Jack looked at the tree from top to bottom it wasn't going to fit through the door. It was too tall and far too bushy but apparently, Dad had picked it out months ago. He knew a good tree. Mum had taught him to recognise potential in all things natural.
He leant his back against the front wall of the house the tree lay before him on the fresh snow like a fallen soldier. He saw in his mind's eye the last time he had been here.
The Christmas before his mother had died in 2022 he had been 19 ready to go to Oxford. His parents were having a ferocious snowball fight. Those were the only fights he ever saw his parents have. They didn't argue or row; they discussed. These discussions inevitably turned to 'mush' and he had to leave the room. Whenever he had school friends over he would have to check all the rooms before he entered just in case his parents had decided to 'Christen' the kitchen table again!
Jack's smile faded when he remembered his mother's death on her Birthday five years ago. Dad had been devastated. He worried about him being alone when he had finally had to go back to College. Jack called him every day for a progress report.
When one day he called and a doctor answered he was filled with dread. His father had cancer. Jack remembered vividly the three courses of chemotherapy and the radiation treatment after that. Giles was in remission. He returned to his work at the museum. His colleagues described him as "the cataloguing demon" it was as if he was living on borrowed time.
Then last year came the bombshell that the cancer had spread, there were secondary tumours but these were slower growing because of the earlier chemo. The only treatment his father would agree to was the removal of one lung; it was practically dead. Understandably Jack was upset by this he had wanted his father to see his grandchildren.
Then that awful Rayne character turned up and his father had taken care of him until he died in his mother's bed! The odd thing about that was that his father refused to let Ethan be buried in the graveyard. He said he would bury him in the family crypt. Jack didn't know they had a family crypt or where it was! The body just vanished and his father never told him where it went.
It was getting more difficult for him not to tell the "Slayerettes." Is that what his father called them? That their friend was dying.
He was jerked out of his revelry by an angry bellow coming from the library. He shot indoors to see what the fuss was about.
"I don't bloody care! You shouldn't have opened the door! Never mind 'I wonder if there's a secret passage'! You have disturbed his rest and he's never going to forgive me." Giles took a fast-agonised breath and leant against one of the bookcases. He was desperate to draw a breath but couldn't. Anya fled the room and ran straight into Jack.
"Go help Cordelia, Xander you too. I'll deal with Dad. Go." His father was an awful shade of grey. All his muscles were tense. Jack guided him to the couch where his eyes closed and his body relaxed.
Jack shivered the room was chilly. He closed the open door that had caused the argument and lit a fire as the room warmed his father began to stir.
"D'you think I've blown it?" He asked drily.
"No, minor psychotic episodes are the norm for you aren't they Dad?" Jack smiled. "I'm glad you're still with us. Shall I get you a blanket?"
Giles nodded. "I'd really like some tea but I'll save that till next week when I can drink it." Jack regarded his father with a small smile on his lips. His father's belief in a life after death was quite touching.
Xander, Anya and Cordelia re-entered the library looking sheepish.
"Giles I'm real sorry. I couldn't resist, spooky old house. There's bound to be a secret room or passage somewhere."
He looked at Xander blankly from the sofa. He found tears welling up in his eyes and falling. He'd not been able to keep his promise to Ethan.
"A safe place to hide, until all the magic blow's over. That's all I ask. One last favour for Old Times sake?" How could he resist?
"A story for you Xander. A love story."
Ethan was recovering well from his accident six weeks were almost up and he was eager for the stitches to come out. I took him to the casualty and they asked how he came to injure himself so badly in such a peculiar place. I gave them the story we had agreed on. We were on a nature walk and Ethan had clambered over a fence not noticing the barbed wire on top until too late. They bought it. I left him in the charge of some very pretty nurses. He was entranced and I knew he would behave disgracefully. He had them in fits of giggles. I was waiting in the corridor when suddenly everything went quiet in the treatment room.
I opened the door and saw Ethan and the two nurses engaged in a tableau of lewd foreplay or more accurately threeplay. Ethan was in heaven his face buried in the pussy of one while being buried in the mouth of the other. I stared for a few seconds in shock.
The door banged shut behind me and I returned to my pacing. My heart was in my throat; I felt sick. My hands were sweating. I was shocked by what I felt. I felt jealousy. I was jealous of the nurses.
When Ethan came out of the treatment room, he was a changed man. His bounce was back. He was happy that everything was in working order. He saw at once that something was wrong.
"What's the matter? We're still going out to celebrate aren't we? How about Brighton, fish and chips at midnight, how does that grab you?"
"You've already celebrated!" I remarked acidly. Ethan hurried round in front of me.
"You saw that?" He asked dangerously. "Give you ideas did it?" He sneered and stepped closer the pink tip of his tongue flicked out briefly. I retreated a few steps blushing furiously. He gave me one of his glacial smiles usually reserved for his enemies.
"Not here" I whispered. Ethan nodded.
"Sure, Rupert full of bullshit as usual. Turned on and horny as hell but never here and now it's always later. I bet you never got to fuck that little tart of yours did you?"
