Chapter Ninety Five
Buffy looked back to where Xander stood just outside the door, an odd expression on his face. Slayer instincts already on high alert, she pulled a stake from the waistband of her jeans and spun gracefully in a complete circle in a search for some unsensed menace.
“Why do you have a key to Giles’ place?”
Buffy looked down at the keys still resting in the lock, slowly realizing that there was no danger here, just stupidity.
“Geez Xander; could you be any grosser? Obviously I have a set of keys in case the forces of evil rise up and I need to get some serious weaponage.”
Suspicion gave way to concern as his brows furrowed.
“You know, I think that we live in the only place where that’s actually the most likely answer.”
With a small shrug Xander followed Buffy through the house and up to Giles’ bedroom. Throwing open the closet door she began tossing clothes haphazardly to the floor.
“Good thing this stuff doesn’t wrinkle.” Xander muttered as he attempted to avoid the tweed carnage surrounding him. A humiliatingly unmanly squeak ended his commentary on the librarian’s wardrobe as Buffy spun around, the point of the large sword she was holding coming dangerously close to what he’d always considered the most important part of his body.
“Hey! I’m not done using that!”
Smirking at her friend’s outraged tone, Buffy allowed the point of the sword to fall gently to the ground.
“I didn’t know you’d started using it.”
By the time he’d thought up an appropriately scathing reply to the slur on his manly prowess he noticed that Buffy had left the room. Running out to catch up with her he was distracted by the large, gleaming sword.
“Exactly why did we need this sword as opposed to the seventy three others we have back at the safe house?”
With a look of condescension and a tone worthy of Giles, Buffy began her lesson.
“This was the sword that was blessed by the original knight who…”
“Knight who?” He encouraged.
“Yeah; that’s actually when I tuned Giles out. But I’m pretty sure that at the end he said it would kill our friendly, neighborhood Hell demon. I mean that’s got to be why Matthew went to all the trouble of getting it to us.”
Xander’s face twisted at the mention of the young watcher. He knew he was heroic. He knew he’d turned his back on the council. He knew that he’d saved Cordelia. He knew and he didn’t care. Every time he saw him he was filled with an anger that almost bordered on hate. It wasn’t fair, but that Englishman-come-lately got to comfort Cordelia, hold her when she was scared, so Xander wasn’t particularly inclined to be generous to the man.
As they made their way to leave, the sound of a clearing throat had Buffy pivoting once again in search of danger. Only this time she seemed to find it.
Spike wheeled himself into the large room just in time to see Angelus about to do the watcher some serious harm. From what he could see, he’d taken quite a beating, maybe garnered himself a few broken bones, but he was pretty much in one piece. Now he just had to think of how he was going to keep him that way.
The one thing in which Spike had absolute faith in in the topsy-turvy world of the Hellmouth, is that if the librarian was irreparably damaged the slayer would stop at nothing to hunt him down and dust both him and Dru. Luckily, in the absence of a sane sire and thanks to the abandonment of his grandsire, Spike had an uncanny ability to think on his feet…well, in his chair.
“Not that I don’t enjoy the senseless violence thing you’ve got going here, but you know there are other ways to get what you need. Ways that might actually work.”
Normally Angelus would take his time with someone as strong willed as Rupert Giles. In fact, under other circumstances the answers would be secondary; simply a destination that gave the torture context and meaning. But there was no point in dragging out one person’s pain when he could awaken Acathla and unleash pain on every person. The infinite destruction that awaited would even be worth listening to Spike.
Sable eyes tinged with madness clashed with wary blue.
Fighting down a the survival instinct that told Spike that increasing the insanity quotient in the room was a very bad idea, he reached his arm towards the doorway and called out, “Drusilla? Sweetheart? Do you want to play a game?”
As his sire glided in and wrapped her arm around his shoulder, Spike couldn’t help but wonder what the hell was taking the slayer so long. As far as diversions went, this one was fairly suicidal. After all, what did it matter if he saved the watcher from being killed by Angelus only to have him killed by Acathla.
