Buffy stepped out of her bathroom just as her phone rang. Well, it wasn't totally hers as in a private bathroom, she shared it with Giles and Willow. But at the moment it was private because she was the only one there. Giles was off doing whatever heads of the Watchers Council did and Willow was somewhere trying to locate more slayers.
"Miss Summers, there's a gentleman here to see you."
She wasn't sure where Giles had found the receptionist. She was the daughter, niece, cousin, or something like that of someone who used to work for the Council in some capacity. She was efficient and was apparently glad to have a job with the Council. Follow in the family's footsteps. Not that Buffy understood that mentality, especially with the way the Council used to be run.
Buffy didn't usually meet with people, certainly not men. Slayers were women, girls, that was her department. And there was a reason they had decoys scattered across the globe. No one was supposed to know where she was at any given time for certain.
"I'll come up to meet him, Denise, thanks."
She took a minute to ensure she looked presentable, professional. Okay, professional was stretching it, but she tried not to look like a slob anyway the days she was in the office. They'd set up a base of operation quickly after arriving from Sunnydale. Since everything was already based in London, and had been for centuries, that's where the headquarters remained.
Buffy wasn't sure where Giles came up with all of the money and stuff, but he never complained about finances being stretched. So, she assumed things in that department were okay. A couple of years dealing with how to pay a mortgage and she was done balancing checkbooks for a while. He could have the responsibility.
She made her way through the rather sterile looking halls, her ID card at the ready when she got to the everything-including-a-bomb proof doors that led to the reception area. It was the way things had to be done now. It seemed everything and everyone evil, or with the capacity to do evil, had a hard-on for taking down the Council now. Wanting to succeed where the First failed.
She peaked through the window in the door, surprised when she saw who was waiting for her. The waiting area was positioned in such a way that anyone coming from the offices could observe without those waiting being aware of it. It made it handy to keep Buffy's whereabouts covert.
It took her a minute to recognize him. It had been well over two years since she'd seen him and a lot had happened in that time. For both of them she was sure. The years had not been kind to him. He looked older, but that wasn't the right word. Her first thought seeing him here was that something had happened to Riley.
Then she realized he wasn't in uniform, so that couldn't be right. And why would anyone send someone to inform her of Riley's demise? The government thought she was one of the enemies at the moment. She swiped her card and waited for the system to disengage, allowing her to walk to the reception area.
"Thank you, Denise," Buffy said as she made her way to where her visitor was seated.
She saw when he noticed her. He wanted to stand, but something stopped him. It took her a moment to realize he couldn't without a good deal of effort, one of his legs was gone. To say she was surprised to see him sitting in her lobby was an understatement. To say that she was surprised to see him not intact and scarred was another.
"Hi," she said. She placed a hand on his shoulder. "Don't get up, please."
"I was hoping to talk to you, ma'am."
"It's Buffy. We were sort of friends at one time."
Friends was probably stretching it, but she'd never got the overwhelming feeling of hatred rolling off of him she'd gotten with Forrest. Graham had tolerated her and she'd seen a time or two that he'd sided with her and her way of doing things.
"Yes, ma'am, Buffy I mean."
"And I'm not a superior officer. So, just Buffy will do."
"Right," he said and she noticed a blush at the tips of his ears. She smiled, it was cute.
"So you wanted to talk to me?"
"Do you want to go back to my office?"
"If you don't mind."
"Can you walk that far?"
"I have crutches."
"Oh right, of course."
They went in silence, Buffy keeping her pace slow to match his. Whatever happened to him, it had been recently. She could tell by the way he struggled with the crutches. The scars were pretty fresh, too, reddened and festered looking.
"How did you find me?"
"Well, I took a guess. I remembered from before that things were based out of London and I just followed my gut."
"Your gut seems to have done well for you."
"How are you?"
"Aside from the obvious." He gestured to the absent leg.
"That's okay, at least you asked. Some people don't even do that. I'm all right."
"He's fine." His eyes widened, the realization that she thought he might come bearing bad news about her ex-boyfriend finally settling in. "He's fine. Nothing's happened to him. He and Sam, they're trying for a family, but it's not working so well."
"Well, they haven't been married that long."
"I know, you know how he gets though. All or nothing."
"Yes," Buffy said with a tight smile. "Can I get you something to drink? Eat? Are you staying in London?"
"I'll take a Coke if you have one, thanks. Otherwise, I'm fine. And, I'm here for the time being. That's what I'm here to see you about."
"All right. I'll be right back."
She walked to the outer area that connected her office with both Willow's and Giles'. It wasn't a huge area. They could have a secretary of their own if they wanted. Maybe one day they'd need it, but for right now Denise did just fine. They worked all kinds of crazy hours, so all of the comforts of home were here. There was a small closet they'd managed to fit a cot into for those times a power nap was necessary. She grabbed Graham's Coke and a diet for herself.
