Greater Good Part 25/27 : Ends Visitors
The day was spent doting over Dawn and her newly returned voice. Everyone was abuzz with the news, eagerly encouraging Dawn to talk but she was hesitant to give into their requests for fear it would harm her or somehow rob her again of what she hadn't realized she'd missed so dearly. They'd had a feast in honor of her proud accomplishment of overcoming her odds and though Dawn would neither agree nor deny the praise, Willow knew better. She knew it had been Giles, she knew it had been the dark majicks and it made her want to weep. It was one thing to use the dark energies for evil and destruction… that was easy; the dark majicks temperament is that of havoc. It was quite another to use it for something so honorable and giving; every second must have been excruciating for him.
Willow spent the day searching nearby for the missing Watcher, reporting back her progress to Dawn who investigated his disappearance as well. Neither party came closer to finding him but they agreed that he would return in time for the apocalypse, they trusted him and he wouldn't disappoint. But even though they'd accepted his disappearance, they could see the torment and worry in Buffy's stern features as she continued to train the Potentials. The only break Willow had witnessed in Buffy's concern was when she'd given Buffy her acceptance in attempting to activate the Potentials. For a fleeting instant, the Slayer's confidence was back.
After the daily drudge of weaponry drills, meals and the cleanup thereafter, the entire group settled in for the evening. It took a while for the Potentials eager mutterings to calm. As the moon grew bright in the blue-black sky, silence finally hung heavy in the main hall of the church as everyone found their own space.
Most of the Potentials had laid claim to a large dining hall in the underground level of the building, a rather accommodating area with a separate bathroom and kitchen so they could have a slumber party of sorts before the big confrontation the next day.
The others had spread out amongst the scattered rooms sharing the lower level, taking every private space they could to gather their thoughts and make peace with what they were likely to face as well as make peace with themselves.
As the night slowly tick on, doors began to shut and the anxious murmurs of Potential's voices hushed quiet for some much needed sleep.
Spike stood at his post just outside the church, examining the night sky speckled with stars, enjoying the sight of such clear radiance usually masked from view by the lights of the city. Now, with the death of Sunnydale, the glistening beauty was revealed.
He lit up another smoke and let his eyes fall on the amulet draped along his chest. And though he'd not accomplished anything yet with the charm, he was proud of it. Buffy had awarded him the honor of bearing such a responsibility and he was both shocked and fearful for the weightiness it caused. But he also felt doubt in his title as champion, for Giles had proven himself much more a champion then he.
“If winters kiss is as sweet as grapes, how bitter is the wine?” A purring voice rang in Spike's ears and he found himself pleased to hear the long lost loves unforgettable ring.
“Come to wish me well, pet?” Spike smiled and tossed his spent cigarette. Drusilla danced from out the shadows of a nearby tree, spinning and twirling in a grand flourish then settling to the grass before him, her large black eyes daring him to look away as she smiled her favor of him.
"Nothing of the kind," her face soured. "Where is my deadly boy... my wicked, wicked spider waiting for the web to hum its welcome?"
"The same place where my Dru lies now," Spike decided it best to enjoy the vision the First offered to him, it could very well be the last time he'd ever see his dark beauty again.
"Horrors worse than death and twice as bright await you, precious," she scolded with a stern glower. "Don't dissolve into time for her… that cruel, cold child."
"Destiny, luv," he lit up another smoke and drew in a deep cloud. "Making amends is never easy."
"Hey kiddo…" the friendly voice startled Faith and she spun around in the defensive, ready to attack.
"How's my firecracker?" It was Wilkins, the former mayor of Sunnydale standing just a few feet away from her and she was stunned.
"This is a trick…"
"Trick? Naw… I'm really here; neato huh?" He chuckled playfully and his face grew sober. "Had to take one last look at my Faith… my dark Slayer before she went off and did something as silly as follow that murderous tramp into Hell itself. But hey… enough of that… how's my girl?"
It looked like him, sounded like him, hell… it even smelled like him; always snacking on those mints. Faith felt her herself slipping into a panic and then remembered Buffy's warning.
"You're the First, right? Not so tough… you got the freak goin' on but I'm on to your little games…"
“Hey big brother…” the recognizable confident tone surprised Xander and he turned to face his unexpected guest.
“Wow,” he stammered nervously. “I-I didn't expect to see you…”
“No one ever does,” she smiled warmly. “You should be sleeping? Wasting away your last few precious hours in your ex-demon lovers tender arms.”
“I know who you are,” Xander took an anxious step back as the specter of Buffy approached him very slowly.
“Then you know why I'm here?”
“To taunt me with promises of death and pain and really annoying itches in places I can't reach?” Xander stumbled back as the false Buffy moved closer still.
