Chapter Six: Earned the Right

“Hold my calls, Lydia.” Giles closed the door behind Willow. As she sat, he took in a deep breath and let it out, as if readying himself for a sparring session.

“So, what's the what, Giles?” He unlocked a desk drawer, removing an envelope, but did not hand it to her.

“Remember the earthquake in Los Angeles last month? Very localized, took down the offices of Wolfram & Hart but did little other damage?” he began.

“Yeah, we figured there was more to it than the San Andreas acting up. Did you get some new information? Hand it over.” Willow reached out, her eyes eager for new knowledge, and he reluctantly handed her the letter.

When Willow finished reading and placed the letter on his desk, Giles was prepared for grief, or shock, but not for the pure fury in her eyes.

“Angel asked for my help. For Fred.” Her tone was diamond-hard. “When was this?”

“Um….in March. You were in the Himalayas, uh, astrally speaking, ” Giles replied.

“And when were you planning on telling me?” Her volume rose steadily. “They needed my help and you didn't even bother to inform me? You just turned them down. Fred needed me and you didn't even TELL ME?”

Even as he took off his glasses and reached for a pocket handkerchief, he knew it was a nervous habit, a pathetic delaying tactic and completely unnecessary. He polished them anyway, as he tried to find an explanation for a decision that had seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. “We had no idea why they were at Wolfram & Hart at the time, and we had no reason to trust them. It could easily have been a trap, and I wasn't about to send you walking right in there!” He replaced his glasses, but was only able to meet her eyes for a very brief moment. At least they were still green, he noted with relief.

“So you decided, all on your own, that I shouldn't take the risk. Damn it, Giles! I am an adult. I know I was sixteen when you met me, but, newsflash, that was a long time ago. I don't need you to protect me. I don't want you to protect me. Maybe I could have helped her….” She was beginning to cry. “But I never even got to try.”

She put her head down on her arms, and wept silently, her shoulders shaking. He wanted to go to her, put his arms around her, comfort her, but he knew that he had no right to touch her. Finally she turned a tear-stained face to him.

“First, give me that handkerchief.” He handed it to her silently, and waited while she wiped her eyes and blew her nose. She held it out and he wordlessly took it back. “Second. If I am going to be part of this Council, you have to treat me as an equal. I'm not a child. I have a great deal of power, and I've learned to control it, which right now is a very good thing for you. If you ever do something like that again, I am so out of here. I'll take your advice, but I make the decisions about what I do and what risks I take.” Willow stood. “I've earned that right.”

She left his office, and he watched her go, a damp handkerchief crumpled in his palm. What the hell was he doing, he wondered, thinking he could lead this Council, could play any kind of role in the battle against evil. He'd screwed up yet again, another failure that had left him standing amid the bodies of those who had trusted him. Angel and Spike and Gunn and Cordelia, all dead. All lost. And Fred; he'd spoken to her on the phone. A soft Texas accent, a young voice that always sounded on the verge of a giggle.

Wesley Wyndam-Price. Oh God, Wesley. Another Watcher lost. Like Giles, he'd been forced out by the Council, but like Giles, he'd been a Watcher always, knowing too much to stay out of the fight. He'd been so young, so painfully, pompously young when he first came to Sunnydale…but he'd been a seasoned fighter by the end.

The end. Now he was dead, and a strange, unfamilar sound came from Giles' throat, which of course couldn't be sobbing, because middle-aged Englishmen didn't weep in their offices an hour before teatime.


Chapter Seven: Frog Fear

Giles entered the flat warily, carrying two large bags of Chinese food as a peace offering. Willow was sitting on the sofa, a glass of wine in her hand. She turned to him, expressionless. “Good, you brought dinner.” She remained in her place as Giles brought dishes, chopsticks, a second wineglass. After they had filled their plates with appetizers, he broke the silence.

“Willow, I apologize…”

“Don't.” She cut him off. “You probably thought you were doing the right thing, and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that done is done. Trying to change the past doesn't work. If anyone knows that, I do.” She smiled wanly. “The future, though…in the future, you're not going to do that to me.”

“No.” He looked down. “I will not.”

“In that case, we're good, and we probably ought to talk about the other stuff in the letter. I got a little overly focused back there, I know. Willow-ego rampage, freaking over the one sentence that mentioned me. Did you bring it?” Giles retrieved the letter from his briefcase and handed it to her.

“It seems to me,” he began, “that I've read something about this Black Thorn. We must do some thorough research, and determine whether Angel actually succeeded in eliminating them. And whether they all did perish. I have contacts in L.A. that should be able to help.”