That was the first time I hit Ethan. I decked him. Not a very clever move but at least he was in the right place to be treated for concussion.
We made up of course and went to Brighton on Valentine's Day. We visited the pier and got pierced. Ethan was fascinated with the tattooists' booth. He quizzed the man for hours about equipment and technique while I got bored.
To rid me of my boredom Ethan turned on the charm, he was in good form laughing and joking. He knew the filthiest stories! You could well understand why he was so highly paid as an escort he was such good company!
I felt brave enough to ask him about his childhood and regretted it immediately because his good humour vanished in a second. We were standing on the pebble beach Ethan looked out to sea with a sudden expression of repressed rage marring his handsome features.
He glanced back at me helplessly and dived off in the direction of the breakers. I stared after him, what would drive him toward the sea? He flung off his clothes. He's going for a swim but this was not the joyful whoop of a midnight dip, it was the mournful cry of a man about to commit suicide!
I raced down the beach stripping off my shirt, kicked off my shoes and plunged into the icy waves. I couldn't see him. I swam out further desperately searching my breath misting hotly on the midnight air. Then I saw his head going down and I reached out to grasp his hair, pulling his head up and out of the water. I changed my grip and hauled him backwards out of the waves back up the beach. His body fell from my numb hands crashing on to the pebbles.
I found my shirt and put it on sinking down onto the cold stones. I glanced at Ethan he was bent over heaving up several gallons of seawater.
"What the Bloody Hell was that all about?" Ethan looked mournfully at me with tears streaming down his face. I moved to him and held him close.
"I've never had anyone like you Ripper, to care about me. When I was small all I ever got from my family was a clout or a thump. Then when I was older my Dads drinking pals came round and...." The tears flowed anew.
I hushed him before he could finish, stroking his hair and kissing his salt seasoned skin. Such pain, such sadness. I couldn't bare it!
"No-one's going to hurt you like that ever again. Not while I'm around." He sniffed and turned his face to mine.
"Really?" His lips upturned in a wobbly smile
"Really." I affirmed and I pressed my lips to his to seal the promise.
The silence in the library was broken by a cacophony of swearing coming from the hall. Giles blinked a few times as if he'd been talking in his sleep. He smiled at the Anglo-Saxon curses. The new Slayer and her Guardian had arrived.
"Who the Bloody Hell left that enormous, green leafy stake outside where any vampire could fall over it? I'm trying to be Cool for me' Slayer and I practically dust me'self on the fucking doorstep!"
Jack came from the kitchen with tea. He put the tray down on the hall table and smiled at his new Slayer. She had blonde hair and brown eyes she looked like a frightened fawn. Her guardian looked fearsome but she held his hand seeking his protection from a house full of strangers.
"Young Watcher? Where's the old man?" Jack pointed and the tall lean vampire strode down the hall with the Slayer tripping in his wake.
"Come in, Spike" Giles called so the vampire could enter. All the others looked startled. He dragged the Slayer round to face Giles. Spike tried to look dead 'ard but failed when he came face to face with his old friend.
"Hello Giles." His voice had lost all it's antagonistic qualities.
"Hello Spike." He smiled at the girl by his side. "Who's this?"
"I'm Jenny." The girl piped up. Her wide eyes attested a simple acceptance of her calling. A simple dedicated soul. Giles caught his breath at the name.
"Jenny, has Spike been looking after you? How old are you?" He tried to keep the concern from his voice.
"Spike has taught me lot's of things. I'm seventeen, are you going to be my Watcher?"
"No, My son will have that honour. I'm too old" Giles admitted.
"It's your fault I got her y'know. You and those damn books. She thinks I'm that character from your stories! She's tried to stake me half a dozen times. That's how I know she's a Slayer. Now for God's sake take her away before she kills me." He still held on to her hand tightly.
"Jenny, would you like to live here with Spike and my son Jack?" The girl nodded and finally let go of Spike's hand. Spike sighed but not in relief.
"Christmas present Spike, stay here as long as you please. You're home now."
Jack came in with the tray of tea. Spike sniffed and grabbed the tall glass from the tray.
"You remembered!" He swirled the chocolaty froth round and took a great gulp of the steaming hot liquid. "Nectar!"
Jenny sat down on the sofa next to Giles who absently stroked her hair. "It is him isn't it, Mr. Giles?" She asked. Spike looked exactly like the illustrations in his books.
"Yes, it's him. I wrote about him and he'll live a long time and protect you from harm. What would you like for Christmas? Oh I know." Giles held out his hand and a rose appeared seemingly out of thin air. "For you. A rose a day to make you slay, slay, slay." He smiled and she giggled relaxing into his chest.
"Who's going to help me with the tree?" Jack asked, Spike and Xander volunteered.
It took about half an hour to get the tree into the house with the threat of Spike being impaled narrowly averted twice. A lot of laughter and "left hand down a bit" finally had the giant conifer installed in its pot in the living room.
