Thanks for coming along for the ride!
TITLE: It Never Happened (part 8 of 8)
LENGTH: 37,000 words
SUMMARY: It's the summer of 2001. Buffy is buried under a stone that says "She saved the world. A lot." Those she left behind are struggling to figure out how to live in a world without her, and how to continue to protect it.
WARNING: I wanted this story to fit perfectly into the gap between S5 and S6. So if you think about it, you already know how it ends.
FEEDBACK: Honestly? I crave it.
DISCLAIMER: The characters and the world belong to Joss, but he did say that we could play with them. This story was written for fun, not profit.
If you didn't catch chapter one, you can read it here.
Giles found the beginning of September particularly difficult. Perhaps it was because there had been summers in the past when Buffy had gone away, but she had always returned as the new school year began. Now Giles would catch himself staring out the window of the Magic Box in the middle of the afternoon, fighting down a fresh wave of grief, unable to turn to a customer and ask “paper or plastic?”
Spike, for whom September held no particular associations, seemed to understand. They never spoke of it, but he certainly caught Giles’s mood. He was very perceptive, in his own way. He would hand Giles a tumbler of Scotch at bedtime, and afterwards undress him and lead him to the bed, settle himself on Giles’s cock and ride him until they were both trembling and sweating, until all thoughts were driven away and there was only flesh and heat and carnal desire.
It got them through the nights.
The rest of the group seemed to be doing all right. Perhaps it was the resilience of youth. Giles got the sense that they were managing to look forward now, rather than backward. Willow and Tara returned to their classes at the university; Xander and Anya exchanged secret looks that made Giles blush when he caught them. Dawn began spending more time with her school friend, Janice, which was a relief—a girl Dawn’s age really shouldn’t be spending all of her time with a bunch of adults and dusty books.
As for Ethan, he’d been quiet for so long that Giles had nearly forgotten about him; whole days would pass when he didn’t give him a single thought.
That was a mistake.
The crisis finally came to a head on a Wednesday afternoon. The air was hot and heavy; despite their rarity in Southern California, Giles thought perhaps there was a thunderstorm brewing.
The Magic Box was quiet, as was to be expected at that time of day. Giles was giving the shelves a careful dusting, while Anya was sorting through last month’s invoices. Spike was in the training room, lifting weights; he’d left the door open for air circulation, due to the heat, and as Giles worked his way around the shelves he stole an occasional glimpse. Spike was working out shirtless, and he was really quite pleasant to look at.
Anya closed the invoice book and opened a drawer. A moment later she let out a yelp of dismay.
“What is it?” Giles asked, going quickly to her side.
“Oh my God,” Anya said, holding up the offending object so that Giles could see, “It’s Xander. Eating a pig.”
It was a photograph. Xander was framed in the center of it, looming over a half-eviscerated pig that was, quite clearly, in the midst of terrified death throes. Xander’s mouth and hands gleamed red with blood, and he had a terrifying, feral look in his eyes. There were other individuals in the picture as well, partaking in the gruesome feast; they all looked familiar, but it took Giles a moment to place them. “Good lord,” he said as it came back to him. “That’s Herbert.”
“Who?” Anya asked.
“The pig. He was, er, briefly a mascot at the high school.”
Anya handed him the photo. “It’s clearly some sort of demonic ritual, and Xander looks like he’s possessed. When did Xander ever invite the spirit of a demon into him? He never told me about this!”
Giles stared down at the photo, both appalled and perplexed. “But this photograph can’t exist. I’m quite sure that there was nobody in the room at the time taking pictures.”
“Uh oh,” Anya said, biting her lip. She yanked the drawer open the rest of the way and rifled through it. “I had a picture of Xander hidden in here,” she said. “It’s gone now. It’s—it’s changed into that, hasn’t it?”
Giles looked down at the picture in his hand, feeling a terrible suspicion dawning. Despite the revolting subject matter, the photo really was quite nicely composed. “This was one of Ethan’s photos,” he said. “Wasn’t it.”
Anya gave a guilty wince. “Willow said not to tell you,” she said. “But we thought they were harmless, and it was such an attractive picture of Xander.”
By now Spike had caught on that something was up. He came out into the main shop pulling on a fresh black t-shirt. “What’s the trouble?” he asked.
Giles handed him the picture.
Spike looked at it and blanched. “Bugger,” he said faintly, dropping it on the counter. “Didn’t know Harris bent that way.”
“He was possessed by a hyena spirit at the time,” Giles said. “Anya—this is important. Do you have any more of the photos?”
“No, Willow just gave me that one, since it was Xander.” She thought for a second. “Wait! There was that whole set you got from Ethan yourself. We’ve still got some of those.” She knelt and opened the cupboard underneath the cash, and pulled out a brown envelope. “Here.”
Only a few photos from that set remained after the barrage of testing to which they’d been subjected over the summer. Giles spread the remnants out on the counter. They depicted a child’s backyard birthday party—all bright colors and laughing children, beautifully captured. They hadn’t changed since the last time Giles had seen them.
