Title: Uncertain Ground
Setting: Post series, about two years after Chosen.
Summary: Giles and Buffy have not been able to put the events of the past behind them and have chosen not to associate with each other beyond Slayer matters. Can they set their aside their differences and the pain of the past to work together to save Dawn from an evil plot?
Beta: A special thanks to my beta catchoo152, who has suffered the bumps in the road with me and put forth a tremendous effort. Any mistakes are mine.
A/N: This is an action/adventure story and it is complete. I am posting half today and the rest tomorrow. This story has survived two tornadoes (not the Midwest kind, but the East Coast kind), a computer hardware failure, and an intermittent internet outage (which is currently ongoing) during the writing process. I think I might have unintentionally offended Janus. ;)
Uncertain Ground - Chapter 1
Giles shook his head as he stared at his phone. He dreaded having to make this call. If he believed in astrology, he would’ve said the stars had aligned just perfectly to bring misery into his already hectic life. Pulling his glasses from his face, he dropped them and the phone down on the table before him before running his hands through his hair in sheer frustration.
He’d made repeated attempts to reach Dawn on her mobile and had spent the last three and a half hours talking to ticketing agents and airline representatives to see if she had boarded the plane, been bumped, or been rescheduled for a later flight. And now, for the last two and half hours, he was set up in the ready room at Gatwick Airport on a conference call with airport officials, various members of his team at Council Headquarters, and the airport police at Dublin Airport trying to establish a perimeter for a missing persons report.
Picking up his mobile again and bringing up his Slayer’s number in the directory, Giles hesitated. He knew he should just place the call and let her know her sister had gone missing. The longer he kept the information from her, the worse her reaction would be.
His relationship with Buffy was strictly professional these days. There existed only a cold vestige of civility left between them, and they saved it to provide a unified front with the Council brass regarding field operations and Watcher/Slayer policy. Those were the only points upon which they could agree, their personal relationship now a minefield of harsh words, blame, past misdeeds, and pain in which neither braved to venture further. To say that he still bore emotional scars and resentment from their falling out was an understatement.
And yet, in order for him to provide the Slayer with a plan of action, he needed to have all the facts at hand, and at the moment, he didn’t have much to go on. So far their investigation had only revealed that the friends Dawn had been staying with had seen her to the security checkpoint before saying their goodbyes. After that, she’d disappeared. His team was scouring CCTV footage at Dublin for any clues, but had so far come up empty.
He blew out a breath and steeled himself for the impending conversation, knowing that the wrath he would face from the other end of the line could quite possibly test every last ounce of patience he had left, which, after the day he’d had, wasn’t much to begin with.
If she believed in astrology, Buffy would’ve said the stars and planets had aligned perfectly. She was finally footloose and fancy free - at least for the next week. Free from her jobs, free from responsibility, and free from her little sister, who, albeit wasn’t so little anymore and could take care of herself, but the girls still lived together and Dawn took up much of her time. Not that she begrudged Dawn for that. Her sister had grown into quite the independent young woman and would be heading off to NYU after completing her summer semester. Buffy knew she would miss her tremendously, but it had been a long time since she had had any time to herself, and lying out on the beach in the warmth of the sun on the Italian Riviera surrounded by attentive, handsome Italian men without a care in the world was definitely a plus. Of course, the fact that she had accepted a date for that evening with a gorgeous, international football star didn’t suck either. If all went well, maybe she’d have a companion for the rest of her stay.
It had been a long time since she’d seriously dated anyone. Not since Riley, as she couldn’t really count what she was doing with Spike as dating. She went out casually and never accepted any invitations for a third date, but perhaps she could make an exception on her vacation. The footballer was simply beautiful, poetry in motion. She’d caught his eye on the dance floor at a club in Genoa the evening before and he’d invited her over for champagne in his private booth where they’d spent time getting to know one another before hitting the dance floor. When the club closed, he’d asked for her number and she’d given it to him, not expecting the wake up call she’d received asking her out for dinner later.
Buffy looked out over the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean contemplating how perfect things were when her cell phone rang. She reached into her beach bag, pulled it out, and scowled when she saw the number on the screen. Giles. The only obvious explanation was that her sister’s phone must’ve run out of charge and Dawn was using Giles’ mobile to call her.
“Hey, brat, this better be good,” Buffy answered. “You’re lucky I picked up. You know ‘tall, British, and tweedy’ and I don’t talk.”
“What a lovely greeting. Please do go on. It’s lovely to hear you nattering away on the other end of the line,” Giles huffed in irritation as he pinched the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses. “Enjoying your holiday?”
“Up until now,” she griped, slightly embarrassed at the way she’d answered the phone. “What’s the what?”
“Charming,” he answered, his tone sarcastic. “You know I wouldn’t be phoning if it weren’t a matter of urgency.”
“This better be good, Giles, I’m on vacation.”
