood by the sink.

“Any progress on the research?” Willow said. “Any closer to finding him a cure?”

Dawn snorted. “You’d really think so, wouldn’t you? The largest pharmaceutical in the world, with an entire department working on it. But no. Not really.”

As expected. Willow blinked, tired but not yet ready to sleep. “Anything we can do to speed them along?”

“The manager’s requested money to build a whole new lab, hire dozens more researchers. I told her I’d check with your Foundation, but it’s so expensive, I figured…”

“No. If it goes to the Foundation, it’ll be tied up in red tape for months. I’ll pay for it myself.”

The least she could do.

“Uh, Willow.” Dawn slipped off her shoes and kicked them away. “I realize you’re rich and all, but no offense, we’re talking upwards of six hundred fifty million – ”

“I said, I’ll pay for it.”

“Wow,” said Dawn. “Okay then.” She curled her toes, watched her feet. “But you still won’t consider the Almada spell?”

Willow shook her head, not meeting Dawn’s eyes.

“It would cure him, Willow.”

“You remember what Giles said. No magical – ”

“Yeah, I remember. No magical cures to natural ailments. Crosses a line, goes against the order of things, blah blah blah. I won’t start the old argument again. I just…I miss him so much, you know?”

Willow crossed her arms, hugging herself. “Yeah. I know.”

For a while they stood together silent in the dark.

“Willow, do you remember Faith’s funeral?”

“Of course.” After all the demons, the chaos, the war, killed by a motorcycle crash in her early forties. “How could I forget? The first funeral in history with an open bar.”

“And a guitar solo.” Dawn was smiling.

“People always say funerals should be a celebration of life. But only Faith had the guts to actually do it.”

“And Xander was all twitchy because he had just gotten sober, and everyone was drinking. But he insisted on being there.”

Willow followed Dawn’s example and kicked off her own shoes. The cold floor felt good on her feet. “Did you know he lost his virginity to her?”

“That may have come up, like, twenty or thirty times. Every time it did, he tried to cover my ears, protect my innocence. I kept asking him where he thought my kids had come from.” Dawn’s laugh settled into a mischievous smile. “Speaking of which, I’ve always wondered…I mean, you don’t have to answer…did you and Faith ever…?”

Willow lifted an eyebrow. “Did we ever…what?”

“You know,” Dawn insisted. “Did you ever…do it?”

Willow sputtered and laughed. “With Faith? Oh, my goodness. She didn’t even like girls.”

“What?” Dawn practically shouted. “Are you kidding me? I just thought…I mean I always assumed…”

Willow was still laughing. “Straight as an arrow, Dawnie.”

And now she’s gone forever, said a voice in her head.

Her laughter died. Dawn must have thought the same thing, because she got serious again. She leaned back against the counter, gazing out the window.

“Buffy was there, too,” she said. “At the funeral. Nobody knew if she was going to show, but she did. She paid her respects, drank the booze, helped carry the casket. She was a good girl. Didn’t cause a scene.”

“I remember,” said Willow. “That was the last time I saw her in person.”

“And you know,” said Dawn, “what I really remember about that day? More than the drinks and the party and the strippers. I remember, right at the end, Buffy took me aside. Gave me the strangest look, like a trapped animal, or something. And she took me by the shoulders, and she said, ‘Dawn, when I die, don’t let anyone get on a stage and talk about me. Just put me in the ground. No eulogy, nothing.’ She wanted me to promise. I asked her why.”

Her gaze grew more intent, as if seeing past the river and the buildings to some distant, unimagined place.

“And she said, ‘Because if someone has to explain who I am, I haven’t done my job.’”

Dawn sighed and rubbed her neck. “I’ve never told that to anyone before.”

Willow took hold of her arm.

“I’ll get her to come,” she said. “I’ll find a way.”

“Thanks.”

And then, a long moment later:

“Wait. How did you find out Faith didn’t like girls?”

“I, uh…” Willow felt herself blushing in the dark.

Dawn laughed so hard she got the hiccups and had to hold her breath.

[Go on to chapters 9 & 10]

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