ImMortal part 3: Consequences
Giles' melodic voice gently hummed off into silence and all eyes fell on Lorne. The normally fun-loving, green demon was sitting speechless in Angel's executive chair, his face long with sorrow and eyes wide and tearful. At the realization that the attention of the crowd had shifted to him, he anxiously dabbed the moisture from his eyes, trying uselessly to cover his emotions. After a moment, he gave up hope and maneuvered clumsily to his feet, shuffling through the gang to escape the prying eyes.
"Lorne?" Wesley hurried after him with Angel following close behind.
Fred glanced back apologetically to Giles as the door shut behind them. "That was just lovely. Really. I'm... I'm sure it was just the song... got him all choked up, is all. Very moving. I'm sure everything's fine..." she nervously hurried to catch up as Gunn shrugged indifferently.
"I'd say you'd make it to the finals. Not bad, Watcher... not bad at all." He followed after Fred and as the door closed, Giles' eyes moved to Dawn.
"Was it that awful?" He asked delicately.
"It was so good," Dawn slipped off the desk and moved to give him a hug, remembering his condition only as Giles regretfully stepped backwards from her. "You were great, Giles." She returned to her spot near the window with a little less enthusiasm than a moment before.
"Really great," Willow nodded, wiping at a tear. "Right Xander?"
"I have something in my eye?" Xander rushed across the office and locked himself away in Angel's bathroom. Giles grinned, pleased at the reaction. His eyes finally came to rest on Buffy who had taken a seat in the far corner of the room. She watched the proceedings with a subtle smile but he could see the distress hidden behind her brave front.
"Way to clear the room," she teased.
"I liked it. I don't know what that demon's problem is." Anya shrugged. "Something cheerful would have been more entertaining but it was nice to hear your voice again."
"It was beautiful, Giles," Buffy agreed. "Hopefully Lorne read something that can help." He could see the doubt in her eyes. Xander returned, combing his fingers embarrassedly through his hair.
"You look tired, Buffy." Giles said concernedly.
"I am. Not so much with the sleeping nowadays." She shrugged it off. "I'm okay."
"Are you sure?" He asked and she gave a subtle nod. He decided not to push the matter. "So you've all had to go through this? The singing?" Giles asked, watching his young friend's faces as their eyes darted suspiciously at one another.
"Yep," they all nodded in unanimous agreement with mischievous smirks and Giles thought their responses highly suspect.
Wesley and Angel finally caught up with Lorne in his office. They cornered him at his stereo, watching confusedly as the panicked demon rushed to work the dials and knobs.
"What was that back there?" Angel asked. Lorne didn't answer and continued to adjust the radio station blaring out from the fancy, over-priced speakers.
"Lorne, what was it?" Wesley urged loudly, trying to be heard over the static of the country-western song shrilling out of tune. Angel's impatience finally got the best of him and with a swift tug of the cord, he unplugged the stereo.
"Lorne! What did you see?"
"I can't..." Lorne rushed to plug the stereo back in. "I have to get rid of it." He fumbled, growing more and more anxious as he struggled with trembling hands to return the plug to its socket.
"Is it bad? Is something coming?" Wesley asked.
Lorne shook his head and tossed the plug to the carpet. He pivoted around to Wesley and fretfully gripped his shirt. "Sing something.... anything. Even Britney, just get this out of me. I don't want it!"
"Calm down, Lorne." Wesley tried to console his friend but he pulled away, beginning to pace wildly around the room as Fred and Gunn walked in.
"What's with the tissue typhoon?" Gunn asked.
"Are you alright?" Fred asked.
"Better than him..." Lorne waved a finger in the direction of the previous office.
"Talk us through what you saw." Wesley guided.
"Our man Rupert isn't the First and it's not an apocalypse." Lorne continued to pace nervously.
"That's all you can tell us?" Wesley asked.
"Believe me, that's all you wanna know."
"Believe me it isn't," Angel pushed.
"The world isn't ending on behalf of our resident ghost there so what gives with the Paparazzi treatment?"
"I need to know, Lorne."
"Why?" Lorne turned angry. "I'm telling you to stay out of it. That should be enough."
"You've been mistaken before, Lorne. In order to be certain..."
"Don't break out the 'Greater Good' speech for me, Buckaroo." Lorne interrupted Wesley, moved to his bar and began collecting the ingredients for a Sea Breeze. "I know it's him on account of the Technicolor collage of past, present and future spinning around in my head and we aren't talking 'Happily Ever After' kiddies. We're talking 'Oh the Humanity' with an extra helping of 'Oh'." Lorne finished pouring himself a drink and gulped it down. "Don't get me wrong, English muffin's got the pipes. That man can really sing. But I rather hear Angel belting out Barry M. again than take another listen to the tune he's playing."