Giles bit back an acerbic reply and softened his tone to deliver the news. “Buffy, Dawn’s gone missing.”
“What?” Buffy yelled into the phone, pulling herself up into a sitting position and listening with impatience as Giles gave her the precise rundown of how he had lost her little sister.
“You let her go to Ireland? On her own?”
Giles pulled the phone from his ear. The shrillness in Buffy’s voice grated on his already frayed nerves. Dawn had become a very savvy, capable, young woman over the last two years and he had seen no reason not to let her go visit friends of hers and Buffy’s across the Irish Sea.
“She’s eighteen, Buffy, not eight! Yes, of course I let her go. She was visiting the Frasiers for the weekend.”
“So she could be in Ireland still or on a plane to... to god knows where!”
“I’ve got Andrew and his team scanning the airport security tapes and checking the passenger logs for all the jets that took off,” he informed her quietly. “We have a couple local Watchers working alongside the local police, assisting in the investigation. They have special access to all restricted areas.”
“Not at the moment.”
“Where are you?” she asked, her voice dead calm now.
“In London, but I’ll be on my way to Dublin in a few hours.”
“No, you stay in London. Have Andrew book me the next flight out to Dublin.”
“Buffy, I’m not staying here.”
“Why not?” she challenged. “Don’t let your guilt get in the way of the million and one other things you have to do.”
“That’s enough!” Giles snapped. “This isn’t helping Dawn.”
“No, it’s not. Just... don’t get in my way,” she relented in exasperation.
Giles ignored her. They’d work better as a team and they both knew it. “Where are you coming from?”
“There’s no direct connection.”
“I’ll have Andrew phone you with the details.” He was quiet for a moment and then very calmly he said, “We’ll find her, Buffy.”
She ended the call abruptly in a fit of anger. How dare he try to console her? Tears pricked her eyes as she thought of her sister. Dawn was all the family she had left. A couple years ago her father had become involved in shady business dealings while in Spain and had paid with his life in a high speed car chase through the mountains of Andorra. Trying to outrun his “creditors”, Hank Summers skidded off the road and rolled his car into a ravine. He hadn’t been wearing a seat belt and had no identification on him at the time of the accident. Buffy had only found out about the accident after Andrew had hacked into the Interpol databases for her on another matter about six months ago and came across the information. A Spanish woman had been listed as his next of kin and no one had bothered to notify her of his death.
Picking up her stuff, she headed back to the hotel. She needed to pack her things and check out before the Council car arrived to pick her up and take her to the airport. Andrew was extremely efficient with his time tables, which was fine with her because the sooner she was on her way to Dublin, the better off she’d be.
“Mr Giles, there’s no need to worry about Buffy. She is due to arrive at Gatwick in about forty minutes where she will be met outside of customs by Mr Ellison and escorted to the private jet per your request. Your bags have been loaded into the car, and your itinerary and passport are in your attaché case. The car is waiting below to take you back to the airport,” Andrew briefed earnestly.
The Watcher rolled his eyes. His Director of Technical Operations loved pomp and ceremony and he’d given up on the younger man ever addressing him casually. “Thank you, Andrew.”
Andrew nodded and handed Giles his phone. “Your mobile is fully charged and I’ve issued you a spare. Both are satellite phones, of course, so you don’t have to rely on cellular networks for service. Your new laptop is configured with all your files and software loaded in, and everything is encrypted. All you or Buffy need to do is place your thumb on the touchpad and it will scan and match your print to decrypt the data. Oh, and should you find yourself in trouble-”
“My briefcase doubles as a survival kit with rations and water purifying tablets to last fourteen days,” Giles interrupted in a mocking tone. Andrew watched way too many Bond films.
The younger man winced, and with a huff in his voice explained, “No. I was going to say I included topographical maps and programmed various local and emergency contact numbers into your phones. Oh, I also wanted to remind you that your number is untraceable to all but my team of course. And-”
Giles reeled back, knowing the sarcasm had hit home a little harder than he would’ve liked. Andrew was providing him with everything he needed to make this mission successful and he was taking his frustrations out on him.
“I’m sorry, Andrew, I am a little on edge.”
Andrew ignored him and continued on, “There are a dozen protein bars and thirty days of water purifying tablets in your briefcase.” The two men looked at each other in a standoff before a slow smile crept over Giles’ face. The younger man relaxed and smiled back. “Fourteen wouldn’t cut it, because, you know, you’ll have Buffy with you... and Dawn.”
Giles nodded, picked up his case, and patted Andrew on the back on his way out the door.
Buffy raced down the terminal towards the gate where the Council’s private jet was waiting for her, chased after by the young Watcher-in-training who was sent to greet her as she came through customs. His inexperience and need to please were too much for her to deal with at that moment, and she studiously ignored him as he trailed after her like an excitable puppy, dragging her suitcase and trying to engage her in conversation.
