Standing in the loft of the Magic Box, where the most potent talismans, ritual items, and spellbooks were kept, Rupert Giles clasped his hands behind his back and surveyed his domain.
Below him, two high school children were giggling over a skeleton, shaking its hand. A woman swathed in a gauzy mix of punk and quasi-Wiccan was comparing decks of Tarot cards. Opposite her, a wizened white-haired man who in size was somewhere between leprechaun and Little Person was shaking a shamanic rattle, smiling blissfully at the result. A pungent odor of musky incense curled from a brass burner in the far corner, somewhat weakened by the time it reached the loft, but apparently not disturbing the shoppers. From somewhere in the rear of the store, beneath his perch, came the ululating howl of an aboriginal demon-caller, prompting a startled chirp from a chubby being huddled beneath a trenchcoat and fedora quite inappropriate for California in summer. With an embarrassed glance about the store, the being hastily moved toward the front door. No doubt it was one of the supernatural denizens one could expect to gather about an active Hellmouth; precisely the reason why establishing himself as proprietor of a magic supply shop here was a brilliant idea.
Granted, a supernatural clientele could be tricky to handle. In Sunnydale, the death rate for magic shop owners was astounding, even for a Hellmouth town. Still, Giles wasn't worried. Unlike the typical shopkeeper, he was a Watcher, skilled in magic but also quite knowledgeable about martial arts. Between training the Slayer and battling Evil at her side on rather a frequent basis, he was quite capable of defending himself, if need be. Add to that his own rather rowdy youth rebelling against the staid role of researcher in moldy books and medieval horrors, and he felt reasonably sure that he wouldn't fall prey to a vampiric bargain-hunter or a Satanist after a cheap thrill.
Shoplifters, unfortunately, were another matter entirely.
"Customer! You didn't buy anything!" Anya had apparently noticed the trench-coated customer departing. "Come back again, and bring money!"
Sighing, Giles hastened down the black iron stairway. Since lecturing a former demon about the use of tact and charm was pointless, he ignored Anya and closed in on the ethnic book collection instead.
"You really don't want that book."
"I don't?" The young man in the long black duster looked surprised then relaxed into an amiable smile. "Then why was I just tucking it under my arm while I pulled out my wallet?"
"Don't let the romantic cover mislead you. That's cheap stereotyped pap, and it's inaccurate as well. There's no such thing as a Gypsy Queen, and if there were, she wouldn't write a paperback revealing her fortune-telling secrets."
The young man's companion, who looked as if he'd prefer to be in a sports shop, said, "Might be worth a laugh."
"It might, of course, although it's more popular with teenaged girls who are planning to hold slumber parties; I usually steer them toward the astrology books to accompany it. Of course, if you're specifically interested in the Rom--Gypsies is a pejorative, from a mistaken belief that they came from Egypt, when in fact the language has its roots in India--we have some Jan Yoors books there behind you that would be more informative. Perhaps you'd like to leave them on the counter while you finish shopping. The clerk would be more than happy to ring them up for you."
"I think we're through," the heavy-set one said. "Come on, Steve."
Giles slid two hardbacks from the shelf and held them out without looking, knowing she would be there. "Anya?"
She was indeed already circling them, like a shark scenting spilled blood. "You have cash?" she asked the men, snatching the books from Giles.
"I, uh, I thought maybe a check...?"
"Cash is better," she said implacably. "You have cash?"
"Pay the lady, Stevo."
The younger one dug into his jeans pocket, making a face.
Perhaps he should put up a sign, something along the lines of "Shoplifters will be eaten." On the other hand, intimidating them into buying more expensive items was fun, and it gave Anya so much pleasure.
Of course, it could be true that the fellow was merely tucking it under his arm, beneath the long coat, while digging out his wallet. Unlikely, but anything is possible on a Hellmouth. But the books he'd just bought were good ones, so he would come out ahead in the deal. //Hmm. Maybe I should've added a couple of Llewellyn astrology texts to the pile.//
"Is a salesman supposed to dis the books he sells?" a woman's voice inquired.
"Excuse me?" Turning, Giles looked down at an amused face.
She cocked her head to one side. "If you don't like the Gypsy Queen book, why do you carry it?"
"To make a profit, actually. It's quite popular with children, and since the spells generally don't work, it's safe." Why couldn't more of his customers be like this one? She was compact, but her tan and the way she was easily carrying a shopping basket loaded with herbs and stones suggested she was athletic, always a plus. Instead of the current fashion of blue jeans falling off the hips and made with legs big enough to hide a pair of Zelanki demons, she wore a sunny broomstick skirt and a long powder-blue tunic, very plain except for the intricate copper necklace centered on it. Her eyes were quite as dark as her shoulder-length hair, and he fancied there was a snap to them. "Are you finding everything you need? Can I help you?" he asked hopefully.
"I've found too much," she said ruefully, hefting the basket. "Your inventory seems very thorough. I haven't found scorpion venom in very many stores."
"We do special orders, as well, so if there's anything you can't find...."
"It's well-organized." She was gazing at the bookshelves now, balancing the full basket on one out-thrust hip. "You have lots of books on Gypsies. Is there a Gypsy community in Sunnydale?"
She reminded him of someone, but he couldn't for the life of him think who. "No. The Rom are travelers. If they stayed settled in one community, they wouldn't be Rom."
"Then why so many books?"
"I developed an interest in their culture a few years ago. And the books are for the rest of us; the Rom don't need them."
She pulled out a reprint of George Borrow's Romany Rye, glanced at the cover, and put it back. "How do you know the Gypsy Queen thing is a fake? Did a Gypsy tell you so?"
"I'm, er, capable of recognizing rubbish entirely on my own, actually."
She crouched to check out the books on the lower shelves. "If that book is trash, do you have any books on real Gypsy magic?"
"You mean, 'cross my palm with silver...'? That sort of thing?"
She straightened up, sparks igniting those charcoal eyes. "You're telling me Gypsies are fake? Can't do magic?"
"No, of course not, just that they're no more mystical or magical than any other culture. We have a collection of Norse works that is astonishingly powerful, but no one asks for them, because no one thinks of blond Norwegians as being romantic or mysterious, but they all think 'Gypsies' are...are marvelous."
Her mouth twisted. "And you don't."
"I think they're vastly over-rated. You might try some books on Hawaii. There's a sorcerer named Leholiho who's written--"
She tossed a loose black curl away from her face. "There are no Rom spellbooks?"
"Not many. We do have one that was written over a hundred years ago, and it appears promising, but it's written in Romanes." He had it only a fourth translated, if that. It had been a month or more since he worked on it; he really should dig out the Romanes/English dictionaries and start in again.
She cocked her head to one side with a sly smile, like a toddler coaxing a treat from a grownup. "Sounds fascinating. Where is it?"
"We keep the more powerful items upstairs, for safety's sake."
"Could I see it?"
"I'm afraid not."
No mistaking the hostility radiating off her small frame; he'd encountered it often enough from Buffy. "You don't think I'm powerful enough to even look through this spellbook?"
"No, no, it's just...just that the book's not for sale yet. Until I've finished...appraising it, I can't judge a price or whether it should be sold, so there's really no point in examining it. If you check back next month, I should--I should have a better grasp of the situation."
"You sell scorpion venom, and that's not safe."
"Walking down the street isn't safe, either." Certainly not above the Hellmouth. "All I can do is try to--to limit the dangers I expose my customers to."
"So which is it? Are Gypsies dangerous magicians, or frauds and phonies?"
