ImMortal part 2: Sins of the Sire
Fred rushed back into the lab with a cup of tea in one hand, a notebook in the other and Knox following close on her heels. With her familiar sidekick and more corporeal company, she was certain she could focus on the task at hand and figure out what Giles was. "Sorry it took so long. Now, let's get to work and see just what..."
"So where is the man of the hour?" Knox asked as the door swung closed behind him.
"What?" Fred looked up anxiously. The lab was vacant. "Giles? Are you there?"
"Maybe he did that whole phasing thing you mentioned."
"Giles?" Fred's forehead creased with worry and she rushed to the wall phone and pushed the interoffice button.
"Report," Angel's voice sounded over the speakerphone.
"Boss, we've got a little problem," Fred said, still searching the room with a nervous glance, "He's gone."
The cafeteria was all abuzz with news of the bizarre nude visitor upstairs. Legal aids and secretaries gossiped over who it might be while interns snickered over what odd goings-on the new bigwigs had caused as of late. A small group hushed quiet as they past the "survivors" table.
"Wonder if it's not him?" Xander sighed soberly, taking a sip of his pop as he watched the ogling observers pass.
"Wonder if it is?" Willow shook her head. "Why do these bad things keep happening to him?"
"Bad? I'd rather be a ghost then dead." Dawn said. "Wait... that's not right."
"I wonder if he's still a vampire?" Willow tossed a potato chip in her mouth.
"The ghost of a vampiric dark sorcerer. That's messed up to the nth degree." Xander nibbled on his candy bar. "I want it to be him... but I don't."
"I know what you mean. I've barely managed to accept the fact he's gone and he shows up again. Only this time, we can't touch him, can't hug him..."
"I miss him," Xander's face turned gloomy. "Damn... and I was having one of my good days..."
"It's him," Dawn said resolutely.
Willow smiled, surprised and pleased at her young friend's sunny outlook. "Yeah... has to be." She glanced to Xander whose expression didn't share their confidence.
"But what if it's not?" He discarded his candy, suddenly losing his appetite. "If it's just The First..."
"It's him." Dawn turned serious and looked down at her silver cross necklace; the one Buffy had passed on to her. The same one that Angel had given her ages ago, discarded in exchanged for the amulet. It was just one of the many reasons Dawn was certain that though Buffy had once loved the original souled vampire, her heart would forever be tied to Giles. "I have to believe it's him... because she won't."
Buffy was alone, wandering around Wesley's office, taking in the sense of the familiar it granted her. The dimly lit room was more reminiscent of a den then a place of business. It was rich with musty scents and warm with character. It reminded Buffy of Giles' old apartment. It reminded her of Giles, as he was before the darkness claimed him. She examined the masculine décor of historic artifacts, mystical trinkets, and a small set of perfectly kempt, hardbound texts on display along the desk. It felt like home, but not hers.
She moved across the room and carefully selected a book from one end of the small library, opening it up to see the blank pages inside. If she only knew what references to ask for, she could help alleviate her doubts.
The Slayer didn't know what the being was that had come back to her but one thing was for certain, she couldn't bear the thought of losing Giles again. It nearly killed her before, taking her to such a low place of despair that she thought she could never crawl out. But she had, with the help of her friends and the only family she had left, and Angel, her improbable angel. He'd promised her a chance at a new life and she so wanted to believe him. But as she took that first fretful step towards a new beginning, history came slamming back down onto her. It could bury her if she let it. So she wouldn't let it. In order to protect what little sanity she had left, her heart would have to wait for those elusive answers to the hard questions. And for the time being, it was far better for her to believe Giles was The First than to accept the more troublesome possibility that he was there to haunt her for all eternity.
'Always and forever.'
Those where his words to her as he left her yet again. She feared he meant them. And a small part of her hoped he did.
