Setting: Post-Older and Far Away
Entry 7 - Many Happy Returns
At least travelling was easier between London and Bath; no need to keep an expensive car in working order to make the trip. The station was in walking distance of his flat and if the weather was foul, as it was today, there were always cabs. Still, he had to admit a certain regret for the loss of his convertible, even if he'd been fully aware of the amusement it'd cause. How had Spike described it? Shiny, red, shaped like a penis. Even under the influence of a mind-wiping spell, the vampire had managed to get straight to the heart of the matter.
The cab let him off in front of his building and after paying his fare, Giles made the quick dash inside without dropping any of the books he carried. The research he'd been asked to do shouldn't take more than a day or two, but Giles couldn't help but wonder if Travers wanted him busy and out of the way.
You're our resident expert on Angelus, Travers had said, and you might be aware of some circumstances that would shed some light on the Nyazian prophecies. You've actually met most of the parties involved. There might be some things others have missed. While it was flattering to have his field work acknowledged and be lauded as an expert, Giles couldn't help but wonder if they wanted him occupied while their research into the protocols of Osiris continued.
Dropping the books on the nearest table, Giles fetched the mail and dropped the small stack atop the books before going to change out of his suit. A brief shower later, he was clad in more comfortable clothes as he sorted through the various circulars. When he saw the envelope with the Sunnydale postmark, he smiled and tossed the rest aside for later. A few more pages than usual, which Giles hoped meant Spike had good news for him for once.
Buffy's birthday has come and gone and we have managed to survive, wonder of wonders. It was, as expected, a fiasco, and I suggested at one point that she might want to consider not celebrating the day. I mean, the Judge, you turning into a Fyral demon, the Bit learning she's the Key, and I imagine the Council probably insisted on putting her through that insanely stupid ritual when she turned eighteen. Waste of a good slayer, I say.
Giles had to raise an eyebrow at that one. Where had Spike learned about the Tento di Cruciamentum? He knew he shouldn't be surprised since he was coming to realize the vampire had a considerable amount of knowledge about slayers and the Council, much of which was known to few outside the inner circle. A pity he hadn't known about Spike's research capabilities while they were in Sunnydale; they might have come in handy from time to time.
I'll tell you all about the festivities, but first I want to answer a few of the questions you put to me. Don't know if anyone bothered to mention that a group of Hellions rode into town the night Willow raised Buffy; they'd encountered the bot first, damaged it and the bloody thing led the Hellions straight to where they were doing the ritual. That's what interrupted them, and I'll wager the Urn of Osiris was probably destroyed at that point.
I've tried asking Anya in a roundabout way, but her mind's totally consumed with the wedding at this point, so I doubt I'll get anything from her until after she and the Whelp get back from their honeymoon. I also tried talking with Tara, but she's become strangely reticent concerning anything to do with Buffy.
Damn. It looked like the avenues of information were being cut off for both of them. Perhaps he should write Tara himself, let her know he was looking into the spell. She'd always been so protective of Willow, though, that he doubted he would have better luck.
Thanks to your encouragement, I think Miss Chalmers will be quite pleased with what I ultimately send her. Yes, I will tell the "Peaches" story -- and I'm not the one who gave him that nickname. By the way, I happen to know exactly what "recent event" you're referring to. Every vampire on the West Coast with an ounce of brains knows about it, along with half the general demon population. Buffy, on the other hand, does NOT know. If she did, I think we all would have heard about it.
It you can think of a gentle way to let Buffy know her great love has had a child by the she-bitch from Hell, I'd be glad to hear of it. For my part, that's a mire I want to stay as far away from as possible. I've got enough trouble with Angel hanging over us; don't need more.
He'd suspected Spike would have heard about Angel's son, but hadn't wanted to let the information be imparted in a letter. Certainly Spike was watching out for his own interests in the matter, but here was one point where they might actually intersect with Buffy's in more way than one.