She thrust the basket at him, and he was so startled that his knees sagged beneath the weight. "I'll take these, anyway, if you think they're safe enough for me."
Oh, dear. And he'd just been feeling superior to Anya, with her armored tank tact.
Deciding retreat was the better part of valor, Giles returned to the loft, determined to return to the spellbook, but he couldn't resist one last look below as the front door opened. Sunlight glinted off the woman's broad copper bracelets, putting him in mind of Wonder Woman--perhaps that was why she seemed vaguely familiar--and then she was gone.
When he was a child, it was the classical music his parents were so fond of, elegant and intricate and often soothing. When he was a teenager, it was the hot throbbing rock-and-roll of rebellion, of Cream and the like. When he transformed himself back into shy quiet Rupert, firmly walling Ripper inside, he put the music away, for fear it would release the anger again...but he kept the albums. Finally, when he lost his lifelong role of Watcher and his mundane job as high school librarian, he turned back to music again. Singing 'folk' songs in coffeeshops--not ancient British melodies, but songs from the heart, songs about love and pain and reflection--had both eased his pain and given him a new purpose. Now, of course, his Slayer had returned to him, needed him, and his life was infinitely meaningful, but he still enjoyed his nights at the coffeeshops.
Tonight he wasn't suffering from any angst, so he indulged in a bit of silliness, playing oddities from PDQ Bach and Randy Newman while remaining completely straight-faced, finishing with a number from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Judging from the laughter and the applause, his audience was in an equally silly mood. Most of them, anyway.
The waitress brought him a complimentary drink from an unknown admirer, and a request for a selection from the opera LA BOHEME. Staring at the slip of paper, he felt Ripper howl in his chest, felt a rush of anger suffuse him. Very slowly, very carefully, he folded the slip of paper, then folded it again, and again, and again, until it was a tiny square, and the words were as thoroughly hidden as Ripper was.
"Magic shop owner by day," a familiar voice observed, "and performer by night. What other surprises do you have up your sleeve?"
"Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man?" he said, with a tight smile. Wonder Woman was picking up a drink at the bar, still wearing her blue and yellow outfit, but with her hair twisted and braided atop her head in a style that probably had a name and that fit her quite nicely. "Do you come here often?"
"First time. You?"
"Mmmm." He turned back to the square of folded paper, surprised by how white his knuckles were. Carefully, he put the square in his shirt pocket.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bother you, I just wanted to say that you sing very well. Even if your manners are lousy."
"No, I'm the one who's sorry." He removed his glasses, folded them carefully, and put them away, smiling up at her. "I'm afraid I'm not in a very good mood this evening. Please, sit down."
"If you're sure...?"
He stood and politely pulled out her chair. She flashed him a quick smile--it did wonders for her--and sat down. "My name is Giles, but I'm sure you gathered as much from the introduction before my performance. This puts me rather at a disadvantage, as I haven't a clue what to call you."
"Liza." Without tasting the black coffee, she plucked four bags of sugar from the tray, ripped them open simultaneously, and poured them into the mug. "Liza Adams."
"I was admiring your bracelets. Did you make them yourself?"
She crossed her wrists, trying to obscure the bracelets. "No, of course not. I bought them at a crafts fair. They're supposed to be good for arthritis."
"Surely you're much too young to be worrying about arthritis?"
Liza shrugged. "Better safe than sorry, isn't that what they say?" She closed her hands around the mug, drew it close, then looked him squarely in the eye. "Let's be honest."
"What a novel concept," he murmured. "Let's be honest, by all means."
"I came here tonight hoping to see you."
"Don't tell me I have a groupie."
"Of course not!" she snapped, and then looked embarrassed. "I mean...I'm a journalist. An investigative reporter. I'm in Sunnydale to investigate a murder."
"That shouldn't be a problem. Sunnydale has the highest murder rate in the country. Gang killings, drug killings, domestic dispute killings, serial killings, mass murders, Satanic cult sacrifices--you can take your pick."
"A specific murder. A middle-aged Rom named Enyos Tzuritza, killed three years ago."
"Which is why you were at the Magic Box, asking questions about Gypsies."
"Yes. For my article."
"And as a journalist you couldn't ask me direct questions because...?"
"The killer is unknown. For all I know, it could be you."
"But having heard me sing, you...knew at once I couldn't be the killer."
She shoved the coffee mug at him, sloshing cooling liquid all over the tabletop, and he barely caught it with one hand.
"This isn't funny! It was a terrible murder, and you know who the killer was, and you did nothing--nothing!"
"Did I?" If he closed his eyes, he was in the warehouse again, slamming the flaming wooden post against the sneering vampire, trying desperately to kill it, wanting just as desperately for it to kill him and make the pain of living finally stop. Which is why he didn't close his eyes, kept them focused on Liza's angry little face instead. "Why wouldn't I want a vicious murderer brought to justice?"
"That's the question, isn't it? Why?"
He was tired of playing. It had been amusing to go along with her little game, but the amusement was gone, and he wanted to be home in his bed, warm and clean and waiting for what dreams might bring. "Liza...if that is your name...what relation are you to Enyos? Niece? Daughter?" Judging from the flicker in those dark eyes, that hit home, but she was a stubborn little thing.
"I told you, I'm a reporter. This story is important to me."
"I understand the Kalderash tribe still specializes in copper work, although these days it's mostly making copper pipes for drainage." He was matter-of-fact about it.
Now she was really angry. Embarrassment did that to people. "You knew? Even back in the shop, you knew?"
"It's very irritating to be continually underestimated. After Jenny's...after Jenny died, I read everything I could find on her people. I wanted to know why she lied to me, to all of us. Why she let Angelus return, without so much as a warning."
"Oh, so this is all our fault? A monster kills Janna, pulls my father limb from limb, and it's somehow all our fault?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, it is. If Jenny had told us she was sent by the Kalderash to keep Buffy and Angel apart, I would have investigated, found out about the curse. We would have kept Buffy and Angel apart, no matter how much her hormones raged...and Jenny--Jenny would be alive today."
"Curse or no curse, he's a vampire. You're a Watcher. It's your job to stop vampires."
"You and Quentin Travers would get along famously." Seeing the puzzlement, he lifted one hand. "Never mind. I'm not a Watcher any longer. And in any case, I believe my duty isn't to kill vampires, it's simply to stop evil, in whatever form it takes, as best I can."
"And he is evil! He killed one of our people, an innocent, hundreds of years ago, and he killed Janna--"
"Angelus killed my people, too. More than one Watcher, in fact." He took the little piece of paper from his pocket and flicked it across the table at her, watched her unfold it. "This isn't some noble quest. You don't want justice. You don't just want vengeance for your father's death. You're hurting, and you want to hurt someone back. Angel, me--what does it matter?" God, he was tired. "Did you think I'd give you some magic spell to fix everything? That I had some resurrection spell handy and it had simply slipped my mind that I could bring Jenny back?"
When her hand smashed across his cheek, his first thought was that he'd been right about her being fit. Ripper would twist her into a pretzel and eat her up, but he hadn't been Ripper in a long time, so he quietly pushed his chair back.
"I've had a delightful evening. Unfortunately, this wasn't it."
As he weaved his way around the small round tables in the dimly lit room, he felt rather pleased with his parting shot. Perhaps that spark of pride explained why he didn't notice the two men lurking in the dark until he bent to unlock his car door.
Seeing the reflection of rapid movement in the waxed surface, he spun around, one leg sweeping out. Someone grunted with pain, but fell forward instead of back, knocking him against the car. When he shoved the body off, something dark was pulled over his head. Blinded, he punched out, hearing a meaty thwack. The bag around his head stunk of something sweet. He held his breath and swung his arms out, but a fist buried itself in his belly, emptying his lungs, and when he sucked in air, he knew he was in terrible trouble.