“Well, you've got to admit things have been pretty quiet on the demony front lately. You were saying that just the other day. Could be Angel's the man to thank for that, ” Willow mused. “I never got what Buffy saw in him. I mean, not bad looking and all, but it really would have been easier for us all if she'd…” she stopped, remembering a murder Buffy had not prevented. Jenny Calendar, long gone and usually forgotten, at least by Willow.

“Yes, well, as you say, done is done.” He chewed thoughtfully on a mouthful of spicy beef. “But speaking of Buffy, we shall have to tell her.”

“Last request and all. Dawn too. And who'd have thunk Spike would get two heroic deaths? Just like Buffy. Pass the spring rolls?” Giles handed them over, and she took a bite. “The other thing that worries me is this memory spell. I remember meeting Connor now, and telling you about him. I don't remember not remembering him, but how would I know?” She shook her head and went on, “I need to look into that, figure out what kind of spell they used. Must have had a huge amount of power behind it, to create a whole lifetime's worth of fake memories.”

“Not to mention erasing the real ones, ”Giles said. That holds real danger; I've heard of cases where such mental tampering caused permanent damage.” Willow stilled, then carefully placed her plate on the coffee table. Oh, dear, thought Giles. I hadn't meant to remind her. For a moment, he saw ghosts in the gathering dusk. Tara. Anya. Spike. Angel. Jenny.

She seemed to be thinking the same thing as she looked up at him from under a shining fall of hair. “Giles, I can't do this. How can I do this? I've made so many mistakes. I tried to fix things and wound up destroying them, and now I'm trying to…what? How do I know I won't screw it all up again? Go all veiny and scary with the power?”

He sighed. “You don't. Neither do I. But there are things that need be done, and we know how to do them. And we know what can happen if they're left undone. ” He reached past her to switch on the lamp, casting her face into shadow, and left his arm resting on the sofa back behind her shoulders. “As for your backsliding, I'm comforted by the fact that you didn't toss me through a window today, despite provocation.”

Willow smiled. “Could have turned you into a turkey.”

Giles smiled in response. “Not a frog?”

She made a face. “I have frog fear. Turkeys are good though. They're kind of silly, and not too bright, and tasty.”

“Silly and not too bright. Well, I suppose that's just, if less than flattering.” He gave her an evil grin. “Ribbit.”

“Nooo!” She hid her face in a pillow. “No frog noises!”

“Ribbit. Ribbit. Ribbit.” He croaked gleefully. They dissolved into a full-fledged gigglefit, and while he knew it was partly hysteria, tension being released, he also knew he would make frog noises all night if he could just hear her laugh in response.


Chapter Eight: Where the Guilt Train Stops

Rudy checked the address on the flyer, then resolutely knocked on the door. He hoped this guy was for real. It wasn't one of London's tonier neighborhoods, and the building wasn't exactly confidence inspiring, but living with what he'd seen and done just wasn't an option any more. This was the last resort before he pulled the gun out of that locked box in the basement and erased himself along with the memories.

Dr. Gheren, a pale man with a long thin face, listened politely as Rudy stammered out his story, crumpling the advertisement between his large hands.

“I see.” He nodded. “You seem to be a very viable candidate for our treatment. I must warn you that this therapy is new and somewhat unconventional, and thus not covered by the National Health Service. However, I do feel we can help you eliminate the memories that are so troubling to you.” He tapped his slender fingers on the desk.

“Thanks, doc. I…..I can't sleep, I have nightmares, I can't focus at work…my wife said I had to get some kind of help, and she's right. If I could just forget that whole….” Rudy's body shook just slightly, his usually ironclad self-control slipping. That was what he hated the most.

“Yes, of course. If you'll have a seat in the next room and remove your jacket, I can give you an initial treatment today.” Dr. Gheren smiled, showing small, slightly pointed teeth. Rudy stood, his posture betraying his military background.

“You can? That'll be great.” Within minutes he was seated in a hard backed chair, tense with anticipation and the hope of relief.

“Close your eyes,” said Dr. Gheren's voice behind him. Rudy felt cool fingers against his temple, but didn't see the bluish-green glow that surrounded his head for a moment, reflected in the doctor's eyes.

This time Willow was the one waiting at the airport. She had wanted to go to Rome with him, but Giles insisted that one of them needed to remain at the Council offices. “Besides,” he had said, “Angel asked me to be the one to tell her. This is my responsibility.” So she paced until she saw his figure moving toward her through the crowd, overnight bag over one shoulder, head down. He looked tired, she thought.

