I'm releasing this chapter a little hesitantly as it's a load bearing chapter and if I get it wrong I may have to go back and change things (this is unlikely, I hope).
Working My Way Back To You
No characters were harmed in the making of this fic. They do not belong to me, but are the property of Fox Entertainment and Mutant Enemy.
Summary: Spike/Buffy. Post-Chosen, Post Hellbound. What did you think the First Evil was doing after the closure of the Hellmouth? Knitting evil jumpers?
Thanks to myfeetshowit for her beta as usual.
I’m getting too old for this.
Giles put down his heavy book and attempted to stifle a yawn, settling back into the comforting embrace of one of the Retreat’s wide leather chairs. The old, quality hide smelled of luxury and canny occultism: a heavy tang of expensive cigars and herby smoke from powerful spellwork. It was easy to feel invincible in these antique chairs, knowing that from such seats the Council had protected the world for generations, saving people from the dead that did not die and from other entities that wished to pierce the veils between dimensions to invade this one, but their enemy this time was wily, powerful and ancient, and it had already claimed dozens of their lives. They couldn’t allow their victories to make them complacent. The First would regroup and refresh its assault; of that they could be certain.
He hoped that time wouldn’t be right now. He was exhausted. He’d driven through the night, discussing with Willow what they might face and making plans to fight back; and on their return to the Retreat he’d thrown himself into yet more research. But he no longer had Willow’s youthful vigour or Buffy’s relentless stamina; he was well past forty and the adrenalin of the fight was slipping away, his body needed its rest. However, before he had any chance of turning in, he needed to discuss what he’d found with Buffy.
Only Buffy had disappeared. Almost as soon as they had arrived back at the Retreat she had vanished, claiming she needed a shower and a change of clothes. Willow’s magic made the lights work, the kitchens operate and the heating blast much needed warmth into the frigid rooms and the temptation offered by a torrent of hot water from the house’s antique showerheads was too much for Buffy to resist. Giles couldn’t disagree; she’d been covered from head to toe in blood and dirt and god knew what – heaven alone knew what she’d been facing to get that filthy – but he hoped she wouldn’t take long; the Retreat did have rather comfortable beds…
He jerked awake as the door snapped shut. He could only have dozed off for a few minutes as the murky dusk seeping in from between the curtains was still a leaden grey. The new day was not to begin with the golden light of a bright, hopeful dawn, but had started as it meant to go on; with grubby, iron-clad clouds that looked like they had come straight from a Turner painting without stopping for a wash first. A spatter of drizzly rain flecked the window with bitter spittle as the heavy clouds pushed the sky back down onto the earth, blending each to the other with a thin, listless mist. It was a day for planning, not war.
Giles shifted the big book from his lap and placed it on the table beside his half empty teacup, using the movement as an excuse to peer around the edge of the large chair to see the new arrival. He was hoping it might be Buffy, or perhaps Willow returning from the storerooms where the magic supplies were kept, but it was Spike that had breezed into the room from the reception hall. He was heading towards the small, well-stocked bar with a purpose.
Giles had fully expected Spike to have joined Buffy upstairs, but the vampire been prowling the house protectively, looking for any unwanted supernatural guests that remained. Whatever Buffy was doing in her room, the vampire was obviously not invited to share. Giles took that as the small comfort it most definitely was.
"Cosy little pile you got here," Spike said conversationally, but Giles couldn’t miss the unapologetic scowl that accompanied his words, just daring Giles to comment now Buffy was out of sight. There was no love lost in that withering glower and Giles couldn’t blame him; the hostility was entirely mutual. His feelings on the Spike issue were no longer just academic or based on a solid foundation of Council doctrine. His dislike had moved through all of that and had settled into personal.
“The Council has always looked after itself very well,” he reluctantly agreed. For all the Council’s faults, he’d rather not have creatures such as Spike point them out to him.
“Bet it has,” Spike poured himself a generous measure of their finest Scotch without offering to pour a glass for Giles. “Bunch of old gits sitting around with a nice brandy by the fire while the Slayer does all the dirty work for them.”
“Spike,” Giles sighed, retreating back into the chair and pinching the bridge of his nose. “I have no desire to have this argument with you. I agree that throughout much of the Council’s history, the Slayer has been considered an expendable commodity, as I am sure you know all too well. However, our present circumstances, with the hundreds of Slayers that have been called, will give the Council little choice but to change.”
“Yeah, right,” Spike snorted dismissively. “I bet the Council is still full of wankers looking to line their pockets from their old boys club. Can’t see any of the nice stuff filtering down to the rank and file.”