//Pride goeth before a fall,// he thought, and then he was falling.
"Prohasar man opre pirend-sa muro djiben semas opre chenende," a weary voice griped, and several men laughed.
His head hurt. Had he been hit over the head again? Maybe Cordelia had been right, and one of these days he was going to wake up in a coma. Maybe he already had.
To test it, he cracked his eyelids, peering through the sandy lashes. Everything was blurry, unfocussed. Where were his glasses? Blasted things were always getting broken, like his head. He had a flash of memory: Angelus sprawled comfortably in a chair against the wall after licking the blood from his glasses, polishing them neatly with his own handkerchief. Forgetting his plan to pretend to be asleep, he opened his eyes, turning his head, and there was that handsome, frank face, so deceptively amiable, with its half-smile and brown eyes. Angelus. Angelus wanted to know how to suck the world into Hell, and he must make Angelus angry enough to kill him before he broke under torture.
"...in a tutu," he mumbled, "pillock."
A muscle in one cheek twitched, but the vampire didn't get angry. Instead, the brown eyes looked sad. "Are you all right?"
Was he? His fingers weren't jutting out at impossible angles. His back wasn't screaming. His muscles should be sore, throbbing, protesting the beating. To test them, he stirred, and realized he wasn't tied to the wooden chair any longer. No, he was lying in a cot. Quite comfortable, actually. His eyes drifted shut, then he remembered. "Angel?"
"Get away from him, tschono." Glass touched his lips, and Giles drew back, distrusting it. "Hey, just some water. Here, let me help you sit up."
Although his stomach lurched dangerously when the cold water first reached it, his mouth was parched, and he drank the water eagerly. It seemed to clear his head. He was looking at iron bars, some sort of cage, but the cage wasn't around him, it was around Angel, who had moved to the far corner, looked resigned. Interwoven with the bars were strings of garlic interspersed with crosses.
He blinked at the face of the young man from the Magic Box, still as friendly as ever, although he'd ditched the duster for worn blue jeans, a belt with a big copper buckle, and a somewhat gaudy red satin shirt. //That was Romanes I heard. I've been kidnapped by Gypsies. How embarrassing.//
"That dizzy feeling'll wear off in a little while, honest." In contrast to his words, the man was beginning to look worried.
"You're...Steve? No, Stevo."
"Stevo Lee. And this is Beno Lee, my cousin."
Beno was the broad-shouldered stocky one with the brown hair pulled back in a tail. He, too, was dressed more like a cowboy than a movie Gypsy. There were stakes thrust in his belt, and he wore a bandoleer over his left shoulder, also studded with wooden stakes. Giles found his appearance quite off-putting.
"Why...why am I here?"
"The tschono killed two of our people," Beno said flatly.
"You're accusing me of helping him?" Incredible. They imagined he had wanted Jenny--sweet teasing Jenny--dead, laid out in his bed like a life-sized doll with her head lolling from a broken neck?
"No, no, of course not! Janna told us how you hunt vampires, that you're a good man, for a gadjo. No, you're here to testify." Stevo smiled apologetically. "Liza was supposed to make friends with you, get you to agree to help us. She didn't do a good job."
She certainly didn't. "And after I 'testify'?"
Stevo spread his hands wide. "You'll be taken home, of course."
"Of course. And Ang--the vampire?"
He spat into the cage. "Curses fail. But a stake to the heart is final."
//But the curse didn't fail. That's the problem.// Giles rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to come up with a plan. "When will this--this trial start?"
Stevo shrugged. "When the elders get here. Soon." Ah. An idea did finally surface. "And who will the judges be?"
"The elders," Stevo said, as if it were obvious.
"The elders of several tribes, of course?"
He held back the smile. All that reading was paying off. "It would hardly be fair for the Kalderash people to judge the Kalderash people. Don't you usually have leaders of several tribes judge disputes between Roma?"
Beno grated, "This isn't between Roma. This is us against a tschono."
"You haven't heard my testimony yet," Giles said innocently. "I suspect that what I have to say about this particular clan within the Kalderash should be judged by more than just the one tribe. You wouldn't want your clan to get a bad reputation for dishonorable behavior, even if it's uncalled for. Especially if it's uncalled for. And if the trial isn't held by the usual standards, people will talk. People always look for conspiracies and lies; it's human nature."
The men exchanged troubled looks. Beno said something in Romanes. Stevo sighed. "To send for the Rom Baro of the Lowara, and Machwaya, and Churara, would mean keeping you here a long time. Is that what you're asking for?"
"In this age of jet planes, how long can it take to gather three or four people?" Another inspiration hit. Giles nodded toward Angel. "Make the vampire pay for their tickets. After all, he's the one on trial."
"He wasn't carrying that much money."
Angel shrugged. "I could write a check," he offered, bemused.
The two men spoke rapidly in Romanes, utterly unintelligible to Giles, and he doubted that Angelus had bothered to learn the language before murdering the Kalderash girl whose death had brought on all this misery. He took advantage of the time to study his surroundings. They seemed to be in some warehouse, walled off by stacks of boxes. Although it was clean, for a warehouse, it had a rancid greasy odor; perhaps those stacks were full of French fries bound for MacDonald's. The place seemed cold enough to be housing freezers, but he didn't hear any machinery, only an occasional footstep or murmured words. There were no windows visible, which at least meant Angel wouldn't burst into flames come sunrise, but there were also no exits, other than the narrow opening between cartons that was guarded by Beno with all the ferocity of a football player waiting for the big play. Other than Angel's cell, this cleared area held Giles' cot, a folding table, some folding chairs, a coffeepot, and a microwave oven. Since there was no chamberpot beneath the cot, he could only assume there was a proper lavatory elsewhere in the warehouse. What, no library? No phonograph? //Not quite all the comforts of home, then.//
Stevo went through the opening, leaving Beno glowering at them both. Why hadn't he spent more time reading about the Romany society? When his Slayer fell in love with Angel, he should have ferreted out the Romany involvement and devoted himself to learning the language. He should've recognized that Jenny Calendar was more than just a high-tech techno-pagan and questioned her about her roots. He should've--
Stevo returned with a medium-sized white-haired man with sunbaked skin and a wrinkled face. Like the others, he wore boots and jeans and a colorful top--in his case, bright green and red vertical stripes--but he also sported several gold chains, and rings of impressive size on most of his fingers.
"John Adams," Stevo said. "Our Rom Baro."
Giles struggled to stand up, as a gesture of respect, but a wave of dizziness overcame him, and Stevo caught his elbow, helping him sit back down on the cot. At a curt order from Adams, he then went to the coffee machine, returning with a mug of overly sugared black coffee. Making a face, Giles decided the caffeine was worth the effort, and made a valiant effort to drink it all.
"Mr. Giles, I apologize," Adams said heavily. Stevo and Beno appeared scandalized. "These idiots made a mess. They should never have touched you. You aren't our enemy; you and us, we share an enemy, and that should make us friends. And friends don't kidnap friends."
"Liza screwed it up! She was supposed to--"
Adams shot Stevo a scathing look and said something in Romanes that made him flush. Turning back to Giles, he said, "They will be punished. All of them."
"That doesn't change the fact that I was assaulted, and I'm here."
He grimaced. "We could set you free, but we need testimony from someone he has attacked. If you aren't the witness...you see the problem."