The building seemed infinite. Never-ending stretches of halls leading to uncountable rooms. Flights of stairs leading to vast floors of office space filled with nothing. Sure, people worked there and the evidence of their inhabitance was present, but the atmosphere of the place was void of soul. The structure was little more than a mask for what hid behind it. It reminded Giles of the Hellmouth but now reeking of stock options and cold, bitter, black coffee.
The people he passed took no notice of him as he explored his friend's new headquarters. He wanted so badly to talk to them, to know that they were truly safe, that they were fine.
The next moment, he found himself in what looked to be a medical wing, not remembering how he'd come to be there. A quick check of a nearby clock reaffirmed his suspicions that it was another spell of transcendental shifting. He couldn't help the feeling he was slowly unraveling, like he had when the amulet absorbed him into the light.
He moved forward, deciding to investigate the new location he'd suddenly been drawn to. Maybe there was some pattern or reason for him to be there. He observed with his initial steps that he made no sound. Though he felt the impact of his heavy boots meeting the floor beneath him, the contact meant nothing. He couldn't affect anything around him. A powerless chuckle spilled over his lips as he began to comprehend what had become of him. He was nothing.
Most beds were empty of patients prompting Giles to wonder what such a facility was doing within a law firm to begin with. Then again, what would a laboratory be doing in a law firm? The mounting pile of questions were beginning to weigh heavy on his mind. Nothing made sense and perhaps it was meant to be that way. For once, he would let others ask the questions and he would simply be.
Something made him stop, a primary instinct, and so he turned to examine the area which had affected him so basically. Giles saw him, motionless as if frozen in time. It couldn't be anyone other than Spike to cause such a reaction within him. He moved closer, leaning over to take note of the doctor's report. One word was all he needed, 'coma'.
Giles returned upright, staring down at the lifeless body of the blonde vampire laid out before him. He looked peaceful enough, positioned as he would be if buried in a coffin, arms crossed over his chest. His pale face was wrinkled and scarred, making Giles curious as to how it had gotten that way. There was a machine hardwired to his skull, probably meant to monitor any changes within the corpse. Funny that in death a vampire still displayed some human-like traits, such as neural activity and response. If Fred would ever learn to trust him, he would ask her how such a thing was possible. The monitor displayed a steady green line feeding across the screen, as if stuck on a single note for all eternity.
A stray piece of medical tape was stuck to Spike's hand and Giles found himself wishing he could remove it. But why? How could it be that such emotions were possible, seeing his murderer helplessly trapped within an unearthly coma and feeling pity for him? It only served to confirm to Giles that he was going insane. He had to be. Nothing here made sense.
"Bloody ponce," he whispered to the comatose vampire, shaking his head, partially at what condition the impetuous demon had come to and partially toward himself. "Thank you for getting her out." He waited for a response, almost hearing the sarcastic or vulgar quip the vampire would most certainly entertain him with, but none came and it made it all the more lonely.
"I didn't expect to find you here," Angel stepped out from behind the adjoining wall. "His condition hasn't changed since he arrived. I mean... the burns are all healed up but he hasn't shown any sign of improvement. Though to be honest, we don't really know what we're looking for. Vampires in comas... not something normally written about in JAMA."
"I wouldn't suppose so. What happened to him?"
"Dawn said he was badly burnt trying to get Buffy out. I guess she fought with him, trying to go back into the school, probably trying to get to you." Angel saw the Watcher's gaze fall away from Spike, as if ashamed. The dark vampire shifted his attentions on the latest medical report draped on a clipboard hooked to the edge of the bed. "Buffy didn't say... I mean, she never told me..." He stuttered while examining the report.
Giles inquisitive eyes lifted to Angel, curious as to what he was referring to.
"She never told me who turned you." He flipped apathetically through the pages then paused and raised his eyes to meet Giles' sullen stare. "It was Spike, wasn't it?"
"Yes." Giles didn't want to answer. Nothing good could come from Angel knowing. But he'd spoken without thinking, by impulse.