Jack, Spike and Xander fell into the library hot and pink and covered in needles.
Cordelia and Anya shushed them and beckoned the boy's over. Giles was asleep as was the Slayer curled up on the sofa next to him. Jack got his camera and took a secret photograph.
Giles woke suddenly shivering with cold the library was dark. He could hear his breath and heartbeat harsh in his ears. The new Slayer was gone. No-one was with him and he was suddenly frightened. Cold hard knots were forming throughout his body. He would do anything to be warm again. He pulled the blanket closer round his shoulders. When was the last time he'd been really warm? His body went into spasm at the touch of someone's hand.
"Sshhh Rupert, it's only me."
"Willow?" He asked in the darkness. "Oh, Cordelia, why are you here? Where's Oz?"
"I'm here too Giles you're not alone." The Werewolves eyes shone in the darkness. Giles breathed easier.
"What's the date?"
"23rd. Try to go back to sleep."
"No, I can't. You need your story Cordelia." He swallowed the lump in his throat. "Another love story, maybe a little racy do you mind?" He sighed speaking was exhausting him.
"Race away Giles, I can take it!"
Ethan's parties were legendary. He could organise one very quickly by contacting various students in the university using a unique code of his own invention. Thomas was studying chemistry so would bring the "pick'n'mix" Philip was a Music and Drama major so he provided the band and dancers. Ethan baked some of his 'specials' and provided the refreshments and Dierdre was studying medicine so she was party decorations, bandages and condom balloons...
"You're supposed to put them on." Cordelia interrupted
"Pardon?!" Giles didn't understand.
"The condoms, didn't you practice safe sex?"
"I didn't need to practice, I got it right first time." Giles grinned. Oz sort of snorted.
"But condoms..." Cordelia protested. She really liked that word.
"Party balloons.." Giles teased her some more.
"You know what I mean!" Cordelia sounded irritated in the extreme.
"Cordy, at one of Ethan's parties the only protection one needed was a crash helmet. Now Can I get on? It'll take all night otherwise."
I was the guest of honour it was my Birthday and my party. Ethan started me off after lectures by taking me to the pub while the house was being decorated. I was supposed to be going out with Emily, my girlfriend but he made me forget.
When we got back to the house I fell in the door and everyone shouted 'Surprise'. I was stripped of my clothes fairly early on but as everyone else was nude it didn't matter. Ethan handed me a drink and told me to close my eyes.
"Open wide Ripper." I did and he popped some pills into my mouth and told me to swallow. I had some of my drink and then realised that my hands were linked somehow to someone else. I opened my eyes and saw that I was handcuffed to a rather gorgeous looking redhead.
"Happy Birthday Ripper! Whither she goes, you go." I smiled and was lead off into a corner. I had a wonderful time all night. The music was so loud the walls practically vibrated. I had finished my drink and was handed another. I was well on the way to being smashed. Soon I was surrounded by heaving aroused bodies. I revelled in each probing touch, each questing tongue and smooth caress. In amongst the press of naked humanity was my idea of heaven in those days.
Ethan slipped away to answer the door. God knows who he was expecting everyone was here! It was Emily. Apparently she'd got a message to meet me at the house. Ethan invited her in explaining that if she planned to stay she had to be naked like everyone else.
I was blind to all but that which lay before me; a very distended cock that I was intent on relieving. Everyone was having a ball and the atmosphere was heavy with the scent of sex and drugs. My partner filled my throat and I reared up from him practically gargling with his cum. Ethan cheered. It was my favourite party trick.
Emily stood transfixed with horror. I swallowed and some dribbled down my chin to be lapped up by the redhead. She licked her way down to my cock and slipped her mouth over me. I gazed at Emily while the red head bobbed; willing her to join us. Ethan was by her side he was smiling being charming. I knew that he would try and persuade her to stay.
My attention was ripped away by my impending climax. The last image Emily had of me was one of hedonistic bliss surrounded by numerous bodies both male and female all coming over me. No wonder she never came back!
Eventually the party died down at around dawn and I found myself handcuffed to Ethan on the bed.
"Morning Ripper, nice party?" I learned understatement from Ethan.
"Morning, what are you planning to do with me or to me today?" I gestured to the handcuffs. Ethan smiled
"Oh, this n that." He slipped down my body his chest hair tickling all the way down where he proceeded to wake me up properly.
"By the by" He said licking his lips. "Emily stopped by last night.. I tried to get your attention but you were occupied. She said she couldn't wait to be home and rushed off."
I leapt off the bed forgetting Ethan was still secured to me. He fell on his rump and yelled. I yanked on my jeans and was about to get my shirt on when I noticed the cuffs. I held out my wrist.
"Key! Get the cuffs off, Ethan. Now!" I barked. He got the key from the bedside table and unlocked the cuffs. I tucked my shirt into my jeans and slipped on my shoes I was out of the house in minutes.
Emily's flat was deserted. All her stuff was gone. It didn't even smell of her anymore. I'd blown it! Got smashed and now she had left me. I needed someone to blame, someone to hit.
