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The Watchers' Diaries: The Apocrypha
By Caro

Setting: Post-Wrecked



Entry 1 - Letters from Home

The letter with the Sunnydale postmark was a welcome surprise. There had been several transatlantic calls since Giles' return to Bath, but no letters. It hadn't surprised him, really; Buffy and the Scoobies were very much children of modern America, and he had long ago discovered letter writing was something of a forgotten art in that country. Perhaps he would break down and get an e-mail account; electronic communication might prove more enticing.

Settling into his favorite chair, the rain beating gently against the windows, Giles turned the envelope over, savoring the anticipation before actually opening it. He felt a slight disappointment when he realized the return address was that of The Magic Box. Most likely Anya had sent him a progress report on how the business was doing. The handwriting was not hers, though, the letters more looping and flowing, a style Giles had not seen since his school days.

Curiosity got the best of him at last, and he carefully slit open the envelope. There were several sheets inside, all covered with the same flowing handwriting. No, it couldn't be from Buffy or her friends. They had the most appalling handwriting. Unfolding the sheets, he began to read.

Hello, Watcher,

I'm probably the last person in the universe you'd expect a letter from, but I thought you might like to hear what's happening here on the Hellmouth.

Curious, Giles flipped through the pages until he reached the signature, a single word: Spike.

Surprised, he returned to the beginning, wondering what the vampire could possibly have to say that would cover so much paper.

We've managed to keep ourselves busy since your departure, trying to track down a demon who seems to have a fondness for freezing museum guards and stealing diamonds. No luck on that front, though anything you might know would be helpful.

Harris and Anya are continuing with their marriage plans, although Anya is starting to show a certain longing for her demon heritage that could mean trouble. Don't know if it's pre-wedding jitters or she's really having second thoughts. Droopy Boy is being amazingly mature about the whole thing, much to everyone's surprise. Perhaps there's a prophecy somewhere in your annals about sodding idiots growing up and the world ending?

Tara has moved out of Casa Summers, thanks to Willow's little forgetting spell. However, she's still seeing Dawn, and Red is hoping the two of them will get back together. I doubt that'll happen anytime soon. Appears that there's this rat Willow had who was really a girl and Willow finally managed to de-rat her (you may know more about this -– I couldn't get a coherent background). Anywise, this girl Amy is apparently also a witch and more than a little willing to dabble in the Black Arts. She's hooked Red up with some bad stuff and bad people. The man's name is Rack, and if I didn't have this sodding chip in my head, I'd let him know it's time for him to close up shop and move on. He's gotten Red hooked on the dark stuff, and is feeding off her energy – that's been his usual mode of operation. Apparently, Red's sworn off it, but I can't imagine Rack letting such a tasty feed go so easily. Don't ask me how I know him; it's a long story and I can hear you clucking your tongue at me all the way from here.

Giles realized he was indeed clucking his tongue. Putting the letter down, he fetched himself a scotch. Somehow, he had the feeling he was going to need it.

Suitably fortified, Giles picked up where he'd left off.

The real trouble came when Red decided to drag Dawn along while she got her "fix." They went missing for hours, Buffy worried (the girl does need a lojack) and I got dragged in to help find the Nibblet. What followed wasn't pretty. Turns out Red had managed to conjure up a demon while she was on her little power fling, and it'd ended up following them. To make a long story short, Willow stole a car, crashed it, damn near got Dawn eaten by this demon, and fried it while Buffy was in the process of kicking its ass. Dawn had a broken arm, and I ended up taking her to emergency while Buffy dealt with our addict.

Dawn and I had a long chat while we waited for her to get her arm set. She's feeling lonely and cut off. Seems Buffy's been either smothering or ignoring her, and everyone else – myself included, sad to say – have been pretty much ignoring her now that Buffy's back. Fortunately, Tara seems to take a real interest in her and, despite the problems between her and Red, is still making an effort to let the Nibblet know that someone cares. I'm going to try to do better myself, but that may be difficult due to certain other circumstances.

As you might guess, the certain other circumstances include Buffy. She's not doing great, Rupert, but I think you knew that when you left. After she came back, we started talking. Rather, she started talking; I listened and tried to make her smile on occasion. I think maybe it's the fact we have a shared experience. After all, we've both had to claw ourselves out of our coffins and that's something you don't forget, no matter how long you go on. I'll make a confession; I've known since shortly after she came back where Red wrenched her out of, only she made me promise not to let you lot know. She so desperately wanted to make everyone think it was alright, that they'd done a good thing by bringing her back. Maybe it would have been better if she'd let out everything that was inside her then, instead of letting it fester.

She's desperate to feel anything, but it's also like what she does feel, she's afraid of. She's blowing hot and cold on me, and it's driving me mad. She seeks me out, we snog madly, then she turns ice queen and runs away. Only it's gone beyond the snogging now, and she wants to pretend it never happened.

I know what you're doing at this moment. You're picking up the phone to call the airlines, hop a plane over here and stake me. Put the phone down. I have no intention of hurting her; I'd stake myself before I did that.

Giles realized his hand had indeed reached for the phone. With an effort, he replaced the receiver and continued to read.

Buffy will kill me if she ever finds out I told you, but I've reached the point where I need to talk to someone, and I feel we can at least speak man to man – or vampire to watcher, as it were. I love the girl, Rupert, and love her enough to know she's the best damn thing that's ever happened to me, dead or alive. I'll take eternal damnation, Dru, Angelus, Darla and all the rest if that's what it took to get me to this moment.

Enough being soggy. I'm not writing this to let you know I feel sorry for myself, because in some ways I'm not. The best thing I can do for Buffy is be strong and not indulge her behavior any longer. She's leaned on all of us and needs to stand on her own two feet and face what life's dealt her. Only when she does that will she start to heal.

But you knew that, didn't you? It's one of the reasons you left, because she'd come to depend on you too much. All slayers have a death wish; I've seen it in their eyes. But I never saw it in Buffy's eyes until now. She longs to be away from here, and I fear that someone's going to slip in and have that one good day. She's got to find a reason for living, be it Dawn or me or whatever it takes.

So me and the girl aren't talking at the moment. Things are…complicated between us, but I still want to do what's best for her, and that's why I'm writing you. Quite accidentally, I discovered my chip doesn't work on her. Works on every other human around; I know because I tried and got the migraine to prove it. It doesn't, however, work on Buffy. (I will spare you the gory details on how I proved it.) So, unless this chip is Buffy-centric, which I doubt, there's something about her that isn't firing it off.

Willow used something called the Protocols of Osiris to bring Buffy back. That much I've managed to extract from Tara. I could go and look it up at The Magic Box, but that would raise some eyebrows and suspicions. Besides, while I've done a spell or two, I'll be the first to admit it's not really my area of expertise. You've got the background and training, and with the resources of the Watcher's Council at your command (somebody must owe you some favors), I'm sure you can find out how the bloody thing was supposed to work and what could have gone wrong. Perhaps it's just a remnant of an other-wordly Buffy, but I'd rest easier if I knew.

I've cut a deal with Anya, and she'll let me use the store as a mail drop, so you can write me care of that address. (She's insisting on my help with inventory in return for this favor. Lo, how the mighty have fallen.) Write soon. I'll keep my eye on her, but the clock is ticking.

Say hello to the Mother Country for me,

Spike

Despite the crackling fire in the fireplace, Giles suddenly felt very cold.



Setting: Post-Gone



Entry 2 - Intentions

"You're joking, right?"

Anya held the letter out of Spike's reach. "No joke. I need someone to watch the shop for a couple of hours. Xander and I have a meeting with the caterer. Buffy's working and I trust you with the cash register more than I trust Willow with the merchandise. Besides, being here isn't good for her recovery. So, since I'm letting you use this address for a mail drop, I think you can do me the favor of watching the store this once.

With a sigh, Spike relented, figuring the letter was more important than the indignity of playing shopkeeper. "You can hang your coat on the rack, and I've left instructions on how to write up sales and run credit cards," Anya said as she headed for the door. "Use your discretion if anyone wants anything from upstairs; I think you have an idea what's dangerous."

She paused on the threshold. "And, Spike, I know how much is in the register."

With that, she was gone, leaving Spike alone in the shop. Grumbling, he hung up his duster and returned to the counter where the letter lay waiting for him. He should be glad she hadn't insisted he wear an apron or one of those stupid tags Buffy had told him about -- "My name is Spike. Ask me about our curses!"

He opened the envelope and extracted a few sheets covered with Giles' impossibly tiny writing. He'd been waiting weeks for the response, popping into the Magic Box through the sewer entrance every few days, trying to pick the times when it was most likely no one but Anya would be there. Which is how he now found himself manning the shop during the mid-afternoon when all good vampires should be asleep in their crypts. Ah, well, his sleep cycle had been shot to hell months ago.

Dear Spike, the letter began formally, giving Spike cause to smile. Habit could be the only explanation for such a convivial greeting.

I will confess to some surprise and even a bit of pleasure at receiving your letter. Communication from Buffy and the others have been spotty at best, so any news is welcome. I'm certain Anya is currently driving you all mad with the wedding preparations. Well, perhaps not you since I don't believe you're part of the wedding party, but given your proximity, I seriously doubt you will escape unscathed.

I received my invitation, but I must confess to some trepidation as to whom she might be planning to invite from her acquaintances. After a thousand years of being a vengeance demon, I'm certain some of her friends are…interesting. There are moments I wonder if Xander truly understands what he's getting into. Demon/human matches are never easy and very few of them ever work out, though I have some hopes for this one since Anya has chosen to live as a human.

By the way, if she hasn't mentioned it, I'm certain Anya will include you in the list of those whom she expects a gift from. She and Xander have registered at Robinson's-May, so be forewarned.

Spike frowned. The watcher was probably right, and a gift wouldn't be out of line if he wanted to stay on Anya's good side. Not that he cared, personally, but it could be important to Buffy.

The bell over the door tinkled and three girls entered, busily whispering to each other and giggling. They were about Dawn's age, he reckoned, and immediately headed for the table not far from the counter where Anya had arranged a display of candles. Keeping one eye on them to make certain they didn't nick anything, Spike returned to his letter.

I'm sorry to hear about Tara. There's a certain steadiness about her I had hoped would be a good influence on Willow. However, even without her experiences with Glory, the idea of having one's memories manipulated by someone you care for is repugnant and I respect her decision. If you should see her, please give her my warmest regards.

As to Willow, it is precisely as I feared. When she performed the resurrection spell, she was working with forces she truly didn't understand and it has left its mark. Perhaps I am to blame for all of this. I should not have allowed her to perform the ritual to restore Angel's soul to him; she was not ready for such forces. Since then, she has been steadily increasing in power with no true guidance.

Although I do not know this "Rack," I have an excellent idea of the type of lowlife you are describing, having had my own experiences with that element. I fear you are right in your assessment that she has not seen the last of him -- or of Amy. If Willow's power is now truly out of control, Rack will be drawn to it, and he may threaten to cut off her "friend" as a way of compelling Amy to bring her back. And yes, I do know the story behind her ratting, and there are a few items you should know as well.

A burst of giggles, and Spike looked up to discover the girls were casting surreptitious glances in his direction as they pawed through the set of candles that were supposed to help one's love life. Unable to resist, he flashed them a smile and they dissolved into more giggles before turning away to chatter among each other.

Amy's mother was a powerful witch who managed to wreak a great deal of havoc and pain with her pursuit of her youthful dreams. When we attempted to break the transposition spell she had cast on Amy, she attempted to kill Buffy, but only succeeded in destroying herself. Amy, despite her own trauma, seems to have followed in her mother's footstep. You might recall the love spell which had every woman in Sunnydale -- including Drusilla -- pursuing Xander. Amy was responsible, and turned Buffy into a rat. Later, she used the same spell on herself and was unable to reverse it. Willow took care of her until, well, such time as she managed to uncover the reversal spell. Watch for her; there will likely be more trouble.

I must thank you for confirming what ritual Willow used to bring Buffy back. Not surprisingly, the Council is highly interested in Buffy's return and are busily involved in their own research. I used your information to steer some of my friends in the right direction without mentioning the source. I didn't think you would particularly mind if the Council didn't know of your involvement. The spell is indeed a powerful one, with a heavy cost to those who use it. I imagine Willow kept most of the details from the others, though Tara should have had an inkling and Anya certainly should have known better. Anya was probably also the source for the artifact they used; not all of her suppliers are above board or human.

It is no mistake that you and I were excluded from this plan. Dawn I can understand; she had been through enough and it would be best not to get her hopes up. But we would have tried to stop this insane plan and Willow knew it. You know how powerful blood magic is; it is, after all, at the very heart of a vampire's creation. Despite our differences, I do believe you care enough for Buffy that you would not have risked the possibility of her coming back wrong.

The girls approached the counter and Spike reluctantly put the letter aside. "These are supposed to help make a boy fall in love with you, right?" the leader asked as she put the candle on the glass top.

A quick sniff told him they'd grabbed the combination of vanilla, cinnamon and amber, a scent designed to invoke passion. He considered telling the girl what she wanted to hear, but looking at the long dark hair and eager eyes, he decided she was a little too young for passion. "Not the best. Try this."

He moved from behind the counter and fetched another candle from the display. This scent was lighter, purer, a blend of ylang-ylang and moss, suitable to promote mild romantic and happy feelings. "If it's love you're wanting to find, this should work much better. And this," he hefted another candle, "will help reinforce it. Light it first and extinguish it last."

Spike did not mention that his second suggestion would provide an aura of protection for any silly spell they might be considering. It'd be best to tell them they were too young to be dabbling in such things, but he had enough experience with Dawn to know exactly how well that would go over.

With the sale rung up and the sound of giggling thankfully absent, Spike returned to the letter. He was nearing the end and he hoped there would be no more interruptions.

What you write about Buffy concerns me in more ways than you can imagine. I had hoped that my departure would help her see that she needed to take more control and interest in her life; I fear I was wrong. Perhaps I should have stayed, tried to talk more directly with her. Difficulty is, every time I attempted it, she shied away, content to let things rest in my hands. Even after that appalling incident with Dawn at Halloween, she preferred to leave the discipline to me. I should let you know that I heard Dawn complaining to you on the back porch later that night about how mean I was to her. Hopefully your speech on why vampires are bad and what boys really want took root better than mine.

As to the other matter…I imagine it will not surprise you that I was not particularly cheered by what I read. Firstly, Buffy's behavior is quite out of character and may be the sign of another, more serious problem. Secondly…you were frank with me, so I will be frank with you. I would be happier if you were far away from Sunnydale and from Buffy. I think a relationship with you is the worst possible thing for her to be involved in at this or any other time. That your chip does not appear to work on her does nothing to ease my worries. Your behavior in the past regarding Buffy has been reprehensible and somewhat unstable. Nor is that my only concern. You are a vampire. She is the Slayer. I have never believed that such a relationship is either feasible or desirable. And before you convince yourself that this is simply because I do not care for you personally, let me add that I had many of these same objections regarding Angel.

Unfortunately, for all my objections, I have no power to stop whatever relationship the two of you are engaged in at this point. As you so rightly pointed out, the time has come for Buffy to stand on her own, make decisions and stand by the consequences. That you wrote me about your concerns has eased my fears slightly -- but only a little.

I do make this promise: if you harm Buffy in anyway, if I hear you have mistreated her or harmed her or Dawn, I will not appear in Sunnydale to stake you, assuming Buffy does not do so herself. That would be far too simple and too painless. But you will pay.

If the research on the Protocols yields useful information, I will let you know. Please, write again. Much as I dislike it, you are my only correspondent and my only coherent source of news and I would like to remain abreast of the latest developments. I will end now, as I would like to post this before it rains and the clouds are gathering. Are you familiar with Bath? My flat is near the Crescent and I am within easy distance of the old Roman baths.

