Letting Go part 1/6
Summary: Recently rewritten and updated, this tale is an alternate reality story taking place from Becoming part 2. Things are a bit different: Giles never escaped Angelus. Buffy ran away, but not the way you think. Wesley makes an early appearance.
Warning: This first part is gut wrenching (if I did it right) but it gets lighter (I promise).
Notes: Single quotes are thoughts. <> Represent unearthly voices.

“Blood. Of course. The blood on my hands must be my own. I am the key that will open up the door. My blood. My life.” Angelus' lips curled back with satisfaction as he turned toward his demonic companions. “Okay. Kill him.”

‘Stop him!’ Spike's mind raced for a reason to spare the Watcher's life. “What if he's lying?”

Angelus cocked a brow, curious at Rollerboy's unexpected concern. He hadn't seemed too interested or involved with the end-of-humanity plot until that moment. Perhaps the uprightly challenged vampire just needed a concrete plan to draw him into the fold at last. “Dru? Is he telling the truth?”

Both vampires waited for an answer, watching on as Drusilla prolonged her enthusiastic kiss with the Watcher. Sweet verses of his suffering rang in her head as she relished the inviting potion of blood and sweat on his lips.

“Uh, Drusilla…” Spike grew annoyed at her overtly amorous behavior.

The vampiress could feel the Watcher’s heart beating for his lost love. His warm tears tickled her cheek as she mentally manipulated him for her own pleasure, and oh what wicked pleasure his touch stirred. She penetrated his mind, sensing his embrace of the illusion confusing his thoughts and distorting his reality. How he ached to see and feel that meddling teacher, the would-be home wrecker.

Angelus loved to tease and bait Spike, but even though Dru’s lustful frenzy was surely getting a rise out of the old boy, Angelus impatience got the best of him. “Honey...”

“We are finished here, ducks.” Spike began to have second thoughts on sparing the Watcher’s life. ‘I'll kill that bookish bastard myself!’

Finally sated, Drusilla slowly pulled back from Giles' feverish face. Licking her lips to appreciate the lingering flavor of his discomfort, she turned slowly toward the irritated vampires. “Sorry...” She smiled, “I was in the moment.”

‘Jenny, we must get out of here.’ Giles struggled to focus, ‘Keep Angel away from Acathla’. His words couldn’t be spoken, as if his voice had been stolen from him. He swallowed hard, trying in vain to clear his throat. As his vision began to clear, he struggled to see the shadowy figure in front of him. Just one more glimpse of his beautiful Jenny and he was certain he could gather the strength to escape. Then, in a moment of clarity, an inner voice warned him of deception. ‘How could you be here?’ The dark clouds mystifying his mind cleared and the face that had been Jenny’s was now revealing its genuine nature; Drusilla. His heart sank, ‘I’ve doomed us all.’ Ashamed of his weakness, he let his head fall forward in disgrace. Giles sat powerless and beaten, waiting for the suitable punishment he knew awaited him. ‘I failed you, Buffy.’

“Dru, is he telling the truth?” Angelus repeated as Drusilla slowly stood up and swayed toward her jealous boys. She smiled as she twirled around them, gleefully dancing to the imaginarily soundtrack that forever accompanied her. The Watcher's pain made its rhythm so fresh and robust, she couldn't help but let the music of his anguish move her.

“A truth pure of heart. Truth that betrays his mind.”

“Dru, my pet…how can you be so sure?” The Slayer’s warning echoed in Spike’s mind:
“If he dies…she dies!”

He had to try directing Angelus to a hint of doubt in Dru’s capabilities.

“His pain is exquisite. His mind reaches for release.” Drusilla smiled and settled between the two vampires. “I like to play games. Can I play another?” She giggled with a childlike innocence and looked longingly back at Giles. The broken man sat unmoving in his binds, defeat depicted in his hollow stare.

“It’s my turn to play, Dru.” Angelus ran a finger along her cheek and winked at Spike with an irreverent grin. “That’s good enough for me.” He strolled triumphantly over to his prey and crouch down beside him. “So, Rupert…Buddy…”

Giles flinched at the closeness of his tormenter but it was a half-hearted effort; his soul was wounded. He felt prepared for whatever fate Buffy’s beau planned for him.

“You want release? I can give you release.” The vampire slipped his hand under the Watcher’s chin and forced his head back. Giles labored to open his eyes, wanting a final show of impervious defiance toward his torturer.

“She will never again be yours.” Giles choked out his hatred for the vampire, bringing an unintended smile to Angelus' face.

“That’s ok…I don’t like leftovers. Say hello to Jenny for me.” Angelus kissed the Watcher’s bloodied brow. “Goodnight Rupert.”