“Maybe it was only our set that changed,” Anya said hopefully.
Giles shook his head. “Or only this set that didn’t. Ethan made it for us specifically. I am such a bloody old fool.”
“I’m missing something,” Spike said. “Why exactly do we have a picture of Harris ripping a pig apart?”
“Ethan’s photos,” Giles said. “There was another spell on them, one we didn’t detect. And now they’re ... changing, it would seem.”
Spike took another quick, horrified glance at the picture of Xander and the pig. “Into what?”
“I think I had better find out,” Giles said grimly. “You two try to get in touch with everyone, make sure they’re all right. Tell them to meet here.”
“Where are you going?” Spike demanded, moving to block Giles’s exit. “To Ethan?”
“Of course,” Giles said. “Now get out of my way, there’s no time for this.”
“Not alone,” Spike said stubbornly. “I’m coming with you.”
“If everyone’s photos are changing into something horrible the way mine did, it’s going to be chaos out there,” Anya pointed out. “It might be dangerous.”
“Exactly,” Spike said.
Giles gave Spike a steady look. “And if I ran into trouble, on the way or with Ethan, what would you do?”
Spike lowered his gaze. His jaw twitched, but he didn’t answer.
“I’ll not risk you,” Giles said quietly.
It was the closest he’d ever come to expressing affection for Spike in front of a third party, and it earned an odd look from Anya—but it did the trick. Spike stepped to the side to let Giles pass. “Be careful, Rupert,” he said, his worry painfully evident.
“I will,” Giles promised, and walked out the door.
The streets were quiet, in fact—nearly deserted. As he walked past closed doors, Giles heard people shouting. On one street corner, a petite woman was raging against a man—her boyfriend, perhaps?—who was barely managing to hold her at arm’s length and evade her kicks. They didn’t seem to pose a real physical danger to each other, so Giles kept his brisk pace and passed them by.
On his way, he glanced at some of the photos that had been proudly taped in the windows of the cars parked along the edge of the street. Although he had no idea what they had originally depicted, it seemed a safe bet that many of them had changed. A great many were sexual in nature now, frequently downright pornographic. Others depicted scenes of violence, more akin to Xander and the pig. In one extreme example, a dark-haired man seemed to be strangling an elderly woman. Giles shuddered, and moved on.
The Perfect Image was quiet and dark. The sign on the door quite emphatically declared the shop to be “Closed.” Giles tried the handle anyway, and found it to be locked.
He might be able to pick it, but he had neither the tools nor the time. He found a chunk of broken concrete instead, and heaved it through the glass door. The glass made a tinkling, glittering diamond shower, and then the doorway was empty. Giles stepped through; glass crunched under the hard soles of his shoes.
There was no sign of Ethan in the shop nor in the darkroom, but a door at the back of the darkroom opened onto a set of stairs. Giles climbed them quickly; after the way he had entered the store, he had pretty much lost the chance for stealth.
At the top of the stairs was a bachelor flat, and Ethan in the middle of it, stuffing a suitcase.
He looked up at Giles’s footfall. “Well now,” he said with a nasty smile, “This all has a bit of the familiar about it, doesn’t it?”
“What is this all about, Ethan?” Giles asked, stepping away from the stairs. “Revenge? What do you stand to gain?”
“Come on now, Ripper, you don’t begrudge me a bit of fun, do you?” Ethan’s ebullience sent a shiver down Giles’s back. “You have to admit, it was a beautiful spell. Appeal to the vanity of the masses until there are pictures, pictures, everywhere, and then—” he snapped his fingers, “every single photo shows a moment that the subject doesn’t want anyone to see. Sheer poetry! Glory to Janus!” He paused, hands on his suitcase, gazing at Giles with a smile curling at his lips. “But ask me what the best part was.”
“I’m sure you’ll tell me,” Giles said. He was watching Ethan’s hands, watching his eyes—his every nerve was on edge.
“I got a picture of you!” Ethan crowed, and pulled it out from his suitcase.
Despite himself, Giles stepped forward to look.
There he was, naked, with Spike bent over in front of him. It was their first time together, in the kitchen. Fucking over the kitchen counter. The photo showed them both to full advantage; Spike with his alabaster skin and smooth curves of muscle, Giles dominating him with an animal ferocity.
“I think the Watcher’s Council will enjoy seeing this,” Ethan said, tucking the picture into his breast pocket. “Perhaps they’ll put it up on the icebox in the kitchenette.” There was an angry edge to his voice now; some part of Giles wondered whether Ethan had got more than he bargained for, with that particular photo.
“Give it to me,” Giles said, extending his hand.
“After all the trouble I went to, getting it?” Ethan rolled his eyes and laughed. “Never mind setting up the shop and keeping it going all summer—you should ask your little witch if you can see her thirty pieces of silver. That book was hard to come by, let me tell you. Can’t imagine what she wants with it.”
