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Challenge #2: The Past is a Foreign Country

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  • Challenge #2: The Past is a Foreign Country

    (Set during season 8 of Buffy)

    Rating - whatever rating the F-word merits...PG-13?

    Finding a Janus-worshipper in London at short notice was, in theory, a tricky task; especially one licensed to perform funerals. But Giles still had contacts in all the capital's underworld institutions so, without much trouble, and in the manner he would have preferred, Ethan was buried.

    Giles walked along the South Bank afterwards. He had a few hours to kill before he needed to head to Heathrow, to fly on to a meeting in Geneva. Business as usual.

    He felt little discernible emotion. No tears, certainly, but perhaps that wasn't significant. He hadn't cried at any funeral since?well, Buffy. Death seemed to take on a different flavour after she died and returned. Somewhat more grand cosmic joke than tragedy.

    What does this death mean to me? Anything at all? Giles had buried enough true friends that one old enemy barely had an impact, beyond a vague and wispy sensation of regret. Things he could've done, long ago, to change him for the better. Things he shouldn't have done, even further in the past, to encourage him for the worse. But, he'd said goodbye to his friend Ethan long before the man had died, and the regrets felt as if they belonged to someone else. They were tinted in sepia and wrinkled like parchment.

    The sun was settling over St Paul's like a great red blood-egg. Giles leaned on the railings and looked at its reflection in the water. This part of London was a constant in his mind. Whatever new wheels or towers they added to the landscape, certain things endured. The water, the sloshing moored ships, the cathedral.

    The sun dipped down and the pink sky faded to a greyish-blue. Giles didn't move, although there was little worth looking at any more. The lights of the city and the approaching dark calmed and dulled him.

    Cigarette smoke wafted through the air from somewhere nearby. It sparked an old craving ? not just for a ciggie, but for the life that went with it. For the time when the night was his, and full of possibilities instead of duties.

    A man approached and leaned on the railings close by, bringing the cloud of cigarette smoke with him, and that feeling of night-excitement all the more vividly back. Giles turned slowly. Before he saw the man's face, he already suspected ? sense memory and instinct prompted him and a glance confirmed?

    "Spike?" Giles stood up straight and stepped back. Not in surprise, but cautiously.

    The vampire smiled at him, still leaning his elbows on the railings. "What? Not scared of me are you, Rupert?" He straightened up too and dropped the butt of his near-finished cigarette. He ground it under his boot as he waited for Giles's reply. None came. "No, you're not."

    "So." Giles spoke slowly. "You're alive."

    "And I can feel your joy comin' off you in waves." Spike opened his zippo with a "chink" and lit another cigarette. "So, are you surprised at least, seeing me in the undead flesh? Did Andrew keep his mouth shut?"

    Giles raised an eyebrow. "What do you think?"

    Spike chuckled. "No. Course he didn't." He took another drag and looked keenly at Giles. "But?I'm betting Andrew isn't your only source. I'm sure you knew about our little LA apocalypse already. Don't see how you could've missed it. Sodding great mystical upheaval. Dragons and whatnot."

    Giles nodded a little and started to move away from the railings and the river towards a bench. Spike walked with him and they sat, silent for several beats of Giles's heart; a puff of Spike's near-finished cigarette.

    "I take it?I mean..Does Buffy know?about it all? Wolfram and Hart? The big bad demon battle?" Spike crossed his legs. "About??" He left out the implied "me".

    The vampire was jittery, almost earnest. Giles looked out at the city across the river, pondering how much to reveal. He couldn't be sure whether the vampire was still involved with Wolfram and Hart, or whether to trust him, or what was prudent. And yet, in this quiet evening lull, he felt like talking. He felt the absence of old friends more here than anywhere else. So many ghosts.

    "What did happen?" he asked. "In the battle, I mean?"

    Spike weighed this question, smirking a little. "You've grown shiftier in your old age, you know that? You don't give away a trick!"

    "No. I don't."

    "Heh. Smug bastard." Spike cocked his head and half-pouted at the old Watcher. "What happened? We won is what happened. But, it was all pretty sodding Pyrrhic. Destroyed the hordes of Wolfram and Hart ? and Wolfram and Hart itself. But?it cost us."

    "You said we?" Giles leaned closer. "Did Angel?did he survive?"

    Spike's jaw clenched and he shifted uncomfortably. He didn't need to form the ?no'. "That's what I'm here for?I'm on my way to see Buffy in Scotland . To tell her?Well, I couldn't do it over the phone, could I?" He shut his eyes for a moment, then opened them and shook his head. "Balls!" He gestured with his cigarette hand. "I can't believe quite how extremely buggered up this is. Arse-backwards. Seems like a?like a joke, you know? It's all a big cosmic bloody joke."