As far as Giles knew, Buffy had never truly let go of her love for Angel. It'd caused some problems for her and Riley and clearly there were issues with Spike as well in that regard. For a brief moment, he hoped that if anything good came out of this liaison, perhaps it would be that Buffy could move beyond that lost love.
As to the magic -- you've seen the only major ritual I've conducted on my own, when I healed Dru. Don't like the dark rituals if I can avoid them; too many hidden costs beyond whatever sacrifices are prescribed. I've done a fair number of minor spells in my time and do just fine with general things that have a broad effect, but I've never developed the control for the finer touch. Not to say I haven't been exposed; the Aurelius line is lousy with the blood magic peculiar to vampires. Darla was the main practitioner in our happy little family, having learned most of her stuff from the Master himself. I spent twenty years acting as her second in rituals, about the only thing she thought I was good for. Angelus often couldn't be bothered and Dru, well, would you want Drusilla's help warping powerful forces to her will? When the group shattered after the Boxer Rebellion, I happily left it behind except when desperately necessary.
Considering the Du Lac ritual had been cut short by Buffy's intervention and Angel not completely drained as required, that Drusilla had returned to full health spoke of a higher level of mastery than Spike gave himself credit for -- or was willing to admit to. The healthy respect for the forces dealt with was reassuring, though. Even without an answer to what could have gone wrong with the spell, Giles had already begun to think ahead to the possibility that another ritual might be needed to restore whatever balance had been lost. Even if Willow was in any condition to do what was required, Giles did not think such it would be wise for either her or Tara to participate, given their involvement in the resurrection. At the very least he would need a second and he had no doubt Spike would be more than willing. Better her mentor and her lover than strangers or those she held resentments toward.
Speaking of magic, remember when I asked if you knew of a local chapter of Magic Users Anonymous for Red? I was joking somewhat -- you don't give up that kind of power with twelve steps and positive thinking mantras. Leave it to the Hellmouth, though; Red has joined a group entitled Spellcasters Anonymous. Probably a group of Wicca wannabes who caught their first glimpses of something nasty and ran scared. Type of power Red's been dealing with, she could wipe them out with a flick of her little finger. Hopefully they're at least giving her support with her self-esteem issues, because that's one of her big problems and always has been.
Only on the Hellmouth. He wondered if they had their own version of the Serenity Prayer.
You asked what I might think would cause me to be able to sense Buffy and her me. I don't know -- perhaps the fact we're having incredible, passionate, earth-shattering sex at every opportunity might have something to do with it.
Giles dropped the letter, reached for his handkerchief and began to clean his glasses vigorously. No, he did not want to think about that. Perhaps a scotch would help
Now that you've cleaned your glasses, I'll admit I'm not sure why. Part of it is her scent; there is something distinctive about Slayers, at least to me. First time I saw Buffy, I just knew she was the one I was looking for. I'd been given the description of young, short, blonde, but there were plenty of those at the Bronze that night. Buffy, though, stood out instantly, out on the dance floor with Red and Whelp. The longer I've known her, the more that scent's been refined; I know when she changes shampoo or bath gel and that she favors light, floral scents. These days, it's heavily mixed with that special Doublemeat odor, though I'd never let Buffy know. Part of it is probably the fact that there comes a time of night when I'm waiting for her appear whether my conscious mind knows it or not. She can, and has, surprised me at times when I'm not expecting her.
As for Buffy's end, I thought Slayers were supposed to be able to tell when vampires were about. That is part of the training, isn't it? Close contact has probably given me a distinctive signature in her mind as well. At least, that's my rational explanation for it. Sometimes, though, it defies description.
And Buffy had never been particularly good at focusing on picking vampires out in a crowd. For her, it'd always been something about the way they dressed or did their hair. But Spike didn't know that. He might have to do further research into vampire mating rituals after all.
Of course, Buffy often defies description, which brings us to her party. I wasn't officially invited, as I think I told you, though Red let the information go without hesitation, and Buffy didn't seem that surprised to see me come through the kitchen door. Turned out to be quite a gathering. Nibblet, Red, Whelp and Demon Girl, of course, but Tara also appeared and Buffy invited one of her co-workers (girl seemed pleasant enough, but barely said a word in my presence the entire time). I brought Clem, one of my poker buddies (yes, he's a demon, but a well-behaved example) as I thought he might add to the fun.
