"I don't mean you any harm," he said.
"Another friendly vampire," said the boy with the crucifix whose name was apparently Xander. "Sorry, we've heard that one."
"I'm not just a vampire," said Nick, tossing his ID to the Watcher, standing on the other side of the table whence Xander and the Watcher had risen - the other two young people were still sitting. Xander had called the girl Willow. "I'm a homicide cop."
The Watcher read the ID. "Detective Nicholas Equites, Sunnydale Police."
"Most people stop eating Crackerjack after age ten," said Xander.
"That's enough, Xander," said the Watcher. "This is real." He tossed it back to Nick, who was still keeping his distance. He'd developed a tolerance for crosses in the past few decades, but Xander was waving it around like a flag on the Fourth of July.
"That name wasn't on the payroll last I looked," said Willow, moving to the school library's internet terminal.
Nick gave her a bemused half-grin; he wasn't sure department records were supposed to be that accessible to the public. "I'm new. Just rolled into town from Toronto. I was a cop there, too, for seven years. Under the name Nick Knight," he added as Willow opened her dialup.
He surveyed his audience. Willow was almost convinced. The Watcher - Rupert Giles, according Nick's information - was trusting but wary. Xander was still belligerent, keeping his cross raised when Giles had lowered his. The boy who'd been sitting with Willow ... there was something more to him than met the eye - including a sensitivity whereby he was certain, Nick could tell, that Nick was on the level.
"You must understand, Mr. ... Equites," said Giles, "in our experience there are no good vampires."
"Except the ones under gypsy curses to have angst-ridden guilty souls," offered the boy with the supernatural aura.
"Yes, thank you, Oz. Unfortunately temporary curses," Giles explained to Nick.
"Well, there's more than one species of vampire on Earth," said Nick. That much seemed not to be news to them. "The Slayers evolved in defense against those vampires derived from the demon Fenric. I'm a subspecies descended from human victims of the extraterrestial giant vampires destroyed in war with the Time Lords."
"Time Lords?" said Willow.
"You know the Doctor?" Giles asked.
"He gave me your name. If I may demonstrate?" said Nick. He waited for a nod from each of them - well, two of them; Xander only clutched his cross tighter and Willow was occupied at the computer - ducked his head a moment, and transformed.
"Fascinating," said Giles. "Fangs, of course - but no distension of the forehead. And note the eyes are glowing yellow rather than red. Definitely not of the spawn of Fenric."
"Yeah, so it's a different model," said Xander. "So what?"
"I think that's the point, Xander," said Oz.
Nick flashed back and nodded. "May I sit down?"
"Xander." Giles nodded Xander back into his seat; Xander put his cross into his jacket but kept his hand on it. Nick joined them at the table.
Nick told them everything. About his quest over the last few decades to make up for the evil he'd done in the previous seven centuries. How in the natural course of moving from life to life, identity to identity, among mortals, he'd gravitated toward the public services. How two years ago during his time as a cop in Toronto, a mortal confidante, the department medical examiner, had offered him some of her blood - but he had taken too much. He had pleaded with his master to kill him - that if he couldn't be undead with Natalie, he could be dead with her. "Instead of doing as I asked, LaCroix knocked me out and brought Natalie across.
"Well, we tried to continue our lives as normal. But Natalie was seduced by the sensuality of ... this condition, as all fledglings are, as I'd always feared she would be." Nick couldn't meet their eyes as he concluded. "I couldn't - can't handle what she's become. What I made her, as much or more than LaCroix made it of her. Finally I had to leave."
"His story checks out," said Willow. She brought a printout of a police personnel file. Three - his and Natalie's from Toronto, and his from here in Sunnydale. "I mean, it doesn't say here he's a vampire, but the details in these files back him up."
Nick finished, "So I've been hearing about the Hellmouth and thought I might lend the Slayer some backup."
"Yes. Well," said Giles. "There's a problem with that just now."
"Yeah," said Xander, "we want to know what's in it for you."
"I was speaking," Giles glared, "of the fact that Buffy has disappeared."
"Disappeared?" Rather than pause for an explanation Nick pressed his advantage. "Sounds like you could use some help."
"Yes." Giles took his glasses off and looked at Nick, and the flustered librarian fell away from the Watcher. "What is in it for you?"
Nick nodded, acknowledging what he hadn't, after all, denied in the first place. "I didn't tell you," he said carefully, "why Natalie offered me her blood."
"Because that's what you live on?" Xander suggested.
"Not human blood," said Nick, "not since my ... change of heart." He stood again, and paced slowly in front of the checkout desk. "Until Natalie was brought across, she and I had been researching the possibility of making me human again."
