Ring of Fire 2/5

This entry is part 2 of 5 of the story Ring of Fire

~*~
Chapter 2
~*~

“Giles!” Buffy threw herself into his arms nearly knocking him to the ground.

Buffy babbled into the older man’s shoulder hugging him as if he’d been the one to return from the dead much to his pleased embarrassment. The whole way back to Sunnydale Giles had worried at his reception. He had rather harshly pushed Buffy away from him in his desire to leave the scene of his greatest mistake for fear she would talk him into staying. He had been shamed at his cowardly retreat ever since.

He had let Buffy die and for that he held no forgiveness for himself, he never would. It wasn’t that his Slayer and daughter of the heart had died in battle, that he had always known to be a possibility. It was lack of information, the Watchers prime job, that had led to Glory getting as far as she did. It was also his getting wounded that had opened the door for Glory in the guise of Ben to walk into that abandoned petrol station and take Dawn. The whole fiasco had been his fault. Buffy had paid the ultimate price for his lacking.

Going back to London tail tucked had seemed a good idea at first. Buffy didn’t need him, not the failed Watcher he had turned out to be. He only brought problems to her. Maybe in London, he had convinced himself, he could study at the vast Council library, relearn what he needed to be a proper Watcher. Perhaps he could research more about things that might impact his so special Slayer.

She was special. Her presence had been hidden from the Council by the Powers after all. Unlike most Potentials she had come out of the blue with her calling. There had to be some reason for that! Certainly her career thus far marked her as unique. If he was ever to be a help to Buffy he needed to get up to speed. There was more to do, likely there always would be but Giles felt a bit better equipped. Now if only the girl could bring herself to trust him once more, not that he deserved it.

He’d been so focused on his own issues he had missed the signs that his beloved Buffy was far too fragile to be deserted at that point in time. He’d flagellate himself over that miscalculation the rest of his life as he would for the elements that had led to her death the previous year. Two years of wrong choices on his part had taken their toll on them both.

Buffy was muttering something that sounded like a litany of apologies for Lord only knew what.

“My dear girl. Of course I’m not disappointed in you. I am terribly sorry if I ever gave you that impression.”

“Little more than an impression Giles.” Buffy reminded him of his less than finest hour. “I think you said something about my having to be forced to stand alone, that you were tired of always being my go-to guy.”

“That’s not precisely what I said and if that is how it came across I am dreadfully sorry, Buffy. Aside from my personal feelings for you I am still your Watcher. Of course you should rely upon me if for no other reason than that.” Giles ducked his head in shame. “The truth is that I was not dealing with either your loss or return very well. I turned craven and ran.”

“That’s all right Giles, why should you stay around.” Buffy started to turn away.

“That’s just it Buffy, I want to be here. I was not able to deal with standing by and watch you have to deal with death, risking death again night after night. Losing you was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure.”

“Giles, my best chance of staying alive is to have you here. You and the Scoobies; all my friends and helpers, you are what has gotten me this far. Don’t you see that?” She sniffled into his shoulder. “I’ve made a mess of things since you left. I’ve used people, hurt those who love me, ignored others, been a half-assed Slayer, I’m being defeated by three human nerds for the love of God! I’m tired all the time and can’t seem to feel much of anything except anger.”

Giles patted her back awkwardly, “Admitting these things at least show you are starting to come out of the worst of it though. You are beginning to recognize others and their needs. That’s a first step. With me here to help perhaps you can get your feet beneath you once again and start to heal.”

“I’m sorry Dawn guilted you into coming back. That whole thing is all taken care of, I didn’t kill the girl and only one Slayer is still in jail. It’s a long story that can wait until you get settled in.” She took a deep breath, “So you aren’t leaving again?”

“Not unless you truly wish me to leave. I was going to come back for Xander and Anya’s wedding at any rate, test the waters so to speak. Dawn’s call merely hastened my travel plans.”

Giles looked at his obviously tired Slayer and felt his heart break a bit. She had been so heavily laden with burdens for so long and had precious little help of late thanks to him and his cowardly flight. At least some good had come from his time spent in London.

“Before I beg your pity upon the jet-lagged I do have some news that cannot keep. Perhaps we could sit though and even move from the doorway?” He grinned at the realization that he had hardly crossed the threshold before having an arm full of his Slayer.

Buffy blushed, “Sure. We even still have furniture and everything!”

“A perfect segue actually.” Giles settled in the armchair and waited for Buffy to sit across from him.