Her insides were a tumbling mess. She was angry, on edge, and worried about her sister. On top of that, she had just been cooped up in a plane with a hoard of raucous, drunken Italian football fans headed for a Champions League qualifying match against some London team she couldn’t be bothered to care about. Even sitting in first class couldn’t drown out the obnoxious singing and loud arguments about various footballers coming from economy class. Now she was about to meet up with her Watcher, who, even on a good day, added yet another level of stress into her already complicated life. She resolved to hand him his permanent walking papers immediately following the safe rescue of her sister and either resign from her Council post or insist on working with someone else. She was done with Rupert Giles and so extremely tired of his decisions having a negative impact on her life.
Needing a moment to compose herself, Buffy stopped at one of the airport kiosks for a cup of coffee and a fashion magazine. Her young minder stood guard in a conspicuous manner, reminding her of her replacement Watcher Wesley Wyndam-Pryce so long ago, and she sighed heavily as she passed him and continued her journey towards her gate.
She neared her destination and spotted her Watcher pacing the floor before the door to the gangway that lead to their plane. Why he’d waited for her and not flown on ahead, she didn’t know, but it wasn’t a very efficient use of their time and she found herself getting even more irritated by the moment. Unfortunately, she was unable to stave off the unwanted emotions as tears formed in her eyes.
There was no escape and she could see the look of worry on Giles face as she approached him.
“Buffy-” he greeted, his voice thick with concern.
“Don’t!” she said, lifting her hand to stop him and, evading his eyes, she passed by him in a huff, heading towards the door.
Giles then looked back at the young Watcher who handed over Buffy’s luggage. “Thank you, Ellison,” he said softly.
The boy smiled sympathetically. “Good luck, sir.”
The senior Watcher nodded in rueful acknowledgement before turning to follow his Slayer to the plane.
After stowing their suitcases in one of the lockers, he sat down in the seat opposite her. Buffy flipped through her magazine, her coffee now resting on the table before her, half empty with the lid off, and ignored him.
“You know, you really should vet your flunkies better, Giles,” she snipped after a few moments, not bothering to look up from the periodical. “He’s got the stealth of a bull elephant and will probably get his Slayer killed their first time out.”
Giles crossed his legs and leaned back into his seat. “He’s just a first year, Buffy, do go easy on the lad. He was doing a favor for me.”
“Am I some sort of boondoggle for first years now?” she challenged, raising her eyes from her magazine.
“No,” he replied, calmly meeting her gaze. “I wanted some discretion and I can trust him. He is my cousin’s son.”
“I see,” she retorted testily, still unimpressed. “When are we taking off? The sooner we get off the ground, the faster we can wrap this up.”
“About fifteen minutes, miss,” a voice answered from behind. Buffy turned in her seat to find that a man in his mid fifties had come out of the cockpit. “I’m Alan Fielding, your captain. Estimated flight time is three hours,” he said, checking on his VIPs.
Buffy shifted in agitation. “It should only take an hour to get to Dublin.”
“Excuse me, captain, I haven’t had a moment to brief my colleague on the latest developments in our case.”
“Of course, sir,” he answered politely, leaving them to begin the preflight checks and get the plane ready for takeoff.
The Slayer folded one arm over the other and looked at Giles expectantly. He cleared his throat, uncrossed his legs, and sat forward.
“There were some developments while you were en route,” he explained.
“We found that there were four chartered planes due to leave Dublin in the span of an hour and a half around the time your sister past through security. Seeing as no new paperwork was issued for Dawn on any of the commercial flights, we looked into those chartered flights. Our investigation yielded a bit of cardboard that was found on the ground near where one of the planes taxied from.”
“And there was a message written on it that leads us to believe that Dawn is on that flight.”
“What did it say? Where is it headed?”
“The plane was heading to Reykjavik, Iceland. The message was ‘Be Seeing You.’”
There was a great pause while Buffy tried to get herself under control before giving up the attempt entirely. “Ethan?” she shouted, throwing her hands up in the air in disgust. “So now your Ethan is using my sister to exact his particularly nasty brand of revenge on you? What the hell did you do to him anyway? Why the hell can’t he just leave us alone?”
Giles looked affronted before the anger bubbled up from within. “It was your boyfriend and his band of merry misfits that carted him away.”
“He always comes back for you,” she argued and Giles couldn’t deny that fact. Several quiet moments passed between them before Buffy asked, “Iceland?” and he nodded, his attention focused out the window. “I’ll need to buy some appropriate clothes, all I have is what I brought with me on vacation for Italy in June.”
Continuing to look out the window, he informed her, “I, uh, had Andrew procure some cold weather gear for you. They are in one of the bags I brought with me, along with a pair of hiking boots that should fit.”
“Giles...” She shifted in her seat and sighed, conceding, “I know you’re worried about Dawn, too. Can we just... put things aside for now and focus on her? Truce?”
A sad smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Truce.”
On to Chapter 2