Spike kept one eye on his watch, restless, and the other on the road. He didn?t like the thought of leaving the others on their own while he went back to the Hellmouth. Not one bit. But Angel had convinced him that they would make better time if he covered Los Angeles and Spike returned to the scene of the crime - Sunnydale. They were supposed to join forces again in L.A. three hours before sundown to tackle a big nest of vampires.
So now the blonde vampire was speeding south like the hounds of Hell were on his trail for the second time in one week, trying to come up with a plan of action that didn't require extended contact with the Sunnydale vampire community. The place wasn't Spike-friendly anymore.
As he neared the now very familiar - and still standing < must be an effect of the Hellmouth > - 'Welcome to Sunnydale' sign, Spike made up his mind.
He steered the De Sotto towards the seediest part of town.
He parked in front of Willy's - a few inches to spare between his bumper and the wall.
The door hit the frame forcefully when Spike shoved it away and walked in. He didn't bother with a stealthy entrance. The vampires who stopped by Willy's so early in the evening were usually trying to lie low and stay out of trouble.
Then again, the Slayer was out of town.
It tended to turn stupid cowards into bold morons.
Spike fingered the piece of wood hidden in the recesses of his leather duster. He still couldn't believe that the Slayer had lent him a stake before he left L.A.. Her lucky stake, she had said. The vampire smirked under his breath, surveying the patrons.
His gaze fell on the little mouse of a man behind the counter.
"Good evening, Willy."
Willy dropped the pint glass he held in his right hand when he recognized Spike in the gloomy, smoky atmosphere of the bar.
"Sp... Spike. Fancy seeing you... here."
The blonde vampire turned towards the demons and other random bloodsuckers who sipped their drinks, holding their metaphorical breaths.
"I'm not here to cause trouble with you, people, so go back to your O neg and don't mind us."
Then Spike faced Willy, who was trying to pull a disappearing act and not succeeding.
Spike shook his head. "Don't panic, mate. I'm batting for the home team now."
Willy frowned, still cowering against the wall.
"So? Everybody's on the home team here. That's why they call it the Hellmouth. You know... every little demon's home-sweet-home."
Spike growled, grabbed Willy's lapel and dragged him over the counter. "Patience still isn't my strong suit, mate. That was my best shot at diplomacy, okay? So now you're gonna answer my questions. Works for you?"
"Yeah. S... sure, Spike. Anything for you, you know. We're like... brothers or something."
"Shut up. What do you know about the Guardian?"
"G... Guardian?" Willy squeaked pitifully.
"Yeah, you know, the Guardian. 1700 hundred but doesn't look a day over 25. 5'6'', red-head, bright emerald eyes. Great ass. Puts out one hell of a light show when she's pissed. Got attacked by a whole battalion and a warlock last time she was here, three nights ago? Ring a bell?"
"I can't say..."
Spike tightened his grip on the smaller man when he heard the tell-tale noises of a commotion behind his back. Vampires congregating en masse.
Undaunted, he turned around.
The dozen or so patrons who had been enjoying their drinks a minute ago were now busy rushing through the backdoor.
Soon, he and Willy were the only ones left in the dingy establishment.
"Was it something I said?" the blonde vampire mused out loud. "My cologne, maybe? Eau de Slayer?"
"Look, Spike. I can't..."
Spike sealed Willy's lips with a black-painted finger. "I hope you're not going to say that you can't help me, mate. 'Cos that would be detrimental to your health. I think you were going to tell me exactly what I want to hear. Where did the vamps who attacked the Guardian come from?"
"I could rip out your intestines and play rodeo, Willy."
The barman collapsed. "Okay... okay." Spike let go of him and Willy shakily raised a glass of whiskey to his lips. "It's not even you I'm worried about... It's the Slayer. Don't want to cross HER."
Willy cringed. He raised his hands in defense. "I'm talking, talking now... the vampires were of the cadre of Nehemiah. Took real pain not to attract the Slayer's attention. I don't know nothing about a warlock. Just heard about vampires. Lots of them. That's all I know, Spike, I swear."
The blonde was more than disturbed by what he had just heard. "I know the reputation of the cadre of Nehemiah. Fierce warriors, but not exactly ones to look for trouble with the Guardian. Not quite bounty hunters either."
