Greater Good Part 19/27: Searching
Oz kept his distance from the group of potential Slayers, satisfied to simply people-watch as they talked amongst themselves. He decided he could best be filled in on all the recent happenings by listening in to the various conversations in the household, most of which revolved around what had happened between Buffy and Giles some nights prior to Oz’s arrival. Some of the girls seemed pleased by the Watcher’s absence; alluding to the fact that having another vampire around was just another thing to worry about. The majority of the girls jumped in to defend Giles, asserting that he was the only thinking member of the gang and that they would inevitably fail without him. Then one rather shy girl suggested that there was more to the Buffy and Giles’ relationship than met the eye, quickly stirring up more speculation of the possible love triangle that could be occurring right under their noses. Oz was slightly amused that the relationship gossip quickly overcame all fear and apprehension. Anything to distract their minds from the battle to come was a good thing, but the nervous chatter and edgy gossip made him wonder if Giles had made the wrong choice in staying away, not only for the potentials, but more so for the dismayed Slayer.
The sound of the basement door opening drew his attention toward the kitchen. He saw Willow move to the refrigerator and decided to investigate.
“How’s the interrogation coming?”
“Oz… hey,” Willow looked over with a surprised smile, acting almost like she’d forgotten he was there. “Well… they have an unstoppable army on the farthest edge of town, an arsenal beneath the dirt… oh, and they’re gonna laugh as we are all die horrible deaths, yada, yada, yada. How’s things with you?”
“Can’t complain,” he smirked, leaning up to the counter and drawing a finger along the countertop.
“I…I can’t believe you’re really here…” she reached out and brushed her finger along his wandering hand.
“In the flesh,” he tried to reassure her and pulled his hand
back, feeling uncomfortable with her touch. Willow winced at his reaction
to her contact.
“Not so much. Kinda takes me to a bad place.”
“It’s hard to explain,” she said with a quirky smile. “You got your wolf thing; I got my juiced-up evil sorceress thing. Not of the good.”
“So I’ve missed a few plot twists and turns in the ongoing drama that is Sunnydale?”
“Oh yeah! Mucho sadness and pain. But we’re still here,” she offered a wounded smile. “The gang’s all here…” she paused and lowered her gaze to her shoes, distraughtly kicking her heal to her toe. “Well… not all here… I mean Giles is...”
Oz could see the concern in her expression, she was worried about him. Even though he’d been sworn to secrecy, he never could withstand seeing grief in her big brown eyes. “He’s ok.”
Her eyes immediately went wide with excitement. “You saw him? Where? When?”
“He’s ok,” Oz simply smiled.
“What… he’s gonna be all covert guy,” she grew annoyed. “I can’t stand this. He should be here. We need him here. Buffy needs him here.”
“What’s with them? I’m sensing distance… besides the obvious spatial thing.”
Willow’s face fell sad. “Something really, really awful happened to Giles. There was… um, some badness...”
“He’s a vampire,” Oz filled in the unpleasant details for her.
“You know?” she was stunned.
“Wolf, remember? I could smell the… the death,” he said delicately. Willow grimaced at the truthful explanation. “And the peanut gallery is in rumor overdrive out there, crafting quite the soap opera, starring our favorite Slayer and Watcher. Figured I better get a reality check from a more reliable source.”
“I don’t really know what’s going on. No one’s talking,” Willow shrugged in frustration. “Oz, he’s not right. Giles is so down, so depressed. I’m worried he’s gonna try something drastic.”
“I’ll admit he seemed a bit blue but he said he needed to do something. Maybe he’s just needing some time alone. I get that.”
“I hope your right.” Willow flashed a weak smile and started to search through the cupboards for a snack. “How’s wolfie treating you?”
“Pretty well, actually. That’s another reason I’m here, thought I could help.”
“Not that I’m ungrateful, but what do you mean? Aren’t you still rather… um, savage?”
“That’s the thing…it took a lot of practice, but I can somewhat control it now, call on it when I need it.”
Willow paused and glanced back to him. “You can change at will?”
“Yep. Neat trick, huh?”