Ethan came up the stairs. Ethan had organised the party.
Ethan had got me drunk. Ethan had let her in the house.
How had Ethan heard the doorbell over all that music?
Ethan had sent the message!
I glared at him as he came into the empty room. He froze when he saw my face. He was transformed into the frightened boy I saw on Brighton Beach just six short months ago and now I wanted to beat the crap out of him.
He defended himself well but he had taught me all his weaknesses and I played on them. Ethan was rolled up in a protective ball in one corner and I was in the other drained and shaking. My hands hurt, my knuckles were bruised and I just wanted to die. I had hurt him and at the time I'd almost enjoyed it. Ethan crawled over to me and I was appalled by what I had done. I reached out to his face to try to wipe away the bruises and my tears fell on my own bloodied hands stinging the cuts there.
"Why do we hurt each other so much?" I asked.
"You always hurt the one's you love." He said simply. I pulled him to me to cradle all his hurts. I wanted so desperately to belong to someone to be held and petted and loved. Everyone deserves that don't they?
God help me I was infatuated with Ethan Rayne.
"I hope I didn't shock you Cordelia. You always struck me as being the most 'grounded' of my brood." She shook her head.
"I'm not shocked, love isn't shocking. He's dead isn't he? You said something about his rest being disturbed, he's buried in the secret room.." I nodded and she glanced back at the door and shuddered.
The knots had grown to the size of boulders. "Cordelia, could you go and wake Jack for me? Tell him I need him." She was off like a shot.
I writhed and twisted on the couch trying to get comfortable but the pain wasn't letting me do anything but be in pain. Oz was at my side with a comforting arm about my shoulders and another form came from the shadows.
"Watcher, why didn't you tell me. There's still time for you to be turned. You won't have the pain." Spike was doing his best but becoming a seventy year old vampire was not a prospect I particularly savoured.
"Thank you for the offer but I'd rather die naturally if you don't mind. Just seems to be taking a very long time..." I couldn't speak anymore. Where was Jack with that morphine?
The desk light flicked on with my salvation.
"Well you've got an audience for this little drama Dad, happy?" He asked as he filled the syringe.
"Ecstatic.." I gasped as the pain melted away. "Thank you."
"Can I go back to bed now?" He growled.
"OK, Mr. Grouchy" I smiled. He's not a morning person.
Oz curled up in one of the chairs and Spike went round the library light proofing the windows. He told Cordelia to go to bed. Spike's drawing of the curtains was out of habit. He could easily risk slight exposure to the sun but could travel in ease on overcast wintry days in England. Like yesterday when he was delivering the Slayer.
Giles had lain awake for some time listening to Spike snoring softly. At least the snores weren't amplified by a bathroom's acoustics. He sat up and arranged his cushions so he could be comfortable. Time to wake Spike.
"Spike?" Giles asked in a singsong voice.
"Whahumph." Spike mumbled.
"Spike!" Giles hissed.
The vampire sat bolt upright his smooth white chest reflecting the moon's silver sheen. His eyes remained closed. "What?!"
"Have you ever been crucified?" Spike's eyes flew open.
"What a bloody stupid question! Course not now go back to sleep!" He glanced irritably at the Watcher. Giles was sitting propped up by cushions. Spike ruffled his hair in irritation and reluctantly scooted round to a seated position.
"Go on then, Uncle Giles, tell me a story!"
"Well, if you're going to be like that about it I won't bother." Giles commented with a petulant pout.
"Tell me a story!" Spike demanded with gritted fangs. "I'm gagging for a story!" All Vampires' secretly loved stories there was little else of entertainment value between meals.
"Very Well." Giles murmured pleasantly.
"I'm going to take you to a place in the country where we can play a game Ripper." Ethan said as we lay facing each other in bed, it was a couple of weeks past my Birthday. The unpleasantness was forgotten in the wake of our burgeoning sexual relationship.
"Couldn't we just stay here?" I asked as I reached out my fingers to play with a stray lock of his hair.
"No, I need more room, this is swinging from the chandelier stuff. You interested?" He shifted his hand down and found me beneath the covers.
"Say yes Ripper, you won't regret it." I loved the way he said my name it was almost a purr.
"Yes. Is it going to be good this game?" I asked, frightened and intrigued at the same time. It was a delicious feeling.
"Depending on your point of view Ripper love, it will blow your mind." He smirked but I only saw the innocent smile of old. I was blind to what he had become. By that afternoon, the scales would be lifted from my eyes.
Ethan's uncle had died leaving him quite a sizeable inheritance. He bought himself a car (the first of many status symbols) and it was in this that we travelled to an isolated, abandoned farm.
As we walked into the barn, I stripped whilst Ethan set down some packing cases underneath a beam running the full width of the building.
"Where do you want me?" I asked making Ethan look at me. I liked the way he stared at me almost like I was forbidden fruit. Ethan gulped; I smiled at the bobbing Adam's apple I hoped I could make it bob like that for another reason today.
