After you've read 'Two Ravens', 'Les Noyades' and 'Book of Days' read this. It's Giles' POV.
Mea Maxima Culpa
I would have killed Dawn myself to keep this world safe. And I know with every fibre of my being that I would have been doing the right thing. If only doing the right thing was a comfort.
Buffy is dead. There is no comfort in anything.
She was beautiful. She was as radiant as an angel from an illuminated manuscript, glowing and golden. I couldn't stop staring at her. A part of me expected her to sit up with a punning jest to chide me for my outward lack of emotion. A part of me expects it yet.
Someone asked what we should do. Xander handed Anya to me, his young face set, and moved toward Buffy with an awful sense of purpose. I watched while he battered her. And, though Willow screamed, Dawn sobbed, and Spike roared in anguish, I did nothing. He had a plan. He was trying to protect those who remained. He was doing the right thing.
I transferred Anya back to Xander; he tenderly cradled the injured girl. I began to pick the rubble from Buffy. Xander objected, but Buffy deserved better. I held my precious burden until the ambulances arrived.
The hospital proved an education. Xander took charge, skilfully dealing with doctors and police alike. His hastily concocted story passed without comment, and Dawn and Anya's injuries were treated.
Anya was immediately sent to a bed in critical care. Dawn, her injuries less serious, had to wait in the triage room. There were many people seeking help, battered and bleeding, desperate for someone to take care of them. I looked at them with loathing. Not one of them knew of her sacrifice. Not one of them was worth her life.
Dawn sat huddled in her seat, frail in her grief. She leaned against me, silently begging for comfort. I settled her into the crook of my arm, drawing her closer and kissing her bowed head. I looked at her, so trusting, this child that I would have killed. Without pause if not without regret. I stroked her hair. With my hand. With my left hand.
I felt a sudden need to check on Xander and left Dawn in the care of Willow and Tara.
It was hours before we left. Anya and Dawn were safely settled for the night, Willow and Tara quietly keeping watch. Xander and I set out. To where I wasn't quite sure.
Duty is a harsh master. It allows no other loyalty. No softness, no laughter, no love, no soft golden hair winding it's way around your heart. It's needs are paramount, it's requirements unyielding. Should I be a slave, a soldier, a co….
Oh, we've stopped. At the construction site, that's odd.
Xander is at my door, giving me a hand out. What are we doing here?
Fetching Spike? It would be wrong to leave him? Well, by all means, we must do the right thing.
We went to the Summers house. Xander carried Spike inside. They waited in the hall as I ran upstairs for supplies. It occurred to me that Spike had no trouble entering. Buffy or Dawn must have invited him in again. I must speak to them ab…. I must speak to Dawn about that.
I spread a sheet across Joyce's couch and Xander set Spike down. His leg was rather in a bad way; it must have been very painful. Spike tensed when I reached for his pants. But a drink is a lovely idea. Jack Daniels. If only there were some Glenlivet. Well, if wishes were horses.
Xander and I conducted a whispered conference. Spike would need to be kept still and I didn't think that he would allow us to tie him down. Xander, uncharacteristically serious, volunteered to hold him fast. Then, with a flash of his old humour, he told me he was used to lying on top of demons.
Spike's scream was very loud, but it didn't take long to set the bone. It was much easier to tend to a vampire than a human. Very little blood, no risk of infection. Spike very thoughtfully stopped me from sterilising his wound with the whisky. We could put it to better use, was how he phrased it. Quite right, too. I savoured the burning in my throat, the numbing of my pain.
Memories are mercurial things, one moment sustaining the next devastating. It was here, in this room, that Buffy celebrated her birthday. It was here that Joyce lay, dead. It was here that the children of my heart slept, chased by th…..
What? Spike's hungry? There's no blood? No meat? Well, I'll see what I can do.
I walked through the kitchen. Nothing to be found. Vampire lore indicates that blood is not only their nourishment, it is their panacea. Blood is necessary for healing. Spike needs healing. Therefore, he needs blood. I gathered some instruments and returned to the others.
I sat back in my chair and drew the knife across my palm, across my lifeline, if you believe in that, and watched whilst blood dripped down, filling the mug I had brought. I drank more whisky and I thought about the frailty of human beings. About how easy it was to make them bleed. How simple it was to stop the blood from flowing. How slick blood is beneath your hand.
Spike took the cup from me, I do believe I startled a polite thank you from him. I bound my left hand and I thought about the impermanence of the flesh. About how effortlessly a knife slices through. How a scar commemorates a wound. How deeds are made manifest.
And then I drank yet more.
I feel like a latter day Sisyphus. Only instead of a stone I'm pushing a mountain of paper. And just when I think I've finished the last bit, more is piled before me. If Sunnydale is Hell, a claim I feel quite justified in making, then the California legal system must be Cerberus. And that's a rather clever analogy, if I do say so myself.