"Here you go." She took a seat behind her desk again. It was remarkably clean at the moment. She had been focused on organizing this morning. She was set to leave in a day or two and didn't like to leave anything open or out of place in case Giles or Willow needed to find things.
"You're welcome, Graham. Now, tell me, what can I do for you?"
"I want to help you."
"You, the Council."
"Why? How? I'm confused. You've left the military?"
"Didn't have a choice, Buffy. They let me go. I'm not even sure they're going to get me a prosthetic."
"Oh," she said, her eyes narrowing at that idea. "Why?"
"I saw something I wasn't supposed to."
"Well, then you'd think they'd give you whatever you need."
"Yeah, the military doesn't work that way unfortunately. At least not where our unit is concerned. I mean, who's going to believe me if I go off on a tangent about demons, vampires, and apocalypses. They'd see me with no leg, the military buzz cut, the scars, and just assume I was suffering from post-traumatic or something. Or that Phantom Limb Syndrome had clouded my brain."
"Your what, what?"
He smiled. "Phantom Limb Syndrome. You know, where amputees claim they still feel the missing extremity."
"Does that really happen?"
"Sometimes, yeah. I wake up and I think it's still there. It feels like it's still there and I think it was all just a bad dream. I mean, it's really still there. There's no way to describe it. No way to describe what happens when I realize it's not there."
"I'm sorry, Graham." It seemed so lame, not enough. She'd been so busy paying attention to his lack of leg she hadn't really focused on the rest of him. He'd mentioned scars. They were everywhere. It was almost like someone had taken acid and burned him with it. She swallowed hard, wondering if that was in fact what had happened to him.
"What happened? I mean, if you don't want to say."
"I was abducted. It was an ambush. I don't know how many days I was held captive. It was some demon I've never seen before. Kept me alive, was going to bleed me out little by little, wanted me alive while he did his thing."
"Oh God, Graham."
He popped the top on his Coke and took a long sip. He swallowed hard, guzzling it. This probably wasn't easy for him to talk about. How could it be?
"I'm not so sure there is a God anymore, Buffy. What God would let that happen to me?"
"But you're alive."
"Yeah, and my career has been flushed down the toilet. I'm useless. All I've ever known was first the Initiative and now this. I don't know how to do anything else. Demons, that's what I know."
"Demons don't make you who you are, Graham."
"No? Tell me again why Riley left Sunnydale. Why you're here in this office in a city you wouldn't have set foot in ordinarily?"
"That's not fair. And we're not here to talk about Riley. Or me."
"You're right, I'm sorry."
She sat back in her chair, an arm reaching behind her for the headrest. She rocked slightly, regarding him.
"So, you got injured, mutilated in the line of duty and they cut you loose. I find that hard to swallow, even for those goons at the Initiative. What did you see?"
"They're doing it again."
"What?" She sat up then, at attention, both arms on her desk.
"Not to the scale of Sunnydale, but there are experiments going on. Tests. Then again, the scale may be more, just spread out this time. I'm not sure."
"I don't know. That's not really why I came here. I mean, they're going to do what they're going to do and I don't think you or I can stop them. But I want to help. I want to make a difference."
"Revenge isn't what we're looking for. I had that on my team the last year in Sunnydale, someone with an agenda and he almost killed one of my most valued men."
"I have experience, I have knowledge, and I'm smart. I want a job, Buffy. Is revenge what brought me here? Maybe. But I figure I have a couple of choices. I can go back home to my parents' house, live out my life there, let my mom cater to me like I'm an invalid, and die a miserable old man. I'm sure I'll get some compensation from the government, enough to sustain me so I keep quiet. I can live on the street, because who's going to hire me? Would you buy something from me? Or want to look at me at a desk across from you every day?"
"No, save it. I know what I look like. I've looked in a mirror. Studied myself for longer than you can possibly imagine. I love my parents, but living with them isn't an option. Neither is living on the street or in halfway houses the rest of my life. So, I thought on it. Pretty damned hard. I had nothing but time while I was recouping at the VA. I can come here, see the one person I know of that I think wants to do good in the world."
"I kill things, Graham."
"For the better of the world. And, you didn't kill that Spike vampire, and I know there are other demons you let go. It drove Riley crazy."
She smiled at that. He did, too, though one side of his mouth didn't seem capable of going with the rest. It made for a rather sinister looking smile, but she knew it was a smile.
"I know it did. Is he dead?"
"Whatever did that to you?"
"Yes, the main one. There were several. The one in charge has been dispensed with. That's the thing," he said, using his crutches to shift to the edge of his chair. She saw a fire in his eyes, one she recognized well. There was nothing wrong with his heart, mind, or drive. They may have scarred him physically, but they didn't break or beat him down on the inside. That was where it mattered, Buffy knew that.
"I can give you intelligence, information. I can tell you where my squad has been, where I've heard other squads have been. They've been there because there's activity. Activity you would reasonably know about."
"I have to talk to Giles. He'll want to talk to you, too."
