Career Advancement

Two Ladies of Quality


Rupert Giles walked blindly away from Revello Drive. He passed several people on the sidewalk, but he barely looked at them. Vampires had known for years now that hunting near the Slayer's home was idiocy, and he hadn't had to think long about absorbing that rule. In any case, he had made sure to eat someone before he went to the Summers house. He knew the visit was going to be difficult enough without adding hunger into the mix.

Ever since Drusilla's loss, he'd been obsessed with loss. When he'd first been turned, he'd been dazzled at the idea of the long years ahead of him to fill with experiences and learning. Then Drusilla had arrived, and he had imagined years with her--and, well, with Spike, if he was honest--entwined in the delightful perversions that were vampiric passion. Then she was gone, and he was as bereft as any child whose mother had been ripped away. Ever since, he had been unable to think of little but everything he had lost over his life and death. When his mourning for Drusilla ebbed, the remnants of the man wept for the loss of the sunlight and the friendships of the living man. The memory of the near-loss of Joyce had taken him as well, and he had remembered the promise he'd made her in her hospital room.

That promise was now void, but that came with another loss. Joyce could be nothing but potential prey, now, and such a thought was madness. He held enough of his old intelligence to know that moving on Buffy's family was the quick way to dusty death, and the best way to avoid temptation was to avoid those humans he used to call friends.

He paused in the shadows near the Espresso Pump. Open mike night again, by the sound of it. A flubbed guitar chord made him debate putting tonight's so-called singer out of everyone's misery. He absently flexed his fingers, once again enjoying the feel of joints as nimble as a young man's. His guitar occupied a corner of his room at Sunrise Grove, but he hadn't played it since he was turned. Drusilla had opened the case one night and run her fingernail along the low E string, humming along with the resonance. He should have played for her.

Another bad chord nearly sent him into the coffee shop to rip the player's fingers from his hands and rescue the helpless instrument, but he resisted the urge. Instead he turned and continued his walk.

Tendrils of magic lured him to a quieter part of town, to the chain link fence surrounding the old high school. The street lights on this block had yet to be repaired even after all this time, and the pile of rubble that still filled the site was a tangle of shadows and weeds. The gymnasium wing was mostly standing; the windows were blown out and the walls with their ragged tops were outlined against the lights of the rest of town. His library was a jumbled ruin in the middle of the wreckage. To his new senses, the scent of demon-Mayor blood lingered.

He had to smile at it all. Such a night that had been. There were rumors of rebuilding the place, of bulldozing it all flat, erecting a lovely new building on top, and pretending it had just been a gas leak and that budget issues were why nothing had been done with the site all this time. The current crop of high school students were occupying trailers and crowding the class rooms over at the high school on the other side of town.

Giles wondered if the current city administration knew what lurked underneath the rubble of the old high school. He leaned against the fence, threading his fingers through the holes in the chain link. It had always called to him, the Hellmouth. The darkness had teased a response from the chaos that still lurked in the depths of his soul, but he'd ruled that part of him and resisted any urges that wanted to come out to play. The pull was stronger now, though he was thankfully still master enough of himself to keep from following.

Something rustled behind him, something that moved against the wind. He turned quickly, swearing to himself that he'd let something creep up on him.

A tall young woman, with skin and features that spoke more of Africa than of America, stood there. She held her head easily against the pull of the very long braid that looped around her head and shoulders. Giles drew in a breath and smelled faint blood, and he heard no breath or pulse. She regarded him calmly, studying him in return.

"You are the Watcher," she said, her English accented with French and something more exotic. "They call you Ripper now."

He glanced around, looking for both other vampires and viable escape routes. "Yes, I am. And they do. You are?"

She smiled and let the fangs flow into view. "I am called Fleur du Mal."

He could only blink for a few moments. He'd expected someone--older. Her human face looked around the same age as Buffy when he had first met his Slayer. Her smile, though, was calm and knowing, and her bearing was regal.

He didn't know how to react to her. The residual Watcher was delighted and eager to ask about the inner workings of the Order of Aurelius, about where she had come from and what she had seen. The demon kept urging him to bow his head, to acknowledge the rumored power and obvious age. "Well. Um. Hello?"

The vampire face faded back to extremely lovely human. "You are definitely of Angelus' get. His line is notoriously bad at proper respect."

He frowned. "Shouldn't that be Darla's get?"

Fleur du Mal's smile twisted slightly. "Darla knew her place, however close to the Master that it was. Angelus lured her from the Master's side and laughed at the rest of us while he did so."

The thirst for knowledge broke free. "You knew the Master? That long ago?"

"I was taken to his Court when I was barely turned, and I learned the ways of Aurelius." She turned from Giles to study the wrecked high school. "The Hellmouth. Where our Master died."

"Not my master," he said automatically, then he winced.

She raised an eyebrow at him thoughtfully. "You acknowledge no master?"

The pain took him again, and he closed his eyes. "She's dead."