Dawn's emancipation, Joyce's Estate, health insurance, quit claims, it was never ending. It didn't take long to sell my condo. I was a little surprised, considering the damage it has taken over the years and the general vacancy rate in Sunnydale. And even Dawn's court proceedings went quickly. I think that they wanted her back in school as soon as possible. It hurried things along when Hank Summers couldn't be reached. I can't imagine the effect that had on Dawn.
I tried to spend time with her. I helped with her homework, saw that she ate properly, but I couldn't bring myself to do any more than that. Xander made her laugh, roughhoused and tumbled with her. Dawn and Tara did her hair, took her shopping; even Anya could make her giggle, heads together as they planned the wedding. And Spike. He seems so protective, so involved with Dawn. I was surprised when he started helping with he homework. I was bloody floored when he went on about Swinburne. Seems that the Council neglected to mention the William the Bloody, Scourge of Europe, read poetry at Oxford.
Oxford, how well I remember it. The love of learning the penetrated the venerable walls of Merton. The afternoons spent lounging at Christ Church Field, or rowing on the Thames. The history that lived in ev….
Damn cat! Knocked my tea all over the bank statement. Can't make head nor tail out of this. Anya, do you possibly think that you could? Oh, lovely, thanks.
I had not realised what a remarkable girl Anya is. In five minutes she had straightened out my overdraft account, in ten she had informed me that not only was I overpaying Willow and Tara for working in the store, but that I was on the brink of financial ruin. After a half-hour of cheerful adding and cross-referencing she announced that everything was fine, and that I wasn't to bother with the accounts anymore.
Amazing. What I had sat up with, night after night, she took care of in minutes. She seems so frail yet, but this is the most animated she's been since she was injured. Perhaps I can just leave the household accounts laying about.
It occurs to me that I'm not particularly needed here. Willow and Tara are more than capable of taking care of the shop and the house. Anya will keep everything afloat financially. Xander is quite the responsible adult now. Spike will protect Dawn, and by extension the others.
Dawn. Yes, well, that's the sticky bit, isn't it. I think that she gets enough love and affection from the other children. Even Spike seems to adore her. She doesn't need me; I can't provide the things that she needs. I can't be her father. I can't be anybody's father.
I sit up many a night, nursing these thoughts and a single-malt. I think that they can manage very well without me. And I fall asleep, night after night, thinking of verdant fields dotted with black-faced sheep. Of chips soaked with malt vinegar wrapped in newspaper. Of strawberries swimming in clotted cream washed down with a decent cup of tea. I dream of England. I yearn for home.
Bit of a contretemps last night. Both Tara and Willow came in crying. Separately, at least half an hour apart. Willow looked right at me. I think that she wanted to talk. I feigned interest in my book. Then Spike entered. He was dishevelled, hair rumpled, shirt untucked. I looked at him rather sharply, but he just shrugged and went upstairs. I wonder if I need to have a talk with him about the girls. No. They are all adults. They have to learn to face problems head on.
I wonder if the Clarendon still serves that lovely coquille St. Jacques?
Dawn has been studying Shakespeare. She sees it as such a chore, as if readingA Mid-Summer Night's Dream was some sort of punishment imposed upon her by an unfeeling monster. I must admit that it rather offended my sensibilities. Imagine a life without Shakespeare. How grim that life would be. How devoid of beauty and laughter. To never hear the classic words of the Ba…..
Really, Xander, you don't have to look so enraptured with the prospect. Yes, yes, Anya, I'm sure that the world without Shakespeare isn't as bad as the world with two Tolstoys. Look. This is beside the point. Dawn needs to learn this. If not for the sheer pleasure of the work, then because she needs to pass this course.
Spike came up with a brilliant idea, Shakespeare really is meant to be seen. Less brilliant was having me be Bottom to his Titania. Still, it did remind me of England. Of putting on plays at Eton. Spike was surprisingly good as the Queen, and I trust that I held my own against him.
It was such a relief to hear their laughter. I think that they really will be fine without me. I really think that I can go.
I was lying in bed, immersed in memory, when I was abruptly brought to my feet by a commotion from upstairs. I made it to the hall in time to see Xander, Anya in his arms, rush out the door.
Something certainly seemed to be wrong.
Spike grabbed Xander's keys and followed the couple out. The girls gathered around, their anxious questions filled the air. I had no answers. Murmuring vague reassurances I fled to the kitchen.
I made hot chocolate. Vile stuff, cloying and too sweet, but Dawn loves it. I rinsed my cup and put the kettle on. I mechanically went through the familiar ritual of making tea.