"Are you saying there isn't any danger?" Angel asked.
"No, that's not what I'm saying. There aren't any big nasties to speak of." Lorne poured himself another drink. "But there's pain, sorrow and loss and none of it is meant for us. Hence the 'stay out of it' suggestion."
"I can't stay out of it Lorne. If it hurts Giles then it hurts Buffy and I can't let that happen."
"You may not have a choice. I normally pride myself in seeing the balance in these things. The Powers usually have a yin yang theme going on but this... the scales are way off balance here cats and kittens and its raining buckets of blood, sweat and tears for anyone who gets in-between that doomedsome twosome."
"Buffy and Giles," Wesley clarified.
"I don't understand this, Angel cakes. If anyone deserves a touch of the jollies it's those two but the Power's must really have a raging case of loathing for that Watcher and Slayer cause I gotta tell ya, I'm not seeing the love."
"This isn't helping, Lorne. Give me specifics. What did you see?" Angel urged.
"I can't." Lorne shook his head. "It's gone... thank God it's gone."
"You look beat." Xander walked alongside Buffy as they made their way to Wesley's former office to which Buffy had recently laid claim.
"I'm tired. Still haven't been getting any real sleep."
"Are you okay?" They both jumped back, shocked as Giles materialized through the hall wall right beside them.
"Don't do that!" Xander clutched his chest, gasping for breath.
"Sorry," Giles offered an apologetic little smirk. "Didn't mean to..."
"Well you did and don't do it again!" Xander ordered. "Should put a bell on you or something."
"Remind me never to play hide and seek with you." Buffy snickered and continued walking.
"Are they dreams?" Giles asked, hurrying to catch up.
"What?" Buffy asked.
"That's intruding on your rest? Dreams?" Giles noticed Xander's worried glance to him and wondered if it would be best not to pry but he couldn't help his curiosity.
"Sometimes." She shrugged.
Her succinct answers hurt. Like darts hitting a target, each one purposefully aimed to strike a nerve. What he'd done, regardless of the necessity of it, hurt her deeply. He needed to take things slowly. "If you'd like to talk about them..."
"That's okay. They aren't anything special." She dismissed his concern with a laid-back gesture, continuing to walk on. "Gaping pits of fire, pools of blood, monsters, people bursting into flames, someone I loved leaving me..." She peeked out of the corner of her eye and saw Giles had stopped walking. She didn't. "Just the usual."
Giles watched silently as Buffy continued down the hall with a regretful Xander glancing back at him and returning to Buffy.
They took a left, disappearing into the office and Giles remained motionless in the middle of the hall as busy firm employees march by, completely oblivious to him.
"I'm sorry." Giles whispered out to her as he heard the door close on his words.
"You shouldn't be."
He peeked out of the corner of his eye to see a stern faced Wesley standing beside him, staring down the same path Giles watched.
"It was the right thing to do."
Giles held back the urge to correct his well meaning colleague. Wesley didn't need to know that what he was apologizing for wasn't sacrificing himself to the Hellmouth, it was for the unforgettable night he'd spent with Buffy the evening before the Sunnydale conflict. It would have been easier for her had he not been with her, easier if he'd simply done his sworn duty.
"How can you be so certain?" Giles asked and began to walk in the opposite direction.
"It's not certainty, it's instinct. And mine is telling me that you saved the world... with a little help from your friends." Wesley smiled as he joined Giles in his stroll. "You're a hero, Giles."
"I don't feel like a hero."
"A vampire, then?" Wesley asked plainly. "You are, aren't you? Angel enlightened me, though not very forthcoming with the specifics." Giles' stride seemed to quicken and Wesley hurried his own pace to keep up. "Why'd you see it fit to avoid that piece of information when you called me back in Sunnydale? It could have changed the outcome. I may have found something else that could have helped."
"I didn't see it as relevant to the situation."
"Why didn't you inform me of the presence of the other souled vampire, Spike?"
"Again, irrelevant," Giles said concisely.
"I see. And your feelings for Buffy."
"Though it's quite nice of you to filter out such extraneous material for me, I would appreciate it if you let me pass judgment on what's relevant when it concerns my team... and my friends." Wesley had said it so politely that Giles almost overlooked the subtext of the threat lingering there. Looks like everyone had done some changing over the years. Wesley's stern expression melted away into a hopeful smile. "I've seen you familiarizing yourself with the layout of the building as well as visiting some of our archives. You seem to be holding up well, under the circumstances. How are you feeling today?"
Giles misted to nothing, leaving Wesley alone and second guessing his choice of words.
"She's avoiding him," Xander threw up his arms. "It's like it's happening all over again." He glanced up into the pale blue sky, shielding his eyes from the bright sunlight. "I was mad too. Pissed that Giles would do that. That he would leave us... again. But he sacrificed himself to save us, to save her. I don't get it."
