Greater Good part 7/27: Return to Self
"Hey... watch the sunlight," Faith warned. "You wanna end up a crispy critter?" The vampire was slacking on protecting himself and dangerously close to the burning up with every other step. Though the streets were lined with a variety of trees and brush, he carelessly treaded forward in a needlessly straight line, ignoring the scattered but available shade and cover.
Spike maneuvered further into the shadows, once again drawing up his leather coat over his head to avoid the sweltering rays as he hurried along. "I just want to get to Buffy," he said, determined to find her or die trying. It was difficult for him to see, his eyes being unaccustomed to the bright light.
"Don't sweat it. B's tough, she'll live." Faith could see the wisps of smoke rising from his fingers as he strained to shield himself from the sun. She removed her jacket and tossed it over his head and hands, giving him just a bit more protection. He glanced back and offered a thankful grin.
"Buffy is the strongest person I've ever known," Spike agreed. "But Giles can hurt her. You always hurt the ones you love."
Faith didn't know what to make of Spike's use of the phrase. Was the vampire revealing something she'd already known or exposing something she'd misunderstood? She let it go for the time being, making a mental note to ask later. They made there way through the alleys and quiet streets until Faith recognized the location she was being lead to.
"The old Scooby hangout. Good call." She caught up with the hurried vampire and followed along side. They rushed up to the door and Spike peeked in the window, spotting Buffy unconscious and chained to the wall.
"What's the sitch?" Faith asked.
"She's in there. Not moving. I smell blood," Spike growled. "No sign of Giles."
"And the plan?"
"We're going in!" Spike took a few steps back and stormed forward, sending his boot forward to ram the door. There was a burst of light and booming sound that sent him flailing backwards, crashing uncontrollably into the fountain. He struggled to his feet, already feeling the sunlight burning his exposed skin. Faith took his hand and pulled him back into the shade. She glanced back at the door, not noticing any obvious cause for the strange reaction. She decided to give it a try and rammed the door with her shoulder, receiving the same otherworldly treatment and sent crashing into the table and chairs in the mini courtyard.
Spike tried again, suffering the same welcome. The odd duo struggled to their feet and examined the door again, frustrated by the unseen barrier keeping them out.
"Bloody spell!" Spike roared. "We need Willow, NOW!"
"On it." Faith pulled out the silver trinket Willow had given her and gave the stone an embarrassed peck. It began to sparkle and buzz and Faith wondered whether she should keep holding the weird thing stirring alive in her palm.
"They've found them!" Willow yelled and Xander rushed in the dimly lit bedroom. "Giles' old apartment."
"Why am I not surprised." he took a seat and started to burn the herbs as Anya repositioned the Orb of Thessulah and took up the Latin text.
"Ready?" Willow took a quick inventory of the nervous looks on the faces of her friends. They nodded in response and she offered then an uneasy smile.
"Are we doing the right thing?" Anya asked apprehensively.
Xander and Willow looked at each other and than back at Anya, unsure of what to say.
"I don't know," Willow answered honestly.
"Do you want him back?" Xander asked, trying to break down the complexities of such a scenario to its most simple and selfish elements.
"Of course," Willow said and Anya nodded in agreement.
"Well, we don't have a choice."
"But what about Giles? How will he..."
"We don't have a choice!" Xander insisted, stopping Anya from completing the question. He didn't care. He wanted Giles back. It was as simple as that. They would deal with the consequences after.
"Alright then. Hold onto your herbs 'cause here we go again. "
"Quod perditum est, invenietur," Anya looked to Willow for approval of her reading and Willow smiled.
"Not dead... nor not of the living. Spirits of the interregnum, I call," the words seemed to roll off her tongue with ease as she began.
"What do we do?" Faith asked impatiently.
"We wait," Spike said coldly, smoking another cigarette. He'd already finished off half a pack.
"I'm no good at waiting." Faith motioned toward the pack, silently asking for one. Spike handed one over and lit it up for her.
"Neither am I," he mumbled.
"You think he knows we're here?"