Giles ignored Angelus' taunts, choosing to fill his mind with pleasant thoughts. Spending hours in the library stacks, looking through his favorite volumes of legend and lore. A vision of Buffy’s laughing face and Willow’s smiling eyes as Xander teased him. Jenny glancing up from working on the library computer, giving him a sly and inviting wink. He’d been blessed to have such moments with his family away from home.

Angelus raised an eyebrow at the sight of the Watcher’s lips forming a slight smile.

‘A curious expression for a corpse,’ he thought. This pathetic mortal didn't deserve an honorable death respectful of a genuine foe. The memory of killing Jenny Calender sparked inspiration in the demon. He could satisfy his urge for violence and send a message to the Slayer. With the familiar notes of “La Boheme” accompanying the scene in his mind, Angelus savagely whipped Giles head sideways, watching the man’s neck stretch until he heard the delicious sound of the spine splintering. The Watcher’s head fell forward like a rag dolls and his body slumped lifelessly in the chair. Blood splattered to the floor beneath him, dribbling from his open mouth. Amused by his flare for the dramatic, Angelus dipped his finger in the inviting fluid and licked it clean. “You’ll make a lovely parting gift for Buffy.”

“Bloody hell!” Spike jumped up out of the wheelchair, shocked at the vampire’s brutal actions. “You’ve done it now. Buffy’s gonna be seriously brassed off…you polishing off her old man like that.” Angelus and Drusilla stared in amazement at Spike’s miraculous healing.

“Dru…pet. We have to leave now!” He quickly shuffled forward and took Drusilla’s hand in his, forcefully pulling her with him.

“And miss my big show? We’ve got a world to end here.” Angelus followed Spike with dumbfounded curiosity as he dragged a bewildered Drusilla toward the exit leading to the sewers.

The group’s attentions were suddenly directed toward the source of an anguished scream as the Slayer made her presence known.

“Sorry to crash your party…” Buffy came out of the shadows, revealing a sword held firmly in her grasp. “But I brought some wicked party favors.” Two vampire guards attacked but Buffy dispatched them with ease and stepped toward Angelus. Two other demonic minions took hesitant steps toward the Slayer. Buffy jerked confidently toward them with a menacingly grin and they took off running cowardly toward the sewers.

Refusing to be denied his certain victory, Angelus ran to the statue of Acathla and tore a chunk of flesh from his hand with his bare teeth. “I don’t have time for you.” He rolled his eyes with contempt and reached for the sword protruding from the statue. In his hasty pace, he overpowered his grasp and broke the sword in two. He stared in disbelief at the partial bit of the blade and handle he held in his blood soaked hand. Anger welled within him as he noticed the remaining bit of blade still resting firmly in Acathla and no spare edge to grip for its removal. Buffy chuckled at his bad luck and shrugged. "Just don't make 'em like they used to, huh?" He lunged at her and the final showdown was underway.

The ex-lovers struck blow after blow, expertly countering each other’s moves as the battle moved around the room as if it were a choreographed dance.

“Dru…we have to leave.” Spike pulled her toward the exit. Drusilla whined her disapproval as she tried to break his grasp. He grew impatient at her insistence in aiding Angelus. “Sorry luv,” he said as he struck her, knocking her out cold. Spike took her into his arms and slipped out the back, to start a new life free from the nuisances of the Slayer and Angelus.

Xander cautiously peeked in the main entrance. Confident that Angelus was well distracted and seeing the path clear of vampire guards, he quietly scampered through the open door and found his way into the back room. Looking vigilantly for vampires, he scanned the unattended room and rushed over to Giles motionless body.

“Giles? We gotta get outta here.” Xander tried to loosen the binds but struggled with the bloody knots. Angelus had really worked G-man over. No quick trip to the first aid kit for this one. Looks like Nurse Penny had her work cut out for her today.

“G-man, are ya with me?” Xander continued to work the knots, only pausing when there was no answer. His stomach tensed. ‘Not another blow to the head.’

“G-Giles?” Something told him this was more than a little bump. The young man timidly crawled in front of his eerily silent friend and froze with the sensation of warm ooze on his hand. He glanced down and saw blood dripping from his palms. It took a moment to register what it meant. His eyes rolled up to Giles vacant stare and he realized he was staring into the face of death.

“God n-no…no,” Xander whispered and looked up at Giles battered face, unable to tear his gaze from the unimaginable sight. He tried to hold back the tears, willing himself to get Giles freed from the tomb holding him hostage.

“I'm getting you out of here.” Xander’s voice cracked as he returned to his business of releasing his friend, his fingers fumbling to loosen the knots securing Giles hands.

