Tests. Surely a Slayer was above Math tests? What exactly was the point of being humanity’s last line of defence against bloodsucking undead creatures of the night if you still had to take Math tests? Buffy had already argued the whole thing out with Giles, but he had simply handed her a book on advanced mathematical principles, and then looked as though he expected her to understand every word. She scowled at the book now, pondering over the intricacies of the quadratic equation at the start of chapter two. According to Willow, this was all supposed to make perfect sense to her. Yeah, right.
“Okay... Take the first digit and... No, that isn’t right. Multiply the second.... No, that doesn’t work either.” Frowning hard, she flicked through the book to the end, and then scowled. Great. How typical of Giles to give her the one Math book in the entire library that didn’t have the answers printed in the back.
The phone rang with a sudden shrill clarity that startled her, and she made a wild grab for it. This had better be Giles. Please let him have uncovered news of a huge brigade of vampires nesting somewhere gloriously inconvenient.
She lifted the receiver. “Hello?”
“Buffy?” There was a questioning tone to the voice, which made her smile. Who else would be answering?
“Hello Giles. Is there something I can do for you?”
“If you, you wouldn’t mind, yes. Shall we say fifteen minutes?”
“You’re on.” Dropping the receiver back into its cradle with a broad grin, she threw the Math book across the room, smirking in triumph when it landed heavily in the waste paper bin.
“Buffy?” Almost at the door, the Slayer groaned as her mother’s voice floated towards her from the living room.
“Yes?” She asked, her voice full of innocence.
“Are you going out somewhere?”
“It’s awfully late, Buffy.”
“Yeah, I know.” Vampires aren’t known for keeping sociable hours. “I shouldn’t be long.”
“Don’t you have some kind of test coming up?”
“Yeah, but I’ve got that covered. It’ll be a piece of cake. See you.” Wincing at the scale of that last lie, Buffy slipped out of the door, and hurried down the garden path. The darkness settled around her, and she found herself looking nervously about for any sign of pursuit. Not for the first time, she thought about the extent of the changes that had come about in her life over the last couple of years. At one time she wouldn’t have flinched at the notion of walking through the streets - probably even through a graveyard - at night. Now she couldn’t even think of such a thing without knowing that there was a comfortably sharp wooden stake somewhere close by.
The dark streets were not entirely deserted, even at this late hour, and the Slayer took some solace in the presence of other human beings. Even with that slight comfort she was glad when the school’s familiar shape swelled up in front of her, and the abandoned silence of the empty halls had given way to the dusty camaraderie of the library’s overflowing book shelves.
“Buffy!” Striding out of some hidden niche amongst the books, Giles threw his pupil a typically awkward grin. Whilst she was still technically an apprentice Slayer, the fate of the world rested to a large extent on the shoulders of the rumpled, bespectacled librarian, and it was a thought which still did not inspire confidence in Buffy. Even now, after so long in his company, she found it hard to accept that the terminally shy Englishman was a leading light in the battle of good against evil. He looked like somebody’s absent minded uncle.
“What’s up, Giles?” Sitting down on the edge of her Watcher’s desk, Buffy glanced down at the disordered collection of notes, trying to read them upside down. He hesitated before answering, which was nothing new, but always made her uneasy nonetheless. “Trouble?”
“Buffy, we, we live in the Hellmouth. Of, of course it’s trouble.” He smiled, and sat down. “I’ve been checking through the books.”
“So what is it this time? Prophecies of supreme gruesomeness? Dreadful tales of darkest depravity?”
“Something like that.” He frowned, scanning the piles of notes as though unsure which piece of scrumpled paper was the right one. “I-I-I’m not sure that I understand it....”
“That’s something new.” Buffy grinned in the face of his withering glare. “What’s the gist of it?”
“Something weird.” He gazed at a sheet of paper as if almost forgetting that she was present, then glanced up suddenly, apparently surprised to see her sitting there. “Oh. H-here it is. The narrative was a little cryptic, but as near as I can make out, there’s going to be a full moon....” His voice trailed off, leading Buffy to wonder if he had dragged her out in the middle of the night in order to make some mundane comment on the workings of the solar system.
“Yes...?” she prompted. He shrugged, looking characteristically vague.
“There’s something about a gate. Some kind of a, a combination of p-planetary interferences... I’m not altogether sure what it means. Midnight is quite important, from what I can gather.”