He looked back at them as he said that. None of them had ever conceived of a vampire who wanted that. Even Xander was floored for the moment.
"We had reason to believe," he continued, "that small doses of human blood can convert a vampire back into a mortal."
"You want our blood?" Oz said what the others were obviously wondering too.
"No, not at all," said Nick, spreading his hands as nonthreateningly as he could. "This is only one of the avenues Natalie and I were investigating." He walked back to the table, to Giles. "I just want access to the Watchers' books and records. I'm not the kind of vampire that they deal with - but there might still be something there for me."
"Not likely," said Giles. He came around the table to Nick. "As you must know, there's very little fraternization between the different subspecies of vampires. If there's very much in the prophecies on yours - let alone on methods for restoring your mortality - I will be quite surprised."
"Giles," said Xander, not at all pleased, "you sound like you're going for it."
"The Doctor trusts him. And with Buffy missing," said Giles, "we shall need all the help we can get."
For two weeks, on his off nights, Nick helped Giles and the kids with the search for Buffy, or Giles helped him with his search through the Watchers' diaries and prophecies. When he patroled on duty (partnerless; for unstated reasons Nick could understand, the Sunnydale police department was slightly undermanned) he kept his eyes out for the local flavor of nightlife, and accounted for a few of the Slayers' adversaries. Since the kids were doing their best to compensate for the Slayer's absence, this brought Willow and Oz to trust him (though Xander still didn't like him). How much they trusted him he didn't realize, until the first full moon of the summer. Willow and Xander showed up at the station desk asking for him.
"Oz is loose," said Willow. The statement seemed to carry some sort of import for the two of them, but it didn't communicate to Nick.
"Loose?" Nick had no idea why the kids would bother him at work with this, even if Giles was out of town, chasing down a lead on the Slayer. "What, has he gone on an air guitar rampage? What?"
"I told you this was a bad idea," said Xander muttered to the world.
"I have to agree it doesn't sound like police business," said Nick, turning away. "Leave him alone and he'll come home."
"Wagging his tail behind him!" said Willow to Nick's back. That seemed an odd thing to say. He looked back at them.
"We need to know where he's gone," said Willow, emphasizing the word "where" with even wider eyes and hand gestures.
After a moment Nick called, "Lieutenant, I'm on the street for awhile." When he got the kids outside he said, "Twenty-five words or less."
Willow got that on-the-spot look. She probably thought he was actually going to count her words. "Oz is a werewolf. Nights when the moon's full, we lock him up in the library. I lost track of the time tonight. He's gone."
"Where's he likely to be?"
"Make-out spots. The Bronze or the woods."
"Yeah, that makes sense." It followed from what little lycanthropology Nick knew. "Does he recognize his friends when he's changed?"
"Um, yeah," said Willow. Xander looked away. Neither of them were looking at Nick.
"What is it?"
"He tries to attack Xander," said Willow. "But me and Cordelia ..."
"Cordelia who's away for the summer," said Xander.
"He comes when we whistle," said Willow.
Nick nodded. "Alpha male competition. He wants all the females in the pack for himself." Nick thought a moment; they'd come to him for adult guidance, but it wouldn't be diplomatic to look like he was bossing them around. "All right, how's this: Willow, you check out the Bronze. You're sure he won't attack you?"
"Yeah," Willow said, "Giles said that stuff about pack stuff too. I'll be okay."
"Then at the more public place where we have to look for him, we have no risk of a scene. Xander and I go to the woods -"
"Woah, not that briar patch," said Xander to Willow. "I was right about Angel, remember?"
"Look, we've been through this more than once," said Nick, letting some exasperation show. "There are lots of different kinds of vampires in the world. I met an FBI Special Agent once who could quote you the unique variation on vampire lore for any demographic you could name."
The kids exchanged a look. "I think we've met the same FBI agent," said Willow.
"If there's going to be a fight, it's less likely for innocent bystanders to see or get involved in the woods than at the Bronze, so that's where we send the people who can only take him with a fight," Nick finished. Not that, if there was a fight, Nick had any intention of letting it last long enough for Xander to get involved. "Sound good?"
"It's a good plan," Willow said, trying to convince Xander. She handed a bag she was carrying to Nick. "You'll need these more than I will."
When Nick took the bag a wave of dizziness came over him. He looked inside - he saw chains and manacles. "Blessed?" he asked, slurring.
"Uh huh," said Willow. Then, "Ooo, sorry, I didn't think!"
"Maybe you'd better carry these." Nick handed the bag to Xander, pretty blindly, and felt better right away.
