Greater Good part 8/27: Far From Normal
"Giles? You there?" Xander felt ridiculous asking. Of course he was there, he was chained up like an animal for Christ sake. "It's just me." His stomach lurched with the absurd question. It had only been one night since the Watcher's return but the young man couldn't resist temptation. He didn't know what to do or how to act. He just knew he needed to see his old friend, vampire or not. The usually familiar space of the basement was somehow different, seemed darker as he made his way around the stairway banister and toward the blackened area of the bunk. His nerves were on edge, heightened with the overwhelming sensation to flee. But Xander's fear wouldn't stop him. He needed to see Giles.
"Does Buffy know you're here?" Giles' voice was quiet and coarse; the sore consequences of grieving for days without drink or rest. It didn't matter to Xander. He loved the sound of the man's voice, the soft-spoken but commanding tone that always offered compassion and honesty.
"Don't know. Don't care. I had to see you." He stepped forward, stumbling gracelessly over an unseen object on the ground. Xander's curiosity got the best of him and he knelt down to examine the item just as the single dim bulb flickered to life above his head.
"You too, huh?" Willow stepped out from the shadows and gave Xander a bashful grin as she joined along side the startled young man.
"Will, not liking the quiet stalkery thing." He caught his breath and glanced up to see Giles standing passively before them wearing his usual concerned expression which was now liberated from the customary guise of his glasses. But it was still Giles and though a bit difficult to look at due to his singed and battered features, he was a sight for sore eyes. Xander wanted nothing more than to rush over and tackle the Watcher in the heartiest bear hug he could muster. Willow wanted the same, but the moment was stale with tension and uncertainty.
"You both should go. Buffy wouldn't approve." he shifted nervously from one foot to the other and looked to the stairs for a sign of any onlookers.
"And yet... still here." Xander shrugged off the warning.
"Since when has that ever stopped us?" Willow offered a gentle yet resolved smile that spoke volumes of her intention to stay regardless of orders. Giles felt a smile coming on as well. Her smiles were infectious, even when the moment seemed bleak and uncomfortable.
Before he knew it, he was sandwiched between the enthusiastic couple, sheltered within a warm embrace he hadn't expected or recognized he needed until they had their arms around him. He worked to wrap his chained arms around them, careful not to permit the restraints to infringe on the moving reunion. It had barely been a week since his death, but time had worn heavy on him, feeling much longer than reality. He'd missed them. They stayed huddled together for over a minute when Anya appeared out of nowhere and joined in on the group hug.
"Why wasn't I informed of the welcoming Giles home hug?" Anya asked as she squished the gang together in trying to express her appreciation for the Watcher's return.
"It was more spontaneous than planned, Anya," Xander explained and shifted to grant her better access to the center of all the attention. "We'll be sure to send out the appropriate invitations next time."
"Thank you," Giles spoke softly, his voice straining with gratitude. "All of you." It was the first hint of belonging he'd felt since his return to the house. He only wished Dawn was there to share in the heartening scene, and Buffy. But he feared that occasion would never come, when everyone could pull together as they once had and be the unstoppable team they once were. For now, Giles would gladly accept what he was given.
The group hug disbanded hesitantly and they took up positions around the disheveled bunk as Giles sat down. After a moment, he noticed the suspenseful expressions on the faces of the friends surrounding him and wondered what was holding their attentions.
"What is it?" he asked uneasily.
Everyone remained quiet though they all were on the verge of expressing some undeclared curiosity.
"Do it," Anya blurted out and was met with upset glares from the others.
"Do what?" Giles asked.
"Change. Vamp-out or whatever," the ex-vengeance demon ordered abruptly.
"Anya!" Willow barked disappointedly.
"What? We were all thinking it. What's the big deal?"
"He's not a carnival freak, Anya." Xander said crossly.
"That's quite alright. I understand the curiosity. It's to be expected," Giles excused.
"So? Are you going to show us or not?" Anya asked impatiently.
"Not," Giles concluded and leaned back against the wall, trying to get comfortable in a very uncomfortable situation.