“While in London I want you to know that you were never out of my mind. In fact I took it upon myself to see if I could ease your life in some manner. After a bit of crafty negotiation mixed with a liberal dose of blackmail I managed to get Quentin Travers to see that a tired and stressed Slayer was not to his advantage. There is to be a quarterly stipend to address your housing, education and living needs.”

Buffy’s eyes widened. “Are you saying I’m going to get paid?”

“It is only fair. Usually a Slayer is under the direct care of her Watcher and the Council and such expenses are a matter of course. You were different. You lived with your parents and have lived much longer than most Slayers do. Having reached maturity and all the responsibilities that come with that make you a special case as well. It is not really that far a stretch to put the funds into your hands directly.”

She was afraid to ask how much but it had to at least equal the pay from Doublemeat.

“I also approached some art dealers and auction houses regarding the inventory from your mother’s gallery. I believe the pieces we have in storage will fetch enough to pay off this house relieving you of the mortgage payments. There might even be a bit more to pay back bills and start a college fund for Dawn if you so desire.”

Spike would have called her look gobsmacked. “God Giles! Just the thought of a full night’s sleep with no dancing piles of overdue notices is more of a relief than you could know!”

It was Giles’ turn to blush. “I am truly sorry for not having taken this action long before now. You have enough to take care of without the full brunt of adult responsibilities managing a household and raising Dawn. Even someone without the safety of the world on their shoulders or the recent traumas you have suffered would have been crushed by all of that.”

“Can I really turn in my cow hat of shame?” Buffy looked positively wistful. “I’ll even go in early for that pleasure.”

Giles looked a bit confused but understood the spirit of the question at least. “I would think you would jump at such a chance. This … ‘cow hat’? The mind boggles.” He shook his head and smiled.

“Are you the only resident of Sunnydale never to indulge in a Doublemeat double treat?” She could read the answer on his face. “Lucky you.”

Giles only hoped that Buffy’s relief would extend to let her accept his other more intrusive help. “I also took it upon myself to contact your father after Dawn’s telephone call. I wouldn’t have imposed myself in such personal matters if it hadn’t appeared that you might be removed from the picture even if for a short while.”

Buffy look wary but not upset. “What did you tell him?”

“Nothing about your situation. In fact I let him start the conversation after introducing myself as a friend and mentor to you girls and a former friend of Joyce. He didn’t have much in the way of conversation. In fact he seemed eager to be done with the topic altogether.” Buffy winced. “I suggested that Dawn, at least, was a minor child and still legally his responsibility. I pointed out that Joyce had never pressed the point but that it was highly unfair to put all his duties on your young shoulders. In the end and after a few carefully chosen legal words he offered to begin sending something in the way of support for Dawn. I’m not certain how much he intends to send but any amount should help.”

“Wow! Even mom couldn’t get him to send support payments, not after his secretary got pregnant and they moved to Spain. Those must have been some legal words.”

“Perhaps the accent aided my case,” Giles smiled as he beat her to the teasing. “At any rate between the two checks you should be able to meet your obligations, perhaps even return to school or at least look for a job you truly enjoy.”

“Oh Giles. You just made this the best birthday ever!”

As they hugged Buffy remembered the missing vampire and silently amended the thought with an ‘almost’. Maybe things were looking up, maybe Spike would be home and healing, full of snark and eyes that spoke of a love he couldn’t be feeling when she dropped by the next day. Maybe pigs could fly … cow hats were sure going to.

~*~

Weeks earlier in an alley near the Sunnydale police substation:

Spike groaned and tried to get at least one eye to open. He felt the prickles that warned of an impending sunrise and wondered if he could sense his way to some kind of shelter. Now if only he could just move!
Everything hurt but most of all his unbeating heart hurt. He prayed to any god willing to listen to a demon such as he that Buffy hadn’t gone through with her act of self-sacrifice. He couldn’t understand her insistence that she had to pay for the death of one girl when the lives of everyone else rested on her being free to fight the big and little bads that raked up the real body counts.

‘Bloody Angel’d likely get it,’ he snorted, ‘git and his so-special soul.’ It seemed a soul made one impractical as well as good. No wonder vampires didn’t have them; wouldn’t make it past being a fledge with that handicap.

Spike wasn’t going to make it past this night if he didn’t get his arse in gear and find cover.

“Yo buddy! What in the name of all hellmouth happened to you? Hey, shouldn’t you be somewhere more shady with the sun coming up?”

Spike knew that voice, he couldn’t place it just now but he did know it. At least whoever it was knew he was sunlight challenged and didn’t care. “’Preciate a bit of a hand here,” he gasped out. Damned if he didn’t have more than a rib or two broken as well, likely nicked a lung.

“Sure thing Spike. Let me get my cousin to bring his taxi round and we’ll get you somewhere safe quick as a bunny.”

