Uncertain Ground - Chapter 3
“So what did Andrew have to say?” Buffy asked after Giles returned to his computer to log in.
“He has a lead on this Finn Gates character but wouldn’t provide details. We have a video call in a few minutes,” he said after setting up the webcam and launching the application.
“Finally joined the twenty-first century?”
Giles sent a glare her way. “Occasionally one must yield to progress,” he retorted. “What the devil do you think I do at work?”
“I figured you had staff to help with this stuff.”
Giles rolled his eyes and continued to log into the secure video chat program. “I’m not entirely useless, you know. In fact, I am quite adept at technology. Just because I’ve taught you everything you needed to know years ago, doesn’t mean that I can’t learn new things.”
“Oh here we go.”
“No, let’s not.”
“You brought it up. Let’s clear the air now,” she challenged, holding his eyes, daring him to continue.
Giles flexed his jaw muscles in irritation, only to be saved by Andrew, who popped up on the screen. “Hey, guys, how’s Iceland? I’ve never been, but it looks like a really happening place! Days lasting forever, swanky night clubs, hip music scene-”
“What do you have for us, Andrew?” Buffy interrupted, shooting a particularly nasty look Giles’ way.
“Hi Buffy. Oh right. Umm, hang on while I patch in the rep from the Pentagon. He insisted on speaking to you directly. Go ahead Captain Miller.”
Buffy drew a startled breath as she recognized the officer on screen. “Hi, Graham. What’s going on? Who the hell is this Finn Gates guy?”
“It’s not good news, Buffy, it’s Riley, and he’s really messed up.”
The surprised Slayer shook her head. “What happened?”
“Let’s just say that Maggie Walsh’s little gift keeps on giving.”
“I’m not following, Captain Miller,” Giles stated, folding his arms across his chest.
“The drugs that she had pumped into him have long term hallucinogenic effects. He thinks he is turning into a demon,” Graham explained.
“Sam?” Giles asked.
“Riley’s wife,” Buffy clarified.
“Dead. They were on a mission in Belize with their squad chasing down a pack of Warog demons about six months ago. That’s where the first hallucination kicked in. He took out the Warogs and most of his squad, including his wife before a few of his men were able to subdue him.”
“Jesus!” Buffy exclaimed. Giles just shook his head. Five years later, that monster of a woman was still wreaking havoc. “Okay, so fast forward to today, what does he have to do with my sister?”
“And Ethan Rayne,” the angry Watcher added.
“Yeah, well, after that incident, Riley was arrested and put under medical lockdown pending evaluation. He was lucid and absolutely devastated so we had him on suicide watch. A few days later he was flown to the facility in Nevada. He had a few more hallucinogenic episodes, but after several treatments the doctors felt they had them under control. He got more leeway and freedom and could visit with other patients and prisoners. That’s when Riley met up with Rayne. We’re not really sure what transpired over the next few months. The medical reports seem to indicate that he was no longer a threat, but I was skeptical. I mean, you know how he was. After his heart nearly exploded he just... couldn’t handle things. He turned out to be a lot more fragile than we had thought, but then he found Sam and things seemed okay again. This time, though... I wasn’t sure he could bounce back from the loss of his wife and his men so quickly, but what do I know? I’m only a friend, not a doctor, right? Well, turns out I was right.” Graham spat bitterly.
“What happened?” Buffy questioned, dreading the answer.
Graham hesitated. “He took out the entire medical lab with a homemade bomb, killed the doctors who had been treating him, and left with Rayne.”
Giles stood very still as he took in the information. “How long ago was this?”
“About two weeks ago. From what we could piece together from his records, the hallucinations have him seeing himself in demon form and he believes, or at least he did in Belize, that he needs to rid the world of humanity.”
“Oh my god!” Buffy whispered.
Giles tried to put a hand on her shoulder, but she twisted out from beneath it and paced the room, biting her thumbnail. He let her go and placed his palms down onto the desk, leaning into the webcam.
“What about the rest of the men who were assigned to Professor Walsh? Are you all walking time bombs as well?”
“No, sir, we just got the vitamin cocktail. Riley and Adam were her favorites and were given other drugs, prepping them for her demon program,” the officer answered.
“There’s a relief,” he muttered, stepping away from the desk and running a hand through his hair.
Buffy returned to the conversation, her jaw set, her anger clearly visible on her face. “So why would Riley take Dawn?”
“Because she is the Key,” Graham stated matter-of-factly.
“W-what?” Her voice was incredulous. “He doesn’t know that. How do you know that?”