"Step up here Ripper. You're in for a spot of bondage. You game?" He leered.
"What do you think?" I said as I stepped up onto the boxes and stretched out my arms "Do your worst!" I dared.
"Passive submissive isn't very entertaining y'know!" Spike was getting bored.
"Patience. Why do you think I saved this one for you?" Spike opened his mouth and quickly closed it again, just for him?
Ethan tied thick ropes round the beams securing my forearms and wrists. I flinched as he tightened the bindings.
"Sorry, not too tight? I just don't want you to fall and hurt yourself Ripper. You'd better have something to drink you're going to be up here a long time." I swallowed the water he gave me and closed my eyes savouring its coolness. Ethan kicked the boxes out of the way and I dropped a foot. My weight solely supported by my shoulders and outstretched arms it was agonising but an exciting sort of agony. What was Ethan going to do next?
I gazed at him, in the first few seconds of my bondage he remained still surveying his handiwork. When my feet had stopped swinging, I rested my head against one shoulder and looked at him expectantly. He reached into his bag and produced a camera. He took photographs for twenty minutes directing my poses. For what it's worth, I was getting bored too.
Ethan began the game in earnest. I became a heaving sweating sexual swing that vibrated to the rhythm of his ministrations at each stage the camera was never far from his hands. What was he going to do with the pictures? Every time I slept, he roused me in new and painful ways. I began to associate the pain with pleasure just as Ethan had planned.
The point of the game was to make me subservient, pliant. A willing participant in whatever he had planned for our group. If he had stopped then and cut me down, he would have succeeded. I would have done anything for him but Ethan being Ethan had to go one better.
I felt the scratching slide of a hypodermic needle and I looked wildly down to where Ethan knelt. I kicked out and caught him on his jaw. What had he done?
My head lolled back filled with impossible images. They flew round the beams of the barn all the Demons let loose from Hell battling Angels. Ethan came to and took more photos.
"Tell me what you see Ripper and I'll tell you if it's real."
I didn't answer I just smiled down at him. He had shown me the way. He couldn't hurt me anymore. I swung in a perfect metronome of pleasure and it annoyed the shit out of him.
"Don't mock me, Ripper! I could leave you here and no one would ever find you! Do you like acting 'The Messiah,' Ripper? How about some wounds?"
Suddenly a slicing pain bit through the pleasure and I yelled. The pain continued until I couldn't yell anymore. The Angels fled only the Demons remained and they took refuge in me.
"Did it hurt hmm? I hope so. Keep you in your place. Do you want to know why I got rid of that little tart of yours? So, I could have you to myself. When the right woman comes along, Ripper, I'll tell you and we can share."
Ethan came nearer I kept my head bowed low. I saw his knife he was going to cut me again.
"Ripper, you're mine." He gloated.
I lifted myself on tortured shoulders and scissored my legs round his body. I tightened my grip and lifted my head to glare at him. What he saw in my eyes made his face drain of colour.
"Cut Me Down." I punctuated each word with an increase of pressure until I felt something "pop" to the right and left of Ethan's chest. He reached up with his knife and severed my bindings. I dropped like a stone incapable of coherent thought or deed.
"Sounds like he took lesson's from Angelus."
"I think that's what prepared me for Angelus. So I suppose in a way he did me a favour. The barn incident changed me. It made me accept that Ethan didn't care for me he was using me to learn about magic. He had a different agenda to mine but he forgot one thing, our blood bond worked both ways and now I was in the ascendant. He created Ripper and I created Ethan."
Spike looked into the Watcher's eyes and saw the Demons soaring. The revelation had sent him mad then.
"Do you remember what you did?" He asked cautiously.
"I raised Eyghon." I whispered blinking in the early morning light.
Spike had dressed and was out in the kitchen begging for food from Jack. Didn't they have any blood at all? Giles sat at the kitchen table looking amused. This was as good as haunting. I wonder if I'll do that? Cordelia came in she looked as though she had been crying. He realised then that she had put two and two together after last nights' debacle with the morphine.
He smiled brightly as she sat down next to him. He poured her some tea with sugar in it.
"Good Morning sunshine! I know you don't take sugar but it's the best thing for shock and weepiness." She tried smiling but her smile broke on her face. He gave her a hug while she wept on his shoulder.
"Cordelia, Shh. It's all right. I'm OK now." Giles murmured into her hair.
"No, it's not all right and you're never going to be OK. Why haven't you done anything about it Giles?" She was angry because she didn't know the whole story. Perhaps it was time.
"Jack, can you gather everyone together in the living room. I think it's time we decorated the tree and time I told everyone why they're here." Giles left the table with Cordelia in tow. Oz looked rumpled as he emerged from the library everybody trooped past him.
"What's happening?" He asked Spike he was the last in the long queue of people.
"The truth is happening. Better be quick, he'll be asking questions!" Spike knew that it would be the other way round but it sounded good. He halted at the door staring at the criss-cross pattern of burning death on the floor.
"Oi! Someone shut the curtains. Some of us are allergic!" The floor was safe for him to enter in another moment.