Giles felt a cold knot forming in his belly. He might be lying, he reminded himself. Willow had hidden the truth about the photos from him, but not from Anya; she’d been foolish, but that didn’t make her complicit. “You’ll want to give me the photo,” he said. “Whatever blackmail you have planned, it won’t work. And look at us—here we are, alone in this room, and I’m between you and the stairs. We both know how this will end.” He flexed his hands; he was stronger than Ethan, and Ethan well knew it.
“Oh, but Ripper,” Ethan said softly, “I don’t want to blackmail you. I want to destroy you.” And then he flung his hands out—his open, empty hands—and an unseen force struck Giles hard enough to slam him against the wall and hold him there with his feet six inches off the floor.
His first thought was that Ethan must have borrowed the power from somewhere, because he certainly never could have managed something like this on his own. His second thought was that he couldn’t breathe very well, and that he was in rather a lot of trouble.
“Did you spare me a thought, I wonder?” Ethan asked, walking towards Giles. He kept his left hand raised, miming the stance he would need to physically hold up Giles by the neck. The gesture was his focus, Giles realized. If only he could disrupt it, the power would dissipate. But then, in order to disrupt it he would have to move, which he couldn’t do as long as Ethan was holding him immobile. It was quite a dilemma. “After you handed me over to those paramilitary goons, did you think at any point—Oh, I should check on Ethan. I wonder whether the Initiative adheres to the Geneva convention?” Ethan’s fingers twitched, and the pressure at Giles’s throat grew momentarily greater. His breath was barely able to wheeze through his windpipe now, and speech was quite impossible. “Let me assure you,” Ethan went on, “they don’t. They didn’t consider me human, Ripper. They shot me up with God-knows-what to see whether I would grow wings or a tail or whatever the hell it was they were looking for. My throat went so raw from screaming that I couldn’t even speak. They kept me locked in a concrete cell, threw in a little food once in a while, hosed me down once a week before dragging me out to poke me and prod me and stick cold metal under my flesh. And then do you know what I did, Ripper?” He was very close to Giles now. His upraised hand was shaking, and there were tears in his eyes. “I fucking escaped.”
There were black spots dancing in Giles’s vision; oxygen deprivation was setting in, and he knew he didn’t have long before he blacked out entirely. He wished he could tell Ethan that at the time he had given him to the Initiative, he hadn’t fully understood what he was doing. He wished he could tell him that he had thought of him, that he had made inquiries through what few channels remained to him, that it had come to nothing. He wished he could tell Ethan that he shouldn’t have turned Giles into a bloody Fyoral demon in the first place. But he couldn’t speak; he could only mouth the words: I’m sorry.
And then he saw movement behind Ethan. White hair; a black t-shirt. A swinging fist. And then falling. Giles falling, coughing, released from the magical stranglehold. Ethan falling sideways, his features slack. And Spike on his knees, clutching his head, screaming.
“Spike!” Giles gasped, barely able to get the word out around the pain in his throat. He scrambled onto his feet and stumbled forward. The screaming had stopped. Spike was very still. Giles reached out desperately, grabbed his shoulders. “Spike,” he croaked, “can you hear me?”
Spike lifted his head and managed a weak grin. “That wasn’t so bad, now, was it?”
Giles couldn’t speak—he thought he might pass out from sheer relief. He grabbed Spike’s face and kissed him again and again. “Oh God,” he murmured, resting his forehead against Spike’s. “Don’t ever do that again.”
“Ethan,” Spike reminded him. “Don’t think he’s quite out cold. Better tie him up or something.”
Indeed, Ethan was already stirring. One cheek was red and puffy and bleeding a little; Spike had hit him hard. Giles went first for Ethan’s breast pocket and pulled out the photograph. He ripped it into confetti without taking another look. “Do you see any rope?” he asked Spike. “Or an extension cord, perhaps? Anything we could use to bind his hands.”
“Inna minute,” Spike said. His words were slurred; Giles looked up with alarm. “Little dizzy here.” Spike had stood up; now he made as if to sit back down, but halfway there he simply crumpled. His head hit the wooden floor with a dull thud. There was a trickle of blood coming out of his nose.
Giles froze for a moment in shock and disbelief. Spike had been fine, he’d spoken—“Spike?”
There was no answer.
Leaving Ethan as he was, Giles rushed to Spike’s side. “Spike?” he said again, shaking Spike’s shoulder. He couldn’t get a response, not even a moan. He pressed his fingers against the pulse point in Spike’s neck—and felt nothing. No pulse.
There was a sound behind Giles. He turned quickly and saw that Ethan had staggered to his feet.
“What happened to your little boyfriend?” Ethan asked, clutching his hand to his cheek.
“You must have a phone,” Giles snapped. “Ring 911. Tell them to come here immediately.” He rolled Spike fully onto his back and tilted his chin up. “I’m going to start CPR. If you try anything, Ethan, I swear I will kill you quickly and mercilessly.”