“Oz… that must take amazing concentration and restraint.”
“Yeah, well… had a lot of time to learn it,” he grinned. “So… you think you could use another beast in the ranks?”
She stepped over to him and gently took his hand in hers. “We could use all the help we can get. I’m glad you’re here.”
Oz glanced down at their intertwined hands and sighed. “Glad to be here,” he said quietly and pulled away. He offered a gentle grin and walked toward the living room. Willow couldn’t help but feel guilty that she’d done something wrong. This would be hard for both of them.
Buffy examined the sparkling ceiling of her unlit bedroom. The speckles of decorative glitter made the room seem more juvenile than she’d recognized before. But for some reason, the frivolous adornment made her feel better. It was why she escaped to her room, to shelter herself within the protective walls that represented a more innocent time, a more pleasant time.
“He’s never coming back, you know.”
Buffy was startled to her feet as the tall figure moved from the shadowed corner of her dark room. She raised her fists up, prepared to attack or defend as the stranger stepped closer. She froze, her heart skipping a beat as Giles’ handsome features were slowly defined by the faint candlelight flickering from the heart-shaped cinnamon candle on her nightstand. With the first glance of his empathetic smile and absorbingly green eyes, she wanted to rush into his arms. Before she could act on her hopes, her instincts kicked in and after letting out a disheartened sigh, she casually laid back down on her bed, completely indifferent to the intruder.
“What…no overtly sentimental welcome? No passionate kiss or tender embrace? Or has your fickle interest already returned to your other undead lover?” He was dressed just as her unreasonable memory persisted on remembering him, stuffy tweed suit, glasses, the loyal Watcher forever etched within her mind. But it wasn’t him; Giles hadn’t been that man for a very long time.
“You’re not him,” she mumbled with disappointment.
“I’m afraid you misunderstand my nature. I am much more him than he is now. But your ignorance is to be expected.” He moved closer, kneeling down beside the bed so his excruciatingly kind face was mere inches from her, tormenting her. “Besides, you have a lot on your plate at the moment, what with Spike constantly trying to burrow his way back into your cold little heart or at least settling for getting between those luscious legs of yours.”
“Go away,” Buffy growled.
“And now what? You admit your confused love for me only to have me walk out on you, again. That’s got to sting.” The bogus Watcher removed his glasses and began to tidy them with his handkerchief, making the scene painfully familiar.
“You are not him.”
“Why are you here?”
“I’m worried about you. All shut away like some pathetic recluse…”
“No, you aren’t. And that’s what’s unsettling you.”
“I really don’t need a psychotherapy session from a demented hell phantom, but thanks anyway.”
“He’s never coming back. Or at least he won’t unless you go after him.”
“He said he would, so he will.”
“No, he won’t and time grows short, as does his spirit. Even now he is contemplating what glorious release he could finally award to himself.”
“Giles is coming back to me,” Buffy insisted, her anxious gaze following the vision as it moved with such sick familiarity in her personal space.
“How touching. One might actually believe you cared for that perverse wreckage of a half man.” The counterfeit Giles returned to a kneeling position beside the bed and cocked his head aside with a gentle smile donning his concerned features. “He loves you. He honestly does and he knows you could never do what he asked, never provide him with what he so desperately wants. So he told you what you wanted to hear. He expressed his love and promised to return, all the while knowing full well that his departure was a one way trip.”
“What are you saying?” Buffy was trying to ignore the specter’s words but they were getting through, eating away at her better judgment.
“He’s run off to do himself in, of course.”
“No…” Buffy gasped.
“How many times has he pleaded for rest, how many times have his eyes cried out for peace,” He leaned in closer and Buffy could swear she smelled Giles’ cologne. “Giles will succeed. He will end himself unless you go after him.”
“It’s a lie!” Buffy rolled back, jolting to her feet and shuffling as far back as she could to get away from the spirit.
“Is it? Can you honestly believe he wouldn’t? After all that’s happened, after all he’s done to you, the woman he loves so dearly, the woman he holds more sacred than his very life.” The apparition’s forged veneer began to decay, skin slowly cracking and separating, eyes clouding over to a milky blue. Soon, the attractive mockery of Giles’ face had turned to that of a withered corpse, with pealing flesh and protruding bone. “This is what will become of your beloved if you fail to recognize what’s coming.”