They kept conversation to a minimum until they were back at the flat. She had laid out tea things, but left the actual brewing for Giles. There was a ritual quality to the way he made it, and she thought the familiar routine of measuring and pouring seemed to calm him as much as the tea itself. They settled on the sofa, where they took most meals, as the small table was usually covered with books and her laptop.

“How'd she take it?” Willow sipped, regarding him sympathetically.

“Well enough, I suppose.” He set down his cup carefully on the saucer, ran a hand through his hair. “She knew that Spike was back—Andrew managed to keep the secret for about a month, I gathered, which is longer than I would have expected. She was hurt that he hadn't gotten in touch, hadn't wanted her to know. She figured she'd get in touch with him eventually, but she wasn't ready yet.” He picked up a biscuit and took a bite, his eyes distant. “She was proud….of both of them. ‘My vampires,' she called them.”

“Poor Buff.”

“I'm glad she seems to be building a new life in Rome. She has been through so much and lost so much…” Giles finished his biscuit. “It was my responsibility to protect her, and I never could.”

“Okay buster, the guilt train stops here.” Willow decided sympathetic was not the way to go. Not anymore. “Your stop, and you can leave your baggage in the baggage car, because… because metaphors, so not my thing, but hey, Buffy's alive, right? Like, years past the standard Slayer expiration date. Frank in Records was telling me she's outlived every other Slayer by two whole years now! And that's not even including the months when she was not so alive, but hey! Doesn't that make you the most successful Watcher ever in history? Come on, make with the happy for once, will you?”

Moisture shimmered in his eyes, but he smiled. “You do have a point, Willow.”

“Darn tootin!” she replied. “Whatever that means….why ‘tootin?' Where does that come from? Never mind, tangent. Buffy's going to be okay.”

“It could be your train metaphor making a reappearance, but better not to speculate. Yes, I do think Buffy will be all right. She has Dawn with her, and she's seeing someone, although she told me it's not at all serious. I think it helped her to know that they died in a good cause.”


Chapter Nine: An Interview

The girl is disheveled, her blonde hair a mess. She looks as if she's been in a fight. Her eyes are sad and disbelieving as she reaches out to take his hand. She is saying something he cannot hear, her words are lost in the roar of the flames that consume him.

Bill awakens, reaches for the glass of water on his nightstand and gulps it down. Bloody stupid recurring nightmare. He lies down, concentrates on breathing evenly so he can get back to sleep. He'd prefer to be well rested for the job interview.

“Mr. Giles, your three o'clock is here. Shall I send him in?”

Giles repressed a sigh. “Yes, thank you, Lucinda, please do.”

Ironically, the hardest hit of the Council's departments had been the safe desk jobs at headquarters, once reserved for those too old or otherwise unsuited to the risks of field work. The explosion had destroyed not only a building and numerous lives, but centuries of painstaking translation and linguistic work, crucial to the interpretation of ancient documents and prophecies. Although Giles had pulled every string available to him to get copies of original documents from museums and collections across the world, many were in languages and scripts no one on his current staff could decipher. He had put out a carefully worded call for linguists in a variety of academic journals, and had been interviewing candidates for weeks. Willow usually stepped in on some pretext, to perform a rapid but highly focused aura reading on each applicant, looking for signs of dark magic or deceit. The process was time consuming and often tedious, but over the past few months, Giles and Willow had decided that staffing up the Translation Section was a top priority.

A slender young man in gray flannel trousers and a blue blazer entered the office, holding out a hand for him to shake. Giles stopped halfway through the process of rising from his chair and stared, utterly shocked.

“Spike?” The man's got as many lives as a bloody cat, Giles thought irrelevantly. But the familiar face showed no recognition, only confusion.

“I'm sorry? My name's Givenson, Bill Givenson. I'm supposed to be interviewing with Rupert Giles. Am I in the right office?” As Giles' common sense reasserted itself, he finished standing and offered the expected handshake.

“Yes, I'm Rupert Giles. You have a strong resemblance to someone…I wasn't expecting to see. Do sit down.” It really was uncanny, he thought, looking the man over. Those vivid blue eyes and the cheekbones were remarkably similar, but the hair was longer and darker, curling over his ears, and the warmth of his hand and slight tan on his face marked Bill Givenson as clearly human. Giles took a resumé from the pile on his desk and studied it for a moment as he regained his composure. “I see you have a strong background in languages, both ancient and modern…and quite a few nonhuman tongues as well. Tell me about that.”