“I won’t leave you here.” Once the blood-soaked ropes were loosened, Giles full weight came down on top of him, pinning him to the ruby puddle blanketing the cold tiles. He ignored the sudden pain in his wrist, pushing himself to finish his duty and get Giles out. Maneuvering slightly out from beneath the body, Xander pulled his legs free as he rolled the dead weight away. The sight of Giles pale face twisted unnaturally to one side made Xander gasp. He lost all will and began to sob beside the corpse of his deceased friend.

“Xander…I could use a bit of…” Buffy ran hastily into the room and stopped dead in her tracks, staring in disbelief.

“Buffy…behind you!” Xander yelled as she ducked just in time for Angelus to miss her head with a marble bust. Xander jumped up and charged toward Angelus with unrestrained fury. He ducked his head down, bringing his shoulders low to strike Angelus in the stomach. Angelus was taken completely off guard and laughed as Xander drove him back across the room. Xander screamed as he held tight around Angelus' waist and pushed him toward the entrance now bathed with daylight. Finally realizing the plan of the young attacker, Angelus struggled to regain his balance but found himself flailing out of control toward certain doom.

“For Giles, Deadboy!” Xander yelled as he propelled all his weight forward, diving into Angelus and forcing him outside the mansion entrance into full sunlight. Even as the vampire began to smolder and flame Xander wouldn't release his hold. Ignoring the scorching heat and smoke, he was determined to see this through; he owed it to Giles. Angelus bellowed in agony as he burst into flames, combusting into a pile of ashes. Xander lay on the cement, quivering from the blend of pain and adrenalin. It took a moment for him to regain his composure. Everything was moving too fast; he had no time to think.

‘Buffy,’ he thought and forced his shaken legs to support him. He headed toward the room where he’d left the Slayer and her fallen Watcher.

Xander's heart broke as he stepped into the room. He wasn't ready to face this. Buffy cradled Giles lifeless form in her slight arms, rocking him as if he were a sleeping child. She caressed his cheek, soothing him as her eyes stayed fixed on the shadows in the corner of the room. Xander made his way to her side and knelt down, unsure of how best to console his friend.

“Buffy," He whispered, "We have to go.”

“He…he’s resting.” She mumbled, “Give him a moment.” Though she had an air of calm denial, Buffy’s eyes pleaded for Xander to allow her the illusion.

He tenderly set a hand on her shoulder to stop her rocking. She paused and looked over at him.

“Buffy…Giles is dead.”

Her lost stare finally dissolved into grief and she began to cry. Her hold on Giles lessened with every sob and his body returned to the shimmering pool of maroon tainting the floor.

Xander took her into his arms and let her unleash her sorrow, joining her with tears of his own.

Four Months later…

“The Watcher’s Council has sent notice that a new Watcher's on the way.” Willow was all business as she spoke to the gang. “His name is Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. He'll be here any time now.” Her serious gaze fell on the silent Slayer who sat emotionally detached at the end of the couch. Joyce shook her head and looked sullenly at Willow.

“We'll all help him…um, pick up where Giles left off. Buffy will need us to help her get him accustomed to her style.” Willow spoke slowly, watching Buffy for any sign of comprehension. There was none, no glimmer of understanding, only Buffy ensnared within herself, hiding in some deep internal reality.

“We’ll make him feel welcome.” Joyce nodded, trying to get comfortable with her newfound place in the Scooby gang. “He can stay in the guest room until the council has found him a place.”

“He’ll probably want to stay close to Buffy. In case there’s a change.” Willow agreed and saw Xander lower his head, uncomfortable with the discussion.

“Giles things?” Xander mumbled. He taken Giles death much harder than everyone expected. It wasn't until Willow had reviewed one of Giles' journals that her and Oz discovered why. The Watcher had fallen into some sort of surrogate father role for Xander during the young man's family uprisings, commonly occurring on holidays and every other weekend. Since the Watcher was alone, it seemed natural for the pair to bond. Now Xander had lost the man he'd come look on as a father.

“I put them in order and prepared his most recent journal entries for Mr. Pryce to study. The weapons have been relocated here, per Giles' wishes. As well as all of Giles' personal records and books. We’ve set up a temporary headquarters in the basement.” Willow continued to watch Buffy, hoping for some reaction. The Slayer stared out the window, ignoring the crowd of friends and family wishing for her attention. "It's not the library... but it should make her comfortable."

Buffy’s eyes never left her view of the window. They wondered what she was seeing out there. Everyone’s faces displayed their disappointment at Buffy’s disconnected behavior.

“Wil, you’re doing great.” Xander reassured her. “He’d be proud.”

Oz smiled at Xander’s kind words but realized that they might do more harm than good. Willow was putting up a strong front with the gang but he knew better; she was weeping inside. Like the others, a piece of her died with Giles that day. Now they all had to grow up much too fast to fill the void left by his absence.

