Greater Good Part 22/27: Old Habits Die Hard
Angel yanked the stake from the vampire’s blood soaked chest with one swift tug. Immediately the wound seeped a rich, deep scarlet ooze and Giles let out a groan of pain as he pressed a trembling hand uselessly at the puncture to stop the bleeding.
“Forgive me…” Angel whispered and without hesitation, sent the weapon forward again to bury it deep within the lifeless heart of the vampiric Watcher. With a frantic motion, Buffy seized his wrist, stopping him just as the point pierce through Giles’ hand which inadvertently protected his already wounded torso. Giles roared; eyes glaring with scorching golden fury at his attacker as Buffy pushed Angel away, blocking the path of assault with her own slight frame.
“He’s been turned!” Angel regained his balance from the surprise retaliation and shot Buffy a fierce look.
“I know,” she held out her hand, warning him to stay back as she glanced back to Giles to make sure he hadn’t been dusted to nonexistence.
“Get out of the way, Buffy,” Angel growled, “He’s a vampire!”
“With a soul,” she added and Angel froze with a stunned gaze, glancing past her to the snarling vampire just beyond his reach. Nothing presented on the surface of the beast hinted at any conscious or morality but Angel knew looks could be deceiving.
“He has a soul?” Angel cocked a cynical brow, carefully examining the demonic Watcher up and down.
“Yeah,” Buffy sighed regretfully, “It’s Giles… what else could we do?”
Angel inspected the old allies face, watching as the vampire features retreated back into the kindly mold of the good man he remembered. Giles’ soft emerald stare returned, hinting at understanding for the difficulty of believing such a situation. After a moment, Angel opened his hand and allowed Buffy to strip him of his stake.
“A soul…jeeze…Giles, I’m s-sorry… I…” Angel stammered, unsure of what to say or how to react.
“Nothing to apologize for, I’d expect no less from you,” Giles grasped his injured hand with his other, waiting impatiently for his demonic healing to mend the wounded flesh.
“Who did it? Who was it?” There was a disquieting anger in the vampire’s narrow stare that Giles hadn’t expected. For an unchecked second, the Watcher wondered if it was anger aimed toward those who would harm someone considered an old comrade or jealousy that he himself hadn’t attained the distinction of such a conquest. Regardless, Giles looked to Buffy, a passing glance to assess her judgment of how best to proceed. She cringed at the inquiry, obviously unsure of how her old love would react to the news. The Watcher gave a discerning nod, tore a strip of cloth from the bed sheet and crudely bandaging up his injured hand, already feeling the odd tingling of the dead cells rejuvenating within the wound.
“What’s done cannot be undone,” he lurched forward with an unbalanced step. After recapturing his balance, he tucked his hand to his stomach to restrict movement of his aching shoulder and hobbled past the protective Slayer and concerned vampire. “We’re learning to deal with it.” An uneasy silence stung the air as both watched Giles slowly make his way to the door. “I’ll give you a… a moment. You have much to talk about,” he glimpsed back at Buffy, seeming to grant her some unsaid permission for the lover’s reunion but with a hint of worry in his stare.
Once the Watcher had left the room, Angel’s sights fell on Buffy who immediately rushed into his awaiting arms. He pulled her close, holding her as he’d remembered doing not so long ago. They remained in each others arms, unwilling to break the moment with some inane phrase of welcome. No words spoken would mean anything more than what the simple embrace expressed.
Buffy looked up into the dark eyes of her old lover and saw the same face she’d remembered, not even a freckle of difference. But she felt hundreds of years older and wondered if he could see how time had worn on her, stealing her youth out from under her like some invisible bandit.
“I… I can’t believe you’re here,” she traced a finger along his cheek.
“I’m not so sure I am… here, I mean,” Angel nestled her hand, noticing the ragged bandages for the first time and uncertain if he should inquire about them. “Nothing seems right, here. The town is abandoned and the streets are bare. Its desolation… it’s like…like…”
“The end of the world?” Buffy suggested plainly. “Yeah, you might have come just in time to see the grand finale.”
