Setting: Post-Normal Again
Entry 10 - Back to Normal
The one problem was that the doormen seemed to take a special interest in everyone's coming and goings and what mail was received. "News from the Slayer, then?" was the question when the letter was handed over.
Did Travers have the men on watch, reporting back on what came and went? Giles wouldn't be surprised; the more he was welcomed back into the fold, the more jaded he became. "I do have a few other correspondents in Sunnydale," he said, keeping his tone purposefully light. "A business partner, for one."
The man nodded as Giles went on his way. He'd have to tell Olivia to slip any other letters inside a covering envelope; wouldn't do to let Travers or his spies know just what he was receiving.
He found Lydia Chalmers in the dining room, enjoying tea, papers spread out across the table. "Join me, Rupert?"
"Don't mind if I do. Go ahead with your work. I've got something I'd like to read."
She ducked her head to glance at the postmark. "Sunnydale? Do you think it might be William's comments?"
Henderson had been right; Lydia Chalmers was possessed of a rather large crush on a certain vampire after all of one meeting. Giles felt a twinge of guilt for using that crush to his advantage, but let it pass. Lydia had quickly moved from tool to willing conspirator. "I'm not certain. If it is, I had hoped it would be somewhat thicker. Probably just more news from Sunnydale."
A quick glance confirmed that it was indeed the latest news, and Giles had no reason to doubt this would be just as cheerful as his other letters.
If I was a wiser man, I would be able to take your advice to not put too much into whatever scraps of kindness I receive from Buffy. Unfortunately, a century of living has taught me that I'm still love's bitch, no matter how many protests I might make to the contrary. Every ounce of common sense I possess says I should walk away from here, but I'm well and truly tied. What's more, how can I walk away when I think I've finally realized exactly what's wrong with her?
I don't know how the research is going at your end, but I think our problem has nothing to do with how Red's spell was performed and everything to do with Buffy's state of mind. Any possibility the Council has a shrink that might actually be able to handle the problems of a slayer who's returned from the dead? A few months on Dr. Freud's couch might do her a world of good -- although Freud might get too caught up in the symbolism of a young (presumably virginal) girl being called to thrust stakes into the hearts of the reanimated shells of men.
Giles put the pages down for a moment. "Lydia, has there been any work done recently on the psychological aspects of the Slayer?"
She frowned. "I don't think so. Most of the work done in the last few years is what they were able to glean about Faith — and much of that comes from what psychological profiles the Council could get its hands on from the prison psychologist. Is there trouble?"
"No, just something Spike wrote triggered a thought."
This particular revelation came about painfully, as most do here in Sunnydale. Ran into Buffy on my way home from doing a little grocery shopping a few nights ago. It was awkward, so I decided to stick to a nice, neutral topic and asked her how the wedding went after I left. Turns out it didn't. Harris apparently up and bolted, leaving Anya at the altar.
Giles' exclamation was unfortunately loud enough that it attracted the attention of others in the room. "Sorry," he said in general and turned his eyes back to the letter, trying to ignore the curious glances.
Have to admit that left me more than a bit surprised. If there's one thing in this world I thought was predictable and dependable, it was Xander Harris. Boy puts one foot in front of the other and follows something to the bitter end once he's said he'll do it. He's the one member of the blasted Scoobies I could see with the house, picket fence and 2.5 kids, even if the idea of a little Harris gives me the willies. Buffy seemed shaken by it, too, and sounded a bit annoyed at the fact the Whelp thought he and Anya could get back together after he'd hurt and humiliated her. Don't know a thing about that, now do I?
"Giles, is anything wrong?" Lydia looked genuinely concerned, and Giles began to wish he'd retreated to his room with the letter instead of joining her.
"I just learned my business partner was left at the altar." He shook his head, re-reading the paragraph. "I don't know what could have possibly gone through Xander's head to do such a thing."
"That was the young man who worked with the Slayer."
