The doorbell to the store rang noisily and Giles flinched involuntarily.
"Hello?" he began. The musty volumes in the shop muffled his voice and didn't carry far.
"You sure he lives here?" Angel demanded.
"Well, musty books. Old Victorian furniture. Yup. Watcher marks," Willow said, nodding. Giles gave her a look.
"I've been observing," Willow answered seriously.
Before he could say something, an elderly man appeared from the opened doorway at the back of the shop. Giles found himself unconsciously straightening up and nervously placed his hands to his back. Willow saw all this and covered her smile.
"Ah, ah ... Professor Mason?" Giles asked.
Percy Mason squinted and then scrambled for his glasses, which hung around his neck. Giles could see that the lenses were much thicker than they were before -- in his days teaching at the Academy.
Mason's eyes widened in surprise when he finally realised who it was.
"Rupert Giles? From Demon Anatomy?"
"Well, um, yes," Giles found himself shuffling his feet. He wasn't exactly one of Mason's star students in the class.
"Yes, yes," Mason murmured. "You planted the heart of a Skilosh demon in the Academy lunch hall. They called me in the middle of the night because they thought it was the heart of a Baynot demon. Thought it was sprouting newborn."
Willow eyed him as discreetly as she could, which wasn't much.
"And then on your second year you sprung two hell beasts loose from their underground cages. Frightened Mrs. Potts' knickers off. And got detention 'til the next year. Hmm ..." he removed his glasses and cleaned them with the end of his shirt.
"Hmm," Willow murmured amusedly at the familiar gesture.
Giles cleared his throat and tried not to turn a shade of red. Judging from Angel's forced expression, he wasn't succeeding. "Well, um, yes, you, uh, still remember that."
"Yes, yes. Of course. One does not forget the students that stand out. Especially one called the 'Terrible One' by the faculty," he drawled, shuffling to his desk. "Now, I'm afraid you caught me at my worst. Doing some research you see, lots of developments the last few days."
"Yes," Giles piped up, perhaps a little too cheerily. "And I think we could help you with that."
Mason lifted a bushy white brow. Giles found himself blanching, an old habit of his from Academy days when confronted with one of Mason's withering glares.
"Help me, can you?"
"The Elemental," Angel interrupted. "We know who it is."
Mason couldn't hide his surprise this time. "Do you?"
Giles gave Angel a discreet look, hoping that he would rein his impatience just a while. Mason did not like to be rushed into anything. "Sir, you're the expert on Elementals. We need to know everything you know about it, presumptuous as it sounds."
"And why do you need this encyclopaedic knowledge, Rupert?" Mason queried, his voice low with sarcasm.
"Because ... because we need to find a way to stop it," Giles answered lamely, partly because he knew what Mason's reaction would be and partly because he knew what Mason would say.
"Rupert! You weren't paying attention, were you? Nothing can stop an Elemental! They are on Earth at their appointed time for a reason, and they don't go anywhere until they accomplish it! Stop an Elemental indeed."
Angel growled low in his throat and went to Mason's desk, placing his hands on the book Mason tried to lift up. Surprised, Mason met Angel's eyes.
"You're a vampire," he murmured, a tinge of surprise in his tone. He sent Giles a curious look.
"We can explain this later, and it's a long story, sir," Giles said. However, before he could explain further, Angel barrelled ahead.
"Look. The Elemental is killing people. Innocent civilians. So far he has killed ten people already. I don't know about you, but that isn't a noble reason for it to be on Earth!"
Mason sent Angel his infamous withering glare. From the look of it, however, Angel was not even aware that the look was withering. "You know very little about Elementals, vampire. How do you know they were innocent?"
"Children, Mason. He killed three children! An entire family!" Angel hissed.
This quietened Mason, who sighed heavily. He gestured impatiently, "Sit, sit, all of you," he muttered.
They did, dragging chairs from all corners of the shop to form a line before Mason's ancient oak table in the middle of the store.
"It doesn't surprise me, the violence. But children ... ah, children dying. That shocks me all the time," he gave Giles a sad look. "This is a fire elemental. A green fire elemental. Usually it means terrible trouble."
Mason lifted a thick, dusty volume from his right on the table and opened it, thumbing the pages till he found the right spot.
Willow leaned forward and saw a page full of arcane symbols, none of which she could recognise except for the symbols of fire, water, earth and wind -- trademark Wicca symbols.
Mason pointed to the fire symbol. "Fire elementals. The strongest embodiment of them all. Unfortunately, the most unstable. Giles, I hope you explained to these two folk what Elementals are?"
"Yes ... uh, yes, I did."
"Good. Saved me some time. Good boy."
Willow smirked. Not exactly a good time to do so, but always amusing to see Giles cowering before a former schoolmaster.
"When the Element of Green Fire -- a fancy way of saying mystical fire really -- takes human form and personality, it is so powerful that it usually, no always, drives its human counterpart insane. The human mind just cannot take such vast amounts of power."
