She couldn't remember anything.
But she somehow felt everything was wrong. Her uncomfortable shoes. Long skirt. Busy city street with horse carriages. Her exquisite purse.
She opened it. It was full of jewelry. Real deal? Or just a bunch of cheap shiny trinkets? She was so fascinated by their beauty that she failed to notice a small piece of paper among all the gems. But if she'd seen it and read the message this is what she'd have found:
My love, you must go to Charing-cross, find the bookshop "Librairie d'occulte" and contact its owner Mr. Roderick Giles. Stay with him, if possible. Otherwise find a place to live and give Mr. Giles your address so that I could find you. The jewelry is authentic and costs a lot - you can afford a good apartment. Sorry, I can't reveal more - it's too dangerous. I'll explain everything later. I love you and our unborn baby.
But she wasn't looking into the purse because a shop window displaying Christmas items attracted her eyes. A tree, decorated with exquisite toys, beautiful dolls, a figurine of angel...
Angel. She felt a pang in her chest. The word had a special taste. Poignant. Bittersweet. Dangerous. It reminded of a different life. Life full of passion, suffering, joy. Life she was desperately struggling to recall.
"Congratulations, Xander. The formalities are over. From now on you're the Head of the Council of Watchers".
Xander Harris inspected Giles' office which was thoroughly cleaned up before it's owner's departure. He turned off his cellphone in his pocket and asked himself again if he's ready for the unpleasant conversation he had been mentally preparing himself during the last two months.
"So this is it", he said with a forced smile. "I hope you'll enjoy growing roses in your garden".
Giles gave a sardonic laugh.
"I'm afraid I haven’t time to grow proper roses for my funeral. You know I'm dying, Xander. In a few months you'll be the last one standing. The last of the old guard. Besides Andrew. By the way, tell him to stop harassing me about writing a memoir."
"Actually, Giles, I wanted to ask you about Andrew. Two months ago he came to me. He told me there was a secret folder in you PC. But recently it disappeared. I think I have a right..."
"This is not a question about Andrew. And this folder had nothing to do with rights and privileges. This was about... forget it. Thank God I deleted everything you shouldn't know."
"No you didn't."
"You don't understand, Giles. Andrew made a copy. Don't ask me how he broke the protection, but he did it, and he started deciphering your files."
Giles stood up.
"Damn. You have to stop him."
"What do you mean - why?"
"Why should I do this, Giles? Why should I keep your dirty secrets? I have the right to know what happened to Buffy."
Giles started saying something, but cut himself short, turned away from Xander and went to the window. Xander waited patiently, looking at old watcher's hunched shoulders and trying to suppress pity.
"What have you done to her?" he asked when the silence became unbearable.
"Giles, I know these files have something to do with Buffy's disappearance. Andrew had deciphered a name of one file - "Buffy timeline". What is it?"
"You don't want to know about her fate, Xander", said Giles without turning back.
"Come on. Sooner or later Andrew will decode your files. You know him. He's obsessed about his slayer encyclopedia and he needs a slam-bang finale for his grand oeuvre."
Giles snorted, turned to face Xander and newly-appointer Head of the Council of Watchers saw that old watcher was actually smiling.
"So this is your first assignment on your new post. To stop our intrepid researcher of vampyre lore from access to the facts only the Head of the Council of Watchers should know."
Xander smiled too. Obviously the matter will be resolved easier than he expected.
"Now tell me Giles. What happened fourteen years ago?"
Giles shot him a sidelong glance.
"It was Angel's idea, Xander. He couldn't sacrifice her. But we knew that the portal opened by Wolfram and Hart couldn't be closed by usual means".
Xander nodded. He remembered very vividly the days they worked on the W&H problem as the darkness spread over California and threatened to engulf all the continent. And the only way to stop it was to repeat the Sunnydale gig.
"Since Angel shanshued, the amulet wouldn't work on him", Giles continued. "And he knew that Buffy would never let Spike die again. So it was Angel who made a decision. Spike agreed immediately. I believe it was the only time they agreed on something... Anyway, they came to me and I provided them with some useful details. Willow did a memory spell. Illyria created the portal."
"Wait-wait-wait. What did you do?"
Giles avoided looking at him.
"We had to ensure Buffy's non-involvement. And, at the time we didn't know the scope of consequences of another catastrophe of Sunnydale’s type. So we sent her back in time".
"What? I mean - how... And where?.."
"London. Middle of 19th century."
"So you’ve created a temporal paradox similar to Commander Sinclair’s trip to Minbari…"
"Please, spare me a trip down the Star Trek memory lane! She had been sent there without memories of her life. Also, Willow did a spell to take away her slayer's strength".
"Buffy had to pass as an ordinary human being. It was the only viable solution".