"Right." Angel nodded and callously tossed the clipboard onto the motionless chest of Spike, making himself comfortable as he took a seat alongside him on the bed. Giles felt a tinge of anger at Angel's seeming insensitivity. "So, why are you here? I mean, it's not like you two were bosom buddies before. Then he murders you. I'm just not seeing a motive here. Why would you care?"
"I honestly don't know," Giles spoke softly, having to look away to avoid showing his irritation.
"Buffy refuses to visit him. So do the others. Actually, Dawn is the only one who ever comes down here besides Fred and the medical personnel."
"Some people find it difficult to forgive."
"Not you, I'll bet."
Angel's tone was almost rude and Giles wondered what he'd done to bring out such an attitude from the old ally. Then he heard the all too familiar sound of medical tape being torn and he turned around to see Angel place another useless piece on Spike, positioning it directly to the center of his forehead, mocking him in some kind of foolish game. Giles could feel his patience fading.
"You're a good man, Giles. I've always thought so. Buffy's told me how you've forgiven her for disregarding your orders, for sneaking around behind your back to see me. You forgave Willow for almost killing you. Actually, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that you'd even forgiven Spike for turning you." Angel carefully watched Giles, looking for something in his face. He must have found it. "You did, didn't you?"
"I don't know what possible business it is of yours..."
"You did. You let him off."
"I did," Giles said with a hint of a snarl that Angel was sure to have heard.
The unsympathetic vampire tore another piece of tape from the roll and placed it on the end of Spike's nose, smiling proudly at his juvenile accomplishment. "I can understand the forgiveness part of it. I've forgiven many people who've hurt me... or hurt the ones I love. Here... I'll give you a 'for instance'. Once, there was this guy who decided to poison my girl... on her birthday of all days. Almost cost her and her mother their lives."
"What is this?" Giles growled.
"I'm not here to judge; never was one for judicial dramas." He folded his arms. "But what gets me is that you forgave your murderer, but you wouldn't forgive me. Not for the amulet thing, I would have worn it if Buffy had let me and you know that. But you've never forgiven me for our past in Sunnydale. Why is that, Rupert?"
Angel's exploitation of his name incensed Giles and he finally understood where the vampire was going with his strange line of questioning. "I don't care to discuss this with you."
"Look... I'll be the first to admit that coming back from a hell dimension really messes with you but this has been a long time coming, Watcher."
"I don't know what you mean." Giles wished he'd have another spell of transcendental shifting.
"Sure you do, Rupert. It's a simple, straightforward question. Why him and not me?"
"This isn't the time or place..."
"How can you forgive him, Giles? He didn't just kill you, he infected you." Angel's voice rose and Giles wondered if it was in frustration of his refusal to cooperate or that Giles had suffered the same fate as the dark vampire.
"Spike did what he thought was best. He did what in his twisted logic could help Buffy."
"If you honestly believe that, then you are much more stupid than I took you for." Angel chuckled. "Spike only does what's best for one person... himself. He wanted to do you in, believe me."
"That may be. But he had reason to attack me," Giles said softly. "I betrayed his trust."
"Trust?" Angel let out a laugh. "Whatever... fine. Now, why not me?"
"Your motives were... less just," Giles answered, hesitant to dig into the past. He wasn't that man anymore and it was quite obvious to him that Angel wasn't the same man as well.
"I've worked to save humanity time and again and yet you would still forgive him and not me." Angel stood up, discarding the abused ring of medical tape to join the report on Spike's chest.
"You never asked for it." Giles responded unsympathetically, attempting to recollect his temper.
"Tell me the truth here, Rupert. It's Buffy, isn't it?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"We're back to that again?" Angel threw his arms up in mock frustration. "Don't play duty-bound, stiff-upper-lip with me with me. I know you were the main cause for us separating. Knowing she loved a vampire infuriated you so you made it your mission to ruin us. To stop us. To drive me away."