"What's to get? It's all about what's in here." Dawn placed her hand over her heart. "You can't argue with it or reason with it."
"It's tough on Buffy. You said it yourself, Xander. That you were finally settling in here, coming to accept things and then 'hello', welcome back Giles. No one knows what to do or how to act. We're gonna have to make it up as we go."
"Well guilt-trippin' him isn't going to accomplish anything. How do you think he feels?" Xander huffed. "He didn't ask for this."
"Maybe we should throw a party?" Anya suggested, receiving irritated glances of confusion. "A festive 'welcome back Giles' party. This time I'm sure to be invited because I'll make up the guest list. There should be punch and pie..."
"Anya... this isn't time for celebration," Willow shook her head.
"Why not?" Dawn smiled. "I mean, with all the moping and tension around here for the last week... why not celebrate."
"I could use a chance to cut loose." Xander smiled, giving Anya a playful nudge.
"But I'm in charge of the preparations," Anya insisted proudly.
"Get Lorne to help you. He lives for parties," Dawn suggested.
"Still can't sleep?" Angel tossed his leather jacket to the chair and gently took a seat on the bed, shifting closer to the curled up Slayer lying under the sheets.
"I managed two hours worth," Buffy sighed. "Yippie for me."
"You look tired," he stroked her hair.
"People keep telling me that. Too bad my body doesn't believe it."
"I think your bodies' listening; it's your mind that's being stubborn."
"Stupid Buffy mind," she smiled, nuzzling into his soothing hand.
"Want me to do that thing you like?" He asked hopefully.
"What thing is that?" She grinned slyly. "And is it what I like or what you like?" Angel leaned down and placed a tender kiss to her lips then slowly shifted down to the bottom edge of the bed.
"I'm pretty sure it's more of a 'you' thing than a 'me' thing. Not that I don't enjoy it." He pulled back the covers, revealing her bare legs. "Try to relax."
"Sure you aren't more in the mood for a 'you and me' thing?"
"Later," he smiled and began to caress her feet with his firm hands. With a pleased sigh, she smiled and Angel watched as her body began to release the tension always buried within her.
"God, that feels so good."
"See... definite 'you' thing." Angel said with satisfaction, kneading the balls of her feet.
"You're really good at this," Buffy's eyes grew heavy.
"Actually, I'm probably really bad but you're so tense you couldn't tell the difference. Besides, I can't really hurt you, you being the Slayer and all."
"It's not so tough..." she slurred softly.
"What's that?" Angel smiled.
"Hurting.... me...." she finally drifted off to sleep.
"I should never have come."
"You're wrong. You don't know how hard it's been without you."
"Things have changed, Buffy."
"They always do. And they will keep changing. But one thing never will. I love you, Giles."
"It's not enough."
"What do you mean 'not enough'?"
"Not enough to bring me back to you."
"Then what is?"
"I didn't mean to interrupt anything," Wesley said as Angel entered his office.
"It's okay. Buffy's finally sleeping."
Wesley's face lit up. "That's a good sign."
"Fred said you found something," Angel said, eagerly marching toward Wesley's desk.
"Yes," he motioned for Angel to take a seat across from him. He held up the familiar piece that triggered Giles return. "We've examined the amulet thoroughly. It doesn't seem comprised of any mysterious elements. Only common earthly metals and stone, but what's fascinating is that it seems to hold a charge."
"A charge?" Angel repeated.
"Like a battery?" Fred explained enthusiastically as she slipped in behind Angel and closed the door. "But without the chemical reaction."
"Okay," Angel waited. "What does it mean?"
"We can't be sure but we have two theories." Wes offered.
"First, that the amulet is trapping Giles' spirit, preventing him from returning whole to this realm." Fred explained.
"Second, that the amulet is actually what's powering Giles' spirit to appear, enabling us to see him while grounding him to this dimension." Wesley explained.
"Which is it?"
"We don't know." Wesley said disappointedly.
"Giles transcendental shifting... the phasing in and out... it may be a result of the amulet losing its charge or perhaps gaining in it's control over his spirit. My analysis last week supports both hypothesis, suggesting that the energy readings I got are either evidence of the amulets power leakage or perhaps a sign of Giles' spirit attempting to break free."
"Well, if our theory is correct then it's safe to assume that Giles and the amulet are somehow linked." Wesley suggested.
"And we may be able to separate Giles from his bond with the amulet by destroying it and freeing him to return to corporeal form." Fred continued.
"Or we could quite possibly be destroying the only thing holding him here and thus dooming him to oblivion entirely." Wes amended.
"Have you told Giles any of this?" Angel asked.
"No. I mean, he's seen glimpses of my reports so he might have a vague idea," Fred shrugged.
"What are your feelings, Angel?"
