“Wakey, wakey, Rupert. You’ll not want to miss the fun.”
Giles focused on the sorcerer, cursing the deceptive voice and its hateful owner. Ethan’s angular face was cast in a haze, the glow of flickering candles distinguishing him from the dark he’d slinked from.
“Ethan, I can honestly say I’m not at all surprised.” Giles’ speech flowed like molasses, as achingly slow as his thoughts.
“I’d be offended if you were. I do hope you’ll try to move. I’d love to see you fuss and squirm and writhe.” There was confidence in his smirk, crooked and menacing.
Giles recognized the location. He was chained with arms outstretched in blasphemy of the crucified son adorning the Watcher’s tomb and could feel the famous effigy pressing at his back. He was naked from the waist up, his chest exposed and etched with blood crusted sigils. Whatever Ethan had planned, it was nearly finished.
“I’m afraid you left me little room. But if you come closer, I could test the restraints by attempting to wring your bloody neck.”
“Asphyxia, how droll, Rupert.” Ethan strolled closer. Giles lunged forward only to be held back, secured soundly by his cuffed wrists. His body was sluggish, already succumbing to numbness. Ethan leaned in and whispered intimately to Giles ear, “Soon, you’ll pray for such mercy.”
“It’s a rather slow death, Ethan, and you aren’t a patient man.”
“You know me well, old friend. Aren’t you going to ask? You’re dying to ask, I know you are. Dying, that is.” Ethan purred, pleased with himself. “No truer words were ever spoken.”
“So it is my death you’re after?”
“Oh, most definitely,” he said with reverence. “But not just any death, Rupert, the perfect death for you.” Ethan paused, baiting for a response. “Come on, aren’t you the least bit curious, ol’ boy?”
“I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction.” Unfortunately, that pleased Ethan as much as asking the question.
“As I suspected, stubborn to the last. You know, this couldn’t be more perfect, you dangling by chains in a crypt of such supposed importance.”
“It would be an honor to meet my end here, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
“Yes, it would be, wouldn’t it? Taking your last breath, surrounded by the dust of your peers. Centuries of stale air choking you from the inside, finally silencing that droning on of your destiny and duty.” Ethan mused silently as he scored Giles chest with a thin blade, leaving a stinging string of crimson beads in his wake. “I knew you’d appreciate this place. You deserve to die here… earned it, really.”
Droplets of sweat stung his sores as they drizzled over the inflamed engravings. “Whatever your intentions, Ethan, get on with it. I’m rather bored with you.”
Ethan bit back a response and smiled knowingly as he tossed a pinch of dust at the Watcher’s face. It was putrid and dry, tickling Giles’ nose and gagging his throat.
‘That’s smart, the ever brilliant Watcher.’ The sorcerer hadn’t spoken aloud. Ethan’s voice was in Giles’ mind, intruding as a ghostly echo amongst his thoughts. ‘But I’ll not be bullied into killing you quickly. I’ll not be bullied into killing you at all.’
“Wha… what do you mea…mean by that?” Giles’ voice failed with his shortened breath. Suddenly, his body set stiff as if charged by a current. His muscles seized, tensed to the point of tearing, tendons threatening to snap. Every nerve howled, uselessly working to ward off whatever magicks the sorcerer had cast. Then, the storm of strain broke and an eerie calm fell over Giles. His knees buckled and he slumped forward in the restraints, his body lifeless.
“Ah, there it is. Not in so many words but the question remains, what am I going to do with you?” The sorcerer wrapped his fingers around Giles’ shackled wrist and felt for the pulse. “But that would be the wrong question, Ripper. It isn’t what *I* will do with you, but what *she* will do with you.”
His lips parted, quivering weak in trying to speak, “I can’t… can’t…”
“Shh… it’s alright now, love. You needn’t bother.” Ethan caressed Giles’ cheek with crafted tenderness. “You’re suffering from a lovely little paralysis spell, one of my recent specialties. It strikes the intended mute and, to the uninformed spectator, makes them appear rather comatose. I’m afraid that’s precisely what your Slayer will assume.”
“Ethan…” Giles’ scream came out a feeble whisper.
The sorcerer leaned in and placed a kiss to Rupert’s gasping mouth. He lingered there, nuzzling contentedly into Giles’ chin until a sound interrupted.
“Ah, what’s this I hear? The pitter patter of your precious come to rescue you? I’ll just leave you two to it then. But I won’t be far. Wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
Ethan crossed Giles’ view and disappeared beyond, veiled by darkness. An instant later, the crypt door squeaked open, bathing Giles in blinding moonlight.
“Buffy, he’s here.” It was Spike calling out. Giles wanted to respond but it was useless, he was useless. Her shadow filled the doorway and he heard the hero gasp.
“God, no! Giles…” She ran forward and he watched, helpless as her features shaped from the candlelight. Buffy was a picture of panic, her eyes wide with dread, mouth open in shock and sorrow. “This can’t be happening.”
Giles tried to call out again.
“That’s it, Rupert. Call to her. Plead to her. She won’t hear you.”
Buffy gave the restraints a frantic tug.
“They’re locked, Buffy. Magicks, remember?” Spike reminded her as she tried the other side. She stepped back, examined the alter and shook her head distraughtly.
“The seal… it’s true. I can’t believe…”
“The symbols, they’re just as the texts say,” Spike noted somberly as he approached.
“Giles, can you hear me? Are you in there?” She called out but there was no response. He could only hang there, trapped within his betraying body.
‘Buffy, please see through the spell.’ Giles willed her to hear him.
“He’s not in there pet,” Spike concluded.
“He might be…”
“The instructions said…”
“I know, Spike, but I don’t care. I need to be sure.”
