Letting Go part 5/6
Notes: Single quotes are thoughts. <> Represent unearthly voices.

The old mansion was just as Buffy remembered it, creepily esoteric and full of bad memories. As she walked through its main room, she noticed how clean the interior seemed. The midnight garden seemed alive with dark colors and shady beauty. Someone had to be taking care of the place. Perhaps it had new tenants of the undead kind.

'That would be helpful.' Buffy stepped into the small backroom where Giles had been left bloodied and tortured to death. Her heart sank as she knelt down and gently placed her hand on the cold floor where his blood still stained the stone. Why would someone take care of the old place yet leave a dreadful memento of the tragic events that had occurred there five months previously? She stood up and took a deep breath, trying to banish the vision of Giles cold corpse in her arms.

"He wasn't supposed to die."

Buffy recognized the voice and lowered her head, her eyes fixated on the stain again. 'That'll work too. Killing me would be like giving Spike a Christmas present.'

The red glow of a cigarette cut through the shadows in the corner of the room as Spike's face illuminated with each drag. He cautiously stepped out of the darkness and smiled, standing at a safe distance from the Slayer.

" 'ello cutie. Heard you've been a bit under the weather. Thought I'd pay you a little visit." He slowly began to move in a wide circle around her, watching her ignore him and continue to stare at the stained floor. His eyes looked her up and down, filled with curiosity at her odd behavior.

'Come on Spike...you know you wanna.' She sighed impatiently and tried to prevent herself from looking him in the eye, wanting to seem as helpless as she could.

Assured of Buffy's disadvantage, he finally approached her with a grin and let his finger trace along her arm, across her shoulders and down her other arm as he continued his jaunt around her.

"Rumors are true. Slayers a couple pints shy of a transfusion. Lovin' it!" He stood before her and licked his lips, savoring her weakness. With a deceptively tender hand, Spike lifted Buffy's chin to make her face him eye to eye. His features transformed to the demon and he whispered, "I've been waiting for this."

'Bring it deadboy!' She held her breath as Spike leaned in for the kill. His frigid lips embraced her neck and she felt the tickle of his fangs as he slowly scraped her skin. An unwanted image of Angel flashed into her mind and Spike pulled away. His features mellowed and his eyes darted around the room. Running his fingers brusquely through his hair, he took a few steps back.

"Not right." He began to circle her again, impatient with his uneasiness. "You're the bloody Slayer...all Chosen One and such. Now look at you." He paused and waved a finger at her. "You're a vegetable. It's not how I picture this at all."

'I can't even get Spike to kill me.' Buffy rolled her eyes and sat down on the floor, disappointed by the sudden turn in events.

"It was Angel you know...did the old man in. I tried to stop 'em but he wouldn't have it. Had to have his fun. Like he did with Drusilla. Now she won't even give me the time of day. Which is a big deal cause there's not much to do during the day when you're a vampire." Spike looked miserably at Buffy and sat down a few feet from her.

'Spike...kill me or I swear, I'll...I'll...I'll do something really bad to you.' For once Buffy was glad she couldn't speak.

"Ain't we a pair," Spike snickered, lighting up another cigarette.

'This is going to be a long night.' Buffy sighed.

The forceful knock at the door immediately put Joyce and Cordelia on edge.

"I thought we might have more time." Cordelia looked at Joyce who shrugged nervously.

"Just try to keep me from killing these bastards, ok?" Joyce tried to smile but found it difficult to hide her anger toward the people she was about to confront.

With a quick wink of false confidence, Cordelia went to the front door and took a deep breath.

"Here goes nothing." She opened the door to three tall, dark and imposing businessmen and one shorter older man who seemed rather unimpressive and quite unpleasant. "Hello."

"Mrs. Summers?" The shorter man asked, looking past Cordelia. Joyce stepped into view and nodded.

"Yes, how can I help you?" She glanced at Cordelia who listened carefully for any slip of the tongue. They had to play ignorant of the situation to keep themselves safe. Being polite and ditsy was the best bet since the council knew very little about Cordelia and Joyce.

