Greater Good Part 18/27: News From Home
Giles walked at a slow pace, curiously scanning the stretched shadows spreading across the familiar landscape as the sun ducked down behind the horizon. It was his time, the birth of night when he no longer had to hide from the hurtful sunlight. But no matter how long he wandered the empty streets, his thoughts always returned to her.
It had only been five days since he’d voluntarily exiled himself from his family but Buffy was with him every step of the way. His mind carried the vision of her sad eyes, the aching memory of her hurt filled stare watching him leave her. So many men had walked out on her, but he’d done it twice. And though he told himself it was for the best, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d failed her yet again.
With the first taste of her on his lips, he’d surrendered to the beast and he despised himself for it. But there was a glimmer of hope in that disgraceful scene; Buffy seemed strangely accepting of his condition now, taunting him to feed without a thought for her own safety. She’d trusted him to stop and he had. It was far more than he’d expected or deserved. But then again, she never failed to surprise him. In spite of of his restraint, the deed was done and he vowed to never revisit the thrill that was drinking from her tender flesh.
His concentration returned to taking in the scent of the night air as he casually strolled down the southern most edge of Sunnydale. He wasn’t sure where he was headed. After spending the first few nights of his banishment nearby, Giles found he couldn’t take seeing her worried face peering out her bedroom window at night, waiting for him. So he moved on, wandering the empty remains of the once thriving suburb. He wanted to make a phone call and was in search of the nearest working phone. Sunnydale was all but abandoned and had no reliable utilities to speak of. Giles determined that the outer edge of town might remain somewhat unaffected by the widespread panic that had claimed Sunnydale. Perhaps a payphone would still be in service or he could gain access to someone’s home, trying his luck at the invitation right spell that had proven so invaluable in his darker days. In any case, he needed the help of an old ally and would travel however long he needed to contact them. Time was short and Giles knew leaving Buffy and the gang alone was risky this late in the game. He needed to get back as soon as possible.
The vampire’s nose tickled with alien scents once masked by the pollution of everyday life, now freed by the absence of any substantial populace. The air of Sunnydale was reclaiming its natural aroma and the vampire could smell the hint of things hidden under waning pockets of poisons. The sweet kiss of cherry blossoms entangled with the sulfur and ash. The Hellmouth was revealing itself and Giles wondered when the whole town would be swallowed up. It was foretold that the quiet community would be wiped off the map, but there was never any mention of dates or times. As usual, it didn’t matter. He had no doubt that the gang would triumph in the end. They always did. Trouble was that he never knew at what cost. They’d already scarified so much, but Giles feared what lay behind them would pale in comparison to what fate had in store.
With a bracing wind, the vampire’s troublesome thoughts were interrupted by a peculiar odor that sent his mind racing for the source. Though new to the world if enhanced senses, he recognized it was the musk of an animal. Both mysterious and hauntingly familiar, he paused to take in the strange aroma. A warm breeze rustled the canopies of the aligning oaks as the wind carried the curious scent to him. He turned around and saw the dark figure of someone approaching from the end of the shadowed block. Another whiff and Giles smiled warmly with recognition of the beastly musk, it was that of a wolf.
“I didn’t anticipate your return,” he spoke in a soft tone and though the figure was too far off for any normal being to hear, Giles knew this old friend wouldn’t have any difficulty hearing him.
“Can’t be the all knowing Watcher all the time,” the quiet, monotone voice sounded from across the small expanse. They moved toward one another with deliberately unhurried steps. As the two men met at the cross street, they stopped just shy enough to keep a slight distance between them.
“You’ve chosen a rather hazardous time to come back,” Giles warned.
“Didn’t have a choice… I left my heart in Sunnydale,” he offered the slightest of grins, a puckish calling card of a young man Giles never thought he’d see again.
“Welcome home, Oz,” Giles outstretched his hand.
Oz cocked a curious brow at the uncharacteristic show of courteousness towards him. “Formality? Do I have to refer to you as Mister now?”