“How does the prophecy word it?”
“I beg your pardon? Oh, yes....” His voice trailed off again, as he searched for something on his desk. “Here it is. Er... ‘The gate shall open wide...’ blah, blah... Oh yes. ‘And out of the past shall come answers to questions unasked. What has not been forgotten shall be discovered anew. Youth is the key to old age in the place where innocence dies at the birth of death.’ Not exactly Shakespeare, is it.”
Buffy frowned. It was all gibberish to her, but then so many of the prophecies were. Giles usually came up with the answers in the end.
“No ideas at all?” she asked him. He gazed down at the piece of paper.
“Gates aren’t usually a particularly welcome prospect in this town,” he said thoughtfully. “I’m inclined to think that this one won’t be very different.”
“You think it might be some way of allowing vampires to pass through into our world? From... wherever?”
“Precisely.” He frowned, eyes unreadable behind the glasses that completed his image of endearing eccentricity. “I’d say that a little trip around town is called for, wouldn’t you?”
“Certainly.” Jumping to her feet in readiness, Buffy thought about her Math revision, and shrugged mentally. It wasn’t as if she could really give her teachers a decent excuse, but that was just hard luck.
“I can test you on your Math revision on the way.” Giles was already heading for the door, and missed the sight of the young Slayer’s shoulders drooping suddenly.
“Gee, thanks Giles.”
“No problem, Buffy. Glad to help.” He vanished out into the corridor, and Buffy glared at the rapidly closing door, imagining all of the things that her training would allow her to do to Giles. It wasn’t the first time that she had considered the possibility; and right now it seemed more attractive than ever. She caught him up and they left the building together, both glancing automatically up at the sky. There were too many clouds to make seeing the moon a possibility, and Buffy caught herself shivering slightly. Great. How am I supposed to see whether it’s full or not? She followed the Watcher to his car and slid into the passenger seat, wondering at the image it presented to a casual observer. She had already caused a few eyebrows to lift amongst the people at school, due to the amount of time she spent with Giles. How might it look if she were to be seen with him at this time of night, in his car? The thought almost made her giggle.
“Where to?” Giles asked, his tone oddly cheerful.
Buffy shrugged. “Graveyard?”
“Okay.” He started the engine, trying to ignore the odd noises which emanated from under the bonnet. Buffy winced. Giles smiled apologetically, and slid the car out into the sparse traffic. It was perfectly possible to walk to the graveyard, but they had learnt the hard way that it was often best to have a quick means of escape. One never knew when it would come in handy, especially when there were likely to be one or two slightly irate vampires nearby.
“You want me to wait in the car?” As they drew up to the cemetery, Giles halted the car, and leaned forwards to see out of the windscreen into the impenetrable blackness. Buffy got out.
“That’s up to you.” She raised a stake, her smile both gleeful and oddly childish. “The stakes are on me.”
The response was a wry smile.
“I think I’ll come.” Giles glanced about. “What do your senses tell you?”
“That I don’t like graveyards, especially at night.” She turned in a circle. “This way. Feels spooky.”
“That’s good enough for me.” Fingering the cross around his neck with his usual apparent nervousness, Giles let his companion lead the way. They were soon in the centre of the yard, encircled by the ageing stones with their worn inscriptions and musty silence. Buffy stopped by one stone, reading the words on it with an odd attentiveness.
“Jason Reid,” she said slowly. “Born 1981, died 1998. Beloved son of...can’t read the rest.”
“Why not?” Giles leaned closer, and saw the scratch marks on the stone. “Oh. You think he’s still down there?”
“For the time being.” She backed away slightly, indicating that he should do the same. “Want a game of I-spy while we wait?”
“So long as you weren’t planning on spying anything that begins with G.”
“Oh. Maybe not then.” They both grinned. The wait was never terribly long, but it was a trying one nonetheless. Standing around in dark and mysterious places, waiting for some hideous creature to appear, was not the best way to spend an evening, but they were both becoming used to it. The only drawback was that the creatures they waited for rarely arrived alone, and were usually somewhat less than welcoming.
“What’s that?” They had been waiting less than five minutes, but already Buffy’s genetic sensory equipment was screaming at her. She frowned, staring at Reid’s gravestone with more than a slight feeling of apprehension.
“Do you feel something?” Giles tried to see any sign of change around the grave, but it was too dark.