Giles sat in his armchair Willow smiled at him from her picture. He took a deep breath and surveyed his comrades in arms.
"Well now, I've been trying to decide how to tell you for a day or two and there's no easy way to say it. I have cancer and will die sometime tomorrow." Jack shifted in his seat. Blunt Dad, brutally blunt. They don't believe you! He noticed that Anya and Xander were the only ones having a reaction. All the rest had guessed. Giles addressed Xander.
"I had treatment when I was first diagnosed but I knew it wouldn't cure me. Watchers know almost to the hour when they are to die. I wanted to say goodbye to you all and say that I've enjoyed sharing my Slayer years with you. Is there anything you want to ask, anything at all?"
Xander cleared his throat. He opened his mouth but no sound came out. He took a gulp of tea and tried again.
"All of your stories have featured Ethan, why? I thought you hated him."
"Ah, Ethan, never far away from my fist either above or below the belt. I hated him because he created Ripper. He was a friend and the only man that I was ever attracted to. I was experimenting." Giles held Xander's gaze steadily. Another voice snapped his head to the next inquisitor. Cordelia. He smiled.
"Not another condom comment, I hope Cordy."
"When did you and Willow get together?" He sighed and glanced at Willow's portrait. This was going to be a mixed pleasure.
"You want to hear that story? Just for you then Miss. Cordelia."
After his Slayer's death, a Watcher is allowed a certain amount of "down-time." Otherwise, they'd flip but because Buffy was the longest surviving Slayer on record when she died, I flipped. I didn't drink and I didn't do drugs. My mind just seized. The Council paid for my treatment at a London Sanatorium. Where I spent my days wandering around aimlessly gazing at every blonde girl that passed me by hoping that one of them would be Buffy.
One fateful day my fellow inmates and I went on an outing from the Sanatorium to the Tate gallery in London. I remember I was admiring a painting the artist had used such wonderful rich reds and purples on the robes, when I heard a woman's voice call my name. I turned and saw Willow. She looked at me curiously. Her eyes were compassionate and warm I must have looked puzzled because my helper came up to me to lead me away. Willow followed me round the gallery. She caught my eye continuously it was like a coy flirting game. My numb mind began to shake itself awake.
After two hours, we were herded into the Sanatoriums' mini bus. I saw Willow's sweet face through the back window of the bus rapidly receding in the London traffic. She waved. I didn't wave back because I didn't know who she was.
Willow arrived the next day at the Sanatorium in full resolve face and we all know what that means! She was not going to leave the building without me! Unfortunately, I was scheduled to have E.C.T that day and was sedated. The orderlies were not sympathetic they regarded me as rather feeble. After all, I'd been going on about a damn tree all night! The lift arrived to take me to the correct floor.
My psychiatrist and Willow got to the lift as the doors closed. Willow shot up the stairs cursing her shoes, throwing them down the stairwell. I arrived at the door of the treatment room. They parked me there briefly sharing a fag over my head.
"Willow." I whispered.
"Gawd, he's off again! Oi, you like trees mate? You can hug 'em all you like after they fry yer brain." He sniggered.
"Giles!" Willow shrieked. The cavalry had never looked more beautiful. The orderlies moved my chair toward the door.
"You move him and you're dead!" She screamed at them. I managed to raise my head to look at her. My psychiatrist heaved himself up the last of the steps.
"Listen to her ...she knows him." He puffed.
"Giles? Rupert. Please answer me." She knelt down in front of me and willed me to speak.
"Willow." I said her name clearly and she flung her arms round my neck. It was the best hug of my life! I was wheeled back to my room and Willow waited with me while the necessary papers were drawn up for my release into her care.
I don't think she realised what she was getting herself into. I was an emotional wreck. On more than one occasion in those early days, she had to talk me down from a near suicidal frenzy. I hadn't been at Buffy's side when she perished I should have died in her stead and the guilt that I felt robbed me of my reason. Willow gave it back to me.
She taught me all about cooking and gardening. We bought this house together. My hand shook as I signed my name to the deeds. I couldn't write anything after Buffy's death. You're supposed to chronicle how your Slayer died and I just couldn't. So writing was my therapy and Willow was my taskmaster. She was so proud of me when I got the letter saying my manuscript had been accepted. The first 'Spike' stories were to be published. I felt strong again and we made plans to visit Buffy's grave.
It was very strange being in Sunnydale after so many years. We passed by my old apartment it was shuttered and rundown. The cemetery where I had tutored Buffy on tests between dustings also had the look of decay about it.
Her solid tombstone stood out stark and white amongst the grey of the others. A single red rose lay on the grass of her grave still fresh with dew. From Angel I surmised. I knelt carefully so as not to crush her and put my flowers in the cold stone vase. I couldn't say anything. My tears spoke volumes. Willow's hand in mine lead me away I'd been kneeling for an hour.
Back home Willow decided I needed another distraction as if she weren't distraction enough! She bought me some watercolours for my Birthday and I began to paint. At first, it was difficult for me and she persisted in asking me why.