Drusilla knew she needed to do. He sang in her head, his words echoing against the stone in which he was encased. He showed her things; beautiful, terrible things and this battered yet unbroken man before her was the key to make those visions a reality.
She circled the bound watcher, coming to stand before him. Gently she touched his head, smoothing her cool hand over his damp brow.
Her voice was soft and her accent conjured up thoughts of home for the weary Englishman. He knew something wasn’t right, but he’d been swimming in an ocean of agony for so long that he couldn’t quite figure out what it was.
Sliding her hand down across his cheek she pulled back slightly to hold two delicate fingers before his eyes.
“Look at me.”
He knew not to; tried to turn away, but pain left him muddled and the passage of time had beaten down his will.
She was sliding into him or he to her; he couldn’t tell. All Giles knew was that he was falling; too far, too fast. And then he was caught.
Giving Xander a small shove, Buffy placed herself between him and the worst dressed menace she had ever seen.
“Who are you?”
Buffy recognized the name. He’d helped Angel, so she wouldn’t kill him just yet.
“What are you doing here?”
Letting out a small sigh he returned Buffy’s penetrating gaze with a piercing look of his own.
“It wasn’t supposed to go down like this. Nobody saw you coming. I figured this for Angel’s big day. But I thought he was here to stop Acathla, not to bring him forth. Then you to made with the smoochies and now he’s a creep again. Now, what are you prepared to do?”
Quietly fuming, Buffy was rethinking her decision not to slay first and not have to deal with questions later.
“I’ll do whatever I have to.”
“Maybe I should ask, what are you prepared to give up?”
The sword twitched in the slayers hand.
“You don’t have anything useful to tell me, do you? What are you; just some immortal demon sent down to even the score between good and evil?”
His eyebrows shot up in surprise. This slayer was smarter than most.
“Wow. Good guess.”
Buffy wondered if that immortal part was set in stone.. Surely Giles wouldn’t be too mad if she killed this jerk. He’d probably be more mad about having to pick intestines out of his carpet. Thinking about her watcher pissed her off even more.
“Well, why don’t you try getting off your immortal ass and fighting evil once in a while? ‘Cause I’m sick and tired of doing it myself.”
Okay, maybe she wasn’t that smart.
“In the end, you’re always by yourself. You’re all you’ve got. That’s the point.”
Taking exception to that, Xander stepped from behind Buffy.
“You’re wrong. She has us.”
Buffy cringed. She’d been so caught up in her frustration that she’d forgotten all about Xander standing there as she went off about having to do everything herself.
The demon rolled his eyes.
“Save the sentiment for Hallmark, kid. You’re the sidekick here, not the hero. You can walk any time you want and the story goes on, But you,” he turned to Buffy, “without you there’s no tale to tell. That’s why it will never let you go. No matter what you do or where you go, it’s in you. Fate, destiny, shitty luck; call it what you want, but you can’t escape it.”
Xander watched some of the fight go out of Buffy at those ominous words. This kind of help they didn’t need. Buffy might be the Chosen One, that wasn’t all that she was. At the end of the day, when all the fighting was done, Buffy was a young woman, and if she did have to be alone as a slayer she didn’t have to be alone as a girl. Maybe he couldn’t fight like a slayer and maybe he hadn’t memorized a set of supernatural encyclopedias like a watcher, but he could be something Buffy needed just as much. He could be a friend.
This time it was his turn to place himself between the other occupants of the room.
“Well, aren’t you just a demony ray of sunshine. You know, there’s a reason people shoot the messenger. While we appreciate your underwhelming support, if you done making sure we find the cloud in every silver lining we’re just gonna go and actually do the things you just talk about.”
Buffy’s spine straightened at Xander’s words. He was right; they had real things to do. But once again her exit was stalled by their uninvited guest.
“The sword isn’t enough. You gotta be ready. You gotta know how to use it.”
The dark vampiress smiled as she heard a woman’s name slip from the bound man’s lips.
“Yes. See with your heart.”