Yours,

Rupert Giles

Spike folded the letter and slipped it into the pocket of his duster. Glancing at the clock, he wondered how long before Anya returned and he could get away. He needed to think and he desperately wanted a cigarette.



Setting: Post-Doublemeat Palace



Entry 3 - Research

The response arrived much sooner than Giles expected, coming with the morning post and just as he was about to depart to meet colleagues to catch a train to London. Travers' invitation had been rather unenthusiastic, but as Giles was still officially Buffy's watcher, protocol demanded he be present to hear what had been uncovered so far in the research on her resurrection. Without really thinking, he stuffed the letter in his jacket pocket, and dashed through the rain into the waiting taxi.

Henderson and Caldwell greeted him warmly upon his arrival at the railway station. "I imagine you'd rather be back in sunny California at this moment," Caldwell quipped as they made their way down the platform.

"I can assure you, the close proximity of a Hellmouth dampens the appeal somewhat." Giles squinted up at the dull gray sky. "Although I know a few vampires that would likely enjoy this weather."

The hour being early, the cars were filled with London commuters, and it took a few minutes to find three seats together. As they settled, Caldwell commented, "I'd forgotten you actually worked with a vampire during your stay."

"Two. There was Angel and…"

Caldwell grinned. "William the Bloody. How could I forget that? You should have seen Lydia when she came back from Sunnydale, Rupert. She kept on about actually getting to meet the subject of her thesis and how charming he was. Remember, Thomas?"

"How could I forget? Apparently she thought he had the bluest eyes. She sighed after she said that. She actually sighed."

The two men laughed and Giles managed a smile. "I think he would be quite amused to discover he has an admirer."

As Henderson and Caldwell continued to exchange stories and gossip, starting with Lydia and moving out from there, Giles remembered the letter he'd stashed in his pocket. Retrieving it, he glanced at the address, done in that old-fashion looping style he was beginning to associate with Spike. Satisfied his companion would be occupied for a few minutes, he opened the envelope and extracted the sheets, all letterhead from the Magic Box he noted with a touch of annoyance.

Giles,

I do have a passing familiarity Bath. It was not fashionable in my day, but our not-so-happy little family did pursue bit of mayhem there at one point. Unfortunately, the constant rain made Drusilla less manageable than usual, which made Darla cranky which made Angelus unhappy which…I think I will stop there. I have seen the baths; they provided a nice retreat when a little solitude was in order.

Tara was quite pleased to receive your message and sends her love. She's feeling a bit lost herself these days, missing Red and trying to find her way alone. She is stronger than she looks, though, and I think she'll do fine, even with being part of the wedding party.

"Interesting mail, Rupert?"

Giles looked up to realize his colleagues' conversation had stopped. "Urm, shop business. News on how things are going. My partner's getting married soon, so she's making some temporary changes." He began to refold the sheets. "I'll read it later."

"Later" did not arrive until lunch was winding down. The morning had been spent in a review of what the Protocols of Osiris actually were, along with a few accounts of some of the more spectacular failed attempts that had Giles squirming in his seat. How could Willow have even considered this? More importantly, how had it managed to work?

As the group took a short break before regrouping for the afternoon section, Giles seized the opportunity to retire to a quiet corner of the Council's main conference room and extracted the letter once more. It had felt as if it were burning a hole through his pocket most of the morning, especially each time Travers had looked in his direction.

Red herself looked pretty bad the last time I saw her, only a few days after the accident. She looked like someone going through withdrawal and it wasn't pretty. Buffy has made an effort to clean all the magic items out of the house, so she's getting the help and support she needs -- at least as much as Buffy can give her. Don't happen to know of a local chapter of Magic Users Anonymous, do you?

I haven't heard anything more about this Amy, but then I haven't been over at the house much and I don't expect it's something Red would volunteer.

As to what you said about "letting" Red do the spell to restore Angel's soul, I seem to recall you were rather unavailable at the time. Something about you being tied up and me complaining about not wanting to have to pick librarian out of the carpet. She's got a stubborn streak almost as bad as Buffy's and when she makes up her mind to fix something by magic, precious little can stop her. She chose this path. It's not your fault.

Giles found himself smiling. There was something oddly comforting in Spike's assertion and more than a grain of truth. When had he come to know them so well?

On a happier note, I've actually been issued and invitation to the wedding. Harris even told me I could bring a date. Don't worry; I'm not even considering asking Buffy. It's clear she prefers what we have remains hidden from her friends. By the by, message received and understood; I wouldn't expect less of you. You're the closest thing to a father she has that I've seen and I know you don't find my intentions honorable, so a few threats are understandable. I think I actually would have been disappointed if you hadn't made them.

Glad to hear my information about the spell was useful; if anyone has the resources for this research, it's the Council. I might wish the wankers to hell otherwise, but I can't fault their library.

Speaking of the Council of Wankers, is there a reason why they send the Slayer out to save the world but can't be bothered to make certain she can afford to keep a roof over her head, not to mention a growing sister? Surely there must be some precedent for supplying the Slayer with funds. This is no idle rant on my part; I'm afraid money is still very much an issue for Buffy and she's found herself employment to do what she can to solve the problem.

My quarrel's not with the idea of her finding work. The idea that she's been reduced to flipping burgers, however, is unsettling. Yes, she's taken a job at that fine Sunnydale establishment, Doublemeat Palace. I know you know the place because I remember seeing the wrappers in your trash. It's terrible to see her there -- horrible uniform, ugly hat, an atmosphere of despair that kills the soul by inches. It's beating her down. I can see it in her eyes, feel it in her touch and it frightens me more than you can imagine.

I've seen that look before, Rupert, in the eyes of a slayer just before I killed her.

"Giles, are you well?"

Giles started at the voice. The room had begun to fill for the afternoon session, and Henderson was looking him with some concern. Dropping the letter to his lap, he took off his glasses and reached for his handkerchief. "Fine, fine. Why?"

"Your expression." He gestured toward the letter. "Bad news?"

The horror he'd felt at reading Spike's words must have shown on his face, Giles realized. "Usual Hellmouth activity," he lied. "There was a bit of a touch and go incident, but it all came out well."

Henderson didn't look convinced, but he nodded and moved away to take his seat. Common sense dictated the letter be put away again to be taken out in a more private setting, but Giles felt compelled to forge ahead as quickly as he could.

I've tried to convince Buffy she could do better, but she keeps saying she needs the money. Hell, I could get her money if it came down to it, but she doesn't want it that way. I shouldn't be surprised, but it's damn frustrating to try and help her sometimes. I can feel her slipping away and she's not grasping at any of the lifelines I'm tossing out.

The problems with Social Services aren't helping. Dawn's had some problems with school, so they've been sniffing around. I'm afraid I might have accidentally aggravated the problem at one point; happened to be there when the rep came visiting, trying to suss things out with Buffy. Woman seemed pre-disposed to taking Dawn away, though Buffy's managed to work out a temporary reprieve. You can imagine how crazed this is making her. Between that and the job…let's just say I try not to let her patrol alone. That is, when she has a chance to patrol with her new schedule.

For a moment, I thought she was getting better and that I'd have good news to report. She started to take an interest in things, to smile a little more. The jokes she made when slaying were actually a bit funny sometimes. Then came this. I know she needs to stand on her own two feet, but we've got to be able to find something that will allow her to stand tall. Any suggestions are welcome at this point, and anything you can do to get the Council to cough up some cash would a godsend. Between the two of us, surely we can up with something.

If anything changes for better or worse, I'll let you know.

Spike

He felt little comfort in the words, for there had been none offered. The reports on the research had begun again, voices droning on. Giles only heard one word in ten, mulling things over in his head.

The meeting ended with no real conclusions and a decision to meet again in another two weeks. For a moment, Giles considered stopping Travers before he departed, bringing up the subject of a stipend, but decided against it. Travers would see it as the perfect opportunity to give the Council power over the Slayer once more, and any offer made with that attitude was bound to be rejected. Worse, if Buffy discovered he and Spike had had a hand in the offer, it would likely damage her relationship with them both.

Just then, Lydia Chalmers caught his eye and an idea began to form in his head. He patted his breast pocket where the letter now resided and made his way toward her. "Lydia, didn't you write your thesis on William the Bloody?"



Setting: Post-Dead Things



Entry 4 - Plans

It wasn't as bad as the beating from Glory, but Spike still felt the ache. He had some herbs, procured earlier that day from the Magic Box that would help — aspirin not being particularly effective on vampires - but they tended to fog the mind a bit and he wanted to be clearheaded to deal with Giles' latest missive.

Anya had dispensed both herbs and the letter with annoyance. Apparently she was supposed to go look at an ice swan for the wedding and had hoped he'd show up so she could leave the shop in his hands. One look at his face, though, and she'd decided he would scare away the customers.

Spike had paid no heed to her complaints; he wasn't particularly in the mood to play shopkeeper for her, even if it meant she might feel less inclined to allow him to use the shop as a mail drop. He was tired, sore and wanted nothing more than to sleep until the pain went away. It'd be in a lonely bed, too; Buffy likely wouldn't come calling after their bout in the alley.

Easing himself gently onto the pillows of his bed, he pulled the pages from the envelope. Giles' writing was never easy to read, and his swollen eye made it more difficult. He thought of tossing it aside, swallowing the herbs and some blood and forgetting it all until he felt better. The thought was only a passing one.

Dear Spike,

I wish I had better news to report, but the Council unfortunately seems to be in the early stages of its research. The last report I heard only went through the Fourteenth Century and did nothing but reaffirm my certainty that Willow did a foolish and dangerous thing with this spell. It was a distressing afternoon and I must confess your letter (which had arrived in the morning post) proved a comfort, even with its less than cheerful news.

If they knew that your chip no longer functions around Buffy, that might give them a better idea of where to look. Unfortunately, the Council would also consider you an immediate threat and would either send orders to Buffy to kill you or send a team to accomplish the job. Roger Iverson, watcher to the last slayer you killed, argues for it on a regular basis; he was particularly appalled to learn I had worked with you and hadn't taken the opportunity to "accidentally" plunge a stake into your heart.

So he had enemies. Not particularly surprising. It'd taken about forty years and encounters with several other slayers to realize he'd been marked as a target, someone the young women were trained to recognize. Nikki's death had likely only moved him up the list.

And what would these men do if they realized their precious slayer had not only worked with him, but come to his bed? It was something he didn't care to contemplate.

Not all members of the Council are hostile toward you, however. In fact, those who have seen little or no field work find you an object of intense interest. It is rare that any have the chance to actually study a vampire on a long-term basis in the wild, so to speak and I know of more than one person who would leap at the chance to interview you. I've been peppered with questions regarding your background, personal habits, etc, most of which I have refused to answer. For some reason, I find the idea of betraying any confidences distasteful. I have, however, informed Quentin Travers, the head of the Council, that you are a fan of Passions and enjoy Wheatbix in your blood. You would have found his annoyance quite amusing.

I think we can use this fascination to our mutual advantage. You might recall Lydia Chalmers from the Council's last visit to Sunnydale. It seems she was quite taken with you during her brief interview, so much so that it has become a bit of a joke among her fellows. You were the object of her thesis, a well-thought out piece of work even if it relies on sources which I have come to realize are in error. For example, if Angel turned Drusilla in 1860 and she is your sire, you can hardly be 200 years old as many books claim. I have taken the liberty of forwarding a copy of Miss Chalmers' thesis to you under a separate cover. She would be highly appreciative if you could read it and provide some annotations and corrections. Send them to me and I will make certain she receives them.

It took Spike a minute to recall the woman Giles spoke of. Blondish hair pulled back severely, glasses. She'd fluttered when he'd smiled at her, though he couldn't remember any particular effort to charm her, just trying to figure out why the Council had come knocking at his door and chosen not to turn him into a pile of dust.

He re-read the paragraph and grimaced at the thought of reading the woman's thesis. What was Giles thinking?

Why should you do this, you might ask? Because I found your suggestion the Council pay Buffy a stipend an excellent one, and I have convinced Lydia to do some investigation into possible precedents for such an action. She is better-connected then I at this moment and Travers has some faith in her abilities. In order to make a stipend palatable to Buffy, we must ensure there are as few strings attached as possible. Travers will never extend such an offer with no strings, but I will do what I can to minimize the damage. Lydia may also prove useful in the future.

Very good reason to read the thesis. He'd play nice and do as Giles asked. He was doing this for Buffy, he reminded himself.

Is she still working at the Doublemeat Palace? I understand your concerns about her well-being and the effect it might have on her, but if Social Services is becoming a problem, then even that employment is better than none. She was quite right to refuse your offer of money; while your intention may have been to help her, a questionable source of income would hardly aid her cause to keep Dawn. Thank you, though, for keeping an eye on her where patrolling is concerned; it gives me some peace of mind.

What you said about the look in Buffy's eyes set me to thinking. I will confess to some unease since I've returned home. At first I attributed it to readjusting to life in a different clime and at a different pace, as well as the circumstances under which I left Sunnydale and concern for Buffy. Now I realize it is not simply that, but a growing concern with the way the Council handles slayers. Travers and many others see them as a tool, a weapon in the war against the forces of darkness; they expect the girl to be totally dedicated to this task with no other interests to distract her. I once thought that was as it should be, but now I have my doubts. I wish I could trust you enough to enroll you as an ally, use your experience to better train slayers. Even if you were willing, that the Council would accept such help is beyond the realm of possibility.

Spike nearly dropped the pages in shock. Him? Train slayers? Next Giles would be suggesting he become bloody watcher.

But what was he doing now? Writing letters on Buffy's activities, seeking advice, doing what he could to help her. About the only thing he wasn't doing was seeing to her training. When his wounds had healed, though…

He reached for the herbs and tossed them down his throat, following it with a large chaser of blood. Not going to think that way.

Forgive my rambling. It was not my intention to burden you with my thoughts. Have you heard anything more about the situation with Social Services? How is Dawn dealing with this? Are she and Buffy communicating? How is Willow's recovery progressing? I wish I knew of a support group that could help her, but the people in Sunnydale who would understand what she is going through are precisely the type of people she should avoid.

I am glad to hear you were officially invited to the wedding. Like it or not, you have become very much a part of our lives and it is fitting you be included in this special occasion. I had hoped to be able to be there, but it seems unlikely at this point. Pity, as I think you and I have a great deal to discuss, much of which is difficult to do by letter.

You and me both, Rupert. You and me both.

I hope that by the time this letter reaches you, Buffy will have either found other employment or come to terms with the work she's doing. I can understand your frustration, but do what you can to help her. Willow brought her back, but I fear it is up to you to keep her alive. If you need anything, let me know. If you need to call me, use the phone at the Magic Box; I will make things right with Anya.

Write soon,

Rupert Giles

Spike tossed the letter to one side and gingerly slid into a prone position. Damn. This hadn't been his intent when he'd written the watcher initially. He'd needed someone to talk with and he'd been hoping there'd be an answer to Buffy's problems in Giles' musty books. Even if there was, it was clear it wouldn't be coming soon.

Damn.



Setting: Post-Dead Things



Entry 5 - Bodies

It came as a bit of a jolt to Giles to realize he'd actually begun to look forward to Spike's letters. He found himself sorting quickly through the post each time it came, looking for an envelope from Sunnydale and experiencing a small pang of disappointment each time one was not there.

He tried to tell himself it was just because of the news about Buffy, whom he was concerned for. He'd only received one brief note from her since his return to England, painting a far different picture from Spike and their few phone calls had been filled with uncomfortable silences and guarded sentences. If anyone had told him a year ago he believe Spike's accounts rather than Buffy's, he would have thought them mad.

