With This Ring....
TITLE: With This Ring....
EMAIL: FreddysGirl@wickedmail.com or FreddysGirl@angelfire.com
RATING: R for description of violence and violent concepts (B/G)
DISTRIBUTION: Solo if she wants it, anyone else just ask
SPOILERS: About the only thing spoiley is a slight reference to Passion and A New Man...and my refrigerator, of course (spoiley, not a reference to-- oh, never mind).
DISCLAIMER: Ain't none of 'em mine, wish they were. :)
Special Disclaimer: This story starts out rough. Please try to stick with it; I promise to try to make it worth your while.
God, it was another one of her mind-shattering, awful
Buffy shook her head slowly, trying to straighten out her thoughts, trying to wrench some logic and reality out of this horrific dreamscape so that she could get a hold of herself and wake up. If only everyone would stop making such noise...Xander was shouting, Willow crying...didn't they realize that if they'd just shut up, if they'd just give her a chance to *know* that it was only a dream, that she'd wake up and free them, too? Then they wouldn't be trapped here, either, seeing what she was seeing.
Knowing what she was knowing.
No, she told herself firmly. *Not* knowing. Dreaming. This wasn't real. Couldn't be.
She heard a distant, wailing keen. It was awful, like a cat or a puppy being drawn out to a thin line. She began rocking slightly, forward and back, forward and back. Not real. Not real. She felt something begin to slip from her fingers-- her hand-- but Xander caught it before it fell. That was good. If it fell, the box would spill, and she didn't want to see the contents again.
Even if they weren't real.
If only she could wake up.
Joyce smoothed her daughter's hair again, brushing tears from her own cheeks with the other. Buffy had gone into shock, they'd told her. Xander and Willow...they'd been with her when she found the...package. Buffy had shown no outward emotion at first, they said; then she began wailing, still not crying, not shouting, just rocking herself and making that haunting, heartbroken noise. Then she had dropped the box. And then she herself had dropped like a stone, and they had brought her home.
Shivering, Joyce patted her daughter's cheek and squeezed her eyes shut. Whoever-- or whatever-- had done this-- she hoped that they'd be made to pay. She could hear Willow's sobs, even though she had her face buried in Xander's chest; she knew the only reason Xander wasn't crying was because he was too intent on comforting Willow, and on waiting for Buffy to wake up.
*If* Buffy would wake up.
Joyce still wasn't clear on exactly what being a Slayer involved, but she knew some sort of supernatural force was at work in her daughter's life. She had often wondered if there were some sort of strange, magical bond that existed between a Slayer and her Watcher, considering how Rupert-- Mr. Giles-- had gotten as much obedience from Buffy as he had...obedience, and devotion, in those early years. If there was a bond...perhaps now she was seeing the result of it.
It had taken several minutes before either of the children could speak, could tell her what had prompted her daughter to fall down in a dead faint, her daughter who had faced and defeated vampires, demons, monsters that should never have been allowed to exist. But finally, between the two of them, Willow and Xander had choked out the story. They'd been calling his apartment for two days, with no answer. Today, the second day, they'd gone looking...it just wasn't like Giles, was it, to be out of touch with his Slayer? What they'd found....
What they'd found had been a broken lock on the door, wreckage from a fight, and a small box on a table by the couch with "For the Slayer" written in neat ink on the card.
Inside the box was a man's severed pinky finger, an onyx ring still encircling it.
Another neatly printed note, nestled beneath the finger, went into great detail as to the manner of the Watcher's death...the finger, apparently, was the most identifiable piece left. He had lasted well, the writer of the note informed them; he hadn't died until nearly the end. He was certainly alive when the finger was removed. He'd been delirious with pain towards the end, of course, calling out to Buffy to come and save him; but up until then, he was the very image of strength. He had hardly screamed at all, until the madness consumed him, that is. After that, all he did was scream. Until he died.
Willow had run from them, then, and spent a quarter of an hour in the bathroom, throwing up. Xander helped Joyce carry Buffy upstairs, lay her in her little girl's bed with Mr. Gordo, and tuck her into her dreamless-- they hoped-- sleep.
She seemed so peaceful now. In her mind, Joyce wondered, where was she? Was-- was Giles there? With her, protecting her, as he had done here? When she awoke, would she immediately remember what had happened, or would Joyce have to tell her?
For the briefest of moments, Joyce found herself hoping that, if that were the case, Buffy might never awaken. She didn't think she could bear to tell her daughter what they had told her.
