Chapter 3 - The Mark of Magister
The door to the crypt burst open to reveal Buffy, framed in the morning sunlight. Spike rolled his head against the back of his recliner to look at her. “Oh, bloody… Can’t a bloke get any rest without you people yappin’ in his ear?”
“What are you talking about, Spike? This is the first time I’ve seen you since… You know what, never mind. I don’t have time to care right now. I have to get to work.”
The vampire sighed, remaining sprawled in his chair. “So what do ya want from me? A quickie to start the day?”
“Eww, Spike. Never again!”
“A guy can hope,” he sighed.
“Listen,” Buffy stepped in and looked at him with a hint of sympathy behind her eyes, “Wow, you look terrible. Anyway, I wouldn’t ask, but you’re like the only one free right now.”
Spike perked up. “Trouble? Somethin’ need killin’?”
“What? Oh, no… The thing is, when I got in from patrol last night, I found Willow on the floor, crying. She wouldn’t tell me what happened. Just kept mumbling how they were right. Whoever ‘they’ were. I just don’t want to leave her alone all day. Especially, if something really is after her.”
“You think the witch had visitors?”
“I don’t know. She hasn’t been sleeping lately. And she’s really worried about Giles. I mean, I get why he’s mad at me. But why not talk to Willow?”
Spike gave her an oddly serious look. “Do you think it’s easy? To know you’re a monster and not want to be what you are?” He sighed. “Watcher’s got some strength in him. He’ll come through for all of you that’s countin’ on him. Always has.”
“I know that. But right now Wills’ in trouble. Will you just go hang with her for a while?”
The vampire nodded. “I’ll take the tunnels in a bit.”
“Thanks, Spike.” The Slayer glanced at her watch. “Man… I gotta go! I’m gonna be late again.”
“Hey, Giles, you awake?” Dawn chirped through the cracked open back doors of their van.
“Yes,” the Watcher sighed. “What is it, Luv?”
“We’ve got a surprise for you.” The excitement was evident in her voice. “You ready?” The doors flew wide open, and the vampire scrambled back from the potentially deadly sunlight. “Don’t worry,” she tried to calm him. “We parked under lots of trees. No direct sunshine.”
Giles blinked out into the bright day. The van was backed up into a tiny stand of shade trees. A few feet away there was a short, stony slope that led down onto a small beach. The blue and white waves lapped soothingly at the sparkling sand as a family walked along the water’s edge throwing a ball for their energetic puppy. A warm breeze blew the salted air into the van compartment and caressed his face.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Dawn grinned at the near wonder he gazed out at the scene with. “We had to share this with you. It would have been too sad to leave you in the dark while we got to enjoy it.”
“Yes,” he whispered. “It’s stunning. Thank you.”
“Ready for some fun, my dearest?” Ethan asked as he came around the opened doors. He was dressed only in a pair of bright red swim trunks. Giles noticed a slight sparkling around his surprisingly tan torso. The mage caught his appraising glance and grinned, “A small glamor added to the strengthening spell. Just to hide the worst of my injuries from those who needn’t be nosey.”
“I suppose we should count ourselves lucky to be spared the appearance of a speedo,” the Watcher quipped.
Ethan smirked, “At least I can still pull one off.”
“Arrogant bastard,” Giles muttered with just a hint of hidden amusement.
Dawn giggled, “You two just can’t help it, can you?”
“Are you ready?” Ethan gave her a dazzling smile.
“Just a sec.” Dawn pulled off her shirt and shorts to reveal a lovely blue one-piece bathing suit beneath. “Are you gonna be ok here while we swim for a while?” she asked Giles. “I’d wait, but it’s a little late in the year for night swimming.”
He smiled shyly at her thoughtfulness. “This place is just fine. I think I’d have more fun watching you enjoy yourself anyway.”
“All right. We’ll be right out there where you can see us the whole time. Oh,” she grabbed a guitar she had propped against a nearby tree. “Faith rescued this when she and Wes went back to make sure the castle was cleared out. I thought the scenery might be… I don’t know, inspiring?”
“Thank you,” Giles whispered as she handed him the instrument.
“Shall we, my lady?” Ethan offered an arm and together they carefully picked their way down the rocky slope to the beach.
Giles sat back in his safe mobile cave, holding the guitar on his lap, and watched the others play. Dawn seemed younger than she had for a very long time, running and squealing as Ethan playfully chased her. She was, for these few moments, allowed to be a child again. He couldn’t help but envy Ethan a bit for the ability to give that gift to her. And Ethan himself had a look on his face that Giles could never remember seeing before. It was joy, plain and simple. The chaos mage had found something he’d never experienced before. A friend who took him as he was and, perhaps, even expected a little better from him.