"What if we wait? What if we just sit back and watch what happens?"
"Then the leaking battery might run out and he'd be gone. There's no telling how long."
"Or he would stay trapped in this ghost-like form forever, never knowing if the key to his freedom was just a hammer away." Fred said sadly.
Angel nodded. "He needs to know."
"I don't know happiness without you. I live only for fear and loss."
"What would you have me do?"
"Bring me over."
"Why? We need to be together."
"Not as you ask. You are the Slayer, Buffy. While I'm nothing more than a beast, cursed with..."
"I love you. No curse can ever change that."
"You've no idea of what you ask."
"I do, Giles. And if it will deliver me to you, I beg for death. Please."
"I tasted you once. It nearly stole my soul."
"Then let it go. It doesn't matter as long as we're together." She reached out and pulled Giles to her, kissing him tenderly. "I love you." She tilted her head back and guided his head to her neck.
"I love you." He whispered, breathing along her skin and placing a gentle kiss to her exposed flesh.
The sharp pierce of daggers dug deep within her flesh and she gasped with pain and pleasure. Her heart quickened as if willingly pumping out the juices of her life for Giles to drink.
"They don't know which?" Giles stared out of Angel's window, still having a hard time getting over the sunlight blanketing the vampire's office.
"No, they don't." Angel stood just behind the Watcher, curious as to what his next step may be. "I thought you should know the risks. Give you some time to decide. Any thoughts?"
Giles face was etched with marks of deep in contemplation and after a long moment, he sighed. "Ants."
"Ants?" Angel cocked a confused brow.
"The people... they do resemble ants from this height, don't they?"
"I guess." Angel shrugged.
"Tell me... is Buffy sleeping?"
Angel's eyes narrowed at the seemingly off topic inquiry. "Yes."
Giles' eyes lifted toward the sun. "I see."
Overwhelming cold held her and she wasn't afraid.
"Where am I?"
"Be still," his soothing voice hummed to her like a tender lullaby.
"They'll hear," she warned, feeling her limbs stiff and chilled.
"We are alone now." A gentle finger glided along her cheek. She could feel the sensation dimming as it moved along, fading to a breeze. "This is for no one but us."
"Where are we?"
"You're here... in my arms. As you were meant to be."
"But the others...?"
"They cannot follow. They remain grounded in stone. Chained to fate."
"I don't understand."
"It's not for us to understand. We are governed by other rules." His chilled finger brushed along her cheek again, drawing a path down her heart.
"I'm cold, Giles."
"It will pass soon... as will you, my love."
"Pass into forever."
"I can't move."
"You're fading into shadows, sinking under the swells of night. And with my kiss, you will be reborn into darkness."
"Am I dying?"
"Only in life. Your soul lives on."
"A spawn of black but touched by light. You are more, Buffy. So much more."
"Will I be with you?"
"Always and forever."
"Giles, am I dead?"
"Not yet, love. Soon." He placed a gentle kiss to her forehead.
"Are you certain?" Wesley's eyes lifted from the amulet positioned in the center of his desk to the Watcher standing determinedly just beyond the edge.
"No certainty, instinct," Giles answered.
"Perhaps we should consult Buffy..."
"No!" He almost barked it out like an order. "Please... before anyone comes in."
Wesley stood, taking up the stone statuary he used as a paperweight. He paused and looked up at Giles from under a heavy brow. "I can't help but wonder which you believe will happen."
Giles offered a kindly smile and gave a helpless shrug. "Does it matter?"
"You tell me."
Giles eyes fell onto the amulet and Wesley waited patiently, holding his tool of choice ready to strike.
"Mom, am I doing this right?" Buffy asked.
"Looks good to me. You're a natural sweetheart." Joyce gave her an encouraging hug.
Buffy crossed her arms and pouted. "It's crooked."
"Adds character," Joyce snickered. "You're doing great."
"I like this scent." Buffy took in a deep breath. "Smells fresh, clean."
"They do have a certain special smell, don't they?" Joyce agreed. "I'm so proud of you." She gave Buffy another hug.
"How's she doing?" Dawn asked as she slipped in-between them, checking in on the progress.
"She's doing great." Joyce commended again.
"Looks crooked," Dawn teased and Buffy shot her mom another anxious look.
"See... I'm so not ready for this."
"No one ever truly is. I sure wasn't. But I know it in my heart, Buffy. You will make an incredible mother."
Buffy jolted upright in her bed, going from deep sleep directly to utter consciousness but beyond consciousness. For once, she was completely self-aware. The room was empty of anyone else yet she didn't feel alone. With a labored breath to calm her thumping heartbeat, she slipped her hand to her stomach and sat motionless, listening and feeling.
After a moment of silence, she felt it, a faint rhythm of a heartbeat and she knew it wasn't her own.