"I wager he's counting on it."
Faith didn't understand and didn't need to. She just wanted to get to Buffy any way she could. She took another quick peek in and saw Giles enter the room. Buffy was stirring, slowly waking.
"She's comin round," she whispered and Spike joined her at the window.
"Shit! She needs to stay out," he growled.
"'Cause... it's only fun if you can see the fear in their eyes."
Faith felt a chill run up her spine, not because Spike could relate... but because she could.
Voices, she could hear voices. Were they imagined or real? She didn't care, she needed the company, and the comfort of knowing she wasn't alone. Buffy couldn't breath. The position of her elevated arms was crushing her lungs. She needed to get free before she suffocated.
It was hard to tell how long she'd been out; an hour, hours, days... everything was flowing together; jumbled within the surreal, drug-induced experience she was enduring.
When she opened her eyes, she saw Giles watching attentively, leaning against the back of the couch. He gave a pleased smile with notice that she had regained consciousness.
"We have company," he said, unbothered. "Not to worry, though. I've prepared for them."
"Too bad," she mumbled. "I could use a party right about now."
"Yes. My company never did suit you, did it?" He stood up and moved closer to her, knowing Spike would be looking on. "You always seemed to prefer the companionship of a bad boy, the touch of the demon." He glided his finger along her sweat-glistening neck and trailed it down her V-cut shirt, pausing only as his finger reached the crook of the 'V'. "But then again... I seem to fill that quota now."
"Never!" she hissed.
He remained there, unmoving and seething from her denial. But it was to be expected, she hated him and he was willing to accept that. It was better than the nothingness she gave him with his pitiful former existence. "Tell me, how is Dawn?"
"You'll never know," Buffy growled.
"Come now, Buffy. Be reasonable. She's like a daughter to me. I deserve to know how she's enjoying my gift to her."
"Keep her out of this!"
"I think it necessary for you to know, she begged for me to spare your life." He stared at her; eager for a reaction. Buffy's eyes narrowed with disgust and she gritted her teeth at the taunts she knew where inevitable.
"She loves you unconditionally. You are aware of that, aren't you? I wonder what she'd say with the knowledge that you would have sacrificed her to save the world, had you to do it all over again." Buffy's anger was growing. He could smell it, taste it. And he knew just what to say to fuel it further.
"But she was much too moved by my visit to expand on those feelings." He leaned in to whisper to her. "I bet you're curious as to what we discussed."
She bit back her rage, struggling to mask her contempt for the monster
"I'm very pleased to say that the last word she ever spoke was my name," his lips curled with a wicked smile. "Crying it out in depraved ecstasy, even as I swallowed her tongue." Buffy jerked forward, struggling to break the bonds restraining her. He finished the tale with a lude lick along his lips and gave her a knowing wink. Buffy's eyes shimmered with fury as she stared in disbelief. It was Giles saying these things; it was Giles tearing her heart out with every syllable. A tear drizzled down her cheek and Giles tilted his head in a gentle show of empathy. "I believe this is where I ask... was it good for you?"
Buffy closed her eyes for a second, wishing her body to finally fail her and let her escape him. He stayed at her side with an oddly tender smile that was so contradictory from the cruelty he'd just inflicted on her a moment before. He noticed the tears and cocked a curious brow.
"I... will... kill... you," Buffy growled slowly, letting another tear trickled down as she blinked her eyes clear of her hazy vision. It was a promise, not a threat. She could never forgive what he'd done to Dawn, what he'd done to her.
"Of course you will," He stroked her hair, acting painfully affectionate and caring. "But you need to rest. Maybe you should sleep while I take a look at those darling little feet of yours." He revealed a scalpel and continued to stroke her hair as Buffy's eyes grew wide with alarm.
She started to cry. It was too much. He was going to take everything away, piece-by-piece, until all that was left was a crippled lump of useless flesh. She drooped in her restraints, feeling completely helpless and at his mercy. But she knew he had no mercy to give. She closed her eyes, hoping the others would get to her before he stole the last of her spirit, though she feared it was already too late.