“I’m not sure.” Cautiously, Buffy slipped out of hiding, and approached the grave. It seemed quiet and still. There was no reason to suspect that something was about to happen, and yet... It was hard to describe.
“Buffy.” There was a trace of irritation in Giles’ tone. “We’re supposed to be hiding.”
“I know.” Buffy circled the stone, studying it carefully. “Can you hear something?”
“Like what exactly?” The librarian wandered over, frowning slightly. “I think I can hear knocking.”
“Exactly!” Buffy sounded rather as a scientist might, when shouting Eureka! “That’s him.” She crouched down beside the stone, stake in hand. “Er, Giles? Wouldn’t you be happier out of the way?”
“What? Oh, yes. Yes of course.” He back-pedalled to their original hiding place, watching carefully. He had perfect faith in Buffy’s instincts, but as long as he lived, he did not think he would get entirely used to the idea that it was she, and not him, who had to face the vampires. It didn’t seem right.
Scratch, scratch, scratch. The noise inside the grave grew louder. Buffy clenched her fingers tightly around the stake in her hand. Was today the day? Was this the night when she would be beaten? She scowled into the darkness. Not likely. Jason Reid had only been dead for a short time, and had only been seventeen anyway. Losing to him would be rather like losing to Xander. An entirely unpleasant prospect. She felt the gravestone begin to vibrate, and tensed her muscles in readiness. Any second now....
With a noise like thunder, the turf on top of the grave flew aside, hurtling across the graveyard like some absurd green bat. The earth erupted, flying into the air and spraying in a wild fountain which showered everything. Buffy spat a few small stones out of her mouth. Charming. Absolutely charming. What did this guy do for an encore? She heard the vile creak of the coffin opening, the damp wood protesting at the movement. A dank, miserable smell floated out of the grave, and the Slayer wrinkled up her nose in disgust. Time to send this creep back where she felt certain he belonged.
“Hey, Reid!” Standing up, Buffy held the stake out. “I’ve got something for you.” The figure in the grave looked up at her, his eyes filled with malevolence. There was nothing left in his face to indicate what Jason Reid might once have looked like; only the demon within him was visible now. He smiled, and with an almighty leap, lifted himself up from his resting place and landed beside Buffy.
“Sweet, warm blood.” He laughed. “How very thoughtful.”
“Guess again.” Buffy raised the stake, but Reid side-stepped with an unpleasant laugh, and stiff-armed Buffy before she could dodge away. She rolled with the blow, slipping away from the steep sides of the grave, and into more open territory. Reid came after her, and Buffy waited for him. His broad, demonic face split into a wide grin, showing his long teeth in all of their cruel glory.
“Come on, little girl. Don’t fight me. I need to drink.” His eyes were teasing, unbelieving that this small teenager could possibly be challenging him.
“Little girl?” Outraged, Buffy drew herself up as much as she could. “Take that back!”
“Make me.” Reid moved closer, his hands held out. “Come here.”
“You asked for it.” Ducking low, Buffy threw herself forwards, colliding with the vampire’s legs. They went down together, and the Slayer somersaulted over, on her feet again in the blink of an eye. Reid growled, unable to stand up anything like as fast as his young assailant. She was on him in an instant, stake poised above his heart.
“What do you know about a gate?” She heard herself saying the words, but could not quite believe that it was her voice asking them. There was no time to interrogate a vampire before killing it.
“A gate?” Reid sounded just as unbelieving. “What do you know of the gate?”
“What is it? Where is it?” She pressed the stake hard against his chest. “Tell me.”
“You’re a fool.” With a hard blow, Reid knocked the Slayer aside, and stood up. “You should have killed me when you had the chance.” He towered above her, teeth bared, and Buffy flinched. How could she have been so stupid?
“Prepare to die, schoolgirl.” Reid bent towards her, and then stiffened, his body jerking upright. “No....” The word barely managed to escape from his lips before his body crashed to the floor, disintegrating immediately. Buffy breathed a sigh of relief, and grinned up at Giles.
“Don’t mention it.” He pulled her to her feet. “Now w-w-would you mind telling me just w-what the hell that was all about? You’re supposed to kill them, not ask them out.”
“I wasn’t--” Buffy scowled. “I thought it might be an idea to ask about the gate. Who’s most likely to know about it; them or us?”
“So what did he say?”
“Not a lot.” She shrugged. “But he’d heard of it. He was surprised that I had.”