“Riley found out somehow,” he shrugged. “He kept a lot of contacts in Sunnydale after he left. He was always hungry for news on the Slayer.”
“He had no right to do that. It was over, he made his choice and he left,” she fumed.
“You made it for him long before that,” Graham countered.
Buffy shrugged, she wasn’t going to get into a discussion about a failed romance from so many years ago. “So he knows my sister is the Key. What does he want with her?”
“Well, my guess is he wants to use her to open a portal, something that would unleash hell on earth.”
Rolling her eyes, Buffy turned to Giles, “What’s with my ex’s and the unleashing?”
Giles fought back a smile. “Why Iceland?” he asked the officer.
“It’s remote, volcanically and geologically active,” Graham suggested.
“No one would notice,” the annoyed Slayer huffed.
“I think they would eventually,” Giles muttered next to her, before turning his attention back to Graham. “Do you have an idea where they are headed?”
Andrew spoke up for the first time, “I have a theory.”
“Go on,” Giles encouraged, yielding the floor.
“The volcano Grimsvötn erupted last year. It’s also the most active volcano in Iceland. I’d say the area around it is going to be pretty deserted. And for anyone doing any magicks, well, you’ve got an amazing power source to draw from.” The group was quiet, causing Andrew to fidget and bite the inside of his cheek nervously. “Or, you know they could have caught a freighter to somewhere else.”
“No, no, that’s excellent thinking, Andrew,” Giles praised. “A very sound theory, actually. If Ethan’s cloaking Dawn, then he’s draining his reserves. I would venture a guess that Riley also has him cloaking their signatures so they can’t be traced magickally.”
“Can we test that with Ethan’s necklace, Giles?” Buffy asked, her mind racing.
“Certainly,” he replied before turning to readdress Graham and Andrew. “Depending on when Riley wants to open the portal and how long he plans to keep them all cloaked, Ethan will need to recharge his power if he is going to do any conjuring.”
Andrew looked at his diary. “Um, Mr Giles, the Summer Solstice is in five days.”
The Watcher raised is head, comprehension dawning in his eyes. “Rebirth. We have our target.”
After confirming that they could not locate Ethan with the necklace, Giles and Buffy went shopping for supplies at an outdoor outfitters store for their trek over the great Vatnajökull ice cap.
“So the volcano sits beneath the glacier?” Buffy asked while they looked at the tents.
“I bet that gets messy when it erupts.”
“It can, yes, sending tons of meltwater to the ocean. This tent should do.”
“That’s pretty big for one person,” she remarked, looking at the domed tent. Seeing the look on his face, she objected, “Oh no. We are so not sharing a tent. I am not sleeping with you.”
“For Christ’s sake, we’re not sharing a sleeping bag. It’s a tent. A room. Granted, it’s not ideal, but we should be practical.”
“No,” she reiterated with emphasis. “I’m not sharing a hotel suite with you now and I am not going to share a tent that has absolutely no privacy.”
“It’s for both practical and safety reasons, Buffy. Besides the fact that we will be sleeping at elevation and on ice where it will be considerably colder than at sea level and where we will need the shared body warmth, we need to conserve space in our backpacks for other things.”
“No, Giles. I am not getting all snuggly with you in there.”
They were at an impasse and he was growing impatient.
“Believe me, snuggly is not on the agenda. Besides, I like my women to be a little less self-absorbed and hostile.”
“Self-absorbed? You’re a Grade A, self-absorbed ass. And good luck finding a woman who won’t be hostile after she finds out what a commitmentphobe you are,” she spat.
“Commitmentphobe?” Giles repeated incredulously as he threw the box with the tent in it into the cart with a little more force than necessary. “Whatever are you talking about? That’s not even a word.”
“Yeah, well, it is now,” Buffy retorted. “Screw you, I’m going to go look at the freeze dried food. Do you have any allergies?”
“Nothing you need to concern yourself with. Not that you ever do.”
“I just did concern myself or I wouldn’t have asked, you big... stupid... Watcher! But you know what? I won’t bother,” Buffy ground out. “Not anymore.” And with that she left him to find the rest of the items on his list.
God, she infuriated him. In all the years he’d trained her, never once had he even looked at her improperly. And that she couldn’t put aside their differences for more than a few hours at a time and work together to find Dawn drove him to distraction. Commitmentphobe? Some things never changed. She still abused the English language with aplomb. Oh, and he was far from being afraid of commitment. If he were anymore committed to her, they’d have to lock him up in a mental institution!
