By L.A. Ward and Sanguine
Chapter Two: Blackmail
"Yes?" A puzzled, harried voice replied. "To whom am I speaking?"
"Oh! Sorry. Dreadfully sorry, Mr. Giles. This is Lydia Grant. We met in Sunnydale several years ago. That distasteful Glory business?"
"Ah, yes. You wrote the thesis on . . ."
"William the Bloody."
Giles's voice acquired an impatient edge. "Forgive me, Miss . ."
"Grant," Lydia helpfully supplied.
"Miss Grant," Giles continued smoothly, "I'm waiting for a rather urgent telephone call, and . . ."
"It's about the witch. We have her here, with us. William found her."
"Spike," Lydia explained, "William the Bloody."
"Spike? Sunnydale Spike?"
"Blast," Giles cursed.
"He seemed quite willing to help, Mr. Giles. An extraordinary creature." Lydia nervously adjusted her glasses. "Seemed very concerned about the girl. Terribly strange, wouldn't you agree?"
"Um. Yes. Strange." Giles cleared his throat. "Is Spike still there?"
"No, he left immediately. Of course, that's only to be expected. Vampires aren't welcome at Watcher Headquarters. It's disturbing enough that he managed to find our location."
"Indeed it is. Miss Grant, did Spike say anything when he saw you? Did he tell you where he found Willow?"
"No, just to call you and let you know she was here. I know you've been looking very hard for her, Mr. Giles. I'm sorry the Council hasn't been more helpful, but our resources are a bit overextended."
"I know it's not your fault, Miss Grant. I think we both know where the real blame lies."
Lydia's brow furrowed, "Are you talking about the girl, Mr. Giles?"
Giles's voice became a controlled growl, his anger barely contained. "In part. But that pillock Travers hasn't been helpful. This is the second time Willow has gone missing, and he's done very little to prevent her escape. It's as if he'd given up on her before the treatment even began."
Lydia's first impulse was to agree with Mr. Travers. It was very rare for a witch completely immersed in the dark arts to be rehabilitated. Mr. Travers placed people in clearly marked boxes: good or evil, and the witch, considering what she'd done in Sunnydale, clearly fell into the latter category. In his view, Miss Rosenberg was a lost cause. He wasn't known for his compassion. Rules and regulations were his forte.
Mr. Giles, on the other hand, showed a remarkable understanding of human nature. He may have been a pragmatist, but Lydia couldn't help but admire his effectiveness, his willingness to shun tradition to get the job done, and his intensely humane impulse to help the people he cared about. Mr. Giles had overcome his intense disrespect for the Watchers' Council to bring the young witch there for treatment, believing it was the best place for her. And now the Watchers' Council had proven to be just as ineffectual as Mr. Giles thought them to be. With determination, Lydia answered, "I agree, Mr. Giles. The Watchers' Council has failed thus far. But I assure you that I will do everything in my power to make sure Miss Rosenberg is given the compassionate treatment she deserves."
Giles sighed heavily, his exhaustion evident. "I'm just pleased to hear that Willow has been returned safely to you and that someone was able to locate her. God knows, I bloody well couldn't."
"That wasn't your fault, Mr. Giles." Lydia considered the disheveled figure in the foyer. "I don't think she wanted to be found."
"I suppose it's fortunate Spike was there." Giles chuckled bitterly.
"He's proven to be a surprisingly useful vampire. Of course, William the Bloody was never a conformist."
"No, I suppose not. Thank you for your help, Miss Grant. I'll be right over." A sardonic edge crept into his voice, "Do try and keep her there this time, would you?"
Lydia heard him slam his phone into its cradle. Sighing, she shook her head and addressed her fellow watcher. "Well, Reg, I think we're in a spot of trouble."
Reggie silently agreed as he considered the woman convulsing on Mr. Travers's favorite rug. "What's the matter with her, Lydia? Is she some sort of street person? Why is the Council involved in this?"