He felt his stomach twist. They would need someone else, someone like Willow, who had lost both her goldfish and her teacher to Angelus, and had nearly been killed by him. He couldn't let them use Willow.
"I already said I would stay, if the--the elders from several tribes make the rulings."
"You don't trust us?"
Despite himself, he laughed. "Good God, no."
Adams smiled faintly. "Don't ask the wolves to guard the sheep," he agreed. "Tomorrow night, then." Still red-faced, Stevo pulled a pen and a checkbook from his blue jeans pocket and thrust them through the bars, with Beno hovering behind him, stake in hand. Angel raised one eyebrow at Giles, then solemnly began writing a check.
"When you deal with Welfare or the police here, the Americans appoint someone to look after your interests. I know nothing about Gypsies or a--a--what do you call this trial?"
"A kris, thank you. Even though I'm only a witness, I'd feel better with an--an advocate, if you will."
"No. He's very pleasant, but that--that would distract me. I would tend to forget that he's not actually on my side, as it were." With perverse pleasure, he decided he didn't need to be the only peeved human being in the warehouse. "I would prefer the woman. Liza."
Stevo's outrage reached new heights. "She's a woman!"
"I believe I said that, yes."
Adams held up one hand, and Stevo shut up in mid-syllable. "You brought this shame on us," he said, and shook his head. "Liza will be sent for. She'll bring you food, too."
"Will I be put in the cage with the vampire?"
"No." Good humor glinted in those blue aged blue eyes. "We would prefer a living witness."
He swallowed. "Will you feed him?"
"No. We're not monsters, whatever these idiots' behavior may have led you to believe."
"I...I'm not sure I feel safe, this close to a hungry vampire with his...history. We have a saying, 'Sweets for the sweet....' In his case, why not rats?"
"They're dirty, flea-ridden vermin. Sweets--"
"--for the sweet." Adams contemplated it briefly, and smiled, giving an order to Beno. The husky Rom stiffened, his face a mask but his eyes burning. Apparently Beno didn't fancy catching rats for vampires. Good. He was doing a good job at spreading the misery about, if nothing else. Giles held out the empty mug, forcing Stevo to get him another helping of over-sugared coffee, and nodded to Adams, who withdrew with a few last instructions in Romanes.
One eye on Beno, Angel drifted to the bars. "What are you doing, Giles?"
"Negotiating." He kept his eyes on the Rom.
"They're right. You know they're right. I killed Jenny, and I killed her uncle--"
Ripper stirred, and had to be firmly tamped down. Furious, he said, "I'm having enough trouble dealing with--with Gypsies; I don't need you going guilty and suicidal on me! Feel sorry for yourself on your own time." He thought about it for a moment, then added, "How did you get in this--this predicament in the first place? No, don't t-tell me about killing that girl. How did they capture you? Or did you just...turn yourself in during a...a fit of brooding?"
"Stevie there showed up at the agency, claiming he'd seen you get kidnapped. I knew Buffy would...." He broke off, shrugged. "Well, I didn't have a case at the time, so I thought I'd see if I could help."
"We get bashed around all the time, and you don't show up then."
"I would if you called and told me about it." There was no more amusement in his face. "You were happy enough when I left Sunnydale. You can't have it both ways, Giles."
That was true, which did nothing to make him any happier. Damned vampire. Hanging around the Bronze in his leather coat with that romantic brooding air, putting ideas in the heads of teenaged girls who deserved so much more. If he could keep his pants zippered, Buffy would never have been put through so much pain, would never have run away from her duty and her Watcher....Oh, Christ, now he was brooding! Bloody vampire was the Typhoid Mary of gloom and doom.
Angel touched one of the bars, hissed through his teeth and snatched the hand back, cradling it against his chest. "Giles...don't do anything foolish."
"We're not friends, Angel, and I don't owe you any kindness. I intend to tell them the truth."
"Okay, then," Angel said, but still he hovered there as if seeking some form of closure. "When you left...will anyone...?"
"No one knows I've been kidnapped, no. The shop isn't open on Sundays, so no one will notice I'm not there tomorrow. Willow and Tara were going to a coven gathering somewhere. Xander and Anya were planning a day of massive orgasms, according to Anya. Buffy was spending the day shopping and eating out."
"With Riley Finn."
"No, with Joyce. Riley Finn is...gone."
"He died?" Angel abruptly frowned. "I mean, that's terrible."
"Your sorrow is somewhat underwhelming," Giles informed him testily. "No, he's not dead. They quarreled, and he went to South America on some sort of lengthy mission. The point is that no one is in danger, other than you and I, and no one else knows it. Unless your associates...?"
"I didn't want to involve them."
"Not that Wesley and Cordelia could actually do anything," Giles muttered, then felt guilty. Wesley was an ex-Watcher, after all. He moved on quickly. "So if we want to be rescued, we'll have to do it ourselves."
"I don't think you're in any danger," Angel said diffidently. "They'll hear you out, and send you home."
"Where Buffy will disembowel me, should anything have happened to you. Don't even think about making some noble self-sacrificing gesture, or I'll kill you myself." At the exit, Beno snarled something. "Get back. I believe she's coming."
Liza deliberately lifted her skirt an inch and said sharply, "Bolde tut, kako." Sullenly, Beno turned away, facing Angel, and she slipped past his back into the cleared area of the warehouse. She was carrying a steaming tray, and from the expression on her face, she was steaming, too.
Wordlessly, she slammed the tray down on the table, making the items on it bounce. Giles rose, waited to be sure the dizziness wouldn't return, then walked to the table, bringing his coffee with him. They'd given him typical Rom food, things that were undoubtedly hot, spicy, and greasy. He stirred the soup with a plastic spoon, sniffed it.
"Is it by any chance poisoned?"
Her eyes, already red-rimmed and puffy, flashed with hatred. "No!"
"Hmmm." Gingerly, he dug at the stew with the spoon. "No Gypsy truth serum in it?"
She tossed her head back with a click of the tongue, then snatched the spoon from his grasp and noisily slurped up a mouthful of soup. Meeting his eyes, she held the spoon out. He accepted it and sat down.
The soup was indeed spicy, some mix of beans and diced ham. It would probably have been enough for a meal, especially given the fried cornbread that came on a side dish. Contemplating the plastic ware, Giles wondered if they were truly afraid a big bad gadjo Watcher could kill someone with a fork. No, it was more likely that they didn't want him contaminating their dishware with his germs.
"Please." He indicated one of the folding chairs with his spoon. "Sit."
She tossed her head again, a fetching gesture that made her unbound curls dance. Even the tongue click was somehow endearing.
Pushing the soup bowl aside and trying the goulash--apparently chicken with a lot of paprika seasoning it--he studied her. She had washed off the makeup and loosened her hair, traded the blue and yellow outfit for a one-piece teal gown folded across the torso and pinned with what appeared to be a large sapphire. The gown came to mid-calf, although she had daringly put a slit in it that probably got her harsh comments from her more traditional relatives. Like the clan elder, she sported a great deal of expensive jewelry, wearing her bank account for safety's sake.
Would Jenny, given a choice, have dressed like this, in the traditional way? Did she act like a modern European woman as part of an elaborate con, or by choice? She hadn't changed after revealing her true past, but then, Principal Snyder probably would have fired her if he thought she was a loose Gypsy woman, having no idea how strait-laced the Roma could be.
By the time he pushed the soup bowl aside, Liza grew tired of standing. She flounced about in the seat, adjusting the wrap, squeezing her knees together, folding and unfolding her arms. Eventually the silence got to her. "The Rom Baro says I have to help you."