"I can't believe... - Xander cut himself short. - Actually, I can. Now I can. Go on."
"Willow entranced her and dressed her in a suitable gown. Angel provided jewelry so that she could pay for food and shelter. He put a note into her purse with the instructions to contact my great-grandfather, a bookshop owner. It was the only way to find her we could figure out at the time... Don't look at me like this."
Xander snorted bitterly.
"So everybody knew but me. And you've decided for her. For her own good. How could you, Giles? She trusted you. She never trusted anybody the way she trusted you. You were like a father to her..."
"Shut up, Harris. Just. Shut. Up. You don't know what you're talking about. Buffy stopped trusting me after the Cruciamentum. And she was right. And I came to respect her distrust. Because she quickly realized the flipside of empowerment - the necessity to make unpopular decisions. To choose between bad and very bad."
"Buffy was pregnant. Nobody knew. Except Angel. She was bearing his child."
Giles started polishing his glasses.
"You should have told her..." Xander murmured. "Reasoned her into..."
Old watcher shook his head.
"Do you really think I had a chance to convince her? You knew Buffy very well."
Xander smiled ruefully
"Right. And - it went wrong, didn't it?"
"I don't know. Buffy just disappeared. When it was over, Illyria and I went back to the 19th century and met Roderick Giles in different time frames. Buffy had never contacted him. She never came to his shop. We tried to find her, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack."
Xander shot him a suspicious glance. Giles averted his eyes.
"Those first days I was dreading the moment of meeting her again and telling her they all were gone. Every time we entered a time portal I imagined telling her that Angel died in the battle, and Spike turned into ashes again, and Willow..."
Giles couldn't finish the sentence. Xander watched him silently, intently, and old watcher read in his eyes that he shouldn't count on hugs and comfort. He sighed and continued.
"Then I started dreading that we'll never find her. Every time we made a dive in Victorian London and saw poverty and vice, I asked myself if I made the right decision. Did I do everything I could to find her? I still don't know if we could do more. Maybe if I'd stopped Illyria when she decided to return to the Deeper Well, maybe if we'd have continued the search..."
Giles cast a furtive glance at Xander and uttered a mirthless laugh.
"There is an adage that history doesn't know conditional tense. That's all, I'm afraid."
Xander looked at him reflectively.
"You're a bad liar, Giles. You've told me I didn't want to know about Buffy's fate. It means you know her fate. Hopefully you'll spare me the search of your briefcase and other unpleasant procedures".
"For with much wisdom is much sorrow," he whispered. "As knowledge increases, grief increases."
Xander nodded absently.
"Uh-huh. Could we skip Sunday school lesson?"
Instead of answering Giles gasped and clutched his chest. Xander rushed to him and helped him into his chair.
"My medication..." murmured Giles. "...breast pocket of my coat... the cloakroom, downstairs..."
Xander rushed out of Giles' office and headed to the staircase, stomping his feet as loud as possible. But instead of going to the cloakroom he stealthily returned back to the office. He came in just in time to see Giles burning a sheet of paper in his ashtray.
Xander brushed off the burning paper on the floor and tried to extinguish the fire with his boots.
Giles watched him with amusement.
"Sloppy", he said.
Xander rolled his eyes.
"I won't even start commenting on the idea that a man with a weak heart has left his medication downstairs".
"So we're even".
"Good old Ripper", Xander picked up the little corner of the sheet left intact. "So you sent me away so that you had time to destroy the evidence. Damn! I knew I had to give you enough time to extract it, but I didn't know you're still so swift..."
Xander squinted at the paper.
"...but not swift enough", he concluded.
Giles frowned. Xander looked again at almost indiscernible hand-written words "...don't understand - as well as ridiculous level of secrecy including communication on paper - but I'm not in a positi..." and grinned crookedly.
"Unfortunately for you, two years ago I worked with Lydia Chalmers", he declared. "Remember the archeological dig at the Tomb of Ramha? Our computers quickly ran out of batteries so we had to write down the data manually. She has a very distinct handwriting. "
Xander looked at Giles and realized that this time he nailed it. Old watcher's face grew pale, his hands trembled. Xander felt a tight knot in his stomach and asked himself if it was worth it.
But he had already gone too far.
"So, should I, newly-appointed Head of the Council of Watchers, call Lydia and ask her about it? Or?.."
Giles stood up with difficulty, approached the bookcase and took out massive "Almanac of Witchcraft: From Stone Age to Renaissance", revealing a bottle of brandy behind it. With growing sense of dread Xander saw Giles pouring generously into two glasses. The last time he witnessed the extraction of this bottle they had the second D'Hoffryn-Taraka crisis and impending annihilation of Earth on their hands. It happened two years ago and the level of brandy in the bottle hasn't changed since then. For with much wisdom is much sorrow. Suddenly he felt an urge to stand up and leave immediately.
