Buffy charged through the back alley door of the Magic Box and continued through the training room onto the main shopping floor where the Scoobies anxiously waited for her.
“Okay, I’m here. What’s the code red about? Where’s Dawn? What’s she done now?” she rattled on quickly as she approached the circular table surrounded by her friends.
“Not a Dawnster disaster, Buff,” Xander defended. “You can disarm the parental counterstrike.”
“Where’s Giles?” Willow asked as she got to her feet. She was obviously uneasy with her eyes darting back and forth from the Slayer and beyond her.
“Yes, where is Ripper?” a polished British voice replied. Buffy finally noticed the figure standing casually at the counter, arms crossed in expectation.
“Ethan Rayne,” growled Buffy. He seemed thinner than she remembered; face more hollow but colored well from the sun. Too well for what was supposed to be an inmate at Initiative central.
“Ah, so nice to be remembered.” He reconsidered with the dagger glare from the Slayer. “Or perhaps not. In any case, I’d rather hoped to see dear old Rupert… assess his progress and all that.”
“Why is *he* here?” she sneered.
“You got the message there was trouble, right?” Xander asked. With Buffy’s nod, he continued, gesturing to Rayne, “Case in point.”
“I’d like to say how very nice it is to see you again, Buffy, but I’m afraid it’d be blatant misuse of the salutation,” the sorcerer said with crooked smile. “Actually, more like an outright lie.”
“Oh great, and here I was thinking this day couldn’t get any worse. At least I’ll get my jollies turning your face inside out.” Buffy huffed and stormed threateningly towards the cocky mage. He postured defensively as he backed away towards the shop entrance.
“Need I remind you of that pesky Slayer/Council statute? Human remember?” Buffy stopped and crossed her arms in frustration. “And seeing as there aren’t any of those disagreeable toy soldiers to do your bidding this round…”
“Doesn’t mean I can’t kick your criminally chaotic keester out of here. And if you give me any trouble, above and beyond the fact you’ve already irritated us by showing your unwelcome mug here to begin with, Willow has my giddy permission to zap you into the most convenient hell dimension of her choosing. Preferably someplace with lots of torment and brimstone, and elevator Musak.”
“Is that any way to treat a potential client?” Ethan objected, smirking. “I need your help.”
With that, Buffy marched up to and then passed him to glance out the store front window.
“Um, Buff? What are you doing?” Xander asked.
“Checking for flying pigs.” She shot a disgusted glare to Ethan who remained defensively poised beside her. “Oh look, here’s one of the non flying variety.”
“I’m quite serious, Slayer. I’m in need of your services. Aren’t you duty bound to help the hopeless or some such nonsense?”
“Well he fits the hopeless criteria,” Xander shrugged.
“Dear boy,” Ethan chuckled, relaxing a bit and folding his arms before him. “Rupert must be so proud.”
“What, in all our unfortunate history together, gives you the idea I would help you?”
“It’s actually quite the amusing story.”
“I’ll bet not. You know the drill, talk or bleed.”
“I was hired on by some enterprising young associates of mine to help Rupert.”
“Yeah, right. And with friends like you, who needs enemies?” Xander snickered.
“Hardly fair considering his improvement.”
“You’re claiming responsibility for Giles’ progress?” Willow asked doubtfully.
“Of course I can’t take all the glory. Most, but not all.”
“How do I know this is on the up and up? For all I know, you found out about his hospitalization through the local newspaper and hope to milk the news for all its worth. You better have a whole lot more.” Buffy warned.
“Who hired you and why?” Willow asked, stepping up in support of her friend.
“They called themselves the Troika. Nerdy, aspiring super-villian types with plans to rule Sunnydale. No accounting for taste.” Since the Slayer was apparently immune to his jest, Ethan continued. “They offered me a handsome sum to hasten Rupert’s recovery in hopes you’d… well, do exactly what you did, frankly, take on responsibility in caring for him. They figured while you were busy attending to Ripper, it would be open season on Sunnydale.”