Lydia drew a deep breath and began to explain. "I suppose you didn't get the memo. The girl is quite remarkable really. Willow Rosenberg: magic addict, witch gone mad. She achieved an unprecedented level of power in a very short time, but, as is usually the case, it was at a terrible cost."
As Lydia wove the tragic tale of Willow's dead lover and her unquenchable thirst for revenge, Reggie shook his head. "Crikey. Sounds like a bad episode of EastEnders, if you ask me."
Lydia smiled. "I didn't."
"In any case, Mr. Giles brought her to the Watcher's Council for treatment, and this is the second time she's escaped." Lydia impatiently swiped at a wayward strand of hair. "It's a black mark on the face of the Council every time this girl goes missing. We must make sure that she's still here when Mr. Giles . . ."
At that moment, Willow began to stir. Gradually her eyes gained focus and grew flinty as she considered the blancmange-like form of Reginald Claridge. "Who are you?"
Reggie's chin wobbled. After all, this girl almost destroyed the world. Should he answer her?
"Yes, you pathetic excuse for a Watcher. You should answer me."
Apparently, the witch could read his mind. Pulling himself together, Reggie cleared his throat and grinned. "Reginald Claridge is the name. Watching is my game."
It sounded lame, even to him. The color rose in his well-endowed cheeks. The day had seemed so promising--seeing his first real vampire! But now he had plummeted to the depths of public humiliation.
Lydia was at his side in a moment, dropping into a crouch next to the still half-prone redhead. "Miss Rosenberg? Your . . . friend, Spike, brought you to us."
"Vampire friend," Reggie interjected.
Willow's mouth twisted. "Friend. Spike. How far I've fallen."
Lydia took the witch's hand. It was leaden, cold. It almost seemed . . . dead. Shaking off the tremor that ran up the back of her neck, she composed herself and asked, "Is there anything I can get you? Tea, perhaps?"
Willow was about to supply a cutting response to Lydia's query when she heard footsteps approaching. With studied nonchalance, her gaze floated upwards and with considerable effort, she pulled herself to her feet. "Gee, Quentin. Nice to see you again." Willow smiled a parody of her old, chipper Willow smile.
Willow's less-than-pleasant aroma assailed Quentin Travers's flaring nostrils. Turning swiftly, he addressed Lydia, enunciating more than usual. "Miss Grant, do make sure she has a bath. I assume you've contacted Rupert Giles about this . . ." he nodded disdainfully towards the bedraggled girl, "problem."
"Hey, Quentin," Willow interjected with mock concern, "I'd be happy to get out of your way, since I'm such a nuisance." She lowered her voice conspiratorially. "I have a tendency to cause all sorts of trouble."
Travers ignored Willow, and continued to look at Lydia expectantly, waiting for an answer.
Lydia nodded vigorously in the head Watcher's direction and grasped Willow's wrist. "Of course, sir. We've already contacted him. He's on his . . ."
"When he arrives, bring Mr. Giles to the conference room. We have much to discuss."
Reggie considered Travers' s rapidly retreating form. "You're right, Lydia. We are in trouble."
Freshly bathed, the dark magic ebbing from her system, Willow Rosenberg had a pounding headache. Magic hangover. It was strange that you could get one of those, since technically magic wasn't supposed to be addictive. Well, regular magic at least. The black stuff that Willow had a taste for was apparently the mystical equivalent of black tar heroin, judging from the wicked side effects. All Willow knew was that she didn't want to stop. Because if she stopped, then she'd have to think, and if she started to think, then she'd have to remember. Remember what she'd done. Remember Warren, an anatomized horror, before he exploded into flames. Remember Tara, heart stopped by a neatly placed bullet. Remember the tower emerging from the depths, the power flowing through her, the desire to make it all stop.
She still had that desire. But she couldn't make it stop, short of killing herself, and she was under constant surveillance. Unless she could slip away again.
But then Spike would find her. And that was just weird. Why did he care? Was he stalking her? Of course, he was good at that. He'd perfected it to a fine art with Buffy, and now it was apparently her turn. God, he was annoying. Maybe Giles had asked him to find her. =I'm so concerned about Willow. I just want to help her.=
The only way anyone could help her was by letting her die.