Revolting as it was, his gentle touch was strangely soothing and Buffy closed her eyes to enjoy the brief moment of peace before the pain started again.
"Nisi mort. Nisi al finitei. Te invoc, spirit al trecerii...," Willow began to recite the Rumanian curse and felt the familiar sensation of the magicks welling within her. "Te implor doamne...."
"What can you see?" Faith asked, nervously waiting for an update.
"Buffy's upset. She looks bad... sick," Spike's voice was low and sharp. It infuriated him he couldn't get to her and now, in the light of day. He was stuck watching uselessly as Giles tortured her feet from him. "He's got something in his hand. It's a bloody scalpel!"
"We gotta get in there!" Faith paced for a brief moment then stopped. "I'm gonna go around back."
"Yeah... right!" Spike followed, careful to remain in the shadows as best he could. He'd be no good for Buffy if he ended up a toasted marshmallow.
As she neared the final words, Willow sent out a silent plea for strength. Not for her but for Giles. "Asa sa fie, acum." As the words passed over her lips, something moved through her, traveling from a indistinguishable point deep within her and radiating outward. She felt him, felt Giles' soul as it coalesced and escaped from her. The connection was back.
"No!" the vampire roared. "I haven't finished..." he stumbled backward, feeling the intrusion of the unwanted soul forcing its way home, burrowing back to fill the empty void inside.
"This isn't over!" He growled to Buffy and threw back his head, howling out in pain.
Ensnared within the maddening torrent of mystical energies, the demon conceded its habitation and the once abandoned soul took root back within its discarded carcass, the body of Rupert Giles, Vampire. And at that miraculous moment, in the midst of the return to self, Giles felt only one thing... remorse. But this wasn't some petty guilt or passing regret, this was an anguished cry of penitence. His eyes wide and tearful, he stared at the bound and bloodied Slayer before him and wept.
Buffy cracked open her eyes and watched with disbelief as the monster who had tortured her for days suddenly turned pathetic with sorrow and collapsed to the blood splattered floor. The tool of her torture fell, tumbling across the floor to stopped at her feet. He sat there, absorbed within his own self-loathing and she knew that he'd returned, that Giles was cursed as Angel was.
After an uninhibited second of grief, Giles rose to his feet and began to unshackle Buffy from her binds. His face was unexpressive and focused as her arms fell achingly to her sides. Without uttering a single word, he freed her from the remainder of the chains and stepped back, noticeably bothered by having to touch her.
Buffy fell back against the wall that once held her captive, now needing its support to remain upright. She studied the grief held in Giles' gaze and saw it was genuine but she couldn't be moved enough to accept it. Her body suffered still from the long hours without food or drink and emotions always took too much energy.
But Giles' apologetic eyes were still too harsh to receive and she turned away to avoid the connective stare. She needed her anger. She couldn't forget. He stifled a sob as he stepped away, turning his back to her. He was already at the door when Buffy realized what he was doing. She tried to move, collapsing uselessly to the floor as the blinding light of the noonday sun spilled into room. Giles tore the door from its hinges and stepped outside. Buffy gasped, trying desperately to struggle to her feet but her legs were refusing to cooperate. She looked up and saw the streaking rays of sun setting his body aflame.
The pain was bliss, superbly burning and charring his flesh. It didn't even begin to repay the debt he owed for his horrible deeds. He moved out toward the glorious light, accepting it as a makeshift baptism absolving him of his sins as he waited to meet oblivion. His skin sizzled and cracked from the luminous rays blessing him with forgiveness. Then it was gone. The cleansing of his soul was ceased and he searched for the reason why. The answer came from the pleading eyes of Buffy blanketing him with bed sheets from the apartment. She covered him, shielded him protectively from the light attempting to purify his soul of evil.
Giles wouldn't allow her to save him. He needed death, permanent death. He fought her, pushing himself free from her protection. Buffy grappled with him, struggling weakly to shelter him from the light threatening to annihilate him. Then something snapped within the fatigued Slayer and she began to punch. Every movement Giles attempted was met with a vicious blow. Buffy unleashed her anger and frustration on the suicidal vampire, beating him into submission and savoring the retribution she was taking with every hit.