“I’d prefer not. I apologize for my intrusion. It’s a necessary practice I’ve come to adopt due to our current crisis. The foe we face is incorporeal.”
“So there’s a secret Scooby handshake now…” Oz quickly offered his hand and strangely welcomed the feeling of the older man’s gentle grip. “Guess I have to retune myself to the new menace.”
“It’s nice to see and feel you.”
“You’re not making this any more comfortable you know.” Oz pulled away and took a few apprehensive steps back.
“I just meant I’m glad you’re actually here and not some indestructible evil specter.”
“Thank you… I think,” With a gentle nod, Oz began to walk down the street. “How is she?”
“She’s well,” Giles followed along side him. “She’s changed. We all have.”
“Some more than others,” Oz glanced over at Giles, his eyes narrowing in close inspection of the Watcher.
“You have a gift for understatement, my friend,” Giles snickered feebly.
“One of my many super-ordinary powers,” Oz tilted his head forward to get a better view of Giles’ face and took in a deep breathe. He cautiously slipped his hand under his jean jacket, readying himself for the somber question he had to ask. “When did it happen?”
“It?” Giles’ unconvincing smile faded. “So many things have happened since you were away. I’m afraid you’ll have to be a bit more specific.”
“When did you die?” His hand gripped his hidden stake, ready to strike at the first sign of danger.
Oz’s tone was so unemotional that Giles was thrown by it. He glimpsed over at the young man and was immediately disheartened by his vacant stare and even more disturbed by the sight of the red tainted stake held tense in his grasp. There was no hint of the boy he’d once known; only a ghost of innocence remained. Giles wondered what Oz had suffered through to be change so much and silently apologized for playing his part in the distortion of such a kind and peaceful soul.
“Does it matter?” Giles didn’t want to get into the intricacies of the drama. He continued on, only to be stopped by a gentle but urging grip of his arm. He turned back toward Oz who shyly released his grasp.
“It does to me,” the young man’s brow creased with a flicker of concern and then returned to the uncaring shield of inexpressiveness it had previously worn.
“It was a means to an end. Though far from my first choice… not my choice at all really… I know that my transformation serves some purpose. I just wish I knew what it was.”
“So the others know?”
“Stiff shot of the Angel treatment?”
“With all the trimmings.”
Oz slipped the stake back under his jacket and both men dug there hands deep within their pockets, trying to ignore the uncomfortable atmosphere clouding their conversation.
“She’s getting good then? With the majicks?”
“Far too good, but that is her story to tell, not mine.”
“And your control over the wolf?”
“Mostly mellow with occasional moments of unhinged terror. But for the most part, I’m house broken.”
“Still wild at heart, though?” Giles flashed a clever grin and Oz shied quiet. “I’m proud of you, Oz. She will be as well.”
Oz shrugged off the uncomfortable compliment. “So what gives with the sideman solo? You’re deficient the Slayerful one?”
“Buffy has her hands full at the moment with the demanding task of training some potential Slayers. I’ve taken it upon myself to make the nightly rounds.”
“On the outskirts of town? Aren’t you a little far from home out here?”
“What brings you here, Oz?” Giles didn’t want to be rude but couldn’t bring himself to discuss the matter further.
“Didn’t mean to pry…”
“No… please, forgive me. It’s just that things are a bit taxing at the moment. Having a hard time adjusting.”
“Yeah, been there,” Oz grinned. “By the way, thanks for the connections. That Tibetan monk you hooked me up with really did the trick. Helped me get my head on straight.”
“You’ve always been very level-headed young man; you just needed some spiritual guidance. I’m glad he could help.”
“Like you said…he gave me the tools. It’s up to me to use them. Seems like someone I know could use a little help from the T crew.”
“I don’t see your van?” Giles changed the subject. “It isn’t wise to walk these streets alone. But then, you are well aware of that.”
“Got a dirt bike just around the corner. Not much in the comfy extras but gets me to where I need to go.”