"Are you ok? I mean, really ok?" Willow asked as she placed her warm hand to his cold and scarred fingers. Giles saw her flinch with the contact, obviously shaken by the chill of his touch and he knew none of them were prepared for this. Not a single one able to grasp the severity of the situation. Things were far from normal. He supposed it was for the best. Reality would come crashing down on them soon enough.
"As well as can be expected," he mumbled and slipped his hand away, unable to accept her tenderness or compassion. "I'm grateful you all came, but I don't think it proper to..."
"Think we're way past proper here, G-man." Xander stood up and noticed the item he'd stumbled over earlier. It was Dawn's whiteboard. He walked over and picked it up, smiling at the words smudged and barely legible but still shouting confidently in her black marker voice.
"Looks like we aren't the only ones dropping by for a little Watcherly love." He shared the message with the others who smiled approvingly at Dawn's effort.
"How'd Buffy react? She's not communication queen at the moment?" Willow knew the answer but held hope that there might have been some glimmer of reconciliation.
Giles seemed to wither with the question. Xander could see the hurt in his eyes and knew it wasn't something he could discuss, not yet. As with all things, it would take time.
"Giles, I need to know one thing." Xander's tone was serious and determined. "Who did this?"
The Watcher stared grimly into the shadows as the forced flashbacks of Spike's so-called recruiting sparked in his memory.
"Buffy didn't tell you?" He asked, anger stirring within him.
"She didn't tell us a lot of things," Xander grumbled.
"She was trying to protect us," Willow defended even though understood Xander's resentment.
"I can do without that type of protection," Anya said plainly and Xander nodded vigorously in agreement.
"It was Spike, wasn't it?" Xander's eyes focused intently on Giles, determined to decipher the man's vacant stare.
Giles shut his eyes, shutting out the group's restless attention. He glanced up and could smell the fury burning in the young man. Leave it to Xander to cut to the chase. After a moment of quiet contemplation, Giles decided they deserved know. "It was."
Xander stormed off toward the stairs and Willow ran to catch up, grabbing his arm to stop his exit.
"Wait! We don't know what Buffy...."
"I couldn't care less what Buffy wants. Spike is way overdue for a solid staking and I can't live with myself if I don't..."
"He's mine," though the phrase had come from Giles', the tone had changed, now raw and visceral. It's intensity made everyone turn their attentions back to him and they froze, stunned. They'd all seen vampires, but this was different. The once kind and compassionate man had vanished and in his place stood the wild-eyed, brutish figure of an unmistakable vampire. Only then had it finally struck them. Giles was a vampire. One of their own had been spoiled, infected by darkness. He was forever changed and suddenly, everyone felt they'd lost some innocence with his transformation.
"Um... ok... well," Anya stammered. "I won't be getting a good nights sleep for at least a week now." She took a deep soothing breath, trying desperately to calm herself. She regretted ever requesting to see such a disturbing sight.
Giles' yellow eyes darted between the group's troubled faces and he suddenly realized what had happened, what he'd done to deserve such revulsion. His menacingly bulging brow and snarling lips retreated and his face returned to his recognizably concerned and apologetic expression. "Sorry... haven't adjusted to the... um, mood swings."
"Could you warn me the next time your gonna do that?" Xander teased playfully.
"It's ok, Giles, really. It's just... um..." Willow wanted to ease his worry but wasn't sure how best to do so, "...different, is all. But you're still you. We're just glad to have you back."
"Yes, I agree. But I would prefer to avoid seeing your frightening bumpies again, ok?" Anya smiled pleasantly, trying in her own way to lighten up the awkward moment.
"I hate to be the sour note here ..." Willow interrupted. "...but taking any revenge on Spike might be better left for after the coming apocalypse. Just a suggestion."
"I will deal with Spike. Leave him to me. Focus on helping Buffy, now. She needs her friends more than ever," Giles said quietly, wishing he could offer the Slayer more than just horrible memories with every glimpse of his face.