Spike’s all too accurate assessment made Giles grimace, and he was very glad the vampire couldn’t see his face, hidden as it was by the huge leather chair. It made him wonder just how much the undead populace knew about internal Council politics and the secrets that they had fought for centuries to protect. Certainly, Spike was an unusual case in the company he’d kept these past few years in Sunnydale, but it wouldn’t have surprised Giles if he’d known much more than that all along. There were plenty of higher demons that had sought to dabble in Council intrigue just for the fun of it and Spike had always appeared to be reasonably well connected.
He was spared having to reply, and telling Spike about the bursaries he had planned for the younger slayers, by Buffy returning, freshly bathed and clean. She took a seat on the elegant couch by the fire, still running a brush through her long golden hair. Giles didn’t fail to notice the way Spike drifted from the bar to hover nearby. He didn’t join her, Giles noted, as if he was still unsure of how close to her he was welcome to get, but to Giles’s great disappointment he returned the warm smile Buffy gave to him.
If they thought they were fooling him, they were very much mistaken. Whatever was going on between these two was fresh and renewed and so much more relaxed than before, bubbling to the surface in the easy smiles and longing looks they exchanged. If they hadn’t resumed their physical relationship just yet, Giles guessed that it wouldn’t take long. But for all the giddy lightness they were sharing, something was still keeping Spike at a hesitant distance. He could only guess at the cause, but it appeared that the issues between them, some now so painfully old, still remained relevant, preventing the relationship from achieving full bloom. Yet their continuing bond was no secret and hadn’t been for awhile. Everyone who had been living in the over-crowded house on Revello Drive with all the potential slayers had seen the way these two were still attracted each other. With everyone crammed into every last space during that tense time, the sexual tension between the slayer and the vampire had been tangible, sizzling in the air whenever they were in the same room – which was often, as they’d been rarely far from each other.
There had always been only two ways their relationship could go, Giles supposed, and he had been content as long as the seething hatred had been in the ascendant. But those days when he’d thought of the vampire as some sort of Morningstar, beautiful and terrible, charming and evil, with black wings clipped back to a long coat to walk amongst men were long gone. Since then Spike had changed beyond recognition and in Giles’ more whimsical moments even he’d had to confess that he’d considered whether perhaps he’d been wrong. The love between Spike and Buffy was evident in their every interaction, different and deeper than the teen-love she'd shared with Angel, but no less important or heartfelt. They knew each other so well, fighting beautifully as a team, instinctual and well matched. If he still didn't have his doubts over Spike, or if he could somehow stop being a vampire or erase his murderous past, then he would have to reluctantly give his blessing. He didn't have that luxury though; he had a duty to the slayers and to the world. Spike was a killer and whether he repented or not, that would never change. He had the blood of two slayers dripping from his hands, hands that had stripped so many others of their lives without remorse. Such atrocities, committed soulless or not, could never be forgotten.
This additional headache was one he could well do without, what with The First’s return and the Council elections, but this time he wouldn’t interfere, despite the inevitable pain the relationship would eventually bring. Their being together might be against everything he had ever been taught and his own instincts too, slayer and vampire, mortal and immortal, and there was no way any good could come out of this, but he knew his opinions would never sway Buffy once she had made up her mind; maybe this time the headstrong slayer would learn from her mistakes.
But there were more important matters to hand.
Foregoing the large whiskey he felt he needed but feared might send him right back to sleep again, he straightened in his chair and got down to business. On their way back to the Retreat, Buffy had told them more about the return of The First, but not the detail.
“Buffy,” he prompted. “Please start from the beginning. What happened here?”
Buffy put the brush down on the arm of her chair, gently running a finger over the bristles, back and forth, back and forth. “The First, its back and it looks like Spike. I tried but I couldn’t stake it. It has an army and it wants to sacrifice me, but not before it’s played with me first. Is that enough? I thought this was over, Giles! We beat it. We kicked its butt!”
“And you expected it to be pleased about that? The First Evil is a primal force of the universe, Buffy. You cannot defeat it any more than you can defeat death—”
Buffy coughed and Spike raised an ironically quizzical brow.
“…well mostly,” Giles continued. “Eventually death will conquer us all…”
“Even if it takes a couple of attempts, right?” Buffy smiled.
Giles returned her smile with a resigned nod. The less they thought of that, the better.
“So what do we do, Giles? Just accept it’ll win and we die? That’s not really my style.”
“I don’t know. Not yet. The First merely lost the battle in Sunnydale, but this war isn’t over. By calling all these girls as slayers, we may well have disturbed the delicate balance of good and evil. We should have expected The First to retaliate."
“Okay. So why this place?” Buffy gestured to the house and at the dreary landscape outside. “Why lure me out to the land of no shops?”