Why would they willingly get involved in this?
"And that doesn't explain why everybody here ran out with their tails between their legs as soon as I started asking about the Guardian."
Willy shook his head. "I don't know more, Spike. Things have been quiet all week. Pretty much no bloodsuckers - beg your pardon, vamps - have been out to munch on the populace. They're all... very subdued-like. And I'm not talking Slayer-induced fear. It's something else."
Spike took a step back.
Giles had mentioned the unusual lack of odd happenings over the last few days - unusual for the Hellmouth anyway. Even vamp activity was down and it seemed to coincide with the attack on Morghane.
Very few things that had the power to scare the creatures of darkness into submission.
This did not bode well at all.
And for the first time since this whole thing began, Spike felt fear.
Giles decided to forgo the freight elevator. He didn't trust the ancient mechanism. The lift looked like it could be as old as Angel.
Which wasn't possible at all, but thinking that sort of inanities kept Giles from mulling over the conversation he was about to have. It was quite like taking the stairs rather than the elevator.
He pushed the door open and walked passed the caged-in clerk, quiet.
He stopped in the middle of the living room.
Morghane was in the study, seating in Angel's leather desk chair. She was, once again, dressed in black - a long hooded woolen coat over a matching ankle-length dress and leather boots. Her dark attire accentuated her red hair and pale skin.
She was on the phone.
"That will not be necessary, Wesley. I can take care of it... What do you want a Watcher there for anyway? It's not like you guys can do anything any of us can't do. As soon as I die Lisandra will go through the Rapture. I'll make sure she knows where to find the Slayer... Thank you, Wesley, but there isn't much that can be done to prevent it now... I know... That is out of the question, I formally forbid you... Well, you do not control the Slayer anymore, do you?... Wesley, this conversation is at an end. Take care of yourself. Goodbye."
She slowly put the phone back in its cradle and stood.
She stopped by the wall next to the desk, inspected the collection of weapons displayed there. She chose a small, wicked-looking dagger and hid it in the folds of her coat. She walked unsteadily towards the access to the sewer system, bent slightly and made a gesture to open the manhole.
"Where do you think you are going?"
She jumped and turned around quickly - startled.
"Giles... What are you doing here?"
"We saw Cordelia come up from the apartment like some demon was after her, then Doyle followed. They are hashing it out in the street as we speak, although I'm not quite clear on what it is they are fighting about. I volunteered to come down here and check on you."
Morghane arched a delicate, perfectly drawn eyebrow. "You volunteered?"
She sounded vaguely amused.
Giles refused to rise to the bait. "Who were you talking to? Wesley? Wesley Wyndham-Price?"
Morghane's eyes narrowed.
"Why are you asking me? You already know."
"What did he tell you?"
"What I needed to know."
Giles ground his teeth together. No wonder Angel was so cryptic.
"He told you where to find the next Guardian."
"And what were you going to do?" he asked angrily. "Go there alone?"
The green irises flashed and he recoiled.
"Just what am I supposed to do, Watcher?" She bit out the last word - as if she was afraid it would leave a sour taste in her mouth. "What am I supposed to do? Kill myself in front of all of them? In front of Angel? You might not care, but I do. I'm tired, Watcher. I'm tired. It might sound selfish to you, but I'd rather go out there and finish this alone than stay here and see my death reflected in their eyes. It's like dying a thousand times over. Just..." - the word caught in her throat, and she had to breathe - "just what do you want from me?"
As he pronounced the words, Giles realized the selfishness of his request. But he couldn't stop himself.
"I want answers," he whispered. "I want an explanation."
The sadness and pain of hundreds of years seemed to envelop Morghane at that moment.
Giles took a step towards her.
"Stay where you are," she ordered, lifting an imperious hand.
"I will tell you what you wish to know, Watcher. But this stays between you and me, is that understood? Swear, or you will learn nothing."
Giles hesitated, but recognized that she would not back down. He had only been tolerated so far.
She did not move for a long time, then returned to Angel's chair, pointing Giles towards a nearby couch.
"I did go to Sunnydale when Jenny called for my help."
Giles opened his mouth but the Guardian did not let him speak.
"Do not interrupt."