“And where you needed to go was here… the Mouth of Hell?” Giles wanted to subtly remind the young man what fun was in store for him if he remained, but there was no time for subtlety.
“Had to see my girl… even if she isn’t my girl anymore.”
“Some small part of her will always be yours,” Giles glanced up at the star filled night sky and Oz could see the regrets creasing the older man’s kindly features.
Oz offered a gentle smile, “I think that holds true for someone else I know.”
The vampire peeked down out of the corner of his eye at the cunning young man standing beside him. “I must be moving on. I have some things to attend to.”
“You want me to deliver any messages?” Oz asked warily. “Status reports or anything. They might want to know how your mission is going.” Giles deadpan expression spoke volumes and the young man nodded knowingly. “You wanna stay stealthy. Got it.”
“It’s good to have you back, Oz.”
“Funny thing…kinda weird… but it’s good to be back. Makes me feel…feel like me again.” Oz paused and watched as Giles continued on down the vacant street. “Be cool, Watcher.”
“Can’t be anything else,” Giles flashed a sad smile as he continued on his way. “Take care, Oz.”
The knock at the door broken up the heated discussion in the Summers’ living room. All eyes fell on Willow as she rushed to the door and opened it.
“Giles, I knew you couldn’t stay away…” she froze with disbelief at the realization of who was standing before her. “Oz?”
“Sorry to disappoint,” he said simply, glancing past her to spot Xander and Buffy stepping up behind Willow. “Hey.”
“Oz… wow! Blast from the very much welcome past. Get in here you old dog,” Xander suddenly flushed red with the slip of the tongue. “I didn’t mean it like…”
“Well said nonetheless,” Oz grinned.
“Come in… please,” Buffy said, nudging Willow to break out of her daze.
“Oh… yeah,” she shuffled nervously aside and watched as Oz made his way in. The Potentials immediately started their muted mumblings as Dawn rushed down stairs and tackled the unsuspecting young man in an overly enthusiastic hug.
“Dawn… my sunrise gal…” Oz timidly hugged her back, strangely enjoying the unplanned spectacle of a warming reunion. “You’re big now. So much for gravity. You been workin the vert overtime.” Just like old times, she was a sight for sore eyes. She pulled back and scribbled out a message on her whiteboard as Oz watched with an inquiring eye.
“Where’s your guitar?”
“Had to trade it in for the hunk-a-junk in the driveway,” he gave Willow a raised brow at the odd form of communication and Willow shook her head, warning him to drop it. Dawn wiped the board and scribbled more.
“Got a Squier acoustic upstairs. Stole it. It’s yours if you want it.”
“That’s sweet… in the youthful offender sense,” Oz smiled awkwardly.
“What brings you back to the home of the big brewin’ evil?” Buffy asked and motioned toward the kitchen. The Scoobies pushed through the crowd of Potentials and marched into he temporary strategy room, taking up positions around the island counter as Oz tried to soak in the new flavor of the old hangout.
“Ran into a monk up in Gilroy. Seems like his mission got seriously messed up by some crazed guy. Killed all of the others in his order after taking a gander at a secret inscription they’d kept hidden there. He was the only survivor. Something told me this might involve our local Slayer.”
“By any chance, you remember what the inscription said?” Willow asked hopefully.
“Came prepared,” he pulled out a torn up pamphlet decorated with Dingos logos and Willow flashed back to old times. “Wrote it down, here…” He handed the waded up page to Buffy who tried to read the message aloud.
“Non tibi est. Ei solae tractare licet.”
“It is not for thee. It is for her alone to wield,” Willow
“Whatever it is… it turned this guy into a walking disaster. The place was in shambles,” Oz warned.
“We’ve met the disaster in question. He’s a real peach of a guy,” Buffy examined the words again. “Maybe it’s some type of weapon?”
“Well yippie… we could use a bit of good news right about now. Thanks Oz,” Willow smiled warmly and Oz nodded.