Buffy did wake up, and Buffy did remember. They all knew it as soon as it happened; Willow was keeping watch, Joyce and Xander were sleeping...Buffy stirred slightly, alerting Willow, and then awoke with a shout.
And then, silence.
The three of them gathered around her bed, watching her as she looked from face to face. "Buffy, honey..." Joyce began. She stopped. She couldn't bring herself to ask it.
Buffy knew what she had begun to say, though. "I remember," she answered, voice raw. She began to pull herself up.
"Buffy, don't you think you ought to rest a little more--" Xander began.
"How long have I been here?"
"S-since it-- since we--" Willow looked helplessly around at each of them.
"Since about noon," Joyce supplied.
"I've rested long enough." Buffy's voice was flat. Dead. Joyce found herself frightened. Straightening her clothes, Buffy turned to her friends. "You coming?"
"Where are you going?" Xander asked, nodding even as he did.
She looked at him as if he were a stranger, unable to understand why he didn't already know. "To find the people who killed Giles. Of course."
"Sweetheart," Joyce said softly, reasonably, "maybe you should leave that to the police. I really don't think you're in any condition--"
"Mom," Buffy answered, just as reasonably, "what makes you think that this is something the police can handle? This is Giles we're talking about. What are the odds that whoever killed him was human? It *has* to be something bad-- vampires. Demons. Who else would know he had a Slayer, if not something that would know he was a Watcher?" She shook her head at her mother's lack of logic.
Joyce's mouth hung open. She hadn't expected this. Whatever she *had* expected upon her daughter's awakening, this cool-headed, matter-of-fact response was as far from it as could be. Even Buffy's casual use of the past tense in referring to Giles-- it was cold. Not even the cold of fury...just...cold.
"Xander, Willow," Buffy continued, "check out the local sources. Go to Willy's, see if anybody knows anything. See if Ethan Rayne's in town; if he is, he'll either know something, or be in on it." She went to her closet and began loading down her pockets with stakes.
"Where are you going?" Willow asked carefully.
"Back to Giles's. See if I can find anything there that might lead us somewhere." She finished arming herself, and left the three of them in her wake, bewildered, and scared.
Buffy hardly looked around as she entered the demolished condo. Her mind blithely blocked out all signs of struggle except those that might indicate who or what had taken her Watcher. She didn't see the overturned furniture, smashed picture frame, the blood; she knelt on the carpet next to a small puddle of the latter and picked up a tuft of hair. She didn't see the blood on the hair, which stained her fingers red; she did know that something was on it, obscuring its true color. She wiped the sticky stuff away impatiently and took a better look. It was an odd shade of gray, almost green. She stepped over a broken sword and started looking through the stacks of books on the side table. Several were torn; she laid them aside as carefully as if they were pristine first additions until she found the one she wanted. There-- a picture of a demon, and a description, one that included hair like the small tuft she was holding. It was a minor demon, one used as a tracking and attack animal by those who knew how to control it. Idly she rubbed her hands on her jeans, trying to rid her fingers of the sticky substance she had wiped off of the hair. She didn't think she'd ever be able to get rid of it.
Nighttime in Sunnydale, when all the demons came out to play....
She couldn't remember how she'd gotten to this part of town, only that things she had seen at Giles's had led her here, and she still held the tuft of hair. And she hated that it was dark. Dark made it so much worse. She was alone; she hadn't heard from Xander or Willow, but that didn't matter; she knew things...things from being at Giles's home...and knew she was on the right track. She couldn't quite remember what she had seen, but she knew she was right, and that was enough. She didn't need to know what they'd learned. Still, she felt alone. Alone, because she *did* remember that Giles's home was empty. And when she finally woke up from this walking nightmare, she didn't think she was going to like that at all, not one little bit. She hiccupped a little, unaware that she'd been sobbing for two hours straight, and looked around her. She was in some kind of warehousing district, only not the viable, living one on the other side of town; this one was run down, abandoned. Of course this is where they were; this is where they could hide away from the daylight, away from the humans upon whom they fed. It was this warehouse in fact, this very one right in front of her. She knew. She knew that.
She wrenched open the locked door and walked inside.
Four vampires were there waiting for her. She dusted three and broke the fourth one's neck before staking him, hardly even noticed them, in fact, then continued into the interior of the building.