How many times had I done this? How many cups of tea had I consumed? More than coffee. Less than whisky? Nursery tea; ginger, camomile, china black, heavily milked, sweet with honey, such a special treat. The Oxford years; high-minded debates about obscure philosophical concepts over endless cups of green tea, the horrible fruity herbals consumed whilst chatting up that hippie girl from Swansea. Later, during the rebellious years, the lost years; English Breakfast laced with psychotropic herbs, better than whiskey for masking the taste, but not entirely able to hide the bitterness. How many cups of tea drunk from styro cups; oily and acrid when not pale and weak, waiting for Mother to die.
I breathed in the fragrant steam. Here was England. Here was history. Here the comforting hand of family, long since lost. The king of beverages, the comfort of mil.....
Fuck! Noise from the hall, startled me. Steaming tea all over my hand. Lovely. Some one has come. What news, I wonder.
Xander, looking so young, smaller and more defenceless than I know him to be. Spike, concern etched on his face, guided him to the stairs. Obedient, child-like, Xander ascended from view. Someone asked a question. I didn't need to hear the answer. I didn't want to hear the answer. But Spike spoke the words, and I slumped against the wall as my fears were realised.
Another life in my care, extinguished. Another child dead, because of my careles...
Hey! That's my tea. I wanted that!
But Spike drank it down at a gulp. I recognised the desperate need for comfort in that action. I believe it's instinctive for an Englishman to turn to tea in times of crises.
Our eyes met in a second of rueful humour before a noise from upstairs caught his attention. He walked the stairs in with a slow, deliberate pace. The girls followed close behind him. I, too, had a mission. I returned to the kitchen to refill the kettle.
It was hours later when Spike beside me. I poured him a cup of tea, and we drank in silence. When the pot was empty we started on the bourbon. I didn't want to know what could put such a haunted look on the face of a soulless killer.
After a while he went away.
I waited in the kitchen until it was time to start breakfast.
We sat around the table, the remains of our meal growing cold, acutely aware of absent faces. And when Xander came downstairs I couldn't look at his lost eyes for more than a moment. No one spoke until Xander broke the oppressive silence by turning on the radio. Then Willow lunged across the table to change the station, and we became a veritable chorus of gloom.
I had not fully comprehended quite how extraordinary Anya was. After Joyce's untimely death, she had become obsessed with mortality. She researched the customs surrounding death and dying, and had issued explicit instructions in case of her own demise. These instructions she left with me. Even though I was so much older than she and would reasonably be expected to predecease her.
She left a will. I was surprised at the extent of her savings, all left to Xander. This legacy, coupled with his salary, would be enough to keep him financially secure for years to come. I could supplement the store's profits with the retroactive pay I received from the Council. My current salary as an inactive Watcher would see me through.
Yes. I think that they can manage without me.
Xander is remarkably composed. He seems very adult, very mature and focussed. I've been very carefully reviewing the household accounts with him. He's learning very quickly. I think that I can safely book an airline ticket.
They'll be just fine without me.
Perhaps it was the coward's way out. To not tell them until it was time for me to leave. But it seemed the right thing to do. I packed my bags and set them by the door. I called for them to gather close. They stood before me, these children that were so dear to me, and I calmly proceeded to break their hearts.
Dawn burst out in sobs and stormed off to her room, such the teenage cliché. Tara paled and set her mouth, biting down on the questions I could see in her eyes. Xander looked at me with the visage of an abandoned puppy. Spike, still half-asleep, seemed inclined to go after Dawn. It was Willow who exploded with questions and accusations.
You'll manage fine without me. You can look after the store and the house. You don't need me. You have plenty of income, plenty of money saved. You don't need me. You can take care of Dawn. You don't need me.
And then Spike repeated one of Willow's questions. And it looks like I have to talk about Glory. About B.. About Glory. There is no need to worry about Glory. Not anymore. Never again.
I picked up my bags and reached for the door handle. Xander came up behind me and don't touch me!
I wheeled around, arms out, breaking his grip. The expression on his face shifted from betrayed shock to understanding, and he reached out for my hand. I tried to pull away, but he held fast and brought our clasped hands to his mouth. He pressed his lips against my scar, kissing it, bathing it with his tears. And he whispered to me a benediction. That I did the right thing. That he would have done the same. And the relief that flooded me was indisputable.
I did not realise that I needed forgiveness until I was forgiven. By this boy, of all people. This boy who had suffered so greatly and was now trying to ease my suffering. This boy who I had treated so distantly and who was now murmuring that I was his father. This boy of whom I am so proud.
I reached down and touched his hair with my free hand, kissed his vulnerable temple. A blessing and a farewell.
I wonder if it will be raining in London?
Continued in Little Mouse Sounds