"Okaaay," said Xander. "An act of trust from the creature of evil. Just when I was sure where I stood. I can deal." He didn't sound very confident.
"Let's all get moving," said Willow, and the party split up.
Nick and Xander made a circuit of the woods when they arrived. "He's not here, at least not yet," Nick announced. He sat down on a fallen tree trunk that offered a mostly unobstructed view of the area, at least to Nick's eyes.
"How do you know?" Xander still stood, holding the bag.
"By the lack of pricking of my thumbs," said Nick, "so to speak. But we'd better wait until he shows up, or until Willow comes to tell us she got him."
Eventually Xander sat. After another twenty minutes of silence he said, "So you really think Oz's monthly Xander craving is just animal instinct?"
"That was actually an educated guess on my part. But if Giles says so too it must be right." After a moment Nick's honesty compelled him to add, "Unless there are interpersonal dynamics I'm unaware of."
Xander grunted. "We're high school kids. You know."
Nick grinned. "Well, we didn't have high schools in thirteenth century France. But I get the idea." He resisted the temptation to hypnotically augment Xander's new inclination to warm up to him.
But suddenly the dam broke without help. "It's like a three-way tug of war, y'know, because I've known Willow and Cordelia all my life - and I hated Cordelia or I thought I did, so is this compensation or is it what I really felt all along, and will she still feel the same when she gets back in the fall, and then Willow who's my best friend, I mean they always say to be friends first but I just didn't look at her that way, and then Buffy came along -"
"Xander, you remember that sentence in Winnie-the-Pooh that never ends?"
Xander had been talking to the bag in his hands, but now he looked up. "Nick, I think Buffy left because of me. I lied to her and I think she figured it out."
Nick expelled a slow breath before he spoke. "Xander, she's the prime suspect for a murder you and I know she didn't commit. Also, the police report says she'd had a big fight with her mother, and she'd just been expelled from school. And Slayer or not, she's just as hormone- and angst- ridden as anyone your age. Never mind having to save the world from the gates of Hell - any of these other things is enough to have set her off."
"It was a pretty big lie."
Nick spread his hands. "Sorry, Xander, I wish I could fix it, but I'm only inhuman." That got a reluctant grin. "All I can say is, make good with her when she comes back."
"Yeah, and what if she never -"
Nick heard something. He silenced Xander with a sharply raised hand.
After a moment Nick said, "No." He rose and led Xander back toward town. About ten yards on they met Willow, who despite the racket they were making in Nick's ears jumped when she saw them. "Oh! I thought you were vampires! ... I mean - uh -"
Nick waved it off. "Oz?"
"Yeah, Oz. He followed me home and I'm going to keep him. I mean, uh, he's at the library. I should get back."
"Great. That's it then. If things are under control I need to get back to work."
"Bisy Backson," said Xander.
"I'll check in on you just before dawn," Nick said to Willow.
"Hey, Nick," said Xander. "Thanks for listening."
"Listening to what?" Willow asked.
Xander shrugged. "Just guy stuff."
The notion that Xander would share guy stuff with Nick startled Willow as much as Nick and Xander had earlier. Nick waved and went back to work, satisfied with time well spent.
In July one of Nick's nights off fell on a date when Willow would be babysitting Oz at the library, and he volunteered to keep watch with her, since even Giles preferred not to stay in the library all night if he didn't have to. She in turn volunteered help Nick that night with his search through the Watcher volumes.
"So far," he told her as they leafed, "all we've found on my kind of vampire is an origin story sketchier than what the Doctor's already told us, and biographies of a few of the more notable ones." This category included LaCroix but not Nick. That suited Nick, though he assumed it would change with Giles' diary. Giles had tried to pump Nick about LaCroix, in fact, but Nick had determinedly brushed him off.
"Well, there's a lot to go through yet," Willow observed. "You're only about halfway through."
"I'm taking it slowly," said Nick. "I've been a historian. Sometimes what you're looking for isn't there - but you can find enough of what surrounded it to give you a good reflection."
"Yeah!" Willow's exclamation and smile were so full of the joy in the sudden meeting of minds that Nick was charmed anew.
"But you're right," Nick admitted. "There is an awful lot of it."
"Sometimes I think, what with everything that goes on around a Hellmouth, that Giles and I will end up writing just as much again as there already is."
"Giles and you?" Nick asked, grinning.
Willow blushed. "Well, Giles said once that we should all keep journals. Us being the first Slayer support group and all. But I think I'm the only one who is."
"It's a good idea," said Nick. "Buffy is lucky to have all of you."