"I doubt that you can, but I appreciate the thought."
"You don't think I can help you? Because I'm a woman, or because I'm a Rom?"
"Yes." He watched that hit home, ate another bite of goulash, and looked up with a sudden smile. "There is one thing you could do. Tell them to bring me tea instead of coffee, won't you?"
Her lips thinned. "I'm supposed to help you defend the tschono that murdered my father. That's what you want, isn't it?"
"I need help understanding how a kris works and what I need to do and say, yes, but I don't expect you to help me."
Giles shrugged. "Because he was your father. Because I'm a gadjo. Because everyone in your family wants the vampire to suffer, and they were willing to sacrifice Janna to get it. That must be...frightening for you."
Oh, yes, she was truly angry now. "I'm not afraid!"
"It's all right, Liza. If that is your name."
"Really?" He blinked shortsightedly at her, then shook his head and concentrated on the food again. "As I say, it's all right. I know you'll lie to me."
Through gritted teeth, she said, "I was told to help you."
"But they knew you wouldn't do it, and even if you did, you're a woman. A girl. No, you're expected to distract me and--and mislead me, and I understand that, Liza, and forgive you. It would take a tremendous amount of courage and personal honor to defy the expectations of your family and your clan; I can't expect that."
She stood up, her voice a low scream. "You think I have no honor?"
"It's excusable, after all, in a case like this. Your father...your clan's enemy...a gadjo who once loved your cousin, probably lured her from your people's ways...."
"Janna was a strong woman. She lived the way she wanted to live."
He gave her a pitying smile. "Yes, but you're not Janna, are you?"
She screamed something that no doubt was obscene--it certainly sounded like it--and swept the food from the table with one arm. Stevo lunged forward, then backpedaled when Liza swirled the bottom of her gown in his direction. Giles watched her storm out of the warehouse, decided that as a prisoner it wasn't his job to clean up the mess, and returned to his cot.
"Are you trying to get me staked?" Angel asked plaintively. "Or are you just in a really rotten mood? I'd like to know. Just as a matter of curiosity."
"It's a challenge to her honor. She'll demand to help me now."
"If she ever comes back."
"Well, yes, there is that possibility," he conceded. "But if she comes back, she won't try to manipulate things to go her way--she'll do her best to help."
"And you're going to tell them the truth. That I killed Jenny. That I...tortured you."
Giles glanced at him, but looked away quickly. He did that a lot, these past years. Catching an unexpected glimpse of Angel's face in passing would fill his mouth with bile, propel him back to the garden mansion and Angel's silken Irish-tinged voice so full of pleasure. For Buffy's sake, he controlled it, reminding himself that Angelus, not Angel, had taken delight in his pain. His mind understood that. But his body didn't.
As if following his train of thought, Angel said softly, "I remember all the people Angelus killed. I see them when I close my eyes. But you're the only one I still have to face every day, still living...still hurting. Every time I look at you...."
"Better alive than a vampire. Can you imagine the harm a Watcher-turned-vampire could wreak?" Giles said lightly, and stood. "Stevo? I believe I would like to use the facilities. And could you--could you arrange for them to feed the vampire while I'm gone? I'd prefer not to watch him eat, thank you."
"Hey, Librarian," a beloved voice teased. "Looking for me?"
He had been looking for her, searching desperately for her face in every crowd, and he turned in joy to tell her so, but the stench of decomposing flesh slapped him in the face. //No. God, Jenny, no.//
"God has nothing to do with it," she said, as if he'd spoken aloud. Her upper lip peeled away and fell to the ground like a grey little caterpillar. With every sentence, another tooth tumbled from withered gums. "It's Eyghon. I'm back. Did you miss me?"
She threw her arms wide, sloughing off rotting skin. He knew she was going to hug him, and he knew that if he started screaming he would never be able to stop.
"Giles! It's a dream. Wake up."
Jenny vanished, and for an instant he wished desperately to call her back, because even dead and rotting and possessed she was still his Jenny, but she was gone. She was gone forever.
He sat up, shivering. "Did I...scream?"
"No. Not yet."
//Thank God for small favors.//
It had been difficult, falling asleep in the fully-lit warehouse, but now Giles was glad for the light. There were no dark shadows here. He fumbled with his jacket, pulled his glasses from his pocket and began to clean them with the edge of the sheet.
Slumped against the wall, Angel watched him. "Were you dreaming about...when I...?"
"Not everything in my life revolves around you, Angel," Giles said shortly. He donned the glasses, blinking against the harsh light. "I think it was triggered by the stench of little decomposing rats, actually."
"Sorry. It's hard to get good busboys these days."
"Perhaps you don't tip enough."
"I can't help it; they took away my checkbook."
Beno and Stevo had been replaced by three other men, one of them elderly but two of them well-muscled, and all of them sporting bandoleers. Well, he hadn't really been expecting the chance to jump a lone guard, free Angel, and dash madly to freedom. Even if the opportunity arose, he wouldn't take it. It would merely postpone the problem. The Kalderash weren't going to go away.
Giles sniffed. Whether it was the dead rats, or the boxes really were packed with greasy French fries, the warehouse smelled even more rancid today. Unless that was his just himself? Being held prisoner didn't do much for one's personal hygiene.
If he were home right now, unable to sleep, he would immerse himself in a good book; if not something to relax him, then some grimoire or magic-related journal, keeping abreast on the supernatural for his Slayer's sake. There was nothing to read here--not even the books from the Magic Box that he had foisted on Stevo. When they'd kidnapped him outside the coffeeshop, they'd apparently left his guitar behind. More sugar-laden coffee would make him even more hyper. He turned his head and contemplated Angel.
"What?" Angel asked.
"How is your penance working out?"
"You mean leaving Sunnydale?"
"I was thinking more about the way you're laden yourself with Wesley and Cordelia. If that isn't being a glutton for punishment, I can't think what is."
Angel grinned. "They're not that bad. No, really, they've...well, they've grown up a little. And they've improved with age."
"Whiny Wesley?" he said dubiously.
"He's shown real courage a couple times. Lost some of that snobby attitude."
"The media has him dating some celebrity."
"Yeah, but he's not doing it for the publicity or to kiss up. He really likes her." Angel's grin widened. "You do know you're his hero, don't you?"
"No, really. He says he learned a lot from you. I think he's embarrassed about the way he behaved when the Council sent him to replace you."
"He should be." The idea of Wyndham-Pryce idolizing him didn't bear thinking about. "And is Cordelia still her charming self, or do you expect me to believe that she's become the Mother Teresa of Los Angeles and devoted her life to good works and helping the homeless?"
"Well, the homeless have no fashion sense, so that's not likely to happen, but she's got a good heart underneath."
"Deep underneath, requiring something on the order of a pickax to unearth it?"
"A little closer to the surface than that. Hey, did you know she has a ghost, Phantom Dennis? Instead of letting us exorcise him, she makes him help out with the housework."
As the conversation went on, Giles found himself relaxing, forgetting he was sharing jokes with a centuries-old sadistic demon as well as a "Scooby gang" member who had moved on to another life. It was a handy distraction from his nightmare and his current predicament, and from a distance, Wesley and Cordelia sounded quite bearable. Angel's reluctant description of how Faith had tortured Wesley hit home, though. //Been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt, as Buffy would say.// He wouldn't have wished that on anyone, except perhaps Ethan Rayne. Well, and Quentin Travers, of course.
Faith. They had all failed Faith. He was the Watcher on-site, he should have spared more time for her, should have seen how needy she was. If he had convinced the Watchers' Council to send her a decent Watcher, someone with empathy as well as strength, she might not have turned to the Mayor for attention.