The transfer from pavement to cab wasn’t one Spike ever wanted to experience again for a long while and he figured that lung was well pierced by know. ‘Buggering bastards at the City Council need to do something about all the potholes in this burg. That’s what taxes are for, not that I pay any.’ Each jolt sent a shaft of pain that brought forth a creative curse.

“Sorry ‘bout that buddy. We’ll be at my place soon and get you patched up good as new.”

Spike thought it might be nice to know just whose place that would be but was unwilling to look a gift horse in the mouth. The tingles were stronger and stronger pointing out the urgency in getting indoors and out of the soon to be broad daylight.

“Good thing I came along,” the too cheerful for the circumstances voice continued. “If I hadn’t been looking for a stray litter or two I might have passed right by this alley and never seen you. Poker night tomorrow and need my ante.”

Ah! That was it; the floppy bloke from his weekly games; Clem if he remembered rightly. “Yeah, my lucky day,” Spike couldn’t keep the sarcasm from his voice.

Clem, ever literal, looked at his patient in amazement. “Funny, you don’t look so lucky, Spike.”

“Not feelin’ it either,” Spike coughed and was certain the wet feel was blood. Slayer did a right thorough job this time. He’d be wearin’ purple and black more than a few days even with decent bagged human.

“So big demon huh? Pack of Fyrals?” Clem sounded avid looking forward to a great story to be the first to hear. “Bet he looks even worse than you do.”

Nice as it was to have a vote of confidence in his remaining claim to being a big bad Spike didn’t feel up to any long discussion. “Mind if I save the tale till I’ve had a pint or two?”

“I don’t know if booze is such a great idea Spike. You need real painkillers if you ask me.”

“Was talkin’ blood, Clem. Mind pickin’ up some of Willie’s best? I’ll pay when I’m up and able.”

“Oh sure, sure! Silly me! Forgot all about those vampire healing tales. Different demon, different diet.”

The taxi pulled to a stop and Spike prepared for more jostling. Turned out there was no preparation possible, it hurt like hell.

“Gertie!” Clem called loudly as he kicked open the door. “Got a patient for you.” He smiled down at Spike who he had under the arms as he dragged him into his home. “Gertie’s my sister. She’s great at nursing. Shame really that she can’t work at the hospital. They’re missing out on a fantastic nurse.”

Spike felt the softness of cushions beneath him and figured he was on a couch in a flat somewhere in the demon quarter of Sunnydale. Having come so close to being a pile of dust in a dirty alley he wasn’t too particular about his whereabouts, merely grateful that Clem had come by.

As if reading his mind Clem clucked, “Good thing it was me that found you and not Vixnour. He’s still mad that you cheated him out of his favorite Persian last week. I think he would have just watched as you burned.”

“Yeah, got lots of friends,” Spike sighed. Actually he hadn’t been aware until now that he even had this one. He’d have to be sure to treat Clem better, the bloke was a right one. Nothing wrong with having a friend or two after all. Besides, he owed the affable demon after this nights work.

~*~

Spike was feeling a bit better after some warmed A –positive. Gertie had been all that Clem had said and then some. Whatever pills she had given him had taken the pain away entirely. The street value on them would be astronomical considering the buzz he had. He could feel the blood start to do its work and thanks to the female demon the broken bits would knit properly too. Right handy friend she’d make as well!

“So Spike what nasty did you tangle with?”

He owed them the truth. After all with the mood the Slayer was in when he last saw her they had the right to know they might be getting’ on her bad side by helping him out. “Not nasty just a bad case of self-righteousness and a hard on for causin’ me pain.”

His eyes were opened a bit and he could see the confused faces on his pair of good Samaritans. “Buffy,” still no recognition, “Slayer, the.” He saw the shock and fear cross their faces.

“I thought the Slayer and you were an item,” Clem shook his head in confusion. “I mean I know vampires like rough play but you could have seriously fried.”

Spike laughed. “Not that rough we don’t, least I don’t. Slayer and I are … complicated.” No point even trying to explain what he didn’t understand himself. “Let’s just say I got in the way of what the bint wanted and she let me know she wasn’t havin’ it.”

Spike was treated to the startling sight of Gertie crossing herself in a purely Catholic way and couldn’t stop the laugh.

“Gertie got converted a few years ago,” Clem explained. “Baptized and everything.”

“Had a Catholic nanny once upon a time, she was a good nurse too.”

Gertie beamed, “Just doing the Lord’s work my own way.”

Wouldn’t the Slayer’s head just explode with that bit of news! Come to think on it, his was in a bit of a whirl .