I don't think any of us were prepared, however, for the guest Harris decided to invite. Seems Anya's starting to get the urge to do "couple" things with other people, and since she doesn't know any couples that admit to being couples, she had the Whelp invite one of his work buddies, a guy named Richard. Picture Riley Finn without the personality. Moment he walked in, knew the Slayer could break him in half with just a flick of her wrist. Harris, however, was all, "Show him where to park his car, Buffy, because he's too stupid to follow directions."
Buffy didn't look too thrilled, but played along (probably to get Harris off her back). Amazingly, though, as soon as they left, Tara started saying the wanker was "cute." Cute! Said she wasn't an expert in guys, and asked if Clem and I thought he was cute. Clem agreed with her. Well, I don't play poker with him because of his great mind.
Doesn't seem Buffy thought Richard was particularly cute, though she managed to be polite, like when admiring a new puppy that might piddle on the carpet. She certainly wasn't encouraging any of his offers to fetch her a drink or get her food or spend time together. He kept staring after her with these big mooneyes. Suppose I can't blame him; couldn't keep my eyes off her myself. Stupid git. No matter what you might hear, I was NOT jealous.
Giles couldn't help chuckling. Ah, to be young and in love. Spike was clearly jealous, even though he was loath to admit it. Giles remembered when he was younger, and there was a lady who'd caught his attention only to
Did he just admit Spike was in love with Buffy? Up until this point, he'd always avoided the issue, never wanting to admit the feelings Spike expressed were truly real. But there'd been his grief at Buffy's death, his affection for Dawn, and a hundred incidents of tenderness and friendship. He'd very much been a part of the team that summer, joking easily with the others. It was only when Buffy had returned that he'd retreated into his snide Big Bad persona, avoiding the others. Caught up in everything else, Giles hadn't really noticed at the time, but now he wondered if that had been Spike's way of dealing with his own resentment over Willow's spell.
Yet his devotion to Buffy had never wavered, and Giles realized he might just have to admit the feelings Spike expressed might very well be real. Unfortunately, that might make things even worse.
I'm beginning to think the Scoobies might suspect something, even if they don't want to admit it could actually happen. Harris is being especially blind; about a month ago he caught Buffy and I together in Buffy's kitchen. Nothing much was happening except a little exchange of affection, but Xander acted like I was the only one doing anything. Even suggested at one point that I needed a girlfriend. I imagine, though, that what he's denying could possibly happen is exactly what spurred him on to bring Buffy her birthday "surprise."
Red I'm less sure about, but she's seen me show up at the house and left us alone. She even gave Buffy a back massager for her birthday, said it was for taking out on patrol and could provide instant gratification for all her little acheys. I was good, Rupert. Didn't say a word. Didn't have to, since Buffy looked right over at me.
The strange one is Tara. She's really begun to blossom since she separated from Red, but I'd never quite realized what a wicked sense of humor she has. The first time was when she had the stones to ask me if I thought Richard was "cute." Later, she caught me in the hall with Buffy and asked if anything was wrong. I tried to play it off (since I assumed Buffy hadn't changed her stance on keeping her friends in the dark about us), said I had cramp Buffy was helping me with. She looked me dead in the eye and asked, "In your pants?" Not a stutter or hesitation. Later, I made some comment and she asked how that cramp was. Then she suggested I put some ice on it. Could've knocked me over with a feather.
That the others suspected something was going on seemed likely. That they weren't certain or were in denial was probably the only reason he'd not yet received frantic phone calls for America. Those would likely be coming soon.
Anyhow, back to the festivities. Did the usual, with cake and opening presents. Aside from Red's present, Harris and Anya gave Buffy a new weapons chest Harris had made. Nice piece of work, actually. Wouldn't mind one like it myself. Dawn's gift was a leather jacket -- and here we come to the heart of the tale.