//On the other hand, we all have tragedies in our pasts, but we don't all use it as an excuse to betray our friends. Joyce was willing to adopt Faith into her little family, give her that attention she craved, and she chose Wilkins instead. Can't save everyone, Giles. Concentrate on saving what you can.//
When the guards' shift changed, the new arrivals brought him a breakfast tray. porridge, rolls, greasy bacon. He was disappointed not to see Liza. More, he was appalled to discover what they thought tea was: heavily sugared and poured into a glass, with peach slices at the bottom. "I'm being punished, and we haven't even had the trial yet!" he complained to Angel. He got scant sympathy.
"Try eating warehouse rats." Angel picked at his teeth with a finger. "You couldn't have said, 'sweets for the sweet, guinea pigs for the prisoner'? They're kept in a cage, I'm in a cage..."
"As if that would have gotten you any food. You might show some gratitude. It's not as if you've never eaten rats before." Giles relaxed into a smile, nodding toward the guards. "She's back."
"To help you, or disembowel you?"
His stomach lurched. There was a charming thought. "I--I don't see a knife," he said, somewhat uncertainly.
Angel drifted away, as they had planned. They wanted the Rom to think of Giles as a witness, not as a friend of the vampire. If nothing else, they would be less likely to kill a "friendly" witness than a gadjo who associated with the Undead. It certainly seemed a logical enough plan.
Giles stood. "Good morning."
Her eyes met his squarely. Today she was in gold lame, from sandals to dress, but the bright color only emphasized how colorless her face was. There were shadows under those dark eyes. "Ashen Devlese, Rupert Giles. It means, 'may you remain with God.'" Her lower lip trembled, then firmed. "But you'll tell the Rom Baro, 'Ashen Devlese, Romale.'"
Giles took in a deep breath, then drew another chair to the card table and held it while she sat.
//Thank God. We have a chance.//
Liza kicked her chair over. "You think you know everything, Mr. Librarian, but you know nothing! They'll be here in just a few minutes, and you--"
"--have a headache. Get me some aspirin, please, before the kris begins?"
She threw both arms up and stalked past Stevo and Beno, who shrank back as if afraid to let her shadow touch them. They'd replaced the morning guards thirty minutes ago, and spent the whole half hour watching, wide-eyed, while Liza and Giles fought.
"I knew she reminded me of someone," Giles muttered, whipping off his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose.
"Gwendolyn Post? I don't see it. She reminds me a little of Miss Calendar. Only the reverse."
"Don't be ridiculous."
Angel shrugged. "Back then, you were the fuddy-duddy librarian, and she got a kick out of irritating you. This time around, Liza's trying real hard to be serious, and you keep prodding her, only a lot harder."
He started three times to correct the Irish idiot, then finally grimaced and shook his head. "Well...count me in with Wesley and Cordelia, then. Growing up, and improved with age."
"The stammer's gone."
"It will be back shortly." When he first decided to bury Ripper and become the epitome of a wise old Watcher, he had to review every word before it left his mouth, erasing the slang and hot words. It made him hesitate before speaking. By the time his defensive walls were firmly in place, and Rupert Giles, Watcher, was in charge, the stammer had become permanent and automatic, as much a part of him as breathing. "If this doesn't work...."
"I'll pay for what I did." Angel sounded utterly indifferent.
"This isn't a trial. You aren't being judged by a jury of your peers--"
"It would be kinda hard to find twelve vampires with souls."
"How can you atone for what you've done if you're dead?" He caught the flicker in Angel's brown eyes. "Dying's the easy way out, isn't it? If you're dead, you won't see the faces when you close your eyes, won't remember what you did each time you see me." When Angel glared at him, Giles bit back a smile. Better a furious Angel than Angel in his guilty-as-sin-and-really-really-sorry mode. "You have no right to die on me, not yet. Not until you've paid me back."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"See that you do."
Movement at the entrance caught his eye, and Giles wearily rose, doing his best to straighten out his rumpled clothing and running a hand through his hair. Prisoners really ought to be allowed to shave before a kris. As he'd learned as a young man, people around you make assumptions about you based on your appearance. That was what had made transforming himself into tweedy Mr. Giles so easy; put on the costume, and even he believed he was a quiet, shy, stuffy librarian. Of course, that had its downside. In his current condition, these tribal leaders would no doubt assume he was a scruffy layabout with no manners and a lousy sense of hygiene.
On the other hand, the tribal elders weren't dressed like judges, either. They didn't even wear black. One wore a three-piece blue business suit and resembled a graying used car salesman. Another, the leader of the Machwaya, was blond and Nordic-looking, wearing an orange polo shirt and khaki trousers. The third was John Adams, acting as solemn as a judge but looking somehow like a farmer dressed up for a hot time in the old town. Where was the fourth man?
Standing there, not sure if he should wait for the final judge, Giles felt like a six-year-old boy being presented to the Watchers' Council for approval. He wanted to loosen his tie around the lump in his throat, but he wasn't wearing a tie. Instead, he fiddled with the ring on his left little finger, sliding it back and forth. Then Liza marched silently past the guards and joined him at the table, standing slightly behind him, and he felt a rush of relief.
"Where's the other one?" he asked from the corner of his mouth.
"The Churara couldn't come until tomorrow. They decided to hold the kris without them." She nudged him forward.
Grimacing, Giles bowed and made his greeting, feeling more than ever like the little boy, with Liza standing in for his parents.
It wasn't like any trial he'd ever heard of. The Krisatora, or gathering of judges, sat in folding chairs in a semi-circle, facing Giles and Liza. Adams seemed to be serving as both prosecutor and judge, which was rather fitting since his namesake was an overachiever lawyer before becoming President. With everyone else listening like children at Story Hour, he described how Angelus had tormented and killed the beautiful flower of the Kalderash nearly two hundred years ago, the child meant to follow in the footsteps of the finest sorceress the tribe ever produced. In turn, the members of her tsera, her tent--although in fact they lived in wagons--captured Angelus, at great cost, and the old woman who had been robbed of her successor laid a curse on him. Angel's soul was returned and given power over the body it had once inhabited. As time went on, he was forced to live with the memory of the terrible things his body had done. The Krisatora nodded, scowling at the caged vampire.
Liza put two aspirin on the table and flicked them toward him. Gratefully, he washed them both down with more dreadful fruity tea. Next they were told how Enyos contacted his miamo, Janna, known as Jenny Calendar. Jenny was told to watch the Slayer and her friends, but most especially to watch Angel and to keep him apart from the Slayer. She failed. The couple consummated their love. Angelus returned. Enyos was ripped apart. Janna's neck was broken.
Janna's neck was broken. It sounded so stark. No one spoke of the haunting sound of "La Boheme" filling his apartment, the bottle of champagne, the inviting note, the trail of roses strewn on the stairs and leading into his bedroom, where Jenny's corpse was laid out to await him. Giles stared at the table-top, listening, trying to let the harsh accusations drown out the actual memories.
Angelus reunited with Spike and Drusilla. He tried to kill Xander. He attacked the library, where Drusilla murdered Kendra--they didn't seem aware that Kendra was a Slayer, like Buffy--and the Slayer's Watcher was kidnapped.
The Slayer's Watcher looked up, to answer their questions. Yes, he was Rupert Giles, sent by the Council of Watchers to train and oversee the Slayer. Yes, Angelus had sought him out for a reason.
"He'd been unable to call forth Acathla. Knowing I was a Watcher, he was sure that I would be able to tell him how to do the summoning."