“But what happened?” Ethan repeated; he looked rather woozy himself. “Did I do that?”
“No,” Giles said. “The Initiative did.”
“Oh.” Ethan contemplated that for a moment, and then laughed. “Well, that is certainly poetic. I think I’ll take my leave now, Ripper. Be seeing you.”
Busy with the unrelenting rhythm of chest compressions, Giles watched helplessly as Ethan stumbled across the room to grab his suitcase and then made his way to the stairs.
“Oh,” Ethan said, pausing at the top of the flight, “The phone’s on the wall by the stove.” And then he left.
Giles rang 911 himself, and then kept up the CPR until the ambulance arrived and the paramedics took over. The ambulance ride was a blur. He finally found himself washed up like a piece of flotsam in the ER waiting room, staring at the pay phone and trying to remember the number for the Magic Box.
When he reached Anya, she told him that everyone was there. He told her what had happened. She said that everyone would come right away to the hospital. He didn’t want them to, but he didn’t know how to tell her so.
He thought there was something he had wanted to ask Willow about, too, something important, but he couldn’t remember what it was. So it couldn’t have been that important after all.
A doctor called him aside before the others arrived. She had pictures of Spike’s brain on crisp pieces of film, clipped all over a white light panel. There was a bright, shining white rectangle in the middle of Spike’s brain. The doctor tapped it, looking puzzled, saying something about a foreign object. It was the chip, of course. In any place other than Sunnydale, this might have led to awkward questions; in Sunnydale, even the doctors had learned to keep their questions to themselves.
“Can you remove it?” Giles asked her.
The doctor shook her head. “It’s in way too deep. I have no idea how it got there in the first place. Besides, it wouldn’t help. See the extent of the hemorrhage?” She tapped the film in several places; to Giles, it all looked grey. “The damage is done.”
“But he’s alive,” Giles said.
The doctor crossed her arms, managing a look of professional sympathy. “There are machines doing the work of his heart and lungs,” she said. “But there’s almost no brain activity.”
“But there is ... some ... activity,” Giles persisted. “That means that there is some chance of recovery?”
The doctor shook her head. “I’m sorry. He’s in a very deep coma. Statistically speaking, the chance of recovery is effectively zero. We’ll put him in a bed and monitor him tonight, but you need to start preparing to remove life support. Is there any other family to consult? Have you thought about organ donation?”
“No,” Giles said. The pictures on the wall were blurry; he removed his glasses and rubbed them clean, but it didn’t help. “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
It was left to Giles to tell the others. This was fortunate, in a way; the necessity of holding himself together for the task helped him past the first, unbearable moments when he most wanted to rage at the world and smash things.
They all took the news rather quietly. Dawn huddled in a chair, tears streaming down her face, but she let Willow and Tara hold her. Xander stood with his hands in his pockets, looking awkward and sad.
“I’m sorry,” Anya said quietly. “After you left, I couldn’t stop him from following you. I mean I ... I didn’t stop him. We were worried about you. I thought maybe he could help somehow.”
“He did,” Giles said. “If he hadn’t intervened when he did, Ethan might very well have killed me.” His eyes were prickling with tears. He removed his glasses and polished them vigorously, trying to regain control. “I shouldn’t have gone alone, Spike was right about that,” he added brusquely. “I should have waited for Willow, or gone and fetched the Bot. If I hadn’t let Ethan get the jump on me—” He couldn’t quite get to the end of the sentence. And then he found himself abruptly being hugged. Anya’s cheek was wet against his neck.
“It’s not your fault,” she whispered.
Giles wished he could believe her.
They each took a turn alone with Spike to say good-bye. Dawn took the longest; Xander took the shortest, but he did take a turn, and when he emerged from the room his eyes were red-rimmed and he went to Anya immediately for a long, tight hug.
Giles went last, and he told the others not to wait for him. They protested, but he insisted, making vague references to extensive paperwork that would need to be done. Anya helped, pointing out that everyone needed to get home and rest, particularly Dawn, and that Giles could take a taxi to avoid walking home alone in the dark. It made Giles wonder whether Anya had guessed the true nature of his relationship with Spike; certainly if she had, she was being uncharacteristically discreet about it.
Finally he found himself alone with Spike. He took a seat by the side of the bed. The life support machine sighed a soft, steady rhythm in time with the rise and fall of Spike’s chest.
He looked alive. There was a pink flush to his skin underneath the suntan from his summer work at the scrapyard. Giles picked up one of his hands, clasped it between his own. Spike’s hand was warm. He looked for all the world as if he were only sleeping. It brought back the memory of all those nights, watching over him.
Spike was safe from the nightmares now, at least. The doctor had been quite clear; there was no higher brain function at all, and hardly any lower. Only just barely enough to prevent them from declaring brain death and having done with it. Only enough that removing the life support would mean, technically, killing him.