I told her that I had found the illustration of the Eyghon summoning tattoo and had copied it onto our groups' bodies for Ethan to follow and make permanent. I was the artist in our group. Without me, there would be no Eyghon.
That admission opened the floodgates and I told her everything when I had finished ranting feeling wretched and drained she came to me and draped her arm round my shoulders. I felt her love enfolding me like a warm blanket.
"I forgive you. I love you, Rupert." Those words were a balm to soothe a thousand hurts and I vowed to myself that this wondrous creature would never know a day when I didn't return her love. She rescued me she was my friend, my lover and my soul.
The first time we made love was in the garden with the scents and sounds of May all round us. She was so fragrant as if she'd been born a flower herself. Her sun warmed skin felt silken against mine as we moved in time to the gentle breeze. There was no hurry we had all the time in the world. Her body was the colour of pearls contrasting with the flame of her hair that flowed over the verdant green grass. She was as warm as the grass was cool but eventually our slow love evolved becoming more insistent as the green fuse drives the flower to seek out the sun so we sought our completion. In the bed of her belly, I sowed my seed and from that seed, Jack grew. Our one and only child. As he grew up, I knew Jack would be a Watcher with a Slayer of his own one-day. I prayed that he would never feel the guilt I did over Buffy's death.
"Does that answer your question Cordelia? Now let's trim the tree and you can have the last story afterwards."
"What's that going to be about?" Asked Spike as he dragged tinsel out of a plastic bag.
"How it was my idea to raise Eyghon and not Ethan's." Giles tried not to notice how everyone froze at his statement.
The tree was almost finished. Giles directed everyone from where he lay on the sofa conserving his energy. Every now and then, he would catch one or more of them looking at him then looking away when he noticed.
It was awkward. Just what he didn't want. He found now that as well as being in pain he was also very hungry and thirsty. This was torture! He turned over on the sofa and buried his head against the backrest. He wanted it to be over.
Why couldn't he just go to sleep and not wake? Did it have to hurt so much and what was that strange noise? He caught his breath when he realised it was his own voice sobbing into the sofa. The wailing continued he couldn't stop it. He was also aware of a rocking motion. He was comforting himself, as you would rock a small child. Where was Willow, why wasn't she here helping him?
"Dad, Dad?!" That was Jack's voice hang on to that. Jack's voice!
He steadied himself and turned his head from the back of the sofa. Everyone was gathered round, concern written on their faces.
"Feeling a bit sorry for myself." He sniffed and eased himself round to a semi-sitting position.
"Oh, the tree looks fine..." He breathed in sharply as another wave of pain crested and crashed over him. "Jack!" He gasped, his head rolling back he was trying to breathe the pain away, but it wasn't working. The scratch in his arm that he hardly felt blocked everything. He relaxed at once and slowly opened his eyes taking a deep cautious breath. Still here. That had been the worst so far.
"I think we all deserve a brandy, would you get it Jack?" Spike followed Jack out of the room with an offer of help.
"You should have put him out for good. He's your Dad for God's sake! He's hurting, he wants to die!"
"Don't you think I know that? I've had to deal with him getting steadily worse for five years! I don't need some Bloody Johnny come lately to tell me that! I'm the one who helped him look after Mum. I'm the one who stayed awake each night while he wept for her. Every morning checking in on him to see if he'd topped himself in the night. If he wants to die I'll leave the morphine for him, shall I? He won't do it! He's a stubborn old Bastard who will refuse to go until his allotted time." All through his tirade Jack had alternated between rage and being close to tears. He wiped his eyes with the tea towel.
"Get the glasses!" He took several shuddering breaths trying to steady himself before going back into the living room. Spike grudgingly got the Brandy glasses out of the cupboard that Jack indicated and put them on the tray. Jack carried in the brandy.
Laughter heralded their return Xander was telling jokes and Giles had a big silly grin on his face.
"Ah, Brandy. I'm going to have a drink and damn the doctor. See if I can beat my liver into remission." He smiled at his own joke. He looked at everyone's sombre faces.
"I'm allowed to joke at my disease, its what keeps me sane!" He poured himself a generous measure of the fiery amber liquid and was reminded of Willow's skin in firelight. He sighed at the memory. Now, she comes back to me. He took a sip and tasted her. His eyes closed as the spirit burned down his throat and warmed his cold, scarred stomach. He opened his eyes and looked round the room.
"I'm not dead yet! Drink up. Then we'll have an extra story to set the scene for tonight..." He took another sip of Brandy and felt his body begin to warm. He
began when he judged everyone ready. Spike sprawled on the sofa with his Slayer leant up against him. They made a fetching couple. Spike made no move at all when she snuggled closer to him.
We returned from the barn. God knows how Ethan got me up the stairs to Deirdre's room with his broken ribs but he did. She bound his chest then cleaned my wounds.
"What did you give him, Ethan?" she asked looking at my eyes. "He's not seeing us."