"She'll come around, Giles," Willow said confidently. "She's got a lot to juggle right now with the First and the Bringers and a houseful of Potentials..."
"And another worthless vampire," Giles added despondently.
"Never worthless!" she disagreed, "You could never be that."
"My presence here is adding undue stress to an already volatile situation."
"This is your home, Giles. We need you. Those girls up there need you. And though she may be denying it at the moment, Buffy needs you too," Xander said, remembering the whiteboard still resting in his grip. "And Dawn."
"Leave." Giles' expression hardened, his eyes staring intensely forward as he returned to sitting on the bunk. Everyone was thrown by his sudden change in mood. "Please." He avoided their confused gazes and waited edgily for them to heed his request.
"Ok," Xander raised a worried brow and glanced over at Willow.
"Come on guys," Willow gestured and watched as Xander and Anya apprehensively left. The redhead gave a subtle wave just before she climbed the stairs and shut off the light. "Goodnight Giles."
He didn't respond, just continued to sit silently, and it bothered her. Besides the obvious, something was wrong with him and she was determined to figure it out.
The basement door closed and Giles was left alone, once again sharing the darkness with nothing but his regrets.
"I do hope you're happy." Ethan stepped out of the shadows and offered a quirky smile. "Oh... wait. You can't be happy, can you? Unless you want a repeat performance of that much more interesting aspect of your personality."
"Go away," Giles growled.
"Ripper, I'm disappointed in you. Getting back that hopeless soul of yours..." The sorcerer wagged a chastising finger at the vampire. "This wasn't in the plans."
"I've never been one to follow instructions," Giles sighed. "What do you want?"
"The Slayer's pretty head on a platter would be lovely. But seeing as how you've suddenly developed a conscience, I'll settle for her heart."
Giles stared forward, unwilling to acknowledge the threat with the slightest of looks.
"You can give that to me, can't you, Rupert?" Ethan crouched down, kneeling attentively before his old friend. He wore a look of counterfeit compassion, examining the vampire's distant stare that tried desperately to ignore him. "But is she prepared to give it?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course you don't. You pathetic waste of flesh!" Ethan spat his words as he stood and stepped away, visibly frustrated. "Should have killed her when you had the chance but no, you had to have your fun. Well, play time has passed now, Ripper." He looked at the shadowy surroundings with a curious eye. "Doing the undeserving brooding thing, are we? I never grow weary of that old routine."
"I will never hurt Buffy!"
"You mean never again, don't you?" Ethan grinned and looked back, pausing just long enough to catch Giles' reaction. The vampire's eyes flared yellow for a flicker of an instant and then returned to the normally tender green tint. "I've had this conversation before, Ripper. I'll tell you now what I told that other dismal excuse for a vampire. You were born to hurt her."
Ethan's face warped into Jenny's and Giles felt a tinge of sadness with the alteration. He despised that the First could use her as a weapon against him. "That's just what Angel said. And like you, he also tried to sacrifice himself to spare her from her inevitable fate." Jenny approached the Watcher and returned to the kneeling position Ethan had taken before. "Oh, and coincidence... she prevented his attempted suicide just as she did yours."
"As she would anyone's. Buffy is a hero, something you fail to understand..."
"No, it is you who have failed!" Jenny's voice was elevated and insistent. "You are a failure, Rupert. Failed in your duty to her and to this useless world. And now, you fail to recognize or comprehend or even consider the most obvious and simplest of truths."
"Which is?" he couldn't resist asking.
"Silly man. That Buffy spared your insignificant soul for the very same reason she spared Angel's."
Giles sat in a perplexed stupor, unable to grasp the connection. Then his mouth crept open as he suddenly realized the point the apparition was trying to make.
"Buffy would never..."
"She would. Does. Is." Jenny almost sang the response. "Why do you insist on denying it? Everyone sees it but you. That's why Angel left, why Riley left, why Spike won't."
"No! You're wrong," Giles jerk up, trying to escape the claims upsetting him beyond his understanding. He was quickly reminded of his limited mobility as the restraints held him captive.