"I am Mr. Travers, an old friend of Mr. Giles and Mr. Pryce. May we come in?" The shorter man spoke politely but both women sensed the menace behind his words. He exuded deviousness.

"Yes, of course. Please come in." Joyce flashed her finest counterfeit smile, the one she used at the gallery for rich patrons.

Cordelia followed suit and moved aside, waving her arm as a welcome for them to enter. "And who might these handsome gentlemen be?" She asked, closing the door behind her. Joyce almost giggled at the young woman's flirtatious question.

"That's of no importance, Ms. Chase." Travers examined the establishment with little interest. He stepped in just enough to allow room for his companions, giving off the sense he was planning on leaving shortly.

"Then what is, exactly?" Joyce said, catching the widened eyes of Cordelia urging her to stay in character.

"I need to see Buffy on Council business. It's of an urgent nature, Mrs. Summers."

"Of course it is. I'm afraid she's napping right now. Feel free to come in and relax a little while. I can make some tea for you and your associates." Joyce didn't wait for an answer; she brusquely walked into the kitchen. Cordelia smiled feebly at the group and waved them toward the living room.

'I must seem like an auto magazine model to these guys. Giving them my best feature accenting gestures.' Cordelia followed behind the men as they stood at attention in the living room, watching Travers look at various photos and knick-knacks on the mantel.

"So, how long will you be in Sunnydale?" Cordelia couldn't think of what to do, how could she keep them busy.

"Where is Mr. Pryce this evening?" Travers asked, inspecting a group photo of Buffy and her friends.

"That's one of my favorites. I was having a great hair day." Cordelia rushed up to Travers and pointed out her hair. "See how the light makes it, like...glow? Now Buffy's not quite so lucky in this one. But this one is fabu..." She tried to hand another photo to the growingly impatient man.

"Where's Mr. Pryce?"

Joyce finally returned with a tray full of cookies and tea. The larger gentlemen grinned and eyed the cookies wantonly. Travers shook his head in disapproval but accepted the cup of tea Joyce offered him.

"Mr. Travers was just admiring some of your lovely photos." Cordelia smiled and took a cookie, taking a little nibble and acting like it was the best thing since the Wonder Bra.

"Oh, perhaps you might like to see some family albums. I have some wonderful shots of Buffy in LA." Joyce rushed off to grab her collection, not letting Travers object.

Cordelia smirked at Joyce's enthusiasm. 'This might just work.'

"Um, Wesley...Giles...whoever! You've gotta get a move on if we're going to catch up with the Buffster." Xander hurried out of the van and headed toward the mansion with Oz keeping close pace. Wesley moved achingly slow, hunched over with his arm wrapped across his abdomen in obvious discomfort.

"Wesley, you're not doing so good here." Willow tried to offer assistance but Wesley shied away from her outstretched arm.

<"You're body is rejecting my influence; the possession's straining your metabolism."> Giles could sense the organs struggling to keep the body warm.

'No bother. Find Buffy.' Wesley's teeth chattered as he tried to hasten his stride.

"Is Giles doing this to you? I mean...not on purpose or anything." Willow insistently wrapped her hands around his free arm, trying to lend her support to the trembling man.

<"You'll freeze to death.">

"Will the others be able to communicate with you if we separate?" Wesley didn't realize he'd spoken.

<"No...my power is weak as it is.">

"Giles...you have to get outta him." Willow stopped and held Wesley in place, looking worriedly into his eyes.

"No deal. Find Buffy first!" Wesley insisted and stumbled over his own foot, falling hard to his knees.

<"You're no good to Buffy dead."> Giles concentrated, taking control of Wesley's tired body. "Xander..." he whispered through clenched teeth.

Oz's acute wolf-like hearing caught the faint sound and called the fallen man to Xander's attention. They rushed back to the shaking Watcher.

"Wesley's body can't deal with the possession. We must separate." Giles voice startled the friends for a moment as Wesley looked up at them with a weary glance. "I'm quite certain I haven't the strength to take possession of his destabilized form again so this is where we'll say our good-byes." Giles encouraged Wesley to stand up and smile at his friends, urging them to come forward.