In fact, Spike was lingering at the obscene juncture of technology, medicine and economics. A hundred years ago—if this injury had happened during his first, natural lifetime—he would simply have died. But the machines of the twenty-first century were capable of keeping his body alive for quite some time. They could support him for days, weeks, perhaps even months, to give him every chance for the tiny flicker of brain activity to grow into something more.
The chance of recovery was ‘effectively’ zero, the doctor had said. Effectively.
And each day on full life support cost a great deal of money.
Giles turned over Spike’s hand and looked at the scar on his palm. He traced it with his finger, and then curled Spike’s fingers into a fist and closed his own hands around it. And finally, wordless, Giles bowed his head and wept.
He didn’t take a taxi home; he preferred to walk. He had told the doctor that he would return in the morning and, if nothing had changed, give the order to turn off the life support.
He did not think that he wanted to sleep. Certainly not in the bed he had shared with Spike last night.
After a time, he found himself heading for Buffy’s grave. It seemed like an appropriate place to keep the night’s vigil. Admittedly, it wasn’t the safest place, but grief made Giles reckless.
The grave was hidden away at the edge of the woods, impossible to see until you were almost upon it. Between the dark of night and the shadows of the trees, Giles could barely make out the pale gravestone itself—and he completely failed to notice the black-clad figure standing perfectly still beside it.
“Giles?” Angel said, turning to face him.
Startled, Giles fell back a step. “Angel,” he returned, controlling his voice with an effort. “I didn’t expect to find you here.”
“I didn’t expect to find anyone at all,” Angel said. “Especially after dark.” He frowned. “Are you alone? It’s not really safe, you know.”
“I know,” Giles acknowledged tightly. “It’s been a trying day. I thought you were in Sri Lanka?”
“I’m just on my way home.”
“Were you planning to let us know you were in Sunnydale?”
Angel shook his head. “No reason to. I was only visiting ... her.”
They both looked at the gravestone, and stood there for a few moments in mutual uncomfortable silence.
Giles hoped that Angel would leave quite soon. Whatever peace of mind Giles had sought here, he certainly wouldn’t find it in Angel’s presence.
Of course, he had never found peace here in the past. Standing over Buffy’s grave he was filled now, as always, with the bitter memory of the last moments of her life, and the aching question of what he might have done differently. How he might have saved her.
Spike had carried that burden as well, Giles knew. Giles wondered how much Spike’s guilt over losing the fight atop Glory’s tower had played into his reckless attack on Ethan.
Angel cleared his throat. “So ... how are things?”
It took Giles a moment to process the question. He couldn’t quite fathom that Angel would attempt small talk at a time, a place, like this.
“With the Hellmouth, I mean,” Angel clarified.
“Ah,” Giles said. “It’s still there.”
“I meant, I wondered ... if you needed help, or something. Are Willow and Xander still working with you?”
“They are.” Giles wondered whether Angel was actually offering help, or just idly asking.
No, that was unfair—of course Angel was offering. Perhaps he even felt some sense of responsibility or guilt himself, standing over this grave. Perhaps Angel wondered whether events with Glory would have fallen out differently, had he himself stayed in Sunnydale.
But Angel returning to Sunnydale was not a prospect Giles would welcome. Useful as he might be as a fighter, Giles neither liked nor trusted him. “There are others, as well,” Giles added. “Another witch, and a very resourceful ex-demon. We’ve also happened to acquire a robot, who makes quite an effective fighter.” He paused, and then added on a perverse impulse, “And then of course there was Spike.”
He didn’t want to talk about Spike. Not now, not to Angel. And yet here he was, saying the words.
“Spike?” Angel repeated.
“You know about the behavior chip the Initiative implanted in his brain, I believe?”
Angel nodded. “I’d heard.”
“It led to a rather unusual stalemate between him and us. Eventually he began actively helping us.” Giles hesitated. “Buffy had rather a lot to do with it.”
Angel made a disbelieving sort of noise. “Spike and Buffy worked together to defeat Angelus. That doesn’t make him a force for good.”
“Certainly not,” Giles agreed. “He had his own reasons for helping at that time. And later, as well. At times we paid him. Sometimes I think he was motivated by sheer boredom.” That got a reaction from Angel—a suppressed snort of laughter. “But finally he came to ... to respect Buffy.” Giles was still not entirely comfortable thinking of the feelings Spike had claimed, as a vampire, to have for Buffy, and he knew that Angel would not react well if he described them. Even now, he could see Angel turning to him in disbelief. “He fought alongside us in the end, against Glory, for Buffy’s sake,” he said.
“And then he left,” Angel concluded.
“No.” The conversation was becoming quite painful. Giles wished he had not begun it, and yet he didn’t want to let it go. It was as though he could camouflage his loss by conjuring up Spike in his words. “No, he stayed. He had promised Buffy, you see, that he would continue to protect Dawn. His help was invaluable in the first weeks after Buffy died.” So much so, Giles remembered, that when Spike had first turned human, Giles had regretted the loss of a powerful ally.