"Why is it so hard to believe?" Jenny's voice distorted to a more masculine tone and Giles turned to face the new costume being worn by the evil apparition. Angel stood beside him, smiling subtly in the vampire's familiarly dark but friendly way. "It's always been there. She's always loved you. Even when she was with me."
"T-that c-can't be..." Giles stuttered, panic welling within him.
"Rupert, buddy, you're human... well, were human, anyway. Can you honestly say you never felt that special spark? That certain chemistry between Watcher and Slayer? The intimate bond drawing you closer to her? All those late nights alone together in the library stacks, blaming the time on research, claiming to be studying when all the while you were admiring her from your loyal position at her side. Dreaming about her. Wanting her."
"It was never like that." Giles tried to move away, getting tripped up in the binds holding him prisoner.
"And she wondered and admired and had dreams of her own but you never crossed the line. Couldn't allow it."
"No." Giles voice began to waver.
"It's better to think it's not true, right Rupert. Because if you start to believe it, accept it... you start to doubt." Angel began to move into Giles' view, not allowing the vampire to avoid the sight of him.
"Doubt yourself, doubt your motivation, doubt your intentions. You wonder if that's why you and Buffy grew apart, because you were unable to deal with having her always there but just out of reach. Wondering if that's why she slept with not one, but two vampires, the very same creatures in which you fought so hard against. You begin to doubt your actions, wondering if it was your fault she died. Speculating that if you had read just one more book rather than steal a selfish glimpse of her across from you, that you might have found something, anything to prevent her from killing herself." Angel bent forward and glanced up at the Watcher's tormented face.
"But Buffy knew her heart. And recognizing she could never be with the one person she really wanted, she took her chance to get out, to escape."
"I can't accept that... I won't!"
"Then you run away... twice. First from your grieving friends who needed you, then from the object of your affections. Both times causing painful consequences for everyone involved, all the while claiming it necessary in the name of responsibility and self-reliance."
"That's not true." Giles knew the vision's words were just another ploy to bend him to the First's will but the message rang true to the uncertainties he held inside.
"The sad reality here is that you ignore the truth because if you were forced to recognize it, you'd have to admit fault for what you are now. Admit that buried somewhere deep down under all that pretense of duty and responsibility, that you asked for this. You couldn't allow yourself to be with her as a Watcher so you chose to become the one thing that reaches her, touches her. A vampire."
"Go away!" Giles sneered, feeling the pulsing and stretching of his brow under the strain of controlling his anger.
"And you've touched her, haven't you Rupert? Tasted her. Even now, you can still remember her flavor. You crave it. But she's still just out of reach, tempting you." Angel smiled sympathetically.
"You were put on this earth for one reason and one reason only. To hurt her. Everything you've done, everything you do can only bring her pain. That is your true destiny. So... what'll it be, Rupert? Slayer's heart surprise or the alternative?"
"Welcoming the daylight. Greeting the sunrise in a final act of compassion and love for her and her friends." Angel's expression grew serious. "Finish what you started and fulfill your duty to her and to this disgraceful world."
Giles sat motionless, chilled sweat dripping from his brow as Angel waited patiently for his response. He contemplated the two avenues presented to him, calculating the likelihood for any truth in the story being presented to him. Then something gave him pause. A weak smile played along his lips and he glanced up at the apparition of Angel with a hopeless tear shimmering in his eye.
"You're good. Much better than I've given you credit for." With a blink, the tear fell to the cold cement and Giles stood up to stretch his arms, casually releasing the tension he'd allowed to settle in during the First's speech. "I would love to abide by your wishes. Ending this sham of a life would give the others and me closure. But this fabricated life doesn't belong to me anymore. There is only one person who can decide my fate."
"Who might that be?" Angel's head cocked slightly as he raised a brow.
"Then you'll be dead soon enough."
"I suppose so," Giles said resignedly. He sat back down and laid back on the bunk, relaxing on the thin mattress and blankets sprawled on his new home. The First vanished and Giles suddenly felt humbled by the haunting echo of its words. The doubt was indeed there. Damn!