He almost objected, then remembered who he was talking to. He owed her that much respect - if only because it was his duty.
"You can well imagine that I was... aware of Angelus' return as soon as Angel's soul left his body. How could I not have been? I, however, was in the middle of a fight at the time - almost lost the battle; I was understandably distracted. When I... came back, I found Jenny's message and made my way to Sunnydale."
Giles just couldn't help himself. "She does not mention seeing you in her journal."
Morghane let the forbidden interruption slide. "That's because I never made it that far. I knew that Jenny planned on using the original curse to restore Angel's soul. To me, it was a last resort. Angel had to be brought back, no question about that. No way his soul was going to rest after leaving the world that way - Buffy still needed him and he was trapped in this plane. But the clause... that he could do without. So I decided to restore him another way. Using my blood."
Giles' jaw basically hit the floor.
"You did what?!"
"What is so surprising about that? You know what my blood can do to a vampire. It's just another protection for the Guardian. It ensures that I'm really not all that appetizing to them so they don't come after me looking for an immortal snack. I couldn't give my blood to Angel while he was cursed. It would have had no effect whatsoever. I had to get rid of the stupid curse first..."
Giles saw red.
"Tell me you didn't send him to Buffy thinking eventually..."
He couldn't complete his sentence.
Morghane appeared to lose focus for a moment, like she couldn't quite comprehend what Giles had just proposed.
She murmured. "Are you insane?"
The look of profound pain, plain surprise and betrayal on her face was so disturbing to behold, Giles had to apologize.
"Do you think of me as a monster? I... "
She was incapable of pursuing that train of thought. Her shoulders slumped. She sighed, defeated, then steeled herself.
"I didn't know about the clause. When I learned of it, I tried to find the Kalderash, but they had scattered all over the globe, fearing the retaliation. With good reason. Then Jenny contacted me... Anyway, I came to Sunnydale, and I arranged for Angelus to be forced to drink my blood."
"How did you manage that?"
Morghane looked away.
"I lured him to one of the chambers of the Master's lair and trapped both of us there."
Giles nodded, understanding dawning in his eyes.
"Driving him to starvation..."
Short and cold.
"What happened?" asked the Watcher, dreading the answer as soon as the words left his mouth.
"I was... prepared, for the worst. I kept him at a distance using magick the first three days. Then I had to let him come close to me, so he could drink... or what would have been the point? He..."
"He must have been enraged. I can't imagine... Angelus..."
"He beat me. Tortured me. He intended to make me suffer every minute along with him. Then he raped me."
Giles closed his eyes, his head bowed. "Good Lord."
He didn't see her shrug.
"After a while, sex looses its power as an instrument of control. It was just another way of torturing me. To make me share his torment. And he knew what kind of history I shared with Angel. He had the memories."
"He thought he could use your relationship to make you suffer... like he did with Buffy."
Morghane laughed hollowly. "Angelus was a moron. When I look at Angel, I see his soul. They don't even look the same to me." She shrugged. "I expected it, really. Didn't think for one second that the once Scourge of Europe would go down quietly. He knew what I was trying to do after all. Corner a wild animal, you better expect it to fight for its survival with everything it has. But it's not like he could kill me or do any permanent damage. The benefits outweighed the risks by far."
She brought her hands to her head, massaging her aching temples.
"But it didn't work out as planed. I had forgotten Drusilla. She had a vision. Came to free Angelus. By that point, I was in really bad shape. They... you don't need to know the details. Once they were done playing with me, they trapped in the chamber, tied down, gagged. Drusilla put a magickal seal on the door. They kept me there for the next few weeks, used me... and then they didn't come anymore. It took me a very long time to heal myself, regain enough strength to loosen the gag enough to call onto the magick and break the seal.
"By then it was too late. Jenny was dead. I had left instructions with Whistler. He was to give Jenny the means to translate the curse if she tried to contact the Guardian again, which is what happened. She never knew who it really came from, it was an anonymous e-mail account. By the time I escaped and I regained my full power, the fiasco with Alcathla had already reached its conclusion and there was nothing I could do."
She lifted her eyes back to Giles' face, gauging his reaction.
He seemed dazed.
"I never suspected..."