"Thomas gave me something new." Ethan said casually
"That 'something new' sent the lab animals mad. They tore each other apart!"
"What?" Ethan looked at me closely. I remained on the floor silent, still and staring where he had dropped me earlier.
"Thomas was there it happened a couple of hours ago. Maybe it won't affect a human the same way." She said hopefully.
Ethan crouched down beside me I was smiling again. "I'd better get those photo's developed. Get Thomas working on an antidote. I don't want Ripper shredding me before I get a chance to blackmail him."
"I missed something didn't I?" Xander protested. "What pictures, he was going to blackmail you? How could you be so foolish as to let yourself be drugged by him?"
"Well, it was Spike's story. The pictures were published in some university pamphlets with one particular photo making the cover of the Rag. I didn't have a choice about being drugged he made sure I couldn't get at him. Can I continue?"
Thomas found an antidote before I went on a bloodthirsty rampage. The 'trip' had been interesting.
My relationship with Ethan had changed. I no longer followed him around like a lost puppy. I had found a new identity for our group. We were to be followers of Eyghon. Ethan was a better summoner than I. You had to be exact on all the details and Ethan WAS the magic! It flowed through him like a natural conduit. He loved it. I provided the template for the tattoos and Ethan made them permanent.
Our tattoos were a week old when Ethan and I were having one of our now, rare moments of intimacy. There came a knock at the door. I slipped my jeans on and opened the door.
I stared in shock at my father. He shared my expression. I didn't look like his son anymore. My hair had grown long, a hoop of gold pierced my ear, and I had a tattoo adorning my left arm and I was bare chested with my jeans hastily fastened.
"Dad!" My explosive cry sent scurrying noises through the room behind me.
"Rupert. I thought I'd come for a visit..." He wasn't as shocked as I thought. I stepped through the door pulling it to behind me.
"Visit?" I questioned.
"Really, Rupert your conversation used to consist of more than two syllables!"
"Sorry..." I winced. "Uhm, What brings you here?" That's better; give him a question to answer.
He produced a rolled up magazine from his pocket.
"This!" One syllable beat me hands down! He unfurled the magazine to reveal a black and white photograph of a naked figure bound to a beam in a barn the title proclaiming 'Ripper at Easter' the latest edition of the Oxford Rag. I shut my eyes and cursed Ethan. I opened the cover and glanced down the index. Sure enough, Ethan's name appeared as the photographer. There were further stories; 'Ripper's Escapade's' 'Ripper's Birthday Bash' but not, thank God the later pictures of the 'Crucifixion' series. I sighed in relief.
"Ethan's my flatmate, Dad, I agreed to the pictures being taken."
"Did you have to do it naked and aroused, Rupert?"
I whipped the cover flat again and studied it. Shit!
"Uhm, social comment Dad, if Christ were alive today would he be turned on by the bondage aspects of being crucified." If he believes that....
"Do you have any time for your studies Rupert? We, your mother and I saw a historical film the other week. Your name appeared as fight co-ordinator in the credits."
Deep, deep shit!
"Yes, yes I do and right now Dad, you're interrupting a study period." I turned and slammed the door in my fathers face.
Ethan was dressed and had made our bed. If there's one thing he was very good at it was dressing quick! I glowered at him threatening all sorts of violent retribution. He just smiled at me, slipping smoothly past and re-opened the door.
"Mr. Giles? Hello Sir. Do come in, would you like some tea?" Ethan slithered round my father oozing charm. I pulled on a sweatshirt. I wouldn't have minded but Ethan had 'finished' before me so I was on edge and cranky with it.
My father made me agree to meet him for lunch before he left the room. When the door closed and before I had time to hit him Ethan busied himself 'taking care' of me. My shoulders hit the door with an audible thud.
I met my father at the Quadrangle bar. Many of the students parted at my approach. My expression broke no argument. Unknown to me my father had witnessed my traverse. He sensed something was up.
"The tattoo is Etruscan isn't it?" He asked as I sat down opposite him. "Rupert, don't summon him. They're frightened of you already, don't add death to your reputation."
"What are you talking about? I do not intend to summon Eyghon."
"Just don't. A Watcher has to have certain grounding in magic but nothing too dangerous. I know we haven't seen eye to eye about Watcher business but it is your destiny and you're getting to the age when you'll be able to sense a Slayer near you..."
"Dad, we haven't seen eye to eye since I was eight! Didn't you ever want to chuck your destiny? Most of the people I know don't know what job they'll do. I have had the burden of knowing that I will only ever have one job. Watcher until I die. It's so bloody boring! I want to fight, create, paint, procreate and have fun. I do not want to wear the Tweed!" My voice had risen to a shout. I scraped my chair back and escaped the stifling air of my destiny.
I stormed back to the house and kicked in the door of our room. Ethan and Dierdre were in bed enjoying each other.
"Get the others we're raising Hell tonight." I growled.
Ethan cheered. "That's my Ripper!"
I stared into my glass. The silence telling they were waiting for the next part. I took more sips ignoring my audience, building the tension.
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