Giles -

One of the things I enjoy about your letters is that they're so full of glad tidings. Of course, mine aren't much better, so that puts us on equal footing.

Am I surprised the Council has yet to uncover anything? No. The Council plods. The Council has always plodded. If they didn't, they might be more effective against my kind. I've garnered a fair amount of information about them during my study of Slayers, and there are times they act like they're stuck in the Nineteenth Century. The old "the sun never sets on the British Empire" mentality. Before you start clucking your tongue, let me remind you that I remember when Disraeli made Victoria Empress of India.

Giles wasn't clucking at all, but chuckling. Spike had somehow managed to echo his own opinion exactly, though he'd never admit it.

Miss Chalmers' thesis has arrived and is currently sitting on my bedside table. Perhaps it is a well-thought out piece of work, but her style's a perfect cure for insomnia. It's taken about three days to get through the first two chapters and this is my bloody life she's writing about. I'm making notes like a good boy, though I fully intend to be selective about what I let her know. No reason to give your enemies too much information on oneself, is there? Actually, I'll amend the above. I found her summary of Angelus highly amusing and will happily give her copious notes on what the Poof was like in those days. A man's got to have some fun.

I have to say I like your idea of gathering support before attempting to push for a stipend. Points to you, Rupert, for not rushing in blindly. Although Buffy never said a word to me about Travers, Joyce was fairly forthcoming in sharing what Buffy had told her. Sounded like a perfect git.

I miss Joyce. Lovely, lovely lady. Never hesitated to offer me a cup of hot chocolate when I dropped by, and was always willing to listen to my problems. Ripped me a new one about the stunt I pulled with chaining Buffy up, though; I'd come by hoping to get re-invited in, but she refused. Said Buffy had her reasons and I'd have to earn her trust before I was allowed back inside. Told me that if I tried to hurt her daughter, she'd take an axe to me like she did when we first met, only it wouldn't be with the blunt end.

Hard to believe she's been gone nearly a year. I stroll by her grave on a regular basis, make sure everything's alright. Wish she was here now; she might be able to get through to Buffy.

Had it really been a year? Putting the letter aside for a moment, Giles tried to wrap his mind around all that had happened in that short space of time. Joyce's death. The fight with Glory. Buffy's own death. The nearly five months of patrolling and trying to keep the demons and vampires convinced Buffy was still alive. Coming home to England, only to get the phone call from Willow that Buffy was alive. Back to Sunnydale. A smile and hug, but tired, tired eyes. Offering to let Buffy lean on him while she got better, only to find she was simply letting him do the thinking for her. Learning she'd not been in a hell dimension at all. Making the decision to go.

So much, so short a time. A glance out the window showed the day was gray and overcast, a far cry from the clear blue skies of Southern California. He'd ask the rector to add Joyce's name to the remembrances for Sunday.

You asked how the others were doing. I saw Red the other day and she seemed in better physical shape, though still a bit jumpy. Apparently she's not allowed into the Magic Box without a chaperone, which is probably the best thing for the moment. We talked about general subjects like the plans for Buffy's birthday party and what she should take this semester. She was very much in her "Willow trying to pretend everything's fine" mode, so there's still a lot of stress going on there she doesn't want to admit to.

I haven't seen Dawn in a few weeks. Buffy has put her foot down about her visiting my crypt, as that's hardly the image one wants to give Social Services, young girl visiting a man alone in a dangerous cemetery. Nibblet showed up one afternoon anyway, and I put my foot down, backed up what Big Sis said. I received the trademarked pout for my pains.

A key turned in the lock and Giles looked up as Olivia entered. "I brought the stuff you wanted," she said, putting the bags she carried down. "What time are your guests coming?"

"About eight; should be plenty of time to get supper together." He rose from his chair and gave her a light kiss.

"Not if you get yourself lost in research." She gestured to the pages he still held. "Information from your colleagues?"

He glanced at the pages before setting them down on the desk and picking up one of the bags. "Actually, a letter from Sunnydale. All the latest news."

She gave him a gentle push. "Why don't you finish, then? I'll put everything away. I know you want to hear how Buffy is doing."

With Olivia puttering about the kitchen, Giles settled back into his chair.

Buffy seems to be making some effort to reconnect with Dawn, though I don't know how successful she's been. She's making an effort at the job as well, being perky despite that incredibly stupid hat she has to wear. Reminds me a bit of the bot, though, the few times I've stopped by, the smile a bit too fixed.

Despite this, though, she's not really connecting with the Scoobies; I've seen her withdraw from them at the Bronze, watched the smile fall from her face when they aren't looking. I'll admit that I like having Buffy in the shadows with me; she's suddenly within my grasp, all warmth and fire -- at least until she realizes she's let her guard down a little too much and flees. This isn't like it was when I first wrote you. She comes to me now, seeks me out. There's enough of a connection between us that I can sense her, and I don't mean the usual vampiric "ooh, dinner" type of sensing. It's like there's a signature that cries out "Buffy" when she's near. I had that to some extent with Drusilla, but I always thought it was in large part because she's my Sire. Dru seemed to have the same reaction to Angelus, knew when he walked in the room.

This is different, though. It's stronger, more intense, and I can tell when she's approaching, not just in the same room with me. What's more, I think she can feel it too. I would say blood was calling to blood, but we've done nothing to warrant that. There are times when she trusts me, when I see her come to life again, and hope springs eternal.

Giles felt at once repelled and relieved. He wished Buffy would come to her senses and end this liaison with Spike. No good would come of it, of that he was certain.

Yet…Spike knew how Giles felt and still wrote, seemed to be dealing with him honestly. If his objective had been to rub Giles' nose in his success at finally luring Buffy to his bed, there were far more graphic word pictures he could have painted. Instead, his words were filled with concern.

One sentence stood out, and Giles re-read it to make certain he'd not mistaken Spike's meaning: I would say blood was calling to blood, but we've done nothing to warrant that.

Spike hadn't bitten her. The thing that had haunted Giles' dreams since Spike's first letter had not happened. He'd assumed sex would include biting; all the extant research on the mating habits of vampire seemed to indicate it was a common occurrence.

Of course, when had any of those authors actually had the chance to observe mating vampires?

Deliberately pulling his mind out of the research gutter it was headed for, he focused on the next paragraph.

She's fragile, though, more fragile than I often want to admit. Worse, she's managed to acquire some enemies who seem to be playing with her mind. It started when they turned her invisible (which I didn't tell you about because I didn't know most of the details, and what I did know is private between Buffy and myself), but a few days ago, they tried to pin a murder on her.

In theory, I don't know most of this, but remember how I said Willow was a bit jumpy when we met? She also talked far more than she should. Our old friend Warren (from whom I commissioned the bot) has decided upon a career as an arch villain (which is probably better than flipping burgers at Doublemeat Palace) and joined forces with two of Buffy's schoolmates, Jonathon and Andrew. They stole a diamond from the Sunnydale Museum and used it to create an invisibility ray, which Buffy got caught in. Willow managed to help Buffy become visible (without magic, you'll be happy to know) and that's when they discovered these three were behind various things that have been going on around here.

A few nights ago, Buffy and I were out in the woods when time began to get all wonky. We were fighting demons, then not fighting them, then Buffy hit a girl, who went rolling down an embankment. The girl was dead when I got down there and Buffy was convinced she'd killed her. She wasn't thinking clearly, talking about turning herself in, so I got her home and went back to take care of the body. Unfortunately, I botched the job and the police found it. Buffy was going to turn herself in despite my efforts but stopped when she learned the girl was connected to Warren. Seems the demons we'd been fighting had been Rwasundi, who cause temporal distortions and hallucinations for humans. The Rwasundi must have been summoned by Warren to frame Buffy, because it turns out the girl had been dead over twenty-four hours when we found her. I thought I smelled fresh blood when I moved her, so he'd clearly put a glamour on her as well to make her appear newly dead.

What worries me is that Buffy looked almost relieved to be turning herself in, ready to walk away from Dawn, me, the Scoobies, everyone. I'm beginning to believe what's wrong may be more than just what Red did to bring her back. Can I really be the only one that sees it? Do Harris, Red and Demon-Girl really believe that everything is as hunky-dory as they pretend? If they do, they're bigger idiots than I thought them to be.

Maybe I'm over-reacting. I saw Buffy last night, briefly, while I was on my way home from a blood run. She told me she knew she hadn't killed the girl and that she knew who did. Didn't give me half the details Red did, but at least she told me. Also told me she was mad at me for trying to dispose of the body, that the police would have quickly realized she hadn't been responsible. I pointed out that by the time the incredibly brilliant police force of Sunnydale had deduced that, Social Services would have moved in to take Dawn away. Didn't have a reply on that one, just told me she'd pulled the late shift at her job for the next week so she wouldn't be able to see me. Told her I'd take patrol and she shouldn't worry.

All very civil, lasted only a few minutes, but she didn't have that haunted look about her. Wasn't running away, but taking care of business. It wasn't the greatest, but maybe it's a start.

All this, and only Spike thought to write and let him know what was happening. Xander, of course, would be busy with the wedding, and Anya had both the wedding and the shop to occupy herself. Willow might have dropped word, though she would be more likely to do that via e-mail rather than pen to paper. Perhaps he should get that modem hooked up. He'd ask Olivia if she knew how to handle it.

Shame to hear you won't make the wedding. Would be nice to have another adult to talk with, though I've been given hints I may well be expected to help entertain the guests Anya's invited. I know Buffy would like to see you again. She misses you something terrible, to the point that she's actually talked to me about it. If I could, I'd spirit her away from Sunnydale and bring her to visit you. If it rained enough, I might even be able to go sightseeing with her during the day.

Nothing more to report, except to remind you Buffy's turning twenty-one soon, and you know she'd like at least a card. Send something cheerful that'll put a smile on her face. She's so beautiful when she smiles and I haven't seen that enough lately.

Thanks for the offer of the phone. If I need to call, I will, but I wake each night hoping things will get better and I won't have to call in the Cavalry. Problem is, I already did by writing you, didn't I?

Spike

Giles slipped the pages back into the envelope, but made no move to rise for several minutes. There was supper to start and guests to arrive soon -- several younger members of the Council, including Lydia Chalmers. At least he could tell Lydia her thesis had arrived safely.

Small comfort when he wanted to be halfway around the world in an instant.



Setting: Post-Older and Far Away



Entry 6 - Reasons

"Spike! Just the person I was hoping to see."

The cheeriness in Anya's voice made Spike pause on the steps that led down into the central portion of the Magic Box. A grim-faced Whelp seated on a stool in front of the counter did little to reassure him he wasn't about to be accused of something.

Even as he hesitated, Anya was around the counter and grabbing his arm to pull him forward. "I need your opinion on something."

Xander just looked grimmer and Spike had the terrible feeling he was about to be used to settle an argument. A wedding-related argument. "Um, vampire, remember? We're not known for our taste."

"That's for sure," Xander grumbled under his breath. Spike decided it wasn't even worth it.

"Nonsense. I've known lots of vampires in my thousand years, and a great many had wonderful taste." She indicated the fabric samples on the counter. "Xander and I are having a disagreement as to whether or not the napkins should match or contrast with the tablecloths. I'd like your opinion. The green is the color of the tablecloth."

And a hideous green it was. What was it about becoming a vengeance demon that gave women such awful taste? Wait. If they'd exhibited good taste in, say, men before they became vengeance demons, they wouldn't have taken such a route. "Um, matching?" Spike offered, wondering whose side he'd come down on. Matching wasn't great, but it was better than the alternatives.

Xander looked relieved and a moment of male solidarity was achieved. "See, Ahn? Even Fang Breath thinks we should do matching."

It clearly wasn't the answer she wanted, given the way Anya was pouting. "If it was up to you, what would you choose?" she demanded.

"Classic white." He flashed her a smile. "Anything other than that would have me poor mum rolling in her grave. Anything from Giles?"

Anya reached over to pull an envelope from the space next to the cash register and thrust it into Spike's hands. "I should have known better than to ask another man."

As he beat a hasty retreat toward the front door, Spike heard Xander saying, "He has a point about the white…"

Glad to have escaped the land of wedding preparations, Spike wandered down Sunnydale's main drag, heavily populated in the early evening. He was eager to read the Watcher's latest news, but he didn't feel particularly like wandering back to his crypt. The night was pleasant, hinting at an early spring.

On a whim, he stopped at the Expresso Pump and ordered up a large cocoa. A single sip told him it wasn't anywhere near as good as Joyce's, but it did buy him the right to occupy one of the establishment's tables and he claimed one that allowed him a clear view of the people strolling by. Settling into one chair, he propped his feet on another and pulled the envelope from his pocket.

Dear Spike,

Glad to hear that you received the thesis and I do understand your difficulties in getting through it. Miss Chalmers' style is, unfortunately, just as solid as her research. The comments will be welcomed. She knows I maintain some form of contact with you (though I have intimated it is through Anya rather than directly) and was pleased to learn you'd begun reading.

Feel free to make as many comments regarding Angel as you wish; they will be more than welcome. There's been an increased interest in him due to certain recent events and several younger members of the Council, Miss Chalmers among them, are competing to see who can produce the best paper. I am certain that your particular…viewpoint of Angel will be greatly prized, and I trust you will express yourself in your own inimitable style. I, for one, would like to hear the origin of the nickname "Peaches."

So the news of Angel's fatherhood had made it across the Atlantic; it was the only possible spin Spike could put on the phrase "certain recent events." Not surprising, really. Every demon on the West Coast knew and more than one had been more than happy to communicate the news to Spike -- at least until he made it painfully clear the topic was off-limits with him. He'd spin Miss Chalmers a right pretty tale about the Great Poof, include all the embarrassing details he could remember. Rupert should enjoy that.

There are more mentions of Angel to come; I especially look forward to your comments on the theory that Angel sired Drusilla out of his jealousy over your liaison with Darla.

Spike choked on his cocoa and barely managed to avoid upsetting the cup as he hastily set it down. Darla? Him? Sure, when they were drunk and Angelus wasn't available, but he'd spent a hundred years blotting out those particular memories.

Wait a sec. He reread the paragraph and smiled. The Watchers' precious records had gotten it wrong yet again, and Giles knew it. Spike wondered if the theory was Miss Chalmers' or belonged to someone Giles had a particular dislike for. He'd have to skip ahead to check.

The Council continues to plod on the subject of research into the protocols of Osiris, and I have formed my own small group to see what we can uncover. This is strictly unofficial, so not all of the material is available to me, but we will do what we can. There are certain items the spell requires and I need to see if you can uncover where Anya procured the Urn of Osiris and what happened to it after the ritual. This could have a powerful impact on our findings.

I certainly hope someone is actually watching Willow when she's allowed in the Magic Box, rather than just accompanying her and leaving her at the table once they get inside. There's a reason why I put the more dangerous texts and items upstairs and I imagine Anya would be the first to notice if she tried to go up there. However, even the simplest of spells could prove destructive in her current state. I fear the only way to "cure" this is for her to go back to ground zero and decide whether or not she really wants to do magic and why. Given life on the Hellmouth, I imagine there are numerous temptations vying for her attention.

Which brings up a point I've been pondering, Spike -- just how much magic do you know? You seem to have a fair knowledge of the demon world and I know you have done at least one major ritual, but how extensive is your knowledge? When Willow's spell blinded me, you seemed to have a good idea where to look for a reversal spell. I'm asking partly for my own curiosity, but also to know how to explain what I do uncover.

That brought a frown to Spike's face as he wondered how much he should share. He couldn't lie and claim he'd done little or none, as Giles would see through it instantly. He had to know how much research had gone into the ritual to restore Dru's health and that it wasn't something to be undertaken by a rank amateur. Of course, Red had been close to that when she'd ensouled Angel and only a little better when she brought Buffy back.