Flopping down on her neatly pressed bedspread, a fragment of memory dislodged. Spike, clad in hideous shorts and gaudy Hawaiian shirt, trying to impale himself on a stake, attached by a C-clamp to Xander's coffee table. Spike, useless, chipped, and pathetic. Spike, craving something he could never have again. Spike, thinking that he could be one of the gang if he killed enough demons, "for puppies and Christmas!"
And then he became even more pathetic. Spike, trying to find meaning by having a hard-on for the Slayer. But he couldn't love Buffy, not really. Couldn't be the Slayer's hero.
The one thing Spike had going for him was tenacity. Everyone hated him, but he kept coming back for more. You almost had to admire his . . . courage.
Spike's words as he forcibly plucked her from the gutter floated back to her: "Death is the easy way out. It's harder to face yourself and what you've done. That's the real bitch."
"It is a bitch, Spike. How can I live with myself?" Willow considered her newly-scrubbed face in the elaborate gilt mirror supplied by the Watchers' Council. What a joke. As if she could ever really be clean.
Spike's voice echoed in her ears: "Never thought you were a coward, Will."
Willow picked up a brush and slowly dragged it through her knotted hair.
Quentin Travers considered the thick file in front of him: a record of supreme incompetence. Around the impeccably styled mahogany conference table, the entire London staff of the Watchers' Council waited expectantly, sipping tea, nibbling on biscuits, waiting for their leader to speak. Across from Travers sat the man of the hour: the renegade Watcher, Rupert Giles. His erstwhile colleagues tried and failed to refrain from staring. Giles, for his part, was stoic, unreadable, and, perhaps, if one looked very closely, vaguely defiant.
Angrily, Travers flipped through page after page. Faith, a Slayer now useless to the Council. Buffy Summers, twice dead and perpetually chafing under the yoke of her sacred duty. And now, Willow Rosenberg, a witch under Mr. Giles's tutelage who tried to end the world.
"Mr. Giles, I've read the evidence. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't toss both you and this girl into the street. You certainly haven't been of much use to the Council. In fact, it would appear that you are more trouble than you are worth."
Giles's voice trembled with anger. "After all I've done, after everything my Slayer has sacrificed, I cannot believe you would have the unmitigated gall to suggest . . ."
"Excuse me," Lydia raised her voice. "May I interrupt?"
Mr. Travers considered her with disdain. "It would appear that you have already interrupted, Miss Grant. You may as well continue."
Lydia's face flushed with embarrassment, but she was determined to make her point. "While Mr. Giles may be unorthodox in his methods, he is hardly ineffectual. His Slayer, Miss Summers, is the oldest active Slayer on record."
"What about Faith, the other Slayer, Miss Grant? She may as well be dead," Colin Atkinson, a young, smirking blond Watcher retorted.
"Alas, Mr. Atkinson," Giles replied, voice dripping with sarcasm. "I can't take credit for Faith. Wesley Wyndham-Price was her Watcher. I had absolutely nothing to do with her downfall."
Twenty pairs of eyes turned towards a distinguished-looking man with graying hair. Nigel Wyndham-Price cleared his throat and spoke tightly. "My son has always been morally flawed. I'm just pleased the Council no longer has to deal with him. We cannot blame Mr. Giles for my son's failings.
Lydia continued, "And Mr. Giles's pragmatism sometimes has remarkable results. A vampire even agreed to assist him with the Glory problem."
Travers smirked. "Ah, yes. William the Bloody, the same vampire that returned the wayward witch to our doorstep. What precisely is your connection with this thing, Mr. Giles?"
Giles paused. What was his relationship to Spike? That was an exceedingly complicated question. "Spike has sometimes been quite useful to us. He can't be trusted, of course, but since he's had the chip . . ."
Alex Kingsley interjected, "I've heard he's in love with the Slayer and that she has a sexual relationship with the creature--the worst sort of perversity. And you allowed this to happen. That's why he assists you."
The room hushed in expectation. They'd all heard the rumors. But were they true?