“What’s happened here? I mean I got the not so detailed summary from Wes but…but Giles turned…how?” he asked softly, guiding her away from him to get a better look at her. Though a bit muddled and bruised, she was still beautiful, even with a pained look wrinkling her brow. Angel couldn’t help his curiosity, and with a glint of sorrow, he brushed a strand of Buffy’s hair back, and offered a concerned glance to encourage her to speak.
Buffy uncomfortably combed her fingers through her hair and began to stroll around the room, feeling it necessary to avoid his troubled gaze. “Things fell apart. I was reckless,” she answered carefully, knowing Angel wouldn’t take the details of Giles’ death well.
“And Giles’ soul… compliments of Willow?”
“Eventually, after hitting some potholes in the twisty road of hard luck,” Buffy sighed and realized her handicapped hand was in view. She anxiously tried to hide it and Angel saw her efforts, bringing her hand out and inspecting it with a sad expression.
“He hurt you, didn’t he?” he clenched his teeth as he spoke, subtly shaking his head in saddened disapproval when Buffy nodded. “Is everyone else ok?”
“It wasn’t him, Angel.” Buffy urged. “We’ll be ok.”
“We? Who else?”
“Dawn…” Buffy said weakly, immediately feeling defensive of Giles as Angel’s heated stare returned to the blackness of the hall. “She’s fine. She’s strong.”
“This has to be killing him,” Angel said, eyes remaining distant and cold as he looked into the shadows. “How could you not end this? For him, for you?”
Buffy shot him an affronted look. “I tried, Angel. I hunted him down like a common demon, determined to end him like I would any other meat bag vampire but things got in the way. He wanted it, begged for it, again and again but I couldn’t do it… I couldn’t let him go.”
“He’s a Watcher, Buffy. For a man like Giles to suffer this…”
“You think I don’t know that? You think I don’t see that face… his face every night in my nightmares. I know what it’s doing to him… and he knows I need him,” she looked away, bothered by Angel’s dismay. “You don’t understand, Angel. You weren’t here. Things have changed so much… we’ve change so much...”
“Because you love him,” Angel interrupted, his dark, piercing eyes holding an unrevealing stare, giving no sign of the emotions buried just below his composed exterior and Buffy froze with panic, unready to face such an accusation from a man she still felt such persistent love for.
“Of course I love him. It’s Giles!” Buffy replied quickly, offering the expected cavalier retort but Angel’s immovable stare continued to probe her for the truth.
“You know what I mean,” he urged gently, wanting a straight answer. He deserved an answer, but she allowed a second to answer the question for herself before offering one to Angel.
Buffy undeniably loved Giles. There had always been love between them as far back as she could remember. Even when they stubbornly fought over life and death issues, they remained closer than any friend, any family; it was the Slayer and Watcher bond that held them together through the hard times. But she knew that the love she felt for Giles was entirely different than what she felt for Angel; a love equally as powerful, equally excruciating, but something she couldn’t deny. She’d fallen victim of an internal battle between two unique emotions unwillingly sharing the same heart. After a heavy breath, Buffy realized she didn’t know the answer.
“Do you? Love…him?” Angel asked apprehensively.
“I think I might,” she whispered.
Angel let out an edgy snicker, allowing his calm resolve slip for an instant. “You mean you don’t know?”
“I guess…” Buffy shrugged, taking offense at Angel’s snide expression. “How could I? After all we’ve been through together, how can I be sure of anything? Name one thing I can be sure about?”
“That he loves you,” Angel grumbled angrily.
“Yeah…well … he has a strange way of showing it.”
“Loving you isn’t all roses and boxes of chocolates you know. You’re…difficult.” Angel watched her worried eyes seek out reassurance from him and he could see the doubt and confusion he’d suffered for her so many years ago. “He tried to hide it but after a few hundred years you tend to tune into the subtle shows of emotion and Giles was coming in loud and clear.”
“Why didn’t I see it?”
“Perhaps you didn’t want to?” Angel’s face showed a spark of desperation. It was obvious he was uncomfortable with the thought of Giles and his girl but the vampire was going to try his best to me impartial, if such a thing was possible for him.
“Maybe... but I’ve always felt something there, something more than simple friendship or even family. Whatever it is; like Giles said, it’s a mistake.”