And then Giles thought, for the first time, about the opportunity implied by Angel’s presence.
“Is something wrong?” Angel asked abruptly.
Giles almost flinched, but managed not to. He cleared his throat. “Why do you ask?”
“Your heartbeat just went up.”
“I had a thought, that’s all. As I said before, I’ve had a very difficult day.” In fact, Giles was now caught between hope and horror; there was a way to save Spike, but it went against everything he stood for as a Watcher.
“Somebody tried to choke you,” Angel observed.
“Ah. Yes.” Giles touched his neck. His voice still rasped in his throat a bit, and of course Angel might even be able to see the faint bruises, despite the darkness. “There was a fight. I lost.”
“Couldn’t have lost that badly,” Angel said. “You’re still here.”
“Only because Spike intervened.”
“Oh.” Angel hunched his shoulders, put his hands in his pocket. “So he’s still ... I thought ... you were talking about Spike in the past tense.”
“He’s still here.” Giles hugged his arms around his chest; the night seemed to be getting rather chilly. “Barely. He’s dying.”
Angel stared at him. It was a long moment before he spoke. “I don’t understand.”
“Quite right. I’ll back up a bit. About three months ago Spike had a run-in with a demon whose blood had an extremely powerful healing effect—so powerful that it actually brought him back to life. As a human.”
Surprisingly, Angel gave a curt nod. “I know the species.”
“Ah.” Giles cast a sidelong glance at Angel—but at any rate, he was clearly still a vampire, so he couldn’t have had the same sort of encounter that Spike had had. “Well. Since becoming human, he’s continued fighting alongside us, defending Sunnydale. It wasn’t easy for him at first, but he proved stronger than any of us gave him credit for—even himself.”
“That doesn’t sound like the Spike I know.” There was a great deal of bitterness in Angel’s response.
“Perhaps not.” Giles was careful to modulate his voice, to keep the emotion out of it. With any hint of emotion he risked opening a floodgate. “But he was injured today, saving my life. He’s in the hospital now, in a coma. He is not going to wake up.” He turned to Angel, looked him straight in the eye. “I want you to turn him.”
Angel stared at him. “No.”
“There is no reason to lose him, not with you here. He will help us again as a vampire, as he did before. There is a ... a continuity of experience when one is turned. He will remember everything.”
“I’m not going to turn him,” Angel said, turning away. “You don’t understand what you’re asking of me.” He began to leave.
“I think I do,” Giles said, coldly enough to stop Angel in his tracks. “Angel ... you once murdered my lover.” Angel stiffened, but Giles kept talking. “You left her on my bed for me to find. You captured me. You tortured me. I think it is fair to say that you owe me a very great debt. And now I’m calling it in.”
Angel turned towards Giles again, disbelief in his eyes. “For Spike?”
“Yes. For Spike.”
“I can’t believe this,” Angel said. “You should be the last person in the world who’d—you know what he’ll be. Soulless. Evil.”
“He’ll be exactly what he was before an arbitrary twist of fate turned him human,” Giles pointed out.
Angel scowled. “William the Bloody. Scourge of Europe.”
“There is the chip now. He has changed, and ... and if he is given the chance, I think he will continue to do so.”
“So what if the chip breaks down?” Angel asked. “Sooner or later he slips his leash, and people will die.”
Giles couldn’t say that he was wrong, not really. But he held Angel in a cool, level gaze, and said, “By that logic Buffy should have staked you when you came back from hell.”
“Maybe she should have,” Angel muttered.
“But she didn’t.”
In the long silence that followed, Giles wondered what Angel could see with his vampire senses, what he could smell. Angel had never seemed particularly observant of people and the relationships between them, but Angelus had; the capacity was there.
“Whoever it was you got to know over the summer,” Angel said finally, “that’s not who you’ll get back.”
Giles nodded. “I understand.”
“Then let’s go,” Angel said abruptly, and he walked away with a quick angry stride that left Giles scrambling to catch up.
Giles told the doctor that he was ready. It was past midnight, but that seemed to be all right. There was a bit of paperwork to fill out. Angel lurked at the edge of Giles’s vision, glowering. Then a nurse brought them into the room. She pressed a few buttons on the life support machine. “When you’re ready,” she said, “You can turn it off by pressing this button. The alarms have been turned off. He might keep breathing for a moment or two, but don’t worry, he won’t feel any pain.”
And then they were alone.
“He looks different,” Angel said.
Giles nodded. “He’s been alive all summer. It has an effect.” He cleared his throat. “Well? Are you ready?”
Angel answered with a barely perceptible nod.
Giles touched the button that the nurse had indicated. The machine sighed once more, and then there was silence. Spike’s chest rose once, and fell, and did not rise again.