Willow unexpectedly embraced Wesley, taking him by surprise and Giles could feel the flush of embarrassment rush over him. She began to cry as Giles guided Wesley's arm to hold her closer.

<'Get into it old man...the heat will do you good!'> Giles thoughts urged Wesley, wanting desperately to express his pride and love for the young lady he'd come to think of as his apprentice of sorts.

"I'm so proud of you, Willow. You're an amazing young woman. Thank you for all you've done." Giles voice faltered into Wesley's customary tone when he felt overwhelmed with the emotion of the scene.

Xander felt his eyes tear and couldn't hold back from wrapping his arms around the pair; bear hugging them together.

Oz considered his proper station in this emotional moment and felt more secure as an observer than a follower. His job was to be there for Willow when Giles had gone, ready to console her.

"I'm just glad we had a chance to say g-goodbye this t-time." Willow sobbed as she slowly pulled away from the familiar stranger. Xander let Willow duck out of the hug and quickly slipped into her place.

"I'm sorry I..." Xander choked up, "...I didn't..."

"Thank you Xander. You are a courageous hero, and a faithful friend." Giles wouldn't allow the young man a chance to lessen his role in Buffy's life. This gang of wily teenagers has battled the end of the world and come out victorious on more than one occasion, more than he could say about any pathetic Watcher's Council.

Xander suddenly realize that he was hugging another man and released his hold, taking a few steps back and rubbing the mist from his eyes.

Oz gave a little nod towards Giles current form. "Thanks for stopping by. It's been real." Oz smirked, a surprising show of emotion from a normally reserved soul.

<'Wesley...take care of them. They are the true passionate champions of this noble cause.'> Giles thought as he took one last look at the group of friends.

'I promise to do my best.' Wesley thought, wishing he'd been able to give them more time.

"Until we meet again." Giles smile shone through the young man's features and he freed his hold on Wesley's exhausted body. The Watcher slumped to the ground, completely drained by the strain of supporting Giles spirit. He took some deep breaths, trying to expel the remaining chill from visitor's inhabitation.

"Is he...?" Willow whispered sorrowfully.

Wesley nodded, "Yes. It's just us I'm afraid." He stumbled to his feet and brushed the dirt from his jeans. "Now, let's find Buffy." He tried to flash a reassuring smile but felt hard pressed to back it up with any real confidence.

They walked to the mansion, Oz comforting Willow as Xander gave himself some breathing room from the group to consider his farewell with Giles. They were given a chance to do something they had dearly missed and now he felt it still wasn't enough. He didn't get to say what he'd really felt and he knew Willow had to feel the same. His only comfort was Giles last words, "Until we meet again." Xander silently vowed they would.

With the presentation of the fourth family photo album, Travers had enough and stood up, pointing at each of his associates, "Check the first level rooms. You, the kitchen and basement. You, come with me." He walked toward the stairs with his lackey trailing.

"Uh...w-where are you going? We're only up to third grade?" Joyce followed him, pointing for Cordelia to keep an eye on the other two.

"Boys, let me give you the guided tour!" Cordelia yelled, running to catch up.

As Travers hit the third step, a ringing sound caught the remaining people's attention. He pulled back his raincoat and unclipped a cell phone from his belt.

With a quick flip to open the mouthpiece, he pushed a button, "Travers."

Joyce watched with breathless anticipation, hoping the call was a long one so she could regroup and come up with another distraction.

"I see. Hold positions until I arrive." Travers closed the phone and slid it into a pocket. "Harrington, get the others." He ordered and the large companion rushed off to retrieve his fellow council members.

"Thank you for the informative visit. We found what we've come for." The three men marched in from their separate locations and continued out the front door with a military flare. "Good evening." Travers said with a subtle grin, displaying to Joyce his recognition of their distractive techniques.

Cordelia came back into the room with a confused expression. "That was abrupt. What happened?"

"The short one got a call. I think they know where Buffy is. Should we follow them?" Joyce waited for some clear answer that Cordelia was hesitant to give.

"What if it was just another wild goose chase? Could have been Wesley trying to mess them up. What if Buffy comes back here and no ones home? What if..."