Faith rushed from around the corner and pulled Buffy off Giles, restraining the wild Slayer as Spike shuffled forward with more blankets. He carefully wrapped up the vampire, keeping a cautious eye on the sunlight to avoid any reckless injury to himself. The heat rising from Giles' body and his own made Spike grossly aware that the temporary coverage wouldn't help for much longer so he dragged Giles back into the apartment, thankful that the invisible barrier was gone. Once certain they'd both avoided the ultimate end, he glanced up at Buffy who still fought to get free of Faith's grasp, eager to exact more revenge on her torturer.
"It's over, Buffy," Spike reassured her. "It's over, luv. He's back." Spike could see the fury burning in her eyes and knew she wasn't going to accept Giles' return easily. "Giles is back." It would take time. He looked down at the unconscious Watcher and grimaced at the beastly condition of his face. Giles was a burnt and bloody mess, his face had to be fractured in at least three spots. The physical wounds would heal, as would Buffy's. But Spike knew that the relationship between the Slayer and Watcher would never be the same. There was a long, hard road in front of them, all of them.
Spike would have to keep watch on Giles. He was sure the Watcher wasn't passed another try for suicide. And from the enraged performance of the Slayer a moment before, he was unsure if Buffy could be trusted to avoid dusting Giles. She'd suffered greatly in his care and so did Dawn. Spike only hoped Giles would be given a chance to pay for his crimes and hoped the Watcher would accept the chance if given it.
"Why is he chained up downstairs?" Xander asked restlessly.
"He's not doing well," Willow offered. "Faith said he tried to..."
"End it," Spike interrupted the delicate moment, marching through the kitchen with little consideration for those discussing the turn of events. He paused as his hand curled over the doorknob to the basement door. "Thought he might try it again. We can't have that."
"So he's suffering?" Xander asked, wishing he didn't have to depend on the vampire to explain what his friend was going through.
"Oh yeah, bleedin heart and all. Only one thing's gonna keep him from kissing sunlight."
"And that is?" Willow asked.
"Me." He said simply and started down into the basement.
As he quietly made his way down the stairs, Spike overheard Buffy talking to Giles, though talking wasn't the best word to describe it. She was giving him one of her rousing demoralizing speeches. Spike couldn't help but listen as she elected to take the absolute worst path she could with the damaged man shackled to his old bunk.
"I can't forgive what you did. And I will never forget." She stood before Giles with a stern glare and crossed arms as she spoke. "Spike wants you here because he thinks you can help the mission. Willow, Xander and the others still see you as a friend and teacher." She was struggling to control her temper with every word. "But you are nothing more to me than a beast of burden."
Spike shook his head, disappointed with Buffy's harsh tone with her friend. But what bothered him most was Giles' reaction to her words. There was none. He just sat there, swollen, beaten and crispy with an expressionless face. Perhaps he was a lost cause after all.
Buffy turned around, taking notice of Spike but choosing to ignore him for the moment.
"You're not allowed to be alone with Dawn ever again." She looked back at Giles and winced as an unexpected jolt of pain shot up her arm from her wounded hand, as if intentionally interrupting her rant or perhaps encouraging it.
"If I ever see you near her without Spike or me, I'll kill you." She passed Spike who avoided her glare as she went by on her way up the stairs.
"Buffy, lay off of the general crap talk for now, eh? He's well aware of the balance of power here."
"Good. Because he's your responsibility. I see a hint of something I don't like, he's dust. And so are you." Buffy disappeared up the stairs and Spike shrugged off the threat.
"The Great Communicator."
Giles stared forward, absorbed within the shadows, completely non-responsive.
"I thought you'd want to know that Dawn's fine," Spike said softly, knowing Giles would have no problem hearing him. "Lil' bit's quite the tough cookie." He came out from the shadows and lit up a cigarette. "Much more quiet as of late but she's getting by. Using the ol' whiteboard technique." He took a seat beside Giles and politely offered him a smoke, surprised when the Watcher refused.