"Yes, and, well, he and Anya seemed so happy together. They only announced their engagement at Halloween, so this is quite a shock. Oh, thank you," he said to the waiter who poured fresh tea into his cup. "I'm surprised no one's called."
"Perhaps they couldn't reach you. You have been busy with your research and the investigations we've been doing."
"Perhaps " But he'd also gotten his computer set up and sent e-mails to Willow, Xander and Anya, asking them to write back. So far there had been silence.
Any possibility we might have had of a pleasant conversation was scuttled by the arrival of Red and the Whelp himself. Harris made some smart remark about not being surprised I was "tagging along" with Buffy on patrol. I was ready to ignore it, but Buffy jumped up all guilty-like and made out that she was trying to interrogate me. Can't have a simple conversation with Spike; has to be all about finding out information. That was enough for me and I decided it was time to take my groceries and go home. It was clear I wasn't welcome.
Now, I know I shouldn't let Harris get to me, but I'll confess to being a bit on edge of late. That's the best explanation I can think of rising to his bait when he told me that I should run along. Told him he should know a thing or two about that, making big exits and all. That hit home and we started puffing our chests at each others, a couple of bull seals making ready to do battle. Willow tried to stop us, but when Xander pointed out that I couldn't hurt him, I decided the headache would worth a few good punches in the face. Problem was, he sucker-punched me just as I finished putting my groceries down.
Fight didn't go anywhere from there, because Buffy started moaning like she was in pain. It was clear she wasn't okay — her eyes were unfocused, she was pale (and I mean my type of pale), and obviously in some type of distress. I suggested we get her to my crypt since it was nearby, but Harris took control of the situation and made it clear she was their friend and they didn't need my help, preferring to walk her all the way home instead of letting me carry her a short distance. Made me mad to be shut out like that, told my concerns didn't amount to anything.
Giles could understand the feeling quite well. They were both shut out; him by distance, Spike by jealousy within the group. It had to be jealousy of some kind; Giles could think of no other reason for Spike to be so shut out after they'd worked together so closely over the summer. Based on Spike's previous letters, Giles was fairly certain Willow and Xander had begun to suspect Buffy might reciprocate some of Spike's feelings, even if they didn't know the extent of what had happened. Xander's reaction seemed much the same as he'd had with Angel: do whatever he could to separate Buffy from Spike without caring if that was what she wanted. Angel had borne such efforts somewhat stoically; such was not Spike's style.
Funny thing is, the next evening Harris shows up on my doorstep, telling me we need to go demon hunting. Doesn't ask, just assumes. Suddenly I'm an integral part of the team. Hell, who am I kidding — I'm the hired muscle who's called on when needed. I went, though. Turns out Buffy had been poisoned and was having delusions she was in some kind of asylum where Sunnydale was simply a figment of her imagination. As often happens in demon-poisoning cases, Red needed the demon itself to whip up the antidote. Since Harris is at least bright enough to know he can't tackle these sorts of things himself, I was invited along for the ride.
What he'd neglected to tell me was that the demon was a Glarghk Guhl Kashama'nik. Didn't think there were any about in North America; last time I saw one was close to fifty years ago in Montenegro. Ugly, mean things. Probably summoned up special just for Buffy by those three annoying little rodents who are after her. Anyway, Harris and I capture the thing and wrestle it back to Buffy's. Made sure it knocked into the whelp a few times, which soothed my temper a little bit. Chained the beastie up in the basement and held on while Red poked it to extract the skewer. She headed off to put the antidote together in the old-fashioned chemical way, while I stood guard in case the thing got loose.
I should probably mention that Anya's apparently taken off for parts unknown and left the Magic Box closed in her absence. Harris has a key so he was able to get the herbs Willow needed. Don't know when she's coming back or what her plans are for it, but thought you should know.
That was not good news, and the fact Anya had sent no word, made no provision to keep the shop open worried Giles deeply. Had D'Hoffryn been invited to the wedding? Was it possible Anya might be considering a return to vengeance? He feared for Xander if that was so.