“That, that’s a start, I-I suppose.”
“What now?” Yawning, Buffy sat down on the grass. “We have to find out about this gate. Can’t we capture one of them?”
“A vampire?!” Giles shook his head. “Absolutely not. No.” He paced up and down, looking restless. “We’ve got nowhere to keep one, and I’m out of solid silver chains. Sorry.”
“Never mind.” She stood up. “Perhaps we can hang around here a while longer anyway. We were supposed to be trying to find out about the gate.”
“I don’t know, Buffy. It, it’s late, and it’s a, a school day tomorrow.”
“Leave it Giles. You’re a librarian, not a teacher.” Buffy gazed around at the other stones, but could feel no further indication of imminent resurrections. “What do you suppose the gate looks like?”
“No idea.” He shrugged rather vaguely. “A gate is a gate.”
“True.” She sighed, suddenly tired. “Are you sure that you got the wording of the prophecy right?”
“Of course.” He looked a little insulted. “It was in Latin, Buffy. My second language. It quite clearly said that the gate would open when the full moon is out. According to the calendar that’s tomorrow night.”
“But there’s a full moon about once a month. What’s so special about this one?” She yawned again.
“It’s something to do with the, the positioning of the p-planets. You, er, you know as well as I do that we-we’re particularly sensitive to astrological events in this town. The m-movements of the planets can be extremely important. It may well be that tomorrow night, the forces will be... will... well whatever it is they do. That could be what will trigger the gate.”
“But where the gate will be, and where it leads to, and who uses it and all the useful bits of information like that are still beyond us.” She sighed, and stood up, stretching hard in an attempt to stop another yawn. “That’s, like, so completely not helpful.”
“Yes, I know.” He offered her another of his awkward smiles; the kind which was usually accompanied by a burst of increased stammering. “We er, we p-probably sh-should, er, get back. You know. G-go home. You’re looking sort of sleepy.”
“Alright.” She sighed heavily. “It seemed like such a good idea, coming here.”
“Maybe it was. At, at least we know that the vampires are, are aware of the gate’s existence.” Giles led the way back to the car. “There’s still all of tomorrow, Buffy. The gate doesn’t open until midnight tomorrow.”
“I suppose....” She followed him slowly, glancing about at the gravestones as they passed. One of them caught her eye; a brand new stone close to the cemetery gate. The inscription was simple:
“Come on, Buffy.” Giles was waiting by the car, and Buffy tore her eyes away from the gravestone, hurrying to catch the Watcher up. It was only as she settled herself into the car that she wondered why there should be so new a stone above the grave of someone who had been dead for eleven years. She allowed her mind to ponder over this oddity, but sleep swam into her thoughts, and she found that she could not concentrate. Mark Hutten drifted from her mind, and she faded away into oblivion.
“Buffy! Buffy dear, you’ll be late for school!” Buffy groaned, struggling to find her bearings beneath the bedclothes. Her mother’s voice came again, loud and insistent.
“Buffy, hurry up. You don’t want to be late again. You stay up far too late, young lady.”
“I’m coming.” She got up and dressed quickly, anxious to get to school with enough time to talk to Giles before lessons began. She might even be able to persuade him into helping her cut school for the day, so that they could work on the problem of the gate together. Okay, so that was a little unlikely; but not unthinkable.
The school was a bustle of activity, quite unlike the previous night when Buffy had last been there. She went straight to the library, and found Giles looking, as ever, as if he had never left.
“Hmm? What? I- Oh, Buffy, it’s you.” He blinked at her uncertainly, then took off his glasses to clean them. “Hello. Did you sleep well?”
“Fine thank you. And you?”
“Hmm? Oh, yes. Yes, thank you. Yes, I slept... well didn’t actually. Stayed the night here. Studying, you know.” He put the glasses back on again, and frowned. “Can I do something for you?”
“Yes. I want to help.” She sat on the corner of the desk, and leaned over to read his notes. The spidery handwriting quite defied her attempts to decode it, and she smiled.
“Got a little carried away, didn’t you.”
“Er... Well, needs must and all that. Working hard, losing concentration maybe once or twice....” He sounded even more confused than normal, as if the long night’s studying had been hard work.
“So did you find anything?”
“Nothing conclusive.” He stifled a yawn. “Shouldn’t you be in class?”
“I’m helping you today. Slayer’s privilege.” She grinned winningly, and pulled up a chair. “What have we got?”