"I did everything to keep it that way. Everybody was in enough trouble at the time, first with Buffy gone, then when Angel returned from Hell. No one needed to hear that story. It served no purpose. No purpose at all."
Silence fell over the apartment like a curtain of lead, each lost in their thoughts and troubled recollections of times past.
Morghane hoped for some sort of peace between herself and the Watcher - so that she could go about doing what remained to be done.
Giles still had questions.
"I still don't... understand. Why Angel? Why... him? Why go to all this trouble for one vampire?"
Morghane almost growled. Frustrated beyond belief.
"Think, Rupert. Think. You know all this. You just refuse to see. Your judgement is still clouded by your personal feelings over the matter. And I'm going to sound cruel, insensitive, but I want you to start thinking like a Watcher again, put all this behind you and try to consider the situation with the best interest of the Slayer in mind."
"Are you insinuating..."
"I insinuate nothing. I'm just desperately trying to shock you into finally listening to what the fuck I've been trying to tell you, because I don't have that much time left."
She paused and he listened.
"Please, Giles, I just want you to open your mind for a minute and understand what I'm saying. You must realize the importance Angel has in the grand scheme of things. Yes, I could have just killed Angelus and be done with it. I've had to make hundreds of decisions in the past that meant life or death for thousands of people. So maybe I was selfish in keeping Angel alive. And then again, maybe I had my reasons. I'm the longest-lived Guardian there ever was, Giles. Do you think I came this far by acting rashly? By neglecting my duty?"
She struggled to keep her voice even.
"You are a historian, Giles. You know how situations evolve, you know that between humanity and demons, it wasn't always this way."
Giles' expression softened and he looked at Morghane with something akin to compassion.
"Your calling came at a most difficult and trying time, I know."
The Guardian nodded emphatically. "Yes. Humanity weakened and lost fundamental ground. I don't need to tell you that there was a time, an ancient age to which even the Watchers barely refer anymore, when a vampire could turn either way, when the human soul could reclaim control of the body and subdue the demon during the first Torment.
"Then humanity faltered, the times darkened, and the ethereal community was incapable of maintaining its stronghold over the demonic realm. Now when a human is turned, their soul does not even bother fighting anymore and the demon asserts its control unchallenged. Exceptions are rare, and more often than not, they end up insane." Morghane raised desolate eyes towards the Watcher. "And it's not getting any better, Rupert. The balance is tilting. The millennial wars are coming, and we are unprepared."
Giles met her somber gaze with one of his own. "So this is it. The battle is approaching."
Morghane nodded. "And we need every leverage we can get. The equilibrium is so frail right now - it wouldn't take much. One being. Or better, two."
"Angel and Buffy," concluded Giles, finally comprehending where she was heading with her explanation.
"Yes. Because of the trials Angel had to go through, his soul is stronger than most. Soon, Angel will come into his own. He'll be powerful enough to assert control over the demon, once and for all. But this might still take years. Angelus' reappearing act and Hell were serious setbacks - to put it mildly. Buffy doesn't have that kind of time. We don't have that kind of time."
"But why... why a vampire and a Slayer?"
The Guardian smiled affectionately. "Come on, Giles. It breaks all the laws of nature and several rules of magick. Challenge those two fundamental universal systems and you create power. You can't begin to imagine the kind of energy Buffy and Angel generate in the ethereal dimension when they are together."
Giles took his glasses off. "I see."
"Do you? Really?" asked Morghane - incapable of leaving a tinge of hope out of her voice.
"Yes," affirmed Giles. "I just... I just wonder... why you didn't... stay with Angel... yourself."
The Guardian turned a bittersweet smile away from the prying eyes of the Watcher.
"Could he have learned to love me like he loves her... we'll never know. But of one thing I was certain at the time. I was not the open, warm, full of life, generous being he really deserved. Really needed. I couldn't be that for him. He needed trust, strength, unconditional love and acceptance. Buffy is the Slayer. She deserved someone who could love, admire and respect the hunter in her. Who could understand and support all that she was.
"I didn't know if he would become the Slayer's consort or her ally in battle. It didn't matter. In the end, he became both - partner and lover. Slayers always operate according to their instinct. It's their best weapon. I trusted her to make the right choice. The happiness clause was a magickal interference outside of her control."
She was shivering.