    "I sometimes think that should be our motto," murmured Giles.

    The moon was up now, and Spike's pale face had taken on a ghostly glow. Very apt. A dead man bringing news of death. We've all travelled such a strange and twisted road. Shared the shadows and the hard work and the fear. Can I hate him, still, after everything?

    "I'm sorry," he said out loud. "About Angel. And the others."

    "Not like I was that fond of the great ponce." But Spike was looking away, so his expression was obscured, and the Watcher recognised the tactic. A boarding school classic ? turn your head away so the other boys can't see you?well. Blubbing like a girl. Without thinking, he put a hand on Spike's shoulder. The vampire looked back, suddenly, a little sharply, and Giles took the hand away. But something had shifted.

    Until now, there had been a physical tension, an unspoken possibility of violence. He realised, he'd felt like that in Spike's company, ever since the vampire had had his chip removed. Now, he wasn't sure, but the gap between them on that bench felt ever so slightly less gaping, ever so slightly less hostile; though, friendly would be putting too glossy a spin on the atmosphere.

    "Tell me," said Giles. "What happened?"

    "Just the bog standard, really. Apocalyptic battle, unstoppable demon hordes. Big pointy weapons." Spike leaned on the bench, making his leather jacket creak as he spread his elbows and leaned back his head, looking up at the sky, then sideways at Giles. "Angel died. Gunn died, if you know who?"

    "The name's familiar."

    "Right. And Wesley. Fred, too?before the big set-to. So at the end of the day, it was just me?" He put a hand to his chest, then gestured to his right? "?a pile of bodies." Then, a gesture to his left. "?and an ancient blue demon left standing. Not the stuff that victory laps are made of, you know? Wasn't exactly a case of ?all back to the Dog and Duck for a pint of heavy, on me lads.' "

    "I imagine hell might freeze over before you'd buy a round, whatever the circumstances," said Giles.

    "Very bloody funny. " But Spike smiled, for a moment at least. "Though?give me some credit. I'm not quite the same bloke you remember."

    "You mean?you're a reformed character?"

    "Just?let's say I've learned a thing or two about?oh," Spike made a face. He looked embarrassed. "Forget I said anything. Second I try to explain it, it starts to sound?"



    Giles laughed, eyes crinkling, and he felt a bloom of warmth. But it faded quickly. There are no healing moments any more. There are no cures for the heart. Only palliatives. And the mission.

    "The blue demon you mentioned. Illyria ?" Giles inquired. He'd heard rumours, but the creature had disappeared from the radar as suddenly as she'd appeared.

    Spike nodded. "Funny bird. Not sure where she went afterwards. Said something about seeking out Wolfram and Hart's other dimensional branches and doing some damage. Good on her, I reckon. Not a bad sort of girl, for a hellbitch from the dawn of time, you know?"

    "I find?that can occasionally be the case with demons. They're not always as bad as one first assumes."

    Spike started, looking at him searchingly. "Hey?you're not?" He sat up straighter and turned his body towards Giles. He slapped his palm down on the back of the bench and exclaimed in theatrical surprise. "Well I'll be?Was that an apology from the mighty General Giles, for trying to have me offed back in Sunny D?"

    "I wouldn't quite put it like that, no. I believed at the time, it was the right thing to do." Giles shifted in his seat. "And if I feel guilty, it's because I'm sorry for doing it behind Buffy's back."

    "Well, that's charming!"

    "But?" Giles gazed out at the dark river, with its swallowed moon, its dancing, deep-buried city lights. "I wouldn't do it, now. I, ah?.I believe you. That you've changed."

    "That's the most useless bloody apology I've ever heard." Spike didn't sound angry. He let his eyes rest on the river, too. "But?that's the thing?apologies?I don't have much use for them. I don't think sorry?it's not a word I reckon holds much weight. Not after everything. There's not enough sorry in the world, when it comes down to it."

    "Would it be tactless to say you've been spending too much time with Angel?"

    "Rupert. Tut tut. Speaking ill of the dead like that. You shock me."

    "William the Bloody...scolding me?" Giles shook his head. "But, perhaps he has been a good influence?"

    "I'm not on a mission of redemption, if that's what you mean. I'm just..." He shrugged. "Seems like the best plan is?just trying not to f'uck up quite so royally in the future."

    "Yes," said Giles. And there didn't seem much else to be said.

    They sat together, still and silent, each wrapped up in their own thoughts. As Giles watched the lapping Thames he wondered, Where is Ethan now?, and he wondered whether, if things had been just a little bit different, if he might have been sitting here with him instead, on this London evening, as a gentle, dirty drizzle began to fall.
    Last edited by Wolfie Gilmore; 29-08-07, 11:21 AM.

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