“My grandfather, Walter Givenson, was a linguist, and I lived with him for several years as a child. My parents were in the diplomatic service, and they couldn't always take me with them on their overseas postings. So my grandfather started me on Latin and Greek when I was fairly young, and I suppose I had an aptitude.” The voice, Giles thought, was much the same, but the accent was pure Oxbridge. “I grew up partly with him, partly overseas with my parents, then read classics at Balliol. My grandfather died while I was at Oxford, and when my grandmother passed away two years ago, I inherited his papers. That's what got me interested in demonic languages.” Bill shifted in the chair and leaned forward, intent. “I learned about the Watcher's Council from his journals; he was a researcher and translator for the Council from 1945 to 1977. My work on nonhuman linguistics is based on his writings and his library. When I saw your advertisment, I knew I belonged at the Council. I'd been applying for university posts, but I'm not cut out for academia, and what you're doing here is important.”

“Who did you lose?” Giles asked quietly. He had learned that when someone was this intense about the battle, it was usually personal. And he needed to know the story, hear it told, to know if it was too much so. Passion is powerful, he thought, but without a leveling dose of detatchment, it can be deadly.

Bill sat back in his chair with a sigh. “My father. In Hong Kong, when I was sixteen. My mother and I thought it was just, just an ordinary street crime, a robbery gone wrong, and that was horrible enough. But I found out from my grandfather's papers that it was a vampire attack.” His face was tight with remembered pain. “My grandfather came out to Hong Kong, and helped us pack up to come home. As it happens, he was also investigating what happened to my father. ” Leaning back in the chair, he sighed heavily. “My father had been turned, and my grandfather had to stake his own son. So yes, this is important to me. Does that matter? I have skills you can use.”

“Mr. Givenson, I do think we can use your language skills, and your commitment is indisputable. Your martial arts training is also impressive. Tell me, would it be possible to contribute your grandfather's papers to the Council library? We are in the process of rebuilding, and any information he recorded will be useful to us.” They moved on to a discussion of the Translation Section, and Bill's fluency in various languages, living, dead and demonic.

There was a knock, followed by Willow's tentative voice. “May I come in?” The door opened a crack. “Lucinda said you were doing an interview, and since I have to leave for the rest of the day…” Bill's back was to the door, so he missed the widening of Willow's eyes, the way her hand tightened on the door frame.

“Of course, Willow,” said Giles. His eyes held a warning, and she picked it up: reveal nothing. “I'd like you to meet Bill Givenson; Bill, this is Willow Rosenberg, who handles most of the magical issues we deal with here.” Bill rose, turned to her and shook her hand with a wide smile, which tightened slightly at her expression.

“You knew him too, then?” he asked. Willow couldn't find words to respond, but he went on politely. “Apparently I have a doppelganger out there.” He paused. “I hope that's not literally true.” Willow shook her head to stop herself from staring.

“Um, nice to meet you. Giles, can I see you for a minute? “ Giles excused himself and joined Willow in the hallway. She was trembling, he noticed.

“I know; it ‘s an extraordinary resemblance. Rather disturbing, really,” he said.

She looked up at him, still pale. “No, Giles, that's not a resemblance. That's Spike.”


Chapter Ten: Auras Don't Lie

Giles had seen far too much to let the word “impossible” cross his lips, so he accepted Willow's absolute conviction that Bill Givenson was Spike, at least as a working hypothesis. “Auras don't lie, Giles,” she told him, her eyes glowing with excitement, “and besides, he's got the exact same scar over his eyebrow! Coincidence? I don't think so!” Experience made them both suspect that Spike's return in human form was just the first piece of a larger puzzle.

After some discussion, they decided to hire Bill Givenson to start in the Translation Section. He was well qualified, and wanted to train for full Watcher status and eventual assignment to a Slayer. Bringing him into the Council would secure his loyalty and keep him nearby while they investigated the Spike question. It also made a good excuse to submit him to a battery of tests, medical and mystical. A researcher was assigned to verify every aspect of his background, from his birth certificate to his father's foreign service record; another, to painstakingly review the papers and journals of his grandfather, Walter Givenson. In the meantime, Bill was asked to design and teach an initial physical training course for staffers who were interested in becoming Watchers. This would make use of his black belt in aikido as well as keep him busy, and away from confidential materials, during their investigation.