I did get a chance to see Buffy later. Willow had handed off the antidote and asked me to make certain Buffy drank it before leaving us alone. I wanted to talk, to tell her that she was right, that keeping secrets was killing her and she needed to stop doing that before she could get better. Before I could get more than a few words out, though, she told me I needed to leave her alone, that I wasn't a part of her life. Don't know if it was the delusions talking or if she meant it, but it was the last straw for me. So I told her what I thought, without wrapping it up in the hearts and flowers like I'd intended.
For a while now, I've been convinced that much of what was going on with Buffy was her refusal to accept some of the more primal nature of her calling. She is a vampire slayer; killing my kind is what she was born to do. I've seen her on the hunt, both by her side and as her opponent. She's magnificent, Giles, the best I've ever seen or fought. But possibly being drawn to the darker side of her nature isn't the problem here. She's miserable, has been ever since she came back, and she can't help herself. Somehow, she's managed to work herself into a nasty case of martyrdom, become addicted to the misery her little friends caused when they pulled her out of heaven.
That's why I've been her dirty little secret. Sure, I could see her keeping quiet if that first night was all we had. Then it might have been an aberration, lust on her part no matter how much love there was on mine. But she kept coming to me, telling me with her body that she wanted me even if her mouth wouldn't form the words. She couldn't tell her friends, though, because she might actually have to be happy if she did. They'd either understand and help her — and we've seen how wonderfully successful their help can be — or they'd turn away and I'd be waiting there for her. Either way, she'd find some peace.
Giles reached for his tea, wishing it was something stronger. Had Spike really said this to her? They were strong words, though Giles saw more than a grain of truth in them. Perhaps they needed to be said, but Buffy seldom reacted well to blunt statements.
Buffy needs to start living again, get off the bloody hero trip for a while. She needs to stop keeping secrets, because that's a large part of what got her here in the first place. She won't admit to her hurts, her joys, just keeps it all bottled up inside, festering away. She tried to make everyone think they were right and she'd needed rescuing from some dread hell dimension; you saw what fun that caused when she was forced to admit the truth. Now she doesn't want to admit her desires because actually putting it out in the open would stop this ugly little cycle.
I told her all that and gave her a choice: she lets her friends know about what's passed between the two or us, or I will. Either way, the secrets are going to stop. Buffy needs to live for herself, not some twisted ideal of what she thinks she's supposed to be. Do I think this will bring her back to me? The wild fantasies hope so, that she'll admit to her feelings and we can begin again from a better place, but somehow I doubt it. Most likely, her little gang will rally around her to keep the big bad Spike away, help her "get over" her attraction. If she stops beating herself up, though, starts to live again, I think I can deal with it. Maybe we can both move on.
Spike was at the end of his tether; that much was clear. Anger, frustration were all evident from his words. Pushed much farther, and there was no telling what he might do.
I'll keep my fingers crossed on your proposal; not having to worry about the financial aspect would remove another barrier to Buffy actually dealing with her own problems rather than the rest of the worlds.
Finally, I have to thank you for being there and listening to my ramblings. Knowing I had this outlet has been more of a lifeline than you can possibly imagine over these past few months. We have our differences, but we're both trying to do right by Buffy and your efforts and advice have been a comfort. Next time we see one another, I owe you a few pints.
P.S. As I ended this, I heard of the Queen Mother's passing. You should have seen her during the Blitz, Rupert. Made me proud to be English. Strange to think I have seen the installation of the first Empress of India and the passing of the last. Don't matter what the history books say; Victoria couldn't hold a candle to Elizabeth Bowles-Lyon.
Giles folded the letter and slid it back into the envelope. "Lydia, I think you'll have to excuse me. Tell the others I won't be able to make it tonight."
"Of course, but Rupert, what's wrong?" Her eyes were worried behind her glasses.
He pushed away from the table, reaching down to take a final sip from his cup. "I think I need to make a phone call, and I don't know how long it will take."
Continued in Entry 11 - Communication