“Here to help,” he said simply.
“So we got another boarder of the male persuasion then?” Xander smiled. “Finally, we needed to even up the odds here.”
“You’re such a trooper,” Oz quipped.
“Given it my all… welcome home,” Xander smiled.
“Welcome home? What stray puppy have we taken in now?” Spike came in the back and Oz had the stake at the ready before batting an eye.
Buffy stepped forward and gestured a calm wave. “Spike’s kinda on our side, now.”
“Kinda?” Spike objected.
“Don’t push it, deadboy!” Xander warned.
“It’s ok for now, Oz,” Buffy smiled gratefully.
“For now?” Spike objected again. “With all the love in this room, you don’t deserve the good news I got for you.”
“More good news? We hit the jackpot!” Willow got excited.
“Don’t get all happidy quite yet, Wil. After all, look who the messenger is,” Xander growled with a glare at the blonde vampire.
“What is it, Spike?” Buffy interrupted.
“Caught us a fishy,” he smiled and Faith burst through the door with a heavily tied up Bringer in tow. “Seems our girls are quite the fly fishers. Just a little fish in a big pond but I’ll bet we can beat some information outta him.”
“Take him downstairs and lock him…” Buffy paused as she remembered the torn up chains and restraints still piled on the floor in the basement. The sad reminder of Giles departure brought her to the verge of tears. “Just secure him downstairs.” She rushed out of the kitchen and the gang exchanged nervous glances as they heard her rushed footsteps as she ran upstairs to her room.
“I’ll take care of the eyeless wonder here,” Faith said and kicked him down the dark basement stairs. Andrew curiously followed along with Anya.
“I think I better keep an eye…”
“Go. We’ll reminisce later,” Oz nodded and looked at Willow with an understanding smile.
“You can come join in on the fun… if you want. Should be the highlight of an otherwise boring evening of death and screaming.” Willow offered.
“I’ll take a pass. Go do your thing. I’ll be here.”
Everyone disappeared into the basement, leaving Oz alone with Spike.
“So, you’re one of the good guys now?”
“Not even close,” the vampire snickered. “Wait a tick…hey, you’re that bloody kid that helped Angel keep my jewelry collection shy of one tasty little bauble. The jem of Amarra, right?”
“Nice to be remembered… though, not really in this case.”
“No worries. Not interested in that wicked bit-o-fun anymore. But nice work that,” Spike’s eyes narrowed for a moment and then he chuckled to himself. “So how is my wayward boy then?”
“Huh?” Oz cocked a questioning brow.
“The Watcher…” Spike took out a blood pack from the warm fridge and tore into it. “I smell him on you. Still doing the lonely hearts club man show?”
“Son?” Oz watched the vampire drink from the pack and felt his heart sink. “So you’re the one who…”
“What? The Scoobies didn’t offer up that juicy tidbit of history?” Spike rolled his eyes. “Well, seething hatred isn’t what it used to be.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Oz’s hand slipped under his jacket and curled around the stake.
“So how is he? What’s he doin?”
Oz wanted to stake the vampire without a second thought but his curiosity got the best of him. Why would the others spare someone who’d killed Giles? It took all his control not to go lycanthropic on his ass. But there was something in the vampire’s eyes and voice that made the young man pause.
“Pity,” Spike snickered and opened the back door. “By the way, line for staking me in the back is growing a bit long. Best get here early if you wanna piece of me, wolfy. But keep in mind that Buffy’s got first dibs on my heart. So don’t go gettin’ any brilliant ideas about dustin’ me without her say first.”
“I’d say someone else deserves his turn first,” Oz said coldly.
“Giles had his chance,” Spike smiled. “Chose to save my sorry ass instead. Go figure.”
“He’s a far better man than I,” Oz growled.
Spike smiled and nodded in appreciation of the Watcher. “Bloody martyr is what he is.”
He left out the back and Oz was left to ponder the overindulgence of news just handed over to him. Things had indeed changed in Sunnydale.