As to Dawn, it was probably best that you enforced Buffy's desires as to her visits to your crypt. I do hope you are making some time to visit her, though, as you said you would attempt to; she grew quite attached to you during the summer and I have the feeling from your letters that Buffy might not be providing all the attention that she needs. If more comes of the Social Services issue, please let Buffy know I'd be happy to do what I can to provide a reference for her. I know she won't tell me herself until too late, so I fear I will have to rely on your good graces once more.

I must confess that the anniversary of Joyce's death had slipped my mind. Strange, but sitting here so far away, it's easy to think of her as still with us, perhaps just stepped out to the kitchen to fetch more tea or cocoa. She was a great source of strength and I sometimes wonder if Buffy has ever truly grieved for her loss.

Joyce and I did discuss you once. It was after the disinvite spell, though I'm unsure as to whether it was before or after you spoke with her. She was worried -- and with some justification, I might add. Angelus caused her a great deal of distress when he told her that he and Buffy had been together and with the death of Jenny Calendar and his other tricks, she was not at all happy at the idea of yet another obsessed vampire stalking her daughter. To my surprise, she was upset you had behaved in such a manner because she held a genuine affection for you, far more than she ever did for Angel. I believe she hoped the two of you could make your peace with one another eventually.

Spike blinked and the words on the page momentarily swam out of focus. Dear Joyce. What would you think of me now? I hope you know I'm doing my best with your girl and I'll make her happy if she lets me.

I've wired a request for flowers to Sunnydale Florists to mark the anniversary and sent word to Anya to pick them up and make certain they're placed on Joyce's grave. Could you please check with the florists before they close that evening and deliver them if Anya should forget? I didn't think you would mind the imposition.

Once again you prove to be my only source of news, much to my annoyance. I have heard nothing from Buffy regarding the incident with the girl you describe, though her behavior is not as out of character as you might think. Remember Faith, the rogue Slayer we were looking for at one point? After you had left Sunnydale the first time, Faith worked with us for a while. She was somewhat uncontrollable, giving in to her darker impulses and one night accidentally mistook the Deputy Mayor for a vampire, plunging a stake through his heart. The man died and Faith disposed of the body over Buffy's objections. Faith turned rogue shortly thereafter, joining forces with the Mayor. To make a long and complicated story short, she is now serving time in prison for what she did, but not before causing a great deal of havoc and emotional upset.

Spike frowned, remembering. He'd snarked at Giles' request for help, saying he'd point the girl in their direction, but he'd walked away with a firm intention to avoid the woman. Rogue slayers were nothing to laugh at; he'd seen only one, a girl in Chicago during the Twenties. He had watched her fight four of his minions at once, high on bathtub gin and cocaine. Angelus would have been impressed with her viciousness.

It was just his luck; he'd tried to help Buffy and bollixed it in more ways than one. How was he to know Faith had committed murder? He'd been fruitlessly chasing after Dru at the time.

Buffy felt very strongly that Faith's behavior was wrong, that she should have gone to the police immediately, even after I told her the Council had ways of dealing with such matters. Believing herself to be in a similar position, I have no doubt her first instinct was to turn herself in and that she was unhappy with your efforts to help her. She might have well viewed a confession as a possible escape from her current unhappiness, but it is also in keeping with the girl I know. For what it's worth, I believe you were honestly acting in her best interests -- the repercussions you mentioned with Social Services were all too possible, especially when one considers Buffy was previously accused of Kendra's murder.

It made some sense, but Spike couldn't help but think Giles was wrong in this. That Buffy would be horrified at the idea of causing an innocent girl's death he had no doubt, but Giles hadn't seen how she'd been that night. More than ever, he wished the man hadn't decided it was necessary to return home.

In other ways, however, I fear your behavior may be less than helpful. I am not at all surprised that Buffy is feeling some separation from Xander, Willow and the others -- I imagine she still harbors resentment toward them for bringing her back. If you encourage her to slip away from them, no matter how delightful the process may seem to you, she won't have a chance to work through these feelings. Will her friendship with them be the same as before? I doubt it, no matter how hard they try to make it so. Too much has happened for them to fall back into the simple, trusting ways and I predict stormy weather before all is done. Buffy needs to face her issues, rather than hide from them.

As much as I don't wish to pry, you mentioned the existence of a bond between yourself and Buffy. I will accept your statement that you have done nothing that would allow blood to call to blood (and yes, I know exactly what that means -- the by-product of being too well read on the subject), but I cannot help but find myself curious as to what could be causing such a pull. Aside from the obvious, can you think of anything that might be the source of this?

Poor man; he really didn't want to know about Buffy's sex life -- probably didn't want to admit she had a sex life -- but his concern was obvious. Spike hadn't given the words a second thought when he'd written them, but they'd clearly sent Giles into a panic. He was probably imagining some horrible dark ritual Spike had performed without Buffy's knowledge, evil doings that should not be spoken of by any decent man. Likely the Council had books full of such things, locked away in a "special" section where those who were too innocent for such prurient knowledge could not be harmed.

With a chuckle, Spike reached for his cup. If he was cruel, he could have a great deal of fun with this. Of course, too much fun and Giles would appear in Sunnydale to stake him. Discretion was the better part of valor.

A card has been dispatched for Buffy's birthday. Let me know what disaster decides to befall Sunnydale this year. As you might have noticed, her birthdays never pass quietly.

Yours,

Rupert Giles

He folded the pages and tapped them idly against the table. They were speaking past each other at the moment. Was it because of the distance that separated them or because Giles didn't want to see how tangled the situation was? Spike didn't want to believe the latter and knew it wasn't merely the former. Maybe it was him projecting his own fears onto the situation. Maybe he was so deep into the thing that he couldn't see straight.

It hadn't been his intention to open this dialogue with Giles, merely to get help. Now he found himself enmeshed in a conversation that was veering far from its original course. Unfortunately, what he'd said in that first letter was still true -- he needed to talk to someone, and no one in Sunnydale would do.

"Taking up public space now?"

The voice brought Spike out of his reverie. Xander was standing on the street side of the low cement wall that surrounded the Expresso Pump. "Man's got the right to enjoy a cuppa, Harris."

He reached for the cup and shook it to find it empty. Shoving the letter back into his pocket, he stood, eyeing the trashcan thoughtfully. He was about to attempt a basket when one of the servers stopped and held out her hand. With a shrug, Spike handed the cup over and prepared to leave.

Xander was still standing there as he reached the sidewalk. "I think Anya might be re-thinking green for the tablecloths."

"Where the hell did she find that color? I've seen six-day corpses that looked better."

Xander shrugged. "Must be Martha Stewart's color of the moment. What can I say? I'm just hoping that once this wedding is over, some sanity will be restored."

Spike snorted. "This is Anya we're talking about, remember?"

There didn't seem to be anything else to say, so Spike started away down the sidewalk. After a moment, he heard Xander call after him. "Spike."

Wondering what could possibly be going through the Whelp's head, Spike turned back, fully ready to fall into a nasty mood. Xander didn't speak immediately, staring at the sidewalk. Then, he looked up. "I wanted to say good job the other evening -- with the thing and all at Buffy's. Glad you were there."

It wasn't actually a thank you, but it came pretty damn close. A hundred smart replies flitted across Spike's brain and he rejected them all. "Not a problem. 'Evening, Harris."

With a smile and a touch to his forehead, Spike headed on down the street. If Xander could say a kind word, maybe there was hope after all.



Setting: Post-Older and Far Away



Entry 7 - Many Happy Returns

Snow was unusual for England in February, but not completely unknown. Giles hoped this storm was the last gasp of winter and that spring would be close behind. It'd been some time since he'd enjoyed an English spring and he was looking forward to the sight if for no other reason than he had grown tired of the incessant winter rains. Clearly, six years in California had left their mark.

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.

Giles,

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.

Spike

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.



Setting: Post-As You Were



Interlude - Catharsis

The club was crowded with Thursday night regular, but Spike was certain this was the one place in Sunnydale where he wouldn't be disturbed. The Scoobies would never think to come here and the local vampire population had learned Armand's was Spike's territory -- no feeding allowed.

Most nights, the idea that a town located on a Hellmouth would actually support a thriving Goth club was a source of amusement; college students and young professionals playing at being Creatures of the Night, the very thing they denied existed during daylight hours. Spike had found the place on his first trip to Sunnydale but it was only after he'd settled into life as a chipped wonder that he'd begun to patronize it regularly. He would sit, drink and laugh at the Anne Rice wannabes, enjoying the peculiar feeling of superiority it provided him. He enjoyed being a regular, having casual acquaintances who stopped to say hello, the bartender who knew how he liked his drinks. There were a few ladies who asked him to join them on the floor on a regular basis, but nothing had ever progressed beyond that. For one thing, he was certain some had figured out he was a vampire. The club's owner certainly had.

The other reason he'd ignored veiled invitations was why he was grateful he was welcome to occupy a corner table as long as he wanted, drinking brandy and pouring his heart onto the page. Rupert, I'm about to make you very happy…

He didn't even know if he'd mail the letter; the words were raw, intimate, with none of the caution or consideration he usually used when writing Giles. All he had was the hope that if he put his feelings into words, the ache might somehow be less.

Picking up his glass, Spike took another sip and closed his eyes as he felt the brandy burn a fiery trail down his throat. For an instant, his mind flung him back across the years and he could almost see himself in his rooms at Cambridge, feeling sophisticated as he drank brandy and wrote bad poems to the goddess of the moon instead of reading his Latin text.

That caused his eyes to open and the glass to return to the table with a sharp click. God, he'd been such a poncy git during his undergraduate days. Going on and on about beautiful things, refusing to acknowledge anything that might be unpleasant. "Do not have anything in your home which you do not believe to be beautiful or know to be useful," William Morris had said. William the Git had embraced only the first half of the statement, a desperate attempt to shut out the less pleasant aspects of his life.

William. She'd called him William and meant it. Was it because Buffy had wanted him to know how serious she was or because she finally saw the man behind the monster? The part of him that was William clung desperately to the hope that if she saw the man, he might one day have a chance.

The part of him that was Spike wanted to make Sunnydale burn and the Slayer pay for her rejection of him.

A third part knew he could never cause Buffy great pain; he wanted to make her sting, feel some of what he felt, but he loved her too much to truly hurt her. That part also knew that if she walked in at this moment and said she'd reconsidered, he'd gather her into his arms.

More words onto the page, telling of Riley Finn's return. Hurtful words, explosions. Spending the night outside wondering what had gone so terribly wrong. Creeping home at first light to survey the damage.

Spike sensed rather than saw the woman standing next to his table. Looking up, he found his waitress watching him. Like the others, she was dressed in something straight out of a Dracula movie, tight black velvet bodice over a black chiffon skirt, though the burgundy streaks in her shoulder-length hair didn't quite go with the outfit. "Another one?"

He considered the glass and the small amount in it. With one quick motion, he downed it and held it out to her. "Another two."

That earned him a raised eyebrow, but Tarantula took the glass and headed for the bar. So what if he'd had three already? There was money in his pocket for once and he wasn't so far drunk that he'd cause difficulty for Harry or any of his customers.

The pages he'd already written were spread out on the table before him. Picking up the pen, he continued, detailing his last conversation with Buffy. It was like a damn had broken, the words coming rapidly now. Thoughts spilled directly onto the paper with no pause for interpretation or consideration.

Even with everything, I still love her.

He was done. The words were all said and all that was left was to sign his name. He did so, and reached for the envelope he'd previously addressed. Before his courage left him, he folded the pages, shoved them inside and licked the flap before closing it.

"It's been a while since we've been graced with a truly broody vampire."

Spike looked up, not bothering to hide his annoyance. "Wrong vampire. You want broody, go to LA."

Harry chuckled as he took the chair on the opposite side of the table. "Considering you are the only one I've actually had a conversation with, I think that would be difficult."

Tarantula chose that moment to return and place the two brandy snifters on the table. Without asking, Harry reached out and took one. "I wanted to thank you for the idea of the squirt bottles for the holy water. Came in quite handy the other night."

"Seemed like a good idea," Spike said with a shrug. It'd been during the summer that he'd first approached Harry with some suggestions on handling some of Sunnydale's more unsavory and undead denizens after dusting three in one evening, the last in a dark corner of the club. The man had taken Spike's rantings about just wanting a quiet evening without having to play cleanup because he was busy doing that elsewhere surprisingly well. A week later, Spike found himself conducting Vampire 101 for the club employees and designing a basic protection supply list. The work earned him a few hundred a month and half-priced drinks at the bar.

"And your suggestion about negotiating a bulk rate at the Magic Box worked out quite well. I should tell Anya it was you who suggested I talk to her; she might give you a commission."

"No!" The word came out a little more forcefully than Spike had intended. "I mean, I'm not really looking for a commission or anything like that -- I'd just rather Anya didn't know I was involved."

Anya would wonder how Spike was familiar with Harry. Then she would tell Xander, because it was obvious Anya told Whelp everything, although Spike had to wonder how much Xander bothered to hear. The way Spike's luck went, though, Xander would hear that bit of news and spread the word to Willow and Buffy, all of whom would come tromping in to see what big bad evil he could possibly be up to in this place. Not only would Spike lose a retreat that was his and his alone, but given the way the Scoobies dressed, Harry wouldn't thank him for their presence. Harris in particular would bring the tone way down.

He reached for the brandy, still chasing the warmth to numb the pain. Writing had helped, but there was still a big hole inside his chest. "I saw you writing," Harry noted. "Finally writing your memoirs? Still say you'd be as big as Anne Rice, possibly bigger."

"Don't get me going on Anne Rice. You know my opinion there." Spike took another swallow. Most of the regulars knew as well, thanks to Spike getting rather drunk at one point and holding forth extensively as to why she was just wrong. That had been at one hundred and twenty-three days after Glory.

"The best revenge is living well. Write your own book and outsell her." Harry chuckled. "That's why I started this place. Someone else had one, but it was filled with idiots who went on and on about the 'Lonely Ones.' All soppy and high school gothic romance ignoring the unpleasant parts. We live in a place where there's a tremendous amount of supernatural activity and most of it's not friendly. I give people somewhere where they can play at the darker, more dangerous sides of their nature before they go back to their humdrum lives and pretend none of this exists."

Spike winced and swallowed the rest of his drink in one gulp, desperately wanting the burn of alcohol down his throat. You just love to play the thought that you might misbehave…

When he put the glass down, Harry was looking at him, all humor gone from his face. "Okay, I think I just overstepped a line there. I haven't seen you like this since…"

"Since the summer, which I do not want to talk about." He didn't care that his voice was snappish; he hurt and there was a great temptation to lash out at something. The chip would go off, but then he could concentrate on the pain in his head instead of the pain in his chest.

"Fair enough. I'll have Tarantula get you another snifter since I stole one of yours." Harry stood, started to turn away, but turned back. "I meant what I said. The best revenge is living well. Come on in Saturday. I've got a new band in you might enjoy. You can charm the ladies and that might make you feel better. Your recent absence has been noted."

Spike shook his head. "Can't. Believe it or not, I have a wedding to go to on Saturday."

"Ah. I think I understand." His eyes flicked down to the table. "Want me to mail that for you?"

"Haven't stamped it yet…"

"No problem. I'll just add it to your bar tab." Harry scooped the letter up and walked away.

Spike stare at his empty glass, Harry's words setting themselves up on a nice replay loop in his head. Living well…he certainly wasn't doing that at the moment, what with a destroyed crypt, broken relationship and mangled heart. Funny thing was that he now felt like tucking his tail between his legs and running out of town seemed like giving up, like he'd been beaten down and proved to be everything that had been said about him.