The rest of them-- she knew there had to be a lot of them, for them to have subdued her brave Watcher-- ranged around a circle drawn on the floor. The circle was red; she wondered if they had drawn it using Giles's blood. She advanced calmly on them, curious as to why, when they saw her and began moving to attack her, they moved so slow...so slow. She was walking through their scattered dust before it could drift to the floor, staking their compatriots behind them. She dispatched half a dozen with that same detached cool, watching with mild disappointment as the final three scattered. She looked down mildly at the circle. She didn't know much about magic, but whatever they'd been doing, it didn't look like they had finished. Well. Now they never would. She glanced around the warehouse, looking for something she might use to burn it down.
An office occupied one corner of the building. She went to it, thinking it might hold something she could use. The door was locked, but it did little to slow her.
The sight that lay on the other side, though-- that stopped her dead.
This room, too, had a circle drawn upon the floor, a circle that had once been red but had dried to brown. Chains ran from four points around the room to the center of the circle, where they converged to bind a man to the center of the circle, the center of the room. He was naked, kneeling, his head drooped over his knees; his skin showed a few bruises, and the flesh was savagely torn where the cuffs bound the chains to him at his wrists, ankles, throat and waist. His back trembled with the effort of breathing.
Buffy couldn't see his face. But then, she really didn't need to, did she?
She stepped into the room. "Giles?"
The man lifted his head. "Don't-- don't come any closer!"
She hesitated. Tilting her head, she studied him in the weak light that fed in from the warehouse. She looked into his face. This was Giles, wasn't it? She knew she had to remember his face properly...he was her Watcher. She'd known him for years. She would know him anywhere.
*Giles is dead,* whispered some evil person in her mind.
"No," she replied firmly to the voice. The man shook his head at her.
"Do not come any closer. Do you hear me? Don't take another step nearer!"
Her Watcher wouldn't tell her to keep away from him; she was pretty certain of that. Giles would want her to rescue him. He'd know she could do it. She was a fine Slayer; he was proud of her. He'd told her so.
She wondered where he had gotten that onyx ring, and why he always wore it....
Before her mind could follow that path and totally shut down again, she took another shaky step toward the man chained to the floor in front of her.
"Buffy, no! Don't come any closer-- don't enter the circle!"
She stopped again. He knew her name. He knew her. She knew his face.
He tried to rise, but the chain at his throat pulled him down. He fell to his knees again with a grunt. "Buffy, please," he said, his voice raspy with pain, "please don't. Don't come any closer."
She looked into his deep, green eyes. "Giles?" she repeated.
He blinked at her, confused and concerned at her obvious bewildered state. "Yes, Buffy?"
She nodded as if to herself. "Giles," she said again.
He scowled slightly, all thoughts of his own pain gone as he tried to figure out what was wrong with his Slayer. "Buffy, what's happened? Have they-- done something to you?"
Buffy shook her head no, then burst into hysterical sobs.
She had dehydrated long ago past the point of producing any actual tears; nevertheless, she lay on the floor for a good half hour, sobs wracking her shoulders as she cried. Giles couldn't reach her, of course, so he just murmured to her from where he was, cooing at her and telling her it was going to be all right, whatever it was, that he would help her in any way he possibly could. It was a long half hour. When she had finally cried through her shock, she sat back up and scrubbed at her face with her hands.
She opened her eyes. Giles was alive. Alive and sitting right there in front of her. Giles was alive. The final shred of her crippling numbness tore asunder when she demanded, "What the hell is going on?"
He smiled at her, a little. "I take it you have not had a much better day than I."
She laughed weakly. "Later I'm going to tell you how much of an understatement that is."
He gestured at the floor with his head. "The circle contains a spell. If you cross it, you will trigger the spell's completion."
"What's the spell for?"
"It would send a deadly plague upon all girls at the age of puberty or younger...and kill the two of us in the process."
"All girls--?" She shook her head. "Why? These vamps have something against equal rights?"
"All girls," Giles repeated slowly, "and kill you."
The light dawned. "Kill me, and...there'd be no more girls...no other Slayer to take my place."
He nodded. "Until another suitable girl was born, and had grown to an age where she could fight them."
"And what are the odds they'd ever let her get that old."
She blew out her breath. "So what do we do? How do we get you out of here?"
"The Slayer is the one who mustn't cross the circle. Anyone else can."
She frowned. "You, you're um--" She glanced down at his hunched body, then back to his eyes.
"Nude," he supplied helpfully, trying his best not to be embarrassed for either of them.
"Um, yeah, that."
"I don't see how that can be helped."
"Well, I'm sure you don't want Willow or Xander coming in here with a hacksaw to try to cut you loose with you, um...like that."
"Well, I really don't fancy spending the rest of my natural life here, either." He shifted uncomfortably. "Or in this position." He smiled encouragingly at her. "Buffy, we have no choice."