“Now,” Giles whispered, suddenly terrified that Angel would renege at the last second. “You have to do it now.” And then he was looking at the face of a vampire.
Angel’s eyes flashed yellow, angry. He fixed his gaze on Giles for a moment, sending shivers down Giles’s spine, and then he bent his head to Spike’s neck. He did not bite at first; rather, he inhaled deeply.
Giles took Spike’s hand in his own and squeezed it. “Do it,” he said.
Angel growled softly, and then bit. The sounds of feeding were unnaturally loud in the still, small room. Giles kept a hold of Spike’s hand, well past caring what Angel might make of the gesture.
It seemed to take a long time for Angel to finish. When he lifted his head, his fangs dripped with blood; it took Giles quite an effort not to flinch. Then Angel raised his own wrist to his mouth. When he lowered it, there were two small puncture holes leaking thick dark blood. He held out his wrist to Giles.
“You do it,” he said. “If this is what you really want—do it yourself.”
Giles hadn’t anticipated this. For a moment, he almost balked. But then he remembered Spike coming up behind Ethan and acting without hesitation to save Giles’s life; he remembered Spike in his bed, smiling, trailing his fingers over his skin.
Giles swept a finger across Angel’s wrist and picked up the cold, sluggish blood. He had to let go of Spike’s hand to part his lips, and then he brushed his bloody finger against the inside of Spike’s warm cheek. He nearly pulled away when Spike’s lips closed on his finger and he began to suck, but Angel stopped him with a heavy hand on his shoulder. “He’s not alive now,” Angel said. “That’s the demon.”
And then Spike went limp again, and perfectly still.
Sunnydale being what it was, no medical staff commented on the puncture wounds at Spike’s neck, or the fact that their comatose patient had died of blood loss. The body was released into Giles’s custody at one o’clock in the morning. With the help of Angel and his car, Giles brought Spike’s corpse to the crypt where Spike had previously set up house. It seemed appropriate.
“Are you sure about this?” Angel asked after they laid Spike out on the floor.
“It’s a bit late to be asking that,” Giles commented mildly.
“I mean....” Angel shuffled his feet, looking uncomfortable, “I can stay, if you want.” Since the hospital, his demeanor had changed; in the presence of Spike’s dead body, it seemed as though Angel’s own mood had become rather brittle. “Until he wakes up. It might not be tonight.”
“No,” Giles said. “I would rather you didn’t.”
Angel nodded, and went to the door. Then he turned back to Giles—and although his face didn’t shift, Giles thought he saw a gleam of yellow in his eyes. "Don't call in this marker again,” he said. “We're finished."
So Angel left, and Giles sat on the floor a few feet away from Spike with a stake in one hand and a jar of pig’s blood in the other, and he waited.
Spike woke up quite abruptly just a few minutes before dawn. He sat up and stared at Giles. “What the hell?”
“You’re a vampire,” Giles said. “Again.”
Spike clapped a hand to his neck, where the wound from Angel’s feeding was now beginning to close up with supernatural speed. “Bugger,” he said, his voice soft with disbelief. Then he brought his hand to his mouth—smelled it, tasted it. “Something’s different. Angel?” He looked up sharply at Giles. “Angel was here?”
“He’s gone now.” Giles put the jar of pig’s blood on the floor and stood up. Spike followed suit, though his legs didn’t seem quite steady under him yet. “Come here,” Giles said.
Spike hesitated for a moment, but then he went to Giles—let Giles take him into his arms, and kiss him.
It was strange—so familiar and simultaneously alien. Spike’s scent was there, mingled with a lingering hospital smell and the coppery tang of blood. But his lips were cold, and his hands gripped Giles’s waist harder than they ever had before.
Giles’s own hands were wrapped around Spike’s back, but one of them was holding the stake, pointing it towards Spike’s heart. He didn’t think Spike noticed.
Giles kissed Spike harder now. He was angry; he didn’t know why he was angry. With Spike, perhaps, for dying. He used it, let himself lose control more than he ever had when Spike was human and delicate and easy to hurt. He growled, and bit Spike’s lip. He could feel Spike’s erection pressing against his hip. Spike was a vampire now; of course he would respond to this. Spike made dirty little noises deep in his throat, and tugged at Giles’s shirt, and answered Giles’s kisses in kind.
And then Giles felt a quick stab of hurt in his lip, where Spike had nipped him a little too hard, and Spike fell away from him, roaring with pain.
“Bloody hell that hurt,” Spike gasped, clutching his temples. “Fuck!” And then he looked up, and the hurt in his eyes went beyond the physical. “You—you did that on purpose. Rupert? What the hell did you go and do that for?”
Giles held up the stake so that Spike could see it, and then tossed it away. It clattered and rolled into a corner. “I had to make sure that the chip was still working.” Then he stooped down and grabbed the jar of pig’s blood. “Here.” He tossed it to Spike, who caught it one-handed. “I expect you’ll be hungry.”