“Lovin’ the Slayer is punishment for my sins. That Lord of yours has a right interestin’ sense of humor there,” Spike smiled at Gertie. “Had to fall for a California girl, only the ring of fire could produce someone who could keep shaking my world until I don’t know where to run or if I should hide and ride it out.”

Clem nodded sagely, “Got you by the short hairs doesn’t she,” he ducked a swat from his sister at his vulgarity.

“That she does,” Spike sighed. “Problem is my girl’s hurtin’ and I’m out of clues about how to help her. Don’t have a shiney soul to cough up the right answers and my winin’ it’s not workin’ too well for me. I want to help but don’t know how.”

“Gee, even humans mess that up! Look at Pilar on Passions. She ‘s always trying to help Theresa and it all blows up in everyone face sooner or later.” Clem knew he shared a love for the daytime soap.

Gertie snorted, “That tripe’s all make believe but you are right, even humans mess up when dealing with someone who is hurting. That’s why there are therapists.”

“I’m just scared and that goes against my big bad vampire nature. ‘ Fraid she’ll do something to make things worse for herself, ‘fraid of loosin’ her again. Couldn’t live with that, greet the sun this time if I lose her.”

“It’s clear you really love her,” Gertie wiped a tear away. “I’m sure you’ve helped more than you know.”

“Not really. I think I just made it worse. Silly bint was already walkin on eggs around her so-called friends, takin’ care of their fragile feelin’s then I push her into a relationship she’s ashamed to admit to and now she feels even worse ‘bout herself.”

Gertie patted his hand and handed him another mug of blood.

“I’d ask Angel if the berk wouldn’t go Neanderthal on me and bring out the stakes. “ Spike sighed in weariness. “Never thought that soul of his was important but now I wonder. If I had mine back maybe I’d know where to start and do right by her.”

“All this talk of souls!” Gertie sounded furious. “Father McGann says what we’re calling a soul isn’t that important from what he’s seen. Some demons choose to do right and some humans choose to do evil and the soul doesn’t seem to stop either from making that choice.”

“He’s got a point even if I’m not going to convert,” Clem looked pointedly at his sister. “I’ve seen lots of vampires and demons do the right thing, it’s maybe harder for some, sure. I doubt a soul would give you the answer to helping the Slayer deal.”

“Worth a try. My bag of tricks are all used up,” Spikes shoulders sagged in defeat.

“How would you get your soul back anyway? Wasn’t Angelus cursed?”

“Not planning on munchin’ on some gypsy hopin’ doubt the Slayer’d ‘preciate that! Not gonna ask the resident witch either, that bint’s close to off the spool already.”

“Well looks like you’re stuck trying to figure it out without one.”

Spike looked pensive. Somewhere in the back of his mind was the answer if only the drug cloud let him stumble on it. His face cleared with the memory,” Got it! Long about a century or so past was a vampire named Amarra. Got himself a handy prize in a box for facin’ some demon trials in a remote cave in Africa. Way the legend read all he had to do was pass some tests and he got to pick his prize. Sanely he chose a magic gem that made him impervious to any vampire killin’ methods.”

“Well legends are nice but we can’t build our lives around them,” Gertie said gently.

“This wasn’t just a legend. Had the gem didn’t I?”

“You have the gem of Amarra?” Clem sputtered. “Can I see it?”

Spike grimaced, “Buffy took it off of me and it got destroyed.”

“What happened to that vampire that had it? Did you have to steal it from him?” Gertie was fascinated.

“He was dust. “

“But I thought…”

“Yeah…. Another vampire with woman troubles! Seems he gave the ring to a lover and she betrayed him. Getting’ off topic though … point is he picked his prize and I could pick mine. If Amarra survived those trial so can I.”

“This doesn’t sound good, Spike. You sure you want to go all that way and maybe not even survive?”

“Won’t matter. Either I get my soul and a way to help Buffy or I’m dust and out of her way. My guess is that about now either one would make her feel better.”

Spike brightened now that he had a plan. “Guess I need to look into cargo holds on planes headed to the dark continent, yeah?” He looked earnestly from Clem to Gertie, “Just keep it between us. No point in lettin’ on what I’m goin’ on about. No clue where I am; you never saw me, right?

Gertie looked nervous, “I don’t know. I don’t like lying and the Slayer isn’t one to try it out on.”

“No worries ducks! You don’t really know where I am. Africa’s a big continent inna it?” Spike grinned. “Won’t be a lie to say you don’t know where I am if you actually don’t.”

“Mum’s the word,” Clem promised and mimicked zipping his lips.

 

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/467204.html

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