"What would happen if this Acathla was summoned?"
"A pathway to Hell would be opened, and we humans would all be sucked into it, leaving Earth to the demons." He'd faced the potential destruction of Earth so often that he'd become blasť about it. A pity, that.
"Did you tell him what he wanted?"
Giles glared at Adams. "We're sitting here, aren't we?"
Sitting quietly beside him with her hands clasped atop the table, Liza kicked him in the ankle, hard. Her face was expressionless.
"He tortured you?"
He exhaled. "Yes. He beat me. After that became tedious, he broke my fingers."
The judges waited silently.
[...Angel unbuttoning his waistcoat and his shirt...cold dead hands sliding along his ribs....]
"I was stripped and whipped with the buckle end of a belt."
[Angel's cold tongue licking at the wounds...his laughing voice whispering, "Wouldn't want to stain the nice shirt, would we?"...the razor-sharp fangs pressing against a cut, deeper, deeper....]
He cleared his throat. "Eventually, they called in Drusilla, who used a glamour to make me believe Jenny--Janna--had come to rescue me. I told Janna what they needed to know. The Slayer and her friends then rescued me and stopped Angelus in the process of unleashing Acathla."
John Adams extended his right arm, pointing an accusing finger at the cell. "He did these things to you."
Giles turned to look at Angel, who seemed to find the concrete floor suddenly fascinating. "No."
Louder, he said, "No. He didn't. Angelus did."
"He is Angelus!"
"No, he isn't. Angel is an Irish wastrel who was turned into a vampire. Angelus is a particularly sadistic demon who took over Angel's body and memories when that happened."
"It comes to the same thing!"
"No, it doesn't. Angelus looks like Angel, and shares his memories, but he lacks--he lacks his soul. If you had a twin brother who committed murder, would it be fair to hang you for the crime, on the grounds that you're practically identical?"
Making a face, Adams waved him off. "We don't have time for your hilosophizing, Watcher."
"Then make time." Addressing the other two judges, Giles said, "I accuse the Kalderash people of murdering Janna, her uncle, and everyone else whom Angelus has killed since a misguided old woman who had the opportunity to destroy him preserved him instead."
"Well, I don't accuse the entire Kalderash tribe, actually, just this specific clan. I submit that they're been...." He hesitated, glancing at Liza for confirmation. "...marhime? Yes...since Angel's soul was returned."
He sat back in his chair to watch the excitement. A clamor arose, with everyone shouting in Romanes--even the guards joined in. Only Liza sat silently beside him. Eventually the judge in the business suit--the Lowara representative, if he remembered correctly--hammered his chair on the concrete floor until the others quieted. It was much more effective than a mere mallet on a desktop.
"We'll hear him out," the used car salesman said sternly.
Everyone glowered at Giles, much the way they had previously looked at Angel.
"Well." He sucked in a breath. "Let us--let us begin with Angel's death. When a vampire creates another Undead, the human's soul is released, and a demon somewhat similar in personality is drawn to the body. In Angel's case, that was presumably someone with a tendency to--to be addictive, and to defy authority; someone with a sense of humor similar to his. The demon can access the body's memories--the brain remains, after all, even if the soul is gone. It will act much like the victim, but it is a being in its own right. Angel himself was a drunkard and a wastrel and a disappointment to his father, but he had never murdered anyone. Many of us, at one time or another, have been drunkards and wastrels and disappointments to our fathers." He smiled tightly. "Like anyone else attacked by a vampire, Angel was a victim, nothing more."
"Angelus killed." Giles stared at Stevo, who had no business interrupting, until the young guard looked away. "The only sensible thing to do to a vampire is kill it. Stake, fire, beheading--whatever means is at hand. It's also the only humane thing to do. The first thing a vampire does is seek out and kill the host's family and friends. The things it proceeds to do are horrible, nothing the host would ever have wanted. Kill it, and you protect the world. But this clan didn't do the sane, decent thing. No. They turned to an old woman who was very powerful with magick. Whether from the...the mental ravages that sometimes accompany old age, or from simple stupidity, she chose to curse Angelus. But she actually cursed Angel, the victim!" He turned to Adams. "Tell us the purpose of the spell, if you would."
"If ever the ratfelo jukkel knows a moment of happiness, he loses his soul."
Giles glanced at Liza. "The what?"
"Oh. So, Angel--who killed no one, who wasn't even present during the killings--is pulled back from the afterlife, where he was presumably being rewarded or punished, based on his own actions. Now he's forced to live by draining life from other humans or from animals. He's forced to remember everything the vampire did in his body, even though he had no way to stop it and didn't do any of it himself. A cruel punishment, made crueler by the fact that Angel is innocent. Meanwhile, Angelus is rewarded. The last thing a vampire wants is to be destroyed. Instead, you gave him hope. All he had to do was wait inside Angel's body, making occasional attempts to escape, until Angel inevitably knew true happiness." Give them a moment to contemplate that. "Might I have a drink?"
Liza fetched another glass of that abysmal tea, this one poured over apple slices. He made himself drink a quarter of it, watching the Krisatora watch Angel. Then he put down the glass and stood up, walking around the table.
"What Angelus did to your people was horrible. He deserved punishment. You deserved justice--vengeance, even. Instead, you let the vampire live. You sent one of your own to watch him, without bothering to warn her about the curse...an act of phenomenal stupidity. Since she had no way of knowing that a moment of true happiness for Angel would mean agony and death for the rest of the world, she warned no one. And Angelus returned. Everything which followed that is directly attributable to this clan, both in the past and today: Janna's death, her uncle's death, Kendra's death, my torture."
"Then we'll make amends now!" Adams bellowed. "We'll do what we should have done then, and stake the monster."
"Touch him, and you die!" a new voice announced dramatically.
Giles rolled his eyes. "Buffy. Please. Not now."
His Slayer shoved the guards aside and stalked into the temporary courtroom. When Stevo tackled her, she reached over her shoulder, grabbed him by the shirt, and propelled him over her head and into the far wall. He crashed to the floor, unconscious. Beno moved forward, and received an elbow to the chest for his pains.
"Who the hell do you people think you are, and what the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Everything is--is under control."
"Under control? Giles, they kidnapped you! I called you last night, and you never answered, and then me and Mom stopped to see if you wanted to go to lunch with us, and you'd never even come home! We found your guitar and your car just sitting at that coffeeshop place, and we didn't know what to think."
"I'm sure it was rather worrisome, but as you can see, I'm quite all right." Since his lecture was clearly not going to be allowed to continue, he sat down on the edge of the table.
"Worrisome? Worrisome?" She ran a hand through that fine golden hair. Apparently she had been too upset to change into proper fighting attire, for she was wearing red heeled sandals, scarlet summer Capri pants, and a red-and-white flowered lowcut top with scalloped edges, something appropriate for a day shopping with her mother. "You're, like, the master of understatement, aren't you?" Her blue eyes, puzzled, moved past him. "Angel? They took you, too?"
Beno had produced a revolver. Giles told him, "Hurt her, and you die."
Buffy did a perfect backflip, kicking the gun from his hand, and bounced lightly on her toes. "I can take care of myself, you know. I'm not the one who got himself kidnapped."
"Really, Buffy, it's not as though I were trolling the streets, begging people to kidnap me. I was minding my own business when--"
Buffy grabbed the gate to the iron cell and yanked on it, clearly expecting it to pop open. When it resisted, she backed up and did a swinging side kick, shattering the lock, then ripped down the nearest strings of garlic and crosses. Damn. The Gypsies weren't going to stand for Angel being free. Giles quickly stood up again.