“Are you trying to get me to defend the idea of you and him ‘cause you’re barking up the wrong tree here.”
“In some twisted way… I am. It’s just wrong, right? The idea of Giles and me… against all laws of nature?” Buffy’s eyes begged for something other than agreement and though it hurt Angel to think her love could touch another, he just wanted her to be happy.
“That’s not for me to say,” he concluded with a regretful stare.
Buffy could see an indication of jealously in her old love’s eyes and couldn’t help the subtle smile forming on her lips. “It doesn’t change how I feel about you. I love you.”
“Yeah… well…” Angel huffed anxiously, “It doesn’t change my feelings for you either. But it damn well changes my feelings for him.”
“You can put the chill on the jilted lover routine, he’s taking a page out of the Buffy book of Love and leaving me,” Buffy said coolly.
“Don’t give me those big puppy eyes! You know damn well why he’s leaving. You two went to the same boarding school for undead relationships.”
“The curse,” Angel shook his head. “Quite the bitch!”
“Add to it one super-sized prophecy of impending doom and we’ve got ourselves one tears-a-rific Greek tragedy,” Buffy heave a sigh. “Even if I win this thing, I lose.”
“If he’s leaving for the same reasons as I did, you’d lose him anyway.”
“You’re not so Mr. Fantastic with the comforting you know.”
“Wes mentioned the prophecy; I thought it was aimed at you and… and…”
“You and me?” Buffy smiled regretfully and Angel shrugged.
“It could be? What makes Giles believe it’s meant for you and him?”
“You know Giles; his inner Watcher assumes and plans for the worst,” Buffy took a seat at the widow sill and Angel moved to settle beside her. “Be prepared to the nth degree.”
“So he’d probably be against me picking up things where we left off?”
“Most definitely… you should have seen his reaction to me and Spi…” Buffy stopped mid sentence and shot a panicked look to Angel.
“Spike?” Angel’s eyes went wide in horror. “You and Spike?”
“It’s over! It’s so over!
“For fucks sake… what the hell is wrong with you?”
“Hey…language! And do I question your choice in ex’s?”
“Point taken…” Angel grunted and took an unsettling moment to collect his anger. “Moving on then. Let’s talk business.”
“You’re not here to see me?”
“Yes and no…” he pulled out a shimmering, gaudy crystal amulet and handed over to her. “Our sources have expanded with our recent business development. Wes found this…somewhere. Not sure what it is or what it does. It’s supposed to give the bearer strength. He thought it might come in handy for one of us when we take on the First.”
“We? No, Angel. I need you in LA… I need you ready to take on this nasty if I don’t get the job done.”
“Buffy, I can’t let you go in there alone…”
“I won’t be,” she motioned to the hallway. “I have my vampire Watcher, my ex-arch enemy Spike, ex-psychopathic Slayer Faith, formerly darkness imbued sorceress Willow, ex-vengeance demon Anya, Xander, Dawn, werewolf Oz, previously evil nerd Andrew and a whole pack of Potentials. Alone is the one thing I won’t be.”
“Spike’s fighting as one of you now?”
“Yep… he’s had his own growing pains lately since the return of his….”
“Don’t tell me… another soul?” Angel sulked.
“Afraid so; only he managed to get it on his own. No wicked curse but some major mind melting involved.”
“It’s a joke now… a fad. If Spike got his soul back, they’ll be handing them out as toy surprises in Cracker Jack boxes any day now.”
“Jealously, thy name is Angel.”
“To have your soul and not be cursed?” Angel growled. “Try asking Giles how he feels about that now.” He’d regretted saying it the moment it slipped out but his anger couldn’t be helped and he somehow felt better for saying it.
“Ouch!” Buffy gave him a hurt look and nodded shyly. “Ok, I get it.” She glanced down at the amulet. “So what’s the deal with the Kmart rip-off?”
“It needs to be worn by a champion; someone more than human who has a soul.”
“Translation, Slayer fashion accessory.”
“No. Wes said it was too dangerous. He doesn’t know what it does. It’s meant to cleanse the earthen skin of the mouth of hell but he didn’t know how. Could be anything from a pine scented disinfectant spray to a nuclear bomb, not much to go on.”