And he did. There, in front of him, was the woman who had dug herself a place so deep inside him that even the explosive revelations of a myriad of secrets hadn’t been enough to shake her loose.
“Oh Jenny. Thank God. We have to get out of here.”
A small yet firm hand kept him from trying to rise from the chair despite the ropes binding him.
“Slowly, love. Slowly.”
He settled under the soothing touch.
“Jenny, we have to stop him. We have to…we must get get him away.”
Tender lips whispered against his.
“Away from what, my love? How can I help you if I don’t know what to do?”
Help; yes, he needed help. Jenny would help him and he was so very tired.
“We have to get Angel away from Acathla.”
He struggled to say more, but reason were fleeting taking words with it.
“Angel himself? He’s the key?
He was so glad Jenny had come for him. She’d always understood. With a small sigh of relief he confirmed his thoughts to which she’d given voice.
“Yes. H-h-his blood…H-he mustn’t…”
A soft cheek rubbed against his then pulled away. As the chill air rushed to fill the empty space around him, his eyes snapped open. Pain rushed through his body, once again, and yet it was dwarfed by the agony of his soul as his beloved’s face faded into that of his enemy and he realized that he’d just doomed them all.
The grinding of Buffy’s teeth was almost audible.
“If you have something useful to say then cut the pompous crap and spit it out.”
“Angel’s the key.” Whistler waited for a reaction, but the slayer just stared, her grip on the sword flexing in a silent but effective threat. “His blood will open the door to Hell. Acathla opens his big mouth and creates a vortex. Then only Angel’s blood will close it. One blow will send them both back to Hell. But I strongly suggest that you get there before that happens, ’cause the faster you kill Angel, the easier it’s gonna be on you.”
She’d known it would come down to this, but it didn’t make it any easier to hear.
“Don’t worry about me.”
He might not have shown it, but how could he not? “It’s all on the line here kid.”
“I can deal.” She had to believe that. “The world’s about to end; there’s nothing left to lose.”
As Whistler watched them stride purposefully through the door he finally let the worry show on his face.
“Wrong, kid. There’s one more thing.”
“We have to start.”
“Were can’t start without Giles!”
Willow had been listening to this same argument for almost thirty minutes now. About an hour after Buffy left to look for Giles they had all realized that something was wrong. Not only had Giles not returned at the appointed time, but he hadn’t contacted them. And if Buffy had found him where he was supposed to have been then they would have made it back twice over.
So back and forth it went. Matthew saying the needed to start and Jenny demanding that they wait. In her mind Willow sided with Jenny. She’d do so out loud, but as the argument grew more and more heated she was afraid of becoming its first casualty. After all, Matthew was needed to help protect Cordelia, and there was no way they could do the spell without Jenny, so technically, she was the only expendable person in the room.
Willow knew that she was probably overreacting, thinking of a ridiculously improbable, worst case scenario; but in a town where teachers were giant bugs, the local teen hang out was infested with vampires, and she and Cordelia had actually become sort of friends it was clear that anything was possible. So in the interest of her continued well being she let the two adults have it out.
They were almost toe to toe and, as Matthew took a step closer and lifted his arm, Willow was afraid that it was going to get physical. That situation she’d get involved in regardless of safety. But as she started to rise from the sofa she saw Matthew’s hand come down gently on Jenny’s shoulder.
“I know you’re worried, Jenny. I am too. Having Giles here is definitely the optimal situation for recasting the curse. But he’s not here and we’re running out of time. I know that none of us want to entertain the thought, but it must be considered that if Giles didn’t return it was because he was prevented from doing so.”
Willow knew that he was right; no one had wanted to mention the fact that Giles might have been taken…or worse.
“I’ve known Rupert Giles for a number of years now, and he’s a survivor; and more than that, Angelus will probably keep him alive for the twisted joy of making him watch the world end. I believe that, wherever her is, he’s alive. But I don’t believe for one minute that he’s safe.”
