Something was scratching his cheek.
Something was flapping lightly against his shoulder.
And he was surprisingly cool. Has someone turned on the air conditioning?
Giles’ eyes fluttered open, and then automatically squinted as pale sunlight took him by surprise. Wait. Sunlight? It wasn’t the only unexpected item to greet him, though. With his senses more alert, the scratching along his face felt and smelled remarkably like grass.
The touch on his shoulder disappeared, and a shadow passed in front of the sun. “Sir?” A child’s voice, but looking up into the sky, Giles couldn’t see anything more than a dark outline. “Sir?” it came again. “Are you unwell? Should I call for aid?”
Blinking to try and clear his vision, Giles pressed his palms into the cool ground and lifted his upper body, struggling to a sitting position. Why was he so dizzy? Had he fallen? And what in blazes was he doing outside when he’d just been in his hotel room?
“I’m fine,” he managed to say, which was true, for the most part. Physically, outside of the vertigo, he felt normal. It was only his mind that was whirling in confusion.
The child hovered at his side, and gradually, Giles’ vision returned to normal, allowing him to take in his visitor’s appearance. A young boy, aged around nine or ten, dressed in an old-fashioned suit, his collar stiff. In spite of the clothing, however, sandy-colored curls tumbled in disarray around his forehead and a purplish bruise shadowed beneath his left eye. Something familiar about the boy niggled at the edges of Giles’ awareness, but he quickly dismissed it as he returned his attention to trying to right himself.
“Where am I?” Giles asked. “Where’s Buffy?”
The child frowned. “You’re in the park. Is Buffy your dog? Has he run off? Is that what happened?”
“No, Buffy’s my…” His voice faded. There was something distinctly not right about this. As he looked about what was unmistakably the park to which the child referred, more déjà vu prickled his senses, a feeling of coming home that shouldn’t be possible in Southern California.
Trees that weren’t indigenous to the area.
The absence of artificially created noise. In fact, all he could hear was the soft murmur of human voices and the occasional animal. If he strained, Giles thought he even heard something that sounded like cobblestone, but that wasn’t possible. Not in this time and place.
Unless he wasn’t in his normal time and place. It would certainly explain his companion’s accent and dress.
Warily, Giles returned his gaze to the boy. “My name’s Rupert,” he said. “What’s yours?”
The child pulled himself up to his full height, which wasn’t all that much considering his slight build. “William Huxley, sir.”
“Did you see what happened to me?”
“But…you were trying to wake me, is that correct?”
William flushed, and he stiffened. “I…I…” He swallowed, his lashes lowering in deference. “My apologies, sir. I didn’t mean---.”
“Relax, William. I’m not angry with you. I’m merely curious as to what might have happened to me.”
The gentle tone in Giles’ voice eased some of the tension from William’s shoulders, but the boy still refused to meet the Watcher’s eyes. “I do not know,” he said softly. “I was running, and I…I found you.”
He thought back. What was the last thing he remembered doing?
Giles remembered the battle with the First, the subsequent flight. He remembered the incessant need to retrieve the amulet Buffy and the other slayers claimed had destroyed the Hellmouth, and his journey with Willow in order to do so. And he remembered not being able to sleep for overwhelming curiosity about the artifact burgeoning within his awareness.
Looking it over for hints of the magic it might contain.
Pricking his thumb.
His lungs tightened. Lifting his head back to regard the boy, Giles searched him more carefully, noting the expensive cut of his suit, the shine on his shoes that had only been partially dulled by dirt. “Look at me,” he said, but the moment William did so, Giles wished he hadn’t. Because there was no mistaking it now that he knew what to look for.
When he’d looked into the heart of the jewel for that split second before passing out, Giles could’ve sworn he’d seen Spike’s soul.
This was Spike. Or William, rather. Before he’d been turned.
Something curious about the child’s previous assertion made Giles frown. “You were…running?” he asked. His eyes flickered pointedly over William’s attire before fixing on the bruise on his face. “Might I ask what from?”
If it was possible, he paled even more. “Please don’t tell,” he whispered. “I promise it won’t happen again. But please, I beg of you…don’t tell my father. He never understands.”
Unspoken fear was making William tremble, and Giles felt an irrational impulse to give the boy a hug to reassure him everything would be all right. He held back, though, and instead offered a small smile. “Since I don’t believe I know your father,” he said, “that’s a simple wish to grant. But, it still doesn’t tell me what is wrong with you, William.”
“But are you not more concerned about what is wrong with you, sir?”
It was difficult not to grin at the acuity in young William’s question. “Of course,” Giles said. “However, I’m rather accustomed to the…unexpected appearing in my life. I’m sure I will sort this out before too long. One way or another.”
“Perhaps your Buffy has the answer.”
“Perhaps. She’s rather resourceful.”
“Should we find her? If you need aid, surely my mother could help you. She knows all the ladies in the area.”
The offer was made in sincere earnestness, blue eyes bright. Giles doubted there was anything William’s family would be able to contribute in deciphering what exactly had happened to him, but his curiosity about the home life of one of the most notorious vampires in history was growing with every passing second. If this was a fiction created by Giles’ own subconscious, it was certainly an entertaining one. Never would he have envisioned William the Bloody in such affluent circumstances, though the black eye was certainly expected. A scrapper from the start, it would seem. Probably brassed off the wrong child.