“All the robberies reported in the paper,” Willow concluded.
“Their doing, of course,” Ethan confirmed.
“So why are you here… bothering me?” Buffy asked, staring down the sorcerer with an unimpressed expression.
“No honor among thieves, little ponces double crossed me. Set their sites on ridding themselves of Rupert altogether in hopes of sending you spiraling into grief. Didn’t much care for that particular revision of the arrangement so I intercepted a trio of dentally endowed hitmen sent to…”
“It was you that night,” Buffy wagged a finger towards him. “You called me with the heads up. I knew I recognized the voice.”
Ethan grinned as he replied, “I have been told my phone manner is quite pleasant.”
“And the trademark running away was a dead giveaway,” Buffy added.
“Yes well… never been one for confrontations. It’s the ‘dead’ part that tends to disagree with me.”
Buffy lifted her fist ominously within view of the sorcerer. “Too bad ‘cause you’re about to be confronted!”
Ethan’s gaze drifted past her and out the window, his good humor wilting to seriousness. “I think you’d rather help me at present.”
“Give me one good reason why I would?”
“I’ll do you one better, Slayer. Firstly, I helped Rupert. He’d most likely be a vegetable or dead if it weren’t for me and my generous talents.”
“The way I see it, that barely makes us even for all the times you endangered him with your evil schemes and pranks.”
“Granted. Then reason the second…” He motioned out the window. “Not so much pigs but I’d say all hell’s about to break loose, none the less.”
Buffy and Willow followed his direction to see three figures, standing in the shadows of the streetlight across the road.
“Hey… isn’t that Jonathan?” Willow noted.
“And Warren, the creep with the realized Blade Runner fixation. Who’s the twitchy blonde?” Buffy asked, receiving only a shrug from Willow. “I knew you were a blazing coward, Ethan, but really… these are your supposed masterminds?”
With a signal of Warren’s hand, the double doors to three white vans sprang open and wave after wave of assorted hostile demons spilled out to assemble in the street. Four brutish vampires restraining leashed hellhounds surveyed the building as a seven–foot lizard-bear hybrid stretched out its cramped muscles from being compacted within such a confining vehicle. A pair of chaos demons mingled flirtingly with a gaggle of womanly-shaped, fanged, panther demons. Three beasts with humanoid torsos and arachnid bases crawled forward to take position in the front line of the group. Within seconds, the mass formed a small but daunting army.
“Just speculation but I highly doubt the rest of the crew are Sunnydale High alumni,” Ethan suggested with a satisfied grin.
“What is it, Buffy?” Xander rushed to join them at the window and let out a restrained whimper in viewing the growing gang of brutes.
“That would be those double-crossing chaps fancying themselves overlords,” Ethan sighed in frustration.
“Somehow I don’t think Anya’s business insurance covers demon incursions,” Xander groaned. “In multiple.”
“How on earth did those dateless wonders manage to recruit a minion army?” Buffy grumbled. With the release of a lever, she sent the security gate slamming down.
“Same as how they came by my expertise, I’d suspect.”
“You prostitute your magicks to the highest bidder?” Tara gasped, appalled and keeping her space from him as she joined the audience at the shop window. ”That’s incredibly i-irresponsible and immoral.”
“Tara, meet Ethan Rayne,” Buffy said with a disgruntled sigh. “Founder of the Land of the Irresponsible and who inspires me to consider capital punishment with every underhanded visit.”
“ Willow told me about him,” Tara glared narrowly at the sorcerer.
“Pleasure.” Ever the gentleman, Ethan offered his hand.
“Not really,” Tara opposed, crossing her arms defiantly.
“Come now, be reasonable. A man has to make a living for himself.”
“Just as a woman has,” Anya agreed, already gathering up a collection of weapons from behind the counter. “But how am I ever going to when these things keep happening? And I just finished paying off the damages done with the demon motorcycle gang that pillaged the town during Buffy’s nearly botched resurrection.”