"Ah." Fleur du Mal was closer when he opened his eyes. "It's very hard, to lose your Sire. Especially for one so young. My own was destroyed a hundred years ago, but I remember my grief."

"Who was your Sire?"

She waved an elegant, dismissing hand. "No one who would have come to the Watchers' notice. His entire existence was service to the Master." She looked back at the school. "One can feel the Hellmouth breathing. Our--" She smiled slightly. "The Master coveted its power." Her gaze slid back to Giles. "And he was destroyed for it."

Again he felt the urge to cringe and to beg forgiveness for his part in the Master's destruction. But that wasn't his strongest impulse. "Yes, he was. I was terribly proud of Buffy that night."

Her chuckle surprised him. "He would have liked you, my Master." She lightly touched Giles' hand. "He prized intelligence and the ones who sought knowledge. Sorcerers were often part of his court, helping him with his research. I remember his library, a wonderful thing."

"He had nothing like that, here. After, well, everything, I went to where he'd been trapped. It was little more than a cave."

"He had other things than comforts on his mind at the time. But his library still exists, writings gathered over millennia. They merely await the hand of the next leader of Aurelius." She smiled and took another step closer. "I don't imagine there's another archive of the history of vampires to compare in the world."

The thought of all that knowledge was nearly erotic. "Most of the vampires I've met have shown little regard for history."

"Most of the vampires you have met are idiots. The rituals and traditions of Aurelius are preserved in writings from the beginning of time. Without them we are only old vampires hiding in a cave."

"A cave? Where?"

She lowered her voice. "A very ancient cave in France. There are paintings of creatures that died when demons still walked openly on the face of the world. And figures of little two-legged beings chasing the creature with spears and fire."

"Lascaux," Giles breathed.

"It is not only the humans who drew their hunts on stone walls. In the deepest parts of the most secret caves, the humans are the hunted. Only the barest light is brought to those chambers, where He Who Keeps tends the records. He was tracing the outlines of the Master's fall at the Hellmouth when I left."

An unbroken record of history going back centuries. Millennia. Giles felt breathless at the idea. "I want to see them."

"As is your right. You are of Aurelius. The lineage and the history are yours. I can take you there."

He was remarkably far into picturing the trip before the wording of her offer became clear. "I somehow doubt that this invitation extends to Spike."

She smiled and said nothing, though her smile acknowledged the point.

He wanted, oh, how he wanted. For the first time he felt part of the long tale of vampiric tradition that was the Order of Aurelius. Instead of trying to deduce the history from what fragments had been gleaned by the Watchers, he could go into the archives themselves, read the pages for himself, and learn everything for himself.

At the cost of declaring himself to be on Fleur du Mal's side, not Spike's.

The Watcher was willing to pay the cost. The scholar easily weighed the competing worth of an ancient library versus a foul-mouthed punk. But the demon remembered waking alone and frightened to a new, deadly world and the brutal, understanding comfort of a person who hadn't asked for the job. Then there were the memories of the hours when he and Spike and Drusilla were twined together, he being made a part of their unholy union, followed by kneeling with Spike in the dust of their Sire, surrounded by blood and ash, clutching each other as their loss overwhelmed the fury of battle.

He smiled at Fleur du Mal. "It is a very kind, tempting offer, but I couldn't possibly go without Spike. He has more appreciation for history than you might think, and he has respect for books."

Her smile twisted. "I see no place for William the Bloody in the courts of Aurelius."

"A pity."

Fleur du Mal sighed and shook her head. "It's unnatural, this loyalty you and your line have for each other. But then, all Angelus' get are mad."

Giles couldn't help snarling just a little. "If you ever have need of someone to betray Angelus, you have only to ask."

"Indeed? I will remember that."

She took a step away, and Giles glanced around again. "You're accepting my refusal of your offer so easily?"

"It was a small chance, but worth the taking. This matter won't be settled tonight. But soon."

"Spike has no interest in Aurelius or its politics. You could come home, and he would never bother you."

"He is an irritant. He muddies things."

"He survives things. And destroys things. Dismiss him at your peril."

Fleur du Mal studied him a moment. "You champion him from more than just blood loyalty."

"He has the attention span and impulse control of a toddler on bad drugs, which on occasion is the only thing that has saved this town. He can be very dangerous, if he wishes." He smiled. "Or if I remind him."

She raised her chin, then tilted her head in acknowledgement. "Indeed. For all that you are young, you have your own threat. Which is why I made the offer I did." She nodded once more, then turned. "It would be a pity for the order to lose one as unique as you," she said over her shoulder, "but make no mistake. You and William the Bloody are acceptable loses on my way to my goal."

"We never doubted it. Good evening, Fleur du Mal."

"Good evening, Ripper."

She faded into the darkness, and Giles made another rapid scan of the area before relaxing. He was not yet recovered from the fight with the Watchers, and he suspected Fleur had known she had a fair chance of defeating him if she wished.

No more time for dwelling on the past. Time to go home and force himself and Spike to confront the future.

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