"I demand trial by combat!"
"To decide Angel's fate. Combat, one-on-one. The loser must abide by the winner's decision."
The blond Machwaya judge snorted. "Like anyone here could defeat the Slayer."
"Not the Slayer, and not Angel, either. Both of you, sit down and be quiet." When Buffy started to object, he raised his voice. "Now!"
Sullenly, she flounced into the nearest empty chair. Quite unconsciously, she reached upward with her right hand, and Angel clasped it.
"Angel's a vampire. Although this is his trial, his vampiric nature would give him an advantage over any ordinary human. Buffy, of course, would destroy you."
"Better believe I'd kick ass," she muttered. He quelled her with a stern glance before turning back to the judges.
"I'm not supernatural, I have no mystical powers, and I'm willing to battle anyone in this room, except Stevo, who really ought to see a doctor."
More furious uproar ensued. He wasn't worried; the outcome was in no doubt. No matter how many Roma were in and around the warehouse, they wouldn't be able to stop Buffy and Angel from killing the judges and guards presently here, and the wise men of the tribes were wise men, despite a few Kalderash lapses.
Beno stepped into the center of the room. "Ka jav te xenav tut!"
"He says he's going to, uh, shit on you," Liza offered in a small voice.
"Does he?" Although he knew he shouldn't be enjoying this, Giles felt himself grinning. He scratched at the tattoo on his arm, and joined Beno in the center of the room. "You may have your choice of weapons, of course. Foils, battle-axe, spear, knife, quarterstaff--"
Beno spat on the floor and smiled, raising his fists.
He was at least ten years younger than Giles, stocky, muscular, and quite angry. In addition, Giles had been stressed out for over 24 hours, and he was expected to fight in front of his Slayer, who would nitpick every mistake for the next week or more.
Beno didn't have a chance.
Giles assumed the classical English boxer stance, curled fists raised a bit too high. Beno swung his right fist. Giles ducked, and drove his cheek into Beno's left fist. He blinked. Beno kicked him in the ankle. Giles lifted his foot and shook it. Beno punched him in the belly.
So much for Marquis of Queensbury rules.
Beno showed no signs of knowing anything fancier than basic street-fighting, which was dangerous in its own right. Fine. These people had broken Buffy's heart, let Jenny die, let Angelus loose to torture him, and finally kidnapped and insulted him.
Deep inside, Ripper, quivering at the end of his leash, howled, //Now!//
Giles set him free.
Beno's fist slammed into his chest, or tried to. Giles blocked it by throwing up his forearm. Beno tried a powerhouse left and right to the belly. Swinging his left leg up, Giles blocked the blows with the sole of his foot. With a high jump, he then drove that foot into the startled Rom's chest. Since he hadn't started from a standing position, the kick didn't have quite the power it should have, so he half-turned as he landed, slashing out with the edge of his right hand. It snapped into Beno's forearm, numbing it.
Exhilarated, Giles closed in, abandoning the modified kung fu blows for the more visceral methods of his youth. What it lacked in style and grace was made up by the sheer fun of the rapid blows. The palm of one hand driving the nostrils up...a knee jabbed into the groin...the edge of a fist pounding on the collarbone until it cracked...fists thudding against the ribs, burying themselves in the belly until he bent double and then lifting him off his feet...
He slowed down a bit, wiped sweat from his face against one raised arm, then kicked the fallen body as hard as he could.
"Stop that RIGHT NOW! I'm your Slayer, and I'm telling you to stop!"
The unholy joy lingered, but, reluctantly, he stepped back from the limp body. There seemed to be a sheen of fresh blood everywhere. Shuddering, he pulled out a snowy handkerchief and concentrated on wiping his glasses clean. The vague thought that he ought to have removed them before fighting disturbed him, but not much.
"How come he never fights like that with me?" Buffy wondered. Her voice sounded strained.
"You don't make him mad enough," Angel said. After a moment, he added, "I don't think you want to."
Giles donned his glasses again, adjusted them, wiped his hands thoroughly, and neatly folded his handkerchief before tucking it back in his pocket. He turned to the judges, who looked both annoyed and frightened. "Well?"
"I suppose you want the vampire freed," Adams said.
"He appears to be free already," Giles pointed out. He cleared his throat and willed his panting to cease. "No, I want justice. Angelus must be destroyed. But it must be done in such a way that Angel--Angel will retain his soul and remain among the living."
"Make it possible. Your clan had the power to cause this disaster. If your bloodline has thinned since then, find someone more powerful than you and hire him. Until it's done, your clan is marhime." His lips tightened. "I believe you'll find the other judges agree with me."
It meant they were dirty, polluted. No other clan, not even other Kalderash, would work with them, let alone marry them. Indeed, no one would so much as eat or drink with them. Unquestionably, they would move heaven and earth to find a way to free Angel from his demon.
More shrieking and bellowing in Romanes, with Liza joining in vociferously, no doubt taking out some of her resentment on her relatives. He had promised her vengeance against everyone responsible for her father's grisly death, including Angelus, though it might be delayed. Although he tried to suppress unseemly humor in the presence of two injured men, the corners of his mouth twitched. Liza's sharp tongue should do a lot to speed up the search for a cure.
Buffy butted up against him, and he put his arm around her shoulder. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Buffy. They were quite--quite civil, for kidnappers."
"And it's true? They're going to cure Angel? He can be happy, without things going all ka-ka?"
"Not yet. They may not even find a way during our lifetime. But eventually, if Angel can avoid getting staked, yes, they should be able to lift the curse."
She wriggled beneath his arm, turning her face up appealingly. "Our lifetime? Not in our lifetime? Couldn't you do something to help them?"
He sighed. "It's a Roma curse, and there doesn't seem to be any Gypsy in the Giles bloodline. You know I've been searching...Buffy, there's only so much I can do."
Buffy made a face. "I know. I'm sorry I'm being such a greedy guts, it's just...well, you know."
Yes, he knew. Sometimes hope was worse than accepting one's unhappiness and moving on. Certainly Angel's glum countenance and slumped shoulders gave no indications that he was happy with the outcome of the trial. Probably would've preferred to be staked and get it over with. //Well, we don't always get what we pray for.//
With a crooked smile, Buffy stood on tiptoe to plant a butterfly kiss on the end of his nose. "Thank you, Giles."
His muscles didn't seem to ache quite so much...until Liza screamed behind him.
"Librarian! Wait for me!"
He stiffened. "What is it now?"
Liza moved to his other side, well away from Buffy and Angel. Stormclouds filled her night-sky eyes. "They're saying you're more Gypsy than the ribs of God."
He could just imagine his family's response if they ever heard that. "Yes, well, thank them for me."
"And they say I have to go with you."
"I win the contest, so I get a kewpie doll?" he said, irked.
Her chin lifted. "No! As a liaison between you and my people."
"Because you're good with people or something?" Buffy asked innocently. He had to remind himself that she didn't know Liza.
"Because they say if I didn't make him angry, this wouldn't have happened." Liza sounded even more unhappy about it than he was, though surely that wasn't possible.
"Oh. Well, a liaison is a good idea, right? This way, if either side gets a good idea, they can share it."
"We can do the same thing with--with a telephone, for God's sake!"
"Be nice, Giles. You'll hurt her feelings."
"It isn't fair!" Giles protested. Buffy tugged him toward the door. He craned his head back over one shoulder, desperately searching for rescue. "I won, dammit! I'm not supposed to be punished for it..."
But it appeared that he was going to be.
----Friday, May 11, 2001
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