“How?” He challenged. “I know you don’t want to hear it but you have to.”
“It’s Giles, damn it!” She yelled, fists clenched to white.
“Yes, it is and that’s the point,” Spike explained with harsh sympathy. “To make it hard… make it damned impossible so that you might slip just this once and let them win. It’s what they’re counting on, Buffy.”
“Bloody Hell! Take a good, hard look.” Spike stormed forward and grabbed a fistful of Giles’ hair, giving his head a cruel yank. “He’s not there!”
Giles felt his scalp tear under the force but couldn’t cry out, couldn’t react even the slightest bit. But there was hope, he could see the denial shimmering in Buffy’s eyes.
“Maybe Willow can…”
“Not this time. Red said it herself, counter-magicks have him contained. She’s benched, Buffy. We’re on our own.”
“Giles, say something. Anything,” Buffy pleaded softly.
“There’s nothing left but a shell, love. That’s all.”
“No…” she whimpered.
“Listen up, Rupert,” Spike said loudly, almost mockingly to get his point across. “Some Big Bad’s gone medical drama and decided to pull a Trojan horse with you. Key to this week’s apocalypse lies buried in your gut, promising catastrophe if we don’t…”
“Spike!” Buffy shouted, trembling with anger and fear.
“You want to make good with him on this, then do it. Tell him straight, Buffy. Do whatever you need to but get on with it because every second’s ticking us toward oblivion.”
“I can’t do this.”
“You have to and you know it.”
“Do you know what you’re asking me to do?”
“To do what you always do. To save the bloody world.”
“It will kill him, Spike!”
“He’s dead already, pet.” Giles could see the vampire’s words eating away at her. She was beginning to believe. ” Willow said if the mechanism fires or is compromised in any…”
“It will take out all of London with it.”
“I know !”
“Then say your goodbyes and do what has to be done!” Spike shouted. He released Giles head, watching regretfully as it slumped forward. “Or I’ll will.”
“You can’t,” Buffy whispered. “It said it has to be me.”
Spike stepped aside as Buffy moved in close, staring up at Giles, pained beyond bearing.
Giles heard the knife pulled from its sheath, metal scraping against metal and the sober silence after. He could see the horror in her expression, denial evaporating into dreadful acceptance. She swallowed hard as her teary eyes lifted to meet his hollow stare. Her voice was soft as though she were speaking to a child, “It’s inside you, Giles. They put it in… inside you. I have to get it out before…”
“It’s bio-triggered which means you have to be alive while we extract it or else it will… you know.” Spike retrieved a small wooden case from his coat and removed a needle from within. “This is the best we could do on such short notice.” He stabbed the needle into the meat of Giles’ neck, plunging fast and sending burning pain snaking through his head.
Buffy bit back her discomfort with the brutality of Spike’s action.
“No time to… um… this should help,” Spike offered uncertainly.
‘Buffy, it’s a lie. It’s all a lie. Please see it for what it is.’
The knife edge shimmered as came into view, a silent threat held in the trembling hand of his Slayer. “Giles, I’m sorry.”
It was ice, the touch of bitter steel to his skin, as the blade pinched at the surface of his abdomen. There was a moment of resistance, a thread of hope that Buffy would realize the error in it all. His hope unraveled as the steel punctured and sank to a shallow depth. Pain, sharp and liquid, poured from the wound to claim his petrified body. And though suffering tremendously, his body remained limp and unmoving, cursed a carcass willing to be butchered.
From penetration to dissection, the pitiless blade parted his flesh inch by agonizing inch as it carved across the width of his stomach. Giles wanted to close his eyes, to shut out the sight of his Slayer forced to slaughter him at the whim of a madman. But he was left a frozen witness to her anguish and dormant in his own.
“We don’t have time, Buffy,” Spike warned.
His eyes stung dryly, watching disgust and self-loathing crease Buffy’s features. Deeper and deeper the blade traveled, probing, prodding, gutting. He couldn’t see the wound but could feel it, open air searing the moist, raw flesh. It burned, and Giles prayed for it to stop.
“We’re running out of time,” Spike urged.
“Shut up! I know what’s at stake here.” She glanced up to Giles’ sweat-glistening face, biting back her remorse. “I know. Fuck, I know.”
Giles felt the pain subside slightly with every pulse, transforming into extraordinarily intense pressure. He was going into shock or whatever serum Spike had administered was beginning to take effect. One sensation melted another, the dribble of sweat as it bled, of blood as it poured, the confused churning of his stomach as Buffy’s hand delved sloppily within searching for whatever lies Ethan planted there.
She pulled back, hands splattering his blood with her hectic gestures. “I don’t see it. Where is it?”
“It has to be there!”
‘Not… not… your fault,’ Giles pleaded soundlessly, the pain dying along with him. ‘You’ll see … someday.’
“It’s not here! Spike, there’s nothing here! Why isn’t it here?”
With a glance to Giles, realization struck her, transforming her from champion to child with a single fretful gasp. “It was a lie.”
‘What do you suppose she sees in your eyes now, Watcher?’ Ethan’s voice sang wicked in his mind.
“F-forgive… you,” Giles cried out and heard the whispered blessing. Defiant of Ethan, of his body, his mind, he managed the two words that might spare her a lifetime of grief and blame.
“Forgive?” Buffy echoed the whisper. “Giles, oh my God!” She dropped the knife and gripped his head between her bloodied hands. “No! Giles… I’m so sorry. So sorry…”
Her frenzied words became muddled as her face did, sinking into a tide of shadows. Warmth washed over him and with it, an embrace of peace. With his last shallow breath, he felt the corners of his mouth curl to a subtle smile and closed his eyes.
At last, no more pain.