"Are you alright?"
Giles immediately berated himself for asking such a stupid question, but Morghane shook her head.
"I'm cold" she said, despite her thick wool coat.
The Watcher got up and disappeared into the kitchen. He returned swiftly with a small glass. He crouched besides Morghane's chair and handed her the drink.
She eyed the rich amber liquid doubtfully.
"Drink," Giles coaxed her. "It's just a little whiskey. Angel doesn't have anything else around. Bloody Irish." He smiled. "No offense intended."
She laughed softly.
"None taken. I was born a Celt. Not quite Irish. A century or so before Saint Patrick turned the land away from the old beliefs." She grumbled. "Bloody Catholics."
Giles chuckled as he watched her dip her lips in the burning liquor with a grimace. He remembered the Guardian telling him years ago in London that even after all this time she still couldn't hold her alcohol. A shame for someone of such pure - couldn't get purer than that - Irish origins.
Seeing her try to control the trembling in her hands as she lifted the glass to her lips, he sobered.
"What are you going to do?" he asked simply.
She brought the glass back to her lap. Giles was still crouching by her side.
"I'm going to ask Lisandra - the new Guardian - to anchor Angel's soul. And then I'm gonna die."
Giles' lips parted in confusion. "She's untrained. How could she manage a spell of such magnitude if you yourself could not handle it at full strength?"
"It's not such a complex spell, Giles. It doesn't so much require skill as it requires power. We have to override the Kalderash happiness clause. We're talking soul magicks here, and it takes more energy to get rid of the curse than to cast it. Casting is easy. Control is another issue entirely. The only time I can think of when enough magickal energy will be generated is during the Rapture. I can instruct Lisandra to perform the spell, channeling the power liberated at the instant of my passing to destroy this ridiculous gypsy gais."
Giles acquiesced quietly and Morghane sighed.
"I wish it could be any other way, but like I told you, we don't have enough time to give Angel the opportunity to do this for himself. Eventually, he'll grow stronger, take control and the original curse will become irrelevant and fade away. In the meantime, knowing that his soul is anchored might be enough to give him some much needed self-confidence." She shrugged. "It's not a miraculous solution, but it's a first step. He's so scared right now. He's alienated, cut off from a part of himself out of fear. He's afraid to care, afraid to feel the hunger again. He refuses to call on the full extent of his power for fear of losing control."
She plunged into Giles' gaze, willing him to accept what she was saying.
"He must be whole before he can be with Buffy. It was a good thing that he left. If the situation was bad after the curse, it was even worse after Hell. He must feel that he is her equal - if they want to have any hope of surviving and winning the millennial wars. They are fated to lead the warriors for our side. Don't ask me how I know this. I just do."
Silence once again.
And once again, Giles was the one to tear away its comforting fabric.
"What are you going to do with the dagger you're hiding in your coat?"
Morghane looked slightly embarrassed. She chose to ignore the real meaning behind the inquiry. "Spike confiscated my gun. Can you believe it? It's not like there's a lack of weapons around, but I guess it made him feel better."
Giles frowned, remembering yet another question he had meant to ask the Guardian.
"Why Spike of all demons?"
"'Cause he looks good in leather?"
Giles snorted. "Yes, quite. And if my mother had wheels, she would be a trolley."
Morghane almost choked on what remained of her whiskey.
"Excuse-me?" she said around a strangled gasp, scandalized. "You've spent too long in California, Rupert Giles."
"Don't elude the question."
If Morghane had been Buffy, Giles would have said she was pouting. But a Guardian did not pout.
It was undignified.
"I knew he would come to care for Angel and Buffy, even for the others. He has... history, with you people."
Giles resisted the urge to ask her to say that again.
"And I thought you would need as many allies as you could get, after I... left."
The Watcher's long, elegant fingers encircled Morghane's left wrist, lightly. "You're not going anywhere, Guardian."
"No." His expression was stern. Seeing her stiffen, he relented, pleading. "Just give us some more time. I'm sure you can grant us at least one more day. Please."
Morghane was shivering again. But this time, the Watcher knew it wasn't the cold. She let him be the silent witness of her weakness.
And Giles understood that there needn't be pain or anger between them anymore.
"Alright, Rupert. One more day."