“No… it can’t be!” Buffy shouted out in desperation, diverting her eyes from the gruesome vision of Giles’ corpse warning her of his doom.
“Go to him; go to the winery on the outskirts of town. Prevent his imminent suicide before it’s too late.”
“He can’t! He won’t!” she yelled out in a frantic voice veiled with denial.
“You’re a bigger fool than I’d assumed.” With that, the apparition vanished and Buffy turned to look out her window, uselessly searching the dark horizon for the man she knew wasn’t there. The doubt the specter had cast was enough to send her into a panic. With a hasty movement, she grabbed her coat and her favorite sword and slipped out the window into the night in search of Giles. As she disappeared into the distance, the First chuckled into the night air.
Later that night…
Everyone gathered in the living room, eagerly awaiting the interrogation report as Willow, Xander, Andrew, Faith and Anya took the floor. Dawn pointed a finger upstairs, offering to go retrieve Buffy and Willow accepted.
“Any news on the First front?” Kennedy smiled and Willow nodded with a grin that made Oz curious of the chemistry between the two.
“Let’s wait for Buffy,” Willow suggested. A second later, Dawn rushed downstairs, arms waving wildly.
“What is it?” Xander asked nervously.
Dawn searched for her white board, not seeing it anywhere. She rushed around the room, looking for an alternative. After she found a crumpled up napkin, she found herself short of a writing utensil. Completely annoyed, she started stabbing the air with her fist.
“Oh goodie…” Andrew smiled, “Charades!”
“Something’s wrong, you irritating monkey!” Anya corrected irately.
“Is it Buffy?” Xander asked and Dawn nodded briskly. She rushed over to the door and opened it, pointing agitatedly outside.
“Buffy went out for pizza?” Andrew asked.
“Just go to your room!” Anya ordered with a directing motion.
“Buffy’s gone?” Oz asked. “But she didn’t say anything.”
“We… we got to find her,” Willow said excitedly. “Before something bad happens.”
“Too late…” Oz let out a low growl. “I’d say something bad *is* happening.” Everyone followed Oz’s steely gaze out the open door. A small gang of Bringers were heading up the front path, herding a trio of Ubervamps along with them. Dawn quickly shut the door and started pushing furniture, moving anything that could be used in blockading the door.
“Take the girls to the basement and lock the door,” Willow ordered. Anya and Andrew started to shove the Potentials toward the kitchen as Xander took up all the weapons within sight. The first pounding sounded through the door and Willow started her chant. Within seconds, an invisible barrier encased the house, keeping the oncoming menace away for the moment. Oz was impressed but uneasy by her demonstration of power.
“This won’t hold long,” she warned.
“Where’s Spike when we need him?” Kennedy huffed.
“You rang,” he came out from the kitchen and strolled up to the gang.
“Good timing,” Xander mumbled.
“I usually like to be fashionably late but something told me I’d miss the first act,” the vampire quipped.
Faith handed off a bag of weapons to Xander. “Take these to the girls.”
“As usual… I get chaperone duty,” he took off to catch up with the others, pulling a very resistant Dawn along with him.
More pounding and the odd sound of the mystical barrier straining to hold reverberated throughout the well worn frame of the house. With more heavy thumps and a tremendous crash, the barrier went and everyone held their breaths.
“Showtime!” Oz snarled.
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of town…
Giles punched a determined finger against the buttons, pressing in the numbers with a curse on his lips. He didn’t want to seek help from this particular person but felt he had no other choice. After a few rings sounded the call was finally answered and Giles would have held his breath if he could, nervously waiting for the voice on the other end to offer a greeting.
“Angel Inves… Gunn…Gunn that needs to be marked fragile,” the stern British accent was muffled for a moment, probably covering the receiver while barking out mild orders. As the recognizable, polite tone came across the line, Giles almost sighed with relief that it wasn’t the party he’d wanted so badly to avoid. The clear, well-bred inflection returned, “I do apologize, how may I help you?”