“Just once…one little word. Is it too much to ask?” Willow sighed.

“Buffy’s been through six different Watchers in four months. What are the chances this one will live up to the challenge?” Joyce finally asked the question they all were avoiding. Somehow it seem less objectionable coming from Buffy’s mom.

Oz smiled knowingly at Willow and sat forward on the couch edge.
“Well, we’ve talked to him personally and he’s, um…familiar.”
Willow smiled and nodded in agreement with his conclusion.

“I don’t get it. What do you mean familiar?” Cordelia asked.

“Mr. Pryce was suggested by a old friend of Giles. He is described as being…similar to Giles.” Willow watched for everyone’s reaction. When no one spoke up she continued. “It seems Mr. Pryce respected Giles and his techniques. After Giles death…”

Buffy shifted in her chair and began to rock slightly, as was her usual reaction to mentioning Giles passing. Willow bit her lip after realizing her slip of the tongue.

“After Giles…" Willow didn't know how to re-word it. Giles was dead; they all knew it. How could she keep tiptoeing around the obvious? "After...Pryce doubled his course load and took on extra training to get a chance to take on the duty of serving the active Slayer.”

“Since the other Watchers sucked to an extreme, Pryce seems to be our last hope.” Oz explained.

“Sounds like I’ve got a lot riding on me.”

Everyone turned to see a tall, dark-haired man standing in the open doorway of the Summers residence. He was well dressed; tailored black suit with a light gray shirt, solid dark gray tie, understated wire frame glasses and a black suitcase. Willow's initial impression of his appearance was that of viewing a promising amateur lawyer.

“May I come in?” he asked, already stepping over the threshold and shutting the door behind him.

Joyce took it upon herself to break the uncomfortable tension in the room and stood up, walked over to the distinguished stranger and offered her hand, “Joyce Summers, Buffy’s mother.”

“Wesley Wyndham-Pryce at your service.” The young man exuded confidence as he walked into the living room and looked over the gang of friends.

“Willow, its nice to finally meet you in person," he walked over to her and held out his hand. She smiled warmly and stood up to greet him with an intimate hug that took him by surprise. Xander shot Oz a questioning glance who shook his head with a gentle grin, dissuading any concern.

“T-thank you Miss Rosenberg.” He glanced at Oz. “You must be Oz.” He nodded toward the young man and continued down the row of friends. “Xander Harris, Giles wrote fondly of you. Pleasure to…”

Wesley never finished the sentence as Xander jumped up and quickly stormed out of the room into the kitchen. Everyone countered his harsh behavior with uncomfortable sigh and awkward smile. Cordelia stepped forward and offered her hand to Wesley.

“Sorry. Things are still a bit fresh for him.” She smiled politely.

Wesley took her hand and smiled shyly. “Yes, of course. I’m sorry…Miss Chase, I presume?”

“Wow. Giles wrote about all of us?” She asked.

“Mr. Giles recorded exceptionally complete and detailed reports of all his Slayer’s associates and exploits.“ Pryce’s eyes looked beyond Cordelia, focusing on the individual he was so eager to meet. His expression grew serious at the sight of Buffy rocking in her chair, arms wrapped around her folded legs pressed firmly to her chest.

“This must be Buffy," he walked slowly over to the window and knelt down besides her, intentionally impeding her view. The young lady displayed no notice of him. With a determination to be recognized, he cautiously set a hand on her knee and smiled. “Miss Summers, may I have the pleasure of serving as your Watcher?” She ignored him and continued to sway.

Wesley stared into her eyes, searching for any sign of awareness. He lowered his eyes to the ground and took a seat next to her. A bit unsettled by his new challenge, he removed his glasses and began to wipe them clean with a cloth.

"She's a bit tired Mr. Pryce," Joyce quickly tried to excuse her daughter's impoliteness.

“No bother... I understand the situation," he explained empathetically and looked back to Buffy. "I will help you. I promise.” His voice confirmed his resolve as he smiled sincerely at her and then offered the same gentle expression to her band of friends and family. Buffy's gaze move to his hands and a hint of a smile played along her lips.

<“I know this one Buffy. He’s a prude.”>

Buffy returned her stare back out the window and smiled. ‘He has your nervous habit.’

<”You thought I was uptight? Pah…just wait. I’ll seem like an angel, no pun intended, after a couple days with this... this pillock!”>

‘You’re an angel? I thought you said you were a ghost?’ Buffy cocked her head to one side.

<”I’m whatever you want me to be, love. You called me here.”> Giles knelt beside her and placed his hand tenderly on her knee. She stopped rocking and covered his hand with hers.

<”Now…shall we have some fun with this ponce?”>

Part 2