“No need to tell you things you already know,” she stopped her advance and took a seat on Xander's provisional bedding. “The Slayer isn't ready for this war. She has no idea what hides beneath the skin of soil protecting the Hellmouth. If you care for your friends, you'll stop her suicide mission.”
“You're wasting your incorporeal breath… I know about you and I don't believe anything you say.”
“Anyanka, stop this foolishness.”
“Halfrek?” Anya rushed to her door and opened it, ready to flee.
“My dear, this is unlike you; storming into the great unknown without so much as a spell to protect you. You are not the demon you once were.”
“I'm not a demon at all. And you are not Halfrek.”
“So now you're cooperating with them?” Andrew jolted to his feet and sprinted across from the trespasser.
“Go away!” He shuffled himself into a corner of the room and held out a shakily defensive hand. “I'm not talking to you anymore!”
“All the times I tried to talk you into helping them, all the times I argued that they were good and you finally get a clue after you murder me?”
“I was under your dark side First Evil spell, I didn't mean to…”
“You murdered me…” Jonathan urged, moving forward, sending Andrew into fits of panicky squirming. “You stuck a cold, sharp blade through me and you still consider yourself one of these so-called moral champions?”
“I've changed. I'm good now!”
“No… you're not. And they know it. They're using you as a screen, bait for the beasts. And when the time comes, they'll cast you into the blazing pits of Hell without another thought.”
“They would not! I'm the peppy comic relief sidekick.”
“You're an expendable idiot, Andrew,” Jonathan took a seat on the cold wood floor. “You always have been.”
"Hello…." Dawn spoke softly, guardedly, listening as the sound of her voice echo off the walls of the small room. "This is my voice. I'm speaking and this is my voice." She couldn't get over the return of her speech. It was a gift beyond any and it was given by the very man who'd originally taken it away from her. She wouldn't allow herself to believe it permanent; it would be easier to accept if it faded in time. Unfortunately she hadn't managed to find Giles since the event so she couldn't' thank him or ask any of her endless questions. He'd simply disappeared.
“Treasure…" A voice from behind her. "You are, you know," the tweed clad and spectacled figure shaped out of the darkness and slowly stepped toward Dawn.
"My forged daughter…" It was Giles but not Giles. "Accepted in duty, scarred for love… and now returned to whole by an unnatural act."
Dawn stepped back, unable to tear her eyes away from the Watcher approaching her.
"No gift given by means of the dark arts comes without cost,” He offered his mild smile as an attack. “What price are you willing to pay for yours?” Dawn remembered what Buffy had warned her of, that the First had the power to assume the form of the deceased. It hurt, to see a reminder that Giles was indeed not of the living. It made her angry.
"I've waited a long time to say this…" she growled, "Fuck you!"
“Don't bother, I expected you,” Willow warned as she turned to face her intruder. “Oh… um… huh… I mean, hi!”
Oz stood in the doorway with two sodas and a bag of cheesey poofs. “You expected me?” He offered a subtle smile.
“Actually, no. I thought you'd be the First coming to sway me to do its bidding. But, hey…much better deal here.” Willow smiled in return and motioned to her pile of linens. “Come on in. Not much to look at but mighty comfy!”
“Thanks. Kinda needed the company. You mind?” He took a seat next to the redhead who watched anxiously as he made himself comfortable.
“Yes… I mean no… I mean I don't want to be alone either. Not that you wanted to be alone but I…”
Oz stopped Willow 's rambling with a gentle kiss, spontaneous but so familiar. He pulled back with hopeful and yet regretful eyes, looking for some sign of acceptance and forgiveness for his presumption.
"Sorry… one for the road…" he explained softly.
"Going somewhere?" Willow asked disappointedly.
"Yeah… there's this thing going on at the mouth of Hell tomorrow… figured I'd crash the party."
"So that was a kiss goodbye?"
"Depends on what happens tomorrow."
"You don't have to come. This isn't your fight."
"If it isn't… what is?" He grinned. "Besides… there's no other place I'd rather be."
"You'll all perish, Xander. Is that what you want? Is that what you…"
Knocking at the door interrupted the apparition's dire warning and Xander rushed forward to open it. Before he had the chance to grip the knob, the door opened to the frightened face of Anya.
"Can I come in?" She asked nervously. Xander glanced back to see where the First had gone to and sighed with relief that it had moved on. He looked back at Anya whose eyes darted from him to back over her shoulder, waiting impatiently for permission to invade his space.
"You got a visit from Casper the psychotic ghost too, huh?" He stepped back and let her pass.
"The First doesn't play fair," she objected.
"Since when has evil played by the rules?" He asked.
"Mind if I stay here? I could really use a good night's sleep before Armageddon tomorrow."
Xander's first instinct was to joke but he could see the neediness in her eyes, a feeling he desperately shared. He offered a subtle smirk and nod. "Casa de Xander's always open."