"This was Miss Chalmers' memorandum in response to my request to edit out some passages of her thesis "William the Bloody: man and vampire" before official publication".
Xander carefully took his glass and put it on the desk.
"William the Bloody? Spike? What Spike's got to do with it?"
"According to Miss Chalmers' research, he was born in 1853 to Anne Pratt - a mysterious woman who appeared in London out of nowhere eight months earlier."
Giles' voice was cold and detached as if he was recounting some unimportant and boring incident, and Xander briefly thought that it was a very understandable psychological reaction.
Then it struck him.
"You mean... You think that..."
"This woman paid generously to one John Pratt who married her and provided her with name and papers. They lived separately, but John Pratt has been listed as William's father. In 1880 William Pratt had disappeared. Anne Pratt had disappeared three days later."
"No. No! You're wrong, Giles. Listen, she… this woman could be anybody. It's just a freaky coinci..."
"There is a pic of her", Giles sighed. "There was."
"God", breathed Xander.
Xander gulped his brandy and threw the glass against the wall.
"Damn you! Why couldn't you spare me this, Giles? Why?"
Old watcher just looked at him. Xander sobbed uncontrollably.
"Mind if I have more brandy?"
"Bottle is yours. Sorry, no more glasses."
Xander hastily took a swig from the bottle.
"I won't drive you home", Giles warned.
"You're a bad Watcher. A good Watcher hides secrets more carefully."
"No, I am... I was a good Watcher. But pupils have a common tendency to surpass their teachers."
Xander took another swig.
"At least *they* didn't know. Did they?"
"Nobody knew but me."
Xander took one more swig.
"You’re so wrong, Giles..." he murmured.
"Someone else knew. I spoke to Drusilla when we trapped her in Rio in 2008. She looked pretty lucid but sounded even crazier than usual. She said she had only one regret in her unlife. She didn't tell Angelus that she had done to his family what he had done to hers."
Xander poured the last drops of brandy into his mouth.
"Now it makes sense", he said.
"Hopefully you've staked her."
Xander shook his head.
"She said she didn't want to die of a stake. She wanted to see sunrise one more time. I owed her that one - she had a crush on me when I was in high school, y'know".
"You're drunk. Go home. No, wait - you can't drive."
"I'll walk. I so need fresh air", he twiddled the bottle nervously. "Funny - demons die, people stay."
"People die too."
Xander stared at him.
"Damn. This is my first hour as a Head of the Council of Watchers. Will it always be that hard?"
"Welcome to the club."
"I don't want it. I don't want to be Head of the Council."
"Resign your post to Andrew Wells."
Xander chuckled. Maybe he was more drunk than he could admit. Giles chuckled too.
"It's too little a consolation, but at least we know Buffy and Angel had these days in May of 2004", Giles said. "And they were happy. It was a weird happiness, but still. We were dealing with Armageddon, we were surrounded by death and chaos, but Buffy's face always lit up when Angel was around."
"Days. After years of misery."
"Everything is relative", Giles raised his finger didactically. "10 days of happiness isn't bad option. Many people don't have even that."
"Wait. 10 days?"
Giles smiled nostalgically.
"That's what Angel told me before the battle. He said he didn't regret anything because he had 10 days of pure unadulterated bliss in his long and messy unlife."
"Strange. We arrived in LA May, 21, soon after midnight. And, according to Watcher's Chronicles, Buffy disappeared May, 29, shortly before midnight. It makes 9 days."
Giles pondered on his words. Then he finished his drink in one big gulp.
"Maybe Angel just made a mistake", he said. "One day more, one day less - does it matter?"
Something in Giles' voice made Xander uncomfortable - but the question died on his lips.
"And, by the way, Commander Sinclair isn’t a Star Trek guy," he said instead. "He’s from Babylon 5".
Early one morning, just as the sun was rising I heard a maid sing in the valley below...
She tore her eyes off the figurine of an angel and walked down the street hypnotized by the music of barrel-organ at the corner. There was something vaguely familiar about a song on a girl yearning for her lost love.
Oh don't deceive me, Oh never leave me How could you use a poor maiden so?
She was so enthralled by the sad plaintive melody and heart-wrenching words that she didn't notice a piece of paper slipping out of the purse. A gust of wind caught it up and it was gone in a second.
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Summary: How did Buffy land in the middle of XIX century? Why couldn't she remember anything? An investigation... of sort.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Nineteen century London belongs to Queen Victoria, all the rest belongs to Joss.
Author's notes: thanks to my wonderful beta Reddygirl who saved me from butchering English grammar.