The party continued on -- and on. In fact, the sun came up the next morning and we were all still there. There'd been a few times when people had mentioned that they should be going, but no one moved. It wasn't until Buffy and I had a disagreement and we decided one of us needed to leave that we realized no one could leave. We physically couldn't make it to the door.
For some reason this upset Dawn, and she raced upstairs in a fine display of fifteen-year-old angst. Buffy went after her, followed by me and most of the Scoobies. Turns out Dawn was feeling neglected and thought our attempts to get out of the house meant we didn't want to be around her. Buffy tried asking if Dawn had done some sort of spell to keep us there, but Dawn decided she didn't want to speak to any of us, so there was going to be no information forthcoming.
With the phone lines dead, it was decided our best course of action would be to do a general reversal spell, let us slip through whatever was holding us there. Problem was, Buffy had cleared all the magic supplies out of the house so Red wouldn't be tempted. Not surprisingly, turns out there were a few items that just "happened" to be missed in the sweep. Good for us, not so good for Red and definitely not good toward rebuilding her relationship with Tara.
As it turned out, it wasn't even good for us; Tara's spell didn't break the barrier keeping us in and managed to loose a demon trapped inside a sword Buffy had brought home from patrol. She'd thought the ugly had gotten an ounce of sense and departed in the face of the danger that is her, but it'd only gone into hiding. So Tara accidentally brings forth the demon, which immediately tries to kill all of us. Botched it badly and only managed to slice Richard up nicely before disappearing into the wall.
Now we're trapped with a wounded civilian and a big ugly -- and Anya starts to get cabin fever. Understandable as we were coming up on near twenty-four hours of the party that would not end with a demon in the walls and wounded upstairs. Didn't help that I'd been unable to keep the demon from slicing Harris in the arm. Problem is, Anya with cabin fever starts acting like Anyanka, cold and determined. She wanted out and decided there was one person capable of breaking whatever spell we were under: Willow. It's no secret that Red and Demon-Girl mix like oil and water, but it was never more apparent than at that moment. Red said she couldn't do it and Anya countered that is was more like "wouldn't."
I gotta hand it to Red, she actually seemed to understand that if she got a taste of the type of power that it would take to break through the spell, any effort she's made at controlling things so far would fall by the wayside. That, however, wasn't particularly a concern of Anya's and she decided to push the issue. Of course, Harris picks that moment to side with his woman for once. Tara then surprised me again by coming to Willow's defense. Had the guts to tell Demon Girl that Willow wasn't going to do it if she didn't want to and if Anya decided to force the issue any farther, she was going to have to go through Tara.
Anya backed down, saying she would solve this herself. When she headed off, Tara took Clem and Sophie to the kitchen. It was clear she was still upset with Red over the stuff, even if she was quick to leap to her defense. That left me with Willow, who was indulging in her second favorite pastime, beating herself up over her failures, real or perceived. To be more accurate, beating herself up over her failures, real or perceived and getting her friends to give her absolution. I've played the game with her myself -- under some very odd circumstances -- but not this time. Told her she'd screwed up and that if she really wanted Tara back, she needed to earn Tara's trust before she'd be let back inside. Yes, I was thinking of Joyce when I said it; it was good advice when she gave it to me.
Didn't have time to say much more as we suddenly heard Anya carrying on fit to wake the dead. Seems her idea of solving the problem was to ransack Dawn's room to find evidence to support her theory Dawn was responsible for whatever spell was holding us there. What she found was a nice little cache of goodies lifted from the Magic Box and other places. We all should have recognized the signs; if nothing else, there was Sweet's talisman around her neck even if Harris was the git who'd summoned the demon, but more were there. Remember the jacket I said Dawn gave Buffy for her birthday? Nice piece of leather, accessorized with the story security tag. It's like the girl wanted to be caught, one of those "cries for attention" you hear so much about from psychologists when they get a TV gig.