Willow and Giles, meanwhile, began spending evenings poring over books and yellowing papers, looking for any information on how a vampire might be reincarnated as human, and for spells that could create such a seamless false identity, complete with false memories. One night, after meeting an old colleague at the British Museum, Giles returned to the flat to find Willow at the small round table that was never used for meals. She was nodding over a fifteenth-century grimoire until his gentle hand on her shoulder brought her back to awareness.

“Whoa, weirdness!” She rubbed her eyes and ran her hands through her hair. “For a minute I thought I was back in high school. I guess I was dreaming. You were going to give me a ride home in that ugly old car of yours.” She stretched her arms over her head, yawning.

“My Citroen was not ugly,” Giles said in his most pompous tone, the one he had used to keep Andrew in his place. “Although I will admit it was old.” He smiled, remembering the times he'd driven Willow home from late-night research sessions. Her parents never seemed to worry about what time she got home, which he'd found both convenient and disturbing. “It looks as if you're ready to stop for the evening.”

“Well, let's go over what we know and what we don't know,” she said. “Did the medical reports come back today?” Giles reached into his briefcase and handed her a thick folder, then pulled up a chair beside her.

“Yes, I went over it this afternoon. As best we can determine, William Givenson is 100% human. The scar on his eyebrow is from a rugby game, when he was sixteen; he's been vaccinated against polio; and he is remarkably physically fit. Nothing outside of normal parameters.”

“Except his aura. The psychics and mystics didn't find anything unusual either. No traces of a glamour or a transformation spell of any kind. But I know it's him. I recognize his aura. They're like fingerprints, and his is totally Spike.” Willow sighed. “We're dealing with some major mojo here.”

“The best information I can get from L.A. is that Spike, Angel, and Charles Gunn were killed in the battle that took down the Wolfram & Hart headquarters.” Giles pulled a series of photographs from an envelope; they showed a pile of rubble, punctuated by a few protruding beams left from the building's skeleton. “These arrived today. The media has attributed it to a very localized earthquake.”

Willow leafed through the photos. “Hard to picture anyone getting out of that alive. Or, you know, undead but standing. Still, is there any real proof?”

“Well, there's a demon named Hathpetsuk, who claims to have dusted Angel himself, and several others report witnessing the beheading of Spike. The demon underworld in Los Angeles is in utter disarray, in the middle of an ongoing power struggle. Fortunately, there are many demons who are more than willing to sell information to anyone with money.” He sighed. “We have identified the body of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. He was found in the home of a very powerful sorceror named Vail, who was also dead. And I suspect if any of them had survived, we, or Connor, would have heard by now.”

“So, someone or something extremely powerful has brought Spike back for reasons unknown, complete with a fully verifiable fake life. Every bit of his story checks out. So, did they plug his soul into someone who already existed, or did they build our boy William from scratch?” Willow yawned. “I wonder if the soul had something to do with it. Angel had one too, maybe he'll show up looking for a job next.”

“Lord, I hope not.” Giles stood up, placing a gently hand on Willow's shoulder as she slumped over the file of pictures. “In any case, you're exhausted. I should get you into bed.” Giles blushed, suddenly aware of his foolish and unintended double entendre. He hoped she hadn't noticed, but before he could turn away from her, she placed her hand on top of his, and stood, pushing back her chair. She was very close, so close he could smell the faint herbal scent that clung to her soft grey sweater, and he drew in a sharp breath.

“Yes, you should.” She placed a soft but very definite kiss on his lips, and leaned into him, her head on his shoulder, her body against his.

“Willow, are you…” Words, he groped after words and there were none left, only the fact that she had kissed him and he needed desperately to know what it meant.

“Yes, I am. And yes, you are, and yes, I've known for a while now.” Willow's smile was mischievous as she lifted her eyes to his. “Auras don't lie, Rupert Giles.” She nestled closer. “And neither do some other things I'm feeling here.” Her voice held back a knowing laugh.

Giles leaned his head back and laughed in return. He had worked so hard to hide his growing feelings from her, sure that they could never be reciprocated. What a fool he'd been to imagine he could conceal anything from such a talented witch. A lucky fool, he thought, such an incredibly lucky fool. He bent to kiss her again. This time, it was slow and deep and exploratory, blossoming between them like a sunrise, full of color and surprise.

She took both of her hands in his and stared into his eyes. Her smile was just a few short degrees from smug, he thought, and decided not to mention it. After all, he was grinning, and as they wordlessly moved toward his bedroom, hand in hand, he found himself unable to rearrange his features into anything but an expression of purest joy.