As a moth to the flame, he returned again. Solitude had never held such torment for Giles as he entered into the main room, moving slowly within the walls adorning hallowed ground. There was no sign of the others; they'd managed to make themselves scarce. It was just as well, he wanted to be alone.
He took in the peaceful atmosphere but felt only trepidation as he examined the largest room of the church. It was an old cathedral, full of aged wooden beauty and trimmed with glistening stained glass but the demon within him sickened with every movement forward, revolting against what hung overhead. He moved forward, raising a humbled eye to the forebodingly shadowed, crucified figure towering above, gazing sadly down at him with a burdensome gape.
“What do you see when you look at me?”
The petrified figure refused to answer, offering only a disappointed look with the query. Then the stare seemed to change, shifting to that of judgment over the demon questioning him.
“Beast… being?” Giles wandered the short stretch of the stage, investigating the decorative cross-etched, gold candleholders. “Or perhaps neither… just a pale likeness, not substance enough to even reflect in a cracked mirror and in the end, undeserving of such divine consideration.” His eyes returned to the disturbing statue above him. “Is that pity or loathing I see in your eyes?”
“Which would you prefer?”
The atmosphere in the space suddenly grew colder.
“I knew you'd come,” he lowered his gaze to his hands.
“That's funny, I had no idea I'd be seeing you,” The gracious feminine voice was eerily familiar but Giles couldn't place it. He turned to face the latest incarnation of the First; curious to see what mask the evil specter would offer. There Joyce stood, dressed in a luminous white haze of a gown, glowing and ethereal, and with a bashfully compassionate smile. Giles felt his stomach seize up in knots at the sight of her. “Didn't really expect to see me, did you?” She asked meekly, seeming almost disappointed by his surprise.
“No…” Giles spoke in a stunted whisper, shaken by the appearance of the apparition.
“I don't know why they chose me, it's not like you and I were close... I mean in the emotional sense. I guess they thought you needed to be told by someone close to Buffy.”
“I don't have much time, Rupert,” she smiled timidly. “Or is it Giles? You prefer Giles, don't you?"
“You… you aren't her,” Giles whispered again, unaware of his head slowly shaking with uncertain denial.
“You don't need to believe in me, Giles… Rupert… please just pick one; otherwise I won't get past this.”
“Call me Giles, as they do.”
Joyce smiled encouragingly. “I'd like that.” She walked gracefully forward, though the vampire couldn't see her feet as they seemed to vanish into a pale mist in the dark air of the room. “I'm not the one you need to believe in, Giles. You need to believe in Buffy.”
“I do,” he answered, still astounded by the spirit of his love's dead mother.
“No, Giles. You believe in the Slayer; you've always believed in the Slayer. But now you need to believe in Buffy, in her feelings and her…”
“I'd say you were a cunning illusion of the First but it would offer too much credit to...”
“Please listen to me,” Joyce urged, moving swiftly to pause only a foot from the skeptical Watcher. “She loves you.”
“And I her,” he responded with an aloof nod, still unwilling to concede the presence of a benevolent ghost.
“Buffy loves you, Giles. She's told you, so why not accept it?”
“I'm not denying she loves me, we've cared very deeply for each other for much longer than both of us would admit to. But she doesn't care for me as she thinks she does.”
“I think its Buffy your not willing to give any credit to here,” Joyce's face grew noticeable faint and her eyes closed with a fleeting bout of fatigue.
“What… what is it?”
“My time grows short. I have to go soon.” Joyce looked over the Watcher standing passively but ever alert before her and saw the flicker of doubt poisoning his gentle stare.
“Those that matter don't pass judgment on you as harshly as you do yourself, Giles. The balance of your life's deeds weighs heavy to the side of right. It is in that respect that they have sent me here; to give you this single night as a release from your damnation… your curse.”
“I-I don't understand …”
Her lips curled back to a delicate smile and she raised a translucent finger, pointing to the twisted remains of a decorative glass door cabinet beside him.
“One night…that's all they can give…” She watched as confusion creased his brow. "It is your reward, Giles… and your punishment…"
Giles raised an inquisitive brow, just about to ask for further explanation when a faint shimmer from the splinted shards of glass caught his attention. He glanced over out of the corner of his eye, unsure of the meaning of the specters words until his eyes caught sight of something he'd not seen for what seemed like forever, his reflection.
“Buffy is not the girl you once knew; she's outgrown the impulsive, stubborn adolescent you trained and protected. She's a young woman now; she knows how to listen to her heart. Believe in her to know what it says.” The apparition's form faded to shadows as Joyce's voice echoed through the darkness, “Love her, Rupert… care for her. All else is dust…”
“Might the Chosen One spare a moment for a withered old boot maker?”