"Do you think we'll ever find her?" Suddenly all the joy was gone from Willow.
Nick hadn't yet weighed what he felt about that, though he'd spent a lot of time this summer on both official and unofficial inquiries, all fruitless. In the moments he took to frame his reply, he wondered what it was going to be.
"I think she'll come back when she's ready," Nick said. "She had a lot of growing up forced on her the last two or three years, if you and Giles and Xander have told me even half the story.
"She may not know it - I'd bet she doesn't - but she only needed a vacation from the life and the people she has here, not a clean break."
"That's why you're here, isn't it?" said Willow quietly.
Now the evening's feeling of happy fellowship drained from Nick. "No," he said, returning to his book. "My bridges are staying burned." He said nothing more. Willow went back to her research too, not speaking again until she happened across an account of the battle between Fenric- and giant- descended vampires at Hastings in 1414. Again, Nick wasn't mentioned; but then this history was written by the losers, or about them.
Nick had meant what he said when he said it. But the next night he began thinking of Willow as "the other watcher".
Nick was covering the desk - Sunnydale really was a small town - one night in August when an attractive fairhaired woman in her mid or late thirties came in.
"Can I help you, ma'am?"
"Yes," said the woman. "I was wondering about the Jane Doe murder case."
"And - you are ...?"
"I'm the missing suspect's mother."
The Slayer's mother.
Giles had mentioned that in the immediate wake of Buffy's disappearance there'd been some vague phone communication with Buffy's mother, from which Giles had deduced that Buffy had shared the secret with her mother just before she disappeared, and that her mother hadn't taken it well. Giles had tried to help and explain, but the mother had hung up.
"Nick Equites, homicide," said Nick. "No, we haven't found her yet."
"I see." Bad news, not unexpected.
"Have you heard from her?" A cop would ask but Nick had a more important interest. Things had been pretty quiet in Sunnydale since Nick arrived, as Hellmouths go, at least according to the kids; but Giles attributed that to the late spring disappearance (Related to Buffy's? Probably, but how?) of the local vampires' three leaders, and was certain the phase couldn't last.
"No." She looked away from Nick, and blurted, "Just a note, just before she left."
"A note?" This wasn't in the police report, nor had Giles mentioned it.
"Yes." Now she looked back up, and spoke quickly, getting it over with. "It had to do with some crazy story she told me the last time we talked. I didn't think it exactly had anything to do with the murder - I mean I don't think Buffy had anything to do with the murder, but I didn't want - I mean I haven't shown it to anyone ..."
"I understand," said Nick, in his best bedside - or deskside - manner. "You still have the note, don't you?"
The Slayer's mother - What was her name? Joyce, that was it, Joyce Summers - let loose a long sigh, and reached into her purse. Nick took the note and looked it over. When he looked up Mrs. Summers was looking back at him with an intense vulnerability.
"Listen to me," said Nick.
As he pitched his voice into mesmerizing mode, he felt himself becoming attuned to her metabolism and she to his; he could hear their heartbeats matching pace though his ordinarily beat much slower than a mortal's. Her eyes went a little glassy. She wasn't a resister.
"Your daughter can take care of herself," said Nick, their heartbeat in his ears. "Wherever she is, whatever she's doing, you know that she is helping others, and doing what she believes is right. Take this note -" Nick pushed the note back into the purse. "- and show it to Mr. Giles, the school librarian. He can answer all your questions."
"I understand," Mrs. Summers murmured.
"Do as I say, but forget this conversation. Show no one else the note from your daughter. Go home and get a good night's rest," said Nick, while the trance was fading.
Mrs. Summers blinked, and made an obvious attempt to salvage the thread of their previous conversation. "There are still no other suspects?"
"No. Now, I probably shouldn't say this, but the evidence against your daughter so far is largely circumstantial," Nick added. He'd found that a hypnotic suggestion meant to comfort worked best if reinforced on the conscious level. He'd also chosen the wording of the suggestion itself based on a third-hand account he'd heard of something Mrs. Summers had said after witnessing (in relative ignorance) a vampire attack on the high school, the attack thwarted by the Slayer, on Parent-Teacher Night.
Mrs. Summers smiled, weakly but genuinely. "Thank you, officer."
Nick watched her go, wondering whether to warn Giles about the note. But no; that was between the Watcher and Mrs. Summers. By the time Mrs. Summers had left the station Nick had put the matter out of his head.
"That's it, then," said Giles, one day in middle September. "There's nothing in the Watcher diaries on your type of vampire that we - well, that you - didn't already know." He was a good man, though; there was no more I-told-you-so in his tone than in his words.