The Watcher chuckled as Ethan exaggerated his collapse on the sand in exhausted defeat. Dawn ran down to the water and filled her cupped hands, carrying as much of the cold liquid as she could back to dump on Ethan’s face. The mage grabbed at her, missing, and rose to follow her fleeing form into the crystal blue waves.
As he watched, Giles’ fingers began to absently pluck at the strings beneath them, drawing notes and cords out that never quite formed into a recognizable melody. He gazed down, following the vibrations of each individual string with his enhanced vision. The sight was almost as hypnotic as the sounds they produced.
“Woha, you got some skills, Man.” The new voice from the end of the van made him look up with a start. “But why all the minors? We got the sun and the surf, Dude. Nothin’ better to ask for.” The young man standing before him held a bright yellow surfboard at his side and sported a dark tan over his muscular body and shaggy blonde hair. He was the picture of a California beach boy that Giles would have never though actually existed.
“Thank you for the compliment,” he mumbled politely.
“No sweat, Dude. But I’m serious. Life is too short for the minor chords. Find your joy, Man. Get out in the sun and cut loose.”
Giles tried to remember this youngster wasn’t really trying to hurt him. How could a stranger know what he had gone through? But every word cut like a knife. There was no more joy for him to find, no more sun. No, not for him. Those things aren’t meant for monsters. He stared at his hands and tried to ignore the part of himself that wanted to tear this boy apart and steal the joy from his very blood.
“Wow! Dude, you should be seeing what I am! The waves are doin’ some awesome shit. Man, I need to get me some more of this weed. It’s good shit.”
Giles looked down the boy’s eye line to see that Ethan was in the water entertaining Dawn by creating the shapes of horses, dolphins, and, of course, dragons in the foaming breakers. The stupid bugger. But Dawn’s musical laughter was enough to assuage the majority of his anger towards the sorcerer.
“You really are pale, Dude. Tellin’ ya, sunshine does a body good.”
That was enough. Giles had reached the end of his patience. The kid was high and a little too nosey, and the vampire was in no mood the deal with it. His eyes began to glow yellow in the shadows and his voice held a menacing rumble as he growled, “Go away.”
The boy gave him a confused look. “Wow. I should proly go sit down and wait this stuff out.” Then he simply wandered off.
All of Giles’ muscles remained tense as he tried to control the demon boiling just beneath his skin. Dawn’s laughter cut through the air again. Taunting him from a world he could never enter for the remainder of eternity. He lashed out with his magick and the doors to the van slammed shut, leaving him alone in his darkness once more. It was where monsters belonged.
Spike burst through the back door of the Summers’ house and tossed his smoking blanket aside. At the table, Willow let out a yip of surprise and stared at him with wide eyes.
“Spike, what…? Buffy’s not here.”
“Yeah, I know. Came to see you, Red.” He saw the witch crinkle her nose skeptically. In that moment, the vampire decided that telling her he’d been asked to come wasn’t something he was willing to do. “What,” he perched against the island, “Slayer’s the only part of the gang I’m allowed to care about? We went through some times while she was off having her little break, ya know.”
“I thought all we did was cramp your style,” Willow murmured, looking back to her teacup.
“Was frustrated,” Spike dismissed, “and still mostly evil. Give a poor bloke a break. Doesn’t mean I can’t care now.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry. I guess I’m a little testy because I haven’t been sleeping well. Would you like to join me for a cup of tea, Spike?”
“Oh,” he gracefully slid into the chair across from her. “Ya got any hot chocolate? Joyce always used to add those little marshmallows and...” He hesitated at Willow’s frown. “Sorry. She was a good lady. Always treated me nice. Still miss her sometimes.”
“So much death,” the witch whispered sadly. “It’s ok, Spike. I think we all miss her sometimes. You can look in the cupboard. There might be some packets up there.”
The vampire crossed the kitchen and began searching through cabinets. “Been a rough couple years for all of us, huh Red? And you not slackin’ on your share. Slayer dies, you bring her back. Your lover dies, you go off the rails a bit. The Watcher takes care of you, then you have to go an’ see him get snuffed, too. You try to save him, he turns evil, and you fall in love.” He smirked, “Oldest story in the book, really.”
“You forgot the part where I turn him good again and he forever hates me for making him a monster,” Willow sighed.
Spike plopped into his chair again as a bottle of alcohol thudded on the table. “No coco, but I found somethin’ better for us.”