Willow winced. She’d been reassured by the first part of the watcher’s impassioned speech, but the thought of Giles being hurt was unbearable. It was the same with all of her friends. She was a worrier; she couldn’t help it. Her parents weren’t very, well…parental. For a long time all she’d really ever had was Xander and Jessie, and because she had so few people to care about she lavished all of her love on them. So now, even though she had more people in her life, she didn’t know how to care about them any other way but than with everything in her. And considering that they lived on a Hellmouth and were, therefore in constant danger, she was always in a state of worry. She wasn’t sure, but she suspected that the recent pain in her stomach might be the beginning of an ulcer. Which worried her. Irony was a bitch.
“Jenny, Buffy says she’s ready to take on Angelus, and we all hope she’s right, but it’s not something on which I’m willing to risk Rupert’s life. This spell may be the only chance he has. Of course I’d rather he was here. His experience would be invaluable. But he’s not, and instead of preventing us that is the very reason we need to go forward. His life could depend on this. Everyone’s lives could.”
Watching as her mentor’s shoulders slumped, Willow knew that the arguing was over; Matthew had won. But she still wondered how they’d manage with just two people.
“But we need three people for the spell.”
The young girl smiled as her teacher gave voice to her very own thought. But her grin was wiped away with Matthew’s solution.
“Willow can help.”
On the list of really bad ideas that should never be spoken of aloud, Willow thought that might be number one…and number seven…and maybe number fifteen. It was such an incredibly bad idea that it was probably on the list a lot. Sure, once she’d learned of the world of magic she’d dabbled. Who wouldn’t? Floating pencils was cool. Invoking ancient spirits to rain vengeance down upon your enemy was…not.
“No way. These are powerful magiks. There are some doors that are better left closed.”
Willow nodded vigorously. She was unspeakably glad that they were on the same wavelength tonight.
“Yes,” Matthew stated dryly. “And chief among those would be the ones leading to Hell dimensions. You know that if there was any other way I’d never suggest this; but we’re desperate here. This is dangerous, but do you think that it’s any more so than living on the Hellmouth or being best friends with the slayer?”
Jenny was about to argue but Willow broke in.
“He’s right. I take my life in my hands just going to the Bronze. You know once I was almost killed by a guy who asked me to dance. Well, not a guy guy – I mean a live guy – and so not the point,” she mumbled, embarrassed by her well-honed ability to verbally stray off course. “Even if it wasn’t the entire world in danger, it’s Giles. That makes it more than worth the risk.”
Jenny gave a terse nod of her head; acceptance, but not approval of the plan. Willow watched her walk over to where the necessities for the spell were laid out. Picking up the orb, she sat down in the designated circle, motioning for them to do the same.
“Okay, let’s get started.”
Buffy and Xander slowed down as they reached Crawford Street. Xander wasn’t surprised by the pensive look on his friend’s face. Given the circumstances he’d be shocked if she freaking out completely and thinking about what Aruba might look like at this time of year. Oh, wait…that was him.
“I’m not worried, you know.”
He realized that he must not have been all that subtle what with the staring and the concerned looks.
“Really?” he tossed back. “’Cause it sure looks like your wearing your worried face.”
Her lips quirked. “Yeah, well it was the only one I had clean.”
They walked a little further in silence.
“I’m really not worried about this Xander. Go in, get the bad guy, get out. We do that almost every night. What’s really bothering me is what excuse I’m gonna give my mom for being home late again tonight.”
Xander understood. It would be hard enough for her to do this once without having to to go over it in her mind time and again. If she needed her head to be somewhere else for a moment he could do that for her.
“So, what are your choices?”
“Well,” her teeth worried her lower lip as if in deep thought. “I think I’m down to a mild case of mad cow disease or a wolf gnawed of my right foot.”
Xander made a show of giving the matter careful consideration.
“Won’t she notice that both your shoes are full?”
“Yeah.” Buffy blew out on a long suffering sigh. “I hadn’t actually worked that part out yet.”
They stopped as the mansion came into sight and turned to face each other. The time for levity was over.
“You’re not here to fight. You get Giles out and you run like hell, understood? I can’t protect you.” She unwrapped the jacket she’d been using to conceal her sword and headed towards the stone edifice. “I’m going to be to busy killing.”