"Why did it come?" Angel butted in.
Giles sighed. Mason hated to be interrupted. Especially when he was 'teaching'.
Mason closed the book with a bang, sending clouds of dust into Angel's face. Thankfully, the vampire didn't have to breathe, so his lungs were spared. Not so Giles' or Willow's.
Eyes smarting, Giles gave Mason a placating smile. "Well, didn't you once say that the Elementals have specific purpose according to what element they represent?"
Mason smiled, pleased. "Very good. You were paying attention -- at least a little bit. Good to see that your brain was not dedicated to the hell you raised then."
Giles cleared his throat and prayed that he was not blushing.
Mason reached for another book, opened it and got the right page. This time the words were in English. Willow could read it easily.
"Water ... to nurture. Air ... to guide. Earth ... to build. Fire ... to purify," she read.
"So, to answer your question, vampire. The Fire elemental appeared now to purify something. To cleanse. Green fire usually signifies the cleansing of mystical forces. Simply put, it's here to get rid of mystical forces," he answered.
"Good or evil?" Angel asked, butting in again.
Mason did not seem to mind this time. "Good or evil?" he laughed. "My, my. That's oversimplifying it. How do you define good and evil? Ayas was the last known Green Fire elemental. She wiped out hundreds of thousands of people in the Aztec civilisation. Whole cities, in fact. We don't know why she did it, but Watcher researchers claim that the cities that she wiped out experimented with gateways to Hell dimensions -- they wanted to bring Hell on Earth, so to speak. Now tell me, is she evil or good? Nothing is that simple, vampire. How about Merlin, an Elemental of Air? Sole purpose was to guide. Clearly good you say? How about the fact that he also orchestrated the downfall of Arthur's father -- including his death? Sorry, wasn't included in the fairytales, was it? The answer is: nobody knows what their purposes are. We don't even know who sends them. We only know they are here to restore balance in whatever way they can and stopping them would be folly. You hear?"
Angel snarled and got up. "This is useless," he hissed.
"Angel," Giles said testily.
"He's not going to help us. He's seeing the Elemental through a scholar's eyes. Not through our eyes. He didn't see the bodies!" he snapped.
"You said you know who the Elemental is?" Mason interrupted suddenly.
Giles returned his attention to the aged Watcher. "So do you, sir. In fact, I believe he came to you a few days ago, regarding the Mother."
Mason's eyes widened. "Oh my. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce."
Mason seemed to loosen a little after the revelation of the Elemental's identity. To the point of bringing them pots of tea and a plate of biscuits.
"Well ... he was rather preoccupied, but when it came to doing his research he zeroed in as usual. Sharp student, he was. Giles, how many?"
Giles blinked and saw that Mason was holding a cup full of sugar cubes. "Um, two, thank you."
Giles could see that Angel was about to refuse the tea, so he sent him a warning look which Angel caught. Reluctantly, the vampire took the teacup.
"Sorry, ran out of blood," Mason said dryly. Angel gave him a very dry smile.
After giving Willow her tea, he sat down on an armchair, looking exhausted. "Well, you're partially right about him coming to me. But not about the Mother," he murmured, stirring his tea. After taking a sip, he continued: "He came to me months ago, during the summer."
"I see," Giles murmured, not sure what he was getting at.
"But it makes sense now, don't you see?" Mason said, suddenly animated. "He kept going on about destiny and how one has to embrace it, and how prophecies are meant to be fulfilled, not broken. Poor old chap, I wondered what happened to him to drive him to such a fix. He was dishevelled, looked as if he barely slept, had a nasty scar right about here-" Mason pointed to his neck "- and I thought I should help him, desperate as he was."
"The truth was he came to me about Binding spells."
"Binding spells?" Willow asked, surprised. "But ... but isn't that used on bad ... witches?" her voice trailed off as she shared a look with Giles. It was her greatest fear, to be cut off from the source of magic. It either meant a slow, painful death, or a quick, painful death. Either way, she would end up six feet under. After what she did to Warren and her efforts to end the world, she thought she was heading there. Instead ... she got mercy. She still did not understand why.
"I thought he wanted to use it on one, honestly. But he wanted to break the spell. To which point I asked, 'Whatever for?'"
Two Months Ago
"Because sometimes it wasn't cast for the right reason," Wesley answered, his voice low.
"I see," Mason murmured, then sighed. "Unless you're more specific, I'm not going to help you, Wesley. You know the Watcher's Code."
Wesley's eyes hardened, but he did not volunteer anything.
"Good then. See you next time," he got up to leave, but was stopped by Wesley who caught his hand.
"Please ..." he looked away, then reluctantly met his eyes again. "It's for me."
If someone told him that the Hellmouth had disappeared from Sunnydale, he wouldn't be as shocked as he was now. "What? Binding spells are for --"
"Users of magic. To cut them off from the source of magic," Wesley answered, his tone robotic.