Giles considered Travers with barely suppressed rage. "I don't believe my Slayer's personal life is the Council's business. Furthermore, I didn't think it was the Council's job to spy on the Slayer."
Travers smiled pleasantly. "No, Mr. Giles. It's yours. But you chose to leave your position. I note you didn't answer my question."
Giles ground his teeth. "Spike is incapable of hurting any human. He's neutered, harmless."
"But not castrated, right Giles?" Kingsley leered. "Is he or isn't he sleeping with your Slayer?"
"He isn't, not that it's any of your bloody business, Kingsley," Giles replied. "She terminated their relationship several months ago. If he helps me, it's because he wants to help. He's formed attachments to several of the people in the Slayer's circle. Willow Rosenberg is one of those people."
Chaos broke out in the room. Disbelief, disgust, and revulsion were equally distributed over the Watchers' faces. This was a horror beyond imagining: a Slayer willingly having relations with an evil soulless thing.
But Lydia was not horrified. "Please," her voice shrilled above the babble. "Listen to me."
No one paid attention.
"Please . . ." Lydia's voice trailed off, lost in the riotous noise. Suddenly the thick file--the document of incompetence--was slammed forcefully upon the table and the room fell completely silent.
"Evidently Miss Grant has something to say." Travers turned towards the flustered young woman.
"It's obvious that we have a great deal to learn about our sworn enemy," Lydia began, her voice tentative, shaky. "As William the Bloody, Spike, has been helpful on more than one occasion, perhaps he would be willing to share his experiences with us. Think of the possibilities, think of what we could learn!"
"Yes, Lydia, he helped all right. He helped himself into the Slayer's bed," Kingsley retorted.
"William has a tendency to form strong romantic ties." Lydia spoke clearly, forcefully, as she warmed to her subject. "That in itself is an anomaly. According to what we've all been taught, soulless vampires cannot love. But, as I argued in chapter three of my thesis, William the Bloody . . ."
"If I didn't know better, Miss Grant, I'd think *you* had formed a strong attachment to this creature," Atkinson snickered.
"Think of the danger," Kingsley snorted derisively. "He could tell all his vampire friends where the Council meets and we'd be attacked. Sounds like a brilliant scheme."
"But Spike already knows where we are, Alex," a bright-red Reginald Claridge responded to his classmate. Alex and he had taken exams together, and he was sick of the pompous prat.
"All the more reason why we should eliminate the threat," Atkinson replied. "Mr. Travers," he turned to the Head Watcher, "I'd be happy to dispatch our assassins . . ."
"Just a bloody minute," Giles interrupted. "Spike is the one who brought Willow back. Besides, he's helpless. He can't hurt humans. Would the Council kill a creature that is incapable of defending himself?"
Reggie found himself agreeing with Mr. Giles. He didn't become a Watcher to kill something that couldn't fight back--even if that something was a vampire. "Instead of eliminating Spike, wouldn't it be better to give him some reason to be loyal, to give us information? Maybe we could bribe him, give him some money?"
"Money?" Wesley's father rolled his eyes. "Dear boy, why would such a creature need money?"
"According to Miss Grant's report from two years ago, for blood and smokes," Travers deadpanned. "I assume he'll also need money to maintain a lodging in London?"
Giles nodded in disbelief. "I suppose so."
Travers closed the file. "Let's make a deal, Mr. Giles. You bring in your friend, William, and we'll continue to treat Miss Rosenberg. You give us something, and we'll give you something."
"What will you do to him, Travers?" Giles considered the Watcher's deeply-lined face with suspicion.
"I promise you, we won't hurt him. A wise man once said, know thine enemy. You and Miss Grant will interview him and report back to me. The vampire will receive nominal compensation."
"What if I can't find him?" Giles asked. "I don't know where he is."
"If you're not willing to help us with this project, Mr. Giles, you may as well take Miss Rosenberg with you now. There's nothing else we can do for her."
Giles's lips tightened. "That's blackmail."
"How astute of you," Travers replied.
Continued in Chapter Three: Never Mind the Bollocks