"Your relationship with Buffy was doomed from the very beginning. As was mine. The heart of a Slayer should never know the darkness of the heart of a vampire."
"Oh, that's rich. Did that slip your mind when I walked in on you two playing tonsil hockey on the outskirts of the Hellmouth?" Angel punctuated his point with a threatening finger which sank ineffectually within the Watcher's chest. Angel pulled it back. "Damn, that's irritating."
"You have no idea..." Giles warned.
"You tore us apart, Watcher... using your books and your prophecies. Giving us your high and mighty morality speeches about our condemned relationship all the while wanting her for yourself. You think you're all noble. But you're as selfish as they come, Watcher. You should have left her to be swallowed up with Sunnydale. It would be merciful compared to what you put her through!"
Giles eyes blazed into a furious yellow and his face morphed into the demon, demanding to be released from within its false shell of humanity. "I died for her!" He roared, baring his fangs at the crude vampire. "I loved her!" His voice echoed down the long hollow corridor.
"So did I." Angel said empathetically, his lips curling back into a sad smile. "I still do."
Angel replaced the report back on the hook and set the roll of medical tape bedside. He leaned down and removed the pieces of tape from Spike's body, including the original and tossed them away in a nearby garbage.
"I'll inform the others that you aren't The First. Wes can collaborate with Fred in figuring out what you are..." He moved calmly past the irate vampire and paused just shy of the next stall, keeping his back to him. "Giles... we will find a way to bring you back."
It hit Giles like a ton of bricks and he suddenly felt very small. He watched in disbelief as Angel left the room, leaving him alone again with his regrets. What had just happened? Giles felt his features melt away into his human form. Angel was indeed not the man he once was. The crafty vampire's sediments droned on in the back of Giles mind as his gaze returned to his comatose sire.
"Bloody worthless vampires."
"Can I come in?"
Buffy swiveled around in the chair to see Angel's face peeking from around the door to Wesley's office.
"Full access pass," Buffy nodded. Angel entered and closed the door behind him. She could tell there was something on his mind. "Pull up an oversized executive chair and make yourself at..."
"He's not The First." Angel interrupted, his forehead creased with worry. Buffy went quiet for a moment and swiveled around to face the widow's, finding it suddenly difficult to look at him.
"Are you sure?"
"I am. The others are still running tests but..."
"You'd know, wouldn't you? After all, you met The First first." Buffy chuckled. "First first. Stupid name."
"It's him, Buffy. It's Giles." He moved closer.
She nodded slightly, giving it little if any thought. "Okay."
"We need to talk about this." Angel didn't understand her reaction and it bothered him.
"What's there to talk about?" She shrugged, still refusing to face him.
"He's back and we don't know why. Don't you want to know why? Don't you have to know why?"
"Nope." Another shrug and Angel felt his irritation rising at the stubborn Slayer.
"And us? Are we still..."
"Nothing's changed, Angel. It's not like I can go rushing into his arms and run away with him. He's a ghost or something."
"Then he deserves to know about us."
"Can't he find out on the wedding day?"
"You still want to get married?"
"I don't know. Doesn't it just seem... I don't know, weird?"
"We're way past weird here." She turned to look at him. "Vampire. Vampire Slayer. Weird is a prerequisite."
"Do you still love him?"
Her face cringed, as if wounded by the question. "I'll always love him."
Angel walked around the desk and knelt down before her. "I don't know what you're going through here, Buffy. But I do have a faint idea what Giles may be going through." Angel spoke softly but firm, cupping a hand to her face to hold her focus. "I love you. You know that. And until I know what is going on here, I... I can't..."
Buffy's face fell sad. "Are you breaking it off?"
"No." He shook his head sympathetically. "Consider it a postponement... on account of reorganization."
"I love you, Angel." She urged.
"I know. And when it's meant to be, it'll happen." He smiled. "I have to believe that. In more ways than one."