He went to pour some into Willow’s tea, waiting until she grudgingly gave consent. Then he filled a glass for himself and downed a good portion in one large gulp.
After letting out a satisfied hiss, he looked the witch straight in the eyes and said, “Alright, ask me.”
“Listen… You love him, he loves you. That much has been established. You love him, so you want to know what he’s going through and help him feel better. He loves you, so he wants to figure things out for himself and not make you feel bad or worried because of him. Therefore, he won’t talk to you until he knows what to say, and you’ll feel bad and worry about him anyway.” The vampire rocked back in his chair. “Way I see it, you’re lucky to have the next best thing right here for ya. Won’t speak for the Watcher, but I’ve been through the whole being turned, being evil, and getting’ your soul back thing. So here I am, at your disposal. Ask away, Red.”
“You’d do that for me, Spike?”
“Well yeah… And if you don’t trust me to tell the truth, we can always get L.A. Hair Story on the phone. I wouldn’t if you wanna cut through all the brooding, though.”
“No, no… I trust you. I just thought you were still having a hard time with it yourself.”
“Maybe,” he gulped down more of the liquor. “Doesn’t mean I’ll leave a lovely lady in distress.” Spike lifted his glass to her. “So, hit me, Red. What’s got ya down about the Watcher?”
Willow sat in silence for several minutes, staring into her cup. Her first question finally came in a soft whisper. “Did it hurt? Did what we did hurt him?”
Spike wrinkled his forehead. “Ya mean physically? The being turned part?” She nodded. “Well, not gonna sugar-coat it, Red… It’s dying. You would have an idea of that yourself.” He indicated the bandage protecting the scabbed over bite-mark on her neck with his chin. “But, from how you all told me it happened, Watcher was on his way out anyway. By then, all a little bite could do was make the pain go away a bit faster.”
The witch looked into his eyes with pleading. “Did I hurt him?”
He leaned forward, lightly caressing her hand. “You gave him his soul back. A body can’t have a fight like that inside it without feeling something. That demon, Magister, didn’t want to give it over, but Rupert took it back. What you did was give him a chance. If his soul wasn’t willing to fight for it, for you… that’s the only way it would have been painless for him. But he did, and he won. Sure it’s hard right now, but I think that’s one round of pain he’s thankful for.”
Willow blinked a tear loose. “Everything I do hurts the people I love.”
“Not about you right now, Pet,” Spike tossed his lean body back in his chair. “I’m only here to answer the vampire questions.”
“Okay,” she angrily swiped the tear away. “You’re right, no more self-pity. All about Rupert. Yes, I do have a question. Why is he so different? It’s not the soul part, because Magister was different, too. Beside, he’s not like you or Angel. I don’t remember us ever meeting a vampire like him before. I mean, look at everything he did in so little time. Come to think of it, it’s a good thing other vamps aren’t like him.”
She gazed at Spike expectantly as he tried to sort her question from the babble. “Oh, you mean the faithful followers and the magick and all that. That’s easy,” he stated. “Rupes is different from other vamps.”
“That’s your answer? He’s different because he’s different.” Willow huffed in annoyance drawing a grin from Spike.
“Right. Thing’s this. Ol’ Rupert is what you might describe as a separate breed of vampire. There’s this thing, ya see. Vampires don’t like the taste of magick. When we smell it in the blood, it pretty much repels us. Think about it, Red. Have you ever seen one of us bite a magick user?”
“But…” she bit her lower lip. “Angelus killed Jenny.”
“She was a threat to him… and not with a bite. Poof never touched her blood. Also, we had the Watcher for all that time and none of us ever tasted him… not even Dru. And believe me, I saw that look in her eye. If you ask me, that’s why most Watchers have magick in their systems. What better way to fight a Slayer than to turn her Watcher? This way, best we’d ever do is kill ‘em.”
“Wait,” Willow nearly shouted. “You tried to bite me once! And Karen turned Giles.”
“Did, didn’t I?” he snorted. “But that was back before you saturated yourself with the stuff. What you did have in your blood I was willing to stomach to get to Buffy. If I drank you now I’d probably get sick.”
“Oh… gee thanks.”
Spike laughed. “It’s a good thing, Red. Keep the perspective. And as for the Watcher, his sire was forced.”
“I guess,” she gave a self-conscious smile. Willow fingered her bandage. “But he did bite me.”
“Not only that,” Spike got up and walked around behind the girl. He bent and inhaled deeply close to her neck. “He marked you. I can smell his warning clear as anything.” He reached over her for his glass. “Even without the magick thing, no vamp in his right mind would dare touch you now. Not with a claim that strong on you.”