“That would be most appreciated,” Giles said with a smile. Rising to his feet, he dusted some of the debris from his clothes---noticing for the first time the casual tweed of his old-fashioned trousers and jacket---and adjusted his collar. “Lead the way, William.”
For a dream, it was unbelievably realistic. It was London, untarnished by modern trappings, complete with the olfactory evidence of sewage undercoating the air. William walked stiffly at his side, and whenever a passer-by cast a glance toward the boy, Giles noticed that he always turned his head just enough to hide the bruising on his face, speaking only when spoken to first. Thankfully for the child, that was only twice, and both times by women old enough to be his grandmother. Good breeding seemed to win over shame, even in spite of his discomfort. It was intriguing to consider.
The home at which they turned in was further proof to William’s prosperity. A gardener knelt at a row of rosebushes in the expertly pruned front garden, but William gave him no notice, walking briskly for the front door before he could be noticed. Giles followed him inside, and then abruptly stopped, his eyes widening in spite of what he’d been expecting.
He’d seen other homes like it, of course. His own grandmother’s had been held to such high standards, with every knickknack carefully placed and shined, every corner spotless. But where he’d thought of his grandmother’s as antiquated, this seemed fresh. Alive. It was a curious correlation to make with anything remotely Spike.
A door off the foyer opened before either could speak, and a woman appeared in the opening. She was in her late twenties, with dark blonde hair pulled loosely up and off her face, but it was the gentility in her eyes that caught Giles’ attention. They were the same shade as William’s---Spike’s---but the kindness that warmed them was not something he could remember ever seeing in the vampire’s.
“William, you’re quite tardy,” she started to say, and then froze when she saw Giles hovering behind the young man. “Is there a problem?” Her gaze flickered back to her son, noticing for the first time the black eye and rushing forward to scoop his face between her hands. “What happened?” she asked, tilting his head back to better examine the injury.
“I fell,” William said quickly.
Her lips thinned. “That shall be the tale you tell your father,” Mrs. Huxley said, “but I would prefer you not to lie to me, young man. Now. What happened to you?”
His voice was a whisper. “Oliver Hill.”
It was a name that carried with it more meaning than Giles could decipher, but there was no mistaking the pain that flashed in Mrs. Huxley’s eyes. “Did he destroy your books this time?”
A hesitant nod.
She sighed, and leaned forward to press her lips to his forehead. “I’d thought my discussion with his mother the last time this happened would suffice,” she said softly. “I’m so sorry it didn’t, my William.” Her gaze lifted again to meet Giles’. “Did you save my son from that ruffian?”
“No, rather…he saved me.”
Her eyebrow quirked. “From young Oliver?”
Between the familiar gesture and the almost disdainful tone of her voice, Giles had to force himself past the ghost of Spike that had suddenly loomed between them in order to reply. “No, I had an accident of my own, I’m afraid.” He bowed, as he remembered his grandmother teaching him to do. “Rupert Giles, ma’am.”
“Mr. Giles has lost his Buffy,” William volunteered. He seemed eager to change the subject away from his own adventures. “I found him in the park. I think he might’ve been attacked.”
“Was your purse stolen, Mr. Giles?” she asked.
He patted his pockets and wasn’t surprised when it came up empty. “It would appear so.”
“And this…Buffy. Is this your…wife?”
Time to lie. “My daughter. It’s a pet name. We were…out for a stroll.”
William’s eyes widened. “But I didn’t see anyone else about. You don’t think the criminal who attacked you…” He blanched as the possibility seemed to play out in his mind, and then pulled himself straighter. “Something must be done. A young lady---.”
“Buffy’s fine,” Giles interceded. “She mostly likely…ran for help. I’m sure she’s probably at home even as we speak.” Or her hotel room.
“Still,” Mrs. Huxley said, graciousness returned. “Measures should be taken.” She reached for a cord that hung near the doorway and from deep in the bowels of the house, a bell tinkled. “We’ll have a cup of tea and wait for the constable to arrive. If you’ve been attacked, sir, it would hardly do for you to travel home without first taking some refreshment.”
Turning, she disappeared back into the room from which she’d come, William on her heels. The temptation to leave the abode and search out the answers of his presence lurked in the back of Giles’ consciousness, but he disregarded it to follow his hostess. Somehow, he had a suspicion that seeing Spike’s soul in the amulet and this construct of Spike’s human life that his mind had conjured were connected. He would never discover the truth of what had happened if he chose to run from the only evidence he was being offered.
Besides, young William sparked more than curiosity for the Watcher. Contrary to Giles’ first supposition, William was not the attacker in whatever fracas he’d been fleeing. He’d been the victim, and as was evident from his mother’s apology, it was not the first time it had happened. It was hardly an auspicious beginning for a budding blackguard, and the sympathy it was rousing for the child was unsettling.
He didn’t want to like William. It would make the issue of Spike’s sacrifice even more confusing.
He would just have to wait and see what would transpire.
To be continued in Chapter 3: Lead Me Into His Dark Land…