Buffy's lips spread to a smile as the figure moved out from the shadows. The tall, lean, graying gentleman was draped in a long and tattered raincoat, dusty felt fedora, scuffed up brown leather shoes and overly baggy, dull brown slacks worn thin at the seams. Though she hadn't seen him for over seven years, his scruffy mustache and kindly wrinkled eyes smiled in that particularly memorable way to coax out a grin from her, breaking her somber expression.
“Depends,” Buffy motioned to the seat on the broken bench next to her. “You really Merrick ?”
“That's for you to decide,” he joined her at the busted seat. She looked curiously over at him as he settled in, waiting for him to continue the conversation. After a moment of silence, he began to twist at his scraggily mustache. It was her original Watcher's version of a nervous twitch, similar to Giles' tidying his glasses, and it was something she'd come to miss from both of them.
“So, how's the afterlife treating you? You're looking good… though kinda translucent. But it's workin for you. Have to nix the scrubs; your fashion taste has halted in serious yesteryear…”
The phantom Watcher chuckled. “You're as clever as ever, Buffy. I'm glad to see that new Watcher of yours hasn't broken you of your spirit.”
“New Watcher? You need a sit-rep stat! Giles hasn't really been my Watcher for a while now.”
"Curious," he raised a single brow. “Then why does he remain with you?”
“It's oh so complicated,” Buffy sighed.
“Time, sadly enough, is all I have.”
“Not lookin' like a good time to confess all my inner turmoil.”
“I'd say the present surroundings promote such private confessions. Why not unburden your soul to an old friend?”
“Because, you may not really be him.”
“Then what harm would it do you to reveal such intimacies to an intangible nuisance?”
“Oh…" she snickered, "… guess you've read the headlines?”
“Quite right; it's all the talk these days. Matter of fact, Quentin was pointing out…”
“Wait… Quentin…?” Buffy cocked a brow, “…as in Quentin Travers?”
“Where have you been?” Buffy jumped up and started to wander around the room. “I thought you guys were supposed to be all-knowing or something. Get with the program here. Quentin was the big-cheese in charge of the Council. Fired Giles…”
“My Watcher,” she huffed in frustration. “Don't they give you some kind of synopsis before sending you here?”
“No. It's more of a need to know type scenario,” Merrick smiled a patient smile, displaying his unending tolerance for her tenacity. “So, they fired Mr… Mr…”
“No mister… just Giles,” Buffy corrected.
“They fired Giles. He wasn't on active duty then. Why did he remain stateside?”
Buffy blushed with the realization of what information she could offer as well as the recipient of said information. What would one Watcher think of another in such a situation? “You wouldn't understand,” she dismissed the conversation with a wave.
“Try me,” his crinkled eyes gently coaxed her on.
“He say's he loves me,” she said apprehensively, her eyes finding his for approval or at the very least understanding.
“Most Watchers do grow to care for their charge. The bond between Slayer and Wa…”
“He… loves… me,” she said slowly and precisely.
“Oh…” a faint, knowing grin spread on his lips. “Well, that's quite another matter.”
“Yeah… well, he didn't love me in that way then, I think. Travers said it was a fatherly love.”
“Love is love, regardless of the label you brand it with.”
“Definitions seemed kind of important to the Council. Love of any kind was strictly no-no.”
“Goes with the duty they serve. Attachments confuse loyalties.”
“Giles doesn't serve them.”
“No, he serves you…”
“Why else exile himself from his home? Why not return to England ?”
“I didn't say where he's from?” Buffy raised a suspicious eye. “You know him…”
Merrick lowered his head in frustration. “You'd think I'd learn not to underestimate your keen perception.”
“You didn't answer my question.”
“Yes, I knew him. I knew him well.”
“Then what gives with the twenty questions?”
Merrick glanced up with a faint smile. “I'm running out of time.”
“I thought you said time was all you had.”
“The rules are changing, Buffy,” Merrick stood up and straightened his weary back with a grimace. “But you are well aware of that fact, aren't you?”
She nodded in frustrated understanding. “Was nice seeing you.”
“Pleasure was all mine,” Merrick smiled heartily. “You're a courageous champion. You do this old Watcher proud, Buffy.”
Buffy smiled wider, though regretful she was speaking to the ghost of her former Watcher rather than the man he once was. “I had a good teacher.”
“That you did,” he nodded bashfully. “Go to him now.”
“You've been given this night as a gift.”
“The rules have changed, Buffy. What was once lost has now been returned but will vanish by daybreak. Go to him, seize this time while you can. It's all that they can offer.” With that, the apparition faded into nothingness and Buffy was alone once again. Her eyes moved to the door separating her from the main room.
A slow creak of the door and Giles' eyes caught Buffy and Buffy's caught Giles, mutually spellbound within the consecrated ambiance of the spiritual setting. Both testing their wills, they awaited the other to make the first move…