“Giles claimed me?” Willow murmured with a faraway look.
Spike frowned, but remembered his promise not to lie. “It’s not Rupert’s mark,” he said quietly.
“But Magister is gone.”
“Doesn’t matter.” He had to glance away from her disappointed and horrified look. “But listen… Watcher will come back for you, you’ll see. He’s the one that can erase that claim. I’d wager he’ll put his own claim on you. Any other vamp that want’s to hurt you will have to answer to him. And that would be one plum crazy vampire.”
“If I don’t make him sick…” she muttered.
The vampire lifted her chin to look him in the eye. “Two of a kind, Luv. You’re the same breed. I’d wager you were the sweetest thing he ever tasted. Probably all he can think about even now.”
“You think so? I wish he wasn’t… I’m not worthy of him.”
Spike quirked an eyebrow, surprised at the pronouncement. “Whoever put that bollocks in your head is a vindictive bitch. If you aren’t his match, no one is.” Willow’s head bowed, her eyes filling with tears. “I think now would be a good time for a nap. You look beat, Luv.”
“I haven’t been sleeping very well.”
“Tell ya what. You toddle up to bed, and I’ll hang around down here until the Slayer comes home. Nothing’s gonna bother you while I’m here.”
“Thank you, Spike. For everything.”
The vampire helped her up and carefully escorted her to the foot of the stairs. “You sleep well, Red. It’s about time someone around here did.”
The house was silent and Spike was dozing in a living room chair with the empty bottle dangling from his fingers when Buffy appeared before him. “Just what do you think you’re doing?” She took an annoyed stance with her hands on her hips. “Don’t you remember anything we talked about?”
He looked up at her through cracked eyelids. “What you on about now, Slayer? I came over to look after Red just like you asked me.”
“Oh I did, did I?” she muttered. “Even so, what’s with all the talk about Giles loving Willow and coming back for her?”
“She was blue and I was tryin’ to cheer her up.”
“But we’ve spent all this time discussing what’s really going to happen. He’s too far gone now. The only way to help Willow is to keep her away from him. You know this silly love affair will only end in heartache. Everything he touches, he destroys and Willow doesn’t need that in her life right now.”
“No buts! What’s best for Willow now is to keep him away from her. He’s a vampire now, and he’ll hurt everyone he loves. He won’t be able to help it.”
“Just like all us vampires,” Spike groaned bitterly.
“You know I’m right, Spike. Giles and Willow don’t belong together. Anything that happens between them can only end in pain.” The vampire nodded drunkenly. “It’s for their own good. And I need your help in this. Can I count on you?” Another jerky nod. “Now, the sun’s setting. You should go before we wake her. She does need her rest to get better.”
“Sure, Slayer.” He stood and headed for the back door. “I’ll be in my crypt if you need me.”
“And thanks for coming, Spike.”
He shook his head sadly and left through the back door. The next moment the front door opened and Buffy walked in.
“Spike…? Willow…? Anyone home?” she called and was met with silence. “Huh, maybe he got her to actually go to sleep.” The Slayer crept up the stairs to check on her best friend.
Dawn’s eyes sprang open at the click of the motel room door. She sat upright, trying to focus through the late night darkness. “Giles?” she whispered.
“It’s all right, Luv,” Ethan’s voice drifted softly across the room. “He’s gone.”
“I couldn’t say.” Dawn started to hurry out of bed, but he quickly added. “Let him go, Luv.”
“But what’s he doing?”
“Same as every night, I suppose.”
“Every night? He always does this?”
The sorcerer sat up to face her. “Every night. His sleep charm usually works better on you, though. He goes off into the blackness, and returns before we wake.”
“What is he doing?” the girl frowned.
“That, I cannot say. The night is his time now. He’s a creature of the darkness and we must leave him to it.”
“This is my fault. I think I made a mistake leaving him behind while we went to play on the beach. He was all shut up when we got back, and he hasn’t said much since.”
Ethan crossed the gap to sit with her and put an arm around her. “I don’t think it was wrong to want to remind him of the world that’s still out there. However, we must remember that it’s also a world that no longer welcomes him. His world is the one that’s outside right now.”
“Do you think we’ll ever find a way to let him walk in the sunshine again?”
“Many have tried. Although, it is often the dark forces that crave bringing the vampires out to plague the day as well as the night. But, if a good heart can bring such a thing about for a noble cause, I believe you’d be the one to find the answer.”
Dawn hugged him, burying her tears in his chest. “Thanks. I just hope he’s okay out there.”
... To Chapter 4