"But I knew you. You spent 12 years at the Watcher's Academy. Straight-laced, even made it to Head Boy. Always managed to get your spells wrong in Alberta's Basic Magic. Not a drop of magical talent in you."
The ex-Watcher smiled at the memory. For a moment, he forgot his troubles and remembered only the carefree days of his time at the Watcher's Academy, where all he had to do was excel at his studies. "I was Bound when I was a child," he finally explained.
This horrified Mason further. A Binding spell on one so young ... it should've killed him! He sat down with a thump in his armchair. "Why?" he could only ask, horrified at the thought of young Wesley suffering so much pain at a young age.
Wesley gave him a bitter smile. "My father thought he could save me. He wanted me to be a Watcher. For a while ... I thought he did save me."
"There must be a reason ..." Mason trailed off. No. Binding spells are only reserved for criminal witches or warlocks. They are not for children.
"If I don't remove this Binding spell, I will die," Wesley gave Mason a steely glare. "I can feel it moving inside of me again. Waiting to be let out. One day, it won't bother waiting and I will be consumed."
"Wesley. I hate to say this. Your father - unscrupulous as his methods are to the Council -- is a logical man. He would not have done this if there was a good reason. Do you know what he was trying to cut off from you?"
"My destiny," Wesley replied dryly.
"After that, he wasn't very cooperative. To tell you the truth, he wasn't very logical or ... sane. In the end, I could only refer him to a disreputable warlock who has some knowledge of breaking binding spells and wished him luck. Wesley was not pleased, but he said that he understood. Good Lord, Rupert. What happened to the man? I didn't recognise him anymore."
Giles sighed, wondering the same thing. He was not close to Wesley -- for obvious reasons -- but during the time they spent apart, he in Sunnydale and England, Wesley in LA, they managed to form a kind of working relationship, backing each other up on research. Over time, old animosities began to erode a little. He had even thought of paying Wesley a visit with Willow before leaving for Sunnydale.
"Do you know why he's looking for The Mother?"
"The Mother is sought after by everyone and everything, Giles. It's a source of incredible power, imbibing its user with godlike abilities. Your guess is as --"
"He wants to use it to be more powerful," Angel surmised.
"He said The Mother would release him from his prison," Giles murmured, light dawning. "Would he-"
"-try to shuck off his mortal body and become something more?" Mason finished for Giles.
"Oh great, a more powerful Elemental. That sounds ..." Willow trailed off when she saw how grave Giles looked. "Um. Is the Mother listed in the Yellow Pages by any chance?"
"Well, denizens of the deep and nasty should know about its whereabouts. But you can't get to it. Word is, it's being guarded by powerful demons and in a place you won't expect," Mason gave Giles a playful smile.
"Sunnydale. Right. Look, is the package coming here or not? What? Like I have the time to go to Ohio. Don't tell me it's some top secret thingy, because my life is top secret and I don't tell people to come to Sunnydale to get packages. Hello? Hel--" Buffy groaned and put the phone down. "Next time, remind me to not call Riley for favours," she muttered, plonking herself down on the sofa.
"So. Are you still up for mall-shopping?" Dawn asked hopefully, rocking on her heels.
Buffy looked at her sister guiltily. "Sorry. Sun's down."
"Vampire slayin' time," piped Xander as he emerged from the kitchen. "So, Slayer friend of mine, is it going to be Ben & Jerry's or 'I'm-going-to-get-dusty' time?"
"You know what my answer is, Xander," Buffy said, sighing, as she opened the weapons chest and took out a stake.
"It's always Mr Pointy," Dawn complained.
"Not always, Dawnie," Buffy said, giving her a meaningful smile -- which Dawn, thankfully returned, Buffy reflected. "But Megan Ryes was a friend of mine and I don't want her running around vamping people. Or worse, joining Harmony and forming a gang," she said shuddering.
"The vampire ex-cheerleaders coalition," Xander proposed.
"Funny. I'm like so laughing out loud now," Buffy said as she put on her coat and headed out.
After a moment, Dawn called out from the stairs.
"Xander, I think I'll pass the mall. But, could you do something for me?" Dawn smiled sweetly.
"Women and their need for ice-cream. I just don't get it," Xander complained to himself as he stood in line.
"Yeah, tell me about it," chimed a guy at the back. Xander grimaced. Didn't think he was that loud.
He tapped the clear top of the ice-cream display and was in the middle of contemplating the all-important question: Is chocolate more soothing or vanilla? When he saw someone walk past the shop window.
"What in the Robin-Batman ex-demon parade is he doing here?" Xander said out loud. Forgetting the ice-cream, he rushed out and was in time to stand in front of the man.
The man looked startled, but not as startled as Xander. The guy was like -- different. Stubble and he had this 'roguish' look going about him that worked really well. And was that a ...
His gaze zoomed to the angry-looking scar at his neck. "Musta hurt," he said out loud.
"Xander," said Wesley. The ex-Watcher gave him a delighted smile and asked, his eyes curiously glassy, "How's Buffy?"
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