Buffy made her way over to the cooking section of the store, trying to shed the anger she felt towards her Watcher. Was he even her Watcher anymore? He probably didn’t think so, but she still thought of him that way, even though he hadn’t acted like it for years, not since before she died, really. Why couldn’t he compromise? She just wanted her own tent to give them some space because trying to maintain a détente with him while there was still so much bitterness between them was difficult. She was trying her hardest to work with him, but they were both still so angry and so hurt.
Looking at all the cooking equipment, Buffy’s mind shut down. She’d honestly never camped before. Not seriously anyway. Just once or twice with the Brownies when she was little. Giles seemed to know what they needed though. The harnesses, ropes and spikes... no, pitons he had called them... as well as the carabiners and the ice axes took up a lot of room in the cart. Now she looked at the stoves and the pots and pans and wondered how they would carry them, the climbing and hiking gear, and all their clothing in just two, admittedly large, backpacks they were looking to buy. He was right, one tent did make sense. She blew out a cleansing breath and went over to the shelving units with food. They’d be expending an enormous amount of calories on their journey across the glacier and she set about her task of choosing their meals and snacks.
Giles caught up with her about twenty minutes later, the cart practically overflowing with gear. Buffy’s hand basket was filled with protein bars, carbohydrate snacks, sports drink powders, all sorts of dehydrated meals, a bag of coffee grinds, and nestled on the top was a box of Yorkshire tea bags, which he knew was for him since she wasn’t particularly fond of tea.
“Looks like a good haul,” he remarked in a conciliatory tone as he motioned to the basket.
“I think we have everything we need. Look, back there, you were right. One tent is fine. I just felt we needed some... space,” she explained lamely.
Rubbing the back of his neck with his left hand, Giles replied, “As soon as we find your sister this will all be over, and you’ll go home to Paris and I’ll return to London and we’ll have all the space we need between us again. For now, let’s just focus on stopping Riley and rescuing Dawn and Ethan.”
Somehow that statement wasn’t reassuring, but if that was the way he wanted it, then there wasn’t much she could do about it. Besides, hadn’t she been the one considering ending their relationship completely just the previous day? She looked over at him as he inspected the stoves and the cookware. God, he stirred such conflicting feelings in her. It was so much easier to be angry with him.
“Come on, we need to get helmets, glacier glasses, and crampons,” he said, placing the items he just looked at into the cart. “Then I think we are done here.”
Buffy stared at him, an odd look on her face.
Comprehension hit and Giles blushed from his collar to his hairline. “Crampons, for walking on ice, they go over the soles of your boots and have metal spikes that bite into the ice for traction.”
Relieved, she responded, “Oh! I knew that. Lead on.”
Buffy checked out of her hotel suite and moved her stuff into Giles’ while he packed their gear for them. Seeing all the equipment sprawled out across the living room, she asked, “Think we’ll need it all?”
“Hopefully not, but it pays to be prepared,” he answered, inspecting the 2 lengths of 60m rope he bought.
“What can I do?”
He tossed a box of ziplock bags to her. “Go ahead and pack your clothing in those.”
“Okay. You know, I think I was nine the last time I went camping. The best part was sitting around the campfire telling ghost stories and eating s’mores.”
Giles chuckled at the thought. “Did you buy marshmallows?”
She gave him a genuine smile. “No, but there was a s’mores dessert I picked up. Maybe we can toast the marshmallows that are in the pack.”
“I may know of a few ghost stories,” he grinned as he started to put things into his backpack.
“Thirty minutes to lift off, think you’ll be done packing all this stuff?”
Tilting his head, he looked up from his work and said reassuringly, “We’ll make our mark. You just focus on getting your things packed in those bags.”
They planned to leave the hotel at 6pm. It was a four hour drive to the campground at Skaftafell National Park, and with the sun setting around midnight there would be plenty of light to set up camp. They would then set out for the glacier on foot early the next morning. On the conference call, they’d persuaded Graham to let them be the ones to find Riley, Dawn, and Ethan, citing it was more of a Slayer operation than an Army one. With the element of magick involved, Graham had readily agreed, saying he had a team ready at the US Naval Air Station in Keflavik on standby, and would only send them out on either Buffy or Giles’ command once they had Riley subdued. Before the call ended, Andrew had added that he would look at the geological survey maps of area to find the more likely areas Riley would use as a base of operations. Until then, they were flying blind.
As far as plans went, Buffy felt comfortable. Giles had proven himself knowledgeable in all things outdoorsy, and regardless of their rocky personal relationship, she trusted him intrinsically as her Watcher. She just hoped they were on the right track. Iceland had one hundred and thirty active volcanic mountains and Riley could’ve taken her sister and the chaos mage to any one of them.
On to Chapter 4