“Here.” He handed her a heavy, dust-laden book. “Look at page... er... fifty-six. Bottom paragraph.”
“Okay....” She turned the pages, then raised her eyebrows at Giles. He had already turned back to his work. “Er.... What language is this exactly?”
“What? Oh, that. Don’t know quite. Fascinating, though, isn’t it? The translation is around here somewhere. One of my predecessors....” His voice trailed off as he went in search of some errant slip of paper. “Ah. Here you are.”
“Thanks.” Trying to keep her doubts about Giles’ state of mind from showing in her voice, Buffy took the paper and scanned through it. “What have we here... ‘The gate opens wide, one world to the next, the streets shall scream and blackness will flood the minds of the afflicted.’ Real fluffy bunny stuff, huh. ‘The lost ones will spread their word, all innocence shall be destroyed. One hell leads to another, and they shall be joined by their suffering.’ That isn’t very helpful.”
“Isn’t it? Think about that last bit. ‘One hell leads to another.’ Now what is it that we like to call Sunnydale?”
“Hellmouth....” Buffy was catching on. “You think there could be another place like this? Somewhere else where the... lay lines or whatever are particularly strong?”
“It’s very likely.” Giles leaned back in his chair until he looked to be in imminent danger of falling over backwards. “I haven’t found anything in the records, but Slayers aren’t, er, exactly known for, for being a p-particularly common breed, and Watchers likewise. We, we cover as much ground as we can, but....” he shook his head. “There could be any number of places - right across the world - who experience the, the, the same sorts of levels of, of unpleasant events a-as we do.”
“And this gate is going to link us to another of those places.” Buffy winced. “I don’t think I really like the idea of that.”
“No, precisely. It would be decidedly bothersome.” Giles tapped on the desk with his pen. “According to the records, there, there haven’t been any other incidents when the gate has opened. This full moon that, that begins tonight is the only time when the p-planets are all in just the right position. The last time they even came close was more than a thousand years ago, and the records from that period are a, a little sketchy.”
“Lucky us.” Buffy sighed heavily, and slumped back in her chair. “So where is the gate? Is there anything that can tell us?”
“Not here, no.” He stifled another yawn, and then stood up to stretch. “I’ve been searching all night, and I only found this little lot by accident. There’s no telling how long it would take to find anything else. I only found the original prophecy when I was looking for something else.”
“You have to find it, Giles.” Buffy stood up. “I’ll go and check some of the other books. Something on local history, perhaps.”
“Local history? And how exactly is that relevant to Geography, which is what you should be learning about right now, young lady?” Buffy froze. She hadn’t even heard the door open, let alone heard Snyder’s footsteps; but it was his voice that rang so unmistakably through the deserted library. She turned round.
“Hi, Principal Snyder. Is it that time already? I was working on a project, but I guess I’d better go.” She made a move for the door, but Snyder’s cutting voice stopped her dead in her tracks.
“No you don’t.” His bright eyes turned to stare at Giles. “What are you up to here, Giles? This is hardly the first time that Miss Summers has been seen in here with you when she should be in her lessons. You have a responsibility as a member of staff at this school. Don’t forget that.”
“We, er - um - lost t-track of the time,” Giles offered feebly. He was never entirely sure of what to say to the principal. Demons and vampires he could handle, but impatient and unforgiving principals were in a completely different league.
“In your case that doesn’t surprise me.” Snyder glared at Buffy. “But you, young lady. Don’t tell me that you’re not well aware of the time. What is the attraction of this place, exactly? It’s not as if you go out of your way to look at books the rest of the time.”
“I’m sorry.” Buffy lowered her eyes, and tried to look contrite. It wasn’t exactly difficult whilst suffering under the full force of one of Snyder’s famous glares.
“Then go to your lesson right this minute, and we’ll say no more about it. Until the next time.” Snyder stood aside to let her past, and then glowered at Giles. “And as for you, Mister Giles... I’m watching you.” He stalked out of the room.
“And good day to you too, Mister Snyder.” Giles sighed, and then shrugged. Irate school teachers were not his responsibility; Buffy was. He headed for the bookshelves, and set his mind to other tasks. Somewhere there was a gate to be found, before it could unleash who knew what evil onto the streets of Sunnydale. Just another day in the Hellmouth... he thought wryly. Maybe it was time he thought about moving.