The French pronunciation, and the familiar, dreaded voice came from the doors to the hallway. Nick's head snapped around. They must have floated in, slowly - he'd heard no footstep nor felt any wake in the air.
LaCroix and Natalie were there.
Nick rose quickly, hastily motioning Giles to keep still. If LaCroix found out he was a Watcher he was dead. "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you," said Natalie. She sounded less angry than hurt. Hurt and trying to sound angry instead. Nick realized how much he missed her.
"I'm supposed to believe you've shown up, just as I finish what I came here for, by coincidence? Have you settled in comfortably, here in Sunnydale?"
"No!" cried Natalie, defensive and reassuring.
"Not yet," said LaCroix, unabashedly blunt and threatening.
"We've been watching you awhile," Natalie explained hastily. "When we learned why you were here I was curious what you'd find. And," she admitted, "I thought you'd be more likely to come back to Toronto if we waited until you were done."
"LaCroix," realized Giles.
All three vampires turned on him, Nick with all hope lost that Giles would survive next passing from Nick's sight. If they knew why Nick was here, they knew who Giles was.
"Yesss," said LaCroix. He wasn't suffering the interruption gladly.
"General Lucianus," said Giles. He rose, fascinated, as a herpetologist by a poisonous snake chanced upon.
"Yes," said LaCroix, surprised. Nick rarely saw LaCroix surprised.
"I know of you, of course," said Giles. "Oh, I'm Rupert Giles, a Watcher," he added politely, though he seemed to retain enough presence of mind not to come any closer or offer to shake hands. "We call you the 'Last Roman'."
"Do you?" Quite against his will LaCroix was being charmed.
"Oh, yes, you're quite infamous." Giles' half-smile faded as sanity suddenly slammed down.
"Why thank you," said LaCroix, then dismissed Giles from existence and turned back to Nick before Giles could start stammering. He didn't succeed in putting Giles at ease, quite; but of course he hadn't meant to, quite.
"Answer me this, and I'll decide," said Nick. "Why did you bring Natalie across instead of letting her die, when by our agreement I owed you a love for Fleur?"
"I told you the first time," said LaCroix, casually alluding to an event Natalie didn't remember. Unless LaCroix had told her about it. "As with Fleur and I, your attraction was of opposites. How much finer my vengeance if, instead of destroying her, I remove the innocence that was the very cause of your -"
"He did it because he loves you, Nick, you moron," blurted Natalie. To Nick's astonishment LaCroix suffered this interruption, this accusation, with merely an indulgent roll of his eyes. "All right, it's a twisted love by your standards and mine. But, Nick, he's the only father you've ever known." Nick was too angry now, but later he would realize that she had her old manner back; she was no longer the crazed fledgling who had driven him away.
"And if my father is a monster," said Nick, taking a few steps forward, "what does that make me?"
"Merlin's father was a devil," LaCroix murmurred.
"Are you implying -" Giles started, but LaCroix looked at him and he shut up.
"Of course I will never countenance this impossible dream of yours," said LaCroix, "not while I still have no breath in my body. But if you come back to the family," he said in the measured tones he used for emphasis, "for once I'd be outnumbered."
Nick looked sharply at Natalie, who nodded, coming to him and putting her arms around him. "Nick, I'm so sorry for everything. I just want you to come home." Nick found that his arms were around her.
"Please," said LaCroix. Of course he tried to sound like he didn't mean it.
After a moment Nick said, "Wait for me outside." He released Natalie and they left, LaCroix bowing to Giles as he held the door for Natalie.
"Listen," said Nick, after the others had left, "are you people going to be all right here? I mean, what if the Slayer doesn't return?"
"Well," said Giles, "I wouldn't say so in front of her mother or the children, but I have reason to believe we'll find her in short order."
"What reason?" If Giles had located a clue to Buffy's whereabouts, it'd been since he and Nick had last discussed the search.
"Let's just say that time will tell, and leave it at that."
After a moment Nick grinned. "In my experience you can rarely get time to shut up."
Giles smothered a chuckle.
Nick stuck out his hand. "Oh, tell Willow something for me."
"What's that?" Giles asked as they shook hands.
"Tell her she was right."
To this story's companion piece, What I Did On My Summer Vacation.
No DOCTOR WHO/FOREVER KNIGHT, BUFFY/X-FILES, or FOREVER KNIGHT/X-FILES crossover stories, as implied in dialog above, have actually been written by me (though we have learned that Fox Mulder knew Rupert Giles while Mulder was at Oxford from my Daily comic strips); but I have a DOCTOR WHO/X-FILES crossover.
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