“Pity. I miss all the fun,” Ethan lamented.
Dawn came wandering out from the bathroom to see the gang minus one at the window. “Hey Buffy. What’d I miss? Where’s Giles?” She asked.
Before anyone had a chance to respond, the lights went out.
“It’s there in the books, my books,” Giles grumbled. “I used to go with her. She used to let me. I had a job like she did. Now I have nothing.”
He stormed along the sidewalk, eyes glaring out into the night.
“Nothing but… but scars. Scars I got helping her. There to remember that I’m good,” he muttered. “Good at being useless. It’s all she’ll let me be.”
The breeze picked up, sending leaves dancing across Giles’ path, drawing his attention to the gated expanse of the field beside him. He approached the decorative metal and looked beyond it. The landscape was littered with tombstones and crypts. It was a cemetery, the very place Buffy didn’t want him to go. Or maybe it was simpler than that. Maybe Buffy didn’t want him at all. The thought sent an ache through his chest, a hurt worse than the headaches he suffered daily, worse than the hurt of loneliness he still felt even when surrounded by his self-proclaimed family.
“I am not afraid,” he declared to the mysteries lurking within the shadows. Once noticing that the lock was busted, he swung the gate open and defiantly entered the grounds.
Family, at least that’s what they said they are. They said they only want what’s best for him, but they don’t listen. Even when they tried to listen, they didn’t hear him. When he tried to tell them, the words always fell silent on his crippled tongue. It was infuriating. He was angry at the unfair situation, angry at them and angry at Buffy. But most of all, he was angry at himself. There wasn’t a thing he could do about any of it and every second without answers only made it worse. What did they expect from him? They wanted him to read but wouldn’t explain what he’d read. They said he belonged with them but act like everything he did was wrong. Or maybe it’s everything he didn’t do. How would he ever fit in and find his place if they refused to tell him how to do it? Things were so much simpler back at the hospital. He missed the hospital. He missed his friend.
“Giles?” A masculine voice called out from somewhere in the darkness.
“My name is Rupert!” He snapped and turned, fists tight and ready to strike.
“Alright then, Rupert it is. No need to get your knickers twisted,” the spiky-haired blonde responded, keeping his distance.
With recognition of the familiar face and leather trench coat, Giles’ intense features soften. “Oh, Spike. Hello.”
“You’re not going to hug me again, are you?”
“No, I don’t feel much like hugging at the moment.” Giles sighed as he slunk down to the edge of a nearby headstone.
“Thank the Powers for small favors,” Spike mumbled as he puffed his cigarette and glanced around. “So what are you doing strolling about a Hellmouthy hotspot anyway? Does Brigadier Buffy know you’re out here, alone and vulnerable like… you know, in your state of head wound ‘n all?”
“She won’t let me even though I want to,” Giles grumbled. “They treat me as a child and I’m not a child.”
“I’ll second that. You’re much too tall, for one thing and not a speck of fun left in you. But I’m afraid you lost me in the little details there, Rupes. Let’s take it from the top. Buffy won’t let you do what, exactly?”
“Anything,” Giles muttered desperately. “The journals… my journals… they say I used to help her but she won’t let me anymore.”
“Can’t say I blame her, really? You’re not quite at your prime, in Watcherly terms.”
Giles continued on, ignoring his companion. “I told her I’m not afraid and I’m not. I know about the demons, about the vampires. She told me, they all did, as well as the journals.”
“Is that right? What’d she tell you about vampires? Mention anyone in particular?”
“She won’t tell me what I was. I want to help her but… but she won’t let me.” He seemed to sink deeper into his slump, withering in his perch on the tombstone. “I want to be what I was… to her… for her. I want to be what she wants me to be. ”
“Take a number,” Spike rolled his eyes as he let out a frustrated chuckle. “Singing my song.”
Giles peeked up, halfheartedly glancing around then stared puzzled at the vampire. “But I don’t see any numbers and I don’t know your song.”