Of that there was no doubt—despite his evident pain and confusion, Spike unscrewed the lid immediately and, shifting into game face, began drinking the blood in great, desperate gulps.
“Stay low today,” Giles said when Spike had finished and was wiping his mouth. “Come to the Magic Box at seven o’clock tonight. Everyone will be there.”
“But—what happened?” Spike asked, almost plaintively. “How did I get here?”
Giles couldn’t answer him. He didn’t have the strength, not now. He stepped out of the door of the crypt into the weak light of dawn, and walked away.
The Magic Box didn’t open to the public the day that Spike died. It was hardly unique in that respect; with Sunnydale still suffering the psychological aftereffects of Ethan’s spell, most of downtown was shut down tight.
Giles called the Scoobies together in the evening. He began with a quiet talk about how they needed to be strong, hold it together—the forces of darkness were ever at the door. Everyone was subdued and sad, although Dawn was the only one brushing away tears.
He wasn’t entirely sure why he didn’t tell them the truth. It did occur to him that Spike might not show up—that after everything, he might very well decide to quietly leave Sunnydale once and for all.
At seven thirty-five the basement door opened and Spike stepped into the shop.
He’d taken the time to fix his hair, and had apparently stopped at Giles’s flat on the way to the Magic Box, because he was wearing his duster. He scowled at Giles, and then turned it into a wicked smile. Giles’s breath caught in his throat.
“Spike!” Dawn shrieked. “You’re alive!” She ran to him and threw her arms around him.
“Yeah, well, sort of,” he said, his smile softening as he returned her embrace.
She laid a hand along the side of his face. It was paler than it had been that morning, Giles noticed; Spike’s summer tan was already fading. “You’re cold!” Dawn said. “You’re, um, a vampire again?”
Everyone looked a bit puzzled, but there was no sense of panic. “How did that happen?” Willow asked.
Shrugging, Spike disentangled himself from Dawn. He went and leaned against the shop counter, and pulled out a packet of cigarettes from his duster pocket. He busied himself with shaking one fag out of the pack and lighting it while he lied. “Dunno,” he said. “Woke up this morning in the hospital morgue. Looks like the demon blood thing wasn’t so permanent after all. Once a vampire, always a vampire, I reckon.”
Xander’s fingers tapped out a quick beat on the big table. “So, that’s it then? Everything just goes back to the way it was before?”
“Seems that way,” Spike said—answering Xander’s question, but with his gaze held steady on Giles. “Look,” he said, holding up his hand, “Even that scar’s going away, from when I nearly killed myself with your bloody pocketknife. It’s like the whole thing never happened.”
“Well hey, that’s great!” Willow said. She looked around at the others. “I mean, isn’t it? He can fight demons again now. And it’s not like he ever really liked being human.”
“Right,” Spike said, taking a drag on his cigarette. “Can’t say it had much to recommend it.” He looked at Giles again.
“Indeed.” Giles schooled his face very carefully. He had understood what he was asking for, when he had asked Angel to turn Spike—this was the old Spike, back again. A monster, barely contained. Not Giles’s lover. And he couldn’t imagine that Spike would want to revisit the relationship they had had when Spike was a human, weak and ill and tormented by nightmares. Most likely, they would never even speak of it again. “So. I suppose we should plan tonight’s patrol. I think we can manage two groups—Spike in one, the Bot in the other?”
“Whatever.” Spike licked his fingers and pinched out his cigarette, returning it to his pocket. “It’s your decision, Rupert.” And then he turned away from Giles and extended a hand to Dawn. “So, I guess we’re taking you home first. Wanna hear a story on the way?”
“Oh!” Dawn shot a slightly guilty look back at the others, but then grinned. “Well, since you’re back—how about the one about the hotel in Venice?”
Everyone got their things together and headed out the door, chatting away as though normalcy had returned. Which, in a sense, it had. Giles went last, stopping behind to shut off the lights before following the others out. As he locked the door, it occurred to him: it was time to leave Sunnydale.
Spike was still apparently committed to protecting Dawn, and therefore by extension the world she lived in. Between him and the Bot, the group had no need of Giles’s mediocre contributions as a fighter. In terms of magical strength, Willow had eclipsed Giles long ago. He was increasingly superfluous as a leader; ridiculous as a chaperone. And as for the shop, Anya was perfectly capable of running it on her own. In fact, she would most likely be delighted to do so.
He could do more good in England. He could intervene before the Council discovered Buffy’s death for themselves—try to shape policy, perhaps, to protect the Scoobies from unwelcome interference and to protect Faith from, potentially, much worse.
He was resolved, then. He would book a plane ticket in the morning. If it had a bit of a feeling of running away, well, so be it. The air in Sunnydale was getting far too thick with ghosts. Just now, Giles was finding it hard to breathe.
He looked up and saw that the others were leaving him behind. He pocketed his key and set off at a brisk pace to try and catch up, but he felt a brief, intense conviction that he never actually would.