"You're not helping!" Joyce closed the door and put a finger to her mouth, nibbling at the edge of a fingernail. "I really want to go. So that means we should stay...right?"

"I think so." Cordelia agreed sheepishly.

"Coffee?" Joyce needed something to do and making coffee would give her that five-minute distraction she and Cordelia could really use in their powerless moment.

"Tea?" Cordelia smiled, it seemed more fitting, she didn't really know why.

".... So she left me...for a Chaos Demon. Have you ever seen a Chaos Demon? Said she couldn't face what I'd become." Spike lit up another cigarette and puffed away as he continued to pace the same path he'd been pacing since Buffy sat down. "Women...I don't get 'em."

'Where's the Council when you need them.' Buffy lay flat on her back, staring at the ceiling of the mansion, counting support beams for the tenth time.

"Buffy?" Xander's voice echoed through the mansion and Buffy sat up at attention. Spike glanced quickly in the direction of the voice and then at Buffy.

"Ms. Summers, are you here?" Wesley yelled.

"We know about Giles." Willow's voice quickly followed.

"Oh great. It's a party." He turned to escape into the shadows but noticed Buffy following him. "Stay! Good Slayer." He commanded as if she were a dog. She rolled her eyes and walked past him, hurrying to avoid her friends. Spike took hold of her arm and swung her to face him.

"What's the score here? You're buggin' outta here like there's a sale at the local hunting shop." He asked, hearing the footsteps of the intruders getting closer.

The Slayer's friends blazed into the room with stakes and swords in hand. He tucked back in the shadows, forcing Buffy into his arms and covered her mouth. He noticed one guy in the trio that struck him as out of place. Not a familiar Slayerette from his experience.

'Spike, don't even think of it. You wouldn't get two feet...' Buffy felt Spike's grip lessen and he turned her toward him. "New Watcher?" He mouthed.

Buffy's eyes narrowed at Spike's perceptiveness. 'Don't!' She thought, wishing she could speak.

"She doesn't seem to be here. Perhaps Giles was wrong?" Wesley frowned at his suggestion.

"No. She was here. Look for clues." Willow insisted.

"Like what? A bright flashing neon sign saying 'Buffy was here'?" Xander teased.

"Is this how you usually work?" Wesley was unsure of the nature of the comments, he hoped it was all to lighten the mood.

"Disturbing, isn't it?" Oz said with a grin.

"Quite!" Wesley said, relieved at the reaction from his newfound friends. He could get use to this witty banter.

The room exploded into a sea of activity as figures covered in military style garb infiltrated the room with precision marked by true professionals. Xander, Willow, and Oz looked nervously at Wesley for some sign of how to react. The Watches face fell in disappointment and he closed his eyes.

"Council," he whispered it as if admitting defeat that they hadn't reached Buffy before the special units team.

The others froze in there tracks, waiting to see how the heavily armed figures would react. As Travers made his entrance, Wesley stood up at attention purely out of habit. He relaxed his stance after realizing he was long past upholding the Council's supposed high moral standards.

"Travers...what brings you here?" Wesley tried to play coy.

"Pryce...I feared you'd be manipulated by Giles writings." Travers scrutinized the young Watcher with a critical eye. "We have a mission to uphold. Where is the Slayer?"

"Haven't a clue." Wesley almost spat the words. Xander, Willow, and Oz watched the confrontation with increasing uneasiness. Buffy was nowhere to be found, the Watcher's Council was hunting for her and they were in the line of fire.

"Such devotion. I really must meet this young lady." He nodded to a black draped figure that struck Wesley in the stomach with the butt of a rifle. "Where?"

Wesley fell to a knee and clutched his wounded side, gasping to catch his breath. He raised a hand to stop Oz and Xander from acting. "Haven't a clue." Wesley coughed.

"Who might this be?" Spike whispered in Buffy's ear. "Look like a bit of fun to me."

'You're crazy. There's too many of them.' Buffy thought, suddenly realizing Spike was searching for the same release as her.

"What do ya say? Blaze of glory, luv?" Spike looked down at the Slayer with a knowing smile.

'Read my mind big boy!' She smiled in return.

Part 6...