So what to do? Clean out the mess downstairs first, decide what he needed to keep and what needed to go. Stop flopping at the Crawford Street place because it didn't smell of Buffy, didn't remind him of her everywhere he looked. Crawford Street belonged to Angel; the crypt was Spike's home. It would take time, but he could rebuild; maybe not in the same way, but for his own comfort. Maybe he'd get a nicer TV.

Yeah, that's what he'd do. Live well and show that his world hadn't ended just because Buffy left him. He'd survived when Dru had left and he could do it again. In fact, he wanted Buffy to see he could do just fine without her. He'd show up at the wedding on Saturday with a smile on his face, all right with the world. Maybe he'd even bring a date like Harris had suggested.

He knew exactly what type of date he'd like to show up with: tall, leggy, with a body that wouldn't quit. Someone who would cause every male head to turn and envy him. That would show her. Not hurt her, but give Buffy a little twinge that it could have been her on his arm.

He was starting to feel just the tiniest bit of warmth inside and knew the brandy had begun to work its way into his system. It was a great plan, but his problem was to find the right girl. For a moment, he thought about asking one of the ladies he knew at Armand's, but quickly nixed the thought. This wasn't the time to be giving mixed signals, and he didn't actually want to go with someone who thought this might be a signal they were seeing each other. For one thing, he couldn't quite rid himself of the image of Buffy throwing herself at him, insanely jealous, telling him and everyone else that she'd been wrong and she did love him. It was a lovely thought, even if it would never happen.

The other thing was that he didn't really want to lead anyone on, set them up to be hurt like he'd been. Which left out just about every girl he knew.

Tarantula appeared with the promised drink. As she put it down, Spike looked up with a grin. "Doing anything Saturday afternoon, pet? I've got a proposition for you…"



Setting: Post-Hell's Bells



Entry 8 - Pain

The sight of not one, but two letters from Spike caused Giles a twinge of guilt. He'd been a bit remiss in replying, but the research Travers had set him to had proved more engaging than he'd anticipated and he'd really wanted to learn more about what Lydia had uncovered regarding funding slayers before he'd written. Now, though, there was no excuse.

At least he'd have a quiet evening for it; no guests were invited over and he wasn't supposed to see Olivia until tomorrow. His plans had been to follow down some Sumerian texts that might have collateral bearing on the Nyzian Prophecies, but he couldn't resist the lure of news from Sunnydale.

Giles —

Time heals wounds, even gaping ones like I suffered. I'm doing better than in my last letter. Sorry you had to read that; not really certain why I let the damn thing be mailed.

I'm no longer considering leaving Sunnydale, either.

That line had Giles off the couch and reaching for the phone, mentally calculating the time difference between Bath and California. What was Spike talking about? He'd made no reference to leaving town in his last letter.

Last letter. He must have accidentally grabbed the second letter first. Putting the pages aside, he slit open the other envelope. The first thing he noticed was that the writing seemed somewhat shaky, as if the author had been putting words on paper as quickly as he could. With a feeling of dread, he began to read.

Rupert,

I'm about to make you very happy. Buffy and I are quits. She's told me it has to stop, and this time I believe she's serious.

Giles suddenly felt his blood run cold. He'd been anticipating this moment from the start, wondering what would happen when Buffy came to her senses and decided to end the affair. Intellectually, he knew Spike wasn't like Angelus, had seen it proved often enough, but there was always that small kernel of doubt in the back of his mind. Drusilla was mad and no one understood how that might affect a turning, and Spike had once admitted that Angelus, for all practical purposes, had filled the role of his sire. What lessons had he learned?

Jenny so still in his bed, the perfect scene set for the discovery.

Giles pushed the image away and focused back on the letter.

Oh, she's been singing the same tune for weeks now — "We can't keep doing this." "This is the last time." "Don't tell anyone." Each time, though, she kept coming back for more. I'd even begun to hope she might care for me deep down under all the mess. Just kept thinking that if I kept working at it, things would get better, that we might have a chance.

Would you believe she actually told me she wanted me? She's denied it from the start — acted as if each encounter was an aberration. Now, when she's leaving me, she finally admits it. Said it made things simpler for a little while when she was with me. She said she was using me, that she couldn't love me, that she was being weak and selfish.

Then she told me it was killing her.

The words caused Giles to wince. He could only imagine what effect they must have had on Spike. He remembered all too well in those first days how Spike had blamed himself for not keeping Doc from Dawn, how he should have been faster, stronger, a bit cleverer.

I never wanted to hurt her. I thought — I hoped — that our time together might be helping her. She'd reached a point where she'd relax, not run off once the deed was done. We'd talk, I'd see her laugh and smile. She'd even started to trust me.

Other things had changed. In the beginning, every time we were together was like a battle. We destroyed things, Rupert, and never noticed, so caught up in the moment. Buffy would limp home with bruises, I'd be nursing bites and we'd lick our wounds until the next round. The last week or so, though, it was different — gentler, sweeter. We weren't so frantic to get down to business. And I began to hope.

Spike's words caused him to wince again. Giles had tried not to think of the mechanics involved and Spike had been blessedly mum on the subject, but now he couldn't turn away. There was pain in these words, and he felt his throat tighten for the hopes that had been dashed.

Can't really blame it on Captain Cardboard, though his arrival was the signal of the end of days. Yes, Riley Finn came back from the jungle long enough to wreak havoc on my life. I swear, if this chip was out of my head, I would have drained the bastard dry without a second thought. Should have suspected something was up when Buffy came to my crypt, looking very cute in black commando gear, wanting information on someone called "The Doctor" who was trafficking in nasties on the Black Market. She tried to be all business, but there was something about her that said she wanted more. Asked her if the business was urgent, and she asked if I loved her. What could I say? I've loved her for so long now. She asked if I wanted her, and again, what could I say?

She was so vulnerable, so in need of reassurance. I thought this was going to be it, the moment when she told me I was more than just a convenience, that she actually cared for me. We made love that night, different from all the acrobatics that had gone before. She even drifted off to sleep next to me when we were done, something she hadn't done since our first night together. I just watched her, wanting the moment to last forever.

Then Finn walked in. We were in the top level of my crypt, so he found us immediately. I was stupid, didn't put things together immediately. She must have known Soldier Boy was back, been working with him to track down this dealer. She must have known he'd come to my place sooner or later. Instead, I couldn't resist the opportunity to crow over what I saw as a triumph. Before he left town, Finn had told me he would stake me if I ever touched Buffy — and here she was with me. If he was gonna dust me, I was at least going to have a little fun first. Angelus always said one of my problems was that a lot of times I don't use my head to think.

As much as it hurt, Giles could almost see the scene. Of all the people to uncover this liaison, why did it have to be Riley? He'd never been overly fond of the boy and more than a little suspicious of his continued ties to the government, but Buffy had thought she loved him and it must been shattering to have him find her that way.

Strange thing was, Finn didn't even react to seeing Buffy and me together. Buffy reacted; she started scrambling for her clothes and hiding while she got dressed. But Finn, he just stared at me and kept calling me "Doctor" — the name of this dealer Buffy had been looking for. Didn't understand what he was talking about, just wanted him to get the hell out of there so I could get back to Buffy.

A stray thought crossed through Giles' mind. Of course Riley would have gone to visit Spike if he was hunting for information; he'd done it frequently before — most likely because he knew he could bully whatever information Spike had out of him without fear of repercussions. Buffy had to know that. So why go to Spike if she knew Riley would follow?

Unless Buffy had wanted to be found…

Giles didn't want to think about the implications of that train of thought. Even with their friendly communications, he'd always cast Spike as the villain of the piece, taking advantage of Buffy in this difficult time. If Buffy had gone to Spike knowing they would be discovered, that vision began to shred.

Then he mentioned the eggs.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. An acquaintance of mine let it be known that he needed someplace to store some Suvari eggs for about 48 hours and was willing to pay for it. I checked the books at the Magic Box and learned Suvari are pretty harmless and their eggs are considered a delicacy by some. I agreed to do the job and got the eggs moved into my downstairs. No special handling needed, but I decided moving upstairs would be more comfortable for the duration. That's where Buffy had found me when I came in. I'd had some wild idea that I could give her the money, maybe ease some of the strain on her. I've been doing odd jobs for a while now, trying to build up a fund for that proverbial rainy day. It's not a lot, but it's enough to keep her utilities going for a couple of months. The money I hoped to make from this would have kept the wolf from the door for longer than that and still have given me plenty to spend on blood and smokes.

I tried to laugh Finn's accusations off, but he just punched me and started searching like he own the place. Believe it or not, Buffy actually came to my defense, said I couldn't be this doctor. Said I was too incompetent, which bloody well hurt. Finn countered that I was deadly, amoral and opportunistic. Buffy didn't have an answer. It was like everything I've done over the past year didn't matter. It hurt.

Finn headed for the basement and I couldn't stop him. I tried to explain to Buffy what was going on, but she wouldn't listen; just punched me and told me to stop playing games with her. That was a laugh. She's the one who's been playing games, running hot and cold, pulling me in then pushing me away. She didn't want to hear that I loved her, then she wanted to be told. I was a thing, I was what she couldn't live without. It's been nothing but games this whole time, and I'm not the one who's been making up the rules.

I had to leave. I knew nothing I said or did would make any difference at that point and I might well say some things I'd regret later. I just got the hell out of the crypt, found a place where I could be by myself. Behind me, I could hear Finn telling Buffy to get out of there, that the eggs were hatching.

About two minutes later, I heard my home explode.

Giles had to put the letter down again, pacing about his flat. What the hell was going on in Sunnydale? Demon eggs as delicacies? Riley accusing Spike of being a black-market demon dealer? The crypt exploding? Unable to stand it, he grabbed the pages and continued to read as he paced.

Didn't see Buffy again that night. Just sat out in the cemetery until daybreak, trying to figure out what was going on. It felt like Angelus all over again. I loved Dru for over a hundred years, but Angelus comes back, crooks his finger and suddenly it was all about her daddy. I didn't matter. I know it's not uncommon for a vampire to have deep ties to their sire, but I loved Dru and it hurt to be thrown over so easily.

This hurt worse, though — deeper, harder more painful than losing Dru to Angelus or finding her with one of her demons. At least Dru felt some affection for me over the years. If Buffy feels any, it is so far buried she can't admit it to herself. I was just a "convenience" as she so quaintly put it, something to help forget her problems for awhile. I've listened to her for hours on end. I've watched her back on patrol. I've worried for her, over her. When she needed to lose herself, needed someone's arms around her, I was more than happy to give her that. Even when she needed something to vent her rage on, I was willing to take that as well. I love her and I know she's going through a hard time, and I've wanted to be her strength when she needed it. I've given everything I have, but it doesn't seem enough.

It was a cry of pain, of a man deeply hurt by the woman he loved. Giles glanced at the clock, realized Anya should be in the shop and headed for the phone.

For the second time that evening, he put the receiver down without dialing. Anya and Xander were on their honeymoon. Giles wasn't certain who'd be watching the Magic Box, but it was likely the Scoobies, perhaps even Buffy herself at that moment. For some reason, he didn't particularly feel like speaking with Buffy. There was too much here, a glimpse at an aspect of her that Giles wasn't quite ready to deal with.

When the sun peeked over the horizon, I headed home to see what damage had been done. Remember when we wrestled the bed downstairs and Tara and Willow helped me pick out the carpets? It's all gone now, blown to bits. Someone, probably Captain Cardboard, had tossed some grenades to stop the eggs. Just about everything is wrecked; my records, books, my bed, the mementos I'd kept from years gone by. I've got some clothes, sheets, a few pillows and whatever I'd brought upstairs for what I thought was only going to be a few days. Don't know if I'll fix up the place again; don't know if I should bother.

Buffy did come back that morning, much to my surprise. I hadn't expected to see her, figuring she'd be off with Finn, trying to recapture whatever fantasy of normality he offers. She told me he was gone, and I stupidly hoped that she'd come back for a little more comfort, maybe to apologize. No, she'd come to break if off for good this time.

For one hundred and forty-seven days, my dreams were filled with ways I could have saved her. For almost fifty days, I thought I had, only to learn I'd done more harm than I could have imagined. She said she had to be strong. Then she told me she was sorry and called me "William."

That's when I knew she really meant it. She wouldn't have used that if she weren't saying goodbye. A hundred things, a thousand things flew through my head, but I couldn't say a single one as she walked away, out of my life.

I understand why Angel took off for LA now; he couldn't bear to be in the same city with her and not be able to touch her or be with her. For the first time since I woke into this life, I actually feel sympathy for him. The thought of leaving's crossed my mind. Part of me wants to flee, put as much distance between her and me as possible. Part of me wants to just curl up in a hole until the pain stops, but that probably won't be until I turn to dust. Maybe I should leave Sunnydale, travel the world again. Maybe I should come home. If I show up on your doorstep, would there be a place for me, Rupert, until I got my bearings again? I have a few friends here, some acquaintances, but most of them know Buffy. As for family, there's only Angel and Drusilla. Don't know where Dru is and don't really want to know. Angel would probably stake me on sight, which is making Los Angeles sound like an awfully attractive possibility at the moment.

There's still the Bit to worry about, but I doubt I'll have the chance to see her again; Buffy won't want me around now that we're quits, and I won't have the girl sneaking off in defiance of Big Sis. If I do go, I'll make sure I say goodbye, spin her some tale — don't want her hating Buffy on my account. She'll be hurt and cry, but I'll try to make it right by her.

I'll end this now. I've laid enough of my troubles on you and I don't know what to do next. I will promise you I won't do a love spell and I won't go stalking or hurting Buffy and her friends. Even with everything, I just couldn't do that to her.

Even with everything, I still love her.

Spike

The words blurred and Giles reached under his glasses to press his fingers to either side of the bridge of his nose. His eyes were itching and no matter how much he wanted to deny it, he knew the reason why. For the first time since Spike had blown into their lives some four years ago, he sounded completely adrift. There had been times when Giles suspected he might be aching, but it was always hidden under that bravado, the snarky smile and the easy assurance that he was, indeed, evil. When Buffy had been dead, Spike had hidden his grief behind complaints that the Scoobies were holding him back from killing things while on patrol. Only in rare, unguarded moments had the pain been obvious in his eyes. He wasn't bothering to hide it now and Giles knew how deeply he must be aching to let the mask drop.

Worse, in defiance of everything he had been taught and believed, Giles couldn't help but feel Spike was the wounded party here. He was a vampire, a soulless creature of evil who'd tried to harm them all more than once. Buffy should have staked him long ago and never given it a second thought. And yet, it was hard to picture Sunnydale without Spike now. He'd very much become a part of their lives — an annoying, irritating part, to be sure, but a part nonetheless.

Giles glanced through the pages again, wondering why Spike had chosen to open his heart so fully to him. Ironic that in the midst of all the pain he felt, he even tried to put to rest the fears he must have known Giles would have about revenge. Perhaps he was the only one Spike felt comfortable dropping his mask to; he certainly couldn't imagine any of Buffy's friends providing a friendly shoulder and news like this would travel fast in the demon community if Spike unburdened himself there.

Still puzzled, Giles poured himself a scotch and reached for the second letter.

Giles -

Time heals wounds, even gaping ones like I suffered. I'm doing better than in my last letter. Sorry you had to read that; not really certain why I let the damn thing be mailed.

I'm no longer considering leaving Sunnydale, either. While things are painful, I do have a life here and people I care about. Besides, there's always hope. I know what you're thinking — crazy, obsessed vampire doesn't know when to quit. He's dangerous; stake him now. Grrrrr.

Giles felt himself smile. This was more the Spike he knew; clever and not above a bit of self-mockery.

Tell the truth, don't know how Buffy and I will end up, but I think we might be at a point where we can actually communicate again. It got lost in all the kissing and the shagging, and I've missed it. Nice to think we might be able to actually sit out on her back porch of an evening and talk. Will it happen anytime soon? Not likely, but the possibility is there.