“That leaves what’s behind door number two and three,” Buffy mumbled. “It could be a savior or a death sentence and lucky me, I get to be the judge. I really hate my job.”
“Luckily both contestants to whom you are referring are already dead,” Angel said flatly. “Do what you do; what has to be done to get the job done. But let them take the risk, not you. Promise me!”
“I don’t make promises. Not anymore,” she took his hand in hers and gave it a tender squeeze. “You’ll stop this thing if I don’t.”
“You’ll stop it.”
“But if I…”
“You’ll win, Buffy. The prophecy said so.”
“Since when can I trust fairy tales?”
“Maybe now’s a good time to start,” he brought her hand to his lips and gave it a gentle kiss. She smiled at his memorable and always charming grin, falling prey to his inviting lips like they’d never parted ways. As he let her hand go, she leaned in and caught his mouth with hers in a possible final farewell embrace, forever sealing the love they would always hold for each other with a devoted kiss.
Giles tried to stay away, to ignore the muffled breaths and subtle sighs coming from Buffy’s bedroom, but every sound sought him out as if a hushed warning to his foolish heart and he found himself inadvertently situated just out of view beyond the doorway, listening.
He’d long since accepted it as an unspoken truth that Buffy never stopped loving Angel. Giles had even gone so far as to briefly research the possibilities for bringing them together without need for fearing the curse, but solutions seemed nonexistent. But in truth, it was his own heart that proved the betrayer of his duty toward her, if a Slayer’s heart fell within the realms of a Watcher’s responsibility. Giles loved her and let his emotions rule his judgment when it came to Angel.
A flush of guilt toward his eavesdropping washed over him and the Watcher turned to discretely head downstairs, not noticing the figure positioned at the top of the stairs blocking his descent. His eyes caught a glimpse of the shadow and he paused, looking down into the apologetic eyes of Dawn. She motioned toward the bedroom and shook her head, quietly dismissing the affectionate sounds coming from the room. Giles lowered his gaze to his wounded hand and continued to move onwards as Dawn followed, eagerly trying to recapture his attention. As they reached the base of the stairs, she grabbed at his arm and twisted him around to face her with a desperate gaze. Giles winced at the shot of pain that ran up his arm but quickly focused on the young lady insistently vying for his notice. Dawn pointed upstairs, then drew a heart in the air and gave Giles a subtle push.
“Her heart remains with Angel. It always has,” Giles spoke softly and tried to continue on. Dawn hurried to block his path and repeated the sequence, adding herself to the mix, motioning up toward Buffy, toward herself and then to Giles, placing her open hand to his chest, covering his silenced heart. Giles offered a sullen grin at her gesture, tenderly covered her hand with his. She felt the dampened shirt and finally noticed his wounded hand. Her eyes went wide with concern and he pulled away from her, trying to get out of hearing range of the sweethearts enjoying each others company upstairs.
“It’s nothing… a misunderstanding. I’ll be fine,” he explained as Dawn made him take a seat on the busted up couch as she tended to his injuries.
“Giles!” Xander rushed over to the Watcher and quickly gave him a once over. “You ok? Where’ve you been? Have you seen Buffy?”
“Buffy’s fine. She’s upstairs. Give her a moment,” Giles gave a reassuring smile to the anxious young man kneeling down beside him. “How are the others?”
“Not present but all accounted for and rarin’ to go. We have Spike and Faith keeping the home fires burning at the Saint Christies. Thought that might be a slightly more safe location to hold up in then this cardboard box.”
“Though I doubt the religious implication of the locality holds much influence over the First or its followers, it may provide a strategic value for any future offensive.”
“Now that sounds like the Watcher we know and love,” Xander gave him a gentle punch in the arm, receiving a penalizing push in response from Dawn as Giles hissed in pain. “Are you ok?”
“It’s just a scratch,” Giles assured him and struggled to his feet.
“Groovy… gangs all here!” Buffy slowly made her way down the stairs and noticed Dawn give her a scolding glower.
“Get what you needed?” Giles asked quietly as Dawn’s gaze darted between the charged couple.
“Not quite,” she hoisted the scythe over her shoulder and continued to the door. “But it’ll have to do, won’t it?”