Lure. Lured. The word sent a chill through Giles as he realised what she was saying. He’d been manipulated into sending Buffy here for a purpose. Suddenly Wyndham-Pryce’s plans became clearer. This wasn’t just a way to bribe him into stepping down from an election; there were deeper conspiracies at work. In the rush to come to Buffy’s aid, Giles had forgotten he’d seen a Bringer bundling Wyndham-Pryce into a car. That was the last he’d seen of the man. Such an action could only mean one thing: The First’s spies had been within the Council all along.
The implications were startling and far-reaching. Had Wyndham-Pryce been conspiring against them? And if so, for how long? Such a betrayal answered questions Giles hadn’t dared ask. As a trusted, senior member of the Council, Wyndham-Pryce could have told The First’s envoys anything without challenge, he may even have planted the bomb that had destroyed their headquarters, slaughtering his own colleagues in return for the Council leadership. The First’s own agent installed as the head of its main opponents.
That thought renewed Giles commitment to ending this war here and now. They could not go on like this, fighting skirmish after skirmish until every one of them was dead. The First could fight a war forever, but they were just mortal people. Even the Council, with its long, long history that wound back to times unrecorded, was just an upstart to such an entity. Somehow their strategy needed to contain a decisive stroke.
“I do believe the reason you’re here is this.” Giles picked up the book he’d been reading and opened it at the page he’d marked. He stretched over and handed it to Buffy.
“The Deeper Well,” Buffy took the book, barely glancing at it before she looked up, preferring her answers to come from him rather than dry, printed words she couldn’t be bothered to read. “The First mentioned that. What is it?”
“It is a burial ground. Of a sort,” he explained, taking a fortifying sip of his lukewarm tea. “Supposedly, a hole in the world so deep it runs right through to the other side. It dates from an age when demons were ascendant on the earth. They would place their honoured dead inside the well to await their rebirth.”
Buffy leant forward earnestly. “These demons, Giles, The First wants to wake them up. This would be bad. Really bad.”
“Indeed it would. The Council is well aware of that. This house was not just built as a training centre, Buffy. It had a very specific secondary purpose: to guard the Well.”
Spike laughed bitterly at that. “Guarding it in comfort. Quite the sacrifice you lot made.”
“Spike, please listen.” Giles would have snapped, but he wasn’t going to give Spike the pleasure. He scratched his head wearily instead. “These demons are the Old Ones, pure demons of untainted blood. They only sleep and in the right circumstances they can be awoken. A being such as The First would gain much from rousing such creatures.”
“By sacrificing Buffy?” Spike interrupted again, edging nearer to her.
Giles nodded gravely; trust Spike to cut straight to the only point that concerned him. “I believe any slayer would be suitable, but as you both have a prior history with The First, it may well be looking for its revenge.”
“I’m sick of The First.” Buffy snapped the book shut and threw it onto the couch beside her. “Can’t we find a way to destroy it or banish it or something?”
"Buffy, The First Evil is a primordial being, part of the fabric of the universe. We cannot destroy it forever any more than we could alter gravity or turn back time. Something about you caught its interest, either your resurrection or the arrival of another souled vampire.” Giles glanced at Spike, who frowned in return. “These are things that are not meant to be. On the most basic metaphysical level, you're both out of your pre-ordained roles and this has disturbed the balance in Good's favour. The First is merely trying to redress that discrepancy."
Spike contemplated his Scotch as he swirled it the around his glass. "So something awful has to happen?"
"Good lord, I hope not.” The thought of that possibility was enough to cause Giles to pale. “Let's just say that the First will return and that we should be vigilant and prepared."
"So, you are saying we should just let it win?" Buffy chipped in.
"It will attempt to press any advantage it can until there is an excess of Evil. Don't doubt that."
“Giles.” She gave him a hard stare. “You’re being avoidy.”
“Buffy, I don’t know all the answers. But the Equinox is tomorrow; we should be as prepared as we can be. I think perhaps now is a good time for us to get some rest. Maybe when—” Giles broke off as he heard voices in the hall.
Before he could react, Buffy had shot to her feet, immediately slipping into a fighting stance, primed and ready for battle. Spike was suddenly at her side, covering her flank; but Giles noticed how much looser his posture was, still deadly but less focused than Buffy’s; seemingly less worried about the potential of a fight.
Curious, Giles stood up and tried to hear for himself what was going on outside the door. The heavy wood muffled the sound and he strained to make out the identities of the speakers. He didn’t doubt that with his sharper vampiric hearing, Spike could hear everything being said, but the only voice Giles could recognise at this distance was Willow’s and he couldn’t hear her well enough to make out what she was saying. At least two males replied, both speaking at the same time, but the frequency of both voices was too low to distinguish their words. By his tone and the way he talked over the other, Giles could tell at least of them was angry.
Then Willow shouted, “Wait!” and the door flew open, smashing back into the wall. For a moment, Angel filled the doorway like a towering thunderhead; his eyes scanning the room for his quarry.
His glare settled on Spike.