Went off to Whelp and Demon-Girl's wedding two days after I wrote you last. Interesting cross section of humans and demons and Harris' family. The Bison Lodge actually looked pretty nice; the bridesmaid's dresses were among the most appalling things I've ever seen. Don't know if you're old enough to remember Carmen Miranda, but it was one of those types of dresses, square neck, little bit of fluff for the sleeves, close fitting down to the knees, then rows of ruffles to the floor. Big fabric cabbage rose corsage right over the heart. Best part? They were made from this bright shiny satin in a green a frog wouldn't come near. Glad to see Anya decided to follow the human tradition of making the bridesmaids look as hideous as possible.

Dawn was serving as greeter and have to say that the Little Bit isn't quite so little anymore. Getting as tall as me, when last summer she barely came to my chin. Turning out to be quite the beauty, too, all thin and Audrey Hepburn-like. I can't imagine Anya not wanting to send you pictures of the wedding party when she gets back from her honeymoon, and I'll think you'll be surprised to see how grown-up Dawn looks.

She's got poise, too, which was good because I'm afraid I'd come up with one of my less brilliant ideas. Harris had said I could bring a date, so I decided to take advantage of the offer and asked someone I knew to come along. I'm afraid I was trying to make Buffy jealous and succeeded in looking like a complete ass to Dawn. Hit the idea that the lady with me was my date a little too hard, though I think she couldn't resist the temptation to run and tattle to Buffy like I wanted. Gave me that look she has, though. You know the one — the "why are you being so stupid?" look.

Giles knew that look very well. There had been times when Dawn seemed to wear it constantly, and he knew Spike had been on the receiving end as often as any of them.

There are moments when I actually feel sorry for Harris. After spending time in his basement, let's just say I hold the Fungus Demon Drusilla left me for in higher regard than the Whelp's parents. The wedding hadn't even begun and already his father was three sheets to the wind, publicly insulting his wife and trying to pick a fight with Anya's friends. Buffy came running to the rescue, facing a challenge never faced by a Chosen One before: keep the groom's dad away from the booze, while trying not to mangle him for making a pass at her. She rose to the task, though.

Did some mingling, but felt too itchy to sit down when everyone else was getting settled for the ceremony, so I just kinda loomed at the back against the wall (it's a vampire thing). So I'm looming and Buffy comes by. We managed to say hello in a civil manner and exchange a few words. She actually admitted that it hurt a little to see me with someone else and I found myself at once glad and wanting to make it better. That was when I decided that it was likely best I go. I mean, if Harris saw me with Tarantula (yes, my date was named Tarantula; she's a waitress at a club I know), he'd feel compelled to make some comment, I'd feel compelled to respond and it wouldn't be a good thing. Besides, Buffy seemed to be having a good time and I really didn't want to ruin it for her.

She told me I didn't have to, that I had a right to be there, but I could see it was hurting her. She's got so little joy in her life at this time, who am I to take it away? Told her to wish the happy couple best of luck and that it was nice to see her happy, even if it was just for them. She was beautiful, with that glow she gets when everything's going right. Told me she was glowing because her dress was radioactive.

I'm getting soggy again, and I swore I wouldn't do that, but it was nice. We shared a laugh and then she had to take off, see to things. It was good though, and that's why I can't give up hope completely. May be a fool's dream, but it keeps me going.

Didn't stay for the wedding, but grabbed Tarantula and took off. She knew why I'd invited her, so there wasn't really a problem, although I had promised her she'd get fed. Took her along to dinner then headed home. I decided to stay where I am at the moment, so there's a lot to do there. Sorry I don't have a better report for you on the festivities, but I think you'll understand why I felt it best to depart.

Anya did remember to pick up the flowers you sent for Joyce. Funny, I thought she would have forgotten with all the last-minute wedding plans, but the last time I talked to her she mentioned them and that she found the gesture very thoughtful. They were beautiful, even if I only saw them by moonlight.

Any luck on the stipend from the Council? The Doublemeat Experience continues and I think we'd both like to see her out of there as soon as possible.

I should mention that Miss Chalmers thesis survived the Finn invasion; I'd brought it upstairs with me to make some notes, so I should be able to send along some commentary soon.

All the news I have for the moment, though I imagine something will pop up soon since Sunnyhell is never quiet for long. Do me a favor and forget what I said in my last letter, please? Better still, if this one has gotten there first, just burn it without reading.

Spike

Giles folded the pages once he was done and slipped them back inside the envelope, as was his habit. The tone of this letter reassured him somewhat that perhaps the situation was not as disastrous as Spike's last letter had made it sound. The question also arose, disastrous for whom?

Since the day he'd received Spike's first letter, Giles had been hoping Buffy would come to her senses and break off the affair. There'd been enough repercussions within the Council concerning Buffy's relationship with Angel; the reaction to an affair with a non-souled vampire who'd killed two slayers was not something Giles wanted to contemplate. A slayer and a vampire were simply not compatible.

For a brief moment, Giles considered calling Buffy and breaking Spike's confidence to ask her side of the story. He couldn't picture the girl he knew diving into a relationship where she didn't at least think she cared for the man. Yet, according to Spike, Buffy had said she couldn't love him, that she had simply used him.

The idea was considered and discarded almost instantly. Buffy would not be forthcoming and his questions would only raise questions of her own as to why he knew this information. Besides, such a delicate conversation was best handled face to face rather than over the phone and such a meeting would not occur anytime soon. Worse, if Spike was indeed the injured party in this situation, he would likely only suffer from Buffy's discovery that he had communicated with Giles.

The pages of Spike's first letter still lay on the coffee table where Giles had left them before picking up the second. He considered them for a moment before folding them and replacing them in the envelope. Perhaps it would be best to do as Spike had asked and pretend he hadn't read it; that would be one way of dealing with the situation. But that was where these problems had started, hadn't it? All of them, even Spike, had ignored things they didn't want to see — Willow's addiction to magic, Buffy's withdrawal from the world around her, Dawn's loneliness, Spike's feelings — and that way why things were reaching a point where some sort of explosion was inevitable.

Time to stop hiding. At this moment, he didn't think flying back to Sunnydale would serve much use, but there were things he could do here, advice he could give, that might help matters. Buffy was still his slayer and he'd come to regard her and her friends as family. He'd speak with Lydia in the morning, push ahead on the idea of a stipend. No, it wasn't a stipend; a young woman who had died twice and nightly put herself forward against the forces of darkness deserved a salary to keep her and her sister in reasonable comfort.

There were letters to write, too. Just because Buffy hadn't written didn't mean Giles should let himself be slipshod. He'd get the e-mail account set up, try to stay in contact that way. He should do more than just be content to Anya's quarterly statements about the shop come without question.

Feeling a bit more energized, Giles made his way to his desk and pulled out his stationery. Yes, he needed to write Buffy and get e-mail addresses from Willow and Xander, but there was another letter he needed to write first, advice and support offered. He owed him that much, at least.

My dear Spike,

I received and read both your letters. You may not believe this, but your news did sadden me…



Setting: Post-Normal Again



Entry 9 - Support

The Magic Box was dark, just as it had been since Anya had closed for the wedding, the only illumination provided by what light filtered through the grating over the main window. Spike supposed he should feel some guilt at sneaking in while she was away, but there was the small matter of seeing if he had mail from Giles.

There was quite a bit of mail piled up on the floor under the slot, along with a few notices for packages being held because they couldn't fit through the slot. Spike scooped the material up and carried it to the counter. Quickly, he sorted through the stack: circular, circular, invoice, circular, circular, chamber of commerce birdcage liner, circular…

The envelope was there, about halfway down, so he had no idea how long it had been waiting for him. For the first time since their correspondence had begun, Spike felt some trepidation at the idea of opening one of Giles' letters. He'd had few regrets in his one hundred and twenty-odd years; letting Harry mail his pitiful wailings was one. He couldn't remember everything thing he wrote, but what he did was pretty pathetic. How the Watcher would respond had been weighing on Spike's mind ever since.

Fairly confident that no one would interrupt him in the shuttered store as long as he didn't turn on any lights, Spike tore open the letter, tilted the pages to catch the filtered light from the windows and began to read.

My dear Spike,

I received and read both your letters. You may not believe this, but your news did sadden me, if only because of the pain it has clearly caused you. I am glad Buffy has broken it off because I feel it is the best thing for her to do -- which I am certain is no surprise to you -- but I am sorry for the manner in which it happened. While I may question some of your actions, I have come to believe you have honestly tried to make things better for Buffy and to care for her as best you know how.

Of all the things Spike had imagined Giles would write, nothing had prepared him for this. He swallowed, unable to continue for the moment. There was a part of him that longed for someone to acknowledge he was trying to do right by her, and here it was from the last person he'd expected it from.

The end of a relationship is never easy; it is far too easy to get caught in the trap of recriminations, bitterness and might-have-beens. From what I know of your history, while you have a number of years on me, I believe I may well be your elder in this arena. If you will allow, I would like to trespass on our familiarity and offer some advice.

I will not insult you by mouthing platitudes; the pain you are feeling is quite real and will not be dismissed by a few quaint phrases. Only time will dull the pain and that process is individual to each of us. Remember that for all she has been through, Buffy is still very much a young woman and finding her way in this world. For all the hellgods and apocalypses she has faced, she is still somewhat sheltered and unsure of herself. I say this not to excuse her, but to remind you that your own experience is much broader. Even laying aside the issues of a vampire and a slayer, you were reared in a very different time and place with a different set of ideals and values. You each see the world in a way that may not be fundamentally compatible.

You say that you spoke at the wedding; do not try to read too much into it. I left Sunnydale not because Buffy could not stand on her own two feet, but would not, despite my efforts to help her do so. As far as I know, Buffy has never spoken with Dawn about the incident at Halloween; she left that completely in my hands, despite my prompting that she needed to provide some guidance for her sister. I had hoped that by removing myself, she would be forced to take up her responsibilities. Instead, she simply found another place to hide.

Just as Spike had accused her of doing. Another swallow, and he decided that it was best to settle himself on the floor. He'd likely be here for a while.

Admitting this failing in someone I care for as a daughter is neither easy nor pleasant, but I think we are both keenly aware of Buffy's flaws. They are a part of her and their presence has done nothing to diminish our feelings. But we should not ignore their presence or let them cloud our judgement. If Buffy is to ever find a place for herself in this world, she must learn that she cannot simply place her future in the hands of others. If you truly love her, do not let her use you as a way to avoid her responsibilities.

First and foremost, you need to tend to yourself and your needs. Allowing yourself to be used only diminishes you and I feel you have far greater potential than what we have seen. Yes, when we lost our memories I said that when I looked at your I felt familiarity and a vague sense of disappointment because it is true. I have seen you show courage, fortitude and loyalty in the face of insurmountable odds; I have also seen you act maliciously, cowardly and for your own gain with no thought for those around you. You are better than that. I still feel that the placement of the chip in your head was for a higher purpose than mere government experiments, but only you can uncover that purpose. Perhaps the time to do so is now.

Do not let your love for Buffy so consume you that everything else in your life is lost. It might be time for you to leave Sunnydale -- not because I desire you to be away from Buffy, but so you can discover who you are. Do not, under any circumstances, however, go to Los Angeles and confront Angel. It would not please me to learn he had dusted you.

That provoked a smile. Maybe old Rupert was just being polite, but he certainly had a way with words. If he didn't want Spike dusted by Angel, it was most likely because he wanted to reserve the pleasure for himself.

Perhaps a visit home would prove a restorative for you and I am certain there are ways to smuggle you into the country even with the heightened security that accompanies travel these days. If you do decide to return to England, you have a place to stay, William -- as long as you promise not to eat all my Wheatbix and rinse your mug once you've finished your blood.

William. It was that word that made the offer sincere and real. Oh, Giles would be glad for him to be gone from Sunnydale, but perhaps there was some genuine sympathy there. Whatever the motivation, Spike could feel the tug inside to see the Mother Country again. It would nice to walk green hills, enjoy actual weather. The last time he'd been in England, Dru had been sick and there was precious little time to do anything but worry over her and get them transportation to America, Sunnydale and the Hellmouth.

If he returned now, he could linger, think through things, decide what he should do without all the distractions life here presented. Wasn't sure how he'd feed, but Bath likely had a butcher shop that would be willing to sell blood.

If you truly believe there is a possibility you and Buffy to build a lasting relationship built on mutual trust and respect as well as affection, then you should follow your heart in this matter and stay. It is not what I wish for Buffy, but if you believe it to be possible, it is not my place to stop you. If, however, she cannot return your affection, I urge you not to pursue it. Doing so will only cause you more pain. Try not to let your heart blind you in this matter, but listen to your head as well.

All thought of England flew from his head. Was Giles giving him his blessing? Upon re-reading the words, Spike realized that was far from the intention, but the words were something much more. For whatever reason, Giles was actually giving advice based on what was best for him, not what the watcher wanted or what he might think was best for Buffy.

He leaned back, letting his head rest on the glass of the counter. Follow your heart. He wanted to so desperately, but he knew Giles was right. If she couldn't -- wouldn't -- love him, it was better to walk away. Problem was, it was difficult to know if there was any hope as long as she played the game of being kind in private, rude in public. Until the moment she admitted she could speak with him without having to justify it as shaking him down for information or some other foolery, they were locked in a game that wouldn't change and only hurt them both.

The final advice I can offer is to think before you act. When one is hurting, it is all too easy to lash out blindly in an effort to numb the pain. I know too well the temptation to give in to that urge and you were witness to one such occasion. The effect is only temporary and often causes more harm than relief. If you have managed to pass that point with only the attempt to parade another girl in front of Buffy to make her jealous, there may be hope for you yet.

On a happier note, I must confess to a bit of envy that you are able to watch Dawn blossom into a young woman. I'm looking forward to the pictures though I confess a bit of trepidation at your description of the dresses. Suffice to say Xander does not love Anya for her subtle and refined taste -- not that Xander would know such if he tripped over it.

So he wasn't the only one who thought the Whelp an uncultured oaf. That was a consolation.

I am still working on the compensation issue. Miss Chalmers has uncovered several situations where Slayers were actually paid stipends by the Council because of varying circumstances. We are attempting to work this into a coherent presentation as to why this should be extended to Buffy as a way of making certain she can perform her calling without resorting to seeking menial employment.

Do not rush to any decision concerning your status in Sunnydale. Think through your options and let me know. Take care. Be well.

Yours,

Rupert

He sat quietly for a long time when he'd finished, watching the light patterns on the floor slide into longer shadows. There was much to consider in Giles' words, some of which he didn't particularly want to. The man spoke the truth, though. He'd let Buffy use him and not called her on it, so glad to just have her near him for a little while, lose himself in the fantasy that she might care. Hell, in some ways it was like shagging the bloody bot -- only the bot didn't hit him.

He'd faithfully kept her dirty little secret, but the time for that was past. There'd been too many secrets since she'd come back: where she'd been, how she felt, what had passed between the two of them -- and she wasn't the only one. Willow casting spells that went bad, Dawn's stealing, there were others, he was sure. Problem with secrets was that sometimes vital information was hidden until everything blew up in the worst possible way. Even if it didn't blow up, it festered inside you.

Spike looked down at the pages in his hand. They weren't friends, not by any definition of the word. They seemed to understand each other, though, two men who loved the same woman and wanted to see her safe and well. Their methods differed, but the purpose was the same. Maybe he couldn't ask for friends; maybe the best he could ask for was an ally. If that was so, he could certainly do worse than Rupert Giles.