She reached forward. "Maybe if we broke the circle--"
"Do NOT touch the circle."
She jerked her hand back as if she'd been burned, and sat for a moment, staring at the line on the floor. "It's blood, isn't it?"
"Your blood?" Her voice was very, very small.
He sighed before answering, "Yes. My blood."
"Did they-- did they cut anything off? To get that blood?"
She didn't see the look of confusion and trepidation on his face as he answered, "Nooo, I was already quite cut up as it was, thank you."
He had no idea why that answer brought forth a fresh burst of sparse tears, but when the spate was finally over, Buffy rose without speaking and left the room. She came back some moments later with a navy blue quilted shipping blanket. "I can't cross the circle. Can this?"
He smiled up at her and nodded.
She tossed it lightly, her aim perfect. It settled over his shoulders and back, covering everything but his head. "There. Now Xander can rescue you, virtue intact."
"Thank you, Buffy," he said, a smile in his voice.
"Sure," she replied. "I'll go get the guys. You'll be okay?" At his nod, she hurried back out into the night.
Buffy thought they'd never finish cleaning up the condo. She'd swayed a little when they'd stepped through the door and she saw-- truly saw, for the first time-- what a state the apartment was in. Willow and Xander had made both Giles *and* Buffy sit on the couch (though they did let Giles dress first) while they started on the clean up; thankfully, one of them had already disposed of the infamous box before they'd brought Giles home. Silently, Xander pulled Giles's ring from his pocket and handed it to him. "Where did you find this?" Giles asked, and then found himself comforting an hysterical Buffy again. When she calmed down enough to talk, she told him the story-- as much as she'd been semi-conscious for, anyway-- while Xander and Willow straightened up the place. Giles said nothing, but when she'd finished, he pulled her into his arms, kissed the top of her head, and just held her.
When Buffy finally found the energy to look up, Willow and Xander were gone. She and Giles were alone.
Giles, who was still very much alive, though slightly the worse for wear. His captors had not been easy on him. Bandages wrapped his throat, wrists, ankles, and midriff where his struggle against the iron cuffs and collars had torn his skin, and he had numerous lacerations from his struggle here in the apartment when they had come to get him-- when the demons had come to take him to their vampire masters, who couldn't enter the Watcher's home uninvited. Still, he was in a hell of a lot better shape than he could have been. Buffy found herself counting his fingers over and over again. "Why did they tell me they'd killed you?" she asked at last.
"To upset and confuse you," Giles replied. "As the Slayer, their magical hold on you was tenuous at best. You had to be weak or it wouldn't have worked."
"Bringing you to me." He took her hands, comforting. "The ring, Buffy. They put a spell on it...a spell that would bring you to me, no matter where they took me. Once you held...that box...in your hands, the spell went into effect." He frowned. "I'm surprised you didn't find me sooner, actually."
She gave half a shrug. "Maybe their plan to upset and confuse me worked a little too well." Looking up at him almost shyly, she said, "I spent most of the day passed out at Mom's house."
He raised his brows in surprise, but didn't comment. "It appears they killed two birds with one stone...put the ring in your possession, and destroyed your equilibrium at the same time."
"It was awful, Giles," Buffy said softly.
"I am so sorry, Buffy," he replied, trying to hide some of the pain in his voice but failing miserably.
She looked up at him, unshed tears glistening in her eyes. "Why should you be sorry?"
"For letting myself be taken. For putting you through this--"
She grabbed his hands-- eight nine ten, her mind counted of its own accord-- and held them, tight. "Giles. I thought I *lost* you."
A bit afraid at the wide eyed, glassy look she was giving him, he attempted to lighten the mood. "You've thought that before. The night you went demon hunting...."
"This was different. Then I had some, some small hope that you were alive-- otherwise I'd never have stopped long enough to realize that demon was you. This-- this was-" She let go of him and buried her face in her hands. "God, Giles, seeing that-- that box--"
"It made it more real?" he offered.
She nodded, though she didn't raise her head to look at him.
He put his hand on her shoulder. "I'm touched that this has affected you so, Buffy. But I'm fine now. Look at me." When she hesitated, he repeated, "Look at me."
She raised weepy blue eyes to his.
"I am fine," he said gently. "You saved me. Again."
She exhaled slowly, letting the last effects of this awful day and night wash out of her as he held her hands tightly.
"Better?" he asked.
She nodded, eyes closed. "Giles, how much of this-- how much was the spell, and how much of it was me? The upset-and-confusion part?"