She’d closed down. He knew it was what she had to do to get through this. And just as Xander had assisted her denial so he supported her acceptance.
She stopped at his call but didn’t turn.
“Kick his ass.”
And with a nearly imperceptible nod, she was gone.
Cordelia had listened to the fight from her somewhat concealed position at the top of the stairs. The part of her that was desperately worried about Giles was angry that the debate had taken as long as it had; but the part of her that was so deeply bound to Angelus wished the matter had never been settled.
As Matthew’s loud, clear voice reading the required Latin text signaled the beginning of the ritual, Cordelia felt a cold dread building in her chest. She knew that this was necessary, but as each word passed the crushing pressure grew and though she would do nothing to interrupt it, she began to wonder if she would be able to survive Angel’s return.
Spike didn’t like being scared. He enjoyed being scary, but since the day he was turned fear just wasn’t his thing. Which is why he was sure that what he was feeling at that moment wasn’t the first stirrings of terror. But he was demon enough to admit that it was something damn close.
He watched as the creepy smile slid back onto Angelus’ face as he leaned over the horror-stricken watcher.
“Your help’s been invaluable, Rupert. As a thank you, you can be the first human to greet Acathla on his awakening.”
As Angelus strode past him to begin the ritual, Spike had to shove down the urge to stick out one of his supposedly useless legs, trip his nutty grandsire, and see if the resulting shock would give him enough time to stake the bastard. It was an idiotic plan, most likely destined for failure, and Spike was surprised he could resist. He tended to fly by the seat of his pants most of the time, more because it was fun than effective, but this was just too important for his customary cavalierness. Of course, if the slayer didn’t show up in the next three minutes it would definitely be his plan B.
By the time he’d rolled his way into the room Angelus was standing before the entombed demon in preparation for the ritual. Since no one was facing him he felt safe in sneering at the two minions gazing in awe at Angelus as if he was some sort of visionary instead of a bloody lunatic. Even his princess was wearing a look of besotted anticipation; but since she’d never been wrapped to tightly he didn’t hold it against her. It was all part of her appeal…except when she was helping to end the world. Then it was mildly annoying.
Vampire senses were greatly enhanced, and not just those that they had while human. Being creatures so deeply connected with mystical forces made them more sensitive to the fluctuations in mystical energy patterns. Spike could feel a shift in the pulsing flow at that moment and the force of it was making him slightly sick. Suddenly Angelus’ deep voice filled the room, the dark tones resonating in the vast, stony space.
“Acathla…Mundatus sum…pro te necavi.”
Latin. Nothing good ever came from it’s use.
“Sanguinem meum…pro te effundam…”
Spike slowly moved his feet to the floor as Angelus started to move towards Acathla. Slayers were apparently like cops, he thought snidely. There’s never one around when you need them.
“Quo me dignum…esse demonstrem.”
He shifted forward in his chair Since almost all of the minions had been sent out to waylay the slayer after the watcher had been captured, and the three that were left were focused on the spectacle before them, Spike had the freedom to maneuver himself next to the fireplace. With no way to sneak up behind him and blunt instruments at his fingertips, it was a strong tactical position. No matter what happened he couldn’t let Angelus put his hand to that sword. Now he just had to figure out how to prevent that without getting his head ripped clean off his shoulders; because there was one thing Spike knew for sure – he might be able to delay Angelus, but nothing less than a slayer was going to stop him.
Keeping his gaze fixed the demon, Angelus held out his hand to Drusilla who reverently laid a knife in it.
“You shall be free.”
The blade slid across his palm, leaving a swell of blood in it’s wake.
“And so shall we all.”
The knife fell to the floor as he reached out for the sword.
A muffled choking sound broke the stillness and Spike was covered in a fine layer of ash that used to be a minion. Apparently the slayer had arrived and her voice was as cold and empty as Angelus’ had been maniacal.
“Not dead…nor not of living. Spirits of the interregnum, I call.”