Feeling better than he had in some time, Spike levered himself off the floor and stuffed the letter in his pocket before heading for the stairs that led down to the basement. Making his way toward the trap door to the sewers, he considered snagging some Burba Weed, but didn't. Wasn't actually any fun knicking the stock when Demon-Girl wasn't there to complain or threaten to make him work it off. When she came back, then he'd do it.

He'd have to come back, anyway, when she returned to open the shop again. There might be more mail from Giles and Spike thought it wouldn't hurt to see how Anya was holding up. After all, he thought, us demony-types gotta look after each other. No one else will.

He patted the pocket that held the letter. Make that almost no one else.



Setting: Post-Normal Again



Entry 10 - Back to Normal

Olivia had forwarded the letter from Bath when it became apparent Giles would be tied up in London for at least a week. It was at times like these he was glad the Council's main building had comfortable accommodations for those who might need to be in residence for one reason or another. Better than staying in a hotel and the easy access to the Council library at odd hours was a definite plus.

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.

Giles --

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.

"What?!"

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.

Spike

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."



Setting: Post Normal Again



Entry 11 - Communication

He let the phone ring, figuring the machine would pick it up. After all, the shop was supposed to be closed and he didn't particularly feel like alerting anyone to his presence here. The Whelp, for one, would be furious to learn Spike had taken to spending a fair amount of time inside the Magic Box during the day. Spike liked to tell himself it was a convenient place to be "unavailable" to casual crypt visitors, but even as he sorted through the mail, he knew that was far from the whole truth.

Spike also told himself he showed up to sort through the mail because there was always the possibility there might be a letter for him. He didn't want to admit that the quiet and books held their own attraction, an oasis of calm in the chaos that formed his existence.

The answering machine clicked on and Anya's voice filled the room. "Thank you for calling the Magic Box, serving Sunnydale's magical needs since 2000. We're closed at the moment, but if you leave a message after the beep, someone will get back to you as soon as possible."

He would play through the messages once this call was done, make a list for Anya. Spike had already done two such lists, each sitting on the counter, awaiting her return. It wasn't much, just another small thing to keep him occupied.

The machine beeped and the caller came on. "Hello, Anya, it's Giles. I know you're probably not there, but when you do get this message, would you please call…"

Spike grabbed for the receiver. "Rupert, it's me."

"Spike? What are you doing there? Where's Anya?"

"Still missing. I've been coming in, making sure the mail doesn't pile up too bad."

"Does Xander know you're doing this?"

"Do you think the Whelp would tolerate me doing anything with the shop?"

A pause. "Good point. So no word from Anya."

"No." Spike caught the cord in his free hand as he shifted position. "There are rumors she's with D'Hoffryn; he's gone to ground, along with Halfrek."

"Oh, yes. The, ah 'justice demon' you wrote me about. I've managed to do some research on her. Apparently a lesser demon, most of the information I was able to find comes from the early twentieth century. I couldn't find much on her origins. Was there something in particular you were interested in?"

Spike remembered the dark-haired demon smiling and primping in his direction. "Just trying to figure out where she might know me from. Doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things."

"I suppose not. Spike, I got your letter today."

"Oh." Damn, he wanted a cigarette. "Buffy's okay; at least physically. Tara told me that much."

"You saw her?"

"Tara? Yeah, we bump into each other every so often, have coffee or something." He let out a sigh. "Not so often now, since she and Red seem to be getting back together. Anyway, she stopped by; let me know that Buffy had gotten the antidote into herself at last."

"At last? I thought Willow asked you to make sure she drank it."

At that moment, Spike really wished Giles hadn't called. This would have been much easier to gloss over in a letter. "I'm afraid I let her down. Said my piece, got all huffy and stomped out."

"Spike…"

All at once, the frustration bubbled up. "What do you want from me? I've been pulled this way and that. I shouldn't have said it to her then, but it had to be said sometime. You're not here, Giles. You don't see what it's like."

He turned, leaning against the counter and letting his head drop back, trying to get some of the tension out. "What do you expect of me, Giles? It's not like I'm the souled one, all full of good intentions. As I'm constantly being told, I'm an evil thing…"

"Stop it. Spike, I didn't call to listen to you feel sorry for yourself. I called because…well, frankly, your last letter has me worried. Everything seems to be going wrong."

Spike considered a moment before answering. "Remember a couple of years ago when I was working with Adam?"

"Yes, your betrayal is something I want to be reminded of."

"That's not the point." He sighed. "Remember when I turned the lot of you against each other? Said one thing to the Whelp, another to Red…"

"A pack of lies." Giles' voice was tight across the line.

It wasn't supposed to go like this. Spike felt his shoulders tense, the old defenses go up. "She did treat you like a retired librarian and you know it."

In the silence that followed, he said, "I'm not trying to rake up old memories. But that's how everyone's acting. Red jumps guiltily every time someone mentions magic. Harris is trying to reassure himself he's not like his father by acting exactly like him. Anya's disappeared; Tara and Dawn seem to have assumed crash positions and Buffy…"

He stopped, his mouth suddenly dry. "I can't read her anymore Giles. I used to think I knew what was going through her head. Now, she's distant; the body's here, but when you look in her eyes, she's somewhere else. No just with me, either. Any luck with that shrink?"

If Spike listened hard enough, he would swear he could hear Giles cleaning his glasses. "Unfortunately, the Council has done very little in the way of caring for the Slayer's mental health. The only work that's been done in any recent memory is apparently a bit concerning Faith, and I don't think it's necessarily applicable here. There doesn't seem to have been much of a call for it before now."

"You can't really believe that."

"I have my doubts, but all I have to rely on is the records. I looked earlier this year, but I couldn't find any mentions of mental illness or difficulties."

"Probably because they covered it up." He pinched the bridge of his nose. He could feel the pounding start behind the eyes. "The average lifespan for the Slayer is, what, three to five years once she's been called?"

"Five is generous. The average is most likely three."

"So we can safely say that there have been between thirty-five to forty-five slayers since I was turned."

"Depending on when that was…"

Spike couldn't help but smile. "1880. First half of the year. You've been wanting that info for a while, haven't you?"

Another silence. This time, he was certain he heard a pen scratching on paper. "To be quite honest, yes. I think your estimate may be accurate."

"Didn't really get a good look at a slayer until about 1896 -- Angelus never had the stomach for a dangerous fight -- and didn't actually fight my first one until 1900. So we can probably lower the estimate to between thirty and forty."

"The first slayer you fought was in China."

More dangerous ground. "Yes."

"So you killed the first one you fought."

"It was kill or be killed, Giles. That's the nature of the game. I'm trying to make a point here, give you something from a different perspective."

Again, he heard that scratching sound. Giles was taking notes. "Sorry. Go ahead."

"I've seen at least three slayers in the last hundred years who seemed to be having some trouble aside from the usual death wish. I've seen another that was what I would call crazy; she managed to get herself gunned down with her bootlegger boyfriend. That's four women, Giles; at least ten percent. Are you going to tell me there hasn't been a need for the Slayer to get a little psychiatric help before now?"

A much longer silence, so long that Spike almost thought the line had gone dead. "There is a specialist the Council retains to help Watchers who've lost their Slayers. I've had a session with him myself. He might possibly be able to assist Buffy."

Spike closed his eyes as a deep sigh of relief left his chest. At last; something that might do some good.

"I'll have to talk to him, of course, see if he's willing."

"Get him over here. I don't care what you do, just get him here. I'll spill my guts to your Miss Chalmers, give her names, dates -- she can find out exactly what sort of pitiful existence Dru rescued William from. Just get the man here."

"Then there's the problem of getting Buffy to accept his help. She's not particularly, ah, fond of the Council. If she finds out he works for them, she might suspect his motives."

"If I was Buffy, I'd be suspicious, too. But if you come along, you'll be able to convince her it's a good idea. She'll listen to you. You may have to take the reins from her hands again for a while, but if she's getting real help, it might be worth it."

Another pause. "You know he'll tell her a relationship with you isn't healthy."

Now it was his turn to fall silent. "Yeah. I know," he said after a long moment. "It's not like I've really had her, though. Just held on as tight as I could and pretended."

"I haven't asked how you are holding up."

"As well as can be expected. Try to stay out of everyone's way. Don't fancy talking to Buffy with the others around; probably wouldn't accomplish much. I've seen her out on patrol a few times, but there's always someone with her."

"Are you going to tell the others about the two of you? I mean, if Buffy doesn't."

"If I walked right up and announced, 'Guess what? Buffy and I have been doing the horizontal mambo, only she dumped me after Soldier Boy came back,' Harris would stake me then and there. Or, he'd laugh, say I was delusional and then stake me. Don't think it would really do any good. Buffy needs to make that decision for herself. Maybe with my threat hanging over her head, she'll be pushed to action."

"Or in another direction. Be careful, Spike. Buffy does not like having her options dictated."

"You're telling me? Whenever I've seen her given a choice between A or B, she somehow always manages to invent G. I mean, a rocket launcher to take out the Judge? Brilliant."

"Actually, that was Xander's idea."

"Leave a man some illusions, Watcher."

A bit of a dry chuckle. "Very well. I do intend to call the house, see if I can find out why Willow hasn't returned my e-mail. I won't mention that we spoke, though."

"Appreciate it. If you did, I think I'd have a very angry Slayer on my doorstep. Don't care to see that at the moment."

"I'll leave a message on the machine if I can convince our fellow to come. Then, I suppose the hard part will be getting Buffy to agree."

"Need any help on this end, I'll do what I can. Oh, meant to tell you: I finished some comments on the thesis and mailed them off a few days ago. You should be getting them soon."

"I take it you did not mention what a pitiful existence Drusilla rescued you from?"

"And give away all my mysteries? No. However, I think she'll be quite happy with the Angelus information I've included. Let me know what you think."

"I'm looking forward to it. And, Spike…"

"Yes, Giles?"

"Thank you for coming in, even if it's only to sort the mail. I appreciate it, and I'm sure Anya will as well."

There was that warm feeling again, the pleasure of having his efforts recognized. "I still owe you, Rupert. I'm a man that pays my debts."

"I've come to believe you are, Spike. Take care."

Giles rung off then and Spike replaced the phone in the cradle. He looked at the flashing light on the message machine. Yes, he could copy off the calls but he felt restless, just as he had for the past week or so. Even with this latest hope from Giles, everything was in limbo. It was as if everyone knew the timer had been activated and was just waiting for the big explosion.

The question was: when?



Setting: Post-Normal Again



Entry 12 - Just a Few Comments...

It wasn't until Giles slid the papers out of the envelope that he realized he was a bit worried about what Spike might have written regarding Lydia's thesis. He'd tossed the idea out simply as a carrot to draw her into his plans and hoped Spike would be able to come up with something appropriate.

That was when he'd thought her as a tool, someone who might be of use but nothing more. Now he'd begun to appreciate her abilities and found not a tool but an ally, one he was loathe to insult by handing her a poorly written critique. Spike might be able to write coherent letters, but this was another arena entirely.

The pub was quiet and Giles took a sip from his pint before picking up the sheet of notepaper that lay atop the pile of larger pages. Unlike his letters, Spike had mailed this in a larger envelope, allowing the pages to arrive flat and unwrinkled. At least he had some idea of presentation, which was a promising sign.

Giles --

Here it is in all its glory. Don't know if it's what she's looking for. It's been an age, literally, since I last had to write commentary and I was told then that I strayed from the point far too often.

Spike

Commentary? When would Spike have written commentary? Giles had been surprised at the polish of Spike's letters, a marked contrast to the Big Bad persona he wore. But commentary?

The answer came back almost immediately: at university, before he was turned. Another clue there was more to him than they all knew and another piece in the puzzle.

Dear Miss Chalmers,

My apologies for having taken so long in getting this to you, but I imagine Giles has supplied some indication as to how interesting things can be on the Hellmouth.

Being a creature of darkness and evil, I appreciate the unique opportunity you have provided by allowing me to read and comment on your thesis. After all, it's not every day a vampire gets the chance to correct some of the misconceptions and misinformation that may spring up in a century or more of living.

First, a note as to your sources. The Chronicles, while extensive, are at times based on rumor and garbled stories from frightened peasants. As such, the actions of one vampire are often ascribed to another. I realize that this particular volume is the seminal text for most of the research done by the Council (along with the diaries of various watchers), but it is a compilation of material, much of which has been lost or destroyed. It is not actually a primary source but a secondary one, a consideration which I find often overlooked. Also, many of the facts on the Order of Aurelius are simply wrong. Peregullum has an excellent section on the Order that corrects many of the errors in the Chronicles, as least based on what I know of the family lore that was passed down to me. I would also recommend Tresmyrion for some of the more esoteric pieces.

Spike had to have been at university; Giles recognized the faintly academic, pedantic tone immediately. Oxford or Cambridge? he wondered. If I knew his last name, I could check.

I cannot comment on the veracity of the Watcher Diaries as a whole except to note that at times my recollections of events are somewhat at odds with the excerpts you quote. This can be put down to a) I was there and the watcher wasn't, b) perspective, and c) personal biases. We all have them.

I mention your sources because, unfortunately, much of the early part of your thesis is based on certain fallacies that have crept into the Chronicles. To begin with, I am considerably younger than the almost two hundred years listed. Second, I far prefer "Spike" to "William the Bloody." Third, I have absolutely no idea where anyone got the idea that the Great Poof was my sire instead of Drusilla.

That sounded a bit more like Spike. Giles made himself a mental note to explain Spike's various nicknames to Lydia.

The bloodline flows as follows: the Master made Darla, Darla made Angelus, the Poof made Drusilla (after driving her mad), and Drusilla made me. Since the date listed for Drusilla's turning is fairly correct -- no, I won't give you the exact date as I'd never reveal a lady's age -- that makes it rather difficult for me to be almost two hundred since she hasn't reach one hundred and fifty yet, now doesn't it? As to the deeds attributed to me during the early part of the nineteenth century (when I was not yet even a gleam in my father's eye), most of them can be put down to various other vampires, including several from the Order of Aurelius. I am, after all, hardly the only vampire to be turned who was named William. Angelus' human name was, in fact, Liam, the Irish derivation (and another excellent reason to adopt a different name).

All I can think of was that following the death of Yujan Wu in 1900, her watcher or some other chronicler assumed since I had killed a slayer and Dru and I set out on our own shortly thereafter, I must be a more senior or "master" vampire. A master doesn't have to be older, but one who has kicked sufficient butt so he won't be mistaken for or treated like a minion. Being the head of your own family or killing a slayer makes one a master. Doesn't mean there aren't others further up the food chain who can still call you on things. The Master was the Master until the day Buffy rammed a stake through his heart and even after killing two slayers, crossing him is not something I would have done lightly, if at all.

I have numerous comments regarding Angelus, but since they are not necessarily germane to the main body of your work, I have appended them in a separate monograph.

To provide a correct summary of my early history, I was turned in the late 1800s by Drusilla (making me between 120 and 130 years old) and became part of the lovely little family known as the "Scourge of Europe." It was, I must confess, a reputation made mostly by Darla and Angelus, though Dru and I did our parts in the next twenty years to uphold it. My original splash was made as William the Bloody, but I quickly chose to adapt "Spike" as more in keeping with my new life. We were a quartet until 1898 when Angelus was first cursed with his soul by the gypsies, then Darla, Drusilla and I made our way through Poland, Russia and onto China over the next two years while Angel tried to find himself. Showed back up just in time for the Boxer rebellion and Yujan Wu's death, only to decide his soul prevented him from enjoying the normal life of a vampire and taking off again.