“Yes, how can we be of service?”
There was an awkward pause where Giles could imagine the Watcher on the other end working out why the caller was so familiar. Then Giles could have sworn he sensed a smile forming on the young man’s lips. “Mr. Giles?”
“Yes,” Giles spoke gently, with a hint of regret for having to bother the ex-Watcher. After all, their working relationship was not handled with the best of care, by either person.
“My word… I’m so pleased to know you survived the bombing of the Council. The accounts I’ve received are sketchy at best. I’d feared the worst.”
“Luckily, I haven’t been a part of the council for some time, Wesley.”
“Likewise. Please call me Wes, no need for such conventions anymore, with the destruction of the Council and all.”
“How are you getting along? How is Cordelia and… and Angel?”
“It’s a much too complicated and drawn out story. We’ll have to discuss it over tea sometime. Or do they have you addicted to those dreadful mochas now?” Wesley tried to offer some levity to the uncomfortable conversation.
“Um… no, though my tastes have changed for the worse, I’m afraid.” Giles decided to keep the dialogue shy of any details.
“Actually, our um… our situation here is changing for the better, or at least we hope as much. Pardon me for a moment Mr. Giles, our intelligence officers have just handed me a report on your situation…” there was another pause as Wes took a moment to look over the papers. Giles immediately wondered how Angel Investigations could afford Intelligence Officers. “Got yourself in a bit of trouble with the First, I see. Is that why you’ve called?”
“I’m afraid so. Don’t have much to go on here and all my reliable sources are… well, dead. I was hoping you might provide me with any information you might have. Fill in the gaps, so to speak; though these are less like gaps and more like gaping chasms.”
“How are the potential Slayers? Numbers fairly sound?”
“Lost quite a few…”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Taken by Bringers and the Turok-Han?”
“Um… some of them,” Giles rubbed his distressed temple. “Others were victims of a more unfortunate source of menace.”
“Good lord… you mean to tell me that you’re facing something other than…”
“Wesley…” Giles interrupted. “Wes… please… I haven’t the time to go into lengthy details.”
“Of course, what is it you need?”
“Research mostly. Anything that can stop the First or defeat the First’s growing army. Closing the Hellmouth might be of some use at the moment. We’re grasping at straws here…” Giles forced a heavy sigh.
“You sound tired, my friend. How’s Buffy?”
“Tired as well. We all are.”
“I could send reinforcements…”
“I don’t think numbers will aid in this. We need a way to fight this thing. The Karatonian menace was defeated with the Phardok sword. There must be something similar for this situation… anything that might give us an edge.”
“I’ll get on it immediately,” Wes said confidently. “If there’s anything to be found, I’ll find it. But I see here that Sunnydale is a dead town, no communications or power as of a week ago. How will I reach you?”
“I’ve managed to acquire a satellite phone. The number is 555-206-2215.”
“How did you come by that toy?”
“Pawned my Council ring, won’t be needing it anymore.”
“Don’t be so sure of that. When all’s said and done, there may be a need for a reorganized Council. You’d be quite the asset.”
“Thank you, Wes, but something tells me you wouldn’t want me.”
“I would love an explanation to that remark but know you’re apt to disappoint.”
“Things are so different now. I am so… so different now.”
“Sound the same to me, Mr. Giles.”
The vampire grinned at the kindly observation. Little did Wes know what those simple words meant to him. “Call me Giles, please.”
“So, how is Faith?”
“She’s doing well… seemed to adjust quite quickly to the inner workings of our little group. She’s… um, spirited.”
“That she is,” Giles could hear another smile ringing in they young man’s voice. “Take care, Giles. I’d rather not lose another Council friend to the First.”
“I’ll do my best,” Giles smiled. “Thank you.” As he heard the line disconnect, he let his hand drop to his side and stared off into the night sky. It was an intensely bluish-black blanket flecked with iridescent speckles of light.
“Let there be something,” he begged the stars for answers. They’re only retort, faint shimmers as a wolf’s howl called from the distance.