Spike shrugged it off and with a deep inhale of smoke, explained, “You see, Buffy hasn’t a clue what she wants let alone what she wants of others. Lil’ thing’s all worked up about coming back from the heavenly hereafter. Has her all messed up upstairs,” he gestured with his cigarette to his head. “She’ll come ‘round, I’ll see to it. Until then, best keep your distance of that sinking ship.”
“That’s right, and I’m planning on being the captain that goes down with it else catch a wave and see where it takes us. Either way, bound to be an interesting ride.” He winked and exhaled a billow of smoke that stung Rupert’s eyes.
Giles pushed off from the headstone and stepped in closer to Spike. “I-I don’t understand. You are a vampire.”
“Last time I checked, yeah. What of it?”
“But you aren’t one of the bad men?”
“Who says I’m not?” Spike objected. “Someone talking fluff ‘bout me?”
“No one said it but… but Buffy doesn’t slay you.”
“Buffy said I wasn’t bad?” Spike asked hopefully. “She say anything else? Anything of a positive sort…?”
“Why do you help her?” Giles asked with innocent curiosity.
Spike shrugged, flicked his cigarette butt to the pavement and stomped it out with a boot. “Buffy needs someone. So do I. Seems like a mutually beneficial situation, if you ask me.” He offered a sly grin to his inquisitive companion.
“Why does she let you help her?”
“Let me help her? ‘Let’ may be the wrong choice of word, Rupes.” Spike smirked and began to strut along the cemetery path. Giles hurried along to catch up.
“The Slayer and I… we’re two of a kind, her and me both meant for darkness. Way I figure it, it’s only a matter of time ‘til she sees it, accepts it. I can wait… have all the time in the world if I can keep it going, the world, that is. So what else can I do but help her help the world. In the end, I’ll get what I want.”
Giles came to a halt and Spike paused with notice of his absence. He turned back toward the now sternly featured man. After staring for a long moment at the vampire, Rupert said with helpless disappointment, “You’ll get her.”
“Now you’re getting it, mate.” Spike’s lips spread to a slick grin as he moseyed up to Giles and gave him a friendly nudge to the arm. “You know, for all the brainy, bookish types back at the clubhouse, including the former you, I might add, you’re the only one who’s ever asked why?”
“If you help… if she let’s you, then… then what am I …” And again, Giles struggled to find the right words. “What does she want? What am I to her?”
“Um… well, you’re her Watcher…”
“NO!” Giles shouted, slapping his fist to his thigh to punctuate the emotion of his words. “No. That’s what I was. What am I *now*? What am I to her *now*? What does she want me to be *now*?”
“I don’t know,” Spike responded cautiously, trying to avoid further agitation of his already riled companion. “Not sure there’s a label for it, Rupert. On the one hand, you’re practically blood, you and her. Lil’ bit as well, looking to you in the paternal department.”
“Well yeah. Daddy dearest of sorts, without benefit of the actual bloodline, seeing as how theirs went absentee ages ago.”
“F-father,” Giles stammered. “But, but Anya said I didn’t have children.”
“Wrong again, Rupert. From your disciplining of Dawn to the empty slots of your thinning wallet, you were in the thick of it, mate. That is ‘til your little run in with the All-Star slugger demon.”
“Is that what Buffy wants from me? A father?”
“Don’t know,” Spike shrugged. “But I tell you what, if I ever get the inside line on just what it is that Buffy wants, you’ll be the next to know.”
“I don’t want to be… I can’t be… that,” Giles admitted regretfully.
“No need to work yourself up over it,” Spike directed as he draped a friendly arm around Giles’ shoulders. “You see, what Buffy needs right now is a little eye opener as to what’s best for her. She ought to be sweatin’ holy water ‘bout now wondering where you are. What do you say we swing by my crypt, toss down a few, add a couple hours of worry for the Scoobies to toil over then we’ll get you home in time for the Slayer to go ballistic.”
“Toss down a few what?” Giles asked.
“Just you wait, Rupes. Sure to please and unruffle your feathers.”