I must applaud you for your assertion there is "no evidence" to support Hodgson's theory that Drusilla was sired by Angelus out of jealousy over my liaison with Darla. Bloody well right, there isn't. Even if the theory weren't impossible because his timeline's all wonky or ignoring the fact Angelus would have nailed me to a church door to greet the sun for attempting to move in on his woman, I wouldn't have bedded Darla on a regular basis for all the tea in China. Mean, controlling, as likely to stab a lover in his back as pleasure him -- I prefer to walk away from bed with my body parts intact, thank you. You can quote me on that.

Giles took another pull on his beer. He was going to enjoy this. Hodgson had been pushing his theory for a decade now, ignoring any evidence to the contrary. During Giles' brief return before Buffy's resurrection, they'd ended up in a rousing argument in the middle of the Council's central reception hall, highlighted by Giles yelling, "I think he bloody well knows who his own sire is, you git!"

I dispute your use of the word "random" to describe the travels Drusilla and I undertook following China. Sounds like we simply blew with the wind, not caring where we went. To the contrary, we always required that the place we landed be entertaining. Dru was often governed by her visions while I favored those places that provided the latest in music and entertainment. It was this combination that led to the diverse nature of our travels. Believe me, it was not my idea to travel to Norway in December of 1933. I would have preferred Paris or even Berlin in all its decadence. I most certainly would have preferred anywhere except Prague in the spring of 1997, but Drusilla had a vision so off we went.

On page 128, you misspelled "Marseilles." That wasn't me anyway, but a vampire named Harvey, who is of no consequence and long since dust.

The statement "William the Bloody has fought two slayers and killed them both" is erroneous. I've killed two slayers, but have fought nine at last count. Yes, the number is a bit high for the average vampire, but I'm hardly the average vampire. I'll admit to seeking out slayers ever since Angelus first told me of their existence; one can't ask for a better fight than with a slayer at the top of her game, either against her or on her side (being one of only two vampires I know of who can make that claim). I've also fought two slayers at once and lived to tell about it, which is an interesting but painful story Rupert Giles can relate to you.

I survived these encounters by studying the slayers closely and learning how to read them. Pit a random vampire against a slayer and the odds lie heavily with her; she is trained, focused and usually dedicated to her calling. Only when the slayer is wounded or tired -- not just exhausted, but tired of the fight, tired of life -- do the odds switch. Random events do happen to shift the balance, but there's a good reason vampires fear the slayer. With five of the seven slayers I fought who survived, I realized the odds were not in my favor and chose to break off rather than be staked. The sixth was Kendra and I was doing quite well until Buffy decided to take her place.

It was a good thing he hadn't known any of this when Spike had first blown into Sunnydale nearly five years ago. It'd been bad enough learning their new foe was the Slayer of Slayers, but if Giles had known the vampire had survived five additional battles, he might have well packed Buffy off to a safe place.

He felt one corner of his mouth quirk in irritation. Pity Angel had not seen fit to share any of this information at the time. Not that it likely would have made any difference; Buffy and Spike seemed to move in some bizarre dance to which only they knew the steps.

The seventh, as you might have guessed, is Buffy Summers, quite possibly the finest Slayer the Council has ever known. Quick, clever, attractive and highly skilled at kicking ass. I notice your thesis ends before I came to Sunnydale (you did forget to add "charming" to your final analysis of me), but if you consider an appendix or addendum at some point, you might wish to consider interviewing both Buffy and myself, not simply relying on Giles' accounts. I think the two of us might offer us a unique perspective and give the Council a fuller appreciation of Buffy's accomplishments.

That brought a smile to Giles' face. He'd love to see Travers' reaction if a series of joint interviews were proposed. He'd have to suggest video tape to Lydia.

I realize that my notes are somewhat general in nature, but more detailed ones would take far longer and I wanted to get something off to you. If I should think of anything further, I'll send them off via old Rupert. If you have questions, he knows how to get in touch with me.

Spike (aka William the Bloody)

Knowing Lydia would find the comments more than adequate (and probably show them off to everyone within five minutes of their receipt), Giles put the letter aside and turned to the remaining pages.

Angelus: A Rant

It was only with great difficulty that he did not spew his beer over the pages. Need to make copies before I give this to Lydia. The first word was written in the looping style Giles had become familiar with; the next two words were scrawled in a different ink and underlined, as if added as an afterthought.

An appalling amount of paper has been wasted regarding that oh-so-special unique, one-of-a-kind vampire with a soul, Angelus, more commonly known as Angel. There are prophecies, papers, books, chronicles detailing his accomplishments, methods, defeats and why he's just plain gosh-darn different. Because of recent events, even more attention's been turned on him.

That a vampire should be able to father a child is not completely outside the realm of possibility. The Balkans are filled with stories of dhampires and I actually met a man some ninety years ago who may well have been one; just looked at me and knew what I was. It was not an encounter I care to repeat. Leave it to Angel, though, to go the legends one better by not only fathering a child but managing to get one on another vampire. Given the way watchers love to look for the meanings behind prophecies, I'm certain the question "Why him?" has frequently arisen. The answers are beyond me.

The basic facts of his origin are correct as far as I know: in 1749, a drunken Irishman stumbled into an alley, thought he'd found himself a bit of slap and tickle and woke up with ridges and fangs. Given the little I was ever able to pry out of Darla of what she knew of his human life, Liam (as the bog dweller was known) was worthless; gambled, drank, whored, brawled and busy working his way through his patrimony as fast as he could. The odds were he would drink himself to death, die in a bar brawl or of syphilis. Unfortunately, he met Darla instead.

I can't vouch for any of the details of his career before I arrived on the scene. There were tales and stories, but they seemed to shift and change each time they were told. Sometimes, it seemed Darla and Angelus had participated in two separate events with people who looked amazingly like their partner. That Angelus was subject to obsessions, stalking and terrorizing the object of his "affections" I can verify by the evidence of Drusilla. Normally quite mad, there were times in the 120 years we were together she remembered very clearly the pains that had been visited on her. Even accounting for her state of mind and way of speaking (Dru never says anything straight if she can use an analogy or a metaphor), I believe the Chronicles may well be understating the extent of Angelus' cruelty.

Interesting, but it almost seems as if the writers refer to two separate beings: the demonic Angelus and the souled Angel. Sometimes I wonder if the gypsies didn't just curse him with guilt rather than a soul, because post-curse Angel seems to have more scruples than pre-death Liam. The curse does not, however, prevent him from acting like a poncy bastard.

Cruelty. By the time I showed up on the scene, Angelus had cruelty down to a fine art, a fact I became quickly and painfully aware of. He was the unquestioned head of our little family and brooked no opposition or challenge. We were, in fact, dysfunctional even for a vampire clan and I've at times thought the four of us might make a nice edition of Jerry Springer. Of course, we might end up by eating the audience, but no loss there.

For the next twenty years, we careened across Europe, happily causing chaos wherever we went. We fought, which was not surprising considering Angel and I developed different ways of looking at the world. I prefer the adrenaline rush of a good brawl, wading in all fist and fangs. Keeping after someone until they're a quivering mass of jelly that can't defend themselves just isn't my style. Angel, however, began his career by terrorizing his village, culminating in the murder of his entire family. (The idea that this is a common practice among vampires is something of a fallacy; let me state for the record that my father predeceased me and my mother died peacefully in her bed at a ripe old age.) Somewhere along the way, he got the fancy idea that it was more "artistic" to terrorize a victim before you killed them. There were times when it appeared he got off on the terror more than the blood itself.

This is what ultimately led to his undoing and the Great Poof we know and loathe today. In 1898, Angelus decided to stalk and kill a gypsy girl. She was innocent and trusting and I'm not certain she actually understood what he was. Her tribe took exception, grabbed a handy Orb of Thesulah, and, voila, one souled vampire to go. And go he did. Took off running for the hills without a word (and most of our money in his pockets, I might add), not to be seen for two years.

When we next find our hero, it's in Peking during the middle of the Boxer Rebellion. Sweet-talked Darla into believing for a moment that he had decided to turn back to his bad old ways. Not sure why she believed him, except that she likely wanted him around instead of me. (Don't believe that female vampires aren't subject to little things like PMS; Darla was. For the two years Angel was gone.) We might have easily fallen back into our old patterns except for two events. First, Darla discovered Angel letting a group of missionaries go instead eating them like a proper creature of darkness. Second, I killed my first slayer.

Angel wasn't happy with this. I'd just upset the balance of power by doing something neither he nor Darla ever had. They couldn't safely dismiss me any longer. Darla was the one who forced the question, offering him the choice of eating the child of the missionaries he'd spared earlier or leaving. He chose to leave.

The Chronicles don't have much information about Angel for the next ninety-odd years, nor does the vampire community. He wandered, avoiding most of our kind, brooding on his fate. I ran into him once in New York during the early 1980s; at that point he looked pretty bad, almost unrecognizable. I considered stopping out of sheer curiosity if nothing else, but he made a break for it and I didn't actually care enough to pursue.

From 1996 on, his activities are fairly well documented. Moved to Sunnydale, helped the Slayer, lost his soul again, got it back, got sent to hell, came back, helped the Slayer, walked out on her (causing endless repercussions, the bastard), moved to Los Angeles and became Angel, Vampire Detective. Sounds like he should have his own TV show.

Those are the facts of his history, but it still doesn't speak to the question of why this nancy-boy ended up being considered so special by the bleeding Powers that toss around us around like we were dice in a crap game. Perhaps the answer lies in his nature or personality, something which I notice neither your thesis nor the other chronicles speaks to. Allow me to shed a little light on this oh-so-special shy and retiring vampire from my personal experience.

He's a bastard. Uncaring, unthinking of anyone but himself and the moments he's happiest are divided between brooding (souled) and causing pain and terror to those around him (unsouled). I've known him for over a century now and I haven't seen much change since the night I first crawled out of my grave. Well, except for the brooding. Angelus didn't brood, unless he got good and drunk. Then he would brood. And sing. Believe me, you don't want to hear him sing.

Unsouled, Angel has a positive passion for destruction and he's one of those who happens to think sending the world to hell might actually be a good idea (See Rupert Giles' report of the Acathla incident). Souled, he acts as if the weight of the world rests upon his shoulders, as if a single misstep might somehow bring down Armageddon. He was always cheap, except when it was something he wanted, like the gel he favors to make his hair stand straight up. I can vouch for the lemon verbena shampoo, as well as the oatmeal body scrub. Plotting to destroy the world and he sent a minion out to refill his supply.

It's the insistence on luxuries such as gel and body scrubs and complaining if he got blood on his linen during a kill that earned Angel many of his nicknames. If you're going to dress for a drawing room when you're going out into the middle of a riot and then whine that you got dirty, of course people are going to think you're a poof. Well, at least in my opinion.

When I had an opportunity to peruse some of Giles' diaries (see his comments on the Initiative and how I managed to get this stupid chip in my head), I noted that he has, on occasion, used some of my nicknames. For the sake of clarity, the most common ones are Poof, Poofter, Great Poof, Nancy Boy, Soul-having, Soul-whipped, Souled One and Peaches. Most are self-explanatory, but allow me to explain the origin of "Peaches."

We were in Vienna in 1892. The trip had proved somewhat of a bore until one evening when we attended a formal soiree in honor of a visiting ambassador. As Angel always liked his luxury, we dressed well when the occasion demanded it and often attended the theatre and society events. (I did see Angelus actually weep at a ballet performance he found beautiful, proving that there is hope even for the worst of us.) We were looking for dinner and found nothing to our liking as the crowd was older and probably rather tough. While it takes a great deal of alcohol to get a vampire drunk, too much champagne on an empty stomach can make one quite giddy. Darla had a great deal of champagne, and decided to liven things up a bit. She dared Angel and me to go up to the musicians' gallery and drop our trousers for the crowd. As we'd also had a great deal of champagne, we agreed.

Not surprisingly, wackiness ensued and we decided it was best to end the evening early. Many a laugh was had back in our rooms but the brightest moment came when Drusilla chose to describe Angel's appearance in her own charming and unique way. "It was soft and round," she said, "like the skin of a ripe peach."

It was too much for Darla and I to bear and we immediately began calling him Peaches. Not surprisingly, he didn't particularly find the humor in the situation and we were…discouraged from using it. This is to say, any time I wanted to set him off, the name came up.

Looking over this, I realize I have committed the very sin I complained of earlier: wasted far more paper and ink on the Great Poof than originally intended. I will end, therefore, with the hope that you find this piece useful in keeping watchers gainfully employed in searching for the meaning behind impossible prophecies. Given all the things I've seen in this world, I must say there's very little I would call impossible, except perhaps little green aliens in spaceships who buzz drunken tourists on deserted desert highways.

Or Angel being able to sing anything on-key.

Giles laid the last page down, wiped his eyes once more and lifted his pint in silent salute. He could hardly wait.

***

The dining room was almost full and Giles spotted Lydia at a table with five others. Perfect. Copies had been made and safely tucked away so he could present her the envelope with the Sunnydale postmark, his address written on the front. Setting his pace to a deceptively casual walk, he made his way across the room. "I was hoping to see you here, Lydia."

Her eyes darted first to the envelope, eager and hopeful. "If you'd like to join us…"

He shook his head. "Just wanted to deliver this. Spike has managed to come through at last."

She practically dived for it, but kept her calm at the last moment and gracefully held out her hand. "Spike?" one of her companions asked.

"William the Bloody. Mr. Giles was kind enough to give him a copy of my thesis and ask him to make some comments on it."

"Your subject is making comments?" Eyes all around the table lit up. Ah, the enthusiasm of the younger generation.

"I'll leave you to it," Giles told her. "Let me know what you think."

Smirking to himself, he made his way from the room, pausing briefly at the door to look back. Lydia was quite immersed already, with her fellow watchers craning their necks to get a view."

"Going in or going out, Rupert?"

This was the icing on the cake. "Going out, Quentin. Just had to deliver something to Lydia."

Giles smiled at the man who stood behind Travers. "Hodgson, I believe there are some things there you might find of interest."

"Really?"

A sudden, unexpected crow of laughter came from the middle of the dining room and Giles looked back to discover all pretense of disinterest had been abandoned. Lydia's companions were standing now, eagerly reading over her shoulder.

"Oh, yes. Really."



Setting: Post-Seeing Red

Author's Note: This is the last entry in the series in all likelihood. Not that I'm dried up or tired of the series (quite the contrary), but given the events of S7 so far (through "Never Leave Me"), a continuation doesn't seem feasible as the series was always intended to be closely tied to what was happening on screen.



Entry 13 - Whispers in the Wind

The writing sprawled across the page, little attention paid to neatness.

Giles --

It's all buggered and gone to hell. You'll likely hear the story from the others and I don't have time to tell it. I'm leaving Sunnydale tonight, you see. Can't stay here as I am any longer.

The chip won't let me be a monster and I'm not a man, no matter how hard I try. I've been living against my nature and that's got to change. Where it will take me, I don't know -- but I've never been a big one for looking too far into the future.

Anya is back, though I don't know how long she'll stay. Don't know if things can be fixed between her and Harris now; things happened that none of us intended and we have to live with the consequences.

They know about me and Buffy; news came out unexpectedly and wasn't greeted with resounding joy. I thought things were bad between us before; they're worse and it's one of the reasons I've got to go.

I'm planning on coming back, but I don't know when and I don't know how. I'm supposed to be William the Bloody, slayer of slayers; since this chip got shoved in my brain, I've been Spike the Pathetic. Time for me to take back what's mine.

Don't know if we'll ever see each other again or under what circumstances. Wanted you to know so you don't go sending things to me via the Magic Box or be expecting news. Wanted to thank you for being the only one out of the whole sorry lot of them that was willing to listen.

Farewell,

Spike

***

The envelope fluttered through the mail slot of the flat, coming to rest atop the growing pile. Olivia would be stopping in tomorrow to pick up the pile and put it away as she'd promised Giles in his brief, frantic phone call. There it would wait until Giles' return.