"Buffy," he said softly, "only you can answer that. How much of it felt like you?"
Carefully, as if afraid to disturb the scab on a touchy wound, she cast her mind back over the evening's events. Some of it was very blurry, and she had no explanation for knowing things she had known-- like how to get to the warehouse, and which one was the right one. That must have been the spell.
Trying to get the blood off her hands, and thinking she never would-- *that* was her.
The numbness and denial when she opened the box....
She gave a strangled little cry. That was definitely her.
It could have-- it could have been real-- she could have lost Giles tonight.
They had come close to such a result before; all of them-- they all knew the risks, had all faced them numerous times. But somehow-- somehow since leaving the high school and destroying the library, she had felt it all somewhat removed from her former Watcher. He wasn't a Watcher anymore, and he wasn't at the center of all that went on with their little group. In fact, she hardly ever saw him anymore. He should have been safe.
Except he wasn't.
Because of her. Both because they'd needed her to complete the spell, and because he insisted on staying here in this foreign land to help her, to continue to function as her Watcher even though they no longer belonged to the Council. And she went blithely on her way, coming to him when she needed him, but no longer really thinking of him as part of the gang anymore, not thinking he faced the same things they did, ran the same risks anymore.
And she'd nearly lost him. She didn't think she could bear that. Not just because she'd feel guilty-- which she knew she would-- but because she couldn't honestly think of her life without him in it. Even though she rarely visited anymore, she still knew he was there, always there, just waiting for her to need him. Out of sight, but always in mind. Always there. She couldn't consider existing any other way. She tried to imagine the gaping hole his-- his death-- would rip in her life, and all she could see was desolation, surrender. She didn't think she could go on if she didn't know he was still there, there for her.
She raised startled eyes to his. He waited patiently, knowing something was going on in her head, but willing to let her bring it forth in her own time. She looked deep into his green eyes, and realized with preternatural clarity that she was looking at the one person she could not live without.
Which left only the question of *why.*
Again came the image of her life had she lost him; there was a light forever gone from her, a brightness dimmed beyond rekindling. He was-- strength. Hope. Faith. Duty. Devotion. All the things that kept her going, kept her fighting. If he were gone, she'd have nothing left to fight for.
An unnamed emotion began to swell up in her chest, nearly making her sob. All this time, he had been the very core of her strength, and it took moments like this to make her realize it-- the night she'd pulled him from Angelus's burning warehouse stood stark in her mind. She really couldn't do this without him. At the time she'd thought she was talking about defeating Angel. Now she knew better.
She couldn't do *this.* Being a Slayer. Being Buffy. Breathing in and out.
She couldn't live without him.
The emotion in her chest named itself.
"I'm an idiot," she proclaimed aloud, mostly to herself, but giving Giles the benefit of hearing it, too.
"No, of course not. You only thought what they wanted you to think."
"Not about that," she said, giving his hands a gentle squeeze. "About everything. Things I never realized."
"About what, then?" Again, the patience. She could see that he would wait all night to hear what she would say.
She wouldn't make him wait that long. "About how I feel about you, Giles. About how much I-- " For a moment, she almost lost her nerve, but stubbornness and Slayer strength pushed her on. "How much I love you."
A transcendent smile lit his face, and his eyes practically glowed with it. "Oh, Buffy. I love you, too." He pulled her to him and hugged her sweetly. Chastely. He released her when he realized she wasn't hugging him back. "Buffy?"
"Giles, I'm not talking about loving you like a friend...." She held his gaze, trying to make him understand without having to actually say the words. She should have known that wouldn't work with Giles. He'd never believe it without having it thrown right in his face. "Giles, I *love* you. As in, 'Riley who?' love you."
There. That look in his eyes. That was the one she was going for-- that "did I really hear her correctly" look. She was getting through.
"Buffy, you've had quite a shock. I think we--"
She cut him off. "I think we've waited long enough," she replied firmly. "I've certainly been blind to it long enough. I cried without Angel. I'd mope without Riley. But I wouldn't want to breathe without you."
She put her arms around his neck and leaned against him.
"Please don't make me live without you."
For a very long moment, he did nothing, not speaking, not moving. Then his arms came around her in an embrace so hard that it squeezed the air from her lungs.
"You don't have to love me back--" she began.
"God, Buffy," he murmured into her hair.
"--but you can if you want," she finished, smiling against his chest. She held him a little tighter for his silence, listening to his harsh breathing, letting his warmth fill her. She still had him. Had him for today, tomorrow, maybe forever.
And this time, she had no intentions of ever letting go.