"I figured as much, I just wanted to talk to you first. I know you, I don't know him. I figured if I showed up wanting to talk to him, he'd think it was some sort of trick."
"You have a point."
She leaned back in the chair again, regarding him. It took guts for him to come here. Courage. He had no way of knowing they'd believe him or even listen to him. That chapter in her life hadn't left a very good taste in her mouth where the government was concerned.
"Where are you staying?"
"You're staying somewhere in London?"
"Oh, well, actually, uh, no. I came here first, wanted to get this conversation out of the way. It was getting late in the day, I didn't want to put it off until tomorrow."
"So, you flew to London with no plan? No place to stay? Nothing?"
"No, just a duffle, which is out in the lobby. The cab I took here, the driver was nice enough to carry it in for me."
What was the likelihood that Giles would turn him away? If the government was up to something again, Graham could give them information. And seemed willing to do so.
"I'll be right back," she said, standing from her desk. It had to be easier for her to get up and go to another office than for him to move around.
She went to Willow's office. She always felt odd entering Giles' without permission. It was like his office at the library at Sunnydale High had been. His inner sanctum. His space. Intruders beware. She dialed out, tapping her fingers on the desk while she waited for either an answer or voicemail.
"Hi, how are you?"
"I'm doing well. And you? Is something wrong?"
"Nope. Are you going to be in the office tomorrow?"
"I'd planned on it. Has something come up?"
"You could say that. Do you remember Graham Miller?"
"No, should that name mean something to me?"
"He was one of Riley's Initiative friends. Not the black guy."
"Okay, vaguely, I'm not sure I more than saw any of the others."
"Right, well, he's here."
"In my office."
"Well," she paused, taking a deep breath. She told him the condensed version of Graham's story.
"Do you trust him?"
"Well, I think he's sincere. I told him you'd want to talk to him, which is why I'm calling to see if you'll be in the office tomorrow."
"Yes, at my usual time."
"Okay. He has nowhere to stay, Giles. He came to London, all this way, not even having a place to stay when he got here."
"Buffy," he said softly. She recognized the tone. He knew she was about to do something he wouldn't like.
"I'm going to invite him back to the house for the night."
"Oh lord, Buffy. We don't know that he's not some sort of information gatherer."
"I don't think so, Giles, I really don't. If you could see the look in his eyes."
"Do what you think you must, Buffy. I can't stop you anyway."
"Okay. We'll see you in the morning then."
"Good night, Buffy. Be careful."
"You bet. And, hey, slayer against a one-legged man, I don't think you have to worry."
"That's assuming he's really by himself."
"Ever the pessimist, Giles. What would I do without you?"
"Do you really need me to answer that?"
"Mm, no," she said with a laugh. "Good night, Giles."
She hung up with Giles and placed a call to Denise, asking to have Graham's bag brought to her office. Then she called Willow and asked her to see how much of Graham's story she could verify. She trusted him, but she knew Giles would ask if she'd looked into it at all.
That done, she returned to her office after hanging up. Graham looked like he hadn't moved since she'd left. You could take the uniform off him, but you couldn't take the military out of the man. Even here, in front of her, his back was ramrod straight. At attention. His eyes met hers. Eyes that had seen far too much. Haunted.
"Okay. Giles will be in the office tomorrow morning. You two can hash it out then. I'll put in my recommendation and then we'll go from there."
"Okay. Thank you, Buffy. I know you don't have any reason to trust me."
"No, you know, I do trust you, Graham. It took guts coming here. By yourself, too. I mean, you obviously get around all right."
"I make do."
"Well, it would seem you're in luck."
"You came here without any real plan, and my housemates are gone."
"Xander, Willow, my sister, Dawn. I think you know Willow. She went to UC Sunnydale with me. I'm the only one in town right now."
"And that's lucky for me?"
"Yes, because you're going to get treated to Buffy's version of hospitality. That will include a bed, I'll even throw in clean sheets since it's Xander's bed and I don't know where the sheets on the bed now have been."
He chuckled. "All right."
"We'll order in or something. Okay?"
"You're welcome, Graham. Your bag should be here any minute and then we can go."
"You're not cutting your day short because of me?"
"No, actually, I was about done anyway. It's after five."
"No hostiles to take care of?"
"Not tonight. I'm kind of managing today, no slayer duties."
Someone brought the duffle in question into Buffy's office.
"That's our cue to go then. I'll take the bag. Do you need help with anything else?"
"No," he said, struggling a little getting out of the chair. He managed, though, and Buffy knew if she'd rushed to help him that would be the wrong thing to do. He had to learn to get around on his own. She learned that with Xander. Not that an eye was the same as a leg, but it was still a loss. There was still an adjustment to be made.
She tried not to think about how odd it was to be walking through the Council headquarters halls with a member of the Initiative. Maybe she was too trusting or gullible, but she just didn't see Graham coming here as some ploy to get close to her. Willow would have answers for her soon enough she hoped and then she'd know for sure. There were spells on their house, so she wasn't worried about being attacked in her own home.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com