Giles felt his mouth go dry. How long had this been going on? Clearly for some time and neither he nor Anya had noticed. Things had been such a mess following Sweet's spell that Giles had forgotten Dawn's insistence that she'd only picked up the talisman accidentally. Buffy wasn't the only one who'd been blind.
The Nibblet's going to have hell to pay for this one, Rupert. Anya won't easily forget the insult -- the words "punitive damages" were used -- and there'll be the fallout with Buffy, though that might not be as bad as might be expected. Buffy's eyes seem be truly open now about how much she's been shutting Dawn out, which is real and true progress.
Through all this angst, Buffy managed to get out that Dawn had made a wish to her new guidance counselor, a woman she hadn't met prior to that. She'd wished people would stop leaving her -- hence the trapped in the house. Moment Anya heard that, she knew exactly what was up. She started yelling for someone named Halfrek, who's apparently a vengeance demon specializing in mistreated children. Since a vengeance demon's spell can only be broken by her command or destroying their power center, Anya expected her old friend to show up front and center and get us out of there.
Halfrek did show -- and was promptly run through by our other demon. By this point, Buffy and I had realized we needed to get it back into the sword, so she grabbed that while I tried to hold it. Thing broke free and dived into the wall, but Buffy shoved the sword in after it, which did the trick. Demon caught, she broke the sword over her knee, solving that problem.
Which left the matter of Halfrek. Anya dove for the woman's pendant, probably planning to break it to end the spell. Turns out vengeance demons don't die easily, so Halfrek was able to object before Anya got her hands on the thing. She told us Dawn's misery had been readily apparent, which was why she offered her the wish. Scolded us all for our behavior and said we deserved to be stuck together. Then tried to make a big exit, only to discover she was stuck there by her own curse. Only way for her to get out was to lift it, which she did. What can you expect from a vengeance demon who grandly informed us she preferred to be called a "justice demon?" Like me saying I'm sunlight and soul challenged.
That provoked a snigger. The idea of political correctness reaching the demon world was ludicrous -- but Giles had learned long ago that there were any number of demons who seemed to operate on very human levels.
By the by, could you do me a favor and see what you can uncover about Halfrek? She seemed to know me -- called me William, even -- but I didn't recognize her, I think. It was very strange. Maybe I ran into her shortly after I was turned, 'cause I adopted "Spike" fairly quickly. I'll look at my end, but I know the best demon books went home with you.
So, with Halfrek gone, we were free to leave. Door opened easily and everyone made their escape. Xander and Anya took poor Dickie boy to the hospital, while Red took a short walk with Tara. I was the last one out, and when I looked back, I saw Buffy closing the door, deciding to stay in with Dawn. Would have liked to lure her away, but she needed the sis time.
So that's this year's tale of woe. We've all survived with relatively little damage, and even some progress on Buffy's part. Should've seen her dealing with the demon problem, Giles. She was aware, in charge, setting me to watch the folk upstairs while she went downstairs with the firm control of a general. Then, at the end, seeing her with Dawn, knowing things were going to get better for them, that they could work it. I saw a genuine smile on her face at one point, too, saw her actually be happy to be with her friends. I could live through a hundred birthdays like hers if I knew I'd see that smile. I know slayers have their own expiration date, but rest assured I'll do my best to make certain it's a long time coming.
The wedding's in a few weeks; I'll drop you a line and let you know how it went.
There was a smile on Giles' face as he laid the pages aside. He was not at all happy with the idea that Dawn had been shoplifting, but for once he'd actually heard hope in Spike's words. The tone of the letter was lighter as well, more the snarky wit he'd come to associate with the man. Buffy was doing better. Maybe, just maybe, even if they couldn't find anything wrong with the spell, she would be able to find her way once more.
Trying to remember if he'd managed to unpack the books that would cover vengeance demons or if they were still in storage, Giles made his way to the kitchen to fix himself some dinner. He hummed as he set the water to boil for the pasta, in a far better mood than when he'd arrived home. Yes, maybe spring was just around the corner.
Continued in Interlude - Catharsis