"I'm not so sure about this."
The young woman sitting next to Rupert Giles seemed hesitant, and most profoundly unhappy. Dark green eyes gleamed out from under long, messy dark hair that shone red in the sun. Her already-pale complexion was flushed, and her eyebrows were drawn together in concern.
Giles turned to look at her sideways. "I suppose you have a better idea?"
She held his eyes a moment, then sighed, looking away. "No. I wish I did, but I don't."
"She has to be stopped."
"I know. But if you fail--"
"But *if* you do--"
"*If* I fail, it won't really matter now, will it?"
For a moment, she glared half-heartedly at him. "No. You're right. I know. I know. Damnit."
There was a moment of silence. Giles, elbows resting on his knees, ran a hand back through his hair.
The two of them sat back-against a rockface, on a grassy ledge that looked out over a deep, cool green valley. The sun, just westering, cast almost heavenly shafts of light down through the clouds, lighting Giles and his companion in yellow, and cutting a white swath through the misty cedars that trooped up the mountainside. The entire setting had a feeling of unreality about it, which was only fitting.
"If it helps, I wish I were wrong."
Giles turned to look at her again, but she shook her head. "You're not. I know you're not. I've known it for a while now."
"You knew this would happen?" Giles looked at her askance.
She shook her head again in denial. "Not-- not this. But... *something* would have happened, sooner or later. Something, to tip the balance. To..."
"To send her over the edge," Giles finished.
She closed her mouth, and nodded. "I'm sorry it had to be this way." Her voice was very quiet, honestly apologetic.
Both were silent for a moment, the tension rising incrementally. Giles clenched his fists. "I still think - you should have done something - but --"
"I couldn't have known--" She sat up straighter, her own hands clenched in her lap.
"I know, I know." He waved off her protests. "I know. I do." He sighed. "I wish I didn't. It would make this easier. On everyone."
She looked out over the valley. "Is it time yet?"
He nodded. "Has to be soon."
"All right." She got to her feet, offering him a hand up. "Let's get it over with. The others must be waiting for you."
Giles stood, suddenly towering a foot and a half over her.
"You must understand - if you fail..." She let the words trail away.
She held his eyes again, this time searching. "You must be sure about this."
His voice held no hesitation. "I am."
Slowly, she nodded. Her bearing shifting slightly - shoulders straighter, so that she seemed, if not taller, but somehow... brighter. He couldn't quite fathom the change, but he saw suddenly, as he had many times before, what it was in her that made her what she was, and felt, without really anything more definitive than instinct, what it was that made her followers worship her the way they did.
"I am certain, Guardian. Do it."
Their gazes linked, he suddenly felt something take hold of him, deep inside. She lifted her hand, and pressed it to his chest, just above the solar plexus. And though he didn't blink, there was a moment where his vision failed - or rather, shifted: for a moment, for a single moment, he was everywhere, everything, his senses screaming with the overload... then it was gone, and the sense of hold was gone. Her hand hung at her side. Inside him, the gift thrummed like a pulse; outside, it clung closely to his skin. No; it wasn't gone, just blurred, dimmed. He wondered, with a sense of mild awe, if this was anything like what she felt, day by day. He wondered how it did not drive her mad.
She stumbled, catching herself against the rockface. He reached out a hand to steady her. "Are you--"
"I'll be fine. It was just... the shock." She shrugged, then looked up into his eyes again. "You must succeed, Giles. I don't think I have to tell you what would happen if you fail."
"No. That, Guardian, I know." His smile was weak and grim. "I have to go now. Time is wasting."
She nodded. "Remember - no cost too great."
He began to fade, then, and her bearing shifted again - now it was almost regal. Legendary, he thought. He smiled to himself.
"Good luck, Watcher," she said.
"Good luck to us all," he answered, but it was lost on the wind.
Someone caught his shoulders, held him almost upright as he came back to himself. Another set of hands touched his face, waved something strong-smelling under his nostrils. In a moment, he was choking and sneezing, his eyes watering.
"I'm awake! I'm awake! Get that bloody stuff away from me!"
Blinking tears from his eyes, Giles looked around him. The circle of witches stared at him with wide, awestruck eyes. "Did it work?" asked the nearest, the one who had waved the smelling-salts under his nose.
Giles nodded, with care for the spinning of the room. "It worked. I have it."
There was a scattered chorus of congratulations, muted by the severity of the situation.
"All back in one piece, I take it?" Asked another member of the coven, the young woman holding him.
"More or less," Giles replied, sitting up and swiping his sleeve across his damp forehead. Slowly, his eyes squeezed shut, he got to his feet. The circle rose with him.
"Time to go," he said.
The coven nodded as one, and the young woman disappeared through the nearest door to make final arrangements.
"Can I ask you a question, Mr. Giles? Before you go?" This was the first young man, eager eyes wide and serious.
Giles looked at him. He couldn't have been more than nineteen. "What?"
"What was she like?"
All the coven was listening now. They were her devotees, after all, and this uninitiated Watcher had seen her, instead of them. Powerful though the Lady was, she hardly matched up quite with the image that legend had painted of her. But still; that was not the kind of thing you tried to explain to a group of people who had been raised to follow her since early childhood; especially when you had an apocalypse to avert.
Giles smiled. "Exactly as she should be," he said quietly.