"Buffy's just a bit sore, is all."
"She hates me." Giles head fell forward. "And rightly so."
"It speaks!" Spike smiled with relief. "I thought you'd forgotten how with the tongue-lashing you were taking from her."
"What could I possibly say?" Giles' voice was raw with controlled emotion.
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe you could try, sorry," he suggested.
Giles shifted his weight, closing his eyes with the sound of the chains rattling beneath him. "Why am I here?" he remained cold and detached.
"We need brute strength, Rupert. And take it from me, you have that now. Plus, you have that magicks thing. Impressive by the way. I feel cheated I missed out on the veiny Willow experience."
"I deserve to die," Giles lurched forward, and covered his face with his hands. "She wants me dead."
"Well, yeah... but you did that already remember?"
"I can't do this," he mumbled between his blackened fingers.
"You don't really have a choice, mate. The Slayer has chosen for you. Besides, you need to make amends. We can offer up a truckload of chances at that. Just you wait."
Spike stood up and headed toward the stairway. "There's a war brewin' out there with nothing to stop it but us. Make yourself bloody useful for once." The vampire left, leaving Giles alone with his regrets.
The shackles where uncomfortable but Giles relished the pain. He required it. There was nothing more for him to look forward to now than seeking out punishment for his deeds. Every morsel of anguish he could inflict upon himself would only go toward satisfying his plea for punishment. Spike was right, he yearned for atonement. Perhaps the definiteness of a proper death was too good for him. He was unworthy of its mercy.
Something stirred within the shadows again and he caught a whiff of a familiar scent. His jaw tensed with recognition of the visitor. It was Dawn, hiding just out of view. Without a thought, he jerked to his feet and rushed forward only to be caught clumsily at the end of his chains. He continued standing, laboring to remain absolutely still, hoping for just a glimpse of the young lady he'd wounded so sadistically.
"I'm s-so sorry," he softly begged the shadows for forgiveness, not expecting or deserving any.
Dawn stepped out from the cover of darkness, her thin, delicate frame cutting the shadows with her courage. She cocked her head slightly, examining the Watcher with estranged curiosity. His eyes filled with tears as she approached him, apparently unafraid of him or unwilling to show her fear. She paused just out of his reach and began to scribble on her whiteboard. Giles cringed as she wrote, cursing himself for what he'd taken from her. She displayed the message with her face remaining stone cold and emotionless. Giles read the message and fell to his knees, unable to hold back his sobs.
"I forgive you."
Her unspoken words were too much for him to bear. He didn't deserve her forgiveness and it hurt she was able to give it so freely.
She knelt down beside the inconsolable Watcher and revealed a wooden stake, placing it purposefully within reach of him. She wiped the board with her sleeve and scrolled out a new message, once again showing it to him with an expressionless face.
Giles nodded and unquestioningly took up the weapon. He clutched it properly and positioned it over his silent heart, feeling the point press against the fabric then slowly pierce through his skin. He was quite grateful for the sensation as well as the eternal rest soon to come. He glanced up with hopeful eyes, obediently awaiting some final permission to end it. Dawn scribbled again on her board and displayed the message.
"Is that the best use of it?"
Giles sat unmoving as Dawn tilted her head, gazing compassionately at the tormented man pleading for forgiveness and death at her feet. One last wipe and scribble and she unceremoniously dropped the whiteboard to the floor and walked away, leaving the vampire poised and ready to end himself. Giles' sorrowful eyes fell on the words and he read them with disbelief.
"I still love you."
His hand intent to drive the stake toward his heart began to falter and Giles fought the urge to let go. He wanted death. Needed finality. But Dawn's soundless words captured him and he was as much a hostage to her as Buffy had been to him. Drops of tears speckled on the board as he ran his fingers over the ink, letting it mark his skin in a wasted effort to absorb the emotions it presented through the touch.
It wasn't his time. Not yet.